Loss of Light

IMG_4552Light fading, time passing, big boy is ten, baby isn’t a baby and the time for having babies is over. The pregnant woman in the check-out line and it’s eleven years ago, pregnant with my own belly of hope and love, on the threshold of everything new and exciting. There was pain then, too, but it’s the joy and anticipation that come flying from past to present now, another layer of recognition that a stage of life is over. Oh, this life. Oh, the highly sensitive soul with the acute awareness of the passage of time and how it just keeps on marching on.

Light fading, time passing, my birthday week. When the years are filled with more wisdom and equanimity, why does a birthday bring grief? It’s not the birthday itself; it’s the transition, that a new age can only happen by letting go of the old. There’s a birth and a death. It’s the law of transitions, of every rite of passage. It’s the heart of my work, my deepest passion, and yet every year I dread the time change, the loss of an hour of light.

“It’s a melancholic time,” my husband says. “And beautiful.” A strong strain of melancholy runs in his artists’ soul. He seems more welcoming of the loss of the light than I do. I find it no coincidence that I was born shortly after the time change. The Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman, says that we go through transitions much the same way that we come into the world (breach, “late”, c-section, natural). Perhaps it’s also true that our soul’s callings are connected to the season inside which we were born. I know there are people who welcome the darkness, who feel at home in months that require insulation. I do, too, but it takes me a little while to get there.

“It’s a time of loss,” my husband says, reminding me of everything I teach. It’s the time when old losses filter up to consciousness. The loss of his father. The loss of my grandmother. Her birthday week as well. I miss her. I sense her close now. I see her roses behind my eyelids. I feel the light of her smile when she greets me at the front door. I taste her chopped string beans and barbecue chicken and salad fresh from my grandfather’s garden. She was one of my angels, and is still.

I listen to my clients and readers this week and hear a chord of loss for many of them: a grandmother passing; a relationship that didn’t bloom; the memories of mothers and fathers that are no longer here. We hold hands through this birth canal, all of us tender human souls that must endure loss as part of our stay on this planet. For those of us that are attuned to transitions, a time change is a portal and we’re squeezing ourselves through it, contorting uncomfortably to the rhythm.

There is one accessible relief for the discomfort. It’s the medicine that nature-psyche-soul has given us for loss: we grieve. What starts as emptiness as I watch the fading light an hour earlier than my body expects turns into fullness once the tears drop like rain into my inner well. I cry and write and surrender to what is. There is no fighting nature; the seasons change and time passes and no matter what humans exert onto this great, beautiful planet we will never change these laws of nature. She is teaching us, always, the perfection of her rhythms, that when we surrender and grieve – which means stopping long enough to allow the tears to rise up and release – we are offered an opportunity to tend to the sadness that lives in the heart. It’s so easy to run from it during the warm, active seasons of endless daylight. These shorter days signal the beginning of the time to turn inward, to snuggle into the sacred and vulnerable places and allow for the emptiness, the fallow time, from which the new seeds for next spring’s rebirth will gestate. When we breathe into the darkness instead of running from it, we remember that there is nothing to fear.

It’s a time of longing, too, when the constant hum of empty places that can be silenced during busy times is unleashed. In this liminal zone, when the light fades and we have yet to embrace the heavenly frosty fields, all that is pushed down comes back. Through dreams, through memory, through that familiar ache that tells of the unlived places, we encounter for one brief moment our deepest longings: for mother, for childhood, for father, for family, for purpose, for meaning, for aliveness. That one moment is our gold, or small white flying figures that come to help us heal. What would it be like to move toward those figures instead of brush them away?

There is medicine for longing as there is for grief: to meet it. Not to hide it under the covers but to face it in light – sunlight or moonlight – to stay with it like a vulnerable child even when the slippery ache of it makes you want to run. “St. John [of the Cross] is willing to fall off the edge, to follow the longing down to its source,” writes Roger Housden in Ten Poems to Change Your Life. Follow the longing. Name it. Speak it aloud. Dance it. This is how we make love with longing: enraptured in silk sheets instead of locking it away with shame. This is how we transform emptiness into fullness and fill another layer in the well.

Nature’s rhythm is the compass. All we have to do is get our small, scared selves out of the way long enough to follow. To lie down on a soft bed and watch the blue light turn to black against a fiery sky. To feel the salty tears, drops of the great mother sea, making starlight trails down cheeks. To allow memories to surface. To grieve the end of childhood. To talk to the ones we’ve lost. To say, “I miss you,” and hear, “I’m here, dear one. I’m here.”

28 comments to Loss of Light

  • Smiccile

    I find it interesting how every year around this time my body fills up with this familiar grief. It’s always centered around my childhood too- just thinking about it now my eyes swell up. There’s no escaping it either, especially after all the work I’ve done, I see how important it is to allow myself to feel my feelings.

    This part: “Nature’s rhythm is the compass. All we have to do is get our small, scared selves out of the way long enough to follow. ”

    This is probably one of my favorite articles, it really opened up my heart as I’ve always had a difficult time with seasons changing. Now I can once again remind myself that as a HSP this is so so normal for me to feel the sadness of time, as well as opening up to all my old memories that are bubbling up to the surface. Thanks for everything Sheryl, I’m so thankful for you! 🙂

  • Jo Spillane

    After all this time, your words still soothe Sheryl.

    2014 has bought so many challenges! Cancer has affected too many friends and family I have. One special person has gone. I miss her terribly. If I sit with the grief, I talk to her and immediately my heart is open and I can feel her and I can smell her and I know she is near. I can almost hear her whisper. For someone so sick and for someone who had to leave this earth so young, she has given me the gift of being in a ‘moment’. I’ll never forget that beautiful gift.

    Leading up to Xmas and the relentless heat of Summer in Australia is always a challenging time for me. I know that I need to start my walks on the beach as the sun rises. I know I need that peace and the sound of the water to soothe me.

    Thank you for acknowledging what the seasons do. x

  • Yes, Smiccile, it’s so normal to feel sad right now. Let it all in.

  • Rae

    Thank you for this post. It is my own birthday week. Tuesday I turn 29. I am 10 weeks pregnant and have been going through my own cycles of nervousness and anxiety and letting go. I have been pushing it away and fighting viciously with the frustration of morning/ all day sickness and fear of miscarraige(this is my second pregnancy). I know this is such a special time and I want so badly to enjoy and cherish it. Your post reminds me to embrace the fears as part of this amazing life changing experience.

    • Oh, yes, fear is an inevitable companion on the pregnancy journey. Like getting married, we don’t allow much room for the difficult and darker feelings, but they’re there nonetheless, so we may as well learn to embrace them. Happy birthday ;).

  • Lalalove

    I just can’t deal (in the best possible way) with how perfectly this shoots through my heart right now. Thank you so much for being a soul reader. The part about holding each other through the canal- geez. There is so much pain as time keeps evaporating but I feel lucky to have some beautiful anchoring spirits to hold onto through the crashing waves. I just worry so much that we will all lose each other in the sea. This is really one of my all time favorites!

    • I was expecting to hear from you on this one, fellow soul-reader, anchoring spirit on this great earth journey. We will not lose each other as we are bound by something much stronger than time: LOVE, as your screenname so aptly expresses.

    • Pamela

      “Shoots through my heart.”

      “Anchoring spirits to hold onto through the crashing waves.”

      Lalalove, your words, themselves, confront as well. Thank you 🙂

  • Clara

    Wow, Sheryl! You are always the poet, but never more so that when you are in the midst of your own transition, it seems. This spoke directly to my soul, reconnected me with my tenderness and longing and grief, that had been buried under the business and productivity of my past few months.

    Even after all the journeying to and through the dark places, sometimes (especially when things are generally going smoothly for me) my ego can almost convince me that she is all I need. I’ve been semi-seduced by this line of argument a little lately – it’s a smug, defensive, cocky attitude to take, and it happens quite absentmindedly. I am always so grateful for the voices of heart and truth that call me back to my vulnerability and surrender. Your article did that.

    “…we go through transitions much the same way that we come into the world (breach, “late”, c-section, natural). Perhaps it’s also true that our soul’s callings are connected to the season inside which we were born”. This lit up another piece of the puzzle for me… I was two weeks late as a baby, and have always been ‘late’ with transitions (puberty, losing my virginity, learning to drive, readiness for mother-hood etc…). This fact always baffled me as I have generally been confident and daring in other ways. My ‘late arrival’ was ultimately a natural, uncomplicated and healthy birth… and this was reflected in my puberty transition and my first sexual experience (once I let go of the angst). What hope that brings.

    Sheryl, I am so deeply touched and grateful for your weekly reminders to return to my soul. My heart swells.

  • Alyce

    Your voice emerges with such clarity and defines this soul journey of a sensitive soul, trying to make sense of deeply felt shifts that in a modern world become stigmatized, yet, these are pure, human spiritual experiences, deeply in tune with rhythms within a complex mind and world.
    Thank you so much for your insight and permission to go with these emotions and honor the ebbs and flows as part of a whole, emotional being.

    Your words are true spiritual teachings, gifts that go beyond anything I have seen or encountered.

    Thank you.

  • Cassie

    What a beautifully written piece, and *thank you* for acknowledging and honoring this “darker” aspect of all of us. My baby is also “no longer a baby,” and my days (yes! So full of hope, newness, of all that lies ahead) of baby-making and nourishing are over. I am in a long, slow, mostly-gentle grieving period–I am sure. THANK you for being there with me.

    I am in the stage of being with what is, with, instead of the blessed primal preverbal days of babyhood, I contend with so much talking, so much complaining, so much of the little people in our house asserting themselves.

    Gone are the days of having a baby accompany me to the store, quiet and sweet in his carseat or baby carrier. Now it’s ask, command, outsmart, and demand to stay near, if only for safety’s sake (three little boys 3, 5, and 8 will do that to you). It’s about getting them to listen and do as they are told without yelling (mostly).

    It’s about trying to maintain that new, fresh, full-of hope version of myself as parent that I once had, in the midst of a house full of little human men, all with their own needs and wants. It’s about navigating a largely violence-based male-society-at-large and keeping it as far at bay as I can.

    It’s about remembering who I am, and trying to hold fast to that.

    May you remember, always, too 🙂

  • Sean

    You killed it with that one! So much comfort and truth in that!!

  • Thank you Clara, Alyce, and Sean. Your words mean touch me deeply.

  • Gabrielle

    This post is well-timed as my mother is in the end stages of cancer. The grief is overwhelming, especially because her death will coincide with the transition into winter and the holiday season. It’s unbearably sad, and I can’t imagine the sadness ever going away.

    • Jane

      Oh Gabrielle, I feel for you. I lost my mom to cancer four years ago and it is one of the most difficult things I’ve faced. It’s so important to feel the grief, as hard as that is. You are doing just what you need to do. The sadness may always be there in different ways, but it does get a bit easier to carry, as hard as that is to imagine. When I cry for my Mom these days, it feels cathartic and useful and nourishing… I was just talking out loud to her while I cooked dinner last night too, and felt her with me. I know she lives on in spirit. I am sending you lots of love as you travel this road. Please know you are not alone. XO

      • Gabrielle: My heart breaks for you, and I’m sending you much love as you walk through this heartbreaking transition.

        Jane: Were there any resources in particular – books or articles or videos – that helped you through the grief? Anything concrete that you can pass on to Gabrielle would be so helpful. Thank you, and sending you love as well.

        • Jane

          Yes definitely! Just a couple books I do remember:

          (I also found a Meetup.com group locally that I went to called Motherless Daughters after this book – the name can sound depressing I know, but it is also a way of relating to other women who have lost their moms)

          I have more books at home that helped me that I will sift through.

          We lost our Mom more suddenly than is sounds like Gabrielle’s journey has been, so most of my resources have to do with grief after her death. However, if we had had more time, there are lots of things I would have asked her if I could (what was it like when you… got married, had kids, dealt with in-laws, etc – stuff to do with the transitions I had coming up… also, what were some of your hardest and best times in life and how did you move forward?), and I would have recorded her voice so I could hear it more after she was gone. I don’t know if that is helpful, as I am not sure of the abilities and know that your Mom may just need to rest.

          I do remember one night before my Mom was diagnosed, (but we all sensed something was off at that point)… I was in town and she and I were laying on the guest bedroom bed watching a show, holding hands, and she dozed off. I remember just looking over at her for a long time, and feeling her hand in mine so clearly, and just soaking in that moment and feeling my love for her and hers for me. Perhaps some part of me knew we would lose her, I don’t know, but I have that moment and memory in my heart and am so grateful for it.

          I will look at home for the rest of my resources. I have practices that my counselor gave me too that are/were helpful. I will write up a list. Sending lots of love!

  • Pamela

    This, as always, comes with perfect timing. The grief, low, sad, whatever you want to name it, hit the very first cold day for me. The advantage (yes there is one), is that it hit much earlier in the season then it usually does. This isn’t to say it won’t return again later when the white is everywhere and the hibernation is in full swing, but to have that “one up” is encouraging enough for now.

    Take care of yourselves as you know best. And thank you Sheryl for always being here.

  • Jane

    Such a wonderful post Sheryl. I and so many of my loved ones seem in the thick of it right now, and I sense it has something to do with the season or the stars or some universal feeling. I try to remember that the darkness is necessary for the coming light of spring. My Mom used to say, “After the pain and rain emerges a beautiful rainbow, ALWAYS.” And in the meantime, we try to feel our feelings of loss and melancholy the best we know how. Sending love to everyone!

  • onedayatatime

    So beautiful. I love this “To feel the salty tears, drops of the great mother sea, making starlight trails down cheeks”. And extra thank you to the links to your other blog posts. Its also interesting about the birth in a certain season. I was born pretty much smack dab in the middle of winter and I actually enjoy the winter and snow, find myself looking forward to it and not fully knowing why. I do find a snow fall so calming (if its not a blizzard lol).

    I have a question about the longing you mention (if this can be answered briefly):I think I can identify a longing for meaning and purpose right now and childhood. Does meeting it mean feeling the grief of losing childhood? To feel the vulnerability and sitting with the unanswerable questions and uncertainties of life?

    • ” Does meeting it mean feeling the grief of losing childhood? To feel the vulnerability and sitting with the unanswerable questions and uncertainties of life?” You got it. And then to stay open to whatever else comes up inside of you. Be curious and follow the longing and you will learn what you need to learn.

  • Tam

    Every week I look forward to read your articles and this one came right in time. I have been struggling with anxiety a lot this month and especially these past few days and now I think I can connect it to the fact that by the end of the month I will be leaving my job, packing my bags and leaving my family to begin my life with my boyfriend in another country. I know realize that even if mothers have the transitions of their babies no longer being “babies” I think I am struggling that I will no longer be my mother’s baby anymore as well. I will officially be transitioning into adulthood in one of the most over whelming situations possible, moving away with my family, moving in with my boyfriend, new country, new culture all at the same time. I guess I just need to relax and accept these feelings instead of fighting them.

    • And let yourself grieve, Tam. It’s not enough to say “I just need relax and accept those things.” The acceptance arrives through the grieving process, which means bringing real compassion to yourself as you separate from everything you’ve known and dive into a brand new life.

  • Ashley


    I found it really interesting that the way we proceed through transitions may be a reflection of how we came into the world. I’ve always seemed to have difficulty with change. I had my first major depressive episode after graduating high school, and I have terrible relationship anxiety, especially right now in my engagement transition. I was trying to see how the way I was born might be related to the way I go through transitions. Even though I came two weeks before my due date, I guess I was reluctant to come out, because the doctor had to pull me out with forceps. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I’ve often wondered if the forceps had an affect on my brain. I feel like being delivered that way would have been a traumatic experience, but of course I can’t remember how I felt about it then. Any thoughts?

    • It’s likely that your traumatic birth experience had an effect on how you traverse transitions, but it’s the kind of thing that we can’t spend too much time trying to figure out as we don’t have conscious memory of it. What you can do is to “time travel” back to your birth with your loving adult self and implant yourself into that story to bring compassion and healing to your baby self. I wouldn’t say it had an effect on your brain (that sounds like a fear-based musing to me), but it’s just more information to help you bring compassion and healing so that you can learn to show up with love and attention as you birth yourself through this next transition.

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