Saturday, 25 October 2014

Riding the waves of grief

I had an aha moment this week about grief and letting go. It was the trees that led me there. Like many people, I am challenged by having to let go – of things, people, places, identities and feelings. I get attached. That enriches my life, but it can also be painful to let go. Grief for any kind of loss, whether that is a life, a relationship or a part of ourselves, can completely overwhelm us or keep us stuck for a very long time.

I don’t enjoy endings or goodbyes. Sometimes I even cry at the end of a book because it is finished and I’m not going to get to spend time with those characters any more. I once spent a day in mourning when my favourite television show finished – thank goodness for Netflix and box-set binges. I am not going to delve into the deep psychological recesses of my hoarding tendencies – that may be a blog for another day. Today, it’s all about the trees.

Autumn is my favourite time of year. The trees are glorious right now, all decked out in gold and bronze and fiery red. The other day, I slowed down and watched as the leaves effortlessly detached themselves from the branches to float down and join the growing blanket of leaves covering the ground. The leaf just lets go – when it is ready. There is no painful wrenching away. It just lets go. And when it falls, it becomes part of something else, something equally beautiful. Who can resist a pile of leaves? In time, the leaves will break up and become part of the earth, that nourishes the tree, to grow new leaves.

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
 Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

There is so much in this season that reminds us of cycles – that eventually everything has to die for life to continue. And yet, as human beings, we cling on to dead things, dead relationships, dead people – like a leaf’s futile efforts to cling to a branch. But I have a tentative observation – that the thing that we grieve most, is our grief. That is what we find most difficult to just let go of. There is a sense of loss when the searing pain dulls, when we realize that we got through a day or a week or a month, without feeling sad about our loss. It feels like some kind of betrayal to ourselves.

The trees outside my house are now almost completely bare and reminds me that when we do let go, we are often overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness, rawness, bareness. We are exposed to the elements. It strikes me that letting go is a process which unfolds in its own time. It won’t be rushed or forced and the best thing we can do is to show ourselves kindness, compassion and gentleness while we ride the waves of grief.

Dr Murphy - signing off

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

We stand alone - at the end of life

Something interesting happened to me when the news of Robin Williams taking his life hit the headlines and every internet site on the planet. I found that while everyone else was talking about suicide, I really did not want to, so I lost momentum for my blog. And I am a person who really needs momentum. So I am curious about my reaction and I think there are several facets. Like any tragedy that hits the worldwide headlines, suddenly it throws an issue into the spotlight and behold, everyone has an opinion.

Part of me remained curious. Would this elicit more empathy, more understanding, more awareness, more openness to talk? I think perhaps there were some small shifts in public perception, but generally, everyone was shocked and confused. Because, we can spout our theories, we can do our research, we can count our numbers, but really, we are mostly, still confused about suicide.

It is such a personal, individual decision. Yes, of course there are themes. Yes, of course there are things we can know that are helpful. But at the end of that dark tunnel that marks the end of our life, we stand alone. Whatever takes our life away, we stand alone. Whoever is beside us at the moment of our passing, we stand alone. It’s me and me baby, looking into the abyss, the end of my time and I am alone.

So, the decision for suicide is taken – alone. That is why on an individual level, no one can really know what was going through a person’s head or heart. And we so desperately want to know. We want answers. So we hypothesize. But we will never really know.

"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."                                                                  Orson Welles

And so, that leads me to the other reactions to a very public death by suicide. The shaming, the criticism, the labeling, the disbelief that someone would end their own life. They are selfish, gutless, faithless, hopeless, worthless better off dead. Yes, that is actually what some people think and that is what they say (or type) out loud, in public. The diatribe became louder and louder and I had to literally switch off – my computer. I guess it did give me a chance to reflect on my own lack of tolerance of people with a lack of tolerance. Yes, I’m aware of the irony.

It also highlights to me, that sometimes talking about, working with suicide, all the time can become overwhelming. It is difficult work and sometimes we need to do something else for a while, no matter how passionate we are. Even very productive work can be avoidance – of something.

Dr Murphy - signing out.