It is Easter Weekend in most of the west, it is also Passover. Both festivals which center around how the future grows out of the past. It is no surprise that the Christian Festival carries echoes of the Jewish however this idea of renewal from death is found in many cultures and traditions.
One of the oldest myths is that of Persephone. It has often been stripped of its details, so we hear of Hades kidnapping Persephone, but not of the learning and wisdom she acquired as his queen. Persephone personified innocence and purity, and like all children she has to grow up, and her desire for the narcissus begins the story. No longer content to be a child she leaves her mother’s side.
This is the first loss, not of Persephone, but of Demeter. When our children grow, and eventually leave our side it can be a devastating loss for many. Some parents wonder what their role is, without a child to nurture. Demeter totally abandons her role as Goddess of the crops. It is as if without her role as a Mother she is nothing, A change in role can be one of the biggest losses we face. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, retirement or children becoming adults if we have built our life around these externals we can, like Demeter withdraw from everything.
Warden, in his four tasks of grief, describes one as adjusting to the environment in which the deceased is missing. His tasks though apply to any loss, and are not considered to be consecutive or linear. In order to make this adjustment we need to understand the roles someone, or something, occupied in our lives. In order to adjust to the environment now we need to understand the then, exactly what space is empty.
Without this adjustment we may attempt to fill the space ourselves. For example if someone was always the peacemaker at family events we may feel this is now our role, no matter how ill-suited we are. Or if someone was the black sheep, always getting into trouble we may find ourselves fitting into that role, even if previously it is one we would never have dreamt of.
Or, to go back to Demeter, we may try to find someone, or something, to fill the space when we have not yet adjusted to the loss.
Eventually she found her way to the town of Eleusis, where she rested by a flowing fountain. Stripped of all her vital energy, she appeared old and wrinkled beyond her years. Soon four young females found the aging Goddess, and agreed to take her home. Their parents were glad to offer the elderly woman lodging and a stable position caring for their little son. Wishing to reward the family for their kindness, Demeter attempted to offer the child the gift of immortality, by sticking him in the fire each night and removing him every morning before dawn.
Demeter tries to create a new immortal child to fill the space left by the departure of Persephone. Notice that she does this without the knowledge or consent of his parents. Often we may try to force someone into a space that it is not theirs to fill. A younger sibling may be berated for not being enough like their departed sister or brother for example. In retirement people may start hobbies or clubs, to fill the space, but alienate others as they treat them like workmates, attempting to recreate a lost environment.
Adjustment means acknowledging all that something was, which can be painful, but without the pain we cannot make the adjustment, we cannot adapt to the way the world is now. For some it means being doomed to repeat old mistakes, or hurt themselves and others as they attempt to recreate something that has been lost.
The myth of Persephone is so laden with learning and symbolism it would take a series of posts to cover. For now though just this single point seems as if it could be explored for many hours in the therapeutic relationship. Are we like Demeter searching for what has gone, bereft of our role, trying to find ways to recreate something that has gone? Or are we like Persephone, adjusting to a new, and possibly frightening world of opportunity?