We are in the midst of major religious holidays and these are commonly triggers for feeling our grief, whether recent or from the distant past. I share with you this meaningful message rather than write my own this month.
Grief Is Important
BY MADISYN TAYLOR
Grieving doesn't have to be a process that keeps us rooted in our thoughts of fear and sadness.
Change is something that happens each and every moment in our lives. Since nothing is constant, it may sometimes seem as if we are losing something whenever things do change. Understanding that this is part of our daily existence and that there will not only be gains but also losses in our lives can help us more readily accept and deal with whatever happens.
Whenever we lose something or somebody we love, it is important for us to take time out for ourselves and truly feel the weight of what we are experiencing. Although it may seem that doing so will push us into a deeper state of sadness, truly giving ourselves permission to be with whatever arises actually creates space for us to begin the healing process. This is because the act of grieving is a natural process, allowing us to sort through the range of emotions that are present in our everyday existence. Even though it may sometimes seem easier to involve ourselves in activities that take our minds off of our sadness, this will only make the route to healing more difficult. Unless we listen to where we are in the moment, the emotions we experience will only grow in intensity, and our feelings will manifest themselves in more powerful and less comfortable ways. Once we consciously acknowledge that these emotions are present, however, we are more able to soothe the sorrow of the moment. In so doing, we become more open to our natural ability to heal ourselves.
Grieving doesn't have to be a process that keeps us rooted in our thoughts of fear and sadness. For the moment we might feel despondent, but by expressing and coping with our true feelings, we face the sadness head-on. When we allow ourselves to accept and deal with our loss fully, we will then be able to continue our life's journey with a much more positive and accepting outlook. This will make it easier for us to see that our grief is ephemeral and, just like our moments of happiness, it will also come to pass.
Jack Nicklaus has said, “If there is one thing I have learned during my years as a professional, it is that the only thing constant about golf is its inconstancy.” If you are a golfer you know how true that is. According to a dictionary definition, inconstancy is a word often associated with love. Whether you identify the word with your golf game or the changeability of a relationship, I believe you’ll agree that life itself, year by year -month by month - day by day has all the elements of unpredictability.
Just acknowledging that from time to time may help you meet life’s changes and challenges. When your life pulls to the left or slices to the right there are a few things you can control after experiencing the normal emotions of shock, fear and anxiety: ATTITUDE, BELIEFS, WORDS, ACTIONS.
Remember the quote, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade”? Well you have choices here too.
“When life gives you lemons squirt someone in the eye”
“When life gives you lemons make orange juice”
“When life gives you lemons make lemonade and find someone whose life gave them vodka and have a party”…..and do your best to find some humor as that can help balance the scale.
Comedian George Carlin offered his reasons for living life backwards. “You should die first and get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work 40 years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You drink alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb. you spend the last nine months floating. Then you finish off as an orgasm.”
We know we don’t really have that choice so some plan ahead for the end of their life. While many people plan from a financial perspective how many of you have created a “Care Plan” for the final months of your life? According to a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study, 50% die in nursing homes or hospitals. More than 10% “are cruelly shuttled from one to the other in their final days” and yet 7 out of 10 Americans say they hope to die in their own home.
What have you done to prepare for your end of life? Hopefully, you have the essentials (a will, POA, Health Care Proxy) and have begun a conversation with family or a close friend as to what you want if you become terminally ill or mentally incompetent.
I encourage you to order a copy of “Five Wishes” at www.agingwithdignty.org or calling 888-594-7437 as this booklet will help you look at options and hopefully make some decisions you hadn’t even contemplated. Always remember you can change your mind and therefore change your choices in the future.
I also recommend reading Katy Butler’s article “Preparing for a Good End of Life” in the February 8 edition of the Wall Street Journal or getting her newly published book, The Art Of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life.
We plan for a baby’s birth for nine months. Why not plan for the end of our life?
I often joke that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer one gets to the end, the faster it goes.
We have little control over the speed or what happens to each of us in a given calendar year. There is a succinct Yiddish saying, “A mentsh tracht un Got lacht”, translated, “Man plans and God laughs”.
In 2019 I personally experienced complete healing after emergency wrist surgery. I’m back to all my activities and sports. Two friends had successful organ transplants, one a heart and the other a lung. Both have returned to playing golf, enjoying quality time with friends and family and looking forward to a fuller life than each had had in the last few years. Many friends have celebrated life cycle events like births, weddings and graduations. And some have suffered from illness and heart breaking news. I continue to facilitate workshops for lay and professionals related to grief and healing. For all the challenges, disappointments and successes I am grateful. For the gift of awareness and reflection I am grateful.
2019 What will be? I cannot see, for a fortune teller I am not; I am only me.
There will be challenges, I’m fully aware - There will be joys to celebrate and I hope to be there.
Whatever comes my way, it’s courage and gratitude for which I pray
And after a nights rest to experience the gift of another day.
What do the holidays of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanza have in common? If you read my December 2017 blog you know the answer and it’s not gifts or parties. It’s LIGHT. During this time of year these holidays use light from candles or electricity to “lighten” up the darkness. Recently my friend posted a quote I now share with you.
“For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
I dedicate this message in memory of President George HW Bush, who had been a bright light for our nation.
Give yourself the gift of rereading my December blogs from 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Wishing all who celebrate, a joyous and love filled holiday.
November has seen some challenging and traumatic events…raging fires in California where many have died and more than 1000 people are unaccounted for…divisiveness in our campaigning and elections…a significant rise in hate rimes.
I want to focus on my thankfulness this Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful for food, water and the air I breathe. I’m thankful for friends and family. I’m thankful for good health. I’m thankful for the brave response of police at Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (Mr. Roger’ Neighborhood) on October 27. I’m thankful for the interfaith solidarity that’s been evident across our country. I’m thankful for the capacity of humans to love and have compassion.
Please find the quote that resonates with you and share it this Thanksgiving:
Mr. Rogers: “We want to raise our children so they can take a sense of pleasure in both their own heritage and the diversity of others.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness. I have decided to stay with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Dalai Lama: “When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others.”
Did you know that October 15th was International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day? Not likely! While President Ronald Reagan, back in 1988, proclaimed the entire month of October acknowledging these deaths it wasn’t until 2006 that the House of Representatives passed a resolution designating October 15 as a day of remembrance for perinatal death. Now it is also observed in the UK, Norway, Italy, Kenya and Australia.
Coincidentally, October 15 was the day Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their pregnancy causing an outpouring of criticism for their “insensitivity”. It is probable that they too were unaware of this day of remembrance.
In the past parents commonly experienced “disenfranchised grief” whereby their grief was not acknowledged or supported. All too often a couple might have heard the words, “Well, you’re young, you’ll have another.”
Today there is recognition that all loss or change must be grieved in order to heal.
Today there is bereavement training for professionals who interact with the parents.
Today hospitals have set up procedures to support and counsel the parents.
Today rituals are offered to parents to help the grieving process. They range from holding the baby, taking photos, clipping a lock of hair and making footprints or handprints. Recognizing the need for parents to be with their baby Cuddle Cots can extend the time permissible.
REMEMBER it’s important to acknowledge the death of someone who has been loved.
Female orcas have been known to swim with a dead baby as a mourning ritual. What was most unusual this past summer was when researchers observed one female carrying the corpse for 17 days traveling over 1000 miles. (Videos available on YouTube)
In New Zealand the indigenous Maoris who have not converted to Christianity still practice ‘tangihanga” where the dead body lies outdoors in an open coffin for three days before burial in order for mourners to grieve. Traditionally, tangihanga was held for weeks in order for friends and relatives to publicly mourn.
While rituals may differ religiously or culturally, it is commonly known that ritual helps in the grieving process. Personalized and private rituals are being created as well. It might be playing a song over and over, one which was a favorite of the dead person or one that was shared by both. A survey noted one person chose to wash “his car every week as he used to do”. When my father died I went to his favorite diner on his regular Monday night and ordered his standby dinner of meatloaf, not something I would have chosen for myself. It was a way of connecting to him and the waitresses who knew and served him for years.
Have the confidence to follow your heart and choose a private ritual in addition to what you would normally follow and always remember - WRITING A LETTER to your loved one is always beneficial no matter how long since he/she died.
Many of you may remember the 3 R's as "Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic"
Lets look at the 6 R's for healing from grief.......
REMEMBER REMINISCE RECORD RETELL RITUAL RELEASE
We all remember Leonard Nimroy, the actor best known for his role of Spock (with the pointed ears) in Star Trek. After his death in 2015 his widow Susan shared that her life was...directionless..."I rarely got out of bed. I was part of the walking wounded. We were each other's best friend. I couldn't imagine life without him."
After struggling with her profound grief for over a year, friends encouraged her to engage her creative juices. It all began with writing letters, "Dear Leonard". As you well know my memoir, SAD IS NOT BAD is based on letters I wrote to my husband after his death, a coping mechanism I have always encouraged my clients to try. Ultimately, Susan created a short film called "Eve" which debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
"Eve" is Susan Bay Nimroy's story.
In less than 3 minutes you will learn much from her interview on YouTube. I encourage you to check it out.
Recently we have learned of many public figures who've died from illness, accident or suicide. Some names are Kate Spade, Philip Roth and Anthony Bourdain. There are countless other actors, musicians and sports stars. The most recent notable death was Dr. Charles Krauthammer at the age of 68. Whether you agreed with his political opinions or not one must honor his gifts as a political writer and orator for he used his wisdom, intellect, wit, openness and courage to convey his position.
His doctors informed him that he had just weeks to live after a year of treatment following cancer surgery. And on June 8, two weeks before he died, he shared publicly, "I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I'm afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me... I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life - full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave with the knowledge that I have lived the life I intended." He thanked his doctors and caregivers, his dear friends who "have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months" his colleagues, his readers and viewers. He added, "I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation's destiny."
There are many lessons to be learned from Charles Krauthammer.
What's your take away from his life, his legacy and his lessons?
Mother’s Day was recently celebrated with purchases of greeting cards, flowers, presents and candy and probably taking Mom out for a meal. For Father’s Day (June 17 this year) the focus will be sending cards and buying presents as well, but likely having families gather around the barbecue or enjoying a picnic at a park or beach. Sounds wonderful right?
These holidays established in 1914 and 1910 respectively, are not always experienced as joyful celebrations. For some people the parent/child relationship might have been abusive or estranged and the holiday evokes painful emotions. For others who do have close, loving relationships the holiday is another opportunity to express their love in person, on FaceTime or on Facebook.
After the death of a parent the varied feelings of grief may initially be intense and will need to be processed as part of normal grief. For those with more complicated grief it is hoped the adult child will seek professional counseling to support oneself through this challenging journey. In time one’s feelings hopefully will be a combination of possible sadness, missing and happy memories of having the parent in one’s life. As a friend recently acknowledged, Mother’s Day for her was “bittersweet”.
And then for some there is gratitude as expressed in this poem recently shared with me.
A Prayer For Connections To Remembering A Loved One
Thank you for presenting me with a symbol, a memory, a connection… a smell, a butterfly, a feather, a sunrise, a sunset… Please allow me to be open, aware and vulnerable to see and connect with what is presented. And if I am able to connect … How lucky am I?
Passover and Easter share foods, symbolism and life lessons at this time of year.
May you be freed from whatever enslaves you; physically, emotionally or spiritually.
May you find new ways to look at what challenges you.
May you find an inner strength to overcome your struggles.
May you enjoy the warmth and beauty of Spring.
Whether you observe Easter or Passover or not my message from 2017 is meant for you too.
How do I begin? Every time I read a story, watch a TV interview or the Town Hall meeting or see a video about the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School I begin to cry. I don’t even know anyone who died, was injured or lived in Parkland. Yet it affected me and countless others, triggering emotional and verbal responses.
This tragedy parallels 9/11 in some ways:
MURDER - CHAOS - TRAUMA - FIRST RESPONDERS - FEAR - GRIEF - PTSD - ACTION
Just as men and women went off to work on that beautifully clear late summer day in New York, students and teachers left their homes on February 14 assuming they were facing a typical day at school with the added joy of it being a holiday acknowledging LOVE.
After 9/11 people feared traveling in general, internationally, by plane, in subways, across bridges and entering tall buildings. Now students, near and far, are experiencing fear of safety in their own schools.
And there has been action! The students who survived the traumatic day at their school are speaking out and carrying signs. Their voices are strong, their messages clear and they are gathering support from teens across the country and from prominent adults as well.
In his February 18 article, “Is It Time, Again?”posted on LinkedIn, Stephen Gray Wallace (author, speaker, consultant) reminds us that students at Wayland High School in Massachusetts founded SADD in 1981 after two of their fellow students died as a result of impaired driving only a few days apart. That decision led to the creation of 10,000 chapters all over the country, resulting in over 60% less alcohol related teen deaths in just over 10 years.
Will the students from Stoneman Douglas HS be able to bring about the change to end school violence? Fred Guttenberg, the bereft father of Jaime, when interviewed February 22 on “Morning Joe” shared that a week ago “my soul was shattered”, but…” because of people reaching out and stepping up my hope is restored…because of these kids my faith is restored…they are strong…they are fierce. These kids are my hope.”
May those who are grieving and have been traumatized by all past school shootings heal and have the strength and courage to effect change. May they experience feelings of hope rather than despair.
According to the dictionary, "to heal" means to become whole, sound. We are familiar with healing of the body, for example, from an illness or broken bone. Healing can also happen when we reconcile a conflict with another person.
In addition, one can experience healing from grief. I do not believe the adage, "Time will heal all wounds" but rather, over time, it takes courage to face the reality as well as experience the feelings and emotions related to a death or traumatic event. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy shared from her experiences, "The wounds remain. In time the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone." It has been similar as I heal a broken bone.
This past weekend i experienced a 3 1/2 day "training immersion" facilitated by Michael Verde, founder of Memory Bridge. I, along with others, experienced an effective way to communicate with people with dementia. I conversed with a woman, diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, while looking into her eyes, touching her hand and responding to her "words" with respect, attention and caring. This empathic approach will help a person with dementia feel connected, valued and loved. That too is healing as we "feed" the basic human need for love and connectedness to others.
I love this quote by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, "Healing may not be so much about getting better as about letting go of everything that isn't you - all the expectations, all the beliefs, and becoming who you are."
Reach out to another human being today. Greet a stranger with "Hello", "Good morning","Thank you", pay a compliment or merely smile as you pass. You may be a catalyst for healing someone's heart. That's awesome!
Within the last few weeks I experienced a compound fracture of my right forearm from a freak bicycle accident requiring surgery. One friend broke her kneecap having slipped on a wet floor while grocery shopping. Another young friend suffered a near fatal heart attack and is healing slowly thanks to expert medical care and many angels here on earth and in heaven. A close friend is suffering from intense back pain. And yet another longtime friend was hospitalized with Guillian Barre syndrome.
Simultaneously the holiday season is here and it may not seem as happy, merry and joyous for those who are ill or experiencing grief. Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza or merely appreciate the festive decorations or enjoy the culinary delights of these holidays take notice of what these holidays have in common. These holidays always occur during the darkest time of year. In fact today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of 2017.
LIGHT, whether by candle or electricity, is common to all these holidays.
May you "SEE the LIGHT" in your darkest moments. The light may be hope, gratitude, love or peace.
Having counseled many children from ages 2 1/2 to 18 individually and in age appropriate bereavement groups (5-8)(9-12)(13-18) both in hospice and private practice, I've chosen to recognize "Children's Grief Awareness Day" to be celebrated November 16. It was begun in 2008 to honor the "forgotten mourners". It's mission is to "raise awareness of the impact of death on children and teens, and to increase the understanding of what can be done to support them".
Here's what you can do:
1- Go to Facebook "Children's Grief Awareness Day" Check it out, learn and "LIKE" the site.
2- Google "Talk to Children about Terrorism" on the "National 9/11 Museum" site
3- YouTube books and videos for children's and teen grief which can be downloaded, specifically,
WHEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW DIES, a workbook I used and highly recommend for children 5-12
and a favorite.....
LOVE YOU FOREVER, a book given to me by a nine year old granddaughter of a hospice patient back in 1989. I have subsequently gifted copies to my adult sons and have sung the "message" to my grandchildren.
LOVE YOU FOREVER and Leo Buscaglia's THE FALL OF FREDDIE THE LEAF help children and adults look at death realistically; as part of life.
Halloween finds its origin with the Druids, who glorified death with worship to their god, Baal and to the devil. In contemporary times, the denial of death has been more commonplace – certainly in our western society. For example, Halloween today, with its costumes and popular symbols of skeletons, ghosts and grave stones are merely distractions and a boon for economic profit. One might say the same's true of the computer games and fantasy movies, which routinely feature killing and violence. Ernest Becker, in his 1973 landmark book, Denial of Death, suggested that the idea and fear of death “stalks the human animal like nothing else.”
It has been suggested in recent research studies, that rituals resembling the Mexican holiday, “Day of the Dead” would help us balance our view and fear of death. I’m pleased to share that we are becoming more open to talking about, and acknowledging, the reality of death and its affect on the bereaved.
The hospice movement has helped with that philosophy. Check out episode 17 of the popular series “This Is Us,” where you’ll find the characters portraying dying and grieving for friends and family as part of the human experience. It reminds me of the highly successful HBO series “Six Feet Under,” which aired in 2001 and ended in August 2005 after 63 episodes filled with visual images, honest communication and black humor.
How will you celebrate HALLOWEEN today? Will you TRICK yourself into denying death – utilizing silence and distractions, as coping mechanisms? Or, will you TREAT yourself, by acknowledging the reality of death and thereby living every day to its fullest?
While writing her book, LIVING BETTER, Eda Leshan met an oceanographer who had asked her if she knew how a lobster was able to grow with its hard shell. He explained that the lobster had to look for a safe place periodically to rest while it shed its shell and wait for a new one to form and grow. During this process the lobster is vulnerable to currents and predators. In essence the lobster risks its life in order to grow.
Humans are vulnerable too for all kinds of reasons, especially when we are stressed or bored. But we have the choice to continue our life as is (stay "safe" and "stuffed" in our old shells) or have the courage to become vulnerable as we take risks in embracing new experiences and challenges.
The recent solar eclipse and the coming Jewish New Year 5778 create opportune times for each of us to shed our old hard and smothering shells and ready ourselves for personal change and growth. I wish you the courage to do so.
See and hear Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski on YouTube teaching "HOW DO LOBSTERS GROW?"
As the world views the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and surrounding coastal cities, there are thousands who are reliving the memory of Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005. Thousands fled New Orleans 12 years ago to settle in Houston, Texas and they are reliving that event and their emotions. A quote in today's Wall Street Journal reads, "It's like losing your mind over again."
Yesterday I commemorated the 12th anniversary of the death of my husband, Jerry. I too have memory - naturally some sad - fortunately many "glad".
We all have our memories; some clear and sharp and some faded and "far away". Sometimes memory is merely an impression of what really occurred.
I hope and pray that all those affected by Hurricane Harvey will come through their traumatic experiences and be able to live the lyrics to "Memory" from the Broadway musical "Cats".
"I must wait for the sunrise - I must think of a new life - And I mustn't give in - When the dawn comes - Tonight will be a memory too - And a new day will begin"