Grief – Two Years Later

My brother died on October 16th, 2015.  I started blogging in March of 2016.  So yeah, I started writing partially because it’s therapeutic.  But, why did I have to start a blog?  Why couldn’t I just write stuff for myself, and save it on a thumb drive?  I don’t know.  I guess most people who create something want to share it . . . otherwise, it kind of seems like there’s no point.  Maybe sharing could help someone else.  Maybe it would help me to make connections . . . maybe it would accelerate my healing.

Did it accomplish any of those things?  Maybe.  I felt the need to write about it a lot for a while.  I’ve mostly been writing about other things over the last few months.  With the anniversary coming up, though, it’s made me think about what grief is like two years later.

Before my brother got sick, when I would hear about someone losing a sibling or a spouse too young, I would wonder how they could stand it.  How could they cope with such a loss?  I would wonder, and pray that I never would experience anything like it.  Sadly I am now a member of a club I never wanted to join.  I don’t wish membership to this club on my worst enemy.

Does grief get better with time?  Yes and no.  The frequency is less, but the intensity is the same.  I bought a book about grief a month or two after my brother died.  Probably the only helpful advice I got from it was that everyone is different, and I should allow myself to take as long as I need.  So, I don’t get upset with myself when I feel sad.  In fact, I knew from the time that he went into hospice, when I finally accepted that there was very little hope, that this was a loss that my other brother, my parents, and I would never fully recover from.  And, I suppose we shouldn’t.  It’s a loss that deserves to be felt.

It still feels very surreal to me.  In the beginning, I think I was afraid not to think about it.  Afraid if I let my guard down, it would sneak up on me and it would be like going through all of it again for the first time.  Maybe my instincts were right.  I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and it’s like it’s all happening again for the first time.

I’m quite certain there has not been a single day that I have not thought about my brother.  I didn’t realize, until the first week after he passed, just how much I thought about my childhood and both of my brothers on a daily basis.  In the beginning, so many of my thoughts were dominated by the horror of his five month illness.  I could hardly picture him healthy, as much as I wanted to remember the good times.

Have the holidays and birthdays gotten any easier?  A little, I guess.  My daughter’s and my birthday landed between my brother’s death and his Memorial Service.  I still remember meeting family for my daugther’s birthday party and having this feeling of anticipation of my brother calling to let me know he was there waiting, or on his way.  Something he often did when we met somewhere.  I’ve gotten used to the idea that there won’t be any more of those calls.  I’ve learned that getting used to it, and liking it aren’t the same thing.  Have I accepted it?  I don’t really know the answer to that either.

I do hope that this post will help others who are grieving to know they aren’t alone.  Two years later, and I guess I’m still working through it all.  Maybe I always will be.

 

 

 

 

Are You a Good Listener?

Most people aren’t.  In fact, you have probably encountered a few people today who either interrupted you or were just thinking about what they were going to say next while you were talking.

“Listening is the new loving”.  I heard Luis Palau say this on K-LOVE the other day.  It sounds cheesy coming from me, but not from him.

I remember going through an interview several years ago.  It was through a staffing agency, and the woman had such fine listening skills, it actually took me off-guard.  You have probably heard some tips about active listening.   Paraphrase back to the person what they’ve said.  Get confirmation that you’ve understood, etc.  She was so good at paraphrasing what I had said, she said it far better than I did originally.  An impressive skill.

It can be frustrating speaking to a poor listener.  But, when two poor listeners get together – watch out.  It’s a bit like two narcissists.

I’m getting a little negative here.  It’s obvious that it’s a treat to talk to a good listener.  But, what are some of the positives of being a good listener?

When my anxiety was at its worst, I went to a counselor for a while.  I was telling her about how I had to give an employee some bad news about her job.  I told her how I hated for this person to have negative feelings about me, when I was only the messenger, and not the decision-maker.  She challenged me to take the focus off of myself, and instead truly focus on this person . . . listening and thinking about what I could do for her, instead of getting anxious about how she was thinking and feeling about me.

If you suffer from anxiety, a trick to reduce some of your anxious feelings is to take the focus off of yourself.  So, you are not only benefiting the other person by genuinely listening; you are also helping yourself.

I think I’m a pretty good listener, but not all of the time.  My husband would say I’m a poor listener at times.  Our house can be chaotic – so yes, it’s true.  I don’t always catch everything.  Like most people, if I have stressful things going on, I can be distracted.  But, I recognize that it is a choice to be a good listener – and it takes an effort.  Hmmm . . . kind of like it being a choice to love someone.  It takes effort to make relationships (romantic or otherwise) last.  So, maybe Luis Palau is right.  Maybe listening is the new loving.  What do you think?

 

 

Forget the Scale. Reasons or Excuses?

The last update on my fitness journey was that I had lost 2 lbs. the previous week.  This last Saturday, I had gained back 4/10 of a lb.  Grrrr.

The Good.  While the scale didn’t cooperate, I did move more and made a conscious effort to eat better.  While I did not walk every day, I walked most days.  Finding time to walk sometimes required creativity.  One day, I went to my chiropractor over lunch, which is in a town about 10 miles from my work.  In order to make time for my appointment, and also have time to eat and walk, I walked near her office.  It was a nice change in scenery.

On another day, I found a lovely hiking path in a park in the town 10 miles in the other direction from work.  I’d been to the park with my kids many times before, but I had no idea there was a paved trail going into the woods!  The things you discover when you force yourself to change things up.

While I haven’t been meeting the 28 day challenge every single day, I have been doing it more than 1/2 the time.  The 28 day challenge is 10 minutes of exercises, mostly focusing on your core.  Ten minutes probably doesn’t seem like much, but it seriously seems like the longest 10 minutes ever!  With my back injury, these are great exercises for me because I could use increased strength in my core.  Even if I didn’t lose weight last week, I can tell the exercises are making me stronger.

The Bad.  We had something major and unexpected happen at work last week.  That, along with the unusual heat, has been my excuse for not walking every day.  I do have a treadmill . . . it’s just a matter of getting it out of storage.

The Ugly.  Vanilla ice cream . . . it’s so delicious, so creamy and vanilla-ey.  But, I’m afraid it’s a very bad habit.  Okay . . . it’s not ugly.  It’s beautiful goodness and wonderfulness!  But, it’s full of calories and fat, and I treat myself to it almost every night.  Not a lot, usually, but enough that I’m afraid I’m going to have to do without it for a while.

Well, vanilla ice cream . . . it’s been real.  It’s been fun.  Actually, it’s been real fun, but we’re going to have to take a break . . . It’s not you. It’s me.

 

I Guess Customer Service is Service. Duh.

A short while ago,  I wrote about how I felt God was sending me a message that I should be using my spiritual gifts to serve others, but I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing.  You can read that post here:  How Can I Use my Gifts to Better Serve God and Others?

I ended that post by saying that I was anxious to find out what lessons I would learn on my journey.  Well, the journey did not take me where I expected.

Soooo . . . I had met with the Lead Pastor at our church, who introduced me to the Outreach Pastor.  We talked about my talents and interests.  A Sunday or two later, I found myself helping with Pre-K Kids’ Church.  On the inside, I was less than enthusiastic about this.  On the outside, I tried to make it seem like I was enjoying myself.

I’ve taught Sunday school in the past, and I just don’t enjoy it that much.  It’s a myth that if you’re female and you have young children, you must love working with all children.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do like kids.  As I communicated to the Children’s Director, there’s just something about that environment I find very draining.  I’m willing to fill in temporarily, but it’s not something I’m interested in doing every week.

The church also contacted me about a weekly women’s Bible Study, potentially helping the older kids with their weekly production, and helping with the Kids’ Church registration desk.

In addition, I just got a promotion at work that requires me to work an extra hour per day.  Besides being less than a month back into the school year, my daughter started weekly dance class again.  I’ve also decided to possibly pursue another degree, related to my promotion.  I have a full plate.

Long story short, I decided to say “No” to Kids’ Church and helping with the older kids’ production. I have committed to a six week Women’s Bible Study, which meets weekly, and working at the registration desk for Kids’ Church every six weeks.  I worked at the registration desk for the first time last Sunday, and I really liked it a lot.  I figured out, it was because it was a lot like my old Customer Service job, so it came pretty naturally.

I wrote an article a year ago where I talked about how I developed a talent or a skill in coaching and managing others (Is it a Talent or a Skill?  Does it Matter?) in my job in Customer Service.  I didn’t focus on what I had learned when serving customers, and training others to serve customers.  Frankly, I learned a ton, and matured a great deal too.  I recently started to realize that my ability to not take things personally came, at least in part, from dealing with upset customers.  This is a skill I use constantly, and had attributed it to the tools I had found in learning to overcome anxiety.  I hadn’t been giving the Customer Service experience nearly enough credit.

Even funnier, of all the gifts I listed in my recent article, when I was trying to figure out how I should be serving, not once did Customer Service come to my mind.  I took a really round about way to get to the spot where I’m supposed to be helping right now.  I enjoy doing it, and the time commitment fits perfectly with all of my responsibilities.  I really like the Children’s Director, who is training me.  That could be the icing on the cake – I may even make a new friend.

 

 

Can I Love the Scale?

Ummmm . . . probably not.  I’m hoping I’ll like it a little more tomorrow.  Maybe just hating it less is more realistic.  Saturday morning is my weekly time to weigh and record my weekly weight, compare to the previous week, etc.

Lately, it’s usually been pretty disappointing . . . frustrating . . . depressing.

I’ve done a few things this week that I’m hoping will change the trajectory of my weight.  I’ve had some successes and some failures, but I have started moving more, drinking more water, and eating less junk.  I am hopeful that I will weigh slightly less tomorrow than I did last Saturday.  Regardless of the scale, I feel I am moving in the direction of improved health.

I’ve also started tracking my calories, exercise (including stretching) and water intake.  While I haven’t been perfect at it this week, I certainly improved over previous weeks.  I am definitely paying more attention to all of these things.  So, I decided to develop a tracker.  I guess I’m old school.  I still use a Franklin Classic planner.  In fact, I just bought a Franklin hole punch.  Old school, odd ball, dinosaur.  Don’t care.  I’ve used electronic planners, my phone, etc.  I find the Franklin works the best for me.  Anyway, I decided to put two trackers per sheet so I can cut them in half and put one in my planner for each day.  It’s basic – not pretty.

Here’s a snapshot of my journal page.  I’m also attaching it (two on one sheet) as a Word document, so you can edit however you like.  Fitness Journal

Stay tuned for updates on my progress!

Update:  I am down 2 lbs. since last Saturday.  My hard work paid off – but it really was hard work!

 

I Hate the Scale

I know I’m not alone in my struggle to get in shape.  The struggle just keeps getting harder as I get older.  It is soooo frustrating!  I’m fairly active in my daily life, with two young kids.  I’ve cut out the good stuff . . . . donuts and candy, even potato chips, for the most part.  I hardly drink soda and I’ve tried to increase my water intake.  But, the numbers on the scale just keep going up.  I weigh more right now than I ever have, other than when I was pregnant.

I gained so much weight, in such a short period of time recently, that I became convinced there was something wrong with my scale.  So, I bought a new one.  Sadly, there was nothing wrong with the first scale.  Problem not solved.

So, I guess it’s time to get serious . . . seriously kicking and screaming.  I figure one of the ways to get serious is with some accountability.  How can you be more accountable than announcing your plans to the fine people who read the internet?  Of course, it is totally within my power to delete this post at any time.  But, my intentions are good at this moment.

I want to lose approximately 35 lbs.  But, I’m realizing that I really need to get in better shape, not just lose weight.

I’m going to make a few first steps.  For one, I’m going to report my progress here.  Probably not every week, as I think that could get boring for readers – but periodically.  I’m going to participate in the 28 Day Fitness Challenge, presented by “The Multitasking Mom”.  Check it out if you’re interested:  28 Day Challenge.  I’m going to drink at least 64 oz. of water per day.  I’m going to track my calorie intake.

I have stretches that help me to stay more active by relieving some pain.  Besides, everyone knows that stretching is supposed to help blood flow and overall health.  So, I’m going to commit to doing those every day.

Like I said – I know I’m not alone here!  Please share in the comments what has worked for you to get in better shape, lose weight and improve your health.

When Friendship is Easy

I wrote something for a fellow blogger recently.  In the piece, I talked about how much pressure there is on women to do everything “right” in our society.  I even feel pressure from other women to squeeze in “me” time.   A lot of times, for me, making time for the “me” time causes more stress than the “me” time relieves.  Frankly, as a working Mom, my time with my kids feels limited.  I generally don’t want to spend my time off away from them.

I used to be better about making time for girlfriends.  My Mom and I do something, just the two of us, maybe two or three times a year.  My best friend comes through town once or twice a year, and I get to spend a little time with her.

It’s bad.  I need to do better.  But, it becomes just one more thing I need to do.  I’m tired.

I planned to go and see my best friend, who lives three hours away, last May.  But, my daughter had to have a tonsillectomy.  The summer was busy, but I had it in my mind that we would get there this year.

Mission Accomplished!  On the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, the kids and I left for our road trip, and we returned Sunday night, leaving me with one more day off at home before I had to return to work.  It was so nice to spend time with her and her family, and for her to spend some time with my kids.  I guess it shows that it doesn’t have to be just “me” time to spend time with friends.

On Monday, I got to spend 2 1/2 hours with another old friend.  I have known both of these ladies since Junior High School.  I kind of hate to admit that we are talking over 30 years.  Wow.  When I left my friend’s house on Monday, I thought about what a wonderful weekend it had been, getting a chance to spend time with two of my girlfriends.

What also struck me was how easy it was.  I’m an introvert, so small talk is tiring to me.  But, on Monday, my friend and I talked for over two hours straight and I’m sure we could have talked for more than three times that if life wasn’t calling.  Unlike the feeling of being drained, that I so often feel when interacting with people, I felt energized.  I found myself wondering why.

It makes me realize why I’ve stayed in touch with them over all of this time.  They want what is best for me, and I for them.  But, there isn’t a lot of advice giving.  Just listening.  I love that.

Is it easy because we’ve known each other so long?  They have seen me at my dopiest and nerdiest, during my times of worst judgment, but also at my best.  There is no fooling them, so I suppose I don’t waste the energy trying.  They have been there for me, in the joyous times and the devastating times.

Is it because we don’t talk that often?  We don’t get on each others’ nerves because we are truly only spending quality time?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m blessed to have a couple of other girlfriends who also come to mind.  Memorial Day weekend, 2016, my husband, the kids and I went to see my old college roommate and her family had a party for us!  When my brother passed away, a very old friend (we’re talking since the age of 3) watched my kids during the funeral service, even though I hadn’t talked to her in quite a long time.

Please understand, it’s not that these people do things for me that makes me feel warmly toward them.  It’s the love I feel from them, that’s shown in these gestures.  Sometimes, the gesture is just simply making time.

We find ourselves appreciating different things as we get older.  You’ve probably heard that saying – people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  I’m so grateful for my girlfriends who have been willing to hang around for a lifetime.

 

 

 

Do You Really Think this is a Fluke?! Come On!

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 finally happened today.  Some people thought it was one of the most incredible experiences of their lives.  Others were underwhelmed.  I was in between.

This has been a topic of interest for my family for a little while.  We thought about going to Southern Illinois to see the total eclipse, or at least driving to Springfield, IL, where the eclipse would be about 95%.  We decided it wasn’t worth the drive, and watched it from home.  Here, the moon covered approximately 90% of the sun.

The day before the eclipse. Making sure we’re prepared.

My parents did drive down to Southern Illinois.  I haven’t spoken to them about it yet, but I am grateful that they ordered these glasses for us, or we would have missed out big time!

We had heard it would be overcast, so we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to see anything.  Around 11:40 AM, when it was supposed to start, I decided to just take a look.  The sun was visible through the clouds, but it wasn’t apparent that anything strange was going on.  When I put the glasses on, I could see that the moon was beginning to cover the sun.  We spent the next two hours watching.

Since it was not a total eclipse here, it got somewhat dark, but from what I have heard, nothing like the sensation of being in the path of the total eclipse.  I’ve heard that it was amazing.

So, today I have been thinking a lot about the universe and how incredible it is.  In particular, I’ve been thinking about how the size of the moon, and the size of the sun, in relation to their distances from each other, and then from the Earth make a total eclipse possible.  The moon has to be just the right size and distance from the sun to perfectly cover it.  We, then, have to be just the right distance to view this phenomenon.

I may have first had this pointed out to me by Frank Turek.  I’m sure I didn’t come up with it on my own.  I got to wondering – what is the ratio of the size of the sun compared to the moon?  What is the distance that makes this possible?  So, I did a little Bing search, and found the answer on a couple of different websites.

The strange thing is, while I was searching for facts to talk about how God’s existence is undeniable, I happened upon a website that said just the opposite.  It’s a post about eclipse hunters.  These people found the sensation so wonderful the first time they experienced it, that they wanted to experience it again and again.  So, they travel the world to observe as many total eclipses as they can.  Here’s the post:  Eclipse Chasers – Esquire.

Here’s the quote:  “And it’s all to see something that’s a total fluke. Our moon’s diameter is almost exactly 1/400th that of the sun’s, while the sun is about 400 times farther away from the Earth than the moon—so they appear to be the same diameter in the sky. It’s a complete coincidence, and it’s one that won’t last forever.”

Really?  A complete coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences.

Purple Fingernail Polish . . . and Other Life Lessons

I remember a girlfriend of mine having a girls’ night a while back.  Quite a while back.  I’m guessing 15 years ago.

She was kind enough to set up self-manicure stations for us around her dining room table.

It was kind of her, but I was ungrateful . . . complaining about how all of the polish was “sparkly” and there was no way I could wear them to work.  I was quite snotty about it, saying none of the options were going to work for me.

I was a Regional Manager and dressed very conservatively.  I followed all of the rules of a professional.  Whose rules?  I really can’t answer that.  Some rules I had established in my mind that said sparkly fingernail polish was not acceptable.

In the last five to ten years, as you know, anything goes with fingernail polish.  When blue and green polish became the norm, I was pretty uncomfortable with it.  Being a child of the 80’s, it brought back memories of the punk rock era.  It didn’t seem like something adults should be doing.

When I saw one of our local celebrities, who generally dresses conservatively and is in her fifties, wearing blue fingernail polish, I knew it was just my hang-up.  Still, I couldn’t bring myself to wear anything but pink, red, shades of beige, and when I was feeling really daring, grey.

Last Saturday, my son was invited to his friend’s house for most of the day.  It was a good opportunity for my daughter and me to have a girls’ day.  The only time I’ve had a manicure was in preparation for my wedding.  I thought it would be fun for us to go get our nails done together.  It was fun, and not very expensive at all.  We may have to make it a regular thing.

I told my daughter we would get matching fingernail polish and she could choose.  She chose super sparkly green.  Sorry – couldn’t do it.  She ended up choosing purple, which was still too bold for me, but I went along with it.

Long story short, I didn’t sit under the dryer long enough, and I ruined the polish on my pinky putting my seat belt on.  Doh!  I ended up putting magenta on that nail.  Now I was really daring!

I did get a lot of attention related to my fingernails.  Generally, positive.  But, being an introvert, perhaps the increased attention is part of the reason I stick with my old-fashioned shades.

I can get away with a little more daring in my current job, because it’s a casual environment.  What this whole purple polish experience has revealed to me is that I can be pretty uptight about some things that really don’t matter.

 

Cats and Faith – What an Odd Combination

Cats have been on my mind a lot lately.  We took in a stray last year (you can read more about that in my previous posts, A Kitty Cat’s Tale (Pun Intended) and Nine Things to Love About Cats – From a Former Dog Person).

I work at a steel mill, and there are always cats running around.  This year though, there has, we believe, been one very active male.  We had three or four litters of kittens running around.  Before we took in our stray last year, I never would have considered taking one home from work.  For one thing, they are very dirty – a steel mill is a filthy environment.  For another, I just didn’t think that I cared for cats.  We had dogs, and the two just don’t mix.

But, we found, that the cat and dog got along just fine.  Our first cat is black, and I ended up bringing home a white one.  He was so dirty, he looked gray.  Turns out, the cats love each other too.

This new cat is the sweetest.  He purrs constantly.  Perhaps he’s just grateful to have a home, instead of sleeping on concrete and rocks.

In addition, we’ve been making trips outside at work, to look at darling, tiny kittens.  I was also involved in an effort to capture several of them, with the hope of finding them homes.

This will seem a little disjointed, but it will all come together in the end!

Now on to the faith part.  We’ve been attending a new church over the past several months.  I wanted to learn more about the church, and I’ve been struggling with some things, so I asked the Lead Pastor if he would meet with me to talk.

One of the things we talked about was my history with church and faith.  Tonight, I remembered one cat in particular that changed my faith, and not in a good way . . . or was it?

When I was in college, one of my roommates brought a cat to the house we were renting.  I wasn’t thrilled about this, because pets were against the rules.  But, it was a nice enough cat, and I accepted that he was going to be around.

One day, I was talking on the phone (this was before everyone had cell phones . . . it was around 1992 or 1993).  The cat approached me, so I picked him up.  I was holding him near my shoulder and face when he jumped off.  He hit the foot board of a bed (I thought with just his feet) and took off.

I didn’t think too much of it, but later, my roommate noticed that he was bleeding from his gums.  She took the cat to the vet.  I spent a sleepless night praying for this cat to get well, because I knew my roommate blamed me, even though I had done nothing wrong.

While the vet had the cat, she decided to get him fixed.  It turned out, the cat was a hemophiliac and he died.  Even without his injury, he would have likely died from the procedure.  Still, the experience stuck with me, perhaps even longer than I’ve realized.

When God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted, I wondered, what is the point in praying?  Is God even listening?

That feeling and doubt stuck with me for years.  While I did not totally reject God, He certainly wasn’t the focus of my life for a very long time.

Now, I realize how immature my thinking was.  To think that God could answer “Yes” to our every request simply doesn’t make any sense if you think about it.  Many times, our requests are just plain selfish.  We don’t look at the big picture, even when some of it is available to us.  But, more often, the big picture includes details that we do not know.  We have to trust that, when the answer is “No”, God knows best.

So, what is the point of praying?  It isn’t just asking for things, or it shouldn’t be.  It includes praise, forgiveness, growth, thankfulness, and yes, sometimes asking for things.  God desires a relationship with us, and that can best be achieved by reading His word, worshiping Him, and praying.  True faith comes when we continue to trust in Him, even when we don’t get what we think we need and want.