The Dangerous Game of Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda…

September 17th, 2017 | no comments

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.

~Fulton Oursler~

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

~Alexander Graham Bell~

It’s a two quote kind of day.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

If I can be completely honest, those three fabricated words drive me nuts. Three words that actually sum up what is wrong with the world these days. We keep looking back hoping to fix what’s in front of us. Shortly after Stephen died, a person said those words to me. This person said, “I know you must be playing the woulda, coulda, shoulda game right now.”

Yes, it is true, someone actually said that.

My reply? “No, actually I am not. Even though I wish things could be different, I would not change the way I loved my son, nor would I expect him to have loved me any differently than he so beautifully did. If something happened to someone you love tomorrow, I hope you could say the same thing.”

Yes, I did have “that” tone when I said it.  And my left eyebrow may or may not have been elevated.

Was I a perfect parent? No. Was he a perfect child? I think so, but I suppose I may be slightly biased. But woulda, coulda, shoulda? Really? I was absolutely stunned that someone would say this to a mother who was grieving the recent loss of her child. Speechless, and let’s face it. That does not happen to me very often.

This statement, early in my grief, shocked me. I just didn’t see it coming. The person did not see the error in saying it. It was almost as if it was a given for her, a natural process in her own life to look back over her shoulder and “play the game”, revisiting your actions and the actions of others with a focus on regret, blame, and shame. Looking to the past in the hopes that reflection can somehow change the reality that you are facing in the present.

But we all know you can’t erase or change the past. So why do we spend so much time trying to do just that?

It never works. It can’t. Looking back does one thing. It keeps you stuck. You cannot move forward as long as you are trying to affect change on the unchangeable. And how far do you plan on going back? To your most recent mistake? How about college? Hell, if we are playing the game, why not go back to that unfortunate incident in the third grade? If this game really worked, we would all spend our todays fixing our yesterdays.

Now, that is not to say that you can never look back and reflect on your life lessons in an attempt to improve yourself for the days and years ahead. That is a good thing. It is also not to say that you will never make any mistakes. No matter how great you live, you will always be imperfect by design. I am cringing right now thinking about some of my own “cringe-worthy” moments on my journey to now.

You also can’t change the past for someone else. Many times, when we hurt, we look to the past, and say, “If she didn’t do that to me, I could be happy.”

Okay, but she did. And unless you are Marty McFly with a DeLorean and a mad scientist for a friend, you can’t go back and change it. So what now?

So, today:

    • Wipe the slate clean.
    • Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Everyone else does.
    • Make peace with the fact that no relationship will ever have perfect closure. Whether it is death, divorce, a messy break-up, or firing. It will never be the perfect script you write after the fact. And that’s okay. That’s how you learn.
    • Know that you only ever have the power to improve upon the present.
    • Distance yourself from any toxic emotional vampires who tell you that you should play the game of woulda, coulda, shoulda.
    • Promise yourself you are done playing that game. No more. Refocus yourself on the now. It will take work at first, but keep trying. It will happen.
    • Imagine what your loved one would say to you. For me, I think about that chat with Stephen. I think he tells me daily to take all the love I have for him in my heart and give it away to those who need it.

 

Wipe the slate clean. You deserve to be happy.

Have a clean chalkboard kind of day,

Kelly

Tulips and Steaming Dog Crap

April 3rd, 2017 | no comments

 

 

Tulip. Beautiful Bouquet Of Tulips. Colorful Tulips.People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped.

~Author Unknown~

 

The tulips in my back yard have started to pop up. The tulips are a sign of life from the cold ground, a good sign that spring will indeed come this year, despite the cold temperatures leading up to this moment.

I look at the tulips and think a little, on how they represent life, and the human spirit in so many ways. Over the past eight months, I’ve experienced the winter of my life. And much like the bulbs beneath the ground, my quiet and painful winter is beginning to subside, and I am starting to feel ready for the sunshine on my face again.

I feel mighty proud as I reflect and look at the greenery shooting from the ground. Boy, I am deep, and wise.

And then I see it.

In the corner of my eye, as I gaze on the tulips, I see rising steam. At first, I am confused, knowing that the dryer vent is on the other side of the house. But, on closer inspection, I see it. Steaming on the ground, it is Rudy’s own creation, left strategically in front of my window, so I may watch the steam billow up into the morning sky.

Gee, thanks Rudy.

I laugh, as I look at the two focal points from this different perspective. And then I realize. Rudy unknowingly completed the picture. Did I mention he is a Wonder Dog?

Life is like the tulip for me, new life emerging, slowly and tentatively, not knowing what will happen when you break through to the other side. My life and the tulip endure, even though we may only show our beauty and bravery with the right season, and retract when it gets too cold and unbearable. Life and the tulip are meant to be lived, even in the harshest of circumstances. I think about the tulip bulb, beneath the ground, living life within a contained shell that would ensure its survival, and it sounds like how I have lived since Stephen’s death. Protecting my broken heart, living in my shell for months. But as with the tulip, I knew, in my broken heart, that I would find a way to blossom once again.

Truly, real life is more like the complete picture I see out my window, with Rudy’s oh so generous addition to the canvas.

You can reemerge from the winter of your life, just as the tulip. But, no matter what you’ve been through, or how hard the winter was, when you reemerge, there it is.

Crap.

Crap is a part of life. No matter how you try to change it, you will always have the balance of good and bad in life. There will always be people and situations that will hurt you, anger you, irritate, and raise your blood pressure.

The key to happiness is in how you look at it.

I like to think of life as a photograph and I am the photographer.  As the photographer, what do I see through my lens? The tulip? Or the steaming dog crap? Will I be so disgusted that Rudy ruined the picture, that I lose sight of the tulip completely? Or worse, do I throw my hands up in the air and say, “There’s no point in taking the picture because it’s not perfect!”

 

There will always be people and situations that will hurt you, anger you, or break you. The key to… Click To Tweet

I choose to realize that the balance of the two is what makes the tulip more beautiful. I choose to see the miracle of the tulip, being able to break through the cold ground and exist even though the environment may not be perfect for its survival. I choose to focus my lens on the tulip, and realize that Rudy’s contribution will eventually serve as fertilizer to make next year’s blooms more colorful and resilient.

Life is all in how you look at it. A life lived well is a life that understands that the good and the bad go together and both are our teachers on the journey.

Look for the blossoms in your life today,

Kelly

Portrait of a Strong Wise Woman

March 8th, 2017 | no comments

Women Female Feminism Lady Madam Friends ConceptOne is not born a woman, one becomes one.
~ Simone De Beauvoir~

I’ve been writing for a number of years now. Books, blogs, speeches, tweets, grocery lists.

But what I’ve never really discussed is the thousands of person to person emails I’ve exchanged with women who have risen above some of the most devastating circumstances one could imagine.

Frankly, I’ve been quiet about it because I didn’t know how to really describe it. I started writing because my son died and my life completely fell apart. Women started to write back because their lives had fallen apart too, and they recognized a little piece of themselves in my shattered bloggable life.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t going to respond to them first. I had my own pain, I couldn’t handle anything else, and I had honestly never expected anyone to reach out to me.

But my 12-year-old son Brendan, with wisdom beyond his years, sad, “Mom, if people write to you, you have to write them back. If they take the time to write to you, it means they are hurting like we are. Promise me you will write to them, even if you get on Oprah.”

My sweet boy, my son, my teacher.

So I did. I clicked reply, and I started having a conversation with these incredibly broken people. And I would tell them that it’s okay, I’m broken too. But we can find a way through together. Sometimes we would exchange one or two emails. Other women still check in with me periodically almost seven years later.

So, on this International Women’s Day, I wanted to tell you about the women I celebrate. I don’t need to look to the news, or a top ten list. I have a beautiful chest in my office that holds the emails and letters of the women I’ve connected with since I started writing about what matters in life, about the fact that we can be broken and beautiful all at the same time.

There’s the woman who wrote to me after her son was shot. He was a police officer, and was killed in the line of duty. The funeral was over and she was sitting in her house surrounded by memories of this boy who wanted to be a superhero. She was trying to find a way to keep breathing in and out because the grief sat like a weight on her chest. She had encouraged him to be that superhero, to follow all of his dreams. And he died, running into danger, being a hero. We cried together for a few months, as we sorted through the tremendous mess of making peace with unanswered questions, unspoken words and unlived potential.

I think about the lady who I exchanged emails with for weeks, as she built up the courage to leave an abusive relationship. She was terrified, physically and emotionally beaten to a pulp, but she was finally ready. She moved into a new apartment, and started a life that she had no idea how she would pay for, all the while knowing that she would look over her shoulder with fear for years to come. But she stood up, not only for herself, but for her daughter, who was her sun, moon and stars. The promise of this young girl’s life propelled this mother into action, and Momma Bear tucked her baby behind her and pushed her way into a new life.

I think about the cancer survivor who emailed me one night when she was hanging on by a thread, chemotherapy having ravaged her physically and mentally. She emailed me because she did not want her children and husband to see her fall apart. She was on empty, so she emailed a stranger in the middle of the night because she read some of my ponderings on life and thought I might understand what it was to be broken. And I did. Woman to woman, we talked about the pain we shared, and what we as women carry quietly to keep the hearts of those who love us safe and secure. She went on to not only survive, but thrive, and turned her experience into a catapult to help others. She, like me, wanted to make sure that people walking a similar path knew they were never alone.

I know there will be much celebration today for the movers and shakers, and the women who have transformed our world with their leadership, intellect, compassion and drive. And each accolade is well deserved. But today, I also want to celebrate the women I’ve met via email, sitting at my laptop, writing through pain, wondering if anyone was out there. They wrote to me from their darkness, and I replied to them from mine. We ruminated and lamented, we encouraged and consoled.

I am a Strong Wise Woman. Click To Tweet

Most of all, we discovered that as women, embracing the broken mess was what made us beautiful. I read once about the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Broken pottery is repaired with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. It does not hide the breakage or the repair, but embraces it as part of the history of the object, making it more beautiful. No disguises, embracing both the broken and the beautiful.

That is my portrait of a strong wise woman.

We stumble, we fall. Sometimes we absolutely shatter into a million pieces. But, as women do, we dust ourselves off and we stand up and continue the journey. We recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves, and the strength of our shared stories and experiences moves us and the world forward. We look for the lessons in loss and we search for understanding and meaning.

Strong wise women.

We recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves, and the strength of our shared… Click To Tweet

Today I celebrate the courageous women I met in the dark. Mother to mother. Woman to woman.

Check out Kelly’s Strong Wise Women products. 

“Be a Nester”-Life Lessons From a Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

December 23rd, 2016 | no comments

nestor-the-long-eared-donkey

Whatever else be lost among the years, Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing: Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, Let us hold close one day, remembering Its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again.

 ~Grace Noll Crowell~

I’ve been thinking about the Christmas shows of my childhood.

Back in “my day”, we did not have TV channels that aired cartoons and kid’s shows 24/7, 365 days per year. Back in my day, we had a handful of television channels, and if you could convince your father that Barney Miller was a rerun, you may just get to watch that Christmas special on CBC.

Yes kids, one TV. Horrifying I know, but we made it. Oh, and did I mention?

I was the remote control until some time in 1983.

Anyway, I was like many other kids around the planet during that time, and I waited for those special, once-a-year programs that were a sure sign that Santa was on his way. Of course, the old standards, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph and Frosty were always on the menu. But for me, the one that always pulled at my heartstrings was Nester. Every year, I would check the local TV listings to make sure I did not miss it.  Each time I watched, I would cry for Nester and his hardships, even though I knew the plot of the story by heart, and knew he would be eventually okay.

Nester was a long-eared donkey who, much like Rudolph, was ridiculed for his physical differences. Nester could not work like the other donkeys, as he kept tripping over his big ears, that were so long they dragged on the ground.

The story of Nester is an emotional one. He is ridiculed, pushed out into the cold. He loses his mother,  the most important person in his life and wonders how he will ever go on. At certain points, he feels worthless and wonders why he should bother to even try and keep going in his life. And then he meets his cherub, who tells him she is there, on behalf of God, to guide him. As she puts it,

Your ears can do a wondrous thing no other ears can do…the sounds they hear will guide you on a path that’s straight and true. And you will save another as your mother once saved you. 

The good news?  He believed and listened to that gentle guidance.  He listened because he wanted to honor the memory of his mother. And what happened?  He ended up being the very special donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem.

My point?  I think we are all a little more like Nester than we might like to admit. And no, not just the ears.

We are all flawed and imperfect in some way.  Each one of our lives is, in one way or another, a little broken. It is never what we envision or plan for, or what we feel we deserve.
We sometimes struggle through life carrying the ball and chain of our own perceptions.  We spend most of our lives seeing what is wrong about us, neglecting to notice what is right.   And then, to top it all off, sometimes, really bad things happen. People we love get sick, or even die.

But, just like Nester, I believe there is guidance and love from above all around us.  We simply have to be willing to hear it, and to abide by it even when it does not make sense to us, even when we are hurting.  Do you know why?

Because what we can’t see is that all those flaws, and disappointments and heartaches are exactly what make us into the person God needs us to be here on earth.  Each one of those things that we may see as a weakness, God sees as a strength, as something we will be able to use for our own special jobs here on earth.  And the job?

It does not involve a cubicle, or a time card.  I think our job here on earth is to figure out, based on all that has happened to us and shaped us, who we are best designed to love.

For me, I think I am supposed to help and comfort people who hurt, if it is only to say that you will make it, and you are never alone.  I think if I can do that, I am a success.

One of the songs in this show gently guides Nester to listen to the gentle whispers from heaven,

 

If you hear a choir of angels, follow the sound of the angels.  Follow the voices that guide you….

Today, in this season of magic and angels, I would like to ask you to do the same.  Look not only at what has happened to you in your life.  Look at how it uniquely prepares you to help others who may need it.  Look how your gifts can be used to show others a little piece of heaven right here, right now, when they need it the most.

Look not only at what has happened to you. Look at how it uniquely prepares you to help others who… Click To Tweet

I’m a Nester.  Are you?

I’ve attached the You Tube clip of the show to the bottom of this post.  I know it’s no Toy Story 3, but I encourage you to take the twenty minutes and watch it.   I would also encourage you to share it with your children. Take some time today to listen to the message and pass it on.
Have a long-eared kind of day,
Kelly

Christmas Shopping, Crying in Target and Toothy Grins From Heaven…

December 14th, 2016 | no comments

Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day. ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Christmas shopping. It’s just not as they portray it in the commercials. Where are the happy people dancing in sequence down the aisles, with cheery Christmas music blaring in the background?

On a recent shopping excursion, I believe I may have been sucked into a vortex of negativity, stuck in a store with the most negative people on the planet. I was bumped, and growled at; I was witness to more than one parent completely melting down with their children. I was also witness to more than one child not really understanding the “reason for the season. ”

I find the holiday season to be bittersweet for me. As a self-proclaimed “occasion girl” I have always loved this time of year. But, as with anyone who has lost someone important, it is also a time when you are painfully reminded that there is one less person to shop for this year.

That first December after Stephen died, I could barely breathe in the stores. I remember standing in a quiet aisle of car cleaning supplies drying my tears with one of those expensive wash clothes for your car. Don’t tell Target, but I put it back on the rack.

I stood there for more than twenty minutes, simply trying to inhale so the pain in my chest would subside, and I could gather the remaining items on my list.

This year, I am stronger, but I still have moments where the thought of Christmas without Stephen is still very difficult to think about. It is especially hard when I shop, and I see things I know he would like or laugh about.

So, as you can probably imagine, my emotions were getting the best of me as I pushed my cart through the aisles of Target, watching people….just take life for granted.

I had to physically remove myself from the Mom yelling at her daughter so I did not confront her with the ravings of a bereaved parent. Did she not know how truly blessed she was to have this little girl looking up at her, even if it was only to ask for the $49.99 doll only days before Christmas?

In any case, all the growling and bumping and bah-humbugging just got the best of me. And, when I pulled into the parking lot of the final store on my shopping excursion, I just sat in the car for a moment, and had…..well, a moment. I was missing Stephen, and thinking back over the Christmases gone by…in particular, I was remembering Christmas Eve when he was a small baby, maybe eight months old. He had these two lonely teeth on the bottom, and would grin on command and proudly show them to you. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.

So there I was, sitting in my car, reminiscing about the magic of Stephen at Christmas. Missing him, and wishing that I could explain to my fellow shoppers about the importance of being present in the moment, of just being happy because you never know what is around the corner.

I finally mustered up the courage to brave the final store, and stepped out of my car.

Where I was abruptly met by……a toothy grin. It was as if Stephen sent me a smile from heaven to remind me that he is always with me, and that love never dies.

It was the toothy grin of a baby girl, out for a day of shopping with her mom. She was sitting in the cart, and she lit up as soon as we made eye contact, and her smile was brighter than any Christmas bulb I’ve ever seen. It was as if some invisible director pointed to her and yelled “Action!”

I burst out laughing, and the mother popped her head out of the car and smiled. I told her that her little sweetheart just made my day. Her mother replied that she does that, gives out those “two tooth smiles” just when you need it the most.

Boy, was she right.

So, two things to remember. Take a nice deep cleansing breath if you are shopping today. Think about the reason for the season, be present in the beauty that is now, don’t miss it. Make a point to give away some smiles, I’m telling you, it works. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll make some people nervous.

Second thing, look for those toothy grins. I believe that God brings them to us when we need them the most, to show us He is listening and comforting us. It is up to us to look for and notice them.

Take some time today to spread some of the good stuff around,

Kelly

Life’s Challenges and Changes and a Fresh Coat of Paint

December 7th, 2016 | no comments
I wrote this piece a few years ago.  It’s funny, as I continue to write, I am more aware of the fact that I get my inspiration from painting projects, washing machines, duct tape and digging in the dirt in my back yard.  Simple mundane things that I can relate to my life situation.  I suppose it is easier for me to find logic and wisdom in a painting project than it would be to find those same conclusions to more complex challenges.
How about you?  How do you process change? Once you read the blog, I would love to hear from you.
Paintbrush on the can. Top view.All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anatole France
I’ve come to a conclusion. Life is like one big painting project. Let me explain.
I’ve just finished up a painting project in my house. And, as is the story for most of my life, I never really thought the whole thing through. Instead, I plunged ahead, with the vision of perfection in this little brain of mine, and just starting swinging the brush.
But, as with most home improvement endeavors, once you open that can of paint, you realize there’s a ton of things you did not take the time to consider before donning your super attractive paint shirt. You know the one, it has paint samples from every paint project since the early eighties.
To give you some examples, I did not consider:
    • The ceiling height of our front foyer.
    • The confirmed fear of heights as it relates to the ceiling height of the front foyer.
    • That this project may only look manageable, but in four days, I will have a moment where I consider just living with a half painted wall. I will have a pretty convincing conversation with myself about how it would show individuality.
    • That I actually am not sure about this new color. Perhaps I should have just left well enough alone.
    • And finally, I did not consider that this project would confront me with the ugly truth about my housekeeping talents and serve as confirmation that I have not properly cleaned the baseboards since some time in 2007.

I’m telling you, this project was like a month of therapy. With each stroke of the brush, I examined each and every corner of my life. I thought a lot about what sort of mental space I was in the last time I painted these walls, and did wonder if I painted while blindfolded and drinking wine.

I thought a lot about change in life. And how we resist it or long for it, think about it and plan for it, run away from it or towards it.

Sometimes change in life comes in the form of a slap “right up the side of your head.”  It comes as a wallop, knocking you right on your ass.

Others, it is a gradual awakening to a new reality. It is left up to you to push the change forward.

Sometimes, you long for it. Sometimes, you don’t.

But regardless of the origin, change comes. Change comes for everyone and everything. It is the nature of life.

So, I see life as a painting project. I picked my new color, jumped in, and realized I had no idea what I was doing. But, knowing that I had a half-painted wall that could not be undone, I decided to simply keep painting.

So, when life changes, whether by choice or design, just keep painting, one stroke at a time. If you do keep going, slow and steady, you may see that this fresh coat of paint on your life looks a little cleaner than the last one. You see that you are a better painter, having learned from your past mistakes and successes. You see the value of your hard work. Maybe you will learn to appreciate the new colors in your life, having a better understanding of how they got there.

The biggest thing to learn? That Life is like a painting project. Sometimes it has to get really messy before it reveals its beauty. Click To Tweet

Today, I ask you to keep painting. It may not be beautiful yet, but it will be. It will be someday, because of your perseverance.

A Fresh coat of paint.

Grab your brushes,

Kelly

Finding Common Ground….Where Do We Go From Here?

November 9th, 2016 | no comments

The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity – or it will move apart.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt~

I woke up this morning filled with words.  That’s how it works with me. What I write just kind of shows up…a spark, an idea.  Sometimes I let it sit for a while and marinate. Other times I will wake in the middle of the night and head for my office.

I know I am not alone in my flight of ideas today.  So many of you woke this morning with a rush of thoughts, some anxiety, and maybe a list of questions and concerns about what happens next in your life and country. This presidential election has been like an out of control roller coaster ride, careening the world to the point of nausea.

We all wished it would just end.  And now it has.  So what now?

If you think this is going to be a political commentary, you’re wrong.  I’ll leave that to the experts to dissect.

I want to talk about where we go from here not as partisans, but as people. We have two very different conversations happening in this country.  And no matter how politically astute you feel you’ve been in the last 18 months, the reality is that you were probably hearing only one side of the hopes, dreams and fears of this nation.

During this process, I made a point to visit all news sites. I believe it’s important to be informed by a variety of sources.  I would exclaim to my husband that this country is having two completely different conversations. This morning, I reflected on that observation.  Initially, my belief was that was solely a media driven reality.  I now understand that it was much deeper than that and needs to be where we start to bridge the gap between us.

Now, we need to get on the same page.  We need to find common ground.  We need to take our next steps with an open heart of love and kindness, even if that seems like the craziest thing you could ever imagine at this moment.

Now, before you mean tweet me, give me a second to explain.

I’m not asking you to agree with everything you hear. I have strongly disagreed with many points of discussion throughout this campaign.  I’m not asking you to change your values or sell out on your moral belief system. In fact, I think you need to be more steadfast than ever before.

I’m asking you to begin this next chapter with a focus on common ground.  Don’t begin with the things you hate.  It will separate you.  And as long as we remain separate, we remain broken. As long as you refuse to talk to someone because you “can’t believe they” act, believe or talk in a certain way, you will remain uninformed about the pain they feel and the help they need.

I remember having long late night conversations with my father about life.  When we discussed complex issues, he would say, “Sometimes, the truth lies in the middle Kelly.  Look in the middle of any issue and you can find common ground.”

Sometimes the truth lies in the middle. Look in the middle of any issue and you can find common… Click To Tweet

That is where we need to begin.

Today, we stand at the crossroads of conduct.  The success or failure of this country is not completely dependent on the behavior of one person.  It is determined by how we all behave from this moment forward. Because after one of the most divisive campaigns in this country’s history, we all need to decide to act a little kinder, to listen a little more, to understand our civic responsibilities to our neighbors….ALL of our neighbors. We need to tend the seeds of possibility for this nation that were planted well before us and will continue to grow long after we’re gone.

Because the truth is that the greatest threat to this nation is not terrorism, it is the quiet and deadly virus of division.  Kindness is the cure, and we need to begin the treatment today.

The greatest threat to this nation is not terrorism, it is the quiet and deadly virus of division.… Click To Tweet

How we behave in this moment will determine where we go.  How we respond to uncertainty, loss and change determines the life we create for ourselves and the people around us.  I know this to be true. From the ashes of a shattered life, I fully understand the power that we have as individuals to choose to rise after we fall, to forgive after faults and to love others when it would be easier to retreat into our own pain.

Take time today to plan your path of peace.  Understand that true power lies in the way we love one another. Know that someone needs to make the first move, and it might as well be you.

True power lies in the way we love one another. Click To Tweet

Meet me in the middle?

Kelly

 

The Power of Remembrance

October 11th, 2016 | 2 comments

 

remeberance

At first, the grief overwhelms you.  But with time and tears, you can transform your pain into remembrance.  And with that act, you illuminate the person you lost, allowing others to experience the beauty of their spirit….So they live on.  ~Kelly S. Buckley~

Each year, our family, in cooperation with the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League, puts off the annual kick-off tournament for the season.  The Stephen Russell Memorial Tournament celebrates not only the league and the sport of hockey, but the memory of my precious boy Stephen.

I love how the event has grown.  But it is also an emotional weekend for our family. There are moments that if I listen closely enough, I can almost hear him yelling at his defensemen, or laughing after a hard fought win. He would love this tournament.

I busy myself in the weeks and months leading up to it.  With 14 teams, it is a huge undertaking, so it’s easy for the emotion of the event to be quelled by the sheer length of the to-do list. But once the first puck is dropped, it always seems to hit me.  This is for him…in remembrance of him…because he is not here.

But even with that feeling of sadness, we are so humbled and so very grateful. The event is a testament to how he lived, and the impact he had on so many in his short life.

Remembrance….it hurts a little, but it also allows us to keep the memory of our loved one alive.

Have a look at the exceptional piece Wolfpack TV put together about Stephen Patrick.

Sending love to each of you.

Kelly

 

Stephen’s Ripple: The Stephen Russell Story from PackTV on Vimeo.

Walking with Anxiety-Tips for Managing Day to Day

September 6th, 2016 | 2 comments

Serenity spring garden at sunrise

 

Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic. 

~Anais Nin~

I haven’t really discussed it before. I’ve dealt with it quietly.  My husband and son understand. As a family, we’ve talked openly about it, and have figured out how to deal with it.  I sometimes mention a little hint here or there in passing, sliding it into conversation with family or friends.

But mostly, it lives quietly beneath the surface of my life.

Anxiety.  

I’ll be honest, when I first felt the grip of it, I was shocked. Emotionally, I’ve lived a white knuckle kind of life.  I often joke and say my life could be called a cautionary tale for others to learn from. The ups have been up and the downs have been subterranean. And I’ve handled it.  I’ve been worried, scared, angry and bitter.  But the grip of anxiety did not close its vice grip on me until my son died.  And then everything changed.

Confronted with the fragility of life, with the knowledge that it could change in an instant with no notice, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Because if that could happen, what else was coming down the pipe?

As a strong and intelligent woman, it frustrated me because I knew rationally that the thoughts that immobilized me were not likely to happen.  Then I would think, “I never thought my son would die simply because he decided to go for a swim either.”  Boom.  Consider every scenario and be afraid.  Be very afraid.  

It has been a quiet family journey.  I have learned to cope.  My family has made certain allowances to help me manage it.  My younger son, even though he deserves the same level of independence as his peers, continues to check in more frequently than he needs to because he knows that it is something I need.  I remember the conversation with him about this, explaining to him that it wasn’t him, it was me.  I trusted him, I believed in him, I just sometimes found it hard to breathe until I knew he was safe and okay.  Saying it aloud made me feel weak. But it was my truth, and if I’ve learned one thing over the past seven years, it is the fact that the truth does set you free.

The truth is I have anxiety about that other shoe dropping.  I have anxiety that life could change in an instant….again.  If you call me late at night, I don’t think you need to talk.  I think someone is dead.  And then I talk myself out of that, and life moves forward.

It’s been a private matter for me.  I have made peace with it, and I have figured out what I need to do each day to manage it.  But just as I walk with gratitude each day, I also walk with anxiety.

But recently, I was speaking with someone who praised me for my attitude of gratitude in loss, and I could tell she had mistakenly thought that my gratitude for the little things has somehow shielded me from the pain. From her view, it seemed that the road had been somewhat easier because I chose to look for the tiny blessings each day to be thankful for. I could see why she would think that, but realized this was something I wanted to speak about openly.

Let’s be clear.  Gratitude did not take away the pain.  It did alleviate some of my suffering, and looking for the little things each day anchored me to the present moment.  But the earth shattering pain greeted me each morning, accompanied by the chest tightening fear that someone else in my circle of love could be ripped away from me at any moment. I used gratitude to manage it.  I still do.  Every single day.  

So yes, I have this grateful, happy and peaceful life.  But I also have anxiety. And that is okay.

We coexist together.  So let’s talk about that.  Here’s some daily practices I’ve implemented in my own life to manage anxiety:

  • Morning and Evening Rituals:  Each morning and evening, I set the tone for my life. I affirm that I am safe, that everything is okay. I look for blessings.  Our family has a group text, and we message each other before bed just to say I love you, and that final check-in allows me to go to sleep.  I use Yoga, music and meditation to help to calm my overactive mind. Find positive habits and set your days up for success.  Use affirmations to manage your mind.
  • Sleep:  When stressed, you body needs additional rest.  But even without the stress, we need rest to feel well and think positive thoughts.  Remove the electronics and make sure your bedroom is a quiet calm place for you to sleep. I try and get at least seven hours per night.
  • Maintain a Daily Gratitude Practice:  Look for what is working in your life.  Find blessings in the little things.  When you put your attention on what is working and what is beautiful, you can quell the churning waters of anxiety. If you make this a daily practice, your perspective on life changes, and you can replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Need some help?  Join my global gratitude conversation at Just One Little Thing.  I started looking for “just one little thing” each day in the depths of despair, and I can promise you.  Gratitude will save you.
  • Embrace the Perfectly Imperfect You: Truly accept and love yourself no matter what difficult decisions you’ve faced, questionable choices you’ve made, or events that have shattered you. No matter what has happened, you are still beautiful and deserving of love.  And because of what has happened, you are stronger and wiser.  Embrace that.
  • Breathe:  If you find yourself fixating on a certain stressor, and you are feeling anxious, breathe.  Sit in a quiet place, and give yourself a few minutes to regroup. Inhale and exhale slowly.  Count to ten. Repeat a calming phrase.  When I  feel anxious, I remind myself that “In this moment, everything is okay.” 
  • Release the Need to Control the World:  I always thought I had my life under control.  And then I didn’t.  But let’s be honest:  control is simply an illusion.  You can’t control everything anyway.  Relinquish the need and the responsibility to take everything on as your burden to bear, your ship to steady in the storm, or your disaster to avoid.
  • Journal to Observe, Discover and Manage Your Triggers:  We all have patterns.  Journal your thoughts to discover what triggers your anxiety, and what helps you manage it. My writing helped me uncover my own triggers, giving me the information I needed to find ways to manage them.
  • Eat a Well-Balanced Diet:  Your diet affects not only your waistline.  It affects your mood. Pay attention to the fuel you are putting in your body, and how you feel.  Make healthy choices.
  • Exercise:  Dr. Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, who blogs at www.DrewRamseyMD.com.  says even 20 minutes of exercise per day can reduce anxiety. Make exercise part of your daily routine.
  • Don’t Hide in the Shadows:  We’ve made huge strides with normalizing the conversation around mental health in the last few years. But we still have work to do.  So, let’s talk about it.  I’ll tell you my story, you tell me yours.  We all struggle, and our strength comes from sharing our stories and solutions.
  • Don’t Walk Alone:  Get involved.  Volunteer and become an active participant in your life. It’s important that you have a sense of community to provide you with support and perspective on your own journey.
  • Laugh:  Life is not all good.  It is also not all bad.  it is a balance.  So laugh when you can. Laugh often.
  • Limit Alcohol and Caffeine:  Simulants can aggravate anxiety.  Pay attention to how your body and mind reacts to these substances, and use with caution and always in moderation. Sometimes the best way to deal with anxiety is to find clarity in a situation. When your senses are dulled or heightened, that clarity can be hard to grasp.
  • Get Help When You Need It: Sometimes, all of the above just isn’t enough.  And that’s okay.  I had a counselor for a full year after my son died, and it was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  When you’ve tried everything, and you still can’t find your way, seek out the help of a professional who can help you navigate a path through your anxiety.  And most importantly, celebrate that you are strong and self-aware enough to do so.

Anxiety has, at times, crippled me.  But it has also illuminated what I value most in my life. It has humbled me, but also given me an opportunity to look inward and rediscover my strength and wisdom.   I am accepting of my life as perfectly imperfect, and each morning, I can honestly say I start the day still believing in the possibility and magic of life.

Sending you wishes for a super-chill worry-free day,

Kelly

p.s  Continue the conversation about the path From Pain to Purpose at Strong Wise Women.

Portrait of a Strong Wise Woman

August 31st, 2016 | no comments

Hands Holding The Sun At Dawn

As we watch the sand through the hourglass on this last day of August, I wanted to revisit my thoughts on what makes a strong wise woman.  My definition continues to evolve as I do and deepens as I continue to have this beautiful and intimate conversation with women from all over the world.

We are perfectly imperfect. We are open-hearted. We are grateful. We are change makers.

And we are stronger together.  Today I feel so thankful for being able to walk with and learn from these women.

One is not born a woman, one becomes one.

~ Simone De Beauvoir~

I’ve been writing for a number of years now.  Books, blogs, speeches, tweets, grocery lists.

But what I’ve never really discussed is the thousands of person to person emails I’ve exchanged with women who have risen above some of the most devastating circumstances one could imagine.

Frankly, I’ve been quiet about it because I did not know how to really describe it.  I started writing because my son died and my life completely fell apart.  Women started to write back because their lives had fallen apart too, and they recognized a little piece of themselves in my shattered bloggable life.

I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t going to respond to them first.  I had my own pain, I couldn’t handle anything else, and I had not really ever expected anyone to reach out to me.

But my 12-year-old son Brendan, with wisdom beyond his years, sad, “Mom, if people write to you, you have to write them back.  If they take the time to write to you, it means they are hurting like we are.  Promise me you will write to them, even if you get on Oprah.”

My sweet boy, my son, my teacher.

So I did.  I clicked reply, and I started having a conversation with these incredibly broken people.  And I would tell them that it’s okay, I’m broken too.  But we can find a way through. Sometimes we would exchange one or two emails.  Other women still check in with me periodically almost seven years later.

So, I wanted to tell you about the women I celebrate. I don’t need to look to the news, or a top ten list.  I have a beautiful chest in my office that holds the emails and letters of the women I’ve connected with since I started writing about what matters in life, about the fact that we can be broken and beautiful all at the same time.

There’s the woman who wrote to me after her son was shot. He was a police officer and was killed in the line of duty.  The funeral was over and she was sitting in her house surrounded by memories of this boy who wanted to be a superhero. She was trying to find a way to keep breathing in and out because the grief sat like a weight on her chest.  She had encouraged him to be that superhero, to follow all of his dreams.  And he died, being a hero. We cried together for a few months, as we sorted through the tremendous mess of making peace with unanswered questions, unspoken words, and unlived potential.

I think about the lady who I exchanged emails with for weeks, as she built up the courage to leave an abusive relationship.  She was terrified, physically and emotionally beaten to a pulp, but she was finally ready.  She moved into a new apartment and started a life that she had no idea how she would pay for, all the while knowing that she would look over her shoulder with fear for years to come.  But she stood up, not only for herself but for her daughter, who was her sun, moon and stars.  The promise of this young girl’s life propelled this mother into action, and Momma Bear tucked her baby behind her, and pushed her way into a new life.

I think about the cancer survivor who emailed me one night when she was hanging on by a thread, chemotherapy having ravaged her physically and mentally.  She emailed me because she did not want her children and husband to see her fall apart.  She was on empty, so she emailed a stranger in the middle of the night because she read some of my ponderings on life and thought I might understand what it was to be broken.  And I did.  Woman to woman, we talked about the pain we shared, and what we as women carry quietly to keep the hearts of those who love us safe and secure.  She went on to not only survive, but thrive and turned her experience into a catapult to help others.  She, like me, wanted to make sure that people walking a similar path knew they were never alone.

I know there is always much celebration today for the movers and shakers, and the women who have transformed our world with their leadership, intellect, compassion and drive.  And each accolade is well deserved.  But, I also want to celebrate the women I’ve met via email, sitting at my laptop, writing through pain, wondering if anyone was out there.  They wrote to me from their darkness, and I replied to them from mine.  We ruminated and lamented, we encouraged and consoled.

Most of all, we discovered that as women, embracing the broken mess was what made us beautiful.  I read once about the Japanese art of Kintsugi.  Broken pottery is repaired with lacquer mixed with powdered gold.  It does not hide the breakage or the repair, but embraces it as part of the history of the object, making it more beautiful.  No disguises, embracing both the broken and the beautiful.

That is my portrait of a strong wise woman.

We stumble, we fall.  Sometimes we absolutely shatter into a million pieces.  But, as women do, we dust ourselves off and we stand up and continue the journey.  Because that is what women do.  We recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves, and the strength of our shared stories and experiences moves us and the world forward.  We look for the lessons in loss and we search for understanding and meaning.

Strong wise women.

Today I celebrate the courageous women I met in the dark.  Mother to mother.  Woman to woman.

I want to hear your story.  Tell me about your journey towards strength and wisdom. Continue the conversation with us at Strong Wise Women.

With Gratitude,

Kelly