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Archive for August 11th, 2012

I had someone leave me a question on the Ask Here tab of the website.

The person who wrote shared the story of having a friend that they loved very much who died very quickly after a cancer diagnosis.  Priscilla, the writer, wants to know if it is normal that she still misses her friend and has periods of actively grieving.  She wonders what might be wrong since other friends don’t seem like they are still hurting.  And she wanted to know if there was something that she could do…

Priscilla,

Thanks for leaving me a question.  It sounds like your loss was really unexpected and you had little time to come to terms with your friend’s diagnosis and death.

I used to hear the debate in my grief groups, as I would be walking into the group room from locking the front door… which is worse, a sudden death and the loss that accompanies it or the slow declining death of someone and that loss?

Honestly, loss is loss and it hurts to the very depth of our soul.  We will react to different losses in different ways but being bereft, although the second thing that we all have in common, is still one of our most painful and life altering experiences.

A lot of people in our society think that there is some set amount of time that a person has to grieve.  Apparently businesses think three days away from work is plenty of time to get funeral arrangements made, cope with the loss, and come back to work with a stiff upper lip.

Many in the field of grief will tell you that 6-12 months and you should be spending more time in the “living” process than in the world of grief.

What I can tell you is what I have experienced and what I have been honored to witness in clients, friends, and family. . .

Grief takes as long as it does.  Depending on your relationship, that whole in your heart my be painful until the day you die.

Grief takes on different characteristics over time, sometimes feeling like a stabbing pain, sometimes like a dull headache, sometimes like the darkest hours before dawn, and sometimes the murky twilight when nothing seems real.

And it’s okay that you are still grieving for your friend two years later.  For some of us, friends are the family that we’ve gotten to choose.. we’ve brought them into our lives and our hearts and they have a special meaning that no one can replace.

Have some compassion for yourself for having loved someone so deeply.  Isn’t that what loss is?  Our learning to live without someone being here to hug, call, laugh with, sit and be silly with?

For me, the first year after my brother’s death was painful.  Six months after he died, I went away to graduate school, still stunned and in a fog from two years of caregiving with my parents.

But it was in the second year, when we were sitting in my little basement apartment, away from our family and friends at the holidays that I felt like my heart was ripped out.

We were together, my parents and I… but I was longing to think .. is this going to be his last holiday?  What’s life going to be like without him.. as I had thought for several years…

I longed to feel that kind of pain though I would not have wanted him back in the agony that his life was.

When I went to work for hospice, 7 years after his death, I struggled.  I finally had a community around me, people that I trusted with my grief and pain, and it was a tough anniversary to go through… it was also a few months after my friend and mentor died as well and there was no way that those two losses were not interconnected in a variety of ways in my heart.

The point is that we change, evolve, and grow with time.  Our grief changes during that time too.

With every year that passes, there is more and more certainty that it’s not a dream and we can’t just wish things to be different.

As we find healing in one area, we find that we have the ability to take on a new painful part of the grief and work on healing that.  This new pain may have been there since the loss but we have a way of prioritizing what we can and cannot handle, mostly on an unconscious level.

So, not that you asked for advice per se, but what I would like to offer is:

Take time to touch that gentle tender point in the center of your chest that might be aching for your friend.

Acknowledge the pain as it comes up

Love that he/she meant that much that you still hurt

Find comfort in your memories

Allow what is to be and don’t push away the pain.

And don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve been grieving too long.

If you are able to get out of bed, take care of your kids, go to work, make sure that you are eating, etc than just be gentle with yourself.

If you are finding that you are having a really difficult time dealing with day-to-day things, then see if your local hospice has a support group or counselor.

If you feel like harming yourself, get in to see a doctor.

Most of us will not have the last two experiences, but if you are, know that there is help.

Shame and guilt only make our grief worse so if possible, make a point to acknowledge that grief hurts and you are okay for hurting.

Love takes a time to build.  And loss takes a lifetime to heal from.  Know that you are forever changed by the experience of having had this friend in your life and having lost them.

Be gentle with yourself Priscilla, allow yourself to grieve as the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the grief arise.

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Homemade Tassajara bread and Chèvre

This is a thoughtful and beautiful book that I downloaded to Kindle in April.  Whether you buy it for the recipes or the Buddhist wisdom, you will not regret this book.

Enjoy!

by Edward Espe Brown

Prayer Helps Throughout the day I offer many prayers as the occasion arises: “May you be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” “Just as I wish to be happy, may all beings be happy.” “May you enjoy vitality and ease of well-being.” I am not asking for everything to be better, or for all your dreams to come true, but given that things are as they are and go as they go, I wish for your well-being and happiness in the face of all the changing circumstances. Things quite likely will not go ideally or according to plan, so I wish for the growth of buoyancy, flexibility, and resiliency. I wish for the nurturing of generosity and tolerance. Not by design, but something shifting inside. In the context of Buddhism I do not see prayer as necessarily directed toward a supreme being or higher power. Rather, I see it as a clarification and expression of true heart’s desire, or what my teacher Suzuki Roshi called innermost request. What is it we really want? To know and act on true heart’s desire or innermost request usually involves unearthing, sifting, and sorting. Speaking it can help to reveal and clarify it. Each day I offer a prayer before meals. I like using an ecumenical expression: “We venerate all the great teachers and give thanks for this food, the work of many people and the offering of other forms of life.” There are many possibilities: “May this food bring us health, happiness, and well-being.” “Just as we have enough to eat today, may all beings have enough to eat.” “May this food nourish us (me) body, mind, and spirit.” It could be as simple as “Blessings on this food.”

To have food on the table is truly a blessing, and one’s life can change profoundly by acknowledging one’s gratitude and appreciation. If you use your verse whenever you eat, even when snacking—it can be silent or spoken—it will help bring you into the present and will have a tremendous effect on how you receive your food and assimilate it. Acknowledging the blessedness of food is also acknowledging your own blessedness, your own capacity to nourish other beings as well as your self. Nourishment comes from receiving food (or any experience), fully taking it in, assimilating what is useful, and letting go of what isn’t. In Buddhism what comes into our lives is called dharma, or teaching.

In Christianity all that we receive can be viewed as a gift from God. Gratitude is called for: “We give thanks for this food, this ‘teaching,’ this ‘gift.’” Lately I have been reading Larry Dossey’s Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. Dr. Dossey is a physician who began incorporating prayer into his practice of medicine after reviewing scientific studies that demonstrated its effectiveness. He found the evidence for the efficacy of prayer to be simply overwhelming, even though this is one of the best-kept secrets in medical science. What he points out is that prayer works regardless of religious background or belief. Also, it turns out that the most powerful prayer is not one that aims for any particular result, but one that is more all-encompassing: “Thy will be done,” or “May the best results occur.” Along with a blessing or grace before meals or snacks, other eating rituals can be beneficial.

Ritual in this sense could include sitting down a table to eat, rather than eating standing up, walking, or riding in an automobile. Another is to turn off the TV and radio and to eat in the company of family or friends, or to focus solely on eating rather than eating and reading, or eating and talking on the phone. Each of us can determine which rituals are most helpful. In this sense ritual can be seen as ways to do things that help to heighten or deepen awareness. Noticing tastes, physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and moods will inform or enlighten the food choices we make, and our capacity to be nourished by the food we are eating. Giving our attention to the experience of eating is powerful, whether we are eating wholesome foods or unwholesome foods, or are overeating. Ritual, prayer, your innermost request—please find your own way to bring yourself to your meal, to sitting down at the table and taking the time to eat and nourish yourself.

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