Aunt Baby and Alvin Wesley

Aunt Baby and Alvin Wesley
Reasons I Smile...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thinking of You

Thoughtfulness comes in many forms

Lately it seems I've been sending more sympathy, get well and coping cards.  I guess it's natural the older we get, but it sure doesn't get any easier.

Many of us have lost someone close to us.  Statistics show that most of us have some ongoing chronic illness or condition that causes some degree of pain.  No wonder we appear to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders!

As concerned family and friends, it is a common tendency to want to rush in and fix everything. Some cultures do this much more effusively than others.  Concerned parties are always so well meaning. 

A friend recently commented about how overwhelmed she felt when her sister died.  Her home was flooded with casseroles and cakes, most of which could not be eaten.  People were everywhere for days.  

Quiet time we spent together crying over a cup of tea was when she started processing her sister was gone.  Having suffered for over a year with cancer, she knew her sister was no longer in pain.

This is a close friend.  I knew just what to say and when to drop by.  We have friends you don't need to call first.  These are the friends you can trust your pets with when you need to go out of town for a sick relative.  I call them the "drop everything" friends.

These friends never overstay their welcome.  I find this comforting.  As such, this is the friend that I try to be in return.  Sometimes we need to settle our minds more with solitary methods, such as a warm bath, walking the dog,...

There are other friends and acquaintances that I care deeply about.  However, I would not have the same comfort level of just dropping by as I would family or a very close friend.

I  love to know that I am being thought about.  What a tender and special feeling!

Of course, it is ideal to be remembered for no reason at all - just because!  There are a few older friends of my Mother's that I send cards to "for no apparent reason".  I will get return calls here and there through the year to keep in touch, and it somehow helps me feel closer to her as well.

I had an older, retired friend who was quite sick.  She lived miles away in another state and enjoyed my cards.  While I was not able to attend her funeral, her daughter wrote that my notes always brought a smile, especially my goofy stickers!  I have an amazing collection that could rival any young girl's.

I attempt to write something individualized and meaningful in every card I send.  I always include "thinking of you".  I make an offer of help if it is realistic, finding most are comfortable letting you know when they are ready to reconnect.  I have found that everyone is so different in their rate of healing and need for social interaction.

True friends understand when we need space.  I speak from my experience in 1999.  I was in complete shock, after realizing what had actually happened.  It took me quite some time to "pull it all together".  True family and friends stood by on the sidelines waiting patiently.

And today, I am stronger than ever!  I am certainly sensitive now in giving everyone the space and time they need to heal.  To me, that is "thinking of" the person, loving them and helping them know they are never alone.  

Flowers grow out of dark moments. (Corita Kent)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Take Care of Yourself

Always take a few minutes for yourself every day!

Since I was a little girl, I have loved to write letters and send cards , for any reason.  Some of my fondest memories were reciprocal correspondence with my Georgian relatives.  I still maintain close contact with family and friends, no matter where they live. 

Each July, I send out a fair number of retirement cards to friends and colleagues.  Always written in some fashion on these cards is the expression: "take care of yourself!"

I have been a nurse for close to 30 years.  Until 1999, I didn't "take very good care of myself".  Almost dying is a fabulous wake - up call about the importance of now!

Now, I wondered why society, in general, places self care on the back burner?  Some of the reasons commonly discussed in my classroom include:  family (kids, spouse, parents);  work (stress from colleagues, bills, unemployment issues, time and sleep issues); health (yours, loved ones); higher education (time, tuition).

It was inspiring to encounter a student recently who credited his three young sons for helping him "act like a kid", every day, even for a short while.  He reminded us how important it is to take time to play.  As a nurse, he remained optimistic and grateful that he could go home, after a stressful day, to his beautiful family. 

Teaching nurses who are pursuing an advanced degree, I am overwhelmed by the stressors they  are facing.  If you are reading this,  I urge you to thank the next nurse who cares for you.  Sometimes that heartfelt gratitude makes all the difference.

I fully appreciate that every job has a degree of stress.  Today, there is even additional worry with our unemployment rate; and talented people are searching for work.  To me, this makes more of a case for self care on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. 

Come to think of it, I write "take care of yourself" on most every type of note I send!  I guess I feel rather strongly on the subject!  I consider self care a life saver!

My physical  body carries me through the life that God has given me.  Each day I will experience nature and enjoy some kinds of healthy foods.

My mind helps me think about issues with clarity and meaning.  Each day I will exercise it somehow by being creative, social and interactive with those I care about. 

My soul keeps me aligned with my purpose in the Universe.  Each day I will spend time in quiet prayer, meditation and contemplation to develop self awareness and growth. 

How  about you?  Whether you have retired or you are working, what is your plan to "take care of yourself"?

"Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier."  (Kathleen Norris)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

To Forget if for But a Moment

Allow Your Mind to Be Still and Rest

I remember telling my therapist that all I wanted was to be able to have one day when I did not think about the worst 46 hours of my life, in June, 1999.                                                                

For years, I handled myself fairly well, on the surface.  Those in my immediate circle knew how easily I startled at any noise sounding like a gunshot.  I shied away from violent movies and television shows, even the subject of violence disturbed me.  Both crowded scenes and tight, enclosed spaces were avoided as much as possible.

I had difficuly sleeping, experiencing frequent and intrusive nightmares.  During the day, I had an aversion to anyone who remotely looked or behaved like the perpetrator. Heaven forbid, if he had the same first name!  I even had difficulty driving past the expansive hospital where I worked, which, at the time was less than a mile from my home. 

Thankfully, these signs and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have, all but, subsided.  I sometimes notice, when thinking of another stressor, I tend to remember the incident. I remain grateful that it has always seemed manageable in comparison! 

I have been honored, to date, to have presented three Forgiveness talks to students, in a Theology elective .  I speak primarily about forgiving myself in my perceived role.

When I last spoke for the Instructor in February, 2011, I was asked when I was able to actually let go and forget for awhile?  It dawned on me, that Mom's death, a year ago today on May 7th, 2010, was the first time that I realigned my priorities into their rightful place. I was able to completely focus on my family and forget about the events that had stemmed from a madman.

My Mother's sudden death has clearly had the most profound impact of anything now in my life. So unexpected!  I now appreciate that death does not send a calling card. Ironically, I remember Mom telling me she would "not have gotten over it if I hadn't made it in 1999".  In some odd way, this has given me the strength, despite this loss, to keep going.

With Mom's death, I have finally and totally freed myself of the pain and self-imposed guilt from 1999. I know she left me words in her Journal that "my worst days were behind me and to be happy".

"Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does."  (Epictetus, Greece)   

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Worry Buckets

Worry or Curiosity?

There is nothing like a control freak being held hostage to put worrying in proper perspective.  Simply put, since 1999, I don't "fret much over much". 
At least, I try not to dwell on any one issue for too long.

I have always prided myself on being very organized. I think I always will be, whether about personal or professional matters. However, I used to become overly preoccupied with the importance of being orderly with this organization.

For 46 very long hours, I focused and stared at work that was yet to be done on my table, still in neat and ordered piles. At the end of the hostage seige, my desk and the table were overturned, with papers strewn everywhere. Who knows when and if those all - important matters were ever attended to? They certainly weren't by me. Yet, only hours before, they appeared to be matters of the utmost importance.

What a lesson! And what a way to have to learn it! But it is a lesson that I will never forget, and I sometimes take the time to remind some I care about. Life goes on. No one ever has an empty in box in the game of life.

And, today, almost 12 years later, I will honestly always fret about a little something.  It seems to be an inherent part of my hyper-vigilant nature.

But, now, I tend to view worrying as more of little red lights along the highway of life.  Worry has the ability to stop us in our tracks but should never last for very long. At least, I will not allow it to in my life.

This does not, however, translate to careless, hasty or insensitive behavior.  Sleeping on it is a prudent strategy that has saved me from many an ill-thought decision.

Weighing all options in a non-reactive manner is key. Asking several objective people for their opinion is also smart, not necessarily commiting to anything.

It is really healthy to recognize when you are on overload. You may have  way too much in your glass. And this latest worry is causing a great spill!  And it is YOU that needs to be mopped off the floor!

Of course, at these times, it is impossible to really listen to even the best of advice, even your own! You need to take some time to heal. Only you know how long you need and how often.

I have a dear friend who told me about her worry bucket.  When she has had enough, she puts all her cares in a mental worry bucket.  Only she has the power to decide when to worry and when the bucket needs to be emptied.

  • It might be after a walk with your dog.
  • It might be after a nice soak in the tub.
  • It might be after you have dirty hands from gardening or weeding.
  • Or you may decide you can put off the worying for awhile...
Some days we are barraged with the sadness of life, especially when those we love have so many awful things happening to them all around us. In no way, is this meant to minimize any of our inner angst.

Yet, in my darkest days, to focus on the simplest positive act, behavior or detail on this glorious Earth, including the inspirational people I have met along the way, greatly eases any worry over things I cannot control.

"Now I think my point is that I have learned to live with it all... with being old... whatever happens... all of it." (Edelgard)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Own Your Role

Don't Take the Weight of the World On

This life lesson is one of those kinds that "is easier said than done". Nevertheless, we really need to try to honor this one. Otherwise, it can be quite maddening.

For years, you see, I suffered with the "guilt of a survivor". To be redundant, this is actually coined "survivor's guilt".  I survived "six" gunshot wounds, and an innocent woman died after "one fatal" shot to the head.

Why?  How?  So many other detailed questions  and none can actually be answered. I had so many that to relay them here, I'm afraid your head would actually spin.  All in all, it took me many years and much soul searching to realize that I never pulled the trigger. I never killed anyone. For years, though, it sure felt as though I had.

Although I am generally open about my experiences if it is for the healing or education of others, I am extremely confidential when others share examples~~ both personally and professionally. This was strongly reinforced by my Mother and professionally by the ethics and confidentiality involved in the field of Nursing.

In almost 30 years of adult experience and practice, the theme of universality, despite gender, culture, age and other socioeconomic factors can be quite remarkable. I find this to be especially true in the tendency we have to want to "take ownership for everything".

  • One of my clients, was newly diagnosed with diabetes. He had been watching his diet, had joined a fitness center,  and had already been taking oral hypoglycemics, diabetes medications, for a couple years. However, he was still told at his last physical that he had to start taking insulin and monitoring his blood sugar daily with a glucometer.  "What have I done wrong?"  In actuality, the client has and continues to do everything right; yet, there is a strong family history of diabetes. With the same attention to good health practices and the addition of insulin, he has "owned his role" and is doing very well.

  • One of my friends told me that she was "let go" from a position where she had established a beautiful rapport with a young boy with a learning disability.  This was something no one else had been able to do. The reason, in all honesty, boiled down to maternal threat. Yet the given reason was totally unrelated. In the end, my friend is bereft; and the young boy misses the support.  "What have I done wrong?" Honestly, the reason given, if pursued, was discriminatory. My friend has, thankfully, moved on to other work. She sadly owned her role, which was caring for her charge. This is one of many instances, with different circumstances, where employers treat their employees in a most deplorable manner. At times, the person is unjustly terminated in the end. Could this be, in part, due to our tumultuous ecomomic times?
No matter how long or how difficult the task, we need to tease out our accountability for and the amount of control we have in coping with these heart-wrenching situations. All the while, we need to remember to own our role and to allow others to own theirs.

"You are a child of the Universe, no less than the moon and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should."  (Max Erhrmann)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Give Yourself Time

Slow Down...No Rush

I just paid my respects to a lovely older woman whose husband of 64 years had died. They had married when she was 24 years young. Having been married almost 24 years myself, it is hard to fathom saying good bye to your soulmate of more than twice that many years. My friend felt even worse because she, herself, had been at the doctor's, as she had not been feeling well. Some even wondered if he had chosen this time to die, so she would not be there to worry even further. Instead, his son was by his side at the hospital. 

While he had been suffering with multiple medical conditions for the last couple years and had actually been transferred to hospice care over the last month, no one in the family was ready for his death, least alone his beloved wife. She was lost, sitting in tears. She still wore her nightgown and robe in the middle of the day. She had a distant look in her eyes as well wishers brought casseroles and desserts, no doubt, more for their comfort than hers.

Luckily for her, beloved children will handle the necessary details around her that must be tended to. I always remembered the family members and businesses that were gentle with me at times of trauma and loss.

Conversely, there were some unfeeling business companies that ignored communications and common decency. This made grieving so much more painful. My way of dealing with this was to channel my unresolved anger into letters of shame where  I reminded others of the Golden Rule. This sometimes resulted in a letter of apology, but always made me able to move on from the issue, as forever resolved.

I realized that nothing could return my former life or loved one. I am forever blessed to have the gifts and strengths that I have learned through these experiences and wonderful people.  I have the ability to share these lessons with others in the good work I do each and every day that I am fortunate enough to be alive. 

This was not readily apparent to me through my times of suffering and grief.  As such, I am eternally grateful for time and the perspective it brings.  No one could tell me how long the process of healing or recovery will take. Every situation for every person is as unique as they are.  I know these matters may not be rushed by the time constraints of others, whether family, friends or co-workers. And I know that, just when you think you have all your grieving behind you, the smallest reminder or trigger will surface. Wham, you are reminded all over again!  But I have found it always gets at least a little better with time, in your own due time, in your own way! 

"Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels."  (Faith Whittlesey)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rise Above It

Breathe - Does it Really Matter in the Scheme of Things?

I wasn't quite prepared for the hospital environment I entered as a brand new graduate nurse.  I was only 21 years old, not at all ready for the psychiatric diagnoses and the staff personalities I was about to encounter.  It was fairly easy to get me to blush furiously or burst into tears, sometimes within the space of  five minutes. 

A terror of a nurse, named Jeanette, took me "under her claw".  I grew to both fear and respect her simultaneously. One of her first lessons to me, no matter what the circumstance, was to rise above it!  In my early years, I remembered this mantra as I learned and gained confidence in dealing with all types of staff and patient behaviors.

Through the years, as I was promoted into educational and managerial positions, Jeanette, who always remained an excellent Charge Nurse, would respectfully remind me to rise above it, when she was in a Union capacity or at a Committee meeting.  Many of us sadly attended her funeral in the mid-90s, shortly after her retirement on medical disability. She had left a large void at the hospital. This nurse was all grumpy on the outside but ever so soft on the inside.  She taught so many of us from her heart.

Little did Jeanette know that her words would be my mantra during the darkest 46 hours of my life, when a colleague and I were held at gunpoint by man who could not be reasoned with. I knew that I could not speak or I would be shot again.  He was way too volatile. The only choice I had was to keep telling myself to rise above it. 

I thought it when I was angry. I thought it when I was frightened. I thought it when I was outraged. I thought it when I wanted to say something and knew I could not. I thought it when I felt like crying. I thought it when I felt like screaming and cursing.  And I thought about other strong women in heaven like my mother - in - law, Arlene, Lillie and Clem and how they would all be helping me rise above it. 

Our thoughts are more powerful than we realize.  Only we have control over them.  I know there were other variables at play that resulted in my ultimate survival in 1999. However, I stand firm that positive thinking throughout the ordeal helped me keep my inner strength and resolve to survive remarkable odds.

As such, I haven't given up on Jeanette's mantra.  I really don't care if it is the speedy roadster that cut me off on the way to work or the gentleman at the Mall who slams the door in my face as he is rushing to enter.  It is probably best to rise above it.  If I thought awhile about it, the offending party probably has something very heavy on their mind or could just be rude. It certainly, however, isn't worth ruining any part of my day because of it.  I can hear my wise Mom saying "just chalk it up to experience."       

Come to think of it, Mom and Jeanette were "cut from the same cloth".  Even today, I can feel these wise women helping me, as they taught the truest of life's lessons. Most of the things in life that really offend us are so minor in the grand scheme of things.  Isn't it better to think about how much effort you want to put into reacting to these petty grievances? 

"When I am all hassled about something, I always stop and ask myself what difference it will make in the evolution of the human species in the next ten million years, and that question always helps me to get back my perspective." (Anne Wilson Schaef)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Look up to the Sky

Our Angels Look Upon Us Too

Ever since the tragic event of June, 1999, I try to look up into the sky at least once during the day and during the night.  You see, for the longest 46 hours of my life, I was held at gunpoint at work, along with a beloved colleague. When all was said and done, my friend was
killed before my eyes; and I had been shot six times.

Now, almost 12 years later, I have learned so many lessons in my recovery.  Many of these lessons have been taught  by people I have since worked with, who have been through their own traumatic experiences.  It is indeed humbling to witness the power of the human spirit.

I do not believe I ever appreciated the simple value of light, fresh air and the freedom to enjoy this, until it was taken away from me for those long and lonely hours. I remember almost gulping the fresh air in the few seconds that it took for the Trauma Team to transport me on a gurney from the scene to the chopper, like a drink of water to a parched man in a desert.

And today, when I look up, I am reminded of the beauty of my life and how grateful I am to be alive, despite my many imperfections,  as I had come so close to the face of death. I am reminded of how small I am in the grandeur of this whole world. I know that, even if my problems cannot be solved, that life will go on one way or another.  I have both loved and lost some very special people in my life. I am forever grateful at my wonderful memories of them that can never be taken away.

Looking up helps me be a little less hard on myself and others.  It reminds me of all that is good and worthy. It makes me so very glad that I have another day to try again.

I can only wish for you the very same. I know that sometimes it can seem as though there is no end in sight to the problems in life we must endure.  I also know there are not always easy answers.  Sometimes it just helps to know that others  "somewhere out there" understand  when we are looking up into the heavens.  This continues to bring me immeasurable comfort along life's way.   

"Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars..." (Henry Van Dyke)