I created this collage and wrote the notes for it on 17 January 2011.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal about the collage:
I know deep down that now is a time of waiting. I can squirm and shout and try to force things, but nothing is happening in a hurry. I have to sit with the confusion, loss, loneliness, and lost-ness and let it brew to create its new energy and life.
If I could just trust that this is the recipe and it’s just taking the time it should take, and it will create a delicious life again, then I could relax and let this be a time of patience, rest reflection, digestion, creativity and connection.
Breathe. Trust. Sip. Savor. Wait with an open heart.
Re-creating yourself and your life after loss
One of the reasons why loss and grief are so difficult is because loss often causes a significant breakdown in our sense of self and our model of the world. Before our loss we were chugging along nicely on a particular track, with a secure and well-developed sense of who we were in the world, and some sense of certainty about our expectations for the future. Loss shatters those expectations… the future you expected isn’t a possibility anymore, and you’re forced to re-assess it all. Sometimes that’s a small re-assessment and adjustment that’s required, and sometimes it monumental and for months you feel like you have no clue who you are and no real picture of a future at all. There’s just the gap of what’s been lost and you have no idea yet what will grow in that space.
This period can feel awful. The lost-ness and groundlessness seem to pervade everything and you doubt yourself and find yourself struggling to make even the smallest of decisions. Decision-making can feel impossible because your rational mind is preoccupied with all the loops of unanswerable “why?” questions and your emotional mind is preoccupied with pain. The uncertainty of who you are and the lack of vision for the future – even the small, close future of the very next moment, can be exhausting and incredibly scary. This is why so many of us try to race out of this place of breakdown by quickly, desperately trying to build something else.
Desperation to leave the groundlessness
Five months after my health plunged and Juggernaut died and our dream of becoming natural parents died with her, my new sense of self and vision for my future was still unformed, vague and out of focus. I’ve always had a clear sense of self and vision for my future, so I found this uncertain space incredibly hard to relax into. I wanted to race out of it, and believe me, I tried. I tried applying to go back to school, I looked into adoption, I tried getting into volunteering, I tried applying for jobs… It all took massive energy to pursue each of these avenues, but I was still unable to access my true desires and none of them really resonated with me, and ultimately nothing would shift for me. I found closed doors everywhere I looked.
I’ve seen many people get stuck in suffering in this part of grief, because they’re so anxious (like I was) to fix all that’s broken or at least replace all that’s lost with something else that feels good. It almost always takes longer than we expect or want, but we can’t race through it. Your body and mind knows how to rebuild a sense of self and future naturally, but it’s a complex job and it takes time.
Creativity opens and shifts the stuckness
Something switched for me when I finally sat down and created this collage. I finally gave up trying to force a new sense of self and future into being, and I decided to work on relaxing into the uncertainty. I knew this was a job that I needed to let my right-brain thinking lead on – my left-brain, rational self had been resisting all the way. This is why I chose to work with images and simple words instead of “thoughtwork” and analysis.
Instead of trying to figure out HOW I’d relax into it and create a new sense of self and future, I decided to focus on WHO I wanted to be as I went through the process of building a new sense of self and future. The process of articulating who I wanted to be and creating this collage invited my right-brain on board and helped me make that switch into being that person, without needing to analyze my grief and discover answers to all of the “why?” and “how” questions that my left-brain had been stuck on. Loss and living after loss can’t be “figured out” but that doesn’t mean that we can’t move forward. Creativity is one of the tools that can help us to explore and move forward and be more of the person we want to be, even when there are unanswerable questions.
I had tried to re-connect with who I want to be in the months before making this collage, but taking the time to sit for an hour and use visuals rather than long, complicated stories and rationalizations to articulate it allowed my desires to come forward at a deeper level. It’s as if the visuals became a live metaphor and the qualities I wanted – patience, trust, perspective, connection, self-acceptance – really did begin to brew and become steeped within my being for the first time.
What unanswerable questions are you stuck on since your loss? Who do you want to be, even as you live with those unanswerable questions? What form of creative exercise might help you to articulate and affirm who you want to be?