First Person: Awakening to Grief

Amara Rose February 3, 2015 15

reverse mortgage news[NOTE: This entry is more personal than our usual posts. Last month's piece, Facing the Inevitable with Grace and Wit, generated such a positive response that I was moved to go a step beyond Chast's memoir and share my personal account of love, loss and learning. May it serve you well in your work with seniors, and in your own life journey.]

I was desultorily browsing the greeting cards at my local bookstore when I spied a card that would be perfect for my parents’ anniversary; it bore an image and tagline unique to their surname. I’ve loved finding such cards over the years, and would buy them months in advance. But instead of triumphantly purchasing this card, I turned away with a lump in my throat, tears brimming.

My mother died a year ago.

Perhaps this is what medical professionals mean when they refer to an “Anniversary Reaction”: the upwelling of sadness that rises like catarrh, seeking release. But we can’t just expel our grief; memories are indelibly etched in the heart, evoking moments and days and years, a lifetime of love that time does not erase.

I feel like I lost all my elders in 2014. My lifelong friend Ellie made her transition in September, just after her 101st birthday. While her death was not unexpected, I recalled a conversation we had when she was in her mid-90s, about her beloved husband Ira. At the time, he’d been gone for more than 20 years. Yet my upbeat friend, who’s been a spiritual beacon for me, admitted, “I miss him so much!” I developed a deep understanding of aging through my heart connection with Ellie, but didn’t fully grasp how grief transcends time and space until she said that — and until now.

One of my pivotal teachers, Angeles Arrien, passed in April. Cheryl Case (known to her friends as Snake) left in October. Each of these deaths was a shock, because they were totally unanticipated. I learned of Angeles’ departure when I picked up the May/June issue of Common Ground, a free Bay Area magazine, and turned to the final page, appropriately titled Last Words. I found a wise quote from Angeles Arrien gracing the page, and below her name, two dates with a dash between them. It took my mind several seconds to process what this meant. NO! I screamed silently. Angeles can’t be gone; she’s just 74. She’s in the midst of a teaching schedule for her newest book, Living In Gratitude. She’s a pillar of wisdom. And now, she is an ancestor.

As a cross-cultural educator and author, Angeles’ gift was her extraordinary ability to meld anthropology, psychology and comparative religions to show others how to “walk the mystical path with practical feet.” I took her weeklong Four-Fold Way Training at the Esalen Institute in January 1994. I’d read her book, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary the previous summer, and the evening talk I attended then convinced me she had much wisdom to share.

Yet what Angeles brilliantly modeled transcended the personal growth genre. Her books and practices are used in corporate, academic and medical milieux, as well as in the non-profit sector. When I think of her, some of the words that come to mind include authenticity, generosity of spirit, wholeheartedness. And joy.

Finally, in December, I happened to see a request on a local online bulletin board for a ride to “Snake’s Life Celebration.” As with the “dates with a dash”, I had to process what “Life Celebration” meant. I looked at the day listed. The event had taken place that very afternoon. Snake was dead.

How was this possible? She was 68, healthy and fit. I’d last seen her in late August. When I searched for an obituary online, an article popped up that described how she’d gone on a solo hike while visiting her stepfather in Arizona last October, and never returned. An experienced hiker and world traveler, Snake once led an all-female expedition through the Himalayas, and later hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone, from Mexico to Canada. Like Ellie, like Angeles, Snake was a generous spirit who demonstrated this munificence numerous times over the 17 years I knew her. In addition to her full time job prior to retirement, for the last quarter century she was the publisher of Women’s Voices, the nation’s second oldest women-focused newspaper, where I was privileged to publish many times. (In face, my tribute to Ellie originally appeared in Women’s Voices, when Ellie was 92.)

I’ve been having spontaneous conversations with both Snake and Ellie on the etheric plane. You could argue that these are simply random thoughts arising within my own mind. But the eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung conceived of the collective unconscious. It’s not that big a stretch to think we might connect with individuals who have crossed over, if both they and we have the desire to communicate across the veil.

So my empathy for all who have lost their loved ones has grown by a factor of heart these last months, as I experience what elders do as they watch their dearests depart, and learn to live without their presence. I find myself wanting to share stories about the beauty and talent and love of these great souls who blessed my life by being in it.

This may be the greatest gift you can bestow on the older adults you serve as reverse mortgage professionals: to encourage them to talk about those they love, both the ones who are still here and those who have departed, and to listen fearlessly, not shrinking from the truth of our own mortality. It is an honoring. Someday it will be our turn. Hopefully others will remember us with the same joy and grace.

In his landmark book, How We Die, surgeon and medical professor Sherwin B. Nuland (who also transitioned in 2014) quotes 16th century French social philosopher Michel de Montaigne: “Your death is part of the order of the universe…’tis the condition of your creation. Give place to others, as others have given place to you.” And with wisdom and veracity he admonishes, “The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little.”

We use our time well when we hold the hearts of those we serve, whether relatives, friends, clients — or strangers. The woman behind me in line at the post office a few days ago spontaneously told me, “My best friend died last night.” In that moment, I was invited to hold the space for her fierce, fresh grief. From my own wild, wounded and wide-open heart, I answered the call.

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15 Comments »

  1. Carol Hurst February 3, 2015 at 4:15 am - Reply

    I trust this sharing was as therapeutic for you to write as it was beneficial for me to read.

    • Amara Rose February 3, 2015 at 9:46 am - Reply

      You nailed it, Carol! I am so glad you found it useful….it’s a stretch to be this vulnerable in public.

      Blessings,
      Amara

  2. J. Burgess Kegan February 3, 2015 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Amara,
    You continue to move me with your writing. Thank you…Burgess

    • Amara Rose February 3, 2015 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Thank you, Burgess. This was a song from my soul… when I saw that greeting card, the entire essay just poured into my consciousness and I had to hurry back to my laptop to get it all down :-)

      Appreciate you…

  3. Pat Smoot February 3, 2015 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing, and I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Amara Rose February 3, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Pat. It was cathartic to write, and my hope was that it would prove so for readers. We all go through similar emotions when those we love transition.

  4. janeen February 3, 2015 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Wonderful, enlightening and well-written “song from the soul” you have shared!

    • Amara Rose February 3, 2015 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Janeen. You are a new voice here, so I am honored to be of service!

  5. Beth Miller-Bornemann February 4, 2015 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Amara, you write beautifully and touched me to my soul. I have lost both my parents and I think that is part of why I am so drawn to this business. People ask me what I like so much about the reverse mortgage business and it is, without question, my clients. They are happy, gracious, grateful, funny, inspired and inspirational. Most importantly they share with me a precious piece of their history that only I get to see and hear and live with through their eyes.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are right, it is hard to be publicly vulnerable. You accomplished it with grace. Thanks!

    • Amara Rose February 5, 2015 at 11:00 am - Reply

      Beth,

      The beautiful way you describe your clients lets us know they are blessed to work with you, someone who sees who they truly are as people and wants to contribute to their life enrichment. Your business defines “service” — and I’m sure your parents, from a dimension beyond, are very proud of you.

  6. Bruce Lamarche February 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    Amara,

    WOW! You really touched me with your article on Awakening to Grief. It’s so neat to see this kind of content in a “professional-finance” venue. I’m a 66 year old REM professional who is about to see both my parents “pass” and the complications of dementia while we wait.

    I care greatly about “my” seniors and want to do magic for them when it’s appropriate, with the REM products. It’s interesting that we create serious business value with our clients as we do our moral obligation to do the “right thing” for them. To care for the needs of our clients we MUST educate ourselves to the issues that they are facing. This requires putting ourselves in their position (difficult to do as we have not experienced it … yet) and listening well, to not only their words but to the context from which they come while trying to understand the feelings and fears before us. Articles like those you provide help with this.

    These older folk are not just clients. They are special people who have lived so much life that we can not understand who they are in a few meetings. We have an obligation to care for their interests completely and first before evaluating that cold word “profit”.

    Just for fun, I’m going to order the Four-Fold Way book to help me redefine my life path.

    I find it interesting that in my earlier years, (you know … the ones where we know it all? LOL) I was quite sure that topics like that in the book were “who-doo voo-doo”.

    Now, as I age, I’m not so sure about a lot of things … except that there is definitely a deeper level to life that is holistic, intuitive, spiritual, etc. There is so much to learn and there are things about life and our existence that we can’t even begin to comprehend. Perhaps dying is not a wall but a door!! Wow!

    At 66, this boy is reinventing himself! Bring it on!

    Thanks again for your wisdom and for sharing what you’ve learned.

    Bruce

    • Amara Rose February 5, 2015 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Dear Bruce,

      Thank you for this. You are spot-on, and a gift to the seniors you serve, because you put “service” first. I am honored to meet you.

      May your own parents’ imminent passage be gentle and filled with grace and love ~

      Blessings,
      Amara

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