Share stories are all the guest posts, Navigating Grief community articles and information related to social grief.

grief breakdown

Grief Breaks Down

“I thought,” she said passionately. “‘Mother f%*kr, I can’t even kill myself because my life insurance lapsed!'” Then we burst into laughter.

It was after one of those breaking points. We were talking about an incident of the week prior. We were on the phone, she lives hundreds of miles away from me, when she announced that her car had just died in the middle of the busy road. Now long time friends, we regularly peer coach and deep dive into life difficulties, too often in brutal honesty. Often in deep pains. Joyfully in witness to absurdity that is Circling Life.

I’ve witnessed and coached and shared her grief through her former husband’s suicide and a divorce and a move across the states. She has pushed and held me through my own unfolding to find my true self through grief, trauma, energy healing, and losses as I support others in the same. This wasn’t the first side-of-the-road cry. Yet, this was especially significant as a moment of one of her own coaching mantras: What if a breakdown is a breakthrough? In fear of financial lack and prospects as she changes career direction, (what, another change and transition and loss transpired from the origins of her grief journey?) the additional cost of car tow and repair is the proverbial straw on her camel that carries her. A call from the car center a bit later revealed her confession of a storm of tears and spewed anger in public breakdown shown up with all sorts of woulda, coulda, shoulda regrets and pain for a deceased ex-husband. If only… Plus, another $500 out the window.

Again?

Does it end or go away? Who deserves this? Apparently, in the midst, the thought arises that she “can’t even kill herself because the life insurance lapsed!” Thank goodness for being a responsible mother to her kids!

Accountability and sense of Responsibility* can often get us through the next few minutes. In between there is the moment of recognition that life is what happens now and those stories are old stories still in shift. They rise again. In between these two conversations was the call the day after as she explained she had came face-to-face with the visceral emptiness of being utterly alone regardless of my long supportive stand in knowing. Even though she has people and family in town whom to call. In spite of her being in the lobby of a car dealership. Grief pain is a soloist journey. It appears when when it does. The space between her own breaths. “I really got it,” she said in grounded quiet. “I got what you say about the space that is my own deep emptiness alone. That, in the void, no one is here with me except me.”

I get this, too!

I have a personal history of cars stopping when I am in anxiety! I left two vehicles on the road once-upon-a-crisis on my way to see my husband Dave in the hospital. I am never without AAA car rescue.

More and more I recognize the energetic distractions that arise from our own excess energy as car batteries, alternators (her situation), or starters suddenly cease. One is forced to slow down. To become present. To deal with what is now. To ask for help. Or decide to help yourself. To figure out the next step. And how to get there. To review what happened or learn from what occurred soon after. It requires compassion for self to turn around the lashing of blame or the feeling as a victim. Thoughts of “if only” magic is a story designed to make the pain disappear. Minds return to yesterday for want of safety and familiarity today, whether that life was real or true. We are all raised on fairy tales of “happily ever after” in a foggy notion for how happiness actually feels. Perhaps happiness is the message to love what is right in front of you.

Instead of an external break down of things around us, the stoppage can manifest as a lack of energy on the body that shows up as depression, exhaustion, caregiver fatigue, illness or thoughts to crawl into a hole and die. It is a different vehicle and usually the phenomenon is of a slowing down into a stop, almost imperceptible until there is an obvious cease of connection to the environment of people and places.

Either way, here we are…. the ask for help and how to create movement in life. Like the Type of Death*, which can be sudden or lingering, it influences what actions you make in response. Your type of break effects your perspective. Your brain will dictate to fight, flight or freeze.

Stop in the moment then look forward.

As a coach, I have multiple perspectives of grief gained through personal experiences, client care and academics. There are simple (not always easy) practices available to support our responses and growth through loss, what we tell our self and how we hear what others say. For me, the only place to start is to understand your Here. Whether you are standing in the middle of a dangerous median or need lifting out of the hole of despair, we can all use some safe perspective and guidance. For most, grief is a doable journey along life’s path. When ignored or procrastinated those paper straws build up and the burden can become a break of the camel’s back.

When grief and loss are acknowledged as ongoing human experiences that shape us, life returns to center more quickly. Even for those in those very difficult unexpected loss or the grief associated with a chosen change. Even when there are fleeting destructive thoughts. Back into movement and flow. Into a presence for life as you know now. Recovery. The other side.

These days, the buzz in media for grief and life is a trend to be resilient. Resilience is built upon applying examined experience. It makes sense then, if circumstances of life stops you in your track, you are being asked to examine the experience. Long enough to gather your energy.

* * *

A few days later… After words. The trouble wasn’t the alternator and it didn’t cost $500. The diagnosis was: “We can’t find anything. We don’t know what happened. Something shut down the program and it needed a full recalibration. $199.” Recalibration! No, I didn’t make this up! This story is shared with permission, laughter and love.

 

*Type of Death and Responsibility are two of ten initial Influencers for Navigating Grief. Influencers are identifiable universal aspects of loss and carry weight not judgment as you move through your individual grief. They can hinder or support you in grief and loss awareness. For example, Responsibilities in you life can get in the way, such as you have to work more hours to provide for the family and therefore put grief on the back burner. Responsibility can also be your saving grace as dedication to family or purpose though work helps keep you active, connecting, and out of the hole of depression. 

5 Minute Coach’s Corner: Metaphors of Break Down

Simple questions and metaphors to shine a light on “Who are you now?” after loss.

When the outside world is a mirror to your state of challenge what is the metaphor? New sciences are showing that thought and language are activators to move energy and create action into result. If true, then what happens to or around us can be a reflection of our state of being. Agree or not, the concept is interesting to apply as a metaphor of life.

  • In the story shared here what might it mean to you to have the car break down?
  • What might be the significance of a battery vs an alternator vs a starter as the metaphor?
  • Can you think of a time in your life when the inconvenience of something breaking or an interruption was perhaps a response to the situation at hand? It usually is prefaced with, it was not a good time for… to happen.
  • With hindsight, was the moment and the outcome different? How does the passage of time change the story?
  • In this scenario, what was thought to be an alternator turned out to be a need of re-calibration. What happened to the metaphor now?

Navigating Grief Newsletter. March 31, 2018

retro valentine

Those Valentine Hearts? It’s Not Personal

“This is a day to write smiles, kindness, empathy and hope on the walls of life.”  ~Jean Tubridy

It’s not personal. Really. All those red hearts, candy sentiments and images of perfect love are not meant to push you into more grief. They are world symbols evolved from traditions, stories, and religious celebrations into the romanticized Hallmark and bejeweled occasion we recognize today. Valentine’s Day has become an easy reason to openly and directly show love, beginning with traditions shared with our youngest children, parent to child and friend to friend.

 “The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers ‘as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart’, as well as to children, in order to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady. Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.”      ~Wikipedia

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Griefland authors Bacon Miller

Book Review: Griefland

Griefland; Intimately Familiar.

“Rachel is dead. If I said it out loud, the reality of this would spill into the world, become part of the moon, the stars, the thread running across the floor, connecting all of us, connecting every person to some moment of shocking loss. It would be real.” ~Nancy Miller

Griefland is the place where you meet two women who “get it.” They ooze the pain of personal and painful loss in its raw form. They cling. They expunge through words in the moment. in the same breath, they hold the grief and loss forever. It is a story from heart and soul. Devastating. Intimate. Hopeful.

My husband used to describe meeting someone who really connected to the same point of view as “going to the same school together at different times.” Co-authors Nancy Miller and Armen Bacon went to the same school of loss together – the one that was the death of their daughter Rachel and son Alex respectively. Both died of a drug overdose. Both young and in the “should” have their-whole-life-ahead-of-them age. Four years apart. Same school, different time. Miller and Bacon went to the same school.

What struck me greatly about Griefland, An intimate portrait of love, loss and unlikely friendship, is that the school is grief. This grade is grouped by both the type of loss and the relationship. Like in a paired mentor program, their e-mails were the curriculum to explore, teach and learn from each other. From the experience, genuine friendship and love emerged.

I can relate to Miller’s and Bacon’s communiqués of loss as a widow even as I wept as a mother. I am in different classroom but of the same school.  As often as strong support comes in its greatest form through a common relationship loss, Griefland reaches out and touches in the universality of death’s aftermath: Chaos; Thoughts of the racing mind; Aches of the physical body; Questions for the confused spirit. Griefland honors their very personal stories and individual joy in remembering the personality of each child and the inability to fulfill the parent’s expectation for dying in order – parent before child.

The Portrait of Friendship is an important theme in Griefland, and in healing after loss in my opinion. The sharing aspect of what pain and grief feels like in the moment is a critical shift into life out of the death and grief.

“Death, in its devastation, has forced us to re-create ourselves. This rediscovery period is a passport to experience the world through a new lens. We have accepted the invitation.”

Miller and Bacon go on to offer the “gifts” found underneath the heavy dark, cloud of child loss. But like them, you must go through the story before you find yourself able to begin to accept the invitation of gifts.  Anyone suffering loss will find hope in the pages of Griefland. If you relate to the loss is of a child entering adulthood, you’ll ache deeply in sympathy for your own story. If your loss comes with guilt that you did something wrong you might find the words to be a little less harsh on yourself. Whatever the circumstances, how comforting to know you are not alone.

Coming up

Meet author Nancy Miller Griefland at Navigating Grief

 

Have you read Griefland, An intimate portrait of love, loss and unlikely friendship? Please share your comments.

Would you like to order your copy? Use the link to Amazon books to order today. Copies also available at Navigating Grief Discover Create Share Center after January 16.

 

 

Day of the Dead Dia de los Muertos

Wake up! It’s Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos Celebrates Life

Each year on November 1 and 2 a cultural traditional brings families together in a festival of honor. These are the Day of the Dead: Día de los Innocetes (innocents, children) and Día de los Muertos (deceased, adults).

The primarily Mexican and Latin American ritual is steeped in history. Décor, activities and feast reinforce that our loved ones are to be honored, remembered and remain spiritually alive. From its Pre-columbian roots, Day of the Dead rises from Aztec and Roman Catholic beliefs. Because it is an annual event, the ongoing ritual means death is more readily seen as a natural aspect of the life cycle.

“Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Día de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Día de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.” ~National Geographic

Households and communities may each have slightly differing traditions in their locale. Events might be held at the cemetery, community center or homes. But what is in common is that Día de los Muertos activities “encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them.” (Wikipedia). Sharing of stories, feast and offerings, grave and headstone upkeep are all part of the rituals that may go on for up to three days.

The cost for food, drink and offerings can be expensive for rural indigenous households.  Some families spend over two month’s earnings to honor their deceased. “They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrenda [altar] building keeps the family close.” (Mexican Sugar Skull)

Here are some of the most often noted symbols and activities found at Día de los Muertos celebrations:

  • Ofrenda. (altars) Small, personal altars honoring one person. Ofrendas have flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered. Ofrendas often include religious statues and pictures. They can be very elaborate.
  • Marigolds.  It is thought the orange color of Mexican marigolds help attract the soul to the offering table. Buckets of flowers are left with the altar, or used to decorate the tables and displays.
  • Day of the Dead CatrinaOrchids. White orchids are the flower given in honor of children who have died. Día de los Innocetes may also be noted as Día de los Angelitos, Day of the Little Angels, on November 1, when the children are allowed to visit their families for 24 hours beginning midnight October 31.
  • Gifts. Food and gifts that the loved one enjoyed are part of the altar and festivities. This includes toys, trinkets and candies. Pillows and blankets may be left at the ofrenda so souls can rest after their long journey.  Tequilia and mezcal may be left for the adults. The food is for the souls, so although eaten by the living, it is thought to be devoid of nutritional value.
  • Catrinas. The popular dressed skeleton figure is highly associated with Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The icon originated from a satirical etching by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada, circa 1910. La Calavera Catrina (Elegant Skull) depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time.
  • Calavera (skull) Decorated sugar skulls  and chocolate skulls are also distinctly recognized on Día de los Muertos. The skull may be given as a gift to both living and dead. The recipient’s name is often inscribed on the forehead of the skull. The sweet candy is a balance to the bitterness of death.
  • Papel Picado. Hand cut paper banners have been traced back to the 18th century used for religious festivals to decorate the streets. Day of the Dead papel picado usually depict happy scenes (of skeletons) to embellish the surroundings.

Story is always at the heart of Día de los Muertos celebrations as family and friends write poems, share anecdotes, or even mocking epitaphs. Through laughter and joy, the symbols presented in this shared tradition honor the life of loved ones passed and even what the loved one loved about life. Today, Day of the Dead events are becoming community events beyond Mexico borders as a way to share heritage, culture and of course, honor the deceased loved ones of all ages. Check your local community calendars to see if you can join in this rich and inviting tradition.

 

Navigating Grief Valentine Memory

Daddy’s Girl

I admit it. I was always a daddy’s girl. Don’t get me wrong. I was very close to my mom, too. I was lucky. I had two loving, involved parents. Still, my dad and I were tight. When my parents split, I couldn’t bear to see him alone, so I left our cushy family home and slept on the lumpy couch of his rental house. I sought his approval and was always thrilled to see him in the audience of a school play or the sidelines of a little league game.

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Navigating Grief Gift of Story

Giving the Gift of Story

I read a post on a children’s grief website the other day that asked if anyone knew an appropriate memorial gift or product. Yes, I thought: the gift of story.

I thought about this over a couple of days because the first days of loss are different than a few weeks later. I thought about everything I’ve come across  – clinical, academic, experiential, personal, and anecdotes from bereaved – on the early days of loss and grief. I realized there are  recurring themes:  the need to not feel alone; the role of memories which can be bittersweet, yet comforting; and, how the blur of shock can render time and thoughts invisible or forgotten.
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Navigating Grief Did Not Know What to Say

What to Say… When You Don’t Know What To Say

Learning by Experience

When my mother passed away, I received a card from a friend of mine that touched me so deeply I can still remember it 15 years later.  The card was humorous and the note he wrote was the perfect balance of empathy, humor and reality.  You see Chris had lost his father about a month before I had lost my mom and he knew intimately what I was going through.  This card was the cornerstone to developing a resource website I Did Not Know What To Say.   I wanted to encourage people to be thoughtful and supportive of their friends and family when they are going through a great loss.  The topic of death is difficult and many people “freeze” when the topic comes up.  Our website is dedicated to helping people find the words when you don’t know what to say.

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Navigating Grief Book review Post Secrets

Book Review: A Lifetime of Secrets

A Lifetime of Secrets, A PostSecret Book
compiled by Frank Warren

Last holiday I was given a book from my adult daughter: A Lifetime of Secrets, A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren. I hadn’t heard of this series of books, and was immediately drawn in by the cover art.

PostSecrets originated in 2003 after a dream led the artist to a journey of postcard messages. The use of postcards as a miniature canvas evolved into a group art project. According to the website, “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.” Simple.  Extremely profound.
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