Navgating Grief Death of a Nation

Death and Grief for a Nation

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. The patterns show themselves. Are we listening?

We are killing the United States as we have known or imagined to be. Our fears and anxiety are fueled by greed or basic survival and measured in financial abundance or lack. The symptoms vying for attention show up as inequality, oppression, apathy, judgment, competition, righteousness, extremism, isolation, structural decline, environmental change and blame. There is a long tail history preceding this dire diagnosis begun long before you or I inherited this national body. The current unrest is our proverbial wake-up alarm to make conscious decisions for a healthy outcome, preferably one led by a strong, steady heart rather than a defensive mind.

As a bereavement expert, I stand in wait until an actual death. I see the path which lies before and beyond loss, whether anticipated or not. The one who dies is not the one in pain. The one left to live feels the consequences.

Everyone and everything dies. We know, we simply don’t like the fact. We don’t talk about death very well in our society. It reminds of us of our own limitations. What if death conversations could open us to our possibilities and expansion and clarity?

Metaphors help explain emotional concepts of and processes through grief, loss and navigating life in difficult circumstances. Images bypass the logical language of words and bring universal experiences into play. We often use journey, path, bridge, roller coaster and rainbows to express death and loss because these universal pictures very quickly fill in the blanks for personal meaning.

I’ve given deep study and conscious attention into the labyrinth of a broken heart, my own along with others.  The walk is often not just the one current loss. It is complex. Most often, the journey is an overarching desire to connect and belong with humanity. Once inside, healing is the spiral journey back outward. Personal growth occurs on the additional return trips for deeper understanding and more clearing. Healing is to open the heart, the same heart we desire to protect and share simultaneously.

I am deeply saddened by the violent, devastating and escalating events of our nation. I cannot absorb nor keep up with all the significant incidents and the ripple of impact on lives. I am not the loud boots-on-the-ground ally in the fight for our lives. I am a better writer, thinker, philosopher, dot-connector. I prefer “now what?” over the insanity loop of what and what again. That might be called chicken. That may appear to some as complacent or just another white woman in her safe haven of entitled society not acting, or worse to me, not listening. I accept we have different methods and strengths. I accept that your fight might have a different focus. Grief affects us each in its own way.

The metaphor is death. The United States is showing symptoms of impending death. Our body, the feeling and action state as a nation, is erupting in protest, anger, pain, trauma, cancerous growths, and secondary system responses, even shutdown. There is no denying that we’ve tried to hide from our inner knowing that prejudices of racism, class, gender and religion have been under our social skin all along. Politeness, masks, denial and bandages are only temporary cover up.

Racism and misogyny and xenophobia are not new.  Religious righteousness is not new.  Destruction of the physical environmental body for some short term financial gain is not new. Pitting one against another in a climb to be king rather than uphold healthy leadership is not new. Our collective mind is chaotic, now led by an elected and divisively reactive man loyal only to his own self-preservation, at all costs, even if the price is the body parts of you and me. He is only a symptom of our problem as he mirrors our shadow, an aspect we have sought to ignore. He is the pain begging for attention. Our national emotional, mental and physical health is in crisis that will lead to a death of something –  part or whole – as we know it. The losses are accumulating.

Picture Life before Death

In my work, I share a path into wholeness, the state of harmonious being. I offer this picture to be a central Heart surrounded by the three circle fields of Beliefs, Body and Mind. The outer circle is the structural boundary. Metaphorically, the entity can be an individual, an intersectional construct, a systematic organization or other collective basis, such as government. From single entity into the collective, microcosm informs the macrocosm.

The distinction to call out Beliefs for the more typical Mind-Body-Spirit model is intentional. Spirit (God, Universal Energy, Chi, Source, Divine, Creator, choose your language) is the ultimate loving, limitless life-force available to us all. What you name this un-seeable energy and how you relate to it is an underpinning of deep work through loss and grief. Values are the foundation of your beliefs and how you present yourself to the world. More importantly, your beliefs are a huge motivator to how you act. Beliefs go beyond religious doctrine we associate so often, so if you are “not religious” you still have values and other systems that organize your mind and actions.

It is through balance or imbalance among the visible and invisible human aspects of beliefs, body and mind which creates the heart’s state of health for life or death. The stress created by fear is a killer. When the brain is on constant alert the heart and body work on high gear, until it ultimately gives out. Death is noted as the body’s absence of physical pulse, the energy force to carry life-sustaining oxygen to every cell.

  • Our Beliefs are derived out of our heart’s inner knowing and gut instincts, along with the accumulated values from life teachings and indoctrinations.
  • The Body is the physical and the sensory rich environmental container that receives external and internal communications to be directed into and carry out actions.
  • The Mind is the conscious and subconscious thoughts and intellectual interpretation center for the brain’s defenses mechanism. It defaults to survive first, and translates the body’s input of senses or feelings into emotions and actions.
  • The Heart is the center of physical pulse as well as the emotional emitter and receiver of invisible energy which is the relationship to self and others known as love.

The Death Metaphor

When a loved one is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness, everyone surrounding this person begins to fight for survival. The mind, most unconsciously, taps into long held belief systems toward this effort. What we know and feel to be true are regurgitated for those moments of life and death decisions. The internal voice speaks from your singular self-preservation history and perspective. Beliefs may not be, and likely are not, the same objective truth for each person involved in reacting to the diagnosis.

When a loved one is dying, who is responsible to direct what is the right, wrong or best course? Who gets to contribute to or predict the possible outcome? We like to think the one whose death is imminent has say, but in slow end-of-life decline sometimes others must act. Sometimes others, who think they know best, insist on acting. Sometimes we give away the decision making to others. There are many actors: the one facing their own death; the medical team whose one job is to fix and save; the closest relatives who can’t imagine life without; and the friends and neighbors, who can see the dire decline and recognize changes more objectively. Right or wrong, it is usually the loudest voice who leads. As our country faces death, there is a lot of noise being made about the course ahead.

The path of choice or non-choice to affect the outcome is the most critical point here. Conceiving and implementing a plan for a healthy united outcome of harmonious life during a nation’s death is overwhelming. If we can agree on the symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis – a huge obstacle for a large body – who says what that best outcome should look like? Fear tells us it looks “exactly like me.” Love tells us it “looks like everyone.” If viewed honestly, most of us will say it “looks like all of us until it interferes with me (and my beliefs)!”

Death and illness lead to hard choices to survive. By nature of our individuality, we each get in the way for creation of an inclusive equitable outcome considered “good” for the whole nation, perhaps the world. I am not suggesting any answers, I am merely pointing out that the beliefs among people differ and create feelings which give rise to emotions that kick in the primitive brain’s fight, flight or freeze defense. The mind makes judgement calls: some preemptive, others reactive. This cascades real hormonal response to the body, that which are feelings of being unsafe. We may shake or quiver, want to throw up, have a quicken pulsed. We may lash out or become the deer in the headlight. Feelings of insecurity can lead to irrational acts of violence, standing in harm’s way, or running. We all enter this insanity loop: the invisible energy of thoughts and fear into words or actions taking precedence over what our heart and inner knowing tells us may not be the best long-term result for happiness. The insanity loop denies our deepest self.

What I’ve learned from deep sorrowful heartbreak of death, loss, and grief is that emotional and physical pain is a consciousness raising event which creates opportunity for human meaning and connection. Stubbing your toe means to pay attention to where you are walking. Life threatening illness is notice that your time on earth is finite. Tears from deep emotional response are feelings pouring out. Excessive sleep and lack of energy is the body seeking to numb, deny or replenish itself as means to deal with pain. Pain is meant to get attention to awaken the heart and body to align with the mind and beliefs.

External events –dire medical diagnosis, protests, deaths, peace rallies, even random acts of kindness– are change agents to stimulate internal transition towards transformational growth or inevitable death. If prior losses and grief have gone unexamined and uncleared or denied, then the patterns continue as a repeating lesson. Pain is an experience relative to our personal body, so awareness begins with self.  Healing is found the lessons that come with awareness.

We all have a long history of personal programming into beliefs. Some are givens as we enter the world with DNA and inherited body. Some are inherited social structures in family, governance, economic, and environmental evolution. Stories and language, an attribute specific to the human mind, uniquely keeps our programs of the past alive in duality, confusingly open to interpretation in both positive and negative light. Like two people assessing the same loss, your relationship to the deceased, along with your history and memories, what you tell yourself, what others tell you, plus more, all contribute to how you assimilate and move through pain and suffering brought about from death. Too often the differences between people with their long-held beliefs about how things are “supposed” to be lead to more pain arising from self-imposed or external judgements.

Now we can see a parallel for how the varying segments of society –race, gender, class and religion–  bring each of their historical, cultural and experiential histories into the viewpoint of the current tide of exclusion, separation or sense of belonging, that is, loss and grief. Grief can be named as the loss for an imagined community desired.

Life After Death

Grief is a response to loss or change. Grieving is the long internal process of that change. Mourning is public shared grief. We are facing loss, heartbreak and death. We are all grieving. Multitudes are mourning. Losses are very personal. We may be able to know we are all at a loss, but the “what” we yearn for may be very different we process the impact of the same death.

Death is normal, natural, and cyclical. Death may arrive out of order, suddenly or foreseeable. Death can be peaceful or violent. We can’t feel death’s depth of separation until it actually happens. We don’t do death very well in our society. The rituals and traditions vary. We hide from the conversation. It is painful and complex. Our collective and personal history and beliefs play into our response.

Death is inevitable. In fact, death is necessary. Death in nature is compost and food for life. Death seeds new growth and sustainability. This is all well and good until it is your own or a loved one’s confrontation with mortality. This is all well and good until the turmoil of our nation’s pain smacks us in our neighborhoods and communities.

We are mourning for our common connection. I offer that the most notable death is our collective identity as a United States with widely shared values, that is, beliefs, for how we present us to the world and who we align as “We the people.”

In healing work through bereavement when deep understanding of loss moves from we to me, the big question becomes Who am I now? It is a great moment of choice for re-identification and definition. This is the transformational step of making meaning from loss. Given one’s age and experiences this may be new formulation or it may be a labyrinth walk inward and back outward to examine earlier development for what is to be kept and what is no longer of service for the new whole-hearted self of body, mind and beliefs. Once the deep self-discovery process is authentically and peacefully aligned within, then attention can compassionately expand to others for living in an environment into Who are we together?

As a national body we are asking Who are we? from an assorted collection of Who am I? To step into the center of heart and heartbreak is to ask consciously Who do I want to be now? This is the movement from what we have known and believed into creating the future we honestly desire. On the grief bridge this is the new beginning that awaits on The Other Side. There are many losses and endings to process when we truly look forward and no longer hold onto familiarity of past beliefs. Hope is that possibilities exist. Even when you invite change there is loss.

Now What?

What are we to do?! This is a big, old mess. The metaphor for action is the elephant, both the elephant in the room and the one you eat one bite at a time, as well as the third perspective relative to the direction from which you approach the elephant, as the chomp on the leg is different than a nibble of an ear.

As a response and a response-ability, we currently have option to face death in the stage of decline rather than at the end, when it all feels “too late.” We can choose to grieve, to process with anticipation and strategic choice now, or to avoid, resulting in a delaying state of depression, overwhelm and brain fog later.

If you are reading this you have been given the call to act. You are hearing the alarm to a reality that life is changing whether you want it to or not. Structures and people are dying. You cannot un-see what you see now. You may feel like you have no control. You may be shouting good riddance to one aspect and cry deeply for another. On the grief bridge this is chaos and paradox of loss. Paradox allows for creativity as well as devastation.

I wonder, since we can foreshadow that our life as we know today is dying, can we really release the parts that no longer serve us? Can we agree on those parts? Can we consciously choose to clear the societal fields of old limiting beliefs, not people, that separate us? Death is quintessential separation, the physical ending of body and life connection. What we are living with today is death in emotional and mental separation as a species. We can liken this national dilemma to the grief of a messy divorce, rather than death, when the challenge is accepting separation loss in proximity and to be harmonious in a need for cooperation. During divorce, one often longs for return to the familiar; has magical thoughts for it simply working out whether together or apart; and may divide formally common forces as each seek refuge with the allies once known to both.

We are dis-connected. The healing journey is to understand the lesson and make meaning of the loss, not necessarily effect a cure to keep everything alive. Do we choose to continue to feed the cells that seek to destroy our health? Or, do we feed the healthy cells knowing that some will starve and die in natural course?

Getting Unstuck

Clients come to me saying Help, I don’t want to be stuck in grief. Our nation is stuck in grief because of the very real experiences and stories of death and loss and separation among its people. Healing efforts are to recognize and clear any regrets, images, traumas and, yes, pain of damaging historical significance. Often this means unconditional forgiveness to free our own self and yet not condone the actions or hold expectations of others in their journey.

Many fear that getting through grief after significant death means we are required to forget. The healthier choice is to honor and remember specifically so we won’t forget. However, carrying too many things of the past creates clutter and usually costs the bearer a fate of ill relationships, space, energy and esteem. Health returns with the balance of clearing and nourishing and adjusting.

Not all the Why and Why me inquiry will provide a definitive or satisfying answer. To relive over and over, to recreate what we don’t want over and over, to ask to change what is done is the insanity loop. It creates anxiety in anticipation for what lies ahead. The challenge is to see a future for well-being, but not through eyes of fear and worry regardless of the brain’s default to this first line of defense. The task is to accept every moment in the constant change of today and live from the mindful heart of kindness, appreciation, care and compassion. This means, accept our humanness.

The Question is How?

Death teaches us that life changes in an instant. That instant can come as unexpected and swift, or lingering and predictable. We can keep yelling, killing and fighting while expecting different results or we can stop the insanity by choosing steps aligned with united direction for peaceful people, community and planet.

In grief, I always begin with an educational Start Here Now. It’s OK that you don’t know what you don’t know! In grief, there are days we wake up and simply find our self here. The journey ahead begins with learning about yourself today. Your starting point may be very personal healing needs. You may be ready to fight loudly for the national good. Your here is here.

Life is measured by breath and pulse. What you need to know is that emotional and physical health is centered from your heart outward. As you heal yourself of social and personal affronts and old beliefs, your heart and compassion grows for others. You become more receptive and less fearful. You fall into unattached love when you thought it not ever possible to feel love again. Love always begins with you.

Make a start. Make your steps simple. Practice daily. Proceed with kindness.

The following tips are essential self-love care for precarious (and not so precarious) times.

Quiet your Mind

To get out of your mind is to shift focus to your breath and heart. This is the center of relationship to yourself and others. A few minutes of practice each day can be refreshing and energizing. Seek out information on mindfulness or meditation. “Quiet” can be found in a cup of coffee staring out the window or in a favorite space without interruption. You simply want to be able to hear your breath. There are many apps for your phone such as Insight Timer, Calm, Headspace, and HeartMath to support your exploration and make it easy.

Nourish your Body

Your body is the environment for life and action. Give it love and it will reward you with increasing energy to do what you love. Breath and heart as practiced above decreases stress and supports critical body health with life-affirming oxygen. Every day, make one intentional choice to show your body you love it. You already know what it needs! (If you don’t, follow the pain to find out) You decide what’s easy. Food choice. Call for that doctor visit. Body care. Exercise. Walk in nature. Awaken your senses: touch, sight, smell, taste, sound.

Challenge your Beliefs

First, become aware of what you believe. Be bold to have an opinion. Be brave and curious to hear someone else’s perspective. Understand why and what you believe rather than mindlessly repeat yourself or what you heard. Ask yourself, is it true? Rethink and question. Check these beliefs for alignment in how you present yourself to the world and notice how the world reflects their perception back to you. Most of us carry around a lot of misinformation and old patterns that are no longer needed in our adult world. Evolve!

During your healing work, acknowledge that

  • New loss awareness brings out old unfinished pain and old grief.
  • Someone will say something stupid! You are likely to distance or lose friends or family as you come more into your own stated values. These pains are an unfortunate part of the journey. This clears your field for being who you are meant to be.
  • You are not responsible for our social history. You are able to respond to the justified pain by understanding the impact of our collective history on your personal being, sense of belonging and beliefs. As you learn, extend the overlay of history for how it might impact others.
  • Mean, angry people exist, live from their fear and insecurity, and won’t be heart-centered. You don’t have to sit in their noise. Stand for yourself the best you know. Be safe.
  • Beliefs come from prior teaching, indoctrination, and experiences. All beliefs are subject to review! Your underlying values are the heart of who you are and how you behave.
  • Honesty is not the same as truth.
  • Sharing is very important. In person dialogue is preferred over social media: call on trusted friends, see out a therapist or coach, join support circles or groups of diverse and like-minded people willing to grow.
  • You are stretching new emotional muscles and thought patterns. It may hurt.
  • No one is you with the same experiences and make up. You can chew on the same elephant but you stand at a different place. You are here; they are in their here.

Word to Live by:

            For your mind: Reading, Writing, Thinking, Talking

            For your body: Breathing, Feeling, Clearing, Nourishing

            Through your spirit: Knowing, Being, Receiving, Expanding

Healing work is to honestly love and respect yourself rather than change others. You are unique and you have the right to express your form of uniqueness. In this authenticity, you are less affected by the conduct of others in their personal decisions and lifestyle. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pain and ire of others with beliefs counter to yours. As you transform, your heart’s ability, empathy and compassion for the journey of others along their way will expand. This is how we change the world one person in their own time through grief.

Every day, give yourself a hug for what you did (quiet, nourish, challenge) not what is left to do! When you focus on what is going well and right, healthy activities grow. As you grow so will others around you. As you walk this path, proceed with kindness for yourself and others.

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