Why Bother with Grief?

Why Bother with Grief?

As we age, we expect to die. We know our bodies do not last forever and this planet we call Earth, is not our final nor eternal destination. But what we don’t expect is when death takes a child, grandchild, niece or nephew. Even though death is a natural phenomenon, it seems terribly unnatural when it happens to a child. 

Remembering Elliott

Sitting down to catch up on the latest events with one of my sisters, she told me some sad news. A mutual friend recently lost a grandchild. He was stillborn. For this reason, we quietly reflected on our shared loss, my son and her nephew, who was also stillborn. Though his death happened a long time ago, it remains a poignant memory. 

Before becoming a mom, the thought of motherhood intimidated me. I wanted to be a loving, protective, and attentive mom, but I wasn’t very confident that I’d fit the part. Yet, after Jacob, our first born came along, I somehow melded naturally into the role of mothering I’d hoped for.  Then after Samuel, our second born, I was even more surprised when I voiced my desire to my husband. I wanted more than two children. I’d never had any complications with my previous pregnancies. So, why not have one more? And we did. But this pregnancy did not turn out at all like the other two. 

Elliott was born without the breath of life. The day before I began labor, a tiny knot in his umbilical cord tightened and cut off his lifeline of oxygen. When labor kicked in the next day, there was no heartbeat to be heard. It was the saddest labor and delivery I’d ever experienced. As a result, instead of carrying a bundle of new life and joy home from the hospital, I carried a heavier bundle, a heart full of sorrow. 

I’d prepared a nursery for this little lad and had anticipated his arrival into our family. I’d cared for our other sons as infants and had the confidence to nurse, burp and comfort this one as well. What I didn’t know was what to do with the unexpected and unplanned death of this child. I hadn’t expected grief or sorrow, but they came anyway.

Grief was like visiting a foreign country without an interpreter or a map. I felt frustrated, angry and lost most of the time. Grief had a way of making me feel vulnerable when I wanted to feel strong. Grief made me feel out of control when I wanted to take control. Grief made me tired, and I wondered how long it would last. My good doctor had assured me that I was not at fault, yet, guilt, known to tag along with grief, made me wonder what I’d done wrong. 

Then, on Elliott’s first birthday, I drove to the cemetery and knelt in the freshly mowed grass staring at his headstone. I ruminated on the events of the last twelve months. Though I remained vulnerable, I was no longer lost or angry. I thought back to how I’d first tried to push grief and sorrow away because I’d not anticipated or expected them to come. But they came and somehow changed me. It had been by far, the toughest year of my life as a mother, and also the most humbling. It was the first time I realized that I was not the blessed controller of anyone’s life, Elliott’s or mine. 

Why bother with grief? Grief is not something we welcome, but if we acknowledge it when it does come, it will teach us something we need to know.

Why Bother Stepping Away?

Why Bother Stepping Away?

I have been experiencing more stress than I thought. Normally, I carry the pressures of my job with ease. The routines I practice to maintain my health; exercise, meditation, eating well and getting a good night’s rest, usually keep me balanced. But this week was different. Though I wasn’t sure what I needed, my body told me I needed something more to get me through the week. So, when a new friend of mine suggested that I take Friday off from work, I considered it to be just what I needed.                 

           Stepping Away

I’ve become quite fond of Mrs. C., a relatively new employee and fast friend at my school. After she retired from a different district in another  state, she and her husband moved to our community. Starting out as a volunteer art teacher, she was soon hired to work part time as an aid in my classroom. 

Her enthusiasm, humility, cheerfulness and insights makes her a blessing to work with. She is not only aware of the needs of my students, but she is attentive to what I need too. 

For instance, every spring, I work with the music teacher to produce a musical performance depicting the history of Idaho. It is a lot of work. There are lines to memorize, songs to sing, poems to write and costumes to create. And then there are the rehearsals. 

On Tuesday, two days before the performance, I rehearsed the play one more time with my students. Mrs. C. stood nearby to assist wherever she could. The boys were restless, the girls were nervous and forgot their lines. I was tired and my patience was nearly gone. But we made it through our rehearsal and when I turned to Mrs. C. to ask how she thought it went she said,“Oh, it was lovely and they will do great, but I think you should take Friday off.”     

We filed back to the classroom and got back to work, but Mrs. C’s words stuck in my brain, “You should take Friday off.” 

I considered her remark. Taking a day off is never easy. There is no guarantee of finding a substitute teacher and if I were lucky to get one then there are the lesson plans to create. My first thought was that it is too much work to take a day off, but by the end of the day, I’d changed my mind. The thought blossomed into a plan.  

First, I approached my principal who approved my request. “You haven’t taken a personal day all year. I think you should take Friday off,” he said. 

Then, someone chose to substitute for me and I created an easy plan for them to follow.  Thursday the day of the play arrived. The boys settled down and took their parts seriously, and the girls remembered their lines. The performance was a hit. And now today, Friday, I am not going into my classroom. Instead, I am staying home.  

At first I was a little embarrassed that Mrs. C. saw my stress. But now I am only grateful.  Mrs. C. was right. I needed to take the day off.

Why bother stepping away? It is worth it to step away from our work when possible. Whether we know it or someone else points it out to us, taking a day off is simply what a body sometimes needs.

Why Bother Respecting “No” ?

Why Bother Respecting “No”?

No, is a very powerful two letter word. Though it is so easy to say that even a very young child can say it, sometimes it is a difficult word for any one of us to use.  When we speak our “no” we tell others a lot about ourselves. First of all, our “no” shows others our priorities and our boundaries.  Saying “no” also takes fortitude because  not everyone will be pleased with us when we tell them no. 

It Is Not Easy to Hear Someone’s “No”

Not everyone likes to hear the word “no” spoken in response to an invitation we give or when we request something from them. It takes almost as much resolve to say “no” as it does to respect someone’s “no”.

This past week, I experienced that twinge of disappointment that comes when we don’t get our way, when we hear “no” instead of the preferred “yes” . Two friends, whose regular response to me is usually “yes” instead answered me with a“no”.  Their answers gave me pause.

Both of these friends have servants’ hearts as well as a  willingness to make others happy. Their personalities are such that they always go the extra mile for anyone.

It was during a conversation some months ago with my first friend, Don, a self-employed handyman, that he shared how he was working too much and needed to start turning down jobs. “I need more time just for me,” he’d said. I validated his statement, but months went by before I witnessed his commitment to saying no. When he denied my request to help me out with a remodeling project, I realized I was experiencing this new habit of his for the first time. Though his “no” was hard for me to receive, I can certainly respect it. 

My other friend, Bill, told me “no” when I asked if we could meet up for coffee and talk about a disagreement we’d had. His unwillingness to meet with me made me wonder how, if ever, we’d find a solution to our difference of opinion. But, he’s told me in more ways than one, that though we are not in agreement on this one thing does not mean our friendship is severed. Now I have to believe him by respecting his “no”.

If I want to be known as someone who respects the fact that other people have the right to decide for themselves, then I also need to accept their “no” with gracious manners. 

Why bother respecting someone else’s “no”? As I learn to respect others when they say “no” I am acknowledging that they have the right to choose for themselves. And this is a good thing for them and for me.

Why Bother Being Ready to Forgive?

Why Bother Being Ready to Forgive?

I once had a friend who told me that even though we were friends we would most likely and eventually offend each other. I thought it strange that he would predict such a thing, but he was right.  Looking back on that conversation I think he was simply stating a fact: that whether we intend to or not, people hurt other people. 

Though being offended is inevitable, we still get to choose how we respond and can be ready to forgive. 

Be Ready to Forgive

Resentment is a universal emotion. It grows inside of us when we’ve held onto an offense and refuse to let it go. Resentment is also like a spider web. It traps its victims in stickiness.  When offended, we get hung up by the lies we weave around our hurt feelings. We may think, “They don’t like me. They’ve never liked me. They just want to get even.” 

The narratives we write for ourselves are endless, but they all have one thing in common: they originate from our woundedness. When we are wounded, we will go to any extreme to protect ourselves, even if it means lying. 

But what if we were to choose to examine more closely, our offender? Were they purposefully malicious? Do they have a pattern of offending others? Was their offensive action tied to something else going on in their lives? Should I take what happened or what was said personally or objectively? 

Not everything that happens to us is meant to be taken as an offense. Not everyone is a malicious character with a goal of making our lives miserable. If we were to keep these two simple ideas in mind then we’d be ready, willing and able to forgive our next offender. 

Forgiveness is a free choice with a plethora of long lasting benefits. First of all, it releases us from the bitterness we hold against someone for their inability to pay off a debt they never knew they owed us. We may be waiting for them to say that they are sorry, but they can’t see what they’ve done wrong. Letting them off the hook, helps us to move on with life. 

Forgiveness gives us empathy and compassion, softening and smoothing out our rough edges. We become more affable and welcoming to others who need someone to understand them. 

With forgiveness, our perspective alters. We can begin to see how and why others feel the way they do. 

Knowing that we may be offended on any given day by someone should not throw us off  course. Instead our knowledge about forgiveness can prepare us to let others off the hook and give us freedom from resenting them. 

Why bother being ready to forgive? It is worth being ready to forgive because forgiveness is the remedy that, when applied to our offenders, keeps us free from resentment and bitterness.

 

Why Bother Noticing Discomfort?

Why Bother Noticing Discomfort?

For some, Mother’s Day can be an uncomfortable day. Though the meaning behind Mother’s Day is a good one, “to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children,” not all women on Mother’s Day will feel honored. Instead, some will feel left out, awkward and forgotten. 

Various Moods on Mother’s Day

Some of my friends choose not to be a mother because of their childhood. Their own mother was abusive and they are afraid of repeating the same pattern. Other friends have no choice in the matter. They cannot conceive. They have tried every medical option, yet without success. Mother’s Day is heartbreaking and only reminds them of what they can never have. 

Then there is the category of mothers who have lost their children or a child through death or estrangement. One friend told me the sad story of the birth of her only child. “It was a stillbirth,” she said. “My one and only chance to have a child and he died. Does that still make me a mother?” she asked. Another friend told me how her daughter wants nothing to do with her. She not only lost the connection with her only child, but also the chance of being a grandmother to her grandchildren. 

But, in spite of how any of us feel, Mother’s Day still comes and it will also go. But what can we do about feeling uncomfortable when the day arrives and brings us a bouquet of  disappointments instead of flowers? 

 Discomfort is not a welcoming emotion. Generally, we strive toward happiness, an emotion we desire more than uneasiness. But from my own experiences, discomfort has never killed me. It is uncomfortable, but not a matter of life and death. When we sense we are overlooked, unacknowledged or experience a heavy heart we may get the sense that we need to fight against or flee from this distressful feeling. But we really don’t. Instead, we can calm down and become curious. Like taking a different route to work or walking along a new hiking trail, we might notice something new. 

Historical stories are attached to our angst feelings. Events that happened in our past, such as the death of a child or an abusive mother are real, but the emotions surrounding the event keep us hitched to how we felt at that time in our history, not to how we feel in the present. Feelings are a funny thing, they have a hard time moving past an old event. 

Why bother noticing discomfort? It is worth it to notice our discomfort. It allows us to be curious and our curiosity can lead us to view what we’ve never seen before. 

Why Bother Sitting Quietly?

Why Bother Sitting Quietly?

Paging through one of my little notebooks that I’ve filled with quotes from other men and women who are wiser than me, I came across one that I wrote down from Blaise Pascal. It read, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” 

Can all of life’s problems really stem from something as simple as our inability to sit quietly in a room alone?

      Nothing New Under the Sun

Pascal was an intelligent man who lived in the 1600s. He was a physicist, religious philosopher and master at prose. Though Pascal’s world at the time was different from our present one, he still lived with the same dilemmas we live with today. Every period of history experiences sickness, death, family feuds, rotten politicians, natural disasters, religious differences, poverty and injustices. Someone once said that in times like these, there have always been times like these.  To clarify, this crazy world of ours has always been a crazy world. 

So, what good does it do to sit quietly in a room alone? How does that solve the problems of poverty, heal wounded families or bring world peace? Maybe sitting quietly does not solve the quandaries of the world, but when we sit in silence we do learn a thing or two about ourselves. 

Meditation, contemplation, and mindfulness are all similar practices, ones which lead us to training our minds and our breath to slow down. While sitting comfortably in a chair or lying still on the floor, we give our bodies permission to relax and our minds follow the cue. 

Quite a few years ago, I began practicing, in one form or another, sitting by myself, in silence for ten to twenty minutes a day, first thing in the morning. When I started this practice it felt awkward. I did not know what the results were supposed to look or feel like. On top of that, I wasn’t sure if I was going about it correctly. But like any new habit we begin, we find what works best for us. 

Lying down with my legs up the wall and a foam block under my back gives my body a restful position. I don’t concentrate on anything, but become aware of everything: how my body feels, the silence surrounding me and how easy it has become for me to rest without placing any expectations on myself to be restful. My quiet time has become the best part of my day. It sets me up for success because when the world is coming at me, I know how to slow it down. I know how to breathe slowly, and think clearly even when I’m tempted to panic. 

Have I solved any of the world’s problems? No, I’m sure I’ve not. But I know that in the thick of any one of the conundrums that I encounter in a day, I’m thinking my way through them instead of letting them pull me down. 

Why bother sitting quietly? It is worth it to sit quietly in a room alone so that perhaps we might learn something about calming ourselves down.

Why Bother Considering Our Labor?

Why Bother Considering Our Labor?

It is  the beginning of a new work week and nearing the end of a school year and sometimes I wonder. I wonder if my personal investment of time, energy, and focused hard work leaves much of an impression on my students. Do they know how much I care? Has my influence in their lives as their teacher left them with a little more zeal for learning? Do they see the value of putting forth an effort? Do they understand that their hard work pays off? Have I impressed upon them that they are more responsible for their learning than I am? Have I been caring enough about their personal lives? In other words, has my labor been in vain or can I count my labor as being successful? 

Measuring Our Labor

As a teacher, I have my students 180 days of the year for about seven hours a day. I do not control the amount of parental support they get, the number of hours they sleep or if the type of food they eat. I can only make suggestions—don’t forget your homework, don’t stay up too late and be sure you eat breakfast before coming to class tomorrow. 

Still, my success as their teacher is measured every year. First, it is gauged by each student’s outcome. State tests are given at the end of each year and the results tell everyone, including the general public, whether my students are proficient, above grade level or below grade level with fourth grade skills in math, reading, and writing. 

I work hard so that each of my students succeed on these tests, but I already know the outcome before the state does. Not everyone will succeed. Not everyone of my students will score as a proficient fourth grader.  They simply can’t. Too many absences, too many times relocating to different schools and being too far behind to begin with prohibit them from reaching proficiency level. 

Secondly, my labor is measured by my principal’s evaluation. Soon, he will sit down with me and together, we will evaluate my work over the past school year. He will grade me, so to speak, on how well I accomplished those goals I set for myself back in September. It will be a time of reflection with a dose of humility along with an opportunity to consider what I can do differently next year. Every teacher knows that there is always room for improvement. 

But there is a third way my labor is measured. It is personal to me, unrecognized by the state and not always mentioned to my principal. It is teacher appreciation week and today, I received a card from one of my students that gave me great joy. Reading his card gave me the evidence that I have left an impression on this young man. His wonderful handwritten note reminded me that my labor, as a teacher, was not in vain. His words, “I appreciate you lots,” is all I need to assure me that I’ve made a difference in his life. 

Why bother considering our labor? It is worth considering our labor and whether or not it is in vain or productive. We just have to be careful what we use to measure our sense of worth. 

Why Bother Enjoying a Grand Role?

Why Bother Enjoying a Grand Role?

I became a mother-in-law for the first time in July of 2007. When our oldest son called to tell us that he’d proposed to his girlfriend, Meagan, I was elated and frightened at the same time. I was glad he’d made the choice to marry Meagan, but becoming a mother-in-law scared me. Having never been one, I wasn’t sure what would be expected from me. 

I remembered my own mother’s role as a mom-in-law and had, at times, felt pity for my two sister-in-laws. Clearly, I did not want to follow my mother’s model of a mother-in-law. 

I also remember searching on the internet to learn something about the protocol of the groom’s mother during the wedding. “Sit down, shut up and wear beige,” the article stated. I knew I didn’t want to do that either. So, I decided I’d just have to be me. So far, for the last fourteen years, that has worked out as a fine arrangement between my daughter-in-law and me. 

Hey Grandma

Then in 2010, I became a grandma for the first time. When I held our grandson in my arms a few hours after his birth, it was almost as magical as when I’d held his dad, our first born, in my arms twenty-seven years earlier. But like becoming a mother-in-law for the first time, I felt a little uncertain about my role as grandma. This time though, I did not search the internet for any protocols for first time grandmothers. Instead, memories of my favorite grandma played out in my mind. I remembered her easy going temperament, her habit of bending down to listen to me, and her laughter. She didn’t have to be anyone different from who she already was for me to like her and I hoped it would be the same for my grandson and me. 

Then, just before our grandson turned three, he became a big brother and I became grandma again, this time to a baby girl. Having never raised a daughter, I wondered about how this little granddaughter and I would get along. So far, she likes me just fine.

I like spending time with my grand-kids, so whenever my son and his wife plan a weekend away I always ask, “Need a place for the kids to stay?” 

My son will say, “If you are up for it.” 

“I am always up for it,” I tell him. 

My grand-kids have grown into wonderful little people with good manners. They both have a good sense of humor and sharp wits. They like teaching me their latest card games, taking hikes, and playing charades. It is easy for me to laugh at their jokes, listen to what they have planned for the future, and set aside any time consuming chores in order to spend unhurried time with them. 

I am grateful I learned how to be a mother-in-law. That paved the way for my grand role as a grandmother.  

Why bother enjoying a grand role? Grandmothers have a unique opportunity. We get to laugh, listen, play, learn from and even influence the next generation. And stay friends in the process. 

Why Bother With Routines?

Why Bother With Routines?

Two small incidents at work this past week reminded me just how valuable routines can be. 

First, on Tuesday morning, I asked the librarian if she had any books on Benjamin Franklin or Henry Ford, two of the scientists that my students are researching for an essay they have to write. 

“Let me ask the secretary if I can borrow her keys to get into the library. I forgot mine because my routine was interrupted this morning, before even leaving the house,” she said.

“I know how that goes,” I told her. “If I get side tracked, I forget things too.”

Then on Wednesday, my principal asked if I wanted to accompany him to visit another school that is noted for their science program. “Pam can’t go with me today. Do you want to go instead?” 

Though I was interested, I glanced at the list of what I already had planned for the day. If I left my class with a substitute teacher, the important lessons I’d organized for my students would go by the wayside. 

“No thanks,” I told my principal. “I need more notice. I’m not a spontaneous kind of a person unless I’m on vacation.”

He understood. 

Benefits of a Routine

I am not obsessed about my routines and they do not control me, but I do know the value of establishing a regular way of doing something, not just for myself, but also for others around me. For instance, students crave a set schedule in the classroom and as soon as possible, I create one for them at the beginning of every new school year. In this way, they quickly learn what to expect when they walk through my doorway. The routine becomes second nature to them and as a result, my classroom hums with the rhythm students who know how to focus on their learning. 

My life did not start out with routines and order. Instead, I grew up in a chaotic household. But, my grandma’s way of living showed me how life could be different. Not only did she keep her house in order, but she lived an ordinary, yet orderly life. Everyday had its own set of chores and everything in her house had its place.  Watching her life showed me the benefits of routines. They brought comfort, confidence and calmness into a person’s life.    

I learned from her life and now benefit from what I learned. First of all, I know that planning for each day and sticking to that plan keeps impulsiveness at bay. I am more inclined to complete and succeed at work and at home when I stay focused on what I need to accomplish. Secondly, organizing my days before they begin saves me time and energy. Whether it’s packing my lunch or laying out my clothes the night before, I don’t have to run around looking for anything because I’ve already gathered what I know I’ll need in one place. Finally, my routines help to keep my mind from collecting too much clutter. Like a pilot or surgeon who checks their checklist before going down the runway or performing a surgery, my checklist assures me I’m clear for takeoff too. 

The best thing about establishing routines is that they free me from the tyranny of the urgent. 

Why bother with routines? Routines are worth the effort it takes to establish them. Once they are in place, we can walk through our days with more certitude, satisfaction and ease.

Why Bother Collecting Wise Words?

Why Bother Collecting Wise Words?

Some people like to collect things, sometimes for their value, other times just for the simple pleasure of collecting something.  My dad collected antiques as well as coins, specifically the Kennedy head half dollar. While still a kid, one of my brothers collected empty beer cans and stacked them on shelves in his bedroom, much to my mother’s dismay. My husband and oldest son stack up pieces of wood from their construction jobs. They use it later to build other things like cutting boards for Christmas presents. 

Oh The Things We Collect

A friend once told me how her husband collects mini toy cars. He uses the guest bedroom in their house for his display cases. Sometimes he sells some on the internet. I had no idea there was even a market for mini toy cars. Another friend told me how her husband fills up their garage with old radio parts and that he sometimes sells those parts, but not often enough so that they have space in their garage to park their car.  Once, a husband of one of my friends confided in me how his wife collects shoes. “She has seventy-five pairs!” he exclaimed. 

Some people can afford to collect art and still others display beautiful pieces made from blown glass. A glass collection would never work for me. Though I can admire its beauty from a distance, I’m too much like a bull in a china store. Objects made of glass does not last very long around me. 

 At one time, when I was a house cleaner, one of my customers accumulated more than 100 kerosene lamps. Dusting them without breaking them was a strenuous strain for my nerves. 

Someone once asked, “I’d like to buy you a birthday present. Don’t you have a collection of something that I can add too?”  They were crestfallen when I told them, “I don’t really collect anything.” 

But on second thought, I do. I keep up a collection of  words. Over the years, when reading inspiring authors, I write down some of their words. At first I wrote their bits of wisdom on note cards and filed them in a wooden recipe box. I even had categories for these quotes: authenticity, change, growth, pain, wisdom and trust. But the box all too soon filled up. So, I began buying “Fat Books.” They are not very big, but they do hold more quotes than a recipe box. So far, I’ve filled up six of these little spiral fat books. They are not in any particular order, but that is okay. Sometimes I like to sit and read a few tidbits of wisdom from them before I start my day. Something in there always makes me smile.

A while back, I made a birthday present for a friend of mine. She does not keep any writing journals on a consistent basis, but she’s often told me how she’d like to. For her birthday, I bought her a plain composition book and at the top of each page, I wrote a quote from my fat books filled with wise words. Sometimes she will call and tell me that she’s opened that journal just to read the quotes. They make her laugh, smile and give her encouragement. As of yet, they have not moved her to write. 

Why bother collecting wise words? Rereading words of wisdom can make us smile, encourage our hearts and remind us that others, like us, have tread the same path of life we now tread. Their nourishing morsels keep us moving  forward.