Thursday, April 24, 2014

South Korea Ferry Disaster

When the unimaginable happens, it is common to ask "Why?" "What if?" "What next?"

Watching the media repeatedly air stories about incredible disasters and accidents, it is understandable that after about a week of constant exposure to the never ending details of these stories that people begin to feel detached and almost numb to the tragedies that have occurred.
I'm not saying that the depth of the tragedy isn't felt by others because it is and many immediately respond with aid and help.  I think it's more that the disasters are overwhelming, just too much to take in or process. Two recent tragedies, the sinking of a South Korean ferry killing over a hundred people and the missing Malaysian Airlines flight which disappeared about a month ago over possibly the Indian Ocean while carrying 239 passengers and crew members, are the kind of disasters which instantly spring to mind as incidents that can cause media burnout. 
But when the media moves the focus of the story from the bigger explanation of how the accident happened to the more intimate personal story of those victimized by these accidents, the fragility of life and our connections to each other immediately comes to the fore.

Our common bond of vulnerability is exposed.
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a touching story about a South Korean husband, Choi in-soo, and his painful efforts to try and understand the raw reality of losing his wife, Choi Soon-bok, in last week's ferry accident.  This is the kind of story that hits me.  When the person is still in shock and at the same time is trying to describe how it feels to discover that a loved one has died and they will never see that person again.

We all hold on to the last precious moments.  The last picture. The last text message.  The last voice message. The last email.

"I'm sorry I'm traveling without you," Mrs. Choi told her husband by phone when the ferry departed on Tuesday evening.  "That was the last I heard from her," Mr. Choi said. 
Here is the link to the Wall Street Journal story: 

Choi in-soo shows a photo of
his wife, Choi Soo-bok, on his smartphone.
Kwanwoo Jun/The Wall Street Journal

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Listening to Easter

All about me are signs of renewal.  Easter is here and with it are the always hopeful signs of rebirth: the arrival of a new season of Spring, Christ's Resurrection, plants and flowers bursting forth in bloom and the feeling of being refreshed; of being given the opportunity to start over.
I still make and hide an Easter basket for my young adult son full of chocolates and jelly beans and multi-colored Peeps.  It's a tradition that we both enjoy and these days I laugh as he searches through the house for his hidden basket as I watch and say "hot", "cold" or "warm" depending on where he is in relation to the basket that has sometimes been hidden in places such as the shower, the dryer and the stove.

As my Easter unfolds, the Easter basket search always takes me back to my rambunctious childhood and also to the Easters when my husband was alive.  I know that Easter, and other holidays, are times of great celebration but also are emotionally difficult for those who have just lost loved ones.
I know of a woman who just lost her husband last month to cancer after a long and tough fight.  She has two young sons and my thoughts are with them today.  I know that her family and friends will do their best to make sure she and her boys are included in Easter activities but sadly there is no getting around the pain they all are feeling.
I think people are aware of others who are dealing with feelings of grief during the traditional holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas but holidays in general, whether it is Passover, Easter, Memorial Day or the 4th of July, all tend to carry their own little hidden emotional minefields.  Grieving is stressful all by itself and then when you add the pressure and expectations of holidays, it can add up to unexpected meltdowns because it hard to escape the old sights and sounds associated with these special days.
I found these helpful tips from the Hospice Foundation of America and thought they might be good to share:
-- Be aware than an approaching holiday might be a difficult time for you.  The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively and physically; this is a normal reaction.
--Take care not to drink alcohol (a central nervous system depressant) in excess, overeat (which brings fatigue), or overwork.
--Recognize that holidays won't be the same.  If you try to keep everything as it was, you'll be disappointed.  Doing things a bit differently can acknowledge the change while preserving continuity with the past.
--Be careful not to isolate yourself.  It's alright to take time for yourself but don't cut yourself off from the support of family and friends.
--Talk over your plans.  Decide what you want to do and what can be avoided.

Do what is comfortable for you.  May you find what works for you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Respect The Tech

I recently took an excellent class at a writer's center in suburban Maryland and learned that my blog, Cry Laugh Heal, needs a technological overhaul.
Today's title, "Respect The Tech" is wise advice from my savvy and humorous teacher, Mary T. McCarthy, who currently is an editor at Splice Today (, and founded and writes for her own popular humor website called Pajamas and Coffee (  She's the mother of four children and I'm not sure where she finds the time or energy but she also has a book coming out this summer called "The Scarlet Letter Society".  Whew! McCarthy is one busy and very smart dynamo.
Basically "respect the tech" means to get your blog or website set up correctly and technologically right.  And if you personally can't get it right, then you must find someone you can trust to keep you on the tech straight and narrow.  The tech is too important to be ignored.  Take it from me, ignoring it brings unwelcome consequences.  I didn't mean to ignore it, I just got overwhelmed by it and other things going on in my life and I thought everything would be okay. NOT!
I think I was spending so much time on the writing and the writing and the writing that I took my eye off the tech.  I am now trying to catch up as best I can and I hope you will be patient with my project currently under construction.

The software I have been using is woefully out of date and there are many, many updates that need to be installed.  Patience and calm are my current watchwords as I transition from one site to another and I must admit that I am learning a lot which is a good thing right?
I'm not going to go on and on and about what I need to do but I would like to give my wonderful readers a heads up that change is in the making and I am busy trying to make sure that all is in place before I launch a new and improved Cry Laugh Heal.

Any feedback you want to send me is definitely welcome.

Thank you!!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This I Believe -- Book Excerpt

"This I Believe" is a fantastic book that keeps on giving inspiration to me.
I recently discovered this book quite by accident.  I was in Richmond, Virginia with my son and his girlfriend and we came upon a local non-profit that was giving away books for free.  I couldn't believe it.  Free. Books.
Free books are irresistible to me.  This would be similar to offering the editor of Vogue free clothes and accessories.  A room of tables full of all kinds of books just waiting for someone to come along and adopt them and take them home.  Where do I start?  I immediately wondered how many I would be able to carry to the car.
Early in my book grab, I found "This I Believe" and I snatched it up right away because the subtitle of the book said it was about "The personal philosophies of remarkable men and women"  and is also based on the NPR series of the same name.  "This I Believe" features 80 essayists, some famous and some unknown, writing to complete the thought that begins the book's title.
I decided I didn't want to read the essays in order; that jumping around from famous to unknown and back again would make the book more interesting.  One essay, titled "The Making of Poems" caught my eye because beautifully written poetry expands my viewpoint of the world.  Quickly, I found that the essay is really about resilience, one of my favorite topics to explore and talk to others about for never ending periods of time.
I love to find out how a person has pulled themselves back together after a personal crisis and what has kept them going.  What fuels their inner strength?  How did they learn so much from the pain in their life?  I think the answer is as varied as the billions of people making up Planet Earth but in this case, let's focus on author Gregory Orr's resilience and his remarkable essay which begins here:
The Making of Poems
By Gregory Orr
I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and traumatic events that come with being alive.
When I was twelve years old, I was responsible for the death of my younger brother in a hunting accident.  I held the rifle that killed him.  In a single moment, my world changed forever.  I felt grief, terror, shame, and despair more deeply than I could ever have imagined.  In the aftermath, no one in my shattered family could speak to me about my brother's death, and their silence left me alone with all my agonizing emotions.  And under those emotions, something even more terrible : a knowledge that all the easy meanings I had lived by until then had been suddenly and utterly abolished.
One consequence of traumatic violence is that it isolates its victims.  It can cut us off from other people, cutting us off from our own emotional lives until we go numb and move through the world as if only half alive.  As a young person, I found something to set against my growing sense of isolation and numbness: the making of poems.
When I write a poem, I process experience.  I take what's inside of me -- the raw, chaotic material of feeling or memory -- and translate it into words and then shape those words into the rhythmical language we call a poem.  This process brings me a kind of wild joy.  Before, I was powerless and passive in the face of my confusion, but now I am active: the powerful shaper of my experience.  I am transforming it into a lucid meaning.
Because poems are meanings, and even the saddest poems I write is proof that I want to survive.  And therefore it represents an affirmation of life in all its complexities and contradictions.
An additional miracle comes to me as the maker of poems: Because poems can be shared between poet and audience, they also become a further triumph over human isolation.
Whenever I read a poem that moves me, I know I'm not alone in the world.  I feel a connection to the person who wrote it, knowing that he or she has gone through something similar to what I've experienced, or felt something like what I have felt.  And their poem gives me hope and courage, because I know that they survived, that their life force was strong enough to turn experience into words and shape it into meaning and then bring it toward me to share.  The gift of their poem enters deeply into me and helps me live and believe in living.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Seeing Clearly

"Give yourself the gift of time in coming to answers for your life. . . .
It takes time, and a lot of introspection and soul-searching,
to get clear about what you really want to manifest in your life."
                                       ~Author David Emerald

Monday, April 7, 2014

Farmer In The Dell

I love farmer's markets.
Everything about them fascinates me.  I slow down and totally lose track of time as I enjoy walking from vendor to vendor and talking to each one of them about the unique products they are selling whether it's veggies, fruits, honey, cheeses, breads, soaps or food being cooked to order.
Yesterday it truly felt as if the weather had turned a corner and while it was a bit chilly the sun was bright and increasingly warm as the day progressed.  People with their children and dogs and friends and neighbors strolled and chatted each other up at the weekly farmer's market held in the Palisades section of Northwest Washington, DC. 
Everybody was just so darn happy to be outside and enjoying the nicer weather!  You could feel the relief in the easy manner of people greeting each other and the slower pace of checking out the market's wares whether it was sampling apples, biscotti, or asking questions about the young herb plants.
It's kind of similar to everyone having their own lemonade stand and making a go of it with their best products whatever that might be.  Making time for activities you enjoy can be one of the steps you take when rebuilding your life after a loss.  For me, farmer's markets create a healing feeling.  They reinforce for me that we are part of a larger community focused on being supportive and giving back.  Creating extra special karma if you will.
That might sound kind of fruit and nutty to you but I like the idea of people making things with their hands whether it is farming or sewing or jewelry and then coming together to share their talents.

People selling at farmer's markets always take a lot of pride in what they've made and much of what is sold at farmer's markets is organic or at least pretty close to it and I feel I'm doing my body and brain a favor when I buy healthier more natural foods that are closer to the sources of where they were grown and in my small way I'm also helping an entrepreneur who is trying to run a small business.

I was especially happy to find a vendor selling peach blossoms which are some of my favorite blooms to have in the house during spring and I also bought a few young lettuce plants for myself.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Dance Walking

I don't know about you, but now that the weather is getting a little warmer and I'm shedding my layers of winter, I'm feeling way out of shape.

Too much time spent sitting in front of the computer.  Too many afternoons noshing on comfort food.

A new season means moving is the name of the game for me and I think this You Tube video below showing how to Dance Walk is the perfect way to kickstart some outdoor motion and burning off those almighty calories!

Even if you don't need to tone up, check out this Dance Walk video because it's fun and we all need to find something that makes us feel fabulous by the end of the week, right?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Snapshots of Caregiving

Helping to care for someone, whether they are young or old, is a time to step up to the plate and show how much that person means to you and many times it also turns out to be a time of personal growth.

I have taken care of lots of babies and toddlers and I have also taken care of elderly relatives.  Until you do it, you really don't realize how much time and energy it takes to properly care for another person.

For me it is instinctive.  I see the need and I want to help.  There are few things in life that can make you feel as good as when you help someone else just because you love them, not because you are getting paid.  As my generation of baby boomers ages and my parents generation lives longer than the previous one, millions of Americans today find themselves providing unpaid care to an elderly person or young child.

To be a healthy caregiver, you must also make yourself a priority because extensive caregiving is harder than you think.  If you don't take care of yourself than you really aren't in good shape to take of another person.  You can easily burnout if you let it become all encompassing.  It can be a physical and psychological drain on a person's resources.  It requires a lot of patience and a lot of flexibility.  Caregiving can be isolating and we need all the resources we can find.

The Washington Post recently ran a special section on March 5 about the demands and rewards of caregiving and I thought it would be helpful to share some of the excerpts from it:

Troubleshooting, and tailoring how you help
By Rosalynn Carter
Former First Lady

There are four kinds of people in the world: those who are currently caregivers, those who have been caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.

There are going to be many, many more older people.  We are living longer.  There's the baby boomers.  There's also the veterans coming home with physical problems, mental problems, PTSD, traumatic brain disorders.  Somebody's going to have to take care of them.  There's a dearth of geriatric professionals and those who know how to care for people with mental illness.  There's going to be a greater need for them.

We (care experts from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving) go into the home of a family.  We ask them to name five problems they have and then we work through the problems.

For instance, there was one woman whose husband had Alzheimer's.  He wouldn't go into the bathroom.  But he loved plants.  And so when our trainer, our care coach, was working with him, one day they decided to put a plant in the bathroom.  And he went in and watered it.  Now he goes in and gets in the tub.  He takes a bath and goes to the bathroom.

You have to tailor how you help.

The elderly don't want to be a problem
By Alene Moris
Women's Rights Leader

Right now, we see the elderly as a problem.  Why don't we look at the elderly as a resource?  We want to help.  We don't want to just be trying to keep ourselves busy.  I hate that.  There are important things to do in life and we need to be able to continue being useful.  I'm a great believer in being useful.

We've got all these healthy "young old" people who go into retirement from 60 to 75 (years old) -- and what do they do with themselves?  They want something meaningful to do.  I think we need to look at ways in which they go into caregiving.  They understand it.  They're close to it.  They see it.  They know that they're going to be there.

Finding Help
By Monica W. Parker
Assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Emory University

Many people who are working can't afford $17 an hour for a caregiver for eight hours a day.  If you're too rich to be poor -- and too poor to be rich -- you're in a no man's land.  You can't get somebody to come to your house to take care of you or assist you.  Maybe there isn't an adult day-care program near you.  There needs to be more services available for working families to help them care for retired workers.

There's a growing acknowledgement that many of us are caring for our relatives and we do need assistance.  It's affecting everybody.  The people I come in contact with feel a lot better when they know where to go for help.