capture your grief, day 18: the grief shift

20170909_170923

A picture I took on a recent afternoon “with Kade.” 

I recently had an opportunity to meet one of my favorite grief mentors for the second time at a book signing (the first was when I attended her retreat for traumatic bereavement). Joanne Cacciatore is the founder of the MISS Foundation and Center for Loss and Trauma, an academic researcher, professor, clinician, and bereaved mom. She’s an articulate and fierce advocate for the traumatically bereaved…and of peace.

2017-10-08 16.29.53

Louise, Patty, Dr. Jo, me, and Terri

Today’s quote CarlyMarie shared by Rumi, “Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom” immediately reminded me of my biggest takeaway from Dr. Jo’s book-signing:

The people who have felt pain are the peacemakers.

She explained: Here we are. So what do we do with that pain?

She illustrated the martial art of Aikido. It’s where you accept the energy of the punch, and redirect it.

My experience of grief has been one of mostly learning. Through the learning, I am feeling pulled to inhabit it more. Make no mistake, there have been times of full immersion, especially in the beginning (I felt a pang of anxiety just thinking of “the beginning”). Now…now that it has been five years, and I have been physically and emotionally able to attend to graduate school (and its demand of self-reflection), my focus has been being a highly engaged student. A very busy student. Though I will finish the last year of my program no doubt still busy, I am sensing a shift from these outward demands to inward ones. From school, clinical placements, and the field of counseling…to Kade. To my undying relationship with my first born. To my relationship with myself. To my relationship with this thing called grief. And to my relationship with my broader purpose.

CarlyMarie’s instructions for Capture Your Grief, Day 18, The Grief Shift: I have always loved this quote by Rumi – “Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”. What has your experience with grief been like? Do you think of your pain as an enemy or have you made friends with it? Do you believe you can transform the way you feel about it? Where are you currently in your grief journey? Have you had any enlightening moments that you would like to share with others?

Advertisements

capture your grief, day 4: belonging

I love the smell of glue sticks in the morning!

2017-10-04+13.35.46

I really didn’t think I’d be doing a whole art therapy project this morning. But when I read CarlyMarie’s description for day 4, this is what came to mind.

I love vision boarding. I keep our old magazines for this purpose (which my husband loves—not).

I jotted down some of the relationships/groups in which I belong, and found images for those relationships.

OK, my original vision for this project was better than this. If only I would have remembered that vision before gluing. Picture this: I was going to wrinkle every image to represent that every relationship changed with Kade’s death. But since I forgot to wrinkle before gluing, I decided to wrinkle only the stars peppered throughout, that represent Kade in all aspects of my life.

(Am I supposed to be explaining this or should I leave it to the eye of the beholder?)

There has been ebbing…and waning…and retreating…and even severing in my relationships. Mostly there has been flowing to the ebbing…waxing to the waning…and advancing to the retreating.

Is any relationship the same over time? Don’t they all change? Losing a child might just be a magnification of that (albeit a Hubble Telescope kind of magnification).

And my relationship with myself…would I have even included that on a poster-board before my world changed with Kade’s death?

20171004_132931

Instructions for CarlyMarie’s Capture Your Grief, Day 4: Belonging:

When your child dies, your sense of belonging can be torn apart. Friendships change and we often become the elephant in the room. The circles we belong in no longer feel comfortable. This is a secondary loss. As human beings we need to feel that we belong. If we do not belong, we are left feeling isolated which is a lonely place to be. Have a think about the relationships you have in your life. Have you found your tribe? What do they mean to you? Are you in need of a new tribe? Surrounding yourself with like-hearted people – people who make you feel good, the people who make you feel at home will become cherished like family. “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to BE who you are” – Brene Brown.

capture your grief, day 3: meaningful mantra

I felt “mantra challenged” starting today’s exercise. I didn’t have it in me to create a mantra fitting my mood, and deferred to Google to find a short but expressive one. But I had to start somewhere, even enlisting Google’s help.

I feel the heavy pall around the Las Vegas shooting only two days ago. I have spent entirely too much time around news coverage and responsible gun law advocacy. This healing mantra exercise has come at the very right time.

I knew I wanted my mantra to have some sort of a message of peace for the world. After searching for a while, and passing on mantras that were about inner peace, or that were too long, I hit upon this site:

Chanting for World Peace

What?! Did I just stumble on a project that communally focuses on peace, within a project that communally focuses on grief? Sure ‘nuff I did.

Found my mantra.

Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavanthu

“May all beings everywhere be happy and peaceful.”

Click here to listen to how the chant sounds.

I like how you can participate in the project using your own chant or prayer if you choose.

I’m not thrilled about the word “happy” in the chant because I think that our society is obsessed with “choosing happiness!” and “how to find happiness!” to the discounting or pathologizing of other feelings on the spectrum of the normal human condition. But the rest of the mantra, and the communal project of chanting for world peace, made up for its overused h-word.

As a matter of a fact, I might imagine my own word in place of “happy”…like “joyful,” “content,” or “true to themselves.” For a counseling bend I could use the word “congruent.”

How might you change it?

2017-10-03+13.35.46

Playing with the filters on my camera, I settled on the “negative”. I like how the purple amethyst in my mala bracelet (healing for grief) looks like jade.

 

Instructions for CarlyMarie’s Capture Your Grief, Day 3: Meaningful Mantra:

Create a mantra for yourself for this month. Something that you can say to yourself over and over. Something that lifts your spirits. An example – “Today, I live for you. Today I love for you.” Your mantra can be anything that you want. If you say it over an over enough, you will find yourself beginning to live that mantra. Write your mantra down. Write it down multiple times. Put it in different places where you will see it during your day. On your fridge, in your bathroom mirror, one the steering wheel of your car, etc. You may change your mantra up as we move through this month if you want to. Share your mantra with your tribe.

CarlyMarie’s capture your grief, day 2: rise + shine mourning ritual

Day 2 instructions:

“Create a new mourning ritual. When you rise in the morning spend a few moments in silence and create space for yourself. Wherever you choose to do this, whether it is at the end of your bed as you wake up or out side with a cup of tea, take a few minutes to ground yourself. You can do this by either sitting on the ground or placing both feet flat on the floor. Take a good posture and close your eyes. Take some slow relaxing breaths in and out. Envision your child’s light burning bright like the sun from your heart. Once you feel calm, awake and present, dedicate your day to living for your child and set an intention for how you want your day be. Write it down and share it with us.”

I usually wake at the latest possible moment, squeezing all the milliseconds I can out of hitting snooze. This morning, though, I got up with my alarm and turned on my bedside lamp. I scooted upright, and opened my journal to the blank page (the one after my entry from the bank of the Arkansas after rafting), and closed my eyes.

20170625_133808

I thought of Kade. Then I looked at the picture of him holding Asher on my wall. I sat with him for a quiet moment. If you’re not a bereaved parent this might sound crazy to you (or maybe it doesn’t):

It was nice having a little time with him. I’d been missing him. I need to hang out with him again soon.

My intention for the day came to me in the form of a bracelet I ordered from a site I follow, Hands Free Mama. My bracelet reads,

“Only love today.”

There was my intention.

I found my bracelet, jotted my intention, added a little love note, “captured my grief” (snapped my picture), and felt calm and ready for the day.

Starting my morning slowly, mindfully, and by setting an intention was a brilliant change of pace. I will try to do that for at least the rest of October’s Capture Your Grief, and maybe it will become a habit beyond.

2017-10-02+10.03.56

coffee shop

8/8/17

Well…whoever said that grief demands to be felt was right. There’s no bottling it in, EVEN when you have a benchmark paper to write before heading out of town, and EVEN when you’re sitting in a moderately busy coffee shop. EVEN when you’re jamming on your paper, finally getting in a groove, and EVEN when you will the lump in your throat and welling tears to GO.

Stevie Nicks. The pretty melody of “Landslide” and the lyrics,

But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too

Not all children get older all of the time. That song piping overhead, combined with a mom and teenager walking into the coffee shop; I really didn’t stand a chance.

I took Kade to coffee shops. I want to take him to a coffee shop again. I want to have taken him to more. I want to sit him down here (with his red and black flannel shirt, as the teenager here has on–brutal) across from me and ask him what these past five years have been like for him. I want to know if he knows how they have been for me. There is a lot I want to know. Actually, scratch all that shit. I want to ask him how his classes are, how his girlfriend is, and when he’s coming over for dinner.

Gosh, it’s good to imagine him sitting across from me. If that could happen you would see one crazy lady dancing in the streets. I see him strong, and healthy, and muscular, and happy, and smiling, and hungry, and in black baggy shorts, black skateboard shoes, the black and red flannel with a white tee-shirt underneath, and longer hair underneath a baseball hat on backward. My beautiful Kade.

John Green Fault in our Stars Quote Image

one year down

My third semester, and my first YEAR, are behind me. There is nothing like the elation of papers handed in and being finished with a semester. I will enjoy my “5 days of summer,” as a fresh semester starts next week.

This semester was WORLDS better than last. Last fall I had two paper-and-presentation-heavy classes with hard graders. Delving into stages of moral development in one class and diagnosable personality disorders in another during the election was a surreal position to be in.

I just wrapped up two of what will be surely be my favorite classes of the program: Grief Therapy and Cultural Issues and Social Justice.

9781304859624_p0_v1_s118x184Grief Therapy: Dr. Annamarie Fidel-Rice was unlike any professor I have had (OK, she was a little like Dr. Pat Sablatura of Spirituality and Counseling, another favorite). Her book, The Alchemy of Grief, was a fascinating analogy of the transformative nature of grief. Her focus in class was that heart, not head, is required when companioning the griever. Grief is not understandable or answerable. She stressed “grief demands feeling” and “attend to it.” It’s basically as simple as that. If you allow yourself to feel, to grieve, in THAT comes the healing. Which is so counter to nearly everything in our society. Many families of origin don’t foster this. Greater society bombards with messages to cover it/hurry it up/don’t mention it. It sounds easy to “attend to your grief,” right? Do you schedule time each day to attend to yours? If you’re looking for a unique book on grief, that is from a “depth” perspective filled with symbolism and metaphor, I recommend Dr. Fidel-Rice’s book. If you read it let me know what you think…

Cultural Issues and Social Justice: Can you say, perfect timing? We learned that being an ethical counselor entails an expectation greater than charity. Advocacy in changing social and political systems that cause marginalization is the expectation.

I had more reason to appreciate my Jesuit university with the service learning requirement for this class. My group volunteered with Family Promise of Greater Denver, that houses homeless families at churches while they partake in a structured program back to employment and housing. We got to teach self care classes to children and adults. Shouts out to my partners, Carrie, Lauren, and Darrin!

This class stressed that knowing/admitting our own biases (that we all have) is important going into the profession. Delving into many marginalized groups’ experiences, and just what White privilege is, was informative. Also noteworthy: learning that gender and sexuality are more of a nonbinary continuum on which we all fall, and learning about microaggressions that happen every day and the toll that hundreds of these over time take.

Research Methods: I don’t have much to say about this class (statistics, bleh). I’ll just say that my proposal set out to answer this research question: Does journaling for 30 minutes once a week improve a bereaved parent’s grief symptoms? We didn’t actually carry out our projects, as there wasn’t enough time, but got into all aspects of the scientific research process.

I’m ready for the next semester. After three semesters I’m in a groove…bring it on. I needed the past super interesting and bit easier semester to recharge after the last hard one. Some people take summer semester off…but it’s my favorite. It’s still light out for the drive home, the weather’s nice, and I get to spend more time with Asher on his summer break, easing school/family balance. With the anniversary of Kade’s death coming up on June 29th, I see school not as a hardship to get through in spite of the difficult time in my life…but as an additional bonus support through the difficult time.

shooting stars

I have a final paper that I am working on, due TODAY, for my grief therapy class. So what better time to make a blog post, right?

We can call it procrastinating. We can call it a study break. We can call it thriving under pressure.

In discussing “signs” in my paper, or as Jung would call them, “synchronicities,” I found this piece that I wrote a year and a half ago. In addition to sharing some of it in my paper, I wanted to share it here.

From my writing dated 11/9/15.

Shooting Stars

Shooting stars are one of my “symbols” for Kade; perhaps my most prominent one up to this point. I know exactly the moment that it started.

Kade’s dad, Jon, was saying a few words at the memorial service he had for Kade in Buena Vista a week after the funeral in Highlands Ranch. His brother, David, a pastor, did most of the speaking but Jon wrapped it up. He said, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” I’ve since looked up that quote several times and it is attributed to Lao Tzu, considered to be the founder of Taoism.

It is so incredibly fitting for Kade. He lived this bright, vibrant life. He was loud. And bold. And adventurous. And did I mention loud? Nineteen years is a laughable age for a life as bright as Kade’s to be extinguished. It’s over? Already? It just started in so many ways! Are you f-ing kidding me? He was just beginning!

(breeeeathing)

The quote Kade’s dad stated reminded me of the image of a shooting star. Everyone loves seeing shooting stars. They add excitement to your night. They’re special. You don’t see something like that every day. You look for them. You seek them out. The shooting stars in my life, as I rumble through the memory box of my mind, have been when I’ve been camping, or up in the mountains away from a town, or upper Michigan near my parents’ cabin on a lake. When the sky is extra dark on a summer night you just have to look up. And with a little stillness and patience, you’re treated to a celestial show. Shooting stars. Satellites. The Milky Way. Even the international space station one remarkably-timed night, in a remarkably lucky clearing in the trees.

Kade’s life is like a shooting star (I still have a hard time writing was). So brilliant, exciting, amazing. Hot, fiery, dangerous. Sometimes shooting stars look like they land in your back yard, when in fact they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away, and most don’t land at all, they disintegrate first.

Here’s probably my most significant shooting star story before Kade died. My cousins and I were out ice skating at my grandparents’ pond. I know this because I remember the heaviness, and cold metal blades against my coat, of the skates hanging around my neck. We were on the steps to go inside. My cousin, otherwise known as my partner in crime, Tonya, and I were the only ones to see a brilliant fireball streak across the sky. It was huge, and visible for what seemed to be a long stretch of time. It appeared to have landed in the field next to Grandma and Grandpa’s. We were dumbfounded—then scared at the possibilities that flooded our brains (was it a meteorite that just landed in the field? was it a bomb? was it an airplane crash? was it a UFO?)—then went screaming into the house. We made a real racket telling everyone what we’d seen. Of course our boy cousins didn’t believe us. But some of the adults must have sensed the truth in our voices and came out into the bitterly cold Michigan night and looked where we thought it must have landed, in the snow-dusted, broken-frozen-corn-stalk-scattered corn field.
Surely there must be a fiery piece of space rock laying in a crater, still smoking. Of course we never found it and I heard later on that it was seen, or even landed, in upper Michigan, so we were way off with our guess of the field next door. But we still talk about that huge white fireball we saw.

The most significant shooting star story I have after Kade died was driving to a Compassionate Friends meeting in winter 2014. After daylight saving time ended, the 6:30 p.m. drive was pitch black, and I cranked the music, taking advantage of being alone in the car. Even music Kade would have HATED can prompt tears. Even bouncy music with no Kade connection whatsoever, that I really like, can bring on tears. Music has that way of touching the soul.

Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze came on. I totally lost it because Kade had Hendrix on his playlist, and would have dug that particular song. Purple was his favorite color, he was a guitarist, and, well, it was Jimi Hendrix. Tears gave way to a screaming rant about his death in my car. Kade should be listening to Jimi Hendrix! Tears, and yelling. There really aren’t that many opportunities of solitude to let loose, and it was happening.

Then the direction on the highway I was heading, with the curves and the hills just right, enabled me to see a giant star lit up in the foothills. It quieted me. I pondered whether seeing it right then, at a painfully raw moment, was a sign from Kade, or God, and how I should take it. As I was wondering, and still crying (because a new song had come on prompting new tears), I turned onto Wadsworth and headed north.

Still ruminating on whether the lit-up star was a sign, and from whom, I SAW A REAL SHOOTING STAR, in perfect view through my windshield. That shut me up. OK, Kade, I saw it. I smiled. I laughed. I am so thick that it took two, not just one, stars for me to understand that Kade (or some power) was shooting a sign my way. He was OK. It was OK. It was going to be OK.

I’ve had a lot of star and shooting star signs thrown my way, at just the right times, where I am left smiling and thanking Kade.

Having a symbol or symbols for your deceased child can be an expensive endeavor. I’ve scoured my favorite clothing websites for items with stars. I have star shirts from Express, Loft, H & M, and probably more places I’m forgetting. I have homemade jewelry and home décor from Etsy, an artisan website. I’ve ordered a large, colorful, hanging paper star for Kade’s room. Some of the baby gifts I’ve bought for others have been star-themed. And of course, a shooting star is incorporated in my tattoo.

I stop people wearing stars. I make Brian drive me to the middle of nowhere to get away from the town lights whenever we’re in the mountains, and I stand outside, usually in the cold, and lean back over the hood of my car taking in the whole sky for shooting stars.

The shooting star pendant I wear, that contains some of Kade’s cremains, is one I had custom-designed to represent him, when the ones in the funeral home catalog did not do him justice. No thank you to the plain vial. Thank goodness my online search led me to Starseed Gems and Lynn, a bereaved mom who helps design the perfect, colorful, expressive piece. She told me that blue stars are the hottest, but burn out the soonest. Blue it was. She mixes the cremains with luminescent powder, so it faintly glows in the dark, and puts it in the colored resin, so Kade is in the gem. The StarSeed gem. All elements in our bodies come from stars. We are all stardust. I love the piece and wear it almost every day. It is the perfect perfect piece I was looking for, to wear close to my heart.