My last blog post was last May; it’s been a long time!
In that one, I wrote about seeds, – seeds planted in soil and metaphorical seeds within us. I noted that before a seed becomes any kind of new life, it has to be broken open. I promised a second post to talk about this.
Nature created the process of scarification which “involves weakening, opening, or otherwise altering the coat of a seed to encourage germination.” (Wikipedia) This process of change can be glamorized, but when humans have to soften, weaken, or break open, it’s rarely glamorous at all. Many of us have been taught to automatically resist this kind of surrender. Yet despite our best intentions, we are forced into breaking open.
Despite intending to blog again sooner, last summer became full with gardening, a kitchen renovation and personal health challenges. And then my sister Beth’s heart started to fail.
Beth faced numerous and significant health problems for at least a decade, including two open heart surgeries. Last summer, a medication that had kept major symptoms of congestive heart failure at bay became ineffective.
My sister played piano skillfully – often at church and to accompany other musicians and also just for the love of it. She sang well too, her alto voice strong and sure. She grieved when unable to play piano as she became weaker and Fuchs dystrophy worsened her vision.
Beth was thorough and detail-oriented; an excellent proofreader. She used those skills in various jobs throughout adulthood. She found numerous errors on my website!
She loved her family, her children, and her grandchildren. Those relationships weren’t always easy, but they were a priority and she relished time spent with family.
Beth died last mid-September. My husband and I flew to Kansas, where she lived all her adult life, to attend her services.
While there, I realized – visiting her home, talking with her friends, walking her neighborhood, and also through a nearby arboretum she loved – that I didn’t know Beth well. We’d lived far apart since she moved there for college. We loved each other and stayed in touch with texts, emails, and occasional phone calls but weren’t close friends like some sisters are. I wish I had worked harder to stay better connected.
Now in mid-2023, I continue to grieve and mourn her death, untimely at age 65, along with the deaths of my dad, a dear friend, and several neighbors in the past three years. I realize that I, like a seed, have been broken open.
I discovered that a big part of me does not want to write about this kind of being broken open. It’s messy, painful, and uncertain. It takes so much energy.
Yet in some ways I am more alive than ever. When you view a dead person, you know that they are not here anymore. You know, from the heartbeat and blood coursing through your veins and your quickened breath, that you are. And this provides an opportunity for living better and more intentionally.
Certain old goals or propensities of mine, now more than ever, simply don’t matter. They just don’t. I have been torn from some of my perfectionism and need to control life. I don’t have to get everything done in a particular way; it does not matter.
And certain things really do matter. I’m more aware of my deep love for my spouse and children, for my other sister, mom, family members, friends, and yes, my clients. I am a little better at being grateful. I know more clearly I want to spend my time doing what juices me, with those who love me, and in places that are important to me. These clarified values help me focus my life, my goals, and daily actions.
I’m also learning that grief is a process; it takes time, it’s bumpy, and when we experience loss of any kind, but particularly the death of people we love, we never return to who we were before they left us. We are altered.
I am not an expert on grief, but with my sister’s death, I received another initiation into it. It broke me open in unfamiliar ways. Like the seed’s shell must soften and surrender to the soil before the next step of growth, I want to be open to continued growing and learning from this dark and hopefully fertile space.
Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW July 2023