Wednesday, April 20, 2022

When You Are A Witness

 I have witnessed many people leave their bodies at death. Technically, I do not see souls--or any special effects of spirit--other than the body releasing its grip on this thing we call life. But I believe in its exit. Consistent with Unity teaching, Unity minister, Ellen Debenport, described our four essential layers of existence as being like 'Russian nesting dolls,':  (the smallest) the body+the ego+the soul+Spirit (our God essence.) The physical body and the mental ego are left behind at death, as our individualized, eternal conciousness continues its journey. 

Respectfully, I realize this set of beliefs is not universally accepted, but I hope you will continue reading. Readers may wish to further explore this topic of 'nonlocal consciousness' (the continuity of consciousness after physical death) in The Immortal Mind: Science and the Continuity of Consciousness beyond the Brain by Ervin Laszlo, with Anthony Peake.

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Perhaps you have read accounts of NDE (Near Death Experience) and can envision with me, the shift that occurs in consciousness when it is free of the body. Raymond Moody brought this to wider awareness in his 1975 book, Life After Life. It is through NDE accounts that we can even glean what occurs at death and yet, someday, each of us will have this ultimate mortal experience. 

Midday on March 19, 2022, my husband and I were driving to an event in Tucson and came upon an accident scene. Despite my professional experience, it shook me up. Now, one month later, I have found some peace and understanding. The circumstances remain very sad and more should be done to ensure cycling is a safe recreational experience. 

Witness

I am lying on the side of the road at least 

my body is. 

Is that my wife too

A few yards west

Lying on the side of the road?

There is my beautiful

full carbon Vitesse EVO

with its sexy stiffness

Its four grand float fantasy frame

Oddly crumpled near the sheriff’s suv.


I am lying on the side of the road at least

My body is.

And yes my beautiful young wife

Lies beneath a tarp 

As do I and yet

 she now takes my hand saying:

Cookie

Looks like our ride is over.

My beautiful wife

My beautiful cycle

oh my oh my oh my

Everything, simply everything

Is beautiful.


And what do you know

I feel no concern that

the dog is waiting for her midday treat or

I’ll be a no-show at choir rehearsal or

The gas bill still needs a stamp or

I wore yesterday’s underwear again today.


‘Aha!’ hardly begins to explain

What I feel see hear know

This joy-peace without emotion

This radiance without glare

This vibrance without clamor

This knowing without quest or question

All this all this all this.

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In memory of Kenneth and Gretchen Cook

Cyclists killed March 19, 2022, Tucson AZ 

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Thank you for caring and sharing...and please:
Share the road!

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Gratitude Bowl

I am reading a wonderful ebook called The Book of (Even More) AWESOME by Neil Pasricha. I am probably the last to know that this is a sequel to his books, The Book of Awesome, You Are Awesome, and at least seven more books. And, hallelujah, Neil also has an award winning blog, 1000AwesomeThings.com  

I eat this stuff up! It is wonderful, inspiring, and I’ll even say, sanity-serenity saving! Just reading a couple dozen of Neil’s AWESOMEs has me setting up a new Gratitude Bowl. 

I began using a Gratitude Bowl after I was widowed; it was an important exercise to look for the good, and trust that it is there to be found, in abundance, no matter what! In fact, I even felt a little constrained when I made a rule of only-one-gratitude-slip-per-day. Don’t know why I did that but this time, there will be no rules. I want to run and fill out slips for as many things as I can. I want to rush home to my pile of blank slips and catch up on all the good I collided with while out.

Life transitions--even if they are a blizzard of good things, are like new buds-- vulnerable to the Goliath of old defenses, ego, and fear. Those party poopers just love to crank out bummer-inducing pink slips; it’s hell in the middle of the night and laughable after head clearing morning coffee and exercise. 

I recently detected that an attitude intervention was needed. My usual body-mind-spirit self-care activities wore off too quickly, and even the abundant love in my wonderful remarriage was serving me like a loose BandAid. Neil’s AWESOME book arrived at just the right time and now, my new Gratitude Bowl will be part of the attitude intervention. 

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RECIPE FOR A GRATITUDE BOWL:  

Choose a bowl, any kind of bowl!

Cut slips of paper-- any kind of paper!

Place a pen or marker nearby. 

Thank you for caring and sharing!



Friday, March 25, 2022

Work and Grief: PTO Falls Short

 Let's discuss bereavement time. I know so many people who's paid (or unpaid but sanctioned) time off work comes from a benefit known as PTO-- Personal Time Off, but back in the day, time off for a death was called bereavement leave. It usually maxxed out at three days. That would be enough for travel to-and-from a funeral destination with a buffer to improve on the puffy or dark-circled eyes and rehearse what might pass as an "I'm okay" facade. Do you have rights? Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD. crafted The Mourner's Bill of Rights to advocate gentleness toward grieving people. It is beautifully caring and encourages a mindfulness through grief...but it is far from a corporate manual.

Are you really back to work just because your body showed up?

A February, 2022 Wall Street Journal article by Work & Life columnist Rachel Feintzeig, Workers Get More Time to Grieve Losses  caught my attention. One interviewee stated that her work performance during grief felt "like 10% capacity."  I know someone who felt such perpetual brain fog after the death of her mother, she wanted to resign. 

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The woman I'll call the 10 percenter, eventually rose to an influential executive level and instituted 'unlimited paid bereavement leave.' This radical and risky policy is steeped in heart but can it float in a demanding work environment? I know what it's like to feel you have to show up, no matter what. And let's just go ahead and include our pets' deaths in the category of Excruciating Loss...but don't expect paid leave for anyone other than immediate family.

In my funeral home days, staff handed out funeral passes to requesting guests. Noting the basics of decedent, relationship, and date of service(s), I would pen my authorized signature and zip it off the pre-printed pad. Fast forward to the guest's first day back at work as she/he turns in the pass to their supervisor or HR. I get it: the system can and will be abused. I also get that the generosity of benefits may be linked to corporate size or paygrade. 

I was struck by Feintzeig's keen observation that "bereavement, burnout and child-care issues were once considered private matters to be dealt with largely on one's own."  Grieving doesn't watch the clock and switch off from 8 to 5. At work, it is a naked, clinging-to-calm-by-the-fingernails kind of experience. You can feel fragile or so numbed and shut down that, while craving human warmth, social anxiety overwhelms. The risk of being seen as weak or incompetent is so powerful, and the effort to appear normal is so exhausting,you rush back to the caccoon of home to collapse.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 supports unpaid leave for qualifying birth and health events of employees in certain size workplaces. The Covid era with its huge mortality has torn the veil on assumptions about grief. Covid era grief has also been complicated by social distancing, restrictions on gatherings, and facility closures. I made my late husband's cremation arrangements through my car window in a blustery parking lot; his ashes were handed to me in the same manner. 

What should you do when you need bereavement leave?

Ask for a clear understanding of company policies. Can you refer to an Employee Handbook? The funeral you wish to attend may not be for an approved loss (ie. a relationship beyond family of origin or spouse;) can you use PTO, or is there an employee bank of PTO for emergency situations?

Ask your supervisor for ideas of meeting your job goals with less stress: can you work remotely?

The inside job

Most importantly, assume that the work setting is not your go-to for support. Your appetite may be off but consume a plentiful diet of self care:

  • Spend time with trusted friends willing to listen, hug, and offer words of comfort 
  • Schedule professional grief counseling--often available virtually
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    Get out of doors into fresh air-- your garden or a natural setting
  • Enjoy time with your (or a friend's) pet
  • Prioritize your mindfulness practices: yoga, journaling, meditation
  • Read a good book about grief (ideally specific to your type of loss,) and
  • Explore any other spiritual or faith traditions that help you feel peaceful.
Thank you for caring and sharing!

Monday, March 7, 2022

Comfort Objects: Rereading Memento Notes

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The Growing Through Grief series


I have a notecard tucked in a dresser drawer that warms me just by its cover. It is undated but, thinking back to when I had that box of notecards, I place the note around a time I wanted to relocate. "Make your own Adventure" it urges. Inside, my late husband wrote a special message of admiration and support, and it 'wows' me every time I read it. 

The Condolence Coach has often used the George Santayana quip 'there is nothing sweeter than to be sympathized with.'  But now I know there is nothing sweeter than to be encouraged for being who you are and for the writer's certainty that great things are still to come from you.

I stumbled upon the card while sorting through papers after my husband's death and then, it became a note of encouragement I periodically turned to. As my grief journey progressed, my need for the card lessened. But just yesterday--about 13 months after the death, I yearned for that experience of being deeply known, accepted, and cherished; I opened the drawer, and there it was, waiting to give me a handwritten hug and high five.

Comfort Objects

Growing through grief is a process of finding, using, and very gradually decreasing dependence on comfort objects which stand in for your loved one. Rest assured that anything qualifies as a comfort object and no one but you can choose it. It can be as big as a house or as tiny as a hair. I wrote on the subject of comfort objects and legacies in these posts:

Plaques and Pavers: Memorializing Love

Greatest Generation Dads

Unusual Comforts

A Life Story in 15 Songs

Recipes Soothe Our Souls

A Lasting Tribute

Readers should be very clear on these points:  

Gradually decreasing dependence on the comfort object is:

  • entirely up to the grieving individual
  • can occur quickly, very slowly, OR NEVER
  • is one indication of growing through grief, but is not a required step
Some comfort objects are assimilated into survivors' lives. Comfort objects can be given as legacy gifts like Dad's cherished pickup truck is now driven by a grandson; a warm sweatshirt continues to dispel morning chill; Mom's apron acquires new splatters as the dog eared pages of her cookbook guide new hands to great chili or that must-have Thanksgiving side dish.

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Visit any park or museum and you will see a fundraising opportunity put to good use. Organizations offering the design and installation of memorial plaques and pavers touch hearts with a public comfort object. My friend Lauren had experience with this and encouraged me to consider it. I enjoyed creating such an item for a community park in remembrance of my late husband. The plaque inscription, Providence was his earthly compass, Love his North Star, warms not only my heart but will do the same for anyone who sees it.

Encouraging Aftercare

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Back to that note of encouragement...Because notes of encouragement are so powerful, so nourishing to the spirit of a grieving person, I would like to suggest readers consider writing them as "aftercare" to someone on the grief journey. My cousin Susan lives across the country, but she and her late mother regularly sent me cards of encouragement. Messages like you are strong, you are doing exactly what you need to do at this time, I admire you for _____, the rainbow on this card  is waiting for you are bravery boosters, and their arrival in an otherwise ad filled mailbox always put a smile on my face. 

5 Key components of a note of encouragement

  1. Choose a card with an inspiring image or inscription
  2. Refer to the inspiring image or inscription in your personalization
  3. No timelines: life is meant to be a flow
  4. Be effusive (that means be unrestrained and heartfelt)
  5. Be optimistic (see the gifts and potentials even when your recipient can't)
Is there someone you could encourage today?

Thank you for caring and sharing!


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Remember To Breathe

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The Growing Through Grief series

BREATH-- that free commodity which keeps us alive--is easily forgotten when we are stressed!  Rather than reaching for more breath, we reach for potato chips, ice cream, alcohol. What are you reaching for as the world of Covid continues to constrict our lives? We may tighten up with fear and uncertainty: a reaction that creeps into other aspects of living and we find ourselves asking 'who and what do I trust?'

So many of us experimented with finding a mask we could breathe through! Were you more at ease in paper or cloth? Many people chose to wear plastic face shields, and many others defiantly denounced the masking recommendations and rules. In times of powerlessness, the ego--and the survival instinct--drive us to grasp and assert power somewhere. But as we see on the news, vulnerable people often exercise very poor power choices.

Return to simple

Recently, a woman told me her doctor “prescribed” breathing exercises. There was no respiratory apparatus to buy or app to download; her instructions were simple: slowly count to 4 while inhaling, then slowly count to 4 while exhaling; repeat the cycle for ten minutes, daily. 

Breathing is an essential part of yoga. Perhaps you've heard or tried the breathing practices of pranayama or left nostril breathing, both of which have medically proven calming effects.

A few years ago, I learned a short song that delights and centers me:

Breathe in

Breathe out

That special feeling--

That's what it's all about.

When trouble comes around

there ain't no doubt:

Breathe in

Breathe out.

There are various melodies, but why not make up you own, or chant the lyrics, repeating the verse a few times. And of course, practice the breathing in the midst of vocalizing.

Return to trust

Breathing is trusting. Air is free. We do all we can to ensure someone with respiratory challenges is supplied adequate oxygen. As occurs in many patient settings, my late husband, while in hospice care, wore a nasal cannula (the small flexible tubing with two prongs that sit just inside the nostrils.) He grew more comfortable as I gradually increased the flow rate from the oxygen concentrator to a mid range, as his nurse advised. 

Take time to exercise the calming power of breath!

Thank you for caring and sharing!


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Making it Through the Moment, No Matter How Tough

The Growing Through Grief Series

It is a human tendency to encapsulate or categorize time into quantities. We order our days with calendars, reminder notifications and heaps of anticipation or dread. But isn’t it true that we only experience moments?  Some of us came from climates where weather changed quickly. We’d tease: wait five minutes and it will be different.
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A blue sky now clouds over; a downpour suddenly ceases, a clear road is overcome with whiteout. The same occurs in relationships: a facial expression or comment can 'change the weather' of the moment so that we feel warmed and welcomed or anxious and awkward.

Is there a reason for this moment?

In The Magic of Awareness,  Anam Thubten, Rinpoche, invites the recognition that “this very moment cannot be any better than it is right now.” If you’ve ever been told ‘everything happens for a reason,’ then it can be helpful to take a deep breath and trust that the moment will lead to the next, best moment. Life coach Byron Katie stated, "Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late."

This is not fluff or hogwash. Having faced myriad 'take a deep breath' life situations, I know the signs of crisis or coping. As a young woman, I quickly reacted with strong, sometimes debilitating emotions. In my post, H.A.L.T: Avoiding Self Care Red Flags, the support of a caring person helped anchor me to the present. In more recent years, my mindfulness practices (yoga, meditation, affirmative prayer) led me to ask that important question: Is there a reason for this moment?

Used with permission,
Melinda Rogers

Often, we are simply standing in 'someone else's weather,' -- minor kerfluffles or the dramatic storms of their life and/or death. My friend Charlotte notes that, from moment to moment, we either teach or learn. If the reason or purpose is not readily apparent, wait on the revelation of insight. Keep your heart open, and it will come.


Health challenges

When changes in health occur -- from catching an inconvenient cold, getting a positive Covid-19 test, or the spiral into chronic or terminal illness -- it is extremely hard to stay centered in the moment. And it takes tremendous support or spiritual grounding to accept the condition with peace, welcoming its insights and growth. Still, it is worth trying and of course, the key is to make it through the moment.

Steps to help someone make it through the moment

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  • Understand that your presence and acceptance of someone's struggle is a huge part of the help. This is an important concept in any form of vigiling or support because without words, it communicates 'you are not alone.'
    • Tips for credibility of presence: silence and place your cell phone somewhere it won't be disturbing or tempting. If you must keep track of time, state that up front and set an appliance timer (like the stove) so you don't keep checking. Turn off the TV. Respectfully declutter your visiting area by removing a meal tray, stacking mail elsewhere, straighten a blanket, fluff a pillow, clear or straighten miscellany from nearby surfaces, and bring one pretty decorative item into view.
    • My friend, Melinda, reminds me that staying in the moment can be as simple as quality time with friends, family, pets, and doing activities such as crafting or cooking.
  • Believe that acceptance of the moment will be helpful. Always be loving and gentle. View the moment with the same awe or wonderment as if you were observing an unusual work of art. Simply accepting it is more important than understanding all of the whys for this life situation or condition. 
    • It can be said that life is a tapestry of situations or conditions. It is an energetic mystery but when I resist a situation, I prolong it and my stress or pain; when I accept it, resolution or relief come quickly.
Come to that confrontation with yourself, on all sides. Come unarmed. The secret: Embrace everything you find.
  • In the company of your friend facing the challenge, listen, and empathize with your presence and caring expression or a light touch but avoid launching into a complex discussion of the story.
  • Ask a series of questions that require in-the-moment responses. Examples are:
    • Do you feel warm or cold? Would you like me to adjust the room temperature, loosen your clothing or put a throw on your lap? 
    • Where is there discomfort now? What form of relief can we try? 
    • What thoughts are you having now? Can you name something good about this moment? What are you grateful for right now?
    • Describe a challenge that you are having right now? Say something to it !
    • How does this room we're in comfort or annoy you? What are your favorite things in this room? What can we adjust to make it more pleasing?
    • What or who can you forgive or ask forgiveness for right now? Do you need to forgive a part of your body?
    • What are you teaching in this a moment?
      • As a companion, you may be able to suggest something that you are being 'taught' by your friend/loved one's experience. 
    • What are you learning in this moment?
    • If this was a perfect day, what would it be like?
      • What part of this day is perfect?
    • Tell me about someone who is still benefiting from a help you once gave?
  • Finally, one of the most powerful centering practices is to view or hold one small thing--preferably something from nature-a rock, a twig, a shell- and study it with sight, touch, smell. Think of its creation, its experiences; this focus can produce awe, joy, and peace.

Presence has power and powerlessness

Have you noticed this duality? Look closely at the smallest thing you have power over, as well as the things you surrender to. This is part of the human experience. Awareness and surrender to the circumstance can be a freeing choice. Exploring these two topics through reading and contemplation will enlighten--truly brighten your path. Share the insight gently, as life invites you.

Thank you for caring...and sharing!