by Becky Dowley
If, like me, you have been nurturing seedlings in a greenhouse or on a windowsill throughout Imbolc and Beltane, you will be glad when midsummer is upon us. Then you can stand back and let your seedlings stand on their own. You will have got to know their strengths and weaknesses and their individuality, having provided them with soil, water and warmth. There comes a day when they have to be strong enough and resilient enough to be planted out and left to grow and develop.
We humans are the same. If we are lucky enough to be nurtured in supportive surroundings we too can be encouraged into the world to grow and develop. If we have a disability or poor health, we may have extra needs. We may have to have someone there to assist us. In the case of autism, which I have, we might prefer to do things alone and not know when we need help.
What we must do is develop resilience. Resilience grows out of experience from knowing that we can cope, especially if we are supported.
Just as when our seedlings are tossed about by the wind and rain, sometimes we can feel as if we are being battered, bent and shaken by life. This can seem relentless and never ending. Our tolerance, strength and courage can be tested beyond limits. We might sometimes question “why me?” or “why now?” and feel as if we cannot go on. We might question where difficult events or things that test us fit into the greater plan. Disability and illness can be isolating and it is important that we surround ourselves by people who can encourage and support us.
As I have been nurturing my seedlings this Spring I have been grieving the loss of my younger brother. Nearly two years my junior he was funny, handsome, clever and a family man. He is interwoven with my life from when I can remember him being in his pram, from when he was a tiny little boy with big brown eyes and a coat that was too big for him. He died in February after a brave fight. I was with him when he died as the warm sun flooded in the window and I spoke gentle words in his ear to comfort him on his way. His wife and I held his hands and his friends and family gathered to support him as he set off on his last journey.
My resilience was tested. I had lost my mum to the same illness four years previously. I had lost my baby daughter, my father. Why them? I felt so alone and with my mum, my dad and my brother gone I felt bereft and the only one left.
My autism makes it hard for me to express my emotions and during this spring there have been times when I have been overwhelmed by my sadness, my helplessness and my anger. It’s been during these occasions when I have felt so vulnerable, weak and low. People with autism are mistakenly assumed to have no emotions, but the fact is that research has shown that we have very deep emotions that we find hard to share. Friends and family have supported me. They have sometimes just sat next to me as I cry or walked with me as I speak of him. Quiet reminders to listen to the birdsong, to walk bare foot in the wet grass. To write poetry with my niece. Gifts of smiling roses and frames to put photographs of my brother in. The gift of a new god child due in autumn, conceived as my brother died.
I have had reminders to come back to my beliefs. Just as the tiny seedlings need support towards being resilient, so do us human beings. I have been reminded to come back to what I know is certain. To feel the heat of the sun on my face, to pick and eat my allotment vegetables and admire the deep pink clematis. To remember that everything is interconnected and everything is part of the wheel of life. Just as winter ravages, spring renews and summer replenishes.
As spring has worn on and the black cloak of grief has lifted a little I can see that I am not alone and that I have my precious family, my sister in law, my niece and nephew and their strength inspires me. I am surrounded by love and positivity. The cycle of life and the wheel of the year turn and bring wonder and joy.
As I write this I am travelling by train to see my brothers loving, resilient family. This weekend we will scatter his ashes together. The sun is pouring in the window as I write, across the page and across my face. I know he is near.
This spring has taught me what it is to be resilient. When I return home to Cornwall I will walk barefoot across the wet grass to tend my sturdy seedlings and think of my beautiful brother with a smile. My autism has meant that a lot of my journey through grief has seemed to be alone but woven around me have been love, support and this wondrous world we live in giving me the strength to look forward to the future.