Puzzle of Self: Putting Myself Back Together Post Grief

Merry Yuletide and Happy New Year, in the Gregorian calendar anyway.

I wish we could have a holy pause; take two weeks off, get cozy, go inside and review our year and look ahead to 2023.

But how do you do that if you’re in deep grief?

Recently one client was invited to a solstice gathering. They were invited to write down what they’re letting go of on special disappearing paper. 

They looked at me flabbergasted and said, “Do I let go of my sorrow?!”

Wouldn’t that be nice-to simply write it down on special paper that disappears.

Grief doesn’t disappear and you cannot let it go so easily. Rather, it’s a slow alchemical process of integration. There’s absorption, adjustment, and eventually acceptance of some kind. 

 

 


When you’re deep in grief, letting go is an impossible task, let alone some kind of simple new year’s resolution.

In my experience the new of the New Year was confusing.

When my partner had his accident in 2012, my life was forever split into pre and post accidents. And the farther I got away from 2012, the more I clung to it. 

So if you’re dreading 2023, just know this is utterly normal.  

New Year’s celebrations are hard. We don’t want time to keep marching on, but it does.

Before we look to resolve ourselves and make intentions…give yourself time to grieve and begin to let go of who you used to be. 

And rather than letting go, let’s put it on the compost pile instead. Placing it there, it’s slowly transformed over time.

Here’s a creative prompt that may help… 

It’s called Puzzle of Self and focuses on integrating your old self with your new one through photographs and other images of your loss.

This task may be hard because it asks you to use those heartbreaking photos. 

It’s why I put off doing it until recently. It took me six years to be ready to sit amongst the rubble and look at my life. It took me that long to have the courage to find that one beautiful photo of my partner Michael in his able bodied glory-the one where he looks so strong and sexy with his hands grabbing onto a sculpture while on vacation in Portugal. 

Lisa Keefauver, grief counselor and advocate, often says grief rips up the manuscript of your life, then we sit amongst the fallout and put our life back together. 

This task, which I learned from the Creative Grief Studio, helps us to do this.

 

  • First, gather courage. If it’s too hard, do this when you feel ready.
  • Second-gather the photos/images. 

For many years I couldn’t look at photos of Michael’s able body as it opened up huge waves of grief. 

So if that happens, take care of yourself and come back to it later, like even six years later. 😊

  • Next-gather these supplies: paper/journal, scissors, glue, and images from photos/magazines. You may also do this with words/phrases cut from magazines or your journal.
    (If you use photos-I recommend photocopying them. It was easier for me to know I wasn’t losing the original photo too.)
  • Set aside about 2 hours of uninterrupted time. Have tissues ready.
  • Place your photos/images of your previous life on one side and place who you are now on the other. 


Notice where you’re able to start. I had to start with who I am now.
Notice what arises. What’s happening with your grief? Allow your emotions to be there-cry, be angry or feel numb.

 

  • Then it’s time for the hardest part-either rip up or cut the images of your loss.
  • Continue to rip up or cut all the other images. Or you may leave some images intact, as I did in the who I am now section.
  • Take your time. Notice was arises. Pause, have self-compassion.


I didn’t want to tear up that beautiful image of Michael. 

I noticed my protest. And yet, this was our reality; our life was ripped up. 

I felt confused, and thought-he isn’t gone, he’s still here, but our life as an able bodied couple had been changed forever.

So then I was very intentional-I didn’t rip up his face; I ripped up his limbs and his hands, those beautiful hands.

That was intense; I noticed I felt numb. So I just sat with that.

Whatever shows up, just let it be there. 

 

  • Next-rearrange all the pieces; put it together in a new way.
  • Take your time with this; make sure it feels right to you.
  • When it’s finished, glue the images down.
  • Notice your process.


Here’s what I noticed about mine…

tore up the images of my old life and cut the images of who I am now.

I ripped up an image of the world to represent how our entire world was blown to pieces. It’s these pieces that cross the middle into who I am now, because I’m still putting myself back together. This is why it took me six years to do; I’m still integrating. 

I also had pieces that didn’t fit anywhere. What a metaphor! They no longer fit on the page of my life so I had to let go of them completely.

I’ve placed these in an envelope and I intend to honor these in some way. But for now, they represent my deepest losses and I need more time with them. They’re on that compost pile and I’ll tend to them later.

When I was done, I felt proud that I was finally able to do this. I could see the reality mirrored back to me-it’s bitter and it’s sweet. And yes, it was fucking hard to do. 

Let me know how this goes if you try it.

Have courage and tissues. 

Love, Beth

PS-next blog-more ways to continue working with this post grief puzzle.