Catching up

Catching up

A couple of quick notes:

I have another blog over at heartcallings.com. I invite you to check out (and share if you like) my Good Friday poem.

This morning I ventured into the world of Facebook live. For some reason the saved video is full of trembling, but hopefully we’ll have the issue fixed tomorrow. You’re invited to join me at 7:30 am on Holy Saturday.

And if you can stand the shaking, check out my thoughts about Good Friday and grief from this morning.

 

 

 

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When Your Home Runs Away From You

When Your Home  Runs Away From You

house-moving-1 Flashing lights stopped the early Sunday morning traffic. I caught my breath. Could my timing really be that perfect?

It was. My childhood home was coming down the street.

I’d grown up next door to a private school, and they’d never hid their lust for our land. When my parents moved into a retirement home the sale was made.

At first they were going to demolish the house. The school had no use for a brick ranch in the middle of the new soccer practice fields.  When I learned that someone was relocating it so that a new family could grow up in it, I burst into tears. Grateful tears.

I shed a lot of tears over losing that house and my mother’s beloved yard. I tend to attach myself deeply to places. Maybe you do too.

Losing a beloved place is a kind of grief, a very real grief. And yet, there are not community rituals to support us, to allow us to give voice to our loss. Sometimes we may feel shamed – or shame ourselves – for our feelings.

I’m going to talk about such losses in my upcoming webinar, If Nobody Died Why Am I Grieving? We’ll talk about losses like home and pets and relationships and dreams and how we can grieving them.

Come and join me. It’s free and you have a pick of three different times. (All webinars will be live.) You can register here.

I still miss having that home to drive by and revisit, although I go there often in my memories. Maybe you revisit the places and people and pets you’ve lost as well.


 

Hop on over to LinkedIn and read my latest article about letting go of what works.

Limping Into Advent (guest post)

Limping Into Advent (guest post)

(Today’s post comes by way of Alicia Davis-Porterfield, writing in the Ministry and Motherhood Blog. I gladly share this with her permission.)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned . . . Isaiah 9:2

It was dark, in those days. Very dark. Rome ruled Israel, the latest in a long line of conquerors. David’s line seemed all dried up after a succession of useless kings who led a great people to ruin. Caesar had ordered a new census with an eye toward his coffers.

The more people he could account for, the more taxes he could raise; the more taxes he could raise, the more people he could conquer. And so on and so on.

There was no one to challenge him in those days, no one who could shake the grip of the Roman Empire. Israel was a conquered people doing the will of a Caesar they neither chose nor revered nor trusted.

And so it was that Joseph put Mary on that donkey to take the long trip to his ancestral home of Bethlehem. They were not going for a great family reunion, tables laden with favorite foods and local delicacies. They were not headed home for a religious celebration with its own time honored traditions and deep roots in their faith.

They were doing the bidding of Caesar, whose command had come at just the wrong time for their lives, just when Mary’s pregnancy was coming to an end. When she should have been home in Nazareth surrounded by relatives and neighbors who could help her through the trial of labor, she was far from home, alone with only Joseph to attend her.

There was nothing about this story that seemed right, nothing that felt warm and homey and comforting. Mary got pregnant too early and under circumstances no one could believe. Joseph, confused and angry, was ready to quietly un-engage her, until an angel intervened.

And if that wasn’t enough, Caesar interrupted the whole thing with his call for a census, requiring a trip to Bethlehem, a place far from the home and family they knew. They would travel all that way, endangering themselves and the baby, so their conquerors could collect more tax money. This is not a happy story. Not yet.

If you are hurting or angry or confused this Advent season, you are in good company, at least according to the actual Biblical story. If you are lonely or grieving this Advent season, your story is their story, a people who had been conquered for centuries, wondering if God had forgotten them. If you can’t be full of good cheer and cringe at the thought of crowded malls and gift extravaganzas and to-do lists longer than your arm, you are not being a Scrooge or a Grinch.

In fact, you may know better than most the real struggle in this story we know almost too well. Perhaps those with troubled hearts might just have the ears to hear the depth of pain and longing the “holly jolly” approach has written right out of the story. This is the quiet story, not the one of hustle and bustle and ringing cash registers.

This is the story that makes room for pregnant teenagers and confused husbands and people who wonder what God is up to—or even sometimes, if God is up to anything, but who go anyway. This is the true story, according to scripture, the story that has almost been drowned out by demands for good cheer and forced festivities that actually have little to do with the nativity.

The birth of Christ was as far from a Hallmark Christmas special as it possibly could be. Don’t be snowed by the hype. If you are hurting in any way, if your heart is troubled, if you are limping instead of leaping, this is your story.

Advent is a time to prepare for the light coming into the darkness, which means that there is indeed darkness in the story. It does not have the last word, praise be to God. But the darkness is there, the struggle, the loss, the grief, the disappointment and anger–no matter how hard the marketers push to convince us otherwise.

If you are searching for that light, longing for it amidst the darkness, limping into Advent, you are not alone. The Bible tells us so.

 

Alicia Davis Porterfield serves, mothers, and writes in Wilmington, NC. After the recent death of her adored and adoring father, she is definitely limping into Advent.

 

“They’re not handling things well”

“They’re not handling things well”

pic-lossA client or friend tells me they’re concerned about someone whom they love, a family member, significant other or friend. “They’re not handling things well,” they tell me. Sometimes that person about whom they are concerned is their very selves. Because words mean different things to different people,  I ask them to explain.

Usually it comes down to this. The person has had a significant loss. They are sad. They are grieving. They may even be a bit depressed. I point out that such reactions are perfectly normal given the situation.

We have a skewed idea of what handling things well means. We praise people saying, “She did so well. she never cried during the funeral.” Excuse me, but aren’t most funerals at least little sad? You miss the person and your going to be missing the person the rest of your life.

Having a feeling doesn’t mean you’re not handling things well. Now if you cannot get out of bed or your anger is peeling the wallpaper off the walls, then we need to talk. But simply being sad because you’ve had a loss comes with the territory.


 

Losses come in all shapes and sizes. Join me on my free webinar (late January/early February) as we talk about other kinds of losses and why they matter.

If Nobody Died Why Am I Grieving? More info and registration here 

Let’s Stop the Grief Shaming

grievingRecently I’ve been introduced to a new term: grief shaming. Grief shaming happens when someone ridicules you for not grieving enough or the right way or the right thing. It’s been pretty prevalent recently.

If you grieve a service dog who was lost in the Paris attacks, you are shamed on the assumption that you don’t care about the people who died.

If you grieve the loss of life in Paris you are shamed because it is assumed that you don’t care about the people who lost their lives in Lebanon the week before.

If you care about what happens to Syrian refugees then it is assumed that you don’t care about homeless vets or struggling seniors right here in our own country.

Folks, we don’t live in a binary world. If I chose A it doesn’t mean that I also cannot choose B. I just might not be able to express both at the same time.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about how we frame the events of this world and how race, religion and culture plays parts in those decisions. There are legitimate questions to be asked about national priorities when more people vote for an American idol winner than the people who will represent them when decisions are made that affect them, their homes and their families.

But those questions don’t get any easier by using shame to ask them. Shame doesn’t open us up for dialogue and discussion. Shame shuts us down. Shame stops the conversation.

So if your friend changes her Facebook picture to show support for Paris, instead of shaming her ask her if she’s heard about the other places that are also suffering after public attacks. If your friend shred the tribute to the slain service dog instead of shaming him, understand that many of us have powerful connections with dogs and we feel the loss of anyone’s dog. Oddly enough, we can care about both dogs and people (although some dogs make it easier than some people.)

The truth is, I think most of us are muddling along the best way we know how right now. Some of us are reverting to old coping mechanisms of fear and anxiety. Some of us are struggling with what our faith demands of us in such a time. Some are just angry. Some are just sad. Some are just afraid.

Some of us need to find the courage of our convictions. Some of us need the courage to step out of old and familiar and limiting comfort zones. All of us need the wisdom to bring thought, reflection, compassion and resolve to the knotty problems of the day.

No one needs to be shamed for grief.

 


 

If you’re struggling with grief this holiday season I’m offering a free webinar next Tuesday, November 24 @ 11 am EST on “When the Holidays Are Tough Days.”

I know the week of Thanksgiving can be crazy in its own right, so the webinar will be recorded and everyone who registers will get a link for the playback.

You can learn more or register here

Sometimes I struggle as a counselor…

Sometimes  I struggle as a counselor…

I’ve been doing this work for over ten years now, and sometimes I struggle. I struggle because we live in an increasingly clinical world and I see therapy as both dance and art… as well as clinical wisdom. I struggle because I believe that a diagnosis may open a window into a client but will never tell the whole story of them.

There’s a checkoff on one of my online record keeping forms that I am to check if I think this treatment is medically necessary. And I never know what to do with that, because isn’t all my work medically necessary? As people heal old wounds or stop beating themselves up or punishing themselves or trying to make the entire world happy, their bodies are able to let go of heavy and powerful burdens. As we get healthier emotionally we tend to get healthier physically. But I’m not sure I can whip out an evidence based study to prove it. I just know it in my soul from all of the people whose journeys I’ve been privileged to share.

Some days my work is in asking the right questions. Some days it’s simply sitting and listening and really hearing the stories they’ve been too afraid or too ashamed to tell anywhere else. Some days I reassure clients that they are not crazy or hopeless, they are simply in the midst of the grand rhythm of life, a rhythm that brings birth but also loss, and that loss can take a thousand forms, from the husband you lost to the childhood you never got to have. I remind them what their bones know, that grief is not a thing to be done but a journey to be lived, and there is no going back to the place where we used to live.

A little while ago I just read a powerful blog about the journey of grief; or, more accurately, one woman’s journey of grief, and all of the misunderstanding she faced from those who thought they had the right clinical box to put her in.

It is a deep and powerful story and I cannot commend it to you enough.

You can read it here

“But, when a child dies, even “good therapy” doesn’t cure or fix. Good therapy is merely joining the sufferer in their pain, non judgmentally with full acceptance and compassion.” Bereavement and snorting seaweed, by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

The little boy in the tree: Reflections on grief and life

The little boy in the tree: Reflections on grief and life

Just finished reading a new book the other day, “The Little Boy in the Tree” by Roland Russoli, a memoir of his son Andrew’s life and death and Roland’s life in the Peace Corps before, during and after that loss.

First, a disclaimer. I make no claim to be an impartial reviewer. I’ve known Roland for more years than I care to count at this point. For many years when his mother came to visit I gladly shared in her homemade green noodles. I called her “Ma” and she called me “Jenny.” (Somehow she never quite got it that my name was really Peggy.)

memoirI watched Andrew grow up from a young child to a young man. I’ve written of Andrew before in this blog. He was killed by an IED in Iraq as he was serving his second tour of duty as a Marine. Walking with his family through those first weeks was both holy and hard.

So, I come to this book with a heart already open.

Even so, I think it is a compelling book for anyone. Unlike many similar books, Andrew’s death is and isn’t the focus. Of course, it is the huge, inexplicable thread that runs throughout the pages. In a terrible moment, the focus shrinks to that single thread. But then life demands that the focus widens again. In this book we see the dance (sometimes more of a shuffle) between the loss and the life that somehow must go on.

Roland allows us into the depths of a father’s grief. One of the most poignant scenes is his trip home from Mongolia (where he was with the Peace Corps) after receiving word of Andrew’s death. He is lost in a strange airport where no one speaks his language and he does not know the way. He is lost in a world of devastating grief in which he knows neither the language nor the way.

And yet life  does go on. After the funeral he returns to his foreign posts. We see him trying to learn and become familiar with cultures so completely strange to him. But we see him equally determined that in the face of his loss he will find some way to give back, to bring some gift of life, somehow, someway, to someone. Having lost his son he somehow finds the grace and courage to allow a group of orphans to enter his heart and life.

This is a well written book, and I don’t mean that in the “It’s better than I thought Roland would do” sense. By anyone’s standards, it’s a well written book with the depth of someone who has always been willing to ask questions that sometimes have no answers. It is honest with being overwrought, heartfelt without being overly sentimental.

It is a gift for all of us who knew Andrew.

It is a gift for all who have to face difficult journeys of grief.

Which is another way of saying that it’s a book for all of us. I commend it to you.