Thursday, October 14, 2021

Cricket After Cricket: Life Goes On

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With remarkable frequency, I find crickets in my house. Rather than a cause for alarm that my door seals are leaking (they're not,) I see these visitors as messengers of life, and then carefully escort them outside. Life goes on. 

For anyone who has mourned the death of a loved one or experienced a painful life change, there is a dominant question: will life go on? And if I accept that as fact--even while clueless--the next question is: what will a new life look like? For most, the acute state of emptiness and even purposelessness will change to a gentle forbearance after two or three months. Then, as new patterns develop:  brewing a smaller pot of coffee, rising earlier to walk the dog, halving recipes or opting for convenience food and paper plates, what a new life looks like begins to emerge. As the visiting crickets suggest, life goes on.

"Cricket symbolism is a sign of exceptional luck. Furthermore, this spirit animal says that the things that you have been working toward and dreaming about are now possible." Source

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Moving beyond forbearance, however, is an important indicator of adjustment. When I found myself beginning to define my future with wants, hopes, and dreams, I stopped asking others "where do I belong?" and began asking myself what do I need? I asked, what do I like to do? and then rephrased it as: what do I really, really want to do? I realized I was tying my shoelaces with a new intention:  being and becoming who I truly wanted to be.

There is a wonderful poem which supported me line by line, as I moved through grief, day by day. It reminded me that yes--life goes on, and unimaginably good things can unfold if I am open to them!

Thou hast made me endless

 (from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore)

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
 and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
 and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands
 my little heart loses its limits in joy
 and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me
 only on these very small hands of mine. 
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, 
and still there is room to fill.

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This post is lovingly dedicated to RRR

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Bedside Stories for a Loving Goodbye Vigil

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The Rural Doctor

My friend Charlotte's father was a rural Iowa doctor; one of those special people who could calmly set a bone and stitch you up after a nasty farm accident, or cheerfully deliver your twins on a snowy winter night. Doc was both confidante and neighbor to his patients in an era when storytelling served the human need for connection.

Storytelling, sometimes called the oral tradition, spans history and cultures. Stories can teach, preach, entertain and comfort. We are born with an eagerness to ask for, listen to, and share stories. Pause just a moment and you will be flooded with memories, which are themselves, stories.

The Plain Needle
One afternoon, Doc was called to the home of a dying patient. He found the grandfather in bed, surrounded by family; one by one, anecdotes and accounts were told. There was nothing fancy or formal in the room; patched pockets, darned socks, and flyaway hair were worn all around, and the draping of a softly faded quilt barely moved with the old man's slow rasp of breaths.
There were no whispers, either. Each story was a farewell blessing--a living tribute of love, admiration and humor, told with the same voices that their loved one heard on the porch or around the kitchen table.

"My family are all storytellers," Charlotte told me. She'd held this memory for many years until one day, with grown children of her own, the story came full circle. "My husband had suffered a brain bleed and was on life support. As my son and daughter gathered at their father's bedside, we decided to tell some stories about Dad."

Charlotte believed strongly in the tradition of stories as a tool for comfort, saying "I am sure their dad heard the stories and I know he loved it. Ultimately, the vigil of storytelling transformed our removal of life support into a loving farewell."

Ways to prompt stories

  • Tell stories that allow expressions of admiration, love, gratitude. The caregiving person in charge may suggest:
    • How did _____ inspire you?
    • Let's talk about the time when _____
    • What were some of his/her favorite sayings, and when did he/she most often use them?
  • If someone wants to express a personal message to the dying person, give them some privacy. 

Suggestions to support the dying experience

  • If the person normally wears hearing aids, remember to keep them in the ears, with fresh batteries. Even if someone is comatose (a state of deep, unresponsive unconsciousness that is common at the end of life,) the reception of sounds and words should be supported. 
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  • Make contact: using a method that does not cause pain or other discomfort, options include a light hand on the head or stroke of a brow, holding a hand or resting a light hand on their shoulder, forearm or shin.
  • Always inform the dying person about who is coming into or leaving the room. Casual statements such as: “Mom is going to take a nap,” or  “Hi Mary, this is Tom. I’m going to sit with you for awhile,” or “Mary, Tom is here now,” or "The kids are coming after school, in an hour."
Read more about vigiling:

Thank you for caring and sharing!

Thursday, June 24, 2021

H.A.L.T: Avoiding Self Care Red Flags

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As a young woman driving cross country homeward after a breakup, I'd touch base with my dad, in the evenings. There were no mobile phones, so I'd call him from the motel room telephone. It was a grim, lonely trip but one of the most important things my dad told me was to eat. "Don't skip meals, Deb; keep your strength up."

The 'strength' that comes from regular, complete nutrition cannot be overstated. In the infographic, 10 Reasons Doctors Talk About The Need For Good Nutrition & Diets, four of the ten points emphasize improved wellbeing, mood, focus and energy. When nutrition is shoddy or spotty, your personal house of cards can quickly spiral into depression, confusion, inertia and health complications. 

Despite the stress, it is important to push past all tendencies to avoid food ("I don't feel like eating" or "I've always had a small appetite"). Postponing meals and snacks ("I'm too busy to eat.") must also be counteracted. Many grieving people experience weight shifts, up or down; monitor this and consult your doctor if it goes beyond a 5-10 pound change.

Keep your battery charged

In general, coping with any stress--pandemic isolation, job or financial pressures, relationship challenges, and grief-- requires remarkable inner strength, physical stamina, and a fully charged “mental battery.” Self help writers long ago coined an acronym to assess one’s mental battery strength:  HALT. It stands for Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. and feeling any one of those is a red flag needing immediate care. I am spending more time talking about nutrition (the H of HALT) because it can support and regulate so many functions of the body, brain, and mood.



Strong emotions can drive out an appetite and stress affects easy digestion, so I
would suggest sitting quietly for five to ten minutes before eating. Calm yourself by stroking your pet, listening to soft music, walking in your yard, breathing mindfully. Your brain needs fuel and choosing ‘high octane’ nutritious foods over sugary or packaged snacks is vital. Make every food choice count: high quality protein, complex carbs, fresh dark green veggies. AVOID alcohol and sugar.  Another tip for low appetite is to eat a small portion morning, midday, and late afternoon. ‘Bedtime snack’ is not a dirty word, either.


Anger can be a natural response to dramatic change and pain. Every cell of our being wants to react to it or run from it. You know your triggers, so choose exposure carefully. Then, know how to calm down:  call a friend or counselor, open a good book, say a prayer, find something to laugh about, listen to music, hug your pet, and my favorite: go outside for some fresh air.


With CDC guidelines relaxed or cancelled as the U.S. pandemic and vaccinations stabilize, emerging from isolation is a process. For many, the experience was emotionally or financially devastating. Grieving also triggers powerful moments of loneliness. The set of HALT red flags includes loneliness because it is not just a state of mind or a poorly managed mood. It can seriously affect mental and physical health! Reach out: make phone calls to friends, family, your hospice social worker or clergy. Arrange a visit with someone. If you feel your options are narrow, just go out to a store for a break in the ache of feeling alone. 


A lot of things can make us tired: poor sleep, meds, stress and emotional spikes. Grief--especially the early period (which may vary by individual)--can upend your circadian rhythms, trigger fears, worries and obsessive thoughts, which seem to spike in the dark! Rest: where, when, and how you can, and shutting your eyes on the couch or recliner counts. Ask your health care provider for suggestions.

The role of a caring friend

If you are the friend of someone struggling with a loss, gently ask from time to time about the HALT aspects of self care. Bringing nutritious prepared food or taking the grieving person out for a meal can be very helpful. Offering your quiet companionship or assistance in the home may allow the person to relax and nap. Make the call, send the text: being present and open to simply listen is a huge support. 

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Be Brave With Your Life


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Be Brave With Your Life. This expression is embossed on the cover of the journal I purchased  over a year ago. Frankly, at the time, I didn't care for the gloomy, foggy cover image; I just wanted a new notebook. Now, I understand it. 

From day to day, we navigate--seeing only as far into the unknown, unfolding day, as each next moment allows. When you have faced a very close loss--spouse, partner, child, parent-- and the numbness wears off to reveal the new skin of acceptance, the next step is your.

If the next steps are seen as gloomy and forbidding, your next chapter of life will be exactly that, and it will be a miserable existence. The option is to 'Be Brave With Your Life'. 

Being brave is an act of trust, hope, and faith in good. Put simply, it is optimism. And so I now turn my words to you, who are on the sidelines of a person who is moving forward after a loss. Please read this carefully!

Advice for those of you on the sidelines of someone's loss:

  1. Do not give advice. If you are asked for guidance or a suggestion on a specific matter, share knowledge but don't assume you've been invited in as a life coach.
  2. Do not become a cop, judge, or legislator on the nature and timing of new choices. What you believe is the right way/right time to 'get on with life'-- whether in the form of relocation, activities, or relationships-- is only your opinion. Do not poison someone's bravery with your 'well-meaning concerns.' The journey forward may have some disappointments or detours, but that is true for everyone!
  3.  DO encourage. When you are told of some new thing in the person's life, respond with a hug or supportive words such as: "be good to yourself," "be happy, " "I'm happy for you," "go for it," "have fun" ... And then, bite your tongue if a "well-meaning concern" bubbles up and you are dying to share it. 
My most cherished friends support me in exactly these ways. They do not own or use 'poison arrows.' Love, care, interest, and support are the precious breezes they send my way. These bolster my bravery!

Thank you for caring!

To grow in your sensitivity to others' losses, please browse this blog, often!

This post is dedicated to Terry.

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Monday, April 26, 2021

Grief Recovery: Grinding Up the Old Road, Paving the New

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A great force at work

There’s a tremendous rumbling outside my home, as beasts of steel move slowly on their low-slung circular tracks. The fiercest of them claws unrelentingly at the roadway, churning up the old macadam. Scooped onto a skyward conveyor, the rough debris are launched into the cavity of a giant white dump truck.

Slim, sunglassed workers in bright yellow safety vests and hard hats live out childhood Tonka Toy dreams, sauntering beside the beasts. A secret bliss beats in their hearts, aglow with the knowledge that no mother waits at home to scold them over the filthy pants they will arrive in. They are the grinders, obliterating all previous roads. Out of sight, the debris-laden lorry will travel to a location in need of its material. For new roads are being constructed, and a foundation of ‘what was,’ suits a new way to come. 

You are the foundation of your new path

People--and roads--are an amalgam of everything known and experienced. And yet, it is crucial to respect the dynamics of change because change--like the grinders’ force--will leave nothing untouched. Daily, there is an expansion of the known and experienced. Layer on top of layer, our lives are paved with rigors and roses, relationships and realizations. What may seem like habit or routine will, if examined under a microscope, be infinitesimally different and new, each day.

Recognizing these facts, I know that the cacophony outside will abate and I will return to my patio, cool drink in hand. I know that a new road will be built outside my door and likewise, inside my heart and mind. It is happening now, with each keystroke.
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Moving forward is what matters most; I spread words left to right on this digital page and as needed, backspace my way to better expression. Left to right, auto-return, left to right again. 

I thank the grinders who are helping me let go of old roads because there is so much more to discover on a new one.

Thankyou for caring!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

In the Bewilds: Trekking Grief's Wilderness

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Let me be clear: this is a trek with all the challenges of a Himalayan expedition: low oxygen, sapping exertion, sudden storms, and shivering alone in your tent. This wilderness of experience and eviscerating emotion--what I've dubbed the Bewilds, is both an uncontrolled ride down rapids and a process of choices. Open to it all, I find myself awed by the day's catalogue of wonders: a caring email, phone message, or invitation, a kindred soul walking her dog, another pair of hands for an unfamiliar task.

In so-named books, Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD refers to 'the wilderness of grief' as life changing. Francis Weller, MFT suggests 'the wild edge of sorrow' is an invitation to sacred ground. Just as I approached my husband's dying as a sacred journey, I am committed to trying to grieve with a higher consciousness, a patient awareness.

The formidable and even frightening solo trek becomes a mindful mile if I pause to pull essentials from my pack. Surprising reliefs are found in deep and easy breaths, the reviving self care of rations, rest, and light reading. Like an LED flashlight, a companion's visit brings calming clarity; and the littlest accomplishment soothes weariness as if pulling on soft socks. 

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In Grieving,The Sacred Art, Hope in the Land of Loss, Lisa Irish notes,

 "Loss can be mourned even as positive changes become evident."  

Numerous philosophers have explored the hair's width of space between endings and beginnings. So, trekking the Bewilds is not without tears ... or anticipation. 

Hoping to feel 'like your old self' is like reaching for your comfort food. I inwardly cringed when a 5-year widow admitted to still having painful, tearful moments. My peers help me to grasp that grieving is not like post surgical rehab. We have been 'transformed' and live a 'new normal.'

This post is simply a moment in my trek into my new normal. I know that I will continue to change and grow-- and even backup, when necessary. Every griever is a solo trekker and should be respected as such. 

The Condolence Coach continues to suggest that before giving practical advice or spiritual direction to a person in mourning, you ask them if they want it. You could say things like: This may not apply to you, but when I was grieving my dad...  or You'll know when you feel ready to... or I'm glad I have a special spot to go say hello... 

Thank you for caring!