Did you know that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about 14,000 letters to various friends in his lifetime? And, it was not a long life. He lived to age 51. I happened across a book of some of his letters which in some parts included condolences to friends who had suffered a loss and found it quite helpful for being with my own friends.
My friends and clients experience loss and impermanence in many ways, and I sometimes find it hard to know what to say. So, I turn to Rilke who ponders and reaches out to say something kind, something wise, or something simply intimate and gentle from his own musings and reflections.
Here he is responding to a friend whose dog died, and he shares in a letter to her:
“To account for the duration of one of these small heart-star’s orbits is, of course, also an initiation into one’s own life, and even though these cheerful moons reflect the purest world-sun for us, perhaps it was their always averted side through which we were related to the infinite life-realm beyond.”
Rilke’s letter to Lou Andreas-Salome 1/21/1919
From The Dark Interval: Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation Rainer Maria Rilke Translated and edited by Ulrich Baer
Recently, one of my sons spoke affectionately of our family dog and as having helped him develop a greater love for life. The way our dear pet looks at us, being here and attending, continually inviting in this very moment, lifts spirits seemingly lost. How we tend to ourselves and one another is what makes for either a wonderful life or a life of misery, and we do our best in this spectrum of attention.
Our pet’s unconditional warmth, continual loyalty, and quiet company feel like that realm of the numinous that we all share.
If a friend is troubled, I can speak from wisdom that flows from a place in my heart where we both meet. Rilke invites this from us through his example to say what is in our hearts and unmask the typical conventions of consolation.
Life includes both death and renewal which we can feel moving in us. Even today as the spring equinox comes to its apex, it also passes through and begins to fade to summer. In the dark interval of winter, there was deep resting. As the days of sunlight lengthen, the days of the dark interval fade away. A change comes in the springtime as a new rhythm calls out, extending a soft touch so the griefs and sorrows of today can receive new light.
Is it strange to call upon this knowing when one is experiencing loss? Might we do more than console the loss? Can we also share our knowing of this change, this deep strength that we each carry? We can remind one another of this Power that moves in us already, receiving all that we are.