About

How death became my life

A few years ago, I laughed for a living. Yes, that was my job.

I became a Certified Laughter Yoga Trainer, along with my partner Kate, and we offered workshops and presentations that encouraged people to liberate their laughter. I loved helping people be more playful and get in touch with their inner joy! This felt quite a bit different than my decade as an economic justice activist, when I was paid to have strong opinions and lobby at the statehouse.

I started calling myself a “laughter activist” and viewed optimism as a radical act. To see possibilities, to have certainty that love and kindness exist despite evidence to the contrary – now that was revolutionary. Or so I thought. Maybe it was just wishful thinking?

Happiness amidst suffering?

With my background in poverty issues, I wanted to reconcile my awareness of social problems with how amazing it was to feel lighter and less agitated. Was it appropriate to be happy amidst suffering? Kate and I often talked about this – How can we be joyful even in times of fear and hardship? How can we stay hopeful even when everything around us appears to be unraveling at the seams?

And then on an autumn day in 2011, these questions became very personal. My partner Kate was unexpectedly diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer at age 41.

Was this really happening to us? For weeks we went back and forth between shock and making peace with the news. Life had been unfolding so beautifully. We had just moved into a new home in Mt. Shasta; we were both engaged in creative projects and community work; we were each committed to our spiritual paths and continuing to grow as a couple. And now we had to face a new reality. One hug at a time, we prepared ourselves as best we could for the next chapter of our lives.

The very short story

The very short story is that Kate died only 12 weeks after her initial diagnosis. She died consciously and with the same enthusiasm with which she lived. “You did it,” I remember saying out loud that night, assuming her spirit could hear me. “You graduated.”

Yes, we both viewed her death as a graduation. But I was still in Earth School.

I wondered what would happen next. The love of my life – the best friend I’ve ever had – was no longer in a physical body. Twelve weeks of caregiving and almost constant connection were behind me, and now the reality of it all would start to sink in. Now what? Would I be devastated? Numb? Empty?

Even though my mom and close friends had died in the past, I didn’t know how grief would affect me. I expected to be heartbroken. But to my surprise, I found myself experiencing a consistent love, connection and centeredness most of the time. Sure, I let my tears flow freely when they surfaced. Yet more than anything else, I felt profound joy and peace, and I still do to this day. Friends and strangers alike have commented on the level of happiness and acceptance they see in me. Some have been suspicious, assuming I’m in denial. Many others have asked me for my “secret.”

So I began asking myself: Why am I feeling this way when many people respond to loss so differently? How is it that I’m happy, even now? Could those years of laughter yoga and spiritual training actually be working, or is there more to it than that?

My current lifework

Answering these questions has become my passion. My lifework is now dedicated to sharing how I navigated the days, months and years after my beloved’s death, and how I experience her presence in my daily life. I have been closely witnessing my internal process all along, and I come to you after many moons of writing and meditating, of reading and researching, of having honest conversations and counseling others.

Overall, my focus remains the same as it has for over twenty years – on personal and social transformation. It’s both ironic and only natural that exploring death and dying is an extension of the laughter and healing work Kate and I did together. To me, it’s all about learning to choose inner peace and joy, to shift our energy, and to accept “what is” while envisioning what’s possible. It’s about learning what it means to be fully alive, both in these human bodies and beyond them.

I’m honored to share with you the practices, perspectives and resources that have most supported my well-being over the past number of years. And I’m excited to offer new insights I gain along the way. May they be of value to you and those you love.

In service,
Jennifer

PS – Please comment on my blog posts so that we can be in conversation. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences!

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5 thoughts on “About

  1. I came to see Death Makes Life Possible in Ithaca this past week. I really enjoyed it. The group discussion afterwards was very nice too. I’m not too accustomed to speaking in larger groups as was there, so I shied away from that. Anyways, part of what brought to to see the film was the passing of my father…which was almost 13 years ago, but in the past few years I’ve felt more “connected” to him. He visits me in my dreams, it’s beautiful 🙂
    Thanks again for facilitating the event. You’re a lovely soul. 🙂
    When I read about you being a Yoga Laughter instructor, it reminded me of something I read recently…’We learn to laugh before we learn to talk.’. I had never thought about that before, but it’s absolutely true! Take care.
    Carole

    • Hello Carole! Thank you so much for your comments. I understand that not everyone speaks in large groups and so I appreciate you sharing here about your father. My mom died about 13 years ago as well. I love hearing that your father visits you in your dreams. I am hoping for more “dream visitations” myself from various loved ones in my life.

      May you continue to feel connected and to laugh! Yes, interesting about laughing before we talk. That says a lot! Big smiles and gratitude from here. I’m back in northern CA now. Thank you again for attending the film in Ithaca. What a wonderful group of people!

      Warmly,
      Jen

  2. Hi Jennifer, I just love your journey and can relate to you in so many ways. I feel like we would have a lot to talk about. Thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to continuing to connect in the future.

  3. So excited to see the launch of the website! Blessings on this new chapter. I know that we will all benefit greatly from your work. I always learn something, and am moved, when I read what you share. Thank you Jen.

  4. Dear Jen,
    What you are doing is tender and important work. Living as we do in a community of elders, we know that preparing for death is a crucial part of life. If we can learn intellectually and emotionally a new way to understand the profound sense of separation death brings that is truly a gift. May it be so. Blessings to you.
    Lovingly, Sally