A Journal Entry that Offers Guidance on How to Grieve

by | Mar 26, 2023 | Empty Nest, Parenthood transitions | 23 comments

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I experienced a horrible/wonderful descent and initiation this past winter. There were many layers to the process (which I documented through hundreds of pages of journaling and may share more fully at some point), but for now I would like to share one key layer: grieving Everest’s transition away from home and into the world.

This is, of course, my transition as well, and, like the shadow of the wedding transition which I explored in The Conscious Bride all those years ago, is one that isn’t discussed nearly enough in common circles. Yes, we talk about empty nest. We talk a bit about midlife. But we don’t talk about the heart-wrenching grief of launching a firstborn into the world.

The 7-week apprenticeship with Night that grabbed me last November had much to teach me about a mother’s keening grief when a child leaves the nest. As I was tumbled in the darkness like a stone in a roaring river, the grief became softer, the edges less jagged until, several weeks into the journey, I noticed that I was at peace. Through the initiatory death-and-rebirth cycle that includes profound grief at the core, I had emerged able to cherish these last five months of Everest living at home full-time without the thought of saying goodbye in August sending me to my knees. The priestess of night and the birth canal of grief had led me to okay.

The grieving that overtook me was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I’m sharing a piece of it here for a couple of reasons:

First and foremost, while there is always more I can “teach” on anxiety and OCD, I’m finding that I’m more called to share than teach, which, for me, is a personal sharing of my heart and soul about how I navigate this world as a highly sensitive person.

Secondly, I’m often asked the question: How do I grieve? I spoke to this in an upcoming Gathering Gold episode on Grieving Unlived Lives (to be released next Friday), but I wanted to speak to it here from a different, more personal lens.

There are, of course, infinite ways to grieve. For me, layers of my grief find containment when I can find the words and imagery to hold the pain. The words become the womb inside of which the grief is held and alchemized into acceptance. There were many words that poured through me in those seven weeks. These were the first that helped me both start to make sense of the largeness of my broken-heart and also find the medicine that began to cradle my heart back together.

I hope they speak to something sweet and tender in you. I hope they help you grieve whatever it is that might need grieving. When grief is felt together, even virtually, more layers can move through.

 

November 17, 2022

Umbilical Cords

There is the one that will never sever, that will connect me to you and you to me no matter how far you fly and how deep I go.

And then there are the others that must be cut so that we can each travel toward our next birth. The skies that you will be exploring became fused with my fear, as if I’m the one that will be on those rockets staring out into black space or red sky.

Those skies are not my skies; They are yours.

My sky is blue light on this green planet.

My sky is radiant and familiar.

This dark that has gripped me – I hand it to you. I cut this umbilical cord, my son, so that you can explore the skies you long to explore, so that the darkness can hold you in the palm of her womb when I cannot.

B’yadcha afkid ruchim.

Into your hands I place his spirit.

This is not the first cord I have cut. The first was the night before you soloed. I spent the night in terror, dancing and wailing my way through. Prayer was a sturdy bridge, as were the women who have wailed these treacherous crossings before me as they sent their sons into the forest. They wept together, holding onto each other for dear life, collapsing to their knees onto the cracked earth. Us modern mothers are left in our great soft beds to wail alone. I rattled and prayed and cried and danced through that night so that you could soar the next day without a mother’s grief or fear hanging as deadweight on your wings.

The second cord seized then released when we stood together on a beach in Vancouver the night before your 16th birthday and you told me, with hesitation, that you wanted to be an astronaut. I lost my breath, but gave you my blessing. The night held the vastness of your dreams and the vastness of my fear, stars like gems helping us both navigate the enormity of what calls.

I cut the third cord when you fell in love and I was no longer the only sun in your orbit. You orient around another now, as it should be, spending evenings enraptured in each other’s arms. There are some days when I only see you for a few minutes. This new love happened quickly, and I found myself in the garden at the end of summer cutting back the plants and watering the soil with my tears. I grieve and cut so that I can bless you to explore these new realms: not sky this time, but the beauty of a young woman’s heart.

For your sake as well as mine, I cut these cords. So that we can both be free.

In the womb of a dark night, I grieve and cut the ones that must be cut so that we can each follow our myth: you into the galaxies of exploration in our vast sky, and me into the depths of the human psyche. Carl Jung once linked the two, naming both of us as explorers. In this sense, we are the same. The darkness calls to us both, waiting for us to unleash the light embedded within and bring this consciousness to others.

Before the first midwife cut the cord, she said, “You will never be as close as you are right now.”

Where is my midwife this time?

She’s in my therapist and my rabbi.

She’s in my sweetest husband.

She’s in my friends who are sisters.

She’s in my next-door neighbor who somehow sent her two sons into the world.

She’s in the ancient women who have walked this path before, who have held their anguished hearts and wombs in their hands and now reach through the centuries to hold mine.

She’s in the night, my steadfast mother, who holds me now in her dark breast at 5am as I write these words.

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23 Comments

  1. Oh wow. I love this Sheryl. Especially this passage:

    “In the womb of a dark night, I grieve and cut the ones that must be cut so that we can each follow our myth: you into the galaxies of exploration in our vast sky, and me into the depths of the human psyche. Carl Jung once linked the two, naming both of us as explorers. In this sense, we are the same. The darkness calls to us both, waiting for us to unleash the light embedded within and bring this consciousness to others.”

    As above, so below. Cosmos and psyche. His calling is only possible because you followed yours.

    Reply
    • Chills reading this last line, Clara. Thank you for your poetic and wise reflection.

      Reply
    • I echo this sentiment and feeling that Clara beautifully articulated. I grew up as a highly sensitive child, with a highly sensitive mother who struggled to follow her calling and process her grief. And so her grief wove itself into the fabric of my wings and I have spent quite a lot of time unravelling, unweaving, and cutting cords that she was not able to cut (though she certainly cut some cords well!). I know this cycle is an inevitable part of the parent child relationship- but my heart aches at the beauty of the image of you cutting the cord, and your son soaring.

      Reply
  2. Sheryl
    I too am grieving the loss of my son-in my case he had cut all communication with my husband and I ,after experiencing a psychotic break and believing that we were monitoring him.

    I have been grieving this each second of each day since this has happened…and now I am just beginning to learn how to love him with out having him in my life.
    Grief is the most overwhelming of emotions, and we need to begin to support each other more by talking about it.
    Carolyn

    Reply
    • My heart breaks for you, Carolyn. Sending big hugs as you continue to ride through the storms of grief.

      Reply
  3. So beautiful Sheryl. Thank you for sharing so deeply. Sam said, “You’re so pretty mama,” to me tonight and in that moment I was holding both the purity of his love and the understanding that it won’t (and shouldn’t) always be this way. Sending so much love.

    Reply
    • And yet… there’s something of that pure, innocent love that can remain. ❤️❤️

      Reply
  4. Thank you for sharing so personally Sheryl, and for demonstrating yet again how we can consciously move through the initiation of another transition, towards a whole new way of being in the world. This grief lives inside us from the moment they’re born. Sending love and strength to you through this time.

    Reply
  5. This share is so epically raw and beautiful and I feel that I will carry these words and images in my heart for a long, long time. I have no other reflection than: you are so loved. Thank you x

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  6. This is so beautiful. I am currently in the process of grieving as we decided to switch my daughter to a school that is farther away from our home but offers her so much opportunity to spread her wings and develop as a person. It often feels like the whole process will be harder on me than on her, harder for me to grieve the close proximity, the smaller school that allowed me to keep a close eye on her, the earliest friendships she made. There is so much fear of the next step- will she be as happy, will we be as happy, am I letting go too much? But I am trying to be guided by faith rather than fear, while still making room for the grief. I know that I will have to find my own ways and rituals of grief over the next months. Yours are very beautiful.

    Reply
    • The grief of motherhood shows up all along the way, and the more we learn to grieve these “smaller” transitions (although I know that they don’t feel small at all when we’re in them), the more gracefully we can navigate the bigger ones.

      Reply
  7. This broke me wide open. I’ve been feeling so much grief this week. On reading this, I grieved and cried with you. Sending you my love and gratitude.

    I quit my job a year ago, and last week I felt inspired to create an account on a freelance platform, and I did it and felt exhilarated. I only just now realized I’m grieving transitioning back into work. I am far off from when I plan to be focusing on work as a priority, and yet, like early dawn, like the first signs of winter even during summer, it came naturally to begin here and now. And here I am, at the birth of something new even as I’m in the late-middle of travels with my partner and in different stages of so many other transitions… Here I hold your grief with you, and express my gratitude for holding mine with me and helping me hold mine, in myself and in this and other communities.

    Love to Sheryl and all 🤗

    Reply
    • Holding holding holding deeply with you, Jamie. Sending big love back to you ❤️.

      Reply
  8. Sheryl, such nice, profound and meaningful words. I find it interesting that, as a 27 year old man, I feel like I am also cutting chords… but, in my case, with my parents. It is hard, it is painful. It gives me vertigo. Still, as you say so wisely in your writing, we cut these chords “So we can both be free”. As your book taught me, with both, joy and grief in the same chamber of my heart, I delve into this process knowing there is no “right way” to walk it.

    Reply
    • Oh, I really love this, George. Thank you for sharing your process around cutting the cords on the other side of the equation. The vertigo feeling… yes. And that’s when we turn to our practices to help steady us, ground us, anchor us. Otherwise it’s only free-falling.

      Reply
      • Thank you so much for your reply. I hold dearly to one of the quotes from Chogyam Trungpa you include in your book: “The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground”.

        Reply
  9. As another reader commented, these words will stay with me for a long time. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    The dread of the unavoidable separation from my children one day haunts me daily. I am so acutely aware of the fleeting nature of our time together, and yet, the repetitiveness of our everyday life makes it so difficult to imagine that one day, it will all be gone. I heard the sweet childish voice of my almost 7 yo son this morning and told myself that this voice too, will one day change. As my two boys snuggled against me to read a book, soaking up all my motherly love through my body, it seemed so impossible that one day, their bodies will be bigger than mine, and will instead, snuggle with a lover.

    How difficult these feelings are to navigate, because they tear us apart: the thing we very much want for them (spread their wings, be in love), is also the very thing that rips our hearts apart. Yet, as I watched pictures of my eldest as a baby, and then more recent pictures of him, I realized that my heart is bursting with pride and excitement at the sight of him being bigger. That I wouldn’t really want to go back in time, because I would miss the person he has become today…

    Sending you so much love during this immense transition.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your beautiful reflections. It’s grief and gratitude at every stage: we make room for the sorrow and open to the joy/excitement/gratitude… over and over and over again. And we eventually realize that the grief isn’t “bad”; it’s just part of the plan of being human, and when we open to it, it moves in us and through us, carving pathways to more deeply and fully experience the wonder of this life.

      Reply
  10. My colleague and her husband lost their 19 year old 2nd year Physics student. He copped out of life, leaving no traces of why. He left short not with: I can’t do this anymore, No one to blame, my decision was his words. He hung himself in a tree in their backyard. What words would you say?
    This lad suffered depression, was under therapy, but still…………

    Reply
    • I’m deeply sorry and sad to read this. There are no words for these unspeakable tragedies – just your loving presence and letting them know that you’re there to support them in any way that you can.

      Reply

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