Thanksgiving morning in 2011 I found myself eating gelato for breakfast in Rome. It wasn’t a Roman holiday as much as an escape. I decided on Rome because it was as far away from home as I could reasonably get in the time I had and Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday on the Italian calendar. Plus, gelato, pasta, and wine.
It was my first holiday without my three young daughters. They would be with their dad. Divorce is hard.
Healing in Italy
Instead of trying to recreate the experience of togetherness when my daughters could not be with me, I decided Rome could help me mend my broken heart. Gelato helped, too.
The holidays have an expectation of how happy we must be, how filled with joy we must be, how much we must celebrate, and sometimes it comes at the expense of our own peace and well-being.
Boarding the flight to Rome I carried my luggage behind me and my grief within me.
Grief – that hard to define hollow feeling that ebbs and flows on it’s own time. It does not play by the rules.
Though yoga and meditation proved themselves to give me some sweet relief from the chaos in my mind and stress in my body, my self-care routine was more about preserving my relevance to a society that celebrates youthful looks, and less about nurturing my heart.
Taking care of my heart was something I was learning how to do.
Maybe it was because I distanced myself far enough away from the epicenter of my pain – the town where I had given birth to my babies and divorced their father. Or, maybe it was because I gave myself enough space to grieve and witness my heart without expectation.
Grief is a hard to define experience. You think everything is fine, then out of nowhere, grief comes rolling down your lane like a bowling ball of fire. It burns and scorches you right where you’re at. And so, we hang on and wait for it to pass. It’s the waiting that’s the hardest. Italy made it better. Not because I was distracted, but because I could see past it.
There would be life on the other side of grief. It wasn’t something I needed to get over, but something I needed to get through. And like the rolling hills that leapt into my view on the train ride to Florence, there are highs and lows of grief. But still, you go through them.
This is what it is to be human. To taste the sweetness of gelato and feel the pangs of grief, and to make sure you stay awake enough to be there for it all.
We’re in the middle of the holiday season. Expectations of how things “should” be filter the air around us. And though it’s not possible for most of us to jet away to Italy in the midst of a pandemic, or even do what you typically do for the holidays, it is possible to give yourself space.
One of the biggest gifts of self-care I’ve ever given myself is the room to feel what’s really inside me without distraction, or the need to fix it, or feeling wrong about it.
It is not easy. Perhaps that’s what makes it such an act of courage and so valuable. (I believe this is one of the most precious gifts we can give someone else, too.)
It’s not wallowing, but witnessing the current of emotion that is flowing through your body without the urge to stop it and make it go away. Witness the thoughts that come with the emotion, see how long they’ve been anchored inside you, and where, and give them space to be, then ask what your heart (or inner child) needs, then be audacious enough to give it to her.
When the feeling is faced, felt, witnessed and given the space it needs to be, it can transform. This is how dynamic and powerful we are when we give space to what’s truly there and nurture the broken parts inside.
When I boarded the plane back to the US, I had my luggage and a new understanding of what my heart needed. While I was going home, I had also returned to the home inside of me. What was more important than how things looked and how I fit in was how much attention I gave to the yearnings of my heart. How was I taking care of the cherished part of me?
When we can give ourselves what we need, we become more confident in being seen in the world as we are, and in turn, we become more confident asking for what we need in relationships.
Meet Your Needs, Nurture Your Heart
What does the most cherished part of you need? Carve out time to hold space for you. Witness without expectation and see what it is that you need.
Sometimes this looks like pounding a pillow against the fireplace in the privacy of your bedroom to process anger. (Me, just last week!)
Sometimes this looks like a long walk in nature, or a bath in epsom salts, or listening to music, or laying curled up in your bed and having a good cry.
Whatever space you crave, give it to yourself. The options are endless.
It’s a rebellious thing to do – give yourself space. Especially during the holidays.
Giving the Gift of Space
Wrapped empty boxes won’t get you pegged as the best gift giver, but holding space for others will certainly nourish your relationships. And that goes for the one you keep with yourself, too.
Let’s be rebellious and hold space for ourselves and tend to our hearts – even during the holiday season – – especially during the holiday season. The gift of space may be the most sacred gift of all.
This is what grief feels like…
Don’t judge it
Don’t rush it
Don’t dismiss it
Don’t suppress it
There is no Rulebook for Grief.
It comes in waves. And I pray for the ones who feel as though they’re drowning.Image is from Switzerland by Albert Gyorgy entitled “Melancolie”
Words by Mourning Soul
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