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.

For The Hard Women

I am not afraid of your hardness. I know it grew out of necessity, just like mine did.

I know it keeps you safe and in control, and that’s okay.

I see the part of you that is soft and open and wants to have the conversation, the one where you’re heard and seen and don’t have to prove how smart or successful or resourceful or worthy you are because we both know you’re enough without all that stuff.

Through your eyes I see the softness wriggling in the cage of your heart, trying to find a way out, and how some of that softness turns into anger, and how that too is valid.

So we talk about where you’re from and how long you’re visiting and the ages of the kids.

And I want to thank you for reminding me of myself, or say something to crack the superficial exchange, but instead I just smile into the space between us because then you’ll know there is a bridge your heart can cross when it finds the key to that cage.

For The Little Girls Trying To Be Perfect

I have spent so much of this life trying to be perfect. And what I have to show for it is a body full of tension and a mind whose instinct is to put on the brakes instead of lifting my arms and letting out a whole-hearted and wholly inappropriate whoooot. 

And so.

This is for the little girls trying to be perfect, who think it will make them feel whole and loved and accepted, who are told to watch out for strangers but are never warned about getting trapped in the four walls of their own mind.

This is for the little boys who are shamed for crying or feeling or being human, who are told to be men and then given power without being empowered.

It’s for the parents who can’t bear to hear what is in their children’s hearts because it’s not what they want to hear. And it’s for the children who take that deaf ear and turn it inward so they can’t even hear their own truth anymore, only drown it and numb it and run from it.

This is for us who hear how someone died or how they killed and think it could never happen to us or to ours, who judge them good or bad because being right pushes it farther away.

This is for your unnamed pain and your unheard truth and the places it hurts that don’t make sense and that no one asks about because they can’t see the scars or they’re just not looking.

This is for our holy hallelujahs and goddammits that we wish could lift us above it all but in the end bring us closer to the insane and the humane as we let out a collective Amen, human is what we are.

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

Kindness

When the kindness comes for you let it in
the way you let the sun in through the window or the sand in between your toes

If it feels like it’s aiming right for your heart that’s because it is

And if you’re wondering why it never felt this way before (the kind words from the lady who found your father wandering the streets with his Alzheimers; the gentle touch by the nurse after you birthed your baby)

perhaps it’s because your heart was a checkpoint instead of a landing strip
and now it all arrives to close to home, so intimately, so personally
the way kindness does when it has a clear path to you

taking your hand and showing you the tender side of being human
through illness or loss or love or aging

And when all the vulnerability you thought the world would laugh at is held so gently, so kindly
perhaps you wonder why you’ve spent a lifetime hiding your raw, unedited heart until now

and perhaps you let the love color outside the lines a little more going forward
perhaps you let the kindness soften those callouses from that time you lost or that time you hurt or that time you died a little or a lot

and then send it on its way to land in someone else’s heart.

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.

Let It All Fall Apart

Save your strength for those who need you to be strong
but how tender can you be with your own heart
how patient can you be with your own growth
how kind can you be to your weak parts

Hold it together when others are collapsing
but once in a while let it all fall apart
let it break in your hands
let the rivers flow from your eyes and your pores and your lips

Answer what needs to be answered
but the rest of the time let the questions rest against each other like your knees
write the answers in pencil or (better yet)
in the sand
so when the oceans of love or pain wash them away there will be a fresh slate for the new answers
the new way from here to there

Fix what you can fix
but let everything else come together (or back together) slowly
your love, your heart, your path
let them learn to trust again, to try again, to risk it all again

Save the world if you can
or just love bigger than you ever imagined
just smile at every single person you pass
just do your best every moment of every day
starting right Now.