Healing in Southeast Asia, Part One

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Wendy Black Stern
Founder and Executive Director
Grief Support Network

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February 7, 2018

On Feb. 29th (yes, he died on leap day), it will be ten years since my son, Noah, passed away. As always, I can feel the tension of his anniversary building inside of me through the month of February. This is my grief month. For me, it offers a time of remembrance of Noah’s sweet presence and introspection of what my life would have been like if he had not died, as well as the difficult but heart opening journey of my grief. This is a tender and sometimes confusing time, because I can feel both my grief and my gratitude mixed together — sometimes in the very same breath. Most years, February moves slowly and painfully, like sludge, re-opening the carefully protected wound in my heart. However, this year, there is something new happening. Another layer of my grief reveals itself, as I find myself lost in my memories of Noah and even more poignantly, my travels to southeast Asia immediately after his death.

This was a potent and transformative time for my husband and I, and as I reflect on that journey almost ten years later, I am able to receive new insight and give thanks for this life-changing event that shaped my understanding of love and life and how to grieve in a way that is healthy, mindful and in connection to myself and others.

The day of Noah’s funeral, Brian and I decided that we would travel to Bali, Indonesia and Thailand in search of a culture that could help us make sense of our loss. I remember the moment vividly. Sitting on the bathroom floor upstairs trying to get away from all the people who filled our home, we looked into each other’s eyes and felt fearless for the first time in our lives. We had just lost everything. Our world had literally fallen apart. The unimaginable had happened to us. And, in that brief moment we became fearless because we had nothing left to lose! In hindsight, I have never known such freedom and I am unsure if I will again. This was a fleeting moment, of course, and I certainly did not appreciate the experience of freedom because I was hurting so badly. But, as I reflect on that time now, I can recognize that there was something meaningful and important happening in the month between Noah’s death and day I found out I was pregnant with my second child, Hannah. In that small window of my life, I was more present in my surroundings and in flow with myself than I have ever been. Each moment simply led to the next with ease and curiosity. All I had to do was focus on one step at a time and be open to the beautiful people and experiences that we would meet along the way. It was magical, really, and liberating to be THAT PRESENT.

There is a phrase that I often say in my yoga classes during meditation, “there is nothing here to do or make happen,” and that is exactly how I felt throughout my travels. That is, until, I felt the first stirrings of life growing inside of me. For weeks, I tried to put it out of my mind but I could feel every tiny change happening in my body. I prayed and I waited and tried to distract myself until I finally could not take it any longer. One morning before dawn on the shores of Koh Samui Thailand, I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, Hannah. It had been 5 weeks since Noah’s death and it happened to be my first Mother’s Day since Noah’s birth and death.

I have no words to describe the emotion that I felt as I watched the sunrise over the ocean and noticed the familiar feeling of fear creep back inside of me mixed with the immense joy of new life growing in my womb. The impact of this event was so great that it continues to haunt me and draw me back into the past. With Noah’s ten-year anniversary approaching and two of my closest friends traveling in Thailand as I write this post, I am reliving my experience in this sacred land — wishing that I could hold onto that precious feeling of freedom and expansiveness that I felt there. At the time, all I wanted was a baby in my arms. In every temple that we prayed in, every Buddha that we visited, our prayer was the same – to conceive a child to bring light back into our lives. I was consumed by this desire, so much so that I didn’t appreciate the freedom that I had from my fear. I have never felt as present, connected and mindful as I did during this journey. Nor, have I felt as embraced and held in the gentle, kind and mindful ways that this culture lives. Even though my lens of this journey was through the eyes of a person in deep grief, my heart and mind were wide open and receptive to the people and practices that we experienced along the way. For this, I am forever grateful. My southeast Asia journey would change me forever and create a seed inside me for this work that I love.

In part two of this blog, I want to share the profundity of what I learned from these cultures and the impact of the kindness of strangers that we met along our way. Stay tuned as we will post this very soon.

Also, if you are interested in how I founded The Grief Support Network and this work of mindful grieving, please listen to this recent podcast facilitated by Noah Goldstein from Heartseed Health.

In love,

Wendy