Writing from the Heart: Hello, my name is Grief

Don’t stuff the sorrow or it will take on some form in your body.


My sister died on Dec. 2. A week later I was Googling houses and land for sale in Vermont. I emailed a friend and asked her why she had moved to Quechee, a small charming town a few hours from Boston. She said it’s filled with a bunch of old hippies. It’s as left as left could be and Nance, for you, there’s a club with two huge Olympic-style pools so you can do your laps till the cows come home. And since it was Vermont, I think she meant that literally.

I didn’t like the sound of the word “club.” However, she assured me, it wasn’t an exclusive kind of thing, that membership was included for anyone who lived in her particular neighborhood. And she added we happen to have two acres on our property we could sell you. I loved the thought of living near my dear friend.

So last month, the first time off the Rock in a year, my husband and I drove the three hours up and looked at the land. It was beautiful and we came home to discuss the matter. Joel said, Why all of a sudden do you want to go to Vermont? I said, I think I need a retreat. Oh, he said, COVID and being on lockdown on an Island isn’t enough of a retreat for you? I said, OK, maybe a retreat isn’t it.

Then I Googled houses in Maine. I adore my niece who lives way up north, and thought it would be great living near her. But Joel still works, and needs to be within two hours of Boston, so Northern Maine was out.

When I told my friend Jane my fantasy plans, her immediate response was, “You’re fleeing. Instead of grieving, you’re running away.” No, I said, that’s not what this is about.

She instructed, as only a close friend can get away with, “Do not buy anything! Do not go anywhere. Do not make any big decisions until your year of mourning is up.”

My husband said, Are you bored? I said no. He said, Do you have COVID cabin fever? I said no. He said, Do you not love our house? I said, I totally love our house. He said, So what is it?

What is it indeed, I thought.

I went for a long walk (long for me) and asked myself all the same questions.

All I could come up with was, Maybe I’m looking for a teacher, someone older (is there anyone older?), a mentor. Maybe I’m looking for my spiritual community.

Someone told me Taos was filled with healers and teachers, so back to Googling. I found some spectacularly interesting dwellings called Earthships. They are completely off the grid, and they are absolutely beautiful.

I had been in Santa Fe a few years back, and I loved the weather, how dry it was, the hot sun in the daytime and the cold, clear air at night. Plus, the Vineyard has lost snowfalls, which is my favorite part of winter. And it snowed while we were out there.

I booked a flight to New Mexico. I reserved a car and I booked a hotel, and I rented one of the gorgeous Earthships for a week.

Meanwhile, the husband who doesn’t like flying because of the amount of carbon dioxide airplanes put into the environment, plus he has no desire to own another house, didn’t say no. The man sometimes calls me a force of nature and I think he knows if he had said no, I might be pushing against the “no” rather than making a discerning decision based on facts, not emotions.

In the meantime, what Jane had said about fleeing kept inserting itself into my compulsive-thinking habit. Two thoughts about my shopping list at Cronig’s, one thought about fleeing. Three thoughts about where to find that white balsamic vinegar Suzy uses in her fabulous salad dressing, one thought about fleeing.

I used to start my Writing from the Heart Workshop by saying “We’re alchemists. We turn s___ into gold. We take what happened to us and we have the ability to transform it. We can dance it, we can sculpt it, we can paint it. In here (meaning in the sacred circle of writers) we will write it. But … (and I always added this line) the most important part of the equation is first you have to feel it! If you don’t feel it, if you numb out, if you stuff the sorrow, it will find itself somehow in your body. It will marinate in your kidneys or your liver or your heart.”

When my son Dan died 11 years ago, I hadn’t taken any of my own advice, and had distracted myself with as many activities as I could crowd into a day. It took me about a month of first being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and then when that didn’t wake me up, having a severe backache to the point where I had to be on the floor. Although like a dream deferred, drying up like a raisin in the sun, my willingness to suffer emotionally was delayed and deferred. I had tried chiro and acupuncture and heating pads, and cold packs, Advil and CBD oil. I even read a book on anger and the back. But the pain wouldn’t cease. One day, lying flat, I heard myself saying the words I had repeated a thousand times. “We’re alchemists. We turn garbage into gold. But the most important part … blahblahblah.” Oh, thought arrogant me, even the teacher has to feel it? First I laughed, and then I wept, and then I wailed. And then two days later my backache went away.

So here I am not listening once more to my own sage wisdom. I hear myself say, You can’t skip the pain part. And here I am once again trying everything in the book to skip the pain part. I’m buying land in Vermont. I’m flying off to New Mexico to investigate living a sustainable lifestyle under the pretence that I need a spiritual community and some kind of teacher. Then it hits me. The teacher is Grief. And I know her. Intimately. And she’s right here, right in my little cabin.

And the spiritual community? That’s you.

I canceled the trip.



  1. What your heart tells you, you tell us, and then we are better able to tell ourselves and each other. As ever, thank you Nance for sharing who and how you are. Love

  2. Wow! Just awesome Nancy but I never expect anything less coming from you! You are amazing. ❤️ I have always heard “take one year”. Love this piece.

  3. Thank you for sharing your broken heart with us, Nancy. And always with a spoonful of humor.

  4. I attended two different workshops with you. One at Kripalu a very long time ago, and one in Sarasota a few years ago.
    I miss having a safe circle of trusted friends to share my inner most family story.
    I am in a writing group but it’s not with folks going deep into the past. Any suggestions?

  5. The ongoing search is what defines us and reading Nancy’s words always makes me feel like I’m flying.
    We search documents looking for answers as well as once upon a time, the perfect
    lipstick color, remember? Having tried different time zones, I’m happiest inside the one in which I was conceived and born. It is where my parents landed, separately, from different countries, but found each other in the vastness of New York. It’s where I learned
    to speak and read, as well as discover the waterfalls in Bronx Park. We know when we
    are in the right place and the comfort it brings us has no rival.

  6. Nancy’s wisdom may derive from surviving life’s crap, Gentle Reader, but it ends up perfumed with possibility. What a wonderful writer, teacher, mentor and friend. A true Vineyard treasure.

  7. Nancy,
    I moved to Vermont uprooting my family despite the same advice you received. I am happy you listened to your heart…

  8. Completely and thoroughly relating to your story. In Jan, a ton of grief landed heavy on me and I felt like I died a thousand slow.deaths. This pandemic and our relationships that may or may not be in tact, I was released from my employer, bearing witness to collective grief, the internal and external grief just dropped me into myself and Im releasing my past self, I feel like Sally got her groove back and torched my past self. I’m now polishing up this diamond in the rough and ready to reveal the kaleidoscope of colors of my being with the new Spring season! Thank you for sharing your experience of grief. There’s a lot of it to go around. My deepest condolences to you. I agree w/ you about feeling our through grief — its a rough ride! Much.love and respect. I miss you from NY Open Center writing class. Hope to connect for another workshop!?✌❤

  9. I love you. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
    You are
    the One.
    Oh Nance, I’m so very sad to hear you lost your sister.
    Arms around your big sad. ❌⭕️❌⭕️

  10. I loved this piece. You describe yourself so well bouncing off the walls with ideas and plans. Both of us have lost a child. The teacher is indeed grief no matter the pain. Nancy, I am so sorry for the loss of your sister.

    With Love, Kay

  11. Dear Nancy, How many times I have put on the “google running shoes” and looked outside of myself for relief. Argument with was-band (I hate using x) and my credit card would be waving about with the same old threat of “I’m getting the hell out of here”. Anniversaries of losses and I am on Google Maps looking for a 5000 mile road trip to take. Diagnosed with cancer and I suddenly think it’s great Elon Musk might be offering trips to Mars because the moon doesn’t feel far enough away. You get my drift, sister. Then that small (or very loud) voice inside says, “Pamela you need to sit through this pain, write it out, paint it out, cry and scream it out.” Throwing rocks into arroyos in Santa Fe, NM helps tremendously. That ocean of emotion is there to dive into. Thank you for sharing your swimming lessons. PS When you plan on vacationing in NM please let know so we can walk the arroyos! Love, Pamela

  12. Ah Nancy, I totally get it. How many times have I looked at real estate in Mexico, Uruguay,
    Maine, yes Vermont, even north shore of Boston with views of the city. What I recognize, like you, is that I want to escape from the here and now of the here and now of life and life only
    .The unbearable lightness of being constantly bombards us with pain, grief, confusion and the illusion that sanctuary is to be found over there, anywhere but here. Yet it is here that we always rediscover the joy of being alive and the exuberance of life and life only. We only have to accept that it is life and life only. Thanks so much for sharing such great insights.

  13. I have begun to really take seriously my Soul’s desire and life’s purpose to write the book I am meant to write. So, a few days ago I went to the library to take out a book I saw about 2 or 3 yrs. ago that was displayed at the entrance as an attention grabber, titled: The Book You Were Born to Write, by Kelly Notaras.
    I resisted taking it out then when I saw it because I was afraid of it while my ego’s intellectual doubting voice said, “Oh sure!”.
    But now I am ready to plow through all the self-doubt and fears – for the past year I have been opening my heart and releasing so much tears from deep down during this pandemic time. While I was at the library, I saw Nancy’s “Writing for the Heart” and pulled it off the shelf. I immediately loved what I saw inside and so I also took it out along with 3 other books.
    It is the first book I started reading and I am now just passed the middle part … I am reading it slowly as I get impacted and more tears would flow. Thank you so much, Nancy!

  14. Thank you for sharing your story of grief with us. How fortunate you are to have a friend like Jane. Grief is certainly a cruel, though necessary teacher. I love you and adore this column!

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