Thinking Out Loud about Grief and Mourning


Twelve years ago I wrote about this topic after a dear friend died.  I wonder if anything is different today as I think about dear friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones: a spouse,  child,  siblings,  friends,  parent, including my Mother. Certainly customs have necessarily changed during this time of Covid. I notice the conversation has improved and death and loss are no longer hidden in the closet.  On the other hand, if you google death and dying we get 937,000,000 results.  In North America, in particular, we quickly commodify anything that gains traction.  As well,  we seem suspicious about prolonged grief and  critical when we think it’s not long enough. Snap judgements abound, whether it is birth or death.

I Imagine

Even though arm bands, veils, black garb, and drawn blinds are mostly gone, it may be that we could benefit from a reprieve from our usual duties, albeit in a sunny room, not a darkened one. A room where we don’t need to talk or greet or comfort another but where food magically appears along with a hot cup of tea from time to time, and where a fire is laid and burning.  A room where we can fall asleep in the chair and where fresh flowers adorn the single table and the cold is banished, and we are close enough to the sea, to hear the waves and smell the salt.

A room where you are automatically excused for not taking calls or answering emails or from trying to cheer up. A room where you can still expect, at any moment, for your loved one to re-appear- where maybe it has all been a big mistake, until you remember- no – this won’t happen.

This room would look out on to trees, and birds and water. There would even be a door leading to a path. But no fear of encountering anyone (no matter how dear) who wants to offer comfort or be comforted by you. A cloistered place where one is permitted to be alone with ones thoughts and fears and prayers and pain. No excuses are needed here to decline lunch or any social gatherings. No explanations are required.

One day in good time, (whenever that is) the desire awakens to move beyond the walls. It is different for everyone. No explanation for staying or leaving is required. Life does indeed move on but not easily or quickly for some and not at all by the timeline we typically use in our country. We speak a great deal about grief, the internal process of grieving. And yet we have few rituals for mourning – how we express that grief externally. I have no words either. Only glimpses these days of possibilities.

The Year of Magical Thinking

In Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking, she quotes a passage from Emily Post’s 1922 book of etiquette, which she found affirming after her husband of 40 years suddenly died.

“Persons under the shock of genuine affliction are not only upset mentally but are all unbalanced physically. No matter how calm and controlled they seemingly may be, no one, can under such circumstances be normal. Their disturbed circulation makes them cold, their distress makes them sleepless. Persons they normally like, they often turn from. No one should ever be forced upon those in grief, and all over-emotional people, no matter how near or dear, should be barred absolutely.

Although the knowledge that their friends love them and sorrow for them is a great solace, the nearest afflicted must be protected from any one or anything which is likely to over strain their nerves, already at the threatening point. And none have the right to feel hurt if they are told they can neither be of use or received. At such time, to some people, companionship is a comfort; others shrink from their dearest friends.”

The Nearest Afflicted

I am holding in my heart those who mourn, especially the “nearest afflicted.” And I want to say that there are as many ways to grieve as there are people.  For some, companionship is the answer, including our work, and for others, solitude is what helps the most. (solitude doesn’t mean physically alone but the chance to be alone, even with others) Please trust yourself. There is no formula or one size fits all.

And these words won’t help anyone either… still, I think of dear friends who suffer, and you dear reader, whom I may not know, but for whom I care. You come into my  thoughts and heart as I reflect on life and death; joy and sorrow. Tonight,  I am thinking in particular what the loss of a beloved and lifelong soul mate, or a child, can mean to the bereaved.  With special thoughts of D and K and any of you dear readers who know all too well what I write about.


1:) Haiku


In spite of the cold,

winter peonies, naked and leafless,

are in flower. by Sharai


Little snail,
slowly, slowly,
climbs Mount Fuji.  by Issa



Not a Haiku but a small poem that brings me solace and reminds me to do what I can do, by Nancy Gibbs Richard

It is a challenge

to accept the truth

of what no longer is possible.

and yet embrace all that still can be.

Note 2:) This evening was the most magical winter night of the season. There was something about the snow laden trees and the whiteness all around with the glow of the lights muted by the snow cover that simply made everything look like an understated and beautiful winter wonderland.

Note 3:) Naturally I think of my own sweet Mother who died last July. In truth, I think of her with love and joy, knowing she is free of suffering. I miss her delightful company but I don’t wish her back. 100 years, 3 months and 13 days was enough for her, and we had the gift of her presence much longer than could possibly be expected.

Note 4:) Thanks for opening this email and clicking to read. And thanks for your kind and encouraging words. It is a joy for me to show up every Wednesday and I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. Keep your eye peeled for joyful moments, as they are sometimes easy to miss.  See you next week. Warmest wishes, Trudy




How to Fly a Horse

So here is the thing:

I am captivated by creativity these days. Reading everything I can get my hands on, doing my drawing practice with abandon, writing like crazy and recalling great authors whose advice I mostly did not apply to myself. In some ways this focus makes sense. A big part of my Ikigai (a reason to get up in the morning, ) is the time I spend with my grandchildren who are uninhibitedly creative, and inventive and my work with people impacted by illness. Of course, I have also lived for three quarters of a century, so all of my interests benefit enormously by the creative arts, imagination and invention. And I might add that doing things ourselves, is the key, not just admiring other’s work. So I am really benefiting myself, which happens when we try to be useful to others.

As I was writing an article today on creativity for a different publication, it occurred to me that I had not told you about a book I found intriguing.  It is called How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery” by Kevin Ashton.

Kevin, led pioneering work on RFID (radio frequency identification) networks, for which he coined the term “the Internet of Things,” and cofounded the Auto-ID Center at MIT. His writing about innovation and technology has appeared in numerous publications.

I found it fascinating when I first hear Ashton interviewed on CBC radio five years ago, when the book was published. I immediately downloaded a Kindle copy and found so many interesting ideas that I was continually sending excerpts to friends. If I recall, there were a few things that I didn’t connect with but overall I was engaged with his perspective and research around the myths of creativity and how credit is bestowed to the inventor or the maker of the final product, rather than to the team of people over generations who continually added to that outcome. I was fascinated by this research. In fact, I’m about to read it again.

Here are a few comments from others that fit my own experience.


One of the most creative books on creativity I have ever read, a genuinely inspiring journey through the worlds of art, science, business and culture that will forever change how you think about where new ideas come from.”
—William C. Taylor, cofounder and editor of Fast Company and author of Practically Radical

“[Ashton’s] is a democratic idea—a scientific version of the American dream. . . . [A]n approachable, thought-provoking book that encourages everyone to be the best they can be.”
The Guardian (London)

“If you have ever wondered what it takes to create something, read this inspiring and insightful book. Using examples ranging from Mozart to the Muppets, Kevin Ashton shows how to tap the creative abilities that lurk in us all. There are no secrets, no shortcuts; just ordinary steps we can all take to bring something new into the world. Ashton’s message is direct and hopeful: creativity isn’t just for geniuses—it’s for everybody.”
—Joseph T. Hallinan, author of Why We Make Mistakes

“If you consider yourself a curious person then you will love this book. Ashton shares so many delightful stories of where things come from and how things came to be, I seriously believe that it will make anyone who reads it smarter.”
—Simon Sinek, New York Times bestselling author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last

The three most destructive words in the English language may be – before I begin. Kevin Ashton

It is so interesting how hard it is for some of us to begin. No matter what it is.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman: “To begin, to begin. How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. I should write something first, then I’ll reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. OK, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.”

This kind of mind chatter is familiar to some of us. Ashton writes this:

“The only thing we do before we begin is fail to begin. Whatever form our failure takes, be it a banana-nut muffin, a tidier sock drawer, or a bag of new stationery, it is the same thing: a non-beginning, complete with that dead car sound, all click, no ignition.

Having resisted the temptation of others, we must also resist the temptation of us. The best way to begin is the same as the best way to swim in the sea. No tiptoes. No wading. Go under. Get wet and cold from scalp to sole. Splutter up salt, push the hair from your brow, then stroke and stroke again. Feel the chill change. Do not look back or think ahead. Just go.

In the beginning, all that matters is how much clay you throw on the wheel. Go for as many hours as you can. Repeat every day possible until you die. The first beginning will feel wrong. We are not used to being with ourselves uninterrupted. We do not know the way first things look. We have imagined our creations finished but never begun…

Nothing begins good, but everything good begins. Everything can be revised, erased, or rearranged later. The courage of creation is making bad beginnings.”

There may not be a single thing that you really want to do before you die. But I suspect everyone has dreams and visions of something they want to leave behind. Maybe it is a tidy sock drawer and that’s ok, but it might be stories, videos, a song or musical composition or a new contraption of some kind. There are hundreds of things that any of us can learn to do, but there may be one or two important things that we would so like to do but are afraid to start. I wonder what they are? Will you begin?


Note 1:) The CBC interview I heard five years ago. less than 12 minutes. I won’t be the least bit offended if you don’t find him interesting.

Note 2:) I hope you are all managing the February blues, especially in the cold climates  where you are housebound by temperature as well as Covid. Good news- only 3 and 1/2 weeks until daylight savings time.

Note 3:) This is celebration month in my family with Birthdays for my daughter, granddaughter and cousins, not to mention the Lunar New Year and Valentines. Any excuse will do. We have discovered that you don’t need a crowd to celebrate and video chats work for Birthday greetings. However, next year… where there is vaccine there is hope.

Note 4:)  Thank you for arriving once again, to this spot. With armloads of appreciation, I thank you. I hope you have a lovely week and “begin,” or continue with that special creation of yours. Warmest wishes, Trudy

PS The banner was taken in the Gion area of Kyoto in 2014. I was awed by the market, narrow old streets, skilled crafts people creating form and function in food, art, kimona’s and so much more. Like this gentleman expertly weaving blinds, and other items by hand. It was an honour to stand and watch him and he allowed me to take his photo.


Scrambling for Certainty

The Human Predicament

“As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground—something predictable to stand on—seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.

What a predicament! We seem doomed to suffer simply because we have a deep-seated fear of how things really are. Our attempts to find lasting pleasure, lasting security, are at odds with the fact that we’re part of a dynamic system in which everything and everyone is in process.

So this is where we find ourselves: right in the middle of a dilemma. And it leaves us with some provocative questions: How can we live wholeheartedly in the face of impermanence, knowing that one day we’re going to die? What is it like to realize we can never completely and finally get it all together? Is it possible to increase our tolerance for instability and change? How can we make friends with unpredictability and uncertainty— and embrace them as vehicles to transform our lives?”  Pema Chodron

Pema has a gift and a skill of putting into a few paragraphs what I might take a few pages to talk about.

We will never arrive someplace where we can rest undisturbed for the rest of our days.

While we are still breathing we will be interrupted, disturbed, happy, sad, in pain, pain free, scared, uncertain, in love, out of love, rich, poor, healthy, unhealthy. Or at least we will have moments of all those things. We just don’t want to define ourselves by any one particular state.

I believe that we are all doing our best, with what we know. We fall down, we get up. We start again. We notice. We pay attention and sometimes we don’t. We are our perfectly imperfect selves. And it helps when we clearly distinguish between the things that we don’t have direct control over by our will and the things that we can control and influence. (like our own actions) And it is the latter where we can best invest our precious energy.

I have experienced that none of us is alone. Life/friends/family/strangers/medical professional’s/ and more, keep supporting us at every turn, even if we don’t notice. This doesn’t mean life becomes easy but it does mean that it is doable.

We all can have moments of joy, learning, laughter, friendship and a sense of purpose.May this be true for you.


Note 1:) The banner Photo is taken in Salmon Arm, BC, by Gottfried and the Valentines collage was created by my friend, Patrica. Thanks to you both!

Note 2:) I hope you are all well and managing to find creative and fun things to learn and to do this winter.

Note 3:) It is always a joy for me to show up here and meet you each week.  If you have questions or suggestions or just want to say hi, please feel free to drop me a note at I love hearing from you. Warmest wishes, Trudy

Arugamama – An Important and Favourite Japanese Word

Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.


Arugamama is one of my favorite Japanese words and I keep it in my back pocket for everyday use.   It means something like things as they are.  An acknowledgement of what is, even when what is,” is  something we do not like, and cannot control.  Clearly cancer is one thing that is out of our control. But so are thunderstorms and viruses and the stock market.  I suspect we all can come up with a long list. What’s  important about this word is that it doesn’t imply passivity, rather better described as an active acceptance. With things as they are, what can I do here?  I see it as the first step towards initiating change.

When we reflect on the question — with things as they are, what can I do now, we need to distinguish between what is controllable and what is not.  Working to learn, influence and change what can be changed is meaningful, satisfying and a worthwhile expenditure of energy. When we refuse the victim mantel, and turn over every stone to influence what can be changed, we gain confidence and often satisfaction.  We can ask questions, seek advice, listen, and learn. Action is essential.

Looking at the challenges and catastrophes that come our way we can view arugamama as a readiness to say, “what now?” With things as they are, what can I actually do right now?


Acceptance often gets a bad rap as it gets equated with resignation and passivity – lie down and let the world walk over me. However, this wonderful definition from Jon Kabat Zinn puts that misunderstanding to rest. This is the best definition I have ever seen.  It is included in a collection called  Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness.

Acceptance doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is – especially when you don’t like it – and then work mindfully as best as you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in, and with the resources at your disposal, to be in wise relationship to what is, which may mean at some point acting to mitigate, heal, re-direct, or change what can be changed.

special moment on a sunday afternoonNotes

Note 1:) One line from our wise poet, Mary Oliver: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

Note 2:) Something for listening. This video was created from the contributions of over 200 physicians from across Canada, singing and recording this music in isolation between November and December 2020 and under the auspices of the  Phoenix Chamber Choir in Vancouver. It’s purpose is to help support  front line mental health and addictions programs across Canada. I so enjoyed this cheerful, encouraging and worthwhile production called:

An Ordinary Day.

Note 3: ) Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read these musings and sending encouraging words.  With appreciation and warmest wishes for you all. See you next week, Trudy