On Grief and Growth: Strange New Inspirations and Insights

On Grief and Growth - Life Coaching with Teresa Young

My dears, I feel like reflecting on how grief and growth may—as I’m discovering—meet in our lives. So I’ll hit you right up front with what feels deeply personal to me.

Since my mother had some awful surgery just before Hurricane Michael pounded my parents’ house and town, then she declined and died three months later, I’ve been immersing myself in research on dying, death, and “life after.” If you know me, you know this is very different for me.

Though I do have a memory of myself sprawled on my pink bedspread, 13 years old, writing a piece on the logic of the immortal soul. No one had assigned it to me and no one was waiting to read it. But it was important to me, because eternal life was a clear and vibrant truth to me. But that was then.

Fall from paradise

That sweet certainty of mine was shattered a few years later. I was in an honors history class, and I had just become a young mother. Then we spent weeks on the Holocaust.

A hammer of shock and grief came down on me. When the apocalyptic dust settled a bit, I declared myself an atheist and an existentialist. Though in truth I also railed at God for allowing such atrocities.

I remember one bike ride home. I was livid, cursing and swerving all over the road, and newly free somehow.

Out went the Catholic creed I’d recited by heart since childhood, and the baby with the bathwater in terms of any belief in a higher power. I didn’t believe in anything beyond these mortal lives of ours. I just believed in myself, and in the folks around me.

Thinkers like Viktor Frankl moved me. My passion for the human journey was somehow born through my anger.

Jung and mystery in the mix

My continuing explorations, especially reading Jung and experiencing synchronicity, brought me back to a kind of center from that brink. But I was still an existentialist.

To me, the “shorthand” for describing this philosophy is that we create our own meaning and purpose in life. That’s what—as in all—there is.

As a coach, that point of view has been a space of freedom for me. A creative space. My fascination with the energy underlying all things has co-existed peacefully with my existentialist mindset. I’ve been congruent.

The realm of quantum physics has been the unifying field for me. Everything can come together there without potentially loaded religious or New Age language that may alienate people for all kinds of reasons.

And I’ve also, always, still, had a soft spot in my heart for mystery. For what we can’t explain. Was that a distant fife and drum heralding eventual, ever-evolutionary change in me?

Then my mother passed through death’s door

Since then I’ve been deep in a study of death and beyond. And I’m clear that my new interest isn’t temporary. My grief and my creative process are coming together right here.

After all, I am an explorer. I always have been.

These days I’m also in daily conversation with my 83 year-old dad. It’s a new ritual for the two of us. We’re talking it all out here in this strange country, him without his wife and me without my mother.

With beauty in this dark brew

More truth: I’m 100% clear that in this season of loss, there’s beauty, too. I experience large and small daily gifts of awareness and insight, and bits of delight like a flower or a bird or a glass or a fabric that my mother would love. It’s goosebump city around here.

And I’m feeling energized by permission I’ve given myself to delve into soul territory. The word feels like rich brew that I’m tasting anew in some stranger than ever act of freedom.

Yes, it’s beautiful and newly confusing territory. Here’s an example of what I mean:

I attended Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Jazz Series not long ago with my dear friend Maggie, a Brit who has lived in L.A. for decades. The series included a tribute to Oscar Peterson.

“To Oscar, with Love” was a night of exquisite sounds and a sweet vibe, featuring world-class jazz pianists and a legendary bassist. And I had a discombobulating experience in the midst of it.

New urges and uncertainties

During one gorgeous piano solo, I slipped into a dreamy, ecstatic state. And just then I felt a sudden wave of regret for something that had happened earlier.

Because in the pre-show traffic madness on Grande Street, with the clock ticking toward the concert’s downbeat, we were trying to turn right in front of the hall to get into the parking structure. Meanwhile, all the folks valeting cars or dropping people off were heading left out of there. And that included an enormous black tour bus. Classic gridlock.

I’m an L.A. driver with plenty of street battle under my belt. So I was holding my ground with the bus driver while trying to get into the lane on my right to turn right. But he was just as determined to squeeze into my lane ahead of me to go left.

My eye-to-eye, non-verbal cue was, dude, I’ve gotta go right! He gestured at me wildly. Lady, I’m going left!

Later, as the music relaxed my busy brain, I suddenly registered unhappiness with my approach to the bus guy, not relief that we got in there on time. The messy truth is that I’m ever more aware this season of my own habitual ways of being.

I’m processing one message in my current studies, that a big part of the work of our lives, let’s say at a “soul level”, is really just kindness. Simple care and concern for our fellow travelers, both human and other. In short, I’m feeling challenged on a whole new level.

Beauty and confusion as delicious combo

Confusing, indeed. Because I’m not about to start expecting doormat behavior or perfection of myself or others. So it’s delicious confusion for me.

Like the conversation Maggie and I had the next morning, inspired by the music, and even by our ride down afterward in the packed elevator, buzzing with all the equally thrilled folks around us. The chance to share and reflect on my new confusion with my old friend was yet another lovely experience.

The point for me now is to continue living in the unknown in this odd new phase. I’m feeling my way.

So another truth is that I’m experiencing my mom’s death not just as heartbreaking loss, but also as opening. Opening into what, I still don’t really know. Though it’s at least in part about growth on some level that’s only possible now.

Growth meets connection

And not just growth, but also capacity for deep connection. As one of my personal heroines, Marion Woodman, said, “It’s suffering that opens us to love.”

 

It’s suffering that opens us to love.
— Marion Woodman

And now

So the somewhat shocking truth is that, for the first time in my adult life, I can no longer describe my philosophical and spiritual point of view as existential. Though I don’t have words yet for what’s emerging.

And that’s fine. All things in the fullness of time. New, unknown life is born, then named.

And you

Is there anything you’re grieving? If so, how could some reflection through a lens that I’ll call soul territory possibly aid and soothe you? Take the time you deserve to ask and answer those questions, toward as yet unknown next phases that await you, and others through you.

 

 

Life Coach Teresa Young's Bio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on Grief, That Age-Old Walk Through Dark Woods in Strange Country

Reflecting on Grief - Life Coaching with Teresa Young

I’m reflecting on a setback I’m having right… now. And after a good day yesterday! A phone session with an inspiring new client, a great meeting with my own coach, lessons with two super-fun students, a hug from their sweet mom. Poker Night with two of my sons and their ladies. Then, boom. Grief storm. I cried off and on all night.

And yet I also know everything is OK. It’s just a natural expression of the yin and yang of all things, including grieving.

Everything really is OK

So now I’m writing my way through this particular neck of dark woods while listening to Pandora’s “Rain Radio.” I played it for my mom all night right before she died. Now it’s one way of keeping her near me.

And I’m feeling the inner roller coaster ride of these two months since her death. I’m seeking guidance, too, as always. But in new ways. And I’m connecting with her, or at least trying to. Hoping I’m succeeding. Not sure yet.

But just after I got back to L.A., I had a beautiful dream of her striding out of the rubble of a fallen building like an action-adventure star, young and strong, with flaming red hair, in a bronze raincoat. And a dream of getting out of bed early one morning to sit in lotus pose to meditate.

I’m in the mood to consider that one almost an out-of-body experience. It felt so real. Talk about guidance. I’m workin’ on it.

Strange new country

The bottom line is that I’m hovering at the cusp of a dark place. Falling in at moments. Or for hours. Climbing out.

And again, it’s OK. My mother’s life and the beauty and complexity of our relationship are worth this heartbreak. It makes perfect sense to both my logical mind and my deep feeling function.

In fact, I’ve given myself permission to check in and out of “ordinary reality” as needed. Because the truth is that I’m in explorer mode as always, too, intent on learning whatever I can of the human experience while on this new leg of my own life journey.

Learning and changing

So far, I’ve learned that I go from intense need for solitude, for unstructured time, free of productivity concerns, to intense need for human contact. But of a kind that can be with me right here, where I was last night and am in this moment, grappling with death’s hand in the human condition, up close and personal. With the fact that my mother’s death is changing me—my priorities, my obsessions—in profound ways that I can’t predict yet, much less express.

I’ve never been here before. And I can’t see through to the other side of this stretch of unknown territory.

Nothing to fear here

I’m not afraid, though. I trust this process. I guess it’s the explorer in me. And I realize how stable my life had become these past few years. Stable in ways I didn’t know I could lose through feeling so searingly painfully the loss of another.

I didn’t know that what may have in fact become a phase of stasis gives way, in the face of the tipping of some great hourglass, to… what? So far, I don’t know. At least I don’t have words for it.

And yet, again, I know everything is OK. I know all this feeling is healthy and right. Not to be dreaded. Swallowed. Papered over. Made pretty. That in fact doing so would be the makings of future trouble.

It’s time to take time

Grief will have its space, time, and impact, whether honored and given its due, or driven down into the unconscious if we try to avoid the mess. Or if well-meaning others succeed in advising or expecting us to close that door and “move on.”

After all, you can’t cram for and knock grief out, like prepping for a meeting or taking the written test at the DMV. I have a new phrase for the present, at least new for me: soul time, in which “linear” time is no longer the end-all, be-all.

In fact, I’m thinking a lot about the soul these days. This is one of those times when it just demands what it wants and needs, what it knows is the work at hand. Work that may inform our futures. Our creative and contributory destinies.

It is what it is for now

And again, I trust all that. I honor it. It’s one way of honoring my beautiful mother. Of honoring these precious lives we’re all gifted with, both our own and those dearest to us.

Because, in truth, I’m still on my path. I’m still creatively engaged, feeling my way. So far, that’s what I need. That’s all I know. And it’s enough for me.

 

Life Coach Teresa Young's Bio

 

When Things Fall Apart? Just Proceed, One Baby Step at a Time. One Foot in Front of the Other.

When Things Fall Apart - Life Coach Teresa Young

Processing… everything

I’m in Houston on my way home to L.A., already feeling like I’m back in civilization. Airport WiFi!

But I’m still intensely connected to what will be a long recovery process in Panama City. Because it’s just three weeks since historic Hurricane Michael hit the area hard.

There’s plenty I can check on and text my dad about on the iPhone I drove 100 miles to get him for his birthday. That phone, a communication channel I know I can count on in the midst of this mess, helped me get on the plane home.

Now healing will be very slow for my mom’s hometown, and for my mom. For my dad, too. He has worked himself to the bone.

And not just since Hurricane Michael struck. And not just the month before that, during and after my mom’s scary surgery and scarier complications. But for the past two years, when she was ill but not yet diagnosed. And the extent of her cancer still isn’t clear.

My dad’s health has suffered in the caregiving he’s been doing. Anybody who has been through their own parents’ tough times knows where I am with them now, in heart-wrenching new territory.

Emotion and encouragement

So despite my love for my beautiful life in L.A., I had a tough time leaving Panama City. Finally my dad and I agreed that I had to get in my rental car and go before we both broke down.

This morning it had a flat tire. Under these crazy circumstances, it took three hours and several phone calls to get some help. I wasn’t about to let my dad mess with it.

And now I know firsthand how natural disasters are in the news for a week or two and then fade from view. The truth is, the recovery process in and around Panama City is barely underway. The shock everybody is in is still descending.

I heard dark threads of conversation all over town that I countered with encouragement. The stages of grief are just beginning.

Blossoming in hardship

On the other hand, one inspiring result of all this heartbreak has been my family coming together. And that’s big. Because the fact is, this left coast liberal and those red state Republicans have re-connected in ways we haven’t been capable of in years.

My local brother Ken is kind of my twin on the planet, the big guy version born 364 days later. One day a year on his birthday we’ve always said we’re the same age. He’s former Coast Guard, and about the time I started my own business he started his. These days the ace helicopter mechanic runs his own tractor company while managing his 40-acre homestead.

So it was satisfying to watch him manhandle our parents’ ruined property. The first time, before I got there, he cut them out of a house-high barrier of once magnificent old oaks.

The second time he worked to get tangles of trees and all kinds of debris like siding, roofing, front porch overhead fan parts, and their shattered mailbox to the side of the road. We’ve heard FEMA will take it all from there.

It seemed to me he was doing what he was into from the time he was pint-size, pushing all his great trucks around in the yard. Being his kickass, can-do self in the world.

A day in the life

In the midst of it all, my two brothers and I managed to have some beers and a party-planning conversation last Friday for our dad’s 83rd birthday. We met at a favorite bar of theirs. It had just opened back up, running cash only and standing room only.

Then my brother Michael, a former-Navy security pro on loan from his work overseas, trekked back to the AirBnB townhouse out on the beach that I’d found before I left L.A. His family had to vacate their battered apartment building and are looking hard for housing. Ken headed to his place in nearby Chipley. And I went back to our parents’ home. Most folks have power now.

I had to smile while I was still looking for my rental car and saw Ken already rolling out onto the highway in his 50-foot rig, sporting one of several Caterpillar contraptions he works with. A day in the life.

Then yesterday as he was clearing our parents’ lot, they lost water to the house again. Amazingly, a guy from the Water Department came right out and diagnosed an issue underground. It wasn’t at the street, so it wasn’t his problem.

The next thing I knew, Ken was waist-deep in a hole, gluing something with something Michael had snagged from the hardware store. And our parents had water again.

Michael had already rigged up an antenna that my dad bought years ago. So now my parents can watch some TV. And I fed everybody. That’s been my thing.

Best birthday ever

And we had our dad’s 83rd birthday party. Despite our depressed parents’ protests, it went down. And Dad loved it. Two little girls next door even brought over homemade cookies, an impressive fete given the mess at hand! Mom couldn’t get out of bed to join us, but she said she thinks it was Dad’s best birthday ever.

And a note on the satellite image of Hurricane Michael here:

Just before I left, Ken heard that emergency responders had found one of Mexico Beach’s weather station recorders. They learned it had measured sustained 160 mph winds with gusts of up to 201 mph.

So it’s a good thing this storm moved fast. Otherwise its impact would have been even worse.

Tough stuff and temporary opportunities

Panama City and larger Bay County have had two hospitals for decades. And Hurricane Michael pummeled them both. They’re still closed right now except for emergency services.

So long convoys of troopers and sheriffs roll through town at least once daily, sirens blazing, getting people to hospitals sixty or more miles away. (Do they transport one patient per vehicle? I still don’t quite get it.)

And on my drive to Destin to buy my dad’s phone, I heard urgent requests on the radio for more hospital personnel, and PSAs about emergency nursing certifications. Both things I’ve never in my life heard before.

For now, back to La-La Land

For now, I’m grateful for the part I’ve been able to play for my family in this crisis. And for everything I’m learning about natural disasters.

For instance, I know now that west coast folks need generators to complete earthquake prep. Think about multi-week power outages. Oh, and landlines really will be useless.

For now I’m ready to get back to my own work. And I’ll keep going to Panama City. My parents will need ongoing help prepping for immense changes, like getting their 2-story house repaired and ready to sell.

And is it time for assisted living? Can they agree on what comes next?

It’s no longer a someday situation. One thing they do agree on is that they won’t be moving to La-La Land. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Meanwhile, thank you again and always to everyone who helped us. As my niece Kyla says, “You have done something great.”

We’ll never forget it, as the wild, wonderful journey of life moves on into who knows what strange new country.

That’s the gig we’re all on, right? Never a dull moment.

 

Life Coach Teresa Young's Bio