Category Archives: life

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.

 

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 (2)

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155680_566834896670105_1464338912_nThere seems to be something to this whole running business.  Over the past month I have managed to run 3x a week (every other day) and have progressed from 4.3 K to almost 7K.

And the scary thing is  — running feels good.  In my first post I mentioned the reasons why I am doing this running challenge and I have to say that I feel like it is actually helping.

Maybe its a control thing.

Though I cannot control the process of grief  –  I can control whether or not I drag myself out the door for a run.    I can also attempt to change how I am feeling into something positive through running (hello endorphin kick!).

Though I cannot control the actions of others – I can control my actions and how I choose to let go of the resentment.  When I run it feels like all of these emotions are my fuel – turning them into positive energy to be burned off and rinsed away.

We have all thought it and said it before, Life can be hard.   Somedays it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other.  Running seems to be a good way to put this into physical practice on a regular basis – and what I know for sure is that anything you practice regularly becomes habit.  And this is a habit that can make the difference between giving up and  persevering through any situation.

Recommendations:

Good shoes do not have to be expensive – but do have a physiotherapist have a look at them to make sure that the fit and support is good.  This goes a long way in preventing injuries over time.

Ladies buy  yourself a skort.  Love it!

Buy a running hat –  Mine isn’t fancy but its a source of inspiration and keeps me thinking forward while covering my sweaty, dirty hair.

Runkeeper App – LOVE  THIS APP!   Keeping track of distance, pace, time, even heart rate (if you have a monitor) can be very motivating.  It also will email you when you achieve a new goal.

Races – A friend and I have signed up for the two races this fall.   Right now these keep me motivated to get moving because I really don’t want to be crawling over the finish line whether I am in last place or not!

“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.

Shakin’ it off…

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Forgive my lack of posts in the past several, and I do mean several, months.    Life has shifted in a lot of positive ways and some difficult ways too – and as you know, change is always a challenge.

Throughout the past four years I’ve been a bit of a hermit – going to school and working full time doesn’t really allow for much time for ‘fun’.   Since graduating this past October I have been working to up the fun factor in my life.   When I hear that Prince was coming to Winnipeg I thought, oh wow!  His music is so the soundtrack to my high school years.   I remember buying the cassette tape of Purple Rain, and obsessively watching his videos on MTV.  So I purchased the least expensive tickets to the concert just to be there and hear his music.   I wouldn’t say that I was uber-ecstatic about going, but was excited to see him perform live.

The day finally arrived.  We got the concert and [unfortunately] Winnipeg had not sold out the entire arena, but the bonus was that our tickets got bumped up and we sat a level lower in the arena than originally planned (gotta like that!).  Winnipeggers seek the  quality things in life (as long as they are on sale), and are a discerning lot when it comes to our music.

From the moment Prince took the stage we knew it would be a different concert.  Almost the entire audience stood up.   Now, you have to understand, when we went to the Aerosmith concert last year – the majority of the audience remained seated.  What it came down to (for me) was his clear passion for music, and for being true to his art, his craft.  There was no selling out here – no excessive light shows and costume changes, no excessive performance factors.   It was pure music (with only 3 costume changes).

[The best part was an older couple seated to our right (probably in late 60’s) who immediately stood up and danced through the majority of the concert.  Such a huge demographic represented!]

Much of Prince’s music is not available on YouTube (he didn’t even allow the local press to photograph the concert), but a friend posted on the same concert and found a video from the concert on Facebook.    Here it is –  take a moment and shake off your day – and listen to the instruction ‘2 and 4!’.

Stand with Prince. (if this link doesn’t work you’ll have to look it up on facebook — Andy Alo/videos/Stand)

What Prince (and Art) has reminded me of is that sometimes you just gotta put on some music and shake it off!   Cause you know what?

Sometimes life is hard.

We all share that experience.

[Perhaps this is my naiveté speaking, but…]   At that concert it felt like ‘everyone’ that was there, in the moment, feelin’ the music right alongside Prince and the New Power Generation.  And for a few hours, life was a little more joyful, and little easier.

Thank you Live Nation for bringing Prince to Winnipeg.  And thank you Prince for being the true artist that you are.

Here are a couple of other posts on the concert…

Natalie Duhamel

Winnipeg Free Press