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The Photo Story. Revisited

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10. 
 
Photo memories are so important in our healing processes. This one popped up in my Facebook feed last week. My mother died in February 2015. This photo was taken three years later after her husband died, my step-father, and I was visiting for the service and the subsequent dispersal and moving of the estate “stuff.” I ended up with another shelf of boxes in my garage! The revisit to her death seemed to become completed in the death of her husband and their relationship. The revisit to the memory of two deaths in one photo was what happened when that FB memory returned. It is so timely to Mother’s Day!
 
Holidays and traditions and anniversaries… This is where grief resides. It is one of the universal Influencers on crossing your grief bridge. The shift from a painful reminder into a softer more nostalgic and loving memory is how we go from Coping with Loss into Being with Loss. This is how time can affect the outcome.
 
Mother’s Day is one of those memory lane trips or trip-ups. It is easy for me to sit in the nostalgia since my mother’s death five years ago. I have an honorary camelia in my backyard. I have gone through those boxes and found place for the keepsakes. I have become a grandmother and have a new relationship in my memories for her as grandmother. And even in the death of her husband, I was gifted with new healing conversations which came forth through that shared grief. This is an example of the longer walk with grief in life’s journey.
 
But Mothers Day’s is not all rosy and can be very different for many people in grief.  
  • There is the grief of being a mother without her child. There is no nostalgia for the what-could-have-been; only the ache of longing.
  • There can be the grief of unhealed and unfinished relationships as much as profound loss in a deeply loved and mutual relationship.
  • There are the reminders of one more – day, week, year – without. The reminder of an unavoidable and unrequested change.
The Photo Story is a great writing prompt for your memories. Choose a photo and create the narrative to go with it: Storytelling, feelings, reaction, caption. It can be long or short. Allow whatever comes up to show itself. You can lean into the unveiling. You might also try Revisiting Your Photo Story, as I have done here because it came up via a Facebook memory. You might see a few of your own On This Day memories unexpectedly. It isn’t always FB or social media. Often these memories find us through other synchronistic means. If you stumble into one of these memories, you can take an opportunity to invite her in, tell her what you’ve come to learn or know since you last met. Be nostalgic in softening of your pain as you hold onto the lesson of love.

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Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10. 
 
Photo memories are so important in our healing processes. This one popped up in my Facebook feed last week. My mother died in February 2015. This photo was taken three years later after her husband died, my step-father, and I was visiting for the service and the subsequent dispersal and moving of the estate “stuff.” I ended up with another shelf of boxes in my garage! The revisit to her death seemed to become completed in the death of her husband and their relationship. The revisit to the memory of two deaths in one photo was what happened when that FB memory returned. It is so timely to Mother’s Day!
 
Holidays and traditions and anniversaries… This is where grief resides. It is one of the universal Influencers on crossing your grief bridge. The shift from a painful reminder into a softer more nostalgic and loving memory is how we go from Coping with Loss into Being with Loss. This is how time can affect the outcome.
 
Mother’s Day is one of those memory lane trips or trip-ups. It is easy for me to sit in the nostalgia since my mother’s death five years ago. I have an honorary camelia in my backyard. I have gone through those boxes and found place for the keepsakes. I have become a grandmother and have a new relationship in my memories for her as grandmother. And even in the death of her husband, I was gifted with new healing conversations which came forth through that shared grief. This is an example of the longer walk with grief in life’s journey.
 
But Mothers Day’s is not all rosy and can be very different for many people in grief.  
  • There is the grief of being a mother without her child. There is no nostalgia for the what-could-have-been; only the ache of longing.
  • There can be the grief of unhealed and unfinished relationships as much as profound loss in a deeply loved and mutual relationship.
  • There are the reminders of one more – day, week, year – without. The reminder of an unavoidable and unrequested change.
The Photo Story is a great writing prompt for your memories. Choose a photo and create the narrative to go with it: Storytelling, feelings, reaction, caption. It can be long or short. Allow whatever comes up to show itself. You can lean into the unveiling. You might also try Revisiting Your Photo Story, as I have done here because it came up via a Facebook memory. You might see a few of your own On This Day memories unexpectedly. It isn’t always FB or social media. Often these memories find us through other synchronistic means. If you stumble into one of these memories, you can take an opportunity to invite her in, tell her what you’ve come to learn or know since you last met. Be nostalgic in softening of your pain as you hold onto the lesson of love.

Read more

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.

Paradise Ridge Winery CA Love

Sustainability of Happiness

Once again, at least for my moda operandi in life and work, I have written half a dozen stories in my head and I sit here with a whole new thought to share!

Having just returned from time with my ailing 89 year-old stepfather at the side of his hospital bed in the apartment I last saw my mother alive… Well, you can imagine ghosts of grief rattling around my thoughts. The time was more palatable than painful. I felt the aching reminiscent of caring for Dave, unanswered questions for my mother, wonder and awe for what lies ahead for my stepdad, and also delightful memories all rolled into one long weekend.  Yet, I want to focus on what is ahead. The HOPEHang On Possibilities Exist – is the future view I prefer to reside. Read more

Navigating Grief Christmas 2017 breakfastmorning

Afterwords to Christmas Grief

We are almost through the always tough holiday season that begins at Halloween into a New Year.

I’m sharing my Christmas morning breakfast table… Leftover sushi and fried eggs. Empty chairs. My Charlie Brown Christmas Tree is the only decoration in the house, finally brought off the shelf a few days earlier, two branches fallen to wear and age. My daughter Leah and I purchased it for the master bedroom the last Christmas of Dave’s life in 2011. The little brown paper gift bag seems to spill its dark emptiness, the exchanged packaging for my annual donation to Dave’s legacy in scholarship endowment and bench at the The Evergreen State College. The snow not seen outside the window – the White Christmas – is not my dream, nor is it particularly delightful to me! Read more

Thanksgiving Doorway

Looking Backward

Nothing like an annual event to bring out the reminders of loss! Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and personally special dates are notorious for setting up a grief reaction from melancholy to grief tsunami.

My husband Dave was an historian. He was a professor at The Evergreen State College. One of his programs was named Looking Backward. Traditions are carried forth through looking backward.

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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.

Through the Grief Lens

When Grief Collides With Holiday Stress

Your loss, as  a caregiver or after a death,  impacts every tradition, activity and thought this time of year. You are understandably seeing your holidays through the grief lens – who’s missing, what doesn’t work, the people who don’t get it, fatigue, gratitude, deep emptiness, putting on a mask to get through, big changes.

You don’t have much say about the world around you this time of year. Some people will be annoyingly happy. There is the onslaught of pressure to buy, buy, buy. You are likely to be asked, or insisted upon, to attend functions by well meaning friends or co-workers. Moods change without notice. Holidays are often stressful in the best years, but this year in your grief, everything is magnified. It’s like someone is using the zoom lens to hone in big on one subject: Life and holidays are not the same any more. But like a camera, you do have a choice to change or add a filter to help soften, sharpen, widen or bring your picture into a new focus.

Your world and life is changed. The picture needs adjusting. Here are three filters you can apply as ways to help de-stress your holidays.

  • The Simplify Filter. Ask yourself, “What is the simplest way to approach this situation?” For example, who says decorating must be everything you’ve ever done before? You can simply do only what is important to provide enough decor  to honor the past and present. Stick with it. Simplify might mean doing half of what you might have done in past years. If you shop, you might give a single family gift rather than all the individual presents. You could even ask for a “year off” from giftsgiving! (see Communication Filter). If you’ve been the host, share the responsibilities, delegate or step aside for another person to host. To simplify is not giving up what you want to do, it is about doing what is most comforting with your limited energy or resources.
  •  The Communication Filter. Honesty really is a great policy. Be honest with yourself as well as direct with  others. If an end-of-the-week-Friday-night-gathering-potluck-with-a-white-elephant-gift among co-workers who have been telling you to “get over it” doesn’t sound like fun, do you really go? First, know for yourself what the obstacle might be – emotional, physical or grief – then make the appropriate choice best for you. Grief zaps energy, so decide what adds to your life. In any social circle, diplomacy is called for, so assess your options honestly for personal insight and act accordingly. Write or talk with a trusted person to get to the center of your concern; once you know how you are really feeling, it will be easier to express to others.
  •  The Wellness Filter. Does what you do serve your health of mind, body and spirit? Temptations for food, drinking, staying out late, overdoing and shoulds predominate the holiday season. Taking care of you during this time of both holiday stress and grief is doubly important. What does wellness look like for you? Are you putting yourself aside for others? Whenever you are faced with temptations, put on the Wellness filter — will you “feel good” about your choices later? Or is your instinct worried about regrets? Wellness is often about balance. And even more about making sure you put on your oxygen mask first before tending to others. Ask yourself, “Am I seeking to balance my life with healthy food, sleep, socializing, exercise, (fill in your blank) and work?”

Indulgences are part of the holidays. They have a time and a place. But fulfilling your sense of wanting and even deserving the richness of the season is often at odds with your grief. Plus, in opposition to the extra social activities, December is a time to naturally begin to withdraw or hibernate with the onset of the cold winter months. This is when nature goes dormant to replenish. It’s no wonder there is a confusing pull on whether to stay or go, to grieve or celebrate.

The suggestion? Take each day anew the best you can as you have one foot in the past, and one in the present, as well as a sight into the future. After all, this where the traditions arise. They are built over time not any single year. Making an adjustment — adding a filter — to your current surroundings and needs is a necessary part of the grief journey.

Remember, too, this is not a time to deny yourself. If you find comfort in the company of others and being the host, go ahead. If tears flow unexpectedly, acknowledge that they come from love and loss. You are human. Loss teaches just what that means. So when anger of being left behind fights for attention over gratitude, it’s normal. If getting that gift or potluck dish didn’t get done because you couldn’t get out of bed, that is the truth of grief. If you haven’t been able to participate in traditions or ceremonies as fully and present as you’d like, recognize that your loyalty, faith or spirituality is not defined on one single day. Through grief and holidays, doing the best in the moment is good enough!

Each day is a new picture of life. You start again today. Your journey of healing moves in motion one frame at a time.

Children’s Grief Awareness Day

One out of 20 children will experience the death of a parent before they graduate from high school, while one out of every seven children will face the death of someone close to them.

Who takes care of the children when adults grieve? Sometimes, no one. It is easy to think that children are resilient, and maybe don’t feel the deep loss because they aren’t showing any signs, or have seem to be doing fine. It may be that you don’t have the energy to focus on more than getting through the day yourself. Perhaps they say they are OK because your children don’t want to burden you. Read more