Season of Grief, Season of Awe


Cultures around the world and from the beginning of time have set apart the autumn season to honor death and dying. There is a deep sense that autumn is when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest. In the Northern Hemisphere right now, the symbols of death are all around us. The lengthening of night. The goodbye song of the geese as they fly in formation. The letting go dance of the leaves as they spin from Sky to Earth. The smell of bacteria and mycelia performing their alchemical duties of decomposition. Formerly brilliant flower heads turned black and gone to seed.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fall is the season correlated with the metal element. The predominant emotion is Grief. Metal is a pure substance derived from the earth by a process of reduction. In the same way, in autumn the living world is reduced, returning back to its source in the Earth. The main organs of fall are the lungs, whose branches and alveoli mirror the branching of plant life both above and below the surface of the soil. 

This breath--in and out--in my own lungs, connects me to our breathing planet, whose lungs are all plant life. In a season of grief, breathing is often difficult. Deep emotion sometimes brings quick gasps, holding the breath, or long, moaning exhalations. It is said that holding the breath indicates a reluctance to let go; long exhalations may invoke a feeling that nothing of value can be held onto.

Yet. Fall is a time of deep alchemy, in both our inner and outer worlds. The virtue of fall is Awe. Awe at the cycle of life and death, repeating yet again. Awe at the transitory blaze of color in the leaves before they fall on the wind. Awe in the mist of the morning, when sun rays illuminate the folds of the veil. So we catch our breath. We breath evenly in--inspiration, awe; we breath evenly out--letting go. In and out, the cycle of life. 

I used to be annoyed that my birthday had to co-occur with Halloween. I didn't really enjoy dressing up and I scare easily. So, I embraced my birthday as harvest season instead of season of death. This year, for the first time, I deeply feel both the awe of harvest and the grief of letting go, and I embrace my birthday during late fall as an auspicious call to hold both grief and awe in my heart, to allow myself to live that alchemy of reduction and return to the Source. I'm still not much for dressing up, but I am very grateful for this glorious, sad, season of endings.

I've spent a good amount of time this year in the forest, accompanied by the plants and creatures who dwell there. On a recent sunny day, I laid on a bed of soft leaves, breathing in the scent of decomposition, connecting with an alchemical cycle older than time. I watched the leaves of a Norway Maple let go of their branches above me. It was incredibly moving. I felt the beauty and bravery of each one as it let go of the only home it ever knew, spinning on the breeze and sunshine before landing gracefully in its final resting place. There, it will be transmuted into the soil on which all life depends. I took slow-motion videos of the these beautiful ones, and as I played the videos back, I realized that "fall" is not an accurate verb for what they were doing.

They were dancing. Dancing the Letting Go Dance.

Someday, I will dance like these leaves. And then, I will gratefully transform into the ground that others walk upon, into the soil that is home to new life. Because decomposition is always followed by recomposition.

A fellow bereaved mother told me that our grief is like a chronic illness or a new disability. I have turned that over in my head many times. A chronic illness or disability cannot be cured. It makes life harder, every day. It is a constant reminder that our body is mortal. It is also an invitation to learn how to thrive within the limits of our mortality. Many people say that a disability or chronic illness has so deeply enhanced and shaped their lives that they would not take the cure if it was available. In loss, we often find that new abilities or senses become enhanced. Herein lies the awe. 

I will never be cured of my grief; it will never magically transmute into awe. That is not the goal. My grief deepens my sense of awe. They dwell together, like the in and the out breath. Like the "disability" and the enhanced life that grows around and with it.

Today is Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that both honors the dead and welcomes their spirits to visit the living. It coincides with the migration of monarch butterflies to Mexico every year, one of the most extraordinary migrations in the world. Grief and Awe, dwelling together, as they are meant to be. 

This year, Viggo is gracing several ofrendas, including at his big brother and sister's school. We are full of awe and gratitude for the love he continues to inspire, everywhere we look.

Whether you are grieving a fresh loss or you have been grieving for years, my prayer for you today is a glimpse of awe.


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