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The Gifts of Grief



The Gifts of Grief: Part III
By Therese Tappouni

This sharing is Part 3 for Moxy Women from my new manuscript The Gifts of Grief. I am in the middle of writing the book and it’s a joy to share it with you as I go. If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, please do so. You’ll find that grief comes in large and small packages, but the body doesn’t know the difference. Part 1 has a questionnaire that will help you assess your grief. The body doesn’t know the difference. You will still suffer the emotional trauma. I’d love to hear from you as you read these writings. Blessings to all, Therèse

The wounds we suffer are all deaths, small or large, but deaths nonetheless. Not getting into a school we desired, losing a job, illness, divorce, moving, a relationship that doesn’t work out, seeing children all over the world abused and starved—all of these are causes for grieving. They all represent what we see as lost possibilities. It is the possibilities of the job, the home, the things, the relationship, the promise of children that we mourn. It is what they represent to us and to the outside world. Some of the things we lost involved many years of envisioning, working and praying. The truth is that they are not lost but need to be revisited and re-visualized. Remember, you’re a different person now. The body, including the heart, doesn’t sort losses out into categories, but feels our sadness and our fear and our questioning of ourselves and it begins the process of grief. The world, and sometimes our families and friends, are often less than supportive. Their advice kicks in after the frustration of hearing you tell your story once too often. “Move on!” they beg. “Get over it.” “There are lots of fish in the pond.” “Dye your hair, have an eye lift. You’ll feel better.”

They wouldn’t do this, at least in the beginning, following a real death, such as the death of a parent, a spouse, a friend or a child. They would grant you a grace period to get over these types of grief because death is the biggest fear of all in people in some cultures. They feel it with you because they love you, of course, but also because it feeds into their fear. “It could happen to me,” they think, and pray for protection. The unthinkable is actual dying. We see this in the ways of death and dying encouraged in the United States—behind closed doors, inside caskets, clean and neat and covered with make-up and flowers. Even in the graveyard, a bright green rug to cover the grave so we won’t see the hole in the earth. It is a blindness that is not understandable in other cultures. Some keep death close by bathing the body of a deceased family member and carrying it to the burial site.  Knowing that everyone dies, how do we manage to live life thinking it won’t happen to us?

But, in our fast moving world, eventually, even friends will wonder why you are not moving on. Many grieving people return to their original feelings on the anniversary of the death, loss or divorce, or the date of a birthday or marriage. Sometimes a holiday continues to be a trigger for a very long time—even a lifetime. Some people will actually say: “Aren’t you over that yet? It’s been five years!”

When a loved one dies unexpectedly it’s an even more dramatic process—especially if it’s a spouse, a child or a young person. There is no “pre-grieving” as there is in a long illness or decline. In my own life, it was my son who died, the summer before his 12th birthday. He was riding his bicycle to swimming practice, racing his friend, when he was struck by a commercial van driver coming in from a day of selling snacks to stores. His dearest friend ran to my house, and as the smell of dinner cooking wafted around me, I saw his face and time froze. I never knew what that meant before, but this was like a movie in the theatre that just stops and you are sitting in the dark. I didn’t want the movie to resume. Whatever it was he was about to say, I knew my life had changed forever. I don’t remember getting the three or so blocks, but I was kneeling by my son in the street with the people gathered around, and an awareness of my daughter standing nearby with a look of stark fear on her face.  I was also aware of the woman standing off to the side by a truck, sobbing and wringing her hands. It was as if I was lifted above the scene, seeing all of the players and refusing to be one of them, and then I fell to Earth. My heart broke open, spilling pure terror into my blood stream.  I tried to force time to retreat, go back, let this be a dream, let me be standing by the stove serving dinner onto the white plates, everyone accounted for at the table. Even as they placed him in the ambulance, and led me to the front seat, I heard the sirens as if they were coming for and taking away someone else. Not my Michael—that wasn’t possible.

For ten days our son was in a coma in the intensive care unit. His father and I waited for the ten minute visits we were allowed twice a day. When we were called, we washed our hands and walked like zombies into the buzzing whirring atmosphere of the ICU. While we waited hours on end to catch site of a doctor, my body went on auto-pilot. Other than constant trips to the bathroom and nothing to eat but oatmeal, my life revolved around that bed in the ICU, the wheezing of the machines, the coldness of the mattress my son lay on in his metal bed. He never regained consciousness and slipped away in the hospital after the doctor removed his ventilator.

The absence of the doctors was purposeful. They had no hope for his recovery, and dreaded meeting with parents who had this particular pleading look of Please give me good news. They were trained to tamp down their feelings so they wouldn’t burn out, but as their lives, divorces, heart attacks and alcohol/drug problems attest, the approach isn’t working. I’ll never forget the one neurosurgeon who came to me in the hallway one day and said he had become emotionally involved in Michael’s case. He’d been taking communion at his church, not our family’s church, when the priest leaned over, placed the wafer on his tongue and said to him: “Take care of Michael Tappouni.” Maybe it was because he was in a sacred space, but his heart cracked open and he saw my son as a person, not a statistic. It didn’t change the outcome, but did change the energy surrounding Michael’s care.

 

Some of you who are reading this are relating to my story on a very personal level. You, too, had a loved one in a hospital setting and experienced the frustration of ICUs and everything that surrounds them. And yet, each of us experienced it all on a very individual level. The people surrounding us or no people at all; doctors who didn’t show up, or doctors who were kind and supportive; short stays or long difficult weeks and months. What matters is that all of these emotions, all of these fears, prayers and bargaining with God become part of our cells. These experiences influence how we react to our lives in a very specific way, for the rest of our lives. For me, grief and its devastating effects on individuals and families have been on my mind, or I should say in my heart, since Michael’s death.

Following that loss came the death of my marriage, a heartbreakingly foreseeable event in couples who have lost children, though we managed to make it work for many years. The divorce cascaded into the death of a family business and a numbing period of ill health. Throughout, I struggled to model to my children that you can be beaten down by grief but you can choose to rise again, stronger and more compassionate than ever. I refused to be seen as a victim only. I didn’t want to be simply a survivor. I wanted to grow through this achingly long winter of grief into someone else—someone expanded, not contracted by my grief. I began to listen to my heart. There, among the cracks and fissures, something luminous waited. I was determined to find out what that was. It was clear at that point that I had to make a choice, or I would forever think of myself as a victim. My son deserved more. Unfortunately, I was to learn that just making the choice wasn’t enough. I couldn’t bypass the dark night and go directly to the source of the light. I had to participate in the entire journey before I could reach the grail.

The first step, as the quote says in the beginning of the chapter, is to get still. With all of the busyness in our lives, many people tend to get even busier so they can ignore the pain. Others turn to alcohol, drugs or excessive behaviors—such as working or exercising for hours on end. To stop and make room for the heart to whisper makes us anxious. Except for those who sink into depression, being still is seen by the grieving one as a place to remember things they don’t want to remember. It’s one of the reasons that friends and family find it so hard to talk to you about the tragedy. You seem so busy, so focused elsewhere, that they feel they will be bringing something up that you’re managing to ignore. And sometimes they’re right. On the other hand, many people who are grieving a death say that friends and family act like the person never existed, and so they die again. This conundrum is all the more reason we should go to the heart, and to do that, we need to get quiet. We need to do the breathing that releases those moths batting themselves to death on the screen door of our mind and brings in peace and calm.

Now that you have tried the practice of breathing described earlier, I’d like to ask you to add a step. Read through this several times, then close your eyes and do the exercise.

Sit quietly, feet flat on the floor, or lay down if you feel the need.  Breathe in deeply. On the exhale allow thoughts to float out of your head like moths set free. Watch them go, stretching their soft wings, glad to be released. Inhale again, through your nose, deeply, deeply, letting your shoulders soften, your chest relax. Now move the inhale to the area of your heart. Sense your heart, wounded and struggling. Its pain may even prevent you from taking a full, healing breath, but gently, gently continue to try. As you inhale, see your body surrounded with vibrating golden light. Breathe in the golden light, filling your chest, bathing your heart. Exhale the darkness and inhale the light, slowly, slowly, replacing fear with love. Feel your heart settle into a steady beat. Now close your eyes and just allow the slow breathing, the sensation of light and your steady heart to fill your body with feelings of peace and calm. After you have relaxed, and your heart is beating rhythmically and slowly, picture your heart. Ask your heart to show itself to you as it is emotionally. In other words, what it would look like if it showed on its surface all the pain, scars, disappointments and grief. When you have a visual picture in your mind, tell your heart that you want to help it heal. Tell your heart that you want it to be healthy, robust and vibrant and you are grateful for all that it does for you. Do this in your own words. Now, see your wounded heart bathed once again in light, but this time a warm pink light. Then visualize the bumps, bruises, cuts, gouges and broken pieces coming together and healing. Continue to breathe deeply into this place until you are ready to open your eyes.

Take some time to just sit quietly, breathe and notice any changes in how you feel, physically and emotionally. This would be a good time to write in your journal.

Now that you have gotten in touch with your heart, you have your most important ally on your journey. If you can remember your favorite stories, movies or old myths, you will notice that the hero or heroine always has one or more allies, or helpers, on their journey. In this journey to find the gifts of your grief, the heart is number one. As we move forward, others will show themselves.

Therèse Tappouni is an author, poet, life coach, licensed HeartMath™ provider, workshop director and speaker on the importance of living a life in harmony with your core values and inner beauty. She is an expert on how energy lives in you and affects how you live.

She can be found at ttappouni@aol.com, www.IsisInstitute.org, http://theresetappouni.blogspot.com

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The Gifts of Grief: Part II 

In my last sharing, I talked about how I am writing my next book The Gifts of Grief. You can find Part I on the Moxy Women Site. It is such a gift to me to have you supporting me. It is the most difficult and most rewarding book I have written. The first part of this section is a questionnaire. Do not take it lightly. The body doesn’t know the difference in “small” and “large” grief, and all contribute to your health and well-being. We’ll come back to this in a later section.

The Many Faces of Grief

I recommend that you keep a journal as you read and work with this book. Looking back as you travel reveals your progress.

There are many faces to grief. Check how many of these you have experienced in your life.

Individual Grief

-Moving as a child
-Death of a pet
-Alcoholic Parent (s)
-Divorce of Parents
-Loss of Parent
-Safety issues such as bullying, abuse
-Loss of your religious faith
-Your own divorce
-Moving and leaving friends, community for a job
-Loss of job
-Financial disaster such as loss of home, business
-Birth of child with problems, disabilities 
-Loss of spouse (war, illness, accident)
-Loss of child
-Loss of close friend
-Loss of someone close through Alzheimer’s or dementia
-Aging losses—health, beauty, etc.
-Add anything that you see as needing grieving
-Universal Grief
-Energetic (You felt/feel sad, wanting to cry, with no  specific    explanation.)
-War
-Catastrophe
-Earthquake, Hurricane, Tsunami
-Particular to U.S.A. (John F. Kennedy,  Martin Luther King,  or Robert F. Kennedy assassinations; Challenger Disaster; 9/11; Katrina)
-Global fears (what’s happening to the world such as child slavery, hunger, climate change, etc.)
-Add anything else that you grieve

Chapter 1: COURAGE—the Whisper of the Heart 

In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair—Howard Thurman

The Hero/Heroine’s Journey, Step 1: The Call
You have been in a familiar place and landscape, but something has occurred that asks you to acknowledge change, whether you like it or not. You may refuse the call, but a guide/helper will appear to help you.

Your heart has been bruised and battered, yet here I am asking you to expose its very core. I promise you, your heart is the center of your strength. This is not the time to put up walls or listen to those who are uncomfortable with your grief. Your dark night of the soul is penetrated by the light of the heart. It isn’t enough to survive. Living your extraordinary beautiful life is only possible through a new view of what it means to be human. Great courage is required to effect powerful changes. You will be asked to step through the door of fear into a totally new room of belief in order to access the gifts in your grieving. That sound you are hearing from the depths of your heart is the cri de coeur—the cry of the heart. It’s time to call upon all the support you have available to you in this journey—your faith, your guidance, your intuitive self and, above all, the whole you that was created to experience this life.   

Loss is like a mudslide that plummets into the middle of your river of life. The old channel is now blocked and you are being forced into the new. You will never be the same. That’s why I say grief never ends. It changes you for life—no, it actually changes you into a different way of living. Your choice is in how you will be changed. Will you choose to live out your days in darkness, frozen solid, or will you search for the meaning and gifts surrounding your loss? For myself, I am always aware, as I never was before my great losses, of how many people in this very moment, all over the planet, are being visited by an unthinkable tragedy. When I’m on the road and see an accident off to the side, or am held up in traffic with red lights blinking miles ahead, I immediately start to pray for those who are experiencing that river of before and after. Around me, people fidget, walk, curse and honk. I know they have yet to receive the visitation.

The fact that you are reading this book tells me that you have courage and have heard the cry of your heart. I am grateful, and I ask you to commit to trying one small thing at this moment.

Sit quietly, feet flat on the floor, or lay down if you feel the need.  Breathe in deeply. On the exhale, allow thoughts to float out of your head like moths set free. Watch them go, batting their soft wings, glad to be released. Inhale again, through your nose, deeply, deeply, letting your shoulders soften, your chest relax. Take your time, and pay attention to your shoulders. When you feel them drop, even slightly, go to the next step.
Now move the inhale to the area of your heart. Sense your heart, wounded and struggling. Its pain may even prevent you from taking a full, healing breath, but gently, gently continue to try. As you inhale, see your body surrounded with vibrating golden light. Breathe in the golden light, filling your chest, bathing your heart. Exhale the darkness and inhale the light, slowly, slowly, replacing fear with love. Feel your heart settle into a steady beat. Now close your eyes and just allow the slow breathing, the sensation of light and your steady heart to fill your body with feelings of peace and calm. Continue to sit and breathe for a few minutes, or as long as you feel comfortable. Then open your eyes and resume reading.

Practice this every day whenever the uncomfortable “whys” and “what ifs” and fearful or angry thoughts batter your body. Breathing into the heart will release the true, intuitive message of your guidance, not the self-constructed or societal downloads of the brain. Until we trust in our hearts, there will be no progress, and no understanding of the process of grief. You are being asked to be more than you ever thought possible—to cut through the pain of grief and acknowledge the beauty of life and, yes, death.

 

Therèse Tappouni is an author, poet, life coach, licensed HeartMath™ provider, workshop director and speaker on the importance of living a life in harmony with your core values and inner beauty. She is an expert on how energy lives in you and affects how you live.

She can be found at ttappouni@aol.com, www.IsisInstitute.org, http://theresetappouni.blogspot.com

 

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The Gifts of Grief
By Therese Tappouni

Dear Moxy Woman friends, I am inviting you on a journey with me. I am currently writing the most challenging book of the seven I have created—a book called “The Gifts of Grief.” As I write, I will be sharing parts of the chapters as I write them and asking you for your generous feedback. Today, I begin with the introduction, and welcome you into my writing world.

Asking you to accept that there are gifts to be unwrapped in the darkness of your grief is akin to a scene in the movie The Last Crusade with Harrison Ford. There he is, hanging over the edge of a deep chasm full of sharp boulders, the grail of his search 100 feet on the other side and no way across. So close, but unattainable. Behind him, his father is mortally wounded. Only the grail can save him, but Indiana is mangled, exhausted and out of options. His father tells him that he should leap out into the air, into the void, and have faith. The fear, grief and anger are clear on his face and in his body language. He’s no fool! But what choice does he have? Great evil and his father are behind him—hope and salvation are ahead. He leaps, and we see him clawing at the opposite cliff, not a chance of him reaching it, and he falls. What happens next stuns everyone—he falls to his hands and knees on an invisible bridge, placed there by the knights who guard the grail.

His faith that there is more than he can possibly understand saves him. But first, he had to be in a place of darkness where nothing else had worked. He had to rely on an unfamiliar belief that there was something more than he understood in his education as a scientist and a modern man. He had to accept that his brain was not going to help him. He had to rely on his heart’s strength. He had to hear the call. This is the fundamental truth of all heroic journeys—and the road through grief is a heroic journey. The Indiana Jones movies are a modern example of the Hero’s Journey. Other examples are the Fellowship of the Ring, Star Wars and the Matrix, but tales like these were recorded more than 5000 years ago. From Gilgamesh to The Descent of Inanna to Beowulf to the Iliad, The Fisher King and the Wizard of Oz, writers and film makers have used the Hero’s Journey as a vehicle for telling the story of our mythic adventures from our common personhood to our enlightened beautiful self. We’ll talk more about that, and you can see the steps in Appendix 1 at the back of the book. Unfortunately for those of us who are suffering, our journey doesn’t happen in the ninety minute time frame of a movie. If we are grieving the death of a loved one, we will grieve for our entire lifetime. That is a fact. The hopeful side is that we have it in our power to transform our grief as we travel to find the grail, or the gift, in our journey.

You are being asked to find a place in your grieving where you can be gentle with yourself. There is no place in grief for the harshness of judgment and blame. The gifts of grief, the light in the darkness, can only enter an open heart. Grief shatters the walls built around the heart, giving light an opportunity to enter. If we glue the pieces of the heart together with anger, guilt, blame and judgment, the darkness reigns. Usually our worst blame and judgment is against ourselves.  

We always have a choice, but love allows us to choose covering up, closing off, medication or alcohol induced numbness. Why? Because love doesn’t force us to its way. Love respects our choice, always. But for those who love us, it’s hard to stand by and see our suffering. They will use their intellect to argue us into certain behaviors—for our own good. But the brain doesn’t respond in grief—only the heart and our bodies can tell us how we feel. It’s not a thinking process.

Keep in mind throughout that unresolved grief builds upon itself. If you have suffered losses throughout your life, and done that good old stiff upper lip routine with all or some of them, you have a vast reservoir of built-up grief in your cells. Each event is attracted to the others like filings to a magnet, clinging together in a place called grief. This is why we often find ourselves crying as we see someone real, or even someone in a book or movie, suffering loss. Our empathy kicks in, yes, but so does our backlog of unshed tears.

So, what do we do? Ah, to do—that is our training. First, we must learn, or relearn, being. Just be for awhile, to allow our hearts to hurt, to allow our brain to ask “why?”, and to allow our bodies to rest. This takes as long as it takes. For some it can be days, for others, months. It depends on how willing we are to release the pain. Only then can we begin the long process of absorbing our grief, healing our wounds and asking the only important question: “Where is the light in the darkness of this loss?” It’s like searching for our grail in the grey ashes of a barren landscape, across the jagged rocks. You have the tools, but like Parsifal, Indiana, Jonah, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Persephone or Inanna, you will have to descend into the darkness first before you recover the wisdom that is found in your own heart.

It is a heroic quest, and one I will take with you, supporting and encouraging your personal hero or heroine’s journey. I applaud your courage in opening this book. I applaud your courage in exposing your wound for healing. Part of this book will be a sharing of the journey that was my grief, but everyone’s path is different. However, since no one gets a pass on grief, it’s good to know you are not alone. Come, let us begin.

Therèse Tappouni is an author, poet, life coach, licensed HeartMath™ provider, workshop director and speaker on the importance of living a life in harmony with your core values and inner beauty. She is an expert on how energy lives in you and affects how you live. She can be found at ttappouni@aol.com, www.IsisInstitute.org, http://theresetappouni.blogspot.com

 

 



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