August 2016 - Coping
Sunset and Swingset, August 2016", Susannah Castro
Grief and Loss
Grief and loss are a normal part of living life. We all go through many losses over our lifespan. Our culture does not support our grief expression or our mourning of our deep losses. That is one reason why I started our Grief Group at Star over 15 years ago. It was really important to me that we create a loving, supportive, safe space for participants attending Star to be able to express their grief and mourn their losses. Through the years I have witnessed many participants' deep grief and mourning and it has been very healing and profound for me. It has been a deep privilege to be present for their grief expression.
Many of you know that my son, Matt was killed by a hit and run driver 20 years ago. He was only 22 years old and it was such a huge trauma that I did not want to continue to live without him. But, I had a lot of wonderful, loving, support and therapy, and thus I was able to process through the stages of grief and come to a semblance of acceptance. But their is never any "Getting over it"! It has become a deep part of me and I never want to forget or stop talking about him. I want people to know him, through me.
So, I will never "be over it", as some people think that is how it should be. My love for him grows deeper every day and that is something that death cannot take away. I hope as you read our newsletter you will have a reverence for your own deep losses and take time to express it by perhaps lighting a candle or writing a letter or just allowing yourself to cry.
Clinical Director, STAR Foundation
Coping with My Grief and Loss
Today, at the end of my morning walk, I sat in my grandma's chair in my front yard for a few minutes and looked at the sunlight coming through the mesquite trees and making the grass and plants shine. I have all of my grandmothers old wrought iron lawn furniture that she purchased when we moved to Tucson in 1973. I am a little bit sentimental, but I find a lot of comfort in being able to access physical items that my loved ones touched at different times in their lives. It is as though bits of them still remain within those items - they are memory containers. My grandma passed away in 2001. Next to her chair in the front yard I have a wooden kitchen chair that my son Cree used to like to sit in out in the yard while he smoked cigarettes and talked to his friends on the phone.
Cree overdosed on a combination of heroin and xanax with traces of cocaine on May 5, 2015. The heroin was a lethal dose, but the xanax amplified the effects. He was 19 years old and had battled an opioid pill addiction for 5 years, that moved to intravenous heroin use in the last 2 years of his life. His loss is something I process on a daily basis. Some pain is so big that it must spread out over the years to give your heart and soul time to learn, little by little, how to live again. I can only describe it as feeling as though the fabric that is you has been torn to pieces. At first, there is no way out of that feeling - and you experience shock. Your body and brain cope with this by shutting out a lot of what is going on around you and taking you to a semi alpha state - which is why so many experience memory loss in the first months and years of traumatic loss.
Then - slowly - the pieces start to knit back together. As that happens, you begin to recognize yourself again. You begin to see the world around you again. You can do things that brought you joy and actually feel happy instead of crying. Whether it is dancing, or watching a funny show, or even taking a beautiful walk in the morning. This change and this healing is not something you choose. It happens in its own time and at its own rate. Nobody can tell you how to grieve or that it is time to stop grieving and let go. I think often people misunderstand what this type of grief is like. This is not a holding on to the past. This is simply developing a new relationship - in the now - with the person that has moved out of this life and into the next.
What others can do to help to sew those torn pieces back together is stand with you in your grieving - let you know that you are important - and maybe just give you a big hug. One of the hardest parts of grief at this magnitude is the incredible pull that your child has on you to leave with them. At first, holding yourself here in this world seems an incredible burden. This is why it is so very important for people experiencing grief and loss to have loving support during that time. We must continue to feel connected to the here and now even though a part of our heart and soul has flown away.
I do not believe that these things happen to us for a reason or to somehow make us into better people. However, profound grief and loss is part of the human experience. I am not the first person to lose my beloved child and I will not be the last. The intensity of the love is equal to the pain of the loss, which means I will mourn with every fiber of my being until I see him again. That being said, the beautiful side of loss of this magnitude is that when you walk out of the fire, you find that it is very easy to spot what is no longer meaningful or important in this world. There is a clarity and a depth to the love that is left behind. As my heart was broken, so it cracked open and more love can come out then ever before. I am a better person now, because I see that life is simply about experiencing every moment of beauty in the best and most conscious way that we can. Because life is short.
With much love to all, Susannah
Director of Operations, STAR Foundation
A beautiful article about the loss of a child is below. You can find more bereavement resources and articles like this at www.stillstandingmagazine.com.
7 Things I’ve Learned Since the Loss of My Child
October 28, 2015 by Angela Miller
Child loss is a loss like no other. One often misunderstood by many. If you love a bereaved parent or know someone who does, remember that even his or her “good” days are harder than you could ever imagine. Compassion and love, not advice, are what’s needed. If you’d like an inside look into why the loss of a child is a grief that lasts a lifetime, here is what I’ve learned in my seven years of trekking through the unimaginable.
1). Love never dies.
There will never come a day, hour, minute or second I stop loving or thinking about my son. Just as parents of living children unconditionally love their children always and forever, so do bereaved parents. I want to say and hear his name just the same as non-bereaved parents do. I want to speak about my deceased child as normally and naturally as you speak of your living ones.
I love my child just as much as you love yours– the only difference is mine lives in heaven and talking about about him is unfortunately quite taboo in our culture. I hope to change that. Our culture isn’t so great about hearing about children gone too soon, but that doesn’t stop me from saying my son’s name and sharing his love and light everywhere I go. Just because it might make you uncomfortable, doesn’t make him matter any less. My son’s life was cut irreversibly short, but his love lives on forever. And ever.
2). Bereaved parents share an unspeakable bond.
In my seven years navigating the world as a bereaved parent, I am continually struck by the power of the bond between bereaved parents. Strangers become kindreds in mere seconds– a look, a glance, a knowing of the heart connects us, even if we’ve never met before. No matter our circumstances, who we are, or how different we are, there is no greater bond than the connection between parents who understand the agony of enduring the death of a child. It’s a pain we suffer for a lifetime, and unfortunately only those who have walked the path of child loss understand the depth and breadth of both the pain and the love we carry.
3). I will grieve for a lifetime.
Period. The end. There is no “moving on,” or “getting over it.” There is no bow, no fix, no solution to my heartache. There is no end to the ways I will grieve and for how long I will grieve. There is no glue for my broken heart, no exilir for my pain, no going back in time. For as long as I breathe, I will grieve and ache and love my son with all my heart and soul. There will never come a time when I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like, and how he would be woven perfectly into the tapestry of my family. I wish people could understand that grief lasts forever because love lasts forever; that the loss of a child is not one finite event, it is a continuous loss that unfolds minute by minute over the course of a lifetime. Every missed birthday, holiday, milestone; should-be back-to-school years and graduations; weddings that will never be, grandchildren that should have been but will never be born– an entire generation of people are irrevocably altered forever.
This is why grief lasts forever. The ripple effect lasts forever. The bleeding never stops.
4). It’s a club I can never leave, but is full of the most shining souls I’ve ever known.
This crappy club called child loss is a club I never wanted to join, and one I can never leave, yet is filled with some of the best people I’ve ever known. And yet we all wish we could jump ship– that we could have met another way– any other way but this. Alas, these shining souls are the most beautiful, compassionate, grounded, loving, movers, shakers and healers I have ever had the honor of knowing. They are life-changers, game-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers. Warrior moms and dads who redefine the word brave.
Every day loss parents move mountains in honor of their children gone too soon. They start movements, change laws, spearhead crusades of tireless activism. Why? In the hope that even just one parent could be spared from joining the club. If you’ve ever wondered who some of the greatest world changers are, hang out with a few bereaved parents and watch how they live, see what they do in a day, a week, a lifetime. Watch how they alchemize their grief into a force to be reckoned with, watch how they turn tragedy into transformation, loss into legacy.
Love is the most powerful force on earth, and the love between a bereaved parent and his/her child is a lifeforce to behold. Get to know a bereaved parent. You’ll be thankful you did.
5). The empty chair/room/space never becomes less empty.
Empty chair, empty room, empty space in every family picture. Empty, vacant, forever gone. Empty spaces that should be full, everywhere we go. There is and will always be a missing space in our lives, our families, a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Time does not make the space less empty. Neither do platitudes, clichés or well-wishes for us to “move on,” or “stop dwelling,” from well-intentioned friends or family. Nothing does. No matter how you look at it, empty is still empty. Missing is still missing. The problem is nothing can fill it. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after heartbreaking year the empty space remains. No matter how much time has passed.
The empty space of our missing child(ren) lasts a lifetime. And so we rightfully miss them forever. Help us by holding the space of that truth for us.
6). No matter how long it’s been, holidays never become easier without my son.
Never, ever. Have you ever wondered why every holiday season is like torture for a bereaved parent? Even if it’s been 5, 10, or 25 years later? It’s because they really, truly are horrific. Imagine if you had to live every holiday without one or more of your precious children. Imagine how that might feel for you. It would be easier to lose an arm, a leg or two– anything— than to live without your flesh and blood, without the beat of your heart. Almost anything would be easier than living without one of more of your precious children. That is why holidays are always and forever hard for bereaved parents. Don’t wonder why or even try to understand. Know you don’t have to understand in order to be a supportive presence. Consider supporting and loving some bereaved parents this holiday season. It will be the best gift you could ever give them.
7). Because I know deep sorrow, I also know unspeakable joy.
Though I will grieve the death of my son forever and then some, it does not mean my life is lacking happiness and joy. Quite the contrary, in fact. It is not either/or, it’s both/and. Grief and joy can and do coexist. My life is more rich now. I live from a deeper place. I love deeper still. Because I grieve, I also know a joy like no other. The joy I experience now is far deeper and more intense than the joy I experienced before my loss. Such is the alchemy of grief.
Because I’ve clawed my way from the depths of unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow, again and again– when the joy comes, however and whenever it does– it is a joy that reverberates through every pore of my skin and every bone in my body. I feel all of it, deeply. I embrace and thank every blessed morsel of it. My life now is more rich and vibrant and full, not despite my loss, but because of it. In grief there are gifts, sometimes many. These gifts don’t in any way make it all “worth” it, but I am grateful beyond words for each and every gift that comes my way. I bow my head to each one and say thank you, thank you, thank you.Because there is nothing– and I mean absolutely nothing– I take for granted. Living life in this way gives me greater joy than I’ve ever known possible.
I have my son to thank for that. Being his mom is the best gift I’ve ever been given.
Even death can’t take that away.
"Trees and Shadows, Santa Cruz River Path", Susannah Castro
Our Star 2016- 2017 retreats are filling up quickly! We have also added our 2017 retreats so you can plan ahead. You can find a calendar and other information, including how to register, on our website by clicking the links below.
2016 Fall STAR Retreat
November 11, 2016 - November 20, 2016
2017 Winter STAR Retreat
January 27, 2017 - February 5, 2017
2017 Spring STAR Retreat
April 21, 2017 - April 30, 2017
2017 Summer STAR Retreat
July 21, 2017 - July 30, 2017
2017 Fall STAR Retreat
October 13, 2017 - October 22, 2017
January 27, 2017 - February 5, 2017
April 21, 2017 - April 30, 2017
July 21, 2017 - July 30, 2017
October 13, 2017 - October 22, 2017
"Cactus Flowers", Kathy Reid
The day I hit the wall and slid down into a heap, came after five weeks of living by myself after ending a 32 year relationship. The reality of the life changing loss and insurmountable sadness finally pushed me to a place I hadn’t been before. I recognized that I simply had to let go and allow the grieving process to take place and follow its path.
Patience and courage had been my mantra for over a year and buoyed me through the steps of a difficult separation. I realized that my current relationship had been self imposed by my own choices and that I needed to change. To help me stay hopeful and hold the grief of my old life at bay, I envisioned a dark tunnel with a very small pin prick of light and as time went on that light became larger. Subconsciously I think I knew until the process was complete I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself to grieve.
I feel these life’s lessons are actually accelerated spiritual lessons. Much more is accomplished when we experience trauma through loss, sickness or unexpected events that require us to reach in deeply to our reserves, our spiritual “self”, our subconscious to find a place to start over from. I believe that we are born into this world with a pure and noble soul, and through these difficulties of trauma, loss, life’s lessons really, that purity and nobility remain. They are always there for the rediscovery that can bring us back.
Kathy Reid, STAR Board of Directors
Grieving the loss of one's self
Some of us barely experienced even a wisp of real love when we were very young. We may have had to shut down while in the womb because the womb was too toxic an environment to allow us to thrive. Once shut down, we couldn’t then be open to take in love if and when it was actually there. Or there may not have been anyone to truly love us once we were born. Our parents may have lost their ability to love due to a lack of love in their own histories. There are many possible reasons, but whatever the reason, we end up missing out on love. We consequently miss out on growing up from a paradigm of love, in which our foundation is secure, allowing us to live from our hearts and without fear. Instead, what becomes “normal” is life lived from a paradigm of fear, or some manifestation of fear, like anxiety, depression, emptiness, or unconsciousness. We never get to open our wings and fly. We never get to truly be who we are. On the contrary, we learn to hide our selves, even from ourselves. We become hyper-vigilant and distrustful of the world to one degree or another, not knowing what it is to feel safe, to feel love. We lose touch with our heart/soul/true self.
That true self may seem to be lost forever, buried deep in a cave that we dare not even acknowledge is there. But the true self is always in there. It may seem like it’s only a faint whisper that we’re not even sure we heard. It’s an unconscious flickering of the heart. And because it has always been there, it is possible to get back in touch with the early feelings of that little child/infant, before she had to shut down. A safe environment is needed in which we can be vulnerable enough to tenderly acknowledge and reconnect to that very hurt child hiding in the cave. One way that may happen is through remembering the rare instances when we felt safe, when we weren’t living in fear.
In other words, as our hearts open, an essential element of that experience is the realization of all we lost. We may begin to remember, however briefly, a time when we were our true selves and the world felt safe and right. We can then begin to grieve the loss of who we were before we lost a solid connection to our hearts, the loss of the self before we became lost or afraid and had to hide. In doing that, we can then begin the process of living more from our hearts and growing our capacity for love and life.
In my own case, one of my earliest memories (which I wasn’t conscious of until I started doing this work) is when I was in nursery school, probably 3 or 4 years old. I stepped in a pile of dog poop while barefoot. I don’t remember what I felt, maybe embarrassed and/or humiliated. The reason I remember this incident is because of the way my nursery school teacher treated me when she picked me up and washed my foot in the sink. I don’t know if she said a word (and I’m pretty sure I didn’t), but she was very gentle and kind and something about that stuck with me. I had never experienced someone being tender and caring with me, or if I had, I didn’t let it in for some reason. That experience was like showing me a different reality: a life in which I felt safe, seen, and cared for. I could actually feel alive and unafraid. It was possible to feel safe with another person. It’s not that my family and/or my parents were cruel, but, probably due to my prenatal and perinatal trauma, I didn’t really know what it was to feel kindness and safety (at least that I remembered) until that incident. I got a taste of what it was like to have someone care about me, be gentle and kind with me, and allow me to be me. It’s like growing up with no (or very very little) oxygen, and then discovering there is oxygen all around me that I never knew was there. I had to do a lot of work before I even realized that was an important memory for me. Once that became clear, however, I knew more and more that feeling love and feeling alive was possible and it showed me the direction I wanted to work towards.
Kenny Ball, STAR Facilitator
"Del Mar Sunset", Kathy Reid
Dear Star Friends,
No human being escapes some grief or loss in their lifetime, but there are extremely different levels of the experiences. I shudder at the unimaginable grief and loss of families in World WAR II who were torn apart and sent to concentration camps. What they must have endured and lost is beyond my comprehension. Sudden brutal acts of terror upon innocent people send ripples of profound grief around the world affecting humanity on a global level.
The loss of a child or loved one creates overwhelming grief. This level of trauma may never be completely resolved, but with help, support and time, the trauma can become a part of your life’s story. A story which no longer compromises your ability to find a fulfilling and meaningful life. It brings some relief to share your experience, including the painful feelings, in a safe place with a trusted and compassionate person. The scar may remain but the wound can be healed.
There are less painful losses that happen to all of us. For those experiences, after I deal with the situation and calm down, I always ask myself, "What can I learn from this?"
As an example: I went out to dinner with friends and casually slung my purse over the back of my chair. When it came time to pay the bill I reached back for my bag. It was gone and with it my wallet, money, credit cards and my US Passport. Was I upset? You bet, very upset and angry.
You can imagine what the answer was when I asked my self the question, “what have I learned from this?” I NEVER hang my purse over the back of a chair in a public place. Even though it is a hassle, credit cards, passports and a bag can be replaced.
Other losses are not replaceable and leave an empty place in our lives and maybe also in our hearts, sometimes forever.
Love to you all, Barbara
STAR Founder and Board Chair
STAR: Call for Star Facilitators
In order to meet this increased demand, we need to expand our team of STAR facilitators. Our team is a dynamic group of committed, big-hearted individuals. Everyone on staff has attended a STAR retreat, and all have received training in the multimodal STAR method. Many facilitators have advanced therapeutic degrees in counseling, social work and psychology and some have their own private practices. Other STAR facilitators bring expertise from the realms of addiction and recovery, bodywork, education, coaching, communication, art therapy and more. All facilitators are committed to helping and making meaningful contributions to others.
If STAR made a difference in your life, and you would like to give back by becoming a facilitator, we’d like you to apply. If you know of an individual with healing gifts, deep empathy and communication skills who might make a great facilitator, we’d love for you to pass this on to them. You can apply to become a facilitator by emailing email@example.com or by completing this form: Become A STAR Facilitator.
The STAR Foundation's mission is to provide nurturing intensives where adults experience empowerment and inspiration, and are given tools to transform their lives.
We also hope that you will continue your generous contributions to STAR Foundation in order to fulfill our mission, vision, and values.
There are several ways you can contribute:
- You can pledge monthly support. Your gift helps us cover operational costs, workshop leader salaries and provides a stable financial base for our work.
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- You can dedicate your donation to the general fund or one of two scholarship funds; General Scholarship or our new Diversity Scholarship to encourage participation from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Your support will be greatly appreciated. You can make checks payable to STAR Foundation – our mailing address is below. You can also donate online at our website here www.starfound.org/donations. STAR Foundation is tax-exempt under 501(c) (3) of the I.R.S. Code EIN 77-0009281.
Please mail donations to:
STAR Foundation, PO Box 1554, Tubac, AZ 85646
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Kenyon Ranch photos copyright and courtesy of Susannah Castro and Kathy Reid, used by permission of the artists.