Healthy Grieving: We Remember Them

I highly recommend the documentary, “Saint of 9/11.”  The film highlights the life of the Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest, who was also a beloved New York City Fire Department chaplain. Mychal Judge was one of the first to die at the World Trade Center, when debris fell on his head as he was following firefighters into the lobby of the north tower.

In the film, Chaplain Mychal is remembered as a gentle man, who was charismatic, down-to-earth, selfless and joyous. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when even medical personnel were fearful of physical contact with quarantined patients, Chaplain Mychal ministered to dying AIDS patients in hospices and hospitals and he would physically embrace them with a hug.

On September 11, Chaplain Mychal could have left the trade center. He was a friend to Mayor Guilliani and as he stood with the NY Mayor at the feet of the twin towers Mayor Guilliani said to him, “Come with us” and Chaplain Mychal told the mayor of NYC, “No…I have to stay with my men.”

Not long before Chaplain Mychal was tragically killed he was quoted as saying:

Sometimes in life when we lose someone we love and we don’t know what to do, we should just pray and worship: Thank you, Lord, for their lives, for their love, creativity, for their friendship, their good days and bad, for their happiness, for their anger, for everything they’ve brought into our lives. These are things we should say about each other always. If we did, life wouldn’t be half bad. I hope someday that someone says things nicely about me as I said about them through the years.

So Chaplain Mychal suggests that we honor people who have died, when we remember them.

I recently took my 7 year old niece to see the movie, Coco.  We both loved Coco and it is a wonderful movie for children (and adults) to watch, but especially for those who have been through the death of a grandparent, parent, or another loved one. The movie is all about death and dying, and is beautiful reminder of the importance of remembering those who have gone before us. In the movie, the main character Miguel, sings the song, Remember Me. His song reminds us to “let the love we have live on” by remembering those who have gone before us.

I once attended a conference on grief. The speaker had us go back to kindergarten and trace our hand. After we outlined our hand, we were invited to remember a loved one who had died, by writing some characteristics of our loved one, on each finger of the hand. We also were able to talk with a small group of people about the memories we wrote on the hand. The five fingers on my hand said: intelligent, adventurous, musical, faithful, and independent. It felt so good to remember my grandmother at this conference and it still feels good, to write about her and remember her in this blog today.

One of my favorite poems on grief, is written by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer.  The poem says:

In the rising of the sun and its going down,
We Remember Them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We Remember Them.
In the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring.
We Remember Them.
In the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer,
We Remember Them.
In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn.
We Remember Them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
We Remember Them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
We Remember Them.
When we are lost and sick of heart,
We Remember Them.
When we have joys and special celebrations we yearn to share,
We Remember Them,
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are part of us.
As We Remember Them.

Healthy grieving means not only remembering a person’s gifts and graces, but also recognizing their shortcomings and any pain the person may have caused you. Sometimes the difficult memories are harder to remember, and yet I think it is important to remember and tell the story of our deceased loved ones, by sharing both the joys and sorrows that they brought in our life.

Whether you talk to a loved one, clergy person or counselor or join a support group offered through hospice or in the community, we all need to give voice to our sorrow. I encourage you to find a time in the near future to give yourself some space to remember a loved one who has died. You can do this by spending time with a friend and sharing sacred memories of your loved one. Perhaps you will choose to sit quietly by yourself and light a candle in memory of your deceased friend. Or maybe you find healing and hope through visiting your family member’s grave.

  • Who has died in your life, who you need to find space to remember?
  • What are five positive attributes this person had?
  • Do you have any difficult memories of your loved one?

Each of us, have our own unique ways of remembering, but however you do it, I encourage you to find a way to remember the saints in your life who have died.  I invite you to take your hand to your heart right now, as a symbolic reminder that your loved one will continue to remain in your heart, as you remember them.

Let’s Remember Them,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

 

Tuning into our Anger

Many moons ago, I attended a wedding shower and also the wedding ceremony and reception for a friend who was marrying her beloved. Like a good Southern girl, I brought a gift to both the shower and the wedding.

At the time of this wedding, I was single and working for a non-profit organization, and my paycheck reflected the fact that I was laboring in a helping profession. Working for a non-profit is such meaningful work, but the pay often makes it so single people just barely scrape by.

Even though my budget was tight, I decided to go all out for my friend’s wedding. Between the two presents I purchased for the shower and wedding, I spent nearly $150. This friend eventually had a baby and so I mailed her a present from her baby registry, to rejoice with her over this new sacred season in her life. Despite my limited budget as a single woman, I had spent several hundred dollars on this friend.

As I look back and consider my financial status at the time, I recognize this was a lot to spend on someone who I had only gone out with socially a handful of times, who was not in my circle of best friends and who I had not known for very long. But at the time, I felt like it was important to celebrate these two important seasons in her life.

When it was my turn to get married, I invited this same person to my wedding. She and her family were unable to come to the wedding, but I remember feeling disheartened when I did not even receive a card from her, to commemorate this joyful time in my life.

The word frustrated, disheartened, or irritated is a way that Southern women soften the word anger. So in all honesty, the emotion I felt at this time was anger and it was important for me to feel this.

Even in the midst of my anger, I allowed myself to feel empathy for my friend.  There was a lot going on in her life and her respective roles as an employee, wife and new mother all required so much of her self. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, by entertaining the possibility the postal service had lost the congratulatory wedding card she had sent me. And if my optimistic thought of the card being lost in the mail was not true, it was important to remind myself that gift-giving was my love language and not necessarily her own.

It also occurred to me that many people on my journey, have extended more generosity to me, whether in emotional or financial ways, than I had ever been able to return to them. And even though experiencing mutuality in relationships can be nice, we know that sometimes in life we give more and sometimes we receive more in relationships. So, why did I feel so let down by this friend?

Eventually, I decided that my friend had actually given me a wedding gift.  My present from her, was that I needed to look at my anger towards her and see if it might point me to some ways I was actually angry at myself.

And so I did some much needed reflection. I reminded myself of my tendency to over-function in many aspects of my life, as a means to validate and prove myself. I told myself that in the future, if I give a generous gift to another person, I need to do this without any expectations of getting something in return. I also made a mental note to make sure that in the journey yet to come, I don’t give as a means to prove myself, but simply for the joy of giving.

My anger also directed me, to the fact that I needed to be giving a little more to myself. At this point in my life, I tended to give others more through both my gifts and time, than I gave my own self. My anger was asking me to care a little more for myself.

But so often when we offer more than we have to give, we become resentful when others don’t contribute as much as we do.  Have you ever become mad at someone at work, because you feel like you are working harder than they are? Perhaps your anger has even built to the point that you are passive aggressive with this person.

But instead of breathing fire on your colleague, maybe this is an opportunity for you to look at yourself. In lieu of being infuriated at the person you think is under-functioning at work, it will serve you well to examine how you over-function at work. Maybe you are angry because you are not caring for yourself as much as your work associate does, which might lead to the important awakening that you need to integrate more self-care in your life.

So even when our anger seems justified, if we take the time to befriend it and listen to it, our anger can lead us to see our part in a difficult situation.

  • Who have you been angry at lately? 
  • How could looking at your own part in the situation serve you well?

Let’s tune into our anger and learn from it,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

Spring Forward!

It was tough to wake up this morning, because when I looked at my clock it said 7:45am, but because of the time change due to Daylight Savings it was really 6:45am. My body was truly fighting getting out of bed. I felt like I was in a metaphorical fight with Muhammad Ali (may he rest in peace) and somehow managed to box my way out of bed.

Spring forward daylight savings time can truly be an adjustment. But one gift of today has been for me to meditate on what it means to spring forward in my life. Even if we didn’t spring up out of bed this morning, how can we spring forward in our day-to-day existence?

The opposite of springing forward is to recoil or to spring back in fear. I think it is imperative to ponder how our thoughts motivate us to spring back or spring forward in life. Every day we have the choice to see life as a beautiful gift or as something we have to get through. We control how we respond to difficult situations in life. We can react from place of fright by saying, “I am going to lose everything I have” (I am guilty of this) or we can mindfully approach life.

But so often we opt for a Debbie Downer, “My life sucks,” attitude. Perhaps the negative news story in our head informs us that we are going to bomb our presentation at work. Or maybe our mantra is, “I am not smart enough to date him.”

Often our negative stories are informed by our family of origin. If your parents divorced you might erroneously believe, “All marriages are doomed.” Or if you were never told you were beautiful as a child you may tell yourself, “I’m ugly.”

All of these messages are causing us to spring backwards. These running words in our mind have a power that literally informs our day, our choices and our life. What we practice we become.

Instead of springing backwards and living in a state of fear or negativity, we can mindfully approach each day and spring forward in our lives by countering the negative messages with positive ones such as:

  • I am grateful for…
  • I am going to be okay
  • I’ve got this!
  • I’m beautiful
  • I am enough

I’m not saying that choosing mindfulness means the negative messages in your mind will completely disappear. But reframing our narratives does make a difference in our lives.

I also realize there is a place for emotions like fear and anger. These emotions can help us set boundaries and protect ourselves. And yet, we know that becoming stuck in these feelings can be dangerous.

As I ruminate on how I can spring forward or backwards in life, it also occurs to me that I need to be just as mindful about the words I speak to others, as I am about the words I speak to myself. Again, what we practice we become.

If I refer to one of my counseling client’s as crazy, this will inform how I see my client. If I look for the beauty, gifts, and graces in my clients, this is what I will see. And how I see others, also informs how I see myself. So practicing kindness towards others can help us to be kinder to one another and ourselves.

Ann Bradford invites us to, “Tell the negative committee that meet inside our head to sit down & shut up!”  Obviously, changing the way we see ourselves and others is not quite this simple, and yet asking our negative committee to quiet down is what we are trying to achieve.

To make this happen, we have to daily practice reframing the thoughts we have about ourselves and one another.  And as we mindfully practice changing the way we internally speak about ourselves and one another, we will reap the benefits of this practice.

  • What are the most powerful negative news stories that run through your head daily?
  • What are the origins of these news stories?
  • How are my negative stories causing me to spring backwards?
  • How would I spring forward in my life, if I chose to broadcast different and more positive stories?

Let’s spring forward,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

The Transformative Power of Acceptance

I encourage you to attend, Journey Dance, at The Center for Mindful Living in Chattanooga, TN. https://centermindfulliving.org/  Journey Dance is an organic movement dance class and if you attend, it might seem like everyone in the room has had at least three alcoholic drinks, because they are dancing with such freedom and authenticity. But the class attendees are actually all stone-cold sober!!

The teacher of this class, Katherine, has an infectious joy and smile, but also an accepting way that encourages you to be who you truly are. Even if dance is not your forte (that would be me!), the permission she gives you to be yourself, has a transformative power that gets you out of your mind and into your body.

When I recently attended this class, I felt myself dancing out concerns, anger, and fears that I needed to both feel and let go. As I reflect on this class, I recognize that there were four very important ingredients that allowed this experience to be a healing time for me. What were these ingredients?

  1. An accepting teacher who modeled what it means to accept ourselves and dance with reckless abandon… Do we seek out people and experiences where we are accepted as we are?
  2. My own self-acceptance… It was vital for me to give myself permission to dance boldly and freely, without worrying what people thought of me.  Do we offer ourselves acceptance?
  3. Accepting my fellow dancers and allowing them to be exactly who they are… Do we accept others as we find them?
  4. As I danced I moved with an awareness that I am loved by the Lord of the dance whose presence far bigger than me and who whispers to me daily, “You are accepted”… Are we aware of the Divine One who accepts us just as we are?

Of course, there were a few moments during the dance class, when I was out of my comfort zone and as self-conscious as I was in middle-school at a school dance. But when those feelings surfaced, I would remind myself to let go and be me, and these places of acceptance on the dance floor were the moments when I felt joy, sadness, freedom and other important feelings. The same is true in the dance of life.  Acceptance allows us to be truly present and find abundant life.

May your dance of life be one filled with acceptance,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

Allowing Others to Be Who They Are

 

I’ve been lucky to have wonderful bosses in my life. I really feel for friends who have had bad bosses. Some of my comrades’ stories about their supervisors’ sound like they come straight out of the movie, “Horrible Bosses.” One loved one told me the story of his boss requiring him to take his boss’ mother to a doctor appointment. This person worked as a manager and this assignment was not in his job description in any way shape or form, but ultimately this master’s degree level employee, did all sorts of menial tasks to keep his job.

Perhaps you can think back to your own difficult experiences with a bad boss. Conversely, take a moment to think about bosses who have believed in you. The type of boss you have can inform the meaning and joy you find in your work. When a boss has confidence in you, it truly makes you want to live up to their encouragement and affirmation.

I once had a boss who regularly said to me, “I want you to be the best Christy Bonner you can be.” Maybe if you are reading this blog, these words seem trivial, but if you heard the sincerity, support and love that were behind these words, you would have believed you could climb any mountain in front of you.  My boss, Pat, not only uttered these words to me, but he spoke them to all of the employees in our department. We knew he trusted us and believed in our unique abilities. But one way he truly gifted us, was to allow for diversity. My colleagues and I, all did our jobs as chaplains very differently and yet our boss, Pat, had the ability to see the beauty in the respective ways we carried out the tasks of our job.

My boss could have been dogmatic and prescriptive and required me to function in very specific ways in my role. But instead, Pat, allowed me to be exactly who I am. He saw, affirmed and celebrated my gifts, graces, and even my growing edges. Carl Jung once said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” What a gift it is to be with people who allow us to be who we are. And it is also equally important to not only allow ourselves to be who we are, but also to accept other people just as we find them. I’m so grateful to my friends who love me, even in the moments where I am a worry wart, dramatic and other worst versions of myself!

Since we know how good it feels to be accepted just as we are, can we offer this radical life-changing love to one another and ourselves?

Remember to be you and celebrate others as they are,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

A Spring Cleaning Tip for the Mind & Spirit

I originally wrote the article below for the Mountain Mirror. http://www.mountainmirror.com/

Several nights ago, I went to the drug store to pick up an antibiotic for my husband who has been struggling with the same flu and cold that seems to be afflicting almost everyone this year. I spoke to the pharmacy tech and they said his prescription was not quite ready and she said it would be 10-15 minutes. And so I milled around the store and found a few other things my husband needed. 15 minutes passed and my name had not been called, and so I went up to the desk to inquire if his order had been filled. The tech told me they were more backed up than she thought, and said it would be a few more minutes.

At this point I felt frustration rise in my chest. It was 8:30p at night and I hadn’t been home in over 12 hours. I was exhausted and ready to get in my bath robe and decompress before bed time. As I felt myself getting irritated, I took in a deep breath and did a quick mental check and reminded myself that I had a choice in this moment. I could be angry and allow the cortisol levels in my body to rise substantially or I could choose to find joy and live in the present moment. I thought of the poet Rumi’s words, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” I then felt myself calm back down and embrace the moment.

Now I am not saying I always make the choice to recognize what I cannot control, but I am learning that the practice of mindfulness helps me to notice when I am starting to react. And once I notice my reactions, I have the opportunity to hit the pause button and choose my response. We have a choice to find a softness and lightness in our body when difficulties arise, or we can harden up to life and to one another. How often do our reactions keep us from being “polished” and from finding freedom and joy in life?  So the spring cleaning tip I am offering, is to learn to respond to daily adversities that prompt anger, by hitting the pause button when we feel ourselves starting to react, so that we can find our way to a softer response.

I’m not implying we should never be irritated. Anger is a normal and healthy emotion and there are moments when we need to feel it and even speak up and be assertive. However, we must not allow every rub to irritate us, because we lose too many precious moments when choose to constantly respond to our reactions. So is it worth it to always be in a mode where we over react and/or complain? The holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, offered this perspective, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When I do find the space between a provocation and my reaction to it, I am much more likely to choose to calm myself down.

I also think it is important to remind ourselves that sometimes we react to others, but we also need to be mindful about how we react to ourselves. We have plenty of moments where the choice in front of us is to respond to ourselves by being kind to ourselves or we can beat ourselves up. How will we ever be “polished” if we constantly critique everything we do? For example, do we chastise ourselves after a presentation at work because we thought it went badly? How can we soften our reactions to ourselves and know we did the best we could do? So spring cleaning for our mind and spirit also involves hitting the pause button, when we start to speak unkindly to ourselves.

It was frustrating that the wait at the drug store was longer than I expected, but my choice to choose another response actually led to a beautiful moment. As I waited with the drug tech for the antibiotic, the Tao Cruz song, Dynamite, came on the loud speaker and then all of a sudden the pharmacy tech and I were smiling, singing, and laughing together to this upbeat song as I waited on the medicine to be filled. And as we sang the song, it elicited a memory of this song being played at my wedding reception. I also found myself moving to the music and I noticed how diligently the pharmacist and her assistants were working to get my prescription filled. Instead of the anger I felt minutes before, there were now a feeling of empathy and even camaraderie with the pharmacy team at the drug store. This empathy softened my spirit even more. And then there was no longer irritation and only joy. There I was in the drug store experiencing life and freedom, swaying to the music, and then not long after the song ended my prescription was filled and I was checking out and could make my way home!

What are the rubs in our life? Maybe we get easily irritated when we experience: a meal at a restaurant that isn’t up to par, traffic on our way to work, a colleague who pushes our buttons, a friend whose constant advice rubs us the wrong way, a family member who is dogmatic about politics, or when our significant other neglects to take out the trash. How can we hit the pause button and find our way to a response that will bring abundant life? Maybe we are the type of person, who when life hits us with an unexpected challenge, we tend to react more harshly to ourselves than to others. If this is the case, how can we react more lovingly to ourselves?

It is now the time of year where the warm weather compels us to clean up our porches, our garages, and yards, but how can we also do some spring cleaning for our mind and spirit? My tip for us this spring is to keep noticing our reactions, to ourselves and one another. When we find ourselves reacting, let’s take a deep breath and hit the pause button and ask ourselves if being angry is really worth it. We can choose annoyance or we can hit the pause button and experience peace, life and freedom in the present moment.

Happy Spring Cleaning,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health