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Journal

From Grief to Gratitude and Beyond

From Grief to Gratitude and Beyond

A number of my friends and acquaintances lost close loved ones this year and are experiencing their first holiday season without them. Today I write from the depths of my heart and the canyon of my own experience to assure you that the pain of loss will not always feel so acute and raw. Time is your friend. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, it doesn’t mean you love them any less. It means you have found new ways to hold the relationship and to integrate what you loved most about them into your life. In other words, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of grief that leaves all the love intact and even helps it to grow.

It feels like a miracle when I acknowledge the contrast between how I feel now and how I felt during The Grieving Years (2014-2017) that followed my mom’s death and included my dad’s, as well. This past summer, it felt like the grieving chapter finally and mercifully had run its course. 

The transformation really hit me the other night when I drove home from work past a house with battery-powered candles glowing in each window like my parents had during the holiday season. It reminded me of their home and how joyful and welcoming it felt. In the past, that would have triggered a round of sad tears and missing my parents. But instead of feeling sad and mourning what’s missing now or dreading another holiday season without them, it’s like I walked through their front door and into their warm home and felt nourished and comforted all over again.

Even if it’s just a fleeting thought or feeling, I love that memories of my parents can lift me up and make me feel more connected to them rather than bring me down. I’m grateful that such thoughts can elicit tears of joy and appreciation instead of sadness. That was not the case when grief was fresh.

Everyone’s journey through grief is different. However, it calls each of us to grow and expand in some way. We say that our loved one will always live on in our heart. And we can get in touch with that place in us where what we loved most about them resides and give it new life, through us. We can keep their beautiful qualities alive in the world by watering those seeds they planted in us.

My journey through grief included: feeling the chasm of separation and loss, acknowledging my parents’ best qualities and appreciating them like never before (as if seeing them for the first time), letting go of the resistance and allowing some of those qualities to develop in myself, doing a little weeding, and integrating my parents’ most appreciated qualities into my life in a way that feels right and balanced.

It also involved hearing their voices in my heart and learning how to use that heart connection as a new kind of telephone that allows direct communication whenever I need or want it. The bottom line is that I now realize the distance between us is non-existent. They are part of me. I’ve never felt closer to them, and our relationship has never been better. Seriously.

Grief Work

In the past four years, I’ve let go of a lot of baggage around my parents that I couldn’t release while they were alive. A lot of resistance I carried my whole adult life. Notions about how I couldn’t share qualities with them. The programming went something like this: If Mom or Dad is X, then I am not-X. There were lots of qualities I split myself off from because of this programming that developed early in life as a coping mechanism but resulted in spending most of my adult life shooting myself in the foot!

This is deep stuff that grief helped me to unearth. It’s kind of amazing to finally drop your lifelong resistance to someone or something and reclaim the parts of yourself that you split yourself off from for good reasons back then that don’t serve you now.

When people are alive and we interact with their personality patterns, we might put up walls that don’t allow us to see the person’s essence. We hold ourselves in a pattern of resistance.­ When they pass away, we don’t interact with their personality anymore and can experience their deeper essence. Our relationship doesn’t end when the person dies. It continues. But what’s happened for me is that I have a relationship with my parents’ essence now, rather than just their personality that I used to bump up against. To relate to someone’s essence is very healing.

I have integrated my parents’ finest energy and qualities into myself and have never felt closer to them or more whole. It’s not that I love them any less. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to open to them more. I don’t resist them like I did when they were in physical form.

Beyond Grief

Last night at bedtime, I used up the very last drops of the peppermint foot lotion my mom gave me for Christmas five years ago. Instead of feeling sad about having one less thing from her, I decided to buy some more lotion to carry on how she cared for me. I bought one for me and one for my daughter. When I bought the lotion, I felt grateful for my mom’s kindness, care, and generosity. I felt her love in my gesture of self-care and caring for my daughter.  

I don’t need grief to sustain my relationship with my parents. They never left me. They are closer than ever.

I don’t need grief to sustain a relationship with anyone else that was formed around shared grief. In other words, I don’t have to hold on to grief and suffering as an identity. Nobody who’s ever loved me would want me to hang out there for long. They would be so happy to see me put down that weight and experience more joy and gratitude than ever before.

You don’t miss a person the same way when you’ve reduced the distance between you and them to zero. When you have integrated their most cherished qualities into your very self. When you’re no longer resisting and trying to maintain a separate identity from them. When you know they’re only a thought away, and you can feel their presence in your heart. When you hear their voice in your heart whenever you need it.

My mom loved Christmas and went all-out. This is the first year I can listen to Christmas songs playing in stores or on the car radio without feeling sad. Instead, I feel gratitude for all those wonderful memories of my parents and for not pushing them away anymore. The big, black, iron teardrop in my heart has transformed into the light of unconditional love.

Instead of melancholy, I feel hope and excitement about making new holiday memories with my family, especially my almost three-year-old granddaughter. Those memories will look very different from my memories of Christmases past when my parents and grandparents were alive. Christmas is different now. And so am I. 


© 2018 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

Angels in My Heart

Angels in My Heart

I’m sure you’ve experienced it: The 3 A.M. wake-up. All shields are down. You are like a turtle without a shell, vulnerable to the thoughts and feelings that seem so urgent in the darkest hours when everyone else is asleep. Thoughts that keep running in circles inside your head like a cat, high on catnip, chasing its tail. You want to go back to sleep, but the thoughts won’t stop. 

I woke up recently in the middle of the night gripped by fear. To be honest, fear is a visitor that has not shown up much recently, and I’ve appreciated its absence. But there it was again, strong as ever.

In my daily meditation, I practice noticing and naming emotions that arise. So when I woke up overcome by fear, I noted, “Ah, fear. This is what fear feels like.” It’s like when you pick up the phone and recognize the voice of a familiar acquaintance at the other end.

This fear was financial in nature and whisked me into poverty consciousness before I even knew what hit me. It fell into the “Forbidden Forest” category of thoughts that don’t lead anywhere productive. Although I work diligently to retrain my brain away from those kinds of thoughts, it caught me off-guard in the middle of the night when my defenses were asleep.

The way I saw it, I had four options:

  1. Think
  2. Meditate
  3. Focus on where the fear is manifesting in my body
  4. Ask for help.

I’m a big fan of developing inner resources. However, I was really tired at the time. So I chose the fourth option.

Calling All Angels

Recently, I’ve sensed an angelic presence in my life and believe there is a great deal of help available to us. We just have to remember to ask for it. At the risk of sounding totally woo-woo, I believe there are legions of unemployed angels just waiting to be asked. They love us and want to help but cannot interfere with our free will and therefore need to be asked. Even so, they won’t work against our highest good, which we might not be aware of in a given situation. 

So I asked the angels for help. I disengaged from fear and became still. From that stillness, a warm light arose and engulfed the darkness of my fear. It carried the realization that insight and intuition flow to me in abundance and are great sources of prosperity in my life. The flow of this kind of wisdom provides the answers I need. I just need to trust in it, open to it, and not block it with fear!

That thought was like a soft blanket of peace. It was as if an angel jumped right into my heart and shined a spotlight on what I needed to know and where I needed to put my attention.

I learned that if it’s hard to feel good about money, focus instead on a form of prosperity that is easier to buy into. The closest approximation that brings you a feeling of hope and abundance. 

Inside the Tank

Something similar happened during my most recent float therapy session. There are no distractions in the silent darkness of the float tank. It’s just you and your mind. Usually, my float sessions consist of 90 minutes of very deep relaxation and meditation. Thoughts tend to lose their hold when I float because there’s nothing to reinforce them. When I’m that relaxed and undistracted, they dissolve like soap bubbles that pop within seconds of becoming.

However, a compelling thought managed to take root this time. It was about how my mom must have felt when she knew she was dying of pancreatic cancer. How hard it must have been for her to let go of absolutely everything that was important to her in this world. And everyone she loved. I also really missed her as I floated in the darkness.

This time, it wasn’t fear. It was the pain of separation that seized me. Feeling apart from. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. However, I stayed with it, knowing it wouldn’t last. I felt both the pain of separation from my mom and the emotional pain she presumably experienced during the weeks and days before she transitioned out of this world. 

Then I experienced an inner sensation of light and warmth, just like when I was gripped by fear during the night. Two memories emerged from that light.

One was a synchronicity that took place after a Reiki training, when I wanted to know which archangel(s) I have a strong connection with. I sensed green light and the presence of Raphael but wondered if I was just making it up. The next day while working at the library, a patron approached me because he had an appointment with a co-worker. He announced in a strong, clear voice, “I am Raphael.” As if that weren’t enough, on my break I got takeout from the natural foods café, and the bill was $4.44. The cashier exclaimed, “That’s a good number! It means angels are with you!”

The second memory was from the earliest weeks following my mom’s death. Lying in my bed at night, I felt myself enveloped by an indescribable sensation of love and golden light that pushed happiness into me. It started at my feet and worked its way up to my head until I was embraced by it completely and immersed in it from head to toe. It seemed to be associated with my mom. Perhaps it was a non-physical hug or a glimpse of what it feels like on the other side? I sensed she is with us and able to tune in to our thoughts. But that wasn’t all. Another family member who is much more skeptical than I experienced the same thing in their bed.

Those two memories engulfed and dispelled the sense of separation that seized me in the float tank. They were much greater than the pain of separation. In the silent darkness of the float tank, I felt deeply connected to and part of the universal life energy that my mom is also part of. For the remainder of the session, I floated in peace and joy. 

Valuable Insights

The morning after fear paid me a nighttime visit, I got up and meditated first thing. During meditation, I understood that help is available when I need it. Answers about the future are not available now because it’s not their time yet. We cannot foresee what choices, possibilities, information, understanding, and assistance will be available to us in the future.

Instead of getting stuck in fear, we can trust that the best path will be revealed to us with every step we take, if we tune in to our inner guidance system. We can trust that we will learn, grow, and expand more between now and then and make choices that have not shown up yet on our radar. We don’t have all the necessary information at this time to pass judgment on how the future will be. In our journey toward the future, we will receive more useful guidance from a state of inner peace and trust than fear or anxiety. Fear blocks the good stuff.

Then I got zapped with an inspiration. Something I couldn’t believe hadn’t occurred to me before. All of a sudden, I envisioned my home in a completely different way that included space for something my heart yearns to do more of. This opened up a new world of possibility and was specific evidence of the insight I had moments earlier. 

Basically, my fear dissolved when I understood that insight and inspiration create new possibilities that haven’t come into view yet. I realized my job is to trust that I will be led to the best paths by following intuition, making time for stillness, and acting on the wisdom that arises. One step at a time.

Such a better alternative to thinking too much, trying so hard, and doing too much work that doesn’t produce desired results. It doesn’t have to be such a hard and fearful journey when there is so much help and light available!


© 2018 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

Leaf Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Leaf Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Well, whaddaya know? I’m teaching again. Thought I’d never do it. Even vowed I’d never do it again. But over the summer, one of my oldest and dearest friends planted a seed in my mind. He insisted, “Susan, you might not think so, but you are a TEACHER.” It’s not what I wanted to hear. I argued that I’m excited about the more holistic direction I’m taking with clutter coaching, Reiki, feng shui, and mindfulness mentoring. I’m done with teaching. Then he suggested that I at least consider working with young children as a menu item. I listened to what he had to say. After we hung up, there was a funny feeling inside me that made me think he might be right, even though I convinced myself otherwise for quite some time.

A few weeks later, that seed was watered by an intriguing job post another friend sent along that made me light up when I read it. I went straight to the computer and composed a cover letter that essentially wrote itself, and sent it off the next day.

To make a long story short, I got the job and am running a preschool program at our local library! I’m glad my two friends acted on their intuition because it seems to be a perfect fit. It’s a part-time position that allows me to do what I loved most about teaching: Helping children to love learning and books and to feel good about themselves. Incorporating lots of literature-based art and nature projects that build kindergarten readiness skills across the curriculum.

The elements I disliked about public school education don’t apply to this job. I’m not the only adult in the room and have LOTS of assistance because the parents/grandparents/caregivers stay for the program! And there’s no formal assessment. As a kindergarten teacher, it broke my heart to see my students’ self-esteem suffer because they weren’t ready for the “new” kindergarten expectations. I jumped on the library position because it would allow me to: 1) prepare children for kindergarten in developmentally appropriate ways, and 2) model skills and activities to the adults in their lives, who can do so much at home to support their child’s learning. 

I love that I can be a positive influence in the lives of young children and families again, in a much more supported way than when I was a public school kindergarten teacher. It’s wonderful to stick a toe back into the world of early childhood education, in a way that allows me to focus on my other interests, as well. 

The moral? If your intuition nudges you to deliver a message to someone, DO IT! Don’t think it’s silly and shrug it off. The Universe might need you to help plant a seed that will make a positive difference in their life. It might be exactly what they need to hear to help a new path unfold. 

In celebration of my return to working with “the littles” and my favorite season, here’s an activity inspired by the children’s picture book, Leaf Man, in which all the illustrations are made from autumn leaves. It’s also inspired by my favorite early childhood educator/blogger, Sally Haughey of Fairy Dust Teaching. A picture on one of Sally’s blog posts caught my eye, and I developed it into a literature-based art and science activity I did with my preschoolers this week. It would work with older children, too. (I even had fun with it on my own, as you might be able to tell from these pictures!) 

How to Make Leaf-Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Materials:
  • A few wooden frames (without glass; I used 8×10, 11×14, and 5×7)
  • Pieces of cardboard, fabric, or paper in natural skin tones
  • Assortments of natural objects, such as:
    • A variety of autumn leaves
    • Pinecones of different shapes
    • Acorn tops and acorns (it’s nice to include some very tiny acorns still stuck inside their top, too)
    • Short pieces of sticks (only an inch or two long)
    • Feathers
    • Shells
    • Small stones
    • Pieces of hazelnut shells
    • Maple seed wings (“helicopters”)
    • Indian corn kernels
    • Naturally dyed wool
 
Procedure:

Arrange each category of natural objects into its own container, and place them so they are within reach of the children as they work.

Each child gets a frame with some kind of backing paper or fabric canvas underneath it. Simply allow them to create pictures of people, animals, trees, etc. using the natural materials in different arrangements.

This is an opportunity to use directional words (i.e. above, below, next to) and talk about body parts, colors, size, numbers of parts, etc. It’s also an invitation to observe and identify natural objects and to discuss the changes trees go through.

Allow them freedom of creativity!

They might even want to take a little break and observe how maple wings, feathers, and different kinds of leaves twirl, tumble, and otherwise make their way to the ground. 

Here are some Nature Portraits my three- and four-year-old students made:


© 2018 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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