“You have no idea of the strain I am under clamping this balloon between my knees while attempting to swim, or even just tread water.”
“I am hollowed out. A cavity, dark and deep, has formed within, carved by the whittling knife of grief.”
These, and twenty-five other images, stories, metaphors, poems, are the shining glass fragments that comprise The Grief Kaleidoscope. Su-Rose McIntyre’s book is not a psychological examination of grief, nor is it a grief memoir – though it is very personal, and the reader may identify in her stories the generally recognised elements, themes or stages of grief. The book is a collection of metaphors for the ever-changing, complex, challenging, wondrous and ultimately transforming nature of grief. Like our experience of Spirit or the Divine, our experience of grief is often beyond words, and best approached through metaphor. Like the metaphors and stories Jesus used concerning the spiritual life, these metaphors may contain deep truths.
Su-Rose McIntyre has written this book from her own profound experience of loss and grief, drawing also from her work as a grief counsellor, in the hope that “this book will assist in some way to dispel the many fears and stigma surrounding death and grief, and replace them with the respect and dignity deserved.” I brought my professional and, more vividly, my personal experiences of loss and grief to my reading of her book.
I loved the cover illustration by Su-Rose, which so aptly and beautifully shows kaleidoscopic, coloured shapes or fragments – arising out of darkness to form a unified organic whole, each small shape framed by darkness and lit by light.
In an introductory letter to her “fellow traveller”, the author recommends that a chapter be chosen almost “randomly” as seems appropriate – perhaps “intuitively” would be a better word. Referring to her Appendix of Metaphor Themes could be a helpful place to start. She suggests reading the chapter in isolation, allowing time to reflect and respond to the metaphor/story. Each chapter contains a task – not compulsory – where Su-Rose reframes the metaphor. For example, the Task for “In the Garden Pond” is “to understand that there are different styles of grieving”. This is followed by a Gentle Tip, which may be further elaboration of the grief task, or advice or suggestions, practical, creative, and nurturing. These are always gentle and always supportive of the uniqueness and unpredictability of each person’s grieving. Throughout, an emphasis is placed on the importance of self-care and self-nurturing.
One of the metaphors that spoke to me was of being caught in a rip, of nearly drowning, as this was how I experienced my father’s dying months. At the time I painted an image of me drowning with one hand trying to touch my father, who was just out of reach. Stevie Smith’s well-known poem, “Not Waving but Drowning” also captures that desperate powerlessness and isolation that can be part of grief.
Another metaphor I responded to was “The Grotto Within”, where the huge emptiness, the hidden, gaping wound finally becomes a sacred grotto, with a candle at its centre. In Su-Rose’s metaphor, the inner Light gives warmth, guides, provides purpose and strength and enables the return of wholeness.
As well as recognising my grieving-self in some of the metaphors, I imagined how metaphor might help me understand other people’s grief. “The Cloak of Feathers” is about carrying guilt in grief. In this metaphor Su-Rose deals with the “if only” questions that may haunt you for years. My sister-in-law, whose eldest son took his own life 17 years ago, still carries around such a cloak. I can see her stitching each feather in place – she added to it just last year – and though some feathers have been shed and she doesn’t wear the cloak every day now, it still goes everywhere with her.
There are metaphors that focus on emotional triggers, or on the smell and taste of grief, its overpowering presence. Contained within the metaphor-stories, or in the gentle tips, are ways to express your feelings and honour or mark your loss. I find it valuable that grief is not seen as negative, but as fuel, as power, as energy. Grief can help us reassess our values (“The Personal Pyramid”); and grief can transform us (“Metamorphosis”).
These metaphors, or metaphor generally, may not speak to all people. They require of the reader a creative or poetic imagination. I suggest you receive each metaphor or story as you would vocal ministry, pausing and staying with a word, a phrase or image that resonates with you, and allowing time to reflect on its meaning for you. Perhaps also notice your body’s response to these stories – goose-bumps, tears, tightness or nausea – for the body holds memories and feelings that our conscious mind is often not aware of.
I wonder if grief metaphors “work” when what is lost is a homeland, or trees or bird species or “the wild” or democracy, equality, justice, or faith or values? My sense is that we need art and poetry and creative imagination to help us find our way through the grief of all these losses.
This little book of stories/reflections has immersed me once again in the absorbing, confusing, multi-faceted, powerful language and landscape of grief. Loss and grief have been important defining features of my “spiritual journey” – and that of Su-Rose. Taking time to reflect on grief may indeed lead to “way opening”, to clarity, purpose, healing and wholeness.
In her epigraph, Su-Rose McIntyre speaks of grievers as “fragmented”, and “impelled” as if by an uncontrollable force,
“- and yet, the Light shines through”.
May this book help the Light shine through, and bring readers “a thread of hope”, and the courage to explore and create their own personal metaphors of grief.
Lyn Dundas, New South Wales Regional Meeting
The Grief Kaleidoscope: Metaphors for Grief by Su-Rose McIntyre, published by Morning Star Publishing. ISBN: 9780648030560. $14.95