Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I've Learned About Grief

I wanted to share with you some of what I have learned through my recent loss of three siblings within a period of less than two years. It is my hope that somewhere in these observations, you may find a bit of comfort. 

Grief is a normal human emotion. It is as basic to us as love, and it has been said that the depth of our grief is equal to the depth of our joy. I have found that it underlies everything I think and do for a while. I try to lean into it and allow it to be with me while I move through my daily activities. I also give myself permission to not be as productive as I normally would be. Some days to not be productive at all. Cry when you need to cry. Reflect when insights strike you. 

Appreciate and find beauty, even if it is to touch a leaf. If you can get out into nature, it is so helpful, especially where there is moving water. Surround yourself with color that you love. Make a little shrine to the person that reminds you of the joy in your relationship. Let it shift and change as the weeks go by and be ok with putting those things away eventually. That will mean that their comfort is internal rather than external. Be exquisitely aware of the simple fact that you are here, experiencing the full range of human emotions. Allow the joy in your heart when you see something wondrous to coexist with the grief. It is not a betrayal.

I am an introvert, and am more comfortable avoiding social situations where I feel I have to either pretend things are ok or explain why they are not. Especially when it's raw, I tend to go where I can be anonymous or with only my closest friends. Be aware of your social comfort zone, and honor it as you are working through the grief. Spend time with people who love you and understand and support you.

Allow the loss to put things into perspective in your own life. It helps us realize how much time we waste on trivial matters and petty differences. 

In grief we intensely consider all of the lost persons qualities. We don't want the world to lose those qualities we admire so we try to hold onto them through integrating them and making them our own. We will not be the same. It makes us more fully human, and better humans for emulating them. 

Tell their stories. They have touched many lives in many ways. Let younger generations and loved ones know them through your eyes.

It is crucial to healing to forgive ourselves for the thoughts, words and deeds that we regret. Without that forgiveness, their memory will hold extraordinary pain. It honors them to forgive them and ourselves so that the warm memories and qualities you admire become the prevailing emotions you feel when you think of them. It allows their essence to be the part you carry with you, along with the sadness for missing them. 

If you are responsible for dispersing the belongings of your loved one, hang onto only what serves you, honors them and brings you comfort. Release monuments to pain. Getting rid of their stuff is not abandonment of the person, even if it is an object they loved. Do what you reasonably can to find good homes for things and let the rest go.

Be gentle and patient with yourself and don't expect to be able to shake it off.  Grief will take its own time. It will eventually be less painful. One day you will realize that for a few moments you "forgot" to be sad. Those times will become more frequent, and they will last longer. Your memories will become more bitter-sweet with time. You will never stop missing them, but there is something exquisite about loving so deeply, in realizing how important that person was to you, and experiencing the full range of human emotion.   

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Ripple Effect

We grieve together in the wake of the attacks on Paris. We grieve for the victims, but we also grieve for our loss of innocence. For our loss of trust. We are reminded that this kind of violence is happening all over the world and that all of these lives matter equally. We react even more strongly because it happened in "our world". The world where we can easily relate, where we frequently visit, where this kind of tragedy is a surprise. It was an attack on the culture of Paris, a culture we admire and many of us emulate. Somehow it feels close to home. Naturally, we want to "do" something.  

How we react is governed by our conditioning and our personalities. How we respond is a choice. I believe that violence begets only more violence, and that the calls for peace and love and compassion even for those who carried out those heinous attacks have some impact on the future. That what we can collectively "do" about it is to comfort one another in our grief, and to show kindness and generosity to those people displaced by recent horrifying events. To show compassion to one another as we grapple with the emotions such an event evokes, even if we disagree with their conclusions.

We must use the experience to be more mindful of where best to direct our own power. For some, that will inspire a great change and focus of attention, and I applaud those who feel so called to action. However, each of us has our part to play.

What we can do individually is to be more fully open to opportunities now and in the future to make a positive difference in the lives of others. We can educate ourselves more thoroughly about the causes of this great discrepancy in thought and beliefs, but we may never understand it. We can raise our children with greater tolerance and less prejudice than we have. We can be more attentive to the qualities of our potential leaders and place our votes with those who most closely reflect our own conscience. 

The greatest power I have is to make a difference to those I have access to. I can use that power by continuing to appreciate beauty and connection and to share that perception with others. I can teach with my words and my actions. I can comfort with my thoughts and compassion.

I know that what I can do is a drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things, but I have seen and experienced the ripple effect and know that millions of drops in that bucket by millions of people, day in and day out, creates the wave that keeps the balance between peace and destruction. That wave reaches "my world", "your world" "their world" and all the world. It all matters, and it is all too close to home.