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Journal

Greater Than Grief

Greater Than Grief

I remember the first time I was overcome by a wave of grief after my mom died. It was when I walked by a children’s clothing store in Bennington, VT that I thought she would find delightful. And then it hit me that I couldn’t tell her about it. And I cried, right there on the sidewalk.

It happened for the first time with my dad recently when I was at work. A friendly, elderly man came into the library limping a bit. He said hello, smiled at me, and reminded me of my dad. Fortunately, I only had five minutes left at work and was able to keep it together that long. But as soon as I got inside my car, I lost it.

I can align myself with a more expanded, “spiritual” awareness much of the time, but it can be so sad on a personal level, and some moments and events catch me off-guard. That night, I fell asleep with a question in my heart: How do you handle such grief?

The answer I received: Hold it differently.

Hold it differently. But don’t try to bypass it. Feel its weight, its shape. Examine it from different angles. Get to know it. Don’t be afraid, for it comes bearing gifts.

I’m not psyched to go through this all over again, so soon. I’ve grown weary of goodbyes. But that’s life. People come and go. It’s something we all go through.

I’d rather feel grief deeply and fully and have the scars to show for it than not experience the love and caring that precedes it. I’ve come to realize that mourning life’s inevitable losses is a wondrous opportunity to grow in compassion, empathy, love, and wisdom. It is an invitation to wake up. A dark blessing that expands and connects us. If we accept the invitation, ultimately we learn that we are so much larger than our grief.

I’m also re-learning that grief is hard work. Physical work. The waves that come along and knock you to the ground are physical, not just emotional. You have to find your balance and strength to stand up again as the waves continue to exert their force on you, leaving you disoriented. You have to find your footing because the alternative is to be pulled out to sea without anything to keep you afloat.

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It’s interesting to have powerful experiences that feel like communication with the other side of the veil and still be knocked off-balance from missing the physical presence of a loved one who has crossed over. It’s not a question of having enough faith, for the purpose of faith is not to bypass challenging emotions such as grief. Rather, faith is like a life vest that helps us to stay afloat when we are knocked off-balance by a big wave. It assures us that we are bigger than whatever loss we are grieving and that we can handle it. It won’t kill us. It can lead us to discover and develop inner resources.

That is so hopeful and exciting!

We can hold our grief differently, and that doesn’t mean pushing it away or internalizing admonishments to “get over it” and move on, for grief follows no timetable. It means having a different perspective regarding the purpose that grief and loss serve in our life – and that they even have a positive purpose to begin with.

I see all my recent losses as a tremendous invitation to expand and grow my soul and hopefully inspire others to do the same. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, including and especially difficult and challenging ones because they allow me to do my work in this world better than I could do it without them. They have been my impetus for awakening. This is perhaps the biggest “aha” insight I’ve had thus far in my life. It is revelatory!

As I actively experience grief, it is my intention to explore it with all my senses rather than flee from it. To be curious about it. I want to learn all I can from it, for the better I come to understand my own suffering, the better I can connect with the suffering of others. I invite it to teach me and grow me, to link me with others, and transform me into something more magnificent than I was before.

We live our lives on multiple levels, which is why we can hold a loss in our heart and feel it deeply while simultaneously trusting in Divine Timing and sensing that in a much, much broader context, all is well, all is evolving, and we are part of it. For example, it is possible to feel that it was my dad’s time in a spiritual sense while also feeling sad about losing him and upset about the circumstances.

Inside bereavement there are a number of rooms – different spaces we can settle into. There is the room in which you miss your loved one’s personality and physical presence acutely. There is a room in which you sense everything is unfolding according to Divine Order, and there are no accidents. There are other rooms, as well. You can sit in one of the rooms and then discover there is a movable wall separating two rooms, and you open it and find yourself sitting in a more spacious awareness in which you can be in both rooms at the same time because there really is no separation between the two.

Imagine the room of Acute Grief being dark and cold and not having its own heat source, whereas the Serenity-Faith room has a cozy fireplace and windows that allow in plenty of light. When you open up the wall between the two, the heat from the Serenity-Faith room warms up the Acute Grief room. In this space, I realize it wasn’t just my dad’s time. It was my time, too. My time to become more and grow exponentially while my feet are still walking on this earth.

You can stand in the middle of the two rooms and be in both environments at the same time and feel your heart simultaneously breaking and expanding. You can perceive your sorrow from a much greater perspective while also acknowledging the pain. And this allows you to sit a little longer in the grief room and to be mindful of what’s in there so you can learn more about it and transform it with presence into wisdom, compassion, and other spiritual blessings. That’s something you can’t do when the wall that separates the two rooms is in place, making the grief room too unpleasant to stay in for more than a brief moment and motivating you to seek shelter and distraction elsewhere.

I am certain this situation did not present itself in my life to weaken or diminish me, but so I can learn from it. So I can expand, awaken, and love better. Challenging times invite us to cultivate inner resources. We can’t let our sadness, upset, etc. get out of control and drown our light. We are called to channel our painful emotions and become greater versions of ourselves. To discover what we are capable of.

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Clock Works (Like a Telephone)

Clock Works (Like a Telephone)

There have been some mighty strange goings-on in my world since my dad died three weeks ago. I’m writing this just in time for Halloween, although the timing was not at all intentional. Until this morning, I thought I’d keep my experiences to myself, but after talking with some friends and tuning in to my intuition, I decided to share them in as straightforward a manner as possible so you can draw your own conclusions. Be sure to read all the way to the end! 

1. Technical Difficulties

There have been a plethora of problems with electronics. Three different keys to two different cars haven’t worked at certain times, and I’ve had phone connection issues that I hadn’t experienced before. While creating the photo slideshow for my dad’s funeral services, I experienced a series of at least 20 bizarre technical glitches that I’d never encountered before. And last week, this very blog sent out a post from several months ago to email subscribers without any action on my part. I didn’t even know it was possible to resend an old post and was surprised to see it in my inbox!

2. Lights Out

My daughter and son were in town for my dad’s funeral two weeks ago, and after the service, we met at my house before they went their separate ways, back to Georgia and the NYC area. As they were leaving, I turned on the light on the side of the house so they could see better as they drove away. I went to bed just before 10:00 and fell asleep instantly. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I glanced at my phone to see what time it was and noticed a text my husband sent at 10:22 PM asking me to turn out that light because he was sleeping in the RV, and the light was bothering him. So I went downstairs to turn off the light but saw that it was already off. I assumed he had come inside and turned it off himself. The next morning, I asked him about it and explained that I didn’t receive his text until the middle of the night. He was really surprised because no sooner had he sent that text, and the light went out. It went out so immediately that he found it odd because he wasn’t even sure he’d had time to hit “send”. I also found it odd but didn’t want to jump to conclusions and suspected the lightbulb might have blown out at an uncanny time. So I went over to the light switch and was surprised to find it in the “off” position. As soon as I flipped the switch, the light went on – so it hadn’t burned out after all. It just happened to turn off at the exact moment when Jack requested that I turn it off.

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3. Swirling Mist

My dad passed away in the morning. That evening when I was at my parents’ house with one other person, we saw a swirl of mist traveling around the kitchen, followed by a significant drop in temperature in the room we were sitting in. At the funeral service at the church a week later, something caught my eye as I greeted the continuous line of people coming to pay their respects. Again, I saw a white mist moving around high above us. It was an overcast/rainy afternoon, and it wasn’t caused by sunlight coming through the windows.

4. Aloha

My parents loved to travel during their 50 years of marriage and especially enjoyed vacationing in the Hawaiian Islands. There is an “aloha” ornament hanging next to their front door, which has been there for as long as I can remember. One morning last week when I was meeting an old friend at the house for official business, I arrived to find “aloha” on the welcome mat in front of the door. The hook was still hanging next to the door, and when I examined it, I realized there was no way the “aloha” piece could have been knocked to the ground by the wind or even a person (and certainly not an animal) because it was in a very sheltered, recessed spot, and the hook itself was angled upward enough so that the ornament wouldn’t fall off. The only way “aloha” could have ended up face-up on the welcome mat between the time I left the house the night before and arrived early the next morning is if someone had removed it from the hook and physically placed it in front of the door. The person I was meeting was someone my mom adored, and it felt like she and/or my dad were saying hello and expressing approval of him being our realtor.

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5. Clock Works

Last night’s experience took the cake.  After spending the whole day at my parents’ house with my sister, I was alone there in the evening finishing up some work on my laptop at the dining room table. The chair I was sitting in had become uncomfortable, so I decided to move to the couch in the living room. When I sat down on the couch, I looked at my dad’s empty chair – the chair he always sat in – and said out loud sadly, “There’s no more dad here to talk to.”

Just then, the grandfather clock – which hadn’t worked in years – made a soft chiming sound from across the room. It was not on the hour (6:05 – not the correct time), and I hadn’t heard that clock all day or for a really long time – months or even years, for that matter. The chime sent chills down my spine. Alarmed, I texted two close relatives, and right after sending my text, the clock chimed again. Then I noticed my cell phone battery was getting low, so I got up to retrieve my phone charger, and when I walked through the kitchen, I heard a fast ticking sound that I hadn’t heard before then. It sounded like it was coming from the direction of the cuckoo clock in the family room, and when I went closer, I realized the cuckoo clock – which hadn’t worked in decades – was ticking! Again, this was a clock that had been dormant for a long time, and it just started ticking all of a sudden. At this point I was quite spooked! Not just one, but two clocks had come alive simultaneously!

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Even though I was startled and shaking, I sat back down on the couch to see if I could become still enough to pick up on any messages that might be trying to come through. I said, “OK, you have my attention!” and became still and silent, imagining white light surrounding me and filling the room. Then I heard my dad’s voice talk to me inside my head. He sounded happy and spoke in the voice he used when he was relaying a funny story or a story of something peculiar that had happened to him (like when my mom’s grandfather came to him in a dream shortly after he died, and when my mom came to him in a dream some time after she died). He said he was with my mom…AND THEN THE CUCKOO CLOCK CUCKOOED FROM THE FAMILY ROOM!!!!

It seemed he wanted me to pass along a message to my sister, who was at his bedside constantly for the last 14 or so hours of his life and was quite shaken by the whole experience. I said out loud to confirm, “So you want me to tell her…” And then the cuckoo clock cuckooed again!

At that point, my shaking hands texted another relative to ask if she’d experienced anything at the house, and she texted me back, saying she had experienced something with the cuckoo clock and her cell phone playing a tune (ringtone) she’d never heard it play before when she sat in my dad’s chair, which really freaked her out.

So it wasn’t just me.

Even though I still felt alarmed, I had to laugh because it was comforting to feel that my parents were there with me and to think of how entertaining it must be to make the clocks go off. It seemed to me that making the clocks sound was like making the telephone ring and wondering if somebody would pick up and answer at the other end. And I did.

I continued to have a conversation with my dad in which I told him that I’ll do my best to listen if he tries to get in touch with me and that dreams are usually a good way to communicate if he knows how to do that. Then I told him that I’m going to get going now…and the cuckoo clock cuckooed again!

When I stood up to leave, the (landline) phone rang, and I was afraid to answer it! But I did. Nobody was on the line when I answered. No clicks or anything. Just silence. I said hello at least three times before hanging up. I had been at the house for more than eight hours, and the phone hadn’t rung a single time until that moment when I got up to leave.

After leaving the house, I called my daughter to share the experience with her, and she reminded me that the only other time she’d heard the cuckoo clock sound was right after my mom passed away. I’d forgotten about that. But at the time, it seemed like a big deal.

At this point, I want to clarify that I don’t drink or do any drugs. (I don’t even drink coffee!) I don’t have a psychiatric diagnosis and am not committed to the notion that hearing my dad’s voice inside my head was actual after-death communication with a deceased loved one, although that might be the personal meaning I ultimately derive from it. It could be me working things out inside my own head. Conversations with my higher self. Wishful thinking. Or…who knows what? The way I see it, if you can arrive at some kind of resolution, answer, or insight that truly feels right in your heart and leaves you feeling at peace, it doesn’t matter where it came from. It is part of your healing and growth. I can’t claim to fully understand what I experienced. I certainly know what it felt like and am open to other explanations and possibilities. But in the end, the meaning I make of it is my own, and all I know for sure is that it’s part of my experience and that it left me with a sense of hope, comfort, and peace once I got over the initial shock.

6. Dream Time

On the morning of that same day, I had an intriguing dream in which I was standing on a bridge and was drawn to stunning orange foliage on trees across the river. Then I noticed the trees moving together in a strange way: First the branches stretched out to the sides and then moved upwards so the foliage was a little higher up from the ground. The trees went through the same movements a couple more times, and each time the leaves traveled higher up toward the sky.

When I woke up from that dream, I felt a little peculiar. I recalled three other dreams I’d had of nature acting in a bizarre way that captured my attention and felt that something was attempting to get through to me. I sensed it might have had something to do with my dad. It wasn’t until I told my sister about the dream later in the day that I realized I was standing on a bridge in the dream. The dreams I’ve had of contact with deceased loved ones always have some kind of boundary like that.

So when I had the experience with the clocks later that day, the dream felt even more significant to me. I told a couple of friends about my experience and explained, “Well, it’s the time of year when the veil is thin” and recalled writing an article with that title last year at this time. This morning, I pulled up that post and was astounded to read about a similar dream that also began when I noticed beautiful autumn trees.

To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking of sharing these experiences until I read that post from last year and remembered that sharing my experiences is something I need to keep finding the courage to do without worrying about being judged because that kind of sharing is my path. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions and theories, and I’m just sharing my experiences without any embellishments or exaggerations, in case it’s helpful to anyone. I’ll let you decide what to make of them.

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Through a Wider Lens

Through a Wider Lens

What an enriching and joyful process it’s been going through pictures spanning my dad’s whole life and reading the cards and online condolences through which people described him based on the context within which they knew him best. Over the past two weeks, this process has helped me to see him in a much greater context above and beyond the particular relationship I had with him—which also differed from the relationship either of my siblings had with him.

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Every relationship is unique, and every life is composed of different relationships and chapters through which we express ourselves in different ways, much like a multifaceted crystal that is held to the light and turned to see the different angles from which the light shines through it. And yet, there are some qualities that remain more or less consistent at the core.

With my dad, some core descriptions that came up repeatedly included:

  • Kind
  • True gentleman
  • Smiling face
  • Incredibly sweet
  • Gentle
  • Helpful
  • Great athlete
  • Warm and friendly
  • Funny

I remember being at his USAirways retirement celebration about 15 years ago, which provided me with my first glimpse of who he was in a broader context, beyond just “my dad.” When it was his turn to speak, he was quite a storyteller. And funny! I’d never experienced that side of him before! Those were some of the traits that endeared him to so many.

He also could be stubborn, and that’s a side I saw a lot.  As he was in the hospital on what would be his deathbed, I commented to my son about how stubborn he was being as we left ICU one day. His “stubbornness” seemed to frustrate me more than anyone else and usually had something to do with him not being receptive to my ideas and how I was trying to help him. Holding tightly to previously established preferences and opinions. But my son suggested that he was dignified, rather than stubborn. My dad was determined to do things his way. A true Taurus!

He loved his hot dogs and ice cream and refused to follow a diabetic diet. He refused to have a fistula put in his arm in preparation for the increasingly likely event of kidney failure and a regimen of dialysis to keep him alive. He wanted nothing to do with a life without hot dogs or a life centered around time-consuming dialysis treatments and not being able to go to the YMCA to exercise and socialize. This summer, whenever he told me he had a hot dog for dinner or that friends brought him one or two when they visited him, my heart smiled because I understood my dad was an old dog who wasn’t about to learn new tricks and that he was choosing quality of life over longevity. His quality of life took a great blow when my mom died, and wherever he could find moments of happiness and comfort…was good, in my opinion.

One day back in February 2013, he was exercising at the YMCA and went into cardiac arrest. When I was on my way to the hospital with my mom, all we knew was that they used the defibrillator to get his heart started again, but it was very shaky. We didn’t know if we would arrive at the hospital to find him alive or dead. When we arrived, he was in the care of one of my best childhood friends, and we were able to talk to him. He was about to be transported to another hospital, and again, we didn’t know if he would survive the ambulance ride. But when we arrived at Albany Medical Center, he was alive and in good hands. He ended up surviving quadruple bypass surgery. Our family is so grateful for the YMCA staff, who gave us an extra 3 ½ years with him. For some reason, it wasn’t his time then.

In his novel, Illusions, Richard Bach wrote:

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

Always one to look for meaning, I often contemplated why my dad didn’t die that day. What was he still here on earth to learn, experience, or do?

At the time of my dad’s cardiac episode, we had no idea that my mom had pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer by the end of the year and passed away within six months of being diagnosed. But in between my dad’s cardiac episode and my mom’s death, they were able to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together at Disney World.

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Losing his wife of 50 years – his best friend and soulmate – was so hard on my dad, and I’m sure that was obvious to everyone who knew him. His life would never be the same. Yet, I believe she needed to leave when she did so he could experience some things and grow in ways he wouldn’t have been able to grow otherwise. For example, he had a more direct relationship with my siblings and me when our extroverted mom wasn’t in the picture doing most of the communicating. And I think that was really important for him and for us. We had nearly 2 ½ years to do that. During that time, he was able to meet his first great-grandchild (my granddaughter) and see his grandson (my son) graduate from high school.

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Two weeks before my dad finally went to the doctor for foot pain that kept getting worse this summer, a friend contacted me late at night to tell me that he walked past a particular music venue and saw my dad sitting in there alone. I reminded him that’s where my parents used to go to listen to music and added that my mom is probably there with him in spirit. My friend replied that my dad looked really sad, and I said it’s because he doesn’t realize she’s there with him. Understanding how difficult and painful it was for my dad to walk, I was surprised he went through the trouble of finding parking in downtown Saratoga Springs during the busy, summer tourist season and walking to the venue. He must have had a strong purpose or longing to go there.

A few days before he went to the doctor, my husband dreamed my parents were dancing together. It was one of those dreams that felt more real than real, if you know what I mean. My mom was in full, vivid color, looking so happy and vibrant as she danced. Although she was dancing with my dad, he was in black and white and didn’t seem to realize she was there dancing with him. Surprised to see my mom, Jack exclaimed, “You’re not supposed to be here!” And my mom replied, “Well, I am! And I always have been.”

*   *   *   *

Things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes what seems to be a cruel twist of fate is merciful. We just can’t see the whole picture from where we stand.

A diabetic with significant cardiac history, my dad had a rough summer that included six-hour bypass surgery to correct a circulation issue in his leg. That was followed by a recovery period, and in the midst of recovering, he ended up back in the hospital for a sore on his foot that resulted in his little toe being amputated and another recovery period. After being discharged from the hospital, he spent a couple of weeks at a rehab center and in less than a week after being discharged from the rehab center came down with the pneumonia that claimed his life. 

During the last few weeks of his life, I worried about how my siblings (one local, one not) and I would care for our dad when he got out of rehab and was being his stubborn or willful or dignified self. Like when my dad and I came back inside after our first wheelchair excursion outside of the rehab center on a beautiful day, I dashed into the restroom for about 15 seconds, only to find him wheeling himself down the hallway toward the main entrance when I reemerged. A custodian witnessed it and had a look of combined shock and amusement on her face. I felt like the parent of a toddler, who must be ever-vigilant. It was a strange feeling to have in relation to my dad.

I became anxious about how he would fare living on his own in his split-level house with stairs all over the place. On the way home from rehab, I reminded him that there was a walker on each level of the house that he was supposed to use, and he exclaimed that he wasn’t going to use any walkers and then took off like a racehorse when we arrived home. Again, I felt like an anxious parent trying to get him to follow doctor’s orders that he claimed he never remembered hearing. How could I help him when he wouldn’t do what he was supposed to do?

I wondered how long this would go on, how long he would need a caregiver at the house, and whether he would need to go into a long-term care facility at some point. But throughout this time, I kept hearing my mom’s voice in my head assuring me: Don’t worry. This isn’t going to take long. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but two days before he died, when he was back in the hospital being treated for pneumonia and congestive heart failure, I found a dead cardinal in my driveway. I’d never seen a dead cardinal before, and my dad loved cardinals. When I saw the cardinal, I had a sinking feeling that he was not going to make it this time. And although my mortal heart was breaking, my intuition assured me that it’s okay because it’s his time.

My dad would not have wanted to live a life in which his freedom was restricted. In the end, it seems his swift death was merciful. He didn’t have to languish in a nursing home or undergo dialysis. He didn’t have to observe another wedding anniversary without his beloved wife and passed on in time to spend their October 19th anniversary together in spirit.

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As much as I will miss my dad, I realize that losing our parents is part of the natural course of human life. In recent years, some of my friends have had to face the tragedy of losing a child, and a couple of my kindergarten students suffered the sudden loss of a parent. I have not lost a child, and I am not a child who has lost a parent. What I am experiencing is within the natural cycle of life. It is to be expected.

My parents loved each other so much, and although he kept going the best he could, my dad’s life would never be the same again after losing my mom. With a love like that, it’s not unusual for the surviving spouse to follow close behind. So I really feel it was my dad’s time to go. In the end, pneumonia wasn’t a thief that came along and stole him from us before his time. It was a swift, merciful ride to the other side that saved him from declining health, a restricted lifestyle, and continued mourning. That he was able to avoid that kind of pain and suffering brings me peace.

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

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