All posts by Karen Johnson

LIVING GRIEVING Has Been NOMINATED in two Categories for the COVR Book Awards

As you enjoy your Friday, please take a moment to vote for Living Grieving in the 2022 COVR Visionary Book Awards.

Living Grieving was nominated in two categories; Reincarnation, Death & Grieving and Shamanism. Your support means so much to me as I spread the word of how Living Grieving can help those suffering from grief and loss.

Only a few days remain to cast your vote! Voting ends on April 25th, 2022.

With gratitude,


What do you Say To Family and Friends When Someone Dies?

It’s not about what to say – it’s about how to be. How to Hold Space.

When comforting someone who is bereaved and suffering great loss from the death of a loved one we mostly don’t know what to say or do. Our culture and society hasn’t equipped us to be around the bereaved. So It’s often profoundly discomforting and almost terrifying to be around sadness and despair. Sometimes we just want to find something, anything to say and then bolt for the door as soon as possible.

I was the same way until it happened to me and I was the one sitting in the chair of the bereaved. As I sat, I watched the merry-go-round of visitors coming to pay their respects and leaving as soon as possible. I didn’t blame them, I was a wreak and couldn’t stop being a wreak. I couldn’t find “a stiff upper lip”. I couldn’t bury my emotions and put on “a good face” to make others comfortable. As I sat with my grief I began to observe. Mostly, it seemed to me that in searching for something, anything to say most people simply unpacked a platitude they heard being said in the past like: “S/he’s in a better place now” or “Everything’s going to be OK” or “Time will heal.”

Because it’s just the way my mind works, I began to wonder which one each person would pick. I can tell you, “S/he’s in a better place now” was the winner followed in order by “Everything’s going to be OK” and “Time will Heal.” Then, upon exiting, a final platitude, “Let me know if you need anything.” Sometimes sincere, sometimes not, but clearly the expected thing to say going out the door. Then a few months later the favorites became “you have to accept it”, “it’s time to move on” and “get over it.”

The truth is that these all are clichés foisted on the grieving to make those around us feel comfortable. The truth is that clichés began to make me furious. I wanted to get a bull horn and scream – “he might be in a better place, but what about me? I’m NOT in a better place.” And “nothing is OK and I will never be OK with my son’s death. And “how do you know that time will heal?” But of course, I didn’t scream because that would really make people uncomfortable, and they didn’t deserve that. They simply didn’t know what to say or how to be around me.

As you know by now, I didn’t “accept it” “move on” or “get over it.” Instead I retired, sold my house and all my possessions and went on a two and a half year world journey to find a way through grief and despair.

What I found out along the way is that finding something to say to the bereaved is not nearly as important as finding out how to Be. Being is the art of Holding Space for someone. Holding Space means sitting with the bereaved in their grieving journey without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. We become a sacred witness to their grief.

When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control. We simply sit, even when sitting silently is uncomfortable, we sit. We hug, hold hands, bring endless cups of tea and tissues and mystery casseroles. We serve, we let them simply Be.

Holding Space is difficult if we are uncomfortable with silence. Instead of resorting to filling silence with words and grasping desperately onto platitudes, be silent, be a sacred witness and simply Hold Space.

Reflections on Healing the Mother/Father wound even after Death

I am an only child of an only child and my immediate family was very small.  Outside of a few of my mother’s sisters and my father’s cousins, the three of us lived a pretty insular and exclusive life.  My mother didn’t much like my father’s mother and really didn’t get on with her own family of six brothers and sisters.  In fact, she did not have any long-term friendships that lasted.

My mother’s struggles with depression and bipolar illness caused her to be unable to enjoy life and make friendships.  She tended to view everyone as an enemy and against her in some way, including me.  Her marriage to my father wasn’t happy.  He drank.  A lot.  My father was a functional  alcoholic.  He was employed but unavailable in any way, not around much and not communicative.  But I knew he loved me and that I was the focus of his love, not my mother.  She often told of how he didn’t even get her a Christmas present their first year of marriage, or any one after that.  He did, however, manage to go to an office party and come home drunk then and every Christmas Eve.  As I grew up, I realized that they both had their own broken childhoods and stories to tell that limited their abilities to love, although knowing didn’t sooth my broken heart.

As a child, my mother often told me that I had “ruined her life.”  I took this in at an early age as unworthiness and carried that belief with me for many years and my choices came from that dark place.  If my own mother rejected me as unworthy, then it must be true.  How could anyone ever love me if my mother had rejected me? As a result, I looked for love with desperation from people who couldn’t give back.  It was easier that way to bear the loss and be able to walk away relatively unscathed.

She also warned me: “don’t have a child, it will ruin everything.”  For her it did, her choice to get pregnant really did ruin things for her.  She gave up a treasured job in the hope that marriage and a child would be a trade up or at least an equal trade.  But it didn’t work out for her.  The marriage didn’t and well, I was just a child,  I couldn’t fulfill her hopes and expectations and make her life worth living.  I couldn’t be pleasing enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough to fill her big emotional void.  But I thankfully did have 2 children, and I didn’t have to give up anything to have them.  I chose to have them in my early thirties so that my education wasn’t disrupted.  So in one sense, her warnings did help.  And by the time I had my children thirty years later, social expectations had shifted – I could be pregnant, have children, be married and work.

Sometimes, healing comes to us in mysterious ways. For me, healing the hurt caused by my mother came in the form of the movie In the Name of Sex about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  Watching, I remembered my mother telling me about being an executive secretary to a Vice President at Westinghouse and how much she loved that position.  She married in 1952, late in life for those times, around the age of 33.  When she got pregnant with me she had to give up her job.  In those days, that was the law.  Pregnant females could not work.  Society then believed that a man should provide and women should stay home and raise families.

In a flash of insight I realized that getting pregnant in those times left my mother with choices that she later regretted. It wasn’t that I was inherently unworthy, I hadn’t ruined her life, the circumstances of birthing a child, changed everything for her and not for the better.  She was forced to give up a job she loved to become a housewife and stay at home mom, roles that did not fulfill her.  Especially when she realized the man she married was really married to the demon alcohol and would never give this demon up.  He would never be emotionally stable or available.  She had bargained away a job she loved for the illusion of safety in marriage and children.  This realization rolled away a boulder that had kept me pinned in darkness for sixty-five years.

My mother and I had a difficult relationship until she died.  It was only recently that I watched the movie about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and had the flash of insight about my mother’s life.  Our troubled relationship resulted from her underlying unhappiness that no child could fix.  Did it affect me deeply?  Oh yes, I was set up for a lifetime of people pleasing and emotional failures.  But the flash of insight allowed me to see her differently and have a different dialogue with her spirit.  Now I can say “I forgive you” and mean it.  Now I can say “I am enough, I am here, this is me, I have a right to be exactly as I am” and mean it.  I let go of the fear of being rejected, abandoned and forlorn that made me feel safe and manifested in acts of people-pleasing or not sharing my truth.

How can we do that – have a new dialogue after death?  Having a family altar is very healing.  But outside your bedroom!  Not where you sleep.  I have mine on the mantle in my living room.  For the longest time, I only wanted my son’s picture and ashes on the altar.  I didn’t want to make room for my mother and father.  But after the insight I was able to move their pictures to the mantle.  These are the ancestors who affected me so deeply.  And yes, my departed son is now an ancestor.

I can honor them and forgive them.  I was angry with my son for taking heroin and upending life as I knew it for a long time.  I forgave that and asked him to forgive my failures as his mother.  I can now light candles and bring flowers.  I no longer need to cut anyone off.  Shaman’s believe when we heal ourselves we heal seven generations back and seven generations forward.  Being able to say to myself that “I am enough” and really feel it and mean it is so healing.  It changed my perspective on the way I interact with the world.  Saying “I forgive you” is also empowering.  In this quantum world of no time/no space I know my parents hear me and are healed.  And I know Ben is watching and healing too.  And so too are my daughter and grandson in this reality.  I feel all of us whole and connected and in the flow of Love.

Much Love and Many Blessings,


Who is in Control?

As a shaman it is so important to connect with Pachamama deeply every day.  When I am out of balance, ayni, I get lessons immediately.  Yesterday I received a lesson from Mother Earth, Pachamama.  In the morning I was tired from the weekend and decided not to do my morning practice including offerings to the Mother.


As the day progressed the winds began to howl and I got annoyed and decided to run to a friend’s home an hour away to escape their fury and have better internet for an online class I was going to teach.  But the winds followed me and howled around the friend’s house.  Trees crashed, the house shook and the internet shook too.  When class was over I decided to try and run back to my house and escape the fury of the winds.  But they followed me and dropped a tree behind my car, barely missing me and leaving deep scratches on the door.  I continued driving faster, trying to escape.  When I arrived home, it was in total darkness, the winds had shaken away the power.  As I left my car the winds took the door and held it open. I could hardly close it.  The winds pulled on my hair as I rain for the house, and took the door to my house and crashed it open.


Inside, I stood shaking in the dark.  And I got the message.  I was out of ayni, balance.  I hadn’t done my morning practice I hadn’t honored the mother, I had gotten annoyed with her winds.  I thought I was powerful and in control and could escape her.  She showed me her might.  You are in control?  You cannot outrun me!  How about I shake your house and car and your precious internet?  How about if I drop a tree on you?  How about if I leave you in total darkness?  Now tell me who is in control!


This morning I stood humbly and gratefully in the winds with my offering and thanked her for the lesson.  And this pandemic is another lesson.  She is in control.



Santa Tierra, giver of beauties
gentle as raindrops or the sharp claws of tigers,
red as the eyes of ancient tortoises,
redolent as coffees in the damp cool night,
round as ferns glowing green in deep forest,
thunderous as moth wings, rainbows, still pools…
You crack open our hearts with feather-soft fingers,
flood us loose from our fears with such munay
we can only be healed of our bitter tears.
we feed you, Pachamama, our shell shards and offerings,
nestle down in your warm sands
to nurture our becoming
by the whispering lullabies of Mama Cocha.
we dream lavender and roses, sunlight fluttering on leaves,
unicorns charging, lightning rippling on violet hills.
we wrap our roots deep in your diamond heart,
open owl eyes within your dark womb,
to radiant crystals, gushing fountains,
sweet-grass and sage, swift merlins, yellow lotuses,
the crawling jeweled glory of beetles.
you are blood and bone of us all, Nuestra Mama,
birther and healer of our burns,
bringer of death, bearing our freedom
and all balance in your bright cruel sword.
we cherish you, Nuestra Amada,
as saguaro cherishes water,
as aspen cherishes sunlight,
as the dying cherish mercy;
and we bless you, Sagrada Mama,
in our hearts, our words, our deeds;
we aid your precious children,
and we grow your sacred seeds.

~Leslie Morris Britt ©2009

Translation key
Santa Tierra: Holy Earth
Pachamama: Our Mother Place
Mama Cocha: Mother of the Waters
Nuestra Mama: Our Mother
Nuestra Amada: Our Beloved
Sagrada Mama: Sacred Mother




What do you do when there’s no time to say Goodbye?


There’s a good chance we all know someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19, went into the ICU and died unexpectedly and possibly alone.  Friends and family members could not visit and death may have come quickly.  The body may have been put into storage and the funeral delayed.  People are also dying in hospitals from things other than COVID-19 without the usual support of friends and family members due to restrictions in visitation.

Saying our goodbye’s and I love you’s or I wish things had been different at the bedside is key to beginning the grieving process.  No matter what words need to be said, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Sometimes, all that can be said is thank you for the lesson on how not to be, and that’s OK.  It is important to express everything to begin to release and heal.

Words are important, I want to share with you a passage from a wonderful book, Mystery of the White Lions, Children of the Sun God by Linda Tucker.

Saint John’s Gospel begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is the oldest written text in the world, contains the equivalent passage: “I am the Eternal…I am that which created the Word…I am the Word.”  The original meaning of “the Word” is identified with the notion of sound.  The “seminal Word,” like the seed, gives form to unformed matter.  (Often equated with solar Logos, “the Word of the sun.”)

Saying all the words that need to be said is crucial.  What can we do to make this happen after the fact?  How can friends and families cope?

Even after a loved one has passed friends and families can enact a death bed scene, imagine themselves sitting by the bedside of their loved ones and say all the things they wish they could have said just as though their loved one is right there with them.  Because, guess what – this is often the case.  If friends and family are in isolation, each member can enact the deathbed scene for themselves.  If possible, the family can enact the deathbed scene virtually connecting through zoom or by facetime or even just by phone.

Expressing and releasing is not only cathartic for loved ones but also for the deceased who may be lingering and waiting to hear the words of forgiveness and love in order to fully transition to the other side.  Sometimes hearing these words helps them to realize and accept their own death which may have come as a great shock to them.

Enacting a deathbed scene and saying all the things you wish you had said to your deceased friend or family member also works to heal traumatic situations where anger, resentment, distance or anything else kept you away.  It doesn’t matter if it happened twenty years ago, you can always enact the death bed scene and say the words that you have been longing to say.  All the words in your heart, without holding back.

Enacting the death bed scene and saying goodbye is only the beginning of the grieving process.  Grief and the associated emotions of guilt, anger, sadness, and despair are still there.  It’s so important to understand that it’s ok, we don’t have to “get over it” or “move on.”  Grief is a journey!  And we will continue to take it together!