Moorings, 6 months

Rooting yourself as you walk in grief

kathy-6m

Where shall I go from Your spirit?
Wither shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend skywards, You are there
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, there You are
If I lift up the wings of sunrise and dwell in the deepest places of the sea
even there would Your hand lead me and
Your right hand hold me

 

-Adapted Psalm 139:7f

Symbol of Sustenance at this time: the Chamsah

There are moments when mourning when one can long just to be cared for and held.
The image of the Chamsah, the outstretched hand, extends to you now,
offering you comfort, protection and safety in this time.

The Sixth Month of Bereavement:

You now stand now at the half way mark of this first year of loss.

Many expect that their feelings of grief will become increasingly easier to bear with the passage of each month
and feel distressed at this juncture by the power of emotion they yet feel, fearful that they are going "backwards."

The mourning process, like waves, rolls up and down, in and out. 
For many feelings intensify due to their hopes that the strong feelings would be diminishing.

Rather than attempting to measure 'progress', better to be in each day, one moment at a time.

Walk gently. Release to what is moving through you, honoring it.

You are close to those with a broken heart
-Psalm 34:19

Common Grief Reactions:

Depression:
Changes, stresses, and the many layers and levels of loss can naturally lead to a feeling of depression.
Life doesn't fit as it did before and there's no turning it back.

Sadness, feeling down, memories, all filter through now, and depression can easily join them.
These are very natural responses to loss especially at this juncture.
If you are concerned, see someone knowledgeable about grief.

Feeling of being alone in a different way:
You may feel as if you've lost a protective layer. You may feel more vulnerable.
Loneliness can rise in a profound way.

Our body and soul have their own ways and time tables for processing and absorbing losses.
This process of "getting it" can feel very slow and very physical.

Stress:
You may underestimate and minimize the stress involved when mourning.
If you had a physical injury comparable to that of bereavement, you'd most probably be bandaged up
and confined to bed rest. You'd be forced to slow down and alter your lifestyle.

When mourning you've no visible physical sign of fragility.
Thus it's easy to become impatient with yourself and with others.

Be as tender with yourself as you might be with someone who's sustained a physical injury, needing rest and healing.

Developing of public and private faces:
You may have sensed that some people around you do not want to hear about how you truly feel.

It's important to have places where your 'real face' can be shown.
Where you can tell it as it is.
That's why many seek grief support groups or counselors.
These avenues of support can also take some of the pressure off of primary intimate relationships and friendships.

Not wanting to mourn:
You may know that you need to mourn. And you may also feel parts of self that just don't want to go there.

Grief incubates until we deal with it.

There are times and phases in life when grief work is delayed.

Often those in their late teens and twenties feel strongly their developmental tasks calling:
to go out into the world and build their lives.
There may not be the internal readiness to deal with all the intense feelings of grief fully at this time.
Their grief work will wait until the inner and outer resources and safety have been assembled, to then do this work.

The challenge is how not to act out the grief through risk taking or unwise actions and relationships.

Single parents who are wage earners and who are raising young children, also find at times the need to delay
grief work until a frame can be constructed to meet their very immediate needs.

The work need be done. It's just when space can be made to attend to it.
The grief will wait for you to work it until it is dealt with.

Questioning the deeper meaning of life:
You may find that coming into close contact with death opens the door to re-evaluating your life.

You may find yourself re-examining your work, your relationships, and how you spend your time and resources. 
You may find yourself thinking about what truly has meaning for you.
This too can be a powerful part of this time.

water_cascade__zoom-moorings_6m-1

 

As the gazelle pants
after brooks of water

so does my soul long for You,
my soul thirsts for You

-Psalm 42: 2,3a

 

 

 

 

Important tasks
during this time:

If you've not been able to attend to basics of self care, now is the time:
Attend to your sleep. Exercise regularly.
Eat nutritionally. Tend your body
and tend your spirit.
Some find creating a routine, a rhythm of living,
gives comfort during this time.

If you've not attended a Grief Seminar or support group, think about attending one:
Many fear going to group will further depress them. That being around others who are mourning will overwhelm them.

Usually the first several sessions of group are the more tearful ones and it can feel hard being vulnerable in front of strangers. That quickly shifts as support is built, friendships created, commonalities emerge, and people get to know
each other.

Groups can hearten you and provide a circle of good support. Deep friendships can form from these shared times.

Groups can lessen the feeling of isolation.
Information's shared about the grief process.
A wider perspective can be gained and
sometimes the humor and laughter in group can buoy and lighten the heart.

For many there's great healing in being with other human beings who can deeply listen.
In being with other human souls who truly see you and care about you. With whom you can feel and be just as you are.
For many this aids mending.

Mourning is not a time for heroics or stoics.
We human beings are created with a need for human support, caring and compassion.
And at certain times in life this can move from being a luxury to being an essential.

Make a comfort plan for the rough days:
Have comfort foods in the cupboard: noodles, soups, milk and cookies, foods you loved when you were little.
Take out your favorite children's picture books.  Have a bath by candlelight. Listen to music that relaxes you.
Plant yourself like a seed into your bed and sleep.
Put on flannel nightclothes, tuck yourself in a soft blanket and read a good novel.
Pretend you are your best friend. Write yourself a loving note of encouragement.

Be pro-active:
Many find the evenings and the weekends to be particularly lonely.
Watch and see which times are the most difficult for you and make plans specifically for those times.
Arrange a potluck dinner. Make a walking date with a friend. Take the initiative to make plans.

Be careful about forging an intimate relationship during this time:
This is a time of great emotional intensity and changes in your life. 
It is not a good time to "lose" yourself in an intimate relationship in lieu of attending to your grief  work.

It's a time to channel your emotional energy to mourning and healing and uncovering who you now are
in the face of your loss, as you adjust to your new circumstances.

At the same time, companionship and friendship are particularly precious when mourning.

There are predatory people of both genders who make themselves available in this time.
And sometimes ones natural judgment and insight can be off center when mourning.

Walk very mindfully.

Think of adding things to your routine that touch your spirit:
Buy or create a wild bird feeder. Hang up some wind chimes. Plant wild flowers. Walk in your local botanical gardens.
Watch birds. Add morning prayer time or prayers before sleep. Watch the sunrise.  Sit in a patch of winter sun.
Join a yoga class. Take up swimming.  Think of volunteering at your local soup kitchen or food bank or
community garden.

In the morning one should say:
"I give thanks to You, O God, and God of my ancestors,
for having taken me out of the darkness to light."

frank-6mo-sunsetAt mincha, one should say, 
"Just as you granted me the privilege of seeing the sun in the East, so have You granted me the privilege of seeing it in the West."

In the evening:
"As I was previously enveloped in darkness and You brought me into the light, so may it be Your will to
bring me out
from darkness to light."

-Adapted Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 4:1

Natural Questions and Responses:

People around me don't mention my loved one's name. This hurts me. How do I deal with this?

Some people fear that if they mention your loved one's name they'll upset you and cause you additional pain.
Some may feel uncomfortable seeing your tears, and thus will try to avoid triggering you.
Some may want you "not to dwell on it."

Follow your gut sense about what is taking place. Use your loved one's name when speaking of them and let others
know how good it is to hear them speak of the one you love by name.

I feel love for my loved one, but I also have a lot of hurt and anger for things that were difficult in our relationship. This mixture of feelings troubles me and I'm not sure how to deal with this.

Many relationships have ambivalent sides to them. Honor the whole relation, the gifts you received from that person,
the hard parts of that relationship, as well as the lessons you've learned from your times together.
All are simultaneously true.

For some, exploring that person's life history, what shaped them to respond in the ways that they did,
helps to hold deeper perspective.

Sometimes this process of sifting through the various dimensions of a person's life and personality can take us
to a place of deep humility, connecting us with our humanity, our human cores, for all of us have our rough edges,
are imperfect. Sometimes reflecting enables us to forgive the person that we loved for not being able to give us just exactly
what we longed for or desired.
Sometimes we discover we received things from them that we might not have wished for but in fact needed.

If angry and hurt thoughts and feelings continue to disturb you, think of finding a resting place or container for these.
Some find it helpful to do this work with a counselor.

In situations where a relationship has been an abusive one, even when previously worked through therapeutically,
feelings and memories can reopen and resurface once more with the death of that person.
Gain the support needed to work this through.

Sometimes I feel so sad that I feel life isn't worth living, and I imagine not being alive anymore.
I don't have a plan to take my life, but I just get very down at times. Is there something wrong with me?

When mourning, the lack of desire for life, or desiring for life to end is a very common feeling. It's a very natural
response to losing someone core to our life. This feeling surfaces up in bereavement groups regularly.
Connecting with peers who are mourning and/or speaking with a counselor who is specially trained in grief
can aid greatly.

There is a great difference however between having these thoughts and feelings and making plans to act on them.

If you feel frightened or have a plan to take your life, immediately call a friend and/or a family member, 911, and/or
walk into the closest hospital emergency room for help.

How do I deal with the question "how are you?

"The socially expected response is "fine," however for many mourning that reply is untrue.

Some people ask you how you are feeling truly wanting to know. Others ask this question out of habit. 
Others want to know how you're feeling but want a short answer,
while yet others want to hear how you are doing in detail.

The challenge is discerning which is fitting for each encounter.
Other brief but perhaps more truthful responses might be, "Up and down." "Difficult now, but thanks for asking."

I feel a bit overwhelmed as I've experienced the deaths of several significant people in my life
in a relatively short time. What's the best way to handle this?

Multiple losses can be overwhelming. Some say we seem to be able to absorb one loss at a time.

Honoring each relationship as memories arise as well taking time to think about how each person impacted your life
can aid you while in this tough situation.

Focus on each person individually. Reflect on the roles they played in your life, the special qualities that you most
cherished about them, what you will most miss about them, and what you learned from them.
This can help you 'spend time' individually with each person and honor each of your unique relationships.

When stress rises in our lives and the losses rise as well, these can merge and feel overwhelming.
Separating out each piece and being with one at a time can better aid one find their way in this time.

My friends keep telling me how strong I am, but sometimes I don't want to be "strong."
How do I handle this?

Sometimes people say how strong you are because they don't want to hear about your grief.
It may overwhelm them or scare them and this is one way to tell you they can't deal with the intensity of your feelings.

Other times people say this as they really feel the enormity of what you've gone through and admire how you've
handled it all.

Western culture tells us "to buck up," "pick ourselves up by our bootstraps," " be strong," and "carry on".
Parts of ourselves know that holding grief inside us isn't healthy. We know we need "fall apart time ", time to mourn.

Many feel it takes more strength and courage to allow ourselves to freely and deeply mourn than it does to keep on
going, being 'normal' and pushing feelings of grief away.

And then there may be those times when you yourself may feel how much you have dealt with, when you may feel
a sense of accomplishment for having walked relatively well given everything you've had on your plate.
At those moments you may feel an inner sense of power from having met painful times and knowing you have
and are finding your way through them.

kathy-6mo-sunset

 

To the One Who placed our souls in life

Who has not suffered our feet
to be moved

 
Who has tried us, refined us,

as silver is refined

-Psalm 66:9, 19

 

The Unveiling:

The 'unveiling" of the tombstone usually takes place
11 months after the death.

It can take place anytime from after shivah until the yahrzeit.

This ritual marks both the place where the body of your loved one rests as well as potentially the nearing of the close
of the first year of mourning.

The 9th month issue of Moorings will devote some space to readying both for the unveiling as well as the yahrzeit,
the anniversary of your loved one's death.

Journaling:

Questions to explore during this time might be:

Past Grief Experiences:
Past experiences with grief can serve as guides and resources as we mourn.
Inventorying our repertoire can remind us of pieces we can draw upon as well as remind us of the power of this route.
See what questions call to you now:

  • What was your earliest experience with death?
  • What did your family teach you about handling grief? what messages did you receive about mourning?
  • How did you see your parents mourn? what did you learn was OK and not OK?
  • Do you have models for  "mourning well"? what did those people teach you? what did you see them do?
  • What to date has been your most profound loss? what helped you heal? what hindered you?

Note feelings, thoughts, awarenesses from reading or journaling on the above.

Your loved one:

  • What was difficult for you about your relationship?
  • What regrets are there?
  • What gifts did you receive in that relationship?

This time now:

  • What is most challenging for you at this juncture of time? what have you learned from these months generally?
    about yourself? what thoughts arise about your loved one?
  • Allow the part that knows you need mourn and the part that doesn't want to mourn each 'speak' on paper.
    What realizations rise?

frank-6mo-creek

Resources for
Comfort and Support:

One of the prayers from the morning liturgy that
touches me greatly, Y'hi Ratzon, reminds me
that I have options in the ways that I respond
to people and events.

This prayer honors that we have inside ourselves inclinations both for "good" as well as for "evil,"  and it encourages us to choose goodness, each morning, each day, each moment of our lives.

What follows is a meditation I created to ready to enter
into this prayer followed by an adaptation
of the traditional prayer.

 

Reaching for the light:

Grant me the strength of will to do what I know gives light.
Guard me from evil energies.
Help me release negativity, fear, and tension
that rise up from within me,
that lie in life around me.
Help me to rise up over turmoil to see light.

Guide me this day towards that which is positive and life giving.
Help me to open my heart and my soul
to the light all around me
to the light within me.
May I act with kindness and use my energies for good.
May I choose life and act from an open heart.

Yh'i Ratzon

May it be Your will my God and God of my ancestors
that I walk with Your Torah and cleave to Your mitzvot.
Do not bring me into the hands of sin, transgression, temptation, or disgrace.
Do not let the Yetzer Ha-Ra have power over me.
Keep me far from evil people and evil companions.
Help me cling to the Yetzer Ha-Tov and to good deeds.
Help me turn both my inclinations to serve You.

May I both give and receive
with You and all whom I am with this day
grace, loving kindness, and deep compassion.
Surround me now with loving kindness.
Blessings to You, Who draws me near to You in loving kindness.

In closing this newsletter, I share a meditation I created to help me enter both into morning prayer and into my day.

kathy-6m

As I rouse my body, mind, heart, and soul
I come to You.

Thank you for the chance again to be in life.

For my breath. For giving me another day.

For all is due to You.
You are my Core. In You I find my ground.
You are my foundation.

 

  

Take good care.

You may wish to prepare for the next upcoming holiday or check back with the 9th month newsletter.

Walk gently in this time.

 

 

Guide to Hebrew words

Siddur: prayer book

Yetzer Ha-Ra: "evil" inclination

Yetzer Ha-Tov: "good" inclination

Mincha: Afternoon prayer, usually taking place at sunset.

 

Photography Credits

First, second, fourth and last photograph: Kathy Berndt
Third and fifth photograph: Frank Dobrushken