Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Healing, Caregiving and Grieving in the Light

Today would have been my 21st wedding anniversary, and I celebrated this day by taking a walk down by Damper Creek and singing "This is the day the Lord has made/ Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Damper creek is located in a beautiful forest of gum (eucalyptus) trees, where rubellas (parrots), frogs, mourning doves, and other birds were making joyful noises to the Lord as I passed by.

I felt a bit sad and lonely, but because Kathleen and I sang this song every morning during our cancer journey, I always feel her joyous presence when I sing it.

I also found comfort in preparing for Australia Yearly Meeting, where I am supposed to lead a workshop on "Healing, Caregiving and Grieving in the Light." I have been preparing all week for this workshop by reading a lot of material and reflecting on this topic. I knew this would be a challenging week for me emotionally since this is the first holiday I am spending without Kathleen. But I also knew that preparing to teach a class on this theme would be therapeutic. It gave me permission to read, reflect and talk to people about what I am feeling and learning. I am especially grateful to Diane Manning, a Santa Monica Friend, and Helen Gould, a Sydney Friend, for being compassionate listeners and helping me sort through my thoughts and feelings during this period.

I am also grateful to Skype for allowing me to make long-distance phone calls for free. I have literally spent hours on my skype phone this week. What a blessing

I hope that this "homework" will be helpful to others. Please feel free to use it and share it as you see fit.

It is helpful to read widely on this topic because people have such different responses to death and dying depending on their psychological and spiritual state. Many feel anger, guilt and other negative emotion--and that's perfectly "normal"--while some (like myself) have also felt an enhanced sense of spirituality and connectedness with Spirit and one's loved one. This is also "normal," as I learned by reading the beautiful words of William Littleboy (which are confirmed by a modern grief therapist named Beth Patterson, whose work I include below).

According to the latest thinking in grief therapy, people who have loved deeply and for a long time never completely forget or lose their emotional connection with their loved one. It is often helpful for the survivor to experience that love in a new modality—by reaching out to others in a way that honors the memory of the departed loved one.

Here is how the British Friend William Littleboy expresses this idea in a pamphlet entitled "Our Beloved Dead" (1917): “Don't shut them [your loved ones] out of your life as if they were gone indeed. They are still of the home party, though unseen. Welcome them, speak of them freely, practice their presence. To give way to excessive and unrestrained grief will certainly hinder you, and will sadden, perhaps hinder, them. Make them your spiritual companions; think of them deliberatively, as they are, with their clearer vision, their deep purity, their perfected love, their affectionate interest in you and longing to help you, for which they need your cooperation. By an open-hearted faith like this, we loose them from their grave-clothes at the command of Christ, and our dead, like Lazarus, are with us again, to bring new peace and joy and devotion to our lives.”

I say, "Amen," to what this Friend says. I could not sing "This is the day the Lord has made" and share my faith joyfully with others if I did not know that my beloved was singing along with me.

Healing, Caregiving and Grieving in the Light:
a summer school session at Australia Yearly Meeting
January 2010

Healing, Caregiving, and Grieving in the Light. How do we face life-threatening illness as Friends? How do we care for loved ones and those in our Meeting who need our support? How do we grieve and find wholeness in the midst of our pain? Through meetings for healing, sharing our stories, healing touch, and laughter yoga, we will seek to draw closer to each other and to Spirit.

11:00 a.m. --12.30: First summer school session: Healing, Caregiving, and Grieving in the Light.

What brings you to this summer school workshop? What experiences have you had with spiritual healing and caregiving? What were the biggest challenges you faced as a caregiver? What were your most fulfilling moments? What resources have you found helpful? What does your Meeting do to promote spiritual healing? What is spiritual healing? How is it different from “curing an illness”? How does your Meeting support caregivers? How is pastoral care provided at your Meeting?

Modalities of spiritual healing: CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine), yoga, qi kong and tai chi, meditation/visualization, massage, food/diet, counseling/support group, facing one's shadow, healing relationships, meetings for healing, prayer, laying on of hands, laughter yoga and light-heartedness, etc.

There will be a meeting for healing during this first session.

12:30-1:30 Lunch

1:30-3:00. Second session: Facing life-threatening illness and death as a Friend.Stages in facing cancer or life-threatening illness (from Jeremy Geffen's book The Journey Through Cancer: Healing and Transforming the Whole Person, Three Rivers Press: NY, 2000:
Education and information. Learn the facts about your illness.
Connection with others (community): family, friends, care committee, support group, internet ( blog).

“Body as garden.” The body is not a machine, but a complex community of organisms living together like plants, animals, insects, etc. in a garden. Learn to appreciate and nurture you body as a garden.

Emotional healing. Facing your fears, anger, guilt, anticipatory grief and other negative emotions with honesty.

The Nature of Mind. Analyzing and changing your beliefs, attitudes.

Life Assessment. What do you see as the purpose, meaning of your life?

Spiritual healing. Who are you? What is your true self?

Kubla-Ross's stages in facing the reality of one's imminent death: denial, bargaining, anger, resignation vs. acceptance.

Spiritual realism: “Prepared to die but willing to live as long and fully as possible.”
How do we prepare for death psychologically and spiritually?

What practical steps should we take in order to make our death easier for our family and loved ones? End-of-life instructions, living will, etc.

How do we maintain a positive, life-affirming attitude when faced with death or diminishments?
Honesty, integrity.

Laughter as the best medicine. Norman Cousins.

There will be a laughter yoga exercise during this second session.

3:00-3:30 Afternoon tea.

3:30 – 5:00 PM: Third session: Grieving, memorializing, and renewal. Dealing with negative emotions: anger, guilt, depression, despair. Finding meaning in loss. What to say, and what not to say, to someone who has suffered a loss. How to avoid being one of Job's comforters. Celebrating the life of one's loved one. Channeling grief through service. Healing rituals of remembrance. “I am the resurrection and the life”: a Christian approach. “The communion of saints” as a healing meditation.


Friends Fellowship of Healing is one of the largest single interest groups within the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, with a membership of around 1,000 including some overseas members. It attracts a great deal of interest and support, in particular at Yearly Meeting where it offers a healing and counselling service and holds its annual general meeting.

John Calvi, the best known and beloved Quaker healer in the USA, has been working with people surviving traumatic experience since 1982. A certified massage therapist, John began this work with women survivors of sexual abuse and then in the AIDS epidemic. Later, he worked with inmates, tortured refugees, ritual abuse survivors, addicts, and hospice. John’s spiritual gift as a Quaker healer is the release of physical and emotional pain following trauma. John also has a concern about torture and has helped lead anti-torture efforts among Quakers in the USA. See

Stephanie and Carl Simonton, Getting Well Again. Bantam: NY. 1981. One of the pioneering books about complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Richard Weeder, M.D. The Key to Cancer. Hoaloha Books, 2006. Another fine book about CAM by a Quaker oncologist.
Wellness Community. Started in Santa Monica to help cancer patient become “active patients,” this organization has a wide range of free support services and centers throughout the US.
Diana Lampen, Facing Death. Out of print, available used through Amazon. A sensitive and thoughtful account of how to face death and dying, with many illustrative stories, and a Quaker/Christian perspective.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Living with Death and Dying. A superb book, written with simplicity, grace, and deep wisdom, and lots of stories to help us to think and feel more deeply when we seek to help others (and ourselves) to face death and dying.

Phyllis Taylor, A Quaker Look at Living with Death and Dying. Philadelphia YM, 1981, 1989. Looks at the practical as well as emotional and spiritual aspects of dying and caregiving. It is especially good on exploring the various kinds of death, from crib death to AIDs, each of which calls for a different approach and response.

Lucy McIver, A Song of Death, Our Spiritual Birth: A Quaker Way of Dying. Pendle Hill, 1998. How do we die as Friends? This question is addressed pamphlet by exploring the early writings of Friends to discern how they prepared for and encountered death as a witness to their faith. Includes modern examples of faithful, conscious dying, such as the death of Joe Havens.

William Littleboy, Our Beloved Dead. F riends Home Service Committee, first published in 1917. Seventh reprint 1948. This brief pamphlet explores how to face and dying from a Christian Quaker spiritual perspective that is colored by mysticism. This pamphlet spoke to me because it sees the potential for a positive relationship with our departed loved one if we channel our love for them into service for others.
It is written in rather flowery Victorian prose, but it is a serious attempt to deal with bereavement and death from a modern mystical, experiential perspective.
I was impressed by the fact that it acknowledges the importance of continuing to have a relationship with those who have died, but in a new, more spiritual way. This is in keeping with the new findings of grief therapists. The traditional Freudian view is that the purpose of grief therapy is to help patients to “decathect from their loved object” and to channel their libido elsewhere, that is, to get on with life and find a new partner or object of affection. Recently, grief therapists have come to see that such a goal is not necessarily the most desirable. People who have loved deeply and for a long time never completely forget or lose their emotional connection with their loved one. It is often helpful for the survivor to experience that love in a new modality—by reaching out to others in a way that honors the memory of the departed loved one.
Here is how Littleboy expresses it: “Don't shut them [your loved ones] out of your life as if they were gone indeed. They are still of the home party, though unseen. Welcome them, speak of them freely, practice their presence. To give way to excessive and unrestrained grief will certainly hinder you, and will sadden, perhaps hinder, them. Make them your spiritual companions; think of them deliberatively, as they are, with their clearer vision, their deep purity, their perfected love, their affectionate interest in you and longing to help you, for which they need your cooperation. By an open-hearted faith like this, we loose them from their grave-clothes at the command of Christ, and our dead, like Lazarus, are with us again, to bring new peace and joy and devotion to our lives.”

In other words, we have a choice about how we see our loved ones after they have died. We can imagine them as simply dead and gone, or we can imagine that their energy and love continue in some fashion. This spiritual energy can continue to exert an influence on us and on the world, if we permit it. Just as we cultivate a relationship with God, and with Jesus, through inner dialogue and prayer, we can cultivate a relationship with our loved ones by invoking their memory and inviting them back into our lives, transformed, not erased, by death.

One doesn't even need to believe in an afterlife or even God to have this experience. In a Buddhist exercise called the “Ball of Merit,” you imagine that every good deed, every act of selfish compassion, lives on as a great reservoir of dharma power. By imagining this “Ball of Merit,” accumulated over countless generations, you can become empowered to do what needs to be done to realize your own buddha nature.

So it is with the “saints”--our loves ones, and our mentors—who have gone before us. We carry them in our memories, in the very cells of our bodies, and in the deepest places of our souls. By intentionally communing with them, we can draw strength and inspiration for the work we are called to do in this lifetime. This is the meaning of that old Christian phrase “the communion of saints.” Think of it as a meditation, a visualization exercise. Picture in your heart those whom you admire and aspire to imitate: John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Mary, Dorothy Day....friends, family and mentors whom you have loved in this life, and who have gone before you into the next phase of existence. The more you commune with these loving souls, the more you will become like them, and feel their presence helping and inspiring you.

"Our lives should be given over to the loving service of our fellow-men. Labour for others s a sovereign balm for sorrow, not only because it takes us out of ourselves and diverts attention from our own grief, but also because it is one of the means whereby we are most certainly nited with those we mourn. Their life is one of joyful sservice, and the more our life follows that line, the nearer in spirit shall we be to them. They will inspire us, encourage us, co-operate with us, express themselves through us, and so we will rejoice together" (p. 17).

I haven't found this insight in any other source. It makes several assumptions that probably apply to a limited number of people: 1) you and your loved one see yourselves as engaged in service to God and your fellow human beings, and 2) your love for one another was grounded in a love for God. If this is the case, then you are able to see your loved one as continuing to partner with you in this spiritual work. Even if you are an atheist, you can find meaning in death by devoting your life towards honoring your departed one's memory through some act of service.

John Yungbut, On Hallowing One's Diminishments. Pendle Hill, 1990. Yungblut explores the many forms of diminishments we experience in life, including birth defects, sudden natural disasters, unwilled separations, aging, and finally death itself. From his study of Teihard de Chardin and his experience of contemplative prayer, he invites the reader into practices of mind, body, and soul that may help open us to God.”

Bruce Birchard, The Burning One-ness Binding Everything A Spiritual Journey. Pendle Hill Pamphlet. 332. Bruce, who served for many years as executive director of Friends General Conference, describes his bout with cancer and how it transformed his outlook on life and the Spirit. "This essay recounts my spiritual journey: experiences of the Spirit through beauty, love, and worship, as well as reflections on how I understand the nature of the Spirit. I am especially concerned about the transcendent and immanent qualities of the Spirit, the relation of the Spirit to suffering and evil, and the significance of the creation as an incarnation of the Spirit.

Elizabeth Watson, Guests of my Life. Quaker Books, 1996. An excellent resource for those dealing with death, this book traces the authors journey through grief at the time of the accidental death of a daughter. She shares the solace she received from five authors including Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

Warren Ostrom, In God We Die. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 385. A thoughtful series of reflections on death and dying by a man who worked closely with the aging and dying for over two decades. He asks many tough questions, and provides no easy answers.

Mary C. Morrison, Without Nightfall Upon the Spirit. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 311. An essay on aging that is intended to “help us recognize the source of dignity and ways to nurture the integrity of aging.”

Joan Fitch, Handicap and Bereavement: A personal path. Friends Fellowship of Healing, 1988. Recounts how losing the use of her right arm affected her life, and also how she coped with the death of her husband and other losses. She finds comfort in the words of John Keats: “Do you not see how necessary a World of pain and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways.”

Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light. NY, 1947. A classic book about spiritual healing from a Christian perspective.

There are also several collections of inspirational sayings to be used for memorial services and for individual devotions. The last one was produced by Friends Home Service in 1977. They are all quite good, but a new one, with more current quotations, is overdue.

Words of Help for Private Reading and for use at Quaker Funerals. Compiled by Jos. S. Rowntree. Friends Book Centre. London: 1927.

Undying Life: Prayers and Readings for Use at Quaker funerals, cremations and memorial meetings, and for private reading, selected by Alice Robson. Friends Home Service Committee. London: 1958.

Horizon, an anthology of prose and poetry suitable to be read at Quaker funerals and for private devotion, compiled by Beatrice Saxon Snell. Friends Home Service. London: 1977.
Mourn Us Not, Friends' Reflections on death and bereavement. Edited by Joanna Harris. Friends Fellowship of Healing, 1992.

Valerie Cherry. Grief Experienced. Friends Fellowship of Healing, 1993 and 2003. A British Friend who worked for many years as a transpersonal therapist describes how the loss of her nineteen-year-old son affected her life.
Granger E. Westberg, Good Grief.: A Constructive Approach to the Problem of Grief. Fortress Press, Philadelphia: 1961,1871.

Ron Del Bene. A Time to Mourn: Recovering from the Death of a Loved One.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Parliament of World's Religion: Day One!

This gathering has been a life-transforming experience, and it's only just begun! I have been blown away by the amazing array of spiritual leaders who are attending this gathering, and by the quality of the program. During the opening plenary on Thursday night, an aboriginal elder danced and played the didgeridoo while the Melbourne Symphony played and singers from various traditions sang. It was truly awesome! There were benedictions by Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. as well as speeches by various religious leaders and dignitaries. The program went on a bit long, till 10 PM, but most people stayed. This is a truly amazing event.

Over five thousand people are attending, and there are hundreds of workshops. I see parallels between the Parliament and the FGC gathering. Like the Gathering, the Parliament is an educational, not a deliberative body. It is bottom up, not top down in structure. Its goal is to build a world-wide grassroots movement—to build bridges, raise awareness, and transform the religious culture of the world. An ambitious goal, but one that it is accomplishing not only by its five-year gathering, but by creating a network of “partner cities” that organize local events with a global perspective on interfaith work. It is exciting to be part of a movement that will change the world!

The workshop on “Listening with a Heart of Mercy”that I led went extremely well. The room was packed with over sixty people. Among them was George Hunsinger, the Princeton professor who has been leading the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and several Friends from the US as well as from Australia. I showed the documentary “Compassionate Listening,” talked about my trip to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening project, and led the group in a compassionate listening exercise. My co-leaders were a Sufi and a Jewish filmmaker who work with me on the local chapter of the Parliament. They did an outstanding job of discussing how to overcome obstacles to deep listening through a process very similar to our Quaker clearness committee.

After this presentation, I went to Friends House in Toorak, where we had a potluck dinner and a time of fellowship and worship. Quakers were one of only a dozen or so religious groups to host such a fellowship opportunity, and they were the only ones to provide food. I love being a Friend!

At this Quaker get together I had a chance to talk with two other Friends who are attending the Parliament. One is a woman about my age from Massachusetts who will be part of a worship on forgiveness and reconciliation. She has been leading workshops on forgiveness developed by a priest from Colombia. The other person I spoke with was a young woman from Atlanta, GA, who was recently laid off by the AFSC and is attending seminary. She is taking part in the Parliament thanks to a grant provided by her seminary.

During my first day at the Parliament I attended some remarkable workshops. I took a workshop with Michael Lerner and had a chance to talk with him later about compassionate listening.. I attended a session in which Jim Wallis, Joan Chichister, Rabbi David Saperstein and others discussed what the religious communities need to do to help end poverty. I attended a session on spiritual healing led by aboriginal people which I found fascinating. I took this workshop because I will be giving a summer school class at Australia Yearly Meeting on “Healing, Caregiving, and Grieving in the Light.”

Such has been my first twenty four hours at the Parliament. There are six more days to go!