“Signs for the Living”

Signs for the Living

Sometimes, after the last snow in May,

after the red-winged blackbird clutches the spine

of the cattail, after he leans forward, droops

his wings, and flashes his epaulets, I imagine

shouldering the yellow center lines of the road.

 

Near the recently thawed pond, within a long

channel of construction, a man holding a sign.

One side says slow, the other stop.

Joy and sorrow always run like parallel lines.

 

Inside the house, when I leave the lights on,

small white moths come like a collection of worship,

pulsing their wings up and up the window,

as if a frenzied trancelike dance,

some dervishes, the others penitent on shaky knees.

 

The first few years after my husband’s suicide

I wanted to the penitent.

I thought I deserved all the pain I could feel.

The drill of roadwork in late summer

was a welcome grinding music.

Now the yellow center lines are flung like braids behind me.

 

by Didi Jackson

(as seen in The New Yorker, October 2, 2017 )

 

RIP: The collateral heartache of trauma and violence

This week, there have been three suicides as a result of trauma and violence, two student survivors of the Parkland, FL school shooting and one parent who lost a child in the Newtown school shooting. This is beyond heartbreaking for both families and school communities who have struggled valiantly to deal with the reality and aftermath of  their respective horrors.

Generally speaking, suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame; a plea for help; a response to mental illness and biological vulnerabilities; the last gasp of despair and resignation; a consequence of hopelessness and isolation; an impulsive mistake; a conscious ending of life; the ultimate act of rage and fury; the result of unabated terror; a response to abandonment; the repercussion of accumulated stressors; as well as collateral damage from violence, addiction, and trauma.

In these cases, it is the collateral damage from the trauma of the school shootings and the ensuing complicated grief that most certainly influenced these suicides.

This collateral damage can leave you reeling with extreme emotional pain, gutted by the traumatic endings of  your loved ones’ lives and a high probability of survivor’s guilt.

Deep, intractable, dark-holed depression and breath-inhibiting, complicated grief can leave you in a tight, cramped, airless space where you can feel stuck, profoundly tired, deeply detached and disconnected. You can hurt all over. Nothing makes sense. Your thinking becomes binary, right or wrong, good or bad. In a word, boxed.

You can feel utterly despondent and despairing. Grief can sucker punch you in unexpected waves and leave you swimming in tears. Your sense of self has melted. There is overriding pain, conflicting emotions and, often, a continuous replay of the traumatic and violent specifics that leave you helpless and in agony for your lost loved one. Further, as with all grief and trauma, each experience opens the door to the memory of other experience of loss and trauma.

These three suicides serve as a highly charged cautionary tale that complicated grief and trauma leave our loved ones dangerously close to the edge. Clearly, it’s not easy. It is challenging and calls for all of our compassion, understanding and support of those who have found themselves walking this very challenging (in all possible ways) and, possibly, lethal path.

Suicide is not a natural response. If I were to put a pillow over your face, you would instinctively fight me. The pain, the big grief and the trauma had to be so big for each of these individuals to make the choice they did.

May all three of these survivors of the unthinkable find their respective long-lost peace and be held in the light.

 

Sally and the Sparklers

Two weeks after the funeral, 5-year-old Sally came to see me early one Saturday morning. She was wearing her mom’s leather jacket that dragged across the floor. She looked so small and vulnerable as she came into my psychotherapy office. Sally was there to talk about her grandmother who had died recently. We talked a lot about her grandmother, who had created memorable adventures and fun on their annual summer beach vacation.

Somehow, a ceremony of some sort seemed in order and we decide to create an impromptu ritual to honor her special relationship with her grandmother. At the last moment of preparation, I spontaneously dive into the back of my closet and come out with a buried box of sparklers – for some reason, they seemed like just the right touch.

Sally and I are standing on the back porch of my office when her mom comes up the stairs and looks at me wide-eyed and silently mouths, “I will tell you later.”

As the rain pings off the stairs and banister, all three of us solemnly light our sparklers and silently send our thoughts and blessings to her fun-loving grandmother.

Sally’s mom calls later and tells me that sparklers were an annual tradition with the grandmother. How did I know? I didn’t. But I feel fairly certain that Sally’s grandmother had guided me in some way. And those seconds of sparkly light gave Sally the farewell she needed from her grandmother who, unbeknownst to me, brought sparklers to every beach vacation.

From my perspective, our loved ones are still cheering us on from the other side of the veil. A truly, who couldn’t do with a little sparkly light when our lives have become cloudy.

Held and remembered

The other day, a small rectangle of a yellowed newspaper article, taped onto a cut piece of an index card, fell out of book that was a pass-along from a friend. I was touched by the compassion of these words, the knowing of the hold and pull of grief on the heart as well as the talisman these words served for my beloved, long-time friend:

“You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You recognize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrow and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevator first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember.” (Author unknown)

The second piece of paper to flutter out of the book was a post-it reading “Be here now.” Again, how apropos amidst the bittersweet knot of loss to be reminded to stay present, carrying on with our hearts full of love and memory. As our unknown author says, “to keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember.”

I have two thoughts: One, a life well lived, clearly carrying forward the memory of our loved one, is the greatest homage to the one(s) we have lost. And two, the ones who are no longer physically present are most certainly present within our hearts and our souls. I often feel they are the quiet guides who help us along the way.

We remember. We hold. We go forward with our someone in our heart.

 

Hope or a sky without stars

“…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 SmithBlue Shoes and Happiness

Griefwalker: a film

A touching and beautiful Canadian documentary (2008) on death and dying. This film runs 1 hour and 10 minutes.

This is from the Canadian National Film Board:

“This documentary introduces us to Stephen Jenkinson, once the leader of a palliative care counselling team at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Through his daytime job, he has been at the deathbed of well over 1,000 people. What he sees over and over, he says, is “a wretched anxiety and an existential terror” even when there is no pain. Indicting the practice of palliative care itself, he has made it his life’s mission to change the way we die – to turn the act of dying from denial and resistance into an essential part of life.”

Here is the link to the film:

Griefwalker

 

 

Go gently with your big heart

Go gently with your big heart. It is not a curse or a burden, but a gift that allows you to hold the universe in your being with love.

Go gently with your big heart. It is the doorway to mystery, the path to mastery and the road to compassion.

Go gently with your big heart. It is the opening that allows you to be your best, reach your fullest and connect with the divine.

Go gently with your big heart, it is the answer to your prayers.

 

“Too many things are occurring

for even a big heart to hold.”

from an essay by W.B. Yeats

Suicide and Soul Loss

Not all suicides are defined by mental illness, substance abuse, and unrelenting pain. There are many ways in which we see and interpret the world. From time immemorial, the soul, our spark of being, has been viewed as our primary force of life. It is what animates us.

If we have been abused, humiliated, oppressed, terrorized, tortured, traumatized, or hurt physically or emotionally in any powerful way, our soul can be crushed. Our life force leaks out. We are no longer our whole selves. We have lost some of our light and we are hunkered down in a protective, survival mode. If the soul loss is profound, we become numb, hollow, and begin to move through life in a disconnected, zombie-like way. We see profound soul loss in the eyes of our military, childhood sexual abuse survivors, and the severely bullied, to name a few.

Soul loss should also be considered a primary cause for suicide. Soul loss does not necessarily preclude the diagnostic criteria, but, instead, often views the diagnostic criteria as further evidence of soul loss.

The Indigenous world has long honored the soul. Illness, depression, trauma, and other Western-labeled maladies are explained as soul loss.

If the soul is tended, then the body, mind, and heart can heal.

To explain further, here is an example:

In South America, a young girl is no longer speaking. She has become totally silent. Her parents take her to doctors and specialists, but to no avail. As a last resort, they drive to a village in the country and take their daughter to a local shaman. He tells them to leave their daughter with his tribe for the week. The shaman then instructs the women to bathe the girl daily and, while bathing her, they are to sing her healing songs. At the end of the week, the girl begins to speak and tells of the rape she had recently endured. She had refound her voice and was healed.

I suggest that soul loss runs parallel to psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which looks at the mind-body (and often, spirit) interaction. Science does recognize that our thoughts and feelings influence our well-being. As a result, we now see more holistic treatments, an awareness of the role of the soul, as well as an acceptance of assorted energy modalities to help bring the individual back to wholeness.

Understanding the ramifications of soul loss is an important factor in looking at suicide and suicide prevention. If we don’t feed our souls, we lose our animation and our energies dissipate. We would be well served to consider soul loss when assessing suicidality.

A sin, really?

I read an excerpt from a book by an esteemed medical professional who has been an advocate for the holistic and metaphysical for decades. This book relates a discussion of sin with his guide, who allowed that “self-suicide” (his unusual word choice) is a sin. I so disagree, adamantly and viscerally disagree.

Where does all this judgment come from? This is not sounding God-like or part of higher consciousness, much less soul development. If you believe in past lives, more than likely your soul experienced a suicide.

The Divine is full of compassion, not judgment. And, by the way, the word “sin” comes from the Aramaic meaning to “miss the mark.” When we struggle and try to find our way through our fears, conditioning, reactions, and wounds, we often miss the mark. Hello, being human. Earth school is where we learn and develop and, hopefully, expand our consciousness to the degree that we perceive the oneness in all and respond accordingly.

Suicide is not a sin. Not only do I feel that down to the marrow of my bones, I have had confirmation with the spirit world and deceased souls. Yes, I talk to dead people.

On the 3D level, suicide, first and foremost, is about pain, pain of all levels and intensities. Suicide also speaks to trauma, substance abuse, mental health, emotional alienation, guilt, shame, neurochemistry and genetic fragilities. Suicide is a response to a confluence of factors that lead to a tipping point where the choice is made, be it well-considered or impulsive.

On the soul level, suicide can be a choice to do important work from the other side, leave compassion as a legacy, re-arrange dynamics and situations as part of a soul contract, a death of the ego, a teaching lesson and much more.

Judgment around suicide is hurtful. Condemnation around suicide serves no purpose than to further alienate us from one another and the divine. Compassion is the only response to suicide.

Allow me to repeat: suicide is not a sin.

The Path of Grief

Grief is akin to putting on your hip waders and walking into the deep, murky water of your psyche, the home of your inner life, where there are churning emotions and roiling thoughts along with forgotten bits and pieces. The footing is rocky, uneven, and unpredictable. You never quite know what will slide up against you or tangle your footing. There is so much you cannot see or discern beneath the waters. You move slowly and tentatively forward, sweeping debris and sludge away from your person, and choking back tears. Sometimes, you stand stock-still until there is enough fortitude to take another step. It’s an arduous, crazy-making process. And it’s a game-changer, too. Your worldview is forever changed, and your heart is re-assembled.