Ho Ho Hell

Are the holidays hard for you? If so, you are not alone.

A lot of people struggle at this time of year. Surprisingly more than you might have thought.

If you’re someone who suffers while others are celebrating, you’re probably carrying an added burden of believing you’re “supposed to” feel some other way.

And that only reinforces your feelings of loneliness and adds to your misery.

What we’re really talking about is grief.

People tend to think of death when we use the word “grief,” but the truth is that any kind of loss can trigger grief and everything that can go along with it.

Your grief is as unique as a fingerprint.

Whether it was a bad break-up or a difficult divorce; an unexpected medical diagnosis or a chronic illness; the exhaustion of caregiving for an aging parent; or the myriad losses that go along with recovery from addiction or codependency, all kinds of losses can become amplified in this season where images of wholeness and expectations of happiness are projected, larger than life, just about everywhere you go.

The experience of grief is universal

There is a universality to the human experience of grief. Because everyone loves. And every person has had or will have the experience of losing what they have loved. Thus every person, at some time in their life, will grieve. Whether you’re grieving your own loss, or wanting to support someone else who is grieving, it’s all about how to “be there” for yourself, for another person, or both.

There are ways to deal with the holiday season, to cope with whatever comes up for you, to get through it all with less wear and tear on your spirit… and maybe even to enjoy yourself, even just a little bit.

You have a right to your sorrow. And, you deserve the joy of simple, present-tense pleasures.

During this holiday season, and the rest of the year too, remember to have the intention to balance your right to honor your feelings that aren’t so jolly with your right to experience a little here and now pleasantness despite your sadness, your anger or regret, your sorrow… in short, your grief.

Click below listen to the podcast I made for you about the challenge of getting through the holidays.

Can You Relate to This Caregiver’s Lament?

I recently took a walk with a friend whose mother is ninety-four years old.

While our dogs ran and played, she shared her recent experience of trying to purchase three roundtrip airline tickets: one for herself, one for her mother, and one for her brother. Her goal was to set up a series of family visits this coming summer. But the details of the arrangements were mind-boggling! And it struck me that the resulting crazy travelogue is symbolic of the tender dance her family is doing in this era of caring for her extremely aged mother.

The thing my friend most wanted to talk about was her struggle to reconcile past and present where her family relationships are concerned. 

She shared her awareness of a kind of higher moral consciousness she feels is guiding her choices and decisions now in spite of her ancient childhood hurts which, not surprisingly, are coming up again. She’s been going out of her way to try to improve the quality of her mother’s life even though it’s taking a huge toll on her own time, energy, and emotional wellbeing.

The worst thing for her is that she’s not feeling appreciated at all.

Her mother’s lack of acknowledgement of her efforts is triggering familiar hurts that date back to her childhood.

And even though she knows that her mother has never been forthcoming with expressions of appreciation or warmth, she’s lamenting it all over again, and even somehow more so, now.

The time has come for her to let go of her lifelong yearning for the mothering she knows she did not and will not receive in this lifetime.  

Amidst such heartache, how is she, or any of us, to accomplish this delicate, poignant task?

From the logistical to the emotional, caregiving is a daunting task which often puts our best coping skills to the test.

What then are we, poor souls caught between the rock of our present-moment demands and the hard place of our filial obligations, to do?

The dilemma is both existential and practical.

But if you are suffering the cumulative toll of caregiving and struggling for relief, healing, and restored wellbeing, the good news is that the practical question has a surprisingly simple answer.

Think ABC.

ABC stands for Acceptance, deep and complete, one Breath at a time, with Compassion for self and for others.

Acceptance, deep and complete” of everything and everyone as it is, as they are, right now, without judgment. Because the vast majority of the suffering we experience in these situations comes from non-acceptance.

One Breath at a time because the more deeply and regularly we breathe, the less vulnerable we are to anxiety, the more clearly we think, and the less likely we are to feel quite so exhausted and overwhelmed.  Even if we have to repeat our deep breaths many times in the course of a day (or even an hour), the truth is that even just a few of them really can make a huge difference.

With Compassion for self and others because caregiving scenarios are inescapably difficult, whatever their details. Everybody is vulnerable in one way or other. It’s hard for everyone involved.

Equally important is the fact that this kind of compassion is highly correlated with the reduced stress and improved emotional wellbeing you’re trying to achieve. It’s that simple.

Therefore, you’ve got to muster the kind of kindness you’d be inclined to offer anybody else and then treat yourself, and others too, that way. And you’ve got to do it even if you don’t feel it. You’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.

The path through the caregiving experience is not a straight line or a superhighway. 

It’s a winding road, or a snaky mountain pass, and it’s definitely a country mile. The thing to remember is that it goes where it goes and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The trick is to be able to support yourself along the journey that is uniquely yours. The better you can do that, the better you’ll fare at those times when the going gets tough.

You can practice ABC anywhere, anytime, whenever you need it. So it makes you less at the mercy of whatever is happening in the moment. And that’s empowering.

However your heartache came to you, ABC really can get you moving again toward restored serenity, peace, and the kind of emotional wellbeing you want.

All you have to do is practice. Moments a day is all, more is better, and anything is good.

Click here to listen to the podcast I  recorded for you about “The ABCs of Caregiving.”


Forgiveness and the Problem of Fairness

“It’s not fair. Why does the betrayed person have to do all the work?”

That’s the question a woman asked me after reading last week’s blog post in this series on forgiveness. And she’s not alone, is she? Because really, it’s human nature to feel that way. And the truth is that there is no one right answer to the question of how to handle a forgiveness dilemma. There’s no “one size fits all.” For that matter, there’s no wrong answer either.

The thing is that, where forgiveness is concerned, the concept of fairness is basically irrelevant.

Because forgiveness, at least on the most practical level, is not about the other person; it’s about you. And if that’s the bad news, then the good news is that the power to reclaim and restore your serenity, inner peace, joy, and overall well being is right in the palm of your hand.

A great teacher of mine used to say this: no matter how you got your problems, they’re still yours to solve.

No matter what anyone else did (or didn’t do), you get to choose how hard you’re willing to work to reclaim your basic right to enjoy your life.

Getting clear about your beliefs about the concept of fairness will take you a long way toward making choices that will bring you the relief you want, need, and deserve.

The thing about fairness is that it can be tricky. It’s an edgy concept. Most of us carry a lot of baggage around the whole idea of it. So the first step is to make sure you’re on top of your “stuff” about it: your beliefs, your thoughts, and your feelings about it. As you raise your awareness about all of that, you can begin to make some decisions about what you still want to keep and what you might want to let go. The thing that should be your guide is the way your belief(s) make you feel.

“Living well is the best revenge,” wrote the English poet George Herbert.

Leaving the concept of “revenge” aside for the moment, he was spot-on right. And if you want to live well, you’ve got to take a look at your beliefs about fairness.

Scroll down to listen to my podcast episode about fairness.

If you have a forgiveness dilemma you’d like to share, feel free. I’ll address it, minus identifying names and details, during the next few weeks of this series on forgiveness. Or if you’d like to speak with me privately, go ahead and send me a message and we’ll set up a time.

Remember that your serenity, inner peace, and joy don’t have to hinge on anyone else’s behavior. Try to notice when you’re digging in your heels, cutting off your nose to spite your face, or otherwise holding onto the very feelings you’re trying to let go of.

As always, remember to breathe.

Do You Need to Forgive Someone?

A woman recently wrote to me about her forgiveness dilemma: after 45 years of marriage, her parents are divorcing.

She feels that her father is treating her mother badly and also putting her own kids in the middle of it all. She’s angry at him and sad for her mother. It’s keeping her up at night. She doesn’t want to feel this way. But she doesn’t want to forgive her father either.

Forgiveness: such a tender, complex topic.

It seems like it should be so simple. And, for the more evolved and enlightened among us, maybe it is. But for the rest of us, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise, it can be tricky.

The first challenge is going to be to decide, honestly, how motivated you are to free yourself from the grip of your anger and hurt. 

Feelings of anger and hurt can be consuming. They can deplete your energy and rob you of your serenity, peace, and joy. So if you’re struggling with forgiveness in any way – or more to the point, if you’re struggling with feelings of anger and hurt – the first task is to ask yourself whether you are willing to take them on. And that means accepting, deeply and completely, that, no matter how you came to be possessed of these problematic feelings, they’re yours to manage, master, resolve, release, let go of, and otherwise decide how to suffer less while you live with them.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be exploring the challenges of forgiveness. Click the video below to watch the intro video.

If you have a forgiveness dilemma you’d like to share, feel free. I’ll address it, minus identifying names and details, during the next few weeks of this series on forgiveness. Or if you’d like to speak with me privately, go ahead and send me a message and we’ll set up a time.

Your serenity, inner peace, and joy don’t have to hinge on anyone else’s behavior! 

As always, remember to breathe.

When You’re Struggling with Difficult Losses

This past Saturday, I buried a childhood friend. A few months before she died, she shared a memory with me: the two of us, sitting together under the stars, talking on the bunk steps at summer camp. It never occurred to me then that this day could come so soon.

With Father’s Day, this weekend was a one-two punch for me. When my dad died in the summer of 2009, I buried my entire family, though I didn’t know it at the time; almost seven years on, I am still in the process of understanding it, accepting it, and being of good cheer in spite of it. It isn’t always easy.

On my long ride home from the funeral, I felt gripped by a kind of nebulous nostalgia that almost took my breath away. The gathering had been filled to overflowing with the power of everlasting love and hope. I knew I was a part of that circle and I also felt held by it. But I was still vulnerable to those rogue waves of grief that can knock you over and tumble you like a rock at the ocean’s edge. I think we all are.

Tomorrow is promised to no one. And time is short. Healing our grief, making peace with our regrets, and remembering that no one walks the road of recovery alone are all essential. Kindred spirits are everywhere. We’re all in this together. And the power of love will see you through to your new safe harbor home, one day at a time.

I was asked to sing my friend’s favorite song during her service. And the next morning, on Father’s Day, I decided to record it and make it into a slideshow. For anyone who isn’t having the easiest time right now, for whatever reason, “Here comes the sun, it’s alright…”