Click on a topic below to read a healing message from Bruce Murakami.
> Your “Healing
> The Greatest Good
> The Power of the Written Word
> Learning to Say “Thanks”
> It’s Okay to Laugh
> Give a Little
> Love, A Real Miracle
> The Truth About Grieving
> Keeping Connected
Over and over again, people ask me how I got through the most devastating tragedy in my life: the loss of my beloved wife and daughter. For a long time, I couldn’t really answer that question. But after time passed and I looked back on my experience, I began to see grief more as a dark, cold, scary tunnel that I went through, rather than as the black void that I thought I was in at the time. I began to recognize several things that I did that helped me through the process of grief. Here, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. Hopefully, some of my experiences can help you with yours.
When I look back on that horrible point in my life, I can look at what I consciously and unconsciously did that put me on the road to healing. One of the first things was finding my “healing place.” For me, it was the water. Shortly after the deaths of Cindy and Chelsea, I packed up and moved to the beach.
In retrospect, it seems strange because I was so devoid of feeling anything but intense pain or total numbness. I sleepwalked through life like a zombie, a lost zombie at that. Yet, somehow, at a very visceral level, I knew I needed to be near water—that water symbolized healing, renewal, and peace. I couldn’t articulate these thoughts; I just felt them somewhere deep inside. So, I moved to the beach, and I spent every hour of every day sitting on the beach or swimming through the water or just soaking up the sun. And it was the first thing I did for myself that felt anywhere near good.
Now, I understand how important it was for me to have a safe, peaceful, healing place. I know I can’t speak for everyone going through this process because everyone’s experience is different. But I can tell you, it helped me. So, give it a try.
Find or make a space that is totally yours. A place that’s safe and comfortable. It can be anywhere. Inside or outside. Empty or full. An entire room or just a corner of a room. Then bring what you need to that space. A blanket, music, candles, sunglasses (if you’re outside like me), whatever. Then spend time there, all the time you need to heal. And make sure that others know that it’s your space. If nothing else, at least you will feel like you have somewhere to go with your thoughts.
And remember, all tunnels have another side. You will come out of it.
The Greatest Good
In all my work with victims and young drivers, I’ve discovered something very important about this process. And that is, no matter how familiar the stories sound, each one is unique. Why? Because the people involved all respond differently. Whether it’s to the emotional turmoil of the situation, the legal wrangling that inevitably occurs, or the overwhelming publicity that can sap your strength and confidence, how the people caught in this process choose to respond directly affects the outcome.
I, of course, am a firm believer in choosing to take responsibility for your actions. But I’m also an advocate for forgiveness. And I can tell you, in cases where these two characteristics exist, the greatest good often prevails. Now understand, I am definitely not saying that if you take responsibility or forgive that there won’t be excruciating pain and traumatic decisions to be made. I am certainly not suggesting that there be no consequences for the crimes committed. (Consequences are essential societal tools for learning, deterring others from engaging in similar behavior, and for penalizing those that have committed a crime.) Nor am I saying that forgiveness means excusing inexcusable behavior. (I believe it means letting go of the anger and blame so you can move forward with living the life you were meant to live.) But I am saying that in the cases I work with, where young drivers are truly repentant and victims willing to forgive, the opportunities for growth and living a full life truly flourish.
Let me also say that it is my experience that when responsibility and forgiveness converge, healing is initiated. Why? Because each person is freed of his or her torment. For the driver who committed the crime, taking responsibility helps him move past the paralyzing guilt. It’s not that he won’t ever feel the sting of guilt again; it’s that by owning responsibility for his actions, he is no longer stuck. He is doing something, maybe the only thing, positive that he can do to help the process.
For the victims, responding with forgiveness helps relieve anger and blame. It liberates them from the suffocating thoughts of revenge and getting even. And it allows them to see the perpetrator for who he really is, good or bad. Armed with that power, victims can truly regain their lives and move forward.
And that is how responsibility and forgiveness initiate true healing.
While talking is also important, for many people, the ability to do so might be temporarily lost during the grief process. Now, I’m not talking about suddenly becoming mute, although there are probably some extreme psychological cases where that has happened. What I’m talking about is the inability to effectively communicate while being bombarded with feelings.
At the beginning of the grief process, feelings can overwhelm. The colossal pain, the biting rage, the web of confusion, all pummeling you at once. It can take time to sift through these emotions, for them to scale back enough so that you can talk. But one thing I found that I could do when I couldn’t talk about my feelings was read.
Reading opened the door to healing for me. It gave me a framework for what I was going through, a template that I could process and understand. It also comforted me because I was “in touch” with others who understood what I was going through, without experiencing the frustration of having to explain it all. Reading also provided me with information, tips for moving on, and things I could do to help myself during this agonizing and often lonely process.
During my grief, I read several self-help books. Some were faith-based, others professional in nature. But I gained some perspective and took another step toward healing with each one.
So, if you’re going through the excruciating process of grieving, please pick up a book. It can be about grief or something totally different. If you have a favorite book, keep it by your bedside and read some every day. Because even if it’s not grief-related, you may actually feel some enjoyment from it. And that too is a big step toward moving on from grief.
to Say “Thanks”
Holidays can be especially challenging times of year for those in the throes of grief. Pain, loneliness, and depression can spike to unbearable levels and make life seem worthless. But life is a gift and that’s something we often have to remind ourselves of. In moments when we feel like we’ve been dealt the hardest blow imaginable, and when we think “What’s the point?”, we need to remember all the good in our lives.
For those dealing with the loss of a loved one, that can be a monumental task, one that seems impossible. But I’ll let you in on a secret: One of the most important things I learned is the more I looked at life as a punishment, the more my life seemed to punish me. Likewise, the more I expressed my gratitude for what I had, the more life felt like a gift, even when it was the most challenging.
It took a long time for me to understand that just simply being thankful for what I had could help turn my life around. There were days that the only thing I could be thankful for was breathing. Slowly, but surely, however, I found a lot of little things that started to add up. And after a while, I still hurt deeply, but started to look at life as an opportunity, a chance to turn something terrible into something good.
Today, I’m not only grateful for all the good in my life, I’m grateful I learned how to say “thanks.”
When you’re in the throes of grief, it’s not only hard to smile or laugh, sometimes it just feels wrong. After all, how could you possibly chuckle at anything after you’ve experienced loss at the deepest level? I know. I lived that way for many months, at first without being able to see or feel the humor in something, and then not allowing myself to do so because it felt wrong. Yet, the reality is that laughing, even just a little, is incredibly therapeutic and vitally important to try, especially for the grief-stricken.
For those of you who haven’t heard, there appears to be a strong correlation between improved mental and physical health and laughter. Laughter has been shown to reduce blood pressure and reduce stress. It brings people together and forms connections between them. There’s even evidence that laughter improves immune functioning.
This is all incredibly important for those experiencing the pain of grief. It’s no secret that grief can lead to depression, and that depression can negatively impact health, sometimes very seriously. So finding something to laugh at, even just to smile at, can help heal those who are grieving. And who knows, that one smile, that one giggle, that one little bit of a laugh that you muster might be all you need to turn the corner and start moving on.
Give a Little
Remember the famous bumper sticker, the one that says, “Practice random acts of kindness”? On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss those bumper stickers. After all, what can a little bit of kindness do, especially when you’re grieving?
Well, a little act of kindness can be enough to make it through a day. And when you’re grieving, you feel somewhat like a recovering addict because you have to take one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time. So every little opportunity that presents a way to lift your spirits, even if it’s only for a few minutes, can be very healing.
I don’t know why, but when you do something nice for someone else, even when you feel your absolute worst, a little spark ignites inside, and a feeling of life opens up. There’s something magical about it, and it can turn things around. When I was in my worst state of grief, I really wasn’t able to think in terms of doing something for someone else. I wish I had been able to. I wish I had had someone to gently ease me into to doing just a little something for someone else. I honestly believe it would have accelerated my healing.
Give it a try. If you have children or grandchildren, start with them. Why? Because to a parent or grandparent, there is nothing more beautiful or life affirming than the smile of a child. Also, if you’re grieving, there’s a good chance that the child is too, or that he or she senses your pain and doesn’t know how to respond. A simple act of kindness can create joy and a sense of renewed comfort in the child and also go a long way to strengthening your relationship.
If you don’t have a child, find someone else whose smile adds beauty to your day. Or consider a little volunteer work where you can give to someone who needs it. Then do something for them, something nice. You’ll be surprised at how good you feel when they feel good.
Love, A Real
Did you ever see the 1970’s film Harold and Maude? It’s a cult classic, definitely not everybody’s type of flick, but really a great movie about the theme of living life to its fullest. In a black comedy kind of way, the movie explores what it really means to be alive—and at the core of the meaning of life is love. In the film, young Harold dresses in black and is barely living his life, while an aging Maude is full of life. On Maude’s deathbed, Harold professes his love her, and Maude replies, “That’s wonderful, Harold. Now go out and love some more.”
The line is magnificent because it reminds us that, even when we’re grieving over the loss someone we love, giving our love to someone else is how we stay connected to the world, how we move on in life. Of all our emotions, love is the most powerful, the most miraculous, and the most likely to move mountains as Diana Ross so aptly sang about in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Just turn on the radio and listen for a few minutes—you’re bound to hear someone singing about love. It is the essence of much our culture, our art and our true spirit.
It may seem almost contradictory to offer your love when you’re grieving. There’s so much pain, pain that blunts your natural tendency to love. But ironically, loving may heal you faster than anything else you do. It can work miracles. If it sounds trite or overwhelming, just try it with a child—maybe your own son or daughter or a niece or nephew. Children are quick to return love, especially young children. In the span of only a few seconds, their eyes can light up and their arms fold around you in the purest kind of love. But anyone, any age, can feel real love coming their way and can’t help but respond.
The same is true for a pet. If you have a dog or a cat, try giving them a little love and then bask in what’s returned to you—pure, unconditional love. No strings, no pretense, just love.
I know, for many of you, this sounds impossible—like more than you could ever imagine doing right now. But I also know that, for those of you who try this, miracles will occur and the road to healing and life will open again.
The Truth About Grieving
When you’re in the throes of grief, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that it’s actually a process, something you’re truly passing through on a temporary basis. The devastating pain or the overwhelming anxiety and depression seem to never end. But the reality is that grief is a process, and it’s an essential process to go through in order to move on with life.
Understanding the grief process will go a long way toward recognizing that, despite the gut-wrenching emotion, you’re actually on a path toward healing. Back in the 1970s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying where she identified the five stages of grief associated with dying, five stages that we now know apply to all types of grief.
According to Kubler-Ross, individuals facing death experienced denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. At the time, many thought that the process was consecutive, with individuals first experiencing denial and then moving on through the chain of emotional experiences. But later research determined that the stages didn’t necessarily have an order, and at times, individuals could have one foot in one stage and another foot in another stage.
Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief
Denial: The stage where whatever has happened just isn’t happening to me.
Anger: This is the stage where I want to know why it’s happening to me or how dare this happen to me!
Bargaining: A stage of thinking and feeling that I will be a better person if this stops or goes away.
Depression: I’m so sad; I just don’t care any more.
Acceptance: I’m ready for whatever happens.
As you look at these stages, you might see yourself in one place or another that can help you understand that you are passing through the stages on your way to acceptance. And once you reach acceptance, you will find your life opening up again and feeling that you are, once again, part of the world.
Hang in there.
On Death and Dying Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Living With An Empty Chair: A Guide Through Grief Dr. Roberta Temes
Thoughts on Truth
Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content
in our everyday life and share with the people the
It’s no doubt that during this time, many are grieving the losses they’ve experienced during the year. For some reason, holiday times bring those losses into focus in ways that drain our very souls. Then, just when we’re hurting the most, we do something that actually intensifies the pain—we withdraw.
If ever there were a time that those who are grieving need to be connected with others, it’s during the holiday time. Other people who love and care about us help ease the deep feelings of loss by reminding us about what we still have and can have.
When we’re grieving, we often sink into the bowels of depression. There, we lose sight of life. We go numb and can’t feel or feel so intensely that we can’t function. Often, we think we don’t want to be around others—we may feel that we’d be a downer to them or a bother. Perhaps, we just don’t think we have the energy to keep up with them. Whatever the reason, we unplug from the human race, and in doing so, sink farther into our own pain.
If ever there was a way to heal during the holidays, it is by keeping connected. Not just busy, although that helps, but truly connected to the people and things that matter. Try to connect with familiar people and activities that bring comfort. Chances are you’ll find yourself around many who feel your loss as well or, at the very least, understand and care about the loss you’ve experienced. Either way, a little piece of that pain will dissipate and be replaced with a hint of holiday spirit.
So, this holiday season, make sure to connect with those you love and who love you. The more you do, the more you’ll start to heal. Who knows? You might even find a bit joy, and that would truly be a wonderful holiday gift.
Warmest holiday wishes,