Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Cover of "Daniel's Daughter"

Cover of Daniel’s Daughter

I watched the Hallmark Movie, Daniel’s Daughter, this past weekend. In the movie, Cate’s mother dies when she is around 9 years old. Almost immediately afterwards her father leaves her with relatives to explore work and promises that he’ll return. In his absence, he gives her a journal to write down everything that happens to her so he won’t miss a thing. However, life got the way and Cate’s father began to feel that he would disrupt his daughter’s life if he returned and therefore he stays disconnected from her until he dies. When Cate is around 30 years old, she receives notice that he has died and a request to bury his ashes next to his wife’s.

Cate expresses anger toward her deceased father because she interpreted his absence to mean that he did not love her. All she wanted during her childhood was her father to be present with her. She states that her whole life changed after the death of her mother because she lost her father as well. Although she learns from his dear friends that he never stopped loving her and was fearful of disrupting her life because he thought it was going so well, it was difficult for her to feel this. She stated that she has journals with information she wanted to share with her father but never got the chance.

This movie highlighted one deeply important truth. Children just need the adults in their life to be there for them. As adults we think security comes from money, a steady job, and a stable living situation. Children find security and stability in the adults in their life being present with them. Losing a parents is incredible difficult and emotional on children of all ages, but having the remaining parents disappear can be even more devastating because it appears to be outright rejection to that child. Sometimes the answer to a difficult situation appears too simple to work, but the answer really is play with your child, listen to them, cry with them, and just spend time with them. That’s what they’ll remember in the long run and that’s what they need to grow into healthy adults—they just need you!


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Steven Spielberg at Hollywood Walk of Fame

Image via Wikipedia

I am a huge movie fan. Most weekends, I watch at least one movie (most of the time 2-3). Unexpectedly, I watched two movies this weekend that had wonderfully honest and inspirational messages of what grief truly looks like, how it affects relationships and families, and how to move toward healing. Check them out and let me know what you think.


Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen star in this phenomonal movie about a young man’s journey with cancer. The movie portrays how this unexpected diagnosis affects all of his relationships–with his girlfriend, best friend, and parents. It was a reminder that at times the way people cope with our loss may not appear or feel supportive. However, we need to remember that they are also going through a loss as well. The myriad of emotions that these characters experience reminds us that being diagnosed with a disease does indeed immediately bring about grief.

Super 8

I did not expect this movie to be related to grief at all, but was pleasantly surprised by this J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg movie. It was set in the 1970’s or 1980’s and felt vaguely like the movie E.T. The main character’s mother dies in a tragic accident, which leaves him and his father left to not only grieve her loss but learn how to relate to each other. It was a true journey of forgiveness, connection, and learning to find new support with those who remain.

We tend to think of grief as being sad and depressing. But I think you will find that there can be quite a bit of laughter, tenderness, love, and even happiness along the way. Just like in real life.

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the last cell

Image by micmol  via Flickr

In the documentary Serving Life, one of the hospice volunteers remarked that he always heard hospice being described as a way for people to die with dignity, but he thought hospice was more of an expression of love.

Many of the volunteers and the lead hospice nurse in the documentary remarked that hospice will change you. And the documentary showed the tremendous change and growth in morality for these volunteers.

The documentary featured a hospice atLouisiana’s maximum security prison atAngola. Since 85% of the prison population have sentences of over 95 years, most of the inmates will die in prison. The Warden of Angola prison felt that a prison should do more than teach a prisoner skills, but should also teach them morality. In an effort to teach morality, he brought a hospice program to the prison, where other inmates serve as hospice volunteers. These men are trained to care for the patients—bathing, feeding, providing friendship & support, being there to sit vigil at end of life, and cleaning and preparing the body for burial.

Some of the volunteers make it and continue to volunteer, whereas others drop out of the program. The ones that stay remarked that they felt incomplete or like something was missing on the days when they did not go to the hospice. It made me think about how special our own hospice volunteers at Horizon are—the dedication and commitment they have to our patients and the remarkable abilities they all possess.

It made me reflect on the incredible impact being on the Hospice team has on every one of us—the staff and volunteers. It made me realize what my priorities are in life. I don’t put off things I want to do or things I need to say anymore. And it bought a new level of gratitude for everyday and every person in my life. Many people assume that Hospice must be depressing, but the Hospice experience is truly about connecting to one another and living life to the fullest.

For more information about Serving Life, go to http://www.oprah.com/own-doc-club/Serving-Life-Trailer.

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Lucky 7 sign

Image by sfgamchick via Flickr

I watched a Hallmark movie recently called Lucky 7, which highlighted that we still need to follow our own life path, despite what our parents may wish for us. In the movie, a dying mother draws a life map for her daughter where she envisions what her daughter’s life will be like. She tells her daughter she will learn French in high school, travel to France before college, become a lawyer, and then marry her 7th boyfriend. The daughter, Amy, takes this life map to heart and religiously follows each step. Problems begin to arise for her as an adult when she falls in love with her 6th boyfriend, so she devises a scheme to dump her 6th boyfriend before it gets serious, and eventually reconnect with him to make him the 7th—the one she will marry.

Through her scheme, she ends up dating a barista, whom she finds out was really wealthy in his 20’s but hated his job, so he quit to follow what makes him happy. She begins to recognize that she hates her job, isn’t following her creative passion, and is not being who she truly is.

Of course, Amy felt like she would be letting her mother down. She begins realizing that she used this life map as a replacement for the guidance she would have wanted from a mother growing up. As she grieves her mother’s loss again, she gains the freedom to be who she truly is and recognizes that her mother would ultimately want her to be happy, and there is not greater happiness than being true to oneself. It’s a life lesson worth keeping!

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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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Cover of "Quantum Wellness: A Practical a...

Cover via Amazon

There is a multi-billion dollar industry based on self-care in this country, yet so often we in this day and age are not able to make time for it. In the midst of our busy lives with jobs, homes, children, spouses, aging parents and other concerns, often we put ourselves last in order to care for everyone else. 

I am currently reading a book called Quantum Wellness by Kathy Freston. Now before I go much farther, I will tell you that there is an underlying agenda pertaining to veganism throughout the book. We all have our own thoughts and beliefs, and this is not what I’d like to highlight as the most helpful part of the book. However despite this agenda, I’ve found the book to be meaningful and a helpful guide to self-care. 

Kathy starts by talking about taking time for yourself and introducing small, positive changes into your life. She takes a “cross-training” approach to how you can create balance through various activities and practices. She doesn’t suggest jumping headfirst into each and every practice, but rather being aware of them all and slowly integrating them into your own life to provide better balance and wellness. Kathy’s “8 Pillars of Wellness” include:

  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Fun Activities
  • Conscious Eating
  • Exercise
  • Self-examination
  • Spiritual practice
  • Service

 I think the reason that I was able to engage with this book was the variety of things that she identifies as important. I have yet to figure out how to meditate. I just can’t sit still. I can’t get my mind to shut off. However I’ve found that I can visualize positive things and in doing so, create a kind of focus. I love that conscious eating and exercise are in here – this is not a diet or a weight-loss regime, this is just a suggestion to be thoughtful about how you care for your body. Self-examination and spiritual practice also tend to be tough ones for me, however I recognize the importance of them in creating balance with everything else. 

The two Pillars that I found most surprising were fun activities and service. They were also the ones I connected to most. As I mentioned at the start of this post, it seems to be our lifestyle today (and I would make the leap that it is especially true of women) to give and give and care for the many other people in our worlds. I often forget about the things that truly bring me joy. When you are in the rat-race, it’s easy to forget how doing good things for others can give you back those feelings of joy 100 times over. 

I’m recommending this book today because I think it takes a do-able approach to balancing ideas that will enrich our lives and help us create a feeling of total wellness. In this world, where we often struggle with boundaries and how to “do it all” a book like this can be a gentle reminder that we deserve to care for ourselves as well.

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Irene McGoldrick is a Horizon volunteer, author and blogger. Her new book, “Two Chai Day” is available on amazon.com and you can read her blog at www.mysaintedeadhusband.blogspot.com.

People are funny, especially when it comes to grief. Most people are uncomfortable with the raw emotions that can accompany such a tremendous loss. I will admit there was very little pretty about my grieving after I lost my husband to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was just 39. I was 36 and our boys were 5 months and 3 ½ years old at the time. I felt stripped of any protective cushion that love gives you in this world. I felt hallowed out, raw, exposed, ungrounded. I lost my filter; I was walking emotion ready to emote to anyone who came my way. People around me simply wanted me to stop crying.

The solution for many of these well intentioned people was for me to date, marry again. Seriously, I had people at the memorial service tell me not to worry, I was young; I would marry again. As if finding a new man might be the answer to all my troubles.

Initially I thought;

What? There is no way I am going through this kind of grief again, no thank you. That guy will just die on me eventually too, no way.

 And then I thought;

It was a miracle I met the first one, what is the likelihood of that happening again?

I eventually moved on to;

Who would be interested in me with all this baggage? A dead husband, two small children….

I never wanted to be a widow, I don’t think anyone does. The first time I went to the doctor after my husband died and was asked to check the box for single, married, or widow, I started crying and left all the boxes blank. After a time it became easier to check the widow box; I even became a bit proud of my label. The word widow symbolized strength and courage and independence to me.

Then I went and fell in love again. I got married again.

People were so happy for me! I was better, I was happy, I wasn’t crying anymore. I was finally done grieving.

What? Not quite. The grieving didn’t end when I married again. Not by a long shot. In fact it might have even complicated it just a bit. Now when I’m at the doctor’s office I struggle with the urge to check both the widow and married box. I can’t be both a widow and a married person at the same time I guess, can I?

Being a widow may no longer define me, but the experience of being widowed will always be a part of me, and it has shaped who I am today. My live husband understands that I although I do wish that my late husband were still alive and that I miss him still that fact does not change how I feel about him and how grateful I am to have him in my life now. He should not think of himself as my second choice, but my first choice for this life, my widowed life.

Am I glad I was widowed? Heck no. But after clawing my way back from the depths of grief and regaining some of those layers, I am glad that I came to the conclusion that life is short, and also long, and the bigger tragedy would be to not have anyone worth grieving over.

When people question my live husband and me about how we manage this marriage, this marriage with a sainted dead husband involved in it and pictures of our life together still on the walls, I always think of the time I met an elderly woman with a hyphenated name. I asked this lady about her hyphenated name since it is an unusual event in that age group. She turned to me with a broad smile on her face that lit up her eyes with fond memories and said simply;

“I had two husbands and I loved them both.”

Not everyone can say that.

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