Grief

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Grief is a journey into Life

Grief is a journey into Life

The last week has been a challenging one, another of those weeks in which my experiences of people and what I haveRumi - Grief and Compassion
seen published has made me grow in understanding in a meaningful way. I watched a couple of videos today that were really poignant for me. One was by Rio Ferdinand, the British footballer who has been making a TV documentary about his wife’s death. Although what I saw was brief, it echoed in some respects my own loss experience, his wife having been in hospital for three months between diagnosis of her cancer and her passing.

Rio’s wife Rebecca passed a little under 2 years ago – and I remember the place he is in now, where he is on that never ending journey through grief, the things he has felt and experienced, how far he has yet to go.

The second video was of me, in an interview with the brilliant and so supportive Alice Frick, who is helping me with a new initiative I am launching to help people experience more happiness in their lives in even the darkest of circumstances. That video in itself was painful – because it raised so many memories and churned up so many of the feelings that are so very difficult to deal with in getting your life back. Guilt, for wanting to be happy again, anxiety about whether it appears disrespectful, sadness at the acknowledgement that Maria is no longer here… so many feelings.

But it also made me think, with huge gratitude, about the lessons I have learned during this journey.

I have had to learn a lot about myself and my weaknesses, my damage, my issues. The things about me that have made me behave the way I behave - and the way I approach my relationships and life itself. Grief is an intensely personal experience, but for many, two of the major things that can happen when you experience this kind of devastating loss are:

  1. Your defences are shattered and you become totally exposed, pure involuntary vulnerability.

That openness, that raw vulnerability, means you have the opportunity to face into everything that has made you into the person you are today. And to address and strip away all of things that you no longer believe or need, it offers you the chance to go back to what is your true nature and to be who you truly are without the fears and barriers that are created by the influence of others and the insecurity of caring about what others think

  1. You get to understand more about life

My specific experience of Maria’s passing was devastating, but death gave me the chance to understand more about life. That might sound cruel, because it was Maria who lost her life – and why should I gain from that experience? Well you can believe me when I say that I have beaten myself up about that one for years. But ultimately life is a precious gift that we need to appreciate and make the most of. And the point of life is to enjoy it – to be happy. Maria knew that more than most.

Those two opportunities are astoundingly powerful; should you choose to take them. They also require a huge amount of bravery to embrace. Because in rebuilding yourself you must explore, admit to and own your weaknesses, your mistakes and the behaviours you do not like. You must confront and go through the dark emotions… depression, sadness, guilt, anger, shame… and you have to acknowledge and accept them.

It is a painful part of life’s journey.

But the ultimate reward is a kind of freedom that most never get to experience. An understanding of life, purpose and what’s important that allows you to make more of your time on Earth. More than most even start to comprehend. It gives you greater compassion and understanding, yet also gives you the strength to set the boundaries that can stop you being abused and exploited by the agendas of others. Above all, it lets you know that it is not only ok, but essential to be happy, without guilt or shame for being so. Because in this World, where what we see seems to be so dominated by hatred, anger, fear and ignorance, taking personal responsibility and – yes – delight in your own happiness, is the most powerful way you have, not only to take full advantage of this precious gift called life, but also to have a positive impact on the collective happiness of the World.

More people than not, will read this and regard it as selfish, naïve, unrealistic and all other manner of negative things. They are the ones who have not seen or embraced death or life. The majority of people pass through life with no understanding of its purpose, they are like computer processors, passing each day with no appreciation of the gift they have been given and the endless potential it has to bring them happiness. If only they could see it. This is not to say I do not understand the hardships of life – again, you can believe me when I say I have experienced many. More than some, less than others. But the point is, there is always something to be grateful for, to enjoy. The simple pleasures of life are the most profound. I have been to the edge and back. To the few who understand and appreciate this message, congratulations – I know, like Maria and me, despite the challenges that may confront you, the choice will ultimately be, to make sure for at least part of every day, you are dancing in the light.

Dancing in the light

Dancing in the light

Sunset over Sansepolcro Italy

With loss we stand in darkness, feel its enveloping pain
Folded in its silence anguish courses through our veins
With arms wrapped tight around our isolated soul
We ache for consolation from the one who made us whole
If we could feel it for a moment, that breath against our skin
If only one more touch, then we promise to begin
To fill that empty void that eats us from within

Is she there in that blackness, can she see me through the dark
Can she hear my desolation as it rips into my heart
If I stay in here forever will I feel her by my side
Will she let me know she’s with me, will she always be my guide
The questions we can’t answer are the ones that make us see
That only faith, trust and love are what will set us free
Our blindness is our vision that we can only let it be

When the dawn of understanding rises up into the sky
And the warmth of the sun melts the ice of asking why
Our journey carries on, still connected by our souls
We are one, we are together, we are individually whole
Emerging from the darkness, from that never ending night
I see her now more clearly and I know the time is right
To let go, for she is happy, she is dancing in the light

Healing Through the Dark Emotions – Miriam Greenspan

Healing Through the Dark Emotions – Miriam Greenspan

“Making meaning out of suffering is the basis of the human capacity to survive evil and transcend it"

Embracing our darkest emotions is a difficult concept. Accepting that they are there to serve a purpose and that without them we would not grow and evolve is a challenge.

Miriam Greenspan is an Internationally renowned psychotherapist and in this book she rationalises that facing into grief, despair and fear is the most effective way to heal and transform our lives. The book uses her own experience and the stories of her clients to provide a platform for delivering an understanding of how our emotions work and a methodology for transformation.

Our temptation is to avoid the dark side and live only with what is positive. But we can only know and appreciate the good emotions, happiness, joy, passion; if we have a context against which to identify them. We must know sadness in order to feel happy, we can’t be fearless without knowing fear. How we deal with the negative is the critical aspect that Greenspan addresses.

Healing Through The Dark Emotions by Miriam GreenspanIn the midst of the deepest grief, it can feel so overwhelming, so utterly dark and desperate that we are tempted to seek a form of relief that is instant, seemingly straightforward. This book relays that distractions, denial and avoidance may only delay, numb and possibly even deepen these feelings and result in negative behavioural patterns.

It’s a complex read, intelligently delivered and thought provoking. It discusses the relationship between mind and heart, the role of faith, the nature of reality, shame and many other aspects of emotion. It also includes a series of practical emotional exercises.

The Language of Letting Go – Melody Beattie

The Language of Letting Go – Melody Beattie

This book by Melody Beattie is a series of daily meditations based on people regaining their sense of their own identity, owning their power and fully feeling their emotions. It was written in response to her own need - and the recognised need in others - to deal with what is coined as codependency. It became a daily source of reference for me as I struggled with my feelings relating to grief. It also helped in addressing my loss of identity and behaviour that developed from distraction. 

There was a point for me when the need to be needed again became extreme, compulsive. It was combined with a process of giving everything I had away, emotionally, financially. I didn't want to keep anything, of me or what I had. There didn't seem a point. I had no future, so why the need to retain anything? And the process was a good distraction - from feeling anything.

But ultimately it led to my life staying in limbo - and in the dark. Another devastating experience of loss came as a consequence and I was compelled to look at myself to find out why. After more online research I discovered the work of Melody Beattie and I came to understand that my behaviour was typical of codependency - a trait that is apparently exacerbated by grief. Codependency is to some extent a contentious subject. All relationships are to a level codependent - and in its healthy definition that is good, a mutually beneficial form of support between people. Like the perfect balance I had with Maria. But at its unhealthy extremes, the process becomes dramatically skewed. One person gives, care-takes, enables excessively and the other relies on that, taking but with little to give back. And the caretaker gives at their own expense, neglecting their own needs in order to focus on another.

There's an organisation that's set up as a support system for codependency specifically, called Codependence Anonymous. Their website is on this link if you would like to find out more: www.coda.org.

The Language of Letting Go by Melody BeattieI'll write on that subject more at a later date, but aside from the issue of codependency, this book helped me to understand more about myself and my behaviours. It also helped me to gain some sense of future, of direction, to making a commitment to myself and living life again. It made me think about life in a wider context and introduced the concept of a Higher Power; I started to consider the perspective of a Universe through which our journeys continue after the time we spend on Earth. It finally started to give me a way to make some sense of death, because  Maria's soul lives on somewhere in that Universe. Being able to believe that her journey continues gave me comfort and started a sense of hope.

 

Just a Little More Time…

Just a Little More Time…

Letting go is hard to do… so often we remain in the comfort of feelings from the past because it feels safer than facing the fear we have about the unknown path of our future. Unlocking our hearts, removing the barriers that protect us from the pain we have experienced in the past is a leap of faith. It is also the road to freedom:

 

Just a little more time

With a broken heart

For its shattered rhythm

To beat apart

 

Just a little more time

For the wounds to heal

For the scars to form

And start to feel

 

Just a little more time

With the walls in place

To protect from pain

And its cold embrace

 

Just a little more time

Until the light comes in

From the darkest night

Let the day begin

 

Just a little more time

Is fear’s best friend

The future’s promise

That the night won’t end

 

Just a little more time

Is the past’s desire

To fuel its flames

In the present’s fire

 

There is only one time

And in it we are whole

Our scars are the marks

Of our heart and soul

Tender reminders

That we live to love

And now is the time

To rise above

To let go of the past

Let the future remain

An unknown force

Of its own domain

 

The time is now

The moment is this

It’s the air’s caress

It’s the sunlight’s kiss

So take just a little more time

To enjoy right now.

 

This poem is copyright of Elaine Sturgess, please do not reproduce either in part or full without permission of the author.

Letting Go

Letting Go

I wrote the following article in January 2015, a little over 4 years after Maria passed. It was a pivotal time:

This is a profound moment. This article marks the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one. I use the analogy with a novel, because generally life is so like that, though a chapter might end and a new one start, there is a natural flow between them, some threads carry on, others are released or lost and new ones begin. But every now and again the story heads off in an almost entirely new direction – so maybe this is more than a new chapter, maybe it’s the Story of My Life Part 2.

As I write this I feel like am standing at the edge of a cliff, on the verge of letting go of pretty much everything from my past and launching into a new space – very much hoping that as I flap my newly formed wings, I am actually going to fly.

My last chapter was a four year period that has been the most devastating, painful and difficult of my life, a period of intense loss that started with the death of my life partner, Maria, with whom I had spent 17 happy years. It is also the most transformational and greatest period of learning and growth that I have been through since I was a child. And in that last sentence lies the essence of what I believe to be a fundamental understanding of the choices and attitudes we can make in the process of dealing with our grief, that can help to make recovery and healing more bearable and more positive.

It has taken me all of that four years to learn, struggle with, deny, try to avoid and ultimately finally accept that the only way for me to truly move forward and start my life again, is to let go of almost all of my past. My home, my belongings, my business, my beliefs, my limitations, my blocks, my insecurities… and to rebuild with a completely fresh sheet. I am heading out with a few treasured possessions, some loose goals, some fabulous people to connect with, an idea of what my purpose is – and a trust that where the wind, my spirit and my intuition blow me will deliver everything I need to lead a happier and more fulfilled life. It is at once terrifying and thrilling.

Grief can by utterly and totally devastating. It is complex and experienced uniquely be each individual. The extent and nature of our grief is also affected by the connection we have with those we lose and at what stage of our lives – and by the circumstances involved. Where loss is unexpected, outside our natural belief about life expectancy and involve traumatic events, that loss can have an enormous impact on our own lives (and those around us): in every respect. Trauma and shock are added to the loss. And we will carry that for the rest of our own days. There are those who have lost dear ones recently who will read this article and wonder how I can possibly talk about anything positive coming out of such loss, which I completely understand. I would have had the same reaction four years ago. Maria and I were each other’s core family and we both lived together and worked together. It was a happy, fulfilling relationship and we were rarely apart in those 17 years. So I felt like my life ended with Maria’s, that I would never to able to live without her. That I might as well die too. And the circumstances of her passing, which I have still only been able to share with a few people, added to the devastation. How could anything positive possibly come out of that? Well though it might be hard for you to believe, it can. And it is. Slowly.

And don’t get me wrong. I stand here on the verge of the writing of my new chapter, with my pen in hand and a blank sheet of paper, not because my grief has ended, far from it, but because I have finally come to understand that learning to live with it and through it every day, is the only I option I have if I want to fully experience my new path. The treasured memories are by far the largest part of my current life that I will carry forward with me. Though much of the last 4 years has been dark and tough, there have been moments and periods of bright light. I went through extreme emotions – for the first 9 months I did little more than cry. Sometimes all day. I barely slept, ate little. I couldn’t believe it had happened, I tried to deny it. I felt totally broken, empty, like my insides had been ripped out. I got angry, I tried to bargain – I would have given my life for just one more hour with her. I became depressed, had the darkest of thoughts and felt like I couldn’t carry on even another day. The pain and anguish seemed relentless.

And then after a year or so, I started to emerge. Gradually a little at a time. Still so many dark days, but also being lucky enough to know and meet some amazing people who helped me to join the world again – and even enjoy some of the best experiences of my life. Now I feel like I am finally coming out of the shadows and emerging more fully into that light, but knowing that I will still have days on which I will crumble and fall back into that darkness; when I will feel hopeless about that path or want to change direction. But now at least I know that all of that is ok. That I can get through it. That I can get through anything. And it will all somehow work out for the best.

There is so much I would like to share about those four years, but it will take a book to do it. There are some really key decisions though, learnings, understandings that I came to, that I believe have been absolutely essential to helping me get through to this point. I reached those decisions out of a desperate need to find answers. Even knowing that there were no answers. At the beginning I wanted to know why. Why did this have to happen? Why Maria? Why did she have to suffer? Why me? Why did I have to lose her? And I wanted to understand. What is the point to life when it gets taken away so cruelly? What happens after death? Where is Maria now? How can people believe in God when he takes away the good people? How do I deal with this? How will I ever get over it? Why? What? How? Over and over…

So I started to read and research and absorb and talk and to take action to try and help myself – and to accept the help of others – so that I could get through it. Sometimes I did the right things, sometimes I got it wrong. Very wrong. I tried to move forward before I had dealt with and let go of the pain of the past. I started on a path to self-healing and then diverted off it in a significant way. In a way that hurt me some more and also hurt others. I was more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life and my vulnerability both opened me to healing and to more pain and then to more healing. But all of it landed me in the place I am now.

Amongst the wise advice I received during this time, was that of an old friend from my childhood who lost both her parents within a short period of time during her late teens. It devastated and informed her life. She subsequently studied Psychology at University and told me something that had a profound impact on me. She said that when a major catastrophic event like this happens, the “schemas” that we have developed up to that point – our truths as we know them and the rules that we apply to our existence, get called into question. It’s like our understanding of what life is, of who we are and what we are meant to be here for, get thrown up in the air and we can no longer make sense of it. And at this point we stand at a critical crossroads. Do we re-establish our schemas as they were before, go back to a semblance of the same life as the same person, or do we take the opportunity to take a fresh look at it all and rebuild it based on a different understanding, a new series of perspectives, on the world, our connections and ourselves. I have chosen the latter. It is not the general choice. Most people settle back into a similar pattern. Often because of the commitments we have in our life that draw us back – dependents like children and family, careers – and the comfort and safety of familiarity.

In many ways, I have been very fortunate to be able to make the choice I have, not least of all because of Maria. She was an amazing woman. Kind, generous, intelligent, a beautiful soul with an innate sense of spirituality. Far more than I. And though I didn’t learn as much from her as I should have when she was here, I have since. And I know how much she would approve of me learning those lessons and being more positive and embracing of life in a new way. I was lucky also that we had time to talk, to say all the things we needed to say. Maria knew how to really live, how to appreciate and enjoy what she had. She dealt with her illness with such bravery and dignity and reached a level of understanding and acceptance that was beyond my own understanding at the time. She told me that her only regret was that she would no longer be here to take care of me. How telling that was – and how proud she would be that I am finally learning to do that for myself. And about time too. I also have extraordinary and wonderfully supportive family and friends, who I have come to appreciate more than I ever did – some I have known for years and some I have connected with more recently and I am so incredibly grateful for their love and support and for their patient kind and gentle guidance – especially at times when I have been too broken to make sensible decisions or to see clearly the error of my ways.

So this is it. I’m letting go. Hello today, I’m right here to enjoy you – and bring on tomorrow, I’ll be right there with you too.