Healing is Moving Through our Grief
Rather than Away From our Grief
workshop for The Compassionate Friends by Melody LeBaron
“There inevitably comes a moment in each of our lives, after which everything changes, after which we walk on the earth a little bit differently, and we feel our place here with a heightened kind of awareness. Usually this moment is some kind of suffering. It might be a divorce or the loss of a job or being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or we loose someone dear to us – a parent or, God forbid, a child.
“And after that moment the way that we are on the earth is changed forever. We cannot live our lives by accident any longer. Because something in that loss, that grief, that heartache, galvanizes our attention. We listen more carefully to everything, we watch more closely for what’s true, we try to sense with every cell of our body the inner balance of things.” Wayne Muller, from Legacy of the Heart
It is my goal that, as we listen and watch and sense and share together, we will each find more of what is true for us, what will give us inner balance.
My name is Melody LeBaron and I am the mother of Heather, age 24, Brandon, age 22, Todd, age 18, Samantha, age 8 and Logan, who would be 20 if he had survived the car accident that took his life. To those who love him, Logan will always be 17.
In the first months after Logan’s death, I vacillated between numbness and an anguish so intense I wanted to die. When I walked into this room three years ago, I was frightened that there was no way out of the black hole of my grief.
I want to thank those of you that were there for me in those early months, for listening to me, and for all you shared with me in the meetings and phone calls and the interviews I had with many of you. I am a college student, and I am usually in school on Tuesday nights. So I am especially grateful to those of you who put out the newsletter and especially to Torrie for the beautiful cards she sends me on Logan’s birthday and the anniversary of his death. Because of you, I know that I do not walk alone, none of us do.
Ask everyone to share their names, the name of their child and something special about their child.
When Torrie asked me to speak tonight, to share what has helped me the most in my grieving process, I decided on the theme “Healing is moving through our grief, not away from it.” I know from my own experience with other losses that if we do not feel our grief and allow it to move through us — if we try to stuff it down, rise above it, wall it off, or close up — we will end up wearing our grief like body armor for the rest of our lives. I’ll be sharing how I have used music, yoga, breathwork, aromatherapy, bodywork, journaling, and writing Logan’s LifeStory in my Healing Journey through my grief.
This area (heart/lungs) of our bodies is where we first see the effects of grief. Years ago, I met a woman whose daughter had died 15 years earlier. As she briefly spoke of this child, her face, her voice, and her whole body tensed; her breathing was constricted, her protective posture was rigid. There was no evidence of the joy she had felt in the life of that child, all she could feel and share was pain at her loss.
When something painful happens to us, we usually stop the flow of emotion by constricting our breathing. That can be useful in some situations, but feelings buried alive never die. Those feelings of grief are stored in our cell tissue until we release them.
When a child dies, most of us were given time off from work or family responsibilities for a short while. Long enough for the shock to wear off and the despair to set in. Then we are expected to go back to our lives and function normally.
My own experience tells me that, although our daily responsibilities must be met, THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK WE WILL DO IN THE FIRST TWO YEARS AFTER OUR CHLID’S DEATH IS OUR GRIEF-WORK.
I define my GriefWork as anything I do to allow my emotions over Logan’s death to move through me, so that I can release them.
I am lucky. Five years ago, after my sister died, I had started taking Kundalini yoga classes once or twice a month. I enjoyed the vigorous workouts and the deep relaxations that followed. But after Logan died, when I went to yoga class, I found that it made a profound difference for me.
I am going to share some excerpts from”Riding the Wave of the Breath” chapter in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope, in which he shares the story of one of his students, Garth.
“One of the most dramatic things I noticed about Garth was his shallow breathing. Indeed , when I sat with him at meals, I noticed if I wasn’t paying attention, I would begin to stop breathing myself. Garth’s breath seemed restricted, as if he couldn’t bear to penetrate down into his body. so he took short, rapid little breaths . . . His shallow breathing and tight belly, his frozen eyes and joints, the deadness and lack of life force in his body—all of these habitual and “locked in” responses to fear chronically perpetuated the original mental states that had long ago evoked them. They kept Garth separated from life. They insured that he continued to drag the past into the present and the future. . .
“Prana is life force. Human beings receive it directly inot the body through the air. We also take it in through live foods (like fresh fruits and vegetables), fresh water, through living plants, and—if we’re open—through the love of other people and other creatures. More than anything else, it is breathing that builds and regulates the flow of prana in the human body. . . . When the breath is fully open, relaxed and free, and when all of the breathing apparatuses—lungs, diaphragm, muscles of the rib cage and chest—are unconstricted in their movements, we have full access to our internal emotional experience.”
The Long Deep Breath is the way we were meant to breathe, and we’re going to practice it. Sit with spine straight, hands in prayer pose, close your eyes to keep your awareness internal, deepen the breath and allow yourself to become fully present for yourself in this moment.
With your thumbs pressing slightly on the sternum, hands pressing slightly together, you are balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Now take a moment and notice what it is you are feeling, notice and allow the sensations you are having in your body.
explain Long Deep Breathing, explain “inhale deeply, suspend the breath”
Long Deep Breathing: begin by exhaling all the way out, pulling in the navel; begin the inhale by relaxing the belly, fill the bottom third of the lungs; expand the rib cage, fill the middle third; expand the upper chest, fill the top third, exhale all the way out, pulling in the navel.
Remember that conscious breathing opens parts of the body that may have been shut off from the life force (prana); as the wave of breath moves into these exiled areas, you may experience a deep reintegration — sobbing, release, insight, relaxation.
have them practice LDB, while listening to the song “The Healing Journey,” and while I check their breathing, then:
- do spinal warm-ups
- standing, bending breaths
- grind in a large circle
- camel ride
- washing machine
- shoulder shrugs
- 4 part/8 part neck rolls
Riding the Wave of the Breath
taken from Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope
- sit with spine straight
- inhale in four parts, exhale in one long breath
- continue at a good pace for 3 minutes
- inhale deeply, suspend the breath, exhale
While riding the wave of the breath, find a comfortable posture that allows full deep breathing, an open chest and heart, a posture into which the body can relax and keep relaxing. Wherever you feel tension, move your awareness directly there, to explore and release and relax as much as possible. As the wave of the breath and energy builds in intensity, we may want to “get off the wave”, and we may repeatedly tense up in order to defend against it. Consciously relax.
In this technique, feeling is active: it does not mean just “having feelings”, it means moving toward the sensations, the energy, the emotions — and into them. We “breathe into them” as if we could send breath right into their epicenter. We develop acuity of awareness so we can feel the whole range of sensations — their color, texture, intensity, mood. Let your thoughts and judgments drop away. Get out of your head and into your body. Remain fully present for your emotions. Where in your body is the feeling most intense? What is the exact nature of the sensation? Is there movement?
Shift to “witness consciousness”, to the zone of neutrality, of non-judgment, where we are not “choosing for or against” any kind of experience. We are just being with our experience exactly as it is. We don’t fight it. As we drop into witness consciousness, we’re free both to participate in and to stand apart from our experience. Our attention is focused on “how is it?” rather than “why is it?” or “do I like it?” As the watcher of our experience, we are also the coach, reminding ourselves to descend into the still point at the center of the storm.
When we just allow our energy experience, without trying to control it, we are free to surrender to the wave of sensation, of feeling, and of energy. We trust that we are moving toward healing and full integration. We relinquish our resistance, or our need to understand the process, and let the process happen to us. This kind of surrender requires a willingness to be changed, to trust life, to be fully present for our experience.
I have found that journaling, writing about, my experiences of riding the wave of my grief has helped me in many ways. I have a record of my own grieving, healing process. Some of my writing is angry, filled with rage, some of it is filled with despair. Often I am so busy during the day that when I sit down to write, I am amazed at the depth and velocity of the grief that was right under the surface, ready to pour out. I would like to share a journal entry I wrote recently:
I remember walking into my parents room moments before my mother’s death. She was moaning, frightened, fluid rising in her airway, feeling herself suffocating. Dad was sitting on his side of the bed, reading a scientific journal. Holding her hand, yes. But unable to look into her eyes, to be fully present for her.
What if I choose to be fully present for my grief over Logan’s death and my divorce, instead of fearing and moving away from it? What if I feel these current feelings of insecurity all the way through, without fearing or moving away from them? They are a part of me. What if I choose to love my fears—instead of fearing them?
I now accept these fears, this anger and grief. It is OK with me that you are here in me, in my mind, in my space. I release the need to judge and condemn you just because you make me uncomfortable. I will stay as fully present for the part of me that fears as I will for the part of me that loves. I will embrace my shadow side. I will listen to and love my anger, grief and fear.
As I stop protecting myself against my dark side, I feel tension melting away. The masking, the pretending, the defending… all release. I sink into a deep stillness inside of me. An openness expands from my heart center outward, filling me, filling the room, filling space.
In corners of my ego, thoughts rise, but I release them like hot air balloons. Nothing matters except this peace spreading through my body, my face, my mind. This peace that surpasses my mind’s ability to comprehend it. This rich peace that connects me to all-that-is, that feels like Oneness.
Later, when I come out of this vast expansive vibration, taking deep breaths, my awareness back in my body now, I do not feel the judgments, the fears, the losses. They have transformed into the tears flowing down my cheeks, watering my smile.
Another thing that has helped me along my Healing Path of Grief is writing Logan’s LifeStory. I have written a guide for those who want to write a detailed account of their deceased loved one’s life. If any of you are interested in it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those of you who are not into writing, creating a visual life history may be an option for you. (Show photos books, framed photos.)
Music is also a powerful tool in our Healing process. During that first year after Logan’s death, my home was not always a place where I felt safe to express my emotions. I found that, driving alone in my car, listening to certain music, I was able to access the emotions that needed to release. It was as if, in the sonic sanctuary of my car, as I sang along or just listened and wept, the sacred work of transformation began.
I don’t have time tonight to share all of the Enya, Loreena McKennitt, and Celene Dion music that has made such a difference for me. I’ve included the titles of songs and albums I used in my handout (below), as well as information on how the music I will be using tonight can be ordered.
How many of you have heard of the use of essential oils, or aroma therapy? After Logan’s death, my massage therapist introduced me to essential oils. She gifted me with two that made a huge difference in how I felt and functioned in those first two years.
The essential oil blends I recommend for anyone who is grieving are:
- Valor, an essential oil blend which helps you feel grounded, present, and able to face your day. To use, apply several drops to the soles of the feet and the wrists. Then hold the soles of your feet together, and your wrists together, until you feel the pulse the same on both sides of your body. This rebalances the electro-magnetic energy of the body and energy field.
- Trauma Life or White Angelica: These oil blends are uplifting; each has a high frequency, which allows you to tap into divine guidance, feel the comfort of grace, and release trauma. You put a drop on the crown of the head, a drop on the brow (between the eyebrows), under the nose (inhale deeply!), and one drop on the throat and the center of the chest. Let your intuition be your guide which one of these will be best for you. In the first 4 years after Logan died, I used Trauma Life daily. Now, I use White Angelica.
I loved the essential oils so much I stopped wearing synthetic perfumes and became a distributor for Young Living Essential Oils. If you would like to order any of these oils, email me at email@example.com.
Another tool that I have used in Healing my Grief is Body Work. Scientists and medical doctors now understand that memory is not just held in the brain, but in every cell of our bodies. Body Work like massage, reflexology and acupuncture has helped me and many others release grief and trauma from our physical structure.
In closing I choose to share an insight that has only come in the last year. Before Logan died, I had lived through many other losses and hard times. But I was not the only one I knew who had lived through divorce, single parenting, the deaths of a parent or a sibling, financial hardship. But the death of a child is not as common. And I am ashamed to say that it made me feel different, separate, set apart from the rest of the world.
And then a friend recommended a Wayne Muller tape that gave me a new lens, a new perspective, with which to look at my grief. I would like to share part of that tape with you. Wayne Muller graduated from the Harvard Divinity School and has spent his entire career working with those who suffer unimaginable losses: poverty, abuse, addiction, AIDS, cancer, death. At this point in his the tape, he is speaking about what happens to us when a loved one dies.
“. . . We cry and we are angry and confused and we are tired. And we hold one another and we try feel the truth of who we all are. And the other thing that happens, almost every time, is an incredible tangible sensation of grace and honesty and compassion and gentleness and clarity and loving kindness that does not make sense unless there are two things that are born of sorrow.
“One is that we are a little bit broken down and the other is that we are a little bit broken open. And we touch that place, whether we call it the Kingdom of God, or the still small voice, or our Budda nature, or the Goddess within, or the spirit of the Earth, or the Holy Spirit. There is that lens that refuses to crack, even under the greatest weight of suffering.
“I would like to suggest that those psychological theories that diagnose us as handicapped, or broken, or toxic because we have had sorrow in our lives are violently mistaken and that those diagnoses invite us to forget who we are. Because who we are is something that will not break. Will not break.
“Pier Violet, a Sufi master, said: ‘Overcome any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of pain that was entrusted to you.’ I will read that again: ‘Overcome any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of pain that was entrusted to you. Like the mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart, each one of us is part of her heart and therefore endowed with a certain measure of pain. You are sharing in the totality of that pain. And you are called upon to meet it in joy instead of self-pity.’ This is a deep practice.
“But it only serves to remind us that our suffering does not set us apart from the human family. It invites us into deep kinship with the human family. And that our sorrow is one of the things that breaks us down, but it is also one of the things that breaks us open.”
It is my choice to know that the pain of Logan’s death is the plow that has opened my heart for planting, that the seeds of compassion are growing in my life and in all our lives, and that as each of us walk the healing path of our own grief, we are better equipped to reach back to help those who will follow us.
NOTE: If you want my support with your own grief journey, I have a 90-day private coaching program Thriving—Not Just Surviving—After a Loss. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll schedule time to talk to see if that would be a fit for you.
Here is the music that helped me on my Grief Journey.
The Healing Journey
by Ann Mortifee https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0aYgeuGepQ
This is a healing journey
This is a sacred path
A path that leads us inward
To dance the sacred dance.
This is a healing journey
We walk it one by one
Each woman and each man alone
To the sound of the distant drum.
This is a healing journey
It winds a stormy path
Through fear and joy and anger
Sorrows from the past.
This is a healing journey
And when the heart is clear
You can hear the winds that rustle
As heaven’s breath draws near.
Breathe into the sorrow
Breathe into the fear
Breathe into the anger
Breathe into the tears
Breathe into the loneliness
Breathe into the joy
Breathe in with the breath of life
And let your heart take voice.
This is a healing journey
From blindness into sight
From the valley of uncertainty
Where darkness turns to light.
This is a healing journey
It is the gift of nature’s way
To open up our hearts
The scheme within the play.
Born To Live
By Ann Mortifeehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IpOSzO5PA0
We were born to live, not just survive
Though the road be long and the river wide
Though the seasons change and the willows bend
Though some dreams break, some others mend.
We were born to give and born to take
To win and loose and to celebrate
We were born to know and born to muse
To unfold our hearts, take a chance and choose.
We were born to love though we feel the thorn
When a ship sets sail to return no more
Though a door be closed and we feel the pain
To chance it all and to love again.
We were born to reach, to seek what’s true
To surrender all, to make each day new
We were born to laugh and born to cry
To rejoice and grieve just to be alive.
we were born to hope and to know despair
And to stand alone when there’s no one there
We were born to trust and to understand
That in every heart there’s an outstretched hand.
We were born to love, to be right and wrong
To be false and true, to be weak and strong
We were born to live, to break down the wall
And to know that life is to taste it all.
Ann Mortifee’s music: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/healing-journey/id270478600
Other music good for GriefWork:
• Enya’s CD Watermark(especially the songs “On Your Shore,” and “Evening Falls”)
• Enya’s CD The Memory of Trees(“Hope Has A Place,””Once You Had Gold,””On My Way Home”)
• Loreena McKennitt’s CD The Mask and The Mirror(“The Dark Night of The Soul,”Two Trees”)
• Loreena McKennitt’s CD Book of Secrets(“Night Ride,””Dante’s Prayer”)
• Jewell’s CD Spirit(“Hands,””Life Uncommon,” and “Absence of Fear”)
• Sarah Brightman’s CD Time To Say Goodbye