Noticing and Shifting Patterns of Living with Loss(es)

By Emma Pearson

December 2, 2021

Main image by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

13 July 2021

In the last few years, I have come across the field of “Human Systems Dynamics” (HSD), which offers ways of thinking and tools for exploring complex human systems. I learn about it mostly for professional reasons, but since my professional and personal interests are so integrated and intertwined, I often find myself applying the concepts to my life, my way of living, my day to day.

Another reason I like HSD is because it invites you to look at challenges not as problems needing to be fixed, but as issues to get curious about. This feels wholly aligned with Megan Devine’s notion of “Grief is not a problem to be fixed, but something to be carried”. The resulting curiosity allows you to nudge a little here, or experiment a little there. HSD incorporates more flexibility than other approaches to change that I am familiar with.

I have long (“long” as in the last few years of Grief-infused living) thought of living with Grief and Loss as something to work with, to nudge along, to experiment with, to stay curious about. To stay out of judgement (where possible) and to be “okay” with things being cruddy, painful, or even joyous. It’s a daily practice. To want to experiment with the conditions of living that end up making up the patterns of my days and hours and weeks and months and now years. After all, we know that it is our daily practices and thoughts that end up becoming how we live our lives. So it’s worth taking a little look at the creation of those patterns from time to time. You pick a challenge to work with and get curious about what creates the patterns within it. Particularly if you want the patterns to shift.

One of the principal HSD models is the CDE model which invites you to look at the three main components that make up a pattern, or that shape the dynamics of a complex system.

Image by Evan Walmsley on Unsplash

C = Containers. Something that holds or binds the system creating the pattern. Like being a Brit in France. Working independently. Being a widowed mum who has lost a child (and brother, and friend). Refocusing my professional work to incorporate more of my pro-bono work skills and experiences. Renewing friendships with people who have fallen off my planet due to myriad reasons including grief and a pandemic. Being in a learning programme. Etc.

D = Differences. Significant differences that make a difference in the system. Like my energy and focus. Quality of my sleep. Degree of extrovertedness in a given moment. Level of resilience. Exposure to grief-literate family, friends and support. Curiosity about life and living. Potentially greater acceptance of talking about grief in the workplace, “thanks to the pandemic”. Etc.

E = Exchanges. Any flow or connection point that generates change in the system. Conversations. Writing. Stories. Zoom calls. Proposals and offerings. Updated website. Newsletter. Articles. Etc.

Image by Barari Catalin on Unsplash

So where does this take me? I have been aware that, (aside from a few brave souls who have continued to reach out to me over the recent years and tried incredibly hard to stay connected with me), for most of my relationships, it would be up to me to (re-) initiate friendships. To kick-start friendship Version 2.0. Or possibly Version 9.9, as the case may be.

I have so many wonderful friends. But I haven’t felt their presence (much) these past years (even where they have tried). Many times I have wondered what it would have been like to have been handed my recent “lot” and not already had a deep bank of friends already in place. To have been isolated and alone even before the glacial isolation that seems inevitable with Grief. The thought makes me shudder. It might have felt similar for the past years, but for the years reaching into the future, I am cognizant of the rich deposits in the friendship bank that I believe will be a difference that makes a difference.

And so my current experiment is to (a) respond when friends reach out; (b) fix a time for a live catch up; and (c) accept plans to meet up when it’s possible.

It might sound like small stuff, but to me these are potentially massive shifts. I believe that these new forms of “exchange” will start to create new and more supportive patterns of living into my daily existence. 

Image by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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