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 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