Loss can either break you open or break you down—your choice. If you choose to allow it to break you open, you can discover who you truly were meant to be before time and the world made you forget.
How Learning to Say Good-bye Taught Me How to Live is a narrative journal of the many spiritual lessons and gifts I received during a period of tremendous loss in my life and how they were put to the test during my best friend’s battle with cancer. It chronicles the close friendship we shared during this traumatic time and how we worked to stay conscious and move forward with our inner growth despite our pain. When we are asked to say good-bye to what was, we are offered an opportunity to experience what can be—if we do the work.
Each chapter highlights the various inner battles as well as the gifts that are revealed during difficult times. The lessons include issues of control, judgment, needing to be right, forgiveness, self-love, receiving, and the power of our beliefs. The gifts include partnership with your Higher Self, true intimacy, the power of play and laughter, faith and patience, angel whispers, co-creating, and much more. At the end of each chapter is a list of questions and thoughts that aided me to go deeper with the work.
KIRKUS INDIE REVIEW (OCT 2017)
Heartfelt reflections on the lessons and strength to be gained from grief and loss.
McClung muses on the spiritual insights learned during the last six months of her best friend’s life in this debut memoir. McClung has written a thoughtful think piece that also serves as a touching tribute to “one of my greatest teachers during the worst times of her life.” The questions the author presents readers arise appropriately from her narrative and also have universal relevance, including “When is the last time you said you were sorry to yourself or to another?” McClung offers many well-sketched, even funny, anecdotes, including her “outburst” in Target by phone with Rob about buying her outfit.
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Read an Excerpt
How Learning to Say Goodbye Taught Me How to Live
(A Spiritual Memoir)
By Joffre McClung
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Joffre McClung
All rights reserved.
When I heard the news, I broke out into sobs. My God, I had just been through this with my mother for a long two years before she had crossed. It had taken me two more years to pull myself out of grief and depression enough to do something as simple as going to the gym, and now I had to traverse the same cancer terrain again with my best friend, Rob, my soul sister. God, are you crazy? I thought to myself. I can't take it. The first half of my fifties had been focused on cancer and death, and now, damn it, I was going to have to go through all of this again. Was I being punished? Is this what my life would be about from now on — sickness and loss? I had barely enough energy of my own to keep moving somewhat forward, and now I was going to be needed again. I didn't think I could do it. But what choice did I have? Rob, my "sister," needed me, and I was going to be there for her. "Universe," I shouted, "I will help her, but I cannot — will not — lose myself again in grief." With that proclamation shouted out into the ethers, I took a breath and sobbed again. I was devastated. I was frightened. I was mad.
I have never been someone who saw the glass as half-empty. I've had my share of disappointments and have come through two "dark nights of the soul." The first one was in my early thirties; it served to break down my false beliefs about reality and about how the world and the universe actually work. (You create your reality.) The second one was during my grieving process. It served to break down my false beliefs about myself and enabled me to reclaim my power by forcing me to face my fears and see them for what they truly were — lies.
It had been hard, grueling work, but I thought that I was finally done with the forging of my soul and that happiness, even though I still couldn't feel it, was just around the corner. Damn it, I earned it, I thought to myself. But then I got the call. She had breast cancer again, and this time it was stage four. It had moved into the bone. There was no hope. Again I shouted at the universe and my guides, "Are you frigging crazy?" Not only was it impossible to see anything but a half-empty glass, I also only saw a glass containing dirty, shitty water. I was mad.
Oh, but the universe wasn't quite done yet. Two weeks after that call, I got a letter in the mail from my boss back in New York City. He was going to have to let me go since I had no plans to come back to the city. He had been patient for nearly four years while I was down in Texas taking care of my mother and then grieving, but time had run out. He kindly gave me six months to get my finances and whatnot in order, but by the end of the end of the year, I would be unemployed. Again I shouted at the universe, "Are you frigging kidding me?" I had promised to help my friend out financially, since she had no insurance and would have to go on disability. I had already sent her $1,500 a week before to cover some of her bills. How the hell was I going to be able to keep helping her, not to mention survive myself, if I was not making any money? Again I was mad. Raging mad.
* * *
Feel your emotions — all of your emotions! Especially those emotions you don't want to identify with or own. It is those unwanted or unacceptable emotions that will leak into your reality and keep you prisoner or worse.
* * *
I have met many people who will do anything not to feel those bad or dark feelings, and it is not just the people who you can see numb themselves from their feelings. It is so called enlightened people as well. They honor the light but run from the dark. The problem with that is that we are beings who have both light and dark aspects. To deny the dark aspects of ourselves is to cut ourselves off from our wholeness. In truth, just because you deny or ignore something does not make it go away. That suppressed emotion or feeling will struggle to be recognized, and the more it struggles to come to the surface, the more energy you have to use to shove it back down. Then you will find you have focused almost all of your emotional energy on keeping the dark away, leaving yourself emotionally unavailable for joy. You may think you are avoiding pain, but you are also avoiding joy. If you want to feel the joy and happiness of being alive, you must also risk feeling the agony and pain of life.
There are some people who have spent so much of their time shoving down their emotions that they truly no longer know what they are feeling. Except for the occasional uncontrollable outburst, they have gone numb to their emotional bodies. If you are someone who has trouble connecting with your emotions, there are tools that can help. Deep breathing can aid you in moving into your emotional body, or you can try taking a hot bath with some music. The music should match the emotion you are working to bring forth. If you have denied your inner sadness, put on the saddest music you know. There is a reason it has been said that music sets the mood: it does!
Our emotions are meant to act as a sophisticated guidance system, allowing us to know when something is off or out of balance. If someone or something triggers you, rather than wasting your time being angry over the trigger, see it as an alert that something within needs attention. It may be that you need healing on some core issues and wounds or that you have beliefs that need to change. Or it could be an indication that what is happening is not in your best interest and that action is required. Remember, you would not have an emotional reaction if some inner part of you were not activated. Your job is to be the detective and to follow those emotions to their core where the real transformational work is accomplished. Don't run from your emotions but rather honor their importance as a very integral tool for navigating your way through life.
Luckily both Rob and I had had disciplined spiritual practices for the past thirty years, and we had learned how to access our emotions and feelings. So after we hung up from that initial call, Rob went in to begin to drain the shock that was flooding her mind and body, and I went into meditation and began to defuse the anger I felt concerning the situation. I let my scared and angry parts rant and rave, and as the feelings began to dissipate, I pushed deeper to drain my anger of all of its power. When those small, scared inner voices could rage no more, I took a deep cleansing breath and fell into my Higher Self's arms, which surrounded me in loving golden light. As I began to feel my body relaxing more and more, I heard a very gentle but firm voice say, "You are not alone. You can do this."
I stayed on top of my anger and fear. I knew one meditation was not going to be enough. I cleared my emotions daily — sometimes anger, sometimes fear, sometimes pity, and sometimes plain old sadness. I did not judge the feelings or the parts that were screaming in pain but allowed myself to move through them, listening compassionately. Eventually those "pain voices" would quiet down, and without fail, I would begin to hear my Higher Self's voice offering me some new insight concerning my growth and process or simply a dose of nurturing and comfort. The next day would start the cycle all again. I knew I needed to be careful not to collect any negative emotion in my body or mind or else I would be of no use to my dear friend. She needed me to be present, not stuck in unprocessed emotions, projecting my junk onto her. I also had to acknowledge that denying emotion was how Rob got into this mess to begin with.
I was mad again!
Questions to consider:
What negative emotion are you carrying around?
What emotion do you avoid at all cost, and why?
If you are feeling a negative emotion, do you own it or blame someone else for it?
Do you judge your emotions?
Do you have a safe, alone place to vent your emotions?
Do you regularly work with your emotional body?CHAPTER 2
Rob had been living a life that was practically devoid of any happiness for over fifteen years. She had decided she was powerless to change the toxic situation in which she found herself living. If she could just struggle harder and sacrifice more, surely then things would turn around. While Rob did inner homework, she never got to the fundamental understanding that her life was as important as any other and that she was responsible for her life only. No one can control or pollute your life unless you give them the reins. If someone is trying to control you or to justify his or her stance as a victim, he or she will never change until you refuse to play, and sometimes that includes walking away. All healthy relationships should lift both people and bring the best out of each.
Rob had fallen into the trap of the thinking that if she changed, other people in her life would too. In truth, you cannot change anyone; I don't care how many meditations you do. Rob would do a meditation on some area of her relationship and then wait to see if her partner had changed. While she might see a slight change at first, by the end of the week, things were back to the way they had been, and Rob would crash again. This cycle went on for years. There was so much build up of negative emotions that all she could do was try to vent her anger and resentment each day, because the next day would bring a new batch. It was as if she had so much "surface-clearing" work to do that she never had time or energy to go below the surface to where the real issues lived. There was no time for dreaming, creating, or being loving to herself. Her life was all about the other person.
Rob lived in martyrdom! She was a master at it, although she would not recognize it till her second battle with breast cancer. Her ego told her she was a good person because she put others first. See how compassionate you are, not leaving someone who has problems. If you can just make your partner better, life will be better. This self-sacrificing ego voice was the same voice that convinced her to use whatever extra money there was for her partner and not to bother with spending it on such useless things as yearly checkups for herself. It was more important that her partner had energy healings, books, and knick-knacks than for Rob to get blood tests or mammograms on the one breast she had left.
* * *
You cannot be loving or compassionate toward another if you are not first, loving and compassionate toward yourself.
* * *
Rob had missed the first wakeup call from spirit when she had had one of her breasts removed five years earlier. She had promised that she would be more nurturing to herself, but nothing changed. She had gotten used to the crumbs. Almost monthly, I would get a call saying, "I can't take it anymore. I want out!" I would tell her to leave, but she never did. She stayed in the situation and then would complain about her life and how stuck she was. She would often say, "What does the universe want from me? Why won't this change?" I tried gently, and sometimes not so gently, to say that the universe wanted her to love herself enough to take action, but it fell on deaf ears. She could not see her sacrificing ways as martyrdom. She was just trying to be a "good person." It didn't matter that she was miserable. Her ego had won! Now she was sick again, and this time her life was threatened — stage four!
Rob had spent so much of her life wanting to know that she was a good, loving, compassionate person, but she never understood that she couldn't truly give someone what she refused to give to herself. She was a loving person — one of the most loving people I had ever met — but the only way she would know this in her core was not to look for confirmation of this from other people. Other people are following their own scripts. If they have a bad day and respond to you negatively, then your self-esteem crashes. It just confirms that your love is not good enough, and you are back on the hamster wheel trying to earn it. Your self-love, then, becomes dependent on what others do and think of you. In this case, the ego wins again. It may all look good on the outside, but the inside is as empty as it was before.
You have to believe that you are a compassionate and loving person in your heart of hearts, and the only way to know it is to practice it on yourself. Do you forgive your mistakes? Do you honor your heart's desires? Do you respect yourself? Do you treat yourself with love and kindness? Are you the star of your life or a background player? Most of us can answer no to some, if not all, of these questions at some point in our lives. How did it make you feel to talk negatively to yourself or to ignore a dream that was trying to be heard? I know it made me feel worse about myself. Of course the ego will always tell you that it is "their" fault you feel so bad. As long as you keep blaming outside influences for your feelings, you will never look deep within and discover what needs healing within you.
Rob is not alone in this kind of twisted way of being. I too lived in that prison for a long time, but my second "dark night of the soul" washed my soul of those lies. None of us are truly taught how to love ourselves. It seems everything we learned as children was based on what we did for or to other people. That's what mattered. How the world saw you was of utmost importance. Be nice, be polite, be kind to others, forgive others, respect authority, and put others first. How often were you told to be nice to yourself, to be polite to yourself, to be kind to yourself, to forgive yourself, to respect your inner authority, or to put yourself first? This focus on the outside will never fill your spirit. In fact, it will keep it depleted so that you are forced to look constantly for someone or something to let you know you are okay — that your love is good enough.
To honestly know the power of compassion, it first must be offered to yourself from yourself. When was the last time you offered forgiveness to yourself? For a truly compassionate person, self-forgiveness is the ultimate act of compassion. Only when you have gone within, looked at one of your "horrible" mistakes, and found the understanding for why you did it have you truly begun the forgiving process. You will come to realize that you didn't know better at the time and were simply unconscious of the pain or fear that fueled the action causing the "horrible" mistake. With this new understanding, you will be able to forgive yourself genuinely for those actions. Then and only then can you offer up the same compassion and forgiveness to another person. You must experience it for yourself before you can offer it to another person; otherwise, it is an empty offer.
What I mean by an empty offer is that without experiencing forgiveness for yourself, you really don't know how to get there for another. The words have no real meaning but rather are used to placate someone or, worse, to give you an excuse to ignore the inner situation that the event brought up for you — again ego wins. Forgiveness and compassion are actions; you must work (especially when first trying to practice those energies) to get there.
Let's say someone invites you somewhere and then at the last minute uninvites you. I found for me that I must first acknowledge the anger or pain. How could they do that? How rude. Unfortunately, this first step is as far as most people go before they end up stopping. They then wonder why they can't get over this. They stopped too soon! Next I go underneath the anger — after I have heard all it has to say and before it becomes a loop — to the hurt. Again, I listen to the hurt, and it is here that I begin the process of understanding. Why did that hurt me? Perhaps it made me feel unwanted, unloved, or disrespected. Those feelings underneath the pain are the feelings you need to transform. They are your homework. Perhaps you need to look at your feelings of value or worth, or perhaps the problem is an issue of respect or boundaries. You won't know what needs to be healed if you can't own your authentic feelings about a situation. You must go underneath the surface.
It frustrates me when people dump their anger or disdain on you and say, "I am just speaking my truth." Okay, but whose truth? The inner wounded child? The angry protector? The inner critical parent? If you don't know who within you is angry and why, then you can't call it truth! Your anger is simply an unconscious reaction from the ego.
Perhaps the situation had to do with respect. In order to forgive the other person, you need to come to an understanding of the situation. That is not to say the understanding is, "Well, they are just disrespectful," but you can start there. Ask yourself, "When have I been disrespectful?" Find a time you too acted in this manner. For some of you, it may be hard work just to be honest about what you have done to others, but keep looking. I guarantee you will find a time that you too were disrespectful. Remember it in detail; if you are capable of feeling again the emotions of that incident, even better. Remember the look on the other person's face, the pain you caused. Own it! Now ask yourself, "What was the emotion that caused me to do that?" Nine times out of ten, you were experiencing some form of fear and pain that caused you to behave in that manner. Remember and feel that pain and fear. Own it.
Excerpted from How Learning to Say Goodbye Taught Me How to Live by Joffre McClung. Copyright © 2015 Joffre McClung. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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