Aint Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang

Harlan G

Got your attention?  I’m talking about the ‘G’ word…Grief, not Gangsta.  I hope you don’t stop reading just because you found out this post is about grief.  I think people, and Western culture in particular, have an unease about the word grief.  “Ugh…so heavy…grief” my friend says when she hears that I’ve titled my trip to India ‘Transcending Grief’,  “I just think of a bunch of women sitting around crying” she adds.  I get it.  I changed the title to something lighter, more fun sounding…”Journey to India” and people responded postitively, they liked it better.  Phew, less heavy.

I find myself drawn to the word grief, not repelled.  Anytime I see a workshop, a book or something on the internet with the word ‘grief’ in the title, my pulse quickens and I get excited to see what it is.  I truly have a passion for grief!  Grief makes me appreciate life more…love more.  My heart has cracked open so more can get in.

“The wound is where the light enters you.”  -Rumi

I don’t know if it’s the word itself or if it’s the fear of the pain that we back away from.  I often notice people backing away from the word grief and changing it to something more palatable, like “loss” or “letting go.”  Grief packs a powerful punch.  Oomph right in the gut…or the heart.  Ask somebody who has lost a loved one and they’ll tell you they’re grieving.  Grief is the word that fits.  After a few years (or months!) our society wants people to be moving on and getting past the loss, i.e. Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Stephen Jenkinson says:  “Grief and the love of life are twins.”  Two halves that make a whole.  He goes on to say,  “From a young age we see around us that grief is mostly an affliction, a misery that intrudes into the life we deserve, a rupture of the natural order of things, a trauma that we need coping and management and five stages and twelve steps to get over.  Here’s the revolution:  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?”

If we’re truly living in the moment each day, we are grieving every day as well.  How so?  Well, if I am appreciating the beauty of this moment, with my dog snoring softly on the couch, my daughter sleeping peacefully upstairs, the sun shining through the green willow leaves, I am also aware of the temporal state of this moment.  Everything passes.  Everything dies.  The knowledge that each moment is finite fills me with an ecstatic pleasure as well as an ache to know it will never happen again.  I’m loving life anyway, in spite of loss, because of loss.  In this way, grief has been a life changing gift to me, by giving me a profound appreciation for each moment, knowing that this too shall pass, I will pass.

Summer Poppies come
Summer Poppies come

Often when we lose somebody or something dear to us, we feel compelled to search for the meaning behind the loss.   “What if meaning is not something to find?” Stephen asks.  “Meaning is made by the willingness to proceed.  Life has to continue, not YOU have to continue.  Life is not your life span or your children’s life span.  How about holding the fact that nothing you hold dear lasts.  How about holding that fact close to your bosom?  That’s making meaning of the end of life.”

and go...
and go…

What a difference a year makes

heaven

It’s kind of a personal story…one that is better told through smiles, gestures…tears.  Sitting with a cup of tea and a comfy cushion, a nice blanket to wrap up in, a sheepskin to lie down on…perhaps a few candles burning.  I would tell you this story on a perfect night like this, the wind whooshing through the cottonwood leaves, a dark sky threatening rain, contrasting with the early summer green.  Birds singing their twilight song.

On a cold afternoon on one of the first days of 2012, I lay in my bed daydreaming on the New Moon…making prayers for the new year.  Thinking about what I wanted to call in, to invite, to embrace for the year ahead.  I asked to open my mind to new thought, to higher consciousness, expansion.  I wanted to open my heart to larger love; ways of living, loving, thinking and acting that have been out of reach, beyond my abilities.  I wrote in my journal:  “I know I have called in something bigger than me – I have asked to be opened up and filled.”

Later that year I loved a man in the most intimate way.  It’s hard to describe accurately or to do it justice.  My friend’s husband was dying of a brain tumor.  She asked me to come over and give him Reiki.  I went over to their house and loved him.   That’s what I did.  I loved him the way a mother loves her child – unconditionally and purely.  I let cosmic love pour through me and into him.  I got out of the way.  I was a channel.  I felt filled with love.  I think he did too.  I know he did.  We shared a few intimate hours together over his last few weeks.  On the day he died, I held his hand while he transitioned from consciousness to coma.  I held his feet and felt his spirit take flight – a hawk soaring fast and free.  I lay with him hours after he had passed and stroked his forehead.  Alison and I spent the cool hours of the dark early morning with him – this unseasonably hot June, the June that would bring fire upon fire to our mountains.  We dozed on the bed with him, burned sage, laughed and cried together.  I wrote in my journal how humbled and grateful I was to spend those days with him.  I also wrote that I thought I had found my dharma and how grateful I was to Nancy and Lance for letting me in to their lives so I could share what was longing to be expressed in me – my desire to be of service and for my life to have deeper meaning and purpose.

footsteps

A few days ago, I got a call from my hospice supervisor letting me know a woman was transitioning.  They were asking for volunteers to take turns sitting with her during the day while her family members were at work.  It had been a few months since there had been an opportunity to sit vigil and I jumped at the chance.  First shift.  I’m there.  I have sat with 4 people since Lance died last year.  First I had to go through general training, then a special training to sit vigil.  When my supervisor told me of this new person, she mentioned that this woman was conscious.  This was new.  Something to ponder.  It’s one thing to sit with a stranger that’s dying and they’re unconscious.  But to walk into the room of somebody I’ve never met before, while they’re going through one of the most intimate (if not the most intimate) acts of their life and sit with them…well, this got me nervous.  I prayed as I drove.  I prayed to be of service, to connect with my heart, to just BE.

It’s hard to explain, again, words can’t do this justice.  From the minute I walked into this woman’s room and she locked her blue-gray eyes on me, there was not one second that felt awkward or wrong.  I held her hand.  She didn’t speak but her eyes saw my every move.  I introduced myself and told her I was going to sit with her.  I honored the work she was doing – as she seemed to be laboring – and her body’s wisdom to know when it was time to let go.   I told her she wasn’t alone.   I never know what I will be moved to say or do with any particular person.  It’s different every time.  Sometimes I sit in silent meditation.  We must have “gazed” for over an hour.  It was intimacy on a soul-level.

When I returned the next day for the first shift, I was told that she had just passed.  I went in to see her body and touch her forehead.  As I sat and waited for her family to arrive, I cried.  At first, I was critical of myself…”Stop being so dramatic!  You didn’t even know this woman.  Why are you crying?”  After those thoughts passed, I decided to allow my heart to expand and just feel everything that was surfacing:  the ending of this woman’s life, the shell of her body in front of me, the softness of her gaze from yesterday, the imminent arrival of her loved ones.  The LOVE my own heart could feel for this woman, for the people that cared for her, for the patients in the facility, and for my family.

Today I looked back through my journal and discovered that the day I sat vigil with this woman,  was a year to the day that I first sat with Lance.  If grief is a sprial, then love is concentric circles…rippling out to infinity.  I am truly grateful for this life and for the meaning that I am privileged to have fill my days and the people I am honored to serve.

Escape to Reality

“Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.”
— Rumi

20130426-095202.jpg

Sometimes when a dream dies, it can feel like a death. A death of the self – an idea, a belief, or an identity…or all of the above.

Our family has had a series of big hits lately. To protect everyone’s privacy I won’t go into details, but I can share that there were a lot of surprises – the kind that make your mouth make a silent ‘o’ as you stop to catch your breath. The kind that make you wonder if you ever really knew a person like you thought you did. The kind that make you take a step back and wonder who you are. Heavy stuff.

Miraculously, Andy and I happened to have a trip to Mexico scheduled in April. One week in paradise at an all-inclusive. Nothing to do but lie in the sun, float in the bath water Caribbean, eat a ridiculous amount of food, make love, and share our broken and gentle hearts with each other.

When we arrived last Sunday, we brought only the hope that time would restore us. Neither of us are strangers to reinvention and we both know from experience that when one door closes, another opens. But this time, I will admit we were going on blind faith.

The lunar eclipse this week signified the end of an old way and new beginnings. On the day of the eclipse, Andy and I sat on the beach and took stock of our life – the cast of characters, our finances, our work goals for the year, our deepest desires.

I love this man for his ability to look at the big picture and stay in the field of possibilities with me. What emerged was a beautiful plan (I love a plan) that is based on reality – not fantasy – and it is quite amazing and enlivening. I won’t spoil it by detailing it, but let’s just say it involves a lot of travel and more beaches…feeding the soul while still actively parenting two teenagers and an 11 year old. Of course, more hospice work as well. Appreciating what IS vs. what we wish could be.

Thank you to the ocean for restoring me. Thank you to my sweet friends for loving me. Thank you to my children for grounding me. Thank you to my husband for your truth and vulnerability. Thank you life for all your gifts. I’m committed to staying present to all of it.

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Life and Death

LABuddha

I’m thinking about Life.  How I was in LA for a week – lala land – literally and figuratively, taking a break from Boulder.  Just got back on Monday night and by yesterday I was climbing the walls wishing for more ‘meaning’, missing my death work really and truly.

I shared with a few people how out-of-the loop I was feeling being away for the past week,  and soon afterwards, emails started rolling in about the newly bereaved group that starts next week that I will co-facilitate.  Then I made a deciscion to offer a grief/loss meditation group at my house for the month of March (more on that later) and not long afterward, I got a call from the volunteer coordinator at a local hospice that a vigil was starting for a woman who was dying and could I be there from 5-7 tonight?  No hesitation in my mind and heart as I said “Yes!”

So there I was last night, sitting beside a woman in transition, a woman I’ve never met but a woman I am sharing one of the most intimate times with.  All the petty b.s. I am consumed with falling away as I hold her hand.   An exercise in presence.  I can go about 5 minutes before I get distracted.  There’s a guy moaning loudly out in the hall.  My daughter’s calling my cell phone.  The woman’s roommate is shuffling her wheelchair to the bathroom to brush her teeth.  I look around.  On the hospital tray are signs of a former life, garlic salt and reading glasses sit patiently, never to be used again.  But I always come back to her, this woman who seems to be peacefully laboring.  Each breath is an effort.  An aide stops in to say goodbye “It’s time Mama.”  she says as she strokes her forehead.

In this moment, I am lost – anonymous – one tiny grain of sand.  Death is happening whether I took a shower or not.  In this moment, I am found – a spark of the divine, heart pumping, alive.  Open.  Grateful.

Varanasi – second stop on our India trip

Varanasi, as seen from the Ganges
Varanasi, as seen from the Ganges

“Brace yourself.  You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.  Varanasi takes no prisoners.  But if you’re ready for it, this may just turn out to be your favorite stop of all.”

-Lonely Planet  INDIA

Also known as the City of Life, this is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and is regarded as one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities.  Pilgrims come to the ghats (steps leading down into the water) lining the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins and to cremate their loved ones.  To die here, in Varanasi, offers moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) and it is said that when ashes of ancestors are offered into the Ganges, you are erasing 7 generations of karma from the past and 7 generations of karma in the future.  Powerful stuff.  Before I go to Varanasi, I hope to obtain some ashes of my father’s and release them into the swirling waters of the Ganges.

Lonely Planet goes on to say:  “Most visitors agree it’s a magical place, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Here the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public and the sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats can be overwhelming.  Persevere.  Varanasi is unique, and a walk along the ghats or a boat ride on the river will live long in memory.”

We have such great events planned for Varanasi, including an evening boat ride along the Ganges as well as a sunrise boat ride the following day.  We will be attending a temple aarti (ceremony with song and lamps) and receive a private concert.  My pulse quickens with excitement to visit this holy city.  I know first-hand how surreal India can seem and yet, in the completely unfamiliar and unknown, spirit resides and the veils are thin.  There is absolute potency for amazing experiences in this space of suspended belief.  Can you feel it?