I Had a Stillborn Son, and This Is What I Needed

In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Kiley Hanish shares her story about healing and helping others.

My son Norbert, who was named after the dragon in “Harry Potter,” died before he was born — he was stillborn. I was planning a home birth, going the “natural” route, and I wound up having an emergency medical delivery. Norbert had a liver cyst that developed late in the third trimester and burst, causing him to die. Neither my midwife, backup doctor or the hospital staff was adequately prepared to help me make my experience beautiful nor did they have any information on parenting a baby who has died.

After Norbert died in 2005, I desperately wanted someone to take care of me. I felt completely numb, incapacitated and alone in my grief. I longed for anything that might alleviate the unbearable pain I was feeling, and even secretly wished a fairy godmother would come and make it all easier. Fourteen months later, our daughter was born in perfect health. Yet a flood of grief washed over me. Though I was grateful and relieved, her birth didn’t take away the pain of losing our son. I found myself in a similar space emotionally as when Norbert died, while feeling overwhelmed at being a new mother. I did not know how to navigate the waters and had no idea where to turn for help or guidance.

It would have been immensely supportive to be assured that I didn’t need to act like I was keeping it all together, or that I wasn’t hurting so badly, just to make others feel comfortable.

Looking back, having a grief guide would have been invaluable. My fear might have been assuaged had someone told me that what I was feeling was normal and that my thoughts and feelings, although different from most people’s, did not make me crazy. I could have used the insight of knowing it was OK to not be OK, and the pain wasn’t always going to be so intense. It would have been immensely supportive to be assured that I didn’t need to act like I was keeping it all together, or that I wasn’t hurting so badly, just to make others feel comfortable.

Having some direction about how to honor Norbert and incorporate him into our lives would have been hugely beneficial, as the reaction of a number of people around us was to shut out Norbert completely, as though he had never existed, only exacerbating our grief and frustration. I wish someone had been there to remind us that memory-making, ritual and reflection could be helpful tools in keeping his spirit alive in our family. Most importantly, I needed to know that opening up a connection to him would actually help me in my healing process.

Reliving the experience as a movie

I am a very private person, but in 2014, my husband Sean directed a film based on my experience, “Return to Zero,” starring Minnie Driver. For the eight years preceding the film, I rarely spoke to anyone of my experience of losing a child. I was ashamed that this horrible thing happened to me. I tried very hard to put on an outward appearance that things were OK, however inside I was suffering and barely surviving. Over time, the pain softened and my sadness transformed into anxiety.

During production and post-production of “Return to Zero,” Sean created a very large global Facebook community. I watched how the mere existence of this film was helping people feel validated in their experience and less alone. When the film was released, similar things happened and people experienced a great deal of healing just by watching this movie.

It was at that moment that something changed inside of me. I knew it was worth the risk of putting my story out there and sharing my vulnerablility with others so that I could help people find healing and community. About the same time I began sharing my story, while it was the hardest thing for me to do, I found it was also the most beneficial in my own healing journey. Being open with my heartbreaking personal story inevitably took away its shame.

Advice and guidance for bereaved mothers

Being a bereaved mom can be very isolating. The most important piece of advice would be to let those moms know they are not alone and to find a support group. Research has shown that support groups can be one of the most beneficial ways to help a grieving parent on her road to recovery. Support groups help normalize the grief process as well as connect you to like-minded individuals who have been through a similar experience.

Transforming your grief into a productive action can truly feel empowering.

If there isn’t a pregnancy and infant loss support group in your area, there are quite a few groups and resources online. I have compiled a list of resources and helpful links at Return to Zero Center for Healing, an organization created out of my experience as well as the grassroots response to the film. The site addresses topics such as online support, normal grief reactions, family and friends, pregnancy after loss, living without a rainbow, remembrance and healing projects, and research and advocacy.

It can also be helpful for a bereaved parent to become involved in an organization that supports other bereaved parents. Perhaps it’s making memory boxes (pictured above) to be given in the hospitals to parents who lose a baby or participating in a Remembrance Walk. Transforming your grief into a productive action can truly feel empowering. Regaining some sense of control is also an important part of the healing process.

While Norbert never got a chance to experience life, his untimely passing has left a lasting legacy that is impacting thousands of parents around the world. It is our mission at the Return to Zero Healing Center to be that healing guide you can turn to after losing a child during pregnancy, childbirth or in the early stages of life. No matter your experience, there truly are no words to describe the grief associated with losing a child. Through our retreats, yoga therapy sessions, wellness education classes and online support, we hope to become an important resource for couples who can turn to the Return to Zero Healing Center during their time of loss.

For more information about the Pregnancy and Parenting After Loss Retreats planned for 2016, go to the Return to Zero Center for Healing website.

Kiley Krekorian Hanish, OTD, OTR/L (pictured above left), is an occupational therapist living in Los Angeles. Before founding the Return to Zero Center for Healing, Hanish was an assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

Yoga for Trauma Recovery

By GSN Provider, 

Healing PTSD with Yoga

Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder, CO

Yoga saved her life. Six months before her wedding she travelled to South America with her parents; without warning her mother had a heart attack and died in her arms. Coming home, she attempted to re-engage her life as she had known it. But the panic and depression were unbearable. She lost everything she cared about; her mother, her fiancé, her home. Knowing herself as an active, successful woman, she was unrecognizable to herself…

In this post we explore the healing benefits of yoga for trauma through the lens of one woman’s journey into and out of PTSD. When suffering the painful consequences of trauma it is imperative to know there is a healing path. You can reclaim your life from the effects of trauma and research has demonstrated that yoga is a valuable adjunctive treatment to psychotherapy. As a clinical psychologist with twenty years experience teaching yoga, I have not only experienced but also witnessed how cultivating a yoga practice can change lives.

“Every day you meet yourself on the mat where you are. In yoga we aim to explore our “edge” by breathing into sensation, tolerating discomfort, and finding ease. This deepening in your practice might be discovered during a longer hold in warrior pose or in the midst of the stillness of child’s pose. How does your body want to move today?”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

One Woman’s Healing Journey

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Recently one of my yoga students shared with me her story about how yoga saved her life. Life was good. She had a job she loved, was soon to be married, and had recently moved into a new home with her fiancé. Six months before the wedding she travelled to South America with her parents and without warning her mother had a heart attack and died in her arms. In shock and in grief she came home. Upon her return she attempted to re-engage her life as she had known it. But the grief, anxiety, and panic became unbearable and began to interfere with her ability to live her life.

She went to her doctor who prescribed medications to manage her symptoms. Over the next several months her depression and panic worsened. She became unhitched emotionally; alternately crying uncontrollably and feeling unmanageable rage. Knowing herself as an active, successful woman she was unrecognizable to herself. She felt too tired to exercise and too wired to get the deep rest she so badly needed. Her relationship suffered from the stress. Sadly, within a year she lost her mother, her husband-to-be, and her home.

She began to feel that the medications were worsening her symptoms and after consulting her medical doctors decided to stop taking them. She began therapy and understood that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but she still couldn’t see a way out of the emotional and physical pain. She contemplated ending her life. This was no way to live.

Then a friend invited her to attend a yoga class. Initially she was only able to do a small portion of the practice; however, she described a remarkable change after the class. Walking out of class she felt “like herself” for about 30 minutes; which during that time felt like a miracle. She was intrigued and went back. Again, she felt both focused and relaxed afterwards; a balance she had been seeking for many months. She began to practice yoga like her life depended upon it, and it did. She shared that the positive effect was amplified when she engaged in standing postures and that slowly reclaiming her physical strength and flexibility was key in her recovery. She discovered that over time the lingering positive feeling lasted longer and carried through into the next day.

Now, fifteen years have passed since her mother’s death and she continues her yoga practice to maintain her mental wellbeing. She proudly asserts that she has reclaimed her life from the costs of PTSD.

I share her story at her request in hopes that it may make a difference in the life of another.

Nervous System Regulation

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Wired and tired. This combination of anxiety and depression is a noteworthy characteristic of PTSD; an alternation between two paradoxical autonomic nervous system states:

  • Sympathetic nervous system activation and the experience of anxiety or panic
  • Parasympathetic nervous system activation and the experience of depression and hopelessness

With PTSD we lose a sense of choice regarding our nervous system state. We can either feel stuck “on” or stuck “off”. Much of the literature on trauma recovery is focused on the regulation of our nervous system states. Psychotherapy focused on healing trauma, especially EMDR and Somatic Psychology, recognizes an individual’s capacity to successfully recover from the effects of trauma. While medications can sometimes be necessary, it is important to note that some medications interfere with recovery from PTSD, as was the case with my yoga student.  Rather than managing symptoms, healing requires having an opportunity to process through the cognitive, emotional, and physiological reactions to the event. More recently, yoga has been recognized in psychology as a valuable adjunctive treatment when added to psychotherapy.

Yoga offers tools to work directly with imbalances in the nervous system resulting from PTSD including meditation practices, breathing practices, and movement practices. We have the opportunity to observe our mind; cultivating increased awareness about the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and body. There are practices aimed towards relaxing or re-energizing ourselves depending upon what is needed to establish equilibrium.

Yoga for Trauma

yoga for trauma Dr. Arielle SchwartzRecently, research by Bessel van der Kolk and colleagues at the Justice Resource Center in Brookline, Massachusetts demonstrated the importance of yoga in the treatment of PTSD. The effects of yoga practices are being shown to balance autonomic sympathetic activation, reduce blood pressure, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, and decrease reported symptoms of PTSD. Their treatment model includes attending a trauma-sensitive yoga class as an adjunctive treatment alongside psychotherapy for PTSD. Creating a class environment that feels emotionally and physically safe is of primary importance given the vulnerability associated with healing from trauma. This may include soft lighting, minimizing use of mirrors, and setting a tone of gentleness and non-judgment.

Unfortunately, trauma-sensitive yoga classes are not available in all areas. In such cases, focus on finding a yoga class in your community that feels nurturing and safe. Attending a yoga class has added benefits of developing community and reducing the isolation associated with PTSD. There are a wide range of yoga styles including Kripalu, Ashtanga, and Kundalini to name just a few. If you are new to yoga, I recommend trying out several types of classes until you find one that fits your needs.

If you are feeling too vulnerable to attend a public class or cannot find the right class in your area it may be necessary to develop a home-based practice. Luckily, in our digital age, the internet can help you access many of the world’s best teachers from the comfort of your living room. Here are several considerations when cultivating your personal practice of yoga for trauma:

  • Work in tandem: Healing from PTSD with yoga is recommended in conjunction with good trauma-informed psychotherapy. Discuss your health care goals with your psychotherapist and medical providers and consult them regarding any concerns about starting a yoga practice.
  • Create a safe place: Take a moment to reflect on a place in your home where you would like to practice. Ideally this will be a quiet space; free from distractions and interruptions. Attend to the space you have chosen by placing items that feel nourishing and positive. Perhaps place a flower, a candle, or a photograph in your space that you can turn towards as a resource in times when you feel ungrounded.
  • Open your mind: Yoga is a mindfulness practice and is grounded in a foundation of present-centered awareness, a mindset of non-judgment, awareness of your bodily felt sense, and awareness of your breathing patterns. Yoga is a form of self-study and involves being curious about your moment-to-moment experience and noticing the connections between your thoughts, body, and emotions.
  • Move your body: Yoga asana, or the physical practice of yoga, offers opportunities to explore strength building through standing postures such as warrior pose or downward dog. Releasing tension is the complementary action to strength building and involves the art of letting go. Most important in the practice is your ability to listen to your body. Every day you meet yourself on the mat where you are. In yoga we aim to meet our “edge” by breathing into sensation, tolerating discomfort, and finding ease. However, such deepening in your practice might be discovered during a longer hold in warrior pose or in the midst of the stillness of child’s pose. How does your body want to move today?
  • Welcome your emotions: It is common to experience difficult emotions such as anger, fear, or grief after a traumatic event. Central to healing trauma with yoga is having an environment where emotions are welcome. Sometimes being alone with big emotions can increase feelings of isolation or fear. It is equally important to know that you have choice about when to feel and when to contain your feelings to bring back forward in the presence of your therapist.
  • Explore your breath: Working with pranayama, or conscious breathing, provides direct connection to the autonomic nervous system allowing you to work with your physiology. Our inhale allows the sympathetic nervous system to be dominant and the parasympathetic relaxation response is paramount on the exhale. We can vary the rhythm and length of our inhales and exhales as one tool to reintroduce flexibility of our stress response systems. For example, cultivating deep belly breaths can slow down and calm the nervous system when you feel anxious. In contrast, rapid breathing patterns such as breath of fire or kapalbhati pranayama can energize you when you feel depressed or sluggish.
  • Keep a journal: When healing from trauma it is typical to feel “all over the place” emotionally making it difficult to notice patterns and connections between your thoughts, emotions, and body. Keeping a journal as part of your yoga healing journey can be a valuable part of your process. Take note of your moods and your thoughts. Keep a log of the postures and breath practices that helped and those that brought up uncomfortable feelings. If memories or big feelings come up during your practice your journal can be a place to reflect upon these moments and a way to bring them back to therapy.

You can reclaim your life from the effects of PTSD, one breath at a time.

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Dr Arielle Schwartz Clinical Psychologist in Boulder CO

Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a 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. 

A Thank you Letter

From GSN Founder & Executive Director, Wendy Stern
A great big thank you to all who came out to join GSN for our 2nd Annual Gratitude Celebration and Fundraising event at Shine last weekend.  Especially, I want to acknowledge and thank our incredible line up of performers for bearing their souls, and for sharing their hearts, stories and wisdom with us all.   It was a beautiful and heartfelt evening, and I am overflowing with gratitude for all of the love, support and openhearted people who were there and willing to share deeply with each other.  The energy in the room was filled with a true sense of community as we collectively honored the pain of our losses through dance, poetry and song together.
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The evening did serious justice to GSNs mission of empowering people to transform through their loss and to break the stigma around grief in our culture.   So much of GSN’s work is to simply get people talking about their grief, rather than shoving it down or hiding away until they feel better, and the event last Saturday was a beautiful example of what can happen when we are courageous, authentic and willing to live life more deeply and alive BECAUSE of our loss.
A high point of the evening for me was the celebration of life that we arrived at as we journeyed through the experience of grief.  After feeling the heart wrenching pain and the inspiration that comes through heart break, we found ourselves on the dance floor as Sambe Dende brought us together to DANCE, LAUGH, CRY and MOVE through our grief.  GSN provider, Arielle Schwartz, said it best  “Consciously making space for loss is essential if we are to heal our collective wound of minimizing pain. Last night we gave grief a well-deserved place of honor. We wept for ourselves and for each other. We hugged and held each other. But we did not stop there. We also danced! We danced our tearful, joyful, ecstatic celebration of life”.
Thank you, again, to all who joined us, contributed from afar, and continue to support GSN as we reach out to touch one person, one family, one community at a time.  We are here to support anyone going through any kind of loss and at any point of the grief journey.  GSN is hear to hold us all, and we invite you to be a part of our community of change.
Sincerely,
Wendy Stern

Your Story is My story

By Irene Schmoller, Cousin of GSN Founder Wendy Stern

Wendy, your story is my story.  Not as fully, not as painfully, not as reaching down to the very core of my being.  But I was there that summer, I held Noah, I smelled his sweet tender babyness, I saw him laugh, I saw how his grandparents adored him, how you and Brian were awed by that twinkle in his eye.  I was also there when his grandmother called and told me he left us, I was there when I walked in your home and saw the agognizing grief on your face, I was there to hold you, to tell you that there was a bigger picture.  I was there, standing in the bitter bitter cold of a Boulder winter blizzard, at graveside, watching Noah’s tiny wood coffin shaking in the wind, I was there when they set what was left of his shell, for his beautiful spirit had already left us, into the earth.  I was there as doves circled overhead, left and circled back again; a promise that there would be some peace wendynoahcoming in our lives.  I was there when I wrote Noah’s eulogy, the words that came from beyond, out of my hand, through my pen, onto paper and in front of you all, out of my tears. I asked “What good can we make of Noah’s passing?”

What Tzedakah can come from this?  In Judiasm,  tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, which Judaism emphasises are important parts of living a spiritual life. Maimonides says that, the highest form of Tzedakah is to give a gift or partnership that will result in the recipient supporting himself instead of living upon others.

So here we have it.  Grief Support Network is the Tzedakah you have built out of that pain and sorrow suffered so terribly.  The doves of peace have returned to circle overhead as you give the gift of justice to others.  That’s my story. It’s our story too!

My Story: Ready or Not ~ Here Comes Life!

By Brandi Waits, GSN Development Director

I was 18 years old. It was my first year in college and my first year of experiencing the freedom of being on my own living outside of my parents home. I had a taste of freedom that I had never experienced before and I had dreams and hopes of a great and grand future that I could create for myself.

But. Life had very different plans for me. Plans that at the time were the toughest plans I thought I would ever face – never realizing it was charting the course for life long search for deeper meaning, purpose and transformation.

I received the call one afternoon that my father had been taken to the hospital for testing.  My father and I spoke on the telephone daily and he had not mentioned anything about not feeling well. Alas, my mother and I jumped in the car and made the four hour drive home.  Upon our arrival at the hospital and just before my father was being taken in for his test – I got to see him.  My father had lost approximately 50 lbs in the three month period since our last gathering.

I knew in my heart of all hearts that the news couldn’t be good. There was something wrong with him. I was terrified of what the test results would reveal to us.  The doctors called us in to share the diagnosis of cancer. They also shared with us that my father had three to six months to live.

My dad was and had always been the strongest male presence and supporter in my life. I loved him to the ends of the earth and often shared with him as a little girl that if anything ever happened to him – I would likely have to be buried with him.  My father spent one month in the hospital before asking his family to take him home. He simply wanted to be at home surrounded by friends and family to live out the remaining days of his life.  I spent every waking moment with him from diagnosis to death. The hospital would let me in before visitor hours and would kick me out after visiting hours were over. My father handled death like a true human and a true champion when the end finally came.  Hospice was present during our transition. My father battled with his fear of dying and then.. one day… he accepted that death was coming. The energy, the love and the peace that we felt until the day he passed was a feeling that I don’t even have words to describe – it was a feeling.  My father died three months and one day after diagnosis.

I learned strength and courage from my beloved father.

Exactly 10 years later, I was 28, I would receive a call that my beloved mother had died during the night. My mother was my biggest fan in life. My mother had a true free spirit that was often tainted with fear of the big world in her own journey.  But, what she did for me was amazing – she taught me and showed me that I could have anything and be anything that I dreamed of. My mother gave me the ability to dream and to dream big. In an instant – she was gone.

My world turned many shades of gray after becoming a child without parents. But, the lessons that each of their lives and presence taught me was so profound and life changing.

After their passing, I realized how precious and how fleeting life is. I realize that one2012-10-27 16.58.09 can be here today and gone tomorrow. I forgave a bit faster, I loved a lot deeper,  and I let go of a hell of a lot more – this is where the transformation occurred for me.

The transformation also occurred for me in the way I spend my remaining days on earth. Going after my dreams! Living minimal with plans to have experiences instead of things.

In 2012 – I sold most of my earthly possessions (including my car) to get on a plane with my backpack and see the world. I took a bit of my mothers ashes with me on this journey to honor her beautiful presence, spirit and influence in my life.

I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I want to live a life filled with purpose. ~ ALL OF THIS CAME FROM THE PASSING OF THESE TWO BEAUTIFUL SOULS THAT I WAS BLESSED TO CALL MOM AND DAD FOR 18 AND 28 YEARS!

CARPE DIEM!

On the day that my son, Bryce, passed away, I picked up a pencil and started writing …

By Lonnie Howell

Although I could not describe the shock and horror verbally, I was able to scribble some words down; sentences that seemed to flow through me. Since that day, writing seemed to be the only way to expel these intense emotions and I would often feel relieved after I set the pencil down. It was an outlet that allowed me some reprieve without injuring myself, or others. I could let out all of my anger, sadness, guilt, and hopelessness, as well as my brief moments of contentedness and gratitude. Over time, a few of these pieces have morphed into songs; songs that have cycled back through me with new meaning and inspiration. I will be performing one of these songs along with a story at GSN’s upcoming Gratitude Celebration & Live Cabaret Fundraising event at Shine on Saturday, September 12th, 2015. I hope that you will help support me and their mission to empower people to transform their experience with grief and loss, something well ALL experience, by purchasing tickets for what is sure to be a fun-filled evening with an inspirational group of people.

LH

An email I wrote to a friend shortly after the death of my grandma and father …

By Sarah Cronick

These last few months have been hmmmmm, how to describe…heavy, beautiful, unnerving, expanding, graceful, divine.

I was home in Alaska visiting family early March. During that time, we received a call that my dad was in the hospital and very sick. Not sure with what, but important we make our way to him in NH. So my siblings and I headed out there, not sure what was happening or how long we had with him. Upon arriving, he was on a ton of oxygen, in a lot of pain, and not doing well. But he hung on. It took the docs 10 days to finally diagnose: terminal pancreatic cancer that had spread everywhere. Days, weeks, months at most. Shock.

I spent the better part of the last 4 months back east with him. Taking care of a million loose ends that he had (this was not expected nor planned for) and doing my best to love him in spite of all the things that drove me mad (our relationship, like any, has its twists and turns). It was, overall, a sweet, challenging, beautiful time. To be together with family in that capacity and see how we are as a unit is a special thing.

I went to Boulder for about 3 weeks in this time period, to try and restore and work a little. In that time, my grandma Baba (the one with dementia- who yes, I am very close with) began her dying process. I was alone with her as she took her final breaths. It felt like a huge, beautiful, all-expansive gift of unconditional love as she passed. I seriously felt ecstatic. Intense nonetheless. It was such an honor to be with her and guide her in the process of letting go. All the while during that time I had a strong feeling that I would be in a similar situation with my dad- sooner than later.

Well, I was. My dad’s health declined rapidly while I was in Boulder, and it worked out that my siblings and I would drive out to NH immediately following my grandma’s funeral. So that is what we did. It felt so heavy, like I couldn’t celebrate my grandma and her incredible legacy (she had 8 kids, 28 grandkids, and 3 great grandkids- we were all there!) because I wanted to get to my father before it was too late.

When we arrived to my dad, he didn’t look well. We were told he was hanging on for us and not sure what to expect- was he going to die the minute we got there? What do we do? So many questions and unknowns.

He hung on for about 8 days. It was an interesting, funny, heartbreaking, and beautiful time. Song, loving touch, tears, laughter, anger, all of it. Seems so surreal, still.

I was alone with him as he passed. Unlike my grandma, he was in a lot of pain, and had a very hard time letting go. That morning, I did not want to be awake and taking care of my other grandma (there is a whole backstory I won’t bore you with), but I was. When I checked on my dad, it was clear it was time for him to move on. After getting out of my own willful way, I let go to the flow of it and let the divine work thru me- lighting candles, calling in his guides and ancestors, and asking god outloud (something I never do) for help. “coaching” him, saying words like “it’s time to go, it’s ok, you are doing great, and just keep exhaling.” he left shortly thereafter. Whew. I felt traumatized and full of adrenaline. Went to the woods to shake and cry it off. Felt his presence there and assured me that he chose me to be there with him for a reason- that I had the tools and could handle it. I trust in that.

Sooooo, that’s what’s been going on. He died a month ago yesterday. The “honeymoon” phase of the grief seems to be transitioning into something else, another heavy slow weighted sadness. I need to constantly remind myself that this is a process and to be gentle with myself. Again and again. Right now I want to not do the work I do, and leave the country to retreat to other worlds.

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Here is a photo of him when he was younger, as well as a picture of me holding him after a terrible coughing fit that he experienced regularly towards the end. It was such a gift to be able to do that with him- so tender and loving, so this picture is very special, powerful and sacred to me.

Grief – You are Not Alone

image1By Jill Emich, Spirit Warrior and Owner of Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place, www.shineboulder.com

Grief is a word that invokes emptiness inside. It conjures loneliness and feeing forsaken, forlorn, lost – a sadness so deep that it feels palpable and overwhelming. But as I have also learned, grief is one of our biggest teachers. It is a gift to dive deeper and to heal and in turn help other to heal.

Most of us have felt grief at some point or another in their lives either from personal experiences or from witnessing another in emotional pain. The first time I experienced grief was when I learned that my dear brother Dennis was born a twin and that my mother had lost one at birth. I hadn’t known this until my early teen years when my mom shared her story. Being a triplet myself (yes my mom was just very, very fertile), I felt such a sense of grief for my brother and my mother’s loss.

The fact that my brother shared a womb with another spirit and another body and then surfaced into this world alone was heartbreaking. What affect did it have on his little soul then and what affect does it have now? I will never truly know because my brother is mentally and physically challenged. The only way he communicates is through his powerful huge smile, through his facial expressions, his tears, and those eyes…..

So I grieved for him and with him. I felt all those overwhelming feelings and then I decided to shift it. I started to recognize the gifts. First and foremost my brother Dennis is still here with us and he has taught me and my family about compassion, patience, acceptance and unconditional love. His story and his existence has made me a better person and I want to share that love and compassion with others. I also know Dennis has a powerful twin angel on his shoulder, protecting him and whispering sweetness into his ear. And, my brother is the glue of our family. He has kept the love stroimage2ng between all of us and has kept us united. The very rare disease he has gives a life sentence of approximately 25 years. My brother is 44 and his doctors attribute his liveliness to his amazing care, love and his inner strength. His loss has made him strong, it has – this I know. It has made my family strong.

The other way I am able to transform this feeling of grief is by reaching out to others, sharing the story and hearing other peoples story of grief and how we can transform it through community and family. This is why I know the Grief Support Network is such a powerful and important organization.  It is something I am so proud to help support.  We need one another to heal, to grow, to share, to see a new perspective.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and to learn more about Grief Support Network.  We hope to see you at Shine on September 12h for GSN’s Gratitude Celebration & Fundraiser!  

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GSN Article in the Boulder Daily Camera

Boulder’s Grief Support Network helps people put their lives back together

Losing, then finding

By Cindy Sutter  Staff WriterLast week, Wendy Stern marked the eighth birthday of her son, Noah, quietly at home.

Noah Stern

As with every child, each birthday is unique. With Noah, however, the differences come not from the party he chooses or getting a new Lego set. Noah died seven years ago when he was 9 months old as his mother was feeding him, cuddling with him in bed.

“It shattered our entire life,” Stern says.

No cause of death was determined. He just stopped breathing.

Stern and her husband found themselves on a journey no parent wants to take, a journey without your child.

What do you do with the knowledge that your child will never drink from a sippy cup, say his first word, go to kindergarten, read a book, graduate from college or fall in love? The list goes on.

For Stern, one of the answers was to seek help in community. The solace she found there led her to, in turn, give help in community: She started a nonprofit, the Grief Support Network, to reach out to people like herself who found themselves bereft and without a feeling of purpose after a devastating loss. In addition to her understanding of grief, she brought another resource, the knowledge gained as a yoga teacher about how emotions live in the body.

Wendy Stern, founder of the Grief Support Network, says yoga has helped in healing her grief over the loss of her son.

Wendy Stern, founder of the Grief Support Network, says yoga has helped in healing her grief over the loss of her son. (Jim Campbell / Courtesy photo)

Studies show that grief has measurable effects on physical health. A study published in the journal Circulation found that heart attack risk is 21 times greater in the day after a loved one dies and six times more in the week after. Similarly, studies have shown decreases in immune system function among people grieving the loss of a loved one.

“The reasons we have health problems after going through the big experience of grief is that our culture hasn’t taught us how to move it through. It gets stored in the body,” Stern says.

She believes the effects of grief are worsened by the culture in which we live, where any mourning after the funeral is done quietly and often alone. Stern says her body felt frozen, and she felt anxious and unsafe. Thus, shortly after Noah died, she and her husband left the country, going to Southeast Asia and Bali.

There, they found people with a concept of death that was more integrated into life.

“They really rally as a community, honor the journey of it, hold the grief and talk about it,” she says.

They are also OK with not resolving it.

“They don’t pretend to know the answers. They have rituals in place that help them mark the milestone and hold it,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be as lonely as it is if you hold each other in community.”

When she started the nonprofit, she wanted not only to create that community, through a support-type group — it meets monthly at Shine restaurant — but also to give people resources to help them deal with the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of loss. She assembled a group of specialists in different fields such as acupuncture, massage, reiki, psychotherapy, chiropractic work, intuitive communication, traditional medicine and, not surprisingly, yoga.

“Being present in my body where grief lived, I see grief and how we hold it. It’s almost like water,” Stern says. “It will move through us if we let it.”

Letting go and holding on..

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Harness Body Wisdom – Capture the “Ahaa…Moments”

Written By Michael Lee

Michael is a master educator with 49 years of teaching experience. He founded Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in 1985 after many years of deep yoga practice and work in the areas of personal growth and transformation.

Ever had one of those ahaa… moments during your yoga practice?  You know, the moment when you get sudden insight or awareness that has life changing potential?

I think we all have them from time to time regardless of the nature of our practice.  My belief is that when we engage our body and become very present to our whole being through the medium of our body – something magical happens …

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