Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Compassionate Action

Courtesy of Dave Allen Photography

Thought For The Day

"Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action," according to Daniel Goleman, an author, psychologist and science journalist.

I read this quote recently in a story about empathy in The New York Times and it caught my attention.

Compassionate action.
It reminds me of the Jesuit concept of social justice, which is acting on something you may see or feel that is happening to another person and then getting involved to try to change it for the better.  
To me, compassionate action means not only putting yourself into another person's feelings but feeling it to the point that you want to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, or suffering a loss of some sort.
It's something to think about.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

It's one thing to forget to turn your cell phone off and then have it ring while you are in church, in a job interview, at a funeral or in a theater, but it takes some major manipulation of a person's ego to actually answer it while they are in those places.
Someone I didn't know sat next to me during a play and her cell phone started ringing.  I immediately looked at her and she started searching her purse to find the phone.  I assumed that once she found it, she would just turn it off.  Wrong!! She actually answered it and started whispering that she couldn't talk because she was at a theater performance.
Say what??!!

Forgetting to turn off my cell phone has only happened to me once and the embarrassment was enough so that I always check to make sure my phone is off when it should be.  I was in a large meeting some years ago with an executive of the company I worked for at that time and my cellphone started ringing.  I truly had forgotten to turn it to silent. I quickly put my hand in my purse and turned it off.  Luckily I caught it after the first ring!
But yesterday I read a story that tops everything.  Caleb Wilde, a young funeral director, posted on his blog, Confessions of a Funeral Director (, that a colleague who is also a funeral director told him about a funeral service where the pastor's cell phone unbelievably began to ring in the church while the pastor was addressing those gathered to pay their respects.  I don't even want to think about the possible songs this pastor might have used as a ringtone. 
As if the ringing wasn't bad enough, the pastor then actually answered his cell phone while the service stopped and he then went on to confirm a time for a golf appointment in front of the whole congregation. Then he went on with the funeral service as though his actions on the cell phone were perfectly normal and within the bounds of good etiquette.
How hard is it to turn off a cellphone or put the cell phone on vibrate during a funeral or anywhere else where you should not be talking?  I'm sure that the pastor probably received a few well chosen words from the family of the deceased after that church service. 

Has anything similar happened to you?  I would be interested in hearing about your experiences with cell phones ringing in places that surprised you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Healing Patch of Green In Richmond

I took a road trip to Richmond, Virginia this past Saturday to visit my son and his girlfriend and we spent part of the day leisurely strolling the grounds of a breathtaking place called Maymont.
I knew nothing about Maymont but was happy to go along and discover more about this estate and 100 acre park given to the city of Richmond in 1925 by James Henry and Sallie May Dooley.  As we walked through the nature center and then went out its back doors, rolling hills of green and rows of small rose bushes and manicured gardens greeted us.  The sound of rushing water further along the path could be heard and we came upon a water fall of sorts (I took the photo!) which you could view from above where the water descended down the hill and beside it as you walked down the steps to a another healing patch of green: a beautiful Japanese garden full of bamboo, small bridges and large orange and white koi.

Maymont Water Fall
I could have stayed there for hours, absorbing the tranquility of the trees, the warm sun, relaxing sound of the water and the beauty of being surrounded by undeveloped green space.  It was so comforting and hopeful and yes, healing.
Unspoiled nature has this incredible power to produce a calming effect on me.  When you stop and observe its seasonal beauty, it takes you out of yourself and reminds you that you are part of something a lot bigger than yourself, a community as big as Planet Earth and all of its natural wonders.
Exploring Maymont reminded me that I need to pause everyday and enjoy life's small, fleeting pleasures, the colors and fragrance of a flower, the sound of water falling over rocks, the crisp smell of a wood fire, the feel of the sun on my face, and just walking in the grass.  I need to spend more time noticing and enjoying whenever nature is around me and let its healing spirit wash over me.
I love the city but sometimes its noise and constant traffic jams can tend to grind you down and when I find an oasis of green space, whether it's a park or potted plants and flowers, it calms me down and allows me to put positive thoughts back in my brain.

We all know how to work and set goals for ourselves but do we know how to play?  Do we go out of our way to make sure we regularly relax and enjoy the people we love and the beauty of our surroundings?
Exploring a new path on Saturday, talking and walking through Maymont's historic grounds untangled the thoughts in my head and allowed me to refresh my perspective about life, reminding me that life is not as overwhelming as it may sometimes feel.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Pink Month

When I see pink products for sale during the month of October, I wonder how much of the money really goes to researching a cure for breast cancer.  Probably not very much.

I know I'm not alone in this thought because I've heard and read similar comments from others discussing the reason why these products are being sold.  Buy them because you like them or need them.  But I think most people now see those oh so pretty pink-ribboned products as a merchandising trick better left alone.

If anything good has come out of the marketing of these pink products, it is perhaps that they have brought a new awareness to mammograms and the idea that early detection can be a life saver.

We know that breast cancer is a disease that happens twelve months a year, not just in October.
Whether a mother or a daughter, grandparent, sibling, or friend, chances are that you know someone affected by breast cancer.
I started getting mammograms when I was 35 years old because tragically I had an aunt who lost her life to breast cancer, a cousin who also died from it, another cousin who was diagnosed and treated and is in remission and a sister who thankfully is now in remission because she went in for her annual exam and the doctors found and diagnosed her breast cancer while it was in an early stage.  I also have a very good friend who is currently fighting the good fight and is truly a warrior in keeping herself healthy and positive in her thoughts.
Eloise Caggiano
Courtesy of
Perhaps instead of buying something for sale that is pink and supposedly sold to contribute money to cancer research, why not instead help someone you know who has breast cancer.
I saw this terrific post by Eloise Caggiano, the program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, on a blog at and thought it had some great ideas.  Caggiano is an eight-year breast cancer survivor so her advice comes from a place of experience.  Please read her list of eight ways to help a friend with breast cancer in the link below:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nighty Night?

The change in seasons has been taking me for a bit of a roller coaster ride lately and I am ready to get off.

I can't quite put my finger on what is bringing about all of these conflicting feelings but I am determined not to let them get the best of me.  Some of it, I think, has to do with the sun beginning to set earlier now but I think the other factors may be a prolonged lack of sleep and a lot of family stuff rolling around in my brain.  I know I am tired and I am ready to fall asleep but I don't always stay asleep.
Maybe this has happened to you and then you know how frustrating it is to look at your bedside clock, close your eyes and pray for sleep to come and send you to a restful place.  And then it doesn't happen.

Did you know that over 20% of Americans may suffer from chronic sleep loss or untreated sleep disorders?  Amazing right?  It seems so simple: it's night time, you're tired, lay down on the bed, close your eyes and off to sleep.  Not.

Sleep is one of those things that I take for granted until I can't do it.  I would love to sleep in like I used to when I was in college.  Now that was really sleeping!  I could sleep until noon or one o'clock with no problems at all and wake up totally refreshed.  Plus I never felt guilty if I slept half of the day away.

Now it seems as if I need some kind of nuclear fairy dust to get me to go into a deep sleep.
I made some progress last night in catching up on some of my lost sleep, forcing myself to turn off the television around 9 pm and get ready for bed by reading.  These small changes might be the trick to turning the whole sleep thing around.  I'll have to wait and see. 

In some ways this inability to sleep reminds me of the period of time after my husband died and I would only sleep for a few hours a night.  Trouble with sleeping is normal when you are grieving or handling a stressful event in your life; especially when your grief is new.  Grief may cause anxious and depressed feelings which can then cause you to stay wide awake, getting caught up in a loop of lacking sleep.
It's true that your life has changed.  There is no ignoring that painful fact.  I can't tell you when you will laugh again -- although I hope it's soon -- but I can tell you that the more you are able to acknowledge your true feelings and express them, the faster you will process your grief feelings and regain your sense of self and regular sleep habits.

Ah, yes regular sleep habits.  I'm looking forward to having those back in my life and will continue to try some different ways to make this happen. 

Without being too personal, what are some of the things that help you sleep well?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strangers Become Friends

When walking down the street, with a destination in mind, lost in my thoughts about work or something happening in my personal life, I admit that I am not always aware of the people around me.

I know that physically there are groups of people or singular people walking towards or past me, but the details of what they are wearing or what they look like are an instantaneous blur.

It's not because I am walking and texting.  If I hear the ping of a text received on my phone and I need to answer it, I move out of the path of the pedestrian traffic and use my telephone keyboard in a self-made safe zone by an office building or a sidewalk bench.

I know that there are people on the sidewalk with me or in a store or a restaurant and I make sure not to bump into anyone but I'm not always looking at people and spontaneously saying "hello" or smiling.  Most of the time I think I am unaware because I need to be somewhere or need to get something done and it is almost as though I am on my own express track.
Photographer Richard Renaldi Poses Jenny Wood & Dominek Tucker
Photo Courtesy CBS News
I can't imagine what it would be like if I was walking down the street and a photographer asked me to stop and pose with someone I didn't know at all.  A total stranger.  Someone I might never see again.
I'd like to think that I would stop and that I would enjoy the spontaneity of the moment.  The unexpected things that happen to me sometimes make me stop and laugh at the amazing adventures that life can bring.
It's fun and it gives me a lift.  We all need those moments, don't we? . . .Those moments when the walls come down and maybe, just maybe, we're vulnerable in our actions.  And when we are vulnerable we are usually our most authentic selves!!
Watch this short CBS On The Road piece and see what these strangers on the streets of New York City discover about the human connection:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Royals Cover By Pip

Lorde's smash hit, "Royals," is a mesmerizing song with an almost hypnotic beat.  I can't understand all the words to the song but I still like it and it continues to grow on me.

I was surfing around on YouTube the other day because music is an instant stress buster for me and found a different version of  "Royals," sung by Pip and a few other singers.  I watched it a few times and thought you might want to check out Pip's unique cover of "Royals" because it's filmed in the round in a parking garage!

Pip in Los Angeles
Since his fabulous appearance on the second season of NBC's hit series, "The Voice," Pip moved to Los Angeles to continue his music career.  His debut EP, No Formalities, was released in January 2013 with a debut single of a song called "Who Cares."

Maybe you'll be driving Cadillacs in your dreams today!  Below is the link to Pip's YouTube video.  Hope you like it:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kindness In a Me, Me, Me Culture

No matter what our age or place in life, we always remember the people who are kind.
For instance, during the homily of a friend's funeral, I found myself sitting by myself because I had a arrived a little late and my friends were in another part of the church.  As I listened to the beautiful words of the priest's eulogy, I put my head down as tears began to roll down my face.  I will never forget the simple gesture of the woman sitting next to me who gently put her hand on top of mine for a few minutes.
Simple acts of kindness remind us that we are all in this together and if we help each other out, it will go a little easier.  Plus, being kind makes you feel better about yourself.
There have been a lot of stories in the news recently about bullying.  Not just regular ole bullying that has been around since the beginning of time, but fierce, relentless, coldhearted bullying that continues to the point that the targeted person takes their own life.  I'm not going to go into all the factors that drive this new kind of bullying although I have my own theories. 
Kind behavior is not a show of weakness. Kindness and manners can be thought of as the same thing.

Which is essentially, acting on the idea that life is not all of about you or me.  Kindness is thinking beyond yourself to how the other person feels. 
You might not think being kind is important until you are on the other end of someone else's mean behavior to you.  And then, very quickly, you have a light bulb moment and you then probably get it.
According to Letitia Baldrige, who was Jacqueline Kennedy's chief of staff in the White House and America's number one best-selling authority on manners, when a child asks "Why do I have to be kind?" the answer should be careful but immediate.
Baldrige says that like a winning pitch in a baseball game, The Golden Rule should be tossed out as an answer whenever possible.  "The Golden Rule?", says the child.  "Why are you making such a big deal out of this?"
"Yes", says the parent.  "Here is The Golden Rule: Think how you would have felt if you were in his/her place and a stranger helped you -- just like that.  You'd be grateful!"
Baldrige advises to avoid nagging children about being kind or constantly using their good manners for that turns a positive into a negative.  "A child who is constantly told how bad or selfish he/she is will start to believe it and not care about the rewards of kind manners," Baldrige writes in her book, Letitia Baldrige's More Than Manners! 
Instead, whenever an opportunity presents itself to point out or make an editorial observation about someone else's kindness or good manners, you might say to the child, "Wasn't that great of him/her to do that?"  Or maybe, as the parent, you can show your child what it is like to pay it forward.
Holding the door for another person, saying hello, saying good-bye, keeping your mean thoughts to yourself, saying please, turning off or putting away your cellphone when someone is talking to you, helping a disabled person across the street.
It's a mad, mad, mad world out there sometimes and the little things, such as kindness and good manners, only take a few minutes to practice and they make life run so much smoother!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Arlington Cemetary Allows Personal Mementos

Arlington National Cemetery has a heart.
Officials at the cemetery recently talked to families about their months long practice of leaving personal items on soldier's headstones and Arlington is now compromising on its policies about leaving the personal mementos at gravesites.
Today's post is an update of a story I  wrote about on October 3 discussing how staff at Arlington National Cemetery were collecting and discarding personal mementos left in Section 60 of the cemetery an area where soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.  This area of the cemetery is where each visitor's grief is new and raw. 
A Military Headstone in Section 60
The families had no idea that their love letters, photos, balloons and other items were gone and thrown away until they visited their loved ones and found their tombstones bare.
Arlington National Cemetery staffers sat down and met  with the families on October 6 and discussed the situation and a compromise was reached.  Arlington says it now has a better understanding of the comfort that grieving families and friends receive when they leave personal treasures at the gravesites and softening the rules is a measure of support to the families in their time of grief.
Cemetery spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch said the cemetery will allow displays through the fall and winter months when the grass doesn't need cut often and that the cemetery will also review its regulations and policies to see if long-term changes can be made. 
Arlington National Cemetery is one of the nation's oldest cemeteries and is run by the U.S. Army.  Section 60 holds special significance for that is home to soldiers most recently killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Arlington National Cemetery said it collected the mementos because it had been receiving complaints that Section 60 was looking less than military with photos, stuffed animals, balloons and love notes taped to headstones.  Officials also said people sometimes left inappropriate items in the cemetery such as ammunition, glass and alcohol.
But inappropriate as others might think them to be, those personal items were mementos of love, reflecting shattered lives and a need to try and make some sense out of what had happened to their loved ones.
Section 60 is truly hallowed ground.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Joy Of Motion

Blogging plus my full-time job equals too much time in front of the computer.

When I am involved in a deadline project and super concentrated on what I am doing, it is very easy for me to lose track of time and forget to move from my chair.  Sitting at my desk for hours on end may help me get my work done, but researchers also say it increases my chances of getting diabetes, heart disease and shortening my life.  So as comfy as it feels to sit or hang out on the couch, I've got to get moving.
Because when I don't move, I feel as if my body is literally turning to Jello. 

And that's when I make myself get up and stretch and walk and move around to get everything going again because our bodies are designed to move, groove and if we take care of them, they will work like efficient, healthy machines.

Desk Exercising
The father of one of the guys I work with in my office is a doctor and he told his son that every day you should do some kind of activity that makes your heart beat faster.  The activity has to be aerobic enough so you feel your heart accelerate in its beating but not to the point of being out of breath. 

This guy definitely follows his father's advice because sometimes he takes the stairs from the lobby all the way up to our office on the 10th floor.  I know this because I have seen him come through the door from the stairwell and he is usually holding his fingers to his neck taking his pulse.

Now I don't feel the need to go running 10 flights up the stairwell but I do make sure to leave my desk every day and go for a 10 to 15 minute walk around the block or to the park to get my heart and circulation going.  I also have been known to do jumping jacks in front of the copying machine when I don't think anyone is around.  There is joy in motion for it's great for your body and mind.  It cleans out the brain of those swirling thoughts that are stuck and gets you to free thinking.
Motion can also promote healing for those navigating the loss of a loved one or dealing with lots of stresses. 
This is a time of patience with yourself and others.  That may be difficult when you have little energy or patience to spare but think of exercise as a way to transition.  Being around a lot of people  and exercising are probably at the bottom of your list of things you want to do right now but start slowly.  Take baby steps, breath deeply and walk around your neighborhood.  If you continue this for at least a week or two, you will have strengthened your mind/body connection and will see a change in your mood.
We can do it together.  There's no better time to start than today!
For more ideas about fitting exercise into our busy schedules, here's the link to a great WebMD story that reinforces the philosophy that standing is always better than sitting and walking is better than standing:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Silly Ode to October

I know the calendar says it's the month of October but there have been days when it has felt as though it were July. 

When it feels like summer I am definitely one happy camper!!  It's all I can do to stop myself from driving to the beach!!  But then there are the shorter days when it now gets dark earlier and earlier and that is difficult for me to deal with.  It's really a downer to come out of work at the end of the day and it's dark already.

Autumn may not be one of my favorite times of the year but there are a few things about October that make me smile.  And when I smile, I relax and breath deeper, which in turn releases any physical tension I may be feeling.  Here goes:

-- Sweet childhood memories.  As a child, one of my favorite things to do was to shuffle my fee through the piles of leaves and collect the leaves that had turned color and fallen to ground.  I would take the leaves home and press them between pieces of waxed paper with a warm iron.  Moving the leaves around on the waxed paper, I would create different designs and when I found the one I wanted I would place another piece of waxed paper on top of the leaves (the waxed sides facing each other inside so that they can melt together) and slowly press the iron moving it over the veins and stems of the yellow, red and orange leaves.
I hope young children still get involved in crafty projects of this sort but probably not, right?  I'm not even sure that children still make their own Halloween costumes anymore but I'm hoping that they do!  I remember many times when my siblings and I just went into our closets and put costumes together for trick or treating and we always made a mess but had a lot of fun!

-- Pumpkins!  I love the pumpkin flavor plus I love actual pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.  Warm pumpkin pie is hard to resist and one of my favorite muffins is a pumpkin muffin full of cinnamon and nutmeg.  So yummy! 

Have you checked out what is going on with decorating pumpkins?  People are now painting them white, silver, gold and black and decorating them with circles and other groovy designs.  Pumpkins are not just for Halloween anymore!  I've seen them as decorations as weddings and centerpieces at gala dinners.  Use your imagination.  Since October is dedicated to celebrating the medical strides made towards fighting breast cancer, you could paint your pumpkin pink!

--Every month has its own personality and when award-winning children's book author (Where The Wild Things Are) Maurice Sendak wrote Chicken Soup with Rice A Book of Months, he made up a silly rhyming story for each month.  Here is Sendak's short ode to the month October: 
In October I’ll be host to witches, goblins, and a ghost.
I’ll serve them chicken soup on toast.
Whoopy once, whoopy twice, whoopy chicken soup with rice.
My attitude is the game changer in creating a happy and fulfilling life whether it's October or July. 

October is a month filled with possibilities.  I have no idea what great things could happen next to you or to me.  
Let's stay open to the positive and see what happens!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Love On A Two Way Street

I went to Trader Joe's after work the other evening to pick up some up their fabulous pita chips and instead gained some insight into a different part of life in DC: being a homeless vendor.
Near the entrance of the store stood a man, who introduced himself to me as David.  He was selling newspapers called Street Sense which I have previously written about.   This vendor was middle-aged and friendly but not in an aggressive way.  He was just talking to people and smiling, letting them know that his newspaper was for sale and that he was a writer.
As I grabbed a cart for shopping, I started chatting with him about his writing.  I don't usually talk for very long to people I don't know, but there was something engaging about him.  No one knows for sure why another person is at a particular place in life so I thought I would listen a bit to his story.

He told me that his name was David Denny and that he had written a poem that was published in the issue of Street Sense that I just bought.  As I opened the paper to find it, he began to recite it to me as though I was the only person on the block.  I know this sounds weird but it wasn't.  Trust me.  I read the poem and listened to him as he called up all of the quiet emotion that went into the writing of his precious poem called "Love."
Until David started working for the newspaper, Street Sense, he had been caught up in the cycle of being homeless and taking drugs for about 10 years.  Getting a job at Street Sense helped him get clean and he has been drug free for a number of years.  Street Sense is published twice a month, David said, and his job with the paper saved his life, giving him a purpose and making him feel as though he belongs to something much bigger than himself.  He said he loved selling newspapers on the street and talking to people about everything from football to politics.

Life is a two way street full of opportunities to give and to take.  Instead of just walking by and going about my business, I stopped and reached out to another person trying to make it in this world just like me.  My conversation with David took about 10 minutes but for me it was 10 minutes of briefly stopping my usual routine, getting out of myself and wondering what I would do with my life if I lost my job or I was addicted to drugs or I had to live on the street.  David showed me another side of resilience.

Right now people are feeling frazzled in DC as the government goes into its 15th day of being shutdown.  Taking some time to show another person some respect or even some compassion is why we are here.  Here is David's beautiful poem:
By David Denny, Vendor
It dwarfs all of the galaxies
Shines brighter than stars above
Its breadth surpasses the oceans and rivals the flight of the dove
It's the answer to all of my questions
The song angels sing
It's the mission of every cherub
And the wafting grace of each wing
It's a mixture of bliss and happiness
Added with joy from above
Stirred in with truth and affection
That makes up this  thing called love.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Malala's Light

When the news first broke a year ago that 14-year old Malala Yousafzai had been shot in the head by the Taliban while sitting in a school bus all I could imagine was the extreme fear and chaos of that terrifying moment.

How could someone be so afraid of a child on her way to school?

Just by going to school, Malala defied the Taliban and its oppressive measures directed towards women by supporting education for girls in her small village in Pakistan's Swat Valley.  That simple act made her a target.  Given the extreme nature of her injuries last October, I hoped she would somehow survive her attack.  I read all of the stories about her being transported to a hospital in London for treatment and how her family followed her to Great Britain to watch over her.

Malala has more than survived.  She is now providing the light of leadership and inspiration to people around the world who may feel there is no hope and feel lost because they think it doesn't matter what they do.  They think that one person cannot make a difference.  She is proof that one person, no matter what their age, can have tenacity of spirit to follow their passions and despite the odds, affect change.

Malala Yousafzai & President Obama Meet at the White House
Photo Courtesy of the White House
Malala is the essence of courage.  Her honesty and steadfast truth telling is shining a light in some of the darkest and most forgotten places on Earth.  She was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and came to the United States to meet with President Obama and speak at the World Bank.

Unfortunately, she didn't win the Nobel Peace Peace but instead she has won the love of millions of people who have never met her.  I don't know where Malala Yousafzai has found the courage and sheer guts at such a young age to speak out and fight for her right to go to school and be educated but she is one fierce young woman.

And fierce we all must be as we battle the stresses and burdens that life presents to us.

Let's forge ahead and work for positive change in our lives too.  Whether it's processing the loss of a loved one or dealing with challenges of a different sort in our lives, please read this short story from Marie Claire magazine featuring Malala's most inspirational quotes and may the light of her determination energize you:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fantastic Fiction

You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page
and feel a little as if you have lost a friend
~ Paul Sweeney
The above quote captures the way the way I felt when I recently finished reading, "The Light Between Oceans." by M.L. Stedman.
If you are looking for a book of fiction that will transport you to another time and place, then I would highly recommend "The Light Between Oceans" to you.  It is beautifully written and for a first novel, an amazing piece of storytelling.

Essentially, it is a story of stunning loss, healing, the resilience of love and the consequences of choice.

Tom Sherbourne, who has just returned to Australia after four combat filled years on the Western Front, takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock for the stability and peace of living on an island.  Janus Rock is nearly a day's journey by boat to the nearest coast.  Tom falls in love with Isabel, a young and headstrong girl who returns his affection.  They get married and Tom brings Isabel to the isolated island. 
Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby's cries somewhere near a beach.  She discovers that boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
I won't tell you anymore for you need to read it for yourself.
I would like to point out a particular passage from the book which struck me for its simplicity, clarity and truth.  This will give you a flavor of M.L. Stedman's insight and beautiful touch with regard to the power of letting go of a hurt, a loss or of a heartbreaking tragedy:
"She was about to go back inside when she caught sight of the Cape gooseberry bush, and remembered that terrible day after Grace's return when her daughter had wedged herself behind it.  As she sank to her knees in the grass and sobbed, the memory of a conversation with Frank floated into her awareness.  "but how?  How can you just get over these things, darling?" she had asked him.  "You've had so much strife but you're always happy.  How do you do it?"
"I choose to," he said.  "I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget."
"But it's not that easy."
He smiled that Frank smile.  "Oh , but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting.  You only have to forgive once.  To resent, you have to do it all day, every day.  You have to keep remembering all the bad things."  He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow.  "I would have to make a list, a very, very, long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount.  That I did a very proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic! No" -- his voice became sober -- "we always have a choice.  All of us."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The 64 Untalked About Ways of Grief

People love to read lists.  I'm not sure why, but it could be because all of the best ideas relating to a particular subject are organized in one place.  Or maybe it's because people want to see if what they guessed would be on the list is actually on the list.

I think that sometimes lists are over used but not in this case.

Today's list comes from a wonderful website I recently discovered called What's Your Grief? ( and I bet you a million dollars that you probably have never read a list like this one.

Titled "64 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grief," it is refreshing and revealing because of the stigma surrounding the subject of grief.  People don't want to talk about it and will go out of their way to make sure that it isn't brought up in conversation.  If you are grieving, people act as though you have an infectious disease and being around you will cause them to catch it (#9).  And then there is the idea that you think you know what it's about until it actually happens to you (#1).

#23 really resonated for me.  "Grief  doesn't come in five neat stages.  Grief is messy and confusing."  I didn't experience grief in the prescribed five stages that are always written about and I don't think anyone ever has.  You do feel denial, sadness, frustration and many other emotions but sometimes you feel some of them one at a time, sometimes none of them for a long time and sometimes you may feel them all in one day. 

It just depends on your relationship with that person, how they died and how you process your emotions concerning your loss.  Everyone's grief really and truly is unique.

A lot of thought went into making this list and I really think it's helpful to everyone, children and adults, because you may come across a truism that you have felt yet no one has acknowledged to you.  To find out that someone else has felt exactly as you have felt is comforting and tells you that it's okay.  You're not going crazy.  I think it is always a blessing to find out that you not alone.

In some ways, the list feels like a big hug!!  Please check out the What's Your Grief? list in the link below and share what you think so we can help each other.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday Beats with Usher

I don't have much to say today.  It's Wednesday and things in DC have been tense with the government shutdown and furloughed workers.  Unfortunately, I know a handful of people who are working but unsure as to when they will get paid.
And that is why is it time for some uplifting music.  Did you know that music is a quick stress reliever?  I believe we can always make time for the beats and music makes almost everything bearable.

I was lucky enough to see Usher perform live earlier this year at the Inaugural Ball this past January (that seems so long ago!) and he is the real deal!! Man, oh man, does he have energy!!

If this song -- DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love -- does not get lift your mood and make you get up and move, then I don't know what will.  Here one of my favorite Usher songs:

Carry on!!!!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Truly Breathing

Breathing, centering, finding my inner peace.  That is what today is about.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, author, poet and peace activist.

Just typing the combination of those words makes me feel calmer.

I know that somewhere, under all the rushing and running around and multi-tasking is a peaceful inner core, and I want to find it.

But first I have to create the conditions to get to it.

What is the hurry?

With the help of Thich Nhat Hanh's quote below, I will decrease the speed with which I am living my life.  I will do one thing.  Slowly.

So that I may reach a peaceful place.

Photo Courtesy of Wuestenhagen Imagery

"Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment I know
this is a wonderful moment."
                         ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, October 7, 2013

Here's A Truth

Here's a truth:  when I write about the importance of being positive and finding positive inspiration in our lives, the idea of finding and doing that sometimes is as much for me as it is for you.
Please don't ever get the idea that I always have it together and that I am always able to just forge ahead with my life without any hesitations or second guessing or feeling inadequate.  I have those feelings just as anyone would.

I don't know about you, but those feelings tend to sneak up on me when I least suspect it and I fight hard to push them away so that they don't become the dominant feelings that I act on. 
I have lots of things going on in my life that I would love to write about because I think these situations are similar to things going on in your life.  But I can't.  I can't write about them because the people involved would be annoyed with me and would misunderstand why I wrote about it.

And so I keep this personal stuff to myself and try to work it out the best way I know.  Just as everyone is carrying around emotional conflicts, I am too.  Cry, Laugh, Heal is a place to share and come together and find healing and perhaps even strength.  But don't ever think that my life is one big problem free zone.
It's unfortunate I can't write about these other situations because I think in writing about something you are taking a step towards solving it.
You are calling it whatever it is.  You have a name for it.  Whether it's dysfunction, bullying, aging, sickness, mental health issues, or physical handicaps, I feel there is freedom in calling things what they are and speaking the truth.  For I may feel that only I am having these feelings, but I know that can't be true.  I know from what I read, what I hear and from my personal life that others feel it too.   
And that's why I am writing today about where I find myself.
There are days, and recently there are a lot of them, when I struggle to stay positive.  I struggle to remain faithful to the idea that things will eventually work out, that everything will be all right.

And when I am in that struggle I try to just let things be.

I remind myself that the answer will come in its own time.  I call back the resources from my support group, my family and my friends.  I close my eyes and softly say Reinhold Niebuhr's famous serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Afterwards, I do feel hopeful.  There is something about this prayer that give me strength.  I feel less alone and ready to continue on my path wherever it takes me.

Perhaps we can travel on life's path together, working through those tough or stressful times using friendship, compassion and always humor!


Friday, October 4, 2013

The Great Possession Debate

Sometimes you find help in the most unpredictable places.

Yesterday morning I was reading a column in The Washington Post called Home Front and came across a question from a reader that I thought was timely, on point and more importantly, one that we all probably will have to face at some point or another in our lives.

The questioner wanted to know what to do with the possessions that once belonged to a loved one.  Specifically, the things that belonged to her father, who had recently died.  Inheriting a lifetime of someone else's possessions can be overwhelming and increase the sadness and stress everyone is already feeling.

They may just be things, but they are also your loved one's things and since that person is no longer here, it feels as if the possessions will help maintain an emotional bond.  It feels wrong and disrespectful to toss it all away.
Do you have to keep everything?

It's up to you.  But keeping everything at some point can become an emotional burden so you might want to pick and choose the things that you do keep.  You can do it little by little when you feel ready.

While preparing yourself to make a decision about a loved one's possessions, here is a wise point of view from Sheila Bridges, an author and New York-based designer who was named "America's Best Interior Designer' by CNN and Time magazine.

Bridges has a common sense answer we all can easily follow.  Here is the unedited question from Home Front and Sheila Bridges' answer:

Q: My mom is coming to live with me in a 1,500-square-foot townhouse.  She has boxes of things she has collected over the years, many associated with my father, who passed away a year ago.  How do I incorporate some of these things in our soon-to-be-shared living spaces?  She collects Hummel figurines and things like that, and I also have one small case of cat-related items.  What is the best way to showcase items such as these without overwhelming the house and still making my mom feel welcome?
A: I understand, having just lost my own father nearly a year ago.  I think it is more about incorporating a few of the things that are really meaningful than a ton of items.  Maybe you could put a cabinet with open shelves on top and drawers below in your mom's bedroom and she could put some of the things on the shelves that remind her of your dad.  I incorporated a couple of my father's lamps and his favorite chair into my home, but that was it.  I think anything more than that would have been too much to live with.  They are reminders of him that I love living with, without going overboard and turning my own home into a shrine to him.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Changes At Arlington Cemetery

A cemetery is an intimate place.

For me, it is a place where I let down my guard and become vulnerable to my feelings.  Sometimes I raise my arms to the sky as if saying that I am ready to let it all wash over me but other times I sit silently and close my eyes and try to center my thoughts.
In the summertime when I visit my husband's grave, I sometimes love to lay in the grass that covers where he is buried.  As I lay on my back looking up at the sky, I love to let my hands run through the blades of grass and feel the warmth of the sun envelope me knowing that some part of him is underneath me.

I don't do this every time I go there but when I do I find it to be comforting.

Isn't that the whole point of going to a cemetery?  To find comfort, to try and put yourself back together, to heal and to also find some measure of peace?

I talk to my husband while I am visiting there and I also leave things near his marker that I know he liked, such as cookies and shells from the beach.  It's my way of  telling him that I am thinking of him and I'm still caring about him.  It's an emotional connection that gives me strength.

I was reminded of the healing role of my many cemetery visits while reading a touching Washington Post story yesterday about Section 60 in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  The story reported that the small treasures and personal mementos people have routinely left at their loved ones graves for months is now being collected by the cemetery's workers and taken away.

Arlington National Cemetery
Section 60 hold special significance because that is where more than 800 recently deceased Iraq and Afghanistan war dead are buried and the pain of each relative's grief is still new and raw.  Arlington National Cemetery is one of the nation's oldest cemeteries and within its 624 acres lies more than 14,000 veterans, including some who fought in the Civil War.

For many, many months, loved ones personalized the stark gravestones of their spouses, children and friends with pictures, balloons, dog tags, handmade trinkets, holiday decorations and love letters as they try to find some kind of answer to the searing heartbreak they feel about their special person's death.
But the cemetery has changed its mind and is now collecting anything left at the gravesites.  Arlington cemetery's executive director plans to meet with the families of the deceased this Sunday to discuss the new policy of cleaning up section 60. 

It seems that from the Army's point of view, the cemetery needs to stay clean and look just like every other part of Arlington Cemetery but for the families, the disarray of the personal belongings left at the gravesites reinforced their love, their unwavering bond with their loved one and reflected their shattered dreams.

This link will take you to The Washington Post story, headline, "Another Death, Another Loss":