Proactive Grieving Post 1: Taking Emotional Risks In Grief Processing…learning the dance

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Original drawing I created for and borrowed with permission from www.thegrieftoolbox.com

When my nine year old died in 1987 I was thrust into a dark womb of despair and I felt my system shutting down. How can I possibly survive this? I did not want to, nor did I know how. The foundations of my existence were shaken, “this cannot be happening to me” I said over and over again as though it would somehow awaken me from the nightmare.  For the first time in my life I could use word “surreal” with an understanding of its meaning, as it seemed the only way to describe my waking hours as I experienced them.

One pivotal day  in those early years of gray I found myself holding myself in a deep soul embrace; I  was really unsure who was in control, yet deep inside from some internal gyroscope I felt a faint harmony  that I had never felt before; a quiet  sacred balance, a moment of new direction, of moment of new meaning. Just a flicker of hope, a spark in the abyss, but it was real. I was stirred from my slumber of dried tears and as surely as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon I said “I need to breathe…I need to fly” and I broke through the chrysalis, a chrysalis that always seemed so imposing but yet I soon discovered to be so very thin.  I emerged a newborn baby into a world of the unknown, and although exhilarated that I could breathe I did not know how to fly…and I was frightened.  I found that I missed the womb of deep grief, its protection, its security and its lostness. I had to rest and dry my wings before I could fly, but fly again I did.

We start over again in real years, in real time following a major loss. What is vitally important in our journey is what we do with those years. I proclaimed to myself “If I am going to start all over again I am going to take risks.  I am not speaking of physical risks, I am not going sky diving or mountain climbing although that may be healing for many, for me it was a needed shift in consciousness. I am going to take emotional risks. At risk of sounding prosaic I wanted my light to shine.

Through grieving my son I have discovered myself and have begun to like what I have found beneath the layers of emotional armor. I am a much better person, more compassionate, a more affectionate person, a more feeling person than I have ever been in my life; I laugh harder; I cry harder.  I take emotional risks to reach out to those in pain. I find it helps my own pain and builds my own hope in the process. It can also provide us a platform for change, our future and the world’s.  We can use the power in our grief to become better or bitter; or we become apathetic and another life is gone. We have choices.

Take the risk to be you, reach out to yourself, and reduce or remove filters (with discretion), express yourself, admit your pain, admit your flaws, admit your misgivings, admit your dreams, admit your joy, admit your potential…admit your gifts.  Use your masks whenever you need to get through a bad day, and to survive -but not every day.  Use your gifts to rebuild your life. Grief is hard work and there is no shame in hard work. It takes guts to be an intentional survivor. As Winnie the Pooh said “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”.

We as a society and a species we tend to process personal loss from the experiences of those around us processing theirs; it is a skill that is not taught in basic education but only in the school of hard knocks. Death is a natural flow in life and it cannot be denied; we will experience grief every day that we live, it happens.

The death of a loved one in your life is like coming upon an imposing river on your journey. It has no bridge and is deep, cold, dangerous and swift. We have four choices when we stand on its shore, we can try to cross it somehow,  we can try to fight the current and go upstream, we stay on the shoreline or we go with the flow downstream… all valid options. When someone we love dies we find ourselves standing on the shoreline unsure what to do and where we are truly confronted with our own fears and ignorance of the great mystery.

When my son was diagnosed with cancer we came to an imposing river and we chose to go upstream to try and save his life; when he died we went back to the shore and again looked at our options. The shore was not the same shoreline we left; we had no strength to go upstream, no desire to cross to a new shore, so we went with the flow and were open to see where it would take us. That is what I call faith.

When coming to grips with death and dying, our own death or someone we love we come to a crossroads of faith.  We may cling to our religious beliefs with more tenacity than ever before and strive to understand its teachings with a different eye or we may fall away from our faith feeling detached and abandoned. We may even turn our anger toward God for not preventing the tragedy.

We have those that claim God can heal everything with enough faith, including miracle cures and a even resurrection from clinical death. When that does not happen, the most ardent of the faithful may be tested and be at odds with a creator that would not answer their prayers. Often times it is this passionate believer that seems even more frightened of death and fight death as the enemy when paradoxically they strive to live a life with a goal to get to heaven.

On the other hand some say there is no God, and that there are no miracles. Interestingly enough these people that do not believe in a God or an afterlife  often feel just as frightened and alone in regards to death and dying as are some of the deeply devout find themselves .

The angst of death seems most apparent in these extremes of spiritual philosophies.  The more we know the more, the more we know we what we don’t know. The grief experience that we find ourselves in is a new slate, one we did not choose but one in which we have a choice in how we process it into our reality.  We can survive loss but I believe that to truly thrive again, that a belief in a divine intelligence and an afterlife is critical.

Everything in life is in a cycle of polarization, a sine wave to maintain equilibrium with no exceptions; darkness/light; heat/cold; pressure/vacuum; concave/convex on and on ad infinitum. This includes human birth and death. Life is not linear it is a true circle.  Then light at the end of a tunnel is the same on either end.  Going upstream or downstream whether you reach the spring or the delta both are source. There are no real endings only new beginnings.  Basic physics concludes that energy does not die nor is it consumed, it continual reinvents itself.  There is no real death only transformation, which in turn allows for hope of some kind of continued existence beyond our corporal one.

Through the experience of suffering a significant loss in our life, our faith and endurance is tested to its limits. We become are stronger in the broken places or we become crippled for life.  Our grief is an opportunity to use all that we have, and all that we can muster to let our heart light shine; we take the risk to be better than we have ever been. What can hurt us more? We can become bitter or better; we have choices. Grief is the price we pay for love, and it is directly proportional to our investment in that love. Allow that love to continue to give us proceeds as we rebuild our lives proactively by living the loss and not postponing its grief.

Sorrow yields hope when we discover our part of the symphony -is just that; the music goes on and we have the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.

Peace , love and healing

Mitch Carmody

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 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

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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…

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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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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

Men in Grief, a Paradox for Today’s Male

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The loss of a loved one in our life can be crippling and can leave deep scars; it changes who we are, how we look at life and how we relate with the world. Five or six years out is still early grief but at a point where positive rebuilding can begin.

In the first few years we mechanically maintain, weep a lot and lick our wounds while clinging desperately to everything of our loved one and may in secret wish to join them. We rejoin the real world at our own time and it happens when it right for us. Every ones journey is different, but what remains the same is the huge void that is left in our lives.

In today’s society it is especially difficult for men to grieve openly, caught in a catch 22 of how to express the deep pain they are experiencing but yet not show weakness.  Men don’t cry, men do not emote, men do not hug (maybe at the funeral) men don’t go to support groups, men don’t call in sick because they are screaming inside, we are the man of the family.  Fathers are  viewed as the fix it guys, the protector, the strength and the rock the family needs for support.  More times than not people will ask a bereaved father “how is your wife doing? This must be hard extremely for her”.  I understand their compassion and intent but cannot help feeling marginalized.

Today fortunately men are now given (mostly by women and therapists) license to show emotions, to cry, scream, hug and express their deepest emotions and fears, to let it out. The irony of this is if he does emote and the family has never seen this behavior, it can be taken as a sign of weakness and the spouse and other family members may feel they have lost their safety net, their rock of support, and feel even more helpless and rudderless on an already difficult  journey. If this happens a man may again ‘clam up’ to help with his family and deal with his own pain later. He finds that ‘letting it out’ is an axiom of sophistry and in doing so he feels he is letting his family down. Indeed a paradox for the want to be sensitive Man.

Most men cry alone in their cars on the way to work and they explain that the red eyes are due to allergies or a late night.  When my father died when I was age 14, my Mom told me I was the man of the family now, I did not cry, I did not grieve.  It was not until years later and my losses became overwhelming did I finally let it out and express my emotions for the loss of my father.

It has been 26 years now since my son Kelly died and I still cry with my wife when we feel our loss together or even when I hear a special song on the radio and I do not care who is present; you love hard you grieve hard and it is supposed to hurt. When you recognize your own pain and express it, you automatically become more empathetic to others in similar pain and can help relieve theirs and doing so relieve your own..

People will often tell us to find closure, to move on, or put it behind us; forgive them they know not what they do. We may find resolution to our pain but we never have closure of someone we love.. We don’t move on, we move with; we don’t put it behind us we walk with it. Our loved ones are forever by our side, only in a new relationship. We live in one sphere of existence, they in another, but with faith, undying love and the desire we can connect at the seam where our two worlds meet. They become our rock.

In America we are allowed a few weeks to “get over it” and get back on track.    I find this totally unacceptable; it has been 26 years and I still talk about my son everyday and always will.  If you are a man in grief you can be strong and still weep all night long. Regardless of gender we are human, we feel, we hurt, we need comfort, we need to express our pain, we need hugs, allow them and give them. There is no shame in grief and honest emotions, it happens on a chemical level for men and women. Grieving outwardly helps return or brain chemistry back to equilibrium.

We will always be bereaved but we will not always be experiencing the pangs of grief. Like arthritis we learn to live with it the rest of our lives, we will have flare ups of pain and discomfort as we move forward through the years, but good days will come as well. Grief is hard work but finding joy again is our birthright and worth the effort, so keep on keeping on.

Mitch Carmody

www.heartlightstudios.com

http://www.proactivegrieving.org