Connect…

Guest post by Ari.

Connect…

When my boy died I was left with only photos and memories. I could still hear his voice, the sound of his laughter in the house, could still feel his hug. No-one hugged me like he did – both arms around my back, his head on my shoulder, holding on for longer than just a few seconds. How I missed those hugs!

I often walked around the neighborhood during the first weeks and months of my grief, long walks that would take me away from the house, away from some of the memories and questions and sadness. It really didn’t help- the grief followed me! But in connecting with nature, crying to the sky, seeing the beauty that was in a sunrise, or feeling the cold rain mix with my tears, I started to feel my boy’s spirit. He walked with me, giving me comfort, trying to give me peace. He did not give me any answers as to why he left so suddenly – that will probably never happen, but he did help me to re-enter life, after many many months, and to start learning acceptance. What had happened was never in my control, perhaps not in his either, but in learning to accept that he had died, and the way he died, started me to heal, to learn to let go of the guilt, and with it some of the sadness.

I started seeing seagulls whenever I walked and thought of him. Had they always been there, flying around, white wings beautiful against the blue sky? One would suddenly come into view, gilded by the golden light of the sun, do a few turns over me as if saying hello, I’m here, then fly away. Sometimes whole groups would fly over me. Once I asked God if seagulls are a sign of his spirit then let me see a dozen all at once. The next morning, as I opened the drapes to the morning light one, flew by, followed by another, and another. I counted 12. I had my answer, and it stayed in my heart. I still say “hi” when I see a seagull.

I walk almost every day still, it has been over five years without my beloved son. I don’t look towards the sky as often anymore, there is so much beauty all around me to explore and enjoy. Flowers, little kids at the park, dogs, people. I see my seagulls on days when I feel happy as if he comes to say “good job mom!”, and on those sad, back into the hole kind of days that I will invariably continue to experience while I live he comes too, calling his mournful call, up in the sky, circling until I see and acknowledge him. He comes to comfort his mom. If I believe it and feel it in my heart it must be so, right? Yes, this is how I connect with my son, since the beginning he has watched over me, and I will continue to smile when I see his spirit in the shape of a beautiful seagull.

Find what comforts you, what makes you feel close to them, what fills your heart. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, it only matters what you feel when you connect with your beloved.

 

 

Welcome 2020

Today is the first day of 2020. Many have goals and plans and that’s fabulous. I hope that your goals are exceeded and that your plans turn out beautifully. But what if your experience is different?
 
If you have a grieving heart, today may feel overwhelming. As though there is incredible pressure to do better. To strive for more, to excel. I’m here to encourage you to make your New Year’s resolution one of kindness – to yourself.
Know that it is alright to make plans – or not.
Know that it is alright to laugh or cry – or not.
Know that it is alright to be with others -or not.
Know that it is alright to exercise 3 times a week – or not.

I bet that by now, you are getting my point. I want to encourage you, with everything in me, to listen to your heart. What is it telling you that you need? In this moment now, what do you want? What will bring you a measure of calm, of healing?

If setting goals feels right, go for it. But please remember that the grieving heart needs tender loving care.

Sending you my love and wishing that your 2020 will be a gentle year of peaceful grieving and deep healing.

Namaste,
Sandy

When Relationships Change or End

I’ve heard and read, again and again, that when one is grieving, we learn who really cares about us – they are steadfast. Beginning and end of story. No exceptions. But what if relationships end? Does it mean that no one cared?

While some friends remained close, the fact is that I did lose friends after my son died. Some were friends I had been very close to for many years. People that I thought I would be close with forever. But that’s not what happened.

This didn’t happen immediately for me, but over a few months. At first, I was really hurt. Yeesh! I had lost my son, if they cared about me, why didn’t they stay? Clearly I was undeserving. Unlovable. I felt abandoned.

It took a lot of time and reflection and some very painful honesty to consider things from another point of view.

These were people who had known and loved Mike in their own way. It’s entirely possible that their own grief needed to be expressed in ways that I was not offering.

In each of these friendships my role was primarily as the staunch and ever cheerful supporter. This changed dramatically after my son’s suicide. I was not able to offer much support; and I was no longer a cheerleader. Instead, I needed support in ways that I felt difficult to express and may not have aligned with what my friends expected. In truth I needed a lot of alone time and one friend in particular had a problem with that choice.

One of these friendships had been suffering for quite some time. Perhaps this was simply too much.

There are so many reasons why a relationship may end and we don’t always receive clarity or what is generally called closure. It hurts, there’s no doubt about it.

Here are some things that I came to realize.

My pain was 24/7; there was no getting away from it. These people had their own lives and even though they cared, my grief may have simply been too much.

Now that may sound simplistic, but I have come to believe that all relationships have a beginning and an end. Sometimes we don’t recognize or want to acknowledge the endings because they can be very painful.

As I thought about these people, I realized that they still were quite important to me. I don’t believe they ended our relationship because they suddenly decided I was a terrible person. For whatever reason, it was simply time.

This allowed me to think about the relationships in a new way. One that was filled with appreciation, gratitude and yes, love. These people had meant so much to me; I will always hold them in my heart. They were there for some amazing times and some very difficult times. Yes, gratitude and love.

Now while a couple of relationships did come to an end, I want to share something quite wonderful. Some other friendships became much deeper. These were primarily people who had not known my son (one did). Perhaps their lack of personal grief allowed them to lean forward in this way, I don’t know. They became ardent supporters and are now some of my closest friends.

And there are the new friends that I made along my grief journey. Others who had lost people they loved to suicide. As we got to know one another, our relationships went far beyond the connection that first drew us together. My son has been gone for almost 9 years, and these friendships flourish.

And they are all over the globe! Scotland, Australia, Canada, various states in the U.S. I’ve been able to meet many in person and while we always share about the ones we miss so much, the connection is strong and sure.

We all do the best we can. That’s all that we can do. Some relationships, family or friends become deeper and stronger after tragedy. Some come to an end. I encourage you to work through the hurt when you have to say goodbye to some of them. Remember the love, the companionship, all that made the relationship important. It’s okay to be hurt, it’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to grieve this additional loss. And it’s also okay to process those feelings and to heal. As we do, we are left with love.

Beginning, middle and end, the love is always there.

Namaste,
Sandy

Don’t take anything Personally

As you read the title about this message, did you find yourself saying ‘Okay, but grief is different. Grief is intensely personal!

I get it. Really I do. At the same time, holding on to this Agreement has allowed me to hold on to more peace and sanity than I would if have if it weren’t something I learned long ago.

You’ve heard me say it, or you’ve read my words, this stuff of grieving is less than graceful. In fact, I personally find that grieving and healing is incredibly messy stuff. I have made some incredible blunders along the way and so have those who have supported me. Usually with the best of intentions. Even so, we’re all human, and that means that from time to time we will make mistakes.

Years ago, my first Reiki teacher, Deb Karpek told me about a small book, ‘The Four Agreements’ by don Miguel Ruiz. This book is one of the most important and meaningful that I have ever read. The Agreements are deceptively simple, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy. Still, understanding them and being open to being guided by these Agreements has helped me tremendously.

The 2nd of the Agreements is ‘Don’t take anything personally.’ Yep, that sounds reasonable on the surface, but I needed to understand it better to make it a part of my being.

Here’s the scoop, and as I said, it sounds simple enough. Anything that I say, is about me – not you. If I am nasty, it’s got nothing to do with you! It’s about the way I feel. Think of that silly rhyme we sang as children, something along the lines of ‘I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.’ As it should because it’s all about the person who is being nasty anyway. As much as possible, imagine yourself ducking and weaving, let it go right past you. Because it is not about you. It’s not yours to receive or hold on to. Let it go, let it go, let it go.

At the same time, if I am kind, that too has nothing to do with you. It is the feeling that I need to express. If you choose to accept that kindness, it’s a win for both of us.

Remember you have the choice to accept or let anything go on by.

As I said, the business of grieving and supporting someone we love through grief is complicated and often messy. We may lose our tempers. They may phrase something in a way that is hurtful. Deep breaths are helpful here. Ignore the words if you can and do your best to become aware of the intention behind the words. If it is not kind, go ahead and let it go, don’t take it personally. You may choose to walk away. If the intention feels loving and supportive, you have the opportunity to accept to the degree it feels right for you.

Mistakes will be made. Even after almost 9 years, I’m still astonished at some of the bone-headed remarks that have been made to me. But here’s the thing, most of them were intended to offer comfort and ease, to convey compassion and support. These people simply didn’t know how to articulate what their hearts wanted to convey. And so, I didn’t take it personally. It was and continues to be, tremendously helpful.

Here is a link to that incredible little book. I suggest buying at least 2 copies. One to keep and one to share. It’s that life-changing.
The Four Agreements

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

Communicate with Loved Ones on The Other Side

‘Death ends a life, not a relationship.’ – Jack Lemmon

If you haven’t discerned by now, I want to be very clear. I believe… no, it’s much more than belief, I know that life continues after death.

The truth is that or me, the very meaning of the word death is a bit different than it may be for others. I think of death as a transition. A doorway if you will. Exiting life on planet Earth and entering life on The Other Side.

When we are grieving the loss of someone we love, we miss so many things! One of the most basic and deeply meaningful things that we miss is the ability to talk with them. To hear their voice, listen to their thoughts, have a conversation. It means so much.

The trouble is that while they are absolutely able to communicate with us, we are no longer speaking the same language. They no longer have a body, a voice box, and speech. When they reach out to us – and they will, it will be in a new way.

I’ve shared the experiences that we continue to have with receiving acorns. These little nuggets are very physical, showing up in the most unexpected places. There is no doubt in my mind that my son knew I would have difficulty acknowledging more subtle communication. I simply was not able in the beginning, the grief was too profound.

We often believe that if we ask for a specific sign that we will know it is our loved one. And that rocks when it happens! Still, that may not be the way your loved one is able to reach across the veil. And it’s entirely possible that you are not able to discern that communication at this point. It doesn’t mean they are not reaching out – it just means you are not connecting.

I want to encourage you to be open to possibilities. Notice aromas that make you think of the one you love. Recently while having a Reiki session, I became aware that both my biological father and step-father were communicating and it was all due to aroma. First, the very specific fragrance of the pipe tobacco Clarence smoked. The fragrance changed to be that of fresh wood shavings, which made me think of my dad, Art. There is no doubt in my mind or heart that this was ‘Hello, I love you.’ from both of them.

If you are asking for a white feather, please don’t dismiss noticing a picture of a feather on a package or even someone mentioning a painting of a feather. Perhaps you are asking to see a shape or light from your loved one, but so far it hasn’t happened. At the same time, you may notice that your pet is staring at a specific place, perhaps making sounds or acting playful. This may well be the one you love trying to connect with you.

This sort of communication is new to us, at least with this particular person. We each need to find our way and it may not look, sound or feel as we expect. Please be open to possibilities.

I think of it this way. If I expected one of my surviving sons to connect with me today, I’m most likely expecting a phone call. However, if they show up on my front doorstep, you bet I’m going to welcome them in. It may not be the communication that I expected, but it’s real. It’s wonderful. And it fills my heart with joy.

Talk to them. Sing to them. Invite them into your dreams. And if come to you in ways that you are not expecting, please, open the door. Let ’em in.

Namaste,
Sandy

Is it Wrong to Feel Happiness when Grieving?

Ahhh, the amazing complexities of being human.

So very often I will hear someone say that if they laugh or even chuckle, that they feel guilty. Somehow they feel that if they are not exhibiting intense pain at every moment – that perhaps they are not honoring their loved one.  As you might imagine, I believe otherwise.

I have often shared that on the day I learned that my son Mike was dead, at only 23 years old and by his own hand, there was laughter in my home.

Yes, there was sobbing. The sort that shakes your entire being. The sort of crying that feels as though a permanent trail is being carved into your face. The pain was intense. The heartbreak was real. And yet, there was laughter.

And yes, I was one of the people that smiled and laughed. Many stories of things Mike said and did were shared that day and many times since. Because Mike was a person who loved to laugh, to do silly things, to push the buttons of others – a big part of sharing these stories was once again experiencing the thoughts and feelings when these things first occurred. This brought about longing to once again hug my boy, but it also resulted n chuckles and some outright laughter.

No, sharing these warm memories and even the laughter did not in any way diminish my love for Mike or the grief that I felt knowing he would not walk into the room again, that in fact, Mike had died.

These feelings existed within me at the same time. Along with many other emotions. I felt gratitude that I had been given this special person to love and have in my world for 23 years. I felt worried and even fear for my husband and surviving sons. I felt nurtured and cared for by all of them and the many amazing people who reached out in love.

We can and do often experience many feelings at one time.  At this moment, I’m feeling calm and relaxed. I feel a wee bit of sadness that Mike can’t heckle me about my feelings right now while I’m typing this. I know he would have a lot to say.

Even while holding those feelings I am happy and grateful to the amazing teacher and mentor who just interviewed me for business. And I also am a bit worried about someone that I care about who is experiencing a health issue.

Yes, all of these feelings and more are co-existing within me at this moment.  Humans are multi-faceted, complicated beyond comprehension and absolutely capable of feeling many things at one time.

It’s okay to smile. It’s okay to enjoy a meal or an outing, a book or a movie. It’s okay to think about something different and become completely absorbed in that thought or experience.  Even when your grief is very new, raw and intense.

Feeling moments of respite, even joy does not mean that you don’t love the person you are grieving with your entire being. It simply means that you are quite wonderfully human.

Namaste,
Sandy

Is it True?

We have an experience. It’s often quite personal, especially when it pertains to grief. Thinking or sharing about our experience is telling our story. This matters so very much! Sharing our story helps us to process. Important stuff.

Is our story true? By that I mean to ask; are we sure that we have all of the facts straight?

Some months ago someone that I like and respect asked me to participate in something that was powerfully meaningful to me. I quickly responded via email with an excited ‘Yes, count me in!’ And then I heard nothing more. Crickets… I sent another email to the same address which had initiated the offer and again I received no response.

And I began telling myself a story. It went something like this.

Oh boy, I guess she really didn’t want me after all. Hmmmmm, maybe it was something that I said last time we met. Perhaps others included found me to be objectionable in some way.

On and on I went. The story grew in my head and I felt sad. In truth I felt very hurt. This person, someone that I really like must not like me after all. I felt rejected. I asked myself why they would invite me at all if they were going to ignore me. Why wouldn’t they simply reach out and tell me we were not a good fit. It must be because I am not worthy. I am less than. I am not enough. In my head this was all true. And it hurt like the dickens.

Then one day I thought about the question that my clients know they will be asked when presenting a similar story. How did I know that my story was true? Had I taken any steps to confirm the facts? Nope.

Yes, I had responded to the same email address from which the invitation originated, but I’m well aware that email can often have problems.

The next step was to contact her in another way. I received a very swift response! Not only did she still want me to participate, she had been very disappointed when she did not receive the expected response from me. My email went to her spam account, so she had never seen it. Situation cleared up and we went on to cooperate with one another on this project.

Now I should know better than to take thoughts and make them true without verification. Having said that, it’s a very normal, human thing to do. I found myself laughing about this more than once because knowing what we should do does not always mean that we do what we should.

When a heart is broken by grief, it can be very easy to slip into our story of neglect or abuse. Believing that we are unloved or uncared for can feel as though it’s true when we have not heard from someone. When we misinterpret something that is said – or not said. Or any number of other situations.

I ask you to question your own story. So very often when we are hurting the most, we can forget that others have a life separate from our anguish. They may try to reach out and perhaps we are not receptive in that moment. So many things hurt. Misunderstandings happen easily.

Please be gentle with yourself and with those who care about you. Ask them to be patient as well. To repeat things or write them down. Take the steps you need to be sure that your story is true. It matters. You too are human and we are all doing the very best that we can.

And please remember, each story of grief begins and ends with love.  This I absolutely believe to be true.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

 

Q&A series: How do I explain to my Children?

Helping Children Grieve – Children and teens of all ages feel the loss of someone important in their lives. See how you can model handling grief and provide age-appropriate activities designed to help you communicate. Take back the time you have with your children. Most of these ideas are tech-free. Easy and inexpensive, they will bring healing to the whole family. 

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If someone significant in your child’s life dies, it is important to realize that children grieve differently than adults. How we help them depends, in large part, on the age of the child. It might be a parent or grandparent loss, another family member or even the death of a friend or classmate. No matter how young or how old a child or teenager is, the loss will be felt, and there are ways to help.

Tell your child what he or she can understand. Honesty is the best policy here because often classmates or adults will mention something within a child’s hearing that is shocking news. Babies and toddlers may just need extra hugs, for while they will miss the person who died, they are too young to understand what death means. Children do not need explicit details or lengthy conversations. This article, “10 Questions Children Ask about Death and Dying” may help you prepare.

The news is best given by the person who is closest to the child. Calm explanations for a loved one’s absence may need to be repeated at different times, always with reassurances that the child is loved and will be taken care of. Hugs and continuing support for all ages will help, but some older children or teens may prefer to talk to friends, write in a journal or connect with other kids going through the same emotions. (See Kidsaid link below.) Give your child time, and let them know you are there whenever you are needed.

Modeling ways to handle grief yourself can go far in teaching children and teens that it is okay to cry, okay to play, okay to take care of self. Follow these suggestions yourself. Find support, and make sure you have private time when you need it. It’s fine to let activities continue if your child wants to participate. If you need more time before resuming your normal routine, ask a trusted friend for help in getting your child to school, birthday parties or sports activities.

You and your family can get through this time of grief and mourning. Your life has changed with the loss of someone dear to you, but you will become stronger as time goes on. You will be able to face the challenges ahead.

Here are a few resources:
The Dougy Center (The National Center for Grieving Children and Families)
www.dougycenter.org

Childmind (Coping with a Parent’s Suicide; also teacher and Spanish resources)
www.childmind.org

​Kidsaid.com (from GriefNet.org and a place where kids can get support and interact with each other)
http://www.kidsaid.com/index.html

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

Sometimes We Need to Sit in the Mud

A very wise woman I know very gently reminds others, ‘Sometimes you just need to spend time sitting in the mud’.

And I believe she’s absolutely right.

When you have a heart that is grieving, you may not even realize how very exhausted you are at the end of each day… or even right after waking. Grief is very hard work!

Time out matters.

While we often think that we need to get things done, even having a to-do list, a very important part of healing a grieving heart is allowing time and opportunity to simply be in the now. To truly feeeeeeeel all of those emotions at whatever level they are in the moment.

Release judgment. There is no right or wrong to your feelings. They simply are a measurement, an indicator of where you are right now.

What might this look like? It could mean a day curled up in bed for some. Perhaps listening to music, sleeping, crying or reminiscing. It might be time spent on the couch watching shows or movies that take us back to cherished time spent with the one we are missing. Perhaps a nice warm bath nourishing your body.

Find what works for you. This is not about movement or work; this is about feeling and allowing your heart to express itself.

And here’s a little secret for you. While this may feel as though you are doing nothing at all, you are in fact accomplishing quite a lot. It’s important to fully feel and acknowledge all feelings in order for them to begin healing.

Spend some time sitting in the mud. As you rest your body, your heart and your soul be assured that healing is happening deep within. This is a very important part of the healing journey.

Namaste,
Sandy