Uncover the Sun

Chronic

By the time we reach our 40’s and 50’s, most of us have had some kind of health issue or have suffered losses of friends and family members. And some have already experienced a great deal of loss in their early years. I barely know anyone my age who does not have some kind of chronic health issue, whether serious or relatively benign. And anyone who has suffered a loss knows that grief is an on-going chronic process too. I am always struck, in listening to others’ stories as well as through my own experience, by how our country shames the physically and mentally ill, and provides so little safety net that any major illness may result in deprivation and poverty. If the statistics that 70 percent of the population is living paycheck to paycheck is correct, any sudden change in health or circumstances may be catastrophic.

So far, I have seen Go Fund Me accounts set up for long or short-term medical expenses, (even among insured people, because most policies don’t cover much) for funeral expenses, legal assistance, schooling, transportation, living expenses, catastrophic accidents, and lately, for out of work and non-paid government employees. Despite working sometimes two or three jobs, people are basically being forced to beg for survival.

It is no wonder that a great deal of the population is anxious, depressed, and addicted to opioids. When I talk to overseas clients, whose countries have universal health coverage, they want to know how anyone could ever recover from an illness given the stress we are under. And many don’t. In a country where our only value is based on whether we can earn a living wage or not, many of us don’t survive, hence our increasingly high rates of suicide.

I think as human beings we have a duty of care. To treat one another with respect and as if we have the right to say alive, be healthy, and pursue that elusive thing called happiness. This used to be called basic decency, but apparently in this country, it is now reserved for the privileged. We currently have cities with whole neighborhoods of people living in tents. We are our own refugees. And this is a rich country!

Lately, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to live in a country whose laws actually reflected values of care rather than cruelty. A country in which we had access to clean water and air, non-poisoned food, medical care, decent education, equal rights, and we knew that our country actually had our backs. Given how much we work, and pay in taxes, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.

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Family Holidays

Some of my friends are traveling to see family during the holidays. They might wish that their families got along like the ones in the holiday movies, the ones where issues get resolved in the last half hour, but they don’t. At most, they may be hoping for fewer pointed remarks, less drinking and more laughing, and not getting an upset stomach or headache. Many are planning a few extra days off to recover from visiting.

Why do they go at all? Partly guilt, but mostly love. Even though they may not like the way family members behave, talk, or feel, life is short and they still want to see them, even if only occasionally. And the visits invariably bring up sorrow at how different their family’s behavior is, compared to what they wish it to be.

In families where people stay in designated roles, those who have focused on self-growth and having better boundaries, may feel uncomfortable or no longer fit. Families can be rather closed systems, and introducing new behaviors might really blow things up. Feelings of estrangement make the holiday season extra painful for those who did not grow up in a Hallmark movie, which is actually most of us.Continue reading

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Holiday Grief

The first holidays after a loss may be a blur of sorrow and avoidance, or a kind of numb shock as it sinks in that the person you miss is still missing and will keep missing every family gathering and special event onwards. The idea of celebrating anything may make you want to scream and clout well-wishers over the head, even though you know they care. You might perk up for Halloween, but ignore Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, and then vaguely register New Year’s. There is nothing particularly rational about any of this.

And experienced mourners warn you that holidays are hard, especially the first few years, or if the person died around the holidays. You may not feel like doing much of anything at all. Favorite rituals you had with the person who is gone, have to be done without them. Or not at all. You might come up with new rituals so that you don’t have to miss doing the old ones. And some people simply skip the whole thing completely by getting on a plane to some place where no one celebrates anything that time of year.

Even when people understand everyone grieves differently, they may still get angry when others in the same family won’t participate the way they want them to.  Trying to replicate previous holiday rituals with someone missing, might seem unbearable to one person, but comforting to the next. And going along with what the other person wants sometimes just makes a tough situation worse.

I know one couple who tried to compromise. One wanted to spend Christmas day visiting a distant gravesite, and one really didn’t, but accompanied the other person anyway. The second person wound up really depressed and angry over spending Christmas at a cemetery. And the first person felt terrible that the other was not comforted. It is much easier to grieve with people who need what you do. And being able to identify what you need and follow what works for you is important.

It may also add another whole layer of grief and loneliness if we feel we cannot be with close friends or relatives because we have different needs. And face it, holidays may be difficult already, due to family issues, previous losses, financial constraints, or other life problems. Luckily, the time encompassing Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is only about two months, even though it feels like three years.Continue reading

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Dealing With Disappointment

Many people tell me that they knew something was supposed to happen, a relationship, a career opportunity, or some kind of success, and then it didn’t. And this is after they hired a coach, did self-growth work, saw a therapist, practiced every manifesting idea they could, and followed all the “right steps” toward their goal. They got education, assistance, and even looked at what might be blocking them. They were even willing to sacrifice comfort and financial stability for a time.

Not everyone makes it to the Olympics or winds up on Broadway. And sometimes the people who do aren’t even as talented or skilled as the ones who don’t. Why is this? In the US, we usually blame people for their lack of success, rather than looking at privilege and access to opportunities. For example, being born into a family in which a certain access is already established, like show business, makes establishing an acting career much easier. We often see children of famous writers getting writing contracts at fairly young ages, and so on.

A business professor looked around the class and told us that only ten percent of us would have successful businesses, not because we didn’t get good grades or couldn’t do accounting or anything like that, but because business was fundamentally dealing with people day in and day out. He said many people aren’t good at communicating, and having good people skills was one of the most important things for success in business. How often are people skills taught in school?

I know a dentist who wanted to be a pro baseball player, but he couldn’t run very fast no matter how many miles he logged, how much he worked out, and how hard he tried. He said it was devastating to have to give up that dream. It was a turning point in his life not only to have to work towards another career, but to also find out what he was like when he was thwarted. He said dealing with that disappointment was the single most important experience of his life. He had to figure out who he was when things didn’t go his way. And as he later found out, no matter how competent you are, things often don’t go the way you would like and expect.Continue reading

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Authentic Voice

Each of us has a unique tone of voice and mind that is particularly ours from birth. We may share that tone by speaking, singing, creating art, writing, dancing, performing, etc. When I was a kid, I sang to myself every morning, made up little ditties throughout the day, and as my sister can attest, crooned to myself every night when she was trying to get to sleep.

In this culture we don’t usually sing at the grocery store or in public. I’ve heard from friends overseas that they are often shocked at how little we spontaneously sing and dance here. Many of us are taught that we are not good at it, and so we don’t sing for fun or pleasure or to comfort ourselves and each other. We are also often told that we are not important enough for our voices to matter, so we sing only other people’s songs and quote only their words. However, expressing yourself so that your creativity matches your intention simply takes time and practice.

As I grew up, I never learned to read music or play an instrument, despite attempting the piano as an adult, but songs still popped into my head. I had to sing into a recorder, because I couldn’t write them down in musical notes. My kids also composed songs and we sang them together to remember them. I’ve written more poetry than songs, although several singer/songwriter friends have insisted my poems were songs and set them to music for me.Continue reading

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Caring

Many years ago, I read in a child development class that kids who were physically and emotionally abused, if they survived their childhoods, had a better chance of healing than kids who were completely ignored. Being yelled at was better than no communication at all. Infants who were not held and cuddled, often had failure-to-thrive syndrome and many of them died. I thought about this recently, how ironically, the hater maintains a connection with the hated. To actively hate someone or something is to keep in contact with it, to maintain a kind of twisted relationship. Carl Jung would probably describe that as someone dealing with their own shadow.

There has been a lot of talk about hatred lately. And some of the talk has been about how to turn hatred into caring, to give people another perspective about the hated, to humanize them, make them real, and remind people how to connect with love and caring rather than fear and mistrust. We don’t tend to trust that which we hate. But even haters, given the opportunity to listen, to hear other points of view, may ultimately respond to another’s humanity.

I once talked to a gentleman who taught conflict resolution and peacemaking classes all over the world. He would teach government leaders in a room for a week. They had to eat together, were given problems to solve together, and were forced to acknowledge each other’s humanity. He described his experience with a group of Israelis and Palestinians. He said initially, they would barely communicate besides yelling at one another. At the end of the week, they were able to call each other by name, smile, and recognize each other as valuable human beings who had all suffered grave losses. It took a great deal of work and willingness to get to that point, but it was possible.Continue reading

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Distinctions

We humans like making distinctions. We spend a great deal of time classifying and naming things, even categorizing each other by skin color, gender, age, socioeconomic status, culture, ethnicity, and religion. People we can’t pigeonhole often make us nervous, as if reducing people to categories makes them more real somehow. If we can label people, we assume we will know what to expect from them. It’s a way to make the strange more familiar. And we humans are predisposed to view the strange with suspicion.

There is a difference, however, between making distinctions and judging. For example, we might distinguish between foods we like and dislike, without deciding that all grapefruit are bad because we don’t like them. Having our own opinion does not necessarily negate someone else’s. And yes, it is possible to disagree about the merits of grapefruit, without condemning every single fruit and deciding that all those who love grapefruit are wrong.Continue reading

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Gratitude and Acceptance

After my daughter died, some well-meaning person told me that even though I had lost my child, I should be grateful for what I had. Although I was not grateful for that comment, ironically, I had just been appreciating the fact that I had enough food, a sweet husband, family, hot running water, and a warm place to sleep, and was marveling that I could still feel absolutely wretched. It occurred to me that gratitude and grief could coexist, and that in fact, most of us are grieving losses and managing to do so while going about our lives and being able to focus on other things. And we can simultaneously feel grateful and ungrateful at the same time, complex creatures that we are.

That same week another person mentioned, in relationship to injustice, that we have to accept the way things are, rather than the way we wish them to be. I immediately thought that we can simultaneously accept what is, and still strive to improve our lot in life. In fact, if we didn’t have this capacity, we would probably have remained at the hunter-gatherer stage.  Women would not have the right to vote, and without the civil rights movement, well, you get the idea.

A client once told me that her spiritual teacher explained that it was her karma to be hit by her boyfriend, and she should “be in the moment and accept what is.” I won’t print what my response to that was, but I encouraged her to leave the situation immediately. We had a nice conversation about how she could apply the statement in a different way, i.e. she could accept that her boyfriend probably wasn’t ever going to change his behavior, and she needed to make decisions based upon that “acceptance.” She chose to leave, both her boyfriend and her spiritual teacher.

Gratitude practice can be a great way to move out of despair, to appreciate the people around you, to cherish your life and the world. Finding the positive can help you balance gloom with joy. But telling people that they should be grateful when going through utter hell, merely shames people by denying their experience, reducing complex emotional states into simple “ingratitude”. Gratitude also may be used as a way to minimize our pain, and I’ve heard numerous people with chronic illnesses saying how they probably should feel grateful that they’re not homeless while they are screaming in agony. Comparing pain, comparing grief, comparing suffering, isn’t the best strategy for honoring our experience.

However, finding things to be truly grateful for, the people and things in life that fill us up, that encourage and support us, gives our lives more meaning.  Genuine appreciation goes a long way. People who can deeply receive others and joys in life are lovely to be around. And accepting the current state of affairs with the intention to improve them, keeps us from despair.

 

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Navigating Through Mayhem

How do we navigate a time period in which cruelty has become commonplace, and we are sensitive to everything around us, including other people’s feelings as well as our own?

Many of us are grieving the loss of the kind of world/country/life we thought we could have. Not that we already had it, but we had hope that someday we would. That we would have leaders that cared about us, all of us, people of color, every gender, age, sexuality, religion, all living creatures, and especially our planet.

You are not alone. Many caring people feel as you do. Those who pay attention to racism, sexism, prejudice, politics, natural disasters, climate change warnings, and other current events, have been facing enormous personal and collective grief, which includes, fear, dread, sorrow, anger, frustration, feelings of hopelessness, and the grim specter of the end of human doings.

Many of us are not at our best under stress, and this is a time of extreme stress. It is many times worse if we are sensitive. If our hearts are open and we feel the collective pain on the planet, right now it may be debilitating. Maybe we are going through the motions of living while wondering why we should care about regular, everyday tasks when humanity may not make it past the next 50 years. Maybe we have been so angry, sad, and fearful that we can barely sleep. And this takes a toll on our bodies. We may be experiencing strange aches and pains, and reacting to things that normally don’t bother us. Even when we turn off the news, and try to pretend things aren’t going badly, our bodies may let us know how we really feel about current events. Being around those who support and encourage us, who deeply value connection rather than separation, may be vital during this time.Continue reading

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My Friend

I lost a friend again yesterday.

I say again, because I originally lost her when we were 12 years old. She was one of those kids who never had an awkward phase, never looked clumsy or gangly, but was always stunning. I remember seeing her baby pictures on the wall of her mom’s apartment and marveling at her beauty as a newborn. I watched people take a deep breath when they first saw her, and then stare as if they couldn’t help themselves. Sometimes they couldn’t even talk.

When we first met in school, we were nine years old, and I was both skinny and gawky. I trailed along after her like a grateful puppy. She was smart, creative, and had a deep belly laugh that made you want to join in, even when you weren’t sure why she was laughing.

She was the kind of friend that was not only fun, but easy to talk to. We did art projects and ran around outside. We had far ranging conversations about life and death and why some people are popular and some aren’t. We wrote a poem called, “What is it Like to Die?” and other less serious ones. We wrote stories together and could tell each other anything.

We were almost ten years old when she told me that one of her parents’ friends had climbed into bed with her at a party. I didn’t really know what it meant, or why an adult would do that. I didn’t know about inappropriate touching, only that my friend was constantly being gawked at by boys and men, and now she was telling me something I didn’t understand. “Why did he do that?” I asked.

She told me that he was probably drunk, and it wasn’t the first time someone had acted like that with her. I had no idea what to say, but she looked okay while she was telling me, not particularly upset or angry. I asked her if her parents knew, but she said they were drunk and there was no one to tell. I didn’t realize then that she was already resigned to that sort of behavior. I did have a fleeting thought that I was glad I wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that kind of thing could happen to anyone, pretty or not.Continue reading