Sunday Pause: Sunday Pause with Grief 6/4

Jun 4, 2023 | Newsletter, Sunday Pause Mailing

Thanks for opening this email, despite the subject line. When does one want to engage with grief anyway? Is there ever a “good” time?

I’ve tried to send this mailing out for several Sundays now, but life has coincidentally handed me a new source of grief each week, interrupting my ability and energy to reflect and write. Yes, I’m working hard to be with my responses, but parts are weary and long for a grief pause soon. It’ll come, won’t it? Will it?

If you can relate, I’m sorry. It’s wearisome, isn’t it?

I’ve decided it best to nibble away at grief a few bites at a time. A few tears and tissues in a sitting. Then take a break. Go for a walk. Pick some flowers. Wash some dishes. Call a friend. Hug an animal or human. Keep going.

I’m reminded of one of the most helpful responses we can offer ourselves or one another during a time of heart-break or overwhelm. It’s simple and yet so profound to acknowledge what IS—to not sugarcoat or minimize–but to welcome what is present directly and honestly. We extend self compassion to those hurting parts by gently speaking or whispering, “This is a moment of suffering”. Or as a friend playfully embroidered a colorful message for another dear friend, “This shit is hard.”

Yes, it sure is. And sometimes we have to just sit in the hard, sit in the shit until it becomes more bearable. How long that will take, we can’t know. That’s the mystery and uncertainty of life. And that’s our work: to behold the mystery and uncertainty. To not fight it. To befriend, welcome and listen to what these moments or seasons want to show and teach us.

Easier said than done, I know.

I’ve wanted to share about my first-ever grief retreat for several weeks since returning from the rolling hills and refreshing, cold water springs around Austin, Texas.

Grief Retreat? I’m not so sure those two pair so well together.

If you were invited to a weekend grief retreat, how would you respond? What parts would that stir up?

My internal conversation went something like this…

Sounds kind of awful. No thanks.
I’d much rather attend our annual, festive all day Kentucky Derby party with our Spokane circle of friends. Who wouldn’t?!

I can’t imagine grieving with strangers. In just 3 days? How does that work?

Yeah, no thanks. I’ve got enough on my plate and I’ve had enough grief for awhile, thank you very much. Can we just move on already?

I’m smiling as I recall the cacophony of my internal parts’ chorus. They were quite vocal!

But when your trusted therapist of 14 years mentions there are a few spaces left in an upcoming grief retreat she’s leading with 28 IFS colleagues from around the country and invites you to pause and consider, you do just that. I listened inside and heard from those nay sayers, then heard from the parts on the other side of the fence, the ones that were giving it serious consideration.

Here’s what they expressed:

If I were going to share a vulnerable experience such as this with anyone, I’d want it to be with IFS colleagues. We speak the same language. These are my people.

My grief especially from 4 traumatic events over the past 13 years still needs attention. (sigh.)

I have close friends in Austin I haven’t seen for years, including my brother and sis-in-law who I could visit after the retreat. Bonus!

I need to do something like this, whatever this is.

I trust Ann to lead this experience.

I’m starving for in-person, communal time AND parts are also ambivalent about being vulnerable in person; it’s been awhile!

I received enough internal consensus to re-arrange my work schedule, sort out travel logistics and register before it filled. Ann reminded us that the retreat started when we signed up for it. Parts of me feel the retreat began even before that.

“Grief is not a problem to be solved, but an experience that needs to be witnessed.”

The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller

Ann recommended this book to all of us. It’s FULL of gems. You need to own this book!

Peonies from our garden cut yesterday while I was taking a break from writing.

Today’s Pause invites you to consider:

As a child, how were losses handled in your family?

What helps/comforts when you’re grieving?
(If you don’t know, you might get curious about that)

What doesn’t help or comfort?

The retreat was hosted by one of the IFS Staff and her wife on their restful, shade-filled countryside property an hour west of Austin. Participants commuted from various lodging options, including my perfectly cozy 18 foot vintage trailer a few farms away with friendly donkeys and roosters welcoming me home and making sure I didn’t oversleep. 🙂
Participants brought photos and items to lay on two separate altars: one honoring our ancestors and another holding current sources of grief. We lit candles, placed flowers, images, photos and objects that we referred to and held throughout the weekend.

On the first day, Friday, I was conscious of my ambivalence and skepticism about grieving with strangers and an unexpected wariness around being vulnerable in person after so many years behind a computer screen. I know I wasn’t alone and welcomed these Protector parts and allowed them to be present just as they were. I reassured them that it was ok they were here. It made sense. I was also curious to see how things might shift, or not over the course of the weekend.

My Protectors were met by other students’ Protectors, who wanted more details from Ann related to structure and process. They wondered, too, how in the world can we respectfully tend to the individual grief of 24 participants in such a short time?

Protectors need to be heard and often then negotiated with. What do you need in order to relax just a little bit? And at some point, one’s system needs to take a leap of faith and trust the process, even though every detail is not clearly spelled out.

Once again, honoring the mystery and uncertainty of life. There are so many pearls in life we would simply miss out on if we had to have certainty and predictability. And, that leap of faith can be terrifying.

Once the grief ritual began on the second day, supported by barely audible healing music, the beat of one or more drums, the shake and rattle of other hand held instruments, allowed Self energy to expand, collective protectors to soften and precious healing to begin.

Even in the company of strangers. It didn’t matter that we barely knew one another. Our purpose in being here was the same: My grief needs to be witnessed. I am here to be fully present for you and you are here to be fully present for me. There is no other agenda for any of us. There is enough time for everyone. Take whatever you need. Ask for whatever you need. You are not alone.

Whenever a participant’s emotions warranted attention, they could request whatever they needed to support and witness their grieving process. It might be for a small group to hear them recall a painful event, to look at photos, hear a song, dance, move, make eye contact, be touched, held, spooned, piled upon, cuddled, rocked, sung to, wailed with, drummed and rattled to. All was welcome.

Our intellectual and cognitive protectors softened as our parts and collective Self energy felt their way through this sacred three days together. Every person (but 3 staff) was given as much time as they needed to tend to their grief in the company of the most attentive, compassionate, unconditionally loving humans one could ask for.

I wondered to myself repeatedly:
When do adults ever get to experience this? Most of us never get this in a lifetime. How is that possible? Collective grieving is essential to living. Our western culture is missing out on so much healing by not doing this more often and more easily.

Every human deserves this experience. And then some! My wish is for you to find ways for your grief to be witnessed–individually and in community.

I’m well aware what a gift and privilege this rare experience was, but I am committed to continuing this collective journey as I’m able. I’m infinitely grateful to each of the humans who witnessed and held my grief with their love, attention and Self energy.

Don’t underestimate how we do that for one another in large and small ways. We don’t have to wait for a grief retreat!

The soothing, healing properties of water shared with loved ones was an unexpected thread during this grief pilgrimage that started with a dip in the Pacific Ocean during a San Diego layover (thanks to the company of my fun, generous local colleague, Ilanit!), then TX cold water springs (shared with friends and family) in a drought-filled TX that I’ll write more about in a future Pause. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.
Start making a list of how you care for your grieving parts Here are my top 11 (for now anyway!)

1. Buy, Pick, Borrow or Steal fresh flowers for my home and workspace

2. Make myself reach out to friends or initiate a social gathering

3. Get outside to move my body

4. Pet and spend time with animals–mine or borrowed

5. Submerge myself in water. The sadder I am, the warmer the temp.

6. Cleaning, straightening or gardening is at least one thing I have control over

7. Comfort food. Best if made by a loved one.

8. Cozy clothes, furry socks, fresh sheets

9. Letting a good cry and wail have whatever time and volume it needs

10. Playing all sorts of music to keep me company, lift my mood, nudge me to sing

11. Write, draw, express, invite in more creativity