Grief is more than an emotional reaction to loss. It also involves a complex pattern of cognitive, existential, spiritual coping processes in reaction to the disintegration of existing structures of meaning.– Paul Wong
The experience of grief is not foreign to anyone I know. I could write all about how grief and loss affect a person, the phases or stages one goes through, details about complicated or disenfranchised grief, but today – I won’t.
Instead, today I feel compelled to write about how we, as women and mothers in the depths of grief, can choose a path of self-devotion on the journey.
It may sound like a ridiculous notion. An absurd dichotomy to entertain for a woman who may be grieving a loss but still required to run a household, a business, care for children and fulfil other responsibilities.
A frivolous idea that as you gasp for breath while drowning in ferocious seas of anguish, there could be a life raft named self-devotion and it may just save your soul.
The thing is, when what we trust, what we believe to be true, what we accept as our reality is shattered, the last thing many of us gravitate towards are opportunities to enhance our capacity for self-love.
This is by no means our fault. It’s just not how we’re programmed.
Typically, many women in grief will expend all their energy trying to support others who are hurting, or in best attempts at keeping their family functioning without dropping the ball.
Most of us weren’t taught to honour the potential for growth and transformation through loss as part of religious or spiritual philosophy and practice, therefore not even considering the benefits of prioritising ourselves as we navigate tumultuous terrain.
We’re not used to operating as part of a “village” where we’re held and supported by other women who nurture us in our darkest times, as we do in theirs.
Instead, we’re naturally overcome by our personal pain and show up to our relationships triggered and wounded, without many “acceptable” avenues to let our emotions simply BE as they are. Without many spaces to let our wild, grief-stricken wails sound out and have our needs honoured as we crawl blindly through the fog. Without many people with whom we feel safe to speak the unspeakable and feel the un-feelable.
As I navigate the fog of my own grief, I’ve actively sought these avenues, spaces and people. I’ve trusted the deep churning in my belly as a sign that I need more.
More hands clasping mine in solidarity.
More acknowledgment that my expressions of grief are valid.
More tight hugs with no expectations in return.
More messages of love out of the blue.
More permission to follow my instinctive needs.
In fleshing out the MORE that’s needed as I mother through grief, it occurred to me once again that my work with the Diamond Mother Archetypes comes into it’s own.
This work is at the core of self-devotion.
Contacting the individual truths of each facet, their unique approach to mothering and relationships, and what they offer in their archetypal wisdom continues to be invaluable as confront with brutal honesty, the light and the shadow of who I am and what I desire for my legacy to be.
So here it goes…
To the woman grieving: 8 questions to ask yourself
- How present am I with the experience of grief in my body?
It’s important to remember that trauma creates different survival responses in the brain and body, simply to cope. These responses will vary from person to person; for example, numbing out, disassociation, hyper-vigilance, rage and insomnia are common.
When we feel huge responsibility to keep a household running and our children cared for, it is natural for us to suppress a grief response and go into a space of numbness.
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with you if you’ve found yourself here. Yet, it’s important to understand that when a traumatic experience is not completed in the body, it will emerge through a myriad of health related issues and can end up manifesting in debilitating ways.
Like the shadow of the Boss Mama, in order to survive we can have the tendency to block our emotions if we don’t feel safe to be with them. As an act of radical self-devotion, choosing to prioritise cultivating our own internal safety through seeing a therapist or coach can support us to show up in emotionally empowered ways to our children and partners.
2. How am I mothering myself through grief?
The shift into the mothering identity itself can be perceived as a loss. Within motherhood there are losses every day – some small and some profoundly significant.
As mothers, when we experience grief; whether it be the end of a marriage, the loss of someone we love, a career, a home… we can feel the natural urge to maintain equilibrium. We can bury ourselves in caring for others to the detriment of ourselves.
In grief, these two can become blurred. The scary part is that when the outside world sees a mother attending to her family with dedication and without “dropping the ball”, rather than curled up on the couch in 3-day old unwashed pyjamas… we assume she’s coping.
Which is just not true. Take it from me.
We are conditioned to care for others, but we are not conditioned to care for ourselves with the same devotion. And honestly, sometimes it’s just easier to keep going, maintaining normalcy and routine, because we know that if we do crumble, we’ll have the emotional labour to deal with, of managing those around us to support us in our crumble.
So I propose that radical self-devotion looks like manageable, bite-sized acts of self-care. This may look like honestly answering the question of “how are you?” with, “I’m keeping things together, but I’m really not doing great”. Or, loving ourselves enough to send ourselves to bed when we’re tired, or letting the kids watch too much TV for a period while we sit in peace and focus on only our breath.
3. Where can I shift my perception to be more curious and hopeful?
When we’re “in it”, life can feel incredibly heavy and at times, impossible. Especially when grief triggers an existential crisis, it can be easy to fall into despair around what we perceive to be inevitable.
In contacting the Whimsical Mama, I’m reminded that with change comes possibility. With possibility comes new opportunities to experience life anew.
It’s not uncommon to feel guilt and even shame when entertaining the possibility that a deeply painful loss can also be the gateway to beauty and positive transformation in your life.
Honouring chapters of life, people and situations for their gifts is part of mourning, but gently reminding ourselves to stay hopeful, open to the possibility of beauty that can arise from the darkness, and curious to this stage of our own personal evolution is necessary to remind us we can come back even stronger.
It is brave to consider the magic of endings. It is a sacred act of self-devotion.
4. Am I trying to make my grief more palatable for others?
Oh, this one’s a biggie. I’m not sure about you, but as I’ve been navigating the twists and turns, the layers and grey areas of grief lately, I’ve been so aware of how my expressions of grief have impacted others.
I turn to the Wild Mama each time I feel the tendency to apologise for how my grief is showing up. I plug into her and remind myself that my primal, emotionally charged, deeply attuned relationship to my needs are real and VALID.
I give myself time and space to be floored by my own pain and be terrified of its power. My power to feel.
This is not something that has always come easily to me. Since learning more about somatic psychotherapy and engaging in feminine embodiment studies I’ve learnt to honour my wild woman and her needs.
I’ve learned to prioritise my connection to nature, the cosmos and the urges of my body.
But fuck, it takes some committed practice.
5. How are my boundaries serving me (or not)?
It’s in times of deep grief that our personal boundaries cannot be ignored. They become increasingly illuminated depending on how long and complicated the loss is, and sometimes a newly recognised lack of boundaries can become yet another source of grief for a woman faced with how to care for herself during such a difficult time.
The message of the Majestic Mama is one of embodied leadership. She shows up in integrity and authenticity, mindful of clearly embodying her worth and articulating her boundaries.
#lifegoal – am I right?
When life takes a turn, difficult decisions must be made, and all meaning has been flipped on it’s head, we must lean into knowing where we end and other people begin. This can feel uncomfortable to acknowledge – let alone act upon, particularly if we are in co-dependent relationships. But, if we are to protect ourselves and get out of grief in tact, we must.
6. Am I allowing myself opportunities for pleasure?
When you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other, considering opportunities for pleasure may seem completely out of reach, and even indulgent.
Yet, what if we remembered that pleasure is always available, if only we allowed it? That pleasure is our birthright, and that in our darkest times, choosing pleasure can literally be our lifeline.
So many of us are accustomed to pain, but pleasure feels like a foreign concept – particularly the experience of pleasure in our body. The Sensual Mama is the archetype that pioneers a new landscape for women, in re-programming our capacity for pleasure.
Motherhood makes the pursuit of pleasure even harder, and traversing grief in motherhood creates barriers to pleasure that can feel almost insurmountable.
Yet, beginning with the simplest of acts of self-devotion, the cultivation of pleasure can be a portal to aliveness in the face of despair.
Becoming aware and sensitising to external sensations… the warmth of the sun on your skin, the gentle sway of your hips to music, the tingle on your tongue as you consume something delicious, this is where you start.
Pleasure, not for another, but for you. Revolutionary.
7. Am I trusting my own innate wisdom?
When grief is loud and all consuming, it can be hard to hear our own wisdom.
Perhaps we’ve never really given ourselves credit for being the wise woman we are. Grief can often be a catalyst for turning inward and meeting her.
The Sage Mama is within us all. She is the deep knowing, the surrender to trust, the ancient lineage of women who speak to us if only we would only listen.
It can feel terrifying to trust. To flail in the unknown with no map, no lights, no compass. It’s been my experience that the the more I tune into my soul, the more clearly I trust that despite my human-ness, my imperfections as I walk the earth, I am merely a creature of energy. Of light. Of love.
Grief is suffocating. Loss is tangible. Trauma is no joke. But prioritising a relationship to our essence, the part of us that always knows, can be the map, the light and the compass to keep us journeying with trust.
8. Can I allow my grief to show me my power?
When we let an experience be defined by others and society, we give away our power. When we allow ourselves to claim our own personal experience of grief and embrace it as an access point to knowing ourselves better and loving ourselves harder, we change the trajectory of our life.
We show up to relationships differently.
We show up to our children differently.
We approach our goals, dreams and desires differently.
By letting ourselves wade through the darkness, refusing to subscribe to models proclaiming how we “should” grieve and ways of managing the grief that are polite and appropriate, we have a chance of re-emerging more powerfully and aligned than before.
The Change-maker Mama connects us to our fiery truth. She is the force of a shifting feminine paradigm, reminding us that we are worthy in all our messy expressions of pain.
Even if you don’t feel the strength right now darling woman, know that your inner Change-maker Mama will wait for you. She knows you’ll get to her in your own time, in your own way.
It’s my opinion that self-care is a lovely and inviting concept that encourages women to do nice things for ourselves and prioritise our needs once in a while.
Self-devotion however, is a pledge of worthiness.
For mothers in particular, owning and expressing basic needs in the best of times can be a challenge, let alone standing fiercely in commitment to self-devotion through the darkest times.
For many of us, we’ve decided we’re either too much or not enough. Even when, as the world collapses around us, we continue to show up, day after day for our kids and our families.
Even when, our devotion to others doesn’t miss a beat.
Self-devotion is radical, simply because it goes against everything we believe we deserve, particularly in times of crisis.
In asking yourself the above questions honestly, I invite you to dig deep. If most answers are no, or you can’t answer… then acknowledge that. Feel into that. What has that meant as you navigate this time? What has been the impact on your relationships? You’re ability to grow and heal?
Let yourself gravitate to one of the archetypes. There will be significance in where you’re lead to explore. Follow that, be intrigued by that.
Honour your grief as you honour yourself.
If radical self-devotion feels like the oasis on the other side of an impossible desert, that’s ok. It’s the tiny steps that make the journey.
If you’d like to know more about how working with the Diamond Mother Archetypes can support you to deepen into trust, connection and confidence as you confront your shadows and grow through the darkness, then let’s chat.
In October 2019, I will be welcoming new women to my 1:1 Feminine Rebel Mentoring Program. This experience is for the woman who desires more a depth and intimacy in her relationships with others, her mothering and career. It is a journey of unsMothering, through feminine embodiment, psychotherapy and mother archetypes.
Much love in your journey to self-devotion, Diamond Woman.