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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

It is hard to let go of things, harder to let go of ideas, and even harder to let go of spiritual pretensions. Over time, as we familiarize ourselves with the many subtle twists and turns of letting go, we begin to be more savvy about how ego steps in to appropriate the entire process. In the millions of mini-decisions we make day by day and moment by moment, we are challenged each time either to let go or to re-solidify.  ~~~  Judy Lief, “Letting Go”

This has been a huge topic in my life this year and I finally came to grips with the face that I needed to sit with this topic or go mad.  Well, not really.  More like be mad, frustrated, hurt, angry, disappointed, betrayed, etc.  And I think I could write 100 blogs articles on this topic and never feel satisfied.  But from now until my next birthday, March, I plan to look at this topic, again and again, to see what truth it holds for me.

The hardest thing to let go of this year was a long time friendship. . . no the long, long ones, but someone who I’ve known about 10 years and had immense faith in up until recently.

It’s so painful to feel betrayed and lose the fidelity of someone you consider to be family, to be a sister, and someone whom you’ve shared the intimate stories of your life.

I’ve long known that friendships did not last forever.  I’ve lived in many places and have lost touch with people mostly because we were out of proximity.  I few people I’ve even turned away from when my grief was too much and I could not take the energy expenditure it took to keep up with the friendship.

And what I have found with time is that letting go of idea, belief, quest, dream, person, etc. is that there are layers and layers to let go of.  For example, when Mike died, I lost a brother.  I lost my big brother.  I lost the person whom I looked up to, especially on things of culture as he loved music, fashion, the arts, cooking, etc.  I miss that influence in my life.  Genetically, he was the person closest to me in the world.  And for those of you who haven’t lost a sibling, that might not make sense and I hope you never have occasion to “get it”.

But just as this was true for Mike or Harris & Barb, or anyone else I have loved, it is true of our dreams, our fears, and our desires.

I ask you to join me, in the months ahead, to look at your life and see what no longer fits, what hurts, what you never use, what you can’t have because there is no space in your life, or who you need to let go, by choice or my circumstance.

Ask yourself:  How does this benefit my life today?  Does it bring me closer to my dreams?  Does it connect to the deepest part of me?  Can I trust this person?  Do I trust them enough to bring up the subject and work through the problem?  What about your health, your mental health, your body, etc?    Are there things you need to let go of, release out into the cosmos?  Do you need to say goodbye to stress, anxiety, mindless eating, anger, a stale job, or habits that do nothing or perhaps harm you?  Ask yourself what are you willing to look at?  Do you have support as you look at these things?  Maybe even start of with that question first — if you are going to let go and allow healing to occur, who is there to support you in your process?

Feel free to share via post or email.  If you use the Ask Here tab, you can email and if you tell me not to share it in a post, I will happily respect that request.

May your heart know great love and gentleness.

Jennifer

 

 

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All of a sudden, I realized that we were only a few weeks away from Christmas.  I’m visiting my parents, to do a little IT work for them on their new Mac Mini.  My father put the tree up the day before I got here.  It’s weird to see a tiny artificial tree.  But it was an undeniable sign of what season and time it really is.

Growing up in CT, we had a 10ft ceiling in our foyer and a full wall mirror that reflected our huge tree.  Dad and I would decorate the tree and Mike and Mom would bake and cook.  And then, of course, we’d critique the job the others did.  Not enough of the “good cookies”, not enough tinsel here but too much there.  This are the little moments that annoy you in the moment or pass you buy because they are so ordinary they are extra-ordinary.  And god, if they aren’t the painful little moments that you’d give anything to have again after you’ve had a major loss.

It’s been 20 years and our lives could not be more different than they were the year Mike died.  I think one of the reasons that Mike’s loss was so huge for me, (it’s do different for parents), is that his loss brought the close of the biggest and longest part of my life.  It was truly the beginning of me losing such a sense of awe in the world, the sense of wonder, and the feelings of being safe, knowing that you had family and friends who were like family, to surround you.  What I mean is this:

My paternal grandmother died when I was in elementary school.  My landlady, who we called grandma, died shortly before that.  My 16 year old cousin died.  I moved from my childhood home and then two more times.  And I left all of the kids in my elementary school and did not go on to Catholic high school with them.

It was two years after that when my grandfather died, shortly after my 16th birthday.  This was a loss I never thought I’d survive.  I did, but life was not the same.  Left CT for two years of college in NY and then got exiled to Tennessee.  A year, maybe a year and a half after being there, we found out that Mike was sick.

A family friend, Harris, died less than a year before Mike.  Harris was my best buddy, and in many ways I was the daughter he never had.  That all feels like a loss resume, not a life.  But with Harris and Mike dying, I became an adult.  I was the only child, not the baby.  I was now a caregiver, becoming a professional, looking toward grad school and leaving family.  Again, I didn’t know how we could live after all of this loss.  But we did.  And I guess I’ve had a lot of experience with impermanence and goodbyes in my life.

I share this, not to boast about my losses, but to show that our lives felt shattered and at times, there seemed to be nothing left of who we one were.  And so many of the people, the experiences, support, history connected to our family was forever gone, save our memories and shared recollections.  Our customs changed.  No more midnight mass.  No more shopping in Stamford or Westport.  No more Ralph Lauren sweaters or trying to trick Mike into not knowing what his gifts were going to be.  No more Christmases my grandparents or with Harris and his wonderful wife Barb.

It might sound trite, and I hate to say it, but life goes on.  But damn did I wonder if I really wanted it to at some of the toughest times.  The second year without Mike was the worst.  I was in grad school and the three of us tried to have Christmas in my tiny little crappy apartment.  We had traveled a long way from our Victorian-era house with our huge tree.  What was bad about it was that ALL of this loss was real at that point.  There was no where to hide, to pretend life hadn’t changed.  For two whole years before Mike died, we wondered. . . will this be the last Christmas?  Will this be the last time we take the tree down on his January birthday?  Or accepting that he’d never be able to eat mom’s Christmas cookies.  And then 10 months after he died, we somehow got through the first Christmas.  But the second, for us, was so real.  There was no turning back.  NO room for speculation.  The rollercoaster became one long downward trajectory.

Looking back, I wish I knew what I learned after working for hospice.  There, I learned to help people create new rituals, create new memories and new relationships, and to honor in communion the losses that had touched their hearts.  We’ve always been good about keeping those who have died alive in our daily conversations.  They were physically gone, but never forgot, never would we have stifled each other’s transformed relationships with all of these people we loved.  But moving forward and creating new meaning and new lifelong relationships, those things were tougher.

I learned that you are only limited by your sense of adventure, maybe your budget, and possibly not having the energy to expend right now.  At some point, you’ll be ready.    I did all kinds of things with both the kids and adults who came to see me. We created beautiful luminaries out of white paper lunch bags and kringle cut scissors.  We decorated papermache boxes.  We made beaded bracelets (not that unlike Pandora but we’re talking plastic, not rhinestones).

With out teens, we meditated, wrote songs, brought in songs that reminded of us grief or songs that reminded us of the person we lost.  We made mix tapes because playlists had not been created yet.  We brought foods that they enjoyed with us while they were alive.

I suggested having a special table cloth and always having markers on the table during the holidays.  Anyone who was “new” to the table came and left their mark. . .a message, a signature, whatever.  And you created new memories as well as having it to honor those who no longer broke bread with you.

We let off biodegradable balloons.  We made ornaments.  We created stepping stones.  We read a beautiful Jewish prayer, all as a group, to honor and remember those no longer physically with us.  We held moments of silence.  We gave to angel trees (that was actually my folks. . . every year buying a small boy something like a bike and books for Christmas.  As mom explained it, she couldn’t give her little boy gifts anymore but she could make someone else’s little boy very happy).

But, if you were here, sitting with me, I’d ask you theses questions:

What are your cherished memories of the holidays?  What customs did you have?  Do you still have them?  Do they hold the same meaning or are they altered?  What have you changed because it was too painful to continue?  Are these celebrations meaningful to you still or have they become hollow and right now you are going through the motions?

Who do you have on speed dial or whose house can you run over to when despair starts to creep in?  Have you carved out time to care for yourself while trimming trees, recreating old family recipes, lighting candles, etc?  Have you taken a moment to connect with those who are gone?  Do you keep them updated on what’s going on or do you ask them to help you carry on?

How do you keep people part of the family and honor them when kids are involved?  Have you been honest with them about the loss(es)?  Have you given your kids (or your siblings, parents, friends, etc) the invitation to grieve?  Have you loosened your tight upper lip and allowed yourself to feel with others?  What gift do you need this year?

I’d love to hear from you, to learn about those you have lost or how you lived with their dying and how you remembered them after they had died. If you have any great ideas for activities or momentos, I would love to hear from you.  Please feel free to share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with.

Wishing you a warm heart, filled with peace during this cold winter.  May you find light during your dark hours and may you hold light for others, when you can.  May you share your grief as readily as you shared your love.

Take gentle care of yourself and wherever you are in your grief, let yourself be there and be present.

With gratitude and respect, Jennifer

 

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