Surviving A Pandemic in the 100 Acre Wood
A long time ago in the exact geographic center of the North American continent a very extraordinary thing happened. One simple innocent moment in time, one split second decision that changed the world forever and has blessed us all for generations to come.
An English soldier stationed in Manitoba Canada was traveling to London at the advent of WWI. While in the train station in Winnipeg he spied a trapper trying to sell a small brown bear cub in a cage. The bear looked hungry and helpless, so he bought it and it traveled with him across the country and soon became a mascot for his troop of soldiers. When reaching London his troop was dispatched to the front lines in France. The soldier had named the bear Winnie after the city of Winnipeg and donated him to the London zoo in 1919.
London writer A.A. Milne author of children’s books often visited the zoo with his young son Christopher to see Winnie. Young Christopher was even allowed into the cage with the docile and friendly bear. Christopher adored the bear and named him Winnie the Pooh. The name Pooh was taken from the main character in one of his Dad’s book, Poo the swan. The name of a “good friend”. Winnie the good friend bear.
Later Christopher acquired stuffed animals over a course of several years and ” The 100 Acre Wood” was truly born; several years later his fathered penned Winnie the Pooh.
I find it amazing that one of the worlds most beloved, and enduring characters in fictional writing is based on a true story. Mr. Milne today would be in jail for child endangerment, as well as pending charges on cruelty to animals while facing extradition to Canada for illegal abduction and transportation of an endangered species. He may have eventually written a book from his jail cell, but it clearly would not have been the same.
The very real story soon became a lovely children’s book, eventually picked up by Disney where it spread faster than herpes at Woodstock; soon hitting every corner of the civilized world. Winnie became a worldwide celebrity overnight.
Why is that? Because good news travels fast. Subliminal good news travels faster than a virus. Metaphor is understood subliminally whether we are cognitive or not of its applications for our life. The characters, the stories, the nuggets of wisdom Milne created in his children’s-book classic has never been more important, and more needed than ever before. Not just for our children, but for our village, each one of us has our own village, our own 100 Acre Wood, our own refuge, our own tapestry of relationships and the matrix of support for our mutual survival.
Without realizing it Milne created fictional characters that reflect the 5 basic archetypal phenotypes of our global village. Personality is created by the morphism of genetic predisposition, epigenetic expression and neural plasticity from persistent environmental cues. We have a basic personality type that is our dominant or built in default mechanism from genetic predisposition combined from our parents from the pairing of 23 chromosomes each, combined which defines our physicality and our tics. Less than .1% of our total DNA defines our uniqueness. We are 99.9 % all the same DNA, but that small percent in conjunction with our environment creates our dominant personality for survival.
We inherit most of our personality traits that we can doing nothing about, but it does change/fluctuate with our environment and our awareness. Universally we have 5 distinct personality types known as the big 5. The Five Factor Model of personality traits suggests that individual differences in levels personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) are present from a young age.
In working with those who grieve for over 30 years I have seen how important it is to be aware of one’s dominant personality when inheriting a grief journey, one does not expect or anticipate. When we are caught by surprise we default to our strong suit, our dominant character of survival. When a bilingual person is angered, in great pain or fear they always scream out in their native tongue, it’s their ingrained default. In grief we default to the depth of our experience in loss. We may be clueless and toolless, but some survival mechanism kicks in that we were born with. Which one that is, will be one of, or a combination of the big five to stay alive.
A person can take any personality test, but they all boil down to the big five. One does not need to look any further than reading Winnie the Pooh and looking closely at the 5 main characters to see how they reflect the big five. Find which character you are in the 100 Acre wood and you will have found your strong suit, your default to survive. Take a close self-assessment/personal inventory of yourself and you will find you are at times many of the characters, but one really bespeaks of how you engage socially; that is your personality you need and use for survival.
In processing grief, facing trauma or daunting social engagement we draw our character strengths automatically, its in our nature. We also have mirror neurons that allow us to feel emotions that others are exhibiting simply by witnessing the non-verbal cues they express in their communications, which is also in our nature. We are all villagers of the same global village, are hard wired for empathy, compassion and cooperation. It is fear that interferes with that innate understanding
We as humans are born with only two innate fears: the fear of loud noises & the fear of falling, all other fears are manufactured by our experiences. If you are bitten by a snake as a child, you will fear snakes. We fear darkness because we may fall. When there is no light there will be fear. We fear sudden loud noises; it is our fight or flight response when taken by surprise. When we are taken by surprise or caught in the dark there will be fear. Both are innate.
Light dispels fear in darkness, education dispels fear of falling (being taken by surprise). Create the light and seek knowledge, that is wisdom.
When we know who we are as a person; we are armed by our own assets. We are born as one complete human being, body (animal), mind (intellect), spirit (avatar of animation) and soul, the arbiter for the journey to not only survive but to thrive. Animals can survive but only humans can conceive of choices to thrive. The footprint we leave behind created by the choices we make. Our bodies may die but our choices do not. Acknowledge and empower the strong suit you were born with, recognize what is in your nature. Listen to your body, listen to your intellect, listen to your higher power, make your best decision from the input from all three -in all things. The Latin phrase “nosce te ipsum” means: Know Yourself. Know yourself, be yourself, be your best asset.
Part 2 -Assessment:
How do you relate to people whether at home, work, or play? How do you engage with people most of the time? How do you represent yourself; how do you survive? This is important to knowledge to have when we are in survival mode. How we can survive and mitigate the spread of Covid-19 pandemic? We must arm ourselves. We are at war with a microscopic alien that is intent on weeding out as much of the world’s very old, its infirm, its weak, the homeless and the destitute. A science fiction novel has become reality.
We need to empower ourselves to fight this alien attack. P.O.W.ER. is an acronym for the 5 major characters from Milne’s classic Winnie the Pooh: Piglet, Owl, Winnie, Eeyore and Rabbit. We are composed of traits from all these colorful and diverse characters built in to one dynamic individual; a personal operating system that we are born with. We are a plethora of human qualities and characteristics that personifies how we act and how we are perceived by others. It provides us our basic personality with its assets and its flaws. It fluctuates with our environment, education and experiences as we try to maintain equilibrium in an unbalanced and ever-changing world. In theory we are an amalgamation of all the characters, but in practice we draw to the strong suit that we are born with. This is especially true when engaging with others from a place of fear and trauma or extreme courage.
So, who are you in the hundred Acre Wood?
Piglet is an extrovert and one who craves/needs to hug and to be hugged. He/she find the pandemic social restrictions are very frustrating and personal space social distancing almost painful.
Piglet is a person who is open to experience; one who is passionate, inventive, and curious, with an appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, and variety of experiences. This person is imaginative, highly independent and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine with a proclivity for novelty. Piglet can be perceived as unpredictability or having a lack of focus. Moreover, they may seek out intense, euphoric experiences, such as skydiving, living abroad, gambling, et cetera.
Piglets have a general appreciation for beauty and willing to try new things. They tend to be, (when compared to others) more creative and more aware of their feelings. They think more abstractly and are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs. They can be politically active and a champion for racial intolerance and equality. Piglets may start many projects at once; change jobs/frequently or start new careers. Some people may perceive them to have a low attention span, scattered and searching, but regardless they are all about heart. Piglets love to hug, piglets lighten up a room with their energy; they are magnanimous by nature
Owl is an introvert. Owl is researching, reading daily, downloading and graphing statistics on the disease; Owl purchased sanitizer and TP for a month the day after the Corona virus was announced in Wuhan China. Quarantine has already been in place for years.
Owl is a person with a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement against measures or other’s expectations. Owls are in control of how they regulate and direct their impulses and emotions. Owls are quiet, studious and take much pride in academic achievement; often writers and/or teachers. Owls maintain a low profile and stay under the radar.
Owls are highly organized and dependable, establish and maintain routines. Owls prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior and may be perceived as stubborn and resistant to change; Owls may be obsessive in certain personal routines. Although perceived slow to change, they are wise and think before they speak. They are extremely adaptive once they have processed facts to their conclusion. Owls are steady as she goes and very resourceful in chaos and possess many survival skills. Owls love alone time; still waters run deep; Owls are always good counsel.
Winnie is an omnivert exhibiting both introvert/extravert characteristics that thrives on routine. During the crisis Winnie is still visiting friends, going to work the exact same time etc. but is extremely frustrated not going to his/her daily stool at Starbucks at 8:45 am on the way to work.
Winnie loves social harmony and highly values getting along with others. They are generally considerate, kind, generous, trusting and trustworthy, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with other. Winnies have an altruistic and affable nature and have an optimistic view of human nature and people in general.
Winnie’s nature of agreeableness positively correlates with the quality of relationships with one’s team members or in any social engagement. Winnies also possess transformational leadership skill; they shine by example. They tend to have many friends and make few enemies. Winnie is compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic. Winnies stay steadfast and hold firm in their convictions; they are comfortable in their own skin. Winnies have a trusting and helpful nature, and what may be naive or submissive is in fact the power of their own vulnerability and probably the most resilient in the face of trauma. Winnies want/need to make a positive difference and usually do.
Eeyore is an introvert and he/she expected the virus would come and that he/she thinks they will most assuredly become a casualty. Eeyore thinks he/she has probably has already got the virus and has spread it everywhere and will quarantine easily but frustrated having no one complain to about getting “ it “ but would give you extra TP if you needed it.
Eeyores tend to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. Often, they are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress and may complain a lot. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions can persist for long periods of time and they may appear to be in a bad mood or have mood swings.
Eeyores want to stay in the background, they have a desire to help and be of service but often too shy to step forward. Often come to work early and leave late. Always sees projects and tasks to their end and fruition. Dots his I’s and crosses her T’s; always keeping deadlines. Eeyores love to be designated for a task as opposed to volunteering. Eeyores tend to be calm, collected and relaxed in most situations. Eeyores do not like to take a leadership role or speak in public but excel as a major support person in the background. Eeyore is a steadfast friend and that person who would literally give you the shirt off his/her back or give you a ride home. Eeyores may be complex but are dedicated and trustworthy; people love Eeyore.
Rabbits are obvious extroverts who are championing the war on Covid-19 wherever they can. They are Organizing food/water/ masks for the needy, creating websites and ad hoc support groups, volunteering for public health militias, manning tents and putting up posters. Most are already in jobs that require their presence during the crisis. Rabbits are invaluable during a pandemic.
Rabbits are characterized by high energy with a breadth of activities and have a profound ability to easily engage with the external world easily. Rabbits enjoy interacting with people, and are often perceived as High Energy or Type A. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals. They possess high group visibility; very talkative they like to assert themselves and may provide their opinion unsolicited. They like to take leadership roles.
Rabbits are extraverted, outgoing and energetic and often over-achievers. Filled with positive energy and emotions, they have a tendency for surgency, immediacy and assertiveness. They are highly sociable and seek stimulation in the company of others. Rabbits are talkative by nature and can be perceived as attention-seeking and domineering. Some may consider rabbits to be to be pushy, intolerant and labeled control freaks but regardless they are always there when you need them; they are invaluable in an organization or group for it to be effective. Rabbits are multi-taskers at heart and are great organizers
It is very likely you will know someone who has been exposed the virus in your family, friends, neighbors and workmates. It is also very likely someone may die from the virus in your community. Whether navigating the waters of uncertain times or navigating your personal trauma/grief journey, draw to your strong suit.
It is highly unlikely that you will be one character alone but rather two or three characters will be prominent and two or three will be less prominent. Which character you resonate with most is likely the most prominent character of your personality.
What is important is to take inventory of ourselves to promote our self-worth and gain confidence in what we can provide and honesty in what we cannot. We must strive to take advantage of our natural strengths and work on our shortcomings.
During this global pandemic crisis:
Be yourself. Be honest. Be your best. Be kind. Express gratitude. Show respect. Wash your hands often.
Be your Winnie, use your Piglet, depend on your Owl, express your Eeyore, energize your Rabbit and remember what Christopher Robin said to Pooh:
“You are Braver than you believe, Stronger than you seem and Smarter than you think”
To take test, go to: Free download for the P.O.W.E.R. Personality quiz at www.heartlightstudios.com
Do rainy days and Mondays get you down? Do endless gray days heighten your anxiety? Or does the rain wash away the pain, and the gray skies dilute the light of a nebulous tomorrow?
When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February 1985; we finally had a limited understanding of the persistent health maladies that he had been experiencing for several months. Daily harsh headaches, nausea, etc. but it was finally the double vision that prompted us to bring him to the ER. They immediately performed emergency surgery to remove a large fast-growing tumor on his brain stem. The tumor was a called a Medulloblastoma which is most always fatal.
All our pick-up sticks fell off the table.
We signed up for surgery, radiation and chemotherapy so we could kill the lion’s share of our son’s tumor. He died on the operating table for several minutes until he was again revived but was left in a coma for a week. When he awoke and the breathing apparatus was removed, he recounted immediately that he had left his body during surgery and that Jesus held his hand and said, “Kelly you will be well”. He also said Jesus looked just like Half Nelson, one of his Garbage Pail Kid cards.
Kelly was raised a very moderate Christmas/Easter Catholic as was I,, he never went to catechism and attended limited Sunday masses; we never discussed the bible at home but Kelly as every kid in our country knows that on Jesus’s birthday you get presents, so he was acquainted with Jesus but not on a first name basis.
Something happens to your faith and belief system when your dying child has a conversation with arguably the most famous persona the word has ever known. This can rock one’s world, which it did, and we are still rocking. We had obviously connected with the hard drive of the universe which left a cookie of continual correspondence upon Kelly’s soul and a timestamp of hope in our hearts. What happened after that could fill a book which is did: Letters to My Son, Turning Loss to Legacy. That is not what this writing is about although, that was then, this is now.
In 1985 modern medicine was still fighting cancer akin to hitting a fly on a glass table with 30# sledgehammer; we started to kill our son’s body, ravage his brain, numb his soul and test his spirit. We seemingly had no choice. We followed the rules, listened the doctors and proceeded to slowly poison our son. During that first year Kelly grew dark in spirit and sullen in soul and he would only wear black clothing. He recovered in part physically, but the dark clouds remained; the cancer more persistent then the chemo and he was dying.
Through Make-a-Wish and other circumstances we ended up in Mexico for several months where Kelly had a miracle healing in a small Mexican chapel. Following the service, he experienced a profound unexplained change physically, mentally, and spiritually and the tumor disappeared. Kelly was feeling great and he started to wear very colorful clothing and smiling all the time. Something happened in that chapel beyond our explanation; we had our son back.
We enjoyed the new color of his wardrobe as one appreciates a beautiful sunset. This was his sunset. The last rose of summer, the swan song for a 9-year-old boy. We had a miracle healing from God that brought color back to his young life that would prove to provide us with 4 more months of living his last days to the fullest that we could muster.
I am so grateful for the many miracles that were and have been springboards to healing by providing us with so much hope in the darkness of our despair; love is not lost, dead is not gone and heaven is a very real place; I saw it reflected In my son’s eyes, I saw it in the smile that formed on his lips as his paralyzed face relaxed and contracted muscles lost their hold… at the same time his hand went limp in mine. My son was looking right through me and was obviously seeing something very glorious; then the lights went out, but slowly with a look of gratitude, and recognition accompanied by one last unlabored sigh. Someone was there to bring him home.
Surviving the loss of child in your lives will alter your universe forever. Nothing will ever be the same. We can survive physically; our body demands it. We can survive mentally; our brain is resilient with plasticity. We can survive emotionally; by the choices that we make and the drugs that we take. We can survive with all the insights we glean from body, mind and soul, just as one can sit on a three-legged stool and rest, but a four-legged stool is much sturdier. When we embrace spirit, our connectedness to all, our child and to our higher power we create that fourth leg of equilibrium that rules them all. This enables us to not only survive but to thrive.
When the pain is so severe
We soon lose our fear
…and too learn to dance in the rain.
When my son died from brain cancer in 1987, I wanted to die too. No one should experience the death of their child. In one fatal swoop time stops and surreality steps in; dropping a coin that lands on its edge, we can’t believe what just happened, it stuns our brain and we step into the twilight zone. Life as we know it will never be the same.
Hearing of or witnessing the death of a loved one, the flight or fight response immediately sends hormonal shockwaves throughout our body with enough Cortisol in our system to paralyze an elephant. We go into shock head to soul. We are ground zero; we are in pause; we are the phoenix preparing, we are the cicada gone underground, the worm in the cocoon, the seed deep in the ground. We have been assaulted body, mind, soul and spirit and the body is our immediate front-line autonomic defense. We are numb because we are, with almost toxic levels of stress hormones. Over time the levels naturally dissipate until the next “trigger” that may give us a booster shot but overall it can be reduced through mindfulness techniques and diet.
Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Our brains are amazingly resilient and can create new neural pathways with consistent repetition as in learning to play the violin. Research indicates that on an average after 66 days of a newly created daily routine, through the process known as neuroplasticity the brain will establish a new pathway of behavior that can become dominant over previous “habits”. The caveat being what are the new pathways that we are creating in the early days of our grief journey?
When Kelly died, I was 32 years old and in pretty good shape weighing a consistent 175 lbs. regardless of what I ate or drank. I never worked out, not a runner or sports enthusiast but being a bit ADHD, I was always busy. After Kelly died, my busy died too. PBR me ASAP became a very strong new neural pathway, and Brussel sprouts turned into Burger King. I did not give a fuck anymore. Life obviously can be too short, our time here feeling like a spurious assumption of joy at best. There is no gravity, the world just sucks. Life Sucks. I don’t care if I live or die. Call me apathetic…I don’t care. I will eat my way through my despair.
By the time I turned 42 years old I was up to 225 lbs., balding, wearing bifocals, on medication for blood pressure, high cholesterol, & acid reflux. In those first 10 years I also tore my cornea on two different occasions, shattered my left heel from falling 30 feet, broke my left leg twice, broke a left finger, tore my left rotator cuff, tore my left knee meniscus, enduring unabated chronic plantar fasciitis in my left foot, as well as intermittent tachycardia with ablation surgery recommended. I was still using those dominant pathways created in the first 3 months of my grief journey, they had become my default drive for 20 years. I was a physical wreck at age 62 and I was afraid my grandbabies would not have a wise old grandpa around to see them graduate.
In January of 2017 I set an intention to get back to my body weight chart of 175 lbs. I called it the 66-day Heartlight Challenge. At the end of those 66 days I had reached my goal weight shedding 50 pounds and although happy for my success my arthritis seemed much worse in areas where I had broken bones. Not unlike grief it’s a bone itch that aches and you cannot scratch and it persists. I started to research cosumptionary agents with natural anti-inflammatory properties and discovered that many blue juices (dark berries) have high concentrations of polyphenols, antioxidants called flavonoids which attack free radicals. As the body ages, it loses its ability to fight the effects of free radicals. The result is more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and more damage to cells, which leads to degenerative processes, as well as “normal” aging.
Grief amplifies oxidative stress and we age faster, gray faster, cellular age increases more rapidly, wrinkles etc. We are the tin man after a rainstorm. These free radicals are one electron short of a full deck and will bond to the electrons of other healthy cells resulting in a weakening and aging of their host’s cellular structure. No different than the rust on your old Ford pickup. Oxidative stress ages it. I had been stuck in a dark wet place for a long, long time and I was in desperate need of an oil can.
Although I had reached my goal weight, and was off all medications, I did not feel that great and I felt and looked like a skinny old man. This free radical needed more free radicals to stop the deadly progression of stress oxidation going on inside my body. After two years of trial and research on the use of natural juices for relief of discomfort due to arthritis I eventually developed this daily use tonic that I dub blue juice.
Part of reclaiming my vitality was the addition of naturally occurring probiotics & prebiotic in my diet as well as the blue juice concoction. I make my own kefir, yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, Kimchee Kombucha & Kvass as part of my staple diet. To aid daily ingestion of probiotics I added some probiotics to my blue juice tonic which is listed in the recipe. Without these two ingredients you still get all the critical flavonoids from the juices to combat oxidative stress.
Blue Juice Heartlight Elixir, the oil can for the Tin Man
Basic Recipe for 1 Gallon
- ½ gallon long steeped (until room temp) green tea. Green teas is robust in antioxidants and the caffeine aids in accelerated metabolization.
- 2 cups pure Blueberry Juice
- 2 cups pure Cranberry juice
- 2 cups pure Red Tart Cherry Juice
- 2 cups pure Pomegranate Juice
- 1 cup Kvass which is a fermented beet tonic (optional)
- 1 cup Kombucha fermented sweet tea (optional).
- If adding probiotics, merely reduce the green tea amount
Drink at least one large glass a day of blue juice, more if arthritis symptoms persist. Drink at least as many glasses of pure water a day. Get some sunshine.
In addition to diet for cellular repair, we need vitamin D directly from the sun. It provides critical elements for cellular, bone and tissue repair. We need at least 15 minutes of outdoor sunshine 3x a week for adequate of levels of Vitamin D; 40% of people in this country (especially the elderly) have deficient levels in vitamin D. It is the UV ” B” rays in sunshine that turns cholesterol in our skin to Vitamin D and releases serotonin in our system.
Unfortunately UV “B” rays cannot penetrate glass as UV “A” does and we need to be outdoors. The use of sunscreen, body coverings and individuals with dark skin will require longer periods in the sun. Many women in cultures who are heavily veiled have high incidences of bone rickets from chronic Vitamin D deficiency. We need sunshine as surely as the cornfields do. Try to ge limited sunshine regularly and/or regular use of a mood light can do much to retard aging and promote cellular health. The use of tanning beds is not encouraged as UV “A” rays are carcinogenic. We need rays from the sun. We cannot eat enough salmon to get enough vitamin D without getting mercury poison but foods with vitamin D and supplements are highly encouraged October through March.
Vitamin D deficiency is also is the direct mechanics behind Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) when there is not enough sunshine to turn melatonin into serotonin which is our mood boosting/happiness hormone and why become become sad. When depleted of serotonin sadness, depression and apathy can insert their influence much easier.
Field tested by sufferers of arthritis to include my 90-year-old mother in law who claims it works better than the cortisone shot had received previously. If I am out of town and off my routine for a week, those old familiar places again start to throb…my cells are screaming oil can. And as the Scarecrow said to the Tin Man “oil can what?” It can reduce the inflammation of oxidative stress. Don’t take my word for it, try it. I drink one or two large glasses of iced blue juice a day, in several days you will feel a marked difference.
On a side note, one unanticipated result I have noticed now on my third year of drinking the tonic every day besides experiencing no/little arthritic pain, is a reduction and even reversal of gray hairs, wrinkles and sagging skin. I have gained some weight back from the target weight as I did lose some muscle mass losing my weight so quickly. The weight I gained back is some muscle, healthy tendons etc. and not the normal stomach/saddlebags areas where stress fat is stored. Even my toenail fungus disappeared, and my old yellowed nails grew out pink and clear in one year.
Over 200 years ago the brilliant French physician Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote:
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”
In English “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”.
Be your best advocate, be your best physician, trust your body to do the right thing but provide it the best fuel and means to do so.
Grief and your diet can both kill you, or it can propel you into an area of your destiny never imagined. Imagine; believe.
I graduated from Park Hi in Cottage Grove Minnesota in 1973. A vibrant state of the art high school nestled in a growing and expanding neighborhood of the late 50’s called Thompson Grove. It was the brainchild of Orrin Thompson who a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright who wanted to create an affordable neighborhood on the prairies of Minnesota in response to nationwide housing shortages for the new baby boomer generation being born that followed the end of WWII. Cottage Grove (cabbage grove to islanders) 😊 it was a model for the nation for the newly created idea of “suburbia “. Successful it spread nationwide faster than a fire in California. Our high school was a model for the times in a model neighborhood; visualize the movie Pleasantville and listen to the song by Pete Seeger “Little boxes” which was his response to Orrin Thompson’s creation in Cottage Grove. (https://youtu.be/XUwUp-D_VV0)
Our school was built amidst the little boxes of the newly created suburbia and students from Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Grey Cloud Island, Denmark Township, Newport and Woodbury all converged to the new High School built in 1965. State of the art school, it had computer Fortran entry data (punch card classes), modular scheduling, and some groovy intern teachers. The area was mostly middle-class white suburban and rural families, lean on diversity but our sports team was monikered the Park Hi Indians (which later changed to the Wolf pack). In 1973 life was good in Cottage Grove, the Vietnam war was winding down, the draft/lottery had ended, jobs were plentiful, the social vibe was all about peace and love. Pleasantville was real. The world was our oyster.
I remember as a senior in high school reading the book “1984” by George Orwell (circa 1949). It was a frightening vision of a country that had degenerated to a rule by “Big Brother” who was the cult like personality leader of “The Party “who was in political control. Big Brother was depicted as totalitarian ruler who comes into everyone’s homes daily on huge computer screens dictating social reform with government rule and he had absolute power. Although convivial in appearance as part of the republic he was a ruthless dictator and a puppet voice for “The Party” who actually pulled all the strings.
This was written as fiction 70 years ago.
That same year a movie was released called Soylent Green and my girlfriend (my wife now) and I watched it at the Cottage View Drive-in theater that was built the same year as the high school in our uniquely created little suburbia of the future that even had an indoor neighborhood mall. The drive in had a double feature, Soylent Green and The Exorcist. Soylent Green left a deep impression on me and is the reason for this writing.
The movie was based on book penned in 1966 by Harry Harrison; released into a movie with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in 1973. The movie was set in 2022 New York City. The cumulative effects of overpopulation, pollution and climate catastrophe due to Greenhouse gases (Global warming) had caused severe worldwide shortages of food, water and housing. In the plot there is 40 million people in New York City alone, only the city’s elite can afford spacious apartments, clean water and natural food, and even then, at horrendously high prices. The middle class was gone, there was now only the haves, or the have-nots and the haves controlled the food supply. We find out later the food supply is made from dead bodies…called Soylent Green.
In 1973 the population of New York City was about 7.5 million, today almost 50 years later we are at less than 8.5 million. The move to the suburbs worked, good job Orrin Thompson, quite the visionary you were and continue to be as NYC and other major cities populations decrease each year. Gated communities and massive baby boomer retiree high rises/ villages are growing faster than Kudzu in July causing massive urban emigration and building boom to the burbs. Overcrowding never became the portent of devastation it was touted as becoming, no one envisioned massive suburbs. Climate change on the other hand has reached devastating proportions in our country and across the world.
We saw it coming 70 years ago.
Rising sea levels, melting polar caps, and the hottest temperatures every recorded are breaking records across the world. February of this year in 2020, both Greenland and Antarctica broke record for highest temperatures ever recorded. 2019 Angola saw its hottest temperature ever measured for any month in February. Australia shattered its record for the hottest summer ever with fires still burning out of control propelling its national average temperature to a new all-time high. Belgium broke its record at 105°F on July 25. France saw its hottest June day on June 28 as the temperature rose 111.7°F. Germany broke its record of 106.7°F on July 25. Kenya saw its highest April temperature on April 20 which hit 106.9 F. The Netherlands broke its record on July 25 at 104.7°F. Poland and Germany each set a new respective June temperature record. Russia set a May temperature record near Siberia 91.22ºF on May 13. Vietnam broke its record for hottest May temperature on May 20 at 109.4ºF. To name a few.
If this keeps up for two more years with blatant ignorance of real data, the movie Soylent Green may now be a harbinger of things to come rather than mere Hollywood fiction. With severe climate change we may to come to a time when food and clean water are in short supply for the masses unilaterally. I hope not, I believe we can be much better stewards of our children’s planet than that. We can help to alleviate the stress our dear Mother Earths is experiencing. She may be having her own growing pains and will cycle as she continues to cool down internally over the eons, but ignorance, apathy, greed and stupidity of external factors that we can control only makes it worse.
In the movie Edgar R. Robinson is an old man who is tired of living in poverty under strict government control. Perpetual apathy, no relief from the continual heat, lack of real food and overcrowding he finds he has no hope, he sees no light at the end of the tunnel. When he finds out that his main diet is made from dead people his loses the last shred of will to survive. The government does although provide an option to “seniors” who are tired of the battle to exist and can go to the “Home Clinic “a government run assisted suicide facility. They sign up on their own free will and are brought in to a one-person in-the-round movie theater watching glorious 3-D movies of our wonderful planet with a dinner given of their favorite meal with “ real food ” and of course given a tall glass of special Kool-Aid to drink and they drift off happily… 20 minutes later succumbing to the potion that was delivered. Their body is then is recycled into Soylent Green.
Fictional yes, but it was that scene left an indelible impression on me. I endorsed his decision had I been face with it, and admired the ease and beauty of which it was accomplished, as he told Charleston Heston, I’m going home. Suicide sometimes may appear as the only viable option. From the towers of 911, from abuse/torture at being held captive, from continual sexual abuse at home or madmen, mental illness, depression, bullying by society itself.
The decision to take one’s own life is one made to relieve pain when there is no hope. Let us not judge this very difficult decision to end one’s life but honor their courage to make such a lethal decision. Let us avoid charging their legacy with a crime and adding a penumbra of shame to their life and to that of their family. People die by accident, by disease, natural disasters, natural causes, nefarious intent, pathological evil, war, greed, revenge, politics, anger, self-defense, mental illness, apathy and suicide. Victims of suicide do not commit a crime…they decide to end their pain.
Our onus is to not judge those who have made the decision to take their own life or ascribe personal failure or guilt on our part or theirs. It is difficult at best to know of the inner turmoil people may carry; most often it is disguised very well. We need to decriminalize their legacy and promote avenues of hope for the hopeless. Suicide is not a sin, it is not a crime, it is a symptom of social despair, it is an act of desperation fueled by apathy and ignorance. Suicide rates increase 2% every year in our country. Now in epidemic proportions in rural America, the armed services and our law enforcement, suicide is now considered a national public health crisis in the United States. So much in fact that the U.S. life expectancy data has been trending down for the past three years from so many cases of suicide and overdose. Global suicides rates are amazingly down 30% since 2000. U.S. suicide rates are up 33 % since 2000. This is not hyperbole; we are in a national crisis.
We do not need government suicide clinics, we need to heighten our awareness of social discontent, and reduce the systemic apathy in our country. To reduce the risk of suicide we need to reduce the desperation wherever we see it and encourage other options. To reduce its stigma of shame we need to stop the blame.
Suicide is a decision not made lightly but one usually made in the dark. Spread the light; you can do your part to reduce the risk; shine by example. We are our brother’s keeper. Be an encourager, an influencer, a listener, a mentor, a teacher, a guide, a motivator, a forgiver, a helper, a role model, a benefactor, seed planter, healer and friend. It’s in our nature, that spark of divinity that makes us human that is in every one of us. Find it, nurture it, use it. Let’s take back the night.
Science Fiction has become reality. People old and young choosing to end their lives. Suicide rates in our country are at epidemic proportions that we have not ever seen before. Real data happening now. U.S. Public mass shootings in 2019 was the highest year ever recorded with 41 incidents, 211 fatalities. Real data, happening now. Our Planet currently is melting at rates faster than we have ever seen in recorded history. This is real data happening now. If this continues unabated, life as we know it will never be the same and I shudder for my grandchildren.
If we collectively do nothing, like in the make-believe world of Fantasia in the movie The Never-Ending Story, the “nothing” will end our world. The nothing is our apathy and where desperation thrives. We are killing ourselves and our planet at unheard of rates. BE DISCONTENT, makes ripples, take the risk to resist; the power of one can make a difference; we are in desperate times. Be the difference; take the risk to be you, nurture kindness; nurture your neighbor, become an influencer of grace; Be here now; Shift happens. Give a shift.
When we lose our someone that we love, respect, or even admire from afar we are thrust into grief and our autonomic grief (stress) response is activated. Our force field goes up to protect ourselves from further injury so that we can survive the current trauma. No different than a porcupine when threatened who raises his/her quills to be less vulnerable to attack. When scared, startled, sad, happy or horny the quills come out without any conscious thought or direction; its instantaneous protection. We humans we have the same horripilificational response on our skin sans the quills, we call it goosebumps. A simple autonomic reaction from our sympathetic nervous system to a threatening stimulus real or imagined. Thoughts are very real to our bodies e.g. as in viewing a horror movie and our bodies react despite being armed with the knowledge it is not real. Our hackles are up so to speak, it’s in our nature.
Death and its trauma will come to our door despite valiant attempts to keep it at bay. Death has no natural enemy. There is no wall, bunker, fortification or legion of warriors that can defeat death’s intrusion into our unfolding karma. Like gravity, we cannot explain it, but we know it sucks. Death is not the creepy dark Grim Reaper from folklore who is collecting souls for some erroneous payment due. He/she is merely an agent of God simply releasing them from physical bondage and more aptly is called the angel of death. Our spirits are born wanting to return to our source as surely as the salmon wants/needs to make the journey home from whence it came, our spirit knows that as well.
When death does happen to a loved one in our lives’ we know in our hearts that it is the natural circle of life, that death will surely visit us all. Unfortunately, intellectual assertions of truth and fact does not negate the pain of separation or wrongdoing. We despise the interloper that removed the physical presence of our loved one from our lives, be it disease, madness, mayhem, medical mistake, mother earth, or the mother fucker that caused our loved one’s death. Death becomes the whipping boy for things beyond our control; the thief in the night, the gondolier of death and nemesis to life. He/she becomes the grim reaper and the defiler of our life and promulgator of our pain, but remember death is only the doorman; death merely opens the door. Understand it’s an angel’s job to do so with no other motive than to receive a traumatized spirit transitioning from physical back to ethereal. He/she will pay us a visit us as well when our heart stops one day, and the door opens to our own unfoldment. I no longer fear death as a thief in the night but as a loving midwife for my soul.
Death allows for the full separation of spirit from a vehicle that has shut down and is only a momentarily visitor in our life. Grief is the negotiator for our survival that may travel with us a lifetime. The pain of separation can be debilitating and enduring. When our loved one dies, we find ourselves alone standing on the bow of a warship seemingly bound for nowhere, praying fervently we find a friendly shore. The whole world feels like the aggressor and our antagonist; we don our armor, quills up and sail into the uncharted waters of grief and loss.
In grief we are vulnerable to attack, so we wear emotional armor to survive. It becomes our operating system for such a long time that we tend to forget we put the armor on at all. It becomes a routine. New neural brain patterning over time creates new synaptic footprints of behavior and response. New pattern/routines of the griever become habitual and it normalizes the grief response as its new M.O. (modus operandi). Not unlike installing a device upgrade or a new app; it becomes the new search engine of our survival. The armor of biochemical defense is meant for momentary fight or flight response but not for our daily status quo and it can eat us up physically and emotionally.
Grief is biochemical warfare on our emotions, if we wear our armor too long it can become toxic. We may be lost at sea for a long time, so it is important at times to remove the armor to better navigate the changing seas. There will be sirens of hope bringing us to safe harbor, and there also will be sirens of guilt and regret that will draw us upon the rocks. There will be tempests that daunt our spirit, maelstroms that suck us under, and calm windless seas that may drive us mad, but at some point, there will be safe harbor, a shore of refuge. Stand on the bow like a leaf on a stream to see where it takes you or head back to the stern, look to the stars and navigate by your gut. Be adrift at sea or become the protagonist of your survival, both valid choices. Recognizing that you have a choice creates hope; making a choice creates faith. Hope without faith is merely a wish.
True hopelessness is not being able to take your armor off. When we doff our armor, we rediscover our vulnerability and may notice that we not only feel lighter but stronger than before. Carrying the huge weight of the armor for so long we change…the change within the change of the changing medium, in Latin, known as mobilis in mobili.
Carrying a heavy weight with you every day builds up muscles. We become stronger despite ourselves. It is only when we take the risk to remove the armor can we feel that strength we have gained. One cannot dance in armor, nor swim or bathe and why we cry in the shower; we become vulnerable. Vulnerability is an emotional asset and not a weakness; take the risk to be vulnerable, open the wound to your own wisdom, debride your soul of unrealistic expectations and set very real intentions for legacy building and experiences of joy. Barring another loss, what can hurt us more than we hurt already? We take baby steps in integrating our loss and slowly we take more emotional risks to doff the armor and dance to music that is placed before us.
Capitalizing on the power of our own vulnerability through proactive grieving we strengthen our resiliency body, mind, soul, and spirit to be able to conquer the many peaks, valleys and black holes of the grief journey. Don your armor when you need to, doff it went you don’t. You are the protagonist and the director in this theater which is your life. Be your protagonist, write your story; take risks; use your mulligan; stir your inner child to create innocent joy once again; expect grace; enunciate gratitude, nurture innate skills, shine your inner light for others and set intentions that nourish and develop a legacy of love that honors our loved one and that provides a benefit for others in their name. Be the change you want see in the world.
Peace love n light
December 1st, 1987 changed my life forever; my 9- year-old son Kelly James died from a malignant brain tumor. Twenty-three years later to the day my life inextricably changed again; my granddaughter Olivia Kelly was born. Same weight, same length, same face, same eyes. We were shocked by the resemblance and the incredible timing that she was born on the calendar day of his death, but we were not totally surprised. We knew. A friend, a psychic told me several months before my daughter even knew that she was pregnant; that this was going to happen; and it did.
This friend from high school called me out of the blue circa 2009. We had not spoken or seen each other since 1973 when we both graduated. She had seen my book in a bookstore (Letters to My Son) while browsing grief books, as she had too lost a son recently and felt a psychic connection with him. My contact information was in my book and she called me about using my publisher. While she was speaking with me, she said, wait a minute, Kelly is coming to me now…she then went on to say Congratulations, you are going to be a grandpa again, Kelly is coming back to be born into your family.
I was speechless for the first time in my life. My jaw literally dropped, accompanied by a rush of reactive hormones that seemed to be buzzing throughout my body. I literally could not speak. I regained my composure within a few moments and I lamely croaked out: Wow, I will have to call my daughter; which I did poste haste. Meagan, what are you not telling me? I have it on good authority you are pregnant. Her turn to be almost speechless but she quickly managed to say quite vociferously: Your friend is nuts Dad I am not pregnant.
I said honey don’t shoot the messenger and I explained the call. She went on to say that the lady is obviously confused, that’s is just plain bat shit crazy, no one can know that, besides I am on the pill, my husband lost his job, we are losing our house, we have no insurance with a 3-year-old toddler to raise. We are not pregnant or plan to be anytime soon. End of story.
Six weeks later I get a call from Meagan. Dad this is crazy, I missed my period and have taken two home EPT tests that read positive. She met with a doctor who confirmed that her home tests were correct, and she was indeed pregnant with a due date of November 16th, 2010. My son Kelly’s birthday. Coincidence?
November 16th came and went, no baby. I was disappointed it did not happen on Kelly’s birthday but also grateful, as I was out of town at the time. She was now running two weeks late and they were considering an induction but did not have too as she spontaneously went into labor a little after midnight on December 1st, Kelly’s angel day. Later that morning my daughter gave birth to a little girl, Olivia Kelly. For her birth and grateful for the miraculous manipulation of the mystery that provided us with such a gift. Continuing connection.
Fast forward 5 years I find Olivia in our yard hugging a tree and crying. I asked her what was wrong? She replied “I miss Uncle Kelly, and when I hug a tree like this, he talks to me. I simply replied, wow what did he have to say today? She said, he said “we are going to call you Winnie the Pooh now”. I replied that’s interesting and I dug through our DVD collection and found the movie and we watched it. The whole 100 Acre Wood characters in this video were trying to fix Eeyore’s grief for the loss of his tail. Epiphany! I then created a grief workshop “Who are you in the 100 Acre wood? “which is now part of the proactive grieving model used in my presentations ever since. Continuing connection.
December 1st, 2018 Olivia turned 9 years old, now the same age as her uncle when he died. She is now old enough to articulate better what she is feeling. She said she had a dream a few years back of her being in the ER at a hospital and she was so scared, and she associated it with Kelly. She told us this spring she had a dream with Uncle Kelly in it and she asked him why she was born on his death day? She said he replied, “so I can see the world through your eyes”. Best thing I have heard in response to her unique birth circumstances.
I share this story publicly as my granddaughter has only known a continuing connection with her uncle by living it. It is not a learned behavior, hidden behavior or wished for, but it just is… as natural as brushing your teeth she has known nothing else her whole life. We keep Kelly in the present tense in a non-physical relationship. Quantum Physics theory supports a that a sustaining molecular relationship is involved in all matter and is not limited to time and space.
This summer I was asked to provide a full day Proactive Grieving seminar for the Canadian branch of The Compassionate Friends in Winnipeg. The seminar is broken into 4 pods of lecture & interaction; body, mind, soul, and spirit. In the “spirit” pod we focus on the topic of continuing connections, signs, dreams, and synchronicities. We talked about signs on the drive up to Canada from the Twin Cities. She said I want 4 signs this weekend from Uncle Kelly, a purple orb, a feather, a heart and a rainbow. Olivia was on the alert.
The first night at the hotel she scurried over to “the claw” toy machine in the lobby. I think for the most part, it is impossible to win. She saw a purple ball and said Kelly I need that orb! Of course, she picked it up!!! She later found a heart rock, and a feather, but rainbows are harder to come by.
At the conclusion of the day we had a candle lighting and we played Alan Pedersen’s’ beautiful and iconic song Tonight I hold This Candle that is used for ceremonies worldwide. I was on stage performing interpretive sign to the song and was not at the table with my granddaughter, but my wife was and witnessed a miracle. When the lyrics came on…” if your looking down tonight and see this candle burning bright, it says I am wishing you were here” my granddaughter closed her eyes and she saw Kelly smiling at her, coming toward her and he hugged her. She said he had short hair and was wearing a long sleeve white robe with gold trim. She said to me later: It was real Papa; I saw him he hugged me.
That night we go up to our hotel room and we see a huge storm blow in right before sunset. They had not had rain in 6 weeks. Olivia was praying for rain to get her rainbow. We heard thunder and looked outside to an approaching storm. It rained hard briefly, the sun came out and a huge double rainbow appeared outside our hotel room. The look on her face indelible in my mind, one of pure love and gratitude stamped with eternal hope.
Hope is validated by quantum physics. Our thoughts, actions and intentions are not limited to constraints of classical mechanics. Our ability to communicate with our loved ones who died is backed up by the quantum mechanic’s entanglement theory. This occurs when two particles are inextricably linked together no matter their separation from one another. Although these entangled particles are not physically connected, they still are able to share information with each other instantaneously — seemingly breaking one of the most hard-and-fast rules of physics: No information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light…yet it does. And for the bereaved its a miracle. Even Einstein acknowledged the unusual phenomenon in physics…by saying it is real, but just plain spooky.
Continuing connections, communication and even choice is integral to subatomic particles creating matter, which is life itself and eternal. Quantum theory proves it is impossible to be separated; death does not win.
A Perspective on Change In America
Wow, can you believe it? We are 19 years into the new millennium, soon to welcome in its second decade with the year 2020. I was born in 1955 the quintessential baby boomer born at the peak of live births in this country with a little over 4 million births in the United States that year. I am considered a leading-edge Baby Boomer. Who knew? That makes me a full-fledged card-carrying prime product of the 1950’s and proud of it.
My father was a police officer and our local milkman (my parentage obviously secure) who worked two jobs to support 7 kids. My mom did not work but she cooked a lot, times were good, we were well clothed, well fed, well educated. The country was celebrating rock and roll across the nation; post WWII American life was robust, jobs were plenty, technology was booming at unprecedented rates, some folks even had color TVs. Life was good if you honored the flag, understood your role, your age limit, accepted gender restrictions, you respected your elders, worked hard, shoulders back, stomach in, chest out, hair short and you were white. It would be decades before people of color, women, and those with gender identity issues would gain equal footing. We actually believed we lived in Pleasantville, that is until the late 1960’s when reality came rushing like a Tsunami; The Viet Nam war and the Beatles changed America forever. Shift happens and we go for the ride.
Protests, psychedelics, marijuana and a man on the moon; peace, love, dove and Boonesfarm wine took over our country like flies at a corn feed and it shook the foundation of our country’s silent generation. The baby boomer’s parents almost lost control of a generation that was 4 million strong, mostly idealists wanting to make a difference. The Viet Nam war and its sociological impact changed our country. Although much good resulted with increased social harmony, better laws for human rights, racial equality and social programs, it also catalyzed derision between political parties that did not support the same views.
The KKK and other covert melanin challenged interest groups went underground; they did not disappear, some discreetly graduated from law school to maintain the status quo in the legal arena keeping their hair short, their necks red and their mission intact. Others with less opportunity and less financial means grew out their hair & beards to hide their red necks and blend in with the hippie’s movement of love. The summer of love produced partisans of social equanimity and compassion, but also produced partisans of social destruction and hatred. Newton’s third law of physics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The extremists from those days on both sides of the fence have now elevated to high levels of politics and/or support grass root organizations that represent the continued passion for their personal political world view. They are the mentors and direct influencers on our millennial generation that will soon oversee all facets of our country, from top to bottomness; to embolden and prepare the country for the next shift in social consciousness. The pendulum keeps on swinging and why a two- party system is inherently a good one.
Our left-wing love bunnies and our right-wing red necks are now back at it again, polarizing our country. Many on both sides are hard to detect especially dressed in a suit. Left- wing tree huggers are now missing their ponytails and are dressed in pastel shorts with Under Armour T-shirts and are very effective capitalist with a splash of socialism; eventually hippies had to get jobs. The red necks found a great resource in the internet to spread their virus of hate and bigotry which is gaining momentum by increasing numbers of there are those who are acting upon their nefarious intentions now bolstered to rise by current political support. Is it coincidence since the last presidential election in 2016 mass shooting incidents with fatalities in this country has almost tripled? This year 2019 is on pace to be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one mass shooting a day. The sleeping giant of a nihilism,apathy and discontent was awoken, and they elected a president from their end of the gene pool. Shift Happens. Its time clean up the shift.
The Silent Generation gave birth to the Baby Boomer generation, they in turn gave birth to our Millennial Generation who are now raising and nurturing our Centennial Generation. These children of the Centennial Generation will inherit the shift we find ourselves in now, as well as the condition of the planet and its resources that we leave for them. It’s time to get our shift together and make America the model of the great democracy that it once was to the world.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Mitch Carmody October 7, 2019
Original drawing I created for and borrowed with permission from www.thegrieftoolbox.com
When my nine year old died in 1987 I was thrust into a dark womb of despair and I felt my system shutting down. How can I possibly survive this? I did not want to, nor did I know how. The foundations of my existence were shaken, “this cannot be happening to me” I said over and over again as though it would somehow awaken me from the nightmare. For the first time in my life I could use word “surreal” with an understanding of its meaning, as it seemed the only way to describe my waking hours as I experienced them.
One pivotal day in those early years of gray I found myself holding myself in a deep soul embrace; I was really unsure who was in control, yet deep inside from some internal gyroscope I felt a faint harmony that I had never felt before; a quiet sacred balance, a moment of new direction, of moment of new meaning. Just a flicker of hope, a spark in the abyss, but it was real. I was stirred from my slumber of dried tears and as surely as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon I said “I need to breathe…I need to fly” and I broke through the chrysalis, a chrysalis that always seemed so imposing but yet I soon discovered to be so very thin. I emerged a newborn baby into a world of the unknown, and although exhilarated that I could breathe I did not know how to fly…and I was frightened. I found that I missed the womb of deep grief, its protection, its security and its lostness. I had to rest and dry my wings before I could fly, but fly again I did.
We start over again in real years, in real time following a major loss. What is vitally important in our journey is what we do with those years. I proclaimed to myself “If I am going to start all over again I am going to take risks. I am not speaking of physical risks, I am not going sky diving or mountain climbing although that may be healing for many, for me it was a needed shift in consciousness. I am going to take emotional risks. At risk of sounding prosaic I wanted my light to shine.
Through grieving my son I have discovered myself and have begun to like what I have found beneath the layers of emotional armor. I am a much better person, more compassionate, a more affectionate person, a more feeling person than I have ever been in my life; I laugh harder; I cry harder. I take emotional risks to reach out to those in pain. I find it helps my own pain and builds my own hope in the process. It can also provide us a platform for change, our future and the world’s. We can use the power in our grief to become better or bitter; or we become apathetic and another life is gone. We have choices.
Take the risk to be you, reach out to yourself, and reduce or remove filters (with discretion), express yourself, admit your pain, admit your flaws, admit your misgivings, admit your dreams, admit your joy, admit your potential…admit your gifts. Use your masks whenever you need to get through a bad day, and to survive -but not every day. Use your gifts to rebuild your life. Grief is hard work and there is no shame in hard work. It takes guts to be an intentional survivor. As Winnie the Pooh said “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”.
We as a society and a species we tend to process personal loss from the experiences of those around us processing theirs; it is a skill that is not taught in basic education but only in the school of hard knocks. Death is a natural flow in life and it cannot be denied; we will experience grief every day that we live, it happens.
The death of a loved one in your life is like coming upon an imposing river on your journey. It has no bridge and is deep, cold, dangerous and swift. We have four choices when we stand on its shore, we can try to cross it somehow, we can try to fight the current and go upstream, we stay on the shoreline or we go with the flow downstream… all valid options. When someone we love dies we find ourselves standing on the shoreline unsure what to do and where we are truly confronted with our own fears and ignorance of the great mystery.
When my son was diagnosed with cancer we came to an imposing river and we chose to go upstream to try and save his life; when he died we went back to the shore and again looked at our options. The shore was not the same shoreline we left; we had no strength to go upstream, no desire to cross to a new shore, so we went with the flow and were open to see where it would take us. That is what I call faith.
When coming to grips with death and dying, our own death or someone we love we come to a crossroads of faith. We may cling to our religious beliefs with more tenacity than ever before and strive to understand its teachings with a different eye or we may fall away from our faith feeling detached and abandoned. We may even turn our anger toward God for not preventing the tragedy.
We have those that claim God can heal everything with enough faith, including miracle cures and a even resurrection from clinical death. When that does not happen, the most ardent of the faithful may be tested and be at odds with a creator that would not answer their prayers. Often times it is this passionate believer that seems even more frightened of death and fight death as the enemy when paradoxically they strive to live a life with a goal to get to heaven.
On the other hand some say there is no God, and that there are no miracles. Interestingly enough these people that do not believe in a God or an afterlife often feel just as frightened and alone in regards to death and dying as are some of the deeply devout find themselves .
The angst of death seems most apparent in these extremes of spiritual philosophies. The more we know the more, the more we know we what we don’t know. The grief experience that we find ourselves in is a new slate, one we did not choose but one in which we have a choice in how we process it into our reality. We can survive loss but I believe that to truly thrive again, that a belief in a divine intelligence and an afterlife is critical.
Everything in life is in a cycle of polarization, a sine wave to maintain equilibrium with no exceptions; darkness/light; heat/cold; pressure/vacuum; concave/convex on and on ad infinitum. This includes human birth and death. Life is not linear it is a true circle. Then light at the end of a tunnel is the same on either end. Going upstream or downstream whether you reach the spring or the delta both are source. There are no real endings only new beginnings. Basic physics concludes that energy does not die nor is it consumed, it continual reinvents itself. There is no real death only transformation, which in turn allows for hope of some kind of continued existence beyond our corporal one.
Through the experience of suffering a significant loss in our life, our faith and endurance is tested to its limits. We become are stronger in the broken places or we become crippled for life. Our grief is an opportunity to use all that we have, and all that we can muster to let our heart light shine; we take the risk to be better than we have ever been. What can hurt us more? We can become bitter or better; we have choices. Grief is the price we pay for love, and it is directly proportional to our investment in that love. Allow that love to continue to give us proceeds as we rebuild our lives proactively by living the loss and not postponing its grief.
Sorrow yields hope when we discover our part of the symphony -is just that; the music goes on and we have the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.
Peace , love and healing
Planes Trains and Automobiles to Planet Grief and Back
It has been 26 years since our son Kelly died, and what a ride it has been. He had just turned nine in 1987 and was actively dying of cancer with only a few short weeks to experience his life. In those last 8 months of his life, we flew to Disney world, Disney land, Denver, North Carolina, Hawaii, Mexico; we took the train to Chicago and a taxi to “Ripley’s Believe or Not Museum”. We drove to see Paul Bunyan, the Jolly Green Giant and the giant ball of twine. We cashed in our savings and did what Kelly wanted to do; we were proactively living and learning to proactively die at the same time and seemingly for the most part we did it in planes, trains, and automobiles. Then the movie came out on the big screen and Kelly absolutely loved John Candy movies. Although very weak and frail, the day before he died we took him to see “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. He laughed until it hurt, and despite the small doses of morphine -it did hurt; that was the last time I heard him laugh or smile.
Kelly’s sister Meagan was only six years old when she saw this movie and when her brother died. Today she is 33 years old and the mother of two girls ages four and seven. She is the same age I was when my child died and it’s impossible for her to conceive of this happening to her, yet she has witnessed it in us. We are bereaved parents and will always be bereaved parents as she will always be a bereaved sibling. She wanted to come with us to participate in the conference for the first time…and for us all to take the train to Chicago; the last time she was on this train was with her brother.
We made plans early, purchased train tickets to Chicago on the Empire Builder and we had good friends in Chicago who would drive us around when we got there. We would then catch a plane back on Sunday. It was our own Planes, Trains and Automobiles adventure, which it turned out to be. The evening before we were to depart we drove to our daughter’s house in Red Wing Minnesota. She lives only blocks from the small train depot where we would catch it in the morning. Later that evening checking my email I saw one from Amtrak stating that the train had been canceled and that they had made arrangements with their bussing service to provide us with an 8 hour bus ride to Chicago. We all screamed no way! There is no Bus in the title of the movie and busses make me car sick. We asked for a refund and I bought the last three flights on American Airlines to Chicago. I know Kelly is laughing his butt off, we should have known, that’s what the movie was about on the surface -a traveling fiasco. It was a hilarious movie but we also see someone (John Candy) who is grieving deeply for his loss but keeping it a dark secret and is the really the most important tenet of the movie.
In his role Steve Martin clearly had no idea about the man’s loss; he knows only that he is stuck with a very odd fellow who irritates him to no end. He tolerates him as many do with us in our grief, and we wear masks or practice avoidance to cover up our aching heart, becoming clever at faking it until we make it. The movie clearly shows how sometimes we as the bereaved relate to the world with unique survival strategies and the fortunate others seemingly have no clue to our inner pain. At the very end of the movie Steve Martin’s character starts reflecting in an almost whimsical way; not out of anger or irritation but with honest love and compassion; then and only then does he see the clues of the grief beneath the surface.
We all have those same mirror neurons that fire in our consciousness that makes compassion a physical reality and empathy a healing tool. It is the love that neutralizes the defense neurons and changes the neuro-pathways and our system is flooded with the hormone oxytocin. This is when our heart takes control and we feel that lump in our throat, our eyes mist up and our mind takes the back seat; we get it. When that happened to Steve Martin at the end of the movie on the city train in Chicago is what most would call an epiphany; a confirmed hormonal response that drives the need to do the right thing without regard to self (hero); changing both their lives in an instant when he responded to the revelation.
In many ways this is what happens at The National Conference of The Compassionate Friends it brings out the hero in us. We become heroes when we provide light in the darkness; we become heroes when we get it; we become heroes when we validate; we become heroes when we listen; we become heroes when we hold the elevator, we become heroes when we speak their loved ones name; so many opportunities to be a hero at the conference. When we save someone else we save ourselves, its hormonal we cannot help it.
So many come to the conference scared, apprehensive, even begrudgingly but the love and authenticity of so many attendees is almost overwhelming and it can be felt physically in many ways; it is palpable and very real. It can enervate you, as well as wipe you out. One must realize that with the group energy level of so many people and the extremes of hormonal and emotional responses it can be chaotic, unpredictable and even painful. Emotions will be all over the map, but we find unification and validation that we are not alone; we are not crazy, and we are not over it. We are doing the best we can to discover how to live with our loss and still have a meaningful life. Coming to a Compassionate Friends National conference can help us do that.
I want to conclude with an article below that I had penned following The Compassionate Friends National Conference held in Costa Mesa California in 2012.
Traveling to Planet Grief and Back
I am continually amazed at the choreography of the dance that I experience at a TCF national conference and the huge impact is has on my body, mind and spirit when I walk off the dance floor and return home. From spending 3 or 4 days on “planet grief” we return home to the mundane realities of the real world and try to blend in with its preoccupied inhabitants who for the most part know nothing of our secret planet. They don’t wear buttons of a dead child pinned to their clothing; they don’t wear name tags around their neck identifying their loss, and for most part don’t wear butterfly clothing or shirts with a broken red heart.
When I return to work I get surprised looks from people who are caught off guard when I hug them good morning without thinking. I feel a deep separation anxiety for my fellow travelers to planet grief with its honest hugs, cathartic kisses, and deep seated dialogues. The heart I wore on my sleeve now feels vulnerable and exposed to the harsh elements of the daily routine and the machine of the workaday world. I am jonesing for my friends, my family of wounded survivors who succor my soul and I theirs in our dance of the broken hearted. In a word I feel “drifty” and lost for a few days; like getting your land legs back slowly after a week at sea I feel unsteady and unbalanced and I weep easily. I miss my family from planet grief and feel the impact of its loss for another year.
Today I am decompressing, degriefing so to speak, remembering and cherishing the magic moments of the weekend and thanking God for the privilege to be there and serve the bereaved with every quark of my being. I help to facilitate healing in the most sacred of places, the human heart and sou. I am always humbled and healed myself by the experience. Cost Mesa California with its oceans of love and mountains of memories was an incredible experience and I had a lot of quality time with my family of the heart. I met many newly bereaved and made new friendships wish I will cherish as much as the old.
We all come to planet grief from many different worlds. Worlds of all kinds; a plethora of differences in race, age, religion, occupation, economic class, intellect and political views, yet we congregate as one family and find a common ground in compassion; finding common ground in love. It is in helping to heal that we are healed ourselves, like one beggar sharing his bread with another beggar both are sustained for another day.
On the walk a few years ago held in Washington D.C. it was revealed to us that TCF had to register our Sunday TCF walk as a protest if we were to walk as a group on the streets of our nation’s capital. First I was surprised and then I thought about it…and you know that’s quite alright -we are protestors. We have our signs, our banners, our bibs, our T-shirts, our name tags and buttons. We all arrived from a network of paths and losses as varied as the stars and together on common ground we protest society’s ignorance of our forever journey and the injustice to our hearts.
Together we are changing the world views of grief and loss. We are educating the fortunate others of our journey and how we survive. We are intentional survivors who are working on our grief proactively, living our loss, not letting go, not get over, not becoming bitter, but becoming better and turning loss to legacy and honoring of loved one.
God bless you all and until we meet again…like Brigadoon “planet grief” appears for a few days in the summer and for a short time we find the camaraderie of hope, hugs and heart to sustain us for another year.
Peace, love and light