There is a lot of grief that surfaces this time of year. When I worked in hospice, it was… a busy time… for deaths, symptoms and bereavement needs. Not such a surprise in a season of reflection, retreat and gatherings that involve our most loved, complex and intimate relationships.
Grief is not just death related, of course. It can be tangled up in the release of dreams or ideas, the onset & duration of chronic illness, disillusionment, major changes in relationships or how we show up in the world… it can be anticipatory… or about the state of the world or events, places and people far away that, for whatever reason, have a particular pull on our heartstrings.
Grief is as much a part of life as death and birth. It is a companion in between, whose unique presence reminds us of the thread connecting both in a grander creation story.
There is no guaranteed relief or release from grief, and it can seem as if we can’t get away or will never feel whole or well again once it has brought us to our knees. Yet, there are moments of clarity that perhaps only grief can offer to our understanding of life and this journey unique to each of us.
Grief may be one of our greatest, most challenging teachers. I know it has been for me. I know it has also taught me *so much* healing. Healing grief is not about making it go away, but about the very opposite… making space to let it be, acknowledging its presence, trusting its flow when it gushes through us or, sometimes, seems to be absent when it ought to be present. That, too, is one of its many ways.
All the talk of dealing and living with grief is usually easier said than done, isn’t it? And barely touches on its throat-tightening, gut-wrenching impressions. In moments of its greatest grip, we can’t even talk at all.
What I have found helpful… is to do my best to center in on a sense of wholeness and well-being even in its midst. Sometimes I find that wholeness and medicine in me, or in prayer or practice. Sometimes in another person or experience. Most often, though, it is in the quiet relationship tended between my heart and nature. Mother Earth knows the wholeness of life cycles like no other… and she will hold & feed us as we remember in our bodies and hearts that we are all a part of it. Even in the continuous physical transformation of life there is a well of being that we can drink from.
There is one thing that so many of my families in hospice needed to hear…
How you grieve, and all the ways you feel into how grief moves through you and the space that loss leaves behind – it is all OK. Even if it is relief. Or desire to forget. Or anger. There is a timing to grief’s energy, and like life, it will shift in you as well. And every grief is a grief you’ve never experienced before. So feel what you feel.
Let it express and move you in the ways it does. Let the tears fall, the screams leave your lips, the questions hang in the air, the anger have a place, and let the space… well, let the space hold you when it comes to visit. There is room for everything you feel there, in the nature of your experience.
We are built to heal what we allow ourselves to feel, even if we don’t know how or where to begin. Nature will act within us, upon us, moving toward harmony for the discord – and there is peace to be found in admitting that we are more than just light and joy, and more than just dark and sorrow… and that mostly, all the time, we carry both as organic keepers of wisdom and cycles.
What I want to say is not always easily received… that grief is not evil or bad or to blame. That, indeed, it is even full of gifts. Now, you may not be feeling that statement at all right now – especially if you are in the acute throes of it. “Gift” is a shitty word for what it can feel like at times – I totally hear you. Know that you don’t need to resonate with that at all today. Be where you are.
Yet, one of the gifts that I have seen, experienced and known from grief seems so detrimentally important to our times and this season of gathering with our extended families and communities, noticing what and who have moved on, and all of the joys and challenges within.
Grief peels away the layers of daily life to reveal the very core of who we are and what matters most to us. To the center of our most true and exposed self. To the currents of time and the reality that, for life to be here in this shared earthly home, nature must shape-shift its energy and form – and we are not immune to, separate from or above this in any way. Even as beings of great spirit.
The type of humility that grief can evoke is what wakes up our compassion and relativity – and translates, if we let it, to acts of living and creating new stories, of lives lived fully, together.
If we allow it to expand our hearts, rather than inhibit, we might dare to see ourselves in another, and another in ourselves, and all of us swept up in the fragility of body and time, ticking to a rhythm that leads into a sacred mystery greater than any one of us, and infinitely vast within each of us as well.
I think often of the feeling that can overtake us when we sit upon a mountain top – maybe because I’m surrounded by old, wise mountains here at my home. There is a dichotomy of truth there that reminds me of the way grief can move through us when we don’t fight it. A risk AND a safety within that moment of seeing, that moment of breathing life on the summit – where we feel both intimately small AND somehow vastly powerful all at once… with only the promise of awareness, right here and now, to ignite our resolve to Live fully, in honor of all that has come and gone before, all that we ran out of time for, and all that cannot be known as we bravely step into whatever time we have…
… to the place where love is not an ideal, but life itself, accepted, allowed, changing, changing us.
It is the work of growing and being fully alive, together, for a time – trusting the cycles within cycles of interconnection and growth. And in that time we have the chance – maybe just A chance – to consciously appreciate the memories we co-create, to be generous to one another, learn from our differences with curiosity, to say the things we’ve always held in our hearts, and enjoy as much as we can of the experiences we share.
[The above art journal spread was inspired by and references a painting that I loved as a girl, which was originally inspired by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Mixed-media in an altered book.]