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The First Touchstone Takeaways by Greg Eckerman

We were discussing Touchstone 1 (Open to the Presence of Your Loss) in our Men’s Group last week and it opened some questions for me.

First, what is a touchstone?  Though I’ve read Dr Wolfelt’s writings on the 10 Touchstones for Healing in Grief, I guess I always treated touchstone as synonymous with milestone – it’s not.  Originally (as in for thousands of years), a touchstone was a smooth grained stone used to assay the purity of precious metals – often gold.  You’d rub the gold on the touchstone and compare the mark to a mark made by a known sample of gold.  More recently, the term touchstone is used as a metaphor for a standard or benchmark . . . a measure of quality or purity.

In Understanding Your Grief, Dr Wolfelt encourages us in writing about the first touchstone to embrace or befriend our pain.  That feels unnatural – we naturally avoid pain, we don’t open ourselves up to it. More than that, he says it’s about honoring our pain – recognizing the value of it . . . respecting it.  We’ve all learned firsthand that avoiding the pain of our grief doesn’t work.  Grief waits.  Yet it is still hard to assign the concepts quality or purity to pain.

What we must learn to honor is the love behind the pain. The love that our beloved brought into our lives. That’s pure. It is the essence of quality.  When we truly open ourselves to the conjoined relationship between love and the pain of loss, we learn to be present to our pain.

The presence of our loss is the touchstone. The purity of our love is the standard for quality in our lives.  When we set our intention to heal, we commit to seek out that gold standard.  We commit to live fully, having integrated our losses, and opening our hearts – fully aware of the vulnerability that goes with it.

How can we open to the presence of our loss, particularly in this holiday season? I think the essence of being present to our losses (and pain) is remembering. Surround ourselves with true companions on this journey. Tell the stories of our loved ones. But do it carefully, mindful of the depth and power of the triggers we routinely encounter during the holidays.  

Be patient and kind to yourselves.

With love and gratitude,