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  • Julianne Downham

What grief taught me about love…..

(This was originally written in May 2018)


Here I am at a point in time I knew would arrive, that one day it would just feel right to take the step, to make the move. It kind of crept up on me. I thought it would arrive with shining lights and bells on, marking it’s arrival in a display of fireworks and drum rolls. But it didn’t, it was kind of disappointing yet it brought a sense of “comfort”, like a friend had arrived that you knew would bring with them calmness and safety to the situation.


The last year has been one of many ups and downs, twists and turns, highs and lows. A period of huge loses yet moments of monumental gains.

Two years ago I came back home to Wales, at this point I’m not entirely sure why this occurred, it certainly was something I ever anticipated doing after spending years moving around the country. But following a catalogue of incidents, a few stressful moments and lots of trust, I found myself back in Wales and living with my parents. I suppose this was the “real” first experience of feeling, that something bigger than myself was guiding me in this life.


The 12 months that followed found me beginning a much deeper journey, one that I had been avoiding at all costs, but given what I know now I might of thrown myself in to sooner, the journey of finding love within me, and for me. Through the pain, loss and grief that followed I not only found that love at a deeper level, I also found an inner strength and healing power there too.


I began a journey, a made a commitment to begin finding out “who I was”, “what really mattered to me”, “what did I need to face, heal and release in order to really live in my potential and enjoy life”. Some things happened by-proxy, I had no choice to let things go as they fell away, people left my life, friendships changed and during completing my Reiki training I experienced shifts that I couldn’t quite comprehend but trusted it all was part of the process.

So some things were gone, never to be seen or felt again, other changes happened bringing emotions to the surface that then became more of an integrated part of my internal infrastructure.


Just over a year ago, I made another choice. I chose to take a year off. A kind of spiritual “maternity leave”. Again the light, the thing that was “bigger” than me was telling me something. I trusted that this was OK, I had worked hard for many years as a psychiatric nurse, I had some savings, so I decided to see where it would take me for a while.

To many it may look like I’ve had a year of fun and freedom, flitting from place to place and not working, I hadn’t really made my decision public, I just went about doing it. So on the surface that is what has been seen. Yes I haven’t been in paid employment for over 13 months, yet I have completed some of the hardest work of my life.


This work has involved digging deep into the depths of my pool of emotions, dredging up past hurt, peeling back layer after layer of darkness and treading through rivers of murky feelings I’ve tried to avoid for years. Each time losing part of what I thought I was, grieving for parts that didn’t fit anymore


Though the rewards of this work has been much more than any wage I could of received.

The turning point of this journey, where the real work began was when my whole world was cracked open and changed on the 7th of August 2017. The pain of that moment will forever be etched on my heart, a scar left from the memory and legacy of a truly amazing human being. This was the point I had lost my father to cancer, the cruel disease that he had fought so bravely and with such courage.


The gentle man who had held my hand and heart for nearly 40 years had gone, he had been my rock, he had been the glue that held his family together with love and safety. A man who had a word of comfort, of guidance, of encouragement, a touch that was felt from the twinkle of mischief in his eye.


This threw me into a deeper darkness, flooded me with confusion and drowned me in tears, but I also found something special in there. A gift, something special I could hold onto. Within the pool of loss and grief I found love, I found the precious gift of life. That life is so very precious, that whilst we are here on earth we have an opportunity to experience so many levels of love.

“Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by its breathtaking moments.” ………. Michael Vance.

What happens when you have watched helplessly someone’s spirit, who you love unconditionally, leave their body is the ability to totally surrender to what life brings. To realise that we can’t control what is out of our control, but that we have the ability to accept what is a natural progression of the circle that we cycle through.


Why is it we fear death? It seemed to me that we traditionally as a culture see death as something that can only bring pain for those left behind, that it has to be felt painfully, as a cross we need to bare and a cloak of loss we have to wear and carry around. Yet in other cultures such as shamanism, the belief that there is no death is a concept grounded in the belief of the soul existing in a never-ending process of regeneration, a continual cycle of birth, death and rebirth.


For many people this is understandably a traumatic moment and a transition that might be full of fear and anxiety, but the lessons of shamanism can provide a perspective that differs significantly from our traditional Western view of death and dying, which is often seen by the finality of an “ending.”


I found comfort here, believing my Dad had passed, done what he needed to this lifetime. Left his family, where he knew they would be OK, that he had given us gifts that were within us to get us through this period of confusion and readjustment to the life with a “Dad” shaped hole in it.



So a question I’ve asked and worked with is, “Can we change or adapt our perception of death?” Can we find the love, within the end of a cycle, knowing it to will start again. A cycle that will be different, yet a cycle still the same.


I know in a heartbeat that I would have my Dad back given a choice, if I had a magic wand I could use to bring him home, but I accepted this wouldn’t/couldn’t happen. I accepted this from an early stage.


So I made a choice to see what I could learn from this pain, how I could take the love my Dad showed me to learn to love on an even a deeper level? How I could see more beauty? To be more alive in the magnitude of emotions I was feeling.

I embraced death from here as part of the cycle, the cycle we see and accept in nature all the time, each season when inevitably a cycle ends. Where one part brings birth and blossoming and the other point of the cycle will bring death and endings, but what is in between brings joy, happiness and love.

The love of my family has been important in this process, we all knew how much we were and are loved. Despite all grieving and hurting we all had the connection of love that was felt and given freely. We all shared his energy, the legacy he left within us, the solid fingerprint that cannot be removed from our hearts made by his touch.


We are thankful for the memories, the stern talking too we got on occasion, the look of disappointment that he would briefly give, though this was always followed by the acceptance that he knew we were learning from our mistakes. The frequent pulling of our legs and teasing we received and had to accept. All this is what I held on to during the pain, this was what I felt was LOVE.

During some of the stages of this grief, I went in on myself. I didn’t want to see many people, I got angry, I got annoyed, I wanted to be silent. I shared my secret moments of heartache and despair with a few close friends, Those who I can’t begin to thank them for what their unconditional love has meant ( I hope they know who they are and how much they mean to me, one more than anyone), the space they held for me, that they never judged my grief, never told me what to think or feel, or judge my irrational thoughts as stupid, (believe me there was a lot of them), they just gave me LOVE, unconditional LOVE.


They accepted the tears I needed to cry, the screams I needed to let out but also my need to escape and be free, to dance and laugh and LOVE. I thank these people eternally, everyone who has shared a dance floor, a smile or a hug, you have my eternal gratitude. I just hope if ever needed I too can show you the love within the pain.

To help me embrace that love further, I pursued more of my spiritual practices, approached the pain through energy therapies as well as talking. I let my internal guide, my intuition step into its power and show me what I needed. This was done through turning down the volume on the external noises and sitting in solitude, listening to what my physical, emotional and mental bodies needed to heal. Often just the waves on the beach was all the external noise I let in.

I “tapped” a lot on the pain, using the psychological energy therapy; Emotional Freedom Technique I uncovered a lot of “baggage” I had been carrying around, past relationships, perceived failings and pain and I gently released them and brought in more love of what has been. I also sat in many sound baths, danced to drums, used the breath and mantras and immersed myself in regular salt baths to clear the wounds for love to then enter.

At times the pain and confusion left me feeling I was losing my mind, that I was drowning in the waves of emotions that would come from nowhere. I questioned was I ever going to feel ready to fully brave the big wide world again. But I began to see that I needed to show the love and kindness that I was being shown by others to myself. That again, like the moment of surrender to life at my Dad’s death bed I too could let go of the control of trying to “Fix” and let a natural death of this process to happen when it was ready, and that a natural rebirth would come from that. So I relaxed, stopped the ever perpetual need to “know” when I would be ready, to having to have a set date or an exact plan. I softened the barriers I had placed around my heart that bit further, I surrounded myself with what made me feel good, enjoyed the moments of happiness I was getting from being in nature, feeling the sea breeze against my cheek and the sand in between my toes, during my daily walks on the beach. I showed myself compassion for getting through each day the best I could.


Giving thanks each day for all that had been, stating gratitude for the people and the life I had each evening before I slept.

I began to feel guided more from that light again that I had felt before, this time knowing something else was behind it now, showing me the way forward. This time the love I had always been given by my Dad from next to me was being given from above me. I heard his wise words, saw signs around me that he was guiding me, showing me that I could trust my own choices and that all that I had spoken about wanting to achieve in life is where I needed to be heading towards.


I began to see myself through his eyes, that I was no longer the women who needed to be battling with herself, a women who didn’t need to be so judgmental and critical of herself and the choices she had made, but that I was a women who had experienced difficulties and challenges in life, but that I had tackled them with courage and bravery, using what I had inside to overcome them. All these experiences had been the lessons I had to learn to become who I am today, to know what heartache was, to feel pain and disappointment when things didn’t turn out like I had hoped.

So all this brought me here, to the place I find myself today. Still not 100% sure where my life will go next, where I am going to end up next or who will be with me there. But I now know I wouldn’t want to take anyone but me along for the ride and I know I will continue to live this lifetime with the same spirit that was given to me energetically when this scar appeared on my heart. Whatever pain we suffer in life we have a choice in how we move through it, it isn’t easy but it is still a choice. Take the scars, wear them with LOVE, make them part of the tapestry of your soul. Let the grief colour the parts in beautiful bright colours of reds and pinks. Let the grief guide you to live the life of your dreams, be brave, be fearless, be YOU!

Ask for the support, both from people and yourself. Don’t judge what your story looks like compared to what you perceive someone else’s looks like, they are reading a completely different book to you. The endings, the beginning and the middle are not the same.

It took the biggest loss I’m sure I’ll ever experience to find myself and to know what LOVE really is and what power it holds to change even the deepest, darkest of times. I thank my Dad in a strange way for this, the gift of his death was the biggest gift he ever gave me, the gift of LOVE.  

Dad always told me he was proud of me and what I achieved, the work I did, the commitment I had showed over the years to a profession that at times brought pain and upset to my door on a regular basis, of the person I was. So too did he embrace the new therapies I had trained in and my vision of where I wanted to take it all.


So with that I now begin the steps to do just this, continue to support others in their healing, this has another depth to it now though, As I know what it takes to heal, to face pain and to grow through it.

We all have what we need within us, we are the healer we’ve always been looking for. When in the pain, the confusion and the loss that losing someone brings, stop and take the time to look within, move things about if need be, what you need might just be hiding behind something. You only need a scrap of something to hold onto, but hold on to it, use it to feel your way to the rest. Go with an open heart and see what is there. LOVE WILL GUIDE YOU THERE, LOVE WILL SHINE THE LIGHT TO CLEAR AWAY THE DARKNESS. “Grief is the last act of love we can give to those we loved. Where there is a deep grief there was a great love” (Since writing this the love and courage then has guided me on, supporting me in the decisions I make and the way I have lived my life, and to create this space I now find myself and Creating Courageous Children in).

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