The Things of Navigating Grief

The Things of Grief

Pondering Spring Cleaning After Loss

It’s two years since my husband passed away and I still have his home office in a state of organized clutter.  Apparently, I have no reason to hurry through this task! I haven’t turned on his computer; I hate to think of how long that update would take. But I do go in there from time to time. I do move a few things around. Add some. Look for some. Take some away. He was a piler of papers and his desk still reflects that. I ran the house but his desk and office was his alone. I’m sure that has something to do with my lack of touching things.

I have months that I open the office door to peek in as walk by. I have months I keep it closed. I did moved his wingback chair to the Discover • Create • Share Center to bring his presence into the Navigating Grief   lending library. After all, he was a professor! That chair has its owns stories. The bedroom closet was cleaned long ago as I lost weight and replaced my wardrobe. For me, I didn’t like the daily reminder. Maybe you are more comforted by the clothes. Some of his Oxford shirts were made into quilt pillow for family holiday gifts. Some clothes have been moved into another closet. Some were donated.

The clearing of stuff is a process as much as grief is – a few steps at a time. But like grief, sometimes we must go all in and other days we can take tiny steps.

Gone, and Gone

The first thing I rid the house of after Dave died was the growing medical stuff. I had boxes of sterile gauze pads, bed liners, gloves, and more. We had bought gadgets to assist, support and make it all easier. As Dave became more ill, the supplies kept growing in seeming desperation to fix it all. As an avid recycler not only did I not want this around but I knew someone else could use the materials and things.

I was right. The Thurston County  Medical Equipment Bankis available free to anyone need to borrow or donate medical items. Clean, unopened consumable supplies are also collected and being distributed to organizations such as the new Olympia Amahora House – hospice without borders.

I also took all the medications (proper disposal is not in the trash or down the drain) and felt a need to get the pain killers out of the house – which can’t go back to medical facilities around here. It was not that I thought I’d take them, but I didn’t want the option or temptation. Safe and proper disposal was one of my run-around, do-something trying-to-be-productive-and-right early grief moments! I just wanted to clear the house of all the illness.  Yet, it was all we had known for such a long time, so even this created its own emptiness.


Keeping connected and honoring our loved ones long after loss is significant in the healing journey. I was very fortunate to be able to establish a lasting tribute to and for my husband Dave while he was alive. Shortly after going on hospice service and thus forced retirement from The Evergreen State College, I was able to convince him to put our long held plan for a scholarship fund in place. While the rest of us honor him and his teaching, he actually honored the memory of his mother since she was adamant about his educational pursuits. With matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation The David L Hitchens in Honor of Frances Marie Rasmussen Scholarship at TESC is now endowed. What was and is so healing is that we continue to grow the fund, he continues to teach, so to speak, and we were able to let his former students offer support and say goodbye while he was alive. Dave learned just how much he was loved and how his life mattered for generations of people.

Our family had an ideal situation for Dave’s legacy. We already had planned there would someday be a scholarship. He had months of foresight on his declining health. We had tremendous support and resources from family, friends, students and the TESC Foundation. We even had some amazing luck in receiving matching funds!

And it Continues

This month, one of Dave’s musician friends was digging through his accumulate memorabilia and came across an old tape. He asked me to transfer it for him onto DVD. It  is the 25th Anniversary concert of Snake Oil. Music and this band and all the people associated with it is a large component of Dave’s life and even death story. Snake Oil came to play at the major fundraiser for Dave’s scholarship in 2011.

It took me a couple of weeks to get to the project. As I dated the title slide for the DVD I noted  the concert was recorded February 15, 1997. Dave died February 15, 2012.

Since I had all my transfer equipment  and DVD making tools out, I decided to finally make some additional copies of the Family Album DVD shown at the memorial. These had been requested long ago! Of course, I watched and cried. And cried. And I looked a the title slide. March 25, 2012.  Exactly 2 years before. I was working on this day of March 25, 2014.

As long as I remain in this house the layers of things will pop up. And when I move, eventually, the memories and my heart will remain filled with the stories. The stuff ultimately is really not that important. Getting to what and when and how to do with it all still has its angst, bittersweet, and delicious ambiguity.

I am not alone in need. I still have my own rooms to clean out requiring a similar process!

Coming Up

Navigating Grief hosts educational workshops. Join us April 12 , 2014 for The Things of Grief: Spring Cleaning After Loss with Professional Organizer Elain Carroll, Habitat for Your Sanity and a Showcase of local artisans afterwards. Discover-Create-Share Center in Olympia.

Although this article is locally resourced,  your community is likely to have similar programs. Check your city or county waste and disposal programs, senior services agencies and arts organizations.


Grief mind body spirit

The Holistic Journey Through Grief

The work of grief is the work of life.  It is a holistic journey.

Mind. Body. Spirit.

Grief is universal. How far you walk along the grief journey is up to you as an individual. Superficially, grief is about accepting or assimilating the change of loss. Yes, that’s really big on its own! Grief is the transition. That’s often enough for most people: wrapping your heart and your mind around the emptiness. Yet, for many, the longing persists to understand more deeply about the loss that won’t go away.

Mind is one step of grief.

If standing in loss becomes your badge for life, grief becomes stuck and acknowledged, but not a journey. However, when you examine and share the heartbreak of loss and change, grief fades away to an often positive path that opens ahead.

Deeper work into grief is about the change, the transformation that occurs during the examination of that relationship for which you loved and lost, its impact on who you are today, how you operate in the world now and the so-called meaning of life. This is the topic of discussions, books, poetry, philosophers and movies since time began!

Examination comes from Reading. Writing. Thinking. Talking.

Body is one step of grief.

Transformation is about self-love. Understanding. Accepting not only the loss, but all the crevices of humans being. Grief comes in waves of feelings and memories for behaviors, regrets, gratitudes, criticisms, and all the other emotions. Grief is stored in the mind, body, and heart. Past, present and future collide.

Self-love appears in how we care for (or don’t care for) our body. Where does grief land in your body? And how much have you carried with you for long before this loss? Since mind and body are inextricably woven, loving attention to your mental or physical health will elevate both.

Feeling means to Listen. Breathe. Notice. Release.

Spirit is one step of grief.

Even deeper comes the ultimate work that falls under the heading of faith, meditation, spirituality, God.

What happens after one dies and how you stay connected to your loved one cannot be ignored. Religion, God, The Universe, Life Force, Afterlife… in grief, one critical component is to confront your deep held beliefs. Do your beliefs match up to the feelings and thoughts of your grief experience right now?

How can you look at loss without questions about the afterlife? It is impossible. Not having answers for one’s self about spirit can be an area of stuck grief. What you know to be “right” is deeply and profoundly personal. Whether through religions, rituals, traditions, or philosophy, you will meet this path on the grief journey. You may not be able to articulate or explain this part of your journey fully as the spiritual path is not necessarily an intellectual exercise.

Experience the stillness of Being. Knowing. Embracing. Expanding.

Mind. Body. Spirit.

Nobody wants to hear that grief is work. Who willingly takes on such potential angst, examination and pain? Yet, all your angst, examination and pain are already inherent in the process of your loss that is known as grief.  Choosing to discover what you need to know about grief consciously will make the process have purpose and create meaning out of loss and propel you forward into your best life. Death is a catalyst of change thrust upon you.

The order and aspect for your Mind-Body-Spirit work of grief —what makes itself known to you— varies. If you come to your loss with deep faith, this may sustain you, or could rock your world when you question the unfairness of loss. If your health has degraded significantly, your first step may be to acknowledge your own bodily needs for living. Perhaps you are someone who feels so much, you can’t even think about the loss, much less assimilate the very real changes happening around you. Grief is individual.

Work is a dirty four letter word. We reject it. We avoid it. We love to hate it. But when you think about it, work brings accomplishment, self-esteem, value and even community into our lives.

We do get through grief when we work at it, consciously. Grief doesn’t resolve on its own no matter how much time passes. You never forget the loss, the person for whom you mourn. Getting through is never about forgetting; the other side of grief is inclusive. Feeling great is not a betrayal, but a testament to love: The love for the one you miss and the love that was given to you.

Grief isn’t easy. Grief isn’t pretty.  But neither is what you are experiencing right now. As you choose to “do something” about your grief, which is your work, you walk your path to a new wholeness. Your definition for how you are whole is likely to change. But it may surprise you to find that on the other side of grief you have become more through loss rather than become less when Navigating Grief.

Grief Reflection Year 2 Oahu

Widow Year Two: “Deathaversary”

The days are past me now, Valentines and Dave’s date of death (February 15). The second. Counting. Widowed.

I am breathing freely, feeling relieved in some ways, yet heavy in another. Not a burden of heaviness, a heart of heaviness, But it is all OK. It is not as heavy as an outsider might want to assign to me “because I am a widow, and therefore I must suffer.” No, this is not a suffering moment,  but a heavy heart.

This morning on the windward side of Oahu, it is calm. The past nights since arrival have been increasingly noisy and blowing, with a stormy awakening on Saturday, February 15. I’ve had several small sleeps each night, with curtains blowing, doors rattling and surf pounding. As I lie in bed it is hard to tell if there is rainfall or just rustling of palm trees. But I like the windows open or the air would stagnate and the humidity dampen even more.

What a difference a year makes. Choosing to travel during Dave’s death week is right for me. I am challenging so much about who I am, where I’ve come from and what’s ahead. I do this from a context of our love, marriage, relationship and growing up. Because that’s what we did together really – grow up. 

I am a changed person. Or perhaps I am a more defined person.  I like this: a more defined person. Because over the past two years this has my grief work – to define me. The transformation through loss is the accepting not simply of Dave forever gone but the deep accepting of who I am on my own. The we-to-me is a powerful revelation. The opinions and influence of every day originate with me now. I am required to make and own my personal world. I recognize this is not a challenge everyone is willing to take on a a way through grief. For me it is working.

Traveling during the week of Valentine’s and Dave’s death date is to make and own my personal world.  The week is especially exciting as I am here to help plan our daughter’s wedding.  To spend time with her in looking at her future, our future, what we’ve learned since out time separated by an ocean… in the vernacular of travel credit cards: priceless.

To be able to measure the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual changes in my life first from year one and then years two to three is an exercise in tremendous gratitude. To do so as a measure of change which reflects deep satisfaction and confidence in life was unpredictable.

On Saturday, we took a predawn walk up Makapu’u Point Lighthouse trail to watch the sun rise. We were the first to arrive; no cars, no people. The winds were blowing. Rain threatened. There were no disposable ponchos to be bought at 5:30 in the morning! The Valentine’s Day full moon to light our way was hidden behind cloud cover. The hike the day before made my arthritic hips ache, and the leftover of my vestibular disorder added a feeling of drunken hangover. Balance in the dark is still difficult. I began with a limp, a sway and a determination.

Not far into the walk, the wind thinned the clouds and uncovered a beam of natural light enough to see the path in front of each step. The rock we wandered around was protection from the winds for the lower part of the ascension. We stopped briefly as needed. Time. Step by step.

At the top we were rewarded with a changing skyscape of color and cloud formations. I had forgotten the awakening and renewal that accompanies the light of day. The unspoken promise. A new day.

Afterwards, one more task awaited: to send Dave body surfing in the Pacific. I carried a small pouch of Dave’s ashes with us.

Dave loved his time in Australia probably most of all in life. As an college athletic swimmer, the ocean called him out to play. He spoke lovingly of being in the waves and body surfing. It seemed only proper to return him symbolically and physically in the only way we can for now. At Sandy Beach, a renowned body surfing area, Leah and I, witnessed by her fiancee Scott, sent Dave to catch the currents around the oceanic world. In a gesture that feels right and good, I am left with the bittersweet knowing of loss and release. On a second anniversary of his death, this is a time to give him back.

The birds are singing louder today. The air is the calmest of my days here. Geckos change with their surroundings. Sand crabs run from stick to hole, scurrying from the ocean foam. There is a rhythm on the beach that is timeless in the moment. Paradise is overcast, yet plenty warm to a Pacific Northwesterner. (And good enough to sport my vacationer’s sunburn!)