To value life

Hearing that a loved one is perhaps dying is a very big shock. I guess my first real brush with death happened when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1984. I only so young then, I was only 22 but a very young 22, I had just spent a year in my first job at the Research School of Biological Sciences and had moved out of home for the second time to share with some friends who were in the military at the Duntroon college here in Canberra. I was running a bit wild on the weekends but also holding down a second job waitressing to save for my overseas trip with my then partner Jim.

Dad’s diagnosis was a big shock to us and I have shared how it was the one time we connected where Dad expressed his emotions and I really felt his vulnerability. Up till then we had had a lot of healthy disagreement because I didn’t like my Dad was a property developer who was bulldozing old buildings to put up huge modern office blocks with my brother. I was also unconsciously angry he would not support my academic studies and forced me to go to business college.

Dad’s illness was in some ways mercifully short. He was operated on December and came out briefly from hospital on 24 December only to be returned in the early hours of Christmas morning. He died while they performed an emergency tracheoctomy on him to help him breathe in the early hours of Thursday 8 January. I got the call at work to come home.

I never got to say goodbye. I had not been well enough to go to the hospital, I was to be leaving for India in January to meet my partner who left in December and had had shots the day before Dad died. As it was my partner broke it off with me in the middle of the night shortly after Dad died, he told me not to come overseas but Mum forced me to go on with the trip which was horrendous. My brother handled the funeral and I never got to see Dad’s body. I do not remember the funeral at all, only some of the wake and not even a lot of that. Within a month I was alone overseas in the UK and very lost.

Lately I have achieved some kind of peace with Dad’s death. I have a post banked up on what grieving people need and how each death is personal and different according to the relationship we had with the person, Dad was always emotionally remote to me, as is my brother so I have struggled so much in my relationships with men, most of my partners could never validate me emotionally and my last partner caused me untold damage by not even trying to understand my complicated grief issues. That said I would often lash out due to anger I had with my father at not really ‘getting’ me and showing me empathy. I am sure I had to go through all of this pain in life to learn what a loving relationship with a healthy emotionally validating partner is, and harder to believe I do deserve to be treated with more empathy and respect.

Now that my friend, Christine seems to be possibly suffering from cancer the synchronicity of timing is not lost on me. I found my Mum also lost close friends in the final years of her life very close to the anniversary of Dad’s illness, diagnosis and death. In the case of my father it dogged every Christmas celebration and one year my older sister and I found ourselves at logger heads, it was the year Jonathan left me.

Christine’s illness is a reminder to me, too of my own brushes with death. Four of us have been diagnosed with cancer in my family, my father, my brother, my second oldest sister and I. I have not been brave enough to go for my own breast cancer check up yet, it is something I know I must deal with.

I wanted to write this post though to work through how intrinsically death and life can seem to be inter-related. Really bad grief or sadness or loss can steal our life energy for a long time and can be made more complex by earlier, perhaps unresolved griefs. What is clearer to me after all the research and reading I have done on grief as well as my experience of seeing how the failure to deal with, or rather struggle to do so manifested in my family is that we do need support and validation in our grief, in order to move through it an embrace life energy again. That said if the bond to someone is powerful, for example in the case of Johnny Cash and June Carter that I shared about in recent posts the death of one may bring about the death of the other.

Its is our heart energy that is most impacted through loss, death or leavings. I know my own heart and panic symptoms began when Jonathan told me he was leaving me. The month he spent with me before packing up to go ‘home’ to the UK in July 2004 was one of the most painful periods of my life and the following 7 years spent in the wilderness of abandonment involved a brush with death due to a head injury on the first anniversary and a bad fall on the second, but maybe on all those years we were together I was on the run from my own grief and trying my damndest to live. I think of how I struggled with the grief in my body and how little affirmation or recognition I so often got. I think of how grief still gives me ‘spins’ at critical times of the day and especially around the 5 pm critical timeslot which was when I went head over heels over my bicycle following a cranio sacral session to deal with earlier trauma. Maybe I would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, who knows if I bought the accident on myself as my sister tried to tell me many years ago. It was just so hard to trust a family so often shut down who told me I should not be where I was nor doing it as tough as I was. That said I know its not their fault either. I truly do believe everyone does the very best they can with what they know at the time. Its just sometimes their ‘best’ falls woefully short.

My inner critic gave me a hard time again today for going over and over my trauma again in this blog earlier. It told me I need to be ‘moving on’ and that its boring for my followers. I will let you be the judge of how accurate my critic is, while acknowledging that at times my fear and sensitivity may have kept me more stuck than I needed to be.

That said I am alive and I want to live, I really really do. Life is full of such a profound mix of ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ and in the end its up to us how we handle them and the attitude we take to them as well as the choices we make in the face of it all that makes our life what it is, and so often we are not always consciously choosing. Today I choose as much as I can to embrace life, despite my knowledge of how vulnerable it can be at times to live and face death. But I want this awareness of death to always help me keep my heart open to love and to the opportunities to connect and be fully alive that life constantly presents me with.

Trapped

There is a grief that simmers here

That cannot find its way

To emerge from the cracks

That break open inside of us

When those we love

Who tethered our souls

To life

Depart

Their leaving begins the fraying

And the breaking

That so many of us have no means of enduring

And so it is we find our ways

To deny the truth

Of what has been torn away

Or the many ways we become

Broken

In the aftermath

Will these losses

Become our undoing

Or our new beginning

Our ending and surrendering

Of an old way of being

Or a thing that we keep trapped so deep inside of us

And will those witnessing our struggle

Truly ever know

The difficulty of what we are facing

When this mixed up world

So often provides no means of

Holding us

Or embracing us

In our need for feeling

Releasing

Grieving

And healing

In the silence

Sometimes I hear you

Speaking words of love to me

From deep within the silence

I feel the power of your care

Surrounding me

As the brace around my heart

I held so tight

Finally lets go

And I fall into the sadness

Hidden beneath

I think of the times

You expressed such grief

For her

The daughter you loved so

I like to believe

That somewhere from behind the veil

You are sending support to me

Doing all you can

To see that I am set free

From these chains of loneliness

Encouraging me to let go of my fear

And open my heart to him

Completely

And I only know

That peace only ever seems to be

Truly found

When I embrace surrender

And let myself fall

Into the mixed up pool of longing

I feared for so long

Entering

And then

In these quieter moments

When tears are spent

And I have fallen low enough

To embrace gentleness

I feel as you reach out your spirit

To embrace me tenderly

You will not pass this way again

Just a moment ago

I thought I saw you lingering

Close to the door frame

But it was a just a vision of a cloud

That cast its shadow down

And the grief inside

That is always just a way behind me

Projected upon my mind

A vision of you

Instead

Lingering there

But for you my love

Life has ended

And there is in this

Such a sense of loss

Almost too deep to fathom

And even though

Somewhere I know

A part of you remains forever here

Inside my heart

There is still this terrible ache

Of yearning and heartbreak

A longing to see you once again

Lingering here

Sending all my grief aloft

Floating away from me on the clear clear air

But sadly wishful thinking sinks

Now

With the realisation

You will not pass this way again

You will not pass this way again

In praise of longing

I love how google search images links you to articles which express something strongly associated to what you were writing about and seeking an image to portray. I just came across the following article from the Huffington Post. It seems in modern times we are determined to exile aspects of the soul such as spiritual and romantic longing to the psychological bin of so called ‘neurosis’. I love this article as it speaks to the desire of the soul to long for an object of love and connection to the sacred or numinous, surely its not all just about projection but something far deeper and more important to our soul.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/in-praise-of-longing-recl_b_7962768

A vial containing our tears : reflections on grief and grieving

There is a beautiful psalm or bible passage that I cannot remember the reference to which says that God counts and collects each one of our tears.  In a culture which so often denigrates grief it is important for us to know that our sorrow is not unimportant or in vain.  The implication is so often that we need to ‘be over it’, not carry it forward or just make sure we don’t make others too uncomfortable around us, because it can be hard for those who have not dealt with or are familiar to a grieving process to understand how essential the shedding of tears is.

I watched a movie a few weeks ago about a painful loss called The Shack and in it Sam Worthington plays an adult child of an alcoholic and abusive Dad who ends up losing his youngest daughter to a violent crime.   The movie is about his quest to come to terms with the anger, pain, sadness and resentment he holds towards a God who he feels ‘has forsaken him’ in allowing such a terrible thing to happen.  He ends up being transported to a cottage where he lives for a time with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and in one scene the Asian singer/actress who plays the later part holds up a vial that is full of his tears.   

This image speaks to me of ‘holding’ and containment which are two things we can really struggle with if we are not surrounded by those who assist us and support us to grieve.   I know in my own life that after my father died and my partner abandoned me I went overseas with much unresolved grief.  I acted it out over the next 8 years of my active addiction and my recovery was a journey to find my way back to it in order to understand, feel and release it.  (I am not going to say to ‘heal’ it because in a sense I think its a central mistake of our culture that grief is an illness that need to be cured or fixed somehow.)  Its a sad indictment of our modern society that in past years there has been a move to have grief included as a mental illness in the bible of psychiatry The DSM.   

Grief that is unresolved can indeed make us mentally and emotionally unwell.  To my mind it can be the huge unspoken ‘monster’ that lives at the basis of addictions and anger and the rage of acting out of terrorism and other means of reclaiming a sense of power and control within situations where we are actually overpowered.  Grief itself is feared by many because it is like a tidal wave in a way.  We can try to run from it or defend against it, but in my experience it always then finds some kind of way to knock us over sideways.  Far better not to see it as a monster but as a rejected energy that wants us to turn towards, surrender and acknowledge it.  

Being able to accept that grief is there and that we are powerless to a degree is the first step.  We can use different forms of containment.  For me dancing and writing and walking help to move the grief through my body, the freeze state of some traumas and traumatic injuries can be all about frozen grief that brings a critical event to us which externalises its intense charge in some form and then leaves us knocked over, frozen paralysed or powerless. 

And if we look to the ancestral epigenetic component we can see how this stored charge of grief and anxiety can be passed on from generation to generation.  When I start to get into compulsive cleaning I am aware of how much grief and a sense of powerlessness fuelled my Mum’s own manic cleaning binges.  And I got badly injured myself when she was in the midst of some of them.   I have injured myself so many times or broken things either gardening or cleaning that these days I am much more mindful in the midst of such activities, stopping and breathing and centring myself as much as I can.

I do believe that like most emotions grief is a kind of visitor to us, as in the poem by Rumi.  If we welcome the visitation of grief and take some steps to give it a place, then just possibly we will not be as compulsively ‘run’ over by it (or over run by it) and in time we as we integrate it, it will deepen and enrich us in the process.  

And what is most important is to know that grief has a purpose and its presence in our lives or heart is a sign that something had great value to and was cherished deeply by us or longed for.  It has come time to understand that value or experience or let that something or someone go and so there will be a shedding if we are to move forward.  Such losses and griefs will always be with us and remain forever a vital part of our soul on our ongoing journey through life.

Surrender to the tide

Grief 9.jpg

If I can help you to know

Its okay to feel sadness

Please let me

I know it should not be so

That we need permission to grieve

And I have heard it said

That grief feels so much out of our control

Like a tidal wave that threatens to drown us

That is only natural that we would try to run

Or lock all the doors and windows shut with bolts of iron

Trying to pretend that all is fine

But really what we most need

Is to surrender

And allow ourselves to be tumbled about in the breakers

That pull us down to the bottom of a deep blue sea

But that said

It is not an easy thing to do

When everything in our life seems to go askew

And we are left standing all alone

Holding just a tattered remnant

Of what once was such a precious

Garment

Even now I struggle to find the words

To explain what it might mean to feel it

Allowing ourselves to let go of the barricades

So all I will say is this

Please remember

Grief really is nothing less than the measure

Of your longing and love for

The most precious and valuable of things

Free to feel sorrow

I am a big fan of embracing and accepting my emotions these days.  I consider them tides now that rise and fall and are like waves that would like us to ride them into what every shore they are breaking.  And even though it can feel exhausting to be hollowed our or broken open by grief like I was yesterday, I am so grateful now for my body’s ability to surrender to that tide rather than resist it’s natural flow.

I was thinking today of how braced my body became over years.  One of the consequences of not opening up to our feelings is that we hold our breath. We may have been taught to do this by a parent or other social conditioning, we may have been threatened if we were angry or felt sad with a punishment and so we had to freeze, or suck it up, or we may have tried to fight or fly away and been stopped, like when my Mum pulled my arm out of my socket when I was only three as I was trying to get away from her.

Yesterday at the crematorium as they played the song You’ll Never Walk Alone I really felt my abandonment wound triggered.   Gerry was far from alone in his cancer journey, Carmel listed in her eulogy all the things done for them.   I thought of my own breast cancer surgery where I had little in the way of support, a mere skeleton, but that is far from the only time I walked alone in my own life, especially after my father’s death in 1985.  This is not meant to be a post about self pity, only an attempt to say I had it really tough for so many years and validating that and feeling it is painful.  It is admitting to a truth.  I was not part of a close knit loving family like Carmel and Jerry and it’s been very hard.

Anyway surrendering to my feelings felt good yesterday even if quite uncomfortable at times.  It is not easy for many of us if we were never validated in the past.  But I truly do believe the fastest way to freedom is to feel our feelings and make sense of them, emotions are nothing less than energy in motion and energy wants to move out and through, having to bury it all inside has terrible consequences for us.  Embracing and feeling our grief is not automatic and complicated grief that is buried can be left undealt with for years with the result losses pile upon losses.  This is what I experienced as my sobriety unfolded with each funeral of a male friend or father of a friend, which would tap into all the pain over the loss of my Dad and his hurtful treatment of me over years as well as his stumbling attempts at kindness.  All these feelings were was buried for so many years in my addiction and probably my fear around males generated difficult reactions too the threatened intimacy between us.  These feelings can be a a potent cocktail when associated losses are being triggered in us from the unconscious.

When we grieve I believe we have to deal with feelings of powerlessness.  When someone we love dies or something is taken it shows we are not in control.  If we fight against the process we can end up blocked in my experience, far better to let ourselves surrender to what needs to move through us, reshape and change us.

Birthed from love

Trust your sadness

Don’t let it harden to defensiveness and anger

Let your heart be gently soft

As you count the enormous cost

Of all you wished for but could not gain

Of all that was longed for but lost

Trust the process enough to know

That somewhere even in the darkest shadows

Light is still shining somewhere

Even if covered over by frost and snow

For as the ice melts

Light will come again

As all that was illusion is dissolved

Through this process of transformation

Truly I tell you

That the sun will come again

After this all this grief

 For how could sadness be birthed

From anything else

But love?

When I first saw you

Phil

When I first saw you

I think I understood

You had the power to unravel me

And when I allowed my body to open to yours

Dizziness came with the fall

As you picked me up

And promised to keep me forever

Safe from harm

But instead our relationship

Took me towards the edge of a precipice

I could not negotiate

And my vertigo

Made you realise

I was not lion hearted enough

For one such as you

And so you let me fall

After such a long battle to hold on

And then the real unravelling began

As I tried to keep my self afloat

But slowly drowned instead

Captured by a black tide of history repeating

A whirlpool circling in upon itself

Chased toward the edge of extinction

Where I

Came undone

How could words explain the darkest of years

Instead all pain falls into emptiness

Unspoken

But through poetry

Birthed out of the deep black hole

With chaos at the centre

And yet hidden inside

Lived so many mysteries

Waiting to be penetrated

And so the labour began

To understand it all

Until eventually

Light began to dawn again

At the centre