Christopher Lepisto, N.D.MEDICINAL ROOTSGrand Junction Free Press Health & Wellness Columnist

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April 24, 2013
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LEPISTO: Death of a loved one

My best friend, Zachariah Walker, died one week ago this past Wednesday. I had written four previous Free Press columns about his struggle with leukemia, and now suddenly there it is, on the page in front of me, looking back at me like some kind of silent observer waiting to see how I respond.I see the words as they dare me to fully embrace the emotions that stir up, unfettered. The truth is, I feel agonized and sad. He was and is such a catalyst for me, that I now feel a tremendous void in my life. There are many who must be feeling this void, evidenced by the outpouring of appreciation and love coming forth.And so I look back at my first words, feeling again the disbelief that he is gone from physical existence on this planet. I feel the defense of denial and I find myself wondering, what is it that others who knew him are feeling? How are they grieving the passage of this loved one? And how are you the reader dealing with losses in your own life? While I acknowledge that this article is in part a personal catharsis, it is also a ripe opportunity for you to explore your own experience in the most sacred and feared of realms, the process of death and dying.Although grief is a fundamentally solitary experience, there is fascinating wisdom in watching my grief play out. It is in becoming the observer, in witnessing the throes of grief in myself that I am revealed the seeds of transformation. When watching others, in some I am resonating deeply. In others, I am simply viewing their grief process in a distant, compassionate way. And beyond the disbelief of this moment, I have been feeling not only the whitewater of rage, anxiety and agony, but also the calm eddies of relief, humor, peace, joy, celebration and more. What a wondrous, agonizing, divine and terrible experience, all at once. I can see that I am so deeply in this grief process that my objectivity is skewed and my perceptions of reality altered. There is no logic to the emotions present. I have experienced minutes oozing by, often determining with difficulty when recent events occurred. It is an ongoing flow of altered time and space, now verifying what I have heard others describe when a great departure comes. It is a deeply fascinating process, of how I am "hanging" with grief.

So what happens when you lose a loved one? Is it a soul mate, a partner or even a cat, dog or horse, more dearly felt than any human in your life? Studies have shown that everyone grieves differently, as uniquely as each of our lives. People follow (or don't) a course of illogical, irrational and emotional experience that unfurls of its own accord. The text "On Death and Dying" comes to mind, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' pinnacle achievement, which helps to explain some of the normal and common processes that comes with loss - namely, the stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, experienced in no particular order or completeness. We may experience denial that the person has departed as a survival mechanism, feel anger at the abandonment, attempt to bargain that things would have been different "if only," or feel flat out depressed at the injury. Since people sometimes report even more convoluted and wild journeys of grief, just remember that your voyage is distinctly your own.I participate in an online forum at and, skillfully facilitated by local licensed therapists Donna and Stephen BE. It is an incredible resource that I highly recommend. If you need help in understanding your emotional process, which at least 99% of us do, please investigate these rich resources. It is in my personal sessions with Donna that I am learning one tremendous and very valuable lesson; that there is a difference between the process of dying, and the event of death. No matter how much I prepared for Zachariah's departure, it was (and is) a big shock. The mental process that is the preparation for loss is nothing like the tremendous and deeply emotional event that has so decisively affirmed his mortality. Wow, what an experience, and what a teacher it is becoming.

The great author and teacher of "Plant Spirit Medicine," Eliot Cowan, returned into my life yesterday at the wonderful Water Comes First seminar held at the Radio Room. There he revealed that grief itself is the healer. In a poignant moment, he taught that the unrestrained, boundless and welcomed throes of letting it all fall apart become a deep medicine for us. I know that it is not only important to let this process unfold, but also that it is dangerous to attempt to restrain it. Perhaps the Lutheran minister conducting my uncle's funeral said it best by saying: "Now remember to grieve, otherwise it will come out crooked."There is no doubt that the loss of anything of importance in our lives comes with a natural process of hurt and pain. It is also a course of evolution, of which I am just beginning to understand. The effect on my own life and others is so mysterious as to nearly escape description or capture into these words. For this unfolding growth, I am deeply grateful.I miss you, my friend. For those of you who are grieving, I am with you. Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit or call 970-250-4104.

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