It’s so hard to explain what happens in this grief-shifting work…

Let me try to explain what teaching this weekend’s grief-shifting workshop at Kripalu Center was like. It’s impossible to put into words everything we went through together and where we ended up. But let me try to take you on this journey:

Friday night 30+ strangers with enormous grief sat in a circle in a room. One by one each person shared their story of loss. We heard stories of police officers knocking at the door to tell a mom and dad that their 23-year-old angel daughter had died in a car accident. We heard that same story from the parents of her angel boyfriend who died with her.

We heard too many stories of parents finding their sons dead from an overdose. We listened to the painful grieving of wives whose husbands of 30+ years died in their arms after suffering the ravages of cancer – or sudden massive heart attacks.

We heard from wives and siblings of those who chose to take their own lives because their suffering was too heavy to carry another day.

After sharing stories around the circle our room was wrapped in Love – divine love – as we honored the deep connection of knowing that all humans share the journey of loss and that grief is our greatest spiritual teacher. It wakes us up like no other teacher can.

Everyone acknowledged that their lives have already been transformed by the presence of the extraordinary showing up in ways that the rational world does not embrace. We shared these stories of visits and dreams. We asked for the healing presence of our loved ones during the weekend to help us heal. We went to bed. Exhausted.

I was awakened that night by a twenty something boy with a huge curly Afro and intense blue eyes hovering over me intensely saying: You have to tell mom that the human experience is only a small part of the journey. You have to tell them this!

I saw other faces of twenty something kids floating past but they all seemed okay with allowing this one boy to give the message to me. And he did. He was quite intense. I said ok. I got it. Don¹t scare me. And they let me sleep.

Early the next morning I shared my dream and described the boy. One mom jumped up and down with joy and shared the picture of her son. He was the boy who woke me up. She said he was famous for his wild Afro and would never cut his hair and that he was very intense in a way that sometimes put others off. I said, “Oh yeah. That was him.”

Others shared their dreams and visits from the night.

We meditated to quiet the mind and open the heart. We shared guilt stories and tore them into the trash in honor of acknowledging soul agreements and soul lessons and the awareness that we do not and can not control the soul choices of others.

We acknowledged that the best we can do here is live in alignment with our highest self and become sources of divine love wherever we go. Guilt is an illusion of control created by the ego. It serves no one. It blocks divine love.

We denied guilt the power of knocking us off center and keeping us from living up to our divine potential. We released it. We affirmed the power of Love.

We cried some more. We named our pitiful selves and our brilliant selves and we denied sadness and depression any power to knock us off center and keep us from being sources of divine love as our departed would want us to be. We did the break your heart wide open meditation technique to release the pain.

I explained how all of us are capable of connecting to the other side for healing and guidance when we go into the silence and quiet the mind. We picked up pens and paper. I guided them through a meditation to quiet the mind and open the heart. I told them to picture a happy memory of being with their departed. To see it, feel it, smell it and get inside of the love of that memory.

I guided them to write quickly as they asked their departed these questions: Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to be learning from this? How am I doing with my grief? What should I do with my life now? They wrote and they wrote.

We went around the circle sharing the words we¹d received from our loved ones. Every single person in that room knew in their bones that they had heard from their departed who gave them loving but honest answers.

We laughed and cried by the poignancy and power of what had been written and shared. These departed messages were quite clear that their moms and dads could be doing a lot better to move on and get their lives together.

One mom was told quite adamantly to get out of the house and get over it; to start reconnecting with life. Another was told to quit the job she’d long hated and start a business. And on and on went the messages. All told in the exact wording of their departed.

We went to lunch and filled the dining hall with laughter and tears. After lunch we explored our unique soul missions and soul agreements and ways to create meaning and purpose in our lives and work moving forward. We shared what our departed would want to see us doing with our lives and what the gift of loss had taught us.

We met up in the cafe where I gave little mini readings to everyone to help them understand their soul missions and soul agreements. I was profoundly struck by the four-way agreements between the four parents whose two children had died in the same car accident. We felt the presence of their divine loving souls around us as we talked.

The next morning we met up in the cafe where our shared laughter and joy almost got us kicked out for rowdiness. Then we went to class where we meditated to quiet the mind and wrote and shared our baby steps for moving forward. Everyone promised to go into the silence once a day for healing and alignment with their inner divinity and highest selves.

We denied grief the power to knock us off center and we affirmed that we are all sources of divine love for ourselves and others.

Our shared laughter and love in that room was so powerful that no one wanted to leave when it was over. We looked like a different group of people from the ones who’d began the journey on Friday night.

I’m home now. Still floating in the love and joy of our divine connections. Truth be told it’s hard to be home. I miss them. I miss their voices, their stories, their laughter. I miss the profoundly deep love and joy we shared – something so rich and poignant that being back in the everyday world seems a bit… well … Ordinary.

And maybe I don’t do so well with ordinary. I’d rather dance in the extraordinary- as we did all weekend.

And that’s my truth.  And so it is. Namaste.

 

It’s so hard to explain what happens in this grief-shifting work…

Let me try to explain what teaching this weekend’s grief-shifting workshop at Kripalu Center was like. It’s impossible to put into words everything we went through together and where we ended up. But let me try to take you on this journey:

Friday night 30+ strangers with enormous grief sat in a circle in a room. One by one each person shared their story of loss. We heard stories of police officers knocking at the door to tell a mom and dad that their 23-year-old angel daughter had died in a car accident. We heard that same story from the parents of her angel boyfriend who died with her.

We heard too many stories of parents finding their sons dead from an overdose. We listened to the painful grieving of wives whose husbands of 30+ years died in their arms after suffering the ravages of cancer – or sudden massive heart attacks.

We heard from wives and siblings of those who chose to take their own lives because their suffering was too heavy to carry another day.

After sharing stories around the circle our room was wrapped in Love – divine love – as we honored the deep connection of knowing that all humans share the journey of loss and that grief is our greatest spiritual teacher. It wakes us up like no other teacher can.

Everyone acknowledged that their lives have already been transformed by the presence of the extraordinary showing up in ways that the rational world does not embrace. We shared these stories of visits and dreams. We asked for the healing presence of our loved ones during the weekend to help us heal. We went to bed. Exhausted.

I was awakened that night by a twenty something boy with a huge curly Afro and intense blue eyes hovering over me intensely saying: You have to tell mom that the human experience is only a small part of the journey. You have to tell them this!

I saw other faces of twenty something kids floating past but they all seemed okay with allowing this one boy to give the message to me. And he did. He was quite intense. I said ok. I got it. Don¹t scare me. And they let me sleep.

Early the next morning I shared my dream and described the boy. One mom jumped up and down with joy and shared the picture of her son. He was the boy who woke me up. She said he was famous for his wild Afro and would never cut his hair and that he was very intense in a way that sometimes put others off. I said, “Oh yeah. That was him.”

Others shared their dreams and visits from the night.

We meditated to quiet the mind and open the heart. We shared guilt stories and tore them into the trash in honor of acknowledging soul agreements and soul lessons and the awareness that we do not and can not control the soul choices of others.

We acknowledged that the best we can do here is live in alignment with our highest self and become sources of divine love wherever we go. Guilt is an illusion of control created by the ego. It serves no one. It blocks divine love.

We denied guilt the power of knocking us off center and keeping us from living up to our divine potential. We released it. We affirmed the power of Love.

We cried some more. We named our pitiful selves and our brilliant selves and we denied sadness and depression any power to knock us off center and keep us from being sources of divine love as our departed would want us to be. We did the break your heart wide open meditation technique to release the pain.

I explained how all of us are capable of connecting to the other side for healing and guidance when we go into the silence and quiet the mind. We picked up pens and paper. I guided them through a meditation to quiet the mind and open the heart. I told them to picture a happy memory of being with their departed. To see it, feel it, smell it and get inside of the love of that memory.

I guided them to write quickly as they asked their departed these questions: Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to be learning from this? How am I doing with my grief? What should I do with my life now? They wrote and they wrote.

We went around the circle sharing the words we¹d received from our loved ones. Every single person in that room knew in their bones that they had heard from their departed who gave them loving but honest answers.

We laughed and cried by the poignancy and power of what had been written and shared. These departed messages were quite clear that their moms and dads could be doing a lot better to move on and get their lives together.

One mom was told quite adamantly to get out of the house and get over it; to start reconnecting with life. Another was told to quit the job she’d long hated and start a business. And on and on went the messages. All told in the exact wording of their departed.

We went to lunch and filled the dining hall with laughter and tears. After lunch we explored our unique soul missions and soul agreements and ways to create meaning and purpose in our lives and work moving forward. We shared what our departed would want to see us doing with our lives and what the gift of loss had taught us.

We met up in the cafe where I gave little mini readings to everyone to help them understand their soul missions and soul agreements. I was profoundly struck by the four-way agreements between the four parents whose two children had died in the same car accident. We felt the presence of their divine loving souls around us as we talked.

The next morning we met up in the cafe where our shared laughter and joy almost got us kicked out for rowdiness. Then we went to class where we meditated to quiet the mind and wrote and shared our baby steps for moving forward. Everyone promised to go into the silence once a day for healing and alignment with their inner divinity and highest selves.

We denied grief the power to knock us off center and we affirmed that we are all sources of divine love for ourselves and others.

Our shared laughter and love in that room was so powerful that no one wanted to leave when it was over. We looked like a different group of people from the ones who’d began the journey on Friday night.

I’m home now. Still floating in the love and joy of our divine connections. Truth be told it’s hard to be home. I miss them. I miss their voices, their stories, their laughter. I miss the profoundly deep love and joy we shared – something so rich and poignant that being back in the everyday world seems a bit… well … Ordinary.

And maybe I don’t do so well with ordinary. I’d rather dance in the extraordinary- as we did all weekend.

And that’s my truth.  And so it is. Namaste.

 

My Shared Death Experience

Loved speaking at the IANDS conference this weekend. I shared an except from Water Oak: The Happiness of Longing that describes what’s being called a “shared death experience” – something that many people experience when a loved one dies. Here’s the excerpt:
Paul appears to me now in a dream, wakes me from a deep slumber on the floor beside the hospital bed. He’s vibrantly healthy, happy and smiling, pulling me to stand up. “Wake up” he says. “Wake up and hold me like you said you would.”
 
 I open my eyes and realize another day has cycled in through the hospital window, illuminating us with rainy light, dappled and glowing. His labored breathing hasn’t changed. 
 
“Paul was just with me. He’s ready to go,” I say to his mother, moving to stand by the bed. She nods. We ask everyone to leave and we stand beside him, looking out the window at the soft summer rain, the green gentle foothills sloping upwards. We rub his arms and legs. “Go play outside my baby, I’ll always love you. I’ll be okay. You’re free to go,” I whisper in his ear. 
 
At those words, his tortured breathing stops; he takes one peaceful sigh and the light leaves his body. I watch it rise and travel up through the window and out to the green hills. We move to the window watching; the rain seems to lift briefly, then sprinkle again, sunlight peppering in through the clouds, shining in on us – a golden surprise.
 
This is a moment beyond words. My logical mind can’t understand it. But my heart and soul know. I’ve just witnessed a miracle; an everyday miracle, a soul lifting peacefully from a body, slipping into the invisible. It’s not a death. What a very wrong thing to call it. He shifted gracefully into something, purposefully, lovingly towards – not away from. He freed himself, leaving like a gentle kiss, slipping blissfully towards what I once called heaven.
 
I feel giddy, without borders, lifted. I know in an instant that there is a rule, a law, a purpose to everything, to my life, to Paul’s pain; that I’ve always been guided, held to the task I came here to accomplish. This sense of knowing follows me for days and weeks. 
 
I see the divine order within each moment; signs that all is well in every conversation with a friend, in the magical apartment that Paul reveals to me in a dream and I rent the next day. I feel light and free, untethered and joyful, without appetite for food or sleep. 
 
Living in the invisible realms now, my true home, I’m aware of the briefness of earthly lifetimes. I feel held by the angels who cherish me; they whisper in my ear at night when Paul visits, wrapping his fuzzy legs around mine in bed; holding me close until an angel calls him away. This physical world is truly not real and it’s such a relief to know it. Fully. Vividly. Through my senses know it. Costumes peel away. I see spirit everywhere. Paul has taken me with him.
 
Until my body pulls me back down to this weighty realm – the one I agreed to live in. But I don’t want to feel this heaviness, don’t want to be fully back in the body. I want my awareness to perch above it, heart soaring in the invisible. Everything I want is there not here and yet my body comes tumbling down, crashing into the earth with such force that I dry heave all night. It’s been four weeks, maybe five, since Paul died.
 
The lack of food and sleep, the exhaustion from months of changing canisters of bile, adjusting tubes, filling syringes, measuring fluids, giving shots, counting pills, sleeping on the floor beside his bed, praying, cheering, living fearlessly in dark terror of what awaited.
 
Those vivid pictures of Paul’s disintegration pour back into my soul now poisoning my once sweet dreams of him. I feel sick, sicker than I’ve ever felt. Friends grow concerned over my weight loss, take me to dinner. The smell of food sends me running outside of every café, every restaurant, every kitchen. Dry heaving in the grass. Embarrassed. Just want to go home. Finally I eat grapes and they stay.
 
I need to write, to tell this story, the story of Paul. I spend hours at the typewriter filling in the details of pain. I write 90,000 words of torture. No one can read it. Too much suffering but how well I’ve documented it. Perhaps journalism school, they suggest. But it’s what happened to Paul, I tell them. Doesn’t matter. Un-publishable.
 
But I must tell it. Start journalism school. Get a job at the paper. Profoundly wise editor pushes me to write an article about the Boulder Hospice. I finally do. It breaks me wide open.
-By Sue Frederick

It’s July 14 & my life has just changed completely…

It’s the morning of July 14, 1980. I awaken to the sounds of a mourning dove outside my window and a view of Boulder’s sacred limestone slabs reaching into the clouds; these front range Rocky Mountain slopes are where my husband and I once spent happy afternoons climbing, hiking and feeling invincible.

Yesterday, this elegant and strong young man died from cancer at the age of 34. His death ended a year of unforgettable suffering for both of us. My ego tells me this is a deplorable soul-sucking tragedy. Paul was the most loving man I’d ever known and did not deserve to suffer and die before his life could unfold – before we could have our future.

No one will ever love me like that again, says the ego mind. I’m alone, grief-stricken, and sick with heartbreak. I’m scarred for life – just as he was at the end. But I’m still here and he is not.

This voice in my head crushes and flattens me, pushes me back into bed, feels like molten lead pouring down. It deletes my future. I feel miniscule underneath these heavy thoughts. “Why would my husband die of cancer when everyone else our age is launching careers and having babies? What kind of loser am I?” whispers the ego.

Hours later and with tremendous effort, I push out of bed and step outside on the balcony, gazing up at the jagged pink flatirons jutting into a cloudless sky. I take a deep breath and observe their beauty, remember their promise.

It stirs a memory of a time when I first chose Boulder, chose to come to Colorado from the flatlands, with no money or job, just courage and determination. I wanted to break away from old fear patterns, to climb these dizzy rocks even though they terrified me. Magical things happened when I got here; an impossible mountain climbing career, marvelous friends, soul-mate-love and unprecedented happiness.

This reminiscence stirs a powerful recognition inside of me. I’ve chosen the path of courage before. And it served me well.

The voice of inner wisdom that has been knocked out of me for the past year, now whispers: This is your greatest moment. Every lesson you came to learn in order to push into your soul’s potential and align with your highest self, lives in this very instant of devastating grief.

The energy of these words lights me up, gives me breath. My mind chatter quiets and I hear my higher self say: Paul was your greatest spiritual teacher. He revealed his spirit to you as he left his body. He took you on a spiritual journey disguised as a healing journey. It was your healing journey, not his. It was his gift to you.

Over the next few months, I begin to realize that all the things we experienced together in the year of his dying – the meditations, healers, Native American ceremonies, and his fully conscious exit from his body – were all for me. He was finished with this lifetime, not meant to stay longer, just long enough to show me that I was worthy of love and could reach into my soul to find wisdom and courage. He helped me see life in a new way.

“You’ve never been alone,” whispers this inner voice of the divine. “You’ve been held in love and light even in your darkest moment. You must choose which path to take now. This is your choice point.”

The next few years of my life play out as up and down as a roller coaster. Sometimes I’m able to embrace my divine lens view and move forward. Other times I’m lost in self-pity, self-doubt and the blind confusion of anger and grief.

Yet my choice will ultimately be for trusting my soul’s wisdom and consciously taking the spiritual path that gets me here – writing this to you.

Our journeys are never one straight line of uninterrupted wisdom and enlightened action. Neither are they one continuous journey of negativity and fear. All of us vacillate between our ego lens and divine lens perspectives. We spend time viewing life through each lens so that we can make a fully realized choice. These two viewpoints battle for dominance inside of us until our heart finally chooses. This choice becomes the essence of who we are.

-By Sue Frederick, author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side

Join me for a grief healing retreat in September at Shambhala Mountain Center

http://www.ShambhalaMountain.org

My Dying Friend: A Hard Conversation…

Last night I spent two hours having a “what happens when we die” conversation with a friend I’ve known since the 80s. She’s dying from stage 4 cancer. It was diagnosed in December. She said her friends don’t talk to her about spirituality and crossing over. She’s been an atheist much of her life – although she’s done amazing work for the world in her career.

She had my book Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side – on her nightstand. She asked me to sit with her to talk about it. She said she’d spent her life not wanting to believe in that kind of “woo-woo” stuff. But now she was having experiences that she believed were some kind of inexplicable divine order and wanted to explore ideas she’d not been comfortable with before.

She cried for most of the two hours during our talk – releasing so much fear and grief she’s been holding on to. She’s devastatingly frail and in constant pain. She lives alone. Hospice visits twice a day. It was so hard to see her suffering and so afraid of death.

I taught her to meditate – as well as some other sacred techniques for releasing fear – like my Break Your Heart Wide Open meditation. I gave her a rosewood Mala – which she loved. She was so grateful I’d visited and will try to meditate now when’s she’s alone and afraid. She wants me to come back. And I will…

But it was so hard to be there. I’m so inadequate in those situations. The visit brought back so many memories of my husband Paul, best girlfriend Crissie, and my dad who all died too young – from cancer. Afterwards, my husband Gene and I talked about my visit. It helped so much to talk to him and feel his love and support. Our views on life and death are fully aligned and I’m so grateful for him.

But today I can’t get the images and smells of the visit out of my head. All I want to do is go shopping and buy some expensive Eileen Fisher clothes that I can’t afford. I know that’s just my grief acting up. It’s my old relentless question of why do good people often take the path of suffering before they die? That one painful question launched my spiritual exploration journey in the 80s. And it still fuels the work I do today.

And I realize that I’m so much better at helping grieving people – rather than the sick and dying. I can truly help with spiritual and emotional pain. But I can’t relieve physical pain and I can’t bear to see that kind of intense physical suffering – especially in young people who only months ago were vibrant and full of life.

I guess I’m still traumatized from taking care of my young husband Paul in my 20s as he died from colon cancer. It’s clear that I have some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome:  it makes me want to run from the sight of physical suffering.

Last night I kept feeling like I might throw up when I first walked into her room and saw tubes everywhere, the oxygen tank, and the pain on her face as she struggled to sit up a little in her bed to greet me. I had to work so hard to focus on her spirit, her beautiful radiant undamaged soul, and not on her body. A big part of me just wanted to run out crying into the night, to stand under the stars, to look at beauty instead of pain.

But instead I took a deep breath, opened my heart and sat down beside her – with love as my intention. Our heart to heart conversation helped calm her – and I hope our future conversations will help her release fear and find an inner peace about crossing over.

I shared many stories with her of the departed coming back to show me that life continues and that death is not the end of anything. I’m so deeply grateful to those spirits – Paul, Crissie, my dad and so many many others who’ve made it so abundantly clear that we are all souls who come here for a brief physical experience to evolve consciousness – and that crossing over – taking the final breath – is simply an act of love – of returning to the divine realms from which we came.

I’m so grateful for every moment of this lifetime that has pushed me to recognize this truth and for all the sacred teachers I’ve had along the way. And last night, my dying friend loved listening to those stories of departed spirits showing up, and she wanted to hear them again and again. She cried and cried as she listened – as her heart broke wide open.

To all the nurses, hospice workers, healers and physicians who care for the dying – I honor you so much for what you do in the world. It’s the hardest and best job there is. Nothing else compares. I’m so inadequate in the face of other’s physical suffering. I have to fight the impulse to run and instead focus on their spirit – which is after all what my work is here.

I hope you’ll forgive me for writing this story about my friend. It is a very private thing, I know. And perhaps I shouldn’t share it. Yet the experience of seeing loved ones suffer is a shared experience amongst all of us. Writing this has helped me process – not the visit itself – but my visceral reaction to seeing my dying friend.

Writing has always helped me heal pain and step into wisdom – to see things more clearly. It’s why I write. And maybe now I can resist the pull of Eileen Fisher, of seeking superficial comfort in the face of pain, of longing for beauty instead of what is…