For The Tough Days

Years ago I was given a perpetual calendar. It contains 366 quotes by women (one for each day). I am not always up-to-date on it. Often I’ve forgotten to turn the pages for weeks, and sometimes it’s even been months.

When I fall behind, though, I’ve learned to turn to whatever the current date is. I’ve learned to trust that at some point in the future, I will see whatever the quotes are that I’m skipping. That way they are not lost, just delayed.

February 19 has a quote attributed to Etty Hillesum. It reads:

If one burdens the future with one’s worries, it cannot grow organically. I am filled with confidence, not that I shall succeed in worldly things, but that even when things go badly for me I shall still find life good and worth living.

Today, in the scheme of my life, is one in a series of days that are going well. I am sharing this with you to enhance my chances of remembering this quote for when I stumble into a time when that’s not the case.

What reminders do you use for those days? I invite you to share them with us. Blessings.

Purple Iris - Ken & JD House

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My New Scent ….

I’m going through the awkward adjustment of smelling different. A while back I discovered that the fragrance I have worn for decades is no longer available. Actually it hasn‘t been available for purchase for quite some time. It took awhile for this change to come to my attention, though, since I tend to buy in quantity when things are on sale. And then it took more time to use up my stash.

Now I’m into that “change stretch” that is, by turns, delightful and dismaying. I don’t quite recognize my smell as me. I keep expecting friends to notice … no one has yet. (That might be because the fragrance I used to wear was a knock-off of the original perfume that I have been “forced” to wear in its place.)

So, I know I smell different. I know it’s a subtle difference. I like that this new scent invites me to pay attention to aroma and sensuality. I had forgotten that connection. It’s fragrant. I like noticing and I like the new odor. I know from past change experiences that one day I will realize I lost the “new smell thrill” at some point. That day is fast approaching. And that’s when it will be “my” scent rather than “my new” scent.

Losses and gains … isn’t that what change is? Have you been experiencing a small or medium or large adjustment? I invite you to share your journey and insights with us.

Blessings.

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On The Road Again …

This week I am in California … sunny, warm California.  I am not here for the weather (although I am enjoying it).  I am not an eager traveler – actually I am a reluctant one.  Reluctant because travel disrupts my normal routine.

Change, even when we choose it, is not always welcome or easy.  Yet here I am “on the road again” (with a nod to Willie Nelson).   The draw for this travel is sharing my passion through Sunday talks and at workshops.  Last weekend in Vacaville at Unity of the Valley … thank you, Rev. Dalia.  And this upcoming weekend at Unity San Francisco … thank you, Rev. Ken.  I continue to be awed and amazed by the power of Leaning Into Loss to contribute to people’s lives … mine included.

All of November I was on the East Coast … beginning with the first Leaning Into Loss retreat in West Virginia.  It was an amazing experience and followed by wonderful stays with family and friends.  Then I had a full week of family time for Thanksgiving at a beach house on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.  The first Sunday of December found me at Unity Center of Mills River in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains speaking and facilitating a workshop … thank you, Rev. Pat.  It was fantastic.

With the exception of the driving (see my last blog), all of that time was easy, graceful, fulfilling …  although definitely not my normal routine.  When I returned home to Missouri in December, I had one more Sunday engagement at Unity Spiritual Center of Manhattan (Kansas) and it, too, was very good.

Then to my surprise and dismay, I entered into what I now describe as Flatland—a time of suppressing all feelings, all emotions.  It was not really depression because I had some sense of choosing not to feel. Perhaps I enjoyed my stays with family and friends so much that the loss of that daily connection was too painful to acknowledge (especially to myself).  During those first weeks back home and living in Flatland, I still interacted with friends and connected with people; I just experienced my life as level … joyless … flat … without any valleys or peaks.

One evening in January as I fell asleep, I knew that Flatland was lifting.  And I knew that in order to see its gifts, I would have some exploration and excavation to do.  Not to mention the sharing that would ensue … it has taken a little time to work up the courage and find the words to do that.

I offer these thoughts as an invitation to share your own experience with change.  Have you ever enjoyed something so much that you went into Flatland when it wasn’t a part of your life anymore?  How did you come out of that time?  Or, maybe you avoided going into it at all?  Please share.

Blessings.

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Almost Heaven, West Virginia

So I spent the last two days driving, driving, driving, and then driving some more.  More than  twenty road hours and over one thousand miles from my home outside of Kansas City, Missouri to West Virginia. Way too many 18-wheelers and fast food signs and bugs on the windshield and bottles of water and rest stops to count.

As much as I seem to be complaining, you may wonder why I would subject myself (and you!) to such a lengthy drive. There’s an easy answer.  The inaugural Leaning Into Loss retreat is being held here at Priest Field Pastoral Center this first weekend in November (the photo below is theirs) … plus my dad turns 90 later in the month and he’s down in North Carolina.

Thursday morning as I was driving through southeastern Ohio into southwestern Pennsylvania, I realized I hadn’t even known how very much I missed that scenery.  Those sweeping farm vistas, those beautiful fall colors, those amazing river gorges, those old towns along the turnpike … it was like seeing friends I’d forgotten existed.

With the exception of the past six years, I spent all of my adult life near those views.  I regularly drove those roads … often with family members or friends, sometimes alone.  I didn’t know how much I missed the feel of a car moving my body around those wide sweeping mountain curves until I experienced again.  It is good to be here … back in “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” (to quote John Denver).

Funny.  I didn’t even know it was a loss … and now it’s not … I am here.

Do you have a story about a loss that you didn’t even know about ’til you recovered it?  I’d love to hear about your experience … I’d hate to think I was alone in this discovery.

Blessings.

Priest Field Tree Fall

Beautiful Writing

Three years ago I gave a talk that was a tribute to beautiful, powerful writing.  I said, in part:

“… surely by now, everything that needs to be said has been written by someone else … so there’s really no need for me to agonize over the exact word, one conveying the precise meaning I want to share … no demand to work at finding the perfect phrasing to share my feelings, to sweep you into that emotion, to join our experiences … to stretch and to hold the container for transformation and movement for us all.”

I still love quotes and continue to collect them.  Today I have posted a new page titled ‘Quotes and Snippets.’  I intend to add more items to this page as time goes by.  For now, I think we have a good start.

Writing often opens my heart and my mind.  Words have the power to comfort and move me, to offer grace, and to fill me full.  What do words give you?

I invite you to share your own writing about loss and change, grief and bereavement — or share words written by others (with appropriate credit to the author and work where it can be found).

Blessings.

Purple Iris - Ken & JD House

Good, Bad, Awful …

Somewhere in my recent reading, I came across a report that research shows that it is not the presence of stress in our lives that creates problems, nor is it the type of stress, nor is it the amount of stress.  It is our attitude toward stress.  If we believe that stress is a bad thing, a problem … it is.  Often then, we develop physical issues like high blood pressure, heart disease and other illnesses.  On the other hand, if we believe stress simply is or it’s a good thing, there is no adverse impact on our bodies.

This is another reason to practice noticing losses and allowing that awareness to simply be.  Not making our experience good or bad, particularly if we are feeling some emotion with which we are uncomfortable.

Sadness, relief, guilt, anger, happiness … I doubt there is any emotion that hasn’t been felt by someone who is experiencing a loss.  All of them valid, none of them wrong.  And we feel this variety of emotions about all kinds of losses.   Like loss of control; or perhaps more precisely, loss of the illusion of control.

Last week I had an opportunity to look at this … again.   I spent the week with technology problems.  My internet connection was very intermittent.  I felt angry, I felt sad, I felt lonely.  I was so focused on trying to get back in control that I pretty much lost everything else.

When it works, technology is ‘good.’  When it doesn’t, it’s ‘bad.’  When technology is intermittent, it’s AWFUL. (Notice that I did not put quotes around that judgment. I’m attached to it.  It is my fact of the week.)  I even found a poem that illustrates this.

all the goodness
of my life is
gone.

first you,
and with you
joy
love
freedom.

then
colors
music
trees.

even creativity,
which is always
the last to go,
is only making
a token appearance.

The poem is from How To Survive the Loss of a Love and so it was written by Peter McWilliams about love … but I think it fits.  What do you think?

Blessings.

Crazy and Cool

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.  … We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”

I oh-so-resonate with Joan Didion; she shares this in The Year Of Magical Thinking.

My mom was a very strong personality.  After she suddenly died, as her executor I took on the responsibility for cleaning out and packing up her condo.  Implementing the decisions mom and my siblings and I made about who got what.  Talking to realtors and putting her gorgeous home up for sale.

And all the time, even though I intellectually knew she was dead, gone from this world, I kept expecting her to walk in and demand to know in that affronted, imperious voice,  “Whatever do you think you’re doing?!!?!!”  And then I would have to give her some really good excuse for my actions.  Something better, much better than “Why, I thought you were dead … they told me you were dead …”

And I would have to convince everyone to give her stuff back to her … unsell her condo … and refurnish it exactly as it had been the morning she went into the hospital for that routine heart procedure.  On that beautiful July morning when I had no idea what was in store for my mother, for our family, for me, in the very near future.

Yes, I was crazy with loss and I was cool.  I did what had to be done and I planned how to answer my mother … should it be necessary.  How I wished it had been necessary.

Blessings.

Rose

Musings on Fathers and Health …

There’s nothing like having a conversation with your dad where he talks about how he’s really slowing down to bring up thoughts of mortality and loss.  My dad is fast approaching 90 — and he’s been in, and continues to be in, remarkably good health.  Sure, he’s had his share of medical stuff — a heart stent, open heart surgery (quintuple bypass), a broken hip just two years ago.  But unlike lots of folks his age, he’s not on any daily prescriptions; a point of some pride to him.

Dad still lives alone … hours away from all of us ‘kids’ …despite the broken hip which was a big deal because he didn’t see a doctor until the bone had already started to heal.  Fortunately that healing worked out really well.  Thanks mostly to my brother Mike who commandeered dad’s life and moved dad into Mike’s house for the duration.  Dad chafed about that ‘kidnapping’ and that’s how we knew he was feeling a lot better.  Then Dad lobbied and schemed to go back home — it worked.

Dad is a survivor; he’s stubborn and fiercely independent.  And he is generally upbeat.  So it makes his matter-of-fact references to not being around forever a little more concerning.  I’m doing my best not to spin his slowing down statements into planning the impact his death will have on my immediate and ongoing life.  Sometimes it takes me a little time though.

Really I know worrying about his eventual death solves nothing.  Actually I know those musings create their own problems.  They definitely take me out of now. this moment.  And they take me away from enjoying and celebrating Dad’s presence in my life today.

Dad is a great guy and I love him.

Blessings.

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Practice

A normal day, a day in which she didn’t weep, in which she wasn’t felled by rage or sorrow, was like a betrayal of what had happened to him.

But they came, the normal days, more and more of them, and by degrees they stole her grief from her—her last connection to John, she felt then.

And here she is now, six months after John’s death, having lived through just such a day…

Sometimes I am intentional in my reading about loss and grief.  Other times, I am surprised.

This quote was a surprise.  This book was a surprise.  It is  a work of fiction, Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller.  I finished it on September 11 this year.  Like her other books, it feels real.   Miller’s writing is crafted and flowing; she is a gift.

Reading is one more way I can practice leaning into loss—especially when I am surprised by its presence.

Blessings.

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A Tribute to Cats

Last year at this time I was deep in grief.  Five months earlier, I woke up one beautiful spring morning to discover Miss M (one of two rescue cats) was struggling to breathe.  Miss MFrom the moment of adopting her more than seven years before, I had been aware she had a heart murmur; Miss M never seemed to know that though.  She was a purring machine.  She was an affection machine.  She was queen of all she surveyed; she was Miss M.  Turned out the heart murmur wasn’t the problem.  Miss M had two sizable growths that compressed her heart and lungs.  Less than two hours from waking up and seeing her breathing difficulty to the discovery of the growths, I held Miss M and cried as my vet gave her the injection that euthanized and released her from this life.

BarkleyWhen I got home, my other cat Barkley didn’t even seem to notice Miss M was missing.  I had adopted them at the same time.  Although they were not friends at the start, they moved into tolerating each other and then seemingly became friends as they presented a united cat front against unwanted attentions from my young nephews.  Three years later Miss M and Barkley formed a close bond after our move from Northern Virginia to Missouri. So I expected him to display some form of cat grief.  But Barkley seemed … not relieved … he seemed clueless. It was as if he had been waiting his turn for my full attention and affection through all the years of sharing it with Miss M.  (She didn’t really share … she was a big presence cat.)

And then Barkley began to display more symptoms of aging and failing body systems. He had very high blood pressure; he had balance problems. No more jumping and climbing onto counters and the top of cabinets.  Lots of daily medications and trips to the vet.  More troubling, he displayed litter box issues and developed kidney problems.  Barkley needed weekly fluids and quickly moved to daily injections.  Barkley was in decline; I knew his time here was shortening.

In the meantime, I graduated from Unity Institute and Seminary in early June and was also ordained by Unity Worldwide Ministries.  I wasn’t ready to be finished with school; it had been a goal for so long.  I did not realize that really I was grieving when I was angry or sad that classmates were moving away to their new ministries (or to their homes).  I thought all the sadness, all the emotion was about Barkley’s sickness and his nearing death and the loss of Miss M.

Sometimes it is in looking back that we see how grief shows up and operates in our lives.  Miss M and Barkley were my daily family.  I miss them still.  My classmates, the UI faculty and staff were my weekly family, my community, and I miss them still.

Blessings.