Good Grief and Gratitude

“Grief never ends…
But it changes.
It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is NOT a sign of weakness,
Nor a lack of faith..
It is the price of love.”
– Unknown

Growing up I loved to read the Sunday funny papers in the newspaper with “Peanuts” and the character, Charlie Brown. I remember him always saying “Good Grief” when something didn’t work out for him. Back then I did not really get it. Today with a recent death in my family, I am learning first hand the FULL meaning of what Good Grief is.

Through out my lifetime, I have learned that other cultures other than our own in the USA honor their loved ones who have died with alters to that loved one. I like the fact that people from Mexico make altars to their loved ones on what we call Halloween. I also like the way Buddhists make altars to their loved ones who have died. I find this honoring of our parents and forefathers comforting and a beautiful ritual.

I have made a small altar for my mother which includes stones and a shell that she had found on the beach near where she lived the last 12 years of her life. Those small stones remind me how she could take something simple and make it artful and beautiful. Her photo hangs on a wall nearby in my small apartment. I am learning to embrace my grief whenever it grabs me and be grateful that I had a lovely mother, who I can miss and grieve, even as I write this blog. I am making her a presence in my life, and, yet, I know she is gone.

Since she died in late October, it is as if I am learning who my mother was more every day. I was with many family members clearing out the apartment where she had been living the last 12 years of her life, and got to know her better, by what she had around her. I am understanding her deep grounding in faith, that I was only sort of aware of. In her dying process, she fully revealed how much she loved her entire family. Her love helped to sustain all of us. She came from a generation that did not reveal so much about how they felt.

Since I stayed with my family for nearly 4 weeks before we were able to have a memorial service, during those weeks speaking with family members about how they felt and sharing stories, and then in the early morning hours when I was awoken by a flood of tears, I gained more clarity about my life, as well as my mother’s life. This is the GIFT of GRIEF, if you are willing to go there. I may be as tired as hell, but my life makes even more sense now.

According to Dr, Glen Davidson, “If we don’t grieve, we become chronically disoriented.” And he also said, “Tears carry away the toxins that are produced during emotional shock.”

I have found grief through my lifetime to be cleansing. However, when I was younger, I did not allow myself to feel the depth of my pain or loss. I am certain that because I did NOT fully process what I felt, that that kept me stuck in whatever loss I was experiencing at the time even longer. This time around, I am breathing through, crying through, feeling through all the pain that I am experiencing. I am not denying or avoiding it. What I am noticing is that I am becoming more and more grateful for the mother I had and the life I am living.

The graphic for this blog is a painting by my daughter, Celine Alvarez.


Falling Down and Getting Back Up

Recently, I fell down on a cement sidewalk. How we get back up is crucial. This is true with how we get back up after major life events, too: deaths, health problems, divorces, moves to new towns or cities, losing a job you love, or completing our education.

fallen tree

Fallen tree

Initially when overcoming major set backs, I have sometimes felt depressed for a while, and then grieved the loss of the job, family member, or spouse after a divorce, or something I believed I failed at. However, at the end of the grieving process, it seemed new possibilities arose, but I had to be open to those possibilities. I always have found Maya Angelou’s poem inspiring and helpful.

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou.  Although you died on May 28, 2014, still you rise and teach us with the words you shared with us.

tree leaning

Tree leaning

In the process of starting over after a set back, I have grieved sometimes over a period of months. There is no time clock for grief. It seems in the USA often  if you cry too much, there is a belief that something is wrong with you. Often you are considered weak, and if you are a man who grieves, well …we are very hard on men!  I think this is a falsehood. When you grieve you are willing to be vulnerable, to not be in control,  and that takes a lot of courage and honesty with yourself. My tears have given me freedom to get back up and start anew.

pine tree

pine tree standing tall

This ability to rise again after I have had a major life challenge is linked to persistence and my commitment to my own life. Expecting what happens in my live to be easy, has not been my reality, and I speculate that is true for most of us humans. If I persist towards my own dreams and get back up after a set back, I feel good about myself.  Here is a TED talk about persistence and what Angela Duckworth calls Grit.

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”  – Benjamin Franklin