Demolition Has Its Day, and Place, in Life

“Don’t despair if your heart has been through a lot of trauma. Sometimes, that’s how beautiful hearts are remade: they are shattered first.”  Yasmin Mogahed

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Last fall I saw a house being demolished. The equipment necessary to bring it down was parked on the road and slowed my journey up Oak Street to my office, so every day I’d glance quickly to see more of the house being knocked to pieces.

I don’t remember what it looked like –  it was probably a modest two-story like other simple colonials that line the street.  And I don’t know anything about the lives of the families that lived there, the story of that particular house or why it was razed.  It might be a sad or tragic story to tell.  I love the old homes in our city and am always disappointed when one has to go.

But I was also curious to see what happens next.

Our family owns an empty lot where a two-family home stood.  Information about what happened is sparse but one short article I found on microfiche reported the house was destroyed in a fire in the 1970’s.  No one was injured and there was speculation about insurance fraud, but by the time we bought our home, it was an empty expanse of crabgrass, languishing perennials (but some very fine peonies), a concrete driveway slab at the curb, and bits of the garage foundation at the back.  It was pretty ugly.

That empty lot played a big factor in our decision to buy this house. We had it graded, fenced and finished out with topsoil and grass seed.  Then we dug a garden and developed, over the next 17 years, perennial and vegetable beds that have provided beauty and sustenance.  Our children played in the yard when they were little, it’s a great space for hosting potlucks and also gives us extra space on a street where homes were sometimes constructed too close together to let the sun in.

My point?  Destruction can lead to something good both in property and in personal experience.  Emptiness can be a fertile space for something new to grow.

In therapy, persons often come knowing that something isn’t working, that reactive or addictive patterns in themselves or relationships are causing stalemate and damage. Or that a relationship or job or stage of life or dream is ending.

Something is being demolished….and this is part of life – it’s predictable.  And waiting alongside sorrow, shock, resistance, and anger is also the possibility of what might be born after an ending.  But the ending has to come first.

People can move from what’s empty, unusable or just plain over to welcome something new, hopeful, meaningful, useful.  It’s not easy, it’s not pretty or elegant – all that demolition and mess and hauling away of what was; but it’s doable, necessary and important all the same.

Therapy should be a safe place for clients:

  • to be listened to and understood,
  • to know, as a foundation under their feet, their strengths, values, connections, and resilience  – what’s going to help them make it through
  • and then to understand what has to change in order for growth to occur; what needs to be deconstructed or demolished or finished so that something healthier and more workable can emerge.

It’s possible to both grieve painful endings AND hold onto the belief that something lovely, strong or meaningful might be built in the space left by ending old habits, surrendering a dream, facing sorrow, or releasing faulty beliefs. 

In just the last week, I noticed that the empty lot I drive by has been leveled, topsoil and straw spread.  I’m waiting to see shoots of grass poke up through. 

You will know a respectful home once stood there, that it’s not there anymore and you will also appreciate the little rectangle of green possibility.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, June 2018

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Some good reading on endings, grief transitions, etc.: 

Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges

Healing Through the Dark Emotions:  The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair by Miriam Greenspan

Kelly Brogan, MD’s website:  https://kellybroganmd.com/   I don’t necessarily agree with all of Dr. Brogan’s expressed views and beliefs, but her writing on facing pain, the transformation possible when leaning into one’s suffering instead of running from it, are powerful.

Grief Recovery Handbook by Russell Friedman & John W. James

The Wild Edge of Sorrow, by Frances Weller