Featured Widow/er - Patricia Grassi Summons Strength In Solitude

Patricia Grassi (right) with her sister, Maureen.

Patricia GrassiPatricia GrassiPatricia Grassi grew up in a house full of five girls so when she felt a religious calling at the age of 25, her chosen Massachusetts convent felt just like home. Her parents were very religious when she was growing up, and instilled the importance of a spiritual life in their daughters, something that Pat felt unified them. They prayed the rosary together and never missed attending Catholic Mass, a practice she continues even today. “I was happy to know the Lord,” says Pat. She spent nine years as a Sister of Divine Providence, with vows that committed her to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience in community, “living the mission to make God’s Providence visible in our world.” After studying secondary education at Emmanuel College in Boston, she began teaching at a private school.

“I just loved it! I loved the life,” says Pat. “I thought it was where I belonged. The convent was just like being with my sisters. I was happy as could be. I was comfortable.”

But something felt not quite right. Two weeks after she entered the convent she was told she didn’t have a vocation but she fought for it. “Oh yes, I do!” she told them. “I had made up my mind that I belonged in a religious order and that’s what I was going to do. And I did love it. I was happy as could be.” It was the 1960’s and religious orders were undergoing changes. The Sisters of Divine Providence were slow to embrace change according to Pat. Accustomed to having very young girls entering the convent, there was growth in more mature, professional women responding to the call. Yet they were treated the same. Independent thinking wasn’t prized at the time. “Every decision was made for me,” says Pat. “It wasn’t good. Today young women are given more independence and it’s wonderful what they are doing now.”

She was offered counseling but in 1968, she was told she didn’t have a religious vocation and was put out into the great wide world. “It wasn’t God’s will for me. And that was the problem. You have to be doing God’s will. I kind of knew.” Pat found herself pursuing a master’s degree in American Literature at Fairfield University. In a graduate humanities class that made writing, research and socializing a high priority, she became taken with one of her professors, Joseph Grassi. The class often went to New York City to the theater and gathered at each other’s homes. It wasn’t like a regular class recalls Pat. Joseph and Pat dated a year and married in 1970.

He was very philosophical in nature and couldn’t express his emotions very well. Reason dominated him and to speak from the heart was very difficult. But they did go to church together. He was a philosophy professor and Pat gave up any career during their marriage and did volunteer work with Amnesty International and St Thomas Aquinas Church, where even today, she continues to teach Christian Education. They enjoyed tennis and traveled a lot to Rochester, New York to visit his family and enjoyed going to Europe every other summer.

She thought very highly of her husband. “I loved his sense of humor, his vitality and intelligence. He was an outstandingly brilliant man and a Fulbright scholar. He had a marvelous mind. Yet he talked with people as if he were at a bar with a drink in his hand and was very down to earth.” But there was a tension between them created because of Pat’s independence prior to going into the convent. She worked for the state department in Washington, D.C. and had planned to attend Catholic University. But she discerned the call to religious life and never went. She had an independent spirit.

Patricia & Joseph GrassiPatricia & Joseph Grassi“Joe was very dominant in his thoughts,” says Pat. “He took over, and I didn’t speak up and I let him do everything. I didn’t know his salary or how much we had in the bank. I never touched money. We bought a house and I hadn’t a clue what we paid for it. I never paid a bill and never asked about it. We each had our own interests. I had my interests and he had his. We loved each other. And I was happy with that arrangement.”

When he became very sick with congestive heart failure she had to take over and it was a struggle. “I had to make up my mind and do it. I said, ‘Look girl you have to do it. You have to figure out how to do it.’” She reached out to people who were proficient in different areas for advice. She learned. She educated herself about anything she needed to know. She went to the town hall and got the deed to the house and made phone calls and figured out on her own, how to do things. When she couldn’t figure it out on her own, she reached out to people who were proficient in their field. “It was an adventure. Previously I would always take the path of least resistance. That was a big step for me.”

She missed the convent but had no inclination to return after 26 years of marriage. Her mother lived with them after having a stroke in 1985, and Pat was her caregiver until she passed away. Then she cared for Joseph for two years when he was very ill and hospice was making regular visits. “I was like a door greeter, in and out, in and out. I took care of my husband day and night.” It was hard to watch as Joe was a very active person as head of the Philosophy department and tennis coach of Fairfield University and a passionate golf enthusiast. “He was a remarkable man and people loved him. But when he died in 1997, I was looking forward to being on my own.”

After he died, and out of necessity, Pat summoned the strength to figure things out for herself. She found the experience “fascinating,” and enjoyed the feeling of being self-sufficient. “I had been treated like I couldn’t do anything. Because I didn’t show any interest, he assumed I didn’t want to know. It made it easier for him because I never questioned. He did banking and made investments. That was the most challenging thing. He had just invested stocks and mutual funds. There they were. I didn’t want to just completely put everything in the hands of a stockbroker without knowing anything. I had to learn about investments. That was a big step. I never knew about investing. For me it was a whole new experience.

“If something comes along I try to go with what God has planned for me each day.” Pat lives with her two Chihuahuas and two cats that are, not surprisingly, “rescues.” “Each person has to find their own way,” says Pat. “A lot of widows have help but many are alone. Some live with families and the amount of support that you have and how independently you are living plays a role. My advice is don’t give in. One woman in my rosary group stayed on her sofa crying for five years until her kids gave her driving lessons. It changed her life. That was the problem. Her husband always drove.

“You have to do things for yourself and it will work out. God will guide us if we ask. But you don’t have to let other people take over your life either. You just can’t sit around until the day you die, so you have to live! Live to the best you can and as much as you want. Everyone’s circumstance is different. I take care of myself, cooking and housekeeping, shopping and laundry. I’m 80 years old, I volunteer at the church, my health is good. That does make a difference.”

Feature - Dressing for a First Date

Feature - Dressing for a First Date

Does what we wear influence the course of our day, or does how we feel influence what we wear? Do we dress in response to what the world expects of us, as when we wore those awful school uniforms? Or do we dress to communicate how we see our role in the world? 

Feature - Dressing for a First DateThese are questions that came up when I spoke recently with Amanda Cole, of Kenneth Cole. I started out asking her how a widow or widower should dress when going on a first date. I expected her to talk about hemlines and styles, heel heights and age appropriateness. But what she provided was so much more useful. And as the conversation progressed, I began to understand that how we dress for any sort of event deserves careful attention. Dressing is a universal language, telling everyone you meet how you feel about yourself and what you want from the day.

Consider the mood you wish to achieve. If you want a kick-back and relax day, by all means wear the sweat pants. But if you want to be sharp, dress in a business-like way. If you are looking for fun, wear some funky accessories. If you’re looking for romance, go with the soft. What you’re wearing will have its effect on your mood and attitudes. The effect is not lost on the people we encounter. Their reaction to our dress reinforces our effort. Picture this – if a friend comes to door, and we’re in sweats, they plop onto the couch with us. But if we are in pants with a crisp crease, and an ironed shirt, they are more likely to respect our time and get right down to business. So by choosing clothes carefully, we can support our goals for the day.

Once you know the effect you’re going for, start to choose the outfit. Black is always a safe color. It’s slimming, Amanda emphasized, and it’s a power color. Black can easily go from day to night. And it goes with anything, so jazz it up any way you’d like. Add accessories to bring out your personality. Coco Chanel advises playing with the accessories until you feel that you have the effect you want, and then removing one accessory.

Feature - Dressing for a First DateThe most important thing, according to Amanda’s father, the designer Kenneth Cole, is that you feel 100% comfortable in what you’re wearing. You should like it without reservation. If you have to think about it, or ask friends for opinions, it’s not right. He cautions, too, that your fragrance shouldn’t enter the room before you do.

Feature - Dressing for a First DateSo back to my original question, about what to wear on a first date. My 20-something nephew, Ryan Zrenda, advises dressing very casually for a first coffee meeting. The young people dress as if they’re out running errands. Then, if the relationship looks promising, they pull out the good clothes. So, a first meeting should not be stressful. Of course, good grooming is important and a sign of respect for the person you’re meeting. Clothes can be casual, but should be clean, in good repair, and fit well. It’s important to be yourself, and wear something that allows for lighthearted conversation. You want to give a positive, but honest impression of who you are. If a second date should be scheduled, then the planned activity should help determine what to wear. If you are going to an unfamiliar sort of event – like the rodeo if you’re from the city – it’s perfectly okay to ask what the dress code is.

Body language may be just as important as garments. Communication experts say that body language tells as much about a person as words do. Good posture, eye contact, and a friendly smile put the finishing touches on any outfit.

Widows and widowers who are rebuilding their lives after the loss of a spouse can dress to please themselves. How we dress should feel right. It should feel right because it reflects where we intend to go – a direction of our own choosing. We dress intentionally to give ourselves a structure within which to function, and to communicate with all those we meet, who we are becoming. Have some fun in your own closet, mixing and matching in some new ways. Take an outing to a consignment shop and find some great bargains. Risk a little change from how you usually dress, and have some fun with it. Just remember that you should feel 100% comfortable in your clothes. Let your dress be an honest reflection of who you are. After all, we want that person to like the real us, not a contrived person that we can never be, right?

Humor - Poor Widow Me | Romantic Enough For Me

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love birdValentine’s Day just passed and lucky for me this year I had someone buy me chocolates and something sexy for me to wear and for him to unwrap. It’s pathetic to buy your own heart shaped truffles and even sadder to dress up in a silky red teddy to watch Jeopardy alone. 

I’m not saying I’ve done this and I’m not saying I haven’t. I’m just saying...

It’s good to be in a relationship and it’s good to be single. Marriage takes the romance out of Valentine’s Day although I’ve learned that three martinis puts it back in.

When my husband and I were dating he bought me a giant Hershey kiss. After a few years of marriage he bought me that same kiss and ate the entire thing himself.

I really needed those martinis when the kids came along because a kid friendly house is no friend of romance. The wonder years (1-12) reduces Valentine’s Day to helping the children make their lopsided valentines. Doilies stuck to red construction paper by wads of Elmer’s stayed on the refrigerator until July. Sometimes they held on until August to disintegrate.

My history with Valentine’s Day has been consistently weak. By the eighth grade, I still hadn’t received one single valentine and I was beginning to feel unattractive. I blamed Miss Trevor, my gym teacher. She wouldn’t let me roll up the baggy legs of my gym suit when we ran around the track in front of the boys. Miss Trevor wouldn’t let the other girls, either, but I felt I needed an edge. She could have worked with me.

By ninth grade, my love life picked up. I got two valentines. One was from Steven Markowitz, the class weirdo. During fire drills, we’d all line up in the hall laughing, joking and saying fun stuff like, “I smell smoke.” Steven would stand alone, facing the wall. He seemed to be having a conversation.

He wanted to walk me home. I told him he couldn’t because I was against the war. He nodded like that made sense and went back to talking to the wall.

My other valentine was from Linda. I took it to mean a best friend thing. Then in our senior year in high school, she asked me to the prom. I took it to mean she wanted to double with my date and me.

After she went away to college, Linda wrote to say she had found Sylvia, the love of her life and she never wanted to see me again. She told me I was “homophobic.” I took it to mean she thought I was a wimp, because I was afraid to leave home and go away to college.

So, between, Steven, the wall watcher, and Linda, I hadn’t had much luck with valentines. That is, until I met Jimmy, the man who became my husband.

We weren’t even 18, but I knew I would marry him the second I saw him playing “My Girl” on the kazoo for Maryanne (Maryanne was his nine-year-old cousin).

He noticed me too and tried to impress me. He told me that the kazoo was “documented” to be the most difficult of all the instruments. He demonstrated how to improvise with a comb and a tissue in case you forgot your kazoo. Maryanne was in love with Jimmy too, but she outgrew it.

Besides his musical talent, I knew Jimmy was for me because he said the most ridiculous things in a matter of fact way. Once, when I lost my class ring, he told me not to bother looking for it, because it had obviously gone into another dimension. He said to give it 24 hours and it would turn up. It did.

One Valentine’s Day, Jimmy told me it was too snowy to go out and get me a card or flowers, so he filled a vase with water and left it on the kitchen table with a note, “Isn’t it the thought that counts?”

He gave manly advice to our son Doug when he was a teenager. “Son, learn to play the kazoo.” Then, he turned to me, twirled me around and he added, “Exhibit A – The kazoo player always gets the girl.”

Life changed dramatically nearly ten years ago when Jimmy passed away. We were in our mid-fifties and our romance was blossoming again. I haven’t remarried, but if I was younger I might have. I imagine me having a whole new family by now. People do. I might be re-living my old Valentine’s Day tradition of making heart shaped meatloaf, which was vetoed by my first family along with my regular shaped meatloaf. Perhaps my new family would be kinder or have dull taste buds.

But my eggs died before my husband did so a new family is as likely as Donald Trump becoming president (Whoops – can’t use that analogy anymore).

Still, here I am, a widow, not remarried but “taken.” My boyfriend, Mickey, is wonderful and sweet and I love him, but we didn’t celebrate by candlelight; we gazed into each other’s eyes by the glow of our cell phones as we Facetimed.

Mickey lives in Florida and I live in New York. At this stage of the game that’s romantic enough for me.

Ask Jane - Rebuilding Your Life After A Difficult Marriage

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Ask Jane - Rebuilding Your Life After A Difficult MarriageIt’s hard enough starting over after the loss of a spouse, what with the legal and financial matters that come up, the emotional whirlwind of loneliness, isolation, wondering what to do, where to go, and who to call. But it’s even harder if your marriage wasn’t made in heaven, unlike other widow/widowers you know or read about in Pathfinder, who have nothing but fond memories of their beloved late spouse. How, then, do you process grief and go on?

If yours was a marriage rife with emotional struggles for years, let me first say this; you are not alone. No marriage is perfect, no matter how much love and devotion there may have been. All marriages have their struggles. It’s just that for some couples it’s small differences they’re able to live with, and for others it’s all-out, knock-down, drag-out battles that go on for years. Many widow/ers have never even talked to others about these problems when their spouse was alive, let alone after their spouse has died. Many never asked for help, or no help was forthcoming. There is also a great deal of guilt associated with speaking ill of the dead. It’s as though in death, everyone is somehow perfect! When was the last time you saw an obituary that spoke poorly of the deceased? Never, because people don’t write obituaries like that! But the reality is, many marriages are dysfunctional, conflicted, and even downright miserable.

Any number of factors can play into marital battles (i.e. substance abuse, infidelity, emotional, verbal, or physical abuse). What if the love was lost, the vows were broken, and trust betrayed long ago? These are the things you don’t bring up to friends, relatives, or in a group, because they feel somehow shameful or embarrassing, as though you’re to blame and no one could ever understand. But if you were not the one who broke the vows, destroyed the love, and betrayed the trust, you have no reason to feel guilty. You may even find yourself enraged at your late spouse, now that they aren’t there to respond or retaliate. You may also be angry that they never apologized or changed their behavior, and it’s too late now to confront them. Feelings of anger, resentment, rage, frustration, guilt, embarrassment, and shame are all normal after a difficult marriage. Feelings are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Feelings are just feelings, and it’s ok to acknowledge them, and not to judge yourself for having them.

So what to do with all those negative feelings? I can tell you for sure what NOT to do: don’t keep them inside, don’t deny them, don’t bury them. There’s a saying in 12-step programs, “Resentment is like taking poison, and then waiting for the other person to die”. In other words, resentments only hurt you. They don’t bother the other person at all. So you need to get those negative feelings out one way or another, or they will fester inside you until you become anxious or depressed. Holding negative feelings inside can also compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness or disease.

 Ask Jane - Rebuilding Your Life After A Difficult MarriageThat being said, there are a number of strategies you can use to move past negative feelings. One of the best ways is making a journal. Get yourself a notebook, and begin to write down all your thoughts and feelings about the marriage as they occur to you. Write the stories of the most difficult times, including how you were feeling then, and how you’re feeling about it now. You have my permission to write as angrily as you want, to use foul language if that’s how you feel, and to say all the things you couldn’t or wouldn’t say to your late spouse when they were alive. Keep in mind, this journal is for your eyes only, you don’t need to share it with anyone. Keeping your journal private will help you write more honestly about what happened in your marriage, without feeling as though you have to justify it to yourself or anyone else in any way. Remember, your feelings are just feelings, they are neither right nor wrong, they are just feelings. As you write, you may feel overwhelmed with emotion and need to grieve either for the unhappy marriage itself, or for yourself and what you deserved to get out of the marriage, but didn’t. You may feel sorry for yourself, and that’s ok. You did deserve to be happy, and it’s ok to grieve the fact that you weren’t. It’s also ok to be angry, even to feel rage, that your late spouse let you down, hurt you, abandoned you, degraded you, neglected or betrayed you. Give yourself permission to feel the way you honestly feel, and then write it.

The greatest benefit of making a journal is that it literally gets the powerful feelings that are eating away at you all day and keeping you awake at night, out of your head and down on paper, where you can then leave them. Writing down your thoughts and feelings allows you a way to clear your head and go on to have a better day or a more restful night.

As you write in your journal, be sure to date your entries, so that you can look back at them at some point in the future, and see the progression of your thoughts and feelings, and how they change with time. You will be surprised someday to see how you grew in your understanding of the marriage.

As time goes on with your journal, if you find that you simply cannot reconcile your feelings, if you find yourself in a panic, or you begin to have nightmares about the marriage, it may be time to talk to someone professional who can help you process your experiences and come to terms with what happened. You may actually have been traumatized by your late spouse, physically or emotionally. If the marriage itself was a traumatic experience, if you were abused, betrayed, neglected, or belittled by your late spouse, that truth needs so be validated and acknowledged. A good therapist can help you sort out what happened to you, and help you come to accept the reality of it and recognize that you are not to blame. When I say accept the reality of it, I don’t mean to suggest that you have to be OK with what happened, only that you need to face the truth of it. Only by facing the truth of the marriage can you ever be free of it.

Grief Counselors are professionals at helping the bereaved process loss, whether or not the marriage was a happy one. They’ve heard it all before. They’ve heard lots of conflicted feelings about late spouses, and they will not be surprised or shocked to hear that that you resent, or even hate your late spouse. They won’t even be shocked to hear that you are relieved that your spouse is gone. In fact, it’s common to feel a sense of relief when a conflicted or abusive marriage is over, even by death. Grief counseling is a no-judgment zone. So tell the whole truth.

Ask Jane - Rebuilding Your Life After A Difficult MarriageYou will probably find that you have trust issues about marriage, relationships, or even friendships, having been in a difficult marriage for as long as you were. In order to accept the past as what it was, and move on to live your life to the fullest, you should address your trust issues with a professional. It’s important for you to come to understand whether your trust issues are reasonable and rational, or whether you are still operating as though you’re a victim of the marriage. You may in fact have been a victim, but you’re not anymore, and you don’t need to feel like one. Once you come to terms with what’s happened, accept and acknowledge the reality of it, and process your feelings about it by writing a journal, talk therapy, grief counseling, or a grief support group. You’ll be free and ready to move forward with your life.

Read more about how to let go of resentments, guilt, shame, rage, and other negative feelings that hold you back from living the life you were meant to live in my book, The Path To Real And Lasting Inner Peace, available at www.createspace.com/3801758, or on my website, www.synergycounselingcenter.com. You deserve to live a full and happy life, no matter what has happened to you. Happiness is a right, not a privilege. Don’t be afraid to go on and create a happy life. Settle for nothing less. Seek out positive people, avoid the doom-sayers. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know, or couldn’t control.

The more you associate yourself with positive people, the more positive your life will become. Our intention becomes our reality, so set positive intentions. Do what you enjoy, and what you may not have been allowed to do, or free to do when you were married: learn to dance, plant a garden, learn a new hobby, join a club, travel, have fun with friends! It’s your life now, and you alone make the choices of what you’d like to do. You’re free to do what you want. Put yourself first, finally. If you don’t, who will?

Give yourself permission to be happy. It’s about time, right?

Parenting - From Grief, Growth in Children's Hospice Garden

It’s natural for kids to express themselves through the creative arts. And painting, drawing, music, movement and drama have the added benefit of facilitating emotional healing after a death when words alone aren’t adequate. 

A child placed a painted stone in memory of her loved one in front of a watermelon in the garden. (Center for Hospice Care)A child placed a painted stone in memory of her loved one in front of a watermelon in the garden. (Center for Hospice Care)Linda Bradley, a registered art therapist and program coordinator for Center for Hospice Care Southeast CT, understands the healing power of creativity. She sees it every day in Hospice’s expressive arts programs focused on helping children and adolescents process grief in imaginative and therapeutic ways.

“Often younger children can’t find the words to express how they’re feeling,” Bradley says, “and this gives them other ways to express and act that out and will stimulate questions and responses from the adults who work with them about how they can put their thoughts and feelings into words.”

Hospice offers a wide range of creative modalities Bradley explains, because, for example, a child who may not be into drawing, might better respond to music. Or perhaps working with puppets may help a kid express a different side of his or her grief than a movement activity.

She notes that along with a team of five Hospice-trained volunteers, she facilitates all the activities with the exception of music sessions.

“The String Theory School of Music in East Lyme comes up with instruments and do sing-a-longs with the children,” Bradley says. “They have been a wonderful part of our program.”

Bradley’s enthusiasm can barely be contained for the newest offering in the expressive arts program — a vegetable garden within the existing Hospice “Healing Garden” for ages 5 to 12 that’s planted and maintained solely by the children.

David Fairman, president of Eastern Connecticut Community Gardens Association, donated plants, gardening supplies and labor to the project.

The kids have been working in the garden since late spring and wrapped up the harvesting season this fall. It is yet another way to give them the hope and healing needed to move forward in their grief.

The children chose to name their garden the “Just for Kids Hospice Garden” and designed a sign, which will be placed in the garden this spring when they once again plant their new crop.

Bradley recently gave the participants a questionnaire asking them how the garden helped them with their feelings about their loved one who had died.

Among the answers were: “It helped me feel better because my dad would garden with me,” one said.

“It’s a quiet place where I can think,” noted another.

Another child said, “I feel calm and happy in the garden.”

Sowing and Reaping the Benefits 

Miles is 9 years old and has been participating in the Hospice expressive arts program for several years. Rubin, Miles’ older brother, died when Miles was 4 years old. His older cousin also died about a year ago.

Miles says what he likes best about the Hospice program overall is, “I like how you don’t have to really talk. It makes you feel good that you’re with other people who have had a loss.”

He says his favorite thing about the vegetable garden was doing the planting and getting to bring home the vegetables and herbs they grew.

“It was fun to do with other people,” he says. “I made friends with other kids (in the program).”

Miles, who has one dog and two cats, adds that he also enjoys pet therapy.

“They have dog therapy before we go to art therapy,” he explains. “We get to give the dogs treats and comb them.”

Miles’ dad, Jason Appleby adds, “Since we lost his brother, we have done every type of counseling group: individual, horses — the whole gamut—and the program at Hospice hands-down is the best for Miles.”

Appleby says it’s been very helpful to have someone his child can be comfortable with enabling him to process his grief in his own way.

“Linda and the staff are wonderful, between the art, music, dogs and the garden,” he says. “This has been an outlet for Miles, and also a way to get some understanding his mother and I couldn’t give him when his brother died four years ago because we were grieving ourselves.” 

Appleby also stresses how important it is for grieving children to have other children to talk to.

“It’s one thing for us adults who understand, but to have other people your same age feeling the same pain is very gratifying,” he says. “Children speak to children in a way that adults can’t. To know you’re not alone, you’re not the only child that feels this way is very empowering.”

Jack, 3, Paige, 6 and Owen, 7, have been in the expressive arts program since last January after their grandfather died on Christmas Eve.

“They were very close to (my father),” their mother Jen Brayman says. “They would go out to breakfast together every week.”

Brayman agrees with Appleby that connecting with other bereaved children is a key aspect of the Hospice program.

“It gives them a chance to see other kids going through (grief),” she says. “Kids at school may not get what’s going on. And they may be shy about talking about it at school. But here they have to talk about it. It’s a good thing.”

The program, she says, has “given my kids a chance to have somewhere to go and talk about their grandfather, to tell stories about him (to someone besides me), to keep his memory alive.”

Closing the Garden Gate for Winter

“We had a mini closing ceremony for the garden,” Bradley says. “I feel that rituals are very important, especially with the kids. We put together a kind of ‘thank you’ to the garden for what we learned about it — and for how much we learned about ourselves.

“I read Lifetimes: The beautiful way to explain death to children to the group,” she continues. “It included a passage about how gardens die, too. We then gathered everyone together to see how death had transformed our garden.

“We stood in a semi-circle close to the garden beds and I asked all to hold hands and stand in silence as I read the ‘Garden Blessing,’ Bradley recalls. “We did a loud ‘Goodbye, garden!,’ locked the garden gate, and imagined what the other side of winter will bring us.”

For the kids, she says, it’s ripe watermelons. And for the adults, Caprese salad.

About the Program

Center for Hospice Care is at 227 Dunham St., Norwich. Expressive arts programs for children, adolescents and adults are free and open to anyone who has lost a loved one, even if the person wasn’t in Hospice care. More information is available online at hospicesect.org or by calling (860) 848-5699. Registration required.

This article originally appeared in The Day (New London, CT)

Widow/er of History - Mark Twain “Adopts” Granddaughters

 

The Clemens family, 1885.

Mark TwainMark TwainWidowhood was hard on humorist Samuel Clemens, better known by his penname, Mark Twain. When Olivia (“Livy”) died at age 58, Samuel, at 68, had also outlived two of their four children. He had no grandchildren. Samuel said, “I am tired and old; I wish I were with Livy.”

He describes that time of his life as “washing about in a forlorn sea of banquets and speechmaking.” He began wearing white suits believing that light colored clothes lift the spirit.

The famous American writer knew grief and hardship at an early age. Born the sixth of seven children on November 30‚ 1835, the Hannibal‚ Missouri‚ resident left school after fifth grade to earn a living after his father died. He worked as a printer’s apprentice and later wrote articles for newspapers. Other careers included riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River, a volunteer in the Confederate Army, silver prospector and travel writer. While on a steamship tour of Europe and the Holy Land, he met Charles Langdon who showed him a picture of his sister Olivia. Sam thought she was just beautiful and when he later visited their home in Elmira, New York, he proposed to Olivia a few days later. She said no, but he was welcome to write letters.

Olivia Clemens Olivia Clemens So Sam did what he did best—write. He wrote about the mundane, such as his trip to Mystic, Connecticut, in November 1869: “I had to submit to the customary & exasperating drive around town in a freezing open buggy this morning to see the wonders of the village. They always consist of the mayor’s house; the ex-mayor’s house…the public school with its infernal architecture…& I must sit and shiver & stare at a melancholy grove of skeleton trees & listen while my friend gushes enthusiastic statistics & dimensions…”

He also wrote: “Livy, you are so interwoven with the very fibres of my being that if I were to lose you it seems to me that to lose memory & reason at the same time would be a blessing to me.”

After two years of courting, 25-year-old Olivia married 35-year-old Samuel in her family’s living room on February 2, 1870. Sam couldn’t believe his good fortune – he got to sleep in the same bed with the “only sweetheart I have ever loved.”

The couple moved to Buffalo‚ New York, where their son, Langdon, was born. In 1871, Sam moved his family to Hartford‚ Connecticut‚ the most prosperous city in the country. In 1872, Olivia gave birth to their second child Susy, but nine weeks later, their happiness was shattered when Langdon died at the age of two from diphtheria. Two more daughters followed: Clara in 1874 and Jean in 1880. From 1874-1891, they lived in their exquisitely designed home on Farmington Avenue. Those were Sam’s happy years of encouraging his daughters to present plays and creating new stories for them every night by incorporating every item on their mantel piece. He also wrote some of his best-loved novels during that time: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Sam’s downfall was his lavish spending style and a series of bad investments, which put him into bankruptcy. Determined to pay off everyone he owed, he went on a worldwide lecture tour, taking Olivia and daughter Clara with him. Daughters Jean and Susy, who was herself a writer and considered Sam’s favorite, stayed behind in the U.S. with friends. In 1896, tragedy struck the family again when they learned Susy died from meningitis while visiting their Hartford home. They would never again live in that house—Olivia couldn’t bear the thought of it.

In 1903‚ Olivia became ill with asthma and suffered a heart condition. Doctors felt Samuel would exhaust her so limited his time with her to two minutes a day. Sam wrote notes to her, pushing them under the door: “Good morning, dear heart, and thank you for your dear greeting. I think of you all the time…”
When Sam took Olivia to Italy in October 1903 to winter there, the Italian doctors also enforced a two-minute bedside rule. Sometimes Sam snuck in anyway. Their servant, Katy Leary, recalled: “She’d put her arms around his neck the first thing and he’d hold her soft, and give her one of them tender kisses…It was a love that was more than early love—it was heavenly.”

On the Sunday evening of June 5, 1904, when Sam went in to say goodnight, Olivia was gone. That evening Sam wrote, “She has been dead two hours…She was my life, and she is gone; she was my riches, and I am a pauper.”

Mark Twain's signatureMark Twain's signatureSo began Sam’s season of “washing about in a forlorn sea…” While living in Redding‚ Connecticut, the answer to Samuel’s loneliness finally came to him when the mother of a 14-year old girl insisted on meeting him when they traveled to America. The teenage girl reminded him of his joy in raising his own daughters when they were young. Sam later referred to that meeting as a “fortunate day, a golden day, and my heart has never been empty of grandchildren since.”

While on a trip to Bermuda, Samuel met several more girls. It occurred to him to “adopt” them and form a literary and arts club. He called these girls the “Bermudian angelfish” and their club, the “Aquarium.” More than 300 letters were exchanged, with the correspondence becoming Sam’s “chief occupation and delight.” He invited the girls (along with their mothers) to visit his home.

In one letter to teenager Dorothy Sturgis on August 3, 1908, Sam included a recent photograph. He wrote “... The cat is Tammany, the pride of the place. You will notice that I have become extraordinarily hump-shouldered. The doctors say it will never diminish, but will increase. They say it is due to bad circulation, lack of exercise, and excessive smoking. I do not care. It is good enough shape, and I like it.”

After Dorothy visited in September of 1908, Clemens encouraged her to compose a sign to burglars as his house had been robbed recently. The sign read, “…If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing. Do not make a noise — it disturbs the family. ... Please close the door when you go away.”

Sam’s health declined in 1909 and his letters to the girls dwindled. He didn’t like when they grew older and became interested in boys. He finally found satisfying companionship when his daughter Jean, who had been living in an epilepsy colony as a result of her seizures, moved back home. But even that delight was grabbed from him when she was found dead Christmas Eve morning in the bathroom, having died during a seizure. She had been so happy the night before preparing their home for Christmas and buying presents. On December 24, 1909, at 11 a.m., Sam wrote, “I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her mother—her incomparable mother!—five and half years ago; Clara has gone away to live in Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am, who was once so rich! …and I sit here—writing, busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking.”

Sam felt pity for Jean’s dog. On December 26, he wrote: “The dog came to see me at eight o’clock this morning. He was very affectionate poor orphan! My room will be his quarters hereafter.”

Sam had spent his last years in his bed and now, even more so. His bed had become his true home. He and Livy had purchased it in Venice for their Hartford home. They would prop their pillows up at the foot of the bed so they could admire the carved cherubs at the head.

Sam was weary of living and waited for his time to come. Four months after Jean’s death, Sam died on April 21‚ 1910, at the age of 74. Beside him on his bed lay his glasses and the book, French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle. He finally had his wish to join Livy, along with their three children who predeceased him, at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York. He missed the birth of his biological granddaughter, Nina Clemens Gabrilowitsch, on August 19, 1910.

To learn more about Samuel Clemens, visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, marktwainmuseum.org, and the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, marktwainhouse.org.

Bibliography

Biography.com Editors. (n.d.). Mark Twain Biography. (A. T. Networks, Producer) Retrieved 20 November, 2015, from The Biography.com website.

Burns, K. (Director). (2001). Mark Twain [Motion Picture].

Gaffney, D. (2008, January 7). Antique Roadshow: Mark Twain's "Aquarium". Retrieved from PBS:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/fts/baltimore_200701A20.html

Mark Twain is Dead at 74. (1910, April 21). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0421.html
Powers, R. (2005). Mark Twain: a life. New York: Free Press.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain. (1959). New York: Edited by Charles Neider. Harper & Brothers, Publishers.

The Man. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2015, from Mark Twain House and Museum: http://marktwainhouse.org/man/biography_main.php 

Nutrition - Foods To Help Boost Your Memory

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There are many reasons why you might be feeling forgetful, lack of sleep, stress, but there is no doubt that food plays a part in brain health.

There is no guarantee that eating the right foods will help you remember where you put your car keys but its never to early or too late to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle!

The best foods for boosting memory and brain function encourage good blood flow to the brain. A recent study found that the Mediterranean diet helps in keeping aging brains sharp. Further scientific evidence links foods, which make up this diet including fish, olive oil, veggies, beans and fresh fruits with better cognitive function, memory and alertness.

Here are some foods to include regularly in you diet which might help to keep you quick thinking and improve you memory recall!

 absolutely free photos original photos delicious salmon for lunch 3696x2448 47456Brain Boosting Omega-3's

Opt for omega-3 fatty acids – Essential for good brain health omega-3 fatty acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish as EPA and DHA.

The main sources of oily fish include salmon, Bluefin tuna, sardines and herring. Replace meat with fish twice a week to get enough of the good omega 3 fatty acids. Grill, bake or broil for delicious tasting fish and healthy benefits. Swap a beef burger for a homemade salmon burger once a week or try some fish tacos.
If you don’t eat fish then discuss supplementation with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist. You can get omega 3 supplements from fish oil, seaweed or microalgae.

Work in some walnuts – well known for better heart health, walnuts may also improve working memory. Great as a snack on there own or eat or a handful sprinkled on a salad or mixed in with breakfast oatmeal.

Also you might like to include: Avocados, flaxseed, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds or pipits, canola or olive oil and foods such as fortified orange juice and eggs which you can buy with added omega-3s.

Green up with veggies –Getting plenty of green veggies, up to 3 servings per day may improve your memory. Spinach and other leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and broccoli can slow mental decline due to aging by as much as 40% (M. Roizen MD Cleveland clinic). 

Put another way eating “your greens” can make your brain function more like the brain of someone who is 5 years younger! What makes these veggies so good for your brain? Most probably brain friendly nutrients including carotenoids and flavonoids that may boost memory function.
So make your self a kale salad and throw some extra broccoli in that stir-fry for dinner!

 absolutely free photos original photos blueberries summer fruit 5760x3840 100665 absolutely free photos original photos nutrition grains in bowl 3472x2315 74899Memory Boosters: Whole Grains, Blueberries, & Vitamins

Choose whole grains – the ability to concentrate and focus comes from the adequate supply of glucose; achieve this by choosing whole grains with a low –GI that release glucose slowly into the bloodstream keeping you mentally sharp through out the day.

Binge on blueberries – evidence from Tufts University suggest that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss. Berries especially the dark ones such as blueberries, blackberries and cherries are a rich source of anthocyanin’s and other flavonoids and can be mixed in to cereals or baked in a dessert. You can get the same benefits from eating fresh, frozen, or dried berries and cherries.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements – store shelves are packed with supplements claiming to boost health. Although many of the reports on the brain boosting power of Supplements like vitamins B, E, beta-carotene and magnesium are promising a supplement is only useful to someone whose diet is lacking in that particular nutrient. Research also shows that many nutrients are most effective when consumed in their natural form, in foods!

Some researchers are cautiously optimistic about gingko, vitamin, mineral and herb combinations and their impact on the brain health but more proof is still needed. Check with your doctor.

Cooking Tips: if you do not regularly cook fish or eat dark green veggies here are some cooking tips to help you get started.

Salmon Fillets Sautèed

Cooking on the stovetop is the easiest method if you don’t want to heat up your oven or spend too much time in front of it; sautéing a fillet is the way to go. The method is easy and fast and works well for salmon fillets (with the skin on) and gets dinner on the table!

Detox Kale Salad 68 thumbDIRECTIONS
1. In a non stick pan add 1 tbsp. olive oil or canola oil and heat on medium heat.
2. Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper, and place in hot oil, skin side up.
3. Cook without turning for 4-6 minutes until gently browned. Flip the fish and cook through 2-4 minutes longer.

Flavor combinations to add a little zing before cooking:
• Fennel seeds, minced rosemary and minced orange zest
• Honey, soy sauce, fresh garlic and ginger

Kale Salad
This is a fresh side dish to go with your salmon. The dressing is made with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic which tenderize the curly kale.

DIRECTIONS
1. Take the amount of kale you require and cut it into ribbons.

2. Gather a handful of leaves bunch together tightly and use the other hand to cut it into 1/4" slices or smaller to make more of a slaw.

3. Take out any thick course stems that might make the salad tough. Place in salad bowl.

4. Make dressing (can be made in advance and stored in refrigerator) by combining 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, (whisk in slowly until blended) 3-4 gently crushed clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Before serving remove crushed garlic cloves.

5. Toss shredded kale in the dressing and use within 1 hour.

Flavor Ideas: Add some toasted almonds and Parmesan cheese to the kale salad.

Entertainment - The Magic of Belle Isle

A miserable has-been writer, bound to a wheelchair, comes alive when he spends a summer at a lake community in The Magic of Belle Isle. There is indeed something magical that happens when award winning writer, Monte Wildhorn, played by Morgan Freeman, arrives at a lakeside cottage and befriends a bold and precocious nine year old, Finnegan O’Neil. Monte is a drunk and jaded alcoholic who used to conjure up compelling western novels featuring his character Jubal McClaws, once upon a time. And now desperate for a place to live, finds himself house/dog sitting in upstate New York. Monte has conversation with the dog named Ringo, and immediately changes his name to Spot. “From here on your name will be Spot. You’re not some rock n’ roll icon from Liverpool,” says Monte.

His nephew Henry, played by Kenan Thompson, drops him off at the cottage with his old typewriter and Monte tells him, “Toss it in the garbage.” Henry wants to know why he doesn’t write anymore. “Drinking is a very demanding profession and I can’t do two jobs at once,” is his response. He alludes to killing himself as Henry departs, leaving Monte with his only passion: his next bottle of whiskey. That is, until he meets his neighbors, single mom Charlotte O’Neil and her three daughters. Willow (Madeline Carroll) is the oldest, whose teen years are doubly challenged by her parents pending divorce, Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann), and little Flora (Nicolette Pierini).

Although Monte is in a wheelchair, we don’t find out why, until he opens up toward the end of the story. He had stopped writing when his wife Mary died six years earlier. Finn is drawn to him like a moth to a flame, and undeterred by his miserable demeanor. “The imagination is the most powerful force available to humankind,” he says, and she “hires” him to help her learn about imagination. Her total savings of $34.18 goes into his pocket and he mentors her as their relationship develops over the summer.

The O’Neil’s home has been in Charlotte’s family for 85 years and she summered there as a child. The setting exudes that comfortable, familiarity that people understand who return to lake communities year after year. Quirky neighbors like Carl (Ash Christian), who has special needs, play a role in establishing that feeling and it’s a place where the kids can roam around free without worries. All summer long Finn is building a raft to paddle out to Belle Isle in the middle of the lake. And it’s there that she discovers an old metal Happy Days lunch box that holds a bit of mystery inside.

Monte and Charlotte always address each other as Mr. Wildhorn and Mrs. O’Neil in a very formal and old fashioned sort of way. She invites him to dinner and he discovers her talent and grace on the piano as she plays a Beethoven piece he is familiar with. “I’d leave all my windows open to hear that kind of playing, Mrs. O’Neil,” he says. When she asks him about his Jubal character, he tells her, “All the things I couldn’t do in the real world, Jubal lets me do on the page.”

Finn’s “lessons” continue as she shows up unannounced to see him, his demeanor softening as time goes on, and he is impressed by his own mentoring abilities and begins to write again. At Flora’s seventh birthday party, he presents the youngest O’Neil with a story about a mouse and an elephant, her favorite animal. The story mentions Mrs. Mouse waltzing under the moonlight and sparks the beginning of the falling apart of one relationship, and new intimacy of another. Finn gets angry with him because she wanted him to write more stories about Jubal and he didn’t want to write at all. And for Charlotte, the elephant story is as much for her as it was for Flora. Other stories follow and she knows he is writing them for her under the guise of them being for Flora, and Charlotte responds playing beautiful music that he hears from his front porch. “She’s talking to me and it’s a private conversation,” he says about her music to unwelcome guests.

Morgan Freeman as Monte Wildhorn in The Magic of Belle Isle. (Magnolia Pictures)Morgan Freeman as Monte Wildhorn in The Magic of Belle Isle. (Magnolia Pictures)His agent, Joe (Kevin Pollack) tries to reach him and eventually shows up at the door with a famous actor who wants to give new life to Jubal McClaws on the big screen. Monte, despite having no place to live when the summer is over and no money, has no interest in selling the rights to his character. Joe notices Monte is different and not drinking. “Right now I’m seeing things with a clear eye and frankly, I like the view,” Monte says. “Most of the time life doesn’t measure up to what is in our heads. But once in a while it comes pretty close. You’ve caught me at one of those moments.”

Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen from The Magic of Belle Isle. (Magnolia Pictures)Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen from The Magic of Belle Isle. (Magnolia Pictures)He falls asleep, listening to her music and dreams of a lakeside picnic with Charlotte as they waltz under the stars and kiss. He is awakened from the dream with spot licking his face and Charlotte knocking at the door asking him to babysit. The unarticulated intimacy grows between Monte and Charlotte and one night while on his porch, with the children asleep inside, she kisses him, leaving him speechless. The connection they have is palpable. At one point he says to the dog, “Spot, that lady has a way of making me sit taller in the saddle.”

The lunchbox has a powerful effect on Willow as she comes around to understand her mother. Finn learns to appreciate her gift of imagination. And Monte shares his story with Finn of how he ended up in a wheelchair and what his wife meant to him.

This film is filled with wit and charm, humor and honesty, inspiration as well as the melting of some hearts. There is a message of transformation that shows that people who are dead inside can come to life again.

He says to Finn, “Six years ago Mary died and Jubal went with her. All the doors closed, everything got bolted shut. Until one day, a nine year old named Finnegan O’Neil showed up at my door, and gave me back my legs.”

You won’t get to the end of this movie without shedding a tear or two (or three). It’s one of Morgan Freeman’s best movies in my opinion. The transformation in his character is inspiring, and is a witness that anything is possible. I won’t share the ending but it just might give you a few warm fuzzies.

The film was shot entirely on location in Greenwood Lake, New York. It is directed by Rob Reiner, and was released by Magnolia Pictures in 2012.

Book Review - The Wisdom of Grief: A Treasure Trove of Help for the Bereaved

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Leslie Palumbo has had more than her fair share of profound loss, not that there is anything fair about any untimely death. Her mother committed suicide 12 years ago at age 64 and her husband died eight months ago after being diagnosed with a terminal illness eight years earlier. He had just turned 50.

And yet, Leslie has recently published a book to help others who are bereaved that is full of hope and full of wisdom, aptly titled The Wisdom of Grief: Mining the Treasure Inherent in Great Loss.

kindlecoverLeslie’s book is not only informed by her personal stories, but her professional perspective. She is a licensed clinical social worker and meditation teacher whose work over the past 20 years has been focused on bereavement and mindfulness.

Before moving to New Haven and then Madison, Connecticut with her husband and son (who is now 17) Leslie lived with her family in Chicago and Ohio and she has facilitated bereavement groups and taught mindfulness to diverse populations throughout the country. She has spoken on grief at many conferences and will be a featured speaker at the International Mindfulness Conference in Rome this coming May 11-15.

In the following interview Leslie talks about her book and her personal experiences of grief and loss.

Q. Why did you decide to write this book?

A. I felt like I didn’t have a choice in the matter. After my mother died I had this deep need to write everything down. She died in 2004 and I immediately started writing about everything that had happened and I was feeling. I think that came from being a therapist and treating so many people in grief and suddenly having this happen to me. I think it also had to do with my mother’s suicide being so senseless and I felt I had to make sense out of this senseless event. It’s a common thing for all people, particularly people who are grieving, to try to make meaning out of something that has turned our lives upside down.

Q. What does your book offer people who are bereaved that isn’t in other books?

A. For me, what it offers, and what I found in my own experience—because it was based partially on my experience—is that grief is very difficult, but what I discovered was that what’s required of us is not misery but transcendence at a certain point and that there are these windows during the grieving process when we’re more open. When we identify these opportunities, we are able to be transformed by them and then the loss becomes a vehicle for our own evolution. The book offers tools to help people move through grief in power and in peace with grace. All of us need help and assistance to [process our grief]. Anything that can give us a bigger perspective on it is helpful.

Q. This book is about the overall grief journey but specifically about your experience of your mother’s suicide. People have trouble talking about death in our culture, anyway, but particularly about suicide. Why is that?

A. There is an unbelievable amount of shame around suicide, particularly for the people left behind. I think in any loss there’s a lot of guilt, but in suicide in particular, how could we have not stopped it? Part of doing the book was talking about it very openly. For me, the stakes were very high—here was the main model in my life that ended in suicide. I felt suicide was running from pain, and so as an antidote I felt compelled to embrace my pain, talk about it, and see where it led.

Q. Can you explain the term “complicated grief” and why you describe the book as “part memoir of complicated grief?”

A. The definition of complicated grief is anything untimely, out of the ordinary or tragic that complicates your ability to straightforward mourn. Any kind of violent death: murder, suicide, natural disasters, carry a level of post traumatic stress and physical shock that can complicate the grieving process, like losing a child versus an aging grandmother. My mother was both a suicide and a violent death. But no relationship [such as] the loss of a parent is without its major complications.

Q. You were already a social worker focused on bereavement for much of your career when your mother died, and then your husband so recently. Do you think there is a larger cosmic/spiritual force at play, almost preparing you for such major losses in your own life—or do you think it’s just a coincidence?

A. I don’t believe in coincidences, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the rhyme or reason for it because I’m just not that wise. Certainly in the case of my husband dying I was somehow better prepared for his death. We do gain insights and wisdom from being broken and reconstructing our lives around loss. We wouldn’t wish our loss on ourselves or anyone, but I wouldn’t trade the insights and experiences that resulted because of my mother’s death. Because that’s helping me get through the loss of my husband.

Q. Was your book already written when your husband became ill or were you still writing it?

A. I wrote it during that time. It must have informed it in some way—the imperative to make the most out of our time here. It highlighted that even further for me.

Q. How do your mindfulness exercises at the end of each chapter help people process and move through their grief?

A. I had been practicing mindfulness and meditation for a few years when my mother died, so I just began applying those principles to my grieving. I found [mindfulness practice] left space for all of it to happen—the grief, the misery, the relief, the joy, all of it—and just to be open to what was happening and surrender to the process. I found particular exercises helpful for particular things. For example, shock or disorientation—the sense that everything that worked for you, that you comforted yourself with, is suddenly gone and your life is a stranger. Just doing an inner body contemplation gets you in touch with who you are and helps to ground you during this time of extreme disorientation. It’s almost an antidote to exactly what you’re going through.

Q. Why is your subtitle Mining the Treasure Inherent in Great Loss? Is there really a silver lining in the pain and anguish of losing a loved one?

A. Well, it never goes away, our feelings of loss and sadness. And that goes hand-in-hand with a sense of having come out of the darkness and grown—somehow wisdom comes out of the darkness. And because grief is a universal experience, everyone who loves, will lose. I think grief has a function besides misery, to expand the best parts of our humanity: compassion, empathy, mercy, forgiveness.

Q. What if you “get stuck” in your grief?

A. It’s hard not to get stuck. We all feel resistance because death is universally unwanted, nobody ever invites it in. So somehow I think there’s this misconception that because we didn’t want it, we have to fight against it, and that can create more suffering than is necessary. There is pain and then there’s the suffering the mind creates from the pain. And this book aims to address the extra suffering we sometimes give ourselves because of this unwanted experience. By mining the positive in the [loss], we truly honor the person who died—by making use of this experience. Those who are not here want us to thrive and this is hopefully a way to help us.

Q. Has your mother’s death and your husband’s death—both untimely—although one to suicide and one to illness—taught you different lessons about the grief journey—or is all great loss essentially the same?

A. I think grief has similar elements every time we go through it but it’s extremely unique, as unique as each one of us because of the different relationship we had to the person we lost and the circumstances of their death and also because when we’re grieving, we’re not only longing for the person we lost but we’re longing for something we’ve lost in ourselves, which is the way they saw us, mirrored us, the way we understand ourselves when we were with them. And that’s individual to every relationship.

Q. Have you been getting good feedback about the book?

A. It’s been heartwarming. People feel they’re being helped with all kinds of losses in their lives, so I feel really glad. That was the purpose—to help people.

The Wisdom of Grief (Deeper Path Publishing, Inc.) by Leslie Palumbo is $12.95, softcover and is available at Amazon.com and wisdomeofgrief.com.

Home - Creative Space In Every Home

home header“Be brave enough to live life creatively.

The creative place where no one else has ever been.” – Alan Alda

Neat and tidy craft spaceCreating is an important part of the human condition. And whether we want to admit it or not, we are all artists, all meant to create in some form or another. Whether your creation is a painted picture, a crayon drawing, a gorgeous garden, or a mouth-watering meal, we are creative beings at our very core. I often wonder why it’s so hard for us to admit it. Perhaps fear of failure, fear of misrepresenting ourselves, or maybe it’s the judgement that might come our way. I don’t know why we find it so hard to embrace our gifts but I know that we often do.

One way to honor that creative spirit within, is as close as the nearest nook, closet or empty wall. We don’t need to be able to afford an artist’s studio in a converted loft, and we don’t need a 3,000 square foot house with extra rooms to claim a creative space. What we do need, is the willingness to honor that part of ourselves that gives life to our passions. One way to do that is by claiming space within our homes. Now you might say, “My house isn’t big enough. I don’t have a spare room” or “I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment.” Or maybe you live in a senior housing efficiency unit. But regardless of your square footage, I’ll bet there is a place for you to embrace the artist within.

Arts and crafts are a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States with more than half of all households are in some creative process according to the Craft and Hobby Association. So it sounds like someone is embracing their inner artist. Aside from these figures that include fine arts, paper crafts, needle and sewing crafts, jewelry making, floral and general crafts we can add in gardening, cooking, baking and a plethora of other opportunities that allow us to make things.

Some folks get creative and discover Etsy.com, a website filled to overflowing with handcrafted items. The company reported that they had 54 million members in 2014, with 1.4 million active sellers, and 19.8 million active buyers, generating gross sales of $1.93 billion. Aside from being a nice way to generate income, and aside from art and hand crafted items being aesthetically pleasing, there are other reasons to create and make room for it in your home.

In The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature, published by the American Public Health Association in 2010: “Engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of chronic disease. Over the past decade, health psychologists have cautiously begun looking at how the arts might be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of one’s self and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns.” (Full study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/)

Creative SpacesIf making art for money doesn’t excite you, and making art for your health and well-being doesn’t move you, then I’ll point out that the creative process is just plain fun. It makes you feel good. And you may need no better reason than that.

So once you’ve embraced a creative endeavor you need to figure out where you can do it. Those needs will vary considerably depending on what kinds of crafting or art making you want to do. Realistically most things can be done at your kitchen table. But there is something about designating a certain space for it that really honors your creative process and I strongly recommend finding a nook, corner or table that is just yours and set up for your particular crafting needs. So if you can’t claim a spare room or convert a backyard shed consider these possibilities…

A craft closet: Closets can be turned into a craft space with very little effort. Shelving or cabinets can be mounted on the wall; find a perfectly sized table, or use a countertop with file cabinets for a base that offer great storage options. IKEA.com is a fabulous source for all sorts of great storage options, big and small. Best of all, when you aren’t using that space or want to hide away the clutter, just shut the doors or pull the curtain closed.

Craft nookA craft nook: Many homes, especially older ones, have lots of character and with that often comes nooks and crannies that are ripe for transformation. Multi-level homes often have nooks where dormers are on the second floor, with built in cubbies and nooks just waiting for a table or desk. There is something about those small spaces that can feel almost womb-like as we snuggle in and get those creative juices flowing. Paint the space your favorite color and make it just the way you want it so it makes you smile every time you approach.

Underutilized spaces: Under a staircase can be one of the most overlooked places to set up a crafting space. Tucked under a set of stairs it can be the perfect spot to set up shop. Different hobbies require different space needs and this might be ideal for something like jewelry making or any other craft that doesn’t require too much space.

An empty wall: One lone stretch of empty wall can be ideal for a custom look in counter and cabinetry. You can do this with stock counter tops, bookcases, (back to IKEA) and coordinating chair and office/studio accoutrement. You’ll end up with a custom look by putting the right pieces together. A narrow strip of wall can be the perfect space for sewing, scrapbooking or any kind of craft.

No space at all: So let’s say you live in a tiny 400 square foot cottage. You don’t have a spare closet, you barely have any closets. You don’t have a spare nook because the whole place is one little cozy nook.

You don’t have a staircase as its one floor living. And all the walls are full of stuff. Well guess what? You still have room to create.

The doors to your bedroom closet might make the perfect easel for painting. Your kitchen table can be your multi-functional art space. Keeping art and craft supplies on a rolling cart make them easily accessible when you’re getting that “I need to make something” feeling. And when all else fails set up your giant easel or craft table smack in the middle of the room and celebrate that part of you that needs to create. Sit back and wait for inspiration to wash over you.

Spirituality - Creativity, Collaboration and Energy in Action

Energy in Action: (l-r) Cheryl Roby, Gay Stinnet & Carin Roaldset

“To me, the lotus represents the openness to receive energy.” (Carin Roaldset)“To me, the lotus represents the openness to receive energy.” (Carin Roaldset)“The stone on the Coronado Beach in San Diego represents the shift of energy in nature and within us.” (Carin Roaldset)“The stone on the Coronado Beach in San Diego represents the shift of energy in nature and within us.” (Carin Roaldset)Filled with inevitable twists and turns, our journeys through life take on unique directions influenced by a multitude of factors. In the pursuit of creativity, three women have come together, unified by the practice of reiki and the bond of friendship. “Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing,” according to www.reiki.org. “It is administered by a gentle ‘laying on of hands’ and is based on the idea that an unseen ‘life force energy’ flows through us and is what causes us to be alive.” When our energy is free flowing and high we may find ourselves happy and healthy and when our energy is stagnant or low, perhaps joy and good health eludes us. Our overall well-being can be effected. 

Cheryl Roby is a reiki master, holistic healer and author of Choose Inspiration: Quotes and affirmations for living an inspired life. She was an IT professional for 25 years and unhappy in what felt like a soulless profession. “I was interested in healing work when I learned about reiki,” she says. She describes the process of reiki as “releasing the healing powers of the body by teaching it to relax.” Cheryl trained for yoga dance at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and she created The Roby Chart which indicates the different chakras or energy fields in the body and how our thoughts can influence our chakras. It is used by practitioners who work in the field of body/mind connection.

Gay Stinnet, from Illinois, started a nonprofit in 2008 named after the area in Connecticut she was from, and continues to serve as its executive director. The Branford Foundation’s mission is to be “committed to advancing community awareness of Integrative Therapies and Alternative Medicine by providing education and direct services.” Gay had worked in the banking industry for 20 years before she became what she calls “a born again reiki practitioner.” Gay, who is now a reiki master, was seeking a photographer for her book on reiki, wanting to include some relevant and inspiring images.

Photographer Carin Roaldset had been taking photographs for 15 years and she enjoyed illustrating in photos, what she witnessed in nature, wildlife and architecture. “My soul is in my work if I’m really into it,” says Carin. She has recently begun painting which she also considers soulwork. When she took that first reiki class she didn’t expect to feel anything and wasn’t really sure about the whole laying on of hands process. But she did feel the energy of the person she shared that experience with, and that changed her views about the practice. Carin wanted to take a reiki class to give some depth to her photography projects. Cheryl introduced the two.

The result: Gay wrote A Measure of Joy – Opening to the Energy of Reiki, a collaborative effort with photographs by Carin, whose black and white images complement Gay’s words. Carin is inspired by nature and is nurtured by collaborative creative endeavors such as Here After, a book of Mary Buell Volk’s poetry and Carin’s photography.

These three women continue to be brought together through their energy work and creativity and recently came together to share their stories with like minded souls on Connecticut’s shoreline. They called it Energy in Action. One woman who was from Sweden shared how her time in nature is rejuvenating for her as she walks along the shoreline, past the seagrass. Another woman shared how she had letters to a relative and worked with Carin to pair them with photos, creating a book that was distributed to the entire family.

“We are all connected,” points out Cheryl. “Whether you call it energy field or God, it doesn’t matter. Call it prayer or not, when you think good thoughts about another person, that benefits them.”

“Reiki destresses the body,” says Gay. “The happiest most well-adjusted person has stress. When you relax with prayer, you have better vibrational energy. You respect the past better and move forward better.”

Another guest, Mary Buell Volk grappled with the death of her husband, five years after he was gone. She assembled her poetry with Carin’s photos, which were discerningly collected, and published a book. The process helped her work through her grief and return to a place of joy.

“My philosophy is we are all the accumulation of the people we’ve met and the things we’ve done,” says Gay. “That’s our energy. Reiki is a relaxation modality. It actually helps your energy vibrate the best that it can, and helps reduce stress.” Because of its vibrational activity, she claims it can help with other physical ailments as well such as nausea and inflammatory diseases.

Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT, has had a reiki volunteer program since 1998 according to its website, www.harthosp.org/integrativemed/Therapies/ReikiTherapy/default.aspx. The site claims: “Research on various types of energy work has shown that, in addition to deep relaxation, Reiki can promote a reduction in anxiety, muscle tension, and pain, can promote accelerated wound healing, and can promote wellness and a greater sense of well-being. It is useful during illness, after injuries, pre- and post-op, as well as for health promotion.”

When the program began in 1998 it had 10 volunteers providing 523 reiki sessions and in 2012 more than 40 volunteers provided 3167 sessions and the program continues today. Hartford Hospital is one of well over 800 hospitals across the country that are embracing this gentle touch energy work as a complimentary healing modality to aid in healing. “When one’s energy is high or balanced, one is more likely to feel relaxed and the body’s own innate healing abilities are awakened and utilized for healing.” (www.HartHosp.org)

According to HealingToday.com, a Hartford Hospital research study showed that “reiki improved patient sleep by 86 percent, reduced pain by 78 percent, reduced nausea by 80 percent, and reduced anxiety during pregnancy by 94 percent.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (nccih.nih.gov/health/reiki/introduction.htm) affirms that little “high quality” research has been done on reiki and “reiki hasn’t been clearly shown to be useful for any health-related purpose.” And yet hundreds of hospitals throughout the country offer it to patients.

Reiki suggests that the energy within our bodies can affect how we live, breathe and heal. Regardless of whether you believe in the power of energy work, there is no question that it has helped some people, and was instrumental in bringing these three friends together.

Expressive Arts - The Union of Art and Spirituality

Sr. Jo-Ann IannottiSr. Jo-Ann Iannotti“Creativity, like human life itself, begins in darkness”

– Julia Cameron

Creativity in any form is often generated from something in life that stops us in our tracks. Not always, but often, those life altering events prompt us to stop right where we are. That stillness can be the place where our creative spirit takes root and soars like a great elm, making us strong, grounded and reaching new heights. Our spirits come together with the artist within. Miracles surprise us and healing happens when we honor this sacred union.

Sr. Jo-Ann Iannotti is the Art and Spirituality Coordinator at Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center, a place of rest and renewal in Litchfield, Connecticut. She believes in the power of our creative work and the healing role it can play in our lives, and has been working with Wisdom House to create such opportunities for 23 years.

“The experience of art, doing it, as well as being in the presence of it, really puts one in touch with one’s spirit,” says Sr. Jo-Ann. “And I do believe that the spirit we are connected to is the spirit of life. When that connection happens, change happens. Change is another word for growth. So when we are doing our own art or standing in the presence of other people’s art, we’re taking a very courageous step. As we encounter it, we can allow change to take place in ourselves. It is a vital connection to have.”

At the retreat house people from many different faith traditions come to connect with spirit. They may go on private retreats, attend programs from outside groups who schedule time there or they may attend any of a number of programs scheduled by Sr. Jo-Ann throughout the year.

In the early 1990’s the arts began to flourish at Wisdom House when Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, was brought to their attention. The Artist’s Way is a groundbreaking work that has become an international best seller, but back then it wasn’t very well known according to Sr. Jo-Ann. But she loved the idea and a program was launched. They thought even if only a handful of people attended, it would be worth it. The first series surprised her when 45 people attended.

“People were coming out of the woodwork. There was no other opportunity for artists to come together and support each other.” The group committed themselves to follow the 13 chapters in the book once a week. They came together, went home and did the exercises and returned the following week to share the experience. The program was adapted as needs changed over the years, and evening and weekend programs were added. People started working with the book on their own and at home in small groups. But by the time they stopped offering the program four or five years later, over 400 artists had attended the program according to Sr. Jo-Ann.

“Soon after that program began I began to sense that something was going on here.” Wisdom House decided to dedicate space for an art gallery, and the Marie Louise Trichet Art Gallery opened in 1994 in response to that understanding of the undeniable connection between spirituality and the arts. Without expecting it, that gallery space has become another place for reflection and contemplation while people are on retreat. They come into the art gallery and just sit, reflecting on the artwork, and sometimes it is an interactive exhibit.

“The gallery has become an integral part of a place like ours,” says Sr. Jo-Ann, “where people come to re-assess their lives. People come to quiet down and listen. It’s the quiet that really does it. Anything can happen when you give someone the time and space to just listen.”

The center continued to offer interfaith programs on spirituality holding an art and spirituality forum every two years. They choose a topic or theme relative to the art community and gather a panel of usually four artists with a moderator, followed by the opening of a new exhibit in the gallery. The next one is scheduled for Sunday, April 10, from 2-5 p.m., and the theme is art and politics. The panel will consist of artist, Susan Clinard; political cartoonist for New Yorker magazine, Barry Blitt; Connecticut State Representative, Roberta Willis; and NPR’s Colin McEnroe. The event will be moderated by actor Jack Gilpin who has moderated most of the art and spiritualty forums at Wisdom House. The Gallery exhibit, Navigating the Human Landscape, featuring the work of Susan Clinard, will open following the forum. Registration is $20 and is open until April 9.

Wisdom House is an interfaith retreat and conference center founded by the Daughters of Wisdom, a Roman Catholic order of religious women, and was a house of formation in the early 1950’s. The character of the center evolved over the years into an interfaith center where people of all faith traditions come seeking wisdom in their lives. They offer programs in mindfulness, self-care, contemplation, writing, drumming and a plethora of other opportunities to seek a quiet space and reflect on our journeys in life.

At a time when we might be thinking about what formerly shaped our lives, art moves us into the future, Sr. Jo-Ann says. But that movement is often painful. “It hurts and that’s why we don’t want to move. Art invites us to a place we haven’t been before. But we have to be willing to be open to it. Art coaxes out new life. For that new life to come forth sometimes we need to go full into it and sometimes we do it gradually. But it moves us into our own experience in a new way. It supports us and it doesn’t judge us. As we enter into whatever the experience is…reading poetry, touching a sculpture, viewing a painting…all of this is breathing new life into us. It moves us into the future.”

Sister Jo-Ann is a poet and photographer whose love of words dates back to when she was a teenager and her father would buy her a copy of the New York Times on Sundays just so she could read the book reviews. She says, “Writing and writers always fascinated me. I was involved in the arts early on. It’s a part of who I am. I love what I do. Art gets in your bones. It’s a part of us and so it is important to be engaged in the arts. We have to be willing to be changed from the inside out.

“I think sometimes people don’t give themselves enough credit for what they are already doing in terms of new life. You have to be willing to make small changes by taking small steps in all different aspects of life, in a way you didn’t do before. It takes a conscious effort. And you have to be patient with yourself. Change will happen and you will learn new things about yourself that you didn’t think possible. Make a conscious choice and be surprised by it. Be open to it. Allow life to surprise you.”

Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center
229 East Litchfield Road
Litchfield, CT 06759-3002
(860) 567-3163
www.WisdomHouse.org

   

THEM
By Sr. Jo-Ann Iannotti, OP

The people I love the best
Are those who throw
Caution to the wind
When the wind is not
at their back
but
Biting their nose
and closing their eyes.
Sometimes their real name
Can scare even them,
But they wear it tattooed
on their arm
And, then go out and buy
a whole new wardrobe
Of only sleeveless
shirts.

   

Poetry - From Under the Covers

poetry header

Anne WingfieldBy Anne Wingfield
Slits of sunlight
Sneak in my morning
Dancing dust wanders
Around by the window
Alone I awake slowly
Surprising the day
Peering at it a little
At a time
Wondering what kind of
Mood it's in.

Anne Wingfield is a writer and poet. She recently returned to the east coast after 13 years in Minnesota. She loves to be near the ocean and has two daughters, two grandchildren and a cat. She is currently working on a memoir.

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