Tag Archives: grief

Grieving Lessons

Grieving is hard work.  It’s exhausting, ugly, important work. I’ve learned a few lessons about it in five decades of life, I share them to encourage anyone experiencing their own loss, and the pain that accompanies it.

I became intimate with grief after the full-term stillbirth of my only daughter.  I learned that sorrow reaches unimaginable depths of the human soul.  I learned that it comes and goes in waves. I learned that giving in to those waves meant a debilitating keening that renders a body numb and spent. I learned that I could be a living contradiction:  whole in body, yet feeling as though my heart had been blown wide open with all the violence of a shotgun blast at close range.  I learned that the heart can physically ache and a mother’s empty arms can be painful beyond the help of any narcotic or anti-depressant.

It took two full years to work through that particular grief, but it prepared me for subsequent losses. A divorce that smashed relationships to pieces.  A brother whose time came too early and whose loss leaves the biggest of holes in family pictures.  A mother whose absence lends a permanent sense of nakedness to my life.  Sons that have grown and moved out, leaving deafening silence in their place.  Once, an election left me mourning.

The most recent loss is that of a treasured little sprite of a dog. She wasn’t even suppose to be mine, but she followed me around for a week until I gave in and hoisted her up on my lap where she loved to sit.  I’d always preferred big dogs, but this tiny creature



wedged her way into my heart and found a place to occupy that I didn’t even know existed.  At fifteen, she was cranky, blind, and in pain.  A solemn trip to the vet eased her suffering and she now sleeps under a favored tree in the back yard.

While she sleeps, my old friend grief follows me around. I recognized it immediately and where before I would be angry at having to go through it again, I realize that by now I’ve learned what’s in store for me and somehow that makes it easier.  My broken heart feels like it won’t ever be whole again but seasoned experience allows me to remind myself that this is temporary; time will see the pain subside, precious memories help to soothe and soften it. As familiar waves of sadness tumble over me, I can now see that they also consist of prior losses and like a valve, my sobs enable their release, bring healing. I now know without a doubt that those waves will become less forceful, less frequent.  I am numb, but in my intimacy with grief I realize this is normal, it will wear off. I remind myself that I have endured before, I will endure again.  Mostly, I am exhausted.  In my wisdom, I know that my energy will return, the future will bring happiness. A time will come when I will smile and mean it, and I’ll know that I am done grieving.  My friend will leave and wait patiently until the next time.

After 9/11 President Bush urged us to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible. Normalcy is quite relevant though; once a hole is blasted through the walls of a soul by a loss, a new normal must be sought.  Grief is the road we take to get there and there is no other route available.  It does not come easily. It does not come immediately.  It occurs gradually as the pain subsides and we adjust to an altered life.

Grieving and adjusting is hard work, however. May these lessons comfort, give strength, and help you discover that you can, and will, come out just fine on the other side.  Take it from me, I know.

With love,



Dark Polish

Finally, today, I can break out the fun colors.  Pinks, purples, corals, blues, and even bright happy teals.   I’m talking about fingernail polish.   For the past year I’ve confined myself to wearing only dark, dark shades.

I’ve done so as a means to mourn the death of my mother.

The traditional ways of mourning the death of a loved one have fallen by the wayside in our shiny, busy world.  I mean, I thought about wearing black for an entire year, but that wouldn’t go over so well at work because of uniform requirements as well as the nature of the job.

There was a moment I wanted (needed?) to stay home for a couple of weeks and just be sad.  I was feeling like I couldn’t contain myself and would break down into a puddle of mush any minute – I didn’t want to do that in front of my colleagues. But, of course and like most, I’m only allowed a couple days off for a family death. So I mustered the strength and with  monumental effort shoved aside all that pain, plastered a smile on my face that I was certain looked as fake as it felt, and drove myself to the high school where I worked.

I had to get creative.   I had to find a way to mark the grieving period,  a way to show respect to my mother who lived a life full of challenges yet exhibited a toughness and fierce independence, she deserved that honor.  So in my own little corner of carved out existence, I thought about some gesture that could fill the job of acknowledging my grief, at least to myself, while still going about the business of being a citizen in a frantic society.  I realized that one action I could take was to wear only dark fingernail polish until the first anniversary of her death.  I made a vow to do so.

It was indeed a small gesture, but to my surprise it was exactly the right one.  It wasn’t easy.   This decision came at the beginning of summer when bright orange or yellow would typically decorate the end of my phalanges, shouting to the world that I was ‘with it,’ and ‘on trend’ with the fashionable hues.  Besides, I am generally a big fan of  vividly colored fingertips, they scream fun!  energetic!  this is me!  Yet, there I was with mud browns, black purples, and dark blues that captured zero light and received no compliments, living out the promise I made to the universe that I was setting aside this time for my mother.

Winter came and went, including a couple of firsts that were difficult to endure:  mom’s birthday and Christmas.  It wasn’t so hard to keep to dark shades then, the weather and lack of daylight was in keeping with my mournful aspect.  But I did find myself growing weary of the same five nail colors and when I usually break out an iridescent orange in the middle of January as an instinctive reaction to missing the sun and yearning for summer, I instead slathered on one more layer of ‘Gunmetal’, but with a smile of contentment: I found it somehow healing to deny myself this small thing out of deference to my beloved mom.

Spring arrived after enduring days and days and days and days of rain.  I ran out of two of my favorite dark colors and was rotating between just three others.   On the premise of “I only have a few more months left, I don’t want to waste the money.” I didn’t purchase anything new.  I found I was okay with the narrow selection anyway:  as the anniversary grew closer, the more meaningful the memorial became.

I was able to end that memorial yesterday, the first anniversary of my mother’s death.   There’s a sense of relief in it’s arrival – all the ‘firsts’ are out of the way, I’ve survived them.  Her birthday will come and go, but none as painful as that first one without her.  I can announce to myself that I am done mourning now.  I can throw out the three remaining dark shades of polish, and keep bright happy colors on my quick typing fingers the rest of my days, if I want.

Grieving the death of a loved one is work.  It requires time and attention and the ability to step aside from life for just a moment in order to process the pain and adjust to a new reality.  The society we’ve built in the US doesn’t allow us that.  In fact, it would deny the mourning process altogether if it could.  I recall the words of President Bush after 9/11 when he urged us to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible.   After the loss of a loved one, there is no normal as we know it.  We MUST have time to reflect and assimilate our new life.  Anyone who has denied themselves the room to grieve will attest that doing so only makes it worse to deal with later, or it solidifies into a mass of anger which no one can identify.  In our current society, we have to be strong and rely on our ingenuity and adaptability for ways to mourn the departed while still functioning at the hundred-ten percent capacity required by the system. Maybe its a once a week trip to the Synagogue that you normally wouldn’t take, maybe it’s a black tie that can be worn every Wednesday, maybe it’s a black curtain in the kitchen window, maybe it’s strictly dark nail polish for a year.  Whatever the solution, there still remains the ability to set aside holy time for a loved one, in some way, that enables the healing process.  I encourage you to find one that works for you if ever the unfortunate need arises.




Resurrection Realization

With the knowledge that much of the world is celebrating a well known hero and his resurrection story today, I’m taking time to reflect upon the ways that we can apply the story to our lives, even if we don’t spend time in a church pew or singing holy hymns.

In Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s with a Thousand Faces” we learn that over the relatively short span of our existence, we humans have been really good at consistently telling the same story over and over and over again:  We are born, we face trials, we die and go through hell, we are resurrected.   Campbell says the archetypal steps of the story line give us inspiration for our own trials and tribulations:  Who doesn’t go through hell when a loved one is lost?  Who isn’t faced with guilt or shame when a divorce occurs?  How many of us come face to face with our dark selves in the caves of awareness and must wrestle our own demons there in order to escape?

Life is suffering. “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something.” Yet the human spirit is amazingly resilient and repeatedly has shown strength in the face of great adversity.  This is the miracle we can celebrate today – that we come out on the other side of our descent into hell.  We triumph over grief, we become better partners in our next relationship, we figure out ways to accept and then overcome our weaknesses. We resurrect ourselves, consistently and perpetually .

We echo this sentiment in our cultural story telling.  Our heroes endure isolation and hellish torture, overcome their adversaries, and are ultimately stronger than before. They provide inspiration to us as we go about our daily lives so that when we do endure suffering, we can have hope in the fact that if our heroes have made it out alive and more powerful, then so can we.

So even if we aren’t subscribed to the religion celebrating the hero story of the day, we can still reflect on our propensity as humans to muddle through whatever hell life might throw at us, and our ability to resurrect ourselves to live once more.  We can also be grateful for the strength and resiliency inherent in our spirits to do so.



My Hero

Emerge from a grave of darkness,

That you thought would never end.

Writhing pain and torment kept you

bound there, and emitted the illusion of

hopelessness and death.

You sought help, and though it was slow to

answer your pleading, it came and confused

your captor.

The assistant was not the ultimate

savior, you see, rather the tools she gave you to

strengthen your own resolve became the

keys to freedom.

You sit in this hell for a while, and sharpen these

devices until they are deathly.

Then, set yourself free.

Self – control, meaningful meditation, deeper

understanding of your own weaknesses,

Allow an escape, once and for all from the


Triumphant, born again with fortitude that evaded you before,restingplace


You will now walk your path without trepidation.

You have a quiver dressed with arrows to deter future captors,

And a soul covered with armor to protect from further attacks.

You are stronger, more alive, more


You have become your own hero.





“Hey Girl” A Lesson About (Self) Compassion

It’s a rough world.   Life is hard.  There are no guarantees. So, we need each other.  We need others to let us know it’s going to be okay. We need someone to sit beside us and hug us and validate our fears, our failings.  That’s why we have friends and why we take care of each other.

The song “Hey Girl”, out on Lady Gaga’s newest album puts this notion to a musical twist.  It’s a collaboration with Florence Welch and the track is musically reminiscent of Elton John’s ‘Bennie and the Jets” with a hit of a bridge containing some heavenly harmonies.

But, as usual, I look for the deeper meaning and found that the song works well when you sing it to yourself…

“Hey girl, we can make it easy if we lift each other…Hey girl, we don’t need to keep on onein’ up each other…If you lose your way, Just know that I got you..” is some powerful stuff to hear yourself tell yourself.

I’ve recently been turned on to Dr. Kristin Neff’s work concerning self-compassion.  It’s about becoming a friend to yourself, instead of the critic that we all grow up with.  You know, that self-talk which typically admonishes and scolds, instead of helping and caring.  It takes work to change that gig around, to come to the rescue of your self in a moment of hurt or anger.   Most of us go right for the throat of our selves:  “If you made this choice instead, you wouldn’t be in this mess,”  “You deserve this because (fill in the blank).”  “Why can’t you figure this out?”

But – what happens when we approach our self from the side, with an arm around our soul and a voice soft with support?   “Hey girl, if you lose your way, just know that I got you.”

Magic happens.

Suddenly, we become our own best advocate.  Think about how we will pretty much drop whatever we are doing and go help a sister.   Now consider how that same energy can be channeled into self-compassion as we learn to drop everything else and go help ourselves. There’s a peace that is acquired.  More than that, there is a kind of neutrality that can empower a person.   If I know I can comfort myself for my deepest, darkest wounds, then no matter who comes at me or what stands in my way, I will muster through because I know that I ‘got myself’.   I know that I can come to my own rescue.  I know that even if I am experiencing the worst imaginable pain, I can be my own source of solace.

Yes, it is hard.  Damn this life is difficult.   But there is a way to manage, and it begins with self-compassion.  Try it out, at least once….”If you lose your way, Just know that I got you.”





Losing a child is an unfathomable event, but these things I promise you:

You will feel like your body has failed you.  It hasn’t.  And someday it will prove this to you.

You will feel as if the darkness inside has no end, and no matter how bright the sun, there will never be a light in your heart again.  But the darkness will eventually give way to light, time is your friend.

You will feel that you will never be able to manage a genuine smile again.  A day will come, though, when that smile crosses your face and you realize you have survived somehow.

You will feel like no one can understand your pain.  You will be right, but there are those who would at least help carry it for a minute.  There are those who will at least validate your heartbreak.

You will feel robbed, indeed you have been.  Yet, there are gifts that arrive with the pain – deeper understanding, greater appreciation of joy, the ability to live in the moment.

You will be tempted towards bitterness, it can’t be helped.  The human spirit however, is strong and resilient, you will be able to find peace instead.

You will be angry.  It’s okay.  There is nothing fair or right or just about this, anger is justified.

You will die inside from grief, but I promise you will live again one day for happiness.



Twenty-First Century Treatise: Applying the Laws of Nature to Human Civilization: Installment No. 2, Personal Balance

In the First Installment of the work “Twenty-First Century Treatise” we examined the idea that our current way of living has allowed us to become distant from Nature and we’ve forgotten some of Nature’s Laws in the process.   We discussed the notion that no matter how complex our civilizations and societies become, we are still bound to the Laws of Nature in the same way the stars, the weather, and our fellow four-legged animals are bound to them and even our social constructs must conform to those Laws.   Two of the most important Laws to which we are subject are those of Dichotomies and Balance.  Nature is ubiquitous with various forms of light and dark, positive and negative, male and female.  Nature is also constantly striving for balance among the multitudes of those opposites.  Our personal lives are no different, we struggle for balance in this area as well, just check out the self-help section of any local bookstore.

Personal Balance

Beginning with our physical being, our selves demand balance.   Consider that our bodies work diligently to keep our temperature at a toasty 98.6 degrees.  If we do not keep a balanced sleep to wake ratio our brains do not function right, we are irritable and prone to make poor decisions, even to the point of putting ourselves or others in life threatening situations. Our bodies work best on a balanced diet and any weightlifter knows the importance of getting in their ‘leg days’ in order to keep a physical symmetry.

While our bodies automatically balance themselves, because we have a conscience, we also seek balance between our body and mind, our work and home, and within our relationships.  In this day and age however, it takes almost no effort to become imbalanced in our personal lives.

There is an interesting issue hidden within the idea of mind/body balance that’s important to understand, and its the reason we become imbalanced so easily.  This particular kind of balance wasn’t really a big deal until our societies became so complex that we work mostly indoors.  Remember, until just  two or three hundred years ago, we were living much more intimately with Nature, our work schedules followed the cycles of Nature as we worked mostly in the summer and during the long daylight hours.   We also engaged in a much more physical lifestyle:  we had to labor over the soil to provide our food and we walked or rode to our destinations. (Interestingly, and I would submit in natural reaction to our less physically demanding work, we’ve created an entire industry of exercise equipment and gyms in an effort to give our bodies the workout they miss with our new sedentary way of life.)  Our brains and minds developed in concert with our bodies over millions of years of intimate, consistent interaction with Nature.  The mind and body balanced without effort.  Now however, our constructed way of life allows us to completely defy Nature’s cycles of night and day, summer and winter.  We keep to a rigid 8 to 5 schedule, every day, regardless of the season and the light.  We ignore our internal rhythm, wired by millions of years, and pull the ‘hoot owl’ or graveyard shifts (we aren’t  meant to be a nocturnal animal).   Scientists are finding out that workers who pull the ‘third shift’ have significantly more health problems including messed up metabolisms and increased risks of some cancers and heart problems.  Our disconnection with Nature and discordant lifestyle inherently leads to mind/body imbalance; I surmise that many of our health problems are manifestations of the stress related environment in which we currently find ourselves.

It’s an honest observation to make that just a couple hundred years isn’t long enough on Nature’s timeline for our physical bodies to adapt to our lightening speed civilizations.  Should we wonder why many of us in industrialized societies are prone to psychological, emotional, intellectual, and physical imbalance?  I believe it’s a fair assertion to claim that some (most?) of the psychological issues we deal with today – depression, A.D.H.D., bi-polar disorders, and addiction – are really symptoms of our struggle to cope with this new life without sufficient time for physical adaptation.  Children manifest this idea fully – in just a few short years we have wrangled them into cookie cutter classrooms without allowing, or at least acknowledging, that doing so completely violates the way our brains have developed:  that is to be free to be curious and ask questions, to learn by doing and experiencing rather than repetition and performance.  I am of the opinion that most children we deem problematic aren’t really so, they are merely struggling to adapt to an environment that runs contradictory to their Natural wiring and their brains have not yet figured it out.  They are out of balance with the world they are born into and that imbalance demonstrates itself in behavioral problems.

I do understand that some of the psychological illnesses we suffer from are the result of chemical imbalances in our brains.  Science has been brilliant at illuminating how the brain/mind works.  There is strong evidence however that many of our psychological problems are not naturally inherent or physiological issues, rather they are the result of living in our advanced civilizations.  For instance, high stress levels interfere with the serotonin levels in our brains and can cause depression.

It is important to acknowledge at some point that this shiny new way of living we have evokes some real, negative consequences.  It gives us room to be nicer to each other for one; we are all, at some level, struggling as physical, natural beings that live in artificial, unnatural environments.  Awareness also allows us the opportunity to find ways that might help us to cope and adapt, such as making an effort be outside and re-connect with Nature, even for a moment.

While we try to maintain a body/mind balance in life, there are times when a life event happens, or we choose to engage in a project and our mental/emotional state becomes out of balance as a result.  It’s okay.

When such circumstances arise, it important to understand that we are at the mercy of whatever challenge faces us.  Losing a loved one forces us to focus on the psychological component of our being as we wrestle with grief and its inherent wild ride.  – we can’t expect to engage our mental resources when we are trying to cope with the emotional swings of grief.   If I am in the throes of my last three semesters of a nursing program, chances are that I’m not going to have the wherewithal to delve deep into spiritual matters.  If I am a mother and have three children under the age of five, I’m probably not going to be doing a lot of reading (except of the Dr. Seuss variety).  We are not built to multi-task on this level. This is a vital concept.  Too often we berate ourselves or feel inept because we can’t do everything, all at once, but our beings only have the capacity to cope with only on one thing at a time.  We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over our inability to do something we aren’t equipped to do.

On the other hand, sometimes we can focus too much on one component of our minds to the detriment of the others.  One can spend too much time delving into spiritual matters to the detriment of intellectual or psychological growth, for example. Conversely, we can’t ignore our spirituality either.  It is imperative to take time to nurture the soul with introspection and evaluating one’s place and role in the scheme of things.

While we wrestle with mind/body balance and emotional balance, we also must work to strike a moral balance within our personal lives.   The moral dichotomy engages the elements of good and bad within us.  No matter what our choice might be for a moral guide (religious text, doing right for right’s sake and keeping a clean conscious) most of us strive for the light to overcome the dark although it’s hard to believe in this modern age of ours when headlines are fraught with the horrible ways we manage to treat each other.  Yet – if we look around us, at our families, our neighbors, our cohorts and colleagues, its seems we find that most of us really do come out on the side of right more often than not.  In other words, we humans tend to strike a positive moral balance on the whole.   There’s one more clue to this idea that merits some attention:  In all our writings and movies and tales and plays, we always manage to make good overcome evil.  We don’t know how to write the story any other way.   This alone gives me great confidence in our ability to maintain a healthy moral balance.    Would that we could own this trait with more surety.

I am thankful to be living in our modern times.   Modern medicine alone is worth the price of admission – we’re able to print 3D thyroids for mice!  I for one am personally grateful for the invention of smart phones.   But within this melee of technology and high speed living, we throw our very beings into a kind of shock wherein we must adapt quickly to new change.  Nature doesn’t work on our timeline however, and we suffer from the inability to adjust to our changing way of life.   Awareness, as usual, is ninety percent of overcoming any challenge, or at least learning to cope with it.   In this case our examination of the effects of a swift changing society gives us some clues as to how we can achieve a better balance in our lives.  It seems that regular doses of the combination of exercise and outdoor time is a key component in keeping our personal lives balanced.   Exercise helps to replace the not-long-ago vigorous workouts our bodies received the past several thousand years (It also goes a long way towards reducing stress levels).  Being outdoors to breathe some fresh air, be aware for a moment of our surroundings to notice a bird or cat or fellow human goes a long ways to re-establish our connection with Nature and the primal element lurking just below the surface in us all.

And while life events force us into imbalanced emotional lives, we can now be aware to give ourselves some grace since we know we simply cannot multi-task on that level. We achieve a good moral balance by choosing what’s right and positive, and most of us do well at this most of the time.   We should have more confidence in ourselves and each other considering we consistently come out on the side of what’s good.

We are physical beings, first and foremost.   A product of years of fine- and not-so-fine tuning and a blip among the millions of creatures on the tree of life.    We are, and will always be, bound to Nature’s Law of Balance just like every other bit of matter that resides within this universe.   Since we have become a conscious, aware animal, we must also  wrestle with the dynamics of  psychological, emotional, and mind/body balance.

May we do so with awareness, and grace.




Look for Installment 3 of Treatise for the 21st Century on March 1, 2016 to examine how Nature’s Law of Balance affects social movements and politics.

Pieces…. Of a Shattered Life

Ever marvel at how we can muster the strength to put ourselves back together after our life is shattered?

Maybe it was a death.   A cherished soul mate.  Or a child met only briefly.

Maybe it was a relationship.  A divorce.  A best-friend-forever moving.  A child that walked away.

Whatever the cause, putting a shattered life back together is an immense challenge.

It is work.  Exhausting, depleting work.

There we are.  Standing in the middle of an infinite room with a thousand thousand pieces lying about us.

Shards that sparkle and rudely pierce our darkest grief.

A task.  A chore so vast that some shrivel away.

A task. So profound that only the strength of shear survival compels us to rebuild.

We do it.  Piece by piece we manage to find a way to do it.

We start, one by one of course.  And  deep down we know that what we are building is new and different.losing a

We know it will not be the same.

It is impossible.

Some of the pieces from that shattered life are now missing, we realize.

Some of them will never fit the same together.  Ever again.

Maybe.  Just maybe, some of them we choose to leave alone.

Maybe.  Just maybe, we pick up a new piece instead.

One by one, slowly and painfully the pieces are fit together until one day we become aware that we’ve built a new life.

Shiny, scary new in some places.   Worn and comfortable in others.

And here or there a hole.  A scar.  A reminder of the thousand thousand pieces that once were.

But  – a life rebuilt at last.

A testament to our tenacity.   A banner of pure commitment  to live.  An example to each other.

short story of the week – er, bi-montly?

Livy’s Hell