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Posted By Opening the Heart

red rose

We recently received a beautiful letter from F.M., an 80+ year old man who attended our one-day Opening the Heart to Grief at Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida.

F.M. lost his wife of fifty years in June 2011, and, in moving through the deep grief at her passing, he also began to have flashbacks to a cluster of deaths, including that of his brother, that occurred in his close family when he was a young teenager.

F.M. writes:

.....every time I tried to relate to my brother J's death I could not speak without a total breakdown. This on top of the grief at my wife's passing that left me with a tremendous guilt as I felt that there was much more I could have done for her. I felt this guilt even after being a care-giver for the past ten years.

I signed up for this seminar not knowing what to expect - only thing I was sure of was that I knew I had a deep hurt and a wounded heart. We all made a promise not to relate what happens (to others) during the day, but we can tell of our own experiences. To cut to the chase, I went in a wounded soul and came out of the day with a heart that was on its way to become vibrant and alive. I can speak freely about my brother's death without reservations and felt that I spoke spiritually with P. (F.M.'s wife) to the point that I do not have any guilt feelings whatsoever.

I'll let you in on a secret. During the day I felt as though my heart was presented with a rose that was about to bloom. This rose was from my wife as it began blooming and petals began falling, my grief was falling with each petal. What is left is a beautiful red rose burning inside my heart that is a token of my wife's love. Because of this Seminar I now have the strength to face each day alive and well. Sure, there may very well be more tears but they will be cleansing tears of happiness for the fifty years my wife and I shared together.

This relief I feel could not have blossomed this quickly without this Seminar.

Respectfully yours,



Thank you F.M. for your beautiful letter. We hope that your life continues to bring healing and an abiding, positive connection with the memory of those you have lost.


Posted By Opening the Heart

So, I've been thinking a lot about wounds and all the many applications, or 'apps' as they say now, that that word has to the body and the spirit. This is just something I do - to take a word and play with it, invite it in, live with it. I do it alphabetically and, when, after months or years, I get to 'Z', I start over. It's just my offbeat mind's lifelong affair with words. Many months ago it was the word 'ice': ice that forms around the edges of a human heart when one is forgotten; ice that envelops and crushes Shakleton's ship, the Endurance, in Antarctica in 1915 and then the ice that literally carried the 28 surviving crewmen on a life and death journey of 16 months; ice in my glass that reflects a warm November sun as I sit at the little outdoor cafe downstairs from my office.

And then as I look up from my ice I see him walking, slowly, past me, again- a small man with a beard, walking with a cane in his right hand, moving his right leg forward, then dragging his left leg behind. He always carries a shopping bag hung from his right arm. His left arm looks crooked and lifeless. And he has a big pronounced wound on the side of his head running from his hairline down to his cheek. I've seen him many times walking in the square where my office is. I've actually tried to position myself to cross his path so that I could smile or say hi - but he never looks up. His head is bent down and his eyes are set 6 feet ahead of him on the ground, as if every bit of energy is focused on finishing the journey without any more distraction or challenge than he's already facing.

I make up stories about him. Stroke? Maybe the wound is from a car accident leaving him paralyzed on the left side. Why doesn't he use a motorized wheelchair? Maybe he's proud or maybe he doesn't want to lose the little mobility that remains to him. Why doesn't someone help him with his errand? Does he have a family? What a courageous man - or maybe stubborn or bitter. A wound that dramatically altered the landscape of his life - that suddenly changed the arc of his unfolding...

I have a friend, Carolyn, my age, whose son, David, died three years ago at age 25 from congenital heart defects he'd had from birth. He had graduated Princeton and had decided two years before his death that maybe the fault lines underneath him might just be stable enough to risk getting into a serious relationship with a girl. But the fault lines gave way. It was a warm sunny Ocober day at the gravesite. A lot of beautiful words, a lot of tears. Usually, some people take a shovelful of dirt and place it on the lowered coffin, and then leave. But this day, because so many people were there, everyone shoveled, until the grave was filled- and then I saw something that will stay in my memory always. Carolyn stood on the fresh gravesite, got down on her hands and knees and smoothed the ground for David's final resting place.

When I see Carolyn since then, I don't see the visible wound, but I see it's effect. There are more gray hairs, more lines in her face, a sadness that is soul deep. Her wound also effects the way she walks. Her walk is more hunched, less brave, less confident.

So as I think about wounds on this warm, sunny day, I think that there are visible wounds and there are wounds that are seen by close friends and then there are wounds that often are unseen by anyone. I think that we may never really know how another has suffered and, perhaps, all we can do is offer a little more patience and kindness to whoever may cross our path.

With Love and Respect, Jon




Posted By Opening the Heart

A recent workshop participant describes her experience of the Opening the Hear Workshop™ on her blog: Viola Speaks. I invite you to read her courageous and forthright posting.  Although her experience is personal and individual, I recognize her initial reservations and her ultimate realizations as things she shares with many participants who come to Opening the Heart carrying a heavy burden of tragedy.

Posted By Opening the Heart

One of my patients, I"ll call her "Cathie", a heroic woman in her 50's whom I'd been seeing for a while, told me the following story last week. Cathie's daughter had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer when the daughter was a year and a half old. She was almost two when she began chemotherapy. One day Cathie took her daughter for a picnic at the beach and Cathie noticed that the strong off-shore wind began blowing clumps of her daughter's hair right off her head. When her daughter saw the look in her mother's eyes, she became frightened and started to cry, but she didn't want to leave 'pinnick'. So Cathie watched almost all of her daughter's hair blow off, as well as her eyebrows. As a tear came down each cheek, Cathie said to me "I was glad I could hold her and kiss away her tears- but I had no one to hold me".

Cathie's family had gone away long ago. Cathie and her brothers and sisters had been sexually molested for years by an alcoholic and mentally ill father. And Cathie's husband left her shortly after the daughter's birth. Her story touched me deeply and, as my own eyes filled, I wondered what it was that so moved me. I think it's the same thing that so profoundly touches me with so many of my patients: the basic fragility of our existence, all of us.

In Naomi Shihab Nye's great poem "Kindness", she urges us to open our hearts "to the fact that everything we cherish will pass out of our lives". The author, Roger Housden, says that when we come to know this truth "as a lived experience, we shall also know a deep love and kindness", because everyone is on the same road. Someone else's pain and suffering are also our own. And when we experience that shared pain, it joins us to humanity.

So, I think the reason my own eyes filled when I heard Cathie's story was, really, that her pain was also mine- not that I had been through the same life circumstances, but that suffering is a noble truth familiar to all of us. Despite what Cathie had been through, both growing up and, then, as a young mother, she was able to be totally present for her daughter and for herself on the beach that day. And in my office, she had enough courage to allow herself to be "held" by her therapist. And me, I have the privelege to witness every day this inspiring will to live.

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

One must know sorrow as the other deepest thing..." Naomi Shihab Nye


With Love and Respect,











Posted By Opening the Heart

At The Opening the Heart Workshop we are all profoundly saddened by the disaster in Haiti. We send heartfelt condolences to all who havebeen affected by this trajedy.

We would like to encourage all our friends to clear a little time to close your eyes, take some deep, cleansing breaths, let go of personal preoccupations and focus on sending loving kindness and compassion to all beings affected by the calamity.

We expect that many of you will have already contributed in some way to the relief effort. Some may still be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. In either case spend some moments reflecting how you might be able to further help  and then move to action.

Here are links to some trusted relief donation sites:

American Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

Oxfam America



Thank you


Posted By Opening the Heart

The Opening the Heart to Grief Workshop™ in Naples, FL last weekend reached and exceeded all the goals we have about a successful experience for everyone involved. The stories shared by participants were deeply moving. The safe expression of the many emotions that live under the 'grief umbrella' was full and unburdening. The healing and transformational learning  was profound. As facilitators we were once again priviledged to be in the presence of so much courage and compassion. Our one regret is that more of the people on the waiting list were unable to attend.

We would like to thank Avow Hospice for sponsoring what has now become an annual offering. Avow sponsorship (along with the support of other generous donors and volounteers) allows us to present Opening the Heart to Grief™ at a very modest cost to participants.

We would like to especially thank Louise Kenney for 'producing' the workshop every year. Her faultless attention to all the details of flying in four facilitators from four different locations, organizing volunteers to provide local transportation, arranging accommodation, assembling all the materials for setting up a beautiful, safe workshop space, - all this and more Louise accomplishes with grace, love and limitless good humor. Though she claims that her efforts are "just part of my job"  - she is the Grief Councellor at Avow Hospice - we know her invaluable offering goes way beyond a purely professional contribution.

We are doubly blessed in Louise because she is able to join us as an additional facilitator. She completed the same OTH training program as we did at Spring Hill before moving from New England to Florida. This has proved an invaluable  blessing for participants who are able to benefit from her deep wisdom and loving compassion.

Our gratitude also goes to our interns Kim and Jim who were serving Opening the Heart to Grief™ for the first time. Their passion for and dedication to this work is immeasurable. We are deeply grateful for their loving presence on the team as they learn this work


Posted By Opening the Heart

Coincidental with our approaching Opening the Heart to Grief Workshop, a dear friend and long time Opening the Heart Workshop colleague - Justin Freed - recently introduced me to Claudine Bing.

Claudine is a well known and respected Boston artist who has published a book documenting her mother’s death and the subsequent journey through grief to healing.


I am left here all alone

An accomplished colorist, Claudine skillfully and thoughtfully manipulates her color choices to express a range of feelings from the dark confusion of loss through the gradual process of regaining the world and its restorative hues and finding her mother’s spirit within herself. Throughout the book, pictures and text fit seamlessly together, beautifully complementing each other as they develop a narrative of the journey of grief.


Claudine Bing Image


Some more images and information about ordering the book can be seen at:


I will bring a copy with me to the workshop.

Posted By Opening the Heart

We of the OTH Team are very pleased to be invited back to the Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida for a second year of what promises to be an annual collaboration. This project has ben organized with the support of our dear friend Louise Kenny. Louise trained as an Opening the Heart Workshop™ facilitator when the organization was located in Ashby, Massachusetts. She is now working as a grief counsellor at the Avow Hospice.


This will be a very full one day workshop on September 20th. Full details can be obtained by following this link. A downloadable pdf brochure is available by clicking here: 'Avow to offer full day grief workshop'.


As the workshop is sponsored by Hospice and the support of generous donors, the cost is just $45. We are grateful to our friends at Avow for making this opportunity possible.