Reclaiming Mother’s Day After the Second Anniversary of My Mom’s Death

Tanja Pajevic is a writer, mother, teacher, dancer, coffee-lover, fierce and tender hearted. This blog was originally published in the Huffington Post’s Common Grief Blog.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I feel an old, familiar dread. My mother died two years ago and no, I’m not over it yet. Worse still, I may never be.  
After the second anniversary of her death, I assumed I’d finally be all right. At least I’d be over the worst of the grief.

But the grief continued to rise and fall in unpredictable patterns. At first, I blamed it on external events: another holiday season, the 22nd anniversary of my father’s death, my 45th birthday. Or perhaps it was perimenopause, I told myself. As if the peaks and valleys of my grief were simply a side effect of my hormones.

Then I found myself thinking about acceptance and surrender after reading about a man struggling with the news that he might lose his leg. Instead of acknowledging the severity of his situation, he denied it, which magnified his suffering. Can you guess how the story ends? The man finally found peace after surrendering to the worst possible scenario, and accepting the loss of his leg.

This resonated with me on multiple levels. I’d heard others liken the loss of a loved one to the pain of an amputated phantom limb. Perhaps the loss of my mother was something similar. Perhaps it was something I’d never get over. And perhaps it was time to stop trying.

Anyone who’s lost a loved one will tell you that the grief, at times, appears endless, with its changing slopes and facades. For some of us, that doesn’t go away. At the end of his life, Morrie Schwartz (from Tuesdays with Morrie) still felt the pain of losing his mother—more than 70 years after her death.

What if Schwartz wasn’t the exception, but the norm? If that was the case, I desperately needed to find some long-term solutions for my grief. At very least, some more sustainable techniques. Ones that didn’t cause quite so much suffering for me or my family. Grief counselors suggest we keep our loved one’s memory alive through rituals, traditions and stories. Some holidays, I do this by lighting a candle in my mother’s memory or by cooking her favorite foods. One summer, I created a small memorial garden in my backyard before a windstorm destroyed that, too. Smaller rituals are also important. Some days, I spend a few moments at the small altar I built in my mother’s honor, or I say a prayer. Other times, I bring my mother into my day by choosing her favorite cup for my morning coffee. Lately, I’ve been making my coffee extra strong, as my mother did—zesty, she called it. But what I’m looking for these days goes even deeper. After having spent the past 28 months struggling to reconcile intense feelings of grief, anger, joy, rebellion and abandonment with a changing set of spiritual beliefs, it’s time for me to choose my own narrative. During this time, I’ve questioned myself, my past, my values, my heritage and my loved ones, not to mention who I am in the world and who I want to become. Now that I’ve passed my mother’s second anniversary, I feel an added pressure to get on with it already, and solidify my identity. Solidify my life.

Part of this process, I’m finding, involves reassessing my relationship with my mother.

Which of my mother’s ghosts am I ready to release? Which traits would I like to preserve?

This Mother’s Day, I choose to remember the funny, rebellious mother who pumped her fists in the air when she was excited and flipped people off when she wasn’t. The music-and-literature-loving mother whose passion for nature inspired us all. The woman with the tender heart.

As for the rest—the fearful, highly critical, wounded mother—well, it might just be time to leave those characteristics behind. Not just for my mother, but also for myself.

Meanwhile, I continue to sift through various grief rituals and traditions, so many incandescent bits of broken glass. There’s no right way to do grief, I’m finding. It’s messy, unpredictable and imperfect. It can also be quite frightening. And it makes us vulnerable as hell.

That’s OK. I choose to keep going because I can’t imagine any other way. I’ve chosen this open, tender heart, remember; it’s time to let the rest go.

However we choose to express our grief, let it be exquisite and true. Explore what that means, if you need to. Or experiment until something feels right — you’ll know.

For me, the method is always changing. Today, I choose story as memorial. Tomorrow, perhaps it will be laughter. And every once in a while, I’ll give somebody the bird.

Tanja_2015

 

 

Tanja Pajevic creates books, blogs and workshops to support life’s big transitions. 

She is currently completing a grief memoir as well as leading ReclaimingYourself After Loss, an online workshop. Connect with her at tanjapajevic.com.

SLOW DOWN, FRIEND

There is no urgency. Summer does not rush towards autumn. One tiny blade of grass is not trying to grow faster than its neighbour. The planets spin lazily in their orbits. This ancient universe is in no hurry.

But the mind, feeling so divided from the totality, wants answers now, wants solutions today, wants to know so badly. It wants to reach its precious conclusions. And, ultimately, it wants to be in control.

But you are not the mind. Mind is an aspect of the whole, but cannot capture the whole.Slow-down-sunset

So slow down, friend. Take a deep and conscious breath in your belly. Trust the place where you are, the place of ‘no answers yet’, the precious place of not knowing. This place is sacred, for it is 100% life. It is full of life, saturated with life, dripping with life, drenched with life.

Don’t try to rush to the next scene in the movie of ‘me’. Be here, in this scene, Now, the only scene there is.

Now is the place where questions rest, and creative solutions grow.

DO IT DAILY!

 By Jennifer Delaney, MA, NCC:

A body-centered psychotherapist, certified in Brainspotting, blogger, writing coach and speaker practicing in Denver and Boulder.

Several times a day in fact…
I was at a party last night when someone asked me what I speak about. “Or is it too esoteric?” he added. gsn-contact“No. No. Not at all,” I replied. As a matter of fact, it’s so simple that people find it hard to believe that it makes a difference at all.

It boils down to this:
Take your pulse.
Notice your feet in your shoes or against the rug.
See and describe the setting sun paint the snow a pink-gold.
Listen to the sparrows or to your cat purring.
Smile at someone –what does your face feel like when you smile?
Notice the tension in your body – maybe shoulders or stomach.
Breathe in for 5, hold for 3, exhale for 7.

Try one of these right now!

Do any or all of these as often as possible and you will change your brain wiring.

Many people don’t realize just how stressed out they are until they begin to check in with their bodies throughout the day. That’s when they realize how nonstop and compulsive their thoughts are. The thoughts don’t want to let go.

 

Yoga for Anxiety

By Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Facing Fear

From as early as I can recall the idea of standing up in front a group of people has terrified me. As a child, I loved the idea of acting but the reality of getting up on the stage was overwhelming. I remember wanting to shrink so small to make myself disappear. I know I am not alone. Today I routinely teach classes and offer presentations. I still have anxiety when I step out in front of a group of people, however, with my training as a clinical psychologist and therapeutic yoga instructor I have cultivated effective tools to work successfully with anxiety.

“Growth and change often require exploring the edges of our comfort zones and challenging ourselves to step into unfamiliar territory. Yoga for anxiety guides you to harness the power of your thoughts, works directly with your body, and helps you to face your fears. Be willing to take risks and make mistakes. You may just discover that you are stronger and more capable than you imagined.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Power of Thought

Our thoughts powerfully impact our lives. This is not a new idea and like me, perhaps you were first introduced to the power of positive thinking by The Little Engine that Could who huffed and puffed his way over the mountain repeating, “I think I can, I think I can.” Truth be told, we cannot always predict success, however the likelihood of a positive outcome greatly increases when we change our thinking from “I can’t” to “I will try.”

Well researched psychotherapy interventions for anxiety, primarily from cognitive behavioral therapy, support the idea that changing negative thoughts into those that are more helpful and supportive. Clients are asked to keep track of thoughts in a journal and to challenge irrational beliefs, replacing them with more beneficial thoughts. For example, when you say, “this will never work,” “what’s wrong with me,” or “I’m worthless” you reinforce self-limiting beliefs and painful emotions. Whereas, saying “It’s okay to be nervous,” “remember to breathe,” or “most people will accept me if I make mistakes” is likely to create a greater sense of possibility and positivity.

Patanjali’s Sutras, a major text in yogic philosophy, also emphasizes observation of our thoughts in order to develop “clear perception.” The Sanskrit word Klesha translates as “trouble maker” and refers to our mental misperceptions and misunderstandings. We work with them through increasing self-observation and labeling our thoughts as useful or not useful. It is important to note that we are not judging our thoughts as “good” or “bad.” We simply recognize that there are thoughts that create greater ease and those that create more distress.

Body and Breath

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Somatic (body-centered) psychology proposes that a healthy nervous system is one that oscillates naturally and freely between active (sympathetic nervous system) states and relaxed (parasympathetic nervous system) states. Anxiety tends to occur when we are stuck in a sympathetic nervous system response. In short, a perceived threat triggers a release of cortisols such as adrenaline into your bloodstream facilitating a fight/flight response and this response continues after the stimuli is gone.

If you, too, have experienced anxiety then you know well the accompanying physical sensations; usually some variation of quickened breathing, racing heartbeat, and sweaty palms. In addition to working with the mind, we also can directly intervene with the body in moments of anxiety or panic. Yoga for anxiety offers practices such as deep relaxation (yoga nidra) or conscious breathing (pranayama) which are powerful tools for calming oneself during surges of panic.

My yoga practice has become an essential somatic tool to work with anxiety. Stepping onto my mat, I appreciate the ways that yoga offers opportunities to observe my body in both active and resting states. In challenging postures or extended holds, such as warrior poses or backbends, the sympathetic nervous system activates by fueling my body with the energy needed to sustain action. In resting poses, such as child’s pose or shivasana, the stillness allows me to feel my rapidly beating heart and quickened breath begin to slow down again. I gain tolerance of a broader range of somatic sensations and feel that I have a choice to create more alertness or calm down at will.

Practice not Perfect

A common cause of anxiety is the need to be perfect. As I step on my yoga mat I remind myself that I am engaging in yoga practice not yoga perfect. Each practice is an opportunity to explore my mind and my body and to refine my awareness in one small way. Now, when I step in front of a class or audience for a presentation I imagine my yoga mat beneath me and remind myself that I have permission to take risks, make mistakes, and to learn in the process. I have discovered that my need to be flawless actually inadvertently distances me from my audience. However, my anxiety is greatly reduced when I show up humble and imperfect, relating to others from common ground. We are all in this imperfect, human experience together.

Stepping Out

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Eventually we have to take our learning off of our yoga mat and into our lives. One well researched therapeutic approach to working with anxiety is exposure therapy in which you challenge yourself to engage in the feared activity with sufficient support to have a positive experience. Ideally, you will recognize are stronger and more capable than you previously realized. In the words of T. S. Eliot, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

You are Not Alone

Performance anxiety and panic are common reasons clients come into therapy. I have been working with anxiety (my own and others) for many years and am deeply appreciative of the therapists who have supported me along the way. My aim in sharing my story is encourage you to seek support as necessary. Anxiety can lead to shame that can interfere with reaching out. Asking for help can often be the hardest step. You do not need to continue to suffer and you do not need to walk the healing path alone.

5 Mindfulness Myths

mindfulness myths Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder, Co

Living the Mindful Life

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What is mindfulness really? In short, it is the practice of paying attention. But, we tend to “jump ship” from the present moment when we feel uncomfortable emotionally. We avoid feeling our discomfort by distracting ourselves or pushing people away. We all do it, it’s human. However, the world needs us to show up, now.

The world is calling for authentic presence and requires that we be with emotions in healthy ways. Unsupported grief can result in feeling isolated from our community. Ignored fear and rage can turn into violence that kills. Cultivating mindfulness is about broadening our capacity to be with ourselves and others even when we feel uncomfortable.

“There are common myths and misconceptions that mindfulness is a religion, or about fixing ourselves, or about seeking enlightenment. However, mindfulness is really about showing up in the world to be with life as it is. Anything in life can be used to separate us from the world or to bring us closer to each other. At any moment you have a choice about how you want to live your life.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

5 Mindfulness Myths

The first time I engaged in a day of mindfulness meditation I expected that I would feel great during and afterwards. I thought, what a great opportunity to relax. Was I wrong! The very opposite happened. I felt agitated; irritated by my never-ending mental gymnastics. My body was uncomfortable; I couldn’t sit still without fidgeting. By the end of the day I felt angry and was convinced I had failed.

Embarrassed, I initially kept my experience to myself. If only someone had told me that that these feelings are normal. Because little did I know back then but I was doing it right. All of that discomfort was actually a sign that I was on the right track.

It is easy to be misled by misconceptions about mindfulness practices. Let’s take closer look by deconstructing the common mindfulness myths:

  • Myth 1: Mindfulness is religion. No, you do not need to be a Buddhist to be mindful. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone.
  • Myth 2Mindfulness is meditation. Not necessarily. While meditation offers the opportunity to practice being mindful they are not synonymous. We practice meditation so that we may remain aware off the cushion.
  • Myth 3Mindfulness is about enlightenment. Being mindful is not about becoming smarter, better, or superhuman. Mindfulness is often deeply humbling as we develop our capacity to honestly reflect upon our own humanness.
  • Myth 4Mindfulness is relaxing. Sometimes but not always. Simply paying attention can increase our awareness of turbulent emotions or conflicts we were avoiding. However, mindfulness often gives us the tools to work more consciously with our experiences.
  • Myth 5: Mindfulness is about self-improvement. Watch out for this one. When we use mindfulness as a “fix it” tool we can become aggressive. Our capacity to pay attention needs to be tempered by the cultivation of compassion.

Living the Mindful Life

mindfulness myths Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Being mindful is not about fixing ourselves or becoming more enlightened. In contrast, the foundation of mindfulness is acceptance; a practice that asks us to reflect honestly on ourselves, our choices, and our interactions. With this in mind, here are some gentle ways to increase self-awareness into your daily life, on and off of your mat:

  • Slow Down: It is easy to get caught in the fast pace of life. Simply pausing for a moment can give you a chance to fully experience the moment.
  • Breathe Deeply: Conscious breathing is widely considered the fastest way to change our mental and emotional state. In our day to day living we tend to breathe more shallowly but as a result we dull our senses and we push our emotions away. We can cultivate deep belly breathing to support big emotional experiences.
  • Check in with your Body: Scan your body and notice your sensations. Notice the temperature of your body. Bring awareness to areas of tension and areas of comfort. Allow the sensations of your body become your guide. Listen to your aversions so that you can recognize your “No.” Pay attention to what brings you pleasure so that you can feel your “Yes!”
  • Observe your Mind: Mindfulness emphasizes moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts and emotions as they occur. Pay attention to your thoughts when you are alone so that you can be more conscious of your words when you are with others.
  • Attend to your Emotions: Cultivating mindfulness is extremely valuable when it comes to emotional intelligence. In today’s world we must broaden our capacity to attend to our emotions in healthy ways. Initially it is common to want to push strong feelings of grief or anger away. As we continue to practice we aim to increase our ability to tolerate the discomfort of difficult emotions. Over time, the ability to be compassionately present with our own feelings can translate into our capacity to be attentive and responsive to the feelings of others.

The world is calling for our authentic presence. Anything in life can be used to separate us from the world or to bring us closer to each other. At any moment you have a choice about how you want to live your life.

Facing Death with Comfort

Diane Israel is on the GSN Board of Directors, and here she writes to Ellen Goodman about the passing of her mother… This piece appeared first on her film’s website.

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I write you one month after the death of my mother. I want to tell you her story and my story involving mom. I hope it will speak to others!

15 years ago, on September 2nd at a healthy age of 67, my athletic, yogi, vibrant, in awesome health mom experienced a massive brain hemorrhage, a Stroke. Yes, a stroke, which until my healthy mom had one I thought were for unhealthy really old people. Wrong. It taught me a deep truth that it can happen to anyone at anytime. It shocked our family and our community in Scarsdale, NY. It changed us all forever.

For almost 15 years I had the privilege to help care for my mom, she needed 24 hour care. Mom never complained, never said, “Why me?” She embraced her “disability” the way she always lived with grace, elegance, and dignity, embodying a peace from within. Thankfully Mom did prepare a living will and a health proxy. She also wrote her autobiography and her eulogy. Despite all the “perfect” paperwork there were many moments of indecision with 4 kids each with their own agenda.

Ellen, what you are encouraging us all to do, us all to talk about, to face is imperative. I see it as life giving and truly fair for individuals and for their families. For my family, out of love and respect for mom, we could no longer speak about death as her speech became even more limited. We would speak regularly though in life giving ways, and if it was not life giving then not in front of her. We felt no matter what condition mom was in, coma, the dying process, etc, that she was present in her own way and we didn’t want to interfere with with her own unique journey. We did not want to make assumptions that she could not hear us, especially after coming out of a coma and saying she had heard us. We never spoke negatively by her bed or in her room; we spoke honestly with her not at her.

The last chapters of mom’s life were a heightened level of profound elegance, grace, and beauty. For four full days and nights she experienced another stroke, which would lead four days later to her death. Three out of her four children were there for this experience. During her passing we were there to honor, breath with, and write songs for her. Mom’s last words, which came from a very damaged tongue were, “I have everything I have always had it. I love you, you generate me I regenerate you, you and I generate good feelings.”

This was the last conversation, the last words, and then three and a half days of loving our mom as she passed. We used no medications, no hospice, and no funeral home. Because we had talked about her wishes I knew her so well and could make good decisions for her and her life which meant quite, peaceful, with out interventions. We watched her heartbeat and listened to her breath. As an athlete I heard her breath, the rattle breath that scared me turned into the breath of running the end of a marathon. I taped her beautiful labored breath and run to it now. She lives on in me, I have her life and breath in me.

We left the room the night before mom died to honor her privacy, to see if she wanted to die alone, and she did not. On Sunday morning, June 23rd at 5:30am I came to say my goodbyes with the birds chirping and the sun rising, this was always my time with mom, and will be forever. Rob, my brother, also wrote a deeply moving song that he sang and played guitar to while crying. He also requested that we as a family talk in the present to mom and leave all medical or negative talk outside her room. Rob then read mom’s 30 page autobiography out loud.

At around 11am mom’s caregivers, who know death well and honored its arrival, shared that death was close. Mom’s breathing had slowed down and her extremities were turning more and more blue. Rob wiped mom’s mouth with a swab dipped in melted coffee ice cream and said to mom, “Nectar of the Gods.” All of us siblings hugging, kissing, thanking mom, crying, saying goodbye, and “love you’s.” We stacked our hands on mom’s heart, oldest sister Lynn, then me, then Rob and I said, “Mom, we are all together, we are all aligned, mom. I am free, mom you are free. I am free of caring for you mom. You are free mom!”

Then in the most beautiful, natural, and elegant way she took her last breaths, three more with long pauses. And then magically, mysteriously, and relaxed took a breath in sighed and that was it.

Until mom’s death I was afraid of death. I have mom’s life and breath in me. She is forever with me. She speaks to me all the time when I am in nature and I take the time to slow down and listen. Her wisdom continues to be my greatest teacher. I live for these conversations.

Will and Surrender

By Dr. Arielle Schwartz : licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. She is also a GSN Provider and Board Member

Challenge and Ease

yoga for holiday stress Dr. Arielle Schwartz

I was in a yoga practice earlier this week engaged in a relatively uncomfortable hold in a deep lunge. Had I been practicing at home I might have avoided this posture all together or only stayed in it for a few breaths. However, I went to a class that I knew would encourage me to go a little deeper. So, there I was, feeling the burn in my right thigh, listening to the voice in my head that said “out,” fighting the distracting urge to escape the moment. Suddenly, doing the dishes and folding the laundry seemed way more appealing.

As I continued to sustain my lunge another thought arose, “You chose this challenge.” My entire experience shifted. “Nobody is making me stay here. I can exit into child’s pose and that is a completely valid option. It’s up to me.” This time I chose to stay, directing my attention fully on the breath, the sensations in my right leg, and the feeling of my feet firmly grounded into my yoga mat. When we finally released out of the pose and came forward into Samasthiti (equal standing) pose I felt a deep satisfaction of a profoundly awake mind and body.

My Kripalu yoga teacher training emphasized that will and surrender are polarities that need to exist in balance; like two wings of a bird that need to function in tandem to create flight. Too much force and we risk becoming rigid and hard. Too much emphasis on surrender and we risk becoming stagnant or over-flexible. A beautiful metaphor for life.

“So how do we know when to challenge ourselves and when to emphasize ease? The truth is nobody gets to answer this question for you. There will be phases in all of our lives when we have the capacity to say “I want more; bring it on!” And there will be times when we are already weighed down by life’s challenges. Here we might say “I can barely get out of bed; life is hard enough, I cannot handle any more stress.” The balance of will and surrender is one that evolves to match the ever changing phases of our lives.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Choosing Challenge

will and surrender Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Think about your most significant memories of the last year what comes to your mind? Are they your days at the office? Are they the items you crossed off of your to-do lists? I’m guessing not. Likely what stand out are the moments that took your breath away. Or the times when you discovered new possibilities in yourself. Maybe you recall the times that you felt you made a difference in the life of another or deepened your intimate connections with loved ones. Or a time you had to fight for something or someone that you believe in.

Perhaps you have set forth into this New Year with resolutions. I’m guessing that your intentions for this year are more related to your larger life aspirations than your to-do lists. Maybe you have identified new health and wellness goals. Perhaps you have identified a need for greater introspection or self-care. However, whatever it is that you have chosen it is likely that achieving your goal will involve some challenge. This may be the challenge of “will” such as adding 10 more minutes to your morning run to prepare for a race or signing up for a meet-up group even though it scares you. Or your challenge may require “surrender” such as asking yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings or adding in a mindfulness practice into your daily routine.

As you look at your intentions for the year ask yourself how much do you long for the life you envision. Reflect on the challenges that will likely accompany this goal. Is it worth it? Are you worth it?

Will and Surrender

will and surrender 2

Ideally facing challenges involves a balance of willful engagement towards your identified goals and acceptance of what is. Dr. Marsha Linehan incorporates Zen Buddhism into Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) reminding us that radical acceptance of who we are is a necessary condition for change and growth. Likewise, Gestalt psychotherapy (Fritz Perls) works with the polarization between the parts of the self that are seeking growth and parts that are seeking safety. Resolution requires that we listen to the voice of both sides of the polarity. As a result we evolve without force or aggression but through the honoring of each part.

My Kripalu yoga teacher training emphasized that will and surrender are polarities that need to exist in balance; like two wings of a bird that need to function in tandem to create flight. Within this yoga practice you begin by actively engaging in physical postures, emphasizes alignment as a means to concentrate on the sensations in your body. Deepening into postures fear and pain can arise. You may want to run. You meet your experience, back away, and return again. You might feel irritable. You move from thinking to feeling. Something shifts inside and you feel the experience energetically. There is a surge of emotion, a shake in the body. No longer are you telling your body what shape to take, you are now guided by your sensations. You return to the familiarity of the postures you were taught and find another spontaneous impulse to move. You surrender to impulse and sensation. You continue to follow the urge to move eventually softening into stillness.

“Like a grain of salt dissolves in water, so the mind becomes one with the highest self.” Hatha Yoga Pradipika (4.5) Svami Svatmarama

The Tale of the Sands

Will and Surrender Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Tale of the Sands is a Sufi story written by Idries Shah which further explores the relationship between will and surrender as we proceed towards our goals. In this story a stream longs to reach the far away mountains. This stream has already travelled a long, long distance. It has carved its way through rocks leaving behind impressive canyons. This stream has changed landscapes and meandered across the vast countryside. The stream was confident that it could cross any barrier.

Soon the stream came to the edge of the desert and was convinced that its destiny was to cross over to the great mountains in the distance. However, no matter how hard it tried, the stream would disappear into the sand. The water tried to hurtle itself across the sand but could not find a way.

Then the stream heard the whispered voice of the desert saying, “if the wind crosses the desert so can the stream.” The stream was discouraged thinking “the wind can fly but I am not the wind.” The voice spoke again, “Your accustomed way of hurtling yourself into the sand will not let you cross. You must allow yourself to be absorbed into the wind.’

The stream did not like this idea and was frightened of losing its identity. Again, the desert spoke, “The wind will carry you over the desert to the mountains.” “How can I be sure of that?” wondered the stream. The desert responded once more, “In either case you cannot remain the same for if you continue in this way you will either disappear or end up as a marsh.” So with great courage the stream surrendered. Lifted as vapor, the stream was carried by the wind to the faraway mountains and as the rain fell it once again became a stream. Purified by letting go, what is essential remained.

The Invitation

Equanimity Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Were the stream to have no aspiration it would have disappeared into the sands. As you walk through this New Year I invite you to join me in choosing challenge, whatever that means to you. It takes great courage to want something so much that you are literally transformed in the process. Are you willing to let go of the self that you know and learn how to dance in the unknown?

Reflections on Working with Grief

by GSN Provider Shelly King, MA, LPCme-blue-296x300

While we all experience grief and loss in our own ways, there are common experiences many of us share. Here are some of things that I have found to be most important when working with grief and loss:

Tell Your Stories

It is so important to find your people to talk with. Humans have evolved with the ability to tell stories. It connects us through history and time. As humans, we are wired to connect. Yet with grief and loss, it can be so hard to tell our stories for so many reasons. Our culture generally doesn’t do grief well. There is the expectation to grieve privately and to “move on” quickly. And for any of us grieving, we know this just isn’t true, yet it’s easy to question our sanity when so many people implicitly and explicitly communicate to us that we’re doing it “wrong” or making them uncomfortable. Rather than questioning the insanity of these messages, we think we’re the ones losing it. Instead it is essential to find the person(s) that are best able to support you. This might be a family member, friend, on-line support, therapist, clergy, or Grief Support Network gathering (if you live in the area). You may have to search a bit to find your connection, but these connections are your life-lines.

Find Your Community

Life is totally rearranged by loss. You are not the same person as you were before your loss. There is life before loss, and life after. It can be a re-defining moment in one’s lifetime. But again, cultural expectations can be challenging as those around you want their “old” person back – their old spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, etc., and you may be wishing for this too. Instead of getting back to your old self, I view grief and loss as integration process. We are always growing and changing as human beings, and our losses are a part of that process. It is important that you find your community that can support you through this identity change and grief process. Many people express how they’ve lost friends through their grief, found new ones, and have been pleasantly surprised by the people that really show up.

Feel Your Feelings

As with telling your story, feeling your feelings can be challenging. Not only are most of us not getting enough support, we may be scared of our own feelings. Grief is intense. It’s messy. It’s difficult. It can feel crazy. Human nature is to avoid pain. Yet as you probably know or have heard, the only way to really work with grief is to experience it. You may be able to find ways to numb it or avoid it for the time being, but it’s still there. If we keep in mind that loss is an integration process, we can remember that bit by bit we’re able to let thoughts and feelings in, and let them pass through us. We don’t have to hold on to them. We can trust that they will come and go. There can be the fear that if you let yourself “go there” you might never come back. I know that feeling. I remember after the death of my daughter, I found myself lying on the bedroom floor of what was supposed to be her room. And she wasn’t there, never came home from the hospital and I wondered if any of this was really real. Did it happen? Was I crazy? I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My body, heart and soul needed that. Grief can knock us down hard some days. If and when you’re able, trust that you will be okay. I know you will be okay. You will never be the “same” again, and you don’t need to be. You can do this; you are doing this.

Acceptance

Acceptance can be a big one! So many things in life don’t go our way, and the death of a dear one may be part of that. We all know life is not fair. But what I learned from the death of my first born daughter – life is not about being fair. It’s about accepting what is. From my own experience, I can tell you my first born daughter was not supposed to have a rare chromosomal abnormality and only live for a few days. That was not part of my plan, or something I even knew as a possibility until it happened to me. But when I could let go of my plan, my supposed-to’s or should-haves, when I could sit with what was and be in the moment, wow – I experienced the most amazing love with my daughter. It broke my heart wide open. In my moments of acceptance, everything was truly okay and well with the world. I’ll be honest, I did not and do not stay in these moments of acceptance. I have railed against my daughter’s death, and my life after loss, and yet, when I can come back to the now, to moments of trust and acceptance, I feel that peace and love again. I know it’s always there. So as you are able, I encourage you to step into acceptance, to sit there, and let things be.

Attachment and Legacy

To wrap things up, I have also found it important to acknowledge my attachment to my daughter in life and death. Of course I’m always her mom. And for you, for the person you are remembering, you are attached to them. You are always their friend, partner, family member. We get to nurture these connections in life and death. One way to work with this is to consciously decide how your loved one’s legacy will live on through you. This could mean ANYTHING – from lighting a candle, to donating money to their favorite organization, or singing, dancing or painting with your loved one in mind. The relationship is yours to nurture and treasure.

My thoughts are with us as we move forward into the holiday season. It can be a tough time for so many of us. I send you thoughts of light and love for the season ahead. And I welcome your darkness and fear.

Colorado Gives: Support the Grief Support Network

It Takes a Village…

“Communal grieving offers something that we cannot get when we grieve by ourselves. Through validation, acknowledgement and witnessing, communal grieving allows us to experience a level of healing that is deeply and profoundly freeing. Each of us has a basic human right to that genuine love, happiness and freedom.” – Sobonfu Some

Dear GSN Supporters and Friends:

Thank you for your support of Grief Support Network and for joining us in our mission to empower people to transform through the experience of loss and to break the stigma around grief in our culture. We would like to express our gratitude to each of you for playing an important role in building this community – it takes a village to move through grief, and we truly could not do what we do without you.

ItTakesAVillage

GSN builds a vibrant community that offers programs, tools, resources and connectivity to support people after loss and helps them move forward in life. Since our inception, GSN has served over 1000 individuals by offering personalized support and connection to our wide range of holistic practitioners and body centered programs.

During the past year, GSN has provided members with best fit referrals to our provider network, monthly gatherings, therapeutic groups, grief rituals, retreats and the launch of our Awakening through Grief yoga program. We have grown from a volunteer based organization to a dedicated staff who is here to offer you support for any kind of loss and at any phase of the grief journey.

With your continued participation and financial support, GSN is positioned to expand our offerings and reach in 2016. Through compassionate and empowering programs and services, GSN is cultivating a community that will support you to live with greater authenticity, vulnerability and self awareness to grow through the brokenness of grief. Your generous gift will help ensure the growth of GSN’s programs that are so vital to help people in need of our support.  

Our focus in 2016, will be to:

•Offer monthly, donation based Moving Through Grief…Together gatherings to provide a safe space to be present with your grief, receive tools and inspiration and feel connected to others who are grieving.

•Implement a new therapeutic yoga program that will guide you to move through grief to a place of gratitude and transformation, while exploring the relationship between what you feel in your body and your thoughts and emotions. Through yoga and meditation, GSN brings us together to heal the body and spirit and develop a healing community.

•Host quarterly grief rituals that help you to release the burden of your grief by drawing on the support of the ancestors and unseen world and through connection with the community as we bare witness for each other.

•Bring experts in the field of grief and transformation to the community to offer educational workshops and inspirational talks that empower us to break the silence around loss and teach us how to share our feelings openly with each other.

•Offer healing retreats that provide respite and a loving, gentle space to care for yourself while you grieve. Through this experience, GSN offers a sanctuary for you be present with your grief while you are nurtured and supported in an intimate and beautiful environment.

•Create  therapeutic groups to facilitate and pair individuals with others who are experiencing a similar loss.
Please consider making a year end donation that will allow Grief Support Network to continue its mission to empower people to transform through the experience of grief within our local community and throughout the country.

~ Click HERE to Make a Donation ~

With your help, we can grow our community and journey together to discover the gift of grief

“Grief is unpredictable.  She will have her way with you, until she is done. She will move through you if you let her. 

She is your Teacher… 

Your Friend… 

Enemy… 

and the Executioner of Ignorance.

She is the Transformer of the Spirit and the Usher of Change.

There is no force in the universe like her… She demands complete Trust… Surrender … and if you let her, she will make you better than you ever thought you could be. 

Authentic – full of heart… you see yourself now…. Fully awake… life comes clearer into focus. Simple pleasures breathed in like the music of your daughter’s voice – something bubbles up from the shadows. Love takes over, everything expands … You are…

Resilient…

Connected…

Grateful…

Filled with love…

And happy to be Alive.”

To help us reach our goals in 2016, please click HERE to make a donation.

Warmest holiday wishes from our family to yours, 

Wendy Black-Stern

Grief Support Network Founder

I am mourning today.

Grieve for those the world lost in Paris .. just because we ride the waves of grief for them does not mean that evil has prevailed, it is merely a symbol that we are all connected as one through the human experience. The following piece by Leslie Woodward beautifully depicts a message of love amidst tragedy and sorrow. 
On Friday, my husband and I were on a plane when the attacks took place. We caught glimpses of the horrific news in between flights and again once we arrived at our destination. I was in shock, and had no time to process it all. It was a short trip packed tightly with events for the wedding we were attending and catching up with family. We headed to the airport Monday morning, bought a newspaper, and sat down to finally read and feel the terror of what took place on Friday evening in Paris.

And I finally wept. Am weeping, as I write this. Seeing pictures of the fear, desperation, agony… I am left with a deep pit in my stomach and an overwhelming sense of misunderstanding. How can human beings  do this? To not attack a government building or an iconic city structure (not that those are any less horrible), but to carefully select targets where innocent people are relaxing, enjoying time spent with those they care about. How? My mind is spinning. My heart is racing. I am shaking. I am at a loss.

And at the same time, I feel that we are being challenged, as a global community. How can we join together, despite our differences, to stand up to this hatred, to this delusion. How can we take the fear, devastation, loss, and turn it into love, togetherness, and mindful action.

In a world where such unspeakable tragedy happens every day, how can we remain informed, yet consistently come back to love, compassion, and hope. It is hard. Sometimes impossible. At times I have avoided the news entirely as I am a special breed of human that is deeply affected by it. When I see pain, I feel it in every ounce of my being. I take it on, and always have. My struggle has been to see it, and feel it, and then to return to love. If fear takes over, aren’t they winning?

In Buddhism, it is taught that we are all the same- we are all one. When I see strangers, sometimes I’ll pick one out and wonder about their life. Where is he going? I wonder what struggles she has in her life right now? Is he well-loved by his family? Is she happy? When we can exit the self-centered sphere we live in (myself included) and ask questions about others, we can cultivate understanding and compassion.

Who were those 7 men? What were they like? How were they loved? What were they afraid of? The Buddha said that if one is truly happy, they cannot harm another. How were those men hurting? Who taught them that hatred was the path to Heaven/Self-realization/Eternal love? I’m not claiming that generating compassion for a terrorist is an easy practice, but without attempting to understand, I don’t think we are doing our job to be mindful, informed, deeply loving beings. They caused irreparable pain, and we will mourn, but to turn that tragedy into something productive, I feel it is with the return to love. Always.

I am sending love and prayers your way, and to the people of France. May we see through the darkness and into light, joined together.

Love,
Leslie