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Archive for May, 2011

USA flag at half-mast during Memorial Day. The...

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I spent all day yesterday planting shrubs and laying bark. It is solitary back breaking work which gives you a lot of time with your thoughts. It is what our family always does on Memorial Day weekend. A tradition that I adopted from my parents.

All that thinking time led to thoughts of my father. He was a WWII veteran. He was in the Sea Bees and spent the war years in the South Pacific. My uncles were spread all over the globe. He and his four brothers, WWII veterans, all came home from the war. I was a lucky child. Not only did my father survive, I had my uncles, cousins galore, and lots of stories. I must admit I do not remember listening to the stories as closely as I wish I had now. But the times were good and the memories even better.

As I ponder what those war years must have been like for my grandmother, I can hardly bear the thoughts. You see I have two strong young sons who would be away if war were to break out. It was very apparent to me when Bin Laden was killed and my son texted me late at night. I had not realized how September 11th had impacted him. How tuned in he is to world events. How grown up he is. How vulnerable we are. It could have been my sons and maybe my daughter at war. My babies. How did my grandmother do it?

I wonder what the waiting was like for the women left at home. Mass communication was certainly not what it is today. I doubt that they ever received a phone call. I am not even sure if you could get a call from the South Pacific in 1942. I wonder how long it took to get a letter? I know that my mother worked in a factory. I wonder what she did, what was she making? As you can see I did not listen very well to the stories, though I do not remember them sharing such details.

I think it is time for a new tradition this Memorial Day weekend. It is time to hear the stories of the war years. This time I will listen. This time I want to know. Lucky for me my mother is still with us, maybe she will be willing to share.

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As I was driving into work today, I caught a radio segment which was talking about a service in which people can “rent” friends. For example, a person could hire someone to go to the park with, go to a party, etc.

It made me think of the many people who have come into theGriefCenterover the years, talking about wanting one friend. Their one main companion and friend had died and they were now feeling all alone and lost. Many people feel that they do not want to reach out to their family and other casual friends because “they all have lives of their own” or “I don’t want to be a burden”.

However, I think that the fact this service exist shows that there are many people in our society that are lonely and need a friend. And although we often think we are the only one sitting alone on a night, or desiring someone to go places with, or are alone on a holiday, we are not.

We need to remember that we do not know who is lonely and it is never a burden to reach out. It is through consistent contact that we develop friendships. Whereas before, one person may have met all of your companionship needs, it may need to be met with several people. You might find one person who loves to go to the theater or movies with you and another who would love to have a dinner companion once a week.

It requires vulnerability to ask for what you need. The worst thing that will happen is that they can’t do what you ask or aren’t interested in that activity. This is not a rejection on your part. Then move on to the next person to ask. That’s why it’s called a “support circle”. We need many people.

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It was a loss I never expected, but then again maybe I did.  My husband and I are bicyclists.  He races…and wins.  Me, I just try to do better than the last time.  The two wheels that brought us together and so much other joy have also broken our bones, as well as our hearts.
 
In October, we lost our best friend Jeff after he was struck by a driver blinded by sunlight.  Unfortunately, this was not the first time we had been affected by death and bicycling, but it was certainly the accident that hit closest to home.
 
For various reasons, bicycling and otherwise, unexpected phone calls terrify me and instantly put me on edge.  That October morning when my husband called, I knew what I would hear would not be good.
 
For several days, we were in a unique sort of limbo pulled in numerous directions.  We weren’t family, so couldn’t make decisions, but yet many looked to us for guidance, comfort and information.  We were overwhelmed by feelings and grief, that despite both of us having lost both our parents, and even a sibling, we had never yet experienced.  We kept checking with each other, “Doesn’t this feel different than losing a parent? This is harder in some way, isn’t it?”
 
Our parents, for the most part, were ill. We didn’t talk to them every day.  We loved them deeply but they were a step removed. Jeff was part of our daily habit whether it was bike ride, a visit to his bike shop or a phone chat. Life truly has changed without him.  There is hole that feels so wide open.
 
But I know at times he is with me.  I feel him at my back giving me a push, literally, when the wind or another obstacle is in my face. Or when I ask out loud where is the sun, and instantly it shines through the clouds. I fondly call these “Jeffy moments.” 
 
I find it hard to believe that “grief” is now part of my daily life and that I have dear friends who have tragically had their partner, sibling or child taken from them.   
 
Growing up is never easy, and even a few years shy of 50, it never seems to stop. But if we’re growing, we’re still living.  And that’s what I do. I live life everyday for Jeff, for my family and for my friends.

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I was in a conversation about Dementia the other day in the office, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my Grandfather. I’ve worked in the hospice industry now for about seven years, and have learned a lot in that time. I find the disease interesting and am intrigued by how relationships are affected by it. My grandfather died eight years ago though, too early for me to have any of the knowledge I now have. 

My grandfather was a big, loud guy. He loved to go to Floridai n the winter, and he loved to shop for antiques and go to flea markets. I remember him being diagnosed with Diabetes and stubborn as he was, often refusing to give up things like pie and dumplings. The older he got, the more trouble he had with mobility, and the more stubborn he was. And then he became mean and belligerent. 

I had never heard of Dementia. It became more and more difficult to be around my grandpa. He was not pleasant. He got sicker and finally ended up in the hospital, needing to have a foot amputated due to the Diabetes. At that time, I believed that his disease was Diabetes. I didn’t yet understand all of the factors at hand. I learned maybe a week before he died that the doctors had diagnosed him with Dementia, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. 

When he died, I felt guilty because I was relieved. It’s taken me years to admit that. It’s taken me years to finally wrap my head around the fact that maybe it wasn’t his personality that had gone to hell, but a disease that none of us (at the time) understood or could respond to with any finesse. 

It’s hard for me to put into perspective my own feelings, and remember that he was probably scared out of his mind. Imagine waking up in a hospital and maybe not knowing where you are, and finding that you’ve got a bandage where your foot used to be, and wondering what is going on. Can I blame him for being so angry? 

I just wish I could have wrapped my head around the word Dementia at the time. There are a lot of caregivers out there who may or may not know how to deal with someone in this state. My wish for those caregivers is to have the strength not to take personally what that person says and does. Those actions can hurt for years. But knowledge is power, and just knowing that a person’s reactions are not always their own has given me a bit of peace over the years. 

If there is someone in your life who has been diagnosed with Dementia, get information, and get help. It’s a hurtful, terrible, life-changing disease, but being armed with an understanding can make all the difference.

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Life As We Know It

Image by CityTalk via Flickr

“We are tiptoeing around here like they are coming home. But they are not.” 

This sentiment from a scene in the movie Life as We Know It struck me this weekend. I think each griever reaches this moment when they realize that they need to change their environment in order to move along the path of healing. 

In the movie, Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel discover that their closest friends have appointed them guardians of their child in the unlikely event of their joint death. In addition to becoming guardians of the baby, they are honoring their friend’s wishes by raising their daughter in their own home.           

For many weeks, they navigate the challenge of raising a baby and co-parenting. After one particularly stressful day, they come together in the living room and talk about how hard this has been for them. They begin talking about how they have been existing in the house as if they were houseguests, tiptoeing around everything, so that it would be exactly the same, as if their friends were coming back. 

Katherine Heigl’s character states “They are not coming home.” This line seems so obvious, but it is emotionally profound. Each of us reach that moment of acceptance where we realize that we can no longer exist with the things exactly like they were, because they have now changed. We need to make the environment our own. We need to make space for the changes to come. 

The couple begins boxing up their friends items, changing pictures on the wall, and moving their own stuff into the house. This not only began the process of making it “their home” but also gave them room to begin parenting the way they would instead of trying to be their friends. 

We cannot pick when this moment will be for us to begin making changes. We “just know”. It’s a gut feeling and when it arrives, it’s healthy and healing to make those changes.

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Closure

I casually turned my TV on this morning while getting my dog some food and was stopped in my tracks. I never thought I would see this day—Osama Bin Laden Dead. It was uplifting to see America celebrating in the streets and chants of patriotic pride. I was captivated by the interviews of people sharing stories of the loved ones and friends who died on 9/11. It was clear that President Obama’s message to the American people was right when he said last night: “And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.” 

In addition to “justice”, the other word I kept hearing this morning was “closure”. News broadcasters kept stating that the family and friends of the 3,000 people lost in 9/11 would finally have closure. What does that mean? Does grief resolve with this type of closure?  

For the grievers left behind after any tragedy, there is a deep desire to have the answers to the questions “Who did this?” and “Why?” They also typically have a deep desire to see the responsible party have to pay in some way—jail, prison, death, etc. There is often a belief that once this justice is complete and they have the answers they seek, that it will somehow make the pain of their loss lessen and they will be able to move on with their lives.  

However, most grievers find that once this moment comes, it does not bring the emotional end to the grief process they had anticipated. It does bring closure to the emotions attached to those questions—namely anger and our deep desire to see justice. It does however, especially years after the loss, intensify our grief because we are suddenly back at that moment, reliving that experience and re-grieving our loss (or giving ourselves to grief those heavy emotions we have avoided because we have been so consumed with anger and involved in the pursuit of justice). We have closed one aspect of the grief process and reopened the wound of grief again. If people have been working on their grief, it will not be of the same intensity as it was those years ago.  

For example, I did not know anyone personally who was involved in the tragedy of 9/11. I, like many Americans, grieved the loss of invinsibility that I had felt our country had and grieved for our national tragedy. This morning, upon seeing the news, I remembered exactly where I was when I heard about the attack and how my day unfolded after that. I cannot imagine what the images and emotions were that the family members and friends of those involved in 9/11 relived or felt. President Obama reflected it well when he said last night during his speech: “And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.” Let’s remember that although they have been grieving for 9 years, these families will still continue to grieve. Not at the same intensity as before, but there is still a hole in their lives.

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September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

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The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death has certainly travelled quickly. I went to bed early last night, knowing nothing of the mission to end his life, and this morning, the news and social media sites that I monitor regularly are overrun with comments and information about it. 

I will find it interesting over the coming days, weeks and months to hear the reactions of survivors and family members of those lost in the 9/11 attacks. Does this give them peace or closure? Can this act – ending the life of a single man – give American’s peace of mind and satisfaction that justice has been served? 

Will this victory forAmericaopen a deep wound, not only with survivors and family members, but with all American’s who remember the morning of 9/11 and the aftermath? I was sitting outside a classroom at UWM waiting for my 7:30 a.m. computer design class to start when I heard about the first plane. We watched the news on the big screen during that class, and then class was cancelled. An emergency meeting was called that afternoon for Resident Assistants at the dorm. Some of our residents were scared to stay in Sandburg Hall, as they felt like the tall buildings would be a target for more terror. 

I’ll never forget 9/11, and it will always stand out as a defining moment in my life. It is when I realized how delicate life is, and how little control I as an individual have over my own safety and security. I lost the naive notion thatAmericawas all-powerful and would take care of me and my family no matter what. I learned that there really is pure evil in the world. 

For me, this news is opening a door to the past. I thank theUSfor being vigilant, finding this mad-man and serving justice to him. It won’t make me sleep better at night though, and I won’t ever get back my innocent belief that we are safe from the hatred of extremists throughout the world. So many losses were suffered that day – it will be fascinating to see how this news affects our nation, each and every individual as a whole.

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