Category Archives: hope

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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Memories – Beautiful and Painful

I recently discovered the work of a local artist who had an exhibition where I work. One painting struck me to the core: it was Malcolm! Or at least it could have been. Same build.  And the cap. And he is fishing – and Malcolm loved to fish. I had to have a copy. So I contacted the artist and now I have a print hanging in the dining area.

herb willey's malcolmArtist: Herb Willey                                                                                                                              https://www.facebook.com/herb.willey

 

The painting was a beautiful reminder of Malcolm. Another reminder at work recently was completely devastating. A young man jumped off the parking garage to his death. I was at work when it happened and it plunged me into a depression. I should have been able to save him. Why hadn’t he waited, maybe I could have talked him down?  Magical thinking, of course. I didn’t even know him and had no way of knowing what he planned to do. But reason had nothing to do with my reaction.

A few weeks passed. The anniversary of Malcolm’s death loomed. And then the daughter of one of the patient’s on my floor committed suicide and they asked me to come and support her brother – he felt guilty. The mother was in a coma, and would probably never know. So he was actually losing both of them. I couldn’t do it. I had nothing to offer; I felt empty.

I walked out. I told my boss I needed a few days off.  A few days turned into a few weeks and now I am heading back to work tomorrow. (Positive thoughts and prayers would be welcome.)

What have I learned from this? Life is full of reminders, positive and negative. I cannot ever be free from them. However much we might try to insulate ourselves emotionally from the effects of our loss, there will be days when we are stabbed in the heart once again. There are suicide attempts in the hundreds every year in my city and some of them will end up in the hospital where I work.  It is inevitable. I have to find a way of keeping myself emotionally protected while being able to offer support and empathy. A difficult dance. But March 19 comes around every year, so I have no choice, I have to find a way – or give up my job as a hospital chaplain. And May 14 comes around every year, too – his birthday. I don’t want to miss the positive reminders so I will have to accept the painful ones, too. The painful and the beautiful memories – every year.

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.

Just for Today

Ten years. Ten thousand sighs. Ten million tears.

Inconceivable that it could be so long, that I have carried on.

Unbelievable became the truth;

Grief became the norm.

But slowly inconsolable became absorbed

And glimmers of hope emerged.

Would there be new life one day,

Would I be glad I stayed?

Today.

I’m glad today.

And that’s all I have.

malc smiling

Loss is like a tsunami

image
In New Orleans we are very aware of the power of great waves pushed up by hurricanes. Driving along the coast recently I was reminded of this power and how much had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

The loss of a loved one can be compared to the power of the hurricane tidal wave: it drags off someone we love and leaves devastation in its wake; the landscape of our life is forever changed. We look around and we recognize the pieces of our lives but they are all scattered, out of place. Some are damaged beyond recognition. Some merely broken. And the realisation that we have to rebuild everything again feels overwhelming, impossible, unreasonable. We just want to sit down in the midst of the devastation and quit. But we can’t. There are other people who have been made emotionally homeless along with us and we have to pick ourselves up for their sake and begin to build a new shelter, a new emotional home, a new sense of safety.

So we gather the pieces together, we reclaim our foundation and we start to rebuild.

It has been 12 years since Katrina and the coast boasts new construction on higher foundations. But in between the new houses are empty lots still unreclaimed, whose owners barely manage to keep the grass under control. Having given up and decided to rebuild their lives somewhere else the owners don’t even want to visit any more.

It has been ten years this March since my oldest son, Malcolm, died. My husband and I are still together, our emotional home has been rebuilt. We have hope and joy; we share holidays with our youngest son and extended family; we build new memories. But in our physical house, as in our emotional house, remains a room full of scattered pieces of Malcolm’s life. We visit his room, using it for hanging up shirts and holding boxes of Christmas items until they return to the attic. And on the bookshelves and in the locker remain pieces of Malcolm’s life that don’t fit anymore but we can’t part with. And that’s just how it is.

Originally written for my Traces of Hope blog, tracesofhope.wordpress .com

 

 

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

Traces of Hope

Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on my journey of healing from the loss of my son. I thank all those who have reached out to me or shared their stories on this blog.

I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my healing journey and my journey through grief and loss if you are interested in my full story.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426982211&sr=1-1&keywords=Mona+villarrubia

STAY

untitled
STAY

Pull back the veil of fate
Does it have to be this hard
Does it have to be this way
Am I too late

There’s another day
Speak to your power
Speak to your hope
Smoke another cigar
Light another fire
Stay

Pull back the veil of fate
Walk through that door
It’s not too late
We wait for you each day
We say your words each night
We need your voice

Unwrap your fate
Undo your choice
Don’t let it be too late

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.

Dreams of Malcolm

Malcolm visits me at night,

a character in my dream-stories.

One night he cried,

because he was dead,

too scared to live.

Can I do it over, mom? He wept.

No, my sweet, it’s done.