“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
―Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
About a month ago, I decided that I would start again to offer the *Between Now & Forever Loss & Grief workshops that I once gave for National Hospice conferences, churches and universities in several cities and towns around the US. I had thought that I was finished with them but some things happened recently, making me feel it was time to start again.
* Between Now & Forever means to me, that period of time between experiencing a great loss and moving into ‘Forever’ where everything is understood: Why did this happen to me, Why Now etc.
For several years, I offered as I said, these mini workshops or presentations at Hospice and Death Education Conferences as well as for privately organized groups throughout the US. The workshops accompanied a photo/oral history exhibit by the same name which traveled to Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Mi,
the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Our Lady of Lourdes West Islip, NY , Christ Church Cathedral-Houston, Little Rock Arkansas etc.
But I quit doing them when I went to Portland, Oregon to give a presentation at the Association for Death Education and Counseling Annual Conference. The conference was held at a large hotel and the night before the workshops began, there was a party which I went to and the first people I encountered were 2 grief therapists arguing about which of them had experienced the most grief in her life.
“Yikes!” I thought…..I don’t want any more to do with this and I left and went shopping, only coming back to give my presentation. It was a little bit like when I left the Episcopal Church many, many years before…..I didn’t want to be part of more than, better than, different than.
The only memorable part of my time in Portland was taking the Amtrak to Seattle and sitting next to a woman with 2 big buckets of freshly cut lilacs……reality…..the breath of LIFE.
So it’s been years, probably 15 years, since I’ve offered the workshops but just this past month, I’ve felt that it might be a good time to offer them again… though in a different way. There’s such an overwhelming amount of death, loss, grief and despair on this Earth right now and
these little workshops offer hope and inspiration..a light in the darkness and some magic too..
I no longer want to travel very far so I decided I would offer them in this part of New Mexico where I live–Las Vegas, Taos and Santa Fe and I would begin with Las Vegas. And so a few days ago, I made an appointment to talk with the priest at the Catholic Church in Las Vegas. The priest, whose name is Father George, suggested I call a man who had lost almost his entire family several years before when their minivan was hit by a drunk driver. His daughter, son-in law and 3 of their children were killed instantly when this driver, going the wrong way on the interstate hit their van, going 75 miles an hour.
I remembered the story [it made national news] and I didn’t want to call this man who had been through the imaginable. What could I possibly say? I thought then about the losses in my own life and I thought about my workshops and what I could offer and what I could not.
TURNING TOWARD THE MORNING
“Turning Toward the Morning is a celebration of the human spirit. It is one of the most powerful expressions of love, compassion and transcendence I have ever seen. It is a reminder that we humans, for all our faults and failings, also contain the Divine. We are capable of great strengths, great visions, and great wisdom, which often surface in the wake of great pain. Watch this documentary with someone you love, and be prepared for magic.”
-New York Times Bestselling author, Larry Dossey, MD
I’m not a grief therapist-I never wanted to be. My workshops involve showing our award winning documentary, Turning Toward the Morning followed by a time to create simple memorials. I always bring colored markers, crayons, paints, glitter & colored paper and everyone from young children to the very elderly make drawings or write poems or letters and each one however simple or complex, is beautiful.
Turning Toward the Morning includes 3 stories, 3 stories of parents who have lost a child to accidental death, suicide and terminal illness. The stories are told by the parents themselves……there are no ‘experts’ expressing opinions or giving advice.
The experts are the parents themselves.
After Father George suggested I contact the man who had lost his family, I thought about what really helps when there is tremendous loss. Who can help and how? The answer, at least from my experience, is almost no one because it’s each person’s personal journey, one that they have to make alone. Even in the case of parents who lose a child, they each make the journey alone.
IN MY LIFE….
I thought about when my mother died when I was nine and how I instinctively closed myself off because I knew no one would understand. I knew they would say things like “Your mother was a wonderful person and now you have to live up to her memory and help your father.” or “She’s in a better place.” [How do they know I always wonder and how do those words help? They’re just words]
And I remembered when my brother killed himself at age 16. It was late August and I was getting ready to leave in 2 weeks for my sophomore year at Hollins College in Roanoke Virginia. My dad and stepmother thought it was too soon for me to go back but I wanted to be with my friends so they warned me “If you want to go back, don’t ask to come home. We’ve spent a lot of money.” [There would not be any emotional support at home which was why I wanted to leave]
For about 2 weeks after I was back at school, I was OK. My friends provided a distraction but then they were ready to go on with their lives as college sophomores and I wasn’t. I crashed, got sick–mono- and was sent to the college infirmary.
I was REALLY sick…I had night sweats and a terrible sore throat and I lay in bed on a rubber sheet not caring if I lived or died. But there was a doctor in that infirmary who took care of me. I don’t remember her name but I remember her because she was the first person who seemed to understand. I don’t remember any words that she spoke either….It was the feeling that came from her, a feeling of of compassion, caring and understanding and I felt safe and cared for with her as if I didn’t have to pretend. Later I learned that this doctor was herself terminally ill which probably explained her compassion.
Many years after that, I went to my first Life, Death and Transition workshop with Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The workshop was held at the Old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California and because of Elisabeth, her spirit and the way she was able to communicate with people, the feeling was the same..once again it wasn’t words but a FEELING of being cared for and understood…..I wanted to stay there forever, far away from the world that had hurt me and brought me so much pain.
WHAT CAN I OFFER
So the workshops…..What can I offer? I can’t offer a solution-no one can- but through Turning Toward the Morning, I can offer the stories of some people who have found peace and a reason to go on… in the midst of great loss.
And I can offer the memorials as a way of expression, remembering and honoring…
About a month after 911, I happened to be staying in the convent at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in West Islip, NY. Many of the firefighters who died on 911 were from West Islip and as I walked around the village, I saw memorials for them in many of the shop windows. One in particular stood out and I looked at the name–Matthew Rogan. When I got back to the convent, I asked one of the nuns, Sister Diane, about Matthew Rogan and she told me that his 10 year old son, also named Matthew, was in 4th grade at the church school. He was having a very difficult time she said and she was meeting with him whenever he needed to talk, in an attempt to help him through this terribly sad and painful time.
I asked if I could talk with Matthew, if he might like to tell his father’s story.
He did and the next day I interviewed him and took some photos. He drew a picture of his father’s firetruck which he wanted included in the memorial and when I got back home, I had everything framed and it became part of the traveling exhibit I did on loss and grief.
Six years later I took the exhibit to Our Lady of Lourdes and Matthew came with his mom. He came up to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek and then his mom told me how much it had meant to him to know that his father’s story had reached so many people. I was happy…it’s always a giant leap of faith because I never know when I begin these projects what the outcome will be. *Matthew’s memorial is now permanently displayed at The Houston Firefighters Memorial in Houston, Texas.
In 2004, I was invited to do a workshop presentation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was put on by the School of Nursing and it was extremely challenging in many ways. Along with the Between Now & Forever exhibit, I showed Turning Toward the Morning in a small theater there in the conference center
Before the film was shown, I gave a short talk about my experiences with loss, my therapy with the much loved addictions counselor, John Bradshaw and about the workshops with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. And then for some reason, maybe because I was very tired and wasn’t trying to impress anyone, I talked about how I had quite often in the past, cut myself with razor blades. I don’t know why I mentioned this then because I never talked about it. I thought it was shameful and I had seen before that people were horrified. Now it seems to be kind of an ‘in thing’ with kids like killing themselves on Facebook but at that time, I knew no one else who cut themselves.
But then the unexpected happened. When the film was over, quite a few people came up to me and began telling me their stories. They said things like I never cut myself but I tortured myself in other ways….and we understood each other and the whole feeling of that conference changed for me then and there. It wasn’t a formal event any longer but a real and true communion between people.
“We won’t succumb to hate, bitterness or disillusionment; we will use wisely the time we have left together…”
I said I wanted to do the Between Now & Forever workshops in a different way but really I just want to add something to them and it’s this. A couple months ago I read a story that I could not forget: it was the story of University of Pennsylvania student, Blaze Bernstein who was brutally murdered by a ‘friend’.
Blaze who was known as a teenager with “a gentle and generous heart” was missing from his parents home in southern California for a week and when his body was found, he had been stabbed 20 times.
And his parents made this statement.
“We won’t succumb to hate, bitterness or disillusionment; we will use wisely the time we have left together. When we stop crying we will start doing positive things to affect change. We ask that everyone work towards something good. Stop being complacent. Do something now.
Now is the time to set aside fear, ignorance and judgement. It is time to love. Love each other. Be good. Do good and honor Blaze’s memory.”
~Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein
So I’m doing the workshops in memory of Blaze, as my small way of doing something good, of doing something positive to affect change.
Because it’s time now to move past and go beyond hate, revenge and blame…it’s way past time. Humanity will not survive much longer in this atmosphere. It’s all we hear in the ‘news’, from the politicians, from the ‘metoo’ people. It has become the accepted and expected way but it is not THE WAY.
For more information on the workshops, you can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
*ALSO I am offering these handmade hearts for a donation and as part of the workshops. They can be used as memorials…On the back, you can write a message: “RIP, in memory of” etc…with a fine tipped marker.
And if you would like to contribute to the continuation of this blog, you can do so here.