Monday, November 25, 2013

So, you're in a grateful kinda mood?

It's the time of year when people are counting their blessings, feeling gratitude and love and generosity ooze from their pores.  Unfortunately, for parents whose children have died, being thankful for anything feels challenging. Of course.

If you are one of the fortunate who gets to tuck all your children into bed this holiday season: If you are one of the fortunate who gets to wipe pumpkin pie off all your children's faces: If you are one of the fortunate who gets to enjoy seeing your own family all together: If you are one of the fortunate who has never buried or cremated one of your own children, consider your life deeply fortunate indeed.

You see, every day I meet countless families who are not as fortunate. They do not tuck all their children into bed; they do not get to clean all their messes faces or hear all their excited exclamations or watch them all play and see them all grow.

Children, of all ages, can and do die.

And do you know that when you complain about how tired you are from holiday shopping and you complain about how hard your life is and that your team lost the game and that your child is annoying and you complain about how little sleep you're getting, this hurts us because we wish we could complain about such trivialities.

And do you know that when you avoid us, as if we are lepers from whom you must avert your gaze, when we are treated as if our children are forgotten and we are somehow doing grief wrong because - well, yes, as a matter of fact - we are still sad, this hurts us. Walking past our aisle at the grocery store to avoid running into us hurts. Saying "Hi, how are you?" as if nothing happened- that hurts.

So, the attitudes toward bereaved parents are a microcosm of society at large: If we pretend children don't die, then our own children won't die. This is a lie, perpetuated by a death and grief avoidant culture, that harms bereaved parents and families. Organizations like the MISS Foundation provide an invaluable service to grieving families. Yet, the MISS Foundation has tremendous trouble securing funding for our priceless, life-saving services. Grantors say they don't like our cause much. They say we aren't "sexy" enough. Oh, right. Yes, the deaths of babies and children is about as "unsexy" as you get. But damned right when someone in the community needs us everyone is calling.

So this holiday season, if you really want to help, sit next to a bereaved parent and listen to the story of their precious child who died. Buy them an ornament and make a donation in their child's name. Tell your company to make a tax deductible donation to the MISS Foundation so that we can continue to do the job that no one else in society wants to do.

And be grateful, grateful, grateful that tonight, your child will slip into golden slumber, in your home, in her bed, and that in the morning she will put her arms around your neck and say, "I love you mommy" or "I love you daddy."

Not all parents get to do that.

How privileged you are to count those moments, first, in your blessings.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Weeping Deeply

If you haven't wept deeply, you haven't begun to meditate.
-Ajahn Chah

So, my little retreat center opened in Sedona officially with a grief-zazen day this past Saturday. Beautifully broken grieving people of all ages filled the room from early 20s and older who lost their Beloveds very recently and some years ago.

First, we lit a candle in honor of all our precious ones gone too soon.

We introduced ourselves.

Then, we sat in the stillness, meditating, praying, and holding space for grief.

The first sit was about 25 minutes long, and we opened with some Rilke. We paused between sits to weep, to listen, to share, to invoke poetry and prose:

We sat together in and out of meditation for hours. And, the hearts, oh the broken shattered pieces of hearts, the tears shed in the room... truly sacred ground.

And then, something truly amazing happened. As we ended, each person spoke the Beloved's name to the sound of the bell, and a young man, Evan, big brother to beautiful Blake who died at 19 of cancer, approached Lisa, mother of beautiful Michael Angelo, who died at age 12 in 2000 and Michael who just died this year at age 19.  He told her that, as she spoke Michael Angelo's name, he recognized his name... then he suddenly remembered a note one of his friends posted on Facebook a few months earlier. This was the post:

Wow. Wow.

Yes. Evan's friend was the recipient of a Kindness Project committed by Michael & Anthony's mom in Phoenix, Arizona, a city of millions. And these families- as strangers- were now meeting in the same room, together, touched by compassion of three young men who died far too soon.  The Kindness Project (here) - which I officially started in early 1996 - had brought two strangers together in a way I could never have imagined.  We were all stunned.

And not only that, but Sarah, the recipient who posted the kindness committed to her, paid it forward, so Michael Angelo's love kept going and going in the world.

This is my tribe. It's a sad, brokenhearted, despairing tribe.  And I believe, as Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk said, "there is nothing more whole than a broken heart."


I offer pause and deep bows to these Beloved ones, gone far too soon:

Michael Angelo

Head over to the Kindness Project Facebook page to stay in touch here


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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