Cocoon year.

Photo credit: Corinne Keener

During the first year of our grief, I often referenced the feeling of being wrapped up in a cocoon for we felt held within those days and months. Tucked in with permission from our counselor to hold off on figuring out what's next or "trying again" until we made it though all of the firsts… first.

If you tune into any videos documenting a caterpillar's transformation it is typically set to the backdrop of a serene nature scene with the peaceful metamorphosis taking shape fluidly to the tempo of an acoustic guitar, piano or maybe even a flute. This is what I likened our cocoon to in those early days. The cocoon year was our container, shielding us from some of the harsh realities outside of our little grieving unit and keeping us tucked in with all of the things that the loss of our daughter opened up within us.

Quick side note in honor of my nephew: I realize that in referencing a cocoon of course means we will come out as moths because if we wanted to be butterflies it would have to be our “chrysalis” year. So please bear with me on this one, because as I am learning, there are very many well meaning adults who are forever putting cocoons and butterflies together and though I know this is incorrect I'm going to roll with it and still very much would like to come out as a butterfly, cool? Cool.

Then, nearing the end of that year of firsts, I became panicky and slightly terrified. Still uncertain of what we were needing to step into and not ready to be done with my grief, I found myself grasping for quick answers to really huge questions trying to to prepare for the next year's launch back into the real world. Thank goodness I found relief in several sweet and always gentle reminders from my husband that the permission to wait one year was not a limiting unit but a place to begin. This did not have to be it, yet. So I reset my panic button and it is a good thing because I had not yet come to fully realize the purpose of my cocoon. I viewed it as a cozy place to tuck in and heal. To be excessively gentle with ourselves and take it easy. And though it is all of those things, I somehow glanced over the whole total and complete transformation bit. 

On the recommendation of a friend, I became acquainted with the work of Lissa Rankin and as I read The Anatomy of a Calling - I was hit with a stunning realization:

Sometimes your cocoon isn't poised within a beautiful nature scene, sometimes it is hanging on for dear life to a crinkly old leaf.

Sometimes your cocoon isn't poised within a beautiful nature scene, sometimes it is hanging on for dear life to a crinkly old leaf.

The cocoon is actually where you lose your shit — where all the pieces of yourself are stripped down and disconnected from one another, formless, shapeless, a heap of cells and memories, and dreams, and longings, and heartbreaks, and career paths, and obligations, and commitments, and relationships, and health ideas, and religious beliefs, and… well everything. And as those pieces get reassembled, some of the pieces get eaten up in service of the greater new being. The new shape begins to emerge, watered by tears, fueled by the things that no longer serve, ready for the time when the soul will know, yes, this is it. It is time.

Lissa describes her process as this: 

During this time, everything I knew as “Lissa” began to dissolve. It was a fracture. A rupture. A time of disintegration that Martha Beck describes as the caterpillar in the cocoon. Caterpillars don’t just sprout wings and become butterflies. First, they become bug soup, an amorphous mass of undifferentiated cells that long to become a butterfly but aren’t quite there yet. 
— The Anatomy of a Calling

Friends, I am now confident of this: You simply cannot move through a significant life experience and come to the other side unchanged. Whether it is a death, a new life, a heartbreak or spiritual awakening - it will shape and shift and change you. And I am not sharing this as a warning, but as an invitation.

Glennon Doyle Melton taught me that "the Greek root of the word crisis is 'to sift.' As in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important." She also calls attention to this process of unbecoming to become something new in a post on the Momastery blog...

You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.
But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. 
— G

We certainly are coming out differently, and our final shape is still yet to be realized. Inside our cocoon, Jeremy and I have both wrestled with health issues, leaving us poked, prodded, scoped and still without definite answers.
We have emptied our storehouse of tears countless times only to find there will always be more. 
We have found ourselves exhausted more quickly than ever and for no obvious reason, though deep down we know it is because we are still trying to do life as bug soup.

We have spent lots of hours on our precious couches, watching light-hearted and funny movies, all the seasons of Friends, reading many good books, and often falling asleep sometime between 9 and 10 because we aren't quite ready to climb up to bed.

We have shared incredible meals with family and friends, drank wine and hard cider and smashed empty bottles in the basement.
We have held space for sacred days and learned to say "No" and "Yes" and give ourselves grace.
We have explored who we are and what we love and learned how to meditate.
We (though mainly me) have tried to force out decisions on what to do next only to realize again, it is not time for that yet.

My friend snapped this photo during the Butterfly exhibit at Frederik Meijer Gardens. Ironically, the most blurry part of the image is the monarch chrysalis - quite fitting though since much of the time in the cocoon feels like a blur. 

My friend snapped this photo during the Butterfly exhibit at Frederik Meijer Gardens. Ironically, the most blurry part of the image is the monarch chrysalis - quite fitting though since much of the time in the cocoon feels like a blur. 

This cocoon has been precious and necessary and only suffocating when I struggle to break free of it, because I am not quite ready for release. I am still becoming and unbecoming and being sifted and remade. The hardest lesson of all is realizing that when I resist the process it only delays the outcome, oh and then it hurts a hell of a lot more.

Martha Beck offers this sage advice for life inside the cocoon, "dissolving isn't something you do; it's something that happens to you. The closest you'll come to controlling is relaxing and trusting the process." So my daily, sometimes momentary focus is to relax, trust and let this cocoon do its thing. I'll see you all on the other side.