Grief and Healing
“I felt quite touched on a very personal level…it was such a gift to me to wake up to that deep pain, cry my eyes out and hopefully now to allow myself to ‘move forward,’ as you put it.”
–Carol R., Westchester County, NY
Deep personal loss throws us into a profound sense of disconnection. The world as we have known it turns upside down. The death of a loved one separates us from our lives and our relationships and sometimes even from the sense we have of ourselves.
“It is so important to tell people,” my old friend from San Diego said over lunch. “We are clueless about grieving and death. After my son Jason died, I was lost to myself. I became agitated and so afraid of what lay deep inside. I was pushing forward with a life that couldn’t be open and that couldn’t listen. I had no idea that my body knew the healing path if I could but stop, and trust, and dare to let go.”
I agree with my friend from San Diego and with the feelings of C.S. Lewis. To most people, grieving deep personal loss feels life threatening. In order to meet and assuage that fear, we must go into that deep place inside that is trying to deal with letting go of the temporal life that has already left us. We must slowly acknowledge with all of our body/mind that our loved one has died. When we do this, we face and grieve the loss of our loved one, but also the significant loss of a part of ourselves. This is the part that has been so deeply connected to the life that we have loved. Here is where the deepest fear lies, for in death, that connection is broken, and therefore, that part of us must die. It can feel like the death of the whole self, like you are actually dying. You are not. It is a great misunderstanding. Life is filled with places in ourselves and ways of being that have to end as we grow and change (i.e. we must leave our childhood home in order to fully engage in an adult life). Without the understanding and support of our natural healing process, this huge double loss can feel so life threatening that we repress the healing process and stay in perpetual feelings of pain and loss.
Another big place of fear has to do with guilt and abandonment. It feels like if we let the temporal life of our loved one go, we are abandoning them. That is not true. Their life on this earth has ended but our relationship with them and our mutual love lives on within us. When we let go of that part of our selves that is connected to our loved one’s life and have the courage to grieve our double loss, we slowly begin to open up to experiencing our enduring love relationship without pain. Residing in our hearts, it can nurture new life.
So, it is the great misunderstanding of the healing process from loss that prevents many people from claiming a new life.It is our grief that calls forth the healing. Grieving energizes and carries us along the path of healing. It surfaces within the memories of our relationship, which we meet and express in some form. When we grieve we bear honorable witness to our loved one’s life. In this sense, we are able to complete that life on this earth. Without the grief, without connecting with the loss, we cannot heal. We have to complete the physical relationship that is past in order to come into the new relationship, which can be present for us throughout our life. The beautiful thing is that the new relationship with the one we have lost does not preclude loving other people. Coming into relationship with loss can nurture new relationships.
A friend of mine recently gave your book to me. I finished in two days…It’s a very compelling story, and I thank you for writing it…The thing that resonated with me about ‘frozen tears’ is, when my father came in to the kitchen to tell me she died, I immediately started to cry. He abruptly told me to stop crying, I had to be strong. My dad was a great guy, but that instruction froze my tears for the next 25 years. I am 50 years old now. I’m an extremely private person, and part of me CANNOT imagine that I’m writing all of this to you. Goes to show I really identified with someone who’s been there.” -Margie B.
Returning To Connection
“So many people are shattered by deep personal grief, by the unique and often unacknowledged experiences of their loss, and by the misunderstood depth and length of their bereavements. The death of my twin brother, Michael, and the different ways I experienced the absence of him in my life created a deep sense of inner loneliness and outer separation. This memoir recounts that journey of disconnection, and the slow process of putting the pieces of myself back together within the discovery of new connections, and of making a new relationship to both myself and, finally, to my twin brother.
I tell my story in hopes of touching the inconsolably bereaved and of breaking the isolation that surrounds those who have lost a loved one. In sharing the experience of my own twin bereavement, I want to touch the place where other twinless twins are torn from their intrinsic sense of who they are and of how they experience themselves in their lives. I try to shed light on the special challenges they face in their healing journeys.
My own bereavement was unnecessarily long and protracted. Especially as a twin, I found no healing in separation. In making new connections, we break the isolation. Sharing our experiences with others, we form community. Our arms make a circle that can hold the loss, allowing it to be met in safety, allowing for understanding, for listening, for being heard, for being present. In connection, we can bear witness to the necessary process of falling apart and the small steps of coming back together into new form and into new life. By writing and sharing this book, I take my place and invite you into a larger circle of healing connection.” -from When Grief Calls Forth the Healing
Connecting With Nature
People throughout the ages have told of the inner healing that comes from spending time in nature. When I stopped and took the time to become fully conscious and aware of the natural world, my life changed. I opened to a profound beauty, which sprang from connection, from interrelationship. I thrilled to bird song and sunrise; raindrops and ferns; wind and dancing treetops; morning dew, sunlight, and spider webs; the breath of warm breeze and pine scent – each entwined sensation became a healing balm for the inner disconnection I felt. Nature’s life forms spread before me, inviting me to connect with them. Nature as community banished loneliness from my solitude.
One of the most powerful things about nature is that it introduces us to the interrelationship between life and death. Nature gives its message in both a stark and tender way:
“I walked to the gravesite I have chosen for Michael’s burial ceremony. An old stump sits within a small ring of huge columnar pines, a continuation of the grove that grows in and around my sleeping glen. It is as if this circular opening is a sacred side room in my forest home. Through a break in the circle of pines, a group of Aspens enters the space. At their feet lay two decaying logs, which point their way to the center of the stump where I will symbolically bury Michael. The fallen Aspen logs’ papery silver bark has begun to separate from their decaying inner cores. Groups of tiny new pines and green moss grow out of this dying living soil. Feeling like a giant in a fairy glen, I look carefully for a place to sit near the stump, so as not to disturb the meandering toadstools. They seem to grow before my eyes, pushing aside the dead pine needles that lie between clumps of moss, bunch-berries, and star like wildflowers…” –from When Grief Calls Forth the Healing
From spending time in nature alone, I found I could open to the sadness and reality of Michael’s death while feeling held in a cycle of life, death and rebirth – a cycle that promised me new life. I sensed and felt this message – I did not process it as information that came through my intellect.More Resources
“Your healing journey was a true story of metamorphosis in many ways…Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for your book. There were parts that brought me to tears and parts where I laughed. You were vulnerable and authentic and by the end I felt I knew you really well. I learned from your journey even though our stories and losses are different.” -Linda Z.
“I have always thought we come closest to realizing our full human potential when we help others and in doing so, we too help ourselves. You have accomplished that with your book.” -Owen C., Melbourne Beach, FL
“I was very moved by your book and remember vividly how you helped me with the pain I felt when my brother, Larry, was killed in a plane crash…. You did some very brave and daring things to learn more about your feelings.” -Jan M., New York, NY
Connecting To Self
Connecting to self is an essential part of the healing process. It entails being willing to open up to and to listen for our true feelings and being willing to express them in a way that fits our own special healing style. It means trusting that our true feelings are part of our inner wisdom that informs our natural healing process. Every type of feeling is part of this natural process: loneliness, anger, depression, happiness, guilt, fear, deep sadness, even despair. When we allow these feelings to surface and be deeply felt and when we express them in some form, we are allowing ourselves to heal.
Listen for what form of feeling expression is right for you. You have an inner healing imperative and you can trust it. It might express itself through journaling, writing poetry, running, dancing, singing, or other forms of music and art; you might feel safe expressing your feelings in a therapeutic setting – in personal counseling or in a bereavement group. Spontaneous imagery is one powerful form that I discovered.
Deep personal imagery is a healing technique and experience that was developed by the psychologist Dr. Stephen Gallegos. It helps us to find within ourselves the wisdom and guidance we constantly search for from the outside world.
– from Into Wholeness: The Path of Deep Imagery, by Dr. Eligio Stephen Gallegos
By tapping into this inner resource in a relaxed state, we naturally move to express and integrate any experience that has overwhelmed us when it took place. The death of our twin or a loved one would be a powerful example. Through inviting and dialoguing with, and being in relationship to images that spontaneously arise from our subconscious, the “journeyer” joins with his or her natural healing process on a path of personal and psychological integration. This imagery process worked in perfect concert with the ally I had found in nature. I did not believe that any spontaneous images would appear for me. But, they did, and I found I could speak to these images within my mind. An inner story unfolded as they took me on journeys always acting as wise guides. The most unlikely type of guides appeared. I met a brown rabbit who spontaneously arrived when I was asked by Dr. Gallegos to focus on my body, specifically within the area of my stomach. The rabbit hopped around in the moonlight, moving in and out of the sage brush. Its little expressive form seemed to say, “have fun, be free.”
Aren’t you scared?” I asked the rabbit. “You could be eaten by an owl if you dance under the moon.”
“No,” the rabbit replied. “I have no fear; I am friends with the dove of peace.”
The rabbit asked to me wash its feet, which I did.
The following week on the last day of my solitary camping experience in nature, I
thought, again, about the effort I had been making to open up inside and to let
Michael go, to allow the place in me that held onto him, to his life, to die as he did. My inner guide spontaneously began to appear in my mind. Rabbit lay down
quietly and the dove of peace glided in to land beside him. She and the rabbit repeated their message: Peace is the key to being reborn – like two separate flowers on a bush, one for Michael, one for me.
My guides all looked gravely at me. I sensed the promise held in the word Peace.
“You have made a good start in dealing with your fearful feelings about death,” said Rabbit. “You will finish that today when you realize the value of what you no longer need.” He looked at me with kind eyes. “Just let your feelings come and be who you are. That is enough.”
“I found your book inspirational, both personally and in support of my work as a psychotherapist. I am particularly thrilled by your incorporating Animal Medicine into your own healing work, as animal imagery is my specialty as a gestalt psychotherapist.” –Robin W., England
Connecting To Others
An important part of the journey of healing is being able to move out of our place of disconnection and isolation into a connection with other people. One of the best ways of doing this in the beginning of your bereavement journey is to find other people who have experienced a similar loss.
Healing Among Twins
When you have lost a twin, meeting other twinless twins allows for immediate understanding of how you feel and what issues you are facing. Getting in touch with the Twinless Twins Support Group International makes this connection possible. In meeting other twins, you will have a chance to experience the special twin form of communication and intimacy you have been used to. This kind of connection can form a healing bridge to the important task of now identifying yourself as an individual alongside your deep origin as a twin, a bridge to connecting to and being able to lead a new and meaningful life.
In May 2002, I started a 9/11 twin bereavement group. We met once a week for two years. At our first gathering, the twins sat in a circle with me and began to share their stories. They immediately trusted one another. It was as if their twinship bound them together and allowed them to safely open their hearts. The feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation coming from their loss and the misunderstandings of family and friends were appreciated, understood, and assuaged in our group. In expressing, in listening, in being present for each other in the safety of our circle, these twins began to integrate their loss.
Twin Bond as it Relates to All Deep Personal Loss Twins
In twinship, the twin bond is created by the profound interrelationship of two developing fetuses in the womb and the dual experiences of early childhood. Twin loss results in the breaking of that bond and creates an acute and long lasting grieving experience that necessitates the slow and painful formation of a new identity. Twin loss acts as a magnifying glass for deep personal loss. In doing so, it highlights and brings understanding to some of the important healing and grieving issues that all people will face in their lives when they lose someone they deeply relate to and love. In my book, When Grief Calls Forth the Healing, I take the reader on that loss and healing journey.