Transition

What are you trying to tell me?

Sahasrara chakraFor the past year and a half I have had a chronic need to scratch the top of my head. This is a recurring condition that surfaces when I am under stress. As a result of the scratching, I have a bald spot at the top of my head in the crown chakra area. The crown chakra, Sahasrara in the Hindu tradition, is associated with one’s relationship to the eternal, a higher power, or God. Health issues associated with the crown chakra include nervousness and skin disorders. When I am nervous, anxious, bored, daydreaming, or driving my hand will make its way up to the spot. I feel soothed while I scratch this spot – similar to how one feels while biting her nails. I want this to stop but have not found the correct modality for stopping the itch. I know I am itching to soothe something – the continuing anxiety that has accompanied me since Roy’s death. Or maybe I itch to soothe the anger and rage that I feel about the unfairness of life. Or perhaps my spiritual life is demanding more attention.

This week I made an appointment with a cranial sacral practitioner (www.upledger.com) to see if she could help me. The minute I walked into her office I felt a sense of calm. I became tearful as I explained my issue and outlined all that I have been dealing with since Roy’s death. She was very compassionate and reflected back to me that it was apparent to her that I have worked very hard to get to the place I am today. We proceeded with my session and at end she asked that I talk to the sore spot on my head and see what it could tell me. She left the room and placed a piece of blank paper on her desk. She suggested that I write down what I heard. I heard the spot tell me that it was angry at God for taking Roy from me. For the next 24 hours I did not scratch my head – this was the longest period of relief in 18 months. It would seem that my spiritual life is asking for attention.

Louise Hay you can heal your lifeMetaphysical and intuitive healer Louise Hay writes about self healing and the mind-body connection. I checked her book You Can Heal Your Life for some ideas. In this book, Hay discusses that the body, like everything else in life, is a mirror of our inner thoughts and beliefs. Our bodies are always talking to us – we just need to take the time to listen. She states that THE HEAD represents our sense of ourselves. It is what we show the world. When something is wrong with the head area, it typically means we feel something is wrong with “us”.

So what does this all mean to me, my life and this latest episode of head scratching? My mind is overworked by the continuing acclimation to this strange new world as a single woman. In some ways I continue to feel odd as a single woman. However, at the same time, I am dating men and am learning to enjoy how it feels to get close to some of them. “Getting close” involves being vulnerable and opening up about me, my life, and my dreams. Not too surprisingly “getting close” raises stress levels – I wonder consciously and undoubtedly unconsciously about how am I being seen by these new men – am I accepted and acceptable?

As Louise Hay notes, the head represents our sense of self. I believe the head scratching is how my body is letting me know that I worry about being accepted more than I am consciously aware of. In other words, unconsciously the symptom is scratching at me to be recognized. Bottom line: Will I ever be loved by another man as I was by Roy. More so, will I love myself well enough to stand tall in my new life as a single woman and be secure whether I meet a new special someone or not?

relection-womanI will continue to work with my cranial sacral practitioner. I already have a better understanding about the mind-body-spiritual connection. On many conscious levels all is well in my world. I think this regularly and proceed “full steam ahead”. The top of my head however is saying “Pay Attention … Go slowly … Something is bubbling to the surface”. I am learning to manage this nervous scratching/soothing habit by talking to the top of my head … Asking questions like “what do you want to tell me”. Then I sit and reflect while looking out at the ocean from my terrace. I am calmed by the eternal nature of the ocean and am connecting to my understanding of the Divine. The journey of grief waxes and wanes – my body and spirit know this in many ways that my mind does not.

Namaste.

L’chaim

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Project 1-15-15 is mired in celebration, joy, passion, and well-being.  I am blogging, being of service, releasing weight, being social, participating in Landmark Education, and I am healthy. Mazel tov to the possibility of life, l’chaim to life.  My personal suffering has lifted and I am completely available to the possibilities that life presents daily.  I am experiencing a growing trust in the process of living, loving, and laughing.

The late psychologist Erik Erickson states that trust is the first skill we learn as an infant – trust in mother to come to us when we cry, trust that we are protected from harm’s way, and trust that we will thrive in life.  These are the building blocks that lead us to develop a sense of trust in ourselves.  I am learning to trust me in this new phase of life. I am fully celebrating the re-emerging passion I feel growing within me each day.

In his poem “Everything is Going to Be All Right”, Irish poet Derek Mahon states “there will be dying, there will be dying, but there is no need to go into that … The sun rises inspite of everything and the far cities are beautiful and bright … Everything is going to be all right.”

I know more intimately than ever before that everything IS going to be all right. I have recognized that there is both sorrow and joy and this is the essence of life.  People will die, I will die, wars will break out, disease will kill, and the beauty of a sunrise will make my heart quicken. Everything is going to be all right.

L’chaim!

Cats, Coffee and Pink Bougainvillea

tableThe greatest joy in my life is when I am sitting at my small, round, wood-top table looking out at the ocean – my feet propped up on the chair and my body calm. These moments, minutes and oftentimes hours of being right here is a slice of heaven on earth. Often my cats join me for the quiet solitude that is brought to us through the sounds of the crushing waves, the passing by of a school of dolphins, and the swarms of pelicans that swoop by the plate glass window.

I see bright colors of red, purple and pink bougainvillea falling from the trellises, sharp pointed green cacti, and the deep blue ocean framed by the largess of a unending sky.

I begin each day in this way, make my coffee, sprinkle cat treats on the floor for my three feline friends, and open the small kitchen windows, from which I also sneak a view of the ocean.

gaiaWhen I sit in my chair with my freshly brewed coffee, prop my feet up and gaze at the magnificent Pacific Ocean, I am in the presence of the Divine. Since Roy’s death, I have come to depend on this ritual of welcoming the vast ocean into my day. Thank you, Gaia, for being here to support me and to remind me that Roy’s spirit is right here with me.

In these moments I am united with Roy. His spirit is now part of the Big Spirit, the Spirit that fills the ocean, embodies my feline companions, and encourages me to keep living in the physical realm. I am grateful to have this special bird’s-eye view of Mother Earth from my little corner of the world. The breeze floats in with the fresh ocean air. I smell life and I am alive.

In a week, the third anniversary of Roy’s death arrives.  I am grateful for the small daily blessings that inspire me to live my life fully – honoring Roy’s memory and embracing my life.  Those of us who grieve recognize these markers on our journeys knowing that life continues to unfold in wondrous ways.

Managing the Early Days of Grief

I have been asked since starting my blog of how I managed to get through the early days of grief.

In-the-tunnel

During the first 12 months, I depended greatly on a poem by the late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, entitled “On Grief” from To Bless the Space Between Us, which I have included below.  A colleague sent me this poem perhaps three days following Roy’s death.  I read it at Roy’s memorial service.  I knew the minute I received it that it would be a critical part of my learning to understand what had happened to me and what was to come.  I referenced it frequently during the first year – attempting to understand exactly where I was intrapsychically – within myself, not necessarily in the world.  What I know from my journey is critical for those of us left behind to get reoriented to a very different world.  It begins by going inward and then outward, in a slow and uncomfortable oscillating dance.  Poetry took me inward and participating in a widows’ group took me outward.  I also logged my dreams on a regular basis.  I no longer see the gap in the air that O’Donohue references at the end of his poem.  Roy is a fully embodied presence within my intrapsychic world.  Yes I visit his grave and leave flowers.  But most of all I dialogue with him regularly by having dedicated a permanent seat for him at the table of my inner life.  We feast together and celebrate our love – he from afar and me right here on Mother Earth.  Meanwhile I also stay busy with becoming my own person – a woman with a life of her own.

“On Grief “– John O’Donohue  from To Bless the Space Between Us

When you lose someone you love, your life becomes strange.  The ground beneath you becomes fragile.  Your thoughts make your eyes unsure; and some dead echo drags your voice down where words have no confidence.  Your heart has grown heavy with loss; and though this loss has wounded others too, no one knows what has been taken from you when the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret for all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy; again inside the fullness of life.  Until the moment breaks and you are thrown back onto the black tide of loss.  Days when you have your heart back, you are able to function well, until in the middle of work or encounter, suddenly with no warning, you are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.  All you can depend on now is that sorrow will remain faithful to itself.  More than you, it knows its way and will find the right time to pull and pull the rope of grief until that coiled hill of tears has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance with the invisible form of your departed; and when the work of grief is done, the wound of loss will heal and you will have learned to wean your eyes from that gap in the air and be able to enter the hearth in your soul where your loved one has awaited your return.   All the time.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Harold-Kushner-Good-PeopleRabbi Harold Kushner wrote in his best selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People  that bad things happen to good and bad people alike – and good things often happen to bad people.  I knew before Roy died that life was not fair, but my personal relationship to this statement took on a whole different meaning in the wake of his death.   I have learned from Roy’s sudden death and disappearance from my life that death frequently arrives with little time to prepare.  I know at a very deep level that it is better to be as complete as possible with the people in my life  because I don’t know when I will die or for that matter when they will die.   My relationship to my personal death is  very different now.  I am not so afraid anymore – I lived through the dark journey to the underworld and came back up to the world of the living with a refreshed and renewed sense of what it means to be alive.  To be alive means that I am breathing, feeling, thinking, loving, caring, hating, disliking, enjoying, feeling bored, and delighting in the ever present curiosity of what’s next in my life.  I don’t spend near as much time feeling frightened of the uncertainty that is coupled with my unfolding future – I merely remember the load of bricks that was thrown on my shoulders in July 2011.  As best as I can,  I shake off the current shards of fear that attempt to prick me at any given time of the day.    Yes I live with anxiety every day.  I fear getting close to another man because I think of what it would be like if he were to die suddenly like Roy or like my father who died when I was four years old.  I woke up the day after my father’s death to the reality that I would never see him again.  That was a lot for a little four year old to take on – to live with the reality that “Daddy is never coming home again”.  The trauma of my father’s death has accompanied me throughout my life – and was reactivated with Roy’s death.  How could I lose the two most important men in my life to sudden death?  Well, life is not fair.  Bad things happen to good people.  Roy was a fantastic man – he took care of himself, ate healthfully, took supplements, knew more than most medical professionals about how the body works.  And boom – sudden cardiac arrest.  Gone.  Forever.   He was a good person and he was taken out of the game before he was ready.   Meanwhile bad people continue to take up space, create havoc, and give little back to our society.  Go figure.

raven I believe that it is imperative that the reality  of death needs to sit on our left shoulder 24-7 like a squawking black raven.  This raven serves as an unrelenting reminder that we need to seize the moments of our lives with gusto and perseverance.  If someone you love died recently or years ago and you have not adequately grieved the loss, the pain of the death will rob you of life, joy, and hope for the future.   You must do the foot work of grief.  It is painful, hard, and lonely  … and people have been doing it since the beginning of time.  Irish poet John O’Donohue states in his poem For Grief that when you lose someone you love, your life becomes strange.  Yes indeed it does. However, at the end of the crippling journey of grief there is a moment when you realize you have finished the hardest part of the journey back to life.  You notice that spring is back, that the air smells delicious, and that people are commenting that they notice a sparkle in your eye again.  It is a heavy price to pay for recognizing that life is incredible.   But this recognition is awaiting each of us when grief has been completed. I encourage you to grab it when it arrives and don’t let go.  You deserve to feel that incredible sense of being alive … again.

All Shall Be Well

Since Roy’s death almost 3 years ago, I have cultivated an inner strength through writing, dialoguing, meditating and re-discovering what I love to do. My marriage to Roy was the source of my strength. Now I stand on the shoulders of our marriage and draw from the insights and breakthroughs that I am discovering as I move on with my life as a single woman. I derive enormous strength from the words of the Middle Ages mystic Julian of Norwich “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.  I hope all is well with you!

Julian of Norwich

In Life It’s Not Where You Go, But Who You Travel With

Victoria's weddingI recently returned from a five day trip to Tucson where I attended my niece’s wedding. My family and I had a good time – we laughed, danced, ate, drank, and caught up with one another’s lives. I travel with more confidence now. This trip was easier than others because I was with my family most of the time i.e., there was familiarity and structure to my days. Nor did I stay at a hotel.

Traveling alone is hard for me. I can’t say I enjoy doing it, I just know that I can. It is critical for my sanity and unfolding life to know I can do anything and everything on my own – that way I am not trapped or limited. I also know who to call when I don’t know how to do something. I don’t know if I will ever savor the experience of planning a trip alone, but I am grateful that my world has expanded to its current dimensions that includes traveling.

I miss Roy when I am at airports … I watch other couples and am pulled back into 23 years of memories. I remember our extensive travels: memories of holding hands when each flight took off and landed, sipping champagne, and watching each others’ carry on bags when a bathroom break was required. I miss planning trips with Roy, traveling together, and feeling his warm body next to mine in unfamiliar hotel beds. I just miss him. Period. However, now I get the aisle seat on flights … One tiny pleasure that I can admit to on my blog.

Woman airport alone

The journey to today has required the simultaneous embracing of fear and being committed to healing from this tragedy. I am still catching up emotionally with the new landscape of my life … I cognitively and realistically understand all that has transpired, but feel my emotional intelligence is continuing to unfold. I still wonder what would Roy do in particular situations. I suspect I will always wonder because I have internalized him into my inner world … I argue and agree with my inner Roy on a regular basis. I love having him there … Wherever “there” is .. My mind, my psyche, my soul? This is part of the grieving process – to detach from our loved one’s physical presence while internalizing them into our inner world. It took me a long time to do this. I feel that I have successfully made the separation and yet feel joined with Roy in a new and different way. And as I said I miss him everyday. This is the complexity of death and loss – we who are still here need to choose life in order to heal which entails saying goodbye to what we knew. It is hard yet doable.

Life after death of someone we love

My late husband Roy died suddenly and unexpectedly on July  10, 2011.   I will soon be arriving at the three year anniversary of his death.  The journey of grief from that fateful day to today was filled  with terrible emotional pain, severe depression, unending despair, and unbearable mourning.  I would say that this first phase of my journey of grief lasted a full 12  months.  I had a housemate for most of the first year as living alone was too overwhelming for me.  She was a god-send in so many ways.

The second phase of the journey began one year after Roy died when I sold our home and moved into a new place not too far from where we lived in the foothills. I chose a smaller place on the ocean knowing I was creating a healing sanctuary for myself. The second year was hard in a different way. I was living in a familiar yet unfamiliar place. I was in a new home that I found and bought without Roy. I was living alone for the first time in 25 years. I felt like a fish out of water for most of the first year of living in my ocean side sanctuary. I scheduled my first trip 16 months after Roy’s death to participate in a 5 day workshop. It was being held in a place we had not visited together – Santa Fe. After this workshop, I became aware of subtle signs of hope, a gentle process of renewal, and a slow rebirth process unfolding. I soon was traveling to Arizona, around California, and onto Europe and Mexico.

As I approach the three year anniversary, I am fully creating a new life as a single woman. I have started dating and am enjoying it – there are some wonderful men out there.  The woman I am today is not the same woman who left her home on an early Sunday morning in July to drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego for an overnight meeting. I lost two people that day – my wonderful husband and friend, Roy, as well as the “me” who I knew at that time – a happily married woman in a successful 23 year marriage. She was married to her best friend and soul mate.

My last view of Roy was of him sitting at his desk, facing his computer, posting on his Facebook page, and wearing his tan and cream colored robe. At about 8:10 am that morning I told him that I was ready to leave for my overnight trip to San Diego. I entered his office, approached him from behind his chair, hugged him, and kissed his head. As I hugged him, I told him that I loved him and that I would call him when I arrived in San Diego. He responded that he loved me too and murmured “talk to you later, drive safely”. As I proceeded down the hallway towards the garage where my car was loaded with new CDs, water, and my luggage, I felt something in my gut telling me to yell back one last time “I love you dear, have a good day, drive safely wherever you go”. He yelled back “love ya dear”. Those were the last words he told me.

Arriving in San Diego roughly 3 ½ hours later, I called him from a Subway where my friend who I picked up on the way and I had stopped to get a bite to eat before our meeting. I was surprised that he did not answer either our home line or his cell phone. I tried him multiple times through out the afternoon while I was at my meeting. I wondered if f he had gone to a movie, had been called to a family emergency, or was napping. By 6:15 pm I knew something was terribly wrong. I told my friends I was very concerned and that I would call the security guards at the gated community we lived in. I headed towards my car and sat in the driver’s seat. My friend came with me and sat in the passenger seat and my car was surrounded by many friends as I awaited the news. The guards went to our home but there was no response. They called me with that info and I told them where the house key was hidden and gave them permission to enter our home. As I waited in my car for another call back from the guards, I was reviewing the past couple days in my head – Roy had not felt well, complained of nausea and fatigue. He told me he was feeling better the morning I was going to San Diego. I reflected that I would not have gone had I thought there was something wrong. Wouldn’t I have known if something was wrong? Why did I go? My cell phone rang and I was told that 911 was called and that I would hear back once the paramedics arrived. By this time I knew I would need to return home rather than spend the night as previously planned.

I remember being surrounded by women friends. I received the next call from my favorite guard Bill who told me the paramedics needed to talk to me. My stomach was in knots … I asked the paramedic “is my husband ok”.  His sentence began “I am so sorry Mrs. Mankovitz” … I began to scream “No, no, not Roy”. I was crying and screaming barely able to hear what I was being told. I was being told that Roy was dead on the floor of our bathroom. From visible signs it was a sudden heart attack and it been awhile since he died. The paramedic told me he would call the coroner’s office and that I would hear from them when they arrived at our home.

One does not forget the moment they learn that someone they treasure and love is dead. Frozen in time and space the eyes begin to retreat within … the scope of the physical world pulls in on itself and the future does not exist except in painful stabs of memory … he is not here, what will I do? In those initial moments of hearing the words that Roy was dead, my friends were asking what is wrong, what is going on, and I responded in agony that “Roy is dead”, “Roy is dead”. I am taken from the driver’s seat and placed in the passenger seat – my friend takes the wheel and we head back from where we began 12 hours earlier. During the drive, I begin the unbearable task of calling my stepchildren, sister-in-law, my family and our friends as my car weaves its way along the San Diego freeway. I reflect that the last time I was in the passenger seat of my car was 5 days earlier when Roy drove us to a 4th of July party.

Looking back from today’s vantage point, I see that the road to now has been the hardest journey of my life. In this blog series on grief, I will share what I have learned along the road. I will unpack how I have come to know that there is “Life after death … after the death of someone we love”.