Living life without anguish

contemplative woman-I decideGrief is so often a painful experience and for some a journey that never seems to end and they suffer such great sadness long after a loved one has died. Although we all grieve differently and there is no timetable saying our grief should only last a certain period of time, we can also get stuck in grief that paralyzes us from continuing to live our own life.

Recently I heard the spiritual author and teacher Gary Zukav say some thing that I thought was worth sharing because I found him quite thought provoking.

He said “If you think people left earth when they chose you will then begin to see the gifts the soul gave you while on this earth.  You will get to a place where you are grateful for the short time this person whose to be with YOU, otherwise you will live in anguish.”

He also went on to say, “If you look at your loved one as that soul who voluntarily entered the earth and voluntarily chose to leave, you will appreciate the power of the interaction you had with that soul and then you will feel the power of those gifts you received.” 

Can we learn from joy versus suffering?

I think we can find meaning in everything and everything is a choice.  We can choose to to grieve actively and at the same time feel blessed for the time we had with our loved ones who have departed or we can choose to grieve and mourn our loss feeling hopeless that life will go on for us.

We all will experience both love and loss – this is a universal truth.  How we grieve often determines how we will continue to live and how we will seek out joy.

I encourage you to find some joy today – perhaps a walk in park, coffee with an old friend or taking  time to watch children at play.  Joy comes in all forms and sometimes we have to work harder at finding it especially on those days when all we want to do is cry.

Isn’t the greatest honor we could bestow upon the memory of our loved ones is to live life in joy rather than sorrow?  In peaceful contentment rather than anxiety and stress?  Something to think about….

Can Sadness Become a Habit?

2 women comfortingI was  listening to someone recently who said her sadness had become a habit.  She would wake up everyday sad and stayed in that place all day. She went on to say that this had gone on for about a year until one day she heard something that inspired her to make a new choice and that was to find happiness. My ears perked up at the word “choice.”  I asked her how choosing differently made her feel and she said it made her feel free and happiness was better than feeling sad all the time.

The Sadness of Grief

The sadness that accompanies us on our grief journey is real. We are sad because we lost someone we loved. Sometimes sadness turns into depression which is a very real affliction and should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.  There is no time limit on how long we should be sad or grieve, we are all different and depending on the relationship and circumstances of someones death is usually the predictor of the length of the healing.

Can Sadness Become a Habit?

I wonder if sadness can become a habit. Often people feel guilt following a death and believe they shouldn’t be happy now that their loved one gone.  They know the sadness won’t bring them back but somehow it seems easier to be sad and guilty and at the same time.  I have had people say to me “how can I be happy when so and so died” and they truly cannot conceive why or how they will be happy again.  So as time goes on and on people stay  perpetually sad.

According to the author Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit” he says “Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them.”

Can We learn to be happy?

I believe we can learn to be happy even following a sad or tragic loss, but happiness is a choice and just like anything we choose in out life it requires effort.

According to an article published in the Huffington Post, on 16 scientifically backed ways to boost your happiness they give very specific examples, here are a few;

Smile. A 2011 study showed that thinking about something positive that makes you smile can actually make you happier (fake smiles don’t do the trick), while 2003 Clark University research found that smiling activates positive memories.

Pray. Spirituality and religious involvement is linked with greater well-being and happiness, according to a review of more than 300 studies on the connection between spirituality and health, while prayer is thought to relieve stress.

Laugh. In addition to relieving stress, laughter can boost mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Go for a stroll in the park. There are many health benefits to spending time in nature, including, perhaps, increased well-being. One UK study showed that subjects were significantly happier when in natural environments as compared to when they were in urban environments.

Keep a gratitude journal. Be thankful for what you have! A number of studies have found a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being, starting at a young age. Teaching kids gratitude in schools has been linked to boosts in positive emotions and optimism.

Think of happy times. Feeling nostalgic about the past can make you feel happier and more optimistic about the future, according to a recent University of Southampton study.

 Books on Happiness

Just as there are books on grief, there are equally as many on happiness.  Here are just a few…

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama
Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar
Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good Fast by Robert Holden
Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Schimoff

I hope as you read this you don’t assume I am minimizing anyone’s personal loss, I think being happy following our losses is not only healthy but important to our well-being and living out our life before it is our turn to die. Sometimes it is easier to be sad because following our loss it has become all we know but I bet that we all are honest we know our loved ones that have died would want nothing more than for us to be happy.

What do you think? I’d welcome your comments below.

Grief and Gratitude

By Allen Klein

After we experience a loss, we tend to focus on what we no longer have. As a result we focus our energy on the negative, or what is missing in our life, rather than on the positive, or all of those wonderful things we still have. One of my spiritual teachers once told me that when we want what we don’t have, we waste what we do have. To translate that into loss-related situations—to want what is no longer in our life is to waste what still remains in our life.

We usually don’t think about giving thanks when someone dies. Yet gratitude can be one of the most healing tools we have.

Being grateful for what remains after you have experienced a loss can be a powerful way to deal with, and heal, that loss. Turning your attention on how your life was enriched because that person was in it, for example, rather than on the vacuum the loss created, might be one powerful and healthy approach to confronting grief.

After my wife died at the age of thirty-four, my thoughts, as often experienced by someone who is grieving, sometimes turned to darker questions like, “How can I go on with my life without her?” Grief also brought up a feeling of emptiness, depression, and hopelessness. Once I started to be thankful for all that remained in my life—my daughter, my friends, my work, etc.—I got a glimpse of why I could go on living and, in fact, fully enjoy life again.

Richard Carlson, author of a number of self-help books, talks about how gratitude comforted him after the loss of a close friend. In You Can Be Happy No Matter What, Carlson writes about how gratitude comforted him after the loss of a close friend.

Carlson says,
When we access our healthy functioning, emotional pain has a different feeling to it—it is still painful, but it includes genuine gratitude for having known the person we have lost. This worked beautifully in my own life, when one of my best friends was tragically killed by a drunk driver on his way to be in my wedding. Rather than think about him sadly, I was able to clear my mind and feel tremendous gratitude for having known such a wonderful friend. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or for my friend’s family, fond memories began to surface from our past together. I was not overwhelmed by my sad feelings and was able to function.

Gratitude has the power to help those in mourning rise above their loss. It is life affirming. It can provide hope. And, perhaps most important, it can help us let go of the past and focus on the abundance that surrounds us now.

Learning_laughP.S.- In my book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying (Goodman Beck, 2011), I suggest a simple way to move towards being grateful after a loss:  Tomorrow morning, before you get out of bed, think of at least one thing that you are thankful for. And then, when you get out of bed, start writing down all the wonderful things in your life.

You can be thankful for:
-a penny found on the street
-the cookies a neighbor brought you
-the friends you have
-a rainbow
-flowers in the park
-a cup of tea.

Those are just of few little gratitudes that can keep you afloat while you are in a sea of grief. But you might also want to note some of the bigger things for which you are grateful.

For example:
-that the deceased was in your life
-the lessons you learned from them
-that their spirit still lives within you.

And, you can be grateful for life itself. As comedian Robin Williams discovered after his heart surgery: “When you have something like heart surgery, you appreciate the simple things, like breathing.”

Originally published on on May 14, 2013“Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying.”

Allen Klein saw the therapeutic value of humor during his wife’s terminal illness. Klein is an award-winning professional speaker and author of nineteen books including The Healing Power of Humor, The Courage to Laugh, and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Cryging

Gratitude Brings Comfort

gratitude-11When we are grieving it often feels like there is nothing to be grateful for in our life.

We can only feel our own sorrow for what we have lost.  This is a very common reaction to grief.

But what if?

What if for one hour a day you focused on finding things to be grateful for?  According to Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, reveals why gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.  Robert Emmons study of gratitude went on to say that when they “studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:”

• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

How Do You Cultivate Gratitude?

Start by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down everyday things you feel grateful for. Could be as simple as your ability to get out of bed, your pet or being able to function at work without crying. Notice things around you like trees and beautiful skys. Sound genuinely happy when people call you and try not to launch right into complaining, rather notice that they called and for that express gratitude.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
- Melody Beattie
What are you finding gratitude in – please share with us in the comments below!

Dias de Muertos, Days of the Dead

Celebration and honoring of the dead

If you are not familiar with the term “Dia de Muertos” in translates in English to Day of the Dead.

In Spanish and Native American tradition, as well as in others, it is time to honor the beloved dead with altars “offrendras” flowers, family get togethers and food.

Day of Dead 1

Dias de Muertos – Ofrenda

I decided to visit a locally owned Hispanic restaurant and market because they were giving talks about the celebration and the tradition behind it.  I was told that many believe in honoring the memories of their family that have died and they believe in celebrating a life.  I LOVE the celebration of life and so I have embraced the tradition myself.  Following my time of mourning I wanted to find ways to honor the memories of those I have loved and lost.  I often do this throughout the year such as on holidays as well as anniversaries of the death.

The Spanish tradition is celebrated October 31st through November 2nd and it coincides with the Christian celebration of All Saints Day.

Day of Dead 2 offerings

Alter or Ofrenda

Here is a picture of the alter or “ofrenda” that was set-up to honor the father of someone in the restaurant.  They often use symbols to represent water, fire(candles), air (billowing paper) and earth (marigold flowers)  and the favorite foods such as the breads shown here and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased on the alter again as a memorial to them.

I rather like this celebration and would like to see more people embrace the idea of celebrating a life rather than such somber mourning.  Mourning is part of the grieving process and we must all walk through that as well – so I wonder, how many of you would embrace the idea of “Dias de Muertos?”  I’d love your comments below.

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