Some thoughts on approaching death with calm abiding and processing grief as a survivor.

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Namaste’~ 

William Kimmel

      My name is William Kimmel and I will be sharing some perspectives and tools for managing the grief process.  I am not a counselor, nor have I had any formal grief councilor training. My offering here is from practical experience as a single father, and caregiver to two very special  children with Cystic Fibrosis. Michael  (June 1999- Aug. 2006) and Kaleigha  (Dec. 1992-Aug. 2007).

     I have been a meditation practitioner, and teacher for many years. Some of my thoughts here will come from a Buddhist perspective, and I would like to make it clear to all that the meditation and the suggestions here can be used by anyone. Regardless of their religious preferences. All major religions use meditation in one form or another. (Sometimes it is called “Prayer”).

     Cystic Fibrosis is an auto recessive genetic disorder carried by people of mostly European decent. The basic disorder of this disease is it causes abnormally thick and sticky mucus to be produced by all the mucus (glandular) systems within the body.

     This causes the mucus to “clog” some major organs, causing repeated infections that eventually become resistant to antibiotics.  The Avioli in the lungs (a small sack-like structure where the gas exchange takes place, oxygenating the blood), get clogged and cause infections that cause cysts (Cystic), that scar the tissue (Fibrosis).  This results in severe lung damage. The same process happens with the pancreace and liver, as well as some other organs, over time.  There are some good therapies for managing this disease; however, there is no cure yet.  The disease is progressive in nature and is fatal.

     Michael (Mikey) had multiple disabilities.  He contracted Bacterial Meningitis at the age of 4 months. This almost took his life and the strong antibiotics he was given, along with the infection, left him profoundly deaf in both ears.  He attended St. Marys school for the deaf in Buffalo, NY.  Kaleigha and I also took classes there and learned American sign language.

     Any parent knows how much time and work it is to raise a child. Even a healthy one. My job as their single father was very busy. I did respiratory therapy treatments (CPT and nebulized medications), administered their medications and such, before and after school. Managed their nutrition (CF kids need an average daily intake of 4500 calories to maintain their weight). They have trouble with fat absorption due to the clogging of the pancreatic enzymes that release to the gut. They had to take pills (6-7 pills) at each meal, to replace the enzymes.

    I had to keep a tight schedule due to many physical and speech therapists coming and going, doctors appointments and clinic visits. This all added to the normal stuff  like baths, laundry, cooking and cleaning…etc.) Needless to say I became a very proficient at mutitasking. I also managed to have time for my meditation practice. Without taking time to meditate, I doubt I could have managed it all.

    Things went along like this and I moved my little family to Kendallville, Indiana, in 2004. My fathers family was from Kendallville, and I had relatives here. The children’s mother lived close to Kendallville also.

    Mikey was never hospitalized because of his CF. Unfortunately, he died from an accidental drowning in 2006. He was 7 years old. I went over to my elderly aunt’s house to help her install a program on her computer. Mikey slipped away from the babysitter and got out the back door. My aunt’s house was on a lake and Mikey went into the water and drowned. I found him floating face down in the water, pulled him from the lake and started CPR, But he was gone. My world crumbled before my eyes.  My whole life revolved around Mikey. I was his sign language interpreter, caregiver and father. He had graduated from kindergarten only a few months before his death. We were very close of course, and I was thoroughly devastated.

     Having my meditation practice was absolutely crucial during this time. Mikey’s sudden death caused me to have a moment of what we call “Satori”. It is a Buddhist term meaning enlightenment or “understanding”.  I was using basic breath meditation (shamantha) as a tool to deal with the overwhelming grief- a small piece at a time. I would concentrate so intently upon my breath with singularity of thought and focus (Samadhi), that there was a way to not dwell upon my grief unless I chose to do so.. This gave me at least some control over my emotions and thought process. I was still a wreck for several months. I can bear witness to the fact that my meditation practice was indispensable to me as a grief (stress) management , and a crisis resilience tool. This is why I am making this blog. The depth of grief of losing a child cannot be understood by anyone who has not experienced it.

The scientific community has done studies that clearly demonstrate the benefits of meditation.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breath_Meditation#Scientifically_demonstrated_benefits

One year later my precious 14 year old daughter, Kaleigha, was taken off life support. I was told 24 hours before she died that this had to be done.  I stayed with her all night, quietly holding her hand. They let her wake up for a few minutes to say goodbye after they took her ventilator tube out. I was able to tell her that there is nothing to fear. It is as natural as being born and we all have to do it. She went very peacefully. I did 49 days of phowa practice for her and I got a good vibe about it. I was still processing the grief from Mikey’s death, and now Kaleigha was gone.

I continued on with a good practice…..though depressed and worn thin from grief, I still practiced. I started sitting Shikanstaza meditation (Just Sitting).

Meditation is a daily refuge for the mind and provides intellectual rest. Awareness at rest, calm abiding or the holy spirit, lord Krishna….it is a spiritual practice, and even the Bible recomends to “Meditate upon the lord”.

Here are some meditation tips. Posture is very important to me when I meditate. You sit straight and pretend there is a little string gently lifting the top of your scalp toward the ceiling. If you are new to meditation be very gental with yourself. Start with 10 munutes in the morning and gradually increase the time up to 20 or 45 munutes.

A traditional method given by The Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta is to go into the forest and sit beneath a tree and then to simply watch the breath, if the breath is long, to notice that the breath is long, if the breath is short, to notice that the breath is short.[4][5]

While inhaling and exhaling, the meditator practises:

  • training the mind to be sensitive to one or more of: the entire body, rapture, pleasure, the mind itself, and mental processes
  • training the mind to be focused on one or more of: inconstancy, dispassion, cessation, and relinquishment
  • steadying, satisfying, or releasing the mind.

A popular non-canonical method used today, loosely based on the Visuddhimagga, follows four stages:

  1. repeatedly counting exhalations in cycles of 10
  2. repeatedly counting inhalations in cycles of 10
  3. focusing on the breath without counting
  4. focusing only on the spot where the breath enters and leaves the nostrils (i.e., the nostril and upper lip area).[6]

~More tomorrow, NAMASTE’

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4 thoughts on “Some thoughts on approaching death with calm abiding and processing grief as a survivor.

  1. Linda

    wow very powerful….. thank you for sharing. Cannot even imagine going through what you have …. Lost my husband of 48 yrs a year ago, an meditation is what helped me through …. not over it, just going on ..

    • Yes, I suppose we never get compleatly over it until we die. I think the important thing is carring your suffering well. Working with it, rather then running from it.

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