Listening to Saint Francis of Assi

July 10, 2010 by  
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On a trip to the West coast four months ago, the stars lined up for me to meet an amazing woman. We went from the casual “Are you on a vacation?” to sharing our deepest feelings regarding what was really happening in our lives. Her journey the past few years with breast cancer… the loss of her breasts, five surgeries. My life with my late husband… his need for a heart transplant, the limited time we had before that window softly closed. Complete strangers sharing the darkest time of life; a conversation about our reality, life journeys full of heartbreak and tears.

For months we have continued that conversation through emails and happy hours via phone. We were well aware of how tough it is to be in our 50s and feeling like a fish out of water.

She often holds back tears when lifelong girlfriends spend the majority of their time with her talking about kids and grandkids, something she had always wanted, yet a club she would never get to join. Read more

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Going Through The Five Stages of Grief

June 22, 2010 by  
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The more we define ourselves as part of a specific group or type, the more we can relish a shared reality. ~George A. Bonanno

I look around and see a world full of hope. Friends dealing with life, looking for direction, wishing they had a blueprint for which way to turn. I have nights when I can’t go to sleep, then mornings I don’t want to get up. I pray for my family, friends, and for myself, to have courage, confidence, wisdom, and balance.

Psychologist George A. Bonanno has written a book based on research for those going through the death of a loved one. “The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells us About Life After Loss” talks about one’s capacity for resilience, the ability to thrive in the face of adversity. Filled with the words of bereaved individuals, the reader can’t help but be touched and learn from their journey through loss.

I knew that Helen Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief model was initially developed for helping dying patients cope with death and bereavement. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For years those five steps have been linked with grief support counseling, as well as emotional response to trauma. Definite stages of emotion that I experienced when my husband got sick. I dealt with denial, anger and bargaining especially when his congestive heart failure accelerated and he was accepted as a candidate for a heart transplant. Depression, absolutely.  Acceptance? Now this is challenging. I do accept that he’d physically gone, yet is “he” gone?

I had an experience a few nights ago as I was looking through my husband’s cds.  He always talked about having to listen to an entire cd to hear one or two specific songs. So on February 2007 we burned two cds, of songs by his favorite male and female artists. I had totally forgotten about this but listening to them now has given me a sense of comfort. This happened at a time when I had been reaching deep inside for strength.

There are times I feel my husband is still protecting me. He always told me I was hurting myself through often compromising my needs and continually tried to teach me how to set limits. Recently I’ve gone through several situations that made me think how he would suggest I handle things and I found myself having confidence, to take action, and stand up for myself, focus and expand my capacity for resilience. Something I know I desperately need. I think we all do.

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My Husband, My Guardian Angel

June 19, 2010 by  
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There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief… and unspeakable love.

~Washington Irving

To look into my husband’s eyes… I remember vividly, fifteen years ago, riding down the escalator in Albuquerque, knowing that I would soon be looking either into then again my husband’s eyes, or into the eyes of the man I divorced three years before. When I signed the papers to end our marriage I knew I was still in love with the man I had married. Our world had spiraled out of control and ended with neither of us knowing who we were anymore. In the three years of silence we both had focused within. Sifting through years of sadness from our childhood, we both resurfaced more grounded and at peace with life.

There are days I spend a lot of time looking at photos of my husband, looking deep into his eyes. My favorite photos are the ones I took of him.

One of his doctors’ compared my husband’s heart to a tire. There is only so much tread and when spinning normally, there is X years of life. But nothing had been successful at stopping my husband’s adrenaline from racing, which in turn was spinning his heart out of control. We were in the final laps of the race. A heart transplant before the tread ran out. His new heart didn’t come in time. Hospice came. At times there weren’t any words, just long looks into each other’s eyes knowing our time together was running out.

Today marks 18 months since I looked into his eyes… There are times a song will come on the radio and I find myself closing my eyes and remembering the very first time we two-stepped out together. We looked deep into each other’s soul and our hearts connected for the love of a lifetime… A man I fell in love with when I was 26 years old.

My husband. My Guardian Angel. Always.

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Owning Our Emotions

May 16, 2010 by  
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EYE-4There are times we know exactly why our emotions are what they are. Then there are times they take us by surprise and emotions become challenged. We often find ourselves trying to defend them. Explaining why we are feeling a certain way. Why?

As a kid I remember feeling that I was both the peace-maker in, and protector of, my entire family. As a little girl I would tell people it was rude to stare at my mom who was often in a wheelchair. Peruvian, my father spoke with a heavy accent. I found myself explaining what he said to salesclerks who, most often than not, didn’t understand him. I remember vividly the store where a clerk kept telling my father “I can’t understand you” rather than listen to me trying to explain. My father grabbed my hand and very slowly said to this man, ”Go. To. Hell.” Then he turned to me, “Come on honey let’s go.” I realized that my attempt to protect him, turned into him protecting me. One night, without telling my sister, I went to the store where her boyfriend worked. I found his car and waited for him to come out. They’d had a big fight and she’d been crying for days and no one was going to get away with making my sister cry.

I had all the courage in the world to protect my family. When faced with a situation in which I needed to protect myself however, that courage was nowhere to be found. I became the peace-maker wanting everyone to be happy, even if I wasn’t. Then, when I couldn’t deal with something, I would protect myself by taking the stance that it didn’t exist. Retreating into my thoughts, I would carefully place situations in a box and put them away in a closet. Out of sight, out of mind.

Acceptance… to own our emotions is to accept them. The peace-maker will become our protector.

All I can do is be me, whoever that is.

Bob Dylan

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Just One Day Without Expectations

April 30, 2010 by  
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When my husband passed away I felt myself withdrawn from normal everyday conversations. My life felt like anything but normal. His last year on this earth had been filled with doctors and hospitals. Our world had been switched to living on hospital time. Time stood still. My entire focus had been taking care of my husband, anticipating his every need. It was like living in a bubble with one topic of conversation; mortality.

Accepting that no matter how much you try to live a healthy lifestyle, it may not be enough. Accepting that some chapters in our life end no matter how much we fight to keep them open. Paralyzing fear challenges our faith. Confidence can get replaced by insecurity.

To search for meaning while fighting the emotions that you don’t fit in anymore are mentally and physically exhausting. Continually faced with new situations, where and how do we find the courage to stand strong? It seems that one minute we are full of confidence. Then in the blink of an eye, insecurity overcomes your person. Thoughts go flat line. Words escape you. Why?

As an educator and mentor I advocate being kind to yourself. To self reflect asking “Did you do the best you could?” when goals fall short. That’s truly all we can ask of ourselves. A basic principle. Why am I having such difficulty in applying that to me?

Can you make it through a day without expectations of the day, of people, of yourself, of life? twitter @ zen_habits (Leo Babauta)

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Believing In Miracles

April 18, 2010 by  
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There are days when I’m reminded of a moment in time that I’d not thought of for a long time. My heart smiles. My soul dances. My tears fall. I am trying so hard to stand strong and trust. The path that leads you to a place where your prayers and dreams come true is there, trust and believe in miracles…

Death is nothing at all.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

I am I and you are you.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by my old familiar name,

speak to me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone;

wear no false air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed

at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play… smile… think of me… pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

… I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near just around the corner.

All is well.

Canon Henry Scott Holland, English Clergyman and Theologian

[1847-1918]

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Easter Sunday

April 4, 2010 by  
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April 4th, 2010. Easter Sunday. The last time Easter was on April 4th was 1999. A moment of time filled with precious memories…

When I was a toddler I was baptised Catholic along with my sister. Our father was Catholic, our mother Methodist. We were raised in the Methodist Church yet in my mid-20′s I made the decision to convert to Catholicism. When I first met my husband we talked about our faith. As a young boy his family didn’t go to church. In spite of this, his faith grew and he attended the Baptist Church with his friends. Before we married I knew I would be setting aside my dream, of being a family that shared one faith. Yet I loved him deeply. We would become a family that shared our spirituality.

Years passed. Every September, classes would be offered for those interested in joining the Church. I would bring information home for my husband. Nothing ever came of it. Then one year he shocked me. He had already signed up to attend. There were no promises about converting. I completely understood. This was a decision that only he could make. For six months there were weekly classes, then a retreat. It was there, the Saturday before Palm Sunday, he would make his decision. I still remember that evening when he came home. Sit down, we need to talk he says. That next week he not only wanted to become Catholic, he wanted for us to get married in the Church. I was beyond shocked. Asking him exactly when did he think we should get married, I wasn’t prepared for his answer. ”Well I become Catholic next weekend and I think we should get married right after that on Easter Sunday.”

So we did. I stood beside him at the Easter Vigil as he completed his journey to become Catholic. Easter Sunday, April 4, 1999 surrounded by family and friends, we were married, and blessed by the priest who had walked with him as he searched his faith. My dream had come true. Now I would have my husband join my daughter, walking in front of me to receive Communion. We would be a family, now sharing one faith.

Less than ten years later, again we were surrounded by family and friends. The same priest who blessed my husband as he became Catholic and blessed our marriage, would now preside over his funeral Mass and bless his ashes. Emotions swirled. Time stopped. Life became surreal.

Attending Mass is so different now without my husband sitting next to me. I pray to him for strength. I pray for him Eternal Life.

Peace be with you.

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Rearranging Myself

March 21, 2010 by  
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The lenses we view life through continually oscillates during our journey. We enter different chapters of life which can change our role, how we think and what we view as top priorities. Why is it we often forget to make the shift of deleting the old priorities before adding new ones? Somehow without our even realizing, our hectic schedules become filled with what we think we are supposed to do. We don’t place a priority of what we want to do with our life. We think there will always be tomorrow.

My husband and I had plans and dreams for our future. When he died, all of our those plans and dreams left with him. My list of priorities became a blank page. My heart was broken in accepting that our tomorrows together would never be. My lenses of life became blurry as I listen to the silence and search for direction

The movie “Up” offers us a gentle reminder. With a special zest for life, Ellie always wanted to take a trip to Paradise Falls. She had brochures and photos and it was clear her excitement on someday going to this magical place. Her marriage with Mr. Fredrickson however kept going in other directions and the trip was never made. Filled with regrets after she dies, he looks with through her “My Adventure Book” with deep sadness. Yet in the photos it is obvious the adventures of love and happiness they shared as they grew old together. On the last page she offers him a special gift of wisdom… ”Thanks for the adventure – Now go have a new one! Love, Ellie”

My goal now is to keep my list of priorities extremely simple…

Live in today. Quiet my mind. Carefully choose how to spend my energy. Learn how to just be.

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My Husband’s Birthday

March 4, 2010 by  
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Today is my husband’s birthday. Celebrating this day was always a special event. His personality was such I called him “my baby boy” as he never grew too old to have silly fun. One year I surprised him with horseback riding on the Buffalo River. Down a dirt road in Yellville, Arkansas, we celebrated at this small B&B surrounded by nature. One year with our eyes filled with tears, we celebrated life attending the funeral of a young lady very dear to our heart, the daughter of a life-long friend.

His birthday in 2008 was another celebration with tears. The day before, after three emotional weeks in the hospital, I had brought him home. After a quintuple bypass in January, his heart was getting weaker. His cardiologist had called in a specialist from the transplant center, which the nurses referred to as the heart failure clinic. His favorite nurse hugged him goodbye saying “If anyone deserves a new one, you do.”

Never did I imagine that would be his last birthday on earth. Last year I celebrated his birthday with him, and yet without him. His ashes at home, are inside a beautiful hand carved wooded box. Two crucifixes lay on top, gifts from the priest who married us and presided over his Funeral Mass.

And now 2010. I feel like a wreck. I feel more devastated than last year. I don’t choose to be sad. I don’t want to be sad. I pray that his strength will help me better accept my life without him here.

Celebrate Love and Life. Powerful words I am trying so hard to embraced with passion.

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My Mizpah

February 20, 2010 by  
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The Lord watch between me and thee while we are apart and absent from one another. Genesis 31:49.

The Mizpah. An emotional bond between people who are separated. Separated either physically or by death. My husband and I shared a Mizpah medal since we began our life together in the middle 1980s. Always on our key ring, after a while you didn’t even notice it was there. Years passed. Good times. Bad times. Then shattering challenges. Out of our control, we struggled, trying to regain our world. Then life threw us in opposite directions. He moved out of state. Emotions flew out of control. We lived as if the other one no longer existed. All conversations ceased. During one period of deep sadness, I took the Mizpah off my key ring and mailed it to him.

Then late one night I finally realized, it was time. It had been 3 years of silence. Was he the man I fell in love with? Or was he the man who left? It was time. I had to know who he was. So it came as a shock for both of us. I called him. Then we spent months of long nights, hours of mosaic phone conversations. Ultimately in total unison, we began rebuilding our new life together.

And then one day he gives me something, it’s wrapped in this kleenex. I was without words. It was my Mizpah. He had kept it. He had also kept his part on his key ring. We had been physically separated yet truly, God watched over us… our love was protected.

It’s been 14 months that again, again we are separated. Only now we are separated by death. A life of sleepless nights, I feel so alone without feeling his body next to mine. All I have is memories. I look at our photos and find myself trying to mentally go back in time, to be back in that moment. A life where my husband held me and we danced.

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