Suicide Aftershocks VOL V: Synchronicity and Windows of Opportunity, and How a Canine Helped Unpack my Heart and those of my 3 pups!

Early this year, about seven months post suicide; I was sitting at my computer aimlessly wandering through emails.  My late husband’s email address was still active and receiving as I had not yet dismantled his accounts.  He had an account with a site called NEXT DOOR.  It’s a website that allows you to connect within your neighborhood to promote community, communicate real time with neighbors and happenings and go local.  (www.nextdoor.com )

As I was scanning through the mail, a post on this site came up of a neighbor looking for a daily dog sitting situation for his very large and active Belgian Malinois.  I clicked the link and responded that I was interested and gave my phone number before I even realized I’d done it!  Once I clicked SEND, it hit me that I’d put myself out there. My mature, fear based response was to immediately delete my husband’s account and pretended it never happened!  I didn’t think I wanted any kind of commitment plus I had three dogs of my own.IMG_0595

A couple of days went by and the matter slipped my mind (or I blocked it out) until I received a phone call from the guy looking for dog sitting.  This was one of those synchronistic situations where I decided to roll with it even though my mind was screaming “DON’T”.  Coincidentally, he was immediately able to bring the dog by my place for a meet-and-greet to see if we would all be a good fit. My “normal” at that time was far from normal.  I was on edge, defensive and anxious a lot of the time, in relatively deep grief and quite scattered.

I have about ¾’s of an acre fenced on the water which is essentially my own dog park.  The owner and McLovin’ the dog arrived (names have been changed to protect the innocent!) and things went great.  We decided to give it a go which meant I would have McLovin’ daily for an hour.  I was weirdly excited and scared at the same time.  My heart recognized that this was a window of opportunity for me but my mind was telling me that it was a mistake to have a mid day commitment long term.

Our first day I thought—I LOVE this dog AND I’m remembering why I don’t want a puppy!  But my heart was singing!  This dog was a giant, pain-in-the-arse dose of presence! He’s smarter than me, curious and full of vitality which in dog speak equals trouble, opportunism and loads of adventure.  He needed eyes on him at all times.  This meant that my routine went out the window and I had to be fully alert and engaged while he was with us.  This shift of focus was powerfully transformative.  It allowed my mind to relax, my edges to soften and my heart to open again.IMG_0621

IMG_0504McLovin’ and my biggest dog, MacTavish, became best buddies instantly and my 2 little ones were equally captivated by him.  He clearly liked us too, and his very being-ness created an entirely new dynamic in my home. IMG_0631

This giant puppy engaged my dogs in a playful and experimental way, bringing out the inner puppy in them and effectively eradicating the grief and pain that they’d experienced in the loss of my husband, prolonged exposure to his depression, as well as my grief and diverted focus.

I kept him in general 2-3 hours daily simply because it was so much fun. He brought a joy and lightness I needed desperately in my environment—in my home.  This is so relevant because most of my friends were uncomfortable coming to my house as it’s ground zero for my husband’s suicide.  I nicknamed him “McLovin’” because he’s the definition of unconditional love on four legs.  He’s silly and affectionate in a full body, roll all over you and against you kind of way.

My mood never mattered to him—he was forever happy to see me and even more so to come to my house and play with the pack.  If I stopped and sat, he’d immediately be on me—literally!  He would sit or lay on me instinctively knowing what I needed to lay down my guard and navigate back to my heart.

Daily, when I left to get McLovin’, my dogs would wait at the window patiently for our return and then pine away for him when I took him back to his house.  On days I would leave and come home without him, my dogs would howl and cry—berating me for coming home alone!

This is the beauty of synchronicity and taking chances—the willingness to go beyond fear and just roll with it!  It obviously didn’t occur to my rational mind to bring in a new puppy pack mate as “healer” for my dogs, my home and my heart, and yet that is exactly what happened in the most unexpected, fun and joyous way.

In short—a situation I was scared to enter quickly became one of the most profoundly transformative opportunities in this very difficult year.   A window of opportunity that I allowed myself to open, for which I will forever be grateful.  And it came in the unexpected package of a very big puppy, who, to loosely quote the following song, “shone a light into my darkness”.

So here’s to leaping through windows of opportunity with reckless abandon!

Joyfully unpacking my heart,

Kim

SUICIDE AFTERSHOCKS: VOL III Southern Women’s Wisdom–Discomfort and the Power of a Pause

During the last few months I’ve found myself referencing my husband’s suicide in conversation as the B.E.  (Bill Event)

and making time distinctions based on before and after Bill did what he did.  It feels healthy for me and lighter than using the word suicide.  He simply did what he did-what he chose to do.business_110009277-012914-int

As time passes and I’m happier and more present, how he died is becoming almost irrelevant.  Interestingly when people ask, I pause to decide how direct I care to be in that given moment as my experience has been that most people can’t really handle the truth of suicide.  They seem ill-equipped to respond without judgment.  Most become highly uncomfortable or pretend they didn’t actually ask how he died, rather than pausing and considering a response.

Suicide.  Just the word causes discomfort. Suicide carries so many judgments—social, religions and familial.  When I do use that word, it’s not that I’m choosing to make others uncomfortable.  I am simply choosing to honor myself and respect the level of comfort I’ve been able to achieve in the aftermath of a horrific situation.

 

58d7e6020950c8147cc62a476d63af49The first statement one of my brothers made to me the day of the B.E. was, “I didn’t know your marriage was that bad”.  He maintained this position and even went so far as to publicly state that he and everyone else knew that Bill’s suicide was my fault.  This was my BROTHER! 

A person I considered a friend commented, “How could you not know—you’re so intuitive. This is what you do!  You must have known this was going to happen!”  This was a FRIEND!

My dad’s reaction to my first and only crying phone call to him in the days immediately following the B.E. was, “Quit living in the past.” He said this just prior to hanging up on me.  This was my FATHER.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do and called a girl friend—

a bit older than me and raised in south central Virginia.  Her wise counsel came in the form of a question.  After hearing my pain over the judgmental and insensitive comments being made, she asked,

“Kim, does your Father have a vagina?  Do any of these people you’re speaking with have vagina’s?

I responded no, that they did not, in fact, have vagina’s.  Her response, classic, quintessential southern pragmatism, “Don’t you know you can’t have a conversation when you’re upset with a person lacking a vagina?

Enough said.  I was laughing while crying and oh, so much better!

A girlfriend I grew up with reminded me gently, “Honey, if common sense was lard, your family wouldn’t be able to grease a pan—I don’t mean you of course!”

Another grand moment came while at different girlfriend’s house in central Virginia.  I walked into a group and reacted – inappropriately– to a random participants comment about the B.E.   I kind of lost it and got angry –I really wanted to kick this person till she bled!  (an inappropriate response, I know–but I did pause!)  To avoid any verbal escalation, I went to my friend and said I need help getting under control!  She responded with,

“Well honey, that’s what the back yard is for—you go on out there and stay as long as it takes and I’ll make you some tea!”

8 or 9 weeks after the B.E. I was heading into a meeting with 2 executives and 7 trainers of a global organ harvesting and transplant organization.  The meeting was taking place because—well, that’s another story!  This meeting was a big deal for me and I was still quite emotional but in the “let’s get’er done” frame of mind and knew I needed bucking up before entering the meeting.  Like every southern girl would—I phoned a friend—with a vagina!  She told me,

“Tighten up that corset, put on your lip gloss, lift up your chest and speak slow and syrupy sweet—you got this.”

Scarlett Tightening up!

Scarlett Tightening-up!

Southern comfort no –alcohol required!

Here’s to the strong, proud and direct women in my circle—southern or otherwise!  Thank you for the perfect and timely wisdom and powerful support!

With warmest aloha,

Kim

Challenge:

Pause.  Practice pausing and taking a breath while you mindfully consider an intentional response.  Perhaps nod your head while you pause so the person you’re with will know you’ve heard them—if on the phone, during your pause make a sound like, “hmmm” so the other knows they’ve been heard.!  This technique can create connection, deepen relationships and communication and allows you to learn to listen from a place of desiring to hear rather than from the place of desiring to be heard.  Pausing often times allows the other to hear themselves, as well!

 

 

Suicide Aftershocks Vol II: Intimacy and Grief and Are Massage Therapists Supposed to Cry???

I’ve found that most people who are not blood related or partners will only hug for about 4 seconds. This seems to be the socially acceptable and proper length of time for non-intimate hugs regardless of relationship.  I’m amazed how uncomfortable people become if expected to rise to the circumstantial need of another when it involves hugging, touch or physical comforting when the other is obviously in emotional pain.

Natural!

We all know how vulnerable it makes us to ask for help when we’ve been emotionally ambushed by life.  One person’s pain cannot be compared to another’s.  We’ve all experienced hurt, loss and pain.  While we feel these emotions along with loneliness and sadness over life’s circumstances, we don’t always feel grief.  Grief occurs generally when there’s a death, (or 7 as in my situation). It can also occur when blindsided by an ending of marriage or career.  All of our emotions require our attention and focus in order to integrate.

But grief requires more.  Grief is intimate and crushing and vast.  It requires thoughtful navigation through its depths to survive intact and eventually nurture the ability to access wholeness, light and joy.  Our culture is comfortable with sharing and bearing witness to accomplishments, successes and happy things, but seemingly has lost its ability to witness personal tragedy, grief and the sometimes ugly growing pains of being a human.

During the first months after my husband’s suicide, I asked a few of my married friends if they or their husbands would be willing to let me lie on the couch and be held by either one of them!  I just wanted to be held—to cry—to be witnessed in my grief or simply not be alone with it for an hour or so.   This request was ignored, brushed off with laughter or agreed to with no opportunity being created for it to happen.  I understand and yet I don’t.

Geese 2 047

Backyard Nurturing

Being the capable woman that I am, and unwilling to seek out “companionship” of the one-night-stand sort—

I booked a massage at a reputable establishment and showed up on time.  I informed the 20 something young woman that I was a bit fragile and might cry—that it had nothing to do with her and if I did cry, to please ignore it and move forward with the massage.  Within 20 minutes, I was wrapped in the sheet, sitting on the side of the massage table holding and comforting the therapist as she cried because she lacked the tools to separate her personal issues from mine and did not have the emotional maturity to hold space for my grief (A grief she knew nothing about as I had not shared details).  As I sat holding her, witnessing, comforting and allowing her to show up exactly how she was in that moment, I thought, “WTF?  Am I an idiot?  I’m paying for this?  This is supposed to be about me!  This is what I need from her!”  (MY humanity was showing!)

I realized in that moment that grief makes space.  It opens primal flood gates in our being-ness tearing down all mechanisms of compartmentalization.  It forces access to the deepest parts of ourselves and our shadows and thins the veil between how we are “expected” to behave and show up (shiny and bright) and how we wish we could (tattered and thread bare but real).  Sadly, as a society, we don’t want to see anything other than happy projections.

My grief opened a portal for this young woman to access something she’d turned away from at some point in her life.  Without analyzing it—without speaking or making meaning, we sat in grief together—not exactly how I wanted it, but in communion and authenticity and extremely intimate as we were strangers.(and I was naked wrapped in a sheet in a dark room!)  Our burdens were lighter afterward—although neither one of us would have chosen that scenario.

I realized that I was able to give what I wanted to receive.  There’s a healing power to that.  I did pay and tip this young woman.  I booked another massage at a different location and an almost identical scenario unfolded.  I behaved the same way, with love and allowance, although I paid somewhat begrudgingly this time!  After all, my needs matter just as much as everyone else’s!

While learning a lot about grief and myself through these 2 experiences, I still wanted a massage!  I asked a friend for a referral and was led to a male MT—retired military and specializing in sports massage.  It took me a month to commit.  I finally called and left him this message.  “Hey I’m Kim—I was referred by M.  Here’s the deal–I might cry—been through a lot—if you can’t handle it, don’t call me back.  Thanks.”

Within 30 minutes this therapist called me back laughing and said to come on in, he had daughters and he’d seen worse!  So I did, and I didn’t cry!

Now—a year later, I’m genuinely happy and joyful most of the time.

I’ve noticed that my friends are all comfortable hugging me again and I appreciate and enjoy it.  I’m grateful they’re allowing me to be my normal “touchy” self, without making it mean anything.  At the same time, I recognize that an important opportunity was missed in their inability to be available to and for my pain.

I make these observations without judgment or finger pointing.  They’re simply observations about our humanity.  I truly believe we all show up the best way we can in any given moment.  I can clearly see events in my past where I wish I had been able to show up more fully for my loved ones.  The question is, “do we grow and learn?”

Because of this great opportunity to lean into;  uncomfortable–unhappy–ugly–raw-painful and dark for 6 long years through so many deaths and leavings, I have cultivated the ability to hold multiple states and perspectives at once;

—to agree and disagree; To want and not receive; To receive and not want what is given; to love and despise; to be joyful and grieving; to reject while at the same time accepting; to be angry and forgiving; to have no clue and yet understand deeply.

Had the massage therapists been able to hold multiple states at once– my pain and the task at hand; empathy without sympathy; interconnection without engagement; what different form of healing might have occurred for us all?

Here’s to loving it all, allowing all aspects of our humanity and relentlessly asking for what we want whether we get it or not!

“Hugging is natural, organic, naturally sweet, free of pesticides, and preservatives. Hugging contains no artificial ingredients. It’s 100% wholesome. No calories, no caffeine, no nicotine.” (borrowed form http://www.poofcat.com)

This month’s challenge!  HUG—hug for more than 4 seconds—Go crazy and be one of THOSE people who hug uncomfortably long!  Hug heart to heart—Put your chin over the hug-ee’s left shoulder and breathe deeply!  Give the gift of connection through hugs—(I’m assuming you won’t hug inappropriately!)

With Warmest Aloha,

Kim

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RISE!

The Dog Park, Beingness, and the River of Grace

 

“Play is the exultation of the possible.” Martin Buber

As I return home from the dog park here on Kauai, I’m in awe once again over how much I learn about play, fun and the simplicity of approaching life with curious, excited expectations.

Our dog park here on island is an amazing space with a 100 yard fence dividing small dogs from big making it the perfect track to invite a chase.  Having 3 dogs, two small and one big, they are most often segregated and pining away for the greener grass on the other side.  But that’s another story!

Post dog-park nap time!

Our big dog, MacTavish, is the definition of pure beingness when he’s at the park.  He is indiscriminate and invites every dog to chase and play.  He understands boundaries and honors them without personalizing.  He graciously slows down for dogs that aren’t as fast as he is to allow them to stay in the chase.  He’s gentle with the elderly dogs and aware of where the humans are so as not to bowl them over.  He stays in sync with the way the other dogs and their humans are showing up and truly enjoys exactly how that is represented on any given day. In short—his true nature is joyful, gracious and courteous. 

I believe that the key to this presence is showing up with no expectations.  It doesn’t matter how often we go to the park, he is equally excited and appreciative to be there and naturally falls in to the rhythm of the day by simply allowing what is. 

When we approach life with that excited curiosity and leave our expectations behind, that’s when we can find the rhythm of our lives and easily fall into the flow—that river of grace– that supports us in sharing our true nature and joy with all of life.

Joyfully sharing my joy with warmest aloha, Kim

10 traits for Deep Listening! Truly Listening vs.Hearing

Huh?

Huh?

Listening Despite Differences
Listening Despite Differences

Most of us can hear.  Hearing is an involuntary act.   But how many of us truly engage in listening to another?  Listening means we have to actually take in the auditory information that the other is parleying and then interpret that information.  Best case scenario, the listener receives the information in the way that the speaker intends for it to be heard.

Unfortunately, this is where most communication breaks down as there is no Universal Meaning to anything.  It is here where most of us, as listeners, will interpret the incoming information through the filter of our experiences and assign meaning to it.  Then we make the assumption that the meaning we’ve given is agreed upon rather than seeking clarity about the speakers intended meaning.

We’ve all done it, so we all know the type of person who assumes they know what’s coming next.  They’re the sentence finishers—the interrupters—the conversation dominators.  The assumers are the ones who are formulating what they want to say while you’re still conveying your information. 

When this happens, it simply means that the listener has stopped truly listening.  The trouble with this is that there is a basic human need to feel heard, seen and understood. 

So, how can we listen as an ACT OF SERVICE to meet another’s basic need? 

Active, deep heart-centered listening is an art form that must be cultivated.  We hear roughly 4x faster than we speak so listening must be patient, focused, present and attentive—on purpose.  The best listeners reflect back what they’ve heard for clarification.   This guarantees that they will not make assumptions.  It is common courtesy to listen attentively; it builds your empathy muscles and cultivates compassion for others.  It shows that you are committed to more than yourself—your story—and you being heard. 

10 Traits for Deep Listening!

1.      Keep the conversation on what the speaker is saying not on your response.

2.      Let others speak.  Don’t dominate conversations.

3.      Don’t finish sentences for others.

4.      Cultivate a deep desire to understand and experience what the speaker is conveying rather than assuming it is the same as your similar experience.

5.      Provide feedback so the speaker knows you’re engaged, but do not interrupt with your stories, opinion or preferences.  Smile and make eye contact.

6.      Do not offer unsolicited advice or try to solution find unless you are specifically asked!

7.      Intentionally enter conversations with no agenda of seeking their agreement or to change them, their mind or their perceptions.

8.      Give up assuming you know what anything means!

9.      Reflect what you’ve heard.  Ask questions clarifying not only what the speaker has said, but how it felt for them, what they think/feel now, and how it’s changed them if they’re relating a story.

10.  Be very present.  Square your shoulders/heart to the speaker and listen with not only your ears, but your heart—your entire body.  Listen as an act of service!

Remember, feeling heard is a basic human need.  Truly, deeply listening to another is an act of kindness that uplifts the speaker, forges a deep connection between speaker and listener, one of unity that allows us to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences.  Active, heart-centered listening creates space for differences to exist without judgment.

Joyfully and with warmest aloha from Kauai,

Kim