“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.” – Ovid, poet
“His two months in hospital recovering…!”
Xander (Xan) had been driving the car the night it hit a patch of ice and his wife, Xena, died. It had happened over three years ago. He had finally decided it was time to talk to someone about it when his closest friend told him Xena would expect him to move on with his life.
Xander and Xena had immigrated to Canada ten years ago, and started a successful franchise restaurant. They also co-created a son, Xerxes, aged 5 and a daughter, Xuxa, aged 4. Xerxes was in kindergarten this year while Xuxa attended a local day care centre.
The children had adjusted well, like some kids can do, to the loss of their mother. They had two aunts, his sisters, Xylia and Xiomara, who had stepped in to help Xander that first year. And, their friends and neighbours had gone out of their way to support him and his young family after Xena’s passing. His two months in hospital recovering had been an especially difficult time for everyone. But, they had all come through it.
“… aura of someone still in the throes of grief.”
Lately, Xander, had not been doing well. But, he looked otherwise. He was a tall man about 40 years old with straight, jet black hair which was cut trim and stylishly to enhance his well tailored suit and dress shoes. He looked like a successful entrepreneur who worked hard to achieve his business success.
But, Xander’s face and especially his eyes, looked drawn and tired. He moved in a sluggish manner like someone just waking up. He had that aura of someone still in the throes of grief.
After he had told me his story of Xena’s death and how he was coping three years on, I asked him, what he wanted to achieve if he decided to work with me. He was very pensive for several minutes before he replied with,
“When my friend told me Xena would expect me to get on with life and raise our children, I knew he was right…because that’s what I would want her to do if I had been the one who was killed that night. So, I guess I want to find a way to move on with life…if that’s possible?”
“…or I’m going to crash again, just in a different way!”
“Xander, I’m here to tell you it is possible. As you already know, everyone must learn to deal with the loss of loved ones…because, it happens to all of us, through out life!”
“I know that, Ken, but Xena’s death has left such a huge hole in so many parts of my life…I just don’t know where to start!” he replied, his grief consuming him as his eyes filled with tears.
I waited a bit while he composed himself before saying,
“Xander, I can help you move though your grief and get your life back on track. But, it requires you to be willing to look at things from more perspectives than perhaps you have so far. Are you willing to do that?”
“I’ve gotta do something fast or I’m going to crash again, just in a different way!” he replied, recognizing he needed to move on.
“I miss how she mothered our kids.”
“OK! Let’s get started by dealing with the grief. Xander, what do you miss most about Xena? What did she do or perhaps, what didn’t she do, you are still missing the most?”
He was quiet for a moment before he said, in a soft voice,
“I miss her being there with me, her presence in my life. I always knew she had my back…I could rely on her! That’s the thing I most miss. And, I miss it every day.”
“OK! What else do you miss about Xena?”
“I think it’s her optimism…she had this belief things would always work out. When we immigrated and started our business, all I saw were obstacles. But, all she saw were opportunities…Ken, I miss that, too!”
“OK! What else do you miss about Xena?”
He paused briefly again before he said,
“I miss how she mothered our kids. She was so attentive to them, so devoted…so loving!”
“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.” – Marcel Proust, author
“…I am the particles of their waves of love they had for each other.”
“Xander, you’ve identified three specific things you have been missing about Xena, her presence, her optimism and her mothering of your children. Let’s deal with those three, one at a time. OK?”
“Sure! But, how do we do that, Ken?”
“Xander, we do that by broadening our perspective on Xena’s passing by using nature. Let me offer you an example. When the leaves drop from the trees in the fall, we call them dead leaves…but, in nature, they are not really dead, they are leaves being transformed into nutrients to nurture other trees and plant life. Are you with me so far?”
“Are you saying my Xena is becoming nutrients in the ground?” he asked, skeptically.
“Science tells us everything is composed of particles and waves of light, so biologically, her body, those particles of light, are indeed becoming nutrients. But, her waves of light, her love, have been transformed into other sources of light, other sources of energy.”
“I’m not sure I follow…!” he said, a confused look rising on his face.
“Xander, did you ever notice the love your parents had for each other…those waves of energy or light were transformed into particles of energy by their union…which is you!” I suggested.
“You’re saying my parents waves of love transformed into me…and, I am the particles of their waves of love they had for each other.”
“It sounds silly and simplistic, but it is biologically and physically true within the laws of nature.”
“This means Xena’s love for you and her children is not gone…only transformed.”
“Ken, I never considered myself the transformed particles of my parents light waves of love. But, it sort of makes sense…although, it sounds weird to say it out loud.”
“There is another law of nature you also need to know. And, that is the law of energy conservation. It says you can’t create or destroy light…only transform it from waves to particles or vice versa…particles to waves. This means Xena’s love for you and her children is not gone…only transformed.”
“What’s the good of knowing that law, Ken? It won’t bring her back!” he said, an edge to his voice.
“You’re right, it won’t bring her back…but it will help you notice and appreciate its new transformed versions and enable you to move on with life.”
“I’m confused again. Would you say that again?”
“If you can see the specialness of Xena and her love in other forms around you, it keeps her, and her memory, close, as you move forward. For example, you said you miss her presence…that you felt she had your back! Whose presence have you been noticing more and who you feel supports you now, Xander?”
“Grief is a temporary, one sided perception of loss. “- King Ayles, writer
“…notice the comfort you create with that thought…”
He paused, looking past me into the middle distance and as a soft smile emerged, he said,
Then he added,
“She’s my youngest sister. And, she has always felt she owed me because I helped her years ago when she was struggling. Now, she seems to take pride in helping me with the kids. And, they’re crazy about her. She comes whenever I need her…no questions asked.”
“So, can you see some of Xena’s special presence in your sister, Xylia?” I asked, wondering if he was ready to take his first leap through his grief and into his future.
“Actually, Xylia and Xena were close. I think Xena would approve of her sister-in-law helping me with the children.”
“Xander, notice the comfort you created with that thought…that is the start of moving through your grief.”
“Really?” he responded.
“…we see them with both good and bad behaviours…just like the rest of us.”
“Now, it is important to honour Xena as the human being she was and avoid creating a one sided perception of her. So, tell me the worst aspects or limitations of Xena’s presence and support…of her being there for you!”
“You mean, the bad side of it, Ken?”
“Yes, I do! It is important, if we are to truly honour someone we love, we see them with both good and bad behaviours…just like the rest of us.”
“You mean it dishonours them to view them as an angel or devil…that kind of thing?”
“Xander, that is exactly it! Real people have both positive and negative traits. If we only decide to notice one or the other, we disrespect them and their humanity. Each of us is truthfully an ‘angelic devil.’ So, what aspects of Xena’s presence and support did you not really like?”
“There was the time she took my Mother’s side in a dispute…”
“The one that bugged me the most was when I disciplined the kids. She rarely backed me up…often taking their side and even accusing me of being unreasonable and impractical.”
“OK! what was another limitation of her presence and support?” I asked him.
“Well, when I wanted to trade in our car for a pickup, she refused, even though I showed her how it wouldn’t increase our payments. She was totally unreasonable that time.”
“And, one more Xander!”
“There was the time she took my Mother’s side in a dispute Mom and I were having about what to do with Dad’s tools after he passed away a few years back.”
“… how about a third benefit to Xylia’s presence and support?”
“Nice work Xander. Now, I want you to identify the three best things about the new forms of presence and support you are noticing in your sister, Xylia.”
“Well…” he said, thoughtfully,
“She supports, and never challenges me, when I discipline the kids…she stays out of it entirely. This makes it easier for me at times and probably for the kids as well…having only one boss.”
“What is another benefit to Xylia’s presence and support, Xander?”
“I can talk to her about things, because she’s my sister, that wouldn’t have interested Xena, like our childhood, our ancestors…things I’ve often wondered about.”
“And, how about a third benefit to Xylia’s presence and support?”
“I think Xylia’s efforts to help me has drawn my whole birth family closer than we have ever been before. I wish Xena was here to see it. I think she would be pleased because we often talked about how distant my family was compared to hers.”
“I couldn’t have foreseen all the good things that have followed my mother’s death. The renewed energy, the surprising sweetness of grief. The tenderness I feel for strangers on walkers. The deeper love I have for my siblings and friends. The desire to play the mandolin. The gift of a visitation.”
– Mary Schmich, journalist
“…it grows your gratitude for these people and yourself.”
“Very insightful Xander! So, look at what you have done here. You identified just three aspects of Xena you were missing. Then, you took the first one, her presence and support, and noticed their new forms as reflected in your sister, Xylia.”
“Yes I did, didn’t I?” he said, a little surprised at his accomplishment.
“Then, to ensure you remember Xena, as a real person, with both good and bad behaviours, you identified three aspects of that first one, her presence and support, which you actually didn’t like at all. Then, you noticed three aspects of your sister, Xylia presence and support, which you especially like. Can you see the process we used?”
“Yes, I do! I feel a little more grounded and centred about Xena’s passing…in a way. Is that what’s supposed to happen, Ken?”
“Xander, we have only looked at one aspect of Xena’s specialness so far. But, yes, as we do more of them, you become more emotionally balanced about her passing. You will know when you have done enough traits and behaviours. In my experience, it varies, but usually ranges around five to seven.”
“I’m also noticing, I am even more appreciative of Xylia because, now I feel a special connection between her and Xena.”
“You’re a very insightful person, Xander. Yes, as you find Xena’s specialness in the people around you, such as, your children, family, friends, and even yourself, it grows your gratitude for these people and yourself.”
“I’m anxious to continue, Ken. Can we keep going?”
“Sure can! Let’s go!”
Xander identified a total of six special aspects of his deceased wife, Xena, which he took though the same process over the next hour and a half. By the end, he was filled with tears of gratitude.
“Grief releases love and it also instills a profound sense of connection.”
– Jacqueline Novogratz, businesswoman