Art and Soul

The Art of Grieving

By GSN Provider Dr. Arielle Schwartz

No one is immune to grief. Loss comes in many forms. We face personal losses in the endings of relationships, the deaths of loved ones, life changing illnesses or injuries. We face collective losses of war, terrorism, fires, and floods. Hardship can fundamentally change us. We can be changed for the better.

We have a collective cultural blind spot when it comes to death. Often, we are asked to minimArt and Soul Dr. Arielle Schwartzize our pain; to pretend we are fine when we aren’t. We have been taught how to gloss over terror, rage, and anguish becoming plastic versions of reality. In order to live fully we must be willing to release our conditioned hiding; to recognize our common longing for authentic presence.

While the human spirit is transformed by loss such change typically starts as unbearable, excruciating, pain. Pain that crumbles the world as you know it, brings you to your knees, and reduces your sense of self to disjointed fragments. In these moments we need containers for the unknown and portals to places beyond words or conceptual ideas. We need people who are unafraid of deep emotional process. We need art to heal the broken heart.

“A poem, a song, a painting, or a dance can awaken the tender places in the heart. The corners of the soul can become heavy with sadness or numbed by an unidentified depression. Art has a way of extracting the stuck and pulling us out of despair. This is why I am a musician, a dancer, a lover of the creative–so that I may walk and work in flow with life. So that I may live fully: art and soul.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

To Live Fully

Last night I was at an extraordinary community event. An evening of cabaret supporting the Grief Support Network; an organization started by Wendy Stern after the death of her son. Collectively the pain of many losses was honored in dance, poetry, and song. Heart wrenching and uplifting, we were reminded of the power of the human spirit to be transformed by adversity.

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.

The Grief Support Network draws upon the wisdom of other cultures in how grief is honored. For example, they will be bringing Sobonfu Somé from West Africa to Boulder next month to learn from her cultural traditions around loss. Sobonfu shares that her community does not rush grief away. Rather they ask questions that create space for pain such as “Do you remember that he died?” “Have you grieved enough?” “Have you cried enough?”

Music from the Heart

Art and Soul Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Earlier this week my choir began a new song, Gwyneth Walker’s The Tree of Peace. Initially learning a piece of music involves a patchwork of notes and words. We had not yet really listened to the essence of the piece.

Our conductor stopped us. She asked us to reflect for a moment upon the Syrian refugees and the photo of the young boy, dead, washed upon the shore that had circulated in the news throughout the week. We collectively tuned into the pain and the ravages of war. We reflected on those who help and work for peace. Now we returned our attention to the music:

“Oh my sister and my brother, all who walk upon this earth, fold to your hearts each other. Where mercy dwells, the peace of the lord is there. To live rightly is to love one another, each kindness a gift, each deed a prayer. Listen to one another. Walk with reverence in the steps of those who have gone before, where forgiveness and wisdom has stood. So shall the wide earth become a temple, each loving life a psalm of gratitude. Then shall all shackles fall. The violence of war over the earth shall cease. Love shall tread out the fire of anger, and in its ashes plant a tree of peace.”

Our voices opened our hearts, we listened with the ear of compassion, and we embodied this masterful work. This is the power of art in community. (You can read more here on the healing power of music).

Feeling without Flooding

Watching the news, listening to the radio, or scrolling through your Facebook feed and it is easy to become flooded or overwhelmed by the pain of the world. It is also easy to become desensitized as a means to shut off our empathic resonance with what we are seeing.

There needs to be a balance of staying aware and self care. I encourage you to pause and take a deep breath. Each time you see an image or story of terror, death, or pain take a moment to close your eyes, check in with your body, notice any tension or shock. Inhale, exhale, feel your emotions, and move your body. Have you grieved enough? Stay sensitive, not desensitized or overloaded.

Make choices about when to look and when you have seen enough for today. Turn off the news at that point. Look at the blue sky, play music, paint, dance what inspires you.

Art and Soul

Art and Soul Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Poetry has the power to transport us into the realm of the soul. In the months after the September 11th attacks people connected to poetry as a means to cope with the tragedies that occurred. An interview between Alice Quinn, The New Yorker’s poetry editor, and poet, Deborah Garrison, looks at this connection. Garrison describes, “There was almost a poetic horror to that day, in that one moment you suddenly registered a before and after, and the poem seems to be a form that captures the largeness of one moment, and the largeness of one day.”

This poem by Adam Zagajewski was first published in the weeks after 9/11; re-appeared this week on my Facebook feed and feels as relevant today as it was 14 years ago.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Inhale, exhale, feel your emotions, and move your body. Have you grieved enough? For, grief has a way of extracting the stuck, pulling us out of temporary shutdowns—so that we may walk and work in flow with life. So that we may live fully: art and soul.

Dining and Dying: Five Key Lessons on How to Do Both Better

By The Dinner Party 

..A community of those who have experienced significant loss. They get together over potluck dinners to talk about the the ways in which it continues to affect their lives and how to thrive in ‪#‎LIFEAFTERLOSS‬.

Last week, we invited a group of our favorite hearts and minds — people whose work and words had literally changed our lives — over for dinner. On the menu for the evening: beet and quinoa salad with pomegranates, persimmons, and a maple balsamic reduction, roasted delicata squash with a honey miso glaze, seared beef with porcini mushroo1*0IGi7gWDOuEY17wZVB9Y7gm dust, and death. (No, we don’t mean the Colonel Mustard with a candlestick variety.)

In some ways, this wasn’t so different from most of the dinners we do. The food was fancier, courtesy of our chef friend and Dinner Party host (we’ll get to that), Amanda — who’d just moved back to Southern CA after a stint at New York’s Gramercy Tavern. The plates matched — a Dinner Party first. But death and dinner no longer strike us odd bedfellows

Five years ago, we sat down for dinner on a back-deck in Los Angeles, with zero design in mind other than to talk openly about something we normally, and expertly, avoided. We were all in our early 20s, and each of us had lost a parent: For some, it had been years, for others, a few months. We talked about the ways in which the experience had left us changed, and the struggles to which our peers could not relate, and the people we’d lost and the families and fragments of families they’d left behind. We talked until the wee hours, and kept doing it.

Since December 2013, we’ve grown from a couple dozen friends to a community of more than 1,000 in 48 cities. Earlier this month, we onboarded our 142nd host, and kicked off our 100th table. For all that’s changed, a lot hasn’t: We’re still a community of mostly of 20- and 30-somethings who’ve lost parents, or siblings, or partners, or best friends, and get together over potlucks to reflect on where we are now.

Over time, something interesting started to happen. We began to hear from people with a wide array of experiences beyond death loss: Women who’d suffered miscarriages, and their partners, too; people who’d lost someone to mental or physical illness, in which the person was still there but the relationship was gone; survivors of childhood abuse, who’d cut off ties with their biological families, and, like so many of the people around our tables, were learning to navigate the world alone.

All of our stories are different. Yet we’ve found that most people arrive with two things in common: A hunger for community, and for people with whom they don’t have to hide a part of themselves and their stories, and a persistent belief that whatever it is that they’re doing, they’re doing it wrong.

We started thinking about why that was true, and why we suck at talking about this stuff, despite the fact that we’ll all live through it. We started thinking about the role of the table in turning our most isolating experiences into sources of connectivity, and the difference between moving forward versus moving on, and what it means to live well after loss. We wondered what it would take to reach 1,000 tables, and what needs to change at a cultural level, and what we could do to help change it.

So we teamed up with Motherless Daughters author Hope Edelman to help us figure out what’s next.

“Culture change” is a thing that can feel amorphous — the stuff of intellectual masturbation, not concrete strategy — until you meet people who’ve had a hand in achieving it.

Before Motherless Daughters, our understanding of grief was limited to the Five Stages: That women could still be affected decades later, let alone be bonded by the experience, was little understood. Hope interviewed hundreds of women of every age — women who’d lost their mothers as kids or teenagers, or never known their moms at all — and gave them a voice, naming the fact that loss isn’t something that you get over, but something that changes you, in ways both small and large.

The room included Karen Moyer, co-founder of The Moyer Foundation, whose signature program, Camp Erin, helped cement the idea that if you want to address child bereavement, you have to create spaces where kids can be kids. It included Jo-Ann Lautman, founder of Our House, LA’s largest grief support center, and Jamie Daves, co-founder of Current TV and Halio Health, whose resume highlights include having led the deployment of broadband to schools, libraries, and health centers at the Federal Communications Commission. Gathered around the table were expert storytellers and creative directors and technologists: People dedicated to spreading messages, inside and outside the healthcare system.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Stop innovating. What we need is a return. Ours is an age obsessed with innovation and all things new: pill regimens to help you live foreverand promises of digital immortality. Reality check: People have been dying for a very long time, and that’s not about to change. At risk of waxing nostalgic about an imaginary past, perhaps we did it better when our last breaths weren’t spent plugged into machines.

Too often, we end up suffering in silence, subject to a healthcare system that doesn’t advocate for people, says technologist Sarah Sims, a software developer working to change the way we approach mental healthcare. Fortunately, that’s beginning to change.

Dr. Matthew Gonzales is a palliative care doctor and the Associate Medical Director at the Institute of Human Caring at Providence Hospitals. In caring for patients at the end of their lives, the most important thing he does has nothing to do with prescribing medication, he says. “People want to be witnessed.” That’s a role each of us can play, and it doesn’t require a degree to do it.

2. Looking for a generation bridge? Try loss. “Generational segregation is one of the only sources of segregation we still tolerate,” says Jamie Daves. At the table sat men and women whose ages spanned six decades: A rarity, if not an outright first, for all of us. Death and dying is not the purview of the elderly, and grief and loss are not unique to one age group or another. Two million people under the age of 30 lost a parent or sibling in the last two years. Fifty percent of inner-city kids will experience the sudden loss of a family member before they’re 21. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and 10–25% of recognized pregnancies result in miscarriage.

Because loss is universal, it can serve as a unique bridge-builder across lines of difference: A way to peer beneath the stereotypes and to combat our tendencies to “other” one another, and to invite open and honest conversation about the things that matter most. Let’s talk.

3. It’s time we out ourselves. Darryle Pollack was 18 when she lost her mom to breast cancer. Her mom had been sick for six years, and no one ever told her the reason. For decades, cancer was mentioned only in hushed tones, if at all: It was a thing you hid. Compare that to today’s warrior culture, when cancer patients document the experience in real-time and share it with legions of followers, and cancer patients and survivors join celebrities and companies to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in research funds.

Too often, grief produces those same hushed tones. Members of the club stay hidden from one another, locked in a mutual conspiracy of silence. We need a pink ribbon: A means of acknowledging each other and sharing our stories, in a way that’s empowering, not pity-inducing.

But it doesn’t end there: It’s time to bring back villages, says enso co-founder Sebastian Buck. That we are both more connected than ever and more isolated is one of the great paradoxes of the modern age. Sebastian grew up in a tiny village in Southern England, but the kind he’s talking about isn’t physical. The question, he says, is how to help people find each other online, so that they connect over meaningful experiences offline.

4. Our relationship to death changes how we choose to live. “For awhile, I had a really good relationship with death,” says Ben Goldhirsh, co-founder of GOOD and Chairman of The Goldhirsh Foundation. Ben was 18 when his mom died, and 21 when his dad died of brain cancer. The experience, he says, was not just a sad one, though it was that too, of course. It was also opening, filled with intensely beautiful moments: An experience that changed his priorities, and forced him to get comfortable with his own limited time on earth. The challenge, he says, is how to hold on to that, without getting swallowed up by all the logistics that come with death, and how to stay connected outside of occasional returns to the cemetery.

“Everything we love, we’ll eventually lose,” says Julia Barry. Julia is the daughter of the late Laura Ziskin, a renowned film producer and one of the co-founders of Stand Up to Cancer. She is now pursuing her Marriage and Family Therapy license. The truth, of course, is that loss is every moment: That we can recognize that, and choose to go all in in spite of it, may seem like a contradiction. After all, the decision to live and to love fully is to knowingly put our finger in the socket. The key, says Julia, is not to “get over” grief, but to integrate it.

“Loss is a soul-making experience,” adds Kelly Carlin, author of A Carlin Home Companion. “It helped me figure out what the fuck I’m doing here.”

5. Start with dinner. Tembi Locke was a kitchen widow before she became The Kitchen Widow. Used to describe the wives of chefs, the term took on a whole new meaning when her husband and partner of 20 years, a Sicilian chef, died of cancer. “When he died,” she says, “I did what I’d always done: I went back to the table.” She launched a web series. In each episode, she cooks up her husband’s recipes, and invites friends over to talk openly about caregiving and grief.

Our most important conversations happen around dinner tables. It’s a fact so basic as to seem not worth mentioning, until you realize it’s one we often forget, or fail to capitalize on. We separate work from the table, conversing with our colleagues over meetings, rather than meals. We bury our heads in our phones, replacing conversation with the clicks of a keypad. We deem our most vulnerable thoughts and experiences “not appropriate dinner table conversation.” Bullshit. Got something important to say? Grab a fork.

 

Thanks to our host, Ben Goldhirsh, and our attendees for the evening:

Ben Goldhirsh, GOOD + Goldhirsh Foundation

Hope Edelman, Author, Motherless Daughters

Ashley Areyan, Institute for Human Caring

Julia Barry, MFT Intern

Sebastian Buck, enso

Kelly Carlin, Author, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George

Jamie Daves, Halio Health

Matthew Gonzales, MD, Institute for Human Caring

Jo-Ann Lautman, Our House Grief Support Center

Tembi Locke, The Kitchen Widow

Karen Moyer, The Moyer Foundation

Darryle Pollack, Blogger + WHOA Network

Sarah Sims, Halio Health

Melissa Zimmerman, Healthcare Innovation

Carla Fernandez, The Dinner Party

Lennon Flowers, The Dinner Party

Mind-Body Medicine

Mind and Body in Psychotherapy

*Diane is not an actual person, but a composite of several clients Dr. Schwartz has seen over the past several years. Identifying details have been changed to protect their privacy. The treatments and outcomes are real.

Mind-Body Therapy Dr. Arielle Schwartz

By the time Diane came into my office her suffering had become unbearable. Migraines, chronic pain, and insomnia were interfering with her ability to simply live her life. Knowing that psychotherapy can improve health outcomes, her doctor referred her for treatment. Together we began to discuss her symptoms and unpack her history. Diane revealed her ongoing struggles with depression, fatigue, weight gain, and risk for diabetes. I learned of her frightening childhood exposure to domestic violence. She spoke of her father’s alcoholism and that her mother was never involved in her life. With tears streaming down her cheeks she said, “They never should have had children; I should have never been born.”

Unresolved trauma takes a significant toll on the mind and body. Unresolved childhood trauma is particularly insidious and is now considered to be a leading cause of heart disease, lung disease, and a contributor to the development of auto-immune illnesses. If you see yourself in Diane’s story there is good news…

Mind-body medicine reminds us that health promoting behaviors such as exercise, healthy diet, and positive social connections strengthen your resilience mentally, emotionally, and physically. New research reveals that psychotherapy has the potential to heal the body and the mind; reversing the physiological impact of trauma and improving your mental outlook on life.

“Trauma leaves wounds on the body, imprints in the psyche, and markers on our DNA. You feel broken. You can heal. You believe you are damaged. Believe you can be repaired. Relationships hurt you. Healthy relationships help you heal. Attending to the wounds of trauma is not easy. It is worthwhile.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Childhood Trauma and Your Health

Mind-Body Medicine Dr. Arielle SchwartzDiane began to process her history of exposure to domestic violence and alcoholism and as she did so she had an A-Ha moment “My parents neglected me, and now I neglect myself by not taking care of my body as an adult. They were not loving parents but I can become good at loving myself.” Realizing she had no models for healthy diet and exercise as a child she developed greater self-compassion regarding her struggles with diet and exercise.

The psychological and medical fields are now recognizing that children exposed to trauma are significantly more likely to have physical health risk factors later in life. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study conducted through Kaiser Permanente, assessed 17,000 patients experiences of 7 domains of childhood trauma: physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence, or living with household with addictions, mental illness or imprisonment.

The study revealed that ACE factors were greater predictors of poor health than diet, smoking, and exercise factors combined. There were significantly increased mental health risks for depression and suicide and significantly increased physical health risks for cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease, liver disease.

Healing from Adverse Childhood Experiences involves recognizing that while the past leaves a mark on us we cannot allow our past to define us. Once you can feel your pain you can free yourself from pain. When you recognize limiting beliefs that are running your life you can take charge of your mind and reclaim a positive outlook on life.

Trauma and Telomere

Step by step, Diane took her body and mind back from the costs of trauma. She comMind-Body Medicine Dr. Arielle Schwartzmitted herself to therapy. With her commitment to loving herself she gave herself permission to rest and slowly her sleep improved. When her fatigue improved she developed an exercise routine; initially walking around the block but as she felt stronger her walks grew longer. She became inspired to focus on a healthier diet of protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables.

What is the physiological bridge between trauma and your health? To answer this question researchers have turned their attention to tiny structures within your DNA called telomeres. Telomeres act as caps on the end of our chromosomes that act as protectors. You can think of these like the plastic tips on shoelaces that keep them from fraying. Telomeres naturally shorten with age leaving chromosomes exposed and more likely to get damaged. Without telomeres cells cannot replicate themselves and die off as a result.

Shortened telomeres are associated with increased risks for physical health and mental health problems. Importantly, stress and trauma prematurely shorten telomeres. Research by Shaley et al. (2012)1 looked at the impact on telomere erosion in children exposed to violence. Children exposed to multiple forms of violence (domestic violence, frequent bullying, or physical abuse by an adult) had significantly shorter telomeres than children who had not been abused. These results suggest that shortened telomeres may be one link between early-life stress and later life disease. You can read more in my blog about the connection between chronic trauma and health.

The body also has the capacity to produce telomerase, a protective substance that lengthens telomeres. Health promoting behaviors have been shown to reverse DNA breakage. The science of telomeres is still young and holds some unresolved contradictions. Too much telomerase interferes with necessary, healthy levels of cell death and has been associated with the development of cancer. As with many things in the body, there seems to be a delicate balance of telomere activity that facilitates health.

The Good News

You can take back your mind and body from the costs of trauma. Mind-body medicine reminds us that health promoting behaviors strengthen your resilience mentally, emotionally, and physiologically. Recent research takes a look at the role of psychotherapy in reversing trauma’s impact on the body. Results reveal that therapy for PTSD in war trauma and torture survivors returned telomeres to normal levels. Morath et al. (2014)2write, “The reversibility of DNA breakage in individuals with PTSD via psychotherapy described here clearly indicates that there is indeed a possibility not only to reduce the psychological burden of PTSD but also the long-term, and potentially lethal, somatic effects of this mental disorder.”

5 Keys to Mind-Body Health:

  • Exercise: Mental health professionals have long known that exercise is of upmost importance in the treatment of depression and anxiety. However, recent research has focused on changes in telomere length associated with how much you exercise. Again, moderation is the key. A sedentary lifestyle and engaging excessive exercise are both associated with shorter telomeres. Perhaps this involves training for a 10K, developing a yoga practice, or walking over your lunch hour; however the goal is to sit less and discover a “sweet spot” that you are motivated to continue.
  • Rest and Relaxation: We all know what it feels like when we are sleep deprived. Our thinking deteriorates, our body feels heavy, our energy reserves deplete. Chronic poor sleep is associated with shortened telomeres. Learning to rest and relax is an important practice for mind-body health and longevity. Cultivate experiences that allow you to feel peaceful and uplifted such as time in nature, meditating, or listening to music. You can find more ideas in my Top 40 resilience practices blog post.
  • Healthy Nutrition and Lifestyle: A diet high in processed meats, polyunsaturated fats, and refined sugar is linked to shortened telomeres. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are no good either. According to Shaley et al. (2013)1 eating a balanced, nutritious diet is associated with greater health; however, it is important to note that women preoccupied with restraining their food intake showed both higher cortisol and shorter telomeres. Again, moderation appears to be the key. When both physical and mental health is compromised developing collaborative relationships between psychotherapists, medical providers, and nutritionists can often facilitate optimal health outcomes.
  • Learned Optimism: When there is no way to stop the abuse, end the domestic violence, or convince a parent to stop drinking a child feels powerless. Persistent childhood trauma is characterized by a state of learned helplessness. Martin Seligman describes the 3 P’s of pessimism or helplessness as: personalizing, pervasiveness, and permanence. In other words, “It’s my fault, I mess everything up, and it will always be this way. When healing from chronic we must recognize that we are safe now and are no longer stuck or powerless in the past. Seligman calls this “learned optimism,” a process of cultivating positivity by consciously challenging negative self-talk.
  • Insight and Understanding: We develop insight when we have the opportunity to process the events of our lives. You might find this journaling, during an intimate conversation with a friend, or in the more structured environment of psychotherapy. When sharing your experience with another it is important to feel heard and validated in your story. Psychotherapy takes this process further by helping to identify ways of thinking and behaving that may perpetuate difficult feelings or painful patterns of relating with others. Psychotherapy for PTSD, such as Somatic and EMDR Therapies, work with the cognitive and body-centered impact of traumatic events. Most importantly when working with a therapist is that you feel a sense of trust and hope.

Trauma leaves wounds on the body, imprints in the psyche, and markers on our DNA. You feel broken. You can heal. You believe you are damaged. Believe you can be repaired. Relationships can hurt. Healthy relationships help you heal. Attending to the wounds of trauma is not easy. It is worthwhile.

References:

1Shaley et al. (2013) Stress and telomere biology: A lifespan perspective, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(9), 1835-1842

2Morath et al. (2014) Effects of Psychotherapy on DNA Strand Break Accumulation Originating from Traumatic Stress. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 89, 289-197.

Embracing Grief

By Sobonfu Somé
A version of this article was originally published in  Alternatives Winter ’06 Issue 40 .

Surrendering to your sorrow has the power to heal the deepest of wounds

For many people grief is an option. Looking at my own life, I realized it is a matter of life and death. In fact, throughout my life, grief has been an important theme from crying for food as a child to dealing with deep pain of losses as I grow older. My earliest memory of deep grieving was when I was a little girl, about 5 or 6-years old. One of my playmates died. I was so shocked and confused by the whole business especially when I am told I would never see him in a physical form again. I grieved for a long time and it just wouldn’t stick in my head that my friend had died. Every day I would try to go with the hope to play with him, but he wasn’t there. My community would gently say to me “do you remember that he died?,” and they supported me and grieved with me. Although I grieved for a long time, over a year, it was accepted as a normal part of life. I was never asked, “Aren’t you finished grieving yet?” Rather, they would say – “have you grieved enough? Have you cried enough?”

For my people, the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso in West Africa, we see that in life it is necessary to grieve those things that no longer serve us and let them go. When I grieve Is never manifest, illnesses occur, relationships break up, and there are unexpected natural disasters. It is so important to have ways to release those pains to keep clearing ourselves. Hanging on to old pain just makes it grow until it smothers our creativity, our joy, and our ability to connect with others. It may even kill us. Often my community uses grief rituals to heal wounds and open us to spirit’s call.

I thought this perspective on grief was natural for everyone until I came to the U. am surrousobonfunded by family reassuring me that the grieving is worthwhile and I can grieve as much as I want. We experience conflicts, loved ones die or suffer, dreaS. I was with a friend who was having a conflict with her family and I knew the situation was not easy for her. But one day I heard her alone in the bathroom crying! I said, through the door, “Are you OK?” She said, “Yes, I’m fine!” I said to myself, “Oh my god, something is not right here.” The people who were supposed to support her were not there. I felt conflicted and wondered what would my grandmother do in this situation?

I was in my late teens when my grandmother died. I was overcome with so much devastating grief I was unable to release it. I was stuck in feeling of anger, betrayal and even rage. I wondered, how could my grandmother do this to me? Everyone was grieving around me. Though I could not join them they made a space for me. Everyone took turns caring for each other as they broke down. Luckily, the seventy-two hours of usual grieving time were stretched beyond five days. When everyone was finished, I still had much to grieve, and people were still there for me. Though I began my grieving late I never felt dissatisfaction from those around me. It is natural that people around you start to grieve when you do. We know that when you have pain it’s not a personal pain, it is a pain of the whole group. We experience a collective sharing, so that an individual doesn’t need to bear all the weight of the suffering.

Many years later, while in the U.S., I had a relationship crisis. I felt like I was dying. I realized that I was feeling lonely in my grief as my soul, heart and mind continuously collided. I was not used to giving an intellectual explanation to my grief. I found much relief in various communities here and when I got home and everyone joined me in the grieving all of a sudden, I felt lighter.

There is a price in not expressing one’s grief. Imagine if you never washed your clothes or showered. The toxins that your body produces just from everyday living would build up and get really stinky. That is how it is with emotional and spiritual toxins too. What we must remember is that, the more these toxins rise the more we have a tendency to blame or hurt others around us. People never harm others out of joy, they give pain to others because they too are hurt or in pain.

There can be so much grief that we grow numb from the unfelt and unexpressed emotions that we carry in our bodies. Unexpressed hurt and pain injures our souls, and can be linked directly to our general sense of spiritual drought and emotional confusion, not to mention the many illnesses we experience in our lives. Many of us suffer from medical conditions that are grief-related. Grieving, whether in private or in community, has many scientifically proven health benefits, from lowering blood pressure and risks of heart attacks to simply having a better quality of life.

We need to begin to see grief not as foreign entity and not as an alien to be held down or caged up, but as a natural process. As the recipient of someone’s grief we also must understand that it is OK for someone to express pain.

In today’s world, most of us carry grief and do not even know it. We have been trained at a very young age how not to feel. In the West we are often taught that to be good girls and boys we have to “suck it up.” The consequences are that even with your most intimate and trustworthy friends you might feel like, “I am burdening them.” Crying in front of others is too often a forbidden fruit. We learn to compartmentalize our grief because expressing it in an unwelcoming place will only lead to more grief. We are taught that the people who are closest to us have no way of holding us when we fall apart.

Yet we are born fully knowing how to grieve. We cry naturally to feel better, to unburden ourselves and take a few pounds off our shoulders and souls.

If there is a way for everyone to grieve openly, I believe it will also diminish the blaming and shaming that goes on between the races. When you are in the presence of someone grieving you don’t see color anymore, it is a universal language. We are all in pain. There is no need to blame others. Blame, shame, and guilt come from being unable to express our grief properly. How can we pretend to be happy, peaceful and loving when we have so much pain and grief?

I believe the future of our world depends greatly on the manner in which we handle our grief. Positive expressions of our grief are healing. However, the lack of expression of our grief or its improper release is what is at the root of the general unhappiness and depression that people feel, all of which lead to war and crimes.

There are things we can do in society to help heal. We can begin by accepting our own and each other’s grief. We can have grief rooms and shrines in public spaces where people can go to grieve. I have seen this happen in different communities in the United States and it worked for them. Churches can have rooms for people to grieve. One of my dreams is to turn places where there have been great and repetitious crimes into grief shrines where people can go to mourn. I imagine Memorial Day not as a day of barbecue, but a day to allow us to deal with our daily frictions, losses and grief as a community.

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 Somé is one of the foremost voices in African spirituality. She travels the world on a healing mission, sharing the rich spiritual life and culture of her native land Burkina Faso, West Africa. Author of The Spirit of Intimacy, Women’s Wisdom from the Heart of Africa, and Falling Out of Grace, Sobonfu’s message about the importance of spirit, community, and ritual in our lives rings with an intuitive power and truth that author Alice Walker has said “can help us put together so many things that our modern Western world has broken.” She is the founder of Wisdom Spring, Inc. an organization dedicated to the preservation, the sharing of indigenous wisdom as well as holding fundraisers for wells, schools and health projects in Africa. Sobonfu tours the United States and Europe teaching workshops.

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.
wendy
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