Puzzle Pieces and Passports: The Light Side of Grief That No-one Talks About
4 gifts of grief. Suffering never comes empty-handed.
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift” — Mary Oliver
Imagine reconnecting with your deceased loved one every week in a lucid dream.
This is part of the light side of grief that no one talks about: the possibility that death ends a life, but not a relationship.
The possibility that hidden within your greatest suffering is the potential for poetry and purpose.
These concepts might sound foreign to you because most people never arrive at this place.
Mainstream culture is saturated and bursting at the seams with information about the dark side of grief: the excruciating pain and in its more debilitating aspects, the lingering suffering of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
At best, what you hear about is “recovery”.
But this is only half of a story that is as old as humanity.
In the last 25 years, psychologists have started talking about the mysterious and elusive other half of the story which they refer to as post-traumatic growth (PTG).
The term, coined by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, is defined as “the positive psychological change that is experienced because of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.”
To be clear: the death of a loved one shatters us at the deepest levels and leaves us reeling in a state of existential anguish.
I am not attempting to romanticize death, but when it does happen to us, “when we are no longer able to change a situation,” as Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl puts it, “we are challenged to change ourselves.”
When life gives you a box of darkness
The death of my mother manifested my worst nightmare.
For almost two years, I shriveled in an alternate reality characterized by panic attacks, volatile rage, and all-consuming despair. The foundational structure of my personality — core beliefs, self-images, assumptions about the way the world was supposed to work — crumbled.
Writing about the light side of grief is not meant to undermine grief, but to inspire hope and give context to a time when everything is shrouded in blackness.
Through my conversations with grief, I discovered that there is something within us that refuses to be broken and pushes us towards integration and self-actualization.
In my attempts to make sense of an unfathomable situation, I uncovered a latent talent for poetry, found purpose, and gained a passport into other realms of reality (Otherwhere), where I could continue my relationship with my mother.
You might be tumbling through the barren lands of grief right now, and wholeness or even a semblance of stability might seem like a fairytale.
It is my hope that this article can serve as a beacon during a very bleak period in your life and assure you that you will not always feel this way.
My journey was arduous, but I found a way through.
I found the light and mystical side of grief and so can you.
With openness and curiosity, you can grow into more expansive versions of yourself that can contain this new story and harvest the wisdom and vitality inherent in your grief.
The light side of grief: 4 gifts
You have had many and great sadnesses, which passed. And you say that even this passing was hard for you and put you out of sorts. But, please, consider whether these great sadnesses have not rather gone right through the center of yourself? Whether much in you has not altered, whether you have not somewhere, at some point of your being, undergone a change while you were sad? — Rainer Marie Rilke
1. Poetry (creative outlet)
Great sadnesses have the potential to completely transform you and bring you closer to yourself.
In the throes of grief, you might feel as though you are “lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep well, utterly helpless” as Van Gogh wrote.
It provokes profound instability and enduring restlessness that gives you no choice but to find alternative strategies to survive.
If you can take up the excruciating process of sitting with grief, of digesting and integrating the anguish, anxiety, anger, depression, and the complex constellation of emotions and thoughts that come with it, you experience a “psychological seismic” restructuring.
You catch a glimpse of a more expansive self and tap into deep reservoirs of strength, resilience, and latent talents which you never knew existed within you.
In my case, a passion for poetry emerged.
I had started a daily practice of sitting with my grief in crying sessions, and after months, in one session, I felt rage at God bubbling up from deep within my belly.
I wanted to scream and cuss this God that allowed death and sickness.
Where was the justice?
How could he let her die?
But the little catholic girl within put a tight lid on my mouth because I would most certainly be shipped straight to hell if I let those blasphemous words cross the boundaries of my lips.
After a short internal tug-of-war, the inferno could no longer be contained and with feverish intensity, I pulled out my journal and vomited words of rage on the page.
As soon as the last word was written, the feeling of release and relief was all-encompassing and I collapsed, deflated and empty, on my blow-up mattress.
The output of that session was the poem When God was a Dictator.
As I wrote, my core beliefs about God were irrelevant. At that moment, there was a part of me that believed with every fiber of being that God was a dictator and desperately needed to express this feeling.
After that day for the next year, the different voices of grief — sorrow, regret, guilt, hope — hijacked my hands every morning until I had written their piece and they had found peace.
By the Summer of 2019, I found myself with a collection of over 200 poems.
Finally, about 3 years later when the towering waves of grief had settled into the gentle lulls and laps of waves on a balmy summer day, I revisited the stream of consciousness poems and started working with an editor to produce a poetry collection for the grieving heart.
The poet within me was born out of the intense pressure of grief and poetry gave me the means to connect with my grief. Each time I wrote, it was like leeching the grief from my bloodstream and pouring it into the sacred vessel of a poem that had the capacity to contain terrifying emotions and give shape to the inexpressible.
Grieving rituals in conjunction with creative outlets like poetry, painting, journaling, and doodling can provide you a safe passage into the center of your grief where you learn to dance along the banks of the unknown.
When you have the courage to dialogue with grief, something extraordinary happens — you realize that within you are lush and expansive “Self’s” which are ready to sponsor and facilitate the activation of dormant passions, talents, and skills that are just biding their time in the shadows waiting for a chance to find expression.
2. Passport to “Otherwhere”
Death ends a life but not a relationship. Death is not the end of your relationship with your loved one. It is an invitation to form a new one… — Ram Dass
Since my mother’s death, I have received many warm hugs and guidance through dream visits which gave me the courage to enter directly into the scorching flames of grief.
Since 2013, I had spent hundreds of hours learning how to lucidly navigate the dream world, but I had never thought to use lucid dreams to connect with dead people until my mother’s death.
A lucid dream is a dream in which you are aware that you are dreaming and depending on the level of lucidity, you can control different aspects of the dream.
Avid lucid dreamers know that one of the most important skills to help you achieve lucidity is a strong desire to become lucid, and there is nothing like the desire to be in the warm embrace of your mother to motivate you to ramp up your training!
Given that lucid dreaming is a learnable skill with mountains of scientific research backing its viability, I practiced different skills so that I could have a conscious conversation with my mother when she visited me.
With time, I realized that I did not have to wait for random visits but I could combine a lucid dream and visitation dream and schedule dream dates with her.
Dream Reunions, a 7-day invitation to help people learn the skills they need to connect with their loved ones in dreams, was born out of a year of this practice.
What was even more exciting was that it was as if her death had granted me citizenship into the lucid dream world: I had a passport and now a lifeline. The desire to reconnect with her was like a homing device that made it easier for me to become lucid in dreams.
I currently have a rich and ever-evolving relationship with my mother. She is off to her own adventures but is still a very active part of my life, and pops in during dicey periods to offer support and guidance.
Of course, this does not negate the pain from her physical absence which still hits and cripples me every now and then but when that happens, I know how to find her.
With patience and motivation, it is possible for you to learn how to use lucid dreams to continue your relationship with your loved one even as you simultaneously grieve their physical absence.
3. Puzzle pieces and patterns
Humans have been asking the question what is the meaning of life since time immemorial.
After my mother died, I had an answer: life was meaningless and its hollowness was endless.
I spent 2018 and most of 2019 fumbling through the labyrinth paths that grief takes you through. It was a slow and excruciating journey, but I eventually stumbled out, dazed by the intense suffering and by the priceless gifts I unpacked.
From this place of relative stability and more abiding peace, I reflected on the black cloud that had been the last two years of my life and started taking inventory of the journey. I realized that somewhere along the journey I had experienced PTG.
My reflections took me further back in my life story and I picked apart all the different major traumas I had experienced.
I started connecting dots and the results were startling!
I saw a pattern.
Every period of intense disruption in my life, each trauma I had experienced and embraced equipped me with new skills, abilities, different worldviews that expanded the boundaries of my life and catapulted me into a new chapter.
Moreover, each ‘gift’ from a dark phase served as input to help me go through the next dark phase. They were all interconnected.
I began to feel as though my life was one giant jigsaw puzzle and periods of disruption and pain contained missing puzzle pieces.
Looking at the evidence, my life began to feel more like a planned quest instead of a random set of events.
Perhaps there was a method to this madness.
With the completion of each quest, a new puzzle piece was retrieved, and my mother’s death had uncovered many critical pieces.
As I assembled the pieces together a picture of purpose began to unfold.
Given my background in mathematics and my love for structure, I plotted a graph of the major light and dark phases I had been through. It was clear that my life is occurring in cycles alternating between periods of highs and lows with varying lengths and intensities.
It was obvious that if I was to live long enough, I was bound to have more periods of disruption. This pattern was not going to cease.
Armed with this knowledge (and the fear of suffering), I decided to be proactive.
I created a map of my grief landscape to use it the way Hansel and Gretel used breadcrumbs to find their way back home.
With this additional context, the next time I hit a trough in the cycle, It would be easier to go willingly into the foray, go fast through the underworld of grief — avoiding all deadends and blindspots — because I have a map.
Of course, you don’t want to suffer. I most definitely didn’t.
We would rather not experience the death of a loved one or any one of the other horrific misfortunes that life might throw at us.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a say.
Grief is part of the fabric of life, and if you can take a step back and reflect on the different themes in your life like I did, you might begin to see patterns emerge.
From here, you can map out your different journeys and learn the skills you need to dance with grief.
How to create your own map
- Set aside time when you will not be disturbed. Note that this process will probably take multiple iterations.
- Take out a journal and start with the most intense dark period in your life like a bad breakup or a death.
- Journal about the different emotions you had, thoughts, reactions, and how long each of them lasted.
- Make note of how you moved through them — what helped you cope? For example, you might realize that music is very soothing for you and you know that if you are feeling anxiety you can create a playlist to help soothe you.
- Create a list of the most difficult emotions and reactions and include coping mechanisms for each one, so that when they happen again, you know what to do.
Armed with awareness and education, you can begin to relax into your life journey and start responding instead of reacting knowing that these dark periods are naturally occurring in the cycle of life.
“In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I have always loved dancing. I was never any good.
At best I look clumsy.
After coming out on the light side of my grief journey, I know that my dance is with life: to abandon myself to life’s music and find my rhythm.
We will all enter barren periods in life. Periods of crisis and terror. We will change and then enter them again. These times are natural as the coming of winter every year and we suffer because don’t know how to move through them.
We respond with fear, panic, anxiety, and desperation because no one has taught us how to grief.
But why must we suffer?
Through my website and newsletter, I have now dedicated my life to answering these questions and providing fellow grievers with the tools necessary to navigate the labyrinth patterns of grief with purity and precision.
It is my mission to inspire people to develop a softer relationship with periods of disruption by learning how to consciously journey into pain, evolve relationships with deceased loved ones, harvest purpose, and create a map for future journeys.
Helping people find the light side of grief gives meaning to my mother’s death.
Nothing strange should befall us, but only that which has long belonged to us. We will gradually learn to realize that that which we call destiny goes forth from within people, not from without into them. — Rainer Marie Rilke
In the end, you come to find out that life is laden with paradoxes and we are continuously bombarded with existential questions.
I don’t know the answers, and I have learned to lean on Austrian poet Rilke’s words when the internal dilemmas become insurmountable.
“… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer,”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
When you come to appreciate the cyclical nature of life, you also arrive at the understanding that life is innocent.
Death is not the opposite of life, but rather intractably connected to life.
I never wrote a eulogy for my mother because I was never able to reduce her life to words on a two-dimensional page.
Today, I can only express my eternal gratitude to her for the gift of my life and through her death, the gift of purpose, poetry, puzzle pieces and a peek behind the curtains into areas perhaps where we are all destined for.
There is hope and comfort out there in the center of your grief — it might not seem that way now, but if you go just a little further, “love will always stand you back up.”
Every turn takes you deeper into yourself.
Soon enough you will come to that place — the light side of grief where you begin to live out your own myth as the hero or heroine in your story — manifesting, perhaps for the first time the gifts that are unique to you.