Cumulative Grief – is it a superpower?

griefpicLast week I found myself in conversation with someone I had not met before. We asked each other the usual questions: where’ve you lived, what are your kids doing, how do you like to spend your time and where have you travelled in SE Asia? As often happens when two people meet who have lived abroad for a while in several countries, we got to talking about how moving on makes us feel. We talked about how we felt starting again in a new place. Pam explained how hard she found it to give up her successful corporate career when she moved to the States and how she decided that she’d throw herself into being the best mum in the world. And so we talked about identity and how hard it is to arrive somewhere where no one knows our stories. No one knows who we really are and so we morph into a new person, influenced by age, stage, lifestyle, opportunities and the location.  We talked about the loss that our kids experience when they move on too, not just of friends, but of their place in the world. How, a kid can be captain of a rugby team in one school but barely scrape a place on the B team in the new one. When we move we lose not only tangible things like people, place and community, but we also lose the identity we had created for ourselves in that location.

As we chatted I could feel myself lighting up. My energy rose and I realised that I was talking about something I find fascinating. My work and experience with expatriate publications and conferences means I have been hugely fortunate to meet, talk with and get to know some of the world’s greatest academics, thinkers and professionals in the field. The effect of cumulative grief as it is sometimes called is something with which I am very familiar. It was while I was having this conversation with Pam that I realised this is something I am fascinated by and therefore something I should explore.

Later that week I found myself having a similar conversation with another new friend and again my synapses began to spark into life. Now, as you may have spotted from this blog, I’ve not been my normal go-getting, bionic, racer-abouter during the last year or so. During the limbo phase that begins when you think a move is imminent and ends once you are getting settled in the new place it can be hard to be the life and soul of a party where you don’t know anyone. I’ve said a few times that my mojo may still be AWOL. I know I’ve found ways to reJOvenate myself as I call it and I’ve done my usual writery things, like journalling and teaching and blogging and writing poetry and starting writers’ circles in order to come back to myself. What I haven’t done is get enthusiastic and curious about something new. We all need to keep our curiosity alive. It may have killed the cat but perhaps it breathes life into others.

Yesterday I was enjoying (indulging even) in my quarterly Skype catch-up with my marketing mentor and buddy Stephanie Ward, based in the Netherlands. We got to chatting about cumulative grief again. Funny that.

“You’ve gotta check out Christina Rasmussen,” she said, casting her eyes down for a second while she keyed her URL into the Skype chat box. “She specialises in helping people redefine and revive their lives after loss… and this is a loss, right?”

Steph is always the model of generosity and contact-sharing and she is also always spot on. Probably because she not only listens to people but she remembers stuff too.

“Christina talks about grief being a superpower! Cool huh?”

Can you tell that Steph is American by the way I am writing her dialogue?

And so I checked out secondfirsts and read some of Christina’s words on this superpower on her Messages in a Bottle blog.

“It is because of our losses that we get to experience a more dimensional life,” she wrote in her blog back in February about Path Makers. “[…] When grief is never unleashed and is never used to create passion and love… it becomes venom. […] Grief is a superpower and when not used… it destroys us.  When used as fuel… it liberates us.”

I’d not thought of it like this before. It is all too easy to focus on the negative aspects of the losses we experience and just accept it for what it is. There. But I had never considered that if I didn’t make something positive out of all the griefs I’ve experienced it would fester.

Right now I have no clue what I might do with this insight. Should I write about it? Talk about it? Teach about it? Learn about it? But the fact that the same topic put some fire in my belly three times in one week has to be a sign, right? Huh, Stephanie?



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