Featured Widow/er - JessieMay Kessler Puts One Foot in Front of the Other

JessieMay KesslerJessieMay KesslerJessieMay Kessler has always been a woman of substance, able to work through life’s challenges with grace and aplomb. She grew up in Shirley, Massachusetts and attended the University of Massachusetts hoping to become a writer. But when she got a D- in English Composition after her first semester, she was advised to change her major. Her roommate was a home economics major and so she decided to jump on that useful if not traditional bandwagon. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics, planning to go into teaching.

She came to Connecticut after graduation and took a job on the coast. She met her first husband, Rev. Frederic Franzius at the United Church of Shirley when she was asked to fill in as a date for the visiting minister at a Maundy Thursday dinner. She arrived home at 4 a.m. telling her mother, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” They were married 13 years – thirteen years filled with physical and emotional abuse according to JessieMay. He suffered from depression and lost several jobs in ministry. When he began selling encyclopedias door to door, his unemployment made her panic, and she began a dress making business out of her home. They had two daughters together as well as an adopted daughter. In 1976 she found the strength to file for divorce.

Not long after, in 1977 she met Sy Kessler and her life was about to change. She was pursuing counseling with Rev. David Eaton, a chaplain at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital and it turned out Sy was too. David was trying to wrap up one-on-one therapy with JessieMay, encouraging her to check out a support group he was leading, and that’s where she met Sy, who was also getting divorced.

JessieMay & Sy KesslerJessieMay & Sy Kessler“I knew quickly with that first hand hold,” says JessieMay. “That was my first clue there was mutual interest. The first time I laid eyes on him. I recognized that he was orderly and organized, down to earth, practical, but he had a rebel streak. That willingness to think outside the box sometimes was the glue that held us together. He also was a wonderful romantic. He was kind and compassionate. He had a great sense of humor, underneath a real serious exterior. ” They met in August and married in February 1978 living in Niantic the next 35 years.

In 1979 JessieMay returned to school to study pastoral counseling at St. Joseph College in West Hartford but that didn’t work out and she graduated with a Master’s degree as a Licensed Practicing Counselor. She did an eight week practicum at a YMCA for people going through divorce and eventually was able to work at the Manchester Pastoral Counseling Center which she did for seven years. She had a private practice in Niantic for more than 30 years. Despite those earlier reviews from her English professor, she pooled her desire to write, with her expertise as a therapist, writing a column called Tidbits from the Couch for the Post Road Review. Her column was edgy, about psychology and family. “I believe that I was writing something that stretched people’s minds and emotions.” The editor did not always agree and in 2014 after 17½ years, he pulled the plug on her column.

In 2013 she and Sy moved into their summer cottage in Dayville while their dream home was being built in Colchester. They wanted to be closer to family and grandkids. They moved into the home they planned to spend their retired years together in September of that year, and two months later Sy passed away unexpectedly.

JessieMay & Sy KesslerJessieMay & Sy KesslerHe had a history of heart problems. In 2008 he had triple bypass heart surgery and was managing with several medications. He had a bout of arrhythmia a couple weeks before his death, and went by ambulance to the emergency room. He returned home but a week later was back at the hospital with further complications. She went to watch television with him and was annoyed when he slept through one of their favorite shows. She ran errands the next day hoping he would have improved upon her return. But when she arrived to have dinner with him, she learned that he was in recovery after having his kidney removed and it went downhill from there. They told her he wouldn’t make it through the night. And he didn’t.

“The Colchester Federated Church has wrapped their arms around me,” says JessieMay. ”We had a very happy marriage. Life with Sy was comfortable and honest, he was always interested in what you were doing. He was concerned for me and the kids. He was dedicated, responsible, and affectionate.”

What she misses most is his friendship and she finds comfort in talking to photos of him every night. When she runs a problem by him a solution appears. JessieMay has three manuscripts in process as her call to writing continues. And six months after Sy passed away she ventured with some trepidation onto Match.com and OurTime.com, two online dating sites.

“We had an agreement,” says JessieMay, “That if one of us went early, the other would not sit around and suck their thumb. We would get out there.”

JessieMay & Sy KesslerJessieMay & Sy KesslerOverall the results to her latest endeavor have been frustrating and disappointing at best. She has encountered people not being truthful, people from too far away, people who “wink” but don’t respond when you write. She even dared to venture on a couple dates with a man who eyed her new home with admiration, and wanted to know which side of the bed he’d have, quite ready to move in. She even met a nice man from her church, but that was a story of unrequited admiration so that didn’t really work out. She’s on hiatus from that path for the moment, but is open to where life takes her in the dating department. Her companions now are two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Cara Cozi and Markey Mark who she affectionately refers to as Lady and the Tramp. She has no problem sharing her lovely home with them.

JessieMay celebrated her birthday in February with a Tarot reading and asked if she should continue her search for a new partner or work on her writing. The answer was to work on her writing. The book: her memoir. She hopes to finish it this year and believes she needs to finish that project before she can move on in another relationship.

That night in the waiting room after Sy passed away, she went to her soon to be son-in-law and asked, “What’s the next step?”

He said, “The next step is to call the funeral director. Do I need me to drive you home?”

“No I can drive myself home,” said JessieMay. She repeated, “Life is for the living,” all the way home. She only hit the rumble strip once.

The next day her older sister advised her, “Remember little sister, one foot in front of the other.”

JessieMay KesslerJessieMay KesslerJessieMay is a vibrant 75 year old and is still open to meeting someone to share her life with and is open to working with new clients. She enjoys music and is active in her church choir. Music has been a big help in getting through this challenging time, and has always been a big part of her life. She used to enjoy cooking but doesn’t do it much for herself. She loves art and her gardens which she makes too big no matter what house she lives in.

“Most of the time I’m happy. There is a stream of grief that runs underneath everything and I’m not sure if that ever goes away. I think I’m far more content with who I am at the moment than I used to be. I’m somewhat of a dependent personality and without anyone to lean on, I’ve had to find some strength. I have a strong spiritual nature, not so religious as spiritual. I have a strong sense of connection with Sy. I also believe that you don’t lose someone like this if another relationship comes along. They just kind of move over and another relationship moves in.”

To reach JessieMay contact her at (860)603-2356 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In Their Honor – Widow of September 11 Finds Peace in Helping Others Cope

Two roses are left beside the name of Alan D. Feinberg at the 9/11 Memorial at ground Zero. (© Larjon – Dreamstime.com - National 9/11 Memorial At Ground Zero Photo)Two roses are left beside the name of Alan D. Feinberg at the 9/11 Memorial at ground Zero. (© Larjon – Dreamstime.com - National 9/11 Memorial At Ground Zero Photo)Wendy and Alan Feinberg were married on March 26, 1978. They were married 23 years, and had a daughter, Tara and a son, Michael. In 2001, Wendy was a kindergarten teacher and Alan a New York City firefighter, Tara was in college and Michael in high school. Alan was new to Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9. He loved his job, and he loved being a father. He was a positive, energetic man who was always involved in his children’s activities. On Sept. 11, 2001, Alan was the Battalion Chief Aide, working directly under the Battalion Chief of Battalion 9.

On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, shortly after 8:46 am, Wendy was in her classroom when a coworker said, “You have to see this”, and drew her attention to a fire at the World Trade Center, where a plane had just crashed into the North Tower. Because Wendy was used to Alan going to work every day and fighting fires, she had no reason to think Sept. 11 would be any different, therefore she wasn’t alarmed at first. But then at 9:03 am, another airplane hit the South Tower, and it too was on fire. When Tower 2 (the South Tower) collapsed at 9:59am, followed by the Tower 1 (the North Tower) at 10:28am, there was sheer panic in New York City and around the country, as it became apparent that the United States had been attacked.

Later that day, when Alan didn’t come home or call, Wendy didn’t allow herself to think that he could have been in one of those buildings. Although she saw herself as a strong woman, on that day and for years afterward she felt “numb”, unaware of the depth of her fear, grief, and shock. She went on caring for her children, and holding out hope that she might get some information about Alan.

Author’s note: Sometimes when people experience a traumatic situation, one so awful that the feelings are overwhelming, the mind protects itself by a process called dissociation. The mind cuts the person off from the overwhelming feelings, so that the they can function. The feelings are present in the subconscious, where the person doesn’t experience them directly. The feelings often, but not always, re-emerge at a later time, often years after the event. This is what happened to Wendy.

As the day went on and she couldn’t reach the firehouse by phone, she became more worried, but it still didn’t seem real to her. She couldn’t hide the situation from her son and daughter, so they talked about it. Tara was in college in Florida, and Wendy wanted her to come home immediately, but all air traffic was at a standstill. She was so worried that she didn’t sleep at all that night. The family just waited for news, any kind of news that would reassure them that Alan was all right... but it didn’t come.

Finally on Wednesday morning she got through to the firehouse, and was informed that Alan had indeed been in one of the Towers, Tower 2, the one that fell first. They were searching for survivors, hoping to find some in an air pocket in the wreckage, but 343 firefighters were presumed dead. Wendy again couldn’t sleep that night, and kept trying to get information, but still no word of Alan. The firefighters of Alan’s battalion were considered missing.

Alan Feinberg in the Tel Aviv Museum.Alan Feinberg in the Tel Aviv Museum.She was asked to give a DNA sample, and the Red Cross had intake people meet with families of the missing. “We were all running on adrenaline.” Since the Feinbergs were Jewish, it was traditional that family and friends come right away to “sit Shiva”, or mourn with the family, and that the deceased be buried as soon as possible. So family and friends came and tried to be helpful, although there was no body to bury, no funeral, and no relics or evidence to indicate that Alan was indeed dead. There was also no closure for the families of the missing. Wendy put up a strong front, but couldn’t comprehend the enormity of what had happened. She knew that planes had crashed and buildings had fallen, but didn’t accept that Alan might be dead, because some other people now knew where their loved ones were. She tried to pretend she was in control.

Alan & Wendy FeinbergAlan & Wendy FeinbergThree days after Sept. 11 she was sitting outside, and she heard two birds cackling at one another, like one was leaving and didn’t want to go, and suddenly she felt something from her head to her toes, she felt it in her heart, and it hit her. She knew that Alan was dead. It was a spiritual experience that she was never to forget.

Thursday the 15th was Rosh Hoshanna, the beginning of the Jewish holidays. By then she had found out that of the 15 firefighters who went with Alan, none of them had come back. She saw 14 flags on someone’s lawn in Marlborough Township, where she lived. Since Alan had been relatively new to his firehouse, she didn’t really have a connection with the other families of the firefighters. Wendy didn’t have any affiliation with a temple, so her father put her in touch with a rabbi he knew, who happened to be the rabbi for the FDNY. Three of the missing firefighters had been Jewish. The FDNY planned a memorial for the firefighters on Sept. 25, even though there were no death certificates as yet. The Mayor and the Fire Chief spoke, there was a color guard, and it was very moving, but Wendy was in a fog, a “bubble”, as she calls it, and continued to be a good actress for the sake of her children.

For more information on Alan Feinberg, see his obituary from the New Jersey paper, the Star Ledger:

blog.nj.com/lives_remembered/2011/08/alan_feinberg_48_firefighter_l.html#incart_email.

The 9/11 MemorialThe 9/11 MemorialFeeling isolated, Wendy called the Township and asked for the phone numbers of other family members of the lost and missing, because she wanted to form a support group. And so the group was formed, with Wendy in a leadership position, but there were no other firefighters’ widows in the group. Some of the people were younger than she, and their spouses had been working in the Twin Towers when they fell. One of the young women was 7 months pregnant, and when Wendy saw her, everything changed. She knew that she wanted to help other survivors of the missing.

The group called themselves “The Surviving Sisters,” and they stayed together for quite some time, but Wendy felt different even in the group. The news coverage alienated her, as they called the missing either “victims” or “heros”. She thought to herself, Alan went in there of his own free will. He went up Tower Two with his group with no hesitation. He was a hero. She never knew if he rescued anyone, there was never a trace of him, but he was a hero.

For the whole first year there was no victims’ compensation fund for the families, but she was fortunate to have life insurance, so she was able to afford to live, although she hadn’t returned to work since that fateful day. Some of the members of the support group had received compensation checks, but not the firefighters’ widows. Compensation didn’t come for over a year, and so Wendy felt that her husband didn’t receive recognition.

Wendy didn’t sleep through the night for a full year after Sept. 11. She started putting together a book of people’s stories about that day, and eventually bound it together. Although she never finished it, she realized that it was exactly what she needed at the time, and it helped her shed some tears by sharing in their experience. It was a part of her own grieving and healing.

In October of 2001, the support group decided to go together to see a medium, although Wendy didn’t buy into it. But she humored the group and piled into the van with them. After they arrived, they sat around a large room with the medium, and immediately the medium pointed directly at Wendy. She said, “There is a fireman right behind your right shoulder, and he’s holding a white dog.” At first Wendy was “spooked”. She couldn’t believe what the medium had said, as she knew nothing about Wendy. She and Alan indeed did have a beloved white dog which they had to put down a year before. The medium said that the firefighter was full of energy, and asked Wendy if she knew someone with the initials JC or JR, but she couldn’t think of anyone.

When she got home, there was a note from her son saying “call the firehouse”. She did, and someone called JR told her that the ladder truck Alan had been on had been found. While Wendy had been a cynic before seeing the medium, she says that now “I am a believer, and it helped me heal.” She no longer compares her situation with anyone else’s. “I don’t measure grief, I don’t judge others,” although Wendy admits that she has a hard time with people who are superficial.

The members of the support group helped hold each other together, and Wendy realized that this was what she wanted to do. She wanted to help others find their way through loss. So she went to school at The Institute For Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC), to become a Life Coach, graduating on her 50th birthday. She registered her business and went to work. As a Life Coach she was a facilitator of a group at a high school, and also did a 5 day yoga class for children called “Calm Kids Are Cool”. Because she liked to nurture children, she also became a benefactor of the Make A Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of dying children. Helping others heal helped her heal as well. In that way, she paid it forward.

Wendy Feinberg-KotulaWendy Feinberg-KotulaShe joined a committee supporting Tuesday’s Children, www.tuesdayschildren.org, an organization which was formed to provide services for children who had lost parents or family members on Sept. 11. Its goal was to be there to help them until they reached the age of 18. Tuesday’s Children helped the children connect with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, kiddie programs, sporting events and college counseling for the older youth. It also provided an Outward Bound program for widow/ers. She and other Sept. 11 widows were invited to an Outward Bound trip to Utah, a survival experience. “It was the hardest thing I ever did.” They did activities that required them to trust one another, such as rafting, and propelling themselves on ropes, etc . While admittedly it was scary for Wendy, it helped her learn to trust again.

As a member of the Tuesday’s Children committee, she and 9 others participated in a training program called Creative Insights. The program helped them with them skill-building, trust issues, identity, and validation of who they were and who they could count on. As a member of Creative Insights, she also learned that it was ok to love again.

Wendy Feinberg-Kotula & Steve KotulaWendy Feinberg-Kotula & Steve KotulaIt was in 2003 that she met Steve Kotula, and they began to date. Although she had feelings for him, she was unable to say so for some time, because “I loved him...and I loved what was gone.” But since she had learned that it was ok to love again, something told her to go forward with her life. She and Steve were married in August of 2006. Together, they are realtors in New Jersey today. Tara and Michael are both married, and Wendy is now a proud grandmother. She knows that all of this would have made Alan very happy, seeing them happy.

It wasn’t until the 7th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack that she received a VCR tape of the firemen’s voices, the first real information about them, but none of them sounded like Alan. By the 10th anniversary a book had been written about it, and Wendy cried hard when she read Alan’s name in it. That made it real. He had lost his life there.

Three years ago, the curator of the planned Sept. 11 Museum called her, and said she had a snippet of Alan’s voice. He was on the 76th floor and going up, and Wendy heard him say, “We’re on our way”. She cried hard, since it was the first time she had actually heard his voice since before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But she has continued to become stronger since then. “Things don’t bother me anymore, because I’ve learned what’s important, what I can change and what I can’t change. I don’t measure grief, and I don’t pass judgment on others.”

It’s been a long and arduous journey for Wendy Feinberg-Kotula, and she has not emerged unscathed, but she has grown enormously by helping others. She can enjoy life again, and continues to pay it forward.

For more information about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, including not only the attack on New York, but also the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 77 in Shanksville, PA, see this link to the Sept. 11 Memorial Timeline at: www.Timeline.911Memorial.org. I also would strongly recommend you visit the Sept. 11 Memorial Museum in NYC, which opened in 2014. It’s website is: www.911Memorial.org. It’s an experience not to be missed, and an important part of American history.

Humor - Poor Widow Me - Shrinking About It

dreamstimeI’ve heard (so it must be true) that often people become therapists because they have their own unresolved issues. This might explain why over the years every shrink who listened to my babbling and bawling turned out to be more peculiar than me.

And, what is it about bereavement shrinks? To specialize in death must take a dark personality or someone with an unflappable sense of humor.

Here’s what a bereavement shrink once said to me; “Look on the bright side, Carol. Less laundry to do and your toilet paper will last longer!” I never went back. Still, he did have a point of view...

About three months after my husband died I tried a bereavement group. While waiting for the group to begin I refused to make eye contact with the other widows because I hadn’t quite accepted yet that I, too, was a widow. If our sad eyes met it would mean ‘we’re both in this together.’

So I sat by the door with my pocketbook on my lap prepared to bolt if anyone said the word “died.” The sane part of my brain understood that since there was a griever in every hard metal folding chair arranged in a ‘getting to know you’ circle there was a pretty good chance ‘died’ would be on these ladies’ lips. Regardless, in my foggy first year, I was only able to accept, ‘lost’ or ‘passed away.’ ‘Died’ couldn’t possibly apply to my husband.

poor widow headerAs I continued to look down at my feet I noticed something. Every single person was wearing ugly shoes. Yes, I practically sang to myself. I’m still here! Bitchy me criticizing people’s footwear!

I left before the leader made us all introduce ourselves and tell our horrible stories. Why stay? There would be no happy ending in this room and I was relieved that I could still poke fun and laugh.

The pre-group had done the trick. I was ‘cured.’ I sped away and I did what any happy-go-lucky widow would do. I went to Starbucks to celebrate with a Carmel Frappuccino.

The next day I was back to sitting on the floor of our closet jabbering to Jimmy. For hours, I’d tell him every little thing I was doing and feeling. I only stopped my chatter to him when I dozed off. Wrapped in his Giant’s sweatshirt we both rested in peace.

My friends gently suggested that even though Jimmy was always available I may need someone to talk to who could talk back.

They assured me that if I saw a shrink I could still visit my husband in the closet. They understood that it was familiar and certainly convenient, even better than the cemetery. I didn’t have to get dressed, drive over or bring flowers.

Jean, a one-on-one bereavement therapist came highly recommended. I liked that my sessions were private. No one would be sizing up my loss and comparing my pain to theirs. Best of all; I wouldn’t have to pretend to listen to the other widows whining and carrying on. It was all about me!

Jean’s couch was much more comfortable than those hard metal folding chairs and there was space in the corner of the room if I needed to curl up and suck my thumb.

First snag – Session one taught me that Jean meant business and they’re be no curling and thumb sucking and being poor widow me.
I nicknamed her ‘Mean Jean’ because she was.

I told my friends, “She must have studied at the Snap-Out-of-It school of shrinks. She made me nervous but her words always sunk in.

She told me “when widows want to remarry many go to the cemetery to ask permission. I nodded my head. “I can understand that,” I said.

Mean Jean lifted one eyebrow sarcastically. “Really?” she replied. “It makes sense to you to ask a dead man’s permission for something?”

“Well, I figure that...” I stammered.

“Just for the record,” she said, “None of the husbands ever say no.”

MJ reminded me that men remarry on average two years and for women it’s five years. “This is because men are babies. When I retire I’m going to write a book called, “Don’t Flatter Yourselves, Ladies...Men Just Can’t Be Alone.”

Why did I stay? Every so often she softened, stopped rolling her eyes and gave me a crucial analogy. She said to think of my family like a boat. The captain has fallen overboard and has drowned.

Me, the first mate is to step up to the helm, (not the son which often happens if you let it) and not the son-in-law because he’s the son-in-law and could be digitally removed from all photos and replaced with a plant.

She insisted I take the helm, but she also gave me permission to treat myself kindly and steer slowly.

Jean told me about the thousands of widows she has seen over the years and how different each person grieves. I told her I feel like Jimmy just disappeared and shouldn’t I accept this by now? (8 months)

She explained that there is barely a memory that he’s not starring in and each day for decades was ours and I looked ahead to a future with him in it. Eight months is a blimp on the screen. Nice, MJ.

At about year 2, still seeing Mean Jean, I began to scan the dating sites and since I like to shop on line it was a perfect way to look and not touch.
One of the last and most meaningful sessions I had with Mean Jean was when she told me, “When you start dating, Carol, you’ll emotionally be 18 again because you’ll pick up where you left off when you were last dating.”

The truth of that jumped out at me and I panicked. I would be in an almost 60 year old body with the immature head of a teenager. The picture was clear. I wouldn’t need a bat to swat away suitors.

True or not, her matter-of-fact tone was infuriating.

“Come on. I’m 57 years old. I’ve been in the world interacting with people all this time. And, I know for a fact that people think I’m funny. Men like funny!”

“Apples and oranges, sweetie-pie, when it comes to seducing and being seduced. Flirting’s an art. And, did you ever stop to think that when a man says he’s looking for a woman with a sense of humor, he might mean someone to laugh at his jokes?”

Turns out, thankfully, that Mean Jean was wrong about that, in my case, anyway. I found a man who loves my sense of humor, finds my immaturity “charming” and if I turn the lights down low, this man in his sixties only gets a shadowy glimpse of my 60-something body.

Thank you, MJ for reassuring me that someday instead of babbling to Jimmy in the closet I’ll be sharing it with another man.

 

Ask Jane - How To Find The Right Professional Support

dreamstime l 31070373All of us try to be strong and cope with loss as best we can on our own, but sometimes, despite the presence of friends, family, clergy, or a bereavement group, we’re just not sure that anyone understands the magnitude of our feelings. Sometimes we just don’t feel better, despite lots of support. Sometimes we wish that we had someone to talk to one-to-one, to help us sort out what we’re feeling and find out if it’s normal, or if it’s something we can’t do on our own.

However, people often think that talking to a professional about their feelings means they’re “weak”, or not “in control” of their feelings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Many people who are very strong, and normally manage their lives quite well by themselves, can be at a loss to identify and cope with very powerful feelings of loss, especially if it was sudden and unexpected. Some literally don’t know what to do next once the funeral is over and they return home. If the relationship has been a long one, the bereaved person often has no idea how to be alone and be comfortable living their life. The sheer pain, the pervasive sadness and loneliness, the fear of going on alone and dealing with overwhelming issues of life transition are often more than one can bear.

If this sounds like you, please know that it’s alright to connect with a professional you can talk to privately about your emotional experiences after loss. First, don’t judge yourself, just consider this part of taking care of yourself instead. Maybe it’s your turn now to be looked after. Professional helpers do what they do because they care about others. They are compassionate and attentive listeners who can give you feedback about what’s going on inside you, and reassure you that you will be alright. You probably have many well-meaning friends who care, but don’t know how to help. In that case, it may be time to make the call.

Fotolia 62901519 Subscription Monthly XXLIf you’ve never been in counseling or therapy before, the idea can be daunting, but once you meet the person you will be talking to, your fears will very likely dissipate. People have many misconceptions about professional helpers. I’ve personally encountered this a great deal in my practice; people who have never been in therapy before sometimes think we therapists are unapproachable, cold, or judgmental. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We do what we do because we care about others. Usually, by the end of the first session, the person who is new to therapy feels comfortable and connected to someone who understands, and even more important, can reassure them that there is hope.

Most people don’t know where to start looking for a professional helper, what kind to look for, or even what the letters after their name mean. It can be very confusing, because there are many types of professional helpers who do similar work, but have different types of training and expertise. I think it’s important, to try to find someone who not only has experience with your particular issues, but who is a good fit with your personality as well. By the way, if you meet a therapist for the first time, and you don’t think it’s a good fit, it’s ok to let them know and to find another provider. Sometimes if you let them know you’re uncomfortable about something, they can resolve the problem. If they can’t resolve it for you, try another therapist. Your comfort level is important.

If you don’t know where to start, or what kind of provider to contact, I’d like to give you with some guidance, by outlining a list of the different types of mental health providers, what they do, and what the differences and similarities are. None are necessarily better than others, it depends upon your own issues and needs, and whether you and the provider are a good fit with one another. Each of the types of mental health providers listed below are independent professions, but they may provide similar, or different types of treatment, depending on their experiences in the mental health field. Most require four years of college (a Bachelor’s Degree), and one to three years of graduate school (Master’s Degree), and one (Psychologist) requires a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). I would strongly recommend that you seek a provider who is licensed in their field, to make sure you are in good hands.

Of course, you can look in the phone book, but many good providers today aren’t listed there, since most people search on the internet these days. But if you’re not computer wise, look in the phone book under Counselors, Psychotherapists, Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, Grief Counselors, Pastoral Counselors, or Mental Health Providers. Then call them and feel free to ask questions about what they do, and whether they think they can help you.

If the provider you are interested in has a website, it’s helpful to look it over before calling. You can usually find a website by just Googling the person’s name, or the name of their practice. This will give you some idea of the strengths the provider has, and the type of work they like to do. You can always find a provider in your area, or one that takes your insurance by calling your insurance company directly for a referral. If you do that, it’s still a good idea to find out something about the provider before calling, so you can decide if they might be a good fit for you. Some people have a preference for a male or female provider, and it’s OK to look for the type of provider you’ll be comfortable with.

1) LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor

An LPC is a mental health professional who has a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling, and has met the licensing requirements of their state to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. An LPC is able to assist you with life transitions and diagnose and treat mental health problems. Professional Counselors provide guidance and direction on a range of problems, depending on their particular experience. Always ask if they have experience with your particular issues, especially grief and loss. LPCs can be be found in many types of mental health facilities. The only drawback is that they cannot take all insurances, so be sure to check that with them first. Their professional association can provide you with more information about LPCs, at: www.counseling.org or by calling the ACA at 1(800) 347-6647.

2) LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

An LMFT is a type of mental health professional who is specifically trained to understand the relationships between people and among families, not just the mental health issues of one person, and they are specialists in family and in marital therapy. An LMFT may be best if your problem involves family members, and can help you with issues around your relationship with your late spouse as well. An LMFT has master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, which also requires one or two internships, and they must pass the licensing requirements of their state. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) is their professional organization. Being part of a professional organization is optional, but shows that the therapist is in good standing. An LMFT is a good choice if you have issues in regard to your past or current relationship, family conflicts, or parent/child problems, but LMFTs are also qualified to diagnose and treat major mental health problems in an individual. LMFTs can be found everywhere; hospital psychiatric units, outpatient programs associated with hospitals, community mental health clinics, bereavement programs, and child and adolescent treatment facilities.

The website of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists can provide you with much more information, or a referral to an LMFT in your area. You can call AAMFT at (703) 838-9808, or click on this link: www.aamft.org.

3) LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker

An LCSW is a mental health professional who has a Master’s degree in Social Work, and has passed the licensing requirements of their state. They must complete two internships as part of their training, and they must be in different types of facilities.There are different types of social workers, but the Clinical type works directly in mental health care, like an LPC and an LMFT does. The advantage of choosing a Social Worker is that they have broad experience in social resources appropriate to someone’s needs, especially the needs of poor people. Social Workers usually work with individuals, but some are skilled in family therapy and couples work as well. Social Workers often work with the elderly, and can accept Medicare, which some other therapist s do not. Always ask about their particular experience and decide whether it suits your needs. Social Workers are often administrators in public social agencies and non-profit mental health facilities. Others work with individuals in mental health facilities, such as hospital psychiatric units, hospital day treatment programs, community clinics, and outpatient clinics. To find out more about LCSWs, you can call their professional organization, the National Association of Social Workers, at (202) 408-8600, or see their website at www.naswdc.org.

4) Clinical Psychologist – PsyD

A Clinical Psychologist is a mental health professional who has a Master’s Degree and a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree, which is at least one year beyond the Master’s degree, and a psychologist must pass the licensing requirements of their state. While a Clinical Psychologist is addressed as “Doctor”, they are not medical doctors, and cannot prescribe medication. There are different types of Psychologists, so be sure you are contacting a Clinical Psychologist if you are looking for “talk” therapy. Ask if the psychologist has experience with bereavement, and the distinction between what is the normal grief process, and what is a complicated grief process which may require medical intervention. Psychologists see patients for psychiatric care, and can be found in hospitals, day treatment programs, community clinics, and outpatient facilities. If psychological testing is something that will be needed, a Psychologist is the best choice. You may find out more about Clinical Psychologists at the website of the American Association of Clincial Psychologists: www.aacpsy.org/ or call them at (813) 251-9284.

5) Psychiatrist – MD

A Psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of major mental illnesses, all types of psychiatric problems, and the prescribing and monitoring of an individual’s medications. Most Psychiatrists today don’t do “talk” therapy like they used to. For someone who has health problems in addition to mental health problems, a Psychiatrist is a good choice because they are familiar with all the psychiatric medications and how they might interact with your other medications or affect your health conditions.

Psychiatric medications are best not prescribed by your PCP (Primary Care Doctor) because they aren’t as familiar with them as Psychiatrists are. All types of therapists (LPCs, LMFTs, LCSWs, PsyDs) may refer clients to Psychiatrists if the client requires medication, and the therapist then works collaboratively with the Psychiatrist to ensure that the medicine is working, and to keep the Psychiatrist aware of any crises that occur which might require a medication change, increase, or decrease. Since the Psychiatrist usually sees the client for a short period of time for the specific purpose of managing the medication, they often rely on the therapist to let them know how the client is doing. For more information, call the American Psychiatric Association at 1-888-34-PSYCH, or 1-888-357-7924, or see their website at: www.psychiatry.org.

6) Grief Counselors

Grief Counselors sometimes have a CT (Certification in Thanatology), which means that they have been specially trained in issues of death, dying and bereavement. They sometimes also have a degree in another type of treatment, such as Social Work or Counseling, but have extensive experience with bereavement issues. Grief Counselors understand loss, and how normal grief presents itself. Group therapy is the optimal way to address normal grief, as grief is a nearly universal experience at some point in everyone’s life, and one which many others share. This is why grief not considered a mental illness by mental health professionals. Being in a group led by a Grief Counselor makes the bereaved feel less alone, and reassures them that there are others who understand their feelings. Grief Counselors work in hospitals, clinics, hospices, and nursing homes.

The best way to find a Grief Counselor is to call the chaplain of your local hospital or hospice, or ask your doctor. You may find out more about Grief Counselors at The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) website: www.adec.org/adec or by calling 1-(847) 509-0403.

7) Pastoral Counselors

Sometimes an individual’s issues are spiritual in nature, or involve feelings or conflicts about their religion. According to The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, a Pastoral Counselor must have a graduate degree from an accredited university, experience and training in the ministry, a relationship with a religious community, as well as significant training and supervised counseling experience. People who are grieving, or those who have serious illness often want to be able to talk to someone who can address their spiritual needs. Many people seek out Pastoral Counselors due to lack of insurance coverage, or no access to other mental health services. Some Pastoral Counselors charge a fee, and some do not. It is a good idea to make sure your Pastoral Counselor is Certified by the AAPC (see link below), as they are the best trained. Many faith leaders do counseling with the members of their congregation, but not all have the same training. Pastoral Counselors are a good choice for issues of grief and loss, and associated issues of faith.

If you feel that you’d like your issues addressed by someone who understands and takes into account your religious views, then you might want to choose a Pastoral Counselor. You can call the local church of your chosen denomination, or look at this webiste: www.aapc.org/about-us/pastoral-counseling-today/ or call them at (703) 385-6967.

8) APRN

An APRN is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. There are many types of advanced practice nurses, ( too many to go into, and frankly, above my pay grade), but the type you would be looking for is a Psychiatric APRN. They can diagnose and treat mental illness, and can prescribe medications just like a Psychiatrist can, but often are more flexible in terms of openings for new clients, and charge less that a Psychiatrist. Some APRNs do psychotherapy, and others only prescribe and manage the medications. So the amount of time you spend with an Psychiatric APRN depends upon the range of their practice. Many therapists refer clients to Psychiatric APRNs, due to lack of availability of Psychiatrists, or because the latter have no openings. But not to worry, the APRNs are great, and can offer the client more time to understand their situation than the Psychiatrists can. If the Psychiatric APRN you’re considering does “talk” therapy, it can be “one-stop shopping”, in that you don’t need a therapist as well. The nurse is obviously trained to recognize medical problems that might complicate the treatment. If you think a Psychiatric APRN might be right for you, you can call the American Nurses Association at 1-800-274-4262, or see their website at: www.nursingworld.org.

Summary

Before you pick a mental health provider, it’s a good idea to check your insurance company website to make sure the provider is in network, to narrow your search down to the providers that your insurance will pay for. You can also call your state public health department to check as to whether the provider is in good standing. There are more professional organizations than I have listed, and don’t forget that the provider themselves may have a website that will tell you something about their philosophy and what kind of treatment they do.

And I repeat, there is no shame in asking for help. It’s part of taking care of yourself. In fact, it takes courage. Once you reach out, you will be pleasantly surprised at who you might find, and your relationship with them can be life-changing. Having someone by your side for the journey through loss can make all the difference. So make the call. There is always hope, and you can get better if you ask for help.

If you have questions about how to find the right professional support, email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Parenting - Going Back To School Is a Tough Assignment for a Grieving Child

Fotolia 86503827 Subscription Monthly XLWhen a school shooting occurs, there are usually grief counselors in place and a variety of support services to help the faculty and students cope with the loss. It is a tragedy of mass proportions that effects the whole community.

But what about the child returning to school, who has suffered a profound, personal loss, such as that of a parent? How does the surviving parent, teachers, school counselor, and administrators help the student readjust to the routine of school, the homework demands, the focus required during this time of deep sadness?

“I think it’s amazing that people often don’t know that there is a school psychologist, nurse, and social worker on staff,” says Sheila Ostrander, MA, NCSP (Nationally Certified School Psychologist). “The schools do an excellent job of communicating that there is a support staff, and who they are, at back to school nights, orientations, and via brochures. However, parents are often overwhelmed with so much information that includes the schedules, curriculum etc.”

Sheila retired in 2007 after 30 years as the school psychologist in the Madison, CT public schools. She is currently one of three therapists at the New Hope Center in Guilford, CT where she works with children from preschool through middle school. She has advanced training in anxiety disorders and is a certified sand play practitioner.

Sheila has lots of valuable suggestions for how adults can help grieving school children in their healing process.

meet teacher parent girlFirst and foremost, parents need to let the teacher know about the loss before the student returns to school.

“It shouldn’t be a big secret,” she says.

And, the parent or caretaker needs to keep lines of communication open.

“It’s really important to talk to your children—I really want to emphasize listening,” Sheila says. “Sometimes in our desire to protect our children, we’re so quick to find a solution and aren’t really hearing what the problem is [in order] to do problem-solving with the child.”
She gives an example of a child thinking the death was all his or her fault: “I did something wrong, that’s why I’m being punished,” is the magical thinking.

This gives the parent the opportunity to comfort the child and explain that it was the disease or the accident that caused the death, not anything the child did.

The role of the teacher, she says, isn’t to be doing therapy with the child in the classroom, but to acknowledge the death and its impact on the child.

“This may seem obvious, but unfortunately it’s not,” she says. “Not acknowledging is creating such a void for that child—loneliness and isolation.”

Sheila suggests that the teacher can do such things as offer the child some tutoring and allow more time for an assignment.

It’s really important not to push too hard in terms of having a child talk about the death, she advises, and saying something as simple as “I’m so sorry that happened,” can be enough.

She notes that holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are often acknowledged in the school environment and can be painful for a child whose parent is deceased.

“It’s an opportunity for the teacher to talk to the child about favorite memories of their mom or dad,” she says, and maybe write a poem or story about the parent.

Sheila’s suggestions for grieving adolescents (13 and up) is to understand that they will protest the loss by acting out or withdrawing and that they may feel like life has been unfair to them, which can result in depression and/or regression.

“So, the question becomes, ‘What do you do?’” she says. “You can encourage them to talk, but it’s a careful balance because you shouldn’t be controlling.”

The best things adults can do, she says, is be available, offer lots of listening, and try not to take the teen’s grief away.

She says it’s important for adults to realize withdrawal is normal in the short term after a profound loss, and also to tolerate acting out in the short term, as long as the teen isn’t hurting themselves or someone else.

Re-establishing a routine before school starts in September will help a grieving child—and all children—make an easier transition from the relaxed summer days to the structure of school, Sheila says. She suggests starting an earlier bedtime about two weeks prior to the first day of school, noting that the number of hours of sleep needed for elementary school is 10 hours, middle school is 9 hours, and high school is 8 hours.

She also suggests freeing the bedroom of distractions, noting that

“So many kids are on their tablets and playing video games after they’re in bed at night.”

Having a backpack ready to go in the morning with homework completed and packed will make the a.m. less stressful, she says. And make sure the child eats breakfast.

“It’s mind boggling how many kids go to school without eating breakfast—even if it’s offered,” she says.

When to Seek Professional Help

If the teacher isn’t sure what to do, it’s very appropriate to come to people like myself and say, ‘Here is the situation,what can I do?’” Sheila says. “Then the school social worker, guidance counselor, etc. can meet as a Student Support Team (SST) to talk, brainstorm about what we can do to help.”

Sheila explains that for some bereaved kids, a couple of sessions with a school staff support person, such as the school social worker or psychologist, as well as meeting with the parent, can be very helpful, and may encourage the child to move on to the next step.

But, some kids may start refusing to go to school, display regressive behaviors, start having stomach aches and other aches and pains and end up in the nurse’s office and want to go home.

This is the time, Sheila says, to suggest an outside therapist to the parent. Most communities, she points out, have Youth and Family Services with licensed counselors on staff that can be of assistance to the parent. There are also support groups for grieving children and their families in many communities.

Above all else, Sheila stresses that the most important thing a parent or other adult can do for a grieving child is to have patience.

“It’s a process. It takes time,” she says.

“While parents are going through various stages of grief, for a child, it takes a lot longer, so the tendency for the parent is to want to cheer up the child. And school personnel want to do that, too.”

But, she stresses, “I think to be present for the child, to offer the child a safe environment and a listening voice, is critical.”

“Libraries are great resources for books on grief at different developmental levels,” Sheila says, and a particularly helpful online resource is the National Association of School Psychologists website: www.nasponline.org. Sheila can be contacted at New Hope Center for therapy in Guilford, CT: 203-458-2480 or online, www.newhopeguilford.com.

Poetry - Grass

grassLong, thin blades with supple knees,

Slender waists that bow and weave

With a fairy dancer’s ease

To the rhythm of the breeze.

When the day yields to the night

Green coats fade to ashly white.

Countless ears strain for the plight

Of moonsight falling from the height.

Hugo DesarroHugo DeSarro is a writer, poet, and playwright and has published poems, stories, and essays in a wide variety of publications throughout the world including Snowy Egret, Christian Science Monitor, Black Bear Review, Pulsar (UK), Poesy, Fairfield Review, Colorado Review, The Oklahoma Review, Calliope, Poetry Depth Quarterly, and Eureka Literary Magazine. He also writes a weekly column for The Rivereast newspaper in CT. Along with his writing, he has worked as an adjunct instructor in English and Literature at the University of Hartford, and has remained active in the local community, giving poetry classes and readings in various CT schools, libraries, senior centers, rehab centers, and rest homes. He has received numerous honors for his writing such as the Certificate of Achievement from the National Humane Society, First Prize in the Greyhound Bus National Essay Contest, 2005 Best Poetry Submission from The Oklahoma Review, and multiple awards from the annual Altrusa International of Central Connecticut Poetry Competition. He was recently named Poet Laureate for East Hampton, CT. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nutrition - Recipes from the Farm Kitchen at White Gate Farm

Farm Chef Anna Feldman. (White Gate Farm)Farm Chef Anna Feldman. (White Gate Farm)White Gate Farm (White Gate Farm)White Gate Farm (White Gate Farm)Sitting at the farm kitchen table on a spring day at White Gate Farm I met with owner Pauline Lord and Farm Chef Anna Feldman.

Pauline said about the farm, “Everything is certified organic on our farm and has been since we started farming here in Connecticut in 2000.

“We are excited to have the growing season underway and are looking to expand our offerings this season, along with the twice weekly farm stand. We are planning to host more dining events at the farm which will include Farm to Table Dinners with the option of an overnight stay.”

Anna, who completed an academic food studies degree in Italy, told me about what attracted her to come and use her culinary skills as chef at an organic farm.

She said, “I have always had a passion for growing. Having a French mother I was introduced to really good tasting food, always fabulously fresh from local markets.

Pauline Lord and a turkey. (White Gate Farm)Pauline Lord and a turkey. (White Gate Farm)“I like the seasonality of the farm – having to create new recipes with whatever the farm is producing – learning how to use up those extra tomatoes or spaghetti squash from the harvest.

“I take inspiration from whatever is available – maybe some wonderful fresh basil mid summer combined with almonds or walnuts, olive oil and garlic made into a delicious tasting fresh pesto sauce. In July we harvest 6,000 heads of garlic to store! Garlic goes well with great summers salads and is delicious roasted with our farm fresh chicken raised on premium fresh forage.

I like to try out unusual grains; farro, a traditional grain from the Mediterranean, or barley and combine them with roasted vegetables, legumes and freshly picked herbs for a tasty salad.

“Our farm fresh pizzas are always a bit hit with families as are our homemade quiches, rich and tasty with butter pastry, cream, Gruyere cheese and fresh organic spinach.

“I like to be creative, using alternative flours and grains pairing them with freshly grown fruits, rhubarb, berries and natural sweeteners, honey and maple syrup for a more natural taste to baked goods.”

Here are some recipes that Anna was cooking in the farm kitchen on the day I visited. I hope you enjoy them!

Morning Glory Muffins

Makes about 6-8 large muffins

INGREDIENTS
1 cup raw cane sugar
4 eggs
1/3 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup general-purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 cup flax seed
1 1/2 cups of grated carrot
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup dried coconut
1/3 cup raisins

DIRECTIONS
1. Sift the flour and dry ingredients into a bowl.
2. Whisk the eggs, canola oil sugar and vanilla together.
3. Grate the carrots.
4. Mix the walnuts, coconut and raisins and coat in a little of the dry mixture.
5. Mix the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Fold in the nut mixture. Lastly add the grated carrots.
6. Put the mixture into a non-stick spray coated baking tin or alternatively use muffin cases.
7. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Cooking Tip – Try using a cup of whole wheat flour in this recipe – it tastes really good! Use a smaller tin if you prefer and shorten the cooking time slightly.

Farro and Roasted Carrot Salad w. Chili-Lemon Dressing, Herbs, Feta & Pumpkin Seeds
Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS
1 cup uncooked farro
4 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound (about 4 medium) carrots
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika

Dressing:
1/2 tsp. Harissa Tunisian chili pepper paste or Thai red chili paste
1 tsp. honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 minced clove of garlic
Pinch of ground cumin
Salt to taste
5 tablespoons olive oil

Additional Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs – cilantro, mint, parsley, by themselves or in any combination.
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds, or walnuts or almonds
3/4 cup crumbled feta, 1/2 cup scallions to garnish – optional

DIRECTIONS
1. Cook farro: Bring farro, water or vegetable broth to the boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the farro until tender, about 15-20 minutes. If any extra water or broth remains, drain it away. Set the farro aside until the vegetables are ready.

2. Pre heat your oven to 380-400 degrees. Coat two shallow baking sheets or tins with one tablespoon of olive oil each. Peel carrots, and cut them into 2-inch lengths.

3. Then cut into matchsticks about 1/4-1/2 inches thick. Spread the carrots on prepared baking sheets and sprinkle them with salt, cumin and smoked paprika.

4. Roast for 20 minutes, and then toss them in the pan before cooking on for a further 10 minutes.

5. Assemble Salad: Whisk the dressing ingredients together, seasoning to taste with a little salt. In a large bowl combine the farro and roasted carrots. Stir in most of the fresh herbs, pumpkin seeds and feta, leaving a spoonful of each for garnish. Serve garnished with the reserved herbs, feta and pumpkin seeds.

Cooking Tip – Make ahead of time. This salad keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Cilantro Pesto

INGREDIENTS
1 medium onion peeled quartered
2 cups of fresh cilantro lightly packed
3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup toasted cashews or almonds
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice plus 1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Grated fresh Parmesan (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Place the garlic and cilantro in a food processor and pulse slowly adding the oil, lemon juice salt and pepper, until smooth.

Cooking Tip – This works equally well with fresh parley or basil, (blanch before use). Serve with grilled fish, chicken, or toss with cooked white beans or pasta.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Serves 4
This is a great way to use up those late summer tomatoes.

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion diced
3 stalks, celery outer part peeled, medium diced.
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt to taste
2 medium garlic cloves
1-2 tsp. sugar
Pinch of chili flakes (optional)
6 cups of chopped tomatoes, peeled, seeded with juices
1 1/2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/3-cup heavy cream (low fat sour cream for a lighter choice)
Freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Place a medium saucepan over low heat and add the oil and butter.
2. Add the chopped celery and onion and cook for about 10 minutes until soft, not brown.
3. Add the garlic, tomato paste, optional pepper flakes and cook for further 5 minutes.
4. Increase the heat to medium and add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan as well as the sugar soften with the back of a wooden spoon and simmer until they fall apart, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat, cool slightly and puree in a blender until smooth.
6. Return to the heat and stir in the cream on low heat. Add black pepper to taste and serve in warmed bowls with swirl of pesto basil or chopped basil leaves.

If you would like purchase direct from the farm, ready-made soups, salads, pizza, hummus, seasonal fresh fruits and other baked goods are on sale from the farm stand year round Wednesday and Saturday– Saturday during the winter months. More info @ www.whitegatefarm.net and 83 Upper Pattagansett Road, East Lyme, CT.

Entertainment - MATCH Offers One Path To a Spiritual Practice

Gunilla NorrisGunilla NorrisIn her latest book, Gunilla Norris introduces a spiritual practice she has found meaningful for more than 25 years and continues to use today. MATCH – Bringing Heart and Will into Alignment, 90 Days of Practice, was released in 2014 by Homebound Publications. It is the 21st book in a long line of accomplishments by this prolific author who entered the literary world writing children’s books, 11 in all, followed by a book of poetry. Since then she has spawned a series of down to earth, inspiring, spiritual selections that keep her many readers coming back for more. Aching to be inspired and to experience different paths that might bring us closer to our source, closer to an enlightened consciousness, we seek and search hoping to make some connection. MATCH introduces a practical way to get in touch with our spirituality through a 90 day practice to do just that.

“Like a low grade fever, I think we have a yearning for more consciousness, more engagement and more meaning about things we don’t pay attention to when we are rushing about,” says Gunilla. “And when something big happens like the loss of a partner, or a big change, we realize we have this yearning for more wholeness.”

And that was exactly where she found herself so many years ago. After sharing her very personal experience of what led her to this practice, what follows in MATCH are two parts, About the Practice and The Practice itself. That consists of 90 short thought provoking daily reflections that can lead to further reflection or a journal entry, but definitely leads toward a deeper experience of the practice. The practice is simple yet powerful and involves a household item as mundane as can be…an old fashioned box of wooden kitchen matches. Who would have thought? “We are creating a symbolic furnace out of a box of kitchen matches,” she writes. The box gets covered with carefully chosen symbols that will encourage alignment with the heart, mind and spirit. It becomes a guide, an inspiration and a treasured work of art. The matchsticks are bundled in a certain way and kept in the “hearth.” I don’t want to give away the entire process but MATCH is filled with this analogy. We have a fire within us that creates greater authenticity, guiding us to be who we are meant to be. The practice helps us to discern and grow closer to that intention and purpose.

She says, “When people do any spiritual practice it’s because they have a deep yearning. The thing I like about it is it uses the senses. So when you can identify something that you deeply wish to become, or have in your life, and I’m not talking about Cadillacs and lovers, I’m talking about qualities of being. And when you get in touch with that, and identify such a longing, then very often images come to us inadvertently in the world. Something invokes that feeling. And when we put that image on our matchbox it serves as a reminder. This is a practice that keeps you in connection with your longing. There is constancy. When you are constant with something it grows within us.”

She doesn’t believe we ever fulfill that longing. “Most of us yearn our whole lives for a deeper connection, for more meaningful dailiness because the television, advertisements and the new shirt are not gonna do it.” We think they will though, and she reminds us that it is in surrendering and giving ourselves away that we are fulfilled. The practice helps you give yourself away, turning the self over to the desire. Our yearning is about authenticity and wholeness.

“People want to be more kind, more loving, they want to serve more, be more present. It’s longing to be more of who we really are and we get to that through different qualities. It’s about needing to live what you really are.”

It is a concrete practice that Gunilla considers “doable.” “It’s 90 days and through that you’ve proven the practice, proven that you can do this for that period. You can smell the sulfur, you can see the flame, you can feel the heat with your finger, you can see the burnt matches representing a day in your life. It’s real and symbolically concrete. It’s really incarnational. It’s in the doing of it and the material itself that we touch the flame. You’re holding something real. You’re holding an image that you glued together. It matters. When we anchor something in physical reality and stay with it we can see how that reality is infused with spirit rather than separate from spirit. That’s what I mean by incarnational, we are infused with God’s desire for us to be whole.”

These matchboxes are vehicles of growth she says, and Gunilla has all her matchboxes that she considers almost a “spiritual biography.” She recounts using one for three years because she couldn’t quite get the message. So she stayed with it until she did. She didn’t mind because it was more important that she learn what it had to teach. 

The lessons keep coming as Gunilla maneuvers the ever changing world of publishing. Her 17 year old granddaughter Naomi Middleton has made a YouTube video (www.youtube.com/watch?t=67&v=txVN7G0_VHE) about this practice with interviews of people who have done it. And a new book called Embracing the Seasons will be released in June and a collection of her poetry will be released in 2016 by Homebound Publications.
“I practice my matchbox practice every day to try to listen to my heart’s deep longing and try to bring my will toward serving that longing. That is like a promise to myself, to do that every day, to somehow live that every day. If you keep that promise to yourself, you’re striving for truthfulness in your being … an authenticity. Tending the flame is about bringing the will into surrender with the heart’s longing. Our egos want to go trotting off to anything that looks interesting, rather than follow what the heart longs for which is different. It’s practice, practice, practice. We have to be willing to feel what is knocking at our heart’s door. If you want to live more authentically you have to be more honest and move toward that which your heart longs for.”

MATCH – Bringing Heart and Will into Alignment is available at www.Amazon.com or at www.HomeboundPublications.com.

Home - Home On Your Own – Reinventing Your Living Space

If you want to add a little fun and excitement to your décor, red is the color of passion and energy. (Jennifer Walker Interiors)If you want to add a little fun and excitement to your décor, red is the color of passion and energy. (Jennifer Walker Interiors)After the mourning period is over, you may be faced with decisions about whether you stay in the home you shared with your loved one or perhaps relocate to a smaller house or condo or move closer to family.

One rule of thumb is to avoid making major changes in the first year following a death—like moving—as you are likely not thinking too clearly and may end up with life-changing results you will later regret.

You may decide to remain in the home you lived in with your husband or wife, for a number of reasons: you love your house, it’s in a good location, you don’t want to uproot children, the mortgage is paid up, the taxes are low, you have a good support network in your neighborhood.
So, what can you do to freshen up your dwelling that won’t break the bank, but will add some joy, beauty, and comfort to this next stage of life, while still honoring the memory of your loved one?

Start by de-cluttering—a great stress reliever that will make you feel lighter and calmer. Then brighten up your surroundings with attractive new accents and accessories, such as curtains, pillows, bedspreads, and artwork.

If you hated that ratty old Barcalounger that your spouse adored—get rid of it. Instead, hold on to decorative items and prized heirlooms that had special meaning for your spouse—or both of you. Keep happy memories alive by displaying favorite photos or creating a grouping of pictures on the wall in a hallway or foyer that show your loved one with family and friends, doing the things he or she enjoyed at different stages of life.

Color Your New World

Finding yourself on your own for the first time in years following the loss of a spouse can be both lonely and anxiety producing. So creating a soothing and relaxing environment is a top priority.

A bedroom in white and neutral tones creates a restful and uncomplicated environment. (www.housetohome.co.uk – Dominic Blakemore, Photographer)A bedroom in white and neutral tones creates a restful and uncomplicated environment. (www.housetohome.co.uk – Dominic Blakemore, Photographer)Jennifer Walker, ASID interior designer, based in Stony Creek, Connecticut, has some great ideas about using paint to reinvent your home.

“One of the most unique environments you can create is a room of pure meditation, like the floating spas that use sensory deprivation intended to cleanse and revitalize your spirit,” Jennifer says. “The spas are supposed to relax and unwind you, driving the worry demons away.

“Creating this with paint is a lovely way to bring this feeling home,” she says. “I’m suggesting painting a room, preferably a bedroom, all white. White is a symbol of purity and light. Peace is associated with white. In our culture carrying a white flag means, ‘Stop the conflict.’ Keep furniture, fixtures, walls, floors, linens, and upholstery all white. Keep digital devices out of this area. Removing external stimuli and visual noise will let you unwind and regenerate.”

But if extreme white doesn’t appeal to you, Jennifer has other ideas for positive, mood-enhancing colors to repaint your rooms.

“Neutrals are reassuring and harmonious and work well with accent colors,” she says. “Benjamin Moore (B.M.) Consentino Chardonnay or Stone House are restful and uncomplicated and quiet the environment. Use in a space that tends to be noisy...a T.V. room, for example.”

Yellow is cheerful and uplifting, and reflects sunlight, so it will brighten a space that needs a punch, Jennifer points out.

Two nice choices she suggests are B.M. Straw 2154-50 and Vellum 207.

Bring soothing green into your home with live plants – they’re good for your health, too. (www.ask.com – rooms with plants)Bring soothing green into your home with live plants – they’re good for your health, too. (www.ask.com – rooms with plants)“A study in New York uncovered the fun factoid that people in a yellow room are more social,” Jennifer says. “The experimenters set up three rooms for cocktail parties: red, blue, and yellow. The yellow people were livelier and ate more than the others. Cautionary tale: not the best choice for dining rooms if you’re dieting!”

She notes that blue is the color of trust.

“Banks and politicians love blue. Blue can be regal and uplifting, as well as reflect a relaxing mood,” she says. Shades of blue are also perfect in bedrooms where we need a quiet, soothing, contemplative interior.”

Jennifer recommends B.M. Stratford Blue 831 or Lake Placid 827 as great hues for a study where you need to focus.
Red, on the other hand, can actually make blood pressure rise by bringing on an adrenaline rush,” Jennifer notes. “It’s the color of passion and energy.”

She suggests that B.M. Caliente AF 290 or Dinner Party AF 300 would work well in a spirited dining room.

But of all colors, she says nature green is a one of her favorites in all tints.

“Deep B.M. Lush AF-475 makes a dramatic statement. Subtle shades of green are perfect backgrounds for resting. The soft shade of B.M. Dune Grass 492 conveys a feeling of spring and with it harmony,” she says.

“All the gifts of nature are represented by green,” Jennifer observes. “Many studies find that green increases comfort and a positive outlook.”

And, in addition to paint, there are so many reasons and ways to use green to transform your environment with plants at the top of the list.

“As a designer and LEED (green design and building) proponent, I cannot stand fake plants. They do nothing for you but collect dust,” Jennifer stresses.

“Not only is greenery aesthetically pleasing, it promotes good healthy air-quality,” she says. “Our mothers had it right with the little old lady plants like philodendrons, ferns, golden pothos, and snake plants. These plants with tropical roots are especially ‘built’ to effectively purify the indoor air by absorbing carbon dioxide and other unhealthy gases and convert them to oxygen.

“Gerber Daisies are especially wonderful in bedrooms to promote excellent air quality while you sleep,” Jennifer adds. “Isn’t it nice to know something so beautiful is so healthy for you?”

Home is where the heart is, so make your home into a place that radiates with the peace and possibility of this new chapter of life.

Finance - Flea Markets Are a Source of Bangles and Baubles and Buckets Galore

James Steele of Old Saybrook, CT.James Steele of Old Saybrook, CT.One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and nowhere does that idiom prove to have greater truth than your neighborhood flea market. My partner and I wandered off in search of a story one recent sunny Sunday and ended up at the Clinton Village Antique & Collectible Flea Market. I’m not really a hunter gatherer type person and although I appreciate certain vintage items, I’m not really one to fill my car with collectibles and tchotchkes. But I’m a minimalist and a minority in this area. I realize that.

Flea markets are big business and a fabulous way to find interesting, unique items for your home. Flea market buyers range from folks looking for a bargain, families who are out for a Sunday drive, college students looking to outfit their first apartment, do-it-yourselfers, and decorators searching for those one of a kind pieces of furniture or accessories. Antiques and collectibles, repurposed and upcycled items, plants and garden material, and even new merchandise can often be found at flea markets.

There is a fair amount of speculation about the etymology of the phrase including its origin coming from the French “marché aux puces” (literally “market of the fleas”), and its practice which may have originated in Paris in the 1860’s and might have had something to do with the namesake critters sometimes found on furniture (or pets). Other theories credit Russell Carrell, an east-coast antique show organizer, with our modern flea market as we know it today. (Wikipedia)

The Clinton Village market is just such a modern day market, having their opening day when I was there and it was a very modest gathering of a handful of vendors with tables set up alongside various shed sized building filled to overflowing with assorted “stuff.” There was a minimal semblance of order with one building housing records and books, another displayed glassware, yet another had more antique furniture and yet another had vintage signs, tools, games and household equipment.

I noticed a game called Tip It, I remembered from childhood that I hadn’t thought of in 50 years. “Hey, I know that game,” I said out loud to my partner. And isn’t stirring up memories the reason so many of us are attracted to these vintage treasures? We want to bring them home and remember “back when…” My attention wandered to a vintage hammered aluminum ice bucket on the top shelf that my taller accomplice handed me to inspect before he strolled over to look at some vintage tools and an old fishing rod. I decided to pass on the ice bucket and we wandered around the outdoor tables that were strewn with various odds and ends. I noticed three metal ship sculptures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria and wondered about the person who might take those home. I saw scads of old jewelry in glass cases and vintage coke signs and stuff that I couldn’t even identify, but it was an old cast iron pot that piqued my guy’s curiosity. Fortunately his curiosity waned and it didn’t come home with us.

There is a certain degree of mystery and fascination in these places and the spirit of the past is sometimes palpable in the old treasures. They tell a story and sometimes they tell our story in some way. There seemed to be something for everyone in this little market and there are others like it everywhere as these outdoor bazaars are very common throughout New England and New York.

The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in New Milford is the largest in Connecticut and an experience worth the trip. The Elephant’s Trunk has been around since 1976 and is held on a 55 acre parcel of land that was once a tobacco farm and later grew alfalfa crops. Owned by the same family since way back, every Sunday between April and November, this open air market attracts an average of about 400 vendors and 3,500-6,000 buyers. One feature about it that manager Gregory Baecker finds inviting, is that, about 70 percent of the vendors sell antiques, collectibles and vintage items. “The market is really geared toward that type of vendor,” he says. “Also, my spaces are 20’ feet by 20’ feet giving vendors plenty of room to sell.” They have parking for 1,000 cars and they even have food vendors.

He has seen an increase in attendance over the years and speculates that the publicity from HGTV’s Flea Market Flip show, hosted by Lara Spencer hasn’t hurt one bit. The show films there twice a year, around May and again in September or October, providing the market with publicity they could never afford. On the show two teams vie to make the most profit as they are challenged to re-purpose what they find. Turning trash into treasure is what the show is all about and they have been highlighting that at the Elephant’s Trunk for the past four years.

Greg has been manager of Elephant’s Trunk since it began and he took the job while he was a teacher in Danbury Connecticut. He moved up the ranks taking jobs as assistant principal in Torrington and then principal at a school in Milford before accepting a final position in Orleans, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. But he still tends to the Flea Market every weekend and enjoys the interaction with the vendors and the buyers. “I just love it,” he says. “It’s an opportunity that I really enjoy.”

He believes that the popularity of flea markets like his, is that people want to get out and do something as a family and the Elephants Trunk is a very family friendly market. Additionally there is a wide range of items and many bargains to be had. Recently he had several vendors selling outdoor furniture, plants and garden material, hardware, antiques and collectibles, jewelry, garden statuary, as well as new items. “There is a wide variety to pick from, it’s outdoors, it’s relaxed and I think people just enjoy the experience.”

The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market is located at 490 Danbury Road, New Milford, Connecticut. It is open 7 a.m. on Sundays through November. Admission for buyers is $2.00 and children under 12 are free. For more information call (508) 265-9911 or visit www.etflea.com. Information about the Clinton Village Antique & Collectible Flea Market can be found by calling (860) 669-3839. It is located at 327 East Main Street (Route 1) Clinton, Connecticut. Call ahead for details.

Spirituality - Happiness Clubs Help Us Celebrate Life

Tina GarrityTina GarrityWe all just want to be happy. It’s part of the human condition. More and more, choosing to pursue happiness is a cultural shift that is bringing more than a smile to many faces as people tap into inner wisdom that reveals to us where happiness can be found. Gretchen Rubin wrote The Happiness Project back in 2009 and it spent two years on the New York Times Bestseller list. She’s followed up with other books on happiness selling more than two million copies according to her website www.GretchenRubin.com, and they have been translated into 30 languages. People all over the globe want to be happy.

“Contemporary research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likable, more creative, more lighthearted, more resilient, more interested in others, friendlier and healthier,” writes Rubin in The Happiness Project. Who wouldn’t want some of that?

Vague discontent prompts a search

Ten years ago Tina Garrity was talking with friends about what to do with the rest of her life. She has five daughters, and at the time, the youngest who are twins, were about 11 years old. She assumed that with her kids getting a bit older she would go back to teaching because she has a Masters degree in education and had been a stay at home Mom, but every time she got close to acting on that, something held her back.
“I had a lovely home, five beautiful daughters, a good marriage, so I had things in my life and felt very fortunate. I didn’t have to go back to work. So I felt guilty about the fact that, at 48 years old, I had all these things but was feeling unhappy and discontent,” she said. A friend told her about a Happiness Club that met once a month in Fairfield, Connecticut. “So I went there and it was fabulous. The speaker that night was Dr. Bernie Siegel. He is a wonderful speaker and talks a lot about the things people need to be happy. I loved what I heard and continued to go. I can’t say I heard anything new but it was like, ‘Wow, I hadn’t thought of these things in a long time – things like gratitude, being responsible for yourself, the law of attraction, those kind of topics.’”

Starting a Happiness Club

One of the speakers presented a workshop about visualization and Tina realized that was what she wanted to do, inspire others by teaching about happiness. “I think my inner teacher was coming out,” says Tina. “I didn’t know what to talk about and was afraid of public speaking. I loved the Happiness Club so much and I felt better about myself, and I wanted to bring that to others. I thought other people needed to hear these things.”

She spoke with Lionel Ketchian, the founder of the Happiness Club in Fairfield and author of The Happiness Formula and One Step Method for Happiness, about starting a club in Madison where she lives. He supported the idea, she overcame her fear of public speaking and in October 2006 Tina started the Madison Happiness Club with about 12-18 people in attendance. Now there are 50-100 people who attend the last Wednesday of each month at the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. The meetings are free and include a bit of business, a short talk by Tina and a presentation by an expert of some kind on a subject related to happiness. She maintains an email list that has 1200 names of folks who want to stay informed.

“It has consistently grown over the years,” says Tina. “People want to be happy. I believe that’s something we are all after. Happiness. I had things but things don’t make you happy. It’s an inside job.”

The Reality of Dealing with Grief

Tina says, “Grief is real. If you’re going through trauma or difficulty in life you have to honor that. But I think when you choose to be a happy person, and lead a happy life, you realize that those moments of sadness and depression won’t last forever. There are tools at your disposal that you can use like being there for other people, like sharing your story in a way that might be helpful for others going through a similar thing. When you help someone you help yourself and it makes you feel good.”

Over the years she has listened to many speakers on the subject of happiness and there are a few key things she finds important like having gratitude about the little things in life. Taking responsibility for your own happiness and knowing that it is ultimately up to you to find your way and having an attitude of acceptance about things you can’t change and can’t control is important.

She adds, “The past is the past and as much as you wish for it not to have happened you have to realize you can’t change it. You can’t change the fact that a loved one is gone. Grief is real and you have to honor that, but you can also look for ways to accept happiness into your life. Look for ways to honor that person in some way like creating something as simple as a memorial garden or as complex as a establishing a foundation in their name.”

Choosing to be happy

Last summer Tina was run over by her own car when it slipped out of gear. Her leg was badly damaged and she found herself completely off her feet for 10 weeks. It wasn’t easy. She said, “I made a decision to be happy. I could be miserable or I could make the best of it. It was a choice. I don’t believe we create our experiences but we can choose how we respond and deal with what is thrown at us in life.”

She believes we are all searching for how to be happy consistently. We want to be with people who are happy and she suggests surrounding yourself with positivity. To create that constancy we have to chase away the negative thoughts that permeate our minds. Mindfulness and an awareness of our thought processes helps to do that and we can choose to change how we think.

Tina volunteers for a knitting group at an assisted living facility called The Hearth at Tuxis Pond. Helen, one of the knitters in her group, is 103 years old. Helen’s husband died when she was in her late 30’s and she had four children to raise. She’s been through world wars and the depression. Within a few years of losing her husband she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, was institutionalized, and had to farm out her kids to family. She has had breast cancer twice. “She’s gone through a lot in her lifetime,” says Tina. “And she is happy and active. I asked her one time, how she keeps such a great attitude with everything she has gone through. She said, ‘I’ve always known things could always be worse.’” Accessing happiness is about changing perspective.

A Growing Trend

Tina says, “Happiness has exploded over the past years. We weren’t talking about being happy. We had stopped hearing about the inner life and the pain just got too great. Things won’t make you any happier. People are starting (over the past several years) to pay attention to the emotional world and caring about exercise and what they put in their bodies. It’s a holistic approach to life. You can’t keep performing at a high level if you aren’t in balance. I think we got out of balance. As a nation we began to talk more about feelings that matter.”

Speakers on a variety of interesting topics approach her on a regular basis for an opportunity to talk to her Happiness Club offering presentations on topics related to happiness. They volunteer their time and want to share their message. Meetings are free and the majority of the folks who attend are women although some men do attend, and the ages are about 40-70 years old, Tina estimates.

Bernie Siegel is a speaker, author and internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer and complementary holistic medicine. He has been working with happiness for decades and resources are available on his website www.berniesiegelmd.com including a DVD called Conversations with Bernie: Health and Happiness with Dr. Siegel being interviewed by Lionel Ketchian.

“The simple truth is, happy people generally don’t get sick,” writes Siegel in Love, Medicine and Miracles. “One’s attitude toward oneself is the single most important factor in healing or staying well. Those who are at peace with themselves and their immediate surroundings have far fewer serious illnesses than those who are not.”

Happiness Clubs can be found all over the world. Why? Because at the center of it people want to be happy. We may not always know how to get there but we know we want to be happy. Step one might be to just smile. Visit www.HappinessClub.com to find one near you.

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