Love’s Flow Controls

The purest forms of love are unconditional love, wide open pathways between two souls where love can travel instantly with great force and reaction. The soul contains our conscience which tries to protect us from danger, and an unconditional wide open pathway for love to flow out of our soul is a very great danger. As a result of life, our souls develop self protective controls over the flow of love, both into and out from our soul.

Trust is the fundamental flow control of love

In the early days of a relationship based in love, each lover will chose exactly the type and volume of love that they will unconditionally offer this new lover over the forming pathway. The flow control applied on both sides of the pathway is trust.

Trust is where we decide if something is desired by our soul or dangerous to our soul. As a result, in a healthy early love, there is a natural limitation on how much of what kind of love you will gift to a lover or friend, followed by their receiving flow control of desirable or dangerous. 

To love, we must both trust ourselves and each other.

Basic rules of love’s flow  

Pure love is meant to be gifted unconditionally, with no expectation of acceptance or of a return of similar or different type or quantity of love from the friend or lover that you gift your love to. The unconditional part of love is what makes it much easier for the receiver to accept the gift, any conditions become a weight we carry, an undefined debt we owe. An unconditional gift of our love is basically our expression of our trust in the friend or lover we give our love to. This trust opens the pathways between our souls that allow love to flow with fewer restrictions.

When love, consciously or subconsciously leaves your soul, if that love is not received and accepted by the intended soul it will fade away and the energy of that love will be lost to both lovers. This happens when there are obstacles in the delivery and acceptance of our gifts of love. Often these obstacles are called walls, which are representations of impenetrable scars on our souls from past love injury by other lovers, or by broken trust in this current love. These “walls” are absolute flow controls set to completely stop the inbound flow of love as a self protective measure, and they are very hard to tear down because they require a rebuilding of trust. People who have these walls, these scars from love that block inbound love, also have strict limits on how much love they will allow to flow out of their souls. This is compounded by the inbound walls seriously restricting acceptance of love, and their soul can become self-starved of love to the point of panic.

The nightmare lover is the one that is hungry for love, the one that really seems to need what you offer, the one that has wide open acceptance of your unconditional love, but they also have walls blocking trust and very limited flow of love back to you. These are hoarders of love. These relationships become exhausting and draining because they slowly empty your soul of love, and you can’t see past their walls that have resulted from life’s scars, or the scars left by failed lovers.

Trusting love

So how is all this related to grief?

No love, no grief. Deep love, deep and complicated grief.

Lover or friend, we grieve those who we have trusted in sharing our love, those who have opened their souls to us and that sharing of love has caused us to open our souls to them.

In the deeply honest trusting love of those who we will grieve the flow controls of trust have disappeared. Often we say things like “They are an open book” about someone who trusts us with the contents of most or all of their soul.

We always initially see death as a betrayal of our trust in the Universe. The Universe has caused a trusted loved one to die, and we have this gaping wound in our soul where we were connected to their soul. The love we would send their way is now spilling out of that wound and we long ago forgot where the flow control to stop the flow is.

The process is the same whether the grief is for a life lost, or for a love lost. The sense of despair and fear comes from watching our souls spill love that we feel will be forever lost. Almost immediately we begin building walls, because if we can’t trust life or love, then we need walls. Those walls might protect and stop the flow of love out of your soul, but they often completely block the flow of love back into your soul.

After our son was killed in a firefighter water rescue training accident in 2005, my soul emptied completely and I build solid walls around me. We shared an unconditional and deep love, we had even discussed the possibility of line of duty death as he chose firefighting as a way to give back to the community he grew up in. We had done everything right, we had talked openly about accepting the risks, my last words to him were; “I love you, see you after practice”.

The Universe had betrayed my son and our family. Life became lonely and dark, but worse there was little hope of refilling my soul with love because I had closed off and built walls.

Your grief, its depth and intensity, will be based largely on how freely the love you shared flowed. If you loved well, you will grieve deeply, know that this is a great honour based in the trust of someone who knew you. Your goal is to tear down walls, to end your anger at the unfeeling Universe, to reduce your fear, to heal your soul without building solid walls that deny you future love..

This story is a long way from the happy ending that is today. Not a perfect ending, but a happy one.  You can get there too, it will take time and it will take conscious thought and unconscious work that might exhaust you, but your soul wants to heal, your souls naturally wants to fill with love, your soul naturally wants enough love to share with others that you have chosen and will choose to share love with.

When your soul has finished healing, you will have been part of one of life’s great miracles, the rebirth of your own loving life. That is a marvel, a sight worth seeing, and one that doesn’t happen without grief.

One wrong turn

Content warning: This post directly addresses suicide

Originally published in 2009 as a column, but it’s history is deeper. Having experienced suicide as a survivor, I will try reach our to families when I hear of a suicide in our circle of friend or extended circle of acquaintances. Knowing the complexity of the immediate aftermath of suicide, when an friend in our community killed himself, I wrote this as a private letter to the family, something that I could just drop off at the door without intruding too much on a very private grief. They invited me in, and I spent a couple of hours with them and left the letter for them. Many months later, I ran into the victim’s octogenarian mother, who was not part of my initial visit to the family,  at a local event and she pulled me aside and asked me to please publish the letter as a column because it had helped their family begin the journey of grieving the suicide of a son, husband and father.

Of the over 200 columns I wrote, this one still gets people seeking me out and requesting a copy for someone that they know who has a suicide to grieve.

It occurs to me that I have been writing on grief and love for a long time now, and much of my thinking on grief was becoming well formed at the time I wrote this, which was bine years after my brother’s suicide and four years after our son’s death. It’s taken me another almost fourteen years to start this blog, but I have never stopped writing, so I have a wealth of staged exploration, knowledge and insights, because I wrote.

A final note: Since I wrote this, Canada now has Medical Assistance In Dying for hopeless terminally ill patients. We are exploring these concepts as a people, and possibly extending them to intractable mental illness and possibly dementia, which are more complex situations than terminal illness tends to be. 

One Wrong Turn by Peter H. Ratcliffe

Published Hudson-St. Lazare Gazette September 2009

More than four thousand Canadians kill themselves each year, with the vast majority being men.

In September 2000, my youngest brother Michael killed himself at age 43, leaving a loving widow, two children, two brothers, a sister, two loving parents and an extended family a lifetime of grieving pondering more questions than he answered quickly one morning with a rope.

My sister once chided me for saying clearly and directly that “Mike killed himself”, suggesting I could find more polite or sensitive ways to voice his final act. “He took his own life” was one several gentler suggestions she made. Mike’s act wasn’t polite or sensitive; suicide is never polite or sensitive, so to this day I use the “killed himself” to properly describe the violence he committed on himself and his family and friends. Suicide is a shocking abandonment of the deepest trust we share with a loved one; there is no polite or sensitive descriptor I could use.

Suicide is often described as a selfish act. I believe that when we live a life full of family and friends that our own life is no longer simply ours to decide what to do with. In any good life, our lives and souls become intertwined and conjoined to so many by blood, love, friendship and community. We can’t kill ourselves without doing major damage to those we have conjoined to us. So, it’s not just our life we’d take, but also many good parts of all of those lives touching and being touched by us. Perhaps that sense of family, friends and community pulls most back from the edges of despair they might find. Unfortunately some only find a blinding darkness that isolates them from those saving graces and they can’t find their way back.

The sole suicide I might be able to find personal understanding and compassion for would be a terminally ill patient in intractable suffering with no treatment options or hope of improvement. Usually, those victims have discussed that option to some form of acceptance with those closest to them and the trauma is mitigated by preparation and answering of the obvious questions we must ask. I refuse to judge those who choose that path because I can’t walk in their shoes, but I hope I’d choose to fight for one last breath surrounded by those I love.

Those of us left behind when someone kills himself or herself are referred to as survivors of a suicide. On the psychological trauma scale we have endured one of the most traumatic events a soul can experience. We survivors have suffered a random act of violence to our own lives; I’ve often called these events drive by shootings in our own life. We survived, but we will carry scars on our soul from that event for the rest of our life. Unless we heal and find strength, a significantly higher percentage of us will kill ourselves, encounter addiction, battle depression and a myriad of mental and physical health problems. This is the road we’ve been left on would never be our choice, but where we go from here is our only choice.

One of the great tragedies of suicide is that we don’t talk about it, but bury it. Professional media correctly doesn’t cover suicide unless it’s linked to a serious crime or is a very high profile public person. The view is that publishing information about suicides brings copy cats or might break down a barrier for those most at risk and who might be close to or contemplating killing themselves. The downside to that lack of coverage is that suicide is much more prevalent than most people think, and survivors are more isolated and less apt to talk or seek help. In the months after Mike’s suicide, I was shocked at the number of people who came to me and talked about suicides in their own family. I also felt less alone and less different for those discussions. Without open honest discussion, the rate of suicide will continue to climb, so I encourage survivors to talk to each other and help each other heal. We’re not alone, there are far too many of us survivors. We are unique in our experience and understanding of one of life’s great tragedies.

At the very central root of suicide is mental illness. No one with a completely healthy mind kills himself or herself. The mental illness that took this person from us may have been a life long struggle, or it may have been a singular sudden fit of irrational behavior. We may argue forever about which it was, it was probably somewhere in the middle, and we will never really know.

In any case, I eventually came to the comfortable conclusion that the man who killed my brother wasn’t the gentle caring Mike we knew as a son, brother, husband, father and friend. For that one deadly moment, a different Mike took over and destroyed that fine man we knew. Perhaps our Mike had silently battled inner demons and never reached out to any of us for help. Perhaps it was a sudden impulse on a moment of despair. Don’t ask the questions we can’t ever answer, spend your energy remembering the good you knew.

One of the issues that can gnaw at the survivors is questioning why exactly did they kill themselves. I suspect that even if there were a note or message that we couldn’t or shouldn’t trust anything that was said in a time of deepest despair. It is much better to cherish the memory of many years of a fine soul’s life in a balance of significance against that one terrible moment and self-destructive act that became beyond their control.

In my healing journey from Mike’s suicide, my thinking became much clearer. On Mike’s journey along the road of life, Mike had made many thousands of good turns to better places and a better life. Mike wasn’t afraid to change paths in life; he changed directions for good reasons and to great outward success. Mike was a loving, happy, proud, productive, valuable part of a family and society. He worked hard and built a life and family most would envy.

One morning at home Mike found himself in a dreadful place he didn’t recognize. He couldn’t or wouldn’t reach out to anyone for directions or help. He couldn’t see backwards to where he came from, or forward to where he thought was going. He couldn’t sense the value in his life or the love around him each day. On one side of his path was an immense cliff he knew he couldn’t possibly climb and on the other side was a dark quiet bottomless abyss he couldn’t understand but he felt was calling him. Mike, for reasons he himself most likely didn’t understand made that one deadly wrong turn of his entire good life and killed himself.

We must never lose sight of the value and meaning in our lives. We must never lose sight of those we love and those who love us. Those thoughts are multiplied for we the wounded survivors of a suicide. We survivors can understand and must comfort and support each other and do our best to make sure we don’t find ourselves one day on that path to a wrong turn.

We can spend the rest of our lives wondering and arguing amongst ourselves about what killed Mike and we’ll exhaust ourselves without ever really understanding. Or we can spend the rest of our lives together remembering all the great days and turns we loved in Mike’s wonderful life. I choose to only remember the great loving, laughing Mike.

I encourage every survivor of a suicide to compassionately try to imagine the immense pain that our loved one found themselves in that one terrible last day of their life. A pain so real and intense that it completely blinded them to everything of value in their life and left them with only the conclusion that killing themselves would fix the pain. Then find it in your heart to forgive them for that one wrong turn they made in a wonderful life. Find it in your heart to forgive them for the damage, betrayal, questions, confusions and challenges they left behind for you.

Drive any anger or darkness in your souls away and fill those empty voids with the wonderful loving memories of a dear loved one we lost who made one and only one really wrong turn. In honour of those memories of your love, find your way along this road to eventual healing.


Why hide grief?

Part of the ancient human instinct for survival is to not show weakness or fear. It’s a defense against predators, to appear strong in all ways, to increase the chance of survival by fooling predators into thinking that you are stronger than you really are, hoping the predators choose weaker appearing victims. This process likely predates the evolution of the emotion of love, but it remains with us. This process closes us to others when we grieve, sometimes to destructive effect. 

Society seeks strength and diminishes weakness, so there is immense pressure when grieving loss to appear to be strong. This is one of the most destructive things we do around grief, because it treats love that overwhelms someone as a weakness and promotes the resulting tears are weakness. The process of hiding grief from the public eye is isolating and dangerous. Grieving is not weakness, it is not an affliction, grief is a healthy natural part of life, grief is not a disability.

We need to talk more about love that we shared, we need to shine our love on that and illuminate the memory of a person without fearing that we will appear weak by appearing to others as vulnerable. This is probably the root of males having problems processing and expressing grief, our inability to communicate how we men are feeling. It creates a divide, an isolation within couples, within families and within communities.

The best eulogies are tearful, full of choke points and broken speech. Nothing is worse than a deadpan delivery emotionless eulogy that reads like a historical timeline. Perhaps I am biased, I have written and delivered those emotional eulogies that tapped into my deepest points of love and connected the mourners to them to the point that brought their tears. We are not weak when we cry, we are not vulnerable to harm because we are emotional, we are opening ourselves to share our love and our pain and to share care among the survivors. And we do no damage when our words make others cry from remembering a life. 

People say to me “I don’t know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one”. The simple answer is that saying nothing is always the wrong choice, because it doesn’t open any emotional connections, it doesn’t share your love for the person who died, and most of all it doesn’t share your love for the person who survives the loss and finds themselves grieving.

Too often we dwell on how the person died, the few months, days or minutes at the end of a life full of love. When we focus ourselves on the death, we ignore and push back the entire life of a person. So when we speak of the dead, speak of the life not the death.

I am often criticized because I say that the time for criticism ends when we die. After we die, are no longer available to defend or explain ourselves from personal attacks. If a bad person dies, they can inflict no more damage and we should feel some relief from that, but there is no longer a point in discussing the failings of a person who has died. If this constriction is uncomfortable, then you have no place in the circle of those grieving.  

We are entitled to choose who we will grieve, we are not entitled to push our choices onto others who will have had different life experiences with that person and will want the chance to grieve the loss as they see fit.

The great danger in grief is that grief is emotionally isolating at a time when we are in greatest pain from the loss. The mechanics of mourning, visitation, funeral, burial are meant to provide some structure of reverence and guidance as we start grief. Then a few days, or a few weeks after death, we are left alone with our grief. In my experience, the most difficult time in grief usually begins 4-6 weeks after death, when the friends and community that supports us gets back to their normal lives, and the reality and finality of death of a loved one begins to emerge from the fading flames of pain that starts grief.

We must understand our love for someone well enough to be left alone with it, to find small places of solitude to sort and catalog the memories and lessons from this life. The isolation we feel in the aftermath of the rituals of funerals is purposeful so long as we are strong enough to be alone with our grief.

Our grief, our final responsibility for loving this person.

My advice is to set aside specific times of the day when you will be alone with your grief, and other times when you will be with others who are grieving. The alone times are critical, the together times can be less rigid.

In the weeks and months of the summer and fall after our son’s death, when finding sleep was challenging, I cycled at dawn. I could cry with no one to notice, was it wind or grief causing the tears? The beauty of nature in our semi-rural area was healing. The expending of physical energy removed tension and unwanted weight. I became physically stronger and calmer. I ended each ride along the lake where he died in a water rescue training accident, on a bench at the Yacht Club he grew up at where he had his dream summer job, and I spoke to him.  Without that daily release of grief and physical energy, I might have exploded internally.

In the decades after my brother’s suicide, I called my parents on the anniversaries of his birth and his death. They never fully released their anger, they have both passed with some part of themselves still angry. On those anniversaries, I did my best to gently try to drain the pent-up anger from them, like draining an infected abscess. We shared tears, we shared memories, and we proved that we hadn’t forgotten. But the pain and anger were always just below the surface of their lives. They had never returned to fully loving life.

We parent on basically two ways: We teach how to be. We teach how not to be. In my case, most of the lessons were loving lessons on how to be. But in grief, they provided me with living examples of how I did not want to be after our son’s death. 

When grieving, it’s as important to find that safe place of comfort to process your thoughts alone as it is to share your thoughts with others who grieve this loss.

Always remember that grief is an evolved process. It is strength, not weakness. Grief is honour, not imposition. Grief is the light of the love lost, not empty darkness. We are meant to grieve shamelessly, not to hide or bury our feelings for a false show of strength.

Be well, seek peace and resolve to grieve loss honestly and without shame.

What is love?

With a technician’s spirit, and once I had modelled my soul (see: ) as an invisible reservoir where we store and release love, I realized that grief had emptied me of most or perhaps all of the love in my soul. We often hear people describe grief as a dark place, and the loss of our son had turned me into a black hole where love had died.

I needed to find or build love to refill my soul, but like most people, love had usually come easily to my life, so love was not entirely a conscious process for me. Over time, I sought a better definition of love to allow me to recognize and build the love that I needed to refill and rebuild my damaged soul.

Through grief, I have come to understand love as a form of life force energy that can flow without friction over great distances. In many ways the energy of love resembles the energy of light. Light from the beginnings of time carries images of our universe from the beginnings of time, if we have sensitive enough imaging hardware. Love from previous generations remains accessible to those who seek it. When we connect with our history and roots, we engage with the love that those generations have left behind as memories, when we gather as family we refresh and spread the bright love that remains.

Light can warm us over great distances, and light is required by life. We don’t fully understand light in our physical world, and we can’t fully understand love either. But, without needing to understand love, we can feel when the presence of love warms our soul, and we feel cold when there is no love.

Our definitions and understandings of both light and love are based almost entirely on perceptions of the effect of having the it, and of not having it. Light and darkness, the brightness of love and darkness of absence of love. The warmth of light, the warm feelings of love. We fear darkness, we fear a lack of love.

I believe that the energy, or at least the understanding of all of the past loves that we have shared remains accessible, if we look deep enough and are sensitive enough to remain connected to that love it will outlast our lifetime. The journey of grief is an exploration of those memories so that we can find them again when we need them later in life, either to teach or to be taught.

I also define part of love’s energy as a form of gravity, another not fully understood physical force. Gravity holds and cradles us to our planet while still allowing freedom of motion and change. It’s an invisible but universal force that is critical to the formation and existence of life itself. Love has gravity. We speak of being grounded in love, of building a life on a foundation of love, yet those foundations of love are weightless and can follow us through life.

We find much evidence of this gravity like force of love in our conscience. Our conscience is our soul’s self-protection mechanism. Nothing is more protective of the love contained in our soul than our conscience. Conscience reminds us to not put our life and the love that it contains at risk. Conscience reminds us to protect the lives and loves of those around us, even those people that we don’t know.

It is via conscience that we take pride in and protect our relationships of love, and so it is by conscience that we can love life over not just a moment, but over a lifetime. It is by conscience that others might feel safe in sharing love with us, and accepting love from us. Conscience forces us to try to give some love back when we accept love from someone, a process that amplifies the love shared and love received, which is the very basis of friendship, community and of lifetime love.

Love is a life force energy that flows between human souls through connections that are made because of human passions.

We are each born to an existence of unknown duration. We humans gather and share the life force energy of love to change our existence into a life that we love living. Love is what changes the existence we are born into into a life that we love living, so logically love is life.

Without enough love in our lives, we exist but don’t really live. This is evidenced in the numbness that begins grief. Deep pain from the wounds of loss, deep numbness as we lose our will to love life, in varying degrees, for a period beginning immediately after the death of a loved one. Going from loving life to merely existing is like being put in a prison, a hopeless hollow feeling. This is not fatal, it’s not permanent, it’s a call to action, a warning that your own personal reserves of love have dropped and need your attention.

We will become mechanics in grief, looking for the leaks of our own life force energy of love and repairing each of them so our reservoir (soul) can refill with love to a comfortable, or hopefully even joyous level of once again loving life. 

Be well, seek peace, and understand that your own reserves of love are held in your soul so that you can love living this life, even after loss. 



A model of a soul

Among emotions, grief is one of the most complex and unpredictable. Because grief is fundamentally love that has suddenly been injured and unilaterally redefined, grief is almost completely unpredictable when viewed by others. In the next few posts I will present my explanatory model for how we collect, process and share love, a model of our invisible metaphysical organ, the human soul.

No one loves grief, because grief suddenly steals some of, much of, or all of the love we carry in our soul from us. This emptiness makes us feel hollow and fearful that we might never be able to replace that love  we have lost from someone dying. I will try to model and explain how the love from that person remains among us, and that that love becomes a shared responsibility for those who loved that person.

I am a technician by nature, so it is natural that I try to build a model of what I am trying to understand. Models are simply simulations where we can functionally test inputs and reactions without complete understanding of the systems that we might not yet understand, or perhaps we will never understand how they work but want to know how they respond and function. To be functional, models need some fidelity with real life reactions. Humans are the most complex organic machines in the universe. We are highly evolved mobile chemical super computers and motion systems powered by self contained chemical plants that refine the food we eat into energy and waste. We will never completely understand how we function, perhaps we are not meant to, but we can observe how we react and how we learn, how we are drawn to some things and repelled by others

As a technical male, I was probably much less spiritual and understanding of what we call our soul and of love, than the average person. Certainly, men are generally challenged by talking about what we don’t fully grasp, and that includes both love and grief.

Grief was a great awakening in my life, right into the middle of a parent’s worst nightmare. The very public grief of our son’s death stripped me of all of my layers of protective armour and thrust my naked soul in front of TV cameras and a caring community that we had raised our family in. I became an open book, and I began to see things differently in myself that I had never let myself see, or perhaps lacked the vision to see.

In my journeys of grief, I felt a need for a simpler but somehow deeper and more universal understanding of love. Life and religions tell us to love, but what exactly does that mean? People speak of souls, but the existence of a soul is impossible to prove in the physical world, we can’t see or touch a soul to understand if it is wounded, we have only evidence of the primal pain that grief brings to us.

Grief is not a specifically religious experience, but grief is a universal part of all religions who try to explain loss or give life some purpose. For some, faith sufficiently answers the unanswerable questions and is a suitable guide through grief. Me. the technician, needed a model more than I needed a parable, but my model does not conflict with the religious concepts of a soul, it coexists with them.

It took a long journey through my grief to find happiness again, but that now happy journey continues and has made me more appreciative of love, more open in love, and more urgent about sharing love. While the journey has likely made me less religious in the sense of organized religions, it has made me far more spiritual than I would have ever imagined.

One of the great things about love is flexibility and creativity. We each define what love means to us, what language our love will speak with each person we share love with, and how we will collect, process and share love with others. The challenge is often that love happens so naturally, we believe that love is simple and requires little of no input or guidance from our conscious life and so we rarely come to more fully understand it. I now see love as a conscious choice that we allow and enable, in each and every part of our lives, with significant subconscious management that we probably have little control over.

Much of the complexity of grief is that there are so many intertwined and often tangled forms of love in the relationship we had, and so many inputs and outputs and other people’s love connected to our love for a person, our love for life, and our love for ourselves. Humans cease to emulate mechanical or logical systems whenever we deal with emotions. Emotions have far too many dimensions for a human to grasp, and emotions when destabilized are too complex to allow us to predict how any one person will process and react to the real world inputs that are part of daily life.

Grief involves more than one person, grief is a community event shared by all of the people who have loved that one who has died. This renders grief impossible to predict, and hard to fit into a single path of healing. Grief is as individual as your fingerprint, yours is unique while being similar to all those who will grieve this loss.

My model centers on visualizing our invisible soul, where I believe we process, store and share the love we connect to in life. Our soul is the only place where we process love, and the only nourishment a soul needs is love. My model will then define love as a life force energy that we need to maintain our soul and live a good and happy life that we love living.

I created this visualized model to help me understand my feelings through grief, and it may provide a basis which will help you find methods to distill the spirit of your loved one, and to discard or ignore those parts of grief that cause ongoing pain or unwanted distraction. This will simplify and concentrate your memories of a lost loved one, and you will be able to speak and teach from that love, not without emotion, but the goal is easily accessible memories for a lifetime without pain that keeps you away from accessing and sharing those memories.

Because the human soul cannot be seen, or imaged using technology, we can safely say that the soul does not exist in our physical world. That said, we have solid evidence of both the human soul and of love, in the feelings of both love and loss of a loved one.

If I use them word metaphysical to explain the soul, many will misinterpret what I trying to say as mysticism. I explain that I believe that human soul is real, and that it is physically dimensionless. From my perspective, the entire purpose of the human soul is love. Our souls survive and grow on only love. Your soul collects and shares love, and also selectively accepts love that is shared with you.

We are each born with an empty soul. In the early days of our lives, parents and family provide the immediate love that fills our new soul to a level of comfort and happiness. We learn to seek love, to feel love, and to give love. Our soul has no limits on its expansion or its contraction.

As we grow up, we begin to find our own passions and expand our sources to find love and to share love. Our souls grow and shrink, much like a heartbeat. Love of learning, love of activities, love of community and friends, and love of self create many opportunities to form connections which enable the flows of love to and from our souls.

As we become adults, we begin to share love between two people. When we love someone, we extend a connection of love to their soul, and they do the same to our soul. We each chose how much love to share. If the relationship grows in purpose, the sharing of love grows, if either side stops sharing love, the connections slowly wither and die, because love needs flows of energy in both directions. As love deepens we begin to build a shared soul that will become our family’s soul. When we have children, we attach their souls to our own soul, as well as to our families soul, and the very private connections between two lovers continue to flow love as well.

Our souls are reservoirs of the love that we have gathered in our lives. From that reservoir, we gift love to other humans that we choose to share our love with. Some of those gifts of our love are lasting connections where love flows in both directions, constantly or intermittently depending on the relationship. The pathways of this exchange of love are what grief damages and disrupts. The emotions we feel in grief will be directly connected to the intensity and severity, the breadth and depth of the love that we have shared with that person we have loved.

Next up, I will do my best to define love in a way that makes grief more understandable. See:

Until then, spend some time pondering your soul and looking for cracks and leaks that are caused by everyday life and by singular damaging events. Those leaks can pile up and make it impossible to love your life at this point in time. Repairing that damage is our goal.

Be well and peaceful, build love in your life and the lies around you daily. Love is life. 

Distill Anger First

Anger is a cancer of the human soul that consumes love. Anger is natural first response in early grief, and anger can become a habit or a crutch, so anger should be your early primary focus in healing grief. The process I will outline here is applicable outside of grief and works whenever you have a build up of anger in your life.

The fires of anger cause the initial painful emotional response when we lose a loved one, and those fires and the resulting pain draw our attention from gathering the ingredients of the love we shared to distill into our grief. If we include anger in our memories, they will have a bitter taste and harsh feel that will eventually find it’s way into every corner of your life, every memory after loss.

Fortunately, anger is volatile and if we focus on it, anger can be distilled and condensed into discarded waste without losing significant parts of the primary essence of our lost loved one. However, the longer we allow anger to guide our grief, the more damage we do the the collection of love that we wish to distill and hold for our lifetime.

The first step is to identify the few or many things that are making you angry. Set up an anger page in your journal, or better yet grab a stack of 3”x5” cards in a specific colour, perhaps pink. When you feel anger, identify the source of it and write it down. One point of anger per card. Rate the anger from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).

Identify the specific targets of your anger, and include anger at yourself where applicable. I say this because it is easy to become angry at yourself while grieving, a process that erodes your sense of self-worth and consumes self-love that is critical to refilling your soul with love.

It would be possible to do this exercise on a spreadsheet, as I did, but for this exercise you may prefer hard copy. When we distill a point of anger into waste that we will symbolically discard, bury or burn, we will tear the card up and keep the pieces in a resealable bag for a more formal disposal later when most or all of our anger is resolved.

As your stack of anger cards grows or shrinks, periodically add the currently unresolved anger ratings for a total anger score which you will track on a separate card, with a date for each entry. This anger score should be updated each time you add another anger card, or each time you tear one up. This will help you see whether your cumulative anger is growing or diminishing. You can also revise, either reduce or increase the 0-10 anger score on any card, simply date the change, with a note why and date and update the total anger score on the tracking card.

It would be idealistic and wrong of me to suggest that you will eliminate all anger from any loss of a loved one. More important is to understand whether your anger is diminishing (constructive) or increasing (destructive), and at what level of anger you feel better about your daily life. As lower anger allows you to laugh or smile more, you may be inspired to work on and resolve more of the anger that holds you back.

At least once per week, review the stack of anger cards and pick the ones you feel able to work on this week. Make some notes on each card, dated with actions you will take. Perhaps you need more information, note how you will get that information , who you will speak to. It’s natural in this process to pick the easy ones first, but you should ensure that you have at least one (or more) of the cards with the highest anger scores to work on.

The physical deck of anger cards also has great purpose if and when you decide to seek professional help in your grief, or in attending groups helping those grieving. What you seek from therapy is tools to resolve these points of anger. Taking your stack of anger tracking cards make this process easier to prioritize.

Because most of what makes you angry in grief cannot be changed, the eventual conclusion for most points will be that there is nothing more to be done to change these things that are making you angry. For these components of anger related to your grief, you will eventually need to work through this point enough to finally resolve to accept that nothing constructive can be done about this point and carrying this anger any longer than necessary will only hurt you more on your journey through life.

Most anger can be resolved to disappointment, which is anger without the destructive fires of cancer that consumes love. Disappointment is a benign scar on your soul left by anger that you have completely healed to acceptance, and we should welcome the change from anger to disappointment.

The stack of anger cards is something that helps you quantify your anger at each point in your grief. At some point, if you do the work on your anger, the stack will become insignificant in size and anger will no longer impede or threaten your healing process.

More on forgiveness later, but please understand that forgiveness is probably the most efficient anger reducer we have. We forgive to free ourselves of the anger, more than we forgive to free someone from responsibility. Your forgiveness in grief may reach as far as forgiving the Universe for its chaos that brings us random losses, or as specific as forgiving the person or persons who directly caused the death of a loved one. In the challenge of suicide, we must forgive the victim for choosing to cause their own death. 

Be well, seek peace, extinguish anger so that you can rebuild love in your life and love for your life. 


I am in it now, a fitting season. I have, for the past 18 years had a natural annual period of introspection that begins on March 22, which is our son James’ birthday, and ends sometime soon after June 6, which is the day that James died in 2005 at age twenty. I am different during this period, not better, not worse, but just different.

This period provides important things to my soul, an annual reset where I back away from other things just a bit to give myself room to be sad, room to be pensive or quiet, room to explore how grief has changed me, and this year room to finally launch an introspective retrospective on grief with this blog and pending free eBook.

In the aftermath of the death of a child, we are defined primarily by the loss. The rest of what we think or do remains in the shadow that we are “those parents”. People treat us differently, social contacts are fewer and different.  Fewer invites to happy gatherings, people are reticent to include us because they don’t know how we will react, will we make the party sad, and mostly I believe that they just don’t know how they will react. This is mainly a function of people not knowing how to confront speaking of our loss with us. Many are compassionately afraid to hurt us at a time when we can’t possibly be more hurt, and their silence often redefines friendships past as either shallow and fragile or deep enough to survive and change as we do.

We are still married, but the divorce rate for couples who lose a child is statistically astronomical. Especially in a marriage, we need both time and space to process and adapt to our own grief, to understand how this will shape us and shape our views on life, and our spouse is having the same struggle. In the early days and years, we can’t possibly describe or pin down those changes, we are being swept away from our past selves by grief. Over time, we make more and more room for ourselves, and also for our relationships with other people. Couples will need to fall in love again, with this survivor who has changed dramatically as you changed dramatically. And we must make room for two different sets of explanations and reactions to the same death. 

Each person grieving a loss has had a different experience with that person that they have loved. Each person will manage and react differently in grief. Making that space to allow multiple perspectives and changes is critical to keeping lovers and friends together when the grieve.

Each year, I look at how I have changed in the past year. This is probably a normal part of aging, but for me it includes wondering how James would feel about how his death has impacted my life. The reality is that I have become more like the 20 year old James than I have ever been. James’ morals and ethics were reflections of our teachings and guidance as parents, and since he has died I have assumed much more of the idealism of a 20 year old than I had as a 52 year old father when I lost a son.

Life prior to James’ death had worn away much of my idealism, a phenomena common to most people. I have become more active and vocal politically than at any time in my life prior to James’ death. Fitting because his accidental death was avoidable and the causes were rooted in bad management by a municipality.

Governments mostly kill by oversight and omission, which is a breach of the trust we place in the governments that we elect. My political views had always been centrist, fiscally responsible social democracy. My present views are similar, but much harder on the concept of responsibility, social, environmental and fiscal. This change is the result of my pondering how James would have wanted his world to be governed.

The foundation we set up in the aftermath of James’ death has awarded annual scholarships since he died. In the past year, a group of James’ friends, now established in their 30’s, with families of their own, have taken complete charge of the foundation and are expanding the scope and purpose, as well as the fundraising. It’s a wonderful healing process for them, for the community, and also for us. It’s natural to set up a memorial foundation, but the fear of the foundation dying is palpable, so we have passed the responsibility to others who will carry it forward in his name and in the process enrich the community that raised James by their active and constructive involvement.

Always the question is: Have I done enough ? Never, but I am satisfied at what has been done, and that I am finding time and energy to write and share. Perhaps I can help others reach this point of comfort with loss faster than I have, because looking back I flailed for a long time as I sought tools, explanations, and new purpose.

The great challenge in presenting this annual few months as introspection is that it seems like I am seeking sympathy, or feeling sorry for myself. Sympathy without understanding is pity, and pity has negative value to those grieving because it makes it about us. It’s hard not to make a statement about loss without attracting condolences. 

So, this is now a period of marveling at the power of a 20 year old son’s death to continue to change people for the better, including me, his father. It is a period of amazement at the power of love to carry on, to hold individuals responsible and engaged, to continue to set teachable examples. This is what life after death is all about, because in hundreds of minds, love for James is still guiding people who loved James.

It is also a period of marveling at my soul’s ability to limp through grief, to heal, to recover from a the worst of a series of harsh and untimely losses.

Mostly that has happened by getting out of the way of myself and providing a flow of love to my soul so it can heal itself. We must let our soul resolve the pain of grief, and it only needs us to find the energy of love in things we love about life and things we will love about life and in the people we love in life. Then, we need to let the healing happen by accepting that we are being changed by grief, by our own good soul which will have our best interests at the center of that healing. The thing that extends the pain of grief is mostly that we fight the inevitability of change that this loss will cause us.

Another part of my introspection is to look at how I will teach those who will grieve me, how to efficiently and comfortably grieve the eventual loss of me, how not to fear grief. This is not morbid or self serving, it is caring about my loved ones and looking for ways to make their journey through grief more easily understood and less unexpected. This book should help them, so I will continue to work on it.

I am comfortable that I have grieved responsibly and productively and at every point have minimized the damage to myself and to those that I love, and that love includes the memory of James. The pull of these few months annually cannot be resisted, it cannot be ignored, and each year it seems simpler and affects my daily life less, but in no way diminishes the memory of James. This is exactly how I imagine that James would want me to grieve him, comfortably never forgetting to be guided by his memory.

Simply put, James followed in my footsteps until he died one day. Since his death, I follow imaginary footsteps that I believe that James would have made had he lived. The father guided the son, now the enduring spirit or important parts of the son guides the father. We shall travel together in this way, at least until I die, hopefully long into the future.

The death of a child is not the end of a parent’s life, but it is the beginning of a different and much changed life that will be shaped and guided by what you distill from the grief you feel.

Enough about me, in the coming posts, I will start providing some tools and especially some fundamental understanding of love and how we heal loss.

Be well and peaceful. never stop building love in your life and the lives around you., because love is life.

Only three choices

Long before I came to experience and better understand grief, I came to this, my personal understanding of how to make major and minor decisions, or confront situations in life: In the end, you have only three choices: Ignore, Change, or Accept. As a father, this was part of what came to be called Dadvice.


Ignore is the most passive option, easy because it requires no action, but the one with the greatest risk over the long term. When we ignore something, it’s the equivalent of putting the weight of the decision into a backpack that we must carry throughout our life. We become heavier every time we avoid a decision when we’re prone to ignoring. The weight of ignored issues grows to the point of discomfort and if we do enough ignoring we eventually collapse. When we collapse, we spill our emotional backpack of all the decisions we have ignored around us. Our immediate reaction will be to be overwhelmed with the magnitude of the decisions we should resolve, which may be depressing to us. Alternatively, some of us will walk away and never deal with those issues that have spilled out. Most of us will re-stuff the backpack and drag ourselves onward. That cycle of loading the emotional backpack, collapsing, reloading and moving on will repeat time and again. If we walk away, as we look back we will see piles of ignored issues left behind in our wake. These abandoned piles will become the basis for regrets as we look back on our lives.


Change is the most productive choice, because if we change something it will likely never be an issue again. Our goal through change is to resolve the problem to a point of understanding where we simply deal with it and similar future problems without worrying or thinking too much. When we learn to change, we can come to the same or similar problem in the future knowing how we want to deal with it, so we have less distraction and worry when problems repeat. Change takes work, change risks failure, and we can’t change some things that we would like to. So, change requires realism and an analysis of whether or not this problem can be changed, and then consideration of the best way to change it. More work, more thought, but you very constructively bring positive change to your life when you resolve problems with change.


Accept is the final choice. What you can’t change, and can’t ignore, you will need to work to accept. Acceptance simplifies things, but acceptance requires the most work. Often we look at acceptance negatively, as failure, as something that was forced on us, something that we tried to change but couldn’t, we worked hard to change and failed. So, acceptance often involves some measure of resignation, some component that life has perhaps beaten you unfairly.

Grief is an unfair opponent in this process, because most of grief can’t be changed, most of grief will force you to accept, and this happens at a time when you are emotionally under duress and very likely in the mood to fight change or acceptance. Spending precious energy on things we can’t possibly change or ignore is exhausting and has disappointing results. We know that logically, but our anger at feeling powerless often drives the process we go through.

I tell everyone new to grief that you must accept that grief will change you, the sooner you accept this the easier your journey will become. You may want your old “normal” life back, but grief will change you and you will need to accept those changes as inevitable so that you can guide them in the best possible direction for the rest of your life. Quite possibly, grief will teach you that some parts of your life before grief were those things bin your backpack, the extra weight that you carry in your life daily.

Once you understand and accept that grief must change you, that changing through grief is inevitable, then you can pick and choose some of the changes that grief brings, and learn to comfortably accept the ones that can’t be changed. We must be very cautious about what we try to ignore in grief, because ignored grief is relentless hunter of the love you carry in your own soul.

We loved a person, they have died. We can’t change that fact, we can’t ignore it because it has happened, so we must simply accept the death of a loved one. The honesty of that acceptance will free you to explore more of the positives of the love that you have shared in life with this person.

So, in the distillation of grief, I ask you to add honesty to the mix, the honesty that the life we have lost is far too important to ignore, the death is real and impossible to change, and so we must accept that we will be changed by this loss and try to make those changes as positive as possible.

Be well, seek peace, and accept that grief will change you.


Simple Distillation of Grief

Please read this first distillation of grief one line at a time, pausing to close your eyes, to seek understanding of the personal meaning of that line within your current feelings. At any point in grief or just on daily life, revisit this first page and refresh your understanding. This is the most simplistic form of my distillation of grief, I will present variations for different specific situations that I have come to understand in my journeys.

A simple universal distillation of grief

  • We grieve because we love.
  • No Love, no grief.
  • Deep love, deep and complicated grief.
  • When we love someone, it is always possible that they might die before we die.
  • The person we have loved has died.
  • Our love for them doesn’t die.
  • Our love for them isn’t meant to die.
  • Grief is love continued after the death of one we have loved.
  • Grief is the final responsibility for loving someone.


Love is the basis for every relationship that we will grieve, so love will be the key ingredient we seek in your distillation of your grief from loss.

What we seek is not so much your love for them, you are alive and have all of that already.

We need to explore and understand what you will miss about them, what was in the love that they gave you, and we find is the essence of their love for life, their love for you, the activities and interests that they loved in life and shared with you.

These are the essence of why you loved them, the many parts of their life that connected you to them emotionally, the parts of them that you will miss the most if you don’t carry them with you. These are the things we will distill and carry with us. We will discard the pain and the anger and carry only the love that we received from our lost loved one.

Sometimes we forget that we who are left to grieve are the lucky ones, and so we often make grief about us, about our pain that the loss has caused us, about how hard it will be to live without them.

We are the lucky ones because we live, we can and will remember, we can and will share the memories and lessons that they no longer can.

We who grieve have the honour of the responsibility to continue to love someone who has passed, and that it is we are the lucky ones. 

Grief : Not just for death

You don’t need to be grieving to come to blogs, websites and books about grief. Often people will come to places like this because the they want to help others who are grieving. Getting some basic understanding of grief as a normal and unavoidable part of daily life will make your life seem easier,

The evolved emotion of grief that is not attached to death is a normal part of our daily lives. The better we become at grieving small and medium sized losses, the better we will be prepared to manage the major grief that life will eventually bring to us when we lose loved ones. 

A challenge is that we hesitate to call many parts of daily life grief without someone dying. I think that’s because we are conditioned to feel weak or vulnerable when we call it grief for simple parts of life. In my interpretation, grief is simply an evolved processing of love lost, a process that heals our soul and makes us stronger by repairing the cracks that life adds to our souls, but also by making us wiser by teaching us about loss so that we can avoid it where we can.

The loss of a relationship with a loved one is an example of grief without death. Our first breakup in life often leaves us broken and scarred because we lack the tools to effectively process the pain into wisdom and knowledge, a process that takes experience. Divorce is right behind death of a loved on on the challenge scale. Friends who part ways or move away from each other will each grieve the loss differently.

We will grieve loss of autonomy as we confront illness or injury, whether thru genetics, disease, or accident. The ski hill was the place that I felt most at home on this Earth, a place of great joy. But age and a minor ski accident with major implications of a dislocated and damaged shoulder makes it unwise for me to ski. The consequences of another simple fall would be far more damaging than the longing to feel the mountain and harness the forces of gravity into joy. So, I have grieved the loss of skiing and can visit the memories of the many years of mountains conquered without longing for more.

The loss of a beloved pet is a common  example of a valuable teachable experience of love, grief and the reality that life is finite. Often the loss of a pet consumes people for a time. One of the few times I saw my father cry in his life was after we had to euthanize an aging and sick beloved Old English Sheepdog. His love was real, his grief was real.

We can also grieve the loss of material things, the destruction of a car that we really liked in an accident. I consider it lust when the object of our grief is inanimate, but lust is close enough to love for us to borrow the grieving process we use for love of others.

Often we grieve as a result of our own mistakes, a bad investment where we have lost money is a common example. A career change, forced or chosen, triggers grief for the old job and fears and insecurity for the new job.

Any change that affects our daily lives will trigger some amount of grief. How we teach ourselves to deal with those losses is often how we will grieve the loss if loved ones. 

All this simply to normalize grief as a part of our daily lives, and to encourage those who have not yet grieved the loss of a loved one to come to better understand their personal process of grief. If you become better at processing grief in your daily life, you will find more peace and less angst, you will become more confident and feel stronger and better prepared when you need to grieve something of a larger scale.

The distillation of grief in our daily lives is one of the many ways that we acquire knowledge from experience. If we understand a mistake that brought us grief, we can choose to avoid similar mistakes in our future. But, if we walk away from the mistakes of hurts of daily life without acquiring the understanding to avoid them, then our lives will be filled with more similar mistakes. We often call that type of person a train wreck, because when the go off the rails the collection of unresolved past mistakes all go off the rails in the same time and place and the mess left behind is much bigger.

Regrets are heavy things, and most regrets are things in our lives that we have partially grieved without completion. We have suffered the pain and not acquired the understanding. You can process the losses that cause you to carry regrets through life at any time. Often we pretend that something doesn’t bother us enough to be bothered with it, but then it keeps circling past. Regrets are like vultures circling your life, waiting for you to be weak and wounded to come rip another piece of your soul.

A great purpose for seeking knowledge about the process of grief is that you will better understand and be better able to support those around you who are grieving. 

I could go on forever, but the last one is that sometimes you need an example of someone who has suffered a loss that you consider significant and has come back to loving their life. There are many who have lost more than I have and healed. I wish that they would write or speak more, because grief is love and love is life itself. 

Be well, seek peace with your losses and build love in your life and those around you each day.