Life is Eternal, Love is Immortal

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Yesterday my Snack ‘n Chat group that meets weekly had one of our potluck lunches. One of the women has been recently widowed after forty-seven years of marriage and she told us a beautiful story about the loss of her wedding ring in a local store shortly after her husband’s death and its miraculous recovery.

For two weeks after the loss of the ring, she returned to that store over and over again, asking in different departments and areas of the store if it had been found. No one had seen it.

Again this week, she asked a young clerk if the ring happened to be under the cash area on a shelf perhaps. It wasn’t. My friend moved on to do more shopping and the young girl went to talk to one of her friends in the store. The next thing my friend heard was her name being called over the P.A. system. She was to return to the same counter again.

“Now, I don’t want to get your hopes up,” the young girl said. “We have found a wedding ring. It may not be yours. Security is bringing it to us.”

They all watched with anticipation as a uniformed guard approached. He stood before them and pulled out a clear plastic bag from his pocket. Inside was the wedding ring!

My friend was overjoyed and broke out in loud squeals and a mixture of tears and laughter. The clerks and guard all joined her causing a joyful ruckus that could be heard throughout the store.

Where had the ring been all this time? No one was sure but my friend’s persistence and prayers paid off.

We each shared stories that day about miraculous events after the loss of a loved one. One woman felt her deceased husband had visited her in the night leaving a kiss on her lips. Another spoke of a knock at a door, and her deceased father entered the room, fully clothed, in the flesh. She felt he had returned so she could say a final goodbye to him. I shared my story of a medium’s message of eternal love and gratitude from my beloved Tom.

I found it quite amazing that four women had four stories about miraculous events after the loss of a loved one. We tend to not talk of these things in our society. I believe there are more stories out there. It appears that our loved ones do go on and can send us signs and symbols from eternity. Love lives on.

Choose to Live

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At a recent writer’s retreat I attended, I was sharing my published books with another new writer friend. An author has to be able to say what his or her book is about in under 30 seconds, one or two sentences at the most. My keynote for my first book is “10 – A Story of Love, Life, and Loss, is an inspiring cancer story. It may uplift and encourage you to live your best life.” I often say “It’s an inspiring memoir/cancer journey/love story.”

Then, my friend asked me a simple question, one I had never been asked before so succinctly.

“So, how do you continue to live a quality life when you’ve been given a terminal diagnosis with no hope of a cure?”

Her succinct question demanded a succinct answer. She wanted to know in a few sentences how my husband and I did it.

I answered her this way, in list form: change your focus to ‘living’ rather than ‘dying,’ live in the moment, live with gratitude, and focus on your abilities, not your losses.

  1. Focus on ‘living’ every day, rather than ‘dying.’ You try to fill your day with as many life-fulfilling activities and people as you can, and you focus on those positive messages and feelings, rather than negative people, circumstances and thoughts.
  2. Live in the moment, with mindfulness, tapping into all your senses. Taste that juicy apple, smell that scented rose, look up at the sky and the clouds floating by, feel the softness of your child’s cheek, listen to the sounds of nature all around you. Often, the simplest things are the most meaningful.
  3. Live with gratitude. Say thank you. When you awake, be grateful for another day given, and when you go to sleep, say thank you for all you received.
  4. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. In spite of impending losses, you still are capable of many things. Use your time to enjoy doing those things you can still do.

“10 – A Story of Love, Life, and Loss’ is a story of struggle, pain and loss, but at the heart of it, it is a story of love, hope, and strength. It is a story that may help others who have been given a life-debilitating diagnosis, as well as helping their caretakers and loved ones who journey with them.

My book can be purchased at The Bookshelf, Guelph; BookLore, Orangeville; Hannelore Headely Old & Fine Books, St. Catharines and Tamara’s Esthetics & Reflexology, Guelph. It can also be purchased directly from me by messaging me. Buy it online at amazon.ca.

 

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.

Death Cafes

Last night I attended a ‘Death Café’ at a local downtown coffee shop. I had heard of them before and was intrigued. They are meant “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives. A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes.” www.deathcafe.com

About 25-30 adults were gathered, all ages, in a back room of the coffee shop, seated at small tables in groups of six or less, which allowed for intimate, close talk. A local officiant, Christine Lafazanos, and her company “Woven Threads,” handcrafted ceremonies, hosted the event which she holds every two months for the public for free.

After a short introduction, with some basic guidelines, she handed the evening over to us. For the next two hours, we introduced ourselves, told the others why we were there, and discussed a large variety of issues about death, dying, and grief through casual conversation. On the table, was a small jar with short statements about death meant to initiate discussion. We shared stories and expressed our fears, grief, and questions. We all acknowledged that our society just doesn’t like talking about death.

It was refreshing to be able to meet with strangers and speak about such a dreaded topic which affects us all. After all, we all die. Why do we ignore it, and treat it with such fear? Why are we and our families so unprepared for it? How does it affect us in both the short and the long term? What can we do to help loved ones die? What can we do for ourselves and our own grief and suffering when we lose a loved one? How can we live better lives by acknowledging the inevitability of death?

Death. It’s a big issue. We had many questions. And I’m not so sure there were clear answers but it was refreshing and helpful to talk about it and apply it to our own lives. We can help each other.

Check out Christine Lafazanos at www.woven-threads.ca and www.facebook.com/WovenThreads.Celebrant for information about the next Death Café in the Guelph area.

Good Grief People Book Launch

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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

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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

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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.

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