Last updated on 11th January 2009
Yesterday and today are a check-in time with my friend Larry. I've written in a previous blog post how Larry and I have met every three or four months for many years specifically to review how our lives are going and to plan and prioritize our goals for the next few months. "Taking charge" of our lives in this kind of way makes huge sense. For example the self-determination literature (S-DT) highlights the importance of making autonomous decisions about what we put our energy into. This S-DT research and much other work (e.g. a recent study on goal-setting) also emphasises that this kind of approach is a core component of growing wellbeing in one's life. Yeats wrote something like "A friend is someone who sees the potential in you and helps you to live it." Meeting with an old friend in the way Larry and I have done, is certainly an example of what Yeats was talking about.
Good friends are a joy in so many ways. S-DT research on "relatedness" suggests that probably the most important way that relationships boost wellbeing is through the experience of feeling deeply known, understood, cared about and valued. Yesterday was a very powerful example of this for me. Over the years, Larry and I have explored many different ways of digging over the ground of our lives to make them more productive and fruitful. It seems important to approach this work on ourselves honouring all three aspects - head, heart and gut - thoughtfulness, kindness and feelings. Getting in touch with feelings often involves "going down inside" rather than just "staying up in one's head". I've talked about ways of getting in touch with emotions in one of November's blog posts (see the 3rd paragraph of this November blog) on group work. Further useful orientation about the importance of engaging emotionally is illustrated in a brief handout I've produced on emotional awareness. In the second slide of the handout, I've used the metaphor of getting in touch with emotions as being like wading into a river. I wrote "when emotions are ‘over regulated' we are out of touch with a crucial source of information; we also lack colour & vitality in our relationships & in our enjoyment of life; it's as if we're watching our experience from the bank, rather than living it." However "when emotions are ‘under-regulated' we too easily lose our footing and get swept away, so we're likely to be avoidant of emotions or at their mercy; either way emotions no longer serve us, they dominate & damage our relationships & our lives." So ... "the aim, of course, is to be able to wade into the river of our emotional life without losing our footing; emotions then provide crucial information while giving our life colour, richness & meaning."
So living with the grief of my Mum's deteriorating health, of course this is relevant to planning my time over the next few weeks and months. And there is likely also to be value in feeling into the emotions surrounding this loss. Head, heart and gut can support each other. With my experience in therapy and group work, I'm familiar with a whole series of ways of digging down into emotion. Yesterday evening we used a combination of Authentic Movement and Therapeutic Writing. We each took a turn to "move" with our feelings while being "witnessed". We then wrote about what we'd experienced. When it was me to "move", I closed my eyes and felt into the pain of Edie's strokes and coming death. I moved chaotically with the flashing of different feelings. Then I found myself lying down, imagining stroking/soothing my mother. Then sitting, as maybe I will, as she dies ... holding her hand. Imagining this. Going through the movements. Then a sense of my own mortality. Me as a link between my mother and my son. Links in a chain. The joy and the pain of it. And after ten minutes moving, being witnessed, I sat and wrote: "Dancing ... chaos ... uncertainty ... pain ... jagged ... energy ... Mum dying ... my mother dying ... lying beside her ... stroking her face ... blessed ... grieving ... agony ... joy ... gratitude ... sitting by her bed as I very well may ... holding her hand ... soothing her ... loving her ... closing her dead eyes ... sitting by her death bed ... dedication to live ... to this life ... flying like a bird ... loving, energy, deep sadness, so much beauty, joy, connection, compassion ... I too dying, accepting ... Kieran, dancing, living ... Mother ... dearest Edie ... fusing with my cells to Kieran ... not separate, this chain, serving, our truth, dedication to life, this planet, humankind, to life ... death ... life ... death ... life ... "
Sitting with Larry, reading what I'd written. Sobbing. Being held. Friendship. Of course this is how grief may express. Not all the time. Just occasionally, at the right time.