The winter solstice is here. A time for rest and retreat in this season of darkness and transformation. Although six months have passed, it amazes me how much my life is still filled with fear. I’ve read lots of books on the topic and they all tell me the same thing: that anxiety is a normal response to an extraordinary event. Or in even simpler terms: that fear is a natural reaction to pain. They tell me that fear is the opposite of love. And that it takes courage to let go of it. To release our grip on it. To befriend it. But it wasn’t until I read Edith Eger’s book The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life that I understood how hard that is. Because fear is paralysing. It creates a relentless cycle of hyper-vigilance, thinking that it can protect us from losing even more. But life doesn’t work like that: pain and loss are an inevitable part of life, no matter how vigilant we are. Instead Eger tells us that we should stay curious. Don’t you want to know what happens next? If you shine your light into the darkest places?
Just like that the season changes again. Whether you want it or not, time passes and your grief changes shape. A softness returns to your heart and the feeling to want to be anywhere but here slowly dissipates. The hole is still there, but somehow you start to draw colourful lines along its edges. You start to breathe in life. You open yourself up to the flow of life again. No one describes this more elegantly than Gabrielle Roth in her Maps to Ecstacy: A Healing Journey for the Untamed Spirit. For me there was still a lingering question about which direction I should move in. Until I came across the idea of co-destiny, created by Joe Kasper after the tragic death of his son. It’s the idea that you can share a destiny with someone, and that you can still carry out this joined destiny without them. As the daughter of an artist, for me that means continuing her work by showing our vision of the world through photographs and visual art, by writing her stories and mine, and most of all by living our dream.
When things fall apart
One moon ago, on midsummer’s night, my mum died. Just like that – no farewells, no teary goodbyes. The most peaceful death anyone could wish for. In the midst of life and light, just like the dancing fireflies. After all this loss it feels like my world has been shattered. What am I to do now? Thankfully a dear friend showed up with pink flowers and the book I had once lend her When things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times. The book is exactly about finding yourself in this no-man’s-land of not knowing where you are or what’s going to happen. Chödrön explains that being alive means always being in no-man’s-land. Because the fact is that we never know what’s happening. We might think we do, but we don’t. Life is challenging and never perfect the way we want it to be. So she tells us to face up to the enormous space that has opened up. That we should move towards the turbulence and doubt, not away from it. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.
The shape of grief
It is easy to write about rainbows and butterflies. About the abundance of life blooming all around us. It is much harder to write about tragic loss. To sit with our pain and to actually acknowledge it. In the past I’ve often tried to push myself through it, to prove how strong and resilient I was. But this time I wanted to give myself as much space and time as I needed. So instead of running back to my old life, I read It’s ok that you’re not ok by Meghan Devine. It’s one of the most enlightening books on grief I’ve ever read. It felt like a voice in the dark telling me: what you are feeling is completely normal. It helped me to understand that it’s not crazy to feel all over the place, have mysterious pains and aches in your body, or feel anxious about EVERYTHING. That you’re allowed to collapse – after all, your world has collapsed. And that this isn’t something we’re supposed to fix. As Adrienne Rich wrote, “There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.”
Hearts get broken
This winter was one of the darkest winters in years. At first it seemed it would be beautiful season, full of new adventures and love. It was the discovery of a tiny heart beating inside of me that illuminated our world. Isn’t it the most miraculous thing, to carry the seed of life within you? From that day on you are the guardian of another living being, protecting it with all your might. Words fail to describe the sadness and grief when this little heart stops beating. Together we surrendered to the dark, letting it cut more deep. It was only after a few days that I realised that somewhere inside I might be holding onto it, not wanting to let it go… but that eventually I would have to. Over the years I’ve learned that rituals help with grief, so that night we put a blossoming Curcuma flower on a silver tray in the middle of the room and lit three candles around it, a healing stone and seashell heart, and as the sage was burning and the drum beating, I cut the seed of life and offered it up to the stars.