Friday, October 10, 2014

Common Ground


      “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there..”
                                                                                                            ~ Rumi*

Why are we always so hard on ourselves? In the 4 years I have been practicing grief counseling, 3 in a hospice setting, I hear a repeated refrain: “I thought I was doing so much better but I am not.”  The self-judgment contained in this statement interferes with the process. And that is what grief is: a process, which implies that it is fluid, changeable and on-going.  If grief takes us on a journey through the unknown terrain of our emotional fields, why are we so unwilling to simply notice where we are?  Instead, we judge it, as if what we feel is somehow incorrect.  “I am supposed to…”  “I should be…” and the worst one:  They say I should….”

This seems to be a common ground in grief – nearly everyone questions whether they are grieving in the right way.  In Hospice, clinicians use the phrase “grieving appropriately.”  What does that mean? What is appropriate expression for you may be alien to me. In some cultures it is appropriate to wail and keen; in others, to present a calm fa├žade. But there seems to always be expectations that somehow, the way you are feeling it might not be quite right. The person who is quiet in their grief is commended as “strong” as if allowing emotion to be felt and expressed is somehow wrong. And the wailing person is sometimes seen as needing medical intervention!

It is natural to question how we are doing but is it necessary to be convinced that someone else has a better handle on coping then we do? Yesterday, while sharing a bit of my own grief experience I caught myself saying, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” Then I said, “well, actually this IS the way it happened and I have had to find ways to cope, to adjust, even to LIVE within that happening.” There did not seem to be any other choice.

Out beyond self-judgment is the field of exploration. As we navigate our grief without a map and even without a destination, we might discover a new sense of self. How did those early adventurers find their way as they traveled to unknown lands?  They explored, they observed, they took measurements and guidance from the stars.  We grievers can do the same: we can explore our relationships, we can discover how loving has changed us. We can take the love we shared along with us as the guiding star, even though our loved one is physically gone. And we can leave self-criticism back on the distant shore.

       “Sometimes when I am down, I am my own worst enemy. Let me be my friend.”
                                                                                     ~ Martha Whitemore Hickman**


*Mevlana Jelaludin Rumi, 13th c. poet, as translated by Coleman Banks
**January 5 entry, Healing After Loss by Martha Whitemore Hickman, Harper Collins

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Searching for Signs

Grievers often look for signs of their loved ones after they are gone.  Some people find pennies in their paths, some see butterflies.  A woman told me that lights turn on upstairs when she is downstairs and no one else is in the house. She is sure this is her husband and sometimes calls upstairs to say hello and to tell him to stop scaring her. Photographs show shining orbs or an aroma wafts through the room, seemingly without cause. But for every person who tells me they have seen a sign, there are 4 or 5 who say they wish they could. They long for some tangible message from the beyond that lets them feel that their lost loved one is still present, still looking out for them.
 
But if the desire for a tangible sign is a yearning for connection, what if our loved ones ARE showing up – in such subtle ways that we are missing the signal? Does a sign need to be a paranormal, graphic gesture? If we could see these random remembrances of them as connective threads, we might discover that our loved ones are present in our lives on a daily basis.  What about the random thought of something they said, a memory that suddenly arises and makes us smile?  Isn’t this a sign of our continued connection with our loved one after they die? 

 I challenge you to consider this: if our dead loved ones live on in our hearts, then they show up in our thoughts and memories. They show up when we don’t know what to do and suddenly remember what their advice would be.  They show up in a gesture that is just like theirs, in a song on the radio, in their favorite flower that blooms in the garden.
 
I challenge you to notice that they show up every day. The signs are there if you just pay attention.