Tag Archives: gratitude

Releasing the Year

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This year I’m finding rituals to be quite comforting and helpful. They are an important part of the grief process and have allowed me to let go. Each day that I kept track of Brian’s medication, dosed out his pills, helped him bathe and dress, fed him, and loved him allowed me to let go of him knowing I’d given my best and my all. Watching his body be prepared and taken from this house enabled me to release him a little more, Feeling the weight of the box of ashes showed me that life is not permanent and we have to release our attachment to it when the time comes. Celebrating his life during his memorial service gave me the means to let him loose, so to speak, into the world of memories and moments that are shared by all who knew him.

Throughout each step in grieving, I’ve experienced glorious and excruciating emotions. I’ve fought some and invited others, but each one is essential in completing the process of surrendering a loved one and releasing our tight grip on them. That certainly doesn’t mean I have thrown away what we shared. No, quite the opposite. I’m learning to put our past together in its proper place, holding it dear.

Along the road to wholeness, I’m finding the significance of releasing the past to make way for the future. So I’m preparing during December to leave 2012 behind, not forgetting it, but letting it stand as a milestone of learning in this crazy and beautiful thing called life. My sister in-law (also my friend and kindred spirit) gifted me with a tangible way to move from this year to the one that is right around the corner. My project the other night was to create a page of gratitude. I broke out my markers and set to work, filling the blank white space with words. That turned into the Wordle you see above. Funny thing… once you start writing down all you’re grateful for, you think of new things to add. I keep revisiting that page and adding to it. Gratitude grows the more you acknowledge it.

My word for October was Promise. When November rolled around I turned to Renewal. In thinking ahead to December, the first word I thought of was Release, so it is fitting that I have been focusing on saying good-bye to what has been a devastating and delightful year. It has brought challenges and I’ve somehow managed to overcome each one. I’ll never forget 2012; it will no doubt stand out as a turning point, the place where I had to stand and look behind me and then press on to what was ahead with courage and curiosity. I’m finding a sweet satisfaction in reflection and release as I slowly and fondly bid farewell to the year. The next question in my Incredible Year Workbook is “Are you ready?” I can say with enthusiasm (and a few jitters): Yes! I will check that box with a brightly colored flourish!

Releasing the Past to Make Way for the Future = Joy

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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Can I make a confession that will make me unpopular? I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving. No, not thanksgiving… Thanksgiving. Yes, the holiday, the one with the capital T. I know that’s a pretty awful thing to say about a cherished holiday. It’s not the meaning behind it that irks me, nor is it the gathering of family and friends. Really, it comes down to this for me: I don’t like the excess it ushers in. The meal itself (an average of 3000-4000 calories) is excessive and doesn’t necessarily symbolize our thankfulness. Then it marks the beginning of the holiday season, which retailers start promoting before Halloween, where we push and shove each other to get the latest coveted items, complain about the long lines to buy mounds of gifts for people (sometimes out of nothing more than obligation), all the while saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” but feeling Bah-humbug in our hearts. Hmm, judging by the leftover turkey legs hoisted and ready to launch at me, I’m not making many fans here. Okay, I’ll stop the griping about the holiday season and step down from my soapbox.

What I do love is real thankfulness. I have a ton of things to be thankful for and no meal or gift will adequately symbolize my gratitude for what I have been blessed with throughout my life and, most especially, throughout 2012. Perhaps what can express the joyous feelings I have are my words.

This year I had 112 days to really connect with my husband and take care of him the best way I knew how as I said my long (but still too short) good-bye. No turkey-and-stuffing feast can commemorate my feelings and memories. I have enjoyed the privilege of heartfelt conversations with my sons that have allowed me to grieve and heal, and feel incredibly proud and fortunate to be their mother. That beats any stocking-stuffer or glittering tree. I have met people who have changed the way I look at living and dying: hospice nurses, doctors, chaplains, and volunteers. The way they cared for us has been life-altering. I’ve received messages from strangers thanking me for helping them see joy in hard times… that has humbled me. Those things can never be wrapped up and topped with pretty bows (and if they were it wouldn’t do justice to their beauty). I’ve felt the closeness of new friends and old who have literally and virtually wrapped their arms around me and let me know what love looks and feels like. Yes, that is warmer than any holiday wish. People I don’t know gave me their time and donated their money to my family to help us tackle hospital stays and bills, not once, but twice. All these things happened outside of the holidays and they deserve so much more than a day or a season to be celebrated.

I totally understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and I don’t mean any disrespect to those who get giddy this time of year. I know that there is nothing wrong with special meals and the giving and receiving of gifts. I just wish that these things came out of the blue more often, and not on the obligatory days we set aside on the calendar. I wish they came with peace and harmony and simplicity, rather than crowds and sales and long return lines. If you think back to just a few days ago, what was the best part? Was the ginormous feast what made the day spectacular or could you have been just as happy eating nachos with your friends and family and talking about all the ways you were blessed in 2012? Can you name every gift you received (or gave) during this season last year…or how many you returned? Would that day have been a waste if you had nothing to unwrap other than your arms from around the people you cherish?

I’ll continue, just as you will, to celebrate holidays. Nope, there’s nothing at all wrong with setting days aside. But I long for a bit of a shift, where perhaps we become more mindful, more intentional, in being thankful and giving throughout the year. I know this is something I can definitely work on. Lots of people have used social media to shout out thankfulness each day during November, myself included… what’s wrong with doing that 365 more times starting December 1? Why not give a token of appreciation on a random Tuesday? Or an all-out, festive meal on the 18th of any month? How about using your best dishes for PB & J and Mac & Cheese to make your kids feel super important? Or hand out free, heartfelt compliments every single day of the year? I don’t think expressing gratitude and spreading happiness as often as possible will diminish the celebrations during this time of year. Hmm… it might even make them sweeter.

Giving Thanks Every Day = Joy

Thanks for sticking it out through my little griping session. Hopefully I didn’t offend or hurt any feelings. Oh, this also wasn’t a commentary on any particular celebration this year. In fact, as I write this, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

Sweet November

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Today we begin a new month. The last 31 days I spent looking at life in new and different ways. I have a set of 12 composition books that I use for journaling. At the beginning of October, as I began some “group journaling” online, I named the journal for the month “Promise” and the pages contain plans, hopes, fears, dreams, worries, questions, and imaginings. Yesterday as the group time ended, one of the women asked what word came to mind for the new month. Immediately, the word “renewal” popped into my head, so as I take a fresh composition book out of the cabinet I’ll put that word front and center on the first clean, lined sheet of paper. I don’t really know what will come as the days begin and end, but I have a feeling it really will turn out to be a month of renewal. Last month did, indeed, reveal to me the promise that is ahead in life.

This month a President will be elected and regardless of who wins, it is a new term, a time of renewal as we move on and focus on what’s ahead – hopefully in a respectful and positive way whether our candidate of choice wins or not. This month we change our clocks… is that some kind of renewal? Sure, why not? We gain an hour! This month we give thanks and honor veterans. Those days can certainly be times of renewal as we look at life and how precious it is and how much we have, no matter our circumstances. Hopefully we will see water recede and communities draw together as cleanup efforts begin after such a devastating storm. Although there was much lost and damaged and ravaged by wind and water, the time afterward can certainly bring renewal if we allow it.

For me this month will be a mixture of happy and sad as I continue to reflect and go through the process of moving forward to happy tomorrows while remembering the sweetness of days gone by. I’ll no doubt continue to shed healing tears and find a renewed sense of strength to keep going through each day. I think from here on out I will just keep giving each month a name… a word that I will focus on for 28 or 30 or 31 days. I like the idea of passing time in that way.

Thank you for reading, for following my story, for being a part of my life in such a profound way. I never expected 2012 to be this way. Tears are trickling down my cheeks right now just thinking of all that has transpired, the devastating and the marvelous.

As I close, I’ll ask, “What would your word be? What do you hope this month will hold? What is one positive, happy, JOYFUL word that you’d like to focus on this month?” I don’t normally ask questions, but I would love to hear from you. I wish a little bit of renewal and a lotta bits of joy for each of you.

A Sweet Month of Renewal = Joy

It’s All Worthwhile

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I love waves crashing on rocks. There is really a lot of violence going on, but just look at the magnificence as well. You don’t get one without the other.

“If my world were to cave in tomorrow, I would look back on all the pleasures, excitements and worthwhilenesses I have been lucky enough to have had. Not the sadness, not my miscarriages or my father leaving home, but the joy of everything else. It will have been enough.” ~Audrey Hepburn

When I read this, it brings to mind something else I read once: Life is worth living just because it is.

To one degree or another we all experience suffering in life. But to one degree or another we also experience worthwhileness. The more I learn and grow, the older I get, the more I see how true it is that we cannot have joy without sorrow, happiness without sadness, and pleasure without pain. Call it balance, call it yin and yang, call it anything you’d like. I don’t pretend to know all the reasons why this is true, but I think some of it is that we are able to more fully see and appreciate delight and bliss when juxtaposed with grief or adversity.

Life is worth living not because it is free of pain or suffering. It is not worth living because it is filled with gladness and amusement. What are the pleasures, excitements, and worthwhileness of your life today? What nugget can you pull out? Whatever it is, magnificent or minute, it will have been enough to make today worth it.

Finding Worthwhileness = Joy

Nurturing

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“As you go through life, you will discover that more and more of the subjects you studied in college are useless, with the exception of abnormal psychology.” ~Mark Bricklin, journalist

I laughed the first time I read that quote and promptly sent it to my friend, Terri, a psychology professor. Of course she appreciated it more than most people…probably more than I did. My college career was short. It lasted a month. But I still have my books and the Internet, and I’m just nerdy enough to use both and learn what I missed anyway. However, this isn’t about college or even about that quote. It’s about my friend.

Terri and I met because Brian was very extroverted and could not help talking to people at neighboring tables whenever he went out. He struck up a conversation with Terri one day at the coffee and donut shop where I worked. They chit-chatted and eventually I met Terri as well. She is one of those people magnets, someone you meet and instantly like, with a completely genuine personality, interest in others, and a laugh that I can still hear in my head when I think about her.

She and I clicked from the beginning. We would go out for a glass of wine or a nice dinner together and just talk. I’ve mentioned her before and I think I talked about how she and I could move from silly to serious topics with ease. We shared our experiences growing up and life as it was at that time too (sometimes it definitely involved abnormal psychology). I opened up about painful times and she always listened with an intensity…she wasn’t just hearing, she was truly listening with her ears, her head, and her heart. We would talk through things and I always came away feeling more grounded and better able to look at life.

When I enrolled in school I signed up for her psychology class, though it was online so I didn’t have the privilege of seeing her in the classroom. I loved that class. I learned lessons that I have used many times since having to quit school. I thought of Terri again the other day as I was digging around in boxes for some books. I found my psychology book and notes in that box. Terri and I have both been busy so we haven’t talked much over the summer, except for an email or quick text here and there.

That, along with a lovely blog post by a new friend reminded me of the importance of friendships and how they have to be nurtured or they wither and fade away. I have a close circle of friends, not a huge group. I can’t manage that many people! A few live in the area so I can see them face to face. Others are far away, hundreds and even thousands of miles. Tonight I was able to chat with some wonderful friends in Florida, to see their smiling faces and watch their little girl walking and giggling. What a pleasure! I’m thankful for technology that allows me to still see people sometimes, but at the very least hear their voices or receive messages. Yet, I neglect to care for my friends like I should, to just check in and see what’s going on for no good reason at all…except that I love them. Hmm, that’s actually a great reason.

As I’m getting organized for work and the school year, setting up my schedule and planning my days, I’m remembering to carve out time for other important things like connecting with friends, whether it means big things like booking plane tickets and taking road trips, or making phone calls and Skyping. Life gets busy and it is easy to take people for granted, to let time slip away and not connect – really connect – with those we care about. So, to Terri and my sweet circle of friends, I promise to take better care of our relationships, to water them, feed them, and tend to them so they will flourish.

Flourishing Friendships = Joy