“Every loss is unique. The truth is, the worst loss is the one that is happening to you, the one that has picked you up and thrown you down and left you struggling to put your life back together.” Author, Elizabeth Devita-Raeburn When I was […]
November 29, 2015 marked the fourth anniversary of my mother Sandy’s passing. Sandy was a wise, wonderful woman and a devoted mother. She was also a gifted marriage and family therapist. Before her own untimely death, she had counseled hundreds of people on how to handle loss and transition. One of her favorite expressions was:
“Death ends the person, but it doesn’t end the relationship.”
My own bereavement process has been a long and winding road filled with both despair and gratitude for the gifts my mother gave me.
I’ve come to understand that no two people grieve the same way… even children who have lost the same biological parent. Everyone has his or her unique healing journey.
I’ve grown, too, to understand that grief occurs in all forms. Even the very definition of so- called “normal grief” highlights the variability of the process by defining it as “a grief response that falls under an extremely broad umbrella of predictability.”
As I worked through my own grief, I also sought to understand Complicated Grief which refers to grief reactions and feelings of loss that are debilitating, long lasting and/or impair one’s ability to engage in daily activities.
In seeking resources to help me understand what I was going through, I was aided enormously by the book The Four Things That Matter Most, by author and palliative care physician, Dr. Ira Byock.
In it, Dr. Byock shares four simple phrases that carry enormous power:
“Please forgive me”
“I forgive you,”
“I love you.”
Through his book, I learned that if we have the chance to say these words to someone who is dying and have them say them back to us, we can move closer to what he calls “relationship completion.”
I’ve found too, that by applying those phrases in the rest of life, we can experience a sense of wholeness even in the wake of family strife, personal tragedy and divorce.
As described in The Four Things That Matter Most, Dr. Byock wrote that conversations that include these phrases increase our emotional healing. It’s my belief and experience, that this is true.
I’m so grateful I had a chance to have this “relationship completion” with my mother while she was alive. Whether you’re grieving a loss or just want to deepen your relationships, I encourage you to give yourself and your loved ones the gift of saying the four phrases mentioned above.
Doing so will hopefully gift you with the opportunity to honor and experience what really matters most in life.
By: Amy Sky
It is often in our darkest hour when grief has cracked us open, that we find access to the purest creative voice with us. Through the gift of art, music, and all creative expression we can begin to address the deep spiraling waves of feeling […]
Sometimes there are no words that can help assuage grief. “I’m sorry for your loss” falls flat when a mourning mother is standing next to her young child’s open casket, framed with flowers and cards of sympathy. You might feel inadequate, your aching heart racing […]
Life can turn on a dime. Sometimes for the better, like when we get a new job or fall in love, but when tragedy strikes, things can go terribly wrong. My life swerved out of control when I heard that my 22-year-old son, together with three young colleagues, had been beaten and stoned to death by a mob in Somalia where he was working as a photojournalist for Reuters News Agency. The irony was that Dan and his friends had been brutally murdered by the people they were trying to help.
Losing Dan, and with him the promise that his life had shown as an artist, a humanitarian and an adventurer, sent me into a violent tailspin. Unable to eat, sleep or even communicate clearly, I longed to die, but I couldn’t, because I had to be strong for Dan’s younger sister, Amy–if not for myself.
A week after Dan’s death, together with hundreds of mourners, Amy and I gathered on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya for a Celebration of Life, the saddest celebration we would ever attend. The next day, when we scattered Dan’s ashes, I saw my life stretched before me, bleak and empty, without meaning or purpose. My heart was broken.
Soon after I found a reason to live—at least for a few more months– by helping Reuters and the Associated Press create a collection of photos by three of the photojournalists entitled Images of War, which, together with an accompanying exhibit, traveled the world, triggering awareness of the role of journalists in conflict zones. Working on the exhibit fueled an idea for a documentary, Dying to tell the Story, presented by Amy, that brought us out of despair as we shared the issue of press safety with viewers around the world.
Newly aware of the power of film in creating awareness of critical issues, Amy and I produced more films about issues that we felt were important, and then, in 1998, we launched Creative Visions Foundation to support other artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers; “creative activists” who are using art and media to ignite action. Over the past 18 years, we have had the joy of working with hundreds of passionate individuals who are changing the world through inspired story telling. Our creative activists in 32 countries have touched more than 100 million people globally. Now Amy and I get to meet many of these incredible beings at the new Dan Eldon Center for Creative Activism, a vibrant hub for all ages, races and religions in Malibu.
Most remarkably, we live next door to each other, which means I can spend lots of time with Amy’s children, including six-year-old Daniel Eldon Turteltaub, who recently confessed that he had had a particularly bad day. “First Uncle Dan died,” he said darkly. “And then Archie (Daniel’s dog) died and now Daddy won’t play basketball with me.”
Grumpy Daniel’s words made me smile, and also reminded me that although my route to peace of mind and spirit has been long and fraught with seemingly insurmountable challenges, it has revealed the magic and mystery of unknown lands through which I have traveled as well as the wild, dark places within my spirit that would have remained undiscovered without a tragedy to inspire the exploration. I am grateful that now I can laugh again, believing there is more joy ahead.
So for each of you setting off without a compass or a guide on a safari of the soul triggered by loss, I’d ask you not to lose hope, but to watch for the signposts along the way that will direct you and give you new hope as you find, or more likely, create purpose and meaning in your life. I hope that you too, will discover that the journey is truly the destination and that the best is yet to come. ;
Kathy Eldon is the author of In the Heart of Life, a memoir published by Harper One about her tumultuous life, and co-author, with her daughter Amy, of Angel Catcher, a Journal of Loss and Remembrance, a best-selling guided journal published by Chronicle Books to help individuals move through the pain of loss to acceptance and new purpose. To learn more visit: kathyeldon.com; creativevisions.org and daneldon.org. The Journey is the Destination is a collection of Dan’s journal pages published by Chronicle Books which is the inspiration for a feature film about Dan’s life to be released in 2017.
By: Kathy Eldon
Music has the power to walk alongside people throughout their life journeys. Many important episodes of our lives can be immortalized in the songs that were significant to us during those times. For many people, music can be a means of expressing the sublime and […]
Modern hospice care began in the 1960’s as a response to the over-medicalization of dying in the West. From its inception, the needs of the family were a key component. The patient and family are the unit of care, not the patient alone as is […]
Joy is something hard to fathom when we are going through grief. In the darkest of times it can be difficult to direct our focus toward anything other than what we have lost. When grief is heavy and our pain is raw we wonder if we will ever again experience bliss or hold the beautiful gem of joy.
From my personal experience and in working with thousands of grievers over the years I have learned that joy can absolutely be incorporated back into our lives after a deep loss. As a matter of fact, experiencing moments of joy is essential to the healing process. The question is how do we connect with and find joy again?
Perhaps a more appropriate term when it comes to joy is that it is not something we find but rather something that is rightfully ours to begin with and that we work to once again claim. To reclaim joy we first must walk through the valley and allow ourselves to fully feel and grieve. The pain of grief must be experienced, the loss acknowledged and integrated as the new reality of our lives moving forward. Joy and pain are not exclusive of one another and as we move through deep grief back into life they begin to coexist as part of the balance found in healing.
At the foundation of building a quality of life after loss where pain and joy can coexist is hope. As we work and walk through our grief we begin to embrace the love that still remains regardless of the physical limitations of our loss. As memories of life and love begin to be embraced we can allow the light of hope into the darkness of our grief. It is in this hope that we begin to trust that we can let go of some of our pain when we are ready.
The light of hope may begin with just a flicker but will brighten as we continue to reach out to others while allowing others to reach out to us as we lean on love. Because each loss is unique and each grief journey its own path, hope is found in different ways. Some find it in their faith and a belief they will see their love one once again. Other’s find it in those who have had a similar loss and have found healing and peace once again. Some find hope in keeping the legacy of their loved one alive by doing good works in their honor.
Eventually it is hope that allows us to once again stand face-to-face with the opportunity to claim joy. Joy comes by the drop and may only last for a moment initially. Many in grief feel guilty the very first time even a hint of joy is felt. Joy is so important however as it offers us a much needed reprieve from grief if only for a moment if we are open to allowing it in. Joy can be found anywhere, in the eyes of a puppy, a brilliant sky, the taste of a delicious meal, the laughter from a clever joke or the tender touch from someone we love. Allowing a little joy in guilt free opens the door to even more joy finding its way into our lives.
It is said that we can’t truly experience great joy unless we are able to fully experience deep pain. Our loss can lead us on a journey of true discovery and appreciation for the gift of the entire human experience. The transformational qualities of grief offers the opportunity for ordinary people to experience an extraordinary life lived in a deeper and more meaningful way. Be open to joy, it is your birthright. Claiming our joy does not mean we are denying our grief, it means we are embracing every aspect of our emotional being in fully expressing the love that lives on for those we love who have died.
By: Alan Pedersen
Executive Director, The Compassionate Friends USA
The thought of describing one’s journey of grief as “grace” seems unsettling, if not impossible. Grace, after all, is typically defined as elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action – or in many religious traditions as mercy, clemency or pardon. How in the […]