Stories related to other people, cultures and societies responses to loss and grief.

Nine Years and a Day After Thanksgiving

Ah-Musing Starts Here

Nine years ago, I penned my first personal journal entry that was published as Grief Reflection and evolved into Navigating Grief. It was titled Thanksgiving Morning. The words arose from my pain and heart and gathering of story as I faced the diagnostic reality of my husband Dave’s terminal cancer.

One of the most important questions for me after his death, and I recognize today for a survivor, for a widow, is Who am I, Now? This often formulates loudly in year two or three, post death. The profound loneliness, the emptiness, turns inward for the long proverbial labyrinth walk to come to terms of Self, health, meaning and consciousness. Well, that’s my story. And a story of many women I’ve met in their widow’s journey. It is a story of people in general as well: Facing emptiness into Who am I, now? after the death of a loved one who helped define the sense of who one has been. It is the story of emptiness which is confronted in other griefs as well without regard for what might appear on the other side of loss. 

Nine Years

Four deaths – Significant deaths. Husband. Mother. Step-father. Brother. In that chronological order.

Two moves – Downsizing. Three years living in a “55+” rental community. Now I am mortgaged into an urban single-family home – single-person home. Ongoing revisions and major remodel, decluttering, purging, shifting, resizing, hanging on and letting go… An aging woman with two aging cats!

One business – Multiple evolutions as I opened and closed opportunities and methodologies to connect and grow individually, together and through my own development that is a life and business of Navigating Grief.

Four surgeries – A patch to cover the hole of a bone in my head; Replaced both hips with titanium; Medically endorsed eye lift so I can see more easily what is in right in front of me. Four times under the knife in nine years, confronting the will-I-wake-up anesthesia, and releasing control to the surgeon to help me make life feel better.

Countless studies –Certifications, workshops, books, retreats, travel, teaching, vulnerable calls with friends, tears—oh my all the tears, and learning anger. Pushing, pulling and stopping. Shaping, molding and reconfiguring. Questioning, doubting, trusting.

One incredible birth. A grandson.

Who am I, now? Who am I?

Evolving the Lessons

The ultimate lesson, message and inquiry is How do I love myself? And, then what? What does it matter — literally, matter? In between, I always ask my favorite lifetime question: What’s the point?

I see the connecting dots in this short list for what I am here to offer nine years and a day later after that Thanksgiving morning in 2010. This is my Model for Whole Being, illustrated in the common three circle picture of balance.

The Body (surgeries and physical care), and the Mind (educational activities) seek alignment in the intersection of environmental surrounding (home and health).

The Beliefs (Why do I still exist?) and the Mind (consciousness) seek alignment in the intersection of language via questioning the state of human and spiritual worlds. Who or what is real? Trying on truth (at least, someone’s truth). Overcoming the fear to have an opinion and saying it aloud.

The Beliefs (I know who I am) and the Body (actions) seek alignment in the intersection of energy to manifest results into creation for change, as the response to an event of change.

At its center, the Heart. Whole Being is by design to know, feel and think through a universal abundance into the heart’s resonance of life itself.    

For me this model inspires my walk forward with open eyes, in consciousness for what I believe might help change the environment for the betterment of humanity!  I know deeply in every cell that I am not alone on this path seeking whole being and being well and doing good. Which in design, means neither are you.

Beyond to a New Readiness

Nine years later on this Day after Thanks-Giving, I ready myself to talk the walk to Who I am, now, and who I might continue to discover. Its inception was profound and significant loss. I offer my Self in what manifests through conscious meaningful and purposeful action. I dare me to share my story for how the initiating death of my husband is the “breaking of the shell which encloses my understanding” for choosing life (Gibran). In this outward musing I share my understanding that we all, each of us, are here to seek and share the many messages of love.

I tell you that understanding must begin with focus on you first as you heal your personal inner wounds of your own pain and hurt when death, grief and loss forces your wake-up to familial connection and societal inequality. I invite you to walk your own path of healing with the understating and hope that it also heals me. 

This is a parallel moment from a Thanksgiving Grief Reflection nine years ago into some Ah-Musing notes, light-hearted reflections on being in life after significant loss. Surfacing henceforth is my latest evolution, Joan 2.0, coined as my brother and I fought for healing conversations through tiny text messaging and icons during the waning weeks prior to his death.

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

Read more

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 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.
Read more

Navigating Grief Balloon Release after Loss

Is it Hello or Goodbye?

Pioneer Orchard Park in Ft. Steilacoom, WA is a small, grassy knoll overlooking an amazing panoramic Puget Sound view. There is a big, old fashion wooden swing that could seat four adults facing two and two comfortably. On the opposite side of the park is a large platform stage, its short white fence marking the edge between earth and water. It calls you to come peer outward and dream. I can image this as a perfect spot for a wedding.
Read more