Archive for June, 2012

Dear Post-It Note:

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP) (Photo credit: Adrian Wallett)

This is a great post by www.mindbodygreen.com.

I think it is one that if I was reading it again for the first time, I would have my trusty post-it notes nearby me.

“What other people think is irrelevant”. . . shouldn’t that be by your computer at work?

What about, “You are enough?”  Where would you post that?

I might post it on my bathroom mirror, where I do my make up every day.

And on the table, where I have all my books that I have been using to write my dissertation, I would have, “Don’t Give Up” for all those days that I sit with my head in my hands or stare blankly at the computer screen.

Grab your pen and post it notes and then let us know where you posted your inspiration!

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Darkness Before Light

Truly, it is in the darkness that one

finds the light, so when we are

in sorrow then this light is

nearest to all of us.

~~ Meister Eckhart

I’ve written before that I think that death provides us an edge, to whole the container of our lives.

It provides us with some sort of outer limit, always there, even though most of the time we don’t acknowledge it.

And I think that is why I write this blog.

To remind us to acknowledge it.

Did you know that there is a field of study that actually looks at a phenomenon called Post Traumatic Growth?

It’s true. . . google it.

I have found, for me, that it is coming out of the darkness of grief or pain, when there was a sliver of light as contrast against the field of darkness, that I have found healing, have believed in a wholeness of sorts.

That was out of my view when I was in the midst of nothing but darkness.

It was out of my view when the sun shone brightly. . .

But it was in that moment when I was rounding the bend, starting up the hill, that I knew I had learned something profound.

I don’t know if I can say that I learned about friendship when I was blessed with the bounty of many friends.

I am not sure it was in perfect health that I understood how fragile mine was (or that of others).

I don’t think we truly understand the depth of love we have for someone until they are no longer in our lives. . . when the pain, physical, spiritual, psychological, etc. is so deep and so raw, that we get that a part of us has died along with them.

And just as light follows darkness, we get in touch again with the fact that we have lost a part of ourselves, our world and yet, nothing is forgotten or lost, we are just no longer in touch with it.

Read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book No Death, No Fear, if you really want to understand.  It is a powerful commentary on our interdependence and our impermanence.

I appreciate all those who stop by here for a little dose of my ramblings and my musings.

What a great privilege of today’s post modern world that we can all connect and share our lives.

Honoring the dark moments on your journey and the slivers of light that inform your path.

Metta, Jennifer

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I love hearing stories of caregiving.  Maybe because I grew up with a family of caregivers and it feels like home to me.

Maybe it’s because I am so interested in how we interact with each other, especially at times that give us great opportunity for growth.  And there is no other time like dying and caring for the aging and dying that can give us the gift of growth.

David Brazier, Buddhist teacher, says, “Life comes to life at its limit.”  Everything becomes intensified — our love, our strength, our anger, our fear.  I sometimes think that we need to have the edge of living with dying to bring out the best in us.

I had a recent scare with the idea of losing someone very close to me and life became intense.  Thinking of last-minute travel plans, trying to get ahold of people who could tell me what was going on, fearing that I might not make it in time. . .

I thought the limits of our relationship were drawing in on us quickly and it seemed to bring the very best in me out — the loving, care, concern, and compassion that I have placed on a shelf, at the back of a dark closet.

I wish all of the stories I hear could turn out as good as this one did for me.  The person recovered, I did not have to travel to be close, though I wanted to, and recuperation is slow but steady.

All and all, a much better picture than the one that I painted in my mind’s eye as all of the chaotic thoughts of loss swirled around and around.

The most painful stories for me are the ones where the dying person is stripped of dignity while they die.  And I really don’t mean the actual dying but rather the living their dying. . . knowing that it is coming and having everyone else think they know how it needs to be done.  When the people around the dying think they now what it means to die well.

Our need to control can be insidious at times, so subtle that we don’t have any idea of what we are doing.  We tell someone who is dying that they have to take their medicine or they have to stop smoking.

We tell them that they can’t eat something that they have always loved.  We tell the person who has the bottle of scotch close to the bedside that there will be no more of that.  And who are we?

Who are we to think that’s how someone needs to be loved at the end of this life?  Who are we to try to change the fundamental aspects of this person?

We say things like, “Mother, you shouldn’t use that kind of language” when they swear at the visiting nurse.  We correct them when they tell us things like, “Your uncle, he’s sitting over in that chair waiting for me” and we see no one in that chair.

Maybe we do and say these things out of love or out of misguided actions.  I’m not sure there is just one reason or if reason is part of this primordial need to fix things or have everyone socialized into our consensual reality.

Even when someone is living with dementia or slowly dying, we have a need to pull in the reins and have people conform to our notions.

Aging and dying can be times where we practice giving unconditional love.  We do this when a baby is born.  We don’t yell at them for soiling their diaper or throwing carrots during  a meal.  We laugh when they do things that don’t make sense.  And yet, we don’t do this for those aging and dying.

Can you imagine having something that gives you comfort when you are anxious — a cigarette, a drink, an emotion, a great curse word — and someone wants to take that from you?

Can you imagine how unloving that might feel, how being corrected and chastised could be mortifying?  You are trying to cope with what’s going on, trying to make your way through the situation and you are being stripped of it.  How lonely it might feel!

How judged and unloved I might feel if I am this person.

I think aging and dying are times in life that the human being should be celebrated, like we celebrate the miracle of birth.  What would it be like to celebrate the complexity that is the person who we care for?  What if that meant temporarily putting on hold our need to control or to do what is right and proper?

One way a caregiver can allow themselves to love more freely is to meditate on their own death.

What might it be like?

What would I want and need?

What are things/ideas/values that I would be unwilling to compromise?

What are things that might give me some comfort?

Can you settle in and let your breath relax?

Become more mindful of the flow of air that arises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation.

As you do, can you imagine what it will be like to be frail, confused, fragile, or anxious?

What kind of powerlessness might you feel as someone you once took care of has to take over caring for you?  Imagine what it might be like to be naked in front of your adult child as they bathe you or change your clothes. . .

Picture yourself being asked to take several pills when even drinking water is laborious.  Can you have mercy on yourself in that situation — wanting to live until your last breath?  Can you have compassion for what your caregiver might be going through?

We spend years sitting on a cushion, chanting, touching malas, and doing loving kindness as a practice for these moments, these last breaths.

Envision the ultimate loving kindness practice of holding space in your heart, to love an aging or dying person as if they were the baby Buddha in your hands.

Gentle, soft hands that will cradle the baby Buddha and keep him or her safe from harm.

Can you relax into just being present and loving?

And sharing the greatest gift of all, your presence?

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“We’re fascinated by the words–but where we meet is in the silence behind them.”

Ram Dass

Silence can be such a precious commodity.  There seems to be so little of it in today’s world.  Even going to a nearby state park, thinking I can run away and forget the world, and I hear the sounds of the traffic from the highway rushing by the park.

Maybe it’s because I am so introverted that I love silence and am comfortable with it?  Maybe it’s the years of meditation?  Or training as a therapist.  Coming from a small family?  Who knows, but I really do like it.

Silence can take on so many flavors and nuances if one can stand it long enough to touch it.  Right now, I work at a job where silence could be fostered much more than it is.  There are many situations with the clients that we work with where silence would be soothing and deflate situations that become volatile.  But silence is the last thing that is thought about, let alone practiced, when we have our agenda of where we need to be and how things should happen rather than letting things unfold before us.

There is such beauty in being able to sit with someone and being so comfortable in your self that you don’t need to fill the space with words.  Sometimes it’s just that that you can be present to the experience of the anxiety that accompanies the long pauses but I think that is an acquired gift.

Silence can be such a precious gem that we can bestow upon someone. . . a client, an aging relative, someone whose heart has been shredded by grief, or someone is who dying.  There’s no distraction in silence, no busy-ness, no nonsense.  Silence is intimate as two people sit in a starkness and nakedness that can be some uncomfortable and yet might be just the thing that two people are craving — the acceptance that comes with that being-with in silence.

My role is to often be silent with the person I am with. . . to hold a hand, to sit attentively, to bear withness to a person’s story or experience.  Meditation is an ideal practice for slowing down and opening the heart.  One learns, through practice, acceptancce of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  One practices having a gentle touch with that which comes into consciousness.

We learn not to get swept away, but to allow an idea or a feeling to come up and release it after labeling it.  We learn to have compassion  for the unending streams that our are brains create.  And it is in fostering this acceptance that we can cultivate this openness for another person.

So much can be created in silence, just think about the phrase a pregnant pause.  Things gestate and grow and become when they have light and space.

As we practice silence with others, we allow them the room to grow before us and in doing so, the roots of that experience grow to unimaginable depths.


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I think before we can talk about grief due to a loss because of suicide, we need to understand suicide.

I believe that psychoeducation is one of our most basic and important tools for conquering anything.

So, how do we know if our loved one needs help or is in danger?

Here is a list of warning signs from “Survivors of Suicide” by Rita Robinson.

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Suicide threats
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Statements revealing a desire to die
  • Sudden change in behavior – withdrawal, apathy, moodiness, anger
  • Depression – crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, helplessness, worthlessness
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Loss of interest in appearance
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Acquiring a weapon
  • Failing to take medication
  • Giving away items
  • Sudden appearance of happiness or calmness

There is a lot of help out there.  Contact a qualified mental health professional in your area if you need help or you are seeking help for someone you love.


http://www.griefnet.org/resources/suicide.htmlRelated articles



Related Articles:

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Death Has Many Causes

 The other day I was home with a migraine. . . it lasted a few days actually and so I spent time in a cool dark apartment trying to stay quiet.  I had on the television though I really didn’t watch it.

It must have been a Saturday or Sunday because it was a marathon of movies.

A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, and two others.

I was a bit nauseated by all the sappy American love stories.  I’m used to watch indie and foreign films or documentaries on Netflix.

But anyway, I was awake during the end of The Notebook.

Okay, I totally believe in the fact that when one elder spouse dies, the other often dies within a year.  And I believe this for a variety of reasons. . . lack of care for oneself while being a caregiver, likelihood  of already being in ill health or the statistics of being older. . . I think it is also a huge existential, spiritual, and psychological blow to loose the love of your life.

So, it’s not that I am not romantic.  I love the British poets.  I love a good story.  I love the possibility. . .

BUT, the ending of the movie just drove me crazy.

For perspective though, I get crazy when someone says that a person expired. . . we are not cartons of milk nor are we library books or movie rentals.  We don’t expire. . . unless you are looking at the etymology of the word… spire, like in spirit. . . to breathe life into . . . so to expire is to loose one’s breath or spirit.  But people don’t use the word in that way.

So, to have an elderly couple depicted holding hands and falling off to sleep like that made me itch a bit.

It’s a lovely idea.  I’m sure that my parents, married 52 years, think that it would be great to cuddle up, spooning, and never wake up. . . if that’s how you have to go.

But it’s not a reality.

We all think that we were all grow old and die with a room filled with those who love us.

I am kind of picturing some sort of Norman Rockwell painting of dying.

Death has many causes.

Reality. . .

We may die due to accident or illness.

We may live with dementia or Alzheimer’s and forget the world as the rest of us know it.

Our house may catch on fire.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that someone I knew told me her story. . . her mom went to the doctor for one thing and was admitted to the hospital and cancer was discovered.  That’s not what brought her to the doctor.

The family was trying to wrap their minds around their mom having cancer and she did not live through the night.  No one thinks about that, let alone plans for it.

Death has many causes.

Think about 9/11. . . people were going to work like they do five days a week.

We call it Patriot’s Day but I’ve never understood that name.  They were going to work like we do every other day and buying, selling, creating, negotiating, closing deals, etc.

Government officials needed to make the day political, to show that we weren’t weak Americans but strong patriots, waving flags, rather than being present to the gravity of the mass loss that came about that day.

Even on that day, people died for different reasons. . . smoke inhalation, broken walls falling in, some even decided to jump from hundreds of floors above, deciding to end their lives rather than wait for death to come.

Death has many causes.

Death is still one of the biggest mysteries in our lives.

We know the death trajectory of someone who is dying of cardiac reasons or cancer.

We understand the process that happens during a massive stroke or heart attack.

But why in that moment?

Why does one person survive an accident and others don’t?

I’m not sure if going down that road is helpful?  I think those kinds of questions allow us to keep distance from the raw, fearful experience of understanding with all of our senses that I could actually die, sitting here writing this post.

It’s not about how, why, when, etc.  It’s about. . . if not right at this moment, it will at some point.

Death has many causes.

I still believe that death is a container.

It contains our lives, gives us an edge to walk like a tightrope or to bounce off of, and gives us a boundary in which to live.

If I lived forever would I feel pressure to get my doctorate done?

If we could live forever, would I sit and watch my dad taking a nap, savoring the good relationship we have had all these years and feeling some bitter sweetness of knowing that some day, he may lose his abilities, his consciousness, and yes, one day, he will take his last breath.

And yet, I know, that I have really appreciate my parents for a long time now, while others have spent a lot of time pulling away from family or focused on creating their own lives.

I’ve done that too but their deaths are not in the back of my mind or in my far peripheral vision; that knowledge has been more like the dark floaters that you see when you stare off.

And what about my own death?

I’ve had clients work on obituaries to give them a wake up.  Helping them to remember the meaning and purpose of their lives in order to motivate change and responsibility.

But why don’t we think about this without having to be in that kind of a situation?

I don’t dwell on what dying will be like, but I do think about it.

While I am laying on the yoga mat in the corpse pose. . . when it’s late at night and I’m awake. . . when I’ve had 3+ days of migraine pain. . . when I am sitting on the airplane. . .  when I am stopped at a traffic light.

Death has many causes and we have no guarantee of the time, place, or circumstance.

Am I ready?

Do I have things left undone?

Will the people I love wonder how I felt about them?

Have I written all the words I want to write?

Have I taken the chances on the big things in life to make the moments count?

Death is the ultimate bell of mindfulness.

Am I going to keep my attention focused on all the distractions that present themselves?

Am I going to ignore the chime?

Or will I (or you) embrace it and help inform how I live, right here, right now?

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Check out Lori’s blog post. . . and please pass on to anyone you know that might be interested. happily passed this on as I know first hand how hard it is to drum up research participants

Alzheimer's Speaks Blog

New Study For Adults

Who’s Parents have Alzheimer’s


  • Volunteers aged 60 and over needed for research study.
  • Investigators are seeking healthy, right handed, native English speaking adults for a new study investigating recognition of famous names and English words.
  • Researchers are looking for adults with or without biological parents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.


  • Study Requires:
  • Completing questionnaires about your own health & your family’s medical history.
  • A brief evaluation of memory and thinking skills.
  • A short mood assessment
  • Participants will be compensated for their participation.

For more information, or to volunteer please contact

Erin Holcomb M.A.: 313.577.8369


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The Better Man Project ™

I believe that there are no mistakes…only lessons learned. In fact, I like life a lot more this way. I get the chance to look at everything I did that day and either go wow! or oooohhhh ooops. Doesn’t sound like much, but, there was a time when that type of taking notes on life mentality wasn’t there. It has helped a lot. There is no doubt in my mind that I have gained a lot more experience through doing this.

I wanted to put this picture up here because it embodies about everything I believe in. There are many times when I forget to say this to myself….”Here, now, this moment.” It really makes the world of a difference because I know what to do when I say that. I know I am happiest when I am living in this moment…because the past or future doesn’t actually exist. You…

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Sometimes we don’t have time during the work day to get to the important things. . .

I had a friend ask me about grief and co-workers and then the phone rang so I didn’t get to answer her.

I have to say, as an aside, that I love being the go-to-person for grief.  Yes, if you have read this blog, you know it is a passion of mine.

But anyway, this is kind of how it started off. . .

“So Jen Jen (note:  don’t ever call me Jen Jen . . . this one person is the ONLY person in the world that it’s okay from because the alternative was worse), I wanna ask you about grief. . . I’ve sent emails, left cards, said something in person.  .  . but what’s the best thing to do?  I don’t want to make someone cry at work. . . Personally, I hate crying and I don’t want anyone to feel bad. . . what should I do?”

I thought it was a great question, minus the Jen Jen…. but that’s another post.  LOL

So seriously. . . what do you do?

Here is my answer to this situation:

We don’t make anyone cry.  We don’t cause anyone to be bereaved.

We hurt no one by letting them know we care.

We can invite someone to get in touch with their grief, if they choose.

What most people don’t get is that the bereft are, please pardon the pun, “dying to tell their story”.

They want to hear that person’s name.

They want to share.

Well, most do.

There are some who are shut off or shut down and they will let you know.

But what I have learned over the years through others and through my own journey, is that people want to share their stories.  

Think about wearing your pink ribbon or your Livestrong bracelet.  They beg for dialogue.

Still don’t believe it?  Google grief or look around on WordPress. . . there are at least a dozen blogs of people sharing their stories of loss and healing and struggle. . .

When I was in TN, I wore my red ribbon every day.  I had no problem telling strangers that my brother died of AIDS.  Or that I had worked with AIDS patients.

Did you have a mom or a favorite aunt die of breast cancer?  Is that why you wear your pink ribbon?  Do you share her story or your story with her?

We want to connect.

We want to remember.  We often feel broken. . . we want to be re-membered. . .

We are in touch with that person, engaging their “spirit” and that very noble part of us that is not bereft but it and will always be connected with the person who died.

So in the workplace, let someone know you care.  It’s okay.  I don’t know of anyone who has ever been upset that someone showed a little kindness at work. . . and in some workplaces, it might be the only kindness that if offered.

If you are unsure, be discreet.  You don’t have to do it at the water cooler or in the middle of a staff meeting, but you can stop by someone’s cubicle or office.

Let them know if you are open to talking.  Be prepared to listen and not share your own stories; early grief usually dictates that it is their story that is important and again, if they are like most of us, their story is on their mind.

They may be foggy or scattered and even if they like you and care about you, they may be “full” and can’t really attend to you or your feelings/story.

So let them know if they can email or call you outside work.  Let them know that you are open for coffee, if they are interested.  But don’t if it is only politeness.  If you put it out there, expect that they will take you up, even if they don’t.

What I have never found to be helpful?

Ignoring the loss.

Telling someone you know just how they feel.

Going into a running dialogue about your own losses.

Telling them that the person who died is better off. . . even if you believe that. . .because (and I have to be frank here… ) most people would gladly have the person back in bad condition than to be without them.  It seems counter intuitive, but it’s true.  

Don’t tell them that time will heal.  We want it better right now or we want the person back.  Heck, we want both, right now.

I will never forget pulling out of the gas station, my first day back from driving to work after my mentor died.  I think I said, out loud in the car, “what’s wrong with these people?  Don’t they get that the most important person on the planet is gone?”  Unfortunately, 10 days later, the world was right there with me, as we sat in horror . . . watching the twin towers implode.

That week, I knew that people got how I was feeling.  I didn’t know anyone who was not touched some how and it made my own loss a bit more bearable that the whole world was grieving and at the same time, it didn’t matter.

We are forever touched by the people who come into our lives. . . even if I never meet Ben over at http://bennaga.wordpress.com/  but his poetry often moves me or Wendy at http://meaningfulwesternlife.com/ whose blog reminds me of the benefits of MBSR ,  Lou over at http://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/ who is a warrior for telling the truth no matter what,  or Marty http://ptsdawayout.com/ who shares everything he knows about mindfulness who healing hearts and brains of people with PTSD, or William at http://fiercebuddhist.org/ who inspires me to try my hand at haiku or http://mindmindful.wordpress.com/ where I find a little different perspective on all things mindful,  but my life has been touched by their blogs, by their kindness, by them showing me the ropes and answering my questions.  I would be sad if I could not check in with their daily tales and insights.

And yet these are people who I do not know.  People who have not broken bread with me, shared sorrows and joys.   But I want to share their work with you.

Can you imagine how much I want to share the wise words of my former mentor or the love that I have for my grandfather or brother?

So if you still have any doubts about offering condolences, ask yourself, if someone I cared about was gone, what would I want?  (Remember when Seinfeld or Friends went off the air?  You wanted to talk about it, right?… )

What would you yearning for when you were without a person that you loved dearly?

Hopefully that answer will sink deeper than my words.

Peace, Jennifer

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This is awesome! This is living your dash. . . what an honor.
Thanks for sharing this story!


By Pamela Sitt

Moms and dads all over the world are serving banana splits for dinner in the sweetest of tributes to a dying child and the mother who’s determined to find the joy in his last days.

Two weeks ago, doctors told Erik and Diane Roberts that nothing more could be done to save their 21-month-old son, Ryan, who was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect. Ryan had the first of four surgeries at four days old, and has since suffered a series of setbacks that made him a frequent patient at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

His hospital room “looks like a damn toy store,” Diane says. “We have a Jeep in here!”

The gifts, balloons and well wishes have been pouring in. But after Diane posted an update to her Facebook page sharing that she and her husband made the decision to issue a DNR — Do Not Resuscitate —…

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