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Grief

Confessions of the Real Tin Man

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Confessions of the Real Tin Man

I have been working in public schools for almost half my life. My natural tendency is to help others dig deep and discover the cause of their discomfort and root of their “problem” so they can start to heal it and move on. I have listened to countless stories of grave mistreatment, dark and lonely sadness, debilitating anxiety and worry that attempts to make a permanent home in the psyche. I’ve also listened to bravery that exceeds what I knew to be possible and watched wildflowers bloom in a drought. The human spirit is amazing to watch and I am fortunate to do the work I do.

My mind is as analytical as they come (I know, shocking) and I use it to pick apart the complexity of what is handed to me in an effort to simplify and understand the whys, how’s and what ifs that we collectively face. The key to truly being able to dissect a behavior or situation is to step back and look at it from an outside perspective. Similar to watching one of those detective shows, I collect the data, piece it together with past experience and knowledge and then place it into the compartment where it fits best. Feelings analyzed, situation assessed, problem solved and explained. Done.

In order to do this method effectively, I have a strict rule of not emotionally attaching. I am allowed to feel the feelings to assess them and then I pass them back after the research has been done. I can do this all day long and by the time I am home from my 20 minute commute, I will have long forgotten the feelings of the day and move on to my own inner world. Am I a robot or the Tin Man? I’m not sure, but it is clear to me I always attempt to leave my heart at home where it’s best preserved and protected.

Recently, I was eating lunch with my friends at work. The day had been flowing great and I was feeling productive. At the end of lunch, one friend stayed behind and told me she had to tell me something in that serious tone of “you are just not going to like this.” She knows I don’t watch the news. I listened to her explain that one of our former students was found dead with a brief explanation of the bizarre cause. I continue to chew my last bite, thinking about the seemingly never ending cycle of death we kept facing as our school has had four deaths in the past year and how much more can a community take? But I am immune because I stay at arms length if not longer. Whatever you give me I can take.

And then she tells me the name as I swallow. I feel the food stop in the middle of my throat. What?? I feel the immediate sensation of tears coming up as the food tries to go down. They battle it out. I can swallow anything. You will go down. That’s where you belong. The food and tears have a standoff and almost simultaneously, I am able to swallow while the tears swell.

I am overcome with emotion and the thoughts race. How is this possible? This doesn’t make any sense. Not her. This can’t be. But I loved her. Wait, where are these emotions coming from? How did she get in? Why am I crying? Why does this hurt so much?

I spent the rest of the afternoon crying on and off. I mean like really crying. So so sad. And not empathy sad which is my normal mode. Of course I was deeply sad for her family, but this time, I was sad for myself. I was sad for my loss.

One memory after another flooded my vision. Her smiling face, the way we joked, how tough I was on her, how she responded to me and how I loved her. I loved her for who she was, not what I wanted her to be. I loved her for her mistakes and her really stupid decisions. Seriously, dumb stuff. But she knew it and admitted to them and was open and honest and lived as herself, not as an imposter. I loved how she expressed how she felt, no matter what it was, you knew how she was feeling. I also loved her for her drive to better her life and do right by others. Her intentions were always good, but they were also to survive. Survive in her painful world and make the best out of what was so very, very difficult. In every sense of the words, she was beautiful in her imperfection and I respected and admired her for that. And apparently, on a day I put my shield down, I let her into my heart and she has lived there since.

A day later, I was still crying. No idea why I was still feeling the pain. Isn’t it time to move on yet? I cried to my friend about how mad I was that I let her in, that I broke my rule and how it would never happen again, I heard myself say that she was the only one I could think of that I let slip through.

Because my dear friend is loving and respectful and talented, she gave me a slight look of surprise (her tact is exemplary) and somehow asked just the right questions to get me listing off all the kids I had attached to over the years. Turns out, there are many. So so many. This was a huge shock to me. I thought I was the Tin Man. I leave my heart at home where the wizard keeps it safe until I come looking for it.

I thought I was brave for keeping them out. I thought I was smart for staying on the outside. I thought I was doing my job well by not taking on their pain and keeping it with me. And in many ways, it is. But turns out, true bravery doesn’t keep them out, it lets them in. It teaches us to feel, to learn from others, to grow and be comfortable in our own imperfection. It allows us to connect and be caring and kind and speak our truth because we know that we appreciate hearing honesty as much as expressing our own.

And my truth is, once you let me into your heart, I will make a room for you in mine and I will keep you there and it will fill me up when I need to be topped off. And maybe, in truth, I’ve been the real Tin Man all along, my heart was always there, I just needed to be shown it to believe.

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Q&A My Perspective: How Can I Avoid Going to Heaven?

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Q&A My Perspective: How Can I Avoid Going to Heaven?

QUESTION:

My four year old daughter has been thinking about what happens when one grows old, goes to heaven and why. I explained that taking really good care of your body and your mind is very important and when we are here, we need to take really good care of ourselves. Now she asks “will jumping on the trampoline make me not go to heaven?” I’m stuck…any ideas?

MY PERSPECTIVE:

Kudos! You gave a her a great response to an inevitable question! Developmentally, a four year questioning the unknown aspects of death is as common as gluten intolerance these days. And her follow up question is fabulous because it proves she is listening and ingesting your words. Excellent!

The tricky part is, in her mind, she asked a  simple black and white question. In our minds, the land of the gray, we hear a complex question filled with varied emotion and multiple answers. Immediately, we may recall our own fears and discomfort with death, our experiences, others’ experiences and even what could be our experience if our minds let us go there.  Yet, all she really asked was “So I need to stay healthy to not go to heaven. Is the trampoline my ticket to stick around?” (Or some 4 year old version of this question)

A response as simple as “Jumping on a trampoline doesn’t mean you won’t ever go to Heaven. We will all go to Heaven. The trampoline is great for your body and keeps your mind happy, so when you do go to Heaven someday, you can be proud of yourself for taking such good care of yourself while you were here.”  The key is to answer in black and white, not the gray we get stuck in.

If she wants more and seems to have fear associated with it, this could be an opportunity to explore with her what she thinks Heaven is.  The key to decreasing anxiety is making an unknown a known.  Ask her what does it look like, smell like, feel like? If its supposed to be so wonderful, why are we afraid to go there and trying to avoid it?

And perhaps she’s giving you an opportunity to explore this yourself.

Either way, if you speak from your heart, you can’t go wrong. And if you don’t speak from your heart, she’ll likely ask you over and over again until you do.  They’re funny little creatures like that.

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The Day the Grass Grew

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The Day the Grass Grew

The week after my husband moved out, I knew the real test would begin and the questions were always the same, “How are you and the kids?” And my answer equally consistent, “We are fine.”

All my fears of being alone and how I would manage as the parent they lived with showed their ugly faces and challenged me head on. I waited for Incompetence to settle in next to me and remind me of my weaknesses.

I looked for Incompetence when I first changed the light bulb to the exterior light fixture that I had been holding off on. Nothing. I expected its presence when I changed the water filter in the basement, but it didn’t show up when I walked away dry. I knew for sure it would make an appearance when I started digging up the overgrown landscaping, but it turns out my kids know how to use a shovel and so do I. Little by little, I picked tasks I shied away from fearing that Incompetence would surely give me the lesson I needed and put me in my place. Working, making “healthy” dinners on the fly, and chauffeuring the kids around to different sporting events daily, while working my ass off trying to figure out the inner workings of my brain, feel my emotions and keep myself together, I knew Incompetence was lurking around the corner.

Six weeks later, it showed up in my back yard after I dug up the last portion of overgrowth, and decided to plant grass. I did not want to plant grass. I was terrified to plant grass. I KNEW that grass would not grow because despite the fact that I was doing it, I was living this life I feared, I was navigating through the sadness and loneliness, I was keeping tabs on my children and their well being, I was working and paying the bills and staring uncertainty in the eye…I still knew the grass would not grow because I did not know what I was doing. Insecurity told me so, fear laughed at the thought of me having a green thumb and even my intelligence doubted my ability to do it even after being given clear instructions and told it was easy.

But thankfully, I’m stubborn, so Incompetence stood by my side and whispered in my ear as I threw down the topsoil, spread the seed, covered it with hay, and walked away. Screw you Incompetence, what do I have to lose?

It rained for the next five days and when I finally made it to the backyard to consider removing the hay, I noticed a blade- or 100! Grass!! Beautiful, healthy looking grass was coming up! Pride came jumping through and knocked any sign of Incompetence right out of the way. Hope walked her pretty little self in and said “I’ve been here all along if you’d notice” and Joy gave me a high five and reminded me I’m always a rock star when I allow myself to see myself as such.

Just like the grass, we don’t need experience to help us grow and flourish and remove any threat of incompetence. Doubt and fear are only residents in our lives when we welcome them in and give them a place to sit.

And even though we know it…we always know it, we can all use  the reminder that a little Hope, a little Pride and a lot of intention to find the Joy will always get us where we need to go. Even at times when our lives feel in constant transition and we are not always nourished, encouraged and cared for by ourselves in the ways we’d like to be, the stability of knowing we are loved by someone…anyone, will keep us growing even when we think we may not.

And that is how I know, without a doubt, that we are are just fine.

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Peeling the Layers to Understand Kids and Those Around Us

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Peeling the Layers to Understand Kids and Those Around Us

I am a people person.  I like people. They intrigue me and I like to understand what makes them tick.  One of the benefits of being a high school counselor is that I get to meet all different types of kids.  I see the high achievers, the not so inspired, the funny, the bright, the anxious, the depressed, and everything in between.  A natural analyzer, I have the luxury of having multiple personalities at my disposal to read and understand, helping me craft my skills.

What I like the most about meeting people is peeling their layers in an effort to understand where they are coming from.  Each of us has layers of our personalities, of what we are willing to show and what we are more comfortable hiding.  Typically, what we hide is well protected and is revealed only at times or moments we deem as safe.

Kids are not quite as good at hiding their layers and that is an advantage  for those of us trying to get in to understand and help them.  And depending on what they show, their layers are more transparent than they’d like to think.  The high achievers have the secret underworld of insecurities, waiting for those around them to find out that they are not as perfect as they portray.  The not so inspired haven’t found their niche or their passion yet, so they choose behaviors that either keep them under the radar or keep them in full view for all to see they are struggling.  And the everything in between kids probably protect their layers more than the rest, and they are so good at keeping them hidden, they may not even notice how interesting each of their layers are.  Once you peel off the layers and see them for who they are, they each have their own brand of beauty to add to the world and their needs are basically the same…to be loved and to give love.  It’s just innate.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that I spend more time getting to know the kids who face heavy challenges.  I’ve run multiple groups for teens including Anger Management, High Risk Behaviors and Grief Groups.  Although individual counseling provides insight into the person, group counseling provides insight into the person and how that person works in a society, obviously a much smaller society, but none the less, their interactions with others is quite telling.

We’ve all watched people socialize in groups, how they interact, the way they position themselves and the body language…its what makes people watching so fun.  We’ve been annoyed with how one person presents themselves in groups and wished they’d go away.  We’ve also been surprised on occasion when we’ve talked to the same person one on one and they really weren’t that unpleasant or annoying as we originally judged them to be.  Once we let go of our assumptions and invited them to do the same, it’s amazing how the image of one person can instantly change into one we can accept and even like.

And that’s because of our layers. It is my belief, that we each have five layers.  The first layer protects us with words and actions that shelter us and portray whatever image we think will get us what we need. This is the layer we see after knowing someone for five minutes.

The second layer has increased protection with meatier words and behaviors to back up the first layer. We use our behaviors in this layer to mold others perceptions of us and assess how much more we want to share based on their reactions. This is the layer revealed after talking to someone for an hour.

The third layer holds our beliefs of other people and the world, the way we see them and talk about them. For example, do we speak of life experiences and others with a positive tone or a negative?  Do we live our lives with optimism or pessimism, or a combination of both? Our negativity exposes our fears and insecurities and our optimism shows that we are able to find faith and acceptance.

The fourth layer reveals how we see ourselves. Even to those who know us well, we keep this layer well protected as it creeps into the layer where we are most vulnerable.  Our insecurities, our pride, our truest belief in what we feel we are able to do lie here. This layer takes quite a while and a lot of trust to be revealed to others.

The last layer, our core, the culmination of it all, is the essence of who we are and this is the layer we only expose to those we trust the most. In order to see this layer, you will have to prove to us repeatedly that we are safe in your presence and we do not feel judged.  Overall, the more we trust, the more layers we’ll show.

It is typically the most annoying, the most rude, the most outwardly dysfunctional, whose layers are the most transparent, but because of their unpleasant persona, they are most often rejected as the “bad seed,” “loser” or “lost cause.”  Yet, if you take the time to peel off that first layer and then the next, you will more likely find the scared little boy or girl who got hurt somewhere along the way and recognized the need to protect themselves. And what better way to protect themselves than to choose behaviors that repel others from getting close to them and setting them up to be hurt again.

One more layer down, you will see the same little boy or girl who, like everyone else, really does want to be cared for and accepted, but just doesn’t trust enough to allow it to happen. You will also find the self loathing and sadness that peppers their mind with negativity and creates an inability to understand that different behaviors and thinking can create better outcomes.  They just get stuck in their own head which keeps the cycle going strong.

But “lost cause?” “Loser?” “Bad Seed?” I think not.  Broken maybe, but not irrepairable.

We all have layers, therefore, we all have the ability to see the layers in others.  It can take time and patience to wait for others to be comfortable enough to unpeel their layers, but our natural instincts and insight can speed up the process when we allow it to.   That young boy that lives down the road and teases the kids on the block has layers.  That teenage girl who struts around in skimpy clothes has layers too.  The quiet kid who the other kids say is “different” has his own layers.  And each of them has a need to be cared for and accepted.  Just like you and me.

One of my students gave me a card at the end of the last school year that read…

“In a world that’s easily impressed with “star quality,” it’s a rare person who sees the promise in quiet souls. Who sees beyond a shy exterior and recognizes a hidden talent.”

I was honored that she saw me this way, but in reality, it’s not a rare person who sees it. We all have the ability to see the promise in others. We just have to be willing to open our eyes, let go of the judgments that muddy our vision and have faith that our efforts will pay off…and one layer at a time, allow the beauty to shine.

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Parenting In the Midst of Personal Chaos

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Parenting In the Midst of Personal Chaos

What I like about writing my blog is the ability to share my perspective, both personal and professional.  The professional piece is what I know to be true and the personal piece is what I think to be true.

Ever notice how easy it is to feel confident when making decisions in your professional life that you know are well founded based on experience or what feels like common sense? Or how easy it is to look at a friend’s situation and see the obvious conflict or problem and solution when they can’t seem to wrap themselves around it?

And yet when it comes to our own lives, our own personal decisions, which impact our children and those we love the most, our emotional investment seems to let the clouds roll in blocking the sun which once illuminated all we thought we knew.

Frustrating isn’t it?

I’m at one of those points in life.  A place of discontent, sadness, anxiety, and confusion.  It sucks.  And yes, I realize it now feels like one of those Facebook posts where someone says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” leaving you hanging, wondering what’s up, and then annoyed that you have to wait to find out what’s wrong, just to satisfy your curiosity. I get it. That drives me nuts. But the why right now isn’t as important as It Just Is.  And I’m betting you can relate.

So here I am in my place of confusion and sadness which has been slowly taking over my life.  The stress is beating on me and I’ve allowed it.  I am now taking the turn towards giving myself permission to just be freaking sad and get on with it.  Hear the hint of frustration there? I have such little patience for misery and yet, I KNOW in order to get past it, I have to FEEL it all so I can move on.  Turns out, its not easy, even when you know how to take care of yourself, take the steps to do so, continually search for the positives and still your heart is saying, “uh, still hurting here.” Yeah, I know, can we just move on already??

In the meantime, I have these beautiful children who need me and watch my every move. They look to me for support and are gauging how to feel by what I show them.  In the beginning, I felt compelled to show them only my strengths, my happy moments, that everything is okay.  But everything is not okay.  At least not right now. And life can be hard…very, very hard.  And that is a truth that they are learning and will continue to learn.  And I want to be the influence that shows them the truth in a way that protects them and exposes them at the same time.

I made a decision to teach them what Living while managing personal pain looks like.  Some days I cry, some days I keep to myself, some days I make their favorite meals, and other days I ask them cook for themselves.  Some days I give them extra hugs and some days I don’t want anyone near me. But every single day, I tell them I love them.  We talk about how our transition feels. We problem solve getting through it.  We identify our emotions and we apologize if we sense we’ve overstepped our limits.  Are we doing it right? Yes, for us, we are. Is it text book? Nope. But it’s still right – for us.

My kids are learning personal boundaries, ways to cope, how to express themselves and what unconditional love looks like.  Through our pain and sadness, it’s a life lesson supported by hope…hope that we will get through it, come out stronger and learn something amazing about ourselves when we reach the other side.

As a professional I know which techniques work and which ones don’t work, but I don’t know which will work for each kid and each family.  It’s all trial and error.  Parenting too, is trial and error and after the various trials and accompanying doubt and guilt have subsided, sometimes Faith that we are doing it well is all we really have.  Today I have Faith that this mother is loving her children the best way she knows how. And that my friends, feels good.

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Q&A My Perspective: Healing the Parent/Child Relationship

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Q&A My Perspective: Healing the Parent/Child Relationship

QUESTION

As I sit here and try to think of the best way to convey my question, my heart is in anguish with tears pouring down my face. About a year and half ago I became addicted to pain medication that I was prescribed for a back injury I sustained in a car accident. It spiraled out of control last February ending with a protective order being filed so I couldn’t contact my 12 year old son’s mother or him and I ended up choosing to go into a 9 month substance abuse program that helped veterans. This was clearly my fault. Up until this point in time his mother and I had never really disagreed on anything and we haven’t been together since he was 2. We had never been to court. We just agreed on visitation and child support. I paid her child support every week and I pretty much got him whenever I wanted. We were VERY close. I coached his little league teams from when he was 4 until he was 9. I was always very active in his life. Well, long story short I graduated the program and got a court order to get some visitation back. I have not been able to have any contact with him for a year now and have not been able to see him at all.  My question is…I have supervised visitations starting next week and while I’m ecstatic that I am finally going to get to see him, I am very nervous and I don’t even know what to say to him. I know the number one thing is being honest. I just want to make sure I do everything right. I know it is going to take a lot of time and a lot of consistency to earn his trust and respect again. I’m just hoping you may have some helpful advice to give me going into this.

 

MY PERSPECTIVE

First of all, you have already done the hard work.  You recognized that you chose a behavior that was not working for you and made the decision to change it.  It doesn’t matter why or how, it only matters that you did.  Blaming yourself for your wrong doings is only helpful to get you to the point where you are now…in the process of recognizing that change needs to take place in order to heal yourself.  Its time to let the blame go.  It no long serves any positive use in your life.  You are where you are by choice and the more you choose forgiveness and acceptance for where you are now, the more you will heal, and the joy and purpose in your life will grow with you.

The changes that you have made and will continue to make will not only be the greatest gift to you, but also to your son.  You are teaching him that even our heroes and the people we look up to make mistakes, that it’s okay to be human.  But more importantly, you are teaching him that when you recognize you choose behaviors that don’t help you, you dig in and find the strength to change those behaviors into ones that DO work…there is no greater lesson than to teach by example.  It is equally important for us to know what doesn’t work as it does to know what does so we know the difference.  By choosing to change you are teaching him a lesson he wouldn’t learn anywhere else. What a true gift for you both!

From what you have described, you have built a foundation of love and respect with your son, followed by a painful period of transition.  What is most important is that you built that foundation together and the love that you have for him and that he has for you still remains strong, it just needs to be revitalized…and it will be.  It has already begun by you reaching out to him.

Of course there are mixed emotions between the two of you and you can speculate how he feels, but the bottom line is that people innately want to love and be loved and you both have that desire.  He wants his father just as much as you want your son.  If you both have the same goal, the obstacles between you will dissipate as your hearts reunite.  Does this mean he won’t be hurt and angry still? Absolutely not.  He needs to work through his own confusion, distrust and insecurity, but the more you prove to both of you that you are in this for the long haul, his feelings will slowly, but steadily change.

You mentioned that being honest is the best thing and that is true. It will be good to speak from the heart as much as you can, but that does not mean you have to use words to do this.  Say what you feel you have to say, but only that.  Your presence, the hug you give him, the look on your face, will be communication enough without the need to fill the space with words.  When you speak from your heart, you will speak your truth and he will know that you mean it, in spite of any lingering discomfort he feels.

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Regroup, Reframe, Relax

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Regroup, Reframe, Relax

With the week I just had, I needed to re read this and thought perhaps, you do too.

 

Sometimes I notice I am holding my breath,

And feel myself exhale.

A simple measure of relief,

Making my mood less pale.

 

This breath I seem to hold inside,

Is full of life and hope,

Anxious to make its way in the world,

Becoming my means to cope.

 

As the air moves across my lips,

I release the internal tension.

Oxygen soon becomes my elixir,

Each breath rolls into my pension,

 

Of tranquility and ease,

Companions in my quest,

To bring strength and balance,

To moments I claim my best.

 

The permission to allow myself,

To just let it all go.

With every exhale an inhale is gifted,

No matter how fast or slow.

 

I remind myself with these simple breaths,

My emotions need not be so taxed,

For the key to living this life of mine,

Is to Regroup, Reframe, and Relax.

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Lessons in the Wake: Thoughts on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy

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Lessons in the Wake: Thoughts on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy

Like many other parents I sat glued to the news yesterday crying, grieving and just wanting my children to be home after learning about the horrendous acts of violence at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I felt like I needed more information, more insight, more understanding to piece how a human being could ever hit a point so desperately low that they could do what this young man did.  I hesitate to even call him a “man” because my intense anger of his actions puts him in categories that a “man” could not fit in.  Yet I know the only thing anger gives me, is anger in return.

Yesterday, I questioned my faith in the simplicity of human behavior, my belief in the death penalty, my understanding of gun laws and school safety, and the ability for our fellow humans to face horrors we can not identify with words.

Living in Connecticut, one of the smallest states in our country, made the world seem even smaller and as though the unspeakable occurred in my backyard…because it did.

In my everyday life, I continually search for the good. I whole heartedly believe there is an opportunity to learn from every hardship we face and I am determined to find it whenever it is presented to me.  Yesterday, I was at a loss.  I scoured my mind looking for the missing link. I listened to the reports on the news searching for the understanding, the silver lining or the light ahead.  I could not find it. How could anything good come from what feels and is so very, very devastating?

Today, I recognize that there is no end of grieving for the families who have lost their heart and for the children who experienced the violence that we strive to protect them from every day.  But there is a lesson and gift in this level of grieving and tragedy for everyone.

For a moment or a day or a week or in the months ahead:

We acknowledge that life is precious.

We live in the moments and stop thinking about what we need to do next. We sit in our pain, hold it and then release it as we start to look around and see what we do have in front of us.

We appreciate our children, our families, our friends and our supports that hold us up.

We grow closer to our neighbors and strangers we meet as we discuss the common ground of disbelief and sadness that we walk on together.  We embrace how similar we are and take comfort that there is more good than bad in the world when we allow ourselves to see.

We watch communities unite and thrive in the desire to support each other and experience love in any form it comes in.

We gain new role models of strength as we watch those our hearts break for take one step in front of the other with poise.  As we watch them stand, we admire that the human spirit is more strong, more courageous and more accepting than we ever dreamed possible. We learn great knowledge from these people, both young and old, and in turn, we lift them up with our outpouring of love both physically and energetically.

When all else fails, we hug one another, allowing us to be one with another, to exchange the energy of love and beauty and kindness and if only for a moment, know that we are never, ever alone.

Although we may never fully grasp a sense of understanding of why horrible things happen, we always have the ability to grasp what we will do in its wake.  It is our right as human beings to choose our path, to guide our children, and to love each other in whatever ways we deem fit.

Today, my friends, I send you my love. May we all find peace in the days ahead and appreciate the gifts bestowed to us each day.  May we also find solace with the knowledge and understanding that we are in this life together, every single one of us.

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Teaching Kids How to Fill the Void

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Teaching Kids How to Fill the Void

When I am counseling kids, there a few themes that always come up consistently…anxiety, depression, and some form of addiction. Symptoms of anxiety and depression come out in their typical formats, but addictions come out in a variety of ways. I tend to refer to them as “void fillers.”  The “void” being the emotional hole that exists that prohibits us from feeling fully whole and content.

I believe that each time we experience intense pain (and levels of intensity are relative to each person), it burns a hole in our emotional self, which is part of our ego.  The ego is our downfall for most things, but that’s a discussion for another day.  Because we rely heavily on how we are feeling at any given moment, we strive to feel “good” as often as possible and avoid feeling “bad” at all costs. And because we typically rely on our ego to determine how we are feeling, the larger we feel the hole is, the more we believe the bad feelings get stuck.

How we choose to fill those voids will determine how long our satisfaction will last and the impact of our well-being.  But how do we know which void fillers work for us? Most of use trial and error tactics to determine what works and what doesn’t work. The hard part is when you think something is working because you feel good, but the satisfaction is short lived and damaging.

The goal is to find something that feels good consistently AND benefits you.

Common void fillers that are damaging would include: any illicit drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, over use of various pain medications, bulimia, anorexia, gambling, promiscuity, cutting or self injury, and excessive spending/shopping. The list could go on and on. The feeling of content when engaging in these activities is real (at least chemically so), but short lived, with no lasting positive impact, and more often, damaging short and long term impacts.

Common void fillers that are beneficial would include: exercise, playing sports, artistic and creative hobbies, reading, practicing religion and volunteer work. The feeling of content gained is also real, but has lasting positive impacts on the mind and body. This list could go on and on as well if you personalize it to your own interests.

Because we are our child’s primary and most influential educators, it’s important to help them understand what the void is, how it feels and why its there.  Tap into your own void to answer this question and define what it is for you. How do you fill your void and how well does it work for you?

Once they have a basic understanding of the void, you can teach them examples of ways that people fill their voids. Make sure they understand that there are two categories and teach them the damaging fillers as well as the positive. Shielding them from reality is not always the best way to protect them.  By educating them you give them an armor like no other.

Does that mean that if you educate them early on that they won’t experiment with negative void filling behaviors later on? I wish.  But in reality, experimentation to learn for themselves is a developmental norm. The hope is that if they do choose to experiment with the negative void fillers, they will have an understanding of and even more experience with positive void filling behaviors to fall back on and ideally, stick with.

Parenting is fun, isn’t it?

I jest, but truthfully, you can have great fun in teaching your children the benefits of void filling in positive ways, learn a few new ones along the way…and maybe rename it to Joy Filling behaviors. Ahhh, much better.

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“How Do You Bury A Body In Two Places?” and Other Thought Provoking Questions

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“How Do You Bury A Body In Two Places?” and Other Thought Provoking Questions

“Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.” –Erik H. Erikson

This past week, my good friend sent me the following conversation she had with her children in the car on the way to school:

Girl Child: How was GG (great grandmother) buried in two places?

Boy Child: Did they cut her body in half?

Girl Child: Did they bury her in one place for a little while, then dig her body up and move it?

This was a day after her daughter was questioning how to buy a headstone and asking her mother what kind she would want.  If only all children were so considerate. Don’t worry, she was just being her sweet self…I hope.

Incidentally, she told me this story the day after my own children had their first experience trolling a cemetery with a bazillion questions of their own.

As I watched my children run freely with their closest friends through the cemetery, checking out the various tombstones and monuments, intrigued by the names and relationships, I realized that their experience at that moment was very different than my own.  Although we were there for the same reason, to commemorate an anniversary of my best friend’s husband’s death, we all had our own perspectives of our surroundings.

For my friend, it was an experience to support her children and honor their father who left too soon, and yet see how much their lives had changed since his passing. For her children, it was a time to “visit” and think about their dad and the family buried around him, yet a time to explore with their friends and investigate the relationships of people they’ve never met. For me, it brought back memories of pain of watching my closest friend bury her husband and yet, a time to enjoy the new memories being created with our children.  And for my children, it was an experience of wonder and gaining an understanding of the cultural rituals of death and seeing where some people’s bodies go when they die.

Each of our perspectives is created by our experiences and the feelings that we attach to them.  I began our visit to the cemetery with a heaviness.  I felt sad for the loss of life that touched so many, but especially for the children.  Yet, after watching the children enjoy themselves so much and having to coerce them to leave, my perspective shifted into one of content, knowing that life moves on and joy can rise through pain, and new experiences can overshadow the ones we’d rather leave behind.

So when the questions came on how can you be buried in two places at once (kids are so smart), it didn’t feel so heavy to address cremation.  I’ve always explained to my children that cremation is the burning of the body (which of course freaked them out a bit) but since our spirit has left the body, we feel no pain and we become ashes like the natural dirt of the Earth. Some people prefer the idea of cremation and others would rather their body be buried in the ground. It’s all part of the cycle and the cultural process of the beginning of Walking Through Grief for many.  But more so, it’s a basic reality to the question of what happens to a body when it dies?

We tend to view the finality of life with our own perception of death.  For so many, that view is filled with fear, trepidation, or impending grief.  Yet children are just learning this reality through our eyes. The more we push our negative perspectives of the pain of our losses on to our children, the more they will view death and loss as a negative. It’s all in how we present it to them and how we show the impact on us.

Remembering that they rely on us to model how to feel and act is a hefty responsibility.  When left with task of answering sensitive questions and feeling like our answers will shape the way they view the world, it’s understandable when our hesitation rises and we want to take our time to answer in a way that benefits them.  It’s okay to baby step and choose our words with care.  And it’s more than okay (in my opinion) to use humor whenever possible to keep the lightness in tact.

I will never forget scattering my grandfather’s ashes and realizing I had dropped some on my foot.  I shared with my grandmother that I had Grandpop on my shoe and she responded, “Oh, that will make him very happy! He loves to travel.”

And that my friends, is how it’s done.

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