Surrender in a Phone Booth

Dear Dad,

I thought of you today; well, I think of you most every day, but I thought about you longer today. I was walking the dog, a time I would often reach for the phone to catch up with you because I knew I would be largely uninterrupted for at least half an hour. Instead of calling anyone, I was listening to a podcast of This American Life. The episode was an old one that I’d had on my phone since right before some plane flight.

Slide1The story they were sharing took place in Japan, near where the tsunami and earthquake did so much damage a few years ago. In response to his grief at losing a family member, one man had put a phone booth, an old British style one, in his garden. It wasn’t hooked up to anything, and had an old rotary phone inside. He would use it as a space to reach out to his loved one, a space to share developments big and small, a space to grieve completely, to surrender to the loss. The interesting part of the story is that word got out about the phone booth and soon people started coming to use the phone booth to call their own loved ones, people who’d died in the tragedy or have never been found and are presumed dead at this point. People began making pilgrimages with their entire family so everyone, even those who had never expressed any grief at all, had a chance to use the phone booth, to connect with their loved one, to surrender completely to their grief in a space designated just for that, a safe and small space away from everything else. Continue reading

Ten Lessons of Loss

slide2As many of you know I lost my father just over a month ago. It has been a difficult time, but it’s also been kind of amazing. There has been so much compassion, so much rest, and so so much to learn. I’m only beginning to be able to give words to the lessons of loss. I share them with you to offer some small consolation if you foresee or have already experienced your own great loss. There are life lessons to learn, as gently and slowly as needed, even in this difficult time.

  1. Grief will not be denied. The wording on this one is from my friend Dixie St. John who just happened to post it on FB about a week after my father’s passing. Resistance to grief is futile friends. There is no shelving grief, setting it aside, saving it for a rainy day, stuffing it. You might manage it, but if you insist on refusing your grief, it will wreak havoc. Grief will not be denied.
  2. Grief is extremely physical. I slept. I ate. I didn’t eat. I wanted a long shower. I wanted to be still. I wanted to run very fast and then do absolutely nothing. The task of grieving uses physical energy. Most people who are grieving need more sleep than they usually do. The immune system doesn’t work as well as usual, so getting that sleep is critical. There are actually studies indicating that there is a greater risk of a variety of health problems when we are grieving. Treat your body with kindness. It’s working hard.
  3. Grief can strip away what’s not important. If you’re like me, grieving will make it abundantly clear what you really care about in the world because everything else will fall away. Really, for me everything fell away for a little while and it seems to be returning in the order in which I cherish it. Pay attention. If you’re at all confused about what your priorities are and what needs your attention, grief will clear that stuff up for you real quick.
  4. Grief can teach you to ask for help if you let it. You will have to let it. It’s your choice.
  5. Saying no is allowed, often necessary, and doesn’t require follow-up or an explanation.
  6. Grief is best shared with others who are grieving. Relaxing while grieving is easiest for me either by myself or with people who are also grieving. There’s so much I don’t have to explain. There’s so much I don’t need to worry about. Mutual comfort, distraction, and the warmth of the bond.
  7. People want to help you but they don’t know what to do. People become tender footed around those who are grieving. They want to be sure that the help they offer is the help you want. So they make general offers. “Let me know how I can help.” They mean it. Believe that they mean it. If you are comfortable, let someone know what would be helpful. It’s okay to let someone make your life easier.
  8. People want to say something loving/kind/meaningful but WILL get it wrong. You can choose what you hear. I began to interpret all the things people said after my father’s death as “I love you. I care that you are hurting.” Everything that was said helped when I listened through those ears, the ears of my heart.
  9. Many decisions can be made solely on the basis of how you feel. After my Dad’s death a pervasive fog set in and yet I made decisions, even if that decision was to say to someone else: “You pick. I can’t care about that right now,” and to genuinely release the topic, because I didn’t really care about it. I followed my feelings on eating, sleeping, resting, skipping group activities, just about everything and it helped to just let myself follow how I felt.
  10. You can and will survive the loss of those you hold most dear; it will be easier if you allow the love and care of those around you to shore you up. It will also be easier, in the long run, if you allow your sadness, your anger, your relief or whatever you are feeling to be exactly what it is whenever it is happening. You have a right to feel your loss and only you get to decide when you are done.

My wish for you is that your own lessons are gently offered and lovingly received. Be gentle with yourselves.

In peace.

julia

The Bare Minimum

In the days following my father’s passing, I was in a complete fog and was fully reliant on people around me to tell me where I needed to be, to feed my children, to make me tea. Now I seem to be in a different phase. I am largely keeping track of my own schedule, although it is somewhat limited right now so I confess it’s not all that difficult. I am feeding my kids, and making all but my first cup of tea for the day. But I feel unease, I would say dis-ease, but it’s not that bad yet. I have this sense that I SHOULD be doing more (there’s that word, the one I was going to UNchoose this year).

If I sit with should, I can give you a fine list of all the things I SHOULD be attending to right now. And I struggle nearly as much with the unease this creates as I do with my own grief. Truth is my body will not have it, will not have me doing more than I can right now. I fall asleep sitting up, typing. I nearly fall asleep at the dinner table. A dear friend reminded me that grief will not be denied; my fatigue tells me this is so. My dear coaching friends remind me that grieving is my job right now. My darling brother asks if people are wearing clothes and if anyone is starving. My sister and I check on each other, giving each other permission to opt out of our shared obligations and joys. Right now it’s all about the bare minimum. Continue reading

When Words Are Not Enough

 

My father has died.

And now I must practice all that I preach.

I must allow the feelings, as awful as they are.

I must seek out stillness.

I must say no, be gentle with myself, listen to the small still voice that is kind and compassionate.

I must remember to breathe, eat, and sleep.

I must allow the kindness of others when I have the strength to receive it and forgive myself when I do not.

Grief will not be denied. It is perhaps the most honest emotion in its insistence on being dealt with. I shall honor mine as I honor my father.

Be kind to yourselves friends. All of it, even the very worst parts, works better when we are kind to ourselves.