What are you grieving right now?
Although perhaps you may be grieving in the way we usually think of it – grieving a death, specifically – you may be grieving and not even realize it.
Our culture’s comfort with the conversation around grief has widened in recent years, and many of us who hold grief are met with more sensitivity and awareness – that grief doesn’t have a timeline, that grieving isn’t unhealthy, that grief can become a part of your everyday life.
But I also think that our understanding of grief would benefit from a wider lens…
Right now, my husband and I are going through a process of redefining what our marriage looks like. After ten years and two babies and three houses and one business venture, things are different. We are different. And so, we’re actively renegotiating the terms of our relationship, in so many ways. The other day I asked him: I wonder if there is something about the first ten years of our marriage – about the way things were – that needs grieving? He looked at me as though I had three heads until I expanded on the idea: what about all those adventures we used to have, just the two of us? What about the ability to have a meaningful conversation without being interrupted? What about all the things that didn’t work out?
I believe that whenever we’re going through a process of complex change (which I define as a process that requires more than just changes to behaviour, but rather a shift in identity), it serves us well to ask what we’re grieving.
This perspective, which is one I use often with myself and with the women and mothers I work with, is based in a rites of passage approach to complex change. A rite of passage is the kind of change that changes everything; a change that asks you to change who you are or how you think of yourself, in some way. And all rites of passage are characterized, generally, by a catalyzing moment; a call to a different way of being; grief and loss; liminal space; a transformation of some kind, and then a re-integration back into the world from which you came. Think: all myths since the beginning of time and/or butterflies.
Unprocessed grief can often be the culprit when the culmination of complex change just won’t alchemize.
As in: those times when you’re stuck and you can’t figure out why.
Widening our lens on grief could look like a recent client of mine who felt not-quite-right in a wonderful new job, because she hadn’t yet taken the time to process the grief of leaving her old job (which included grief around a shifting identity, shifting community, and the release of the dreams she once had for her old career).
It could look like thinking longingly about dieting after you’ve chosen to begin to love your body just as it is, because you haven’t integrated what it means to be a person who doesn’t diet anymore, or what it means to be a person who can release the desire to want to change her body (which also includes a loss of identity, perhaps, or a loss of belonging to the vast cadre of women who are fervently counting their points after every meal and commiserating over the pain of relinquishing carbs).
When we have an experience that we perceive as stagnation or “stuckness,” as coaches seem to ubiquitously call it, our patriarchal, capitalist culture would have us believe that we’re just not hustling hard enough, that we’re not doing enough or trying hard enough.
But what would happen if you got curious about what you might need to grieve, first, before fully embracing the shift that’s happening in your life? What would happen if, rather than assuming you’re doing something wrong or not-good-enough, you softened into some compassion?
What if you whispered so gently, to the innermost part of you that may be longing to be fully seen and heard,
“Oh sweet love, tell me what makes you sad, right now? Tell me what you’ve lost. Tell me tell me tell me, and we can feel it together.”
As I was writing this, I opened my copy of Pixie Lighthorse’s book “Prayers of Honouring: Grief” and read the following passage. It felt like it was written for me, and maybe for you, too:
“Thank you for this day of cradling my deep disappointment. I’m torn to pieces about not achieving the results I was seeking, despite my persistent efforts. Temper my insatiable need to understand why it worked out this way. Steer my away from patterns of believing that I just can’t get it right.
Help me manage the sinking feeling that extraordinary things will not happen for me. Show me the medicine. Soothe me as I feel the inconsolable longing I carry for the life I’m not allowed to live at this time. Release me from the complicated grip of self-blame and blame of others who had a hand in this.
While I am bargaining with all my might to breathe life into what cannot be, let me rebirth myself into a container that can hold my grief. Can there be any freedom in a different path? Can I pause long enough to hear your instructions? Be the voice that says I can take all the time I need to move through this substantial setback.
Help me contend with my desire to force a different outcome. Mature my perspective about my path heading in a direction I wouldn’t choose if only it were up to me. Show me what I can do with this experience that will be fruitful. If I can’t spin it into gold, let me use it for the higher good of my heart, and serve other hearts, too.
Help me conjure the energy for allowing the unknown architecture to be revealed for what I am supposed to be doing. Summon inside of me a purpose greater than the one I had imagined for myself.”