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

‘Why’ has been Visiting

I’ve been going through some old writings, reviewing and in some ways even reliving what my journey has been up to this point. When I came across the message below, it felt important to share. As I read my own words, I became aware in a new way that I had, in fact, personified the question that swirls within the minds of most who have lost someone to suicide. ‘Why?’

You see, we all walk this path one step at a time. Each and every breath, every thought and experience is part of our very personal grief journey. For some perspective on my journey, this message was written 3 years after my son Mike died. 

The time since we got the news until today has not revealed a reason for this decision. There are those who swear that only one who is mentally ill would take their life, and perhaps that’s so, but even hindsight doesn’t provide that clarity.

I would guess that there are fewer than a handful of times since Mike died that I have gone to bed without asking him why…why did he choose to leave this planet, this life with the people he loved and who loved him so much. Today, I still have no answers.

Mike loved his job, no one there had a clue. He had terrific friends, they were all totally blind-sided by his suicide. Mike spoke to each of his elder brothers as well as his sister-in-law a few times a week, no one could have been more surprised. He lived the last year of his life back at home with my husband and me, we are still unable to answer this question. Was he depressed? Was there something going on in his life that has yet to come to light? Was he physically in distress? Was he just “done”  with this life and ready to explore the next? I have all of these questions and so many more.

The question of Why has been with me since 4 am on December 18, 2010. Sometimes I’ve been haunted by Why. Other times Why has simply lingered around the edges of my world. Why is still there…not nearly as powerful or onerous as in the past…but still present. I almost have a visual of Why. A personification if you will. No longer terrifying or crushing, it’s much more gentle now. Just sort of hanging around. Not a threat in any way. At one time Why brought along with it recriminations for not knowing ahead of time that this could or would happen. All of that has eased and I think gone away, at least for the most part. Now, Why is simply a visitor, just there.

Others know why their loved one chose to die, I pray that knowledge helps them to heal. Still, I suspect that if I knew the answer to this lingering question that there would be another in its place. I certainly know that grief and healing is no easier for those who know the answer to that question, their grief is just a bit different than mine.

The presence of Why will ease, it always does, at least for me. In what may seem a strange way, I think I’m making friends with Why. I’m learning to be more forgiving of myself and others, knowing in a most profound way that we seldom really know what is in the mind and heart of another. Why is helping me to understand and be more at ease.

One step at a time, one breath at a time. We walk this journey of grief into healing together. For me, Why is a companion in this journey with whom I am becoming more and more comfortable.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Understanding

Guest blog by Jan McDaniel

Information brings knowledge, knowledge brings understanding, and understanding brings peace. While it is not possible to understand everything about the complexities of suicide, it helps to know the following.

  • Suicide crosses all boundaries: age race, gender, beliefs, cultures, economic status, and social standing.
  • Stress, medications, and other things can cause physical changes in the brain, resulting in distorted thoughts, hallucinations, and/or a breakdown in logic and reasoning capabilities.
  • Most suicides are related to mental illness or behavior disorders, but some are not. Other things, like impaired impulse control, addictions, and physical illness, can play a part.
  • When hope dies, a person feels there is no reason to live, no matter how many people love him or her or how much support is available.
  • Often, thoughts are only of escaping mental anguish.  If family and friends are thought of at all, these thoughts may focus on death as a way to relieve loved ones of the burden of dealing with the person in pain.

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.

 

Grief – Anniversaries, Special Days and Events

Let’s just imagine for a moment. Perhaps a holiday is right around the corner. It may be a loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of the day that they died, or maybe there is a gathering that you are invited to attend. The very thought may make you cringe. You can feel the tension begin at the thought of being with others during this special time. What if someone says their name? What if no one says their name? What if I get teary? What if I meet someone new and they don’t know me? What if, what if, what if?

Whew, that was overwhelming, truly exhausting and I haven’t even left my chair. So, how can you move through these days and events?

Make a plan. Frankly, even the exercise of imagining who I may run into, what conversations might flow and here’s the biggie, what emotions I may feel, takes a lot of the stress out of an upcoming event.

I encourage you to take nice… deep… slow… breaths when thinking this through to help you be as calm as possible. And then begin thinking about what is coming up and imagine the time being as easy as possible. That’s where the plan comes in.

Personally, I found it incredibly helpful to imagine conversations. Including questions and comments that I may find uncomfortable or just too much to handle. I thought about and role-played in my mind, sometimes with others until I became more comfortable with responses.

Here’s an example of how that might sound. If I were at an event and someone who didn’t know me well asked how many children I have… what sort of answer felt right for me? I had lost my youngest son, so did I have 2 or 3 children? After playing around with possible answers for a while, I found a response that felt right for me. I generally answered that together with my husband we had raised 3 loud, messy, wonderful boys. Others I know answered in their own way. Some would say 2 kids with no mention of the one who died. This is not about denying the existence of the one who died, it is about deciding how much you are comfortable sharing in various circumstances.

Make a plan. I encourage the one who is grieving to enlist the support of someone who cares. A family member or friend. Think about places you can get a bit of privacy if things become too emotional. Think bathroom! You are seldom bothered if you duck in and lock a door for a few deep breaths and to splash your face with cool water. It helps.

Plan a getaway or set a time to leave. Arrange with the one who is supporting you to leave at a pre-determined time. Ask them to keep an eye on you and be willing to rescue you if you give a pre-determined signal. This will help to assure you that you can get away. This will also remind you that you are not alone, you are loved, you matter and someone cares enough to help you get through this difficult time.

Often I have found that having a firm plan in place makes the event much easier.

You can do this. You are not alone. Together, we can walk the path, through grief and into healing.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

The Contract

The words you are about to read are an excerpt from my book, ‘The Acorn Journal: Messages of Connection from The Other Side’.

I’m sharing this because Mike has been on my mind in such wonderful ways recently. You see, his birthday is right around the corner, Sunday, June 2nd. This year, he would have turned 32 years old. I’ve been thinking about all the laughter we shared over those 23 years. The squabbling, debating, playing… all of it. And I have to say, I’m so grateful for all of those years.

Mike loved knock-knock jokes, especially of the pirate variety. So, expect to see more of them on my Facebook page in the upcoming days.

As you read The Contract, I encourage you to think about the people you love, imagine the agreements that you made with them. And I hope that your heart feels both more full and lighter, all at the same time.

The Contract

My son Mike was 23 years old when he died. One day I was thinking about Mike and his short life, how much he was loved and how much he loved all of his family and friends. After much soul searching and contemplation, I made up a scenario in my head. What if…

What if before Mike was born I had the opportunity to read a contract. This contract would explain that on June 2, 1987, at precisely 6 am I would give birth to a 9lb bundle of love. As the contract went on it would explain that this hazel-eyed little boy would announce that he was awake by laughing and giggling in his crib. He would grow into a sweet, bull-headed, smart boy who would drive his elder brothers crazy by always humming or singing. He would not care about playing sports or being cool, he would be passionate about books and music. As he grew he would favor cowboy boots and flannel shirts, of the red and black variety.

As he became a teenager he would deal with Addison’s disease, but in his normal manner, he would seem to take it in stride. An intensely private person he would be very open and opinionated about how others should live their life. He would make strong friendships and he would develop interesting hobbies, brewing beer and wine and cooking, as well as hunting.

The contract would go on to clearly state that while we would be able to love and interact with this amazing person, on December 17, 2010, at some point he would end his short life by shotgun. There would be no negotiating this ending, it would be so. It would be written in the contract.

What if I had the option of signing that contract? Would I opt to learn to love this person with all of my heart if I knew that same heart would break in a million pieces on December 18, 2010, when my doorbell rang and a sheriff told me of my son’s death? Would I sign that contract knowing how profoundly my sweet husband would be affected, that I would watch him age years before my eyes? Would I sign the contract knowing that my two surviving sons would never be the same, that they would have to experience the most severe heartbreak imaginable while still in their 20’s? Would I sign that contract if it meant that we would all have to experience everything that we have in the past year?

Yes! I would, again and again, I would sign that contract! And I believe that my husband, two surviving sons, and my daughter-in-law would put their signatures right alongside mine and Mike’s. Without hesitation.

Knowing and loving my son was worth each and every moment of heartbreak. The blessings, the smiles the laughs, the aggravation, yelling, and squabbling were all blessings. And I would indeed sign that contract.

For the record, it is my belief that my soul did sign an energetic contract saying just what I’ve laid out above. That’s my belief and it may or not be yours. But I find comfort in knowing that even if I had known all those years ago how it would end, I would do it again. It’s so been worth it, at least for me.

And that gives me the strength to go forward for another day.

Namaste,
Sandy

Grief – Life is Changed, but Still Beautiful

Somehow I doubt that any of us would choose to be walking the path through grief and into healing. Still, life happens. More correctly, I should say that death happens. And there we are, smack dab in the middle of that path. Knowing that no matter how much we might want to, it’s simply impossible to take steps back to the time that the one we love was with us. And so we must move forward.

Today I was looking at one of my very favorite pieces of jewelry. A gift from my son Mike, quite a long time after he moved to The Other Side. It’s a fun story and I’ll be sure to share it with you another time. For now, I ask you to notice the necklace that I’m wearing in the picture. That’s the one! It’s not an expensive piece of jewelry, but because it is something tangible from one of my sons, it’s very precious to me. Each and every time I wear it, I feel as though Mike is smiling.

As I said, today I was looking at the necklace. I noticed that the color was changing and despite my efforts to clean it, there was no discernable improvement. So, off I went to the jewelry in downtown Burlington. The kind man behind the counter took a look at it and then smiled at me. He certainly knew that it wasn’t a piece of ‘fine jewelry’ by most standards but after a few words he realized it was something I prized very highly.

After a few moments of friendly chit-chat, he told the original color and shine simply could not be restored. This was a piece made of copper with a thin coat of plating. That plating was wearing off and could not be replaced. At first, I was disappointed, feeling a sense of loss. But then he said something that was just what I needed to hear. He said that in time, most likely a very short time because I wear this necklace quite a lot, all of the silver colored plating will be gone and it will be beautiful with the copper showing. He called it evolution. I loved that!

As I left the store I thought about how well this symbolizes our journey. The necklace has been something I prized as a tangible connection to my boy. It doesn’t look the same as it did several years ago – but the looks are all that is changed. The necklace is still a connection of love. It always was. It always will be.

And so we continue to take our steps, walking this path. No, it doesn’t look quite the same as it did when I took those first steps. It’s not what I expected so many years ago before I even imagined what grieving or healing might be like. It’s changing, but then again, so am I. It’s okay to notice, acknowledge and even to celebrate those changes because they are healthy and they are mine.

As I write this post, I find that I am really quite pleased with the look of that special necklace now. Like me, it’s lost some of its original shine. It’s now a much more interesting piece, as some color is wearing off and new ones are showing up, I feel as though it is really deep resilience that is showing through. A new sort of beautiful and I am so grateful.

Namaste,
Sandy

Grief – What IS Grief?


What is grief? Grief is the feeling that we experience when we have a loss. Deep sorrow and hurt. It may be accompanied by shock, lack of focus, loss of energy, feelings of overwhelm. We quite naturally think about feelings of grief when we experience loss of a loved one to death. It’s important to be aware that many other experiences in our lives can bring on the feeling of grief.

  • Divorce
  • Loss of job/career
  • Loss of home
  • End of friendship or other caring relationship
  • Saying goodbye to a beloved pet
  • Financial or economic loss

There are of course many other experiences which can bring about feelings of grief, I think you get the idea.

All of these experiences matter and deserve our attention. At some point in our lives, we are all likely to experience grief in one form or another. While grief due to loss can deeply hurt, it is absolutely possible to grieve or mourn in safe healthy ways which support your healing.

This is important, so I’m going to repeat it.

Feeling deep sorrow and pain after loss results in grief, but that grief CAN evolve, transition and heal. You do not need to feel deep pain every day, all day long for the rest of your life. Healing is possible. And I believe that healing is quite natural.

As I focus on coaching clients through grief, I am particularly focused on those who are grieving the death of a loved one. Grief is NOT a life sentence. Our relationship with our loved one can continue, in a new way to be sure, but it does not need to end with that last breath.

I’ve heard it said many times that we don’t get over a loss. I simply disagree, I believe it is possible. I believe that I have healed from several losses. Each and every one of these people remains in my heart today and always will. However, I no longer feel the deep pain when I think of them. Today I feel love and appreciation for having them in my life.

This didn’t happen in the blink of an eye, but it did happen. And I am deeply grateful.

Are you ready to transition your relationship with the one you have lost? Are you ready to begin healing your pain and grief?

I’m ready when you are. Let’s begin today.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

Frustration – What’s It All About Anyway?

Frustration – ugh!!

Image result for free smiley frustration

We all get wound up, ticked off, ready to blow our top… I can’t think of other cliche’s at the moment, but you get the idea. Frustration is a part of life.

Yep, it happens to me too. I’m a wee bit of a recovering Control Freak. Not nearly as controlling as I was in the past, but not totally over it either. I guess you could say that I’m in process. Ah, that feels better.

Come closer, settle in and I’ll tell you my story.

If you’re reading this blog, you likely know I have a website. www.SandyWalden.com. If you’ve visited the site recently, you are likely aware that it is in need of an update. An amazing, brilliant young man offered to re-do the site for me. But I decided that I needed to build the new site myself. This would enable me to update and change it as often as I had the inclination.

I did a search on Udemy.com, a site that I strongly recommend for amazing courses. I found one that promised to teach me to build my own WordPress site. The instructor is terrific. Clear and interesting. But I still found it p-a-i-n-f-u-l in the extreme to sit down and just do what I’m being told. I became grumpy, irritable, frustrated whenever this topic came up in a discussion. So, I decided to just ignore it for a while. Cause yeah, that will surely help.

Yesterday I felt as though it was once again time to tackle this project. Once again, I found myself frustrated beyond belief. This time I asked myself some questions.

Q – Why do I resist doing this work?

A – I really don’t want to do it alone!

Hmmm, that was a bit of a revelation. So, I sent out a message asking for someone to work with me on this project. Felt closer, still not quite right, but closer.

I received some very helpful suggestions and I decided to sleep on it. When I woke this morning, I had absolute clarity. I want a new website. I don’t want to build it myself. I do want to be able to make changes at a whim, all on my own. Now this feels good. I mean, really good.

Clarity is the antidote for frustration. At least in this particular instance. When we know what we are really feeling it can help us to discern what it is that we truly want and need. Sometimes it takes me a while to release the belief that I need to do everything on my own. To determine how much control I really want and need, and just what that might look like. As I said, it’s a process.

This morning, frustration has left the building. I find myself grateful for the irritation and grumpiness because without those feelings I would not have been able to get to clarity. And that my friends, feels so much better.

Stay tuned, the new site will no doubt be showing up very soon.

Image result for free smiley frustration

Namaste,
Sandy

 

The Towel – is it Code?

I went out to the patio early in the morning with my cup of coffee in hand only to discover a towel on the arm of my chair. An old stained towel, to be clear.

It is the standard operating procedure for my husband and me to spend a couple of hours each morning out on the patio drinking coffee whenever the weather is fairly comfortable. Early in the morning, the world is rather magical. There is dew on the grass and the birds provide all the music. It’s a time that is special for both of us.

But yesterday was different, remember the towel I talked about a few lines up?

For the longest time, my hubby has laughed just a wee bit when I go walking through the dewy grass in the morning. I swear that the plants are calling to me and I feel a need to take my coffee cup and visit each of them. Saying good morning and encouraging them to be well. It’s okay if you think this is silly, I love it. What makes John chuckle is the fact that I return to the patio with grass clippings on my feet. And then the dance begins. You know, the hopping around, waving my feet in the air so that the grass will dry and fall off. After all, there is no way I’m going to walk back into the house to refill my cup with grass on my feet! This is pretty much the routine almost every morning. John has suggested remedies for this problem. Wait until the grass dries to take my stroll – not gonna happen. Keep a water bucket to rinse the tootsies off after my walk – nope, the toes still need to dry. How about a towel? – yeah, that would probably fix the problem… but still I don’t do it.

Yesterday, I went outside to find this old, stained but very clean towel on the arm of my chair. I loved it!

This about much more than a way to dry my feet and keep my kitchen floor clean. This was hubby’s way of saying loud and clear ‘I love you’. This is his way. He notices and takes care of things that matter to me or that makes my life comfortable or easier.

He’s not the guy who does big things. He’s never sent me flowers at the office or made public declarations of his affection. But he notices things and takes action.

Recently I got in the car and found that he had put a bottle of water in each of the doors of both cars. He doesn’t drink water when we are on the road, but I do. He was thinking of me. This was ‘I love you’.

Now don’t get me wrong. We’ve known one another for almost 40 years and there are absolutely plenty of things he says or does that make me crazy. If you’ve got five minutes and a cup of coffee, I’ll tell you all about it. Those things seem to come to mind very easily, very quickly.

If we’re not careful, it can be the crazy-making that we notice and focus on. This morning, I simply want to acknowledge and appreciate that those crazy-making traits are balanced by the heart-filling behaviors that are quiet and deliberate and very meaningful.

Yeah, that towel means a lot to me. It’s stained because he knows it would really bother me to keep a new towel outdoors for my feet. But it’s clean because he knows that is also important to me. He knows these things because they matter to me and he has decided that makes them important to him as well. That too is saying ‘I love you’.

Louis Armstrong says it so well in his song ‘It’s a Wonderful World’. He sings a beautiful line:

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

 

What does someone you know say or do to let you know that you are loved? How are you expressing those feelings for others? You are loved.

As for me, that towel will stay right where it is for quite some time. And each time I wipe my feet, I will remind myself that this guy I’m still crazy about, loves me.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

The Acorn Journal: Messages from The Other Side, One Acorn at a Time…

Hello, my friends,

Today’s message is incredibly personal. I’m sharing because this is something that I imagine all of us have dealt with or will deal with at some point in our lives. At the very least, it’s probably a point of curiosity and discussion. I’m talking about communication of some sort with someone who has died.

No, I’m not asking you to set aside your belief’s whatever they may be. I am simply asking you to consider having an open mind. To consider that perhaps, just perhaps someone who has left the planet earth is as close to us as our own heartbeats. Because I believe this is true.

My youngest son died seven years ago. Such a hard thing for me to wrap my head around, even now. I remember so very clearly having conversations with people almost immediately, about feeling confident that Mike was still around, in a very different way of course.

So, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when we began finding acorns at our lake home. It soon became very clear that these acorns were in fact, messages from Mike. I began keeping a journal of these occurrences and my thoughts and feelings when they were discovered. I needed to be sure that I wasn’t imagining things.

Time went on and these experiences have continued. This was both an intensely personal experience and something that I wanted to share with the world. When the time was right. Well, it feels as though the time is right and so  ‘The Acorn Journal: Messages of Connection from The Other Side, One Acorn at a Time’ has now been published and is available on Amazon.

This is my story and yes, it continues. Because life does not end when we take our last breath, it simply transforms. I hope that reading my story reminds you that those you love are with you. Always. I hope that you share your own story of connection with me. I would love to hear it.

Namaste,
Sandy