12 Truths to Transform the way we “do grief” worldwide
by honoring the gifts “death” offers.
“Are you mad at God?” my priest friend asked that summer of 1990 as we planned my baby daughter Erin’s funeral. “The closest I ever got to God was holding Erin in my arms,” I told him. “No, I am not made at God. He had nothing to do with this.”
Eight-and-a-half-years later, the ICU doctor told me we needed a miracle. “Call everyone you know. Tell them to pray,” he pleaded. “It’s the only thing that will save her life.” So, as my 43-year-old wife Trici, connected to tubes and machines, being breathed by a ventilator, lay in a hospital bed that New Year’s Eve 1999, I made a list. Of all the people I knew who prayed ~ hard. Family members made the calls. “Trici is dying,” they said. “Pray for a miracle. Now!”
She died anyway. That New Year’s Day. The next day would have been our daughter Erin’s 10th birthday. Had she lived.
For a minute (or more) I wondered if, perhaps, Trici would have lived longer if we (I) had worked a little harder to gather the right number of people, saying the right kind of prayers, in the right way. Perhaps I messed up the miraculous formula.
And five-years-later, that winter of 2005, I pushed the proverbial envelope. Big time. Out of sheer desperation and terror. My most amazing 13-year-old son Rory had fast-growing, invasive, no holds-barred, terminal brain cancer. I searched for hope...and possibility...and set the intention to create a “happy, healthy, cancer-free Rory Brennan Zuba.” Western medicine told me he would not live, offering chemo and barbaric full-brain radiation with a promise of maybe an additional 30-60 days. Maybe. No thanks.
Instead, we flew to Seattle to consult the cutting-edge, Einstein-like doctor. Perfect. Rory loved all-things-Einstein. They clicked immediately and Rory wanted to take the next step.. “Yes dad. Let’s go to Houston. I want to see that doctor, too.” We went. And the Einstein quote “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds” that greeted us as we entered the Houston clinic was not lost on me. No coincidences. We’re in the right place.
And along with the very expensive, very controversial Houston treatment; we tried electromagnetic healing offered for free in a Houston industrial park building. We chanted. Lit candles. Played crystal bowls. We ate organic. Low salt/high potassium. We juiced, and eliminated sugar. We tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Massage, reiki, and craniosacral therapy. My mom said the rosary. We rubbed Rory’s feet with ashes from India, and anointed his forehead with holy water from Lourdes. A friend brought Rory’s picture to Brazil for an audience with John of God. A priest performed the “last rights,” now renamed “Sacrament of the Sick.”
In his book, The Hidden Messages in Water, author Masaru Emoto told me to purify all liquids entering Rory’s body by surrounding them with healing-intention filled affirming signs. I did all that. I consulted psychics and medical intuits, too. Names you would recognize.
We created prayer circles and held prayer vigils, bringing together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and then some, from around the world. The intention was clear: A happy, healthy, cancer-free Rory Brennan Zuba. The many-pronged, focused action plan was laser-sharp, thorough and well-executed.
I wanted to push the envelope. I wanted to manifest the miracle. This time.
And on February 22, 2005 Rory Brennan Zuba died. Anyway. I could not save him.
Let me be clear. He was not afraid to die. And I am not fearful of death. Not mine or his. I knew, for him, it would be the next chapter. His continued adventure. This was the kid who was fascinated by black holes, by time travel, by the existence of parallel universes. This was the kid, who at the age of 10 explained Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to me in a manner that I understood it. Well, most of it. I was not worried about him. I was worried about me. Having done the “grief thing” twice before, I did not want to do it again. Not the old way.
And after seconds, and minutes, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months of indescribable, wouldn’t-wish-this-on-my-worse-enemy pain and agony. Agony. My body started to unfurl from it’s fetal position. And slowly, oh so slowly, my spirit began it’s return to this body. Reluctantly, at first. Trusting life again was frightening. Why should I? Why would I? I did, though. Little, by oh so very little. And as my eyes opened ... again. And my skin began to feel sensation. Sun. Warmth. Tingles. And my ears began to hear the melodies. Some familiar. Some brand new. Life.
And one day, I decided to end the war. The war I had been waging. With life. My life. Because it was too damn painful. And I had experienced enough pain. Too much really, for one lifetime. I wanted to make peace. With life. With my life. And I wanted to live. Again. And for the first time. And I allowed these 12 Truths to be born through me. And I am down-on-my-knees grateful. For all of it.
1. The death of someone I love cracks me open. It’s supposed to.
Loss transforms me. It can’t not transform me. I get to decide if I want to consciously or unconsciously participate in my transformation.
When someone I love dies, I am shattered in a million little pieces. It’s my job to retrieve the pieces, over time, keeping some because they still fit, and discarding others because they no longer serve me. Along the way, I’ll find new pieces, too. I’ll also decide what kind of glue I’ll use to hold the pieces together - the glue of love, compassion, gentleness, forgiveness and kindness or the glue of bitterness, anger, hatred, sadness and resentment.
It’s naive and misinformed to speak of closure. Or moving on. There is no such thing. I can, however, learn to live, and create a joy-filled life “with” the death of someone I love.
It’s possible to create a safe, sacred space for myself – a place where I can heal.
I get to decide what I believe. And a large part of healing will come through identifying and examining beliefs I hold (consciously or unconsciously) that cause me pain and replacing them with beliefs that bring me peace when and if I am ready and able.
I will always have a relationship with the people I love who have died. Always. I get to decide if those relationships are healthy or unhealthy. I decide if the relationships bring me joy or pain.
Many people I encounter are “ignorant innocents” when it comes to offering me help, support and comfort. They don’t know any better. It’s not personal, or even insensitive - just ignorant.
The death of someone I love gives me the opportunity to ask and answer (now and again) the very fundamental questions of life, such as: Is there a God? If so, what is he/she/they/it? What role did God play in my loved one’s death? I prayed so hard - why did the person I love still die? Does the person I love, who has died, still exist? If so, where are they? Is there a heaven? Where is it? Are the people I love that have died still aware of me? Can they communicate with me? Can I communicate with them?
And while the following “truths” may be difficult to prove with logic, reason or even experience, they are the answers I’ve come to believe as truth after asking myself some of the fundamental questions of life.
“Heaven” exists. But it is not “up there.” It’s right here. The people we love, that have died, are but a breath away from us.
About prayer. The following widely-held statement is not true. “If enough people say the right prayers at the right time in the right prayer-position we can change the mind God.” No can do. God = love = perfection. Always.
It’s impossible to die at the wrong time. Or in the wrong way. Period. I
And that pretty much sums it up. For now. TBC.
Teaching A New Way to Do Grief
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Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Do Grief,
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For 20+ years I have been learning to live life
with the death of my
18-month-old daughter Erin in 1990,
my 43-year-old wife Trici in 1999,
and my 13-year-old son Rory in 2005.
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Use these tools to heal, create,
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not in spite of the fact that someone you love has died, but because someone you love has died.
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