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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Keeping Memories Alive...

Keeping memories alive...when someone we love dies, we often fear that we will forget them.  We fear that we may forget what they look like, their fragrance, their smile or the sound of their laughter.  For a while, those were my fears, I remember a dream I had with Rachel shortly after her death; it was a still photo.  I awoke that morning thinking why a photograph, why was it a image of her only?  What did it mean?  Looking back now I realize that it was my fear of forgetting her, of not having my daughter physically present, only her photographs.  But in time, I have come to realize that I haven't forgotten her, will never forget her, I can't forget her.  She is on my mind each and every day, and simple things remind me of her presence.  Ironically I hear her laughter in her sister's laugh, I see her playfulness in my grandson's antics, and recognize her ways in things her brother does.  So many subtle reminders that she is still very much a part of my life.

There are so many ways we can honor and keep alive the memories of those we love.  As we approach our Memorial Day Holiday (United States), we remember all those who have died to keep us free.  We remember also our loved ones, who shaped us and helped us become the persons we are.  This upcoming weekend affords us the ability to remember not only our fallen heroes, but all the heroes in our lives. 

But it does not have to be contained in one weekend per year, we can honor and remember our loved ones in various ways throughout the year.  In my city, we have memorial runs for deceased members of the community;  my brothers participate in motorcycle runs for various causes in memory of my dad, and others who have died from cancer; to name just a few.  I honor my daughter's love of life, people and sharing by writing and sharing her story through my blog.  Others have set up scholarships, community drives, planted a garden or tree, and so many other ways that are too numerous to list.  

Photo published with permission of Normand Fontaine.
Recently a friend, along with his family and friends, honored the memory of his wife, Janice, by participating in a fund-raiser, Purple Stride, to help find a cure for pancreatic cancer.  It was something he knew that his wife would not only love, it would have been something she would do, and that she would be cheering them on.  To make the day even more memorable, he had T-shirts made with a photo of Janice and what she meant to the wearer.  It was a wonderful day in which he was surrounded by a loving family and wonderful friends, as you can see from the faces in the photo he forwarded to me.  And I truly believe Janice was smiling down upon them, very proud of all of them.

We are only limited to our own limitations when it comes to honoring and remembering our loved ones.  Like anything else in our grieving, it is finding what is best for YOU, and what you are comfortable with.  A simple memory garden may be all you wish to do; visiting the grave and insuring that there are always fresh flowers or that it is neatly groomed; all these are gestures of remembrance.  They all serve to remind us that the person we love, the person who died, is still very much an important part of our lives; that they are not forgotten, and they remain ever present in our hearts.  Love is felt even over the chasm that is left by death.  We feel their presence, walking beside us, in even the most subtle of ways, and our memories and what we do to relive them, reinforces the love we shared and continue to share with our loved one.

May your memories bring you comfort, and may we always remember our heroes, both national and personal.  May their strength and courage serve as a reminder that we all survive,

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Invitation:  Please feel free to share your own memorial/remembrance stories and photos here on the blog.  So many of us gain insight and information from others.  A journey shared makes the distance feel so much shorter.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wow! Really! is that the only thing you can say?

Why do simple phrases set me off?  Often I will hear people speak about what can get under their skin.  Anything from certain sounds (fingernails on chalkboards instantly come to mind), smells, or cliche phrases that seem to slip from lips unbidden, to mention just a few. 

Thinking back to Rachel's death and the days, weeks and months that followed, I remember certain things and words that would irk me to no end.  For me it was - 'be patient' or 'have patience;' - WHAT! my mind would scream.  Why do I need to be patient? 

Yet now reflecting back on those days (I still do not care much for the phrase, and you will not catch me using it when speaking to someone who is grieving) I think I understand why it bothered me so.  I had no patience, I wanted answers and I wanted them now.  My own inner turmoil caused so much impatience with myself, why could I not function, why was thinking, and doing and being so difficult.  People around me added to the mix, I grew impatient with them for not getting it, for not trying to understand my pain, for not being there.  Impatience surrounded me, so when someone said a simple 'be patient' I would lose it internally, luckily only voicing my dislike of the phrase to people who were at least patient with me.  There were a host of other phrases, words and expressions that got to me as well, as I am sure you can think of one or two yourselves.     

In those dark early days of grief, we are trying to breathe, to get by, to understand, and when we hear, see or are reminded in anyway of our uncertainty and confusion, we feel angered.  Angered at the source for the reminder; angered at ourselves for being so befuddled, and angered at the situation we find ourselves in.  It is the frustration that causes our reaction and disdain, it reminds us of how vulnerable we are, and how uncertain our lives can be. 

In time we find our reactions ease up, we may still not care for this stimulus, but we at least tolerate it, and keep it to ourselves.  We begin to understand the underlying meaning of what it represents, and start to find ways of coping and getting through it.  For me it was learning to give myself time; time to accept Rachel's death; time to allow myself to grieve at my own pace; time to teach myself to be patient with me and in turn, with others.  It was not and has not been easy, there are still occasions when I want to scream; when I want the answers right now; when nothing is making sense.  But if grief has taught me anything is that we do have to be 'patient' with ourselves; we do have to give ourselves 'space;' and most importantly, allow ourselves to heal using whatever methods work best for us.  Whether it be journaling through our loss, writing our story, or simply helping others; we find ways of making it safely across the abyss that is grief.

When a statement, comment or any other stimulus causes any anxiety; stop! and ask yourself:  Why does this get to me so?  Where am I right now in the midst of all this confusion?  What remains unanswered for me?  Is it a personal reflection of how I feel?  Sit quietly and reflect on these questions or any other questions you wish to formulate, and allow yourself the luxury of letting go.  For me, I would journal with these questions, writing whatever flowed from my thoughts onto the blank pages before me.  Often when I was done writing, I would not read what I wrote, I would simply close my journal and not give it another thought.  This simple exercise freed me up to move on to something else, it was load-lifting for me; a great way to get rid of all the extra baggage I was carrying.  

You may not be a writer and that's okay, just simply reflecting on the questions you formulate, it also a great help.  Like anything else in grief, you need to find what works for you, and only YOU know what that is.  Remember always to be kind to yourself, to give yourself all the time you need, and to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.  Also finding others who are willing to listen, who understand the journey you are on, can and is an immense help during difficult times.  Reaching out to others helps everyone involved.  Grief may leave us feeling lonely but we do not have to be alone.  

So the next time you feel frustrated, angered or think the world is out to get you, stop and allow yourself to take a deep breath, and know that you will be okay and that you are not alone - ever!;  your loved one is right there beside you guiding you through this journey.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Strangers on the surface only...

It is not too often that we see charity played out in our day-to-day lives, but I recently not only witnessed it, but experienced the most beautiful manifestation of this act at it's finest.  This post is not about my journey through grief, but how we truly matter to each other, even in death.  It demonstrates how intricately we are all connected, and how the death of a total stranger left a lasting impression on me and others present on that fateful day.  This is an excellent example of how a simple man's death brought a community together...

  “We are One Body…”
Every once in a while we are given small glimpses of heaven; today was such a day.  Earlier in the week I had been told by my pastor that a gentleman had died, and that sadly he had no family or friends.  He explained that the funeral director had called him, and wondered if he would be willing to say a few words at the grave.  Strongly believing that every child of God deserves a proper funeral complete with Mass, he told him that he would have a funeral Mass for this man.  The response was not out of the ordinary, “Father, it will just be you and I at this Mass.” 

But our pastor is a determined man, and began to share this man’s story.   He reached out to the parish community, via the St. Vincent de Paul Society; the Charismatic Prayer Group; Parish Council; Music Ministry; basically any one he came in contact with.  He spoke to the principal at the parish school and elicited her help as well.  He asked me to get the word out, knowing I would use my Facebook connections to reach as many people as possible.  He simply reached out on behalf of this man, for this man.  I promised I would help spread the word, but was not sure if I would be able to attend; but would do my best to be there. 

This man’s funeral was held at 9 a.m. few days later; I arrived a few minutes early.  There were a few people already gathered and I thought to myself, this is a good number of people.  As I sat waiting for Mass to begin, slowly more people began to enter the church filling in the seats all around me.  About a few minutes before the Mass began, the students, faculty and staff of the school made their way to their reserved seats. 

Music programs were distributed bearing the name of the deceased, and for all outward appearances the church was filled with family and friends of the deceased.  It looked like any other funeral I had attended, so what made this one so different.  This man was unknown to any one of us gathered; we knew nothing about him other than his name.  He too, more than likely did not know anyone present.  Yet here we all were. 

To my amazement, when the funeral Mass began, the church was full, a special occasion kind of full.  I could feel a profound sadness at this man’s plight, but also an overwhelming joy at how people can and had pulled together when there is a need.  I felt a connection to this man that I cannot or will not try to explain.  There was a special bond, a profound unity with the deceased and everyone present at this Liturgy.  We truly were one body, we were the arms and legs, the eyes and hands, we were ‘Church’ in the truest sense of the word.  This was the true definition of “universal church,” this is the community the Apostles speak of in Acts. 

As I headed back to work, I could not help but think to myself, this is Church, this is the family I am proud to be a part of.  This is what keeps me rooted to my faith, it is these and other simple, yet profound acts of mercy and charity, that remind me of why I am Catholic, why we are in fact considered the “universal church,” and why I call my faith community – home. 

My sincerest gratitude goes out to the many parish communities that were present; several of the area churches were represented.  People from all walks of life sat together as one, in communion with one of our own, one of our baptized brothers.  This was by far one of the most beautiful experiences I have had, this was a magnificent image of Christ represented in his body the Church. 

All this because one man truly believes we are all brothers and sisters in Christ through our Baptism.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.