The Joy of Spring

I love this quote by Margaret Atwood:

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”  – Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

This time of year always reminds me of my childhood and the time spent outside in our rubber boots. Playing in the ditches, my sister and I would make little birch bark boats and we would follow them in the stream, we would walk to the pond at the back of the fields as it was always the biggest when waters made the earth swell; we came home muddy and wet. At school, we were excited to get out the marbles and sidewalk chalk to play hopscotch. And every spring, I would go to my friend Tara’s dairy farm to watch the cows being released from the barn for the first time after a cooped up winter; to say they were excited was an understatement. 🙂

On my walks this week, I have worn my rubber boots and I have waded through the swollen water’s edge of the Ottawa River. It is time to say goodbye to winter, thanking it for its coziness and time of rest and welcome spring, a time when the air is freshest and the wind smells like dirt.

Photo credit: Me!

 

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the Stages of Grief

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the book “On Death and Dying.” She spoke about the universality of grief and how it is a process that we all experience when a loved one passes away. One of the instrumental contributions of the book are the stages of grief:

  1. Denial/Disbelief: Often the first reaction to loss. “This can’t be happening,” “I can’t believe they are gone;” are some typical thoughts we turn to when we are trying to wrap our heads around our overwhelming emotions.
  2. Bargaining: This is often a reaction to the lack of control that we feel when faced with our loss. They include the “what if” questions or the “if only” questions that we ask ourselves over and over.
  3. Anger: As a way to deal with our vulnerable feelings, we can feel anger. Anger at God, anger at the person for leaving us, anger at the medical system for failing our loved one. As we continue through the process of grief, we are often able to work through our anger, touching instead upon the raw feelings of grief.
  4. Depression/Sadness: Sadness is our bodies natural way to try and integrate the loss with the love we feel for our loved one. Carrying a heavy heart can often lead to feeling depressed as we try and wrestle through the sad and weighted feelings.
  5. Acceptance: This is a growing calm. As grief works itself through our system, infiltrating every cell, we begin to feel the integration of love and loss.

One important thing to note is that the stages of grief are not linear. Instead, we can often re-visit stages, moving more in figure 8 motion than in a straight line. We can feel disbelief, for example, when a year has passed; there are times that our anger spikes or we ruminate over the what-ifs again. And very often, we can feel acceptance throughout the whole process, sometimes in just the smallest of ways or in the big moments of a tear-soaked pillow.

In any event, it is okay to lean into the fact that although grief is universal and therefore a shared process, it is also a very individual process. Grief has its own timeline. 

Photo credit: http://Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

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Grief and the Importance of the Anniversary of Death

Grief follows its own timeline. Although there are some things that are universal in grief, such as the stages of grief (tomorrow’s post) and the year of firsts, when it comes to the process of grief, it is a very individual process. Grief needs to infiltrate our very cells, it needs to integrate loss into the experience of having loved.

The anniversary of our loved one’s death is a tough one. Very often, in the weeks preceding that day, we begin to feel more weepy, we have increased sensitivity, we report feeling on edge; sometimes to the point where we may feel that we have taken some steps back in our grief. I would advise that in grief, there are no steps back. Rather, it is the non-linear process of grief that we experience; it is simply grief’s way of reminding us of our loss and therefore our love.

It becomes important to recognize that day in two ways. The first is to come up with a way to honour our loved one; it can be a visit to the grave site, releasing balloons with prayers inside, gathering as a family at their favourite restaurant, creating a memory jar and so forth. Doing something along these lines will help us to integrate experience and feeling. The second important task for that day is self-care. If you need to be with your family that day, take the day off work. If you need to have the morning to yourself so that you can cry as much as you want, do that. If you need to feed your comfort system with a bath and by cooking your favourite meal, then that is okay too.

By honouring both our loved one and ourselves, we allow grief its due course; continuing our journey towards the assimilation of loss and love.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Fabrice Nerfin on Unsplash

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Morning Light and Its Message for the Day

There is something about morning sunshine. And while I appreciate sunshine at any time of the day, I am referring to the 5:45 a.m. light, the light that comes with pink and blue hues, with a stillness to the air that tells us that the day in its own glory is just beginning.

I am fortunate enough to live in area that brings me (and the dog!) into a wooded area, past a river and through both field and forest. And while the world is quiet, I am always amazed at the sounds of the birds. I have noticed that they rarely fly at that time of the day and yet the skies abound with their songs.

I have a theory, far more magical than scientific, that they are sitting at the tops of the trees singing their grateful song for a new day.  And this always reminds me of the importance of seeing each day as yet another beginning; that despite the busyness of the day or the challenges that we may face (or be facing), that there is a rhythm and cycle to our energy. And like the birds, we can begin our day with renewed energy and spirit; all the while being thankful for the opportunity.

Photo credit: Me! – along the shores of the Ottawa River

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Why Gratitude is an Important Element to Our Well-Being

There is much talk about gratitude and how it can be instrumental in increasing happiness. Perhaps this is why:

  • Being grateful tends to shift our focus from negative bias. When we intentionally count our blessings, we purposefully focus on positive experiences.
  • Being grateful has lasting effects. Writing out a thank you card, telling someone you appreciate their act of kindness, or treating someone to a coffee gives us a sense of goodness that tends to increase overall satisfaction in relationships.
  • By cultivating an appreciation for what we already have, we focus on the simple graces of life; bringing us a feeling of inner contentedness.

Increasing gratitude can come by way of a journal, but it can also come through prayer, by folding it into your dinner or bedtime routine (everyone lists one thing they were grateful for during the day), or simply by saying thank you – including little things such as doing the dishes, or the door being held open for you. It really becomes about consciously increasing the act of gratitude and bringing a bit more of it into our daily routine. It will serve us well! 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

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The True Task Before Us When it Comes to Love

I came across this quote from Rumi that gave me some food for thought:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  – Rumi

When you come to think about it, our built in attachment system sets us up to be able to love and to be loved back. It is what we have been taught about love or our negative experiences with desire, tenderness and devotion that tend to build walls around our hearts. If we are fortunate enough to have been raised in an environment that enabled us to be secure in our attachment, we are one step closer to not allowing our barriers to prevent us from the affection of others.

And if our childhood brought us pain, or those we sought out in love were not kind to us, we can still be in charge of our own destiny when it comes to love. By leaning into Rumi’s advice, we can explore our own barriers and make the choice to give our hearts first to ourselves, clearing a path for those that will follow. 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

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Living in the Wake of Trauma: PTSD

I have just read the most fascinating article and one that depicts a very honest look at how it feels to live with PTSD in the wake of trauma.

“A Stranger Came Home: Life in PTSD’s Angry Shadow” is written by Yvette Brend; she writes about her experience of what her family’s life has been like before and after PTSD. Married to Curt Petrovic, Yvette writes about his return from covering the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013:

“The Curt who returned was wounded. His ability to feel joy and connect with other humans, stripped away. For months, he was only able to sit, stare, exist in a drugged state. Prescription drugs prevented suicide at best. Then began the arduous journey to try to recover who he was — spanning five therapists, two marathons, drugs, experimental psychedelic treatments and endless guitar playing. Watching him battle this beast — these cruel echoes of trauma in his nervous system — I’ve come to know PTSD.”

Yvette speaks of the family’s attempts to avoid Curt’s fury, their isolated existence from others due to the changes in Curt’s demeanor, and what has helped both herself and him to cope with such a devastating mental illness. I quote, “PTSD rewires your brain, in some measure, forever. You can get help coping and work to build new neural pathways, but it takes time, science, help — and a painful struggle through panic, pain, flashbacks, anger and depression.”

A fascinating article. Read it at: https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/blog/a-stranger-came-home-life-in-ptsds-angry-shadow

Watch the documentary at: https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/episodes/lost-on-arrival-me-the-mounties-ptsd

Photo credit:http://Photo by Alejandro Tocornal on Unsplash

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“Everything Happens for a Reason”….does it really?

I have always struggled with the saying “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s kind of like “God only gives you what you can handle.” Really? I can understand why we turn to those types of sayings; it is in our nature to try and gain an understanding as to why something happened. We want to comfort someone. We want to find an explanation for struggle and pain.

2012 was a particularly tough year in our family. In March of that year, my mom was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma in its aggressive stages; we geared up for a rigorous treatment protocol as she was deemed “healthy” and the doctors felt she could tolerate it. 3 weeks after her first bout of intensive chemo, my father died of a massive stroke in their front yard; he was planting flowers for my mom. By November of that year, I could no longer deny that my marriage was in trouble and in February of 2013, my ex-husband of 23 years moved out. One full year of family heartbreak. If someone had said to me at that point that “everything happens for a reason,” I think I would have punched them in the face.

And yet how do I reconcile this struggle; how do I explain to my girls the meaning of such difficult times? The answer? I don’t. Instead, I say that we cannot stop bad things from happening. Instead, I say that we have to face challenges head on. Instead, I say we have to unite as a family and get through it together. We have to find our blessings amidst the losses. And we have to find our purpose. Not the purpose, our purpose.

Sometimes our purpose is simply to get through each day. Sometimes it is to be able to give another member of our family a much needed hug; sometimes our purpose is found in a moment (holding my mom’s hand when the doctor told us she was in remission); sometimes our purpose is found later (there is no doubt in my mind that my personal struggles have given me strength and courage.)

Everything happens for a reason? Nope, not for me. The way I see it, “Things happen; and God has helped me through it.” (as did my family, my girls, my friends, my Cricket, my village 🙂 )

Photo credit: Me! That is a picture of me in Tybee Island, Georgia; a trip my sister and I took in the fall of 2014.

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Jane Fonda and Oprah; Master Class Podcast

I recently listened to Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class podcast featuring Jane Fonda. This was such a rich listening experience, that I decided to quote her several times in this blog post. I certainly appreciated her wisdom gained from learned experiences:

“In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. And to know where we’ve been, we have to know who our parents were. Not who we think they were but who they were as free-standing, individual people.” Jane speaks about the realizations she made as an adult in coming to terms with the very painful event of her mother’s suicide when she was a teenager.

“You are not meant to be perfect, you are meant to be whole.” This realization came for Jane after what she termed as a “toxic quest for perfection.” She shares a fascinating story of someone who gave her a more realistic example of what being comfortable in your own skin could be.

  • “Look what scares you in the face and try to understand it. Empathy, I have learned, is revolutionary.” This came for Jane after a controversial picture was printed during her years of protest to the Vietnam War.

I sat listening to this podcast with rapt attention. To listen to the podcast (it is well worth it!): https://podtail.com/podcast/oprah-s-master-class-the-podcast/jane-fonda/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The Wisdom of Mark Twain

I love this quote by Mark Twain:

“I have lived a long life and have had many troubles, most of which never happened.”  – Mark Twain

We will always have something to worry about, mainly because we don’t have the ability to see our future. Mark Twain’s words remind us that living in the moment and focusing on today’s worries produces a lot less heartache. That is sometimes easier said than done, however we can’t deny ourselves the wisdom of that intention.

The reality is, even when troubles arise in our lives, we have the ability and the fortitude to deal with them. Many times in fact, we may even acknowledge to ourselves that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. Perhaps we can lean into our formula for worry a bit more by asking ourselves “Is there something I can do about this worry right now?” If there is, do it, and if there isn’t, perhaps it is time to set the worry aside; leaving some room for the joys and the successes of the day 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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