Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: grief

Friends for Real

“I don’t know why this news is affecting me so deeply. All I want to do is go home, sit down on the couch, and cry. I can barely keep my tears in check!” my 55 year old sister uncharacteristically posted on Facebook from work the day after Prince died. Like people all over the world, she was dealing with the shock of the news—and the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

But that was the weird thing. Prince wasn’t someone she considered “a loved one.” You’ve likely wondered over your “Noooo!” when you have learned of the death of a famous musician, sports figure, writer, or such. Why do we react to the deaths of those we have never met in much the same way we react to the death of our next door neighbor or our high school teacher? And why do some of us even react more strongly to the death of, say, Prince, than we would to news of a “real” person from our own lives?

And we’ve endured a year full of such grief. David Bowie passed earlier this year. And his death followed that of Robin Williams, which, a suicide, had left us all feeling raw. Umph. We are hurting for real.

One of the things that makes us human is our imagination. Our brains can conflate fiction and real, like when you are binge-watching your favorite series, and suddenly those characters and their lives and the settings in which they move ARE real. Likewise, we read books, learn ballads, and enjoy sitcoms not because they are “pretend” as much as the fact that they seem so real to us. They, truly, become real to us, as real as anything.

Prince and David Bowie and Robin Williams were all real people, but ones most of us never got to have dinner with or play soccer with. Yet, they were real to us, in that they became part of the fabric of our lives when they were alive. I remember watching the film “Purple Rain” at the theater in Seattle with our good friends when we were in college; we knew this was an amazing film and that Prince was highly talented. I remember the night I heard David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” for the first time on the radio. We had just moved 500 miles from home, and I was feeling scared and alone. And I remember watching television in junior high school, laughing hard at Mork’s bizarre but very gentle humor. I grew up with these people. We all did. Whether you’re 65 or 15, you know their names and they are a part, some part, some real part, of the fabric of your lives. You opened your heart to them.

Our loss of Prince and the like really is a loss of a thread of our own lives. The fabric is still intact, but there is a noticeable gap where they once were. They are gone. That gap will remain. Fortunately their work will live on and on, and future generations will discover it, just as kids today continue to discover The Beatles.

Some of my friends felt that they wanted to create a memorial for Prince. They invited friends over, listened to his music, watched videos and films, and toasted his life and work with glasses of wine. Some folks held vigils, joining together with total strangers to shine their purple flashlights and sing Prince’s songs. They recalled their relationship with him. And so they began to address their very real grief at his loss. As they should.

Princess Diana. Harper Lee. Glenn Frey. We need to mourn all of our  losses when they happen, when they leave us feeling at sea and in need of comfort. I hope we allow ourselves to take the time to play their albums, watch their films, remember their lives and accomplishments, or just talk with others who are also missing them. I hope we feel free to express our grief and honor their memories just as if they were close friends of ours. Because they were.

 

 

 

 

No End to Love

Here at my desk in my home office, an old computer monitor serves as my bulletin board. Stuck to it via post-it notes are a number of choice quotes or ideas I have come across that have actually changed how I perceive something. And so it is my altar to human creativity! The quotes’ authors range from Job in the Old Testament to Art Garfunkle to Stephen Colbert to Bono!

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But one quote draws my attention these days as I’ve been helping create end of life ceremonies for others and as I begin the largest project I’ve taken on—co-creating the end of life ceremony with and for two separate women.

I read it over and over: “Healing can happen even when a cure does not.” This is a quote by Kit Turen, a writer and sister Life Cycle Celebrant® who practices in Washington D.C.

Each of my two clients has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and each is thinking beyond her last months to the impact her passing will have on others. Both women are very hopeful that their end of life ceremony can offer the opportunity for healing the hearts of those they love, those they will soon leave behind.

In working with them to craft their unique ceremonies, we first consider their intention—what it is each wants to accomplish through ceremony. One of them is compelled by her realization that her adult children aren’t ready for her passing. They have been actively and valiantly caring for her for many years now as she has struggled with Parkinson’s Disease, but doing so distracted them from thinking about life without her. There is so much she wants to say to them, and thinking about how she might do that through creating an end of life ceremony is healing for herself, because she knows that she is doing the ultimate mothering: she is helping them come to terms with her own mortality.

The other mother has one adult child, who needs considerable care himself due to a developmental disability. Since her initial terminal diagnosis, she has focused her energies on securing his care in a local assisted living facility. She has created a trust to take on his legal and financial responsibilities. And now, she is feeling more ready than ever to create for him and for her large circle of community an inspiring end- of-life ceremony to help them adjust to her passing when the time comes. Her intention is to inspire others at her death to think about their own lives more actively, to choose how they want to live.

Both of these women, in their final illnesses, are looking to promote healing in those they love. And in doing so, they are generating healing in themselves, taking care of what most needs to be cared for: our loved ones and the emotional legacies we leave them. Neither woman has much time left, yet each is focused on healing her own heart through healing those she loves. Healing truly can happen even when a cure does not.

Are you curious about the quote by Bono?

“There is no end to grief. And there is no end to love.”

 

 

What Remains

Over the last 5 weeks, our beautiful Methow Valley, located in North Central Washington State, has been through many serious trials. First came the extreme heat wave and high winds in early and mid-July, then the wildfires, then the flash floods, followed by the landslides. And now, the clean-up.

One person has died, suffering a heart attack while attempting to defend his home from the fires. Countless wild and farm animals were lost as well.  Families’ hard-earned life savings were decimated.  Dreams were dashed. We are all surrounded by endings.

First and foremost, fire destroyed more than 300 homes in our valley. Imagine your home, its rooms, its history, its presence. Then imagine it destroyed by fire, now surrounded by an unrecognizable moonscape of black tree trunks, layers of ash, and creeks and rivers running black. Many of these homes were farms, with barns and fields full of cattle, horses, goats, sheep. These were lost, too. It’s really too horrible to grasp.

Brave firefighters surely saved more homes than were lost, but the trauma of evacuating while your neighbors’ houses burned is etched on memory here. As you grab the few belongings you can think of (what would you take if you were given a short amount of time to leave your home?), you know time is ticking. You say goodbye as you drive—to where?—not knowing if you’ll ever see your property again, but grateful to be alive and hopefully with those you love.

Other losses suffered here are somewhat less tangible. They include the day-to-day life endings: business owners scrambling to make ends meet, down-towns temporarily quieted as they struggle to regroup. State highways, the arteries of our rural communities, shut down. Families making huge decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or selling. An entire summer lost to simply trying to recover.

And perhaps most serious of the losses caused by this summer’s trials are the assumptions we have held close: the belief in the permanence of the landscape, one’s way of life as enduring, Mother Nature as gentle, home as a safe place.

The lessons are thick in the air. We are all thinking about these. And they are not abstract concepts anymore. For one community, at least, these ideas are now front and center.

To such lessons I would add one more: change provides the opportunity for transformation. Destruction and devastation have long been seen as the road to renewal. And indeed, where the ash has lain for weeks in thick, choking layers, grass is now shooting up, boasting a bright vivid green against the ravaged landscape. Foresters tell us that come Spring, we will see young pines sprouting up everywhere.

And neighbors lean in toward each other, asking the question of the summer: How are you doing? Never before has that question been so common and yet so important.

As a celebrant, my interaction with life, death, and transformation keep these realities in front of me each day. These are the natural themes of our lives and they mark the arcs of our existences. We each suffer losses in life, and struggle to right ourselves, to learn how to move forward.

But how to move forward authentically? I know for certain we are right to mourn the losses we’ve suffered, to mark the endings of the lives we lived up until this horrible thing happened. And then, I know we can begin to turn with renewed energy toward the future.

With what remains—our compassion, our renewed values, and yes, our shared loss—we have the material we need to re-imagine our lives anew.

A community is a living thing, and like farmlands or Ponderosa pines or the white-tailed deer that share our valley, our community will regenerate, taking the opportunity misfortune has given to reassess and to transform our ways of life.

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Courtesy Reflected Light Photography

I look forward to the healing and growing to come!

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Did you hear: Gynneth Paltrow and her husband of ten years, Chris Martin, are ending their marriage? These two people have two families, two large careers, and two real children to sort through, all of which will surely be affected by their split. And for years to come.

Here’s the catch: they are calling their divorce not a divorce—but a “conscious uncoupling.” What’s that about? Can divorce ever be anything but d-i-v-o-r-c-e?

Zosia Bielski of Toronto’s Globe and Mail gives psychotherapist Katharine Woodward Thomas credit for having devised the term “conscious uncoupling” and its unique approach to enlightened divorce as a way to encourage healthier break-ups of couples and their families. As she and her own husband worked “honorably” together to conclude their marriage, Thomas came to see that such amicable endings are unusual. By the time most couples divorce, they may already lack trust, good will, and compassion for each other. Children suffer. Pain and guilt and grief abound.

Thomas’s official process of conscious uncoupling requires one or both parties take a five week online course (~$300) “to Release the Trauma of a Breakup, Reclaim Your Power & Reinvent Your Life.” Each couple or one of a couple works with a coach as the course progresses through subjects such as avoiding pitfalls, crafting contracts to promote positive interactions, and practicing compassion.

While kinder divorce is a laudable goal, it still rarely happens in real life. “[I]t’s time we learned how to do this better” says Thomas.

Hurray! You and I could not agree more! Let’s do divorce better. That’s where celebrancy comes in.

Celebrancy has crafted the “Divorce Ceremony” as a concrete way of addressing the grief which can surround divorce by officially marking the ending of the marriage. Doing so offers an opportunity for recasting the central relationships, transitioning the family and the community into the next stage of these relationships, and imagining a future of transformed roles and purposes. Also, a divorcing couple often wishes to honor their families (children, in-laws, and others), which the Divorce Ceremony provides space to do.

Too, crafting a divorce ceremony can help a couple articulate for themselves and their communities what their own practical vision is: will the couple both support the children? How? Where will each live? What will become of their mutual friendships and professional relationships? Constructing this ceremony with their celebrant can also help them address still deeper questions: What do they want for their own lives? Their children’s lives? What will the end of their marriage enable them to imagine for themselves? Through the ceremony they write together, a couple can effectively envision and then articulate their next chapter.

Celebrants have long been working with couples who want to compose ceremonies to mark their marriages’ endings as meaningfully as they marked their beginnings. We understand the healthful role of ceremony in helping us effectively separate, transition, and incorporate (or as Thomas says, “Release . . . Reclaim . . . [and] Reinvent,”). This three-staged process helps us clarify the present, then step out of our old lives, and into our new ones.

And Divorce Ceremonies aren’t just for those directly involved. Any marriage contains its community of supporters. So when a marriage ends, this larger community doesn’t suddenly stop caring; it is lost, it is concerned, it is grieving. Without its own chance to express and heal, that external group can sometimes turn ugly, spreading rumors, imagining the worst, hurting those already most hurt.

We all need to know how to truly move forward from divorce, and the Divorce Ceremony provides the space to do this in therapeutic ways that honor our humanity.

I’d like to see the “coupling” of Divorce Ceremonies with Conscious Uncoupling’s therapy sessions to best insure that the end of a marriage is truly a marker of healthy transformation, instead of a lifelong source of trauma, for all involved.

Divorce is divorce: a loss of hope and shared vision. But by adding ceremony to conscientious attention, couples can truly transform divorce into healthy transition, instead of the horrible, gut-churning experience many of us think it must always be.

Sources:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/celebrity-news/so-how-do-you-consciously-uncouple/article17682694/

See also:

~~Ben Zimmer’s WSJ online article on the history of the language of divorce.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304441304579479461454199396?KEYWORDS=zimmer+divorce&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle