Loss and grief

Loss is universal. It is also idiosyncratic and unique. We each handle loss in our own way. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with death.

It is hard, exhausting, and excruciating work to make sense of the un-sensible and to unpack and repack a life that you have held with such love and affection. You will need time and space to work through all the layers of feelings as you remember and revisit all that you experienced and shared with the one you lost.

Loss requires time, time to accept the unacceptable and time to feel the undulations and reverberations of your loss. There is no time limit—grief takes as long as it takes. Grief opens you up in ways you never thought possible. Unexpectedly, you will find yourself remembering other losses in your life as well. Grief builds upon grief; like pearls strung on a necklace, every loss becomes connected close to your heart.

Trauma is also a cumulative experience. We hold traumatic events in our cellular memories. They are not forgotten. And like grief, a new trauma can trigger feelings from a prior trauma. This is important to consider, as suicide is both a traumatic and grief-filled experience. The double whammy of grief and trauma can sometimes be so overwhelming that it is hard for you to stand or eat or sleep or even make simple conversation. Dealing with a suicidal loss requires extreme gentleness as you wade through the minefields of emotional residue.

Understand that grief can be crazy-making. Your world is upside down and nothing makes sense. You have lost the terra firma upon which you have grounded yourself. Now, everything is up in the air. There are no more givens or constants; everything seems like a variable. One ER nurse told a grieving mom, “Do not be surprised if you hear the voice of your daughter. It is not abnormal to hear voices of the deceased, especially at the beginning.”

There is no one way to grieve and deal with loss. It is such a difficult process of both accepting the unacceptable and letting go of your most cherished. It takes time to deal with the layers and work your way back to solid ground.

Be gentle and take precious care. You are not alone.

Dealing With Christmas Blues

winterlucy

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.

Isn’t it all grand? Isn’t this the most wonderful time of year?

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.

How are we changed by devastating loss?

istock_000038866856_mediumLoss is never easy. Loss leaves us speechless and shaking with emotion. How do any of us walk through this miasma of agony? As you well know, we just do … one foot in front of the other. Life does continue, day after day.

The question that comes to mind is how are we changed by devastating loss?

Life is a little more precious. The immediacy of loss makes us hold one another a little more tightly, a little more closely. We are more aware. We value what we had once taken for granted and now know — heartbreakingly so — can lose all too quickly and unexpectedly.

We want the loss to mean something. We want to transform the pain and create an alchemical process. We want to allow something new, tender, and hopeful to grow out the grief. We humans need to do something, take some action that makes a difference. We do not want the loss to be in vain. We want the phoenix to emerge out of the ashes of our loss. We look to create anew – be it a memorial that serves as reminder of what needs to be remembered and never forgotten or we bring energy and life to some course of action that honors our loss.

Our hearts are expanded. We understand that it is our through our connections with one another that life holds meaning and value. We didn’t know it was possible to hold the weight of such grief and pain. We didn’t know that we could love so intensely, much less grieve so deeply. Our hearts have been excavated and stretched beyond measure. Our hearts hold a new-found wisdom. We are forever changed.

We have learned a few things. Grief is unpredictable, crazy-making, and a unique process. It takes time, patience, and presence to find a neutral place. Along the way, we learn what is important. We learn that pain can morph into something else. We learn that we can help others who are sucker-punched by grief and that we can show up and be present amidst the darkness.

To quote psychologist and cantadera Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

So, let us polish off our souls and let our own particular brand of light come forth. It always helps dispel the darkness.

May you be held in peace and comfort.

The Other Side of Grief

20161109_173927I recently had the pleasure in participating in The Other Side of Grief  of Suicide speaker series. This free speaker series runs Monday, November 14 – Friday, November 25. I will be featured on Tuesday, November 15.

Understanding, education and gaining new resources and coping strategies can help you work through your hero’s journey of grief. Consider tuning in to gain some new perspectives and extra support.

Here is your link to access the free video series:

Our host, Shanetta Brown, explains more:

Have you lost a loved one to suicide?  Are you feeling overwhelmed or stuck and you don’t know how to put the pieces of your life back together. Have you thought to yourself, Is the pain ever going to go away? 

We will show you how to find hope and happiness on the other side of grief.

Here are some tools that you will learn:  

  • Recognize grief can be used as a transformation process to reach a fulfilling and purpose-filled life! (Thrive instead of just survive!)
  • Move fully into your heart and body to process and release grief, mourn openly and grieve freely to reach a deep level of healing!
  • How to handle the holidays after a loss and still finding reason to celebrate.
  • Recognize ways to support your child through the grieving process.
  • Determine things you can say to your child to help them with the loss.
  • Recognize that you can maintain connection with deceased loved ones knowing that love lives on through them!
  • Build supportive and caring networks and give yourself permission to share feelings, emotions and memories easily!
  • Move from fear to faith that you can and will get through loss to find a new appreciation of life. (Be a victor over grief, not a victim!)
  • Re-write your grief story and reclaim your life!
  • Honor your loved one’s legacy with love, remembering a life well lived!

PS  My interview will be featured on Tuesday, November 15.

 

 

 

“Give me away”

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By Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.

Breathe, Sweet Pea, breathe

305865244_9e5881dde5_o-e1371059829133tbearYes, it’s been tough. Tougher than  you imagined, and you are still standing. Good for you. For those moments when your brain starts whirring and going down the rabbit hole, remember to breathe. It helps. And you will feel better.

 

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.

Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dealing with the death of a young person

Death is never easy. And the death of a young person is especially heartbreaking and traumatic. There was so much future and so much possibility that is now forever gone. There will be no more birthdays, graduations or wedding days. This young life, full of potential and promise, has ended in the blink of an eye and you are left reeling in shock and confusion. How could this happen? Why did this happen? Why wasn’t my child spared?

The loss of a young person leaves you speechless and shaking with emotion. How is it possible to walk through this miasma of agony and grief? You imagine your young one at the table. You instinctively listen at the door for him to come home or for her to dance into the living room. You crave any and all conversation about your son or daughter, niece or nephew or grandchild. You relish hearing stories and escapades. You smile. You cry. You learn that your young person was loved and cherished by others as well. Memories serve as your very best medicine.

Your mind goes into overdrive accessing every snippet of his or her short life. You want to remember everything in great, sensory-laden, Technicolor detail. You search for the sweet, the silly, the outrageous, and, even, the horrifying. Sometimes, you may judge yourself harshly for your all-too-human responses, reactive outbursts and your real or perceived wrongdoings. Give yourself time and space to acknowledge all of your feelings. Endeavor to be kind and compassionate towards yourself. The reality is that you loved, parented and guided the best way you knew how at that very moment in time.

You want to scream to the world at large. Sleep is often an anathema. Understandably, especially with sudden deaths, your anxiety and the concomitant fear of the future – notably with surviving siblings — ratchets higher. Nothing feels safe. Nothing feels right. And there is the “who-cares-anymore” well of depression. You are in a place you never imagined, much less prepared for: you are in hell.

Dealing with this anguish and sorrow is a rocky, uneven road. Eventually, you manage to put one foot in front of the other, even if you have been robotic and numb. Sometimes that is the only way you have been able to protect yourself from the tidal waves of feelings that turn you upside-down and leave you flattened, gasping for breath.

Life continues, day after day. Your heart is re-arranged by the devastating loss of your child. You are aware that you hold life even more preciously. This young death seems antithetical to the chronology of life. You were never meant to outlive your young one.

The emotional pain is searing and unrelenting. You didn’t know it was possible to hold the weight of this much grief. You never realized that you could love so intensely and grieve so deeply. You feel so very raw and tender. Your heart has exploded.

The grief is unpredictable and crazy-making. It is not a linear process; it is labyrinthine passage — unique and idiosyncratic for each and every one. There is no right or wrong, good or bad or, even, a specific time frame. Grief can be complicated, especially with unexpected deaths. It takes time — as much time as you need — and gentleness to work through the many layers of feelings for you to find a breathable perspective on your devastating reality.

And in the throes of accepting the heart-shattering reality of your loss, you may look for signs or symbols that connect you with your loved one. The dog barking madly in your now-absent son’s room; a big heart drawn on the sidewalk on a special date; a dream where you have a conversation with your child; or a girl, so like yours, who approaches you and hugs you for seemingly no logical reason. It feels as if the universe is offering you comfort and connection. And this may soothe your aching heart.

You want your loss to matter, to mean something. You decide to take action and you put feet on your grief. Perhaps, you create a remembrance to never forget or you bring energy and life to some course of action that honors your loved one. Out of your heartbreak, you look to create alchemy that allows something new, tender and hopeful to grow out this tsunami of grief. This precious loss will not be in vain, not on your watch.

The loss of your young person does not fade away, nor does it diminish over time, but it can be transformative. You carry a wiser, more compassionate heart because you have swum in the murky, heavy waters of grief. You understand more fully that life is dearest and most meaningful when shared with others.

Perhaps, most surprisingly, you discover that the wide-open explosion of your heart created a kind of spontaneous combustion that allows you to hold a still-point of light. You are now able to illuminate the dark for others who have been sucker-punched by grief. And this heart light will hold you steady as you breathe and step forward into a new day, knowing that you carry your young one with you, now and forever more.

Gentleness, strength and grief

dandelion “The greatest strength is gentleness.” 

 Iroquois Proverb

 

In today’s world, gentleness is not seen as a virtue, much less a strength. I agree with the Iroquois; gentleness is an exquisite strength. It calls us to be present, mindful and caring, the complete opposite of the hot reactor.

Gentleness is a loving gift we give to one another when we really listen and hear and allow. Gentleness speaks of attention and awareness. Gentleness is a requisite in grief. Gentleness opens the door to grief in whatever manner and form it presents itself. Gentleness sets the tone and creates the environment, be it physical or emotional, for acceptance of whatever the grief-stricken needs at that moment in time.

I think it takes practice, patience and kindness to be gentle. We have to s-l-o-w down and not run roughshod over the person before us. And it is ever so important to be gentle with ourselves as well — to tone down the woulda/coulda/shoulda’s, to stop berating ourselves for the what ifs, and to cease taking ourselves apart, bit by bit.

With gentleness, we sit next door to compassion and we can begin to heal.

And so it is.