expressive arts for grieving people

Planet Sown In Beings

Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don't fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat's stem slits the crest of the present. Annie Dillard


Time Was Generous Once Upon A Time

Life changes in both radical and subtle ways when someone dies.

Today, I am thinking about the subtle ways that life changes...  these alterations seem somewhat vexing... they creep in and make stark contrasts with the noisy life that we all seem to lead.

When my mother was younger, she was very active and busy. She was occupied and pre-occupied with her projects and interests. She always had said that she wanted her grandchildren to ask "Where is Grandma now?".... she was never the mother that stayed home and baked and set up space for you to visit.

But when she had turned - I will guess - around 80+ some things shifted for the woman who was always on the move. She slowed. Her legs were less reliable through accident and unsuccessful surgeries. Her heart was less robust. So the woman who had little time to be a mother when young was more available for phone calls, texts and emails.

But it is our phone calls that I am missing beyond measure.

These calls were often held on my cell phone when I was driving. They consisted of me calling and - for the large part- listening to her. Peppered in there where increasing questions of how I was, what was going on. Increasing over the years was a slow tectonic plate shift toward a more generous conversation style with ample time and more interest in things beyond her projects.

Mom died on Good Friday - March 29, 2013.

On Tuesday I took, for the first time, one of the drives when I typically called her.

And I could hardly breathe.

There will be nothing to replace this for me. These phone calls filled in some of the gaps and fissures of my relationship with her. It is such a gift and I had it for about 6 years or so.... I am so sad to let it go. I plan to keep speaking with her, though, it will not be the same.

Thank you for reading.


You Are Breathing For Two Now

When someone has died they are no longer breathing. Breath is, indeed, the source of life.

It is not suprising that breath becomes challenging with grief. Our empathy with our beloved's absence of breath may effect our breath on some primitive level. It worked that way for me. Since Brian died, I have struggled with my breath.

I have been observing that breath is critical skill to work with in my grief. 

I decided that, like the old proverb of saying "you are eating for two" when you are pregnant, that I'm saying that "I am breathing for two now" - for myself and for Brian who cannot breathe any more.

I want to encourage all grieving people to breathe better.

Understand, first, the mechanics:

Imagine the diaphragm as a large, sheet that lies underneath the lungs. It works like a bellow that stokes a fire, expanding with the intake of air (inhale) and expelling air (exhale). The inhale expands the abdomen, moving the diaphragm down and massaging the abdominal organs; while the exhale contracts the abdomen, moving the diaphragm up and massaging the heart.
Grief can cause two results in our breathing - one is shallow breath where a lack of oxygen is very hard on the body - it can result in a low level of vitality and our lack of oxygenated blood contributes to anxiety states, depression and fatigue. The other result is feeling like you are not getting enough air - no matter how hard one is breathing. This has been called "chronic breathing" or "over-breathing" can contribute to feelings of anxiety, panic and fear.
To see where you are with your breath, find a time when you are alone for about 10 minutes. Count your breaths for 1 minute. Our breath is healthy at 6 to 10 breaths a minute. Are you breathing fast or slow? Observe the movement of your chest and abdomen as you breathe. When your chest moves more than your abdomen you are over-breathing.

The Autonomic Nervous System is deeply affected by breath. 

Stretch the neck muscles to aid your breathing practice. Slowly move your left ear to your left shoulder while keeping the spine straight. Extend your right arm down reaching your fingers toward the floor. Switch sides. Practice breathing as you perform this exercise.

Now, sit comfortably and place your hands on your chest, thumbs inside the armpits, middle fingers touching at the chest's center. The middle fingers should move slightly apart upon inhale. Exaggerate that movement by deep inhales for two or three minutes at a time. 

You might visualize liquid being poured into a glass, you will imagine the bottom (diaphragm) gets full first, taking time in pouring, into the middle of the glass (lower lungs) all the way up to the top (upper lungs). 

There are three steps to full breathing: Inhalation (to a count of four); Retention/Holding (to a count of four); and Exhalation (to a count of eight). 

Breathe through the nose. This warm air helps the body use more oxygen.
Our culture is focused with holding on and the act of surrender is often a difficult one. Good breath has a sense of taking in and letting go.