Post-grief, even the smallest things change...

There is a scene in the film Losing Layla where Layla’s mom Vanessa is in line at a bank or post office sometime during the first weeks after Layla has died.  The line is long and moving slowly.  A few people ahead of Vanessa in line are a mom and young child who is jumping and dancing around with a sweet little voice.  And the camera pans to Vanessa’s face.  You can see all the crumbling walls of pain and heartbreak falling down her body and spilling across the floor.

Let’s face it.  After grief comes, nothing is as simple as it seems on the surface anymore.  

The everyday things, like running errands, become complicated. Going to a café for a few minutes of quiet coffee time can be very difficult when you are a bereaved mother and the table next to you fills up with people who’ve just finished their Mommy and Me class. Going to any social event can feel arduous.

Sometimes it just is a reality that we have to be creative in our post-grief life to change up all the things that, prior, seemed so simple.  It may not be something you are up to in the first days or weeks after grief comes, but one small creative choice at a time will add up to a new way of doing things. Simply not being afraid to change your plans is a great way to allow yourself to step out of line, do a different errand, come back to the post office later.  Or getting your coffee to go and heading to the wide open space of the beach to enjoy it instead of staying at the café.

Much of the time, the changes required are a matter a paying attention to your heart, tending her as she needs tending, and being gentle with yourself instead of judgmental about the whole process.

In my own personal experience, after the death of my son, I just found it less heartbreaking, and much easier, to do my grocery shopping at one of the 24 hours shops, heading out late night, after 10pm to get what we needed.  That shop even had a 24/7 ATM of my bank, so I could do my banking in the late hours, too.  And they had a branch of the post office inside, too. While the branch itself wasn’t open that late, I could still post through the slots and buy my stamps via the machines there.  It was a heavenly gift to be able to do my basic, everyday things this way at first.  It allowed me to be creative and gentle in finding new ways to reconnect to the world at large without feeling rushed and pushed to do so because of errands.

Everyone will of course be different in how they feel post-grief.

The key is to be curious and tolerant with yourself as you discover what will work for you and what will not work for you.  And know that over time, your creative choices will shift and change and get bigger or maybe shift back to something more pre-grief-like.  But you need not force anything.  You are your own best advocate.  You are extraordinarily capable and response-able (able to respond) to your heart.  Take the best care possible.  And know that it is very normal that the simple things don’t seem simple anymore!

Much love <3 to each eyeball who stuck with it to get here :)

[Originally published Radical Creativity March 28, 2012]

Holidaze: collaborative, community post

Over the couple decades of doing grief exploration and outreach, I've created many different graphics exploring the idea of the holidaze. Today, for our collaborative, community post on this topic, I thought I'd gather some of the ones people have responded to most strongly and share them in this one gathering spot. (You can click on any of the graphics below to see original size or post.) Hope you will consider them creative prompts or inspirations for exploring how you can tend your heart and creative heART while grieving during the holiday season. As many gifts as we scramble to give others along the way, I hope you will gift yourself with what you need to best tend now and in the coming year. Here goes.

First tending yourself:

Gift giving with a twist:

Finding rituals anew:

And now to share the 

Community Offerings 

that were so heARTfully shared for this topic:




Thank you again to each of you, Michelle, Christine, Sharon, and Amanda! My whole heart to each of you for being willing to share and be part of the community expressions of grief and love around the holi-daze of the holidays.

And to all of you reading, waves and waves of Reiki coming your ways in support for whatever your holidays are looking and feeling like this year. Please remember if you are having a hard time at any point, you don't have to struggle alone. Tap into a resource like the Crisis Text Line if you need it:

And remember, you have permission:

Miracles and love to you!

Infant & Child Death


My way of being in the world today is much different than it was in 1999 when our first son died. It is even very different than it was just 7 or 5 years ago. My focus isn't so much on grief just from the death of a child because I know too well now how many circumstances come up across the span of a lifetime bringing grief along with the experiences. That said, because in the first decade after the death of our first son, I was immersed in the life of a bereaved parent, much of my core community is still stemming out of that world. And so I'm seeing lots of messages in my feeds and private communications about Infant & Child Death Awareness Day (Oct 15th) and Month (the whole month of October).

As always, this time of year gets me thinking about how many children have died through the course of history, how many bereaved parents have come and gone. Million and millions, uncountable numbers really, of people who have gone dust to dust, not remembered, not named, re-incorporated back into the ether as time does its work. In more recent years, Infant & Child Death Awareness has me thinking about the impetus behind things like #BlackLiveMatter and #SayHerName movements where it is not just the bereavement experiences that happens when death comes, but also the collision with social (in)justice issues. It has me thinking about how we have allowed the stillbirth rate in Flint, MI to go as high as it is by refusing to give the community there clean water. It has me thinking about how the rates of maternal death, stillbirth, and miscarriage in general are higher, while the number of midwives of color are lower, in marginalized communities. It reminds me that something like Infant & Child Death Awareness is not just an individual experience, but is also very much a community experience -- or should be.

Where It Is Personal

For me personally, there is some small bit of comfort that comes when looking thru my feeds and in my messages to find that indeed my own sons, Dakota, Mizuko, and Bean Jones, are all remembered by various family and friends. AND at the same time I have full realization that once I am dead, my mother is dead, and my husband is dead, their names will begin to fade away as will our names. In less than a generation really. Not to say there won't be grand- or great-grandchildren who won't think of us, maybe retain a box of old photographs, but once a generation passes, how well does the next really know them? Really.

For me these Awareness days are a counter balance to the reality that mortality brings a nothingness with it eventually. For all of us. Even the most famous of us -- example: The author of the all-time-famous, still-taught-in-schools poem Beowulf is completely unknown. At these moments of pondering awareness AND nothingness, my mind and heart often land on those I still re-member though they have been dead a long while now.

Beaner, Link, and Vig. 
It was only 1984 when the three of them died in a car accident. Did anyone remember them today? Will anyone light candles for them on the 15th of this month? Will their names be said on one of these memorial days dedicated to raising awareness about child death. They were seniors in high school, not babies, but they were each loved by their parents, I'm sure. Like most parents their's probably looked at these 18-ish year old young men and still saw their baby boys. Will they be remembered this month?

You see I was only in 9th grade, my first year of high school, when the boys died. But I had spent a year in school and at my friend's house where the boys hung out with her big brother, having one of those school girl crushes on Beaner. While certainly, he never took more notice of me than that pesky friend of the baby sister, it made no difference to my feelings. His laugh set me on fire. If he did happen to look my way, or OMG speak to me!, I would be beet red for about two days. Of course now, I know this for what it was. But at the time, given my life experience then, this was love.

Needless to say, when, in the wee hours of that next morning, I heard he was dead, it was simply not believable. I met up with my friend at the junior high bleachers looking over an empty and silent ball field. I remember being cold that morning. We sat and cried. We walked back to her house. We walked in the door to the kitchen at the back of the house like we sometimes did. And suddenly it hit me.

There was real meaning to the word: Without.

We would certainly have other meetings in that kitchen, we would cry, we would remember, we would laugh again, we would go on to lead lives none of us could even imagine back then. But every moment of it, any creation that came from that moment forward, would be without Beaner, Vig, and Mark. No matter what we did or didn't do, chose or didn't choose, didn't matter. The event, the change, had happened. And now we were all left with a life time of transition, trying to incorporate the concept of without, in the physical sense, while trying to make peace with the love that does not die ever.

There is a tree somewhere in that small town where their names are carved. Well, if it still exists. For all I know, someone has since bought the property and developed it so the tree isn't even there. And while I can look online and in my post box and see all these remembrances of my son, what about those three sons? Is anyone remembering them today?

Well, I am. For what it is worth, while I have breath left in me, I will remember them.

Where It Is Communal

Remembering is a core piece of living a full life in the face of loss. I say remembering as in memory, but also in the way of recalling members of a society. Also in the way that Dr. Lorraine Hedtke talks about in her Remembering Practices. I mean that just because these members of our communities die physically, that does not revoke their membership in said community. They become ancestors. They become re-member-ed as a different kind of member. (This is something I began exploring back in the early 2000s with the zine A Different Kind of Parenting to express how we parent both our living and our dead children.)

And so this time of year also has me considering all the ways we communally remember and re-member to practice living our lives in the face of grief. There are many invitations open around this time of year for people to connect and explore, some related directly to Infant & Child Death Awareness and others not. Some find openings to remember with Days of Dead events happening this month, too. Some are just keying off this Fall time period in the northern hemisphere where we seem to lean more into the "thinning veil" between life and death. For those having grief experiences, I encourage you to explore:

Many thanks to all of you who continue to reach out during this memorial month to me personally, as well as to those of you who continue to reach out by creating communal spaces like those above for many of us to come together and connect. I know living *WITHOUT* is a life long process and a fore-learning for me in facing my own mortality and nothing-ness. It is helpful though to face these things in kinship with all of us who are becoming aware on many levels, personal and communal, to know that, at least while still alive, I'm not alone.

Sending Reiki to all eyeballs who managed to make it all the way through this post...

[Original versions published in Radical Creativity October 2007; MOD blog 2003]

heARTmaking: a collaborative, community post

In offering calls for collaborative, community posts like the one shared here, it is always my hope that fellow seekers and creators will be sparked, inspired, and want to share their thoughts and artworks. For today's topic: heARTmaking, we are featuring three beautiful shares from:

Jen Davis
Casey Bee
Sue Hasker

As an introduction to this topic, my mind has been mulling around with various memories and ideas on heARTmaking that I (Kara) wanted to share with you as companion to our features. For me the word heARTmaking first came into play after the full term stillbirth of my son in the Spring of 1999. I had been an artist prior to his birth/death, but something changed after he physically left us. I was no longer living the life of an artist. I was living life in the face of grief as: heARTist.

Over the years, first in the early 2000s in the KotaPress Loss & Compassion Journal, I wrote about the various definitions and meaning-making processes that came for me around this term. In 2007 as part of the (now archived) Radical Creativity blog, I continued writing about how rituals in the face of grief were more than body art or visual art or movement art, but were more akin to heARTmaking. For me this continual meaning-making process was in parallel to the meaning-making happening as I tried to make sense of the deaths of three of our sons while continuing to find ways to choose to stay alive.

While it is true that much of my process involved art of some kind: visual, movement, body, writing, those particular mediums were not the end-all-be-all definitions of heARTmaking for me. The process was more about the creation of a life in the face of loss. The every single day choices we make to take the next breath and next step even as our hearts are breaking (hopefully open). While the definitions of heARTmaking included artmaking mediums because I happened to be an artist, the definitions also expanded to include the daily choices on things like:

  • Do I get out of bed today?
  • How do I get out bed today?
  • How can I tend my body today?
  • What do I need that I can provide for myself?
  • What do I need that requires the support and love of others?
  • How do I move through the world in meaningful ways today?
  • Will saying "yes" to this bring me more inline with my heart or more out of sync?

Some days the answers were things like:

  • Yes, you will get out of bed just because you have to pee.
  • You will get out of bed today without an alarm, waking at your own rhythm instead.
  • You can tend your body today by going extra slow in all things.
  • I can close the door, unplug, and create silent space for self for just 10 mins now.
  • I can send a text message to a loved one asking for help today.
  • I will do something today in memory of my dead sons, something beneficial to others, something that is beyond the capitalist structure of "making money."
  • I will say "no" if the request made of me will cause more pain.

Can you see how heARTmaking became a practice for me on every level? While artmaking was involved, for sure, simply because I am an artist, it was much more than just the making of art pieces. It was making a cup of tea. It was making a different pace. It was asking for help until I got what I needed. It was crawling into my blanket house to tend when needed. It was being out in public, speaking or showing work or asking questions to counter the modern western medical paradigm that equates grief with sickness or something that needs to be fixed or cured.

So with this collaborative, community call to exploring heARTmaking, this, too, is another bit of making space for we humans to keep seeking and meaning making. For us to create space for each other, to share, to be heard and seen. To acknowledge the on-going process of meaning making, creating new definitions, and continuing our practice (not perfect!).


Jen Davis

A post shared by Jennifer Davis (@jenpdavis) on


Casey Bee


Sue Hasker 

"...heART making comes from a deep place, it's more than free creativity or skilled art-making. It comes from the groanings and aha's of the soul that need to be expressed but may not have words or techniques to follow."


Thank you again, to each of you, Jen, Casey, and Sue for your community spirit and contributions to this collaborative post. 

If any of our readers are interested in our previous community explorations, you can see our collaborative post on the topic of Invitation here

And if you are interested in future calls for collaborations, you are welcome to a free subscription to our eZine where we offer exclusive grief + creativity materials throughout each month, including first calls for community topics.


Podcast: Social and relational changes in the face of grief (aka my interest in fellow humans is very different now!)

The topic covered in today's podcast is one from the series I called "Grief Truths" which were difficult truths to deal with in the face of grief. In this particular truth, I was wrestling with something like, "For them to like me, I have to like them, but I'm not really interested anymore." It was a space of realizing that grief was having an impact on my social and relational experiences, and in that realization, acknowledging that creative curiosity could be a very helpful tool. Ideas explored include:

  • Grief shifted lots of things after our son died, including our social experiences and connections that suddenly felt like alien territories.
  • Platitudes or anything close to them were not going to meet my needs in social and relational ways in the face of grief. Some people could go beyond platitudes with us. But some could not. Relationships changed. 
  • I share a few specific examples of how we began noticing social and relational needs were no longer being met for us, how social trusts were being broken, and how even faith can be shaken post-grief.
  • And then I share a few specific examples of how we can creatively explore what we want to save in various relationships, where we want to discover new relationships and social connections, and how we can begin purposely seeking social and relational spaces that more readily meet our post-grief needs.
  • Tending social and relational connections are both self care AND community care.
  • Not every relationship is going to meet every need. Be gentle with yourself and others as you explore what each relationship can be and can't be in your post-grief life.
  • The re-definition of social and relational aspects of life just do shift post-grief. That's okay.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 23, 2012]

10 Ways To Handle Life When Struck With Grief-Incommunicado

Do you ever have those grief experience days where you should just be incommunicado? I sure do. There should just be no speaking or writing allowed.

But the phone rings, the emails come, the meetings are set, the events are happening. And so I go forth and speak or write and oooooooooooooooooooooh, what a bad idea that is. The day usually ends with me having a slight implosion before planting myself in the tree swing if it's summer or in my blanket house if it isn't summer!

So in an effort to start getting creative in the face of those grief-incommunicado spells, I thought to try and come up with 10 things for how to practice handling life when this strikes! Here's what I've come up with so far:

  1. ... [oh damn. THIS is one of those days.]

What about you? Your best tip on handling grief-incommunicado spells?

Sending you Reiki and supportive vibes for whatever spell you find yourself in at the moment! From my radical grandma heart to your heart...

Podcast: Resiliency + Grief (aka I got out of bed because I had to pee)

In today's podcast, the focus is on resiliency during grief experiences. The biggest find in terms of resiliency, for me personally, came creatively. And the definition of creativity expanded beyond mere art-making, leading me to discover the heARTmaking of my still living, breathing body, even in the face of a grief I thought would break me.

Join me and explore:

  • You don't have to be an artist to engage with creativity in the face of grief experiences.
  • Even in the face of a grief I thought could kill me, the auto-functioning of my body (thirst, need to pee, etc) kept creating reasons for me to get out of bed. It was so surprising. 
  • Sometimes a lot of sleep was just required by my body, heart, and mind in the face of grief. And often the dreamscapes of that sleep time informed my creativity later.
  • The exhaustion of grief tested my doing-nature (wanting to DO something) and taught me to not discount even the smallest of movements. I learned to celebrate any choice, however small, because that was a reconnection to my sense of agency.
  • Doing tiny things, making small choices, all added to my practice of creativity, and this practice was a direct counter to guilt and shame that was popping up in my grief experience.
  • The grief experience just is a very human and messy experience, and creativity can give us permission to find our way.
  • I didn't stop being his mother after he died. I am still his mother. And grief was going to practice me and have it's way. But likewise, having a creative relationship to grief and this different kind of parenting, really allowed me to keep committing creative acts in the name of tending.
  • A lot of tending and healing can happen in a blanket house, too!
  • Why do you get out of bed the day after your kid has died? Why do you get out of bed the day after a major loss? Sometimes it is just that the blood in your own body keeps flowing. Allow that auto-functioning of your heart guide you creatively.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 25, 2012]

Collaborative Post: community thoughts on concept of invitation


When I (Kara) put out the call for community contributors to share their thoughts on the concept of "invitation," I didn't know what to expect in return. In this collaborative post today, I'm so thrilled to share with you all the pieces of writing and heART that came in response to the call. You'll see as you read through the various works that, for some, invitation came as part of grief experience. For others, grief experience reminded them of the original invitations. For still others, the invitation that came was not necessarily one that was wanted. We humans are so ... fabulous ... in our range of motions and emotion and meaning making!!

For me, the concept of invitation has become an important theme in my life and work because I find it takes a stand against white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy. So much of our modern western competitive, money-driven, racist construct of a world tells us that being worthy means being an expert to the exclusion of the layperson. Being successful means doing whatever is needed to "win" even if that means violence like "stepping over" the "weaker" of the "others." Individualism means never working together, being self-made. Being in business means you have to be "better" than "others" which means we are literally "othering" people and holding ourselves superior.

Wow. The constructs in which we find ourselves certainly were built to colonize our minds, and hearts, and bodies. Noticing them, naming them and trying to find alternative ways to engage is a tall order. Let alone the on-going-ness of doing it over and over and over again, because this isn't something that you become "perfect" at and "done." Rather this is a creative practice, moment by moment, staying aware, and making choices, to stay with what you value instead of what the constructs of our world deem to be "right" or "successful" or "the proper way."

Invitation has meant for me that I want to do my grief + creativity work and life with mindfulness. I don't want to mindlessly "sell sell sell" to "make it" or to force others to see me or buy my way into this or that. I aim to do this life and this work and keep invitation open open open so that anyone out there can see my own manifestations of creativity. So that they might then think, "Hey I can do that, too!" and then do it. So that they might then think, "Oh how could I collaborate together with her, coz that seems like a heARTfull thing I'd like to do."

I didn't like competing for grades in school or accolades in sports. I didn't like competing for spots and $s in higher education. I didn't like seeing what others could do that was denied me AND I didn't like seeing what I could do that was denied others. I didn't like competing for jobs and housing -- literally trying to find a place to rent that one can afford is a game of chance, a game of who gets there first. Housing. It's sick. It's sick that we as a society do not want to invite each other into having a basic like HOUSING??!!!!!!! We have literally become so okay with the neglect of homelessness that we don't even consciously see housing as the competitive capitalist abuse that it is.

My intention is to stand against things like this and any other manifestations of it. I'm not perfect. I fuck up a lot. There are areas in which I don't even realize my own mind is playing the games. But I am aiming to live a life and offer works that are opening, that invite me, you, anyone to be a part in whatever ways you are able or desire. Keeping this as a practice for life and work, I hope that it will reflect out and be reflected back for me, too. I love feeling invited. I don't want to "hustle" for gigs or do outlandish things to "get noticed." Rather I want to offer the heARTwork I offer, and when you feel invited, I hope you will return the experience with an invitation to me if/when such a time or experience comes up for that kind of exchange. Not required. Invited.

While this may not change the world (this wacky absurdidiculous world), I do know it is something I can do in every present moment with an aim that is very, very different than what white supremacist, imperialist, colonial, capitalist, patriarchy offers. I hope. I hope you feel some sense of:


when you visit here or interact with any of my works. Please know you are most welcome. From my radical grandma heart to yours!

And now, here are our collaborators for this topic:

Our collaborators

Yvonne Lucia on "My Life, Interrupted"

Excerpt: "When asked what the secret to her long life and happiness was, a wise elder woman is reported to have said, “I have always tried to cherish my interruptions.” (in SoulCollage© by Seena B, Frost, p. 100) This challenging advice has been percolating in my mind and heart all week. What does it mean to “cherish” one’s interruptions, and just how does one go about doing that?

How do parents cherish the interruption of giving birth to a child with a genetic abnormality that will consign them to a lifetime of daunting responsibility?   How does anyone cherish the interruption of the death of a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a beloved companion animal? How does a committed partner cherish the devastating news that they have been cheated on? How would any of us cherish the interruption of a cancer diagnosis?"

Click here to read Yvonne's full post on her blog.


Deb Pierce McCabe on "Invitation, Inclusion, and Sugar Pills"

Excerpt: "When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that was all about inclusion and trust.  The group was unique in its cohesiveness and depth, so that even after 40 years many of us who were part of that group remember how significant it felt for us to learn to listen to each other, and how frustrating and lonely it felt, later on, in the “real” world without a core group of people we could rely on and trust.

"...In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group..."

Click here to read Deb's guest post.


Swaneagle on "Attending a Lovely Memorial Yesterday Was An Invitation to Grieve"

Excerpt: "...the spirit of Nina's diverse concerns with justice as well her musical inspirations were captured uniquely and very powerfully. It was all concluded in the Memorial Garden where we talked with each other before many ended up eating and socializing celebrating Nina's life at the home she shared with her husband Bob for so many decades.

"...Oh i am so grateful i was able to spend time with her. She was genuinely deeply devoted to human rights. The stories she told me were profoundly inspiring...I could talk to her about anything to do with human rights. It was a very precious relationship for me and i shed tears as i write because it has been such a lonely path to care as intensely as i do for those, especially women and children, who suffer the most under policies of ecocide, feminicide and genocide."

Click here to read Swaneagle's guest post.


Sherene Zolno on "Invitation to mentor (and be mentored)"

Excerpt: "Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

"My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting."

Click here to read Sherene's guest post.


Thanks for being with us today exploring the topic of invitation. All our guest contributors came to us through a call we put out via our Grief + Creativity Sparks eZine. We will do more of these collaborative community posts on other topics in the future. In fact, when the zine went out to share this post, we included another call for a future collaboration on the topic of heARTmaking. If you are already subscribed to that zine, you'll find it in your inbox. If you aren't a subscriber, don't miss the next one. Click here to subscribe.

Stillness and motion in grief experiences...

What metaphors out in the natural world do you find speak to your grief experiences?

Coming out of the grocery one day, this bird just seemed to sit still on the wire, on display for me. He stayed put while I stared, while the thought came to take a photo, while I dug out my phone and opened my camera app, while I focused and all the way through snapping several shots. And in equal quiet and grace, he leapt and opened his wings flying off. He made me acutely aware that in my own grief experience, I often have trouble being still and an equal amount of difficulty transitioning to movement. Even transitioning in and out of meditation each day, I'm clumsy and often uncomfortable and question why I keep practicing.

So I pondered for a bit standing in the parking lot. And as I tuned in, I saw other birds. Ones making a mess splashing water all about as they bathed in a puddle left over from the previous day's rain. A couple squawking at each other. Others flying, landing, and flying again. A little one rather awkwardly getting the hang of this "being out of the nest" thing. Made me ponder how awkwardly we humans can also be as we move into or away from our grief experiences. Sometimes the broken heart seems too jagged to touch, and yet other times we lean into the broken open spaces and nestle there. It's a process, not a product...a practice, not a perfect. Even when the moments of grace appear as perfections, it is helpful to be reminded that no one and nothing is perfection, end all be all, perfection. We all stumble and squawk and splash around.

In the end, I came home and starting with the image of the bird as one layer, I played around with digital collage until I ended up with the piece you see here. In my mind, I held the thought of the natural world as a metaphor for our grief experiences. The splashes, the colors, the black that streaks across everything sometimes, the counting of things (number of days since you died and the like), the attempts to re-order our lives (the backwards library card there). And, well, what you see in the image here is what surfaced.

Got any stories to share about how the natural world has provided metaphors for you in your grief experiences? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here <3

From my radical grandmas heart to your heart,

10 Ideas for tending when grief is breaking your heart(open)...

[Featured image: Summer daisy in full bloom with black and white distressed border on photo. Words surrounding: "Whatever is unfolding, even if it is the most difficult stuff, find some spot of ease each day where you can rest your body, mind, and heart."]

When grief experiences come along and seem to break our hearts (hopefully break them open, not just break them), it can be exhausting in all ways: body, mind, and emotion. Even being able to read or concentrate can be trying, so this is a quicky 10 ideas for tending when things are most difficult:

  1. As soon as you notice the difficulty is pressing on you, stop. Breathe deeply, allowing the breath to go all the way down to your toes and hold it for just a second. Then release and let your physical body relax a little with the exhale. Do this a few times if need be.
  2. Can you get to a spot with access to clean water? If so, take a few moments to go there, rinse your hands, face, neck. Let the coolness or warmth of the water bring you fully into the moment, the body.
  3. Can you find a place to comfortably sit for a few minutes? Maybe sit nearer the edge of the surface and flex and stretch your feet, pointing toes out, pointing toes up. Allow the stretch in your feet and calves be a reminder to tend your being.
  4. How much water have you had to drink today? Can you get access to clean water now to drink a cup or fill a water bottle to keep you hydrated for the next little while?
  5. Is this current difficulty leaving you feeling isolated or lonely? Is there one friend or love you can text - you don't even have to use your voice if that's too hard - just text to say, "Hi there, can we text for a bit to check in?"
  6. If you can't think of anyone you'd like to be in touch with, how about trying out the text crisis line (US service only at this time) to chat with one of their volunteers. You don't have to be having suicidal thoughts to text, but rather just if you are having a moment in which you need some support, they can help. Here are details on how it works.
  7. Can you find a few minutes to have complete quiet and stillness? You can set timer if need be so it doesn't feel endless or something. But just for 3 minutes or 5 minutes, can you close a door, turn off phone, find as much quiet as possible, just for a few? Sometimes the space of quiet can reset our head!
  8. Or on the other end of the spectrum, can you take a few moments to listen, uninterrupted, and really savor your favorite tune? Maybe in a room with door closed, alone space? Or if not, then with earbuds in so you are kind of "away" from all the external stuff. Sometimes love of music can reset our head!
  9. Can you use and do you have access to a piece of paper and crayon or color pencils or markers? Can you spend a few minutes just scribbling out whatever is hurting most right now? No "artmaking" type space, just scribble scribble to get the energy out of your heart and head, through your arm and fingers, and smooshed out on the page? After all is smooshed out, maybe take a few minutes in empty spaces of the scribble to write a few words that are in your head around this energy?
  10. Do you have a favorite soft blanket or shirt or scarf? Something where the texture makes you feel safe or warm or cool or tended in some way? Can you get that now and wrap it around or wear it for a bit now? Allow yourself to feel enveloped.

By no means is this a comprehensive list. But I hope it encourages you to notice when things are hurting or difficult, and then check in with yourself to see how you can tend, either individually or in connection with others. And if you have other ideas to add to this list, please know you are invited to share them in the comments here <3

From my radical grandma heart to your heart!

After grief comes, life goes relentlessly on...

After a significant grief experience in my life, a friend said to me, "Isn't it unnerving how life goes relentlessly on?"

It's true. Relentlessly. I'm so not cut out for relentless. 14 years. 2 years. 12 weeks. Whatever the time since the date of the death or loss, we wake up each day and the relentlessness starts.

People ask why I couch my work as grief *and* creativity. Because it takes A LOT of creativity to find reasons to get out of bed, to put your feet down on the relentless ground, every single day after grief comes.

It takes A LOT of creativity to honor self care and community care, especially in the face of white supremacist, individualistic, capitalistic, patriarchal culture.

It takes A LOT of creativity to be a helper in this world, honoring the sacred trust that extends out from us toward others AND also allowing others to extend back toward us in return. We may find we are not very practiced at accepting what others offer us. We may find we are in a culture that says you are supposed to be "professionally detached," so even just acknowledging that there is a two way relationship happening when in the role of helper can be taboo.

And when grief experiences knock us out of our routines, even our best efforts at re-entry to life can be complicated by the relentlessness that goes on. By realizing our previous work or priorities are completely different now. By a chronic illness that crops up. By the shock of realizing those you thought would stick by you don't, and by the gratitude you feel for complete strangers who show up in significant ways.

Creativity is needed because even as we are re-entering the relentless world, there are still gems to be found in the spaces grief originally took us. Remember how tended you felt when you allowed yourself some time in your blanket house! Remember how tended you felt when a friend stopped by and you allowed them to see your messy kitchen in which they ended up doing dishes for you! Remember how tended you and your community were when leaders stepped back and asked, "What do you need right now?" instead of being dictators determining for you what was needed!

Re-entering the relentless world might seem to put you in a position where competition, money making, and over-functioning are valued, while the gems of  listening to your body, collaboration, and community building are devalued. But screw that! We have permission to notice how relentlessness does not work for us. Don't ignore all you know now.

Having re-entered the world, are you again noticing things aren't quite right? Feeling exhausted? Can't sleep enough? Not much seem pleasurable? Body pain? Irritable at the smallest things? All big red flags calling for tending. How do we counter individualism, wealth worship, and "working through the pain" when we find ourselves surrounded by this relentlessness of "fake it till you make it" bs again?

While I don't have all the answers, I know that grief's different beat taught me it is valuable to give the sad, exhausted, hard spaces my listening ears. I need to hear them because they point me back toward relationships that nurture, toward paradigms of cooperation and collaboration, back toward the fact that relentlessness does not allow us to bring our whole selves to the table.

Individually this may look simply like reaching out to a friend via text to say, "Help. I need an ear." Or it may look collectively like calling "3 days bereavement leave" the bullshit that it is (remember that contract workers don't even get 3 days!), and demanding structural change that actually supports people when they are grieving.

I know it is unnerving that life goes relentlessly on after grief comes. AND I know that your heart is full of creativity that can be tapped to help buoy you through. And you aren't in this alone. Our connections matter. Whatever your situation looks like, just know that I SEE YOU.

[Alternative version published at Radical Creativity Wednesday, October 10, 2012]

Attending a Lovely Memorial Yesterday Was An Invitation to Grieve by Swaneagle

Today i attended the memorial for my dear friend Nina Murano who died April 30th of COPD and other chronic conditions at age 82. This moving event was held at Church of the Holy Spirit across from the Community Care Center, where my friend Joy Goldstein lives on Vashon. Both she and Nina were the mainstay of our Vashon Women In Black Group until Nina became ill about 4 years ago. We started our vigil in August of 2010. Joy and i had vigiled the day before.

This memorial was so beautifully and heartfully done that i was moved to tears for the first half having to use my scarf to mop them up. I had never been in the church itself but had been in the basement where i did childcare one Easter Sunday about 6 years ago. I also have eaten the delicious vegan vegetarian Wednesday night dinners there several times over the years. The church has such a large window behind the altar, it appeared that the trees were inside with us. Along one side are more windows, so during the memorial the light changed along with the movement of clouds, periodic full sun and rain augmenting the atmosphere inside. From the Prelude thru the opening song Gracias a La Vida beautifully rendered by Erin to the Yeats poem read by Nina's granddaughter, to the Psalm read by Nina's oldest daughter Deirdre, the Homily by the Rev. Joseph, prayers, then sharing by Nina's youngest Ann-Marie, the Holly Near song sung by Mary, concluded by the Northwest Viols strings and postlude on the organ, the spirit of Nina's diverse concerns with justice as well her musical inspirations were captured uniquely and very powerfully. It was all concluded in the Memorial Garden where we talked with each other before many ended up eating and socializing celebrating Nina's life at the home she shared with her husband Bob for so many decades.

I heard about Nina years before i first met her. I worked gardening and house cleaning for a dear Irish woman named Terese O'Halloran. She would tell me about her trip to El Salvador with Nina Murano in the '80's. So of course, i knew i needed to meet Nina. When i finally did, i really was so inspired that i did what i could to connect with her. Oh i am so grateful i was able to spend time with her. She was genuinely deeply devoted to human rights. The stories she told me were profoundly inspiring. She confronted prison guards who were abusing human rights activists in a Haitian prison. She confronted the notorious Kaibiles US Special Forces trained death squads in Guatemala who were threatening human rights workers while on boats in a river. She used her inheritance to go on so many human rights delegations in Mexico, Central and South America that i do not even know the sum of them. I could talk to her about anything to do with human rights. It was a very precious relationship for me and i shed tears as i write because it has been such a lonely path to care as intensely as i do for those, especially women and children, who suffer the most under policies of ecocide, feminicide and genocide.

Nina invited me to go with her to an art exhibit of the work of Selma Waldman after Waldman's death at the Gage School of Figure Drawing on Capital Hill. It was a stunning exhibit portraying the suffering of solitary figures who were in concentrations camps, Abu Grahib prison and other situations of hideous abuse. A slide show of her work was shown by her family illustrating how she would post articles that caught her eye on her walls and create art surrounded by the news of human atrocity. She had visited Auschwitz in Germany before drawing her works. She had also been part of Women In Black vigils in Seattle.

One day Nina invited me to go with her to a gun control rally at Seattle Center. She was part of the Raging Grannies and they performed as part of the event. NRA members were there in all their well armed glory. Anytime a speaker began their presentation, NRA people would start talking so loudly that no one could hear those on stage. When Nina joined me after singing with the Grannies, i told her the NRA had been behaving rudely. She immediately walked into their midst and soundly scolded them for such. It worked. Nina in all her wondrous grandma glory!

We went to eat Ethiopian food after that and then she took us a community center on 15th Ave. near Yesler where we listened to Iyad Burnat show raw footage of the nonviolent resistance he and his comunity in Bil'in have carried out for 14 years now. It was striking and powerful seeing how the people so courageously stood against the Israeli Occupation Forces and the illegal settlements as well as the apartheid wall that separates Palestinians from their customary lands, olive trees and farms. Several Zionists began heckling Iyad causing a severe interruption in his presentation. To top that off was another heckler giving Iyad a hard time about being committed to nonviolence while the Zionists claimed he was violent. It got so out of hand that several of us simply spontaneously formed a human block between the Zionists and Iyad. They finally left.

We listened to Iyad for a short time longer, then Nina needed to get home. I placed an envelope of some of my art and writing on the table where Iyad was standing. He looked at me with a questioning expression. Then we left. Little did i know because of this event i would become friends with Iyad and organize a speaking tour for him in Seattle and on Vashon during the week of Thanksgiving of 2016.

Later as we headed to the ferry, she told me i was brave to participate in blocking the Zionists. Well, i told her how brave she was to take on the NRA earlier that day. Such a precious memory.

Over the next few years, i had the pleasure of working among Nina's flowers and herbs. When i would finish for the day, we spent hours talking. The scope of her awareness was so broad, i always learned so much from these precious times we had. She gave me bags of wonderful books to read that heightened my literary pursuits. She also would share some of the political publications she subscribed to. Her knowledge was vast. I am a better person for having known this deeply courageous, outspoken, loving, humorous and gutsy woman. Nina you will always live in my heart.

Invitation, Inclusion, and Sugar Pills by Deb Pierce McCabe

When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that was all about inclusion and trust.  The group was unique in its cohesiveness and depth, so that even after 40 years many of us who were part of that group remember how significant it felt for us to learn to listen to each other, and how frustrating and lonely it felt, later on, in the “real” world without a core group of people we could rely on and trust.

Invitation was vital to how this group worked. When a new person was invited to the group, the rest of us formed a tight standing circle with our arms linked, facing inward, and the new person had to “break into” the circle.  Sometimes they fought their way in, sometimes they tickled their way in, sometimes they tricked their way in, and sometimes they asked their way in.  Everyone eventually got in, though.  The important part was what happened next:  the new person was welcomed, and two people would sit with them and make sure they were included and made to feel part of the circle.  This was a sensitivity game, and the group was modeled as an encounter group, but we took our role as caretakers of the whole community very seriously.  It was a sweet time.  We formed deep and lasting friendships, and this gave me a foundation for my faith and a deep sense of responsibility to and for others.

In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group.  It was meant reverently, because her dad used to use this phrase to help dispel some of the angst that was going on around him in his final years.  He was dying, but he didn’t want a fuss made over him.  With due respect to him, and to Richard Carlson who wrote the “Small Stuff” books, however, HELL NO, this concept was not something we learned in our open circle group!

While I appreciate the ability to reflect on whether something that is bothering me is an annoyance versus an emergency, the suggestion that “it’s ALL small stuff” is patronizing, to say the least.

The platitudes, “it’s all small stuff”, and its first cousin: “everyone is doing the best that they can” are obnoxious sugar pills.  They divide people from the unpleasant realities of pain.  The first one minimizes people’s perception of pain, and the second one minimizes the pain that others inflict, often quite deliberately. If we were all doing the best that we can, we would experience heaven on earth, instead of violence driven by power and greed.  When someone says “it’s all small stuff”, it is used as a silencer.  It is intended to shut people up, because we don’t want to deal with their genuine pain or their legitimate grievances. The phrase “it’s all small stuff” literally minimizes people’s struggles and their pain.  It doesn’t reduce it, it mocks it. Minimizing is a control strategy used by abusers to make people and their pain appear insignificant, and therefore dismissible.  That is not love.  That is contempt.

Love invites us to be real.  It calls us by name. We embody and express love in action when we take each other seriously.  We express love in action when we invite and welcome the stranger, along with our friends, when we sit quietly with them, listening, fully present with integrity.  The grace of invitation is that it is rooted in humility and joy.

Click here to email Deb or see her website for more of her work.

Invitation to mentor (and be mentored) by Sherene Zolno

One thing I try to emphasize in my training of coaches is that you cannot coach into “no request.” For me, this has meant that there’s some understanding on the part of the other person that they need help or perspective. They may not have clarity on their predicament, not a fully formed sense of choice, mind you, but they have at least a spark of,  “Hmmm, this just isn’t working; perhaps I’ll ask for help.”

Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting.

That summer I went to work at the shop of my parents’ friends. They had a refrigerator repair business and I answered the phones, took orders, and sent out their guys on jobs. Generally alone, I listened to the top ten on the radio and called in to try for a prize when I knew the answer to one of the DJ's questions.

I felt lonely and overlooked. Sad and uninspired. I was smart, in the top 10% of my class, but there was nothing special about that from what I could tell.

But for one thing.

My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Cohen, was taking summer classes at the Albany State Teachers College, not far from where I was working. She offered to drive out to the country where we lived, 3 miles out of town from Troy, New York, pick me up and then drop me off at my job on her way to the school.

It was a most unusual relationship, this teen and her teacher.

During those long rides, we talked about reading and books, learning from literature, and I also remember reading a few challenging books, including her recommendation, the difficult and lengthy Anna Karenina. We discussed it, and I understood . . . well, some of it.

We also talked about our lives, and what possibilities the future could hold. I shared with her some of what I was feeling – the grief of a 14 year old who felt on the margins of life. Mrs. Cohen listened, without apparent need to fix me or my world.

So what was the invitation Mrs. Cohen felt that led to her driving miles out of her way to take me to work and to her sharing her life with me that summer – to being my special mentor and coach?

We never talked about it. But I believe that I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate my grief and need, nor could I have formed then a request for her help.

Now, so many years later, I can only guess at her motives. But I recognize how an invitation was given and received, and it was a blessing, even if unspoken by this teenage kid and her English teacher.

Podcast: When Small Talk Is No Small Matter

This podcast is exploring how even the most tiny of things can get shaken and require us to make new meaning in the aftermath of grief. Small talk becomes no small matter for some us having grief experiences, and so in this episode, we are exploring:

  • Things, our faith, our work, even small talk, change after grief comes.
  • So how do we re-imagine our social being?
  • Small talk can feel like it is bombarding us, and we have less tolerance for it and other social experience.
  • How do we get curious about this rather than judgmental about it?
  • Addressing these realization can help us release shame also.
  • What questions do we ask of ourselves to re-create our meanings and connections?
  • How do we tend and take time to be our own best advocate AND reconnect with others?
  • What does a different kind of small talk sound like - an example.
  • These redefinitions are important because they get to the heart of the matter and this is where we have agency.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 24, 2012]

Abby's Bad Advice: bereavement in a grief denying culture

Forget Abby...
Bereavement may feel like an extraordinary process, but it is such an ordinary and every single day happening. We’re all human. We all die. Every day people die. Naturally or not. And people are left grieving those who died. Every day. People are left not only trying to integrate this new reality without the person they loved, but also facing mortality issues, seeing up close and personal how death comes for us all, facing issues of their own mortality. This is happening every. single. day. on our planet.

And yet people having grief experiences, more likely than not, are treated as if they suddenly have a disease that needs to be cured, fixed, gotten over or that requires “closure.*” Given that the bulk of our world is a grief denying society**, it actually may be the case that people end up feeling dis-eased (not diseased, but dis-eased). Many people I've worked with over the years are in fact not at ease at all and not being helped to feel at ease either! The more uneasy we feel, the more isolated we may tend to become. The more isolated we become, the more complicated the grief experience becomes. The more complicated the experience, the more ill at ease we get. Vicious cycle.

I'm not sure how we think people can do self-care (individualistic values), when as a community (the context within which we all live, like it or not) we can’t even figure out how to deal with the most ordinary of happenings!? When we can’t face the ultimate reality for all of us? When we have no community value on care in this area?! Death will happen to all of us. It is a fact. And avoiding that fact isn’t helping anyone. So why do we continue this pattern? And how can we change it?

Why it continues
There is an idea you may hear around the issues of addiction or domestic violence that says to truly heal, to be whole again, we must break the cycle. Until we can break the cycle of our grief denying culture (societal value), we simply repeat the pattern of ostracizing each other and ourselves (individual level) because we play into the denying, we fear challenging the dominant paradigm, the prevailing beliefs of the world around us.

Thus, though it seems so incredibly unfair, those having the grief experiences themselves, at the very moment they should be getting the most care, instead must muster up and advocate for change. Those having grief experiences themselves must break the pattern. No, it isn’t fair. No, it isn’t easy. But I have come to figure it this way: Hell, I'm ill at ease already anyway, so why not just go with it, lean into the dis-ease, and push for breaking the habits of our cultural denial!? Onward!!

How can we change it
One of the most important things we can do is to give voice to our grief. Refuse to be silent. Speak up, speak often, continue to speak about your grief experience over time. This might be verbal, but it also could be written or communicated through art of various mediums. Just giving expression in whatever ways possible, *that* is key.

One of the most important models we can provide is to visibly show the evolution of our story. When we first speak up about our grief, we may find our story to be very fact-oriented. We share the minute details like time and date of death, where it happened, how we found out, and other very factual information. But over time, our stories evolve to be less about facts and more about meaning making. We begin to talk about what the death of this person means to us, how our life has been impacted by death, what this death has meant to us in facing our own mortality.

This evolution of the story is crucial as it indicates that there isn't simple closure beyond the facts, but rather an on-going life -- YOUR life -- being LIVED as you express love and what is important to you. As we model this evolution for the people around us, I like to think they are then also given permission to share their stories, to experience evolution for themselves. We all begin to grow and change together in a network of common experiences instead of being isolated in fear and violence. We move to a place where self-care is community care AND community care IS self-care.

By giving expression to our stories, we are also able to more visibly see how ordinarily often death affects us human beings. As we come to terms with one death, we may encounter another death. Our experience must now evolve to incorporate multiple loss. This isn’t a sickness. This is a normal, ordinary part of being human. It is a skill that should be taught, but it doesn’t fit well into scholastic educational curriculums, so we end up learning it on death’s timetable or at the insistence of loss, encountering the lessons whenever grief happens.

It can be a radical thing to refuse to play the grief denying cultural game whenever it crops up. It's been a few years now, but there was a letter sent in and answered by good, old Dear Abby in which the writers asked Abby for advice about how to handle communications with a stillbirth mom in their office place. I was shocked at the time by what seemed and uninformed and uneducated answer given by Abby, and we did a full article about it in the Loss Journal at KotaPress back then.

Today, I’d like to address just a couple of the points that came up from this national exchange in Dear Abby’s playground. One of the things the co-workers had a problem with was the fact that the stillbirth mom had a photo of her child on her desk. Another thing they had a problem with was communicating with the mom because they said she was “mean and gossipy." Of course Abby told them they were right, that the photos were “inappropriate,” and that the boss should deal with this “delicate” situation.

Have you ever read a more grief denying exchange?! So here is a woman in extreme grief, hurting, feeling alone, trying to integrate all that has happened in her life. And she is calling out to communicate, to express her story, have it be visible. It's just *possible* that if she were given space for that expression, maybe over time, she and her co-workers would have benefitted from both self- and community-care.

But instead, the woman’s photo of her child is abhorred and stigmatized as "making people uncomfortable” because they have to face the reality of death and dying when they’d rather participate in denial, keep their heads down, and work work work. Capitalist productivity over humanity. A-huh.

And, you know, if you were ignored and abhorred – if your children were abhorred like this – do you think you would be mean, angry, difficult to work with, have vindictive feelings towards all around you? I know I sure would – and it would take me a long time to do the self-tending work necessary to work through all the layers of that grief denying crap that was laid upon me!

Abby and the co-workers missed a chance to participate in the solution and instead continued the cycle of abuse and isolation. There are several things that would hold a much more productive truth for all involved, if only Abby or the co-workers would have taken the time to educate themselves – or if the mom (albeit already burdened with her process) had had a model by which advocacy and expression would take precedent over isolation and "closure."

First, office policy would dictate the display of photos, period. If the other co-workers are allowed to have photos of their children displayed, then guess what? The bereaved mom would be allowed to have her photos, too. If she is singled out and prevented from showing her photos, it is at best censorship, and at worst it is discrimination.

If the other workers have a problem seeing the photo – and if the mom is having trouble adjusting being back at work – well those are indeed the boss’ problems. But it is not the boss’ job to simply address this “delicate” issue by shutting it all down. Instead, this boss plays a role in acknowledging this is a real, every day, human, ordinary issue, and everyone on his/her staff needs extra support and education in the areas of death, dying, and bereavement. They all need sensitivity training. A review of their bereavement leave and insurance coverage for mental health support for grief experiences needs to be done. And it sure sounds like they all need to build teamwork skills.

Sadly, in our grief denying culture, Abby doesn’t suggest any of this, the boss probably won’t do anything but censor the photo, maybe fire the mother, and the mother may be on her own to find support for figuring out how to translate grief, isolation, maybe anger into advocacy.

It is my hope that this article can be a prompt that opens discussion, an opportunity to shift our perspectives, a call to action for all of us to learn and begin advocating for change. I wish it could start with multi-media, pop culture, icons like Dear Abby and with bosses in every workplace across the world. But unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen. They will not be “saviors” or even leaders in this realm. And so, though I know grief experiences are the very moments we all need the most help ever, I call on us all, after getting whatever support we need first, to also seek education and active mentors who can then help you step into the role of advocate. We need you. None of us in this world will get out alive, so really, we need you.

Miracles to you,

                    * If you are interested in more on why I put the word "closure" in parenthesis, you 
                    might check out Nancy Berns book "Closure: the rush to end grief and what it 
                    actually costs us."

                    ** “Grief Denying Society” was a phrase I first heard in a presentation by 
                    Molly Greist, Stone Sculptor, Bainbridge Island, WA.

[Original version published in KOTA: Knowing Ourselves Thru Art, August 22, 2007]