... for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Friday, December 23, 2016

The most wonderful time of the year - or is it?

Christmas-time is wonderful and beautiful and uplifting and gives us hope – and can be a terrible time of year for those who mourn their soul mate. Memories of Christmases past haunt us – wrapping presents together, little rituals as a couple, visits to family – together --- these are happy memories but also sad reminders of what no longer is.
Christmas in the Poconos
John and I had a special ritual that we did every year. I am Italian by heritage and one of the things I carried forward from my childhood was the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” that we as a family did on Christmas Eve *. John had never had this experience but he came to love it and look forward to it. Since we didn’t like the traditional fish used, our challenge was to come up with other fun things to eat – shrimp cocktail and crab dip, for instance. We had this meal – usually with some bubbly- while we opened our presents at midnight. As we got older, midnight morphed into an earlier and earlier hour but we still did it on Christmas Eve. It was our special time. Some years we would go away for that holiday. Our favorite destination was a place in the Poconos. We would pack up the car with our presents for each other, our stockings, and our Christmas Eve feast and off we’d go.
After John passed it was very hard for me to even think about Christmas, let alone decorate or buy presents or celebrate in any way. I was lucky in that friends and family understood and respected my need to be alone and cut back. Slowly, after the passage of a few years, the idea of celebrating Christmas became less painful. Last year I put up a tree again and decorated the house a little. This year I did a little more. The decorations are new – it was and is too painful to use the ones John and I used but at least I am making progress.
And I have started some new traditions with some close friends – dinners together and afternoon tea.
Life and time marches forward with or without us.
We each mourn in our own way and our own time.
If you are mourning a loved one, don’t berate yourself because you are not doing things as you think you “should” or friends and family think you “should”. There are no shoulds. Only what you can do now, in this place and in this time. You will know in your heart when the time is right. Forcing it will only makes things worse.
I can only tell you from my perspective. This will be my 7th Christmas without John. Does it still hurt? Oh, yes! Do I still wish he were here with me? With every cell of my being.
But he’s not.
So, I honor his memory by doing things like donating in his name to charities I know he would love. And I celebrate the holiday with friends and we share stories of our loved ones and we smile and laugh and for a few moments they are in our midst again.
We do what we can. You do what you can.
It is enough.
All is well.
Merry Christmas!

* From Wikipedia: Origins and tradition: The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration, although it's not called by this name in Italy and is not a "feast" in the stricter sense of "holiday," but a grand meal. Strictly speaking, Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

An Old Gaelic Prayer

This prayer arrived today from a friend and I wanted to share it with you. Some of us might be at a place in our lives when it’s hard to join in with the joy and excitement of folks around us. Let this be our prayer for those of us in such a place right now.

Deep peace of the running waves to you,

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,

Deep peace of the smiling stars to you,

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,

Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you,

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

May God heal each of our hearts and restore our joy. Amen.

May you be blessed and surrounded by love and light this holiday season and going forth into the new year.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Old Spice for Steve

I remember Christmases with Steve. Steve was Norm’s younger brother and mentally challenged. He was in his early thirties when I married Norm, but I quickly realized that he would never be much older than sixteen. Forever a teenager, he could sometimes be socially inept. But he was always loving and especially giving. And so, Christmas with all its presents was his absolute favorite time of year.

Every Christmas, Steve would arrive at the family get together smelling strongly of his beloved Old Spice cologne and with carefully budgeted and selected gifts in hand. Usually, he could only afford to buy something – most often from his neighborhood Walgreen’s - for the women in the family, but he never forgot us. And when he would arrive, he would be so excited about giving his gifts that he would insist we drop whatever we were doing and open his gift immediately. Yes, Steve loved Christmas. But he loved giving even more.

So, when Steve transitioned from us is it any wonder that Christmas presents and the scent of Old Spice always make me think of Steve and his generous, loving heart? The first year after he died, I was determined to keep his spirit alive within the family.

Now, for many years, the adults in our family have agreed that none of us needs more stuff. Instead, we have opted for a silly gift exchange that involves drawing numbers and often stealing gifts that have been opened before your number came up. And every year, Steve gets to be a small part of the game. We put numbered slips of paper in a hat and starting with the oldest person in the room, we each pick one. But I add a ringer. Among the numbers is one that says, “Steve.”

Whoever draws Steve’s name gets an extra gift that they are not to open. We all know what it is, after all. It is a wrapped bottle of Old Spice. With it comes the instruction that they are to pass the gift along to someone who would not otherwise receive a Christmas gift. It can be someone they know or a complete stranger. The important thing is that someone gets a surprise Christmas gift. And in that brief moment of passing forward an unexpected gift, Steve is a part of our Christmas once more.

Christmas is memories. It is tradition. And yet it is a time of year when the memories can be too painful to let us celebrate without a loved one who has transitioned. But it is also a time when we can remember sweet pasts when they were with us. Those are the memories we treasure and maybe, just maybe honoring the memories can ease the pain of loss just a little bit.

I don’t know what memories you have of the people you loved who are no longer with you. I do know that they will always live in your heart. And perhaps you can still celebrate their most beautiful qualities by passing forward a little bit of the love they gave you when they were here. So, my question is, what is your Old Spice? What gift can you pass forward in honor of the one you have lost? Whatever it is, I believe their spirit will surely treasure that. And perhaps in making that gift, your heart can find a small measure of peace in the memories it brings to mind.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Spirit Dance by Betts McCalla

I started off 2016 with a resolution to say Yes more than No to invitations offering new experiences and challenges. Sometimes you can do things that are totally out of character for you just because someone asked and without a lot of consequential hemming and hawing you said yes. Months ago, I noticed a blurb in our church bulletin mentioning that one of our members was starting a praise dance troupe and inviting people to join.  I love many genres of music, am happy watching any form of creative dance, and especially enjoy praise dance as it is a joyous offering for the Lord and not a competition. I wished her luck but it didn’t mean anything special to me because let’s face it, I’m in a wheelchair.

An exchange of pleasantries with Willi, the dance leader, one Sunday morning led to her spontaneous invitation for me to come and see if I would be interested in participating. For weeks I felt like the kindergartener who was always turning the wrong way and waving to parents in the audience. But it felt good to be part of this group of lovely and vital women. And seeing that I had joined encouraged another woman using a wheelchair to also join our troupe so we had a matched set so to speak. The applause we received at the end of our debut performance was spontaneous and heart-felt, and the positive comments reaffirmed my decision. View here https://youtu.be/vXfkgGbQkmg Hearing that the wheelchairs performers added a new visual dimension made my day and I hope our participation will inspire other mobility challenged dancers.

Don’t decide that something isn’t for you because you’ve never done it before. It's easy to shut down and avoid participation in anything not necessary for day to day survival when you are grieving the loss of your love but know how proud your loved ones are of you from the next side. And how much they want you to succeed by moving forward with your life. Practice saying Yes. Twirl with the best of them and at the end of the day know you gave it a shot. You stepped out of your comfort zone and you took a risk.  Remember, your delivery doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be accomplished.