Living in the Flow of grief

My mom died.  There is no other way to say it.  Using euphemisms does not soften the blow.  I sit here writing this fully able to accept the reality of her death.  I knew it was coming. I have been doing anticipatory grieving for the last year and a half.   In this time, I watched her decline, as she slowly and defiantly, was no longer able to fight the process her body was going through because of her disease.  What I have come to understand is that the ability to accept the inevitability of someone’s death does not give you the sudden super power to not feel the intense grief that comes with the finality of that person no longer being a presence in your life. I write this article with the hope of helping others traverse their grief in a healthy way.

Grief comes in stages.  I believe these stages do not happen in the particular order that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about in her iconic book “On Death and Dying.”  We travel these stages one moment at a time, they cannot be rushed, denied or avoided. They must be experienced. No two people grieve in the exact same way or in the exact same order of stages of grief.  

Here is my definition of grief.   Grief: to be in the state of sitting still in the ebbs and flow of pain. When you are grieving you must allow the ebbs and flow of the waves of pain to wash over you and at the same time allow yourself to ride them out.   Allow yourself to be in the flow of it but not be drowned by it.

The feelings that come with grief can become overwhelming.  It is important to remember that those intense, stabbing feelings of grief are short and once that intense pain subsides the ache of it is still there. There is also uncertainty that comes with grief. The uncertainty of not knowing when the next ripple of stabbing pain will hit you.

When faced with uncertainty many people become anxious.  Uncertainty leaves you feeling out of control and no one enjoys being out of control. There is something that is certain. What is certain about grief, and the accompanying pain, is that you will feel the pain again and again until you are done feeling it.  That is just the way of it. When you are able to accept the reality and the certainty of the ongoing waves of pain then you have nothing to be anxious about. Nothing to worry about avoiding.  Nothing to run from. It becomes the truth of your present moment reality.

We cannot run away from grief and also survive. When we attempt to do that we cause other emotional problems within us.  We may become depressed, angry, or feel guilty. It is vital to accept that the waves of grief will continue to hit.  Accepting that and not to trying to out swim, avoid or fight that wave of pain is actually what allows for healing. Healing comes from embracing the pain, not avoiding of it.  Avoiding allows the pain to take hold deep within you. When emotional pain is held within, avoided, and not expressed you are at high risk for getting physically ill. Unexpressed grief and pain must go somewhere.  So, if you do not let out, it goes in.

After the loss of a loved one life can never fully be the same again.  How can it be? Our reality has changed. Your day to day life may change because of it.  Who you call or text each day may be forever altered. These changes, sad as they are, are real.  We cannot fight them. We are called to step forward, to step into them, to rise up, to lean in, to learn, to heal and to grow.

Life is an ever growing and transforming process of loss, change, healing and growth.  Nature shows us how to do this beautifully. Think about the great oak tree at the height of summer.  Its branches are full of big, beautiful green leaves. These leaves offer life every day, contribute to our environment and the life force energy of the air we breathe.  In the Autumn, the leaves change colors and eventually fall to the ground allowing the tree time to rest and heal in the dormancy of winter. In the spring, new buds emerge, and new leaves once again grow.  The tree still stands, and its cycle of life continues just as ours will, the same but forever different.

Our pain feels intense in the wake of the waves of a loved one’s death.  This is the way of it. It cannot be any other way. We must go through it, we must live it and live through it.  We must get beyond where the waves break and reach the shore again. It may at first feel like wet sand that does not give you much support.  As you keep walking the sand becomes firmer offering you more support. Eventually you will reach the boardwalk which is steady and shows you a new way back home to yourself.  You will be a new you, one who has been shaped by the loss you have experienced. One who has survived, who is healing and who is growing. Grief is a process and a journey. Allow me to leave you with this poem:

Traversing grief

To be.

Being allowed to not know.

To flow.

Flowing into the unknown with confidence and grace.

To hold.

Holding onto the trust in yourself and the trust in the universe.

To guide.

You will be guided to the exact right destination.

To allow.

Allowing that destination to be your new being state until you are ready to travel again.

This article is dedicated with love to my mother, Jackie.  She was beautiful inside and out. She taught my sisters and I strength and gave all of us of her never ending, non-judgmental, unconditional love.  We all have a new angel now. Mom was an avid reader and wordsmith. There is no better way for me to honor her than with the written word.

Relating to another by being in the pause.

A few weeks ago, I went to a sporting event with my husband and teenage daughter.  My daughter had been on crutches for the past few weeks. She was feeling a bit worried about managing in the sporting arena with the crutches and was hesitant to go. My husband was able to secure handicapped seating and she agreed to attend the event.

In speaking with her about the upcoming event she had one request.  She asked if we could, “please have a fun day”. When I asked her to clarify what she meant by the word fun she went on to share that a lot of the times the three of us (she, my husband and myself),  get into “bickering” over nothing and it ruins our time together. Now, of course, this was not news to me. It is something that I find very upsetting myself and something that happens repeatedly. At my daughter’s suggestion we all agreed to not bicker.

The way she asked this particular day, how she approached it so calmly, rationally and conversationally allowed me to listen to her with my heart open and hear her at a different level.  

One of my favorite authors is Dr. Shefali Tsabary. She writes and teaches about conscious parenting. She is a clinical psychologist and the author of 3 books. My favorite one is, “The Awakened Family.”  One of the many things that Dr. Shefali teaches about conscious parenting is that our children are our greatest awakeners. And I have found this to be true time and time again. This was one of those Ah-Ha moments of awakening for me.  A time when I really took notice of what happened within me. When my daughter asked if we “could just have fun”, it forced me to look at myself and see how I was co-creating the environment and energy of not having fun.

When we are able to pause and listen to our children, loved ones or anyone we are in relationship with, with an open heart we can learn much about our self as well as what our child really needs and is asking of us.

This day I heard her.  I heard her in a way I had not before. I decided to step up to the plate and make a commitment to her, my husband and myself to follow through on this. Though I am writing this from the perspective of mother to child you can apply the power of pausing and this approach to all relationships in your life.

The way I decided to take action toward this goal was to pause before speaking.  Sometimes, well a lot of the time, I talk too much. I realized that taking a pause would be a great idea.  Not only would I pause before I responded to someone, but I was also going to pause before sharing my thoughts.  In the pause I decided I would pay attention to the words that wanted to spill out of me. I decided I was going to pay attention to any feelings I experienced that were connected to the words in my mind.

Sometimes we use words to avoid feeling the feeling. The words we use are always connected to an internal feeling state.

I would take that moment to examine the words and examine if they even needed to be said at all.  I needed to look at my thoughts and see if what I felt I had to say was coming up in reaction to another. In other words, is what I am saying coming from a place within me that has been triggered. And if it is in reaction then I know it is coming from a place inside of me that is wounded in some way.  It is up to me to be responsible for my feelings and not to project my pain, wounds, or hurt onto others. Taking pause gives me the space to acknowledge what comes up for me. Once I pause and look at the thoughts I can decide if I am able to respond from a place of inner alignment. When I am in that place of inner peace and alignment I am less likely to project my emotions to the other.  

Projection happen when we are reacting from an unconscious place.

Projection means that we are taking a feeling we hold inside and we put it onto the other person.  This allows us to blame them for the issue, for how we are feeling and allows us the false belief that we are not part of the problem.  That the problem is the other. That the problem is outside of the self and we falsely believe that we are not to blame and therefore have no responsibility in what is occurring.  For me, projection was causing much of the bickering. I was often in an unconscious reactive state and the words would fly out without thinking through my response first and without tuning in to feel what was happening with in me.  The other issue underlying the bickering was need for control. All three of us want control but my daughter and myself are definitely the worst offenders. Again, the need to control is coming from a place of an emotional need that needs attending to.  It is up to me to uncover what this is, to do my own work and not project it onto another.

The pause gave me the opportunity to ask myself:

“Is it necessary to comment?”

“Can I let this go?”

“Can I just take a breath here and not say a word?”

“Can I take care of myself in this moment?”

These were all questions I asked myself.  I spent the entire day following through on my commitment to pause before speaking. My husband and daughter also followed through, in their own way, and kept to their word not to bicker as well. In the end we had a fun day at this event.  There was no bickering at all.

As we drove home I began to think about my part in all of this.  You see, it is much easier to project and blame the other when something goes “wrong”. Since nothing went “wrong” and there was no need to project anything and it gave me space, and in a way, permission to examine myself and look at my part.  I realized that I showed up differently all day. I brought a different energy with me when I showed up. I had a clear intention to keep a promise not only to my husband and daughter but to myself.

And in showing up all day in a calm, present way and pausing before speaking my energy shifted.  And with the shift in my energy, I believe it helped to keep the energy we all brought to the day balanced, calm and peaceful.  The end result was a fun day. The kind of day my daughter asked for and that all of us needed. A day of being and feeling connected to one another.  

There is power in the pause.

The power is that you get to learn about yourself, you get to be in better connection to yourself and you get to be more genuinely connected to those around you.  When you are connected to yourself, your heart and your inner emotional landscape then you can better connect to another. And don’t we all want to be connected and feel connected especially with our children and spouses?  

Open yourself up to the power of pausing.  I am going to commit to it again tomorrow and the days that follow.  I want this to become a habit, a new way of being which will have the ability to help me be present, in tune and aware of my feelings.  When I am in this place of equanimity then I feel whole and I can bring my true self into my relationships with others.

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CHAPTER 1: Conscious Relationship With Self


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