“My Grandson’s Death Brought Me to the Crossroads”
by Ginny Anderson
In 2016, as part of the Local Heroes TV series, staff producer Louise Pencavel interviewed me about my work as a grief counselor and psychologist, and about my passion for fostering relaxed and supportive community conversations about death and dying in a “Death Cafe,” an approach originating in Switzerland. As a psychologist, I understand that talking about death is extremely hard for most people because the denial of death is a cultural norm in America. But my work among indigenous people in South America and my research in shamanic traditions has revealed to me that if we are fully present to life, then we will not fear death. We may wonder about it or be saddened by it, but death can lose its control over us.
Working with grief, dying and loss has an important counterpart in discovering an expanded vision of a full life that can experience wonder, love, and discovery – of self, of others, and of the world that is our home on the earth. As an eco-psychologist who works with clients struggling with life’s negatives, I take them out into nature whenever possible to help them connect with our natural world. Removing ourselves from the human made physical and mental constructs can help us break out from society-imposed confines in order to connect with our “true” selves and find meaning within. That may sound simplistic, but in essence that is a major part of what I do. Another technique I use in therapy and for my own pleasure is storytelling. Storytelling connects us to other people over time and space in the same way that spending time in nature connects us to the natural world. By delving into legends and myths or even our own family stories, we harvest rich insights.
But now I find myself with a remarkable challenge. An overwhelming tragedy has come to our family You see, my young and vital grandson Taliesin Namkai-Meche was one of the two people killed in Portland, protecting two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, from a vicious attack by a racist maniac. The tragedy that has come to our family with the death of a bright and loving young man, and the way it transpired, has become for me a symbol, a mark of transformation of life as we know it on the entire planet.
I find in my pocket many of the tools I need to cope with this information, but the feeling of being overwhelmed is so profound, not only because of the death of a delightful human being who happens to be my grandson, but also because it is such a powerful representation of the planetary transformation that I sense will be taking place in millions of peoples’ personal experiences, from the loss of beloved people and of safe and beautiful territory in our public spaces, but also to an enormous tear in the entire web of life.
When that sense of overwhelm strikes me, I have no choice but to begin with this feeling, and let it expand out until I find the support of sitting on the beautiful lap of mother Earth, or walking the trails she points to. I move from the cloud of confusion, to remembering some of the many poems and stories that filled my childhood during times of challenge that have become the nourishment for tapping into the courage – and process – of how to survive.
Raised during World War II, I shared a bedroom with my sister and our grandmother. She thrilled us with stories night after night as we waited for sleep. When I think of the long poems she recited to us in the dark, it’s hard to imagine that a story poem like “The Wreck of the Hesperus” which features the death of an innocent child, was actually a comfort to me, a small child whose dear brother had just died in accident. Or the poem, Thanatopsis,” that tells us how to die, sank so deeply into my heart, and has become a big part of what sustains me now – not only the content of the poems, but also the communication of courage. Far from serious, my grandmother treated her own physical disability lightly and with self-acceptance: she would sometimes dance around the house in her “union suit” (do you know of that one-piece flannel underwear?), singing “It ain’t no sin, to take off your skin, and dance around in your bones!” Fed by my grandmother’s powerful stories, and those my father made up, we learned how to move forward when challenges came our way.
These and other sources I call upon – ancient stories that reflect humanity’s ongoing transformation and the ways that we can consider growing and learning when our hearts and souls are being torn open in the process of discovering a transformation even beyond those of the lives we’ve known until now.
As I struggle to make sense of where we find ourselves on the planet – and as I deal with Taliesin’s death, I’d like to begin an exploration with you. I’d like to create a new video series, and share it with you. It’s working title is “Timeless Tales.” My grandson, Will Allen-DuPraw, will be sharing this venture with me; he and I will share what the stories imply to us, and maybe you’ll be inspired to write us a note sharing what comes up for you. We’ll welcome story suggestions that you may have, and comments from you about how you connect with what we do. Our first offering is the story of the Norse God Balder, the god of truth and light, and how he was killed – in a sense, by blindness – with the help of the trickster Loki.
When I think of Taliesin, and how beloved he was by everyone who knew him – much like Balder himself – this story may have some interesting ways to uncover something useful to know! I invite you to be with us/
Ginny holds an M.A. in psychology from New York University and a Ph.D. from Stanford in Counseling Psychology. She has worked in the field at UC Davis and Stanford, and in private practice in Menlo Park and Atherton. Mountain climber, mother of 5, her early involvement in the evolution of eco-psychology included the publication of her award-winning book “Circling San Francisco Bay: A Pilgrimage to Wild and Sacred Places.”
Reach her through her email: email@example.com