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On this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share some thoughts about love that may be different than a typical Hallmark movie. The following guest post is by my wise and wonderful friend, Karen Vernal. In her essay, Karen describes her grief over losing her beloved first husband John and then, how she found love again with Tom, the second man to capture her heart so completely. Karen’s beautiful essay resonates so fully with me because I’ve recently experienced the pain of grief and the joy of love, and I’m beginning to recognize that these two emotions often show up together, as inseparable companions. And I’m learning from people like Karen that if I can embrace both of these emotions (which seem so diametrically opposed), perhaps I can more fully experience the full spectrum of all that life has to offer. It ain’t a Hallmark movie. But maybe, just maybe, it can be so much more.

November 8, 2014~Revised November 8, 2023

Some might believe that after twenty years and new, graced love

that there is no grief.

Yet the tears flow as fully today as they did twenty years ago

as I remember my beloved John.

Who, after a full morning of raking leaves,

let go into the heavens, as his body fell into the earth.

He lay on a cold blanket of autumn colors as his spirit soared.

He saw me bend over him, begging him to stay,

when all the while

his spirit was in flight to a new universe.

Here we are, twenty years later.

The memories are as vivid as the day he left us:

his contagious laugh, enormous hugs.

His ability to listen to the music underneath the words.

Some might believe that after twenty years and my new graced love with Tom,

that there is no longer pain.

The pain is not as piercing, yet grief lingers.

There is no “getting over” John. 

I will always love him with a love that is deep and full; a rich blessing song.

 I will always love Tom; his tenderness, his kindness.

His ability to love John through stories and photos. His ability to stand with me

inside the shadow of grief.

I have learned that I can hold big love . . . old and new! 

And grief—deep, aching grief—at the same time.

I will not give up on either one.

Love and Grief, you are my companions forever.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


  1. Wonderful. Yin and Yang. BIG love. BIG grief. Opposite sides of the coin where you cannot have one without the other, which makes life rich and layered and hard and lovely. Thank you for sharing what’s inside your oyster. 🦪

    • Right? So good and so true–and so damn hard to embrace. Love you.

  2. Hmmm, what a powerful perspective and experience. Please thank Karen for her generosity in sharing with all of us. I sat for quite a while reflecting on love and grief…. how best to embrace both, how they can nourish my life and those around me, what to hold on tight to and what to release…. all good stuff!
    In gratitude

    • Karen’s poem reminds me of the breathtaking line in Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Because I’m human, I really, really wish we didn’t have to crack to see the light. But as Gramma Maggie, one of the characters in my novel says, “Sometimes life is gówno (‘crap’ in Polish). But I didn’t make the rules.”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Love this, Jill. Your idea that love and grief originate from the same deep well. And what a wonderful poem—love and loss are forever imprinted in us. And for good reasons.

    • Thanks Kathleen. I hope your painting is continuing to fill you up!

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