Taking time away from everyday life in order to fully process hard stuff
Intentional grieving: Creating time and space to just totally feel your loss. “Intentional grieving allows us to listen deeply to our hearts instead of reacting mindlessly to our emotions.”
It was a tough holiday season this year, the first one without my mother, who passed away in early September at the age of 89. But it was also my first holidays living in a world without parents, or any family of origin to speak of. They are all gone. I’m the only one who is left. No cousins even, just a few second cousins whom I like but am not particularly close to. As much as I miss my mom, I think that part has been the hardest to adjust to. I’m not just an orphan (at age 56) but someone who is grappling with a whole new paradigm that was unexpectedly much more destabilizing than I anticipated it would be. It feels like the rug has been ripped out from under me and I didn’t know how to move forward.
I’ve been trying to muddle through, taking time for myself here and there to try to just really feel what I’m feeling and work through it, but in a house full of people sheltering at home together, plus a bunch of pets who are sweet but sometimes needy, I just haven’t been able to give myself the space that I required to really process everything I’ve been feeling. I needed some time to not take care of anyone but me for a little while, and to just really dive deep, with the intention of not being healed — that’s not really how grief works — but at least to hear the wisdom of my own inner voice about how to move forward in a not quite so discombobulated state.
That’s where intentional grieving comes in. Last Sunday I booked myself into a hotel from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday morning. I wish I could have fit a few more nights in there, to be honest, but I felt like that was as much time as I could reasonably give myself before it started to be a hardship for my special needs son. But even though I wish I’d had a bit more time, I’ve gotten a lot accomplished in the 30 hours or so that I’ve been away so far.
Just having this chunk of time with no distractions has meant that I’ve been able to really grapple with the disruption of no longer having the support network that has always been there for me as long as I can remember. I’ve got my dear husband, my son, my other life partner Nat, plus some very good friends who really care about me. But none of that is a substitute for a mother, in particular. My dad passed on more than 25 years ago, and although I still miss him, Mom was the one that I relied on for emotional support, to bounce things off of, and to ask the advice of.
In the past 15 years or so we’d gotten to be more friends than parent and child, as she began to rely on me for more things, and in some ways, I became the parent. By the time she moved in with us for the last six months of her life, Mom relied on me to help her with everything except eating. Up until about 7 or 8 years ago, we’d been doing a mother/daughter trip once a year, just to get away and really spend some quality time together doing something fun. Sometimes it was something big, like going to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and sometimes it was something small like going to a local retreat center, run by nuns. Whatever it was, it was always special doing those trips.
One of the hardest aspects has been not being able to tell her things or to ask her questions anymore, something that I’ve always had for as long as I can remember. Mom was a pivotal tent pole in my life, and even when I moved away and started my own family, she still played an important role. I got along pretty well with my mother always, but one of my clients who had a very fraught relationship with hers tells me that she feels the same way. Whether or not she was a good parent, whether or not life is easier with her gone, a mother is a central figure to a child, even if she mostly didn’t raise you — as is the case with my client. Having her no longer in the world upends it. It just does.
And having nobody in my life anymore who knew me as a child changes things in a way that is difficult to describe. I’m the new older generation and it’s taking some getting used to. And, having this time away to really focus on that has been very helpful. This morning I slept late, ordered some breakfast, and then took a long bath. I listened to music that made me cry, and I thought about all the things that are going to be different from here on in. Being able to do that without worrying about having to pull myself together in order to respond to someone else’s needs meant that I could just be and really feel it.
The quickest way to move through something painful is to really let it in and to interface with it fully, but I just haven’t felt like I’ve had the chance to do that with everything else that goes on in my day-to-day life. Intentional grieving is helping me to regain my equilibrium. When I ask myself without other distractions what I need beyond a long sleep and a long bath, I can actually hear the voice that knows.
After my bath, I did a shamanic journey to connect more deeply with what I need to heal some more and begin to move forward. “Basically, shamanic journeying is a way of communicating with your inner or spirit self and retrieving information. Your inner self is in constant communication with all aspects of your environment, seen and unseen.” It’s a deep meditative state that offers guidance and healing. Within this state, you become a kind of hologram for the Universe. The wisdom you seek is inside of you but may be presented by helping spirit guides who represent different energies. They may come in the form of Animal Spirit Guides, Angels or other mythological beings, gods and goddesses, aliens, or all manner of other manifestations of the collective unconscious and Univeral web of life.
What science is beginning to confirm, the ancients have long believed. The Universe is a holistic organism with its own intelligence that cannot simply be divided down into mechanistic parts. What happens to one drop of water has a bearing on the rest of the ocean, to a greater or a lesser degree, depending upon many factors. This is what animistic traditions call the web of life or Taoists call the Tao. Ancestors hold a particular place of honor in both traditions. They are a part of the thread of our lives that extends both backward and forward. In Norse tradition, your ancestors are envisioned as a skein of yarn.
What I got clearer about in my journey today is that my family of origin is no longer in this world, but they are now my ancestors. Although it’s not the same as being able to hug them or pick up the phone and hear their voice, I can still feel the essence of my loved ones when I take the time to tune into that. Stepping back from the rat-race for a few hours allowed me to go into the meditative space I needed to in order to feel how deeply connected I still am to my mom as well as my other ancestors, such as my dad and my grandparents.
She is really right there, just out of everyday reach but imminently accessible in non-ordinary reality, the place one goes to in a journey space. I can still tell her about my concerns or my wins. I can still ask for her guidance in that place. The yarn isn’t broken. It’s just in a slightly different format. I still miss seeing her face and hearing her voice and that isn’t going to magically go away anytime soon, but I no longer feel completely destabilized by her absence. Having this time to myself to turn inward and really focus on my loss has meant that it no longer holds the same power over me.
When I check out tomorrow morning and return to the hubbub of my regular life, I’ll have a new bit of inner stability to bring back with me. I’ll still have moments when the grief of missing my mother grabs me by the eyes and makes them leak, but I just feel so much more freed up now having had this time to really focus on both the loss itself and on what I needed to give myself in order to get stable again. I feel reconnected with myself — not just the part that is sad, but the part that is resilient and adaptable. I’m still grieving and I will be for some time, but I no longer feel adrift. I have refound myself and that is the only anchor that I truly need.
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this mini-retreat and to give myself what I needed. I’m grateful that I can afford it, and that I have the support at home to have allowed it to happen. Those are not small things, but it also reminds me that even at home I can still claim more time and space for my needs going forward. Where this is concerned, I’m the only thing standing in my own way. I owe it to myself and to the others who rely on me for support to take good care of myself and to make space for what I need to be as whole and healthy and present as I can be. That’s a commitment I’m willing to make, for my own sake and for others.
© Copyright Elle Beau 2021
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story is appearing anywhere other than Medium.com, it appears without my consent and has been stolen.
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