Viewing entries tagged
loss

Happy New Year!

The Heart Connected highlights of 2016 include publishing my first book and the Heart Connected Retreat. I am so grateful to the courageous souls alongside me on this journey.

The Heart Connected highlights of 2016 include publishing my first book and the Heart Connected Retreat. I am so grateful to the courageous souls alongside me on this journey.


Hello! Happy New Year!

I hope you are finding peace and joy in this New Year. 2017 is bound to have some surprises in store for us (I think it's safe to say that is already the case).

I will be honest: the last two years have been tumultuous over here, so I am grateful for this new beginning and I welcome it with open arms. The extremes have been intense from both ends of the spectrum. I've experienced some of the lowest lows and the highest highs. Ever. In as much as trying to ride these waves has been challenging, I know the extremes are real and true to the nature of life. I am even grateful for them. 

What I didn't expect, is that all of it felt a lot like grief to me.

I have known that grief in and of itself is a universal experience. Every human will experience loss and grief as a result of that loss. Grief is so much bigger than that though. It is ongoing. There is always something calling to be grieved. At the same time, generally speaking, I've seen a lot of resistance to the word: grief. I understand it sounds daunting and is most often associated with death so not many of us welcome even the idea of grief at our doors. The word grief could be an onomatopoeia after all. It starts out strong with a fierce G in the same way grief can catch us off guard and then softens, potentially leaving a person in a puddle.

Contrary to what most would think, I continue to see how grief sets us free. Once one agrees to face the sadness, heartbreak, angst, and anger that comes with grief, and allows that grief to break her open, it is just a matter of time before spirits are lifted. Grieving is more like a release valve than it is an anchor.

With the release of my book My New Friend, Grief, I've had the extreme privilege of meeting and some awe-inspiring people. I've also connected with people I already knew in new and powerful ways. I wish I could transcribe each and every courageous conversation I've had with these lovely beings because there is so much to be gained from sharing our stories with one another. To me, the most important reminder I receive in each of these exchanges is that none of us is alone. We are in this together. There is some comfort in that.

At the same time, I am aware in every cell of my body of the emotional climate here in America. It is intense like the waves I, and many of my friends and family, experienced in 2016. Americans are on high alert and it doesn't even matter which "side of the aisle" we cast our vote upon anymore. What we're facing is not a matter of taking sides. What I see is a crisis situation where many of our citizens are feeling betrayed by the sides to which they have pledged allegiance. I have great compassion for that sense of betrayal and I cannot deny that in the midst of betrayal we will never know the true scale of the battles being fought by those on whom we depend. I do know there are some, really good people, fighting hard to defend basic human rights for all of us. Sometimes lately we cannot even seem to agree on what is basic though. 

My faith lies in the balance between what is known and unknown and I believe that despite what we hear on the news each day and despite what we've come to believe about our leaders and each other, more good than bad is available to us.

In the meantime, we must learn to cope with the extremes and maybe even feel peace as we experience them. I think much of our challenge lies in a culture that tells us to "get over it". The only way I know to get over it, is to first feel it. All of it. Sometimes I fear it will destroy me. But, guess what, I'm still here. Only after the emotions have moved through me, can I let anything go. Sometimes what I've released comes back to me and the process of feeling it begins again. I don't know how Americans will ever move beyond this discontent we are experiencing without first feeling the betrayal, the anger, the fear, the sadness, and even the jubilation that some want the freedom to feel. Denying these feelings exist is holding us back.

We are entitled to our feelings.

As hard as I've seen people trying, none of us can deny how another person feels. It isn't okay to say another person can't or shouldn't feel the way they feel. Let's not do that anymore. Let's let each other feel what we need to feel. Let's hold space for those feelings, even when they are uncomfortable, knowing they are only feelings.

I dare you.

Just try it. The next time someone you know or someone you barely know expresses a feeling and you don't think that feeling is justified, instead of denying the feeling out loud or even in your head, simply say I hear you. Maybe even say that sounds hard.

You might be amazed. The power of making space for feelings lies in the simple effect it has on our bodies. We relax. We soften. We open. We develop compassion for person to whom we are speaking and, ultimately, we have compassion for ourselves.

Let it be known that grief is normal, natural, safe, and it can set us free

Thank you for being here. Let's do this, 2017!

xo

Be free...!

Three Gifts Grief Gave Me

On the first anniversary of my dad's death we celebrated him

Six years ago today, at this time, I was running errands around town. I had cramps. That evening my dad came to take my son James to his guitar lesson, and when he brought him home again, I probably said, "Bye Dad! Love you!" A few hours after that, I stood in my dad's shed with my mom, a couple police officers, and an EMS guy or two. My dad sat there too, hunched over his work bench. He had slipped away. That is what the police officer in my parents' driveway told me when I arrived. Lights flashing on the ambulance in the road. Me hoping the quiet that greeted me meant everything was okay - no rushing, no emergency here.

How can it be that something that has been true for six years still seems like such a shock sometimes? So unreal. So NOT true?

Grief is full of surprises. It hasn't been shy about sharing its tricks with me. It also brought many gifts.

First, grief doesn't go away. There is no "getting over it". Grief beats in my chest like my heart. It is always there, even when I'm not aware of it. Sometimes, I am tuned in to my grief. On days like today, I deliberately, mindfully tap into it. I take its pulse. I listen in, wondering how powerful it is now - is it moving forcefully? Gently? Most of the time, I'm not thinking about it. I'm so used to my grief at this point that it is like any other part of me. My eyes, my nose, my grief. The truth is - it has always been there. I've been losing and grieving those losses since I first claimed anything as mine. My dad's death forced me to feel grief in ways I had never let myself feel before. And now, I cannot unknow my grief. I am grateful for its presence and the way it has allowed me to feel deeply, intensely, without censorship, judgment, or expectations that it will go away some day. It's so much less intimidating now. We work together.

Second, "until death do us part" is mere poetry. Love lives on, way past the time the body holding it expires. And the Spirit was never really contained to begin with. My dad's love is a constant, like grief, moving in me, around me, and through all the people and places my dad touched. And, also, through the people and places that touched my dad. It is in my children even if their Papaw is but a faint memory. It gives me so much comfort to know in every morsel of my being that even in the absence of his body, my dad's Spirit lives on. Eternally. Not that doesn't keep me from wanting one last hug. I'd still love to see his face. Hear his voice. And, at the same time, I feel his Spirit. I relish in the cardinals he sends to check in, the guitar picks he leaves in random places, and the pennies he sends us from heaven. He is all around.

And finally, I was wrong in the hours, days, months, and years I spent feeling all alone in the world. Feeling damaged and broken, unworthy. I was always wondering, waiting, needing, and wanting confirmation that I was being held in some way, by some one. I didn't know it but, I was (good) enough all along. I was wise. I was whole. I was loved from the moment I became but a twinkle in my mother's eye. I have never been alone. Nope. By virtue of my humanity, I am deeply rooted in Creation. Connected to the Source - our Creator - and all living things. I am of the dirt, the sun, the stars, the moon, the lakes, and the seas. I am in the wind and the rain. My ancestors who came before me hold me still. We are all part of a Collective. We are one. And as the Earth spins on its axis, so do I, a magnificent microcosm of all that is, was, or ever will be. What a relief. I am not alone. I am whole. I carry all I need to know within me. I always have. I always will. And, the same is true for you.

There's more. Grief gives its gifts freely. It has taught me at least 100 other lessons in these six years. And, there's still more to learn. There always will be. In all ways. On all levels. The learning never ends.

And so, I thank Grief for what it came to teach me. I still wish it had been another way, and I know that was never a possibility. My dad's death was an important part of his journey, his contract. I am forever grateful for his legacy and for his love, which remains in our midst.

Peace to all the grieving hearts, aware of the losses, that devastate and leave us wondering why. Peace to the grief that lives within us, teaching us what it means to feel. Peace to all. xo


My dad, my sister Sarah, and me

My parents and their grandchildren, except little Aedan who arrived later

One of my favorite photos of my dad

My dad's work boots, bandana, and gloves

You Are Held. For real.




Some Thoughts on Pain and Suffering (with love)

There are many stories I want to share about the surgery I had on July 27, but they aren't ready to be told. Among them though is this new, unexpected, sister story that I really do want to share. Now. Even though it may not be ready either.

It started a couple weeks after my surgery. Everything went well with the surgery and initially I felt great. Then my body (specifically my skin) moved ahead with its own agenda. 


I quickly developed wounds where my skin refused to cooperate. Two weeks ago I had a second procedure. My skin is stubborn. So now, this is how it goes once, usually twice each day: I work up the courage to change my dressings. I peel back the existing dressing on one side of my body. I peel back the existing dressing on the other side. I apply ointment to non-adhering transparent gauze and then place that gauze, ever so tenderly, over my wounds. I cover that with regular white gauze and adhere it to my body with surgical tape. Finally, I adhere a surgical pad over the gauze with more tape. I am very well padded.


There is wincing. And often tears. There is curiosity, wonder, doubt, fear, and occasionally regret.

I have restrictions. I cannot do the things I want or need to do and I've grown weary from asking other people to do them for me. I am walking a fine line between sustaining the strength I know I need to sustain to properly care for myself and withdrawing into my warm, cozy bed. Indefinitely. I cry a lot lately.

I miss the things I can't do now. The things that normally bring me comfort and joy. Bear hugs, bubble baths, and yoga to name a few. Believe it or not, I even miss my ability to do laundry - to carry heavy things.

And every single day I think about the other people. The people who have been doing something just like this for weeks, months or even years. For themselves or for someone they love dearly. I think about how those daily rituals affect these other people. I wonder how they keep going? If they keep going?

I often think about what goes on under our cleverly cloaked faces and bodies. The pain that resides beneath the surface is no stranger to me. I carry it frequently. I know anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and grief from all of it. It creeps up when I am not expecting it. I wonder who is in it with me - at the grocery store, at my son's soccer game, on Facebook. I know there are others. I feel for them.

And now I have a new understanding of another kind of pain that nobody can see. Wounds that are dressed and then dressed again for protection - and hiding. The wounds we don't discuss when we see friends around town. The wounds we carry all by ourselves. 

In these moments I think about the way we treat each other on this planet. I think about the ways we can be so quick to criticize one another. I think about the ways we so carelessly inflict pain on each other - with words, with our bodies, and with weapons. In our own homes, on the playground, in the board room, on the field, and all around town, we hurt each other. Often. It is usually on the defense. We want to protect ourselves from each other's choices, actions, and beliefs. We hope none of it is contagious. We don't want our kids to catch it. We lash out. And we have no clue about how the other person came to these choices, these actions, or these beliefs. And we don't even care. We lash out anyway.

These thoughts have been lurking in my head for days. I write to process things. These thoughts and this experience are things that need to be processed. I kinda don't want to process them though. They aren't easy for me to face. They are heavy. So why would I share them? Why today? Because this morning I woke up to learn that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. And I thought about all those people I know are out there suffering in silence and I wanted to tell them (you... us...) something...

You are not your experience. I am not mine. I am not my wounds, my pain, or my suffering and either are you. I don't care who you vote for or whether you vote at all. I don't care who you pray to or whether you pray at all. I don't care if you kneel before altars in churches or build your own altars on the beach or at home. I don't care if you use your when you mean you're. I don't care where you went to school, where you work, or where you live. I don't care what kind of car you drive or if you even drive at all. I don't care if you swear like a sailor or speak with the eloquence of the Dali Lama. I don't care if your body is covered in tattoos or moisturizer. None of that matters to me (although some of it is really interesting to me and I might want to talk more about it later... Without judgment.). The only thing I do care about is that you don't hurt yourself because of the stories - the lies - you've come to believe about your situation. And, I ask, please do not hurt others.

Ask for help, even if it is hard and you think you might have worn out your welcome.

I will too.

Sit with what you need to for as long as you need to, but please don't suffer alone in silence. It's not necessary.

I love you. God loves you. The Universe loves you. Mama Earth loves you. You are lovable and worthy of all the love you can imagine. It's true.

Heading to the doctor now... letting the tears flow. I'll be the one with the runny mascara. 

xoxo


Be gentle with yourself. 
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. 
In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. 
- Max Ehrmann


an old favorite


 

Hope in the Holes

Looking Up

I was in eighth grade when I first considered suicide. I decided on pills. That is as far as I got. In the space between knowing without a doubt that the people in my life would be better off without me, and swallowing pills, I found the holes in my story. I saw hope in those holes.

There have been times since then when I have imagined dying. About four years ago, after my dad died and all the pain I had stuffed deep down inside came rushing out and over me, I wanted to disappear. I thought about how the people I love most in the world would go on without me. I knew they would be happier. They would have less to worry about. Their lives would be more peaceful. They could move on. I imagined being shot. Getting hit by a car. Having a heart attack on the treadmill. These were times where I felt hopeless. Helpless. I knew I had to snap out of it - suck it up and get on with my life, and I didn't know how to keep going.

Can you imagine being that desperate? In so much pain that I would even consider welcoming the possibility of leaving this behind?

My people.

It is an infinite amount of pain.

It is painful thinking about it now. I cannot even imagine being in such a dark place now, and yet I have been there. Sitting here in this moment, I am at a loss for words to describe my gratitude for the people I love. I am grateful for every second I spend with them. I know they love me. I know I am blessed. 

In my darkest moments, I still lose sight of the beauty that surrounds me. It is truly unimaginable now - when I am grateful and at peace - sitting in the sunshine. In the darkness, I feel lost. Hopeless. Helpless. Worthless. I lose faith.

There are numerous triggers - things that happen that can send me down a dark path. I run anxious and I always have. In an average day any of the seemingly small things that a person faces can stress me out. Things like social situations, having to make small talk, returning items to the store, driving in heavy traffic… Depending on what else is happening in my life, I might fall into depression.

Mostly, looking back over my life, my depression occurs when I believe I am falling short. It comes from the belief that I am not enough. It comes from my certainty that other people also believe that I am not enough. All the lists of the reasons that I am not enough compiled in my head are the impetus for shame. As I grew older, and especially since I've become a wife and a mother, there was guilt. There is always something to feel guilty about.

With a lot of soul searching and some anti-anxiety medication, with time and yoga and writing and art, with therapy and life coaching, and the support of my husband, I cleared space to come up for air. For the most part, anything that was ever a source of shame is now just a piece of me and my story. It has been rendered powerless. In retrospect it is usually an opportunity to transform into something meaningful. Something beautiful.

I try not to stuff the pain anymore. I don't like to let it fester. I sit with it. I feel it. I look for lessons in it. I thank it. I let it go.

None of this is easy for me. I am not always good at it. It is messy. It can be really ugly. The process of working through it though makes all the sweetness waiting on the other side even sweeter. The beauty is more beautiful. The glory is more glorious. I can appreciate all the goodness in a much richer way now that I allow myself to experience and move through the pain. I am grateful I can say I know what it's like on the other side of the pain. I am grateful for the courage and support required to look up, to move on and out of it.

I haven't solved anything. I'm not cured. Living and working through my depression is a process. Life is a process for me. It is a practice. With practice and knowledge and support, I get stronger. I bounce back more quickly. Things don't look quite as bleak as they used to. I have faith that there is something bigger than me at work in the world, and that I can be of service to that force. I know I am loved. I try to keep my blessings in focus - when I acknowledge those blessings it is harder to fall down the rabbit hole.

This, obviously, comes in the wake of the death of Robin Williams, another great talent gone too soon. He was one of my favorites. I'm taking this opportunity to share a bit of what I know to be true. That even when things look fine on the outside, it can be a facade. Behind the scenes there might be turmoil. 

This is a truth that more of us are coming to accept as we see past the misconception of neat packages, nice clothes, good hair, pretty faces, hot bodies, successful careers, power, money, big houses, and fast cars. Behind it all, we are just people doing the best we can. 

A lot of us are encouraging those who suffer with depression to seek help. I think that is sound counsel. And, I also invite each of us to be a little kinder to each other. To be more compassionate. To search for the beauty and the love and the sweetness in the bramble of the berry patch that is life. The good is in there and there is a lot of it - enough for everyone.

Suicide is not a selfish act. It can feel that way to those of us left behind. Suicide is a desperate act. Of course, it isn't something that can really be generalized. And yet, I feel confident in saying that a person who takes his or her own life is not doing it for selfish reasons. I believe suicide occurs when the victim thinks the world would be a better place without them.

It is an infinite amount of pain.

It us up to each of us to prove to one another that we are each here for a reason - to enjoy the uniqueness of one other and the beautiful experiences that life has to offer. The world is a better place because of us, not in spite of us. That is our challenge actually - to accept that it is better because of us, and to keep working to make it even better. And better. And better.

It would be fun if we did it together.

************

My sister is a social worker who works with Veterans at the VA Hospital in Ann, Arbor, Michigan. I asked her to share some of what she and her colleagues use as a safety plan for clients with suicidal ideation. While seeking professional help is the very best option for those who need it, I thought this might be of use too:

Very General Components for A Safety Plan

  1. These are the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that describe how I am experiencing...
  2. These are things I can do to feel better, or to distract myself from these thoughts…
  3. These are people I can talk to when I'm feeling down (make sure to have contact information handy)…
  4. These are the professionals I can reach out to… Include the National Suicide Prevention Line, and keep in mind that loved ones can call support lines for help too: 1-800-273-8255 (also include 911)
  5. What can I do to make my environment safe...
  6. How will you ensure you use this plan? (where will you keep it, etc.)

Consider signing it to seal the contract.

XOXOXOXO

It's Worth Celebrating

I was so shy when I was a child that I used to hide behind my dad's legs when he introduced me to someone new.

I wanted nothing more than to stay hidden in the safety of what I knew.

A little over four years ago my dad died, and everything I thought I knew was called to question. I didn't feel safe. Nothing helped me to feel safe.

I had friends who had lost loved ones and yet we rarely talked about it. I always knew that someday when I experienced a similar loss it would be awful, but I never knew how awful. Until it happened. Even knowing that there were others like me, I imagined I was all alone.

This is a truth about grief - that even though there are many of us trying to make sense of the world after a significant loss, we still feel so alone, and we don't talk about it. Each of us will experience loss in a different way - in our own unique way, and at the same time we can relate to each other. I have experienced that understanding - the connection that comes from acknowledging a shared story between two - and while there is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone, instead of feeling better, I usually end up feeling sorry for both of us.

After my dad's death I wrote a lot to help me try to make sense of it all - of life and loss and what comes next for both the living and the lost. Writing about things is the way I've always tried to make sense of them. As I wrote and made discoveries, I felt called to share what I found along the way. That is how I came to this place in my life - a place of creating and sharing. Sharing is rarely easy for me, but I keep doing it because I know there is a chance that something I say or write or make could help someone else feel less alone. As much as I would have liked to stay hidden, I had to come out from behind my dad's legs...

As soon as my dad departed and the funeral had passed and our friends and family went back to their everyday lives, I was left wondering "WHAT THE HELL? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?" As I continue to move away from my dad's departure there are still no answers to my questions. There is no way to know whether it is normal to get pissed four years after a loss because all of a sudden I remember that my dad isn't coming back.

After a life altering incident, you hear a lot about the "new normal" and for some people maybe that makes sense. Maybe the promise of a new normal is comforting to them. Some of us, however, were okay with the previous version of normal. We dig our heels in and refuse to accept this new version of life as normal. It will never be "normal". What I now know is that there is no normal - new or otherwise. The unexpected surges of grief, the anger, the sadness, the joy in memories that come to mind - none of it is normal or abnormal, it just is.

I try to deal with whatever comes up as it surfaces. The gift in that is that I get to decide what to do with it. I can write my own guide book on a daily basis.

My parents would have celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary today. My mom and I are together with my family in northern Michigan and we talked a bit about whether a widow could still celebrate her anniversary, even though her husband has passed. We decided she can. And, she should.

She dipped her feet in a fountain…



We toasted love and its legacy over a beautiful lunch with our sweet friend Suzanne...


We did some shopping, and my mom even picked out a beautiful turquoise ring as an anniversary gift! Here she is pointing to our location on a map of Michigan…



And we topped it all off with some ice cream…


Isn't she the cutest?!?! Look at her beautiful new ring!

I have actually come to love the fact that so few of the answers I sought were available to me after my dad's death. It gave me an opportunity to look within, and to decide what was true for me and what was not. As I trusted in my own authority, I was liberated - bound only by my own self-imposed limitations. 

My mom and I could have decided that it isn't necessary for a widow to celebrate her anniversary once her husband has passed, and that would have been fine too. Even without my dad though, June 30, 1972 marked the beginning of something that continues to be worth celebrating. I am so grateful we chose to celebrate it.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Cheers! xoxo