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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

grief journal review

Why I Keep a Grief Journal

April 23, 2020 New Moon in Taurus

Eight years later, for me. Here we all are – isolated together in a mist of Coronavirus 19.

Since December, I have been in a sweeping reconstruction for how I offer my grief and energy coaching practices. All I understand is being gathered into a new format – not the book I set upon (incremental progress) but into a new website presentation. The current site is broken and a mess underneath, and this new place – like moving into a new home – will be a fresh start. Navigating Grief is moving virtually as we speak! I am updating, cleaning up and transferring all of my website, electronic communications and adding content. In tandem, I excitedly return to group work with a hybrid online and virtual course for Start Here Now. This is full circle around the expanding spiral on my journey, now accessible in a new generation of technology and connectivity. If you find household moves are daunting, try the digital assets of home and office! Over ten years in the making…

I am once again between the breaths of what I thought would happen and how it unfolds. Between is such an operative word for me! Of course, between is the walkway of the metaphoric bridge I love so much. Chaos and creativity, in the words of transition expert William Bridges.

My home office has become the 2.0 version of Discover Create Share Center in a private re-configuration of the three-room business suite I opened in 2013. This morning as I rearranged some of the last stuff of books, journals and history I stumbled onto the earliest of my grief journal entries. The first phrase that popped up is “Note – Profoundly personal.” Then a few pages later, I find a dream written just days after my husband’s death.

The Set Up: My husband Dave dies February 15, 2012. He had been on hospice care service for lung cancer one week short of a full year. His illness forced his retirement as a College professor.

In December of 2011, as my husband lay dying, in a preemptive move of impending separation and in service to my own future, I enrolled in a life coaching program to augment my skills of an online client writing platform. This was my original course delivery for the Storybooks for Healing / Grief Reflection program, which later evolved into my signature Start Here Now. The system I used at that time was developed for life coaches so I thought it would be useful to understand this professional perspective. I was curious. What I found in coaching – I continued courses until credentialed – was an education that deeply aligned and furthered my instincts for guiding others through grief, and more importantly life. Unbeknownst then, this was the start of my many educational and experiential programs for professional, personal and spiritual growth ever since. Even this morning I signed up for a much-awaited Crystal Ally Card Master Reading Class! Never in my predictions…

Of note for reading this journal entry to follow, I was also a former hospice respite volunteer. Dave and I were featured in a video that supported our local hospice organization during his end-of-life care. We met with the social worker Jennifer and other hospice organization folk often.

When Dave was diagnosed in 2010 with terminal cancer, I began writing in earnest, for both personal cathartic insight and to “walk the talk” of grief and loss. Over the years, my journal writing can wax and wane, but in every time of need to hear my heart, I always return to the pen. What I want you to know is that writing is an extremely important instrument of insight, hindsight and even foresight. Please. Keep a journal. No matter how tiny or random the thought may seem in the moment. They often show up as amazing finds of synchronicity and messages we yearn to feel and hear forever.

Private journal entry: Monday, February 20, 2012

I had a dream that Dave is still alive – Here’s what I remember:

Dave was going to teach. He was thin, his hair thin and dirty. He needed to bathe. He had to go to College one more day, one more class. Just to see his students.

I helped him, but was not happy for him to go to class. I knew he was not up for it physically. I tried to make him presentable for this day. He wasn’t going to shower. He’d just be there for this last class to tell them he won’t be back. Last thing to do. (He’s at the College – makes me cry.)

I had to meet with the professionals. There is a policeman in the dream somewhere – I just remember the uniform.

Meeting w/ pros – I explained that I saw I spoke w/ Dave, he was going back to College one more time. It didn’t matter if he was dressed up. It would be OK.

I knew he died and didn’t understand how he got back here to go to class again. It wasn’t making sense and I had to get help to know if this is right.

I had a call to talk about Dave’s return. I’d be turned over to a social worker to sort it out. Jennifer wasn’t available but there were other who could listen.

I was at the building for my appointment talking with someone – all were women counselors. There was a lot about who could help me – which person and what type of person – social worker came up most.

I told my story – knowing that Dave had died last week but that he came back for a day to work. Could that happen I wondered? Was I crazy to know better yet still be visited?

We had to go to a different building to talk. This person and I drive the short distance. It was rainy.

I had to go back and forth between buildings. Sometimes by myself, remembering the steps and hallways. I was driven back to the first building and had to go through 3 buildings from the interior to get back to the counselor.

I often tried to sort through the counselor’s credentials and relationship. I need validation about this. (Wow! My career??)

I explained again that Dave came home and readied for his last class. She listened and asked if I thought he could be back. Was I sure he was dead? I said yes, he was at the crematorium, so I knew he died, but it was so real he was here again.

I had a last walk between the buildings. There was a set of stairs – shallow and riser-type / open on the bottom. A woman was rolling almost slithering among them.

Do you need help I asked hurriedly? Yes, came the answer. I yelled for help – many times. Help, help! People came from everywhere, all around. The woman had rolled under the stairwell and back around to the other side. She was OK by the time others arrived.

I was questioned about whether this person needed help – was she in pain or not?

I knew she was. I called for help even though on the outside everything appeared all right. I knew that truth about her. It was genuine. But she is OK.

I was back at the office area for finishing up the appointment. The counselor was helping someone else – perhaps even a co-worker. She was receiving a massage from my counselor. She could see I really needed the support. What about my keys locked in the empty office? I wondered.

I have just one more question I said. Really, seeing Dave and believing he’s come back, even in the midst of knowing he has died / he is dead…. Is that (gesture quotation marks) “normal?”

Of course it is. Was the reassuring answer.

In this end of the dream I have an overwhelming sense that reminds me that I am not working alone. In fact, that I am leading some along. Also, that Dave really is with me –

There is also a dream part about writing a book.

What Dreams are Made of…

The 20/20 hindsight. Holy Moley! Did that just show itself, too! 2020? And the entry itself? 2/20/2012. So funny.

Perhaps you too can see this personal and professional journey foreshadowed, at least in how I interpret this dream today. This journal ghost seems to have come to remind me how universal grief and loss are timeless. I know its accuracy given the choices I make now as I re-commit to the first steps for Navigating Grief. We must sometimes go a long way around in order to come back a very short distance.

“I called for help even though on the outside everything appeared all right. I knew that truth about her. It was genuine. But she is OK.”

Is My Grief Normal? How Long Does Grief Take? How Do I Navigate Grief? These three unstated questions were posed and answered in this dream. The questions I am most asked after significant loss. They are the lead pages on my new website! They are fundamental Navigating Grief concepts developed in my early loss years in coaching, grief and widowhood. Along with that metaphorical bridge full of slats and The Other Side, like the stairwell in the dream. They are concepts which show themselves as universal truths. We will be OK.

The first coursework I am rolling out online is my group support for widows known affectionately as WOW – Wisdom of Widows. “Wow!!,” I wrote in the journal aside. “my career?” I love to coach for all losses so a decision to focus most of my energy on widows today has felt ambiguous to me. This dream indicates lots of women, so perhaps it is my clue of “the right path.” I am on target for a start date for late May, to be announced soon. As well, I am calling others forth to be guides to offer specific loss programs in the coming year on this universal program, too. And, I can meet everyone through private practice. I am excited to rekindle and carry this light forth.

We are experiencing incredibly trying times that shake our core beliefs, stir up every existential fear for ourselves and our loved ones, and even reaches a sense of compassion and gratitude for life, not seen globally before. Finally, it is time to come together. I hate that Coronavirus 19 is an instigator. But it is hard to deny what death does to us.

In my growth through widow’s grief, along with client services and additional losses (my mother, step-father and a brother have died since), I’ve come to a much bigger model for healing, meaning and purpose. You’ll find this on an upcoming page titled The Venn (not Zen) for Whole Being: Beliefs, Body, Mind. This is the area for Being with Loss and personal reidentification once the dark Coping with Loss zone is passed.

In 2017, as I immersed myself into a series of retreats on traditional and contemporary group teaching methods, I emerged with more creative writing and played with doodling journals. This is the intersection I have come to find as “personal grief and healing meet” to arrive at Grief in the World. I can’t think of any better phrase for what we are going through now than “Grief in the World.” I am rolling out more on this concept on the new website. In the meantime, I have written! So much still unpublished, unsaid, like the dream.

In late 2017, I penned a poem: What if. I’ll sign off here for you to ponder the first three questions:

What if death is a messenger of love and connection, not separation?
What if grief is calling to create individual meaning and purpose in life?
What if emptiness is a receptacle for filling?

(Navigating Grief newsletter. April 24, 2020)

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.

 

 

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.

I Need Me

Sunday June 10, 2012

It is not unusual for me to wake up with a song playing in my head. Well, actually I haven’t had one in a long time as I think about it. But this morning, after a few minutes awake in bed, here came the words, a song Dave would take lead vocal in his bluegrass days: “Don’t you call my name, ‘cause I won’t answer, Don’t you call my name, ‘cause I won’t be there.” Ouch. I’ll just let this sit a while.
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My Journey of Healing

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So many changes.

The only constant is change, I’ve heard. I believe it.

I’m thinking about the way people react to change (How I react to change). Some people embrace it, others avoid it. I think Dave didn’t like change ever since he was a boy. He moved from house to house and sometimes between families. He moved around from state to state and house to house with his first family. It wasn’t until we married that he spent more than a few years in one place, in one house. We lived in our first home for twelve years. I know that stability was one aspect of our life that he really loved. But after twelve years, my desire to move was disruptive to both Leah and Dave. I needed change. I needed growth. But there was resistance and fear and upset at the time. I had the urge to move, so we did. (As it turned out, the following year the Nisqually ‘Quake was devastating to the house. We were fortunate to move when we did. Always follow your instinct!)
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It’s Always the Little Things

Thursday March 1, 2012

There’s a dusting of icy snow this morning. The kind that fills in the yards, but stays grass green under the tree canopy. It gives a white definition to the flower bed borders and tops of the fences. The streets are clear. Cold and silence permeate the air.
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