Just Breathe

A post of mine first on Quora over four years ago. I will never forget the struggle at times to live breath to breath in fresh grief.

Just Breathe

I lost a beautiful brother to suicide at age 43 in 2000. We had no advance hints. signs, cries for help. We were blindsided. He left behind a widow, two preteen children, two living parents, three siblings, and hundreds of family and friends. He was successful in the physical world, but somehow he felt enough pain to choose to kill himself. I imagine he felt buried in hopelessness at a moment in time that he lost sight of everything he had and everyone he loved. I healed my soul, my parents never managed to heal their souls.

I lost a perfect 20 year old son in 2005 to a firefighter training accident in our small hometown. Our souls were ripped apart and our lives drained of love. Breathing hurt, The next minute seemed impossible, The next day seemed unfathomable. We had our hopes and dreams shattered.

As the minutes became days, then weeks, then months and now years, we healed in ways we never imagined. It took a long time and a lot of work. We have each patched our torn and tattered souls, we have each filled ourselves with a love of life again and most important we love each other and carry the love for our son forward in our daily lives.

We healed because we have always had and taught the purpose to love life and love each other. My bother’s suicide awakened me to fundamental importance of love, my son’s death opened a deep spiritual well and beliefs that I would never have found without loss.

Do this please.

Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you can without breathing out.

When you want to breathe again, keep holding it. Hold it until it hurts, until your body craves air. Keep holding it as long as you can. Be tougher than you thought you could be.

When you finally give up holding that breath in, you’ll will need to breathe out before you can breathe the air you need back in. Gulp it out, gasp it in.

Gasp for air, take some deep breaths and relax and understand:

Your body and soul want to survive. They will let you suppress hope for a time, but eventually our need to live and our purpose to love will come to our rescue and override almost any unconscious action that we might put in the way of our life.

As you gasp for air, resolve to do your part in finding a purpose in your life. Find your soul’s passions and build love for yourself and for life.

There is just never a lack of hope for us in this world as long as we know and seek love as our purpose. Your body and soul fought you when you held your breath. Your body and soul want you to breathe, to live and to love the gift of today.

Let your soul speak, it speaks quietly with the wisdom of generations if you can find the quiet to hear it.

When you can listen to and understand your soul, you will always have purpose and gratitude which are the fundamental keys to loving your life and building love in our world.

Now please go hold your breath past the point of pain and start listening when your soul steps in to save you.

Some mornings I still hold my breath to help remind me that I am alive with this gift of a new dawn

Metaphysical Therapy

Apologies, I have not posted in several months. I have changed my routine to allow a much needed serious focus on physical fitness, yet another of a life long series of rebirths of my too often ignored aerobic capacity. That rebirth has been wonderful and welcome; the human body’s capacity to rebuild physically is quite unbelievable. But, my call to writing got pushed to the side. It was emotionally a much needed break; writing about grief can be intense and consuming. I have missed writing, and so will seek a better balance of my time and energy.

Metaphysical Therapy

We come to grief frightened and expecting to suffer. We’ve been taught that by generations before us, and by our own observations of those grieving.  

Grief is a highly evolved and automatic emotional human response, a process that we seem to have little control over. That which humans can’t control usually triggers a response of anger or fear. Anger over the pain and inconvenience of the changes we can’t deny or avoid, and fear that grief will somehow change us for the worse. In early grief, these are intended and rational responses that we should not fear. When we have little experience with grief, or the specifics of the grief we must process, fear is a natural and necessary trigger to the actions that incorporate loss of a loved one into our ingoing lives.

I watch people’s social media posts on grief and see many who openly struggle with apparent pain and anger for a very long time. Naturally, we will each resent the changes that the death of a loved one brings to our life, but I believe that while the fiery anger of early grief is a natural as an evolved and purposeful call to action for our souls, that resulting anger and pain is not meant to be a lasting of our life after loss.

Today, I would you to consider grief as Metaphysical Therapy. To make that more relatable, I will draw some simplistic parallels to Physical Therapy that we use to heal our body after injury or surgery. I have done some significant physical therapy in my life for injuries sustained in the passionate and sometimes immature seeking of physical fun. Physical therapy usually requires the intentional acceptance of inflicted pain with the end objective to heal and reduce future pain or to minimize ongoing disability. Physical Therapy also requires work, exercises and stretches that we do on our own that may cause discomfort and pain, always with the objective of healing. If we don’t force ourselves do the work of physical therapy, the consequences to our life will be less function and more pain for the rest of our lives.

And so it is with grief, if we don’t grieve with the purpose of minimizing the disability that it causes, we will emotionally limp through the rest of our lives.

I believe that our soul is a metaphysical part of humans that processes the energy of love. We can’t see it, we can’t image it. Our soul is a library of experiences, emotions, and responses to life. When injured our soul calls out to us with that great emotional pain of grief as well as a sense of panic. The loss of a loved one is a traumatic metaphysical injury to our soul, and grief is logically a traumatic and painful metaphysical injury.

Our bodies, within limits know how to heal themselves back to function, often well enough to forget the pain of the original injury. If the injury is severe enough we may be limited for life with reduced function, a limp, loss of range of motion, or ongoing daily pain.

The same way, your soul knows how to heal itself fairly well. In fact grief is a regular part of normal daily life, often we heal small losses so easily that we don’t notice or connect is as the grief of, for example, an accident or loss of a job.

A common point I make when discussing grief is that choosing to allow ourselves to heal it important. It confirms a healthy desire to return to a more normal, pain free life that has comfortably incorporated the loss of a loved one. However, the path through grief is confusing and there is no singular map or solution, because each person who grieves a loss will grieve differently, because each has loved differently.

A common fear of healing is forgetting. Some feel that if we eliminate the pain of the memory, we will eliminate the memory. The reality is that if we don’t eliminate the pain, we can only see and remember the painful part of the death, effectively blocking our view of the life and love we shared. We remain focused on the end of the life, not the totality of the love.

Pain causes anger to linger. Anger is a cancer of the human soul that consumes the love collected there, hollowing out life out and returning us to an empty existence. It’s natural to lose love in early grief, sometimes we empty our soul completely. If we allow pain and anger to linger, we might lose all of the love we gather in daily life and remain empty of love and in angry pain for a long time.

Grief can become a habit as it redefines us. As our soul consumes love from anger and pain, we feel empty of love and crave the sympathy and attention that others compassionately grant to those who are grieving. People circulating in their daily lives grant that attention and compassion in hope of helping those who have lost to begin healing.

Grief is meant to force us to redefine ourselves incorporating the love we shared and the lessons from that love into the rest of our lives. To redefine ourselves we need a goal, or a statement of purpose that gives us a direction and purpose. Failing that direction and purpose, we wander aimlessly within the loss, rather than exploring purposely within the love we have valued. Here’s a link to my grief, a process that took me many years of wandering to define: https://distillinggrief.com/2023/06/22/gardens-for-grief/

If grief becomes a habit, you may have become defined by your grief, defined by your loss, and then perhaps you have accepted to become your loss and to emotionally limp through life. People around you, people who love you will see the pain and have a sense of missing of emotional parts of you, perhaps with pity as some might see an amputee in a wheelchair.

If your grief has become a circular painful habitual way of life that you wish to change, you must work to make those changes. Perhaps you might need some professional help, perhaps you need to begin to eliminate the anger around the loss in hopes of reducing the loss of love from your soul. If all of the love you acquire in daily life is consumed by the anger of loss, you will remain hollowed out by this loss and be less able to love your life.

To heal from loss, you must look grief in the eye and confront it until you no longer fear it. If you run from grief, know that grief is a skilled stalker, a hunter waiting to pounce at your weakest point emotionally. It’s much better to seek ways to learn from grief, to walk alongside of the inevitable griefs that love and a good life will make necessary.

Find your destination, make a goal, and plot a path in that direction, then start taking small steps away from the pain and damage of the loss towards a metaphysical garden filled soul with memories of love you have shared.

Love is life, loss is the inevitable loss of a physical life we have loved, not of the love we have shared in life.

Be well and peaceful, extinguish anger, grow around loss.


Social Media Grief

Grief is a lonely place. For a time after the loss of a loved one, we have lost our own sense of self and to varying degrees our trust in the fundamental natural order of the Universe. We change in our ability to interact socially; our more casual friendships are hard to relate to because they may struggle to understand the changes we are undergoing.

In many ways, we feel more comfortable with those people who have experienced significant loss that bears similarities to our loss. We may write about our loss on social media, both to offer the support of our experience and healing, but also to find others who have lost as we have. We need to develop the comfort of being able to speak of our loss to both friends and to people we meet through life.

There is a process we go through to learn to talk about our loss socially, because we won’t deny our loss in conversation, but in the early days of face to face conversation we just can’t complete a sentence about our loss without breaking down. Social media is a seemingly ideal place to explore and become comfortable with what we say, and how we present our loss to both friends and new acquaintances. We can take our time and craft and edit our message, and then post it.

The most common misconception when posting about loss is that we post about our loss to gather sympathy or condolences. In my case, it’s about sharing the experience I have with incorporating multiple losses into my life. Tips and thoughts that have worked for me, gathered over more than two decades of experience with multiple losses. Those thoughts fill my blog and writings with positive outlooks on understanding and managing grief. My blog is non-commercial and self managed. With my blog, I can post a reply with a link to one or several of my posts on specific topics. Because the answer is complex and can never fit in a small post of a few characters.

And so, my timeline is filled with people who post about their loss, about their journey, about what they want people to be aware of. It ranges from childhood cancer to neurodegenerative diseases like ALS. I am inspired by how strong people become through ALS and I mourn their loss when it is posted because I have followed their journey and been inspired by them. I am inspired by the stories of battles with cancer, the human spirit shines through in our will to live.

Within the community of those who post about loss and battles for life, there are always stories of negative comments, random people who complain about your posts on loss. Every social media platform has blocking and mute functions that allow people who don’t want to see these posts to block or mute them. Yet, a tiny percentage of people choose to be nasty, angry or hurtful. They seemingly can’t help themselves.

Let’s be clear here, loss strips your soul naked and makes you vulnerable. We you post and are attacked for posting something vulnerable, you did nothing wrong. Any abuse you received is from an abuser, not because you spoke your heart. The vast majority of people confronted by an angry abuser will question themselves first. That’s where abusers gather power. The abuse you may receive randomly on social media is NOT YOUR SHAME. I have seen it on every social media platform I have written on, a tiny percentage of angry nasty humans who feel empowered when hiding behind an anonymous profile to hurt someone. These are social vandals, in some cases psychopathic social vandals. When confronted with such abuse, use the tools of the platform to block, mute, or report the abusive behavior.

I want as many people as possible to better understand the highly evolved process of grief, and our soul’s innate ability to recover and grow around loss. If you haven’t yet experienced profound grief, then only luck has kept you away. Everyone who loves passionately will experience loss and the ensuing grief.

Grief is never a failure. Grief can only happen when we have loved well, so grief is an affirmation that we know how to love, we have loved, and with time we will love again when we are ready.

Be well, share openly to reduce the loneliness of grief for others, and ignore the social media vandals.



Where did I go?

You’ve lost a loved one and you’re grieving. You may have lost sight of part or all of yourself. It’s completely normal to not recognize yourself, or to see yourself as wounded, diminished, damaged, or even someone completely different than yourself. Grief can trigger re-evaluation of your own life, making you satisfied or dissatisfied with life in general. And so begins what for some is a profound unhappiness or discomfort with their own life, and for others is merely a trigger to rush head long into changes they feel that they need to make,

The foundation or your life is your soul. I have explored my soul from a point where I believe it had been completely emptied. As a technician and observer, I watched for and logged changes as my soul rebuilt itself, and have developed understanding and functional models for our soul and for the energy of love that binds and powers our soul.

We are born into an existence of unknown duration, with an empty soul. As we grow, mature, and find love, our soul fills with memories and experiences that turn that existence into a life we love living. The metaphysical definitions of our life fill or soul with vast collections of memories and life experiences that are held in a shape our path through life has defined and a shape that we have come to recognize as our self. These memories and experiences are structured and bound with the energy of love, much like the atomic structures of physical matter.

The love that holds our soul together comes from love that we have built in our life, as well as love that flows from many places into our lives mostly from relationships of love and from personal passions. Love that we share with intimate lovers and friends is able to resonate and amplify, and so those who love well can capture and hold enough love energy to build larger more complex souls thank those who love little.

In truly trusting love relationships, we allow lovers direct access to powering parts of our soul directly, and we directly power parts of their soul. The resonance between our souls expands two souls with shared love, far beyond what either lover could do on their own. The first of these powerful soul expanding shared loves happens between a parent and their child, then as we mature and build an intimate lifetime relationship with a lover, a larger and larger part of our soul is powered by that lover.

In the first two years after our son died, I avoided looking in mirrors except for basic needs. I did not look into my own eyes in the mirror because all I saw was emptiness and pain. It’s often said that the eyes are windows into our soul, and my windows showed me the extent of the damage to my soul that losing a child brings.

I came to understand that the human soul, while virtually impossible to kill, can be shattered into an infinite number of pieces that no longer make sense to us, pieces that no longer reflect the light of the person who we have come to accept ourselves to be.

Unrelentingly, grief forces you to change. You cannot emerge with a soul looking exactly as you did before loss. And so, without enough love to support itself, all or part of the shattered pieces of your soul drop to the very bottom of your soul in a heap that resembles destruction of everything you know to be true.

Your soul is essential to life. In other posts on this blog, I define the soul as where we store and distribute love’s energy. If visualize physical matter and we understand that our soul is a metaphysical collection of memories, emotions and experiences bonded together into form by the energy of love that has turned our existence into a life we love living, perhaps we can see that our soul resembles a giant complicated molecule or crystal or perhaps giant mirror of the life we have lived so far.

Since big parts of our soul are memories and emotions assembled with love that flows from connections with those we have lost, parts of our soul collapse when they die and their love energy suddenly stops flowing into us. If the collapse is significant enough, and the loss of a child is that significant, our entire soul can collapse.

And so, the memories, emotions and experiences that we call a life that we love are now in disarray at our feet, seemingly invisible, and for this time we merely exist because without that love holding things together we don’t recognize even our own life.

The good news is that the emotions, memories and experiences have not disappeared or been destroyed. They are the individuals atoms of that complex metaphysical molecule we call life. They are the building blocks of what was a life that we have loved, one we have defined for ourselves. We can rebuild and redefine a life that will resemble our past life in many ways, or not at all, because we will decide which parts we keep and which pats we discard. We will decide the shape and structure of this rebuilt molecule of life from the debris collapsed at the bowwtom of our soul.

We will not do this alone, we have only lost one of the sources of love’s energy that formed this molecule of life, and we still have the ability to find and capture new love energy through daily life, through contact and exchange with many other people we love in our life.

Where do we start rebuilding? We will find some pieces of what we consider to be foundational, and we find some love to energize it and we connect it to the next piece. We’re short on love, because we have lost, but even small amounts that flow into us can begin the rebuilding process. This makes our family and friends important to our redefinition, because love they flow to us, often because they know we are grieving and want to help, can reenergize and stabilize the pieces our soul has broken into.

Trust in life is hard after death, so we lose the ability to trust others to maintain parts of our soul. Loving life was once a subconscious function of our soul, now becomes something we must think about, and that process is exhausting to our physical life. Over time, the memories and emotions in our soul, the shattered pieces of us, will become more self supporting and solid.

Slowly, and it does take a long time, a shape of this new version of your redefined life begins to emerge com the rubble. Like a puzzle, the more pieces that find a place where they fit and are stable, the easier it is to see the shape your life is becoming. But this puzzle will have many pieces left that fit nowhere. These are the parts of your old life that can’t fit into your redefinition. They will clutter the floor of your soul, perhaps forever, or they will be eventually discarded to make room for your newly defined soul as it expands again.

In this rebuilding period, we often find atoms of our soul that we had fit into our old life, but can’t find a logical fit or place for them in our new life. Inevitably there is guilt in abandoning something that you once found value in, but in reality these were often the weak relationships which were more destabilizing than stabilizing. Grief has given you the reason to evaluate what you keep and toss anything that doesn’t fit. You may be surprised what becomes the strongest parts of your new life, people and relationships.

There is great resentment and anger that is a result of this process that forces us to redefine our lives, lives that we were immensely happy with. The images of those fleeing wildfires seem to fit some of us as we flee life after the death of a loved one. People grab their memories, their photos and videos and become refugees looking for a new home. Death of a loved one makes us a refugee that we never wanted to be, and stole a person we would want with us as we rebuilt our life after this fire.

Anger is a cancer of the soul that consumes love. Love is the energy that bond our soul into a solid cohesive structure. Allowing anger into grief, makes reassembling your soul much hard, sometimes impossible. The anger will continually tear apart pieces that you have decided to keep and new structures you have put together. You will have constructive times where things begin to make sense, followed by anger that tears that apart so you need to start over on that part of your soul. Exhausting and counterproductive, so always extinguish anger when you feel it.

With time, with love, a new you emerges from grief. With more time, you might love that new you more than the old you. With time you will love life again. With redefinition, you will smile and laugh without guilt, because you live and love knowing that you have rebuilt your own soul around the memories of those you have loved and lost. And when you love life again, you have moved well beyond the simple pointless existence that grief brought you to, without losing the essence of your life before grief.

Be well, seek peace, give your soul permission to rebuild itself around loss, and then give your soul as much love as you can find in daily life.


Failures in grief

To understand the importance of grieving well and safely, let’s take a few minutes to talk about what happens when grief damages a life. My retired life spends several winter months in a resort environment with a better climate than home. When the weather is good, I will often write early mornings in the quiet pool area. Mostly in these times I interact with resort employees, either maintenance or security who are taught to engage the resort guests in conversation. When asked, I tell them I am writing. When asked what I’m writing, I tell them I am writing about grief.

I engaged last year with “C” a security guard in his early 30’s who spoke of his struggles with grief. For a young man, he had a significantly challenging journey of grief. The lingering death of a mother who suffered a brain bleed, then the long slow death of his father to cancer where he became the primary caregiver, mixed with the opiod death of his sister. In his words, he had some anger management issues, and that he had self medicated with alcohol, and had screwed up previous jobs and relationships. He was doing the work to stay clean and sober and was starting to feel stable. I would see him every few days and we’d chat. Another member of the security team commented that “whatever you’re talking about with “C” is making a dramatic difference, he’s lighter and happier.

I had not yet launched www.DistillingGrief.com when I left for home. I’m back nine months later and “C” is no longer employed at the resort. His struggles and problems made him unreliable and a bad fit to interact with people in a resort environment. His struggles with the damages in his life that has included grief is ongoing, and not headed in the right direction.

The average person lacks the resources in time and often money or benefits to pay for professional help. Most have a social network in a similar position, and almost everyone lacks good mentorship through grief. This creates a potentially destructive environment where positive outcomes are less likely.

The average employer lacks the mechanisms, funding, or will to identify and help people who are struggling with grief or the subordinate issues of anger and addiction due to grief. So these people fall through gaping holes in the support network of their lives.

I have no idea if “C” ever found www.DistillingGrief.com it’s not a highly visible or easy to find resource. If, by some incredible stroke of luck, “C” reads this post, please reach out to me. I am interested in helping you find the help that you need. I saw a compassionate, caring young man who had suffered losses beyond his ability to process and sacrificed parts of his life to help nurse his father to a bad death from cancer. I saw potential and meaning in parts of your journey that you saw as failures or afflictions in your life. “C”, you matter. Please reach out to me via the contact on the home page.

To others who are struggling with grief, please try to find help to redefine your purpose in life. If you’re involved in a church, start there. There are many support groups for the grieving, try to find one. Loss isn’t easy, but destroying your own life because someone else died is not the path you should follow without fighting to get your life back on track.

If you know someone caught in a downward vortex of grief, reach out. Offer them a kind word, some gentle but honest listening, and then be persistent and consistent in staying in touch.

Grief is not meant to be a destroyer of lives; it is an ongoing expression of love.

Be well, seek peace, rebuild love around holes that form in your soul from loss.

Holiday Grief

I have grieved well for a long time. I write about grief. I understand the purpose and paths of grief better than most. I am rational and physically and mentally healthy.

Certain holidays and annual events have challenges and negative physical and emotional effects on me that I have repeatedly failed to immediately attribute to grief. Christmas is one of those holidays.

Our general perception of grief is one of injury or affliction, something to be healed or eliminated. We go to war against grief, really against the Universe for bringing this loss to our lives. As we incorporate grief into the rest of our lives, we can come to feel that we have overcome the emotions and crushing pain of early grief. We grow around the loss, we somehow become bigger and better able to not feel the emptiness of that hole.

We shared Christmas as a joyous holiday with our son for twenty years before we lost him. It’s been eighteen more Christmases without him. Truth be told, I often wonder how I will feel in the next years when we will have been without him longer than we had him with us.

The holidays add happy pressure to the rest of our lives, and that pressure compresses the empty part of our soul where we have lost someone. That compression of emptiness can flow thru the small cracks left behind and into our enjoyment and celebration of our lives and the loved ones we have surrounding us.

The real fear, I believe, is that we will someday become comfortable enough in our grief to forget to remember our losses. And yet, we remain hesitant to bring those losses into our happy times for fear of diminishing the joy around us.

When the day comes, my mood will elevate, my slightly elevated heart rate and blood pressure will normalize, I will regain my energy, my heightened aches and pains will lessen and I will bring some stories of the joy of his happy life into our family gathering. I will kick myself for not recognizing the signs earlier and then I will repeat this again next year.

In my writings about grief, I project the comfort that I have with grief. This message is proof that comfort is a relative and variable thing when grieving, the waves of emotions become ripples and life goes on. But, coincident with the annual cycles of life, the waves can come back, and while it’s discomforting, that’s just normal for a short time.

When a riptide threatens to pull you to sea, they say to swim across the tide not against it. The goal is to survive the tide until it lessens, not to drown yourself fighting it to exhaustion. Holidays and celebrations bring a riptide of emotions, even to a gentle flat sea of daily life. Swim sideways, stop fighting it.

Be well and peaceful, swim sideways thru the holidays, and be kind to those who have lost, you are one of them. Also, be kind and understanding of those who haven’t lost, they have happily been blessed with no point of reference or understanding of what you’re feeling.


How to remember me

A significant challenge of grieving is that we don’t have a lot of good models for grief, and we fail to talk with our loved ones about what to do after we inevitably die. When you’re without specific instructions about how to grieve someone, I suggest that you do your best to grieve them as you would want people to grieve you.

One of the greatest gifts you can leave your loved ones is the preparation of a model of how to grieve you.

In this exercise, it’s just a simple statement about how you wish them to grieve the loss of you. I believe that this subject is ideally an ongoing discussion that rarely happens in daily life. If you write it, it can be shared at any time with them while you’re alive, or it can be your obituary, included in a funeral program or handed out at a visitation, or attached to your will. There will be less confusion and wasted energy, so this type of instruction is a loving act.

A natural response to writing and posting something like this could be to take it as a cry for help, a precursor to self harm or suicide. My brother’s suicide has been well incorporated in my soul and I believe myself to be immune to thoughts or acts of suicide. The most dangerous thing I will do today is to cross a street. I am nowhere near dying, very happy and healthy. I am conscious and rational, although there could be some debate on either of those points. I simply believe that we should live each day as if it might be our last, and so I’ll write instructions for grieving me now:

Grieving instructions for Peter H. Ratcliffe

I believe that my life has been a gift, but I have always been attentive to an awareness that the gift of this life has always been finite, a limited time offer that must always eventually come to a physical end.

When the last grains of my grit have trickled through the hourglass of my life, I want all who have loved me to understand that, with your help, I have lived a truly gifted and wonderful lifetime where love and happiness were always central parts of my life.

Please know that as I left you, I was a very loved and fulfilled man with very few regrets. We have built some great love together, so let’s celebrate that.

My legacy, my ongoing journey of loving you and being loved by you is now meant, as I have written so many times, to become the responsibility of you, the next generations.

I want you to extinguish anger from your grief, because anger is a cancer of your soul that consumes love. I do not want any sadness for what you cannot change, only appreciation for the great love that we have shared.

It’s important to tell you that I would not wish my death to become sadness, anger or an excuse or a crutch for you to ever do less than your best efforts at life and happiness. I always expected great things from you, and you always delivered far more than I dared expect, because you have expected even greater things from yourselves than I did. Whatever you are, whatever you have become is not because of me, I simply sat back and watched marveling at how well you have each learned to love life.

I will have done the hard part of this process by being the one dying, and I ask you to cry only for a very short time and only if truly necessary and then please get on with the easier part, the fortunate and honourable tasks of remembering and celebrating the love that we have shared.

Do not focus on the single universal event that we call death. There are literally millions of things from my life for you to celebrate, moments, memories and emotions that we have shared, and all that laughter that we have shared is now embedded in your collective souls. Please laugh early and often, and feel no guilt because I am no longer available to laugh among you.

There are possibly even a few good lessons in those memories, both of how to do things and how not to do things. Share them with each other and with the next generations.

Most importantly, I wish that you gather and talk face to face more among yourselves, keep each other out of danger, build common love to fill any voids that my passing might create.

In honour of my memory, please find ways to better and more deeply love each other and teach the world around you to love more and to love better.

Be well and peaceful whenever you remember me, let the memory of me be a calm place in any storm you encounter.

Your turn

You’re grieving someone and you have never talked about them dying, you’re not sure what path to follow what to do and feel, how to grieve them and find comfort for you.

Write your own statement of how you will want people who have loved you to grieve. Then follow that path any time you grieve anyone who didn’t tell you how to grieve their loss. After all is said and done, love is exactly about respecting and treating people exactly as you would respect and treat yourself.

For those anticipating grief

In the path of illness, when a terminal diagnosis or hospice care becomes a reality, you still have time to ask the dying how you should grieve them. There is no greater closeness in loving someone than the honest confronting of the inevitability of an impending death. It clears the decks and opens the doors to very deep connections and greater peace for the dying love one.

Be well and peaceful, seek comfort in great memories reflecting the lives you have loved and lost.

Grief and celebrations

This is social advice mostly for those who know someone who is grieving. It’s a time of year when many of us gather in celebration, so it’s timely advice.

The world around you celebrates, and that magnifies your sense of loss and diminishes your ability to enjoy the holidays. Most of us who have had significant losses will dread some part of every major holiday, anniversary and event. The discomfort fades with time, but grief never disappears.

In my most honest voice I will state, without judgment, that after we lost our son we were invited to fewer celebrations and seasonal parties. People in your social circle are uncomfortable and unsure how your grief will affect their celebration. You will bring the invisible elephant of grief to their party, and create the inevitable quandary of whether or not we talk about this loss, and what will we or they say.

Is it even appropriate to invite someone who has lost a child to a friendly Christmas party? Let me be clear, we have lost and are grieving, but we aren’t contagious with the black plague. We need to be around people, we need to re-integrate into normal social practices. We don’t require isolation. We may accept your invitation, and then not find the strength to show up, and we may avoid calling to explain.

We will notice if you don’t include us in your invitation list to a regular event that you host among friends. We know that we have changed, we didn’t choose that, and we’re getting used to that. We can’t really hurt more, but it does still hurt when the challenges that life brought to us have changed the simpler love based relationships like friendship. Friends gather to celebrate their love for each other and if we’re your friend we deserve to be part of any such gathering.

After the untimely health related death of a key employee, we were invited by his parents to their home for a family dinner. They had set a place at the table for their lost son, with a picture of him, an acknowledgement that he was still with all of us. It was a great opening to much purposeful and honest sharing of stories about the life lost.

I try to share happy stories of our son at family holiday dinners. Our grandchildren know about their uncle James, who died before they were born. They ask questions, and express that they would have liked to meet him. They recognize him in family pictures. He’s a part of us and now he’s a part of the next generation. It fosters a sense of gentle sense of meaning for any life, a sense that memories of them will endure among their children and grandchildren.  Children will one day try to grieve as they have seen you grieve. Let tears and emotion be a part of that, but also let the happy times shine over the life you loved.

My advice to those hosting parties with newly grieving people attending would be to ask their permission for you to say a few words about their loss, and end your very few words with a moment of silence. Then, the elephant in the room is no longer invisible, and everyone knows a bit about your grief. More people will talk more constructively and comfortably about life, love and inevitably grief.

We, who grieve major losses, can eventually find much greater joy in the simple basic acts of sharing love with friends.  It’s a study in contrasts, the lower your lowest point is, the higher every high point feels and the more we appreciate those joyful moments that we thought we might have lost.

So, be the good friend, don’t look for excuses. Invite those who are grieving to come and share your holiday celebration, your child’s wedding, or any excuse you may use for a party. You’ll learn much about yourself and how you view love and loss in the process, and you will have extended the gift of love of simple kindness to someone who could use some simple kindness.

Grieving the loss of a child as a couple

Whenever trauma strikes, statistics abound. The statistical divorce rate for parents who lose a child is said to be very high. Your statistical experience may be different if you can better understand what’s happening when a couple grieves the loss of a child. Eighteen years later our divorce rate remains zero percent, but that wasn’t an easy path to follow.  

Right behind losing our son, grieving the loss of our son as a couple was the second most challenging thing I have experienced. Grief is based on personal experience and connections. For each parent, grief has common elements mixed with elements that have nothing in common with the other parent’s grief.

I will explain only my side of this experience, because primary in any loss is an allowance for each person to have their own views, their own truths, their own experience and memories, and their own deepest struggles. We may do or say things along the way that deeply offend or hurt each other unintentionally, and grief amplifies and concentrates anger and our reactions. At the same time, we may be unable to do or say things that the other parent thinks we should. There are a million points of potential anger that you will need to navigate.

Added to the challenge is the current state of your relationship at the time your child died. Every marriage has cracks in its foundation, often significant ones that we have mutually ignored for peace at the time. Any such cracks, even small ones, will get much worse with the impact of this loss and some of them will threaten your marriage.

The primary challenge is that, when we lose a child, you will each fall out of love with life for a time. Your will each struggle to redefine your own purpose and your own meaning of life, and you will each change in ways you each could never have anticipated. You will emerge after a time as two very different people who once, in an earlier life, fell deeply in love and married. But you may feel that you no longer really know the person you share your life with. Falling out of love with life means that you might fall out of love with your partner. There’s no shame, and much advantage in honestly admitting that.

It’s a massive challenge to wake up each morning surrounded by pain, to see your most loved one in such pain. Running away is a common temptation. You could feel that you would find a partner without pain, a happy person to show and teach you happiness again. But, if you do that, you will wind up with someone who will never know the real pain you have suffered, someone who will be sympathetic without ever really understanding.

Over the longer term, grief is very socially isolating. You’re changed by grief, and you no longer fit easily into the social puzzles of life. You have new emotional appendages that just don’t fit well, even with longtime friends. You are emotionally drained by the changes you must adapt to, and you must spend time and energy picking up the pieces and putting yourself back together before you can put your marriage and friendships back together.

And you will heal at different rates. Your best day yet will often collide with their worst day yet, and that flows both ways. Because you’re physically convenient, you may become the target for anger flowing freely out of you to anyone nearby. You will hurt each other at times when you are both near mortally wounded.

You may each feel responsibility differently. Parents are programmed to protect, with our life if necessary. We may each have a sense of failure, a sense of guilt for not doing more. And we are each likely to judge the other’s responsibility for this failure to protect. The failure to protect guilt is one of the most destructive in any grief, and in parental grief it can irrationally overwhelm each of us in the loss of our child.

So where do we start?

We start with honesty, with truth. We help extinguish each other’s fires of anger. We do our best to never react with anger, even to anger. We touch and hold each other. We patiently wait for each of us to unwrap and disentangle ourselves from grief. We accept each other’s truths, without demanding that they match ours. We share memories gently, knowing that for a time memories carry new pain.

I look back and see my life and marriage as two distinct periods. Before losing our son, I met and fell deeply in love with a beautiful woman. We married and had two children and built a good life together. Then life brought us the hardest challenge it could bring, our son died.

We became, through loss, two very different people emotionally. We barely recognized each other t times; we wondered what we saw in the other at times. Then we each started to slowly fall back in love with life, and we slowly became emotionally accessible to each other. As we each rebuilt and redefines ourselves, we slowly fell back into love with each other. A very different and deeper love emerged.

The deeper love of living with a survivor may be difficult to imagine early in grief. But having the opportunity of choosing someone who has survived the loss of their child, the loss of your child, you will build a love based on the deepest understanding that no matter what happens your new love will survive.

You will be there for each other, you will have experienced the worst of your lives and stayed together, and you will have a partner willing and prepared to spend the end of your lives together.

Don’t force a return to loving each other. You made a good choice when you married. Respect that and be kind when you can’t find love for each other in the middle of your pain. Be patient with emotional and physical intimacy, both of which may feel unnatural or unsatisfying when combined with grief.

I have fallen in love for a lifetime, twice with very different women in very different circumstances in our lives.  The magic is that those two wonderful strong different women inhabit the same physical body. We have embraced each other’s changes.

Be well and peaceful; love each other with patience through loss.

Anger in Grief

Anger in Grief

This is an advanced and long post. There are a few links early in the post that new followers might wish to branch off for a warm up before the main course, so that the rest of what I am saying might make more sense to you.

Anger is a common component of grief and anger is the most dangerous and destructive emotion. I commonly refer to anger as a cancer of the human soul that consumes love. Grief wounds the human soul and often cancer finds a place in a wounded soul.

In my self-developed model of the human soul https://distillinggrief.com/2023/04/24/a-model-of-a-soul/, I believe that we build metaphysical connections with loved ones that allow us to give and to receive love from each of those that we love. When we are grieving, we are bleeding the life force energy of love https://distillinggrief.com/2023/04/25/what-is-love/ from our soul because of the loss of a loved one, and as our reservoir of love drops anger can come to feed easily.

As we love someone longer and deeper, we establish trust. When we trust, we flow deeper love with less resistance. A special loved one dies and all of the connections we have with them, small and large, deep and shallow will bleed love from our soul towards the memory of them. The process of healing grief can reconnect those broken pathways of love to the permanent memories and monuments that we build in the gardens of our grief (insert link), and the loss of love from our own soul eventually comes to a stop.

If we consider that our soul contains only love, and is entirely responsible for our love of daily life, a sudden flow of love away from our soul can trigger panic. The loss of a deeper and more meaningful love, by its depth and breadth, can empty a soul in a very short time causing extreme anxiety and fear that can outwardly present as anger or resentment, or if internalized as numbness.

I experienced that complete emptiness after the death of our son, but at that time I had no capacity to describe or explain it, so what I felt was simply described as numbness. Numb is a common description of how many people feel when grief first sets in. Numb is often a description of the symptom of not knowing how to feel, not understanding what you feel. That’s logical because every grief is so different, a new and uncharted journey without a map. Numb is uncomfortable and unpredictable, and so, we are often made afraid and become angry by being numb.

When we internalize our anger in grief, often we are punishing ourselves for not having done more, for not doing something, for not seeing this coming, for not somehow intervening and stopping the Universe from taking this life that we loved. There’s an irrational sense of failure, of hopelessness, and of personal responsibility that is unreasonable to place on ourselves. These negative emotions can become self destructive and self defeating quickly, and they can form lasting bad habits as well,  because in our sense of failure is a sense that we might actually bear that responsibility and we twist that to we deserve to have our life punish us for the death of a loved one.

Another side effect of grief is that we lose trust in life itself. We question the purpose of the life lost as well as our own life. This is especially challenging for some who seemingly have very well defined purposes that have been derailed by grief. Grief will change how you see your own life, and questioning your own definition of purpose is a healthy and natural part of grief as you heal. But, this questioning of purpose is not wise too early in grief, because your soul is under filled with love and unbalanced to make such significant decisions competently.

The simplest explanation of the pain that we feel in grief is that we have become addicted to the love that we share with each person that we love. People who truly love life will gather love from one or many other people, from many activities and passions. The complex cocktail of love that we build for ourselves is addicting, and that wonderful addiction truly defines us in daily life. When any component of that cocktail of love is removed, we might lose the feeling and love for our life until we find ways to replace or regenerate that part of the blend of love that we live for.

That collection of love that defines our love for life is blended, not compartmentalized. So, when a significant loved one dies and our soul drains some of all of our sources of love, we can lose some or all of what defines us. Through grief, we may become someone quite different from our usual normal, for a time or for a lifetime. These changes can become negative or positive, they can redefine us as we heal, but left unchecked or unhealed they can destroy much of what we are and much of the life we love living.

In the first couple of years after our son died, I could not look myself in the eye in a mirror.  I saw that empty space, the confusion, and the destruction of so much that I had loved about life. I saw my own empty soul and wanted to avoid it. I had lost sight of my own value, a value that I had spent decades building and maintaining. My son was a large part of that value, but in those years any love that flowed into my soul drained through the wounds that his loss had left, wound that I had not healed because I did not understand how to best heal them, or even that I was the one who needed to choose to allow my soul to heal them.

While I was numb, there was very little outward anger. I had internalized it and the cancer of that anger was consuming any love that flowed into my soul. Think of it as an auto-immune reaction of the soul that was addicted to love, now unable to expand and live on the little love remaining.

As the reserves of our collected love flow out and away, we create room for that cancer of anger to come to us. The more full of love our life is, the more we become dependent on a feeling if security that an abundance of love generates in us. In grief, we sense love flowing out of us, and that triggers panic. The deeper the love, the faster that outflow is, the more we feel panic. Panic threatens us and often triggers anger.

Slowly, in spite of the serious injury to my soul, love started to collect again. I could smile, and after a time I could even laugh without guilt. My soul was healing itself. As I explored myself, modeled and explained what I was feeling, I came to understand that I could help myself to heal.  I understood that it was I who was responsible for how I would change through grief, that I could build a solid joyful memory for each of those broken pathways and that that memory would reduce the amount of love flowing out of my soul. Building good memories was my path back to live and loving life. Each fixed memory, each monument to that love built in my soul improved my feelings about life.

The vast majority of anger in grief is tied to the things that we just can’t change. It’s a lot more than simple frustration or resignation; anger is often a violent call to a forced reflection on mortality and the meaning and purpose of our own lives as well as the life of the loved one we have lost.  We are drawn into the vortex of coming to understand that love is meaningful to us, but also that love can be suddenly taken from us by any random event of the chaotic Universe. This loosens and may weaken or break some of our foundations and beliefs, upon which we have built our purpose for life.

In my writings I speak of the three choices we have as Ignore, Change, or Accept https://distillinggrief.com/2023/04/21/only-three-choices/. We can’t safely ignore the reality of the death of a loved one, and we have no capability to change death, so any death brings us to a forced acceptance of that death and the changes it will bring to our lives. It is human nature to fight or resist forced change, especially those changes that we see as negatively impacting our lives.

The question we must inevitably ask ourselves is: How much of our life, a life that we loved, are we willing to, or expected to sacrifice in memory of this death? The simplest answer I found is that the person you are grieving would be ashamed and disappointed if their death caused any damage to your life. They would not want that responsibility for any part of the ruin that you allow to be inflicted on yourself by their death.

With this perspective, it becomes your responsibility to heal and to minimize the damage to your soul and to your life. This is the foundation of what I mean when I distill grief to:

We grieve because we love.

No love, no grief