A new year is mostly seen as a time of fresh beginnings and a new start. But it can also be very daunting if you are fresh in grief and wondering how you will move forward without your loved one.
It is so important right now to give the grieving love and grace and time. This includes yourself if you are the one in grief.
Take each day, hour, minute as it comes and don't feel pressured to celebrate or conform to the expectations of what others feel you should be doing.
Sending out love and hope to you all.
I wrote this a long time ago on a Xanga Blog - if anyone remembers Xanga! I thought I would go through it and update it but then I realized, it still stands as is. This essay will be a part of a Grief Zine I am putting together for the first of next year.
Monday, July 04, 2005
Coping With It All ... A summary of thoughts by C~
When my brother died I went into a period of fog. I don't know how long I stayed there, days, months, years. Time stopped, no longer fluid, no longer moving within the norm. Time simply went by and I either went with it or it took me along for the ride. I only know that for the first few months while my family was wrapped in the depths of grief, I was in a protective haze. I felt the hurt but it was akin to being in that sleepy state, right before the alarm goes off. It's comfort allowed me to do what needed to be done because I was the only one that could.
While my family and friends sat around and talked in the murmurs that are only familiar to the newly bereaved, I arranged the things that needed to be done. Looking back I realize I made all of those decisions alone, something I never thought myself capable of and it really isn't until something like that happens, that you realize you can do those things. My mind put things that hurt to think about in a box, tied up with string.... for later. The mind has it's own pain relief and it lasts until one is ready to start coping.
I did what needed to be done and then I fell. Weeks? A month later? I am still unsure, time had swept me up and then one day, it started ticking again and that was the day I couldn't stop crying. Up until that time, I had cried a little, mostly at his memorial , the tears were real but didn't even start to encompass the hurt. I was afraid to let those feelings out, afraid they wouldn't stop once they started.
When I fell, I fell hard. Again, timing was everything because by this point my family was stronger and helped me back up. It was a very confusing time to be in. I stopped sleeping because every time I closed my eyes things I didn't want to remember became crystal clear and some memories are best left to fade. When I was awake, I walked around contemplating the, "Why's" of the world and cried. I felt like I was losing my grip on reality and slowly going crazy. Nothing made sense or I could make sense of nothing.
Then one day I began to cope with my loss.
I pictured it best like the diagram below and have found that it also works not just with death but also in losing a job, getting hurt in a relationship, as well as during those painful times when you aren't sure what is going to happen.
ME =============bridge============ Island of Sanity
~Chasm of what has been lost~
I started going through the phases of grief and after realizing I wasn't going crazy, I began to deal with it in a healthy fashion. I started at the beginning. Each day brought new trials and joys. I found days where I would be going forward ~ one step at a time. And then be outraged when I found myself back where I started or retreating instead of going onward.
This is normal. The stages of loss/hurt/grief never follow a pattern and you will find yourself moving forward and backward. I was trying to fill a void that was under the bridge ~ the void being my brother (this could also be any other hurt or loss.) That was when I realized I could never fill that void I could only remember what it was. From that point on I made more progress in going forward. My brother will always be there and for me to try and fill "his" void, would be to move him out. I was finding sanity again.
I had created rituals to keep me connected to my brother and one day I realized the little rituals I was doing no longer made me feel better. Lighting a candle for Tom, writing in my diary to him, things like this... for a period, they kept me close to him and helped me keep his memory in my mind and in my heart. They helped me through my grief. But at a certain point they ended up hindering my progress forward. So, in a tribute to my travel forward, I lit the last candle and did not blow it out. Instead, I let it burn out on it's own. It felt right to let go of the grief and the memories I didn't want in this manner. I wrote him my last letter goodbye, it hurt so much, but when I was done I felt that I had made much progress. Tabula Rasa.
I woke up one day and found myself standing on "The Island of Sanity." It was a surprise to be there because I didn't see the journey end and in some ways, it never does. But for me, reaching it the first time was the biggest challenge. I had been traversing that long road, creating familiar ruts on the bridge for so long that I never thought I would make it. But I did. I still have days where I fall back on the bridge and it still hurts. But I also know that I reached the "Island" once and I know I will get there again.
I am writing this because it is therapeutic and also to maybe help others who are hurting. Not just loss by death but also a lost job, a broken relationship or any confusing time of living. My answers or ideas are not perfect ~ they just happen to work for me and they have helped others I have counseled.
I hope that if you are stuck out on that bridge that you find the strength in your heart to keep going... you will reach that Island.
My brother died by suicide in 1997 and while I can say the grief I had has healed, it still hurts to think that the memories we shared are the only memories I will ever have of him and there will be no new ones. Please, if you are feeling suicidal talk to someone. There are options and your life is precious. 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline
One of the things I remember most about grieving for my brother was deciding to create a photo album/scrapbook of his life. I knew it was going to be hard on me but I also realized that grief ignored or pushed to the back of the mind doesn't go away. It multiplies quickly into something too big to face. But when you work with your grief in a positive way, it becomes "right sized," and something that can bring you closer to your loved one as well as help heal your heart and soul.
Legacy Projects can take any form you can imagine. Tailored to fit who your loved one was and to bring their memories forward in a positive way. Some things to think about when starting a project can be:
What brought that person their biggest joys?
What values did they hold dear?
What were their favorite hobbies?
What kinds of impact did they have on the lives of people around them?
What did they collect or love to read/watch/listen to?
Some forms a Legacy Project can take:
Memory books or scrolls or boxes
Paintings or other types of art collages
Creating a song or poem
A Video or Audio tape
Collection of their stories or life lessons
When you feel ready to start a Legacy Project for your loved one it will help give their life and also your life with them, meaning and it preserves their memories while giving you a sense of control. It can help you feel better and more connected to them as you honor their life and what this person meant to you.
This can also work beautifully with pet bereavement as well. I created a small scrapbook for my Mom when her sweet dog finally crossed the bridge and while it hurt it was also helpful in bringing back forgotten memories that she will cherish.
Find the things that made your loved one unique and think about how best to showcase their legacy for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
Grief is the gift that keeps on giving. No matter how much time has passed since the death of your loved one, something can hit us, seemingly out of the blue, and take us back to the depths of pain and loss.
We mourn not only the one who has died, but the loss of who we were with that person. Our identity was this and now, it is that.
Grief is the response to having loved deeply and openly - of sharing ourselves with another person and the deeper that connection, the deeper the grief.
They say that time heals all wounds but I think it is better to say that time teaches us how to deal with those wounds. With time and experience we learn how to walk forward without that loved one with us and while it may still hurt, the hurt morphs into something we can handle better until one day we realize there is light and life out there and we want to be a part of it.
Grief has no time limit or time frame. For each person it is varied and different and you must remember to give yourself time and grace for everything you are going through. Be kind to yourself and know that what you are feeling is completely normal. Do not compare your grief to someone else's grief experience - everything is unique and while there are some points of similarity in traveling this path - ultimately our experience will be all our own.
There are so many "firsts," when we sit in grief. That first day, week, month, year and all the holidays that come upon us when we may not feel ready to face it.
This is so important to hear so please listen closely: Set Boundaries and only do what you feel you can do. Do not let anyone try to force you into a jolly holiday because they think it will "make you feel better."
Do not let yourself feel guilty or that you may be letting people down because you are not at a place to celebrate yet. Truly ask yourself if you are ready or even do you want to give it a try - if the answer is no, that is okay. Telling family or friends that you are just not there yet, that you are working with this grief and right now, you are not ready. Do things at your own pace at your own time and don't feel rushed.
Things you can do during the holiday season that can help ease the feelings of grief:
Set boundaries - visits, parties and get togethers can be hard but if you feel you want to try it, give yourself a time frame - "if I can do this for a half an hour then I can go if I need to" is a great start.
Realize that people may or may not ask you about your loved one and "rehearse," your responses. This may sound silly, but when I was deep in grief I often didn't even know what to say and that can be awkward and make you feel even worse. Pre-thinking your responses gives you a sense of control and that can really help.
Rituals oh rituals. This can be a hard one because there are so many things we do together during the holidays. Do you want to continue doing them or maybe make new ones? Maybe you want to take a break this year and look at them again next year? Make a list of all the things you think you need to do and decide how you want to face them. Don't be afraid to ask for help - people are often wanting to offer their help but are afraid of making the grieving person feel worse for "bringing it up," so if there is something you would like help with, ASK!
Honor your emotions - and they may range up and down the emotional scale daily! Take time for yourself and never feel guilty about it.
Remembrance or Legacy Projects can be the perfect way to remember your loved one, honor their life and bring family and friends together to create something out of love. Here are some ideas you can make all your own.
Helping others. This one sounds funny at first, especially if we are deep in our own grief but I have found that when I help another person it brings me up out of my own sadness and makes me feel useful. We may not always be in a place to help others, but sometimes it is just the thing to help soothe our hearts a bit.
Honor yourself and the memories of your loved one and know that you are not alone. Bit by bit time will bring experiences and begin to heal the soul.
I have been offline for awhile, trying to decide how to move forward and what I want to focus on - I am getting ready to start posting again, so please stay tuned!
This is a beautiful story in the LA Times today - about Gabriella Walsh and her decision to use Medical Aid in Dying after finding massive tumors from breast cancer. Her life, her choice and on her own terms.
One Last Trip - Read Here
This morning I joined my Dad, who is a part of Semper Fi #1 - Memorial Honor Detail, at Riverside National Cemetery, for the Unclaimed Veterans Ceremony. I was honored to accept the flag during the heartfelt and compassionate ceremony. I was also honored to meet the people who provide the service - to see that these brave men and women are honored and appreciated and that they are no longer alone.
While I know that many of them choose to be alone - having pushed family and friends aside - dealing with the horrors of their service - there may be some who would like to have someone by them as they die - if so, I would be glad to offer my services - to walk them to the door, so to speak - so that they don't need to go it alone.
I am so proud of my Dad and of the others who offer their time and heart to be sure these Unclaimed Veterans are seen home safely - from the sound of the Rifle's salute and the haunting strains of Taps - to the Dark Isle Piper sending them off with Amazing Grace - it was a beautiful morning and a honor to attend.
Remember these Unsung Heroes
Aid in Dying - a very loaded subject and comes with a lot of stigma attached to it. What is Medical Aid in Dying? From Compassion and Choices:
A medical practice that allows a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request from their doctor a prescription for medication they can decide to self-ingest to die peacefully in their sleep.
Medical aid in dying is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “assisted physician suicide,” “physician aid in dying,” “death with dignity,” and “euthanasia.” Medical aid in dying is not assisted suicide, suicide, or euthanasia. These terms are misleading and factually incorrect.
I get asked that a lot. Isn't that just suicide?
No, it isn't. Suicide is a choice between living and dying. To even qualify for Aid in Dying, you must have a prognosis of six months or less to live.
Why would anyone choose this?
It gives the control back to the dying person. Loss of control and an ability to participate in life is a major concern. When faced with a painful death that perhaps medication cannot alleviate - or most commonly, fatigue. Dying is hard work and at some point the person is just done.
I chose to certify and learn all I could about this because I believe it is every persons right to decide if they want this option or not. Because of the stigma attached to this, I also want to be there so they don't have to worry about doing this on their own. With and End of Life Doula to help with the details, this allows the family/loved ones to be free to walk the dying person to the door and help them cross it.
For more information you can ask me or visit the website Compassion and Choices.
I attended a very lovely memorial service today and what struck me most about the gentleman they were honoring was how much he did with his life. When I think of someone living a "full life," this was just what he did. After the eulogy, I just kept thinking about how wonderful a legacy he left to his family and all the people he touched in his life.
I guess I have been thinking about legacies for awhile now but seeing a life lived fully made me think about how I might be remembered and what I want to share while I am still here.
After the service we sat with a really nice couple and got to talking about the service and the Chaplain who spoke and hospice care and they asked me if I was a nurse. I told them about being an End of Life Doula and the conversation took off.
I actually worried that I was taking over the conversation and kept telling myself to hush a bit LOL But they did seem really interested and I enjoyed my conversation with them very much. I have found that people I need to talk to or hear something from just tend to show up when I need them too. I love that kind of synchronicity.
I also discovered that I am truly passionate about End of Life Care and all of its facets. If I can help ease the worry of someone when they need it most, then I will have done my job well. That isn't such a bad Legacy to leave behind.
I think we all get to certain places in our lives when we start to explore our meaning here on Earth. Usually, these are the harder times in life but sometimes we don't get to them until the end, when we face our own mortality.
Exploring meaning, thinking back on what we have done in our journey can often lead us into creating a Legacy Project. This is a way of taking all the deep inner work and showcasing it for our loved ones to keep - memorializing who we are and who we were for those who come after us.
These projects can be in many forms like scrapbooks or scrolls, art pieces and memoirs. Whatever best expresses who you are and how you wish to be remembered.
For me, when my time comes, I thought it would be nice to have pre-cut paper and art supplies out so that when people come to visit, they can create art with me. Once I have died, these can be collected and put together in a scrapbook or art journal.
But I also like the idea of a Life Journey Journal. I found a simple but well done one on Amazon, My Life My Journey created by Kyle Schaetzl. It divides up the seasons of our life and asks some fun and often deep questions to get us thinking and when done will give others and great idea of who we are and how we lived.
I think a book like this would be a great gift and also something a dying person and their loved ones could work on together as a type of Legacy Project.
What we do in life echoes in eternity - how do you wish to be remembered?
What we do in life echoes in eternity
Soar Eternally Free/Christina Stone
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