The nursing home called to inform me that my grandmother was dying. I remember driving to sit with her, to talk and sing to her, to pray for her. She could no longer speak but I knew she was listening.
She was a second mother to me, the oldest of her 11 grandchildren. She shepherded me through some difficult times in my life as a young adult. She was a poet, a spiritual mentor to many, and she had a laugh that lit up her face and the faces of everyone around her. She taught me how to listen deeply, to see people’s gifts, and to have compassion. She saw the good in me while I was still forming.
Traveling the 20 miles to my grandmother at midnight, sitting at traffic lights in empty intersections, knowing that she was between worlds, was to experience liminal space. My sight, hearing, and present-moment awareness amplified. I understood that the matriarch of my family, my spiritual pillar, would soon be leaving, disappearing into a mystery that she held in absolute faith. A baton was passing. I was called to gather the gifts of my relationship with her and honor her by giving them to others.
I see this clearly now in retrospect, but what I saw then, what we all experience in attending to loved ones at the end of their lives is an act of waiting. We stand on a threshold between two different realities. We know what is behind us, but we don’t yet know what is ahead of us.
Liminal space is not exclusive to end-of-life experience, though this is perhaps one of the most memorable because of its sacredness.
Liminal space is a season of waiting and not knowing. In this space, we learn to stay and let the waiting form us. There is some discomfort in waiting, particularly in a culture with a bias of action. But there is value in the pause. Before crossing over from what is familiar to what is unfamiliar.
Spiritual retreat can be a form of liminal space, traveling to a space set apart, to be silent, to listen, and watch. We don’t always have that opportunity when facing change, but we can cultivate it at home by setting aside time daily to be quiet, to rest, meditate, and reflect. Simple pleasures like walking outside, a tea or coffee ritual, knitting, assembling a puzzle, have an element of pause to them. When we take time to honor thresholds in our lives, we give ourselves the space to gather the gifts from what was and choose with greater insight and clarity what’s to come.
Lisa Groen is the proud granddaughter of Geneviève. She’s also the creator of Figuring Out What’s Next, a self-guided course that honors liminal space. To learn more about the course, click below.