Taking the Time for Grief and Change in an Age of Impatience

It takes our human minds and bodies time to integrate change.

Taking the Time for grief and change When the change involves painful feelings – and make no mistake, most changes do, even the most positive ones – we often need more time. But we bring so much impatience to our experience of change and grief – we want so badly to skip over the in-between time, the time that lies between what we used to be or have, and what we are becoming. We worry that we’re taking too much time, or too much of our friends’ and family’s attention, and we try to compress our adjustment period into a socially acceptable month, or six months if we’re lucky.

We live in a culture of extreme impatience and intolerance for the ordinary discomforts of waiting. We experience our desires for instant gratification as a need, practically as a matter of life or death. Unsurprising, in an age that sees 140 character Tweets as sufficient to address political truths, and that believes that 30 seconds is too long to wait for a web page to load.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in grieving forever, and it is possible to get stuck in the process. What “stuck” looks like, however, is different for different people, and can’t be dictated by a tidy, one-size-fits-all timeline. Determining whether (and where) you are stuck is a gentle and sensitive process that takes due consideration of your strengths and skills, your situation, and your needs.

Growth and healing after a loss or major change require both protection and expansiveness.

Our shell keeps us safe... until it's too small and we need to change.
Our shell keeps us safe… until it’s too small.

Protection, however, doesn’t mean protection from your pain. I mean protection from expectations and judgement. It requires a degree of courage, to feel exactly what you are feeling, in the present moment, especially when that doesn’t match other people’s (or your own) expectations or wishes. And what do I mean by expansiveness? Our hermit-crab soul has grown out of its shell (or had it forcibly taken away by circumstances) and is fragile, naked, and afraid. To stay in the shell would constrict our growth, so we need the space to explore and expand. To stay safe while we do so we need to be in an environment that encourages bravery and experimentation, and offers acceptance of the messiness that comes with it.

Make no mistake, it’s a tough balancing act. And one of the best ways to find both protection and expansiveness is in TIME. Deliberate setting aside of time – preferably just a little bit longer that you’d really like to, or think you can “afford” – to be as present to yourself and your reality as you can be. It might look like thinking time, journalling, prayer, or staring at the ceiling. It might involve something active or creative like hiking, art, movement, gardening, or music. The requirement is that it involves you attending to your current, present, inner life and experience, and not to what you think those ought to be.

Playing with the edges of what you’re comfortable with is going to be how you grow, how you find your strength, and eventually where you will find your energy and joy again. And it’s worth the time.

If I can be of assistance in helping you determine if you’re stuck in a grief or change process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can book a free consultation by clicking here.

 

 

Mother & Daughter, Identity & Intensity

For Mother’s Day my daughter is texting me pictures of all the flowers she’s encountering in her day – it’s one of the sweeter of her many sweet expressions of love for me. No, I’m not going to lie and tell you that our relationship is characterized entirely by sweetness. Our relationship IS characterized by words like “very,” “more,” and words that end in “-er” and “-est.” We are both intense personalities, and therefore, like the “little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead,” in the nursery rhyme, when we are good (or sweet or nice or loving to each other) we are very, very good, and when we are bad (or angry, or jealous, or sad with each other) we can indeed be “horrid.”

 The same can probably be said of my relationship with my own mother. I wish I had known my grandmother better, so I could tell how far back this line of intensity goes. I do know she and my mother could stick to their guns with a truly astonishing level of stubbornness when necessary. My solitary memory of my great-grandmother was her fondness for watching wrestling matches on television! I bet she was a fairly intense lady herself. My father’s mother and I also had an intense relationship. I remember vividly a particular day, when I was boarding with her while in graduate school, that I felt an incredible connection and tenderness for her while helping her with some cosmetic care. Only an hour or two later, we were having a real beauty of a spat about what we would watch on television, both of us with our heels dug firmly in, and chins stubbornly up in the air! (She wanted a Knight Rider re-run, I was in the middle of a nostalgic moment listening to Ernie sing about his rubber ducky and didn’t want to change the channel just yet…yeah, I’ve always been mature that way.)

 I believe that all of us formed our identities, in part, by testing them against each other’s intensity and strength. When I was a teenager, I know I thought I was fighting against something in my mom. My perspective has changed a lot since then, partly because of my own experience of parenting, but mostly from getting to know her as a woman in her own right, and not just as the role of “mother.” I had no idea at the time that the more I insisted on being myself, the more I was like her!

 I am incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by women who, one way or another, find ways to express themselves authentically, and who tend to get better at it as they age. For all of them, young and old, there are certainly lots of times when it isn’t so safe to express their opinions or characters, but when it is safe, or when it is necessary, they do it with gusto. Instead of crumbling in on themselves, they all continue to emerge and blossom, grow and develop their own spirits.

 So here I am, looking at a collection of blooms, everything from cut roses to street corner planters, and from charming paper creations to high-tech designer displays made of metal. Such incredible diversity and individuality! They fit in, or they don’t, with perfect sincerity. They are what they are. They don’t really care what the passers-by in New York think of them, or that their images have now been replicated on computer and phone screens thousands of miles away. May my daughter feel the same sense of comfort in her own skin. May I. And may all of you.

                                                                                                                                                      

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is yet another one of those holidays that carries with it a whole lot of baggage! At its best it’s an opportunity to surround ourselves with warm feelings about our own mothers or to bask in our relationship with our kids. At its worst, it’s a focus for guilt, regret, anger, anxiety, grief, or feeling left out or unacknowledged. For some people I know, what they hope for each year is that it will pass quickly and with as little attention as possible.

I don’t think there’s any one, right way to handle Mother’s Day. But maybe there are ways to think about it that can help. Certainly one of the best places to start is an acknowledgment that the definition of  “mother” is an evolving, complex thing, even on a purely intellectual level. Add to that, the fact that (however you define it) the relationship between a mother and a child is also one of the most emotionally complex relationships we will experience, and you’ve got a recipe for disillusionment, faulty assumptions, and volatile reactions. So first of all, you’re NORMAL if you are riding a bit of a rollercoaster on the second Sunday of May every year.

I think it’s healthy to spend some time in our lives considering and tending to what we’ve experienced as nurturing in ourselves and others. Whether that happens on the specific day in the calendar our governments have chosen to publicly acknowledge as Mother’s Day, or in some other way of our own choosing, is probably less important.

Perhaps with more attention to the qualities of care, nurturing, love, and peace that the originator of the holiday wanted to honour her own mother for, we’d be a more peaceful, nurturing and loving society. If you want to know more about her and the history of Mother’s Day, Wikipedia has an interesting article you can read here. 

If you’re feeling grief, loss, or stress in any way related to your own relationship with your mother, or to your own experience as a mother, Art Therapy is a gentle way to work through the pain. Sometimes words, just like holidays, aren’t quite right or aren’t quite enough.

What Clay Taught Me About Shame

I’ve been rehydrating some clay

ClayIt has been sitting in my supply cabinet for over a year. It was once a gorgeous cube of perfectly wedged high-fire clay with the potential to become anything. Due to some serious laziness, inattention, procrastination and denial on my part, it eventually became a solid, bone-dry lump of something fit only to hide in the back of the garden until it washed away with the rain (along with my shame.)

FrancesBryant-Scott Clay SculptureThe resuscitation process is not a pretty one.

There are appallingly biological sounds as the lump slurps and farts while it absorbs the water it’s soaking in. The part of me that resembles a 9 year old boy finds it hilarious. The rest of me is a middle aged woman who is mostly embarrassed at having left the task so long, and feeling the burn of old shame because, once again, I let an artistic pursuit drop that used to give me a lot of joy, before ever getting really good at it.  Old messages like “Frances never finishes what she starts,” and “I’ll never be more than an amateur at ANYTHING,” burble up to the surface, squishing and popping like the bubbles in this clay.

Of course, that’s what shame is like, isn’t it?

If we don’t deal with it, it sits there like a lead weight in our hearts. We tuck it away in a cupboard, hoping that if we don’t look at it, we won’t feel it. Unfortunately, that just never works. We walk around with it on our shoulders, like a heavy, tantrum-prone toddler, and if anyone notices or asks a question, “Gee, is that clay? Do you make pottery?” we’re liable to bite their head off. “Leave me alone! Stop pressuring me!” We’re afraid to deal with it head-on, because we’re afraid it will make a whole lot of noise (and sometimes a smell!) when we bring it out into the light – or in the case of my clay, into the sink.

Healing Shame

Well, you know me and my love of metaphor. Working with this lump of hard clay over a long, messy week, I started to get into it. It’s great stuff! I got to remember what I liked about it in the first place, and the voices of shame began to back off a bit. My wonderful realization was that there was nothing essentially wrong with the clay. Once rehydrated, it is what it always was – good, clean, simple earth. And just maybe I’m what I always was – a simple human being. I start things and finish some of them. I’m always going to be a learner – and “amateur” means “lover,” and there’s not a darn thing wrong with that!

I’m so happy I pulled it out of the cupboard and didn’t hide it in the garden.