Me with my mom’s brother Ron and sister Kathy in Nawiliwili Bay, Hawaii in May 2016 scattering my parents’ ashes.
My husband, David and I lost seven immediate family members in seven consecutive years. We lost my grandfather in 2009, my grandmother in 2010, David’s mother later that same year, my father in 2014, Dave’s brother and niece also in 2014 and then my mother in 2015. Needless to say that now our holiday gatherings have grown quite small with primarily my aunts and uncles since Dave now only has some distant cousins still alive. What is remarkable to me about all of these family members is that they were all receiving hospice care when they passed. Dave and I were truly grateful for the help from the professional teams well versed in end-of-life care because we were caregiving for our family members in their homes and ours.
I had the privilege of attending an all-day workshop last week featuring Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt from www.centerforloss.com located in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dr. Wolfelt in his animated speaking style stated that grief in contemporary society has been medicalized and perceived as if it were an illness that with proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment can be cured – how arrogant!
He went on to explain that the modern paradigm of professionals projects that for a “successful” mourning to take place, the person must “disengage from the deceased” and by all means “let go.” We have all sorts of books and techniques to help people reach “closure.” What Dr. Wolfelt discovered is that our current models desperately needed what we could refer to as a “supplement of the soul.” It seemed glaringly obvious to him that as fellow travelers in the journey of grief, we needed more life-giving, hope-filled models that incorporated not only the mind and body, but the soul and the spirit!
As Dr. Wolfelt continued with the teachings that day, I’ll forever remember the look on people’s faces and how quiet the room got when he said, “Actually, it was Carl Jung’s book that helped me to understand that every psychological struggle is ultimately a matter of spirituality – we have to discover meaning to go on living without our loved ones. Death ends a life, it does not end a relationship.”
I never had any intention of letting go of my grandparents or my parents. When I thought of closure I just naturally thought that meant that you need to just accept that you’ll never see the deceased again, at least not in this physical world. I think it’s a beautiful thing, when out of the blue, I get tears in my eyes thinking about the train trip I’ll never get to take with my mom and dad even though we talked about it for years.
I learned during Dr. Wolfelt’s workshop that we are taught that people who are grieving should strive to return to ‘normal’ functioning as soon as possible. But this doesn’t work. Why? Because a person’s life is changed forever by the death of someone loved. We are transformed by grief and do not return to prior states of ‘normal.’ Dr. Wolfelt writes, “The grief journey requires contemplation and turning inward. Quietness and emptiness invite the heart to observe signs of sacredness, to regain purpose, to rediscover love, to renew life! Searching for meaning, reasons to get one’s feet out of bed, are not the domain of the medical model of bereavement care. Experience has taught me that it is the mysterious, spiritual dimension of grief that allows us to go on living until, we, too, die.”
While I was caregiving for my sick family members, I was also trying to learn the Law of Attraction and trying to understand if it was possible, or even appropriate, that as I was being of service to others, that I might move my own life forward with regards to my career and personal ambitions. It is not easy keeping your mind and actions on the positive when there are people you care about dying. And caregiving is an exhaustive state of being, with the bathing, feeding, chores, visits with doctors and trips to pharmacies a weekly, if not daily, activity.
But with all of the sadness, tiredness, and challenges, I was able to move forward personally with weight loss, a better job, a better house, a new mate who eventually became my husband, foreign vacations, and more money in the bank. How? By focusing on the spiritual realm. Sometimes I call it God, Universe, Spirit…it didn’t really matter. I didn’t suppress sadness or anger – I let it have its space and attention. But I didn’t dwell there and stay stuck. I would remember the divinity in myself and everyone around me and remind myself that self-care was as important as taking care of others. I would schedule that happy hour with my fiancé. I would watch chick flicks. I would schedule in my sleep time. And I made sure that I spent a few minutes each night before bed reading inspirational books like The Secret. I knew that if I took care of myself that I would have more patience, love and kindness towards the people I was trying to help. I would set intentions for peace for everyone involved and would to the best of my ability, try and keep my joy by practicing gratitude that I was able to be there for my family when they needed me most. Even today, I reach for the best feeling thought I can at the time, to try and keep my personal vibration as positive as I can knowing that every day is a new day, a new journey with this new life without my beloved family.