Wendy Black Stern
Founder and Executive Director
Grief Support Network
“The only way that I can make sense of your leaving so ephemerally is to take the spark of your light to change my life in a way so profoundly that I live your light and share it with the rest of this suffering world to do some good.” – read by Irene Schmoller (my cousin) at Noah’s funeral
Today was one of those days where you wake up and feel like the world is upside down. The holidays now over and the promise of a new year to reset and start anew had fleetingly filled me with hope, but as the first few days of 2018 passed, I found myself sinking into the familiar anger and confusion of my grief. All of the darkness and angst of the past few months swirled inside me and I felt like a corpse of myself as I went through the motions of my morning. Nothing mattered. I felt like I was moving through sludge as I brushed my teeth, got the kids dressed, made my bed, had breakfast and drove on my usual morning route to hike Sanitas before my work day. The cemetery that I pass each day on the Diagonal and never really noticed glared at me as I drove by. Tears began to stream down my face and, as if on autopilot, I turned right instead of going straight and found myself parked in front of Noah’s grave stone. “What was I doing here?” said a voice in my head. Go hike. Go move. Do something to make yourself feel better. Don’t wallow. Don’t give in to depression and fear. And, most importantly, don’t open the carefully contained chamber of your heart where you hold your grief and pain and memories of your first-born child, Noah.
Grief has the power to bring us to our knees in truth and that is exactly what happened to me on this particular cold, gray morning in January. I sat on the grass before Noah’s gravestone, taking in the image of his name and the dates of his short life. My insides froze as I allowed myself to go inside and feel. As I wrapped my jacket tightly around me and closed my eyes, I remembered something that my Rabbi had said to me on the one-year anniversary of Noah’s death in this very spot. She said, “You can think of the gravestone as the end of a long kite string that offers a way to stay tethered to Noah.” For me, this made sense because I knew that Noah was not in the ground but boundless and free in his spirit body. His gravestone had had little meaning for me as I stood there almost ten years ago with my 6-week old baby daughter in my arms struggling to make sense out of my loss and this place where his body was buried. But, today, as I settled into meditation and allowed myself to sob and grieve and feel it all, I began to understand the wisdom that she shared and the teachings that were available to me in this sacred place. The teachings from Noah.
My meditation practice has always been the most direct pathway to calming my nervous system and receiving the no nonsense download from heart and soul. I often resist it, but the moment that I tune in to my breath, notice my body and allow myself to observe my internal landscape, the fog begins to lift and life comes into clearer focus for me to see what is really happening. It isn’t always pretty, but it is honest and always true. As I sat with myself at Noah’s grave, a message came to me piercing through my longing and pain, self-pity and anger, brokenness and confusion. Sitting there in the cold, I could feel him closer to me than I had been willing to feel in a long time. It hurt like hell, I will not lie, but the feeling of his presence there with me and my newfound capacity to open to his love helped me to understand myself better, receive Noah’s teachings (which are really my own!) and to integrate this wisdom so that I can share it with others.
The Fearless Path of Mindful Grieving
- Keep your Heart Open and Feel More Instead of Less
It is instinctive to constrict inside when you feel the intense and painful feelings of your grief. This is our body trying to protect us or shield us from the pain, but if you can breathe right into the space where you feel the tension well up inside of you and create more spaciousness inside to feel and stay present with the feelings rather than collapsing or contracting, the grief will be able to move through you. This is what brings about the release and experience of freedom and lightness in your body, mind, and spirit. This is what helps us to Let Go, over and over again, so that we don’t have to carry the burden of our grief with us wherever we go.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Let Your Love Shine Through You – The World Can Handle It!
Grief opens us to our darkest shadow as well as our purest, brightest, deepest Light. For many, the experience of loss initiates a spiritual crisis that challenges our preconceived ideas about our identity, desires, beliefs and purpose in this life. As the heart cracks open with grief, it also grows bigger and allows more of our light and love to come through, if we let it. This can be a new and vulnerable way to be, especially in a culture that is judgmental, guarded and lacking in self-expression and authentic connection. If we are willing to speak the truth and reflect each other’s light and love back to each other without judgment or having it make us feel bad about ourselves, then we will have more confidence to be who we are and each learn to shine in the unique gifts that every person on this earth has to offer. Through grief, we have the opportunity to transform our pain into love. Don’t be afraid. Let yourself shine as brightly as you are!
- Be Vulnerable and Authentic and You Will Know Peace
Grief is a powerful teacher because it strips away all of the bullshit and forces us to get real with who we are and what we stand for. Like nothing else, going through loss will put your life into perspective and help you remember what really matters and all that does not. When we can find the courage to be vulnerable with ourselves and each other, with our tender hearts wide open and willing to be seen and fully loved, then we can come to know the true peace and joy that exists when we are in flow with the universe and Love itself. This is a pathway to Gratitude. When we feel loved and accepted by ourselves and another human heart, all tension dissolves and our hearts can, at last, know peace.
- Be Present, Be Present, Be Present
It is a powerful time to sit with yourself when you are grieving – in quiet, in peace, in connection to all that is moving through you and outside you. It is a new year and we find ourselves along with the world wanting to begin anew. I have been setting my intentions now for the last few weeks. These are personal and intimate inside me. Do you have a special way of setting intentions to honor your journey? Do you write in a journal, grab a guitar and wail, jump in the car and travel to your special hiking spot for some time alone with yourself? I also encourage you to find a trusted friend to share your feelings, insights and goals. Or come join us in one of our yoga therapy programs as we do this process in community. Witnessing each other helps to hold the space of accountability not to mention the blossoming of deep deep love.
I honor each of you as you take up 2018 and bow to the truth of your journey and the promise of transformation.