The Grief Whisperer: Mindfully Moving Forward

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I have chosen to stay with the first grief therapist I tried. She is calming and nurturing and taking me on a journey of relaxation, if that is indeed possible for my Type-A personality. Another grief counselor talked so low (hushed tones are de rigueur in the profession), I couldn’t hear a word. I asked her to speak up over the flight pattern overhead. She moved her chair closer and continued to whisper. When she asked if I would continue for another session, I not so politely blurted out, “NO!” I also went to a bonafide psychotherapist for a whole lot more money and cried for an hour. My friends tell me I can cry with them for nothing, and they will supply the wine.

I decided to explore more relaxation techniques. A friend told me about a weekly free drop-in class called Mindful Awareness offered by UCLA every Thursday at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The website described Mindful Awareness as “the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences. Mindfulness has scientific support as a means to reduce stress, improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and well-being.” It sounded perfect for me so I decided to go by myself.

I got a parking space in front of the building, an achievement in itself, and went inside. The doors of the museum were wide open. The ambience was airy and welcoming. I was directed to the Billy Wilder theatre with comfy seats and I observed the legions of people streaming in. We’re talking SRO! The late director Billy Wilder would have loved to have an SRO crowd at his movies and his namesake theatre, even if it was just to relax. I noticed that the crowd ranged from students to older people, carrying backpacks, clad in jeans, and ready to relax. I sat at the back of the room on the aisle with a planned escape route, just in case. I was very nervous about meditating, since my levels of concentration have been trashed by my grief. I was actually nervous about meditating mindfully!

An instructor from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center sat down and began to talk in a comforting voice. She mentioned that it was holiday time and we should focus on gratitude. At that point, my grief hit and the tears spilled out onto my cheeks dripping down in sheets of wetness. The thought of being grateful was difficult for me but I forged ahead, tissues blotting my cheeks. She instructed us to breathe. This was really a problem because by now, my nose was so stuffed that I was breathing through my mouth. I did not want to disturb the quietude with a loud honking nose blow but I did so and surprisingly got a tender pat from my kind seat mate and her mother, which reassured me to continue.

The session was only 20 minutes longer and I made it through while dripping into my soaked tissues but continuing to try to find a focus. The gratitude issue kept popping up and I tried to find a place in my heart to feel gratitude in my grief. I finally focused on my squad, my posse, my friends, and my family, who are there for me 24/7. I tried to repeat a mantra in my head: “Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present, without judgment.” Even if all I could do was concentrate on my wet tissues, it was a small victory.

I got to my feet and was conscious of stares at my red nose and puffy eyes. My seat mate was ready to give me a hug. She was kind and sweet and I left, feeling spent, but also proud of myself for attempting to get better. It’s progress.

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