“I hear crickets,” my son says as we pull into the driveway. We pause to look up at the stars, as we always do, before entering the house.
“Yes, I heard them for the first time a couple of nights ago,” I respond.
“Oh,” he says, with a note of sadness in his voice. “That means summer is ending.”
Yes, that is, indeed, what it means. And even as I write these words, I feel a space of grief opening up in my chest, as subtle as butterfly wings, it would be easy to ignore it.
But I don’t ignore it. Instead, I breathe into that space until the breathing transforms the emptiness into fullness, as if my breath itself is the only fullness that the empty space of grief needs. I stay with it, allowing breath to give permission for tears to arrive. And the tears, too, fill the emptiness with fullness. The fullness of feeling life in all of its mystery and complexity, from the ache of grief that leads us to the surge of aliveness. The fullness of being human, of being awake to the nuances of life, to the quiet, almost invisible layers that float all around us which most people rush past.
Highly sensitive people can’t rush past. We can try, but that only leads to anxiety and intrusive thoughts, for when the grief isn’t named it morphs into anxiety. It doesn’t want to go into anxiety. It wants to be held and tended to, like a baby bird with its mother. It wants to be fed and seen and known. But if we don’t know how to nurture grief, if our sensitive nature was shoved down long ago in response to the messages of “too much” and “not enough”, the grief has no choice but to hide out in the darkness of a shadow-cave until it’s safe enough to re-emerge into light.
A few nights earlier, my son and I sat on our screened-in porch, waiting for night to enfold us into her darkness We’re both lovers of night. He, the baby who at times could only be soothed by the sight of the moon, and now the young man who longs to travel to that white-silver orb. Me, the one who has nurtured a love affair with the moon since I was fourteen years old and I first bled on river banks. We sat together in the inky night and talked about the passage of time, of how he will be turning seventeen in a couple of weeks and the sad-joy of an upcoming birthday. I reminded him that he was the young boy who felt sad before every birthday because he was tapped into that layer of loss that all highly sensitive people are aware of.
Two thresholds tug at our hearts: the end of summer and the end of sixteen, which means one year closer to his time living at home.
Autumn is near, the season of loss and letting go.
For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, we stand at the crest at the top of a knoll that looks out into the valley of autumn. And for those in the Southern hemisphere, you are standing on a similar knoll that looks out onto the vast fields of spring.
We notice these things, my highly sensitive son and I. You and I.
We notice that the light has a different quality; when I walk in the evening it fades to midnight blue then black a few minutes earlier than it did the evening before.
We notice a slight crispness in the air in the morning; when I stand barefoot on the grass I pause before walking out to my studio so that I can absorb the warmth, so that I can cloak myself in sun and bring it with me into winter.
We notice the quality of wind: I lie on my bed on a Friday afternoon and watch the storm clouds gathering, the leaves at the top of the cottonwoods blowing wildly in the sky who brews plans.
Autumn is near. Summer is far from over; August is our hottest month here in Colorado. But Autumn is near.
So I stand in the center of the polarity: holding the heat of summer with the coolness of autumn; the grief of ending with the joy of beginning. For it’s not that I don’t love autumn and winter; I do. The sadness is not so much for what’s coming but for the recognition of the shift.
For the highly sensitive person, every shift is a change, every change is a loss, and every loss is a grief. I stand with my arms outstretched, just as I do when I’m holding space for clients, just as I do when I pray through song at the creek’s edge. Perhaps it’s the posture that signifies my willingness to hold polarities, to glide into the spaces of light that weave through the darkness of mystery, and to join hands with the mystery itself: that intersection of death and life where our freedom lives.
Thank you, Sheryl. This post spoke to me at the perfect time – finding grief arise in a pause.
My fiance blamed me earlier today for a choice he made that caused him suffering, a pattern we’ve been in lately. Usually I cope by shutting him out and punishing him energetically. This time, I chose to go upstairs and just feel into the pain of being blamed. I did not expect the amount of grief that arose from being with my heart. I learned that I have been holding a lot of grief for the rut we’ve been in of being mean to each other over the last several months as we’ve tried to cope with him starting a new job this past March. Being with the pain of him blaming me actually largely brought up the grief of how I’ve been blaming him in the same way. It was interesting to see my pain mirrored back to me in this way, almost like a reverse projection.
My heart hurts now in the recognition that my heart needs a repair with him. It’s so vulnerable to try to repair. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t want to be hurt by taking the risk of opening up, when he could still hurt me and I could hurt him. The longing you speak of is present – longing for heart to heart, safe connection. I suspect some of my own self-connection is wrapped up in the longing, too.
I too felt the twinge of autumn a couple days ago. For me, I feel a warmth in my belly. I love autumn. But it does also invite a reminder of how helpless I am over the passage of time. It’s bittersweet.
Thank you Sheryl for your words, which serve as a touchstone and reminder for me and so many others. <3
This is beautifully and vulnerably shared, Brittany. Thank you.
So timely and lovely. I sat with the grief of season change for one of the first times tonight. The anxiety that had popped up in response to a red leaf, a beautiful blue sky, and talk of fall…had reshaped into grief. Thank you for the encouragement.
A red leaf and blue sky, then anxiety reshaped into grief. Beautiful.
Thank you Sheryl. The way you put words to these feelings validates parts of myself that I didn’t fully see, or acknowledge, before I encountered your work because no one around me expressed things like this. This one made me cry. I’m feeling tender today — there are many transitions happening in my life right now; I think of what you’ve said, that sometimes multiple transitions come at the same time.
And I love the concept of grief coming simply because there is a shift. That it doesn’t mean the change is bad, just that it’s a processing of the shift. That’s how I feel, and when I let myself grieve and cry, it feels whole.
Hi Sheryl,I can hardly believe that little boy is 17! how the years fly by..and flight..it seems your son was born to fly,with you naming him Everest? “Let’s go fly a kite,up to the highest heights”? haha!
I so enjoy reading your blog Sheryl,Thank you!
Jen McCandless (from the IB site,long ago_)
It’s so good to see your name on my screen as I know you’ve followed my blog for a long time, back to the early days when Everest was just a little guy! Yes, we named him aptly, or perhaps he’s living into his name. I know… 17! Blows my mind.
The timing of this perfect. I’ve never enjoyed August as it signals that the summer is coming to an end. The darkness sets in earlier and there’s a slight coolness in the air here in the UK. It has always confused me as I love the changing colour of leaves and seem to be OK once its here, its the transition period that’s unsettling. I feel better equipped now to go ease through this now.
I’m so glad it arrived at the right time, Louise. ❤️
Thank you for the beautiful post Sheryl. I was feeling the seasonal shift for the first time yesterday. It’s the paradox as you say – knowing the transition is upon is, yet where I am many people are still about to head off on summer breaks. The seasonal shifts anchor me in time in a comforting way – the same light, same smells somehow, same sounds as this exact time over years gone by. Sending good wishes for your family birthday season 🙂
Oh, I love that you find anchoring in the familiarity! That’s one way to transform the ache into solace.
Perfectly timed post! Today is Lughnasadh, the first Harvest Holiday in the Pagan Wheel of the Year. It’s hard to feel a season shift in Hawaii because it is so subtle, but back home in Alaska, where I would be living if not for the pandemic and where I grew up, August 1st was absolutely a change in the wind. By August 1st, people are starting to get ready for the Alaska State Fair, the fireweed is in full force, and by the end of the month you can start to smell the wild cranberries as they ripen, and the fireweed fluff starts to blow. There’s a saying in Alaska that goes “when the fireweed starts blowing, in six weeks it’ll be snowing.” The veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinning, and I’ve always been sensitive to this shift. Usually the last week of August we harvest our first bunch of wild cranberries- a harvest that continues well into September. Some years we’ve had three whole gallon Ziploc bags of high-bush cranberries! If we’re lucky, we also get a cup or two of low bush cranberries, too. Fall is actually my favorite time of year, so now a days I feel some grief surrounding it because I can’t be immersed in its atmosphere.
Your grief makes sense, Riley, and I love that August 1st is the first harvest holiday in the pagan wheel of the year!
“For the highly sensitive person, every shift is a change, every change is a loss, and every loss is a grief.”
I feel this in my innermost core.
This one really spoke to me. My entire life, I have tried to understand why I felt so much grief when things were changing or ending. It’s refreshing and healing to see it in words and read comments from people who are just like me. I appreciate you so much.
Thank you, Analise. I’m so glad the post gave you words and normalization. Sometimes I think those are two of the most healing experiences we can have.
What a beautiful post Sheryl & perfectly timed for me. We’ve just returned from our 2 weeks holiday & my husband has now gone back to work this morning. I feel so sad despite having a fantastic holiday. Everything in your post touched me & I know I’m now grieving the end of our holiday. I have always struggled with all changes & feel them deeply. I dread the end of summer every year, but am going to practice what you’ve said in this post. What a talent you have, being able to put into words our deepest darkest feelings. The more I understand about being highly sensitive the less chance I have of slipping into episodes of deep depression & anxiety. Thank you Sheryl from the bottom of my heart for the amazing work you do. Your sons are so lucky to have you as their mum x
I’m so glad the post resonated with you, Lynn. The difference between the nature of your comments now and a few years ago when you first found my site is remarkable! I’m so glad you’re here. ❤️
Dear Sheryl, What a beautiful post touching at the heart of this transitional time. Oh how it ripples within my HSP & teacher soul! August is also birthday central for both my children which brings high anxieties and emotions especially for my highly sensitive daughter who was born on the 11th at 11:53pm during a meteor shower. Thanks to your work here and in Gathering Gold Podcast with Victoria, I am able to navigate my own HSP journey digging under my anxieties for the grief that needs tending to, the shifts that need time and a warm embrace. In turn, I can be available to holding my daughter’s hand (metaphorically speaking) through understanding this time and the transitions it brings to her outer and inner worlds. Thank you for giving us such a beautiful map with guideposts for understanding the gifts of our beings, the wisdom of our anxieties, and the possibility of parenting ourselves. I loved how you shared in the podcast that Everest invited your family to an adventure in celebration of his birthday. It opened my eyes to seeing the adventurous side of my girl who requested that we zipline through the forest to celebrate her birthday! What beautiful, courageous, and tender souls! Sending love to you during this transitional time (and for the ropes course!) … Happy Birthday to Everest!
This is so very beautiful to read, Patricia. Thank you. And YES to these courageous sensitive souls! The ropes course was a blast yesterday. He definitely pushed us outside our comfort zones 😉.