Friday, March 25, 2016

Holding Space

This may be a difficult post for some to read, but it's one that has been percolating in my mind for a few days and one that I needed to write. Writing helps me sort through my thoughts, and this was something I needed to sort. So I hope you won't mind reading.

In both birthwork and bereavement work we often do something we refer to as "holding space." It means that there is not anything particular we are doing or saying (sometimes not anything we can do or say) in the situation, but we stand as sentinel over the space. We protect the peace, the calm, the energy, the emotions, and the simple right to feel.

Over the years I have held space for grieving mothers: sometimes in person but more often in virtual space, via phone or instant messages with someone geographically distant but emotionally close. Similarly I have held space for friends and family members as they labor through the delivery of a child or through any difficult time.

I have also held space for my children on many occasions; holding a small one on my lap and surrounding him with the calm of my arms and my breathing, and giving him permission to feel what he feels, and also giving my support in getting through it.

In recent days I have come to recognize the need--and value--for holding space in another way.

My paternal grandfather's health declined sharply a few months ago. He moved in with my aunt so that she could help care for him, and we have all been aware that he would not live much longer. Early last week we learned that he had stopped eating, so we knew to count time in days.

Meanwhile, my maternal grandmother has been dealing with multiple health issues for many years, and in the last few years her hospital stays have increased in frequency, duration, and complexity. A couple of weeks ago she entered the hospital, and within a few days it became apparent that this time was more severe than others had been. Last Thursday her doctor said she probably had a week left.

Last Friday my grandfather passed away. His funeral was on Wednesday.

On Tuesday my grandmother came home under hospice care, to spend her last few days with her spouse in the home they had built and lived in together. My mother was there with her, and said that grandma sat at the window and looked out at the trees that they had planted and raised together, and seemed to be at peace. She had some good hours, and got to spend her 58th anniversary in the arms of her sweetheart and with family by her side. Today she passed on.

I had neither the money nor the scheduling flexibility to visit my grandparents in their final days, nor have it now to attend their funerals. I think they will not mind, seeing as how funerals are for the living rather than the deceased. I had time to send letters, call and communicate my love, and I am grateful for the time we had to do that. Now their spirits are free of the worn out bodies that had held them back, and all I can do is hold space.

This is a different kind of space-holding from what I have done before. My grandparents are no longer here, and do not need me to hold the space for them; instead I must hold it for myself. I must allow myself to feel--whatever I feel--without judgment or guilt. I can hold their memories, carrying them onward by sharing them with my family. I must allow myself to be quiet, to rest, to think, to cry, and to be not-my-best-or-brightest at some things for a while. I must also allow myself to laugh and play and carry on, because the cycles of life continue always.

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