Sunday, July 14, 2019

first, do no harm

Let's be real.

We are all the walking wounded.

My world revolves around death: before-death, death-death, after-death.

Conversation topics surrounding all of these developmental stages of death seem to trend.

A couple of common issues that have been surfacing, and giving me pause, are judging how people treat us within the grieving process and self-judgment about how we are perceived in the grieving process. 

We hear the list of insulting behaviors that are witnessed; what this person said or didn't say, the tone of their voice, the use of the double etrende, comparing griefs (ie my plant died in response to your dog dying), or . . . disappearing.

Usually these accounts are from a perspective of the reporter feeling victimized. 

How could anyone be so thoughtless.

And admittedly a couple of times I had a knee-jerk–– what a callous so and so–– response. 

Almost as quickly as my knee near-missed my chin, the thought came to me–– it's as if we think no one else has experienced great loss and that the commenters are flying by the seat of their pants, when in actuality, the vast majority of the walking ARE the wounded.


Perspective changer.

How often do we see how someone else's trauma brings our own back up? 

Yep, you've got it. A trigger.

Consider that some of the people that are making the most awkward comments may be the ones who are struggling the most with their own losses.

Aw, yeah, but I know them, they didn't have it so bad. 

One rule of grief?

I don't get to decide how difficult someone else's experience was; we all hold our own personal grief/stress-richter scales. 

I adore Deepak Chopra's book, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success that I have used as my own personal how-to manual since the 90's when a walking partner and fellow mom of young children told me about it.

In the very first law, The Law of Pure Potentiality, Chopra stresses the need to practice non-judgment.

Within that space of non-judgment we make the promise to attempt to catch ourselves when we are being judgmental about others and ourselves. Even positive judgments are judgments and those will certainly arise when the person does the "just right thing" in response to our grief.

How about we try to retrain our knee-jerk impulse to negatively judge how someone reacts to our trauma and resort to what we know for sure: we have no idea what this trauma is bringing up for them so maybe they are just doing the best they can.

And since we are about increasing conversations surrounding death, why not take the next step and give them feedback, in the moment, about how they have responded: thanks for your input, but it really doesn't resonate for me; I'd love for your to explain what you mean by that statement; thanks for trying . . . 

During a time of anguish, we do not need more pain and angst. 

I prefer to try to see us all as the walking wounded and hope that my major trauma balances out your major trauma, on the calendar, so that I may be emotionally available to you. 

But if I fail? 

Please know that I care deeply and I feel deeply and those two things may have collided in a way that leave me less than eloquent in my feedback and condolences, but it does not diminish my wish that you pass through your grief as gently as possible. 

And while you are at it? 

Give yourself a pass and refrain from over-analyzing your emotional responses and reactions.

Practice the premise: first, do no harm. 

And the person to check in with first and make sure you are not harming? 


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Workshop Opportunity: A Good Death

The other day I was speaking with someone about life-partners, specifically, when the commitment "til death do us part" is made.

Within our culture we are all about talking about our lives and our living.

Ad nauseam.

Where will we live? Number of children? Children at all?  Garden or no? Listen to what I did today . . .

But interestingly, even when we assume we will be with someone until the end of our lives, we fail to have one of the most important conversations: what would you like for your death?

Yes, it's a given that we probably will not have control over how that death happens and it could happen out of the blue tomorrow– which is all more the reason to start having these conversations now.

Repeatedly, I hear how families have been comforted when instructions have been left and they know, unequivocally, that they are following their loved one's wishes. 

It's as if the person is involved in the aftermath, gently whispering support and directives in their ear, leaving the survivors to not have to second-guessing or doubt decisions.

Life partners are one thing but any significant people in our lives need the opportunity to make their wishes known.

You deserve to make your wishes known.

Maybe you don't know how to start.

Come along to this day where you will be gently held as we explore ways to walk this tender terrain. You will be gifted an invaluable tool created by one of the facilitators, Jane Cunningham that will assist in facilitating conversations .

You can find out more about the other facilitators at their websites:

Jo Samuel: A Graceful Undertaking
Jane Cunningham: Numinous Jane
Me, Becky Aud-Jennison of The Death Dialogues Project (hey, check out our podcast if you haven't HERE

Link to tickets is HERE.

We hope to see you there! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Looking back at An Evening of Stories 1.0

the storytellers: Iris Nelissen, Deb Williams, Tonya Russell, Becky Aud-Jennison (myself), Kate Broughton, Joanna Davison
on the set earlier in the day

Stage set and testing the zone with Tonya

Deb & Iris chatting with our lovely caterer in the background

the afterglow

the alter for our loves-- the production began with Sanctuary by Eliza Gilkyson playing while we each walked in with a tealight and put it in the seat by by the alter to represent and call in our loves

the calm before the storm

Maybe it's taken this long to share about the April production: an evening of stories 1.0 because we are still coming down from the experience.

Maybe it's because there aren't really words to describe the magic in the theatre that evening.

Maybe it's because if we talk about it we acknowledge that it's finished.

I wasn't really sure what we were getting into as I planned this production but after the cast was assembled and the ladies shared but a glimpse into their stories, their stories formed an unbreakable bond. The cast wanted to meet more frequently than I had planned and so we did.

We had Iris whose husband and then father had died years ago and had never really shared her story and felt the need to bring it out in the world after attending our debut event.

There's Tonya, whose sweet Isla's crib death was over 30 years ago followed by Isla's daddy's death two years later–– and all these many years have passed with those around her rarely acknowledging a baby ever lived. Or died.

There was Kate, a dear friend of mine, whose story of heart connection with her dear friend Kirsty at the end of her life, and her death, had moved me so that I knew the audience would also be moved by her beautiful storytelling.

Joanna's loss was more recent when her dear Paulie died on a gorgeous bike ride they were on. Out of nowhere. A photo of him smiling minutes before and then, he's off, hitching a ride on a shooting star. Listening to the anguish and then laughter as we hear how she was converted from card carrying atheist to believer of afterlife, sharing her uncanny tales of connection brought our hearts full circle.

And Deb, who I bonded with when we both were set to do a PechaKucha talk. She would be speaking of her daughter's death by suicide and my cousin had just recently died by suicide. We have become soul-sisters and I quietly mark time of how old her dear Cloud would be by the age of my daughter. We journey together in the realm of death, dying and the aftermath. Her words are always heartfelt, descriptive and bring you something big you did not hold before.

I was blown away from the first rehearsal meeting at how well formed these stories were from their first draft. They all wanted help in the formation and they needed little of it. Their hearts and their loves spoke through them in a way that was quite magical.

And then the stage, with their loved ones image taking up the wall behind them, they spoke their truth to an audience who were giving their hearts to the process and something beautiful was born that you don't frequently see on the stage.

A local and NZ and beyond acting/directing/teaching theatre icon was in the audience and hopped up after the applause died down and thanked us for this production in a very beautiful way. (at the time I did not know who he was, but we connected later and have since been in contact)  He was very touched to see that it wasn't actors playing out these stories and the emotion and experience was something he'd not witnessed before on stage.

One of the reasons that miracle of a recipe could happen was that not only was I serving as producer and director but my life career had been as a therapist–– holding very difficult stories. I had no fear of walking into this territory in the realm of theatre and then bringing it on stage because I'd held many a tragic story and storyteller in the past and if we needed to pause to process or work through any issues that surfaced  we could do so.

And in fact, within our group process, that is exactly what happened. Our entire process became somewhat of a therapeutic event, from the first meeting to the birth of the beautiful production with each storytellers experience around their loss and their lives was gracefully and supportively wrapped around anyone who needed it.   My mantra–– ya'll see how this is group therapy right?

Magic happens when we walk up to the things that are too hard, The Real, and befriend it and make a story of it. And if we're lucky enough to form a supportive heart-linked clan in the process– then a miracle has occurred.

Comments about the evening can be found HERE.

Stay with us . . . we might just bring this production around again.

(between each story we played a song relevant to the story that its teller had picked out which was said to be very moving. pre- and post-show songs were also carefully chosen. the below song, which my brother had turned me onto years before he died and relevant to a verbatim production he came to see me in, Laramie Project, we walked out one by one to this song placing a candle in the empty chair and set the stage" 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

F*CK it

Yep, that's been my mantra since navigating death and loss.

F*CK it!

I'm glad I found it.

Tired of over-analysing my responses to people, what I was putting into the world about loss and grief or how I responded to others, it came to me: F*CK it.

Prior to loss and the immense amount of space my memories and love was taking in my brain, I would have taken those second-guessing obsessions seriously.

After multiple deep losses in a short period of time my brain changed.

No shits could be given about what people thought about me.

Dancing with death had created an alternative secret passageway to what really matters.

Maybe you are getting there too.

Signs you've reached the land of F*CK it:

The realisation of how little really matters in the big scheme of things.

LOVE. You get "love is all that matters" more than you ever have in your life.

You quit over-censoring yourself: if you don't get me, sorry. Me and my grief are not for everyone.

There is a moment of bittersweet intensity when you realise it took the death of your love to have the discernment to edit your second-guessing of yourself. 

The feelings are what is real-- the words can be confusing. You sometimes choose not to use them and communicate in other ways-- or not at all. 

Everyday you feel a wee bit of comfort understanding that you are beginning to make different choices for yourself because you are taking what Death has taught you--The Real--into consideration now.

And most obviously, you are telling yourself f*ck it, in response to doubting yourself or your truth, on a more regular basis.

Give me a wave when you get there-- and put that middle finger down when you do. That's just not polite.

Friday, June 7, 2019

grief on the internet: this one's for you

This is for you, the ones who tried to do the right thing.

Most of us live our lives trying to do the elusive right thing. 

And then one day Death knocks on the door and takes someone you love very much.

Nothing makes sense. 

You realise that doing the right thing did not inoculate you from experiencing the unimaginable. 

The parents who did all the right things during the pregnancy-- gave up shell fish and stinky cheese and alcohol and horseback riding-- to later find out that their baby would not make it out of utero alive.

Or the parents that set the alarm to check the baby at regular intervals but their wee one still died a crib death.

Ritually teaching our kids how to cross the road safely didn't stop the delivery truck from jumping the curb or the family member not seeing them when they backed out of the driveway. 

Sitting by your teen's bedside and making them promise upon promise they will never take their own lives or will always call you if they don't feel safe can still be met by the unimagineable phone call or visit at the front door in the wee hours of the night. 

Dreaded cancers visit. Accidents happen. Gun violence is a thing.

You want to think that once you've gotten past a certain point with Death you might be safe.

Tell that to the mother who lost two young adult children within six weeks of each other or the parents who lost multiple children in an automobile accident or the young wife who got news of her husband's death one day and then later in the day learned of the death of sibling.

There is no inoculation.

There is no safe.

And then comes the aftermath.

Living in a society where people are expected to "bounce back" and get to the "other side" of loss and grief grinds salt into the gaping  wound; I couldn't prevent it from happening and now I'm not even able to grieve right.

Social media gets a lot of bum raps but one thing I have witnessed interacting with thousands of grievers is that the true miracle of the modality is the safe haven it has created for many of those grieving.

After your loss the club doors of Death were thrust open, you walked through and all sorts of visitors fell upon you for the first while, but over and over the condolences turn to radio silence.

The building of Grief is large and empty and the words echo off the cathedral ceiling and tears of the masses bead up and slide down its thick walls like a constant flow of condensation. 

You search and search for another member of this club that doesn't look uncomfortable when you speak of your loss.

You ache for a way to say your truth that won't turn others off or make them uncomfortable.

You pause politely as people list off the shoulds: focus on gratitude; it's only because you had such great love that you have such an ache of loss-- it will get better; time heals; they would want you to be happy.

Precious truths, probably, but no comfort when the ache, silmultaneously vacuous and incapacitating, still finds you searching for your lost love in every corner of your life.  

You search like a naked baby bird, mouth agape, whose head blindly bobs reaching for nourishment.

And then you find the most unlikely morsel.

Tired of the comments on your personal social media feed about the intensity or length of time or flavour of your grief, or fear of the same or maybe having never gone to social media before, but feeling so isolated, you branch off into another identity. 

An identity that only carries what comes with your grief.

Overwhelmingly people report being made to feel less than welcome on their own social media feeds after suffering tragic loss.

The one time the convenience of finding companionship a screen away could feel-- wait for it-- healing; it's your realization that there is a way for your to form connection out in the ethers.

You land on this wee internet island, editing your shares over and over-- is this too much, will this be too shocking?  Finally you decide how and when and you do it. 

You post.

And before you know it comments start to trickle in-- "I'm so sorry you've had to go through that too, but I'm glad I found you."

You exhale.

Someone reaches out to you spontaneously to commiserate.

You unclench.

And there's that moment that you realise that you've just built something out of your indescribable loss. 

At first glance, this building of Death could be mistaken as a church but then you realise it's an adrogynous architecture. Church, dance club, corner pub? Who can tell?

And then you realise-- it's looking like home.

You celebrate.

I created community here. 

And it's helping.

I don't feel quite so alone. 

Hey you in your new world-- this one's for you! 

Creating that? 

That was the right thing.

See you there. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Lessons from John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz
Life is a mystery.

Death is a mystery.

Life and death have been closely intertwined as I have thrown my heart and soul into The Death Dialogues Project over the past couple of year.

Creating and feeding this project has brought so many magical glimpses that I may otherwise not have experienced.

I'd like to say we run this project on a shoe string budget, but in actuality there is no budget.

So when we get warm and positive feedback that people are getting so much from listening to the podcast and attending our events and even our social media posts– it fuels the energy behind the project.

Thank you.

One bit of magic happened after tracking down the author of a piece The Day I'll Finally Stop Grieving and a few other beautiful pieces that came before me on grief.

Fast-forward to discovering that John Pavlovitz was actually a Methodist minister.

Was being the operative word because he now is a rogue-internet-sensation after being ousted from the church for his stands on LGBTQ and all other human inclusiveness in the church.

See, my mom and brother whose deaths have been a large part of our mission were life long active liberal Methodists. 

In fact, much of what I have read of John's writings could have been written by my brother.

Sparing you the longer version, let me say that I have had hypocrisy radar on high alert from a very young age, which had kept me from being able to reconcile what I heard in churches with a loving God.

Messages of hearing how people of "other" beliefs and lifestyles would burn in hell never sat well with me as a child-- as I imagined the paintings of Jesus surrounded by children.

Listening to how people hid behind religion to share messages of judgment and hate has been something I have never been able to personally reconcile with the loving God these same people would speak of. 

Discovering John's work and hearing a person of God preach inclusion and compassion and, better yet, seeing the following his message has attracted has given me a renewed hope for those of Christian faith.

Full stop.

This personal dialogue is much deeper and wider, but suffice it to say that my connection with John has been a healing elixir

So much so that I've offered to host John and his family to bring his message to New Zealand. 

We can only hope.

Here is our conversation:

Thursday, May 2, 2019

losing your love: thoughts from a widow & widower

The Death Dialogues podcast gives us the opportunity to hear people's tender tales that they are willing to share to the world.

Our last two episodes consist of interviews with a widow and then a widower.

Heike Mertin has written a book Grieving is . . . thoughts on loss, struggle and new beginnings .

Heike's brother died of cancer and then her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. After his death her ailing parents both died as well. Heike's book shares short snippets from three phases of her grief. It's lovely in that you can pick up her book and briefly engage in a reading that will resonate and support you.

Heike opens her heart to us in episode number 22. 

You can join us for that podcast episode here:

Our most recent podcast episode is titled The Accidental Episode. It is a step into the world of a recently bereaved partner and a sacred telling of their home death and vigil experience with candid sharing of emotion.

This episode came about when Dan Rundleman agreed to have a conversation surrounding the death of his wife, but as you hear, he initially felt that emotions may be a bit too raw so instead we just stayed on our pre-episode chat. However, at the end of that he decided we could use it for an episode. 

This episode is unlike any other and we so appreciate Dan's candid sharing of his family's story. You can listen here (actually number 23):

The Death Dialogues Project is a grassroots movement looking at the intersection of the arts, issues surrounding death and the community and we receive no funding.

Please help by subscribing and sharing our podcast and following us on FB and Instagram. 

Our payment is increasing the number of folks who witness our work and proclaim that they have been changed for the better. 

Until next time . . .