How do we tend our grief?

Photo of tyre tracks on frosty grass.

2021 has been a hell of a year

Globally, nationally, community-wise, and personally, it has been extremely challenging. While for me this time has also been transformative, grief has also been ever-present, particularly in the last six months. So last week I was very glad to participate in a grief-tending workshop, of which more further down the page. But first, the year.

Good things

The Queer Menopause project went from strength to strength. My research was published in February, I spoke at conferences, wrote a chapter for a therapy book (publication in 2023), met some excellent and inspiring people on Instagram, and gave written evidence to UK Parliament (Ref: MEW0087). I joined up with the Global Menopause Inclusion Collective, and I will have a piece in Mona Eltahawy’s Bloody Hell! And Other Stories, Adventures in Menopause from Across the Personal and Political Spectrum. (Please support this Unbound crowdfunder if you can!)

It’s all very exciting and I’m delighted by the increasing support and attention that this project is getting. 

Another good thing: after they Found Something on a scan, I spent a month wondering if my breast cancer had come back. It turned out to be the shadow of a mole. Oh the relief.

Sad and challenging things

This was a year of losses. Three people died, all of whom I had a different kind of connection with and all of whom were, in different ways and degrees and at different times, significant presences in my life: 

Sue (who I had known for about four years, was part of various communities I am in, and was a powerful presence in them). 

Ruby (who I had known since the mid 90s, who I met at a bar when I was first exploring the scene, and who took me to my first Pride in 96 or 97). 

Tobias (who I had known since 2010, whose events started up just as I was coming out of a two year physical and mental health hole since having a stroke in 2008, and via whom I met a whole new community of people who remain friends today.)

All of you, Rest In Power.

And then there was the loss of, and damage to, some significant connections due to miscommunication and conflict. This is what happens when we are carrying more trauma than we know how to deal with. ‘Community’ feels like a fragile thing at times, particularly in the shadow of a pandemic, and self care comes in many different forms. Covid times have amplified all of our experiences in this. My work as a therapist reminds me of this daily.

What I have described above is just part of what happened this year, but by the end of it I was feeling washed up and unformed, like a plastic bag on a beach.

Embracing grief

Then, a week or so ago, I was scrolling on Facebook when I saw a link to a workshop which really resonated with me and I thought, it’s time.

Embracing Grief was hosted by Tony and Sarah Pletts of Love & Loss, and Bilal Nasim. (Disclosure: I have known Tony and Sarah for a number of years. I know them as highly experienced in holding spaces of all kinds and don’t hesitate to recommend their work.)

This page explains in more detail the nature of grief-tending. It is not therapy, but a place to be witnessed and to witness others. The workshop I attended was four hours online, but they also do all day in-person ones.

I had been swinging from dissociation to sadness to anger and back, with a strong need to feel both supported myself, but also to support others. This is where group work, at its best, can be so effective. Our three guides facilitated and held us, a group of 10 participants, all with very different stories to tell about why we were there.

They took us into it gently in stages, so by the time we got to taking turns to share, (and there was a very open invitation on how you might wish to do this, or not), I felt able both to open up about my own experiences and to listen and support others as they shared theirs.

By the end I was lying on the sofa by my Christmas tree, wrapped in a blanket.

In the days after the workshop, I felt less broken and somehow more solid. But also with the permission to lean into whatever I was feeling. The losses I experienced this year still hurt, but through this experience I felt more able to integrate them.

Thank you Tony, Sarah and Bilal for helping me anchor myself as winter comes. 

Forthcoming grief-tending workshops:

Embracing Grief – One-day In-person event Saturday 22nd January 2022.

Embracing Grief – Queer and GSRD (online) Friday 4th February 2022.