Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

A Blush of Sadness

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/

Photo by Alice Popkorn via Flickr

It’s been a busy day, in a busy stretch. With two cancellations for this evening, I have a rare moment of solitude in the house.  I can hear cars passing on the rain-wet street, and a mounting wind is quickly taking down the colorful autumn leaves and revealing grey-black tree skeletons, their crooked hands reaching for a darkening sky and the mysteries of All Hallows’ Eve.

As I sit for a bit, I am aware of a blush of sadness that crosses my heart.

What is it?

I try to trace the whisper of feeling back to its origin, and finding no obvious clue, I slowly scan a mental checklist and wait for another twinge:

  • Mourning the end of an extraordinary summer?
  • A streak of sugar from the hard butterscotch candy I just crunched down?
  • Weary from too-long days?
  • Full moon?
  • Concern for a loved one who is struggling right now?
  • Embarrassment about a missed deadline or missing document?
  • Untended grief?

It could be any of those things, I suppose.

It didn’t last long, but I noticed. I understood it to feel like sadness.

Then, rather than bury it or let it grow in crazy directions, like a sidewalk charcoal snake burning to its full height some hot Fourth of July, I investigate:

  • Where do I feel it?
  • How strong is it?
  • Where’d it come from?

I’ve experienced depression before, so I make a mental note to pay attention.

If I get sad and stay that way for more than a few days (my default nature is outrageously optimistic and upbeat), I pay even more attention, in case I need to be assessed for depression.

Humans feel stuff, like sadness, anger, disgust, jealousy, happiness, satisfaction, hunger, desire, and you-name-it.

Noticing helps us cope, as long as we balance that noticing with the proper degree of curiosity and nonchalance. That is, I don’t get freaked out by my fleeting thoughts or emotions.

Sometimes it’s just the candy.

***

Lisa Kendall writes about well-being and self-care for all members of the care partner team, and pays attention to thoughts, emotions, and feelings as a psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist in Ithaca, NY. 

Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaKCounseling

The Bittersweet Season: Grief in the Midst of the Holidays

Many of us enter this holiday season with both joy and sadness in our hearts.

We remember, and long for, loved ones who have died, even as we celebrate with gratitude the abundance that fills us and the friends and family around us. Some of us are caring for frail or ill loved ones, or are dealing with health issues of our own. Anxiety and depression mark the season for some, and poverty and isolation make a mockery of the good cheer that is expected at this time of year.

I cannot heal these wounds, though I fervently wish I could. I try, through my work and in my personal life, to ease the pain where I can.

What I can do is share some of the little things that seem to make a difference for me as a bereaved mother, and hopefully inspire some of your thinking about what is meaningful for you.

My own list of simple pleasures helps create the serene mood of the season that I value and make space for sadness. They reduce, rather than add to, my stress. They help me honor both my joy for the season and my grief, and to remember the many who are suffering as I express gratitude for what I have.

Here’s my list, along with some thoughts about how it might work for you:

Remember your loved ones who have died – don’t try to shut out memories of your loved one, thinking that will help you get through the season. Instead, schedule time to focus on that person (or people) and let whatever feelings are present come to the surface. You may light a candle, make a donation in memory of your loved one, or attend a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” service.

These are services specifically for people who are grieving or suffering through the holidays. (When I googled “Blue Christmas Service,” I got lots of good information. You may be able to find one near you, or create your own ceremony to share with others or experience alone).

Every year since my daughter’s death I have participated in the Worldwide Candle Lighting sponsored by The Compassionate Friends. It’s a way to connect with other bereaved parents and siblings around the world, and with those who support us. We send a wave of light around the globe! I invite you to join us this year on December 14th at 7 p.m.in your time zone.WCL 2014 CMYK

Have eggnog – I know this is fattening but a little bit of this wonderful stuff is redolent with the flavor of the holiday.

Sit by the fire – I am very fortunate to have a gas fireplace, and it’s the feature I most love about my house. Instead of a fireplace, you might light a cluster of candles. All winter holidays share the idea that there is light in the midst of darkness.

Play holiday music – I have some special albums that always soothe my spirit. Most are on the order of the “Winter Solstice” and “Celtic Christmas” variety, but the one holiday album I must listen to every year is the one John Denver made with the Muppets.

It’s not as corny as it sounds – there is some very moving music there, lightened up by more typical Muppet antics. Music seems to reach into the hurting places in me and release some of the pain.

Decorate the tree – I skipped this one year and regretted it. It seems like a pain to get everything out and assembled, only to have to put things away again, but I love the ritual of placing each ornament and remembering who or where it came from. It’s a bittersweet time but a way to honor the past while being fully in the moment. Then I love to look deeply into the branches at the lights and the colors. It’s magical!

Your tradition might be to light a Menorah, celebrate the Solstice, or to otherwise honor your Spirit. These rituals can be a tremendous comfort for many. When they cause bitterness or pain, you can respectfully decline and do what works for you at this point in your journey.

Connect with friends and family – Visits are wonderful, and if they don’t happen for whatever reason, a phone call helps. It’s been too difficult for me to send Christmas cards for several years, but I am grateful for Facebook and the way it allows me to interact and share small moments, photos, jokes, and encouragement.

There are also online support groups, and may be a group in your area. For bereavement support, check with your local Hospice or Hospital.

If you are alone, please consider going to a community-hosted meal, or volunteer at a nursing home. You have gifts to share as well as to receive, and your service to others is a wonderful way to connect.

Have a cry – the season carries hope and longing, joy and sadness. Let the tears come when they will.

Make some cookies – I used to make dough and roll out dozens of cookies. While I don’t have the time or energy to do that now, I’ve learned that the smell of baking and the pleasure of a warm sugar cookie can be achieved with the refrigerated, slice-and-bake kind.

Read the story of the birth of Christ – this is important to me, and I recognize your own selection may be from another faith tradition or secular source. My father always read “The Night Before Christmas” to us before we went to bed on Christmas Eve, and I’ve maintained the tradition. Another favorite is “The Christmas Carol,” and we watch our favorite movie version of this every year.

Drink hot chocolate – Enough said.

If you celebrate Chanukah or practice an Earth religion, you will have your own list. I encourage you to treat yourself to a little gift each day, something that helps you feel special and cared for. It may be a flavored lip balm or gloss, a favorite candy bar, or a “guilty pleasure” spy novel or romance. Take a moment to reflect on the miracle of lights, perhaps by having your own menorah for private contemplation.

If you can, treat yourself to a massage, invite a friend for coffee, or connect with a counselor to help you express your feelings and develop a strategy for coping.

If your feelings overwhelm you or you think about suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

What keeps you going? How do you balance the need to honor your grief with the expectations of the holiday season?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Blessings of the Season to you and yours!

Sorrow and Joy in the Season of Light

I am thinking a lot in this season about loved ones who have passed, and in particular about my daughter, Diane, who died almost 17 years ago in a car accident.

Through much of the year I am able to stay busy with meaningful work and beloved Diane Graduationfamily, but there is a bittersweet aura around the winter holidays that forces me to look at my loss and care for my broken heart.

I know others are grieving too.  Perhaps you’ve lost a parent, sibling, or child, or know someone who has.  Most of us have lost friends.  Perhaps you are caring for a loved one whose illness triggers feelings akin to grief.

While we encourage people to celebrate the joys around them, hold fast to memories, and embrace what is present in our ill loved ones’ lives, this is a time to also honor those who have gone before and those who love them.

Every year I remind folks about the Worldwide Candle Lighting hosted by The Compassionate Friends, an organization that offers peer support groups for bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents.

The Compassionate Friends group in Binghamton, NY probably saved my life after Diane’s accident.

I encourage you to visit their website at www.compassionatefriends.org, and to participate with me in lighting a candle for our children who have died.

http://www.compassionatefriends.org/News_Events/Special-Events/Worldwide_Candle_Lighting.aspxThis annual ceremony starts at 7 p.m. on the second Sunday evening in December, and by lighting a candle in your time zone, wherever you are, we create a wave of light that ripples around the world for 24 hours.

This year’s Candle Lighting is on Sunday, December 8th.

Thank you to all who have supported me with their encouragement, prayers, and good wishes.

Thank you to all who are doing the hard work of caring for ill loved ones.

It helps to know we do not walk alone.

A Celtic Formula for Healing

I remember reading once that the Ancient Celtic prescription for physical and emotional healing was “laughter, sorrow, and rest.”  (If you know where I heard this, please let me know and I’ll give proper attribution!)

This weekend I was reminded of this great advice when I had an opportunity to hear the Celtic band, “Cherish the Ladies,” at a small performing arts center near my home.

Joanie Madden’s Irish wit made me laugh all through the performance.

The ballads and the Irish whistle sounded so wistful, it touched a deep sadness in me and brought tears to my eyes.

The music and dancing, traditional as well as original, was the best I’ve heard or seen in a concert, and completely took me away from my daily cares.

Laughter.  Sorrow.  Rest.  It makes sense to me.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/

Photo by Alice Popkorn via Flickr

We know that laughter is great medicine anytime; numerous studies show that laughter decreases stress, improves social bonds, and boosts our immune systems. 

We rest if we’ve been ill, and when we’re going through a severe emotional trauma, we lose our energy and often take to our beds.  (One way to view depression is as a natural mechanism to keep the body at rest so it can heal from injury).

What might not seem so intuitive is the Celtic advice about Sorrow.  Aren’t we told to look on the bright side?  Use positive affirmations?  Get over it already???

Actually, denying our sorrow or holding in our feelings of sadness will only cause them to become “stuck” in our mind and body, and can lead to symptoms such as headaches, gastric upset, and muscle aches and pains. 

As we learn more about mind-body medicine and take a gentle, holistic approach to self-care, we can see that making space to express Sorrow is an important component of any healing regimen.

In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at some different techniques that support the expression of Sorrow and other emotions we often think of as “negative,” so we can make room for all that is good and find the balance and wellness that we seek. 

In the meantime, I would love to hear your comments about this bit of Celtic Wisdom. 

And be sure to Laugh when you can.  Cry when you need to.  Have a  l-o-n-g  nap.

And put on some great Celtic Music!

Lisa Kendall is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a special interest in supporting self-care.  In addition to her practice in Ithaca, NY, Lisa is a sought-after speaker, retreat leader, and an “Eden at Home” Educator committed to changing the culture of care for Elders and their care partners.

Bereaved Families Unite for Worldwide Candle Lighting

Please join me on December 12th in remembering our children who have died, and the bereaved parents they leave behind.  The following press release from The Compassionate Friends explains the annual Worldwide Candle-Lighting, and how you can join us on Sunday evening, 12/12/10 at 7 p.m., your time zone.  Thank you for remembering, Lisa Kendall.

World Candle Lighting - December 12, 2010

——————————————————————————– Hundreds of Services Planned

Oak Brook IL—(December 2, 2009) Tens of thousands of families around the world, grieving the loss of a child, will join together Sunday, December 13 for The Compassionate Friends thirteenth annual Worldwide Candle Lighting.

“The holiday season is especially difficult for bereaved families,” says Compassionate Friends executive director Patricia Loder. “The second Sunday in December has become the one day during the holiday season when families can unite in remembrance of all children gone too soon.

“So often our loss is minimized by others who believe the holiday season is a time to forget the realities of life,” says Mrs. Loder. “When your child has died, it’s hard to be in a festive mood.”

More than 500 services open to the public will be held in the United States including all 50 states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Last year The Compassionate Friends received information on services held in approximately 20 countries outside the United States.

The Worldwide Candle Lighting is sponsored by The Compassionate Friends, the world’s largest self-help bereavement organization for families grieving the death of a child. The organization has more than 625 chapters blanketing the United States.

The Worldwide Candle Lighting was started by a small group of Internet visionaries who recognized that a day should exist to honor the memories of all children who have died. The observance has grown every year and is now believed to be the world’s largest mass candle lighting.

The candle lighting is officially held for an hour at 7 p.m. local time around the world, creating a virtual wave of light. Tens of thousands, unable to attend services held throughout the day, will light candles for that hour wherever they may be, whether alone or with friends and family.

Persons interested in participating in the Worldwide Candle Lighting, but who may not be able to attend an organized event have two additional alternatives. They can join in the Online Support Community (chats) on The Compassionate Friends national website. They also can join in a virtual candle lighting being held at 7 p.m. PST in Second Life, an online virtual community with more than 6 million members.

As in the past, chapters of many allied organizations are expected to participate in this year’s event including MADD, MISS, SHARE, Parents of Murdered Children, and BPUSA. U.S. services are also being sponsored by local bereavement groups, churches, hospices, hospitals, funeral homes, schools, and many individuals.

In addition, bereaved family members, relatives, and friends are invited to post a memorial message December 13 in a Remembrance Book on TCF’s national website. Last year several thousand messages, some in foreign languages, were received during the Worldwide Candle Lighting day from throughout the United States and dozens of countries abroad.

For more information including the location of services both in the U.S. and around the world, visit http://compassionatefriends.org or call 877-969-0010.

Lisa is a clinical social worker in private practice in Ithaca, NY.  She is a mother of two incredible daughters, Diane and Christine, and will be joining with her family and other bereaved parents around the world to remember Diane, and other children who have died, on December 12th.

Celebrating the Sacredness of Life and Death

 

Announcing a Webinar from the

Eden Alternative:

Eden Alternative Webinars

Celebrating the Sacredness of Life and Death

Panelists: Cheryl Fitzgerald, C-GNP, C-ANP; Sharon Wolff, MSW; and Richard Gamache, MS, CNHA, FACHCA

Learn how a group of people from different disciplines can work together to improve end-of-life care and how we honor death for all members of the community.  Learn about the four points of a mission statement that changed one organization’s approach: 

  • We believe death is sacred;
  • We believe that no one should die alone;
  • We believe staff, families and Elders need time and space to grieve; and
  • We honor the memory of every life we have been privileged to touch. 

Elmhurst Extended Care’s Celebration of Life program was honored by Rhode Island Quality Partners as the recipient of the Advancing Innovation in Healthcare Award in 2009.  Our distinguished panelists will share how Celebration of Life is not only devoted to improving end-of-life care, but also to celebrating the lives of Elmhurst community members.

 

Cheryl Fitzgerald, Director of Clinical Services at Elmhurst Extended Care, is a nurse practitioner certified in geriatrics and an Eden Alternative Mentor.  Sharon Wolff, Director of Social Services, is an Eden Alternative Mentor and Chair of Elmhurst’s Celebration of Life Committee.  Richard Gamache serves as Administrator of Elmhurst Extended Care.  He is also an Eden Alternative Educator and Mentor.  Join us on August 18th for this inspiring webinar experience!

Register Here!

 

Stormy Weather

A lady at the garage told me there was a tornado warning in our area this morning, a rare thing in Ithaca.  I couldn’t confirm it, although we are expecting thunderstorms this afternoon.  It reminded me of another July day several years ago when a summer storm took down about a third of the huge, beautiful maple tree that graces our side yard, breaking our hearts, but thankfully, not our cars or our necks.

The same storm had blown over a favorite flowering tree in a neighbor’s farmyard.  She and her husband had lived on their property their entire married life, raising cows, pigs, children, and grandchildren.  Now Jean* was the full-time caregiver for Bob,* whose stroke left him in bed and unable to care for himself.

Whenever I visited, Jean lamented the loss of her tree, talking about how strong it had been, how tall, how sturdy.  She just couldn’t believe it was gone, uprooted by the summer wind.  Her grief for the tree continued; she mentioned it every time I called, and seemed unable to get over it.

Jean was a doting wife and meticulous care partner for Bob, and it was clear she was as madly in love with him as the day she met and married him.  Bob was often confused, but always liked to flirt with female visitors, and in his occasional confusion would tell me that he’d been out cutting wood that day, or tending to the pigs.  In his mind he was as strong and as busy as ever. 

One day I watched Bob lying in his bed and Jean hovering over him, adjusting his blankets and teasing him. 

It was in that moment that I realized I was looking at the Great Tree on the farm, the one that had been felled, and for whom Jean was grieving in the deepest, most hidden part of her heart.

*All names and identifying details in this story have been changed to protect privacy.  Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker who works with Elders and their Care Partners, and is an Eden at Home Educator.

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