“…when she had those dreams at night, he was there, as if he had never died, although she knew, even in the dream, that he had. One day she would join him, she knew, whatever people said about how we came to an end when we took our last breath. Some people mocked you if you said that you joined others when your time came. Well, they could laugh, those clever people, but we surely had to hope, and a life without hope of any sort was no life: it was a sky without stars, a landscape of sorrow and emptiness.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, Blue Shoes and Happiness
Blessing the House of the Heart
If you could see
the way this blessing
has inscribed itself
on every wall
of your heart,
writing its shining line
across every doorway,
tracing the edge
of every window
if you could see this,
you would never question
where home is
or whether it has
a welcome for you.
This blessing wishes
to give you
It will not tell you
it has been waiting.
It will not tell you
it has been keeping watch.
It would not
want you to know
just how long
it has been holding
this quiet vigil
It simply wants you
to see what it sees,
wants you to know
what it knows—
how this blessing
already blazes in you,
illuminating every corner
of your broken
and beautiful heart.
from The Cure for Sorrow
“A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now.”
—from the Introduction of The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”
It is that time again; the winter solstice is around the corner. The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin for “sun standing still.” This solstice, a pagan precursor to Christmas and other seasonal holy days, denotes the return of the light and a decline in the darkness.
And for most of us, that return of the light in all of its figurative and literal glory is a very good thing. We human beings thrive on light; we find an imbalance of darkness overwhelming and depressing. We revel in the flicker of candles, the twinkling of lights and the lightness of our spirits as we deck our halls, trim our trees, plan surprises for the children and find thoughtful ways to gift a loved one. We beam; we sparkle. The light begets light; the light begets love.
Actually, no. Not for everyone.
For some, the holidays are nothing more than bah humbug. They relish the role of Scrooge. They find the nonstop loop of Christmas carols anything but jolly; they are ready to strangle the next person who sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
They find themselves wanting to knife the blow-up, illuminated Santa bobbling away on their neighbor’s lawn and watch it deflate into a puddle of plastic. They grit their teeth and clench their fists with forced merriment at holiday gatherings oozing with eggnog and dream of lobbing bourbon balls at their host’s head.
The stretch of Christmas and New Year’s is an endurance test of their mental health. It’s too much family, too much togetherness and way too much dysfunction. They have shut down all tidings of comfort and joy in an effort to emotionally survive. As the countdown towards New Years continues, they have, more than likely, felt their grumpiness quotient ratchet up to new highs.
Then, there are those whose light has been dimmed by circumstance or fate. These holidays of tinsel and candy-caned merriment are anything but for them; these holidays serve as poignant reminders of what once was. There is an empty seat at the table; there is a loved one in a dangerous place.
There is the interminable wait for the test result, the lost job or the foreclosed home. There is palpable darkness; there is heartache and heart break, grief and sadness, worry and fear. The holidays are anything but bright.
So, what do you do if you find yourself standing in the dark and not wanting to be swept up in the holiday razzle-dazzle?
Let’s talk strategies to help you get through without self-destructing or curling up into a fetal position and waiting for it all to be over:
Be gentle with yourself.
It should go without saying, but it is always necessary to say. For it seems that when we hunker down into survival mode, we often start beating up on ourselves for not being enough–good enough, lovable enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, thin enough, fill-in the-blank enough.
The suggestion here is that you take the love, warmth and connection of the season and apply it yourself. That’s right: start loving yourself, feel a little warmth as you connect with you. When it gets right down to it, isn’t it a basic requirement that we accept ourselves? And in that acceptance, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would want to be compassionate and understanding towards ourselves?
And being compassionate means knowing how to protect yourself. No dangerous or toxic situations for you. No hostile confrontations. Treat yourself like the precious being of light that you are. Life is tough enough; you don’t have to become your own enemy. You can, instead, choose to become your advocate, your friend and your own rock-solid connection.
Give yourself the gentleness and consideration you would give to a dear friend. In other words, give yourself a break from the rigidity; allow yourself some latitude to do what is right for you. Serve your soul; listen to your heart and, above all, don’t forget the gift that you are. There is no one, I repeat no one, on the planet that is just like you. There is no one with your genetic coding, particular repertoire of skills, accumulated wisdom and backpack of experiences.
If you accept the metaphysical, you are here for a reason. Your presence matters in the great jigsaw puzzle of life. You raised your soul hand and said, “Yes” to this moment and time. Allow your gentleness and concomitant protectiveness and self-advocacy to nurture that yes until you are ready to step out of the corner and into a beam of sparkly light. And, please, take as much time as you need.
Hope. Peace. Cookies.
With a bow to Kate Spade, who wrote that great combination of words on one of her lines of Christmas cards one season. These three words made me smile when I saw them — and they made me think.
We all need hope — it is, indeed, the very flicker of light that allows up to put one foot in front of the other. A little bit of hope can go a very long way. If possible, allow yourself a smidgen of the good stuff. It is high octane and can really help get you headed in a better direction.
As for peace, that’s another given. We need peace on every level, the personal to the global. What better way to survive the season than to cease being at war with yourself or others? This makes me think of the old song lyrics, “All I am saying is give peace a chance.” How about it? Are you willing?
And as for cookies, well, they are a personal favorite, but more than that, they can symbolize the sweetness of life, the specialness of the season and, perhaps, an opportunity for sharing with another during these days. Sometimes, a simple cup of tea and a few cookies provide a bit of tenderness that is just enough to make the holiday palatable.
Wherever you are in your heart these days, dear reader, please know that I am offering you a virtual cookie as a kind of communion.
And the angels always remind me of this: You are loved, you are guided and you are protected. It’s a comforting thought, especially when it seems so very dark.
Take precious care, and may you be blessed with grace in a season that is all too tender this year.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, a time that might be unusually tender and tough, most likely you will hold your heart a bit more carefully, its weight heavy with memories and possibilities.
Blessings on all of you who have negotiated the tricky shoals of deep grief and heart-shattering loss. And blessings to all those Sweet Ones on the Other Side. Perhaps, it is their light that helps the flowers grow?
The first person Elizabeth meets is Prem, a young man looking lost and bereft. “Where are you going?” she asks.
“To the river to kill myself. Both my parents were killed in the earthquake. There is no reason for me to live,” Prem replies.
“Oh, no. You are coming with me. We will stay together until you feel safe,” Elizabeth states.
Prem follows Elizabeth and they set up a tarp shelter held down by rocks. He stays for 24 hours and tells Elizabeth, “I feel safe now.” They exchange contact information and Prem promises to text regularly. And he does.
Weeks later, Prem calls Elizabeth and happily announces, “My parents are alive! I found them in a tarp hospital some distance away. They are safe and alive. You saved my life. You saved their happiness. I am only alive because of you.”
Prem continued to text Elizabeth every day for many months to let her know how he was doing. We never know exactly how life will unfold nor understand the unique difference we can make in another’s life and how one chance meeting saved a life.
Another years passes. It does not take way the sadness. In fact, the new year can be like a knock at the door reminding you of what has been lost. Hopefully, as you have navigated the deep and often treacherous waters of grief, you have regained some of your footing and been able to take a deep breath or two. You know life is a process and a progression but none of that really helps. What helps is remembering and talking and feeling the heart connection with your lost loved one.
This year, if you don’t already do it, look for signs and symbols. As a teacher of mine once told me — and as she was told by her teacher — if you think it’s a sign or a message, it is. Follow your heart. There may be a blue heron circling or a yellow butterfly that hangs out for 20 minutes on your arm or the sound of your son’s laughter. One man thought it was his imagination as he often felt his brother in the passenger seat of his car as he drove to work. A medium later confirmed his frequent morning experiences.
This year, open your heart and mind to the possibility of more connection and confirmation from the other dimensions. All things are possible. And love is a powerful force of connection.
This is my favorite healing story. I first heard this story from higher consciousness teacher, Caroline Myss, who, in turn, learned this first-hand from her friend and our protagonist, David Chethlahe Paladin. Conversation with the wonderful Lynda Paladin, our protagonist’s wife, added more meaningful background.
David Chethlahe Paladin is a Navaho Indian living on a reservation in Arizona. David would laughingly say that his mother was a nun and his father was a priest. It turns out his mother became pregnant by a visiting priest. She, in turn, decides to become a nursing nun and leaves her son in the care of the extended family of their tribe.
David and his cousin spend a great deal of time leaving the reservation and going into town. They drink a lot, and they think life is better in the white man’s world. The local constabulary is forever returning the boys to the reservation. By the time David is 13 years of age, he is an alcoholic.
David and his cousin determine that they are going to make it off the reservation once and for all – and they do. They find their way to California, wherein they lie about their ages and sign up for work with the Merchant Marines. Here David befriends another young man from Germany. He also begins drawing; some of his sketches include the eventual bunkers that the Japanese are building on the atolls in the Pacific Ocean.
World War II is declared. The US Army tells David that since he lied about his age with the Merchant Marines he has a choice. He can go to jail for a year or enlist in the army. David enlists. He is a teenager.
The army tells David, as he is a Navaho, they are going to drop him behind enemy lines and use him as an information gatherer in their special services. Given his native language is a code that the Germans are unable to crack, much less decipher, David is to relay his findings to another Navaho who will translate and pass along the intelligence.
David is dropped behind enemy lines. Ultimately, he is captured and interrogated for information. The German officers find him useless and direct that he be sent to a death camp and executed as a spy.
Imagine, if you will, the scenes we all have invariably seen of the railroad station and the platform filled with lines of prisoners being pushed into box cars for transport to the camps. Here is David. He is being pushed and shoved into a boxcar. There is German soldier behind him saying “Schnell, schnell” (quick, quick). David stops, turns around and looks at the German soldier. It is his friend from the merchant ship. The friend recognizes David and ushers him to a different box car that will send David to Dachau.
In the barracks at Dachau, David sees an older man, a fellow prisoner, drop something. David bends down to retrieve it. The guard, who has witnessed this moment, asks David, “Are you the Christ?”
The guard then orders that David’s feet be nailed to the floor and that David stand there with his arms outstretched for three days like Christ on the cross. Every time David would falter and crumple the guards would hoist him up again. In the middle of the night, someone would sneak in and cram raw, maggot-covered chicken innards into David’s mouth.
When the Allies open up this camp, they find David a mere shell of a man, weighing maybe 70 pounds, and speaking Russian*. They turn David over to the Russians. David later speaks English and gives his name, rank and serial number to the Russians who transfer him to the US military.
David is sent to a VA hospital in Battle Creek Michigan where he spends the next 2 years in and out of a coma. At the end of two years, his legs are encased in metal braces, similar to what polio patients used. David, a young man, maybe not even 21 years of age, is to be sent to a VA home for the rest of his life.
David asks if he can visit his family on the reservation. The answer is, “Of course.” David literally drags himself onto the reservation. He meets with the elders of tribe. They ask to hear his whole story. David tells them every horrible thing that he endured. He is full of anger, rage, and hate.
The elders confer and tell David to meet them tomorrow at a designated point on the Little Colorado River. David agrees and at the appointed hour he arrives. One of the elders tethers a rope around his waist; others remove the braces from his legs. They hoist David up into the air and as they throw him into the raging current of the Little Colorado River, they say, “Chethlahe, call back your spirit or die. Call back your spirit or die.”
David would later say that those moments in the Little Colorado River were the very hardest of his life. He had to fight himself for himself. And he was able to see the big picture; he understood why things unfolded as they did. For example, he realized that the raw chicken parts were meant as a source of protein to sustain him so that he might live.
David Paladin was thrown into the river as a very shattered man. David emerged out of the Little Colorado River like the phoenix out of the ashes. He had metaphorically walked through the fire, or, in this case, swum through the currents, and had come out alive. He was born again.
And, that, dear ones, is what I think healing is all about for each of us. It is calling home our energy; it is calling home our disenfranchised pieces and parts. It is letting go of the toxic and the outdated. It is reclaiming ourselves.
David no longer needed his braces; he became a shaman, teacher, and artist and went on to work with priests and addicts. He died in his middle years in the mid 1980s.
* Remember David sketching during his tour of the Pacific and speaking Russian when the Allies first found him half-dead at the camp? It turns out that David was channeling, i.e., the Russian artist Kandinsky. In fact, Kandinsky’s best friend came for a visit to the U.S. from Russia. The friend, the story goes, told the press that he felt as he had spent the day with Kandinsky.
Of course, this makes me laugh. It has for days as I have been entertaining myself with this very thought. My overactive imagination conjures up this scene where you visit me at my gravesite and I see you and envision that we converse energetically. At first, you are surprised and somewhat dumbfounded, but I know so much about our history that ultimately you are convinced that a) this is real or b) you are having a lucid dream or c) you are playing make-believe and it’s kind of fun.
You see, I believe that our souls are eternal and our bodies are a bit like complicated robes that we shed upon death. The brain goes dark, but the consciousness lives.
For the past few weeks I have being seeing faces again. Yes, again. When I started writing Making Peace with Suicide, I would see faces in the leaves of a tree outside my window, on the tiles of my shower, and framed in groups on my carpet. Most recently, I have had visitors around my bed in the middle of the night. My feeling is that they are looking for relief by way of connection or, possibly, understanding.
When I ask what they want, I hear, “We want to be heard.” Ok, let’s proceed. This is the gist and sense of what I have heard:
• Some loved ones who have died by suicide have expressed regret that they left such heartache and turmoil. They did not want to cause you pain; they simply wanted to end their pain.
• For some of the younger ones who have left by suicide, there is surprise and, even, regret that they are no longer here on earth. Their choice was impulsive and, often, influenced by drugs and alcohol.
• There are some who are wildly relieved to be off this mortal coil. They were ready to go. They feel complete and satisfied with nary a doubt or regret.
• And there are some who orchestrated (on a soul level) their passing and they are doing huge works of service on our behalf from the Other Side.
Our souls have unique contracts and trajectories of growth and development. Life – and death – are not always what they seem at first glance.
So, imagine, if you will, that your deceased loved one can still see you and be there with you. And imagine that your loved one is holding you close as you take your next steps on your healing path.
It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? And, some of us, believe that it is true.