Many years ago, when I was a brand-new post grad-school hire at a highly respected aeropace company that was still headquartered in Seattle... I was responsible for researching and making recommendations on the new company badge design to take advantage of emerging bar code and mag stripe capability (yes, it was that long ago.)
I was interviewing an executive involved in physical plant protection about system requirements, when one of the company employees came running in with an emergent situation of an individual who appeared armed and was running the guard gate at one of the classified facilities. The security force had apprehended the individual who turned out to be female, and had removed her from the vehicle, and had her face-to-the-fence with arms and legs extended. The crisis precipitated when they determined that she was, in fact, not armed. They were asking for next steps in this touchy situation.
And, as I sat there, watching and listening, this executive for whom I held great respect (and still do) said:
"Did you at least 'cop a feel?'"
As I remember that particular event, I am struck by two things: that I remember it so vividly, even the smell of the aviation gas that permeated the flight apron at Boeing field and our office, and, I am struck by the sick knot it makes in my stomach, even today. I am not a victim of it - I am stronger for it.
There is something deeply dehumanizing and objectifying about the language that was used that day. And I think that these days, we are all reacting to recent news of powerful people who speak so casually, without recognizing the power of their words to harm others.
In the Creation narrative, Divine words spoke the whole world into existence. G-d spoke, and it was. Leap to today: our culture is immersed in verbal violence and we all feel the wound of it. All of us need to recognize that this is the power of language, and to learn to be outrageously counter cultural in the way we use our language with one another.
The corollary to this is that our thoughts guide our destiny. It has been said, "Sow a thought, reap an action, sow an action, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap your destiny." My favorite mantra these days is: "Where the energy flows, the body goes." Even the words of Yeshua tell us that our thoughts are the pathway to actions when he warns us not to look on women with lust in our hearts - such an action leads to behaviors with devastating consequences.
And so, here we are, verklempt, because we have leadership choices whose energy and words are flowing in ways that WE DO NOT WANT TO GO. We are a people who want to care for the widowed and the orphaned, to be a voice for those destined to destruction, to care for prisoners and the destitute. To clothe the naked and feed the hungry. And, above all, to be in relationship to G-d and to love one another as we love ourselves.
When we wake up from this cat 5 hurricane of an election season, we will have one another. We will still have mouths to feed and people to clothe and homeless to shelter. That is our priority. Let's not destroy our relationships with one another in the tsuris that is upon us in this election. We will look back on this season with memories and with knots in our stomachs, but we will carry on and, my belief is, we will be stronger for it.
Carry on, and shalom y'all.
Every person born shares the experience of grief. It is universal. What is not so universal anymore is our ability to metabolize our grief and begin the process toward transforming our loss into a fuller, joy-filled life.
In his book The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise, MartÍn Prechtel says:
“As a matter of course, it’s a fact that grief, if not metabolized, almost always goes to some form of accusatory violence in the end. Either externalized, exported, or internalized— or all of the above.”
Let's break that down: metabolizing grief is a process that simply means we learn to confront our grief, to be "with" it, and to learn what it has to teach us. The opposite of metabolizing grief is "stuffing" grief - pretending that somehow if we can outrun it, it will simply dissipate. We try to outrun grief through an amazing variety of ways: numbing with food, alcohol, video games, television, overwork, addictive behaviors of every variety, even shopping. Our ability to be awake and fully functional as individuals, communities, and societies is dependent upon how well we metabolize our individual and collective grief. When we try to outrun grief instead of metabolize it, grief goes underground, it becomes stuck, and it manifests in “accusatory violence.” Accusatory violence is the highly toxic behavior of violence in communications, physical violence, "us vs them," covetousness, envy, and the cycle of war. It is internally violent as our body is at war with itself, much like auto-immune disease.
You may be experiencing un-metabolized grief if you observe these triggers/responses:
It is not difficult to imagine how this affects our relationships, our success at work, personal satisfaction, and the health of our communities. In fact, one could say that it is an essential conscious act for us to learn to grieve and mourn well, so that we can be our best selves as individuals, and members of our community. So, in the days ahead, we will be learning a great deal about grief on this journey together, to both understand what grief is and its processes, and to comprehend how we can engage those processes for the health of ourselves and our communities. I call this “getting your joy track back.”
Here are a few helpful starters to consider:
1. Avoid confusing grief with disappointment. Disappointment is when you lost something you wanted, or didn’t get something you expected. Prechtel simply defines grief as “what living beings experience when what or whom they love dies or disappears.”
2. Recognize that overwhelming feelings are normal, and grant yourself permission to “stay on your mat.” If you can imagine the sweaty, challenging moment in yoga class right before you make a breakthrough in a new asana - it won’t come if you don’t stay on your mat and complete the exercise. In grief, the breakthrough moments are often just on the other side of “this is crazy hard.”
3. Grief is not passive, it is active. If you don’t have a “tribe” who will honor and actively support your grieving process, find a guide who will hold space for you and “have your back” while you do the deep work of grief.
4. Glennon Doyle Brown, author of “Love Warrior,” coined the term “brutiful” which means both beautiful and brutal experiences are integral to one another and inseparable. Similarly, Prechtel says that both grief and praise go together. When you are grieving, recognize that the honor of your loss is found in praise, even as your deepest emotions are ones of sadness. It is so often those brutal moments that leave us gasping that we realize that we have something for which we can be grateful that we didn’t see before. It could be newly recognized strength, resourcefulness, deep kindness, or some other beautiful gift.
5. Just as we can remind ourselves that we are in the midst of a “brutiful” journey, like a hero’s journey, we can hold onto the truth that this unfolding narrative of our life has an ending, and we are in control of the ending. We are not in the midst of our grief in an utter chaos that will never resolve well. You can make this better, both faith and science show us how. More of that to come in future posts!
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Until next time.
Prechtel, MartÍn (2015-04-14). The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise (pp. 3, 83). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.
As part of supervision in clinical pastoral education (CPE), we deal with a lot of “inner” issues so that we can be aware of our own feelings as we work with patients and clients. We generally would deal with topics of the past week, and our guest lecture this particular week spoke about grief, death, dying, and palliative care. All of my life I have grappled with these grief, death, and dying. It seemed that loss was something I was meant to struggle with in my life. And once again, in supervision, my loss of my beloved grandfather, the only grandparent I knew, erupted as it sometimes did, in uncontrollable sadness and deep sobs. For the first time in my life, I began to realize that I had grieved in a very incomplete way for my grandfather since my 12th birthday. I was 59.
My CPE supervisor invited me to remember him out loud. I began to speak about him, and as I did, I could feel him in the room. His rough wool fisherman’s jacket was rough against my face. His favorite foods, sharp cheddar cheese and pickled herring, invaded my memory as if they were on a plate in front of me. His presence was intensely palpable. It was a visitation that I was not prepared to share in an impersonal office at the hospital where I worked with another person, regardless of how much that person, my supervisor, cared for me. I asked to end our supervisory session because I needed to go home. I was unable to work my shift that afternoon.
I drove home from my meeting with my supervisor with my eyes brimming with tears that spilled over and would not stop. He had suggested that I have a conversation with my grandfather, whose death 47 years ago left a cannon-ball sized hole in my heart. I wanted to leave and have the conversation at a more private place, but now I was feeling like I lost the chance to be near my grandfather again. “Perhaps I should have stayed and talked with Granddad when he was so close there in the office?” I could see his wool jacket and face there. I desperately needed him. As I drove I spoke aloud to him and asked him to meet me, and apologized for leaving the hospital when I knew he was already there. I was so startled by the suggestion that I should “talk TO him” that I panicked a little. What would happen if I allowed myself to do that? Was that even OK? Was this necromancy? Was I trying to conjure up the dead or seek the dead?
In spite of my fears, I knew that I had already seen him, and that at times I had seen others who were dying or already dead, so to me, this was a reality regardless of what religious teachings said. So I planned to talk to him at the beach – out on the tip of the sand spit at Greens Point on Shaw’s Cove, near where we live on Puget Sound. It is the beach where I played as a child, where, when I was five, he appeared from out of the blue to “rescue” me from walking barefoot on the barnacle-covered rocks after I was caught alone by a high tide out on the sand spit. (It was my “front yard” so to speak – normal for me to play there as adults watched from the house across the cove.) It is the beach in front of his favorite salmon fishing hole between Carr Inlet and Hales Passage on Puget Sound, where the current would sweep nutrient rich water into the waiting mouths of hungry fish, hopefully hungry enough to take our bait as our boat bobbed on the waves above. Now it is the beach where I live. I bought this house, compelled to live miles out of town, in order to be close to memories in space if not time. This is the beach where new memories are being made with my niece and grand-nephews as they come to play at “big beach.” Four generations of memories dwell here. This is where I wanted to meet with Granddad.
I didn’t consider the tide tables in my hasty decision, however. It was high tide, not low, and the beach was nearly submerged by the time I arrived home. Walking out there with two chairs, one for me, and one for him (the so-called “extra chair”), was not going to work. My only chance to go out there was with the kayak. But my kayak is not a two-seater. I wondered how I would encounter Granddad from this “one butt boat.” But the beach was where I promised him I would meet him and so into the kayak I slid, balancing, and pushed off from the bulkhead in front of my house and headed over to the sand spit.
As I paddled, I again wondered if this was going to work. But before even a minute had passed, the tears began to fall hard, and all I could say was, “I miss you, I miss you!” I was a 50-something with the heart of an 11 year old in that little boat on the water of Shaw’s Cove. I was weeping. “I didn’t say goodbye to you! I don’t remember you leaving! I thought you were going to get better!” At that moment, I passed over the point of the sand spit, the place where he had come to my rescue so long ago, and an unusual fragrance of Puget Sound salt air rushed against my face and the flood of memories of him came into sharp focus:
We were on the deck of the “Commando” fishing.
We were outside in the pool at Titlow Park with my friends, and he was launching us through the air, squealing and laughing, one by one.
I was resting my head against his wool jacket.
We were bowling in Tacoma.
The memories flashed through my mind like pictures in a slow motion freeze frame video.
Still, I couldn’t see him. The air was unmistakably a trigger of memories and I breathed in deeply, as if to send it to every cell in my body. This was not the usual breeze fragrance on Puget Sound. It was a breeze of memories.
Where was he?
One of the features on the sand spit is the decaying skeleton of a World War I Liberty ship. It was towed there as a charred remain of a surplus ship that was never deployed in wartime. Captain Shaw for whom the cove is his namesake, had it towed and grounded on the sand spit Greens Point in order to reinforce the spit against eroding tidal action. My Granddad and Aunt enjoyed a fanciful conspiracy, telling us children that it was a pirate ship that had come ashore in this very spot. It was many years before I knew the real story. Today its hulk is blackened, broken apart, with meter long iron stakes sticking toward the sky where they once held together the frame of a warship. Beach grass and flowers grow up through its beams, and the detritus of winter storms are stuck here and there in the stakes. There is a trail that runs along the wreck as one walks along the sandspit out to its point – the place where I found myself once stuck at high tide.
I could feel him with me. He whispered, “I would never leave you.”
At once I felt washed in utter shame. “I know you would not leave me if you could stay.” I told him. “I left you. I am the leaver. I suppose that means if I could leave you, I could leave anyone. And I did. I grew up to be a leaver.” At once I was having two conversations – one with my grandfather and one with my self. “Whoa. Is this part of my pattern? Acting out leaving relationships as a guilty 11 year old who stopped going into her dying grandfather’s room after spending months waiting by his bed for him to get well?” I questioned myself. It took nine months for him to die from his brain cancer after he became bedridden back in 1965. His hospital bed occupied the bedroom next to mine at my parents home. He died days before my 12th birthday. He was 83. My best friend. My life raft. And I abandoned him. I left my husband after 12 years of marriage, too, when our marriage didn’t “get well.” I left my religious community for a time when it didn’t go well.
“You did not leave me. You are still with me, too.”
And there he was. I could faintly see him, walking as he did, ramrod straight back, leaned slightly forward as if he were walking into a strong wind. His gait was unmistakably characteristic of a man who was purpose-driven to get where he was going in spite of his stiff joints. He was heading toward the tip of the sandspit.
I paddled quickly to meet him there. He, standing on the slim sliver of beach at high tide, and I, in my little boat out on the rippling water 25 yards away. He was watching me, smiling, as he so often did while I played as a child. His arms were crossed in front of his wool jacket. “I love you!!” I called to him. “I don’t want you to go! Please stay!”
He said, “You have these gifts from me to remember me. My eyeglasses. The wedding ring I gave Grandma. Your music. I gave you your gift of music, and your husband gave you your harp. Play your music. I made your garden possible. Make your garden a beautiful place for others.”
He waved a wave of goodbye. I looked back across the cove toward my garden and realized how he had made it possible for us to live here and to make the garden a place for others to come. I needed to do a lot of catch-up work on it, because my physical pain over the last year was too intense to allow me to prune, pull weeds, sweep and all the various chores. I realized how his life story was impressed on my children, nieces and nephews, and their children, so that it would go on.
And the song that came to my mind was this:
My G-d, my G-d,
May these things never end
The sand and the sea
The rustle of the water
The lightning in the sky
The prayers of Mankind.*
Shelo yigamer le'olam:
Rishrush shel hamayim
He was gone.
I sang the song over and over. It was as if he was saying to me, even the sands and the sea will pass away, how much more must we pass away? We are only here for a little while. But we will see each other in eternity, when heaven and earth pass away, there we will be in a new heaven and a new earth. All new, all whole, and together again.
For now at least, the searing emptiness that came with thoughts of my grandfather is gone. We met at the beach. And we closed the circle.
* Written in Hebrew by Hannah Senesh (1921-1944) went to Israel from Hungary at age 18. She studied at the agricultural school at Nahalal and joined kibbutz Sdot-Yam.
In 1943, at the height of World War II, she volunteered to go into Nazi-controlled areas in Europe to save Jewish lives. In 1944 she parachuted into Yugoslavia. After staying with the partisans, she went to Hungary, where she was discovered and executed by the Germans. She is known both for her heroism and her poetry.
I did not just wake up one day and decide to pursue my personal passion to full-time coach and help others connect to their inner wisdom. It took a crisis to help me make an "exodus" so to speak.
I was a technology director in a global financial services company in Seattle. In May that year, my sister was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, In November, I unexpectedly lost my job in a management restructure, and one day later my mother died after a 12 year battle with Alzheimer's Disease.
Yes, I was grieving. I felt incapacitated by it. It was a lot to handle. What I did not know at the time was that I needed a guide. Someone who could give me the tools I needed to process grief, to let it change me. More on that in another blog post.
I was born a fighter. Competent. I could fight my way out of this grief, or so I thought.
It did not work.
A month went by, then two, then six. I was embarrassed, then ashamed of my inability to overcome my emotions. A concerned colleague kept calling and I found myself unable to even bring myself to meet her for coffee. It was like I had fallen though a missing plank in the pier, was in deep water, with no ladder. I felt like I was just drifting, treading water, flowing with the current, unable to get back to shore. After a while, that become the problem - my inner skeptic was delighted to hold my own inaction and sense of emotional paralysis in front of me daily as proof of what SHE would call my "personal incompetence."
It was a pivotal period. I came to realize the conspiracy of my inner wisdom invite me to transform, to allow something completely new to arise. I had a lot of inner work ahead of me (long story for another blog post), and I'm happily on the back side of that crisis and now living in the wonder of inner wisdom and its ability to help us make dramatic shifts if we will allow it to do so.
There are many great books on grieving well. Two at the top of my list are both available on Amazon:
Today, I coach people in the midst of grief. With hindsight I can see that the journey had purpose - I needed it desperately to wake up, and get in touch with myself. I am grateful for the transformation, and I would not wish that sense of shame and isolation being alone in grief on my worst enemy. You do not have to walk this alone.