Tag Archives: grief

Photo Essay: A Path Unfolds

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

Where is her heart leading her? Is she listening? A path emerges from the depths of her despair. Will she follow it? When she hits rock bottom and has nothing left, she has nothing left to lose. No one to please. No one to worry about. Will she follow this path? Or will she stay safely stuck, tucked away in her narrowing mind of grief that closes all doors, folding her further into darkness.

This is her pivotal  moment. This choice can change everything. Will she choose it? She has an inkling that it just might make everything that happened—every God damn shitty thing done by those who loved her most—almost make sense.

But only if she gets on that plane. Only if she follows the nudging of her  heart. It feels like running away. It is. It feels like giving up. It is. It feels terrifying. It is.

Finally, when she can no longer get up in the morning in the same house decorated with sinister smiles peering behind photos in every hallway, she’ll know what to do. When she’s finally had enough of being left with the mess; being left to walk alone past the empty nursery; being left with the trinkets of 15 years of betrayal and longing mixed within memories pushing her six feet under, she might muster up the courage to go.

A path is unfolding. And because she no longer cares whether she’ll live or die, she may just get on her first international flight and leave everyone and everything she’s ever known behind.

 

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What my mother told me after she died.

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That title may alarm some people. But the fact is, our loved ones communicate with us all the time after they die. It’s as simple as one thought away. And it’s the most beautiful aspect of grief and death. So many people are distracted and numb and out of alignment so the idea of magic and eternal love and light isn’t a reality in their every day life. Yet it is. They are just not aware of it. When someone you love dearly dies, for weeks afterwards, you can feel them, dream about them, sometimes even hear their voice. It’s remarkable and it brings so much hope to those who have forgotten that there is life after death. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. But life drones on. Responsibilities, work, routines can keep us from day dreaming, noticing beauty, magic. Hurts and regrets and pain can compound our vibration so that our hearts are heavy and we can barely muster hope when we see a beautiful sunset. We become out of sync with our divine selves. We are out of the frequency to hear or see the messages our loved ones send us.

When someone dies, however, we are forced to stop everything. We stop our daily routine. We stop work. We focus. We remember. We pray. We become grateful for what this person gave to us. We open up to the magic of life. And in this grateful, open, vulnerable state, we notice, or hear the messages. That is the gift when someone dies.

My mother died May 20th of this year. I flew to North Carolina on the 21st and on the 22nd (a dear friend will love that number, you know who you are!) I saw this double rainbow forming over the highway. I was driving with one of my sisters two hours to her house as she had the best picture of my mother that we all decided must be enlarged and placed at the entrance of her memorial service. So, we drove the two hours to my sister’s house. As we were driving the two hours back to Chapel Hill, this amazing rainbow started forming. Another formed on top. I took a video of it that I can’t upload for some reason…But right after I videoed the rainbow and was still watching it form, my dad called. I am not close with my dad. Well, that’s an understatement. I have forgiven him for the many disrespectful choices and things he did to my mother. I’ve forgiven him for things I still can’t mention, toward me and to my oldest sister, but I keep a boundary up for my own health. Yet I could feel my mother present with us and I could feel her forgiveness. I could feel her urging me and so I answered my sister’s phone and I spoke kindly to my father and even agreed to pick him up from the airport and take him to his hotel. He wanted to come to my mom’s funeral. He likely doesn’t even remember half of what happened during our childhood or even forgot some events with mom later—that’s what is so puzzling and hurtful and insane about alcoholism, and whatever else came into play. But I decided to let it go. He is old. He was sad. And clearly, my mother forgave him years ago.

On May 25th, the day of my mother’s funeral, the minister surprised the family by asking everyone to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Us four siblings had put together the program and we all agreed upon speaking. I was the one who spoke about the power of music, as my mom played piano  by ear and communicated through music. I even provided her top song list as I kept it after we moved her into an Alzheimer’s facility. Somewhere Over the Rainbow wasn’t on it, nor was it mentioned. Perhaps one of my sisters suddenly asked the minister to add this? I don’t know. But my oldest sister and I began crying as we remembered the rainbow forming in the car just a few days earlier. It wasn’t a coincidence. Mom was telling us everything would be ok. Listen to the lyrics. My two sisters aren’t physically well. They both have autoimmune disorders and serious stress and I wish so much I could take away their pain. My big brother even admitted to losing his faith in God after my mom developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t fair. She was a social worker with a huge, kind heart, and helped so many without ever asking for anything in return. He felt it was cruel. It was hard on him to see her, and he lived so close to her facility. It was hard on all of us to lose her. My mom was sending us all a message of hope. To not harden or become cynical in life. To stay aware of the magic that is subtle, but always there.

That evening, as I was coming home to my brother’s house, after walking around with my childhood best friend, we saw this little lime green frog on my brother’s door.

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Frogs like this just don’t appear on doors in North Carolina. I know a lot about frogs. As a little girl I collected them. In fact, I would sit by a pond in the woods surrounding the horse trails and watch for hours waiting for the tadpoles to finally leap out of the water onto the Earth as precious little frogs. I’d put them in containers and take care of them until they were big enough (or so I thought) to ward off predators. Some kids had imaginary friends, I had friend frogs. Neighbors would capture rare red ones or orange ones and bring them to me for my collection. Yup, I was that kind of kid. To this day, my siblings still buy me frog paraphernalia for birthday or Christmas gifts. So to see this frog on the evening of my mom’s funeral was just a little reminder that I was loved, watched after, and was special. I was teased a lot as a child for being stupid. Not by my mom, but by my dad and siblings. I barely spoke until I was 11 and daydreamed constantly. I guess you could say I have always been partly in another dimension or watching for what was happening underneath the surface. I could sit outside watching birds fight for territory for hours. I would get mesmerized by the way light sparkles on dust particles. Listening to the wind through the pines I’d imagine someone whispering to me. Inside the house, I sometimes wrote invisible words or names on the ceiling and imagined them dancing or fighting over me. When sitting at the table for dinner, I paid attention to how words were spoken and whether a person’s eyes were sad or angry, or whether arms were crossed—and often didn’t hear or listen to what was actually being said.

Mom was telling me that was my gift. That’s why I can still hear her. For weeks she’s come to me in my dreams. I see her in her garden. I see her playing her piano. Talking with me about boys in her blue kitchen. One dream was funny, with her and her friends laughing over her fridge magnet of Nixon with the words: “Thank God he kept our boys out of Northern Ireland.” She was suggesting a similar one about Trump. It was funny. She was engaging. I loved talking politics with her. When I became a journalist, I had ground my day dreaming wire, but I still watched body language, especially when covering murder trials or interviewing politicians. I’m glad I’m not in that world anymore, but I remember how much fun it was to talk with my mom about it all.

My dreams showed me her quirky side before her mind was ravaged by Alzheimer’s or before she was stressed and heart broken. And I could feel that she’s returned to her quirky, beautiful, poetic, funny, musical self.

Over the past two months, through signs and messages and songs and dreams, these are the things she has told me:

There is no way to sum up the entire life of another person with a quick comment, so don’t read gossip crappy news or watch any of it. Don’t participate in judgmental gossip.

Strive to be happy now, with your life exactly as it is.

Forgive everyone. We have to let go of our judgements against others based on one or two things that they may have done. That doesn’t mean we become door mats and let in every person who hurts us over and over again—but let go of resentment.

You are enough, exactly as you are.

You are special.

You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone.

Those who hurt us the most are expressing their own internal pain. They are bleeding inside from issues and scars we may know nothing about it. So ignore whatever hurtful words they say to you.

Follow your heart.

Get out in nature every day if possible.

Don’t Let In anyone go who is negative or who stirs up drama in any way.

Have fun. Be silly. Laugh more. Let the dishes stay in the sink every now and then.

Don’t try to fit in. Be nice and polite when needed, but show your true feelings whenever you can.

Take risks. True love exists for every person at any age.

Stay true to yourself.

Take care of yourself: your body is your temple.

You are deserving—remember that, but don’t forget to give back.

Be grateful.

Be humble.

Own up to your mistakes, but don’t punish yourself for them.

If you’re ever on an ego trip, pause and give to someone else.

If you give too much of yourself or try to control others, step back and allow others the dignity to make their own mistakes and choices.

Trust your gut, not your ego.

Don’t worry so much about pleasing others. Please yourself and be yourself and those who float into your life will be divinely orchestrated to be with you.

~ Thanks for reading this long post! My wish is that it brings a little ray of hope into your day.

Make it a beautiful one.

Laura XO

 

Making It, or Faking It? The Messy Journey to Authentic Healing

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually living authentically, as I strive to do, or am still people pleasing and rushing into the idea of forgiveness and acceptance. As a yogi, meditator, writer and single mom navigating this planet, I hear messages constantly that are meant to help in times of crisis. Sometimes these messages fall flat—as there is an underlying note of criticism. For instance, if I can’t forgive and forget instantly—does that mean I’m less evolved, or am letting others down? Does that imply my “energy or vibration” will attract more negative experiences if I can’t immediately accept that “everything is happening exactly as it is meant to, for my highest good?”

Why am I exploring these yogi and self help sentiments? Well, there’s nothing worse than a healer who just throws platitudes against the wall when someone is truly suffering. Since I’m now teaching students who are fighting cancers and living bravely with chronic pain and debilitating injuries, it’s critical that I dig deep and try to relate to their struggles. For that reason, I’m starting to re-examine how I deal with my own struggles. Five months ago I was hurt physically by someone I thought was my friend, and someone I thought I was in love with. In my attempt to heal emotionally, I rushed toward forgiveness and acceptance—instead of allowing myself to feel the pain: the emotional hurt of betrayal, sadness, anger. When I reached out to a few well-intentioned friends, I was told things like: “everything happens for a reason,” or “maybe you needed this to wake up and be done with bad boys,” or “you have to forgive in order to heal,” or “on some level you knew he was like that.”

And then later in yoga classes, I heard these platitudes over and over again: “everything that happens to you is for your highest good,” “you are responsible for everything and everyone in your reality,” “forgiveness is the attitude of the strong,” or “happiness can only exist in acceptance,” or “when you keep your vibrations high, you only attract those on a high vibration.” That one really cut to the core, as I know that I’m insanely kind, forgiving and giving. Too much so…

I almost gave up yoga during this time of healing. I ran a lot to very loud music in my ears. I biked so hard I thought my chicken legs would explode. I also immediately forgave the person who hurt me and then, when I started having flash backs, I wrote a scathing letter crucifying this person’s character.

It’s the perfect example of why no one should rush into forgiveness without working through feelings—without recognizing them and honoring their soul. It’s okay to be damn angry when someone treats me like crap. Who deserves that? And it’s also okay to not understand what the lessons are in the experience right away. I try to remember this when with my students. How can I say everything happens for a reason to a student who is dying and will never see her daughter get married? What good will that do for her to hear a statement like that? None.

So, instead, I meditate for allowing a space to heal. I meditate with my students for love. I give lavender shoulder and head messages. I tell them they are strong. I tell them they are loved, infinitely. I tell them they are brave. They are beautiful. They are deserving of love and light. I tell them that shitty things have happened to them and me, but we deserve better and they have the support they need. We meditate on letting healing light in—letting it penetrate the cells of their body to wash away all the scars, the hurt, the cancer. And at the end of the class, I realize that while I may be providing a service, they are actually saving me.

I ran across this brilliant post “How to Hurt” by Angry Therapist team member Padhia Avocado. 

It’s worth reading the entire post, but I’ll quote a few paragraphs that resonate deeply for me:

“We need to shift in the way we judge pain. It is not possible to simply “get over something” that affected you in such a way that it changed who you were and the understanding you had of your world,” she explained.

“Time does not heal all wounds. Wounds can heal on their own, but only if they are superficial. Deep ones need attention and special care. The parts of you that hurt can’t see the outside world and use the logic of comparison to heal. Shame and judgment of pain only makes the injury worse. That forces you to hide your own truth from yourself and that leads to many other problems.”

Amen to that. Her next paragraph makes a lot of sense, too. I know that I sometimes get frustrated when I’m not healing fast enough. I recall feelings of bitterness springing forth, surprising me, as I thought I had “already dealt with this!” Well, it’s time to let the perfectionist go. Everyone heals at a different pace. And as long as I am not marinating in the feelings, dwelling in them, recalling them often, I’m just honoring my existence. I feel because I exist. It’s that simple. And it involves no one else.

Padhia wrote: “Other’s judgment of how “you should feel” is irrelevant. … Our inner time is very different than external time. Years may pass between things that happen in the external world, but time doesn’t work like that on the inside. … You can’t talk yourself out of the things that hurt you deeply. To be free of them, you have to learn to hold space for your feelings. Allow them to be what they are in a way that you are not feeding them (so that they gather more volume and take you over) but rather letting them bloom, so that they can then die down. Listen to the messages in them while they are blooming, and go down the paths they are calling you to go down. Only then, can they evolve into lighter feelings of acceptance, healing and gratitude.”

And that’s really the key. As a good friend and therapist told me, there’s a fine line between self exploration and self absorbance. To allow my feelings to exist—no matter what they are—without blowing them up into something bigger, or hiding them and shaming them—I will heal. I feel it already. I’m on that path. And what I’m learning, is that when I allow myself to be okay with feeling angry, sad, disappointed or angry—when I sit with it, recognize it—I begin to acknowledge my worth and honor myself. I don’t need to rush to forgiveness and to “finding the lesson” to prove that I’m evolved. First, I need to sit with the feelings, tell myself that it’s not okay for someone to hurt me and that I’m going to grieve first.

This process doesn’t create victims, martyrs or self pity party holders. In order to let these feelings morph into acceptance and forgiveness, they have to be seen and heard and felt—like a dear friend who listens without judgement. I’m convinced that those who don’t allow themselves to grieve will get stuck in a life with unrelenting bitterness and fear.

As Khalil Gibran so eloquently wrote: “your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”

The only path to joy is through feeling and acknowledging sorrows. Once recognized, the sorrow can be let go—allowing space to live again, to try again, to love again, and to let joy float back up to the surface.

Namaste ~
Laura

Flash Flood

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2013 will be the year my mother stops talking completely. Tonight I googled ‘grief’ and found this post. It’s comforting, in a strange way, to step back and look at how much happens in a period of time, such as 500 days. Destruction and death and sorrow are inevitably (and hopefully) entwined with new beginnings and soul awakening growth and grateful moments. It’s hard to describe how that works.

Tonight I miss mom.  I rarely talk about her to anyone. I don’t know why. It wasn’t that long ago that we spoke every week. But that’s life, isn’t it?

Tonight I found myself crying. An old song mom loved to play on the piano came on a TV show. And before I knew it, tears were trickling down my face. Grief is like that. People say it comes in waves. That may be. But mine comes like a flash flood. Or a tsunami. One minute I’m moving along, as usual. I may be having an ordinary, yet, nice day. Then I’ll hear a song.

Oh how I’d love to call her to tell her my divorce is final. That I’m writing fiction again (baby steps.) That my boys are rambunctious as ever. That I’m actually doing this parenting gig on my own somehow.

A year ago, I wrote several posts honoring my mom for mother’s day. It empowered me. As silly as that sounds. I felt like I was preserving her. I was honoring who she was. When you lose a person to Alzheimer’s, it’s a confusing death. With mom, she began the steady decline last year. She can now barely talk.  My last visit, 7 months ago, she eeked out “love” and leaned her head to mine. That was a goodbye that I will always be grateful for. Nevermind, that a few minutes later, she looked at me like I was a stranger. The day before, when I popped a small piece of dark chocolate and raspberry bar into her mouth, (her favorite) her eyes widened and she grabbed my hand saying, “I think I like you!”

Tonight, I long to talk to her so much it aches.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up, in this city of sun and eternal youth, and begin again.