The poet Wendell Berry writes this about our relationship to dark times:
'To go in the dark with a light is to know the light
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings'.
Menopause certainly leads us through a grieving process. We have to let go of aspects of our identity that are coming to an end. Our ability to bear children, to experience the menstrual cycle and our youthfulness give way to a different reality.
Many women also experience an empty nest around the same time or have to process the reality that they never had children. But the letting go process does not stop there. We have to agree to say good-bye to life as we have known it and step into the unknown. This may take many forms, such as allowing our children to be more independent, to end relationships, friendships or work commitments that no longer serve us. We may have to adjust to the reality of having less energy available to us or we may lose a physical ability altogether. This means that we have to let go of the ambition to be all things to all people.
As we ‘die’ to the person we have been, we make space for the new in us to emerge. Grief is the vehicle that allows us to cross to the other side. For the most part grief is not a problem to be solved, not a condition to be medicated, but an encounter with a deep experience of being human. Grief only becomes problematic if the conditions needed for it to run its course are absent, for example when there is a lack of support in the environment or there is pressure to quickly return to ‘normal’. This forces sorrow and pain underground. What remains is numbness, a narrow band of emotions that promises us to feel safe and civilised. In the name of staying safe, many of us allow a part of us to die before we do. We become a narrow version of what it is to be alive as a sentient vulnerable human being. Menopause is a time to distinguish between living and surviving. For many women, the coming apart of former ways go being initiates us into expanded powers. Once we feel supported and safe enough to allow our hearts to break open without needing to fix anything, we connect deeply and see the world differently as a result.