We tend to place an immense amount of importance on having an answer, on doing something to fix a problem, on being in control, and making sense of everything. These are mainly masculine qualities. They are important qualities, and certainly have their place. A balance of those with feminine virtues is what I find to be dangerously lacking, which has been exemplified in a variety ways poignantly throughout history and uniquely now. The feminine is about embracing the mysteries, the paradoxes, about listening and surrendering, with so much that we discount yet that death asks of us, both in terms of being there for others and when our time comes.
The often forgotten feminine virtues of Paradox, Mystery, Listening, and Surrender:
It can be difficult to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas to be true at the same time, yet paradoxes are everywhere. Death can be horrible and yet can be beautiful in a way that's often likened to birth. Grief can feel absolutely unbearable and can impede with even the most basic life tasks, yet has the capacity to change a person for the better. Being a caregiver can be a burden and an honor all at the same time.
A friend of mine once confided in me that right after her mom died, she ran into her dad’s bedroom and excitedly exclaimed, “she did it!” and immediately felt that her relief for her mother -which prompted that- was perhaps inappropriate. She shared that it seemed to have made her dad feel uncomfortable, which then caused her to feel wrong for it. This is just one example of a person suppressing the full spectrum of how they truly feel around dying, as if having the positive feelings of relief or excitement means they can't simultaneously be grieving and holding the “negative” feelings of longing and sadness for their loved one.
I find it to be a gift to embrace these paradoxes, that doing so allows freedom for one to explore their true feelings without being wrong or irrational for it. The masculinity of logic says we choose one and not the other. The intuitive feminine side says we can hold them both simultaneously.
Death is often referred to as a great mystery. The necessity to come to a conclusion about all things removes the possibility of embracing mystery. This may be a culprit of the potentially hurtful responses individuals make to try to make sense of another person’s illness or death, such as blaming the cause on their fear, or being too passive, or the person needing to be somewhere else. I’m not implying that those aren’t possibilities, but that the very nature of these quick answers hint at our discomfort in embracing the feminine aspect of being with and accepting the unknowable. These answers, although likely well-intended, can hinder a grieving or ill or dying person from overtly exploring these mysteries for themselves. By embracing mysteries, we can simply openly share ideas without the need to come to a conclusion, which in turn invites others to openly question and marvel in the unknown.
I’d often heard while working in healthcare how much simply listening to others is helpful, and while I would often take time to do so, I never really gave it much credit. Being sick myself has allowed me to understand the level at which that is true. I didn’t realize the magic of this until I was on the receiving end when I really needed it. Being with a person who is actually being present and willing to listen without trying to fix anything can be a great gift. As uncomfortable as we may be with it, and as little credit we may give it, being in that unknown, uncomfortable place with a person can do wonders for them beyond what we may imagine.
Surrendering to what is happening can be a difficult task, especially in those places and cultures in which the majority consider a lack of control to be a weakness. Dying and the loss of one’s abilities at some point give a person no choice but to surrender.
I believe it serves us to at least start to reflect on this now, before the time comes that we get the terminal diagnosis, before we are needing to depend on others due to the inevitabilities of aging and dying ourselves.
We may better prepare for this time now by finding a balance of being and doing, listening and expressing, giving and receiving, and of surrender and control. And by doing so, I’ll bet that we live better in the process.
Exploring this balance is not only for the benefit of oneself, but also for when the time comes for us to be with someone else as they are dying. To trust that holding that space is courageous and powerful and important and healing. Especially when we get to that inevitable place in which there is nothing we can do.