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  • Writer's pictureKit Wisdom

When grief feels like morphing shapes, sunny honey, and parts of parts of parts.

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

When grief feels like love.

I remember the feeling deeply. It appeared from somewhere unknown to me, somewhere further. Somewhere beyond further. It felt like my world was breaking, and as a result, like my soul might perish along with it.


I had never been there before, experiencing a knowing that simultaneously spanned my brain, my body, and my heart. An overwhelmingly unexpected integration of self. In all honesty, I now understand I must never really have known myself. I, did not know, me.


Where does this leave me, if I am not actually who I thought I was? What parts of me were real? Was any part of me true?

Despite finding myself in the shock and shame of not knowing, it allowed another knowing to reveal itself. A slowly-emerging, uncloaking type of knowing - one that felt utterly, painfully transformational.


I had no idea this was the first time I had ever truly experienced grief. Lived grief. Inhabited grief, like one does a home. And whilst it was, at times, excruciatingly painful to embody, it felt overwhelmingly nourishing to sit in the stillness and sanctuary of my blown wide open heart.


Perhaps it was the permission I gave myself. For what exactly? To open the can of worms? To realise I was already squirming with the worms and what I needed most was to name that? To quieten my whirling mind and feel my way in?

It makes me wonder if noticing that feeling of newfound foreignness is exquisitely important relational data in the ongoing dance with ourselves?


I could argue my choice to step into the heart-blowing-wide-open-ing was a crucial, intentional one, because it has shaped so much of my expansion as a human.


And at the same time, it hurt people, it hugely impacted others. It created waves and ripple effects that I can not forget and, in a way, continue to shape my world. It held up a mirror for me to look into, where I did not like everything I saw.


It makes me wonder around liking ourselves. Around our relationship with ourself. How do we hold ourselves both in compassion and responsibility? And not only as an intellectual experience. What does compassionate responsibility feel like?

It was intriguing, to explore my mirror and notice what feelings came up, especially now that I was looking beyond the surface of my pain. It's like I had uncovered a completely new lens that sprouted from within, bubbling up with a mind of its own, providing me so much more to notice, to chew on, to digest. I noticed myself meditating on what the word 'real' meant. Or what my meaning of real could be. I felt my subconscious programming being painstakingly stripped away, as it shifted into my consciousness. I sensed my bare spring bulb bulging gloriously through the last of the winter soil. I could touch moments of surrender, where rest was chosen, rather than resistance.


I was keenly aware of an overwhelming stillness being cultivated throughout me, as the waves crashed, around me, on me, in me, over me. With me. I could feel myself morphing with the waves, changing shape as I existed amongst both their fierceness and their lulls. I noticed parts of me willing to surrender to outcome and instead become curious around origin.


And just when I felt I had found that sacred place, another layer emerged, ready, patiently waiting, like an old friend who sees only your inherent beauty, knowing my relationship with time was wholly mine.


My mind wonders, in this moment, if grief can be a form of love?

Love of the self we do not know yet. Of the complexity of being human. Of parts of parts of parts. Of the complexity of systems in which we take up space. Of the looking for grace in the most frightening of places. Of surrendering to breaking.


Grief as a pathway to whole, beautiful brokenness.


 

Grief is something about which I have always been curious. Perhaps, if I step into my curiosity of my curiosity, I will find fear there. And not in that "I'm going to die one day" fear, more in a way that speaks to breaking, where breaking is seen by our world as the ultimate weakness, or an ending of sorts. A death in itself.


Perhaps I was afraid of the worldview seeing grief as a failure of brokenness; of a world that judges breaking and judges grieving.


A broken human is not a useful human, I can hear the western world chant, in that implicit, mandated, omnipresent sense.

Perhaps, my fear and curiosity of grief, is a blend of my gnawing intrigue in the visibility or lack thereof, of the totality of the human experience, within a world that does not really cultivate space for it, nor value it, nor really want anyone to exist there, for fear it might distract them away from doing.


It begs many a subsequent question. Is there a right way to break? A right length of time to spend broken? Do we see recovered as the opposite of broken? Can we actually be both? What happens if we do not fit into either of those boxes?


If I think further there, perhaps that feeling is asking the question, if I choose to surrender to grief, will I recover? And will my recovery be 'enough'?


Enough for who?


Are we stuck in a linear framework that cannot extract itself from binary thinking, derived from the delightful mix of all the 'ism's' we exist within? (hello colonialism, capitalism, consumerism, and perfectionism, how goes it?)


What if exploring grief is how we get to meet ourselves?


 


If I think back to when I was a kid, I always felt grief's pull from somewhere sub-surface; from somewhere non-biological, from somewhere you simply cannot point to and say 'aha! that's it'. Perhaps that feeling was a sense of imminence; an encircling presence? And yet at the same time, I also felt somewhat distant from grief for most of my life. Kind of like it was not mine to feel, nor understand; or I needed to maintain some sort of awkward and aloof relationship to it - to stay at arms length.


I often contemplated this conflict from within the safety of my inner confines. I lived a lot of my life in my head; wondering, questioning, contemplating. I watched the world slightly detached, bystander-ing, trying to make sense of it on my own, afraid to put my explorative questions out into the ether.


I also lived these insular experiences in my body; perceptive, guarded, self-conscious. Sensing the world seemed like a full-time job for me, and not knowing what to do with what I sensed, made my job seem vast, infinite, and internally exhausting. On top of that, I felt afraid I was inherently doing my 'job' wrong.


Perhaps this tug of war was, in part, because I often sensed confusion within my surrounding environments. It was everywhere. The absence of feelings, the scarcity of explanations, the inadequacy of understandings.

My mind often pondered how something so natural and inevitable as loss, could be so unexplored; for it to be given so little attention, nor weight; for it to be treated with a sense of open invisibility.

What ensued was a fairly discombobulated (great word, btw) inner landscape - one that was constantly screening for both understanding and rightness - whilst never really receiving either. For me, this was because I could not, and did not, share these thoughts, senses, and experiences. Because my world had socialised me to keep them hidden, unheard, and unspoken.

If I take a moment to close my eyes right now I can see younger me. Brow furrowed, shoulders slightly rounded, seemingly deep in thought. I had always been told I was too serious and thought 'too much' (either that or too truculent!) and yet this never made any sense to me when there was so much about the world that was concerning. That needed to be considered. That required introspection. Besides it's sheer size and the number of people inhabiting it, there was suffering everywhere. There was loss, so much loss; and it felt as if no one was openly acknowledging it, let alone exploring it.


Was this not a serious conundrum that required contemplation?



 


My dad died recently, just a couple of days before Christmas.


In a way, it was expected, and yet, in others ways, it was also unexpected.


Expected in that his deterioration after discovering his brain aneurysm was quite swift. Less than a year. We watched a capable, sturdy, quick-witted, and at times, highly frustrating man, whose life centred on his identity as a doctor, lose his sense of self. We watched him slow down in so many ways, both physically, socially, and cognitively. We witnessed him change drastically, trying to make sense of something that we had never really ever discussed; suffering and loss.


We witnessed him, witnessing himself, unfurling. And yet most of it took place within the confines of his inner world. We only knew what we saw.

For those moments when we sat in the unexpected-ness of it all, what we witnessed brought up emotional pain, overwhelming loss, and endless change - for Dad of course, yet also for us. Grief was both smack bang in our faces as we lived alongside his decline, and encircling us like an impending storm, threatening to rip any armour apart. Armour that had historically represented safety and security, where emotions were bullets to be avoided at all costs.


Potentially, there comes a cost with that cost?


I found my experience of grief surrounding Dad part exposing, part intriguing, part isolating, and part liberating. A cornucopia of feelings all wrapped up in loss that spans a lifetime.

Having spent the last 8 years traversing my inner landscapes exploring all that I'd always withheld, to go back and exist within a context that was essentially my childhood on repeat, was confronting, however also curiously soothing.


My past and present worlds were colliding and a large part of me felt so safe in my need to explore what I was losing, what Dad was losing, what was painful for both of us, what we both might need in those moments. There was so much nourishment in the permission to feel, to sit with what came up, to be still amongst the waves, and step into grief like one might step into love.


With a belief in the unknown.


I didn't get to do this exploration with Dad so much. It was more about creating space with myself for the tricky conversations.

I had many an ally to walk with me in the trickiness. The magnificent garden, cultivated with quiet contemplation at its heart. The voices of gang of youths, the national, and paul kelly to name a few, their words matching my mood, not ever forcing, but allowing. My kid, and his willingness to hold space for big emotions - both his and mine. My close friends, who know my need in being seen is about me storytelling out my heart and soul, arriving wherever I landed. My mum, in her recent readiness for hugs that lingered, that meant more, that slowed her down and provided a moment of solace for us both. My partner, in his beautiful emotional growth, that he once thought himself not capable. The sunshine on my back. The wind on my face.


I chose my pathways and Dad chose his. They were different and that was ok. It had to be. Being able to co-exist, with compassion and understanding around our own and each other's choices, is perhaps one of the hardest and also most liberating ways to be. Where being is so much trickier than doing. Being takes a sense of inherent vulnerability. It takes stillness. A stillness that is often quite uncomfortable.


Sometimes our pathways did meet, in the briefest of moments. Opening cracks where sunlight could spill through, fleetingly warming us both. Time seemed to slow here, or perhaps our movement through time slowed. Perhaps time became completely irrelevant.


Momentary quietude, where being seen by the other in our grief was not painful, but an opportunity to be still, together. Where our transient stasis felt wholehearted, and nourishing, a melting moment of the normalised, slightly awkward, rigid avoidance. If I think back, if I feel back, to those moments, despite their brevity, they felt distinctly like warm honey.

Sunny honey.


Grief is tricky. It has been said to be as personal as our thumbprint. I wholly concur with this sentiment, however, I wonder if we get the opportunity to really explore what our grief thumbprint might look like, what it might feel like, what we might think, be, say, need. Do we openly give ourselves permission to step into it, when the time feels right for us? Does the world in which we live value our choice in stepping, and is it interested to hear what we find? Can we have curiosity without having to look for answers? Can we value cultivating contemplation as a pathway in itself?

Perhaps grief can be a shape. One that morphs as we do. One that has no definition, no ending, no answers, no destination, and yet is ours to freely name.
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