In ancient times, there was born a legend of two sea-faring dangers: Scylla and Charybdis. The two monsters dwelt on opposite shores of the Strait of Messina. They were poised to destroy anyone courageous or ignorant enough to pass between them. It was told that Scylla and Charybdis had once been strong, beautiful sea nymphs transformed into monsters by their adversaries.
Scylla’s enchanting form was morphed into that of a raging six-headed beast. Charybdis was transmuted into a more deceptive foe who spent most of her time sulking beneath a fig tree. Charybdis stirred only to guzzle all the water in the strait and many a seafarer, besides. Scylla and Charybdis made it nigh impossible to navigate through the Strait of Messina. Of those who attempted the passage, only a roughened few survived.
The passage of grief can seem equally daunting. On either shore of the passage, the beauties of life can rise up as hellish fiends. What we love and cherish may suddenly appear repulsive or frightening. What we usually depend upon for sustenance and direction may throw itself as a horrific obstacle into our path.
Grief is busting full of clashing contradictions that do battle within a solitary grief-stricken soul. So, when we hear that the legendary protagonist, Odysseus, and a few of his crew survived the passage between Scylla and Charybdis, we may feel torn. The success of Odysseus (at piloting through those troubled waters) calls to us like a death-defying challenge to live.
Paradox is the meat of human existence. Raging Scylla and sulking Charybdis each stake a claim at the center of human suffering. How you respond to these claims depends upon your unique relationship with grief.
My book Doing Grief in Real Life provides navigational tools to help you become more familiar with the watery terrain of your own personal Strait of Messina. Some of these tools will be more helpful to you than others. Use them as they’re useful and remember: whatever tools you use to guide you, you’re the only one who can steer your ship through these roiling waters. You’re the only one who can ensure safe passage.
Be forewarned: Once you pass safely through your Strait of Messina, having faced your Scylla and Charybdis within, such passage doesn’t necessarily obliterate your grief. Your grief may always be with you. But braving the fiercest part of the passage can ease your suffering and make you strong. As Josephine Hart put it: “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”
So, take your courage with you, and let the journey begin.
(From Doing Grief in Real Life © 2022 by Shea Darian)