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The Spiral of Worthiness and Questioning in Grief

Grief and Questioning Spirals - Grief Series Birdi Sinclair

Worthy of Love:

Sometimes, in the tender times, as an illness or loss enters its final stages or in the very early days of a loss, we enter this between space. The between space is between the way things were to what they will be when we are “through this,” which what people say is the goal. “You’ll get through this.”

In that between, we are rolling through so much, almost non-stop. Sometimes we stop and land in a numb state of nothing, and then get right back to it. It is not always a kind place. It is often a sorting and sifting place of trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. Everything is re-organizing.

This between feels like so many things. One thing we do in this sorting and sifting is assessing and reassessing everything, absolutely everything, whether intentionally or because the mind floats it in. This can even happen years later, say, on an anniversary or an important life event.

Here’s a personal example:

On the tenth anniversary of my mother’s passing, I somehow began wondering, then very concerned, emotionally preoccupied, if I might’ve killed her simply because I was present and alone with her for a couple of hours when she passed and “did nothing to stop it.” As if. Of course that’s not what happened. She was in home hospice and it is very true that this was her last morning, no question. It was perfect timing that I was there with her. In a future post we’ll talk about what this is about in more detail. In short, it is an exquisite, protective diversion our system creates like a placeholder when the actual pain is too large for us to wrap around. For me, 10 years went so quickly, was too striking for a loss so infinite. And, I was even a little mad she was gone before we got to be and do some things. My mind heart gave me a placeholder for something too big and endless, unsolvable. A big, ugly, scary story with a beginning, middle, end, mathy placeholder to noodle until I could finally snap out of it, thankfully. Inherent in here is a sense of shame/ unworthiness, blame/unworthiness for me to sift and sort, release, rewrite, converse with, explore.

This assessing, reassessing, can be around lots of things. We may be caretakers of a loved one - person or animal companion, we may be at a distance, we may be estranged. There can be complications in the relationships with the loved one or the dynamics in the relationships around them, our abilities to care or do things as we might want to may be limited or challenged. Feeling inadequate or in disagreement with how things are going and feeling powerless for any number of reasons is real or a placeholder or both. Sometimes, even when it’s all going along as well as can be expected, or suddenly with no chance to do anything at all, we may still have doubts, questions, concerns.

Actions, words, timing, of ourselves or others can be relentlessly questioned. Limitations in finances or access to health care, communication are more possibilities. The list goes on. The combinations are unique and endless, and yet relatable all through time. Most of us do this assessing and re-assessing at least for a while, especially early or at particular monument times. It’s also difficult to be talked out of our lists by well-intentioned people.

Another reflection:

As a caretaker, reflecting with you now, I found one of my big jobs was to look my dear friend in the eyes day after day, because he made it clear he needed me in his line of sight. I knew I was his safety anchor as he felt his beloved life slipping away. While I was locked in this gaze, my mind was overcome by thoughts of how I squandered our time together, all the things I wish I had done better, differently, the moments I was impatient or distracted, found excuses. I had to muster all I had to stay steady, keep the soft gaze he needed, smile softly, crack a joke, not cry, speak gently, speak at all. I was determined to not waver and be that anchor for him. He did not want to die. He had been holding on to be strong and present for me. I had learned to read it in his eyes and his actions. It was very clear he was very present. Then somehow he knew this was different, there was nothing more to hope for, and he stopped taking his meds, stopped eating and set his mind to the process, but reluctantly, so unsure. This sounds like my dog, but he was not. He was a close, loved friend. He died of AIDS.

It was crushing for all of us, even his doctors. On his final morning, after a challenging night, I felt completely unworthy of the extraordinary love and trust he showed me. He had let out some sounds I had never heard him make, and with surprising strength, gripped my hand with his cool, weirdly stick-like fingers to let me know he still needed only me in his line of sight, touching him.

He looked at me as a most adored and trusted person with a love we seldom experience from any soul but long for, and I couldn't stand it. I felt so unworthy through these last couple of weeks of gazing. It was such a struggle to look in his eyes and not turn away in overwhelm, a shame, a disbelief. How could he not see the truth? I felt so overcome to see myself as he saw me. But because I was there for him, I persevered, so I was in a battle to be outside of my own experience so I could be there with him fully, so I could receive him as he was in that moment.

My battle has a lot of roots in sorrow, protection, diversion, as well as self-perception, and we will explore them in other posts, because my battle is a shared battle. It is our lived, timeless experience. The way he looked at me, gave me pause. Who was I to say his truth was less true than mine? How could I see myself through his eyes? Truth was spun like a top. What is relevant? How would that experience change if I stayed wrapped in only my perspective? If I looked away in shame? What happens to his credibility if after his passing I returned to only my version of truth? I felt I would be discarding him if I did not consider him as a whole, sovereign person whom I trusted. I had to consider he saw and knew things I did not, even if they were about me.

Also, as I wrote this, I could have easily written these exact words about the illness and passing of my dog from his heart condition, but we are still talking about my precious friend. Isn’t this amazing to consider when we have trouble understanding how someone can grieve so heavily the loss of an animal companion? The purity, caretaking, responsibility, shame, guilt, love, chemistry, bond and so on, is deep, consuming our schedules, thoughts, for many years. There is very little we will talk about that will not cross apply to the caretaking, love, connection some may have with our animal companions.


Flip Side of the Coin:

Sometimes our relationships are so complex, with challenging histories, dynamics that we have learned to navigate carefully for our own well-being or safety, and the trust and roles have been deeply compromised, maybe even estranged. (I am not discussing forgiveness. That’s a series in itself.) We may eventually find ourselves in positions of expectation because of our roles, our titles or legalities. Parents, siblings, having to navigate illnesses, deaths, funeral arrangements, estates.

These times can also get really spun and mired into this the idea of who is worthy of love, what is love, what is reconciliation and responsibility. Where do we fit now? Where do these emotions fit and where are they coming from? The language for them also has a different place in our support circles. It can be hard to explain our mixed or charged or flat emotions in our support circles when there is a certain history.

The risk to re-enter feels big, the inner conflict may feel threatening to some sense of compromise we’ve learned to live with. The loss and grief we feel here is a different kind of inner and outer experience. The feelings have a range as we wander between the past and the present, worthiness may roam wild, and what we feel we have made of ourselves, a right to exist, how we may have learned to care for ourselves, now may seem to be thrust into situations that feel so vulnerable, so part of a past. We may wonder about the worthiness of our loved ones, a sort of blame or shame on you, that they have not made efforts to move into the present with us, and question why we should “go back” to get involved on any level. We may be startled by the freedom that comes in also, and that may create questions about what we are capable of because it doesn’t jive with how we see ourselves overall. There are no right, wrong answers. For those inside these relationships, it is a complex, intimate, historied roles. It is a space for self-tenderness, even if it doesn’t feel tender. All the more reason to offer a delicate, kind spaciousness.

Do we set that aside and “do what needs to be done, because (please fill in the blank here as you will know your situation best) ?” There is no ONE or TWO aspects to these unfortunate times. They are very layered, and have taken a long time to create these layers. A catalyst event, like a loss or death brings these many aspects of already existing grief into the mix of the new circumstance. (The existing grief may be for what was not, could have been or was hoped for, and how it was denied, any rejection that went with that and all the love that never got to be shared, expressed that lives within us, that we may have found a resiliency to move on from.) The dance of worthiness, then/now - here/there - them/you, is a core concept to consider as a root to inner healing, well-being. It may be a gate to finding a space of safety and understanding within yourself in this space of new loss and the surrounding relationships, up close or from a distance. Here is an article of an unusual obituary that got some national attention. Is it a freedom? Only he knows:

The Hokey Pokey - What it's all about:

Let's put this all together for our own use, because all of these complex feelings are impossible to unravel and hash out really, although we try. Let's not make it harder than it is, and at the same time, it is too deep, wrenching, to over simplify. We will always walk the line of simplifying while honoring the depths.

Grief and loss is about the relationships, with ourselves as much as with the other, even though they have passed. Who are we together and separately and what are the needs and expectations between us, and around us?

In our topic today, of questioning and spirals, of worthiness: How can we consider our relationships in a non-transactional way?

There is a term “material spiritualism” and it relates to a spiritual kind of pride or ownership, or a mathematical grip on: if this and this happen then this is the likely outcome, and we feel a success or failure in ourselves or others if it happens or does not happen. This is a transactional kind of relating to our own selves, to another, and to our relationships. We are certainly responsible for our choices, behaviors, thoughts, actions, but the sense of our or another’s worthiness can be questioned in a lot of ways, and we can also release it.

  There are so many ways we can spin around, sit with, and consider this idea of worthiness of love, maybe we might call it something else, feeling seen, respected, lost, shame, anxiety. And if we strip all of that away, we can ask ourselves:

  • What determines someone’s value, someone’s worthiness?

  • Who’s truth is more true? The way we criticize ourselves when we are lost and in pain? The way a loved one looks at us and relies on us when they are in their most vulnerable or tender times? The way we keep track of the wrongs of the past? The way someone treats us in the present? The way we know ourselves in our core, our values? The way we show up in the world? Some mix of them all? Something else?

  • How do you reconcile these places?

What is the truth, and whose truth is more true?

We can ask to get the curiosity moving, “What else is true?” to help make a new list, and open us beyond the spin of assessing and reassessing the same things over and over,

...moving into what else could be possible. More than 1 thing can be true. We know this. We explored this here.

When we talk about worthiness, really we are talking about pain, loss of any sort. We can see from what we talked about here, shame, guilt, overwhelm, rejection, maybe even abuse, who knows, but it is in our power to reconsider our present and our future, to see our pain from another perspective, or a wider perspective, and to allow that to change within us, change our view in the moment and over time, to crack the shell of our pseudo-grief into a selfless grief of which is a sorrow that does not close in on only flaws, but is dearly lonely for the other - even if that other includes our earlier selves, and also respects the wholeness of the relationship as it does in life, eventually embodying the relationship and memory of the other within ourselves in some way.

We enter this new place of understanding, curiosity, conversation by asking:

What else is true? What is value? How can we have this conversation with ourselves tenderly, spaciously?

-> Consider writing some part of your loss story, your grief where you may feel you are in the between space, trying to find your way "Through It" by making those lists, assessing and reassessing, no matter how near or far a loss was.

What do you keep hashing through as you could’ve done better or weren’t enough or someone else was a thus and such?

Ask, tenderly, What else is true?

If it comes with images, colors, shapes, music, song, lyrics, poetry, memories, smells, include them.

Please remember, no judgement of right or wrong answers. Be with yourself where you are. Be in the conversation you are wanting to have, whatever it is. Begin Peace now. Begin again. Begin again. Every now is new. It is on your time to be your own witness and your own caretaker, just as you are.

I am glad you are here, and I am with you,


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