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It Has Its Own Shape

Good Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss by Dipti Tait.
Review by Gabriel Constans.

411Up78mHJLGood Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss is rich with personal insight, and emotional intelligence. The following quote alone is worth the book’s weight in gold. “It’s a natural process, like the tides that come in and out on the shore of the ocean of your consciousness. Some are high; some are low. It’s about learning how to surf the waves of grief and not drown in the intense sorrow of loss.” Ms. Tait shares the story of her experiences and reactions to her mother and father’s deaths, and how she has learned to not only ride the waves, but to help others stand up on their own board.

The realizations of grief’s depth and width within our lives is written with clarity, honesty, and compassion. The author’s realization that loss is variable and unique to each individual, based on a myriad of factors and conditioning, is vital for acceptance and healing. “A grieving period is individual to the person who grieves. It has its own shape, form and identity based on belief systems, personal experiences and our own unique programming.” This is so true, and yet we often want a cookie-cutter method of how to proceed and navigate loss, without taking our uniqueness into consideration.

This book shares many aspects of grief that we may feel, or think about, but often do not acknowledge, let alone process. There are chapters on loneliness, guilt, shock, stress, and the reality of loss in our daily lives, as well as the possibility for growth. Ms. Tait provides a number of ways to work with our emotions and thoughts that surround grief. These include journaling, the Three P’s (Positive thought, Positive Actions, Positive Activity), moving into emotional intelligence, and the “No/Yes Principle”. “The self-healing process begins when a person can recognize that they want to change.”

There is little doubt that Good Grief: A Companion to Change and Loss is well worth your time and attention. You may also find that it helps you live with the pain of loss with a little more understanding, and acceptance, and provides that bit of support that perhaps you had not have realized was needed, or available. In addition to getting a copy of Good Grief, by Ms. Dipti Tait, you may also wish to take a look at my book Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter. It is similar to Ms. Tait’s, but told through the eyes of a number of people experiencing the death of a loved one, as well as my interactions with them.

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A Woman’s Own Way

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

“Emotional, tearful, talkative, weak, dependent, scattered, illogical, over-reacting, out of control and hysterical.” These are some of the judgments and labels that women are painted with when they react to the loss of a loved one.

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Some times women (and men) do react to a sudden or expected death with a great deal of emotion and cry, talk, scream, wail and/or moan. Thank goodness that they do, for by doing so they are teachers for both sexes of how to honor and acknowledge a natural, human response to loss. If people are not allowed to “let go”, “collapse” or “lose it” after the death of a loved one, when on earth can they? When is there ever a better time to release the anguish and pain of having someone or a number of people ripped out of your life?

There is nothing inherently “weak” in allowing the true depths of our suffering to surface. It takes strength to allow oneself to be vulnerable and honest. It takes incredible energy, support and awareness to do something that most Americans have pathologized, minimized or tried at all costs to “get over”. Yet, more often than not, women are the pioneers in taking this journey of mourning, of walking through the valley, stepping on the sharp rocks and finding their way back to life; often with a new found respect and appreciation for the preciousness of life.

In some cultures, both here and abroad, there are women who are the “designated mourners” at funerals, and are the ones that show up at families’ homes when there has been a death. They hold a place of honor in their communities, because of their ability to connect with, hold and release the individual, and the communal pain of loss and separation that has occurred. Like midwives at births, these women are held in high esteem, as strong, aware healers who have their feet planted solidly on the earth, while their hearts compassionately open to both the suffering and the pain.

We, as a society, have slowly begun to recognize the power of grief and mourning and are starting to realize that such reactions are normal, for both women and men, and that to not have such outward or visible reactions to loss is also an acceptable way to mourn.

Because of past conditioning by families, institutions and media, women have often bought into the stereotypes of how they should or shouldn’t grieve and mourn. If they aren’t crying, sad, depressed or screaming after the death of a loved one, they often think something is wrong, that they’re “weird” or “abnormal”.

Just as there is wide variance in men, with regards to how we react, process and think about loss, so to for women. There are no universal women, or universal men with exact, programmed responses to life and death. There are countless ways in which we mourn. How we react to loss is the outcome of hundreds of factors, including, but not limited to, our relationship with the deceased; how long we’ve known them; how we have dealt with past crisis; how old we are; how they died; whether we were with them or not at the time of death; how we were told of their death; what kind of support system we have or don’t have; other responsibilities; financial or health concerns; what our belief systems are; and the messages we have received from others on what is or is not acceptable.

I have met women who were in great turmoil because they were not proceeding as “planned” by their and/or others’ expectations of when, how and where they should be at a given time, in regards to their grieving or reactions to the loss of a loved one.

One woman had not cried since the death of her father six months previous. She thought something was “wrong” with her. Yet, after describing everything she had had to do in the last six months, and the kind of relationship she had with her father, she realized that she had been doing just what she needed to do in order to survive and function. Once she was acknowledged and validated for doing what she needed to do, in the way she needed to do it, she was then able to acknowledge and express her conflicted emotions without fear of judgment or “being crazy”.

Another women said she never mourned or cried for her sister, whom she had loved dearly. Upon further reflection she realized that she thought about her sister every day when she jogged and was inspired by her sister’s life to continue teaching and helping others learn.

And some women (and men) tend to avoid their grief and pain by avoiding such emotions as much as possible. They stay busy, work twelve-hour days, drink excessively and/or use drugs. They jump from one relationship into another, and/or become so focused on a particular goal or activity that they are, for a time, able to compartmentalize, push aside, numb out or ignore the feelings, thoughts and impacts of having someone die.

These are all natural reactions to pain, to not wanting to hurt. Usually, however, such reactions end up causing more complications and don’t take away or change the pain of loss that remains.

I would ask that you take a moment to think about women. Think about their personalities, differences, relationships and families; how they interact with others; how they mourn and see themselves. Ask them which roles, lifestyles and behaviors they feel have been imposed or expected of them, and which ones they have chosen or made their own. They may be emotional, stoic, afraid, silent, loud, tearful, strong, confused, clueless, aware, insightful, isolated or social. They may be your partner, your sister, your mother, your grandchild, grandmother, aunt, colleague or friend. I invite you to see and treat each one as unique, creative human beings, who have the right, the power and the prerogative to deal with and react to life and death on their own terms.

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Love Hurts

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

“My friends keep telling me I have to ‘get out more’ and meet somebody new.” Jan stated. “Don’t they realize it’s the last thing on my mind?”

Jan’s husband of thirty years died just two months ago.

“My mother says I should stop thinking about Kathy and live in the present.” Jamal said tearfully. “But I can’t just turn her off.”

Jamal’s girlfriend, Kathy, died in a car accident on Thanksgiving Day twelve months earlier.

Steve says, “I’m not sure if this is right or not, but I met this lady and there might be something going on.”

Steve’s partner of fifteen years died after a long illness three months prior to meeting this woman.

“When is the right time?” Victoria asks. “How do I let myself get involved with anyone else without comparing them to Frank?”

Victoria’s husband Frank died at age thirty-five, leaving her alone with two small children.

“I haven’t gone out on a date in thirty years.” Sally proclaimed. “I have no idea where to begin. The thought of it terrifies me.”

Sally’s husband of thirty years died the previous year.

“This woman I’ve known for a long time asked me out,” Paula says. “I’m afraid to get involved again. I’m afraid I’ll forget Candace.”

Paula’s longtime friend and mate, Candace, died in her forties, after years of battling cancer.

“This may sound strange,” Roberta explained. “But whenever I’m making love with Cliff, I wonder if Mark is watching us from somewhere and I feel guilty.”

Mark died from a heart attack just two weeks before he and Roberta would have celebrated their ninth year of marriage.

“I’ve never loved anyone as much as I did Sylvia.” Dale said. “I’ll never find that kind of love again.”

Sylvia and Dale had met when they were in high school. She died in his arms after struggling with lung disease for six years.

When is the right time? How do you know when or if you should get involved with someone again? Is it disrespectful or unacceptable to date, “go out with”, “be involved” or “have a thing” for someone else after you’re loved one has died? What if you never want to be with anyone else again?

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These are a few of the many questions that arise after a lover, partner and/or spouse has died. There are no steadfast rules or secret formulas to reassure someone that is experiencing and contemplating such thoughts and concerns about loving again, but there are some observations and suggestions that may provide some comfort and reassurance. Here are some of the replies I’ve given to those asking these painful, lonely and often conflicting questions.

There is no perfect or “right” time to have another relationship.

You may choose to never marry again and that’s OK.

No matter who you join up with in the future, nor how deeply in love and involved that relationship becomes, you will never forget the person you lost.

Other people want you to “go out” again, not because you necessarily should or shouldn’t, but because they wish to see you happy and they think another relationship will provide that kind of happiness and be the magic pill to “make you feel better”.

Most people who have experienced a good marriage or partnership have a natural desire, at some point in their lives, to repeat that experience.

Look closely and honestly at your motivation for companionship. How much of your wish to be with someone else is out of loneliness and need? What values or interests are you ignoring in order to “be with” someone else? Can the person you develop a new relationship with accept and understand that your deceased mate will always be part of who you are?

Loving another person, and being loved by another, is a natural human need and desire. To do so shows no disrespect for the one that has died.

There is plenty of room in our hearts to hold the loved one who died and love another. We don’t have to throw one person out in order to make room for someone else.

You will never have an identical love or relationship with another, as you had with the person who died, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the same intensity or depth of connection with someone else. It won’t be the same, but it can be just as profound and intimate.

Some people choose not to have another lover in their life and are perfectly happy. Others stay alone out of fear and some because of circumstances beyond their control.

Many times the questions surrounding when to or not to get involved with another comes from our fear of losing someone again. When we have recently lost a loved one, we are more aware than most of the reality of our limited lives, and realize the fact that separation and pain will occur at some point in all relationships, either by one person choosing to leave or by death. We consciously, and most often unconsciously, tell ourselves, “If I let myself love again and become intimate and attached to another, that person may leave or die as well. I don’t want to experience that kind of pain again.”

Such reactions are understandable. We all try to protect ourselves to varying degrees and lengths from painful experiences, but to do so at all costs ends up being to costly. It cuts us off from other aspects of life.

Tennyson’s question remains. “Is it better to have loved and lost, then never loved at all?” We must each find within ourselves when, how and/or if we choose to love again.

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

The Beauty of Death

From Rumi: Poet and Mystic 1207-1273. Translated from the Persian with Introduction and Notes by Reynold A. Nicholson (1950).

The Beauty of Death

He who deems death to be lovely as Joseph gives up his soul in ransom for it; he who deems it to be like the wolf turns back from the path of salvation.

Every one’s death is of the same quality as himself, my lad: to the enemy of God an enemy, to the friend of God a friend.

In the eyes of the Turcoman the mirror is fair; in the eyes of the Ethiopian it is dark as an Ethiopian.

Your fear of death is really fear of yourself: see what it is from which you are fleeing!

‘Tis your own ugly face, not the visage of Death: your spirit is like the tree, and death like the leaf.

It has grown from you, whether it be good or evil: all your hidden thoughts, foul or fair, are born from yourself.

If you are wounded by thorns, you planted them; and if you are clad in satin and silk, you were the spinner.

Know that the act is not of the same complexion as its result; a service rendered is not homogenous with the fragment given in return.

The laborer’s wage is dissimilar to his work: the latter is the accident, while the former is the substance.

The latter is wholly toil and effort and sweat, the former is wholly silver and gold and viands.

When the worshiper has sown a prostration or genuflection here, it becomes the Garden of the Blessed hereafter.

When praise of God has flown from his mouth, the Lord of the Daybreak fashions it into a fruit of Paradise.

Only Two Potter’s To Go!

Harry Potter! Harry Potter! Harry Potter!”

In case you’ve been living on Mars and just returned to earth, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, is about to be launched on November 19th. The film, adapted from the last book in the series by J. K. Rowling, is about Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione searching for Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes, which are the secret to his possible immortality..

What’s so great about this film and the previous movies, is that not only are kids of all ages and both genders, scarcely able to restrain their excitement, but adults, myself included, can also barely contain our ecstasy.

Having my wife read each of Rowling’s seven books out loud to our youngest son was always magical. It just so happens that our son’s chronological age almost matches the students at Hogwarts year after year. He is now almost 18, just like the characters in the book and films and has read some of the books 2 or 3 times.

Our first reaction to hearing about any of the books being displayed on the silver screen was “Oh no! They’ll ruin it! How could the reality of a movie ever compare to the ones the author has created in our minds?” Everyone who has read the stories had there own idea of how each character sounded and acted. How could anyone give justice to Harry Potter? How could anyone match a million different personal images and visions?

After the initial shock wore off, we began to realize that the movies could be enjoyed for itself, separate from the books.The directors and screenwriters didn’t have to follow Rowling’s words exactly as they were written. She said herself that a movie is a movie, a different medium and one shouldn’t expect it to be like a book.

The first good news, after hearing about the movie versions, was that the author insisted the actors be less known English children. Which worked wonderfully, even though they are now known around the world. The second was that they were going to take as much time as needed to produce the films. If the last films in the series are as good as the previous ones, then the wait and hype will have been well worth the apprehension.

What is it about this boy with a lightening scar on his forehead that has kids and adults panting like sheepdogs to see the film? Here are a few of the time-tested ingredients.

1. Place what appears to be an ordinary boy in unbelievable circumstances. Have him raised in a home where he is hated, then adopted by a family of wizards, with children his age, who love and adore him.

2. Make him someone special, like the only person to ever survive an attack by “he who must not be named”.

3. Throw in all the dynamics, frustrations and complications of being an adolescent and teen.

4. Mix it up with the English school system run by benevolent and terrifying wizards and witches.

5. Add a game called Quidditch that is a cross between soccer and hockey played on broomsticks.

6. Provide some intriguing, funny and/or frightening monsters, dragons and ghosts.

7. Write amazingly sharp and witty vocabulary and dialogue.

8. Make it accessible and understandable for all ages.

9. Top it all off with good versus evil.

10. Voila, you have the adventures of Harry Potter.

Now, if you see a strange family with lightening bolts painted on their foreheads and wands in their hands camped out in front of the theater at midnight on Nov. 19th, you’ll know it’s just another bunch of those crazy Potter fans trying to get in ahead of the crowd and I’ll probably be one of them.

P.S. Emma Watson (plays Hermione): If you happen to read this, will you please get in touch with our son Shona and ask him out on a date. He talks about you all the time and is willing to travel to Rhode Island and meet you at any time. He’s only a few years younger than you, has your picture on his wall and thinks of applying to Brown just to meet you before you graduate. Contact me directly and I’ll pass on your invitation.

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