Half-up half-down

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #177

I am grateful for people who plant flowers in public places for all passers-by to enjoy.  Yesterday during my evening walk I came across scores of these purple and white flowers, billowing out from improvised pots in front of a corrugated iron warehouse.   They’ve been pummeled by the recent rain we’ve been having and are in different stages of withering which to me adds to their beauty.

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I was particularly drawn to the flower pictured below, which looks like an accurate illustration of how I feel in these days of confinement, half-up half-down. Both optimistic and overwhelmed, hopeful and afraid, full of good intentions and struggling to get started, aware of my privilege and self-centered, happy to simply get through the day and thinking I should be ‘doing more’, glad to connect with people and fatigued by video calls…  I’m doing my best to remember that all these contrasting feelings are allowed co-exist and making space for them by being kind to myself rather than judgemental.

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Pancake breakfast

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #175

Though on the whole the life during the confinement is not so different to my normal life (I just have a better excuse to not go out…), this sheltering in place is not easy.  I’m 35 days in and it’s uncanny how this period feels both so long and so short.  How despite having the possibility to slow down, I still feel overwhelmed regularly.  I’ve been journaling a lot, trying to process it all, but am realising it only works to a certain extent. I often find myself lying awake at night, mind and body alert, from a cocktail of news, the latent anxiety of a simple trip to the supermarket and too many hours spent online.

My mind is a melting pot of feelings bubbling up.  I picture them like the Northern Lights, blending together into mesmerizing and ever-evolving shapes in the sky: anger at what we are doing to the planet, how we even got here, gratitude that so far me and the ones I love have not been impacted too hard, sadness for all the lives lost and how the less privileged are in fact much more at risk, joy at seeing humans remember their connection and creativity, grief because of recent changes, how life as we know it no longer exists, yearning for when I will be able to see my family without a screen between us, fear of what this crisis might lead to, hope at what might change for the better if we learn from this experience, loneliness of days of seeing next to no-one and wonder at the surreal beauty of spring blossoming all over Amsterdam regardless of the pandemic and on and on the thoughts swirl…

I know I need to stay with the feelings and they’ll eventually pass, but I find I’m struggling to with how much energy it takes.  So I’m practicing being kind to myself, reminding myself over and over again to take the pressure off, this is no normal time and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. This morning after another night of not sleeping so well, I coaxed myself out of bed by deciding to make pancakes for breakfast.  I gobbled them up with the ingredients I had in the fridge: Parmesan, maple syrup and pear. It was just what I needed:)

Books about grief

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Grief is not only the deep sorrow we feel when a loved one dies, it’s our reaction to all our losses, big and small on an every day basis.  A rejected submission, leaving a city you lived in, things not turning out the way you expected them to, heartbreak, sadness in the face of the climate crisis, losing your favorite tupperware (don’t laugh! that tupperware and I went way back and had travelled the world together!).

In a culture where life goes ever faster, grief is also not a linear process that peaks and then winds down and disappears forever.  We’d like it to be over and done with, but it often comes back at unexpected moments, when hearing a song, traveling somewhere, finding yourself wanting to turn to that person who is no longer there for advice…

Over the years I’ve read some great books about grief that helped me feel less alone, in very dark times after losing close family members I loved, and also in more banal moments when feeling sadness about the way things were going, and the struggle with burnout.  The books mentionned below are like a light shining on a path that many before me have wandered and helped give me tools to make my way by reducing the struggle and allowing the emotions.

Broken Open – Elisabeth Lesser

Subtitled ‘How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow’, I turn to this book often as it is truly comforting, a sort of map through the dark forest of tough times to the other side.  I love learning from other people’s stories and this book is full of all sorts of anecdotes and wisdom. I highly recommend it, whatever is going on in your life.

On Grief and Grieving – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

This book is written by two doctors who worked alongside of people who were dying.  With many short examples it runs through the different stages of grief around death and giving examples of things that may be felt and the way others

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

I read this book many years ago, and I will never forget it’s amazingly beautiful title.  It’s  based on Joan Didion’s own experience. I don’t remember the details but rather the atmosphere, the brutal honesty of life after loss, of the absurdity and necessity of going on, the magical daily moments that make up life.

Glad No Matter What – SARK

SARK’s books are not necessarily for everyone, but I really enjoy her colourful handwritten style. I am inspired by how she challenges the reader to reframe things and I love the serendipitous stories she shares about people she encounters. At the same time, she is real about how she feels and the need to allow ourselves to pass through layers of grief. She also shares many resources at the end of each chapter, so there is much more to dive into.

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And if you are more into podcasts, in this amazing interview Elizabeth Gilbert talks about grief after her partner passed away. The whole recording is fascinating, but skip to 44mn for her beautiful description of grief.