It’s an old story. Old as the hills. And yet new every time it tells itself again.
Have you heard it told to you lately?
The clouds have gathered, thick and dark, on your skies. They’re banked up and rolling heavy to your horizon. Maybe the rains have already started, pouring their grief over everything you know and soaking it all through with shadows. And then maybe the wind starts up. The lightning. It seems everything is going wrong at once.
It’s hard to imagine ever riding out this storm.
And yet, if the story has its way, there will come a moment. A moment you might not notice at first. A moment that can start out smaller than small. But it’s enough.
Enough to invite a shift – an infinitessimal shift – that’s almost no shift at all. Except that it is.
So something tiny changes.
And somehow that awakens the next little change.
Until, gradually, all these fragile moments come together – like countless particles of light converging – almost invisible on their own. But together, slowly, they can start to pull the temperature of your day in a warmer direction. Together, they start to matter.
Trust is such an important part of therapy. And, of course, of life…
So do you trust yourself?
To know yourself.
To grow yourself.
A gentleman born in the early 1900’s trusted you, even though you’ve never met. His name was Carl Rogers, and he was a psychologist. And he believed that you – that all of us – have the innate power to understand and heal ourselves. He believed that somewhere inside, you have the solution, the answer, the salve for your life’s struggles. And that trust will help unlock them.
So how do you do that?
On a day that started with torrential rain and umbrella wrestling (and weather forecasts of doom), it seemed almost miraculous to be able to stroll the street in a dry golden-blue-sky evening.
But that’s what happened. Unexpectedly. And it was exactly then that this notice on a shopfront window caught my eye (you can see it in the photo, above):
“All things must pass.”
(And they certainly seem to).
Sometimes this apparent truth about the world feels confronting. Unfair, even. Because these “things which must pass” inevitably include the things we love, and the things we celebrate. The things we might want to hold on to and never let go.
But they’re not the only things that this saying is on about…
I happened to spy this leaf on the path the other day. I was on my way to somewhere else and had my mind on other things, and could easily have walked right past it. Yet there it was.
And now found.
(And in the shape of a heart because of all those things, not despite them).
Grief. It comes to fill our hollows of loss. To accompany our loneliness. To be with our pain.
So when you’ve lost someone important in your life, by death or distance; or if you’ve lost a certain hope for the future; you may find a sense of grief. Or maybe it finds you…
It’s all a bit of an enigma sometimes. For grief is a something in the middle of a new nothing. A heaviness in the emptiness.
And, often, with grief can come tears. Even if you don’t always let yourself cry them…
At this time of year, with all the special occasions and anniversaries and expectations, all those un-cried tears – both old and new – can make themselves felt all the more.
So where do you keep yours?
Where do you actually carry them, your un-cried tears*?
Are you in pain?
Not just the emotional or relational or physiological or existential pain that most of us will feel sometime in our lives. But the purely physical stuff – especially the chronic, ongoing kind that can accompany you for many years.
It can be such a challenge to live with. The constant nagging of your nerves or muscles can really get you down. It can strip your life of joy. It can transform you from who you once were to someone you no longer recognise. It can leave you feeling empty and pointless. Or angry and alone.
But there is hope.
Even if there are no physical or pharmacological solutions left to you. Even if you may have to live with some degree of pain for the rest of your life. Even if it’s been the hardest road you’ve ever walked down. Or crawled… There is hope.
For there are a number of therapeutic approaches that can really help you through this. They can help you make all the difference. And invite some of the beauty, some of the life, back into your days.
So let’s take a look at a few…
If you’ve read this blog a bit, you’ll know I often draw on existential therapy and how the idea of death – and really engaging with it – can help you live a more vivid life.
But this time I don’t just want to talk about ideas. I want to talk about the nitty gritty stuff. The real stuff. The physical realities of this dying business; and the way that many of us in the western world will probably die (and whether that even gets close to how we might like to die when we finally do).
Because it’s important stuff to talk about.
And, as Jean Kittson put it: “there are no Apps for this stuff.”
I’ve spent the last few days at a conference on palliative care* with some really inspirational people (doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, volunteers, pastoral care workers and therapists) who all work with life and death. Who aspire to help us all “live until we die.” Who are guided by principles like these:
“You matter because you are you.
You matter to the last moment of your life.
We’ll do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully,
but to LIVE until you die.”
– Dame Cicely Saunders, Hospice Movement Founder
So let’s talk…
Sometimes life is just challenging. Hard, even. Just when you think you’ve got plenty to deal with, along comes even more. Right on time.
It can start to swamp you. Overwhelm you.
That’s what this photo reminds me of (above). A street art tsunami coming for you at the end of a no-through-road. It can feel hard to escape…
So what can you do to help yourself through the overwhelm? How can you get through life’s no-through-roads?
What are you like with endings?
Just cast your eye over your shoulder for a moment and have a look back at some:
Are there any similarities to be found here – any patterns you can detect in the way you handled these times?
For instance, do you tend to anticipate endings long before they actually happen, and spend time building up to them (perhaps silently noting a stream of ‘lasts’)?
Or maybe you get caught up in the lure of the new and gloss over the ending altogether.
Or perhaps you wish it didn’t have to be this way, and do all you can to ignore the warning signs, either reviving or re-living what you secretly know is lost.
Whatever your style of coping with loss, it can be important to get to know it better – because it could be an insight into how you are with your life. A doorway into what it means to be you.
So let’s peer through that keyhole for a moment…
Walking home the other evening, some melancholy thoughts on my mind, I happened upon this rhyme stuck to the wall of a building:
Roses are Red,
Violets aren’t Blue,
Smile, it will get
And (even though it’s a little kitschy) it did make me smile. Pulled me out of those thoughts and back into the world. Connected me in some intangible way to the person who had mysteriously felt compelled to share their bit of wisdom about what ‘gets them through.’
So what gets you through?
And how can you connect with it in those moments when you might feel overwhelmed with challenge or sorrow?