Dare I mention our elections?

We all know that what is happening in the world of American politics is outrageous in so many ways. Truth is too often ignored or at best illusive. I am not even going to mention the names of those seeking nominations in their respective parties....we all know them too well. I have made my choice for voting in April and I imagine most of you have also. I imagine most of us are pretty worn down by the lies, exaggerations, attacks, polls, predictions, finger pointing, promises and yes, even violence.

What might be helpful for all of us to remember is to take a breath and to practice balance. There is really no need to read every article, every post on every social network or to watch every debate. Check yourself as you watch or read. It is not a calming experience and it seems pretty futile to me. Spending precious hours paying attention to the wrong sources each day is not going to change anything. However, your vote and appropriate support for your candidate will help. I have gained insight from reading local author Mike McCabe's "Blue Jeans in High Places." His plan and the actions he and his followers are taking make sense to me. www.bluejeannation.com

A balanced approach to this election year can be an important piece of living well. We have many months ahead of us and not much is new at this point. Balance can include going to sources you believe are reliable, track what these sources are saying a couple times a week (more or less) and then go for a walk in nature on these beautiful May days.

I am NOT suggesting people walk away from politics. Just the opposite. Our voices matter. Educating ourselves matters. Action matters. But wasting time listening to and reading the same old, same old futile information over and over and over again seems to me to be a waste of time and energy as well as a source of frustration. Throw your energy behind your candidate in positive and helpful ways, ways that matter if you so choose...when the time comes to do so.

Balance is such an important approach to our lives. Not too much and not too little of anything can lead to peace and calm even in challenging times. It matters with exercise, nutrition, our emotions, relationships, work, socializing, involvements (just look at your calendar), solitude and stillness, and so much more.

Think about looking at the pieces of your life to see if balance is an essential practice. Try sitting at the river's edge, alone, and look inward to see what needs changing and then create a plan, one at a time, to make changes. Perhaps include how you plan to deal with this election year.

And as you increase balance in your daily life, also remember  to vote.
A few weeks ago someone posted a graphic on Facebook that read a bit like this: "there is something to be said about driving and singing to very loud music." I have always agreed with that and found myself doing just that as I returned from Chicago where I spent four days attending the long awaited celebration of my brother's 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Given his health from age 28 (2 weeks after ordination he was in cancer surgery not expected to live) until today, he should not have made it this far.





Mom (age 96) excited about her trip to Rockport, MA
Mom was a twin and the youngest of 14 children. She grew up on an Iowa farm with no electricity or running water. I remember her telling me how she learned to cook by helping her mother prepare meals for the large family most of whom were out in the fields helping my grandfather plant and reap.

Some of my memories of her include her making our lunches every day and always have a hot meal on the table for dinner. I remember going to the church with her on Saturdays to help her put flowers on the altar or deliver newly ironed vestments that she took care of. As she aged, she aged gracefully maintaining her sense of humor to the end. When she was 98 I asked her if she would send me a sign when she got to heaven letting me know she was OK. She smiled and said she would send me an email, then pausing she said, "No, I will send you a butterfly." I also asked her if she believed in reincarnation and she told me she loved being our mom but she did not want to return since she worked so hard to get to heaven.
When Mom died, she was going on 100 years of age. She had been in a coma for two weeks, never opening her eyes even once. The night before she died, I was sitting up with her all night and getting ready to leave and get some sleep as my sister was about to take my place. I got up on her bed, removed her oxygen mask and getting about 4 inches from her face told her it was ok for her to die, that I knew she wanted to see her parents and family. She quickly opened her eyes wide, looked right into my eyes and said, "What will you and Jim and Sally (my siblings) do without me?" I told her gently that we were all in our sixties now and though we will miss her terribly, it is ok for her to go to Jesus. Then she said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." and died 45 minutes later.
I thank her on this Mother's Day for the deep love she gave to all of us;
the sacrifices she made and
her determination to provide for us through many difficult times.
I know she is with me yet as are so many I have lost.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom!
Those who know me know that my buddy and companion Golden Retriever Bentley, was diagnosed last summer with a slow growing form of lymphoma. When the UW (University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine) could not determine the cause, they recommended I send his blood to Colorado State University (CSU) where research to determine why 60% of our Goldens die of cancer when the rate is 40% for other breeds. They are both too high but that is a subject for another day.  The Goldens in the CSU study diagnosed with this newly identified form lived 6 to 33 months and some did not die of lymphoma. This length of time is quite unusual. They also see, now, that some of their symptom free (i.e. normal) subjects (sweet Goldens) also have the cells found in and used to diagnose Bentley. This is early in the study for them to know all the pieces of this newly identified form of lymphoma. So far, one year later, I am blessed to have Bentley with me and doing fairly well. He is happy, eats well and outside of periodic rounds of infections, hot spots and loose stools, he is comfortable and I believe, pain free. As I write this on May 8, he and I are dealing with his fourth round of problems in as many weeks.

Recover, Heal, Transform, Grow, Integrate, Learn, Medicalize, Complicated, Disordered, Untimely, Get Over, Process, Move On, Renew, Move through, Stages, Get Past....and on and on and on.

These terms and more are used regularly regarding the time following the death of someone we love. Somehow we find a need to label our grief, to judge it and even medicalize it. It seems as if just saying "I am grieving" or "I am mourning" is not good enough. The labels we insist on using, however, convey a philosophy about grief. Usually a pathetic philosophy. In our death and grief phobic society, (and a society that judges people so quickly and easily) we look for goals such as recovery, transformation, healing, learning, move through stages, move on, get past, integrate the experience, grow from grief and more. We cannot just let grief be grief. Instead we have to solve it as if it was a problem. We medicalize it as if it were a disease. We put it on a time table or turn it into some lesson or change. Grieving people get trapped in this mentality and following a loss too many want to know how long this will take, when does "it" end and shouldn't I be "moving on", getting better, healing? Those who try to help often come from good intentions but too often lack the information they need, feel frightened and/or helpless and perhaps have an inability to accept their own raw or repressed grief.

Princess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, who delivered his sister's eulogy was interviewed on the CBS News Sunday Morning show today (March 15, 2015). In the course of the interview he said (in response to interviewer Tracy Smith's statement "It has been close to 20 years." "Yeah, I met someone the other day who was so interesting, she had actually lost her sister in a car crash, in fact the same time. And I said, 'How is it for you?' And she said, 'Well, the pain's the same, it's just the tears are less.' And that's very profound."

I am deeply grateful for the blog post made by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, Founder of the MISS Foundation, in response to the recent flurry about what is being identified in a current NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) blog. as "complicated," "prolonged" and in my opinion, abnormal grief, (a "condition," if you will). See Dr. Cacciatore's post here: http://drjoanne.blogspot.com/2015/02/

I have never lost a child. I have never even had a child for reasons beyond the scope of this post. I missed that joy. I cannot even imagine how it feels or what it is like to walk through life having lost your child, be s/he an hour old or 35 years old. But I do know grief too well. I cannot and will never compare the loss of my beloved husband to a mother and/or father losing a child of any age. But, I also resent it when anyone proposes the following:

Each year when February arrives, my mind travels back to 1965, the year my brother was ordained a Catholic priest. In an Irish Catholic family, especially back then, having a priest in the family was (and still is) a great honor. My mom and dad were thrilled and proud as their many siblings, families and friends attended the ceremony and his first Mass the next day.
Little did we know as our rather large extended family gathered from all over the country that just two weeks later, I would be sitting with my parents and sister at an ICU waiting for a surgeon to tell us whether my brother Jim would survive surgery and melanoma, a cancer discovered just days before his ordination. He was 28 years old. As I sat in that waiting room, I remember thinking how all of us were so happy and excited just a few days before and now we did not know if Jim would live through the surgery let alone survive cancer. Treatment for cancer in 1965 was pretty limited compared to what it is now.

Just about the time many who are grieving put the holidays behind us, another one, a tough one for many, comes along. It is, of course, Valentine's Day. While those around us make plans to celebrate the day, we who have lost a lover, partner, or spouse feels bombarded with ads for romantic dinners, films, trips, greeting cards and more. The world starts to feel dominated by couples deeply in love (true or not) when we are without that one person whose death changed our lives forever.

It was 3am on January 3. A light snow was falling as three rabbits ate grass in my back yard. They looked cold. I rarely have sleep problems now but I know not to fight them. I make herbal tea, grab a book or sit in the dark. I don't dare turn on my computer, iPad, Android phone or iPod. None of these will help me get back to sleep.

I had driven to the nearby town of Dodgeville that day for a computer repair passing the cemetery where my husband Bill is buried. To distract myself from the sadness I always feel when I drive that road, I flipped on public radio. On this day I was feeling relieved that the holidays since Bill's death were finally over. One of my favorite programs had just started: On Point with Tom Ashbrook.  I learned this was his first day back following the death of his beloved wife, thereby ending the distraction I sought. Most anything of value on the subject of grief draws my attention. I am a therapist and bereavement counselor and I am also on my own grief journey. Certainly not like I was early on, but grief is forever and as many people who have walked this journey know, five years, though it seems  like forever, also feels like yesterday. One learns to live with grief and search for anything that will ease the pain. I have spent 40 years working with those who hurt, many of them grieving...most I might say since grief is about many kinds of loss. How I wish all that experience had helped just a bit after Bill's death but nothing could ease that gut wrenching pain; pain that sits more quietly now, but still rears its head unexpectedly in spite of all the grief work I have done.


Personal Growth &
Grief Support Center