HOW OUR BLOG BEGAN, in AUGUST 2010: As many of you know, Phil has been struggling with a very complex series of neurological issues for about 5 years. This past spring, the issues became especially intense as a result of an unexpected cognitive decline and a fall on May 15th that resulted in a head injury and further decline. And then, on July 16th things catapulted to unbelievable, as Phil suffered from a severe "electrical storm" in his brain that essentially created a status of brain death for two full days. Inexplicably, the very morning that neurologists and other medical team members were planning removal of life support, Phil began breathing on his own and his brain waves returned to a stable, while still abnormal, level. Since then, each day has been a unique journey. And while he and his body continue to demonstrate a will and capacity to live, he continues to have severe deficits and it is quite uncertain as to the path he will take. As loved ones close in can attest to, it has been tricky to keep up emotionally with all of his changes, and provide the needed support. We can only imagine the hard work Phil has gone through as his brain has taken him through such roller coaster experiences. It is our goal here to keep family and close friends apprised of Phil's ongoing story, and to build connections that honor him.

AND THEN, SEPTEMBER 11, 2010....Dad's remarkable journey alongside us culminated in a gentle, generous death.

And so, my goal here now as his daughter is simply this: to record snippets...pieces of his life that my memory offers back to me, pieces of myself as I learn to live without a dad. I hope all who meander by find life, and hope, and peace.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

it's time to love on the brother

so tonight i find myself dubbing him the Death Expert.

hmmm, perhaps this is a complement for him, perhaps not so much.  but in my short time in his book  Awakening From Grief, i've found enough conversation starters to last us the rest of the week.  (not to mention that crazy book about dragons and princesses and holy grails -- oh and many thanks to mom rice, susan, karli, jb, and jen for meeting me in the castle, or was it the dungeon?  it was so nice to have your thoughts appear throughout the day!)

Since we went long last night, let's get right to the point today!

The guy's name is JOHN E. WELSONS.  For 25 years he has been counseling, teaching and lecturing about life's losses.  it seems he's trained with really smart people, one of whom is Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (whoever she is).  that's enough for me; i'm sold: Death Expert seems about right to me.

anyway, JB, brother jonathan bruce, this one's for you! i loved your honesty in your comment response the other day so i'll bring it in to start off the conversation:
I can definitely relate to the desire to make the grieving process sterile and speedy. During the past week or so, I have found myself "annoyed" with the fact that dad had to pass just a couple weeks into an insanely busy first semester of engineering school. I stare at a physics problem for too long and before I know it, my mind wanders back to the mountains of GA, with dad as a highlight in every scene. As I struggle with the inconveniences of life, I quickly feel sheepishness and like a total selfish jerk. Obviously, there were eternal timelines in place here and I need to embrace "grief's primative rawness" and let it work it's course. Sometimes life happens quickly, but most often, it takes place gradually over time - like a well aged wine or cheese.
That's good stuff brother!!!  well written (always) and oh so honest.  the honest places are where we can really roll up our sleeves and get some stuff figured out.  with a little help from Mr. Death Expert himself.  tim and i discovered this little passage over breakfast this morning, and man did it bring up interesting conversation between us!  hope it will for all of us here too:

 Our cultural conditioning has been to close our hearts when we experience "emotional overload".....when we close our hearts just when we most need them to be open, we stop the flow of love just when we need it the most.  And we don't even realize that we're doing it!

The result is that we become numb.  We feel as if just beneath the surface lies this terrifying, raging, monstrous beast of feelings that will devour and obliterate us if we so much as let one claw out of the cage.  We sit on our feelings like a gargoyle guarding the gates of hell.  We shove them down and shove them down because we're afraid they'll destroy and overwhelm us.  We're afraid there's no way out.
(ok well the gargoyles guarding those gates are pretty cool too)

the way out is the way find the place in ourselves that watches the process like a impassive find that tiny little part of our awareness that sees everything we go through without judgement, sometimes with bemusement.  It's that part of us that sees our relief when a loved one has died after a long debilitating illness...the part of us that sees our guilt about feeling relief....the part that wants laugh just at the moment we are most angry. That's the part of our awareness with which we must become more familiar, which we must learn to trust.  That's the part of ourselves that can see it all without panic. 
So , bro...i feel your pain, whether its a sense of relief or annoyance.  what do you think of this guy's advice?   what would you say to yourself if you were an IMPASSIVE OBSERVER -- a type of neutral third party -- ready without judgement to give yourself some advice before your Dad Weekend begins? 

(that's you, dear reader!!)

stepping outside yourself to become an IMPASSIVE OBSERVER is one way to work through grief.  have you ever tried it?  any other strategies you'd like to recommend?  personal stories welcome!!!  


tomorrow mom's family arrives, auntie sandi and auntie donna.  quite excited for this!
xoxo k.


  1. Karen...are you sleeping at all??? Don't even try to say yes when I can SEE the time at the bottom of your post, miss herless. That death guy should've written about addiction too...cause that's exactly the same thing we addicts do..shove (drink, eat) down the pain when we should have just gone through it.

  2. yah things went late last night as brother daniel came into town!! keeping up with those college kids is no easy task :-)

    ok so here's an interesting theory based on my other death expert, cheryl eckl: what if addictions, in part, come about because people have not fully grieved something they have lost, or never had?

    i'm thinking this because of something i read in cheryl's book, A Beautiful Death: "i think one reason we may fall apart in the face of great loss - getting angry, taking up alcohol or drugs -- is that, in this modern world, we have never been taught how to experience authentic grief. we want our mourning to be tidy, polite, and over in a day or two...we are afraid of grief's primitive rawness that can completely overwhelm us with its own agenda." what do you think my dear?

  3. Wow... those are really good thoughts! Where do you find all these reading nuggets? I think I get what's being said about trying to sense your reactions or responses from the perspective of an outside observer. I'll have to re-read it at a more alert time in the day and hopefully it will sink in a little more. Anyways, it seems that we often try to filter our thoughts and perspectives through what we "assume" is supposedly right or normal. I think we often miss the boat and end up doing what is described in the beginning of the quotation, becoming numb and just smushing things down instead of looking at things as they really are and definitively dealing with them.

    Outside observers always have a unique perspective which often is more balanced than our own. Now... to step into that outside observers' viewpoint... hummm... sounds like it takes practice!

  4. I believe our way of grieving depends greatly on the time in our lives when it takes place. This past spring, I lost my Uncle Dan. He'd been struggling with a few illnesses for the better part of two years. He was courageous to the end. His faith in God was immense---stronger than anyone else in my family. I sought solace in his faith as I knew my own fell well short. With my Uncle it was always about his faith. Although it could be off putting at times, my time with him was always loving. His love of family was placed above all else except for his love of God. It mattered that I called him Uncle and not just Danny.

    I knew attending his memorial would be difficult for my mother. She and Uncle Dan were barely a year apart in age. They were best friends growing up and he died while she and my other two aunts were en route to say their farewells. My excuse to be there for my mom didn't prepare me for the service--couldn't prepare me for what has to be the most wondrous experience I've had at a service to mourn the passing of a loved one. The chapel was filled way passed capacity---more than 1000 friends come to share their love of my Uncle Dan. It was almost surreal as I felt held aloft by the energy and love for my uncle--a love and respect for someone I found I barely knew. I was an outside observer. I was family, but I didn't realize the scope of my Uncle's blessings.

    We grieved. We rejoiced. We shared stories. Several of the photos used in the presentation were taken by me at family gatherings---Happy, loving times that I now see were so important to my Uncle Dan. I hadn't a clue.

  5. for strategies...embrace it. This is the time for feeling. My grandmother's picture is stuck to my fridge and I smile at it each time I see it. She's drinking tea and wearing a red hat and dress. I say embrace the memory of loved ones and smile. Share a cup of tea with Grandma and Uncle Dan. I think they'd approve.