>Not too young to grieve

19 May

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For the past two weeks, I have been embedded with my grandson who is two months away from his third birthday and I am all at once physically drained and spiritually enriched.  I have never been so active in my life, not even when I was his age.  I guess the saying is true, careful what you wish for.  This all started when I encouraged his mom to enrol him in pre-school.  He lives in a neighbourhood where they don’t necessarily screen conversations for kids, and like a little sponge he was soaking up everything.  So even though he is tiny wee, I said, “Just send him to school and get him out of the house.”  And anyway he was pretty pumped about the idea of going to school.  Well it turns out he got enrolled in what in Jamaica is called a basic school, and, in many cases, the emphasis should really be on the word ‘basic’.  Like most basic schools it was in a church building, but I visited one day and found out that the tiny tots had the smallest area, kind of like a holding cell with small desks, with no play facilities or toys, and only one door. Each day I would drive by and feel intensely guilty about having gotten Josh into that situation.  And you could tell from talking to him that school had definitely not lived up to his expectation even though he seemed resigned to making the best of it.
So the first thing I did when I quit my job was to spring Josh from basic school, and for the past two weeks, we have been spending our weekdays together.  Let me first say this has been a blessed experience because Josh is a pretty easy going guy.  He has a good command of the language and would much rather swear than cry.  We’re working on the swearing. However, I must confess I have never so looked forward to my weekends.  I can’t remember ever spending so much intense time with his dad as a baby, and somehow Josh has managed to set the agenda, because I don’t think I would have scheduled so much outside play time. But he really loves books, and we spend a lot of time looking at pictures and talking about them.
Anyway, the point of this post, believe it or not, is my observations on how he grieves for his dad. Josh was 16 months old when his father was killed, and too young to understand the concept of death.  But he did react to the absence, especially since Andre was a devoted father who spent a lot of time with him and provided a whole lot of stimulation.  I used to look at them horsing around and hope that nothing would happen so Andre would have to leave him.  At that time I wasn’t even thing about death as a possibility, more like the way I had migrated when Andre was a baby, leaving him in Jamaica for almost a year, before we were reunited.  Anyway, after Andre died, I didn’t quite know what to do for Josh because I figured he didn’t have the language skills or the concept to facilitate any kind of helpful discussion.  His mom was distressed because he kept asking for his dad, and I told her to keep saying he was gone, and that after a while he would stop asking so much.  But I still felt I should be doing something to help him process. 
This March, on his dad’s birthday, Josh came up with the answer.  I had been planning to do my own private memorial in my mediation room where we keep the urn with Andre’s ashes, and I had been toying with the idea of inviting Josh over to join me.  However I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t know if I would be stirring up memories he couldn’t handle. Anyway, he did come over to visit but I decided against mentioning anything about the birthday, which is what makes the rest of the story so unreal.  Josh was sitting around colouring after lunch and we had the radio on when this DJ comes on, and he looks up and says, “That’s my Daddy.  No, that’s not my Daddy. I want to hear my Daddy’s song.” His dad had been an aspiring reggae artiste, and songwriter and I had actually put away some of his creative work for Josh to have when he got older but I had never shared any of this with him before.  So, now he’s insistent and I’m scrambling around trying to find a CD.  I stick it in the player and Andre’s voice comes on and Josh just stands there with his face in his hands.  At one point I wondered whether this was distressing to him, and asked if he wanted me to turn it off, but he said “no, no.”
So I decided that this was as good a time as any to do the cake thing I had planned to do alone so I took him to my ancestral altar and I said, “Andre, your mother and son are here to celebrate your time with us”, and I said some other things that I don’t quite remember.  But what was really cool was that Josh sat on my lap and punctuated all my statements with a “yes” indicating that this was truly a joint approach.
Afterwards we lit the candle on the cake, and he blew it out, then he made me keep lighting it so he could blow it out.  We did this like 20 times and had lots of fun with it. I kind of figured I had taught him a bad lesson about playing with matches, so I gave him a little lecture on the subject for good measure. Then I showed him some of his dad’s stuff, and one of them was a T-shirt, which he insisted he wanted to put on, so he wore that around the house until I got him to take it off by agreeing that his daddy’s shirt belonged to him. He asked me where his daddy was and we talked about him being dead and not being able to come back, and it was really a relief for me to be able to talk with him like that.
Now, most days when he comes over, he insists on ‘going to see’ his dad, and he makes me play the one song over and over – he practically knows all the words – while he tosses my stuff all over the meditation room. So that taught me that everyone will work through their own stuff if given permission. It also made me more determined to get a grieving child program up and running.
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>Are we programmed to self-destruct?

17 May

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I read something years ago to the effect that even the most buttoned down individuals among us are deep down inside just as insecure as the rest of us about fitting in, and we are all, in one way or another, dealing with our own shit. Without pre-judging Dominic Strauss Kahn, I just want to say that the exposure of vices in high profilers and those who we consider role models seems to prove this point. Could it be that those who court and wield power are the ones dealing with the most shit?

In recent times, in Jamaica at any rate, there has been an undercurrent of panic about the Second Coming and the end of the world, much akin to the pre 2000 hysteria in some circles.  Have we so internalised the idea of our unworthiness that we are willing to believe we deserve to be punished?  Maybe this is what drives powerful and materially successful persons to self-destruct in the most bizarre ways.

I am coming to the conclusion that this idea of Original Sin, and the unworthiness of mankind is itself the demonic force that threatens to destroy us.  If we are really ‘born in sin and shaped in iniquity’ as some would have us believe, then there is obviously a threshold above which we can never rise.  And if, according to this teaching, we are dependent for our salvation on a vengeful God who permits the most horrible atrocities against the weak and helpless, then we begin to suspect that we are truly screwed.

This philosophy has installed an internal self-destruct button in our psyches which fosters what psychologists call the impostor syndrome – the nagging feeling that we will never be good enough- forcing us to cover our nakedness with the trappings of wealth and power.

The Gnostics seem to offer the best Christian answer to the dilemma that I have seen to date.  Not to confused with Agnostics who have no interest in matters godly, Gnostics believe that an understanding of the Divine comes through individual and direct experience.   According to the Gnostic creation myth, the worlds in which we live are actually a replica of other worlds created by the original creative force.

The female aspect of that creative force, in her vanity gave birth to a son, without the knowledge of her male counterpart – apparently simply because she could. Anyway, the being she created had all of the power and none of the goodness of the original Divine Light and was banished from the higher realms.  This discarded offspring decided to create his own realms based on the innate knowledge that he inherited of the divine realms, going as far as to create a replica of the original divine first man, created by the original creative force.  But he was tricked by his repentant mother and others.  After putting the various parts together to produce a human male, he found he couldn’t quite get him up and running, so he was told to breathe into him.  What he didn’t know was that by doing so he would pass on to the man whatever spark of divinity he had inherited from his mother.  When he found out he had been tricked he set about trying to sublimate the man’s understanding  of that divinity by creating distractions including gold and money.

Of course my account is an extremely simplistic, and possibly careless, rendition of the story but you can read it for yourself in the Apocryphon of John, also known as The Secret Book of John.

According to Gnostic tradition, the mission of Jesus and other great teachers was to point us to that divinity – literally the Kingdom of Heaven – within us. However, early Church fathers such as Irenaeus corrupted the message, and  taught that we were sinful beings whose only hope of salvation was through belief in the divinity of Jesus.  For the Gnostics, what is needed is more than belief, it is persistent action to revive the spark of divinity in us so that we too can achieve Christ consciousness.
 
Interestingly Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology seems to have been a strong proponent of Gnosticism.  A synopsis of the philosophy of Gnosticism is available on the website www.gnosis.org  under the heading ‘The Gnostic Worldview – a brief history of Gnosticism’.


>It takes a village to grieve

15 May

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Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. – Invictus
The first time I heard the second stanza of Invictus was early this year.  I had been familiar with the first and last stanzas, but I was sitting at breakfast at a retreat when someone began reciting the poem. The second stanza nearly brought me to tears.  I thought of how hard I had struggled to keep from breaking down after my son’s death, and my pride at the fact that very few persons had ever seen me cry.  Yet the very burden implied in the words, “I have not flinched nor cried aloud”, hit me suddenly and I realized how lonely it felt to not share my pain openly with others.  Interestingly,  one of the persons at the breakfast table was Malidoma Somé, elder of the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, who has written extensively on the cathartic benefits of tears.   
Recently a friend called to ask my advice about a family member whose son was also murdered.  Apparently she has carried on life as if the incident never happened, and those around her, while aware that this could not be healthy, are at a loss as to how to help her.  I gave him my opinion, based on the literature, but what I did not say what that I understood her silence.  Even now, it is hard for me, as a grieving mother, to conceive that anyone else could even begin to fathom the enormity of pain that I hold.  I look into the eyes of other parents commiserating with me, and all I can see is terror that this might happen to their child.  And I feel the futility of trying to lay my head on this other person’s shoulder.
Yet, pain privately held is pain unhealed, and maybe that is why I have been finally moved to share my pain in such a public way. In his book, ‘The Healing Wisdom of Africahttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=thehea0bb-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0874779391&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr’, Somé writes:
“In indigenous Africa one cannot conceive of a community that does not grieve.  In my village people cry everyday. ..Grief must be approached as a relief of the tension created by separation and disconnection from someone or something that matters.
“…Many Westerners are beginning to see that there is also danger in remaining stuck with rage, anger and sadness , they are the directionless vehicles of a grief that remains hidden. When these emotions are not allowed a fluid catharsis one is left in a state of incompleteness. The end of the domination of one’s life by such emotions requires an outpouring of liquid.  You cannot truly grieve within and remain composed without.  Emotion is an extroverted phenomenon, and it cannot find its much needed release if expressed only inwardly.  Denied an outward expression, grief grows stronger and organizes itself like a hurricane that can rise up and sweep us away.  I have heard many times people express their fear of grief because they feel that if they even begin to release it, they will be overcome, eventually drowning in their own tears. Indeed, this is how it feels, but this is not what actually happens.”
What is certain is that we all grieve differently. In my case, I do not celebrate an overcoming of grief, but that finally I have given myself permission to share.

>The Way of the Hero – myth and grieving

14 May

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My son Andre was murdered in November 2009. He was 20 years old, beautiful inside and out, and was sure he was going to break into the music industry in a big way.   The last time I spoke with him, he was all excited about entering a local music competition and had set his eyes on taking it all the way to the top.  Then, on the evening of Friday, November 27, his stepfather and I were sitting at home watching television when we got the call every parent dreads.  A young man called to say he was a friend of my son who was at hospital being treated for stab wounds after a fight with another young man. It’s amazing how the world and nature seem to conspire against you in the grip of great tragedy.  Firstly, after we pulled on some street clothes to head out to the hospital, the car wouldn’t start.  I later learned that the same thing happened when Andre’s friends attempted to take him to the hospital, forcing them to run around to identify alternative transportation.  Then, when the car finally started, we ended up in a horrendous traffic jam just across from hospital.  I remember sitting there, sending him Reiki, too terrified to give in to my impulse to bail out and run the rest of the way.   By the time we got there he was dead.

I remember thinking to myself over and over “What do you do next, when the worst thing  that could ever happen has happened to you?”   Looking back I think it was the thought, and my focusing on it that saved me.  I guess every parent or anyone who has survived the death of someone really close asks themself some variation of that question.  I could not imagine that anything else in life could ever faze me . There was another thought, I don’t know where that one came from, that somehow it was important to keep my heart open.  Even in the depths of my despair, I sensed that there were two options open to me.  I could close up a hard shell around the pain I was feeling all the way from my heart to my gut, or I could force myself to feel the pain and remain open. I had the impression that if I chose the first option I might never open up again.

Maybe I was helped in part by the memory of the death of my brother, some 18 years ago, and how that had devastated my mother and me.  I knew how hard it had been for my mother , but I had seen her return to life and laughter, and so, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that there would be a time beyond this intense pain.

I resorted to writing fantasy as a way of dealing with the killing, weaving a tale of two ‘other-worldy’ beings, one of whom had tracked his enemy across time and space to avenge his besting at the hands of his adversary.  Actually, I only got as far as a first chapter, but I spent a lot of time on the details, and the description of the battle.  It ends when the victor, just about to deliver the fatal blow, suddenly experiences his own birth as a helpless human infant. Twenty years later, the battle again takes place on Earth, but this time he is defeated by his adversary, also now in human form.

 Many months later, I would learn that this was actually a technique proposed by shamanic energy teacher Alberto Villoldo, for dealing with the negatives in one’s life.  He calls it writing your own epic tale by turning your wounds into a source of power.  I realized that, without knowing it, I had taken the decision to rewrite my story, not necessarily to deny the reality of what had happened, but to see it as part of a wider cosmic design.

“To be a hero means being the author of your own myth…. You can accomplish this by shedding the stories of your past just as a snake sheds her skin.  In the process you will cease being a victim of what happened to you and instead become empowered to write your own valiant tale of strength, healing and beauty”.

“If you’re going to spin yarns about your life’s journey”, says Villoldo, “you might as well make them grand, ennobling ones.”   In the midst of my grief, I understood this concept, and it helped keep me sane.  

If I were to say what has been the ‘positive’ of  my multiple losses, it would have to be that I have chosen to use my pain to help others in similar circumstances and I find it is a way of paying tribute to those I have lost.  I have refused to accept the role of victim, or powerless survivor. Instead I have allowed my experience to open my eyes to the vast work that needs to be done to help others whose lives have been turned upside down by similar loss.  In my case, I feel a special affinity for the children who are grieving the loss of a parent, because I fear that if we cannot reach out to them with love, we may end up as a country perpetuating the statistics of violence and bloodletting that has dogged Jamaica for the past two decades.

 My heart goes out to all parents, to all mothers to whom has fallen the task of burying a child and I hope that even though your path may be vastly different, you too will find a reason to go on. 

>The Heart Believes the Truth – grief and sprituality

14 May

>A former colleague of mine who is probably on the far side of 60  once encouraged me to blog by saying “Everyone has an interesting story to tell.”  Easy for him, I used to think. His idea of a relaxing weekend is cycling down some treacherous slope, some place in Europe with an unpronounceable name.  Me, I was the PR manager for a large, conventional conglomerate, with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, and a 20 year old son who seemed destined never to get on the beaten path. Hardly a recipe for a riveting blog.

Then two years ago my life changed dramatically. The son was murdered, an event which precipitated what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening, and which has challenged many of my personal assumptions about life. Since then I have been opening to amazing messages from the Universe that have changed my life and continue to open up new paths.

Even then, I believe this transformation might have remained an individual and private journey.  However, two months ago when I finally yielded to the urgings of Spirit to quit a great job, and great boss, to make myself available for something yet unspecified, I began to suspect that maybe this was a journey I should document.  When I decided to devote this newly found free time to developing a programme for grieving children in Jamaica…and to spring my toddler grandson from pre-school to provide him with more ‘enriching’ experiences,  I definitely understood that I would need to document the pains and joys of this journey into life. Actually, I thought, ‘Hell, I’m going to need some serious moral support!’

The title of my blog, ‘The Heart Believes the Truth’ is actually taken from a guided journal that I received as a Christmas gift from my mentor in grief support, in 2000. Besides encouraging my first step in journalling, it has provided a metaphor for my opening up to the truths that I realise I have always known, about the need to find the purpose for which I volunteered to be born.

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I hope that by journalling in a more public way, I may be of use to other homicide survivors, especially parents grieving the loss of a child.  I also believe that spiritually awakened persons are being called to be of service to the planet in our own individual way and a part of this involves coming out of the closet spiritually. So, in effect, this blog represents my own coming out, so here goes…

I look forward to sharing this wild and scary ride.