8 min read

on grief

reflections for march 2021
on grief

hello, friends. as we enter march 2021, as we mark one year of living during the pandemic, i know that the grief that we have been running from is settling in. we’re hitting walls, finding new depths to our rage and fear, feeling a sharp edge to our desperation. everyone i know is struggling, suffering, wondering how much longer we can do this, wondering how we’ve already done it for so long.

the truth is that none of us are equipped for this. none of us know what we’re doing. instead we continue to push ourselves, to hold ourselves to impossible standards, to expect the best from ourselves even as the world around us crumbles and shatters. rest is for other people, we mumble. i have deadlines, bosses, expectations. i had a plan, and i can’t change it. i can’t disappoint anyone, and i can’t disappoint myself. i can do this, still. i must do this.

all i can tell you is what i keep repeating, over and over, to myself and everyone i know: that it’s okay to need rest in a way that feels profound. it’s okay to admit that we’ve been broken, that we aren’t sure how to put ourselves back together. it’s okay to not know how to do this.

please remember that rest is essential, that grace is not weakness, that hope is not foolish, that there is wisdom in knowing our limits. you are not the same person that you were a year ago, and you are not living in the same world that existed a year ago. why are you holding yourself to last year’s standards? why are you expecting yourself to function the same way that you used to, in spite of new limits and fears? i beg you: find a way to show yourself compassion, kindness, empathy. give yourself a little bit of room to breathe.

there are some people out there doing incredible things right now, even in the wake of incredible circumstances. i’ve been blown away by vanessa’s new newsletter, by autostraddle’s black history month essays, by so many of diana rose’s words and reminders. but i know that you might not feel incredible right now, might feel like you’re drowning instead. i know that feeling. the words aren’t always flowing for me, and some days i have to give myself permission to walk away instead of ripping myself to shreds trying to put something, anything, on a page. some days my heart is bleeding too much to make any shape, any sense, at all.

i’m not sure if these words are helpful, if they will inspire or encourage. they’re a bit raw, a bit imperfect. but i do hope that, in spite of their flaws, they help you feel a bit less alone.

take some deep breaths, stretch your body, give yourself a moment to center yourself. i’m here with you.

on grief

grief isn’t a simple thing, not the way that we like to pretend it is.

grief is not just sorrow over a loss. it’s not just the mourning, the pain, the sadness of losing something that once meant everything. grief is also the process of slowly pulling ourselves back together, of learning how to feel whole again, of rebuilding our lives in the wake of a permanent and profound shift. it’s sitting in the echos of what was once with us, listening and breathing and slowly, painfully letting go. it’s being open to whatever the world may look like on the other side of a massive, powerful, intensive transition.

it’s easier to pretend grief is just sadness, just acknowledging loss. but it’s bigger, stickier than that. it’s a jagged edge, a new throughline, an uncertain thread connecting established past with forgotten future in a way that can leave us gasping for breath, shaken to the core, lost in our own wilderness.

love, magic, strength, joy, connection, power, intention, inspiration - these things do not disappear in grief. but they are sometimes obscured, forgotten, as we sit in the wreckage of what once was and try to remember who we are, how we move, what we dream about.

grief is an opportunity to remember. it is permission to ache.

we agreed to get a divorce over zoom.

we’d been apart for weeks, gently sharing our feelings and fears, slowly coming to realizations that couldn’t be undone. and after eleven years of partnership and support, growth and loss, we finally acknowledged what had gone unsaid for too long: that we weren’t happy, that our paths were moving in opposite directions, that we were holding each other back. it’s not that the love was gone - it’s that it had changed form, had become something that no longer sustained us, had become less than what we both needed.

perhaps we’d outgrown each other. perhaps we had stopped letting each other grow.

i didn’t cry on that call, or even on that day. the fear, the helplessness, the sheer magnitude of all that i was leaving behind left me feeling numb instead, locked in place. i knew that separation was the right move, knew that we were out of options, knew that staying together in spite of everything would destroy the friendship and connections that remained between us. but i also was walking away from security, from the life we’d built together, from the future i’d always planned on. i was walking away from one of my best friends, someone who’d been by my side for over a decade.

the grief didn’t come in full force until i’d moved into my own place, until i tried to imagine my new future, until i realized that i was in love with someone else. i hadn’t fully understood all that i’d been living without, all that i’d forgotten, until i began to rediscover it.

i wasn’t just grieving my marriage. i was also grieving what i’d deprived myself of, what i’d convinced myself that i didn’t need or deserve. i was grieving years of loneliness, of doubt, of prioritizing other people and their dreams and ambitions and comforts. i was grieving the future that i’d convinced myself would be enough.

i’d built a cage for myself, and had forgotten that there was ever a key.

grief runs throughout the tarot, and that in itself is a gift.

the cards tell a full, powerful, compelling story - not just the triumphs, but the rich highs and lows of life. we see the full spectrum of human experience and emotion, walk through every joy and sorrow, every moment of deep connection and intense loneliness. the fool undergoes a full metamorphosis, changing their form entirely, leaving an old version of themselves behind - and this does not, cannot happen without loss. even if the release brings relief, we cannot carry every single part of ourselves forward, cannot drag the weight of every choice and mistake into our future. we cannot root and flower without the seed also breaking apart, cannot transform into a butterfly without the shredding of the caterpillar. we cannot have rebirth without first dying.

for me, the card most clearly linked to grief is not actually in the major arcana - it’s in the minors. the five of cups in traditional imagery features a figure standing broken over two or three overturned vessels, hands reaching out towards the water that can not be recovered. there’s loneliness, sadness, a feeling of isolation and deep, powerful loss. yet when this card emerges, we inevitably, eventually notice that not every cup is broken - there are several more, waiting patiently for the figure to turn and see them, whole and full and ready to be carried into the next phase.

all is not lost, even if the pieces that fill our vision are beyond repair.

there are other cards of grief, cards that tell more of the story. the four of swords is the calm after difficult truths, the ways that we step back from movement and give ourselves permission to rest. temperance helps us balance our energies after a major loss, giving us the tools we need to remember how to see magic, allowing us to hold all of the different pieces of ourselves even if we aren’t sure how to put them back together. the star speaks to the moments after the storm passes, the wiping of our eyes, the belief that a fresh start is not only possible but inevitable. these cards arrive in the wake of the shift, giving us space to breathe and recover, to assess, to process.

the point here is not that this soon shall pass, that weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning, that as long as we remember that which we love, those things are never completely lost. these things are true, certainly - but when we are in the midst of grief, when it feels like we’re drowning, when the world is devoid of color and life and all we can see is the pain that surrounds us, these gentle platitudes may not feel like they have much to offer us. when we are still tangled amidst the chaos, reminders of the stillness on the other side may feel impossible to imagine.

the point is not to rush this part. grief gives us permission to be starkly, perfectly human, to be broken, to feel the depth of what we have lost. it’s not an invitation to punish ourselves or descend into the madness of sorrow, but instead a chance to honor what has left.

when we’re ready, the tarot reminds us that the loss is not the end of the story.

death is card number thirteen. the tower is card number seventeen. but there are twenty-two cards in the fool’s journey, ten cards in each minor suit, whole phases of growth and rebirth that happen after these moments of loss. grieving comes in the middle of the narratives, forcing us to reconsider what we are fighting for, what we truly want, what we actually need. grief starts a new cycle.

when you consider what you are losing, what you have lost, look at where you have also found freedom. what has cracked open? how have your priorities shifted? what matters more than ever, and what doesn’t hurt as much as you thought it would?

i have shattered myself into pieces, have ripped my world wide open, have started the long and complicated process of rebuilding my life out of the ashes. i’ve been messy and tangled, ugly and shredded, exposed in all of my fear and uncertainty.

getting divorced during a pandemic is an impossible thing: terribly lonely, devastating in its quiet finality. there’s a sense of wide open space that is terrifying, the knowledge that i will be moving through a new world without any of my old anchors. yet the magic that i’ve found on the other side of this shift, in beginning to wander into the unknown, has often overwhelmed me with its beauty, its possibility. in finding balance, in feeling the joys of everyday magic, in being open to new kinds of love and healing, i’m becoming more myself than i perhaps have ever been. in giving myself permission to stumble, to get lost, to not have the answers, i’m finding ones i’d never considered before.

the truth: my grief is not the end of my story.

it’s painful to let ourselves be changed, to feel our edges bend and crack, to tear our bodies apart in the belief that our new form will be stronger. yet there is beauty in the change, power in the transition, magic in the faith.

we are not meant to forget what we have endured. but we are also allowed to move through it, to leave it behind, to make a new start. we are allowed to begin again, to rebuild our worlds in the wake of the loss, to find joy and love and magic even in the midst of uncertainty. we are allowed to discover new possibilities, to dream new dreams, to stretch our fingers out towards a hazy new horizon and believe that we are capable of reaching it.

we are allowed to be more than what we have lost.

wishing you a brilliant, powerful, transformative march. thank you for reading.

images from this post feature cards from the vindur deck, second edition. all photographs by meg jones wall.