lesson to be learned from My
Compass, Our Story is that
if you do not bring forth what is within you it will destroy you but
if you bring forth what is within you it will save you. Read on and
prepare yourself for life.”
~ Bernie Siegel, MD
A Book of Miracles and Love,
Animals & Miracles
man’s journey from heartbreak to healing told in a personal,
conversational style. You get the feeling you are reading an
unfiltered private diary. This book does not pretend to be a piece of
great literature. But if you want to look through an open window into
the heart and soul of a man trying to come to terms with loss, this
book is perfect for you. Each of us will, in time, have to cross many
of the same bridges the author has crossed in this book. He seems to
know this and is gentle with the reader. I appreciated the book and
found it to be an easy read covering a topic that has no easy parts.”
~ Rev. Bob Luckin, DD
Russell reminds us that when we feel torn apart, due to the death of
a loved one or friend, must go through the various stages of grief.
Through his experiences, insights, humor, connection to his beloved
wife, Barb who died, and his poetry he weaves together a tapestry of
love, truth, wisdom, and healing. This is a must-read for all who are
~ Sharon Lund author
Sacred Living Sacred Dying: A Guide
to Embracing Life and Death
an important book. And
not just for men, either. As I read, I saw that so much of the book’s
wisdom also applies to women who find themselves in grief and not
fully functioning. Further, I felt the book’s contents would be
useful even if the adult who had passed was not a spouse but a
parent, or a brother or sister.
found the poetry interspersed throughout to be beautiful and thought
provoking; a pleasant surprise, considering I don’t normally choose
to read poetry!
short, My Compass, Our Story
is a worthy and valuable addition to adults grieving the loss of
~ Lynette M. Smith, author
How to Write Heartfelt Letters to
“Mike Russell’s writing is brave,
authentic, inspired, descriptive, and peppered with sage advice for
anyone healing from the loss a loved one. His lessons
are insightful, wise, and touching.”
~ Rev. Judy Winkler,
New View New Life (a prison ministry)
COMPASS, OUR STORY
Journey Through Death and Life
Compass, Our Story
Journey Through Death and Life
© 2017 Mike Russell
ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may
not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to
share this book with another person, please purchase an additional
copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not
purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please
return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
design: Ardel Chisholm, LincMedia Design
by Steve Arndt
Found God Within
2—Men Don’t Cry
Need to Be Sad
4—The New Normality
5—The Dreaded Question
Day in Time
to the Wind
8—Different but All the Same
Puzzle of Life
Tried to Tell Me
10—Out of the Cave
11—Into the Parade
14—Surviving the Twists and Turns
15—The Voice of Reason
Are with Me
16—Those Little Moments
17—Connecting and Reflecting
Know Someone Loves You
18—The End and the Beginning
Quote From Archangel Raphael
I would like to
dedicate this book to the memory of Barbara Grace Russell, whose soul
purpose was to create a nuclear family through which she could use
her talents of organization, encouragement, and direction. Her love
resides within all her family and will extend out through the
generations. She was there for me when I needed it most, and through
her spiritual communication, she helped lead me out of the fog of
grief. Thank you, my loving friend and partner.
relationship with Mike Russell began more than thirty-five years ago,
in the small community of Mt. Angel, Oregon. Mike was an
up-and-coming banker, and I was the principal of the local grade
school. Our families met and immediately began an enduring friendship
that has spanned years of career moves, family additions, and life
altering changes, including the death of a child and a spouse. Each
of us deals with hard times in different ways, and Mike is no
different. The book that Mike has written focuses on his spiritual,
mental, and physical journey, and how he navigated life’s route,
which was completely re-coursed after the January 2009 death of his
wife, Barbara. He hopes people can use his book to assist them in
their own life journey, especially when that passage suddenly takes
an unwanted turn.
December is usually the time when
people make resolutions based on what took place the prior year. I am
sure at Christmas in 2008 Mike was busily formulating resolutions
that focused on his family and his work, the wild and crazy mortgage
market. According to the New
York Times, the following
were top five New Year’s resolutions that year:
1. Spend more time with family
2. Lose weight
3. Get fit
4. Quit a bad habit
5. Enjoy life more
December turned into January, and his
2009 resolutions were dashed with the unexpected death of his wife.
Nowhere on the list was “Deal with the death of a spouse” or
“Nurture six young adult children on one’s own”—both daunting
scenarios made exponentially worse when working in tandem. Instead of
focusing on resolutions, Mike was forced to face the stark reality
that his wife, the mother of their children and the rock of their
relationship, would no longer be the person he had been awakening
beside each morning. While the rest of the world (or so it probably
seemed to Mike) was trying to figure out how to spend more time with
family, shed those few pounds, and find new ways to enjoy life, Mike
was thrust into the unenviable position of widower, making him the
sole decision maker, caretaker of teens still at home, nurturer of
other young adult children, and breadwinner. Mike had little time for
himself and for dealing with his own feelings, as the immediate needs
and care of his family were more pressing.
Life does not come with an instruction
book to see us through turmoil and crises. No amount of college
courses taken for degree completion prepares a person for challenges
faced when grave misfortune strikes. Mike has written this book to
share his journey, in hopes that others can learn from his
experiences. Yet he admits that no two people grieve the same way or
at the same pace. In the Five Stages of Grief, it states people must
go through the following steps when dealing with a life-changing
Mike writes that it took him almost
five years to get through these stages—more years than many, yet
fewer than some. Mike has a unique way of blending prose with poetry
and uses life examples to illustrate how he learned to cope with the
death of a spouse, regroup, and eventually recover. After coming to
accept the hand put before him, with help of a spiritual angel, Mike
has since embarked on a new path.
The journey to publish this guidebook
began as a blog—a personal and therapeutic release for Mike. As the
months passed, he slowly transitioned through the stages of grief,
and the blog morphed into this book. It does not tell you how to
survive a crisis; rather, it speaks to what he found as personal
comfort and solace during his walk through this dark period. Mike
knows the book is not intended to remove the difficult or bleak
episodes from our lives but rather shed light on seeking a new and
Mike Russell speaks from the depths of
his soul, offers heart-wrenching lexis, and gives comfort to his
readers. Read the words and take from them what you will and what you
need. Good luck in your personal journey, and may you find peace and
comfort by using and internalizing what Mike has written.
Arndt, author of
Less Traveled in Oregon
Senior Associate Professor, Warner
Grace Russell was my compass and my guide. I knew it the first time I
met her. Barb was the love of my life for thirty-four years. We did
pretty much everything together. After she fell ill, I became so
caught up in the day-to-day, downward physical deterioration of her
body that I did not truly acknowledge the reality of what was
happening. I was unaware of how close her death really was. I cannot
say that if I had taken my head out of the sand, I would have been
able to change anything; but I do look back with sadness and some
guilt. We tend to think that, had we known, we could have changed
something to create a different outcome. Reality tells us
differently. No matter how much we love someone, it is easy to get
stuck in the rut of life and to follow the direction you have been
pointed in while hoping for the best.
* * *
Death is so final and complicated in
its emotional impact on a person.
Remembering back to the day she died
is like a brilliant flash of light. Barb died of a massive heart
attack brought on by complications from Type 2 diabetes. To me,
diabetes is a very destructive, heat-seeking missile. It weakens the
body into submission. Even though Barb had been diagnosed only a
couple of years before her death, she was already following most of
the prescribed medical regimen for patients with the condition. There
were so many pills for so many things going wrong in her body that
when I look back on it, I realize she didn’t have a chance. You
know the old saying, “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
She knew where it was headed more than any of us did. After all, she
was a retired nurse with a lot of knowledge in this area.
Back in 1975, we were both working at
the Arizona Children’s Hospital. One day I looked up from a desk
where I was working as a ward clerk and saw a petite blonde with
beautiful eyes staring me in the face. She asked me how old I was.
One simple question. After my reply, she turned around and walked
away. I laughed out loud after I got over the surprise. It turns out
she had been put up to it as a bet by one of the other nurses. And
that was it. I was hooked. Right then and there, I forgot about
getting dumped by another girl and ended up falling hard for this
nurse. I was only twenty years old. We married the following year and
spent the next thirty-plus years creating a large family, mostly
while living in Oregon.
I think it would help for you to know
Barb better. She was the ultimate mother. Motherhood was what her
soul strived for. We had seven children. Our first son died at ten
days old from a heart problem, and I think that event sent us on the
large family route. Honestly, we never thought we would have more
than two kids. It’s kind of funny what happens along life’s
journey. I spoke at Barb’s funeral about how she would have been
mortified to have so many people make a fuss of her. At the same time
she would have been so pleased by all the love shown by those in
My wife was a kind and gentle woman
who loved me and our children without exception, no matter what we
did. She coached us all in her unique, encouraging way. Barb knew all
our personalities and worked within each of our quirks to help make
us who we are today. Don’t get me wrong. Perfection is not what I
am alluding to here. What I am saying is that Barb was most
comfortable in her role as a mother, even though it drove her crazy
at times. She was very good at motherhood.
I, on the other hand, can only admire
her because I definitely do not excel at being the mom now that she
is gone. However, I have had to learn to take on the role. Let me
tell you, it has a very steep learning curve. What a person can take
for granted in someone until he or she isn’t around anymore is
amazing, and you think, “Oh my God. How am I supposed to pull this
off?” Hopefully, this helps explain who Barb was and why I would
expect nothing else than for her to continue to guide me as my
This book is about the journey I have
been on since Barb died. It is about my highs and lows, my successes
and failures, the connections, and the letting go. I really do not
think this text could have been written without the strong bond
between Barb and me. The interwoven connections we had through our
life together have made possible all the things that have happened
since her death. Existing in total grief is all-consuming.
Right after Barb’s funeral, I felt a
need to get to our favorite beach in Manzanita, Oregon. I went with
my two daughters and one of their friends. I was in a complete fetal
position in the front passenger seat listening to John Denver. You
would have to know our family to realize that because Barb and I were
always John Denver fans, we inspired the kids to be the same. The
group of sad travelers headed to a favorite restaurant along the
Oregon coast. We had beautiful weather, but all the while I was being
spiritually driven to get to our coast house in Nehalem. I needed to
be by myself on the beach in Manzanita. To be driven to do anything
at the time seemed odd. I certainly was not functioning at any level
that could be considered normal. However, I could not get it out of
my head that I had to be on that beach as soon as possible. I
remember pushing the group north along the coast and telling them I
was going to drop them off at the house and head to the beach alone.
It is hard to make clear what a
powerful pull was being placed on me to get to Manzanita beach at
that time. I could feel nothing. I was completely numb. My eyes were
swollen from crying beyond what I thought was a rational amount of
time. It is surprising I was able to drive myself there, given that I
had no sense of awareness about me. When I got out of the car, I
immediately and intuitively headed to the north end of the beach. I
remember standing at the shore’s edge and being devoid of any kind
of emotion or strength within my body. Then I let loose tears I
didn’t think I had in me anymore. Without warning, I became angry.
I know it is one of the stages of grief, but I think over the next
hour, I went through every stage of grief simultaneously.
Basically, I let Barb have it for
leaving me so suddenly. How could she leave me after we had shared
such a genuine connection over the last thirty-four years? If you
knew me, you would know I do not usually get angry. I heard Barb tell
a friend one day that you could count on one hand the number of times
I had truly been angry in our marriage. Well, this was one of those
times. I remember looking around, and although there were a few
people nearby on the beach, I seemed to be invisible to those people
who were enjoying the beach. I looked at one woman, and it was like
she was looking up the beach and straight through me. I ranted and
raved. I finally demanded in a voice I did not recognize that I could
not do this without her. I told Barb she had to continue to be with
me and communicate with me because I was not going to be able to go
on without her. As if that weren’t enough, I then demanded she show
me that she was listening. Until that point, I had looked around the
beach and not seen anything on the sand—no shells, no rocks,
nothing. I walked toward the end of the beach, and at that very
moment, I noticed a sand dollar. I bent down and picked it up. And
then another. And another.
Nothing had been in sight just moments
before, and I said aloud, “If this is you, Barb, and this is your
sign, you’re going to need to give me nine shells.” In my mind,
nine was the number of people in our family; seven children and two
parents. Right on cue, that is exactly what happened. As I walked and
picked up these sand dollars, I had exactly nine in my hand. There
were no other sand dollars on the beach. I started to relax, thinking
Barb was listening, and I was embarrassed about my display of
I arrived at the rocks toward the end
of the beach after putting all the sand dollars in my pocket. I felt
some relief with these tokens. I took one step on a mossy boulder,
and I remember my legs flying straight up in the air and coming down
hard on the sand. Feeling clumsy, with my dignity nowhere to be
found, I got to my feet and brushed the sand off myself. I seemed to
be in one piece. It suddenly dawned on me that I had the sand dollars
in my pocket. When I slid my hand in to feel them, I found they had
shattered into dust. I laughed aloud, thinking Barb was playing a
joke on me. After regaining my composure, I spoke to Barb again and
told her that I understood her ironic humor. However, because I was a
visual person, which she knew, she was going to have to provide me
nine more sand dollars on my walk back down the beach. I was
thinking, “That’ll show her,” because I already knew the
stretch of beach I had just walked was completely barren.
I started hiking back, and almost
immediately a sand dollar appeared in front of me, then another, and
another. I had now collected eight more sand dollars that had
appeared out of nowhere, but I was one short of nine. I asked Barb to
give me a special one. Then the “Miracle of Manzanita” appeared
in front of my right foot. I saw a sand dollar that had the complete
carved picture of a figure in it.
To me it appeared as a perfectly
carved picture of what I thought was Barb with her arms outstretched.
I was suddenly not angry anymore. I very carefully picked up this
miracle and cradled it in my hand. I was sure if I let it go, it
would get hurt and no one would ever believe what had just happened.
I immediately found a sizable log of driftwood, carefully laid out
the sand dollars, and photographed them with my camera. Being a
visual type of person and getting this kind of response from Barb
allowed me to believe that she was listening to my pleas and really
was going to help me through this struggle.
I made it back to the house and retold
the story for my family many times. I was unable to get through it
without becoming extremely emotional. Whenever I told this story, I
would bring the special sand dollar out at the end and show it to
anyone listening. Everyone else thought the final sand dollar looked
like an angel outline. I can accept this interpretation because I now
know Barb is my guardian angel and guide.
From that point on, the number nine
became a very important number in my life; so much so, that when I
see the number nine, it often means some form of communication with
Barb is about to transpire. I would awaken at various times from
sleep with thoughts involving some combination of the number nine.
Sometimes I had to ignore it just to get some sleep.
Months went by as I walked and talked
my way through my grief. In June 2009, on a long walk through
downtown Hillsboro, Oregon, words started leaping into my head. No
matter what I did, I could not get rid of or ignore them, so I made
my way to a coffee shop, where I borrowed a pen, took a napkin, and
wrote down the words. This was the first poem I ever wrote. The words
hit me like a ton of bricks.
Poetry is definitely not my thing. I
have never enjoyed poetry, written any, or really even liked to read
it. But now, on these walks of mine, I was being flooded with words.
The poems would come in pieces or in
complete form. At first, it was irritating. It then became a dutiful
requirement for me to carry paper and pen on every stroll. I probably
looked silly, walking around town while writing and not paying
attention to where I was walking. Luckily, I tripped only a few
times. Some days I would write ten poems on a five-mile walk, and
others, I would be focused on one specific piece. I refer to this as
a cosmic joke, knowing that Barb was the inspiration for what was
coming through. I had asked for a continued connection and guidance,
and I realized now that I might not have been specific enough. The
joke was to give me poems to write down because it was well known
that it was not my forte. I realized these poems were important, but
I really did not know what to do with them. I kept putting them into
a pile, thinking my job was done by simply writing them down for
A close friend and I went to see the
movie Julie and Julia.
In the film is a screenshot of the blog site that she was using to
communicate about her trip with Julia Child. I immediately thought I
was supposed to use that medium in some way for these poems. After I
got home and did some research, I created my blog. This was during
September 2009. I figured I already had enough poems written to last
a couple of years if I posted one a week. The same friend, who had
seen the movie with me, suggested I write something about my journey
in relation to losing Barb. At this point, I was listening to people
and following signs that were in front of me. The first blog was
created to change weekly and to include a journey entry that focused
on what I was feeling that week.
It has evolved from a painful reminder
to an enjoyable outlet, not only for what I feel and think but also
as a way for me to communicate with other people who are grieving.
Plenty of books tell a great deal about bereavement and grief.
However, I believe the personal day-to-day experience of grief from a
man’s perspective is missing in our literature. I am a man with
feelings, and I have been through a tremendously difficult and
awe-inspiring time of my life. I am not ashamed of my feelings. I
believe society puts too much pressure on us, particularly men, to
bottle them up and move on.
Along this path, I have been inspired,
I believe by my deceased wife, to write poetry about life and death,
living and loving. I have no doubt about where this drive and content
come from. To be honest, whether anyone else believes it really does
not matter because faith transcends and allows me to continue on this
journey. I have met some really wonderful people along the way who
identify with the loss process. I have been given enough feedback to
believe Barb and I are, indeed, on the right path and this project
can help other people traveling down a road similar to mine. In
addition to the poetry and blogs that were written during this
period, I was also inspired to reach out and write a book about my
best friend at the time, who was an intuitive and angelic energy
Through our time together, I became
acquainted with Archangel Raphael, who is channeled through Trisha
Michael. Because of this growing interest and relationship with a
need to seek another answer, I asked Archangel Raphael to provide
input for this book in the hopes he would be able to provide a thread
that would tie the timeframe and grief process together. The result
was his direct quotes for each chapter, which provide a platform of
what transpires in that timeframe. After I received these quotes, the
thread provided turned out to be so simple that I had not recognized
it at first.
He gives his input to weave love
throughout the timeline of this book, by providing his special words
to this human experience we all go through at one point or another.
As with all of Archangel Raphael’s messages, he shares love over
and over again. I call this the “Thread of Love.”
So what you end up with is an angelic
quote, personal experiences that cover a period from death to life,
and inspired poetry—all wrapped up in a ribbon. May the quotes of
Archangel Rafael and the following love story—consisting of my
prose contributions and the poetry Barb inspired—give you peace,
and may you enter the light a new and renewed soul.
The journey begins with a crack of
light in great darkness.
Shining light eternally forth
to remember the embrace of Love.
comes in many forms. You may be inspired to take a walk, build a
backyard memorial, or write something. In my case, inspiration has
allowed me to do all of these. My wife is my inspiration. Since her
passing on January 29, 2009, I was inspired to write poetry. I am
sure this has happened to other people, but if you knew me, it would
come as a total surprise. I am going to be honest. I grew up not
liking or reading poetry. So my writing poetry can be considered to
be a kind of cosmic joke. I believe it is Barb’s way of getting me
outside of my comfort zone and ready to do other things.
I have never studied how to compose
poetry, what is proper, or whether it is worth reading. What I can
promise is these poems were all given to me with love and intention.
The verses or titles flash in my mind and do not let go until I write
them down. Once I do write them down, I typically forget them. I do
not even remember them an hour later. I know they are coming from a
source outside of me. I find this to be extremely comforting or scary
depending on how I want to view it. I hope these poems will bring
comfort where needed and, most of all, will show that love crosses
all boundaries. Be open, be loved, and know you are not alone.
She lit up my world,
directed my dreams,
and gave me love even
if I did not deserve it.
She came in peace,
and died with love,
sending us all on paths of our own.
She gave to everyone,
The beam of light that she is now,
will change the world
for the better.
* * *
For me, when Barb died, it was like a
light went out. I remember feeling like every cell in my body was
drained of energy. I felt lifeless, non-emotional, cold, and
hopeless, rather like the marionette that hung in my closet when I
was a kid. My form was here, but nothing within me was working.
You are my light
you are my soul
you are me.
You are right
you are wrong
you are me.
You are love
you are fear
you are me.
You are my light
you are my soul
you are me.
* * *
In the early days following Barb’s
death, simple things like walking were difficult. I tried walking
around one block and could hardly move my legs. My mind was trying
really hard to take one step at a time, but my body was not
reacting. I believe there is a very powerful disconnect between your
senses, your body, and your mind. I am not sure if it is protective
The compass guides us where we need
the compass saves us from getting
the compass brings us back to where
All directions lead to you;
with the compass’s help, the
journey is easy.
It does not matter which direction
you will always be able to find
Without the compass
I will get lost,
my life will become foggy,
my meaning will disappear.
You are my compass.
You right me when I am wrong,
you lead me where I need to go,
you save me from myself.
No matter what direction I go,
whether it is east, west, north, or
I know that you will be with me
and forever be my compass.
* * *
One day, about nine months after Barb
left us, I looked at Jack, our dog, and said aloud, “This is
ridiculous.” Right then, I knew if I did not make a choice to walk
farther and faster, I was literally going to die. I believe, when we
lose someone close, we all get to the point of making the choice to
live or die.
That walk changed my life. While I was
on that first long walk, my first poem came streaming in and would
not get out of my head until I wrote it down. Unfortunately, I did
not have a pen and paper and had to keep saying it over and over for
two miles until I made it to a downtown Starbucks and could borrow a
pen and take a napkin. I was greatly relieved to put the following
words to paper.
I Found GOD Within
I found GOD in the wind
I found GOD in the sun
I found GOD in the water
I found GOD in the sky
I found GOD within
I found GOD in death
I found GOD in life
I found GOD in tears
I found GOD in laughter
I found GOD within
I found GOD in a dog’s eye
I found GOD in a cat’s call
I found GOD in a flower
I found GOD in silence
I found GOD within
I found GOD in the ocean
I found GOD in the mountains
I found GOD in the streams
I found GOD in the deserts
I found GOD within
I found GOD in a book
I found GOD in music
I found GOD in meditation
I found GOD in the light
I found GOD within
I found GOD in fear
I found GOD in love
I found GOD in pain
I found GOD in work
I found GOD within
* * *
Walking farther and faster each day
allowed me to talk to Barb. I got angry. I told her I loved her and
demanded more, sometimes in the same sentence. I think when we are in
the middle of grief, we humans think we can control everything by
doing what we always do. What we do not realize is that grieving is
one of those times when we can no longer have any control over what
matters the most. The fog I was in did not seem quite as dense,
allowing me to get glimpses of reality outside of myself.
Why is it when you cannot find
it is staring you in the face.
Why is it when you need an answer,
you do not hear it being whispered
Why is it that when fear takes
love is hiding in the mist.
Why is it when pain takes over,
it is allowed a voice.
Why is it when you see a miracle,
it cannot be seen for what it is.
* * *
Each of my walks took on a life of its
own. Usually, in addition to what was going on in my mind, I was
experiencing some sort of physical pain in my back or my leg. These
long-distance walks were a battle between my stubbornness and my
aging body. Typically, what would happen is I would target a bench at
the halfway mark so I could sit and recuperate. If that doesn’t
make you feel old, nothing will. I understood reaching the bench was
an accomplishment. It not only gave me a goal, but it also allowed me
to find a venue to play in my thoughts.
One on earth, one in spirit,
joined together by a common cause,
to help mankind heal.
Death is not the end,
it is only the beginning.
Working together to produce the
that will help you and me cope.
Never selfish, always true.
The two together give the concert
of the heavens,
that each of us will understand.
So mourn if you must,
grieve until it hurts.
But know that the connection is
* * *
People have moments in their lives
when they are going along minding their own business and a song comes
through, hitting home. You have probably heard it before but not
truly listened. All of a sudden, this song opens a door, and the
words speak directly to you. I call these theme songs. I think, when
you lose someone, you grab on to these theme songs because they not
only touch your heart but move you to a safer place.
One song that did this for me was
Tyrone Wells’ song, “More.” He speaks volumes to me with a few
I think we are all afraid that we
might be alone down here. We all want to have some faith. At least
that’s true in my case to just believe. I’ve seen the heights
reminding me I’m alive. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to
waste another day or night. I know there is something more than what
we are living for.
safe after losing someone in your life is an extraordinary and
profound experience. Allowing yourself this gift of falling into the
theme song will at least give you one moment of calmness and
hopefully the realization that healing is possible.
Sometimes when you hear a song
it can take you away
to places unknown.
A theme song of your life
can relinquish control,
to allow you to dream
of a place that could be real,
or a feeling of security.
Be in the moment
with your current thoughts,
but allow the theme song
to restore your balance for the
are not used to escape