Friday, January 24, 2014

Death and Dying Taught Me Compassion

Touchy feely compassion.  I used to be baffled by it.  Those who have it assume everybody has it.  Those who don't have it assume nobody has it.  Or do they?

I  like this definition, found  here

"What Is Compassion?

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people."

It didn't used to be at the top of my values.  Any kid in a large family lives and breathes by competition.  As the low person on the totem pole, I just wanted people out of my face.  I experienced all of compassion's antonyms, which is unfortunately how too many children live.   Like Greta Garbo, "I [just] want[ed] to be [left] alone".  And, instead of compassion, my late husband and I were guilty in spades of trying to fix each other when the other's suffering tore us up.  "Quick!  Make the suffering go away!  I see the answer.  See things my way and do it!"  After maybe five years of head butting at the beginning of our marriage, we were shamed, I mean invited, into listening instead of giving advice.

Eventually cancer and widowhood turned my world upside down.   I've encountered amazing compassion from people who don't even know me, from people not paid to deliver it.

To me now, compassion feels like the pearl Jesus Christ mentions. 

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
Matthew 13:45-46 NKJV
I've so much to learn and no doubt life will teach me.  For one, no one owes me compassion.  It's a gift from a heart that's been humbled.  For me, getting this message is my upside of widowhood.

Have you seen an upside to widowhood?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Condolences are nice. What comes after?

Sounds pretty harsh, not warm and fuzzy like I'd prefer.  That pretty much sums up my whole life, not just my post widowhood life.  But a beautiful and frankly unusual thing happened yesterday.  I just lost my cat to cancer. Somebody stepped in and asked if I was doing O.K. following the death of my cat.    "Did you have an O.K. day today?" he asked.  WOW.  Sometimes somebody comes alongside to help when you're hurting. 

I didn't grow up experiencing the comfort of compassion.  I finally learned how compassion feels from God, and a host of other caring people, including my late husband.  My true healing from widowhood's grief came when I began to access the sweet compassion in my own heart.  I still use these words "You're welcome, [my name]" as my mantra.  I just learned there's a term for it : Self-compassion.  Wow, there's a book written about everything, isn't there?  Evidently self compassion is what I've been practicing.  It's working!  As I welcome myself without conditions or restrictions, I find compassion toward myself growing.  I find other people able to give compassion.  I no longer go back to the dry well asking for water from people unable to give.

Here's my answer to my friend's question.  For me, as important as Nip was, I knew from the beginning that I'd have maybe ten years of his furry company, since he was four years old when I adopted him from a pet shelter.  I had eight wonderful years.  I don't feel robbed of a future with him.  I feel grateful for the unconditional love we shared.  That I can't share my love for him now brings tears.  If I come to the point where I need more unconditional love, I'll adopt another pet.  But for now it's much more fun to interact with human beings, you all here, and friends in the flesh.

I wish more people were touchy feely.  Part of that is my fault, because I'm not one to wear my heart on my sleeve. But I'm meeting more touchy feely people in this world, like the sweet veterinarian who wept alongside me as we put my cat to sleep.  And you, who offered condolences.  And the person who asked me afterwards if I'm doing O.K.  Goodness, am I fortunate! You continue to teach me something.  That is, that giving and receiving emotional support, a component of love, leaves a rich legacy of strength, dignity and peace long after its warm embrace cools.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Life threw me another Curve ball

Sorry, this post is a downer.  I'd like you to meet the little boy I adopted after my husband died.  I mentioned him in an earlier post  .

Nip died yesterday.  He was my Alpha cat, my in my face, in my lap, by my side cat.  I was his staff, his Mommy, his BFF.  In the morning he'd walk right over my head, stroke my face and purr deep into my ear.  Wake up!  Feed me NOW!  BEFORE you sit down with your coffee.  

I was just writing last week about making peace with life's inevitable beginnings, middles and endings.  And on Sunday I had a conversation with my sister, saying I wouldn't take expensive, extraordinary measures to extend a pet's life.  The timing of all this is coincidental?

On Sunday Nip was his usual self.  Except that he didn't play long with the catnip. On Monday he ate less.  On Tuesday he completely lost his appetite. A visit to the veterinarian  was in order.  He wailed to me on Wednesday. By that evening the Vet and I knew what Nip probably already knew.  His alpha had reached his omega.  The cause was a tumor in his lung. 

Yesterday the Vet and I eased him gently into kitty heaven.  Nip, I love you.  I miss you.

Thank You, Nip
May you rest peacefully, always have enough food to eat and hugs to reassure you

Born April Fool's Day, 2001 ~ Died January 16, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

Are You Making Grief Your Vocation?

Last night I was reading an article written by a widow less than one year out.  The comment section afterward held this question "Are you making grief your vocation?".

The person who asked this question was anonymous, and I will paraphrase her comment.  She'd too had extreme heartbreak.  Divorced, with a child to raise all by herself.   Plunging into work had taken her mind off her loss, and eventually she got better.  She suggested to the author of the article that if she doesn't have a job, to get one.  She wrote that author of this article about widowhood appears to be making her grief her vocation, and it doesn't seem to be doing her much good.  The inference is that this widow has no talent for helping herself, let alone others.

I rolled my eyes.  Granted, wailing in public can make people mighty uncomfortable, but... 

There's no 'one size fits all' way to grieve, and yes, some people have made it a vocation.  And helped a lot of us.  We already know the idea of healing is to get through grief.  To get some perspective.  So whatever method floats your boat through grief is the right way to do it.  For me it was writing publicly, plus taking up bicycling and swimming.  And dating, and traveling, and designing and sculpting, and and and.  Perhaps the writer of this article writes precisely so she CAN get grief off her chest.  Release it to an editor.  See it in black and white.

That's when it hit me.  I've been wondering for a few months what the point is for writing posts here. IT - THE GRIEF - REALLY IS OVER FOR ME.  There is nothing left of the life I once knew.  I'm totally O.K. with this.  I don't need its foundation.  The resistance I once felt about living an entirely different life than the one I'd loved has vanished.   As my readers know, I had my remedies to heal and some of them flopped.  Big deal.  Where there was once was pain and concern there is now peace and permission to glow.  Grief has quietly concluded its usefulness in my life.  So, why read these articles, and why beat a dead horse here?

Yes, I did need to write about my process, like the author of the article I read last night.  I set out to heal without paying a counselor, to heal without wearing out people too kind to tell me to shut up, to know joy without taking an antidepressant, to learn without taking courses, to reshape my life in the house he and I occupied.  I did it by writing reams of material and ruthlessly editing it, shaping each post into beginning, middle and end.  And as the many beginning, middle and ends of posts found their way into print, my psyche was unperceptively entertaining the idea that beginnings, middles and ends are not an enemy at all, but an invitation for another cycle.

I have received a gift with widowhood and retirement - permission to live life on my own terms.  I received the gift of marriage and career - realizing I'm not the only one to consider when I live this life.  I truly hope I am putting these two gifts together. 

If you need to write publicly, please do.  You're not taking anyone hostage with your woes. We readers are free to read or click next!  You're free to delete a comment you don't like.  At some point, someone will read what's going on in your heart and identify with you. You are not alone.

All I can do is hold my hand out from the POST GRIEF shore and encourage you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's COLD Outside - Hug to stay warm!

I pray all our furnaces keep working, our food is hot, our clothes keep us warm, our reading buoys our spirits, and our friendships keep us aloft.

I discovered  yesterday.  It's a wonderful site where people share their poetry.  What a gift this poem is. 

Living Large
We should not ever grow too old
for things we like to do.  
Don't let your years give way to fears
that dreams may not come true.
Recall the sounds of laughter and
the Love in someone's eyes.
Don't trade your memories for that
which in a moment dies.

Keep up your zest for living, thus;
don't say you're much too old.
Is loss of zeal the way you feel . . .
or something you've been told?
For deep within each one of us
lives an eternal Spring.
There is no sound of sorrow there,
and songbirds ever sing.

Your gait may not be steady now,
as once it used to be.
Don't let your vim and vigor dim---
within, be fancy-free!
We should not let the weight of years
become as bitter gall;
for with the years come wisdoms which
are blessings to us all.

So bear your age up like a flag,
and wave it in the sun.
When folks tell you that Life is through,
tell them, 'It's just begun!'
Unhappiness can't touch you . . . if,
you don't allow it to;
for Joy you share in Life will thus
be given back to you.

By Wordworx

Shared from

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How slippery is your slope to a fresh start?

Today my slope feels as slippery as the black ice in my driveway.  Yes, I have a grand vision of my fresh start.  See below.  I'm convinced we make a fresh start every day.  With enough fresh starts, we start to realize widowhood's toughest moments are behind us.  You know the waypoints.  Overwhelm... Grief and Longing for the past...  Survival of the Unexpected...  Trial and Error...  Anybody here doing Trial and Success?   I want Trial and Success.

Remember that Existential Angst from our teens and twenties, when we had to set up our life?  Thank God, I'm relieved to say I'm doing the Existential search without the Angst.

I want simplicity itself.  The minimalist lifestyle.  I'm searching for 'just me here'.   These days, I've next to no interest in ramping up my public, social self.  Maybe it's the turn of the year, the cold, the snow and ice, that fosters introspection.  Of course, I've demonstrated that I'm adept at introspection during all seasons.   My waypoint, my mission right now, is allowing my essential self, the one with all the mischief and zest, to have a fresh start.  I'm finding that as she comes out to play, my social self is warming up a bit. If you knew me, you'd know that every bit helps.

When I get to the summit of this slope, when I get to my FRESSTAR  I will feel immense, comfortable, inspired, and I will revel .  I will be in my element.

I pledge to get to my summit this year

Will my Fresh Start 
  1. Make up for all the pain and confusion I've experienced?
  2. Announce itself in big letters?
    Ah HA ! 
So far, my Fresh Start has begun in my heart with a whisper.  A hint.  A dream.  A curiosity.  A smile.  A welcome.   A dare.  A wonder. 

Thank you for reading.  Just having written this post, my slope feels less slippery.  I know my next step.  I'm off to exercise this shoulder I had surgery on nearly six months ago.  I have only two physical therapy appointments left, so it's all on me now.  I will consider it a success when I can lift a gallon of milk into my refrigerator.  In the meantime I'm proud I cleared my driveway off using my snow blower. Much easier on a shoulder than shoveling. 

I have a sign next to my treadmill.

  Be the one you admire    

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolution: I'd like a man with a 'Flow' gene

I love the Bozo bop bag .  The cheery fellow always bounces back.  Didn't fulfill last year's resolution? Why, tack it on this year's list.

I'm doing today what I do every year at this time - review and resolve.  This does have something to do with widowhood, so I'm posting it here.  I find I actually do make progress on new year's resolutions, so I'm heartened to believe this year may accommodate my goals.  Dunno.  Life happens while we're making other plans.  No worries.  I have a back up plan.

Here are the past two year's resolutions.  Kind of interesting, to me at least...
  1. Enough is enough!  I'll not be cowed by fear.
  2. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate my life as it is.  Generate appreciation of myself as well.
  3. Insert my heart's desire into someone else's life.  I so want to put color into someone's life.
  4. Be relevant, creating content that resonates.
  5. Live with        PIZZAZZ
  6. I'd like a man with a 'Flow' gene
  Done! Well 5 out of 6 

  1. Seek balance in life's pitching and tossing  
  2. Navigate with this North Star: "You are welcome, [my name]"
  3. Practice 'welcome' daily, in walking meditation
  4. Under no circumstances am I to treat myself as unlovable or unacceptable
  5. Lead a life that is interesting to me
  6. Immerse myself in MOTION.    2 hours a day during which I can't do anything else but ask myself to move and be PHYSICAL 
  7. I'd like a man with a 'Flow' gene
Done! (all but #6 and 7)
    This year, much to my delight, I finally 'got' that my happiness is an inside job, my inside job.   2013 was actually the happiest postwidowhood year of all eight,  rating 8 on a scale of 10. 

    Now here's my list of resolutions for 2014
    1. Live immensely; be spirit filled and geographically expansive
    2. Keep resolutions #1-6 from 2013
    3. Make my own inhospitality toward myself extinct
    4. Self acceptance above all; after all, God lives in me, in us all
    5. Love others, as I love me - with care and attentiveness
    6. Leave people free to be who they are: Welcome is for both you AND me, instead of EITHER you OR me
    7. Welcome my quirky, warm & colorful  SPIRITUAL and PHYSICAL nature
    8. Keep my PhD in M.W.~ Marital Wellbeing - intact.  Where there is ability there is harvest, if only in my heart.
    O.K.  Let's tack on this one -
         9.  I'd like a man with a 'Flow' gene. 
    Have a happy, healthy 2014!