Falling into Grief


"Every living thing, it seems, responds to the internal message that to endure the colder seasons, it must seek shelter. "

I just rescued a fly from buzzing against the kitchen window in its futile attempts to escape to the outdoors. I caught it in a glass, and released it into the crisp autumn air. More flies come in as the temperature cools. Every living thing, it seems, responds to the internal message that to endure the colder seasons, it must seek shelter. We’d rather the flies stayed outdoors, so whenever we can, my husband and I release them to their fates in the chill of fall.

For as far back as I can remember, autumn has been my favourite season. Perhaps it’s because I was born in September, so my first breaths were charged with the crispness of early frost. Or perhaps it’s because when my eyes first focused, they were overwhelmed with the golden glow of sun reflecting off the leaves that held on, quivering, to the branches before they spun, one after another, to the ground. Whatever the reason, I love the fall, and feel most alive in its embrace.

But it is not an easy time, for it seems I feel everything more intensely, and am filled with a poignant longing for I know not what. It is in the autumn that I remember beloved people and animals who have died, and events that lie forgotten at all other times of year. Impulsively I’ll decide to track down and get in touch with friends with whom I have had no contact for ages; I imagine I’ll write them letters of appreciation, telling them how important they were to me so long ago. But, I don’t. Instead, I leave them to the past. In a sense, then, fall is a time of small grieving for what has come before.

It is in the fall that I recognize that our reverence for life is fueled by the certain knowledge that a time will come when consciousness will leave the body to explore and experience elsewhere. The natural order calls consciousness to the body in order to move it through the wheel of life. It is the surrender to this movement that allows freedom, for no one has ever stopped the momentum of the cycle, nor even slowed it down. Death, then, strongly comes to mind at this exquisite time of year.

Recently, I was contacted by Kara, a woman living in Vancouver, who has worked for a Vancouver rescue association for over 10 years. She explained that she was mystified by those who, in deciding which pet to adopt, would meet one and instantly recognize that it, and no other, was meant for them. One day, however, a 10-year old white and tabby cat, Polly, was surrendered because her owner had passed on. Instantly Kara knew that Polly was her cat, adopted her, and took her home. A short year and a half later, Polly was diagnosed with feline leukemia. Although treated, she continued to deteriorate, and ultimately Kara made the difficult decision to assist in the passing of her beloved companion. She called because she was overwhelmed by grief that was not abating over time. We decided I would journey to Polly and ask, on Kara’s behalf, “At this time, how might my next steps in life be informed and enriched by the grief I am feeling now?” I offer the following excerpts from the journey for your consideration, understanding and perhaps your comfort.

I meet with Polly, and so begins the teaching. You will notice that the words originate with Polly, but from time to time seem to come from a collective of wise teachers who are associated with both Polly and Kara. Here are the first words Kara is offered:

“It probably seems contradictory to Kara that the pain of grief can serve any possible informing or enriching role when all she wishes is that the intensity of it will abate and finally, leave her alone. And yet, we must reinforce that passing through the gates of grief can lead one deeper and deeper into the recesses of one’s soul.” (I am shown an image of the doors of grief: imagine a set of double doors that you are passing through. As you do so, the feelings of deep loss intensify and you are weeping. You walk on, and are taken deeper into the earth, it seems, and through another set of doors; again, the feelings intensify as the light dims even more, and the pain in your heart expands throughout your being. This happens several more times, more doors, more unbearable feelings, the last so strong that you feel you must curl up in the dark on the cold path and die. But you rouse yourself, and head through the last set of doors. Instantly, you shield your eyes, for you have stepped into a meadow bathed in the most glorious sunlight. Your heart expands, you breathe deeply, and you smile.) “You have passed through all the stages of grief, and have emerged, fresh, new, purified by your experience. Instead of the raw ache at your core, there is now a sense of fullness and warmth as you hold the memory of Polly within you, yes, tinged by sadness, but loving and appreciating what it was that you offered into each other’s lives.”

Kara had explained that her friends and co-workers suggested that she had grieved enough, so should ‘get over herself and get on with things’. The teachings continue:

“What has perhaps surprised you is that, in spite of the perceived judgments of others, in spite of your own longing to be free of the pain of grief, you have not been in charge! It is as if some force has mapped your path and given you no choice but to follow it. There truly is no outer force controlling this; it is a call from the depths of your spirit, your soul. We will attempt to explain the significance of this…

“When we speak of your soul’s purpose, we are speaking of the purpose of living your life. Each moment, you are living your purpose, because you are a being alive in physical form upon your planet, but the call is to live with more depth, more awareness to the deep messages percolating from within, rather than with referencing what is without. So at this time, the walk through the many doors of grief are taking you deeper and deeper into the core of your being, deeper into the truth of who you are, without reference at all to your idea of what others wish you to be. Although there is pain, it is the pain of discovery. It is as if all the grief of your life has come together with my death to push you further and further inwards. With the realization that you cannot escape what you are feeling, that you can only move forwards, you walk through the final doors of grief into the sunlight. And what is the sunlight but a manifestation of the powerful radiance that you are, but that you have, until this moment, forgotten?”

After offering observations on the nature of Polly’s relationship with Kara, the topic of grief is addressed once more by the collective of teachers:

“But why all the grief? You still wonder about it, so we will tell you. Grieving, walking through the doors to experience ever deepening grief, has been an accelerated course in what Polly awakened in you, your connection to who you really are, to source, to God, to All That Is, whatever you wish to call it. You have heard the expression, ‘tempered by fire’; you are being tempered by grief. What happens to something that is tempered by fire? It emerges stronger, transformed, magnificent, useful. It takes the shape of what was, potentially, always there, but could only be realized through prolonged exposure to intense heat. And so it is with you. Grief is your fire. What emerges will be stronger, transformed, magnificent, useful. There is no doubt. As you surrender to the process, as you allow that although the grief is easing, there are still moments of intense difficulty, you will feel the truth of the words we are sharing with you today. You will accept that through the pain, through the isolation, through missing your beloved companion, you have been tempered, and are in the process of being born anew."

What a gift to receive through the essence of a cat!

As I enjoy another glorious fall day, I pause and reflect on Polly’s words. In doing so, I sense that my small griefs, the ones that surface every year at this time, are, as Polly suggests, assisting me in the process of once again, being born anew.

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