Tag Archives: Healing

More Gratitude Than Grief

Although it’s hard to believe, three years ago today – Memorial Day 2014 – was my mom’s last day on earth. The last time the sun would set with life in her body. Of course, I miss her and think of her every single day. But I’ve also never felt closer to her. Although technically it has been three years since I’ve seen her or heard her voice, that’s really only true on some levels, for I see and hear her in my dreams from time to time, and her voice only grows stronger in my heart and mind. It’s actually quite astonishing.

Each time the earth returns to the place in its orbit around the sun where it was when my mom passed away, my body knows. It’s like traveling through a familiar belt of stardust. She died after lilac season and just as the irises were blooming. She didn’t live to see the roses in her garden bloom, but we did, and we were grateful she took the time to plant and nurture them with the same loving attention she gave to us.

Today, I am remembering but not feeling grief-stricken. More than anything else, I feel grateful for having a mother who was so warm and kind to everyone and who loved me so much. For having a mother who loves me so much and seems to have found a way to get through to me even though she no longer has a body that breathes and walks and loves and laughs and makes music here on earth.

One day last summer, I was sitting on a bench at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (where I feel her spirit strongly) feeling sad, and I heard her voice in my mind: Let it go. Let it go because it’s hurting you. You’re so wonderful. Now I can see you more completely and wish I could show you how beautiful you are – the amazing light that you are…because then you’d never be sad again.

I am so grateful for that voice that arises in my heart and speaks in my mind as if my heart and mind are one end of a cosmic telephone. That voice has been growing in me and helping me to heal and grow in ways I never could have imagined during the first, anguishing year without her.

My mother loved me so much, despite our differences. When she was alive, I was always giving her push-back because we saw the world so differently. Three years after she passed away, all I connect with now is her spiritual essence, which shone through more strongly as her body became weaker, and I gave up my role in the mother-daughter dance we had been doing my whole life and related to her as one spirit to another. I held her as she cried because she was nearing the end and was afraid her organs would eventually burst, and she was also afraid of upsetting my dad, who was not ready to let her go. I listened to her and assured her that what she was experiencing was normal (which I knew from my hospice experience and research) and that she and we would be okay. Although we loved her and would miss her, it was okay for her to move on. She liked it when I was with her and wanted me to be there as much as possible, and I’m so glad I had my priorities straight and took time off from work to be with her in her time of need, even though I had no idea how long it would go on. When my intuition told me I should take the day off from work to be with my mother or to care for myself so I could be stronger and more rested to care for her, I didn’t hesitate to call in sick. I am so grateful I did that. I knew it was time I could never get back and do over.

Three years ago tonight, when my dad was leaving the hospice house, he told her to hang on until morning, when he’d return. She was the one who took care of everyone, and she was hanging on for our sake. So I told him he needed to say goodbye and give her permission to go. Through some grace, I was able to get through to him, and he told her that he loves her, and it’s okay for her to let go. And a few hours later, she did, in the middle of the night with the adult child she worried about most sitting by her side.

May 27, 2014 was the first morning of my life I woke up motherless. It didn’t make sense that the sun could even rise.

When I reflect on May 2014, I think of being closer to my mom than I’d ever been and making her my priority. I remember keeping vases of fresh lilacs around her and dropping the role I’d played all my life to be truly present to her. I remember filling her hospice room with love and music and conversation around her bed with her bridesmaid from so many years ago who serendipitously found her just in time after not being in touch for decades and shared memories I otherwise would not have known about my mom during her early twenties. I remember doing everything I possibly could do to help my mom let go, even though I didn’t want to lose her.

May 2015 was actually even harder because I had gone a full year without her, and the realization hit hard that she wasn’t returning. I was also in so much emotional pain from grieving other losses that occurred throughout that year that I couldn’t imagine ever feeling good again. She was the one I would pick up the phone and call when I needed moral support, and she wasn’t there. The pain felt enormous, and I was weak from all that grief.

For the past year and a half, at the end of every month I reflect in my day planner on what dreams and goals came true, what lessons I learned, what I need to rant about, and what I’m grateful for. This month – May 2017 – there is not enough space for me to write about what I’ve learned and feel grateful for! To feel as whole, intact, and radiant as I do now is like a miracle.

Time is a healer, but healing is a choice, and how far you go is up to you. Every moment – and in some moments more than others – there is a choice between healing and habit. My experience has taught me that healing begins with mindfulness and an intention to feel good. When you pay attention to what’s going on inside of you, instead of fleeing from it or fixating on external stimulation of any kind, you become aware. When you are conscious of something, you can heal it – even if it really hurts and feels enormous, and you feel powerless against it. Over the past three years, I have learned that pain that big – grief that penetrates all the way down into your bones – isn’t as big as it seems because who you really are is SO MUCH BIGGER! I still feel sad or weak from time to time, but it arises along with a witnessing presence that allows the energy to be felt and expressed. Instead of identifying with the sadness, I allow it with the tender, loving presence a mother would give to a hurting child and realize it’s just a passing storm. The witnessing, unconditionally loving presence that I identify with is much bigger than the emotions – big enough to absorb them in what feels like a ginormous hug. It’s similar to how it feels to be on the seashore: uplifted and part of a rhythm and energy that is much larger than your small, separate self.

So here I am, on my mom’s third angelversary, immersed in gratitude for everyone and everything that has brought me to this point, and for my mother’s love, which has never left me and continues to grow by leaps and bounds in my loving heart and – miracle of all miracles – has replaced my Inner Critic with a nurturing Inner Mother that guides me to practice tender, loving self-care every day.

The past three years have been the most challenging journey of my life, but I’ve emerged from the depths of the forest of grief. From the perspective of my larger self, I know that all is well and that the journey served a purpose. It is the most amazing grace ever to be able to say this after everything I’ve experienced in the past few years. There is hope after loss.


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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2017. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂

Sitting by the Fire

It is with sadness that I write about my dad’s passing eight days ago. He succumbed to pneumonia after being in ICU for five days. He died less than two and a half years after my mom died of pancreatic cancer, which isn’t unusual for couples who love each other greatly. As difficult as it is to lose my dad, for many reasons (that I will share in a separate post), I feel it was his time, and that certainty brings me peace.

We had his calling hours and memorial service yesterday at his church – the culmination of a week of tremendous activity. There were many meetings and lots of work involved in creating a video slideshow for the church events and working around numerous, unprecedented technical glitches that arose. I went through boxes of my parents’ photos to assemble photo collages to display in large frames on easels. Wrote a eulogy. Found a new, loving home for his cat. Visited with my two adult children and nine-month-old granddaughter, who traveled from out-of-town.

In other words, I attended to the usual tasks that fall on the closest relatives immediately after someone dies. But I also did something not so common in our culture: On Tuesday, I drove to Bennington, Vermont to be present for my dad’s cremation, as I did when my mom passed away. And that might sound morbid, but it wasn’t. It was transcendent.

I was not with my dad when he passed away. I couldn’t make it to the hospital in time but was able to say goodbye to him over the phone. I told him that I love him and thanked him for being such a great dad. I encouraged him to let go and assured him that everything is going to be fine. We are going to be fine, and so is he, for he is about to go on a wondrous journey. I told him I’m so happy for him because he will soon be with my mom, his beloved wife of 50 years. His last words to me were: I love you, too.

I couldn’t be there when he died, but I was able to show up for his cremation, which felt like another part of the process to witness with love, light, and presence.

When my mom died, I pushed her cardboard coffin into the crematory retort and then retreated to my car to meditate for a while before walking around Bennington for a few hours until her cremains were ready to be picked up. But with my dad, it was different. The funeral director invited me to come and go as I pleased. He left the crematory door unlocked and placed a chair next to the retort for me, along with two bottles of water.

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I sat next to the crematory retort for an hour and a half meditating on my relationship with my dad. I remembered good times and reflected on all the ways in which he expressed his love. The small but meaningful gestures, such as vacuuming my car, filling my gas tank, and taking us out for dinner. And larger gestures, such as when he helped me out financially when I needed an implant for my front tooth and when I was getting divorced. How he and my mom made it possible for me to attend the private college I felt so drawn to, without having to take on much student debt. The family vacations that usually involved amusement parks, such as Disney World. How he always had my back and conducted himself in such a kind and dignified manner, which made me proud to call him my dad.

I also visualized any sadness, grudges, regrets, and human weaknesses and impurities burning away until only love and light remained. Until only spirit remained, released from any human shortcomings – his or my own. That included any negative feelings or resentments I harbored because, at the personality level, my dad and I were so different, and I challenged and disappointed him in many ways. He was a traditionalist with a worldview that was much more conservative and black-and-white than my own, and through the years I came to accept that rather than try to change him or get him to understand my worldview and choices. For instance, when I got married, I wouldn’t let my dad give me away because I did not consider myself an object to be transferred from one man to another. I’m sure that all the explaining in the world couldn’t help him understand that because, with my dad, you didn’t question tradition. You just followed it. So I let all that burn away until only love and forgiveness (for him and for myself) remained.

I sat there and told him everything I wasn’t able to express when he was alive. Sometimes we don’t recognize the different ways in which people express love in the best way they know how. We might not realize that the questions and comments that seem so judgmental on the surface arise from a spirit of deep love and concern. Our communications pass through our human filters and so often get misinterpreted. And we build walls to protect our fragile egos. And we build histories, stories, and communication patterns that are often so hard to rise above. And we don’t say what is in our heart because the patterns are so entrenched. That’s what I got in touch with in the crematory and allowed to burn away. I bathed all that in love, and it transformed into nothing but love.

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I recalled the scared look in my dad’s eyes during the last few days of his life because he sensed something was different this time. How he absolutely refused to engage in a conversation I initiated about hospice care, and it felt like just another example of him rejecting what I had to offer based on my knowledge, experience, values, and sincere caring. How I couldn’t be there when he died because I had needed some distance from a situation that arose, in order to maintain my strength and sanity. How I felt I could support him better from a distance that last day of his life, not knowing it would be his last day. I let all that burn away until only love, forgiveness, and an appreciative sense of humor remained.

I essentially composed his eulogy (which I will share in a separate post) while sitting in the crematory. The tears I cried were mostly tears of appreciation and gratitude for all the ways in which he expressed his love and continued to love and care for me, despite our differences. I appreciated what a steadfast provider he was for our family and for having such a stable, secure childhood. I appreciated the ways in which his traditional worldview was challenged to the core by some curveballs life threw his way and how he responded with love every single time. I appreciated how much he and my mom loved each other.

As my dad’s body burned in the crematory retort next to me, I reflected on all the ways in which he expressed love for us, acknowledged our relationship and humanness, and honored the spirit that unites us. The spirit of love and kindness. It was a powerful process, though not one that many in our culture choose to experience or even realize is possible. By the time I left the crematorium, I felt so light and filled with love and light and appreciation for my father. I felt his light shining so brightly.

Lyrics from India Arie’s song, “I Am Light” came to mind:

I am not the pieces of the brokenness inside…I am light.

I am not the mistakes that I have made or any of the things that caused me pain…I am light.

I am not the color of my eyes, I am not the skin on the outside…My soul inside is all light.

While waiting to hear that my dad’s cremains were ready to be picked up, I drove around and decided to take a walk before dark. I ended up in Old Bennington and couldn’t resist parking near an old church with an adjacent cemetery. It seemed like a perfect place to walk with my camera.

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Not knowing anything about the history or looking for anything in particular, my intuition led me through the cemetery, and I came upon poet Robert Frost’s grave.

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How perfect, I thought, for that day I took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference.

There are many cultures in which funeral rituals, including cremation, are not performed by professionals out of sight of grieving family and friends. The image of open cremations on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, India comes to mind. Families gathered around the funeral pyre watching the body burn, coming to terms with mortality and relationships. What do we gain by keeping the care of our dead at arm’s length? What do we lose?

Being present for my dad’s cremation was such a positive, healing experience for me. I wish it were more commonplace in our culture…even as I see my dad in my mind, bristling and shaking his head, wondering how on earth I could think that way. Knowing he’ll never be able to understand me but loving me just the same.

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If you’re not doing so already, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2016. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂 

Two Years Later

“You let time pass. That’s the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you’re okay.”  -Cheryl Strayed

The second anniversary of my mom’s death (a.k.a. her “angelversary”) has come and gone, and although it was a month ago, I want to write about it, to offer a message of hope…because I have found that the difference one year makes borders on miraculous.

The first year was spent mostly recovering from the shock and coming to terms with her absence as the parade of birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions marched on. Year One was like one big, long NO! I was acutely aware of the brevity of life and of everything that felt misaligned in mine. Her first angelversary – actually, the whole month of May 2015 – was brutal! It found me about as downhearted as I’ve ever been in my life, standing at the confluence where a year’s worth of grief, discontent, and confusion in different areas of life converged – for sometimes the tears from big losses give birth to tributaries of thought and action that lead to additional disillusionment, heartache, and letting go, thus complicating the process. The first year felt a little like my mom was away on vacation somewhere, but when the anniversary rolled around, it came with a sense of permanence. It had been a full year, and she wasn’t coming back.

The second year was a big time-out for soul-searching and letting go of what no longer seemed to fit. Big things, like leaving my teaching career (which, despite how long it took to muster up the courage, I haven’t regretted for a moment). I decluttered my house and my life to make space for new possibilities and did everything I could to build a foundation for new beginnings. Mercifully, there weren’t any more “first” holidays to get through – although the first member of our family’s newest generation was born in January.

At the beginning of Year Three, my youngest child graduated from high school, and I anticipated that my mom’s absence would be felt at the graduation. But it wasn’t so bad after all. I wore my necklace that contains some of her ashes and carried her with me in my heart – as I do every day. In Year Three, I feel ready to resume my life in earnest – albeit a different version than I was living a couple years ago. I have lightened my load, tried a lot of new things, and assumed some new roles. I still don’t know “what’s next” but am at peace with not knowing. I’ve always sensed there was some kind of divine hand involved in the events that transpired following the death of my mother and that important work was being done, no matter how screwed up it appeared on the surface. “Believe in the integrity and value of the jagged path,” advised Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Amen to that.

Although I still miss my mom every single day, thank God her second angelversary was nothing like the first. On the actual anniversary, I took it easy. I walked the labyrinth just as I did the day she died, and it felt quite the same. The weather was the same, and feelings of loss and sadness lingered in the humid air. When I stepped out of my car, a bunch of purple irises greeted me, just as they did the day she died. As I walked the labyrinth, two young girls noticed a butterfly right next to my car, which reminded me of when my daughter told me she noticed the first butterfly of the year the day my mom died.

I took a long walk and felt grateful for having such a wonderful mom in my life for as long as I did, for her voice that continues to echo inside my head and heart, for the dreams in which we are together again for a few awesome moments, and for the dear souls who have come into my life as a result of our shared grief. A couple days earlier, I’d found in my dad’s freezer the last remaining bags of strawberries my mom had picked. I visited my dad on the evening of my mom’s angelversary, and we enjoyed strawberry shortcake made with her hand-picked strawberries.

As the sun set, I took another walk and felt strong and peaceful. Strong because now I can handle the grief that threatened to shatter me last year. I can handle my mom being gone, although I really miss talking with her (though sometimes we have conversations in dreams). It occurred to me that a year ago, I wanted nothing more than to feel the way I feel now, and I am immensely grateful for that.

Cheryl Strayed wrote:

“It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again. To be the woman my mother raised… I would suffer. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.”

I wondered how long it would take me to find my way out of the woods. Would it take that long to find my way back into the light?

When it feels like your grief will last forever, you have to realize it’s just an illusion, a trick of the light. Something is blocking you from seeing the greater picture and finding hope. Maybe it’s the belief that things should be different. Maybe they’re exactly as they need to be so you can evolve in the way you need to – perhaps the way you intended to before incarnating in this world. The image that comes to mind is a flower plant underneath an overcast sky in early spring, when winter refuses to relinquish its hold. After several gray days, it seems like the sun will never come out, and spring will never really arrive, and the flower wonders if it will just wither where it is, without having the opportunity to bloom. But the weather can change any moment. The clouds can shift enough for a beam of light to come through. The next day or even in a few hours, the clouds might give way to blue sky and warmer temperatures. You just have to know that it won’t be overcast and wintry forever and trust Divine Timing. Eventually, the clouds will break, the sun will come through, spring will overpower winter, and you will bloom. The wonderful secret is that growth was taking place all along, even when it felt like nothing was happening or that you were going backwards.

My blooming moment was when I realized that what felt like it was going to destroy me and break my heart to pieces no longer felt so big – and let me tell you, it’s a wonderful feeling. Moments of shock and sadness may still arise, but they don’t endure. I’ve found my mom’s voice inside my heart and have learned to look forward to when she appears in my dreams or there’s some kind of wild serendipity or “sign”. I really miss picking up the phone and talking with her. I miss her loving and exuberant energy and the unique light she beamed into this world. But as much as I still miss her physical presence, I feel much more deeply connected with her essence.

I’ve learned how to use my breath to breathe over the top of a wave of grief so as not to be overwhelmed by it. I’ve learned to be much more aware of my thoughts and to choose thoughts that are more positive and hopeful. And I’ve practiced leaning in to my feelings and learning what I can from them and watching them dissolve. I’ve learned to face my fears and release what no longer serves me, to have the patience to wait and see, to tune in and trust my intuition and hear a loving voice inside me that feels like my mom’s essence, or perhaps my Inner Mother growing stronger. To know that whatever arises, this, too, shall pass. I’ve learned that on days when the wind picks up, and the waves are strong, it’s best to keep things as simple as possible, practice self-compassion and nourishment, and treat myself as my mom would want me to be treated. I’ve learned to cultivate the essence of what I lost, only to realize that it was within me all along – and that what was taken from me is a part of me, so I can’t actually lose it in the first place.

Now, when grief-waves arise, they don’t tend to last more than a minute or two. They still crash into me, but they don’t come as often as they did last year, and my recovery time is much quicker. A year later, there is much more space between the waves, and more often than not, when I think of my mom, it is with more gratitude and appreciation than sadness. There is a new a voice in my head and feeling in my heart, and when they arise, I feel closer than ever to my mom’s essence .

Every now and then, it stuns me to realize that she died and that I will never see her again in this lifetime. It strikes me as the most inconceivable reality ever and sends a chill through me. So I have learned to lean in and sit with it, rather than resist or struggle with it. And then the feeling passes. It can’t feel that big for too long because you just can’t live like that! You learn to allow the bitter reality and to have a more accepting relationship with what is – even if only because arguing with reality only compromises your peace of mind and quality of life – and you finally get tired of suffering and decide there must be another option. And in the mercifully expanding spaces between the waves, peace enters in, and you learn the waves will pass. You learn how to let them pass right through you without holding on to them, losing your footing, or running away. You allow yourself to be touched by them, like a cool wave that crashes against your skin when you stand at the edge of the sea. And you learn that who you really are is so much bigger than any loss you can experience in this lifetime.

The point is that the loss gets easier to bear in time. It doesn’t mean that love has gone anywhere or diminished. It just means you’re able to pass through to the other side and evolve. And that’s actually quite wondrous.

When someone leaves, holding on and carrying the weight of grief isn’t something we need to do in order to prove our love for him or her. There are so many other, less self-destructive ways to continue loving a person. But sometimes grief sets other dominoes in motion, and you have to hit rock bottom emotionally before you become tired of suffering for real. And then an inner voice arises and asks: Do you really want to do this work? Do you really want to change? Do you really want to give up suffering? Do you want to transform your life into something higher? And if you answer yes, then you have to love yourself enough to break the habits that cause suffering, beginning with the thoughts you allow to take root in your mind. You realize you have a choice in the first place and choose thoughts that bring relief rather than suffering. Or at least, that’s the radical and empowering transformation my grief produced, and I am ever so grateful because it has set me free from so much more than grieving the loss of my mother. It applies to everything – which is some serious blooming.

If you are grieving, please know that no matter how much it hurts now, you are going to find your way to the other side of this grief. I don’t know how or when, but time is your friend. For me, it’s been a jagged path, but whatever it takes, thank God for it because what I feel now is night and day from what I felt then. The anguish that came with the reality that I would never see my mom again in this life has evolved into feeling more connected with her than ever. Finding her anywhere.

And sometimes jagged paths make the most interesting and inspiring stories. I’ve been living and writing mine for the past two years so far and feel certain that someday I’ll be able to place it within a context that will reveal its ultimate themes and integrity and allow it to make more sense. But that time is not now. And that is okay.

_____________________________

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2016. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂