Lynne Goldklang is a psychotherapist, writer and a grateful member of a HOPE bereavement group.
“I don’t think of all the misery but of all the beauty that remains.” — Anne Frank
It was one of those restless nights a few months after my husband’s death as I flipped on the TV and stared at the movie that was playing. A mother is sitting in a hospital waiting area crying as her young daughter’s life is ebbing. A strange older woman engages her in conversation and asks who is dying. The old woman listens carefully and then advises the grieving mother to be aware of “collateral beauty” — words that are the title and essence of the movie.
The meaning of collateral beauty as portrayed in the film is that love and kindness are all around if the grieving person is open to notice and receive. It is a term that is mystical yet down to earth, easily accessible.
Experiences of collateral beauty can be profound or simple — a hug from a friend, a visit from a neighbor, a door held open by a stranger, an invitation to dinner, a business call with a caring voice on the other end, a loving conversation with a family member, cuddling with a cherished pet — countless little acts that can ease our pain even if only for a moment.
When deep in grief, we are sometimes distracted — feeling spaced out — our physical bodies in present time but mind and heart are elsewhere. The other side of this state is when we are hyper-alert to our surroundings. The grass seems greener, the sky bluer, the flowers more fragrant. We stare at the night sky and feel connected to the universe. Loss may leave us raw and vulnerable yet open to moments of wonder.
Letting collateral beauty into our lives when we are grieving can be balm for the spirit. It is everywhere in life, not just in human relationships. The Arts can often soothe or match our deepest feelings.
In the best selling book The Goldfinch, a child’s inconsolable grief over his mother’s tragic death is the backdrop for a highly acclaimed novel in which a connection to a painting keeps the protagonist going throughout decades of a turbulent life.
The Arts can sustain us and elevate our experience to the highest realms of our being. It could be the world of music, theater, dance, literature, visual arts — all pathways of beauty that can touch us profoundly.
Being part of a support group such as the HOPE program places us in an environment where there is an abundance of empathy, kindness, inspiration. There is the presence of collateral beauty when we are in the flow of giving and receiving loving support. The telling of our stories can bring comfort as we share the beauty of our memories and the love inside us that is forever.
The term collateral beauty is best experienced rather than defined. It is an affirmation of wonder — inviting us to cherish moments of our lives that can be good and sweet even when we are in the depths of loss and sorrow.