The Changing Holidays

The Christmas festivities are over, the tree is down, and the decorations are neatly tucked away for next year. As all the evidence slowly disappears, I am left to reflect on all the memories that were made. I kept several traditions for yet another year, started a new one or two, and said goodbye to some others. Change keeps things from being too predictable—always reminding me what really matters in life—this moment.

The grand-kids made ginger bread houses, watched movies, and enjoyed hot-coco in the morning—a tradition that only changes by the number of kids able to attend each year—could be five, or maybe ten. Each year a new grand-baby joins, while one of the older ones gets too busy to attend.

This year some of the grand-kids got to decorate cookies with Aunt Robin. She brought our her large bucket of cookie cut-outs and special decorating supplies, and with the “help” of some little ones, the new cookie tradition was born.

Christmas Eve has traditionally been spent with my two daughters and four step-kids. It is a tradition that has been going on since 1985, with few exceptions. There were two kids and three grand-kids missing this year, yet the gathering continued as it has for the past thirty years. This Christmas Eve was once again filled with fun, gifts, and good food. Eleven grand-kids got to share the bond that is created when traditions are kept year after year. I always feel happy when my family prioritizes time for these gatherings—my hope is that they will find it as meaningful as I do.

Christmas day brought as much uncertainty as it did predictability. The food, games, and guest were reminiscent of Christmas’ of past. Health issues with two of the family matriarchs reminded me just how memorable this Christmas may end up being. I had to take my Aunt Robin to the ER Christmas night for a fever (she has acute leukemia), but at least it didn’t happen until after all the Christmas guests left. I snuggled up on the couch in her hospital room, and felt blessed that she was well enough to participate in making some wonderful Christmas memories.

My mom’s dementia added a new dimension this Christmas since she didn’t recognize many familiar faces. I tried not to focus on the sadness that her reality brought, and instead felt grateful she and my father could spend a few hours with the family. Mom may not know my name, but she sure can kick my butt in Skip-Bo!

While the emotions vacillated, as they have during past Christmas’, there is always an abundance of gratitude I feel for all that is good—for the laughter—the sharing—and for the family moments that matter most when all else is gone.

May your upcoming year be filled with more joy than pain, more health than sickness, and more gratitude than bitterness. Change will come whether we welcome it or not, just don’t forget to see the good in it as well.

Gavin, Bellamy, Winnie, Jack, Justin, Jordan, Baylor, Nick, Essien, Ashley, Norah, and Nana

Gavin, Bellamy, Winnie, Jack, Justin, Jordan, Baylor, Nick, Essien, Ashley, Norah, and Nana

Kendra, Jackson, Nana, Baylor, Norah, Winnie, Jordan, Bellamy, Auntie Kelli, Justin, and Gavin.

Kendra, Jackson, Nana, Baylor, Norah, Winnie, Jordan, Bellamy, Auntie Kelli, Justin, and Gavin.

Aunt Robin and Norah.

Aunt Robin and Norah.

Norah, Winnie, Bella, and Baylor making cookies with Aunt Robin.

Norah, Winnie, Bella, and Baylor making cookies with Aunt Robin.

Movie Time.

Movie Time.

Collin, Norah, Kendra, Tammy, Chelsey, and Ray

Collin, Norah, Kendra, Tammy, Chelsey, and Ray

Peter, Terry, Dad, Mom, Tammy, Ray,Gary, and Venita

Peter, Terry, Dad, Mom, Tammy, Ray,Gary, and Venita

Traditions at Nana's---the place where cousins make memories.

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Like so many people, I love traditions. I especially cherish the anticipation and excitement that the little kids add to the experience. This past weekend, I had seven grand-kids over to carve pumpkins and have a sleep over. The ages ranged from 13 years old down to 1 year. I have been carrying this tradition on for nearly 27 years (only missing one year). My oldest grand-daughter was planning on joining us, but she was busy delivering a beautiful baby girl.

While the kids have changed through the years, the activities and excitement has remained the same. We always start with the pumpkin carving, then finish with popcorn and a movie. When the kids wake up in the morning, they immediately ask when the hot-coco will be ready. We usually sit outside under the heaters so we can watch the birds and squirrels.

Year after year, I do my best to keep these traditions alive, however, it becomes more challenging with each passing year. As our family grows, and our lives get busier and busier, it takes more of an effort to bring everyone together.

Grief and loss can be great reminders of how precious our time with family and friends are and how important it is to keep our traditions alive. It also feels like a way to keep those who have passed, a part of our present. I am feeling blessed today that my grand-kids were as excited as I was to keep our pumpkin carving tradition alive!

Embracing Gratitude

Have you ever felt guilty for counting your blessings after witnessing someone else's pain or tragedy?

I recently had a woman share with me that she felt guilty for embracing the good in her own life after she left the home of her dying friend. She felt as though she was cheating somehow because her gratitude came at the expense of someone else's misfortune.

I remember feeling similarly after cancer and blindness taught my brother a new perspective about gratitude, and I was benefiting from his valuable life lessons without "paying the price" or having to sacrifice in the same way as my brother.

Ironically, my brother once said, "It takes a lot more effort to live a life filled with gratitude for what you have when don't have the painful experience of having lost it." He too felt like he was somehow cheating because he didn't believe it was much of a choice to find gratitude for what good he had left in his life, because he learned the hard way how quickly it all could go away. He felt sad that he couldn't see how good his life was before his terminal diagnosis, and that he wasted valuable time focusing on the struggles and stress in his life.

We all have experienced difficult things in our lives, and we usually want to help others avoid the pain that we have gone through. I have found that this feeling is no different when someone is dying or dealing with a life threatening illness. Many people have shared that it helps them find purpose in their suffering if they can help others through the process. 

I know for myself, I will do whatever I can to help one other couple avoid the pain of divorce, or to encourage someone else to be proactive with their health as to avoid a worse diagnosis, or to urge them to share their gratitude for those they love not knowing for certain that they will be there tomorrow.

My years of working in the Emergency Room, and my time helping people die, has taught me that the greatest gift we can give to our selves, and those that teach us through their pain,  is to embrace gratitude for each and every blessing in our life. I believe that the greatest respect we can give to those who have suffered or experienced tragedy, is to learn from the lessons they can teach us.

I challenge you to pause for a moment, and despite your circumstances, think about five things you are grateful for...if you are having difficulty thinking of something, you can start with the blessing of being able to see the words you are reading.

Gratitude for the simple things remind us to keep life's struggles in perspective.

Caring vs Codependent

I have been humbled and honored by the enthusiastic support I have received since launching my book, Blind Awakening. While everyone's kind words have brought me immense joy, I must admit that I have also felt a bit guilty for accepting the praise for something I couldn't help but do. You see, I am a caretaker by nature, so there wasn't actually a choice I had to make. Like so many other caretakers, there is just something in us that drives us to help those in need.

I know for me, especially during the time in my life that Jeff lived with us, I would never have considered not caring for my brother. For that matter, I volunteered to take care of other people as well, regardless of whether it was the best thing to do for me or my family. I absolutely believed that it was the right thing to do, even though others may not require the same of themselves. It's just the way I was made--or so I thought.

The truth is that I was not just caring, but I was also very codependent back then. I put everyone's needs and feelings above my own. I was the ultimate "people-pleaser." Of course I didn't know this about myself, and I certainly wouldn't have understood the problem with it had someone tried to point it out to me (I'm pretty sure a few people may have tried). I felt deeply responsible to help others regardless of the cost to me and my family. To not help someone felt wrong on so many levels.

I have since learned a great deal about codependency and how to set healthy boundaries for myself. As a result, I am better able to take care of myself, as well as still caring for others. I no longer take over the responsibility for others, but rather choose who I help and to what degree. This would have felt selfish in the past, but now I see very clearly how it is more accurately self-care. While I am still a caretaker, I am no longer willing to pay the sacrificial price for being a "people-pleaser."

I encourage my caring friends to take a moment to ask themselves a few questions: Are you doing for others that which they can do for themselves? Do you know more about others feelings and needs than you do your own? Do you feel indispensable to the person you are caring for? Do you deny your true feelings or true-self? Are you taking care of yourself in the same loving manner you are caring for others? Are you allowing other people to help you carry the responsibilities?

If you answered "yes" to two or more of the first four questions, and "no" to the last two, you may find it beneficial to learn about codependency. I hope that by understanding the difference between being a codependent and being a caretaker you would learn to set healthy boundaries, and ultimately find the true joy of giving. It can be a difficult journey to change from who we think we are, to the person we perhaps were meant to be, or want to become--but certainly a journey well worth taking!

 

Death is not Failure

I was recently in a discussion with a friend about someone he knew who was "fighting" ALS. He said that the reason his friend was doing so well was because of his positive attitude and mental toughness.

I immediately found myself feeling unsettled about this common misconception---that if we "fight" hard enough and stay positive we can control our outcome and maybe won't die. Not only is that wrong, it contributes to the assumption that death is failure. It leaves those who die despite their every effort to live, feeling like they somehow didn't do enough.

I have personally worked with many people who "fought" hard and had very positive attitudes, yet died from their disease. And conversely, those who were negative and didn't take great care of themselves, lived much longer than ever expected. While attitude can affect one's experience with their disease, it doesn't necessarily dictate the outcome.

A few years ago, I worked with a 24 year old girl dying of cancer who shared that she was worried she must not have genuine faith because she was losing her ability to believe that God was going to cure her cancer. She was unfortunately told by a well-meaning person that true faith was never giving up hope that God would heal her. The reality was that she wasn't being cured of her cancer and in fact was weeks away from dying--and NOT because she didn't believe or have enough faith--and NOT because God failed her--rather it was because she had an aggressive terminal cancer. God does not define that healing means primarily a physical cure. 

As with so many people I have helped die, this girl found peace, shared hope and comfort with those around her, and was able to share her faith with many during her final week of life. Similarly, my brother used to say, "Do not pray for my cancer or my blindness to go away, because I see God more clearly in the dark than I ever have in the light." His cancer and blindness cured his ailing soul.

People who are sick and facing death don't need to be further victimized by these negative assumptions. I believe these perceptions are perpetuated so that people can have a sense of control. If we could only learn that death is a part of living, then we could learn how to find peace with the reality that we truly don't have control over when and how we die. Accepting death as a possible outcome despite our efforts, allows us the opportunity to focus on living and maximizing the impact we have on family and friends. In the end, hope and healing doesn't necessarily mean that our physical body survives--it is often the case that it is our relationships and our own souls that are cured.

Fighting does not necessarily equal healing, accepting death does not mean you are giving up, and a cure does not only occur when your physical body survives. 

 

Giving "Help" Is Not Always Helpful

Have you ever been in the position of receiving help or donations from family, friends, and even strangers? It is a humbling experience to say the least, and even uncomfortable for most. It can make you feel loved and cared for like you never experienced before, yet indebted for all you have received.

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