Monthly Archives: February 2014
“One small step can change your life,” believes Dr. Robert Mauer, a clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine and author of The Kaizen Way. He consults internationally with organizations and people teaching the potent force of kaizen, the Japanese concept of achieving great and lasting success through small steady steps. This idea, coupled with the wisdom shared from a grieving widow to “Just Do the Next Thing” offered a way of living during the early months of acute grief when sometimes it’s hard to even imagine facing the day.
It stayed in my mind before each hour’s reality, whether it meant buying groceries and cooking supper, grading papers, or making the decision with Susan (our oldest daughter) and Peter to go ahead with their East Coast wedding. Their marriage was exactly one month after Krista’s death and wedding invitations were already out. Other parents echoed this truth as they did the necessary small steps in daily living, whether this meant getting children ready for school, showing up at work, paying a bill, whatever loomed as “essential.” As one widower said, juggling the strains of raising three children alone, “We must mourn, but we must go on living.”
But I’ve also found through the years that the kaizen concept still offers a vital way of moving forward when inertia, inadequacy, or high stress feels paralyzing.
Next week, Jim and I will be going on my book tour in the South that involves a combination of very different speaking engagements in three states. Everything from presentations at medical centers, bookstore special events, several different church keynotes, plus a retreat, and large senior living communities. Some relate to Pilgrimage through Loss, some around cancer, and even one on my earlier book Bold Spirit.
It’s somewhat daunting.
A friend reminded me of earlier experiences with small-step wisdom when I lamented that this significant preparation has kept me from being focused on the blog. “It’s so discouraging because my hope was to write faithfully each week.”
“Write about how you’re feeling when overloaded,” she suggested, “and how small steps have made such a difference for you.”
So I reread a journal entry from three weeks after Krista died that included a list of 16 ideas of “What I can and cannot do.” One said:
Allow myself TIME and be gentle and patient with my own grief. Call on wonderful friends as needed.
Looking back, it seems this guidance of being patient with the depth of sorrow helped me relax. Healing came in gentle infusions of peace as my husband and I continued to re-engage in life day by day. Learning to understand the grieving process, step-by-step, often from authors or friends who walked in loss before us, helped.
British author C.S. Lewis, after the death of his wife Joy, wrote A Grief Observed where he probes the “mad midnight moments” of his mourning and loss where he first questions all he has previously believed. He eventually came to recognize the normalcy of grief in his words “Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”
Today, my entry on “what I can and cannot do” could alter slightly to read,
Allow myself time and be gentle with my own limits. Call on wonderful friends as needed.
YOU have become friends through the pilgrimage blog. More than likely you understand the need to be gentle with oneself during stress. So I will trust that the irregular nature of the blog in the next few weeks will be understood!
But I want to stay in communication with you. To take the first step, I scanned for pictures through the wonderful Zemanta (a tip for all bloggers) and found this exquisite Asian staircase that symbolizes the beauty of small steps. Now excited, since I love artistic gardens, the next step involved perusing the book chapter that speaks of the Pathway to Strength and Renewal by Taking Small Steps Daily. Then memories came flooding in of how the nectar of friendships gave Jim and me both comfort and the courage to live with hope. The last action will be to push the button that says “Publish” even though in an ideal world I’d love time to revise and revise and revise…oh well!
Are there times when you know being more gentle with yourself might be essential? What small steps you have taken that have made a positive difference in your life?
“The Art of Presence”, a column by New York Times columnist David Brooks, seemed so wise I wanted to share this with you. Because deep trauma often leaves others unsure on how to respond, this beautifully reinforces that families are usually grateful for all acts of kindness in the long pilgrimage of loss. Brooks shares the story of the Woodiwiss family who lost their 27-year-old daughter, Anna, who died in Afghanistan after being thrown from a horse. Five years later, their other daughter Catherine suffered severe and debilitating injuries in a bike accident.
Hope this encourages you to trust your instincts on the importance of staying connected to friends and family during times when life feels very fragile.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Opinion Pages|OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Art of Presence
by David Brooks – January 20, 2014
Tragedy has twice visited the Woodiwiss family. In 2008, Anna Woodiwiss, then 27, was working for a service organization in Afghanistan. On April 1, she went horseback riding and was thrown, dying from her injuries. In 2013, her younger sister Catherine, then 26, was biking to work from her home in Washington. She was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. For a time, she breathed and ate through a tube, unable to speak. The recovery is slow.The victims of trauma, she writes in a remarkable blog post for Sojourners, experience days “when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.”
Her mother, Mary, talks about the deep organic grief that a parent feels when they have lost one child and seen another badly injured, a pain felt in bones and fiber.
But suffering is a teacher. And, among other things, the Woodiwisses drew a few lessons, which at least apply to their own experience, about how those of us outside the zone of trauma might better communicate with those inside the zone. There are no uniformly right responses, but their collective wisdom, some of it contained in Catherine’s Sojourners piece, is quite useful:
Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The Woodiwisses say they were awed after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, who showed up and offered love, from across the nation and the continents. They were also disoriented by a number of close friends who simply weren’t there, who were afraid or too busy.
Anna and Catherine’s father, Ashley, says he could detect no pattern to help predict who would step up and provide the ministry of presence and who would fumble. Neither age, experience nor personal belief correlated with sensitivity and love.
Don’t compare, ever. Don’t say, “I understand what it’s like to lose a child. My dog died, and that was hard, too.” Even if the comparison seems more germane, don’t make it. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Each story should be heard attentively as its own thing. “From the inside,” Catherine writes, comparisons “sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.”
Do bring soup. The non-verbal expressions of love are as healing as eloquence. When Mary was living with Catherine during her recovery, some young friend noticed she didn’t have a bathmat. He went to Target and got a bathmat. Mary says she will never forget that.
Do not say “you’ll get over it.” “There is no such thing as ‘getting over it,’ ” Catherine writes, “A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no ‘back to the old me.’
Sometimes they really do.
In talking with parents who lose a child, they sometimes share with me a moment of grace when they experience an event that gives them a sense of reconnection.
Here’s a true story that happened to a family eight years after losing their daughter.
One of our daughter Krista’s closest friends growing up was Heather Koller, a beautiful child who endured four bouts of cancer beginning at age six. Krista learned early about the fragility of life and internal strength from times with Heather, including tackling bicycle mountain climbs at cancer camp, figuring out fashionable junior-high ways to wear a wig, or learning to let go of impossible dreams as Heather’s once flexible ballet body lost strength. She also saw the value of treasuring each day.
After Heather graduation from Pacific Lutheran University, where her classmates selected her to be their Scandinavian Lucia Bride, cancer returned with a vengence. Shortly before she died, she said to her Mom Carol, “I will come to you when you least expect me.”
Almost eight years later, a box came in the mail. On the outside it said, “If you are the parents of Heather Koller, this is for you.”
“Because of what Heather had said to us, I was filled with joyful anticipation,” said Carol. “We had moved into a new town where no one knew Heather growing up, so for someone to acknowledge her was so rare.” Inside the box rested a glass kitchen jar with a cork and narrow pink, white, magenta ribbons around the neck. Pieces of fold-over paper filled the inside. With it came a card that said:
I was a girl in junior-high that Heather befriended. I was not part of the popular group and I was making very bad choices that weren’t good for me. Heather gave this jar to me to help me get through some very difficult times. I’ve made it, am happily married with two beautiful girls, and now I think it belongs to you.
Carol remembers being stunned. “Heather had never said a word to anyone about doing this. It was just a quiet gesture of love for this person. I took the lid off and realized that every piece of paper had been handwritten by Heather. I felt like I could just see her sitting at her desk carefully making each one.”
Carol read a few of them, but then stopped. She decided she’d rather savor these inspiring words from her daughter, one or two a day. In pink ink, probably written by Heather at age twelve or thirteen after she had been in years of cancer treatment, she wrote these encouraging words to her young friend.
Enjoy the little things in life; for one day you might look back and discover they were the big things.
Some say it’s holding on that makes you strong; sometimes it’s letting go.
Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated; you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
Now and then Heather included biblical verses that her mom knew encouraged her daughter’s unusual strength of spirit, such as these words from the New Testament found in Phillipians 4:6-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always…the Lord is near; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Eventually Carol wrote these all down in a book and gave the jar and writings away when a close college friend of Heather’s gave birth to a daughter and named her Heather. For a baby gift, Carol gave this jar of inspiration to Heather’s namesake. Now, Heather’s quiet gift as a child begins to inspire the life of another family many years later.
On this Valentines Day when we celebrate those we love, it’s fun to imagine that small creative acts of kindness can give joy to another’s life. Enduring love.
Have there been experiences when you felt especially reconnected to someone you have loved even after their death?
Please imagine these yellow roses from our garden as a gift to you today. Happy Valentines!
We are back from Asia just in time for the official “launch” of Pilgrimage through Loss at Auntie’s Bookstore tomorrow. I started working on the research and writing for this book over nine years ago, so it’s deeply satisfying to see it finally emerge! We cheered the Seattle Seahawks from a hotel in Bali with an alumni group from the University of Washington….you can imagine how excited these Seattlelites were for this game. This article came out in the Spokane Spokesman Review newspaper on Super Bowl Sunday. A special thanks to Cindy Hval for her sensitive writing!
We observed some very interesting ways in which Balinese people remember their loved ones who have died, and I’ll be including more on rituals from other cultures that appear to help parents live with loss in future blogs
If you live in the Spokane area, please join us at Auntie’s Bookstore at 2:00 on Saturday the 8th for our celebration.