Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | February 14, 2015

On Hearts

[This is an edited repost, and a rethinking, of an essay I wrote in early days of grief, hundreds of hearts ago.]

Shortly after my husband Jeff died five+ years ago, I started to notice hearts. I would find heart-shaped things everywhere. They came thick and fast for months and years, often astounding me with their material or placement, or what I was thinking about when I found them. In the words of a beloved friend with a similar story, it is way too precise to be random.  Finding hearts is my new hobby, apparently. Jeff always said I should take up a hobby…so, uh, thanks, honey.

This is an odd place for me find myself, because what I think and what I feel about this phenomenon are so far apart. I’ve always thought of myself as a logical person, a secular humanist, whose religion is science. I attend only the church of the woods and  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 wholeheartedly 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. Since Jeff died, many strange unexplainable things have happened, which I do not understand and cannot explain. Human brains are built to notice patterns, 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. I know we are made of energy, and energy is constant. It may change but it does not dissipate. I don’t feel the need to discuss heaven, or life after death, or anything of that sort.  Even though he’s not physically here in this realm for me to see and touch and hold, I still feel Jeff’s love surrounding me.

Hearts are a symbol of love, and I will take it, whatever the source. 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, with an ever-expanding circle of friends, grieving and otherwise. Found hearts have touched a lot of people besides 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, in Real Life.

Recently College Girl and I discussed 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 found in nature like any other, and the finding of them is completely random with no meaning attached. I felt the need to explain my position a little.

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

After much thought, I decided that, mostly, what these hearts demonstrate is a way of noticing, and I’m only able to notice them because I am slowing down enough to do so. All Jeff, my sweet husband, College Girl’s devoted father, ever wanted me to do was
Just.
Slow.
Down.
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 my windowsills, a silent testimony to love.

I find 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 another heart appears: 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 here 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.

tiny spark: bread

This is bread I made from Jeff’s special recipe. He had an intuitive skill, and before he got sick he used to make all our family’s bread. After diagnosis, once his crippling fatigue set in, I took over the task. I hadn’t made any bread since he died, until this batch, made in honor of College Girl’s homecoming for winter break at Thanksgiving 2009. Anna-the-scientist discovered this miniscule heart, a hole made from a crack in the crust. Delighted as we were to see it, neither of us wanted to cut deeper into the loaf and risk ruining it. This was early days, and I did not know, then, that there would be hundreds more valentines from my beloved. 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.”  So she did.

 

“…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.” –Edna St.Vincent Millay, of course

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