Healing Through Grieving: Interview with Rabbi Ann White
Ann White is the founder of Creating Calm Within Chaos, a rabbi and trauma chaplain. She teaches that we will always have chaos, but amid the chaos, the secret to a vibrant life is to create an inner sanctuary so that we can be the calm within chaotic situations. She is the author of Living with Spirit Energy, The Sacred Art of Dog Walking – Making the Ordinary Extraordinary, and a contributor to the transformational anthology, Pebbles in the Pond. She is also the host of BlogTalkRadio’s Creating Calm and co-host of Authors on the Air. Ann is a vegan and believes that eating real food contributes to removing chaos from our bodies and helps us to live glorious lives. Find her at www.CreatingCalmWithinChaos.com.
1. What are some of the ways one can work through a devastating loss?
The best thing you can do is to be open to and embrace the various emotions that will rise up within your soul. We have all heard of the cycle of grief or the stages of grief – things like shock, denial, anger, acceptance. But every person grieves in a different manner. Knowing that it is possible to have any or all of these emotions is educational, but don’t expect recovery or acceptance to be orderly. I tell people it is like waves in the ocean. Sometimes your feelings will be subtle and bittersweet and sometimes you will swamped by a tsunami.
Recognize each emotion that you feel – honor it – sit with it for awhile – and then release it. Death is a part of life. Loving someone makes you vulnerable. With the pain can come the gratitude for having shared earthly time with this person. Can you turn that grief into a celebration of the deceased’s life?
Also know that grief does not have a timetable. Don’t let people rush you through your grief. Conversely, know that your loved one would want you to go on. Be active in your healing. Do things that make you happy, but be patient with yourself. Ask for help and if you feel you need professional help, don’t hesitate to contact a support group or grief counselor. Hospice has a good network of referrals.
2. Why is it important to “feel” the pain and not try to anesthetize it?
You are still living; feeling is a part of life. Allowing yourself to feel, identify, embrace, and release each painful emotion will facilitate your healing and will honor your feelings about your loved one and yourself. Even anger is appropriate. Be angry at your loved one for leaving you too soon; be angry at God. Be angry and then let it go. Holding on to emotions like anger is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die. But feeling it means that you are alive and human – releasing it means that you are healing. Your body is a very smart system – it wants to be free of negativity and toxic thinking. If you try to anesthetize these negative thoughts, you are pushing them into your body and your body will alert you with physical symptoms – ulcers, panic attacks, chest pains, migraines. Punishing yourself by holding toxic emotions will not bring your loved one back.
3. What helps bring closure where there’s unfinished business? For example, if the loved one died before you delivered an apology or wrote a letter or told him/her how much you loved them…
I believe that we are spirit beings on an earthly journey. We come from the spirit realm, are born into earthly bodies, and when we die, we return to the spirit realm. Because of this, I believe that we can communicate with our loved ones, dead or alive for that matter, via our focused thoughts.
But there are other ways. You could write a letter to your loved one sharing your unsaid feelings. By doing so, you have sent the energy of the message to the spirit realm and you have purged yourself of the message. You could then save the letter, burn it, bury it, toss it out to sea – whatever works for you.
Another way is called the empty chair. Sit in one chair and picture your loved one in the other. Talk to your loved one; you may just do that, or you may actually put yourself in their place and do both sides of the conversation.
Know that in the spirit realm, love is the universal energy. Your loved one forgives you and only wants your happiness. Anger and pain do not cross over.
4. How can people work with you to overcome their struggles with grief?
As a trauma chaplain and a grief counselor, and one who believes in living life vibrantly and fully, I enjoy working with people to help them find their balance. Talking about their loved one, celebrating their life together, and sharing the emotions that may be swamping them is a cathartic experience. I let them know that they are not stuck in this darkness, but that there is life at the other end. Sometimes I am their guide or merely their companion as they journey through this process.
5. Most of us struggle with the physical void when a loved one is gone. What words of consolation do you have to offer?
The physical void is the most challenging aspect of grieving, in my opinion. Sometimes it is the habits and rituals you have formed with the loved one – morning coffee, evening snuggles, daily check-in phone calls. I know for years after my mother died, I would pick up the phone to call her to share news – good or bad. Know that it will hurt and that each memory will tear off the scab. I always say: May their memory be a blessing. Every time I would pick up the phone to call my mom, I would say a blessing of how fortunate I was to have her as my mom – someone I wanted to call. When the memory gets triggered, again, acknowledge it, celebrate that you had that time with your loved one, and then tell yourself that you are now making a new chapter in your life. The scab bleeds less over time, but if the love was great, it will always be a tender spot.
6. How can a griever ask for help or make specific requests of close family and friends?
The hardest thing for most of us, especially if we were the caretakers, is to ask for help from anyone. One thing to know is this: asking for help and/or allowing someone to help you is like giving them a gift. Many people want to help but don’t know how. By telling them what you need and allowing them to provide it, you are really gifting them. Make your request specific – “May I have a ride to the pharmacy?” or “I could use some company, do you want to come over for tea?” or “I don’t feel like going out, would you mind bringing me dinner?” However, try not to burden by repeated requests if the person is busy. Most of your friends and family will want to help but just don’t know how. You might even make a list of things you need and when someone asks you, ask them if anything on the list is doable for them. If the person says they cannot help you, know that it speaks about them and not you. Even though you are fragile during your healing, please try not to take it personally.
Such helpful advice and guidance Ann.
Am glad you found her advice useful, Heather.