Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | October 1, 2010

Heart Therapy

This is a repost, and a rethinking, of an essay I wrote a few months ago, hundreds of hearts ago. Those who have known me for  a while may be following  – scornful, awestruck, amused, and everything in between –  all these hearts I have been finding. It’s my new hobby, apparently. Jeff always said I should take up a hobby…thanks, honey.

It’s an odd place for me to be, because what I think and what I feel about this are so far apart. I’ve always thought of myself as a logical person, a secular humanist, whose religion is science. Church of the woods, I say, and the beaches. I consider myself someone who uses scientific method as a way of looking at the world, which does not preclude an appreciation and awe of the beauty, synchronicity, and wonder in it. Even if I don’t actually know all that much about science, I do Believe In It.

“I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

-Albert Einstein

Y’ know, I like stuff to be provable. But since Jeff died 14+ months ago,  many things have happened to me that I do not understand. I know we humans can make ourselves believe anything, especially if it helps us get through life, and it pains me to be in this place of dubious scientific merit. All I can say is, I know what I know.
The hearts I have found have brought me joy, even through tears. Not the least of this joy has been the sharing of the stories and pictures, to and from an ever-expanding circle of friends, widowed and otherwise. Found hearts have touched a lot of people before me, evidently. I do notice absolute radio silence on the subject from some dear ones, which is fine, of course. I’ve also shared some incredible emotions with people I didn’t know a year ago, and maybe still don’t.
Recently College Girl and I had a discussion about the phenomenon of the hearts. She is alarmed, I think, at what she seems to think is my slide into madness. (She doesn’t know the half of it.) She maintains that hearts are just a shape like any other, and the finding of them is a completely random happening with no meaning attached. I felt the need to explain my position a little.

Me: “You know, it’s not like I think Daddy is up in heaven pelting us with heart shaped objects.”
CG: “You sure act like you do.”

so I thought about it and decided that mostly, all these hearts appearing is demonstrating a way of noticing, and I’m only able to notice them because I am slowing down enough to do so. And all Jeff, my sweet husband, CG’s wonderful father, ever wanted me to do was.
This notion brought me to tears, but these days, what doesn’t?
Heart Therapy:
Hearts are everywhere. I didn’t know. This is a phenomenon I had not anticipated. Apparently it is not unusual for a survivor to receive the gift of hearts from anywhere and everywhere. Until I became submerged in this community of the walking wounded; those grieving for one lost to us; we who are pining for a child, a parent, a friend, a spouse, a lover, I was unaware that finding hearts as we walk our new path on this earth is as common as pennies.

I find stones, hundreds of heart shaped stones: white, black, gray, red, yellow, ochre, speckled, ringed, striped, rounded, broken. Smooth as game pieces, jagged as rubble. Cobblestones and tiny baby’s-fingernail-size fragments. They line the windowsills, a silent testimony to love.

There are shells: dear tiny golden snail hearts, opalescent silver oyster, creamy opaque moon snail, soft gray green of urchin, glorious purple of mussel, delicate pink of crab.

Heart shapes appear in bread, potatoes, apples. My widowed friend and I go to a favorite restaurant. A miniscule arugula leaf heart is revealed on my plate after the salad is gone. The next week she gets one in spinach. I slice into a perfectly normal vegetable and reveal another: love in a red pepper, love in an omelet. I eat and thus take inside of me the tiny spark of magic and love.

Hearts arrive as mangled graying driftwood or etched by nature into tree bark. Reflected in puddles, drawn in sand and snow by an unknown hand. Hearts are formed from clouds, from grass, from manure. They emerge in the morning when clearly they were not there the night before. You close your eyes and when you open there are more. They manifest in places and ways we can’t explain. We can’t construct in our scientific, questioning brains a logical explanation, although we certainly try. We don’t want to be convinced that God is talking to us, but Someone surely is.

I walk the railroad tracks alone and collect a handful of perfect rocks- a love letter from the place we used to walk together hand in hand. Another day the shapes are not quite right – I feel like he is tryingtryingtrying to get through to me and that day for some reason the connection isn’t clear.

I don’t know the message, I’m not sure the source of the sending, but it seems clear to me that the noticing is the key. We see hearts, and they matter, because we are wandering this world adrift without our other. Being open to receiving is the lesson, and the reception can enlarge our own hearts somehow. Of course hearts are not enough. They can’t replace our beloved. The clearest message is still a pale shadow, a shoddy imitation of when they were here. Our love is still unrequited. It’s a one-sided conversation. But we take what we can get, and what we can get is hearts.

…if I would help the weak, I must be fed
In wit and purpose, pour away despair
And rinse the cup, eat happiness like bread.”
And this photograph has its own weird tale. This is bread I made from Jeff’s special recipe. He had a much better hand with the bread than I do, and used to make all the bread for our family until he got sick. Once he was diagnosed and the crippling fatigue set in, I took over the task, but I hadn’t made any bread since he died, until this batch, made in honor of CG’s homecoming at Thanksgiving for her winter break. The next morning, Anna-the-scientist discovered this tiny hole, made from a crack in the crust.

Delighted as we were to see it, neither of us would cut deeper into the loaf and risk ruining it. The next morning I had to leave while she was still sleeping, but left her this note:

“Eat this bread and take inside of you forever this tiny spark of magic and love. DO IT.”



  1. I have never once thought a miracle was magic. I always thought that if an all powerful being made everything, including the laws we have that explain the way things work-science, then why would that being need to step outside those laws to do things. I’ve always seen miracles as acts of timing. Meeting the right person, hearing the right thing…finding little hearts…they may not have the sparkle of magic, but it doesn’t make them less miraculous or less magical.

    I love when you post those little hearts, because they are little miracles to me. Not magic, just perfect timing.

    Love you, Carolyn ❤ <—my little electronic heart to share with you. I love how you think. I love the beauty of you as a person even in this horrible grief. I am proud of you for living an examined life and finding your voice.


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