Being Vulnerable to Joy

 

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Much is gained, and much healing takes place when the bereaved gather together to compassion each other at a conference or group meeting. In the hundreds of workshops and thousands of individuals I have had to the honor to serve over the past 30 years I have seen folks companioning each other; grievers of all ages, with different demographics and different circumstances surrounding the death of their loved ones. The greatest healing phenomenon that I have discovered among those who grieve is the power of synergy that is created when companioning someone (listening) with an open heart. Synergy happens between to people who are fully engaged and a very real oscillation of energy takes place.

 

Aristotle described synergy best by saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. It is an algorithm for healing that we share, whether in conversation, in the arts, or in procreation, we can create something larger than ourselves than we ever could have done independently. When we share our story and share our life with another compassionate heart, synergy happens. Our brains are built with mirror neurons; we cannot help it; if we hear it, see it, feel it, dream it, think it, smell it, or taste it our brain experiences it. We are built for empathy, we are wired for compassion; it’s in our nature.

 

In our modern society of today, we tend to intellectualize and not actualize our grief. We often discount what our body, spirit, and soul are urging us to do to survive. We hope there is a pill we can take for it. We intellectualize our grief for a quick fix and ignore all the cues we are receiving from our body and spirit who are already processing the trauma stemming from the loss and know all too well there is no quick fix. We are built with all the neurological response resources we need to survive trauma; we heal from the inside out.

 

The most important psychosocial skill we have is being an active listener. To actively listen to others and be engaged, is to listen with our corporate brain located in the cerebellum. It is our supraphysical inner ear, and just as our physical inner ear does, it will strive to maintain balance. Unplug ego and simply listen to body, spirit and that wee voice within; nurture ways to become still and mono-focused; this calms intellect and fosters neuropathic listening skills for providing balance. Recognize that feeling your body experiences when it is in balance, foster the feeling, and use it to heal.

 

We without any effort or conscious thought maintain our balance, our blood pressure, our temperature, our heart rate and a million other things without direct thought. We are built to maintain equilibrium, hormonal balance, homeostasis; the yin/yang in action. Imbalance and friction consume energy; balance maintains energy efficiency and restores vital energies that are needed for survival.

 

With our intellect, we can research and we can provide the best possible means to assist our being in achieving overall balance or wholeness but yet not let it override the supraphysical inkles that we get from our higher (spiritual) and lower (physical) selves. We have choices, we have voices, and we have discernment. In being vulnerable in our decision making we can help build our resiliency in surviving loss; being vulnerable is the greatest act of courage one can experience.

 

If you feel stuck in your grief, seek a support group that works for you. If you cannot find a support group that works for you, reach out to a good friend and or family member; let them know you need more than a friend; you need a good listener. It does not matter how long it has been or for that matter who listens, as long as they are engaged. Seek counsel at church, civic groups; go to a counselor or seek a therapist. Read books, watch YouTube’s/ Netflix on loss, surf the web for forums and websites dedicated to serving the bereaved. Be good to yourself, find ways that work for you to mourn lament and process your loss.

 

Include if you can activities in your life that help creates joy in your heart. Be not afraid to celebrate life, yours and the living memory of your loved one. Climb a mountain, start a foundation, give blood, go for walk, forgive an old wound, volunteer time for a worthy cause. Change up vacations and holidays; create a new ritual of mourning, if only for a day or annually. Attend a national conference of The Compassionate Friends or the Bereaved Parents USA national gathering, a conference of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors of Military loss (TAPS), the TwinlessTwins conference, Alive Alone, SOS, POMC et al; look for retreats, seminars that represent similar losses. Grief does not have to be a lonely journey or a life unfinished; joy is our birthright, reclaim your joy and you reclaim your life.

 

With everything in our body, brain and spirit demanding equilibrium, we can find strength in yielding to its power to survive trauma and loss. Just as equally important in grief and maybe equally as challenging is accessing our vulnerability to experience joy. Joy neurologically excites our endocrine system to reduce pain levels and provides an analgesic calming effect on our body, mind, and spirit.  Be vulnerable to the pain to process your loss, be vulnerable to the joy and celebrate their life. Be Vulnerable to your direction. Be good to yourself.

 

Come on grief cruise with us, we are all in the same boat but we can choose our own direction. Own your grief; reclaim your Joy, reclaim your life.

 

In March of 2019, Proactive Grieving is going to sea with Journeys of Hope, Healing and Health presenting Proactive Grieving workshops on board as well 20 other fabulous presenters and light carriers with a focus on healing body, mind, soul, and spirit to empower resiliency and hope in grief.

 

For more information on this unique opportunity and to register to go to:  https://journeysofhopehealingandhealth.com/form/mitch-carmody

 

MC 11/16/18

The Virtual Luminescence of Transparency

1-transparency                                                   The Virtual Luminescence of Transparency

The word transparency gets passed around quite often these days in reference to a person’s demeanor, their honesty and clarity when engaged in conversation. To many folks it’s viewed as a negative attribute, with transparency looked at as insipid and viewed as a weakness, letting one’s guard down and being totally vulnerable. To others it’s a positive accolade of brutal honesty and forthright integrity.

In 2017 I turned 62 years old. My father died at age 49 from heart disease, I never thought I would make it this far; my brother died at age 23 from cerebral palsy, I never thought I would make it this far; my twin sister and her 2 sons were killed when she was 29 years old, I never thought I would make it this far; my son died at age 9, I never thought I would make it this far; my youngest grandchild is just turning 9; I never thought I would make it this far. I am now retired and drawing Social Security, I never thought I would make it this far.

I have made it this far, how did that happen?

When my father died, I was 15 years old and my mother told me I was the man of the family now. The youngest of 7 kids I became the patriarch by society standards and mores of the time. You buck up and put it behind you, big boys don’t cry. We buried dad, I did not cry, I did not process my grief, I did not speak of it again. That is not transparency but misguided survival.  Vulnerability was seen as a weakness, especially for young boy’s struggling to become men.  For men vulnerability was viewed as a weakness to be conquered not succumbed to.  I put on a mask early on and trained my adolescent neural pathways to become to an actor and to hide and bury any emotions that would reveal any weakness of character deemed unbecoming of a man. I bucked it up and put it behind me.

When my twin sister and her boys died 14 years later I bucked it up and put it behind me, and although there were large cracks in the façade of my survival I pulled it off and put it behind me just as my mother urged me to do.

Two years later in 1987 my son dies from a brain tumor.  I tried to buck it up and put it behind me but the cracks in my façade we becoming beyond repair and the armor of bravado and bullshit was disintegrating before my very eyes; I was a becoming as vulnerable as new born sea turtle emerging from the sand blindly trying to find the ocean with scores of hungry sea gulls in pursuit. Can I make it?

There is also a conundrum in transparency, one can be forthright, honest and open, yet invisible.  People see and react to conflict very easily but are often disarmed by or even oblivious to unfettered honesty. Have you ever  been the nice guy going up to a busy bar to order a drink and never get noticed, all the while you see others getting drinks right and left?  One does not have to say a word to be transparent it is how we project our spirit with a bevy of nonverbal cues as body language, our countenance and eye movements. Even honesty and dishonesty, like fear and joy produce different olfactory cues that we unconsciously react to. Transparency is the hallmark of vulnerability -as one is willing to accept the consequences of honesty and integrity without fear. The caveat is we can become invisible in the noise of others selfish pursuits. In the bustle of others to oil the squeakiest wheels we can seem to disappear.

Transparency is not a bad thing, or a good thing; it’s being a 100 % present thing to best determine how and what we communicate unconsciously from body, mind, soul and spirit. Transparency translated from the Latin literally means shining through.  Be resolute in the expressing the uniqueness of your character to scintillate to its full potential. We are lights, and should not be put under a basket but on a hill for all to see.  Let it shine. Light dispels the dark. Illumination is allowing the light of God to shine through the lens of our existence.  A huge responsibility not without it challenges but I believe is the path to enlightenment, survival and joy. We are own agent provocateur to heal our lives and inspire others who struggle in the dark.

Transparency in this context is being all in. What you see is what you get. It is what others see and feel when in your presence; it is what we project through our lens; what we emit and radiate unconsciously. The flip side of transparency is how we receive information; for it is a two way lens. When we are fully present in our projection we automatically become fully present to receive the verbal and non verbal cues that others are projecting. This allows us to autonomically govern the degree of our opacity at any given moment.  You want to honest on a witness stand but not necessarily transparent.

We can change the thoughts of other without uttering a word, we can disarm an antagonist with our demeanor or we can make a child laugh with our eyes.  Honesty is revealing truthful facts, transparency is revealing soul; it’s about being vulnerable and exposing the underbelly of who we are to ourselves first and by degrees to the world.

I struggled in the dark for many years after my son died; I was not transparent; I was not honest.  I formed a credible façade from the cascade of unsolicited advice and pulled down the blackout screen over my injured soul. One side was black and blocked any transmissions from my soul; the other side reflective so people would see what they wanted to see.  It worked, and I was left alone… all too easily. But we are a village and we need each other’s shine to light the path when darkness prevails.

In 2010 I made a bucket list. I wanted to be transparent with my needs and wants with enthusiasm for a full year. I was not being transparent although, I was being selfish and I just got fat.

In 2015 I made another attempt at transparency and created a list that sounds like “bucket” but started with a different consonant. I was not transparent, I was driven; driven to find my bliss, my purpose.  It was life changing but not life affirming and not necessarily transparent.

January 1st of 2017 I started my year of transparency; I started a new health regime to be transparent with my body’s needs;learning to listen and respect its voice; I lost a ton of weight and off all meds.  I created a YouTube channel called MrHeartlight and I was transparent with my character on many levels for those in grief.  I was fully transparent with my wife and we bought a condo and listed our farm of 23 years for sale in one week. I was transparent with colleagues and completely changed the way I conduct business and presentations.  Through proactive transparency skills I have found body, mind, soul, and spirit equilibrium.  Equilibrium produces harmony, and harmony virtual luminescence and peace. Transparency allows that light to shine through and it allows other’s light to be received. This the photosynthesis of healing.  Let there be light.

Mitch Carmody  December 2017

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light “        -Helen Keller

Step out the Dark, Step Into the Light; Proactive Grieving

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Step out of the Dark, Step into the Light, Step into the Sun

Proactive Grief Processing

 

 In 2017 Face book CEO Sheryl Sandberg released “OPTION B” a book on the NY Times best seller list for 16 weeks. She had heard me speak and inspired by my words included a statement regarding proactive grieving in her book. In 2016 a book was released by Rita Silverman with forward by Katie Couric called “Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script” which also contained a chapter on proactive grieving that I had penned.  The paradigm shift on healing from loss and trauma is in full swing, and our country is embracing it; not putting grief behind you, but right beside you.

I am humbled and excited to be a part of this paradigm shift in grief consciousness with the many workshops, conferences, and grief organizations that I speak for and attend across this country. Most recently I have taken part in several Bereavement Cruises that offer healing in a very unique and powerful way. With the rhythm of the waves something works on body, mind, soul and spirit simultaneously that catalyzes healing by just being present. An extraordinary discovery and something I am anxious to explore some more. My thoughts and explorations into grief started at an early age, only now am I piecing it all together.

 

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Oz never gave nothing to the Tin Man that he did not already have”

                                                           – Dewey Bunnel (America)

 

I was the youngest of seven children growing up in the 50’s. In my quiet thoughts at times I felt that I was a replacement child and not even knowing the term.  I had three older sisters, a twin sister and two older brothers.  One older brother, John died at birth. I never knew him, no photos, or his name ever mentioned; like some dark secret that John had died with the cord wrapped around his neck. Brother David was born a few years later; it was a late delivery and he was born severely mentally challenged with cerebral palsy and was institutionalized until his death in 1977.

I was born in 1955. My mom and dad finally had a viable, healthy boy, with the bonus of another girl, my twin sister. I did not have to fight for attention; I only had to choose who adored me. Mom wanted me as her only son, dad wanted me as his only son, and Grandma now had her only grandson (she never had a son).  I felt bad for my twin sister who was left in the shadow of a celebrity twin and the only boy. We never spoke of it but I felt it up to the day she died in an accident in 1984 at age twenty-eight with her two young sons.

Early on I felt guilty for my twin sister’s lack of parental attention as well as the pressure on me to be the boy in the family and fill some nebulous shoes that were never worn.  John was a mystery and David a prisoner of his own body.  I could not replace them but felt the pressure of Dad wanting a man’s son and mom wanting a momma’s boy. Mom won. Dad was a war hero, football hero, a typical 1950’s male, a truck driver and a cop; in my eyes he had struck out.  He died at forty-nine when I was fifteen years old and never really having had that relationship he wanted so badly. My mom’s first words after Dad died were, “You are the man of the family now.” I secreted away my grief and stood tall; big boys don’t cry.

Fast forward to 1987 when my nine year old son Kelly dies of a brain tumor after a two year battle with the disease, leaving behind two worn out and shell-shocked parents with a surviving sibling Meagan, only six years old.  If it were not for Meagan, my wife and I had discussed doing a “Thelma and Louise” off of a cliff. We did not, so we discussed getting pregnant again.

My wife Barb had a tubal ligation after our daughter was born and we soon found out it was not reversible—she was crushed. We discussed adoption, but soon fell into deep despair and in the apathy of broken dreams, we resigned to the fact we could barely take care of our surviving daughter much less another child in our lives. We accepted defeat on many levels and we functioned at a base level of survival sans joy.

When a child is terminally ill they become the center of the universe and the healthy sibling is always on the bench. When Kelly died I believe Meagan felt it was “her turn” finally to be the center of our universe and found that her parents could not let go and her brother became deified; it’s impossible to compete with a God. She lost her parents and her brother in the deal.

In an odd way, I believe she wanted to be that “replacement child” who was showered with gifts, attention, and travel. Instead, she found herself living with two broken parents who worshipped a dead brother she was soon forgetting; again getting the short straw in life.

When Meagan became pregnant eight years ago, my wife was ecstatic that she could have a boy and she could start all over again loving a little boy and watching him grow up as he should—beyond the age of nine years old.  Meg had a girl and although excited, I know my wife was disappointed it was not a boy.

That year Meg came to a bereaved parent conference to hear me speak and became involved with the sibling program. Now as a mother she said, “Dad, now I get it”; she understood why her parents were screwed up for so long and as a new mother she could not comprehend that kind of pain and forgave me. It was huge for both of us. She grieved as an adult for the loss of her brother she experienced at age six.

Four years ago, out of the blue, I received a call from a psychic with a news flash she had apparently received with her gift and had to let me know. She went on to say that Kelly was coming back into our family as a new grandbaby. Low and behold, my daughter was indeed pregnant (although did not know it at the time).  She eventually gave birth to our second granddaughter who was born on Kelly’s 23rd angelversary date.  They named her Olivia Kelly.

In our minds, my wife and I were already replacing Kelly with this new child coming into our lives. It is probably a good thing she was not a boy as we would have treated him with so many expectations. I even thought about taking Kelly’s old Predator bicycle out of the back shed, cleaning it up and getting some new tires. We are still bereaved parents and we would accept any miracle that would bring our son back into our lives.

We are still, almost thirty years later, processing the death of our son.  We have learned much in that time and we have reached the most blessed realization that dead is not gone.  We do not have to bury our child with their body; we can maintain a new relationship on a non-physical level. You do not have to replace what is not gone.  Both of my granddaughters talk of Uncle Kelly in the present tense as we keep him present in conversation and they see his image often on the cover of my book and on the wall of their own home.  When our granddaughter’s cat died, she drew a picture of Kelly holding her cat on the rainbow bridge.

As my daughter was growing up was she jealous of our continued bond with Kelly? Was she pressured to compete with her dead brother?  Was she scarred for life by our actions or lack of action? Did we treat her as a replacement child for Kelly? By her response here to that question, I think not.”

From Meagan Carmody:

“At age six and a half on the night Kelly died I remember feeling confused and sad, not only for myself but for seeing the pain on my parents’ face. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and sitting in the bathtub where I started to cry. I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to be strong and did not want to appear sad as there was enough sadness surrounding me.

Those first few months after Kelly died I can remember being surrounded by a blanket of love from family and friends; the same friends who loved me during those long years of Kelly’s illness. I always felt loved.

I didn’t want my parents to be sad anymore, but there were always dark clouds appearing and hovering over my family since the cancer came into our lives. Now that the cancer was gone maybe the clouds could finally start to break away and my parents could once again feel the sun on their face.

We never forgot about Kelly; we always did something special on the anniversary day of his death. We would do something as a family together. Sometimes we would make “I miss you” cards and throw them in the fireplace where the ashes would ascend into the sky with hopes that our love would reach him. Over the years my dad made a video of Kelly and my parents would watch and share with others. We had a trunk of all of his things; we would make a yearly ritual to watch this video and look through his trunk of things.  As my dad likes to say, we would swim in the grief. I think as a child that this was a way for me to keep his memory alive and felt that it was okay to cry for him; this was a very healing time for me.

The hardest part of my journey, I believe, was to watch my brother slowly dying, and being a young child, to not totally grasp what was happening to him, other than that he was really sick. In a weird way I felt a huge sense of relief after he died, like the storm was over and he did not have to suffer anymore. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when the house abruptly landed and all was quiet… and then she opened the door slowly to a new colorful world and heard soft singing in the background, “Step out of the dark, step into the light, step into the sun” and my new life began from pieces of the old. I will never forget about my brother and the memories we had together. Both of my children know of their Uncle Kelly. We have a huge picture of him in our house hanging on the wall. Kelly lives on and so do we. I have no regrets.”

 From Mitch Carmody:

“There is life after death on both sides of the equation after a significant loss; not only can we survive, we can thrive.  We need not replace our loved one who died in our family, but we can embrace their spirit by living with the loss as a part of our daily life. This is what I call “Proactive Grieving ®” a philosophy for surviving loss. We can and will find joy again—it is our birthright.”

 

The Sound of Silence…

The Sound of Silence

The first line from the song The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel is “Hello darkness my old friend I have come to talk with you again”.  Recently a dear friend introduced me to a new rendition of this song by a heavy metal band called “Disturbed”, not my genre or his but this somewhat lugubrious version is hauntingly beautiful. Sad and morose in nature, yet inspiring and captivating; you feel the roiling angst of grief expressed with dignity. It touched my heart and inspired me to combine the song with my drawings of the 20 Faces of Grief.  link to song:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCtkkmjwd3U 

 Those who are bereaved and have experienced the death of a loved one understand what the line ” Hello darkness my old friend, I have come to talk with you again” truly means. We know who that old friend is   Let me introduce you to my old time friend. His name is Grief. He is not my enemy; he is my closest friend and ally. Grief is that old friend that listens to my deepest pains, fears, and sorrows; he is always available day or night.  That friend who came immediately to my side together with his friend Shock when my son died.  They both held me up with invisible arms to do the impossible and bury my child.

Grief is an old friend; I invited him to stay with me when my son died. When the funeral was over and my whopping three days of bereavement leave completed I went back to work. It was time to pull up my boot straps, get busy in my work and let time heal.  I told my friend Grief that although I was grateful for his support to get me through the funeral, there is no way he could come to work with me. It would be embarrassing; people would wonder why he was with me all the time and I would have to try and explain.  He agreed and for the most part Grief stayed home but his friend Shock insisted he come with me to work at least for awhile. I was glad he did, I could have not done it without him. Funny thing is no one really noticed him.

Being a good friend Grief honored my request and did not come to work with me those early weeks, but he did not leave altogether. I said he could stay in my son’s old room as long as he needed too.  Shock stayed in my room in the early days but grief stayed to his room for the most part. On many occasion although I would find him waiting for me, sitting in the car when I got off work. Sometimes he would even surprise me at work and say “let’s take the day off” and we would. He would seem to know the right time to pounce on me at work and we would go for a walk together, just he and I.

Sometime in that second year, Shock stopped coming with me to work and he just up and left one day. As a result my friend Grief started popping into the office more than ever before. He showed up at dinners, events, most every movie I went to,  and  he would even surprise me in the shower some mornings and I would lose it completely. In those early years most of our time together was spent kicking back on the couch and having a few beers together and drift off to the sound of silence. After while he never seemed to leave me alone, at home, at work , at night, I could not get away from him and he was a slob, a slouch and a grouch on a couch.

My friend became my nemesis, my antagonist, he shadowed my day and owned my night and I wanted him to leave, but he stood fast. I began to resent him taking over and controlling my life and leaving it in such a mess. I no longer wanted him as my friend but I had no strength to throw him out so I gave in gave up my control and rested in my own vulnerability to his care.  I gave in to my captor the same as hostage may do with their captor. It is not unlike The Stockholm Syndrome where a victim starts to believe the same values as the aggressor, they soon cease to see their captor as a threat and can rest.   So we rest.

Eventually at some indeterminate time Grief started to take a few vacations, longer and longer ones it seemed; sometimes I would not see him for a month. As much as I liked having my own life back, I missed him.  I experienced the very odd feeling of cognitive dissonance. I was holding two opposing wishes that muddled my brain like a difficult conundrum. I had to accept this is my life now. I am muddled. I am grieving. I am crazy. I am lost. My life is a mess and I need my friend.

 I knew I could call him if I needed too, but I felt I had already taken advantage of so much of his time that I did not want to bother him with minor complaints. Oddly he would seem to know the vision that was planted in my brain…and he would show up unannounced when I needed him most and stay as long as I needed him.

Sometimes he would stay for only an hour or two, at times a day or two but seldom longer than that. We did not drink beer on the couch together anymore or fall asleep with the TV on.  He seems to have grown up a lot; he stands a quite a bit taller now, and has lost a whole bunch of weight and he brought much less baggage than before. He is a whole lot less intrusive and domineering now; he mostly just listens with that understanding smile.

Today almost 30 years later he still visits on occasion; he always stops by on his own birthday, most holidays, some weddings but all funerals. Grief is a good friend, he saved my life. In learning to live with him…I have learned to live without him. We do stay in touch however.

If you are lost and cannot seem to find your friend, please lean on mine until you do find yours, and keep listening to the whispers contained in the sound of silence, it whispers hope.

Peace love n light

Mitch Carmody Aug/2016

Whats left in Pandora’s Box ?

What’s left in Pandora’s Box?

From ancient Greek mythology you may have heard of the legend of Pandora’s Box. Zeus with help from the other Gods created a beautiful woman as his daughter whose dowry was contained in magical box that she was instructed never to open. Pandora was the first woman who was created and she was to marry Prometheus the Titan who had created man.

Prometheus was the champion for mankind and he had stolen fire from Zeus to give to man use so that he could grow and prosper. Zeus enraged at the theft punished Prometheus by presenting his daughter to his brother Epimetheus to marry.

One night Pandora woke Epimetheus up and told him she had opened the box and all this pestilence, evils, and disease flew out before she could close the lid. Epimetheus went to the box and opened it to see for himself. He found that the box was not quite empty. There was one thing left inside…hope.

On our grief journey following the death of a loved one we find ourselves lost in a sea of despair. The evils of Pandora’s Box were unleashed into our lives and the lid slammed shut without any hope.

When our dreams are shattered hope seems elusive; even to survive it seems we are dishonoring our loved one. How do we find hope again?

It seems we have to go back to Pandora’s Box and open it once again to look for hope. We walk back into the dragons den of our fears; we face the dragon of death that took our loved one from us. We look at the pain and horror that has overtaken our life and identify the fears that keep us from finding hope. Our fear of forgetting, our fear of healing, our fear of not grieving, our fear of a meaningless future, our fear of laughing again, our fear of our own apathy, all fears that keep us in our cocoon of grief and safe from the reality of a harsh world.

Finding hope is risky business, finding hope takes work, finding hope takes commitment, finding hope takes faith. Hope without faith is mere optimism, faith is the fire on the candle of hope that sheds light in the darkness of despair. With hope kindled by faith and intention we can remove our fears one at a time by facing them and incorporating them into our daily experience.

Fear of forgetting is addressed by sharing our story with all that will listen and even to those that do not, we keep our loved ones name in the present tense, we remove the word had, and insert have.  I have two children; one who lives in Red Wing MN, the other one abides in places only dreamed of.

We have the fear of healing because we are afraid if we lose the pain we are somehow getting over it; so we pick the scab from our wound to keep it fresh; give me the pain if that is all I have left. Fear of healing can be assuaged by creating a legacy in the honor of our loved one. To create a legacy we need our health, our strength and our spirit.

Our fear of not grieving enough, not mourning correctly or not exhibiting affectations of mourning can be challenged by immersion into the grief. Watch home  movies, look at photo albums, watch Hallmark and other tear-jerker movies, tell life stories and the death story; catalyze the tears in any way you can, give yourself the opportunity and permission to actively lament, cry and even rage. Our fear of a meaningless future can be removed by planting seeds. Some seeds sprout immediately, some lay dormant for years; some seeds need the heat of a forest fire to bring them to life; now scorched by the fires of your loss, long dormant seeds may emerge. Talents laying deep within may show themselves in the continual struggle to survive. We just have to watch for them and nurture them; they are our future.

Our fear of laughing again can be addressed by simply watching a funny movie, being around children, be with friends who make you laugh, wear a red clown nose to work, allow people to laugh with you, it’s contagious and you will laugh in the process. Take a risk to be silly. Laughter is a free and natural anti-depressant with no side effects.

Our fear of our own apathy can be conquered by serving someone else’s needs above your own. In any way, no matter how small the act is, it can neutralize apathy immediately.  Apathy is probable the most deleterious state of being to our emotional, spiritual and physical health and the biggest barrier in find hope. Give and you shall receive; and you shall receive hope.

The world, our life and our grief journey are all an allegory to Pandora’s Box.  Most people who remember the legend only remember the evils that were let out of the box to plague mankind.  We tend to forget the most important teaching is what was left in the box for us to find on our own. In opening the box once again we return to self, no longer looking for what we have lost but going back and discovering what we have left. It all starts with finding hope.

 

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future”

-Robert H. Schuller

 

 

 

The Chronology of the Bereaved Parent, living with loss for a lifetime

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used with permission http://www.thegrieftoolbox.com

If you want to go the extremes of grief to try to understand the complexities of the bereavement process one should study the bereaved parent.  No other loss is more egregious, no other loss more onerous than the death and physical loss of a child.  No other loss leaves your heart as deeply mortally wounded for life. No other loss is more difficult to accept.  Even among bereaved parents there is a plethora of differences that sets individual grief journeys apart and how they process their loss.  There is although two commonalities we all share. 1.) We are forced to accept the unacceptable: the physical loss of our child forever.  2.).Our individual grief is the hardest grief to bear.

In the 1970’s Elizabeth Kubler Ross pioneered death and dying research.  Her five stages of grief have been accepted and used worldwide since that time; for the most part without question. Although I think her work is commendable and the best resource we had then and for many subsequent years. It has been in my experience with the terminally bereaved parent that some of her theories do adequately represent the true reality of the bereavement process following the death of a child

The five stages of grief were taken directly from the studies of Dr Ross with the terminally ill and dying patient.  When a person is first told they are dying they are in denial, NOT ME!!!, secondly they progress to anger, I am Mad at God for doing this to me and fight to stay alive, thirdly they start to bargain with God to stay here and pray for a cure, fourth, they become depressed at how rotten and unfair life is, and five is acceptance they are dying, and make peace with that reality.  In this context the use of the world ‘stage is used correctly’ as it describes a series of linear progressive events.  Grief is more like ascending a stairs. See my WordPress blog “Climbing the S.T.A.I.R.S. of grief, a new modality in grief processing.”

In processing the loss of a loved one there is no linear progression of events, no stage of grief that fits life as we know it following the loss of a close family member.  If there are stages, there is only two: shock and acceptance. Everything else falls in between.  Both denial and bargaining are insults to our intelligence, of course we know our child is dead, we buried them.  We cannot strike any bargain that can change that fact.  Depression and anger are very real emotions that we will experience but they are not stages, but a condition of our new normal which may be an on and off again challenge of the bereavement process that will affect us the rest of our life.

Bereaved parents trying to fit themselves into the accepted stages of grief find themselves frustrated if they have not gone ‘through’ the stages.  Very vulnerable the new bereaved parent, still in somewhat in shock find themselves processing their loss as the mores of society dictates.  Three days of bereavement leave, and then it’s back to work and get on with your life. In a few months you will be over it and quietly blend back into the workplace as hoped for and expected by most.  At first you will be greeted with embarrassed looks by co-workers who almost hurt themselves making an unanticipated hallway dodges or an abrupt u-turn, ad-hoc bulletin board readers, mutterers hiding behind magazines, skillful eye contact avoidance and spontaneous rest room needs all ruses to avoid the uncomfortable contact with the bereaved parent…

People practice avoidance to avoid bringing up the subject of your loss which they feel will be sure to inflict more pain.  They also have their own concerns that they will be put into a position to have to say something profound and healing to say when they know there is nothing that can be said to take away your pain.  We ourselves play the artful dodger role when we do not want “to go there ‘at any given time. Sometimes the actions we see in others are a reflection of our own projection.

I remember one time seeing a person coming towards me down the hallway at work one morning a few months after my son had died. He rounded a corner whistling and glancing cheerfully at the headlines of his morning paper, unaware of his overfull coffee mug leaving a trail behind him.  Then I see that he catches site of me in his peripheral vision and he scrunches into the pages of his paper. He became more engrossed in the paper as we neared each other in the narrow corridor. I was feeling down with a transitional edginess  and did not want to hear any morning weather reports or exchange cheerful dribble, so I dodged to the right just as we neared each other, he dodged the same direction, we both reversed several times and at the same moment we both said “ care to dance?”

We both laughed loudly in a very natural way and automatically hugged one another.  He whispered in my ear with the compassion of Mom tending her sick child “how are you doing man?”  I pulled back and looked him straight in the eye and responding that up to this moment I was having a very bad day “thanks for the dance”.  We both laughed as we walked away my heart lighter, his heart brighter.  Sometimes we avoid contact with others just as they seemingly do with us.  Just under the surface our racing emotions are left unseen and unexpressed. In a spontaneous or forced contact situation with another our emotions can be released like the welcome bursting of thick skinned pimple and although it hurts briefly we sigh with relief that the dam has burst.

The first year back to work is a difficult challenge for the bereaved parent, but remember you are still an infant in your new normal.  We get lost in a forever wandering mind of our own internal dialogues.  We have no attention span for the language of the real world and depend on Post it notes to remember everything, we trip more, and spill things more, lose things, and get lost on a simple errand. We develop techniques to get things done, but the color is gone from our life.  We are changed for ever. The loss of a child is terminal bereavement.  We start all over again and try to figure this our ‘new normal’ (new abnormal).  It is a new beginning in all sense of the word and our clocks are reset.  We construct new concepts, new ways of looking at life…not from the passage of time but from an amalgamation of events and experiences. In the depths of early grief time seems to stand still, so as with an infant time has no meaning, all that matters is that we be comforted. When we are infants in our grief journey time stands still and all we want is to be comforted. As an infant grows to childhood time will appear to accelerate just as it will as we move through the years following our loss.

In essence I believe we are born again into a new life that starts the moment our child dies and ends the day we die. We start marking time just as a new born baby does, day by day, year by year in a slow progression of discovery of the person left behind. A slow metamorphosis of the psyche, like the Phoenix we rise from the ashes of our despair and become our new found destiny as surely as the baby keeps trying to walk.  We need to go through that progression of life developments and stages of growth that a child goes through in becoming an adult. We need to grieve naturally, not stages of grief but stages of life development that takes years not months to progress through.

In support of this theory I offer parallels to similar behaviors as drawn by the famous behaviorist and psychiatrist Erik Erickson in 1956 and his 8 stages of social –emotional development of a child from infant to adult.  These stages of development are accepted world wide and using in most institutions of higher learning.  According to Erickson, the socialization process consists of eight phases- the eight stages of man.  Each stage is regarded by Erikson as a “psychosocial crisis” which arises and demands resolution before the next stage can be satisfactorily negotiated.  Stages that build on each other, each previous stage supporting the next and  so on in a structural sense that demands each stage be achieved before moving on to the next.  The stages with Erikson’s words that are used in this article are in bold print. I merely compare them to the grieving process, and postulate their relevance in understanding the long term grief process that a bereaved parent is suffered to endure. I believe we are vulnerable and needy as a new born child and we grow into our new normal just as a child takes his first steps.

The world stops spinning, time stops your brain is a code blue and reality as you know it fades from conscious thought and you are propelled into a world of disbelief.  Taken from a world that you knew and understood, a world of warmth and security and you find yourself head first into a cold painful world of the unknown.  It’s hard to see, you are shaking, insecure and frightened of what’s a head. Tears flow from your eyes, you feel cold and lost and just want someone to hold you and tell you it’s just a dream.  Am I describing a baby just being born into this world or a parent just hearing the news of or witnessing the death of their child?   It could be both, both describe being thrust into the unknown and faced with the continuing challenges of survival.

Life without our child; our new normal; Just as a newborn baby needs to adjust to a new environment, so do we.  As an infant does that first year we shall cry a lot, sometimes way into the night,  sleep for a few hours, only to wake up frightened, cry and then sleep some more. You will find people taking care of your simplest needs for you and without compunction, you offer no resistance. As if in a daze you allow them into your close personal space but it feels good to be cared for. You will have accidents, you will be unsure of yourself, you will be scared to venture out, be hesitant with strangers, and testy when you’re tired, and you’re always tired.  You will want to explain what hurts and find you have no words that can express your thoughts.  Food will be tasteless and you will eat in a perfunctory fashion, yet coupled with an unabated thirst that cannot be slaked; a bone itch we cannot scratch. So we find pacifiers to slake the unquenchable indefinable thirst that gnaws at are being. Again does this describe an infant or a bereaved parent functioning at the base primal level of 1st year survival?

The first year of life as outlined in Erikson’s stage of development:

 Stage One.  Learning Basic Trust Vs Basic Mistrust (hope).

Chronologically this is the period of infancy though the first one or two years of life. The child well handled nurtured and loved, develops trust and security and a basic optimism .Badly handled, he becomes insecure and mistrustful.

The world, God, Kismet or fate has stolen our child from our arms, caused them pain and continues to assault us with more pain and deprivation. How do we ever trust again?  Baby steps; we learn all over again. We will try to stand and fall, we will try to walk and stumble, we shall try to explain and cry in frustration with no words that anyone can understand. We are dependent on others for our own survival, we reach out for anyone to pick us up and pat us on the back make it all right. We want to be comforted on our own terms until we can understand this new world we are forced to accept.

If we are well handled and cared for, we shall develop optimism, a sense of hope and we grieve naturally. If the grieving is delayed, so will the first step towards optimism and the whole bereavement process chronologically delayed and sometimes without help can be stuck forever, never finding hope, never building on that next stage of development that we must go also go through.  That is just the first year following the loss of a child, and at the risk of being glib we then head into the terrible twos, our second year of grieving that is more often worse than the first.

Every morning when you open your eyes your get a mini-jolt that their death was not a dream, a year ago on this day they were dead (but we still cannot say that word).  This morning is real and it has another full day of painful memories in store to rip your heart apart. The world thinks you are on the mend, and you are just beginning to understand it’s going to take a long time, a very long time.  Every day after the first anniversary of their death now contains memories of their death and the ensuing life change that follows. It is like starting all over again without the numbness and for the most part the world has now expected that you should be over it.

The terrible twos, the second year of healing, when anger, frustration, apathy, anxiety and depression play tag team for control.  The loss begins to become very real, and separation anxiety kicks into high gear.  Extreme concentration becomes necessary for to accomplish almost any task, and every task seems to deplete you physically.  You will have accidents; lose things, trip, stumble and fall.

You want to feel better, be able to talk normal, care about things again, but yet it’s hard to leave behind that initial, albeit painful but protective cocoon of grief that has protected you for so long.  As a baby longs for independence, yet it longs for the security and comfort of bottle and crib we struggle with mixed emotions on our second year of healing.

We can fly into a rage at a moments notice, cry uncontrollably out of the blue, so NO to everything, don’t eat what is on our plate, we want our nap, we scream out “It’s not fair”, we pout, we are difficult to be around, we sometimes runaround like a chicken with our heads cut off and we fall into a exhausted pile and sleep.  Begging o be left alone one minute and then begging for hugs the next.  Are these symptoms of our second year and third year of our bereavement process? Or a two year old just beginning to assert his/her autonomy?

The second stage of life development as listed by Erikson is from 1 to 4 years old.

Stage Two. Learning Autonomy versus Shame (Will)

The second psychosocial crisis of a child from age 18 months to 4 years old is finding autonomy.  Autonomy is not, however, entirely synonymous with self assuredness, personal initiative and independence, but for children in the early part of this stage includes the stormy self-will, tantrums, stubbornness and negativism.  The well parented child emerges from this stage sure of himself, elated with his newfound control and proud of it and not ashamed and ‘NO’ rings loudly through the house.

 We as bereaved parents entering our 5th of year of experiencing life without our child will usually feel we have hit a bench mark, a milestone in recovery from our devastating loss, yet may still feel without purpose.  If active steps have been made to integrate our loss into our new life, by this time we are starting to broaden our experiences, reaching out to the world and see how we fit into it.   We may go back to school, change careers, start a foundation, lead a recovery group, get involved, and dare I say make plans for the future. Imagining we can have a life again.

No longer a toddler we are discovering the nature of our selves (our new normal) and gravitate toward experiences that can bring interaction with the world. To hunger for knowledge, love, and pleasure, to experience growth and may be even fun again.  To become involved again in groups, meetings, as a leader and or contributing follower all show a desire to invest in life again; not working on ways to heal from your pain you may become stuck in anger or apathy and not want to move beyond the terrible twos, staying dependant on others for your needs and avoiding interaction with the world that has hurt you so bad, taking your ball and staying home.

The third stage of life development as listed by Erikson is from years 5 to 7 years old.

3Learning Initiative Vs Guilt (purpose)

This is the  third psychosocial crisis  and occurs during what what is called “play age” or the later preschool years to formal entry into school.  During this period the healthy developing child learns (1) to imagine, to broaden his skills through active play of all sorts, including fantasy. (2) to cooperate with others (3) to leas as well as to follow. Or immobilized by guilty, he is: (1) fearful (2) hangs on the fringes of groups (3) continues to depend unduly on adults and ( 4) is restricted both in the development of play skills and in imagination. 

 Seven to twelve years following the loss of your child you have more than likely fully integrated back into the work place and the world in general. Your loss to most people is not known or forgotten about and is ancient history.  At this point in our journey we may be even playing catch up with the world that has moved on so quickly while we were gone from it.  At this juncture of our bereavement process we are honing the new skills we have learned in our survival of the horrific loss we have to bear. Our social skills improving, once again we hunger for more of what life has to give, experience more love, more joy, to see more of the world.  We are willing to take on tasks, become a team play once again and work hard to accomplish goals.

 If we have in our journey have still not gone through an earlier developmental stage of  our new normal we may still be in a negative, guilt based position of being defeated and have no thoughts to the future. Most thoughts locked in the past, anger still has control they and used to living life feeling inferior with no hope or redemption.  Life sucks; I have no friends who understand. I am lonely. I am bitter. I am a victim. We have choice to become a survivor or a collateral victim.

  1. Industry Vs Inferiority (Competence)

The fourth psychosocial crisis is handled for better or worse during what is calls the “school age” presumably up to and including junior high school.   Here the child leans to master the more formal skills of life: (1) relating with peers according to rules (2) progressing from  free play to play that may be elaborately structured by rules and may demand  formal teamwork .(3) mastering social studies, reading and math.  Homework is a necessity and the need for self-discipline increases yearly. The child who because of his successive and successful resolutions to earlier psychosocial crisis is trusting, autonomous, and full of initiative will learn easily enough to be industrious.  However the mistrusting child will doubt the future. The shame and guilt filled child will experience defeat and inferiority.

From twelve years to 18 years in your bereavement process and if you have experienced every previous developmental stage of life progressions you may finally have come to terms with who you are now; the transmogrification of your post child- loss identity almost complete. You have now fully integrated into your new normal and recognize how the loss of your child has changed your life. You accept that change and build on it, even looking for growth opportunities that are presented to you in your new life and may find you have the strength to take on causes and make positive changes.  At the same time you will still have feelings of self-doubt and despair and may not want to move forward, frightened you may forget and long for the security of the old days despite their extreme pain.

  1. Learning Identity Vs Identity, Diffusion (fidelity)

During the fifth psychosocial crisis ages 13 to 20 the child, now an adolescent, learns how to answer satisfactorily and happily the question of “Who am I?”  But even the best adjusted of adolescents will experience some formal identity diffusion: most boys and probably most girls experiment with minor delinquency; rebellion flourishes; self doubt floods the youngster’s thoughts.

By this time in the process of your bereavement you may have allowed you self to love again. You may have lost many friends, some even being the closest of friends or relatives; relationships lost through attrition or by choice in the battle to survive your loss and there may be collateral damage. You now value more than ever the relationships that survived and the new ones that were created.

  1. Learning intimacy Vs Isolation (Love)

The successful young adult, for the first time can experience true intimacy, the sort of intimacy hat makes possible good marriage or a genuine and enduring friendship.

At this point in our “new normal” we may be working productively and creatively in most aspects of our life.  At this point in the stage of development in our new normal we find that it merges with the normal stages of life development that everyone is faced with, regardless of the loss of a child in their life. You may have more deep loving relationships in your life than ever before.

  1. Learning Generativity Vs Self-Absorption (Care)

In Adulthood, the psychosocial crisis demands generativity, both in the sense of marriage and parenthood, and in the sense of working creatively and productively. 

On our grief journey if we have built upon our success and challenges we have faced through the years we have become productive and we have successfully turned our loss into legacy.

  1. Integrity Vs Despair (Wisdom)

If the other seven psychosocial crisis have been successfully resolved, the mature adult develop the peak of adjustment; integrity.  He trusts, he is independent and dares the new. He works hard, has found a well defined role in life, and has developed a self-concept with which he is happy.  He can be intimate without strain, guilt, regret, or lack of realism; and he is proud of what he creates – his children, his work, or his hobbies.   If one of more of the earlier of crisis has not been resolved, he may view himself and his life with disgust and despair.

At this point on the journey we may have reached a point in our life where we have found joy again. Living in the present moment with a attitude of gratitude, honoring our loved ones/ones  who have died with how we live our lives. If we are happy we shine by example. At this point we are wise and seasoned grievers.

In summation I would like to say that I feel every one of us goes through, or does not go through all these stages of human development in the process of experiencing life on this planet.  If we experience the first six stages of development fully and sequentially, the last two stages will only enhance your life and the lives of those around you and you will find yourself making a difference in this world.

When you experience the loss of a child your life is changed forever and in essence you start all over again in the developmental stages of life.  Just as in your own birth experience and its developmental stages of life that we complete or do not complete is so unique, so it is with our bereavement experience for the loss of a child.  Everyone’s journey is so different.  What is the same is the life time journey to find purpose in our life. The loss of a child can cripple you forever or empower you to change the world. We do have choices.

Blessings on your journey

Mitch

The Grievers Holiday Prayer

The Griever’s Holiday Prayer

Copy of DSC09249

It is Thanksgiving Day…

And again it gives me pause

How did I get this far

Without breaking any laws?

When my child died

The holidays died as well

Her spirit took to flight

While my stayed in hell

A shattered heart cannot decorate

Or go shopping at the mall

Christmas songs and tinsel

Have a lot a gall

How can they say happy holiday

With zest and soul felt cheer

It is an insult to my child

Who isn’t here to hear

How can I say peace on earth?

When there is no peace in my heart

How do I celebrate thanksgiving?

When I don’t know how to start

It is hard to be thankful

Sitting next to an empty chair

It is hard to be grateful

When our child is not sitting there.

But the holidays have a way

Of creeping back into our soul

We learn to live and love again

Only in a different role

Joy seeks a wounded heart

As does the lovers’ kiss

And we realize the love is not gone

It’s their presence that we miss

My child was never lost

She did not run away from home

It was I who wandered on it seems

So desolate and alone

The sun sank slowly every night

Giving birth to another day of pain

 Groundhog’s Day starting all over again

And another day insane

So I stopped looking up, and stopped looking down

And started looking deep within

It was there that I found my lost child

And brought her back home again

Now my child walks beside me

This has redesigned my soul

There is no longer an empty chair

I no longer play a role

A griever on the mend

We keep it real, this is who we are

We bring our child with us

She is not sitting on some star

I will always bring my child

When gathering with family and friends

It’s a gift for everyone

A love that never ends.

On Thanksgiving Day this year

Please say this prayer with me:

I give thanks for what I have

 And the gift of living free

-But more importantly, above all else

I am thankful for what I can give

And for what you have given me”.

 

Gentle Blessings on Thanksgiving Day 2014

         jessica M                  Mitch Carmody

Dedicated to Deb and Len in legacy to their daughter Jessica Mysiewicz

Poem: To My Avatar on Earth…

DSC09241

Illustration from my book ” Letters to My Son

To My Avatar on Earth…

Weep for yourselves
Please weep not for me
I may have died
But I am also free

No limits, no laments
it is all so okay
this life is just as real
in a very special way

I cannot walk on earth
but I can visit in many ways
look for me upon the wind
or the clouds on a sunny day

In the bird that sings at your window
the eagle that soars in the sky
or the double rainbow on the horizon
I will hold you when you cry

Cry many tears
I hope that you do
It’s good for me
And it’s good for you

Tears honor my life
And they express your deep pain
Your body gets relief
And so does your brain

Shout it out, cry it out
Sing your songs of lament and despair
Grieve your loss unfettered
Remove the masks that you may wear

Unbridle those emotions
Roiling deep inside
The pain of loss needs expression
A grief observed should not hide

If you have not heard from me
It is not that I cannot connect
But I have much to do
And much more to reflect

I have wounds to heal
And so do you
Dead is not gone
Our journey not through

You play your cards
I have yet more to play
The future is a dream within a dream
All we really have is today

I have never left you
So please don’t run away
I am with you always
Forever and a day

There is no closure
There is no moving on
There is only living with the loss
The love never gone

You are now my avatar
I still live through you
Through you heart, through you voice
In all you say and do

Make me proud and sing with me
A duet from our heart and soul
I live on and so should you
A heart broken… can yet be whole

You are my legacy
You keep my world still turning
Together we bring light to darkness
When you keep my candle burning

Thank you for your tears
But I encourage much more laughter
And thank you for not forgetting
I still live in the ever after.

-Mitch Carmody 2015

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Planes Trains and Automobiles to Planet Grief and Back

imagePlanes Trains and Automobiles to Planet Grief and Back

It has been 26 years since our son Kelly died, and what a ride it has been. He had just turned nine in 1987 and was actively dying of cancer with only a few short weeks to experience his life. In those last 8 months of his life, we flew to Disney world, Disney land, Denver, North Carolina, Hawaii, Mexico; we took the train to Chicago and a taxi to “Ripley’s Believe or Not Museum”. We drove to see Paul Bunyan, the Jolly Green Giant and the giant ball of twine. We cashed in our savings and did what Kelly wanted to do; we were proactively living and learning to proactively die at the same time and seemingly for the most part we did it in planes, trains, and automobiles.

Then the movie came out on the big screen and Kelly absolutely loved John Candy movies. Although very weak and frail, the day before he died we took him to see “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. He laughed until it hurt, and despite the small doses of morphine -it did hurt; that was the last time I heard him laugh or smile.

Kelly’s sister Meagan was only six years old when she saw this movie and when her brother died. Today she is 33 years old and the mother of two girls ages four and seven. She is the same age I was when my child died and it’s impossible for her to conceive of this happening to her, yet she has witnessed it in us. We are bereaved parents and will always be bereaved parents as she will always be a bereaved sibling. She wanted to come with us to participate in the conference for the first time…and for us all to take the train to Chicago; the last time she was on this train was with her brother.

We made plans early, purchased train tickets to Chicago on the Empire Builder and we had good friends in Chicago who would drive us around when we got there. We would then catch a plane back on Sunday. It was our own Planes, Trains and Automobiles adventure, which it turned out to be. The evening before we were to depart we drove to our daughter’s house in Red Wing Minnesota. She lives only blocks from the small train depot where we would catch it in the morning. Later that evening checking my email I saw one from Amtrak stating that the train had been canceled and that they had made arrangements with their bussing service to provide us with an 8 hour bus ride to Chicago. We all screamed no way! There is no Bus in the title of the movie and busses make me car sick. We asked for a refund and I bought the last three flights on American Airlines to Chicago. I know Kelly is laughing his butt off, we should have known, that’s what the movie was about on the surface -a traveling fiasco. It was a hilarious movie but we also see someone (John Candy) who is grieving deeply for his loss but keeping it a dark secret and is the really the most important tenet of the movie.

In his role Steve Martin clearly had no idea about the man’s loss; he knows only that he is stuck with a very odd fellow who irritates him to no end. He tolerates him as many do with us in our grief, and we wear masks or practice avoidance to cover up our aching heart, becoming clever at faking it until we make it. The movie clearly shows how sometimes we as the bereaved relate to the world with unique survival strategies and the fortunate others seemingly have no clue to our inner pain. At the very end of the movie Steve Martin’s character starts reflecting in an almost whimsical way; not out of anger or irritation but with honest love and compassion; then and only then does he see the clues of the grief beneath the surface.

We all have those same mirror neurons that fire in our consciousness that makes compassion a physical reality and empathy a healing tool. It is the love that neutralizes the defense neurons and changes the neuro-pathways and our system is flooded with the hormone oxytocin. This is when our heart takes control and we feel that lump in our throat, our eyes mist up and our mind takes the back seat; we get it. When that happened to Steve Martin at the end of the movie on the city train in Chicago is what most would call an epiphany; a confirmed hormonal response that drives the need to do the right thing without regard to self (hero); changing both their lives in an instant when he responded to the revelation.

In many ways this is what happens at The National Conference of The Compassionate Friends it brings out the hero in us. We become heroes when we provide light in the darkness; we become heroes when we get it; we become heroes when we validate; we become heroes when we listen; we become heroes when we hold the elevator, we become heroes when we speak their loved ones name; so many opportunities to be a hero at the conference. When we save someone else we save ourselves, its hormonal we cannot help it.

So many come to the conference scared, apprehensive, even begrudgingly but the love and authenticity of so many attendees is almost overwhelming and it can be felt physically in many ways; it is palpable and very real. It can enervate you, as well as wipe you out. One must realize that with the group energy level of so many people and the extremes of hormonal and emotional responses it can be chaotic, unpredictable and even painful. Emotions will be all over the map, but we find unification and validation that we are not alone; we are not crazy, and we are not over it. We are doing the best we can to discover how to live with our loss and still have a meaningful life. Coming to a Compassionate Friends National conference can help us do that.

 

I want to conclude with an article below that I had penned following The Compassionate Friends National Conference held in Costa Mesa California in 2012.

                                            Traveling to Planet Grief and Back

I am continually amazed at the choreography of the dance that I experience at a TCF national conference and the huge impact is has on my body, mind and spirit when I walk off the dance floor and return home. From spending 3 or 4 days on “planet grief” we return home to the mundane realities of the real world and try to blend in with its preoccupied inhabitants who for the most part know nothing of our secret planet. They don’t wear buttons of a dead child pinned to their clothing; they don’t wear name tags around their neck identifying their loss, and for most part don’t wear butterfly clothing or shirts with a broken red heart.

When I return to work I get surprised looks from people who are caught off guard when I hug them good morning without thinking. I feel a deep separation anxiety for my fellow travelers to planet grief with its honest hugs, cathartic kisses, and deep seated dialogues. The heart I wore on my sleeve now feels vulnerable and exposed to the harsh elements of the daily routine and the machine of the workaday world. I am jonesing for my friends, my family of wounded survivors who succor my soul and I theirs in our dance of the broken hearted. In a word I feel “drifty” and lost for a few days; like getting your land legs back slowly after a week at sea I feel unsteady and unbalanced and I weep easily. I miss my family from planet grief and feel the impact of its loss for another year.

Today I am decompressing, degriefing so to speak, remembering and cherishing the magic moments of the weekend and thanking God for the privilege to be there and serve the bereaved with every quark of my being. I help to facilitate healing in the most sacred of places, the human heart and sou. I am always humbled and healed myself by the experience. Cost Mesa California with its oceans of love and mountains of memories was an incredible experience and I had a lot of quality time with my family of the heart. I met many newly bereaved and made new friendships wish I will cherish as much as the old.

We all come to planet grief from many different worlds. Worlds of all kinds; a plethora of differences in race, age, religion, occupation, economic class, intellect and political views, yet we congregate as one family and find a common ground in compassion; finding common ground in love. It is in helping to heal that we are healed ourselves, like one beggar sharing his bread with another beggar both are sustained for another day.

On the walk a few years ago held in Washington D.C. it was revealed to us that TCF had to register our Sunday TCF walk as a protest if we were to walk as a group on the streets of our nation’s capital. First I was surprised and then I thought about it…and you know that’s quite alright -we are protestors. We have our signs, our banners, our bibs, our T-shirts, our name tags and buttons. We all arrived from a network of paths and losses as varied as the stars and together on common ground we protest society’s ignorance of our forever journey and the injustice to our hearts.

Together we are changing the world views of grief and loss. We are educating the fortunate others of our journey and how we survive. We are intentional survivors who are working on our grief proactively, living our loss, not letting go, not get over, not becoming bitter, but becoming better and turning loss to legacy and honoring of loved one.

God bless you all and until we meet again…like Brigadoon “planet grief” appears for a few days in the summer and for a short time we find the camaraderie of hope, hugs and heart to sustain us for another year.

Peace, love and light
Mitch Carmody

Can a Bereaved Dad Smile on Father’s Day?

Can a Bereaved Dad Smile on Father’s Day?

Real Men Grieve
Real Men Grieve  Illustration by Mitch Carmody

The dogs were barking strangely one early morning in July of 1970; I was 15 years old. I knew someone had probably driven up our driveway and were taking their time to come to the door which was driving the dogs crazy. I was up early to get ready to bring my dog to the County fair as a 4-H project and was eager for the day.  I went to the window and peered out to see who could be there this early in the morning. I then spy my Mom walking up with two neighbors close by her side, arms around her, covering her in an obvious shawl of compassion and they were whispering. The dogs’ barking was a harbinger of despair. My dad had died

A few days prior to this my dad had gone in to hospital for a relatively new operation for clogged arteries to the heart and although in this century is now done routinely it was then a very risky operation.  My father had complications following surgery and later died.  Our neighbors brought my mother home to support her in breaking the news to myself and my sisters. My mother reached out to me and embracing each shoulder with her shaking hands she said: “you are the man of the family now son, you need to take care of yours sisters, and the farm…your father has died.”

I hugged her without a tear, without fear and just said…Okay… I love you Mom.  I never really did grieve or publicly lament my fathers passing.  I was the kid whose old man kicked the bucket over summer break. I was embarrassed by the quiet looks of consternation and thusly became the clown, to laugh it off preemptively and avoid the glares. I put away the grief, the pain, and did not lament, or mourn my loss.   It seemed almost too easy to pack away.  My mother soon remarried, then feeling somewhat abandoned, compounded with the strong feelings to stretch my own wings, I moved away from home at 18 years old.

Now years pass by, I get married and have a child, our firstborn, our only son. Soon we were blessed with the birth of his darling sister, life seemed again be joyful and the fulfillment of a dream.  Soon the dark clouds returned with death of my only son, nothing could have ever prepared me for the depth of pain that one experiences in losing a child. Nothing!  The world stopped and everything I ever knew had now changed forever. I was lost in hopeless pain for many years.  Father’s Day mocked my existence, for fate had slapped me in the face. Both my past and my future in fatal swoops were whisked away and I was left here in the present alone in so much pain. Why me?

I lost my father, then my son, it felt so violated, so cheated, earmarked by God for misfortune, It felt like I was playing a role in some Thomas Hardy tragedy where I played the main character whose life was built on misfortune.  I soon cracked under its weight, it broke my spirit, and I felt hapless, hopeless, innocuous and miserable, I wanted to die.  I had my daughter to care for and my wife who spoons my soul, but I had no zest for life, no passion, no feeling, no goal.  I struggled hard to free myself from the web of self pity, and I dug deep into my inner soul; from attic to basement I looked within myself to find a way out.

In my head with angels help, I went back to the day my father died. I literally went back and relived the moment, I screamed and I cried. I finally lamented for my father and let out the buried angst hidden for so long.  When that dam burst I could then make room for the lamenting of my son.  Only then did my road to acceptance begin.  Acceptance is not selling out, or letting go of their love, it is just accepting the challenge to survive and giving our selves permission to rebuild our lives the best that we can.

I finally grieved for my father and I am still grieving for my son. Accepting their death is not forgetting them, it is merely accepting the reality of life.  You cannot have one without achieving the other. Accepting their death is not the end of the bereavement journey it’s only the beginning.  We shall continue to grieve for associated losses from their deaths the rest of our life.  Father and son banquets, hunting trips with the boys, working on cars together, sharing a beer or two, having a pair of strong shoulders to hug, so many potential moments  that we shall grieve forever. No grandchildren, or great grandchildren, no retirement party, birthday parties or graduation celebration, no parties of any sort.  We are always reminded that their lives were cut short and we grieve anew for what should have been.

Through the loss of my son and many family members I have learned much on the journey.  I found that I love deeper, I smell flowers longer, and I savor the sunsets more.  I feel the best when helping others and I thank God for my every breath.  These are all good things to have come to me in the midst and aftermath of horrific pain. How sad it would be if we were not compensated in some way for our tragic loss, for life would then truly seem meaningless.

Through the loss of my father and my son I discovered the randomness of death. That death can hit anyone, anytime regardless of genes, the environment, or the best of efforts to stave off the sting of its reality. There is nothing we can do that can adequately prepare us for a loss of our loved one; nothing.

Do I feel sad on Father’s day?  You bet I do?  Do I celebrate it?  Yes I do. I am proud to have been a son for 15 years and proud to have been a father to my son for 9 years. I am proud to be a Father for my surviving daughter Meagan. I am proud to be a grandfather. Everyday is Father’s day when you find yourself surrounded in love from this world and from the next.

Feel the sadness of your Father’s day; real men grieve. Feel the pain, but also feel, the joy, feel the love that alone makes it possible to feel the pain. If we have children that still live or  children that have died we still have the same pride… that makes me smile on Father’s day.

Love and light     Mitch Carmody  June 2014