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The heart of need

October 14, 2012

How do we know what we need? Not what we want or desire, not what we have a notion we might like, but what we really, truly, very much need – need so deep that our bones ache and our mind slips if we don’t get that thing?

It’s so hard to say our needs. Even when we make vision boards or lists of affirmations, they usually avoid those scary words, “want” and “need.”

Confession: I haven’t been doing that well. Since Goldie died, I’ve been doing well in short bursts. Intermittent wellness. Brave-faced wellness when I have to rise to the occasion. But in the privacy of my own brain, in the shower, or as I walk into my house and close the door to the world behind me, the wellness falls and shatters.

I collapse into tears, into blank-faced zombieness, into long periods of looking at photos and videos of my dog. Not so very well indeed. I’m glad I work at home. Often for these past few weeks, I’ve cried until five minutes before a conference call, blown my nose hard, wiped my eyes, taken the call. After an hour on the phone, I hang up and start to cry again.

I had a ray of light peeking into that darkness: October 13 on my calendar. I had that day blocked out to go to San Miguel Island, the most remote place I know that you can get to and back in the day.

Channel Islands National Park

Three-and-a-half hours on a boat, 3 1/2 hours on the island, 3 1/2 hours home. Ten glorious hours of nothing to do but stare at the sea and sit on two miles of beach occupied by, at most, three other people. If I could make it through the week, all I had to do was go, breathe, be.

The beach at Cuyler Harbor

On Friday, my sister called. My mom had told her I was going to the island, and she wanted to go with me. She loves the Channel Islands, too, and I also think she wanted to hang out with me, give me some sisterly love, comfort me with her presence.

I said, Okay, sure, great, an adventure. Let’s do it! Then I hung up and the screaming in my head started. I felt shredded by my emotions. My rational brain said that this was an opportunity to spend time with my sister, that it would be fun, wouldn’t I rather go with someone than alone?

But the shrieking would not stop. I felt like I’d lose my mind if I didn’t keep those ten hours sacred for me alone, a container of silence for my grief, the space I had carved for myself to give my pain to the wind and the ocean and the waves.


I felt like an absolute jackass, (especially since my sister had just bought a non-refundable boat ticket), but I had to acknowledge the depth of my need. My real need to spend time by myself, on my own, rather than to do the normal thing and have company on this trip.

I called my sister sobbing. Not crying. Sobbing. I had to tell her the truth, which made me feel like a freak. Thankfully she didn’t treat me how I felt. She was so understanding and so kind and…it made me cry even harder, if harder was possible.

So here’s the weird thing that happened. I said what I needed, which seemed contrary to all reason. I said what I needed, despite my worries that everyone would think I was selfish or crazy or mean. I said what I needed…and it was ok. The world did not end. No one quit speaking to me.

I went to the island and on the way I stood on the bow of the boat and remembered my dog and cried and gave my sorrows to the sea.

It was a beautiful day on San Miguel Island, a rare day, a gem. It would have been a beautiful day to share with someone, but I didn’t do that. I sat in the glory of that quiet place and I let my heart get quiet, and my soul get quiet, and I fell asleep in the sand all by myself.

The beach at Cuyler Harbor

I don’t know why I needed what I needed, but I did. I told the truth about it for once, and everything was ok.

As women, as humans, we are taught to hide our needs, to suck it up, to go along and get along, even when our hearts and bones are breaking inside us. We might do well to stop and ask “What do I need? What do I really, really need?” Then make that thing happen. It’s not so bad. Trust me on this one.

  1. October 14, 2012 22:03

    I’m glad you took good care of yourself and oh my heart, I am so, so sorry about Goldie.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 15, 2012 00:58

    I have just watched Goldie’s movie “Best dog in the world” and lucky her, she had the best mum in the world…RIP Goldie…it was nice to “know’ you and follow your adventures over the years…KAZZ xxx

    • October 18, 2012 07:45

      Thank you. I keep remembering different adventures each day. We had quite a few – Goldie was never afraid to enter uncharted territory.

  3. October 15, 2012 08:45

    So glad you were able to ask for it. I wasn’t really even though alone is the most important thing for me so often. The trip looks beautiful.

    Miss that girl, though. So much.

    • October 18, 2012 07:44

      Thanks, Kizz. I don’t know why San Miguel is so magical to me. The weird part is that the weather is mostly terrible there, or so everyone says, but the two times I have been, the weather has been perfect.

  4. October 15, 2012 09:18

    Sue, I know exactly how you feel. I wish I had my darling dog back.

  5. smacksy permalink
    October 15, 2012 09:51

    You are so good to make that happen for yourself. And missing a pet is like no other heartbreak I know. Love to you. xoxo

    • October 18, 2012 07:42

      Thank you. I try to say, “Well, it’s not like losing a person,” but it is its own special kind of sadness. Our animals ask so little and provide so much.

  6. Sherri permalink
    October 15, 2012 10:05

    I am so very proud of you for sticking up for what YOU needed. It is so very hard for me to do, and I am going to keep trying.

    • October 18, 2012 07:42

      Thanks, Sherri. The orange chairs have some power.

  7. October 15, 2012 11:05

    It’s such a gift to say what we need, truly, especially when it’s hard, and have someone respect it and give it to us, even by doing nothing. It is amazing evolution to know what we need, finally. I’m just now learning the price of the opposite, of the fear of stating it, of having it ignored.

    I am so glad you surrounded yourself with this experience in the way that you needed to. I am so sorry for your grief, even though I know it’s the necessary response to great love. I miss you and love you.

    • October 18, 2012 07:41

      Thanks, Laurie. I miss you, too.

  8. October 15, 2012 12:56

    Oh wow! I haven’t watched Goldie’s video because I don’t think I could get through it. I thought I was recovering nicely from Molly’s death and then at dinner the other night, in Las Vegas of all places, when the table conversation turned to dogs, I pretty much lost it. With total strangers.

    • October 18, 2012 07:41

      I’m sorry, Jane. I know how much you love Molly. Grief is so sneaky.

  9. October 15, 2012 15:17

    The heart knows the right time to speak up. Rest well, Goldie.

  10. October 15, 2012 17:48

    You don’t know just how hard I struggle with the exact same thing. I HATE to ask for the things I need. But I’m not afraid to say right now, I need to hug you.

    • October 18, 2012 07:40

      Well, come on out. I could use a hug. And bring Hooper.

  11. October 16, 2012 08:04

    Beautiful writing and opening Sue! I am sorry for your grief but happy that your heart, your soul your very bones know what they need. Our bodies are so wise aren’t they?

    • October 18, 2012 07:40

      Thanks, Scott. Yes, our bodies are wise. Listening is the trick.

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