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Tears of all

Today the loss of my father now gone five years slammed into me. It’s the insult of an unexpected burn or a pinched finger in the door. I’m left empty and angry at the pain.

As I age, I find there is less and less that moves me to highs or lows. Offenses that once brought immediate reaction and judgment have little effect. I absorb their assault as being more about someone else or something else outside of me. And the highs from a good movie, a get together, a beautiful gift that one day not so long ago overwhelmed my senses are warmly appraised but are processed in a more shallow, less complex place.

Deaths and births, small individual actions and the beauty of nature however pull strongly at me, shocking me as they evoke immediate and unexpected response. Responses that I cannot control. I cry with abandon at small flower or a child skipping and I am at the mercy of whatever it is inside of me that I seem not to own.

Next month a new grandchild will pull me into the unique beauty of a birth. Every birth is a fingerprint—never to be copied or confused with any other birth. I will wonder at this beginning as if I have never experienced another child entering this world. I know he’s coming, I will probably there as he takes his first breath yet the volcano of emotion will again slam into my heart.  Caught up in the purest connection of all life as one—my father to me, me to my son and now my grandson—I will stop breathing as I wait for his first breath and then tears will flow that belong less to me than to the world of joy and suffering.

susan_bioSusan Cain McCarty

 

Judy Zehr Shares Her Journey With Her Mom

Blissful + Kind-Hearted, October 2013
(full version found at http://eepurl.com/GQ8Az)

Hello dear ones,

Autumn is change; dying back, cooling down, tuning within. Autumn is sky. Autumn is clouds.

My Mom passed away this Autumn. Her ashes were spread under the yellowing Maple leaves behind the church we attended as children, where my Mother and Father were married, where we kids were baptized, where I sang in the choir until I became too cool for church and family and singing hundred year old hymns.

My Mom had become ill with c.diff., a superbug created from our over-use of antibiotics. C. diff isn’t so bad for healthy folks, but it can kill infants and the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Within 6 weeks my Mom went from walking, going out to lunch, shopping and laughing to wheelchair bound, mumbling, unable to lift her head or complete sentences. She could no longer feed herself, or use the restroom. 

I learned so much trying to help my Mom through this, and I don’t want to assume this will be interesting for all, so if you click on any of the linked blue words throughout this text, you will be able to read one of my lessons. That way, you can skip them or pick and choose what has interest for you. The whole list of lessons is at the bottom of this newsletter.

Of course it is the natural course of life to say goodbye to our parents. My Mother had Alzheimer’s, and she hadn’t really known my husband or children for over ten years. The last couple of years she only had a vague recollection of me. But none of that mattered at the end. Love and forgiveness. That’s one of my lessons, when it boils down to this transition, all you can feel is love and forgiveness. As blessed a transition as birth.

ButterfliesFamilyNature. Death is a great companion, a beautiful mediator, a most powerful guardian, a kiss-blowing spiritual sender- off.

When we experience death and loss we are facing, what we call in Emotional Brain Training (EBT),  an “essential pain” of life. When we face these essential pains, heart open, awake, feeling our real feelings and staying in our body (without numbing, avoiding, hiding, distracting, diverting, etc.) we begin to open up to the earned rewards, or silver linings of life. This is at the heart of spiritual and emotional growth, of our own development, of our personal journey.

I continue to be amazed at how helpful the EBT skills are in traveling through life’s challenges staying in relative balance, connection, and awareness. I found these skills  lifesavers in helping my Mom, family and self through this transition.

This season, I am offering an EBT and Beyondtele-group for advanced participants, and a beginning EBT tele-group for anyone new to the work. I am also offering an EBT providers-only tele-group too. If you are interested in more information or signing up, please email me

This too was one of my lessons, stay true to what you love, be real which means flawed, imperfect, broken. Cherish the falling apart, the aging, the dying. Feel, breathe, sing.

May your Autumn be filled with love, song and what’s real,

Judy

P.S. I found some very nurturing and supportive tools during this time that I’d like to share with you. Click here and you can see some of the books, meditations and practices that seemed to hold me through this transition.

My Lessons:

Clouds

My Mom was born and raised in the Midwest, as was I, right near Lake Michigan. There was something so compelling about the big sky, the big lake, and the glorious clouds that showed up season after season and seemed to prompt us to play, explore, believe. Here in Portland, the sky seems small as we have so many hills and huge trees.

If you are a cloud lover like me, and you haven’t seen this TED talk on clouds, please do so ASAP! What an amazing speaker and group dedicated to clouds. It’s title? Cloudy, with a chance of joy.

 Ashes

Both my parents were cremated and had purchased small “plots” under a “Remembrance Wall” behind the church they attended. One of the most difficult moments was seeing my brother put the ashes down into the ground. I’ve heard the same from friends who witnessed a body’s burial … the sinking of the casket into the ground, the first shovels of dirt dropped upon the casket ….the most devastating, breathless moments.

I realized that for me, there’s secret joy in death – the freedom from the body’s pain, the rising of the spirit, beyond the limits of our senses and perceptions. It seems that death is a great uplifting, and for me, spreading my ashes to the wind and sky feels more nurturing and joyful. Have you thought of your last moments, how you want to celebrate and let go?

C. Diff.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/c-difficile/DS00736

“Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. However, studies show increasing rates of C. difficile infection among people traditionally not considered high risk, such as younger and healthy individuals without a history of antibiotic use or exposure to health care facilities. Each year, more than a half million people get sick from C. difficile, and in recent years, C. difficile infections have become more frequent, severe and difficult to treat”.

What to do about superbugs? My Mom went into the hospital with a simple UTI, and came out with this virulent bacteria. She never licked it, even after rounds of antibiotics.

One thing we learned, she was not given the strongest antibiotics at first. She was treated with several rounds of ineffective antibiotics, antibiotics that physicians said work in 75% of cases, and are cheaper, so are first defense. If my Mom had received the stronger antibiotic, the one that costs more money and is not the first line of treatment, would she have been able to survive this superbug? Who knows, but what we did learn, for certain, our elders need advocates. My Mom needed the stronger antibiotic. She was in the 25%. She didn’t get it for months, and by the time she got it, she was beyond repair.

Information and advocacy. We all need it, and need it even more as we age.

Help my Mom

Honestly, it’s my Mom that is and was helping me. At her service my brother, sister and I shared some of the stories, values and “Mother wisdom” passed down from my Mom. Here’s what I shared:

*********

How lucky we are to have grown up with a Mom with such a big heart and strong character.

One thing Mom and I shared was a love for Winnie the Pooh. In fact, she taught me to read with Pooh books. So when Mom was ill I pulled out my old books and started to read. It had been almost 50 years. You can imagine my surprise as I realized Mom and Pooh Bear had amazing similarities – their philosophy of life, their wit and their big heart.

I have four quotes, straight from Winnie the Pooh’s mouth, to show you what I mean:

1. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

Mom lived in, and had a deep appreciation for, the present moment. In my generation, where I live, out west, people pay big bucks for fancy retreats to try to learn the Betty Zehr style of living – Be Here Now. Even as she aged and lost her memory, caregivers would tell us how much they loved our Mom, how she taught them to notice and appreciate the little things – the cherry tree blooming outside the window, or the pretty cloud in the sky, as if seeing these things for the first time. 

2. It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “what about lunch?”

Mom had a simplicity about her. She didn’t like to analyze things, she didn’t like to get all bothered by ideas, politics, deep discussions. I remember Alison and Dad getting into arguments over politics, economics, society, almost everything, but Mom would always just shrug. She had a “que sera, sera – whatever will be, will be”, approach to life, asking everyone to please calm down, let’s look on the bright side, let’s not worry about that now.

… and what’s for lunch?

3. Love is taking a few steps backward, (maybe even more) … to give way to the happiness of the people you love.

Maybe this describes all Moms, all Dads, all Families. Mom was big on selflessness for the greater good, for family, for community, for nature and life. She put up with cigar smoke, non-stop football, four loud and busy kids, a smorgasbord of pets, I can’t tell you how many wild and other animals I brought home to try to rescue and she’d always help me find a box, or heating pad, or a little eyedropper to try to feed the baby bunny or bird or frog. She rarely raised her voice. She rarely became ruffled. She almost always took a few steps backward to give way to what we loved.

4. I have one more quote, and this final pooh quote really reflects everything I think we are all saying here, with so much love and gratitude for our Mom, and also for our Dad.

How lucky we are to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Say Goodbye

“Every life comes with a death sentence.”   – Walter White, Breaking Bad.

“I don’t know how you say good-bye to whom and what you love. I don’t know a painless way to do it, don’t know the words to capture a heart so full and a longing so intense.”  – Laura Weiss, The Way It Ends
 
Sigh, my simple lesson here is that there is no good goodbye. Perhaps you’ve experienced a perfect good bye where all words were said, all feelings felt and shared, all peaceful and whole. For me, I learned that expecting this is unreasonable. My goodbyes always feel inadequate, half baked, tongue tied, marginal.
 
The heart so full, the longing so intense. Breathe. Maybe breathe together. Maybe curl up one last moment in a shared breath, a syncopated heartbeat. Touch warm skin. Breathe.

Alzheimer’s 

When my Mom began to lose her memory, first not remembering my husband, then her grandkids, and finally my brother, sister and me, I made the big mistake of following her lead and I began to lose my memory of her too. I know it is cliché, but I tended to become impatient, hurried when around her, focused on the “to do” list and slightly annoyed.
 
I didn’t pull out pictures and reminisce until she was very ill with the c.diff. Pulling out the pictures, making a slide show, sharing photos with my family, all brought my Mom back to life and began the extraordinary wave of love and forgiveness.
 
And that was my lesson. Pull out the photos of your elders and hold the memory, as they lose theirs. Just because they forget, doesn’t mean you have to. Remember the good, the moment of joy, and rejoice in the remembering. Relive it, and it will be a balm for an impatient and annoyed mind.

Love and Forgiveness 

I know we all have constraints on what we can give to and do for each other. But what I learned is that when I nudge myself to give more, to take a more selfless path if possible, the returns are immense. OK, yes, deep fatigue maybe. Maybe it will take a while to get back on my own track, but the love and forgiveness that comes from a bit more selfless path is so worth it.
 
It sounds so cliché, but “what can I give?” is a much more satisfying question than “what can I get?” And it’s that deep, rolling satisfaction that feels like swinging in the sun, laughing alongside a river, walking barefoot on soft grass.

Butterflies

What do you know to be true? What are you not certain about, but have a hunch? I was pondering this one morning as I walked to the hospital to visit my Mother. I realized that I’m not an atheist, but I’m also not a believer in a theistic universe as depicted in any religions I’ve studied. I’m not an agnostic, although I can empathize with that point of view. It’s studying science that fills me with so much wonder and mystery, so much longing and possibility, that I feel certain that there is something greater happening than the simple structures of our every day lives.  In other words, I was thinking about God.
 
Here is what happened. I was pondering all this, at 6 am on a beautiful summer morning, walking to the hospital. Suddenly, a very large black and blue butterfly flew out of a bush right toward me. I grew up in the Midwest, and I have never seen a butterfly like this before. It looked like it belonged in the Amazon. It flew right up to me, and then circled around me. I spun around watching its flight. Time seemed to stand still and it’s large glistening wings flapped in slow motion. I stood breathlessly still as it flew away, in a leisurely, curious way, as if to say ….what was it saying?
 
A butterfly, a symbol of transformation, of the struggle in change and loss and letting go and the stunning beauty, the lightheartedness, the joy of becoming.
 
So maybe it’s simple. May we move through this life becoming. May we welcome death as another transformation into more profound beauty and mystery.

And every common bush afire with God; 
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries

Family

A deeper love and devotion, a wider, more inclusive net. That’s all I can say.

Nature
 
Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

                                    – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I know this sounds redundant and simplistic, but almost everyone I work with mentions the joy and comfort found in nature. Some people love walks in the forest. Others love the tides and drama of the ocean. Some love their pets, their backyard birds and gardens. When we ask, what brings you joy, almost everyone mentions some part of nature that they truly love.
 
My Mom loved nature. She had a passion for her garden, birds, rocks, water, trees. Once again I realize am nothing without this stunning green planet to hold me and carry me through. (Have you seen the movie, Gravity, yet?) Time to get off my couch and do what my Mom did, volunteer to support the planet and the nature I love, contribute to organizations that are honoring, saving and respecting nature, wake up and speak up — be a voice that will help make a difference for generations to come.

Companion

“This is how it is not. It is not that we have a meeting with death somewhere out in the future. But rather we are on a pilgrimage here on this planet and death is our great companero, our great companion. It was She who cradled and protected us as were being born from our mother’s thighs. She steps every step we step, sings every song we sing and weeps when we weep and it is She, death, the best friend, who will midwife us again in the second birth at the end of this life, the birth into the next world.”  – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Radiant Coat

EBT and Beyond Groups

EBT, Emotional Brain Training, is a comprehensive program which teaches you the skills to retrain your own brain: the way you process stress and the way you cope with challenges, your mood, behavior and focus. EBT was life saving for me, and transformational for so many of my clients. Why? We learn to move away from numbing, negative emotions and moods, addictions and excesses, and move toward feeling, expressing and experiencing life with joy and balance. Participants find results with all sorts of challenges: weight, depression, mood, anxiety, spending, clutter, relationship problems and addiction.
 
I have beginning and advanced telegroups available. Call or email if you have questions.

Sing

One of the things we did at my Mom’s bedside was sing to her. She seemed to recognize many of the old songs we all loved. If nothing else, we got great joy from singing together and sharing those moments of love and loss. We have begun to “sing our grind ins” in EBT, which means sing to ourselves our new expectations, positive, powerful thoughts, affirmations, new beliefs. Sing to ourselves our hopes, dreams and possibilities. Research suggests that we are more likely to remember, and be moved by, a song than simple words.
 
We had a bagpiper at my Mother’s funeral (she was very Scottish) and we had a guitarist play the Beatles song “Blackbird”. Here’s an audio version of this haunting song with lyrics. (covered by Sarah McLachlan). Enjoy.

Books, Meditations and Practices:

The Radiant Coat: Myths and Stories about the Crossing Between Life and Death – Clarissa Pinkola Estes  (borrowed from the wonderful Jeanne Tyler)
 
Reiki Relaxation by BronwenSteine — for some reason this was the only meditation CD that helped me feel better.

The Way To Love by The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello

The Alzheimer’s Association Portland Fall Schedule

The Alzheimer's Association Portland Fall Schedule

Sign up today at 800.272.3900

TRIPS, POPCORN AND MOVIES FOR PARENTS!

16062387-3d-glasses-movie-popcorn-dog-watching-a-film

 

When I began looking at assisted living homes for my 92-year old dad, I found some amazing places offering game rooms, ice-cream parlors, all-day popcorn machines, opportunities for group trips to casinos and even cruises. Wow. I was ready to move in myself.

Most of the large and/or chain assisted living or continuing-care homes have well-paid marketing specialists who realize that their target audience is often the adult children of older adults. These adult children are often active Boomers who, themselves, would enjoy having a full schedule of activities available.

It’s hard, at any age, to think of those much younger or much older than we are so we think about what it’s like for us and apply those feelings and thoughts to our parents.

I try to remind myself that at 64, I don’t want, need or enjoy many of the accouterments of a 35-year old. I would hate for my 35-year-old son to define my lifestyle through his personal perspective of what brings him joy and purpose.

If it’s necessary for your parents to move into some type of assisted living, consider bringing in an objective third party such as a Geriatric Care Manager experienced in working with elders. Then, with this objective third party, you and your parent(s) can explore what environment truly supports an empowering and purposeful daily life. Many, particularly when over 85, prefer a smaller environment that is better supported in adult foster care or, if at all possible, additional help so that they can “age in place” in their home.

 

 

Grasshoppers Took the Sunshine Away

Image

While visiting my 87-year old Uncle and going through boxes of old pictures, we came across a letter that my Great Uncle Adolph dictated to his daughter, my mother’s niece. The letter spoke of their trials and tribulations and the hope and promise of migrating from Germany to Nebraska.

He spoke of trading one set of hardships for another. In Germany they were poor and had little hope of improving. In Nebraska, they had more opportunity to improve their lives but times in the 1930’s were tough. There was famine, poverty and for a while, the grasshoppers ruined the small crops that had survived.  He told his niece, “The grasshoppers took the sunshine away”—a poignant comment that stuck with me because it says much about the overall state of the struggles we all face in this life.  There are desperate, dark days when we think we will never see the sun again.

I think that aging for many is one of the toughest trials we face. The good news is that nearly all of us have survived and learned from a lifetime of difficult and sometimes devastating times. These challenges may be painful but they do leave us with tremendous coping skills that will serve us well when the going gets tough as we lose some of our independence through cognitive or physical loss.

Last week I met a woman in an assisted living facility who was confined to a wheel chair and her sight was nearly gone. Her hearing was marginal.  Yet she was a joyful, lovely person. I asked her what brought meaning and purpose to her at different times during her life and she said, “Oh it doesn’t change. I may not be able to dance a jig but my purpose was never about how I looked or what I did. It’s about enjoying every day the Lord gives me and realizing the beauty of this world.”

I pray that I that I use all my gifts and skills to help me age as gracefully as she is aging.  I doubt if the grasshoppers blocked her sunshine for any length of time!

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