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Seasons of Loss

If you search this blog, you will stumble onto “Seasons,” in which I talk about my favorite time of the year: autumn. With its rich colors, deep scents, and vivid changes, I love it. The fire and warmth move me to cozy places of the mind. The autumn of the heart takes me someplace else. 

Grief in its beginning stages, before the work of sadness is done, is cold and brittle. It drives wedges into our hearts and minds, and as if we’re stuck outside in the freezing cold, it immobilizes us in our pain and threatens in its beginning months to shut us down. The winter of grief stands mocking us and challenging us to bury ourselves and succumb to the cold. And then, as only the freezing cold can do when a person is close to death, it tells us that we’re really warm and tired, and that sleep is to be desired. What we need to do here is feel the shivers and stand up and move. As we breathe out and notice our breath, we see the cold in ways we can’t feel it. We must move forward and survive this desolate place.

In the work of the tears, we feel. For the first time, we understand our own pain at the loss of what was. Loss brings with it the death of innocence. Whether it is our first loss, or several losses out, each time a piece of innocence leaves us. It seems as if the winter of grief will never leave us alone.

In our longing, the winter does pass and merges into a spring of the soul. The texture of our tears changes, and new little shoots of hope and life spring up, as if by magic. We had no clue they were present! Where the hope of spring comes from is the tears that watered our winters, the fires that ignited our rage and anger, and the soft gentle moments that called us as we trembled in pain. All of it planted seedlings that are now poised to offer up growth.

In many ways, it seems as if we’re privileged to have our own miracle. We may shake our heads in wonderment and then accept that, somehow, the thing we thought would never end is changing us inside; and if we’re wise, we let it do its work within our hearts. We allow the spring rains to nurture new thoughts and questions. The spring rains are softer and gentler, and as we cry them, we continue to water and grow. At this point, we don’t fully understand our pathway forward, but by now the gentle sunlight of the spring calls us into new life. And, like the seedlings that have now showed themselves, we move upwards, forcing the earth to give way to new bloom. Spring, with its gentle power, is pushing us into the summer of exploration and strength.

The summer of strength, with the trees that give us needed shade, allow us to rest from the difficult work of the winter and spring, feeding us new and wonderful meals. We explore new places, gain new confidence, and realize that we’re doing the things we thought we couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do because of the losses in our life. We can reconcile old and create new relationships. In the heat of the season, we discover new ways of being. Maybe we even climb a tree or two. We swim, play, and discover that life can be good. We notice the days are cooling, the urgency of summer’s end sets in, and we wonder in our new strength what we’ve learned.

The days and seasons have carried us into the autumn of loss, and we allow ourselves to turn around and to look at the landscape. We see the fire of wisdom begging us to sit under the trees that are now turning to their rich colors. Soon they will drop their leaves of glory and will return them to Mother Earth. Now we sit in the place provided. We pause and begin to view the lessons of the seasons: the wisdom waiting happily to be examined. It is time to discover the treasures we didn’t know would come from our pain.

Loss, in all of its diversity, teaches us so many lessons: the life choices that we made that led us into dark places; our inability to say yes to something that was good because we were afraid to risk something new; the “I should have not done that,” as we realize the pain it brought into a loved one’s life; our first ventures from home and how we had to learn that maybe we weren’t so grown up after all; the failed relationship and realizing only too late that there are two sides to everything; the realization that, while the marriage was good, we might have done things to make it better.

The sitting in our autumns asks us to look, and as we look, we see the stuff we held strong in. We notice our weaknesses that became new strengths because we were willing to get through the winter and walk into our spring. We see our stumbles, our risings, and our victories over things we thought during our winters and early springs we’d never be able to conquer. We see ourselves in “Navigation” during our springs and summers, and we must pause to say “wow” once again.

As we sit in our autumn, we find ourselves shedding tears for ourselves—weird tears of amazement and understanding at the brutality of what we endured and the inner strength it took to get to the place we’re now seated on. In wisdom, we come to understand that the brutal winter had to happen so that the spring and summer could come. We come to an understanding within ourselves that, while we would not do it again, we’re glad we walked through the seasons of our loss.

As the leaves begin to fall, we bend down, retrieve a bright red one, and hold it in our hand. Giving thanks for the autumn, we return it to where it was so that Mother Earth can reclaim what is rightfully hers. We shed one last tear, realizing that once again, the process has worked within us. And we know we’ll shed other tears that will come from places of wisdom, courage, and gratitude. Inasmuch as things can be, all is well.

On My Way to Somewhere Else

Losses in our lives happen in many ways, and my greatest loss happened while I was trying to get to somewhere else that wasn’t on my agenda, or at least not in print. It happened in a way I won’t forget: a walk downstairs to find an altered life. A note on the dinner table telling me where his body was. That was the part of the promise he did keep.

We write scripts for our lives, and when they are interrupted the jolt can be confusing and difficult to understand. While we’re making our way along the road, the demons interrupt our peaceful walk and give us the boot off our carefully manicured path into something more like sludge, mess, and unexpected confusion.

At first, we panic, and then we try to extricate ourselves from this place, only to find ourselves pulled further into the mess of the sludge. When we realize that we can best exit the sludge by remaining calm, relaxing, and working with it, we’re free to embrace it. We can then deal with the mess in this new place. We figure out that the best method for getting free from where we are now trapped is exploring it for alternative exit options. That is how most grief and loss journeys begin: a surrender to the unknown.

I got out of the immediate sludge state and realized that there was a mountain in front of me, and that I needed to go through it to reach the place I needed to get to. That was both a relief and rather terrorizing.

With the unwanted interruption to our lives, we forget where we were headed, focusing on the path before us that has become cluttered with boulders, fallen trees, and strange critters that inhabit the once pristine path we thought we were on, and realizing that we’ve been transported to a much different place altogether. Where are we? What is this about, and will it be a help or hindrance?

No, we’re not in Oz or anyplace like it, though a part of us may wish for ruby slippers that we can click to take us magically back to before we wound up wherever this is now. We don’t get the slippers. Instead, we receive a walking stick that will come in handy in turning over the rocks, giving us leverage to lift the heavy trees that block our route, and in testing the strange new critters to see if they are friend or foe.

It’s taken several minutes to construct this, and yet the descent into this place happens instantly. We’re just not aware that within seconds of hearing they’re dead, “I’m leaving you,” “I’m moving out to pursue…,” or whatever the loss is, we’re sent by our mind into this place. As we grapple with it in those first few moments, we realize that our control is gone. Will we ever be the same? Will our world ever feel the same?

The Answer Everyone Wants

In this place we ask: When will it end? And when will things return to normal? The honest answer that we eventually discover is that we’ll develop a new normal, discover a new life path, and renegotiate what our personal universe looks like and what it is filled with. We forget about the old somewhere that had held us captive and begin searching for a new somewhere else. The catch to this search is that things no longer work the way they once did. The topsy-turvy has flung us into the unknown. All we can do is thrash around until we find something to grab onto that feels stable. 

We start to learn that the tears, the missing, and the uncertainty will fade over time, and in their place the texture and quality of what is present in our lives changes. Slowly, we stop asking when and start focusing on the how to of this new place. This leads us to finding a support system, a new village of people that is populated with those who will become our new friends. They understand where we are! They’ve been in the sludge, gotten out, and faced their own mountain. They’ve dismissed some old village residents due to the fact that they left the village or are not able to attend to the needs in the village at this time. We find a therapist who speaks our language and we seek out spiritual direction, or stumble into another path altogether. As we gain strength and our concentration returns, we begin reading books and are able to question and act on those questions. 

This new place of discovery is exciting, scary, and wide open. Oh, the options that we can explore!  Slowly, the places we were headed fade away, and we’re left only with new things to discover. 

You know how people say that we’ve changed? We have! If we do the work of grief, loss, and pain well enough, we reinvent ourselves. There are old things, new things, and a bunch of creation waiting to spring forth. It can all be good. In the meantime, the question we wanted answered disappears as we become involved in the process of creating new life within ourselves. New life and meaning are unique to each of us.

The tears and the missing are still present. They’ve taken on a new form and texture. For me, it was somewhere in my year three that I noticed the real change. How did this happen? It wasn’t about time; it was processing and a world view change. It is something we experience and understand due to the work we do around our grief, loss, and pain, effecting change deep within. 

Noticing the Gift

For some people, the loss and the grief that are encountered become a gift. What? How can this be? I’ll admit that on August 29, 2016, if you had told me I’d be typing these words in 2021, I’d have had said something to the effect of “You’re nuts!” I’m typing this and I know I’m not nuts. Telling someone at the beginning of the process that change will happen is counterproductive to the process. There are some “please do’s” and “please don’ts” that are essential to observe.

Relationships can trap us, cause us to shortchange ourselves, or make us second-guess what we want in our lives—to name just a few of the things that can happen. The fact that she cheated on you and didn’t want to work it out is sad. After the heartache passes, a new discovery of freedom comes.

He or she is now gone; the love you once had will always remain, and now you are asking new questions. You want something different from before, and finding it is a good thing. You haven’t changed; you’ve grown! You are beginning to trust your own knowing, and this is an essential component of finding the new place of existence.

The gift of the tragedy is not pleasant. We are called to understanding through the unveiling of new options that we truly have choices if look and access them in the present. It is what we find buried in the rubble that was once sitting out in the open, waiting for us to discover it for the first time. 

We couldn’t see it where we were because our understanding of our lives was focused on the life we had then. We weren’t stumbling along the path, attempting to find the new points of entrance into the new place that we need to get to.

I know some who have needed to step into employment for the first time in their lives and now report feeling fulfillment in a way they never have before. I know others who took the chance of a new career. Somehow, the lack of security allowed them to risk big! For others, it is doing the same thing with fresh new insight into the things they value most. For me, it resulted in several things. My favorite is that I returned to school for a certificate in spiritual direction. I love the program! Would I have discovered this had I not been widowed? NO! It took me moving to a new place and finding a new path to walk to do what I’m doing now.

Along the way, we employ new navigation strategies, discover our “rose rooms,” and come to an understanding that the interruption that occurred on the way to somewhere else, while tragic, has become a touchstone in our lives.