How Are You? (On a Journey of Grief)

(an excerpt from my journal after my husband’s passing.)

 It’s been six weeks since Tom died and friends and family ask me, “How are you?”

I think I’m doing okay. I’m never quite sure what to say to people when they ask me that. Tears still come every day. I miss him like crazy, but I can actually talk about it now without breaking down. My teaching job and my little ones are keeping me busy. I have the most wonderful class. Perhaps my principal was being extra nice to me when she set up the class list, but, however it happened, I really did luck out with this bunch of great little kids. They are adoring, affectionate and easy, extremely responsive, caring children. And their parents are equally as great. I don’t think I have ever felt so loved and supported as I have this year. The kids wrote me beautiful letters at Christmas and parents, too, sent in kind and compassionate cards and letters.

I bought something new for myself after Tom died. It’s a two foot long, black, wooden carving of the word “Dream.” It bought it for my bedroom, not only for the obvious take on night-time dreams but also to remind me that I am alive and have opportunities to “dream” about new possibilities for the future. I know it should have been obvious but it was only a few days ago that I realized that this is the first time in my entire life that I am living alone with no one else to be responsible for but myself. I feel I have a lot of soul-searching to do in discovering who I really am and what I really want for the rest of my life. Tom and I were so happy and so looking forward to a future of retired life together, but if I am to be denied that, then I need to look for new opportunities for self-growth and discovery. The world is a big, beautiful place and I am alive and have an opportunity to decide what I want to do with my life.

Right now I am reading a great book, Broken Open – How Difficult Times can Help us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser. There’s a quote in it from Joseph Campbell:

 “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life.

I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what

we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. . . so that we actually

feel the rapture of being alive.”

Lesser goes on to interpret that in her own way.

Rapture is not a selfish emotion. It is pure gratitude, flowing freely          

through the body, heart and soul. Gratitude for what? For breath,

for colours, for music, for friendship, humour, weather, sleep, awareness.

It is a willing engagement with the whole messy miracle of life.

The world suffers more from unhappy, stifled people trying to do

good than it does from those who are simply content within themselves.”

I couldn’t agree more!

What I hope to do and be is a person of gratitude and contentment. Content in my own skin. If I can be that person, then my love for myself and my place in the world will be transferred to the rest of the world, to others. It can’t help but be reflected outwards like the radiating ripples from a stone being tossed into a quiet, still pond.

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Moving Forward

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A friend asked me if I still communicate with Tom after over five years of his passing.

I have had visitation dreams from Tom in the first year after he was gone, and I had one on the fifth anniversary of his passing, but I don’t communicate with him in any other way. I haven’t been to mediums, or fortune tellers, or psychics. I don’t have long conversations with him or feel his presence with me in any real way. Occasionally, I will make a comment directed to him, almost more like speaking my own thoughts out loud. I linger, at times, on his photo on the wall, perhaps send him a little finger kiss. This past month, I did have an incident where I heard two knocks on the door leading up from the basement apartment. It totally freaked me out. I was more scared than comforted. (Tom used to live there when he shared the house with his sister. When I moved in we took over the whole house.)

 

When he passed, I felt very strongly that I wanted nothing, NOTHING, to hold him back from moving fully into the next world. I loved him so much that I wanted to fully release him from any earthly ties or worries so that he could move forward completely into the next phase of his existence, to be all that he could and should be. I swallowed my own fear, let him fully go, and sent him on his final path from me with a blessing to embrace the next stage with no regrets, no obligations, nothing to hold him back in any way. Therefore, if I felt he was still hanging around, bound to me and this world in some way, I would be very sad. I love him and want him to be fully and completely all he is capable of being. If what mediums say is true, that he is here always with me, observing my life, I don’t encourage that or desire it, and I am not aware of his presence in that way. Some take comfort in feeling their loved one’s presence still with them. I take comfort in NOT feeling him still with me and knowing that he has moved on to the next stage of his existence. I realize that it may be different for others, but this is my way of dealing with my loss and my grief. We each grieve differently.

Does that mean I don’t miss him with all of my heart? Not at all. I hold onto his memory with great love. I am deeply gratified to have had the ten years I did with him. They truly were the best years of my life.  I wrote my book to honour him and our life together. It is my monument to him and his memory. But I know that true healing lies in moving on with my life, even if that means, it has to be without him. And my wish and prayer for him is that he, too, moves on to the next stage of his new life. We were truly blessed to have the time we had together, but it is now a time for new things.

The Storytellers

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Reading good books inspires me. Writing allows me to share my life. We need to tell our stories, they connect us, as we share the tapestry of our lives.

In more ancient cultures the oral story-tellers were held in esteem as they were the reservoirs of life tales. They ensured the tales of long ago were passed on to future generations, and not just for entertainment. The stories were told so that we would never forget, so that one’s memory could live on through future generations. They were told so that we could learn from the past. Stories helped others understand who they were and where they came from.

The oral story-tellers in our modern day culture exist now in bars where tales are told over foaming pints of beer, around campfires, dinner tables, and steaming cups of latte in the local coffee shop. We have become a world of printed words and pictures. Electronic media connects us and these are the new ways our stories are passed on in busy lives. Readers sit behind worn paperback books, computer screens, glowing Kindles and Smartphones. Facebook, Hotmail, Youtube and Instagram ensure we continue to share our lives with each other. We still love our stories. We still need the stories. Now we need the writers, the photographers, and the film-makers to be the tellers of the tales and, with technology, we all have the potential to be the story-teller.

Past or present, we are all human, we are all the same – we live, we breathe, we smile, we wipe tears from our children’s faces. We share joy and suffering, the strong look after the weak, we bury our dead as we, too, will be buried someday. Stories satisfy our desire to stay connected, for when our stories end, we end. Stories are as important for us now as they were a way back then.

Compassionate Abiding

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Recently I watched an online interview of Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She spoke of pain, suffering, discontent and suggested a means of gentle meditation called “Compassionate Abiding” in dealing with it.

Sit quietly and just breathe. Breathe in and embrace the pain, take it in, open the heart and allow it to fully experience the pain. Do it again and again, fully breathing it in and fully breathing it out. And, as you breathe, know that all of us, everyone, experiences this pain and discontent at some point in our lives. So begin to take that realization in, not only for yourself but for others, too. Take in their pain, feel the community of pain, our oneness, our common humanity. This is “compassionate abiding.”

It’s what Christ did on the cross. Christ took in all our pain, for all of us. He embraced it all. Not only for those living in his time but for all humanity in all times.

This is the first time I have ever really understood the value and true meaning of what Christ did on the cross, the event we call Good Friday. It finally, truly spoke to my heart. It wasn’t so much our sin that Christ took on himself. It was our pain, our discontent, those negative feelings and perceptions we all have in our lives. For I believe that we are all basically good, we are perfect as we are. Pain and suffering is something that is manifested when we step away from our true selves – the self we were born as and were meant to be. Christ took all that pain and embraced not only his own, but ours, too. He identified with us. He felt a deep compassion for us. He wasn’t afraid of it, not only his own pain but all of ours.

Pema Chodron suggests we all are capable of doing this. We all experience pain, suffering and discontent in our lives. By dealing calmly with the pain, accepting it and embracing it, rather than fighting it and living in fear, we can move that level of understanding to our own communities outside ourselves. Yes, the pain is real, it is there. But we can sit quietly with it, accept it, and go beyond ourselves and realize that we all will experience this at some level. We’re in this together. Time will pass and the pain may stop for us, but there will be others who may need our compassion and understanding in dealing with their pain. Because we have suffered we can identify with others’ suffering. This is empathy, kind-heartedness, love, compassionate abiding.

Dealing with Grief and Loss

Grief is only one repercussion of a great loss. When we can’t accept a loss, of any kin086-001d, we suffer emotionally. With grief may come, doubt, anger, blame, regret, fear, shame, and guilt, all forms of self-flagellation that can occur when we have lost someone or something very dear to us.

How do we move on?

#1. Embrace the pain. Turn and face the lions.

Embrace the pain, the grief, the shame. Fully own it, fully feel it, let it have its way. Don’t be afraid of it. Our emotions have a natural flow to them and we have to let them have their own natural ebb and flow. It’s like telling a kid, “Grow up!” They can’t just yet. They will get there, but it is a process.

So look it in the face. Then cry, wail, pound the walls, suffer. Give it its time. These feelings are natural and valid feelings after such a loss. But don’t wallow in it. Don’t bury yourself in it. Stay open to the possibility that time will ease the pain and move slowly toward that day.

When you are ready, and you will know when you are ready, then you can move to #2.

#2.   Let it go. Let go and let God. Release it. Free yourself.

Give it up to a higher power. You don’t even have to fully believe in a higher power or fully understand it, just accept that there might be such a thing and give up all that crap you’re carrying around. It’s like vomit that roils around inside us. Puke it up. Get rid of it.

If there really is no higher power than what have you done, really, but throw that negative energy out into the ions of the atmosphere to float around out there instead of gathering like a cess pool inside you?

We seem to be able to accept cyber space, cyber clouds, satellites, and fax machines without fully understanding how they work or seeing the energy that makes them work.  We can’t see it, but we know it works. Why can’t we accept that maybe God or a power greater than us exists as an unseen power that can actually have some effect on us or around us?

We may not understand how he/she/it works, but it does. Life is full of miracles or, at the very least, amazing events that boggle the mind. Babies grow inside their mother’s womb, a caterpillar forms a chrysalis and emerges as a butterfly, a tiny seed falls to the ground and splits open to become a full-grown oak tree.

#3. Accept yourself. Love yourself.

Love your perfection and your imperfection. Accept it all. Accept that we can change, or not change, and move on. This is self-love.

#4. Make amends.

If possible, try to right your wrongs. Ask for forgiveness. It might be too late. If you are trying to make amends to someone else for the hurt you are a part of, know that your attempts might not be accepted, or reciprocated, but at least you have tried. You have forgiven yourself. Move on.

#5. Keep growing. Celebrate you.

Celebrate you! Love yourself. Heal yourself. Give yourself pleasure. Reward yourself for small achievements. Celebrate the ordinary. It’s the little things in life that can mean the most.

#6. Service to others.

Give to others. Why? Because you have been given to. Because you can empathize with their pain. Because you are more than just yourself.

You are part of a greater world, and whether you know it or not, everything you do or say has a repercussion somewhere. We are all connected. Even if you do nothing there is an effect. Your lack of offering says something to the other, in itself. Even nothing is something. When we don’t say “I love you” our lack of it, our remiss, sends a message of nonlove or, at the very least, doubt of your love. “The universe is my palette. I paint a glorious picture and step into it.”  (Alan Cohen) We can choose to not paint, but then there is only a white, empty canvas in front of you. And that emptiness carries its own message. Paint a beautiful picture with your life by giving to others.

Let your positive actions contribute to the world. Be forthright. Be bold. Be clear. Be generous.

#7. Keep growing. Seek answers.

Keep asking questions with self-study and communication. Ask why? Ask how? Dig for the answers to a better life. Read, write, view, talk, pray, travel, contemplate others’ wisdom and experience.

Build your knowledge in layers of wisdom, spiralling higher and deeper.

Broaden the frame, the box, the way you see life. Let your vision, your perspective grow in positive ways.

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All of this is a cycle – go in – go out – go in – go out – to self – to God – to self – to others – and back to self. It is a constant healing movement, the breath of life.

And remember – all of this takes time. It is an emotional journey. It can’t be rushed.

“Today I Decide to Live” – Sabrina Fuoco

The above is the tagline for Sabrina Fuoco’s website and blog at https://cancergirlsmiles.wordpress.com/. Sabrina has been handed six cancer diagnoses in her short lifetime and has survived them all. I encourage you to check out her blog. It’s inspiring, it’s life-affirming, it’s a living example of a cancer patient who is living every day to her fullest. She inspired me to write the following response to one of her recent blog entries:

I want to say thank you to you for posting these blogs. I went through cancer with my husband and am familiar with much of what you are going through, although if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that every single cancer journey is unique. I wrote my way through his cancer journey with a daily journal and sent out regular emails to keep everyone informed and ended up publishing a book called “10 – A Story of Love, Life, and Loss” based on those writings. I found the act of writing it all down was beneficial to me: to see it all in perspective, to give us hope, to give us signposts along the way to gauge our journey. A friend sent me this Anne Frank quote, “I can shake off everything as I write. My sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”   By making it public, I hoped to give people a view of cancer, so that they would be less fearful and more hopeful and more conscious of living a better life. That’s what your blog does for us.

There are so many cancer patients. It seems I hear of it every day. Your blog posts keep us informed to the fact that they are always trying new drugs and treatments. They allow us to believe in the power of faith and healthy attitude. They let us smile with you and care about you. We learn how to live better lives ourselves. We learn that as long as we keep living, we can keep hoping, staying focused on what we do have and getting the most out of every moment that we can.

Keep writing. I keep reading, caring, and praying. We can all make this journey together.

Radical Self Love

013February is Radical Self Love month.

My friend, Nathalie, asks “How do you practise #RadicalSelfLove?”

Radical Self Love, first of all, needs time – to stop, to breathe, to listen to one’s body, to be fully aware, fully connected to one’s physical self. If we take that time to know our bodies, then we will take that “knowing” and ensure that we give our bodies nutritious food, adequate rest, and constant movement.

Radical Self Love means connecting to our heart self, our emotional, intellectual and spiritual self. It is a deep journey inwards through prayer, meditation, contemplation or creation that builds an understanding of our capabilities, our soul, our true essence. We learn our true magnificence as an irreplaceable creation of the universe. And when we realize our own greatness, we see that same greatness in others. We are compelled to keep moving forward in curiosity, love and fulfillment because we know our true potential and seek a venue, a path, to express our uniqueness and help others to realize theirs.

Radical Self Love knows that because we are so loved, we are capable of loving others through kindness, camaraderie and service. When we have this full deep awareness of ourselves on all levels, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, we have a love so big and full that it can’t be contained and it naturally reaches out to others, our homes, our planet, in fact, all of creation.

Time – awareness – connection – growth – commitment – discipline – balance, all become necessary elements of Radical Self Love. We must set aside sacred time to build this deep awareness of ourselves, to connect with all of who we are. We keep seeking new growth, to keep moving forward. And we do this with a sense of commitment and discipline. We balance all of these elements to create a balanced self.

With Radical Self Love, we not only know and change ourselves, we know and change the world.

The Act of Creation

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Upon finishing my book for the night, I placed the new bookmark my sister had given me at Christmas between the pages to mark my place.

Before I closed the book, I examined the bookmark, taking some time to really look at it. Is it leather? Or is it some kind of stiff fabric covered in a thick coat of paint to give it substance? It had been hand-painted – a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering in front of a pink and fuchsia blossom. A thin black ribbon was looped through a punched hole at the top of the bookmark.

Someone created this, took the time to carefully choose fabric and ribbon, colours of paint and suitable brushes to make this bookmark. I looked on the back. Hand-printed in a golden brown paint was the name “Carolyn Smoke ’15.”

Thank you, Carolyn. Thank you for making this for me. You didn’t know it was going to be mine, but thank you for meticulously taking the time to create this hand-made craft that I now get to use and enjoy.

It reminded me that we just need to make our creations and then send them out into the world. We don’t know where they will end up. It’s not for us to worry about that. We enjoyed the process of conceiving it and then we let it go to be itself and allow others to enjoy the finished product.

Creation is like planting seeds. We may plant apple seeds and never get to see the grown tree in full bloom or dripping with apples. We can imagine, if we wish, future generations sitting under shady boughs munching on crisp red apples. If that’s why we planted the seed, then our act of creation becomes an act of generosity, for others will reap the benefits of our labour. Or we can plant seeds simply because we enjoy black soil under our fingernails, blue skies above us, and a warm sun heating our backs. And within a few weeks, we can watch the magic of a fresh green shoot breaking through the earth and growing before our eyes. And that can be enough.

 

So You Want to Write a Book

I decided to write a book. I gathered up my journals, took out what I felt wasn’t needed, added some stories from the past, and had some friends read it and check it over for grammar and spelling and flow. I thought I was almost done.

Then I hired an editor for one last, final check. Little did I know that the hard work had just begun. Months later, with detailed revisions and editing, my manuscript was ready to send to Balboa Press. I thought I was almost done.

Week after week I worked with a new team member of the company setting up my manuscript for digital use, signing release papers for each step of the way, sending in a bio’, extra copy work for the front and back covers, keynotes (my book in one sentence), getting a professional author photo, getting copyright use for that photo, working with a design team through detailed revisions of my cover and interior of the book, reading and re-reading proofs in attentive detail, working with marketing consultants through detailed phone calls with checklists and ideas to self-promote my book. Once the release papers were sent off to the printer, I waited for weeks, and I thought I was almost done.

While I waited, I continued working on my social media platform, making a daily entry to my Facebook page, learning how to set up a blog and writing a weekly entry. I made phone calls, emails, met with people for interviews, approached book stores and libraries for exposure, and talked up my book everywhere I went. I had to buy packing materials, check postal fees, learn how to accept an e-transfer for money and make sure I am always carrying change in case someone wants to buy my book and pay with cash. I designed and ordered a business card and am learning how to build my blog into a website through YouTube tutorials. I am writing speeches for oral presentations on “Self-Publishing”, “Dealing With Loss”, and “Working Through Grief” for future oral presentations with small groups. I am beginning to realize that I am not almost done. The real work of marketing my book has only just begun.

Said by David Baldacci from Nov. interview in Writer’s Digest: “No one on earth is going to care more about your career than you. Not your agent, not your publisher, not friends in the industry. At the end of the day, you need to take responsibility for your career. And I know it’s hard when you’ve got your first book and you’re so excited that you’re like, ‘I’ll let other people take care of the royalties and all that—I’m just so excited, there’s my book on the shelf!’ But at the end of the day, everything matters.”

I have come to realize that “writing a book” isn’t just a matter of putting some words on a page and sending it off to a publisher. A whole new career has begun for me and it is my responsibility to care and put the energy into every facet of the business. But I believe in my book and its message. I am learning so much. I take courses, meet weekly with other writers and learn from pod casts, video tutorials and on-line articles and books on writing. I continue to write every day. And I read, read, read other author’s work. My life is busy but fulfilling. And I have come to accept that with writing and publishing, one is never done.

My Self-Publishing Adventure Continues – The Books Have Arrived!

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MY BOOKS HAVE ARRIVED! Those who wish to purchase a copy, please message, phone or e-mail me and I will make arrangements to get a signed copy to you. My book, “10 – A Story of Love, Life, and Loss” is an inspirational memoir/cancer journey/love story, and is available at this time as a paperback, $17 CAN, plus shipping if I need to send it to you.

Books are still available on-line: hard cover, paperback, E-book at amazon.ca, chapters.indigo.ca, bookstore.balboapress.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com.

Reader response so far has been good. Check out this review from Sharon Sinclair, poetryspeaker.com:

“Barbara Heagyʼs exquisite story of love, life and loss is perfectly titled. Through her poignant recollection of ten precious years, many of lifeʼs dramatic themes unfold: birth..death, joy..sadness, hope…despair, denial..acceptance, loss…gain. By inviting readers to participate in the delicate balance between these polarities, we are privileged to share an intimate glimpse into loveʼs extraordinary bonds.

Barbaraʼs gifts as a story teller are readily evident in the skillful way she wraps her audience into her journals with a warm embrace. You will laugh and weep and rejoice in the human spiritʼs victory over death.

For a reader who has confronted cancer, or any other hideous illness, Barbaraʼs poetic account of her own journey will resonate with a healing energy that uplifts and inspires.

With sensitivity and wisdom, Barbara offers advice on how to cultivate a state of grace and gratitude for every aspect of our remarkable lives. Represented by the numeral that has such symbolic meaning for this talented author, Barbara Heagyʼs work scores a perfect 10!”

Also, check out my writer page at www.facebook.com/barbaraheagywriter. If you like what you see, click “Like” at the top of the page or leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.