Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love… Grief is a normal and healthy experience after loss. But so is resilience. Over the years an interesting change in grief therapy has been the emphasis on resilience; the awareness that people normally find healthy ways to adapt and live with loss. That’s not to say it’s a quick and easy task. It’s not that grieving suddenly ends and the person forgets and moves on. No, what happens is that a weight that initially feels unbearable becomes, in time, manageable. The grief becomes compact enough, with the hard edges removed, to be gently placed in one’s heart. – Momento Mori by David Malham, Grief Therapist, diagnosed with ALS/Motor Neurone Disease, for the New York Times
In February 2016 I lost my father to cancer, after a year long street fight that confronted the darkest of places about my embattled relationship with him, the dynamics of my family and my musings of my own mortality. He wasn’t the first death in my family I felt deeply. But it was perhaps the most arduous.
Early in 2017 a friend lost her mother very quickly and unexpectedly. She reached out for solace. We traded texts, shared words and links, and spoke with whole hearts.
This page is a collection of things that seemed to ring true to us, I’ll continue to curate passages and links that speak the truth so that we can hopefully find more words to help us share what most of us don’t want to talk about.
“It takes time sweet woman. There is no shortcut. Courage is giving yourself permission feel your way through it. Self-compassion is required – to allow yourself to not be OK, to ask for what you need and acknowledge heartbreak that needs tending too.
I found journaling helpful. And I saw a counsellor monthly for the year between Dad’s diagnosis and his final day. I found myself grieving the loss of who he was while he was in decline. I had time to drip feed my grief in a way.
But whether it’s a quick invasion or a slow migration, grief eventually comes to live with us all and sets up camp. And everything you knew as it was, is no longer. It gives you work to do that you didn’t sign up for. I feel that the absolute heaviness of grief does eventually dissipate, but learning to make a space for it in our emotional landscape is necessary for wholehearted living. Be gentle with yourself. You are learning how to be with this.
Brené defines grief as loss, longing and/or feeling lost. All of those can be present in a single heartbeat. That’s hard. And painful. And normal. And sometimes it takes your breath away. So remember to breathe through it. Just small steps each day, one breath at a time.”
– Kylie Lewis, text to a friend
The Anniversary Crash
I think a grief counsellor is a good choice. Holding space to talk through hard things always helps at some level. Especially with such significant, poignant dates swirling around you, the timing is absolutely right. The first time you come to those dates as painful reminders of what it lost, it’s very hard, and finding ways to honour, acknowledge and celebrate life takes on a whole new dimension.
Also my experience is that ‘anniversary grief’ (grief around specific dates/life markers) is real. I had a very difficult January because I was reliving last January when I spent a lot of time just sitting beside Dad in silence watching TV with him while he was fading away beside me. I really needed to be gentle with myself this year and went back to my counsellor to talk/cry my way through it. Even now, I can be driving my car and a wave of sadness can crash over me – it catches me often when I’m alone and contemplative. I’m not afraid of experiencing it, but I’m often surprised when it comes. I have a family size box of tissues in my glove box!
Don’t rush it sweet woman. This is one of the biggest life experiences we can have.
– Kylie Lewis, text to a friend
Option B Stories on Grief and Loss
The Importance of Being Lost
“Lately I’ve been thinking about something someone said to me a couple of years ago: I was openly pondering to a new acquaintance about whether we would/should stay here in Sydney as a family or move back to Europe. They later told me they felt I was lost and that it was very important I find my ground, to find home. I took that statement in, letting it sink into my core and it made me question my way of being. I thought, “It’s true, I am lost. I’ve just lost my Mum, and in many ways she was my anchor. But… isn’t it natural to feel lost right now? Isn’t it ok to feel lost at times?” This notion of being lost and the perception that it was somehow wrong triggered my feeling of not being enough. As I have slowly been coming out of the intense bubble of grief, I have realised the importance of being lost at times, how natural it is, and how absolutely vital it is to our well being, our growth.
In our era’s obsessional phase of go-go-go-do-do-do-show-show-show, states of being “other” – like being lost – don’t get a look in. Nobody is supposed to be lost. Everyone is supposed to be found. And if you’re not found, you’re not safe, you’re not grounded, you’re not happy and living the best you can.
At the end of last year, you may recall my newsletter discussing reflection. For the last month of the year, I took the time to reflect on what had happened throughout the year, to write down the key events and learnings, and to take the time to let it all in instead of just keep on going and doing. Did you give it a try too? Going against the grain of busy-ness was challenging, but I certainly felt the positive impact of it.
It led me into the new year with a sense of space I had not previously experienced at that time of year. But I realised that while others seemed to be fired up and had already planned the year ahead with their projects, I had not planned a thing. “Shouldn’t I be fired up too?” I wondered. Every year I think because it’s a new year that I should, like everyone else, be full of plans. But with this new sense of space and reflection, I could see that over the past few years, I became quite sick at that time of year, and if I looked back even further, I saw the pattern of pushing energy and then becoming run down, with the level of illness becoming more intense with each year (like remember that time I thought it was a great idea to crowd-fund and self-publish my next book, with the campaign running from my birthday in January to end on my daughter’s first birthday on Valentine’s Day?!!). So I thought about it, wondering why this was happening and with clarity I finally understood: the beginning of the year for me is my nurturing phase, not my doing phase. In January, it is my Mum’s birthday and my birthday, then February it’s my daughter’s birthday, and in March it’s the anniversary of Mum’s passing. I understand that most people have these events happening throughout the year, and just get on with it. I’ve understood and I think, finally accepted, that I feel life differently, and these dates for me carry much significance for the time being and I need lots of space around them. This year, as challenging as it was to not push through, I took it easy for the first few months. I let myself be lost. And what do you know? I did not get sick, and by the end of March, the sense of renewal came back, and I found my shoreline again…
“Like a paper boat on a windy sea,
Battered and bruised from the to-ing and fro-ing,
Drenched in drops of tears that fall like rain…
I’ve lost sight of the shore.
All this, yes.
But now that I am surrounded by all that is unfamiliar,
I’m more aware, more awake, than ever before.
And with wide, open eyes I soon find myself
In a world of wonder I never dared dream about.
It’s in this world that wandering hearts come lost,
To be found.”
Excerpt from My Heart Wanders in Chapter One: Reflection, Leaving Home. – Pia Jane Bijkerk
The other day I read Chapter Four of My Heart Wanders, titled “Uncertainty: Lost In Paris”. It’s a reflection of a time when I got lost while walking the streets of Paris when I first moved there, triggering a panic attack. There was grief at its core – a realisation that something had changed in me, there was an opening of myself, a layer being shed. And in that moment, after I’d calmed down and found my way back to the apartment, I understood how important an experience it was, and without it I wouldn’t have understood what I needed to, I wouldn’t have grown.
“It’s in this world that wandering hearts come lost, to be found.”
– Pia Jane Bijkerk Newsletter, April 2017
We don’t ‘lose’ our mothers – the reality is more violent than that
…My uncle fought in Vietnam and was close by when a fellow soldier stepped on a landmine and died instantly. My uncle survived, but with serious injuries. For years after, pieces of shrapnel would occasionally begin to work their way up and out through his flesh.
Grief is like that – it’s inside you and it has to come out. There are no shortcuts. Be prepared for sudden explosions of feeling that overtake you at inappropriate times. Once, upon seeing a mother with twin toddler sons at the local grocery store, I had to abandon a nearly full cart of groceries and rush out of the store to go cry in the car in big, ugly, gulping sobs.
…There’s nothing good that comes out of the death of someone you love, but I have learned this: the magnitude and bottomlessness of the pain you feel is a testament to the love you shared. And while I don’t ever expect to arrive at a point in life where I’m alright with the fact that my mother is gone, I know that I am so, so lucky to have loved and been loved that much by anyone.
That may be small consolation against the howling wind of sadness that is blowing through my friends’ lives right now, but it’s the best that I can offer. That pain you’re feeling is directly proportional to how much you loved and were loved.
It does not ever, apparently, go away altogether, but over time the howling diminishes to a roar, which degrades to a sigh and you find yourself able to go about your life again, though sadder, different. Be gentle and kind to yourself and honor each stage of what you’re feeling and, as much as you can, be thankful for your mother’s love.”
Read the full article by David Ferguson for The Guardian here.
The Medicine of Grief
It seems I’ve been getting the same message from multiple sources.
Here’s the lesson – “Jono, let yourself grieve.”
Although this may sound obvious, my experience has taught me that it isn’t.
If you’re like me, you don’t always feel safe or comfortable expressing sadness and grief.
Instead of being encouraged to grieve, our culture values things like stoicism, positive thinking and just ‘getting on with it’. We’re generally only given permission to grieve when someone dies.
But what about the rest of life?
What about the loss of cherished dreams? The loss of identity? The loss of nature? The loss of health? The loss of political integrity? Or the loss of how things used to be?
I remember hosting Matthew Fox in Sydney a few years back, and he let this fly….
“If we don’t grieve, our creativity gets blocked and nothing gets done. We wallow in our pain. We are not empowered to do something with our lives. We turn our creativity against ourselves in the form of self-pity, depression and more. Unleashing grief unleashes creativity. Without it we are not fully present to life and its challenges; we lack authentic warrior energy.”
Matthew even holds public “Grieving Ceremonies” to offer safe places to pour out the enormous sadness and loss we are feeling. Many years ago, I attended one of these ceremonies with around 1000+ people and I’ve rarely ever felt so connected.
I’ve noticed that whenever I’m feeling off or numb, it’s generally because I’m out of touch with what’s happening inside me. On the contrary, when I give myself permission to really feel what is true for me, a new sense of aliveness, appreciation and even lightness awakens.
“Grief won’t rest until you swallow the medicine she made especially for you, and tell her your story of death and life.” ~ Danielle LaPorte
If you’re feeling sad, it’s ok. To grieve is a natural response. Set it free. Let it work on you.
Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to name what’s happening. Then find safe ways to express your feelings. This could be via dance, movement, therapy, stretching, journaling or whatever helps. Then stay close to those who welcome your whole self.
Your relationship to grief could be the very thing standing between you and your highest aspirations – and for the full flourishing of kindness on our planet.
– Wake Up Project Newsletter, 1 February 2017 by Jonathon Fisher, founder of Wakeup Project
On The Five Stages of Grief
The stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Grief.com
Best And Worst
|The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief||The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief|
|1. I am so sorry for your loss.||1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young|
|2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.||2. He is in a better place|
|2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.||2. He is in a better place|
|3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.||3. She brought this on herself|
|4. You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.||4. There is a reason for everything|
|5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…||5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now|
|6. I am always just a phone call away||6. You can have another child still|
|7. Give a hug instead of saying something||7. She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him|
|8. We all need help at times like this, I am here for you||8. I know how you feel|
|9. I am usually up early or late, if you need anything||9. She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go|
|10. Saying nothing, just be with the person||10. Be strong|
|The Best Traits Of People Just Trying To Help||The Worst Traits Of People Just Trying To Help|
|1. Supportive, but not trying to fix it||1. They want to fix the loss|
|2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.||2. They are about our discomfort|
|2. About feelings||2. He is in a better place|
|3. Non active, not telling anyone what to do||3. They are directive in nature|
|4. Admitting can’t make it better||4. They rationalize or try to explain loss|
|5. Not asking for something or someone to change feelings||5. They may be judgmental|
|6. Recognize loss||6. May minimize the loss|
|7. Not time limited||7. Put a timeline on loss|