Featured Widow/er - Suzanne O'Brien Loses Soul Mate But Finds Herself

Skip and SuzanneSkip and SuzanneSuzanne O’Brien had one soul mate, and she isn’t looking for another.

“I was immediately attracted to him, his laugh, his eyes, even his hands strangely enough. He was a big guy, but I never even noticed. I saw his smile. We were both immediately attracted. It took a couple weeks for him to ask me out. But the first time we went out, I knew he was the guy for me.”

Suzanne was born in Lowell, Massachusetts but spent most of her early years growing up in Somersworth, New Hampshire near the Maine border. She was adopted at six weeks old from Catholic Charities. Her father was a church organist and choir director and her mother was one of 17, so Suzanne had lots of cousins to play with. She attended the Notre Dame Hospital School of Nursing which is now called Catholic Medical Center West in Manchester, New Hampshire, and became a registered nurse.

“I always wanted to be a nurse since I was 10 years old. I loved patient care.”

She did nursing in a variety of settings for 45 years. While working at a hospital in Rochester, New Hampshire as an operating room nurse, one of the surgeons invited her to be his private scrub nurse. And one of his office staff introduced her to Eugene (Skip) O’Brien while he was visiting a friend at the hospital.

Her parents didn’t care for him much because he was so tall, 6’4”, and they were so short. He towered over Mom who was 4’11”, and Dad, who was 5’3”. Suzanne thinks that his size intimidated them a bit. Her mother referred to Skip as “him” the whole time she knew him, even after they married in 1971.

“My parents had a narrow field of vision. He was a big guy with a big laugh. He had a sharp wit and made me laugh. But he was an Irish cop. They didn’t get him,” says Suzanne. “We had our ups and downs because of it. They said, “jump” and I said, “how high? Early on, we broke up for three months and I realized I didn’t want to be without him. On our wedding day my Mom said, “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

Skip O'BrienHampton Beach NHWhen they met, Skip had just returned from a two year stint in the Peace Corps. He had been in Thailand teaching farmers to grow fish in the rice patties so they could have a protein crop. He joined the Hampton Beach, Police Department and later became a state trooper. In 1990, tired of the cold weather, Skip retired from the New Hampshire State Police and they headed south so he could accept a position in Florida. Suzanne stayed behind to sell their home. It was 14 months before she joined Skip in New Port Ritchie, Florida but when she did, she loved it there and stayed 13 years.

But in 2000 Skip was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer. “I knew it was not going to have a good ending,” says Suzanne. They had two more years together before he passed away. “I looked at it as a different phase of my life. I’m an only child, I’d never lived alone, and I really thought about what I needed to do.”

She loved her home and her job and decided to work on establishing herself as an individual rather than as part of a couple. With some life insurance money available, she began remodeling their house and doing landscaping. She planned a community Christmas party and she believes that these efforts helped her come into her own and develop a stronger sense of self.

Suzanne O'Brien“I was like a young adult with my first apartment. Remodeling was something to give me direction. Our house became my house, more feminine. It was nice to do the house just the way I wanted it. I didn’t have to ask someone else. I enjoyed that part of it,” says Suzanne.

In 2005 when her company relocated to Georgia, her two kids encouraged her to return to New Hampshire. She sold her house in Florida at a garage sale in less than a month and returned to the place she had spent her early years. Moving in with her daughter, and barely settled in, she caught the adventure bug when an opportunity arose for a trip to Thailand. For five weeks in 2006, she got to see where Skip had worked with the Peace Corps so many years prior.

Over the past couple years Suzanne has continued to discover more about herself, losing 74 pounds on a high protein, low carb diet. She is 69 years old.

“I finally found a diet that works for me. I was addicted to food. It took a year and a half,” she says. “I feel good now and move so much better. I can even buy clothes.”

She’s looking good and feeling good, but has no interest in having another man in her life.

“I can’t even imagine having a relationship like we had, with anyone else. It’s nice to go out for dinner or a movie. I’ve got nothing against male companionship, but I wouldn’t want to remarry. I like my independence, doing what I want to do, when I want to do it.”

Her advice to others who may have lost a spouse or partner is to allow time to get used to the idea.

“In my case, we had two years (from diagnosis to Skip’s passing). For me that has made all the difference. I was able to plan and think about what I would need to do. If you have the time to think about your future, you need to. And take one day at a time. Having a good friend helps.”
Having said that, she also recognizes that at the same time, no matter how much time you have to prepare for that kind of loss, you never can be completely ready.

“I saw the best side of Skip over those last two years, his courage and strength. He was my soul mate. It was meant for us to be together. There was never anyone else for me. Whether you feel prepared or not, it’s awful to lose someone you’ve been with all those years. They’re a part of you.”

In His Honor – URI Chemistry Widow Turns Grief Into Outreach

Diane FaschingHands Combines HumanTalking with Diane Fasching, she will tell you that she lost her husband twice, once when Parkinson’s Disease began to get progressively worse, and again five years later when he finally died. His death created a sense of relief for her, accompanied by a longing for the partner she had made a life with for 45 years. She turned that longing into a pursuit and passion for raising 1.5 million dollars to support research and a cure for Parkinson’s.

Diane and Jim were brought together in 1965 by an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) computer match program long before Match.com or eHarmony was a way to find your soul mate. Jim was getting his Ph.D. in chemistry and Diane was in the nursing program.

“A girlfriend and I sent in three dollars and our profile. Jim said he picked me because I had a French name- Bernier. It was love at first sight. He was a big blonde, blue eyed German; like a teddy bear.”

They married in 1967 and in 1969 they moved to Rhode Island to make a life together, adopting three month old Nathan whom Diane calls, “a gift from God.” Jim was the chair of the Chemistry Department at the University of Rhode Island for 10 years and a tenured professor for 35. They had similar interests enjoying travel, food, religion and reading. They traveled a lot throughout their lives together, inspired by Diane’s parents. “My Dad died when he was 54. He always said when he retired he would do this and that. I learned to take advantage of every opportunity.” And she did, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Ireland, returning home on the Queen Mary II. Little did she know it would be her and Jim’s last trip together.

We had a good compatible life,” says Diane. “In a way, we were both introverts in people professions, and we just enjoyed being in each other’s company. We had a really, really good relationship.”

Three months after they were married, Jim became critically ill and Diane realized that she needed to take care of herself and not count on him to take care of her. He recovered, but that experience shaped the rest of her life as she pursued a career of her own. Friends call her strong and empowered and Jim encouraged that in her. Although she had studied nursing, it was organizational training and development that piqued her interest. With a Bachelors degree in social psychology and a master’s in organizational development, she worked with Texas Instruments, doing management training which required worldwide travel. She later became the first female vice president at Gilbane Construction Company in Providence, where she established Gilbane University, a training and development department. Diane retired in 2010 but continues working with Gilbane on a very part time basis, and she loves every minute of it.

Diane and Jim Fasching and familyJim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 55 years old, and retired from URI in 2007. Shortly after their trip to Ireland, Jim fell and they sold their tri level condo and moved into an independent living facility. The had a two bedroom apartment with cleaning and meals provided as well as a cocktail hour and opportunities for social activities that allowed Jim to continue having greater independence. But Diane could feel her soul mate slipping away.

“The last five years, there was steady deterioration,” says Diane. “I lost my mate. He could hardly walk and needed my help with everything. He said to me, ‘You’re getting the short end of the stick. I feel so sorry for you.’ Conversations were no longer intellectually stimulating. His world had narrowed. He was not the companion I had when he was healthy.”

When Jim died in January, 2013, Diane found comfort and companionship among a group of other women who had also lost their husbands, and they all knew each other from the URI Chemistry Department. The Chemistry Widows club was born and meets about every other month for lunch or dinner out. Roni Meyer, Phyllis Brown, Virginia Rosie and Diane helped each other when they needed it most, and they have strong connections.

“What’s nice is that we know each other’s husbands,” says Diane. “We can talk and support each other and refer to our husbands and they have anecdotes and stories to share. Phyllis and Rosie are 92 and 87 and give a lot of guidance, and they are living vicariously through our (Roni and Diane’s) travels and adventures.”

Not wanting to spend her wedding anniversary alone that first year she looked ahead and scheduled the first trip she found for the dates she wanted to be busy. It was a French river cruise to Nice, Provence and Paris. Off she went traveling alone. She met four women, one whose husband had died from Parkinson’s Disease. The five have remained friends and have taken subsequent trips together.

“It’s like another little support group. It (groups) validates what you are going through. They don’t think you’re crazy. Grief erupts when I least expect it. They help and understand. They have a deep understanding of the loss and we can talk about everything. They know it’s real and okay and the fact that we can talk about it is such a help, such a relief. We know we can journey on.”

Diane has been involved with hospice for more than 30 years, helping to start Hospice of Washington County in 1982 before it merged with the larger Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island based in Providence. Jim was in hospice care when he died and Diane continues to serve on its board of directors as well as in other roles.

About six months before Jim died, they were approached by a friend who was raising money for the Aronson Chair for Neurodegenerative Disorders at Butler Hospital in Providence. Three million dollars was needed to fund this chair that would support the work of Dr. Joseph Friedman, a leading expert on Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders and the hospital’s chief of the Movement Disorders Program. Dr. Freidman was the first recipient of the chair and had worked extensively with Jim and Diane. They agreed to tell their story hoping to spread word of the doctor’s good work and need for funding. When Jim died, Diane requested that donations be made to the fund in Jim’s memory.

“I hate fundraising. It’s the last thing I want to do. I just despise it. But this was wonderful to have a cause for Jim. I became a walking encyclopedia about Parkinson’s. We raised 1.5 million dollars. I just poured my heart and soul into it. And last June we inaugurated the chair. We have lots more to raise but we raised enough to launch the chair. It was such a meaningful endeavor for me to do this for Jim and for Jim’s neurologist who was so good to us.

It was really wonderful to have a cause that created a memory of Jim, which kept him alive. That has helped me a lot, even though I hate fundraising. I took a deep breath and said, “I can do this.” It really helped me to find some meaning out of the loss. The focus and the knowing that by raising this money I would keep this neurologist and all that research for Parkinson’s, helping people in Rhode Island. I thought, we just can’t lose this. I did it so other people could benefit from his help.”

Ask Jane - ONLINE DATING

Online DateComputersShould you or shouldn’t you date people you meet online? That’s a question many widowed people are asking themselves today, since we have more options for dating than ever before. The answer to that question depends on a number of factors which you should consider before making your decision.

First of all, online dating is not only socially acceptable today, regardless of your age, but it is also the norm for many people when it comes to dating. So don’t be afraid to try it.

What do you want?

But first you must consider what you’re looking for in a relationship. Would you just like a friend to go out with, or do you want a more serious relationship? Would you consider remarrying at some point, or do you just want to keep it casual? Do you value good looks, financial security, shared interests or activities? Is it important to you whether the person smokes or drinks? Does it matter to you whether the person has also been married, whether they have children, and the age of the children? How about pets? How far are you willing to travel? Do you want to find someone soon, or are you willing to wait awhile to find the right one? How much are you willing to spend on a dating website?

If you are looking for a potentially serious relationship, I recommend you make two lists; the first is all the qualities that you really want and must have in a partner, and the second is all the things you absolutely can’t tolerate in a partner. Then, as you meet people, compare them to your lists, and eliminate the ones with characteristics you can’t tolerate. Why should you compromise, especially after having lost a spouse? You are more likely to find the person you want if you refuse to settle for anything less.

Which site is best for you?

Once you have determined what kind of person you are looking for online, it’s time to begin comparing dating websites. You will find that there are literally dozens of them out there, and it may take some time to choose.

Some ask you for little information about you, are inexpensive, and promise lots of dates. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for. The less expensive provide less assistance.

Other sites are more expensive, and have lengthy surveys to fill out about yourself, but they may be better at eliminating the kinds of people you don’t want to meet, and showing you only the ones that meet your “must have” criteria. These sites may take longer, but can find a compatible partner that you would be unlikely to meet the traditional way.

There are many kinds of dating sites. There are those for people looking for casual dates, and for those who want a lifetime partner. There are sites for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) communities, and some that cater to specific ethnic and/or religious groups, or specific types of people. Look carefully at a number of sites before making your decision. Don’t just go for the first one you find.

There are also matchmakers online whose profession it is to find you a truly compatible mate. A matchmaker is likely to be more expensive than most dating sites, but may be worth it in the end.

So you see, it’s important to decide the type of person you’re looking for, and the best type of dating site to find them, prior to beginning your search.

Many people wonder which is better: dating online, or the traditional way? I don’t think either is better, it depends on many factors. For example, if you choose to do it the traditional way and look for someone by going out to clubs, restaurants, social gatherings, or being introduced, keep in mind that it’s not necessarily as reliable as it seems. It’s always important to meet face-to face and get to know someone a little before deciding whether or not to date them.

Some things to consider

Regardless of how you find someone, be conscious of safety. It’s wise to ask lots of questions in an effort to find out what they’re really like. If you’re considering dating them, you have every right to ask. These days, some people do background checks on a potential mate. This may seem like an extreme measure, but if you are considering a serious relationship, why not? Better to find out something you wouldn’t want to know now, rather than years from now. Today we have the technology to do this.

If you meet in a social situation, notice whether the person is respectful of others and interested in learning about you, or just talking about themselves. Often in a relationship, what you see is what you get. So believe what you see and hear the FIRST time you see and hear it. Don’t second-guess your intuition. If you have a bad feeling about someone, trust it. Move on to someone else. There truly are many fish in the sea.

If you are looking for chemistry, you may prefer dating sites that show pictures of the person you’re considering. But keep in mind that chemistry can be very misleading. Good looks can be seen immediately, but character, values, honesty, and integrity cannot. People can be deceptive online, but they can also do so in person.

Everyone is on their best behavior when you first meet them, but you have no way of knowing whether they are really the person they present themselves to be. I recommend that people take all the time they need to get to know one another before getting romantically involved. Some people who are also looking for chemistry might be in a hurry to meet you, and ask for personal information right away. Don’t post identifying information about yourself, such as full name, address, or telephone number on your profile. It’s best to talk to someone online for a while before deciding whether to give them your phone number. After speaking with them on the phone several times, you can decide whether or not to meet them in person. Remember, you are under no obligation to do so if you aren’t comfortable with the way things are going. Just say you think it won’t work out, and move on. Be polite, but clear. Ask questions about what they are looking for in a partner, and about their values, beliefs, and relationship history.

If you have decided to give online dating a try, consider the advice of Carol Vara, MSW, Dating Coach. She suggests that in creating an online profile, “Keep it light and simple, but your picture must be illuminating and pop, and most importantly, profiles must stand out with outstanding phrases. Finding success in casual dating and/or a life mate requires daily intentions for positive results.”

I won’t list or recommend specific dating sites, since the one you choose depends on your own preferences. But I will say that if you are looking for a serious, long-term relationship, choose a site that has a comprehensive questionnaire about you, getting as much information as possible about your wants, needs, lifestyle, interests, likes and dislikes. The sites that get more information about what you are looking for in a partner are more likely to find you someone truly compatible. Sites that only want to know, for example, your zodiac sign, favorite color, or ideal vacation are unlikely to find you a compatible person.

One of the greatest advantages of a really comprehensive online dating service (or matchmaker) is that you don’t waste time meeting dozens of people you have absolutely nothing in common with. By patiently using a quality site, you can eliminate most of the guesswork.

Another advantage of a quality online dating site is that you meet really compatible people you never would have met by chance. A quality online site finds only the best people for you, and eliminates the rest. In this busy, hectic world, who has the time to waste meeting the wrong people by chance?

So if you feel that you are ready to begin dating again, you can increase your options if you try online dating. Many people have done it quite successfully, and so can you. Good luck!

If you have more specific questions about online dating, email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Parenting - Caring for Yourself While Caring for Kids

Father and sonDreamstimeThere are benefits to having young children to care for when you’re bereaved. They provide an incentive to get up every morning and face the day. Children provide a sense of purpose and even joy during the hardest of times. You can’t help but smile at their humorous antics and share in the delight they take in the smallest things.

The downside is that it may be harder to do your own grieving with the many responsibilities of parenting and helping your children process their own grief.

So what do you do to take care of yourself as well as your children when you have lost a spouse and they have lost a parent? As someone who was widowed with youngsters, here are some of the things that I learned along the way.

Don’t Put Your Grief On Hold

Children will mirror your behavior, so if you are stuffing your feelings and putting on a happy face for them all the time, they will not learn to grieve themselves. You are their role model. There will be times when you need to drop everything and be there to listen and comfort, but the more work you do to work through your own grieving process—to give yourself time to cry, to feel your feelings of loss—the sooner you and your children will be able to move on. It also normalizes grief when your kids see you grieving—it helps them see that there is nothing wrong with their own feelings of loss.

ParentingCreate a Sacred Space in Your Home for Alone Time

Create a space where you can go and do your grief work. Tell your child that this is your special place to have a little quiet time and to not interrupt, unless it’s an emergency. Use this time to meditate, write in a journal, do some yoga, read inspirational literature. Do this for at least one-half hour a day in the a.m. and optimally, in the p.m. as well.

If your children are too young to be left alone in the house for a little while, create a sacred space for each of you in the same room to have some quiet time together. Give your child books, crayons and paper, and toys that aren’t noisy. It you do this every day, it will become a ritual that your child may even look forward to.

Put the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First

Depending on the ages of your kids, and if you are working, you or may not have a lot of free time during the day, but if you greet your school age children at the door having taken care of yourself versus stressed out and anxious, everyone will feel better. So, attending a grief support group, having friends and other widowed people to talk to, keeping yourself in shape by exercising and eating healthy, will benefit not only you, but your children. And as hard as it is, try to get out of the house regularly. If your kids see that you’re afraid to go out and leave them with a trusted babysitter, or if they’re older, you hover and constantly check in on them when they’re out—they will pick up the vibe that life is a scary, unpredictable place where no one is safe, and get stuck and anxious themselves. Your courage to move ahead with your life while journeying through your grief will inspire them to do the same.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Friends and relatives often don’t know what to do or say to someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one and would welcome being asked to do a specific task, so don’t be afraid to ask. It may be to take a child to the park or the movies to give yourself some alone time—or to cook some meals to give yourself a break from the kitchen. It’s also a good thing for your children to have other loving adults in their lives that they can rely on—and if possible, to have the companionship and perspective of an adult of the same gender as the deceased parent.

No Big Decisions

Besides such things as cleaning out closets and creating a new bedtime ritual if your spouse was the one who read the bedtime stories, don’t make any major changes in the first year in which you were widowed.

It may be tempting to sell your house and move closer to relatives, to completely redecorate, erasing sad memories, to change jobs, or go back to school full-time. Any of these things may be what you ultimately will decide is best for you and your children, but big changes take a lot of energy and focus, so wait until you have had time to process your grief—your first priority—before making any impulsive decisions that you might later regret.

Take It One Day at a Time

Be gentle with yourself. Ups and downs and setbacks are a normal part of grieving. In your desire to make life better for your kids, resist the urge to try and do too much and over schedule everyone. It is important to maintain the regularity of routines and structure in your children’s lives—and your own life—but with flexibility to cancel plans at the last minute if you’re not feeling up to doing anything but lounging around watching a movie on TV. As much as you want to, you can’t make life perfect for your children and you shouldn’t try to. Even without such an enormous loss, life is full of curveballs and uncontrollable occurrences, and the most important message you can give children and give yourself is that out of despair comes hope and joy, and that you are doing your best to show up one day at a time, which will turn into weeks and months and years as you begin to heal from your grief.

Seasonal - Community and Volunteering Is Lifeline for Courtenay McKelvy

Courtenay McKelvyopera houseCourtenay McKelvy, a voice major from Juilliard, an actress, entertainer, and lover of Bach, has been widowed twice. With an effervescent personality, she makes volunteering in her new community a priority. Her rescued pooch, Skippy is never far from her side. Courtenay is now in her 80’s and busy as ever. She came to live in the quintessential New England village of Stonington Borough in Connecticut just a few years back, to be closer to family, but travels throughout her life have taken her far and wide.

She grew up during the depression, moving wherever her mother could get work. Her parents were divorced and she attended 19 different schools before she graduated high school. She went on to study opera at Juilliard in New York and sang with the Pittsburgh Opera Society. “Not opera”, she points out, but no less impressive, Courtenay performed at Radio City Music Hall and the Palace Theater. She became a CAT, short for civilian actress technician with Army Special Services where she entertained the troops in Germany after World War II had ended. She went for six months and stayed for three years.

“I liked to sing and since I was trained, it was nice to perform and get paid for something I enjoyed doing.”

After returning to New York she met Robert M. Raymond at a performance venue where she was singing. He impressed her with his background attending Yale University followed by Harvard Law School. He changed his mind about going into law and became a banker. They married in 1953, and created a life in California where he was originally from. “It was very exciting really,” said Courtenay. “He answered an ad in the Wall Street Journal for “banker wanted.” And just as he turned 40 years old he became a bank president down in San Diego. We rented Cliff Robertson’s house, (a 6,000 square foot oceanfront estate) in La Jolla for $450 a month. It sold a couple years ago for 25 million.” The couple raised four children together and Robert’s job took them to Oregon and eventually Chicago.

“He was really very handsome and funny and smart,” says Courtenay offering to show a picture. “I was very blessed. It was a very happy marriage. We had a good life.” She was a traditional housewife back then and when her youngest was in 5th or 6th grade she started working part time for Girl Scouts.

Their picture perfect marriage ended after 27 years when Robert died from cancer in 1980 at the age of 57, after five months in the intensive care unit. Courtenay was invited to join a support group but it just wasn’t time. “I couldn’t do it,” she says. “It was just such a personal agony. I couldn’t imagine going into a group of strangers and talking about the pain. I think you feel so totally bereft. But I had these children (one in high school and the rest in college and in their 20’s), and I was absolutely determined they were going to go to college and have good lives, as normal as possible.”

Within a few years Courtenay met James McKelvy, who had an agency called the Mark Foster Music Company in Illinois that published, edited and arranged music. The owner of the agency she worked for had introduced them years prior, and they kept bumping into each other at music conventions. Four years after Robert’s death Courtenay married James McKelvy. It was 1984.

“He was a wonderful musician, he truly was…and did beautiful arrangements of music. His thesis had been on Bach’s fugues and I like Bach a lot,” says Courtenay smiling. “He was gentle, kind, nice and very modest. He was highly regarded by his peers. We were married almost 19 years.”

James encouraged her to start her own agency and she did just that in the late 1980’s, piggybacking his success by calling it Mark Foster Music Tours. They were living near San Francisco. On one occasion, when he went into the city for a music convention, he was mugged. He crawled into the hotel garage and when they found him, Courtenay was called.

A few months later he struggled to complete Red Cross disaster training forms. “This was my first heads up that something was wrong. He had Alzheimer’s. I’m convinced this mugging and hit on the head triggered his problem.” They went to Stanford Hospital that collaborated with the Veterans’ Administration for his care. He had been in World War II serving as a warrant officer and band leader. The doctor suggested that she attend a support group because it could help Jim. At that point she would have done anything to help.

“We went there and it was a group of couples, not all married, meeting together, and then the caregivers and patients met separately. The facilitator was amazing. It was a lifeline. I’m still in touch with people from that support group today. It can make all the difference in the world to go to a good support group. Earlier with Bob, I couldn’t do it. But the trigger this time was when they said this will help my husband.”

Courtenay McKelvy“Funny things happen with Alzheimer’s. We were invited to dinner at the home of another couple in the group. I was driving and it was before GPS,” recalls Courtenay. “Jim was giving me directions and was trying to be helpful but it was a hard place to find. Finally I stopped the car and said, “God help me.” And Jim said, “I’m trying.” I’ll always remember that. I started to laugh and it broke the tension. He died in 2003 on Bach’s birthday.”

Jim’s company was sold and Courtenay closed hers. She had been to New England as a child and came to visit her daughter in Pawcatuck, Connecticut in 2006 and liked it so much she kept visiting and finally moved to Stonington permanently.

“I think that the main thing is to keep busy. I was going to the gym three times a week, and do some yoga and go to a writing group.” The weekly writing group at the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center is facilitated by David Madden. “It’s almost like a therapy group. There’s camaraderie and sharing our stories with different writing styles. And David always makes you feel good about something you’ve written.” With a group of more than a dozen men and women from all backgrounds, the stories that come from David’s writing prompts are varied and interesting.

Through the Christ Church of Westerly, in Rhode Island, Courtenay serves on the arts commission which provides three free concerts each year that are open to the public. She also works with the organization, Crafters and Living Closet, a ministry that provides necessary personal and household items that cannot be obtained from local food pantries, to those in need. She also helps put on a dinner at the Warm Center, a local emergency shelter and soup kitchen. She is a literacy volunteer, teaching English as a second language, and volunteers her time with the Salt Marsh Opera Guild.

“Volunteering fills a void. You always receive more than you give. And you always work with nice people. But after the loss of a spouse, it’s an open wound. You can’t jump into everything immediately. There has to be some healing period. But if you can help make life easier for someone else, it’s a blessing for you too.

You go around feeling like no one understands and no one knows what I’m going through. Each case is different. But it helps with the healing. You don’t forget the person you loved and shared your life with. You never forget them. But it isn’t like an open wound all the time. The main thing is to stay positive, keep a positive outlook. There are times when that is easier than others.”

This same woman who has been on the stage of Radio City Music Hall, has traveled the world bringing music to millions and whose absolute favorite works are by Bach, has a favorite quote by Dr. Seuss – “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” And she is.

Religion - Etiquette in Houses of Worship

churchThe loss of a spouse prompts many of us to seek greater meaning in Life. This may be a time that we would like to explore the concept of Deity. Since over half of Americans are not regular attendees of religious services, many of us may be uncomfortable about walking into a church or temple. It might be nice to understand the etiquette is in these mysterious places – do we wear a hat, how dressy or casually can we dress, do we sit, stand, kneel, shake hands or bow? Knowing these small courtesies might help us garner the courage to walk in.

The most important thing to remember is that you will be welcomed. People who attend services enjoy the sense of community, and are joyful to greet you into their midst. So when you show up, your demeanor can be one of friendly confidence; your attitude that of a respectful learner. You may certainly choose to be fairly anonymous, and participate as an observer, entering quietly and sitting discreetly. Or, you may be more assertive, calling the church/temple office during the week, and ask to be greeted at the door by someone who would be willing to orient you to the service. Many places have a coffee hour following the service, which can provide a real flavor of the social aspects of the congregation. Find out if there is an adult education program available. Attending these classes gives a great insight into the theology of the denomination, and into their interpretation of how the faith calls us to act.

For all denominations: be sure to turn off all electronic devices prior to entering. Dress modestly. Avoid talking, eating, or drinking during a service. If you must leave, try to do so when the congregation is standing.

CrossRoman Catholic

* The service: Mass, duration 45 minutes: hymns, opening prayers, prayers of contrition and for the needs of the people, readings from the Bible, sermon, collection basket for voluntary donations, Communion (must be an active Catholic to receive). The booklet in the pew has the script of the Mass. Hymnal will be found in the pew.

* Passing of the peace: Shake hands, say, “Peace be with you”; respond, “And also with you”.

* There are times to sit, stand, and kneel – don’t sit in the front pew, so that you can follow.

* Worship Leader: a priest, referred to as “Father”

* People genuflect (touch the right knee to the floor, as a sign of respect for the Eucharist, before entering a pew).

* The Book: The Holy Bible, divided into Old Testament (before the birth of Jesus) and the New Testament (after the birth of Jesus).

* Reference: Why do Catholics do That? By Kevin Orlin Johnson, Random House 2011.

CrossProtestant

* Episcopal, United Methodist, Congregational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist. Quakers, Universalist Unitarians, Mormons, and many others.

* The service: About 1 hour – hymns, opening prayers, prayers of contrition and for the needs of the people, readings from the Bible, sermon, collection basket for voluntary donations. Communion, open to all who are seeking God, may be served by the ushers passing a plate of bread as you sit in the pew. If so, it is customary to wait until all have been served; the bread is then eaten together as a symbol of community. When the cup of grape juice is passed, it is consumed when received, as a symbol of our individual relationship with God. Or, communion is served at the front of the church. People in the front pews walk up the center aisle first, followed by those in the pews behind. The pastor will say something to the effect of “Body of Christ, which was given for you”, and you respond, “Amen”. There may an usher standing beside the pastor with a chalice of wine or, more likely, grape juice. He will say something like, “Cup of Salvation”. You dip the bread into the juice, and say, “Amen”. You consume the communion there, and walk back down the side aisle to your seat. A program will provide the script for the service. Hymnals will be in the pew.

* Worship Leader: Reverend or Pastor

* Welcoming hospitality: at the door by a friendly person. During service possibly: If asked, introduce self, where you’re from, and that you are happy to be present today. You may be contacted during the week to see if you have questions.

* Some of the more evangelistic churches may invite those who have been saved to come forward for a special blessing. You may go forward if you wish, but it is fine to stay seated as well.

* The Quaker service will differ from other mainstream Protestant churches. It is a time of quiet reflection. Members of the congregation speak only when they feel moved to do so.

* The Book: The Holy Bible, divided into Old Testament (before the birth of Jesus) and the New Testament (after the birth of Jesus).

jewishJewish

(By Robert Levin, MD)

* The service: The Friday night erev (evening of) Shabbat lasts about an hour. The Saturday morning service for Shabbat may be several hours. This varies depending on whether the congregation is Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform. All the services will have a good deal of or be predominantly in Hebrew. The Reform services, once nearly all in English, has brought in a considerable amount of Hebrew in recent years. Torah reading is followed by interpretation by the rabbi, called a “d’var torah” as opposed to a formal sermon. Responsive readings in Hebrew and English will occur throughout the service.

* No donation is expected. Charity (tzuddukah) cannot be collected on Shabbat. It may be given voluntarily to the synagogue at any other time of the week.

* Many congregations have greeters.

* Worship Leader: Rabbi, who is first and foremost a “teacher”, which is what the Hebrew for rabbi derives its root from.

* Synogogue may be called a temple (Reform Judaism) or shul (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism). The most important feature of the synagogue is the Ark (the Aron Kodesh), where the Torah is housed. Do not enter or leave the main sanctuary while this cabinet is open. In Orthodox shuls, men and women sit in separate areas.

* Dress: Women should err on the side of wearing a simple head covering. Men wear Yarmulkes/kippot, women hats or scarves. Many provide loaners for guests. For morning services only Jewish males wear a talit (fringed prayer shawl). Jacket and tie for men, pantsuit or dress that falls below the knees for women. Avoid pantsuits in Orthodox synagogues.

* The Book: The Old Testament (The Tenach) including the Torah, Kings, Prophets, Proverbs, and Psalms. Also the book of prayer, the Siddur, which is generally in Hebrew and translated into English is the main reading source. On Saturdays (as well as on Monday and Thursday mornings) the Torah (the handwritten scroll of the five books of Moses) is read and the book the congregation reads contains the Torah text and the Haftorah text (predominantly from the prophets from the Tenach/Old Testament).

* Reference: Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Morrow & Co., 1991.

buddhistBuddhist

* Worship Leader: Venerable

* Dress: Remove shoes and headgear before entering. Men wear jacket and tie, Women dress that falls below the knees.

* Body language: Do not turn your back or point your toes (if seated) at any cleric or at the shrine.

* Do not enter or leave during the meditation.

muslimIslam

* Worship Leader: Imam

* Dress: Remove shoes before entering. Women wear head covering; scarves may be available to borrow.

* Gender relationships may be formal. Wait for another to first extend a hand in greeting. There may be separate entrances for men and women. Most prayer halls will be separated by gender.

* Courtesy: Do not walk in front of someone who is praying.

* Traditional greeting: “Salaam alaykum” (Peace be upon you), and the response is “Wa Alykum Salaam (and upon you peace).

* The Book: Quran.

hinduHindu

(By Govind Menon, PhD)

* Hindu temples vary by geographic community. For example, North Indian communities worship somewhat differently from South Indian communities. However, the general process of worship is similar to that described below. Note that most Hindus do not have a specific day of the week set aside to go to temples. They typically visit temples for special personal occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc. or when they feel a special need to pray at a temple. For most part, Hindus tend to pray at home, in the mornings and/or evenings.

* Worship Leader: Priest, Pandit, or Pujari: addressed as, “Swamiji”. Pujari’s lead special prayers –‘pujas’- at specific times of the day and for special religious festivals. At the end of these prayer services, pujari’s typically offer some of the items used in the puja to visitors, e.g., flowers, fruit, raisins or nuts. Always accept these items only with your right hand. As a general rule, use only your right hand to accept or offer anything within the temple.

* Traditional greeting: Namaste (I honor the spirit in you which is also in me), said with palms together at chest height, with a slight bow to the shrine.

* Dress: Remove shoes before entering sanctuary, although it is acceptable to wear socks. Traditional garb is sometimes required. Dress conservatively.

* While seated, either sit with your legs folded beneath you, or pointed away from the shrine, do not expose your feet to the shrine.

* Donations: It is customary to leave a gift of $1 to $5 toward the upkeep of the temple in a specially marked box.

If this quest for Deity is new for you, be patient and take your time. Remember that seeking a relationship with God is a lifelong adventure, and that there is great joy and purpose in the search process. Visit several houses of worship. It might be helpful to keep a journal, so that you can remember the wisdom of each experience.

A word of caution: A cult is a group that focuses on controlling people through reverence for the worship leader. True religions emphasize our relationship with God, and respect the concept of free will.

 

Spirituality - Sydney Sherman – Beyond Normal

Sydneystairwaymar2013-2400Sydney HermanOften times when people think about mediums, psychics, spirit readers and intuitives, they get that Ghost Busters chill running up their spine. But increasingly, regular folks just like you and me, are reaching out to learn more about the spirit world, armed not with a Ghostbuster’s proton pack, but rather an inquiring mind and an open heart. And our answer to, “who you gonna call?”, just might be Sydney Sherman.

Sydney Sherman is an author, medium and paranormal investigator from Connecticut, who tours the state presenting talks about understanding your senses and connecting with the afterlife. She presents workshops and seminars to packed seats in libraries, community centers and private homes. There is often a line formed out the door with folks waiting to get in and when advance registration is available, she is sold out.

The demographic of her audience is mostly women ages 25-90 with very few men. And why aren’t there more men? “For many men, everything is in a box. It’s black and white,” says Sydney. “Even if they have an experience of something they still deny it. Not every man, but it’s how men are. But on the other hand, women, notice every little knock and bang. “Did you hear that?” they ask. Both could be more centered, more balanced.”

Sydney has seen an increase in interest in her talks that she has been giving for the past five years. She believes she is different than what people see or hear on television and she thinks that’s what makes her interesting to people. “I think people want to hear something that sounds a little more rational than what they see on television. It’s a lot of misinformation,” says Sydney.

Syndney Sherman book CoverThe reason television shows on the topic are so popular, she speculates, is that people like to be scared, they like the drama factor. They often show orbs but orbs are not energy, orbs are not spirits according to Sydney. “I’m trying to get people to come back to a practical, common sense approach. What I do is real. I see people who have passed. I see the energy that is still here from the person who was. We are energy beings. Everything that makes us who we are is energy, and we are based on energy. As living beings we have like a candy covered shell that is our physical self that people can see. Our physical self is flawed. So we can get sick and old. Our body no longer sustains itself. I see the energy of the person who was here.”

We begin as energy and end as energy and people want things to make sense in this realm. She explains the science of what she does.

“What really ties it all together is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The theory is that if energy has been here since the beginning of time and cannot be destroyed, you cannot die. Your physical self dies, but the energy of your spirit lives on. The definition of energy is viable and sustained. We are energy from the very beginning. We just go back to that form. Everybody can see other people’s energies if they know what to look for.”

And that’s exactly what Sydney does in her workshops and seminars. She teaches people not to rely on others with paranormal gifts but to recognize for themselves, the spirits that are in their lives. In the workshops, she gives them the tools, and although people often expect a little hocus pocus and eye of newt, what they get is a down to earth, jeans and t-shirt wearing regular person. “I don’t look like Esmerelda,” she assures.

People often see shadows or a silhouette revealing that our loved ones can only present themselves through energy and she teaches the tools to recognize and experience that presence with no need to be scared. Using all the senses except for taste, participants learn how to wrap their head around this idea and that it makes absolute sense.

People may wonder what the difference is between an intuitive, medium, and psychic. An intuitive is someone with the ability to know things, explains Sydney. A psychic is someone who can tell about what will happen in the future, solve crimes, and has better insight into the physical aspect of things happening in people’s lives. “As a medium, I can see your loved ones, I can talk to your loved ones, and tell you who they are, usually date of birth, pet names, describe homes, etc. All the information comes from them. It’s not vague, but very specific, things that will make you know absolutely that they are there; things about what’s going on in your life right now.”

“All I is ask is that you open your ears, unlock all your senses, and allow your peeps to be a part of your life,” writes Sydney on her website, www.sydneysherman.net.

Why is sharing her message so important to her? “We’re all gonna die some day. That’s the reality. I know, our loved ones who have passed are trying desperately to get our attention, every single day, all the time. We are going to be ignored just like they are being ignored. But we can learn so much from them. We can get physical and emotional comfort from them. It’s a very serene feeling when they are close to you. Any increase in energy is good for our bodies and our biorhythms.”

People who have had these experiences report that these connections with their loved ones have helped them to deal with life in a more positive, productive way. “It’s hard to see someone who has lost their husband and they feel that they are totally and completely gone, and they’re devastated by it,” says Sydney. “I spend time with them and they begin to have experiences of their own on a regular basis and make it a part of their normal life. The difference in these people is absolutely amazing. They can have a new relationship with the one who has passed. It helps them find joy again.”

That pain and sorrow that is a part of grief can keep an individual from moving on in their life. But when they are able to maintain a new relationship although different, they often find freedom to not forget, but to move forward in life. Sydney works as a nurse and has spent much time with the elderly population in bereavement. “As long as they know they can still have a connection with that person they have shared a life with, they can go on and continue in their life.”

The connection they make in the spiritual realm enables people to move on in their physical space. They know it’s absolutely okay, and they accept that, but may feel guilty about it. This release of guilt allows them to happily go on with their lives and new relationships while they continue to share a relationship with those who have passed.

The spiritual presence comes in different forms. One man, who lost his wife five years ago, sits at the kitchen table every morning and has his wife’s cup at her place where they used to talk about what their day would hold. The cup handle turns each day and he is reassured of her presence with him. He continues the dialogue with her.

Another gentleman wanted to believe in the worst way. He reports seeing his wife’s face inches from him at home. “But I put her in the ground. It’s not possible. She’s dead,” he told Sydney. “Our minds have been told for years that they leave us and we won’t see them again until we are gone. It’s just not true,” she says. “We don’t decide. We have no say in it. They (spirits) choose us. If they are assigned to you they don’t leave your side and are with you forever and always. They can be with others as well and are not limited to how many places they can be at once. We all have some spiritual energy with us. Most people have two to three spirits with them at once, sometimes more.”

Sydney shares some tools in her talks to help people recognize spiritual energy. She does exercises about recognizing spirits in our midst through noticing familiar scents, that static like feeling when you rub a balloon in your hair and the light wisp of a dry facecloth touching your skin. It’s about training your brain to know what to look for in a way that is both practical and rational.

“I don’t know what it’s like not to see people,” says Sydney. “And it is never ever detrimental. I have never seen an evil negative energy. In the living, yes, I’ve seen evil. But interacting with spirit energy can only cause us good. We should make the connection so we aren’t hurting all the time. If you lose someone it’s painful, a raw experience. It’s something we carry with us all the time. When you have absolute proof that they are there, you can have some kind of relationship with them. It relieves the sadness. You still grieve but they are still there. It’s about the relationship. And when we pass on we may have an opportunity for others to recognize us in the same way.”

Sydney was raised Catholic and does believe in God or some higher power. She describes Heaven as, “the name we give to a place that some of us believe we go when we pass. It’s just a name.” She has asked loved ones about Heaven and doesn’t get an answer. Her mother suggests that there may be some things that we are just not meant to know until it’s our time to go.

She had a cousin who was “evil personified, psychologically imbalanced, bad news.” When he passed, some might have thought he would go to Hell. But that’s not where I see him. I see him with everyone else. So it begs the question, if people aren’t paying a penance as we are told, why not? It’s because anger, resentment, fear, all those things are human emotions. We are no longer human with those flaws. We can’t be evil anymore. We go back to energy. I have never seen an evil spirit. Human emotions no longer exist. They come around us as guidance and protection and to be a part of our lives. They are still here and a part of our lives. It is a different kind of love.”

Sydney Sherman is the author of Gifted Innocence and My Gifted Innocence, as well as the recently released You Are Not Alone, Our Loved Ones are Here…You’re Just Not Listening. Her goal with this book as well as her workshops and lectures is to provide clarity and understanding of the paranormal. Visit www.SydneySherman.net.

Nutrition - Three Thirty-Minute Meals

30minSaladWhat can I cook for dinner tonight? I have chosen three easy to prepare meals that can be prepared, cooked and served; all in fewer than 30 minutes from start to finish.

Most of them have ingredients that you keep in your kitchen cupboard with the addition of some fresh vegetables or salad that you will need to buy ahead.

These recipes are really a guide and allow you to be creative by substituting some of you own favorite vegetables or adding a little extra flavor of your own to taste – which is what all good chefs do.

I have added some healthier substitutes such as low fat sour cream and whole-wheat pasta to these recipes, which still taste great!

I hope you like them!

Asian saladAsian Salad with Salmon
(Serves 4)

Ingredients

2 salmon fillets (6-8 ounces each)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 small head green Napa cabbage shredded (about 4 cups)
2 large carrots, shredded
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion, such as Vidalia
1/2 cup sliced or toasted almonds
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (optional)

This recipe takes salmon cooked under the broiler and pairs it with a fresh, tasty Asian style salad and dressing.

Directions

1. Heat broiler. Place salmon fillets on a baking sheet, which has been lightly sprayed with canola oil to stop the fish sticking, season with black pepper to taste. Broil fish until just cooked through about 8-10 minutes. When cool lift carefully off pan and remove skin. Cut into bite size pieces.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, oil and honey; season with a little salt and pepper. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the dressing.
3. To the remaining dressing, add the green crispy Napa cabbage, carrots, onion, almonds and apricots; toss together.
4. Divide the salad among 4 plates, top with the grilled salmon. Drizzle reserved dressing over the salmon.

If you are just cooking for one person today, then use one 4-6 oz. salmon fillet, make a smaller Asian salad or use a ready prepared salad of your choice and save the extra dressing in a small container in the fridge ready for next time. It’s easy to combine a portion of grilled salmon with you favorite salad!

SpaghettiWhole Wheat Pasta with Kale and Tomatoes
(Serves 6)

Ingredients

4 slices bacon (2 ounces) cut into strips
3 garlic cloves
1 packet kale greens (16 oz)
1 packet baby tomatoes cut in half
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb whole-wheat thin spaghetti, penne or other shaped pasta if you wish
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. Cook bacon in a large non-stick skillet over a medium low heat, turning occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain.
2. Crush garlic and cook in same skillet over medium heat stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes. Add the baby tomatoes until softened. Add half the kale, cook, tossing until just wilted, 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining kale to the pan season tossing until all the kale has wilted, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, and simmer until kale is tender about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water with a little olive oil until al dente according to package instructions. Drain thoroughly, add cooked kale, tomatoes and Parmesan, and toss to combine with the pasta.
4. Season with ground black pepper. Serve on pasta plates and garnish with a little cheese and reserved bacon.

If cooking for one use 1 cup dried pasta and allow about a quarter of a packet of kale as it reduces down in size.

stroganoffPork Stroganoff with Two Mustards

This is a nice supper dish for 2 people that can be cooked in less than 30 minutes and can be served with easy cook basmati rice and a fresh spring mix salad.

Ingredients

12 oz pork tenderloin
2-heaped teaspoons wholegrain mustard
1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 oz small chestnut mushrooms
8 oz light sour cream
1 dessertspoon canola oil
1/2 oz butter
1 small onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
3 oz dry white wine

Directions

1. First of all prepare the pork by trimming it and cutting into strips 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide.
2. Next prepare the mushrooms by slicing them through the stalk into thin slices.
3. Now in a bowl mix together the three mustards with the low fat sour cream. Then gently heat the canola oil in a skillet, add the onions and fry on a medium heat until they are softened. Using a slotted spoon remove them from the pan to a plate.
4. Now cook the pork, turn up the heat to medium to hot and fry the strips of pork turning them all the time so they cook evenly without burning.
5. When cooked, add the mushrooms and toss these around to cook very briefly until their juices start to run.
6. Then return the onions to the pan and stir them in.
7. Season with black pepper, add the wine and let it bubble and reduce slightly before adding the low fat sour cream.
8. Now stir the pan and let the sauce bubble and reduce slightly with the lid off.
9. Serve immediately over the rice.

Books-Movies - Stitches – A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

Anne Lamott61fwHkELODLAnne Lamott’s Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, is an earthy and inspiring read for all seasons of life. In her ever thought provoking and down to earth way, as an author of the people, she speaks to the heart of things touching our most vulnerable places with honesty, wit and humor. In Stitches, (Riverhead Hardcover, October 2013), she teaches us how to breathe, how to go on and even how to thrive, in the midst of life’s ultimate chaos.

The world today is experiencing epic proportions of darkness from natural disasters to global warming, gun violence to drug addiction, the ever present, ever growing violence in the Middle East to terrorist threats. In our little piece of the world, we find our own pain and anguish in a terminal diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, losing jobs, homes, and so much more. So what can we do? How can we get through it? How can we live again?

In the same way she taught writers to write in her best-selling, Bird by Bird, she teaches us how to become whole again, honoring our truest selves in the face of devastation and adversity. As we search for the meaning of life, she suggests that it has something to do with sticking together.

“We try to help ourselves and one another. We try to be more present and less petty…We look for solace in nature and art and maybe, if we are lucky, the quiet satisfaction of our homes. Is solace meaning? I don’t know. But it’s pretty close,” she writes.

And just as we are striving to be grateful and learning to get by, some community, national or worldwide tragedy occurs. Worse yet, she asks what happens if we wake up one day at 60 and realize we forgot to become the person we were born to be? Life goes by quickly, flies by really, and we wake up one day and wonder where the meaning was in all the suffering. Where did our life go?

Following a tragedy, she can’t stand it when people say, “it’s all for the best”, or “it was God’s will”, and the like. Throughout this simple yet poignant read, Lamott shares stories and quotes from notable authors, giving examples that the reader will undoubtedly relate to with a familiar ease. With typical raw and honest imagery she writes, “My understanding of incarnation is that we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering. Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a tight tunnel on badly scraped elbows. But we do come out the other side, exhausted and changed.”

Perhaps that’s where the meaning is, in the changing. And while the devastation is going on or just behind us, we have to keep moving forward, choosing the right thing to do that will bring us closer to healing. “Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope…We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching.” We can’t pretend life is just fine when it’s not.

“A reasonable person can’t help thinking how grotesque life is…It can be healthy to hate what life has given you, and to insist on being a big mess for a while. This takes great courage.” She goes on to say that eventually the better choice will be to get back on your feet and live again. Taking walks, staying close to a few least offensive friends might be helpful.

She poses the scariest of questions. “What if the great secret insider-trading truth is that, you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life?” What if we don’t recover? She has good news. “If you don’t seal up your heart with caulking compound, and instead stay permeable, people stay alive inside you, and maybe outside you too, forever.” And what helps us to overcome that nature within us that calls us to always help others, is recognizing our own needs and letting other people into our lives to help us get through our own pain.

Using an analogy of piecing together a quilt as we piece together the tragedy and challenges in life, she shares her own poignant stories rife with honesty and understanding that could only come from someone who truly understands. “You really do not get over the biggest losses, you don’t pass through grief in any organized way, and it takes years and infinitely more tears than people want to allot you. Yet the gift of grief is incalculable, in giving you back to yourself,” writes Lamott.

In Stitches, she writes of finding meaning, hope and repair in life and in the end, “The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.”

Anne Lamott is the author of seven novels, and several best-selling non-fiction books. Her latest release is a book of essays, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace (November 2014).

Home - Downsizing = 5 Reasons For Living Small (so you can live LARGE)

CottageHouse on trailerWe live in a society that believes that bigger and better is best, especially when it comes to our homes. In 1950 the average home in the United States was 983 square feet. And in 2013 the average had grown to 2600. Although there are circumstances I suppose, when 2600 square feet might be needed, like if you are the Waltons or maybe that Duggar family with the 19 children of TLC fame. I can see where they might use that much space, but for many of us, we have much more than we need. And as we become aware of this, downsizing is becoming a growing trend. Often times we begin to consider this possibility when our life circumstances change and we begin evaluating exactly what is important in life. We may find ourselves asking questions like: How do I want to spend my time, my money, my resources? Wandering around an empty, oversized living space, filled with lots of memories and little comfort can be the catalyst that prompts us to make the change from supersized to super simple. Downsizing can be the path to easy breezy simple living. Here are a few reasons to consider seeking out smaller living space…

Reason #1
Easier on your budget

There seems little point in owning a large home if you don’t need the space. You have to insure it, maintain it, keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If your outdoor space is expansive perhaps you have landscapers and gardeners to pay for, not to mention all the utilities and property taxes. In addition, how many of us tend to fill whatever space we have with things we are conditioned to believe we need? This one is a no brainer. Why live in 2,000 square feet when 1,500 or 1,000 will do? Or maybe even less? Only we know what our real needs are, but asking the question, “How do I want to spend my money?” is a valid one. Dipping into long term resources or having to work longer and harder to pay for a McMansion or even a mini McMansion might just not be the ideal scenario. And although we never lose the memories of a home we’ve been in for years, sometimes a new environment can free us for the abundant life that lays ahead.

“We practice letting go and in the process, find peace.” ~ Leo Babauta

TimeReason #2
Easier on your time

So maybe you’re independently wealthy…or not. Even if money is not an issue, the responsibility and headache of owning a large home consumes a great deal of time. Just caring for it and tending to daily maintenance can keep us from doing things we really want to be doing. Things like spending time with friends and family, following creative endeavors or pursuing things we are passionate about. Perhaps you want to volunteer in your community or take a class. How long does it take to dust that elephant collection or keep those empty guest rooms clean? What if you didn’t have 2,000 square feet to tend to? What would you do with the rest of your time? For many people downsizing is a path to freedom that opens up doors to new experiences and gives us freedom in more ways than one.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Reason #3
Easier on the earth

EnvironmentEveryone is talking about our ecological footprint these days and downsizing to a more environmentally friendly space might just be one way that we can help. Our ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems and every one of us is having an impact in a less than positive way. Smaller space, eco-friendly choices in our day to day living, lighter utility consumption all can help make us feel good about the mark we leave on this earth. So why not try? Making one small change is where it begins, and often leads to another.

“I really believe in the environmental movement right now – it only takes a little effort to make a big difference.” ~ Brooke Burke

FreeReason #4
Easier to be clutter free

We all have a junk drawer (or two). And it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to meander around your 10 room colonial and find a basket of things you’d like to get rid of. But when you can’t open closet doors without things falling out and can’t close dresser drawers for their overflow, it might be time to think about de-cluttering. We acquire things. It’s human nature. But there is great wisdom in knowing when to release things to make room for new things, whether that is a new home, new furniture, new friends or new experiences. Our homes are a metaphor for our lives. If it is packed to the gills with symbols of our past it is difficult to move into our future. Our memories are not within the things we cherish, but are held in our hearts. As you go through this process of letting go, ask one simple question as you consider if you should keep, donate or discard an item. “Do you love it or do you need it?” If the answer isn’t yes, then let it go, let it go. And when all else fails, call a professional organizer. They are great at helping clients discern the answer to that question.

“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.” ~ Peace Pilgrim

Reason #5
Easier to be happy

Consider the possibility that letting go of a family homestead and the associated memories they hold might just allow more joy and happiness into your life. When we no longer have a big house to pay for, have more time to do things we love, are being conscious of the impact we are having on the Earth and have freed ourselves of endless clutter, we may find a joy we never thought possible. It can be difficult, but the freedom we find when we are able to embrace fresh beginnings can be oh so nourishing. Joy is in the journey. Begin today!

“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.” ~ Carlos Santana

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Poetry - Walk Slowly

Walking on the beachBy Danna Faulds

It only takes a reminder to breathe,

A moment to be still & just like that,

Something in me settles, softens, makes

space for imperfection. The harsh voice of

judgment drops to a whisper and I

remember again that life is not a relay

race, that we will all cross the finish

line, that waking up to life is what we

were born for. As many times as I

forget, catch myself charging forward

without even knowing where I am going,

that many times I can make the choice

to stop, to breathe, and be, and to walk into

the mystery that is life.

Danna FauldsDanna Faulds, poet and dedicated practitioner of Kripalu Yoga, is the author of four popular books of yoga poetry: Go In and In; One Soul; Prayers to the Infinite; and From Root to Bloom. She credits Kripalu Yoga and expressive writing with transforming her life.

Expressive Arts - Haiku – Poetry for the Senses

Jeannie MartinJeannie Martin“Haiku is a way to open our awareness to the natural world. To see, hear, touch, taste and smell what is going on right here, right now… In haiku we regard the Earth tenderly, one moment at a time. Each moment is a glimpse into the pulsating life of the world, including sky and stars with all its pathos, beauty and joy. In these glimpses we enter a deeper reality that is our unity with all of nature – a luminous world alive to the sacred. As we embrace the natural world we embrace ourselves and each other.”

These are Jeannie Martin’s opening words in her book, Clear Water, released by Red Moon Publications in 2013. Jeannie grew up in the Nebraska countryside, where it was challenging to grow things, and nature did not have the attraction it has for her today. Not until she arrived in New England did she become attracted to a form of poetry that is deeply rooted in our natural surroundings.

“Haiku is a simple, short poem that connects Nature and human nature,” writes Jeannie. “Haiku is a poem of direct, immediate experience. It is natural and uncluttered. Haiku conveys a single event, perhaps a single moment, in all its fullness.”

Originating in Japan in the 1600’s, Japanese haiku is written in 17 syllables using a 5-7-5 pattern, although American haiku is written in 17 syllables and sometimes less, according to Jeannie who has been writing and teaching haiku for 15 years. With an economy of words, each poem conveys a depth of experience, centered in the moment.

Jeannie studied comparative religion, went on to Andover Newton Theological Seminary to study pastoral counseling, but discovered social work along the way. She realized that was her true calling. She then received a master of social work degree from Simmons School of Social Work, a master of Theological studies from Boston University School of Theology, and a doctorate of education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

She has worked in community programs with seniors and settled in the Boston area where she now works with homeless older men in the south end through Kit Clark Senior Services, where she is a coordinator of the congregate program. She is also a faculty field advisor at Smith College School of Social Work in Northampton, Mass. and teaches at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. She brings expressive arts into nursing homes and facilitates retreats and workshops sharing her love of this brief but intensely mindful poetry form.

In her 40’s, she recognized that something was missing in her life. Jeannie longed to return to a spiritual path. Her pastor recommended she begin a journaling practice as a process of discernment. That writing quickly led her to writing nature poetry, and eventually picking up a book of haiku poetry that led to a love story, her love of haiku.

“Haiku is a poem of the five senses, heightening awareness for people,” says Jeannie. “I think of it as opening the door to a spiritual path, a sense of wonder to the created world. Haiku is great because it can be for people who don’t like poetry. It’s more a mindfulness meditation in poetry form. I think of haiku as a folk art…very popular and it is open to everyone, and is shared really well. It’s very organic and very accessible.”

According to Jeannie, haiku is the most popular poetry form in the world, with 10 million people writing haiku in Japan. They have televisions stations there devoted to haiku. And she understands the broad appreciation that people can have for this form of poetry, having offered it in a variety of settings including healthcare, prisons, nursing homes, Alzheimer units, church groups, retreats and senior centers.

Another interesting feature of haiku is that it can be written pretty well with the very first effort, and at the same time, it can take many years to be a real haiku master. There are different ways to look at it. When asked if there can really be any bad haiku, she points out that there are jokes and people fooling around with it on the internet. But that’s not the true form.

“Haiku is defined as concrete images of nature connecting nature with human nature,” she says. “It has a gentle and spiritual path. Some people would debate that there is a spiritual element to it but I think everyone would agree that there is a sense of awe and wonder, and mystery to haiku when you immerse yourself in the natural world. Spirituality is awareness and so haiku makes us wake up and appreciate things.”

People are challenged today with exceptionally busy schedules and technology that permeates every aspect of our lives. The mindfulness nature of haiku invariably slows us down, leading us toward a stillness we crave whether we are aware of it or not.

In her book, Jeannie offers suggestions for beginning this practice and says it’s not unlike painting, in that it is a creative process that leads to making something beautiful. The best way to learn about haiku is to just experience it. Reading good haiku and writing it using all your senses, and then sharing it, is the best way to get started. Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart, a book by Patricia Donegan is a great place to start.

Jeannie’s haiku retreats and workshops include reflecting on haiku poems, mindfulness meditation experiences, writing and sharing haiku. She shares her poetry with participants and hands out field note books to encourage people to write. “When you start to become aware, you begin to see haiku moments everywhere.”

Clear Water is filled with haiku, suggestions in understanding it as a poetry form, mindfulness exercises, and resources. It is an invitation to experience our world with heightened awareness and to encapsulate that awareness in a few powerful words and as Jeannie says, “haiku is for everyone.”

Contact Jeannie Martin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Haiku by Jeannie Martin:

one toe and then another
into the stream – 
clear water 
 
pond
diving into blue
and deeper blue
 
that heaviness 
around us –
storm clouds
 
wildflowers
the garden plants 
itself

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