Tis The Season?

It’s official.  The holiday season is upon us.  A time of year that offers several opportunities to gather together with family and friends for food, fun, conversation, connection and the exchanging of gifts.  For many, this is what puts the HAPPY in HOLIDAYS.  However, for some, there is little cause for celebration.  Life might be challenging them with illness, unemployment, financial burdens, or estrangement from family.  I consider myself among those who find little reason to embrace the season.

As far back as September, I developed an awareness that the holidays were creeping forward on the calendar.  I began thinking about the traditions that began many years ago.  I married into a Jewish family in the 1990’s.  My husband celebrated Hanukkah by hauling out his brass Menorah, lighting the candles and reciting the applicable prayers from memory.  He did this in honor of this festival of lights. He never bought into the consumerism that has (also) infiltrated his religion, choosing to concentrate only on the spiritual meaning of this holiday.  After he passed, I continued to commemorate Hanukkah in his way with our young son, which for me included gifting him for eight nights.  I also began acquiring the trimmings associated with Christmas, and thus began new traditions for the boy and his mom.  This included a photo shoot for the holiday card, decorating a tree, the decking of the halls, the sweet smells of baking, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra belting out classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night on the CD player, adopting a family in need, and the purchasing and wrapping of gifts.  My brother-in-law referred to this meshing of religious traditions as “double dipping.”  I guess the boy did get the best of two (religious) worlds?  As he entered his teenage years, I began to do less and less in regards to Hanukkah and focused more on just the one holiday.

After much consideration and deliberation, I have decided that I will do very little in the way of participating in this holiday season.  The Hanukkah mementos have been passed on to family members.  The Christmas ornaments, decorations, and tree shall remain tucked away within their containers, safely stowed in the basement to gather another layer of dust.  The stockings will not be hung by the chimney with care.  There will be no mailing of the annual photo card and letter updating family and friends on the events of the past twelve months.  There is little to share that is positive in regards to the year two thousand and eighteen.  We have lost not one, but two treasured members of our unit-my 20-year old son and my husband’s mother, the strong and feisty matriarch of a large, loud, and loving family.

Annually on Christmas Eve, my husband’s family gathers together to enjoy food, drink, laughter and games.  During the evening, Santa arrives, bearing gifts for each youngish child.  (Mr. Claus is usually lovingly portrayed by a male family member volunteer who steps up to don the suit and beard and chant the obligatory Ho, Ho, Ho.)  Last year, we stuck a hat on Grandma and morphed her into “Santa.”  As the kids came forward one by one to receive their present, they posed for a photograph.  And later, more photos were taken of Santa and all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My immediate family (husband, son, bonus child and I) made a memory with Santa that was forever captured by the click of a camera.  The five of us are seated cozily on the couch smiling for the photographer.  A happy and festive image frozen in time.

Today, as I reflect on that photo, the oldest and youngest souls posing for that moment are gone.  We had allowed ourselves to consider that perhaps it just might be the last Christmas for the 88-year old matriarch, which is why we selected her as Santa and made her the center of attention for the evening’s festivities.  No one could have imagined that Mark, the college sophomore, would be experiencing his 20th and final Christmas.  For me, the sad reality of the season is front and center.  Mark and Renie’s seats will remain empty at holiday gatherings.  There will be no gifts bearing their names.  Their sweet faces will be absent from cell phone snapshots.

When dealing with grief, there is often much said about “the year of firsts.”  This term generally refers to all of the occasions that arrive within a calendar year that can no longer be shared or celebrated with a loved one who has passed on.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  I understand the thought behind “the year of firsts” and how those certain days or dates might accentuate or magnify one’s loss.  And. They. Do.  However, when you truly think about it, our loved ones who have passed are gone everyday, not just the ones we note as special or celebratory.  With that said, I did survive Mother’s Day, family birthdays, two graduations and a cousin’s wedding.  Thanksgiving will arrive in a matter of days, followed by Hanukkah and Christmas. Soon, I will find myself smothered by the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the most wonderful time of the year.  And I will choose to mostly abstain from the decorating, parties, shopping and the general “hustle and bustle” that consumes the month of December.  Instead, I will hold close my memories, traditions and photos of holidays gone by.

 

 

Grief In My Aura

Aura is defined as, “A supposed emanation surrounding the body of a living creature, viewed by mystics, spiritualists, and some practitioners of complementary medicine as the essence of the individual, and allegedly discernible by people with special sensibilities.”  Recently, a stranger with said “special sensibilities” relayed to me that I have “grief in my aura.”  He also mentioned that I am “dealing with SO MANY emotions that I am trying to solve, resolve, fix and rationalize.”  That pretty much sums me up in a nutshell.  My aura must look like a hot mess.  Instead of a pure, bright white light or even a vibrant rainbow of colors, my aura just might appear more 50 shades of gray and foggy with a cold, salty mist spraying the space around me.  At least that is how I FEEL it might look.  In a currently abandoned motivational speaking piece that I worked on for weeks, I focus on the aura-its brightness and thickness and offer suggestions on ways to illuminate our light (or supposed emanation according to the above definition) while here on earth.  Instead of motivating others with my spiritual lessons, I am resigned to working on my own issues, which I am hopeful will result in positive changes to my aura.

I have no idea what grief actually looks like, but I know it is a force to be reckoned with. I believe that I have been Hostess Extraordinaire to this once again uninvited guest as this is not my first trip to the Grief Rodeo.  I have devoted myself to her needs for the better part of seven months with no paid time off.  That is until the past few weeks when I dared to consume myself with the final arrangements of my 40th High School Class Reunion which also included attending three events associated with this weekend of festivities.  A few days after the culmination of reunion events, my spouse and I headed to the mountains of North Carolina for a much deserved break.

In an effort to maintain some sense of composure in front of former classmates and their guests, I did not invite Ms. Grief to the reunion.  I even rehearsed a mini speech that I would offer up should anyone (and a few did) ask me the dreaded question, “Do you have any children?”  My reply was a swift and curt, “I had a son who passed away earlier this year, the result of a diabetic episode.  I am not talking about it this weekend.”  For the better part of three days, I (mostly) put on my gap-toothed smiling face and reconnected with fellow classmates.  And then I busied myself for THE trip.  The mini vacation that would provide me and my co-griever with a change of scenery complete with mountains, fresh air, touristy attractions and a sense of calm and peace that nature can usually provide.

Do you know what Ms. Grief whispered into my ear?  “You can run but you cannot hide.  You can mingle all weekend with former classmates and drive a few hundred miles to another state with breathtaking topography, but I MUST be included.”  And so, all of that stuffing down of emotions followed by an attempted mountainous escape resulted in a stuffing up of my sinuses, a day or two of the blase’ for my Guy, and the reality that my grief and loss go where I go.  As my spouse and I sat in a lipstick red, converted double-decker bus coffee shop in scenic, artsy, hippie Asheville, NC, I was overcome with emotion.  Just like that.  Tears spilling down my face into my pricey iced coffee.  Ms. Grief had indeed joined us.  For all I know she had packed a bag and ridden shotgun with us all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Oh, and about those mountain views and clean, crisp air?  We experienced little of that.  The picturesque terrain that defines western North Carolina was hidden by gray, foggy, misty, low-slung clouds.  Sound familiar?  Even my mountain escape was enveloped in its own aura of grief.

And so I say to Mr. Stranger Special Sensibilities, you are 100 % correct.  There IS grief in my aura and my ever-thinking brain IS attempting to solve, resolve, fix and rationalize the tragic, unimaginable event that occurred 223 days ago.  I now understand that I am at my current best at home, nestled in my cocoon, surrounded by a small group of family and friends.  I read, write, exercise, and attempt to quiet my mind through meditation.  But mostly, I am the hostess with the mostest to Ms. Grief.  Together we are traveling my current journey of grief.  Final destination?  Acceptance.

 

Reading Recap #3

In 2017, I vowed to publish my reading list on a quarterly basis.  By all estimates, I should have about six posts.  As noted by the title, this is post #3.  Oops!  As is often the case, my non-conventional life interrupts my free time, which in turn results in a reduction in leisure activities such as reading.  After spending about four months attending to “business, ” I have been consciously carving out time to spend with books, the best friend and distraction a girl can have.  The list is all non-fiction (think memoirs and self-help books) with the exception of one novel, a bestseller that was published about four years ago.  Happy reading!

  1. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls-David Sedaris
  2. When You Are Engulfed in Flames-David Sedaris

***I had the pleasure of attending an evening with David Sedaris later last year thanks to an invitation from fellow “bookie.”  (If a person who loves food and cooking is a Foodie, is someone who loves books and reading a Bookie?)  Anyway, it was a fantastic evening of laughter and stories.  I had read a few of Mr. Sedaris’ books prior to the event and then got caught up on a few more afterwards.

3.  Running With Scissors-Augesten Burroughs

4. Dry-Augesten Burroughs

***Both books by Augesten are memoirs.  I admit I had a bit of an issue getting through Running With Scissors.  I found his childhood story difficult to read.  The story is disturbing and actually somewhat unbelievable.  It did however, reinforce my belief that we really never know the horrors and dysfunction that are the norm for so many children.  I am grateful that some are able to go back in time, remember and then write about their experiences and share them publicly.

5. Happiness-Heather Harpham:  This memoir is about a seriously ill child born out-of-wedlock (is that an outdated term in 2018?) to the author and her boyfriend, who chooses, at least initially, to exclude himself from the life of his daughter and her mother.

6.  The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)-Gretchen Rubin: This self-help book asks the question, “How do I respond to expectations?” and then divides people into four personality groups.  Learn which group you fall into and how your personality profile influences your home, work and community life.

7.  The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives by Theresa Brown, RN: I have had many encounters with nurses, both personally and professionally.  As with any profession, there are some for which this is a true calling and for others what I consider a mistaken career choice.  Ms. Brown was called to nursing, and her account of “a day in the life of” was an easy and interesting read for me.

8.  Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:  This book is a series of insightful stories designed to teach the reader about healing, loving and living. It reinforces my belief that “we all are one,” and that with kindness and empathy we can all learn to aid in the healing of another’s emotional wounds simply by listening and sharing. First published over 20 years ago, the message is still completely relevant today.  Important advice for living in our current environment that seems to be full of selfishness and a lack of kindness and empathy for others.

9.  The Gifts of Imperfection-A Guide to a Wholehearted Life (Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are) by Brene Brown:  This book and author were recommended to me.  Categorized as self-help, Ms. Brown outlines 10 guideposts to living a life that accepts that none of us are perfect though society tries to tell us that we must be perfect.

10. Quiet-The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  As an extrovert and one-time wife and mother of introverts, I found this book interesting and insightful and one that I probably should have read some time ago.  As I often struggled to understand my introverted son and how best to parent him, I ALWAYS knew and believed that the world needs introverts.  They are generally kind, sensitive and great listeners and observers.  Most of us do talk too much and listen too little.  One of the greatest things that I took away from this book is that our society often forces introverts to act and behave like extroverts, and that this is occurring daily in schools and the workplace.  Who decided that extroverts possess the better personality?  Another reason to also read numbers 8 and 9 on this list as well as this selection.

11. Saving Simon-How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion by Jon Katz.  This is another animal-themed memoir by Mr. Katz.  I enjoyed the book and its reinforcement of living a compassion-filled life.  That includes compassion for ALL living things, including animals both domestic and wild.

12. Educated by Tara Westover: If you have read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, you will love this newer release and first book by Ms. Westover.  The book chronicles the unconventional lifestyle of the Westover family.  It is a book about religious fanaticism, mental illness, abuse and more.  Just like the two afore-mentioned memoirs, I found parts of her story disturbing and frankly unimaginable but cheered for her as she managed to break free and find her way to an education and world outside the confines of her warped Idaho home.

13.  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: I am thrilled that I finally found my way to this cute, funny, heartwarming work of fiction that the world discovered long before me.  Ove reminds me of several people who I have crossed paths with- crusty, hard and seemingly uncaring on the outside, yet soft, warm and compassionate on the inside.  I think Ove is LOVE without the L.

I saved the following book for last, as I intend to incorporate some of its teachings into a post about living with less “stuff.”  It ties into my year (2017) of diminished spending, which included differentiating between needs and wants, that was in part due to a period of unemployment.  More about that to come…..

14.  goodbye, things, The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki:  This is a rather short, easy read that introduces the reader to living a life without stuff.  The concept is pretty radical in my opinion, but there is substance and good advice in learning about living a life where we are not held captive by our things.  It is food for thought.

Thanks for reading my post.  If you have any books that you think I might be interested in, please send me their titles in an email, text message or via Facebook.  As one of my son’s elementary teachers used to tell her students, “Read, read, read.

My Eulogy: 1960-2018

I know what you are thinking.  Joan is writing about death AGAIN.  Not really.  Okay.  Maybe just a bit.  A eulogy is not actually about death.  It is about life.  Your life.  Think of it as a mini autobiography.  If you take the time to jot down your story, you get to say what you want about yourself-the good, the bad and/or the ugly.  Who knows more about your life than you do?  As a self-confessed control freak, I want to be in charge of what gets said about me after I am gone.  Also, on a larger scale, writing your own eulogy and sharing it with your family and friends gets people talking about death, which is such a taboo subject in our culture.  I talk about death, write about death and do not fear death.  Why? Because NONE of us are getting out of here alive.  This post is long, so I hope you will hang in until the end.  There is a poem (not written by me) that I hope provides food for thought.  Happy reading!

Joan was born in 1960, the first offspring of German immigrant parents.  She grew up in the idyllic Village of Greenhills, Ohio where everyone knows your name (and your business).

Joan was afflicted with an eating disorder in her early teens and dealt with this issue almost daily throughout her life.  While Joan believed that regret is a waste of time, she wished that her issues with food and body image had consumed less of her precious time on earth.

Joan graduated from high school and went on to attend not one, but three different  universities in pursuit of a degree.  She finally settled on Psychology as a major, but never fulfilled her dream of being a licensed counselor.   In the end, she knows that she counseled many friends and acquaintances throughout her life.  She just didn’t get paid for it, which made it even more rewarding.

Joan loved to laugh and often surrounded herself with people who were able to channel their inner comedian.  She herself was born with a sense of humor, not a trait one thinks of as common among stoic, stiff, play-by-the-rules, Germans.  Later in life she married a Guy with his own comedic genes.  They often bantered about who was the funnier one.  She now concedes that he was George and she was Gracie.  (For the younger folks, you might have to Google this reference in order to “get it.”)

Joan had a giving heart.  She always believed that if she had found her way to enormous wealth, she would not have squandered it on lavish homes and fancy cars, but would have chosen to give much of it away.  Joan lived a middle class life that was below her means, so she gave when and what she could.  A few dollars here and there add up to a lot over the years.  She WAS blessed with the gift of time and so began a lifetime of  volunteering.  As a teenager, she worked as a Candy Striper for a local hospital.  In college, she was introduced to hospice work.  She believed that those who care for people at the end stage of life do not do it as “work,” but rather as a “calling.”  She was called to spend time with the dying and their families volunteering with a few different hospice agencies.  She also donated many hours working with the local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as well as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).  It was and still is her greatest wish that horrible diseases like cancer and diabetes are eradicated soon.

Joan had several jobs throughout her life.  She was a Department Manager, Retail Buyer, Aerobics Instructor/Personal Trainer, Administrative Assistant and HR Generalist.  She did not consider one job better than another as they each provided an income,  introduced her to TONS of people and aided her in honing her work ethic.  She was starting to believe that in today’s workplace, “work ethic” is being replaced by the “whine ethic.”  So many prefer a little Chianti with their paycheck.

Joan LOVED to read.  If she had kept all of the books that she spent time with throughout her lifetime, she believed that her library would have shelved hundreds of works penned by authors she loved including Pat Conroy, Nelson DeMille, John Irving, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris and many, many more.  She also liked to write.  She knew that her posts on her blog, Joan’s Jottings, would outlive her.  It was the one place where she was “published,” though not in the literal (and often elusive) meaning of this word.  She thanks everyone who ever took the time to read her posts.

Joan also LOVED to talk.  Probably too much.  She was spirited and opinionated and this was clear when she spoke.  She apologizes to all who were held hostage as she droned on and on and on about the topic or topics of the day.  Joan was once told by a fifth grade teacher that she had “diarrhea of the mouth.”  Joan always remembered these harsh words, but as she matured, she realized that she had disrupted MANY a classroom as the teacher attempted to complete their lessons.  As a way of cleaning up her Karma, she apologized to many of her former teachers when she moved back to her hometown in 2001.  She was unable to connect with Mrs. Diarrhea of the Mouth while here on earth.  Joan hopes to catch up with her on the other side.

Joan described herself as a Runaway Catholic.  In her third decade of life, she found her way to a set of beliefs that were more spiritual and less religious.  She devoured books on spirituality and was blessed to cross paths with many kindred spirits.  One of these kindred spirits informed Joan that she was an old soul who had chosen this lifetime as a way to experience accelerated growth.  Joan’s spiritual beliefs boiled down to a handful of tenets that aided her in her growth.  These tenets morphed into the religion of joan, of which Joan was the only card-carrying member.

Joan was a wife and mother, though these titles proved to be transitory.  She earned the title of “widow” at the youngish age of 41.  This loss left her as a single mother of a three-year old boy.  She did her best to raise the boy as a decent, caring, productive member of society despite the fact that the Universe continued to challenge them.  It turned out that the boy was also an old soul who, too, had arrived here to experience accelerated growth.  Unlike Joan, he only needed 20 years, one month and one day to complete his earthly lessons.  His sudden and abrupt departure left Joan questioning EVERY tenet of the religion of joan, as well as every single thing she did or did not do as a parent.

Joan understood that she was here on her own karmic journey.  She had chosen to enter this lifetime on 8-16-60, chosen her family of origin, and chosen the lessons that had come her way.  She has no regrets, and is hopeful that the accelerated growth she experienced on earth aided her in elevating her light and vibration.  She knew that she would only be able to receive answers to her MANY questions once she crossed over.

As Joan sat down to write this eulogy, she listed her “dates” as 1960-2018.  She did this for two reasons.  She penned this mini autobiography in August of 2018 knowing that she could feasibly pass at any moment since NO ONE is promised tomorrow.  Secondly, even if she does not actually cross over in 2018, a huge part of her did die on March 6, 2018 when her only biological son departed this lifetime.  There are 58 years between the dash, which reminded Joan of a poem she once heard (ironically) entitled, “The Dash.”  She included it in her eulogy since she believed the words need to be read and heard.  What will your “dash” say about you?

The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars..the house…the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

by Linda Ellis

1996-2018 Copyright Inspire Kindness, LLC

All Rights Reserved

 

Cleaning House- A Chore, Grief Avoidance, Or Something More?

It is quickly approaching the five-month anniversary of my son’s passing.  It seems that on or about the sixth of each month, I feel the need to post something on this blog.  In some ways, time has passed quickly, but in other ways, it all seems new, surreal and frankly unbelievable.  As I have mentioned, I have kept busy in my current unemployed (my husband refers to it as “retirement”) state meticulously and methodically giving away Mark’s clothing, shoes, diabetes supplies, and more.  This consumed copious amounts of my time and energy in the first two months.  Then, just as things were settling down, I happened to notice the aging, brown, U-Haul cardboard boxes lining a few shelves in our basement.  Inside these fading containers were countless items that once belonged to my late husband and Mark’s father, Alan.  I had kept a sampling of books that he read, music CD’s, vinyl records, letters, religious (read: Jewish) trinkets and much more.  These items had sat untouched and unused for nearly 17 years.  What was I going to do with these items now that I could not share them, discuss their meaning and ultimately pass them along to Mark?  More so, what would my current spouse do with these things if I were to suddenly pass away? I did the thing I know best.  I began opening each box, meticulously and methodically going through these (somewhat) hidden treasures determined to find a new home or useful repurposing of them.

Over the course of several days in June, I spent countless hours and close to $200 in bubble wrap, boxes and postage to ship many of these items to Alan’s family and friends.  I also gave many religious books to a friend who converted to Judaism, and donated items that had little value, both monetary and sentimental.  My main objective was to insure that these items found their way out of storage and into the hands of others where they could be used, read, listened to or passed along to younger generations.  Also, as a self-described strong and independent woman, it is always my mission to NEVER be a burden to anyone, alive or dead.  If I were to suddenly pass away, I am not sure what my current husband would have done with Alan’s possessions.  He would have little to no knowledge of the contents of these cardboard homes, nor possibly much inclination to figure out what do with all of this stuff.  Now, this (huge) project has been taken care of, and our basement shelves are more sparse and devoid of their once heavy load.

As a former “grief dodger,” it has occurred to me that all of this mindless, busy work might have served more than one purpose.  Yes, I did find new homes for many things that left untouched and unused would only become out of style or no longer wanted or useful to others, but was I guilty once again of attempting to hide from grief?   I was tried and convicted of grief dodging that occurred in the days and months after Alan passed.  I had incorrectly and naively assumed that I was “okay” and that it was legal in the United States of America to disobey the laws of grieving.  WRONG!  There is no such thing as hiding from grief.  She must always be acknowledged, obeyed and dealt with.  If not, Ms. Grief will patiently and quietly wait for you like my Momma Hawk did this Spring as she secretly stalked her prey in an effort to nourish her young offspring.  I learned this lesson like I learn most of my lessons-the hard way!  I believe with 100 percent certainty  that my diagnosis of Leukemia was in direct correlation to pent-up emotions that I buried deep within my cells from the time of Alan’s cancer diagnosis straight through the   21 months following his death.  Only when I was forced to deal with my own turn with cancer did I finally take the time and energy to work with a therapist and also purge my imbedded feelings in a journal in an effort to deal with the pain and grief associated with having a spouse become seriously ill and die.  When I surrendered to Ms. Grief, she just smiled, nodded her head and took me by the hand.  She was thrilled to see me wave my white flag, acknowledge her presence and begin the work of grieving, which is the only way to begin the healing process.  Not the forgetting process, but traveling the path to some sort of acceptance and peace.

It has occurred to me that perhaps all of this cleaning out has nothing to do with my mantra, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, OR with eliminating a mindless and painstaking chore for my husband, OR as a way to commit grief dodging for a second time, but more to do with the fact that I am preparing for my own demise.  While I am most certainly NOT suicidal, it has occurred to me that I am not afraid of death, and that if I were to go now or soon, I would be reunited with my son.  Again, this is not a death wish, but a phenomenon that is common among people who lose someone close to them, ESPECIALLY a child.  Think of the recent, back-to-back deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.  Mother and daughter passed away within one day of each other.  In his new memoir, My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, Todd Fisher says that his mother “willed herself right off this planet.” I do not think that I am ready to will myself off this planet.  In fact, I just traded in not one but two cars for a new one, have begun penning my own memoir, launched a website around my intended speaking career, AND paid for the printing of business cards.  Does this sound like someone who is about to rocket off Earth and head for the Other Side?  I think not!  However, if my clock  runs out of time and my name gets called, I am ready.  And so is my basement.

 

 

A Lesson On Empathy

July 6, 2018.  It has been four months or 122 days since the untimely passing of my only biological child. We have received an abundance of kind gestures from family, friends and many people unknown to us.  This includes 97 sympathy cards and over $4,500 donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in Mark’s memory.  I have always strived to make it my daily purpose to focus on the positive and my belief that MOST people in the world are good. Perhaps this post should end here.  You know, leave them on a high note.  Not today.  I launched this blog site over nine years ago.  It was created as a place to practice writing, a vehicle to vent that costs much less than a therapist, but mostly as a chance to share my story and possibly provide some insight into our common human journey.  This post is a lesson. It is my hope that you will remain seated and attentive until the bell rings, dismissing class for the day……..

I mentioned in an earlier post that we have had people say and do the wrong things, some within hours of learning of our son’s death.  Unfortunately, this behavior has continued.  Though somewhat minimal in comparison to all of the good that has been directed our way, it has been disturbing and upsetting that these actions have occurred at all.  My husband and I had a discussion earlier this week about empathy, and whether or not it is innate or learned.  This conversation led me to my handy-dandy computer and the internet where I started poking around with the click of my mouse. Empathy is defined as, “The experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and condition from THEIR POINT OF VIEW, rather than from your own.  You try to imagine yourself in their place (or shoes) in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.” As a first generation American of German descent, I was excited to learn that the word empathy is a rendering of the German “Einfuhlung” or “feeling into.” Wow!  These often strong, stoic and sometimes somewhat cold Krauts are human, feeling, loving, empathetic souls!  The word empathy is often confused with sympathy, which is defined as “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”  The major difference between these two similar sounding words is that sympathy is a more distant form of caring than empathy.

Through my limited Google research, I quickly learned that empathy is innate. Studies have shown its presence in newborns.  Empathy is what defines us as humans.  The big BUT here is that although it is inherited, it must be honed and groomed throughout our lifetime.  It must be modeled and exhibited in the home, schools, and community. It requires practice like any skill such as the playing the piano, conquering the game of chess, or for me mastering the ever elusive quieting of the mind that is meditation. One site went so far as to say that “Empathy has been the main driver of human progress, and that we need more of it if our species is to survive.”

I spent time researching empathy as way to try to understand the behavior of the select few who have chosen to ignore or discount the pain and tremendous loss that we are experiencing as the result of the passing of our son.  They have made a decision to disregard common human decency, such as merely asking “how are you,” because they are possibly uncomfortable around us, are death phobic or might even think that grief is somehow contagious like the flu or HIV.  With that said, what I believe are the more likely culprits since these people are known to me are the following: They are insecure, jealous, overbearing, self-centered, self-absorbed and/or enmeshed in victim consciousness so therefore are incapable of giving even the slightest attention to someone in need of a kind word or a hug.  They are living in a place of FEAR, not LOVE.  (See the religion of joan for more info about this.)  They have lost or chosen to lose their innate capacity to express empathy.

In the span of just four months, I have heard the excuse, “people don’t know what to say”.  Guess what?  I don’t know what to say either, as there are no words that will bring back my son.  However, ignoring the elephant in the room is inexcusable.  (By the way, there is no “elephant” in the room.”  There is a deceased 20-year old young man who had dreams and goals for a future.) Furthermore, it has been even more disturbing and despicable that we have had certain individuals that have gone a HUGE step further into the deep, dark, murky, unsympathetic, selfish hole and have used my son’s passing as a way to focus attention on themselves or have used my dead son as a pawn in some sick game that they are playing.  This is Exploitation with a capital E.  While I will not reveal the names of these misguided souls, their demographic is interesting.  There are currently eight members, all females and all but two of them are mothers.  The most recent “hole digger” got her shovel out earlier this week.

I am a believer in the goddess that is Karma, but not in a vengeful way.  Ms. Karma is a teacher.  A quote from Buddhist, Pema Chodron says, “The idea of Karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart.”  I believe that her words also echo today’s lesson on empathy.  If you find yourself unable to understand or express empathy, I encourage you to spend some time getting re-acquainted with this God-given human attribute that is crucial to life here on earth.  If you need someone to practice on, I am available.

Oh, and one last quote for the day.  “If someone you know has lost a child and you’re afraid to mention it because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died…..they didn’t forget they died.  You are not reminding them.  What you are reminding them is that YOU remember that they lived, and that is a great gift.”

This is Empathy with a capital E.  See, I did leave you on a positive note.  Class is dismissed.

 

Backyard Murders

There.  I now have your attention.  Here is an eyewitness account from the scene of the crimes….

Sometime this Spring, a female hawk built a nest high atop our backyard pine tree. Being the good momma that she is, her daily priority is to provide food and shelter for her babies.  From her perch in the family’s home and sometimes from neighboring rooftops, she scours the area for their next meal.  One evening, we were dining on the deck when Mama Hawk (nicknamed Toni Hawk) suddenly and swiftly flew past us towards a family of bunnies munching on grass in our side yard.  One bunny leapt into the window well of the home next door, but we believe that an unlucky sibling became supper for the Hawk family.  Our leisurely meal turned into a murder mystery.

I remember a few of the science lessons I learned from my long ago school days.  For example, I can recall the concept of the Food Chain, defined as “a hierarchical series of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food.”  Simply put, this definition explains whom eats whom in the wild.  I can also retrieve from the recesses of my memory the concept of Natural Order, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the orderly system comprising the physical universe and functioning according to natural as distinguished from human or supernatural laws.”

At this current point in my life, I am somewhat hypersensitive to death and the sometimes untimeliness of it.  I fully understand the concepts of the Food Chain and Natural Order and their relation to the wild.  I know why Mama Hawk is hunting and killing in OUR BACKYARD.  She is providing food for her children.  I bet she also fiercely protects them from harm, and tries to teach them about life, which most likely includes flying lessons.

As a mother, I attempted to do the same with my only offspring.  I fed him, attempted to protect him from harm and served as his teacher.  He was supposed to develop his own wings, leave the nest and fly off into adulthood, a career, marriage, family, and fulfillment of his dreams.  Our life was supposed to follow the Natural Order of Humans, where Rule #1 is: Parents don’t bury their children.  Children bury their ELDERLY parents.  There really is no such thing as the “Natural Order of Humans.” We just like to believe that life will follow some logical and “normal” order.  It. Does. Not.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I see a cardinal on a regular basis.  I fully understand the spiritual meaning of his presence and frequent visits.  I also believe that Mama Hawk did not take up residence in our backyard as coincidence, as you know I do not believe in coincidence, accidents, chance or luck.  I think she is here to demonstrate and remind me that Natural Order only applies to nature and its wildlife. She is here to help me understand the Unnatural Order that is a purely human experience.