The Power of Story

Grief is… podcast

I tell my grief story so that others will be more comfortable in telling theirs. Many thanks to Becky at The Death Dialogues Project for giving me the opportunity to share my story, laugh a little and speak candidly about why we need to collectively move forward in our understanding of loss, grief and new beginnings. Please share so that others may feel less alone. Grief is… on Spotify, Anchorfm, Apple Podcasts,Breaker, Cast Box, Google, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Stitcher.

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What is this “Moving Forward?”

Moving forward began with me taking one step after another when it was unclear of where I was going or how I would get there. Moving forward while grieving was like learning how to walk while carrying one of those massive cloth sacks that are strapped to your head. You know the ones that make it incredibly difficult to move without engaging all parts of your body? It is most definitely physically possible but in the beginning it’s gruelling. Stumbling and falling to my knees were part of the process. And yet, somewhere along the way I got promoted from being a sack carrier to being a water bearer. Grief and loss became less cumbersome and bulky: I felt lighter.
Being a water carrier still requires physical strength. But it was through learning to balance and walk in this new way that I was able to move more steadily and again, stand straighter.
Today, I carry my grief in my heart and to some degree also in my head and my body. I am grateful for this. And I am wise to the fact that moving forward means there will always be days when I will be called upon to carry the sack, and days when I will be the water bearer. It’s just the way life is. Grief and loss will come again. And moving forward will always be part of the process. That is what I mean by “moving forward.”

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Senseless Grief

There are many types of grief. Grief exists on a continuous scale or sort of continuum. And grief is present every time we experience loss.

On the low end of the continuum there are little losses that have minimal impact on our lives beyond the occasional wistful longing for something that is no more. On the high end of the continuum there are major losses that are so complex and woven into so many parts of who we are that they take years to unravel and understand. In some case, understanding never comes: in others, only acceptance.

There is a general consensus that grieving the loss of one’s life partner is different from grieving the loss of one’s parent. I have met no one who believes that grieving the loss of one’s child isn’t the hardest type of grief. There is also grieving the loss of one’s health, the loss of one’s career, the loss of a beloved pet. There is loss and therefore grief when we move away from our friends. And there is even grief when a favourite book is lost and no longer in print, or when a piece of jewelry gifted by someone no longer with us cannot be found, or a special vase is accidentally dropped and shattered. Each of these losses resides somewhere on the grief continuum. Each marks our hearts in different ways. All of them are personal.

There is another type of loss. There is also communal loss. Communal loss occurs when many people (a community of people) experience a shared loss. Similar to personal loss, it too exists on a continuum. The degree of grief one experiences with a communal loss is dependent on the level of connection between the individual and the loss. In other words, at the high of the continuum of communal grief are those individuals and groups most directly impacted by the loss. Those with a looser or less clear connection to the event (loss) but still impacted, experience communal grief on the low end of the continuum. Because we are uncomfortable with talking about personal grief, we haven’t even begun to acknowledge the existence and impact of communal grief. We need to find a way to do this.

The recent shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand is only the latest of a string of communal losses we’ve experienced for too long. Collectively, we grieve with the Muslim community in Christchurch as we did with the Muslim community in Montreal. We grieved with the families who lost loved ones in the Berlin Christmas Market and The Stade de France in Paris. Each time another of these attacks takes place we grieve. Our communal losses are now too numerous for me to list here. We grieve because we are fully aware that those who died were, like you and I, just going about their everyday business.

We do not grieve directly for those we have never met. Our grief is not on the high end of the continuum. But, we do grieve collectively none the less because we recognize ourselves in those who have died and therefore, we also recognize these acts of violence as acts of violence against our own everyday lives. This pains us and it needs to outrage us.

Though geographically random, these events are connected in that they are committed by individuals consumed by extreme hate; a hate that allows them to believe their actions are rational and noble. It is a hate that gives birth to the possibility of more and more of these events in our not too distant future if something does not change.

The days for global initiatives that counter the creation of this hate must now take place. They must become a priority. We must not accept these occurrences as the norm; a part of everyday life. Practical solutions on many levels are necessary. I commend New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her refusing to speak the name of the man responsible for the Christchurch shooting. I commend the New Zealand government for tightening the country’s gun laws. It’s a start.

Not taking action is not a solution. This is a complex problem and there will be failures along the way. But we must offer up and implement alternative methods for addressing this pandemonium and preventing its escalation if we are to change the current global context: a context in which these terrorist attacks continue to occur – a context that is causing us all to grieve.

Acknowledging our communal grief is the first step. Collectively we must also consciously choose to not look the other way when we see the presence of hate and anger. This is something all of us can do and I believe it will create change. It is time for us to ask the question why does this exist, even if we do not like the answers we are given. If we do not acknowledge the causes of another’s anger we will not be able to work towards alleviating it. When we do this we do it for our own communities as well as for ourselves. The days of naively believing this could never happen in our own backyards is over.

The phrases “there but by the grace of God go I” and “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee” pretty much sums up the position we find ourselves in today. This could happen to any of us – it is happening to all of us. It’s time to do more. Speak up. Step up. Care.

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Everyone needs a Jo-Anne

Even with hat hair in January in Canada we look great. Jo & me

This is Jo-Anne. Well, it’s Jo-Anne and me. Jo-Anne and I have been exchanging 5 gratefuls every night for, as near as we can figure it, almost six years. That’s a lot of gratefuls. It’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11,000 gratefuls. If you can imagine what $10 in loose pennies looks like and then multiply all those pennies by eleven you would get one penny for every grateful we’ve exchanged. That’s a lot of gratefuls. Confused? Let me clarify.

A grateful is a statement that begins with either ‘I am grateful for….’ or “Grateful that …” For example: ‘Grateful that I will be in Mexico in 5 sleeps.’ That one Jo-Anne sent the night before Toronto was to be hit by another snowstorm. Thanks Jo. Another example of one too often exchanged is ‘Grateful for a good sleep and to wake up feeling somewhat rested.’ Anyone who has lost a loved one gets that one.

Sounds like a fun thing to do, doesn’t it? Well, when I first proposed that Jo-Anne and I exchange emails at the end of the day I was struggling and it was far from fun. It was me trying one more thing that might help me wind up my day on a positive note. I desperately wanted to find a way to shift my thinking away from all the loss and the fallout that had accompanied the death of my brother and husband 18 months apart. Jo-Anne, like me had been one of those women who rarely gave up, solved life’s problem as they arose and greatly enjoyed her life. Also like me, she too had been recently widowed. Grief had swung it’s two by four and left us both fighting to get up back up. And we were both determined to do just that. Determined enough to give this idea of mine a try. Thanks for humouring me Jo. I know it seemed pretty out there at the time. But then anything was better than maintaining the status quo.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until we spoke about me sharing this thing we do on my blog that we actually talked about how it all started, what it’s meant to us to do this over the years and how we intend to keep doing it until something robs us of the ability to do so.

It made me smile to hear Jo-Anne say that she remembers sitting in front of her laptop and wondering what kinds of things was it that I wanted her to come up with – like I had any idea. And that five seemed like an awful lot of things to come up with. I told her how it gave me a sense that someone was just kind of checking in on me and making sure I was still alive. When you’re widowed you suddenly realize that you are alone. It was somehow comforting knowing that someone would check up on me if I missed my gratefuls because I’d slipped in the shower and broken my leg and couldn’t crawl to my cell phone. Strange, but, oddly also true.

We talked about how on bad days, it could still be hard to come up with five, but that having to come up with five helped keep things in perspective. We laughed about when one of us miscounts sends four and get called out for it. We love it when the gratefuls flow and suddenly there is an extra one or two. It’s always nice to know the other is having a good day. It’s allowed us to keep in touch and know about each other’s day-to-day life. It’s become a very good thing.

Jo and I met at a grief group, and then again at a grief walking group and like so many other widows and widowers we began hanging out together, at least until Jo-Anne moved. Without exchanging gratefuls I doubt we would have stayed in touch. But because we have, through our gratefuls we’ve cheered one another on, witnessed further losses, and celebrated the birth of my grandson and the many, many accomplishments of her grandchildren. We never write Facebook highlight reels. On the one hand, it’s not necessary when you’re grateful for an accident free drive to and from the city or a good book or to be heading to bed after a warm bath or to get out and walk in the sun or tea with a friend or a long chat with each other. On the other hand by keeping it real our gratefuls have often become opening lines for much more involved conversations. This is especially so when one of us is grateful that someone has been admitted to the hospital and is being well cared for or when one of us is glad to be there for a friend who is hurting.

We never got around to discussing all that we’ve learned by doing this. Way too heavy. But, we both agreed that not only would we recommend finding your own Jo-Anne or Heike to do this with but that we actually now look forward to doing them. It has become a really good way to wind up our days on a positive note. So as I wind up this blog, I suppose it’s only fitting that I close with a couple of gratefuls. I’m grateful to be able to connect with others through my blog. I’m grateful to have wonderful friends in my life who strive to build their own ‘good’ lives and of, course, I’m grateful for Jo-Anne; without her I wouldn’t be where I am today, not to mention I’d have to come up with something else to blog about. 😉 Stay well, Heike

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Shifting from “Moving On” to “Moving Forward”

I shifted my thinking from “moving on” to moving forward” somewhere in the midst of living my grief story. It was such a relief to do this. Suddenly I didn’t have to forget what happened, I didn’t have to forget the person I loved most the world who had died and I didn’t have to pretend that I could pick up from where my life left off before loved ones became ill and died. Whew!

Grief and loss changes us irrevocably and it’s not all bad.

I am always grateful when I come across others who too are working to establish this shift as the new ‘norm.’ Here’s a link from a video done by the BBC last year that does just that. It’s lovely in its simplicity.

Stay well, Heike

Why grief isn’t something you have to “get over”

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Tonight’s Gathering Postponed

Due to winter storm weather and continued warnings, tonight’s talk at the Toronto Death Cafe has been postponed. Please stay warm and safe. Details on a new date will be forthcoming. Stay well, Heike

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Toronto Talks Death (Pt.2)

Join us February 13th as we further explore how to better supporting the grieving. Always thought provoking and lively. The snacks are pretty wonderful too. Thank you to Life Celebrants Linda Stuart and Lisa Myers for making these evenings possible. grief talk part 2

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