Tea with Toan: A Conversation About How Grief Leads to Generosity & Love

Lights on Christmas tree.

Happy holidays everyone! ’Tis the season to be jolly right? I don’t mean to be a Grinch, but for many, the holidays are anything but merry. For me and many people I know, it’s a time when the hustle and bustle of the holidays — the glistening lights, Christmas cards and holiday parties — force us to reflect on our losses. Loss comes in many forms: loss of loved ones, a break-up, losing a job, etc.

For many years, the holidays were anything but happy for me.

Every October, just before the holidays as the leaves change, so does my spirit. Joy is the antithesis of what I felt going into the holidays. It’s the time of year when families and friends gather for feasts and schedules are packed with celebrations. It also a time when I’m reminded of my loved ones lost.

My father passed away in October of 2001. I was living in Wausau, Wisc., at the time. I remember the phone ringing. On the other end, my brother’s unrecognizable stoic voice muttered, “Toan, sit down. I have some bad news to tell you.

“Dad was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. He has six months to live.”

The rest of the phone call was a blur. I was a reporter for the ABC local affiliate and I immediately met with my news director and told him I was going home to take care of my dying father.

Six long months ensued. Cold, dark, heavy emotions clouded my existence. Memories still haunt and taunt me, especially this time of year. The images remain fresh in my mind: shoving morphine down Dad’s throat, my Mom busting the door open in the middle of many nights, her face pale as snow, begging me to help her help my father get dressed as he was, yet again, getting rushed to the hospital because of the unbearable pain.

Six months after I got the call from my brother, my father passed away. I would lose three more family members in a year’s time: my aunt and both grandmothers.

Not a single holiday passes by that I don’t think of them.

So what do I do to get through this so called “holly, jolly, happy” time of year, a season that stirs up much of the grief?

I believe that all our experiences are like scattered dots. When we’re going through them, it’s hard to decipher the “Whys?” “How could haves?” and “Why me’s?”

"being there for Someone in Grief" by Marianna Cacciatore

Thirteen years since my personal tragedies, I can finally connect the dots thanks to my dear friend Marianna Cacciatore. She’s the author of “Being There for Someone in Grief: Essential Lessons in Supporting Someone Grieving from Death, Loss and Trauma,” host of the VoiceAmerica show “Ordinary People doing Extraordinary Deeds,” and former Chief Inspiration Officer of the nonprofit Bread for the Journey, but I know her as a wise, grounded, kindred spirit and grief expert. She’s someone you want want by your side when grief strikes. None of us are immune.

Again, when I use the word loss, I’m not just talking about grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Rather, it’s the loss of anything you may have experienced; a job, family, friend, sexuality, your preconceived notions of what others wanted you to be or as a parent, it’s losing your freedom when having children.

For the first time, Marianna is sharing her story of loss at a young age — the brutal murder of a best friend. Through this tragic experience, Marianna shares her unique perspective on how grief leads to generosity and love.

Childhood best friend Susan Brady, left, and Marianna Cacciatore. Courtesy: Marianna Cacciatore

With the words, wisdom and voice remnant of Maya Angelou, Marianna eloquently explains the patterns she sees in the space of grief. She believes grief leads generosity and then — get ready for this — feeling a deep love. Now, what do the words “grief,” “generosity” and “love” have to do with one another? You’ll be surprised.

“I have observed that there is a natural relationship between grief and generosity,” she said. “And if the inspired impulse toward generosity is noticed and nurtured, it leads to an experience of belonging, connection and love that is life-changing and transformative.”

If you or anyone you know has or is experiencing grief and loss, please share this video with them, I know you’ll find it as cathartic as I have. This may be the best gift you can give to someone this holiday and all year round.

Grief is as unique as each person it touches. We all process and experience it differently. It gets scary, we lose ourselves in the emotions and there isn’t a clear route for any of us. But I can tell you first hand that Marianna’s observation holds true to my experience.

After letting myself grieve and heal over time, I took action when the time was right. Eight years after losing four family members, I felt a deep generosity that words can’t define. It transformed my life and changed the trajectory of where I’m at today and where I’m headed in the days to come. It sparked a curiosity, generosity and love through my passion work, my life’s work with Go Inspire Go, a multimedia movement to inspire kindness, compassion, generosity and action.

In the words of my wise friend Marianna, “It took time and concentration to learn to be there for someone in grief in a way that is welcomed and respectful. Lucky for me, I had great teachers. My deepest wish is that I have found just the right words to help you become a person who can be there for someone you know, perhaps someone you love, who needs your deep presence as they grieve.”

Marianna, thank you for being one of my greatest teachers and shedding light around a topic so taboo, dark and scary. Your bold words and wisdom, I will cherish in all my living days.

If you feel like this video and/or blog has helped you, please share with those you love, those who have lost and those who are lost in the shadows of grief.

Reflect & Act:

1. We’re naturally generous. Notice when the impulse to be generous shows up & ACT on it. Let us know what you did! Tag: @goinspirego

2. Know someone who has experienced LOSS, share this video.

3. Learn More: www.mariannacacciatore.com, subscribe to her email list and share her message.

Marianna is currently writing her second book about grief, generosity and love. It explores the many losses and perceived failures we experience in a lifetime and how, when we do our important and necessary interior work to heal from the wounds of loss and failure, we can choose to have our heart break open instead of apart. Stay tuned to her website, www.mariannacacciatore.com, for news of when the book will be released.

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