Featured Widow/er - Faith Vicinanza Finds Comfort In Kids and Poetry

Faith Vicinanza published her first poem in the Republican-American newspaper when she was in third grade and didn’t publish another for 40 years. Her mother was a poet but was very “Hallmark” in her work where Faith is very free form. She admits to picking up a love of poetry from that exposure to her mother’s work and started writing seriously as a way to deal with misfortune in her life. 

Faith & PeterFaith & PeterFaith VicinanzaFaith Vicinanza“I have done a lot of work in my life to have some emotional balance and perspective on things. But my early work had a lot to do with my father being a very dysfunctional human being. A lot of artists, in my experience come to art as a way to exorcise their demons,” she says.

Although her early work was about her father, writing in general, particularly poetry, has become a comfort, and a healing practice. Her brother took his own life when he was 43 years old and she wrote a series of poems to deal with that grief. When her husband Peter died in 2007, they had been together 20 years. Again she immersed herself in poetry, writing continuously for a year after.

“Here I am eight years widowed, and still on the anniversary of his death or if I’m feeling sad or grieving that loss, writing is my comfort,” says Faith. “So I come to writing more out of a desire to be in a healthy relationship, with the writing, with myself, with family and friends, and writing is my partner.”

Writing provides perspective for her and reading what other people write and then writing herself and being involved in writing communities gives her balance. She didn’t have much time to write while raising three kids, but has been writing seriously now for the past 30 years, since she was in her early 30’s. She is 61 years old.

Faith is an accomplished poet who has been widely published and is the author of four collections of poetry. She has been a poet laureate nominee, a Pushcart Prize nominee and was the 2003 recipient of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts Advocate for the Arts Award. She was involved in bringing slam poetry to Connecticut in 1993 and ran the slam for over 10 years. Whenever she got involved in poetry communities, she found herself supporting other writers and not doing so much writing herself. The past ten years she has been more focused on her own writing rather than creating events and programs for other writers. Now she is focused on her own projects.

“I’ve been writing a memoir,” says Faith. “In 2005 Peter and I bicycled from St. Petersburg Florida to Canada. We carried everything. I kept a blog. We were on the road for 98 days riding 2500 miles. It was a pretty amazing experience.” Before they left for their trip, they had decided to make some changes to simplify their life including selling their house of 15 years. They returned home in August of that year and in December, Peter was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Peter lived for 20 months.

Within the first couple years after Peter died, Faith went on pilgrimages to India and South Africa. She even did a Vision Quest, a Native American tradition aimed at helping one discern spiritual guidance and purpose, often done to help with life transitions. She was trying desperately to figure out what she was going to do with her life.

“The grief can be paralyzing. And the challenge is figuring out, how to honor and remember, but still live your life. You live with one foot in the light and one foot in the dark. This grieving and melancholy I call the underworld. Some people go there and never come out. Others do everything they can to resist feeling that way because they’re afraid of it. But there is something to be gained. And for me, writing is a portal that provides me access to go back and forth between those two worlds. Maybe it’s something as simple as gratitude, or re-commitment to do something with my life. I have learned not to force the art or poem or photograph but to give myself to it and it will go where it goes. Poetry is an awakening to the unconscious, a conversation with myself and it is always interesting to see where I end up. It definitely guides me, like keeping a journal. So much can be gained.”

Faith just shows up at the page, and without forcing it, enters into the mystery of each poem bringing her into a place that is more insightful, more introspective.

Faith and Peter were each divorced when they met. She was developing a sales team and Peter was one of them. She was a project manager in the field of information technology and her team was going to be made up of seven consultants. Being an aggressive interviewer, she asked him, “Why should I hire you?”

Faith & Peter on a biking tripFaith & Peter on a biking tripHe was arrogant, she remembers. He smiled and was a brilliant man with his 172 IQ and answered, “Because you’re not going to find anyone better than me.” She liked this. He just sat there, comfortable, calm, cool and collected. He was hired. A year later he invited her to the theater. They became very good friends. Fourteen years her senior, Peter was not the kind of guy she usually went for. She liked the bad boys, younger ones. She had just broken up with someone who was 27 years old, who had proposed to her. Peter asked her out. They started dating which went on for two years with no one the wiser at work. They got married in May 1997. She was no longer allowed to sign his time sheet.

Life was interesting as two lives merged. Negotiating became a daily affair between their tastes in furniture, décor and design and her three kids. Both were art lovers with different and distinct tastes. He liked white walls, contemporary and modern, and she appreciated the beauty in re-furbishing antique furniture.

“There was a lot of negotiating,” says Faith, “Usually around kids and around money. He was financially comfortable and I was more frugal. We had a couple of significant fights about things. The one thing that happened to me out of our marriage is that Peter would do anything to support my work as a writer. He showed up at my readings and workshops and supported every aspect of my work. The writer that I am is because of him.”

Eventually he started doing his own writing. What he gave her was the ability to lead a more conservative and more thoughtful life. What she gave him was the ability to accept himself creatively. He was always in his head and she was always in her heart. He lived from a place of intellect and she lived from her emotions and creative side. This was a challenge but they balanced each other.

“What I miss most is that he was my best friend. He was the best friend I ever had. I could tell him anything. He went out of his way to cater to me, and that doesn’t make someone your friend, but he was a good listener and I could say anything to him. The one thing he wouldn’t accommodate me in and we argued a lot about it, was that I wanted another child. I was in my 30’s. He wanted no part of it. I wanted his child. He had two kids from a previous marriage. Peter was essentially a father to my three kids. There was a special commitment he had to me.”
The first year after he died Faith wrote about him often, publishing a collection of grief poems titled, Husband. Her involvement with poetry programs is very limited now. One of the key things that she did, was take custody of a three year old grandson. “I think that children are a life raft when you’re lost.”

When her brother died back in 2001 she was completely depressed and didn’t even want to leave the house. She was invited to teach third graders as a visiting artist for 13 weeks in Bridgeport.

“I tell you what…you spend a whole day with third graders and it wakes you up. It provided balance. It saved my life. It doesn’t make the grief go away but it certainly provides solace. After Peter died I spent a lot of time with my 13 grandchildren. They provided me with a place to find joy.”

She dropped out of everything when Peter was ill, taking care of him took all her time and for a five year period, she was just unavailable. Once she started to find some balance again she chose not to fill her schedule to overflowing. The things I do now are collaborative efforts. Once a month she co-hosts a poetry program at The Spoken Word in Waterbury but she says she’s not out there creating events.

“I really want to get my memoir done. I have the support of friends and peer groups that I belong to. She works full time as an information services consultant, teaching companies to implement better security to prevent data breaches and has worked in the information technology field for 40 years.

When Peter was sick, they burned through his retirement money and life savings. There were huge medical bills after he died and Faith is disheartened by the way society has not addressed issues that are all too common. “One of the real complications in the way society works is that if you have survived a spouse that has been dealing with long term illness, you are exhausted as a caregiver and often you have to take a significant financial hit. So you lose your best friend and you are underwater financially. I fought the bank for two years to stay out of foreclosure. Things are not wired in our systems to find stability and be nurtured in this loss. You just lost your partner and now you’re going to lose everything else too. It’s not the way life should be.”

“About writing poetry, I think it’s unavoidable that grief has to have a place to manifest. It just has to. If it doesn’t manifest in your art, if it doesn’t manifest in your friendships, it will manifest internally. Grief kills people,” says Faith. “To me, writing poetry was medicine. It had to manifest somewhere. Writing for me was my life raft. It was very healing. I was angry for a long time. Peter had fought for a long time. He was tired of the fight and I didn’t want him to give up. Hospice said, “You need to let him go.” I was angry at Peter because I didn’t want him to leave. I have forgiven him now. It took a while. I can’t imagine a better friend than he was. I felt like he should have given me what I wanted. He should have stayed longer.”

Poetry by Faith Vicinanza 

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Half dreaming, I hear my name, more echo
than speech. It is Death, no doubt – my name
a query on his tongue, then silence
as he waits, patient, for my answer.

Were it your voice, I’d come this winter night
from this pretense of sleep, barefoot,
hem of nightgown adrift in the snow.
Days bulk up, become weeks, months,

gather a chill in the lining of their coats,
and should they find me wandering, alone
in darkness, they will tender a promise
of comfort in their wintry arms – a promise

of sleep, where I might hear your voice
whisper my name.

           

Husband

Peculiar – how love finds us
looking at our shoes, the starry sky,
the wind turning leaves in the trees,
but not for a man to love us,
to love me.

At first, you were the father figure,
fourteen years my senior. It wasn’t
an undeniable love –
not at first.

It was, in time, predictable,
comfortable, warm. It was, in time,
an undeniable friendship.
In time, it was

unshakable.

In Her Honor – All the Way to the Supreme Court

Theirs was a love that just wouldn’t die. It kept its fire right up to the end when Thea Spyer finally lost her battle with the slow and debilitating disease of multiple sclerosis in 2009. Edith Windsor cared for Thea with all the love and devotion any spouse provides their beloved partner of 44 years as their light starts to go out. Like a flame on a candle, however, Edie kept carrying that light forward – in her honor- with all the spirit and inspiration of Joan of Arc leading the forces of France to victory.

 Edith Windsor Edith WindsorMarried couples, according to the federal tax code, can transfer money or property from spouse to spouse upon death without triggering estate taxes (the “unlimited marital deduction”). But gay couples, after the Defence of Marriage Act DOMA, a 1996 federal statute, have no such rights, even if the marriage is recognized by their state of residence, as Edie and Thea’s was by New York. It was not simply because she was ordered to pay $363,000 in estate taxes because the federal government did not recognise the pair’s marriage based on DOMA; it was much, much more than that. It was about love, and the right to cherish, honor, and protect the one you had made the promise to. Those are not just empty words and phrases, platitudes from across the ages. They are commitments and promises we all try so hard to keep, some more successfully than others. Those that do hang in there and make it by the side of their spouse to their last breathe understand all too well what it takes. They know it is no easy fete. To honor them means to continue to be inspired by their spirit long after they have passed, and so it was in Thea Spyer’s honor that Edith Windsor marched forth and appealed her case to the Supreme Court. Windsor appealed, and won. In 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her challenge to the Defence of Marriage Act – a decision Windsor said, “Made her delirious with joy.”

At the time Thea and Edie engaged in 1967, they never dreamed they would be able to marry. The pair met in Portofino, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. It was all about dancing then. They would often go to parties and just dance. As Windsor tells it, they danced until she got a hole in her stocking. For two years they continued to go dancing until they finally started dating. Spyer proposed to Windsor in 1967, with a brooch rather than a ring – Windsor and NYU-trained mathematician and fast-rising IBM programmer, just back from a fellowship at Harvard University, did not want to face questions from co-workers about the husband-to-be.

The couple moved into an apartment on Fifth Avenue, near Washington Square in Manhattan, where Windsor still lives, and bought a house together in Southampton, Long Island. Windsor rose to the highest technical position within IBM, and Spyer, a psychology PhD from Adelphi University, saw patients in their apartment. In the years following the Stonewall riots they both marched and demonstrated for equal rights.

Thea Spyer & Edith WindsorThea Spyer & Edith WindsorEven shortly before Thea died, Edie gave a rousing speech at a rally on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan: “Married is a magic word, and it is magic throughout the world. It has to do with our dignity as human beings, to be who we are openly. People see us differently. We heard from hundreds of people, from every stage of our lives, pouring out congratulations. Thea looks at her ring every day and thinks of herself as a member of a special species that can love and couple, ‘until death do us part.’” Windsor’s lawyers contended DOMA denigrates Edie and Thea’s “loving, committed relationship that should serve as a model for all couples.” Edie and Thea not only talked the talk, they walked the walk and when Thea was no longer walking on this earth, Edie walked forth in her honor.

In the award-winning 2009 documentary film, Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, Thea stated, “We immediately just fit – our bodies fit.”

Of Thea, Edie said, “She was beautiful, it was joyful, and that didn’t go away.”

In 2007, the day after Thea learned from her doctors that she had about one year left to live Thea and Edie agreed they should get married while they still had time, and Thea still had the energy to travel to Canada where same-sex marriage had become legal. So they flew off to Canada to tie the knot. Accompanied by six of their friends, Thea 75 and Edie 77 were married in Toronto by Canada’s first openly gay judge, justice Harvey Brownstone – one milestone after another.

Edith WindsorEdith WindsorThea’s health continued to deteriorate. Edie eventually took leave of her position with IBM and became Thea’s full-time care giver. Getting ready for bed could take an hour, preparing to leave the house in the morning three or four. Two years later, in 2009, Thea was gone. Not only did Edie suffer grief as anyone does when they lose the love of their life, in set back after set back, she suffered a heart attack, then the demand that she pay the $363,000.00 in federal estate taxes. Even though two lower courts had already ruled that it was unconstitutional for Windsor to have to pay the $363,000 in federal estate taxes, it would be necessary for Edie to start selling her belongings so she could meet the Federal government’s demand that she pay the bill. This was not easy. In fact, it was very, very difficult and in Edie’s mind, very, very wrong and unnecessary as far as she was concerned. After all, Thea and Edie were married. She felt she should inherit without penalty just like other widows. She felt the federal government was treating them differently from other marrieds. She lived on a fixed income and it wasn’t easy for her to comply. It felt like a punishment. She was always thinking of Thea, the life they had shared together, the deep love they had given each other over the years and though she was now 83, tired and not strong physically, she felt the need to continue to fight the good fight in Thea’s honor. Onward she fought. Then, lo and behold, she finally won! She won at the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013 in a landmark decision; A decision that has had and will continue to have an enormous impact on the lives of millions of gay married couples throughout the country.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling the Obama Administration and several federal executive departments and agencies such as the Office of Personnel Management, began to extend federal rights, privileges and benefits to married same-sex couples by changing regulation in order to conform with the Supreme Court decision in Windsor: Most importantly, as a result of the Windsor decision, married same-sex couples – regardless of domicile, have tax benefits which include the previously unavailable ability to file joint tax returns with the IRS, military benefits, federal employment benefits for employees of the US Government and immigration benefits.

Although every day efforts are being made to thwart the changes the new law has created giving same sex marriage couples the rights they are entitled to, it is due in large measure to the efforts of Thea and Edith Windsor and the love they shared. Windsor said. “It’s enormously satisfying and fulfilling and exciting to be where we are now. I think she’d (Thea) be so proud and happy and just so pleased at how far we have come.”

Humor - Thanksgiving – What Do I Have To Be Thankful For?

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Holiday time begins with Thanksgiving. It should be mandatory for first and second year widows/ers to shout out, “What do I have to be thankful for?” Go ahead. Embrace your bitterness! 

Or, if you can pull this off smoothly, while Aunts and cousins are taking turns announcing they are thankful for their husband’s promotion or for their gorgeous new home it is the perfect time to broadcast that your husband has also changed addresses. He now lives with God. And, he recently earned his wings. That came to you in a dream, but so what?

Loved ones never touched by tragedy will insist you have both drumsticks and all the peach pie you can eat. Enjoy because by year three your celebratory spirit will most likely kick back in. The yams with marshmallows will taste almost as sweet as when your family was in tact.

turkeyIf you’re dating now and you ask the host to bring your new plus one for Thanksgiving dinner just know that this year you’ll have to concede the drumstick to Aunt Edna. Her husband died in August. And, anyway, your widow card has expired.

Even though nine Thanksgivings have passed since my husband Jimmy has, holidays spark my memories. Will I ever look at a turkey on a platter again and not think of the year my husband proudly trotted out the turkey and in full view of everyone seated and salivating, the bird slid off the platter and splattered all over the dining room floor?

Cool and collective, my husband picked up the turkey, put him back on the platter and on the way back to the kitchen announced, “I’ll just bring out the other turkey.”

Naturally, the ‘second’ turkey was presented to the crowd already sliced. Nice job, hubby.

Thanksgiving straight through New Year’s (when everyone’s resolution is to lose the 10 pounds we just put on) we tend to eat extra and with greater gusto.

But, hold on here! We lost our spouse. Aren’t we entitled to wolf down 14 potato latkes? And, when Uncle George brings the kids a chocolate turkey so big it’s practically clucking, we have a responsibility to teach them to share, don’t we? After all, we’re the Last Grandparent Standing!

Stuffing our faces is our way of saying we are doing our best to keep up the holiday spirit. Since some of us are back on the market, though, we may resist putting on the pounds. A study from the doctors at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical center has discovered that the music we listen to while we eat may affect the weight we put on or don’t put on.

They measured the energy expenditure of 20 infants born preterm while listening to Mozart in their incubator. The findings showed Mozart lowered by at least 10% the quantity of energy they used. This means the babies may have been able to increase their weight faster.

This screams out: Do not listen to Mozart! You may be in danger of gaining weight. Turn on I’ll Be Home For Christmas even if it depresses you!

So, go ahead and have that fifth glass of eggnog. Just be sure that when you lift your glass to make a toast the background music is lowbrow, like Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. By the way, I used to think that song was funny...until I became a Grandma.

Ask Jane - How To Deal With Difficult People During the Holidays

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All of us have had the experience of dealing with difficult people. 

It often happens when we’re unprepared, and we’re taken aback by how rude, argumentative, or domineering some people can be. They might be strangers we encounter in public, acquaintances we meet in the course of our day, or sometimes even our own relatives or friends! This is especially the case over the holidays, when most people are under a great deal of stress preparing for Christmas or Hanukkah. The myth about the holidays is that everyone feels celebratory, and everyone is enjoying themselves, but in reality that’s not the case. Many people feel stress about the expectations of the holidays, what with shopping, cooking, decorating, wrapping gifts and mailing them, filling out holiday cards, and entertaining, etc. The list could go on and on! The incessant holiday music everywhere you go makes you feel like you should be happy, even as you feel empty and lost. This year is completely different, since it’s the first holiday season without your spouse. Most likely you were dreading the holidays because the last thing you feel like doing is celebrating.

Fotolia 8653577 Subscription Monthly XXLUnfortunately, family and friends may not have realized that your life has changed completely, and that you are not ready to celebrate yet, especially if they have not lost a spouse themselves. If you don’t feel like being the hostess of the party this year, your siblings or children who usually come to your house for the holiday dinner may need to be told that you’re not up to it. It’s alright to admit that to yourself, and to others. You need time to grieve, and to adjust to how things will be different from now on.

It’s also ok to come up with new traditions. For example, you could go out to dinner as a family. If you don’t really want to cook, that’s what caterers are for. If your family thinks that going out to dinner or hiring a caterer is not good enough for their holiday, suggest that another family member make the meal, and you’ll be happy to attend. It’s important for you to be able to say no, firmly but respectfully.

There may be a friend who thinks you need to stop living in the past, and move on with your life. That attitude actually says more about the friend’s inability to handle your grief than it does yours. They don’t want to hear it or are unable to respond, so they try to shut down your expressions of grief by telling you that you need to move on. If that friend continues to be so insensitive to your feelings, then it may be best to associate yourself with others who do understand, such as the members of a bereavement group. This is the beauty of support groups, everyone shares the same issue.

Perhaps boxes of holiday decorations are sitting in your attic, and you haven’t wanted to take them down. You don’t want a tree this year, and you don’t want to shop for anyone. Being in a mall might feel empty and meaningless to you right now. Don’t do what you don’t want to do. Don’t decorate if you don’t feel motivated to do so, even if others think you should. It doesn’t mean you’re a negative person, it only means you’re grieving.

Friends and relatives who don’t agree with you ought to at least respect how you feel. Grief is an experience that can’t be fully understood by those who haven’t experienced it. But when a friend or relative is critical of how you’re dealing with your grief, you may feel that you need to bite your tongue, either out of loyalty, or fear of conflict.

Fotolia 67029490 Subscription Monthly XXLUncle Harry might be a know-it-all who thinks there’s a simple answer to every problem, and he tells you just to “get over it and move on.” You may think, “He has no idea how I feel!” and of course, you’re right. You can be left feeling bitter and resentful.

Great Aunt Matilda may have a grudge against another member of the family, which she never fails to bring up at every family gathering, and she tries to engage you in complaining with her. Such issues seem petty to you, and you’d be wise to change the subject. She may be irritated, but she’ll get the message.

Remember, their attitudes say more about them than they do about you or anyone else. You may want to keep your distance from people like these for awhile to avoid more hurt feelings, but try to remind yourself that their statements most likely come from ignorance, not malice. Uncle Harry and Great Aunt Matilda simply don’t understand what you’re experiencing.

Keep firm boundaries between yourself and those whose temperament makes you feel more stressed right now. Your priority needs to be taking care of yourself, being gentle with yourself, and respecting yourself and where you are in the grieving process; not pleasing others. Maybe you’re uncomfortable with this idea, as you’ve never really put yourself first before, but now is the time to do so.

Maybe you’re someone who has a hard time saying no, even when you feel strongly about something. Saying no to what we don’t want is part of self-respect. If you don’t want to go to a Christmas Eve party, decline politely, but firmly. Thank the host or hostess for thinking of you, but let them know that for this year, you’d prefer to be at home. Then you can make an alternate plan, something that is comforting to you, like a good book, soft music, a favorite blanket, a movie, or inviting a friend who is also alone over. Doing something nice for someone else is a great way to relieve some of our own sadness. Will you get through the holiday better by staying home, or by being elsewhere? Only you can know that.

Then there are the harried clerks in the grocery store, trying to check out throngs of impatient customers, customer service staff in the department store, who are overwhelmed by extra work and don’t have time to help you, drivers and pedestrians all in a frantic rush to get where they’re going. The streets and all public places seem like complete chaos to you. Feeling the way you do, the smallest lack of consideration by somone could cause you to dissolve into tears in the middle of the mall. Your feelings are raw, and people can be inconsiderate when they’re in a hurry. Why put yourself through it?

You’re under no obligation to buy gifts, cook food, plan a party or attend one, decorate, or put up a tree. The only obligation you have right now is to yourself. If others have expectations of you, and insist you celebrate the holidays like you always have, remind them that your life has changed profoundly, and that you need time to adjust. Suggest alternative plans or new traditions. Let them know what you would be comfortable doing this year, and then stick to your decision. If they become argumentative, excuse yourself and make your exit.

This year, avoid the people who will make you nervous or make you feel worse, and instead seek out the company of supportive friends. Remember, there are plenty of others who feel as you do, people who understand; they’re people who have also lost a spouse this year. You may have met them through a bereavement group. Call one of them up and suggest you make plans together. Or perhaps you might want to suggest the group itself plan a get-together for the holidays, so you can share the company of others you don’t have to pretend in front of.
Be yourself, seek the company of gentler people, focus on your spirituality, meditate, but most of all, honor how you feel. And keep in mind that negative feelings will change in time. They always do. This too shall pass.

If you have questions or comments, email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Poetry - Hidden Treasures

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Susan Marshall

Here by the Sound
Quiet and peaceful
No birds sing
Nor waves crash
Still I’m drawn to this
Secretive, hidden
Unfolding beneath my eyes
As I follow the path
Once well-worn
Now covered in weeds
Bending below branches
I look beyond to see
The water
There is the treasure
I have been looking for
The beach
White sand
Smooth and silky
Reflecting the sun
Beckoning me there
To leave my footprints


Susan Marshall is a freelance writer and English teacher in Syracuse, New York. She earned a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Columbia College and a master's degree in Education from Le Moyne College. When she's not teaching, she's playing with her dog, Gotti, working on home improvement projects, or spending time with family and friends. She has one son, Brandon, who has always encouraged her to follow her dreams.

Parenting - Support Is So Important for Grieving Families

Families are gathered together in an opening ceremony at one of The Cove For Grieving Children sites.

Not so long ago, a grieving family had nowhere to turn for guidance and support after the death of a loved one. Luckily, the critical need for grief support for children and families is now recognized and programs are provided in many states to help families process their grief and begin to heal.

The Cove for Grieving Children in Connecticut is truly a shelter from the storm for the bereaved. It was one of the country’s first support groups for young people. In seven locations throughout the state—and growing—the 20-week program is held two Sundays a month for kids ages 4 to 17 and their parents or caretakers. A clinical social worker is the site director at each Cove, and trained volunteers act as facilitators. There is no charge to attend.

According to Mary Andersen, executive director of The Cove, the reason it’s so important that programs like this exist for grieving children is because children and teens who have unresolved grief have significantly lower academic achievement, substance abuse, higher school drop-out rates, depression, and issues with violence and aggression than their peers.

Mary explains that what The Cove does is therapeutic versus therapy and gives children a safe place to express their feelings among those in their age group.

“It normalizes the grief experience because they see others grieving the death of a parent, sibling, teacher, friend, and see that other children are also grieving,” she says.

And parents also greatly benefit from the program.

“It really provides an education as well for parents on how they can support their child’s grieving and healing processes and also supplies a network of other grieving families that can provide support for each other,” Mary says. “Parents who have been in The Cove for a while can act as mentors for other parents. It’s the same with the kids who have moved on to be junior facilitators.”

Everyone participates in an opening and closing ceremony and shares a meal together. In between, children meet in peer groups by age with a Cove facilitator and do age-appropriate activities. Simultaneously, parents and caregivers meet together with the site director, who educates them about their child’s grieving process and explains the activities in which the children will be participating.

Mary notes that 70 to 80 percent of Cove activities are arts based: movement, sculpture, painting, journaling, poetry, music, video, etc.

“We allow children the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe environment, share their artwork, and explain what it represents to them,” Mary says. “We’ll give them a theme: ‘What does anger look like?’ ‘What does healing look like?’ It’s about accessing feelings and finding avenues for expressing those feelings.”

Mary stresses that The Cove also provides ways to strengthen families and improve family communication.

A dad and his daughter are working on a family writing activity at The Cove.A dad and his daughter are working on a family writing activity at The Cove.“Often in a family environment, you’re protecting each other,” she says. “Sometimes painful feelings won’t be addressed because family members don’t want to upset each other, although sometimes [addressing those feelings] is what’s needed the most. Sometimes we find families say their children aren’t expressing their feelings about the death and then come into The Cove and immediately start expressing their feelings.”

The grief journey is an ongoing process and Mary says that Cove facilitators regularly check in on how the family is doing, asking, “What did the family look like before the death, and what does it look like now, and how has that changed?”

“We provide tools for healing and understanding,” she says. “This is what a ‘new normal’ looks like for your family. It’s about learning coping skills, sharing, and learning from others, and realizing you’re not alone in this process.”

Camp Erin: A Getaway for Grieving Kid

Camp Erin is the largest nationwide network of free bereavement camps for children and teens ages 6-17 who have experienced the death of someone close to them.

To date, the weekend-long overnight camp has 46 locations in the U.S. and was created and funded by the Moyer Foundation in memory of Erin Metcalf, a 17-year-old girl who died in 2000 and was a close friend of Jamie Moyer (former All-Star pitcher for the Seattle Mariners) and the Moyer family. The camps are held different weekends in each state throughout the summer.

A child has painted the word “Daddy” on a garden stepping-stone during an art activity at The Cove.A child has painted the word “Daddy” on a garden stepping-stone during an art activity at The Cove.In 2013 the Moyer Foundation gave The Cove Center for Grieving Children a grant to launch Camp Erin in Connecticut. The Camp, facilitated by Cove professionals and trained volunteers is held each year in early June, hosted by Camp Awosting in Morris, CT.

“The purpose is to allow fun camp experiences in addition to bereavement processing,” Mary notes.

To find a Camp Erin location near you visit

https://www.moyerfoundation.org/programs/CampErin.

A Family’s Personal Story of Healing

When 16-month-old Gavin died suddenly three years ago, it was a devastating blow to his family. Doctors did not know why the happy, seemingly healthy little boy died, although they were given a name for what happened: the Sudden, Unexplained Death of a Child (SUDC).

Gavin is survived by his parents, Suzanne and Michael LaBella; his twin sister, Maris; and older sister Gia, who was almost six years old at the time of Gavin’s death.

“Since Gavin died suddenly—and even when you’re prepared, it’s always sudden—the first couple of months we were in a daze, trying to figure out what happened and where we belonged,” Suzanne recalls.

“Maris was obviously very young, but Gia had lots of questions, and we were in our own world, trying to figure out what to do, what this new world looked like.”

“Gia would talk to anyone who would listen—the butcher in the grocery store, a stranger on the street,” Michael adds.

“Some people would know what to say and others were awkward and didn’t believe her. People don’t always believe a child,” Suzanne says.

And as wonderful as the school was in response to their sorrow, the couple agrees that they didn’t really know what to say or do for Gia.

So, Suzanne started googling `and didn’t come up with anything that would be helpful to Gia or the family as a whole.

“We looked into therapy, but she was so young, we didn’t think it was the right thing to do and I didn’t want to send Gia off to some therapist without me,” Suzanne says.

Then she found The Cove the following September, which had a location in Easton, Connecticut, not far from their home in Fairfield.

“They nailed it on the head,” Suzanne says. “The Cove has taught us to incorporate Gavin into our lives in a positive way—not all about the loss, but remembering that person.”

Maris is old enough now to attend The Cove and Michael says, “Every other Sunday we go as a family and participate. Both the girls look forward to going. They know they’ll be around other people and do some fun things. And they have other kids—some have lost a sibling, mothers or fathers. Even if their situations aren’t the same, they connect. They play together, run around, and talk about their loss.”

In talking about Gavin with her children, Suzanne emphasizes that one of the things The Cove taught her is to be honest, and to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

“One thing about The Cove that stands out is that a lot of the counselors are younger, but have gone through some kind of loss and kids can relate to them,” Michael points out. “I’ve seen how Gia will engage with some of the counselors. She loves them and looks forward to seeing them. The Cove doesn’t feel institutional; it’s very comfortable, friendly, homey. No one judges you. I’m so glad we found this. I know it has made a difference in Gia, too. Having an outlet where she can be herself and have no fear is invaluable and helps build her confidence.”

“I knew we were going to be okay after Gavin died because we were able to communicate,” Suzanne reflects. “When we were able to come up for air as a family, [we thought] this is horrible. I wanted us to come up for air and be okay. I’m so glad there’s an organization that can bring us together.”

To find out more about The Cove, visit covect.org online or call 203-634-0500. To find a support group for grieving children in another state, contact The National Alliance for Grieving Children (www.nationalallianceforgrievingchildren.org), which lists all bereavement agencies in the U.S.

Health & Wellness - Why Should I Care About Flossing My Teeth When My Husband Just Died?

“Why should I care about flossing my teeth when my husband just died?”, I whined to Ellen Marsten, my dental hygienist, who clearly cared more about my oral care than I did. Not only had I not cared after he died, there was a good period of time during his illness that I’d flop into bed at the end of the day without giving a thought to my teeth. I give Ellen credit for treating me with gentle compassion as she scraped the plaque off my teeth. She expressed sympathy for my loss, and skipped her usual teaching moment.

But kindness couldn’t undo everything. A routine X-ray demonstrated an abscess forming above a back molar. Off I went to the root canal specialist, for an expensive afternoon. The root canal specialist, Amy Amaro, DMD, said that these abscesses can break through the barrier to the brain, and can cause very serious infections. I thought to myself – all this because I didn’t floss?

Debra Daren, DDSDebra Daren, DDSWhen I talked it over with my dentist, Debra Daren, DDS, her insights made me appreciate how she is very much a part of a medical team. Dentists look at us in a unique way, and they can help us to catch problems before they hatch. It was she who found the tell-tale lymph node on my husband’s neck; he was treated, and the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was not his cause of death. And it was she who caught an abscess before I perceived it.

So when Dr. Daren speaks, I listen. Here’s what she says...

The Basics

Flossing is the single most important thing you can do to eliminate plaque build-up.

Brush twice a day with an electric toothbrush.

(Really, this takes 5 minutes a day. Multiply that by 365 days in a year, and that’s 1825 minutes, or 30 hours. If you can save $3000 on a crown, that’s like making $100 an hour. If you can find a better deal, please let me know!)

See your dentist regularly. This could be every 6 months if your oral health is very good, or 3-4 times per year if it’s complicated.

Regular check ups might include X-rays. Dentists use X-rays carefully, to minimize exposure to radiation. But they provide important information about decay under a crown, or periodontal disease, or endodonic problems, an abscess or a failing restorative margin. Interrupting periodontal disease early can save teeth.

Be sure to update your dentist regarding any changes in your general health status. Some medications can influence oral health. People with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other diagnoses can be susceptible to dental problems due to the medications they take.

Even people with partial or full dentures need to see a dentist for a check of general health, to rule out oral cancers.

Not your grandfather’s dentist

Modern dentistry is really quite comfortable. If fear is keeping you away, do whatever you need to do to learn more. It might be helpful to accompany a friend to a cleaning and check-up. Or ask for an appointment to chat with a dentist and get a tour of the office. I guarantee you that you will be pleasantly surprised at how pleasant the experience can be. Dentists no longer allow their patients to experience pain. But it gets even better. “Dentists can make you feel better about yourself”, says Dr. Daren. “I can repair a small chip on that front tooth, or whiten yellowing teeth.” Having a great smile makes you feel more confident.

The Take Away

• Floss
• Brush with an electric toothbrush
• See your dentist regularly
• Show off that phenomenal smile!

Nutrition - French Recipes “à la Julia Child”

nutrition header

“Bonjour mes Amis.”

French cuisine is not just for TV Chefs. Find your inner Julia Child and give these French recipes a try during the Thanksgiving holiday. You will find they delight your family and friends.

Bon Appetit!

As is the case with most famous dishes there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Fortunately you can prepare it completely ahead and it makes a really good entrée for a buffet dinner.

beef-bourguignon-txtBoef Bourguignon
(Beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions and mushrooms)
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

3 oz. piece of bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut to 1’ cubes (rump pot roast)

1 finely sliced carrot

1 finely sliced onion

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups of a full bodied young red wine
2-3 cups of beef stock or beef bouillon
1 tablespoon tomato puree/paste

2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme

A bay leaf

18-24 small pearl onions

1 lb. quartered fresh chestnut mushrooms sautéed lightly in small amount of butter
Parsley sprigs

DIRECTIONS

1. Remove bacon rind and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long).

2. Sautè the bacon in the olive oil over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

3. Next brown the beef cubes in the hot oil and bacon fat in the casserole to seal the meat. Dry off any moisture with a paper towel before adding beef to the casserole dish; cook in small batches and then remove to the set aside bacon. Then gently brown the sliced vegetables and remove any remaining oil.

4. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole then sprinkle on the flour and black pepper and toss beef lightly with the flour. Set the casserole uncovered in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust. Remove the casserole and turn down the oven to 325 degrees.

5. Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then cook the casserole and set in the lower part of the oven and regulate heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for 2-3 hours until the meat is tender.

6. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoon butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly. Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

7. When the meat is cooked skim off any surface fat with a metal spoon and check the sauce that should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. Drain the contents of the pan into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Simmer the sauce and adjust consistency with a little stock if necessary. Add cooked pearl onions and lastly mushrooms after cooking lightly in butter. Serve hot with boiled potatoes, baby vegetables; buttered noodles or steamed rice.

Wine Suggestion – Serve beef with a fairly full bodied, young red wine such as Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux or Burgundy. A Californian Pinot Noir would also work well with this recipe.

HD-200811-r-butternut-polenta-squGratin of Butternut Squash
(Reproduced with kind permission from Chef Jacques Pepin)
Serves 6

“This gratin is quite rich and should be reserved for special occasions like Thanksgiving.”

INGREDIENTS

1 large butternut squash (3 1/4 lbs.), peeled and seeded (2 1/2 lbs.)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1 tsp. salt to taste as preferred
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

1. Cut off and discard the stem of the squash, then cut the squash into two pieces by cutting through it horizontally at the bottom of the neck. Peel the cylindrical neck lengthways, removing enough skin so that the orange flesh underneath is revealed. (Under the outer skin there is a layer of green, which should be removed.) Peel the round part of the squash by cutting around it in a spiral fashion with a sharp knife; it is easier to peel a round object in this manner.

2. Cut the rounded part in half lengthwise and using a spoon scoop out the seeds. Then cut the squash into 1/8 to 1/4 slices either with a knife or in a food processor fitted with a slicing blade.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash slices in a large pan and cover them with water, and bring to a boil. Boil over high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, and then drain in a colander. The pieces will break a little during cooking.

4. Arrange the pieces in a gratin dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour on the cream and stir gently with a fork to distribute the additions properly. Cover with the Parmesan cheese and bake for about 30 minutes.

5. At the time of serving brown the top of the gratin by heating it under a hot broiler for 4 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Time Saving Tip – Buy ready peeled butternut squash halves.

chocolate-mousse 01Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knof) by Julia Child)
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 large eggs separated (pasteurized eggs – “safest choice” recommended)
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

wine2DIRECTIONS

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Take a fresh bowl and whisk the yolks of the eggs with 2/3 cup of sugar and rum for about 3 minutes; again over the pan of hot water.

3. Remove bowl from the heat and place over a bowl of iced water and beat until cool and thick.

4. Gently mix the chocolate mixture in with the egg yolk mixture.

5. In a dry bowl whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they hold their shape. Sprinkle in the 1 tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny but not completely stiff, then add the vanilla.

wine46. Fold one third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, and then fold in the remainder of the whites until just gently mixed. Do not over stir or the mousse will lose its volume.

7. Divide the mousse in to 6-8 individual dessert pots or glasses and refrigerate. Serve with a small spoon of whipped cream; fresh fruit to garnish if desired.

Wine photos produced with kind permission from Divine Wine Emporium Niantic, CT.

Entertainment - What Do You Really Want for Christmas?

All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth, the classic Christmas carol tells us. Don Gardner wrote it in the 1940’s and it never fails to put some of us in the holiday spirit, prompting more than a little thought into those Christmas wish lists. It’s a song that inevitably brings about holiday happiness. Christmas lists are funny things and they say a lot about the kind of holiday season we envision for ourselves. Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt is another classic that entertains as she seductively sings her wish list that includes a yacht, a duplex, a deed to a platinum mine, decorations from Tiffany’s and lastly, a ring which we can presume should also be from Tiffanys. If you would like a refresher of that song check it out on You Tube – www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeNhjPaP53I

Rev. Quinn Caldwell Rev. Quinn Caldwell Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell has another take on Christmas wish lists, in his book All I Really Want – Readings for a Modern Christmas. It is a non-traditional devotional intended to bring some depth and warmth into what has become, for many people, a cold and consumeristic holiday season. So many of us get swallowed up by over consumption, excessive busyness and just too many commitments, leaving little time for the true reason for the season.

Quinn writes, “The Christmas season is a time when churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike tend to experience strong spiritual longings.” (That’s why churches are filled to overflowing during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services). “Whatever the longing looks like on the outside, for most of us, deep down it’s a longing for an experience of something holy, something beautiful. Something, like God.”

His easy to read, thought provoking, insightful little book, is filled with honesty, humor and scripture. Within its weekly calendar are suggestions for small acts, that if tasted mindfully just might create a little “holy breathing space” in your holiday. And for Rev. Quinn, That’s all he really wants.

Recognizing that opening this book gives us one more thing to do, rather than simplifying our holiday, it is well worth the effort. “I’m not here to simplify anything for you,” writes Quinn. “Neither is God. This book is actually designed to complicate the season. It’s here to invite you to think and pray a little more deeply about it.” And even if you can’t commit for a whole season, embracing All I Really Want, even when you have a spare minute is easy enough to do. The serendipitous random opening to a page often leads us to just the thing we need to see.

There are reflections for each day of December and 10 days following which roughly takes us through the Christian church’s Advent and Christmastide seasons. In each, there is a Bible passage, a reflection with questions to think about and prayer. For each week, there is a calendar with a daily call to action which is sure to connect with our sense of childlike anticipation, our desire to go deep and our inevitable humanness. He begins with a directive to get an advent calendar. Advent calendars date back to the 19th century and help us celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christmas. They help us stay focused and attentive by inviting us into a little surprise for each day of advent.

Examples of Advent calendarsExamples of Advent calendarsAdvent calendars come in all shapes and sizes and are made of paper, wood, fabric and any number of other materials. There is a tiny door or pocket for each day of the Advent season which this year begins on November 29, leading up to Christmas on December 25th. Behind each door there is a little surprise and depending on your calendar, it might be a scripture verse, a chocolate, a teeny tiny toy, or some other reminder of the season. Whatever it is, it serves to give us a sense of childlike nostalgia.

But Quinn’s book isn’t just about 19th century advent calendars, it is modern and contemporary for our time, like when late in his January calendar he suggests, “Knock the media gods from their thrones: refuse to have any screen time tonight.” There’s an idea.

“I think of it as primarily devotional for people who may not connect with traditional devotional material,” says Quinn. “It is a little grittier material, a bit out of the ordinary.” He sees it as offering something for people who do come from strong religious backgrounds as well as folks who may not.

“It is 100 percent for people who are looking for a way to add more spirit to their holiday season.”

“Many of us find ourselves battling against cultural expressions of Christmas. I think what Christianity has come up against is trying to deal with those cultural expressions in a way that points us toward Jesus. I think it’s all about finding a way to make those cultural expressions of Christmas to be about God. Making chocolate chip cookies can somehow be holy, and listening to Christmas carols can be about God.”

He wrote the book because he felt a disconnection himself in his holiday. A closer connection with God is something he longed for and as he saw friends, family and colleagues longing for more, he wanted to help in some way. It was a book he wanted to read, so he wrote it. With short daily readings that can be fit in over any cup of coffee, it is easy enough to compliment ones seasonal activities.

Quinn loves the contemporary yet vintage feel of the design. The content is both ancient and evolutionary as a way of honoring a tradition. Resonating with folks likely to be in the middle part of their lives, he hopes that All I Really Want will “complicate the season.” And in complicating it in this way, people might be brought deeper into the meaning of a holiday season that for many, has lost significance.

”I think humor matters in the church. Laughter matters. I’m not sure we do enough of it,” says Quinn. “Writing is an important devotional practice for me. The process of writing forces a certain organization of thoughts. Writing is helpful to me for my own faith and my own understanding of God.”

Coming up with two readings a day for 40 days is a lot to say about Christmas, he admits.” The process was pretty painful but it feels really good to have done it.” It took him about three months to put this valuable advent tool together. The idea evolved over time as he worked with Abingdon Press to publish it last year.

Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell is a member of the United Church of Christ Stillspeaking Writer’s Group and author for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotionals website published by UCC. He is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary and the pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Syracuse, New York. His book can be found on Amazon at All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas.

Expressive Arts - Mandalas As Prayer

Rose PetronellaRose PetronellaThe creation and use of mandalas is an ancient practice that crosses a number of religious traditions. The word mandala is a Sanskrit term meaning circle, although in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions it can be defined as a geometric shape that represents the Universe. It is reflective of our outer world as well as our inner world that draws us toward our center, and they have been used for enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition since the sixth century. Circles have deep associations throughout our natural surroundings in the sun, moon, planets, and all over the earth. In some ways, the labyrinth is a mandala representing our journey to the center. Carl Jung pioneered the use of mandalas for self-exploration, and while doing his own inner work created a psychological understanding of mandalas as a symbol of wholeness. Lily Mazurek of www.themandalamessage.com, interprets the Sanskrit meaning of these sacred circles to be “a container of sacred essence.”

Mandalas As Prayer by Rose PetronellaMandalas As Prayer by Rose PetronellaMany have heard of the Tibetan Lamas of Drepung Loseling Monastery who travel the globe creating mandalas out of grains of sand. This Tibetan art of sand painting is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, meaning mandala of colored powders. When the symbolic masterpiece is finished it is usually dismantled. “This is done as a metaphor of the impermanence of life. The sands are swept up and placed in an urn; to fulfill the function of healing, half is distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony, while the remainder is carried to a nearby body of water, where it is deposited. The waters then carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing,” according to www.mysticalartsoftibet.org

So who wouldn’t want to explore something that so many have found purposeful?

Rose Petronella of Middletown, Connecticut has had her own experience of mandalas as a container of the sacred, and works with them every day. She explains mandalas as a circular design that has been used through the centuries and across cultures. As a tool for self- exploration drawing a mandala taps into the unconscious mind and can reveal to us things we may not be aware of, according to Rose. It is a symbol of prayer and can be used as a meditative practice.

In 2001 Rose was at a low point in her professional life. She went to see her spiritual director during the holy season of Lent, feeling like she needed some creative practice in her life. Her director suggested she might try drawing a mandala every day, as she’d heard about some nuns doing that during a retreat. Rose didn’t know what a mandala was at that point and the only instruction she was given was for her to draw her feelings. The first day she took an 8 1/2”x11” sheet of paper, got a plate out of her cabinet and drew a circle. She had some three inch colored pencils that an 11 year old friend had given her. She did have a pretty regular journaling practice since the 1970’s, so she journaled about her feelings, identified the feeling as anger and then started drawing.

Night Longing – Mandala by Rose PetronellaNight Longing – Mandala by Rose Petronella“What came out was a black center with red around it,” says Rose. “I started looking at it and thinking about it. After a few days reflecting on the drawing, I could see that the mandala was a reflection of what was going on in my inner life. They reflected what was going on inside of me. Over the course of Lent they told me a lot about myself.”

She noticed that the red rim of that first mandala looked like a wall and realized she had built a wall around herself in real life. She didn’t realize that until she saw it on paper after reflecting on the mandala. Another example was when a black outer rim appeared on another, and the inside reflected an eye. She realized she was inside that eye and she was hiding. It was a revelation. She kept drawing them over time and continued identifying her feelings and became aware that she wanted to change some of the patterns that were showing up, so she decided to pray about them.

“I wanted to change the feelings and work through them. I wrote my prayer around the outside of the mandala as a way of affirming my intention. My practice continues, not every day but often. If I have questions in life and I draw a mandala and sometimes I get clarity.”

She has very little formal art training and has had no courses in mandalas. She recommends a book called Mandala by Judith Cornell who suggests blessing the materials in advance and uses black paper and chalk because it lets the light through. Another excellent resource is Mandala: Journey to the Center by Lori Bailey Cunningham.

Mandala as prayer has just flowed into her life and she offers workshops periodically to help people understand the prayer-filled power of the mandala. Her process is to journal first. She writes what she is grateful for, what she is struggling with, and then, what she needs help with. “Sometimes I know what I need help with, and sometimes I ask God to tell me. There is a lot of surrender,” says Rose.

I Surrender To You – Mandala by Rose PetronellaI Surrender To You – Mandala by Rose Petronella“The upshot is, in the process of writing what I need, and identifying what I need to cooperate with the divine energy within me, often there is an ah-ha moment. So I’ll take that conclusion or inspiration and that’s what appears in the mandala. So after I draw the mandala and write my ah-ha moment around the outside of it, I contemplate it. Looking at it, appreciating it, honoring it and letting it teach me something. What does it have to say? What additional information, do the colors, placement, images, shapes, have to say to me about my life? Sometimes it’s clear and sometimes it’s not. But often I have a sense of movement inside me as I’m drawing.”

The whole process takes place in silence.

As part of one’s grieving process Rose suggests the possibility of creating a series of mandalas (with whatever medium) focused on a loved one. They might be mandalas of gratitude, sadness, forgiveness, love, etc.. These sacred circles can be created with chalk, sand, watercolor paints, markers, colored pencils and the process of creating them can be as prayerful and creative as you can imagine.

“My experience has been a gradual transformation. In the beginning I’d start drawing and say, ‘I hate it, it’s ugly,’ but I’d stay with it, to see how it feels when it’s done. What I learned from that is that I get impatient with myself. I realize this is just one experience. So I say, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ It has taught me life skills. It’s also heightened my appreciation of what goes on outside of me and inside of me. Through choices, I have control of what goes on inside of me but not what goes on outside of me. It’s given me hope and comfort to see how my inner life changes from one day to the next, to accept my transformation and to see how, over time, I can learn to let go. Over time I’ve seen a lot of change in my ability to let go and the mandala has been a big part of that. I’ve developed the ability to be open to receive, to surrender, to forgive, to let go of control…”

Rose grew up Catholic and “got disillusioned” along the way and ended up in the United Church of Christ. In 1991 she was ordained after attending Andover Newton Theological Seminary and served in parish ministry for 17 years. She is now semi-retired and has a spiritual direction practice. She is nearing the final stages of publishing a small book of 25 mandalas with reflections called Mandalas as Prayer. It will be published by Greyden Press later this year.

“I felt called to do a book but it never came together until now. My hope is that it will provide some inspiration, encouragement and support for people who are on their journey, just like me, in asking for help from the divine.”

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