by Maria Sirois

Everyone deserves at least one person who thinks they are the bread of heaven.
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I learned of my brother’s illness on a Wednesday afternoon. That night, I packed and, the next morning, I flew to his home in North Carolina. That evening, while jamming shirts into my suitcase, in shock and rising panic, I wrote an e-mail to my four closest friends. Sharing John’s news, and my expectations of an abbreviated life for him, I asked them two things: first, to be with me as I needed them, every moment of the journey, and, second, to help me find my way back into the world after this time had passed.

Four years have come and gone since I buried my brother, and these friends continue to remain present. Their love is constant and deep and reminds me, when I can remember, that I am not alone.

In every trespass through darkness, companionship is the rope we seek, the cable that enables us to climb, first into the cave, and then out once more. As we emerge, we discover that some of our friends are still there, holding sustenance, bread and water at the entrance, and some have faded. We learn as well that new companions have found their way next to us, which may or may not be a good thing, and some old companions, toxic ones, persist. One day it will be time to choose. The land at the exit of the cave is new, uncertain, and our fellowship has been altered. Who will we invest in, where we will put our energy, and which bonds will we sever? These are the questions that begin to arise.

Goethe wrote, “Tell a wise person or else keep silent.” In terms of a life with uplift in it, I suggest this: Invest in the choir only; everyone else, let fade. The choir is made up of those who believe we are the bread of heaven. Those we deeply trust and who trust us. The companions who are willing to hold back the webs and moss that line the entrance of the cave so that we may go through, and who light the path with their care and kindness. They send you ridiculously funny cards at the height of your despair and fly hundreds of miles to be with you the day you take your niece shopping for a dress to wear at her father’s funeral. They offer you, in other words, their whole hearts. Everyone else we can let fade as the edges of our pain begin to soften. We have grown through our travail into new beings and only those who serve to appreciate our growth belong near us.

“This world was made to be free in,” David Whyte teaches. “Give up all other worlds except the one to which you belong … Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” This does not mean that we need to fully divorce ourselves from anyone who does not honor who we have become. It does mean that we need to divorce ourselves from the habit of spending too much time and energy on them and instead marry ourselves more deeply to those who lift us. We, who have been through the cave, know that we don’t have time to waste on friendships that no longer serve us.

Consider this: Each time we move away from poisonous commitments, we clear a path within our heart for someone new to arrive who regards us well. We open space in the world to be surprised … by the type of hello that warms us fully and the kind of glance that reminds us that we are, in fact, significant.

One day this will become clear:

Choose your choir.

Love who you love and who love you.

Clear out the rest.

There is no time to waste on bonds that make life heavier.

This post is excerpted from A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (And Other Dark, Difficult Times), forthcoming in March 2016.

Learn more from Maria in The Certificate in Positive Psychology or the Teaching for Transformation course.

MariaSirois Dr. Maria Sirois, PsyD, is the Vice President of Curriculum at Wholebeing Institute and an inspirational speaker, seminar leader, and author who has worked at the intersections of wellness, psychology, and spirituality for nearly 20 years. As a wellness guide, Maria has been invited to keynote throughout the country at conferences for wellness centers, hospitals, hospices, philanthropy, business, academic and corporate institutions, as well as for the general public. She has been called both a “true teacher” and “an orator of great power and beauty.” Her book, “Every Day Counts: Lessons in Love, Faith, and Resilience from Children Facing Illness, was published in 2006.”