Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes


Learning in the dark: Grief, loss, and other taxing teachers


Old schoolhouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A dark one-room schoolhouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN).

This is my first blog from the dark. I feel like I’m sitting still, stuck at the barely visible desk in my photo, aware of sunlight and vast space outside, but not ready to move from my quiet, sheltered spot. How does one learn alone in the dark? I’m figuring it out. It helps to be near a window.

Normally, when I write in this public space, topics come to me from the outdoors. I’m on my feet, walking and then sharing information from a light, energetic, positive perspective. Not today. My feet are tucked under me on the sofa. I’m feeling vulnerable. I’ve been moving slowly (or not moving at all), working through disruption and despair.

My beloved father — a healthy, active, eternally optimistic, youthful 78-year-old — fell suddenly on February 27 while taking a walk. He was diagnosed with a fatal, fast-growing brain tumor in late March, declined with stunning speed after having a stroke, and died on April 15, tax day in the US. Benjamin Franklin wrote “… in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” These inevitable events will be linked in my mind forever.

Often, I invite friends, loved ones and clients to use taxing life experiences as opportunities for growth. It’s time for me to do the same. I am determined to “walk my talk” in uncomfortable territory.

In my world, nothing is more certain than the need to learn and find meaning from life’s sudden, shocking losses. Yet I’m impatient, aware of subtle or direct messages to “get on with it.” That’s the American way. Who has time to be sad? Isn’t giving in to “negative emotion” a sign of weakness? NO! It takes COURAGE to have an open heart and to feel deeply and completely. (I’ve needed convincing to come around to this way of thinking, but it feels absolutely true, despite being taught otherwise by a culture that worships being cool, rational, and too busy for authentic human experience.)

After months of jarring losses and reaching my 55th birthday in June, I am questioning everything about how I live, work, and learn. I want to make the best of my remaining years. This requires allowing space and time for the difficult lessons life is teaching me now. It’s becoming clear I must accept — rather than fight — grief, darkness, and taxing, exhausting feelings. It’s not my goal to get rid of sadness, nor do I want “closure,” as that feels like denying myself access to my Dad’s wisdom, love and spirit. I want the window of learning from loss to remain open.

For years I thought I knew about pain, after saying good-bye to loved ones and cherished dreams, weathering a divorce, care-giving for a dear friend who lost her cancer battle, and the list goes on… but there is more to discover in the dark. One of the best things my Dad ever said to me, with a big smile, was this: “When I think of you Julie, I think of ONE BIG LEARN! You always are curious about what you can learn in any situation, and that’s a good thing.” In that moment, I felt loved and visible for who I am: A passionate, life-long learner. Thanks for seeing that in me, Dad. I miss you very much. I will keep on learning, even in the dark.


Author: Julie Mitchell

Julie Mitchell is an executive coach, facilitator, professional speaker and senior consultant who can help you create more positive working relationships, improve your performance, and achieve goals through understanding and practicing effective communication on every level.

12 thoughts on “Learning in the dark: Grief, loss, and other taxing teachers

  1. You are very brave and I admire you for embracing the dark. I totally agree with your dear father, you are a life long learner!

  2. Thanks, my dear friend. You have encouraged my learning for years!

  3. Julie, The dark is a place of incubation, turning inward, and subtle growth. “Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow, lies the seed that with the sun’s (Sons) love in the Spring becomes the rose.”

    Blessings for the journey ahead!

  4. Peggy, you know so much about learning and growth. I appreciate your support and I admire your strength and wisdom. Thanks for reading and responding with a wonderful reminder! 🙂

  5. Hi Jules,

    Bittersweet tears started immediately upon receiving this blog and reconnected me with both you and my brother in a deeper way. I love your writing and agree totally with what you share. What a learning! Reminds me of an article I just read: http://www.mindful.org/in-love-and-relationships/working-with-emotions/the-importance-of-sadness
    I think you might see some connection.

    Much love and many blessings, hugs, and smiles,
    Aunt Paula

  6. Thanks, my dear Aunt Paula… You’re the second person to refer me to that article, and I’m going to read it tonight! Love, Jules

  7. Julie, my forever friend,
    How poignantly beautiful are your words. Thank you! Damn, I hate being in the dark, but how wonderful to be encouraged by your oh-so-rawly-human description. Keep writing. I need you.

  8. Dear (The Reverend!) Kay, I’m touched by your feedback and especially your request that I keep writing. I know you are a wise and discerning reader! 😉

  9. This blog was forwarded to me from a long-time friend, Kay Roberts, the one who responded above. I was much moved by what you wrote, and immediately thought of a book I just started that you might want to read: “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor. I agree with Kay: keep writing! Anne

  10. Dear Anne, thanks for your comment! You are the second wise woman Rev. to recommend that book (the co-pastor at my church suggested it yesterday). It has been on my Amazon “wish list” for awhile, and clearly it’s time for me to get it. 🙂

  11. Yes, it helps to be hear a window. Thanks for letting us look through your window. I am sitting right outside whenever you need me. Love and Light.

  12. Nancy, I feel your presence outside the window and I am so grateful, as always!

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