Category Archives: joy

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.

 

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Gettin’ Sweaty & Breathin’ Heavy (4)

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It is the last week of ‘training’ before the first 10K commitment is to be achieved. So far I’ve managed to keep up an every other day pace with my training – even kept it up during a trip down to my nephew’s wedding. That weekend I hit my 9K goal!  And since? Allergies have been, pardon my language, pissing. me. off. Haven’t done a long run since returning home. But have done a 5K and a 20 min straight up, no walking allowed, run as well.

Every step forward is a step in the right direction, yes?

Honestly, now I am a bit freaked out.   But this one is all for mom – the Freedom Run for Diabetes.  And in the end it isn’t  about how fast I can be, it is about doing this to honour my mom and her beautiful spirit.

 It is about taking another step forward.

Now….on with the blog!

Another goal in the process has been to cultivate compassion for others – right now, specifically for a person who I feel has betrayed me.   (Sorry, no details folks…)  [You may feel that you’ve been betrayed, maybe the following story might help you find your balance.]compassion-definition

For this goal  the help of a counsellor was enlisted (she also helped with the grieving process…) as well as my best friend & her hubby (txs for the fire pit!).

Asking for help = taking a step forward.

Over the past 2 months I’ve come the conclusion (supported by collected male opinions) that an apology or discussion with this particular person is probably never going to happen.  Wait.  Strike that.  Will never happen.   So it is up to me to find a way to let it go, for good  and for-ever.

S#!*.  Time to get the ‘big girl pants’ on!  Take another step forward.

Discussing my frustrations, we came to the conclusion that something symbolic needed to be done.  And that needed to be an action I probably would never do on my own, or do on a regular basis.

A fire was lit.   Yep.   Burn baby burn.  Holla!

Long story, shortened.

Bonfire.

Photos of life event together.

Weirded out by how each photo (which we of course related to the person in the photo) burned differently – kinda wild and creepy at the same time.

Yummy S’Mores.

Hatchet.

Video of life event together.

Yummy S’Mores.

More Bonfire.

More photos of life event.

You get the idea.  Most satisfying part?  Hatchet time.   Mwuahahaha!

All of this? =  One more step forward.

In the end, even though this has been a tough week for training it has been a summer of realization and moving forward.  One important lesson I’ve learned is that its ok to have compassion for someone who has betrayed you.  Compassion allows the negative emotions to be released, which then brings more balance (& positivity) to your own life.

Verbalizing this = the release of the emotions = one more GIANT step forward.  Fostering the process and allowing ourselves to go through our own individual process, in running and in life.

Just one more way that running seems to be a metaphor for life.

May have to add this to my playlist!

Gettin’ Sweaty & Breathin’ Heavy 2013 (3)

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UnknownOne of the reasons for starting this running habit, as listed in the first GSBH2013 post, was to change my commitment karma.    Without going into the gory details, lately there has been much analyzing of past relationships — which at some point always leans towards finger being pointed away from myself, aaaaaand then right back towards myself again.    At some point it seemed like this process of finger-pointing was a reason to feel like a bad person, a selfish person – but now am beginning to consider that perhaps this is human nature.  It’s hard to look at yourself and own your actions!

It seems trite to say that ‘running is a metaphor for life’, but it works for this runner.   The first 10K race is coming up (yipes…) and what I am certain of is that if I get my butt out the door for a run every other day the 10K will be doable.   Will it still be a physical challenge?  Yes.  But  the tools to be able to push through and do my personal best will be there at the ready.    Doing the exact same run every time will result in more of a physical and mental challenge on race day.   Striving for a longer distance every week will, with any luck, better prepare me mentally — and  my 45yr old body will have a better chance at stepping up to the challenge (keeping my fingers crossed that my body does not implode on race day….LOL).

In other words, the amount of commitment and energy put into training will be reflected likewise in the end result – both mentally and physically.   Apply that to relationships – the amount of commitment and energy put into relationships (of all kinds) will be reflected likewise in the other persons commitment and willingness to step up.

It must also be said that as we age we realize that our bodies are not always able to step up to our level of commitment.   Teaching dance and learning about sport has taught me that sometimes our physical ability doesn’t always match our level of commitment.  When that happens we need to take a step back and evaluate, is there another way to accomplish this goal with this body?   Or do I need to let it go and move  new direction?

Sometimes you can put energy and commitment into a relationship – and no matter what you do it isn’t reflected back likewise.   Those are the moments when you need to take a step back and reevaluate – not just your actions and/or the other persons actions, but consider if it is realistic to pursue this particular relationship.  Letting go is the hardest part – but sometimes its necessary for one’s own well-being and survival in this crazy world.

Actions truly do speak louder than words – and letting go is an action that speaks volumes about one’s commitment to self-worth.

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Quotes from John Stanton’s Facebook page (founder of The Running Room):

“Commitment… being loyal to your goal and accountable to yourself.”

“To define who you are and what you mean to yourself …go for a run.”

Am running to a huge playlist that surprises me at every step and interval.  LOVE when this song kicks in.

Gettin’ Sweaty & Breathin’ Heavy 2013

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When this blog began I had signed up for my first one month hot yoga challenge. The experience of yoga on a regular basis in addition to the experience of the hot room proved to be a physical challenge and provided some inspiration for this blog as well.  In the end it also fostered some unnecessary injuries and issues with heat stroke — so I do continue to do yoga but in a slightly different setting.

What I feel like after I've completed a run.

What I feel like post-run.

MY 2013 CHALLENGE IS…..drumroll please….  

Running 2 (yes 2) 10k races (September and October).

Holy.

Crap.

Some have asked, “What/who are you running from?”

That answer is more complex than I initially thought.

I am running from heart disease and diabetes (both were my mom’s arch nemeses).

I am committing to run to change my commitment karma, if you will.  Out with the one-sided relationships with people who cannot commit to the basic concepts of a relationship: Communication, Friendship and Honesty.   Bring on the healthy commitment karma!

I am running to get through the grief.  Running in the hope of somehow recreating my mother’s strength and perseverance, and honouring her spirit.

And  I am running to flush out the disappointment and frustrations of past relationships for good, and forever.  Maybe I can somehow cultivate compassion through running.

Finally, and equally as important as the rest, I am running because the post-run high is pretty freakin’ fabulous.

Mom lived with Diabetes for 20+ years and persevered through those last 2 years of life with a multitude of issues  and challenges (as a result of long-term diabetes), so therefore there is no reason why I couldn’t  move my butt 3-4 times a week. And by all means I can get out there on race day and give it my best.  And for what its worth – mom had diabetes, heart disease and cancer (x2) and my dad has had cancer (x1)- the odds are stacked against me and I need to keep movin’!

There are no illusions of grandeur, as there is virtually no chance of my placing in the top ten of any age group – I just want to get out there and do my best.  With any luck I will not be the last person to straggle across the finish line.

Have I ever run anything in my life? Not since about grade 5. Though I was a decent runner at that time — it was more than a few decades ago.

I want to prove to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to.   To show everyone (and myself) who is afraid of being 45, divorced, with no children, that it is going to be ok.  In fact, its pretty damn liberating at the best of times!  That at 45 yrs of age one doesn’t need to give in to what society deems as  OLD, and that to feel young one doesn’t need to pretend they are in their 20’s either. Doing new things challenges us to do and think differently, we interact with different groups of people, and in this case, we do a bit of good as well.

There.

It’s official.

I’ve made this commitment ‘public’.

Oi. Vay.

“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.

No barriers, no limits.

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The world of dance encompasses a vast range of ages, abilities, dance forms/disciplines, classes, repertoire, and commitment.  I believe that this is the beauty of dance – that it does and can encompass vast spectrum of forms.     Most recently my teaching experience has come to incorporate more variations on ability than I had ever dreamed possible.   Once a week there is a group of adults that gathers in a large studio and together we explore dance and movement through various sequences of movement. Each piece of music used is a crescendo from the previous, each movement becomes slightly more complex with each change of exercise.  Posture, breath, strength, flexibility, sequences of movement, qualities of movement, and tandem movement, are developed alongside an ever-increasing giggle amongst the students.   This group of adult students provides proof that with a positive outlook, laughter, perseverance, and sheer resilience anything can be achieved.

Cerebral Palsy (which generally classifies a broad range of limitations related to neurological function – unfortunately a bit of a catch-all term)

Stroke

Muscular Dystrophy

Down Syndrome

Parkinson’s

Visual Impairment

Wheelchair bound

High muscle tone

Low muscle tone

Developmental delay

Each one of  the students in the class lives with one or more of these conditions ranging from low to high function.  Some are wheelchair bound permanently, some only for specific activities, some use walkers and those who are able to walk often have limitations which affect their ability to command their stride.  Some are non verbal yet have excellent comprehension, and some are behind developmentally ( young at heart!).   At first glance each one has every reason to complain about their situation, to soak it in, and let it consume them, and yet they do not.   There is an acceptance and an acknowledgement of what is and an understanding of possibility  [and everything is possible].    There is no negativity, no egos,  the occasional frustration sneaks in but is quickly eased with the supportive laughter of the group and their ability to lighten the mood.  Nothing but a willingness to try their best and an increasing openness to push themselves a little further than they did the last week.  When they are having a bad day [physically] they simply work through it as best they can.

When we began the program my goal was to provide an atmosphere where the students could explore dance without barriers, without limits.  Having limited knowledge of individual circumstances I had no idea what to expect, and so I worked to approach my teaching without the usual barriers and expectations as well, working to ‘go with the flow’ and explore the abilities of each person.  At first when I attempted to guide them through an exercise which required them to explore drawing lines in the space I was met with a look that said ‘she wants us to do what?’.     Two years later we are exploring ways to challenge our balance, how to control our limbs in focused, controlled motion, connecting to other dancers in the room, and creating shape and lines with our bodies in new ways.  Accompanying their movements is Debussy, Yo-Yo Ma, the Beatles, Jamiroquai, Edgar Meyer,  Bobby McFerrin, and so many more.

Regardless of the stress of the day the hour spent with these students is full of laughter and the exploration of what CAN be accomplished within the different abilities of each individual.   They are inspiring!

We assume that prerequisites of dance are artistry, technique, and a specific ‘ideal’ physique.   This group of individuals has shown me that ultimately dance [and art] requires only one thing of us – to be present.   To simply be present in the moment, in our bodies, in the class, and in the music.   HOW we move our bodies does not matter – what matters is having the courage to be present, to take a risk,  and to trust ourselves and our bodies to push beyond perceived barriers or limits [societal, traditional, or imagined].

To be continued…