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Category: Endings

Breaking Open

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

The End is in Sight (Maybe)

In my family, we have 4 of the necessary 7 vaccine shots. One of us chose Johnson & Johnson, hence the odd number. So we’re halfway there. And I’m a little giddy about soon being fully vaccinated.

We are all living through an ordeal. The 13-month and counting pandemic upended our routines, relationships, living spaces, work, and everyday activities. We’ve been crabby and sad, we’ve adjusted and found new ways to manage, all while living in a time warp. And now, with effective vaccinations, we are starting to eye the future and our possibilities as life opens up.

As a therapist, I hold deep respect for how clients faced the pandemic, how they expressed emotion and endured, how they did what was needed to keep themselves and others safe, and kept working on their goals. A crisis like the pandemic brings out the best and the worst in us and clients have been creative, resourceful, and have also suffered and faced themselves in new, sometimes painful ways. They are meeting with me virtually, a significant shift for all but a few of them. Some clients prefer telehealth while others look forward to sitting together again in my office. I look forward to that too and anticipate providing both in-person and telehealth services. The pandemic forced this innovative shift for me and I’m grateful for that.

Clients are also expressing trepidation about how to emerge from the cage or cocoon – depending on how the pandemic has been experienced by them – of their homes. And while I’m relieved to be vaccinated, I can relate, especially as an introvert. I’ve missed seeing clients in the office, and friends in my home, at restaurants or gatherings. But I’ve also kind of liked the simple schedule of outdoor walks with friends, phone calls and texts with extended family members, and pretty much hanging out with my spouse and young adult children. I’m aware that stepping out into social activities and public events might feel strange, be difficult, might lead to a heightened vulnerability. We need to give ourselves time to adjust yet again.

Courtney Martin’s blog post titled “Internally Rearranged.” is terrific. I hope you’ll read it here and give yourself space to think through your own internal shifts. I know I keep referring to her writing – but it’s so spot-on, especially through this past year. I’m pretty sure that as we contemplate and accept how we’ve changed, we’ll know more clearly how to step into the next phase of the pandemic.

Stay well, be patient. We’re getting through this, and that’s cause for celebration.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R
April 2021

photo by Ingmar on Unsplash

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


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


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:   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

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