Coming up out of the ashes

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One month ago today we were honoring and remembering  Russell at a bonfire celebration of him.  So much has happened inside of me since that night.  At that time the strongest feeling within me was the fear that I would never be able to move with any ease again.  The pain of losing him felt stronger and sharper around that time than I had felt much of my first year of living without him.

I’ve filled almost an entire journal since that day as the words have poured from me onto the page. I’ve had so many insights and thoughts swirling around inside of me.  I remember thinking in those days surrounding the year anniversary and directly after “It’s not any better.  In fact, it feels 100x worse.  What if I am stuck in this place forever? How on earth will I ever be able to function with confidence or ease again? ”  I also remember having conversations with several folks that my experience of the entry into the second year was rocky, shaky and showing signs of being just as bad as the first year.

Several things have happened since those very dark days to begin a shift towards deeper healing for me.  I hope to share many of those stories at some point as what was said and what happened were profoundly healing for me and included such startling moments of awakening that I can still feel the ah has rippling through me when I think of them.  Today I write about the overall picture or imagery that has settled into my knowing about the journey of year 1 into year 2, especially what year 1 was for me. My next couple of blogs will be about year 2 and the bridge I am creating between them.

What I have settled upon is this:

Year 1 – is the year of survival. It is the year of living in the ashes.  Francis Weller writes in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow “The soul in grief feels reduced, brought to the place where all other thoughts or matters dissipate into ash.”  We are reduced to our barest soul, to our rawest self as we move in the world through our grieving.    Focusing on our minimal survival needs is often all that we can do.

In many ancient cultures the first year of mourning was seen as a sacred time.  Those who had experienced a loss were expected to do nothing more than “mourn, live in the ashes of their loss, and to regard this time as holy.”  The community supported them  and their family as the sat near the communal fires tending the ashes.   They weren’t expected to just suck it up and get on with everyday life.  For up to a year or more they were given the space to follow the dark paths of grieving until they were ready to return.  Honoring this time of living in the ashes was key.

Sometimes things need to be burned down into the ground, into ash before any new growth can happen.  Like a prairie being choked out by weeds that needs to be burned to the ground to insure renewal, sometimes our lives need to be allowed to burn all the way down. To get rid of the guilt, the confusion, the gut wrenching feelings of loss we must grieve it all the way down before renewal and true healing can happen.

This has been my own experience of the first year of walking my healing journey.  It feels as if my life, my very being was burned into ash when Russell died and in the months that followed. Bit by bit, I felt myself melt away down to my most vulnerable self.   At times I was very conscious of this happening but not always.  It was only as I stood in the days around the year anniversary of his death that I realized how much my life and my very self had been dissolved down to its barest.  In that space I felt every thing with such intensity that it became almost too much to bear.  But bear it I did, hoping that somehow I could find the light at the end of the tunnel.

I am deeply, beyond words grateful that not only do I insist upon giving myself and my kids all the time we need but that we are surrounded by communities who have supported us, loved us and allowed us to live in the ashes of our grief.  When I read Weller talk about ancient communities supporting those who mourn as they travel the inner world of grieving and healing, I was profoundly struck by the acknowledgement that is exactly what my communities have done for me.   Across the board – my family, my friends, ICC, Avalon, and my wider web through face book – have held sacred space for me and my kids as we have sat at the fires, living in the ashes of our own unique healing journeys.

More and more as I listen to or read other people’s stories of having people tell them to “get over it already” early on in their mourning I become aware of the profound gift my communities have given to us in continuing to hold things together for us as we lived in the ashes.   My family has helped us to keep celebrating life’s joys even when it is hard to do so.  My friends keep reaching out even when I don’t return calls or emails for weeks.  Immaculate Conception Church, where Russell worked, has kept open their arms to us.  Avalon not only has survived a year with me flitting in and out of it, it is thriving as a strong community more than ever.

When survivors aren’t allowed sufficient time to grieve and are told to move on too soon, wounds close too soon, remain infected and may never heal.   I’ve met so many people who haven’t been given or taken time to grieve and heal and are now years later searching for ways to sort through the twisty paths of woundedness inside themselves.  I don’t think the loss ever goes away but if there is time given to heal early on there can be a chance of feeling whole again.

Thankfully, my kids and I have been “given” time to allow our wounds to heal.  We are slowly stepping up and away from sitting in the ashes.  We are stretching our bodies and beginning to look around at the world in a new way.   There is still a rawness for me but also renewed possibility.  We are still walking through new places and have much work left to do.  But we are doing it!  We are coming up out of the ashes back into life.