"I feel funny..." Helping Kids Process Grief.

“I feel funny.” This has been the catchall phrase that my oldest daughter uses to describe the way she feels, when she can’t pinpoint exactly how it is that she feels. She only knows that emotionally, she’s doesn’t really feel well. She feels “funny.” At one point, she drew out what feeling funny meant. She drew a picture of three faces, one sad, one mad, and one scared. I asked her what each of the three faces needed. She said one needed a glass of water, one needed a hug, and the other needed a kiss (translation-love). She has fears about me dying, about her dying, and sadness over her dad’s death… She just turned 5 years old, and although it’s been nearly 3 years since her father’s death, at each stage in her life, I have watched her process and integrate what the loss means to her.

 

I’ve learned that the most important and effective thing I can do is be a loving presence, there to listen without imposing my worry or guilt about her feelings (and therein lies the work for me)… I can reassure her that what she is experiencing is natural given the nature of what she has experienced. I let her know that she is not all alone in her fears and sadness, that these are universal experiences, and a part of grieving. And that all kids who have lost a parent in their life, will no doubt have lots of questions and fears about death, and sadness over the loss.  I’ve also found that creating time and space just to explore and understand her feelings has been really helpful. I answer questions about death as honestly and simply as I can (at an age appropriate level). I have a wonderful grief workbook called, Grief Encounter, by Shelley Gilbert, for children to do with their parents that has been an incredible resource. And for the past several weeks, we have been working on it on her days off from preschool, when her little sister is napping. Also, I encourage her to creatively express herself (what does "feeling funny" look like?), through the medium that she prefers most, ie drawing, painting, dancing, writing, so that she has a healthy outlet for her feelings and experiences.  I also encourage her to call on her daddy in heaven for guidance and support during the times when she misses him and feels sad. I also encourage her to pray for extra spiritual support, and as a part of her bedtime routine, I've gotten in to the practice of saying my own heartfelt prayers aloud to model what cultivating that spiritual relationship could look like. And I find it really helpful to process whatever grief arises within me in response to her feelings, this keeps me in a centered and healthy inner-space so I can best help her. And when I told her that there are groups of kids who meet to play and share their experiences (bereavement support groups), that have all lost a parent, she was so excited. She wanted to go right then and there! So, I'll be checking into that for her next. And my youngest daughter who is nearly 2 ½ is just now beginning to ask questions about her daddy, so I'll just take it as it comes with each little one.

 

And whenever I feel stuck in how to respond to my daughter when she shares her grief, I ask myself how I would like someone to respond to me if I were experiencing fears, sadness, or anger over a death. I would appreciate emotional validation, hugs, love, reassurance, and a chance to talk about and understand my feelings so that I don’t feel lonely or stuck in them. And I trust that this is my path, this is her path, and that we will both grow through it together.

I wrote this blog almost one year ago, and am happy to share that Ava has successfully integrated the grief that she experienced so heavily last year. The methods that I describe in this blog really worked for our family!

My Story

Mitch and I on our adventures together in Costa Rica.

Mitch and I on our adventures together in Costa Rica.

My life was changed in an instant when my husband, Mitch, the love of my life, suddenly and unexpectedly died in December of 2012. We had a two year old daughter named Ava, and I was six weeks pregnant with our second daughter. I dove into the spiritual world, I needed to find him. And thankfully I had spent the last four years in graduate school studying Counseling and Transpersonal Psychology, so I had the tools I needed to help me cope. I also attended long meditation services, listened to countless webinars from mediums on how to connect with spirits, I cried, I danced, I sang, I wrote, and suddenly I found him- in toucans, falcons, butterflies, moths, cats, and in the whispers of the ocean that held so much of my sadness. I had found him in nature, and I heard his voice as he spoke to me in meditation and through friends, I had visions of him in dreams, I channeled conversations with him regularly as I walked the beaches, I felt him as warm tingles on my left side body, and I felt him through music.

My daughter Ava, and pregnant with Amelie, in Costa Rica.

My daughter Ava, and pregnant with Amelie, in Costa Rica.

Days after he died, I received the inner-guidance to return to Costa Rica, the place where my husband and I had spent several years together and had cultivated a great community of friends. It was like a light that was guiding me toward my own healing. And 10 weeks later, we made our move. I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to stay, so I practiced trust. I trusted my inner-knowing would guide me as to where and when I would need to go next, just as clearly as it had guided my move to Costa Rica. And so everyday I processed my grief. Everyday I wrote, I cried, I called on the support of my community, and of friends and family. I walked the beaches, some days I felt like a ghost…I meditated, I prayed, I let nature heal me, day by day. I talked or wrote to Mitch everyday for many days. He had become the bridge to a deepened connection to my very own soul.

Baby Amelie.

Baby Amelie.

And I prepared to birth our second daughter, the way I had dreamed of ever since I had read a book of home birth stories by Ina May years before. I rented a house on a little birthing farm in the rainforest, run by an OBGYN from the U.S., that was close to a hospital (just in case). And I spent the weeks leading up to my due date at that little house, just me and Ava, enjoying that special time, just the two of us, before the arrival of baby sister. And it was perfect, as perfect as it could have been without Mitch there, but he was with me in spirit that day, July 22, 2013, the birth day of our second daughter, Amelie. It was a peaceful birth at home, delivered with the help of a midwife and doula while Ava slept peacefully in the next room.

 

A sacred altar at one of my meditation workshops.

A sacred altar at one of my meditation workshops.

Then, busy, busy, busy. I dove headfirst into the physical world, rearing one toddler and a newborn. And I began sharing what I knew about meditation, emotional process work, embodied healing, and spiritual exploration and growth with my community of women through workshops, classes, and private sessions. I began to come into who I was as a practitioner, as a transpersonal guide. In addition to writing (I wrote daily and regularly in my blog), I felt I had found another piece to the puzzle of what it meant to live out my purpose.

 

 

Me and my girls in Hermosa Beach, Costa Rica.

Me and my girls in Hermosa Beach, Costa Rica.

We healed in Costa Rica for one and a half years. My daughter attended my friend’s Montessori preschool, we went to the beach, swam in waterfall pools, practiced lots of yoga, drank lots of smoothies, ate gelato, let our friends and community hold us in love- and we healed, we had come through the saddest time I had ever known- but even though it was the saddest time in my life, it was also the most grateful, the most enlightened spiritually that I had ever felt. The blessing disguised in Mitch’s death was that I learned to love life, so, so, so much, while also learning how to let go…

Ava and Amelie in Southern California.

Ava and Amelie in Southern California.

And then there were lots of signs (that I ignored at first), that it was time to return to California, to the embrace of our family. But, I had learned to listen to my inner-voice and it was time, and so with gratitude, we said our good-bye’s to our Costa Rican community and our Costa Rican life. We returned to California just in time to celebrate Amelie’s first Birthday with our family. They had been incredibly supportive of my decision to move to Costa Rica, but were overjoyed at our return.  It felt like a victorious homecoming. I had just been through the most difficult time of my life, had birthed our second daughter, and now I was feeling stronger and clearer than ever before, and it felt like a welcomed relief to receive the helping hands of family with the girls. I allowed myself time to settle, recalibrate, reflect, and envision. And then it was time to create the platform for my work, in which I envisioned workshops, online courses, published books, and a steady stream of private client sessions…

So now, my girls and I reside in Southern California, where I practice mindful parenting by day, and write, create, and guide by night, and whole-heartedly embrace the support of friends and family, while I create the vision for the next part of our lives…


The Pre-Dating World

Styling and Photography:  Peter Lin Carrillo.

Styling and Photography: Peter Lin Carrillo.

I wouldn’t go as far as calling what I’ve been doing dating, but more like talking, entertaining possibilities… I was married, happily married, (don’t get me wrong, we had our share of downs too), but the point is that I liked being married, and I never chose to get unmarried, but life had different plans… So, it’s easy for me to be married, feel married, act married, even though I am so not married, and at this point just getting my feet wet, merely entertaining the ideas of what it might mean to start a new relationship.  So, needless to say, it hasn’t been the cleanest, easiest transition. In fact, I feel like I’m quite bad at the whole thing! Oh, and so easy to fall into playing the roles you used to play, and project onto others the roles played by past lovers… So, how to be present, and actually tune into whoever it is that is standing right in front of you? Be present, be compassionate with yourself and give yourself lots and lots of grace through it all. And the only reason I can say that with any sort of confidence is because that is precisely what I was not doing… So, I think so far, this particular season for me is all about loving myself even when I have imperfect deliverance with my communication, even when I am triggered by my past and freak out, even when I feel totally unlovable, even when I’m convinced I’m in love at “hello,” even when I stumble and fall along the way and make an ass out of myself… cause if I can stick around and love me long enough to help me up, dust off the dirt, give me a hug, a pep talk,  a dose of humility, and lots and lots of patience, well then, that is just a beautiful start to this whole new world of pre-dating for me. And so yesterday, my friend, photographer, and stylist, Peter Lin Carrillo took my photo. Lots of them actually, to help me with the re-branding of my business, provide photo content for my new online courses and workshop series, and little did I know, help me step into feeling beautiful again after the busyness of grieving and mothering. And so, perhaps this pre-dating world will also get easier as I step into owning who it is that I am and loving that woman, and feeling beautiful and on top of my game, as it relates to all aspects of life. Ready to own it! Wish me luck :)

"When you think of love, do you think of pain?"

“When you think of love, do you think of pain?” How many of us are carrying around all the pains of what we experienced as the result of an open heart? These song lyrics struck a chord in my heart. I loved with all of my heart, and then the person who I loved died. My heart was broken. 2 ½ years has shown me that we have the tremendous ability to heal and mend our wounds, and that the desire to give and receive love is as natural as anything… And so then, in moving on from a broken heart (all in our own natural timing, of course), what do we want to carry forward into the future, into our next experience of love? Cause those lyrics, “when you think of love do you think of pain,” resonated me with very deeply because when I think of Mitch, yes, I think of the love we shared, but I also think of the sheer earth shattering pain of what it was to lose him… and do I want to carry that pain and that fear of loss into the next relationship? Cause I know now, death is a real possibility, break-ups, betrayals, they are all real possibilities, but do I want to carry around a shield to protect myself from those potential heart-breakers, or do I want to be mindful that those potentials exist and risk loving anyway? Cause the thing is, it feels so good to love, and it feels so good to receive love, it feels so natural… So, to hold it all, cause the potential in living with an open-heart is to experience the greatest love and the greatest pain. And in playing it safely, am I really willing to forgo loving again with all that I am? No, and that is a choice we make, and it’s a choice that takes courage, especially if we’re wise to how painful it can feel, and also to how damn good it can feel. And so I can choose to look back with the fondest of memories, knowing that a heart open to love is a beautiful thing indeed.

Finding My Way Again.

Sifting through a life of dreams, he was the captain of our ship, and when he died, all of our dreams seemed to die too, or were just lost in the confusion of it all… which were mine, which were his, and which were ours?

In an instant, 2 ½ years after his death, it all comes flooding back to me as I walk though the campgrounds across the street from my house. And there it was, a symbol of all we’d dreamed, in a 6x12 homemade camper. My heart swells. Wait, that was my dream too. He opened my eyes to a whole new way to exist in this life, and it always seemed like his. Until I saw that little camper, and I remembered my own heart. Dreams of  homestead living in the redwood forests of Northern California, mine, consciously living in harmony with the Earth, mine. Oh my gosh, my heart sinks into the pit of my stomach, a deep ache for all that I’d forgotten that I loved in this life. He showed me the way, yes, and then he died, but these dreams were still very much alive in my heart. He awakened in my heart these dreams, and they were mine now too. He opened the door for me to finally walk through, and with tears, I find the love again, and I release a little bit more of the ache. Oh love, disentangling myself from the pain that came from the loss. I feel my heart open a bit more. Scared as hell, I decide to let my heart lead anyway, with a new commitment to myself to remember my heart, and to follow the path of love.

A Widow's Journey Through Parenting, Two Years Later...

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There’s been some sadness under the surface… just out of my awareness… too busy, too healed to get sad… But then today, out for a walk with Ava and Amelie and we met some of our neighbors, a young couple, around my age, so happy, and somehow I mentioned Mitch, and that he died. And then I thought, why did I just bring that up with complete strangers? Cause as I walked away I nearly started crying, and I haven’t cried over Mitch in a while… I knew I needed to come back to my sadness after the girls went to sleep for the night, and so that brings me to the present moment. Here I am writing about it, processing it, cause I know by now that feelings don’t just go away because we are asleep to them… Sadness. I watched a few videos of Mitch tonight, just to hear his voice, see him again in action. And it hit me, as time moves along, Ava’s memories are getting farther and farther away from her consciousness. I asked her the other day if she remembered her daddy or if she just remembered him through pictures, and she shook her head no that she didn’t remember him, but that yes she remembered him through the pictures… Oh, this is where the sadness has been. Even as I type the words, as they spill out onto the screen, tears, and there haven’t been tears in a while. She doesn’t remember him anymore, and Amelie never even met him. And he was such an awesome guy. They’ll never really know how much I loved him apart from the way I talk about him, the stories that they hear, or the pictures that they see. And that’s what’s been hurting my heart. Ahhh, the tension in the back of my heart has softened, I understand why I just “brought it up” with that younger couple this evening… these feelings needed witness, they needed moving. They needed release. I told Ava a few times over these past two years that when the time was right, a loving man would come into our lives that would do all the things that a daddy would do. Her eyes lit up, she wanted to meet him immediately… I do want that for my little girls. I want them to have a dad. I’m focused now on building my business and my financial platform, fully healing from my broken heart, and being mom and dad to the girls, but when the time is right, me, Ava, and Amelie will fall in love with a very special man, someone that would be Mitch-approved. A lovely vision indeed. And so for now and for always, I’ll tell Ava stories about Mitch, the adventures, the love. She and Amelie will always know how loved they were by their daddy.

Sometimes, strength is just about showing up.

Strength. I'm taking an online class to learn how to intuitively connect to the major arcana cards of the tarot, the symbols and archetypes that play out in our lives. When we arrived at card #8, Strength, after spending a few days being with and getting to know this card, I learned an invaluable lesson about strength. Sometimes, strength is simply about showing up. Showing up to yoga class, showing up on the page to write, showing up in relationship even when it feels hard. Even when we feel tired. Even when we feel weak, uninspired... Just showing up. Being present. And remembering that in time, everything does in fact pass. We are sad, we are happy, we are angry, we are stuck, and then the feelings pass... so, not to get too attached to any one particular feeling, either loving or hating it, but just allowing, noticing, staying calm, and showing up. Being present. And today, I noticed with great joy in my heart that now, nearly two years since my husband died, there are more days of happy than there are sad. There was a time when there were more sad days than happy ones, and I would worry and lament over these feelings, wishing they would just go away, being hard on myself for what felt like steps backward when I would feel sad after a few days of happy... But, the grief had to move in its own time, and what I have learned from the sad, I would not trade for the world. Learn to have gratitude for it all. Rich lessons for us to learn in all of our experiences.

"Where do we go when we die?" Answering the questions kids ask.

.“I don't want to die,” “I don't want you to die,” “I'm scared to die,” “Can I take my stuffed puppy with me when I die? I think Amelie will take her favorite blankie,” “I miss daddy.” The latest questions and conversations from my nearly four year old daughter. Death has become something very real in our family. It has been nearly two years since my husband died and my daughter's understanding of what it means to die changes as she gets older. In the beginning, I explained death through the spiritual lens only. Daddy is free as a bird now, he's like an angel watching over you, available to you at all times in spirit. While also being real about how sad those of us feel who are left behind, who also feel his physical absence. No daddy to hug, go on dates with, cuddle with... And then explaining that death is beautiful, we are completely free, returning to the place we left before we were born, pure love, pure light, peace, and joy. Pure God. “I can't wait to die,” she says after I explain the beauty in the transition to death. Hold on, I tell her, there is much beauty and purpose we have here on Earth before we die. And I tell her I feel like I'm not going to die until I'm old, which is truly how I feel, but then I also tell her that none of us die until it's our time, until our spirit is ready. She seems satisfied with these answers. But death is on her mind. I leave the door open for conversation. At such a tender age, feeling her way through understanding the very real questions that all of us have about what it means to live and what it means to die. To live with this truth of both our immortal and mortal reality, well, I think it helps us live more fully, with greater meaning. These are the questions people have been asking since the beginning of time... As we move through our own fears about death, we will be more prepared to answer these kinds of questions posed by our children from an honest, heartfelt space.

 

Another anniversary... how long do we go on counting after someone dies?

Driving to Tustin to visit with my mother-in-law, flooded with memories. All those times before when I would drive to Tustin, to see Mitch, it's different now. I drive now to see his family, the living connection to my husband, to our daughters. The girls sleep on the hour drive and I listen to music, I sing along, I cry a little, but it is good. It is a cry of knowing, of allowing, of surrendering to what is. And I enjoy the drive, the coming home, a house that is another home to me and my daughters, a place where I feel at home. And I remember that this week marks another anniversary, of the time we met. So full with possibility, mystery, excitement. This week, it would have been 11 years of togetherness. And then I wonder, how long do I go on counting the would have's, should have's, could have's...? I guess as long as I count them, as long as I remember them... The push to move on, to move forward, to be through with the pain and sadness... But I realize there is happiness in the remembering of this particular anniversary. The anniversary of when we met, when we first started dating, because it wasn't all wrapped up in a dream, in expectations of forever, of growing old together, like our wedding day. It was just a beautiful moment in time full of possibility, of mystery, of excitement... So, there is faith there, that when the time is right, I will experience true love again in a new form, something very different from what once was, but something just as beautiful. Although hard to imagine anything comparing to the love I had with Mitch, I remember that there are no comparisons, when we compare someone always loses... each person, each relationship, unique, beautiful in its own varying way. And so this week I decide to celebrate a life full of possibility, mystery, and excitement. I toast to what was, what is, and what will be.

Passed loved ones birthday, to eat cake or not to eat cake...

The journey through grief is such a solitary one, you can surround yourself with loved ones, mentors, and wise guides, but the one that knows what's best for you, the one that truly knows exactly how it is you're feeling, and what it is you need, is always going to be you...My husband would have turned 34 years old today on his Birthday, and leading up to this day, heaviness, sadness. Lots of process work, journaling, listening to and singing Adele, crying out to the ocean... I knew I wanted to be able to celebrate his life with my daughters today. And so I had planned to have a little birthday cake, grab dinner out, go to the beach, make it a joyful day, doing all of the things Mitch loved doing on his birthday, but at the last minute, I doubted the piece about celebrating with a cake, a friend's words repeated in my mind, he's gone.... And yes true, and when I had mentioned to my 3 ½ year old daughter Ava that we would be celebrating daddy's birthday, she replied, but he's an angel... And I said, I know, he won't be there, well, he'll be there, but not in the ways we've known before... And so I didn't pick up a little cake. And then today rolled around, and I wished I had, for me, for my daughter, for Mitch... For me, there's just comfort in honoring Mitch, especially on special days like his Birthday with some type of ritual, with some type of celebration that gets my little ones involved in the remembering of their daddy, and there was something about the cake that was warming and comforting. And we did celebrate, we went out for pizza, got ice cream, went to the beach, played in the pool, saw some friends, and in the end, we stuck a candle in the pizza and sang happy birthday... A lesson to me, to appreciate the support of loved ones, but know that the one who knows me best, that knows what it is I need, what is best for our family, is me. And to trust that, to seek wise counsel, advice, and support, but at the end of the day, go inward to find the answers that I am seeking because it is only I that walks in these shoes, or rather flip flops these days. Trust your inner-guidance.