Honoring a loved one – Wisdom from my journey


Several times this past week during my mentorship training in Equine Experiential Learning I have sat down to write.  Barbara Alexander’s Magical Oaks, the winter home for her Sacred You Academy and her wise horses, is truly magical.  My journal is filled with page after page of inspired ideas that came to me during my time there. I even have quite a few musings started as blogs but none of them flowed from me with the ease that I know comes when what I am writing comes from the center of my heart space.  This one that I am starting already is singing throughout me as I write.  Almost like my inner self has already written the words before I’ve had the chance to get to my computer to write.

The beginning of this musing came clearly to me last night as I tried to wrap my brain around the news from home that one of my boarders/friends’ pony, Paco, had died quickly and unexpectedly yesterday morning.  The reason why is unknown. His family, especially his young owner, Margo, are stunned.   They along with the whole Avalon community, especially the 100s of students who learned with him as their lesson pony, are reeling with the shock of it.

As I tried to find words to speak to the people back home and then share with my community gathered here in South Carolina, I experienced memories of the shock during Russell’s stay in the hospital followed by his unexpected death thread through my current shock over Paco’s death. The fact that today is the 10 month anniversary of Russell’s death probably had something to do with it.  And also the fact that I continue to walk the space  in-between a feeling of absence and presence.   It took me hours to find an ability to speak with coherence about what was happening.  Shock, with deep bone sadness rang throughout my entire being.

It was through this shock and sadness that my inner voice began to speak to me.  First in words of strength and ease for myself.  Then, in wisdom about what I can best do to help me, my friends, and the Avalon community begin to honor Paco’s  death and life.  I was reminded of the first few months of walking my way through the days of saying goodbye to Russell.  I thought again of what most helped me during that time and the things that just didn’t seem to resonate with me.  I thought of my own process and the one of those trying to support me as I navigated the newness of grieving.  I thought of what has been the most helpful things for me as I am healing.

I feel called to share those bits of wisdom here.  Take what works for you and let go of what doesn’t.  Each journey is different.  This is simply the things that my heart resonates with as one way to move towards healing.

*In the initial shock, the ability to form coherent words can almost become inaccessible.  Speak what you can and allow yourself the right to sit in silence as long as you want to.  If speaking about your loved one helps, then speak.  If remembering means sitting in silence, than no words are needed.

*Honor and recognize the loss.  Life can stop for awhile. It is okay to say to others and give ourselves permission to stop to remember, regroup and renew.  We don’t have to keep going as if nothing has happened.  This can give us time to feel the wide range of emotions that crash like waves over us during these times.

*In supporting those who have recently lost a loved one, it is good to be aware that sometimes words don’t flow easily for them or for you.  It is okay!  Your presence – physically and emotionally – is what can help the most. If you have no words you can say that or you can just be there, ready to hug or scream with or talk or laugh or whatever is ready to flow in each moment.  I have had a large number of times that I couldn’t speak but just being in the room while others carried on a conversation felt healing and grounding to me.  Allowing yourself and them to simply be in the moment, honoring all of the feelings that come out in these times, is a powerful gift.

*Understanding why and what is not always possible.  In truth, I am beginning to believe that even when the medical reason is clear there are still soul deep cries of “WHY?!”  We can feel compelled at these times to want to give answers, just in the hope that it might relieve some of the pain.  However, learning to live with the mystery and allowing that we cannot know the reasons for everything that happens in our lives can also be a valuable idea to settle into.  Great peace can come for many in letting go of the driving need to understand why.

*The things people say during this time are as varied as can be.  Some of the best things people have said to me during my healing time have been:  “I’m sorry.”  “I have no words and I am here for you.”   “I hear you.”  “Take all the time you need.”   “I don’t understand what you are going through but I am willing to listen or just be with you.”  “Cry, scream, laugh, do whatever you need to do for you.”  “How can I best support you right now?”  “Would you like a hug?” (Not always welcome by everyone.)

*In the initial moments and days when shock can be a predominant experience, I do caution folks about saying the following things. At least for me they have felt as if I should shut down my tears or they have left me feeling like a deer in the headlights.    “Somethings in life are just out of control.” (Yes, this is true. But in the shock of sudden loss, when life already feels out of control, to place more emphasis upon this can be overwhelming.)   “I know you are sad but this will make you stronger.”  (In the moment, I never really cared if it would make me stronger.)   “I know what you are feeling.” (Even if one has experienced the loss of a loved one, each relationship is different. And none of us can ever really know all that is going on inside of a person as they try to integrate the sudden death and absence of one they were close to.  A great alternative can be to ask “Would you like to talk about what you are feeling?” and then Listen without censoring!)  “We can learn from everything that happens to us.” (Yes, I believe this to be true. Doesn’t always help right after a death, as in that moment learning something new isn’t a very high priority. Just getting through and trying to rebalance is.”

*Tears are our right and can be a  part of the power for healing.

*Memories and sharing stories are a great way to remember and find our way to being able to speak again.  The desire to share may pop up at odd times, for a very long time to come.  Being open to sharing these and hearing them from others is another powerful gift.

*Take your time.  Encourage those you are supporting to take their time.

*Keep reaching out. Texting, sending emails, sharing stories and pictures, calling someone, messaging, all of these are great ways to show you care and are just checking in.  This is great to keep up for weeks, even months, after a death.  Months out it’s great to know folks still care and recognize that  someone is still grieving and healing.

*Support people are also encouraged to find their own support.  It can be draining to support those who are grieving.  Finding a friend or other support person for us is essential to keep us charged and able to function.  The grieving maybe different for those on the fringes, but it is still grieving to be honored.

*The only way through it is through it.  Grieving and healing the death of a loved one is a powerful journey.   Yes, it can be ignored for long periods of time.  But eventually, everyone has to go through it. It doesn’t just miraculously disappear.  Giving one’s self permission to walk through it right from the beginning in the way and in the time that is needed for you, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.

*I firmly believe that if we are allowed, by others and especially ourselves, to feel things as deeply and as honestly as we need to in the beginning time of a loss we can build a firmer foundation for healing right from the get go.  Not that it is necessarily easier. More that the threads back to a whole, balanced self can be stronger for allowing ourselves to be authentic about the depth of our pain each step of the way.

*Be easy on ourselves!  Many of us, especially those supporting the direct family of the one who has died, can often be too hard on ourselves.  When we have weepy moments or days we will often tell ourselves to stop crying and even say to ourselves we should be over it by now or  we aren’t the ones who lost someone.  But all who were connected to the one who died experience some kind of loss; some kind of awareness of a new absence.  It takes everyone time to adjust to the absence and begin to find new ways of feeling the continued presence of our loved one.  Be easy on yourself!


In this writing I share only my views and the wisdom messages that I’ve received about grieving and healing.  And even this isn’t comprehensive.  In this time, in this moment, it is what rises up inside of me ready to be spoken aloud.  I invite everyone to listen to your own journeys finding wisdom and healing as it best for you.  This time, this moment, is really all any of us has.  Let’s all honor it as best as we can!