Monday, December 3, 2012

Mental Flexibility- A Hallmark of Resiliency

In our continuing series about resiliency based on a book by journalist Rick Newman, a fourth trait of resilient people is they change their minds sometimes. Being resilient  means taking the best information you have at the time and making the best decision you can. If the information changes, being flexible enough to adjust your goals and thinking is a healthy practice.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Honor of Veteran's Day: When You Come to Help Me Die: A Vet's Plea

Just be a witness to me.
Don't startle me
            or get behind me
As I sit against a wall in the back of a room.
If I choose to tell you things,
            Just listen and be ready to hear whatever it is I say
You have two ears, just one mouth,
             so I'd guess you can do twice as much listening as talking.
You've got to understand something:
We were trained to be wolves and we acted like wolves-we became wolves-
I work everyday to keep the wolf down-for years I have been doing this.
It's the way I hold onto my dignity,
I ask you to allow me that.
My wife?  She knows.
She knows not to try to get inside;
She takes notes at lectures, but she doesn't ask me questions.

I buried the word VietNam for 13 years.
When the Wall was dedicated I broke open and wept and wept and the rivers of sadness
swept me to the delta.
We were suppose to cover each other-
a sector, a back, a life-
Bands of brothers jungled, counting on each other.
Our goal was to come home alive-
One year, we said, one year-
The bond was indelible
But one boy from Wisconsin didn't make it;
The plan was bungled,
Killed by friendly fire.

I'll be riding my bike and a truck will go by
It's the diesel; the smell of diesel
takes me back, all the way back.
I have to brake so that I don't shatter.
Who can understand this?
They have a name for it that doesn't come close to describing it.
Looking for the ties that bind, that connect, that comfort, that take away the loneliness
    of triggered memory and savagery
Clearly I can't forget-I can't lay it aside.
Forget the medication-don't bring me the zombie potions to alleviate my pain
Just bring me a comrade in arms.

Caroline MacDonald
Volunteer Coordinator
Beacon Hospice, An Amedisys Company
York, ME

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Resilience Continued

This is the second installation in a continuing series about building resiliency.

Another trait of resilient people is an ability to compartmentalize emotions.  This isn't to say minimize your feelings but more the idea of adopting a pragmatism regarding emotional reactions to difficult situations or disappointments.

Resilience also is more action- oriented. However, not just being busy for buy-ness sake.  This often is anxiety producing.  Instead, the focus is more toward purposeful action  and moving forward. 

With loss, we often do these two things innately in the beginning.  We put aside certain emotions and get involved in tasks related to what needs to be done regarding funeral arrangements, legal and estate needs, and so on.  At some point, we are confronted with emotions we have set aside and the "grief work" starts.  However, after a time, it may be more healthy to do something with these feelings rather than just being with them.  For example, is your anger and desire to control blocking you from your ultimate goal or need?  Is your sadness keeping you from enjoying your friends and family?  Are you missing opportunity?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Being Resilient: A Continuing Series

In his book Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success, Rick Newman highlights nine attributes he sees as common in resilient people.  These skills are adaptive behaviors that can be cultivated and can help you come back from set backs, disappointments and loss-sometimes even stronger.
The first of these nine skills is:

They accept failure.

It's not that you have to like failure or minimize its impact, but learning to "fail productively" and managing to view it as a learning opportunity is helpful and healthy.
Sometimes, when a loved one dies for whom we cared, we feel as though we failed because they died. We  might reframe the concept of failing into the belief that we helped them  live a comfortable and a quality-filled life until they died. Death is part of life and not accepting this final outcome is futile and a guaranteed road to feeling miserable.

With any loss or death it is useful to mine through it for the lessons we can apply to future situations and experiences.  Perhaps a friend dies because they did not have colon cancer screenings.  We can choose to get the recommended screening.  Or an acquaintance dies in an motor vehicle accident because she was drinking and driving. We can chose otherwise for ourselves. This kind of learning is not easy or meant to be portrayed as trivial, but a further tragedy would be allowing their deaths to be meaningless.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Follow the Little Children

 Several years ago when my nephew was maybe 6 years old, the family dog died.  The adults milled around swollen eyed and stiff upper lipped, but certainly not actually talking about what we were feeling.  Caleb got us organized with candles and tissues and into a circle and directed us "You all have to say at least one good memory of Oatie".  A natural facilitator of ceremony and ritual and remembrance.

Last week, one of the widows I see for grief support showed me two letters her 6 year old grandson had written.  One was to his grandfather who at the time of the writing was dying in a hospice house.  In it the child told his grandfather that he had enjoyed  a good life and they had had  a good life together.  He told him everyone loved him and that he could go when he was ready.  The second letter was to his grandmother after the death.  It was a drawing of a person in a box and it said "Grandpa still loves you".

Perhaps, we could practice approaching loss more as children do (as we once did as children as well)....intuitively, naturally, and communally-inviting everyone in to share and move forward.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Thoughtful Letter

I have had a wonderful life with my wife of 55 years. We had our up's and down's, but held together through hell and high water.
My many deployments in the Army were the times that I missed my family the most. We had seven children (one passed away at birth, a daughter 48 years ago). The remainder, four boys and two girls have given to us eighteen grandchildren which in turn gave us 20 (now 22) great grandchildren and I am proud of all of them.
As the time nears, we will have to depart one another. I would rather see it happen by old age. But we have to accept what the future holds. There is no sense in ending life sooner then expected.

I will lose my wife Gisela/Lisa soon, due to something that should not have happened, smoking. If you are at this point in reading this letter and are smoking, PLEASE, PLEASE, STOP. I know it is hard for it took me many years to see the light, but have been off those CANCER STICKS for over 42 years.

I have got COPD and have to wear a breathing mask (V-PAC) at night. Why?, due to second hand smoke. I will never tell my wife that she was the cause of it. I told her it started 42 years ago. I don't think that she believes me.

Don't put your loved ones with what I am going through. My gut is tearing me apart daily from the time I awake til the time I fall asleep, knowing that day is near. Soon I will be alone except for family and friends but they could never replace the very Patriotic woman that I have loved and married and will lose.

With the tears running down my cheeks, I again plead to you, STOP, think of your loved ones. Larry.

PS. My brother Roland went through the exact same thing in December 2009.

My wife passed away on May 30, 2012, one day after our 56th wedding anniversary an 6 months after the letter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Grief and Panic Attacks

A friend of mine who had recently lost someone close to her called  asking "Is it normal to feel like I am going to freak out and be all panicy, or am I losing my mind?" She went on to describe feeling as though she was having tiny panic attacks (shortness of breath, tingling, dizzy, sweating and feeling trapped) when driving alone in her car.  She found focusing on music helped, but often felt as though she just wanted to run screaming from the vehicle.

Perhaps anxiety attack may better descibe this symptom of grief. Either way, it is an unpleasant and frightening event, athough a common experience for those who have incurred a significant life trauma. The death of a loved one would qualify.  Often, there are extenuating circumstances related to the death as well... a long illness, a sudden or violent death, protracted pain and suffering, issues related to decisions regarding medical care and so on.

When you are bereft, your breath is more may find yourself sighing more.  This is your body's attempt at getting more oxygen. If your body doesn't get the air that it craves, you may start to hyperventilate a precurser to an anxiety attack. Focusing on your breath is  a technique for managing panic/anxiety attacks. Breathe deeply and slowly, coach yourself that you already know how to breathe easily. Practice using imagery that is calming such as being held in a magical garment that helps you to feel calm, safe, and protected.  Remind yourself that this is "normal after a loss" and that you have survived this before. Find an anchor-something that grounds friend had the radio, but anything can do...your ring, a St. Christopher's medal, the sunshine...

Find someone to talk to about your loss and your experience-a friend, grief group, counselor. Make an appointment with your physician to rule out other potential causes as sometimes it is easy to minimize symptoms and chalk it up to "grief", but all symptoms are there to tell us something. So check in and listen to what your body/mind has to say.