In His Honor - Mrs. Claus Creates Memories for Family

Charles MacNeil playing Santa Claus for his family at Christmas.Charles MacNeil playing Santa Claus for his family at Christmas.(l-r) Colleen Freeman & Mary MacNeil(l-r) Colleen Freeman & Mary MacNeilFor twenty years, Charles MacNeil played Jolly Old St. Nick for his family at Christmas, dressing up at their holiday party in a bright red suit and flowing beard. He always called his wife of 69 years “Holiday Mary” for the joyful way Mary MacNeil celebrated every holiday, including Christmas. Charles died about five years ago, but in 2013 Mary decided to honor his memory by continuing his Christmas tradition. She dresses up as Mrs. Santa Claus, hands out gifts and is readily available for lots of photos with her six children, 21 grandchildren, 41 great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren, whoever can fit on her 91-year-old lap. She plans to continue the tradition as long as she is able.

Mary’s mother had died when Mary was only six months old, so she and her sister were raised by their father, a Polish immigrant. “My father had nothing,” says Mary. “But he made every holiday important. You have to have something to look forward to. My sister and I had big long stockings. We got ribbon candy every year. We had a roast and potatoes and a pie from the bakery. It was special.”

Charles and Mary were brought together by Charles’ mother and sister. According to Mary, they weren’t too fond of Charles’ current girl friend and thought that Mary would be a much better match. Apparently, Charles agreed. So did Mary. “He had nice brown eyes and long eyelashes and dimples,” she says, adding, “That wouldn’t affect me now. He was nice and sweet and had a great sense of humor.”

They married a year later. Charles was twenty; Mary, seventeen.

Charles served in World War II for two years as a carpenter and continued working with that craft all his life, starting out earning a dollar a day and later establishing a business as a homebuilder especially renowned for the stairs he created (He playfully called his business Stairs R Us). Mary’s career centered on her children, eight altogether (Two died in infancy) over a 21-year span.

Holiday Mary was adept at filling their home with warmth and love. From green shamrock pancakes on Saint Patrick’s Day to fireworks on the 4th of July to a living room overflowing on Christmas, every holiday was special.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of fun,” says daughter Colleen Freeman.

Even illnesses were special: patients were brought food on a tray, given backrubs, and provided enough attention so that, according to Colleen, “When anyone was sick it was like a holiday. We didn’t mind getting sick.”

“And she’s the queen of comfort food. Everything is always delicious.”

At age 73, Mary began working at daughter Charlotte Wildowsky’s laundromat and liquor store in Oakdale, Connecticut, continuing until the age of 88, when she needed back surgery. Charles, who had experienced more than one bout of cancer in their lifetime together, died at the age of 90 of a previously-undiagnosed stomach cancer. What Mary misses most about him is his sense of humor and how smart he was. He also wrote poetry, which she greatly admired. (See Charles’ poem, “Christmas Morning”)

Granddaughter Amanda, Mary MacNeil as Mrs. Santa, great grandchildren Athena, Alex, and Demetri.Granddaughter Amanda, Mary MacNeil as Mrs. Santa, great grandchildren Athena, Alex, and Demetri.Mary MacNeil and great granddaughter, Eva Svata.Mary MacNeil and great granddaughter, Eva Svata.These days, she is spry and active at Our Lady of the Lakes Roman Catholic Church, where she has many friends. She also drives herself to the Senior Center twice a week to take stretching classes. Mary used to take the gentle yoga class but doesn’t anymore. She is also well recognized among friends and family for her bread making abilities and each loaf is in high demand. At 91 her hair is beautifully coifed, her make up artfully applied, and nails perfectly manicured. She has a welcoming smile and a hug as she greets people.

In 2013 Colleen attended the 68th Annual Jack Frost Bazaar at Niantic Community Church in Connecticut, where she saw Iva Thomas dressed up as Mrs. Claus, greeting children, and handing out small gifts. Inspired, Colleen suggested to Mary that she might enjoy taking over Charles’ role at the family Christmas party by playing Mrs. Claus. Colleen rounded up the appropriate attire—red dress, bonnet, wire glasses—and Holiday Mary supplied the holiday spirit. And now the tradition continues. With a big family of 72, Mary hands out a favorite recipe on cards with a photo of her, a holiday treat treasured by each family member.

“I thought the outfit was beautiful. I enjoy the children most. It was a little strange at first,” says Mary.

“Some recognized me but not the younger ones.”

“She is an inspiration for us,” says Colleen about her mother. “We figure if she can do it, we can. She is the matriarch of the family and sets an example for us. She always has such a positive attitude about everything. And it is heartwarming to see my mother do this and remember my Dad.”

 

 

Christmas Morning

By Charles "Charlie" Richard MacNeil

They all hung up their stockings,
Santa's snack, a piece of cake.
It's their gift of giving back to him,
It's one they love to make.

Deep within the evening's darkness
the jolly man gives gifts galore.
Leaves them dolls and trucks and trains
and bikes and balls and much, more.

Comes time to open presents
to see what the jolly man has left.
You watch their faces beaming
as they wonder and they guess.

It matters not that Santa gets
the credit for your gifts.
Just seeing their heart's desires fulfilled
makes your spirit lift.

It isn't long at all before
all presents have been bared.
Mama checks discarded wrapping
to see what can be spared.

You watch them from your easy chair
to see if you've succeeded.
Their beaming faces tell you
their expectations were exceeded.

Seems it's over in a moment
another Christmas past.
Time to start preparing
for next year's Christmas Blast!

 

Ask Jane - Surviving the Holidays

Christmas DecorationsYes, it’s that time of year; the time of year when ads on television, radio, in magazines and newspapers all extol the bliss of family life. It’s the time of year when people usually look forward to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays with loved ones.

But not you, not this year, because you are now a widow/er. Chances are that the prospect of the holidays without your spouse is inconceivable, let alone tolerable. Even if you have adult children or other family members who want you to join them, you know it won’t be the same with that empty place at the table.

If you have younger children, you need to be there for them as they face their first holidays without both parents. It seems overwhelming to deal with your own grief as well as that of your children. It’s a good idea to speak to staff at their schools to see if there are groups available for children who have lost parents.

You feel sadder as the days go by, and you just can’t wait for the holidays to be over so you won’t have to worry about how you’re going to endure them. Every day you find yourself dreading them more and more. It doesn’t seem right; it doesn’t seem fair that everyone else is excited and happy.

Except that it’s not true that everyone is happy and in the company of loved ones during the holidays. It’s a myth. Many people like you have been widowed, others have been divorced, some feel trapped in unhappy marriages, and still others have never found anyone to truly love them at all. Many of these people are going to be alone, or with others but still feeling alone, during the holidays. They will cook the food, put on a happy face, and go through the motions, struggling, like you, to survive the holidays.

Nevertheless, the holidays are going to come, whether you want them to or not. May I suggest that instead of worrying and getting more depressed, you make a plan for something different that you can do?

For example, if you have been hosting Thanksgiving for the family for years, let them know that you have chosen not to do so this year, but that you will gladly join them elsewhere. If no one offers to host Thanksgiving, make plans with a friend to go out to a good restaurant for dinner. Many restaurants have wonderful homemade Thanksgiving dinners, you don’t have to cook or clean up, and the different location may help you enjoy yourself in the present instead of thinking about the past.

Town senior centers or community centers offer social programs like dinners, group travel, and activities you can participate in with others. You may find companionship in these types of social activities, as well as make new friends. These may be particularly good resources for widowers, who may have a harder time than widows during the holidays, as women are more used to social networking than men, and men are not as accustomed to expressing their feelings as women.

Letting the holidays come without planning how you are going to deal with them will make the season harder. Instead of dwelling on what you have lost, why not focus on those who have even less? Helping others is a great antidote for depression. Some people don’t have enough to eat because they’ve lost their job. Maybe you could volunteer at the local food bank or donate food. Some people are homeless during the winter. Why not volunteer your time or supplies like blankets or socks? Shelters overflow with people in need this time of year, people who need all the help they can get. You need to keep yourself busy.

It’s harder to feel bad for yourself when you are talking to someone who has less, or nothing. You’ll also find that recipients of your generosity can be incredibly grateful for your kindnesses. If you are part of a faith community, perhaps you could take charge of a project. You might also find volunteer work at your community center or local social services.

Make a plan to keep yourself busy during the holidays. Make a commitment to occupy your time, so you won’t have time to think about the changes in your life. Before you know it, you will find the holidays behind you. Make a plan for a way to help others, not just for them, but for yourself. This is the true spirit of the holidays: sharing our bounty and giving of ourselves. If you give of yourself, the holidays will pass more quickly, and the rewards will be great.

Questions in regard to life and family issues may be submitted to Jane at Pathfinder Magazine at widowedpathfinder.com/contacts/questions-to-jane-milardo, and she will make every attempt to respond to as many as possible in her column, Ask Jane.

Health & Wellness - Food as a Holiday Gift

Mince PiesHandmade gifts are the best kind, particularly when they are edible and prettily packaged. Delight your friends with homemade treats that are both frugal and festive.

For not much money and very little time you can make homemade gifts that friends will love! Our kitchen cupboards hold a treasure trove of edible goods ready to be transformed into homemade holiday treats. Homemade jams and chutneys are welcome alternatives to store-bought versions. Just add a simple ribbon and a handwritten label for the perfect gift.

A touch of ingenious packaging — a pretty ribbon, unusual bottle, small box, basket and a stylish paper and tag — and you are ready for the giving season.

The food recipes I have chosen are easy to make, and offering them to friends and family is much more than a small gesture: it is a personal one sharing the best sentiments of the season.

Festive Mini Mince Pies

These bite-sized beauties are special for the holiday season.

INGREDIENTS

1 pack of ready made pastry short-crust or puff pastry

14 oz. jar of mincemeat
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 390 Fahrenheit, 360 for fan oven. Defrost frozen pastry according to instructions.

2. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry. Using a small round cutter, stamp out 12 rounds. Line a 12-hole tart sheet with the pastry rounds and spoon a generous teaspoon of mincemeat into each case. Roll out the pastry trimmings, cut out small stars and trees, and place on top of the mince pies.

3. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 360 Fahrenheit (320 for fan oven) and bake for a further 8-10 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack, and then dust with confectioners’ sugar.

4. Store in an airtight container.

The holidays are always a busy time so you might want to make the dough up ahead of time. It freezes for up to three months, so you can include freshly made cookies in your gifts or take them to a party without any last minute effort. This next recipe yields 16 festive cherry bars, perfect for a holiday party.

White Christmas Cherry Bars

Bing CherriesINGREDIENTS

cup sweetened dried cherries or cranberries
cup white chocolate or vanilla milk chips
cup light brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk biscuit mix
1 large egg
cup (1 stick) melted margarine or butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Stir dry ingredients together in a medium-size mixing bowl.
3. Add melted butter or margarine, vanilla extract, and beaten egg.
4. Mix thoroughly and spread into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray.
5. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the bars are light and the center is almost set.

Oatmeal Raisin Spice Cookies

This recipe yields 36 cookies and will put everyone in the mood for the winter holidays.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
tsp. salt
cup white sugar
cup dark brown sugar
2 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
cup raisins
cup softened butter or margarine
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Mix dry ingredients.
4. Stir in softened butter or margarine, beaten egg, and vanilla.
5. Mix until completely blended.
6. Shape into ball the size of walnuts.
7. Place two inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
8. Bake 11-13 minutes until edges are lightly browned.
9. Let cool for five minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
10. Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.

CookiesFruitHost a Cookie Exchange!

Hosting a cookie exchange at home with friends is a lovely way to start the holiday season. Cookies always taste better when shared!

Just invite a small group of friends along for morning coffee and ask them to bake or bring a dozen cookies. Everyone will go home with a great assortment of cookies and probably some new recipes to try along with some festive cheer!

Fresh Fruit Basket

Last but not least, a homemade fresh fruit basket can make the perfect gift for those friends who don’t want to overindulge during the holidays. Both refreshing and healthy! Simply chose a small selection of fresh fruits, perhaps with some seasonal dried fruits or nuts, arrange, and wrap if you wish. Done in minutes!

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!

Finance - Santa Is Shopping on a Shoestring: Sometimes Less Is More

Gift card restaurantWineI’ve always seen the winter holidays with all their gift giving as somewhat of a mixed blessing. They can be fun and joyous and filled with a sense of wonder and surprise. We make extra time for family and friends, baking, and feasts full of age-old traditions. But for many the holidays are also filled with stress, anxiety, pressure, objectionable time with friends and family—and let’s be honest—they have on more than one occasion maxed out a credit card or two (or three). We get sucked into hyper-consumerism at its finest, spending our hard earned money (or credit) for gifts about which we truly have to wonder: are they really wanted? Are they loved and appreciated? Or will they perhaps be stuck in the back of a closet until enough time has lapsed for us to either re-gift the treasure or toss it entirely?

I’m a minimalist at heart, and although I know everyone isn’t into that less-is-more thing, I have a few suggestions to make gift giving less expensive and more meaningful. Consider the possibility that for this season, less just might be more.

Rather than giving more stuff, think about your gift giving in terms of experiences, consumable items, useful gifts, handmade creations, and gifts that make a difference in someone’s life. These gifts don’t have to cost a lot. Many can be found at your local dollar store. In fact, anyone can find a really nice gift for $50, but what if you don’t want to spend that much? Here are 15 gift ideas for under 25 dollars, ten dollars, or even five dollars. They’re easy to make, find online, or buy at the dollar store.

Save gas, save time, and keep it simple.

Gifts for Under 25 Dollars

1. Give a tour of Italy.

For the wine lovers in your family, pack up three or four bottles of different wines, from Italy or anywhere you like, to tour through over the new year. I did this for my son and packaged the gift in an old wooden wine crate the package store gave me for free with shredded newspaper as a bed. I wrote a rhyming poem filled with wine facts to go with it. You can get wine for $4-$6 a bottle that isn’t half bad. Have any money left over? Pick up a couple wine glasses from the dollar store.

Santa2. Fund a flock of chicks.

Heifer International is a nonprofit, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending hunger and poverty and caring for the Earth through more than temporary solutions. The organization offers opportunities to improve quality of life by providing livestock, trees, seeds and training to families in more than 40 countries, including the United States. Your $20 donation can buy a family a flock of chicks. Those chicks grow, lay eggs, make more chicks, provide food, provide income, and more. Choose from the many other options that you can find through the catalog at www.heifer.org.
Perhaps you prefer to buy a llama or a camel. What a nice gift! And you don’t even have to clean up after them.

3. Frame the house.

If a family member has a home filled with wonderful memories, take a nice photo of it when no one’s looking and put it into a fine matted frame to fit in with the decor. I did this for my sister who has everything she could want. She is tough to buy for, but she loved the photo and hung it right up. Make sure there is a hanging apparatus on the back before you wrap it. It’s a gift that will be treasured forever.

4. Put together a writing kit.

Order personalized address labels (www.vistaprint.com) for the letter writer in your family. Include some personalized blank note cards as well as sympathy and get well cards. Throw in a special pen or two and a book of stamps. Enclose them all in a fancy photo box from your local craft store. This is especially appreciated by homebound or older folks who may not have an interest in sending emails. There is something very special about receiving hand written notes and letters, and something very special about those who send them. Why not encourage the beautiful art of letter writing?

5. Let them eat out.

Okay, so you’re thinking. “How can anyone eat out for under $25?” I’ll tell you how. You can dine out several times for $25. Restaurant.com gift certificates (www.restaurant.com) go on sale with promotion codes for five dollars for $25 gift certificates.

That’s right.

For five dollars you can buy a restaurant gift certificate worth $25. If you buy five for $25 you have five trips to your favorite restaurant(s) for only $25. They do come with various rules and stipulations, so be sure to read the fine print, but why not? This is a consumable gift, an experience that will be appreciated over and over, and the recipient just might think of you with each bite.

giftGifts for Under Ten Dollars

6. Feed your foodie friend’s heart.

Fill a basket or gift bag with an assortment of condiments, spices and sauces for the cook or sandwich lover in the family, especially one who likes to experiment. A recent trip to the dollar store revealed a wide assortment of possibilities, each for only a buck. There were grainy mustard, teriyaki sauce, hot sauce, pepperoncini, asparagus tips, olives, minced garlic, basil, old bay seasoning and lots more, including baskets and gift bags.

7. Make that car shine.

Who wouldn’t want this? Back at the dollar store, you’ll find a selection of vehicle paraphernalia including air fresheners, dash wipes, brake fluid, tire gauge, USB car charger, microfiber wash mitts, and things I didn’t even know I needed for a car. Grab a bucket and a handful of these goodies with an ever-welcome I.O.U. to detail or wash their car.

8. Donate water.

Charitywater.org (www.charitywater.org) is a non-profit organization which brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. One hundred percent of the donations to Charity Water are promised directly to fund clean water projects. According to its website, one in nine people on this earth do not have access to clean drinking water. What an amazing gift to give in the name of someone you love, and you can donate any amount.

9. Make an heirloom.

Frame a small heirloom handkerchief or doily. This is a sweet idea, especially if you’ve had special linens passed down in your family. If not, many consignment and antique shops carry vintage linens that can be matted on contrasting fabric and framed for a lovely gift. Visit www.pinterest.com for ideas for framing.

10. Make the gift certificate for a book special.

I’ve heard some people say that they don’t like giving gift certificates, as if the act conveys that they didn’t care enough to go the extra mile. But the reality is you are honoring their interest by choosing a place that you know they frequent or have interest in, and you are allowing them to choose. Unless we have someone’s Christmas list, can we really know what book they want? To make the certificate even more special, create an origami box to wrap it in. It’s really easy and you can make it with printed paper or start with white paper and paint it yourself. Here’s a link on how to fold your origami box with a lid. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2jCrjwCYzs. Then slip your $10 gift card in. What’s not to love!

Gifts for Under Five Dollars

11. Fill a mason jar with candy.

Mason jars are all the rage this year, so let’s jump on that bandwagon. The rustic vintage simplicity of a mason jar and anything you put in it is sure to please. You can buy them individually at craft stores or by the case at department and hardware stores. Fill them with Hershey kisses or another favorite candy and tie a ribbon around the cap. It’s a great hostess gift. It’s good for anyone you want to share a little sugar with.

12. Honor quiet time for reflection.

Hardcover composition notebooks and other types of journals are available at the dollar store along with incense, candles and candle holders. For the reflective member of your tribe, consider putting a gift bag together that says, “I know and honor this about you.” For a few dollars that means a lot.

13. Celebrate the fingers and toes!

Put together a goodie bag with an assortment of nail files and polish for only a buck apiece for the Diva in your life. Offer to give a manicure or pedicure to that special friend or relative. Add a small tube of Udderly Smooth hand cream, the best moisturizer ever, and massage those tootsies.

14. Honor the chocolate lovers!

Bake brownies in a new pan from the dollar store. Wrap them while still in the pan in a remnant of Christmas fabric and tie a new spatula on top with a satin ribbon. Home baked goodness!

15. Lastly, and more valuable than any of these gifts combined, tell the people in your life what they mean to you. Write it, sing it, paint it, but let them know. Value? Priceless!

Happy holidays and happy shopping.

Featured Widow/er - Laurie Boske Chooses to Make It a Great Day

Laurie BoskeLaurie BoskeAt Brownstone Intermediate School in Portland, Connecticut, Principal Laurie Boske begins each day by announcing an affirming, empowering message for her students: “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.”

“I live my own life that way. I choose to make it a great day,” she adds.

Laurie grew up in Berlin, Connecticut and attended Southern Connecticut State University and later, UMass at Amherst, where she earned her Masters of Arts in Communication Disorders. She worked as a speech pathologist in the Middletown school system for 17 years before she returned to Southern to obtain her administrator’s certification, hoping to better help special education students.

Laurie became the Director of Special Education in Bolton for four years and then took a position closer to home as the assistant principal in Cromwell. In 2007, she accepted her current position in Portland. She loves “the connection with families, students, staff. We have fun and we laugh, but we also get the work done. In 2011 we became a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

She met her husband Ron in 1986 after she’d applied for a summer job as a police dispatcher for the Rocky Hill Police Department. He was the officer who was administering the aptitude test necessary for the position. She never got the job, but she did get Ron. They lived in the same apartment complex and made intentional efforts to run into each other. They dated awhile, married, and had a son, Collin, who is now 23.

“Ron was serious at times but also goofy,” says Laurie. “He really cared about his job and wanted to be the best he could be.”

Ron entered the Marine Corps right out of high school, served six years (two years each in Washington D.C.; Newport, Rhode Island; and Okinawa Japan), and received an honorable discharge. Then he became a police officer, eventually leaving his position as sergeant at the police department in Rocky Hill to work with the Connecticut State Police as a firearms instructor, and in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services division. Ron’s father had also been a state trooper. Family was a huge priority for him.

“He really loved just doing stuff for me,” says Laurie. “He cared about me and Collin. He was our vacation planner and a grill master. Every year we would go to our timeshare in Newport, Rhode Island for one week.”

But there were continuing tensions as well. Ron, a high-functioning alcoholic, struggled with an addiction that created distance between him and Laurie.

He rarely took a sick day, but the week of his death, they had both been home sick. “He had a cough and wouldn’t go to the doctor,” recalls Laurie. The day Laurie had to return to work, she left Ron in bed. At school she received a call that Ron had collapsed in the grocery store and was in the hospital. It was later revealed that he had died in the neighborhood market from problems associated with his drinking. That was March 29, 2011. He was 54 years old.

Laurie returned to work after the funeral, hoping to set the example for the kids and staff that life goes on, “even when it sucks sometimes.” She and Collin brought Ron’s ashes to Arlington National Cemetery for a ceremony with honors including a gun salute and the playing of taps. Last December, she returned to Arlington, where she volunteered with Wreaths across America, working with others to lay wreaths on veterans’ graves at over 800 locations throughout America.

Laurie’s capacity for loss had been strengthened, if that can ever be said, through other monumental losses in her life. He father committed suicide 11 years ago at the age of 80, and she lost her best friend, The Reverend Dr. Janet Ritchie, to ovarian cancer in 2001. She carries three Mass cards in her wallet and is quick to share them as she shares her story. In some way they are her tokens of survival in trying times.

But she does so much more than survive. She thrives.

After losing Ron she felt a need to “re-invent” herself. “It’s been about gaining control. I felt like life was out of control. I thought, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’”

First, she went on line and found support for practical chores like dealing with paperwork and legal issues. Then she decided to bring to fruition some of the items that had been on her and Ron’s “to do” list. Making improvements to make her house her own felt good and gave her a sense that life wasn’t quite so out of control. Projects included remodeling her kitchen, changing the fireplace over to gas, and tearing down her deck to make a patio. She redesigned her wedding and engagement rings them into one ring that she now wears on her middle finger.

“This is me in my new life,” she says. “Our house, over 25 years old, was falling apart. Insurance allowed me to make some changes. I felt a little guilty about that. But it’s not my time to stop living. Ron died, I didn’t. It sucks and it’s awful, but I’m a positive person. In my life I try to see the good in everything. I miss his companionship, but I don’t think I’ll get married again. And I’m not going to stop doing things I like because Ron has died. I do think about downsizing at some point.”

Others benefit from Laurie’s new life. She volunteers at the Connecticut Humane Society where she occasionally fosters pets; she also acts as an ambassador for the organization. She also volunteers her time at Catales Inc., (also known as Cat Tales), a rescue organization in Middletown, where she cleans litter and cages, feeds cats, and gives medication as needed. She has been donating blood through the Red Cross for more than 25 years. Whether she is caring for her aging mother, guiding her son through college, nurturing young minds at her school, or caring for our furry friends, her offerings of love and care continues well past her pain. This woman of great strength feels compelled to enrich the lives of others.

“I’ve always felt it’s important to give back. I’m trying to find my passion so that I have some direction in retirement. I don’t plan to sit around but plan to spend a lot of time volunteering.”

She suggests that potential volunteers find their own passion by asking themselves what makes them smile. “What are your own interests? Head toward those.”

“Grief is like a wave, out of the blue, it hits you,” says Laurie. “But I’ve got to keep moving and enjoy my life and give back to the people, a lot of good friends, who have kept me going. Each day I say to the kids, “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” I choose to make it a great day.”

 

Spirituality - Laughter Yoga Proves Good for the Body and Soul

Mimi Claire PoitrasMimi Claire PoitrasWe live in a culture too often clouded with despair and darkness, hatred and hostility, anger and animosity. We work long hours in the name of climbing corporate ladders, keeping up with those Joneses. We steep ourselves in sadness while neglecting the simple joy and laughter that nurture us.

Increasingly people are letting go of despair and darkness and embracing opportunities to experience joy and happiness in life. As a culture we are craving more joy. One example is the success of The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Ruben that chronicles her year-long journey toward a happier life. It spent more than a year and a half on the New York Times Best Seller list. According to her website www.gretchenrubin.com, The Happiness Project has sold more 1.5 million copies in North America alone and has been translated into 30 languages. People want more joy in their life and they are looking for ways to find it.

One such way, “Laughter Yoga,” was introduced by Indian physician Madan Kataria in 1995. Laughter Yoga incorporates laughter with the breath work and stretching of yoga. According to Laughter Yoga International, at www.laughteryoga.org, clinical research in India and the United States indicates that laughter, both “fake and real,” promotes physical and psychological well-being “by lower[ing] the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood.” Laughter Yoga can improve your mood on a bad day, reduce stress, create an aerobic exercise experience, strengthen the immune system, and help you maintain a positive attitude during challenging times.

Mimi Claire Poitras is a massage and expressive arts therapist as well as a certified Laughter Yoga instructor who takes the message of this joy-filled experience wherever she finds open doors and hearts. However she has additional reasons for trying Laughter Yoga, spiritual reasons.

Mimi Claire, who grew up in Quebec and was raised Roman Catholic, came to the United States in 2000 after meeting her future husband while on a Buddhist retreat. “When you are on retreat your heart is so big,” says Mimi Claire, reflecting on that experience. “I believe in God and the language of the heart. I see the beauty and that we are all children of God. I still feel this is where I belong.” The marriage lasted five years, with Mimi Claire embracing the adventure of learning a new language and moving to another country.

Having practiced yoga since she was a teenager, Mimi Claire also maintains an abiding interest in a mystic path, honoring and celebrating many faith traditions.

“For me, God is my friend. I feel divine guidance. And I love to celebrate interfaith ministry and I have a big new life in front of me. I give my life to God.”

Nine years ago, while at an event of Dances for Universal Peace in Ledyard, Connecticut, she was approached about bringing her many talents and skills to a position at Masonicare Home, Health & Hospice. Here she had the opportunity to practice expressive arts like puppetry, painting, legacy projects, collage, song and dance. During this period, she flew to California for Laughter Yoga training.

Patients became the recipients of her 32 years of massage therapy experience, and she was able to introduce Laughter Yoga into their hearts and lives. “It was so spontaneous. I felt a call for joy,” says Mimi Claire. “Back then people did not accept expressive art therapy as mainstream. I trusted God to guide me and added Laughter Yoga to my palette of colors at hospice in pediatric and palliative care.”

No longer at hospice full time, Mimi Claire visits senior centers, nursing homes, libraries and churches, special needs programs, wherever she is invited, to bring joy to people through Laughter Yoga, with “respect and love.” She often gets hired for corporate outings to bring a little joy and laughter at employee appreciation events, so even corporate America is recognizing the benefit of a little, or a lot, of laughter. She has also pursued further training to become a Laughter Yoga trainer of other teachers.

In Laughter Yoga, using breath, stretching, movement, we tap into a very playful, childlike activity not often experienced in our all too work-focused culture. The ever-present inner critic makes it easy for us to take ourselves too seriously, but Mimi Claire finds that she is more readily able to laugh at herself, even during the most difficult of times.

“It brings you to the here and now,” explains Mimi Claire.

So why does she continue sharing Laughter Yoga with others?

“Because it’s healthy and helps me feel better about myself and I can lighten up about my challenges. There is scientific proof that it is beneficial for health. The brain creates endorphins and serotonin and I feel happy. Yoga means union between body and spirit. And the more I practiced the more I got in touch with joy and grace in my own life that is always present. It is so beautiful when someone who is shy gets more relaxed and can laugh. Laughter Yoga gives us an excuse to be silly and get in touch with our playful spirit. It changes lives. I see people transformed through this practice.”

Mimi Claire offers a Happy, Healthy Potluck Supper at the Buttonwood Tree Cultural Arts Center in Middletown, Conn. the first Tuesday of each month. Visit www.buttonwood.org for more information.

Home - Organizing Your Home Can Offer Peace of Mind

Sandra WheelerSandra WheelerCheryl ReedCheryl ReedOrganizing our homes always seems to land high on our “to do” list, even if only to tell ourselves how important it is to get to it later. But if we can understand the impact that getting organized can have on our lives, clearing our clutter and downsizing our doo-dads might just become our top priority. 

Messiness, clutter, disorganization—whatever we choose to call it—has a profound impact on our stress level, our ability to cope with challenges in our lives, and how we generally feel about ourselves. If we are surrounded by things we genuinely love that bring us joy, we feel good. And if we are surrounded by things we don’t care about, have no use for, or don’t know what to do with, we can feel bombarded and overwhelmed.

If your junk drawer no longer closes and an avalanche occurs when you open your hall closet, it might just be time to call a professional organizer like Sandra Wheeler, who left the corporate world more than seven years ago and discovered a passion for helping people get their homes in order. She began by helping friends who were struggling to downsize or had significant changes in their lives that prompted them to see their homes and their clutter with greater clarity. That effort expanded into a professional organizing business known very appropriately as “For Peace of Mind.”

“Organizing has always been very natural to me,” says Sandra, who also serves on the board of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Organization of Professional Organizers. “I thought it was natural for everyone.”

She learned quickly that it isn’t. People have reached out for her services from all sorts of backgrounds. Some folks have grown up in an environment so chaotic that it’s all they know until she can show them otherwise. Others have an attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with difficulty focusing amid the distractions of the things that surround them. Some folks just don’t know where to begin.

“I help people focus on one drawer or one room at a time, usually working side by side with the client, teaching them skills. Other clients want me to do it for them. Most clients have an idea of what they want me to work on initially; then they discover other areas that also need attention. Typically [the task] snowballs.”

Some of her work, like cleaning out basements or attics, is very physical and labor intensive, while other times she finds herself creating files and organizing paperwork or lifestyles. She can be found through her website at www.ForPeaceofMind.biz, but most of her business comes through referrals from happy clients. Angie’s List, which reviews services like Sandra’s, rates her business with an overall grade of “A.”

In fact, Angie’s List (www.AngiesList.com) has collected loads of reviews for professional organizers over the years. Site users report on their experience in different formats, including personal narratives, to describe the quality of their experience and to make honest, valuable recommendations. Since Angie’s List began in 1995, the membership has increased to more than 2.6 million members. Membership to access reviews is a tiered pricing model that starts at $9.99 per month and includes some discounts and deals, according to director of communications, Cheryl Reed.

Cheryl suggests that in the case of people dealing with significant loss in their life, it is important to find an organizer who can deal with not only the practical application of organizing but with the emotional aspects of letting things go, recognizing that the process can be emotionally draining.

“Hiring the right professional organizer, the right one for you, can be miraculous,” says Cheryl. “We hear stories and stories and stories of people surrounded by possessions of a lost loved one, and it can be overwhelming. A professional organizer who is sensitive to these issues can be a wonderful gift.”

Often people are so steeped in sorrow it is difficult to move past the things left behind, the things that hold their memories. An impartial professional can make a difference in making decisions about what to keep and honor, and what to release.

In selecting a professional organizer in your area on Angie’s List, Cheryl suggests looking for someone with a high grade. Then read the narratives about the service they have provided to other consumers. Lastly, talk with the professional before hiring to explain what you are looking for and to explore any sensitive concerns.

What a professional organizer like Sandra brings to the table is formal training in organizational skills and a natural ability to work with people and things. With older folks she has found it useful to be another set of eyes. For example, by grouping similar items together, people are better able to see that they may not need quite as many of that one item. The organizer asks the right questions that might guide the client in making prudent decisions about when to honor an item in a special way and when to let it go. Some organizers have specialties, so it’s important to ask questions up front while looking for a good match for your needs, and to be comfortable with the person you choose.

“We see everything under the bed and in the closets, literally and metaphorically. You can get very close. There is a fine line between therapy and organizing,” says Sandra, who happens to have a psychology background. One question she might ask is, “If you love it so much, why is it covered in dust? Why is it broken and missing a leg?”

She has some long term clients who return year after year. In one case during an organizing session, a woman who had lost her husband came across his false teeth and insisted on keeping them. As they sorted and gathered things, they explored together which items really brought joy to the woman, which things brought a smile to her face. That wasn’t the case with the teeth, but when they discovered her husband’s eye glasses her face lit up, as memories returned to the familiar sight of her husband wearing his glasses. The widow let go of the dentures and kept the glasses.

Sandra’s clients run the gamut from corporate clients who are too busy climbing that corporate ladder or young families who need a hand to make life run more smoothly to the majority of clients in their late fifties or older who are done accumulating and are ready to downsize.

Older parents find themselves saving treasured heirlooms for kids who don’t want them. “It’s hard to acknowledge the kids are gone and it’s time for a new chapter,” says Sandra. “It’s about coming to terms with the person (kids, spouse, parents or partners) really being gone. Working through the stages of grief . . . allows you to be more present. Making peace with the past we can live more fully today, while honoring their memory.

“I love what I do. I notice [clients] physically look younger and freer when we are done. Our stuff impacts our lives that much. Life is simpler and easier [for them] and that gives me great joy, to see their joy.”

Expressive Arts - Patty Copp: Recognizing the Beauty Around Her

Patty Copp (Patricia Ann Chaffee)Patty Copp (Patricia Ann Chaffee)Webster & Patty CoppWebster & Patty CoppWhile some 81 year olds are playing Bingo at their local senior center or knitting tea cozies at home, Patty Copp is taking “selfies” with her cell phone and iPad. She likes to send them to her great grandchildren, Henry, Tristan and Mia, just to make sure they don’t forget her before she sees them again.

“I want those babies to know who I am,” she says, instructing the parents to tell the wee ones, “This is your very favorite great-grandmother.”

When her children upgraded to the latest and greatest iPad, they offered Mom their old one. Patty didn’t hesitate to accept. Then she accidentally discovered that her iPad took photos.

“I called my daughter and said, “Oh my God, I just took a picture of myself!”

She said, “Mom, that’s a selfie.”

And so a photographer was born. Now Patty is out and about taking pictures of the world around her, a creative outlet that is bringing sunshine to others, and, in one click of a button, helping her deal with her own grief.

Webster and Patty Copp were married in 1952. They had known each other slightly as kids growing up in the same town, but their first real encounter occurred when Patty was 15 and they both attended Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut. She saw Web across a crowded room and, according to her, “It was all settled.”

He went on to the University of Connecticut while she finished high school and later attended Endicott College in Massachusetts. As he graduated and prepared to go into the service, they got married, and later raised four beautiful daughters. He became an attorney and they settled in the area around West Hartford, Connecticut.

In the early 1970’s, as Justices of the Peace, Web and Patty as a pair began marrying people, an extraordinary practice that lasted more than 30 years. When it was time to retire, they moved to Mason’s Island in Mystic, Connecticut, where they had summered as kids. They enjoyed a fairy-tale life together filled with more love, support, and adoration for each other than most people can hope for in a lifetime.

“He was my raison d’être,” says Patty, with her eternal optimism and bright spirit. But the fairy-tale ending of “happily ever after” was not to be. After more than a year of making the best of a no-win battle with pulmonary fibrosis, they never felt the need to say goodbye to each other. But on December 27, 2010, her bright life dimmed when Web passed away. They had been married 59 years.

It has been difficult for Patty to rekindle the spark ignited by the love of her life. But Patty Copp is a strong and venerable woman. She continues to move through the heartbreak of loss by reaching out to others to brighten their day. Actively involved with Calvary Episcopal Church in Stonington, Connecticut, she serves on its prayer committee, is a minister of communion, and a lector. She also sends notes to those who are experiencing loss or need support in some way.

“One day I thought it might be nice to send a dozen roses with my note,” says Patty. “But I can’t afford to do that with every note I send. So I send pictures of flowers (and sometimes other things) with my notes. They don’t require watering or any attention whatsoever. They are there to enjoy and make people smile. I get quite a reaction.”

“What it did for me was not only give me a positive activity to focus on, but it taught me to look and see. A lot of people look but don’t see. And, . . . I’m having tremendous fun!”

Patty‘s faith has been strengthened as well, as she experiences divine guidance in many aspects of her life. “My faith has helped me tremendously in my struggle to handle my husband’s death.”

She hates to sound clichéd but says, she is “living in the moment.” Her notes and photographs lift the sadness and elicit smiles from their recipients. Her photographic subjects are often the scenery, flowers, sunsets, and skyline of Mason’s Island, but she is always on the lookout for something to shoot, no matter where she goes. That is the part of her new vision which helps her to see past pain and suffering and recognize the beauty around her. She looks for images that might make someone happy, and she is shocked by how good her photographs are.

Afraid of missing an opportunity to capture a beautiful sunset, she once took a photo right through a window screen, creating a look filled with texture. Of the result, Patty says, “Sometimes you have to take what you are given.” And she does, with grace and style and a never ending love for the man who continues to inspire her.

Family and friends are also the recipients of her creative works, including eleven grandchildren who keep her pretty busy. She shyly admits that perhaps bringing joy to others could be a ministry, not unlike another she has been doing for 35 years. Many years ago she had been given a small cross that she kept in a special place. When a friend lost her son, she hung the cross around the woman’s neck and said, “Let this cross absorb your pain as best you can. Put it in your pocket or bag and let the cross do its work. When you’re ready, give it back so I can pass it on with your healing within it.”

Now she keeps small wooden crosses made of olive wood on hand to give to those in need from all faith traditions, hoping to help relieve their pain. Sometimes she gets the crosses back filled with healing from an experience; other times they don’t return, and that’s okay too. “Whatever helps is what’s important,” says Patty. Occasionally someone is not receptive to her kindness and that’s okay too. “At least they know someone cares about them.”

Just ask all the brides and grooms married by Patty and Web, who took their obligations as Justices of the Peace seriously, getting to know each couple, many of whom still keep in touch with Patty. Patty even wrote a book about the many encounters they’d had. It’s called What Do We Say When We Say I Do?

Web was a quiet and thoughtful, balanced man, “a true Libra with a lot of fun in him. He taught me a lot,” says Patty. “I thought the day we got married was the happiest day of my life, but I was wrong. It got better and better and better. As a couple we were so polite with each other. My life was happy with him.”

After Web died, Patty felt very, very lonely and found it difficult to leave her house. What helped most was her family. “I needed time to grieve. I’m usually very outgoing but not then. I was healing. We never said goodbye, didn’t need the words. But the conversation continues. I talk to him all the time and I carry him around in my heart.” 

Poetry - The Lament of the Wayfarer

WoodsBy L.M. Browning

When the day comes
And I at last clear this dense wood,
I shall meet you on the other side.

When the day comes
And my path comes back to the place it began,
We shall go on to that next place together.

When the dawn comes to this night
And I have seen you through the worst,
You will sit with me until I close my eyes
And I wake in my bed,
In that home I left so long ago.

When the day comes
And I can at last pull up
The moorings holding my soul in place,
I shall journey to you
And set fire to this vessel I dwell in

Never to leave you again.

Leslie BrowningAbout the Author: L.M. Browning grew up in a small fishing village in Connecticut. A longtime student of religion, nature, art, and philosophy, these themes permeate her work. In 2010, she wrote a three-title contemplative poetry series that went on to garner several accolades including a total of three pushcart-prize nominations and the Nautilus Gold Medal for Poetry in 2013, which has been given to such visionary writers as Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Balancing her passion for writing with her love of education and publishing, Browning is a graduate of the University of London and a Fellow with the League of Conservationist Writers. She is Founder of Homebound Publications—a rising independent publishing house based in New England. Her title, Fleeting Moments of Fierce Clarity, was recently named a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book. She currently divides her time between her home in southeastern Connecticut and her work in Boston. To learn more go to www.lmbrowning.com

Books-Movies - Book Insights – One Special Night – Second Chances

One special nightIn the mood for a classic film that will steal your heart, make you pine for winter holidays, and believe in second chances? One Special Night (1999, made-for-television movie, available on DVD) might just do the trick. On the night before Thanksgiving, two grieving adults—Catherine Howard, a pediatric cardiologist (the ever-elegant Julie Andrews), and Robert Woodward, a general contractor (the ever-handsome James Garner)—who have regularly passed by each other without ever meeting, are brought together by a November blizzard. Catherine regularly visits the hospice nursing facility where her husband Tom stayed until his death from prostate cancer. This special night, she is sitting quietly in his old room. Robert’s wife, Marybeth, is a patient with Alzheimer’s at the same facility. Marybeth doesn’t recognize Robert any more, but that doesn’t prevent him from visiting her regularly.

The daughters of Marybeth and Robert—Jaclyn and Lori, along with Lori’s son Michael—have gathered with their father in Marybeth’s room to bring her home for Thanksgiving. When Marybeth begins to scream, believing that Robert is attacking her, the three take his SUV and head home, leaving Robert with Marybeth and her nurse. Eventually he decides to head home and calls for a taxi, but since the roads are quickly filling up with ice and snow, a taxi isn’t coming any time soon. Anxious to return to his family, Robert ungraciously accepts a ride from Catherine who, it turns out, has a love affair with an old red Jaguar that her father gave her when she graduated medical school at UCLA, a place of sunshine and sand rather than snowstorms and salt-covered roads.  Robert’s disdain for Catherine’s driving does not go unnoticed by Catherine. When the car skids off the road, they blame each other. Robert finds an abandoned tractor, expertly hotwires it, they hop aboard, and the argument continues as the snowstorm intensifies until they can hardly see the road.

They glimpse a log cabin at the edge of the woods and head in its direction.  When it’s apparent no one is home, Robert breaks a window to give them entry. Catherine is mortified by this behavior. The power is out and the phone is dead. With no other options in sight, they make themselves at home and get to know each other, even care for each other. He suggests she warm up by the fire and she tends to a bleeding cut on his hand. Robert puts together some boxed macaroni-and-cheese for their dinner, and in front of a crackling fire they enjoy a bottle of wine and a game of Scrabble. They share their imaginings about the couple who own the cabin. They hold hands and gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, but then Robert feels guilty and Catherine remembers what she’s missed most about her husband Tom.

Rescued the next day by Lori and her husband Jeff, Robert and Catherine plan to meet for chocolate chip pancakes the following weekend at Murrays’, a place they both know well. Catherine shows up, but Robert does not, leaving Catherine sitting alone with her pancakes.

Why doesn’t he show up? I won’t spoil the plot for you by telling you what happens next, but this is surely a warm, comforting, must-see holiday romance. Directed by Robert Young, One Special Night is the third collaboration between Julie Andrews and James Garner; their chemistry together is apparent. Robert’s initial abrasiveness is well-matched by Catherine’s strength and independence and, as their characters come to know each other, the warmth and attraction between them become evident. The dialogue is quick, charming, and a little unexpected, as Robert likes to tease Catherine with little lies that he knows she won’t believe. The movie, filmed in Montreal, offers a stunning array of winter wonderland scenes. The music supports the mood and creates just the right atmosphere for each scene. Check out One Special Night! It will make your holiday heart sing, and—just maybe—make you believe in second chances.

Mistakes - Are You Drowning in Your Sorrow?

AlcoholAre you drowning in sorrow and loss? The death of a spouse, whether expected or not, changes everything from your future plans and financial stability to the way you sleep, eat, and get on with the everyday chores of life.

You wake up alone. You figure out how to do the things your spouse used to do. Your mail still arrives with your spouse’s name attached. You explain to people who haven’t seen you recently what has happened, sometimes over and over again. You face the next big holiday, and then the next after that, without your spouse. So many adjustments, big and small, wash over you in waves, and if you haven’t had time to plan or prepare for them—or sometimes even if you have—they can make you sink into a depression.

Grieving after a loss is normal, but if you find yourself unable to get out of bed in the morning or to function through the day, if you’re experiencing changes in appetite or sleep habits, difficulty concentrating, low energy, an excessive amount of guilt, or inability to care about anything, you may be clinically depressed. If this sounds like you, seek the help of a licensed therapist who can help you recover from depression and process your emotional issues.

In a time of deep sorrow, it’s not uncommon to have a drink to forget, to numb emotions, to cope, or to sleep. You may stop at the bar on the way home to be in the company of others or to avoid being home too long. You may begin to drink at home, in isolation. But if you find yourself drinking more often, or if you become aware that you are gradually drinking more, you may be trying to drown your sorrow in alcohol.

Having done substance abuse recovery work for years, I am amazed both by what most people don’t know about alcohol and by what some people think they know about alcohol, but don’t really. Prior to working with recovering alcoholics, I didn’t know either. I have seen the same patterns over and over again. You don’t see alcohol dependence coming. Alcohol is a sneaky substance in that, as you drink more for whatever reason, there comes a tipping point where you lose track of how much you have consumed and just continue drinking. Although you may not be aware of your pattern of drinking more, gradually it begins to impact your life in negative ways. That’s why I feel it’s imperative to share some facts about alcohol.

Who is an alcoholic? An alcoholic is someone who has become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. An alcoholic drinks to excess, suffers physical, family, work or legal consequences of the behavior, feels remorse and shame, and yet repeats the behavior anyway. Alcoholics crave alcohol, think about it often, and look forward to their next drink. Alcohol becomes their best friend, but then it begins to disrupt and dominate their life in a number of different ways, including developing family, legal, work, or health problems.

There are many myths about alcohol, so let’s debunk some of them. Not all alcoholics are bums in the street. Most are average people who think they are normal drinkers. Not all alcoholics drink every day; some are binge drinkers. They may drink only on weekends, but they drink to oblivion. It’s not true that you can’t be an alcoholic if you “only” drink wine or beer. Wine and beer contain plenty of alcohol and are as addictive as any other form. Wine connoisseurs are just as vulnerable to addiction as anyone else. Just because it’s rare or expensive doesn’t mean it’s any safer in large quantities. Some of the early signs of an alcohol problem include blackouts (not remembering all or part of what happened while you were under the influence), family arguments about your drinking, nausea, vomiting, and an increased tolerance for large quantities of alcohol. If you can drink a lot of alcohol without feeling drunk, it means that you have developed more tolerance and are closer to becoming addicted. If other people express concern about your drinking, chances are that you are abusing alcohol.

Since alcohol addiction is a gradual process, you may not be aware of the problem, so you ought to trust that if your loved ones and others are all saying the same thing about your drinking, you need to address the problem. If you have had a DUI, domestic incident or other legal problem that involves alcohol, then it is surely a problem for you. If all your friends are heavy drinkers, you may want to reconsider the company you are keeping. If you are losing friends because of your drinking, it is a problem. If you fall and injure yourself while drinking, it is a problem. If you drink and drive, that’s a problem.

Never drink to escape from an emotional problem. That is called self-medicating behavior. Those times when you are grieving, angry, overwhelmed, or under stress are the worst times to drink, because not only are you more likely to drink too much, but you are not doing any real problem-solving in regard to the issue. And guess what? When you sober up, the problem will still be there. The longer you self-medicate a problem, the fewer coping skills you develop toward solving it. Instead, you create a vicious cycle that, if allowed to continue, can result in addiction.

Make no mistake about it. Alcohol is a drug, and it is an addictive drug. Since it happens to be legal, people mistakenly see using it as harmless or “normal” adult behavior, a rite of passage, if you will. Since alcohol is addictive, you should always handle it with care. You wouldn’t play with fire as if it is harmless. Why would you play with alcohol?

If you choose to drink, ALWAYS be aware of how many drinks you take. If they’re mixed drinks, make sure you know how many shots they contain. Pay attention to how many drinks it takes to make you feel inebriated, and next time stop prior to that point. That is responsible drinking.

NEVER drink shots, a dangerous behavior that can lead to alcohol poisoning. Never allow others to continue to buy you or pour drinks you haven’t asked for. You can refuse them and say, “Thanks anyway, but no.” That is responsible drinking.

Remember also that you will be drunk long before you feel drunk. That’s why some people insist on driving, even though those around them can see that they are inebriated. If your goal in drinking is to become as drunk as possible, you may have a problem.

Ask yourself these questions: “Why do I need to be in an altered state of mind? What do I need to escape from? What feelings am I masking?” You have to face your problems before you can solve them.

It’s okay to cry, to be angry (as long as you don’t take it out on someone), scared, or insecure about living without your spouse. Find someone who will listen and talk with you about it. Sometimes friends or relatives want to help but they don’t know how, so they can offer only sympathy. A widow/widowers’ support group can do wonders because you are in contact with other people who share your feelings and the reasons for those feelings. Some of them can become lifelong friends. It’s also comforting to know that you’re not alone.

If you’re uncomfortable in a support group, see a professional counselor who can help you through the process of change. If, in reading this article you recognize yourself as a problem drinker, don’t hesitate to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, where people understand, don’t judge, and know how to help. There is definitely hope. People recover all the time.

Don’t drown in your sorrows. Face your challenges, accept the help that’s offered, and ask for help if you need it. Do not fear. Perhaps it’s time to make some changes. Be open to the changes and see what they have to offer you.

Seasonal - Blue Christmas

Tree BackgroundChristmas dominates December. There is no escaping the bright lights and blaring music. Even in the solitude of our homes, television specials offer unrealistic sappy stories, and mailboxes full of catalogs try to convince us that happiness comes in a box. We are definitely not in sync with the world, who proclaims this as the “hap-happiest time of the year”. Indeed, it is a most bittersweet time, tinged with all sorts of memories and dashed hopes. Even Mother Nature seems in conspiracy, with little warmth from the sun, and long, cold nights.

There is a baseline level of loneliness for us, and it is exaggerated when contrasted with the expectations of the season. Everyone else has their plans laid out, continuing in their traditions. There is a disjointedness to it – how do we function at a party – how do fit in with our friends – what is our new role in the family?

We have to rethink everything. How much do we want to try to continue, changing as little as possible, and which parts do we want to leave to history, and start a new way? Which traditions bring us comfort and peace, and which are stressful or simply impossible? Taking some time to consider these questions helps us to take control of our situations. We have the right and responsibility to structure our holiday time in such a way that we find peace within ourselves so that we can contribute to the timeless quest for peach on earth.

So we consider truly, what the holiday means to us. Is it drenched in memories, good or painful? Is it a responsibility, full of lists and chores? Is it a budget buster, leaving us with bills until the Fourth of July? Does it mean spending time with certain people – dear or devilish? Must we travel, or must we stay home? Are there people who truly depend on us, like children? Do we have a faith to celebrate, giving deeper meaning to the season?

We have our own grieving to do, either for the end of a long tradition, or for younger people, a disappointment that dreams won’t be coming true. It’s important to take some quiet time to feel those valid emotions. Being sad is certainly understandable, so don’t be surprised by the emotions. In anticipation, prepare some readings from scripture or other inspiring works. Know what music helps. Go outdoors for a walk or simply step outdoors at night to look at the stars, noticing the crunch of the snow beneath your feet. Find a venue with free concerts, get a massage, play the piano, take an art class, shovel snow, chop firewood, visit a museum, take a bath, eat cookies, or write in a journal. Trust that you will, in time, feel moved to be with the people who care about you. You need some quiet time to ground and to center yourself so that you can function in a social setting with some degree of dignity, and so that you can actually enjoy seeing people.

There are very few things that we absolutely have to do. I will put caring for children on this list. If they have lost a parent, their needs must be strongly considered. Beyond that, how we spend our holidays is up to us. We can choose whether or not to decorate or shop and whether to stay at home or travel. We can eat comfort foods, watch old movies, do volunteer work, or spend time with loved ones. We can try one strategy and see how it works. We can try a different strategy next year.

I’ve had five Christmases now without Joe. Over time, the holiday dominates me less and less. I find that I am more an observer than a participant. As I watch the holiday celebrations, I get the same feeling that I do as I pass a Little League field and hear the crack of the bat and the cheers from the crowd. I know that families are now enjoying a stage that I once enjoyed, but for me it’s just a fond memory. I can smile as I pass by, enjoying the warmth of my memories. Now I watch with contentment as my adult children develop their family traditions. And I look forward to the New Year with curiosity and hope.

As you begin this season, I offer you this blessing:

“Blessing for the Longest Night” by the artist Jan Richardson

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.
So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

If the night is dark enough, you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn.

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