Double Living: A Post by Jim

2 daffs
On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.
Henry David Thoreau

Using language that sounds unusual to our ears today, Thoreau expressed a thought that all grieving people will do well to keep in mind. And while he was writing about the death of a friend, his words apply to the death of anyone close—a spouse or partner, a child or grandchild, a parent or grandparent, a colleague or mentor.

Is it not true that there is a sense in which, following this death that has touched your life in so many ways, that you now have the task—and the opportunity—of performing a double living? Are you not being given the chance to redouble your efforts to make the most of your allotted days on earth, as you live now for them as well as for you?

Whatever promise your loved one’s life held, how might you help fulfill that promise from here? Whatever legacy they left behind, how might you make sure that legacy gets shared as fully as possible? Whatever of significance they stood for, how might you continue to make that stand? Whatever you admired in them, is there not some way in which you can embody that trait in your own way or pass along their wisdom with your own voice?

When you—when any of us—can act in this way, then this double living isn’t a task or a duty at all. It is an act of love. It is an act of continuing love.

And not only will you be the better for it, but so will be the world. And is that not a noble endeavor as you proceed to heal your way through your grief?

Your DVD Requests

Holidays DVD 2 Over the past two weeks we’ve released four new videos here on the Grief Helps blog. They’re about grieving during the holidays. Responding now to your requests, we’ve decided to create a DVD containing these four programs. It’s titled, uniquely enough, “Grieving Through the Holidays.” The release date? Today! If you’d like information about purchasing this DVD, email or call 260.490.2222. Within a few days it will also be available on the Willowgreen Website’s shopping cart.

Missing John: A Post by Jim

It is only right that an early post in a blog entitled “Grief Helps” should be about my own grief.

John Schneider

John Schneider

My extremely good friend and soulmate, John Schneider, died fifteen months ago. We shared a huge amount, personally and professionally—our separate kinds of knowledge, our complementary interests, our commitment to human caring, our belief in how the Divine can stir in human lives. We shared countless joys, abundant laughter, and not a few rotten jokes. Increasingly, we shared a dream.

We planned to do even more professional and personal collaboration as we approached the later stages of our lives. We would pool our common goals and our individual gifts to create resources for grieving people unlike anything that had yet been created.

This blog would have been one such collaboration. It is now coming into being without our working on it side by side. John would have added ever so much to this endeavor. Only I, perhaps, know how much better this resource would have been were he still alive. Writing this post, I grieve our lost dream. I grieve anew that irreplaceable relationship. I grieve the untimeliness of John’s death.

I spoke at John’s funeral that chilly April day. John’s wife and my good friend Sharon gave me a DVD of that service shortly afterward. Over a year later I still had not watched it. It seemed too painful to view that day’s events, to hear John’s favorite songs all over again, to listen to my own words composed for his hundreds of friends who filled that Traverse City sanctuary.

A few days ago I played that recording for the first time. I was right— it was hard to watch and to listen, as I stood alone in my office, tears streaming down my face. Yet now I also realize, once again, firsthand, how healing such tears can be, how positive even dashed hopes can turn out, and how a person’s spirit can transcend both space and time.

John could not be here in the flesh today as I make this entry in a blog he would have loved. But I have no doubt that John is still here. And I have no doubt that his voice and his influence and his teaching will lie behind all the words and ideas and images and sounds that will appear here in the coming months and years, should I be granted such time on earth.

This is for you, John.

You Can Do This: A Post by Jim

Bleeding Heart photo by Jim MillerI just finished an enjoyable reading of The Language of Flowers, a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. No one dies in the story. And yet grief seeps through many pages of the book. There are, as you know, many sources of grief.

The reason I refer to this story relates not to any expression of grief but to an incident that took place when the central character, a young woman named Victoria, is in labor during the birth of her first child. She has chosen to have a midwife deliver the baby. The labor pains are very hard for Victoria to bear and at one point she says to Mother Ruby, the midwife, “Please. Please. Whatever you have to do. Just get it out.” And Mother Ruby replies, “You’re doing it. You’re the only one that can get this baby out.”

In an interview in the back of the book, the author relates that’s exactly what once happened to her—during the birth of her first child, a midwife said, “You’re the only one who can do this.”

I thought about grieving people that I have known through the years, especially those who wanted me to get them through their grief as quickly as possible, those who wanted me to do something, anything, so they wouldn’t hurt as much as they did. I remember finding various ways to tell them, kindly, respectfully, “You’re the only one who can do this.”

Yes, others can support you as you grieve. They can be there for you in many ways. But they cannot do your grieving for you. Others can share with you what helped them during their own times of loss. But they cannot transplant their past experience into your present life. Professionals can tell you about research findings and offer their gathered knowledge. But they cannot apply their insights to your day-to-day life. Only you can.

Ultimately, only you can do your grief work for you. Still, with supportive care and reflective wisdom and a measure of love from others, you will be able to do this work. Why? Because you’re the only one who can. Because that’s the magic of how grief works. And because once you have done your work, you’ll know it was worth it.

Finding a Safety Zone: A Post by Jim

Photo by Jim MillerAndrea S. Gould has written a book about her experiences after the sudden death of her husband. She also writes, as a practicing psychotherapist, in an instructive way to share her learnings with those who might follow her on this journey through grief.

Andrea entitled her book The Virgin Widow, which she defines as an innocent, first-time bereaved woman. She writes of such people—and the word “virgin” in this context could also be applied to widowed men, grieving parents, and bereaved children—that they find themselves “being forced into a new, unwelcome, and radically shifted world-picture that eerily—frustratingly—contains many of the same objects, people, and places, although we see these in a different light.”

Perhaps Andrea’s experience is your own. The picture of your world is in many ways the same as it used to be, physically, and yet that picture is so entirely different from the way it used to look to you. What used to give you comfort is not to be found. What used to give you pleasure no longer does. What you used to take for granted will never be that way again.

In her book Andrea describes what helped her most:

For me, “staying in the present” was of primary importance, both as a safety zone between the poignancy of a lost past and the frightening uncertainty of an abstract future….Moving in slow motion, I anchored my awareness in the spectrum of sensation and sanctuary that each moment offered.

Perhaps her experience mirrors your own—that you have a lost past and an uncertain, abstract future. If so, take to heart what she learned: choosing to stay consciously in the present moment may help as much as anything in making your way through the labyrinth of grief. In the moment you can be in touch with, and feel yourself a part of, the created world. In the moment, you can deal with whatever that single moment presents to you, a bit at a time. In the moment, you can learn to live in that precious safety zone you’re coming to know right now until you’re able, one day, to return to that larger life you once experienced, and can experience yet again.