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Monday, January 31, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

The bags are packed, the lists checked twice and I am ready for yet another adventure.  I will be attending a conference for a few days, to follow up with my previous post, learning something new.  Of course the location I am heading to is a lot warmer than home, so I am hoping to get some sunshine.  Off to the airport, taking an early flight and God willing landing safely at my destination.  

My destination, I happen to know where I am going, but all too often we set out not knowing what the days destination will be.  We are like the earlier explorers who headed out not knowing what they would encounter or if it would be what they expected at all.  Life is such a journey, we choose our path not knowing where we will end up or if we will even like it when we arrive.  Looking back over my life, I have had many a journey that I would have gladly forgone.  Such detours as the death of my father and later on the death of my daughter, I would have happily have avoided completely.  But yet I know that somehow this is part of my destiny part of my life's journey.  

When I look around me at the people in my life, I also can see how their life's paths have taken them down dark and painful routes, leaving them, as it did me, with a sense of loss, confusion and uncertainty.  An inability to comprehend why, and where I was even headed.  

Oh how I would love to trade my sorrows with anyone else, but yet I know that it is not only impossible, but that their sorrows and pain are sometimes much larger than mine.  I am reminded of a story; a young man was carrying a cross, and he asked Jesus if he could exchange it for another.  Jesus told him, sure just leave it there and choose any one you like.  The young man looked around, he saw so many crosses, some seemed to go on for ever, other just looked to heavy.  Finally he spotted a cross leaning up against the wall, this cross was not too big at all.  He looked at Jesus and said, 'I'll take that one."  Jesus looked perplexed and asked him if he was sure that's the one he wanted.  The young man insisted and said it was the smallest one there, and most definitely the one he wanted.  Jesus just smiled and said sure, it's all yours, but what I don't understand is why you would want the very cross you came in with. The young man looked at Jesus confused, then upon closer inspection, realized that in fact it was the cross he had carried in and laid near the door.  

We often look at our burdens this very same way, we feel that they are so big, so hard to carry, so difficult to bear.  Yet when we look around, we realize that our burdens are really not as bad as we thought, they are more manageable than we first believed.  

There are still many days that I feel this very same way, that the weight on my shoulders is more than I can bear.  I so wish someone else could carry it for me, or take it away completely.  As I open myself up to others, I come to learn that others' burdens seem so much more difficult than mine.  I remember many years ago when I had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I felt my world had collapsed.  My husband and I had been invited to attend a retreat weekend, at first we kept saying no or we weren't sure if this was right for us.  Finally we agreed and off we went on a retreat weekend.  Only Tony and I knew of my diagnosis, so we entered into this weekend with a very heavy burden.  As we listened to the witness talks, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  The message was very loud and clear, trust, believe and all would be okay.  My husband and I met two individuals who had battled, survived and beat cancer.  One was a gentleman who had lost a leg at 17 to bone cancer, who felt he could never be loved because he no longer felt complete.  The other was an older woman who had lost both her breasts to cancer and yet was capable of lighting up a room with her love and compassion.  It made me realize that I need not fear, just let it all go, and trust.  

It was this strength and courage that helped me get through the first days, weeks and months after Rachel's death.  It was this knowledge that I would be cared for that allowed me to say, 'Not mine but your will be done.' as I stood at my daughter's hospital bed side.  Through my faith, I came to believe that I too would survive, I would be okay and that somehow, someday, I would be able to grow, to accept and to move forward.  Whenever I think life is too much for me to handle, I look around, and realize that mine is not that bad.  Yes it is difficult, but there are so many more so much worse off than I am.  So I pick up my burden again, and head out into a new day, not knowing where the path will take me.  Trusting that where ever I end up is where I am meant to be.  

This is not always easy to accept or comprehend, but in time we come to understand and see that we are much better for it.  Rachel continues to be a major part of my life, just the other day I kept saying her name every time I would speak of someone.  I was at a gathering and she was very much on my mind because I knew she would have loved to be present, she would enjoy the people we were with and what was happening.  

Yes, I still shed a tear, I still miss her so very, very much, but I know in my heart that she is 'home' and still very near.  She is a very important part of who I am, today, tomorrow and always, no matter where life takes me.  Our loved ones remain a major part of our lives, walking besides us on life's journey.  The love is very really, very much alive and can be felt even though they may no longer be present.  They are and will always be a part of our lives, sharing their love with us, giving us the memories, and so much more.  This is what you carry with you to help ease the weight of your burdens, to make the pain more bearable, and to learn to accept what may lie ahead.  

So when you are weary, just know that you are not alone, that others may be willing to help carry your burden, and that are burdens are not always as heavy as they seem.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Today's Lesson is....

A person never stops learning!  I am as many of you know, back in school learning that 1. you are never too old to learn something new, and 2. to quote Socrates, 'I know that I do not know?'  So I am attempting yet again to fill in the gap, to learn a little more.  

The one thing that always seems to amaze me is that lessons are not always learned in the classroom.  Lessons are taught and learned every day, from the moment we awaken to the moment our head hits the pillow at night, we are constantly be educated.  The part that really astonishes me at that these life-lessons often times come from the most unlikeliest places.  They make come to us from a child, from billboards, a song on the radio, from the simple words of another, or any number of venues.  The key is to be open to the daily knowledge that is imparted to us.

Today as our Pastor, Fr. Ed spoke to us in the form of the homily, he shared a story.  In this story a young man of about 16 had surgery in which one of his legs had to be amputated.  After the surgery this young man was very upset and angry to the point that his parents took him for counseling.  The counselor asked him to draw a picture of what he was feeling.  He took paper and crayons and drew a vase, placing a black line across the vase.  When asked what this meant, he explained that he was the vase and that the black line was that he was now broken.  A short time later, his cousin was hospitalized also requiring surgery.  His cousin had lost an eye, he went to visit her and when he arrived he found her sobbing uncontrollably.  Realizing that he had to say or do something, he proceeded to remove the prosthesis that they had given him and began to dance around on one leg.  Upon witnessing this sight, his cousin began to smile and then laugh.  Seeing her cousins antics, she said, 'I have lost an eye but I can still sing.  So she sang as he danced, and at that moment they both realized that still had so much to offer. 

In sharing their loss, their very weakness, they learned that they had so much to give, that through their adversities, by allowing it,they could grow beyond the shortcomings.  We are all students of life, whether we believe this or not, really all depends on our outlook on life.  I know I am an individual with so much more yet to learn.  And even though there will be more lessons in my life that will be difficult to not only learn, but to comprehend, I look forward to what they will teach.  As I have shared in an earlier posting, Rachel's death has shown me and taught me, compassion, understanding, and an increased awareness of others' pain.  I am a very different person from the person I knew just a few years ago, and as I look around at people close to me, I also see the changes in them as well.  

One of the biggest messages I received from today's homily is that when we share our pain with others, when we reach out to others in our weakness, we become stronger, we become more aware, we allow ourselves to see beyond our limits, to grasp the new possibilities.   The young man went to see his counselor again, asking him for the drawing back.  The counselor gave the young man is artwork, to which he now taking a yellow crayon, proceeded to color over the black line.  He continued to color over it until more yellow than black was noticeable.  He then explained to his counselor, that he was in fact still broken, but when he allowed himself to see with the eyes of Christ, letting the light back into his life, he realized he had so much to live for.  He could help others because of his brokenness, because of his pain, he could help them see the gifts they possessed.  

We all have so much to share, we have all had our trials, and we all have our own shortcomings and failures, but if we have been good students, we have learned.  This knowledge is ours to give to others, to help others see that there is a way out of whatever they are facing, there is light, love and happiness.  We have our own brokenness, and when we allow the patches to be visible, we let others know that they too can make it, yes there may be scars, there maybe pieces missing, but we gather up what remains, and make ourselves in to a newer, better model, even if the pieces don't seem to go back in just right.  

I'd like to think of myself as a continuously changing piece of art.  A masterpiece that the sculptor is still working on and still has long to go to bring to perfection.  We are all masterpieces and it is the lessons we learn in life that brings out the beauty that lies within.  Our inner strength and beauty shines forth brighter and brighter with each lesson that is learned, with each trial that is faced and overcome, and when we are not afraid to share ourselves with others, especially our brokenness.  

So begin your lessons, strive to learn, and take each day as a new opportunity allow the 'work of art' that is you to emerge.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let me tell you a story...

What do you do with all that pain?  How do you take another step when the load is so hard to bear?  When will all this go away?  When will I smile and laugh again?  

These and so many others were questions I asked myself over the past four years.  My questions came as a result of my daughter's death, but I have come to understand that 'loss' in general leaves so many of us asking these very same questions.  

I began my 'Psychology of Grief' class yesterday and as I looked over my notes, I realized that grief has so many faces.  Yet the pain, the devastation and uncertainty is the same.  As the professor began the class, my fellow classmates and I began to share, to talk about our stories.  I learned that another classmate is also suffering through the death of her child; another is coping through divorce; still another the loss of a limb.  It made me realize that these were all 'deaths' in one form or another.  As I listened to the stories, I could sense the pain, feel the anguish, and hear the uncertainty in their voices.  Like me, they had picked themselves up, they had put on a happy face, and they were working towards understanding, acceptance, and all it has to offer.

This stayed with me all day today, and as I read a few chapters from "Amazing Grace For Those Who Suffer' by Jeff Cavins & Matthew Pinto, I began to see the common thread, the unmistakable human desire to overcome, to survive, to cope and to find our way out of the darkness; whatever that darkness may be.  By nature, I am drawn to stories of encouragement, of overcoming obstacles, of peoples' victories over adversities; and since Rachel's death, stories of parents’ survival after the death of their child.  So it should come as no surprise that I chose to read two chapters 'From Death to New Life' by Dr. Kim Hardey, who shares his journey after the death of his son; and 'I Choose God' by Janet Moylan, who shares her story of grief over the deaths of her husband and daughter on the same day.  In both of these stories, they looked to the support of others, to their inner strength and their belief that God would see them through their pain.  

These stories and the stories of people I have encountered over the years, fills me with hope, helps me find healing, and gives me the courage to face each day.  I have been blessed over the past few months to hear from so many of you who read my simple words, my ramblings, and honor me with your stories, sharing your pain and triumphs.  When I can, I share some of the journeys with you.  Why?  Because I know my pain, the pain of a mother, a father-less daughter, but I do not know YOUR pain.  By sharing your stories, as well as my own, we are able to help each other, to see beyond our own pain, to know that someone else understands; that someone else has made it through the darkness, and most importantly, that there is hope!

There are so many ways people are grieving, so many losses I personally do not understand, and yet there are as many different ways of coping, as different as each and every one of us.  Rachel's death has opened my eyes, my heart and mind to others pain and suffering, to seeking ways to console, reaching out through my pain to ease the pain of others.  To understanding that I am not alone, none of us are, and that only when I reach out to others, am I able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I love the expression ’Grief shared is grief diminished' (Rabbi Grollman) and nothing can be further from the truth.  

We are all travelers on this journey called life, we sometimes encounter detours, sometimes it is all uphill, and sometimes we find ourselves totally lost, but we can also find the clear, downhill road that leads us to joy and happiness.  Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) says it best, 'We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.'  So whether you have a small bundle of fuel or years of reserves, now is the time to start burning it, and allowing it to take you to beyond yourself, to places you could never imagine.  To life, love and all that lies ahead waiting to be discovered.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just A Grain of Sand

January has been quite an interesting month.  Snowstorms and freezing temperatures all wrapped up into new beginnings in 2011.  For my family and I it has been a month of transitions.  We recently helped my daughter and her family move into their first home. Since Christmas it has been packing and getting ready for the big move; then the settling in and adjusting to new surroundings, sounds and the newness of it all.  Quite exciting!

So many people felt that this would be difficult for me, but I have to admit it isn't bad at all.  I guess life has made me realize that change is definitely inevitable, there will always be comings and goings, and somethings just cannot be changed.  Yes I miss seeing my grandson almost every day, but my life is also filled with so much activity, that it is not a 'cry my eyes out' kind of missing.  Besides they only moved across town, less than 2 miles away, I can almost do that in a single bound, and the joy in my grandson's face when he does see me, makes the wait so worthwhile.  

Last night I started wondering why people felt I would be a basket case when my daughter moved out of our third floor apartment.  I had some people telling me that I would definitely find my self crying, I would be sad and maybe even depressed.  Wow, really!  As the days approached for the move, I kept checking in with me, how was I really feeling, was I sad?  Was I in a funk?  No, actually, I was excited and thrilled for my daughter, her husband and my grandson.  I remembered back to when my husband and I bought our first home, how excited we were, how we couldn't wait to move in.  How we were looking forward to Rachel (who was just over a year old) having her own yard to play in, and just the knowledge that this was home, our home. So I have not shed a tear, I am not in a funk and I think it is wonderful that another young couple have found a place they can call their own, they can call home. 

The only thing that I think of occasionally is that Rachel is not here to share in her sister's excitement and happiness; is not here to watch her nephew take in his new surroundings.  Most significantly, that Rachel was not present for my grandson's first birthday this past weekend.  All this plays heavy on my heart, but it is not a heaviness that I cannot bear, it is just a longing, an ache.  It also serves as a guage letting me know that I have come a long, long way.  That what just a couple of years ago would be so very painful, now is just an ache, and that I can and continue to make it day in and day out. 

This evening as I drove home from my bible sharing group, I looked at the clear sky, the twinkling stars and just marveled at the beauty of it all.  The crisp cold air reminding me of how alive I am, and  the stars letting me know that I am but a grain of sand in this vast universe.  But even in all its humbling majesty, I know that even in my smallness I am loved, I am someone, I am not alone.   This evening we read Exodus and I was struck by the line in Chapter 3:11-12, Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the the Israelites out of Egypt?'  HE said, 'I will be with you;...'  As I reflected on this particular line, I realized how many times I was reluctant, how many times I wondered how I could go on, why me?  Then as I reread the verse, I realized I have not been alone, and I am not alone.  HE is with me, and He has sent others to be with me as well.  I have had and still have my share of angels in my life in the form of family, friends and caring strangers.  In all the transitions in my life, I have been supported and cared for, there has always been hope and a helping hand.  

The knowledge that I am not alone has truly helped me come this far.  Today I was granted some insight in to what is happening to me, I came to the realization that I am definitely moving forward.  As I reflected on today and all it's activity, from driving my son to school, myself to work in the falling snow; to heading to my local college to begin yet another round of classes; to closing out the evening with bible sharing, and then just noticing the starry night sky; I have definitely rounded another corner in my life.  I am enjoying life, I am looking forward to new opportunities, I am reaching beyond myself and my pain, and allowing myself to 'become' whole again.  I am accepting Rachel's death, I am embracing it, and in doing so, I am becoming alive again.  The beauty of this transformation is that Rachel is now an integral part of who I am.  She is still my daughter, and I am most inequivacally still her mother.   I have not lost that, death has not 'robbed' that  from me, it may have taken my daughter out of my sight, but not out of my life.  There may no longer be the physical aspect, but the heart understands what the mind has yet to grasp, and I love it.  

I am healing, and God reminded me as He always does, that I am not alone, and when I don't have the strength or courage to go on, He will always be with me, giving me what I need to overcome the hurdles in my life.  

Know too, that you are not alone, you are loved and cared for, even when you feel that no one even knows your are here.  We may be but grains of sand, but without each an everyone one of us, sand castles would not exist, and beaches would definitely not be the same.  We are all very important, and together we can accomplish so much, even in our 'smallness.'

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why am I so Blue?

Brrrr!!! It sure is cold!  Temperatures are in the single digits and with the wind chill it is 20-30 degrees below zero in some areas, it is not fit for man or beast out there. Winter, it is a time of year when days are short, people venture out only if they have to, and depression can really take control of your life.  If you are grieving this time of year only compounds what you are going through.

Shortly after Rachel's death, I sought medical advice.  I was achy all over, everything just hurt so much; depression was the diagnosis.  At first I refused medication, but finally relented when I really couldn't take the pain anymore.  I was given some mild anti-depressants and eventually some sleeping pills to help me get much needed rest.  I have to admit, I really hate taking any kind of medication, waiting to the very last minute to take anything for a headache; but this was so different than anything I had ever dealt with before.  So I agreed, taking it only for the first year.

Rachel died in September and of course we headed into the winter months shortly after.  I remember how I longed to be outdoors, I wanted the sunshine and would take long walks when the weather permitted.  Eventually the weather won out and I couldn't get out and I remember how so much heavier my burden seemed.  My counselor recommended getting away, I am fortunate to have my mom living in Florida and I was able to escape the winter dole drums for a while.  It was truly amazing how much difference a little sunshine could make in my life.  

Not everyone can get away unfortunately, but there are ways to beat the winter blues. According to, in an article by Nicole Nichols, there are '10 Cool Ways to Beat the Winter Blues.'  The advice here and on other sites can apply to those who are grieving as well.
  1. Exercise - Helps your mind by releasing those 'feel good chemicals' that improve your mood.
  2. Eat a Healthy Diet - Healthy foods provide your body and mind with nutrients, stabilizing your blood sugar and upping your energy levels.
  3. Get Some Sun - Try to get some sunshine during the day, leave the shades up in your home; try changing your light bulbs to 'full spectrum' bulbs, they mimic natural light and have the same affects on your mind as the real thing.
  4. Act on your Resolutions - individuals who exhibited healthy behaviors had less sad and depressed days.
  5. Avoid Binge Drinking - Alcohol is a depressant, and rather than improving your mood it only makes it worse.  (Binge drinking is having 5 or more drinks in one sitting).
  6. Treat Yourself - Plan something that is exciting to you - a weekend trip, a day at the spa, a party, girls or guys night out, etc.  Having something to look forward to can keep anyone motivated.
  7. Relax!  Try to spend some time doing nothing.  Read a book or magazine, sleep in on the weekend, go to bed early, try some meditation or take a yoga class.
  8. Embrace the Season - Take up a winter activity, staying active will boost your energy. 
  9. Get Social Support - Don't underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbors.  
  10. Catch some Zzzz's - Aim for 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent.  Don't forget naps!  A short (10-30 minutes) afternoon nap may be all you need to re-energize midday. 
These are just a few ideas that may help during these cold, dark days.  There are many more articles with great advice,  Top Ten Tips to Beat the Winter Blues by Petrene Soames; Five Ways to Beat The Winter Blues by Sabah Karimi; and NY Daily News - How to Beat the Winter Blues by Jennifer Angel.  

Finding ways to cope is not always easy, but understanding that what is happening to you is normal really helps.  It may not necessarily give you a clear perspective at the moment, but at least lets you know you are not alone.  Also, understanding that the seasons impact our moods,  we can help ourselves by finding ways to 'lighten up.'  Just like our attitudes, our moods can also be managed.  I took long walks, I sat by the water's edge, and when I could finally focus again, I read.  I began to learn to find ways of coping and easing my mind as well; and in time, I was able to wean myself off the anti-depressants and sleeping pills with the help of my doctor.  

It can be very easy to wallow in self-pity, thinking that nothing in the world can ever make us feel better.  It's okay for a little while, but we do have to shake ourselves off, and face the world.  Trust me, I had my 'woe is me'  and "why me' time after Rachel's death, but in time I began to realize that I was not alone, that others had also been there and back.  Finding great support is a HUGE plus.  If you are having a difficult time, find yourself becoming a hermit, reach out to others.  Find someone who will allow you to vent, to simply sit with you and allow you to talk, cry or just be there with you.  Heck, get a couple of support systems.  Find yourself a 'bunch' of supporters, that way you know you have at least a few people you can call, have a cup of coffee with, or just spend some time with, if the going gets a little tough.  Also by having a few people you can call, you will not feel that you are becoming a burden to anyone of them.  

I have been blessed with a few such angels in my life, who I can call, who will let me ramble on or just sit quietly with me.  I also did go to counseling and joined a support group.  You will need to find what is best for you, what will work, remember only YOU know how you feel.  Take care of yourself, and when necessary let others take care of you too.  Above all know that you are not alone, you have so many people who love and need you.  I always think of Rachel and my dad and know that they would only want the best for me.  They want me to be happy, to live my life, and to live each day to its fullest, enjoying the 'present' that is each and every day.

Live each day!  Laugh often! Love always!  And remember your loved one is right there by your side and they are always in your heart.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Attitude, What Attitude!

How we choose to live makes a world of difference, and your attitude plays a big roll in this choice.  If you are positive and optimistic, then by nature you see the glass as 'half-full.'  If you are negative and pessimistic, then no amount of fluid in the glass really makes a difference. 

I consider myself an optimistic person, I try to see the good in all that is around me.  The last few days as I drove around, I noticed the piles of snow, some still brilliant white and some discolored by sand, dirt and whatever else has been plowed into it.  People hurried to their vehicles, others driving as if their life depended on it, everyone seemed to be in a hurry.  I wondered, however if anyone of them noticed the beautiful sky with its orange and purples hues, or how everything is blanketed in sparkling white.  Okay, I admit I love the snow for me it covers up the worlds imperfections, and somehow, adds a calm to an ordinarily noisy world.

Wonder and awe two things I hope I never outgrow.  I am one of those people who will spot the hawk in a tree, the geese taking flight, or the rainbow in the clouds.  There is just so much wonderment in this vast world of ours.  My husband on the other hand, curses the snow piles, complains about the ice, you name it.  I guess that's why we get along, we balance each other out.  I help him see the good, he reminds me that we also need to be aware and alert. Not a bad thing at all, we all need some checks and balances in our lives.

For me, I know it is my very attitude towards life that has brought me this far in my grief.  I have and always will try to look at everything from every angle.  When Rachel died, I of course felt the devastating blow, felt myself crumple under the weight of all the grief and pain, but yet, I somehow knew I would make it.  I knew then and still know now that with the help of others, with God and my faith and with a positive attitude I would survive, I will survive.  I knew that I would weather the storm.

Just like nature with all its fury, it too knows that the sun will come out, that the rains will subside, and that a seed lies waiting for the snow to melt away, ready to bloom in the spring when the sun warms the earth.  We are no different at all, we somehow weather each storm, face each adversity, knowing that with care and love, we too will grow, becoming a better, more resilient  person.  Yes, we grumble, we complain, we resist but when all is said and done, we emerge stronger, wiser and more capable of handling whatever comes our way.  We do not shed all cares and concerns, but we come to understand that they do not need to holds us back, or keep us under their grip, they exist, but do not become larger than life.  

All this is wrapped up in our attitudes, our perceptions and how we look at our 'glass.'  It is amazing how it truly impacts our coping skills, our ability to move on, to look for other ways through difficult times.  According to Mental Health Matters in the article 'Coping Attitudes and Skills": 'Attitudes contribute to a satisfactory coping response. A key attitude is to view change as a normal part of living, as opposed to a view that the transition is some kind of terrible curse, unlucky event, or unnecessarily difficult problem to solve'.  It truly makes a big difference, we become 'hardy copers' as the article describes.  These are individuals who 'are willing to take responsibility for their actions and do not blame others for the transitions that inevitably come into their lives.'  

How quickly we overcome, also depends on what is happening to us.  With the death of my daughter, I knew it would not be an over-night thing, I knew this was going to take some time, maybe even a life-time.  In the past four years I have grown, I have come to accept and I know that I will continue to do so, and that this event was life-altering and that much was and is still required of me.  Therefore, we all need to understand that there will be times in our life when we need to take care of ourselves, understanding that we will overcome and we will definitely make it through the storm.  To quote further from the article: 

The length of time required for satisfactory resolution of a transition depends on a number of mediating factors. Some key ones are:
  • The meaning that the transition has for the person;
  • The extent to which the person is aware of and expresses feelings about the transition;
  • Previous experiences with transitions and learning from them;
  • The availability of support systems;
  • Counseling;
  • Personal coping skills.
These factors play a role in how we manage through what we are facing and dealing with, especially the availability of a 'support system' and or seeking 'counseling.'  These two alone were a great help to me, and continue to be a great asset in my life.  I  had and continue to have a great support system, family and friends who make an effort to understand my pain, to understand the changes in me, and who continually accept that I am an ever evolving individual.  Someone who is a very different person than the person they knew just five years ago.    

Hey, but isn't that what makes life interesting, what makes every day worthwhile, not knowing what possibilities lie ahead.  Learning each and every day, getting over the little hurdles, conditioning and strengthening ourselves to overcome the more difficult obstacles.  We can consider ourselves life athletes, who practice every day in order to do their best when that big event happens, knowing that through all the pain, sacrifice and trials, we succeed, becoming the best we can ever dream of being.  The beauty of life is that it is continual, and like nature, the landscape constantly changes. 

So whether your glass is 'half-full' or 'half-empty' know that your attitude plays a big part in how you will get through whatever it is you are coping with.  Get support if possible from family and friends, seek counseling, don't go it alone.  If you know you tend to have a negative outlook, then buddy-up with a positive person, and let them work their magic.  By all means, look to yourself, look at how you have coped in the past with situations and draw from those experiences.  If you haven't had any previous experience in coping with a specific situation, then seek out someone who has.  Support groups are a wonderful way to listen to and ask questions of individuals who have already 'been there.'  

One of my favorite Bible passages is 'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.' (Matthew 7:7) and I have always found it to be so true.  I have come to understand that unless we ask we can't get help, if we don't seek, we will not find what we are looking for, and unless we knock, no one will even know we are standing on the other side.  Therefore, live life, take in your surroundings, and live each day completely, filling it with 'wonder and awe,' even in the midst of all your pain and suffering.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Can I call you Friend?

It always amazes me how people come into our lives.  A friend commented on yesterday's post, and I responded to her request to not only check out a particular post of hers, but also to stop by and visit someone elses blog.  

As I read Nancy's post An Unexpected Self-Discovery, I realized that I felt as strongly as she did about the blogging world.  In the months since I started this blog, I have come to know so many wonderful people.  Some, like me, are grieving the death of a loved one, still others, grieve the losses attributed with illness, and others simply read along in the hopes of helping a loved one or a friend.  Whatever the reason for reading mine, or anyone else's blogs, is irrelevant, what is very apparent, are the bonds that are created.  Few words are often exchanged, but yet there is a certain compassion, understanding and just a simple hello that lets me and others know that we are not alone.  That someone else is willing to walk with us on the journey, to helps us with our burdens, even if only for a brief moment.

I stated in a comment that I left, that I have come to see so many of you as an extension of my family, as one of my own.  What a wonderful blessing and I thank God everyday for the gift of friends, whether they are right next door, or are someone who has simply come into my life through this blog from half way around this wonderful world.  

I thank you for allowing me to share my daughter, Rachel with all of you, for bearing with me as I bare my pain, feelings and confusion with you.  There is nothing more humbling than too open oneself up to others, to allow others to help you, to be vulnerable, admitting that you can not do this alone.  I look forward to your responses, to your insights, to recommendations and advice, your many gifts have helped.  

Yes! it is definitely possible to build friendships and relationships with individuals we may never meet.  According to All About God, True friendship involves action: doing something for someone else while expecting nothing in return; sharing thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or negative criticism.  This is what I have come to know, I have found that so many fellow bloggers give of themselves freely, expecting nothing at all in return.  They share their inner most feelings, thoughts, emotions, with a sense of trust.  They are doing something for others, they are sharing their journeys, and in doing so help so, so many people.  

Grief is not an easy journey, whether we are suffering from the death of a loved one, the realization of what an illness will mean in our lives, are recently divorced, or have suffered any tragedy or loss that has left us grieving, we want someone to hear us, to listen.   And there is definitely a comfort in knowing that we are not alone, that someone else understands, cares and wants to be there for us.  Even if that someone is a faceless voice, sharing themselves with the world, sharing themselves with us.  

Right after Rachel's death, I sought out blogs that spoke to grief, that shared their stories, especially as it related to the death of a child.  I established some friendships that are still a part of my life today.  Many I know I will not get the opportunity to meet, but yet they have left an undeniable mark, they have left their foot print on my heart.  They were and still are a reassuring presence in my life.

Cherish your friendships, allow them to nurture you, to guide you, or to simply hold your hand.  Remember always that 'Friendship is the golden thread that ties the heart of all the world.' -- John Evelyn and more importantly that, 'Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief.' -- Swedish proverb

"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, who has sight so keen and strong
That it can follow the flight of song?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year's Resolution

The start of a new year, all I have heard lately is people talking about the New Year's resolutions.  This one plans to save some money, that one is going to lose weight, she's changing jobs, he's finally going to pop the question.  The funny thing is that, yes, some will actually follow through on their resolutions, but the major part of those making them will give up on them. 

This is a prevalent topic this time of year, so I looked it up and I have found the following stats on this very topic: 

Among the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction.

      The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
            - past the first week: 75%
             - past 2 weeks: 71%
              - after one month: 64%
                - after 6 months: 46%

I have myself made resolutions in the past and even this year made a silent vow to myself to not only lose some weight, but to try and save some money as well.  

For those of us who are grieving, there are often no resolutions, we simply herald in a new year hoping that the pain will get easier to bear.  Taking each day as it comes, waking each morning wishing the emptiness won't feel so deep, the loneliness won't engulf us, and that we can find the strength to just go on.  

That first year, I made no resolutions, I really didn't give anything much thought at all.  I was merely going to begin another year, a little older, maybe a little wiser, but oh how so very different it would be.  I would not have my beautiful daughter to call, to say hello to, to hug, or even to advise if she wanted it.  2007 was just another year which held very little promise for me, or at least it seemed so at the time.  

But 2007 was not such a bad year, I began my current job, and I managed to survive that first year.  Then 2008 began peering around the corner.  Again no resolutions were made, but a feeling of hope, of maybe finding my way through the maze called grief, and I did not feel the reservations I felt the year before.  Each subsequent year brought more and more hope, I still did not feel the need to make any resolutions, but at least I felt good about the endless possibilities the lay ahead. 

This brings me to 2011.  As I mentioned earlier, this has been a bittersweet holiday season for me, and the ushering in of a New Year has not made it any easier.  Why?  I know I am letting go, I am healing, and in this process a part of me still wants to hold on, to hold on so tightly that it hurts.  I had been told that when I reached this point in my life, whenever that might be, I would find myself wanting to let go and resisting at the same time.  I didn't quite understand what they meant, until the fourth anniversary of Rachel's death this past September.  Since then I have had moments of peace and moments of inner turmoil.  There is a heaviness, which reminds me of those times when we are carrying a heavy load, we can see our destination just ahead, but the load almost seems impossible to carry those last few steps, we just want to stop, lay it down, and maybe even give up.  But yet, we trudge forward, reach our destination, unburden ourselves of the heavy load, and celebrate our success.  We did it!

This is where I am right now, I am carrying my burden, wanting to just stop, but yet I can see what lies ahead and I know if I just hang in there, I'll make it.  Of course, having a support system, family and friends who surround me and let me share my journey with them, really helps.  Speaking to others who have already been on this leg of the journey, helps even more.  Writing in my journal, which for me right now is this blog, also helps me speak out, share and work through what I am feeling.  I have cried more often lately, I feel sad and also slightly guilty, but I know that Rachel is with me, always.  She is of course always in my heart, but I know I can speak to her anytime I want, and I do.  

So for me 2011 will be a year of healing, of reaching beyond myself, finding my way and knowing that if we give ourselves the time and space to heal, we do.  I look forward to a year of new beginnings, new adventures and the beauty of opening up the 'present.'  We are given a new day, every day and what we do with it says so much.  I heard it said this past weekend at Mass, everyday is a chance to begin anew.  What has occurred the day before is history, we have the choice to make today the best it can be, to be the best WE can be.  

To all those of you who grieve, know that the pain does subside, in time you will feel the healing begin, and you will bask in the light of the love that you shared with your loved one.  The glow of their love will be reflected all around you, and the memory becomes a beautiful part of your everyday life.  They become an ever present part of who you are, not far from you at all.  They are the whispering winds, the soothing breeze, the twinkling star, the warm embrace and the gentle kiss, they are whatever you want them to be in your life.  

Let yourself grieve, let yourself feel, but most importantly, allow yourself to heal.  Take one day at a time, give yourself all the time you need, remembering always that only you know how you feel.  Allow yourself to find your way through this maze at your own pace, seeking help along the way from family, friends and even counseling, reaching out for support and understanding.  Let 2011 be a year of new beginnings, of healings and triumphs.  A year of allowing yourself to dream again, and of making wishes, and my wish for you is all that you wish for yourself. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Changes...going back to work!

January 2011, wow it seems only yesterday we were wishing each other Happy New Year, yet another year has flown by.  For so many of us it is back to work, back to school, back to whatever routine makes up our lives.  Nothing drastic has occurred, we have simply been ushered into a New Year.

Some of you partied, danced and were out celebrating with friends and family, others had a good time at home.  Still others quietly watched the old year slip into the new one, while others slept right through it.  However you observed the entrance of the New Year and the passage of the old one is neither here nor there; it has arrived whether we wanted it to or not.  

Life is so like the passage of time, we can choose to live it fully or quietly watch it going by.  When you are grieving, life takes on a totally different state, it seems surreal.  I remember that very first year after my daughter’s death.  I was neither a participant nor an observer, it went on without me.  But yet it moved on, even in all that pain, despair and depression, it kept going, ticking through my life as if nothing had happened.  

The amazing thing is that even though life kept going, the changes did occur, have occurred.  I am definitely not the same person I was over 4 years ago.  My name is the same, I reside at the same location, I am still married and I am still the mother of three children, all that has remained the same.  But I have somehow evolved, I am still Rose Mary Saraiva, but I have gained insights and experiences that would not have been mine to know or comprehend, had my life continued on its path.  

I have of course changed careers, my previous career would not have been conducive to my grief and the processes I had to go through.  I was in sales, a people business and I was not ready to deal with the demands of the position, or maintaining a fa├žade.  As I have mentioned before, I was home for a year before getting back into the work force.  When I did return, I opted for a position that would allow me to just do my job without the pressure or demands of the sale industry.  I also wanted to find an employer close to home, I did not want to be too far away, just in case.  For many who knew me, they were amazed at my decision, but I knew it was what was best for me at that time in my life.
I have had a few friends and know of others who have returned to their old jobs after the loss of a child, only to leave after less than a year.  I do not regret my decision, nor could l have clearly made one at the time, too much had happened and that was enough to deal with.  There have been others, as well, who have returned to their old jobs and faired very well.  What I found is that when I went back to work, albeit a different position and employer, they were compassionate and understanding.  Even though none of my new co-workers at the time had experienced my type of loss, they never the less gave me the space I needed.
In that first year that I went back to work, there were many triggers that reduced me to tears.  All too often I would find myself crying, I was blessed with individuals who let me do just that, cry.  I was also reassured that if I needed time off for whatever reason, just simply having a bad day, that would be okay.  It was a very supportive and understanding environment, allowing me to feel productive again, but giving me the space and freedom I needed to grieve.  

All too often when a grieving employee returns to work, people avoid and shy away from them, leaving the individual feeling even more alone and isolated than they already believe themselves to be.  Of course, the ‘stupid’ remarks don’t help, but unfortunately, people are only human and they will say the darnedest things.  What I found important, and what many employers do not realize is that when we are grieving, we need to be allowed to do so.  Too often they try to stifle our emotions by making a bereaved employee feel uncomfortable if they express any feelings, etc.  

What some employers don’t realize or seem to forget, it that going back to work for a bereaved employee is a very difficult decision.  It is a decision that is loaded with guilt, with uncertainty, and with the knowledge that they may not be able to control their emotions.  I knew that I might overreact to complaints from my customers, and that trivial conversations might become too tedious for me.  I was also afraid that I may say or do something that I would regret and this fear alone scared me.  Any of you who have suffered or are suffering through the death of a loved one, know exactly what I mean.  You seem to lose any filtration system on your thoughts and words, and often say the first thing that comes to mind.  For me I really didn’t care, what was the worst that could happen to me, I had already lost my daughter, so what if my words hurt, I was hurting, what did I care.  

internet, local libraries, bereavement groups, etc., you would be surprised at what a difference you can make in some one’s life, by just trying to understand and show compassion.

For those who are contemplating returning to work, I have found some advice on various sites by simply entering a search such as ‘returning to work after the loss of a child, spouse, etc. 
The following is great advice from American Hospice Foundation, in an article by Helen Fitzgerald, CT, The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work.’ 

Before returning to work:
  • Be sure your office knows what happened.  Give them as much information as you are comfortable sharing.
  • Let the office know you want to be included in regular e-mail to be kept abreast of what is happening at the office.
  • You might arrange to go into the ‘office’ to meet co-workers for lunch, getting past the first encounters and the ‘I’m so sorry,’ comments.
  • Consider returning to half-days for a week or so, to ease yourself back into a normal routine.
  • Ask a therapist – or ask your employer to arrange for one – to meet with co-workers, especially if the death was sudden or traumatic.
  • Encourage co-workers to learn as much as they can about grief so they can better understand what you are going through.
  • Keep good communication going.
  • It is important to share your story.  But be careful not to share your feelings too much or too often.
  • You may need help with certain projects or deadlines.  Don’t forget to thank those who help.
Thinking ahead will make your return to work easier and less painful. Healing from the death of a loved one is a long, slow process, but getting back into a routine is an important step in the journey.
(c) 2002.  American Hospice Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Where ever you may find yourself right now, is where you need to be.  We all travel life’s paths at our own pace, and we need to be good to our selves when life throws us a curve ball.  When dealing with the world, we sometimes have to be kind and gentle with others too, keeping in mind that they may not know what to say or do.  We are all learners, constantly reaching for comprehension and knowledge, seeking to not only help ourselves, but others as well.  Remember, though, that above all, be patient with yourself, this is not an easy journey, and it will have many bumps, detours and obstacles.  Get help if it gets too difficult, or you feel totally lost, it truly helps.  It was my saving grace during those more difficult times in my grief.

Take care of yourself, give yourself space and allow yourself to heal at your own pace.

Here’s is hoping that 2011 will be a year filled with love, laughter and much healing.  Let it be a year of discovery, renewal and of welcoming new experiences and an awakening to a new you.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.