Monday, April 26, 2021

Grief Recovery: Grinding Up the Old Road, Paving the New

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A great force at work

There’s a tremendous rumbling outside my home, as beasts of steel move slowly on their low-slung circular tracks. The fiercest of them claws unrelentingly at the roadway, churning up the old macadam. Scooped onto a skyward conveyor, the rough debris are launched into the cavity of a giant white dump truck.

Slim, sunglassed workers in bright yellow safety vests and hard hats live out childhood Tonka Toy dreams, sauntering beside the beasts. A secret bliss beats in their hearts, aglow with the knowledge that no mother waits at home to scold them over the filthy pants they will arrive in. They are the grinders, obliterating all previous roads. Out of sight, the debris-laden lorry will travel to a location in need of its material. For new roads are being constructed, and a foundation of ‘what was,’ suits a new way to come. 

You are the foundation of your new path

People--and roads--are an amalgam of everything known and experienced. And yet, it is crucial to respect the dynamics of change because change--like the grinders’ force--will leave nothing untouched. Daily, there is an expansion of the known and experienced. Layer on top of layer, our lives are paved with rigors and roses, relationships and realizations. What may seem like habit or routine will, if examined under a microscope, be infinitesimally different and new, each day.

Recognizing these facts, I know that the cacophony outside will abate and I will return to my patio, cool drink in hand. I know that a new road will be built outside my door and likewise, inside my heart and mind. It is happening now, with each keystroke.
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Moving forward is what matters most; I spread words left to right on this digital page and as needed, backspace my way to better expression. Left to right, auto-return, left to right again. 

I thank the grinders who are helping me let go of old roads because there is so much more to discover on a new one.

Thankyou for caring!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

In the Bewilds: Trekking Grief's Wilderness

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Let me be clear: this is a trek with all the challenges of a Himalayan expedition: low oxygen, sapping exertion, sudden storms, and shivering alone in your tent. This wilderness of experience and eviscerating emotion--what I've dubbed the Bewilds, is both an uncontrolled ride down rapids and a process of choices. Open to it all, I find myself awed by the day's catalogue of wonders: a caring email, phone message, or invitation, a kindred soul walking her dog, another pair of hands for an unfamiliar task.

In so-named books, Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD refers to 'the wilderness of grief' as life changing. Francis Weller, MFT suggests 'the wild edge of sorrow' is an invitation to sacred ground. Just as I approached my husband's dying as a sacred journey, I am committed to trying to grieve with a higher consciousness, a patient awareness.

The formidable and even frightening solo trek becomes a mindful mile if I pause to pull essentials from my pack. Surprising reliefs are found in deep and easy breaths, the reviving self care of rations, rest, and light reading. Like an LED flashlight, a companion's visit brings calming clarity; and the littlest accomplishment soothes weariness as if pulling on soft socks. 

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In Grieving,The Sacred Art, Hope in the Land of Loss, Lisa Irish notes,

 "Loss can be mourned even as positive changes become evident."  

Numerous philosophers have explored the hair's width of space between endings and beginnings. So, trekking the Bewilds is not without tears ... or anticipation. 

Hoping to feel 'like your old self' is like reaching for your comfort food. I inwardly cringed when a 5-year widow admitted to still having painful, tearful moments. My peers help me to grasp that grieving is not like post surgical rehab. We have been 'transformed' and live a 'new normal.'

This post is simply a moment in my trek into my new normal. I know that I will continue to change and grow-- and even backup, when necessary. Every griever is a solo trekker and should be respected as such. 

The Condolence Coach continues to suggest that before giving practical advice or spiritual direction to a person in mourning, you ask them if they want it. You could say things like: This may not apply to you, but when I was grieving my dad...  or You'll know when you feel ready to... or I'm glad I have a special spot to go say hello... 

Thank you for caring!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Journey of the Mind: Co-Meditation with the Dying

 Sacred Journey

Off and on for over twenty years, I’ve been a hospice volunteer and my favorite duty has been sitting with the actively dying. Tough, right? Actually, I view dying as a sacred journey--the counterpoint to the wonder of birth and thus, it’s a privilege to share that space with someone. One afternoon, I was called to visit “Cheryl,” who was quickly declining. Medications had been administered but I found her restless and distressed after a fall and painful arm injury. “I just want to go into the woods and die,” she cried. “Well, you can, Cheryl. Let’s go together,” was my reply.

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Gently stroking her hand, I described our walk from the sidewalk of a noisy Tucson street into the breeze whispering stillness of the woods.
Underfoot, the dense loam of brown leaves and pine needles hushed and softened our footsteps. Pale light filtered through the forest canopy; a squirrel darted by and unseen birds chittered now and then. “The woods smell so sweet; why don’t we sit on this big log for awhile, Cheryl.” In the afternoon stillness, our breathing slowed and words were unnecessary. We had arrived at the doorway to peace, and Cheryl left her body a few hours later.

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Freedom of Spirit

Jack Kornfield, author and a key teacher of mindfulness, calls this experience “freedom of spirit.” No matter what circumstances weigh on your physical life, your spirit--the ‘you’ behind the flesh--is always free. Kornfield reminds us, “your mind is not limited to your head,” so you need only be still and aware to enter unrestricted spaciousness. Older adults often find it easier to settle in a comfy chair, close the eyes, enjoy some full breaths and then float in awareness. The seas and breezes of your being may drift through memory and gratitude, to a place of deep peace. Some people call it a ‘practice’ and use bells and rituals to get here. Increasingly, health professionals are putting down the prescription pads and pointing to quiet places. 


If you find yourself with a loved one who is dying, or struggling with an illness, follow my example of introducing comeditation. It has been proven to calm physical and mental distress. It can be focused on natural, rhythmic breathing without words, but an explanation to the person you are caring for, helps them orient to the calm. It is also important to note that the dying person does not need to be conscious to benefit!

You can make a difference:  pull up a chair, take their hand, and ask: 

If you could be some place else right now, where would you go?

What a wonderful gift to offer! If their go-to place is something you can describe, do so; if they feel able to describe the journey, encourage them to be as vivid and sensory in their description, as possible. But for the fullest calming benefit, don't turn it into a dialogue. Finally, once you both have "arrived" at the place, sit quietly with eyes closed. Let the journey last for its comfortable duration. 

Read more about impermanence and mindfulness:

Impermanence: changing how you cope with change

Read more about mindfulness:

Finding pleasure and peace in slow

Thank you for caring...and sharing!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

When You Cannot Vigil the Dying: Be There

The scouring of humanity

This is a post about what to do when you cannot be with a dying loved one. As I write this, the Covid-19 pandemic began scouring humanity in early 2020, overcoming nearly 2 million people, worldwide by year’s end. In most settings, infection control measures have barred visitors from patient bedsides, even those dying. 

The empty chair beside the bed

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This is a post about what to do when you cannot be with a dying loved one. It applies to the myriad circumstances that might prevent you from keeping vigil, holding a hand, stroking a forehead, whispering words of love and gratitude close to their ear. The circumstances that keep you from the bedside are many, and may have nothing to do with the pandemic. I learned this in 2019, when my mother chose the peace of her distant home for her final months with cancer. My parents wanted privacy instead of a family event and, though eventually I was called to come help with care, for weeks before, I entered the room secretly.

This is a post about what to do when you think you cannot be with a dying loved one. This is the story of how I found the way to ‘jump over the wall’ and be right there with my mother. I soothed her, whispered encouragement, and experienced a deep communion. This technique is available to everyone.

Spirit to spirit

Have you heard the expression ‘we are spirits in human form’ ? Some refer to our spirit as ‘mind.’ This is not religious dogma, it is truth. You need only read or listen to a few accounts of near death experiences to awaken to this truth. (In addition to the books by Raymond Moody, a reliable source is IANDS, the International Association for Near Death Studies, Inc.)  What you do with this awareness beyond the purpose of this essay, is your choice. But, if you are faced with the inability to be with a dying loved one, here is what you can do.

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Each of our spirits (or minds) exist in a field of energy without boundaries of time, location, language or physical dimension. Knowing and accepting this is indescribeably wonderful! It means you can ‘jump over the wall’ and connect with someone through techniques that allow you unfettered access to the ‘field.’ These techniques include meditation, contemplation, and prayer. 

To visit my mother, I used a Metta meditation described in my essay on impermanence and change. I also recommend the meditations of integrative medicine and energy work practitioner Dr. Ann Marie Chiasson. In her book, Energy Healing: The Essentials of Self-Care, Dr. Chiasson explains the Metta Meditation, which Buddhist practice calls a loving-kindness meditation. Traditionally, there are four stanzas but for your spirit visit, I suggest repeating these three stanzas, four times. 

To begin, sit comfortably; while taking a few full, slow breaths, fill your mind with the image and true, joyful essence of your loved one. ‘Hold their hand’ and truly believe in this communion of spirits. Begin to softly speak these stanzas to them, savoring each expression with your heart and spirit; when you can, close your eyes:

Repeat each stanza four times

May I be at peace.

May my heart remain open.

May I awaken to the light of your own true nature.

May I be healed.

May I be a source of healing for all beings.

May you be at peace.

May your heart remain open.

May you awaken to the light of your own true nature.

May you be healed.

May you be a source of healing for all beings.

May we be at peace.

May our hearts remain open.

May we awaken to the light of your own true nature.

May we be healed.

May we be a source of healing for all beings.

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When finished, remain in this peaceful place with your eyes closed. Note how you feel. It is suggested that you do this loving-kindness meditation, daily. You will quickly feel that you are having a daily visit with your loved one.

Further insight into our connection as spirits can be found in an excerpt from this remarkably comforting poem by Henry Scott Holland. My mother requested that it be used on her memorial folder and each time I read it, I know the truth, that she is only in ‘the next room.’

Death Is Nothing At All

All is well,

Death is nothing at all.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Whatever we were to each other, we still are.

Please, call me by my old familiar name.

Speak of me in the same easy way you always did.

Laugh, as we always laughed,

At the little jokes we shared together.

Think of me and smile.

Let my name be the household name it always was,

Spoken without the shadow of a ghost in it.

Life means all it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was…

All is well.

-Henry Scott Holland

May all who are in this circumstance know that you are not alone. I wish you peace and the comfort of a spirit to spirit visit. Namaste.

Please share this with someone you know who is anticipating a loved one’s death.

Thank you for caring.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Irving Berlin and his Rx to Stop Stress

 Irving Berlin is considered one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, with at least 1,500 songs to his credit.

Composer, Irving Berlin
He had a flair for a tune and penned lyrics which hit the heart’s bullseye, again and again. In the early 1950’s, he wrote "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)" and, enclosing it in a letter to a studio executive, Berlin confessed: 

‘As I say in the lyrics, sometime ago, after the worst kind of a sleepless night, my doctor came to see me and after a lot of self-pity, belly-aching and complaining about my insomnia, he looked at me and said "speaking of doing something about your insomnia, did you ever try counting your blessings?"’

The song debuted in the now-classic holiday film, White Christmas

What a simple-and timely-idea. Counting troubles is an easy reaction in times of uncertainty, isolation, and loss. Yes, even as your heart aches after the death of a loved one, you can turn to this prescription for relief:  choose to count blessings! 

First, let's define blessing

Websters begins with the concept of an invocation-- a statement of approval or encouragement. The definition evolves to be something which contributes to a positive occurrence, outcome, or opportunity. Many consider a blessing to be a verbal prayer of thanks to God. Therefore, any and every aspect of your loved one which has made you happy, secure, and thankful counts when you're counting blessings!

How to start counting

Your method could be a relaxed mental wander through wonderful memories, or try some of these:

  • Take out your journal or notepad and write a list of the helps, traits, and admirable qualities of your loved one. Fill pages, if you want to!
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    Pull out photo albums or boxes and count the blessings of vacation fun, love-filled occasions, camaradie, proud moments, and those adoring expressions meant just for you.
  • Pull up iTunes or YouTube recordings of a few special songs that take you back to important times shared with your loved one. As you listen, re-live the blessings.
  • Find your box of momentos or file of important papers and count your blessings. Old documents such as a marriage license, a paycheck stub, a birthday or anniversary card, and even a handwritten grocery list can flood your heart with gratitude.
I know a man who counts joyful blessings by paging through his late wife's cookbooks. Think of the counting possibilities that await in your garage, basement, or clothes closet! Others might walk in their yard and count the blessings of things planted by a loved one. What other counting ideas can you think of?

Feeling better? Keep digging and keep counting. And there's a good chance that others who mourn this person would love to hear what you've counted. Bless them by sharing your lists and encourage them to begin counting, too.

Thank you for caring!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day Means 'Thank You!'

Retro poster
It’s been said that thoughts of gratitude can lift the mood; I’ve got to agree. It can be as simple as your first spoonful of ice cream (okay- sugar is involved in that!) or as riveting as the safe landing after a frighteningly turbulent flight. But here we are in November, and before the American consumption rituals of Thanksgiving Day, the 11th--known since 1954 as Veterans Day--requests your salute of thanks, too. 

In many towns, flags may line some roadways, and retailers will have a so-named sale, but let’s dive heart-deep for a moment. Veterans--men and women--answered a call, accepted a detour from domestic life pursuits, swallowed fear and advanced toward danger or difficulty. Military service hones and sometimes hurts, in pursuit of peace and security. Saying “thank you for your service,” is not political or philosophical; it is simply recognition.

When I worked in funeral service, I handled hundreds of Honorable Discharge papers. It was a privilege to arrange memorial benefits--a flag, an honor guard, a National Cemetery burial. Often yellowed with creases splitting, I marveled that this one important piece of paper followed a veteran through so many years. We cannot know the personal memories associated with text typed on a form. Whether tough or triumphant, the men and women who bear them, are honored and thanked by our observance of Veterans Day.

This post was first published in the Valley Assistance Services newsletter.

Understand more about veterans and veterans' issues:

Veterans at the end of life: Veterans at the End of Life: An Essential Salute

Struggles veterans may face: Please Don't Ask Me How My Son Died

POW/MIA soldiers and their families: Missing In Action! A Soldier's Sister Keeps Vigil,  and From MIA to RIP: A One Year Anniversary Reflection

Thank you for serving, Thank you for caring!