Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dying to Play Social Media Game Blue Whale

"How do people survive this?" 

These are the words of a mother whose son died by suicide 15 days ago. 

I know, suicide is too sad to talk about. What if I told you there is a shocking new social media game called Blue Whale where participants win by dying?

There is.

The truth is that I debated long and hard about writing this post because there is just nothing uplifting about suicide. But when social media and Facebook Live are being used as a platform to gain 15 minutes of fame in brutal ways including suicide, I become guilty by association by turning the other cheek.

So I'm going to talk about it. 

Thankfully I'm not alone. Netflix has taken the courageous step of devoting a whole series to the subject. "13 Reasons Why" follows the life of a teen boy who struggles to make sense of a classmate's suicide. Although the series is embroiled in controversy for its graphic scenes, whether you agree or not, Netflix deserves kudos for being brave enough to spend millions on a subject nobody wants to address except by those who find themselves facing the real-life aftermath.

Also, big kudos to my friend and fellow author Chuck Andreas. Chuck shared his poignant story of unexpectedly losing his beloved wife Gloria in 2014 to heart disease in "Grief Diaries: Through the Eyes of Men," including the part where he felt lost, hopeless, and—yes—attempted suicide. Chuck has since turned his pain into purpose by speaking to kids (and adults) about his story with hopes of sparing others from taking the same steps. He's even gone so far to inspire and author "Grief Diaries: I Survived My Suicide Attempt." That takes guts. And yet who better to raise awareness than those who've walked the journey? 

When we find ourselves caught between a world who finds suicide too sad to discuss and yet we're up against a social media suicide game that's spreading around the world, what can we do? How do we stop the madness?

We can open the dialogue. 

We can talk about it and educate ourselves on how people young and old find themselves in a suicidal spot so we can learn the red flags and take action before they do. 

Talk about it. Be brave. Help stop suicide. 

And if you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, hug them for a really long time. XOXO

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Fear of Rejection


One of the joys of my day is walking alongside people who are either writing for the first time in our books series or writing their own. Like any first-time parent, nerves can easily poke holes in our courage and we drive ourselves batty with questions. Will anybody read it? Will they like it? Criticize it? Laugh at it? When we put ourselves out there in such a public way, it can be very scary.

It suddenly feels like we're the new kid on the playground wondering if anyone will play with us. We feel vulnerable to rejection.

Whether it’s your first or tenth book, treat yourself with respect and remember why you’re writing it in the first place. Some writers merely want to preserve their hard work, and what better way than to publish it in a book? Some enjoy the credibility it brings (even if nobody buys it). Others hope to make the New York Times Bestseller’s list. It’s really important to give yourself grace and remember that writing is very personal, as is your reason for writing, and your goal for authoring. You don’t need to meet someone else’s approval to author a book. Do it for the love of it.

First and foremost, do it for yourself because not everyone will love your book. Taste is wide and varied in the literary world. Some love sci-fi while others indulge in romance. Some prefer self-help and seek comfort while others seek to escape inside someone else’s fantasy.

In short, if it is meaningful to you, then it's worthy. But listen to your heart. If you aren’t sure about moving forward, why pressure yourself? Unlike a pregnancy, there is no timeline. Some books take years before they’re finally in print. If you never move forward, that's okay too. Just don't let nerves about how your book will be perceived stand in your way. Do it for the love of it. In your time.

Lead with your heart, and all will be well. XOXO


Fighting For Hope

Some weeks it rains. Some weeks it pours. And some weeks it feels like we're standing under Niagra Falls. This is one of those weeks. I'm sick as a dog, my hubby's sick as a dog, and we have a sick dog. Thanks to a wicked head cold, I'm missing my niece's bachelorette party in Vegas this weekend, and I can't feed the babies in the NICU this week. The list goes on, right?

But the truth is that no downpour is permanent. Life's rhythm promises that nothing lasts forever, including pain. No matter what we're facing, it's only temporary. 

That's the beauty of hope.

Sometimes our burdens cast shadows so large that they appear to block all hope. But hope is clever, and can disguise itself when needed. But it's still there—all we need to do is look for it.

Today, I see hope in the sun as it bursts between the clouds. I hear hope in the singsong of the birds looking for a mate. I touch hope when I stroke the soft billowy fur of our beloved Capo, or my hubby's strong arms wrapped lovingly around me. I smell hope in the fragrant alyssums, a flower I plant every spring in memory of my Alyssa. I taste hope in the juicy Honeycrisp apple I eat every day (or the Starbucks frappuccino every afternoon).

Yes, hope is always there. Sometimes we just have to fight to find it. XOXO


Monday, March 13, 2017

Grief in the Workplace - The Last Frontier

Kristen Frasch, editor of Human Resource Executive magazine, was at a national conference in Las Vegas when her husband's lifeless body was discovered at home. Because she had used up all the time she was entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act caring for her father during his hospice, Kristen was left with her allotted three days of bereavement leave before returning to the demands of her job.

"I had to return to my hotel room, pack my bags, try and sleep, then grab a taxi to the airport the following morning, go through security and sit through almost six hours of flight time before touching down and driving to meet my sons, who were waiting to escort me to the body of the man I would love forever. What’s followed since has been mind-numbing, energy-depleting, sleep-depriving, appetite-suppressing, chest-quaking and nauseating, not to mention sometimes scary."

Kristen interviewed me last fall for an article in this month's issue of Human Resource Executive. Grief in the workplace remains an uncharted frontier for many employers. I'm honored to have contributed to such an important topic and be cited as the source (see Suggestions for Managers/Co-Workers in the tan box).  

A bereaved employee returning to work after loss is an elephant in the room. Creativity and productivity take a hit. Nobody knows what to say, and the employee becomes a person most people tiptoe around.

"In all honesty, many moments were spent staring at a computer screen, remembering what needed doing but asking many more questions about processes and decisions than I had before. Other moments were spent on pure adrenaline, fulfilling all my editorial responsibilities with a determination and directness that probably said to staff and co-workers, “This woman is so strong!” when that was the last thing I was feeling."

Kristen's story opens the dialogue on the uncharted waters of grief in the workplace, and offers ways to support bereaved employees while keeping an eye on office productivity and the well-being of everyone. 

Click here to read the full article this month's issue of Human Resource Executive magazine.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why is grief self-indulgent?


On most mornings for the past 11 years, I've walked with my neighbor Evelyn in a cemetery—land designated as a burial ground for the dead. Some find that morbid or creepy, but I don't. I find it peaceful and serene; a place that affords excellent walking paths. The foliage changes every three months, and over the years we've gained friends along the way.

One of those friends was a lady named Karen. Most mornings Karen and her husband John walked their little dog Teddy in the cemetery. It was wonderful exercise for Teddy, and afforded Karen and John a tranquil time between the two of them in his final days before he died in 2009, the same year we lost our daughter Aly. Two years prior, in 2007, my neighbor Evelyn lost her nephew.

After John died, it became just Karen and Teddy walking in the cemetery. We didn’t see her every morning, but when we did the three of us stood and chatted not about our losses but about life. 

Oh, sometimes we chatted about our losses but that's the thing about grief. It’s part of life. 

A few months ago Karen died. While on our morning walk earlier this week, Evelyn and I stopped where Karen is laid to rest next to John. We stood there staring at her name etched on the granite and it hit us hard that we'll never again run into Karen on our morning walks. We miss Karen's easy smile and twinkling blue eyes, and her little dog Teddy too, but this is the cycle of life.

Which brings me to my question. If death, loss and grief have been around since the beginning of time, when did it become a topic so full of taboo? Public displays of mourning were once considered dutiful, respectful and a sign of good character. 

Now it’s considered self-indulgent and impolite, for we must spare others our suffering.

When did that happen? And why?


Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Life Lesson Learned 5,000 Miles From Home

Returned home yesterday afternoon after a wonderful trip! Costa Rica is an absolutely gorgeous country, and such a lovely culture. I hadn't expected the poor internet in the places we stayed, but it offered a respite that allowed me to unabashedly enjoy all the country had to offer and indulge in my inner NatGeo photography wannabe (I took over 3,000 photos!). 

My heart is full of gratitude for being able to take Project Kindness to people in need. In exchange we returned home with something unexpected, and far more valuable than the donations we distributed . . . we came home with a lesson about life itself. The Costa Ricans have a saying — pura vida — that literally means "pure life." Its deeper meaning, simply put, is that no matter what your current situation is, life for someone else is much less fortunate. No matter how little or how much you have in life, we are all here together, and to enjoy what you have to the fullest because life is short. 

In a time when our own country is facing a cultural storm with no sun in sight, we have a choice about whether to allow those issues to engulf our blessings and cast them into the shadows, or to find peace with our differences. Many Costa Rican conversations end with "pura vida" - enjoy life. Lacking in material riches doesn't dampen a country full of smiles and open hearts. 

I went on vacation with two suitcases full of donations to a country in need, and came home with a life lesson I'll never forget.

Pura vida!  XOXO

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Happy birthday, my child

Dear Lovey,

It's hard to believe that 23 years ago today you birthed from my womb into our waiting arms. I can't help but wonder what you would look like now, what you would have accomplished, and what goals would be in your cross hairs next.

Would you have reached your dream of the Olympics? Would you be graduating from Stanford?

One thing is for certain—in the short time you spent here, you taught us to use compassion to make a difference. I've tried to model myself after you, and like to think you would be proud of the person I've become, even though my heart is heavy on days like today. 

More than ever I yearn to wrap both arms around you, steal a kiss from the top of your head while secretly taking in the smell of your hair. I want to feel the softness of your teenage skin. I want to make jewelry with piles of pearls, crystals, and elements spread across the table between us. I want to rock out to music together on the way home from the pool.

These are the things I think of every day, but they're especially tender on days like today.

Most days I want to spare the world my pain. But in moments like this I want the world to know that grief is okay.

I want them to know it is okay for me to be sad, that my heart hurts years later and I will cry, but they should not be frightened of that. 

I know there will always be some who lack compassion and cast judgement against my sorrow, but they do so only out of fear for their own grief not yet experienced.

One day they too will learn that great sorrow stems only from great love.

So Lovey, on your birthday today I make you two promises. First, I will never be angry at those who tell us to get over it. Their judgement is cast out of fear, and I cannot be angry at fear. Second, I vow to cover the brokenhearted who are stung by such words with love and compassion so they don't feel alone. 

Because loneliness on this journey surely turns a tender heart bitter.

And a bitter heart in a living person is more tragic than a tender heart in a dead person.

Lovey, you had a premonition that we would soon be separated. I don't think you were afraid to die. I think you feared for the grief I would face.

But there is no need for you or anyone to fear my grief.

It is the worst journey imaginable, yes. But I am a better person because of it. 

It has taught me to see outside my own world.

It has opened a vein of compassion that never runs dry.

It has taught me patience and grace in the face of judgement.

My world, blessed with loving family and friends, has grown even richer with new friends who are old souls of the very best kind.

It's your birthday today, and yet I feel like it is I who has been given gifts—gifts of purpose amid pain, gifts of kindness amid judgment, gifts of helping others to help my own heart to heal.

I am not afraid of the grief I now bear. For without grief there would be no need for hope. 

And hope is the best gift of all.

Happy birthday, Lovey. I love you.

Love,
Mom  XOXO

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Power of Kindness, Endorphins & One Judgmental Judy

Yesterday a woman said she would only donate to Project Kindness if it benefited Americans, not the orphanage we're delivering supplies to in Costa Rica. Although her judgement hurt, she wasn't wrong. I get it. There are plenty right here in our own back yard who could use these supplies. 

Yet her words stung. 

But I forgive her, because she just didn't know.

She didn't know that I've spent the last 30 years tending to those in our own backyard. I've prayed with addicts on dark streets at night. I've given socks to homeless people with bare-footed babies in December. I've fed hot meals to lines of hungry people. I ran supplies down the hospital corridor when I was a teen. And fought fires and saved lives out in the field in my thirties.

Yes, I started volunteering that young. I'm now 51, and it's never gotten old. 

After we lost Aly, my volunteering shifted from helping others to helping myself. Spreading kindness became the balm that soothes my broken heart. Just like a runner needs to hit the open pavement for a daily dose of endorphins, I need to give. Spreading kindness is my endorphins.

Also just like a runner, I don't always take the same route. When giving to others, a change of scenery is good once in a while. 

Judgmental Judy also didn't know that Aly's birthday is just on the horizon. I feel the sorrow deep in my bones. To handle the added layer of sadness that comes with certain days of the year, I need to up the ante to find my endorphins. Delivering supplies to the poor around Aly's birthday is the perfect way to spread kindness and help my own heart to heal.

But why Costa Rica and not East St. Louis? 

Because Aly was mesmerized by Latin America. She studied the Mayans, the Incas, and Easter Island every chance she got and it was on her bucket list to visit those places. But she died before she understood what fueled her fascination. 

Maybe, just maybe, when we deliver donations to Costa Rica, we'll find out. And if not, there is always next year. And the year after. Just like in America, there are plenty of people who need kindness in Peru, Brazile, Chile, and Honduras.

That's why Judgmental Judy's words sting my soul. She would only help Americans. My dear sweet hubby is Australian. Should he help only Australians? I'm a female. Should I spread kindness only to other females?

Of course not.

In between trips seeking to understand Aly's fascination, I'll continue to deliver kindness right here in my homeland. I'll hold babies born to addicts on American streets, soothing their wail as their wee body goes through painful withdrawals. And continue my work alongside our Grief Diaries village helping to bring comfort and hope to others through sharing our own stories of survival.

Maybe one day I'll run into Judgmental Judy and have a chance to explain the power behind spreading kindness both near and far. But I won't explain to her why we do this in February, near Aly's birthday. Or why we chose Costa Rica, a region Aly loved. 

There's a proverb that says to be careful with words, because once they are said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. I may never forget the sting of Judgmental Judy's words, but I do forgive her absence of empathy and understanding—she has never walked in my shoes.

She doesn't know that spreading kindness is my endorphins. 

She doesn't know that helping others helps my own heart to heal.

She didn't know Aly, nor her fascination with Latin America. 

She doesn't know the lifetime of sorrow I now carry in my heart.

When we deliver donations to the poor in Costa Rica, I'll think of Judgmental Judy. 

And be glad for her that she just doesn't know. And hope she'll be spared from ever finding out.