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Archive for the ‘Grief’ Category

 

Winter

For many of my friends this is a “First Christmas”  First Christmas without their dad, first Christmas without a significant other, first Christmas for a variety of reasons… and tonight as I am thinking of them I wanted to send a little prayer/letter out to anyone who might be experiencing their “First Christmas”

Dear one,

This complicates things so much.  It wasn’t the plan, it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, and yet… here we are.

You may wonder how you will get through the day, how you are ever to smile again, much less be “Merry”.

Just don’t.  For one Christmas just don’t.  If you don’t want to put up a tree, don’t.  If you don’t want to send out Christmas cards, don’t.  If you can’t bring yourself to read other people’s Christmas cards, don’t.  And by all means if you want to do it all exactly the same as you always have done, do it!  But, perhaps, for this Christmas, you will give yourself a pass.

Let your expectations drop, focus on the love that remains, focus on the memories, and pay attention to the pain.  Don’t hide it, don’t shove it underneath a strained “Merry Christmas”, don’t drown it in too much liquor or lull it into a sugar coma with too many sweets.  Your pain is inviting you to pay attention.

Your heart has been through so much, it has been torn, bruised and battered this year.  It is time to rest, to repair, to heal.  But in order to do that you must be willing to pay attention to the pain, which we so often avoid.

I remember sitting on the bed crying, holding my heart wondering if it was possible for my heart to literally break, it felt like there was more pain than my heart could hold.  And now I know, yes, the grief manifests itself physically.  But at the time, I wondered if I was going crazy.  Dear one, you are not going crazy, you have loved much and this loss runs deep.

I didn’t know what I know now, that our hearts are amazing, they are far more powerful than we even realize, and sometimes when it feels like it is breaking it is breaking- breaking open to allow more room for more love, more joy, more gratitude, the the process can be painful.

You are allowed to grieve, to have your time, to have this Christmas be a jumbled mess of everything.  Joy, sadness, gratitude, love and perhaps even a moment where it the grief doesn’t feel quite so heavy anymore.

To the extent that you can “don’t anticipate, participate”.  Anticipating when grief will hit is like trying to catch a wave in your hand, it just doesn’t work.  You will sail by moments you thought you weren’t going to make it through and then something else will hit you that you never expected.

Grief isn’t linear and can’t be treated as such, it is a wild mess of jumbled things that can’t be anticipated, but if you participate.  If you allow yourself to fully feel it you will gain trust in yourself again that yes, you can ride this wave, you can do this.  You may not know how, but you can.

Pick a phrase, something that will get you through, something for those moments that you need to focus.  That first Christmas my mantra was from the Amy Grant song “Breath of Heaven”

Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me 

Here are a few things I know…

You will be held.  In the midst of your darkest night, there will be someone, something that will remind you that you are not alone.

You will make it through this day, it may not be pretty, it may not be what you anticipated, but it will be over. Hour by hour, minute by minute, you will get through this.

You have the right to say their name, to bring up memories, and you have the right to know if that is too hard, if it is too much right now.  And it may happen in the same day.

You have the right to turn down invitations, to decide what is healthiest for you, without buying into other’s expectations or guilt.

You have the right to listen to your own grief journey, to listen to your heart.

Know there are others who understand, who have been where you are…

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now 

Breath of Heaven- Amy Grant

Know that my heart is outstretched to yours and I am holding a candle to light the darkness.

May you be held, may you be loved, may you find peace wherever you are.

With all my love,

Erica

P.S. If you liked this piece here is another post I wrote about dealing with the Holidays. The “Merry” Dilemma

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Fall Flowers

One of my favorite things is to listen to the essays of This I Believe… just hearing the beginning introduction I will pause, stop whatever I am doing, let out a sigh and settle in.  I have yet to listen to one that doesn’t make me think, ponder or look at the world in a slightly different way.

These two ideas from Kevin Kelly and his essay The Universe Is Conspiring To Help Us caught my attention and have been playing in my head and my heart since I heard them…

I have developed a belief about what happens in these moments and it goes like this: Kindness is like a breath. It can be squeezed out, or drawn in. To solicit a gift from a stranger takes a certain state of openness. If you are lost or ill, this is easy, but most days you are neither, so embracing extreme generosity takes some preparation. I learned to think of this as an exchange. During the moment the stranger offers his or her goodness, the person being aided offers degrees of humility, indebtedness, surprise, trust, delight, relief, and amusement to the stranger.

And this…

When the miracle flows, it flows both ways. With each gift the threads of benevolence are knotted, snaring both giver and recipient. I’ve only slowly come to realize that good givers are those who learn to receive with grace as well. They radiate a sense of being indebted and a state of being thankful. As a matter of fact, we are all at the receiving end of a huge gift simply by being alive. Yet, most of us are no good at being helpless, humble or indebted.

One of the gifts that being broken open has taught me is to learn about the heartbeat of generosity, that there is a moment in-between when we allow ourselves to be open enough to receive, or when we can choose to block the gifts that are in front of us.

It has become my prayer to remain open to the gifts, the love, the abundance that is laid before me on my path.

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More…

August 7th.
This used to be just like any other day, passing uneventfully by until 8 years ago my grandmother passed away, then three years later I am finding myself again frantically making phone calls throwing clothes in a suitcase and trying to make a flight from South Carolina to Minnesota as quickly as possible.

And now tonight five years later, gathering again with family eating together sharing more laughter than tears I can’t help but think how much has changed.

I am to the place now where the sharp pain has subsided, where life has woven itself back into the tapestry of my life and where chances are the mention of Mitch or Grandma will bring warm nostalgia and the desire to share a story.
And as I think about what has changed the most it all revolves around the word more…

If you ask anyone who has lost someone recently what they want it would be more…

More time

More chances to share the love they have

More time to mend the fences that were built to keep a safe distance

More appreciation of the gifts of the ordinary days, the lazy Sundays together, the impromptu picnics in the backyard just because, a moment of appreciation of a shared meal, of having someone to share your day with, the voice at the other end of the line

More appreciation of life as a precious gift

More laughter

More…

One of the gifts of grief (be it from a death, a loss of a dream, a loss of the life you thought you wanted etc.) is that when your heart is broken open it naturally creates more space for love if you let it.  The walls that we have built to keep ourselves “safe” no longer do, and the world suddenly seems like a very difference place and it is up to you how it changes you…

For me so many things have changed…

Hugs are longer and tighter.

Love is more freely given and received.

It is easier to discern what is truly important.

What has gotten me through the past five years without a doubt is the love of friends and family, those who went out of their way to take care of me when I needed it most, those who shared their stories of grief and loss and growth, those who let me be where I was… some days in the darkness of loss, and sometimes in the light of all the gifts that have been shared… all of those who with words, thought and deed held me in love as I stumbled my way through a difficult time.

Today I am more grateful, more appreciative, more overwhelmed by beauty, more present in the moment, more authentic, more honest, more open, more compassionate and more forgiving.  Not every day of course, and I have my days when I don’t even want to be with myself… but more days that I live in the place of genuine gratitude for the gift of one more day in this life, of one more day being surrounded by the people I love and that love me so deeply and fully.

So here is to more…

More appreciation of each other right now in this moment.

More fun and laughter.

More enjoyment of each day.

More life squeezed out of each day.

More love.

More love, I can hear our hearts cryin’
More love, I know that’s all we need
More love, to flow in between us
To take us and hold us and lift us above
If there’s ever an answer
It’s more love.

Dixie Chicks

 

 

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It has been a little bit since my words have found their way to this page, and so much has happened in that time.

I spent the better half of last week with my Grandfather who was in the hospital and although it was bittersweet to see him there there were also so many gifts that I came away with from his time there:

It is always a scary thing to see someone you love in the hospital.  And as I was driving up to visit him I was rehearsing the speech I would give to the nurses about how important grandpa is to all of us and how special he is… but as soon as I got there I realized there was no need because they were already aware of just how special he was, and they were so incredibly kind and provided the best care they could.  I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes as the nurses and doctors would come in and treat him with such care and respect:

At the hospital we were able to see people come and go, in various states of health and dis-ease… and it was such a reminder that this body that I live in is something to give thanks for.  I can run, I can walk, I can move without pain… and what would happen instead of trying to change it and focus on it’s flaws… what if instead I loved it for what it is already doing.  What if I truly appreciated the fact that my heart is beating strongly, my lungs take in and out oxygen and my blood flows to the places it is needed without any input from me… it was such a reminder to live with such gratitude for my health and my body.

I can’t fix the health problems he has, I can’t reverse the hands of time… but I can do something important- which is to be there in the midst of transition, I can offer my presence, my love, my gratitude for all that he has given me and shown me.  I think all too often we dismiss the power of our presence, we underestimate the power of our love and compassion.  We have ample opportunity to share the love and concern we have for one another, but too often we allow fear and doubt to get in the way.  We don’t believe that our little effort can possibly make a difference, but your words, your presence, your kindness can make all the difference.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

So send the card saying that you are thinking of someone, call the person that you know is struggling and offer a few moments of your time to listen and to be present.  If you don’t know what to say you can start by saying “I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know how to make it better, but I do want you to know I can listen.”

Today is the anniversary of my cousin’s death as well… a man who died far too young and as I surround his family in love and prayers I have been thinking about what he would want me to do on this day.  I believe he would want me to seek out those I love to remind them that I love them, that he would want me to remember how important we are to one another, to remind each other how important words of comfort and compassion are.  I believe he would tell me to offer a hug to those who need one, and to live my life fully and deeply.

In thinking about death and dying I have been reminded that we all have choices about how we truly live, and it has caused me to pause to appreciate the gifts in my own life, the friends and family that are such gifts to me, the love that we share, and how important it is to take a moment to appreciate and delight in one another.

So pass on words of love, share your joys and struggles and continue to be present for one another in the midst of life and love, growth and loss, pain and pleasure and everything in-between.

 

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I remember sitting in tears talking to a friend about something another had done wanting to know how they could be so hurtful, so cold, so insensitive, and she simply said softly: “Hurting people hurt.”

In some ways it reminds me of this poster:

Because no matter where you put the comma, the pause it is true… hurting people hurt… themselves, others and it can be really messy, and hard, and complicated.  And yet… taking responsibility for our hurts, for our places of pain can be one of the most courageous things we ever do.

What had started this whole thought was reading this beautiful quote from a wonderful book This I Know: Thoughts On Unravelling The Heart by Susannah Conway,  While I had read this quote recently and was touched by it in the reading, it showed up for me again in this interview by Brene Brown, and when things begin to show up time and time again I know that it means someone in my life (often me) needs to hear these words, to be reminded of this truth.  So as a part of my commitment to healing myself and the world I offer my thoughts, my musings, my questions, and the answers that as Rilke says “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  Perhaps together we can live into this beautiful work of healing our hurts, living with integrity, holding one another gently when we fall from grace and to come to love ourselves and one another through it all.

“I believe that by being the best and most healed version of ourselves we can truly make a difference in the world. I’m not an activist or politician, and I’m not able to have any direct impact on the areas of the world where help is needed. But what I can do is make a difference in the small pocket of the world I call home.

I can live with integrity and be honest about my feelings, even when they hurt. I can put my whole heart into my work and pay forward the generosity that was shown to me when my world fell apart. I can look after myself, knowing that by healing my own hurts I won’t be passing them on to anyone else. In a society like ours, filled with so many emotionally wounded people acting out their pain, this is possibly the most important work we could ever do—heal our hurts so we don’t pass them on.”

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I had the privilege yesterday of speaking to a Loss of Spouse Support group.  I read them a few excerpts from The In-Between and then we talked about the various stages and places they were at, where they have been and will be.

For several in the group it had been about a year, some a little more, but for two it had only been a few months.  When I got done reading I had asked the group “What does your In-Between look like?”  A woman who had just lost her husband a few months ago said, “I think I have the wrong answer.  I don’t think I am in an In-Between…”  Her voice cracked as she continued, “I am not even there yet.”  She clasped her husband’s wedding ring in her hand that now resides on a slender chain around her neck and I could see her clinging to the slim hope that it won’t hurt like this forever.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I thought how often we think we have the “wrong” answer.  How often we are stuck in the thought that we should be anywhere else but where we are.  How often we think that we are handling our grief, our children, our jobs, our friendships in the “wrong” way.  And sometimes yes, things need to change, but more often than not it is only because we haven’t given ourselves the compassion and more objective look that we give to others.

No one in that group thought she should be anywhere but where she was, and it struck me to see how everyone was literally leaning forward with compassion, their hearts scooping her up to hold her in love and this tender place of knowing.  Sometimes we need that mirror for ourselves.  To remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can with what we have, with what we know, and that is enough.

And as I looked to the eyes around the room I silently prayed that they would hold themselves gently as they grieve, to remember that it will take longer than they want it to, to know they are held in love as they go through this difficult time.  And tonight I came across this poem by one of my favorite authors that speaks so eloquently to the In-Between time and is the prayer I extend to all those who need to hear these words:

A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted

By John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

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Today was a day where words are so inadequate, where one can’t hold all that it contains into a sentence, a post, my hands or my heart.

I was blessed to have spent the day with family and friends near and dear to me honoring life, grieving loss and holding hope. I was reminded of how powerful ritual is, how love can weave together broken hearts, how vital community is and how important we are to one another.  Looking at the people that surrounded me with all of our lives flashing before us, from the picture above, to the moments now so many years later with so much love, light and loss woven within each year, each milestone, each step taken together.  Weaving in and out of each others lives, creating a safety net of community, of connection I was overwhelmed with so many emotions.  With the angelic voice of Heatherlyn lifting our hearts, a moving message about the power of marking the time and the acknowledgement of the difficulty of the firsts of a year after loss an ordinary Sunday afternoon where time was suspended and love was made visible.

Last night I was blessed to hear beautiful music from the talented Leslie Ball whose beautiful stories, sharing and music broke open the hearts of the audience and drew them in from the very first strum of her guitar.  Followed by a reading/talk by Matthew Sanford about his memoir: Waking- A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. 

When Matthew Sanford was just thirteen, his family’s car skidded off an overpass on an icy Iowa road — killing his father and sister, paralyzing him from the chest down, and changing his life forever. Years later, yoga would dramatically change it again. In WAKING: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (Rodale, June 2006), Matthew chronicles his journey from the intensive care unit to becoming a paralyzed yoga teacher and founder of a nonprofit organization. Along the way, Matthew gains a deeper understanding of the connection between mind and body, and formulates an entirely new view of existence as a “whole” person.

For years after the devastating accident, Matthew felt a schism, or “silence,” between his mind and his body. As he grew into adulthood, he began studying philosophy in an increasingly frustrating search for answers. Then he discovered yoga. At first, he didn’t even know if a paraplegic could do yoga, but he was willing to try. Guided by his teacher, Matthew began to explore what it truly means to live in a body, and discovered new meaning and purpose in the “distance” between mind and body.

Then while standing in line to get my book signed meeting Joe Stone and learning more about his amazing story.  And being reminded this weekend at every turn, about how people every day experience trauma and transcendence, how people experience love and loss, how we move forwards, backwards and everywhere in-between.  And sometimes it is our own volition that keeps us moving, sometimes it is friends, family, others that share their hope and healing with us, and sometimes it is a moment from a book, a blog, a movie, a stranger that offers what we need at that moment if we are willing to receive the gift.

At the service today, to honor a young life taken much to soon, on what would have been his first birthday, last night hearing Matthew speak, and the stories and songs that Leslie shared, my own experience- they all have common threads… the love of friends and family that sustained us through difficult times, the power of using your experience to guide and help others through, reminders of how dependent we are on one another, reminders that we are all vulnerable to loss as long as we love, that life can change in an instant, that we are all so fragile and yet, so much stronger than we ever knew.

And reading the words from my journal after the funeral one year ago…

It is always the things that you can’t prepare for that hit you the most about grief. Today it was watching as S. and another man went in for the man hug and his suitcoat revealed the hospital band still on his wrist. The dead look in their eyes as shock, grief, fatigue and overwhelm numbed their souls and weighed heavy on their hearts.

It is a wonder we can literally still stand, when grief knocks you to the ground it amazes me that we continue to breathe, that we continue to function in any significant way when you just want to curl up and stop breathing.

And that is the hard part… walking away from the moment where you feel so held, where others feed you, where others tell you when to sit, when to stand, where to go, what to do next… and it is the moments when you have to figure out how to rebuild a life after… what to do next, how to keep going when you feel dead inside.

And somehow it happens. One moment at a time the rebuilding begins. The new castle in the sand. And that is the hard part, with no control over the ebb and flow of the tide, no timeline for how often, when or if the sea will give or it will take away… moments of pure joy and ecstacy in the building of a new castle and then the sweeping in of grief once again and you are left with a mound of wet sand and the decision yet again… to rebuild, to enjoy the process, to sit and let the waves wash over you again and again, to move your castle, to pout, to cry, or to find a new opportunity. Because as long as you love you will be vulnerable to loss, and the deeper your love the deeper your pain, but I have decided there is truly no choice, that my desire to live in love is too strong, even though it is a risk, but the rewards are great. The deeper my love the stronger my support, even when the waves are crashing in and in that moment of being knocked off center there is an underpinning of certainty that I will build again. I will believe in the power of creating another castle, of sharing brief moments of joy, of moments of dancing and honoring all that has been created, all that I have loved and lost. But retaining the little snapshots of joy, little moments of my love being so full and complete that it drowns out any darkness that tries to seep through to color the moment or the memory. It is better to be here… this place where I know that they will be okay… but then the pain of knowing how hard the journey is… how long and how difficult… but also knowing the treasures found along the way…

I was trying to think of how to pull this blog “together” to weave the threads together, to have a striking ending of some sort… but then remembered- that is how life is.  It isn’t packaged neatly, there isn’t always a clear beginning, middle and an end.  Once again I am brought back to the In-Between and how so much of life is lived in the mess where there are no guidebooks and no simple answers.

And sometimes it is all we can do to hold on to one another in love and trust that one step at a time the way will unfold.

We live into the healing, into the meaning of events, sometimes not realizing their full power until many years later.

I can already tell that this was one of those times.

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