Category Archives: family

Defrost for freedom

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[Written a few months ago, but certainly still relevant…]

Let It Go; A phrase as misunderstood and as misused as Be In the Moment.

Its December 26th, we can now say that Christmas has passed (unless you have gatherings continuing for the next week) and the calendar woefully reminds us that yet another year is over. Gone. Kaput. Though am not much for resolutions – let’ s be honest, they are just one more way we get in our own way – it seems like the notion of ‘Let It Go’ might be something to think about.

Recently I found myself talking to a friend who struggles with anxiety, encouraging her to let it go. Yes, its hard to do, but it is such an important step in our mental and emotional health as human beings — and in particular, as women. Just the whole hormonal rollercoaster of adolescence alone seems to make us hold on to things people have said or done ‘to us’.

Its simple concept, that can seem impossible – it can take an hour/day/month/years to achieve. And even then, every once in awhile whatever it was that you let go tries to sneak back into your consciousness. Almost as if ‘it’ is challenging your mental toughness, your ability to stand strong.

My strategy is to continue to take a step back from those situations that make me want to react negatively, or are hurtful, and ask ‘what about this situation is within my control?’. The answer is always the same – the only things I can control are my actions & words. Therefore, the best i can do is to check myself ‘what am I responsible for in this situation?’ ‘what words/actions did I choose?’ ‘ Is there a way to correct my actions/words/role in this situation?’.

The beauty of this plan is that (I believe) it can apply to many areas of life. Struggling with past relationships/situations? “What about _______ is within my control?” If its in the past — none of it is currently within your control, is it? You can acknowledge the memory, talk about it if needed, but at the end of it all you cannot go back and change your actions or role.

“What about my childhood was within my control?”

(In my opinion) Well, as children we are generally not in control – we trust the adults around us to make appropriate decisions for us. And sometimes the adults don’t always make (what we feel) are the right choices – they are human after all. Do you control the choices your parents made when raising you? Most likely the choices made had less to do with how your parents felt about you – and more to do with how they were raised (what they know) and what was going on in their own lives at the time.

Good Grief!

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Thinking back over this past year there have been many lessons learned through the process of grieving. It is a strange thing, grief.  Most days I have not consciously felt that I was grieving, and then one day it reaches out to gently remind me that the heaviness is still there.  Or my massage therapist comments on how incredibly messed up my muscles are and then reminds me that we sometime store our grief in our bodies.   Am thankful that it seems to be less and less raw, less palpable, over time it has moved from being a smack upside the head to a somewhat gentle nudge that (still) stops me in my tracks.

There are now two distinct phases in life: The time when mom was with us, and the time after mom died.   I think we all try not to categorize life according to death but in our minds we inevitably, yet silently, think ‘oh right that was just after/before mom died…’.  From what I understand that frame of reference will stand forever.

I thought I would share a list of things that have surprised me about grief.

  1. How inexplicably tired you feel when grieving, particularly in the first few months. You try so hard not to think about the loss, but you somehow cannot stop. And then when you do stop you feel numb, and guilty for not thinking about it.
  1. How it pretty much takes up all available real estate in your mind.   Seriously.   In my experience I feel that I lost about two months of conscious thought – can’t remember much from the funeral onwards. After the two month mark the haze began to lift.
  1. The numbness.   It is a weird sensation – you know you should be feeling something at any given moment but you are just numb.   Child’s birthday party? Happy, right? Nope. Dance recital, happy times? Nope. You try really hard but it just does not register on the emotion meter.
  1. Exaggerated emotional experiences. Oi. Someone made the mistake of reminding me of the tumultuous end of a relationship. BIG mistake. Anger like I have never felt before – about two months worth. On the upside, it gave me something else to do beside be numb and sad. Was thankful that I was feeling something.
  1. People have very different reactions to your grief.   Some seem to assume that once the funeral is over and you have returned to ‘life’ that all is well, grieving is done. NOT.   And then there are those who have never experienced loss and just look at you with this pitiful look (and then my own reaction in my head, OMG I used to do that to people too..).   In that awkward moment you want to get mad at that person – but I think its important to remember that in a few months you will realize that they really did mean well, they just didn’t know what to say.
  1. It sneaks up on you. As time passes you begin to feel more and more normal, and then something/someone reminds you of the person you lost. And you implode. Perhaps a small implosion, perhaps large. For me the big implosions happen in places where mom made the biggest contributions, or with people who meant a lot to her. Mind you it also happens when I watch the Food Network – it was something we did together when she was in the nursing home and long-term care.   Depends on the day and the moment.
  1. Not everybody will know that you lost someone close to you and at some point they will ask you ‘How is your mom/loved one doing?’.   My estimation is that this will happen more than once over the years to come, and to most people who have experienced loss.   The first time it happens you are completely shocked, and the only thing you can say is ‘It’s ok, you didn’t know’ and mean it. Again, it is not on purpose or personal.
  1. At some point I realized that I compartmentalize it.   I live about four hours away from my parents home, so it is easy to separate myself from the grief. But, when I go home to visit there it is, awaiting my arrival with wide-open arms. Compartmentalizing isn’t always bad – it can actually be a good tool to cope with the grief and get on with living life.   I think the key is to remember where you put your grief so you can prepare yourself for it and face it, and to also revisit it once in awhile.
  1. Facing it is good. Hard, but good in the long run. Facing the loss and the pain is important – and perhaps it helps you to feel the parallel of the fullness and joy of life a little easier. Reaching out to friends or a counselor can facilitate the release of it all when needed – and sometimes when you least expect it. Letting loved ones in your life know that you are hurting – really important (and hard to do sometimes).
  1. The big lesson in grief (for me) sounds so trite. Live each day as if it were your last. Live with appreciation for the people who love you and whom you love. Have gratitude for all the good in life, in the world.   Will your life then have no pain, no sadness or struggle? No. But you will be better prepared to deal with it when it comes your way.

When grief gives me a nudge I will let it stop me in my tracks for a moment – because that moment probably is accompanied by a memory.

Remembering is healing.

Grief can be good.

Remembering is good.

 

“Is this a test?”

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lilac-bushFor those who have followed this blog you have read various posts relating to many cherished family memories, as well as some challenging family moments.  On April 24, 2013, my mom passed away.  The writer in me has been struggling to find the words – and trying not to post my grief on Facebook (too much).   

They say that grief is a process.  It has stages.  I am sure that many have written books and journals on the process, analyzing it down to what may be believed to be a precise process.  What I know to be true is that grief does not form itself into a specific, set-in-stone pattern.  The loss of my mother has knocked me sideways, upside down, thrown me down, and  picked me back up, only to go through it all again.

For me, right now, the key is allowing the emotions to come to the surface.  Acknowledging the sadness, the loss, as well as the good memories that arise as you move through it all is an opportunity to let go of the pain.   Note:  ‘…to let go of the pain (not the person).’

So here we go…

Our childhood was steeped in the Lutheran community of our hometown in Minnesota.  We lived a half a block away from the church and both of our parents were involved in many aspects – from Sunday school to vacation bible school, pancake breakfasts to Lenten suppers, ushering at services to  bible studies and altar guild.  Like making a perfect pot of tea we were soaked in it like precious tea leaves.

Despite all of that – once I left home (and even before) religion seemed like a lot of pomp and circumstance and not much substance.   Admittedly, I leaned quite far away from my faith for many, many years.  Heck, I even married (& divorced) a ‘self-professed Atheist’ for heaven’s sake!

And then, after all mom had been through since the cardiac arrest – she was diagnosed with Stage IV Liver Cancer with approximately 4 months to live.  She received the news on Good Friday of all days.  Shortly thereafter mom began receiving a drug treatment to extend her life a bit longer, then Dad called to tell us she was in the hospital again.  Without asking, his voice was enough to urge us home.

Doctor G. told us that he didn’t recommend another treatment.

Pastors prayed with us.

And mom asked, “Is this a test?  Is God testing me?”

As I heard her ask the question I realized that this truly was not a test of her deep and abiding faith.  What I saw in action was that God was with her as she moved through this painful ending.

Life unfolds according to our choices, and God walks through all of it with us – if we let him.

In hindsight, it came together quite logically. Family and her dear friends gathered by her side.  The Nurses listened and worked to ease her pain.  The pastors from the church visited, prayed and offered support.   Her grandson arranged a Skype chat with her son who was overseas.   The son (J) who visited rarely called to say he was on the way.  We were all certain Mom’s eternal Hope would prevail.

And as much as mom always wrapped her children in absolute, unconditional love –  God did the same for her.

Mom and Dad had a great visit with J. when he arrived.  All of her children had visited in person or by Skype.  That evening God wrapped her in his love and took her home.

At the funeral  Pastor D quoted John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.  That whomever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  It was the one scripture I memorized as a child, only now does its true meaning reveal itself.  I feel that if my parents had not instilled their Faith in us when we were children, that today my heart would be eternally broken.

Through this faith I know, and believe, that mom lives on enjoying gardens that she had never imagined would ever exist, and that the skies have one more bright, shining star watching over us.  Perhaps most importantly, I know that she is with me (& our family) everyday.

Grateful for my amazing mom.  Grateful for this life lesson.

…dusty summer days…

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Yes, It’s True!   A new post!  What the?   If there is anyone out there that hasn’t given up on my ever posting on this blog again – I hope you enjoy today’s inspired post.  And thanks for sticking with me.

The temperatures are climbing’ today – fortunately the humidity is low so my little apartment with no A/C is bearable.  Though the cats might disagree.    I find inspiration in the strangest places sometimes – today I was making lunch and found myself enjoying some wonderful childhood memories…

As I picked apart a cold, roast chicken – trying to get every last tidbit of goodness before tossing the bird – the heat of the day came upon my little kitchen.  The sound of the fan in the window working diligently to keep the thickening air moving through my apartment, over my skin, and (hopefully) ruffling the fur of my cats.   Street noises wafting through the window, creating a soundtrack to the process of making a yummy sandwich.

I don’t know what it was – the heat, the sound, the garden fresh produce, or the frugality of how I picked apart that chicken…I began to remember the hot summer days of my childhood back in the upper midwest of the US.   Though I hesitate to admit it, this was a time before A/C was common in homes or cars.   The days when you had to hibernate in the coolness of the basement and could turn the sprinkler on in your front yard and every kid in the neighbourhood would suddenly come by for a visit and run through the sprinkler – and when lemonade stands were a common happening (and every adult in on the block was obliged to stop by – and did so happily).

Our mom grew up in a huge family and on a  prosperous seed farm in North Dakota. Though the family business had gone through many changes by the time I came around, the farmstead was still working — our aunt ‘Mousie’ and her family kept it alive as a dairy farm.  The main house was a big white house with a big front porch – now that I think about it for a family of 12 + all the workers on the farm — the kitchen was tiny!

In the summer there always seemed to be family get together at the farm.  I remember helping mom make her mother’s potato salad recipe in a massive quantity, with radishes from our garden sliced and placed on the top ‘just so’.  Dad would pack a cooler and then pile six of us into the car, making our way out to the farm down the interstate and onto the dusty, hilly county roads.  I don’t know exactly how many people would attend, but it always seemed like a huge number of people to my little eyes.  If memory serves correctly we’d set up lunch in a buffet style in the house – the usual fare –  hot dogs & burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, potato salad (of course), buns, baked beans, coleslaw, some sort of jello salad with mini marshmallows that slurped out of a Tupperware jello hold, and there would be a cooler of pop and a separate cooler of beer (for the adults).  Watermelon and vanilla ice cream (made with actual cream) were the standard dessert.   Mom’s family was a whopping 12 siblings!  All the girls learned how to cook, pluck and butcher a chicken (from the hen-house to the stove), shuck the corn, can the produce, keep a house, and the boys learned how to work the land. [oh, the irony..]

I remember all the adults getting together to play softball in the yard.  The yard was huge and green,  huge trees bordered the yard (over by the old chicken coop) and the far end by the dirt road.  To this day you could probably fit a full baseball diamond in the yard (minus the outfield).   It as hot hot hot and dusty.   Can’t remember who played on what teams, but I remember cheering them on and admiring the fact that they could hit and catch a ball (I still can’t do that to this day).   There was a lot of eating, catching up on life, and sharing memories of the farm and farm-life.   Though we were  exhausted by the end of the afternoon and fully ready to head home, we never really wanted to leave.  There was so much to explore and so many stories to hear.

Or maybe my memory is skewed by time.   Being the youngest in my family I probably didn’t have the patience to sit and hear ANOTHER story, but you couldn’t drag the adults away from those conversations! So, I was ‘forced’ to endure… : )

Things have changed now – aunt Mousie and her husband passed away many years ago, and the three remaining sisters all live in the city (though all in close proximity).  The farm is still standing – aunt Mousie’s youngest son and his wife maintain the farmstead, though farming itself has changed so much over the past ten years.  The land is now farmed by neighbouring farmers.

Am so thankful that I had the chance to listen to those stories and get to know some of the characters (relatives).   I remembering feeling that I never wanted for anything – though in reality I think that we had only what we needed.   It’s an important lesson I think.   There wasn’t any excess, people worked hard, and the presence of family was consistent.  To this day the three remaining sisters see each other weekly and whenever the kids and grandkids are home they make an event of it.

As kids we were always busy busy busy during our school year, but it’s those dusty summer days that are most prevalent in my mind today.  Good times.

ichoose…

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[Am taking a deep breath and posting this one…it feels tremendously personal.  I have chosen to take a leap and go with it.]

My mothers’ recent health crises has, as said in previous posts, sent me spinning.

Whirling.

Tumbling.

Into an unknown that has hit us all. Hard.

My mother’s strength, perseverance, positivity, and creativity, are an inspiration.  Listening to Sarah Kay in a recent TED lecture I was moved to consider my perspective through this new life challenge.  Her words are illuminating and encouraging.

Reading Ken Robinson’s The Element inspiration is found not only in his philosophy, but in the stories he tells of  achievements against all odds or expectations.  His words have reminded me of the notion that life is a series of choices that are presented to us, with each choice there must be an acceptance of consequence and a certain commitment to fulfilling that choice.  When we follow our passion [when we are in our element], we fulfill that choice  with authenticity, in turn the process is joyful and time is fleeting.   We are then true to ourselves.   In a society focused on immediate success void of failure, it is sometimes very difficult to make those authentic choices.  I propose a new app for that.

ichoose…

‘ichoose’ is an app that takes into consideration our values, beliefs, and priorities for us.  It considers our personal histories and happenings which are woven within this crazy life.   Simply tap the ichoose app!  [wouldn’t it be great if all decision-making was so simple?]

And so, Today ichoose…

  • gratitude.
  • to seek [and remember] laughter being shared with my mother and family, for it is truly the best medicine.
  • to be thankful for family that, despite physical or emotional distance, comes together in their own way to support one another and our parents.
  • to appreciate and respect the amazing gift that is the human body with all of its systems keeping things in homeostatic check, so that we can move through life and pursue our dreams.
  • to find ways to combine all that I know, and all that I do not know, to craft ways to encourage others [and remind myself] to learn to love and appreciate moving their bodies in an attempt to prevent any possible chance of their experiencing diabetes.
  • to craft ways to encourage youth to give their health the attention it deserves.
  •  to write my way through all of this.
  • authenticity.
[if this was an app it would need accompaniment…such as Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello, Adele singing anything at all [she is brilliant], or this amazing contrast of classical music and breaking].
What would you choose?   What music might be your accompaniment?

With Gratitude…

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On Wednesday, January 19th my mom suffered a massive heart attack.   Thankfully, she had already been admitted to the hospital on the previous day for another condition and there happened to be a cardiologist by her bedside when it happened.

Arriving to the hospital I quickly learned that for those few minutes [during the heart attack]….her heart and breath stopped.

S T O P P E D.

The magnitude of that moment is unnervingly humbling.

Immediately our family rallied to her bedside wanting, needing, to do something to make it all better.   Holding her hand as she dreamt the dreams only medications and painkillers can induce and felt the pain that continued in her legs (a previous condition) while she slept, we doted over her every concern.   The nurses in both the ICU and on the floor were wonderful, compassionate and caring, telling her what was happening whether she was alert or not.   We joked with her about the dialysis being ‘spa treatments for her blood’ and gave her foot massages to ease the discomfort in her legs.

Amidst all of this there were those moments of quiet when mom and I would talk about what was happening, where she was, and how she got there.  At one point she asked that we keep a daily journal for her so that later on she could read about the events and the days to follow – she doesn’t remember making that request at this point but am so glad that she did.   We have kept it and I hope that it will help her to better comprehend all that has happened and just how blessed she truly is.  [If ever you are faced with a similar situation I strongly recommend this – for the patient and for yourself as well, it is so easy to forget when/what procedures were done and Doctors comments/instructions amidst the surreal nature of the situation.]

During crisis such as these I go into my own ‘crisis mode’ and work to stay focused on the positive, giving encouragement and being there for her.  [Basically doing what I can to not think about what might be or could have been – otherwise knows as denial or avoidance!]  And then, once the storm has calmed a bit, reality sinks in.  This time the reality was HUGE.  The ‘what if’, ‘could have’  and ‘what now?’ thoughts begin to filter into my world and I/we cannot even comprehend the answers.  Writing this today I still have difficulty comprehending it all.

About four days after the heart attack I was chatting with mom and she began talking about how much we take for granted in this life.  Simple things, really.  Like standing, sitting, walking…. and on a larger scale  – LIVING.  The miracle of medical science and how they can take a small instrument, as thin as a fishing line and feed it through an artery in the hip to reach the damaged heart muscle and repair it.    The miracle of dialysis – how they can remove blood from a person, filter it through a machine (kind of like a wash cycle for the blood), and return it to the body.

Though mom doesn’t remember much of our being by her side in those first few days, every one of those moments is a gift.

Life is a gift.  Living is a gift.

Each of us is a gift, a miracle – whether we feel like we are a miracle or not at any given moment or day.  We are.  YOU are.

Honor the miracle of your life and the life of those around you.

Take care of your health and give your body the respect it deserves.

Each and every day.

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In the Quiet Stillness..

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It.  Is.  Almost.  Here.

CHRISTMAS!!!!

This is my most favourite time of the year, EVER!  The snow, the lights, the music, the smells, friends and family gathering, the cooking (it’s the only time of the year I really enjoy doing this part), the decorations…

In our  family Christmas Eve meant attending a midnight church service, it was magical.  Families dressed up in their  Christmas best, and came together to the church.  The children attending were very excited about being able to stay up late and greetings of ‘Merry Christmas!’ resounded in the hallways of the church.  Traditional carols were sung from the words that were projected on the wall at the front of our church (yes, before we had Powerpoint), and the pastor spoke  from a spotlight in the pulpit about the birth of  christ.

And then, at the very end of the service and the church was engulfed in darkness, the choir processed from the balcony, each holding a candle and singing ‘Silent Night’.  Each congregant also had a candle and  the light was passed along from one to the next.  In the glow of the candlelight and the choir encircling the congregation and we sang together, in english and in german (it is Minnesota after all).  The last verse was always hummed (still is today).

In the moment following the final note there was a silence, a stillness, among the congregation.  As I reminisce I realize that in that silence, if we paid close attention, we found the greater meaning of Christmas… it truly is not about us or about finding that perfect gift, is it?

All in a moment of…

Quiet Stillness.

There is still a Christmas Eve service like this at the church, though its much earlier in the evening now and the congregation is about a quarter of the size it was then. It still brings me to tears, leaving me in awe of the gifts given to us.

In the midst of the rush to complete our Christmas shopping, the throngs stampeding the malls to find the gifts that are just right (and the most popular) for our loved ones, let’s take a moment to remember why we celebrate Christmas.  Find that moment of quiet stillness.

We hear this often around the holidays, remember those who do not have family to be with, or do not have homes in which to celebrate the holiday season within.  Let’s consider this not only  at the holidays, but year round.

(you knew a video was coming, didn’t you?)

Though this is not a recording of ‘Silent Night’, it is absolutely beautiful and elicits stillness.  I suggest lighting the tree and the holiday candles, turning off the iPod, computer games and cell phone, and having a mug of hot chocolate (or mulled wine) while watching this one.

Merry Christmas!