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Path To Healing

Good grief. Is there such a thing?

by Carolyn Enting

Good Magazine, January 9, 2023

excerpt from article - read full article:

Christchurch author and photographer Melanie Mason has also found inspiration by working through grief, and talking about death. Her best-selling book, Good-bye: For Times of Sadness & Loss, is a collection of images matched with her favourite song lyrics, poetry and prose. Her hope is that the book offers comfort and insight in times of sadness and loss. It’s a beautiful touchstone for anyone who is in need of heartfelt comfort. “It is not only when we are bereaved that we grieve,” says Mason. “Loss and coming to terms with life changes is an integral part of being human. Throughout our lives we are constantly having to adjust to changes and say goodbye to things we have either outgrown or lost, or things that have been taken from us: our health, our job, our relationships, sometimes even a sense of who we are.”

The book, which came out between the two big Christchurch earthquakes, ended up being a crutch for Mason through her own grief process when her marriage ended and left her numb for months. It led to an invitation to complete a certificate in grief support, and death walker training. The latter teaches you how to face your own death and walk into that process with courage, calm and peace, as well as partner somebody else through that process.

Mason now runs a Death Café in Christchurch too, which is a hosted conversation (with cake) about death and dying. “The purpose of them is to loosen up about death and make us more willing to talk about it, and ultimately make the most of our finite lives, so we are embracing it – because when you have a death-phobic culture it bleeds through and then we are age-phobic and resistant to any appearance of getting old, which inevitably leads to dying. Or sickness-phobic, because that could lead to dying. It creates all this resistance and kind of holding on with white knuckles through your life, and you’re not really fully present, not really living. So I think it’s really healthy to be having these conversations, and that’s why I’m involved,” Mason explains.

“Grief is a really important process to be respected, and not have judgement around it or expectations. It is necessary in your healing. And it’s important to understand that grief is not linear”.

Sense of gratitude

Mason’s second book, Thank You, was born out of the gratitude she now has in her life, particularly after the second earthquake. The earthquake struck just as she’d sat down for lunch in the old Post Office café opposite the Christchurch cathedral. “It was so violent, the building was twisting and heaving. I was on the floor holding onto this little pedestal table thinking ‘oh, it hasn’t even got four legs, I’m going to get crushed’. As it settled and there was dust everywhere, we were okay and able to stand up and I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of gratitude,” Mason says.

Wanting to retain the sense of community that developed in Christchurch during the rebuild, Mason printed thousands of Thank You cards, which she calls ‘tiny tools’, and put them everywhere. “After a disaster, you can have post-traumatic stress, but you can also have post-traumatic growth,” Mason says. “That is really exciting. It’s the invitation to live a richer, authentic, true-to-yourself, more connected and more amazing existence.”

Mindful grief

As a life coach and mindfulness consultant Cheryl Strawbridge has helped many people cope with the overwhelming sadness and disorientation that comes with grief. Her mindfulness teachings were really put to the test when her father passed away. She shares what helped her most:

Mason’s writing and photography helped her focus in the present moment and her Thank You Project heralded a blossoming. “The gratitude was, and still is, just immense,” she says. “My life is so different now, so rich and full of these tiny pleasures every day.”

1 I approached my grief with kindness and curiosity and dismissed the notion that grief was something I had to ‘get over’. The experience of grief is similar to that of love in that it is totally unique to every person and every situation. It is a completely natural part of being human.

2 After Dad died I noticed my breathing had become very shallow so I consciously reminded myself to breathe deeply. Shallow breathing keeps our flight or fight response triggered and makes it difficult to sleep, digest food properly, relax or react wisely. I would pause for a moment and check in with my breath then inhale deeply and feel my tummy and lungs expand. I would notice the subtle pause at the end of the inhale and the delicious release on the exhale. I repeated this when needed.

3 I spent a lot of time journaling. My mind wouldn’t stop but by writing down these endless thoughts I felt a sense of relief and I also gained valuable insights by rereading what I had written. I also wrote down all of the things I should have told my dad but never managed to. That felt really good.

4 I found mindful walking helped to ground me in the present moment, and balance my emotions. I would walk consciously, engaging all of my senses. I was fully aware of each step I took and I focused my attention on all that I could see, hear and feel as I walked. When I noticed my mind had gone back to its usual ruminating I would gently, non-judgementally return my focus to my walking. Slowly my mind and body would unwind and I would find a sense of ease.

5 Through desperation rather than wisdom I became courageous enough to let others see my vulnerability and let them know how they could help. This was one of the most challenging of all the mindful teachings to follow when I felt so raw, but it helped immensely. It worked a lot better than expecting people to intuitively know what I needed – and being disappointed when they didn’t! read full article:


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