The Alchemy of Grief and Aloneness

TW: This blog piece discusses death and grief. Go gently and ask yourself if reading this right now will support you.

I write this from a beautiful, quirky 16th century farmhouse in the Hereford countryside not far from the border between England and Wales.

I am here on my own reading and writing retreat; taking time to catch up on anti-oppression and burnout literature that is relevant to my work, and to explore blogging again for the first time in months. And to just be – here in nature, among the colourful and lively flora and fauna of this time of year. Which so far has included lush green forests with a regular sprinkling of purple foxgloves, and rabbits in the fields behind a sprawling English garden full of wild flowers.

Being with grief - among the foxgloves in English woodland

I spend some time each day walking too. Finding my way along obscure country tracks, along the banks of the River Wye and across rolling meadows – most of the time not encountering anyone else, and relying on my sense of direction or an ordnance survey map to complete the circular route and the walk back to my car.

These moments of completing a country hike, realising I did it alone without getting lost and without flying into a panic, feel very meaningful at a time when I’m acutely aware of my aloneness.

When we lose our parents

In February this year I became a parentless child, when my father collapsed in his garden and died – just over six years after I lost my mother. I use the word ‘child’ intentionally, because it is in these moments when we are pulled back into our most vulnerable state. And we have to learn to nurture and look after the child within, because there is no one else to do this for us anymore.

The loss of both parents is a major, disrupting, disturbing life event; I’m hugely in awe of the fact that every human being goes through it – some, tragically, at a very young age – because the pain and emptiness it has caused me in the last few months has felt unbearable at times.

When we lose our parents, we lose a firm rooting to place, beliefs, routines, conversations. Every time I return to my father’s house, I endure another heartbreak as I’m reminded of how much is lost, and how much still I have to let go of in terms of his possessions and the rituals we shared together at his home.

Using grief as our guide

And yet, I also see the awakening that emerges from such an event. It is a moment of transformation into adulthood, eldership even; we become the next generation, the ones to whom others will now be looking for guidance. And for me the last few months have been as much about feeling into how I may step into this role, as they have been about grieving what has been lost and will never be returned.

There is also a certain power that comes with letting go of the habitual pull to seek acceptance or approval from our parents. When we can no longer do this, we can begin to listen more fully to our own inner guidance around what and who we want to be.

I find myself gaining confidence in my purpose and what I want to offer the world; indeed these matters seem ever more urgent when we are reminded of our mortality, and the fragility of the human condition.

And whilst the process of grief, and losing our parents, can feel terribly lonely at times – indeed, in the UK we live in a society where we sadly see grief as a private matter that ‘should’ be dealt with alone, and quickly – I have found this a time to start expressing my needs in a bolder, more confident, and more empowering way. To recognise when I need help, and to ask for it. To reach out to friends and family more often. To put in healthier boundaries around how much I’m able to support others right now. And to become a better parent to my own vulnerable inner child.

There is much I feel hopeful about at the moment, as I open up into a new life. More than anything, I see my grief as a catalyst for infusing my work to end burnout culture and cultivate more caring workplaces with greater awareness, depth and compassion. In the workshops and book circles I’m offering in the next few months, I’m looking forward to exploring how grief can be one of many guides in helping us to show up in this world with greater resilience and courage.

Want to attend one of my workshops? Come to Heart of the Rose festival, 1-3 September! This is a women’s festival held in Eridge Park on the border of East Sussex and Kent. There is an absolutely fantastic lineup of women speakers, healers, mentors and therapists. In my workshop, Ending Burnout, the Sacred Feminist Way, we will dive deeply and lovingly into the topics of burnout, resilience, anti-oppression and collective care. Come join us!

 Or get in touch if you would like to be part of a book circle with your colleagues or team exploring The Vulnerable Humanitarian and practices for ending burnout culture, with me the author.  

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