In last week’s post I talked about what you can do when someone you know and love is in grief or going through a loss. While I did said it is better to say something than nothing at all, there are a few things that are not helpful to say to anyone dealing with difficult emotions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list nor will all of these things offend everyone, but as a general rule avoid saying the following:
1. “I know how you feel.” Let’s admit it- no you don’t. Even if you have been through a similar situation the feelings that are alive for them may be very different than what you felt. “How are you feeling?” is a much kinder and open-ended thing to say. This allows the grieving person to express themselves as well but be prepared to hear the real answer and not a sugar-coated version. Grief is raw.
2. “Are you still thinking about that?” or “You really should be over that by now.” No explanation needed here I hope.
3. “It’s time to get on with your life.” This implies that somehow the grief is not a part of life.
4. “It could have been worse.” This totally invalidates how a person is feeling.
5. “It was God’s will.” I don’t care if you really believe it to be true of not, it is not helpful in the immediate place of grief. This is a conclusion that needs to be reached by the person grieving and not told from the outside.
6. “You shouldn’t say that.” Grieving people will say and do all sorts or extreme things when they are feeling low. It is important to be able to express openly and honestly all the doubts, anger, fears and sadness that come with the grieving process.
7. “When are you going to be normal again?” First of all, what is normal? If you can honestly answer that question, then you will probably realize that there is no such thing. We are constantly changing and growing. Sometimes normal is lighthearted, angry, sad, fun, depressing. If what you want to know is “when will you be like the person you were before?” the honest answer is probably never. While things will go back to a more moderate place eventually, the bereaved have to find a “new normal.”
8. “You have so much to be thankful for.” Again, denies how a person is feeling in that moment.
9. “You should just __________” (fill in the blank: get married again, have another child, get a new house.) Replacing the person or thing lost will never make the grief go away. Grief needs to be allowed in order for real healing to happen.
10. “If you would have ________ this never would have happened.” Blame is not helpful anywhere.
Timing and context are very important in these situations. If you are questioning whether you want to say a certain thing, take a moment and ask yourself “how would I feel if I were in their shoes and someone told me that?” In the end use Love as your guide.
What is it about grief that sends so many otherwise wonderful people running in the other direction?
Why do so many have a hard time understanding what is helpful to someone in grief?
The answers are many and vary from person to person, but in a general sense many of us don’t know how to deal with grief because no one ever taught us the tools to handle difficult emotions, our own or someone else’s.
This is no failing.
The good news: learning how to be responsive to grief is not difficult.
I think that there should be a class on emotional intelligence taught to children in school. It is pretty obvious to anyone who has ever suffered the loss of something important to them that most of us have no idea what we are doing when it comes to dealing with grief.
So you know someone who has recently suffered a loss: job, death, marriage, house foreclosure, inability to get pregnant, and you are wondering,
“What can I do to be supportive and helpful?”
1. Acknowledge their loss. Something as simple as a hug and “I’m sorry” is all that is required.
2. Make personal and meaningful contact: Call them. Visit. Send a card. Write a personal note.
3. Listen with compassion. Let them talk about it. If it is a death, use the person’s name in the conversation.
4. Be open and honest. “I don’t know what to say but I love and support you” is a wonderful offering.
5. Bring a dish of food over, take care of housework, offer childcare, go for a walk with them. Don’t ask, just do it. Saying “call if you need anything” is not very helpful because a grieving person doesn’t always know that they need anything.
6. Provide ongoing help and support. There is no timeline for grieving. There is really no end point either. If the person has suffered a particularly large loss, it is not something you ever “get over.” Life goes on and the urgency of the grief passes, but understand that they will have good days and bad days, sometimes even years later. That is ok.
7. It is normal for a grieving person to feel sadness, disorientation, confusion, like they are going crazy and with time the immediacy of these feelings will start to fade, but if the feelings don’t or start to get worse it is important for the grieving party to seek a qualified third party for support.
I think that many of us are afraid of saying the wrong thing or being insensitive to the grieving person’s feelings and to be honest you will not always say the “right” or most comforting thing during this time, but it is important to be there for the person anyways.
If all else fails, show up and sit in silence. Just knowing that you are not alone in a time of hardship and feeling safe are all that are required for healing to begin.
For those of you who are curious about what not to say to someone after a loss here are a few tips of the trade.
'God' is quite the contentious word and one that often elicits a very strong response.
Some believe in a fixed version of God, a divine yet human-like being who is omniscient and omnipotent but still has needs, wants, and judgments. He (presumably) is gracious, good and kind but also opinionated, and spiteful if you push the wrong buttons.
Some believe there to be many Gods and Goddesses each with different qualities, who have their "hands" in different aspects of life. Beings we can develop relationships with and call on in times of need.
Some believe it is silly to think that there is a God at all and we are it. When we die, that is it, end game.
There are many other variations in between these. One thing held in common between these groups is that a great number of folks- whether they believe in God’s existence or not- believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong or misled.
What if God were all of these things? What if God was everything? What if you are allowed to think and believe any story you wish about God and when that one is not serving you any longer, you can make a new one? What if God really is what you make of him/her and each individual gets to have a unique relationship with God?
I believe that God is of and in everything.
He/She/It is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent.
God has no expectation of you at all.
You have free will to do as you please.
I believe that we are individuations of God itself.
God is in fact not a being at all, but the process of life itself unfolding.
Does this mean that we are allowed to do whatever we want even the hurtful, hateful stuff? Well, yes indeed we are, look at the state of things right now,
Given all this freedom, who is it that you want to be in this world?
What qualities of your being-ness do you choose to express here on earth?
Collectively what kind of a world do we want to create and bring forth for ourselves and the generations yet to come?
Do you really want to be remembered as an angry tyrant or a vicious gossiper or a child abuser or a greedy manipulator?
Would you rather choose to express those parts of yourself which bring Joy, Peace, Laughter and Love to yourself and those around you?
We have choice in the matter of who we are and who we believe God to be.
You can call God by any name you wish. Some will say Universe, Spirit, Soul, Life, Divine Lover. The Sufis have 99 names for God. A dear friend once said, “God doesn’t care if you call him “Harvey the Wonder Chicken” and I agree.
In his wonderful piece, Re-branding ‘God’, author Rob Bresney of Free Will Astrology offers people the opportunity to recreate God; to make a personal relationship with a God that suits you. I did that a few years back and it was a wonderfully personal, creative process. Check it out.
The best description I have ever seen for God comes from Neale Donald Walsch’s book, “When Everything Changes Change Everything”. Here Neale says:
“…I am not using the word God as many other people do. I do not use the word to denote or describe a huge Super Being existing somewhere in the cosmos, exhibiting proclivities and tendencies, needs and desires, frustrations and emotions identical to those of humans. I am not talking about an Entity Divine who has needs that must be fulfilled or else… I am referring to the Source of Supreme Intelligence manifesting itself as the Pure Energy that we call Life Itself.”
That about sums it up for me: God = Life and all that life entails. Everything. It is all God.
When looked at this way it sure does “change the way I look at change" and God and Life and all of us humans struggling to make sense of it.
So that is what I mean when I say the word God.
What does your God look like?
This post has been stewing and building for a couple of months now and I can no longer contain it. It may be controversial and I might take some flak for it, but I have to do it.
So here goes...
10 months ago today my second son was born and he died the next day. The details of which are many, profound and not all important for the purpose of this post. What is important is that I recently discovered a really cruel and inaccurate blog post that was written 6 weeks after Joseph's death regarding me and how I am "narcissistic, selfish and immature." This blog is call The SOB (Skeptical OB-GYN) and is run by a women named Amy Tuteur.
Here is how this unfolded: I had a hunch to google my name one day. The fourth link down was one entitled: Sure my baby died, but look at the benefits to me. So I clicked on it and read on.
My emotions started out at shock.
Then moved to anger. Then rage (like I would rip your eyeballs out if I could reach you rage).
Then sadness, deep sadness.
Sadness for me, Joseph, my family. But even more then that I started to feel sadness for Dr. Amy. It seems to me that someone would have to have been treated (or treated themselves) incredibly cruelly to respond to someone else the way she did me just 6 weeks after my son had died.
She scoured the internet to find snippets of posts on an online forum where I was offering to donate my breast milk after my son had died, from a friends personal photo site where we posted photos of Joseph and my family and took everything horribly out of context to somehow prove her point that home birth is a totally irresponsible and horrible thing to do.
This post is not about my defense to her accusations however. To be blunt, I think her limited and perhaps stunted view of the situation is fairly obvious on its face. How can you say you know anything about any situation when you have only read a couple of paragraphs written online and taken them out of context?
No. This is post is about my story, from my perspective. I don't ever expect anyone who comes from such a vastly different world view to understand mine, but I do think that we owe it to one another to respect each other.
But first, I need to give a little bit of back story about what happened. This whole story is large enough to fill a book, so this is the very brief nutshell version. Joseph ultimately showed me the true meaning of unconditional Love. I feel like he gave his life to deepen mine, to give me back to me and to help me discover my drive and purpose in life. Part of which is now spreading his wonderful message of how loving and supportive the universe is and showing folks how to find hope in the most hopeless of circumstances. His brief life was an act of ultimate service and generosity.
Before I found out I was pregnant, I had a conversation with God (Universe, Spirit) and in this conversation I stated that I was feeling pulled in two directions: one towards my passions and being of greater service to the world and the other towards mothering another child. At the time these seemed like conflicting aims since mothering for me is a very all encompassing thing for the first 2-3 years. I asked for guidance about how to proceed. Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant (we were not trying).
I figured that was a pretty clear answer: the path of mothering it is.
This brought up another conversation with God for me: Chiron our first son, has Cystic Fibrosis. It has been a long, beautiful and very hard road to walk. It will most likely continue to be for the rest of his days. I was sure that I couldn't handle a second child with CF and I didn't want another child to have to deal with what Chiron has to everyday. I stated that I was ok with this child not coming to fruition if they weren't healthy (thinking early miscarriage, of course).
The pregnancy continued normally with no signs of any issue, so I assumed that all was as it should be.
Fast forward 9 months, Joseph is born, at home and is not breathing. He was showing no signs of distress up to the moments of his birth. Here is what happened as far as we can tell: he was delivered gripping his umbilical cord in his hand. He pinched off his air supply during the final moments of delivery.
This in and of itself was highly symbolic for me and my family. It was not an "accident" that killed him. He LITERALLY cut off his source to life with his own hand.
We knew enough to know that something greater was going on here. And then there is this:
This photo is of a gift from a friend at my blessingway ceremony as I was preparing to give birth to Joseph. It is a small shell with a hand reaching out of it, grasping it tightly. She didn't know why she was drawn to bringing it to me but she was. At this time it was just a beautiful and strange item. After Joseph was born it all made sense. This is exactly what he did. He reached out into the world, grabbed on tight, touched physical life for just a brief moment, before returning from whence he came leaving behind a sea of Love, grief, shattered stories and a return to the deeper meaning and magic all around us. To top it all off, the little clay fingers even resembled his long skinny fingers.
After the initial moments of Joseph's birth, which seemed to span an light filled eternity, the problems multiplied because the paramedics and ER team were having a hard time intubating him. His lungs were not functioning properly. In that moment I knew that he too had CF. We requested the test and sure enough he did. His lungs were having problems from the moment he was born.
Little did I know what I was asking for when I stated that I was ok with the pregnancy not coming to fruition if the baby wasn't healthy, but sure enough someone/thing was listening, in a strange, unforeseen, tragic and miraculous way.
The miracle is that had Joseph miscarried early on in the pregnancy, I would have been deeply saddened, but I never would have been so profoundly affected. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to do justice to what happened to me in the moments after Joseph Phoenix entered the world. I have never in my life been so filled with inexpiable and unconditional Love and Gratitude like I was after Joseph's brief journey into our lives. NEVER.
Now as if that wasn't enough- and there was so much more- here I am, a few months after Joseph's death reading the blog of a women I have never met before that is essentially calling me a selfish baby-killer. After I had taken a couple of hours to grieve and be angry and feel all that came up for me (and after I had gotten over the fact that I wanted to sue her for defamation of character), I started to notice some interesting symbols in her post.
The opening picture of Dr. Amy's post is the same picture I used to open this post, I (heart) ME, written in the sand.
I gasped and started to cry. This time out of joy.
On Mother's Day, a few months prior to my discovery of Dr. Amy's post, my family and one of my best friends went to the Oregon Coast to celebrate life, remember Joseph and the crazy year it had been so far. We wrote Joseph's name in the sand as a remembrance and watched as it was washed away by the ocean. It was cathartic, healing and connective for us all. It was something tangible that we could do for him.
I realized that yet again, I was getting another message from the universe, I LOVE ME was the message in the photo, but it meant so much more than even that.
To me this was another expression of what Joseph meant to me, LOVE, in the universal sense. It also felt like a little message of encouragement on my path as I walk towards a fuller expression of myself and my Love in the world.
I think that learning to Love oneself is key to a happy, healthy, love-filled life.
I do love me and I hope that you love you as well. Some days that is all we get.
I know that Joseph Phoenix came into this world out of Love and left it so much greater than it was without him in it. Sometimes all it takes is lending a hand.
I would like to formally thank Dr. Amy for doing what she did. She gave me a special message of Love in the unlikeliest of places. Even what looks like hatred can really be Love in disguise.
She also lit a fire under me. When I was able to calm down and look at her with the eyes of compassion, I realized that the only thing she was guilty of doing was living in an ENTIRELY different version of reality than me. And in her version of reality, I must look like a pretty self-absorbed, narcissistic, immature baby-killer.
I also realized that I like my reality. Here are a few of the salient views in my version:
1. Death is as beautiful a transition as birth if we allow it to be.
2. There is no such thing as an accident. Everything happens because it is right that it does in a more cosmic way than we may understand. There is perfection in everything.
3. We are so undeniably connected to each other, in fact we are all one.
4. Since we are all one, I like to say we are little walking individuations of God, when we hurt someone we are hurting ourselves and everyone else.
5. Love is all there is.
6. There is no such thing as right and wrong.
7. The universe (God) is speaking to everyone, all the time, in many ways.
8. Last but not least, we each have a larger role in creating our realities than we realize. Not what happens to you but what you do with it.
What version of reality are you living in?
This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately; the nature of symbols and how they can help us find meaning in otherwise painful circumstances. It has been my experience that we are surrounded by symbols, guidance, grace and understanding but unless we slow down enough to see, feel, hear them we remain totally unaware of this fact.
You see the strange thing about inner guidance (call it Spirit, God, Guides, Life- whatever makes you most comfortable) is that it seems to work at a much slower pace then most of our daily lives allow for. While the reality is that we are so busy going from one thing to the next, focusing on our goals and running towards the future, living inside our heads that we forget that life is really happening in the present.
Oh that old trite cliche?! Yes I know.
Be here now. Blah,Blah, Blah...
But it is true. Most of us have not been trained to notice the symbolic language around us and so like any child learning a new skill it takes concentration, focus and a slower pace at first. Over time and with practice it becomes "second nature" (because it really is) and you can begin to notice your inner guidance in real time, that is, all the time.
How does one do this?
With Practice, Intention and Commitment. Without one of these tools the house is going to be built on shaky ground. The great thing is, there are more ways to go about accomplishing these three things than there are people on the earth.
How do you practice seeing symbols and hearing your inner voice? Some would say meditation, yoga, prayer and being in nature. While those are all great ways to do so, all that is required is taking a moment to check in with yourself. Ask questions like, "What do I need right now?" and "How do I feel about X, Y or Z?" or "Why do I feel so _____ in response to _____?" and then wait for a few moments.
If you start to hear angry, blaming, judgmental voices, know that is not your inner guidance but your ego or mind replaying old stories. Just let the voices be there. You don't need to shove them away or judge them, just notice them and keep waiting openly. Judging judgement, now that is a oxymoron!
Even if you don't hear the most amazing, mind-blowing wisdom you think you should, just taking the intentional time- I'm talking under 5 minutes- is often times all that is needed to start opening to the quiet voice within and the symbols that are playing out all around us.
Then remain open by suspending judgement about when, where or what the guidance or symbol will look like.
This brings me to the next piece, Intention:
For me this is key. When I wake up in the morning I take a moment to set my intention for the day. It is always different in content, but the underlying theme is usually something to do with allowing God to be my guide, to be able to suspend my will when needed to the greater good and to know when I need to do so.
I just realized that it reminds me a bit of the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
But regardless of what form your intention setting takes, the important piece is that it is true for you and that you mean it. I think that even if you are not able to notice, see, feel or hear your guidance, setting an intention to being open to do so is the first step. Since we are creators of our own reality (that is another post entirely) opening up to the possibility- or being the possibility- that there may be on goings with which you are unaware of right now is paramount to the experiencing of it.
This is the final piece of my equation. Without some form of commitment to my practice and my intentions, I am not going to get very far and neither are you. Like the child learning to walk, he has to try and fail and try and fail probably about 3000 times before he really starts to understand. Along the way there are moments when he notices that he balances for a second longer or discovers a new technique to try and he is excited to practice with that new skill. Sometimes there is anger and frustration, but in the end they also drive him to try more and to keep going in the game of learning to walk.
The kid has a goal and it is to be upright.
So set a goal. Write it down. Tell people if you want, but keep reminding yourself of it. When that goal doesn't fit any longer, make a new one. This is not an exercise in stagnancy, but a growing, breathing part of you. Let your goals reflect that. If the first goal doesn't fit your reality- lets say the child is a paraplegic and will never learn to walk, learning to walk is perhaps an unattainable goal for him- make a new goal.
That is what life is really all about: allowing ourselves to play the game and taking aim at the highest vision you can imagine. Not about stuff or success or failure or acceptance even.
Let your self dance and sing (even if you are off key) and pray and fall and beat all odds and sleep and love and be loved...
What is the highest vision you can imagine?
Let's aim at that and let yourself be guided there. Even when it seems like all is lost, you might discover that you were lead right where you needed to be.
For the past four years I have been blogging and offering my coaching services over at www.spiritnutritionals.com (site is no longer active). After the events of this past year of my life, namely the death of my second son, I have taken a serious look at my life and my goals during my brief time on this earth.
While I love coaching people on nutrition, health, healing, and lifestyle issues- and will continue to do so- I found that I want to work with people from a more directly spiritual and whole person perspective.
That is when I decided to start a new site, with a new focus; this time on finding meaning, purpose, passion and spiritual guidance through life toughest moments.
You know, the times that kick you in the butt and leave you lying on the bathroom floor tear-stained and begging for mercy?
This focus allows me to continue to help people with diet and lifestyle issues when needed, but creates a larger, more spiritual context for me to bring into the sessions, and I don't think that healing can happen very effectively without it since we are three part beings: body, mind and spirit.
It would be like the Dr. who doesn't think that what is going on with someones immune system has anything to do with their poor digestion, when in reality we are so intertwined and interconnected it is impossible for one imbalance not to affect another area of the body- or life.
I will always love helping people with nutrition and lifestyle issues- whole foods and simple living are still two of my favorite things- but the universe has opened a REALLY big door for me to walk through and I would be denying myself if I didn't.
So here I am...waiting to see what flows from me as much as you are, probably more.