Guest Blog: The blood sugar solution-Mark Hyman, MD

What life threatening, life sapping, energy robbing condition affects one in every two Americans (that is EVERY OTHER person) including 80% of those overweight and up to 40% of normal weight people?

What condition is responsible for more deaths from heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and dementia than anything else?

What condition also causes acne, infertility, sexual dysfunction and depression?

What condition accounts for more then 70% of our $2.4 trillion annual health care bill and will account for most of the $47 trillion we will spend globally over the next 20 years to deal with chronic disease?  What is

responsible for nearly twice as many deaths every year as infectious disease, even in the developing world?

And what condition is not even diagnosed in over 90% of those who suffer from it?

What condition are doctors not trained or reimbursed to diagnose, treat or prevent, yet makes up the majority of health care visits and costs?

 And what condition is nearly 100% preventable, treatable and reversible?

 

Diabesity.

 

It is the single biggest health challenge facing us individually, as a nation and as a global community.

 

Diabesity is the continuum of metabolic disturbances from mild blood sugar and insulin imbalances to pre-diabetes to full blown type 2 diabetes.  It occurs in about 40% of people of normal weight – these are the skinny fat people who look thin but are metabolically fat and have all the same risk factors for disease and death as those who are overweight.  And it occurs in 80% of overweight people.

 

Since it affects every other American, watch this video to see if you have it.

 

The solution is not coming from our health care system or doctors, not from our government, or from most corporations.  There are too many people vested in maintaining the status quo or worse profiting from making us fat and sick.  We need a solution.

 

That is why I wrote, The Blood Sugar Solution (links to www.bloodsugarsolution.com/launch/landing).

 

It has a bold central goal: to address and begin to reverse a global epidemic.

It is a personal guide and plan, as well as a program for helping people get healthy together,

based on functional medicine, and it is a blueprint for us to take back our health as a society.

Obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes or what I call diabesity, which now affects one in two Americans arises out of existing social, economic and political conditions. In fact obesity and diabetes are social diseases and need a social cure and collective action on many levels to reverse the tide. Over 10 years, these conditions will cost America over $3.5 trillion in direct costs, not including lost productivity and the costs in quality of life.  From 1983 to 2008, worldwide diabetes rates increased seven fold from 35 million to 240 million. In just 3 years from 2008 to 2011, the roll call for diabetes increased another 110 million.

 

Children less than 10 years old now get type 2 (or adult onset) diabetes, and have strokes and heart attacks by age 15 or 20.  One in three children born today will have diabetes unless we do something differently.

 

I wrote The Blood Sugar Solution to tackle this problem head on.

 

It is a personal plan that breaks through myths about obesity and diabetes that keep us sick and fat. And lays out the seven key steps to preventing, treating and reversing diabesity by dealing with the underlying causes. It is an eight-week plan that takes you through step by step how to reboot your metabolism, lose weight, reverse type 2 diabetes.

 

It is a plan for us to be more successful by working together to get healthy.

 We do twice as well and lose twice as much weight when we get

support from others in community.

We are better together.

 Our health has been hijacked from us, taken from us slowly, quietly, over the past century.

 

Our current food, social, family, school, work, faith-based, and community environments, health care institutions, and government policies make it hard for us to make healthy choices. We are presented with choices that foster bad habits. But together, getting and staying healthy is possible given the right information, tools, support, and collective action to take back our health.

 

Navigating the Terrain of Disease: Getting to the Root of the Problem

 

To effectively treat diabesity we must shift our focus away from the symptoms or risk factors of the disease and begin taking a hard look at the causes. All of our attention is on treatments that lower blood sugar (diabetes drugs and insulin), lower high blood pressure (anti-hypertensive drugs), improve cholesterol (statins), and thin the blood (aspirin). But we never ever ask the most important question:

 

Why is your blood sugar, blood pressure, or blood cholesterol too high and why is your blood too sticky and likely to clot?

 

Put another way: What are the root causes of diabesity?

 

Answering that question must be the focus of our diagnosis and treatment of the disease if we are going to solve this global epidemic.

 

The good news is that the answer is shockingly simple.

 

The Real Causes of Diabesity

 

The entire spectrum of diabesity including all of its complications—diabetes, elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol—are simply downstream symptoms that result from problems with diet, lifestyle, and environmental toxins interacting with our unique genetic susceptibilities.

 

Those are the real causes of diabesity.

 

And the reason these dietary and lifestyle factors lead to diabesity is because they create a condition known as insulin resistance. Contrary to what most people think, type 2 diabetes is a disease of too much, not too little, insulin. Insulin is the real driver of problems with diabesity.

 

When your diet is full of empty calories and an abundance of quickly absorbed sugars, liquid calories, and carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes), your cells slowly become resistant to the effects of insulin and needs more and more to do the same job of keeping your blood sugar even. Thus you develop insulin resistance. A high insulin level is the first sign of a problem. The higher your insulin levels are, the worse your insulin resistance. Your body starts to age and deteriorate. In fact, insulin resistance is the single most important phenomenon that leads to rapid and premature aging and all its resultant diseases, including heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cancer.

 

As your insulin levels increase it leads to an appetite that is out of control, increasing weight gain around the belly, more inflammation and oxidative stress, and myriad downstream effects including high blood pressure; high cholesterol; low HDL, high triglycerides; weight gain around the middle; thickening of the blood; and increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression. These are all a result of insulin resistance and too much insulin. Elevated blood sugar is not the source of the problem.

And because insulin resistance (and diabesity) are a direct outcome of diet and lifestyle, the condition is 100 percent reversible in the vast majority of cases. Most people just need to eliminate the things that are sending their biology out of balance and include what’s needed to help the body rebalance itself. For most the interventions required are extremely simply and extraordinarily effective.

 

8 Steps to Reversing Diabesity

 

In my new book The Blood Sugar Solution I outline a comprehensive 8-week plan for overcoming diabesity in all its forms. Here is a sneak preview of the steps outlined in the book:

 

  1. Get the right tests. Most doctors focus on fasting blood sugar. This is actually a poor indicator of diabesity. The best test to tease out the condition is an insulin response test where insulin levels are measured fasting and then 1 and 2 hours after a glucose drink. Demand this test from your doctor.
  2. Get smart about nutrition. Despite the media hype and the seeming confusion amongst doctors, the basics of nutrition are extremely simply. Eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates, include whole real foods like lean protein (chicken or fish), veggies, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.
  3. Get the right supplements. There has recently been a frenzy of negative reports about supplements. Most of them are unfounded. Supplements are an essential part of treating diabesity. A good multivitamin, vitamin D, fish oil, and special blood sugar balancing nutrients like alpha lipoic acid, chromium polynicotinate, biotin, cinnamon, green tea catechins, and PGX (a super fiber) should also be included.
  4. Get relaxed. Stress is a major unrecognized contributor to insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalance. Push your pause button every day with deep breathing, visualization, yoga, and other relaxation techniques.
  5. Get moving. Aside from changing your diet, exercise is probably the single best medication for diabesity. Walk for at least 30 minutes every day. For some, 30-60 minutes of more vigorous aerobic exercise 4-6 times a week may be necessary.
  6. Get clean and green. Environmental toxins also contribute to diabesity. Filter your water, look for green cleaning products, and avoid plastics when you can.
  7. Get personal. While the steps above will address 80 percent of the problems with diabesity, some may need to take additional steps to optimize key areas of their biology. Remember, the medicine of the future is personal medicine. Seek out your own biological imbalances and look for ways to address them.
  8. Get connected. Research is beginning to show that we get better more effectively when we get together. Invite your friends, families, and neighbors to change their diets and lifestyle along with you. Together we can all take back our health.

 

I hope that my book The Blood Sugar Solution will be the beginning of a larger transformation – for individuals, communities and for society.  In the book I outline all of the social, economic, biological, and medical underpinnings of this health epidemic and provide an 8-week, step-by-step system that will allow you to dig deep into your own biology and heal even the most severe cases of diabesity.

 

Get a book, get two and give one to someone you love (links to: www.bloodsugarsolution.com/launch/landing) – you might be saving their life. When you purchase the book from this link you will automatically receive access to the following special bonuses:

 

  • Special Report—Diabetes and Alzheimer’s: The Truth About “Type 3 Diabetes” and How You Can Avoid It.
  • More Delicious Recipes: 15 Additional Ways to Make The Blood Sugar Solution as Tasty as It’s Healthy!
  • Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Nutrition Coaching – FREE for 30 days!
  • Hour 1 of The Blood Sugar Solution Workshop DVD

 

For more on diabesity, join us on www.drhyman.com

 


Guest Blog: How to care for yourself when life feels broken

How do you begin to put the pieces back together again when you feel scattered and broken?

The coming of a new year can feel suffocating when the talk of new starts, big dreams and positive change leaves you feeling more disconnected and despondent than ever.  When you've been brought to your knees from pain, depression, loss or grief-- it is hard to know how to begin the process of caring for yourself and putting the pieces of your health and life back together.

The story of the birth of my business is really the story of when I was at a tremendously low and difficult time in my life.   It also happened to coincide with my experience as a new mother.

I have three young children, all close in age from 5 years old to almost 2 years old. I can remember when my second child was born, my oldest just a young toddler. I was so unprepared for the physical, emotional and mental intensity of motherhood, that I had literally run myself ragged. Eating poorly, sleeping poorly, out of check stress, anxiety and deep postpartum depression.   On top of the emotional pain of depression, my body became terribly ill with a respiratory cold that led to double ear infections and deep infection in my lungs, I couldn't move an inch without triggering vertigo and intense vomiting.

It was a pretty bleak place.

I was encouraged by many people to go and see a therapist (which would have been a very good and wonderful thing to do- I'm not against therapy), but I can still remember with such clarity the moment I heard something within me whisper the way out of the dark hole I was in.  It was as clear as day, that in order for my mind, emotions and spirit to heal, I needed to give them the raw materials - the literal nutrition they needed in order to become whole and healthy.

Some inner voice gently asked me to extend loving kindness toward myself and consider walking the path of whole nourishment. While paying attention to my soul's need for beauty, silence, friendship, meaningful work, laughter, fresh air, movement, joy, ambition.

I knew that before I could heal my emotional and mental health- I needed to begin a radical and quite frankly, simple path of putting the fundamentals of my health back together.  And I needed to do so in a way where I treated myself with extreme loving kindness.

C.S. Lewis was once quoted as saying, "When you see a man who is drowning, don't stand on the shore and yell to him instructions on how to swim.  First get him out of the water.  And then, perhaps, you can teach him how to swim."

Up until I heard my own inner wisdom speaking, well meaning people all around me were trying to teach me to swim while I was drowning. The way to begin caring for yourself when life feels broken is by getting out of the water safely.

One of the ways I believe we must do that is to focus on the "Minimum Three."

1.  Begin by feeding yourself nourishing foods.

Whole foods.  Real foods.  Don't worry about counting calories or nutrient profiles.  Begin small. Set a lovely table for yourself.  Light a candle.  Have some homemade soup with vegetables and chicken and rice.  If you are feeling depressed and anxious- lean toward warm, cooked and hearty meals.  If you feel stuck and weighted down bring in salads, dark leafy greens and grains like brown rice and quinoa.

Take is slow, but start somewhere.  Make it a point to eat breakfast every day.  Keep healthy snacks like trail mix or aged cheese around to grab instead of sugar and caffeine.

When you eat, remind yourself that you are giving your body the raw materials it needs for your mind, emotions and spirit to re-balance and heal.

2.  Take care to get restorative sleep.

It takes energy to get to sleep properly.  When we are chronically sleep deprived we get stuck in a negative spiral.

1-2 hours before going to bed, turn off all screens- no computer and no TV.  Put on soothing music.  Use essential oils of lavendar and ylang ylang.  Give yourself a warm bath and moisturize your skin afterward.

Take time to stretch and massage your feet and neck and shoulders.

Prepare your body and mind for a restorative night's sleep intentionally.  Do it as an act of kindness toward yourself.

3.  Get proper oxygen.

Be sure you are breathing properly through the day.  Stop 3-5 times a day and take a few moments of deep long nose breaths.  Nothing fancy, no advanced technique needed.  Simple close your eyes and breath through your nose in and out slowly, rhythmically.  Straighten your spine and set your feet firmly on the ground.

Get outside every day. 

Let your face see the wide open sky.  Let your lungs feel the fresh air.  Move your body.  If you feel like it, take a brisk walk and give your arms space to swing and pump.

You may be amazed at what shifts and lifts when these three foundational areas of your life are cared for.

Start anywhere, but start every day.  Begin by brainstorming ten little things you could do to support each of these three core areas of your life.  Write them down and tape it to your refrigerator.  Throughout your day make it a habit to check in and see what small thing you could offer yourself toward the care of your body.

When you begin lifting one area of your life, all the other areas of your life begin to lift as well.  It's the power and beauty of our interconnected nature.

The seasons shift one from the next almost imperceptibly.  And yet, the harvest in one season is directly related to the care and nourishment of the soil in a season past.

When we are in dark and low places of our lives, it may be hard to visualize what the harvest looks like.  But the small acts of nourishment you give yourself today will come back to you tenfold in your bright future.


--
Lisa Grace Byrne

Author of forthcoming book: Healthy Woman, Vibrant Mom: 7 habits that will make you a calm, energized and healthy mother

Helping depleted moms find their spark again: www.WellGroundedLife.com


Second Firsts: Permission to Pause

Guest Blog: Permission to Pause

By: Sue Ann Gleason
Culinary Nutritionist & Nourishment Counselor

“Hello Sue Ann, this is the social worker from Hospice. The team met today and the physician in charge of your dad’s case is thinking it might be a good idea to increase the dosage on his anti-depressant medication. He is still losing weight so we’d like to increase the liquid meals as well.”

My stomach tightens as I dial the phone to return the call.

Second Firsts: Permission to Pause“Hello Carla, thank you so much for spending time with my father and all that you are doing to improve the quality of his life. Carla? You may not know this but my dad has been living in this state of depression for the past six years. One day he was a happy, loving, effusive man who talked so much we could barely get a word in. And then, he had heart surgery and fell into an abyss.”

The doctors poked and prodded, assessed and reassessed. At one point, after many months of what looked like a deep dark depression, they treated him with a new anti-depressant. The fog lifted, but instead of the old Sam, we now had a rather manic father on our hands. He called me every night, talking incessantly. He would go off to the grocery store and not come home for hours because he made four or five additional stops along the way talking to anyone who would listen. One day we found him signing the papers to purchase a new car.

The behaviors were rather eccentric. The doctors told us he was “adjusting” to the new medication. I just stayed on the phone with him night after night, tears streaming down my face, because even though I knew his actions were a little bizarre, I wanted to hear the sound of his voice. I wanted to believe that the joyful father I had known all my life had returned.

It didn’t last. Pretty soon Sam fell back into the abyss. He was no longer the dad I knew. He lost so much weight his skin hung from his bones in folds. The spring in his step became a shuffle. The impatience in my mother’s voice accelerated, “Pick up your feet when you walk.” “Sit up.” “Drink some water.” “Eat, for God’s sake, eat.”

I found myself grieving the death of a man who hadn’t yet passed. I was grieving the death of his spirit, his joie de vivre, the pride that sparkled in his eyes when we talked. I was grieving for all the words I wish I had spoken when his mind was clear and open and waiting to hear from me. “Drop us a line,” he would say when we parted ways after a visit.

Grief has a way of robbing us of our vitality as we struggle to untangle myriad emotions. Pretty soon worry, sadness, and angst take the spring from our step and the light from our eyes.

Call it a spiritual awakening. Call it divine intervention. Call it a course in miracles. Slowly, I pulled myself out of my own abyss and used the steps I teach others in my work as a nourishment counselor:

Keep the Rhythm: Pay attention to your rhythm around food and in life. Are you making a consistent effort to get enough sleep and to exercise your body and your mind? Are you eating three meals a day that are adequate enough to sustain you? Remember, the body needs a nourishment rhythm that it can count on.

Create a Nourishment Menu: What feeds you? A walk in the woods? An intimate conversation with a wise and wonderful friend? How about music, art, dance, or just curling up with a good book? Do you give yourself permission to have fun? Every time you feel your energy leaking, replenish it with something from your nourishment menu.

Cultivate a Sense of Gratitude: Gratitude is a heart-based emotional state of being. The exercise of activating a positive feeling like gratitude literally shifts your physiology, helping to balance your heart rhythms and nervous system. A gratitude practice can make you healthier, more resilient, and more relaxed. This can be as simple as holding your hand over your heart, closing your eyes, and picturing someone or something you are grateful for.

Color Your Plate: When you find yourself slipping into grey, color your plate. Make a beautiful meal. Give yourself the gift of nourishing food and revel in the meditative process of slicing cucumbers, snapping beans, or roasting red peppers.

Give Yourself Permission to Pause: At least once a day, make an effort to slow down and notice—really notice—one thing of beauty in your surroundings. That could be the color of the leaves on the tree outside your window, the texture of a paperweight on your desk, or how the light casts new and interesting shadows as the sun moves across the sky. Dropping into the present, falling still, loving what is. Adopt the phrase that feels good to you and know that distress lies in the stories we tell ourselves about the past or the future. There is serenity in the present moment. Savor that serenity and make it a practice.

Sue Ann Gleason, founder of Conscious Bites Nutrition, is a Washington, DC-based culinary nutritionist, dynamic eating psychology coach, speaker, and writer. Her entertaining, cutting-edge articles on nutrition, healthful living, the psychology of eating, and the blissful benefits of chocolate have appeared in various publications as well as her own eco-friendly blog: ChocolateforBreakfast.com

Visit her website to claim your No Longer Asleep at the Meal ebook or check out her chocolate playground on facebook.


Life After Your Forever Ends

By:  Sharen Wendy Robertson

I first met my ex-husband when I was 14 years old, October 19, 1974. We were married about four years later on March 19, 1978. The marriage endured for 28 years, but ended in divorce on February 14, 2006 (yes, Valentine’s Day). What happens when your life with a life-long partner comes to an abrupt end? How do you pick yourself up and build a new life? How will you find the strength to go on? How do you say good-bye with your heart? Will it ever get easier? These were just a few of the questions that haunted me after my divorce.

My relationship with my ex-husband was a roller-coaster ride from the get-go, forged with a lifetime of chaos, drama, tears, laughter, loving, frustration, arguing, attraction, intimacy, hurt, etc; but we were two strong souls, committed to each other, our marriage, and our children. Our lives were intricately woven together with very little distinction as two separate individuals. We were one, wrapped up in a relationship that took decades to mold. We relied on each other, and so did everyone else around us, including family and friends. We made a life, which included raising four children and running a successful business together for 25 years. We were supposed to be together forever, but I guess sometimes forever isn’t really as long as, well…..forever.

The 5 year anniversary of my divorce just passed on February 14, 2011. I wish I could say that the divorce was amicable and peaceful but it wasn’t, in fact, it was probably one of the worst divorces ever! I could probably write a book titled “Everything NOT To Do When You Get Divorced” and make a million dollars, that’s how bad it was. I had no idea “how” to get divorced and was basically just going through the motions. On top of all that I hadn’t stopped loving my husband and could not imagine living my life without him. Fear was my constant companion, as well as prayers and tears (oh yes, lots and lots of tears). My heart was utterly and completely shattered in a way that is difficult to describe, I guess “grief-stricken” would be the correct word. The physical pain of not being around him was so excruciating I liken it to withdrawing from heroin or something (although I’ve never gone through drug withdrawal). Besides the despair and grief I felt, I also had to get used to sleeping alone at night after sleeping with someone for over 28 years. I also had to get used to waking up alone and starting the day without anyone asking if I was okay. No more phone calls throughout the day. His voice was gone. I was completely alone, feeling abandoned by my friends, family, and children.

Finances and Lifestyle

My finances and the lifestyle I’d worked so hard to build also came to an abrupt end. I wasn’t living in my home anymore, just an apartment. I had no income, alimony or child support. The job I’d had for 25 years in our family business was gone. There was no cash to split in the divorce, just a few pieces of real estate we’d worked hard to acquire in our 28 years together. I got those (and the bills that came with them) while he kept the business and our marital home (and the bills that went with those). The day after my divorce I went to my banker and remortgaged my properties for the down payment to begin building a new home of my own. I moved into my new house less than seven months later. This was a home my ex-husband and I were supposed to build together, one we’d planned for, and even though I was on my own now I decided to follow through with the plan anyway. I look back and think of why I did this, and I understand my motives. I ask myself would I have done things differently if I knew what I know now, the answer is……probably not. First of all, this was a dream house that my ex and I were planning on building before the marriage fell apart. Secondly, I subconsciously thought that maybe, just maybe if I hurried up and built the house everything would go back the way it was “supposed” to be. Thirdly, I also thought that the economy would hold up and if my finances got bad I could just sell the house and make a profit. Lastly, I thought my kids would move in with me if I had a nice, new, big house for them to live in instead of the apartment I was living in at the time. Sadly, none of these reasons ever came true. But, I still own and live in my house, even though the bills and the mortgage are sky high. There is one shining reason why I would still build this house today though, and it is because I am proud of myself for having accomplished this on my own. I set my mind to the task, didn’t let fear rule me, and I went ahead and was even the contractor for the project. I did it all by myself, and to be perfectly honest, it was a lot easier only having to answer to myself. Although, I admit I definitely missed having someone around to trust, to talk to, and to share ideas with. Sure, I was afraid every day, but I did it anyway.

Regarding my finances, well, this has been an ongoing struggle for me on my own. I was a stay- at- home mom running a family business out of my house for 28 years. In the divorce, my ex-husband didn’t want to pay alimony, and I would have had to argue with him for it, which I didn’t have the strength to do so I didn’t press him on that. Thankfully, all the years of juggling finances in my marriage and our business taught me the skills to manage on my own. I will say I’m more at ease and able to accept the ups and downs of this struggle than I was five years ago. I just continue on like I always have, plodding along one foot in front of the other. I strive, hope, and pray each day that I’m able to hang on financially for just another 6 months, but I can’t project long term. I don’t have a financial plan for my future anymore like I did for all the years I was married because losing my job in our family business and the downturn in the housing market has taken away any security I had. I used to worry and cry about it a lot after my divorce, but now I’m resigned to the fact that I can only hope to get through each new day, one day at a time. I can’t worry about not having a plan anymore. I don’t have any Social Security either because I worked all those years in the family business without taking a paycheck. I have to accept this and relinquish my worry to faith.

Dating

There really isn’t much to share as far as the dating scene goes. The last time I was single I was 17 years old, and then even before that, before I started dating my ex in high school, that would be when I was 13 years old! I haven’t dated much since my divorce, even though I’ve made lots of friends, male and female. Now, and I can only speak from my perspective, but the singles scene is nothing like what I thought it would be like when I was married. I naively assumed that there would be plenty of eligible single, healthy men my age available for a committed relationship. Wrong. Of the men my age I meet, most either drink too much, smoke too much, gamble too much, work too much, don’t work enough, are still raising young children, are not divorced yet, are looking for a gal a lot younger than I am, are way too old for me, way too young for me, are overweight, underweight, not in shape, not looking to commit, and number #1…..only looking for a “casual” relationship (if you know what I mean). It’s hard to know who to trust and unless you have a huge network to tap into, it’s slim pickins’ as far as dating goes. The reality is that even after five years of being divorced, I am still single. I’ll admit this is a disappointment to me. Part of the problem I know is that it’s been a lot harder to detach emotionally from my ex than I thought it would be. He was my “first and only” in so many ways. I see now, and I wish I knew then, that detaching in my heart from being his “wife” was going to take years. I hope one day to meet someone and open my heart just enough to fall in love again, but as the years creep on by I have learned to accept the fact that maybe that won’t happen, but the thought of this probability does not fill me with anxiety the way it used to.

A down side to not being in a relationship is the fact that I am minus the intimacy and physical contact I knew for more than 30 years. Not just in the most intimate way of “being” with someone (which I miss) but my life also lacks the simple element of touch, which includes little things like holding hands, hugging, reaching out and touching someone’s face or arm, having a shoulder to rest my head on, having arms around me sometimes when I’m washing dishes, having someone to slow dance with, and of being close enough physically to look deep into someone’s eyes, not only to see their eyes, but to know and completely trust the person who is looking back.

All the while, and through all the negative and difficult things I’ve had to adjust to in the five years since my divorce (which sadly also includes the tragic loss of my 20 year old son in a car accident, the death of my father, my step-father, and my dog) a part of me has been and continues to be moving forward. I’ve been taking baby steps all along, so small I’ve not really paid much attention until right now while I’m writing this essay. There were some days when the only step forward I had the strength to take was simply getting out of bed (and honestly, sometimes I didn’t stay out of bed very long). This is the part of me that never gives up or gives in, never sits around feeling sorry for myself, and always has hope that tomorrow will be better than today. I have a life now that does not resemble anything of the life I had while I was married, except for the fact that my integrity is intact, and also that I still don’t smoke or drink alcohol or take drugs. This new life I’ve created is overflowing with a fullness and sense of vibrancy which is unlike anything I’ve ever known.

Back five years ago, going through my divorce, I thought my life was over….really. I could not imagine my life without my husband. I’d been “his” for ¾ of my life, and I had no experience or memory of being in the adult world without him. I had no idea what to expect, and I was terrified and alone. I didn’t even have a routine I could continue to follow because I’d lost my job, my income, my home, my marriage, and my kids (they were old enough to decide and they decided to stay with their father) all at the same time. The only thing I could rely on in my life was the absolute knowledge that I would absolutely get out of bed every day even if it killed me, and I guess I built my new life from that small piece of truth and stability.

The Present

My life finally has order and a sense of peacefulness. I have charted a new career as a singer/songwriter and connected with thousands of new people through Facebook, You Tube and my website, www.sharenwendy.com none of which would have happened if I were still married. I have been on a quest to fill the emptiness I feel by finding and connecting with people who I can relate to and who can relate to me, especially since my son has died. Part of my first name is the word “share” and that is exactly what I am doing. I am now free to express myself in any way I choose, from the way I dress to the songs I write. However, this freedom is about more than being able to wear what I want or write whatever I want; no, it’s much more powerful than that. It’s something I feel in my soul and down to the core of who I am. It’s about being free to live an authentic life, which means being free to be who I always dreamed I could be. I am making my own dreams come true, something which was next to impossible when I was taking care of a husband, children, and a business. I wrote a song last year called Free and Clear which describes this inspiring, fulfilling freedom I have now. Even though I still have days when I am sad and reminisce and long for the life I had and the comfort of being “someone’s” wife, the reality is that I’m not even the same person who lived in the life I miss. I’ve grown and blossomed into this new person or better yet into the person I was always meant to be.

FREE and CLEAR

By: Sharen Wendy Robertson

I couldn’t get to the place, that I always dreamed about,
Because my mind, was haunted with so much doubt.
Then one day I looked to see, the child inside of me,
Waiting for a chance to fly, into who I always dreamed I’d be.
Now I’m standing, standing free and clear,
Step to better days, with truth to light my way.
Mmmm, mmmm, standing, standing free and clear,
Move to higher ground, with peace I’ve finally found.
With one small step I stood and walked,
Turned my back away from fear,
Truth poured from my soul, held back for many years.
And then the clouds all went away, the sun warmed the sky,
I walked through my fear, and then stood tall, free and clear.
Now I’m standing, standing free and clear,
Step to better days, with truth to light my way.
Mmmm, mmmm, standing, standing free and clear,
Move to higher ground, with peace I’ve finally found.

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Death and Dying

Death is a facet of life I became familiar with at a very young age. I recall being as young as two, learning about my Great Grandma Marika’s passing. When I would ask, “Where’s Grandma?” my mom or grandma would say “she’s with God now.” The next thing I remember doing is leaning into an incense censer my Grandma Athina used and calling into one of the crosses on it, “Grandma Marika! Grandma Marika! Where are you? I miss you.” Needless to say it had both my mom and grandma in tears – I fell asleep believing she went back to her home in Greece.

As I got older, my learning experiences with death, loss, and grieving continued onward when at eight- years-old my Uncle Jimmy (Great Grandma Marika’s son) passed away. I remember being at my Uncle Jimmy’s wake and looking around at everyone who was at the funeral home – From my Mom who was in shock at being at her first American wake (apparently in Greece the body of the deceased is not viewed) to my Aunt Athena who believed she was awake in a bad dream about the loss of her husband. It reminded me of myself at two-years old when my Grandma Marika passed and how different my view of death was. My eyes opened to a new understanding of grieving where people mourn a loss of presence – The belief that a loved one would no longer be near.

My understanding of grieving and loss broadened further when as a nine-year-old leukemia patient, I was not only faced with the possibility of my own death, but also experienced how ephemeral life is when one day I am making friends with another kid while stuck in the hospital, only to learn that days later they had succumb to their illness. As difficult a time that was for me, I can say that experiencing the “moving onward” of those friendships, as well as the feeling of my dad beaming with delight at the hint of my passing (why he wanted me dead – and even told me so to my face - to this day I do not know) gave me more drive to live and learn more about this intriguing gift I have - LIFE.

The most difficult and significant lessons on death I learned in my early twenties, when one year after the next, both my maternal grandparents passed away. I was very close to my Grandma Athina and helped her and my Grandpa Michael through some of the discomforts of their old age. My grandparents were always there for me when I was battling leukemia and at every other upturned moment in my life when I needed a good ear or shoulder to cry on. I felt more akin to my grandparents as my parents than my own because I received most of the positive support and encouragement that I needed from them and hardly ever from my own parents. What I found to be ironic about the circumstances around my grandparent’s death is that when my grandfather passed, I was the one who waited for my grandma to wake up to tell her the news and when my grandma passed, everyone else waited for me to wake up to tell me of her passing.

At this point in my life, especially after all the loss and grieving I had already experienced,  I came to a place within my own mind where I began to believe that life is like a big school where we all graduate to a different level. I started to feel this at my grandmother’s wake while I paid my final respects. I put my hand on her arm as she lay there in her coffin and felt no “life force” in her as I had while she was alive. The “life force” I once knew and felt in my grandma was a truly unique energy in itself - it’s almost like your cell phone vibrating when someone calls.

A few days after my new realization about death and dying started to sink in, my Grandmother visited me in one of the most profound dreams I have ever had. The images and message she left me with were powerful to the point were I woke up crying.  Grandma knew what I was thinking and feeling and came to me in my dream to show me otherwise.

Complements of my Grandma Athina’s dream message along with lessons I learned from my mom and her friends also helped me to get past my mom’s passing. I now know that to pass from this life is only to move forward to a new level of existence. The “presence” we mourn is the physical loss of is the multi-colored shell that God created for our Spirit to live in and learn through while we live in our now present plane of life. The shell may wither, but the Spirit always lives on and even though we may not all be aware, be it out of fear or an unpreparedness to experience, our loved ones are always around watching over us. Once you allow yourself to see, as I now have, you begin to find small signs from your loved ones, signs significant only to you, letting you know that the sadness we feel in their parting is truly for naught.


Brian's Waterfall

We had a 14' high bank behind our home that was over grown w/wild flowers, herb bushes & weeds.

I envisioned a waterfall built on the bank. On Oct 06, Brian, my youngest son, 17 yrs of age, cleared off the bank, digging & creating the tiered path the water would take on it's journey to the basin at the bottom of the bank. I hadn't figured out, at that time, how I was going to make a pond at the bottom but would figure it out later. I envisioned stones to be placed on the frontal support walls of the tiers. I found a paver form, which was PERFECT for the shapes of the stones. We took turns mixing the mortar mix in a large plastic tub & Brian filled the form w/such care & detail to the surface texture of each stone. We filled the form 20 times, giving us a total of 180 stones. Brian would work on the wall after school & got 75% of the stones applied. The rains came, we covered the bank. School & friends kept Brian busy & the bank untouched. Brian graduated HS 07,then a full time college student & working a full time warehouse job.

Jan 30, 09, he came in from class, grabbed some chips & headed back out for work at 1:45pm. It was a great day, for I had just finished my graphic design of a product idea that I submitted that day to a company interested n my design. At 3:30pm I received a phone call from the hospital. Brian had been in an accident. My best friend was taken from me that day. Neck broken on impact, so I knew he didn't suffer. With my world numbed, I donated his organs & eyes. We had a celebration of his life. For weeks I would sit in front of that dug out bank with those concrete stones slapping me back n the face. So for Brian, I decided to finish it. It took me several months, not even knowing how or what I was doing, but on June 20, 2010 at 12:30pm I finished it!

I spent so many hours of pure love and determination in finishing this glorious waterfall my son had started out of love for me. Someone called the paper, they came out the following Thursday and did a piece on it. No one knows the times I have spent during & after the construction of such, working with tear filled eyes, sometimes not even really being able to see what I was doing & talking with Brian for his guidance of what needed to be done next.

I have a Facebook photo album showing each stage of this project. It has been my salvation & a grand grieving tool. I know Brian sits next to me every night, with his arm over my shoulder whispering into my soul, "You did great Mom". (warm loving smiles my son)

Sincerely,

Deborah


Be the Phoenix

by Nina Russell Korcheck

My husband Jack and I first found each other on the telephone when I called to order flowers for a co-worker. He took my order over a phone connection that was 800 miles in distance. For some reason we just clicked and were on the phone chatting for 40 minutes. We continued to communicate, first by email and then by phone over the next few years and our relationship grew from friendship to something much more. It was a day in late September when he packed a truck with all of his belongings and drove to meet me. When he rang the doorbell and I opened the door, we gazed into each other's eyes for the first time. 2 years later we were married. Jack was my friend, my love, my life. I knew that for the first time in my life, I was exactly where I wanted to be and I was happy. I looked in his eyes and felt Home.

Jack wanted a motorcycle. I didn't. But after time he convinced me that he'd grown up riding and owning them. I knew him to be a safe driver with flawless reactions. He'd saved both our lives one Christmas Eve when a drunk driver aimed for us head on. His quick reflexes allowed us to come home that night. I trusted him with my life and he'd vowed that nothing would ever happen to me on his watch. In my eyes, he was indestructible.

He bought a new bike and even took the Motorcycle class over again to get his license endorsement in our state, scoring 100% on both the written and road tests. I still didn't like it. He'd ride with friends and I'd hold my breath until he returned. He returned every time. I hated it. We talked one day about what we'd do if anything ever "happened" to one of us and agreed that we couldn't stand the thought of the other being alone. We'd each expect only the best from each other. I made it an even bigger point to kiss Jack goodbye each day and tell him I loved him. I thought if anything happened, at least the last words he heard from me were loving.

On Wednesday July 19th, 2006 it was Drive Your Bike to Work Day. It looked as if it would thunderstorm. Jack was finishing his shower and I was ready to leave for work. I ran back up the stairs and hugged him while he was still naked and dripping wet. He said "Baby! You're getting soaked!" I said I didn't care. I wished him a happy half birthday and we briefly talked about celebrating with a dinner out. I walked down the stairs asking him "Ride or drive?" He said "Drive. 100% chance of rain." We exchanged I love you's and I drove to work.

I worked through the morning but missed making our regular morning call to each other. Each morning we'd share a moment to have a few giggles about things that had happened already that day. I went to lunch and returned to a message from the hospital near his job. I returned the call to hear that my husband had been in a serious traffic accident. I asked to talk to him and was told that he was very sick and the doctors were in with him. I was instructed where to go and left work immediately. I called my Sister, and then called my best friend to tell her that this felt bad and I thought she should come. I told her that I didn't want to borrow trouble. I didn't care what had happened. I just wanted to bring my darling Jack home with me.

When I arrived, I went to the desk in the ER and was directed to the Private Room. I instead walked to the washroom to catch my breath and prepare. The red flag of being sent to that room actually didn't hit me. I just had a gut feeling that I'd need to prepare. The women at the desk shared glances as I walked to the room and I opened the door. My Dad, Step Mom and Sister were already there. I stood in the door and said "He's ok, right?" My Sister began to cry and said "No, Baby. He's not." "But he's going to be, right?" "No." I'm not sure how long it took to absorb, or that it really did at all. I was launched into an abyss. There was no reality. There was no time. I followed the Coroner into the darkened room where my husband lay on a cot. He was peaceful. He appeared to be sleeping. He was still warm. He was silent. I kissed him. I loved him no less. The rest of the world, amazingly, did not stop moving.

Jack filled a room when he entered it and not because of his large size. He was a full 6'5", 350 pounds but he filled a room with his life force. Everyone loved him. In the few short years he'd lived in our town, he had a bigger network and more friends than I did after a lifetime here. He had perfect comic timing. He was a flawless drummer. He was Mensa. He was the one that people came to for advice and common sense. He was the huge bear that my 7 year old niece had no fear of jumping onto full force. He was my life. He was gone. Gone. How does that happen? How does someone who is so valuable and so full of life just.....end. That night I had to give the Organ Donation representative permission to take my husband's body parts.

My Sister and my best friend moved in with me and two days later took me to the doctor because I couldn't eat or sleep. I was hugged by my doctor of many years and instructed to give blood and urine samples. I did and returned to my place on the exam bench. The doctor re-entered the room and said "It's positive". "What's positive?" She said the words "You're pregnant" as I watched her lips move in slow motion. I said three words. "Thank you, God."

I returned to my home where mine and my husband's family were sitting around my kitchen table. "Are you ok?" "I'm pregnant." "How wonderful!" Then sobs.

For the next month my Sister and best friend lived with me. One month later, we all traveled out east for a memorial service held by his family and upon our return I told my roommates that I needed them to go home. Their families needed them and I needed to learn how to be alone again. I had three choices. I could let everything fall apart. I could simply exist. I could rise like a Phoenix and overcome.

Choice made. Phoenix.

Two weeks later, after more than a little pressure from my boss, I returned to work. I struggled to sort out the finances to keep from losing my home and slept on top of the covers with the tv on all night. I took Prozac to help me battle the images I'd conjured of my husband's accident and then his cremation. I hated the drug. It gave me insomnia and made me sick but I took it to keep my future daughter from becoming a victim of my grief. Prozac removed the edge, but did not remove the loss. I cried every day on the way to work, on the way home from work, sitting at home alone and until I fell asleep. I looked for and found a counselor and an online support group for young widows. I let them help me. I let my family help me. I let my friends help me. I let strangers help me. This was no simple task. I did it anyway.

My daughter was born 7 months after my husband's death. A dear friend of mine told me that Jack would be there and I kept looking for signs. They were answered. Jack died on 7/19. She was born at 7:19 am, was 7 lbs 9 ozs, 19.5 inches long. He was there. He still is.

I attended the traffic court proceedings each month and stayed on top of the court system. I struggled to understand the imbalance between my loss and the lack of punishment the person who'd killed my life would receive. I stood up in the front row, in front of the judge at each calling, wearing sweaters that would best reveal my growing belly. I looked into the eyes of the boy who killed my husband because he couldn't wait a full 3 seconds to make a left turn. At the final court date, a full year later, I rolled the stroller in with my 5 month old daughter. Impact. He had to know the impact of his actions. I was allowed to give a victim's statement and was praised by the judge for my eloquence. I was allowed to help design the plea bargain that the boy was awarded. He was charged again with drug issues before the plea term ended. He hasn't learned and may never. I hate it, but I won't let it take me down. I won't it to take both of my daughter's parents.

I've since remarried. Joe is the only "earth daddy" that my girl will ever know and he's the right one for that job. He's the right man for the person I am now. Jack is my daughter's "angel daddy". He was perfect for the person I was with him. His family is still my family and I am still theirs. I learned to love again, both my husband and my daughter, even though I'm no longer blissfully ignorant and know that IT can happen to me. To us. I start every day knowing I have to live. I live in honor of Jack. I live for our daughter. I live to give my new husband and my daughter all of me because to live without doing so would be a dishonor to all of us.

Look up. To God. To the future.
Don't count time. Let it be.
Be grateful. You had him or her and were blessed.
Only your rules count. They must be tempered with respect.
Be the phoenix.

Sincerely,
Nina Russell Korcheck


A Key Away From A Bed

By Rita Amstrong

No parent should have to cover up their child before the undertaker closes the lid. Yet, this happens much, much too often, day in, day out in our communities without the toll on our lives being heard. Anna’s story and other stories of senseless crime needs a voice. I am that voice… On October 6, 2004, I became what now defines me, consumes me, and has forever changed who I am: a co-victim of homicide. My daughter, Anna Nicole Fowler, was raped, robbed and murdered; then left, rolled up in a blanket, by a broken motel room window because the perpetrator could not get rid of her.
She had just turned nineteen…

What words can I possibly use to effectively convey the sheer agony, immense hurt, incapacitating grief, utter longing and unimaginable suffering that continues to haunt my soul. This loss has profoundly affected me at a very primal level. I have been forced to survive, yet will always walk alongside the victimization of my daughter and my life…as I evolve from the person I used to be to the person I have to become in order to continue on and not let my daughter’s death be in vain.

Losing a child under any circumstances is devastating, but to homicide? It was unimaginable. This happens to other people I see on the news, not me. This was not of my world, my life. I can still remember watching one yellow leaf float peacefully past the window while two detectives gently tried to explain the unexplainable. I called one a liar. You couldn’t possibly have my daughter; her resume is on the table; she has a job interview tomorrow. But it was me; it was my daughter who now lay in the morgue, a statistic among many, many others. I now felt robbed, violated; as the perpetrator killed a part of me that night as well. I am no longer the same wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister or friend. I can only work part-time as an RN; as I have PTSD.
The senseless, horrible loss of my child has impacted me not just emotionally but physically and spiritually as well. The pain was so unbearable at times just to get out of bed was overwhelming. Other days I felt like my heart was physically breaking in two causing crushing, heavy throbbing pain that sent me to the hospital on several occasions. The only time the pain in my heart would stop was when I was asleep; only to return with a vengeance upon awakening. In the beginning stages of my grief journey the anguish to see her, hear her voice, just touch her one.. more.. time…made my question my values and beliefs; to challenge all that I believed this world and beyond….to be. Blinded by tears, I crawled around the house looking for her one day; another day I buried myself in her closet, pulling her clothes down all around me, trying to remember her sweet smell. I would wear her clothes, right down to her underwear and curl my long dark hair; hoping that if I looked like her in some small way she would still be alive. We had to move from our home; as I would sit by the window, my heading resting on the cold, hard windowsill, day in, day out, watching for Anna to come home; her stereo silent and her favorite cherry sandals waiting by the front door.

The unacceptable

Most of the time I felt like I was just going crazy, as I tried in vain to accept… the unacceptable. I called it “being in the pit.” It felt like I was ever so slowly trying to crawl to the top of a very deep hole; only to fall down into the abyss again…and…again. I had to hold on to the promise that I would get to the other side; spend less time in the pit, that there would be a new tomorrow, that I might even learn to smile again. But how could this possibly happen? The task seemed so overwhelming in the beginning: I not only lose my only daughter but my best friend. No more shopping excursions, trips to the shore, no late night snuggling as I wrapped my finger around one of her long dark curls as we talked about her future..one that was now…never to be… Relationships with family and friends were altered as well. Some stayed right by my side while others ran for the hills; coworkers avoided me because they were uncomfortable being associated with murder; almost as if they were afraid they would bring it home to their own families. I had one friend see me in a store, turn and walk the other way. She later explained she didn’t know what to say, she was afraid to even look at me. With my bereavement counselor’s gentle guidance; I tried to understand that this was more the norm than I had realized. I also needed to come to the realization that I had to find the inner strength that I didn’t think I had. Also, that new roles would have to be formed in order for me to survive. I had to accept the fact that I had to do what was best for me. I learned it was ok not to be the caretaker, that I was the one that needed to be taken care of..and that as a mother and as a woman this too was ok. In the safety of her office, I was able to verbalize the anguish and hopelessness I felt until they were no longer part of my existence. There, as well, I learned how to redefine my role as a wife, mother, sister.. different, yes, better, definitely. I had a hard choice to make that first day on her couch, box of tissues in hand: I could run my car into a tree (as I asked God to take me many, many times); I could hide under the covers for the rest of my life (family and friends spent countless hours sitting at the end of my bed), or do the hardest work I would ever have to encounter: crawl through the grief until I got to the other side. Grief for me came in waves: waves of hurt, denial, sadness, despair, anger, bargaining, guilt; emotions poured out that I didn’t even know I had. Some were small waves that I was able to jump over rather easily; others would wash over me again and again until I thought I was going to drown. Grief served as an umbilical cord to keep her close to me. My sorrow kept us wrapped together, and I still wanted that badly. I had to accept that she was no farther away or closer to me regardless of my emotional state. She was dead despite what I did or did not do.

Once I was able to look outside myself I saw that the people around me were grieving too. And they needed to grieve in their own way; that there was no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone wanted to believe I was doing well to relieve their own anxiety over what had happened. If they didn’t ask; I didn’t have to tell. And when I stopped crying for just a minute; I could sometimes hear their tears. Just as I was grieving for Anna; they grieved not just for the loss of Anna, but for how useless they felt. They verbalized to me that this tragedy has affected them profoundly as well. They hug their children tighter; kiss their husbands goodbye more often and always, always realize now the potential for, God forbid, this happening to them. Then apologize to me because her death has made them a better person. I struggled in the privacy of a small office in Skippack week after week to not only forgive the people in my life that were unable to cope with what happened; but to forgive myself for what had happened to Anna.

I was powerless

Powerlessness is perhaps the worse emotion to face. Homicide takes away control over every aspect of your life. I was powerless to save her; powerless to be with her as she took her last breath; was powerless in the courtroom as well. The fate of the person who took Anna’s life was left up to lawyers, jurors, strangers, to decide. Our family had no say; no input; were not even allowed to cry out when testimony got to be too much. My son, my brother, even a disabled aunt were taken out, downstairs to be locked up for lashing out when the horror of hearing and seeing pictures of what happened to their loved one was repeated… over and over. Anna’s dad and I couldn’t even stay in the courtroom for the coroner’s testimony; afraid if we had seen anything we would have held hands and jumped out of a window. This went on for three and a half years. That is how long it took from her murder to sentencing; that is how long it took for our family to get closure. We finally convinced the D.A. to drop the death penalty so the perpetrator could be sentenced. He was sentenced within three weeks of our request to life in prison without the possibility of parole. When someone takes a life, they have no idea the wake of devastation they leave in their path or the rippling effect it has on families, friends and society. One senseless act can have many repercussions and everyone touched by it becomes a co-victim. This is what homicide does to our families, to our communities and to our world.

But was I, mother of a murdered child, going to also be a victim? How would this honor Anna’s life..and death? How could I go on though, for the rest of my life without it destroying me? What was I to do with my pain so that it became meaningful and not just pointless endless suffering? And what about my son who was now an only child, verbalizing to his aunt that he not only lost his baby sister, but his mother. This is where the healing began and still continues. To survive is to walk alongside the loss my child, as it will always be a part of my life. You never “get over” what happened. I have to remind myself every day to put one foot in front of the other. I learned however, that it is ok to stumble, to fall; that I will get up again. I was given hope that someday I might even be able to make a difference, even though in the beginning of my journey I couldn’t have imagined sharing it with you today. But I do share it with you now; as a model of hope and resiliency. Do I succumb to the pit still? Of course. But the stay is shorter, the trip not as bumpy, as I know now I will rise again to continue Anna’s legacy. I have become a Survivors Speaker for the Penna. Commission on Crime and Delinquency. As a nurse, I now offer peer support for clients with trauma related mental health issues. I am also involved with Compassionate Friends and the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children. POMC was instrumental in getting the former President to pass a bill making Sept. 25th a National Day of Recognition for homicide victims, incl. the victims of 911. My son and I were in Washington on that bittersweet day for the bill signing ceremony.

The journey

I run, I dance, I smile, and sometimes I even catch myself laughing. And yes I have accepted, without feeling guilty, that this is all ok. I would have never thought this possible six years ago. From where I have been to where I might go on this journey gives me hope of where the next six years will take me. I offer you this much: that where there is light, darkness cannot exist. That suffering is merely the non-acceptance of what IS. We might not be able to control the forces that cause our suffering, but we can have a lot to say about what suffering does to us, and what sort of people we become because of it. It is not to ask why it happened, but what do I do now that it has happened? It is not where does this tragedy come from, but where does it lead? The only way to survive bereavement is to step away from it once and a while. You will survive. It just depends on when to decide you actually want to. The fear of the unknown is behind us, because we have already taken a long, hard look at hell. My hope is that people who know our family are moved to handle the difficult times in their own lives with more hope and courage when they see our example.

Love never dies

By losing my daughter I gained many things: compassion, empathy, humility; a greater understanding of human suffering. That is was not about what I can teach others; it was about what Anna could teach me: the bonds between a mother and child can never be broken. That love never dies. We are immortal spirits in fragile and vulnerable bodies. That by giving away her clothes I will never lose the memories. To remember that life is a gift, not to be taken for granted. For the grace to remember what you have left instead of what you have lost. And most importantly, if I could make a difference in just one life...just one…it would be the highest honor I could receive as a mother, as a woman and as a human being. I think of Anna and all that her life, and death has taught me. Yesterday seems less painful, and I am not afraid of tomorrow.


Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory

by Connie Iddings

As I struggled alone with my grief I prayed that God would somehow help me find a way to get through this sorrow and to be able to find the strength I’d need for my four month old, granddaughter Kylie’s upcoming memorial.

The thought instantly came to me, “Think on what you have received instead of on your loss.” I have not experienced such clarity and directness of thought since Kylie passed so I took instant notice of the importance of this message. I asked myself, “What have I received?”

The first thing that came to my mind was of all the people who have been here for my family and I. There have been so many well wishes, hugs, tears, condolences, and prayers offered for our behalf. These expressions of love and concern have provided a tremendous amount of strength and comfort in our time of greatest need. I could never begin to adequately convey how much this has meant.

Kylie came to my mind next, although she is never far from my heart and thoughts. I realized that this will be her memorial, her life remembrance, her life celebration. I don’t want to focus on her absence. I don’t want to concentrate on her last days and her death. When I think of Kylie, I think of JOY and this is how I want to always remember her.

Fluent in the language of joy

I have to admit that I had a momentary setback at this point. I said aloud and directed towards the heavens, “Kylie gave me back my joy and now it's gone again.” My statement went as far as the ceiling and fell back down at my feet with a heavy thud. Heaven wouldn’t receive it. It wasn’t a fair statement. That was a tremendous burden to put on someone so small. It wasn’t her responsibility. The truth was that joy was simply the only language that Kylie knew. She couldn’t speak, but she was fluent in the language of joy. If I wanted to have a close, intimate relationship with my granddaughter I had to connect with her at her level, in a way that she was able to respond to.

She didn’t give me back my joy. She simply spoke to it and truth be told, now that I think about it, it wasn’t I who connected with her in a way she was able to respond to, it was the other way around. She had reached out to a wounded heart in such an innocent and pure way that I instantly and instinctively knew it was safe to open up my heart again.

I already had joy. I didn’t receive that from Kylie. What I have received from Kylie is a new understanding of what joy truly is. Kylie wasn’t very old, but she was old enough to respond to life, to people and she did both with an openness and willingness that I want to replicate. When you were with Kylie, she was with you 100%. Her big blue eyes focused only on you. She intently listened, and responded with a smile. Recently, she would also respond with her newly acquired baby jabber. I didn’t understand what she said, but she had a lot to say and I am quite sure it contained the wisdom of the ages.

With awe and wonder

Kylie viewed the world with awe and wonder. She reached out to grasp everything in front of her. She stared wide eyed and took in anything new. Even if she was a little frightened of something at first, she didn’t let it keep her from exploring that new thing for very long. Some of her favorite activities and things were at first the very same ones that she initially wanted to avoid. Her curiosity and thirst for life were no match for any fears and uncertainties she momentarily felt.

Kylie didn’t always appear joyful. Sometimes she fussed and cried when a need of hers wasn’t being met as quickly as she would like, but the moment she was picked up or given her bottle or toy you were forgiven, her smile was assurance that all was well. She lived joyfully in the moment and each moment was glorious!

I choose to remember Kylie this way and to make my life a memorial to this memory. With God’s help I want to embrace life and others as openly and willingly as she did. I want to respond to people in a positive way, to make people feel safe enough that even in their woundedness they desire to risk responding and expressing their joy again. I want to view the world in awe and wonderment. I want to strive to never shy away from any new challenge, at least not for very long. I want to quickly forgive people for intended or unintended slights and to recognize when I am just being impatient. I want to live in the moment and not sulk in the past. I know I will not be perfect in these things and I’ll have days when I am cranky and seemingly inconsolable. But I will not remain with head bowed down in that state for long. I vow to look up and reward life with a smile and a firm belief that all is well. Joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Thank you Kylie. Grandma loves and misses you sweetie.


Traveling with Grief

Written by, Sherilyn Talley Maui Resident

The evolution of grief has us making our way down our road the best way we know how. Picking up what tools we can use, finding what will help us awaken to a new sense of aliveness within. When we come to feel our heart is ready for a new experience, a different 'vantage point', traveling to another place can serve to allow the senses to heighten and expand and relax.  Time for meditation, reflection and being one with your-self and with Nature.

Nature is where many of us gravitate to, in so many different ways.   Boating, Golfing, Camping, Fishing, Swimming, Sunning, Hiking, Touring, Reading, Strolling... SLEEPING! All positive for us, when we are ready to pursuit it WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS.

Hawaii

Hawaii is one of the Worlds most Amazing Treasures!   If you are thinking of making a trip here, prepare to fall in love!

People in Hawai'i live Aloha, which is just as much a feeling and a practice, as well as a greeting.  Aloha is shared in the smiles of the people, the considerate nature, the welcoming attitudes, and the pride and respect for these islands that is shared with millions of visitors each year.   Hawaii seems to have something special for everyone.   Where the air is incredibly fresh and clean after coming off the miles of open ocean; the colors are so vivid and bright, the blues of the sky and the ocean as they kiss on the horizon; the greens of the sugar cane fields and draped mountain sides; the intense orange evening sun dropping it's sleepy head into the ocean, while the sky puts on a color show for you.  No matter what people are doing, at sunset they stop, and go to the shore to reflect and pause on the blessings of the day.

You may hear the sound of a conch shell being blown in Aloha to another day in Paradise.  Majestic mountains, volcanoes, wildlife sanctuaries, whales and dolphin that can be seen easily from the shore!  Botanical Gardens, agriculture, and even a Winery & tasting!  Some of the finest Art Galleries and of course the food is world class!  Local grown fruits and vegetables are available year round, and the fresh fish is the best.

There are cooling waterfalls, forests of bamboo, and always breathtaking views.  Waking up to the sounds of the island birds, taking their turn to be heard in the still of the new day is so sweet.  The wafting fragrance of the Plumeria, as it fills the night air.

There are miles of sun-drenched beaches where you have the chance to stand in the midst of it all and feel your connection in this Great Universe.   So many, many wonderful things about this beautiful island chain!   Everyone has a unique experience, but few go away disappointed.  If you have always wanted to come, and you can come with an open heart and mind, then you will find a new friend, and carry away with you amazing memories, and lots of Aloha!

Finding oneself in a far away destination may not be for everyone, but if it is your heart's desire, you may find it to be a cathartic experience. Surrounding yourself with nature, at any time, any place, can allow you the breathing space you have been needing.  We have to feel ready for that, and when we are, traveling to a beautiful, peaceful place can be a help in gaining a new perspective, and time needed to feed your soul and your senses!

If you want to submit your stories of traveling with grief and how it helped you heal, please email: [email protected] and put on the subject line “traveling with grief”. And your story could be featured on our travel section of this site. We look forward to hearing your travel story.