Student and Teacher of Grief

Every day there are two little humans who are watching, observing and learning from me. When I look at it day to day that thought can be quite scary, but when I look at the big picture it becomes less overwhelming. There is a span of many days from which they learn. The way I see it is as long they see me get back up after I fall, after I make mistakes, we are okay.

Our family has experienced a devastating tragedy. As I am learning how to carry my own pain and continue living, I am both a student and teacher. Along the way of my own journey I am learning about life, myself and my strength. I am also responsible for teaching my children. With my own thoughts, expectations, beliefs and emotions shaken to the core, it puts me on a shaky ground as a teacher.

Perhaps the teaching of thoughts, expectations, beliefs and emotions is not the important part though. Perhaps it is more important to model the process of discovering what one believes. One thing my children do see is how to persevere and find the good wherever we can. I am unsure if I am teaching them correctly in so many areas but I do know that my husband and I teach them to see the best in everything. I also know we have fostered an eternal connection with their brother. There is no doubt in my mind that there are areas that I am not shining in but all I can do is my best.

Although I use the word “heal” a lot in my writing and speaking, I am very conscious that the definitions provided in dictionaries are not akin to my process. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines healing as, “to make sound or whole”. Nope. “to make well again: to restore to health”. If we are comparing to the first days after loss, yes. Other than that – no. “to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome”. Nope. For me healing is a journey, not a condition. I am carrying on in my life and continuing to live.

Last weekend I learned a new phrase, “post traumatic growth”. This phrase is very apropos to my journey. Everyone goes through difficult periods in their lives. We all have our own versions of trauma. When we are under duress, we are forced to change. Change does not mean that things turn out the way we want them to. It simply means that things change because we cannot stay the same and endure the stress or pain we are living with.

The reason behind change is often the traumatic part. The journey is often the growth part. August will mark five years since we lost Christian. Over those five years I have met many people who have lost children. None of us will ever be the same or whole again. All of us have learned valuable lessons. In life we are continuous learners. It has been challenging to learn while teaching but I suppose this is a facet of parenting no matter the circumstances. Love to heaven…

 

Hope Is In Every Step

Hope. We all need it to survive. After Christian passed away it was completely unfathomable to me that I would ever feel it again. Yet I have and I do. That is not to say that it doesn’t waver, because it does.

This particular topic is on my heart tonight as I’ve just returned home from an amazing workshop at LiveOnNY. LiveOnNY is a non profit organization that works to procure organ donation in the Greater New York area. The beautiful thing about this organization is that they are actively working with the donor families after their loss.

When Christian passed away I knew immediately that his wishes would be to help someone else in need. After all, our body only houses our soul. Without hesitation we answered “yes” when they asked if we wanted his organs to be donated.

Right there we chose hope. There was no chance of our little boy coming back to us but there was a chance that his organs could offer hope for someone else, and they did.

In the moment when they asked us about organ donation I didn’t feel any bit of hope. I didn’t feel it after we said yes. I didn’t feel it for a very long time. We are four and a half years walking this journey and there are still days when hope eludes me. Most days though it is somewhere in my soul.

How did I get to a place where I feel any semblance of hope? Sometimes even I wonder. I know I have an abundance of love and support that surrounds me. That certainly helps. I also know that I made a conscious decision to carry on. It is something that I work on constantly. Some days it feels fairly simple. Other days it requires my every effort, every minute of the day. I feel like I am walking through sludge.

Self care, a topic of today’s workshop, is a large part of me being able to find hope again. From the very start I tried anything that I thought might offer the tiniest bit. That included acupuncture, therapy, walks with friends, yoga, art, exercising, writing, attending grief groups and other activities that are not coming to mind right now. Some worked and some didn’t. Some I still utilize as self care tools today. Most importantly my willingness to try things helped me to find a way to survive this unthinkable loss. The key to hope is finding what works for you.At today’s workshop I met many amazing people. For some the loss was extremely new and raw. It took such courage for them to be there. Their desperation to find any sort of relief written all over their faces and evidenced in their tears. My heart broke for them. It is not so long ago that I was in their place. Even in all I tried I don’t think I had the courage to attend a workshop like this so soon after our loss.

I saw myself in these people. One woman, a writer, unsure if she will ever write again. Another family of a mother and three daughters who lost their only brother, all clearly devastated. I was them. I am them. Time has just taught me how to integrate the pain into my life today. Sadness and joy live alongside each other in my world, as it will for them.

That’s hope. Newly grieving people feel devoid of it, but they don’t realize that they are already building it. Every step one takes to find relief from the blinding pain allows hope to filter in. They may not feel it today, tomorrow or next week. It takes time to chip away a big enough space to see the hope shining through. It will. Each time one wakes up and makes it through another day. That’s hope. Pepper it with a few healthy attempts to relieve the pain and you are building hope. It doesn’t feel like it, but you are.

Thank you to the amazing staff at LiveOnNY for the workshop you led. As one participant said it so beautifully to them, “You should feel great about yourselves today, knowing you are making a difference in lives”. They were my dose of hope today. Love to heaven…

The Blank Canvas

With the New Year upon us and a fresh blank canvas laid out before us, many adults commit to different ways they are going to change their lives. They iterate goals they would like to reach and set out in pursuit of them. Not unlike others I have goals but I tend to reevaluate them on a regular basis, so I did not make any hard and fast resolutions this year. It occurred to me this morning that it was time to have the talk about 2019 goals and resolutions with my boys, especially my eight year old.

Each month at school the Principal’s Award is given to one student in each class. As I launched into my lecture about how he may be able to receive it if he worked hard and went above and beyond, he responded with an answer that reflected his personality. “I am going to let other people get them. I am not out only for myself”. This led me to have a talk with him about how that is a beautiful attitude in some areas but that we all need to have something we are working towards, striving for. He looked at me and said, “I am not working towards the Principal’s Award. I want to reach a goal that is closer”. It was only then that I realized that my anxiety had informed this lecture. Didn’t all children wish to be recognized by the Principal while the whole school looked on? Or is that my hope for him? Each time I open my Facebook feed on the first Friday of the month, I am reminded that my son has not received the Principal’s Award since Kindergarten. In turn that leads me to berate myself about how I am not doing enough as a mother. He needs to read more, practice his math facts more and watch less TV. Changes may need to be made, but nothing positive comes out of me criticizing myself. What really needs to happen is that I need to take a step back and separate my insecurities about mothering from him as a student. Furthermore, the Principal’s Award is not the measure of him as a student or me as a mother. (As I sit and write these words I feel quite neurotic but I know that if I am feeling this way so are others!)

While I quickly reigned in my anxiety, the urgency in my voice quelled and I asked him what his goals were. He explained to me what he wanted to achieve. Now the fire returned to my voice, but not in an anxious way, in a motivational way. “Well, let’s reach this goal! What do we have to do in order to crush it? Let’s get started right away!” For a second there I felt like I was on a big stage giving a motivational speech. It worked though. I saw the fire ignite in him. The drive that I was so afraid he was lacking, kicked in. It was there all along. I just wasn’t tapping into it.

It is easy to relate to my middle child as his personality mirrors mine in many ways. Fear of failure sometimes affects how I set and achieve goals. Part of the reason I reevaluate  my goals frequently is because I need to make sure they are a stretch but still attainable. My trainer, Jessika Ramie of FYTE.co, often says, “We may have to adjust our expectations.” Through this mindset, and with her help, I have been able to structure my goals and plans to reach them in a way that fosters success. In turn, my confidence is boosted and I am willing to strive for more and more. My aim is to scaffold this same experience for my son. The more confident he feels, the more he will try. If we have no goals and nothing to strive for, we make much smaller leaps and bounds in life.

Striving to be our best is a lesson that is important for my boys to learn. They must know that their best means their best. In a world where competition runs rampant it is easy to get caught up in it. For some people this means they may become obsessed with it. For others, like my middle child and myself, it means we shy away from it due to fear of failure. I am so grateful for my husband who is always quick to remind my boys to believe in themselves. If he hears self doubt in their words, he is quick to correct them by replacing their negative words with positive ones and making them repeat after him.

There are kids who instinctively have less fear of failure and more drive. Whether it is a competitive nature that feeds it or a need to be the best. My middle guy is more sensitive in that way. He is aware of not wanting to take away from others. As I explained to him, there is a time and place for that. Individual goals mean that you don’t have to take away from anyone else. As I write this, it is so clear that individual goals would have been the way to motivate him from the start. It is in his nature to achieve on a individual level where he doesn’t feel the pressure of competing with anyone else.

This simple, ten minute talk with my eight year old taught me so much, in more ways than one. It taught me about him, myself and my parenting. It reminded me why it is so important to be in tune with my boys. It also reminded me of the joys and beauty of being a parent. My husband and I will support our boys in the best way we know how. We will make mistakes and so will they, but as long as we keep the lines of communication open and the love flowing, we will design these blank canvases together. Love to heaven…

Unconditional Love

Thanksgiving and the holidays are a time for reflection. We remember special days of the past. We look forward to future days to come. My memories are peppered with holidays from my youth, filled with magic. I strive to create the same feeling for my children.

I want them to feel excitement, warmth and the abundance of love shared with family and friends. At the same time I want them to learn how to give warmth and love. It’s important for them to know how to express these emotions.

It’s also important for them to know how to give to those who are not as fortunate to experience an abundance of warmth and love. They have the compassion and strength to help create this for some people. My boys need to know that this is part of their calling. I believe we all have this compassion and strength within us. For my children, given the sadness they know, it’s even more important. They must know that there are people who experience tragedies even worse than what they have gone through. They also must know that there are people who are more fortunate.

Christian continues to teach and guide us through our lives, as individuals and family. He wants and needs us to spread love, compassion and kindness. My boys know that I love them always and forever. It is unconditional acceptance and love. If I can teach them to spread this type of love, I believe they will make a marked difference in this world. Love to heaven…

Quick Thought: Humor Is A Lifesaver

We just got the call here in New York that today is a snow day. I couldn’t resist writing a little something to go with this humorous meme. Give me an hour or two after my kids are awake and my disposition might not be as light! For now though everyone is still sleeping in their own beds. That means no one is smushed so close up against me that I have to get out and walk to the other side of the bed so I don’t fall out! That means no one is rubbing my earlobe. That means creepy baby’s shell of a leg is not sprawled across my face – don’t ask. That means no one has peed on me overnight. That means I have glorious time to myself! Sure it’s way earlier than I want it to be but these may be the only moments I get to myself!

These moments, these times when they cuddle with me in bed, and use me as their body pillow, will be something I miss. I know I will. It’s just hard to miss something when it is part of a regular routine. I can remember with Christian being so paranoid when I got frustrated with him because I wasn’t enjoying him enough. How many times do people say,

“You will miss these days.”

Each and every time I heard that or thought that, I became stressed. That stress caused me to be even more short tempered. In the end that reminder may not be the best. Keeping the idea that I will miss this someday in the back of my head seems a much better option for me than dwelling on it.

  • It’s easy to think about how much I will miss this time when my kids are grown. For the most part I am successful at staying present and enjoying my children. Even before losing Christian I feel that this was my approach to parenting. However, after hearing the “poopy song” 56 times in an hour my excitement about being present dims. Then comes the nerf to the butt. Throw in a little fighting and I am looking to lock myself in the bathroom!
  • It goes without saying that every parent has been there. It also goes without saying that we all love these little antagonizers more than anything. It took me a long time after losing Christian to be okay with these feelings. My heart was plagued with such pain. I would give anything to get him back, even at his toughest moments. A friend of mine taught me the power of the word “and”. This changed a lot for me.
  • I can be a grieving mother who would do anything to get her son back AND still be a person who gets frustrated with her living children. In no way does this mean I don’t love them more than anything. It just means I am a human.

  • The love I have for my children is unmeasurable. I will miss when my boys don’t cuddle with me. Hearing “mommy” in their little voices melts me every time, unless they are whining or screaming. There is so much to be missed but it makes it so hard to enjoy if we think that way.
  • Parenting is hard. Sometimes it makes your heart swell a hundred times. Other times it makes you feel like sticking a fork in your eye. Such is life. Humor will get us through those moments that make us want to pick up the fork. One thing I have learned is that humor heals. If it weren’t for the nerf to the butt what would we miss in twenty years?
  • Today parents of children waking up to find out that school is closed, find humor. When you have refereed the 73rd fight and can’t take it anymore, find something humorous. When you have dressed and undressed them for snow for the tenth time, when you have cleaned pee off the floor for the thousandth time, find humor. If you can’t find that, find wine! Both will get us through. Sending good vibes and hopes for humor to all of you today! Love to heaven…
  • Emotional Ramifications of Song Lyrics

    Music is a universal language. It can change one’s mood instantly. For some it is part of their daily self care repertoire. Both playing and listening to music have tremendous value and affect emotional states. Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013). The positive effect musics has on us is evident.

    The power of music lies in its strength to influence. Society, especially young adults, tend to take the lyrics of songs and internalize them. If the lyrics are relatable and the artist identifies with feeling pain and persevering through, it is a positive influence for the listener.

    The issue emerges when the lyrics are not so positive. Most recently the song, “Psycho” by Post Malone has reached the top of the charts. It is played multiple times a day. The tune is catchy and I often find myself singing along, until one certain line. Every time I hear the line, “Had so many bottles, gave ugly girl a sip”, I cringe. As a forty year old woman who has struggled with self confidence all my life, this line angers me. I have lived through enough to know that our appearances are not the most important thing in life. My concern is for the younger listeners.

    Listeners with low self confidence and fragile egos are susceptible to being pulled down even further. To a young girl who struggles with body image, these words are damaging. If she is already hearing negative voices about her own appearance, she is very likely to internalize this. Of course the lyrics are not expressly directed at her. Nonetheless the message is that ugly girls don’t deserve the same as pretty girls. Post Malone’s message is that the “ugly girl” got a sip because he “had so many bottles”. This sends the message to girls who perceive themselves as ugly that they are not enough.

    An individual who already has negative self talk occurring in his or her head does not need any more fuel to feed the fire. The lyrics from Post Malone’s song only add more fuel. In addition, the popularity of the song means hearing it multiple times a day, adding to the frequency of negative thoughts. In the article, The Toxic Effects Of Negative Self Talk, Elizabeth Scott, MS states, “Studies have linked negative self-talk with higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-esteem. This can lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. This type of critical inner dialogue has even been linked to depression“.

    While the issue truly lies inside the one whose perception is making her feel this way, it does not benefit anyone to perpetuate these feelings. Freedom of speech and expression is important but just as we censor out curse words for the general listening public we may need to examine other degrading phrases as well. This may sound extra sensitive to some readers but if you have ever had any experience with an eating disorder, someone dealing with depression or someone who is suicidal, the idea of censoring offensive lyrics would be more appealing.

    Music weaves it’s way into the soul. When it is uplifting and beautiful so are its effects. When it includes negative messages, its effects are negative. So many of us struggle with body image. It is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to work through these issues. If we can avoid furthering these issues and adding to them with simple general listener censoring, it will benefit society. Love to heaven…

    Freedom In Sharing Faults

    We all have faults. Some of us are better than others at accepting our faults or shortcomings. Some of us have a more difficult time. I fall into the latter category. It is easier for me to accept other’s faults than my own. I am kinder to others than myself when the topic of personal faults comes up. I’m not alone.

    No one is perfect. How many times have we heard that old adage? We hear it repeatedly because it’s true. Yet so many of us strive for perfection or close to it in ourselves. When our shortcomings present themselves we feel disappointed and angry. Many times for me this turns into shame and then the mean voices begin. I wish I could tell you how to make those stop. That is still a work in progress for me. What I can tell you is that sharing and connecting with others helps in quieting those voices.

    Healing is in our own heart’s message. Once we hear it we can surround ourselves with people who reflect that message. Share your pain. Healing is in connection.             – Cara Martinisi

    It’s no secret that I wear my heart on my sleeve. My writing is proof of that. I don’t believe this kind of sharing or level of sharing is for everyone. I do believe that opening up to another human being who you feel a deep level of connection and comfortability with will change your life. I don’t mean opening up about the difficulties you have on the surface. That’s great too, and we all need that, but when we go deeper in our relationships, friendships and connections that is when your faults and shortcomings lose the momentum to instill shame.

    Shedding the shame of our faults and learning to make peace with them can only make us better people. Connecting, beautiful soul connections, only enrich our lives. Many times when I ask Christian what message he wants me to share with everyone it revolves around kindness and connection. There is something there. The more connected we are to each other, the more kindness spreads.

    Connection to others lets us know that we are all important. Children are more visibly receptive to this than adults, but that is only because they are more open. Engage a child and see how their face changes. When we take interest in each other’s lives we are interwoven emotionally. This is valuable on all levels. It is important to connect casually, deeper and so deep that your soul shines through. Connection promotes kindness. Kindness helps us to be nicer to ourselves and those around us. If you want to quiet your mean voices, if  you want to take away the shame associated with your shortcomings, connecting will help. Love to heaven…