When I learned that my dear brother, Richard age 56 and in good health, was shot and killed, I started hyperventilating and could not catch my breath. The message delivered by his twin, my sister, sent me into a panic attack. I had to get off the phone to steady myself and practice breathing techniques learned over the years, such as breathing slowly as if I were blowing up a balloon. I heard my own voice talking to me as I had done in times past for others, mainly clients wanting techniques to manage their stress level. Let me share some of my process and how I am evolving through this experience. May there be something of value for you on your journey as I share my story.
Lucky for me my dog was outside when my husband was on his way to go mountain biking where there would be no phone signal. He returned to the house to put Dot inside, to find me crying and not right. I was sitting in a chair in the kitchen and managed to say, "Richard is dead, shot and killed at work last night." He immediately covered me with his arms, as I was stooped over sobbing, confused, and in shock. Soon, I called my sister back to gain some sense of this message and confirm what my ears had heard from her, wanting to believe this was not true. I really could not believe this was true. While talking to Nancy on the phone, my husband booked me on a flight to my home state to be with my mother and sister. Six hours later I was sitting in my mother’s living room as we comforted each other.
Being together with loved ones was instrumental in helping me live through the first few days of emotional pain, as my chest was hurting so much. My sister and I spent almost every minute together the first week, which helped both of us. Sleep was almost out of the question at first. I calmed my restless body and mind with a mantra, a spiritual statement repeated countless times. As I breathed in I silently said to myself, "God Is" and as I breathed out I said, "I Am."
Besides being with loved ones and deep breathing while repeating a mantra, two other things helped me with my initial grief, one was the support of friends and the second was a teaching from a book I had just read. Friends called and stopped by my mother’s and my sister’s homes, crying with us and sharing stories. It was nice to remember so many positive stories about my brother. My longest friend, we figured of 47 years, stopped by to give me a hug and share her loss, as Richard was her friend also. Other friends called, some sent cards, some brought food, while others sent their love through flowers. All helped us and were appreciated.
In getting over the initial shock of my brother’s untimely death, I experienced a wide rang of emotions. Besides sadness that his teenage daughter will not get to know her father when she grows up (she lives with her mother and step dad) or sadness that I can not call him on my cell phone a couple times a week to connect, I felt anger. I felt angry for many reasons, that his affairs were not in order and that the family had to sort through business and personal stuff, that there was a police investigation that continues to keep information and documents from us, making it difficult to settle his affairs. I was angry that I couldn’t just grieve Richard’s loss but had so many worldly issues to contend with. Then there is upset that arises over the fact that someone was angry enough at him to kill him. This makes me question his private side, what didn’t I know about my brother, his character. I know enough from my training to go with the feelings but to not dwell on them for too long.
I had just read a book which helped me manage my pain and to process some of my grief, Gary Zukav’s book, The Heart of the Soul. It is about growing in emotional awareness. Instead of simply feeling bad, he suggests we identify where in our bodies we feel pain. For me, initially the pain was felt in my heart area, sometimes thereafter it was in my solar plexus, and currently I get headaches trying to make sense of all the unknowns. Again, breathing is key. Pain, Gary Zukav explains, is living in fear and doubt. The antidote to moving through the pain and not getting stuck is to breathe in Love and Trust while breathing out fear and doubt. This is easy for me as it goes along with my spiritual beliefs that God or The Universe is Love and to live daily by letting go of control and allowing what needs to be experienced be okay. I believe in the overall scheme of things that evilness is misguided thinking of people and exists in this world of duality but is not a character of the big picture. Breathing this way was similar to the previous mantra I talked about. Identifying where in my body I was feeling pain and then breathing in Love and Trust calmed me in moments of deep pain and still does.
Another technique I use that helps me when I wake up in the middle of the night and obsess on this experience of unfinished business is to create a Spiritual Mind Treatment for myself, also known as affirmative prayer. This reminds me to focus on what I want for myself: deep peace, a calm mind, to not be in charge, to let go of fixing things, to sleep and nourish my own body, to name a few.
I am so blessed in life to have a sister with the same profession and who is on the spiritual journey with me. Through the years we have helped each other grow and heal and understand ourselves. Currently we talk on our cell phones often and continue to help each other grow and heal. One thing she learned from a therapist friend is helping me. That is to identify the stories I have in my mind about my brother, his life, my life, our relationship, our family dynamics. And to know they are just that, stories from my point of view. This friend is helping both of us let go of limiting beliefs that keep us tied to the past. My sister and I choose to go further in our journey to be present in this moment and clear away the past.
Now, I want to discuss some of the joys that resulted from this family crisis; yes, you read correctly, joy. I allowed the love and comfort of family support to nourish me; my husband and three grown daughters flew in for the memorial service. One daughter was able to get us laughing, so we had some good times laughing together. Another daughter stayed with us for almost a week and did many nice things like water the flowers outside daily. I remember the third daughter holding me tightly after the memorial service, her love and compassion strengthening me. As I remember these things, I have a good feeling inside.
Another unexpected joy, was the connection my three daughters had with their cousins my sister’s two grown sons. They saw each other at vacation time growing up, but in the past ten years had not seen each other much and especially with all five of them in the same room. Again, there were stories and laughter moving us for a period of time away from the drama.
A positive experience was seeing old friends and family at the memorial service, and there were many people who attended. Once past the initial greeting and expressions of sadness, it was nice to hear how their lives were going. Some of my neighbors from childhood attended and most had nice stories to tell me about Richard.
I would say further that I have grown in compassion. I see my family’s tragedy, the violent death of a loved one, as a microcosm of the macrocosm. I can now identify with people I see on the news, which I limit watching, by the way, who have lost loved ones because another person or country believes they are justified in settling disagreements with killing and physical violence. I can no longer think, "Oh that is other people who experience this kind of violence and pain." I am living in the collective experience that humanity is creating, even though I am on the end of the continuum moving towards world peace and oneness. My desire is that humanity move beyond this type of senseless method of solving problems. I do not seek revenge or getting even with the person who killed Richard, as that would be perpetuating the pendulum of the collective drama.
Instead, I feel deep sadness for that person’s belief system and choices and every other human thinking this way. By practicing forgiveness and allowing my emotional awareness to move towards that end, I choose to not add negative energy to the current collective consciousness of humanity and choose to add positive energy to a world of peace, love, forgiveness, and wholeness.