She's My Wife

On this day.

Four years ago.

We became man and wife.

I’ve cried hard many a day.

This.

One of the most tearful of my life.

You were so sick.

The pain extreme.

You couldn’t stop throwing up.

A true nightmare.

No fairytale. Or dream.

You were in the same clothes.

From three days before.

The experience of our union should have been beautiful.

Instead.

More like a horror.

The happy couples.

Laughing. Smiling.

All around.

I teared up silently.

And hid my eyes.

I refused to let my sorrow be heard with a sound.

They finally called our name.

We headed to the back.

Most couples smile and hold hands.

I held you up.

So your fragile body wouldn’t fall to the ground.

The officiant was taken back.

‘Cancer’, I whispered in his ear.

Quietly.

To ensure that she did not hear.

Your mini-me we had not yet told.

I could see him tear up.

A good-hearted man.

Anything, but cold.

He led the vows.

You jumping around from the pain.

I lost my composure.

Tears flowing down so hard.

My heart broken.

My soul scarred.

For eight years.

We were apart.

Only to be reunited.

Cancer.

Threatened to once again take my heart.

‘I now pronounce you man and wife,’ he said.

We left the building.

Straight to the ER.

‘We just got married,’ I told the nurses.

As I somehow cracked a smile.

‘She’s my wife.’

They brought us wedding cake and soda.

Tragically beautiful.

But all worth it.

Because I got to say those three words.

About You.

The love of my life.


John Polo is a widower, stepdad, hope & empowerment coach, author and speaker. John is the author of the best-selling book "Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms" and can be followed on his website, www.betternotbitterwidower.com, and on social media by searching Better Not Bitter Widower.


Hello, how are you?

That simple, seemingly innocuous, greeting makes me cringe on the inside. I want to be authentic and be real with people. Yet, when I am asked "How are you?" I am put in a very awkward social situation. I hurriedly go through scenarios in my mind to try and figure out how to genuinely answer the question. Does this person want to really know how I am? Some people asking the question genuinely want a real answer. Others are asking it rotely and going through the motions of an informal greeting.

If this person wants to really know how I am, how much information do I want to share with them? That is trickier. Some friends of mine really want to catch up with me and want to know how I am really doing. Others just want a brief synopsis of how it is going of late. If I surmise my friend wants details, how do I narrow down my harrowing week into a brief comment that doesn't sound horrific? I want the greeting to end on a positive note and move the conversation along away from me and my issues. All of this swirls around in my head in a split second and then I smile, nod and say, "I'm fine, how are you?" The woman inside of me is screaming "Stop! Say something! It's your chance to connect! Let them see you! Take off the mask!"

Then, to my dread, I hear these words, "You look great, you must be doing better." I smile, and say "Thank you." The woman inside screams again "SEE ME! Please SEE ME!" I keep the mask firmly in place simply because it is too complicated to be authentic.

All of us have different images of ourselves we project to others. We decide the image based on whom we are engaging and the role we play in their lives. You project a different image as an employee than you do as a parent. You project a different image as a significant other than you do as a son or daughter. The images become difficult to manage, but manage them we do! The secret to authenticity is to manage those images as close to the truth as possible, and as closely resembling each other as possible, so your boss knows the same person as your parents.

The nature of a chronic illness adds a level of invisibility and deception to your personal image. Invisibility because, for many, the illness cannot be seen. You don’t look sick and others have no idea how skilled you have become at wearing the mask of wellness. Deception because you wish to hide aspects of the illness and share certain information with only those you can trust.

I don’t know why I cringe so much when simple greetings are said to me. Yet, I cringe. In order to give an authentic answer, I have found it is best to look at the whole of myself and not just components or compartmentalization of self.

"How are you?"

“I am well.”

The whole of me is well.

That is what I am.

I am well.

 


Alias In Town is an anagram of the author's name. In every town there are alias people living with chronic illness, chronic pain, addiction and depression. Alias In Town is one of those people. Learning to live well while ill is a necessary and difficult endeavor. She learned multiple coping and life strategies to be Well. “I am more than my body. I am body, mind and spirit. My body is simply the weakest unit of the triad. Though chronic illness affects the entire triad, I have made considerable effort to strengthen my mind and spirit to find the balance of ‘Well’. - book excerpt Her style of writing is to combine multi-media formats into stories. She utilizes short essays to tell her story in words. She creates original artwork to tell her story through the end of a brush. She includes personal journal and diary entries to remain open, honest and raw in her writing. One of the most anxiety releasing activities she utilizes is art. She explores art through several mediums and included them in the book "Well." She does not claim to be a proficient artist but utilizing art is cathartic to her. She has an art website. . She has been married for 35 years with 6 children and 7 grandchildren and lives in central Ohio.


Who is that women in the mirror

Who is that women in the mirror?

I think I know her.  Yes I do.  It’s me.  The women whose husband died.  Yes, he died.  He left me.  Left me to pick up the pieces.  One by one.  Day by Day.  Week by Week.  Month by Month.  Year by Year.

I see the pain in her face.  It’s in the lines around her eyes, it’s in the lines around her mouth.  She is hollow.  She doesn’t see.  She only see emptiness.  The eyes tell it all.  The eyes tell the story.  A story you do not want to hear.  A story that you do not want to be part of.  A sad story.  A never-ending story.

Going through the motions?

You get up.  You shower.  You get your coffee.  A coffee that used to be sitting for you on the bathroom sink when you got out of the shower.  It’s no longer there.  That cup is forever gone.  You have to get your own cup of coffee.  It doesn’t taste the same.  It’s bland.  It’s just a cup of dark muddy water.  But you drink it anyway.  Because you need it.  You need it to get you going.  To get you through your daily routine.

You are on autopilot.  You shower, you do your hair, you put your make up on, you dress, and you get in your car and drive to work.  You do the same thing every day. Day after day.  Only to realize that you don’t remember doing it because you are on autopilot.  You are going through the motions.

Monkey mind!

The monkey is there.  The thoughts that consume your mind.  Going around and around in a circle like a tornado, only to never stop.  You think of the past, you think of what happened, you ask questions, you think of the future.  What future?  You don’t want to go there, you don’t want to see it “The future?”   What is it?   You can’t comprehend it?  A dark empty place.  A place where you can’t think.

The mind.  It plays tricks on you.  Why can’t you go to a good place?

I forgot how to breathe!

 What?  What do you mean, you forgot how to breathe.  Yes, sometimes I forget how to breathe, only to catch my breath.  It should be so simple, so easy, it’s part of being alive.  It’s natural.  Not for me sometimes.  It gets stuck in my throat.  I gasp.  I have to calm myself down and tell myself “just breath”, until the craziness in my soul finally calms down and I am relaxed enough to breathe.  Something so simple can be so hard.  Just breathe.

The pain in your chest!

It all comes back to the breath. The pain in your chest.  It’s like someone is stepping on your chest and you can’t breathe.  It’s there, that dark cloud, the evilness.  Never to go away.  Some days it’s not so painful.  Some day’s it hurts so bad that you can’t imagine the pain.  It hurts, it's painful, it’s in your soul, so deep it goes to the core of your soul.  To that place where you want it to go and never come back up.  It’s lurking, for its moment to slam you, so hard that you fall to your feet.

Mending a broken heart!

How do you mend a broken heart that has been shattered in a million pieces?  You don’t.  There is not enough glue on this earth to fill in those broken pieces or glue them back together.  It’s impossible.  You can put a band-aid on it, but the broken pieces are still broken, never to be repaired.  It goes into infinity and beyond.  That place never to be touched again.

When your heart has been shattered from the first time, only to be shattered a second time (from a second relationship) the only thing you can ask yourself is “How do you break an already shattered heart”?  You can’t break something that has already been broken.  You are broke, you are defeated, you are destroyed.

That place!

Where is that place?  That place where you think you are safe?  I don’t know where it is?  I have been there for so long, I have physically lost my place.  I’m here, just suspended in time, just looking.  Where am I looking?  I’m not sure.  I can’t move.  I can’t go forward.

The sounds in my head

It sounds like a freight train.  The rumble under my feet.  The movement that my feet feel, it’s getting closer and closer.  It makes me nervous.  What is it?  Is it fear?  It can’t be heartache…. heartache already came and stayed, and it stayed way too long.  It’s like a friend of mine, a friend I don’t like.  I want her to leave, but she doesn’t.

I reach out and I can’t touch her!

She stands over there on the other side of the tracks and just watches me.  She say’s nothing, she just looks.  And, I look back… at her.  No words were spoken, just looking and watching and listening to the sounds in my head.  What does she want?  I reach out and I can’t touch her.  Is she real or is she my imagination?  She looks real, she looks like me.  It is me.

 The third party in a world of couples!

Yes, that is me.  I am the 3rd one, the 5th one, and 7th one.  I am alone in a world of couples.  They are all together and then there is me.  The 3rd one and so forth.  How did I become that extra person in a world of two, four and six?  Am I the long lost soul? Am I the person who they need to fix? Take care of?  Make sure I am included?  Yes, that is me.  The 3rd one in the group.  The one without a partner.

Going home!

The drive home.  The long drive home from work.  Going home.  The drive gets longer and longer.  You do it every day.  The same drive, the same streets, the same way. And, when you get home, it slams you.  You are now home. You are now home alone.

 I am looking at that women in the mirror and I can see her so plain as day.  It’s me.  The women whose husband has died.  The women he left.  The women who has to pick up the pieces, one by one until she can’t pick them up anymore.  Yes, I am that women in the mirror.


Written by Leslie Bachman

 

 


When Grief Derails You

Definition of Derail by Merriam-Webster

Define derail: to cause to run off the rails; to obstruct the progress of: frustrate; to upset the stability or composure of —

Define Derail at Dictionary.com

  1. To cause (a train, streetcar, etc.) to run off the rails of a track. 2. to cause to fail or become deflected from a purpose; reduce or delay the chances for success or development of:

Most of us have a life plan by the time we become adults. Life has its ups and downs however, and we learn quickly that things do not always go as planned. In most cases, we pick ourselves up, revise our plans, and get back on track. We learn lessons along the way and incorporate them into our new plans. We make a conscious decision to make these changes and respond to our circumstances because we have always been told, “It’s not what happens to you, as much as how you respond to it that matters most”

I have always considered myself to be a resilient and positive person. I put a lot of thought into my decisions so that I am usually content with them. I do my research, my homework, and try my best to make good decisions based on my findings.

When I was derailed by grief and loss six years ago, all of my usual coping skills vanished. I felt powerless and vulnerable. None of the tools I had used all of my life were helping. It felt like grief totally took control and I had no say in how I responded to any circumstance, any person, or anything that was happening. The depth of pain and loss, the hurt in my heart and my soul were in charge of my responses. In addition, the fatigue, and lack of energy made it difficult for me to make decisions. I felt completely like a train that derailed, and there was no getting back on track.

As a matter of fact, getting back on track can take years. At the six year mark, I indeed have made a lot of progress. My life is different and always will be. Grief and loss changed the course of my life. With the love and support of my family and friends, I am getting back on track. I am constantly adjusting to the changes and still not totally sure of what lies ahead however I now have the courage to move forward. I remain open to the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead


Linda Andrews is a Registered Nurse. Her experience includes intensive care, pediatrics, and nephrology. She has shared end of life experiences with patients and their families. She has been there to listen and to support people who are making decisions that will end their lives.

In September of 2011, Linda Andrews lost her father and just two weeks later, her husband. During this very difficult time, she came to the realization that many people in our society have difficulty responding to grief.

Please Bring Soup is Linda’s first book. It’s intended as a gift to others who have suffered loss. She offers suggestions that help both the grievers and those who are supporting them. Through her stories and journal entries, she describes the depth of pain that comes with profound loss, as well as sharing ideas about what helps and what does not.

 


A New Decade But The Same Grief

When you’re little you can’t grasp how big the world really is. Or for that matter how small. You have your day to day life. Playing with toys, eating snacks, running around in the backyard. There’s nothing that really grasps you to the earth. You are completely free. To be who you want. A magical creature from the blue lagoon, Barbie’s new best friend or an Olympic athlete. But what you can’t imagine, is that the one is right there next to you, playing make believe day in and day out, for your whole childhood will be gone by the time they’re twenty years old.

That’s my story. I was twenty-three. She was twenty. My first life long partner, gone. No more playing with Barbies or counting Christmas lights on the way home from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. All the memories you thought would turn into traditions for a lifetime are snubbed out. Gone in thin, lifeless air. Just like that. How fucked up is it that one bad choice can ruin a life? Not just one life but many, many lives. Mine included.

My life throughout my twenties was not as expected after my trauma. I was engaged to a man, who stayed when it would have been easier to walk away. I refused to go talk to someone about my grief which was unlike me. I wanted to die on more than one occasion. Confusion, anger, and sadness all filled my bloodstream and would completely take over. I cried over anything, had irrational rage and felt so alone that getting out of bed was hard. The days were long and painful. Nothing I would wish on anyone. No one should experience pain like that.

As the days trickled on and life kept flying pass me. I had to make a decision. I needed a goal. I wanted the chance to be something other than my grief. Since the old version of myself was long gone I had to figure out who I was again. So after five years of suffering in silence, I turned up in a therapist's office. She asked why was I there? I answered simply with, “My sister died and it’s fucked up my life and I don’t want to live this way anymore.” She looked across at me listening as I word vomited the last five years. Everything I did wrong, everything I thought I may have done right. Going over moments that were so painful I would speak the words through tears. It’s very hard work and I don’t always want to talk. It’s hard to relive the most painful moments of your life over and over again. It’s intense but it’s so very necessary for my growth as a person.

I hit a major milestone. Thirty. A new decade of life. A time of reflection of where I have been and hope for the future and where I’m going. I’m a different person than I was before. I shed the skin of my first life the moment I found out my sister was gone and now I begin this new chapter without her. She doesn’t get to know me now. She’s frozen in time with the old version of myself. Time is really fascinating and painful isn’t it? It can keep things safe but can also pull the rug right out from under you. So here I am. A new decade in front of me. My grief packed up in my pocket. She will always be with me. Cheers to thirty.


Ashley’s a New York-born playwright whose trying to manage her grief one day at a time. She spends her time dreaming of magic, getting lost in books and feeling safe in the world of writing.

She began a blog a few days after her sister’s death and continues, years later, to write to her there. To follow her journey as she tries to figure out this thing called life while dealing with such a painful loss please visit http://dearalyssanoelle.tumblr.com.

Tumblr: http://dearalyssanoelle.tumblr.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ashleynaudette

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ashleynicoleaudette


Creating Harmony in Chaos

Creating harmony in chaos.  That is a big statement in today’s world.  Especially while we are in the middle of one of life’s big changes.

We are faced with so many things that draw us away from the most simple, deeply nourishing and fulfilling moments.   The voices of we are not enough……..do this…you need this…you are not enough….. etc.  What if we came back to the simple moments?  What if we already have what we need to flourish, create balance and ride the wave of life?

We do….Here are some simple quick tips to remind you:

  • * Increase your Vitamin G! Vitamin Ground, otherwise known as Earth or Nature.  Spend time in, with, on and around nature.  The benefits of spending time outdoors, in nature and on the earth are limitless to our whole being.  The sensuous characteristics of nature can inspire, nurture, calm and energize our mind, body and spirit.  Truthfully, the earth has a deeply fulfilling ability to feed spaces within our body nothing else seems to satiate.  Take a moment to observe the sunrise, listen to the birds, take a nap on the ground, walk barefoot on the beach or close your eyes to feel the wind caress your skin.  Along with that comes a healthy dose of vitamin D which benefits our well being in countless ways.  Soak up the healing properties of mama earth!  Pause and breathe it in.
  • * Speaking of breathing….BREATHE. There are techniques to breathing that benefit our mind, body and spirit.  Often when we are in the middle of chaos, the first to go is our breathing.  With just a simple deep cleansing breath, we begin to center our frazzled self.  Let’s take it one step further with heart-focused breathing.  Did you know that our heart actually sends more signals to our brain than brain to heart and our brain actually responds to the heart signals?  This means our heart has an intelligence that our brain actually listens to!  When we come from a heart-based state of being, our behavior reflects our heart intelligence with more focus, stability, awareness and openness.  With just a couple moments of time, we can experience the benefits of shifting from brain focus to a heart-based way of functioning.  Heart-based breathing has been used in many modalities for centuries and it is also the beautiful science behind HeartMath®.

Quick Coherence Technique

Step 1:  Imagine you are breathing through your heart or chest area- putting your attention here helps you center yourself and get coherent.  Take slow, deep breaths.  Suggestion:  Inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds- or whatever is comfortable. 

Step 2:  Activate a positive feeling.  Recall how it felt when you were appreciated or when you felt appreciation for something or someone.  Or you can focus on a calm, neutral feeling.

    Practice step one and two together for a minute or so and notice how you feel.  HeartMath®

  • Check in with your “wise guide inside”.  Internal inquiry means leaning into your wisdom.  The wisdom that resides within your heart and soul.  When life seems to be pulling you outward into the abyss of external stimulus, remind your brain to slow down and let your heart speak.  Bring your attention to the wisdom of YOU.  Of course external factors can play a very helpful role in our decision process.  However, remembering to check in with our own internal wise voice (not the voice of shame and blame) can make the difference in the middle of chaos.  Our wise wisdom voice is the unique expression of ourselves and when we listen, we bring a sense of heart and soul balance to our overall well being.  This might mean that in a moment of stress, we listen to our “wise guide inside” and go for a walk before reacting or choose to care for our self with a pedicure.  It is unique to you and so worth listening to.  Connecting with your inner wisdom can happen in many ways.  Take a moment and listen……how do you connect with your inner wisdom?

How we respond to our external environment allows us to find some sense of control in the situation.  We do this by shifting our focus to our internal environment, and then our response can change.  Creating harmony in the chaos of life is a continual journal of balance.  There will be moments of luscious excitement filled with joy and laughter.  There will also be moments of pain, grief and bittersweet tears.  Thus is the flow of life.  Our journey includes both and to think that we can only be peaceful during the sweet happy moments is to deny ourselves the full experience of life.  Even in great turmoil, we can find ways to create inner harmony.

Creating harmony in the chaos of life also takes conscious practice.  With daily practice, we begin to shift our overall well-being from a chaotic state to a more balanced and harmonic way of being.    Remember, we all experience the ebbs and flows of life.  Even within the strongest storms upon the ocean, there is always a deep current that remains stable in the wild chaos.  Find this place….create this place!

Be kind to yourself.  Be fierce with yourself.  Get outside, breathe and make an appointment with the wise guide inside! Become the deep flow of peace within the storm.  Even if just for a moment.

Become the harmony within the chaos.

Marni


As a Licensed Health Educator WHE® and Life Reentry Practitioner®, Marni facilitates the overall health–mind, body, spirit–of her clients. Since the death of her husband, she has navigated the world of grief, choosing to pick up the pieces and recreate herself in a life with renewed purpose. Facilitating retreats in Idaho and Belize have become a favorite way to connect with others discovering life after loss. www.coalescediscovery.com


Be Your Brother’s Keeper

This is a blog post and excerpt from my book, Life Lessons from Dad: 101 Ways to Get More From Life (From Someone Who Loves You).

The book is literally written to my children (Mandy, Aly, and The Amazing Alec) to be a sort of ‘handbook for life,’ for them as they become adults.

It covers lessons on the Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul--and a broad range of life situations from loving yourself and fighting the darkness (depression) to practical matters like getting every job you ever want and how to get rid of bad habits.

This particular life lesson is on being your brother’s keeper. It’s all about how you treat others.

Thank you for your time in reading this.

--Chip

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To be your brother’s keeper means to consider your neighbor’s needs at all times, whether they are present or not.

It is your job to be your brother’s keeper. I mean this literally, with Alec, and in a deeper sense in life towards others as well.

I don’t know that I really need to remind you to be Alec’s keeper. I’m actually looking at you, girls, while I’m writing this. I see the love of life and joy on your faces. I watch you with your brother often and see how much you love that little man. And how much he loves you, too.

I think one of the greatest moments for me as your Dad was to hear you two arguing, kind of half-seriously, half-jokingly over who Alec was going to, “live with,” when he got older. I love that, and I really feel that one or both of you truly and honestly plan on having him stay with you when, maybe, he won’t be living with your Mom and I, as we are thirty-seven and half and thirty-nine years older than our little man, respectively. The truth is, I think about this a lot; because when he’s forty, I’ll be eighty. I don’t know what life will look like then, but I want to know that we have options. It can be him living with his friends and/or independently, or it can be that he lives with and is looked out for by his loving sisters.

I think you know the most of the story about Alec’s birth, but I’m going to take a little time to tell you the details. Mandy, you were twelve at the time, and Aly you were eight. I know your part with Alec was very vivid. I don’t know if you know everything that your Mom and I went through at that time.

It was the hardest thing that either of us had ever been through, by far; but it also turned into the most beautiful experience in our lives, afterward. I hope you feel that way, too. I know having a brother with Down Syndrome isn’t easy. It’s a big responsibility, and it’s not necessarily something that you asked for in this life. We’re just blessed in that regard, I guess.

Your Mom and I decided that we’d have a third child. Your Mom was a little more reluctant than I was, but my reasoning to her made sense: We’d never regret having another member of the Franks’ brood, but there would be a big chance that we would regret not having a third. Both of you brought (and still bring!) much joy into our lives. Of all the things that we’ve done in the world, bringing our children in it, as the people that you are is our proudest.

After a gut-wrenching miscarriage, which we should talk to you more about. We knew that our baby boy would be coming into our side of the world on your Guela’s (grandmother’s) birthday: October 25th, 2011. What a day it was! We had an appointment at the hospital because they were going to induce labor for our new addition to the family. We knew he was a boy, and that everything seemed to be fine and he was healthy. Your Mom and I didn’t want to do any advanced testing, as it posed a risk to the baby; and it wouldn’t have mattered to us if he was born with defects or problems. We’d welcome him, regardless. We knew that he’d have an increased chance for a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, whereas there was usually a one in 700 or more chance for it, Mom’s age would mean that it was more like a one in 157 possibilities. But we never thought that it would happen. We had a pretty storybook life up to that time in our life.

We were happy and joyful going to the hospital. There is an “official thread of the birth of Alec Cruz Franks,” where we promised to keep everyone updated on his entry into the world, and joked around quite a bit. It was new and different then for a birth to be shared over social media. Everything went well, which is easy for me to say, as I wasn’t giving birth. This was our third time, and we had a comfortable familiarity with the process. The same wonderful doctor that had delivered both of our sweet girls was there to help us usher your brother into the world.

I was in the room when he was born as I was with each of you. They keep a sheet up between the lower half of Mom’s body and the upper half, so I was able to be close to her, and hold her hand as Alec was delivered via a C-section. As it happened with both of you, I cried tears of joy when I heard your brother’s voice for the first time ever, crying a little (but not too much). They cleaned and handed him to me as they cut the cord, and I was the first person to be in front of him when he opened his eyes for the first time.

And I knew.

Right away, I knew that Alec was different, and that he had Down Syndrome, and that our lives were never, ever going to be the same. It was a shocking, numbing experience to know that right away.

Your Mom was having a minor procedure done while they were in there, to get her tubes tied, and I was left holding our precious little man, just staring into his face, and those tell-tale almond shaped eyes for a good forty-five minutes. It seemed like forever, and as light as he was, my arms were getting numb (like my soul at the time) from holding him so long.

I was thinking over and over in my head that this couldn’t be. Our life had been pretty picture perfect to that point. No big shocks, surprises, or deaths for someone close in our family. This was the most traumatic thing that had ever happened. I was looking at this sweet, wonderful face, and I’m ashamed (but have since forgiven myself) to say that the first thing on my mind wasn’t how much I loved him. It was just shock and a kind of mourning for the child we had planned for. I was grieving. I know I SAID all of the right things to him, but it was more a sense of despair than joy at the time. I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not; or to anyone that hasn’t gone through something like this.

I remember telling both your Pa-paw and your Uncle Mike (as he was driving you to the hospital). Uncle Mike just asked me, “What’s wrong, what is it?” because he knew that something was wrong when I talked to him. I couldn’t even speak. I just cried, and cried. He kept asking what it was. Wow, I’m getting so emotional right now even writing about it, it’s all still so vivid in my mind, and probably will be forever. Your granddad was on a bike ride at the time, and he pulled over and talked to me, and I remember him saying when I said the words, “Down Syndrome,” that we were going to love him completely no matter what, and that it would be okay.

But it was still a while before it became “okay” for us. Those first two days after his birth, knowing he had DS, and also would require several surgeries in his first few weeks of life were the hardest, toughest, DARKEST days in my life. I know it was for your Mom, too. She had it worse than me, because she wasn’t allowed to see Alec due to being confined to her room while he was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). I had him to look at, to touch and caress in his bed, and your Mom was just left by herself in a dark room with the most horrible scenarios running through her head. I became okay by being with Alec, and getting to know him and his indomitable spirit, even at a few days old. I looked into his face and fell in love with that sweet boy and knew he would have my soul forever then (like you two do).

We made the announcement to the world the day after he was born, and after we told you that he had Down Syndrome. We kept everyone up to date with him and his (and our) ordeals on Facebook, and we were overwhelmed with support. We’d get little notification, “dings,” with every comment of love and support and they were like the sound of an angel at the time. You know what happened with the “Hope” hearts—Mandy, when you posted that you’d write a blue heart on your hand with the word “Hope,” on it to support your little brother and that was posted on Facebook. We suddenly started getting these hearts sent to us on Facebook from literally all over the world. From our friends and family, but also from Marines, from people in Canada and Australia, and in different languages. It was amazing and humbling, and meant so, so much to us.

We didn’t get to bring him home until Thanksgiving Day, a full month after he was born. He went through seven surgical procedures in his first six months of life, and earned the moniker, “The Amazing Alec.” He’s usually had at least one long hospital visit each year, and that part isn’t easy, but having him, and seeing YOU with him is such a joy of life!

I think you’d agree that he’s expanded all of our hearts, and that he’s made each of us more compassionate. He’s also brought so much joy and happiness just by who he is and what he does each day. He is an unfiltered light from God, and the sweetest, most affectionate boy we could ever imagine. I see you with him, and I don’t know if any feeling on Earth is better than watching y’all being so sweet and loving towards each other.

So, when I say, “Be your brother’s keeper,” I mean it in the literal sense. You didn’t ask for a brother with Down Syndrome, but he is still your responsibility too. I expect that of you if your Mom and I are somehow unable to watch him, or we’ve left the physical plane of our existence.

Please promise your Mom and I that you will always have him, and care for him. I’m pretty certain that you do already; but those words would mean the world to us.

Now, here’s the other part of this advice: Be your brother’s keeper in the larger sense of the world, too. By that, I mean always consider your neighbor as well as yourself at all times, even if they’re not with you.

This is Biblical in nature, but I just think that it makes for a better, richer, and deeper life when you’re looking out for someone else. That may mean little things like picking up trash that someone else left behind, or pausing to talk to someone that looks like they are lonely. It also means big things, like choosing a career that makes a difference to others, or trying to fulfill potential given to you by God.

I’ve written that YOU being happy is the best thing that you can do for others, and I think that some of that happiness is, or probably should be dependent on whether you’re being your brother’s keeper in the larger sense of the term. Would you truly be happy with yourself if you spent your career pushing gambling, or drinking sodas when you know it’s not right for most people? I don’t know. Obviously, you make the call on that—but I want you to consider your brother when you do these things. Are you your brothers’ keeper?

Answering “yes,” to that question is the right way to live, and I humbly suggest it for it you.

I hope you see and understand that I love you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Life Lessons from Dad: 101 Ways to Get More From Life (From Someone Who Loves You) was released this month and is available on Amazon now.

It can be found at: bit.ly/lifelessonsfromdad


Chip Franks was born at the crossroads of the world in Killeen, Texas. He has spoken on the same stages at events with Tony Robbins, Peter Diamandis, Lewis Howes, Daymond John, and Simon Sinek. He's read over 1,000 books. He is a podcast junkie, and a consummate student of life with mentors such as Robbins, Jim Rohn, Henry David Thoreau, Seneca and Joseph Campbell.  Most importantly to you reading this-he specializes in providing easily actionable ways to improve life.


Mourning Dew

Expanding essence,

settling spirit,

vibrating vitality

–a trilogy of wellness.

Even with these truths aboard,

sadness sometimes

seeps to the surface,

quietly gathers

for acknowledgment.

For it is also true,

real, and right.

Like morning dew on

leaves and grasses,

stale sorrows bead and adhere

until a being notices,

allows them to vaporize

or entwine with

restoration and revival.

Mourning dew,

warmed by

mourning light.

A gentle,

beneficial aspect

of the continued

honoring of the

veracity of grief.

 


As we all do, Sarah Carlson has many pieces to her whole. Those pieces include: mother, teacher, daughter, friend, widow, sister, skier, bicyclist, hiker, coach, drummer, and poet. Sarah lives in the western foothills of Maine where opportunities to make connections amid the splendor of the rivers, lakes and mountains are plentiful. She began writing and combining her poetry with photographs of her experiences in the natural world as part of healing from the sudden loss of her husband, Barry.  Sarah posts her poetry and photography on her blog and her book, The Radiance of Change, is available here.


The Power of Unspoken Messages

How many of us stop to consider what it means to listen? Yet, at some time in our lives each of us will have experienced that universal sense of knowing we have been heard and understood.

I first experienced this knowing in childhood. My grandfather, fifty years my senior and survivor of WWII, was the person I trusted with my innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears. Like most people I didn't stop to question it, but I knew how it felt, to be heard and understood - I felt a connection with my grandfather like no other, and I felt safe.

Years later I became a nurse and entered a career that forced me to examine what it means to listen. Qualifying as a pediatric nurse and specializing in children's mental health, I learned about active listening versus non-active listening, about the importance of listening skills.

But it wasn't until I reflected on what listening actually does that I began to understand its power.

During supervision I said to a colleague that of all my training, one skill stands out from the rest - the skill of listening.

The simple act of 'just listening' contains more healing power than any other skill or therapy. My colleague nearly had apoplexy when she heard me say, 'just listening,' before helping me to understand what listening means.

Here is what she said: "Most people, who believe they are listening, are not listening but paying attention to their own internal thoughts, opinions, feelings, and beliefs. Only aware of their own internal world and waiting for a gap in the conversation for their chance to share their views. It is called non-active because it makes no demands of the listener to listen to anyone else's voice except their own. It is lazy listening."

In everyday conversation this type of non-active listening is irritating, but it doesn't matter. But when we are in the presence of someone who is hurting emotionally or psychologically wounded, this type of non-active listening causes harm because it ignores the emotional needs of someone who desperately needs to connect and talk.

Active listening is active because it requires the listener to do something - it requires the listener to suspend their internal world of thoughts, feelings and opinions while they 'attune' to someone else's internal world, becoming fully there for that person. This kind of active listening is the hallmark of an empathic response.

"I understand how it works," I said. "But what makes it so powerful?"

She said, "It may seem as if we are doing and saying nothing, but within active listening there are unspoken messages hidden within the silences. When we listen without responding from our own internal world, we give an unspoken message that we care enough to be present in the moment and connect with someone in pain. When we validate someone's feelings, underneath the spoken message is an unspoken message that says feelings are acceptable - this is how healing begins. When we stay with someone who is experiencing painful feelings, when we stay in silence, without trying to stop, distract or turn away, we give an unspoken message that says, 'I can bear your feelings, and I won't break.'"

When someone in pain can see that we can bear their pain and we do not break, they begin to feel the power of unspoken messages - the power that helps someone to begin to believe that they too can bear the unbearable, that they will not break, and that they can survive the unimaginable.

Active listening has power. It can help someone to accept painful feelings, to feel connected, to feel safe. It is the power of healing.

Ca-ching! The penny drops - childhood memories of talks with my grandfather.


Fast forward to December 2014. Nothing prepared me for the sudden and unexpected shock of losing my beloved husband, best friend and soulmate. From normal life to living hell in the blink of an eye. My world as I knew it was gone. I was plunged into unimaginable pain. I was vulnerable - no longer the helper but someone badly in need of help, and the help I needed the most was 'active listening.'

What I mostly got was listening of the non-active kind. I have run the gauntlet of insensitive, thoughtless comments - each containing a coded message designed to shut me down, cut me off from my feelings, make me feel disconnected from others, keeping me stuck and afraid I might not survive. Here are just a few examples of my experience of non-active listening:

'I can't bear to see you this way,' [code = I can't bear your feelings so please don't show them]

'this is what you need to do' [code= I know how to fix this and I'm going to tell you what to do]

'I need you to call me so that I know you're alright' [code = my needs take priority over yours and I need reassurance and you must give it]

'I feel so much better for talking to you' [code = I have no problems leaning on a vulnerable person to get my needs met - this one is both unacceptable and abusive]

'grief will last 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years,' [code= grief has a time limit]

'you're such a good listener,' [NO! I'm in shock / grieving]

'stay strong,' [code=don't show your feelings]

'keep busy,' [code= don't feel your feelings]

'have you considered seeing a counsellor?' [code= don't bring your feelings to me]

To a vulnerable person insensitive comments like these, feel like assaults on the senses.

To protect ourselves we quickly learn to hide feelings; smiling when we want to cry, saying we're doing fine when we're not, choosing who is safe to be around (active listeners) and who is not.

We go into survival mode, putting healing on hold until it feels safe to grieve and process our feelings.

Today, I look back at things that were said in a more balanced way.

I understand that no-one set out to hurt me.

But poor listening has only one purpose - to distract attention away from something that the listener is not equipped to deal with - to help someone in their hour of need.

I was lucky, I had mindful listeners wrapping themselves around me after my loss.

Quiet, unassuming listeners, wielding power in their unspoken messages.

I thank these listeners for being there for me when I was lost.

For providing attuned, empathic responses that kept me going.

For standing by me as I stood in my personal hell - in the abyss called grief.

For showing me with powerful unspoken messages, calling me back to life, and helping me to believe that...

I will not break,

I can bear my grief,

I can survive the unimaginable,

I can feel safe again,

I can heal, and

I can learn to live, once more.


Ruth Jones lost her beloved husband, Kevin, to heart failure on December 2014. Although she is now retired as a nurse, she remains passionate about mental health issues. She enjoys the creative process of writing, and writes mainly poetry and is completing a poetry writing course at the Faber Academy in London at the end of June 2018. she also practices meditation and have an interest in Buddhism as a philosophy for living.


The Grief Cleanse

In a room filled with family and friends, I felt so alone.  Actually, I felt completely invisible.

For me to not only be aware and then to actually articulate this feeling is such a big step in my grief journey.  I have experienced anticipatory grief for months leading up to this day.  I knew this day would be filled with emotion.  This landmark is a monumental passage for all mothers.

The day our children graduate!

The day we watch our children transition into the “world” and release them from the grasps of our clenching hearts.  Children are our hearts beating outside our bodies and regardless of what people may say, watching them grow up is a bittersweet journey.  Of course we want them to blossom, spread their wings and fly.  That doesn’t mean it is easy and done without some unbridled passion and a temper tantrum or two.

A temper tantrum from mom, maybe we don’t share it out loud, but this mom wants to curl up in a corner, kick her feet and scream…. “I don’t want you to grow up, I don’t want you to get hurt, make mistakes or trip and fall.  I want you to stay right here where I can protect you, nurture you and feel like I have some control over your safety and yet, I also can't wait to watch you fly.  I trust you but I am scared!”

Do not stand between a mother and her child…

A caged wild animal is the only description that comes close to describing how a mother feels towards her children and the world.  So if I live in a world full of mothers who’ve walked this journey of releasing their children to the big world on graduation day, why do I feel so alone?

For me, it is graduation day without my late husband.  The father of my graduating son.  So today, as in so many other days filled with confusing emotions, I will do a grief cleanse.

One of the many tools I’ve learned to use in the Life Reentry Model is the grief cleanse.  It is not always pretty and I don’t like “leaning into” the pain as I've written before.  Who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves “today I will joyfully welcome my grief pain and learn from its lessons!”

In Life Reentry, we do!  Maybe not joyfully but we do lean into the grief.  We have learned that it is worth the discomfort.  It can become our lifeline into creating new life after loss.

It is uncomfortable and scary to sit with grief pain.  But time after time, my grief journal has become a constant companion filled with streams of unfiltered words, raw emotions and many things I wouldn’t necessarily want to say out loud in front of others.  Quite frankly, they are often not nice words.  And then, following the steps of a grief cleanse, it always ends up with a simple sentence birthing the honest truth of my heart wisdom.  Nothing to prove, argue or question.  Just the heart truth.

I begin with asking myself the question:

Why do I feel so alone and invisible to the large group of family and friends that surround us on this day?

Because what I would like to really do is stand in the middle of everyone and scream the following but instead, I write the words.  I just let them flow. I throw a temper tantrum with my words, pen and journal.

“I miss my best friend.  I want him to be standing next to me today.  This is our child.  I feel so incredibly alone.  I walked through Hell to get here today and made it without him.  My son walked through Hell.  He did it without his father.  Doesn’t anyone see how much pain fills our bodies on this celebration day?  Do you see how much my son misses his father and despite the horrible despair that lives within his heart, he has chosen to continue?

Does anyone see how hard it has been to reach this milestone?  To wake up each day and say yes, I will do my best today even though I would prefer to quit?  WE did it minus one, our fourth wheel.  When we didn’t want to wake up, we did.  We’ve fought so f**king hard to just breathe every single day for the last 5 ½ years. 

Oh and while I am being brutally honest, I want to lash out at all the people who said they would be there for me and the boys, yet never were.  Who pointed fingers and said it was too early for this or why don’t you do this or it’s too hard to come to your house or see you without him etc.  I want to let them know that they don’t really deserve to be celebrating this day with us because they haven’t been with us through the rough times. Where were you during the deafening darkness only to be celebrating here in the light?  If it was too hard for you to be around us during the uncomfortable, ugly, painstaking days where we stumbled to stand, you don’t deserve to be with us on the day we begin to run.” 

There, I said it. The truth of my emotions and broken heart.  Not so pretty is it?  It's probably not very nice either.  It truly is how my tender and angry heart feels right now in this moment.  It is raw and unfiltered.  The voice or anger and pain.  Love and loss.  Hopelessness and hope.  Despair and fortitude.

The grief cleanse.

No one or thing will ever satiate the pain or fix the loneliness of grief.  It isn’t anyone's job to make our journey any less or more than it is.  No one else can teach us how to breathe again or how to crawl, stand or walk.

But when I speak my emotions out loud, when I write them down to be seen and validated, it gives my grief a voice.  Validating the emotions releases the tension and invisibility of grief.  Those emotions are now acknowledged, witnessed and honored.  It is my story…spoken out loud.  From this, my lessons and wisdom nuggets of grief are born.

I am seen.  Not by anyone else.  By ME.

And then with tenderness and validation I can write the simplified truth:

I feel alone.  I miss my late husband.  It is hard to watch my son grow up without his father.  It has been hard to raise him by myself.  I am still living here today without him AND I still love him. 

Simple truth.  I’m not blaming or shaming and there is nothing to fix.  It feels so much better just getting the words out on paper.  It is such a release.

Working through our grief takes diligent work.  I now understand that if I suppress my grief voice, it only builds up into an angry dagger-like desire to point the finger at everyone else in my life and blame them for the pain. Why didn’t you do this, why weren’t you here for that.  WHY do I experience this pain? I make it the responsibility of others instead of myself.

I get it now.  I didn’t before.

My grief journey has been similar to peeling back the layers of an onion.  Over time and with daily conscious effort, I have learned so many deep truths of not only myself, but the collective human experience with grief.  At the center of grief, we are engulfed with the trauma and deep scaring of our hearts from the loss of a loved one.  This place is such a tender, raw and vulnerable place.  We’ve been attacked by the reality of life - our loved ones will die.  We will all die. There is nothing anyone can say that helps the pain during this time.  NOTHING brings them back.

Although, everyone has something to say right?  We want to make each other feel better and fix the pain.  The list of what to say or not to say to the grieving is a whole other story and lesson….for another day.

What I can say today is this:

We see pain through our lenses of reality.  It is hard to even acknowledge our own pain most days so trying to see beyond that and find empathy for others has taken a lot of study, work and practice for me.  I haven’t always been able to.  Of course we feel so alone in our pain because grief is such a personal journey.  It can’t be compared.  EVER.

One of the important steps of creating empathy for others is to begin with giving empathy to ourselves.

We can do this through a grief cleanse.  This means giving a voice to grief emotions.  As I begin to let the grief within my story speak, I can witness and validate my inner journey through my voice, my reality and understanding.  With witnessing and validation came empathy for myself.  I am seen!

With empathy for myself, I can begin to find empathy for others.  Not an easy task.  But I am choosing to do it with a lot of conscious practice.  That means a lot of grief cleanses.

THEN, I begin to not feel so alone.  At least in my pain as a human.  Yes, my grief story is mine.  My pain is unique to me and my story.  YES!

But what if all the people around me in this moment were experiencing their own pain?  What if their story is just as valid as mine?

They are.  And it is.

During the graduation ceremony, the school gave a beautiful tribute to their classmate who died from cancer during freshman year.  Her parents were there to receive the honorary diploma. Their daughter was not.

It hurts to feel others pain. Grief plays circus tricks on our hearts.  I want to be able to have awareness of others grief story.  Therefore, I have to grief cleanse, witness and validate my own story first.  This process allows me to give compassion to myself first so that it can flow to others.  Growing and cultivating new skills from the grief experience is an ongoing process every single day.  It is something I choose to do.

I want to now.  I didn’t before.

Now, because I give voice to my tender heart and speak my truth, I can breathe space into the pain story.  I know that we are all doing our best to navigate life, our trials, success, celebrations, new beginnings, deaths and births.

I am not so alone after all.  My pain has a voice.  I trust this now. 

My pain is not my identity.

The truth is, I am grateful that my son had so many people here to honor and witness his hard work.  He was celebrated for this milestone and surrounded in love by old faces and many new faces.  Although we won’t ever understand the hard work it takes for each of us to make it through the day, we still need all the love and support we can muster to give each other as we begin new journeys.

The truth is that I also wish my late husband was here to see the graduation.  I miss him every day.  I wish he could see the young man he has become despite his death.  And yes, of course his father is/would be proud.  But his father not being here to physically see him graduate is different.  It is not the same.

The truth is that I am also learning to love the new reality I am creating in this life after losing my late husband.  I am grateful for the new relationships that color my world.

Both are true.  The duality of loss hold both truths.

My son has not only learned to stand, he is now beginning to fly.  To come from a place of devastation, hopelessness and despair, he is finding new purpose using the tools he has created during his walk with losing his father at the age of 12.  His story.  Rising from the depths of his grief, he is a demonstration for so many on how to keep living after losing your father and best friend.  His story is his own and he is writing it oh so well!  That means it scares the shit out of me and makes me extremely proud at the same moment.  In a very beautiful, tenderly fierce way.

In closing, through the births and the deaths, let your grief and joy speak out loud, give it a voice, either written or spoken. While we may stand alone in our personal story, we can also reach out our hand realizing the tender pain and joy that lives within us all.  Within the story of a grief cleanse, there is a truth that only we can reveal.  Let the wisdom birth through the pain of grief.  Let the wisdom then guide us to the next step.

I see you.

Marni


Since the death of her husband, Marni Henderson has navigated the world of grief, choosing to pick up the pieces and recreate herself in a life with renewed, joyful purpose. Now, her passion lies with rediscovering life after loss and its’ relationship to our health. As a certified Life Reentry Practitioner and Licensed Health Education Specialist, Marni is honored to work alongside her clients to create a “whole picture” plan that includes the tools needed to navigate their unique journey.  Join her on a Discover Your Life Again retreat using the Life Reentry Method!  Contact Marni here or follow her blog!