Time to Get Dirty: Processing Emotions in the Woodshed

There I was driving up Coal Creek Canyon after visiting my parents down in town. Usually I notice the fuzzy aspen buds, creek starting to flow, and spring bird songs filtering through my window. But today I have tears running down my checks, my heart feels tight in my chest and I’m completely exhausted. Last August my mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and my time off these past months has been centered on being with her and my dad.

People ask me if I have a therapist. They ask me if I have someone to talk to; if I’m processing my experience. People recommend hospice counselors and grief counselors, cancer survivors and caregiver support groups. Therapist friends remind me to focus on my feelings and make sure I’m not repressing anything.

But this past weekend, when my heart felt like there was nothing left to break, I headed out to the woodshed. It was in the usual end-of-winter disarray and I decided to dive in. The new wood holder went outside and I dutifully filled up the wheelbarrow over and over again, transporting half a cord of wood. Soon I had a neatly stacked pile and some extra space in the shed. I noticed I didn’t feel as tired anymore, and my tears had stopped. Further exploration led to an old squirrel nest and countless cobwebs which I swept out onto the land. At this point my heart was feeling lighter and not quite so broken. I spied some old furnace parts someone had left there, and carried them to the trash to go to the dump. This freed up some shelf space where the remaining wood fit perfectly. By this point I actually had energy, my muscles were loose, and I started to notice the warm sun on my back and the chattering squirrel (probably not too happy about me relocating his nest). Before I knew it the wood shed was cleaned out, organized and ready to hold the wood I’ll put in there over the summer.

Now don’t get me wrong. Over these months I have processed feelings and talked to experts, called friends and consulted other therapists. But sometimes I think we all just need some old-fashioned sweaty, dirty work to sort through our lives and our hearts.