This may sound silly, but pets are proxy for family and children at home. (a) They enforce a structure and rhythm to my life….they must be fed twice every day, they must be walked four times…every day. I must get out of bed, whether I want to or not, workday or not. (b) We didn’t have children at home …. my wife loved the dogs as her children, and while I can’t take care of my wife, I can take care of the things that were important to her. (c) Dogs are pretty intuitive and understand our emotions. One of my pups, most nights, after dinner, comes over, and plops onto the sofa head to head, so that I can rest my arm on her and give her a scratch and a pet. For the time being, this will be the best and most uncomplicated cuddling I’ll get, and I can choose to believe that we both miss her.
When my father died when I was 5 I knew that we needed something else in our lives. So after begging for weeks, my mom finally gave in, and that is when we went to the pet store after school. We walked in to the small tucked away place just like the place that I felt like I was stuck in, but as the dogs starting barking, I could tell that I broke the barrier. The barrier of death, and the sights of all the animals that were in cages and stuck in the tucked away place, I knew that we needed to get something. As we asked the guy to show use the black dog we saw a second dog pop her head out from behind the other one and right then I looked at my mom and she looked at me, and we knew that we’d have new company in our life. The man asked us if we wanted to have them in the pen with us and we said, “Yes”, of course. When they were put in the pen one went straight to me and one went straight to my mom and that was when it clicked. We were getting both dogs and I told her these dogs were going to help us heal.
~ Oliver, age 12
How Cooper Helped Us Heal
By June 2007, my husband Ed was 3.5 years into his pancreatic cancer battle. This was no small feat since most pancreatic cancer patients usually died within months of their end-stage diagnosis. Even though my husband’s diagnosis came very early, it was still a death sentence and my kids were just seven and almost five at the time of diagnosis.
To say my stress level was high was an understatement. We thought Ed was in remission and were preparing for a work-related cross-country move. His previously fit body, now 30 pounds lighter and ravaged by chemo, fell under the wicked spell of a severe bacterial infection. Two weeks in ICU, half of which on life support, left him unable to return to work. My husband was now home full-time, my kids were 11 and eight and we were all reeling from the abrupt change and added stressful uncertainty in our home.
So we got a puppy.
Cooper bounced into our lives as a sweet-faced yellow Labrador Retriever who reintroduced us to laughter and smiles. He was a big puddle of love with plenty of energy and fun added to the mix. I had hoped he would be a happy distraction for Ed who was adjusting to health-related early retirement, but Cooper gave our family so much more. He became a constant fixture at my side from the first time I fed him and was the kids’ back seat companion during errands and road trips. He always gave them a big “welcome home” even if they had been outside playing for just five minutes.
Ten months later and approaching the end of his cancer fight, Ed spent his final 30 days in the hospital. Our household stress volume increased tenfold. The kids had school, sports, homework—which they never missed thanks to a large community with many helping hands—while I spent my days at Ed’s hospital bedside. Cooper’s occasional hospital visits made Ed smile and briefly lightened everyone’s mood included the medical team.
When Ed passed away, Cooper saved our emotional lives. He was now a one-year-old puppy who innately knew we were hurting and always snuggled up when we most needed it. He made us smile when we only wanted to cry. The kids and he would curl up on the floor with their heads resting on his belly. Many times when the kids cried they would hug Cooper, who always had plenty of calming kisses for their tear-stained faces.
As for me, Cooper made me live. I wanted to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head after taking the kids to school and remain there until it was time for pick up, but this adorable bundle of energy needed to be walked, fed, played with, trained and loved. I had no choice but to interact with the world while we walked the neighborhood. He kept me alive when I was dying inside. His puppy antics made me laugh through sad tears. His rhythmic nightly snoring was the only I now heard and it was music to my ears.
I am now eight years post-loss and Cooper is still my daily sunbeam. He paws at my bed each morning to start the day and is never more than three feet away offering unconditional healing love with his big soulful eyes.
I don’t know about you, but I’m very selective about the newsfeed I allow on my Facebook. Local info & activities, some national news & animal pics & videos. I enjoy the animals the most. I smile, laugh & often wish I could be the person interacting with the animal.
My interest in Beaufort SC & animals lead me to an “aha” moment. There are lots of charitable groups for people & animals here, Tabby House being one. Tabby House is a cat adoption center that functions on volunteers & donations. The cats come from the animal services groups in the area.
Bear with me as I offer a bit of history…In the past 10 years I have lost 3 vital people & 2 animals & moved cross country 3 times. These are huge traumas. I’ve been left overwhelmed, depressed, dazed & confused. I know that if you are reading this, you have experienced this and more. The last move brought me to Beaufort to start a new life, again. The difference this time is that it’s just me – no one to take care of, but me; still grieving; needing to redefine me. Nothing TOO big. HA!!!
Now, back to Tabby House. I found some peace & distraction here & it fits right in to the “A” of the Healing Toolbox. I thought volunteering would help center me better, ease me in to the community & provide some much needed love. I’m not ready to get overly involved with people, so this seemed like a good compromise.
I go for a few hours a couple of days a week. There are about 35 cats & kittens on the floor, not in cages. People can adopt or just visit. These fur babies have been abused, abandoned or thrown out. We clean them up & take pictures of them for social media. There are multiple ways to offer service. The benefits for those of us struggling are amazing. It’s a chance to shut off my mind, focus on something outside myself, experience unconditional love & gratitude. They play, cuddle, purr, fall asleep at my touch or in my lap. Ultimately, relief from heartache & grief.
B ~ Breathwork
It was ironic that when my husband died in 2012, I completely lost my own ability to breathe. Excuse me, what happened here? Did he take all of the oxygen with him when he left? Did his own amazing lung capacity override any future capacity of my own? I just couldn’t get any air. I felt suffocated, anxious, panicked and fearful. I COULDN’T BREATHE.
It turns out that there are a multitude of ways for us to RE-LEARN how to breathe. And so. I went looking for instruction. Yoga instructors assisted me in the practice of Pranayama breath, meditation CDs guided me through deep breathing exercises, therapists incorporated breath-work into counseling sessions, I downloaded a free regulated breathing app onto my phones (It’s called Biofeedback Breathing.) I even started using drinking straws for breathing practice to help me gain control over my nervous system.
C ~ Counseling
I started seeing a counselor (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) just after my daughter died in a car accident. Therapy has helped me develop new coping skills to effectively learn to keep living and keep breathing. Learning to fully embrace my new life and move with my daughter’s loss has been hugely beneficial. Therapy has also encouraged me to find ways to celebrate and honor the memory of my daughter. Look, there is no guidebook on how to do this ugly thing called “GRIEF”. But having a good counselor is like having a good coach. They are there to guide, teach, listen, and help you master the skills and techniques to “do grief” in a healthy way.
C – Counseling
I did NONE of my wife’s cancer experience alone. We called in all of our friends, our friends’ friends, even compassionate people and doctors whom I cold-called. I’ll describe more of that in following stories. Some people disagreed with our openness, thinking it was a private family matter, but I didn’t care. The help we got was immense and incredible. It was that experience of people coming to us to help that my wife called the most beautiful of her life.
For myself and for the girls, I sought help from trained experts who knew the territory and had guided others before: social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists who had worked with people losing a loved one, or who had lost a loved one. In fact, our team of researcher friends (more about that later) found me an organization called CancerCare that offered free weekly sessions with a trained social worker, by phone or in person. I did those sessions, later just once a month, from 2009 through the end of 2012. CancerCare staff spent their entire jobs helping patients and families of patients to cope – from logistics and information to helping with their emotions. From mid-2011, our girls went weekly to a play therapy group at Gilda’s Club, another free resource for patients and families dealing with cancer. Three social workers there did two-hour group play and conversations with a group of about 10 children. After my wife died, the girls moved to a similar group for kids who had lost someone to cancer, and I moved to a free weekly group meeting for people who had lost a loved one.
For me, the weekly sessions were place to stop all the things that I was doing, stop all the work calls, all the emails, and just find what things I was thinking of and tell someone about them. Someone who would listen and remember over time, whose job it was to listen and who didn’t have to run after 15 minutes. Someone who had specific training and experience in helping people like me sort through the worries, frustration, anger, wishes, or sadness that came up, spurred by random events or connections. In the bereavement group, the social worker said almost nothing, we members just went around the room taking turns talking. Everyone’s path was different, everyone’s challenges different. Some people felt guilt that I felt none of, some people coped in ways I never would. But there were commonalities, and as I progressed into one of the longer-tenured members of the group, I could see the patterns of progression as new people came in, very close in time to their loved one’s death, early in their process, people in the middle, and people a year or more out from the death.
For my girls, not only did they get to meet other kids and feel like they weren’t the only ones dealt the unfair deal, they got gentle guidance. They did arts and crafts, played with therapy dogs, went on field trips. But they also made “memory boxes” where they chose and kept special things that reminded them of their loved one, notes to their loved one. And when my wife died, the social worker helped me to think through helping the girls to concretize what had happened. My wife died in the hospital away from the girls, and wanted to be cremated. I wondered if I should bring the girls to the funeral home to let them see her lifeless body. Not an easy decision, probably no way I would have done that without professional guidance. But we did, and it was fine at the time, and the girls refer to it as a fact, not with any disturbance. It helped them even at just under 5 years old to understand and not wonder or wish too much.
E~ Energy Healing
It had been three deaths in a row- all sudden- and I was completely in shock. I felt like the rug was pulled right out from beneath me and I landed flat and didn’t know where or how to start again. Little things felt stressful and overstimulating to me and tools that had worked in the past felt like they no longer applied in this situation. I decided to branch out beyond my comfort zone and try everything and anything that might help to get me level again. I noticed my energy was so low and I felt like the weight of the world was being held in my body…I needed a release. I began researching energy work. I soon found a man who was a Reiki Master teaching courses in my area. I signed up for a course and immediately knew it was right. Learning reiki and being a part of a monthly reiki circle has helped me to connect with others who are searching for meaning and healing in their life. By connecting to each other’s energy, I learned that healing is a process to be shared with others. I learned I wasn’t alone and through helping others to clear their blocked energy, I was unblocking my own.
E – Energy Healing
As a Reiki teacher/practitioner for over twenty years, I understand energy and how it helps us in our everyday life and through major events. Over the past eight years my oldest son transitioned from melanoma of the brain; my youngest son underwent cancer treatment; my husband lost his battle to the ravages of Agent Orange; my grandson-in-law was killed in an horrific automobile accident which left my granddaughter in a coma delivering their son via emergency c-section… so I think I can say that I also am familiar with grief.
Grief is a physical experience and anything physical uses energy. When one goes through the trauma of losing a loved one, there are many resulting reactions and all of them are tied to the physical body even though we usually identify them as emotional. No matter the label we assign them, one of the ways to cope, and eventually heal is through energy work/Reiki. As one experiences Reiki, the energy flows into the body allowing the body to relax and in that relaxing, it releases some of the grief. When one is facing the aftermath of a death, there is also the issue of life. Whether it is facing the myriad of legal issues: bank accounts; insurance; paying the monthly bills or the difficult decisions: purchasing a plot, electing cremation, etc., etc., it can be overwhelming and depressing. Again, Reiki flows into the body, replenishing the store of personal energy which has been drained. It is relaxing and nourishing and, since Reiki is a hands-on modality, it is quite simply comforting to have that connection with someone.
~ Serena Poisson
Reiki Master Teacher/Practitioner since 1997
F ~ Flowers and Fragrance
In the months following my dad’s passing, there were many tools that I used to take care of myself and support my process of grieving. One of the best and most effective tools I used was provided by Mother Nature’s flowers and plants! Aromatherapy, through the use of Essential Oils, helped me to support a more positive mood, reduced my anxious feelings and supported a more restful sleep. It was amazing to me how quickly the oils I was using helped to take the edge off of the severity of my feelings. The flower and plant based essential oils provided a healthy coping method for me to move forward and start to heal. Essential Oils can have a supportive effect on our energy, emotions, hormones, immune system, stress levels and more. Essential Oils have helped me in so many areas of my wellbeing, providing me emotional support during one of the most difficult times in my life. In fact, I am so passionate about them, that I have now decided to pursue becoming a certified Aromatherapist to share Essential Oil knowledge and guidance for others!
G~ Group Support
For me, support groups have been a great tool in healing and working through my grief. Sharing and listening to others who are going through a loss is very therapeutic. I also get ideas and strategies on ways to move forward, as well as feel like I am being understood in a unique way. I also feel good when I can support others who are also suffering loss of their loved one. These groups help me to feel hopeful.
G~ Group Support
I suffered the sudden loss of my husband in 2000. He was only 45 years old. When he died I was left with two teenagers,13 and 15, along with no clue as to how to navigate my way through this immeasurable devastation. What I did know was that I was willing to do whatever it took to heal so that my children would not lose me as well. After some research, I came across a 3-day grief workshop called the The Grief Recovery Method (TGRM) offered through The Grief Recovery Institute (www.griefrecoverymethod.com) . It was there that I learned the power of GROUP SUPPORT. I learned the importance of being vulnerable and the value of being open to receive. These were not qualities that came easily to me but they were the qualities that I knew I must develop if I really was going to commit to my own personal healing. I also learned that it not only takes good information about grief but also a community to support the grieving process. Being a part of a group like this also offers you the opportunity to move beyond your own world of grief and be able to help someone else. This can help you experience life outside your own tragedy, expanding your world to something beyond yourself. You might then be in a place that you may begin to discover qualities about yourself that you quite like and didn’t know existed. A strength that remained a stranger to you until now, you might even begin to see the slightest hint of a new life. The value of a group is immeasurable and these relationships may be only there to assist you to move forward during this period of time or these relationships may continue to be a vital part of your life forever.
Founder of www.luminosityarts.com
G~ Group Support
After my father died, I went through a range of emotions from numbness/shock, anger, deep sadness/grief, regret, guilt and feeling lost…like my world was turned upside down. Many things helped me to process my grief and start to heal. One of the most impactful things, was The Grief Recovery support group I had joined a year before my dad passed (after his stroke, knowing he would not be with us long). I had a chance to prepare for my dad’s departure by complete with my relationship with him- or so I thought! Then, when he did die, many other parts of our relationship surfaced that still needed healing and becoming complete with. I worked with an individual counselor using The Grief Recovery program and that provided me with a way to work through the unresolved issues that came up after my dad’s passing.
H~ Higher Power Help
My strong belief in the afterlife gave me great comfort and I continued to talk to my dad every day, believing he could hear me and communicate with me, which gave me a sense of peace and feeling connected to him. I believe that death is not a horrible ending, but rather a passage into a better realm that I don’t have full access to yet, but will one day, when I will hopefully reunite with my dad and other loved ones that have passed.
H~ Higher Power Help
I’ve always been a spiritual person with a belief that physical death was just that – physical – and that their spirit and soul remains fully alive. Fully alive in others dear to them; fully alive in the air, the trees, the ocean; fully alive in things they touched, made, enjoyed, saw, heard… everything. So whenever I experience something that reminds of someone I have lost physically to death, I sense their spiritual presence in that moment and it brings me comfort (and sometimes joy!) knowing that they are still here with me. When my father was close to death, my sister called and told me I needed to fly back to Boston from California because “it was time.” It was midday and I left my office in tears. Walking down the sidewalk, I looked down and saw tiny praying mantis clinging to my pant leg. I found a twig and carefully released his fragile body to a nearby shrub. My father died a few weeks later, a month before Father’s Day, and on Father’s Day when I woke up, I walked into my living room and there on the sofa was a tiny praying mantis. You see, my father was there with me, both before he died and after, saying, “It’s ok. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’ll always be with you.
H ~ Higher Power Help
I’ve chosen to believe that my God does not allow any of us to die in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Not a one of us. Ever. We are loved that much.
My God does not “take people too soon.”
My God does not “cut lives short.”
My God does not “need another angel in heaven” nor pick and take “only the good ones.”
My God does not “save some of us from the evils of this world by ending our lives at a young age.”
My God does not answer some people’s prayers with a life-saving miracle and respond to others with a pretty brutal, “No, not this time, your beloved dies.”
That is not how my God works.
My God never, ever takes it’s eye off of me.
In fact, my God cradles me, lovingly every moment of every day. Divine love is like that. We are each being lovingly held. Always.
Life unfolds perfectly. In every moment.
Do I understand it? Hell no. I don’t get a lot of it. But I’ve chosen to the surrender to the mystery of all of it. And that creates peace. For me. Instead of pain. I’ve experienced enough pain for one lifetime.
~ Tom Zuba
Author of Permission to Mourn: A New Way to do Grief
I ~ Imagery
There is a wealth of healing power when we use the right side of the brain which requires quieting the logical brain. For me, symbolic IMAGERY, resting the parasympathetic nervous system using creativity, and mindfully refocusing my personal camera were the tools that effectively eased my pain and traumatic images. When your mind fixates on an image, imagine that your mind’s eye is a camera pointed at the image you are seeing. Take a deep breath. Then, very slowly move the camera back or forward and look at a different scene. Use “real” scenes from your life that you remember and feel “normal” to you. I think everyday scenes are the easiest to access. You get to decide where the camera focuses, it is your camera. Here’s an example:My mom died in her bathroom. I continued to be haunted with the image of her body in the bathroom and my dad watching and dying at the same time. I catch myself consumed with feelings the image evokes. I take a deep breath and slowly move the lens of my camera to a different scene. Now, I see my mom sitting in her lovely bathroom on her vanity chair. She is putting on makeup to “go out for a bite’ with my dad. She is in her normal routine of “putting on her face.” I see her manicured hands, her beautiful face in the mirror, and her collection of fancy perfume bottles on the shelf behind her. When I look at this scene, I am able refocus on my own day-to-day life and feel a greater sense of peace.
K~ Know Your New Environment
“Most people, I think, lead a schizophrenic work/home life. The place and all the people are different, and our roles are different in each of these worlds, and we dwell half of our time in one and the other half in the other. The half of my life in the work world doesn’t care that my personal life has come crashing down. In the work half, nothing has happened, and all is the same as ever. At the very least, work can be a place to emotionally rest up. I had a friend a long time ago that suggested this concept (in a different context), and it goes something like: You can deal with a crappy home life, and you can deal with a crappy work life….but if they are both bad at the same time, life really sucks.”
K~ Know Your New Environment
Several months after the sudden death of my 32-year-old husband, the subtle hints from my friends, family and co-workers appeared – suggesting the time had come for me to get out more socially, begin sorting through his personal belongings and find the smile I once had. The more they pressed the more I distanced myself from them and the message they were sending to me – “the time has come for me to move on.” Move on from what – the dissolving of my family, the loss of my true love, the death of the father of my daughter? What were they thinking? In retrospect, I know they wanted to see me happy, they wanted to remove the pain, but mostly they wanted to have the old Rachel back. Really? Would I ever “be back?” I suggest: create an elevator speech for those around you who are trying to fix you – a simple message that the situation is emotionally all encompassing but you are doing better than yesterday and truly appreciate their support. The true message is “Please let me be for now, I am trying the best I can!” Without a canned response, they will push harder and you will push back more. Stay in your refuge for as long as you need and enter the battlefield when you are ready and able.
K ~ Know Your New Environment
After my husband died, I had to get to KNOW MY NEW ENVIRONMENT. And when I was done, I knew which community relationships I eventually needed to CHANGE (because they were negative for my new life post-loss), which ones I needed to STRENGTHEN (because they were positive and supportive of my new life post-loss) and which ones I needed to “LEAVE & REVISIT” (because although I didn’t love these components of my life, I couldn’t change them right away). Over time I CHANGED (aka: “left behind”) my gym, my hairdresser, a grocery store, my church, certain old friends, certain relatives, and (eventually) my job. I STRENGTHENED relationships with my parents, certain old friends, a cousin, an aunt, new peers in the loss community (like Robin & Lisa, pictured below!), volunteer organizations, nature, outdoor activities, and healing mentors. I chose to LEAVE & REVISIT ideas about altering my child’s school and our city of residence.
J ~ Journal
Several years after my husband died of arrhythmia, I was facilitating a support group of fellow grievers. In a prior meeting we discussed the art of journaling and a few people shared their experience. I encouraged them to continue writing and to bring their journals to group the following month. As we took our seats a few weeks later, I asked the attendees to take a few minutes to read several entries from 90 days prior and then read a few entries that were more recent. The exercise proved fruitful as 100% of the group could feel the change in attitude and emotions in their writing and proved to themselves that there were extreme setbacks with grief however forward momentum was occurring. While I did not learn from writing in the journal that was graciously given to me when my husband passed away, I passed the helpful guidance and understanding on to the next group of grievers.
“Truly laughter is the best medicine”. That is what comes to mind as I think of my sister. My sister was always a ton of fun to spend time with. She had a tongue that was quick and witty. Not a moment passed when you were with her that she didn’t have you in stitches. When she passed suddenly, at first it was difficult to exchange the tears for the laughter. As time healed me, I couldn’t help but think of the things my sister would tell me that put a smile on my face. There are times that I burst out laughing just thinking of her words or jokes. To this day when our family gets together we still think of our sister, what she might say in that moment, and we all start laughing. I feel her presence in my life just by remembering how special her gift of laughter meant to all of us.
L ~ Laughter
So what could possibly be funny about being a widow? Everything, if you choose to see it that way. For me, it was never really a choice to “find the funny inside of the pain.” It was survival. It was the only way for me to come out of this thing alive. Apparently, those around me agreed. Friends flew into action and organized a comedy benefit to honor my husband’s life. Legendary comedian Elayne Boosler headlined. Jim Gaffigan gave a surprise performance. And I got up onstage, just 2 months after my husband’s shocking death, and made jokes about it. I talked about all the stupid things people say to you when someone dies. (‘He’s in a better place.’ Really? If it’s such a great place, why don’t YOU go there instead, and let me have my husband back?) I re-enacted a phone-call I had with AT&T, where the customer service rep. insisted over and over again, that she speak directly with the account holder – my dead husband. I talked about the giant BOX of my 6 ft. 3 husbands cremains, that his E.M.S. brothers handed over to me, and said: “Brace yourself. There’s a lot of him.” I laughed and cried all in the same breath up on that stage. And it resonated with people in ways I never imagined.
Two years after my husband died, I hit a new low! I was dealing with depression and started to drink more. I started working with a healer who suggested I meditate 2x/day for 20 minutes each time. He said I should do it before I get out of bed and around late afternoon, because mediating before going to bed is not as beneficial (because you either fall asleep or your mind gets going again!). At first I thought it was too much! How can I fit in 40 minutes of meditation a DAY? My morning mediation was easier to do than the mid-day one but both were very hard at first. I felt like I was doing it all wrong because I couldn’t empty my mind. I had A LOT of busy thoughts running around my mind in the beginning. But eventually, with consistency, I noticed my thoughts came less quickly and didn’t stick around as long either. I also stopped judging myself if I was doing it wrong or right. The afternoon meditation was harder to be consistent with, however I kept at it. I didn’t realize how much these sessions were helping me until one day I missed the afternoon meditation and my kids said “Mom, did you meditate yet? Cause it doesn’t seem like it.” They noticed! Now, whenever I am short with them or I seem distant, my kids assume I have not meditated and will tell me to go meditate! It’s pretty funny. I never thought I would meditate 40 minutes a day. Never. But now it’s as important to me as brushing my teeth.
N ~ Nutrition
When my husband died my only concern was to help my kids get through the loss. I put my grief on a closet shelf, slammed the door shut and cried into my chocolate chip ice cream. Thirty pounds later I hit rock bottom. Unrecognizable on so many levels, I was embarrassed by the physical and emotional damage I caused myself. I hated how I looked and felt. I didn’t want my photo taken. And worst of all, my kids unfairly bore the brunt of how unhappy I was with myself. Desperate, angry, depressed and frightened of something happening to me which would leave my kids orphaned, I knew sweeping changes were needed. One day I stumbled upon the One Fit Widow Facebook page. Michelle Steinke- Baumgard was a young widow with two small children and, at one point, had been overweight herself. Her page chronicled her struggle to reclaim her life, get healthier and live each day with unyielding purpose. Everything about her resonated with me. I joined her 1fw Private Virtual Training community (www.1fwtraining.com) and finally learned about nutrition and eating clean.
O~ Organize Your Supports
The tool that has helped me most through my recent loss would be FRIENDS (that includes friends who just happen to be FAMILY as well). I think each of us has a handful of people in our lives that love and care about us unconditionally. Though my niece hasn’t been in my life for ALL of my losses, she’s been here for my most recent and is still walking the talk. We’ve covered a lot of topics and emotions since we’ve both gone through loss. Talking about it with someone who won’t run off because it’s uncomfortable. Grief doesn’t work on a timetable. The people who will sit through it with you are invaluable. Eventually, it becomes a bit more manageable. I’m not lulled into thinking there’s closure or resolution… “grief bursts” can come at anytime out of nowhere. These friends, though, will always understand and never judge. They’ll help you heal, hold you through your tears and notice when you’re doing a little better. How do we humans ever survive the emotional pain of loss? It’s overwhelming! Guess we’re remarkable creatures.
R ~ Right Brain Release (art)
Art found me during the darkest period of my life. I had recently lost my father. I was newly divorced and had just gotten sober. Grief about my father and my old life coupled with shame about my drinking nearly overwhelmed me. That’s when a friend asked me to take an art class with her. My initial response was, “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body”, but she convinced me I had nothing to lose.
That first art class changed my life. Swirling paint across a canvas felt free and limitless. Finding images to collage offered me expression of feelings I was unaware I had. Glueing broken tiles into a cohesive mosaic taught me that there is a perfect fit for every piece no matter how broken. Art became my voice.
My early work was dark, almost gruesome, as my pain surrendered itself to my art. I threw my rage, shame and despair onto the canvas. Before long my pieces included spiritual elements as I began to explore recovery. My tentative relationship with God appeared as hopeful images of healing and rebirth emerging from the darkness. Today, I never know what to expect when I sit down to paint, but I know it will be authentic, and it will be healing.
Art is very meditative. As I worked I heard for the first time the voices in my head. They were unbelievably unkind. They undermined my efforts in messages that started with “you can’t” “you shouldn’t “ and “you’re not”. Because they were so loud, I sought therapy to help quiet them. I learned to thank them for sharing and show them the door. Today they are often kind and loving. Art delivers me to a place free of time and space where I am one with my creative energy and its source and peace with myself and the world. That is true healing.
R ~ Right Brain Release (art)
A few years after my father’s too-early death, my family made our way to the Adirondack Mountains, visiting for the first time the famous “Slanty Shanty” ramshackle cabin of my father’s childhood stories. It was still standing, despite its pronounced slantiness. We wandered into the woods and found a beautiful stand of birch trees, where we scattered his ashes from a scattering urn birdhouse. We then hung the birdhouse in the woods he so much enjoyed. Afterwards we returned to the nearby rustic resort where we were staying and there they had a woodshop- and a kind woodworker. Together, we found a branch of birch wood, and he helped me craft a small, simple sculpture of a stand of three birch trees, leaning over and across each other as the trees had done in the woods. That trip to the Adirondacks and the process of creating that sculpture was a healing one for me, physically connecting me to that place my father had loved and to the particular spot that was now his final resting place. Back at my home in Seattle, the sculpture (as well as a painting of birch trees I later purchased) helps me to continue to feel connected to him.
R~ Right Brain Release (audiobooks)
One tool I have been using is Audiobooks. While I do love music, it transports you back to the time in your life that the song drums up. Mostly good memories, but sometimes certain songs can hit you over the head when you were least expecting it. I use Audiobooks to help me escape into another world and to be entertained.
R~ Right Brain Release (music)
My husband was very musical, played the guitar and sang so I try to stay connected to music and when possible get others connected to music. At my husband’s funeral, the priest said to take something about him that you treasure the most and make it a part of you and carry it with you everywhere you went every day so that he would be present and alive in you and the world. I have been taking care of a friend’s little girl lately and even though she is less than a year old, I play the rock station on cable and its funny to see how she reacts to Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan. I also have a portable keyboard that we play and little percussion egg instruments. She is just delighted! She is humming now and that just makes my heart smile. I just want her to know the rhythm of life.
~ Anne Marie
S ~ Slide into Exercise
After my young husband died in a car accident, nothing made sense at all. Except exercise. It was something I did growing up. As a child and young adult I played soccer, baseball, roller-skated, swam, hiked, biked, rowed, paddled, surfed, ran, lifted weights. After the accident, I was immobilized. I couldn’t breathe. But I knew I had to move. At first I just walked the hills of the neighborhood. Later I got into the pool and just swam and cried. Then I started hiking a local mountain, both solo and with friends. Eventually I got back into the gym and joined a small group training class for women, many of whom have huge losses of their own. Biking and swimming were tools that I used to connect to our 5 year old son, who was having anxiety issues after his dad died. Exercise was a tool that helped us feel “normal” in our completely upside-down new world.
S~ Slide into Exercise
My husband, and best friend, was a marathon runner who also loved rock-climbing and hiking. He had a way of pulling you into his enthusiasm, which is why I started running half marathons. During our training periods it became our ritual to do the long runs together every Saturday morning, and we kept this tradition even during times when we weren’t training. It was our time to be together, to run off the week’s worth of stress, to test our limits for the day, to whine about how it’s too hot, and to just hear each other breathing. After the run, our heads were clear and the endorphins gave us the feeling that anything was possible. Since my husband’s death, running has become my best friend. On days when I don’t run or exercise, I find myself crying a lot more- those days seems long, lonely, and full of obstacles. Once I push myself out there and get my blood pumping, it almost feels like my husband is right there with me. He’s the wind blowing into my face to cool me off, and he’s the wind from behind that makes me go faster. No more whining, either! I’m just happy to be out there. After my run, my head is clear and I’m confident that I can get through the day. Running has given me a positive attitude; running is my best friend.
I lost my mother to cancer when I was 18. My grandfather, who loved me so much, died a month later. My father died in my early 20s. I’ve learned that as we move through the seasons of our lives we mourn and grieve the loss of loved ones, the past of who we used to be and the feeling of security knowing we are safe and loved. I am in my 50s now and a Holistic Health Practitioner, using healing arts like massage to work with people who know grief and loss intimately. Massage is a physical act of kindness, a connection that is instinctual- surpassing language. It silently works calming fears and soothing worries layer for layer as you drift deeply into an alpha state and the tension lifts. Then clarity begins, you see a way to do something better, you resolve a problem and you know there is hope after all.
U~ Utilize Nature
After the numbness and sadness started to subside I needed to redefine who I was and what it is that I enjoy doing (versus being the spouse and caregiver of my husband). It was a time of reflection. I remembered how much I loved sailing and searched out a Meet-Up group for that. I’ve made some wonderful connections through this venue and just find peace when we turn off the motor, the wind is powering us through the water, the swells that rock the boat, the water slapping on the boat. It’s my happy place.
U~ Utilize Nature
A few years ago, I experienced a trauma that reopened wounds I thought had long since healed. My repetitive, obsessive thought was: “I’ll never be truly joyful or free from fear—what’s the use of pretending?” I stopped eating except for just enough to sustain energy, and I passively withdrew from family and friends. After a few weeks of this, I found myself in my back yard at sunset, leaning against a huge Monterrey pine tree. I stayed there, almost in a trance, for a long time. Suddenly strength flowed into me. Something whispered “Look to the light” and I saw, through a crack in my neighbor’s fence, the sparkle of the last sun rays of the day, being caught by his small garden fountain. I went to the tree the next day, and the next, and have gone almost every day since—finding light, guidance, and compassion for myself. And deep joy.
Volunteer for a day at school full of first and second graders- a guaranteed temporary relief of grief for at least that amount of time. I joined a local elementary school’s Watch D.O.G.S. Program (Dads Of Great Students). They recruit dads, granddads, uncles, male role models. The kids have so much energy and they give me faith in the younger generation.
X- eXamine Your Positives
Feeling grateful was an important lesson my mom taught me at a very young age. Through her actions, I realized the importance of giving and receiving; making the most of what you have and showing appreciation creates a healthy and balanced life. I was a teenager when she died of aggressive cancer. During the days, months and years after her death, I found comfort in giving to others and decided to dedicate my life to helping those in need. Being thankful for what I did have helped me heal from this childhood loss. Not only was I an avid volunteer throughout high school and college, I figured out how to make a career of recruiting and placing volunteers in the community. Twenty years later, when I was faced with my husband’s death (also from the same type of aggressive cancer) and left raising our five year old son, it was my openness to accepting help from others that got me through this devastating time. My grief was all too familiar, yet I forced myself on a daily basis to be grateful during my darkest moments. Again, gratitude haloed me and my son heal. Over time and with lots of support from others, we realized we grew stronger and were now able to help others. Two years ago, my son and I began delivering monthly meals with Volunteers of America’s Meals on Wheels program and shoveling snow through their Snow Buddy program. We’ve connected with others in our community and feel so grateful we are able to brighten someone’s day just as others did for us in our time of need. I am proud that I was able to pass along this important life lesson to my son. Self-help author Melody Beattie sums it up best: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow”. Gratitude truly helped me find hope during my most hopeless moments.
Y~ Your Self Care
After my daughter died in a car accident, I ran for what came natural and that was and still is self-love/self-care. I have always been a big believer of self-care. I knew I needed put myself first and totally embrace someone else taking care of me. I would get massages, facials, pedicures, and manicures fairly regular, but knew it needed to be bumped up a notch. I was not sure what was going to help my broken heart, but I knew if I was going to be a mom to my son, a wife to my husband, and honor my daughter I need to double up on “self-love.” I needed and owed it to my grief to give myself the best care I could and as often as I could. Self-care was the main tool that helped me on my journey. My new motto is “Have you given yourself some LOVE today?