Category Archives: anniversaries

Emotional boundaries; Emotional triggers

This March there was a completed suicide at my place of work. A young man a few years younger than Malcolm, and I hadn’t saved him. This event, coupled with the timing around Malcolm’s anniversary, sent me spiraling into the grief vortex.

I have chosen a profession where death is a daily occurrence and this recent depression made me question my choice. But the fact is most of the time I feel I make a positive contribution to the care of patients and families. Nonetheless, I have to work consistently at maintaining emotional boundaries, and there are some situations where I find myself triggered: the death of a young adult man, or when a man is sobbing at the bedside of a dying family member. Men’s tears, the sobbing body-wracked kind, move me incredibly. I want to comfort them. As I write this I realize that the only time in my life when I have witnessed a man’s profound, physical grief was watching my husband and my youngest son grieve for Malcolm.

Regardless of your chosen profession, when you have experienced a profound loss triggers are everywhere and daily living can seem like an emotional mine-field. It’s not just the special days like birthdays, anniversaries, vacation time, and religious holidays. It’s the daily news feed, the video clips on social media, Facebook “memories” that appear unbidden, and TV shows about families – the comedies as well as the dramas.  And then there are the commercials: loving families, parents hugging their children – happiness, joy. When I first came to live in America I would get homesick and cry at the AT&T commercials, especially at Christmas time – lonely mothers waiting by the phone.

We can’t avoid all of these triggers, but we can make conscious choices to avoid the avoidable ones. I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse, so I choose to avoid Law and Order Special Victims Unit. But sometimes the theme of childhood abuse enters unexpectedly in TV shows and movies, and suicide and losing a child are sadly common themes.

I am trying to create better self-care. For one thing, I have promised my therapist that I will request coverage by another chaplain if a suicide attempt case surfaces at work. And I have to monitor my daily mood and provide myself with breaks at work. I tend to work through lunch and that needs to change. Today I am taking a break to write this blog post. To me that is a refreshing break, especially when coupled with mint tea.

My challenge to you is to examine your daily life and your calendar and identify potential triggers, then be proactive in creating emotional boundaries and providing yourself with support, breaks, healthy distractions, and self-nurturing.

boundaries

http://www.thepositivepsychologypeople.com/6-signs-need-stronger-emotional-boundaries/
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Holiday Blues

candle

The following is part of a presentation I gave on grief. This part deals specifically with the holidays.

67  ADDENDUM:    HOLIDAY BLUES

The problem with “Firsts”

We are in October, there are already Thanksgiving decorations on sale; soon there will be Christmas ones. If this is the first year after a loss these events will be difficult, just like other celebrations – birthdays etc. But these holidays are not private they are celebrated publically and everybody wants to wish you joy. Some years ago a tradition developed to hold a prayer service on the longest night of the year for those who had lost loved ones. It’s called a Blue Christmas and is described as a service of remembrance and hope. You might look for one this year.

” The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:5

68   THE NEW NORMAL FOR HOLIDAYS

Let yourself off the hook – don’t try to recreate past holidays

Let go of Guilt – you’re hurting, you’re sad, give yourself a break! You don’t have to keep taking care of everyone else

Make some decisions for self-care –

  • make a restaurant reservation way ahead of time
  • don’t decorate the house, or do so minimally like a potted            rosemary tree instead of a full Christmas tree
  • Order out
  • Divide the duties

If you are having people over, order a pre-cooked dinner, or turkey, and /or           have  everybody bring something specific on the menu, including paper
products (you don’t need to get out the silver and the china), soft
drinks, and a table decoration.

69  New Normal continued

  • If you can afford it, get a maid service to come and clean
  • Get away for a few days with someone who knows and cares
  • Choose a new venue
  • Make new memories
  • Start new traditions
  • If you used to go to a special church and a special restaurant then this year choose new ones
  • Have a white elephant activity or some other fun activity on Christmas Day
  • Get some people together to go caroling in the neighborhood or at a local nursing home or hospital
  • Spend the morning feeding people at a shelter

Doing something for other people really can help us get out of our head

70   DON’T

  • DON’T show old family movies – you might be ready but everyone else might not
  • DON’T try to make everything seem as if it’s all the same as it was
  • DON’T ignore your feelings
  • DON’T ignore your Loss – or the absence of your loved one – have a special toast or add a special prayer for the one who is not there
  • DON’T drink too much – alcohol is a depressant

71   INSTEAD

  • Remind yourself of your good but imperfect past holidays – it wasn’t perfect before so it doesn’t have to be perfect this year
  • Nurture yourself – Have a private memento or picture in your pocket that you can touch when you need to so you don’t feel you are leaving them out, so that they are “coming with you.”
  • Take time outs if and when you need to for a quick weep.
  • Remember that other people around you are grieving, too, and everyone grieves differently an on a different schedule – denial, avoidance, anger, bargaining, sadness, depression, acceptance – and around and around again. You can’t fix them, but you can be patient with them, whatever stage they are in.

72  Some books and Quotes

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” ​ 

​“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ​

“We can use our personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.” ​

73 

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, http://www.ekrfoundation.org/quotes/​

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”​

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning​

“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.” ​

 74      Resources online

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76

 

77    Resources for your phone

  • Daily 7 second meditations on your phone from http://www.7secondmeditation.com/
  • “Insight Timer” APP for your phone – for hundreds of meditations. Some just music, some nature sounds, some guided meditations.

This is a sad song but listen ’til the end.

For grieving mothers as we approach Mother’s Day.

breastfeeeding_mother_holding_baby

Every day with your child was mother’s day. Every day you held them, fed them, scolded them, sang them to sleep, wiped their tears, changed their diapers, washed their clothes, agonized with them about their break-ups, celebrated their victories, supported their achievements, gave solace in their disappointments. Every day. And now no day is mother’s day. There is nothing more you can do for them, say to them, give them. No more hugs or advice. No more forgiveness for short-tempered outbursts, no more apologies for ill-thought-out judgments. Nothing. Mother’s Day is social convention. Mother’s Day is a lie. The emptiness is every day not just once a year.

I weep with you; I mourn with you. There are no useful words. Just a gentle suggestion: don’t stay by yourself on Mother’s Day. Allow someone else to share your pain. And if you can’t find someone to do that, then find a way of celebrating someone else’s day. Just don’t be alone with your sadness and loss.

Remember: You were a mother, even for a little while. You had the miracle of life in your body, in your arms, in your daily life. That was a great gift, a grace, undeserved. A hand was placed on your chest and that touch entered your heart as no other touch can. A child knew you as his or her mother. Knew that safety, that acceptance, that bountiful love. You did that. You gave that. That was precious. And those years, or months or even moments are yours to remember and treasure.

 

I am struggling

mother hug

These past few weeks it feels as if the tsnumai is winning. Each day I feel as if it is pulling me down and I am struggling more and more for breath. I thought it would get easier after his anniversary passed, but then we moved towards his birthday and I realised it is on Mother’s Day this year: May 14th. I can’t seem to get past this. I want to write something for mothers who have lost children and who are facing mother’s day with that pain. Maybe that will help.

Hope in Seasons of Loss

traces of hope

How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275

missing you

Malcolm is gone
Malcolm is cold
Malc cannot laugh
Malc cannot smile

Malcolm is forever silent
in the world
But in my head Malcolm laughs
And says ” ‘ello Mum”
And giggles, probably high on weed
Little did we guess how often, how much
But there is nothing to forgive there

Malc we don’t care about your bong
But we miss the songs you would have sung
with TJ at Flint Creek
And the jokes
And the smelly fish you would have caught
We miss the friends you would have brought to meet us
And the stories of their exploits

We miss the graduation we would have celebrated
And your struggle to find
Your bliss behind a camera or a pen
we miss your smells and your noises
your moods and your fears
we miss the comfort we might have offered
Or the support we might have shared
We miss our growing old and feeble around you
And knowing you would always care
we miss your eyes your nose your hair
– you, we just miss you.

The Play

When will I stop listening for the gunshot on March 19? When will I be able to leave the house without asking myself, if I’d stayed home that day would he still be alive? If I’d just told him I love you that morning would it have been enough to tip the balance? Why did I hesitate that day when I so often added those words? When will I relinquish the magical thought that doing it differently this year would bring about a different outcome, and he’d re-emerge from his other dimension and join ours again? When will I be able to drive away from the house on March 19 without thinking I was causing his death over again, abandoning him again, complying with the script of history instead of fighting it, re-writing it, recreating it?

Like a late night re-run the morning passes and everything is old and familiar and predictable; I know the words and the actions, the schedule. And now he is heading to class. And now he is handing in his last paper. He’ll get an A. And now he’s returning home unexpectedly, instead of going to his on-campus job. And now he is gently taking down the family portrait from the kitchen wall and placing it in his back pack. He will be adding his gun to that bag soon. A gun we didn’t know he had, didn’t want to know. A gun he kept hidden from us but legal, documented, following all the rules of safety. And now he is driving to the lakefront and choosing his location. He will lie down on the levee in view of the water, out of site of the houses. He will listen to the water and the birds one last time. He will breathe in the smell of spring grass and dust, oyster shells and fish. He will turn his face to the sun and feel the warmth, closing his eyes to savor the last moments of life. Then he will turn his right shoulder towards the ground and with his right hand pressing his gun against his heart he will squeeze the trigger and muffle the shot with his body, not wanting anyone to see his wound if they walked by.

A neighbor will hear the shot and call her friend who lives across the street from us. I think someone just shot himself on the levee near my house. I’ve called the police. I wonder who it is. And soon afterwards our neighbor will see a car pull up in front of our house and two plain clothes policemen will walk up the path to our door. Mal will be doing the dishes. I will answer the door. Does Malcolm villarrubia live here? My husband or my son? Your son. When was the last time you saw your son? Do you have id? Mal it’s the police asking about Malcolm.

They’ll come in then and we’ll sit down at the kitchen table. Is Malcolm in trouble? Ma’am your son is dead…we found his body…

And the air will be sucked out of the room and someone will be screaming I don’t understand over and over but in a soft voice – the screaming going on inside her head. Then the script will take over and we will be actors in a drama we would never audition for, and cannot remember the words to. But somehow we will move from one scene to the next, lip syncing while someone speaks our lines for us and someone else rearranges the set. Now the funeral parlor, now the house again, and then the chapel at Jesuit and someone is lowered into the ground.

I wish the play were over and we could go back to normal but someone is asking me to move closer. I don’t want to move closer I don’t like burials. Is this someone we know well, everybody here looks familiar. And then there is a party at our house. Where’s Malcolm, he should be here if we’re having a party? Why is James in town shouldn’t he be at school? Then everyone leaves and the play seems to be over but no one has told us how to exit. We are left on stage with the empty theatre and echoes of the last scene. What do we do now? I don’t know. Do we sleep? How can we sleep? It’s not our life any more it’s a play. Do we exist between the scenes – an R and G question? Will someone enter soon and give us our cues? And the floorboards in the darkened theatre creak in sympathetic tones as the lights slowly dim.