Last Sunday Nick Cannon’s son Zen died from brain cancer. Zen was just 5 months old, and his sudden passing has left Nick in a shock wave of grief and pain. As someone who recently lost one of my own sons, I know this pain extremely well, so when Nick asked me to come on his show to help him process his son’s death, I instantly said yes. (Scroll down to check out the tips I gave to him).
As I sat before Nick and looked into his eyes, I was almost floored by the depth of the loss I saw there. The dazed, lost look of a bereft parent was so familiar to me, as if I was looking in the mirror at my own face 8 months ago.
Seeing Nick’s broken, hopeless look was heartbreaking, but it was also encouraging, because it helped me to realize that healing from grief (or should I say, healing through grief) really is possible. Through conscious grieving and intentional soul work, I have been able to move past that state of the initial trauma and into a new stage of my grieving process. Sometimes my grieving feels so unbearable and so non-linear (as you know if you follow me on social media), that it was amazing to see I actually have been learning how to carry my grief in new ways and that I am not as ‘stuck’ as I sometimes feel.
And part of my journey of healing has been to help others who are on the same journey as me. That has given purpose and shape to my grief, and has been a big part of what drives me to get out of bed every morning.
Grief expert David Kessler also joined us, which was so meaningful, as David came to our house after Sammy’s passing to offer his support free of charge and without even needing to be asked. I will never forget how much his visit meant to me, and throughout my mourning, David has been a bright light that has filled me with much-needed comfort and bravery as I travel through this storm.
If you have also recently lost a loved one, or the holiday season has reignited grief from many years past, I would like to offer you the hard-earned wisdom I have gained in the months since losing my Sammy. This knowledge is not knowledge I would have ever chosen to learn, but by staying open and trusting the grief process, I have come to find that this wisdom is the silver lining in my loss.
I hope some of what you read here can bring you some peace this holiday season:
Take it 5 minutes at a time. I know people in recovery or on other healing journeys often say ‘one day at a time,’ but when you are gripped in those early days of grief, the thought of living through a day made me almost choke on my very breath. I felt like I was drowning on dry land, and I couldn’t imagine making it through 1 hour, left alone 24 hours. So I just focused on the 5 minutes right in front of me. On what I could do in those 5 minutes to care for me and my husband and my sons Jackson and Ethan. On what I could do in those 5 minutes to honor Sammy and to honor my pain.
Be selfish to be selfless. Amid my early grief, I found that I really struggled with letting other people care for me. I was so used to being the therapist, the teacher, the nurturer, the shoulder to cry on. But I realized that it was actually selfish to refuse to accept the compassion and attention that my friends wanted to shower on me. I was denying them the chance to offer unconditional love, which is the greatest thing we can share with each other on this planet. And by not accepting help, I was keeping my mind busy with errands and to-do lists to avoid my pain. I had to learn that it was okay to ask for help and to receive the love that my friends wanted to give me. I needed to be surrounded by people who would let me break down and didn’t ask anything of me except to let them love me. They didn’t try to make me stop crying, or minimize my pain, or get scared by the massiveness of my grief. They just bore witness and loved me through it. And learning to accept that gift of love and tender nurturing was something I had been needing to learn my whole life.
Move the pain physically. If you watch me on social media, you know that I often make videos about the different ways I physically move my emotions out of my body. I scream, I cry, I paint, I dance, I beat pillows with bats, I go on long hikes. It’s not about using exercise to get *out* of my body, nor as a distraction. Instead, it’s very intentional. Using somatic therapy, I find the pain locked in my body (watch my video on somatic therapy here), and then I release it through movement and action. It could be tears. It could be punching a pillow. It could be dancing in my backyard. It can be scary to go deep into the pain like that at first. But I know by now that when I let myself feel that intense pain for 3-5 minutes, I can get it out of me and release it.
Remember your loved one had a full life. Energy and Sound Healer Genevieve Deeley (who tragically lost a child at 2.5 years old) taught me this piece of wisdom: You must remember that your loved one had a precious, fully lived life here.
Yes, even if (like Nick), your child died in infancy. Even if (like me), your child died in his teen years. I know that however long your loved one had on this earth, it probably doesn’t feel like long enough to you. All the missed holidays. All the missed birthdays. The weddings. The births. The happy special moments that they should have enjoyed.
But I want you to remember this: Your loved one had a full life. Their time on this earth was filled with love and happiness. They knew they were loved and that they were leaving their mark on your heart forever. For someone like Nick, who lost a child so very young, this can be hard to grasp. Zen only had 5 months on this earth. But during that time, he was loved, cherished, and played with, and cuddled, and buoyed by unconditional love. It may not feel like enough, but it is: Being loved, knowing we are loved, and getting to be a vessel for love in return is our highest and most important mission here. Everything else is just window dressing.
Grieving is loving. Your grief is a reflection of the depth of the love you had for your lost loved one. You wouldn’t want to wish your grief away because it would mean wishing your love away. It hurts because the love between you was so great, and so eternal, and so worthy of remembering and celebrating. In our grief-phobic culture, grieving is seen as a negative or unwelcome experience. Yet we shouldn’t fear grief or run from it: It’s simply a part of us, a part of our connection to our loved one.
Keep talking about them. Our culture tries to shy away from even talking about those who have passed away. People may avoid you or act awkward around you. They may not know how to act or what to say. That’s okay. You don’t have to follow that path. You can talk about your loved one. You can cry if you need to. You can light candles, say prayers, and make your loved one’s name a familiar part of your family conversations. Don’t act as though they’re gone. Because they’re not. They’re still very much here in your hearts and minds, and it’s important to honor that and not run from memories of them.
It will slowly get better. You adjust to your new reality. The loss and pain are wider and deeper than anything you could ever imagine. The grief doesn’t get smaller. Because the love doesn’t get smaller. But you DO learn to live with the grief in new ways. And, if you allow yourself, the grief can allow your heart and soul to expand so much. You become so much expansive in your heart that the grief has more room within you. You can breathe deeper. Suddenly, it feels less like you’re drowning. And more like you’re treading water. And, then eventually, like you’re coasting on the waves, trusting the current to take your body without fear and releasing into the experience without holding anything back.
Remember energy never dies. Whenever I am in my darkest moments, it helps me to remember that energy never dies. This is a simple law of quantum physics and an undeniable truth of our universe. This helps me to understand that my Sammy and that Nick’s Zen are not gone from existence. We can still connect with their energy and they can still connect with ours. Probably on a deeper level than we ever could in life. The connection I feel with Sammy now is more powerful than anything I have ever experienced before. I can feel his presence and his love surrounding me. And, no, it’s not the same as if he was here physically and I could hug him and cuddle him, as I am so desperate to do. But that energetic connection is real, it’s eternal, and it’s ours forever.