“After the death of a significant person, we are suspended in limbo; we are not the person we used to be, nor the person we are yet to become”~~~ Stephanie Eriesson
It is our stories in life which define and animate us and create our realities. All stories are unique and different; just as we are unique and different and through telling our stories, we always hope we are able to assist someone, somewhere in the world. To make a small difference, a big difference, to touch their soul, allowing them one day, to write their own stories. Through our stories, we walk, arm in arm, supporting and assisting with whatever is needed. According to Arthur Frank “ stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided” ( 3)
Tragedy or death can strike in the middle of the night, or mid-afternoon; it has no agenda and we are given no warning. It is divinely orchestrated, for only God knows when his angels will come for his own.
My family’s story suddenly changed on September 8, 2001. Little did we understand how deep the changes would be and the ripples that would extend out, touching us and others forever.
From a personal experience, there are no words to describe the anguish, the deep pain one experiences as you go through each day. I compared it to being tossed into the “dark belly of a whale” where it is black, so black you can see nothing in front of you. You stumble and fall, struggling to find your way. You attempt to rationalize and make sense of what just happened. Then there are the emotions. Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Emptiness. The empty chair at the table. The loss of dreams, and the plans left undone. The raw emotion saved for bedtime, late at night, when you are alone with God. The guilt. Did I love you enough? All the things one wanted to say, but realize it’s too late. It is a feeling of wanting to be normal when meeting people you know. Being afraid of how you will react. Will you hold it together? Will you be strong? The sheer determination to survive gets us through the day. Then one night sitting by yourself lost in our thoughts, waiting for this person that you loved so deeply to come into the room and make everything better again, you experience an epiphany. You realize at that moment, you will never feel them, touch them or listen to their voice again. It is a feeling which words cannot describe; it must be lived in order to be understood. That feeling takes a long time to fade.
The days following are hectic and emotionally draining as one plans the death celebration and organizes personal matters pertaining to the loss. One lives in the present, never going beyond. Then there is the massive unleashing of humanity and support from the community, providing hot suppers, meat trays, casseroles, and any offers of assistance it can. It’s the communities’ way of ensuring the family members are loved, protected and care for by their own.
As you struggle, you slowly climb the ladder rungs one rung at a time; ever so slowly you begin to see a tiny flash of light. As the days go on, the light gets brighter and stronger; then one day you feel the warmth of the sun light on your face, and you know you are well on your way to surviving, this massive change in your life.
Widowhood is not a journey one intends on taking nor would chose, if it was placed on the list of things to do in life. Once we accept our assignment, there are two choices. Remain the same, or change. With the second choice we give oneself permission to begin the passage, all the while, unsure of the person we will meet on the other side. We fearlessly proceed, hoping this person, is who, we were all along?
According to Mort Lieberman widowhood is one of the most misunderstood groups in America as society struggles with end of life processes.
“In privacy, there no one saw me, nor did I see one thing, I had no light or guide. But the fire that burned inside my chest” – “the dark night” by St John of the Cross
~~~ Excerpt from part two of the book The ALCHEMY OF LOSS by Abigail Carter
From my personal perspective widowhood was a “jumping off point” or baseline for measuring my courage, patience, persistence, resiliency and love of myself. None of this could have been done without counselling, support and love from my family, friends and my community. It is imperative we receive support from all three, in order to move forward in a healthy emotional state. This passage leads one into the unknown, requiring trust and belief that one is exactly where one is supposed to be. The journey can be demanding, complicated and requires time. The spectrum of emotions felt go beyond words, as you search for meaning and wholeness again. Getting support and interacting with others can be difficult and at times challenging making the journey very difficult and arduous. Emotions such as anxiety, anger or apprehension are your constant companions’ and if left unattended can lead to serious issues later in life. How individuals deal with grief is determined by personality, culture, coping skills and their relationship with their souls.
Unfortunately western society does not allow time for the widow/widower to take time to re compose themselves once they are past the funeral and the duties of the estate. According to researcher, Helena Lopota in her book Current widowhood – “Myths and Realities” she states “Society defines the state of normal and the appropriate behaviours after one has lost their spouse with no tolerance for anything less” (102). Meanwhile the widow/widower continues going through “emotional, relational lifestyle, self-concept changes basically on their own” (124).
“The Journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place” ~~ Dr. Barbara De Angel
Ashley Davis Bush in her book “Transcending Loss” speaks about the rebuilding your life from the aspect of two levels, “the physical and psychological reconstruction”, both equally important, yet different (47).
From a physical reconstruction perspective it is important one maintains good physical health, through exercise and looking after yourself in a gentle manner. Indulgencing in spa days and pedicures/manicures leaves you feeling good about ones’ self. Going for walks and being in nature is wonderful therapy for your soul. As is swimming and feeling the rhythm and flow of the water as you glide through it. Riding a bike you haven’t been on in ages, there is nothing nicer than feeling the rush of the wind against your face. For myself I chose to perfect my front crawl. It had been one of those things I felt I would do after my sons left home, however the time had come and it began with tiny steps, nothing overwhelming that could or would shatter my fragile state of mind.
My psychological reconstruction began with my career as I struggled with what to do next. The individuals and clients had been my pillars throughout my ordeal however I no longer felt engaged and of service to neither my clients nor my employer. My feelings were mixed; as there was tremendous sadness in leaving this “family” I had known for so long however on the other hand there was this tinge of excitement and enthusiasm, something I had not felt in years. Although the decision was scary and certainly had many unknowns, there was something very magical about what was unfolding.
As the journey unfolded, I found myself retiring and all of a sudden, I felt like Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz. I suddenly found myself in class rooms and hallways of our local university/college, maneuvering new classes and a new routine. The higher powers knew I needed to find my confidence and self-esteem, if I was to succeed in the new world I was about to step into. My psychological reconstruct would take place as it needed, with my studies allowing me to regain the confidence I had lost. My time as a student allowed me to watch and listen and take notes. I researched and understood why we do the things we do, all the while discovering this road had been well travelled by many older and wiser individuals. They had taken the time to share their wisdom and research through books and articles.
As I continued my journey I was given many signs and synchronicities’, all indicators from the divine, that everything was unfolding as it needed to be. I discovered and re discovered many gifts which had been lying dormant within me. Through recalling and writing my own story I was able to establish my goals and look at where my story would assist others who would find themselves in a same or a similar situation. I was becoming a different person and at graduation I knew in my heart my journey was just beginning. I had come so far and had made so much progress, as I began to explore the mysteries of life. I also knew I would always be a lifelong learner.
In life, the universe always knows exactly what we need, before we do. During this time death and I became friends, and a personal relationship was unfolding. We had developed a mutual respect for each other. My fear of death was being reduced to a deep love and fascination while death also knew it no longer possessed a grip on me or my life. This resulted in us joining forces and going into the world to tell our stories. Once this decision was made, more synchronicities occurred! Throughout this entire process my business “Transitions facilitating change” came to fruition. “Let me introduce you to your heart: together we will find your passion for life.”
At Transitions my activities are guided by my belief that individuals suffering from loss or grief need not feel isolated and abandoned during the transition process. With our losses come changes which cause anxiety and insecurity. Individuals need to feel empowered to make a positive difference in their lives and with those around them. I am passionate about working with people to bring about personal change ensuring a positive and sustaining impact on their day-to-day lives going forward. This assistance comes directly from my heart to theirs. As outsiders must never assume we know what the concern or problem is until we genuinely listen to their story. As mankind has progressed, and moved into the Information Age, we have lost touch with how to care and show compassion for one another. The more affluent we have become, the more we have given our power away. The institutions and systems became larger and more complex, taking over our lives, ensuring we comply with the “rules”. These rules then shaped our behaviors, and actions, making us feel insecure and unworthy. Communities became nonexistent and citizens become consumers. Resulting in us, being valued by how much money we have in the bank, as opposed to the gifts we bring to our community. Many of us realize our world is not sustainable if we continue the coarse we are headed and amidst the shallowness, there is emptiness within families and communities which needs revitalizing. Communities need purpose and commitment for future generations; because at the end of the day, it’s all about caring for one another, giving and being there for each other. We all possess gifts we need to share with our communities’; these gifts are “knowledge, hands and heart”. Through learning and failing and developing communication at all levels, we will “empower ourselves and our communities”
There is tremendous shifts happening right now, and the world as many of us know it is changing, the Baby Boomer generation is challenging a lot of the myths we have been led to believe for decades. This is causing discernment for many have been conditioned to believe this is all we are when experiencing transitions. Within this shift, is numerous “people” movements which are growing in numbers; death cafes, green burials, death doulas, Wholistic death groups, death educators, who are coming together to talk about death, dying and the grief process? Communities of like-minded individuals are bringing death and dying and grief out of the closet and breathing new life into how we deal with our losses. We are ready for a new story, and for many of us, our destiny is to teach and assist others in finding their new stories.
Many of us have come to this spot in life, through crisis or drastic change; with the universe gently guiding us to learn and teach what is missing within communities, and many times assist with reconnecting a community with those suffering and lost. Life is a mystery which needs to be savored, not necessarily understood. Our role is to merely follow our inner voice and go where we are needed. Individuals who struggle with grief and loss do not have a disease nor are they scarred for life. They need to understand and learn that death and life are one, and to learn a new skill we must appreciate the collective process which is orchestrated through families, friends and communities.
I think Stephen Jenkinson in his book “Die Wise” says it best ” What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway? Grief and the love of life are twins, natural human skills that can be learned first by being on the receiving end and feeling worthy of them, later by practicing them when you run short of understanding. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act” ( intro).
Through our work together at Transitions we will create hope and passion for life once again.
Please contact me at www.transitionsfaciliting.ca I would love to hear from you.
Carter, Abigail. “The Alchemy of Loss: A young widow’s transformation”. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd. 2008. Print.
Davies, Clare. “Death has become too sanitised” Aeon Magazine. Web 11 September, 2013. Print.
Frank, Arthur. Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio- narratology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2010. Print.
Gibran, Kahlil. “The Prophet. 1923. Print.
Kennedy, Alexander. Forward by Levine, Stephen. “Honoring Grief: Creating a space for yourself heal”. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publishers Inc. 2014. Print.
Lieberman, M. Doors Open, Doors Close: widows grieving and growing. New York: Grossett/Putman. 1996. Print.
Lopata, H.l. Current Widowhood: Myths & Realities: Newbury Park CA: Sage. 1996. Print.