I Just Want You to Know: A Story of Anticipatory Grief.

 
 
 
 

About a year ago, as I was sitting with my grandmother watching my grandfather, her husband of 57 years, take his last breaths in hospice care, she asked me why anyone would ever want to do this work- caring for people in their last days of life, as she found it utterly depressing and void of hope. My answer to her was quickly and easily given: “because it’s about love.” It’s about free-flowing, unbounded gratitude, raw vulnerability and pure courage.

Hanging in the balance between present reality and future uncertainty, between “have” and “have lost” unites us. It breaks the walls of fear which often surround us and allows us to shed our protective masks. We begin to fearlessly stand in what’s real, unapologetically, for time adopts a new sense of significance when we recognize that it truly is finite.  All things felt, but never said rise to the surface and are expressed with a sense of urgency. Hugs are given. Connection is fostered and love shines brightly.

When I talk to people about my experience of watching my grandfather’s health rapidly decline over a period of about six months, I don’t deny that it is one of the hardest things I have experienced. It was a time wrought with fear of what was to come. I spent many nights worrying about what he was feeling, and how I was to continue living my life without him. At the same time though, those six months were abundantly powerful, because alongside the fears and sleepless nights was a new sense of meaning. Each interaction we shared, we both recognized, was a gift. We were able to have the conversations that we would not have had otherwise, without any sense reservation. Vulnerability was brought to the table in a very real way.

Those six months were about living in the space of fearless authenticity which arose from us both feeling that we were given the permission to engage in those conversations. But here’s the thing,the idea that we need to be given permission to be authentic, and courageously vulnerable with those for whom we care the most, is false. The all-important and life-altering conversations which only seem to happen when time is of the essence, need to start happening without an underlying reason, and without feeling as though we need to be given permission. They need to start happening simply because the people who fill our lives are to be cherished. We need to start letting life unite us, for it is far more fragile than we often care to admit.

So go ahead and be generous with your words of love and gratitude. Tell people what they mean to you and how they have impacted your life. Say “I love you” just because you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Death is One of Our Greatest Teachers.

 

Living life with the end in mind is the most powerful route to personal freedom and authenticity.

I absolutely love the work I do. Companioning individuals as they grieve the loss of a loved one has been the most powerful, heart-wrenching, enlightening, and meaningful “work” I have done. Bearing witness to one’s stories of loss and heartache is an absolute honour and privilege, for I know that delving into the depths of one’s grief is the hardest thing one can ever do.

Doing this work has made death a constant companion. It’s ever-present reality in my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the fact that one day my life will end. At first, admitting this was terrifying. It evoked panic and a feeling of being trapped, with no hope of escape- and truthfully, it still does on some days. But, with loss comes forced reflection and subsequent insight.

It is for this insight I am extremely grateful for it has made clear to me that this life is a gift, never to be taken for granted. We are privileged to be here and to be given the opportunity to become the fullest expressions of who we are.

Here a few of the radical shifts/insights that have occurred in my life:

  • Everything is a miracle.

Living with death as an all too tangible reality renders everything and every experience miraculous. The “little things” become the “big things”, and material things lose their value. We also begin to recognize the mere chance by which we were granted this life, and as such we can see with greater clarity that we are not here by accident.

  • Gratitude expands

When we recognize life is a privilege, gratitude expands. Everything of which our life is composed becomes “thank you worthy.” We become grateful for what we have, and especially for the people who surround us. Death also allows us to become less inhibited, and simply say what’s in hearts. It becomes easier to declare our appreciation for the people we love, for we recognize that there may not be another chance.

  • Love and connection becomes all that matters.

Death makes love, and our expression of it, our highest priority. It becomes infused in everything that we do, in every choice we make, and in every interaction we have with others. It allows us to recognize that our attentive presence is what counts, for it through this attentive presence that our love is conveyed. It becomes about fully engaging with every single moment by acknowledging that time is a finite resource. We recognize that one’s time (an expression of love) is the most precious gift one can give another, for the giving of one’s life in this way, signals that the other matters-and that’s all we want to know at the end of the day anyway.

  • You are here to be the fullest expression of yourself.

Authenticity becomes fundamental. Death allows us to disengage from the (false) fear-based thoughts that so often limit us, thus allowing us to become the fullest expressions of ourselves- in an unapologetic way. We recognize that are here to learn, to teach, and ultimately, to expand. As such, living out our passion becomes essential to our personal sense of well-being.

 

Grief is Love by Another Name.

Bouts of yearning, sadness, fear, desperation, anguish, hopeless, anger and helplessness overwhelm you like a tidal wave. Your world has come crashing down around you, and the prospect of lifting your head off of the pillow as the sun rises to welcome a new day is looked upon as an insurmountable task. Everything which you once regarded as beautiful now has a shadow cast upon it. The things that were once meaningful to you, are now no longer so.

You struggle to orient yourself to the new world in which you now find yourself. You didn’t ask to be here, and you despise everything around you. You tried everything you could to avoid getting here, but to no avail. You’re lost, scared and alone. You desperately search for a map, but eventually come to realize that there isn’t one to be found. You realize that you must chart your own course, not knowing how long it will take you to walk the path. Every once in a while your path intersects with another, and you walk together for a while, but eventually you part, for they must walk by themselves again, and continue to chart their own course.

As you walk, you ponder the “big questions.” You meditate on the meaning of life, of purpose, and your sense of identity. You think about the future in this new world and wonder if you’ll ever be able to embrace it as feverishly as you did your future in the old world. You wonder if this new world will ever feel safe as the old one did.

This is grief.

It is blanketed in the unknown, and chalk full of fear as a result. Each loss is territory yet to be navigated. There are no “rights” or “wrongs” in grief. There is no such thing as “should” or “shouldn’t.” Grief is an intensely individual experience which takes a vastly different form for each who endures it. It simply does not adhere to a set of pre-determined stages, and it certainly does not abide by a pre-set timeline.

Grief simply cannot be measured in this way because it is a matter of the heart, and such matters cannot be quantified. Grief is enduring and lifelong because it is a matter of love. We grieve for those to whom we are deeply attached, and such attachments cannot be intercepted- even by death. They are infinite and eternal.

So, do away with the notion that you must “get over” and find closure to your grief. You simply cannot get closure to love, for it is far too powerful to be contained. Grieve as your heart guides you to, trusting that you know what you need in order to adjust to this new world in which you’ve been placed. Trust that this love will carry you and guide you to a new sense of meaning, purpose, and identity. It simply requires you to surrender.

 

 

How Facing my Mortality Got Me in Touch with my Life’s Purpose.


As some of you may know, I have been facilitating grief support groups for three years now. Companioning individuals as they walk the torturous and unpredictable path of grief is one of my deepest and greatest passions. I consider it a true honor and privilege to sit alongside others as they move toward healing, bearing witness to incredibly powerful stories of love and connection. Not surprisingly though, doing this “work” has resulted in a number of monumental insights for me. Most significantly, I have noted that my relationship to my mortality has undergone a palpable shift. Where the relationship was once rooted in fear and anxiety, it is now rooted in gratitude and deep appreciation. I now see that death is a necessary part of life, for it is with the knowledge that each moment is irreplaceable and unique that we can begin to engage with life in a fearless way. Each moment is miraculous and potent. 

I realized that purpose isn’t so much about the accomplishments we can accumulate on our resumes, but more about the values and intentions we bring to every little thing that we do. And so, I now live from a place of being more conscious of my eulogy than my resume.  “Who do I want to be remembered as?” “Does this align with who I am, or who I desire to be?” “What is my message?” are all questions I entertain with each decision I make. My focus has shifted to legacy building and has become about who I want to be, rather than accumulating accomplishments, and what I want to be. Thus, despite common conception, your purpose isn’t necessarily found in your career- although, yes, it sometimes can be.
For me, discovering my purpose has been all about identifying my core guiding value. That is, identifying the one value that drives my actions, my words, my thoughts and my interactions with others.
Fierce compassion.
Fierce compassion is the core guiding value that I would like my life to be a testament to. At the end of the day, that is the mark I want to leave on this world. A legacy is built through who we are, not what we do, and it is in that frame of mind that one’s purpose ultimately emerges.
And so, I ask you, what is your core guiding value?