Confronting Grief

Every day for the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about writing something for the blog, but the only thing that came to mind was the word grief. Well, of course, that’s not what I wanted to write about. Grief is depressing and I want to write something to lift people up, not bring them down. So I wrestled with myself until I gave up. Grief is on my mind, so I might as well share. As I chat with others, I found out that grief is not only on my mind, but it’s also on the mind of many others.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a counselor. I am not a life life coach. I am a writer always trying to capture a thought in print. I write from within my own heart and I write from all of my senses and experiences. So please if you need help with grief, seek a professional counselor (I do), but if you need some help putting words to your thoughts and feelings, then this may help.

My understanding of grief is that it is an emotional and mental reaction to loss, whether that loss is actual or perceived. So right now, we are living in a grieving society. People have lost their loved ones to COVID and other illnesses at a time when hospital visits and stays with family is restricted. People have lost jobs and businesses. People have lost their rituals and routines. Some have even lost their identity as it was tied to their career or their status and position in life. Children are missing their friendships. Graduates feel cheated out of their celebrations. Grief is all around us. We have been blind-sided by multiple losses, and recovery is uncertain in this far-from-normal environment.

So how do we deal with all this grief? First, we must be honest about it. Pretending we are not sadden by the events of our lives since March is only going to make it worst. When we ignore our thoughts and feeling, they have a way of showing up in our sleep patterns, our appetites, and our relationships. My husband’s biggest pet peeve is when he says, “What’s wrong?” and I say, “Nothing!” when there is obviously something wrong. We can lie with our lips, but not with our hearts. Our subconscious brain is working to solve the problem even when we are in conscious denial. Grief is a natural response. We can admit it. We can share it. We can help each other get through it when we expose its existence.

Secondly, we can release our emotions. It’s okay to cry, to pound the desk, to scream, punch a punching bag, and most importantly to discuss your feelings. Sometimes, I say, “I don’t want you to say anything just listen. I need to talk about how I feel.” We all need someone who will actively listen to us, lend us a shoulder, or simply be present with us as we go through life’s journey. When we don’t take the time to purposely express what we are feeling, it will show up at an inopportune time. We end up showing anger to someone who doesn’t deserve it, or crying uncontrollable when the occasion calls for laughter. Find a time and a place to release your emotions; to share your feelings. Others will understand. Mostly likely, they will identify during this time of pandemic and protest.

Lastly, a suggestion that sounds so cliche, I almost don’t want to write it. “Count your blessings.” As I have reflected on grief these last couple of weeks, I found myself going down the complaining-murmuring road. After a while everything was colored with the crayon of doom and gloom. I found myself sitting in front of the TV news much too much. I found myself isolating from the family I live with. I found myself not wanting to get out of bed. Everything was wrong, nothing was right. That’s a very dangerous place to be. That’s a mental health trap. Thank goodness, someone reminded me to count my blessings. Literally, I counted my blessings. (We talked about a thankful journal before. A thankful journal is very therapeutic.)

I wrote down all the things I was thankful for, all the physical, financial, spiritual, emotional, and mental blessings I could think of in that moment. Everything was not going to hell in a hand basket. Everything was not awful. There was lots of good, wholesome, healthy, and joyous stuff – people and things – in my life. In the midst of my losses, there were some great gains. I won’t name them all to you, but suffice it to say, I found a few reasons to smile.

I hope this reflection on grief is helpful to someone. You are not alone. Grief is taking its toll on our world right now. In the midst of it, remember it hasn’t taken everything. If you are reading this, you have the ability to see, to understand, to critique (lol), to feel. If there is anyone you can call, you have a friend or family member available to you. If there is a path or a sidewalk nearby, you can experience nature, you have the ability to move around whether by legs or wheelchair. Share your grief in community. Share your joys in community. Count your blessing in community. It’s in community that we will heal!

Continue to confront life and be safe!

Good Grief: A Companion for Every Loss
For more than fifty years Good Grief has helped millions of readers, including NFL players and a former first lady, find comfort and rediscover hope after loss. Amazon.com
Broad enough to encompass many forms of grief, this book reassures kids that they are not alone in their feelings and even suggests simple things they can do to feel better, like drawing, dancing, and talking to friends and family. Amazon.com

Closing the Distance

We were all hoping the Corona-virus would be conquered by now. We were praying for a large downswing in the curve. Instead it is still running rampant, and we are still called upon to socially distance ourselves. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health. (At least those of us who are obeying the mandates of medical experts and the CDC.)

Social distancing is suppose to mean keeping at least 6 feet between you and another person. Perhaps this was a poor choice of words. Perhaps we should have called it physical distancing. After all, we are social creatures. We need companionship. We need our sense of community and family. This innate need and desire has not gone away in the face of a pandemic, nor should it. What we have to do is modify our social behavior rather than nullify it.

I decided to have a family cookout. Our entire immediate family was present. There were no hugs, no handshakes, and no kisses. Each person arrived wearing a mask. Each person proceeded to the bathroom to wash their hands. We headed to the patio where each person sat or stood with enough distance between them to satisfy the health considerations of the elderly among us. We laughed, we talked, we ate, we drank, and we reminisced days gone by. All of our utensils, cups, and plates were disposable. I’d like to think a good time was had by all. This is just one of the ways we closed the distance in our family. It did my heart good to see with my own eyes that my sons and their families were doing well. (All of them have been working outside their homes throughout the pandemic.)

Yesterday, I talked to a friend in southern California. She told me that she and four of her friends went to the neighborhood park, mask in place, and had a great two hour visit under the trees. She said each of them enjoyed this short visit so much because all of them live alone and longed for human contact. This friend is over seventy years old. She does not have internet access so her interactions have been limited to telephone. (We were on the phone 3 hours. It was easy to ear how much she needs social interaction.) She also shared with me that some places there have made drive-in movies in the parking lots of Walmart stores to provide an outlet for social activity. I was happy to hear that my friend was finding ways to close the social distance between her and her friends.

Staying home, cutting ourselves off from all human contact, especially for those who live alone, can weigh heavily on the soul. Depression and anxiety can grow in a way that destroys the joy of living. I’m writing this short blog to remind us that there are ways to come together safely.

We don’t have to be socially distanced in a way that leaves us in solitude each and every day. We can find ways to close the distance, while keeping some physical distance between us. Here are a few suggestions: Walk around your neighbor, speak to neighbors and others who are outside in their yards; better yet walk with a friend. Drive to the lake or to a community you’ve always wondered about, then call a friend and tell them about everything you saw and felt. Offer to Face-time and elderly person’s children and allow them to have a conversation on your phone by putting it in a plastic food bag. Share conference call numbers for prayer meetings and bible studies with the people you know. Set up a drive-in movie in your church or club parking lot. Invite a friend to the park for a foot race. Set up a conference call to exchange recipes or gardening tips with your friends/family. Go to the golf range with a companion; hit a bucket of balls.

You may still need to wear your mask, use your hand sanitizer, and maintain a proper physical distance from other people, but you can still be a social member of your community. Stay connected while you stay safe and close the distance between your family, friends, and neighbors.

PS: Connect your doctor or a mental health professional if you are feeling depressed and anxious beyond what you can handle. This is a necessary distance to close.

Walter is a good storyteller. His stories will make you laugh and cry — and sometimes pray. He knows the pain of failure and the joy of being rescued by caring friends. In these stories you will find inspiration, laughter, hope and encouragement. Walter hopes that you will find a story that moves you to give thanks for the people who held the rope for you when you were a “basket case,” and inspire you to hold the rope for a hurting friend. Amazon.com

Throw Out the Lifeline

I write many things to inspire and encourage self-care and moving forward with your life in a positive manner. However, it is very important to me that no one reads these things as a motive or reason to criticize persons who haven’t arrived at that point. All of us need encouragement at some time in our lives. All of us need someone to lean on when we are not strong, or when life happens in a way that sets us back. So we shouldn’t dare belittle or shame someone when they are down. We should throw out a lifeline. A good rule to follow is: “If you can’t help, do not hurt!”

There is great anxiety during these times of the Corona-virus. There is great sadness and grief. There is confusion, anger, disappointment, and disparity. We can’t deny these things, even if we happen to be surviving better than others. If we have found our rhythm (or our niche) that keeps us hopeful and positive, that doesn’t mean we should close our hearts and minds to those who haven’t. This position should give us an opportunity to reach out a helping hand, to pull someone up with us.

One of my friends made a homemade pound cake. She called me on the phone, and said look out on your porch. That was an uplifting experience. My co-workers and I (I haven’t seen them for almost eight weeks) had a long chat on Microsoft Teams two weeks ago. This gave us a chance to find out how each one of us was really doing. Now we meet once each week. Those same co-workers sent me a lovely gift via snail mail. It was such a lovely surprise; it put a smile on my face and in my heart. A friend from California called me. We talked for nearly two hours. She did most of the talking, but my listening filled some lonely hours since she is sheltering-in alone. All of these things are small lifelines that made a big difference.

There are so many ways to throw out a lifeline. Remembering birthdays, daily text messages, a quick phone call, a drive-by drop off of flowers or food, pictures or collages by snail mail, or even a virtual cocktail hour or luncheon. (You could even have the special meal delivered to your lunch date.)

Knowing someone’s hobbies can also be an avenue to letting them know they are not alone or forgotten. My granddaughter in California used to love working in the garden with my mom. So I sent her a flower garden kit through Amazon. She called to tell me the flowers are beginning to spout. I’m going to send her some more seeds in a few days just to fill her days of boredom. Perhaps someone you know needs some flower or vegetable seeds, some yarn, or some paint. Getting them to focus on their hobbies can be a lifeline.

If we are honest, there are days that we all feel like we are going a little stir-crazy. Our routines have been upended; nothing seems normal anymore. Even our “new normal” is changing on a regular basis. Now there’s a meat shortage, and some businesses are gone forever. States are opening up while the numbers of people getting the virus is still prevalent. Watching the news is a detriment to your emotional health. (I recommend you don’t have a steady diet of it.) Certainly, no one is experiencing great joy everyday. I attended my second virtual funeral today.

What a difference we can make in someone’s life if we share our time, talents and treasures with them. A kind word, a listening ear, a thoughtful touch (virtual or not), or a referral to your counselor, spiritual leader, or life coach can be just the lifeline that someone needs to make it through another day.

Here’s a dictionary definition for lifeline: “a thing on which someone or something depends or which provides a means of escape from a difficult situation.” Can someone depend on you to be there when they need to escape their difficult situation for just a little while? I want to be that person – a dependable friend, a dependable neighbor, a dependable relative, a dependable contact who is willing to share whatever I can to help us all get through these difficult days.

I hope Bene-Log is a lifeline too. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay connected, and throw out a lifeline to someone you know.

Creative Coping Skills for Teens and Tweens: Activities for Self Care and Emotional Support including Art, Yoga, and Mindfulness
Creative Coping Skills for Children: Emotional Support Through Arts and Crafts Activities
Available at: Amazon.com

Routines in a “New Normal”

As a teacher, routines are everything. Students, especially young students, perform better when routines are well established. They help the children establish good habits ( and in some case healthy habits like brushing their teeth) and feel comfortable with transitions. Children feel and work better when they know what comes next. Routines help them establish trust in their relationships with the teacher and their peers. They also help children trust the environment.

Routines also help with time management. After all there is a schedule of activities that must be adhered to at school and for that matter in most work places in their future. I have found that routines are important to me not only as a teacher, but as a person. Routines help me cope with change and control my stress levels. They become critical in maintaining my mental and emotional health.

I have struggled with depression for many years of my life. One of the ways, I control this is well-established routines. My daily routines reduce my anxieties while giving me things to look forward to. This is how I learned to use things to “fill my bucket” (see Jan. 9th conversation), and establish self-care (see Feb 8th conversation). Routines inform my daily schedule. So, I was thrown for a loop when the Corona-virus changed everything.

The first week of being home wasn’t bad. It was like a vacation break. The second week became more strained when businesses began to close and going out was curtailed. By week three, I was starting to feel the stress. Depression was waiting at the door of my sub-conscious as I began to process our “new normal.” My morning routines gave way to staying in bed. My walks gave way to watching too much daytime TV, my writing time gave way to trying to work from home with virtual learning, my reading time gave way to playing card games on my tablet. My morale was in a slow motion fall; not only mine, but most of my family.

During this time, my husband kept working. His job has not shut down. One day I noticed his mood and attitude seemed upbeat compared to the rest of us. (I won’t lie, that ticked me off.) I asked myself, ‘what does he have to be so happy about?’ I fumed over it for several days, especially when he would come in and ask me how my day was or what I had done all day. Then one day when I was forcing myself to work on rewriting a poem, it hit me. His routine hadn’t changed. His life hadn’t been interrupted in the same way that ours had. (Can you see the light bulb?)

The wheels in this creative head began to turn. The next day I got up, dressed like I was going to work, went to the kitchen table for my devotional time, ate my yogurt, and pulled out my laptop for a day’s work. I felt better. The next day I got up, made my bed, did my hair, put on my favorite earrings, and followed the routine from the day before. The third day, I added a drive to the schedule. My mom and I went for a drive just to see the spring flowers and trees. We didn’t get out of the vehicle; we just enjoyed the view and the conversation. Now we have a new routine. I felt grounded. I felt better.

Our new routines give us things to look forward to, as well as purpose. There are transitions in the schedule which helps the day to move along. There are activities in the day that keep my mind stimulated and my emotions in check. (I even have an answer to my husband’s inquiries when he gets home, instead of resentment.) Yesterday, I made spinach wraps for dinner. (Trying new recipes is one of my favorite pastimes, we call it “Chopped Wannabe)

Routines are important to the entire family. I’m helping my mom and my granddaughter establish “new normal” routines, and we’re all smiling more. Our life has a new schedule. Thank goodness, I don’t have to get up at five in the morning, but I do a have to get up, and I do have to “Cease the Day!” How about you? Is your spirit lagging? Do you feel the blues going on, or see it in your children? Perhaps it time to set some very important “new normal” routines in your family.

A guide to the early morning habits that boost your productivity and relax you—featuring interviews with leaders like Arianna Huffington, General Stanley McChrystal, Marie Kondo, and more. Amazon.com