A Rough Road through Grief

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This summer, we decided to visit Mississagi Lighthouse on the furthest tip of Western Manitoulin. We looked at pictures of beautiful views of the property and the third floor platform. We read detailed descriptions of the resident building housing the set of steps leading to the visitor’s powerful telescope. In past years, the purpose of this lighthouse was to direct boats away from rocky terrain and rugged shoreline. We could understand the need for such a structure after viewing the shore.

What took us by surprise were the many miles of washboard road leading to the lighthouse. When we realized the scattered gravel was laid over stone, the rough ride was understandable. Did we turn around? No, we didn’t even consider it. Why? Because we wanted to see the lighthouse that had protected ships from dangerous water and built trust betweenship captains and the revolving beacon of safety and life.

Unpredictable emotions of grief can feel like a ride over a washboard road. Noise strips peace and tranquility. Vibrations mentally shake off self-confidence.  Jarring motions separate stability from intentional purpose.

Grief can do all that and more. This is often the way we feel when grieving — life becomes unpredictable as we experience vibration and jarring of what may have been a satisfying life. And yet we continue to walk the path. Because we know that we go through it, to get through it.

Furthermore because grief smacks us in our tear ducts when we least expect it, calls out our sobs at the most inappropriate moment, and robs us of all opportunity to say and do what we would in ordinary time. For in grief, we do not answer to normal anymore but to the new-normal before us that draws us step by step into an unknown journey.

In our desire to reach the peace and tranquility of the old lighthouse, we had to drive the washboard road from the highway. Going out seemed to be easier — we knew what to expect.

Did some thoughts come to you during this time? Take a few moments and write about a few of the bumpy roads you travelled in the grief.

 

 

 

 

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Grief Walks In Our Midst

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Grief has many faces, takes numerous shapes and speaks in a variety of voices. Grief can be welcome, yet it can rob one of sleep. Grief can saturate your mind, or set you free. Grief can paralyze, or bring personal growth.

“And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief.” (C.S. Lewis). Grief is hard work. It can tire a person totally. If all one wants to do is sleep, it could be because he or she has worked so hard during their waking hours that they’re brain-dead, muscle-weary and silence-stricken. And if you look around, probably a good percentage of these people are bending their mind trying to gain some kind of understanding, seeking, searching, looking up and down, inside and round about, looking for peace of mind.

I can cause myself grief thinking about areas of life I can do nothing about. I think about orphans in war torn countries. Scenes flash through my mind of tragedies where children are left without family and put in the hands of strangers. I consider those caught in fires, tornadoes and earth quakes.

At a local author’s day, I recently had opportunity to listen to people’s stories. Wonderful redeeming situations that have lifted them from despair. Telling painful memories allows them to stretch beyond the facts. It’s helpful if we can share someone’s burden. We don’t have to solve it. We don’t have to offer options. It doesn’t cost us money.  Just knowing that grief walks in our midst gives us opportunity to share another’s burden. In doing that, we often find we’ve lifted our own . . . just a little.

 

After you’ve read these few paragraphs, perhaps some thoughts come to mind to jot down in your journal. Writing them today, leaving them for a while, and then returning to them often encourages one to add a few more lines.

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Mixing Joy and Grief

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When thinking that one definition of grief is ‘nowhere to place one’s love’, then I think today’s blog title fits. Mixing grief in what was, while acknowledging joy with what is — offers a common familiarity for many of us.

Recently I decided to organize my pictures. As I went through photographs from baby books to Sunday school picnics to sport’s schedule, in the midst of what seemed like ton’s of family photos, I became aware of seasons of life experiences.

It was enjoyable holding these pictures, thinking about the settings, and looking at everyone’s expressions. When I saw people playing musical instruments, I could hear a song in my head. When I looked at ball fields and hockey rinks, I could hear the excitement of the fans in my memory, cheering the team on. While admiring yearly school pictures of our four children, names of favourite teachers also came to mind. Even looking at pictures of our deceased child  (1972) brought happy memories of the fun we shared together as a family for a short time.

So there’s nothing in any of these pictures that would give me new grief, for in each picture I found excitement for life, anticipation in the situation and a sense of all is well. What stirred my tears and quickened my heartbeat was to look into the eyes of my five children, so innocent, dependant and filled with anticipation for life.

As a parent, I always wonder, self examine my parenting skills and think when I’m going through pictures. We began our family young in the late 50s without much money to spare. It was a blessing to realize the trust our children placed in us. We openly responded with unconditional love. With two sets of grandparents, three great grandparents, and lots of cousins, aunts and uncles for the children, love was abundant.

When I look into their eyes as babies, children, teenagers and adults – through the lens of family life, school pictures, music, church and sports, it seems life spun quickly through the years. So for me, the grief is only stirred in my pictures when I recognize the yearning to hold those babies again, while checking parental skills and recognizing that was a season . . . and this is a new one.

Take a few moments to think what was and what is now, what is ongoing in different ways, and what is gone forever, and then seek to find your peace within it.

Happy to Have Had, Even if There is no More.

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What does this quote mean to you? Does it create feelings of gratefulness in your memory? What kinds of articles and items come to mind when we think of downsizing?  We could spend time brooding about the items we’ve cherished and for one reason or another, we have to say goodbye, or we could reflect on their meaning. Think for a moment about a child’s blanket — a cherished comfort in the darkness of night, or in times of distress. As the child grows, he or she finds a different sense of security in a doll or a truck hidden under the pillow. When change happens, it might seem like jumping off a cliff without a rope. There is definitely an awareness of those precious moments when life was familiar as breathing — and now gone.

When our children were growing up, we had a ‘boot-hill’. There was always a part of our property that was spread over a hill.  I remember one particular cat of which the entire family was fond. There was a lot of crying and moaning during the time when this kitty released life. And then there was the pillow on which she rested. And then there was the trek across the back lawn and up the hill. To dig the hole was one child’s task, to put kitty into it on her pillow was another one. And to make a cross with two sticks was created by another child.

Saying goodbye was ‘so hard’. It seemed we’d been doing that for a week, but now it was different. There was no turning back. It was over. And we needed to stay there in our grief until we were ready to look at the beginning of the above quote.

When the time is right, we can think, “How lucky or fortunate or happy or blessed I am to have had that ‘something’ that makes saying goodbye so hard.” And now the children had another memory to add to the six years of the cat’s life. They had the time to remember, name and say, “Happy to have had, even if there is no more.”

List a few happy times in this latest period of grief. Also note the relief you experience.

When Sorrow Walked With Me

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On April 6, 2018 the Humboldt Broncos tragedy changed Canada. That seems like a broad statement, but it’s true. In fact, people from around the globe send their commitment to the fundraising project – one effort by one woman provided a response. Parents, brothers, sisters, extended family, neighbours, friends and strangers connected. Even people who didn’t know those who lost their life or those who were injured, wanted to reach out. Social media proved to be a great way to connect, to show love and compassion. Why was all of this important? Was it to help? Perhaps to share their pain? Maybe to enter into the sorrow with the families? As the quote suggests, through sorrow and sharing it with others, we learn. We learn about love, trust and sharing in new ways of living with grief. We learn that being vulnerable allows others to come into our pain . . . and that is healing, even in small ways.

I, for one, could not watch a news broadcast without tearing. As a hockey famly, we were eager to put a hockey stick on our front porch to pay tribute, to remember and to remind others. There’s something else in the picture of the hockey stick beside our front door and that is the clear circle that a crock made on the floor. When I look at this image I see what was and what had been through the winter – a dusty, messy porch floor. When I moved the crock to make room to take the picture, I saw the clean circle, and choose not to sweep,  clean or erase before taking the picture. What do you take from the image? Is there a before and after for you? There usually is in most life tragedies. Life can be messy . . . and grief can be painful  . . . and emotional pain can be hard to live with.

And so we connect in whatever way is helpful to share our pain, to take us through an agonizing time. Maybe we can help others and ourselves to make it a little easier. Perhaps we draw on our faith or understanding to strength us until we find the words.

Jot down some notes in your grief journal. Write whatever comes into your mind. Try not to edit or fix. Leave it for a while and when you come back to it, it may be just the answer to give you peace. 

 

 

How to level out the hills and valleys of grief

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You’ve read the phrase ‘Grieving is a process. Grieving is not an event’, in previous posts. It often helps to apply these phrases to life events. Major decisions, regardless of age or status can cause grief. They can generate changes in one’s life that have a domino effect – something changes which causes another change and so on. It can continue until it feels like being on a roller coaster.

Age can often bring this to happen in people’s life. Perhaps sickness, and then a change of residence, which might bring another change of location where more assistance is available. Sometimes this is almost too much to accept. Added to this is the automatic response of continuous downsizing, which again cause a huge grief response.

It is helpful to recognize and define what’s going on in your life. Grief comes naturally when we give ourselves permission. It is not always easy to define what is happening, we only know we feel caught in a constant downward shift of loss. It helps if we can trust ourselves to walk in this new state into which we are thrust. Consider our friends and acquaintances and decide which are in a position to help. Draw on family resources when appropriate. Read devotional material that brings you onto holy ground. You can probably add more resources as you journal through this difficult time.

Take a few moments and write some of your thoughts in your favourite place, so you can come and add to them at another time.

 

 

When Grief Hits home

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Dear readers: Thank you for your comments. I read each one and appreciate you taking the time to put your thoughts together.

As one who has been involved in grief since our two-year-old daughter died in the early 70s, I have been interested in different definitions. Clearly looking for one that fit for my experience. Some have not been helpful. Some have set me back, while others have made sense and have been the greatest assistance toward understanding and healing.

The one that I teach at grief seminars is “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.” This one definitely made sense to me over the years. Realizing that grief is neither a pathological order or a personality problem is also helpful. While reading mega websites on grief, this definition is so familiar, and just feels right: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior” (Grief Recovery Method). Check out their website – a tried and true grief resource.

Think on this and put pen to paper to jot down your feelings. It may be difficult to give grief any credit. You might ask how I can be thankful for the sorrow and sadness I feel? How can I ever acknowledge that the gifts of grief are to be appreciated? And is there such a feeling as ‘letting self down into grief’? There is! And one can grow in faith, knowledge and relationship. It is definately a learning curve, as well as an emotional rollorcoaster.

 

Accumulative Grief Weights Heavy

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Grief is itself a medicine.  ~William Cowper, Charity.

No, grief is not an illness, but it can become a condition. It is not an illness that you can take a pill, but it is a medicine that is healing. A medicine for the heart and soul and yes, even the physical body. The heart we know, and even the physical we are well acquainted. But what about the soul as we consider the will, intellect and emotion. You’ve heard people say, “God rest his soul”. What a gift in the form of grief as we live day-to-day.

You have most likely come to this site because you have a broken heart, or you know someone who is grieving. This is probably the result of the death of a significant person, or an identified loss of another nature in life. We can develop skills that correspond with or reflect emotion, attitude and feelings in a healthy way. This is heart language too. All too easy logic, the language of the mind, will attempt to rule. However, it is important to understand the process as well.

Grief we are experiencing at this time can be increased and intensified by unresolved grief from the past. Christmas can often trigger this as we see the empty chair at the table or experience another crisis. Sometimes we think we are dealing only with the most immediate grief when in fact these feelings are reminding us of people and situations where grief still lies unresolved. It is not always easy to identify accumulative grief – sometimes the image of grapes help. Grief can give you a heavy heart which makes the dull and dreary days of winter seem worse. Some people find February in the northern hemisphere trigger their depression because of lack of sun, grief can become severe.

Begin or continue to work on your grieving process – it may also free up depression, migraines, and stress related conditions. Pray, eat well and delight in your relationships.

Journal your thoughts – you might make important discoveries about your health. 

 

My thoughts for today,

The Rev. Dr. D.

The Positive Side of Return

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Yesterday my friend said, “I could never go back to our old home. It would just hurt so much. I didn’t want to move.” This is probably the absolute truth for her. While for another person, the trip back to previous properties might be the healing balm. For some, it hurts so much to go back. Maybe it’s because down deep we wish we were still there, that life had not moved on and the predictable upcoming season would not unfold. Perhaps the newly generated pain reinforces the always present love. For some, it is only possible to return in the good memories. And for them, it is the right thing to do. However one does it, it takes courage to return.

My friend, Sheila says, “I had no idea how painful it would be to go through the LTC memorial service tonight. Some parts were meaningful and others not so, but to be in a place where I had been with Carl so often, feeling his absence, was so so hard. A man from his dining room table sat beside me, not remembering me and likely not Carl either, but comforting and a little less alone to have him there. I left a carnation for Carl and brought one home “from him”. Cried a lot. Just part of the journey I guess, but a hard part.”

Thank you Sheila Ball for your Facebook post. When grief is still very fresh, it obviously gives strength to return to a place that opens the pain again, trusting that it’s all part of the healing process. Thus in this opening, grief provides healing and a nudge to go forward in life, walking on a new path, making new footprints.

Take a few moments and jot down some places in your memory or to a location to which you have returned. How was that for you? Perhaps healing just to be able to do it. Perhaps healing to be able to say no and know the reasons why.

 

Grieving a Pet’s Death

Grieving a pet’s death has many similarities to grieving a beloved person. We planned a trip across Canada knowing if we took our 23-year-old-cat, she might not make it back home due to aging issues. We had four choices: cancel our 60th wedding anniversary trip, leave Stormy with a relative, friend or in a kennel, put her to rest before we left, or take her with us. Knowing the last choice would change our activity somewhat, we chose to create a space in the back of our van for her litter box, water, kibble and of course her favourite food, ‘Temptation Treats’. Not to forget her favourite space on my husband’s lap.

I suppose you could call this a driving distraction, but it was comforting for both her and for him.

Since we had anticipated Stormy’s death over the last year, anticipatory Grief during the trip was present, especially in the last couple of weeks as we saw her getting weaker. No, it didn’t spoil our trip. A surprise blessing in the 8000 miles of driving, (sometimes 4 or 5 hours a day), was the special time to hold and care for her. She was happy to stay in the travel trailer and sleep as we stopped to visit with friends and relatives along the way. Her health became a daily conversation as people asked for her and visited her in the trailer or on a lawn. As it took five days to travel through northern B.C. (times two – there and back), I am thankful she slept most of the way through those mountains. I cannot imagine having to think about her death on a mountaintop, as beautiful as they were.

Stormy had a good death – loved and held through . . . to . . and during the end of her life. When she got busy in the dying process, it only took her a day and a half. We buried her in a friend’s garden where chipmunks, neighbour’s cats and a variety of birds, including morning (mourning) doves played.

Two water fountains and a statue of St. Francis frame this special area.

Will it be difficult to leave her here? Yes and no. Over the years, I’ve seen many family members travel from around the world to a loved one’s funeral and cemetery service, and then leave to go home – maybe never to return, yet knowing that all is well. So it is with us.

My grandnephew said, “I’m glad Stormy got to see the Yukon, touch the grass and breathe the air.” A friend said, “You were able to spent more intimate time with Stormy on the trip, while confined to the car through travelling, than you might have been able to take at home.” My niece said, “What an honour – how wonderful to die loved.” One of our adult children said, “I’m just happy Stormy is with you guys, and you are all in a place of peace.”

Isn’t that what grief is all about? Going through the experience the best way you can to eventually end up ‘in a place of peace.”

By the way, Stormy is one of the animals staged in my ‘Come to the Farm” series of children’s stories. Two of them star her in Stormy the Watch-Cat and Stormy’s Mouse. She makes an appearance in Where will Jenny build her Nest? and How will Hetty Hide Her Eggs? plus a few other stories. Stormy will live on in our hearts and our memories as well as through children’s experience as they learn about her life through story.

 Jot down a few thoughts if you are grieving your pet’s death.