As some of you may know, I recently lost my father. [If you’d like to know more, please see the tribute to him that I posted on Facebook: TO DAD, WITH LOVE.]
Since many of my family members, friends and acquaintances have also suffered the loss of loved ones recently (and in the past 3 years, especially due to Covid), I’m sharing the revised version of an article about loss and grief that I published in 2018. My hope is that it will help you with your grief process. Blessings, Gisele
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 01/23/23
LOSS IS ABOUT MORE THAN WHO OR WHAT WE LOSE
My husband and I recently lost one of the rescue cats we’d been sheltering, feeding and trying to get adopted. His name was Solo, a sweet, gentle and friendly Tuxedo cat who was very loving and protective of the other cats in the colony; especially his smaller siblings. After a week-long search, we found poor Solo’s body in a neighbor’s yard, close to the fence between our homes. We believe he got into some rat poison. It was quite shocking to find him that way. I wept inconsolably because of the sad way he died, as well as the condition of his body, which was already in the first stages of decomposition; and for not having had the chance for a proper goodbye. But I also cried for not having realized how seriously ill he was and tried to do more about it (he had looked shaky and non-responsive a week before, so we tried to catch him to take him to the vet but he escaped, and because we couldn’t find anything visibly wrong and he seemed to be doing better, we decided to just keep an eye on him; unfortunately, that was the last time we saw him alive). I also wept for not having been able to find him a permanent home soon enough; for the deep pain I witnessed and felt in my husband, who had developed a soft spot for Solo; but above all, I cried for the kind of world we live in, where too many living beings suffer from neglect and ill-treatment, and where too many are killed so casually and mindlessly, often just for our convenience.
After my husband asked permission to enter the neighbor’s backyard, we went together to pick up Solo’s remains and bring him back to our house, the place that was never meant to be his permanent home but was the only home he knew for the almost three years of his life, ever since he was just a little kitten hiding with his siblings under our shed. We buried him in our backyard, saying our final goodbyes. Ironically, about a week later someone called and asked if Solo was still available for adoption. They were looking for a neutered Tuxedo male to keep company with a Tuxedo female who had recently lost her companion. Solo would have been perfect. The call came about two weeks too late.
A few days later, we attended an event with a few friends and acquaintances. One of the people there was a man who had lost his younger son to suicide just a few months before. I can’t even imagine the kind of pain that man had gone (and was still going) through. I also remember feeling embarrassed about how much I was still suffering for the loss of our rescue cat, and how self-conscious I felt after a friend asked what was wrong with me, and I shared it with him. I caught myself trying to justify what I was feeling and why I was still feeling that way.
Over the years I’ve suffered my share of losses, as everyone else. In the past year alone, my grandmother (with whom I had a very special connection) and a cousin-in-law (a special and wonderful young woman with whom I also shared a special connection) passed away. In addition to Solo, we also lost three other rescue cats; one was them was especially hard, as it was a sweet little kitten who got severely sick and had to be put to sleep. I still carry all of them with me.
As these events caused me to muse about loss more than usual; and considering that every single one of us deals with loss on a regular basis, I decided to write down some thoughts and feelings in relation to this important and reoccurring theme.
1) Loss is always about much more than who or what you lose. As it happened in relation to the death of Solo the rescue cat, loss can bring up many other issues to the surface, including fear of death, feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, etc. Generally speaking, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. However, as our losses can be connected with so many different aspects of our beings and existence (including past experiences of loss), the significance of each loss is quite personal and individual.
2) Loss is loss is loss. There’s no competition or comparison in grief... In other words, no loss should be considered greater or lesser than another; comparing losses is an exercise in futility. There’s no right or wrong here. So I shouldn’t have compared my grief for the loss of our rescue cat with the grief of the gentleman who lost his son. Losses cannot be compared by quantity or quality. Of course, it’s still a good rule of thumb to not try to engage someone who just lost his son to suicide by speaking about the loss of your rescue cat. Each person tends to feel very intensely about their own loss and most likely wouldn’t respond well to a comment that might elicit or imply comparison, especially if they are still grieving. When someone is in need to sympathy for their loss, it’s always better to address their needs without bringing up your own loss, anyway. However, you should be able to go through your own grief process without guilt or shame. Which bring us to the following thought:
3) There’s no shame in loss. Or there shouldn’t be. Easier said than done, as I happened to demonstrate with my own personal experience. However, that’s what we should strive for: understanding that grief due to loss is a natural feeling that needs to be honored and experienced without guilt or shame. In spite of the fact that many of us believe in a higher realm where souls are eternal, it’s still hard to disconnect ourselves from the pain caused by the very real losses in our physical world. The thing is, we are also physical beings, and it is OK to acknowledge and feel loss in this realm, no matter what our spiritual beliefs may be.
4) Suffering more for the loss of one person (or animal companion, etc) over another doesn’t mean caring more for one over the other. Among other things, the circumstances involving someone’s death can make it harder for the people who survive them. As I mentioned above, I lost my grandmother and my cousin-in-law just a few months apart in the past year. Although I was a lot closer to my grandmother than I was to my cousin-in-law, in some ways I suffered my cousin-in-law’s death more intensely. That’s because my grandmother died at the age of 97, having lived a full life, having had the chance to see most of her family for her 97th birthday celebration a couple of weeks before (with family coming from out of state and even of of the country), and having her wish for a good death fulfilled (she died peacefully in her sleep, and mostly in good health). My cousin-in-law, however, was only 41 and died painfully of cancer in the prime of her life, leaving her husband and her 6-year-old son behind, not to mention a mother who had recently lost her husband (my cousin-in-law’s father) to cancer, and whose son (my cousin-in-law’s brother) also has cancer.
5) Those of us who are highly sensitive people (HSP) and empaths might feel loss even more deeply. As I mentioned on my blog article “This Is Too Much!!!” About Highly Sensitive People, what is moderately stimulating to most people is overwhelming to highly sensitive people, who make up about 18 to 20% of the population. One more reason why it’s wise to not compare degrees of grief and loss.
6) The grieving process is not linear. So we shouldn’t expect it to follow a preset pattern. For instance, although the five stages of grief and loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as per Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model) are a generally accepted standard, we can’t expect to go through one by one and be done with it. While some stages might be easily identifiable, others might be hardly noticeable or existent. It’s also common to swing back and forth among them, mix them up and even create a few combos of our own... So it’s better to just go with the flow, accepting and honoring our own process as it is.
7) There is no statute of limitation in relation to loss. Therefore, there should be no rules concerning when and how we are supposed to “get over” a loss. Of course, the exception should be that it’s advisable to seek help to cope with grief and loss whenever that is leading to self-destructive and other destructive behavior.
8) There’s always loss. We are always (and will always be) losing someone or something throughout our entire lives. Accepting this basic principle can help us through the losses we’re certain to suffer. The more acceptance we can muster, the less we grieve. Yes, easier said than done, but a state of mind to work towards nonetheless.
9) Loss and change often go arm in arm. The reverse is also true. Change is the fiber of life; so is loss. We lose people (friends, family, romantic partners, etc), jobs, homes, opportunities, memories... But there’s always another where that one came from. Which brings us to the next thought about loss:
10) Something to lose, something to gain. The upside of loss is gain. We often gain a lot from our losses, from deeper understanding and awareness, maturity, etc, to new people, things or circumstances that come into our lives to fill that void or empty space and redirect our sense of purpose. It’s a natural law of the universe. The gentleman who lost his son knows painfully well that no one can ever replace him; but he has another son who now needs him more than ever. Some people who go through similar tragedies also choose to get involved in support groups and volunteer for organizations that have suicide prevention lines. In our case, just a few days after Solo was gone another stray Tuxedo cat showed up at our door, needing food and shelter. Of course, the newcomer can never replace Solo, who will always be in our hearts. But it is the nature of our universe to create new relationships and circumstances once previous ones are gone.
11) Loss is an illusion. We take loss very personally and focus on the feeling that someone or something has been taken away from us; we even express it that way by talking about “our” losses. However, nothing and no one really belong to us during our temporary passage through this world, do they? In addition, if we believe in the eternity of our souls or energy beings, and that nothing is wasted in the universe, only transformed, then loss doesn’t really exist from a broader perspective. Likewise, if we get more scientific and consider the quantum physics principles involving space/time and alternate realities. Whatever set of beliefs floats our boat, it’s worth a try. Maybe believing that loss is an illusion or that everything happens for a reason won’t make us suffer any less; but it can offer some comfort. In my case, when things get tough I repeat to myself these well-known Abraham-Hicks words: “You are loved. All is well.”
12) We are simply not in control. One of the most important things that loss teaches us is that we are not in control. Concerning Solo, the truth of the matter is that my husband and I weren’t in control of our neighbor’s actions (using the rat poison), or Solo’s actions (eating the rat poison and then running away from our help). We were in control of our own actions, but only from a limited perspective and incomplete understanding of the whole situation. So, ultimately, we were not in control of what happened to him. And the bottom line is that everyone is always doing the best they can with what they know at any given moment. That’s worth remembering whenever we start getting into the blame game (blaming ourselves or others) concerning a loss.
13) We are not alone. There’s always help. That doesn’t mean we can’t take whatever time alone we need to mourn and grieve a loss. But there’s great value in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and sharing it with others. For one, we are reminded that everyone of us deals with loss. In addition, if we are feeling spiritually disconnected due to loss and grief, sharing with others helps us reconnect and become part of the web of life again.
FINAL THOUGHT: If all else fails, remember these famous words: “This too shall pass...”
My heartfelt condolences to everyone in grief,
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
How do we keep ourselves from living our best lives?
Most of us are familiar with the terms fear of success or fear of failure; but do we really understand what these concepts mean, or do they feel mostly like abstractions that we can’t quite define or recognize within ourselves?
I’d guess that most of us, when making decisions and choices, are hardly ever conscious of the fact that we might be sabotaging ourselves due to our response to these fears and other limiting core beliefs. And yet, we tend to self-sabotage on a regular basis through many of our habits or patterns of thought, emotion and action.
If these patterns were easy to recognize and change, we’d already be ahead of this game. But such things are rarely obvious or easy to spot and address. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do it or that we shouldn’t be continuously working on it, anyway.
We are certainly able to come up with convincingly valid reasons for hitting the brakes or checking out of life. Have you ever made a decision about changing something in your life that would bring positive results and forward-movement, only to find yourself grabbing onto the first available excuse (other people, life circumstances, etc) to interrupt the process? Don’t get me wrong, some of the causes for interruptions and change of course can be challenging, difficult obstacles to be surpassed. Life sometimes demands that we slow down or stop for justifiable reasons, such as the loss of loved ones and the consequent grieving process, or the management of a serious health issue, etc. It can be scary to get up and continue to move forward, especially after we take a fall or feel that life knocked us down; and that’s a particularly hard process for highly sensitive empaths. However, for many of us, that can also be reason enough to stop progress all together. Of course, I’m not referring to the normal (and quite necessary) rest and relaxation pauses and stops, along with play time, that all of us should take to be able to recharge; I’m talking about giving up.
More often than not, the most valid excuses mask our deepest fears, which is a fact that we can’t get away with ignoring forever. If we dig deeply enough, we are bound to recognize that life constantly scares us (especially in these intense healing and transformational times) and we don’t need much of an excuse to want to stop on our tracks or even go on reverse, if at all possible. The problem is that we’re not built to continuously hide or retract; sooner or later, our mind, body and spirit start paying the price for staying out of the stream of life for too long.
How long is too long? There’s no easy answer, but we know what happens when we choose to hide and avoid for unhealthily long periods; we’ve all been there and dealt with the consequences. We ‘re quite aware that, at a certain point, the Universe starts nudging us forward; if we continue ignoring the nudges, they eventually become full-out, impossible-to-ignore slaps on the back of the head or kicks in the heinie… So, rather than waiting for that to start happening again, it’s best if we take some time to consider in which areas of our lives we have slowed down too much or stopped the flow. Awareness is half the way; even the process of acknowledging stagnated areas and the need to start moving forward again can open the door for the next phase of the journey to begin.
These uncertain times call for taking a leap of faith as we continue to move forward, trusting that the path will reveal itself as we take the next step.
What’s one small step you can take to move towards your goals and dreams today?
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 08/04/22
Image by Ana Pilar from Pixabay
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10 tips for the functional whiner
...Or How to Become One
Hi, my name is Gisele... and I’m a functional whiner.
What’s a functional whiner, you may ask? It’s someone who uses whining as a tool for venting, but still manages to roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done.
Some people are brought up to believe that they should be strong, they should toughen up, and they shouldn’t complain about stuff. Those with that kind of upbringing end up by internalizing their feelings and emotions, and often blow up in anger or get sick a lot.
On the other end of the spectrum, others grow up being enabled to whine about everything and everyone, and regard themselves as constant victims. They can’t seem to complete anything they start or achieve much in life.
Ideally, we should work towards finding a balance between practicing resilience when faced with life’s challenges and allowing ourselves to express what we feel during our weak moments. That includes being able to whine a bit.
Whining can help unclutter the brain and clear the space for imagination and innovation, including finding creative solutions for life’s problems.
One of my main mottos is: “It ain’t worth doing if you can’t whine about it.” However, I live by important whining rules that help create that balance between safely expressing myself and still being able to achieve my goals. Hence, the Functional Whiner.
The Functional Whiner Rules for Proper Whining Etiquette:
1) Choose the right ears to whine to. Try not to whine to the same person all the time; even if that person is someone whom you really can count on, such as your spouse or partner, another family member or your best friend. Spread the “joy” around! Sometimes, your journal can be your ears.
I also suggest trying the morning pages exercise mentioned by Julia Cameron on her book The Artist’s Way. This exercise, also known as brain drain or mind dump, is an effective tool for uncluttering the brain and sparking creativity.
2) Limit your allowed “whine” time. After all, you have to leave room on your schedule for the rest of... you know, life. If left unchecked, whining can surround you with an aura of negativity, consume you, and take over your life.
3) Whine... but always follow a whining session with a positive action step. In other words: Whine about what you have to do... and then do it, anyway. That’s called whining with a purpose!
4) Don’t whine-shame yourself (or others) and don’t accept whine-shaming. You gotta do what you gotta do to get yourself motivated and ready for action. If whining is one of your tools of choice, own it! As long as you use it well and don’t abuse the privilege, whining can actually help you move forward. But remember, if you dish it out, you also have to be able to take it.
5) Don’t over-whine; especially if you’ve already worn out all your available ears, and even your journal would refuse to open its pages to your woes, if it had a choice. At a certain point, it will be time for less whining and more action.
6) Don’t get caught up on the blame game during your whining session. Although you can certainly mention the perceived or real injustices and offenses from others in passing during your whining session, this exercise isn’t supposed to be about anything or anyone else but yourself and your own need to express your take on the unfairness of life. The main purpose here is to let it all go and move on after you’re done whining; so it wouldn’t help to get stuck in the blaming and finger-pointing part, right?
7) Select-whine (or Serenity-whine). As the Serenity Prayer goes, everyone has to learn to accept things they can’t change, build the courage to change what they can, and understand how to tell the difference. Obviously, it’s best to whine about things you can change, as you can use whining as a spring board to take some positive action steps about the things you do have control over.
8) Use whining as a tool, not an excuse. Venting off helps. Doing it to the point that you see yourself as the eternal victim and get paralyzed or lost in the whining phase, doesn’t.
9) Hire a professional you can whine to. The most attentive and helpful ears are usually the ones you pay for! You’re much more likely to receive useful advice, effective tools and guidance about your next positive steps from qualified professionals.
10) Whine not? Ideally, try to build up to the point where whining isn’t needed any longer. Even when properly used as a helpful tool, whining still takes a lot of time and energy that could be better used somewhere else...
Until then, whine away! Just start doing it more functionally and join the Functional Whiner club!
FYI, I still use whining as a tool... Something else to continue working on... ;)
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 05/14/22
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How to Become a Peace Thief
The best things in live often involve stolen moments that provide priceless glimpses of peace. As I close my eyes, start deep-breathing and set the intention to recall the feeling of peaceful moments, countless of such instants easily spring to mind (and they do last but an instant in the fabric of time):
- Scuba-diving in the Florida keys on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, peacefully floating at the bottom of the ocean, barely touching the sand, admiring the sun rays refracting in the water and the colorful fish swimming around the brilliant coral reefs...
- Feeling the light Spring breeze and observing the leaves and flowers gently swaying as I sit outdoors for my daily sun meditation...
- Feeling the cool sheets in my soft, comfortable bed at night...
I could go on and on... As the saying goes, “life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.” Stealing peaceful moments is especially helpful during periods of stress and overwhelm triggered by too many activities and not enough play time and rest. This simple practice is the perfect antidote to rushing through life on a “doing” mode; it helps you ease into a quiet “being” mode instead. Finding the space between breaths.
Become a peace thief and hoarder! Turn it into a game and challenge yourself to break your daily or weekly record. Create a “peace moment stealing” score card, invite a few buddies to join and compare “peace moment stealing” scores! Then plan a weekly or monthly celebration where the winner receives a small reward from the group.
Steal those peaceful moments whenever possible, throughout the day:
- Before getting out of bed
- When you’re getting ready to start your day
- When taking a shower or bath
- While doing house chores
- When waiting at the traffic light, school drop off/pick up line, bank drive through, etc
- Through a short meditation or prayer time
- By taking a sun meditation break (sitting outside in the sun for 15 minutes or so)
- By taking a rain meditation break (sitting by a window and watching the rain)
- On the treadmill or exercise bike
- When doing yoga, Tai Chi and other mindful practices
- At bedtime
How many peaceful moments have you been able to steal and hoard today?
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 04/12/22
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