“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” – Helen Keller, author
“I don’t know how to move forward from here.”
Seonag was in a deep state of grief, as was her husband, Seager, a local potato farmer. They had been together for over 20 years and have three daughters, Sela aged 18, Sachi, 15 and Sable, 11.
In the last three years, both Seonag’s parents, who were in their seventies, had passed away. And, just six months earlier, her eldest daughter, Sela, had suicided with alcohol.
But, it was Seonag who came to see me. She told me Seager refused to come with her, wanting to grieve in his own way ”in private,” as she termed it. Seonag was a heavy set woman of 47 who had spent most of her working life as a police officer faithfully serving the small community where she lived.
She said she had seen it all…the trials and tribulations of what she called, “the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the wise and the stupid.” Her hardened attitude was apparent not just in her manner but even in her voice and on her face. It was magnified I suspected by her current grief.
When, I asked what her goals were by coming to see me she replied with tears welling up into her deep blue, pained eyes,
“I am so angry at Sela for doing this to us…how could she do this to us? And, what do I do with this anger which …it just overwhelms me sometimes. Ken, I’ve been off work for weeks, avoiding people, moping around…I’m just…really, really stuck. And, I don’t know how to move forward from here.”
“… she was quite a worry for you…”
“Seonag, you have lost three of the most important people in your life in a very short time. You are entitled to grieve! It sounds like your parents were elderly. But, how did they die?”
“Ken, my Mom and Dad were living in the same senior’s manor across the hall from each other. They had been content and very close. But, Dad had a stroke and Mom seemed to lose her interest in things after he passed. She died about five months later in her sleep. Their passing was hard, but not a total surprise. It’s my daughter’s death which haunts me!”
“Tell me about Sela!” I said.
Seonag leaned back in her chair, looking briefly up at the ceiling for a second as if to collect inspiration perhaps, before saying,
“Sela was always a challenging child for us…a total contrast to her two younger sisters, Sachi and Sable…she was demanding and rebellious. She did well in school academically but was forever getting into trouble for testing… and usually breaking, the rules. And, then in high school she got into drinking, drugs and dudes.”
“Do you know what precipitated her suicide, Seonag?”
“We’re not really sure. We saw no signs of her depressing or anything like that. But, she had recently broke up with her latest boyfriend. And, she was still living at home with us and looking for a new job. So, things had not been going well for her for some time I guess…looking back now!” she said, surprising her self with her own statement.
“I guess she was quite a worry for you and your family?” I asked to begin broadening her awareness.
“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.” – Thomas Campbell, author
“…useful to understand death and grief because we all will face it, repeatedly.”
“She was that, Ken! But, you know, she had a big heart and could be so caring and attentive when she wanted to…she was a combination of extremes. She could behave so erratically. And yet, took such great care of me when I was recovering with my broken leg last year.” she replied, with a sad, half smile from her memories.
“Well let’s talk about grief for a moment and see if you are ready to move forward after your loss of your daughter. OK?” I asked.
“OK! But I don’t see how I can ever get past her passing so suddenly!” Seonag replied.
“Let’s first focus on the role of death in nature. As you know, we all will die at some point. So, it is very useful to understand death and grief because we all will face it, repeatedly.” I said starting off.
“That reminds me of that saying, ‘you might as well appreciate what you already have because no one gets out of this life alive, anyway!’” she said, with a small smile.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Mitch Albom, author
“… that would mean my daughter didn’t die, she was transformed!”
“There is a lot of truth in that, Seonag. There is a cycle to life of birth and deaths of everything: our cells, our bodies, our families, our communities, our planet, our solar system and even the Milky Way galaxy is part of it! So, there is this ongoing evolution or transformation of everything. And, it can be comforting to us when we understand it and its purpose in our life.”
“Are you saying we can be comfortable with death…with the death of a loved one? Is that possible?” she said, her voice jumping a notch, emphasizing her question and her doubt.
“When we realize death is not actually a loss but rather a transformation, it broadens our view of its function.”
“A transformation to what…nothingness?” she asked, her skepticism rising again.
“A transformation to another form, Seonag. A transformation is required by the laws of nature! Einstein uncovered that with his now famous equation E=MC2 which simply means nature doesn’t create or destroy, it only transforms energy from one form to another.”
“But Ken, that would mean my daughter didn’t die, she was transformed! Transformed into what? I don’t see any transformations of her around me…that’s for sure!”
“Seonag, you already see this process in action every fall when billions of leaves, die, fall to the ground. They don’t disappear, instead they are transformed into nutrients for the future growth of the plant and animal life around them.”
“Yes, I can see and understand that Ken. But…”
“Seonag, it’s the same process when a person dies. That’s what grief is for…to give us the time and the motivation to see this natural transformational law of nature.”
“Ken, that would mean I should be able to see some form of transformation since Sela passed. I don’t!” she replied, anger floating up with her tone.
“If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever!” – A.A. Milne, author
“…I could find other similar forms…in my siblings, my daughters, my spouse, my closest friends…or even myself.
“Then, let’s go find it! Are you interested?”
“If it can help me get past this overwhelming sadness I’m experiencing…then sure!” she said, cautiously.
“Let me offer you an example that happened to me when my Mother passed several years ago. I was at her wake with my eight siblings. As I drank a coffee and watched my brothers and sisters greet people, I was thinking about my Mom’s sense of humour and how I was going to miss the banter we enjoyed.”
“That’s something I miss about Sela…her laugh…her childlike giggle when she found something very funny.”
“Well, at that very moment, my sister Joanne laughed from across the room, reminding me she had a similar witty attitude.”
“Then, I was remembering she would always tell me she loved me. As this loss crossed my mind, I noticed my sister Mary, about ten feet away, hugging someone, reminding me she would tell me she loved me.” I said.
“And, so I continued on for several other things about my Mom I was missing. And, for each one, I could find other similar forms of them in my siblings, my daughters, my spouse, my closest friends… or even myself.”
“That’s really intriguing, Ken!” she replied.
“… whose laugh or giggle did you start noticing and appreciating more?”
“It was then I stopped grieving my loss because I could see the new transformations of her love all around me. It was very comforting to me from that moment on. I see the things that made my Mom special to me all around me even to this day.”
“So, would you tell me the thing, the behaviour, Sela did or didn’t do, you most miss since she passed, Seonag?” I asked.
Seonag stared passed me into the space over my left shoulder and tears floated up into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Composing herself, she said,
“As I mentioned, I miss her laugh…her childlike giggle when she found something very funny. And, her loyalty to me…she was always there when I needed her.”
Seonag, I want you to go to the specific moment when you found out Sela had died. Where were you at that moment? Who was with you?”
“Ken, I was at home with Seager having supper when there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, my colleague, Sam was standing there, in uniform, with this sad, kind of embarrassed look, on his face. He has been to my house many times over the years for parties and holiday gatherings. He looked so out of place standing there at that moment. And, then he said they had found Sela… in her car…in a ditch.”
“Seonag, from that moment on, whose laugh or giggle did you start noticing and appreciating more?”
“That would be Sable! She has that same quirky way about her humour.” she responded.
“Anyone else have a laugh or giggle that reminds you of Sela?” I asked her.
“I think she got her laugh form her Dad, so I hear it sometimes in him, too. Though he doesn’t do much laughing lately.”
“Anyone else, where you notice Sela’s special way of laughing or giggling?”
“Sela has a cousin, on her Dad’s side, whose giggles like that as well. Her names is Samantha and she is about the same age as Sable, around eleven.”
“Anyone else, Seonag?”
“No, I don’t think so!”
“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mind embraces all day through.”
– Billie Holiday, musician
“… if we only infatuate, or only resent, the deceased, it holds us back in life?
“To grieve someone fully is to honour them as a person we had the privilege to know. To honour them is to respect the fact they were a real human being with both traits we liked and disliked.” I said.
Then I added,
“Grieving is stalled when we only see one side of a person, only the traits we like or only the ones we dislike. So, perceiving people, we have lost, as angels or devils paralyses our grief, and so, our own learning and development.”
“You’re saying, if we only infatuate, or only resent, the deceased, it holds us back in life? Is that what you mean?”
“I do, Seonag! So, what were the drawbacks, limitations or things you didn’t like about Sela’s laugh or giggle?”
Seonag paused for a bit before saying,
“Sela could, and in fact did, giggle or laugh at really inappropriate times and places which often offended me and others. Like the time she giggled…almost to ridicule us, when her father and I were watching a sad movie on Netflix.”
“Are you saying Sela’s giggle at times seemed insensitive, rude or even cruel, Seonag?”
“Yes! And, the Christmas morning she laughed at my gift I had so carefully selected for her sisters.”
“Her laugh was hurtful to you at times as well.”
“In the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
– Havelock Ellis, author
“He is only interested in laughing with them.”
“Yes it was, Ken. And, the time she laughed at me when I challenged her about her excessive drinking…it was so disrespectful to me and mean!”
“Seonag, you said, you now notice her younger sister Sable’s giggle, her father Seager’s laugh and her cousin Samantha’s as well. These are the new forms of Sela’s specialness. What makes them so special for you, so valuable to you?”
“With Sable, she has that innocent, child-like quality to it…a sincerity! With Seager, he is so sensitive and respectful with his form. He would not want to hurt anyone by laughing at them. He is only interested in laughing with them. And, for Samantha, her laugh is so full of fun and good will it encourages others to join in.”
“Seonag, are you starting to see how finding the new forms of Sela’s specialness moves you forward in your grieving? Can you see how Sable, Seager and Samantha are each showing your Sela’s specialness transformed and still having a presence in your life?”
“You gave me a forever within the numbered days.” – John Green, author
“… so you can see the new forms of Sela’s specialness all around you…her transformations.
“Yes, I’m starting to feel different about her passing. It is like she is still around me but in other people. It is like the dying leaves you mentioned earlier…their nutrients, Sela’s specialness is still there, but now it is showing up in other people I love… Is that what you mean?”
“Yes, Seonag! We have only looked at one special aspect of Sela. There are several more to do. And, we will do enough so you can see the new forms of Sela’s specialness all around you…her transformations. Then, you will be able to honour her and see her legacy in your life.”
“I got a hint of what’s possible, Ken. But, it seems like I have a long way to go….?”
“You may be surprised how quickly your mind uncovers the new forms of Sela in your life. Let’s keep going and complete this…OK?”
“I feel a little lighter somehow already. Yes, lets keep going!”
Seonag and I worked for another hour or so. She found the limitations of Sela’s loyalty next and the new evolved forms transformed into family members, friends and even herself. Then, we did Sela’s intelligence, her creativity and her beauty.
Finally, Seonag focused on what she called, her ‘eldest daughter’s love’ which had been transformed into a close friend at work. This was the final piece for Seonag. She finished grieving Sela.
So, when I asked her if she could get on with her life now, knowing Sela was all around her, just in new transformations, she said,
“I kind of see her everywhere…in so many people I love! And, I feel her presence right here and right now…Ken, I will be OK now! Thank you!”
“Love is really the only thing we can posses, keep with us and take with us.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, psychologist