the center of the circle

closeup of closed flower buds on a tree. the color is suffused with golden sunlight.

(originally published at; edited and reposted here)

cw: grief, death

There is plenty that has already been written and said about kvetching circles, also known as ‘Ring Theory.’ But just because it’s been said already, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said again. This is for those in relationship with the person who is dying, or has already died.

You are here. You are the center of the circle.

Each person that’s grieving is the center of their own circle, and their feelings and experience of grieving are something that a grief counselor or therapist or priest or deathworker can help each person unwind for themselves. I’m not a therapist, although my time and heart are open for those who need someone to witness and hold a space for their grief and all the myriad ways that grief expresses itself.

But you? You are here. You are the center of the circle. The person in the middle of the innermost ring. You are closest to the person you’ve lost — or are losing. Grief doesn’t wait for someone to be gone, and you can be grieving someone well before they are gone. This is common.

The people around you, the ones who are your support, who can handle your tears and your grief and can be there without requiring any emotional labor from you; those are the people in the next circle out, the circle that encircles you.

Those people have their own people, or hopefully they do. They too need someone to listen, to comfort them, to be a landing place when they don’t know what they need.

And those people also, hopefully, have people that love them or at least have a vested interest in keeping them as whole and as happy as possible. Maybe in the circle around you, each of those people has a circle with a therapist or counselor in it. Maybe they have intimate partners, close friends, people that are willing to give their time and care in order to let them work through their own experience of grief.

But you? You are the center of the circle.

You have no obligation to comfort others. You have space to grieve as much or as little as you can, in each minute and in each day. You do not need to hold emotional space for anyone else; or if you do, it’s because you choose to.

Death can bring so many feelings up that may seem wrong at the time: relief, anger, exhaustion, or just numbness. You are the center of the circle.

So if you can, find those people who will be in the circle surrounding you, before you need them. They can be the support you need when it’s hardest and darkest.

Sometimes, especially when death is sudden and unexpected, the rings in the Ring Theory fall apart before they can stabilize. Everyone impacted by that death is going to feel their own particular feelings, and in dealing with those feelings, many of us put it away for later and use our finite energy to comfort others, to do something to feel less awful. Most people, especially if they have been socialized to caretake and nurture, will have the impulse to take on too much emotional labor when they are the center of the circle. Death is one of those mysteries that brings into focus what’s hardest for us, where our weak points are, which ways we are able to cope and which ways we aren’t.

Death is neither fair nor unfair; it is one of those things that just is. The realities of death’s consequences are the things that might be fair or unfair or cruel or impossible or incredibly difficult.

All of this is to say that it is okay for you to need more than you can give. To let grief thunder its way through you in the ways it needs to. To lean on others without thinking about how you can pay back the support later.

Just breathe, if you can. Just let yourself be loved. And if you are struggling alone, if there is nobody but you and there are no circles of support around you, please know that this is true: a paradox about us as people is that we can sometimes stick out our chins and do it alone, while inside we are torn up and in need of healing. My hope for you is that either you will find support, or it will find you.

I wrote this because I want to give you some little bit of comfort, some relieving way to frame your loss.

I wrote this because I am a deathworker and I can move as close to death as I need to, so that I can be part of your innermost circle. We who are inside the circle that surrounds you do not have to pick up your burdens and carry them, and we do not have to know exactly how you are feeling; what is ours to do is \give as much compassion and understanding as we are able, and sometimes take on logistical things on your behalf, so that your grief is easier for you to access and you can do — or not do — as much as you desire.

Most of all, though, I want you to be okay. You are the center of the circle. There is compassion for you, even if it’s only from the land and the sky and your ancestors.


featured image is a photo by Irina Iriser on Unsplash

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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