Monthly Archives: December 2013

Embrace ALL of Life

Years ago, when I was going through some issues with my family, I went to my mentor. He shared a story that has stuck with me since.

He began by telling me how much he loved tomatoes. This seemed strange to me & I wondered what that had to do with my family problems, but I trusted him, so I listened. He went on and on about how he fixed his tomatoes, what foods he ate them with, etc.

Then he told me that the tomatoes he bought in the grocery store were pretty good. He knew they were grown in a greenhouse. Because they were protected from the harsh sun and wind, and storms that were common in the town where we lived, they were nice and red and round – and they seldom had any other marks on them because they were also protected from insects and other varmints.

At that point, he began to brag about the tomatoes he grew in his own garden. They grew out in his back yard, had to weather the storms and the hot sun and wind that we often experienced during our Kansas summers. Those tomatoes were not always perfectly round, and they often had spots from the small animals eating on them. But their color was a much richer color of red and they were so much more juicy and flavorful.

What he was telling me is that sometimes life sucks. (That’s a clinical term). ;) We all have to face the elements of our particular environment.

We aren’t usually able to protect ourselves or our loved ones from going through the sucky part of life. We try sometimes – by helping too much when someone we care about is having a problem that they could (or need to) handle themselves. Or we keep ourselves so busy (or drink or get involved in some other compulsive behavior) so we don’t have to feel the pain of some loss in our own lives.

Even if we do manage to prevent ourselves or loved ones from going through the problem, it will come up again – and we (or they) will be less prepared than if we had begun to develop the skills we needed the first time.

But if we do allow life to unfold as it is, face it head on and realize we don’t have to orchestrate it, we’ll learn valuable lessons and develop our emotional muscles so that the next time, we’ll not only be more aware and ready to deal – it might not hurt as much as it did before.

And when we get through it, we’ll have a strength, a sense of accomplishment, and a confidence that will lead to a higher level of peace. (Going through that part of life might look a little chaotic at times, and not as “pretty” or controlled as it looks from the outside when we manage to avoid it. But the colors will be much more vivid and the taste, juicier and more full of flavor!!)

So embrace all of life – the good flavors – and the sucky stuff.

Christmas

Any client who has worked with me knows I talk about expectations a lot, because they affect everything in our lives – our relationships, our jobs, how we view our lives in general. . .

The holidays are no different. My office is busier this time of year than any other. Most years, the sun is less visible, causing a lower level of vitamin D and more cases of the blues, if not depression. Some of us have lost someone close to us, and are trying to decide how to make a holiday work in the midst of the pain and emptiness.  And then there is the anticipation of celebrations that we fear will not measure up to expectations, or the letdown when they didn’t – but mostly I hear the awareness that it won’t actually come close to what it’s “supposed to be”.

In fact, there may be more expectations wrapped around holidays than any other time of year. The media throws romanticized versions at us, dictating what is “traditional”. Many people believe holidays should be spent with loving family where everyone smiles and laughs and gets along wonderfully. If it doesn’t turn out that way – or if their family doesn’t look like that, they feel upset or down that their family is so dysfunctional. And some are just depressed because they don’t have family to spend the holidays with – or can’t be with their family, and feel they have nothing to look forward to at all.

The truth is holidays were seldom, if ever the way the media portrays them for most of us. Movies, TV shows and songs are forms of art. Art is supposed to evoke emotions, so it often portrays things more extremely to reach that sentimental place within each of us.

My husband and I had a few years where we couldn’t connect with any family for the holidays. What we did was to start a new tradition. A couple of Thanksgivings were spent in a Bed & Breakfast at a tourist location where there was lots of shopping and interesting restaurants. One Christmas, we went to a different movie each day for 3 days. The point is that we spent time doing things that we enjoy doing, but seldom have time for.

I love having my family here, but once again this year, our Christmas will be a little empty because we won’t be able to have our son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law with us in person.  But our 4 1/2 year old granddaughter is constantly reminding me to stay in the moment and to be in awe of everything that shows up!  I’m planning on this Christmas being a very quiet, peaceful day.  I’ve learned that the only way it can be is if I go into it without expectations of how everyone should behave. I love them for who they are, not who I want them to be. l don’t have control over them.

But I can be responsible for preparing myself by allowing time for excercise, meditation and eating a relatively healthy diet.  I know those things contribute to a better mood for me, and I’m less impulsive and reactive when I do those things.

Finally, I prepare by remembering that (for me) Christmas means giving to others, remembering with love those who are not here in the same way as they once were, and feeling gratitude (and yes, awe) for all the abundance that is in my life.

I wish each and every one of you that same abundance and peace.

Coping with Holidays After a Loss

Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss. The ways we handle them are as individual as we are. What is most important is that we be present for the loss in whatever form we can. Holidays are part of the journey to be felt fully. They are usually very sad, but sometimes we may catch ourselves doing okay, and we may even have a brief moment of laughter. Whatever you experience, just remember that sadness is allowed because death doesn’t take a holiday.

Our friends and relatives often think they know how our holidays should look, what the family should and shouldn’t do. They may just be uncomfortable with our pain, and just want us to feel better.  But grief is one of those things in life for which there is no detour.  We HAVE to go through it in order to come out on the other side.  However, we each go through it in our own way, so don’t let anyone else dictate how you manage your holiday.  There are no “supposed to’s”.  Now more than ever, be gentle with yourself, but do it your way.

One thing that usually helps is to find ways to honor and remember your loved one.  Here are just a few suggestions.  Be creative.

-If you miss shopping for your loved one, buy something he/she would have liked, then donate it to a shelter or some other organization that adopts families for the holiday.
-Light a candle
-Say a prayer
-Donate time or money in their name
-Do something you loved to do together on that day                                                                                -I’ve even heard of families who set a place at the table for their loved one, and share fond memories of him/her during the meal.

It isn’t as important how you remember.  You honor them by the fact that you remember.
Just Remember.

Have a peaceful holiday.

Remembering Your Choices During the Holidays

If you find yourself getting more stressed as the season continues, here are a few things to keep in mind.

CHOOSE to stay in the present rather than dwelling on past experiences and traditions that place high expectations on you and others.

CHOOSE to keep a sense of humor about it all.

CHOOSE to take a break occasionally and do something different — like taking a walk, deep breathing, or calling a friend who will understand and not judge you.

CHOOSE to avoid major life changes during the holidays. If at all possible, this is not a good time to move, change jobs, or begin or end relationships.

CHOOSE to keep a running list of Gratitude — helps the attitude. There is much to be said about counting your blessings rather than stewing in your sorrows.

CHOOSE to start a new tradition this year. If your family isn’t healthy for you to be around, find something else to do that you enjoy — sleep in, take a short trip, read that book you haven’t been able to find time to get to — or just spend time with someone you enjoy being around. A change of scenery can be especially helpful – fewer reminders of the negative past experiences. And if you go somewhere you’ve never been, you have to be more in the moment just to find your way around.

CHOOSE to take one day – hour – minute at a time. We can get through anything for a short period of time, easier than thinking in terms of “forever”.

CHOOSE to remember that we have choices in how we look at things.

Best Wishes for a great Holiday Season!!