Moorings, 14 months

Rooting yourself as you walk in grief

vicki-14mo-skyOpen my eyes to see, awaken my heart to feel 
the many ways You hold and bless me.


Thank you for all the ways You walk with me and care for me, for all which You grace me.

 

Pour Your pure oil into the seven branches of my Menorah.

Fill me with Your light.
Rekindle my inner lights
that I might find my way to life
that I might walk in Your service

 

-Meditation I composed for morning prayer, inspired by a prayer from a kabbalistic commentary on the siddur by Moses Albas, 16th Century.

Symbol of Sustenance: Menorah

She who holds light, the Menorah, comes forward to guide us in this time.
Her seven branches symbolizing the seven days of creation, point us on our way, as we move forward to create lives without the physical presence of the one who made us who we are.

The Menorah with her soft glow accompanies us, shedding light before us as we walk on our way.

The 14th Month of Bereavement:

You have stood before death. You have circled through your first year of mourning. You have lost layers of innocence.
You have gained wisdom about yourself, your relations, loss, survival, and life. You are able to be more deeply with others who are in pain because of your experience.
You have seen the preciousness and fragility of life.
You have lost a part of yourself and are finding additional parts of self.

This time has great power. It is another passage and contains another point of turning.
It is also a time for pride. You have found your way through this first year.
It is an accomplishment to mourn well. It is hard work.
Now is time to honor that which has been gleaned. To honor all learned from this time of mourning.

In my distress I called to You from the sacred place
You heard my voice, my cry came to Your ears.
You drew me from the waters
You brought me forth to a broader land

-Adapted Psalm 18: 7 a,c 17, 20

Common Grief Reactions and Tips on Coping:

Wondering what now:
Many realize at this juncture that although their first year of mourning has completed, their grief is not 'finished.'
Sometimes we imagine that our pain will be over by a certain date. But our bodies, hearts and minds travel on their own clocks.

For many the relationships we mourn have been with us for many years. It doesn't make sense to be "over" them in the course of 14 months. What can help is trusting that we'll naturally work through what it is we need to and that acknowledging feelings allows them to move through us more clearly than if not acknowledged.

Wonder and Gratitude:
Some feel a heightened awareness of the gifts of life, having been close to death.
Some people are able to hold as blessings the gifts they've received from the person that they love who died: the gifts of having been loved and of having been able to love another; the gifts of the special qualities of the person loved; the sweet experiences shared and the things each learned from one other.

Some who mourn strive to hold a heightened sense of awareness of the beauties that surrounds them every day.
In sheer gratitude for being in life after walking close to death, some feel a keener joy in watching the light of day breaking through the clouds, in seeing a flower bloom in the midst of winter's cold, in hearing the sounds of a friends voice.
Sometimes these are experienced more powerfullly at this juncture simply from having walked near the 'shadow' of death.

Some gain a greater appreciation of our people's practice of uttering blessings, of the spiritual art of attempting to awaken to the simple gifts embedded in each day. And to savor them.

Important Tasks During this Time:

Tend yourself and follow your own rhythms:
It's not uncommon to pass the marker of Yahrzeit and to feel yet within additional layers of grief.
As said previously, mourning is not neatly finished in a certain time period. Gentle walking is still required as you re-create your life to fit you now.

Remember your grief will periodically be triggered:
It can rise with power and intensity. These times will pass. This too is part of this process.
Pivotal times like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or time of illness can open this tender place. Carefully navigate your way through these periods.

Watch for comparing yourself with others who are grieving:
The crucial question is not 'how long' a person has been mourning, but rather 'if and how' they've tended their grief.
Attend to your own mourning and trust yourself to follow your own route towards healing.

Re-balance your initial instincts towards tending your mourning:
If your instinct this year was to turn inward, think about adding an activity that would bring you in contact with others that you might enjoy: joining a choir, volunteering, joining a book group.

If your instinct was to turn outward and be busy, think about adding elements of turning inward: journaling, yoga, prayer, painting.

Add something new to your life this year:
Think of taking a trip to see an old friend or of learning about something you've always wanted to do. Make time to savor an interest you've long loved.

Read humorous and inspirational work:
Get Gary Larsen's daily cartoon calendar. Watch for what inspires you, makes you laugh, moves you.

 

full_moon_in_water-sukkot-moorings_14m

 

When I see Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars which You have created

what are we that You remember us,
that You even think of us?

-Psalm 8 adapted v.4,5

 

 

 

 

Natural Questions and Responses:

Sometimes I fear if I "complete" my mourning, I'll forget my loved one. I don't want that to happen. How can I deal with this double bind?

Many fear that they will forget the person who is significant in their lives.
This is a fear. The reality is you will never forget the person who has been dear to you.

There can be a dimming of remembering their voice or their smells, but their essence, their personality, their spirits, are imprinted within you and this will not be forgotten.

There are times I get involved with something and I don't think about my loved one. I'm enjoying myself and then I feel guilty that I haven't thought about them and am having a good time. Is this OK?

This too is a natural part of this process.
In most cases we know our loved one would have wanted us to enjoy our lives and would have had our best interests at heart.  We are doing what we need to do, just as the cycle of nature ever continues on its route.

I feel like I no longer fit in the same way with the circle of friends I had before my loved one died. I'm not sure what to do about this.

For some the death of a loved one changes one's "status" and one no longer fits where once one belonged. This is a secondary loss. If there are people whose friendships you value and you want to retain, let them know that you treasure them and that you want your relationship to continue despite the changes in your life.

Some people who have suffered the loss of a spouse find that couples no longer invite them for dinner, but rather they receive lunch invitations. Some people stop calling when those partnered become single.  And some friendships continue on as they were. You may need to find others who are facing similar situations.

Throughout our lives we go through changes that affect what we need in our relationships.
This can be painful but is part of a process.  Some relationships can stretch beyond new differences. Some cannot.
Communication and reaching out can sometimes bridge this pass.

Although a year has past I still feel I am mourning. Am I carrying on too long?

Mourning takes it's own time. For some the changes and adaptations are dramatic. Some people quickly need to construct a life that is very different from the one in which they lived before.

Some find it helpful to image their mourning time as being like a spiral.
The first year being intense and each year thereafter the grief lessening in intensity and in duration of the spikes, as more subtleties of the loss emerge. One learns to walk with grief and to ride the waves.

How do I know if I am healing my grief or if I am getting stuck in my grief?

This is a concern for many and there is a lot of misinformation around about this process.

Generally, grief if attended to, tends to shift.  It moves from being with one all the time and with great intensity, to rising in waves. It can be triggered by an event, life cycle stage, or thought.  But if one attends to the feelings that rise they naturally lessen in intensity over time.

There are a number of signs that healing is taking place. Some of these are:

You deeply understand that your loved one has died and that your life as you knew it has changed. You know within yourself that your life will not return to what it was.

You deeply get that it is up to you to give your life meaning.

Your focus turns to how you will live your life in its new shape.

You know you will have periods when your grief will be triggered and that these times will then pass. You know to be gentle with yourself when these waves of grief arise.

You learn who you are now that you and your life have changed. You learn what gives you pleasure at this juncture of your life. You seek people and activities that give joy and add meaning to your days. You are grateful for the gifts that you do have in your life.

You know with love comes loss. You know that love is a gift. That it is precious. And you learn to treasure it in all the forms it comes in.

These sound deceptively simple. Yet they are profound and complex spiritual truths.
In real life these come with hard work.

kathy-14mo-watersprayWho desires life?

Love your days,
finding goodness in them

Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile

Turn from evil and do good
Seek peace and pursue it

-Adapted Psalm 34: 13-15

 

Journaling Questions:

What follows are some questions. Explore what most draws you.

Since the time of the last newsletter:

  • What has been most challenging in regard to the loss of your loved one and life now for you?
  • What awarenesses have risen for you regarding your loved one? your life walking without them present now?

Concerning the future:

  • What is the next large marker for you as you live without your loved one present in your life in this next period of time?
  • What things have you wanted to experience in your lifetime that you haven't had the opportunity to get around to yet?
  • What brings you joy? How can you add more of these things to your life?

Resources for Comfort and Support:

There are times we become restless when mourning.
A nice and accessible resource to turn to is by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. Healing Your Grieving Heart 100 Practical Ideas. Fort Collins: Companion Press. 1998.

Yizcor: The Power and Beauty of Memory and Meeting:

Every soul created in Jewish tradition is seen as being precious, unique and never again to be repeated in this world.  Every soul is cherished, each holding their own beauty and their own light.

Our tradition knows that our loved ones who have died will always remain a part of who we are throughout our lifetime. And so five times a year spaces are made to say their names aloud, to mindfully open our memories of them, and to send them our love.

Yizcor is said each year at the anniversary of our loved one's death;
on the holidays of Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret when summer moves into fall and ripens;
and each Pesach and Shavuot, when spring nears and deepens, yizcor returns.

At the close of each of these holy days our souls reach for those we love.
I sense that the timing of these spaces of memory when fields are sown and harvests are reaped, when flowers blossom and when leaves turn color, is no coincidence.

Perhaps this reminds us to plant well and sow wisely in the days of our lives we've remaining. Perhaps remembering at these times invites us to see the endless cycles which echo in the universe and through all worlds, giving us a larger picture, a broader vision.

These five spaces of memory can merge into and become part of the rhythmic living of our lives.

Some Final Thoughts as You Move Forward on Your Way:

Return to these newsletters and use them for sustenance.
Go back to what touches you.
Use them for comfort and reassurance.Think about what you need to aid you in your healing. Make room for it in your life. It will serve you well.

Many find spiritual resources comforts their souls. Many find exploring that which waters their spirits gives them sustenance. Find routes that refresh you. Use what heartens you as a guide for your healing.

Enjoy the people whom your heart loves who are with you on this earth.
Find kin and enjoy them.
Savor the beauties of the created world.
Create your own rhythm and rituals.
Link up resources that are ancient. Many have deep wisdoms. Drink from the wells of inspiration. Notice what touches your heart. Let the music of the universe enter your bones.
Let your voice sing and your body move as you are able.
Let wonder enter your days.

May you re-find eyes of freshness.
May awe penetrate your being.
May blessings be on your tongue.

These can transform your world. These can transform our world.
You make a difference. You can make a difference.
Be a blessing. Let your life be a blessing.

And you shall find your way. Slowly and surely with its ups and downs, you shall find your way.

And know, you do not walk alone.

 

 I lift up my eyes to the mountains,

alpen_glow_on_ape_mountain-neilah-gatesfrom where shall my help come?
My help comes from You, Maker of heaven and earth.

I will not allow your foot to be moved, I do not slumber.
Behold I, your Guardian, neither slumbers nor sleeps.
I am your shade upon your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day nor the moon by night.

I shall keep you from all evil.
I shall guard your soul.
I shall guard your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever.

-Adaptation of Psalm 121:1-8

It has been an honor and a privilege to walk with you through this year, through your first cycle of mourning.

May you walk gently and well as you move forward.
May you know blessing. May you know healing. May you know light.
And may you give out your light in your lifetime.
Peace to you. May you walk in peace.

 

Guide to Hebrew words

Menorah: 7 branch candelabra used in the Temple often used in Jewish art.

Kabbalistic commentary: mystical teachings

Moses Albas: lived in northwest Africa; author of the kabbalistic work "Hekal ha-Kodesh" (The Holy Temple), began in 1575, a commentary on the prayer-book, compiled from the Zohar and other kabbalistic works published in 1653.

Yizcor: from the root 'remember' , a service of memory of those who've died

Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement, which comes each fall and holds the first yizcor service of the Jewish year.

Shemini Atzeret: the 8th day of Assembly, a fall Jewish holiday that arrives on the 8th day of Sukkot, holds the 2nd yizcor service in the year.

Pesach: Arriving in the Spring, Passover, holds the 3rd yizcor service in the year.

Shavuot: Arriving in late spring-early summer, feast of weeks, it holds the 4th yizcor service of the year.

Yahrzeit: the anniversary of the death of one's loved one

 

Photography Credits

First photograph: Vicki Hollander
Second photograph: Frank Dobrushken
Third and fourth photograph:  Kathy Berendt