Closing this one down

As of today Life After Benjamin will no longer broadcast from this WordPress.com station. I’ve moved to a self-hosted site and hope you will join me there.

http://lifeafterbenjamin.com

If you click on the above link and see this: https://lifeafterbenjamin.wordpress.com in the address bar, you’ll want to clear your browser’s cache and/or cookies and/or history to get to the right place.

If you’re receiving this via email, I hope you’ll sign up in the sidebar on the new site. If you experience any technical difficulties in the process, please email me at alanasheeren AT gmail DOT com and let me know. My learning curve is steep.

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts. – Arnold Bennett

With love and gratitude,

Alana

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Conversations

We live in the third house from the beach. It’s a small two-story, though bigger than our last home. The second floor is one large room with toys, a cardboard house, a craft table, my Pilates reformer and walls covered in Ada’s artwork. The French doors at one end open onto a sliver of a balcony and peering past the two huge homes in front of us, we can see the ocean.  Those two homes used to be tiny beach cottages, summer time play space for families coming up from Los Angeles with their young kids. The woman who lives closest to us moved in year-round 18 years ago and is now in her 80’s, her husband long gone, with a brown and white spaniel and full-time home care for company. She loves the sound of our daughter’s voice and the little garden we’ve put in the back yard. Her sons visit occasionally – one more than the other. She keeps mostly to herself, occasionally walking up the lane to her 90 year-old friend’s house. They’ve known each other since girl-hood and are sharing the ends of their lives now too.

The house directly on the beach is a sharply angled concrete beauty with huge expanses of glass. We watched it being built last summer as we walked up and down the sand, on the days between the broken leg and bed rest. We wondered about the owners when we moved in, seeing them only occasionally from a distance: gray hair in a wetsuit, heading toward the ocean for a swim. Over the last months, we’ve met them and are slowly developing a neighborly friendship. They are our parents’ age, though he still works in Los Angeles. They’ve owned the beach house more than three decades and finally, when the sand piled so high they no longer had a view of the ocean, they rebuilt. Their sons grown with no grandchildren in sight, she stopped me the other day to offer solid oak twin bed frames, well loved and well taken care of. She invited me in to see the house and I promised to come back, with husband and child in tow.

As we wandered through their home, admiring its clean lines and light-filled space, conversation turned to life, and work, and children. Ada had fallen on their stairs and while she nursed an apple juice and held ice to a bumped leg, we talked about motherhood. I mentioned Ben. I am accustomed to different reactions when I talk about him.  I didn’t notice anything unusual about hers, and the subject turned quickly to other things. We were leaving the next day for Colorado and were behind in our packing, so our visit ended shortly afterward.

We’d been back a few days and I was in the garage getting laundry, my hair wet from a late shower, when I heard a voice call my name over the fence. She peeked in, a bag of fresh vegetables from their garden in hand. After a moment of polite conversation, she began to apologize. She told me they had lost a child too and she’d been stunned into silence when I mentioned Benjamin. Only she’d lost him as a teenager, not an infant, a boy rounding the corner to becoming a man. As we spoke, I could feel one wall go down and another go up – the bond of losing a child tying us together while the desire to stay composed with a virtual stranger held us in check.

Every time I hear the story of someone’s grief, my heart opens wider. There is sadness, yes, and a massive amount of love. For all of us. For the beauty and striving of the human spirit. We do what we can to survive.

I recently learned that Patti Digh, a woman whose creative work has been shaped in many ways by loss and whose book Life is a Verb I recommend as a resource in the Picking Up the Pieces guide, is writing a new book called The Geography of Loss. She’s asking the question, “For what or for whom do you grieve?” You can read the stories already there and add your own if you wish. Let’s deepen the conversation. Let’s crack our hearts wide-open and let love in. Let’s change the way grief is talked about – or not talked about – in our culture.

It is time.

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Thank you

I have been awed and humbled by the last three days. By the way everything fell apart and came back together. By the love, support and kind words. By the gratitude I feel for my son, my support system, my friends and everyone who has taken a few moments to download the Picking Up the Pieces guide, talk about it on Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment on the blog. It is a privilege and a joy to be alive, to be doing this work, to be finding my way.

I keep thinking about how ten years from now I will look back and recognize this time in my life as a turning point. I’ve gone from living partly in shadow, to floundering in darkness, to dancing in the light. I can feel the joy of it all radiating from my core. I’m still exhausted, still prone to tears, the ache in my chest comes and goes. I will miss my son every day for the rest of my life and I will be forever grateful for who I’ve become because of him.

When sad, be really sad, sink into sadness. What else can you do? Sadness is needed. It is very relaxing, a dark night that surrounds you. Fall asleep into it. Accept it, and you will see that the moment you accept sadness, it starts becoming beautiful. – Osho

*****

Just a quick reminder that if you are reading this via email, and you want to keep doing so, you’ll need to sign up in the sidebar on the new site (on the right, under the sunset). I apologize for the extra step and hope you’ll continue to join me in this journey. You will receive one more post/reminder via the old blog and then it will be put to rest.

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Love and stuff

Yesterday morning I woke to pictures of my cousin’s new baby boy in my inbox. I smiled. He’s beautiful. Grief sat squarely on my chest.

I ignored it. I thought about everything I needed to get done. I began to suffer.

My husband recognized the look in my eye, the set of my jaw, and the shortness of my replies. He suggested a solution. Sometimes that goes well, sometimes not. Today it was perfect. The dark cloud began to lighten but I wasn’t ready to cry.

I took time for myself. I asked for direction. I opened a book.

Can you imagine how it would feel if your heart were open, if everywhere you went, you trusted, were relaxed, and knew that the universe was friendly? How would your life flow if you believed that your inner guidance was gentle and kind, and that people were sending you love wherever you went, and that you yourself broadcast a beam of love like a circle around you to everyone? How would your life change if whenever someone said something to you, no matter how it came out, you could recognize the love or need for love behind it? — from Living With Joy by Sanaya Roman

I sat for a moment and thought about love. I relaxed. I remembered that everything will be okay, even when it feels like it won’t. I got to work. I cried.

*****

Today is a big day for me. Let me tell you why.

Picking Up the Pieces: thoughts on grief and growth is available for download. If you’re grieving, or know someone who is, consider this my gentle nudge to read it. It’s free, it’s beautiful and it just might change your life.

I’m also announcing the Picking Up the Pieces Retreat – 3 days and 4 nights that’ll knock your socks off. If you wear socks. This one’s not free but it will be beautiful and it’s definitely going to change your life.

Lastly, I am moving this blog to a self-hosted site. This is way out of my comfort zone and I’m hoping it goes smoothly. Please be patient with me if you encounter any difficulties. If you’re receiving this via email, let me say thank you (!) and let you know that you’ll want to sign up at the new site in order to keep receiving blog posts. But I’m still figuring that out, so I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

Here’s to life. Let’s really live it.

Posted in Growth, In the Now | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Grief changes relationships

Over the last 11 months, I have found myself reaching out to women I know who are further along in their mourning process. It doesn’t matter if our losses are similar, because grief is specific to each of us. As I negotiate this life, the guiding hands of those who have gone before hold me when I am stumbling. One wise friend told me she now sees people as a kind of Venn diagram: In section A are those who have had a devastating loss; section B contains those who haven’t (yet); and the overlap, section C holds those who haven’t but are willing to venture into a deeper understanding of what it must feel like.

When grief first knocks at our door, there are great outpourings of love and support. Gradually it fades away and we are left to our own devices, to our own processes, to our own sadness. We belong to group A in that diagram and it slowly becomes clear where everyone else stands.

My husband has his own moments of mourning our son, though they are less frequent and less obvious than mine. This makes sense. He is able to hold me when I cry, as hard as it is for him, because he has learned that this is how I process the pain. Though it is not his way, he understand that it is mine.

My daughter wants her mama to smile, to laugh, to play with her. She watches me closely. She speaks of her brother – less often now – but she is a child. It will only be later, as she grows, that she will begin to understand what this experience means and how it will shape her life.

My parents have their own moments of sadness, though we don’t speak of them often. My in-laws too, hold their eleventh grandchild in their hearts. We give and receive the support we can, loving and forgiving each other for our strengths and weaknesses.

It is with friends that I have seen the biggest changes. Most of those who know loss or are willing to taste it are able to hold space in their lives for me and my ups and downs. Those on the B side want things to return to some semblance of the way they used to be. They have no idea the energy it takes to recover, to stand on two feet after being knocked flat. It seems they want me to do what I did, be who I was and I cannot. I’ve tried.

I do not wish to be that person anymore. I like the new me, though she is not always graceful, has plenty of rough edges and falls apart on a regular basis. I like the way I’ve grown and many of the changes that have come. Most importantly, I accept the new me, in a way I’ve never accepted myself before. This, in turn, allows me to let go of judgments that have held me captive for a long time. It is like shedding a weighted skin. I am raw, born anew, learning to walk again.

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11 months

Yesterday was 11 months from the date of Ben’s death. Most of the day felt like any other in this new life. I had a moment in the morning where I looked at the clock on the microwave and flashed back to the operating room, to the nurse’s voice telling me there were no signs of life. I stood still, feeling time move around me like a warm wind until the memory left and I found myself once again in my kitchen, a mug of decaf coffee in my hand.

We had a visit with friends we haven’t seen in years. The girls became mermaids, long hair flowing as they covered their legs with seaweed, mussel shells and mud. The mamas talked, catching up, remembering the feel of each others’ presence. The sun shone, breaking through June’s thick clouds. We played a game, made a mess, and ate the lunch Steve prepared. Late last night I sat down, alone, and spoke to Ben. He answers me in different ways – words on a page, thoughts that come as though a voice other than mine is speaking them, occasionally I hear the lyrics to a song.

Today grief has had me in a stranglehold since the moment I awoke, short on sleep and patience. I closed my eyes and fought for peace, clawing my way toward the light I could see on the other side of the enveloping dark. All morning I’ve been some variation of annoyed, irritated, or angry. Slowly the realization dawned. It takes me longer admit it to myself, even though I know the signs. Even I, who have given myself permission to grieve this loss fully, struggle with the pressure to get over it. Even I, who knows how precious its gifts are, sometimes want to dull the pain. But she is wise, my grief. She knocks at the door to my heart until it opens, allowing the release to come, allowing tears and words to flow.

I am imperfect in this process. I have learned how to set myself up for success, as I would my child, and still, I fall down. In the kitchen for a moment, two sentences from 2011’s Words to Remember caught my eye: Stay connected to now. Find the joy. I am feeling the grip of old thoughts and habits today, cold hands pulling me down into the deep. When I bring myself back to the present moment I see those hands for what they are – the desperate grasp of an ego that has spent years being the ring-master of my life. I know, now, that I am greater, and more powerful, than that. Instead of fighting the dark, I can simply turn my face toward the light. I can find excitement in the knowledge that I have the opportunity to figure it out, this life, by living it to the best of my ability. For now, in this moment, I can believe that:

I am worthy

I am enough

I am trust

I am love

I am exactly where I need to be.

All is well

Even when it seems like it isn’t,

and I’m going to be alright.

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A visit

I’ve been feeling my own absence lately. This space that used to be for daily expression has taken a back seat to bigger projects. But my heart is here and there are many stories I have yet to tell. In the meantime…

I am thrilled to say you can find me today over at Kristin Noelle’s gorgeous blog, Trust Tending, answering a question about depression. My friend Pamela wrote about this special place on the web beautifully.  Kristin’s blog “is the best class you have ever taken, the biggest exhale you’ve breathed out, and an entirely new perspective on your own familiar life.”

Browse through Kristin’s archives and you’ll find yourself chuckling, nodding your head in recognition, breathing more deeply and getting lost in her wonderful sketches. It has quickly become one of my favorite places to spend a few stolen moments on the web. Give yourself the gift of trying one of her rituals, join the conversation or visit her shop. It’s all food for the soul.

Sending you love…

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100%

Name a person that would make you sweat if they showed up at your door?

Creative instigator extraordinaire Dyana Valentine asked me this question when we began working together.  In a nanosecond my heart yelled, Danielle LaPorte, but I hesitated to say it out loud. They know each other well and it felt scary vulnerable to admit.  Sidestepping a little, I came up with a few others – Wayne Dyer and Oprah and Lyle Lovett – but I wouldn’t really freak out if they showed up.

Okay maybe for Lyle.

I kinda feel like the other two would sit with me, we’d have a fascinating conversation and I’d end up feeling really good about myself, no matter what. Don’t get me wrong, it would rock my world to hang with them, but there’s something about Danielle that makes me think, Holy-Mary-Mother-of-God I’d have to show up. All of me. 100%. I would have to bring it to the table or she’d turn and walk away because she’s too busy rockin’ her own world – and ours – to waste time on someone who lets fear get in the way.  And I am drawn to that like a moth to a flame because I want to show up. I want to bring all of me to the table and put it out for people to fill up on and I want the energy exchange that goes along with that. The energy exchange that brings both soul satisfaction and a steady flow of cash. That cash part that has been missing from my life since I became a mama.

There is something about the way Danielle thinks and writes about the world, about life and work and love, that makes me sit up and take notice. I’ve even thought,  I want to be her when I grow up, (though we’re close to the same age). But I don’t. I want to be me. It took the death of my son and whole lot of work, but I finally feel like me. The me who shows up, inspires others, creates meaningful interactions, writes and speaks my truth and makes a great living doing it.  The me who walks into a room of world changers and knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I fit in. Inspired by Danielle, and Dyana, and so many others, I am showing up. In the biggest way I know how. 100%. All of me.

Available for download mid-July, Picking up the Pieces: thoughts on grief and growth.

…with more to come…

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A letter to my body

Today’s post was inspired by the lovely Kristin Noelle over at Trust Tending. Please treat yourself to some time there. Her sketches, meditations, rituals and interviews are food for the soul. Go here to read other letters. Write your own. Listen to your body. I can guarantee she’s speaking to you.

Dear body,

You are a miracle.

I have spent my life alternately connecting with you deeply and ignoring you completely. Sometimes I’ve done both at the same time, in different ways. We learned to work together early on – me telling you to stretch and bend, plie and pirouette, leap and glide and you listening, learning, growing stronger and more expressive by the day. You were beautiful and I had no idea. I found you imperfect – too tall, too muscular, too earth-bound. We grew into each other, discovering our likes and dislikes. I pushed you to limits and paid the price. I let you off the hook. We danced together, feeling heart and spirit soar.

You knew touch too early – the touch that should be reserved for consenting adults. You did not consent. You absorbed guilt, shame, and pain. You sensed sadness and took that on too, holding it so far inside that even when I looked, I could not find it. You discovered a loving, gentle touch but the shame was such a part of you that unfettered joy was a distant dream.

You were admired, adored, worshipped, lusted after, held, hurt. You began to speak to me – in dreams and in waking. Sometimes I listened. Often I did not. We followed one path, then left it to pursue another. We got closer. I discovered that you held memories, voices, feelings, and thoughts. You had your own clear, powerful voice, different from the one I used to speak out loud. I sought to access your knowledge, mining it as diamonds and gold. We practiced our craft – you and voice becoming the expression of heart and mind. And still I found you lacking. I opened you up in one area only to shut the door in another. I allowed you to be over-full, to be hurt, to be overworked and under-loved.

We earned money together you and I. We danced and sang, posed for pictures that would fill photo albums all over the world. I numbed your ache with alcohol and drama, even while demanding you perform at your highest level. We spent a decade in and out of sadness and self-loathing, weight loss and gain, new experiences and old pains. We went to therapy, you and I. You sat cross-legged as I told my story and tried to understand.

Another decade is almost done and here we are. Still together. Still exploring. You’ve known heartbreak that made you feel as though you would shatter but you didn’t. You ached from the trauma and still, you carried me through. You came to a point where you could have given up, could have surrendered to the tug back home but you didn’t. You began to heal. In your desire to stay alive and mine to find joy, we have grown closer than ever. I’ve learned how many secrets you’ve kept hidden away, how many hooks were buried deep. The scars are more elastic than the skin that they replaced, and I can look at them with love for the first time. I have watched you change so many times and I am finally beginning to see you with the eyes of acceptance. The space between your cells is vibrating at higher rates and life is changing at an astounding speed. I feed you differently – both with food and activity. We are relearning pleasure, relearning joy. You are shedding the weight you no longer need to hide behind. I am imperfect – still finding ways to make you wait, still learning what you need to thrive. But you, dear sweet body, you are perfect. Holding my hands over my heart I bow to you with tears in my eyes. Thank you for carrying me so well, for so long. I’m sorry. I love you. Let’s dance.

Posted in In the Now, Looking back | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Choosing hope

I pay little attention to the news. It’s not that I want to put my head in the sand and ignore world events. There are a couple of daily emails or weekly news magazines that I’ll scan so I’ve got an idea of what’s happening. But I’ve come to believe that our obsession with 24-hour media is another way of keeping the masses in line. Or rather, of keeping us terrified, powerless, angry and at each other’s throats, pointing our fingers and yelling, It’s all your fault, so we don’t have to take responsibility for our lives.

I notice in my own body the immediate effects of sensationalized reporting, scare tactics and hateful rhetoric. I feel my heart close, my fear rise, my shoulders hunch as if to protect myself from the latest terror. Earthquake, tsunami, uranium mining, wolf killings, policy changes, short-sighted politics – the bad news takes a toll on our psyches. I educate myself on topics that matter to me. I sign petitions and get involved because I think it is not only a right, but a duty to shape the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.

At the same time, I limit my exposure because it makes me feel better. Because when I surround myself with beauty – my family, nature, inspirational music, books, and friends – I am better able to hold my vision of the world and to contribute to that. When I allow my heart to be touched by all that is good in the world, I am more willing to be a force for good myself. By being kind, compassionate, hopeful, a loving parent, partner and friend, I am helping to shape that world of the future. I believe there is great power in that.

What are you choosing to be a part of your experience that you no longer want? What’s one tiny step you can take to change that? Please share here in the comments, email me, or simply write it down on a sticky note. Then take a big, deep, compassionate breath and do it.

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