Open Mind Friday

open mind friday

cracks with light shining through

What are your thoughts on the above quote?  Is there truth to it?  Can there be beauty in pain?  “Beauty from ashes”?  What has your experience been?

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Mother’s Day for those of us with crappy mothers…

 

 

mother's day for those of us with crappy mothers

My mother threw me out of her house when I was 15.  It was the week after Mother’s Day and just after she married her live-in boyfriend without telling me.  I’ll spare you the details of the actual night, and the events leading up to it, when she literally told me to get out around 10 pm on a school night.  Fortunately, gratefully, my father took me in to live with him, his new wife and her three kids (but that’s another story).

 

About 3 years later, I attempted a reconciliation at the behest of my grandmother.  Let’s just say it went poorly.  We parted ways again and that was the end of that.  It will be 40 years next week that I have been motherless.  Before you feel sorry for me, let me tell you that it was the best thing she could possibly have done for me.  Without her toxicity – and through a whole lot of bumpy years followed by counseling – I was able to learn and grow and thrive and become who I am now.  And I like the me I am now.

 

For the first decade or two, Mother’s Day was a challenge.  I was full of anger and resentment and bitterness and my thoughts were always about her and how she abandoned me…even after becoming a mother myself, I still focused on her.  Then…I didn’t anymore…partly as a result of counseling, partly as a result of my own motherhood, partly as a result of aging out of it.

 

Now, Mother’s Day is a day to think back on my own motherhood.  To remember my children as they grew up and how they are now.  To take pride in the fact that without my own mother’s guidance, I (well, my husband and I 😉 ) raised two awesome adults.  To rest in the knowledge that my sister and I broke the cycle of toxic mother-daughter relationships.

 

Getting to a place where Mother’s Day is no longer painful for me took the following:

 

  1. Find people who understand.  You will hear this from many people when they learn that you no longer communicate with your mother or don’t like her:  “But she’s your mother!!”, or “But you only have one mother!”.  Gah.  These people are not your tribe.  The ones who – even if they don’t fully understand – don’t judge you and listen empathetically are your tribe.  It’s not like you have to form a crappy mother’s club, but it helps to have people around you who at least try to understand.

 

  1. Consider counseling. I found a great counselor many years ago, when I was in my late 20’s, and I saw her weekly for almost a year and then every two weeks for another year.  It helped.  Oh, how it helped!  We were very very poor then and really couldn’t afford it, but we agreed that the investment was worth it, our marriage was worth it, my life was worth it.

 

  1. Find other women to help fill the void. Now, I’m not suggesting to go out and find another mother.  I found myself naturally attracted to forming relationships with older women.  If there was someone 20 years older than me in the room, I wanted to talk to her.  Before we go and get all psychoanalytical here, let me say that I wasn’t looking for a mother replacement, I was looking to glean wisdom from them.  There are just some life lessons that can’t be learned from people our own age or from a counselor (and that hurts to say since I’m a counselor!).  I’m simply suggesting to have a conversation, whenever you are given the opportunity, with someone older and wiser and from whom you might learn something.

 

  1. Focus on other mother’s on Mother’s Day. Are there mothers in your life that you might like to compliment?  Are there women in your life who have helped you along the way or supported you or guided you?  Reach out to them and thank them or simply acknowledge what a great job they are doing as a mom.

 

  1. Pamper yourself. Your needs are just as valid as anyone else’s needs.  If Mother’s Day is painful for you then acknowledge that.  Marinate in it.  Take the day for yourself.  Have a good cry.  Binge on Netflix.  Take a hike by yourself.  Surround yourself with people you love.  Do whatever brings you peace.

 

  1. If you are a mother, try to stay in the moment with your own child/ren. Enjoy them, enjoy being a mom, enjoy those sticky hands and the messy kitchen from breakfast in bed and the joy on their little faces when they try to make you happy.

 

 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of how to help yourself through a Mother’s Day, but these are some of the things that helped me get through them when they were hard.

 

If you had/have a crappy mother, what are some ways that you cope with Mother’s Day?

 

 

 

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The Saga of Changing the Facebook Page…

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Oh man.  I thought it would be easy breezy to just change the privacy setting on my existing Facebook page from public to a closed group.  Nope.  After searching and searching and searching for the answer, I found it, as my granddaughter would say, ‘by my own’.  I didn’t need a techie-minded millennial to help me after all 🙂  Problem is, it’s not a simple fix.  What I have to do is completely delete the current PAGE and create a different GROUP.  It also means that anyone who has liked or is following that page will not be automatically moved to the new group.  They will have to find it and follow it again.

I don’t have that many Facebook followers to begin with and I expect it will take some time to build up a following.  That translates into few people reading my very clever and well thought out 😉 posts and even fewer commenting.  It’s hard to have a lively dialogue when there isn’t anyone there!!  Still…I’m stubborn and intend to keep on keepin’ on by posting and asking and discussing until such a time as there are people who are reading and responding and discussing.

I’m not sure how long it takes between the deletion of the current page and the allowable start time of a closed group with the same name, but I hope you will stay with me and eventually follow my Facebook group.

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Changing the Facebook page…

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I’m so encouraged by the response I received from my most recent post.  Sooooo many emails and a couple of public responses.  I thank all of you for your kind words.  It meant a lot to me to hear, not only your feedback, but your words of support for me personally.  I really am okay…improving every day and feeling so much better.

The one constant was that everyone agreed that making the Facebook page a closed group would be beneficial so that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m inviting all of you who follow Translating Grief on WordPress only or via email to head over to my Facebook page and give it a like.  In about a week, I’ll change the status to a closed group.  It’s my understanding that those who have already liked the page will stay in the group.  Anyone after that will need to be approved by the administrators (who is only me at this time!).

I’m really hoping that the closed group will provide a place for those who are hurting to be open and honest, to give support, to seek support, to have lively, respectful discussions about topics related to grief and to be a go-to resource for supports on the web and in the community.

 

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A personally tough winter…

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This past winter has been one of the toughest for me personally for a couple of reasons. One is health related and one is house related.  I’ll start with the latter…

In December of last year, we had a flood in the downstairs of our house.  It started in the bathroom (the toilet backed up and spewed dirty water into the air!!) and destroyed both adjacent bedrooms.  One of those bedrooms is my home office.  When ServiceMaster came to clean things up, they tore out sheetrock, all the carpeting, cleaned everything completely and threw away anything that touched the sewage water.  When they left, it looked like the disaster area it was.  It took until just last week to complete the renovation of the bathroom and both bedrooms.

Meanwhile, I had no office and had to work in the regular part of my house…either in the family room,  or at the dining room or kitchen table.  Except for my clients, everything else was just harder to get done.  I would find my mind drifting to the floor that needed sweeping or the furniture that needed dusting or the dishwasher that needed emptying and I never seemed to get anything work-related done.  Or maybe I used it as an excuse to do nothing work-related because of the second issue…

For the last 25 years, I’ve been coping with a chronic illness.  After countless doctors and appointments and tests and even a couple of surgeries, I was still sick.  This past year has been the hardest and things just seemed to get worse and worse…to the point that I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything and I was beginning to feel depressed and hopeless and isolated.  Once I recognized that I was spiraling into a very dark place, I called my regular doctor and made an appointment.  She recommended a new specialist who has turned out to be a godsend.  He listened, ran more tests, continued to listen and finally provided the correct diagnosis and, more importantly, what to do about it.  I’m now following the instructions to a tee and am beginning to feel so much better physically. More substantial to me is that I am feeling so much better emotionally and I feel hopeful that I can at least have some control over it going forward.  It is still a chronic issue and I can never let up, but I’m no longer feeling depressed and I once again have energy and hope and motivation.

That said, while I was at my lowest, I found a few closed support groups on Facebook that became absolutely invaluable.  While I do have an excellent support system, they simply don’t understand what it’s really like day in and day out.  The people in those groups do. We are comrades in the trenches together.  It was such a relief to be able to ask questions and comment knowing that even my family and friends couldn’t see what I was posting. There is a real freedom in that and it got me thinking…

Over the years of posting on this blog, there have been very few public comments and many many private email comments.  Now I know why.  I get it and I’ve decided that I’m going to make my Facebook page a closed group in the hopes of allowing others to comment and post freely without having to worry about what their family and friends will think or say.  It just makes sense to me.  I hope that it will become a safe place for discussions of all kinds related to grief and loss (of people, pets and things) and caregiving and living with illness and anything else we can think to talk about.

I’d like to know what your thoughts are about a closed Facebook group.  Would you be interested in participating in open, honest discussions in a forum no one else but members can see?  Do you belong to other closed groups that have been helpful?

As always, if you’re not comfortable posting in the comment section, you can email me at translatinggrief@gmail.com or call me at 1.315.765.6530.

Godspeed…

Lisa

 

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Bereavement Support Group in Rome, NY

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“Learning to Interpret Your Personal Grief Journey”

This comprehensive, 6 week bereavement support group is for any adult who is grieving as a result of the death of a loved one.

Rome Memorial Hospital

1500 N. James Street

Room 201

Rome, NY

 

Begins Thursday, April 28th from 6:30 pm to 8 pm

 

This group is free and open to the public.

 

Registration is required by Friday, April 22.

 

Please call 1. 315. 765. 6530 to speak to Lisa.

Or email at translatinggrief@gmail.com

 

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Bereavement Support Group in Rome, NY

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“Learning to Interpret Your Personal Grief Journey”

A comprehensive 6 week bereavement support group for any adult who has experienced the death of someone they love.

Begins:  Thursday, February 4, 2016

3:00 – 4:30 pm

Ava Dorfman Senior Center

305 E. Locust Street

Rome, NY

 

Free and open to the public

Facilitated by Lisa B. Wolfe, LMSW, bereavement counselor and owner of Translating Grief, LLC

Please RSVP to translatinggrief@gmail.com or call Lisa at 1.315.765.6530 by January 29.

 

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Christmas 2015

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Merry? Not so much…

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We are firmly in the midst of the holiday season.  Decorations are up for Thanksgiving and Christmas already (!).  Most retail commercials are featuring Santa and Christmas music.  Everywhere you look, everything you do is a reminder.  I thought I would jump on board with an article to help you through the holiday season full of practical suggestions and guidance…

What makes the holiday season so challenging for a griever?

1. Shared history:  chances are we spent many many holidays with our person who died.  So many memories, traditions, and emotions are directly connected to that person.  Memories are stronger if there is an emotional connection to the event and there is nothing more emotional than a holiday season or gathering filled with the people we love the most.  When someone is missing, the emotions of this season cannot match the positive emotions of any other season.  This makes the grief all the more evident.  Positive emotional memory of the past paired with the current intense emotion of the grief equal a very challenging emotional roller coaster of a holiday season.

2. Childhood memories:  If you come from a family that went all out for the holidays, chances are you’ll have positive, happy, joyful memories of those days and have wanted to recreate those for your own family.  If, on the other hand, you do not have positive childhood memories, chance are you have wanted to create those for your family.  Either way,  the nostalgia we feel around the holidays can be profound under the best of circumstances.  So many of us get overwhelmed as adults by all the things we have to do during the holiday season and we miss those carefree times as a child when all we had to do was anticipate the coming of the holiday.  Those memories in and of themselves can be triggers for grief.  We miss times gone by, the people who used to be at those gatherings and are no longer, the simpler times, the excitement and anticipation.    We wish our children and grandchildren could experience the holidays the way we did, but everything is different now.  With our person gone for this season, all of this can be overwhelming.  Too many changes over too many years.  We just want things to be what they were.

3.  Constant reminders:  Stores are putting up their Christmas decorations and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!  Displays of Christmas decorations have been in stores since September.  Retailers are running their Christmas commercials.  Homes have begun to put up their lights and door wreaths.  We can’t escape it.  Since so many strong memories are directly connected to our person who died, there are countless triggers just waiting amid all of these reminders.  It could be music, or a certain food, or a smell, or a location, or a movie or just about anything else that was meaningful for you.  It’s virtually impossible to avoid being ambushed by a trigger this time of year.  Expect them.  Prepare for them.  Carry tissues at all times.

4.  Happy happy joy joy commercials:  I’ve mentioned commercials already, but want to say a special word about them.  Some of them are intentionally emotionally charged.  Advertising executives know that a strong emotional connection will make you want to buy their product.  Some holiday commercials are downright gut-wrenching in their emotionality.  Folgers and Hallmark come to mind.  Even if you’re not grieving, some of those commercials can move a person to tears!  Again, expect the triggers for a good cry.  You’re more emotionally fragile these days and that’s okay.  Have a good cry.

Coping through the Holidays 

There is a whole lot of advice out there about coping with the holiday season and I am only one more voice added to the chorus.  I’ve broken it down into three categories to make it easy to navigate through my suggestions.  This outline for coping with the holidays can be translated to other holidays and events, such as anniversaries, birthdays, etc.

1.  Self-Care:  Duh.  I know.  Everyone says to take good care of yourself.  When you are grieving and feeling overwhelmed it is improbable that you will adhere to a strict self-care schedule.

A. Physically – using whatever energy you do have, try to get some good rest, decent nutrition (an apple every now and then to supplement the cereal and toast over the sink), exercise and definitely some fresh air every day.

B. Emotionally – Expect that this will be an emotional roller coaster and be prepared with tissues.  Identify and lean on your support system.  Let them know that this season will be challenging, that they can expect tears, that you may not make up your mind about attending anything until the last minute and that you hope they will understand.  (And if they don’t, that’s their problem, not yours!)  Be direct about what you need – a listening ear, help wrapping presents, some space to be alone…

C. Cognitively – Read about grief during the holidays to help you know what is natural and when to ask for some assistance.  Take breaks from the grief by allowing your mind to be engaged in something that takes your mind off of who and what you are missing.  Maybe learn a new craft, attend a lecture, go out to a movie, etc.

D. Spiritually – Engage daily in whatever brings you peace.  Music, meditation, prayer, nature, creativity, worship.  Anything that allows you time to settle your mind and be in this moment right now.

Have a Plan

As a counselor, I’m forever suggesting my clients have a plan for THE day.  Know what you are going to be doing every hour of the day.  What you will be eating.  Who you will be seeing and when – if anyone.  Within this category are three choices:  All, Nothing or Different.

1. All:  Literally all things will be the same.  You will do everything exactly as you’ve always done.  Using Christmas as an example, you will put up all of the usual decorations.  Have dinner in the same place at the same time with the same people and the same menu and the same dishes.  Know that this will be an emotional roller coaster.  The triggers will be numerous and you may need to take breaks from any activity.  Inform your support system so they know what to expect.

2.  Nothing:  You choose to completely disengage with the holiday/season.  You choose to spend the day alone at home.  Inform your support system and expect resistance.  They will not want you to choose this option.  If you do, and you believe it is right for you, stick to your decision.  One client repeated this phrase to her family until they accepted her decision:  “I am choosing to spend the day in quiet contemplation.”  Short, to the point, firm.  They eventually did honor her request.  Let them know that it is for this year only.  Next year you may or may not make a different choice.  Still have an agenda for the day.  And leave your options open.  One client was home alone all day for Thanksgiving last year, decided maybe she was up for some company, and called her family to ask if she could come over for pie.

3.  Different:  Within this category there are two choices – Stay or Go

A.  Stay – Tweak the day.  Change the time, location, or menu.  Instead of dinner at 2, maybe you have an evening meal by candlelight.  Skip or add traditions.  It may be too overwhelming to send out cards this year, so don’t.  Maybe you have everyone go around the table or sit around the tree after dinner and share memories and stories.   Alter the decorations.  Maybe instead of putting up the big Christmas tree, you opt to only put up the small table-top one.  Decide what is really really really important to you and dismiss the rest.  Inform your support system that due to how emotionally challenging this holiday/season is for you that you’ve decided to do things a little differently.  Most folks will understand.

2. Go – Run away.  That’s right.  You heard me.  Run away.  Take a trip.  Leave town.  Go visit some far-flung relatives or friends.  Take a cruise.  Fly to a remote island.  Whatever appeals to you.  Inform your support system and expect resistance.  Again, stick to your decision if this is what you choose.

** There is no right or wrong option to choose.  As each person is unique and each person’s grief is unique, so will your response to an important day.  Whichever option you choose – All, Nothing, or Different – it does not have to be a permanent decision.  It is just for this time.  Next time you may choose a different option.  Just do what makes the most sense to you.

Memorialize Your Person

This is so very important for any special day.  The worst thing would be to completely ignore that this person is no longer present.  Do something – anything – to honor/memorialize/remember your person.  And do this whether you are with others or alone.  Some examples:  light a candle, display a photo, cook their favorite food/dessert, share memories, release balloons, craft something out of their belongings, give a keepsake, make a donation….The ideas are endless.

And there you have it.  My game plan for this holiday season and, really, any significant date on the calendar.  It will be emotional.  The triggers will be plentiful and endless.  Sometimes it will feel like you are completely disconnected.  With all of that, it can still be a time to both take care of yourself and honor your loved one.  Who knows?  Maybe there will be a merry moment or two mixed up in the chaos.

Whatever you choose, may you have some semblance of peace and comfort on those challenging days.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions or concerns, or to schedule an appointment.

Lisa

Copyright 2014 Lisa B. Wolfe, Translating Grief, LLC

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Hanukkah Greetings…

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