Reflections on 'Loving, Dying, and Letting Go'
I recently completed the Loving, Dying and Letting Go workshop offered by the Institute for the Study of Birth, Breath and Death. I first signed up for this course and read the required reading prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then, the world changed. I felt too depressed for a few months to continue studying these topics. In June, when I regained some sense of (new) normalcy, I felt ready to further my learning in this area. I felt like the pandemic had offered a whole new perspective to me on loving, dying, and letting go. Below are my reflections from this course; these reflections are mine alone and are not meant to assign meaning to anyone else's experiences of loving, dying, and letting go.
I am of Stó:lō and mixed settler ancestry, raised in my home village of Soowahlie First Nation. I am a wife, mother of two young children, and a full spectrum doula. My reflections are grounded in these identities.
What does it mean to love?
Love forms when our spirits connect. To love means to commit to honouring a spiritual connection. We can honour a spiritual connection (we can express love) through: ceremony; prayer; touch; shared memories; food; laughs; triumph; grief; art; storytelling; and so many countless other ways of connecting. Love knows no time, or space, or boundary; love goes beyond our physical form, beyond our concept of time and space; beyond our understanding of science or logic or reason. Love is expansive, all-encompassing, it flows through us, it lightens us, it breaks us down, it builds us up, it hurts, it heals, it beats within us, it echoes through mind, body and spirit.
To love others feels natural. When I love my family, my friends, and my Ancestors, I love them fiercely, deeply, wholly. I love them with familiarity, with safety, with memory, with proximity, with touch, with warmth, with humour, with food, with laughter, with patience I didn’t know I had. I love them for their personhood, their stories, their identities, their futures, their imaginations, their kindness, their fullness, their humanity, their love for each other. I love with small acts (a hug, a smile, a wiped tear, a kissed bruise, a squeezed shoulder, a hand held). I love with grand gestures (a ceremony, a big surprise, a family vacation, a thoughtful gift, a new adventure). Love is everywhere, and in me all the time, wherever I go. I love with integrity. I love with passion. I love stubbornly, tenaciously. I love unconsciously. I step back and let it unfold. I step in and nurture it. I love through weakness and grief. I love through fear and uncertainty. I love always, even when I’m angry, frustrated, or in pain.
Loving myself has been harder. It’s a practice. It takes far more nurturing. It takes constant reminding. It’s a process of unlearning all the hateful messages I’ve internalized. It’s a deep desire to reverse intergenerational trauma. To heal myself is to heal pain from generations before me and to set my daughters free of the burden of this pain. To love myself is to heal myself and heal the world around me; to bring light and depth and beauty to the darkest parts of myself; and let it grow and expand to the world around me and across the universe. It is overwhelming and humbling. To love myself is to learn to accept unconditional love.
What does it mean to die?
Death is a closing ceremony. Death is when the physical form ceases to function; when your spirit moves from the physical world to spiritual realm. The bodily functions stop; the physical body returns to the Earth. Death is a letting go; a continuation of a cycle of life; a returning home for your spirit to reunite with the Ancestors. Death is a final passage and a final ritual of life.
Death occurs through the same doorway as birth, and is the conclusion to the journey started at birth. Amy Wright Glenn writes in Holding Space: On Loving, Dying, and Letting Go, “For death is not a disease. It is the twin companion of life. Birth and death are forever linked. Inseparable. Love is what weaves meaning between the two thresholds” (p. 198). Love can cross the doorway between the physical and spiritual realms, allowing us to stay connected to those on the other side.
What does it mean to let go?
Letting go is presence in the moment, without judgment or expectation. Letting go is acceptance of all elements of ourselves and our emotions. It is acceptance of our internal conflicts and our imperfections. Letting go is becoming whole by sitting within our spectrum of emotions, and validating all of them. It is acknowledging that we can be inherently contradictory, and we are complex enough to hold concurrent feelings and thoughts. Letting go is allowing the ebb and flow of our multi-dimensional being. Letting go is living imperfectly. Messily. With so many mistakes. With anger. With fear. With acceptance. Letting go is holding onto meaningful connections; reaching out to those around us for the support we need, when we need it. Letting go is an iterative process of deconstructing our identities and rebuilding ourselves in our new reality.
This workshop has confirmed for me the importance of my Indigenous culture and grounding my understanding of love, death and letting go in my Stó:lō teachings. I believe that my Ancestors had a beautiful, holistic understanding of love, death and letting go. Our traditional practices and ceremonies integrate this knowledge into daily life. This workshop has inspired me to reflect more deeply on how I integrate understandings of grief, letting go, and death into my practice as a full spectrum doula.
At the start of 2020, I set the goal to learn more about supporting loss, bereavement and grief. I started, and am still working through, doula certification through Stillbirthday. This is to complement and expand on training I have already completed in supporting families through abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss. I was scheduled to completed End of Life Doula training in June 2020, which unfortunately, has been postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic. I had also set the goal that this summer I would focus on land-based spiritual growth. Again, due to the pandemic, I am not able to go out onto the lands in my traditional territory and participate in community spiritual gatherings in the way that I’d hoped for. However, I am still exploring my spiritual growth through other learning opportunities.
I am grateful for the tears I shed during this workshop; those tears were medicine that offered healing in a time of uncertainty and worldwide grief. I am thankful for the questions this workshop has raised for me in my heart and mind. I know that I have more loving, learning, healing and growing to do. It is my hope that by expanding my understandings of and perspectives on loving, dying, and letting go, that I can more fully embody my vision of a full spectrum doula practice that supports all families, through all outcomes, with unconditional love.
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