I wrote the following to a friend a few weeks ago to expand on an conversation about the grieving process. While this is certainly an encapsulated version of my experience, I think it may be helpful to some. “Anniversary Syndrome” begins for me on June 29th and lasts until August 16 since those are the dates my parents died. This syndrome is not uncommon and as the years have passed it gets easier to manage. And yet the love I feel for these spectacular people only grows stronger and the memories become more and more precious. I hope that sharing this letter is comforting and informative. ~ FD
My mother died 6 years ago on June 29th. In fact she was buried on her birthday, July 1. She and I were extremely close all of my life. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 68 and died at 80 so it was a long and very painful process of watching her fade away. Seminary and my deepening spiritual connection gave me tools for navigating those years, along with the wisdom I gained from Mike Dooley’s work and other teachings. By the time it was obvious that she was nearing the end of her life, I was pretty certain I was ready for it since by then I felt I had already lost her. I was wrong. The actual loss of my mother resulted in an almost unbearable “tearing away” of that very deep love and mother-daughter energy that was such a powerful bond between us. I was with her when she took her last breath and I felt that a piece of me went with it. What is so amazing is that the trauma of that moment took me to a place of consciousness I couldn’t have imagined. In that exquisite pain I was lifted out of my normal state into a unitive state of pure bliss and connection. I could feel the trees breathing, I saw everything, heard everything, felt connected to and in love with everyone and everything…every stone, every ray of sunlight and every raindrop. I was in this extraordinary state for 5 days. What was fascinating is that I felt both agonizing loss and total joy all at once. I’ve never forgotten that time and when it came to an end I felt another sense of loss because that state was so wonderful. I admit I’ve longed for it ever since.
I knew when I returned to my “normal” state of being that I had brought something with me that would stay with me for the rest of my life. I knew firsthand that there was “more” and I knew that it was not meant for me to stay in that state. And it’s a good thing because I don’t think I could have sustained any sort of normal life there. It was just too blissful for me to be fully functional.
When my Dad died almost three years ago (I was also extremely close to him…he was my hero and probably the most exceptional human being I’ve ever known) the grief was almost unbearable. His death was not slow like my Mom’s. It was sudden, unexpected and it tore me apart. That unitive experience did not repeat. I did not find myself in a state of bliss or “unity consciousness”. I was just profoundly sad and brought to my knees. What I DID have was the strength to move through the grief in a healthy and conscious way…embracing it, allowing it, accepting it. By the way, he died on my birthday, August 16th, and I feel tremendously honored by that. The day of his funeral as I was showering I “saw” him with my mother, holding her hand and smiling like a kid who just got a shiny brand new bike. He was saying, “look, I finally found her again”. I asked him what was next and he told me, “just keep going”. That has been my mantra ever since.
I think we can find our way through grief if we embrace it. I always counsel people to allow it to wash over them and move through in an organic way. The Jewish tradition tells us to grieve for at least a year…it takes that long to process. In my view, like all things, it’s different for everyone. And, it takes as long as it takes. Personally, I adore the idea of celebrating someone’s life, even as we honor the feelings of loss and grief. We recently created and officiated a celebration of life ceremony for our sister-in-law’s mother, who was also very close to us. We were all grieving her loss and celebrating her life together. It was a glorious day filled with tears, laughter, music, memories and celebration. It really helped us all stand together in the grief and allowed it to move freely and unimpeded.
Today, as I approach the third anniversary of my beloved Daddy’s death, I remember all the years we had together as a family, the lessons he taught me simply by the way he walked in the world, his generosity and compassion, his kindness and his huge open heart.
I encourage anyone who is experiencing loss and grief to allow it all to wash over you, honor yourself and your process, take care of yourself in every way, rest and trust that you and your loved ones are held in the arms of the greatest Love you can imagine.
We experience grief and loss every day, whether it shows up in our own lives directly, or in the lives of those close to us or even through the loss of someone in the public eye who has touched our lives. Death and Life are two sides of the same coin and for those of us left behind, we have choices when it comes how we “keep going”. Some people will choose the wallow in their sadness and loss and avoid the kinds of things that allow for grief to move through in a healthy way so that they can emerge whole and fully enlivened. Others will embrace what is, surrender to the feelings as they arise allowing them to move through organically as they “keep going” and emerge with a renewed zeal for living as they honor their lost love ones.
After the death of her father a friend of mine affirmed “I could spend endless hours lamenting his loss and focusing on death. Instead, ‘I choose life’.” That is my clarion call today, “I choose life.”
MORE TO COME……FD