Behind The Scenes: The Grief Practice Book

I find myself in an awkward spot these days, a few months out from self-publishing my second book.

I am afraid to fail and I am afraid to succeed.

That’s how I know I’m right where I should be.

This book has had a life of its own. There have been major delays, hiccups, crash landings and revivals. It lay dormant for years until the tiniest light warmed up the idea again in my heart.

Witnessing the twists and turns of how it’s come to be what it is has reaffirmed my trust in the process of things. Not that they always work out, but that I do my small part and the rest is out of my hands.

2002: THE CRASH: One of the first things I did after my husband died was go to my local bookstore. I was looking for a book to show me the way because books had always shown me the way up until then. I came empty and left emptier.

2006: THE HEAL: I listen to my first body scan and have my first AHA moment of being present. That same year I start going to yoga every week at Birdrock Yoga. I cry at the end of every class in the final resting pose. I begin to wonder what is happening in yoga that didn’t happen in my years in talk therapy and my decade on antidepressants…

2009: THE MEND: My brother gives me a dog and I meet my now husband. Our relationship and his support allows me to explore areas of my grief I never felt safe enough to explore alone.

2010: THE STORY: I start writing publicly about my grief. I intern with a Los Angeles yoga teacher and writer and learn the ins and outs of online magazines, blogging and publishing. I start feeling the tug to write a book about grief and about how yoga helped me.

2013: THE PUZZLE: I take my yoga teacher training. Shortly after I take a trauma-informed yoga training. I begin to understand why yoga was able to help me through my grief when nothing else could. I begin my exploration into trauma and emotions in the body and how it all relates to grief. The puzzle starts to come together…

2015: THE PARTNER: I read an article by a writer and yoga teacher I admire about her experience of grief. I reach out to her to see if she’d like to collaborate on a book project. She says yes! We start planning and create the first version of the website. I realize this is not meant to be a book about my story. It is meant to be a book about OUR stories.

2016: THE PATH: I start teaching a weekly grief yoga class at a local hospice center. People are coming to class weeks out of tremendous loss. I begin to see how the body responds to movement and mindfulness at different times in grief and what is useful and not useful for humans in their suffering. I tell my story publicly for the first time when I present on The Grief Practice at Camp Widow in San Diego.

2017: THE LETDOWN: My partner advises me she cannot continue with the project. I don’t think I can finish this book alone while at the same time feeling that I have to find a way forward.

2018: THE PUSH: January: I begin to offer Grief-In-The-Body workshops as a way to condense all the information I’ve gathered over the last five years into a comprehensible, useful format for humans who are grieving.

July: I realize I need to pull other people in to help me make the book the best it can possibly be. I recruit a local artist, attorney, photographer, fellow yoga teacher, website design crew and begin to jot down my ideas on how I will share this project through a video. I reach out to a 20-year hospice nurse, neuroscientist, and 18-year yoga teacher and author to review the book. We make the video.

November: I receive the final edits for the video, ironically, the week before Thanksgiving. I launch the Indiegogo campaign.

Here we are. I am finalizing the book, receiving some last reviews, and working out details on how to get this photo-heavy book printed in the most economical way.

Creating something that matters is hard work. We often think if it doesn’t “succeed” by today’s standards that it’s not worth it.

That is a damn lie. In my book failing is not trying.

We need more people creating things that matter, that make a small shift in a big world. We need people willing to do the heart work and the hard work of showing up no matter what.

You’ll be the first to know when the book and companion website are ready!

ps. I got this little book when I knew I was on the path to shipping something that mattered. If you have an idea in your heart you want to bring to life, I highly recommend taking a look at Seth Godin’s body of work. It’s taken me from can’t-do-it to doing-it every time.

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28 One-Liners On Grief

For almost a year now I’ve been quietly posting almost daily under my project name of The Grief Practice over on Instagram. I alternate posting words with photos, and tonight I wrapped up many of them into this little list. Because I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s nice to have all the words in one place.

Often I expand on the concept in the body of the post, but I’ve kept this list sweet and short.

  1. Don’t toss your broken pieces aside. You’ll need them to complete the puzzle of your heart.
  2. Sometimes we don’t every say Goodbye to them, to us, to who we used to be.
    We just say hello to each new breath, each new moment, each new day.
  3. We are not give what we can handle.
    We handle what we are given.
  4. You’ll get there faster by going slower.
  5. You don’t need to know it or name it to heal it.
  6. Let Grief speak. Just like Love it has something to say.
  7. We don’t work against sadness.
    We work with sadness.
  8. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with your grief. You are having a tremendous human experience.
  9. When we can’t look forward, we can look up.
  10. Healing is not linear or logical.
  11. The only grief anyone can be an expert on is their own.
  12. Honor the collapse.
  13. Follow your grief’s lead. It knows the way back home.
  14. Grief is not contagious.
  15. The way through is in.
  16. Grief expands before it shrinks.
  17. The old rules don’t apply now.
  18. We can’t talk ourselves out of how we feel.
  19. The body processes slower than the mind.
  20. Grief isn’t just about grief.
  21. Exile nothing.
  22. The darkness teaches us many things, one of which is to celebrate the light.
    The other is how to see in the dark.
  23. Before we can move on, we have to move in.
  24. Too much Shhh. Not enough Sacred.
  25. Our bodies are the first home for our grief, starting with the feeling of our hearts breaking.
  26. Our stories of how things ended are also stories of how we begin.
  27. Sometimes our outer facade can’t keep up with our inner pain.
  28. Happy endings are for fairy tales.
    Real life is about Courageous beginnings.

The Face of Grief

Grief walked by me today. It was wearing all white, each pair of eyes holding pain the way only humans can.

The fifty or so humans walking by me wore white shirts that held a picture and a name. Everyone looked up as they passed. At their number, at their unity, at the name they wore on their shirts, the same name they wore on their hearts.

Even the people who didn’t look at them saw them, and I remembered what I too often forget.

That if enough of us walk together the world will look up from what it’s doing and see our raw humanity, how we fall to pieces when we lose, and how it’s possible to lift the body of grief if others help us.

And it’s not to make people who haven’t lost feel bad; it’s to make people who have lost feel free. Free to declare their love in this public and sobering way. Free to speak their pain the way we speak our joy.

Visually, audibly, artistically, humanly.

And I wonder if we can carry our grief together. You and me and all of us who have lost a parent or a partner or a child or a friend. I wonder if we can walk together for the world to see and collectively step up to the platform of life and give grief a voice and a face and a name.

Can we show the world such an authentic and beautiful demonstration of humanity that even the people who don’t look up will see us, will hear us and know that when loss lands at their doorstep, we who have lost will be here to catch them in our widespread arms and hearts.

For a little over a year I’ve been co-creating such a platform for grief. It’s called The Grief Practice: An Anthology of Loss. It’s a project that invites grief to speak its heart, show its scars and beauty marks and rest in community.

I invite you to stand up with me and give grief a voice. If you are interested in sharing your story the details are at TheGriefPractice.com.

Let’s carry our grief together.

Welcoming Grief

This time of year always sends me back to the Land of Loss to unpack my deepest grief, lest I forget.

Every year from Thanksgiving through the winter solstice I honor my own loss, my own heart, my own way to collapse and to rise.

I ask my grief how it is and what it needs. I see how much room it is taking up in my heart and my body, and I ask the rest of me if we can all make it feel a little more welcome, give it a little more room.

Love is the kindest of all. She gives grief a big hug and clears a space right next to her for it to settle in.

Patience follows grief like a shadow, never leaving its side even when it takes to a dark room for days.

Joy meets grief like a puppy meets a new friend, curious and bright-eyed. Undeterred by grief’s disinterest, joy snuggles up next to it contentedly, sure they will be friends one day.

Sadness shares her blanket with grief, and together they huddle but somehow can’t shake the lonely chill of loss.

Hope casts a line to grief but for a long time there is no pull on the other end. Until one day there is the faintest tug. Hope wonders if she imagined it until, yes, there it is again.

All of me digs deep, from my bones to my brain. And although we’ve only been working as a team for the last nine years or so, we pull through this beautifully, even if not gracefully.

Each time I visit this Land of Loss it’s different. Sometimes I see old friends tending their gardens of grief and sometimes I see newcomers wandering the streets wondering how they got here. Whether our paths cross on my way in or your way out, I hope we will pause in our tracks, dust off the hearts on our sleeves and look each other in the eye, human to human, so that for a moment you and I will know we’re in this together.

Even though our lives and our losses may be worlds apart, we’re in this together.

Published on The Huffington Post

The Million-Dollar Question About Grief

How do we give back to grief when it shattered life as we knew it?

The concept of survivors giving back is common in many support systems and organizations. Those that have found a way through to the other side return to support and encourage those still struggling.

Thankfully there are many individuals and organizations publicly embracing the unwieldy, uncomfortable, unimaginable thing that is grief; but how do we personally return to the land of loss when many of us escaped into the arms of life the first chance we got?

How do we offer our hearts to grief when our hearts are the very thing it tore from our chests?

This question was passed on to me and now I pass it on to you. And like the Olympic torch stays lifted and lit, I wonder if we can each do our part to keep the question alive and find our own unique answer.

Sometimes we have the resources and strength to revisit the land of loss and walk beside the people who still reside there, not as someone who has all the answers, but as a fellow human being who has loved and lost and still lives, still loves.

Sometimes we lend grief our voice or share our story of loss in writing, not because it fixes anything but because it helps others feel less alone in their grief. Sometimes we use our physical presence to stand at the side of another who has lost or to support the numerous and varied grief groups. Sometimes we create a safe space of our own with the abilities we have, the resources we’ve been given and our own unique experience of grief.

Sometimes we don’t give our hearts back to grief because just the thought of it breaks our hearts all over again. And that’s absolutely fine. Just because grief chose us doesn’t mean we have to choose it.

The thing is that grief is a language all its own. We, the ones who have lost, are privileged to translate it for the world and to speak to those who have just found themselves fluent in this foreign tongue.

This puts us in the unique position of using our voices to create a new paradigm for grief; to collectively lift the stigma from grief; to teach people who haven’t lost how to support us, how to walk beside us without trying to rush us or fix us or make us presentable.

We are the ones who will teach the world how to not turn away from grief and the grieving by not turning away from it ourselves.

I carry the torch of grief because in the darkness of loss it may be the only light there is. And when the day comes that I return to the land of loss as a resident and not as a visitor, I hope the flicker of the flame you’re carrying will light my way.

(I will be giving a voice to grief in my own unique way on January 27, 2017 at my Living With Loss event. Please join me if you can.)

The Language of Grief

Death is so inarticulate.

Grief, however, speaks to our hearts and from our hearts.

Grief can sing and grief can sign.

Grief can write poetry and grief can tell stories.

Grief can speak from loudspeakers and from tiny mouths.

Grief can say I love you and grief can ask for help.

Grief is fluent in the language of heartbreak, translating the unspeakable and the unimaginable into black and white (and still we can’t believe our eyes.)

Grief speaks their names when no one else dares to.

Grief hears their voices when everyone else just hears silence.

Grief sees their faces when we look up at the moon or at that stranger on the street who has just their shade of hair and eyes.

Grief takes their place at the dinner table and in the empty bed and is always there at the bottom of the glass.

Death is so inarticulate, but grief
grief speaks our language.

Where We Begin (When It All Ends)

When it all implodes, explodes, hits the fan, comes to Jesus, goes to hell, unravels, derails, blindsides us, sideswipes us, bowls us over or pulls us under
the breath is still there

starting with the pause after the exhale
that moment where we decide to keep breathing
to keep living

it invites us to sit with the nothingness
to see how it is big enough to hold everything that was
and everything that is

it asks us to allow silence where their words used to be
to listen to all it doesn’t say for as long as we need to until we finally hear the soft beat of our own heart

until we remember how it has never left our side
not even for a moment

it introduces us to the tick-tock of this moment
until we see how the hand of Now reaches for ours

not to replace theirs or to pull us away from them
just to be with us
here where we are
as we are
right now

If Grief Could Speak (5 Things It Would Say)

If grief could speak it would say, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry it’s me that arrived at your doorstep instead of love. But I am made of love too. In fact, it’s because I love so much that I hurt so much when I lose the people I love.

If grief could speak it would say, You can survive.

I know you may not want to. I know life may not be worth living without them. I know the earth collapsed beneath your feet. I know a part of you died with them. And I know you can survive, one breath at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time.

If grief could speak it would say, Please don’t hide me away.

I know when people see you with me they get uncomfortable. I know your friends don’t know what to say to me. I know it’s easier to hide me away when you have company over for dinner.

But I’d like a seat at the table. Will you let me speak? Will you listen to me? I can’t promise I’ll be polite or calm. I may raise my voice because I’m angry or I may collapse in a pile of tears, but if I can let it out then I don’t have to hold it here, in you.

I’d like to create some more space inside you for all of us to coexist. You, me, love, anger, laughter, peace, hope, joy… there’s enough room for all of us in your heart.

If grief could speak it would say, I love you.

You may not love me, but I love you. I love how you love so big. I love how you keep taking care of your babies who lost their papas or their mamas. I love how you keep taking care of that space your loved one took up even though they’re gone. How you leave their favorite book in the same place, how you leave their clothes folded, how you let them live a little longer in the things left behind. I love how you don’t let the world forget they were here, that they mattered, that they were a part of you. I love you.

If grief could speak it would say, Find your own way.

There seem to be a lot of “experts” out there about me. They say I arrive in stages and they make it sound like I’m something to get over, like the flu.

What I can tell you is there is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing wrong with you. I am not a sickness, I am grief. I am a valid experience and emotion and there is no right way to hold me. There is just your way. No two people receive me the same way. Let’s find our own way to dance together, to cry together, to break together, to heal together.

Let’s find our own way through this brief and beautiful life.

Published on The Huffington Post

The Land of Loss

We are the residents of the Land of Loss
You’ll know us by the far-off look in our eyes
And by the way we carry our hearts on our backs
because they no longer fit in our chests

Some of us moved in under a bright sun, some of us stumbled in under a full moon
We aren’t quite sure how we got here and
even though our stories have similar endings
No two of our hearts broke apart the same way

We need shelter, and not just the kind over our heads
The kind that protects us from the world with its quick fixes and feel-betters
We need support, and not just for a few months or on the anniversary
Years later, lifetimes later, they will still be gone

We are looking for something we lost here
That piece of our heart that would make it all fit, that piece of our soul that died with them
We are looking for people who aren’t afraid to place their hand on the hole of our heart and feel for a beat
People who can hear us without trying to heal us, who can witness us without writing us off

Please forgive us if we don’t talk so much at first, or if we talk too much
Don’t worry if we take to our bed or to the bottle or the next plane to nowhere
It’s not a stage, a phase, an illness or a problem
It’s just grief

And if we forget to say it, thank you for walking with us a stretch
For visiting us in this Land of Loss instead of banishing us to it
For building that bridge from your heart to ours so that when we are ready
We can find our way home

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Mother’s Day Tribute Practice

“One of the things this society is most deficient in is safe spaces for truth-telling about the condition of our souls.” – Parker Palmer

Last Mother’s Day, as an alternative to the typical Mother’s Day celebrations, I offered a commemorative yoga practice at my local yoga studio to honor the mothers who are no longer with us.

I knew I would be marketing an unconventional idea on an uncomfortable subject, but I believe there is a need for safe spaces where we can be alone together through our deepest and most difficult emotions; grief being one of them. Holidays such as Mother’s Day are a perfect example of a time when people who have lost a loved one can feel even more alone, ostracized, or misunderstood.

This Mother’s Day I will once again offer a safe space for honoring our mothers. The ones we have with us and the ones we have lost.

Grief is seldom welcomed in our public places the same as love is, but I invite us to honor both love & grief, to move with both and to create some space for both to coexist more comfortably under our skin.

Led from a trauma-informed yoga approach, we will move through asana, breathwork and mindfulness practices specific for love & grief.

No public sharing, speaking or journaling will be required.
No hands-on adjustments.
Just space to be & breathe.

Sunday, May 8, 2016 at 4:00 p.m.
San Elijo Dance & Music Academy
1635 S Rancho Santa Fe Rd #102

(See my Huffington Post piece Exploring the Body of Grief for the concept behind this practice.)