A Life-Changing Exercise for Everyone Who Has Lost A Loved One
Wisdom from Dr. Jamie Turndorf’s book, Love Never Dies: How to Reconnect and Make Peace with the Deceased
In this episode, I’m excited to bring you a life-changing exercise for anyone who has lost a loved one, so stay tuned to this episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page and I’m a psychotherapist, author of the book Deeper Dating, and Cofounder of DeeperDating.com, which is a site to help single people meet online in a way that’s respectful, kind and inspiring. Today, I’m going to be talking about a powerful process, a life-changing exercise for anyone who has lost a loved one. This week and every week, I’m going to share with you the greatest tools that I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing, and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love, and the skills of love are the greatest skills of all for a happy life.
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Many of us have lost people we love. Many of us are still suffering from those losses, and maybe even feel blocked in their ability to move on. Many of us might not feel blocked in our ability to move on, but might not have had the healing that we could potentially have with someone even after they pass. I think the greatest secret to a love-filled life is cherishing the relationships that we have already. That includes relationships with people who have passed. Today, I want to share a simple but profoundly healing exercise for anyone who’s lost a loved one.
Until wounds are healed, we will continue to be limited in terms of our capacity to find a new relationship.CLICK TO TWEETI’ve often heard people say that they can feel the presence of loved ones who have died. I have to admit that usually, I have felt a pang of envy when I heard those words. This has happened to me. I have experienced it, but I haven’t usually experienced it when I’ve lost people I love and treasure. For me, when I’ve lost a loved one, not in all cases but in most cases, it’s like the door just shuts. It doesn’t shut on my grief, but it shuts on my sense of access to that relationship. After reading Love Never Dies: How to Reconnect and Make Peace with the Deceased by Dr. Jamie Turndorf, I find that that is beginning to change. Although unlike Dr. Turndorf, I’m still somewhat of an agnostic on the subject of, is it actual communication with people who have passed? This episode is for people who believe there is actual communication and those who aren’t sure, and those who just don’t believe it. These exercises apply to everyone.
Our cultural training around death can close down a wealth of available love and inner guidance that comes from a sense of connection to people we’ve lost, whether or not we believe that their spirit is still alive. Almost none of us have been taught about the power of creating an inner dialogue with people we’ve lost. In the spirituality of many Eastern religions, and also in that of many indigenous cultures, there are really strong beliefs that an ongoing connection with our ancestors links us to the very core of our life’s meaning, but few of us are taught how to create that connection.
Dr. Turndorf says, “When we don’t reconnect and work out unfinished business with those who have passed, we limp through life dragging our unhealed wounds.” I just want to say that so many of us have had broken hearts in love, and it’s not as though the person has passed away, but as though there’s been such a profound loss that we are left sometimes feeling like we’re limping through life. Until those wounds are healed, it limits us in terms of our capacity to find a new relationship. This exercise applies as well to situations where we’ve lost a loved one, not through death but through a breakup.
I found in my own life that when loved ones die, somehow they’ve become elevated in my mind. That has held me back from cherishing my connection with them as fully as I would have liked to. I’m a 64-year-old gay man. I have survived through the AIDS crisis. I have lost a lot of people. I’m a 64-year-old man, so I’ve lost a number of people already right there too. When these loved ones were alive, I reached out to them as often as I wanted, but after they passed, I lost that inner freedom to converse with them in my own mind. It would be a thing if I wanted to reach out to them because I would be hit with this immense gulf of the loss of them, which I somehow didn’t believe I could crossover, traverse, communicate through or past.
I began to feel awkward and also less deserving because of guilt. The ways that I have not been there for that person, the ways that I’ve let them down, the ways that I didn’t show up, and the ways that I wasn’t there enough. Those guilts became magnified when there was no chance to make them up anymore. Was I a good enough friend? Was I a good enough grandson? Was I a good enough mentee? Was I a good enough mentor? Those doubts led me to deny myself a sense of free access to their presence. Once the really sharp waves of grief had passed, I placed my loved ones on this precious but dusty shelf, just relegating our relationship to the past.
In her book, Dr. Turndorf teaches a method for dialoguing with departed people. Also, this can be used for people that we have broken up with and have ended relationships with or they have with us, but it holds tremendous healing potential for everyone in those situations. Dr. Turndorf is really passionate in her certainty that we can communicate with people we’ve lost, and I hope that’s true, especially after the passing of my father, where amazing things happened. I’ll share a story. This is quite an amazing story. I felt my dad’s presence after he passed in a way that I hadn’t felt at all as much with most other relationships where I lost people. I got used to feeling this with my dad. I remember at one point, I said to my dad, “Could you give me a sign?”
Folks, I swear this really happened. My husband has his office and I walked by his office to the bedroom and sticking out of his door on the floor was a photograph of my dad’s big hand and my child’s little baby hand in his. It was not there when I passed previously. I believed it more with him. I felt his presence in a different way, but that’s not something that I’ve always had. I just wanted to share that story. There is something that I found again and again, and that is my relationship with lost loved ones, when I take it off that precious and somewhat dusty shelf, can come to life again through this process that I’m going to teach you of dialoguing from Dr. Turndorf. Old wounds can be healed and really we can feel the warmth of past love in our bodies and our hearts. I know that many of you know that already.
My dad, he was a Holocaust survivor. I’ve talked about him in a previous episode. I think I called that one, Losing Love and Finding It Again. My dad was a teenager when he and his mom were wrenched apart in a way that was unimaginable during the Holocaust, and he never saw her again. Somehow, he went on to create a life that was full of love, family and success, but that unspeakable pain remained inside of him. Half a century, after he was liberated from concentration camp, and I dragged him to a workshop. In that workshop, he was asked to have a conversation with a loved one who died and he chose his mom. He remembered her really vividly and he spoke to her. Maybe it was the first time that he ever spoke to her since he saw her that day. He realized, it really hit him without a doubt, exactly what she would say to him, and that moment was life-changing. This is what he imagined. He imagined his mom looking at him and looking at his life and he knew she would say, “Eric, look what a beautiful family you’ve created. Look what a good life you have now. I’m so proud of you.” He had never had the gift of knowing that that’s what she would say and of having that window onto his current life until he did that exercise.
Forgiveness is not an obligation. It is not a requirement. It is an organic gift that comes with intention and desire over time.CLICK TO TWEETThat exercise brought him a profound healing. One that none of us could ever have imagined even being possible. We felt the change in him after that. It was like a giant knot had finally unknotted inside him. Since reading this beautiful book, Love Never Dies, which describes the dialogue process in great detail, I have used Dr. Turndorf’s technique and it has opened life-changing doors for me. It’s a powerful process and I encourage everyone who feels ready to give it a try. Dr. Turndorf generously agreed to share her instructions for this process, and I’m going to tell you her words, and maybe you could even do them now. You can absolutely pause as you do it. As long as you’re not operating heavy machinery or driving, you can even sort of do it as you walk, sit, reflect or whatever it is that you’re doing. The first step is to make an effort to be more still and quiet. I’m excited and happy to be leading you in this. The idea is to create pockets of peace – moments in which you sit in silence, so you turn off the TV, the radio, the cell phone, and your computer, even if only for ten minutes. You just sit in some silence.
Dr. Turndorf says, “In Love Never Dies, I share a lot of exercises for connecting with loved ones. The most powerful is my dialoguing with the departed technique.” Again, you don’t have to believe in life after death, and it could even be done with people who are still alive, but there’s been a breakup or a silence. You first find your stillness as she described, and then you speak back and forth with whoever it is that you want to contact. You talk aloud and you make a first statement, and then you just be open to what comes back in. It might be a picture, a thought or a sensation. You might want to try that now, and then you can write down or record if you have that capacity with you. If not, don’t worry, but you could write down and record not only what you say, but definitely what you hear, speaking aloud both your part and also what you hear or imagine or sense coming back.
You just keep dialoguing back and forth for as long as you wish. You can dialogue to get support and guidance or to just reconnect. This can also be like an inner mentor process that I teach, where you connect with your wisest self, because you can get such wisdom from this process. You could say goodbye to the person. If someone was ripped from you, you can say goodbye to their physical body. If it was a traumatic ending, you can share what that was like for you. You can say goodbye in whatever way you wish, but above all, you can dialogue to heal any unfinished business. Now, if a death is really raw, traumatic or evokes PTSD symptoms, you would want to do this in the presence of a therapist or a very skilled and trained clinical facilitator.
Going back to the experience, the good news is you do not have to force forgiveness on yourself. I deeply believe in the concept that forgiveness is not an obligation. It is not a requirement. It is an organic gift that comes with intention and desire over time, honesty, and with the help of dialogue. Using this technique, just pick up where you’re stuck with this person and just keep talking back and forth until you begin to sense a kind of quality of resolution. As you repeat this technique, it can heal a lot of emotional negative issues or struggles that remain with you. After reading this book, I tried this dialogue with two loved ones. I did it with my dear friend, Michael, who died of AIDS in 1991, and I’ve talked about him a bunch.
I also did it with my grandmother, who died at 99 years old, as me and my sister were coming back with my infant baby from Cambodia after I adopted him. In both cases, just the act of remembering how it felt to be with them brought this warm kind of living memory of their presence. Was it their actual presence? Was it real? It felt real to me, but the question didn’t concern me because the love that we shared was unequivocally real and that’s what I felt. It felt almost as alive as it ever had. In that conjured sense of memory, I felt their loving concern for me.
I got a dose of their familiar guidance and presence. Their presence moved me, just like it did so many times during my life and their life. I was struck by the fact that I denied myself this poignant gift for so long because I felt like I didn’t deserve it, because I felt like it wasn’t real, because I felt like it was not what one does. Ridiculous kind of things really, because there was a world of rich relationships that were hard-won, that were crafted over decades, and were still available to me. If nothing else, in their living presence inside me, in the ways that they had imprinted me and still lived inside of me. Their kind but sharp wisdom could be resurrected in present time just by remembering them and having a dialogue.
In Memory Of John Neill
Just to share one more story, I was privileged to spend some of the last days of his life with my dear friend and mentor, John McNeill. John was a priest who wrote a book called Taking a Chance on God and The Church and the Homosexual, who was kicked out of the Jesuit order by Benedict, who was then I believe Cardinal and became Pope later, for being gay. He was an LGBT activist and he changed my life, and the lives of countless other people. Another time, I’ll talk about what he meant to me. I had to leave John the day before he died. I’m just going to share one more story. John loved vichyssoise. It was a soup that he really loved. On the last day before that, as he was really moving toward passing, he just looked up and he said, “vichyssoise.” I made this my mission and I took a taxi 20 miles or something to this one place that was open that had vichyssoise in Fort Lauderdale.
I got it for him and brought it back. My dear friend, the activist Brendan Fay and I, late at night, fed that to John on a little sponge, but then we got rid of the sponge because who wants to eat good food off a sponge? We used a tiny spoon. He loved it and he smiled. That was the story of how I got to give a very precious last wish to someone who had helped me and healed me in so many ways. Anyway, that next day, I had to leave. It was the day before John passed and the room was filled with his loved ones, but I gave myself the gift of asking for some moments alone with him. That’s something I learned from the passing of another friend where I didn’t give myself that gift.
I bent down toward his ear and I just whispered a stream of pure gratitude to him. I told him how he changed my life, how he brought me back to the me that I had given up in my childhood. I told him how he helped me overcome old childhood shame, not just of being gay, but even a deeper shame at being me. I thanked him for growing me back to the parts of myself that I had given up so many years ago, parts that allowed me the gift of my current personal life and my professional life. He gave that to me. He gave it back to me because of what he saw in me. I felt a resolve never to put our relationship on that old dusty shelf. I just drank him in. I looked into his sweet face and I just filled myself with him. I knew that I would be coming back to visit him. That was a gift that I no longer had to deny myself. I hope that this exercise sounds helpful to you. I hope you try it and use it. I think you’ll find incredible riches from it. I also encourage you if this interests you, to look for Dr. Turndorf’s book, Love Never Dies. Thank you all for listening to this, a very kind of different episode. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast.