Grief bridge

Starts and Stops

For the last few days I’ve been wondering and wandering around how to get reconnected to you, my peeps of Navigating Grief while I honor the place that is my current life. Is my work in grief or is it after? Yes and Yes. I sit in this waning December and the approaching new year and I laugh and shake my head as the pattern of here I go again, I am excited and back on track smacks me in the face! Really? Can I do different in 2020? Why do I even continue the walk of this tale I seek to tell?

Two Years 

Synchronicity… the unconventional guide appears.

For two years I have been in an incredible shift during the US and global grief that shakes my beliefs to the core. It awakens my “Do something” or go hide. Externally forced changes –personal death of loved ones and devastating violence in our surroundings – are chaotic affronts about our own need to heal. In 2017 I penned a closely and still deeply held article titled Death and Grief for a Nation in response to the Charlottesville riot, deaths, injuries and murder of Heather Heyer (Aug. 2017). I reread it right after the Parkland Florida school shooting that killed 17, reverberated collective PTSD and forever etched us all (Feb. 2018). I returned to my own words again when I heard the thundering message “do something” in the eruptions of shared grief in Dayton Ohio and at the outrage of loss and empathy for the immigrant families at our borders (Aug. 2019). Yet in my heart’s outpouring onto paper, I have stay seated in my own little safe bubble under the guise of self-care, intergenerational healing and seemingly random studies and privilege about saving our earth, people and future. My mantra is to release it all “when the time is right,” whenever that time shows itself. Is the time approaching? I know; this is insight, no responsibility. Fear.

I bought a house in 2018 and began a major remodel that reflects just me, each choice uncovering the substance of what that might mean. Into 2019, I tore out the floors, the kitchen (heart of the home) and every door and baseboard. Each wall was wiped away of its history with new paint and color. During the upheaval and adjustments (and a local snow-mageddon), one of my brothers died. Two weeks later my first biological grandson was born. I was witness to human birth for the first time after experiences of being present for a handful of human deaths. Beautiful healthy new life entered my personal death month as husband, mother and a brother all have February exit dates since 2012, the progressive start into conscious Navigating Grief.

Starts and Stops

Start and Stop
My work in progress of blog to book editing. I apparently dropped the mock up of my revised business card on top while sidetracked.

I was recently asked for a business card (for his friend) so I passed along the one I currently carry with a tag line of “unconventional guidance after significant loss.” It is accurate. Yet, I know the grieving person to receive it is nowhere ready for that realm and is not going to call me. I should resurrect my old brand of card I thought. The one I have personally outgrown, certainly not professionally. I felt like I have failed to meet him where he is by the description of things, although I know this isn’t true should we come face to face. Thus, my uneasiness to ask myself is it “grief or after” care I want to offer? lurked under my skin this past week. Yes remains my answer because I have traveled way down the road and now double back. 

Two years ago, I left a retreat with a note in hand that said I was committed to “publishing my book” an internal lifelong must-do since I was 16! Moving from writing to publishing is a significant commitment. The blue-tape note on my wall in front of me says you have already written, edit-her! The step between writing and publishing is editing. In a long soak of printing out 250 pages of all my blogs weeks ago (my story documentation in the origins of Navigating Grief), the editor has finally shown up. Hooray! It feels different this time. This commitment is for my soul, maybe it will help yours.

However, Joan being Joan, I fall into my procrastinator’s rabbit hole of distraction (what are all those studies about anyway?) and I find myself updating and cleaning up my website – edit this too – since I might try to muster another newsletter outreach after this long absence. Then what? Will I disappoint (myself)? My distraction turned to creating a new business card which is the succinct outward message and visual for Who am I now? . Never mind that this house remodel and my self-indulgence completely obliterated most of my official business, as I sidelined ongoing communications and stepped aside from openly promoting this grief coach. Fortunately, just enough calls still come in. So yes, I can believe I am still needed, valued, remembered and keep my financial boat afloat.

The website update and the development of a new business card is a purging as much as any downsizing of house and boxes of memorabilia in a big move. I am actively remodeling Joan Hitchens and Navigating Grief in all forms! My overarching Whole-Being theory I expect to share going forward includes that our seeable Environment is a reflected alignment of our actions and thoughts. Do our inside and outside objectively match?  

Beyond Who am I  

I don’t want to be known as “widow” any longer, even if the word is threaded into my tapestry. Yet, I remain “a widow.” Although I have traveled past that title, I prefer to be noticed as one whole being. I know who I am now. Probably for the first time. Now, in what ways might I provide Hope from an unconventional life guided by the invisible that death asks us to articulate into meaningful form? How will I convey I sit in the depths, not live here, as I extrapolate the identity of widow and orphan for which you relate with me? The hold on and let go is what we all want and reject at the same time. In this process I painfully shut down my long-standing widow group because it was time to liberate our collective story as much as redefine our personal narratives. This might be my mission on our global grief as well: liberate and redefine.

I am showing up right now to throw my hat back into the ring, the circle actually. The circle is one teaching way to be together in spiritual and communal exploration together. The circle is the campfire of story and lives. The circle is the wedded band of eternal connection. The circle is a pattern of natural cycles – the seasons and tides and planetary movement of the universal life force. Yet if one sits in circle too long, the fire goes out. The circle needs abundant fuel. I urge a break into the closed loop circle to nudge it into a spiral path for growth. Unconventional. Mysterious. Questionable. 

So What?

I know there is a bigger shift and energy that supports me in going forward — people and commitment and movement of a global changing tide. It is shift of healing by knowing myself and my beliefs and trusting that we will all be OK in the chaos of personal and collective deaths, grief and loss. My shift is the edited version of Joan 2.0 that is ready to get back to publishing on my website, holding important conversations and reaching out from a heart and viewpoint of life impacted by deaths. Death of a loved one. Death and Grief for a Nation.

Now What?

I have no doubt I’ll have a few more Starts and Stops in this launch of the new version of old reliable thoughts over the next few months. The technology, including a change of platforms and communications and especially the uncontrollable algorithms of social media, are a challenge. My own patterns for following shiny baubles of permission to enjoy life and continued learning are a challenge! You are encouraged to connect with me in whatever manner you choose – directly, FB, and through upcoming opportunities as they are made available. You decide if and when the time or season is right.

I make no promises. My direction as writer is to articulate and share messages of love that is the life affirming by-product of facing deaths and grief. My offer as life coach is to hold forth hope in the possibilities that facing deaths and grief is a healing elixir not only for you, but in its resonance from you into the DNA of all societies. However long it takes, I hope you might stay with me on this journey and share your own along the way!

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.

Greif Reflection Hawaii sunset

Grief Connected to Lint!

When someone dies, they are never really gone. Dave appears to me in odd ways. Occasionally, in dreams (much less frequently now). Sometimes in unexpected short bursts of crying over releasing one more thing – emotionally or physically. And, most often in those funny little stories that pop up.

I was moving the load of laundry from washer to drier and there he was. In the mess of Kleenex left in a pocket of my jeans. You know, those fuzzy bits and pieces that cling to the denim or sweatshirt? And it is always in the “dark” wash load. Oh, yeah. reminders of past.  Back to school, Teacherman! Fall. Colds. Germy students. Wads of lint.

Damn. I forget to check the pockets! Back through the seasonal cycle of life, and, yep, loss.

But this time it was me. I was sick with that respiratory virus going around here for the last couple of weeks. I stuffed tissues in my pockets. And I forgot to check my clothes before I started the wash. Just me. I was the only one who could have done this now.

But there he was, in my memory of doing his laundry. And I had to laugh. Because what I remember is he always carried a paper towel for his wipes, not tissue. Who does that? Dave did! How painful on my delicate features to even think about, but clearly he was a tough man! LOL. In the torn up shreds dotting my lint catcher are moments of my past life. And a silly little quirk of Dave.

I don’t forget because this is in my cellular make up now. He is in my being. My pleasure and pain centers of the brain. My “I am” of today. I don’t forget – from Princess, the dog of my childhood, to Buckaroo and Lucky, or my grandparents, my dad, or the even tragic loss of a schoolmate. So why would I try to deny these funny little stories that gave my husband life? I cherish them. I don’t have to be drawn backwards into them. I acknowledge the ways they are within me today. I carry it all forward on this continued path.

A year and two ago the laundry story may, well, would have, brought tears along with the laughter. Today, I can measure the separation of living in the “we” of past into “me” of present mind through my current responses. I am very comfortable and comforted these days in my memories.  This sense of well-being and memory is a sign of being on the other side from grief without denying my loss.

Yet, I too, still have some work to do. I am ready to complete another step of separation and give Dave a resting pace of his own. There are still most of his cremains here at home. I am finally getting around to place his remains in a memorial garden for visitations by family, friends and students. This isn’t anything I was really putting off or feeling big concern to do. It is just easy to not do! I wasn’t in a hurry, and I am not particularly now. It will still take a bit of time to get all the logistics taken care of. I just know this is the right time for me and maybe importantly for others.  I know he’ll like this. He6’ll still appear in my  stories and memories of lint, but in this step I can also go visit as I feel the need.

Ok, here come a few tears…


Widow not an anniversary

Not The Anniversary

September 11.

Remembered by most for the tragic terrorist attacks on the US World Trade Center and Pentagon. Ugh.

Remembered by me as my wedding anniversary. Read more

Top Ten Steps for Grief

Ten Actionable Steps Through Grief

Grief is work. Moving through grief means taking the necessary steps to reclaim your changed life in its new formation.

I didn’t wake up the day after my husband Dave died and know which way to go, who I was or what the next days, weeks and months would bring. I was sick, tired and broken. I was alone. Because I was knowledgeable about grief, hospice, and all the theories, the outside world could see me as strong and able. Ironically, that may have made me feel even more alone. But I was strong. I am strong. And it was difficult still. Read more

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.



Navingating Grief Through Time

Grief in Time

Counting Days, Weeks, Months and Years of Grief

Time is one of the most difficult concepts of sorting through “what’s normal?” in grief. Words like “move on,” “get over it,” and “it’s been long enough now,” often come as unwanted advice related to the speaker’s sense of grief in time. For the bereaved, time is marked by the calendar – seasons, last year, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and special events. Grief swells not only during milestone dates for the loved one, but also with the passage of dates for the closest people in his or her life, such as your own birthday. No wonder that the pain of grief doesn’t seem to end in the years following a significant loss. There are always new dated reminders through time. Each one is counted: the first, the second, and on and on.

BC and AD

If you are a parent, you may be familiar with the reference phrase BC, “Before Child.” The change and transition into parenting is marked by the day you bring home your new life. What you could do as an adult couple in terms of freedom to move at will is suddenly gone. When life gets hectic or overwhelmed by parenting activities, or spontaneity is overruled by responsibility, then “Before Child” is the reference. You’ve had to adjust your mind to consider the needs of a dependent being. The recognition of that change and the secret code among the parents who know is “BC” – how you could behave before child: there was a time when life was different… Often noted in lightheartedness, nevertheless, BC is recognition of a major change in the lives of the entire family.

The same may hold true for you in your loss with the phrase AD “After Death.” You mark time based on “since my loved one died.” Now instead of the welcomed or chosen change this one is thrust upon you. As time marches forward the marker is After Death. Time is about what is missing, who can’t enjoy, he or she would have liked… Often this too is a secret code among those who know deep loss. But rather than in a lighthearted fashion, loss is heavyhearted. The impact of this change and the subsequent transition is just as huge and life-changing as a birth. But in American society, generally speaking, there is little patience for death. There is little patience to speak of it, to mourn for long periods or to recognize the major change a death creates for those left behind.

With birth comes a child, tangible proof to tell us change continues. In death there is emptiness, a void. Death is “out of sight, out of mind” to the outside world. Yet, for the bereaved, reminders are all around.

So how long do you grieve?

Time is in the eye of the beholder. There is active grief – from moment of loss to public mourning to a place of deep, personal adaptation – and there is life long grief, that is, loss – the continued gratitude or acknowledgement for having known your loved one and the fleeting bittersweet memories of wishing he or she was here. How long you might experience active grief is related to the many factors of your individual relationship, circumstances, and chosen path to “do something” about grief, whether on your own or in support programs. Your time on grief might also have to do with your own personal makeup and philosophy as well, including earliest memories of death. The time of active grief does differ for everyone, even people who grieve the same loss. This point alone can be the friction among family members about the way one grieves.

The societal gold standard that grief lasts one year is based on the calendar and traditions: walking the path through each and every first since. A year marks four full seasons of personal space to feel and live the transition for what was, to what is. Religious or family ceremonies often recognize the one year passage. Yet, widows and widowers often discover an unexpected “second year is tougher” reality. Child loss can leave an open wound for many years. There are studies and anecdotes to support that rather than a year, the bereaved themselves report two to five years as a more reality-based adjustment time period. Even so, many people note resiliency in the face of loss in the six months to the year marker. Complicated or prolonged grief over long periods, including severe depression, is diagnosed for less than 20% of people (on the high end), with 10-15 % more likely. Grief spills out as a complexity of accumulated past and present emotions. How do these varied responses help you view your sense of what’s normal?

That leaves a wide range of “normal” time of grief, that is, how long you respond to your loss.

Not everyone needs nor wants help during the time of  active grief. However, short term or long term community and/or private support is often a great relief as it underscores just how normal your grief and feelings of loss might be, months and even years later. Trying to assign a time period to grief and loss only adds one more “should” to your list of getting “over it.” The real questions are: are you coping better over time (in spite of the pain and sorrow)?  Are you finding outlets so your grief is dynamic, rather than static? Are you noticing increasing moments of happiness (or is it all grief, all the time?)? Are you healthy or is your body taking on the grief unknowingly? On the roller coaster of loss and time, the majority of people experience lessening of the pain and associations of loss across the timeline. If your level or sorrow and pain or ability to function does not change or actually increases since the death of  your loved one, seeking out the support of a professional grief coach or therapist can provide you an objective viewpoint.

You might be surprised to know that there are many people who worry about if they are getting over the loss too fast as those who think they might be taking too long (or someone else tells them they are taking too long.) Here is where you can check in with yourself. What do you think? Do you want to be in a different place in life since your loss? Are you actually avoiding any feelings instead of grieving?  Your instinct about whether you have grieved “long enough” or still have “more grieving to do” is usually right on. First, just listen. Listen deeply. How much time it takes to adapt to this major change in your life is subjective. After all, you are the expert on your grief.

What’s your story? Are you taking long enough time to grieve, or are you in in  a hurry? What expectations do you or others around you offer about how much time grief, mourning and loss lasts?  If you were (are) a caregiver before the loss, has the time of illness affected your sense of how long you’ve grieved?


Awakening in 2013 Grief Reflection

My Awakening in 2013

December 31, 2013. Ah, happy New Year time!

I can’t awaken on December 31 and not do at least a quick writing of the year in review. I actually feel the pull for a long blog post,* simultaneous to the pull of wanting to complete my to-do list of the day. Choices!

Awaken has to be the word for 2013 for me. Awakening of my entire being! OMG. A year ago I was in a lot of fear for the year. I had to face the first calendar year change without Dave. Boy, did that get to me. I wasn’t sure my own body would hold me up; I hobbled with arthritis in both hips. I was considering another head surgery for my inner ear. I was a physical mess and wondered if I had given my all and really would need to just roll over and, and what? Die? Play dead? Wait until I needed the next surgery to “fix” me? It was a passive and painful time without much to look forward to, even amidst personal growth and self-encouragement.

I didn’t know then what I do now – It was a moment of suspended fight, flight or freeze. And I chose the path to fight. What a great decision, and more importantly, a great commitment to awaken the inner me.

And I took a risk to change.

Short list of “Wins” for the year:

  •   I took a chance on me: To own the belief in myself. I would have normally given that task to Dave, since he did it so well.
  •   I took a risk to get out of limbo by flying to a foreign country. A “pivotal moment” in my life path – do I sit (freeze) and wait for my ear to worsen, or do I challenge my physical and emotional capacity (fight). I had to know the answer for myself, and I won this fight.
  •   I have consciously reinvented me for today. The results are evident! LOL.
  •   I reclaim my intelligence, left to wither under stress of caregiving and doing, walking through life a bit numb for a few years. This is a fabulous awakening. (Mind!)
  •   I reclaim my physical wellness through tough and painful choices in nutrition, deep body manipulation and alignment, minute focus on exercise/movement, and energy healing.(Body!)
  •   I reclaim, or more likely, created (I am creating) my connections to past, present and future people, nature, and universe in a very intentional direction. (Spirit!)
  •   I have learned to love me in a deep understanding and I look forward to life as it unfolds. I simply feel better, give myself more room to forgive, be grateful and accept my own humanness – and that of others.
  •   I have found my passion in coaching, and the privilege for sharing the vulnerable time of grief with others.
  •   I am proud to be building the new Discover-Create-Share Center. Something not even on my radar when 2013 began.

2013 has been a phenomenal year of my own doing. Literally and figuratively. The actions are a blueprint for my life forward. 2013 has been a year of my walking “Life by Design” that I point to as a coach for finding the path through loss to the other side of grief. It is surreal to me that I inspire (so I’m told), that I see a healthy woman look back in the mirror, and that my choices and decisions are easy in the filter of what’s best for me.

2014 is to be a continuation on this journey through healing – not just from Dave’s death, but in all my relationships with the world; foremost is the relationship I have with me. I have more plans and vision than I can possible implement. But them again, I didn’t think I would travel so far in 2013. Anything really is possible!

* * *

* Originally posted in Joan’s Writing  & Support Community journal December 31, 2013. Community friends and members can see shared journals as they are written.  Join now to start your own writing and healing after loss.