My dears, I feel like reflecting on how grief and growth may—as I’m discovering—meet in our lives. So I’ll hit you right up front with what feels deeply personal to me.
Since my mother had some awful surgery just before Hurricane Michael pounded my parents’ house and town, then she declined and died three months later, I’ve been immersing myself in research on dying, death, and “life after.” If you know me, you know this is very different for me.
Though I do have a memory of myself sprawled on my pink bedspread, 13 years old, writing a piece on the logic of the immortal soul. No one had assigned it to me, and no one was waiting to read it. But it was important to me, because eternal life was a clear and vibrant truth to me. But that was then.
Fall from paradise
That sweet certainty was shattered just a few years later. I was in a college honors history class, and I had just become a young mother. Then we spent several weeks on the Holocaust.
A hammer of shock and grief came down on me. When the apocalyptic dust settled a bit, I declared myself an atheist and an existentialist. Though in truth I also railed at God for allowing such atrocities.
I remember one bike ride home. I was livid, cursing and swerving all over the road, and newly free somehow.
Out went the Catholic creed I’d recited by heart since childhood, and the baby with the bathwater in terms of any belief in a higher power. I didn’t believe in anything beyond these mortal lives of ours. I just believed in myself, and in the folks around me.
Thinkers like Viktor Frankl moved me. And my passion for the human journey was somehow born then.
Jung and mystery in the mix
My continuing explorations, especially reading Jung and experiencing synchronicity, brought me back to a kind of center from that brink. But I was still an existentialist.
Life begins on the other side of despair.
To me, the “shorthand” for describing this philosophy is that we create our own meaning and purpose in life. In existentialism that’s what—as in all—there is.
What’s more, that point of view has been a space of freedom for me. A creative space. My fascination with the energy underlying all things has co-existed peacefully with my existentialist mindset. I’ve been congruent.
The realm of quantum physics has increasingly been the unifying field for me. Everything can come together there without potentially loaded religious or New Age language that may alienate people for all kinds of reasons.
And yet, in counterpoint, I’ve also, always had a soft spot in my heart for mystery. For what we can’t explain. Was that a distant fife and drum heralding my own eventual, evolutionary change?
Then my mother passed through death’s door
My mother’s passing ushered in a profound inner shift in me and a deep study of death and beyond, new passions that aren’t temporary. My grief and my creative process are coming together right here.
After all, I’m an explorer. I always have been.
These days I’m also in daily conversation with my 83 year-old dad. It’s a new ritual for the two of us. We’re talking it all out here in this strange country, him without his wife. Me without my mother.
With beauty in this dark brew
More truth: I’m 100% clear that, in this season of loss, there’s beauty, too. I experience large and small daily gifts of awareness and insight, and bits of delight like a flower or a bird, a glass or a fabric that my mother would love. It’s goose-bump city around here.
And I’m feeling energized by permission I’ve given myself to delve into soul territory. The word feels like rich brew that I’m tasting anew in some stranger than ever act of freedom.
The deeper that sorrow carves
into your being, the more joy
you can contain.
Yes, it’s beautiful and newly confusing territory. I’ll share an example of what I mean.
I attended Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Jazz Series not long ago with my dear friend Maggie, a Brit who has lived in L.A. for decades. The series included a tribute to Oscar Peterson.
“To Oscar, with Love” was a night of exquisite sounds and a sweet vibe, featuring world-class jazz pianists and a legendary bassist. And I had a discombobulating experience in the midst of it.
New urges and uncertainties
During one gorgeous piano solo, I slipped into a dreamy, ecstatic state. And just then I felt a sudden wave of regret for something that had happened earlier.
Because in the pre-show traffic madness on Grande Street, with the clock ticking toward the concert’s downbeat, we were trying to turn right in front of Disney Hall to get into the parking structure. Meanwhile, all the folks valeting cars or dropping people off were heading left out of there. And that included an enormous black tour bus. Classic gridlock.
I’m an L.A. driver with plenty of street battle under my belt. So I was holding my ground with the bus driver while trying to get into the lane on my right to turn right. But he was just as determined to squeeze into my lane ahead of me to go left.
My eye-to-eye, non-verbal cue was, dude, I’ve gotta go right! He gestured at me wildly. Lady, I’m going left!
Later, as the music relaxed my busy brain, I suddenly registered unhappiness with my approach to the bus guy. Not relief that we got in there on time. The messy truth is that I’m ever more aware this season of my own habitual ways of being.
One recurring message in my current explorations is that a big part of the work of our lives, let’s say at a “soul level”, is really just about kindness. Simple care and concern for our fellow travelers, both human and other. In short, and profoundly understated, I’m feeling challenged on a whole new level.
Beauty and confusion as delicious combo
Confusing, indeed. Because I’m not about to start expecting doormat behavior or perfection of myself or others. So it’s delicious confusion for me.
Like the conversation Maggie and I had the next morning, inspired by the music and our ride down after in the packed elevator, buzzing with all the equally thrilled folks around us. The chance to share and reflect on my new confusion with my old friend was more rich brew.
The point for me now is to continue living in the unknown in this odd new phase. I’m feeling my way.
So another truth is that I’m experiencing my mom’s death not just as heartbreaking loss, but also as opening. Opening into what, I still don’t really know. Though it’s at least in part about growth on some level that’s only possible now.
Growth meets connection
And not just growth, but also capacity for deep connection. As one of my personal heroines, Marion Woodman, said, “It’s suffering that opens us to love.”
It’s suffering that opens us to love.
— Marion Woodman
The somewhat shocking truth is that, for the first time in my adult life, I can no longer describe my philosophical and spiritual point of view as existential. Though I don’t have words yet for what’s emerging. And that’s fine, all things in the fullness of time. New life is born. I’m working on the naming part.
Is there anything you’re grieving, or just feeling deeply as you grow through it? If so, how could some reflection through a lens that I’ll call soul territory possibly aid and soothe you? Take the time you deserve to ask and answer those questions, toward as yet unknown next phases that await you, and others through you. And reach out for the expert support you deserve.