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Posts tagged ‘Grief Loss and Bereavement’

Encouraging Reading for a Memorial

A couple of weeks ago I worked with a family to co-create a memorial for a brilliantly multi-faceted and talented woman. Her life interconnected with many others through the arts and travel: the Tucson Art Museum, Tucson Opera League, hiking and international travel groups. Her vibrant presence right up until she passed was one of elegance and radiance. These two words kept surfacing again and again as her family members and friends retrospectively described her being in the world.

While listening to families at times like these, my thoughts often turn to how physical absence after someone dear to us passes can flood our senses with how someone was present while alive. Through absence, we may come to more fully know a presence. During grief, there may be an ebb and flow of yearning for this presence. Yet over time, as John O’Donohue wrote in the blessing “For Absence” (posted below), “absence is alive with hidden presence.” It is a paradox, yes. One I believe we may choose to draw comfort from though, after somebody we love dies.

Last month I was in retreat with the Metta Institute for a session called “Opening to Mystery.” I learned more about this paradoxical ‘absence and presence’ concept on a deeply personal and reflective level. One session involved a guided meditation with a story about being in a garden while experiencing the scent of lilacs. The session leader repeated the story twice, with ample space for listening and absorbing the story. A passage from it went something like “we wandered through the garden after a gentle rain, lilac boughs heavy with blossoms, and we were drenched with their scent.” For me, I was flooded with the presence of my late maternal Grandma. I felt as if she and I were walking through the same garden as the subjects of the story, side by side, totally delighted by “being drenched with their scent.” Her absence gave way to a purely radiant presence. And her presence comforted me beyond words. I was completely covered in goosebumps.

I’m sharing all this as a context from which to share O’Donohue’s “For Absence” – which could be very encouraging to read at a Memorial during the service – or even in a quiet period of reflection with close family during the time prior to a ceremony. It is from his book of blessings to which I continually turn, called “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

IMG_6087May you know that absence is alive with hidden

presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.

May the absences in your life grow full of eternal echo.

May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere

where the presences that have left you dwell.

May you be generous in your embrace of loss.

May the sore well of grief turn into a seamless flow

of presence.

May your compassion reach out to the ones we never

hear from.

May you have the courage to speak for the excluded

ones.

May you become the gracious and passionate

subject of your own life.

May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle

words of false belonging.

May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and

twilight are one.

May your longing inhabit its dreams within the

Great Belonging.

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Seeing Opportunities for Transformation

I believe we can transform the way we view end of life passages. Today. Not next year or a few years from now. As this article points out, in western culture we are making changes both individually and collectively about how we handle death and remembrance. Says Judith Johnson,

“People are choosing memorial services and celebrations in addition to or instead of a traditional funeral. This allows for a more personalized ritual customized to the particular beliefs and sensibilities of the deceased. It also allows for both mourning the loss of a loved one and celebrating the life he or she lived.”

And I add to her observation: people finding opportunity in holding Celebrations of Life as a support ritual for caregivers, family and friends. A celebration may occur prior to a final transition (aka a Living Funeral) or afterward. The motivation here is tapping into a mutual sense of connection – a safe place to pause, remember or celebrate – in whatever belief framework is relevant.

Hip hip horray! Artists celebrating at Skagen ...

Image via Wikipedia

Often a person will request no funeral, no service, nothing – in their final wishes. Maybe this is due to being a very private person. It is more likely though, his or her request has more to do with having sat through one too many drawn out funeral services where afterlife of the deceased was the focus, not supporting the mourners through storytelling and truly celebrating the life of someone well-loved.

Here is where I see the opportunity for transformation: shifting our focus. Viewing death as a natural part of life and thereby choosing rituals or services that fit our stories, values and belief systems. It takes work, yes. And I’ll keep posting ideas and resources about why it is worthwhile.

Why hold a Celebration of Life?

While I work beside a family or community to co-create a Celebration of Life, it is a delicate time. Yet the sense of joyful remembrance is palpable, too. This week, one family with whom I’m working is particularly inspiring. Their confidential story brought me to post in a universal sense, about the value of holding a Celebration of Life.

The deceased may have departed some time ago; weeks or even months have passed. With the passage of time, the rawness of loss seems less harsh, as compared to a funeral near the time of death. Yet grief may surface unexpectedly, too. It is this upwelling – of painful loss felt in a public space – that I think people may fear. There is a sense of vulnerability that coincides. And so often as a result in our culture, no ceremony is held to acknowledge, let alone truly celebrate the life lived.

So why then, hold a Celebration of Life? Based on my experiences leading, supporting and witnessing families and communities through these events, here is my take:

  • Guests mingle in a comfortable place, to help each other carry what is too big to carry alone. Holding a hand, sharing a story, looking into eyes full of tears, offering to help with end-of-life ‘chores’, embracing – within a relaxed or familiar setting – all of these exchanges help to ease the burden of loss. (Likely venues I’ve seen include parks, HOA clubhouses, favorite family restaurants, homes, or boutique resorts that hold meaning somehow.)
  • Everyone present has a collective moment to recognize what it meant for the deceased to live. This is inextricably linked to having a ceremony or ritual portion of the Celebration. What I usually suggest is a brief ‘program’ piece during the gathering, where I help people pause and reflect upon the honoree. (It might just involve a standing ovation!) The collective power of those moments tap into something bigger than all of us combined.
  • It supports and reminds the mourners that life is full of connection, despite their loss. Yes, it is a fragile or vulnerable time. And yet, there is always one or more stories that yield knowing smiles, nodding heads and even great waterfalls of laughter. The delight in knowing connections live on and might even expand post-death is a great consolation. A great healing.

These are just a few ideas among MANY reasons why holding a Celebration of Life is plain good and worthwhile. Do you have more to contribute? If so, please do!

A surfer memorial service, Huntington Beach Pi...

Surfers hold a Celebration of Life in Southern California ~ Image via Wikipedia

Losing a dear friend

At the very core of grieving is the act of letting go.

It may be one of the biggest challenges we have. I am convinced that ritual and ceremony help us face this bittersweet challenge. To convey this idea here, I may reflect upon relevant stories from around the world. When clients permit me, I will share their powerful stories. Today, I will share a very personal story with you.

The morning of September 16th, my Tiny Girl died. She was a long-lived greyhound at 12+ years old. It is unsurprising that when I wrote my first blog entry in 2009, I mentioned her and posted our picture together. She and I ‘were a team’ as one friend often says. We met each new day together for the past 10+ years. She facilitated countless life learnings for me. She licked tears off of my face when I cried, purred like a cat when we cuddled, shared my yoga mat with me and made me guffaw with her goofy games. She holds a very tender place in my heart as a dear friend. Letting her go seemed impossible.

This is tough to write, yet vital for me to share with you. What we did after her death has helped me grieve in a healthy way and begin letting go.

We kept her body at home for the afternoon. I surrounded her with bunches of dried sage and other native plants, candles, and incense. Friends (she had a big fan club!) came to visit and say good-bye. They noticed how peaceful she looked after seeing her during recent physical struggles. My partner Brian and a close friend dug her grave in our yard. At sunset, Brian played the cello as I sat with Tiny’s body to let the day sink in a bit. I felt exhausted. Friends came over for a humble burial ceremony. We blessed Tiny’s grave in a way only she would appreciate and shared some stories about her life. I cried big bitter tears. And then, together, we covered her shell with fresh earth and flowers.

Taking these steps helped me deeply in the process of letting her go. I created a remembrance upon her grave, with a candle that remained lit for five days and nights after her burial. Whenever I miss her, I go sit there in thanks for her presence in my life and for the blessings of good friends who help me along this journey. Here is a glimpse of Tiny’s grave the morning after her burial:

morning after her burial

Tiny's grave the morning after her burial.

I hope this story inspires you. Our animal companions are such dear friends, yes? After they die, giving thoughtful time and loving energy to our grieving processes for them is extremely important. Ultimately, it will help us open up to the ache of losing them and then summon the courage to let them go.