Navigating Loss by Reading Between the Lines

author_picA few weeks ago I asked readers to pray for a young mom during her battle with cancer. Her husband and three boys have been standing by her side, waiting, watching and hoping for a miracle. Sadly, the cancer has spread like wildfire despite surgery and aggressive treatment. Experimental treatments are now being considered. I have written and spoken about navigating loss When Mom’s Cancer Doesn’t Go Away, and still, the feeling of helplessness returns when I hear that another family may be headed toward a final good-bye. During such devastating times, it can be tempting to isolate ourselves from others. Explaining specifics of the situation while grasping impending loss, amid life marching on, is often overwhelming. Confusion, fear, doubt, sadness, and frustration all seem to be on a collision course inside one’s mind.  Yet, if we “do not step outside this area,” we risk being trapped between the lines, forsaking the gift of connection with those who have gone before us. Their insight, understanding, and compassion are like medicine for our DoNotWalkOutsideThisAreasoul while navigating loss.

Carina Lamendola reached out to me with more back-to-back losses than anyone I’d ever met. She has every reason to lose hope. Instead, she chooses to magnify hope for others, even while recovering from her own sudden losses. She continually steps outside the lines to help others navigate through the loss of loved ones.

Carina is a live organ donor, and considers it her greatest accomplishment. She recently published a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids and she created Newstales.net with fictional accounts of individuals’ responses to major news out-breaks. Through her website she also provides ARTbundance,™ (tele-coaching) to assist others in using creativity to solve or deal with problems.  Carina studied theater at the State University of New York (SUNY Potsdam), and at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Hope and Miracles are her favorite words. Her heart’s occupation with God, family, and animals is reflective in her writing. Below, Carina’s words provide a voice of hope, in sharing her own lessons of navigating grief and loss.

Carina-001The death of a loved one is an earth-shattering event that virtually paralyzes you. As much as the devastation literally almost kills you, you are just as terrified that it will be gone forever. You don’t want to get used to them being gone. You dread being able to laugh, and enjoy life again. It seems unfair to go on with life while your loved one remains dead.

The anniversaries are the worst. That first week, month, year. Such cruel reminders that the one you loved more than life itself is now drifting further and further away from your everyday existence … until they seem to finally dissolve into the past.

Many of my loved ones have died. This past summer I attended five funerals; and as of this writing, two more. I’m not over these tremendous losses, but I am coping; and I learned that their memories don’t have to fade away. They can live forever in our hearts without breaking them. Here is how I’ve done it.

First I examined my strengths. I am a deep thinker, highly creative, and have an unwavering faith in God. From these strengths, I figured out how to cope.

Through my pensive nature, I realized that all of my heroes had died long before I was even born. Take Mozart, and Elvis for example. If they died before I was born, how did I know about them? How did I come to admire them? It was because people talked, and wrote about them. Yes, they both made beautiful music as a “record” of their time here on earth, but it was up to the living to play it. Historically, Mozart and Elvis may be dead, but in my world they are very much alive. Every book I read about them, or film that I watch, teaches me something different. Thus, I don’t consider them dead at all!

The old adage, “A person never dies as long as you remember them,” annoyed and confused me as a child. Of course, they still die! It’s not like they’ll walk the earth again just because someone “remembered” them. Now I understand the real meaning of that expression. As long as they’re still touching people’s hearts, and inspiring others through the lives they led, then yes, they’re very much alive. Remember their good qualities and humorous anecdotes. Keep records of what they achieved. It’s all significant! Tell their stories either through art, a blog, or casual conversation. The beauty of the internet is that the whole wide world is your audience — so many people with whom you can share your loved one’s life-story! Look for an opportunity to make them known.

As a creative person, writing and performing helped me cope with grief. It also inspired me to become an “ARTbundance” Creativity Coach/Practitioner. When my beloved grandmother died, I created a 5-minute radio show at the station where I worked entitled, “Betty Moments.” Each episode contained a humorous anecdote about my conversations with Grandma. Being awarded the opportunity to share stories about Grandma allowed me to reach thousands of strangers and brought great pleasure to Grandma’s children. In essence, she was still making people happy in this world, even though she was no longer in it.

When my precious, and darling friend George suddenly and tragically died, my remedy was to keep busy. I started my Pink_Headstone“Newstales” website and found that during the hours I was designing it, I didn’t cry. Projects that channel our losses can make all of the difference.

My connection to God helped me to cope through prayer and ritual. I created ceremonies, modeled after funerals and memorial services that I attended in the past. I created a notebook full of Bible verses that pertained both to my grief and to my deceased loved one. I wrote and selected songs and poems to celebrate my loved ones’ life. Notice, I said life. It is tempting while in mourning to make our conversations and emotions all about our loved one’s death. What a disservice this is to those who have passed. As if death was all that they were about. Don’t make death their whole story.

If it weren’t for my faith in God, grief would not have been able to transform me into a holier person. I firmly believe that God created suffering to help us develop empathy. Too many times, when someone else is in crisis we hear, “It’s not my problem!” Grief teaches us that we all lose when somebody suffers. Once you feel that gut-wrenching intense agony that leaves you uncertain about surviving it, you suddenly compelled to make the planet happy, and safe. Consider performing a random act of kindness every day in your loved one’s memory. Just think of all of the joy that you can create! You’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that because of that special someone’s life, a miracle was created. 

In closing, Carina provided a whimsical fact about herself. Always the comedienne, she is not afraid to stumble, act silly, or embarrass herself, so long as it makes someone laugh. Friends tell her that she is destined to be on Saturday Night Live. 😉

Click HERE to connect directly with Carina Lamendola.

2 thoughts on “Navigating Loss by Reading Between the Lines”

  1. What a blessing to read this article. Through faith and hope in God we can overcome because He gives us strength over our weakness. Thank you Maryann for your insights and sharing this testimony of how one can not only exist past grief but make a mission of extending and building a positive attitiude in others.

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