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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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Navigating Grief Adoption Loss and Found

Loss and Found: An Adoption Story

A Personal Story

I was seventeen years old in 1978 and living in a small rural Midwestern American town of eight thousand inhabitants, when I became pregnant. The father, Thomas, had been my ‘high school sweetheart’ and we had been intimate since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. In an attempt to be ‘responsible’, Thomas and I had secured a prescription for birth control pills – not an easy task at that time or place. One summer day, my mother found them in my dresser drawer and “all hell broke loose” as they say in that part of the country. The pills were immediately taken away, the prescribing MD was promptly called and all my dermatology appointments were unilaterally canceled (the latter, a white upper middle-class form of punishment, would have been funny if the consequences of the former had not been so tragic). My already strained relationships with my mother and step-father deteriorated even further.
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Navigating Grief Blog Review Widow's Voice

Voice of Widows Resounds Hope

I met seven extraordinary people a couple of weeks ago, who are sharing “seven different perspectives on the journey of widowhood” each writing once a week for The Widow’s Voice blog. Met maybe isn’t the right word as I only have seen their photos, tagged as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…   but I have heard their stories, and have enveloped their self-proclaimed “painfully raw” essence of grief and life and hope. They are real and do list their names, but I like this weekday playfulness and attitude!
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