The End of the Line – Grief Tending for Childlessness
First event: Introductory evening, Thursday 17th September
I am happy to announce a series of grief tending events this autumn, specifically for people who are grieving their unwanted childlessness. See links at the end of this post for details on dates and booking.
My grief around childlessness is what brought me to grief tending. I was looking for a way to let what was eating me up inside flow through me, and I needed to feel safe and held by others and witnessed in my grief, rather than just crying in my bedroom at home, alone.
But what is grief tending in community, and why does grief need tending anyway?
Grief tending in community is a way of providing space for grief to come up, but in a safe and nurturing way. It can be witnessed by others; it feels like a rare thing, to feel truly acknowledged and supported while I grieve.
When I participate in grief tending in community, I see the importance of spending time building up that sense of safety and trust in others, so that we know that going into our pain honestly and openly will be ok. I can have confidence that nobody will be judging me or attempting to diminish my loss. We each have our griefs, and we can give each other the gift of our attention, our understanding, and our support, without judging or interpreting or commenting on it.
There is something precious about being trusted by someone else to witness their loss and their emotions. And, in turn, to trust them to witness me as I grieve. It has led me to a kind of freedom which I’ve found hard to find elsewhere – a freedom to go as deep as I need to, to let whatever is within me flow out, and to release it. I am tending to my grief, honouring it, welcoming it, and letting it flow through me because I see it as a core and essential part of my humanity, an expression of my love.
I welcome the freedom to speak of the exact nature of my grief, or not to. To write down my pain, or not to, to cry, wail, howl, scream and shout, or to be silent. To move my body in grief, or to remain still. Everything is welcome. Nobody’s grief is the same, and however we are in our grief is accepted and validated by the group. That, in itself, can be beautiful and can feel like a blessed relief. It is important to note that, just as each person’s grief experience is different, the reaction they have to this grief tending work will be different, too; it may not be the right choice for everybody.
I have found such love and tenderness in this work – in taking responsibility to nurture each other’s grieving, and to offer support in whatever way is most needed. It has given me some power back, to own my feelings and to take care of the feelings of others. Rarely have I felt such connection with others as I have when doing work of this kind.
What am I learning about grief?
I believe that, for me, grieving is a process of breaking myself open and, once opened, my heart is bigger and has more capacity than before. That means that there is room for more love, more joy, and more grief to flow. I feel more alive and open to the joy in the world, in a way I was not before my grief. I think I was pretty numb to any deep feelings before, but now I can embrace them.
Through my grief tending experiences, I am continuing to learn about grief and often find myself surprised at how it flows or how it doesn’t, and at what comes up for me. I’ve learned that grief isn’t something to be afraid of, and that if I open myself up to it, it doesn’t become a tidal wave to completely overwhelm me, as I used to fear. I used to worry that if I really let go and started to feel and to cry, then I would never ever be able to stop; I am learning that this isn’t the case. I’ve seen that there is just as much healing to be found in holding others and witnessing their grief, as there is in being held myself.
I am learning that when I open myself up, even just a little bit, and let those feelings be felt, then I feel a little bit more alive than I was before. Yes, it is vulnerable, but if we take care to create a safe space, then I have learnt that there is no need to fear that vulnerability. The feelings themselves might be painful, but allowing them to flow can bring a surge of relief as well as the capacity to feel other things, things like joy and love and excitement. So different from before, when there was just a stuck feeling of dread about the grief – I knew it was in there, but I was too scared to go near it.
I’ve learned that there are many ways to connect with grief and that they work differently for each person – grief is such an individual thing and we might get in touch with our grief through writing, through talking, through movement, through singing, through touch, through ceremony, through nature connection, through silence.
I am learning that there is no right way to grieve, and that it is important to acknowledge that everyone is in a different relationship with their grief. There is no competition about who is doing it ‘better’. Everything is welcome – however you feel is welcome. For some, numbness might be the overriding experience, and tears might not flow – that doesn’t mean they are not grieving or that they are not doing it ‘properly’. It is simply their experience, and grief tending could be just as beneficial for them as for those whose tears flow freely. Some may find themselves filled with anger and rage, and that is ok too. All feelings are welcome and valid. And I am learning that this work is not for everybody, and that is ok.
I am learning that, no matter how much grief flows through me, there will always be more to fill me up again. Grief isn’t something that I can just do and then be done with it and finished. It isn’t something like an illness that I can recover from. It is rather a part of me, like love is. It is something that I’ll carry with me through my life and the more I can recognise, tend to, and give space to this part of me, the better. There will always be things in life to grieve for, and if I can allow myself to do that, I’ll be more emotionally healthy, less afraid of the shadow parts of myself, and more resilient to what life brings.
But “Is it really grief if nobody has died?”
I haven’t had a physical loss, a bereavement, but the loss of my unborn, unconceived children feels very real to me. For a long time I carried a feeling of shame and a need to hide the true nature of my loss behind vague statements, worried that if I revealed my story, nobody would be able to empathise with my grief and I would face judgement and minimising and attempts to fix me. One of the things that I have found hardest, in all of the grief work that I have done, is to speak to others about the exact nature of my loss – this is because I know that, to many, it doesn’t seem like a real loss at all. To me, of course, it feels very real and the grief is no smaller because my loss is more intangible than some. But I am usually careful about what I reveal to others.
And I have experienced judgement, and minimising. I have experienced attempts to fix my problems, to reframe my situation, and a great deal of frustration from loved ones that I’m making ‘such a fuss’.
The nature of this grief of childlessness, often called a disenfranchised grief, is such that it can be hard for others to empathise with us.
How would it feel to have the chance to grieve in community with others who are grieving the same thing as me? What a relief it could be, to know that every single person in the circle understood the nature of each other’s pain and shared it in their own way.
Of course, all of our stories are different, and we all feel differently about our losses, but I am dreaming of what healing could potentially take place, not just from sharing our own pain but from bearing witness to the stories of other people, others with whom we can truly empathise.
This is why I am so excited about the forthcoming workshops: The End of the Line – Grief Tending for Childless People.
I am so looking forward to grieving together with others like me. This is the kind of opportunity that I have been searching for, for years. I cannot wait.
We are starting with an introductory evening on Thursday 17th September.
Followed by two half-day grief tending workshops, on 24th September and 17th October, and then a ‘deep dive’ weekend on 7th-8th November.