Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Looking for Gratitude Amidst Grief

To my fellow survivors: How are you feeling on the eve of this holiday season?
Are you looking forward to holiday activities as a distraction from grief and a chance to have others take care of you? Do you feel grateful for what you have? Are you noticing that over time since the suicide, you’ve become more open to the idea of celebrating? If so, may you enjoy these next few weeks. You may want to try something like the Grateful Remembrance Jar or Bowl if you are at gatherings with people who knew the person you lost.

Or, on the other hand, maybe you are anxious and confused as the holidays approach. Do you worry that those around you expect you to participate in festivities as if you were the same person as before the suicide?

Jessica at the Our Side of Suicide blog stresses the importance of asking for what you need on the holidays, whatever that may be. I echo most of her suggestions. But I don’t think survivors of traumatic loss should feel obliged to have a positive attitude at the holidays, especially in the early stages of grief. Trying to fit in with a festive spirit can make us feel even more alone and bereft, a reminder of how we’re living in a parallel universe.  
The first few years after my son’s suicide, I felt banished from the sense of gratitude I’d been cultivating. I couldn’t sing or pray or meditate on anything related to gratitude without ending up in tears. I had to fight and claw my way back to the slightest grip on gratitude by sheer determination—but in my own time and on my own terms, not to please others or shield them from my pain. This became easier and less fraught with each passing holiday.

A few years ago, I felt conflicted when the advisory board for Survivors After Suicide came up with the theme “Finding Gratitude Amidst Grief” for our holiday potluck for survivors. How could we help each other with this daunting task? I created a short guided meditation that I led at the event that seemed to soften the tension in the room, opening a way to feel more calm and centered, if not actually grateful. It’s one of the healing mind-body exercises included in my book to help my fellow survivors. I’m reprinting the meditation below in hopes that it will allow you to hold both grief and a bit of gratitude in your heart at the same time. 
Wishing you peace this Thanksgiving and beyond. Take good care.

Guided Meditation by Susan Auerbach*

(Note: You might want to audiorecord this and play it back so you can close your eyes and relax into the meditation.)
Close your eyes and sit quietly….  Feel your feet on the floor and your body in the chair with your hands resting in your lap…. Slow down your breath and breathe in gently for a count of 3 …  then out for a count of 3… Breathing in this moment … breathing out any distractions…  Maybe breathing in a blessing in your life … breathing out gratitude for even one small blessing … Breathing in ... and out … In … and out… [long pause] Now take a moment to bring to mind the love you shared with the person or persons you lost … [long pause] As you think of this, place your right hand over your heart, breathing in that love … and breathing out … breathing in to let that love fill you … and let it out … [long pause]. Now think about someone or something that has supported you on your grief journey … With that thought, bring your left hand on top of your right hand that is still resting on your heart… Breathing in the possibility of gratitude, now or in the future … and breathing out …  Breathing in the wish to open the heart …  and breathing out … [long pause] Relax as you continue to focus on your breath and the warmth of your heart … When you are ready, open your eyes.  

*From "I'll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother's Quest for Comfort, Courage & Clarity After Suicide Loss" by Susan Auerbach, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, © 2017.

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