By Deborah Morris Coryell

Loss wears many masks. For some of us, the first mask of loss we see is that of betrayal. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” Not only was this loss not in our plans but it is inconceivable to us. Most losses come at us suddenly, unexpectedly, and even if we have had time to “prepare” ourselves, as during a lengthy illness or through a drawn-out process of divorce or relocation, we still often find the reality paralyzing. We look for someone to blame: a doctor, a bus driver, a lunatic, God, ourselves. Each one is a distraction. To place blame means that someone could have done something differently so that there would have been a different outcome. Our minds scream, “It wasn’t meant to happen like this!” According to whom? The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.”

Our thoughts—what we are thinking—affect not only how we feel but also keep us open or closed to the possibilities inherent in any situation. Thoughts are physical energy that have been formed by consciousness. The challenge is to be conscious of those thoughts so that we are in charge of them rather than having our thoughts in charge of us. For instance: If I have a friend who betrays me, and all I can think is that she is a bad person and I am a poor victimized soul, not only will I be blind to all the factors leading up to the betrayal but I will also be blind to many of the roads leading away from the betrayal. I will be locked inside a prison of my own making!

The greatest betrayal in Judeo-Christian history, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, can be seen as the venality of one man selling his teacher and friend for fifty shekels or as two men in a drama that would reverberate through the ages. Whatever the circumstances or the degree of the betrayal, every situation is like an onion skin with many, many layers, and our task is to stay present as long as it takes to peel away as many of those layers as possible. In this process there is always a teaching. It is rarely the one we thought we signed up for and often one we never would have chosen, but, in matters of the heart and soul, we are often not consulted. If we can hold on to the idea that every moment in our lives is potentially teaching us something, we can hold ourselves open instead of collapsing around our pain, suffering, and sense of betrayal.

One morning I received, in rapid succession, two letters and a phone call from three friends whom I had always felt to be trusted allies and advisors. For twenty years I had held each of them, with their trials and tribulations, in my heart and mind, available at any hour of the day or night should they need me. Now I was in need. Struggling and vulnerable, I had turned to each of them for help. Each, for their own reasons, turned away from me. A sense of grief and betrayal threatened to overwhelm me in my already fragile state. The loss of twenty years of faith and trust that these friends would be there for me was devastating. Knowing that sixty years of relationship were crumbling beneath my feet, all I could think was, who could I trust? What is there left to trust?

The phone rang again. I picked it up. It was a wise woman friend who received my pain and loss and said quietly to me: trust includes betrayal. In the moment she uttered those words, I knew they were true. If I tried to explain it, even to myself, I couldn’t have, but I could feel the wisdom, the truth, of the teaching. Over time I have struggled to learn about the trust that includes betrayal. To trust completely is to hold our faith (in that which we trust) so firmly that even what appears to be and feels like a betrayal can be included as part of the wholeness of that faith. What is such a faith? Faith that life is not arbitrarily singling us out to harass and punish us, or wound us, to torment us; faith that somewhere along the line the wisdom of this moment (of loss) will be revealed to us. Faith that this is part of the plan. Is betrayal revealed wisdom concealed?

Abraham Heschel wrote, “To have faith is not to capitulate but to rise to a higher plane of thinking. To have faith is not to defy human reason but rather to share divine wisdom.”

Life in its very nature is unpredictable. There are no guarantees of what will happen next. The Tibetans say: “Tomorrow or the next life, which comes first we cannot know.” That very unpredictability holds loss at its center. What we need and have today might no longer be ours tomorrow. This gives rise to the question of whether it was “ours” to begin with. Our culture and even our world has become so disconnected from the nature of life that we have come to believe that we can take possession and control it. Technology and science have seduced us into a false sense of dominance. We speak of “fighting” death and “giving” life. We speak of our inalienable rights…to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is life a right or a gift, a possibility? Do we give life and can we decide when it will end?

Trust in the ebb and flow of life is essential to our well-being. We trust that the tides will rise and fall, that the sun will come up each morning, and that the seasons will follow each other. Can we trust that there is meaning and wisdom in the ebb and flow, the gifts and losses, of our lives? And can we include the betrayal (of our faith) in that trust? Loss brings us to our knees. Faith in our constantly changing fortunes—trust in our singular life force— raises us up again.

How big can we get in the face of this betrayal? How wide can we open the lens of our minds and hearts as we look at the devastation that our lives appear to be? What would it take to keep our hearts and minds open? Betrayal is a powerful threat to our survival. In the face of betrayal we think we must bolt all the doors and windows: We must find out who the betrayer is! We close our hearts and minds at the very moment when we need more than anything to stay open to let in the love and wisdom that life also offers in the face of loss.

Loss brings us closer to the love we had and still have (where could it go?) than ever before. Because we can feel only loss for that which was cherished, the loss itself connects us to the love. And love heals. In the breaking apart we feel in the face of loss— the dismemberment—love makes us whole again.

The seed of trust lies in knowing that we didn’t lose what we had, that nothing can be lost once it is in our hearts and minds. The healing that the loss brings allows us to stay open in “good faith” in the presence of the seeming betrayal of that loss. We stand in gale force winds buffeted by the duality of betrayal and trust. At the center, our hearts stand open being held by the love that created us. With love, we begin to honor the life that moves through us and that will enable us to continue living this relationship we so cherished, in new ways. We endure the pain that we, as laboring beings, must endure to bring forth new life.

It won’t be easy. Life and love ask everything of us. Ultimately, they ask us to be willing to trust enough to continue loving in the face of the feelings of betrayal that loss brings.

Excerpted from Good Grief: Healing Through the Shadow of Loss

Related articles:
Creating Inner Space Through Prayer or Meditation
Creating a Caring Space Through Prayer
Seasons of Grief
Loss of Our Assumptive World

Also by Deborah Morris Coryell:
Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
Simple Presence – Open Heart
The Art of Losing

Deborah Morris Coryell Deborah Morris Coryell has worked in the health field developing wellness programs since 1974. She founded the Wellness Education Department for Canyon Ranch Spa Resorts as well as for the Pritkin Longevity Center. She is a visiting faculty member for Dr. Andrew Weil’s program in Integrative Medicine and is cofounder and executive director of the Shiva Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education and support of those dealing with loss and death, located in San Luis Obispo, California.

Photo by Bohman/Flickr Creative Commons


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Comment by Barbara H. Adrian on November 23, 2011 at 3:34am

It's not just death that creates these feelings of loss and grief. It's any number of life's challenges that come with unrelenting frequency and severity.Separately, one might be able to handle all the curves life throws you, but there comes a time when you say, " I can't take any more of this." Mine came in the form of needing to get out of a marriage that was slowly killing me.
" Stop, I want out of this marriage." Through long-standing physical, verbal and emotional abuse, lack of support unless it was for public viewing,no empathy,extreme narcissism that only worsened over time, total lack of insight into his behavior or other's feelings, refusal to seek counseling, constant job losses or problems, no such thing as deferred gratification, inability to get along with superiors, especially females , always needing to be right, always needing to be at the head of the line or the center of attention, no interest in anyone else's life or problems, total self-absorption, minimizing his deviant behavior, no ability to be flexible or deal with change, instantaneous rage with the constant threat of danger, poor money management-unable to keep his financial commitments,overspending because he" deserved" it, inability to get along with his parents, no interest in my family-they were just stupid Iowa dirt farmers,had to have the best and latest models of camera or electronic equipment, even when he couldn't afford it , no meaningful communication .He said he was always in the "dog house".No ability to see what needed to be done around the house, never helped me.( He would sit and watch while I toiled for hours). Work always done with resentment and grumbling,negativity,Constant complaints about how I did or didn't do things-nothing was ever right,he was rude,made everyone uncomfortable with his constant complaining and criticism of me.He lied ,obfuscated the truth,didn't keep his word or his promises,was vindictive,angry, careless, manipulative,uncompromising.
He is in good health. I am not. I have Parkinsons and had to quit a job I loved in 2004 because I just couldn't do it anymore. He took this as an opportunity to do less around the house and left more for me to do instead of offering to help.So I was supposed to take care of him and myself. He said he viewed his role as dealing with the financial situation, meaning he would take control of my disability payments and use them for God knows what. It surely was not to meet my needs. He never came with me to the neurologist or offered me any emotional support. The only thing he was worried about was that his access to my income might be curtailed as my medical expenses rose.Because he had such a hard time getting along with people, he lost his job in 2002 and was unable to find anything comparable so I ended up taking on financial responsibility for most of the house.He bought a Miata. And his employment at the age of 59 consisted of minimal wage jobs which he couldn't even keep because he couldn't get along with the other employees so he was fired at least five times in five years.Finally, after all the verbal, emotional and physical abuse, I said I'd had enough and I wanted a divorce. He was totally shocked, not so much because I was leaving him but because his free ride was over.Well, he got the last laugh. He was totally uncooperative through the divorce, demanded a huge settlement,even some of my disability payments, more than 50% which I paid just to get it done as I was not handling the emotional upheaval well and he had a couple of buddies giving him advice that" time was his ally" so if he could just wait me out I would cave which is exactly what happened. I had rotten legal advice and he had a more dogged attorney who knew how to manipulate things to his advantage.I told my attorney she should take a lesson from her adversary and perhaps learn a thing or two about how things work .You don't win by being nice and playing it straight down the middle by the book

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