Dreams of Malcolm

Malcolm visits me at night,

a character in my dream-stories.

One night he cried,

because he was dead,

too scared to live.

Can I do it over, mom? He wept.

No, my sweet, it’s done.

From grief and loss to meaning and hope…trying again

When grief is cyclical you visit the grief over and over again. You face the same questions, the same guilt. Sometimes it seems to feel as bad as the first few months, or maybe you just don’t remember how awful that was anymore. Depression has a rhythm, too. The lows seem to get lower but the recovery and equilibrium seem to last longer.

After coming out of my recent depression I had the opportunity to accompany my husband to a retreat center. The truth was I wasn’t ready to be alone for three days and two nights. He was working a high school retreat, but I had the weekend to myself. I brought my memory stick containing my book on grief and loss and thought I might give it a look again. It had been stuck for quite a while on the issue of hope. The book had morphed from the theme of grief and loss to the theme of meaning and hope. The trouble was that I wasn’t sure what hope I had and what shape it took. For two years I had been thinking and reading and, yes, praying, even though I wasn’t sure to whom or for what purpose. Then I sank into depression and hope mocked me from the sidelines of my life. But now I was on the other side of the depression and something had shifted. What I had been reading began to take a meaningful shape. Quotes I had highlighted began to organize themselves, and I found at last I was able to get my head around the possibility of hope. I hoped for hope, and that was closer than I had been in years to actually being hopeful.

So for two full days I wrote. I got to know my book again and began to develop greater coherence. And I worked on the last section, the section that was now giving the title to the book: Traces of Hope. Those were a powerful two days. I felt invigorated and, dare I say it, hopeful that my book might make sense and might prove useful. I wasn’t sure how long these feelings would last but it felt really, really good.

Since that weekend I have sought out and enrolled in a program for Pastoral Care; I have begun attending a Christian church (The United Church of Christ) with a friend of mine, and I have begun a practice of daily reflection or meditation, usually at night because I am not worth a damn in the morning.

Lots of changes. I don’t know how long-lasting this sense of equilibrium will be, but for now I am appreciating the emotional peace. I have written about positive insights and shared positive postings on Only Good Things, http://wholiness.wordpress.com. And I have begun reflecting on pieces of my book on Traces of Hope, http://tracesofhope.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit. I hope to have an ebook ready in a couple of months and, who knows, maybe a real publisher. But that’s a bit too much to hope for, probably.

Rediscovering hope

It is now 2014. This year we will mark the seven year anniversary of Malcolm’s death and it will also mark a number of changes in my life. I lost my job in September and that could have been a real crisis. Well, to be honest I thought it was! But in retrospect it turned out to be more blessing than not. I have taken the time to examine where I want to go next, and I have decided it is neither back into Catholic education or into another office job. Instead I am returning to school to pursue training in Pastoral Care. Will it work out? I don’t know. But it is exciting to be trying something new.

There is a real sense of freedom when you have nothing to lose and no one to prove anything to. A small inheritance from my parents’ provided the fiscal freedom and the support of my husband provided the emotional freedom.

During this hiatus from work I have refinished lawn furniture and an old desk and chair. I have patch painted a water-stained ceiling, twice – they were very stubborn stains. I have cooked healthy meals and kept a clean house, and enjoyed doing all of this because I knew it was temporary.

The most important change was not home improvement, though, it was a change in my outlook. I have rediscovered hope. It wasn’t a sudden discovery it has been creeping up on me slowly and gently for a while now. The reason I didn’t pay too much attention was because it was not immediately obvious, the change was not linear but cyclical, just like the grief.

More to come.

A post from the Loyola University Pastoral Counseling Blog: Meaning Making.

The Loyola blog is one I follow now. For the first few years after Malcolm’s death I would have been cynical and disparaging. I might have said…The author says she has been broken open. I was broken alright, but I wasn’t about to let God break me some more! She couldn’t know real pain, real loss. To hell with God…

But not today. Today I feel that there is perhaps a path forward. Not just one where I manage to keep breathing and keep going through the various motions involved in “living,” but one where my life can become intentional again.

It scares me even to imagine the possibility of finding something of value to engage in. But I don’t feel the guilt that I would have just a couple of years ago. I am okay with moving on. I am okay because I am not letting go of my son. Never that! Rather I am taking him with me into a new adventure. He will remain at my side and in my heart always, but my grief and guilt are no longer blocking my view of the future.

Read the post below from Making Meaning.


Letting Go, by Dayna PizzigoniPosted: 22 Oct 2013 06:58 AM PDT

“Slowly, she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.

First she surrendered her green,

then the orange, yellow, and red…” Macrina Wiederkehr

About two years ago I decide to let go. I let go of my insistence to predict God’s plan for my life. I had just experienced a falling apart, a heart-break that invited me into a profound surrender. I held on to only two things: hope and a desire to know God anew.

I let go of my idea of God’s will for me because I had no answers anymore and the search seemed too clouded by my fear and will to control it. My sacrament of letting go began with re-discovering the grace inside myself. I couldn’t start to get to know God any other way. I had to accept the Truth inside me before I could trust the Truth anywhere else.

I can’t tell you how I got to know myself again. I did not take on this self-discovery like a project or goal that I had to carefully note and analyze. I accepted the beauty of uncertainty and let the process unfold. (By the way, this feat, by this recovering perfectionist, would not have happened without the gift of being broken open.) I remember doing things like going to yoga, eating at a restaurant by myself, attending mass during the week, seeing my therapist, and allowing time and space in my life to do whatever I felt like (eg coloring).

“And then, the sacrament of waiting began

The sunrise and sunset watched with

Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes

They kept her hope alive.

They helped her understand that

her vulnerability

her dependence and need

her emptiness

her readiness to receive

were giving her a new kind of beauty.

Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated

the sacrament of waiting.”

Macrina Wiederkehr

In this surrender, I waited for whatever life would present. I practiced trusting myself more and waited for God to reveal Herself however She wanted. I risked greater vulnerability and let God love me.

I sit writing to you now on a small porch outside my apartment enjoying the autumn sun with my husband inside. From heart-break to heart-bounty, I rest in the grace of letting go and waiting for God to surprise me again. Let go of something this fall as the leaves surrender. Wait for God to surprise you. Life is not a statistical analysis where we predict outcomes. Life is unfolding.

Stages and Cycles

Whatever theory of grief I might find useful at any particular time, one thing is clear: the process is never as tidy as the theory – there is no linear journey through grief. Six years after Malcolm’s death a bout of severe depression brought me back to the very beginning of the grieving process: Denial.

I entered the hospital in a state of suicidal depression and found myself fantasizing about being with Malcolm. I began to speak about him in the present tense to other patients. So one of the first goals of my healing became overcoming denial and accepting his death, then once again letting him go. In order to let him go I needed to work through my guilt once again. But this time around I moved to a new place in the grieving process: I began to get angry with him.

Using a process of psychodrama in which someone sat on a chair and took the role of Malcolm, I began to tell him how much he had hurt his dad and his brother. Then I spoke from his point of view and told myself that Malcolm would not expect or want me to follow him, instead he would want me to stay with his dad and his brother. I am home now and mending well. As I look back over the last six weeks I am reminded how tenuous one’s grip on serenity can be and how arduous the process of grieving. But, despite the re-cycling of the cycle and the stepping backwards in the stages, I can clearly see a forward movement and a deepening of acceptance.

I know I will see Malcolm again, whether it is in the fleeting seconds of my death or in some future eternal moment of new life. For now the most important thing I can do is be “in the moment.” Not in the past, not in the future, just now. And be grateful.

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Website resource: The Center for Loss

The Journey Through Grief:
The Mourner’s Six “Reconciliation Needs”
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever. And the movement from the “before” to the “after” is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.
I have also learned that the journey requires mourning. There is an important difference, you see. Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings. To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys. We all grieve when someone we love dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.
There are six “yield signs” you are likely to encounter on your journey through grief—what I call the “reconciliation needs of mourning.” For while your grief journey will be an intensely personal, unique experience, all mourners must yield to this set of basic human needs if they are to heal.

- See more at: http://www.centerforloss.com/who-are-you/someone-i-love-has-died/#sthash.ZtbfeIUQ.dpuf

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Grief, Gratitude and Grace

A beautiful thought for the day from Gratefulness.org. You can subscribe for free. I find it very enriching – it makes me pause and reflect for a few seconds every day.

WORD FOR THE DAY
Thursday, Jun. 20
Grief and gratitude are kindred souls, each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace.
Patricia Campbell Carlson
(Letter to a friend)