Halloween is Coming!

by Maria Farrell, Director of GriefWork: A National Servite Ministry of Compassion

October 31st holds many memories for us of trick-or-treating and haunted houses. But is there a Catholic origin to Halloween? Absolutely! To find more information about Catholicism and Halloween, all you need to do is google the phrase “Catholic and Halloween”. So many articles have been written on this subject and offer historical accounts of the feast day, information on customs from other countries, why we dress up, and ways to ensure you incorporate the Holy Day into your celebration.

As Catholics, the most important thing we need to remember is that Halloween is the vigil before a very important Holy Day, All Saints Day. On this day we honor the saints in heaven who dedicated their lives to Christ and his Church. And on November 2nd , All Souls Day, we have the opportunity to pray for and remember the souls of all those that have died. Perhaps this year, you will celebrate with a new understanding of Halloween.

A Prayer for Halloween 

God of laughter and joy,
We turn to you in the way of our ancient ancestors,
grateful for the abundance of food and festivity
that surrounds us at this time of year.

Keep all children safe as they embark upon their Halloween revels.

Light their way through the dark knight
and enfold them in your love.

May the real treat in their lives be grace
that multiples in depth and breadth as
they grow older.

We pray this with all the saints in heaven.

Amen

 

 

 

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How Do We Go On?

This past week, we were shocked by the news of a mass shootings. At times it may feel as if we hear about this violence on a daily basis. People are resilient and have the capacity to “bounce back” after such a horrific incident. These events make us question our sense of safety. People who live far away from the affected area with no personal connections to the event may be impacted. This is especially true when the shooting is carried out specifically to harm others. You may be wondering how this shooting could have occurred. It is hard to accept that there may never be an answer to this question.

After an event like this, you may experience a variety of emotions. These feelings can include shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment, grief and others. You may experience some physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, concentrating, eating or remembering tasks. It’s important to remember that these are common reactions and will disappear over time. You may feel that the world is a more dangerous and scary place today than you did yesterday. It will take some time to manage these feelings and return to a sense of order.

So how do we go on living our daily lives when everything seems to be so out of control? Here are some suggestions to strengthen your resilience:

  • Take care of yourself. Engaging in healthy behaviors will help you to cope with excessive stress. Eat balanced meals, get plenty of rest and make sure you include physical activity in your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings instead of helping you manage your stress. Try to get back into the normal routine of your day. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga. It may seem odd to think about taking care of yourself, but you can’t help others if you are not able to recognize and address your own feelings.
  • Pay attention to your emotions. Remember that you may experience a wide range of feelings.
  • Turn off the television! It is important to stay informed, but too much exposure to the event may cause more stress. Limit the amount of time you spend watching the coverage and take a break from the news. You may also need to limit the amount of news you view on the internet and in newspapers. The images can you see can be very powerful and add to the stress you are already experiencing. Find a way to distract yourself from thinking about the event and focus on something you enjoy.
  • Talk about it. Find someone who will listen to your concerns. It helps to talk with others who have a shared experience so you do not feel so alone.
  • Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative outlook on life. Remind yourself of people and events that are meaningful and comforting. Striving for balance allows for a healthier perspective on the world around you.

Recovering from such a tragic event may seem difficult since because they have such negative effects on our emotional well-being.  It is important to take care of ourselves during stressful times and to find ways to relieve the grief we may feel after such a traumatic event. Finding a balance between what stresses us and positive emotions can help restore a balanced perspective on the world around us.

By Maria Farrell, Director of GriefWork: A National Servite Ministry of Compassion

Let’s Get Started…Journaling

Sometimes, loss is hard to process. Sometimes, there are so many emotions, we don’t know how to begin to express what’s happening on our grief journey. Sometimes, the words just don’t come.  Journaling is often very helpful in processing our grief. But that blank page can be a little bit intimidating if you have never kept a journal before.

Journaling is a wonderful tool for exploring your grief and other emotions. It helps us be more aware of our own emotions.  When we take the time to write something, we have to slow down and focus on our thoughts and feelings. It can give us an opportunity to reflect on and better understand our own behaviors, emotions, actions, and moods. When you write about things bothering you, you’re able to take a step back, take a deep breath and look at the situation from a different perspective.

I come from a long line of “non-journalers”! I know some people that have journaled all of their lives. Those empty pages often intimidate me. I need a little push to get those juices flowing. Here are a few open-ended statements to give you that little push to put your thoughts to paper:

  1. When I’m alone…
  2. It surprises me…
  3. It’s still hard to…
  4. Something I’ll always remember…
  5. A funny memory is…
  6. I’ve been feeling…
  7. I feel the loss when…
  8. I’m looking forward to…
  9. I really miss…

As time goes by, reread your past journal entries. How have things changed for you? Have you been able to continue to move forward in your grief journey? Do your past reflections include entries on imagining a time when it wouldn’t hurt so much?

Journaling will allow you to see your grief as it is now, provide a glance at the past, and allow you to take a glimpse into the future.

By Maria Farrell, Director of GriefWork: A National Servite Ministry of Compassion

Does Grief Hurt? That and Other Odd Questions

By Mike Goodwin

Does grief hurt? That’s an excellent question that those persons who have never experienced what I refer to as “crushing, gut-busting, overwhelming, debilitating grief,” might legitimately ask. Why not? It isn’t much different than asking if the impending needle that a nurse is about to poke in your arm is going to hurt. I think most people would like to anticipate future pain in any form. That way you can begin working on the remedies for the pain far ahead of the actual event. It makes sense to me-if I lived on an alien planet!

Grief is bad to the bone. My son Joshua died March 2nd, 2008 in a traffic accident, and if I could make sense out of his death then I wouldn’t be writing this. Why do I write? I write to heal. I write to remember. I write so I won’t fall into a deep slumber that I can’t recover from. I’ve learned that there are many faces and facets of grief. There is the face you wear-the griever. Then there is the face others wear who know you are grieving. In addition, there is the face that grievers wear when they know that others around them don’t know what face to wear when they are in your presence. That’s probably the most complicated face.

Grief hurts not only you but everyone who loves you and everyone who knows you-even strangers who you have just met. Grief has tentacles that are far-reaching and they stick to everything and everyone associated with the grief. Grief is sadness multiplied exponentially to the millionth degree. I don’t know exactly how large that is, I just know it is beyond my comprehension. Does grief hurt? Sometimes I guess it depends on who the griever is. Take for instance me. If you asked me the day Joshua died if grief hurts then, on an intellectual level, I would have said yes. On an emotional level, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer because I couldn’t speak. But, if you asked another person then the answer might be completely different. The answer might be in their eyes. They might display that vacant stare that you see sometimes in meth addicts when the drug is caressing their brain. They are here but somewhere else at the same time.
Grief is incomprehensible to those of us who think, and realistically so, that we will not lose a child before we die. It can be just as incomprehensible to those who lose loved ones when they were convinced, and counted on the fact, they would die first and wouldn’t have to experience the pain they have blocked out of their consciousness because it is just too difficult to imagine.

Books, articles and poems all have their places in the grief journey but none of them are a panacea for your individual grief. I have read several books, many articles and a few poems and I have garnered something from each but my grief is still here. Does grief hurt? Yes, it does, but my pain has finally gone through several wash cycles and come out cleaner. I don’t have the same number of bricks weighing down my chest now. The tears come less often but not necessarily less intensely. I can walk through a day and not think once of Joshua. I haven’t forgotten him, but I have placed him in a secret place known only to me and when I want to talk to him, I just lift him out of that place. It is becoming easier to lift him out because he weighs less now.

Grief for me now is like an unfinished painting. There are brush strokes yet to be applied, and I don’t know what the finished painting will look like. It is a symphony in my head with a cacophony of notes and a confusing cadence. It is simple and complicated at the same time. It is inexplicable.

And let us not forget those persons who are in our lives still. They grieve for your loss and for you, but I think it is unrealistic to expect them to understand and comprehend your loss. Each person’s grief is unique and each person responds differently. If your friends, or even loved ones, seem at a loss for words it’s because they probably are. They are more than likely scared. Scared that what happened to you could happen to them. They might feel that you are contagious somehow and just being around you is bad karma. Give them a break-they are human. They don’t mean to hurt or seem uncaring. It comes with the knowledge that they are truly powerless to change anything about the situation. Powerlessness is scary! It took me several years to understand that dynamic.
Grief sends out flirtatious signals. It beckons others to come close so they can hurt, so they can feel uncomfortable and scared too. Sometimes it is hiding behind a door just waiting for you to walk by so it can jump out and scare the life out of you. As humans we don’t gravitate to pain and uncomfortableness. We generally retreat from those emotions.

If I had any advice for a person who doesn’t know what to say to a grieving person, it would be this: Don’t try to fix them because grief isn’t fixable. It isn’t a problem, it is a way of life now for that person. It’s eternal. There isn’t a pill or potion that will make it better. Be patient, be kind and just be there-in the moment- with your heart ready to reach out if a grieving hand reaches out for you. There is no cure for grief so, despite how you might want desperately to heal the person who is grieving, realize that there is probably nothing you can say or do that will truly lessen the pain of the loss. Silence and a nod might be all that is required and, I can tell you from experience, those two actions can be powerful and cathartic. There were times that all I wanted was someone to listen to me spill my guts and not say anything to me-just be there.

If there is any grace in the pain of grief, then I believe it comes in the form of an awakening and cleansing of the spirit. A transformation of the soul and the knowledge that you are not alone and that you have something to give to others who are grieving.
That you have the strength to venture, unarmed, into the darkness that is part of grief – and listen. Listen with your heart and mind to the stories of others who are in pain. To take their pain and make a portion of their pain part of you.

The one truth that I now know, unequivocally, is that grief is painful and no one can take that journey and survive unchanged. Acknowledging that it is painful and will always hurt is the first step in healing and learning to live with the pain and the memories. I am still on that journey.

Used with permission from The Centering Corporation, 7230 Maple Street, Omaha, NE 68134

Mood Busters

by Elaine Stillwill

Is it hard to get out of bed in the morning? Even harder to make it through the day? Where do we get the energy to rebuild our life after our child or loved one has died? What helps us put one foot in front of the other, day after day, trying our hardest to cope and survive? What could give our hearts a boost, especially on a bad day? We can congratulate ourselves making it through anniversaries, birthdays, and the holidays, but what can we do on a regular day when our heart and soul ache for our child while we seem enveloped in a dark cloud and mired in black quicksand sucking the life out of us? What Mood Busters can we call on for relief?

After my 19 year old daughter Peggy died instantly in a freak car accident, my 21 year old son Denis died four days later from the same accident, the day after we buried Peggy. As I planned two separate funerals in one week, I wondered if I would ever get up again, much less smile, laugh or have a life. In those early days, each minute, hour and day was a struggle.

Luckily, along the way, I found a few things that comforted me and seemed to shorten the endless hours that challenged my broken heart. Each time I discovered something that eased my pain, I added it to my “Rescue List” so I could repeat it (and also remember it) for the next time I needed to scrape and claw my way out of that dark hole of grief. You, too, can create a list of “Revivers” to navigate you through a rough patch. You might like to try a few of my Mood Busters and then create some of your own.

Treasure that Book. Curling up on a comfy sofa or bed with an inspiring support book while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea or sipping a glass of wine, learning from those who walked before me brought moments of relief and hope to my fragile spirit. Inviting comforting words into my soul and taking time to ponder their motivating message was like handing me a roadmap out of my misery. It felt like an angel pointing the way to better days. Run to the library (155.937 section), your favorite bookstore, or check out amazon.com for a motivating book to give you ammunition to fight the gloom and anxiety. Fill your head with positive thoughts, inviting strategies, and inspiring phrases that speak to your heart. You might even want to write down or memorize some words, like those of Viktor Frankl advising us, “Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all you were intended to be.” You discover that words have magic and power and can be great Mood Busters.

Write Your Heart Out. No one ever suggested that I keep notes in a journal, recording the ups and downs of my rollercoaster days of grief. But instinctively, I helped my heart by writing about my children and about the things that helped me survive. I guess I was emptying my heart of the pain, pouring it onto paper – and later into my computer. It helped me express what I was feeling, allowing all the suffering to spill our rather than to fill up and later become a disastrous Niagara Falls. Writing helped me discover my pattern of grieving. That enabled me to make decisions and choices knowing what my heart needed as I was creating my “new normal.” Start jotting down a few sentences when you feel the blahs closing in. Discover the power of words as you reveal what makes you tick. Armed with the knowledge of what helps you and what makes you crazy, you can boldly face the enemy and watch those crippling emotions make a fast retreat as Mood-Busters take over and come to your aid.

Glue Yourself to Loving People. How wonderful I found it was to be surrounded with loving people who were simply there for me! No demands, no shoulds, no advice, just trying to make sure I was all right. They were like an invincible fortress around me as I struggled and fought with the gloom of the long, empty days without my two children. Surround yourself with these loving people. They listen to your story (without rolling their eyes), hear your moans and groans, wipe your tears, encourage you to take care of yourself, make no judgments and “walk the walk” with you. We might not be able to lean on immediate family members and close relatives since they, too, are battling grief, but good friends could be our anchor. They realize that our heartache and tears are a tribute to what we lost. They acknowledge that the depth of our pain testifies to the depth of our love. Since our grief gives our loss significance, we don’t want anyone to “fix it” or take it away. We just want to wallow in it, savoring every minute as we adjust to the loss of our child. Don’t let anyone hurry you. Make your own timetable. Go at your own pace. Stick with this special circle of loving friends. Welcome their calls or visits, share a cup of tea or friendly beer, designate chores to them that seem overwhelming to you, and bask in their love as they wrap you in hugs – all sure protections against dreary days. They are definite, valuable Mood Busters.

Revive the Spirit. It could be time to break out of your grief shell. Taking a peek at the calendar we can choose a date to do something fun that we enjoyed before our child died. It could be as simple as going to a movie, or rooting for Notre Dame. I walked the ocean beach, put up a Christmas tree, celebrated “Hallmark” occasions – all bringing back precious memories. Remember, a date on the calendar gives meaning to a day and gives us something to look forward to. Or maybe it is the time to schedule a get-away weekend, either to a relaxing resort or to visit that special person we would be thrilled to see. Every chance we got, my husband and I visited our daughter 250 miles away at college, totally enjoying seeing her and delighting in the amenities of a lovely hotel nearby. Just the change of pace, getting out of the house, taking a ride, seeing different scenery, enjoying being with loving company or just eating inviting meals could be a tonic for our aching heart. Plan ahead and keep that gloom at arms’ length by immersing yourself in the joys of yesterday that provide sweet memories and also in the creation of the new joys of today. Discover your own Mood Busters.

Keep Moving. When you’re grieving there’s no such thing as too much physical exercise. Get yourself up and moving, even if it’s just walking around the block. It gets you out of the house, seeing others, noticing nature, and away from sitting all day, popping pills, drinking too many relaxers, or raiding the refrigerator. In those dark days, my daily exercise, rain or shine, was walking my black lab Mickey three times a day. It was like a catharsis for me, walking together as I told him all my secrets and cried my brains out. We could jog and run, roll in the snow, and walk in the rain, wind and sub-zero temperatures – all refreshing and exhilarating to the spirit when grieving 24/7. Come to think of it, I think Mickey actually walked me around the block. Today many folks handle exercise a little differently – they run straight to the gym, especially when they’re having a bad day. They’re not ever afraid of those torture machines. They welcome them! They find that working-out doesn’t take away their excruciating grief pain, but it does clear their mind, exhausts their body, provides an outlet for their raw pent-up emotions, enables them to breathe easier and perhaps even get a better night’s sleep. The extra bonus is that they are taking good care of themselves while getting in really good shape to chase gloom away, a real Mood Buster.

Save the Day. Don’t let emotions, comments, situations, people, weather, panic attacks or Hallmark days get you down. Be prepared. Who you gonna call? Mood Busters, of course!!

Permission to use granted by Centering Corporation, 7230 Maple Street, Omaha, NE 68134

“A Man Called Ove” – A Movie Review

Paul

Paul Brustowicz

Do you know this man? He is almost sixty, thinning gray hair and overweight. Up until a few months ago he was married. He is childless and lives in the same apartment he shared with his wife for over forty years. He is one of those fastidious men who says what he means and means what he says. With him there is no gray, only black and white. He is an engineer and his preciseness is annoying. He speaks his mind. You have never seen him laugh or crack a smile. He always has his serious face on. He obeys the rules. When he was younger, you accepted his foibles because his wife was so delightful, now as an old man and widower those same qualities make him a curmudgeon whom you would rather ignore. He seems to have only one emotion: anger.

You can find that man in a recent Swedish movie, “A Man Called Ove”. I think it should have been called “The Curmudgeon Beats Grief.” Ove is a recent widower who is lost without his Sonja and he has no idea of how to deal with his grief. He doesn’t know he is grieving.

A series of flashbacks setup Ove’s personality and his life with Sonja. We see him as a nine year old at his mother’s funeral. His dad deals with his grief by showing Ove how to repair and maintain an automobile, a Saab. (The Saab becomes a running joke throughout the movie.) In another flashback, Ove is a late teen when his dad dies accidentally. Again no tears, just stoicism. Not long after he meets Sonja whom he marries.

In the present day, Sonja has been dead six months and Ove visits her grave daily with fresh flowers. He talks to her: declares his love and how he misses her and that he plans to join her soon. The cemetery scenes are almost comical. He brings a folding chair to sit by her grave; he spreads newspapers on the ground between headstones and lies down next to her grave as if he were in bed next to her.

Despairingly, he reports his daily rounds to Sonja along with his foiled suicide attempts. The new neighbors knocking at his door, the hangman’s rope breaking (he returns it for a refund), and a delivery boy asking him to shelter a friend. “It is impossible to kill myself!”

In between suicide attempts Ove opens his heart to people in need as he remembers Sonja’s good will and outreach to others. Against his better judgement he befriends a new young family on the block. He drives them to the hospital in an emergency; he babysits the children; he installs their dishwasher. In numerous acts of kindness for neighbors and others, Ove is dealing with his grief. He just doesn’t know it. Eventually, he gets to the point where he can share with the neighbor his life story with Sonja. When he finishes he realizes that life goes on and so will he. No more thoughts of suicide.

If you don’t mind subtitles and some sappiness, I recommend “A Man Called Ove”. It will give you another perspective on grief. You’ll see that grief, grieving and grief recovery are universal, even with subtitles.

Dance Lightly

My daughter-in-law works in the criminal justice system. She is a probation officer and also oversees parolees. She had her clients read an inspirational poem and think about what it means, what it says to them and how it applies to their lives. She posted a poem on her FB page for us to think about, and so I am taking a ques from her and sharing a poem with you.

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May you always dance lightly!

Strength of a Mountain

Strength of a Mountain

Strength of a Mountain

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle’s flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it … Dad

– Author Unknown

Remembering

Image result for images of memorial dayHeavenly Father,

On this Memorial Day, we pray for those who courageously laid down their lives for the cause of freedom. May the examples of their sacrifice inspire in us the selfless love of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bless the families of our fallen troops, and fill their homes and lives with Your strength and peace.

In union with people of goodwill of every nation, embolden us to answer the call to work for peace and justice, and thus, seek an end to violence and conflict around the globe.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

From the Archdiocese of Providence

 

 

Grief, Graduation and the Empty Nester

Maria Farrell For SCC calendar

Maria Farrell, Director
GriefWork: A National Servite Ministry of Compassion

It’s May, and for many families, that means graduation! It’s a happy time. A time of excitement and anticipation for the graduate. A time to plan out one’s life journey, to step out and become an adult.
And yet for parents, it can be a time of sadness. A time of nostalgia, looking back on how quickly the time has gone by. As a parent, I remember feeling very excited for my boys when they graduated. Both eagerly looking forward to the next exciting chapters in their lives.

I remember my mom telling me that it was hard on her and my dad as each of their six children moved out. It became quieter at home. Fewer voices, the phone didn’t ring as much, friendships that were forged because you had children in common began to dissolve. Mom and Dad missed having our friends come over and getting to see them and talk to them.

My husband and I became empty-nesters at the age of 44, well before any of our friends. Excited? Yes!… Uncertain? Yes!… Sad? Absolutely! Everything my mom had said was true. The house became quiet, no longer were the boys and their friends hanging out at our house, and some friendships did dissolve. Our friends were envious because we no longer had all of the running around to do. No more frantic schedules. We only had to worry about the two of us. We could go on great trips, do whatever we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it. All true. And we would get to that point. But first we grieved our losses.

We so missed the days of running around and the friends. Our roles as parents changed. The way we supported our sons changed. Cooking for two wasn’t nearly as fun as cooking for four plus any unexpected guests that showed up. Sometimes, I would think of the boys after they moved out, and I would get a bit teary. Although I was excited for them, I was sad for me. At the time, I didn’t really think of this as grieving, but I have come to realize that I experienced a loss. Grief isn’t reserved only for the death of a loved one. Grief can come upon us at different moments in our lives.

It’s ten years later now. The empty-nester grief moments have gone away. Our oldest has been married for 5 years and has a beautiful 2 year old daughter. Our youngest is getting married in just a few weeks. Over those years, my husband and I found new interests together, have traveled, made new friends, enjoy our life-long friends, and look forward to all of our new adventures.

By taking the time to grieve our loss and acknowledge the changes in our lives, we were able to enjoy our new lives and our new roles. Take the time!