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Grief in the Shadow

making sense of life & death Aug 29, 2019

I was sitting at the wobbly picnic table at my campsite on beautiful Vancouver Island, at a family French camp we’ve attended for many years. My now teenage daughter is on an overnight trip, leaving me with lots of time on my hands. Instead of the excitement of anticipated “me time”, I feel off. I’m too tired to take advantage of the luscious nature that surrounds me. I’m feeling a little anxious and light headed. 

Five days later, on my second-to-last day there, I decide it’s time to stop avoiding my journal. I begin to write, as I often do, without any idea of where I’m going. I jot down my observations about how I’m feeling and then, without warning or prior conscious knowing, I write, “And yes, it’s probably grief.”

In our grief-phobic society grief has been relegated to the shadow. 

And just like that it hit me! There’s been so much letting go lately and I haven’t taken the time to acknowledge and feel my feelings. So I sat there in the shadow of the tall trees and began to reflect on how much my daughter has matured since we started going to this camp 8 years ago. I sat with the truth of how much less she wants to be with me than she used to. Yes, she needed me to bring her there, but that’s about it – I realize that I’m no longer a key part of her experience. Ouch.

And then there’s my body. Now securely on the other side of menopause, I’m less capable of doing things that were once much easier. I mourn my past vitality or maybe it’s actually the vitality I always wished I had. Then I realize that it’s not only this picnic table that’s sitting in the shadow.

Carl Jung’s shadow concept has come up in several books I read this summer. The shadow can be explained as the storehouse of all the repressed and denied aspects of our lives. It’s the parts of oneself that we deem unacceptable to ourselves or to others, the repository for the things we hope to disown. According to Francis Weller as explained in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow, we live in a grief-phobic society where grief has been relegated to the shadow.

Feeling your grief can make you lighter and more energetic. 

Weller explains it like this: “To be human is to know loss in its many forms. This should not be seen as a depressing truth. Acknowledging this reality enables us to find our way into the grace that lies hidden in sorrow. We are most alive at the threshold between loss and revelation; every loss ultimately opens the way for a new encounter.”

Simply writing in my journal, acknowledging these losses and feeling this grief made me lighter and more energetic. It also made me appreciate the precious and beautiful transition that my daughter is moving through. I can’t explain this powerful transformation better than Weller:

“Every one of us must undertake an apprenticeship with sorrow. We must learn the art and craft of grief, discover the profound ways it ripens and deepens us. … any loss, whether deeply personal or one of those that swirl around us in the wider world, calls us to full-heartedness, for that is the meaning of courage. To honor our grief, to grant it space and time in our frantic world, is to fulfill a covenant with soul—to welcome all that is, thereby granting room for our most authentic life.”

What about you?

What grief have you been hiding in the shadow?

What happened to you when you shed light on your grief?