Best Death Possible (part two) – A Daughter’s Mission

The Difference A Doula Makes

An experienced Death Doula is someone familiar with many faces of death. While death is universal in its presence, it is individual in its experience. In my situation, a Doula would’ve been outside the grief circle, someone who could hold space for me as I expended my energy fighting for my mother. He or she would be able to offer perspective and guidance to spark ideas like bringing my mom’s personal items into the hospital, taking pictures, and bringing in music. A Doula would’ve been grounding for me.

It all happened in a week; Tuesday to Tuesday. When my mom was admitted no one suspected she wouldn’t be coming home. It was too fast for any of us to catch up, we only had a week; but that week will be with me the rest of my life.

We think of Death Doulas, or End of Life Doulas or even hospice as being appropriate only when death is imminent. Our most important work, however, happens long before that time. I chose to refer to myself as a Sacred Attendant, simply because that is what it feels like to me – attending the Sacred. Acceptance of death needs to be woven throughout our lives. It is not a final chapter of our story, but more like a character in the background without the knowledge of its time of arrival, nor the circumstances of it. Conversations about death cannot be reserved for some imagined time in the future when death appears imminent. They also need to include more than just the ideal circumstances because that just isn’t probable. Weaving death positive awareness into things like birthday celebrations, traumatic events, or illness could help remedy experiences like ours.

Thing 6 I’d change is doing a death plan. That first night when she said was scared, I would’ve stayed at the hospital. I would’ve pulled out a notebook and written down all the things she would want at her funeral. I would write a letter she’d dictate to whomever she wanted. I would’ve asked what songs she wanted at the service and what readings she wanted. I would’ve updated her living will with Health Care Representative (Proxy) designation. I would’ve asked her important questions regarding what she wanted to leave behind for all of us. I wouldn’t have hesitated to discuss this because we didn’t think it was time.

As a result of my experience with my mother, and with so many others, I created LIFE’S Book, an opportunity to create a death plan and so much more. Completing something like this with my mother would’ve not only established her wishes, but it would’ve been a bonding time for us. It would’ve also provided some guidance for others who didn’t know what to say while visiting. My mother could’ve asked them to simply pick up the binder and pick a page.

The Gift Of Time

Working in hospice I saw the Gift of Time in action. In a death denying society, the Gift of Time is bestowed upon those who chose to acknowledge time for letting go and embrace it. Peace comes with the embracing of death. Understanding that it is no longer a time to fight against the disease or circumstance, but to fight for magic in the last days. It is here that the term ‘good death’ was coined. A death free from suffering and in the comfort of their own home or home-like environment, surrounded by friends and family.

However, there are so many other types of death happening at any given time, don’t they deserve magic too? People die in car accidents, from falls in their homes, from assaults, and from sudden illnesses like stroke or aneurysms. Where are the good deaths for these people? Where is the dying-specific emotional, spiritual, and soul support for these folks? And what of those who lie down to nap one day and never wake up? Where are the goodbyes for their families? Their last words? And what of those who live alone with no one to ‘surround’ their bedside and care for them in their own home? What of them? Where are their good deaths?

They say there are no do-overs in life, and yet I see Life as one big do-over. Every day I get the chance to do things differently than the day before. I learn from my past experiences, I do not view them as insufficient or lacking in any way. The things I wished to do differently led me right where I am today, offering my support to others to reduce these events, by having conversations earlier than ‘imminent’. By doing this differently, I am honoring my mother’s death.

I was just getting my feet wet in the local community network groups talking about dying and death and…

Then CoVid19 Hit

The deathbeds now are even more sterile and are missing most or all family and friends. Fear of death hangs in the air like grey clouds in the Michigan winter sky. Still there is no acknowledging it. No preparations. No magic moments within conversations. Not even while quarantined together have there been conversations about death wishes. There’s just been blaming, conspiracy theorizing and more denial.

What’s emerged is a grief crisis. Compounded complicated grief where before there would be straightforward grief. On top of losing loved ones, we are losing our traditions for grieving. No matter your spirituality, religion or culture every aspect of grieving has been affected. Everything from not being able to be at the bedside to hold a hand, to not being able to have a funeral, with a million things in between.

This results in bereavement counseling being more important than ever. A counselor or a group to hold space to offer comfort and support. There will be more turbulent feelings. More uneasiness. More anger. More regret.

We will shortly be coming upon the first death anniversaries and the grief crisis will hit people unexpectedly. How we honor those anniversaries will be most important and if we do it right, will spark new traditions by creating meaningful ritualistic ceremonies to honor that date. We can only hope that by the time the first of the death anniversaries from this pandemic time roll around that the pandemic has subsided enough to allow more ritualistic ceremonies.

This is something I am preparing. This is something most end of life consultants are preparing.

My Mission

Ask 100 people what their idea of a ‘good death’ is and statistics say that 80 of them will say ‘at home surrounded by family and friends’. Some might even choose a facility with a ‘home-like environment like a hospice house, surrounded by family and friends’. Perhaps because they don’t want their family to have to live in the place where they died, or maybe they do not wish to burden their loved ones with caring for them. Whatever the case most people will not say ‘in a hospital’ and yet that is where 60% of deaths take place.

Why?

Some of it is due to death phobia. The medical community, in particular, has a hard time considering death, as was evident with my mother’s team. They are taught that death is an enemy to fight against at all costs. That cost is too great however, when it robs people of precious time with loved ones.

My mission is to offer the ‘best death possible’ for everyone. None of us can change the circumstances surrounding our death or that of our loved one. However, within the scope of that circumstance we can offer the best death possible.

The best death possible means embracing the circumstances as they are and doing it ‘your way’. It doesn’t mean giving up, so much as it is giving in to the flow of life. I have had the privilege of witnessing many magical life-changing moments that took place at a bedside. I want to bring that to anyone who wants it.

Unlike a hospice referral, to employ a Death Doula there is no need for a terminal diagnosis and 6 months natural life expectancy prognosis. The decision rests solely with the individual or family to initiate at any time. It can be initiated years before the actual death, making preparations, having conversations, and creating legacies. This starts building a relationship with someone who is then familiar to you at the end of life, providing all that much more comfort.

Embracing a best death possible philosophy provides opportunity for patients and families of trauma victims the same Gift of Time as hospice patients and families. It offers the same post-death follow up and support as well. It offers something more than what has been offered to date. A Sacred Attendant or End of Life Doula isn’t meant to replace Chaplains or Social Workers, it is something additional that offers a broader blanket of comfort care to a patient and their families. The service isn’t paid for by insurance or Medicaid/Medicare, so it isn’t restricted by regulations for reimbursement. The Attendant is free to provide whatever non-medical service is right for the individual and the family unit, and to provide it as long as necessary. She or he is not limited to a ‘justified’ one hour visit once a week.

Think what peace of mind this service could be to a son who lives 1,000 miles away from his mother who has dementia and lives in a facility. That he can have someone trusted to be there as many times a week as he wants.

What comfort it could be to a daughter from out-of-town to have in-town support as she lovingly cares for her father in his home.

What clarity it could bring a family whose members all seem to be on different pages.

What a difference it would make in the hospital to have compassionate end of life support available to individuals with sudden illness or decline, or traumatic injury and their family units.

And what of this…what if hospitals offered this service to family units right now, BECAUSE of CoVid protocols and restrictions? Why not give families something to replace a small bit of what has been taken away? It’s the right thing to do.

The services of Death Doulas, End of Life Doulas, Sacred Attendants, etc… will be unique to the individuals that provide them. In overview terms, they provide non-medical support to clients and families. Specifically, they might make a well-timed phone call or text; Be a visitor who is comfortable sitting in silence; Ask just the right question at just the right time; Or offer a listening ear you are not afraid to bend. These are the tangibles every End of Life Doula (EOLD) might offer. The innumerous intangibles are impossible to list here though because they are less about doing and more about being.

Peace Be With You…And May You Be Peace

If you or anyone you know feels they would benefit from this service please speak up to your doctors, your medical team or locate your nearest End of Life Doula through the End of Life Collective https://collective.round.glass/End-of-Life/about or the National End Of Life Doula Alliance https://www.nedalliance.org/ or reach out to me personally at healingritesofpassage@gmail.com or via the contact form on this site.

Best Death Possible – Part One -A Mother’s Death

Today, December 13, 2020 is the fifteenth anniversary of my mother’s transition. Until this time I haven’t shared the details of my experience of her death.

There are so many things I would do differently, most are details that would matter only to me, however one thing I believe could’ve changed the outcome.

I want to say right off though, you can’t be a doula and be a daughter at the same time. You just can’t. There are family dynamics, emotions, fears, hopes, anticipatory grief, expectations, and underlying currents at work that you can’t, as a daughter, step out of enough to BE a doula. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a great daughter, in attendance, advocating and emotionally supporting your mother, but I wasn’t that either.

I know this is long so I appreciate you even considering to read it all. It is not meant to be an all inclusive recount of the events, but rather a highlighted exploration of needless trauma. If I were to write it as an account of the experience there would be many many more details about the emotional and relational aspects.

Tuesday

It started on a Tuesday with a call that Mom was in the Emergency Department with difficulty breathing. I was at work and rushed over as soon as I could. I found her in a cubicle sized exam room when I arrived. She had her chemotherapy appointment a day or so before and said she just wasn’t feeling right and was having a hard time breathing.

When her cardiologist came in my mother introduced me like this, “Dr. Kramer, this is my daughter Judy. She hates chemo.” To which he replied, “Yes, it is nasty stuff.” He stated that Mom had congestive heart failure and they would be running additional tests.

The hospital was full, she would wait hours in that cubicle sized room until a patient room opened up. I was working a relatively new job as a therapist in a psychiatrist’s office, and had to return to work, but visited her between patients later in the day. I found her that time in a room that I would’ve sworn was a janitor’s closet earlier that day. It was set off by itself long past any other patient rooms, and as far away from any staff as you could get. We sat for a while and talked about what the doctors were saying and what tests were going to be done. She waited until I was halfway out the door, late for my next appointment, to say, “I’m afraid.” I replied, “I bet you are. This is scary.”

Thing 1 I would change. I would’ve turned around and stayed with her. It turns out the patient I was late to see had cancelled and it was not the policy of the office to call and let therapists know when scheduled appointments cancel. My last appointment of the day was a no show. So, yes, I would’ve stayed with her. I would’ve explored that fear more. I would’ve been a great daughter who was attentive, present and emotionally supportive.

Wednesday

When I returned on Wednesday I found her in a different room wearing a rebreather mask. She was worried about the Christmas cookies she had committed to baking for the hospice she volunteered for. The same hospice I worked for just months before starting my new job. She wanted me to call the volunteer director and let her know the cookies wouldn’t be done.

At this point the diagnosis changed to add pneumonia to the congestive heart failure. I remember seeing the x-ray of her lungs…It looked as if they were wearing woolen sweaters. Where there should be clear darkness, there was fuzzy white. They started her on antibiotics.

Thursday

When I returned Thursday she was on a different type of mask. Her breathing was no better. Her lungs were no better. I knew from my years of working as a hospice social worker that chemo compromises the immune system and that if she was not responding to the antibiotics in 24 hours it was not good. I emailed my Aunt because my father was not ready to call the family in for visiting. My Aunt was not only my father’s sister, but she was my mother’s best friend since long before they were married. There was no way I wasn’t going to tell her what I knew.

By Thursday night the medical staff was out of options. The pulmonologist wanted to do a bronchoscopy to get a biopsy of her lungs to see what kind of infection it was so they could target the treatment. The problem is that after the bronchoscopy she would need to be on a ventilator for an undetermined amount of time. This is something my mother was adamantly opposed to.

Ten years prior she completed a Living Will specifically declining artificial life support. As we discussed the treatment options around her bed she spoke as loudly as she could through that mask that she did not want to be on a ventilator. However, she was ignored. My father is a very intimidating man and overrode her decision; insisting the doctor do the test. Later on, when I would bring up the Living Will Mom signed to attempt to advocate for her, he jumped up, towered over me and yelled, ‘WHAT piece of paper?’

When everyone left the room my mother again reiterated to me that she did not want to be put on a ventilator. We talked about it awhile. I encouraged her to talk to her husband, again, but she wouldn’t. So, I walked her through a process to get her to a place of peace about being on a ventilator short term, if it meant possibly finding an answer. She made me go to her house to bake up the cookie dough she had started.

During this whole time I needed to also be present for my twelve-year old daughter. I had pulled her out of school twice during this time because I wanted her to have every option to have last memories with my mother. Every day my mother got worse and every day I thought would be her last. I was also keeping my mother’s older sister informed who was living in a nursing home. I continued to keep my other aunt informed, as well.

Friday

Friday morning they did the bronchoscopy and by Friday night she looked like a blown-up balloon. During the bronchoscopy they pierced her lung and she was filling up with air. Bloody drainage came from the chest tube and she was indeed on that ventilator. Her doctor went out of town so we were left with an associate. The results of the bronchoscopy were inconclusive so an infectious disease doctor was brought on to determine whether or not to try fungicides or to start her on penicillin, which she was allergic to.

Saturday

By Saturday she was in multi-system organ failure and treatment options were still being discussed with my family. I was hearing lab results familiar to me from my work in hospice. I started to push the medical team about these things and realistic expectations. She agreed to be on the ventilator for a period of three days. She was only continuing to decline since. I failed at keeping her off the ventilator; I would not fail at keeping my promise that it would be short term. That night my father decided that my mother should not be left alone and he wanted me to stay at the hospital.

During the night my mother woke up on the ventilator and wanted my sister, my father and my husband there. She didn’t want to talk until they were there. She wanted my sister and I to get along. She wanted us to watch over our father. She wanted him to stop smoking. She wanted my husband to take care of me. And she wanted to say I love you to all of us.

The staff set me up in a room far away from my mother’s to stay. I wasn’t allowed to sleep in a cot or recliner next to her bed. What was the point of staying if not in her room? It was all too much for me by that time. I called my Aunt in the middle of the night because I just didn’t have anyone else to talk me off the ledge I was on. I’ll never forget the comforting voice on the other end of the phone saying, “Hold on. I’ll be there tomorrow” as I sobbed for the first time.

Sunday

Sunday morning came and there had been further decline. We as a family started talking about removing her from the ventilator, only to find out there was no supporting documentation in her chart by the doctors. Apparently what they were finally saying to us and to the nurses was not what they were documenting. So, again one by one we had conversations with each doctor about her condition and the reality of needing to let her go. By Sunday night we were talking about taking her off the ventilator Monday.

Monday

Monday came and there were faith-based hoops to jump through to get the approval to take her off the ventilator. This was the first time we spoke with anyone from palliative care and I only remember it being one brief conversation. Her doctor returned from out of town and was surprised that she had not recovered. He made his first call to her oncologist who said, “Sometimes patients respond to chemo like this. Give her steroids.” This was an emotionally devastating blow because she had been in multi-system organ failure for days now. Her cardiologist said she would likely not wake up and would need long term care placement if she did recover.

I mean it when I say my mother would rather be dead than be institutionalized living on a ventilator.

Thing 2 I’d change. I would’ve called her oncologist myself the first day she was admitted. She kept saying that she felt fine after chemo but then a day later she didn’t. I wrongly assumed that the medical team INCLUDED the oncologist. I do believe this one thing could’ve changed her outcome.

By Monday afternoon we had everything in place. I was prepared to let her go that afternoon and then I was told that it would be another day. My father wanted to wait until Tuesday.

I lost it.

I have never sobbed so hard, either before or since, as I did then. It was all so exhausting and now to make my mother suffer another day seemed cruel. I just kept yelling, ‘she deserves better than this.’ I understand – now, outside my own grief – that he needed a day to prepare. He had not been able to grasp reality days before as I had been. I had been fighting for days to end her suffering, while he’d been fighting to keep her here.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning came with yet another blow. My mother’s case now needed to be sent to the Ethics committee for approval to remove her from the vent. Why at each turn there was another hurdle someone didn’t foresee I did not understand. It was a Catholic hospital and they didn’t explain in advance the protocol to remove the tubes once in place. I was livid and unable to get face time with the bureaucrats causing my anger.

Tuesday afternoon the tubes were removed. My sister, my father and I were around her bed with our hands on some part of her when she exhaled for the last time, some 45 minutes after the machine was turned off.

I Did The Best I Could

Thing 3 I’d change. Her transition was sterile and un-ceremonial. Aside from the blanket I’d bought her for Christmas and gave her early, there were no personal effects. Nothing of my mother was in her death. I’d have music playing. She loved music. Johnny Mathis maybe or Ann Murray. Maybe Johnny Cash. Or maybe some Boots Randolph. I would’ve brought crystals to surround her. Anointing oils to bless her journey and thank her body for its service. I would’ve chosen a poem or a prayer to recite with all of her family present, not just the three of us.

Thing 4 I’d change, though not necessarily in order of importance…I’d take pictures of her in the hospital. Especially before the ventilator. She would’ve hated it though – no make up, hair unkempt, face mask pressed into her cheeks. As it is though I don’t know when the last picture of my mother was taken.

Despite these things I’d change, I know I did my best, but I still don’t feel it was good enough. We all did the very best we could within a system fraught with death denial. My energy had been used up on decoding the things that weren’t being said, forcing them into the air where my family could pluck them at their ready, then begging for the right things to be done.

This is why thing 5 I’d change, not in order of priority, is hiring a death doula (or better yet I wish the hospital had this service.) This one change would’ve made all the other changes for me. A Death Doula, a Transitions Doula, an End of Life Doula, an End of Life Specialist, a Sacred Attendant…whatever name they go by they offer the same thing – holding dedicated sacred space specific to the transition of loss and supporting the best death possible.

(Continued in Part Two- A Daughter’s Hope)

Attachment To Things Has Gotten A Bad Rap

In a country where hoarding is an epidemic, while simultaneously Marie Kondo has become a celebrity for downsizing, it’s important to understand the reason behind our attachment to possessions and the therapeutic value ‘things’ have in grieving.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” ūüé∂ a popular lyric and a popular trend when I was growing up in the midwest. Beautiful, architectural, and historical buildings bulldozed, then replaced with parking lots and structures. The trend remains the same, it’s just a different kind of parking structure today…storage facilities.

When people’s attachment to things is such that they require separate housing for their belongings we have to start asking, “why?” It isn’t enough to just roll our eyes and say, ‘commercialism’, or ‘materialism’, or ‘gluttony’, as so often I’ve heard.

When people live in homes that have become unhealthy and deteriorated because attachment to their possessions has become unmanageable, we have do to more than give it a name and slap it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders.

In a culture that denies death’s inevitability; that has sterilized death and dying care, by allocating it to institutions rather than family members; and has created fantasy worlds on television bombarding people with false notions and images of impossible idyllic life standards, it’s no wonder “things” become important.

Things don’t die and they don’t abandon us.

It’s no secret we don’t do death well in this society, but what is a secret is why we feel so attached to family heirlooms, gifts and mementos, sometimes to the expense of our wellbeing.

It’s more than just ‘sentimentality’. Objects hold energy. Our possessions (things we have owned) hold our energy very strongly because it was constantly bathed in our energy.

However, even store-bought gifts hold the energy of the giver even though it might not have been in their possession for very long. The intent or ‘thought’ behind the gift lives in the material of the gift.

Individuals who have strong attachments to people, and have suffered great loss, will often have stronger attachments to possessions than those who do not have strong attachments to people and/or have not suffered great losses. Holding onto belongings is a coping mechanism designed to exert some control over loss. The theory is ‘I love things because things don’t abandon me. They can’t die and they can’t walk out on me.’ Which is why then those individuals will be devastated if something of value gets broken or stolen (material versions of death and walking out).

When someone dies there are many who rush to get rid of the loved one’s possessions believing the things are painful reminders. They mistakenly believe getting rid of the belongings quickly will facilitate faster grieving. The truth could actually be the exact opposite. Holding onto belongings that hold the energy of the loved one keeps their individual signature vibration within daily life. This enables the relationship to reconfigure. Spoiler alert, we don’t have to stop having relationships with people just because they die.

We don’t stop loving someone when they transition to the next life, whatever you believe that life looks like. Love is energy and energy never dies. Our love just has to have a new focus of attention. Hence why some find visiting gravesites to be important and necessary. A focus. A new physical focus of the relationship.

Others choose to embrace personal belongings of the loved one. A healthy attachment to those things would be someone choosing several items of the person’s belongings to incorporate into daily life. An appropriate amount would be what can easily fold into one’s current living situation and serve a purpose. Serving a purpose is largely defined by the individual. A box of personal belongings that is taken out once every other year and brings comfort does indeed serve a purpose. The rest of the belongings then are easily, even joyfully shared with family, friends and the community by way of donations.

In extreme contrast, an unhealthy attachment to those things, of course, would be the inability to release any of the items to new homes and having the possessions overrun the home. The items cannot be incorporated into daily life, because there is no living actually happening when the possessions…well…take possession of the person. Excessive items stored, whether hoarded in a residence or locked away in a storage facility, are possessions in possession of people. Not a single item can be connected with or appreciated on a daily basis because it is not accessible. So you are paying rent for things to take up space in your life that are not adding quality to your life.

Having the deceased person’s belongings allows us to hold onto a physical representation of that relationship, yes, but it also allows us to continue a relationship with our loved one in a new way. Every time we wear that sweatshirt, we first feel the energy of our loved one that still lives in the material. When we feel that energy we are connecting with it, just as we did when they were alive. Then we might recall some memories. We feel again how we felt when they were alive – even if just for a moment. And whether we know it or not, we are making new memories with that person because we are doing new things while thinking of them.

This is so important. Not just right after a death, but for years going forward. After death, love and grief are forever intertwined. Grief doesn’t end. There is no finish line we magically cross. There is a difference between grieving and grief.

Grieving is the expression of the loss we feel for someone who has recently died. Grief is the cloak that love wears post death. Grieving ends. Grief does not.

Grieving is also called mourning. Its symptoms include but are not limited to sobbing, anger, depression, sadness, lethargy, insomnia, rage, and outbursts. Its cause is the loss of something/someone we love. Grief is loving someone who is no longer on this planet. Grief is the missing of someone. Therefore, we don’t grieve or mourn forever, but we feel grief forever. Many people do not understand this distinction and feel guilt when grieving ebbs, having associated their intense grieving with their intense love. Grieving is connected to the intensity of the loss of the love, not the intensity of the love itself.

When we incorporate loved one’s items into our daily life we are honoring them and ourselves. Instead of the empty place setting at the holiday table, we can focus on feeling their energy present at the table in the dishes they used or passed down to us. Someone’s clothes can be worn to provide us with a hug just when we need one. Clothes can also be made into blankets to promote that safe feeling someone gave us. Personal items can be pinned onto, sewn into or carried for a wedding ceremony as way to connect with them on that special day. Jewelry, as well as dishes, can be passed down for generations ensuring that the energy of the ancestors is prevalent and available for generations to come.

In recognizing the importance of personal items we have to understand our reaction then when these things wear out, get broken or lost. In many ways it is like losing that loved one all over again. We made the transfer from loving this person in body, to loving them in spirit with these items as a tangible tool. It can feel like losing that person all over again when these valued items are lost or broken.

It helps to remember that nothing is ever really lost or broken though. Broken dishes can be made into beautiful mosaic garden stones or even jewelry. Once more we need to make a transition from one physical focus to another. When we lose something of a loved one then it is a little harder to adjust, but it’s still a matter of perspective. You can view it as ‘the loss of one thing, makes room for another.’ Or it can be the impetus for you to take an action you otherwise wouldn’t have. Maybe acquire something of your own that holds as much energy for you. The situations are too numerous to go into in a simple blog post, but I hope you get the idea.

In the crystal gems world we believe that when a stone is lost it is either going on vacation for a much needed rest for a job well done, or it was needed elsewhere by someone else. A broken gem implies that someone you love needs the energy of that stone, thus it broke in order to be in two places at one time (or three or four). Something that shatters into pieces that are rendered unusable is considered to have served its purpose and is returned to the earth where it began. Quite often those pieces find themselves in potted plants where they still continue to be of service by nurturing the plant.

In this society we are too quick to judge…ourselves as well as our neighbors. We are too quick to judge someone’s home as cluttered simply because they have ‘more things’ than we choose to. If the things bring them pleasure and are easily incorporated into their living, then they have just the right amount of things for them. Instead of judging ask them about those things and the stories they hold. When they die you might just find that old cuckoo clock they spent the afternoon telling you about brings you comfort too…

Don’t Deny Yourself Because Someone Else Has It Worse

Oh man. I definitely got this message growing up and that is exactly how I taught myself to get through some of the worse times of my life. I discounted my own experience by saying to myself “it isn’t as bad as this other person’s experience so what am I crying about?” And each time any feelings around it came to the surface I would dismiss them all over again with the same thought.¬†

A subsidiary to that is ‘it could be worse’. While that has been helpful in not letting myself fall down a rabbit hole of despair at times, it has also allowed me to dismiss critical feelings related to traumas and other events. Sure I do not want to get all caught up ‘this happened and so now that is what I am’, but I do not want to skip right over the experience with the magic of a fast forward button. No healing comes from that.

We don’t want thinking to keep us down and make us believe we are an eternal victim, but discounting that we have been victimized is not the remedy. In fact, I believe it complicates trauma recovery. There are three places to be in recovery…

1) The place where you talk about it all the time. 

2) The place where you don’t want to talk about it. 

3) The place where you don’t need to talk about it. 

I have known survivors who make sure everyone knows that they are a survivor. Everyone knows their story and many have heard it more than once. 

Telling your story is VITAL in recovery!!! Let me make that clear. In the first stages of recovery you need to tell your story to whomever will listen. It is imperative that you tell your story. But that is the first stage of recovery, you shouldn’t still be feeling you need to share your story all the time if you are 5, 10, 15, and 20 years past it. That’s a complication.

“I don’t want to talk about it” is never a healthy place to be. Not on day one. Not on day 10,999. Now, on day one, it is understandable and normal…and actually, maybe it is healthy in that the mind and body and spirit all need some time to process and maybe you aren’t a verbal processor usually. However, the longer you go without speaking about it, the more difficult it becomes. 

It is much like receiving a traumatic wound. There it is, fresh, gaping, bleeding and painful. The first thing you do is cover it. And you want to keep it covered. You don’t want the lose more blood. You don’t want anything to aggravate it. You don’t want to see it. But then you have to assess the damage. You have to give it attention before infection sets it. You need to maybe have stitches to bring the edges together so it can heal cleaner. 

Same with an emotional trauma wound. You might need to tell your story to the police. To the medical team. To loved ones. To your employer. They will all need to understand the changes that are now in place. Because that is what traumas do. They change us on a cellular level. 

But when you get stuck in ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ you are not processing through the pain to get to the healing part. Instead of hitting ‘fast forward’ you are actually hitting ‘pause’. 

Lastly, there is ‘I don’t need to talk about it’ anymore. You’ve told the story during the early healing phase. You’ve shared it openly with anyone who needed to hear for their own healing process or with whom you are in an intimate relationship. But you aren’t bringing it up at cocktail parties. You aren’t putting it on job applications. And you aren’t, 15 years later telling all the new people you meet. 

In the later stages of recovery and after recovery, you talk about it when it is relevant, when it is helpful or when you are building new intimate relationships. There is a difference between ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and ‘I don’t need to talk about it’. Initially, those who don’t want to talk about it, might say they don’t need to talk about it, but that is a lie. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but telling your story in the beginning is imperative to getting to the place where you don’t need to tell it anymore.

Those who don’t need to talk about it are in that place because they have already talked about it. They have taken back their power from the experience and now that event has no more power than that day back in high school when they tripped and fell on the stairs.

If you’ve healed, trauma becomes just another event that helped shape you, not define you.

I love you

~Jade

“I’m Tired Of Being Strong”

No you’re not.

I heard this the other day and this truth hit me so hard…

If you are tired of being strong, you’re doing it wrong.

Strong doesn’t make you feel weak or tired, it invigorates you. It inspires you. It supports you. It gives you more strength.¬†If you are tired of ‘being strong’, what you are, is tired of the struggle based on an incorrect definition of strong.

I used to think that ‘being strong’ meant keeping a brave face to the world, not crying, not expressing your feelings or basically to pretend that you are not hurting. Being strong was doing ‘it’ (whatever it was) alone. That you didn’t cry if you hurt and you didn’t complain – and complaining meant expressing any disagreement with what was going on, btw.

I spent my childhood and young adulthood in this mode. I can’t tell you how damaging it was…oh yes I can. Here is a perfect example of how ‘brave’ I was.

I was in high school, vacationing with my friend Mary Miller and her family. We were going on a camping trip. Along the way we stopped at a General Store where they had a mule outside in a pen. Mary and I made our way to the mule where others were standing. The mule came over to me and I began to pet its nose. After many minutes of this the mule started to lick my hand. And then he bit it. Hard. And harder. Very hard. Very very hard.

Here’s my thing. I had learned it wasn’t ok to cry and it wasn’t ok to ask for help. Ok. Now what do you do? My internal mechanism was set to laugh (instead of cry) when in great pain. I did it all the time. I laughed instead of crying when I sprained my ankle, all three times. Its what I learned was acceptable. So, here I am, laughing uncontrollably while this mule is biting down on my hand harder and harder. I am laughing so hard that I cannot tell my friend to get help. I also cannot tell my friend it even hurts, because I’m laughing so she’s thinking its funny. (I don’t know if it is true or not, but I heard many years later than a mule cannot release its bite until it has bitten all the way through.)

Anyway, eventually, after perhaps 10 minutes my friend’s dad catches on that this is not awesome and laughter gives way to tearing. Notice I said tearing and not crying. Yes, that is true. Still keeping up the brave face. He begins to bang on the mule’s nose until it lets go. We put ice on it in the car ride and it healed nicely. No broken skin or bones.

That’s not strong. This notion that strong is appearing as if nothing is hurting you is ridiculous, outdated and serves no purpose but to create dis-ease.

It takes far more strength to let others witness your rawness than it does to put on a mask to hide it.

When I think of strong people, I think of those who faced adversity and did not feel ashamed of how it affected them. This kind of raw authenticity is inspiring to me.

This is how I live my life now. I don’t try to put on a ‘brave face’ (what a nice euphemism for mask), I let it all out. What you see is what you get. If I am hurting, I will not pretend I am not. My inside world matches my outside world quite nicely now. I am not ‘tired’ at all. I am full of life. Dealing with events straight on, without the requirements of camouflage make life simpler, which eliminates the struggle, see? Is this making sense? Its the pretending that the situation is different than it is, that makes us tired. That’s not brave.

And while it may be that the challenges we face make us weary, showing that does not make us weak. Not believing in the beauty of your human-ness, that is weak.

Authenticity is a super power we are born with and we were proud of it, until someone shamed us into putting it away in a chest giving us a plastic smiling mask instead. So much is lost in moments of inauthenticity. Smiling in the face of tragedy is not strong. Falling to the ground, crying as your heart is ripped out then picking yourself up without wiping the tears from your face…that is brave and strong.

Too much running around wondering if this is right or that is wrong. Wondering who is judging you. What does it matter if they judge you? Just accept they are going to judge you. They will either judge your authenticity or your fake mask, it doesn’t matter because judgers never come to a positive assessment. So why waste¬†your¬†energy worrying about what¬†they think when they are always going to think poorly?

That’s the struggle that makes you tired. That false presence. Not saying what you need to say and not expressing the true feelings you need to express.

Think about the people who are important in your life. Who has made an impression on you? Who do you find yourself more interested in? I am willing to bet they are all the people with whom you’ve shared authentic moments. Not the ones with whom you’ve experienced ‘perfect masked’ moments.

Be truly brave and take off the mask…the beauty behind it is breath taking.

 

I love you.

~Jade

 

Grief Lies In Empty Spaces

The empty space left by someone you love after they transition is the space that grief fills. The bigger the space, the bigger the amount of grief that will fill it.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

 

Everyone you love takes up some sort of space in your life. Some more than others. Some may only have a space in your history and so the grief you experience might just be a moment held in silence and then you go on. Others, hold space in your present and (thus by default your future) so the grief will be proportionately larger.

While the moment of death is the last breath, the moment of grief is less precise. Grief begins before death, in cases of illness. Its called anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief lies in the empty space in the future. The future plans, conscious and subconscious, you had with this loved one, just vanish. The space where they were held, an empty void. Grief fills that void before the person has even taken his last breath.

At the moment of death grief expands to include not only the future, but the present. There will be no more ‘last’ moments. No more ‘one more time’. No more ‘ever again’. This grief is loud and overwhelming. Quickly there is preparation for the loved one’s last wishes ceremonies and cultural mourning practices. This person, though no longer sharing physical space, still occupies space in your life as several days are dedicated to the loss.

It is the day after the services end that always hits me the hardest. The first day with nothing to do for my loved one. The first day without a purpose that involves them. In cases of illness your life may have been filled with caregiving tasks and anticipatory grief for months…maybe even years, but at least days. Then the days of the ceremonies are filled with loved ones comforting you and sharing their own grief. There are preparations and decisions to be made. It is loud and overwhelming.

The day after is silent.

Ok, maybe not exactly the day after if there are out of town mourners, or left over duties. But there is one day, some one day, after the services are all done and family has left that the empty space looms large and the silence deafening.

It is here the grief really hits you. Because there is no channel now for your grief energy. No task to focus on that seems purposeful and directed. Now, there is just the empty space that once held your love and your love seems like it has no where to go now. There’s no direction to focus your grief, its just sort of all around you like a wind tunnel. Directionless, unfocused, disorienting, numbing, overwhelming and opaque.

Oh, yes, others will tell you that love never dies, he’s in a better place, she has returned to being pure love, etc…and while that may or may not be true in your eyes, it isn’t what anyone grieving that empty space needs to hear.

The fact is that grief is a book mark.

It marks the place where your loved one lived with you. Not in your home, but in your life. And every time you come across that empty space, grief touches you. Days go by and the grief is everywhere. Its even in the air you breathe. It seems as though it gets worse, not better. It gets worse because you are rediscovering all the corners of your life this person occupied.

Grief, like a lot of processes, is not linear.

Weeks go by and you might have half a day go by that you don’t touch that empty space. While it seems like forever, it also seems like yesterday and a kind of guilt at ‘going on’ tries to creep in. Don’t let it. This is your healing. You aren’t meant to live in the empty space. You are meant to live in spite of it. You are meant to honor your loved one by taking the love they gave you and creating a beautiful life including it. Its true, they do still love you and your love for them never dies. (I always twitch a little when people say “I loved him so much”. I’ve never stopped loving anyone when they died.) But the loss of their physical presence is real and in its place the bookmark of grief holds space for us to remember; to touch that love and that loss in ways that bring a new depth to our lives.

Like it or not, sometimes it takes losing a loved one to remember that life isn’t infinite here on the planet and gets us to up our appreciation for those in our lives. What better way to honor those who have passed on, than for us to love deeper, wider and more out loud!

Before you know it, months have passed and a new normal begins to bud. Every time you embark on something new, or you have something to celebrate there will be that grief that your loved one is not here to share it with you. A day or two will pass without that grief being forefront. You aren’t forgetting them. You are beginning to forget the pain of the loss, that’s all. While you will always miss them, you won’t always remember them with grief. Someday, down the road – maybe years, maybe a decade – you will be able to remember them without the pain. There will just be gratitude for the space they held in your life, when they held it.

The space in your heart they held? Well, that never decreases. Never. Ever. But the beautiful thing about the heart is that while it feels like it is breaking, it never really does. (I know, there is no more descriptive phrase for that feeling though.) Perhaps it is not breaking, but breaking open? Perhaps this pain is our heart opening up and showing us our full capacity to love another? Perhaps this also makes room in our lives for others to show up?

I know this is so very true in my life.

Some of the most amazing and loving people have come into my life because of a loss I suffered. And while at the time I might have said “I’d rather keep my old love with me, rather than gain a new.” Now, I could not make that choice. I received twice the love I otherwise would’ve experienced. Maybe more than that, even, because knowing how fragile life is I had far more appreciation for the new relationships and thus I love better and more out loud.

I think the Winnie The Pooh inspired quote says it best, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

My life is filled with amazing people that I love oh so very much and with each loss I suffer I make sure to love the remaining ones even harder. Yes, there are those who might say that only opens me up for more hurt. What it does is open me up for more experiences of loving and being loved. If grief is the price I pay for a life filled with love then for me its worth it!

I’ve survived worse…like not feeling loved or lovable.

I love you. Really big and really out loud.

~Jade

Victim Mindset

Overcoming one’s traumas and the victim identity can be a tricky thing.

While we tend to think of victim thinking as ‘poor me’ thinking, that is only one type. Victim thinking can take many forms.

Think about trauma like conquering a mountain. The midst of the trauma is tantamount to scaling the mountain . You are at the mercy of the mountain. The mountain and your survival is what consumes you. Every step you take, every decision you make is because of the mountain. At any moment the mountain could claim your life. Your whole goal is to get to the top alive. You suffer because of the mountain, therefore you are an active victim of the mountain.

One day you find yourself on top of the mountain! You are done scaling! You commemorate your victory by planting your flag and do a dance! You sit atop the mountain and look back on the terrain that you overcame and you celebrate it! Rightfully so! You still suffer the mountain though, so you are still a victim of the mountain…a¬†surviving¬†victim, but a victim, nonetheless.

Then comes the time to descend the mountain. Every decision you make is still dictated by the mountain, but things are easier now. You are working with gravity and using tools that make the decent much more rapid than the ascent. You are (re)covering the terrain of the mountain and understanding from a different vantage point just how daunting the task had been. You still suffer the mountain, so you are a recovering victim, but a victim nonetheless.

At the bottom of the mountain a transport waits to take you back to a little city in the foothills of the mountain, where you get a hot bath, sweet-smelling soaps, and a hot meal, as well as a clean bed to rest in. You stay here just long enough to regain your strength. You get the proper treatment to set your wounds and injuries on the right path to healing. You debrief as others ask you questions about your adventure and you relive the accomplishment while telling the tale. You rest and begin to rise again in the aftercare, but still you suffer the effects of the mountain so you are a recuperating victim, but a victim nonetheless.

After you are recuperated you discard the equipment that was damaged in the climb, pack up your gear and head off for home. A place far away from the mountain. In your new home you put up a picture of your victory moment and store away your survival gear. Your home is decorated with many aspects of yourself, but only one picture of your conquering¬†Mt. Trauma. Initially, new¬†people in your life will be curious about the picture on your mantel and they will ask about it. Or you might be in a coffee shop and in conversation about what you’ve been up to, you would naturally mention that you recently conquered¬†Mt. Trauma. After some time, however, Mt. Trauma would not come up in general conversation and you are moving away from being any kind of victim of the mountain. You are a¬†transcending¬†victim.

Eventually, Mt. Trauma would just be a picture on your mantelpiece. Then one day that picture might go into a scrapbook and only be revisited once in a long while along with a lot of other memories. This is the point where you have truly conquered Mt. Trauma and are no longer its victim. You have transcended victimhood and become you’re own hero!

The whole process is necessary for complete healing. You can’t skip a step. You can’t jump from survivor to transcending. Coming down from the mountain, telling your story, getting loving support to recuperate and working through to establish a new norm are all vital in getting to transcendence.

If you get stuck on top of the mountain or in the foothills you are still a victim of the mountain. You cannot stay atop the mountain yelling about how you conquered it, and not still be its victim. You cannot take up residence¬†in the cozy foothills, repeatedly telling your story and not still be its victim. You can’t decorate your house predominantly with pictures of Mt. Trauma, plaques that say you climbed Mt. Trauma and display your survival gear as wall decorations and not still be a victim of Mt. Trauma!

If your identity is centered around how you overcame the mountain, then you have become an inside out victim of the mountain.

What is an inside out victim?

It is someone who’s whole identity revolves around being a survivor. As we’ve discussed, a survivor is still a victim. Many of those in the helping professions, including motivational speakers and self-help phenomena are doing nothing more than glorifying the victim status by disguising it with¬†cute little catch phrases. Continuing to highlight the fact that you were once a victim only serves to perpetuate the victim status. Much like you can’t not think of an elephant when someone tells you not to think of an elephant. They are relative terms. One does not exist without the other. You cannot hear ‘survivor’ without associating it with that of which you had once been an active victim. So even though labeling yourself a survivor sounds like a healthy thing to do, you are continuing to subject your subconscious to¬†the victim dichotomy message.

When things in your past are taking up a lot of space in conversations in the present there is a problem. Inside out victims can often come up with some elaborate schemes to present as noble and healthy individuals. Often they put themselves on display where they can show off (without making it look like it) their success at overcoming their past, setting themselves up as an authority and “help” others overcome as they did. The problem with this is that the repeated retelling of their story is the indication that they have not transcended it at all. In fact, it would be my suggestion that this person never did the recovering and recuperating necessary to reach¬†transcending. My thought is that they kept it deep down hidden, rarely talked about it, until they came across something¬†that seemed to give them a pass straight to transcendence. It doesn’t work that way. There are no short cuts in living authentically and healthy.

This is not to disparage all self-help motivators. The most amazing ones can offer changes in perception so drastic that they change lives. These motivators rarely reveal their own past and when they do, it is mostly in snippets to establish credibility or connection with their client. They don’t advertise their story over and over. They don’t give you fancy terms to identify yourself. They give you real tools that enable you to live a well-lived life that don’t include¬†looking at Mt. Trauma in the rearview mirror.

You may ask why looking at Mt. Trauma in the rearview mirror is not desirable. When do you look in your rearview mirror when you are driving? When you are backing up and when you need to see what is coming up from behind you. If you are moving straight ahead there is no need for a rearview mirror.

I love you.

~Jade

A Bit About Trauma…

Everything we are, do, think and believe is connected to our Qi.

Therefore everything we are, do, think and believe affects said Qi. Trauma is a significant disturbance in our Qi. Often it is actually a predetermined event…one we ‘planned’ long before our incarnation. We choreographed it to be a significant factor in our development.

Our mental, emotional, physical and energetic bodies process everything that happens to us. Sometimes we ‘hold onto’ events and they are stored. Other times we simply allow them to pass through our awareness, we glean wisdom from it and release it. This wisdom then plays a part in our development/expansion.

Trauma, due to its very nature is something most people store if they are not aware. Even if they don’t intentionally ‘ignore’ the pain, they may not know how to truly release it from all bodies.

I do a pretty awesome healing session that would assist you in this manner from the energetic standpoint. It facilitates the release from all bodies and provides a clean slate going forward.

I love working with people who are ready to be free of their past experiences and glean only the wisdom after releasing the burden!!

Short and sweet today…

I love you.

~Jade