Before-and-After: What helps?

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We are living in a new normal—very little remains of what we used to take for granted, with the exception of spring. And in Ontario, she’s showing her lovely face on every corner.

When I reflect on my life, I find myself thinking of the before-and-after theme. There have been weight-loss statements, songs, movies, books and yes, life experiences such as we’re living now with that theme. You will have your before-and-after thoughts. Some will cause you to grieve, and others will help you pause to plan, while there will always be those efforts that leave you helpless. Sometimes, acknowledging this helps to cope.

An essential line of thinking about how life changes before our eyes might be around divorce, death in the family, loss of significant finances, friendship, or consistency in your life. Heartbreak and overwhelming emotional responses can cause turmoil for many around during this time. Many people have had loved ones die over the past months and they were not allowed to draw near to them in their last hours. And then the usual gathering of family friends that generously showers support and care on the family would not have been allowed.  So many situations saturated with grief soaks up more of the same.

Consider this chart and add your own words. This is not an exhaustive list, by any stretch of the imagination. It can serve as an example and you can take it from there. You might not have encountered some of the words under ‘before’ or as you read the ‘after’ list, you might think they don’t fit. Do what you can with the chart. It’s yours. Some words may not count, while others might fall right into your everyday life. For some people, it helps to name the situation, even if changes out of their reach.

While walking hand-in-hand with sorrow, perhaps it is the time to welcome a pleasant surprise to help you realize that caring thoughts can make a difference in someone else’s life as well as yours. I’ve read some phrases recently and they have been life changers. In an obituary, “You do not know me, but I . . . I just wanted you all to know that even strangers can feel your pain.”

An author received a surprise note of appreciation for her book. Often the gratitude that we don’t expect or hadn’t requested gives a tremendous word of encouragement. I received this card in the mailbox when I recently gave a much used and loved garden-wagon to a friend.

Try some different and interesting words in the chart. Try for happy thoughts on the ‘after’ side. Look at helpful ways to cope with grief, disappointment, challenge . . . as well as blessings. 

From Yesterday Until Tomorrow

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The year 2020 will go down in history as a grief-stricken year. Yet, books, blogs, memoirs, articles, and essays surface as ways people cope. Social media connects, and friendly emails relate. We touch in with what helps us.

Have you had to cancel significant dates? Arrangements, locations, wardrobes, and invitations now set aside cause people to think of alternative measures. Weddings, anniversaries, graduations, reunions and many other plans bring change.

Limiting and comforting a loved one’s final days has to be a painful experience. Having to say goodbye from a distance heightens family and friend’s grief. And then limited to gather in support of one another as a caring community is a continuous ache in one’s heart

Imposed isolation can be difficult for many. Social connections can sever. Beloved people are out of reach. Loneliness and depression run rampant.  Emotions hold fear captive. Limited finances add to difficulties. Yet, good grief threads its way through unresolved interpretations and increases healing.

In spite of our limits, we’re learning to cope, make-do, do without, fill our time with productive thinking, compromise and tolerate. We continue to accept a new way of life and experience an increasing degree of awareness. We’re learning the importance of receiving help and reaching out to others.

Identifying thoughts and feelings aid in healing. Write a letter to someone today. Add to your journal. Send a digital card. Say a prayer. Sing a song. Tape a smiling face to your front door. Light a candle in your window for front-line workers. Watch the grass open to spring. Think of good things. And, stay well.

 

Where Do We Begin?

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The world has changed. It is grieving. We are in a different Canada than we were this time last month. You will be in a different space in your country. We share differently. And we care differently. Some of us are encircled by family and loved ones which makes it easier to live in this difference. Some people are alone, taking careful steps. Wherever you live on the world’s map, Covid-19 has emotionally decreased the space between us, and yet we are encouraged to widen our personal space with others. We hear stories on the television or radio or social media of grief-stricken areas, people of all ages, and in different situations.

Where do we begin to grieve? How to we support others who are grieving? How do we grieve for a world that is not like it was and will not be again? Because of our contacts, it is not unusual to have friends and acquaintances around the world. Many parents have adult children in different parts of the globe. And many people travel the world for their employment. There are those who are housebound and can not see their community past their window. And of course, we remember the sick and ageing in hospitals and nursing homes. And those in senior’s residence who wait when the door is closed to visitors. The list is long. Where do we begin? How do we keep ourselves aware of those grieving, those in need and those who need a caring thought? And how are you able to receive support and comfort in your grieving?

Take a few moments and write a list of people who come to mind that you can phone or drop a note. As well, be ready for someone who reaches out to you through a loving greeting card, text or message, and receive it graciously. It is a new world we’re living in. And we grieve. 

The only way is up and over

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How long does this road wind up-hill?
I’ve been climbing since that timeless day
When my life suddenly stood still
And in one spot I seemed to stay.

 

I’ll change my shoes, and feel at peace.
But, that only makes me more aware
that avoiding my climb would increase
the load I carried and strain to bear.

Well, I’ll wear my sunglasses, but it doesn’t provide
help as I can’t seem to find a guide.
So I’ll take my cane, and I’ll find my way
Or beside the ditch, I’ll have to stay.

You would have figured out by now that I’m not a poet. Sometimes it’s a good exercise to use grief words when writing. As part of this poem, I thought of a time when I was about twelve and showing cattle with my father. The thought “My heifer should have won that class” haunted me during that fall fair.

As a kid, how did I overcome the grief of loss for that life event? I wouldn’t have used the words grief or loss. I wouldn’t have known the feelings that filled my mind and heart actually had a name. I remember my dad saying, “There’s always next year”. Like the poem suggested, I could change my shoes or wear sunglasses or pretend (maybe that will be my next verse). But the loss still remains in my mind so many years later, although it doesn’t have a tug on my mind. Chuckle! After all these years, I still think my heifer should have won that class.

Think of a memory in your childhood that you wish were different and write a few lines in your journal.

Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of your Life

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Christmas 2019 is over for many people.

For others, it stretches into January as they practice the twelve days of the season.

Was Christmas a day on the calendar through which you are relieved you survived? Did you listen to other people laugh when you remained silent? Did you feel like other’s jokes didn’t include you?  Did you check your watch more than once, hoping you could turn out the lights and go home?

Maybe! But the pleasant flavour in this Christmas soup is that you can put on the lid and let it cool. Give yourself credit. You endured it. Perhaps you learned some new survival techniques. Did something work for you that had failed over the last few months? Is it possible that you look forward to the new year with a renewed sense of belonging, identity, or new answers to old questions? Did you learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before this time? And now you’re ready to put feet to this new truth.

In this short grief reflection, I asked a half dozen questions. You might think that grieve and grow should give you some leads to a more fruitful year ahead. But here I asked questions? Why? Because you are the expert, not me (well sometimes, grief wraps unwanted arms around me too). It is then that I also begin to search for answers. Occasionally, they are right in front of me, and other times I have to go looking.

And now it’s the end of the year.

Maybe it’s been the kind of year that you never want to repeat. Perhaps this year held enough sorrow for a lifetime.

But you, brave one, have put on your runners, did up your laces, and set your eye on the tomorrows of your life. You’ve gathered up some goals for 2020 and said a prayer that with God’s help and/or family or friends, you look at the horizon for a new day to break – and it will, tomorrow.

Take a few moments and jot down some good memories. And then, make a brief wish-list for the tomorrows in your life.

Fear versus Trust

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Have you ever felt helpless because of a situation beyond your control? Emotions surface, such as fear of the unknown, or panic in the immediate cause questions like, ‘what next?’ Perhaps the thought, “If this could happen, then what about other unknown circumstances.”  And notions of unpredictable crises flood your thoughts like a race car heading for the checkered flag. Any of these beliefs can cause anxiety, which can take a person into all kinds of fear.

I saw some of these emotions come to life as I stood on the harbour sidewalk, looking into a dense fog.  Some people were sure the ferry wouldn’t reach the shore. People debated if the ferry did arrive as scheduled, would it make a return trip to the other shore. Sometimes we can talk ourselves into believing the worse scenario.

A woman said, “I’m not going out in that soup.” While another encouraged, “Get a meal and some reading material, and we’ll be home before you know it.

And then cheers rose above the disgruntled comments as people heard the horn and sited the ferry gliding towards the dock with the utmost of confidence. The usual noise followed in the predictable order as the ferry locked into position and opened enormous jaws for cars to drive out. All in precise order, passengers boarded.

Later in the dining area, all our favorites were listed on the menu. After ordering, the competent staff handed plates with steaming food to quiet our appetite. As passengers looked out into nothingness, the ferry pressed through thick fog for close to two hours. As time went on, people brought out decks of cards, some played games on their device, while others talked or slept. I wrote this blog and thought about how trust dissolves fear. Awareness intensifies confidence.

Especially in the grief process, trust and awareness are two huge emotions to conquer the fear of getting lost in the murkiness of the unknown. Sometimes people can lose their way while struggling through the grief process. Failure to acknowledge the shore of peace and confidence is coming closer take them off course.

Consider your grief process. Are there levels of losses, i.e. financial, relationships, leadership, self-confidence that rob you of trust and awareness? Perhaps taking a few minutes to jot them down in your journal will provide the courage to work through foggy situations and bring you peace of mind.

Moving toward safe ground

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When a person steps back from life to regain strength while suffering grief, it’s usually to restore one’s footing or to find a familiar normal. When someone in your life is missing or has died, life changes. If a situation cannot recover in a lifetime, or if a person suffers one loss after another in a short period, life changes forever. Support systems can be fragile or may be absent, so it seems natural to move into oneself. It helps to withdraw, to seek a safe place away from voices who say ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ It’s natural to want to hide one’s head.

Several years ago, I found a turtle on the side of the road. Its cracked, hard shell showed a remarkable pattern of a long life.  No doubt, a vehicle had hit it. Every day I walked to the bottom of our lane to get the mail and while there, I checked on Franklin—I’d named him after the turtle in the children’s storybooks.

Because a narrow but robust stream ran under a bridge on our lane, I assumed Franklin lived there. When he grew stronger, I consistently steered him toward the water. At first, he resisted my nudging and then finally put out one foot and then the other one from the gravelly side of the road to the long grass, and onto the soft mud on the banks of the creek.  One day I came down for the mail and Franklin was gone.

I liken this experience to opportunities to care for one another. Sometimes, it’s a neighbour, or the legion, or the church, or a family member. Sometimes it is not any of those. A person who tumbles out of the ordinary into ongoing change benefits from someone helping him or her put one foot in front of the other, to be gently steered back to solid ground, assisted to trust little steps through changes to a new normal.

While reading this, did someone come to your mind that you’ve helped to find solid ground,, walked beside, nudged until new confidence is born? Perhaps jotting a few notes will bring some good memories.

 

Trudging Through the Winters of Life

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It’s been a long winter in some areas of Canada. As I write this blog at the end of March, I watch for a robin or some sign that the calendar page will turn soon. I wait for a new beginning, a spring full of colour and sunshine.

A couple of nights ago as I sat in front of the wood fire, watching the flames dart here and there, I thought of the movie Kiss and Cry. This true story of a Canadian girl wants life over death. She wants a new beginning after months of surgery, chemotherapy, exercises, and disappointment. She has a career in skating and singing, but her winter continues. She does not see her springtime.

I was intrigued by the way 18-year-old Carley Allison lived a day at a time to her death. I was captivated by the way her family and boyfriend walked her to death’s door. And her constant response to their concern and distress was to smile. She didn’t deny where her journey was taking her, but she showed yet another way to move toward her death.

Some of us are going through this with another. A few are not able to smile. And many of us won’t even attempt to walk a similar passage of time with a loved one who is facing death. If you can, do it. The ones whose footsteps are shorter than ours will help us. And at times, they will lead the way.

If you have walked a loved one through this time of their life and death, jot down a few notes as a reminder of sharing this holy time.

Grief Can Surface on Any Corner

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Do you ever wonder when you turn on the news what crisis, tragedy or loss of life the broadcasters are going to throw across your television screen? When I watch, sometimes I am brought to tears. House fires, airplane crashes, car accidents, and the list continues. Sometimes names of missing persons flash in front of me with people’s faces, names, and locations.

Realizing that each incident, involves women, men, and children, I always take it further to think about their families. Who is grieving? How does Grandma grieve alone in her apartment or retirement home? How do parents mourn loss when they don’t know all of the particulars? How do families tell their children, cousins, and neighbours?

Some people can’t bring themselves to post personal and painful news. They need a little time before seeing their situation in print. Others use Facebook or LinkedIn to tell friends, immediately. Sometimes people ‘share’ these posts, so many people as possible receive the message.  Whichever way works for you is the right way.

This morning I chatted with a granddaughter who lives many miles from me. As we batted messages back and forth, I found tears resting on my face. It is too far to drop in and offer to stay with the children to provide some free mom-time. I can’t expect to see her for a casual visit or sit at the picnic table on our deck for a BBQ. So we do the next best thing, we pass our news back and forth as best we can and be thankful we have that contact.

We grieve in many different ways. News, both expected and surprised, emerges in many social media posts. We might feel helpless because of the miles that separate us from the one who posted. It is good to remember that we can show care in many ways. We are not expected to solve a problem, but it is always good to respond, to be positive and to help the sender take one more step along a difficult path.

Stay positive; provide whatever good news you can. Offer support even when circumstances have changed. And hopefully, your response will fill a void in someone’s life. Someday they might be the one to return the care.

As you reflect on ways you approach any given situation, think of people at the other end of the message, newscast or newspaper article. What comes to mind for you?

 

Today, Tomorrow and Forever

Even though grief is a natural response to loss, it doesn’t always give a person much warning. Granted if you’re walking someone along the unpredictable path towards their death, you have the opportunity to plan, to think and to make decisions.

However, if the death happens unexpectedly and you’re caught off guard, tremendous feelings of helplessness can fall into place. It is here that the body provides endorphins to give adequate energy to do what has to be done. Drawing support from other people is not always possible. Preparing a list of people to call, writing notices to inform while remaining in touch with one’s own needs can be difficult to keep the path straight in front of your feet. Even though tragedies, as far away as the other side of the world beg attention through the media, those who capture your heartstrings in your community, faith circle and family, warrant loving care.

A family situation can draw you quickly into memories.  That’s where I seemed to go in a recent experience of sorrow, regret, and love. Often those three emotions scramble for first place while making sense of any death. This is normal and can be counted on to appear at the most unexpected time. Honour them, give them a place . . . for a while, and except for love, release the rest. Grieving is a normal emotion — part of who we are. We grieve because we have loved. We would not want it any other way.

Drawing on good memories are winners every time when we walk the grief path. When I think of the one for whom I grieve, musician, writer and faith come to mind. Guitar picking as a master, barre chording as a pro while turning his first finger into a capo; a natural composer of songs; one who strove to understand the mind of a child to carefully explore setting and dialogue; and sketched images to life.

Rest in Peace: Daniel Guy Mann: November 30th, 1969 till January 22, 2019.
Son, brother, father, nephew, grandson, cousin, friend, and child of God.
You are loved.

Remembering our nephew, Daniel.

If you were to write about the impact of the last person for whom you grieve, you would make your own list. And with each talent, skill or interest you will stir up memories to stand in for your loss. Look for good thoughts. They are helpful and life-giving.