The Mourning Moon

By Niklas Gunsberg

Image by Niklas Gunsberg

Article by Andrea Paterson

There are those who celebrate the “mourning moon,” the last full moon before the Winter Solstice. This year’s Mourning Moon just passed and its symbolism struck a chord. It is the last point of brightness in the descending dark. As the longest night of the year approaches it is a chance to let go of the things that no longer serve you so that you can move into the blackness of solstice with an unburdened heart and step into the New Year refreshed. The words Mourning Moon give me goosebumps. There is something so evocative–something that brings to mind honeymoons and babymoons and turns them on their heads. Because don’t all of our honeymoon phases come with a mourning moon too? At the moments where we are celebrating a shift into a new phase of our lives we are also called upon to mourn what we leave behind and wash away the trappings of our old worlds, our old selves. The honeymoon and the mourning moon are not separate things, but two sides of the same coin. But we have forgotten the mourning moon. We expect people to revel in the joy of a new adventure but don’t provide space to let them mourn what they will have to abandon, sacrifice, or set aside in order to make that adventure possible.

When I had a baby I was told to expect earth shattering changes–all of which would bring untold joy. Birthing and motherhood are always celebrations of new life, they embrace the notion of the honeymoon with its accompanying sense of wonder, idealized love, and euphoric happiness. But I needed the funeral. I needed the black crepe and the veils and the wailing to ferry away the ghost of my pre-baby self. I needed the Mourning Moon so badly after the birth of my son, and it shocks me that there was no one there to provide it, to hold space for it.  The new mother needs comfort, yes, and she needs encouragement and hope but she also needs a mortician who will help prepare the shell of her old self for burial. This is necessary: to wash the soul of the Un-Mother and lay her to rest, to acknowledge her passing, to weep for her and stroke her hair and tell her that she was loved and then to let her go.

Because we can’t parent if we are holding on to a version of ourselves that is at odds with our new reality as mothers and fathers. We can’t grow into our new role as parents if we are clinging to a life that we no longer inhabit. Postpartum depression creeps into the places where we are resistant to change and where flexibility comes hardest. In the places of rigidity anxieties take root and rob us of the possibility for happiness. We need, all of us, that last glow of the Mourning Moon in which to strip down to what is essential.

In parenthood, like all major life changes, we are asked to become something entirely new. I am a mother now whereas I wasn’t one four years ago. That doesn’t mean that aspects of my pre-mother self don’t survive, but they survive in a new form. Had I been given permission to mourn the things I lost, either forever or temporarily, I may have had a very different postpartum experience. Instead I bought into the message that I could have it all–I could maintain my old self and tack on this Mother-Self. Nothing would truly have to change. The container of my life would remain the same shape and I would somehow cram a baby into it. But it didn’t work that way. A baby didn’t fit in the contours of my life and the more I tried to make it fit the more battered I became. Only through allowing my life to dissolve and reform around me could I carve out a comfortable space for the new human being I brought into the world.

And things DID change. Boy did they change. I couldn’t have it all, and much was sacrificed. And much was gained. I don’t want to forget that. And that’s my point: the two sides of the coin. There is the Babymoon or the Honeymoon with all its showering of gifts both literal and figurative and there is the Mourning Moon where things are laid to rest, put away, let go.  As the Winter Solstice approaches it feels good to meditate on the Mourning Moon and hold space for its magic. My joy and my sorrow are one. There is not one without the other. How I wish I had known that a long time ago on the day I became a mother.

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