“One small step can change your life,” believes Dr. Robert Mauer, a clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine and author of The Kaizen Way. He consults internationally with organizations and people teaching the potent force of kaizen, the Japanese concept of achieving great and lasting success through small steady steps. This idea, coupled with the wisdom shared from a grieving widow to “Just Do the Next Thing” offered a way of living during the early months of acute grief when sometimes it’s hard to even imagine facing the day.
It stayed in my mind before each hour’s reality, whether it meant buying groceries and cooking supper, grading papers, or making the decision with Susan (our oldest daughter) and Peter to go ahead with their East Coast wedding. Their marriage was exactly one month after Krista’s death and wedding invitations were already out. Other parents echoed this truth as they did the necessary small steps in daily living, whether this meant getting children ready for school, showing up at work, paying a bill, whatever loomed as “essential.” As one widower said, juggling the strains of raising three children alone, “We must mourn, but we must go on living.”
But I’ve also found through the years that the kaizen concept still offers a vital way of moving forward when inertia, inadequacy, or high stress feels paralyzing.
Next week, Jim and I will be going on my book tour in the South that involves a combination of very different speaking engagements in three states. Everything from presentations at medical centers, bookstore special events, several different church keynotes, plus a retreat, and large senior living communities. Some relate to Pilgrimage through Loss, some around cancer, and even one on my earlier book Bold Spirit.
It’s somewhat daunting.
A friend reminded me of earlier experiences with small-step wisdom when I lamented that this significant preparation has kept me from being focused on the blog. “It’s so discouraging because my hope was to write faithfully each week.”
“Write about how you’re feeling when overloaded,” she suggested, “and how small steps have made such a difference for you.”
So I reread a journal entry from three weeks after Krista died that included a list of 16 ideas of “What I can and cannot do.” One said:
Allow myself TIME and be gentle and patient with my own grief. Call on wonderful friends as needed.
Looking back, it seems this guidance of being patient with the depth of sorrow helped me relax. Healing came in gentle infusions of peace as my husband and I continued to re-engage in life day by day. Learning to understand the grieving process, step-by-step, often from authors or friends who walked in loss before us, helped.
British author C.S. Lewis, after the death of his wife Joy, wrote A Grief Observed where he probes the “mad midnight moments” of his mourning and loss where he first questions all he has previously believed. He eventually came to recognize the normalcy of grief in his words “Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”
Today, my entry on “what I can and cannot do” could alter slightly to read,
Allow myself time and be gentle with my own limits. Call on wonderful friends as needed.
YOU have become friends through the pilgrimage blog. More than likely you understand the need to be gentle with oneself during stress. So I will trust that the irregular nature of the blog in the next few weeks will be understood!
But I want to stay in communication with you. To take the first step, I scanned for pictures through the wonderful Zemanta (a tip for all bloggers) and found this exquisite Asian staircase that symbolizes the beauty of small steps. Now excited, since I love artistic gardens, the next step involved perusing the book chapter that speaks of the Pathway to Strength and Renewal by Taking Small Steps Daily. Then memories came flooding in of how the nectar of friendships gave Jim and me both comfort and the courage to live with hope. The last action will be to push the button that says “Publish” even though in an ideal world I’d love time to revise and revise and revise…oh well!
Are there times when you know being more gentle with yourself might be essential? What small steps you have taken that have made a positive difference in your life?
We are back from Asia just in time for the official “launch” of Pilgrimage through Loss at Auntie’s Bookstore tomorrow. I started working on the research and writing for this book over nine years ago, so it’s deeply satisfying to see it finally emerge! We cheered the Seattle Seahawks from a hotel in Bali with an alumni group from the University of Washington….you can imagine how excited these Seattlelites were for this game. This article came out in the Spokane Spokesman Review newspaper on Super Bowl Sunday. A special thanks to Cindy Hval for her sensitive writing!
We observed some very interesting ways in which Balinese people remember their loved ones who have died, and I’ll be including more on rituals from other cultures that appear to help parents live with loss in future blogs
If you live in the Spokane area, please join us at Auntie’s Bookstore at 2:00 on Saturday the 8th for our celebration.
Do parents really ever want to forget a child who has died? After Rev. John Perkins, one of America’s national leaders on racial reconciliation and founder of Mendenhall Ministries in Mississippi, lost his 40-year-old son Spencer suddenly to a heart attack, his shock and devastation was immense. But he was grateful that he’d had a recent conversation with John Huffman whose daughter died shortly after graduating from Princeton University. “He told me, contrary to what people thoughtlessly urged, that he never wanted ‘to get over’ his beloved daughter.” He believes this sage advice prepared him to live with sorrow. “I’ve learned to release what I can, and embrace the pain that stays.”
THE RUSH TO CLOSURE
His experience echoes the research of sociologist Nancy Berns,Ph.D. who wrote Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us. I first learned of her pivotal work through a mother who lost a still-born daughter years earlier, and now volunteers with the Forget Me Not program helping other families who lose newborns. Myth-slayers in Bern’s book insist “Closure isn’t possible, isn’t necessary, isn’t wanted, and isn’t good.” She examines how contemporary Americans have created this relatively new emotional term to help themselves deal with loss and grief. The concept is so popular in our culture it even emerges in television sit-coms and crime shows like Friends, or Law and Order, and often after national disasters like Katrina or 9-11, even the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
So people assume it exists and therefore they need “to find” closure. But many argue it offers a false hope, and adds pressure when living with life-long loss. This causes people to wonder if something is wrong with them for still missing one they deeply loved. Even worse, sometimes others judge someone who hasn’t “found” closure yet. This leads to persons bearing and burying grief silently in fear of being misunderstood. Although she teaches classes in narratives of grief at Drake University, it isn’t just an academic interest. Death became quite personal when their son, Zachariah, was stillborn in 2001. “Our world crashed around us.” During this traumatic time, many reached out and offered kindness. But other experiences left her lonely and disconnected. She felt pressure to “move on” from people who didn’t mean to be unkind, but just thought is was expected and best for her. Instead, she has explored healthy ways people rediscover joy and healing while still remembering the one they loved. You can read more of her story on her closure blog under www.nancyberns.com. or hear her excellent TED talk “Beyond Closure: the space between joy and grief” on YouTube.
The Oregon poet William Stafford expresses this beautifully in his poem “Consolations.” Here’s part of this:
“The broken part heals even stronger than the rest,”
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
What has been your experience?
still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
When asked to “ring the bell” for dinner at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Whidbey Institute,they had no idea how thrilled I was to ring this wonderful sounding bell. A couple of years after our daughter died, a musician friend sent me the “Ring the Bell” phrase above from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem album. It offers such a luminous response to human grief while one seeks to still live creatively with a broken heart. If you haven’t heard him sing it, you can find it on You Tube.