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Posts Tagged grief

When Love and Death are Teachers

lens1635638_1316755611angel_grief_rome

This is a dark and dismal season of grief for me. Three months ago I lost my mother, and within this last week I have lost my oldest childhood friend, my anam cara my soul sister

I still remember the first moment that I saw her. She was a tiny little waif, leaning against my grandmother and laughing at something that had just been said. I was a lover of fairy tales and with her blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and pixie face, my eight year old self imagined that here standing before me, in my very own kitchen, was Goldilocks!

At eight she enchanted me, by ten she was fully integrated into my family, and by twelve she was my confidant and best friend. Im not sure when she became my sister and an essential part of me, but she did.

Her maiden name was Joy, which was both fitting and ironic. As a young child she and her younger brothers had been removed from her parents and placed into foster care. As a very young woman, one of her brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by the sudden death of his twin. Next, soon after she and her estranged father began building a relationship, he died from lung cancer. And then, eight years ago, her husband of nineteen years went to work one morning and never came home. He died instantly, leaving her to finish raising three of their four children alone.

Yesterday, as the great storm Nemo surged towards them, those same beautiful children bravely and graciously greeted friends and family who had come to honor their mothers life. She had gone into the hospital with pneumonia and died there.

The amount of pain and suffering she and her children have faced at such tender ages is completely incomprehensible to me. The temptation to scream up at the heavens, why!!!!!!!! why!!!!!!!!!! Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!! sits wound tightly in my chest, threatening to explode, scattering pieces of my shattered self everywhere.

Her maiden name was Joy. And even as she struggled on a daily basis with the fallout of a heart broken way too young and far too often, she embraced her life and held it and those within its orbit close and tenderly. She created countless special memories for her husband and children, faced her fears, followed her heart, and sweetly coaxed me to join her from time to time. For the past three springs I told her that I thought I could manage a visit during the summer, and apologized each autumn when my plans to visit fell through.

She called me right after my mother died and left a message explaining that she knew that I might not have the energy to call back right away, (I didnt) and that she would simply be waiting patiently when I was ready to talk. She emailed me at Christmas time and warned me that the holidays would be brutal, but that Id get through them. I emailed her back and thanked her and promised that Id call her soon. That was our final contact. Now there will be no more phone calls, no more heart to heart talks, no more promises, no more summers

Shortly after losing her husband, she lamented that in working so long and hard in preparation for retirement, he had missed so many tiny inconsequential and yet precious moments. She had made a promise to herself at his funeral that she wouldnt postpone pleasure in the interest of a tomorrow that might never come. She kept that promise.

Stephanie Ericsson wrote:

Grief is a tidal wave that over takes you
smashes down upon you with unimaginable force,
sweeps you up into its darkness,
where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces,
only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped

Grief will make a new person out of you,
if it doesnt kill you in the making.

Its not my grief that threatens to mortally wound me, its my love. And its not my love that has proven to be my greatest teacher, its my grief.

Thirty five years ago four teenagers sat late into the night talking about life and death and making predictions about how their lives would turn out. Before separating in the wee hours of the morning, they made a pact that when they were fifty they would come back together and see whose predictions came true. They never kept that oath. Not because they got too busy, or forgot their promise along the way, but because the only one who lived to see her fiftieth birthday was me.

I grieved deeply each time I lost one of them, and yet failed repeatedly to fully grasp the profound lesson contained within each death. Its a lesson that we learn over and over again without fully comprehending, one that we pay lip service to but seldom turn our lives around to meet. Those we love will die. WE WILL DIE. And so, we must make of our love a sacred practice, allowing it to flow through our lives like a mighty river. We must invite ourselves to fall in love with life over and over again, allowing life and love to become inseparable.

Both my mother and Missie, my golden girl, are gone now, and this is more loss than I can face today. But theres something that Ive learned through the terrible pain of earlier losses which sustains me. The intensity of this grief will fade even as its lesson comes more clearly into focus. Life is a gift of unknown duration the only certainty is that it ends, and so we must learn to hold it lovingly and closely, like Missie did.

Her maiden name was Joy.

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Living with Grief and Listening to Winter

hughes Heart of Snow

The sky is grey today.  My boots crunch and my body tenses when I first step out into this frigid January morning.  I move slowly, huddled against  the cold,  still baring the gravity of  grief and the weariness of long nights with too few exits and too many echoes.

Getting out of bed took little effort yesterday,  my mind was alert,  my movements fluid, and the sun was shining.  I breathed a sigh of relief, finally able to recognize the promise of a morning  without my mother in it.  I didnt have to force myself to leave my house, and I jogged and jumped and danced during my water aerobics class. My body felt light and graceful.  It was going to be a good day.

Someone began to sing, these boots are made for walking and I cheerfully joined her in song, hands on my hips and legs lifting high.  And then my eyes met those of a woman who is older than my mother and the pain slammed into my chest without warning.  I was breathless as a memory consumed all of my oxygen. My young and sexy mother is singing that song while I  prance around her in my imaginary boots.  We are pointing at each other, warning that one of these days these boots are going to walk all over you.  In that moment, all was perfect.  The depression had not found her, she was cancer free - healthy,  happy, and ALIVE.  I was safe.

My eyes filled with tears and to my horror, it occurred to me that I could start crying in a public pool surrounded by perfectly nice and normal women. I took a deep breath, clenched my jaw, called upon my well practiced will, and pulled myself together.

Rumi wrote that our lives are like guest houses. If my life truly is like a guest house, then grief, an unwelcome guest, has settled in for the time being. I cannot move out, and there will be no eviction. And so, If Im to avoid structural and collateral damage, then Ill  need to make accommodations.  Grief, I will make a place at my table for you, but I will not feed you.  Instead, I will infuse my cooking with love and gratitude and nurture my family with them.  And I will stop wasting energy trying to lock you out, instead, Ill open all of my windows and invite beauty in.

My walk is complete. I return to the home that I now share with grief, close the door, absorb the heat, and resolve to not long for spring, but to listen to winter

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,
what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

David Whyte

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Losing My Mother

My mother and I two weeks before she died

 

“ One of my experiences in those first weeks – and I kept experiencing it to a diminishing degree through the ensuing months – was a feeling of being a smaller, lesser, more inconsequential person than I had been when she was alive.  Her loss made me feel less substantial, or more naked.  I had never recognized until then how she had amplified me, reflected me back and made me more believable to myself.  That had developed so gradually through our years together  that I had never noticed it, but when she was no longer there I suddenly felt – it’s hard to put into words – flimsy.”  William Bridges, The Way of Transition”  (Bridges is writing about the death of his wife, Mondi.)

 

My mother died at 4:20 on a Sunday morning in November.   I was stroking her face and singing her a love song  when she gently slipped away.   It was though I had sung her to sleep, and for that comfort I will be eternally grateful.

My heart is too full of grief and love and regret and gratitude to make room for my brain to fully process this experience yet or to find the words to share with you what is running through my mind and body right now.   What strikes me the most today is that while I have experienced the heavy heartedness of loss and grief before, never has my heart been this heavy, so leaden that I am absolutely exhausted carrying it around.

In Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places, James Hollis observes, “The word ‘grief’ derives from the Latin gravis, ‘to bear,’ and from which we get our word ‘gravity.’  To experience grief is not only to bear the heaviness of the condition but, again, to testify to depth as well.”  The gravity of my grief leads me down into the depths of both my longing and my love.  One moment I am strong;  I am the comforter; the matriarch, and the next, I am weeping without warning a motherless child, a woman  underwater struggling for air.

Hollis also wrote, “When we lose a loved one, we need to grieve that loss and yet consciously value what we have internalized from that person.  The parent who suffers the empty nest syndrome, for example, suffers less the loss of the child than the implicit identity which went with being that child’s parent.  The energy invested in that role is now available for a different direction.  So, we honor best those we have lost by making their contribution to our lives conscious, living with that value deliberately, and incorporating that value in the ongoing life enterprise.  This is the proper conversion of inescapable loss into this evanescent life.  Such conversion is not denial but transformation.  Nothing which is internalized is ever lost.  Even in loss, then, something soulful remains.”

I am Brenda Byram’s daughter and it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps part of the heaviness I am experiencing now is the weight of my inheritance, the riches that I carry forward in this life.   My mother  taught me so much about what it is to love, about how to listen deeply, to be generous, to recognize the beauty that exists within friends and strangers alike, to hear what was left unspoken, and  how to make of myself a safe harbor that gently welcomes and provides shelter and sustenance.

While her childhood had been painful enough to break both of our hearts, and the canvas of her life contained a mad mix of both light and darkness, it was art at its finest – complex, authentic  and beautiful.   And I am still working through the vast array of lessons contained within the multitude of stories that made up my mother’s life and death.

Following her mother’s death Deborah Sumner wrote, “My fear is that I lost more than my mom; I lost an ally, a protector, a counselor, and a confidante. Even though shes not physically here, shes still a huge part of who I am. I have all her years of wisdom and advice to look back on and tap into when I need it, and that gives me strength to face my fear.”

Once I was asked to answer quickly and without thinking what I was good at, and I was startled by the immediacy and intensity of my response.  I answered, “I am good at love.”  It’s what my mother taught me how to do best how to love.  Thank you Mom.   I love you now and always….

 

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Therapy Worksheets: A Wonderful Resource

Will Baum has put together a wonderful blog entitled therapy worksheets which offers links to several online worksheets helpful to those working on a number of issues including but not limited to: anger management, ptsd. ocd, panic disorder, depression, alcohol addiction, anxiety, grief, and much more.
I encourage you to check it out!

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