“My best friend died when I was eight years old. And that affected me. I’d never had really any loss. I was brought up in a middle class, Jewish household and talk of, sorrow wasn’t something that was spoken of. But in his house, when I came to visit they said, “He’s not here anymore.” The sorrow was so deep and I had never really seen that state of mind much before and I thought it was so appropriate. He was such a beautiful kid…He was killed by Auschwitz; he was a survivor and he’d been one of the children they’d done the… That’s still raw. And that’s good.”
“I think grief gives us a sense of what being alive and what being in love is about.”
Stephen felt deeply and was an ambassador of sorts for the emotional realms. It takes courage to feel our feelings in a culture that would steer us into distraction and denial of the hard stuff of life. Sitting with Stephen, I experienced him moving through states of emotion as he shared his wisdom and stories, savoring, remembering and feeling the flavors of his life. His fluency in being alive and in love and in grief was so tangible that my nervous system relaxed the way it does in the face of truth where there is room for all parts of ourselves to join the conversation and we take a deep breath of relief.
Since his death in January of this year, I think often of Stephen’s beloved wife, Ondrea Levine and her grief since his death. Their relationship was rare. They told me that they were always together, even when Stephen was asked to do a public talk. They requested two chairs be placed on stage so Ondrea could sit next to him. Ondrea is profound in her kindness, wisdom and humility and sitting across from the two of them was a blessing that felt rare and tender. Ondrea said,
“The people we know that are the most joyous are the ones that are willing to face their grief and their pain.”
This post is as much dedicated to Ondrea as it is to Stephen. My love and gratitude for their devotion stays with me and speaks to me still. The sweetness of the grief I felt in their presence and the sweetness of the grief I feel now after Stephen’s passing make me feel more alive and in love in my own life and it is not separate from them. Maybe this is how legacy works.
I recently learned that Mitsu Suzuki, like Stephen, died in January of this year. She was considered a matriarch of American Zen and published two collections of haiku. She was 101 years old. She wrote a favorite haiku of mine, which was included in Solace, the movie.
Ink stone cold
Joy and grief
– Mitsu Suzuki
The flavors of grief may help us describe faces of grief, which are can be simple, complex, changing, layered and richly human. I think of times when grief has tasted salty, bitter, sour, sweet and even umami (fermented). I would love to hear how you meet, interact with and describe grief in your life and here’s to connecting through our joy and our grief, ink stone cold, one brush.
Lorraine Greyvensteim says
I wish I had had the experience of being in the presence of Stephen and Ondrea Levine.
I started reading Stephines books about 40 years ago. I am once again grieving on this occasion for a time in my life that has passed and can never be again.
I have been deeply depressed for the last 5 months and today I had an insight into the fact that I am grieving for what now seems to have been the most fulfilling time of my life. Four years that I had the privilege of staying home with my son from when he was born to when he went to preschool .
He is now 34 and dealing with life. I realize how desperately anxious I get when he is stressed or struggling and I can no longer make it better. The pain is acute and my heart goes out to Ondrea and anyone else who is grieving. This grief is acutely painful especially in my heart .
There is no escape and I feel my heart will break any moment.
Letting go seems immeasurably hard.
Camille Adair says
Parenting is one of the surest paths to heart break. You are right, there is no escape if we show up for our lives. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and heart. As a mother of adults, I can relate. My apologies for the late reply.
Thank you ❤️Ondrea
Camille Adair says
What a privilege to be able to write this post. I will be screening Solace to a group of ex pats in Baja Mexico in early December as part of an end-of-life training. This group in Todos Santos is creating a grass roots, volunteer hospice so they can care for each other in their dying.
2018 is the 10 year anniversary of the first screening of Solace: Wisdom of the Dying. As time goes by, Solace, and all of you who shared your lives and wisdom, become more precious to me. The blessings of you and Stephen continue to unfold. Sending you love and gratitude.
Grace weiner says
Steven Levine’s compassion towards death and grief brought new insight for me . When my father died I never grieved his death . I feared the feelings . Embracing the dark rich emotion of grief still scares me . But , I can now have compassion for the unknown , the mystery , the fear . All of that helps ..
Camille Adair says
Thank you, Grace. I am so glad Steven’s wisdom was supportive. “The dark, rich emotion of grief,” is a beautiful way to describe it.
Good mourning! I can’t believe how grateful I am to have found the connection with Ondrea and you Camille. The most precious thing in my life, my husband is 35 years, died 2 years ago in Mexico. We were blessed to be on our sailboat surrounded by the sea, dolphins and a community of dear souls! I have been in the pain of missing him and it has been an amazing journey this grief. I have worked in emergency medicine for 40 years and also as a midwife. I have found myself unprepared for the depth of this pain! I would love to be involved with people doing this work and share the love and magic I am blessed with in this life.
Surrounding you all with love ❤️
Camille Adair says
Thank you for sharing yourself with us with such courage and warmth. The image of you and your husband on a sailboat surrounded by open water and dolphins brings a powerful image of life alongside her constant companion, death. I would be happy to talk with you if it feels supportive of your inquiry about being involved with people doing work related to grief and end-of-life. Gratefully, Camille
Thomas Joseph McIntyre says
I HAD CONSUMED STEPHEN’S BOOKS AND TAKEN SEMINARS WITH HIM AND ONDREA.
THEIR WORK KEPT ME ALIVE THROUGH A TIME WHEN, WITHIN ONE YEAR I LOST MY WIFE, FATHER, AND SISTER. I LISTENED TO STENTEN’S AUDIO TAPES ALMOST EVERY NIGHT,. I LIVED ALONE FOR SIX YEARS WORKING WITH MY GRIEF. AT THE CONCLUSION OF STEPHEN’S SEMINAR AT KRIPULA I HAD THE INTUITION THAT I WOULD NOT SEE STEPHEN AGAIN. I WAITED TILL HE WAS FREE OF IS ADMIRES. I APPROACHED HIM AND TRIED TO EXPRESS MY THANKS BUT A WELLSPRING OF TEARS CAME FROM DEEP WITHIN. STEPHEN GAVE ME A HUG AND WHISPERED IN MY EAR:’ IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE.” THOSE WORDS HAVE REMAINED, THIRTY YEAS LATER AS MY MOST DEAR TO ME. LATER WHEN STEPHEN HAD PASSED ON I WROTE TO ONDREA. ONDREA GRACIOUSLY SENT A HANDWRITTEN LETTER TO ME. I LOVE THEM BOTH, THEY REMAIN WITHIN ME. THEIR WORK SHALL ENDURE TO SERVE “OTHERS.”
I came looking for Steven and Ondrea and found this. I will never forget Ondrea’s words, “We must treat ourselves as our own only child.”
I am 75 now – didn’t pay much attention in the past several years. Didn’t think about Steven as someone who would pass before me. So yes, I am mourning the loss of a beautiful man and teacher. So many losses in life… Steven helped me see my way through in many ways, but still, in many others, i have remained so numb. Unable to find the enlightenment I’ve heard and read about – the acceptance in grace. My Dad at 16, my best friend at 39, my beautiful daughter when she was 16. And by now, nearly all my friends gone.
This morning I stare at an aging Sierra Club poster of an old wolf lying, covered in snow, and in a completely white environment around him, his dark eyes looking out – wondering… And I think with him – when will this stop?