You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.
something wonderful happens:
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.
So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner’s arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.
And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.
I was recently reminded of this poem by Michael Blumenthal, which we chose as a reading at our wedding in June 2005.
Shaun and I bought a new light fitting for our lounge, rather on a whim, because it looked good in the shop. We ordered it, and when it arrived, we realised it was heavy, being made of beaten brass. Thus whilst Shaun fixed it into place, I was required to stand somewhat precariously on a chair, holding up the fitting, so that he could position the wires inside before screwing the cover tight. It was a difficult task and we had to keep stopping to rest our cricked necks and aching arms. But it was one of those jobs that is shared in the kind of relaxed intimacy that comes from being together for a number of years.
My thoughts turn from the prosaic fitting of a light, to the far more emotive consideration of support in the face of trauma. I often say to Shaun,
“I don’t know how I would have coped with losing James, without you to support me”.
He is self-deprecating and tells me that I would have managed.
But for me, the figurative relief of respite, when I finally get to take down my arms and am lucky enough to have my husband’s love and strength to sustain me, is significant in my progress along the grief road over the past ten years.
It is a sad fact that we had been married a scant six weeks when James died. How unfair it was on Shaun, to effectively also lose the woman he had just married, but thankfully he is still here, helping me to hold up the ceiling.
I am very lucky to have many other arms to help me hold up the ceiling, too. By expanding a support network as I work through my grief for the loss of my son, I have increased the number of willing arms that are there to give me the care that I need, just when I need it. And I hope that works both ways, through my being able to reciprocate.
And it is not just family and friends who help me so much …, spiritual support is no less tangible than the friend who offers a chat, a listening ear and a hug when it is called for. In my solitary moments, even when I am physically on my own, I do not feel alone in the true sense of the word.
These loving arms take many forms and as long as I remain open to their embrace, I feel that I can forge ahead through many difficulties. It is exciting to explore different modalities of support, and learn to trust them with faith.
Ironically, once the light fitting was secured, we decided we didn’t like it as much as the one that had been before. Thus we had another pantomime event of ‘arms up in turn’ to take the darned thing down again. Anyone want a beaten brass light fitting?