The Power of Unspoken Messages

How many of us stop to consider what it means to listen? Yet, at some time in our lives each of us will have experienced that universal sense of knowing we have been heard and understood.

I first experienced this knowing in childhood. My grandfather, fifty years my senior and survivor of WWII, was the person I trusted with my innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears. Like most people I didn't stop to question it, but I knew how it felt, to be heard and understood - I felt a connection with my grandfather like no other, and I felt safe.

Years later I became a nurse and entered a career that forced me to examine what it means to listen. Qualifying as a pediatric nurse and specializing in children's mental health, I learned about active listening versus non-active listening, about the importance of listening skills.

But it wasn't until I reflected on what listening actually does that I began to understand its power.

During supervision I said to a colleague that of all my training, one skill stands out from the rest - the skill of listening.

The simple act of 'just listening' contains more healing power than any other skill or therapy. My colleague nearly had apoplexy when she heard me say, 'just listening,' before helping me to understand what listening means.

Here is what she said: "Most people, who believe they are listening, are not listening but paying attention to their own internal thoughts, opinions, feelings, and beliefs. Only aware of their own internal world and waiting for a gap in the conversation for their chance to share their views. It is called non-active because it makes no demands of the listener to listen to anyone else's voice except their own. It is lazy listening."

In everyday conversation this type of non-active listening is irritating, but it doesn't matter. But when we are in the presence of someone who is hurting emotionally or psychologically wounded, this type of non-active listening causes harm because it ignores the emotional needs of someone who desperately needs to connect and talk.

Active listening is active because it requires the listener to do something - it requires the listener to suspend their internal world of thoughts, feelings and opinions while they 'attune' to someone else's internal world, becoming fully there for that person. This kind of active listening is the hallmark of an empathic response.

"I understand how it works," I said. "But what makes it so powerful?"

She said, "It may seem as if we are doing and saying nothing, but within active listening there are unspoken messages hidden within the silences. When we listen without responding from our own internal world, we give an unspoken message that we care enough to be present in the moment and connect with someone in pain. When we validate someone's feelings, underneath the spoken message is an unspoken message that says feelings are acceptable - this is how healing begins. When we stay with someone who is experiencing painful feelings, when we stay in silence, without trying to stop, distract or turn away, we give an unspoken message that says, 'I can bear your feelings, and I won't break.'"

When someone in pain can see that we can bear their pain and we do not break, they begin to feel the power of unspoken messages - the power that helps someone to begin to believe that they too can bear the unbearable, that they will not break, and that they can survive the unimaginable.

Active listening has power. It can help someone to accept painful feelings, to feel connected, to feel safe. It is the power of healing.

Ca-ching! The penny drops - childhood memories of talks with my grandfather.


Fast forward to December 2014. Nothing prepared me for the sudden and unexpected shock of losing my beloved husband, best friend and soulmate. From normal life to living hell in the blink of an eye. My world as I knew it was gone. I was plunged into unimaginable pain. I was vulnerable - no longer the helper but someone badly in need of help, and the help I needed the most was 'active listening.'

What I mostly got was listening of the non-active kind. I have run the gauntlet of insensitive, thoughtless comments - each containing a coded message designed to shut me down, cut me off from my feelings, make me feel disconnected from others, keeping me stuck and afraid I might not survive. Here are just a few examples of my experience of non-active listening:

'I can't bear to see you this way,' [code = I can't bear your feelings so please don't show them]

'this is what you need to do' [code= I know how to fix this and I'm going to tell you what to do]

'I need you to call me so that I know you're alright' [code = my needs take priority over yours and I need reassurance and you must give it]

'I feel so much better for talking to you' [code = I have no problems leaning on a vulnerable person to get my needs met - this one is both unacceptable and abusive]

'grief will last 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years,' [code= grief has a time limit]

'you're such a good listener,' [NO! I'm in shock / grieving]

'stay strong,' [code=don't show your feelings]

'keep busy,' [code= don't feel your feelings]

'have you considered seeing a counsellor?' [code= don't bring your feelings to me]

To a vulnerable person insensitive comments like these, feel like assaults on the senses.

To protect ourselves we quickly learn to hide feelings; smiling when we want to cry, saying we're doing fine when we're not, choosing who is safe to be around (active listeners) and who is not.

We go into survival mode, putting healing on hold until it feels safe to grieve and process our feelings.

Today, I look back at things that were said in a more balanced way.

I understand that no-one set out to hurt me.

But poor listening has only one purpose - to distract attention away from something that the listener is not equipped to deal with - to help someone in their hour of need.

I was lucky, I had mindful listeners wrapping themselves around me after my loss.

Quiet, unassuming listeners, wielding power in their unspoken messages.

I thank these listeners for being there for me when I was lost.

For providing attuned, empathic responses that kept me going.

For standing by me as I stood in my personal hell - in the abyss called grief.

For showing me with powerful unspoken messages, calling me back to life, and helping me to believe that...

I will not break,

I can bear my grief,

I can survive the unimaginable,

I can feel safe again,

I can heal, and

I can learn to live, once more.


Ruth Jones lost her beloved husband, Kevin, to heart failure on December 2014. Although she is now retired as a nurse, she remains passionate about mental health issues. She enjoys the creative process of writing, and writes mainly poetry and is completing a poetry writing course at the Faber Academy in London at the end of June 2018. she also practices meditation and have an interest in Buddhism as a philosophy for living.


The Grief Cleanse

In a room filled with family and friends, I felt so alone.  Actually, I felt completely invisible.

For me to not only be aware and then to actually articulate this feeling is such a big step in my grief journey.  I have experienced anticipatory grief for months leading up to this day.  I knew this day would be filled with emotion.  This landmark is a monumental passage for all mothers.

The day our children graduate!

The day we watch our children transition into the “world” and release them from the grasps of our clenching hearts.  Children are our hearts beating outside our bodies and regardless of what people may say, watching them grow up is a bittersweet journey.  Of course we want them to blossom, spread their wings and fly.  That doesn’t mean it is easy and done without some unbridled passion and a temper tantrum or two.

A temper tantrum from mom, maybe we don’t share it out loud, but this mom wants to curl up in a corner, kick her feet and scream…. “I don’t want you to grow up, I don’t want you to get hurt, make mistakes or trip and fall.  I want you to stay right here where I can protect you, nurture you and feel like I have some control over your safety and yet, I also can't wait to watch you fly.  I trust you but I am scared!”

Do not stand between a mother and her child…

A caged wild animal is the only description that comes close to describing how a mother feels towards her children and the world.  So if I live in a world full of mothers who’ve walked this journey of releasing their children to the big world on graduation day, why do I feel so alone?

For me, it is graduation day without my late husband.  The father of my graduating son.  So today, as in so many other days filled with confusing emotions, I will do a grief cleanse.

One of the many tools I’ve learned to use in the Life Reentry Model is the grief cleanse.  It is not always pretty and I don’t like “leaning into” the pain as I've written before.  Who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves “today I will joyfully welcome my grief pain and learn from its lessons!”

In Life Reentry, we do!  Maybe not joyfully but we do lean into the grief.  We have learned that it is worth the discomfort.  It can become our lifeline into creating new life after loss.

It is uncomfortable and scary to sit with grief pain.  But time after time, my grief journal has become a constant companion filled with streams of unfiltered words, raw emotions and many things I wouldn’t necessarily want to say out loud in front of others.  Quite frankly, they are often not nice words.  And then, following the steps of a grief cleanse, it always ends up with a simple sentence birthing the honest truth of my heart wisdom.  Nothing to prove, argue or question.  Just the heart truth.

I begin with asking myself the question:

Why do I feel so alone and invisible to the large group of family and friends that surround us on this day?

Because what I would like to really do is stand in the middle of everyone and scream the following but instead, I write the words.  I just let them flow. I throw a temper tantrum with my words, pen and journal.

“I miss my best friend.  I want him to be standing next to me today.  This is our child.  I feel so incredibly alone.  I walked through Hell to get here today and made it without him.  My son walked through Hell.  He did it without his father.  Doesn’t anyone see how much pain fills our bodies on this celebration day?  Do you see how much my son misses his father and despite the horrible despair that lives within his heart, he has chosen to continue?

Does anyone see how hard it has been to reach this milestone?  To wake up each day and say yes, I will do my best today even though I would prefer to quit?  WE did it minus one, our fourth wheel.  When we didn’t want to wake up, we did.  We’ve fought so f**king hard to just breathe every single day for the last 5 ½ years. 

Oh and while I am being brutally honest, I want to lash out at all the people who said they would be there for me and the boys, yet never were.  Who pointed fingers and said it was too early for this or why don’t you do this or it’s too hard to come to your house or see you without him etc.  I want to let them know that they don’t really deserve to be celebrating this day with us because they haven’t been with us through the rough times. Where were you during the deafening darkness only to be celebrating here in the light?  If it was too hard for you to be around us during the uncomfortable, ugly, painstaking days where we stumbled to stand, you don’t deserve to be with us on the day we begin to run.” 

There, I said it. The truth of my emotions and broken heart.  Not so pretty is it?  It's probably not very nice either.  It truly is how my tender and angry heart feels right now in this moment.  It is raw and unfiltered.  The voice or anger and pain.  Love and loss.  Hopelessness and hope.  Despair and fortitude.

The grief cleanse.

No one or thing will ever satiate the pain or fix the loneliness of grief.  It isn’t anyone's job to make our journey any less or more than it is.  No one else can teach us how to breathe again or how to crawl, stand or walk.

But when I speak my emotions out loud, when I write them down to be seen and validated, it gives my grief a voice.  Validating the emotions releases the tension and invisibility of grief.  Those emotions are now acknowledged, witnessed and honored.  It is my story…spoken out loud.  From this, my lessons and wisdom nuggets of grief are born.

I am seen.  Not by anyone else.  By ME.

And then with tenderness and validation I can write the simplified truth:

I feel alone.  I miss my late husband.  It is hard to watch my son grow up without his father.  It has been hard to raise him by myself.  I am still living here today without him AND I still love him. 

Simple truth.  I’m not blaming or shaming and there is nothing to fix.  It feels so much better just getting the words out on paper.  It is such a release.

Working through our grief takes diligent work.  I now understand that if I suppress my grief voice, it only builds up into an angry dagger-like desire to point the finger at everyone else in my life and blame them for the pain. Why didn’t you do this, why weren’t you here for that.  WHY do I experience this pain? I make it the responsibility of others instead of myself.

I get it now.  I didn’t before.

My grief journey has been similar to peeling back the layers of an onion.  Over time and with daily conscious effort, I have learned so many deep truths of not only myself, but the collective human experience with grief.  At the center of grief, we are engulfed with the trauma and deep scaring of our hearts from the loss of a loved one.  This place is such a tender, raw and vulnerable place.  We’ve been attacked by the reality of life - our loved ones will die.  We will all die. There is nothing anyone can say that helps the pain during this time.  NOTHING brings them back.

Although, everyone has something to say right?  We want to make each other feel better and fix the pain.  The list of what to say or not to say to the grieving is a whole other story and lesson….for another day.

What I can say today is this:

We see pain through our lenses of reality.  It is hard to even acknowledge our own pain most days so trying to see beyond that and find empathy for others has taken a lot of study, work and practice for me.  I haven’t always been able to.  Of course we feel so alone in our pain because grief is such a personal journey.  It can’t be compared.  EVER.

One of the important steps of creating empathy for others is to begin with giving empathy to ourselves.

We can do this through a grief cleanse.  This means giving a voice to grief emotions.  As I begin to let the grief within my story speak, I can witness and validate my inner journey through my voice, my reality and understanding.  With witnessing and validation came empathy for myself.  I am seen!

With empathy for myself, I can begin to find empathy for others.  Not an easy task.  But I am choosing to do it with a lot of conscious practice.  That means a lot of grief cleanses.

THEN, I begin to not feel so alone.  At least in my pain as a human.  Yes, my grief story is mine.  My pain is unique to me and my story.  YES!

But what if all the people around me in this moment were experiencing their own pain?  What if their story is just as valid as mine?

They are.  And it is.

During the graduation ceremony, the school gave a beautiful tribute to their classmate who died from cancer during freshman year.  Her parents were there to receive the honorary diploma. Their daughter was not.

It hurts to feel others pain. Grief plays circus tricks on our hearts.  I want to be able to have awareness of others grief story.  Therefore, I have to grief cleanse, witness and validate my own story first.  This process allows me to give compassion to myself first so that it can flow to others.  Growing and cultivating new skills from the grief experience is an ongoing process every single day.  It is something I choose to do.

I want to now.  I didn’t before.

Now, because I give voice to my tender heart and speak my truth, I can breathe space into the pain story.  I know that we are all doing our best to navigate life, our trials, success, celebrations, new beginnings, deaths and births.

I am not so alone after all.  My pain has a voice.  I trust this now. 

My pain is not my identity.

The truth is, I am grateful that my son had so many people here to honor and witness his hard work.  He was celebrated for this milestone and surrounded in love by old faces and many new faces.  Although we won’t ever understand the hard work it takes for each of us to make it through the day, we still need all the love and support we can muster to give each other as we begin new journeys.

The truth is that I also wish my late husband was here to see the graduation.  I miss him every day.  I wish he could see the young man he has become despite his death.  And yes, of course his father is/would be proud.  But his father not being here to physically see him graduate is different.  It is not the same.

The truth is that I am also learning to love the new reality I am creating in this life after losing my late husband.  I am grateful for the new relationships that color my world.

Both are true.  The duality of loss hold both truths.

My son has not only learned to stand, he is now beginning to fly.  To come from a place of devastation, hopelessness and despair, he is finding new purpose using the tools he has created during his walk with losing his father at the age of 12.  His story.  Rising from the depths of his grief, he is a demonstration for so many on how to keep living after losing your father and best friend.  His story is his own and he is writing it oh so well!  That means it scares the shit out of me and makes me extremely proud at the same moment.  In a very beautiful, tenderly fierce way.

In closing, through the births and the deaths, let your grief and joy speak out loud, give it a voice, either written or spoken. While we may stand alone in our personal story, we can also reach out our hand realizing the tender pain and joy that lives within us all.  Within the story of a grief cleanse, there is a truth that only we can reveal.  Let the wisdom birth through the pain of grief.  Let the wisdom then guide us to the next step.

I see you.

Marni


Since the death of her husband, Marni Henderson has navigated the world of grief, choosing to pick up the pieces and recreate herself in a life with renewed, joyful purpose. Now, her passion lies with rediscovering life after loss and its’ relationship to our health. As a certified Life Reentry Practitioner and Licensed Health Education Specialist, Marni is honored to work alongside her clients to create a “whole picture” plan that includes the tools needed to navigate their unique journey.  Join her on a Discover Your Life Again retreat using the Life Reentry Method!  Contact Marni here or follow her blog!


My Evening With A Wolf Spider

You know when your life changes forever, at least for me, the only thing I could think about was, “what am I going to do without my husband?” I couldn’t think much further than that. I was in a type of shock that I had never experienced before. I felt like I was in an endless fog that would never lift. When it hit me how much there was to take care of, it was absolutely overwhelming.

Of course I have lost family members prior to losing my husband, but I was never the one responsible for taking care of everything. Where do you start? I’m the type of person who likes to get things done right away, so things aren’t left pending. However, that’s not really how this works. It seems like grief has a mind of its own, and sometimes it’s just best to do only what you NEED to do. For me, it was getting medical bills paid, letting Social Security know what happened, writing the obituary, and honoring Paul’s final wishes, etc. While I’m typing this, it seems fairly straightforward. The thing that you don’t realize at the time is there is really nothing "straight forward" in this process. I’m not being melodramatic when I say one simple task that should take a phone call, can often take a large portion of the day. Just getting to speak to the right person can be challenging and very frustrating.

As time has passed and more things have been completed, I understand how much work is involved and how it can mentally drain you. To keep motivated to continue all I needed to do, I had to believe in myself and know I was doing the best I could. I was doing the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, completely on my own. You can’t tell the world “look what I’ve done.” First of all, most wouldn’t understand, and secondly, most are too busy to be interested. That’s a harsh reality, so I won’t sugarcoat it by saying otherwise. Most everybody has their own concerns, and really can’t take on yours as well. So I decided to create a list of everything I’ve learned to do since losing my husband. These are things I really had no knowledge of before my life changed so dramatically. Sometimes I look at my list and smile to myself and think, “oh gosh, did I really NOT know that?” That can be quite humbling. I just found out there is a piece of literature entitled Grief 101 as well as a Grieving for Dummies book. I believe, though, you basically learn as you go.

As I look back, I wish I had asked my husband about things that only he was familiar with. We didn’t know what the future held in store, so it didn’t occur to either of us to do that. Even the tiniest and most ridiculous of things that I now know how to do, go on the list. When I’m feeling sad and wonder if I’ve accomplished anything, I look at my ever-expanding list and tell myself, “girl, give yourself a high five, you did it!” Now, maybe if someone else is in a similar situation, perhaps I can be of assistance. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.

One night I was using the automatic sprinkler system, (something I recently learned) and was making several trips to the garage. I was manually setting the system for certain areas of the yard. On my last trip out there, my eyes spotted something LARGE and CRAWLING. At closer inspection, I saw what it was – A WOLF SPIDER!! I won’t go into the specifics of what that is exactly, as I wouldn’t want you to faint. I’m not sure how my screams weren’t heard by my neighbors. I started to hyperventilate, threw a paper towel over it, and gave it a good stomp. I’m sorry if I’m offending bug lovers, but I just can’t deal with great big bugs. So after the “stomp”, I realized that was a bad move. Where a moment prior there was one spider, now there were many, many more. Thankfully, I didn’t freeze, grabbed the bug spray, and fortunately was not overcome by the fumes. Pest control was coming the next day anyway, and the technician kindly removed “the beast” and even swept it outside. Very calming.

You will not find this situation in a grief book, rest assured. So that got jotted down in things I’ve learned NOT TO DO when encountering a wolf spider. I’m sure all of us have changed in so many ways, I hope mine are for the better. I am sure, though, I have a lot to learn. So here’s to spider-free days, unless you’re into that sort of thing. Sending you high fives for all of your special accomplishments.

Blessings to each and every one of the warriors out there!

My name is Ronda Dell'Ario, and I am a wannabe writer. I love reading, dancing, baking, and sleeping. I am a news and weather junkie. I love all things British and anything chocolate. I have written over 150 trivia quizzes for an online trivia site, as well as the lyrics for three songs I hope to get recorded. I also am a Texas girl, through and through!


Rooted and Gentle Sadness

Here I am,

all these years since you died on

that heart wrenching spring day,

and I miss you.

Though the ache is less potent,

I have a rooted and gentle sadness.

I’m so grateful that our lives came together

by the shores of Saddleback Lake,

that you had the patience to wait

for me to understand how

to accept your unconditional love.

I wish you could be standing with me,

hand in hand,

to witness our beautiful children

further widen into their lives

with passions to follow

and loves of their own.

Sometimes I wonder if you

would know me now,

would love this rather different me.

And then I smile with the knowledge

that you knew all of me the whole time.

I do believe in the sensations of your presence,

in the radiance of change,

and in all the other understandings I’ve gleaned

through years of exploring

within and without.

But sometimes I just want your arms around me,

to feel the physical connection of your love,

to be together in the here and now.

This rooted and gentle sadness

is not wrong for me to feel.

I haven’t failed at grieving.

It’s just part of my shadows

and, in truth,

enhances my light.


As we all do, Sarah Carlson has many pieces to her whole. Those pieces include: mother, teacher, daughter, friend, widow, sister, skier, bicyclist, hiker, coach, drummer, and poet. Sarah lives in the western foothills of Maine where opportunities to make connections amid the splendor of the rivers, lakes and mountains are plentiful. She began writing and combining her poetry with photographs of her experiences in the natural world as part of healing from the sudden loss of her husband, Barry.  Sarah posts her poetry and photography on her blog and her book, The Radiance of Change, is available here.


My Wednesdays Are Better Now

Wednesdays became my least favorite day 11 years ago today.

This is the first year, May 9th fell on a Wednesday. I hated that day. It was the day that Joe left me and the world stopped turning.

Your life changes so much when you lose a spouse. Yes, everyone grieves his loss but my entire life changed that day. I had to grieve losing him but also me. No longer a wife, a widow. No longer a partner, single, make all of the decisions. Single income. Sell his car, give away his stuff, decide who gets it and don't offend anyone. And no, I'm not strong, stop saying that...

"Widow brain" made it hard to think, to remember, to move, to breathe, but I'm responsible for everything now. I just got used to saying "we" and "our." Don't offend anyone. Saying the word widow hurt physically. My eyes hurt for two years. My heart hurt physically. My body hurt. Palpitations daily. My stomach literally died. Then the world started turning, and I had to run to keep up with my own life.

I lost him, myself, his friends and his family. I lost support. Can't breathe, panic attacks, palpitations, my eyes hurt.

I wanted everyone to leave and leave me alone, but then the silence was so loud. I wanted everyone back, but it was too late. Everyone was back to their own lives. So I started to get back to mine, but it wasn't there... no life. I had to redefine me, my life, my house, my car, my job, my decision making, my friends. Cook for one, shop for one, laundry for one, RSVP for one to everything, no longer our house, my house. My cats cried at the window waiting for him to come home. My heart hurt for them too.

His spot in line was gone. I was not permitted to continue in that spot because my spot was gone too. You see I merged with him, and now I just had no place in life without him. As I scrambled to quickly make room for myself, I lost myself. I started to rebuild, redefine, I began the rebirth, slowly. I had to live, for me I had to live. I had to start to create my spot again. And remember don't offend anyone.

I hurt, some days not at all, some days are bad. But I lived. I moved forward. I made my home mine again.

I was lonely, not missing him lonely but missing being a "we." After I met Bruce, I made my house "ours" again. He will tell you I rescued him, but he rescued me. I was so lost like a raft at sea. He helped me find my spot. I feel off so many times the year. He became my anchor, my compass. Knowing the route before I do, or exploring where ever the wind blows us. That's my life now. So incredibly different, beautiful and wonderful.

Thank you all for the support, for staying with me. For not getting offended, for checking in on me and for loving me when I didn't feel like living. Thank you Widow Posse for always understanding, and the support from my family that came from the ashes. Thank you, Bruce, for loving my broken heart and helping me heal and grow.

I will always miss Joe, some days of the year more than others, but I am alive and will keep living. Until I'm done with my chores here on Earth.


Jenine Cole lost her husband May 9th, 2007.  She has others that tell the story of the death of her husband, but this one is her favorite. As a Social Worker, a counselor, she believes that sharing is important.


Suck the Marrow

Which is worse, to lose someone you love to a long term illness or to lose someone you love unexpectedly?  

This morning I woke up to the news that a local five year old little girl, Avery, had passed away from a tumor in her brain on Mother's Day.  I had been following this family on social media for the last several months. This morning the message read, “Avery went to be with Jesus at 5:15pm this evening, surrounded by family and close friends.  Bekah and James were able to give her hugs and kisses, and Bekah helped give her a bath, and chose Avery's favorite towel and pajamas, brushed her hair, and helped prepare Avery for this final journey.” Bekah was Avery's twin sister and James was her younger brother.  They received her terminal diagnosis 5 months ago, which means for five months they have known she was going to inevitably die as a child. How does a mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, and anyone who loves this child prepare for her death?  I cannot imagine.

A few weekends ago, I assisted my photographer friend by being her videographer to capture beautiful moments of a young family whose life has been impacted by ALS.  Michael Bereman, an amazing husband and father, is an assistant professor in the department of biological sciences at NC State University and has been conducting research on ALS, all while having ALS, which he was diagnosed three years ago.  

As I was videoing this amazing family during the photography session, I couldn't stop thinking about their emotions. How does this amazing wife and mother, Meagan, have the strength to still be an amazing wife and mother while grieving before the technical term of grieving even begins?  How does Michael go to work everyday to research the disease that is inevitably going to take his life while he tries to save others through further research? I watched Mason (3 years old) laugh and become competitive kicking the ball to his father who was seated, due to no longer able to stand without support.  I watched Michael use every ounce of strength he had left in his legs to kick the ball back to Mason just to see him smile. I watched Millie (1 ½ years old) kiss her father several times and giggle at her daddy blowing bubbles all while not knowing or understanding what the future holds. I cannot imagine.

My losses were unexpected.  I lost Chris, my fiance', in a car accident after someone ran a red light on the morning of our wedding day on September 12, 2009.  I had just put on my veil and was getting ready to get my makeup done when I got the call from Chris' mother about the car accident. I lost my brother, David, to suicide on December 28, 2016.  My last text to David was a joke that we both laughed about how Tupac's lyrics of Hail Mary accidentally was used in a Christmas Mass in Sri Lankan. He must have texted me from his empty apartment since he had given all of his belongings away knowing that he was planning to die the next day.  

I don't really have an answer to the question of which is worse, to lose someone you love to a long term illness or to lose someone you love unexpectedly,  because they both tug at the heartstrings from the outsiders looking in at the grievers. And both scenarios suck the life out of the person who is going through the pain.  Let us not forget that it is not just about the ones left after death and how they handle their grief, but the actual person who died and what they mentally had to go through before their death.  There really isn't an answer. 

The one thing that I take away from the question and from those I meet on their life journey is to share the marrow that we have sucked from our own life and from the life of others who have experienced pain.  Henry David Thoreau said to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” We as grievers do just that. We reflect on our own journey, we empathize and show compassion for others on their journey, and we want to live the most meaningful life we possibly can for not only ourselves, but for our loved ones and for others.  

So I shall “suck the marrow” out of the love that I witnessed via social media from Avery's family for the past several months on all of their trips, their face painting, princess meetings, Easter egg hunts, animal loving pictures, support from thousands of strangers, family hugs, and all the love they gave Avery until the very end by giving her her favorite towel and pajamas.  I shall “suck the marrow” out of the endless love Meagan shows and gives her amazing husband, Michael, as they count “1,2,3” before she helps him stand up. I shall “suck the marrow” out of thinking about how Michael must be going through so many depressing emotions mentally and yet he still finds a way to make his wife and children smile. And while I'm emotionally drained with my own grief, it's an honor to hear people tell me that they too sucked the marrow out of what they have seen through my grief journey.  


Karen Peloquin's lost her husband on their wedding day, and she lost her brother to suicide years later. She finds that writing and sharing about her grief is the only way to get out of her head, as well as meeting phenomenal people who are also grieving. You can read more about her story on OptionB.org.


Unexpected Gifts in Untidy Packages

We are a few days away from the anniversary of my beloved’s passing. I sensed he was going through a transition and a big change was coming, but I didn’t suspect, at all, it to come from death. He was 45. All our parents are still living. I never dreamed he would die so young. The months before he died, Richard talked about changing directions in his career. He was ready for a big shift. He was growing weary of the publishing industry and the direction it was going, and I thought he may have wanted to form a foundation of some kind around reading literacy which was his passion.

On December 13, 2006, Richard boarded a United Airlines flight to New York as he was promoting his latest book. He didn’t have to get on the plane that day. He could have done his interviews from satellite in San Francisco, but that week he had received pressure from his publisher; someone had commented to him that he was not putting his all into the campaign of this book. He was a bit fatigued, and I remember his feelings were bruised from this remark on his character which he felt was not true.

However, his decision to go to New York and to do the interviews in person rather than by satellite was influenced by that negative comment. Even though he wasn’t feeling great, he chose to power through his fatigue, as many men do, and make the trip.

December 13th (the day he passed) miraculously is a Swedish holiday. In Sweden, they light candles on this day to honor Saint Lucia; she is the patron Saint of love and kindness and she was considered to be the inspiration to authors. (If that just isn’t divine enough) Richard had been working on an article: “How to be more loving and kind to yourself” on the plane just before the pulmonary embolism happened. This was more than just a coincidence; it was an incredible synchronicity that spoke to me.

There are these gifts that come from the divine, call them inklings or twinkling’s of serendipity, but miracles are present even amidst your darkest days. They are present to hold your faith in ways some might call “Woo, woo.” But not me; these are the signs that all is well and in the flow of miracles. These coincidences helped me find meaning in the event that shattered our lives.

My biggest lesson in forgiveness has been to forgive the loss of this great man who was young and vibrant. Being married to Richard was simply delicious. He was a true gentleman and delight to be married to and in partnership with for twenty-five years. I first had to forgive him for “pushing through” instead of listening to his body’s guidance. I had to forgive myself for not insisting that he listen to his fatigue. I had to forgive God– for the obvious. To live, love and let God, let go is the most profound journey we take here on Earth. We are asked to do this over and over again in small and large ways as we move through change and transition that often comes from the loss of someone or something we hold very dear. Forgiveness is what frees us.

Forgiveness is the ultimate gift that comes out of the most untidy packages. The Course in Miracles teaches us that as we forgive and live in the miracle that follows. Forgiveness is the act that frees us.

Why is it that our suffering seeds our greatest transformation?

Suffering comes from having emotional attachments; without feelings of attachment, there would be no pain. Our attachment comes from our need to identify with form. Meaning, that however I identify myself in the world is by how I complete the statement with “I am something.” We suffer in endings because of this over identification; we have emotionally adapted to the meaning of this attachment making it a function of our reality. In my case it was with being Richard’s “wife” and also being married and living in partnership with my best friend. Upon his death, my ego went through an annihilation; I died when he died, yet I had to physically live. A very messy process ensued. Not too unlike the caterpillar in the cocoon that has to practically die in its own messy goop before breaking out and becoming a freed butterfly. However, the real gift came through my heart that was broken open to the fullness of my authentic expression. Somehow, my husband’s death breathed new life into me as my outdated beliefs crumbled along with the invisible wall that my ego-mind had formed around my heart shrouding my deepest ability to experience true passion, meaning, and joy. As my identity shattered, it could only mean the rebirth of my true essence. “I am who I am” in my raw and most vulnerable form without the same attachment. Change happens and while it is untidy and messy, the gift of change brings with it the beginning of a new chapter.

There is always a message in the mess. The unexpected gifts that come from the ending of something sweet is the possibility of your next level of greatness. In your willingness to surrender and let go of what you cannot change, as you courageously step into the next chapter and embrace the unknown with an open heart you will call on grace. Spirit leads you through the unknown with grace and love as you surrender and let God, let go.

My passion and life mission is to inspire others to wake up to the magic of their lives before it’s too late.

Much love to my beloved, Richard, always and forever I carry you in my heart!


Kristine Carlson, New York Times bestselling author and world-renowned speaker, is passionate about spreading her message of waking up to life with joy and gratitude amidst the ups and downs of this earthly existence.

Kristine is a sought-after inspirational speaker whose mission and message are built upon the tenants of joyful and peaceful living, mindfulness and meditation, and self-rediscovery in the face of grief or transition.

Kristine is known for her unparalleled capacity to be vulnerable and authentic, inspiring her audiences to be the same. She speaks on such topics as living authentically, the power of gratitude, grief, mindfulness, change and transition, and rediscovering joy, passion, and purpose in the various mind and body woes that accompany any time in life but particularly in middle age.

To order Kris’s new book: From Heartbreak to Wholeness: The Hero’s Journey to Joy  Then take your receipt order number here and retrieve your bonuses!


I Am The Widow

I'm the widow.

I'm the one who is compelled to write this at 4am,
after choking on my tears.

I'm the one who fell in love with him when I was 14.

I'm the one who fought with my parents over seeing him.

I'm the one who went to football games, baseball games,
softball games, basketball games, and track meets.

I'm the one he took to prom.

I'm the one who bought a house with him when I was 18,
taking a huge financial risk,
by handing over most of the money I had.

I'm the one who married him when I was 19.

I'm the one who took him to be the husband of my days,
the father of my children,
the companion of my house.

I'm the one who cashed in $600 worth of quarters,
when he had knee surgery 5 months after we got married,
and he was off work for 2 months.

I'm the one who struggled financially with him,
often not asking for money because we were too proud.

I'm the one who stood by his side when his drinking got out of control,
and when he completely gave up drinking to save our marriage.

I'm the one who threw a cigarette that I found in the washer at him,
after he swore he wasn't smoking.

I'm the one who put up with all of his bullshit,
just like he put up with all of mine.

I'm the one who tried for 2 years to conceive,
almost miscarried at 9 weeks,
dealt with high blood pressure and gestational diabetes,
and finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl,
who wouldn't stop screaming for the first 2 months of her life.

I'm the one who called him Teddy Bear.

I'm the one who he called Snuggle Bunny.

I'm the one who was called Mrs. Schmedley.

I'm the one who dealt with leaky roofs,
and broken down trucks.

I'm the one who was there when he was laid off.

I'm the one who was there when his hours were cut to the point that the repo man showed up, and we received a foreclosure notice on our house.

I'm the one who was there for him through thick and thin.

I'm the one who was married to him for 20 years, 4 months, and 2 weeks,
before death did us part.

I'm the one who called 911 that night.

I'm the one who felt helpless talking to the 911 operator.

I'm the one who got an almost 300 pound man onto the floor.

I'm the one who heard "Are you f**king kidding me?",
when I said that he was in the loft.

I'm the one who called you, while EMS worked on him.

I'm the one who had to tell a 10-year-old girl that her dad died.

I'm the one who has been without her husband for 3 years, 5 months, and 3 days.

I'm the one who no longer hears a fan and a CPAP machine at night.

I'm the one who sent her last Facebook message to him 1 month and 10 days before he died.

I'm the one who fought with him right before he died.

I'm the one who sometimes still feels guilty for that.

I'm the one who has his ashes in an urn on her mantel.

I'm the widow.

Denise became a widow suddenly at the age of 39, when her husband died of a massive heart attack. She currently lives with her daughter, a foreign exchange student, and a few pets. She loves to travel, read, and attend women's retreats. Her goal in life is to help other widows.


Unencrypt

Suicide Post: please read.

If you have been personally touched by suicide, know someone who has, or just want to be better educated on the topic- please read.

While I’m still processing, I know I have to get some thoughts down in order to keep from overflowing.

This past weekend, I volunteered at a camp for kids & young adults who have all lost a parent or sibling to suicide. Many of the volunteers had lost a child, sibling, or parent to suicide. Other volunteers just have the biggest hearts and want to help change the world through compassion and caring. I thought this weekend would be the hardest thing I have ever done, but, it turned out to be the most healing. I firmly believe that every single moment since I received the phone call of “your brother is dead. He’s been shot. Come over now,” has led to this past weekend. That’s almost 11 years of moments on the grief journey.

Every person at this camp, just got it. Every time we were blamed or shamed, they got it. Every time someone mentioned suicide & Hell, they got it. Every look of pity. Every ounce of the stigma that comes with a suicide loss. Every time someone asked how they died, instead of simply saying, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Every rude and disrespectful comment.

These are my people, my tribe. It look me almost 11 years, but, this weekend has changed my life & was well worth the wait.

The children and young adults had so much to say this weekend about suicide. This is a whole new generation that is not making ripples, but, waves with regards to tearing down the stigma of mental health/ substance abuse & suicide. “Ask me how he lived, not how he died,” - Sarah Ash (little buddy, now Young Adult). Another thing mentioned in our group was, “that was not my brother that died. He was sick. His sickness overcame him, and he lost the fight to suicide.” How very true and very well spoken. My brother that died from suicide, was NOT the little brother that I grew up with. AT ALL. Just as cancer can invade your body, mental health & substance abuse can invade your mind.

If I had to take away 1 thing from my life changing weekend, it would be this: a little buddy was brave enough to stand up in front of everyone at the memorial service. She said, “the worst thing I can do is stay silent about my suicide loss.” I’m 100% on board. Ending stigma around suicide & mental health.

#askmehisname


Carly Lafore is a licensed therapist, wife, mom of two, comfort zone camp volunteer, Christ follower, daughter, and a sister to a brother in heaven. She is a self described suicide thriver. #askmehisname


Secondary Losses

I knew all about secondary grief long before I knew what to call it.

Within a matter of weeks following my primary loss – the death of my wife – the secondary losses started accumulating. I didn’t see them coming. Didn’t know to expect them. I was a frog in a boiling pot, oblivious to the violent and fatal nature of my circumstance.

I was a 26-year-old widower. My wife had just died after a barbaric 3-year battle with metastatic breast cancer.

The worst was over. This was the bottom of the pit, the deepest depths of the darkest valley. It was all up from here. An arduous uphill climb, certainly, but up nonetheless.

These are the malignant assumptions we make after loss. They’re misleading, and in most cases, completely erroneous. If you’re in the midst of grief, especially early-grief, allow me to strongly warn you against them.

Sometimes, the tragedy is just the beginning.

My first official introduction to the term “second loss” came from fellow author Megan Devine, in her brilliantly brash book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK (I encourage you to check out her blog at Refuge in Grief).

With a poetic fury, Devine discusses how and why our cultural infrastructure of grief support is utterly broken. She describes the impotence of platitudes, and offers refreshing guidance on how to cope with the many twists, turns, and snares of a grief journey.

I completely devoured the book. Her candor was an inoculation against the litany of cliche I’d been experiencing ever since the funeral. Though Megan and I may differ in some of our views, we certainly agree on one thing:

Our society’s approach to grief support has to change. Now.

As I sped through the pages, underlining sentences and making notes in the margin, I eventually came to a page break that stopped me in my tracks:

“HAS GRIEF ENDED YOUR FRIENDSHIPS?” it read.

What followed was a perfect description of the horror I’d faced since losing my wife. Tears stung my eyes and my jaw fell slack. I was mystified that someone else understood that pain, and heartbroken that they had to.

Here’s that passage:

“It’s one of the cruelest aspects of intense loss: at a time when you most need love and support, some friends either behave horribly or they disappear altogether. There are disappointments and disagreements. Old grudges resurface. Small fault lines become impassable distances. People say the weirdest, most dismissive and bizarre things.

Grief changes your friendships. For many, many people, it ends them.”

I’m one of those “many, many people.”

For those of you that have been following my blog for a while, you’ve heard me talk about recovery guilt. And for those that have been around since the beginning, you’ve heard me wonder aloud whether my friends wanted me to die.

It happened when I started dating again. Friends I would have trusted with anything, friends that were more like family, began making their exodus out of my life. Some pierced me with harsh statements like, “Kailen would never approve,” and “You’re spitting on her grave.”

But others did far worse – they crushed me with cold shoulders and silence.

There’s a whole host of complex psychological reasons behind these actions, conflicting grief timelines being prime among them (a topic for a later post). But as Megan so plainly puts it, “No matter what the deeper reasons are, the loss of friends you thought would stand by you through thick and thin is an added heartbreak. The injustice of these second losses makes grief itself that much more difficult.”

I write this post not to be spiteful or vindictive, but merely to shed light on one of modern grief support’s most glaring shortcomings: we place expectations on other people’s pain. Almost subconsciously, we establish parameters and timelines that we deem appropriate, and when they aren’t heeded, we lash out.

It’s symptomatic of a larger problem – our acceptance of a flawed narrative. Thanks in large part to mainstream media and entertainment, we expect stories to follow a predetermined arc, and when they divert, when they fail to redeem themselves or gratify us in the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, we stop watching. We bail out. We say harsh things or offer a cold shoulder.

We abandon the characters.

When someone is grieving, nothing hurts like abandonment. We are most vulnerable when we feel isolated. There’s a reason why I chose “Ministry of Presence” as the #1 rule for effectively loving a grieving heart (see 7 Rules for Loving a Grieving Heart).

I’ll conclude with a word of encouragement, both for the griever and his/her friends.

First, the griever:

You are not alone. No matter what you endure in this life, you never endure it alone.

Those are the four most important words in all of grief support – you are not alone.

The secondary losses will come. Friends will leave; they may say pernicious things, or they may say nothing at all. Either way, new friends will rise up and take their place. And they’re often people you least expect.

This won’t take away the sting – of your primary OR your secondary loss – but it will help you remember that you aren’t an island. Even when it feels like you are.

Especially when it feels like you are.

Don’t deny or delegitimize your secondary losses. Acknowledge them, and if possible, share the burden with your loyal friends who refuse to budge (even if it’s just one or two). Because, of course, you are not alone.

Second, the friends:

If your loved one is hurting, there exists no greater profundity than presence. You feel helpless, you feel awkward, you feel tongue-tied; that’s all OK.

The one thing you can’t be is absent.

Humbly come alongside your friend; acknowledge their loss without drowning it with cliches. Get more comfortable with silence. And do not judge. Realize your grief timeline is yours and theirs is theirs. They may conflict, but frankly that’s none of your business.

Be present. Be humble. Be selfless.

And if you get the urge to offer an opinion or a judgement…don’t.

 

A fellow journeyer,

Bryan


Bryan C. Taylor grew up on a farm in small-town western Kentucky, where his dreams of becoming an author had their origins on an ancient Dell desktop. In addition to his books, Bryan maintains a blog about grief at www.bryanctaylor.com/blog, where he seeks to teach others the many lessons his late wife, Kailen, taught him. Bryan is the #1 Bestselling Author of EVEN IF YOU DON'T: A love story, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook.

For Bryan and Kailen's full story, including an unfiltered account of their 3-year war with Stage IV breast cancer, and Kailen's ultimate passing at age 25, check out their #1 bestselling book here: https://www.amazon.com/Even-you-dont-love-story/dp/1983414042/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518810888&sr=8-1&keywords=even+if+you+don%27t+bryan+taylor

To read more of Bryan's thoughts on how life can be a fairytale, even when it's a tragedy, follow his weekly blog posts at http://www.bryanctaylor.com/blog