Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Planet Grief and Back

image     Planes 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?

 

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 that they are dead 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. When we have children that still live or that have died we still have the same pride… that makes me smile on Father’s day.

 

Love and light     Mitch Carmody June 2014

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”.  Those who are bereaved will understand that conversation we have with that old friend in our life.  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. Together they 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.

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.  He stayed to his room for the most part, but I would occasionally 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.

That second year my friend Grief started popping into the office more than 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 can to 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  by holding two opposing wishes. It muddled my brain like a difficult conundrum and I just accepted this is my life now. 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 and not once did we have a beer together.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 an understanding smile.

Today he still visits on occasion; he always stops by on his own birthday, most holidays, some weddings and all funerals. Grief is a good friend, he saved my life but 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, and keep listening to the whispers contained in the sound of silence, it whispers hope.

This blog was Inspired by the somewhat dark and haunting version of the song Sound of Silence by the Heavy Metal Band Disturbed.  Please watch, do not let the music genre influence you; do not judge a book by its cover. Albeit sad and morose, it is also hauntingly beautiful. I created a YouTube video  for my channel of the song The Sound of Silence by Disturbed using the ” The Twenty Faces of Grief “. They are pencil portraits that I created whose visual representation is up to the beholder to decide what grief emotion the portrait is trying to relay.

You Tube link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCtkkmjwd3U

 

Wombmates untwinned; the enigma of losing a twin

Being born a twin or multiple is a unique experience not afforded most of the population. Although it has been on the rise for the last 30 years, it still only represents 3% of live births in the nation. I was born a twin with my twin sister in 1955 the last of 7 children that my mother gave birth to. I was born a twin, that is all I knew. I was born with a buddy; a relationship I took for granted; I had no idea no one else shared this wondrous kinship which was our world. That is until she died and I was untwinned. As in the lyrics from the old Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi :…you don’t know what you have till it gone…

On March 23rd of 1984, eleven days after my twin sister Sandy and I celebrated our 29th birthday together; she and her two boys were killed in a terrible auto accident. She left behind a very distraught husband and a set of thirteen-month-old boy/girl twins. This event took the whole family by shock;  We had three caskets in front of the altar. I was devastated and could barely breathe. A short time later my 9 year old son is diagnosed with terminal cancer; I had to breathe; I had to put the grief for my twin and her boys on the back shelf…where it stayed for a long, long, time.

My son Kelly died in 1987 after two years of fighting cancer; it won. I was exhausted and on grief overload and I retreated from the world. Lost for awhile lost in excessive work and alcohol I functioned at a base level. A level where there is no joy, no zest, no initiative, no anticipation, just getting done what had to be done. Apathy ruled the day;tears ruled the night. The alarm clock my nemesis. I was not alright.

Eventually I found my path out the darkness of nights and  processed the grief for my son proactively and shared it with the world publically with a book about our journey. Published in 2002 it propelled me into a world of grief and loss I was unaware even existed. I eventually became a national speaker on grief and loss, presenting Proactive Grieving seminars in almost every major US city with for grief support groups, non profits and foundations.

In 2015 I was asked to speak at the Twinless Twins National conference held in Nashville. This was 30 years following the Death of my twin sister. Most of my presentations in those years were with bereaved parents, as my sisters loss was overshadowed by my son’s loss. My grief for my sister was still on the back shelf. Not forgotten; not denied; but postponed, and delayed. Imprisoned by survival in a purgatory of forgotten dreams and nightmares my grief was filed deeply away in the amygdala of my brain…waiting.

I keynoted about my twin, our life, her death, my life before, my life after, my life today, my hopes for tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shift Happens, a New Normal?

Shift Happens, a New Normal?

 

I find it fascinating how many new terms, words, phrases that label or identify social constructs/ behaviors that are created every day, phrases that go viral and become mainstream. Viral a word gone viral in and of itself. Right?  You don’t say! See ya, Eh, LOL, OMG, drain the swamp, bless your heart, get out of Dodge, brown nose, red neck, avatar, tree hugger, freel, woke etc., memes/emojis/emoticons,  images as well as created portmanteaus like brunch (breakfast/lunch) Brexit (Britain/Exit);  words blending the sounds and combining the meanings. This happens worldwide but some phrases may be endemic to a geographic area and/or specific to an activity, emotion or defined issue. But all are created shorthand; communication gone viral; good or bad its contemporary vernacular that delivers a message.

Many phrases eventually fall out of use, or change meaning as many words do. Gay was once just happy, queer was odd, just as many other slang, derogatory, and racist terms were created changing the etymology of the word forever. We find that with the internet many of these catch phrases, created labels, and words cross over to another group’s lexicon of terms and becomes part of their vernacular expression.

When one is thrust into the grief journey, most are unprepared for powerful life altering event it can be. When we lose someone we love, especially an out of sequence death it changes our perspective, our world view changes. We are born again into a whole new world, scary and uncharted and many have applied the phrase “the new normal” to describe the grief journey.  I have never liked the word normal as an adjective to describe human behaviors; normal is a setting on a dryer. There is nothing normal about losing a child at any age. It is an out of sequence death where true comprehension of the loss becomes surreal. When negotiating day to day realities we may feel like we are in a fog, a time warp, or bubble of confusing duplicitous perceptions. This cocoon of protection that insulates us from the overwhelming horror of the reality is autonomic and biologic; it lasts as long as it lasts which is different for everyone.

The “New Normal” is a pithy aphorism originated as a term in business and economics that refers to financial conditions following the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the aftermath of the 2008–2012 global recession. The term has since been used in a variety of other contexts to imply that something which was previously abnormal has become commonplace.  Soon thereafter I saw it applied to grievers and it socially went viral in the grief community and the horse was out of the barn.

In my 30 years of working with the bereaved I have seen the language of grief and loss change in many ways as grievers try to articulate the depth and breadth of their soul wounds. During that period of time I have seen new words created, old words negated, and many words deleted from conversational use.

People are becoming more cognizant of the power of words that can help to heal or ones that can haplessly hurt or are disrespectful.  We innately can respond in a different manner and more compassionate manner, but it takes practice. For example, in response to someone who has taken their own life I previously have said that they had committed suicide. I soon although realized how hurtful that can be to family survivors, as it layers their loved one’s act of desperation with a penumbra a shame, which only perpetuates the stigma surrounding death by suicide.  I started to say “completed suicide” instead because my lips still wanted to say committed but I could easily turn committed into completed. However, I changed my vernacular again to relay just the facts. Died by suicide. Died from heart failure. Died from cancer, auto accident, overdose, murder i.e. just the facts, no judgement, no labels, no shame or stigma attached.  Fortunately, I have seen this changing but not fast enough.

Finding closure. God help us why this deplorable aphorism is still used mainstream. We close a casket; we don’t find closure with their life or their death. We don’t say “we had a child who died, their name was”. We say “our child died their name is “not was. Keeping them in the present tense is part of proactive grieving; they can still co-exist in our lives and in our conversations with others. Our children die a second time when no one speaks their name.

We don’t move on, we move forward; we don’t deny, we postpone; we don’t get over, we transmogrify; we don’t put it behind us, we walk with it; we don’t get on with our life, we explore our new landscape. We recognize that shift happens; a shift of seismic proportions has happened in our life. Recognizing that a permanent shift has occurred, and that life will never be the same empowers forward movement and healing. Grief is a lifelong journey to take as it comes, day by day; if we look too much in the rear view window, we may miss the signs on the road. The road forward has choices with many directions and being present is critical; being retrospective creates wisdom; be hopeful creates intention; being aware creates trust; trust the journey.

Peace love n light
Mitch Carmody

 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. “                    -Viktor Frankl

We Need Not Walk Alone; The Phoenix Rises

 

Lately in my life I have had felt this pervasive warm current of subtle gratitude that seems to be basting my very being almost every day. To sound very glib, rainy days and Mondays don’t get me down; I love every day that I can steal. When you are retired every day is Saturday and it seems nothing can piss me off.

My 9-year-old son died over 30 years ago; just waking up in the morning pissed me off. Like a scene from Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day movie, every morning when my eyes opened, I said OMG my son is dead, and I started another foray into a day of pain and disbelief, finishing off the evening with a case of beer to numb the grief. The next day the same cycle again. Every day seemed like Monday morning with a hangover and a huge backlog of deadlines…with no days off ever.

Is now being so happy somehow wrong? Am I in la la land?  It is difficult to articulate into words but from after so many years of waiting for the other shoe to drop and this time it does not…puts my soul in pause.  I have now pressed the FW button again, and I feel a delightful soul inertia surge forward, like that sudden jolt forward you experience when the train is leaving the station. A shift happens and it’s my shift; a new one and I am literally on board. I feel the movement.

Part of this new shift in awareness for me personally is taking a sabbatical from my ministry in serving the bereaved; fulfilling contracts that I have in place; still planning for more presentations but on a lesser scale. I have also wanted to take a sabbatical from life in general. This has been a long-term intention set when I wore a younger man’s clothes; to hermitage by myself for a few weeks in self introspection and isolation. Almost a vision quest if you will.

This summer afforded me that opportunity. A dear friend in the Bay area of San Francisco asked me to dog-sit for them while they were abroad for a month. I had plans to attend two national grief conferences during that same time period which I had to cancel. My day planner was now led more by the spirit of synchronicity and serendipity than by my google calendar. It was an opportunity I could not turn down and contributed to my absence from The Compassionate Friends 2019 National Conference. This was the first TCF conference that I missed in 17 years.

To rewind time a bit. I first connected with The Compassionate Friends when I applied to a be a presenter at their national conference back at the turn of the  century, some 13 years following the loss of my 9-year-old son in 1987. I had no idea that there was so many of us bereaved parents out there, that they gathered once a year and had chapters in most major cities. Information you never wanted to seek comes to you. I connected and the rest is history; finding TCF helped me find myself; a soul that was lost for many years.

I started with a few presentations about a book that I had written about the bereaved parent’s journey. It resonated well with many attendees and I presented every year thereafter. It took me several years before TCF would allow me to do a 2nd workshop on “signs” at the conference. In my previous workshops I had mentioned in detail about the signs that I had received from my son in those dark early days of my grief. They were part of the journey that for me provided the most hope that my son survived death in some manner and that I too could survive and able to feel his presence.

The TCF conference committee finally acquiesced and allowed me to present “Whispers of Love” workshop in Nashville in 2008 by introducing the concept of continual connections through, signs and visitations.

The reticence of TCF to approve boogie-woogie stuff was well founded in the spirit of protecting the vulnerable by not promoting unfounded, unrecognized paths of healing.  They finally did agree provided I did not us the term ADC (after death communication) as it inferred the use of psychic mediums.   I agreed and was gingerly allowed to present the workshop.

Up to that time my workshops had been the elementary beginnings of Proactive Grieving and I was excited to present a second workshop devoted to signs from our children…and the horse was out of the barn.

Much of what I spoke off in the presentation was with slides that I had created to validate the experience/phenomenon for the viewer. In those days I did not know what a PowerPoint was, nor did I even have a laptop computer on which to play it. I brought along my overhead projector from my art studio, and it fit perfectly into the overhead storage on the plane (of course it did). Armed with a slew of transparencies, my experiences, and those of others I was excited to share and validate for grievers that they are not crazy, this shit happens, and it happens a lot. With some trepidation I entered unknown territory on a trial basis.

Dressed in a blue custodian’s shirt sporting an embossed face of Disney’s Goofy with the stitched circular name badge to match. I introduced myself: Hi my name is Mitch Carmody, but you can call me Goofy, many already have because of what I believe. I believe my son survived death with the signs he has given me.

The beginning of the presentation had to be delayed as they needed to take down the walls on either side of the workshop room and bring in hundreds of more chairs; over 400 people filled the room, standing along the walls and sitting on the floor. I was awestruck at the response and even more awestruck by the amount of people apparently hungry for some sort of validation of their own experiences.  I was asked to repeat the workshop again the next day and once more the room was filled to capacity. The rest is history and I presented Whispers of Love for 10 years straight.

In these almost 20 years of dedicated summers, as well as the months in between I have devoted as much time as possible with chapters, regionals, candle lightings, and memorial celebrations, fund raisers, and more all across the country including Puerto Rico. In more recent years I have contributed with many online chat rooms for TCF grievers, Open to Hope TV interviews, shows and podcast, as well as the many guests on my radio show Grief Chat Live.

I did not attend the 2019 TCF national conference this year primarily because of my decision to take a spontaneous sabbatical, however my decision was also fueled by strong feelings about the regrettable circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the newly elected Executive Director Debbie Rambis. I penned an article “Where is the Compassion in The Compassionate Friends?  I wanted to articulate my anxiety and concerns about an organization that I loved, as I saw it crumbling before my very eyes. I saw a board gone rogue cutting off their nose to spite their face.

I publicly I posted my letter in a blog in February stating my concerns. I eventually removed the BLOG from public domain because of financial information that I provided may have been incorrect. However, read below a prophetic paragraph from that February 2019 post.

We are at a crossroads of sorts with The Compassionate Friends. We can no longer be effective with the old top-heavy model of a Non-Profit. The cost and use of a brick and mortar office building with paid salaries, benefits, BOD expenses and office operating close to 1.5 million a year is just not sustainable, it surely is not the best bang for our buck with our solicited donations.       -MC

The National Office in Oakbrook has now closed, and staff has been laid off.

Over the years I have seen much change, good and bad in the organization which is the bane of most non-profits who have to keep up with the needs of who they serve, yet still run a legal entity with its rules, regulations, all the while adhering to a firm mission statement.

Some of us seasoned grievers have become long-time fast friends within our TCF tribe and outside as social friends as well. I missed that part of the “reunion”. I also missed seeing the light replace some of the dark shadows on the faces of raw grievers as the weekend progresses. I missed the walk of remembrance, and the sibs doing back flips on stage and me singing and signing with them on Sibling Sunday

Part of the TCF bylaws that were originally published in circa 2000, I believe it was intended as a catch and release program for the bereaved. Once introduced to TCF and you join a chapter you are restricted from becoming chapter leader for 1-2 years to allow you own healing first. Once a chapter leader you could hold a 2-year term with option to opt out at 2 years or volunteer for another 2 years with a maximum of 4 years. Catch, heal, and release. Many chapter leaders I know have far exceeded that term limit but have continued to do wonderful things and continue to nurture a vibrant chapter. Some leaders choose to opt out on their time or continue in some other capacity. I don’t think the 4- year limit rule has ever been exercised; serve till it hurts then back off a bit and start again or resign. It is always a good thing to serve in any capacity. Some chapters close, thank God the need is not there, some grow because of the need and its dynamic leadership,

The intent was to not overburden existing leaders that are still processing their own long-term grief, as well as to provide the avenue for great healing that becoming a chapter leader can provide.  A thing looks good on paper at times…but reality sets up shop. Some leaders have served for over 20 years, some chapters have closed.

The same goes for any of the volunteers in the organization. Some workshop presenters have served for many years, some for a single conference, some continue to serve, some have died, many have gone a different direction, some have fulfilled what they needed to do for their child and for their life. We do it for our own healing as well as for others. In grief years I am now 31, in physical years my garment is 64, and both are just a wee bit tired. In not presenting I also wanted to provide workshop space for new presenters so it can benefit their life as it has mine.

Whispers of Love is now part of the modern lexicon of grief terms in use today for signs and for the most part is accepted and no longer dismissed as woo woo.  I am humbled and proud to have helped in bringing it mainstream and so excited that it is pretty much endorsed without compunction or even a raised eyebrow.

I will continue to be an active grief influencer with the Proactive Grieving model of grief processing that I have developed but on a limited basis. It is the legacy for my son. I will continue with a host of on-line chats, posts, blogs, websites, FB pages, Mr Heartlight YouTube videos and my radio show.  I will continue to offer professional weekend retreats and seminars on the Proactive Grieving Model wherever there is a need.

I do hope the 2020 TCF National Conference in Atlanta will still happen as the BOD moves forward without a working National Office. I have already made a commitment with my TCF family in Atlanta to attend and present. My wife and I are looking forward to again attending a national conference. We need not walk alone; we are the compassionate friends. We are many, we are resilient, we are love, we are legacy.

The Phoenix will rise from firm roots.

Hope to see you in Atlanta 2020                                        

Peace, love n light

Mitch Carmody                                                                                                                         8/29/19

 

Death by Violence Forgive and Forget…is it really possible ?

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In grieving the loss of a loved one, often many things are spoken that are reactionary, spouted most often by rote and not by reason. People may say “I am sorry” for nothing they had any real control over, as in someone else’s loss. We tend to recite some embedded aphorism in a weak attempt to provide consolation to the inconsolable or we throw out a religious quote or two that is expected to provide some modicum of comfort. Most do not. In grief we often find that so many things that we took for granted are completely back-assward. We are thrust into an unknown multi-dimensional world of chaos accompanied by very real but often non-recognizable neuropathic responses beyond our conscious awareness.

Our foray into madness is fueled by the body’s own autonomic reaction to survive and we find that we are at war with our intellect. In a vain attempt to restore order to a system undone and attempt to make a reality out of surrealality we find we are caught in the web of cognitive dissonance; believe/deny? revenge/reconcile? comply/retaliate ? hyperventilate/hibernate ? flight or fight/rest and digest ? anger/apathy ? compassion/collaboration? defensive/defeated? self-care/or self-absorbed? running from/running with? On and on ad nauseum…our psyche is traumatized. How is it possible to forgive and forget? How does one move beyond the hatred and the horror and forgive? With the intensity and sustainability of these emotions, is it even possible? In the case of death from murder and assault this is never more evident. Can we forgive and forget?

Your child goes to school one day, never to return, shot in the head point blank while coloring in her Dora the Explorer coloring book at her kindergarten desk.   A madman shooter ended her life and forever changed her circle of influence.

A terrorist sets a backpack down in a crowd of people, it explodes, and shrapnel sheers the head from your husband’s body, you wake up from a coma a month later and hear both your children are dead.

Following his testimony on clergy abuse for several priests who had sexually abused him as a young boy, this 42-year-old father of two hangs himself in a cheap motel.

Almost 3,000 people died on 9/11 in 2001, just as many orphans left behind. Almost 20 years later the number of 9/11 fallout exposure related deaths of first-responders, firefighters, residents and clean-up workers/volunteers has exceeded that number.

You husband is a Rabbi and is convicted by a group of nefarious zealots for being a Jew and shot to death in the synagogue with other worshipers that were attending service. Your brother was dragged behind a truck and lynched by a mob for smiling at a white woman. Your son is innocently shot in the front yard by a zealous police officer.

Four students on their way to prom killed are instantly killed by a 3-time convicted drunk driver who survived. Bullied for years for being gay your best friend is beaten to death in the school locker room.

Your 9-year-old son never comes home; his bike haplessly left on the side of road, never to be heard of again. Almost 30 years later his body is found, the sexual predator/murderer is forensically tracked down, found and convicted.

Forgive and Forget?

Yeah right. That’s really going to fly.

Almost everywhere in the world linguistically two negatives equal a positive but nowhere in the world does a double positive equal a negative until recently. “Yeah Right” is a double positive.   Yeah right as used here means… highly unlikely. Forgive and forget in many cases is highly unlikely. For one thing neurologically it is impossible to forget especially when you add your own modifier to it as “this is something I need to forget” as it is compartmentalized and placed in a safe spot within the brain for use as a selective quantifier for future survival needs.

Nothing is forgotten. We may lose the keys, our password and cannot gain access but nothing we have experienced is ever forgotten.  We have unlimited storage like RAM on a supercomputer, but we may have emotionally shitty software; our brain is a junk drawer; many things get lost…but not truly forgotten.

It’s easy to say the words “Forgive and Forget” without realizing how ridiculous it really sounds.  It comes out more like goodnight and God bless.  Read the first few paragraphs again and say you could say “I forgive you, and I will forget this ever happened”. This is singularly the biggest crock to come down the pike since the Flat Earth Society was born. It has been propagated, nurtured, promulgated and blindly espoused to since God was a small child. This is pure gastric emulsion of a very large bovine. This is not even a religious construct or unsolicited propaganda, but an autonomic by rote neuropathic response we say from the brain wrinkles that were created our whole life. Forgive, and forget. What does that really mean? Why do we say it?

We have already determined that with our brain it is impossible to forget, granted it can almost be impossible to retrieve much of that data. For example, trying to remember our own birth experience or someone’s phone number from grade school, we cannot recall it, but does not mean the information is not on file. This may happen as well in trauma, and incidences that are emotionally charged with graphic horrific visual/visceral data. Dependent on an individual’s age, physical wounds, resiliency skills, their intellectual ability, their experiential comprehension, and trauma response/ training preparation these memories are stored in different areas of the brain.

We don’t forget it, we de-energize it and put it on a shelf until we can address and process. In cases of heavy trauma and extreme pain the memories of often covered with a veil of forgetfulness. We can remember having a horrific toothache but not the actual intensity of the “just please let me die pain” that we were experiencing. We have trauma receptors to negotiate and store painful memories.

Now let’s move on to the biggest misnomer the verb “Forgive”:    for·give    /fərˈɡiv/

Verb: stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.

Again, please read the first few paragraphs and say you have stopped feeling resentful towards evil doers. They deserve our anger, they hurt us forever and changed our lives. We are a victim. Let them absorb our anger, let them carry it, it’s not gone, give it up to them to carry. We did not choose to become a victim, it chose us. We become either a victim who is a survivor, or a victim who is a casualty. We will always be a victim when a someone takes our loved one’s life or has assaulted ours. What we do with that victimization is our choice; how we store the trauma is not. It’s a synaptic algorithm based on our personal experiences.

As a victim of a horrible crime, how do we forgive those who assaulted us? In many cases the perpetrator has died with his victims, do we offer them a posthumous reconciliation? Do we pray for their soul’s salvation?   I don’t think so.  For the most part we hope they rot in hell.  A clerical quote states “To err is human to forgive is divine”.  Dahhh.  That is so right on. It is not our job to offer forgiveness for their diabolical acts. That is relegated to a divine responsibility. Our propensity is to err, we are human. People make mistakes easily and most reconcile them. Some humans have no conscious, feel no remorse and will recidivate. Do they deserve forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not meant for assholes, rapists and murderers but is reserved for when someone inadvertently steps on your toes, hurts your feelings or tells a white lie.  Do we let someone off the hook who blatantly took the life of our loved one?

Forgiveness is very complicated; complicated as we are. Language is complicated, words have the power to adequately define and differentiate a feeling or interpretation of events. Forgiveness is a double entendre with two different meanings. One is bestowed by a higher power (on this earth or off earth) known as Charizomai which cancels all debts, wipes the slate clean. This is akin to filing chapter 13 in finances where all debts are forgiven through the power of grace, i.e. a grace period or debt forgiven.  The other is Aphiemi or liberation, a release from bondage, to give up, let go, let free, release its hold. This is where human choice comes in when discerning if or when to provide forgiveness to another human being.

In this case it’s not providing absolution from a victim’s standpoint, as much as it is to release the victim from the clutch of hatred that may keep a victim tethered to the past. It is not forgiveness as much as finding resolution that there is no possible vindication for our loss. Nothing will make it right. Active loathing will destroy us, and we become collateral damage.

We reserve the right not to provide grace and absolution but merely to compartmentalize its angst and anxiety for safe keeping. I am not saying we must bury and fetter our emotions/memories deep within our psyche but conversely to process them fully. To experience, legitimately label, file, and allow them to be stored in areas of the brain to provide us with liberation from the all-consuming hatred, but not necessarily provide forgiveness.

I respect, love and have faith in a higher power, a divinity beyond my comprehension who I know exists because I do. We can forgive others for being ignorant, medicated, stupid, angry, impetuous, mean, greedy, evil, on and on ad infinitum for our own liberation but not for their absolution. That is a job for a higher power, on terra firma or a celestial judge. We have a choice to provide forgiveness or not. You are not a bad person for not forgiving evil and forgiving evil does not make you divine. We have no control over an evil doer’s soul, only our own.

Why is it we are urged to forgive and forget or that we the assume role either as victim or martyr? If we are assaulted, we don’t have to play victim here, we have been victimized, we don’t play martyr, we have been hurt, we suffer. We recognize not pathologize that a shift happens; we remember, we do not forget. We release, but not necessarily provide forgiveness. We rally, or we wither. We are resilient by nature and can rally.  Be your nature. Survival is innate, to thrive is a choice. Experience is our only teacher; living is learning. Ignorance is also a choice; choice is our destiny.

Forgive and Forget? Forgetting is impossible; Forgiveness a choice.

In the case of assault, victim and martyr are both human conditions as a result of malaise and evil intent. This is not a role one takes on; we have been victimized and we suffer.

Post-Traumatic Stress or Post -Traumatic Growth?  Both are possible.

Shift happens regardless.

Peace, love n light

Mitch  Carmody