Monday, May 30, 2011

Can We Tawk?

Reach out and listen
 No matter what phase of grief you find yourself in, people usually are curious to know if what they are feeling and doing is the "normal" way to handle this kind of situation.  I think this happens because it's generally an accepted social norm that grief is not a subject to be talked about as freely and as frankly as you might discuss other subjects, say food or men.

People don't bring it up because they think it will upset you, they are uncomfortable with their emotions or they just have no idea what to say.  They think they will say the "wrong" thing so they don't bring it up all.  I think it's time to get over it because it's better to say something indicating that you care about this person and what has happened to them, than to ignore the issue altogether.

At some point in your lives, whether you like or not, someone you love deeply or care about a lot is going to die.  Unfortunately, it's just a fact of life.  Even the most OCD person in the whole wide world can't change this from happening.  That's why every day is truly a gift.

It's not a fact that anyone likes to think about or deal with -- myself included -- however, there it is; out there looming for you to either pretend it won't happen to you or you can grab it and own it.

If you grab it, you have to know that it's going to be scary at first.  There's a lot of pain and soul searching involved.  But lots of us have suffered too and we're there right along side of you.  Good strong relationships among family and friends and a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself are essential to overcoming pain and suffering and starting the process of recovery.  You are not alone.

Since we know that different people take different steps in dealing with their grief, here is some insight from food writer Julia Turshen that I hope you will agree is touching and helpful.  Turshen recently wrote about her father's grief on the website, Goop.  Here is her story:

"After the passing of my grandfather this past spring, I spent some time at home.  My family spent the immediate week deep in grief and in the strange, calm love that trails its way through grief.  One morning, days after the funeral and all the rituals we're prescribed to deal with such a huge loss, I was sitting in my parents' living room, the one my father so precisely and affectionately designed, flipping through a book.

My father came in and we talked for a moment, everything copacetic.  He was on his way out of the room when he paused ever so slightly.  He didn't say anything, there was just hesitation in his movement.  I asked him if he was okay and he replied that he was having a hard time.  I had nothing to say.  My father had just lost his parent and was experiencing an enormous vacancy that nothing could or ever will replace; the only possible comfort, it seemed, was the knowledge of the wonder that once filled the space.

It suddenly hit me that this wasn't my parent in front of me nor was it my closest friend (though he is both things).  This was someone's child and, beyond that, what he is to me was just taken from him.  In this realization, in this pretty straightforward but somehow profound realization, I hugged my father and he cried for quite awhile.  I don't know how long we stood there, it doesn't matter.  What matters is how safe we both felt, how honest and unabashed that exchange was."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Change, Changed & Changing

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
-- Author James Baldwin

Isn't it tiresome being a one-person team?  Don't you wish that sometimes you could delegate all of your errands and responsibilities to someone else?  Please, please don't make me.......

I would love to be irresponsible; not permanently, but just for a short amount of time.  I would love to take a break from the constant decision making and problem solving; to get in the car and drive somewhere and escape for a bit.

Please join me if you feel, as I do, that you are constantly bombarded with so much stuff that you feel as though you have become an air traffic controller trying to figure out which thing gets to land first and get your immediate attention and which thing gets to fly around for a little while longer.

There was a point in my life when I felt that every day I was being forced to learn something new and it was not limited to technology.  It was pervasive.  That doesn't exist so much now but every once in while it returns.  I start to get slightly anxious if my car needs work or something breaks in the house because I know things usually happen in twos or threes.  That's when I try to figure out what is going to break down next.  Whether it's the computer, the telephone, the television, the car or just something else in my house, nothing seems to operate the way it used to.

In my mind, I mentally live out some of the things that I know I shouldn't do.  Maxing out the credit card, driving too fast, swearing all the time, getting drunk, eating whatever you want; what fun that would be!!  And then I jolt myself back to reality.  Get real, girl, I tell myself, you know you need to pay some bills.

Yes, good 'ole reality; that splash of cold water in the face that you aren't expecting.  It's all about growth isn't it?

Being an adult can be a drag but hidden in each one of those mind-numbing problems comes the confidence-boosting realization that you can finally get on the other side of it and do it....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Discovering Kris Carr

A relative who is also a close friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and she introduced me to the awesome books written by New York Times best-selling author Kris Carr.  I don't know how I missed her but I am now totally taken with her philosophy of assessing your personal priorities in order to successfully battle cancer and become a "wellness warrior."

Carr's blueprint for self-examination helps you to take stock of how much you actually exercise (not enough), what you actually eat (room for improvement) and what you should eat (more veggies) to how much stress (too much) and fun (not enough) exists in your life.  Kris Carr is all about empowerment plus she mixes it up with a fantastic sense of humor using terms such as "cancer posse" to describe those who have helped and supported her since her diagnosis, "CanSer babes" referring to herself and other women united in the battle against cancer and "Froot Loop mentality" noting the lack of nutrition in the standard American diet that is chock full of processed and sugar ridden foods.

I have never been diagnosed with cancer and I pray to God that I never am, but I am also fully aware of the risks of cancer in my family.  Relatives on both my mother and father's side of the family have fought various cancers and sadly, some have lost the fight.

But you don't have to be a cancer patient to appreciate and take advantage of Carr's information.  I immediately found her positive attitude and approach to life incredibly uplifting and was also struck by how adaptable her philosophy could be for people who are in various stages of grieving.  Reading the "Crazy Sexy Cancer" book series could recharge your inner you and perhaps give you a friendly kick in the butt to move yourself forward.  I know it did  for me.

Just to fill you in a bit about Carr, she was diagnosed with a rare and incurable stage 4 cancer in December 2003.  Doctors said chemotherapy, radiation and surgery could not help her.  "This whiskey tango foxtrot moment (that's military lingo for WTF?!) sparked a deep desire in me to stop holding back and start living like I mean it!," Carr said.  She then went on a deep healing pilgrimage and discovered a nutrient dense plant-based diet that put her in remission.

Carr has an amazing talent for crystalizing thoughts about life.  A sentence which immediately jumped off the page for me was: "Catastrophic moments in life force you to focus in on the immediate."  Wow!!  Is that ever true!!!  Everything shifts when you are handling a trauma and things that you once thought were important get deleted from your priority list.  You only have so much energy and you find that it has to be directed towards the catastrophic event in your life, not the things that drain you.

Being diagnosed with cancer is certainly a catastrophic and traumatic moment as is the death of a loved one.  When either of these things sadly occurs, you are feeling so many things at once it's hard to get a grip on what is happening to you.  That is why Carr's take-charge attitude is so helpful.  Ask for help, find help, keep looking for help and eventually your situation has got to improve if not physically, then mentally.

Another sentence in Carr's books that grabbed my attention was: "When you are living like you mean it, you are a force of nature."  It's very difficult in the beginning of grief to live your life like it means anything because you are in pain and have no enthusiasm.  At that point, all the cards have been thrown up in the air and you have no idea which way to go or what to do.  It's enough to throw on some clothes, try to eat and maybe go to the grocery store or call a friend....and sometimes the day turns into a lot of time spent sitting and staring at family pictures and wondering what happened.  That's okay too because it's all part of the healing process. 

Create your own pace and slowly, and I do mean slowly, you will begin to feel that it's possible to put one foot in front of the other and, as Kris Carr says, you will meet yourself and begin a new journey.

Friday, May 13, 2011

There Is A Season (Turn, Turn,Turn)

"Turn! Turn! Turn!," a classic pop song performed by the Byrds in the 1960's, has been playing in my mind recently.  The music was written by Pete Seeger and the lyrics were adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

Maybe it's the change in seasons dovetailing with graduations, weddings, engagements and milestone birthdays, but it feels as though the times, they are a changin'.

A time to be born, a time to die,
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time time to weep

My relatives and friends are transitioning into new chapters in their lives and it's exciting to watch as the occasions are marked with "pomp and circumstance," rings and vows and lots and lots of birthday candles.

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn,Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

These events also remind me that life doesn't wait for you to get yourself together.  Whether you're ready or not, it's going to "keep on keeping on" and that's just the way that it is.
As a friend of my husband's used to say, "Life is not a dress rehearsal.  It's the real deal baby."
There are going to be many times when you need to take a break from the daily rush of life's activities after you have lost a loved one.  You'll need that break to evaluate what's happened, and slowly rebuild something new for yourself.  There may be many people who are uncomfortable with your grieving and want you to "get back to normal."
But guess what? 
There is no "normal" and you're not on anyone else's schedule.  No matter where you are in the process, you'll find that life is still out there waiting for you to jump back in and join it again.

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

You will always have your memories.  No one can change those for you.  It is important to hold onto them but not in an obsessive way.  Sadness may still exist for you, but with time you will gain more control over your emotions and become more confident about which way to go.

To Everything (Turn,Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn,Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mom is "WOW" Upside Down

Happy Mother's Day to my Mom and all the incredible Moms, GrandMoms and other women around the globe who do the most important job in the world!!  Some of you out there may disagree, but I challenge you to find another job that comes close to being as rewarding.

If your Mom is no longer with you, I hope the loving memories you have of her make you smile today.

Being a Mom is the journey of a lifetime.  From the bottom of my heart, I have cherished every minute of being a mother to my son who is now in college.  I will forever hold in my memory bank the moment when my husband and I first heard the heartbeat of our baby in the doctor's office during a sonagram.  All of my protective instincts instantly kicked into gear and it was a spontaneous bond that has and will last a lifetime.

When my son was about two years old, we were at the beach and my husband and I took him to an amusement park on the boardwalk.  We saw the ride where the small boats in shallow water go around in a circle and so did our son.  He loves the water and he really wanted to go on the ride so we buckled him into his boat and watched as he "drove" the boat around and around.  Of course, we waved every time we saw him as did all the other Moms and Dads.  As I watched the other parents making faces, waving and yelling to their children, I also recognized something else in that look; that loving and letting go look; that bittersweet moment of realizing that their babies were doing something on their own and that the moments with them were starting to go a little bit too fast.

Yes, being a mother is similiar to riding a rollercoaster but that's the beauty of it.  Taking care of and nurturing a child, guiding a child to know right from wrong, watching it develop and grow into an independent young adult is truly a wonderous thing.  Don't get me wrong.  There were plenty of times when I thought my brain would to turn to jello if I had to change another diaper, explain why we couldn't do something, wipe another nose or wait for sleep to finally arrive.  Do they ever sleep?  Do they ever stop talking or making messes?

Noooo, because they are children........And then, out of the blue, you get a big, messy spontaneous hug or kiss planted on you and

One of the most surprisingly things I have experienced as a Mom is that I have learned from my son.  Mothering is definitely a two-way street.  I constantly see life through his fresh eyes and I am exposed to a point of view that sometimes makes me reconsider mine.  He has helped me temper my innate impatience -- and that is no small feat -- and most of all, he gave me a reason to rebuild my life after his father died.

For my own wonderful mother, I say "THANK YOU, THANK YOU" for continuously giving your patience, wisdom, generosity and the biggest gift of all -- your unconditional love.  I have no idea how you have found the time and energy to continuously juggle the needs and wants of six children who were born so close together that there is only seven years between the oldest child and the youngest child.  But you've done a first-class job and you have earned a special place in my heart and the hearts of my siblings.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Connecting The Dots

Grief is a lot of work.  I know that sounds ridiculous but it's true.

And some days I just don't want to deal with it.  Or be reminded of it.

Those days would especially include when I have to fill out a government or school form for my son or myself and instead of writing his father's name, I have to write in "deceased."  That hurts.  Or I get to pick from the selections of my status: single, married, divorced or widowed.  After eight years, you would think I would be used to answering these questions but it still pulls me up short.  It's really amazing how a question on a form can go to the heart of your being, even when you know that your life is so much more than the answer you give to that question.

My son's father is no longer living but that doesn't mean he didn't have one.  But if I write in his father's name then they will think he's still alive, which is not true.  So what brilliant person came up with a form that instantly negates such an important person in your life?

And I REALLY don't want to deal with it when someone I know comes up to me in the grocery store and asks, "Are you still working?  Really?  When are you going to stop?"  My first inclination is to ask them if they know about some pot of gold nearby where I can fill up my purse and haul ass to the bank but then I stop myself and try to put together some kind of polite response so I don't blow a gasket or sound like a marytr.

Let me connect a few dots:  grief knocks you down, beats you up and then goes on its merry way to touch someone else's life.  You are left in it's wake wishing you could talk or touch the person who has died.  There's a longing for a loved one's presence to share an emotion, whether it's love, laughter or even anger.  And then again, grieving can sometimes just be one long, hard slog of a fight to keep it all together and move forward.   One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.....

There is no formula for grieving because each person is unique and everyone adapts to loss differently.  I've often thought that life would be a lot easier if there was a "Rule Book for Happy Living" in the "Big Library of Life" where everyone could refer to it in times of crisis.  Hmmmmmm, let's see. . . How can I know that this is the right person for me?  How do I get over a breakup?  Should I take this job or not?  And the big question today -- How can I continue to rebuild my life and recover from a loved one's death?

Unfortunately, such a book does not exist anywhere that I know of.  If you happen to find it, please let me know.  Since nothing seems to prepare you for the process of grieving, trial and error seems to be the way that most people make their way through the pain.  In the meantime, we're all in this together and we can try to learn from each other's experiences, taking strength from what we need. 

The way you deal with losing a loved one depends on your personality, how long you were married or living together, what your economic situation was, whether you have children or not and if you have a career or not.  That's a lot of variables and I think that's good because despite other people's expectations, it gives everyone a lot of room to find their comfort zone in dealing with their situation their own way. 

Ultimately, you will find your own way, and make the best decisions you can, based on the circumstances of what you are facing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Twin Towers, the Pentagon & Flight 93

When President Obama officially announced on television late last night that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, my thoughts went immediately to the relatives and friends of the thousands of people whose lives were lost in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and Flight 93.

For almost ten years, these people have been trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together so that they may heal and perhaps build some kind of a future after having their loved ones violently taken from them.
I wondered how and what they were feeling now that bin Laden was confirmed dead:  relief, closure, happiness; maybe all of those things at the same time.  I'm pretty sure that as time has passed and each anniversary has been publicly marked, these relatives and friends have probably experienced every phase of grief and gone back again.
There is no official resting place for many of those lost in the catastrophic events of that day.  There is no cemetery marker for them to visit because there wasn't a body to claim and bury.  There is only the hallowed destinations of Ground Zero, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed.

Firemen, policemen, window washers, waiters, stockbrokers, investment bankers, pilots and flight attendants; all were living their lives and carrying out their normal daily routines unaware of the destruction ahead; unaware of Osama bin Laden's evil plan.  As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on the one-year anniversary:  ''They were our neighbors, our husbands, our children, our sisters, our brothers, and our wives. They were our countrymen and our friends. They were us.'' 

And the lives of those left behind to grieve were forever changed.

Each person who loses a loved one eventually comes to understand that they are on a personal journey that has no single path or prescribed time line.  Eventually, resilience can be learned and acquired for life.  Doctors say that good, strong relationships among family and friends and a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself are essential in overcoming pain and suffering and starting the process of recovery.

Just as everyone remembers where they were when the tragic events of September 11, 2001 started  to take place,  most Americans will now also remember how they heard the long anticipated news that Osama bin Laden had finally been found and killed.  Neighbors and colleagues I talked to were filled with mixed emotions.  Initially, they were happy but then on reflection they were filled with sadness and fear for they said they know that the finality of this act for bin Laden doesn't put an end to the possibility of more acts of terrorism.

In Rome today, The Vatican issued a statement that came surprisingly close to striking the right tone:  "Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose."

"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."