Giving Yourself Permission To Grieve

Giving Yourself Permission To Grieve

We all experience grief in many forms. The loss of a job, relationship, house, loved one, pet, and even the loss of our youth. If we pause for a moment and reflect on the losses in our life, we may discover that they happen almost daily. My earliest memory of loss was when the family dog passed away. She died rather unexpectedly. Reflecting back, I recall the sound of my brother wailing in the hallway. That was the first time I was aware of the sound of grief. My brother was expressing the inner ache that he felt.

The first time i felt grief inside my body was at the age of thirteen. It felt as though my stomach had swallowed my heart in one gigantic gulp. This natural feeling of grief was triggered by the loss of my grandpa. He was an honorable man and I intuitively knew, as most of us do, that life would never be the same. When a loss occurs in our life, it’s often abrupt. It is almost impossible to imagine what life will be like without something until it is gone. That is the difficulty of loss, it can’t be processed with the mind alone; it demands to be felt with the heart.

With all of these great losses occurring almost daily, how do we stay a float? Grief isn’t exactly trendy. However it is natural and necessary. I have attended many grief groups and I believe there are two common themes

      1. We all grieve. It is one of the most common experiences that connect us as humans.
      2. Each of us grieve in our own unique way. Giving ourselves permission to grieve is one of the biggest gifts we can offer ourselves.

As we navigate through the losses of life, it is important to remember we are not alone. Where there is life, there is loss. Letting grief move through us unchoreographed is key.

Here are some tips I recommend when grief arises:

    • Feel your grief. This may manifest through tears, screaming into a pillow, or silence.
    • Attend a local grief support group. Healing happens in these rooms, I am living proof.
    • Talk about your grief with someone you love and trust. There is powerful release when we share our feelings out loud.
    • Take care of yourself. You may not feel like resuming the activities you did before the loss and that is perfectly okay. Take time to listen to your body, it will guide you through the process.
    • Dedicate time everyday to be present with your grief. This could be sitting down for 30 minutes to cry, journal, and feel whatever needs to be released for that day.
    • Don’t rush your healing. Grief has no timeline and it is important to honor the inner healing process.
    • And most importantly, remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a highly individual process and it looks different for everyone.

These words were once told to me and I would like to pass them on to you:

“Life will never be the same after a loss, but it can be good again.”

Grief is a journey, it demands a lot of us, and it comes in waves. Ride the waves. In the presence of grief, the astonishing capacity of one’s love is uncovered.

We Are Timeless; A Woman’s Voice Carries On After Her Death

We Are Timeless; A Woman’s Voice Carries On After Her Death

“As we look deeply within, we understand our perfect balance. There is no fear of the cycle of birth, life, and death. For when you stand in the present moment, you are timeless.” –Rodney Yee

Life can be incredibly brief, yet our essence eternal. This concept is unique. Eight years ago I decided to grab life by the horns and live from three core beliefs, to live a life of purpose, love, and abundance. It’s a daily practice and I don’t always get it perfect, but it’s become my way of life. Over the past year, an acquaintance’s facebook posts caught my attention. On the days I felt less-inspired, I turned to her wisdom-infused and radically honest posts. They always lifted me. Leslie Allison was her name, one that will never be forgotten. We met at a festival last summer and both called Houston our home.

Leslie lived life whole-heatedly, her positive attitude was infectious and she saw the good dwelling in everything. She often posted about looking within and living life to the fullest.

Prior to Leslie’s death, she utilized Hootsuite (a social media scheduler) with several facebook posts scheduled in advance. Though no longer in her body, her voice carries on. It gives me chills to visit her page and see that her affirmations are still rolling out while so many of her loved ones and friends are hurting. It’s as if she is catching everyone in these little moments, in hopes to convey that her presence is timeless.

Here’s are some of her posts:

 

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Thank you, Leslie. What a legacy, what a life!

Grief Expressed Out Loud

Grief Expressed Out Loud

The writer, Martin Prechtel, has a wonderful quote about grief:

“Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”

When I think of grief, the image of an arrow piercing through the center of a heart comes to mind. The arrow instantly numbs everything, sending the heart into a state of shock. The reaction may be to pull the arrow out immediately, but it doesn’t budge. The arrow stays in for a period of time and everyone notices. People comment about it and offer condolences to help ease the pain. The heart remains paralyzed.

After some time, the initial shock wears off and the heart begins to soften again. As the heart softens, the arrow loosens. Soon enough, the arrow pulls free from the chest.  Once the arrow is removed, the person has the opportunity to catch their breath, something they haven’t done in weeks, or even months.

No more arrow, no more visible pain. What’s left is a big gaping hole.

This is when the grief work begins.

I recently read a facebook post written by a friend who lost her 10 year old daughter after a long battle with Cystic Fibrosis.  She wrote openly about her feelings and concerns when it comes to talking to others about her daughter. She stated that she doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Most importantly, she wants to convey the large impact her beautiful daughter had on her life.

It is wonderful that my friend was able to express her feelings and grief out loud. This can make a huge impact on people’s lives. The world is hungry for more parents who are willing to speak openly about the loss of a child, including the raw and uncomfortable parts.  She is not alone in her pain. There are many people walking around with gaping holes in their chest. Their grief has not found its voice yet.

One of the biggest and most important legacies that our loved ones leave behind is the grief we feel in our hearts. Grief is praise. We must honor these loved ones by allowing our grief to be expressed out loud. Through this process, a person can find tremendous healing. The gaping hole can be filled again.

We will all grieve and it is imperative that we allow it to be expressed in its many forms. This expression is powerful and creates a ripple effect onto individuals at all stages of their grief.

I once had an arrow pierced through the center of my heart. I also had a gaping hole. Today I unapologetically express my grief and praise for my beautiful loved ones who have gone before me.

To Anyone Grieving This Holiday Season…

To Anyone Grieving This Holiday Season…

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To anyone grieving this Holiday Season:

This December marks seven years since my dear friend and lover passed away. Nothing about that winter felt merry, and I certainly didn’t feel in the “holiday spirit.” My heart was breaking while the rest of the world carried on singing carols and exchanging gifts, putting on their best holiday game face. That whole season was a blur. The mentor at the local grief group suggested “this Christmas will be different and the most important thing is to let it be.” She guided us to do what felt right for each of us in the group. Some felt up for participating in their traditional holiday rounds, while others ordered take-out and stayed in. I’ve learned that both are completely okay.

That year I participated in the family Christmas shindig in a zombie-like state, simply going through the motions. It was simply too much, too soon.

I want to offer anyone who may be grieving the loss of a loved one, the opportunity to take the holiday’s off – if that is what feels right. People around you may not understand, but I support you 100% in your decision. There is simply no right or wrong way to get through this time of year. The most important thing is that you attend to your own needs and emotions first. Instead of gifts, I suggest wrapping yourself in love and compassion.

Truth is, there’s no quick-fix to getting through the season pain-free, but freeing yourself from the season’s hustle and bustle may bring you tremendous peace.

On Christmas Eve I will be at the movies, sipping a glass of wine and snacking on extra buttery popcorn. It may seem unconventional to some, but that’s my Christmas Eve plan. It’s taken me 7 years fast forwarded to embrace that I can spend Christmas however I want.

Christmas isn’t the glowing string of lights or baking the cookies “just right.” It’s a feeling of the heart, a sense of magic and connectedness. Grief may turn our whole world upside down, but it also brings moments of grace. In-between the painstaking ache and the joyous memory of a loved one’s smile, lives an indescribable amount of love that can only be felt with the heart. Love is the most beautiful thing we humans have to offer. If you are grieving, this means you have loved someone until their last breath, and that my friend is the biggest gift you could give all lifetime.

You are the gift, the Christmas miracle.

Transforming Grief

Transforming Grief

In three months, eighty beautiful souls will gather together with a common intention, to heal. I created this retreat style workshop for those who wish to come into a more intimate and safe space with their grief. My hope is that we will dive into the sea of grief, finding that together we make one awesome school of fish.

I am excited. It feels like I have been waiting my whole life to attend a workshop like this. It is a safe place to let go, and allow our grief to transform us. We will dance, sing, meditate, make art, and listen to the healing wisdom of inspiring teachers. Sounds amazing right?

Grief has revealed some of the most profound teachings to me. Above all, grief allows me to feel and that is a very beautiful human quality. Grief reminds me how BIG I love.

At age 19, all of my friends were well into their sophomore year of college and I opted for a rather different path. I fell in love with a woman, who also happened to have stage four lung cancer. When confronted about her cancer, I replied in my fearless and oh-so-19-year-old defiant attitude, “you don’t choose who you fall in love with”. I still stand behind that. The reality is everyone we love will die one day. I just happened to love someone who was actively dying.

Instead of mid-terms, I was learning every oncology term. It was a different kind of schooling, one that would transform my entire life. Loving someone who is that sick is a blessing. Especially when your loved one is a spunky red-head with a sharp-witted humor, I swear we spent more time laughing ourselves into tears. Cancer was happening, but we didn’t let it ruin our fun. We loved each other fiercely. Moments were precious, with no time to waste on the bullshit. Truth and transparency was our language.

On the day she died, my heart was ripped wide open. The ache was unbearable. I spent many, many nights crying in deep despair, begging for her to return. My bereavement counselor suggested very prematurely “when you heal, I think you may be great for this type of work”. What on earth was she saying? I was broken.

After years of many ups and down and the loss of a very dear friend, I admit I still have a lot of healing to do. But on the flip side, I have experienced the transformative power of grief and it has become one of my greatest teachers in this life. I wish for each of you to uncover and discover this beautiful gift. The key is to stay open & lean into your grief. You will uncover that there is so much love and warmth waiting to catch you.

Hope to see you all in June.

 

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Ten Steps to Grieving the Loss of a Parent

Originally Posted on Alexandrakennedy.com

“The death of a parent is a shattering experience, wounding us and flooding us with powerful forces. The boundaries of our world are torn away, and suddenly life seems bigger than we might have imagined, terrifyingly bigger. A parent’s death can shatter us, leaving lifetime scars, or it can shatter our limits sense of our selves, opening up our world into new dimensions. For the latter to happen we must be willing to take a journey through grief, following what may often seem like a long, dark passage that will, in its own time, open out into vast new worlds.”
From Losing a Parent by Alexandra Kennedy

Ten Steps to Grieving the Loss of a Parent

The death of a parent is a life-shaking event for which few are prepared. This experience can wound us deeply, leaving lifetime scars. Or it can, if grieved fully, initiate profound, unprecedented change and open our world into new perspectives and choices. The following steps to grieving the loss of a parent (whether recently or in the past) will tap this transformative potential.

  1. Acknowledge the importance and power of this event. The death of a parent shakes the very foundation of our lives. It is natural, though often uncomfortable, to feel raw and vulnerable, alone, out of control. Rather than resisting the powerful forces activated in grief, learn strategies for moving through it, stage by stage, day by day.
  2. Take time each day to honor your grief. Set up a sanctuary in your home or in nature, a protected place where you can open fully to your grief for ten to twenty minutes every day. Using the sanctuary, gradually you will find a rhythm of entering the grief for a period each day, then letting it go and attending to daily tasks.
  3. Address any unfinished business with your parent. It is very common for unresolved feelings toward your parent to surface after his or her death. The grieving period is an important time to heal these old wounds and begin to say good-bye.
  4. Participate in creating new family patterns. The family system is often thrown into chaos and upheaval after a parent’s death. Old patterns don’t work with the same predictable results. The family may thrash around for months, seeking a new balance with one another. This is a brief window of opportunity, when the family is opened up to change before a new system is established. You can either be thrown into this new system or consciously participate in creating new patterns that are healthy for you.
  5. Explore the direction and quality of your life. The death of a parent often initiates a period of painful questioning: Where am I going in my life? What do I really value? What are my beliefs? Does my life really matter? This questioning is a critical part of the grieving process. Out of it will come new perspectives, directions and choices.
  6. Don’t pressure yourself to “get back to normal”. Many expect that grief will be over in a few weeks or months. Grief has its own rhythm, nature and timing that resist our attempts to control it. For some, though certainly not all, there is a marked shift around the first anniversary of your parent’s death. However, as the years pass, the grief may well up from time to time. Each time it surfaces, see it as an opportunity for more healing.
  7. Learn to parent yourself. Give yourself nurturance, love, protection and encouragement. Clarify the expectations you had of your parent that he or she never could fulfill. In seeing the relationship for what it was rather than what you wanted it to be, you can grieve what your parent didn’t give you and begin to appreciate what he or she did give you.
  8. Let your friends know what you want and need from them. Offer them some suggestions of ways that they can help and support you– perhaps bringing you a meal, doing some errands, giving you a back rub, taking a walk with you, checking in on you regularly. Assert that your need to withdraw. Let him or her know about anything that he or she is doing that is not supportive. Encourage your friends to educate themselves about grief so that they will know what to expect. Remind them that grief takes a long time to heal.
  9. Each year acknowledge the anniversary of your parent’s death. Take time to reflect and do something special to commemorate that date. Be gentle with yourself, as this is a vulnerable time in which many may feel depressed or emotional.
  10. Celebrate the changes and new perspectives. These will begin to manifest in your life as you move out of the dark middle phase of grief. When you feel ready, act on new ideas, inspirations and insights.

Dying is Absolutely Safe

Dying is Absolutely Safe

Re-posted from Ramdass.org 
Originally Posted

There is a tombstone in Ashby, Massachusetts that reads, “Remember friend, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare yourself to follow me.”

Something has happened to me as a result of meandering through many realms of consciousness over the past fifty years that has changed my attitude toward death. A lot of the fear about death has gone from me. I am someone who actually delights in being with people as they are dying. It is such incredible grace for me. In the morning, if I know I am going to be with such a person, I get absolutely thrilled because I know I am going to have an opportunity to be in the presence of Truth.

It is now becoming acceptable in our culture for people to die. For many decades, death was kept behind closed doors. But now we are allowing it to come out into the open. Having grown up in this culture, the first few months I spent in India in the 1960’s were quite an experience. There, when someone dies, the body is placed on a pallet, wrapped in a sheet, and carried through the streets to the burning grounds while a mantra is chanted. Death is out in the open for everyone to see. The body is right there. It isn’t in a box. It isn’t hidden. And because India is a culture of extended families, most people are dying at home. So most people, as they grow up, have been in the presence of someone dying. They haven’t walked away from it and hidden from it as we have in the West.

I was certainly one of the people in this culture who hid from death. But over the past few decades I have changed dramatically. The initial change came as a result of my experiences with psychedelic chemicals. I came into contact with a part of my being that I had not identified with in my adult life. I was a Western psychologist, a professor at Harvard, and a philosophical materialist. What I experienced through psycheldelics was extremely confusing, because there was nothing in my background that prepared me to deal with another component of my being. Once I started to experience myself as a “Being of Consciousness” – rather than as a psychologist, or as a conglomerate of social roles, the experience profoundly changed the nature of my life. It changed who I thought I was.

Prior to my first experience with psychedelics, I had identified with that which dies – the ego. The ego is who I think I am. Now, I identify much more with who I really am – the Soul. As long as you identify with that which dies, there is always fear of death. What our ego fears is the cessation of its own existence. Although I didn’t know what form it would take after death – I realized that the essence of my Being – and the essence of my awareness – is beyond death.

The interesting thing to me at the time was that my first experience with psychedelics was absolutely indescribable. I had no concepts to apply to what I was finding in my own being. Aldous Huxley gave me a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. As I read it, I was amazed to find myself reading lucid, clearly articulated descriptions of the very experiences I was having with psychedelics. It was immensely confusing to me because The Tibetan Book of the Dead is 2500 years old. I had thought, in 1961,that I was at the leading edge of of the unknown. But here was an ancient text which revealed that Tibetan Buddhists already knew – 2500 years ago – everything I had just learned.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead was used by Tibetan Buddhist lamas to read to fellow lamas as they were dying, and for forty-nine days after their death. Tim Leary, Ralph Metzner, and I began to see the Book in metaphorical terms as the story of psychological death and rebirth, even though it was originally intended as a guide through the process of physical death and rebirth. I now think that the idea of dying and being born into truth, or wisdom, or spirit is really what our business is when we talk about death. When you extricate yourself from the solid identification with your body, you begin to have the spaciousness to allow for the possibility that death is a part of the process of life – rather than the end of life. I feel this very deeply.

People ask, “Do you believe that there is continuity after death?” And I say, “I don’t believe it. It just is.” That offends my scientific friends no end. But belief is something you hold on to with your intellect. My faith in the continuity of life has gone way beyond the intellect. Belief is a problem because it is rooted in the mind, and in the process of death, the mind crumbles. Faith, consciousness, and awareness all exist beyond the thinking mind.

I have a friend named, Emmanuel. Some of you have met him through his books. He is a spook, a being of Light that has dropped his body. Emmanuel shares a lot of great wisdom. He is like an uncle to me. I once said to him, “Emmanuel, I often deal with the fear of death in this culture. What should I tell people about dying?”And Emmanuel said, “Tell them it’s absolutely SAFE!” He said, “It’s like taking off a tight shoe.”

In the past, what I endeavored to do in partnership with Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Dale Borglum, and Bodhi Be (Sufi friend of mine) is to create spaciousness around death. We had different programs like the Dying Hot Line on which people could call and have a kind of pillow talk with people who would help them stay conscious through the process of dying. We also – back in the early Eighties – had a Dying Center in New Mexico. My model was that I knew being with people who were dying would help me deal with my own fear of death in this lifetime.

In the Theravadan Buddhist traditions, they send monks out to spend the night in the cemetery, where the bodies are thrown out uncovered for the birds to eat. So the monks sit with the bloated, fly-infested corpses, and the skeletons, and they get an opportunity to be fully aware of all of the processes of nature. They have the opportunity to watch their own digust and loathing, and their fear. They have a chance to see the horrible Truth of what “as I am now so you must be” really means. Seeing the way the body decays, and meditating on the decay opens you to the awareness that there is a place in you that has nothing to do with the body – or the decay.

That combination led me, as early as 1963, to start to work with dying people and to be available to them. I am not a medical doctor. I’m not a nurse. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an ordained priest. But what I can offer to another human being is the presence of a sacred, spacious environment. And I can offer them love. In that loving spaciousness they have the opportunity to die as they need to die. I have no moral right to define how another person should die. Each individual has his or her own karma – their own stuff to work out. It is not my job to say, “You should die beautifully,” or “you should die this way or that way.” I have no idea how another person should die.

When my biological mother was dying back in a hospital in Boston back in 1966, I would watch all the people come into her room. All of the doctors and relatives would say, “You are looking better, you are doing well.” And then they would go out of the room and say, “She won’t last a week.” I thought how bizarre it was that a human being could be going through one of the most profound transitions in their life, and have everyone they know, and love, and trust lying to them.

Can you hear the pain of that? No one could be straight with my mother because everyone was too frightened. Even the rabbi. Everyone. She and I talked about it and she said, “What do you think death is?” And I said, “I don’t know, Mother. But I look at you and you are my friend, and it looks like you are in a building that is burning down, but you are still here. I suspect when the building burns entirely, it will be gone, but you will still be here.” So my mother and I just met in that space.

With Phyllis, my stepmother, I was more open, and she could ask whatever she wanted to ask. I didn’t say, “Now let me instruct you about dying,” because she would not have accepted that. But then came the moment when she gave up, and she surrendered, and it was like watching an egg breaking and seeing a radiantly beautiful being emerge, and she was clear, and present, and joyful. It was a Beingness that she always at some level had known herself to be. But she had been too busy all her adult life to recognize it. Now she opened to this beautiful Being in the core of who she was, and she just basked in its radiance.

At that moment, she went into another plane of consciousness, where she and I were completely together, just Being. The whole process of dying was just moments of phenomena that were occurring. But when she surrendered, she was no longer busy dying, she was just being . . . and dying was happening.

Right at the last moment, she said, “Richard, sit me up.” So I sat her up and put her legs over the edge of the bed. Her body was falling forward, so I put my hand on her chest and her body fell back. So I put my other hand on her back. Her head was lolling around, so I put my head against her head. We were just sitting there together. She took three breaths, three really deep breaths, and she left. Now, if you read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, you will see that the way conscious lamas leave their bodies is to sit up, take three deep breaths, and then leave.

So who was my step-mother? How did she know how to do that?

Ramana Maharshi was a great Indian saint. When he was dying of cancer, his devotees said, “Let’s treat it.” And Ramana Maharshi said, “No, it is time to drop this body.” His devotees started to cry. They begged him, “Bhagwan, don’t leave us, don’t leave us!” And he looked and them with confusion and said, “Don’t be silly. Where could I possibly go?” You know, it’s almost like he was saying, “Don’t make such a fuss. I’m just selling the old family car.”

These bodies we live in, and the ego that identifies with it, are just like the old family car. They are functional entities in which our Soul travels through our incarnation. But when they are used up, they die. The most graceful thing to do is to just allow them to die peacefully and naturally – to “let go lightly.” Through it all, who we are is Soul . . . and when the body and the ego are gone, the Soul will live on, because the Soul is eternal. Eventually, in some incarnation, when we’ve finished our work, our Soul can merge back into the One . . . back into God . . . back into the Infinite. In the meantime, our Soul is using bodies, egos, and personalities to work through the karma of each incarnation.

Befriending Death

Befriending Death

You may be thinking “Why would anyone want to be friends with death?” Which is a very reasonable, human thought to have. For most of us, making friends is easy. But how about making friends with the uncomfortable feelings and moments in life?

I re-read a beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hahn yesterday, it’s titled Please Call Me By My True Names. It is a beautiful poem about compassion. Thich Nhat Hahn states beautifully in this poem:

“Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.“

I absolutely love that piece of the poem because it reminds me that there is no separation between joy and pain. The only line that lies between the two is from our own drawing, our own human condition to isolate the two. So what would be like if we welcomed our joy and our pain together? My good friend and teacher Frank Ostaseski suggests “Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing”

When a baby is born, we are so eager to welcome life. It’s almost an automatic response to drop everything to welcome the birth. New life is constantly forming around us, in the the spring flower blossoming, a new sunrise, and the birth of a baby. For us humans, life is joy.

So what happens when we receive the opposite call that a loved one is dying? Do we drop everything to welcome death? Of course most of us don’t, often because we get paralyzed in our  fears and uncomfortable emotions around death. Just as birth continues its beautiful cycle every 4.4 seconds on average, a new death occurs every 1.8 seconds. Here is a little visual, illustrating the world births and deaths happening each second: Visualizing World Births & Deaths In Real Time.

The important question I ask is, if birth and death are happening simultaneously together then is the separation perhaps an illusion we have created? In the American culture we continually view birth as joy and death as pain. The reality is birth can include pain, just as death can possess joy. So how do we work with this?

My solution is a pretty simple one, and yes, it can be quite uncomfortable. Befriend death. Sit with your emotions that arise around death, welcome everything and push away nothing. Be with it all. If you practice this enough, you will begin to understand in the core of your being that joy and pain are one, just as life and death are one.

So what’s your motivation to do this? Well the most obvious, we will all be touched by death and we will all die. So why not begin to shift our cultural consciousness on death now? I’m not by any means glorifying death or ignoring the sadness associated with it, however I am it’s ambassador. My friend once called me an ambassador for joy, which I am now applying to death.

Death is the unknown, so it will inevitably be looked upon as scary. I am not here asking you to melt away all of your fears around it, that is an unreasonable request. But I am here to ask if you can befriend your fears and let them transform you. Because trust me, they will.