Category Archives: Grief

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Character to Be Loved

Me and my grandmother, Gertrude Grzybowski, right before I moved to New Mexico.
Me and my grandmother, Gertrude Grzybowski, right before I moved to New Mexico.

When I noticed the Weekly Writing Challenge this morning, I was grateful, because when I thought of all the people I would like to write about at this time, it was my Grandmother.  Gertrude Grzybowski, daughter of Dziadek and Babcia Perkowski- I don’t really know their first names- just grandma and grandpa in Polish.  They were potato farmers from Poland with a farm on Long Island, New York. They had a legendary flower pot on their front lawn made from an old toilet- a piece of cultural history.

My Grandmother has been very sick, in her late 80s living at a nursing home and trying to find ways to enjoy the last moments of her life, as she felt sad and lost trying to adjust to a strange place she was forced to call home due to her ailing health.  One of her last enjoyable activities was buying necklaces made by other ladies in the nursing home and wearing them all at one time.  It wasn’t NY high-fashion and it drove my aunt crazy, but it made her happy.  As I pondered about how I would write about her quirky character that she played in this life, I received a phone call this afternoon that I had been waiting for without any knowledge of when it would come exactly.

In my heart, I wanted her to be free of this body that was weighing her spirit down, and causing her the inability to live as independently as she has enjoyed for so many years.  My only living grandparent, Gertie, died this afternoon peacefully after suffering a stroke almost a week ago.  As people’s bodies start to break down, you find yourself as an outsider trusting the natural process of passing from one reality to another, but it is hard to stay in the present moment with them at times because you are constantly wondering- will this be the day?  I feel in her own mind, she was wondering the same thing.

You never knew what was about to come out of Gertie’s mouth.  She might shout the funniest thing, like her phrase that came to be her own, “That guy’s a bumb!”   Or she might just talk about how tired she was, and how she felt really alone, as all of her friends passed away with each year. Life seemed more and more like a foreign country to her with each passing moment.  She was not always the nicest person, but I always thought of her as this funny character in a film, navigating through this life as if it were one thing after another.  She loved Poland, and as a kid we always gathered our outgrown clothes for my Grandmother to send to our family there that had nothing because of the “communists.”  We were told, “They didn’t even have real ice cream.”  “Their” ice cream was more like half frozen sweet milk, barely recognizable by us spoiled Americans.

She prayed her rosaries every morning over her stacks of prayer cards, and every Friday she cleaned the altar and pews at St. Hedwigs Catholic Church.  I remember going to the masses growing up when visiting New York where the legendary priest would talk so quickly that it was like listening to someone pretend they were saying a mass and forgot the words.  Even though I didn’t understand anything because he was saying it so quickly, and with a New York accent, I was more than happy to spend 15 minutes less in a mass on a Saturday night.  Her collection of ceramic nuns in her living room and plates of the Polish Pope John Paul hanging on her walls would dance to the sound of her attempt to whistle while she swept the floors every morning in her house coat.

My Grandmother didn’t make it easy for anyone as they grew up in her house.  I was fortunate to be a granddaughter in her life that was told on her 16th birthday, “sweet sixteen, and never been kissed” with a giggle following her attempt to tease me.  She grew up in a time that lacked emotional education, a time where there was war and great financial uncertainty, and even though there were dark times in the house where she brought up 6 kids, there was a certain light around her that I enjoyed, and I will be grateful for every day.  During her last lucid days in the hospital my mother said she overheard a conversation with a male orderly who struck up a conversation with her.  He asked her about being a nurse, as she was, and how many kids she had in this life.  She said 8, which was correct- 6 living and 2 stillborns.  You never know what experiences people have had in this life.  Underneath the surface, there is always something lingering in someone that may be causing them pain and cause their personality to become distorted.   But the one thing we can always be sure of, as I was with my grandmother, our Gertie, is that inside their heart there is a place that just wants to be loved.

And so, as I come together with those that knew Gertie in many different ways- from sister, to aunt, to mother and grandmother- I shall remember that all you wanted was to be loved, and I shall send you that love with the hope that you are joyful in your freedom from the human body and in a place of peace in your heart.  Thank you for saying “I love you, Jess,” and reminding me that life does go fast, and every now and then we just need to remember that we are all human and subject to the foibles of our mind- but it is not our true nature.  I am grateful for all I have in my life, including you, and will remember to try and see beyond personalities into the human desire to be loved when we do not know how to love ourselves.

In one of our last conversations you said to me, “We used to have fun, right Jess?”  Yes Grandma, we did have fun.

Losing my Duality

Knocking on Death’s Door
By: Jessica Burnham

Think not disdainfully on death, but look on it with favor, for even death is one of the things that nature wills. Marcus Aurelius Antonius, Meditations

The notion of death can be perceived in many ways. Kali the Hindu goddess is deemed the bearer of death and destruction. Many fear the idea of death and destruction that Kali embodies, without thinking about how important it is to our life. Without death and destruction our lives would not be a mirror for our evolution at all. We would remain without growth, enlightenment- and nothing would ever end. We would be living Bill Murray’s life as the eternal weather man in the film Groundhog Day, only it probably wouldn’t be quite that funny.

The great thing about Murray’s character in that film, is that he finally gets sick of trying to die and end everything without ever growing and seeing beyond his self centeredness- and realizes that he has this great opportunity to become something worth living for and for others. Would it not be amazing if we could look at our present life as the eternal Groundhog Day? That this life will continue on after our death, only in another form, and we would still experience the same old crap that we currently experience unless we decide to take hold of this amazing gift and use it for the highest good of all sentient beings?

Grace has given many of us experiences that show us how fleeting our current life is, and the wisdom to take heed. We can choose to use this life to its maximum capacity for our growth as evolving beings, and not only change the world in which we live in- but change the world others live in as well.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi
This quote by Mahatma Gandhi says it all. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” He certainly did, didn’t he? The thing is, we will live forever and if not in this life, or maybe in the next, we will all experience what we are meant to experience- the understanding that every moment is a moment of dying or ending. Only it is not the way our ego perceives dying. It is the end of something completed, only to give rLosing my Duality
By: Jessica Burnham

When we look at the world around us, it is sometimes difficult to see the silver lining when so much appears to be a dark tunnel with no end in sight. Just take a look at the news, and you will most likely feel immediately like you are sinking into a “pit of despair,” to use a phrase from the classic Princess Bride (I wish I could whisper it in that sinister voice!). Aside from all the sadness being presented in the media, we have our own world of suffering. It is almost like walking on a trampoline. As we try to move forward, we sink and lose our balance with each step. This walk requires a delicate balance, then someone else gets on and decides to jump really hard- throwing you up even further into the air- our world of ‘no control’. We get in our car, and hear something we don’t like- we don’t feel so warm and fuzzy anymore. We come into work and the entire computer system is down, everyone wants something immediately- and that sinking feeling begins to take over once again. Down the elevator we go!

I find one of my greatest challenges in life is that I am constantly trying to rationalize or understand the darkness I see around me. When I see that someone has murdered their family I can’t help but try to understand, why would a person wake up one day and choose to commit this heinous crime? Where does this desperation come from? Is it simply karma? Or is there something deeper, and so innate that it is impossible to truly understand?

What about the human being, who can look within their heart, and feel so much compassion for this darkness that they are capable of the deepest love even during a time of great despair? I think about the Amish community, who lost a number of children during a murderous crime committed against their most innocent while attending school. They came together in a statement and emphasized forgiveness, compassion- and invited the widow of the individual who decided to take these beautiful lives from this Earth into their homes to grieve.

Have you ever seen someone suffer to the point of exhaustion as an outsider? You say to yourself, “If they could only feel more compassion for their own suffering, and know how loved they are? How special they are?” Yet, how often do all of us look at our selves with disgust, anger, and shame? We are capable of feeling a greater compassion for others than we are for our own suffering and actions.

My whole life I have come to tears whenever I hear the song, Amazing Grace. The line in which the writer, the one who was able to express their pain and light simultaneously in such a remarkable song, talks about how they were lost, and then they were found. This individual encountered some of the most gruesome conditions committed against humanity during their life in the slave trade, and truly felt lost in darkness. But through grace, he was able to love so deeply and forgive himself, as well as others for their unconsciousness. It is amazing how our unconsciousness and the unconsciousness of others can bring us to our knees in surrender, and lead us to that light at the end of the tunnel of humanity’s darkness. The tears that I live when I hear that song are evidence of my own surrender to loving the deepest darkness within my self and others.

What freedom exists in love and compassion for our own self inflicted crimes? And how amazing is it that unconsciousness can bring so much freedom in the end of the deepest suffering? When I was in my first year of college, I was truly in one of the darkest places of my life. I looked at myself in the greatest form of judgment. I felt so abandoned, lost and scared. My world became complete chaos and I had to come to terms with truly being alone. I prayed with all the energy in the world for help and forgiveness- almost begging spirit for relief from my pain. One night, as I did this, on my knees in tears of agony, I felt my body fall. Only my body didn’t fall from anywhere. It was like I was lifted into the air, and all of my sadness and delusion had been lifted out of me. The deepest calm I had ever experienced up until that point in my life came over me, and I felt nothing but gratefulness and peace. I lay there in deep astonishment, and I clearly heard the words “You are forgiven”. Yes, I was always forgiven- but the words were spoken to me and given to me in a way I never knew had existed. These simple words brought me to peace. And they cleared the darkness that I could not see through- the darkness of self inflicted unforgiveness.

When we can give this gift of forgiveness and a love that is accepting of other’s shortcomings to our self and those around us, they too can feel the same thing that spirit gives to us so often. Our connection to spirit as spirit’s love is such a gift. It blossoms before us in the most mundane situations, in the darkest situations, and the happiest of experiences. It is so versatile, and lives everywhere. Our inability to see it at times of crisis brings us to an even greater experience of love when we do see it- the yin and the yang. It is like walking through a tall maze. Our view is obstructed, and we feel lost. The free, openness of the Earth is just above these self inflicted walls. And the only source that can ever remove those walls is you and your deep connection to the deepest love that you are.

Our unconsciousness is necessary for growth- for without it, we could never have compassion for those that are unconscious, deluded. We could never say- ‘Oh ya, I understand why they did that- I understand what they need.’ We can see when another is lost, because we have been lost. And we can love another when they are lost, just as we have learned to love ourselves through our own maze of delusions. A master, a bodhisattva, knows compassion because they have understood it in their own life. And they have transcended the need to choose and hold onto what love is not. This brings a great sense of appreciation for the darkness in our lives- it connects us to others and helps us see beyond the delusion of separation in the physical. Isn’t it ironic that the darkness we loathe within our core and within others is probably the greatest connector between us?

This is our path before us, as we navigate the illness of society and humanity. But as we go beyond the “I”, it will become easier and easier to see with eyes of compassion and grace. And we will remember when someone is lost before us, that we too were lost and then we were found through compassion, love and grace. se to the next step, phase, experience; yielding to us the present moment- a moment without attachment to anything in the past or future.

In my coaching work, we are taught to ask this question- what are you willing to risk or give up in order to accomplish your goal. I often think of this as- what are we willing to end? What pattern or addiction that we are attached to keeps us chained to our monkey mind’s demands- and does not provide opportunity for growth and evolution?

In Buddhism, they teach a lot about attachment. I was sitting on a plane returning home after visiting family for the holidays. I was reading a book about anger by Thubten Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and I looked over at my significant other wanting affection. I gave him affection- hoping for some in return and it was not granted. I felt bad inside, but didn’t say anything. Then I looked at my book and began reading again. I immediately came to a paragraph about attachment to relationships, and how they feed an expectation for affection. I laughed inside at how amazing the universe delivers these little tidbits when we need them most.

I chose to look inside myself and say- it is time for me to give up this attachment to this personal relationship, and all others. I can love without attaching my expectations and desires to this person. I made the choice for this addiction to end. And hopefully it will not carry over into the next life, if I can continue with my dedication to let go of my mind’s attachment. It is our attachment that makes death appear so daunting. If we were not attached to anything around us, then the idea of death would seem very simple- wouldn’t it? The fear of destruction would end- because change would be okay.

Think about it- this psychology- the fear of ending the fear of something ending. I know that sounds confusing at first- but it is a reality. How many of us really are afraid of ending the attachment to what fear does for us? What does your fear do for you? How does it give you the opportunity to hold onto things that you’ve outgrown? It is like having a co-dependant relationship with your inner demon. This co-dependant relationship is what creates our perceptual hell. Many people are afraid of death, because they don’t know what will happen after they die. But the truth is, we never know what will happen from moment to moment. All we can do is continue our evolution by letting go of our attachment to the fear of the unknown, what some people call death or destruction.