A Guide Through Grief

Entering New Territory

My parents died five days apart in February 2010: Douglas, 91, led the way on February 7; Sue, 88, followed on February 12. They were ready to leave this life and departed gracefully. Despite their readiness and my intellectual acceptance, their going stunned me. As if a mighty shipwreck had flung me onto an unknown shore, I felt them swept out into the cosmic sea. And through it all, Reiki held me.


Cast back upon myself, my identity was in tatters. The all-consuming role of “caregiver” vanished after three years of living with my sister Claudia in our parents’ home. I felt numb, wrenched from the land of the Living. Time warped. Waking felt like sleepwalking and sleep brought aching dreams instead of rest. I heard my heart say “This is the country of Grief where you will sojourn for some time to come.” I steeled myself to the life of an exile. Determined to honor my parents by grieving well, I embarked bravely into the work of surviving this desolate territory.


Unexpected Discoveries

Woody Allen has said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” My sober intentions were upset when grief turned out to be, well, a lot more light-hearted than I had imagined. The astonishing fact was that the deeper my sorrow, the greater the spontaneous eruptions of humor and joy, the flashes of insight and blessing. Grief has the uncanny ability to highlight Life’s absurdity and beauty—at the same time! I began to see that Dante and Monty Python are right: life is, ultimately, a Divine Comedy. The first hint may have been that our parents’ cremation was scheduled on Ash Wednesday, as in “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” My sister and I sobbed during that last earthly glimpse before the fire transformed them; and simultaneously I felt the ironic humor would not be lost on our faithful Christian parents, for whom death was a door to larger life.


Later that afternoon, exhausted from sorrow, the impending upheaval of selling our parents’ house, settling their estate, and moving on with our lives hit me. But Life drew us together. Like orphans in a storm, we realized we had each other…and we had the leftover salmon, red wine, and chocolate mousse from the caterers! Soon we were feasting and celebrating in the midst of our grief with stories about those mysteries we knew as “Sue and Douglas.”


How Reiki Helped

My parents took their First Degree Reiki class with me in 1999. Their initiations flashed like lightning across the chasm of family dynamics, illuminating possibilities for connection beyond roles and the generation gap. Reiki treatments put us in touch with our essence in ways talk therapy could not. The Reiki principles were guards, guides, and comforters. Some days they marched us to the limits of our patience, challenging us beyond our comfort zones to forgiveness and caring. At other times the principles reeled us in and held us tenderly. So much healing occurred in our family that “resurrection” was no longer an idea, myth, or metaphor. It became my living reality.


I cannot imagine this transformation and the grace to accompany my parents through their last days without the blessings of Reiki. With it, daily self-treatment strengthened and energized me to the unique beauty of each new day. Reiki treatments for parents soothed and sustained them as they faced what my mother referred to delicately as “the indignities of old age.” Practicing the Reiki principles balanced me, giving me the humility to be taught and transformed by my most patient, compassionate, and wise sister Claudia.


Reiki continues to guide me through the geography of grief, although I sense myself coming to the border of this terrain with its many sacred pools, deep valleys, and dark places. Through writing this very article, Reiki calls me up to a new vista. From here I can see that throughout the last years of their lives, our parents themselves made forays into the country of grief.


Following Reiki Forward

In quiet moments, when they weren’t shouting to make themselves heard, or deepening the grooves in one of their 65-year-old running differences of opinion, one might be heard to say to the other, “How did we get to be so old? Why are we still here?” Sue and Douglas met loss after loss with a minimum of complaint. They tried to tell us what it was like: the diminishment of the senses of taste and smell, the increasing effort it took to dress, to move, the inability to follow complicated plots in books or films, getting lost on the way home and giving up the keys to the car. And yet they stayed, even as their energy for tasks of daily living was waning.


Why did they stay? What gave them the courage to go on even when they wearied of living? Often after a Reiki treatment, they would return, as if from a scouting party, and exclaim “Oh, that was heaven! I don’t want to come back!” I see now that universal life energy, Reiki, that which Mrs. Takata called “God power,” kept them tethered to earthly life those last years until they had each completed their own grief work—and prepared us to do ours. Reiki showed us how love casts out fear, even in the face of death.


I feel myself returning to the land of the living bearing this gift inherited from my parents and our shared Reiki practice. The glimpses of truth Reiki reveals in grief are not found anywhere else. It is my privilege to share Reiki with you even in grief. Together we can witness the blossoming of new life, gentle humor, and ever-increasing joy.