Transcript Episode 12: Closing the Casket

Introduction:

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we make every effort to give ourselves a clean slate and start sparkling again. The podcast in which we discover different ways to turn the page on painful chapters of our lives so that we can finally move on. The podcast in which we do not back away from painful conversations, sometimes, hearing the stories of someone else’s struggles can help us face our own.

My name is Lily Fields, and I’m going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.

Objections/Homework review:

If you read the title of today’s episode and you decided to listen anyway, then thank you. If you didn’t see the episode title, I’m going to tell you what it is, so you can decide now if it’s something you want to hear about. “Episode 12: Closing the Casket.” I know it sounds dark, just as dark, probably, as calling the first episode of your brand-spanking new podcast “The Funeral Singer.” 

If you were tuning in for fairy dust today, you aren’t going to find a ton. What you are going to find is a brass tacks conversation about how sparkling, while it is what we are ultimately here to help you do in this podcast, requires something from us. And sometimes, that something required of us comes with a pretty painful cost.

There’ll be no objections today from you, Country Bumpkin. What I do want us to do is a quick review of your homework from last week.

If you’ll remember, in last week’s episode, we talked about our clothes and about the stories our clothes both tell about us and the stories in our lives that relate back to our clothes. One of my “Ideal Life Themes,” that is, one of the 19 categories, or circles of that fabulous Venn Diagram of my life, is the theme of Personal Style.

Something I discovered about my own Personal Style is that it isn’t enough to know what I do like to wear. I also need to be able to articulate what I don’t like and why I don’t like it.

We do this naturally. We are drawn to certain things for their color, their fabric, their cut. We also eliminate things because they are too flashy, or too this or too that… 

Although it took quite some time of getting down to the nitty gritty on this, I discovered that while some dislikes were completely understandable…I don’t like wearing fabrics that will show visible pit stains when I start sweating, for example, there were other things that didn’t make sense. Like, in the example I took last week, of the color purple which filled me with anger when I saw it.

Your homework for this last week was to pay attention to your dislikes–whether in your closet or whether it was certain smells or certain foods. And especially, to pay attention to the dislikes that stirred up or dislodged feelings. 

I mean, for a really long time, I hated mushrooms. I hated the thought of mushrooms. It was visceral to me…like I would get the complete creeps at the thought of a mushroom. After an intense period of counseling (which was unrelated to my mushroom thing,) I had an epiphany as to why I hated mushrooms so much…and it was, no surprise, I guess, related to the reason I was in counseling in the first place. 

I’m not going to say that counseling made me love mushrooms. But I don’t get physically ill when I think of them anymore. And that’s progress.

After that mushroom digression, did you pay attention to your dislikes? Did you try to trace back where that aversion might have come from? 

Now would be a good time to remind you that as you dig into these questions, you might need professional mental health support. There is no shame in needing one-on-one professional counseling. We are digging deep, and it isn’t going to just be sparkle and fairy dust you’ll find.

There are counseling and mental health support services everywhere, and I’m sure you won’t have to go far to find one in your area. But if you don’t, look online. There are plenty of reputable services.

Please nod. Please promise me that if you need help, you will get help. Getting help is good a thing. It’s how you make progress.

A bit of housekeeping:

As I mentioned, in our last episode, we talked about our clothes and how they can impact how we feel about our lives.

I have a little passion, a little something I love to do that keeps me sane and keeps my ragey peri-menopausal mood swings at bay. It’s something that involves destroying something perfectly serviceable that I don’t love and remaking into something that I do love.

It’s called refashioning.

This month, with some of my friends across the world, from Montana to Australia: Deana, Mary, Rosanna, we are doing what we are calling « Make It March ». It’s a month to take clothes that are in our closet that we don’t love, and figuring out how to alter them or, what’s called in the jargon , « refashioning » them. 

By taking things from our closet that we already aren’t wearing, we are investing in their wearability. 

One of those articles is about the bathrobe I had bought to wear in the maternity ward with my eldest child, which ended up not just dislodging, but igniting fires of rage within me…to the point that I probably should have just gotten rid of it. But because of the sentimental value, I refused to.

So…last year, I set about a project to refashion that bathrobe, in the process, taking back the power over a birthing experience that was less than ideal. 

I have tons of articles in the blog about different refashioning projects that I’ll link to in the show notes, but if you read nothing else, read the one about the Great Bathrobe Refashion of 2021.

If you want to see what we’re up to with « Make It March », join me on Instagram @lilyfieldschallenge. We’re having a blast.

Refashioning clothes can be a way to bring joy back to your closet. It is for me, and I believe my friends would agree! Come join us!

Content Warning:

In this episode we are going to be talking about death. LiElla’s going to be talking about caskets and funerals, and I am going to talk about miscarriage and post-partum depression. Yeah, like I said. We’re a barrel of laughs today. There’s not a ton of fairy dust to go around.

But if we are telling you about these things, it’s because we believe that the stories can bring light into some dark places where you might be feeling stuck right now. We both believe that bringing closure to painful chapters of our lives with some kind of final gesture is critical to preparing the terrain for our Ideal Life. 

It doesn’t happen all at once. You have to be ready to “close the casket,” as it were. You might not be ready today, but by listening, you’ll at least have a few ideas for when you are ready.

Point 1: Closing the Casket (LiElla Kelly)

On a cold day in February I found myself standing in a beige room, soft music playing. There was no natural light. It was all kind of a warm, glowing yellow. It was the kind of room that seemingly cuts you off from the outside world. I was standing next to a casket, looking down at my friend. I had spent the last 5 years worrying that this is where Bill and I were headed and sure enough, here we were, together one last time. And now all sorts of thoughts bounced around my head…Oh, they went with the military uniform, of course. That’s a cool casket feature a little box that people can put mementos in. Cool casket feature, is that a thing? He looks different. I don’t think his eyebrows are supposed to be that thick. Ugh, this is all so very weird.  All sorts of thoughts, just pinging around my brain in no random order. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve thought some of the same things. In the middle of my thoughts, his new widow came and stood next to me. We stood together looking down. Quiet. Then, she made a most unexpected statement…delivered flat, no emotion, just matter of fact. She said, “He’s starting to turn. It’s time to close the casket.”

Back then, I didn’t know that I was on my way to becoming the wicked stepsister, the girl with a passion for good death… I also didn’t realize that I had a hidden death doula superpower. We’ll talk about my superpower in another episode. First, I think it’s time I tell you a little more about death doulas.

Let’s talk the nuts and bolts of my work. Death Doulas are sometimes called End-of-Life Doulas. Perhaps you’re familiar with the word doula from the title, birth doula. That word, doula, comes from the Greek language and it simply means servant. So, a death doula is a servant who works to support people the death process. Doulas help people through transitions. That’s what we do.

Often, when we think of birth, we tend to focus on a pretty small part of the process, the actual hours when the baby is pushing its’ way into the world, but there’s at least nine months of a story that comes before those precious few hours. It wouldn’t surprise me if you made the same assumption about death, the assumption that I’m only talking about the period that surrounds the actual act of dying. But I like to think a lot bigger picture when it comes to death. Don’t get me wrong, It’s true that I am there to help people in the last hours of their lives. I absolutely will sit vigil and hold a person’s hand as they die. In fact, my #1 goal is to help people have a peaceful death. Ultimately though, the work I do is all about supporting people as they adjust to the changes that death brings. It’s all about transitions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

So back to that casket…the one that the grieving widow was ready to close…the transition that she was ready to make. She was right, it was time, time for us to move forward. We’d all been static for 5 years, holding our breath and hoping that this day wouldn’t come…but it had … and we couldn’t just stay there, trying to hold on to someone that was gone. Closing that lid was going to force us to move forward. We couldn’t stop it. A casket must be closed. That fact is inescapable. In life, the need to let go and move forward may not be nearly as obvious but it’s just as essential. We can’t just stand there looking at the remains of the past.  All we can do is gather the love and the pain, the good and the bad, fold them into ourselves and get to work on the next chapter. We have to move forward, we have to transition. We have to close the casket.

Point 2: When there is no casket

When I went into counseling for my severe self-loathing issues back in 2013, I was in a pretty dark place. By then, I really wanted to have children, but there was an underlying issue that my body seemed to have taken up with my mind, and together the two conspired to keep me from being able to make that happen. It’s a condition called vaginismus, it’s a real thing, but I won’t go into the details of it today. You can look it up if you want to.

In any case, what came to light in my counseling was that there was no way that I could create life, if I felt like I had no right to exist. This truth, once it was formulated, was one I needed to grapple with. There would be more, so much more that would need to surface at another time, but in 2013, this was the big issue: a real-life existential crisis.

During my counseling, I was encouraged to perform meaningful gestures that would help mark the different steps of healing. This included making drawings of the life that I would have wanted to have and setting them on fire. This included sending the ashes of those drawings adrift down a little river, so that I could, symbolically, put an end to the pining for a life I never had. 

I found that there was great power in this: a visible, meaningful gesture.

In 2014, I became pregnant for the first time. You cannot imagine the joy that I felt, when, after those years of grappling with my self-loathing, I found that my body and my mind were finally on the same page. I learned shortly thereafter that I was pregnant with twins.

Life changed for my indulgent husband and myself once we learned we would be having twins. So much finally started making sense for us.

And then, the day before my birthday in 2014, we learned that the twins were not going to survive to term. One of them was already gone, the other followed shortly thereafter.

My birthday that year succccckkkked.

There is so much that happened, so many amazing things that happened around that time, but one of the most important was that my husband and I decided, even though we would not be allowed to physically bury our babies, we decided to bury our sonograms, and letters that each of us had written to the babies. We took them up to a place in the Black Forest, which we can see from the front door of our apartment, and we buried those memories there.

The place, that special hill in the Black Forest, is a place that is almost sacred to us now. It is a place we can, if we want to, go visit. For the first few years after I lost the babies, I would sometimes stand at the door and look out at the mountains on a clear day. This felt very healthy.

Far healthier than the alternative. There was no casket to close in this situation. The world, which doesn’t like to talk about miscarriage, would have told me, “This kind of thing happens all the time. Get over it.” Ignoring the pain, ignoring the broken dreams that miscarriage represented was not a solution. Burying our memories in that special place was how we closed a casket that…wasn’t really a casket at all.

Death is something to be grieved. Death of a loved one, or in this case, the death of loved ones that we hadn’t even met yet…we must allow ourselves to grieve even when there is no casket to close. 

Point 3: When it’s your own casket you need to close.

I mentioned something last episode in passing, which I think deserves a little bit of explanation. To be honest, it sounded suspiciously like something the Philosopher Princess might say, and I have been fretting about this for the last week. I’m so glad you came back and that you’ve stuck around long enough so that I could explain.

This is what I said: “Rage and joy are not opposite emotions.”

I based this suspiciously philosophical observation on something that I know to be true about my own experience of rage and joy: that is, that they both are intense emotions. On the spectrum of emotions, there are all kinds of dichotomies. One of these dichotomies I pay close attention to is just how intense the emotion is. 

So when I said that, that Joy and Rage are not opposites, I was referring to the fact that both of them are very intense.

As I fretted about this nuance over the last week, I got to wondering if there was anything else that made Rage and Joy more similar than different. So I decided to look up definitions for them as a starting point. This is what I found: 

Rage: Violent uncontrollable anger or, a vehement desire or passion.

Joy: the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.

The common thread between these two definitions is this: Rage and Joy are, in one facet of their definitions, related to our desires. 

Rage can flare up when our desires are thwarted. Joy can erupt when our desires become reality.

Rage, and its slightly less intense iteration, anger, can result from a place of feeling like something has been taken from us. Like we have been robbed of something–a loved one, an opportunity, a dream. 

When we don’t deal with anger, or rage, and by not dealing with it, I mean by ignoring it or by actively burying it as a coping mechanism, it doesn’t go away. It just goes underground. It becomes a discomfort that we build on top of as we move from season to season of our lives. And as we get farther and farther away from the source of our anger…whether it is time that separates us, or it is distance that separates us, the farther we get, the more that anger simply becomes part of who we are.

This latent anger is a hostile terrain for living a life of joy. Sparkle is not compatible with rage. 

Most of us are not likely to admit that we have anger problems. It’s definitely not glamorous. But remember, I firmly believe that authenticity and honesty are liberating. So I am going to admit something to you: 

Before I had children, I did not realize how much anger…how much rage I was carrying around from previous seasons of my life. 

I had managed to carry that rage in secret for years, and because my life had always been pretty calm and quiet with relatively little to go in and stir it up, rage had very few occasions to surface. 

Oh, there were a few times when I surprised myself by getting irrationally angry about something. But for the most part, I was just…well, in French we call it méfiante. I guess it means something close to “mistrustful.” As if I had built a series of fortified walls around my heart to keep the rage from coming out…and at the same time, keeping anyone who might go in and stir up the rage from getting too close to my heart.

But children–ha! Children! Children have a way of loosening up the masks we wear…they have a way of getting themselves into the spaces between our skin and our flesh and needling around in there. There was no way for me to keep my children out of my heart, not even with all those walls and systems I had built to keep people out. And the more I loved them, the more angry I found myself becoming.

I knew that I wasn’t angry with them. I could tell that the rage I was experiencing wasn’t truly directed at them. But it was so scary: to find myself overwhelmed with so much undealt-with rage.

I observed that I had no coping mechanism for anger. I had no healthy way to express it. My post-partum depression was spent, for the first few years of it, feeling guilty for being angry all the time. I assure you that this did not help matters.  Reproaching myself for feeling rage against people who were in no way at fault for my anger did not make me less angry.

As I mentioned a few episodes ago, a good chunk of my rage was directed at myself. For decisions I made years and years ago that had ignored my own desires and had put me on a path to where I ended up. If I was angry at my children, I reasoned, it was because they were the result of some of those decisions.

But I also know that my children did not deserve to bear the consequences of twenty years worth of pent up rage that I had been building my life on. 

I spent 2019 figuring out how to be angry in a healthy way. I spent it going through, what for all intents and purposes can be called a mid-life crisis. I spent a lot of 2019 being angry on purpose, doing things that I normally would not do. Learning how to experience the feeling of anger without letting it overwhelm me and scare me. Learning how to say “no”, something I had never learned how to do. Learning that saying “no” doesn’t have to land a death knell to a relationship. 

Yeah, in 2019, I made up for a lot of lost time. And I was lucky. For whatever reason, in all this trial and error, my husband, who I don’t call my indulgent husband for nothing, never got scared and never turned his back. Our marriage survived that volcanic year.

If I learned one constructive thing from the last year of my post-partum depression, it was that anger is not inherently wrong. It is human to feel anger. It is even acceptable to express anger. When we let anger complete its cycle in a healthy way, we don’t destroy relationships. In fact, getting that anger out of our systems leaves us emotionally healthy to better engage in our relationships.

You know, it took me more than a year to “close the casket” on a season of my life from twenty years ago. More than a year to dig through all that anger and all that rot and all those walls that I had built up around my heart. 

When I finally got to the point where I felt like I might have emptied out all the junk from that time of my life, I decided to perform a gesture to officially declare the season closed. Something that I could then think back to, whenever those thoughts or feelings of self-criticism or self-directed anger might try to creep back up. 

It was something incredibly simple, but very, very meaningful.

I took a rose. A pretty rose, and one by one, I removed the petals. I stripped that rose of its beauty, one layer at a time. With each petal, I named something that I had been angry at myself about. As it turned out, there were more petals than there were things I was angry about. So when I got to the end of my list, I started again, this time saying, “I forgive you for…” this and “I forgive you for…” that.

What I found, when I got down to the end of all the petals, were these weird little pink and yellow things that kinda skeezed me out. I don’t know much about botany, so I would be hard pressed to name those little yellow and pink things, but they were very much part of the structure of the rose.

When you look at a rose, on the surface, you wouldn’t suspect that these weird little structures are down in there. Just like how for all these years, no one would have suspected that all that rage was down inside of me. Those weird little yellow and pink things were like my rage.

In one, last fit of curiosity, I decided to pick away those little structures, to see what was underneath them. Underneath them was just a pretty, fuzzy white stump. I would be hard-pressed to explain why, but the sight of that fuzzy white stump made me cry. This was what it looked like when all the artifice was taken away. I smelled that stump, and it smelled nothing like a rose. It smelled like freshly cut grass. It smelled fresh. It just smelled like a plant.

Now, when I do something stupid, or I get angry about something I’ve done, I’m always very careful to make sure that I get back down to that pretty, fuzzy white fresh-smelling stump in my heart. Make sure that there is no root of self-directed anger getting stuck on there to trip me up later, and that no artifice is growing up in my heart.

So much of getting through rage and anger issues is about forgiveness, and very often our rage and anger is quite justly directed at other people. I don’t want to bludgeon you with talk of forgiveness, but I do want to say this: Forgiveness is more for you than it is for the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness gives us that clean slate, that fuzzy white stump. Forgiveness frees you from the feelings of anger and rage. Not to say that they don’t creep back in from time to time. But forgiveness means, “I cancel the debt you owe me.” And also…”Even if sometimes I could use that money you owed me, I’m not going to come looking for it from you.”

If you struggle with anger or rage issues, it certainly doesn’t cost you anything to try.

I’m not perfect. I get angry with other people. And maybe there are more caskets I need to close. Some people I need to forgive that will close other seasons I haven’t gotten around to yet.

I guess I know what my homework is.

Do you know what your homework is? It’s to let yourself be angry. See what it feels like to open that valve. Do it in a safe way. Go somewhere alone, like in your car. Park your car and yell for a while. Destroy something, like a rose. As the anger works its way through, notice how it feels to not swallow it back.

I’m telling you, Rage and Joy are not that far apart. Let yourself experience rage, and you might find that joy is waiting on the horizon. It won’t happen overnight. It took me a year! You might need professional help to get to the bottom of your rage. There’s nothing wrong with you if you do need help.

Conclusion

I know this has been pretty heavy this week, and I thank you for sticking around. 

If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any insights to share about ways that have been helpful to you for putting closure to seasons of your life, I would love to hear about it.

You can drop me a line, lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com or on Instagram, @lilyfieldschallenge.

All this month we’ve been doing the Ideal Life Exercise together in our Private Facebook Group. You should really come join us.

Show Notes

Content warning: In this episode, we will be talking about death and funerals, as well as about miscarriage and depression. If you need professional mental health support, no matter what phase of life you are in, please get it. 

Talking Points: 

Closing the casket and life transitions; miscarriage, or when there is no casket to close; dealing with rage–when there are seasons of your own life you need to close the casket on.

The Great Bathrobe Refashion of 2021 can be found here: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/

Check out LiElla Kelly, Death Doula on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com or on Instagram: @leaving.well.death.doula. 

Our private Facebook group, You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet (https://www.facebook.com/groups/309886354511956) is available to give you a place to get some encouragement and support as you navigate the pursuit of your Ideal Life.

You can reach Lily on Instagram, @lilyfieldschallenge or by email lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com

Special thanks to Seven Production in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show. Check them out here: https://7prod.fr

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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