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Archive for November, 2010

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

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Traditions, particularly surrounding holidays, are very comforting. I in particular like the traditions of certain foods that I only make for those holidays. What would thanksgiving be like if i did not make five different pies during the Macy’s parade or Christmas without Beef Wellington? Well, next year, we are facing a break in our Christmas tradition, when two of our grown children will not be coming home and neither of our grandchildren. Can you have a Christmas without the children? The up side is that we will have a house full this year with all the children home at once for the first time in over seven years. 

I am not sure about how this is going to work or what new tradition we will develop but I do know one thing, we need to begin planning. While I want everything to remain the same, I realize that it will not happen. Our children are going to continue to grow and we are not the only loved ones in their lives. Thank goodness! We want them to have sound marriages and great relationships with their in-laws.

So how do we figure this out? Do we travel? Do we stay home? Do we do everything as before, just without them?

I don’t think there is any one answer, but I do think it is a good idea to plan. Just waiting to let it happen and hope we have a good holiday might not be a great idea. There is no way that it will be the same. So what new tradition do we add? Well, there are several things we can consider:

*. Add new guests for dinner

* Volunteer to serve dinner at a soup kitchen

* Take a holiday vacation

* Plan a completely different way to celebrate – new food, a play, an outdoor celebration, a traveling meal.

I realize that there are no rules to how to celebrate your holidays. We all have year after year traditions that we have refined over the years and sometimes they just can’t happen. I will plan to do what I can to make a memorable holiday season for my family next year. It will take some planning though. I guess it is time to begin thinking about it now.

 

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Thanksgiving oven

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When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of going around the table sharing what we are thankful for (even though this was never part of my family tradition). Many of you who may be grieving or just had a tough year with the economic downturn may be thinking that you have nothing to be thankful for. It’s precisely when you think that you do not have anything to be grateful for, that you need an “attitude of gratitude” the most.

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” is tough work, but worth the effort. I would challenge you not only on Thanksgiving, but for the rest of the year (come on, you can do it—it’s only 37 days!) to come up with 3 things every day for which you are grateful.

Some days, it might just be the things we take for granted—my car started this morning, I have a bed to sleep in—or it might be the people still in our lives. Other days it might be a memory of the person who passed that bought a smile or loving tear to our eye or a nice gesture by a stranger. It might even be a shift you noticed in yourself—maybe you smiled or laughed today, or had a “good hour” today.

In the beginning you will need to search hard throughout the day to find 3 things, but I gaurantee that within a few weeks you will be creating your list quite easily. When you begin to notice all the things that you have to be grateful for, your attitude and your mood shifts. It’s a powerful tool to add to your toolbox of strategies that will help you heal. In 2011, I challenge you to find 5 things every day for which you are grateful.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all of you. I appreciate how everyone who comes into the Grief Center shares their stories and themselves with us—what an amazing gift. I am thinking of all of you on this Thanksgiving—it is my hope that the anticipation of the holiday was worse that the actual day—and if not, I am thankful that it is only one day!

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I was offered the opportunity to read a book that my daughter had read with her book club.  When she told me about the subject matter I reluctantly accepted the book.  A book about Alzheimer’s disease, even in novel format, is not my idea of a good bedtime read.  I had read at least one or two before and I found them somewhat depressing.  

As a “mature” adult the last thing I want to do is spend too much time mulling over is the thought of getting Alzheimer’s.  It’s frankly a little scary.  But the book had a nice cover and I did not have another book in my cue.  So I began to read.  (I learned from my husband that it in not necessary to finish a book if you do not like it.  I take that to heart and bail on books that I do not like). 

Well, I liked Still Alice.  This book was written in the voice of an Alzheimer’s patient just prior to and after diagnosis.  I do not know if it is accurate, but it is well written.  I ponder the story even now, three weeks later and I recommend it to friends.  

The author took such a fresh perspective; it really draws you in and makes you want to read more.  Imagine seeing the world through the eyes and mind of a person with Alzheimer’s.  It is very intriguing and I would recommend that you consider reading Still Alice.  It is not just another story about a caregiver’s frustration.

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As thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking a lot about traditions and what they mean and what happens when traditions stop. As a child, I remember going to my Grandma B’s house every year. She would have the leaves put into the dining room table to make it big enough for all of us, and as the family grew, we even expanded into the kitchen with a smaller table. The places were set with multi-colored fiesta dishes some years, and the “good” china others. My mom would make things like scalloped corn and green bean casserole at our house, and wrap them up in newspaper and thick towels to keep warm on the way. When we got to Grandma’s she would be in an apron, shirtsleeves rolled up and call out “Hi?!” whenever the door opened. My mom would put on an apron right away and start basting or cutting or whatever needed to be done. As the family filtered in, the smells would get better. My uncle would bring fresh whole milk from the tank at the farm. The family would sit down at noon. Sometimes my grandma would ask one of us grandkids to say grace, and sometimes we all said it together. Everyone would dig in. After the meal, the guys would watch football, and grandma would start dishes, with the help of whoever filtered in and out of the kitchen. We’d all read the black Friday sale ads and tell each other what we were hoping Santa would bring us. When it got dark out, we’d load up the car and head home, full and happy. 

My grandma died in June of 2003. It’s hard to believe this will be the eighth Thanksgiving without her. In the years that have passed, we haven’t started a new tradition. Some years it’s been my parents and I at home. Some years we’ve gone to another aunt and uncle’s house for dinner with their big family. Maybe it’s because I’m the only child, but it still feels a little bit lonely when it’s just the three of us. This year, my parents jokingly asked me if I had any plans for the holiday. I suggested they come to my house and let me do the cooking. Maybe this will be a new tradition, something consistent to look forward to year after year. Maybe we’ve still been a little bit sad, still feeling a little bit of grief during these years where we haven’t been able to settle into a new routine without her. 

I think sometimes the grief is so large you just can’t continue to do what you’ve always done – it’s too painful. Sometimes you need to start something new. But don’t worry, the tradition isn’t completely lost. I’ll be serving Thanksgiving dinner on those same fiesta dishes at my house this year.

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This Saturday November 20th is National Survivor of Suicide Day. On this day, survivors gather across the country to watch a message of hope and healing. There is still a lot of stigma attached to death by suicide and it’s easy to feel alone in grief when you are one of the survivors. It is a relief and comfort to me to gather with others on this special day, so that I reiterate to myself that I am not the only one. 

Five years ago, my friend took his life by suicide on Thanksgiving Day. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed. I never knew grief could be so overwhelming and all consuming, especially the feelings of anger and guilt. There are so many questions when someone takes their life and it’s hard to come to peace with never having the answers. 

It has forever changed the way that I celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead of gathering with family that day, as before, I spend the day with my husband. It’s more low key and more comforting. It’s a time for me to pause, give thanks for all the blessings in my life, and remember my friend. 

As someone who has always loved Christmas, I remember listening to Christmas music that first year and breaking down in tears. The song Let it Be Christmas by Alan Jackson would especially get to me. Five years later, that song still gets to me sometimes. 

I think of my friend often throughout the year, but more so at this time of year. The grief is not all consuming anymore, but it still gets triggered every once in awhile, like when writing this article. As I continue on my grief journey, it’s nice to have a day to honor my friend and focus on my healing. I hope that if you are a survivor, that you will join us this Saturday November 20th for one of the events around the country or watch the broadcast at www.afsp.org.

If you’re close by, join us at Horizon Grief Resource Center (8949 N. Deerbrook Trail, Brown Deer, WI 53223). We’ll be showing the broadcast from 11:00 am-12:30 pm.

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Thirteen years ago we broke down and decided to get a dog for our boys.  Our oldest was off to college in a year and our youngest was just finishing his grade school years.  I think we thought that it would ease the quiet for our youngest. Maybe a little bit for us too.  I’ll never forget the day we picked up our six week old puppy.  My brother, a veterinarian, came along, because the entire litter of nine all looked the same to me.  He helped us select an adorable, not too aggressive, female, that the boys named Chewie.  Yes, our oldest son had been a big Star Wars fan and Chewie was a name we could all agree upon.  The hardest part of the first day was taking Chewie away from her parents.  I think we were more tentative than our new puppy. 

Chewie

Chewie turned out to be nothing like her name.  She never chewed even one item.  She was true to the Golden Retriever breed though and she did carry things in her mouth and bring them to us.  Occasionally a dead bird, things she found around the house that were interesting, but rarely things that did not belong to her. Retrieving items you tossed was a novelty only at first.  She quickly learned that retrieving a ball was work and capturing the ball and sitting in the shade with it was far more pleasurable.  Water retrieving was more her sport.  She does after all have quite a thick coat.  

Chewie’s claim to fame was flirting.  Oh yes, she flirted.  In puppy school while all the other puppies were sitting quietly waiting their turn, she would inch over to the puppy next to her to play and wiggle her bottom.  When we’d take her for a walk she greeted every human and of course every dog. It was impossible to prevent it, even with proper training. She circled around every trick-or-treater until they petted her.  Every neighbor knew her name long before they knew ours.  We have for years been referred to as Chewie’s parents by the children and some adults in the neighborhood.  She even prances as though she is a show horse.  A happier dog there never was. 

Fast forward twelve blessed years and you have the senior Chewie we live with today.  Her walks are now only a few blocks long.  While she used to race us to the park, now she can not make it to the park.  She slips and slides when getting up from the tile floor.   She is pickier about food, having rejected her life long dry food.  We spoil her and give her the canned food she loves.  (It actually looks and smells pretty good).  She takes medication for her hips and I give her an aspirin for the arthritis that we suspect she has.  She is after all in her 90s in human years.  She spends most of her day lying on the cool tile floor.  The only time she is excited is when we have pizza, (she feels quite entitled to pizza crust), and when she sees me reach for her canned food.  

She has lost two of her best dog friends, a Golden named Maddie and a Bernise named Gunner.  They were her absolute favorites and she would roll around and chase them for as long as we would allow.  They were both older than Chewie by several years.  And she still looks for them when we walk by their houses.  She still has Murphy a male the same age as her who lives next door.  He visits daily to get a biscuit from me and a drink from our pond.  He also likes to squeeze his way in the patio door and pick up any chews that Chewie has left laying about. Chewie and her neighborhood friend

We realize that each day is a gift now.  Our senior dog is an old lady and has outlived the usual life span for a Golden Retriever.  She does not greet me at the door anymore, she does not come when you call, (she does not seem to hear much) and she does not want to wrestle on the floor anymore.  While she no longer does the things younger dogs, Chewie still gets up with me each morning and accompanies me to the mail box to get the paper.  She lays next to one of us each evening when we watch television.  And she still squeezes her body between us if we hug, just to make sure she is not left out of tender family moments. We know that she is quite elderly but we also know that she has lived like a princess, her second name.  We care for her and she hangs out with us. Life is good.

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I met Irene McGoldrick and her husband Mike over two years ago. They volunteer for Horizon and support the Grief Resource Center and have served on the Life Lights Planning Committee for the last two years. In getting to know them, I recognized an amazing connection, a strong marriage and two fantastic people who I love to have a glass of wine and a good meal with. You would never know that there is a grief story to be told when you hear the history of their relationship, until you learn about Irene’s “Sainted Dead Husband,” Bob. 

In Irene’s new book, Two Chai Day, you learn about her first love, their marriage, children, and the battle with cancer that led Irene to write and live beyond grief. The book is beautifully written, with the strong and often irreverent voice Irene brings to her blog (www.mysaintedeadhusband.blogspot.com) and her feature on the Milwaukee Moms website (www.milwaukeemoms.com/blogs/kitchentable/Plan_B.html). Not only do you feel Irene’s perspective on disease, family and death, but you get bits and pieces from Bob’s journals, which illustrate what it felt like to be the sick one, the declining one, the dying one. It must have been a difficult decision to use your dead husband’s writing, but I’m glad Irene did, because it brought a whole new dimension to this story of love and loss. 

Two Chai Day walks the reader through Irene and Bob’s meeting and falling in love, having their first child, realizing something was not quite right with Bob’s health and cancer diagnosis, which came at the same time they realized they were going to have a second baby. We, the readers, experience Irene and Bob’s fears, moments of anger, remorse, frustration and self-pity, as well as their joy, love and hope. We are given a gift from Irene, who allows us into Bob’s last moments, at home, with friends and family. 

What follows Bob’s death, is a story of a young mother and widow, living through, and eventually beyond grief. Irene shares her story of coping, be it through leaning on friends and family, learning to be Irene, rather than trying so desperately to replace Bob, or finding his spirit in unexpected places, through the presence of a hawk. We are finally introduced to Mike, who begins a whole new chapter of Irene’s life, and I personally hope there will be a follow-up book detailing how they combined their families and handle a life together so well without forgetting the importance of the past. 

It is an honor to know the author of this beautiful book personally, and to see how she thrives in this world despite having suffered such loss. It gives me hope for other people who have suffered such a loss because I think they can relate to Irene’s honesty. And it gave me a point of reference, as a human and a friend, about how to cope when tragedy might strike my own life or those I love. Two Chai Day is a vivid, honest look at grief infused with humor and grace. Kudos, Irene, on sharing such a personal and important story with the world. 

You can get your copy of Two Chai Day at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or iUniverse.com.

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