August 2019

All SOUL – grief, loss, and moving forward. Perspectives from my children and me.

Welcome to the August edition of Tips and Topics (TNT). This edition is all about SOUL, the soul of grief, loss and moving forward. This edition is unique because August has some unique events historically and this year for me. It helps me to write and express my thoughts and feelings and I hope it helps you too.

soul

In the SOUL section of May’s Tips & Topics, I talked about my grief process three months after the sudden and untimely death of my wife, Marcia.  This month is the six month’s mark.
But August has some unique milestones and current events that are hard to get my head and heart around:
  • My birthday is August 9.
  • On that date in 1976, 43 years ago, my father died at the age of 72.
  • On that date in 2012, 7 years ago, my mother died at the age of 97 and a half.
  • On that date, Marcia’s mother, Betty, was born 20 years earlier than me and we planned to celebrate her 90th and my 70th birthdays in their hometown of Bundaberg in Australia.
(Fun fact: This is the same “Bundaberg” that you will see in Bundaberg Ginger Beer in your local stores; and Bundaberg Rum)
  • On June 23, 2019, Betty passed away from an aggressive cancer 4 months after Marcia. Instead of celebrating our mutual August birthday, we spread ashes of both Marcia and Betty on the same beach in Bundaberg, almost to the day that we spread Bill’s ashes, Marcia’s dad and Betty’s husband.
  • So this August became celebrations of the lives of both Marcia and Betty with hometown family and friends, except…….
  • Jane was Marcia’s best friend in school growing up. She was planning to attend the celebration of Marcia’s life as was Austin, a longtime friend from University days.
  • Jane passed away in June from cancer; and Austin died from complications of the flu just days before the event.

 

How does one process all these untimely events of grief and loss and move forward?

In the August 2013 edition, SOUL section, I wrote about my mixed feelings every birthday. I talked of how I have made meaning and comfort of this however, by seeing the deaths of both my parents as the birth of carrying forward their legacy of service to others, which exemplified their lives.
But there is more……
 
In January this year, the month before Marcia’s death, we enjoyed a week-long yoga retreat and safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Our longest USA friend of 45 years, Pam, along with her retired dentist husband, Jim hosted a wonderful event for a small group of their Alaskan friends….and Marcia and me.
Among many first-time cultural and travel experiences was a sunrise balloon ride over the Masai Mara topped off with a champagne breakfast in the bush. You can tell from the photo Jim and Marcia enjoyed it as much as all of us.
We lost Jim and Marcia 1 month after this happy scene on the plains of the Masai Mara, Kenya
As soon as Jim and Pam learned of Marcia’s grave condition they wanted to be right with us for comfort and support. As we sat together with two of my children and cried and laughed remembering Marcia three days after she was gone, I knew the importance of close friends to be there for us.
On Monday, March 11, 2019, I awoke to this text message from Pam:
“Jim was in a tragic motorcycle accident yesterday and was killed instantly. He went out way way to soon. We are in disbelief and shock….”
I was in shock and disbelief too, for just 15 days after I lost Marcia, now Pam had lost Jim.

Coming to grips with the fragility of life and moving forward

Before I give an update on my grief process at the 6 month mark, you may be interested in hearing from my three children.

Mackenzie, our youngest daughter, whose 33rd birthday was just 6 days before Marcia was gone, shared her very fresh grief process just one week later. Here’s an excerpt:

You can read it all and see some photos on this Facebook link.

My heart has been expanding and my spirit has been deepening in a way I don’t yet have language to express. The memories keep pouring in and most moments, my heart is so damn full of love and gratitude, I feel like it’s going to explode. It’s brought forth a heightened level of presence, but mostly it’s demanded me to make a choice. A choice about how to deal with loss and how I move forward from here. This choice is not linear or absolute. It’s a choice that I have to make every moment of every day. The choice between pinching myself off from her source energy and miring in the pain that she is not physically here with me, sharing in this time space reality. Or the choice to vibrate higher, to meet her spirit on her frequency and open myself to her love that is still very much alive and all around me, only slightly hidden by a very thin veil.
 
It’s not an easy choice, the physicality of our world makes it that way, but I can tell you that it’s not even a question for me about which path I take from here. Mom gave me so many things, but the thing she gave me most was her strength. And even now, so soon after, every day I hear her in my head, telling me she loves me, cheering for me saying “go Kenz!” and telling me to move forward in love and light, trusting and knowing that she’s with me all the time, showing me miracles and keeping a light warm for me in my darkest hour.
 
She was my loving mother and my most dedicated teacher in the physical. And she will continue to be my beloved momma and the angel in my heart and on my shoulder as we walk together on the path forward in this journey ahead.”

Taylor, our 35 year old son felt ready to share his process just now six months later. Here is an excerpt and also some more photos that you can access on his website.

You will want to hear the song he played and sang at Marcia’s celebration of life in March.

There are events in life that become lines of demarcation, around which the rest of life gets sorted into “before” and “after”. I had one of those earlier this year, and the reality of it often strikes me in the most mundane of moments. I’ll find a crumpled receipt in the back pocket of a pair of jeans, notice the date, and think, “February 10…wow, that was only two weeks before Mum.”……
 
I’ve since learned that there is no end to the allure that if I can just understand what happened a little better, it will be easier to accept. Intellectualizing a hole in your heart is both useless and damaging. It gives the illusion that control is possible, that you can fit a sea of emotions into a tidy box if you just try harder, when in reality all it does is prevent you from confronting the depth of your sorrow…..but also your love……
 
As the day to day interactions with Mum have ceased, I can honestly say that I feel her more than ever…… As I revisit her love, I’ve discovered that it grows stronger-not weaker; that where attention goes energy does actually flow; that the more I think about who she is and how she lived, the more connected I feel to her. It defies logic that something that is gone could feel more present, but I am experiencing that in almost every way.”
 

Miya, at 38 years is our oldest daughter and mother of two girls, Luna and Sol. She “speaks” and “writes” best via video.

This week, in some reflections on Marcia’s death, she draws on her observation that Marcia’s “career” was raising great children; preparing healthy food, and creating stimulating cultural and travel experiences for the family. Such a career choice is often unappreciated and undervalued by society, and this has fueled Miya’s “mission” to support other mothers trying to balance work in and out of the home.
You can see more on that at Miya’s website.

And now for my update

Those familiar with my trainings and writings will know I enjoy inventing the 3Hs; or the 3Cs; or the 3Ps to summarize important learning points.
There are many aspects I could share, but here are some brief comments on the 4Ms: Memories, Mission, Money and Marriage.
Memories
  • Every day, there is something that happens or a thought or idea that shows up that I remember would be the kind of thing I would want to share with Marcia.
  • Sitting on the plane to and from Australia we would pass the 14 hours watching movies. That happened this week as I had the impulse to want to share with her a couple of movies I loved.
  • What I notice I still haven’t gotten used to is to is that there is no “we” anymore. “We have a home in Davis and Carlsbad, California”; “We like to go traveling to different countries and cultures”; “We won’t be around for two weeks.”
  • It will take time for me to naturally say “have a home in Davis and Carlsbad, California.” “like to go traveling to different countries and cultures”; “won’t be around for two weeks.”
  • I’ve had a strong desire to revisit places we would often go together and to experience them alone. It is as if facing those places without her by my side, helps me move forward and define a new beginning.
Mission and Money
  • You know the phrase “No Money, No Mission”. That is true for any individual or organization. It less true and stressful now that my budget needs are simpler with only one mouth to feed; one back to clothe; and one set of credit cards to finance, not two.
  • It hasn’t happened yet as I intended, but in 2020 I am definitely scheduling in more ‘down’ time; more world traveling time; and less “mission” time.
  • I still love what I do in training and consulting to advance my “mission” in the addiction and mental health fields. But I am fortunate now to be able to worry less about the money while still advancing my mission – some of the lemonade that can be squeezed from a year of sour lemons.
Marriage
  • Men have a harder time after the death of a spouse than women.
  • Learning how to be alone, feed yourself, have someone to talk to everyday who cares enough about your inconsequential observations or ideas is a significant adjustment.
  • With 23 years on the road training and consulting, I have had a lot of practice being alone and feeding myself. But I miss the daily check-ins and bits of conversation that I had for 46 years. Who is interested in my random observation that I saw a man today who looked just like that neighbor we had in Boston? Or that I found a restaurant that makes Chinese salt fish, fried rice? Or that I had a great game of pickleball?
  • Then there are those situations where you want to make a comment about the people you are with at a social event.  Marcia (and any long-term relationship) would know just what I was thinking by the look and opinion I conveyed with my eyes; or that tap on her leg under the table; or the code word that meant “Let’s get out of here”.
  • Some men rush into marriage to fill the void. They create a whole new set of adjustments equally as challenging as learning how to be alone and define a new direction in life. I met a man recently who did just that. He married quickly and was divorced within a year, bemoaning his mistake.
  • I won’t be filling the void by finding a replacement wife. In fact I recently listened to a podcast on the changing face of marriage in this day and age. Regardless of your personal beliefs about what marriage should be, the fact is that there are many options that people are choosing in contrast to traditional marriage.
  • This is a whole area of exploration I am in no rush to wrap up in a neat package; or in some hastily consummated relationship. What unfolds will unfold.