Category Archives: Uncategorized

Loss of Love

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings swirling around right now, as I’m writing this a day after the shooting in a Florida high school. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I usually have a lot to say about such things. Right now, I don’t want to get into the political issues. All I can say is that I believe we are all part of the problem, but I also know we can each be a part of the solution. One way is to recognize that we are each a part of the human family. Those kids and adults who were killed, and the others who were injured and traumatized, and their families and surrounding community all need the rest of us to step up.  (I don’t mean send “thoughts and prayers” with no follow-up, but really sending loving thoughts is absolutely OK).  It’s just not enough.

Choosing sides and continuing the argument about what to do or whether we can do anything is going to happen as it always does. Whether or not anything comes from it this time remains to be seen. As I write this, we have very little information about the shooter, other than he has lost both parents, has had a love for guns and has talked about being “a professional school shooter.” Because of what I do every day, I know there is much more to it.

Events like this are so overwhelming we can feel helpless and hopeless. But, while I allow myself to feel the pain, I also take the opportunity to look for the helpers. Paralyzing events like this always bring out the helpers. BE a helper. Look for ways you can make a difference, no matter how small.  That might mean sending a donation of a few dollars to an organization that is providing services of some kind for the victims or maybe there is an account set up for donations for  survivors (I haven’t seen this yet); perhaps just send a card to the school to express your love and support. Hug your own kids and talk to them about this tragedy. Answer their questions to the best of your ability and what is appropriate for their age.  This is a thin line. We obviously don’t want to scare them too much, but they need to know these things happen and that there are things that can be done to protect themselves. If you’re not aware of what your own local schools and first responders are doing to prepare in case of the worst case scenario, find out;, then set up a plan with your family on how to connect in case of an emergency. As difficult as this is to consider, when/if it happens, it can provide a lot of relief.

Maybe all you can do is to just be a little kinder to the person next to you on the bus, or at work.  We never know if that person could be the one who feels so alone that they are considering going out and shooting a bunch of people because, in some warped way, they think that might help them feel better or get back at someone who harmed them. In a lot of ways, we’ve become a society of isolated individuals.  That’s not who we are at the core. We are connected to each other in a very deep way, even though we look, act and think differently.

I don’t want us to block these events out and become callous to them. We need to feel the pain and horror of them or nothing will change.  But because we are so aware of so many such events, we can become traumatized by them just by watching on social media or the nightly news. We’re all grieving at some level. We may not personally know any of the victims, but most of us have lost loved ones and understand the depth at which our grief can go. Just as we keep the memories of our own loved ones alive because they were a part of our lives; so can we remain connected to the victims of this most recent shooting, and make their lives mean something – because they were a part of the fabric of our society.

Attacks such as this bring trauma, which complicates the grief, and takes longer to address in our minds because they literally change the wiring in our brain. The best thing we can do is to talk openly about it as much as possible and seek help when we recognize it’s affecting our ability to carry on with life as we’ve known it. Because each time these shootings happen, those of us who witness from afar can be re-traumatized in our own grief, I’m re-posting this updated version of a blog I’ve shared before:

The loss of a loved one is possibly the most painful experience any of us will ever have. Recuperating from such a loss is a long, difficult journey. In fact, we’re never the same. We’re not supposed to be. One of the purposes of grief is for those of us remaining to re-examine who we are and where we are in life’s journey.

We develop an identity around a relationship that is separate from our own personal identity. We become comfortable with how we see ourselves within that context and it gives us a sense of “being” that wouldn’t be there without the other(s). (This is different from feeling l like we “need” another person in our lives to feel whole. That’s a blog for another time). I’m talking about the connection between two or more people that bonds us – as a couple, a family, a group of friends/co-workers/Americans or human beings. That bond becomes an entity separate from the individuals involved.

This identity gives us a kind of strength – a frame of reference for how our life is going to play out. When a part of that entity is taken away, it literally rocks our world, and initially, we don’t know how to proceed.

Many people (not all) find that, as they go through the bereavement process, it can be helpful, to maintain that connection with the deceased. In grief literature (yes, there is such a thing), this is called Continuing Bonds (CB). In fact, studies have found that continuing a connection to the deceased provides comfort and support in coping with the loss and adjustment, and it’s even seen as a “normal” part of the process.

As I said earlier, grief never ends. It’s not something we “go through;” it’s something that becomes a part of us. It’s forever. However, we often find that as we work through our grief and make room for it in our lives, it becomes a more peaceful and positive presence. Warm memories and a connection with our loved ones eventually replace the painful, panicky feelings that once represented the loss.

We don’t detach from our loved ones, or leave them behind in some way; we carry their energy with us throughout our lives. Our relationship didn’t die when they left their physical body, but it grows and matures; and we relate to them through an ever-changing lens as we evolve and mature.

When the bereaved can embrace this concept, it can help us feel a little less misunderstood and a little less crazy. So holding on to items that belonged to them, doing things we used to do together, or visiting places where we feel close to them can all enhance the continuing bonds, and can actually help us cope with our grief.

When I think of this process of coming into a new sense of identity within a loving relationship, I remember watching one of my granddaughter’s favorite movies with her – The Velveteen Rabbit. Shortly after we watched the movie, I came across this passage in the book DARING GREATLY by Brene Brown. She quotes the toys in the original book – it’s a beautiful reminder of how good it feels when we know we’re loved:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Those of us who have experienced grief know all too well the pain that comes along with losing someone we care for deeply. The temptation is often to close off our hearts so we don’t have to experience this pain again. But that’s where the growth is – in the love, in the pain and in the continuing bond.

If we don’t allow ourselves to completely experience each relationship, we are not fully alive. As difficult as it is when the loss comes, it eventually makes the love that much more precious.

If we extend this out to a broader perspective, it’s time for our citizens to experience a deeper relationship with each other, and for our country to grow through this pain and form a continuing bond that can carry us on to a safer and more emotionally stable existence.

Grief on Valentines Day

Valentines Day is a day to recognize the love that connects you and your spouse, or any romantic involvement in the present. But if you’ve lost a loved one who was an intimate partner – or anyone who was very close to you, Valentines Day can be especially painful. The past can represent a hole in your heart where your loved one used to be.

Honoring that person in a specific way that meant something to the two of you together is one way to get through the holiday. Will it still be painful? Probably. But the choice you have is where you focus. If you put your energy on the good memories and allow yourself to revisit those feelings and stay with them as long as possible, it may help keep you in the love a little more than in the grief. But if all you allow yourself to think about is that he’s no longer with you in physical form, then the grief can overwhelm you.

But your loved one is with you – just in a different form. If you look for the signs she will show up. Those on the other side want us to know they are around. The signs are subtle. Don’t try to force them. They typically come when we least expect them. So keep your focus on the here and now as much as you can, but be open and attentive to possible signs. Here are some of the ways they let us know they are here:

-They send an animal to us. Some of the more common animals are butterflies, birds, dragonflies or deer. The animal does something it usually would not do, such as land on you, peck at your window or scream at you. If a particular animal held some significance for you and your loved one, it’s very likely that is the animal that will show up for you.

-They place common objects such as feathers, coins, or rocks in our path. Again, this is often something that was significant to them – or to you.

-They give off fragrances. Often you can smell her perfume or favorite flower, his cigar or cigarette smoke, or any other familiar smell they had. Once I smelled a roast that was made specifically the way my mother used to make it. I’ve never known anyone else to use that recipe. I was in my office where there was no kitchen and no one else around.

-They make songs come on at the perfect time. On several occasions, when I’ve been wondering what to do to help a client – or which choice to make in my life, I have had a song pop into my head or come on the radio that holds a message confirming my choice.  But often they play songs that meant something in your relationship.

-One of the easiest ways for them to come through to us is in our dreams. A dream that is a true visitation will be very peaceful and we will know it is our loved one. We will remember this type of dream in detail many years later. (On the other hand, a subconscious dream may be frightening or feel bad. This type of dream is not your loved one, and is more likely to be your own mind trying to make sense of your loss).

-They show us the same numbers over and over. They often give us numbers that are relevant to them or you, such as birth dates, anniversaries – or repeating numbers, such as 1111, 2222, 3333, etc. These numbers may appear on clocks, billboards, license plates or any other familiar place.

-They allow us to feel peaceful for no reason. When our loved ones are in the room, they usually make us feel so loved and at peace. It usually happens at the most unsuspecting time, so there is no logical explanation for our sudden bliss.  I have had an overwhelming sense of peace come over me  while driving in the car.

-They place thoughts in our head. Our loved ones don’t have an audible voice, so they give us messages telepathically. Pay attention to thoughts that just “pop” into your head. We can tell the difference between our thoughts and theirs by backtracking our thoughts. If you can find the thought that triggered the thought of your loved one, it is probably your thought. If something your loved one would say just pops in your head for no reason, it is probably him or her speaking directly to you!

-They love to play with electricity. They turn electricity on and off. They like to flicker lights, turn the television and radio on and off, make appliances beep for no apparent reason and mess with computers.

-They make buzzing noises in our ears. Because our loved ones speak to us on a different, higher frequency, we may hear ringing in our ears when they are trying to get our attention. This is a sign telling you to listen to what they are saying.

These are not the only signs our loved ones are with us, but some of the more common ones.  Again, the evidence is usually very subtle. But they love to be around us, especially on holidays that mean a lot to us and to them.

So do the best you can to focus on the holiday, or on whatever you need to do, and it’s very possible you will receive a sign.  Just be open to it.

Valentines Day

Valentines Day is day to recognize the love that connects us with others we deem as special. It’s a holiday I can’t let pass without some kind of acknowledgement here, because it’s all about LOVE, which is what I believe is our primary purpose here on earth. We are here to experience and to expand our understanding of what love is all about.

As I’ve aged, I’ve had some health scares, and currently, my husband is newly diagnosed with cancer, so we’re awaiting some results and weighing options on how to proceed. I also have several friends who are dealing with cancer and other health issues and the loss of loved ones. They are each approaching it in their own way, but I’m in awe of the courage they show as they move forward and take in the wisdom such experiences offer them. All of this just reminds me all too well how short life can be. I continue to learn to appreciate every moment of my life – the good, the bad and the ugly. I know ALL of it holds important opportunities for me and my loved ones.

Life doesn’t promise us anything, except choices. We have the opportunity to live any way we like. No matter how we choose to live, we’ll have pain and we’ll have joy. And we can learn from both. Life didn’t promise to be wonderful, but it sure is full of little wonders! And we only have to be open to see them, feel them, and allow them to happen.

We can choose to close ourselves off to all of this. From one perspective, it might feel safer that way. The belief is that no one can use us or hurt us. But in the long run, that route only hurts us the most. We would probably miss out on some of the pain that will inevitably happen (because it’s part of human relationships); but we would also miss out on the wonderful excitement, brilliance and loving energy that human connection provides. So we can choose to have life’s biggest wonder – love. Love has to be shared in order to grow and fertilize our lives. We share it in a smile, a touch, a hug or a kiss. We share it with a Tweet or post on social media, a card, a phone call or video chat, or a text. We share it with our friends, our partners, our family. And we can also share it with others we don’t even know, but who we see have been knocked down by natural disasters, poverty, health concerns or just mistreatment because of the color of their skin, their lifestyle or their beliefs that are slightly different from what a majority follows. Sometimes this is the most significant kind of love – the kind that forces us to step outside our comfort zone for someone who needs help more than we do.

There is no such thing as an ordinary moment. They are each extraordinary and wonderful in their own way! But they are more wonderful when we make a little effort to be the change we want to see in the world. So on this Valentines Day, I challenge you to give one moment of your precious time to someone who needs something you can give.  It can be something simple, like helping an elderly person with their cart at the grocery store, buying lunch for a homeless person on the street, or just sitting silently beside someone who looks lonely. We often can’t do anything to change another person’s situation or feelings, but sitting with someone in pain is the most precious gift we can give, and the dividends are extraordinarily high for the cost of a few moments.

There is no pass or fail in life.  All the experiences that happen to us serve as seeds for growth.  So go forward and plant those seeds. And have a Happy Valentines Day!

What Are You Still Carrying?

This is about something I need to remind myself of regularly, so I thought I’d share it with you again:

Although all we really have is this moment, most of us spend much of our energy and time in the past or in the future.  As humans, I don’t think we can completely get away from that, but we need to remember that the only place we have any power is right now.  Here’s a story that illustrates how many of us carry around events and people that are weighing us down.

The story: Two monks were walking down a road in silence as they came upon a young woman who had been injured. One of the monks picked the woman up and carried her to help. Assured that she was in good hands, they continued their journey in silence. Several miles later, the other monk said, “Why did you pick up that woman? We’re not supposed to touch women.” The first monk simply said, “Are you still carrying her? I put her down miles ago.”

How many times have we carried someone or something from years ago? Our bodies & minds work together. Although the body is intelligent, it doesn’t know the difference between what’s really happening now and a thought. So if our thoughts keep dwelling on negative experiences or resentments towards others who have hurt us, then the body reacts to that as if it’s happening now and continues to feel the pain of the event. If we continually ask “why?” that’s a form of resistance, and the pain will remain. It often even develops into physical or emotional illnesses, or compulsive behaviors whose purpose is to continue to avoid feeling.

However, if we can just accept that this is a painful situation, allow ourselves to feel it and work through it, we will eventually be able to let it go.

Acceptance is the key, as the following excerpt from the Big Book of AA says so beautifully:

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.

Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.

I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

-Alcoholics Anonymous

Obsessive Thoughts and Compulsive Behaviors

Confession time:  I’ve found myself recently getting back into some compulsive behaviors as a way to cope. My way of doing this is to constantly “manage” things and try to fix them so I can get past my frustration. Depending on how deeply I get caught up in this behavior, I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, and forget to stay in the moment. I become obsessed with the future and try to control it.

I know and share with others that we need to allow ourselves to feel things as they arise. But I, like everybody else I’ve ever met, have certain ways I’ve historically coped before I understood and implemented this tool, and at times of stress we tend to slip back into old behaviors, even if we’ve learned better.  I tend to go into denial and stay compulsively busy in order to not allow the feelings in. Some people worry incessantly, drink or eat too much, use sex, exercise, gambling or work to escape their feelings.

The purpose of obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors is to avoid what we’re feeling inside – which is usually some level of fear.  So we get hyper-focused on something on the outside. Obsessions are like a downward spiral. The longer we stay in them, the more difficult it is to stop. (For me, it feels like it’s just sucking me down against my will). And the more we repeat the obsessive thought, the more ingrained it becomes. This seems to give it a life of it’s own – and makes it much more difficult for us to stop the obsessiveness.  Then we go right into compulsive behavior, which is an attempt to control something, because we feel out of control inside. (As I said, it’s a way to avoid the fear we’re feeling, but we kid ourselves into thinking that controlling SOMETHING will help).

It takes a deliberate act to stop it. We need to make an effort to move away from obsessiveness. This usually means getting OUT of our heads and into some other part of our lives – physical activity, expressing emotions appropriately, communicating with others, distracting ourselves visually or with some other sense.

It can feel impossible to break an obsessive pattern, but it’s not. Like any other skill, it takes practice, and the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.  First, I encourage not judging our obsessions, but becoming conscious enough to be able to witness them with awareness, curiosity and self-compassion.  This way the old beliefs upon which the obsession is based can eventually become more clear.  Only when we recognize irrational beliefs for what they are, can we begin to change them.

Why is it important to change them?  Because we behave according to what we believe about ourselves and the world and people around us.  If we think about it, much of the marketing in our culture is based on fear:  We buy health insurance, auto insurance, renters or homeowners insurance – the word insurance gives us the sense of a “guarantee” that even if the worst happens, we’ll be covered.  But even in selling us clothing, makeup, guns or cars, the advertisements are aimed at our fear that if we DON’T buy their product, we won’t be safe, cool, attractive, or at least “OK”.

If obsessive thoughts are really interfering in your life, I suggest finding a good therapist. But if you’re like me, and they just pop up when you’re off your game a little, or when something out of the ordinary happens to throw things out of balance, I encourage slowing down your mind, changing your focus, and reconnecting with your emotions. If you’re someone who meditates regularly or are even open to it, I highly recommend it.

Here are some other activities that might help (notice many of these are getting out of your head and into your body):

1) Physical exercise. Helps if this is something fun for you – dancing, tennis, running or whatever you enjoy.

2) Belly Breathing. Breathe deep into your abdomen. If you can, breathe in through your nose. As you let the breath out, let it out through your mouth. Notice that each time you breathe in you have to work at it – you have to contract your muscles and draw the breath in. But when you exhale, all you have to do is – just let go. (There are other variations on this, but this is a good start).  Just get used to that feeling of “just letting go”.

3) Progressive muscle relaxation. There are different ways to do this, but one of the simplest is to start at your head and tighten each muscle, then relax it. Take a breath and notice for a few seconds/minutes how it feels to be relaxed in that part of your body. Then go to your neck, your shoulders, arms, and all the way down your body. Finally feel your entire body sink into your bed or chair and imagine what it would feel like to have no bones – to just be limp. Sit with that as long as you can. Some people also imagine a warm, bright light shining down into their body from the top of their head and feel it “melting” down through each part of their body, head to toes.

4) Talk to someone you trust – and preferably someone who understands the issue you’re dealing with and can be compassionate and willing to listen. You don’t need advice, you just need to express what you’re feeling. OR just contact someone you enjoy visiting with and talk about a completely different subject to get your mind off your obsession.

5) Find an alternative (more positive) obsession. Work a crossword puzzle, or find craft or hobby – like gardening, repairing things, etc.  I don’t typically recommend “switching addictions,” but as long as it’s a healthy activity that helps take your mind off your thoughts, that’s the key. Balance is always important here. Don’t let the new obsession take you away from other important areas of your life, like family time, etc.

6) Other distractions: Reading or listening to calming music can be helpful. One of my favorite things to do after a stressful day is to watch Ellen or a stupid sitcom, or comedy so I can just laugh & release the negative energy. I also listen to spiritual or uplifting/inspiring podcasts or audio books daily, while I’m exercising.

7) Practice healthy rituals. Positive affirmations (example: “I’m free of stress” or “I can handle this”), prayer, meditation and yoga are free and can be uplifting.

Finally, and for long-term success, work on staying fully conscious on a consistent basis. This means to stay in the moment. Our past doesn’t dictate our present, it only informs it. The future is not here yet, and worrying will not change it. As long as we stay in the now, we can make the choice to do or be different.


Obsession is a way of organizing our lives so that we never have to deal with the hard part. -Geneen Roth