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Written by Aziza founder, Laila Ghattas


While enjoying a fresh morning in the middle of the late summer heat spell, many beautiful creatures graced my journal writing time in the garden as they went about their daily business of living.

Bright red Cardinal, spotted Wood Pecker, yellow/ black Finch, taupe Sparrows, black headed Orioles, long tailed squirrel, big fat bumble bee, emerald green Hummingbird, each taking turns across my gaze as they explored this local paradise.

It didn’t matter what I was reflecting on, or the tasks that awaited me, or anything else on my overflowing plate. Life was utterly perfect and I was there to notice.

My Father had reminded me earlier this week that it was the anniversary of my Mother’s death. I mentioned that I’d prefer to remember every other day she was alive than make significance of that day.

However my mind drifted back seven life-altering years. I was on my first cruise, in the Mediterranean Sea, when I was called away from my boisterous dining party by a uniformed ships officer, lead through the passages to a phone call that delivered the message my mother was dying within hours.

She was palliative before I left, I’d been told I had a month, however mom was always on a schedule and all her systems began to fail the moment her beloved grandson left her hospital bed to fly home after his annual summer visit. My mom passed 45 minutes after I spoke words of love and appreciation into the phone held to her unconscious ear.

My family did not ask me to try to find my way home, the funeral would wait for my scheduled return 6 days later as they made arrangements. I was blessed beyond measure with this decision.

Death can be decidedly inconvenient and I was very lucky to be cared for on the ship during the profound shift in focus away from my birthday adventure. I was able to be with the news, rather than frantically trying to figure out the maze of logistics to get home.

What I recall is the wonder of allowing myself to be taken up in the loving wake of the experiences of each port. Crystal clear memories reside in my mind of the beach in Cyprus, swimming in the warm waters inviting my Mom’s spirit to revel in her favourite sport through my own limbs; the white butterfly that followed me around the Parthenon in Athens the day after she passed; gazing at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and asking her to help me understand the Latin phrases above each segment; looking up at the stunning time-etched architecture of the ancient library of Ephesus, the inky balmy midnight sea cocooning me off my balcony each night before sleeping, the cold Holy spring waters I gathered to sprinkle on her grave, the serene candles I lit in each chapel on my path.

My mother’s passing transported me completely into the present moment of my journey. In each moment was relief, beauty, presence, gifts unfolding, and utter calm. There were times I forgot about her passing, such was my success at completely immersing myself in current surroundings.

Then someone I didn’t even know, who had heard about it, while passing me, offered uninvited seriously untimely condolences. His words ripped me away from the relief in the delicious break of surrendering to my immediate experience back to this new fact of my life.

At the same time I was momentarily OK on the cruise, my mother was no longer back home. Both were true.

A word of caution to those who want to comfort another person in their loss. Say nothing. Feel it out. Offer your support silently. They’ll get it energetically even if it’s unconscious. Your timing may be detrimental and not helpful at all.

Your need to help may interrupt a precious break from the relentlessness of the grief. Wait. Respond to where the person is, don’t insist on the subject that is foremost on your mind.

Condolences need to be carefully offered. Sensitivity, respect, generosity and support is what you are giving in the space you create without saying a word.

As with the recent loss of my beloved pets, experiencing relief (if not pleasure or joy) in what is happening right now, rather than thinking about all that’s missing for the rest of my life, is a welcome option. It’s a desirable muscle to exercise.

This applies to all matters of crisis: in relationships, career, death, health. Help the people around you help you by instructing them to take your lead, to not say anything when you meet.

Advise friends there’s a chance you may be OK in any given moment, not in pain, not needing anything. Help them avoid robbing you of that quiet respite with their default of imposed comfort. It sounds counter intuitive, yet it’s true.

One woman who was having a good day was met in the elevator by a neighbour who offered concern and good wishes for her recent cancer diagnosis, a comment which shocked her out of her neutral moment, her completely valid present reality, back into futile awareness of the illness that would soon take its toll.

A husband engaged in blissfully mundane household activities, a hard won distraction from a crisis in his marriage, is torn away from his healing focus in the moment when his cheating spouse, chronically afraid of the consequences, feeling out of control, insists it’s time to talk, figure it out, fix it, be reassured, yet again. This a sure way to guarantee the relationship ends without reconciliation.

I remember in my Gestalt Therapy training how harsh I thought the instruction was to NOT automatically hug someone who is crying. To instead respect them with the space to just feel the real, natural, authentic emotion. To have uninterrupted release. To simply sit as respectful witness. It's healthy to cry when you're upset!

What became clear in my training is the hug that is offered is in fact for the benefit of the hugger first, to feel better if the other person stops expressing pain. Sounds hard to believe, yet it’s true.

Needing to help someone is a completely selfish act. You want to feel better for it. It's about you.

Here's a way to make it a mutually beneficial gesture. About both of you.

ASK. It’s simple. “Do you want a hug right now?” Do you want to talk? Do you want me to hold your hand? Do you want to be alone? Better yet- Is there anything I can do for you? You’ll be amazed how often the answer is no.

When it’s yes, then you've achieved a win win. You feel better knowing what you are doing is in fact appropriate in the moment, and actually helping, while the other is ready to receive.

We’re all so different when we’re in pain, Our needs shift and evaporate, return and repeat, wax and wane like a tide.

The greatest gift you can give yourself and another is the space to be here now. Don’t drag in anything. Get out of your head, let it unfold.

Let the moment inform you of the next word, the next pause, the next action.

Relief in the present now is a worthy companion to invite into your eventful life.

Laila Ghattas
09 /15

Please feel free to send comments here.

Laila Ghattas is an artist, Gestalt therapist and Reiki practitioner. She is an author, public speaker and the founder of Aziza Healing Adventures.

Laila combines creative self-expression with psychotherapy in programs designed to heighten awareness, inspire personal insight and improve the life of those who participate.

Laila holds therapeutic workshops in Toronto, and draws on her worldwide outdoor adventure experience to facilitate international healing retreats for women, couples, mixed groups and corporations.

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