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Can You Turn Pain and Grief Into Healing?

Out of pain emerges passion…and passion heals.

I was participating in the My500Words Challenge a while back, and when I saw the writing prompt for day 5 I knew I had a story to tell.

It said: “Tell us about a day you will never forget.”

April 11, 2013.

The day my sister and I had the privilege of supporting our Sweet Mama as she let go of this life.

Mama’s health had been declining slowly for a couple of years, and the decline rapidly picked up its pace at the end of February that year.

We made the decision to bring her home on hospice at the end of March, so early that morning when I learned from the overnight nurse Mama had been agitated, spiked a fever, and had vital signs out of control, my sister and I were quickly at her side.

It happened rather abruptly; although she was on hospice, it was everyone’s expectation that she would linger a long time. We were both with her by 7:30, and she was gone at 9:37.

When we had been making our plans to bring her home, I advocated for a couple of things: The first was, as morbid as it sounds, we get her funeral arrangements made ahead of time. I believe it’s the wise thing to do when you can because it means you can focus on your grief, not details.

The second was that we keep Mama with us for a little while after her passing and prepare her for burial ourselves. We were blessed with a wonderful hospice team and funeral director. They honored our process in every way.

After the first shock of how fast it all happened settled a bit, we bathed her, anointed her body with Frankincense and other oils and dressed her again in her pretty bold purple satin pj’s. And, I was compelled to put her socks on because Mama ALWAYS wore her socks.

About halfway through this process, I felt my mother’s spirit moving out of her body, and clearly sensed her above me, looking down over my shoulder and watching us lovingly care for the body that birthed us.

Because our funeral home contact, Steve, is simply amazing, he allowed me to help load Mama onto the gurney for transport and let me be the one to zip the bag when I was ready.

I’ll tell you: zipping that bag over my Mama’s beloved face was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Even though the writing prompt said a DAY I’ll never forget, it’s really about a series of days, so allow me some creative license here, please.

Our Mama was raised Catholic, and her parochial school education was a source of pride for her. Even though she wasn’t a practicing Catholic in her later adult life, we felt it was right to end her life with Catholic rites.

To that end, we decided against having a public “viewing” at the funeral home, but the wonderful Steve set up a private time for just my sister and I to spend some last quiet time with Mama after they had her readied.

Then, we had her funeral on April 16th.

My sister and I weren’t raised Catholic so navigating the liturgy was a little complicated.

We were supposed to jointly speak during the service. I ended up standing mute while my sister carried me through. It wasn’t my grief that stopped me; it was the tight parameters we were given about what we could and couldn’t say, and it all went against my truth, my experience, my reality of my mother.

The real part of the funeral experience for me was when our family followed the casket out and it was loaded into the hearse. It was a breaking point for me and my son was the one who carried me through that part.

Mama went back to the funeral home. We live in Maine so an April burial was out of the question. But I was dead set against her being embalmed, so Steve offered us options, one of which was taking her back out of her casket and storing her body until we could have a burial service.

I know a lot of people find that an awful thought. And I struggled a bit with the spiritual aspects of having funeral rites and then disturbing the casket. But for me, it was far more comforting to know her lifeblood wouldn’t be replaced by toxic chemicals, and that she would be under Steve’s watchful care during the waiting time.

That meant, of course, we had to open up the grief wounds again a month later when they were just forming their first tenuous webs.

We buried Mama on Mother’s Day weekend, on May 11th.

I DREADED the day, far and above how I had felt about the funeral.

Why? For as long as I can remember, whenever the fear of my mother dying popped into my head it was always accompanied by the image of a casket sitting over an open grave.

Now my nightmare was coming true.

I wasn’t even out of the car before my knees we buckling. It didn’t occur to me to not make a spectacle of myself: I was on my knees laying over Mama’s coffin in a heartbeat.

And my sisters and children surrounded me and just held on.

We got through the service, and again, Steve knew just what to do. He allowed me to stay until the bitter end, first letting me operate the lever that lowered the casket into the ground, then waiting while I hand shoveled the first bits of dirt in. And, he let me sit there while the cemetery workers finished the job.

I know all of this has been a graphic account of my mother’s death. And I’ll be honest and tell you I’m crying my eyes out writing it…and I know my sister is crying as she reads it…but this is the point.

In our culture, we’ve lost the wonderful traditions that allow us to grieve and heal. The lovely Jewish method of sitting Shiva is such a therapeutic process. So many other cultures handle death and grieving with much more grace.

We’ve been indoctrinated to believe we are supposed to suppress and repress our feelings, and this is so incredibly toxic to our wellness.

I love the Miranda Lambert song, Mama’s Broken Heart. It’s about a breakup, not death, but that’s grief of its own kind.

And, the satirical nature of the song, “gotta keep it together, even when you fall apart,” so aptly illustrates the foolishness of trying to suppress our grief, pain, and trauma.

I’m listening to it now as I write because it’s making me smile despite my tears.

And, because my Mama was a lady through and through, and all of the advice in Miranda’s song is EXACTLY what Mama would have said.

But, our Mama went to her grave carrying all her pain–and she had a great deal.

And, my sister was already carrying a tremendous pain burden when Mama died. That’s her story and I won’t tell it here, except to say I didn’t only advocate for doing the grieving process the way we did for my own sake: I did it for hers, too.

Her previous loss was sudden and tragic, and she didn’t get the option of doing some of these things to assist with her grief process. So, grieving Mama in a healing way began to heal many things…for both of us.

My advice?

Give yourself permission to grieve–anything and everything you need to–and let the healing begin.

It’s way past time for a cultural change: we need to grieve, we need to heal, and we need to express our emotions in a healthy way. Part of my passion and mission is advocating for deep, abiding healing for women and a redefinition of the cultural paradigm of female community support.

Getting it out into the world started when I finally let myself grieve all of my losses.

For now, what do you think about how we grieve in our culture and what needs to change? I’d love to hear your thought in the comment section below.

Love & Blessings,


P.S. One  of the ways I teach energy healing and manifesting skills is through my free Radiant Resilience Community – click below to join us and get The Secret to Emotional Resilience 4-part audio mini-course free

12 thoughts on “Can You Turn Pain and Grief Into Healing?

  1. Oh Kathleen. So raw and beautiful. Vulnerable and courageous. Yes! We must grieve our losses so we can heal. xxoo Peggy

    1. Thank you, Peggy 🙂 I can’t imagine having done it any other way.

  2. I teared up reading this gut-wrenching and touching account Kathleen. How beautifully you honored your mother and your grief and pain as you went through this process. I was most touched by the words “In our culture, we’ve lost the wonderful traditions that allow us to grieve and heal” – this is true and I’m glad you’re opening the door for a conversation about this. Loving and healing thoughts coming your way xo

    1. Thanks so much, Puja 🙂 Over the last few years, I’ve come to believe very strongly in the power of rituals and ceremonies to honor many things, both happy and sad. I think it solidifies our emotional and spiritual process–whether embracing and committing to something or releasing and disconnecting from something. Women, especially, need the opportunity to grieve what has been lost before turning toward the new.

  3. Thank you with all my heart Kathleen for this inspiring and heart-opening piece. Having recently gone through an intense period of grief over the loss of my dog Cammi, I do know how it can unravel you to your core. I have spent my summer healing and releasing the collective loss that has also been loosened. Thank you for your wisdom. Blessings

    1. Thank you, Debra. The season of losing my mother was a tremendous season of loss for me in several ways, and just short of a year later, I, too, lost my beloved dog to kidney cancer. One of these days I’m going to write his story. It was a further catharsis and oh, so difficult to lose him. I’m sorry for the loss of your Cammi; there’s no doubt it’s just as tough as human loved ones. <3

  4. Absolutely beautiful! How wonderful that you were able to follow your heart in all of your choices related to your mother’s funeral. I admire that. And I couldn’t agree more that we can’t repress our emotions. It’s the feeling the feelings – even the traumatic ones – that leads to our healing. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your wisdom.

    1. Thank you, Dina. 🙂 If we just keep pushing it down, it creates more and more unease in the body and mind and, to my way of thinking, only increases the trauma because it festers. Dealing with it in a special way at the time it’s happening helps release it and return the body and mind to peace.

  5. Kathleen, this is such a raw and touching post. I admire you for being able to share such a deeply emotional story in order to enlighten your readers. As a Hospice volunteer, I could picture the scene & wish it was me who had been with you at the moment your mother crossed over. You showed a very brave, strong spirit in being there until the very end when they took your Mother’s body – I have not seen that with any of the families I’ve served. We do need to express our emotions – from grief and pain to joy and happiness in the memories. Much love & healing to you.

    1. Thank you, Tae. 🙂 We had a wonderful hospice team, and one woman in particular, Michelle, was very spiritually connected. She was not present at the time Mama died, but heard through the team she had passed and came specifically to see me later than day. Our fast-forward culture is a problem when it comes to the “machinery” of death and we need to take back the grief process.

  6. Dear Kathleen, I totally relate. I love to honor grieving and sadness in my life – it is so important to me as I was not allowed to be or even feel sadness when I was younger, (that was so me – “gotta keep it together, even when you fall apart”), so now I know how important it is to honor it. (I’m not a morose person by any means). xo, Reba

  7. […] All of this happened in my late forties, during a time when decades of negative patterns were coming to an explosive head. The tipping point didn’t come for another five months but it was set in motion in the weeks just before, and just after, her death. […]

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