Grief Work: New Things Can Grow out of Our ‘Compost’

Written by Lara Just – May 2020…

CHANGE has clearly been a theme this year so far. In and outside of sessions various losses and grief – and ‘stuff’ (old and new) has been coming up for many of us, particularly in these current strange lockdown times. Perhaps we have been more available for these to come up now. In all their different forms so that they can be transformed into the rich ‘compost‘ it is meant to become: to allow new things to form and grow from it. Compost needs to be digested properly, slowly broken down, over time – so it can become a rich base for new life to appear and new growth to occur. New things which we cannot yet see…

It is only after experiencing loss that we are challenged to live life. But that challenge is often covered up, hidden, gnawing away on our inner parts. To experience loss is a process that often cannot fully be metabolised without appropriate processing or ‘grieving’. Loss or losing some-thing (not just some-one), can also mean a loss of the ‘old ways’ or change in general, as a loss of something old when something new is put in its place. This may either be chosen or forced upon us. In our culture we are often told to buckle up, pull up our socks and get on and over with it.

Yet the grief process – or change process – is a process. That means it takes time and space (metaphorically and physically). There may not be a pre-specified limit on it. It is unique. And it will be different for each and everyone of us.

Isn’t it strange, that we find this so hard to accept? That it requires time but it is uncertain how long it will really take?

Many of us believe that at some point, even hope, we are truly ‘over it’, done with it, are ‘fine’ with it, moving forward, all is good. Tick. In a box.

Yet, every time again we may get surprised. Unexpectedly something comes up, that hasn’t been digested yet.

We have such fear of moving backward, or ‘downward’ into our grief. Frightened to be captured there forever. The previously impervious facade of “I’m FINE” can only held up for so long. At other times we only become aware of it, after we have pulled ourselves out of these depths literally by our own boot straps. To keep walking. Feeling movement.

It is important to understand that even the word ‘grief’, ‘loss’, or ‘bereavement’ have somewhat negative connotations in our society. It sounds ‘dark’. Like something that should be shunned into a small untidy box. Into that one room of our house where we store all that ‘stuff’ which we never really intend on tidying up. We could also just never open that door.

But a lot of our experiencing while living or being alive – the emotional ups and downs, or these niggling feelings under the surface of unsettledness, dissatisfaction, unease – could be well linked to underlying ‘grieving’ and ‘change’ processes yearning to happen. 

“Sometimes it’s OK if the only thing you did today was breathe.”

Yumi Sakugawa

I often use the metaphor of the sea with the waves washing, sometimes crashing, in to shore. Our grief can feel like that at times. At the point of extreme loss or trauma, like the loss of a loved one or pet, a sudden  relationship loss or divorce, loss of a friendship, a home, country, any of these and others can feel intense. The waves of emotions are literally crashing over us. One after another, after another, continuously. Keeping emotions at bay seems impossible at times. Or the opposite happens where we go numb, dissociate. Then only over time can we notice that the spaces between these waves become longer, more spaced out. Things are OK – just about. At times. Then they are not. We are surprised. Thought we had dealt with it. We may shun it, feel rage or anger with it, judge it. And yet all we can do is ride it out, let it move through us, watch it and observe, and stay safe and kind. Let them wash over us, through us, with us. We know now that there will be calm again. In-Between.

And the point isn’t to only get to the calm places in between the waves. Find numerous and new inventive ways to ‘get through it’ – over to the other side. To just ‘get on’ with our lives. It really does need its own time (and space). It is not just about waiting it out – for the waves to subside or the weather to change. But in time we can reach a place where our relationship to those waves (and the weather) is changed.

The loss(es) will never be erased from our storyline or history. They will always be there. These deep dark holes may never feel completely filled again. Random things can still trigger painful reminders. The aching in our heart and our core. It can hit us out of the blue. Yet, it is our relationship to them that will change. Painfully slowly. Over time and with time. 

In our time poor society this can feel really frustrating. 

And sometimes we all need to have a little help with that.

As a therapist I too have my own therapeutic support system in place. A valued therapist, supervisor, peer supervision group, some few close friends, an understanding and patient partner, a dog, animals, nature … etc whatever it is that could help. Even if it is complete solitude and alone-time at others.

A few years ago I went through some incredibly painful losses. All of them at once they seemed to come. And on top of it they activated old losses that hadn’t yet been dealt with. I don’t think I will ever be completely ‘over’ them. They still hurt at times – a lot. However, I now appreciate being aware of this pain more, my relationship to it has somewhat changed. Like a friend that has to be welcomed, and time taken to sit down with a cup of tea – and to be with. My trust has changed, that it will be ok again. In-between the waves.

The hardest part may be to meet ourselves, and these hurt parts, with patience and acceptance and compassion – for their needs. To hold our pains and emotions more gently, soothingly, and just go with it when the waves come. 

Then know that there will be the calm again to enjoy the floating and the sunshine in between the waves. 

I want to share with you a poem by Francis Weller that I found in his book “The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief” (here is the kindle or audible version). It may resonate with some, who feel something inside of them that wishes to break free, that wishes to be born or spring out to life anew. At a time when we have had to come to a pause and have been given space to reevaluate – in these lockdown months.

Poem by Francis Weller*

A Dream of Burning 

To lift this wanting up out of dead wood.
Something, someone reaches up to stop this rising
as though the movement up is treasonous.

This wanting has been frozen, caught in the grain
of the fallen log for ten thousand years: Memories
of ice ages and mastodons.

But in the wood is the dream of burning—of flames,
heat and tongues of orange/red—leaping up into
the night, warming those who come close by.

This wanting breaks open the wood. The sow bugs,
spiders, beetles and the invisible captains of decay
are relieved of duty.

This wood is for fire and it is time to burn.

*Out of his book: “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” (pp. 125-126). 

Have a beautiful May and start to Spring. ‘May’ beautiful things grow forth.

Warm wishes,