Good Grief

Barb Heagy GGP Book Launch 003-001We had a very successful book launch. Thank you to all who came out. Here is my speech:

The first thing I want to say is how honoured I have been to be a part of this very special book, Good Grief People. I knew none of these authors, except for a slight acquaintance with Donna Mann, until we began working on the manuscript last year. Glynis M. Belec, Carolyn Wilker, Ruth Smith Meyer, Donna Mann, and Alan Anderson, I now count you as best friends, my BFF’s, and I admire and respect you all so much. My friends have taught me much about death, dying, and the grief process.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what ‘good grief’ is. And now that I see the book in its final form with all our stories and poems, I think I would have this to say about good grief.

Good grief is about bravery, sensitivity, acceptance, and a generous, fearless attitude to life.

Grief is much like falling in love – to do it well, we have to drop the barriers holding us back from fully stepping forward into it. Yes, it’s a powerful emotion, as powerful as love. But that’s what grief is – love. When we have loved deeply, we grieve deeply.

Good grief means facing the fear, the anger, and processing it in good faith. It’s about examining one’s life and finding new purpose and a new identity. It’s about a willingness to live and find a new you.

Like a woman in labour, who works with her body and mind to embrace the pain, to release it instead of fighting it and bottling it up, when I grieve well, I learn to ‘go with the flow’. These stories have taught me that I can birth myself into a new identity. It will be a world without you, a different world, but I will still be in it and will find my new life.

Grief is like a wounded athlete who learns to work through an injury, strengthening the other muscles and joints to heal an injury to regain our health and wholeness once again. Grief can be like an amputation, and when you think about it, losing someone dear to you is like losing a part of yourself. But even through that, we can learn to do things in a new way and go on.

Good grief is the fork in the road, and although we may hesitate, we choose to take it in good faith. It’s the willingness to continue the journey, a journey into the unknown.

Good grief is the willingness to accept the end of one story and move on to the next chapter or book. We all have our favourite books and stories that we just hate to see end. We stretch out the best parts, savour it, read it again slowly, or even stop reading because we can’t bear for it to be over. But it does come to an end. And then we move on to the next story, but not until we have placed that story in our ‘favourite books’ shelf for safe-keeping and re-reading. We know that we can return to it again and again, but we know too that it will never be the same as that first time experience.

I hope that our book, these stories, will help you find hope in the midst of despair, comfort from the pain, joy in the sadness, strength out of the weakness and acceptance in the midst of denial. They all sit on the same plate. We can learn to live with both.

Good Grief People Book Launch

Book - Good Grief People - Invitation and Poster

COME HELP US CELEBRATE!

We invite all of you, family, friends, public, to come ‘Meet the Authors’ and join us for our GOOD GRIEF PEOPLE book launch on May 6th.

We have the lovely Aboyne Hall rented in the beautiful historical Wellington County Museum and Archives between Elora and Fergus, Ontario. Our plan is to have a short program of welcome and then lots of opportunity to meet all six authors and have your book signed if you would like.

We are very excited that our only male author, Alan Anderson, is travelling with his lovely wife, Terry, all the way from British Columbia to join us. (And it’s their 39th anniversary, too!)

And come hungry. We will have a luncheon and a door prize, too.

Can’t wait. So excited. Looking forward to seeing all of you.

Mark your calendar and bring a friend. We would LOVE to have you join us and help celebrate the official release of GOOD GRIEF PEOPLE.

Consider yourself officially invited!

 

Christmases Past

maegan-046-001

There are those who are facing difficult circumstances this holiday season. It’s not easy being surrounded by cheery music, glittering decorations, party-makers and celebration planners when you feel your world is falling apart. It all looks so joyful and we can’t help but feel isolated by the merriment that we’re not feeling ourselves. The whole world seems to be a part of some great coming event that we just don’t look forward to.

Six years ago today, just before Christmas, my husband Tom passed away and he was gone forever. That first Christmas I was numb. I hadn’t truly accepted the fact that Tom was no longer with me. I had bought gifts and stocking stuffers for him and he had bought gifts for others that were still arriving by parcel post and courier. I chose gifts for his family, wrapped them, and wrote personal notes on Tom’s behalf as if he had given them himself. The Christmas card I had bought for him said it all: “Life gives beautiful gifts. It gave me you. Merry Christmas (our last one).” In truth, the Christmas the year before had been our last one, but I wasn’t ready to accept that reality. Family helped me wade through the grief of that first Christmas with love and understanding as we celebrated together.

The next Christmas was actually harder to go through without him for he was no part of the preparations. For the first time since I had been with him, I wasn’t choosing a gift for him, I had no need to fill his stocking or buy a special Christmas card. Any gifts I bought for others were from me, not us. What I did do is light a memorial candle in his memory. It sat beside his framed photo on the mantel of the fireplace. With the help of family, I made it through that holiday season.

I continued to light a memorial candle each Christmas. He was still with us. Family celebrations continued to be a part of all my Christmases and stories and memories of Tom were always encouraged from family and friends. His memory lived on. Christmases got better.

This Christmas will be the seventh one without Tom as a living presence. But he continues to be with us in our hearts and minds. Special decorations, food, drink, so many things still bring back memories of our lives together. We still share the stories and our fond memories of him. For us, he lives on, just in a new way.

The black grief of that first Christmas is gone but I continue to feel melancholy at times. How could I not? We had a great love. I will always love him. But life moves forward. There have been weddings and new births and grandchildren growing. Reaching out to others has helped. I have cried with those who miss their loved ones as they pass on and I have laughed with delight holding a newborn baby in my arms. We share our lives; the joy, the grief, the celebrations and the losses. I continue to live in hope and faith for all that life offers me.

I made it through that dark valley. I wasn’t afraid to feel the shock and the grief. I accepted all the dark feelings and let them run their course as the tears flowed and turmoil reigned. I reached out to family and friends for support, encouragement and even distraction. They helped me laugh again. I stayed an active participant in life by continuing to work, joining clubs and making new friends. I am stronger for having gone through it all, and can now reach out to others to help them through their difficult times. Together we can make it.

Stay hopeful. Stay strong. Better times are ahead. Believe that Christmas will once again be joyful for you. I wish you a Merry Christmas. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. It will.

A Butterfly Visitation

barb-heagy-bill-jobe-sr-tree-planting-017-001

Yesterday, under blue skies and fluffy white clouds, our family attended a tree-planting ceremony put on by the local funeral home in honour of those who had passed away in the last year. For us it was our beloved Bill, father-in-law to my daughter and grandpa to my little grandsons.

The event couldn’t have been more perfect. Everything had been considered and was perfectly coordinated from the beautiful natural setting at the local conservation area, to the ample parking area and organized crew, to the large white tent set up with folding chairs and picnic tables under towering mature trees. A local choir and talented musicians provided beautiful heart-felt music and inspired speakers provided us with thoughtful messages.

One tree, symbolizing all of the over 300 trees that would be planted this season for our loved ones, was planted just outside the tent allowing us a visual reality of our loved one’s memorial tree.

As a final tribute to those who had passed, live Monarch butterflies were released by the planted tree. We were all invited to come up close and witness the event first hand. A hat box filled with the butterflies was placed on the grass and children and adults were encouraged to reach in, take out a butterfly and enjoy the experience of a living jewel in your hand before it took to the skies.

Butterflies have always been special to me and my second husband, Tom, who took me to the local butterfly conservatory for our first date. We released twelve live butterflies at our  wedding five years later. On our first anniversary, Tom and I released one in our back yard to celebrate our love. Four years later, Tom passed away with terminal cancer. Since his passing, I have had several unique experiences with butterfly visitations. My family and I have acknowledged that perhaps these butterflies are Tom visiting us and we often say, “Hi Tom” when we experience these intimate encounters with these lovely creatures.

I was eager to get as close as I could to the butterflies but it was very crowded as over a hundred people encircled the box trying to get a glimpse. It took some time for me to get close enough to get some photos with my camera. Finally I was able to snap some pictures as smiling children and parents held living butterflies in their hands and then watched them as they flew up and over our heads into the sky.

One of the last butterflies to be released flew from a hand to a woman’s head beside me landing in her hair. Within seconds it made the short flight from her to me, settling on the crest of my ear where it decided it wanted to stay. For several minutes, the crowd around me marveled at this special moment as all the other butterflies had taken flight and were gone.

I decided to try and walk to my family’s picnic table to share this amazing experience with them. I didn’t know if the butterfly would still be there as I started to move. As I sat down at our picnic table it took a moment for my daughter and family to notice the beautiful orange and black ornament that was still in my hair. Liam called out, “Gramma, you have a butterfly in your hair.” We all laughed and I said, “I know. Say hi to your Grandpa Tom.”

The butterfly lingered for a lengthy period of time. We were able to get many pictures of this unique experience and share it with others around us. We actually finished our luncheon before the butterfly quietly left unannounced about 20 minutes later.

How special this moment was for my family and me. Thank you to Dods & McNair Funeral Home, Orangeville for making this special event even more memorable for us.

barb-heagy-bill-jobe-sr-tree-planting-034 barb-heagy-bill-jobe-sr-tree-planting-042 barb-heagy-bill-jobe-sr-tree-planting-050

Treasure Your Memories

This day, as loved ones around me face loss and grief, I was reminded by Facebook Memories of a video I had posted three years ago, sent to me by my daughter Maegan. It’s about a 96-year old man named Fred Stobaugh, who had lost his wife after 75 years together.

Fred wrote the lyrics for a song about his beloved wife, Lorraine, and Green Shoe Studio helped him bring it to life. The song and video went viral as the world embraced Fred and his love story.

Now there are six videos on You Tube about Fred and his song “Oh Sweet Lorraine.” I am including the first video here. I had time to watch the other five videos and it is a beautiful story about love, and relationships, and the memories we cherish.

In the 4th video, a 7th grade student wrote in a letter to Fred about his song and his life with Lorraine and how it had impacted her. She wrote, “You should treasure what you have as long as you have it, and then treasure the memories you have of it.”

Some things in life we can’t change, we can only accept them, and accept them with deep gratitude and love. The simplest, most basic moments, shared with someone we love become the most valued as precious memories. As I felt with my Tom, it didn’t matter what we did, but that we did it together.

Tragedy and Martyrdom

At the recent wedding of my daughter and her new husband, the room seemed to be immersed in love and positive feelings. It was a room filled with large and close family groupings. One of the extended families consisted of 63 adults, another included five siblings and their parents and partners. All the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely and there was a deep sense of community, family, and love among them. I knew that it was a room filled with people who had experienced pain and deep tragedy in their lives, but they didn’t come across as tragic figures or martyrs.

I watched with pleasure as six adult sisters dressed up in costumes and goofed around at the fun photo booth set up in a corner of the reception hall. I’m sure each one of them had experienced deep tragedy in their lives; they had lost their beloved mother in the past year, one of them I knew had lost a child at a young age, but there they were laughing, embracing and sharing the deep bond they obviously had for each other. At another table, a family member, who is dealing with cancer and is in active chemotherapy treatments, was there laughing uproariously with his large family as they shared stories and love. Most important of all, both families were having fun.

Life should be fun. When bad things happen or things make us unhappy, we can wrap ourselves up in it, cut the tragic figure, “Oh, woe is me!” Sometimes we can even take great pride in our tragedy: “Look at me. Look at how wonderfully I am handling my pain, my loss. Aren’t I wonderful?” We become the great martyr.

The sisters didn’t do that. The father, sick and weak with cancer, didn’t do that. We can’t stop the pain in our lives, but we don’t have to let it become our identity, the suffering martyr, the mourning tragic figure.

To live a life well-lived, let us remember that we are not grief itself. We experience grief. It is not my cancer. It is just the cancer. Don’t make pain your identity. Let it not define who you really are.