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

 

Person to Person

August 23rd, 2016 | no comments

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the
ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
~Mother Teresa~
I have been in a bit of a funk over the past number of weeks. Not many would notice, but on the inside there is a gnawing discomfort.

It’s been a combination of things.  The 4th of July was tough this year, and it’s taken some time to recover from it.  I heard some news about an old friend that is unsettling, and I can’t get this person off my mind. And swirling around all of us is a political conversation that makes even the most optimistic feel wary, scared and different.

I’ve been feeling helpless, not knowing what to do. So, as has been the case with so many times in my life, I start to write, hoping that the typed word may somehow make sense of the situation.

But, as we all know, sometimes in life, making sense of a situation is not always an option. Sometimes, things just don’t make sense. So what do we do?

These are turbulent times. I find when I hear five or six sound bites on the news about the state of the city, country or planet and all that needs to be fixed, I feel like a very small ant at a very big picnic. A speck of sand in the desert. I just don’t feel like I can make a difference when I see a cumulative report in a thirty-minute news program. How could I possibly make a difference?

The answer? Person to person.

Mother Teresa said it best,
“Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in
your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t
only give your care, but give your heart as well.”
In many of her teachings, she never preached of sweeping changes we could make in this world. Her message was one of simple love. She spoke of a love we could give even if we had nothing else to offer.

She spoke of a love we could share when the world didn’t make sense.

And maybe that is the trick. We may never be able to make sense of the things that happen in this world that we don’t understand. We just have to learn to love each other through them.

Take some time today to think about who is around you who needs some love. A neighbor who is struggling in this economy? Your spouse? Your children? A friend? Think about the people you know around you that are currently looking for steady jobs. What about the neighbor who lost her husband or child last year? Have you checked in with her lately? As I look around my own life, I see so many opportunities where I can love in the way I was put here to do.

None of us can, with the wave of an arm change the world. But we can change the world of one person. We can impact the lives of the people within our circle of influence. In the big picture, it is one of our greatest responsibilities.

Today, really notice the people around you and give them the love they need. It will come back to you tenfold.
Kelly

Life is Like a Vegetable Garden

August 16th, 2016 | no comments
What will be the harvest from your life?

What will be the harvest of your life?

The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.

~George Bernard Shaw~

 

What’s got my attention today? My garden.

It is one of my most favorite things. It is not a sweeping landscape or a professionally groomed masterpiece that could grace the pages of Home and Garden magazine. In fact, if you were to look out the back window right now, you would see that the hot summer sun of North Carolina has fried most of the lawn. Technically, if a botanist was to drop by for an assessment, the only greenery alive on the ground right now would be classified in the Crabgrass family. But still, it is our safe little place.

We have the yard itself, and a small vegetable garden that we throw seeds in each spring in the hopes of a bountiful crop. Our past adventures in “farming” have produced mixed results. We learned that peanuts will grow just fine in the red clay of the Carolinas, but no matter how we try, we simply cannot get them to taste as good as the ones purchased in the snack aisle at the grocery store. We learned that reading the labels on the young seedlings is a must unless you want to be surprised with the marijuana-shaped leaves of an Okra plant sprouting from the ground. We learned that birds will wait until your tomato is perfectly ripe and ready for picking,  then will kindly peck a hole in the side of it ten minutes before you come out to grab it for your salad.

But, we’ve also learned that there is nothing on this earth that tastes as good as something that you, Mother Nature and God have grown together. We’ve learned that it’s okay to share with the birds, for the most part. I’ve learned that bugs, who have never been my favorite, are part of the mix if you want to work in the yard. And you need to learn to co-exist with them unless you want to grow vegetables that will have you glowing in the dark.

We’ve learned that gardening, and tending the soil is just like tending our own lives.

Build Your Resilient Purpose-Filled Life

Your garden is like life. It has a balance of things in there, some good, and some not so nice. But they balance each other. The good and the bad, they need each other. And the key to enjoying your garden or your life is living in the middle, not at either side of the spectrum. You have to balance the good and the bad too and see that each one has a place and a purpose.

Your garden shows you how to achieve your dreams. You plant the seeds at the beginning of the season, apply the necessary nutrients for growth. Then? You simply hope and believe it all works out, and the rest of the work is covered. You just know you will be picking tomatoes and peppers from those plants in no time right? You don’t over-analyze, you simply have faith. You go back each day to see little sprouts and then plants. Then, as if by magic, you walk by a plant and see it is weighed down with its harvest, waiting for you to take it. It’s like it magically appeared overnight.

Life is like gardening. You plant the seeds for the life you want. You give it the nutrients it needs to grow. You create a safe environment for your dreams to flourish, and periodically you weed away the outside influences that could choke it, and prevent it from thriving. You learn to make peace with and live with the things and people you can’t change.  You adjust your direction and approach to deal with the storms of life.

You watch your dreams grow, but still, it seems like it is just never quite ready. Until one day, you look at your life, and you’ve done it. And, strangely enough, it feels like it appeared overnight. And, just like the pepper plant, all we really needed to do is have faith in the fact that we could make it happen.

Go plant some seeds for your life today.

I can see your green thumb from here,
Kelly

Read more from Kelly

Mother to Mother…A Statement of Support for the Silent Grief of Ghazala Khan

July 31st, 2016 | 2 comments

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

~Mother Teresa~
I told myself months ago I was not going to get involved in the political discussion surrounding this election. I wanted to, but I know I have a limited amount of time on this earth to affect change, and I will not waste it on divisive words that serve only to separate us, or accentuate our differences.

My job is to talk about rising again after we fall, finding gratitude in the beauty that remains in our life, and continuing our conversation about finding purpose and peace after loss.  There is no room in the stark reality of grief for political rhetoric.  And to be honest, there is a unspoken unity in loss that allows us to cross party lines and comfort one another.  In all my conversations with bereaved parents all over the world, I have never asked, nor been asked about my political affiliation.

Because loss is just bigger than that.  It makes no difference to me who you vote for in November, although I do hope you cast your ballot with both your head and your heart.  I do hope that you take the time to understand what the nominees are offering you, and vote with what is aligned with your hopes for not only your individual future, but the future of your neighbor.  Because we are more alike than different.  We are all just trying to work hard, take care of our families, make memories,  be happy and leave a legacy.

But I have to respond to a recent news story about bereaved parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who lost their brave son, Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed while courageously serving our country in Iraq.

Both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions allowed us to hear the heartbreaking stories from bereaved parents all over our country. I cried for each of them, regardless of political affiliation, and celebrated their courage to share their stories of loss on a national stage.  I hope that the country was watching, because we have an opportunity to learn from them and their loss.  There are lives affected by our politics and position statements, there are families standing at gravesites wondering why we can’t work together for positive change.

As a bereaved parent, you know that there isn’t even a word to describe who you are after the loss of your child.  Here’s a quote  that sums it up nicely.

A wife who loses a husband is called a widow.
A husband who loses a wife is called a widower.
A child who loses his parents is called an orphan.
There is no word for a parent who loses a child.
That’s how awful the loss is.
– Jay Neugeboren –  1976

At both conventions, the words were strong.  They were hard to watch, and difficult to process.  These parents are confronting us on a national stage and telling us that change needs to happen.

But yesterday, Mr. Trump responded to the both the strong words of Khizr Khan and the silence of his wife Ghazala.  So today, I feel compelled to write in support of a fellow bereaved mother.

Here’s the quote that gutted me.

STEPHANOPOULOS:

I don’t know if you saw this speech, but there was a man named Khizr Khan speaking at the Democratic Convention last night. His son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed  in Iraq. And he had some very tough questions for you. He said you wouldn’t have even let his son in America.

TRUMP:

He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that. I saw him. He was, you know, very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet. And it looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that. And personally, I watched him. I wish him the best of luck.

To be completely fair, I paid a visit to Mr. Trump’s website to ensure I had a completely accurate version of his statement.  You can view it here.

Mr. Trump, please understand.  It is not okay for you to question the silence of a bereaved mother.  It is not okay for you to subtly imply that her silence is because she is different, thinking that will strengthen your position politically.  It is not okay for you to not hear the message of our military families.  It is not okay for you to think that nothing is off limits to you.

I watched this couple speak just as you did, and what I saw was the depth of pain that can only be felt when you have to bury your baby.  As a mother who has buried two of her children, I know this pain.  I know what it is like to have to hold yourself stoically, feeling you may shatter into a million pieces.

For the first year after losing my son Stephen, I could only speak to my immediate family.  Every time I would attempt to talk to anyone outside of my inner circle, I would open my mouth and cry.  The pain…that is all that I could get out.

I couldn’t go to the mailbox for the first six months after Stephen died, for fear that I may run into a neighbor, and they would see that I was in shambles.

This year, on the anniversary of my son’s passing, I could not speak to anyone but my husband and son.  Seven years later, the pain that sits within my broken heart coexists with the joy I choose to find each day.  But sit there it does.  We are bereaved mothers.  We have buried our babies.  There is no timeline, there is no explanation that we owe to anyone for our silence.  We are carrying our children in our hearts, we are making peace each and every day with the loss of dreams, potential and promise.  We work each and every day to put one foot in front of the other.

I’m sorry if we do that quietly, instead of having a unfiltered stream of consciousness and flight of ideas.  We are quiet, and thoughtful. We are forever broken.

If we really want to Make America Great Again, we need to be able to sit together in that silence, in that pain.  It is in that space that we can learn from our losses, and love each other instead of tearing each other down.

Sending an abundance of love to all the bereaved mothers out there,

Kelly

 

 

 

Resist The Urge to Judge…

July 27th, 2016 | no comments

Mexican sombrero cinco de mayo background borderAs long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their “right” place.

~ Henri J.M. Nouwen ~

I’ve been pondering the division that we all see and feel in our world.  There are so many conversations about the differences between us and who should assume blame for the issues we are facing.

It reminded me of something I wrote on July 23, 2009.  19 days after my son had died, I was shattered, hanging onto life one breath at a time. My life was in pieces at my feet.

There is a clarity in grief. Life is stripped bare, and you are presented with an opportunity to see life for what is really is, if you are willing to look with open eyes and an open heart.

You see that our differences are miniscule compared to the commonality of our human journey.  You see that love is all that matters, period.

On this What Can YOU Do Wednesday, I reflect back on that writing and realize that there is still work to be done.  Thankfully, we are in this together.

Share some love with the world today.

Sending love and acceptance your way,

Kelly

 

July 23rd, 2009 : Put Down Your Gavel…

Never judge a book by its cover.  I am reminded of a reflection on that topic I had some time ago as I stare at the ceiling.  I am thinking a lot lately, and my brain hurts. 

In any case, I’m thinking about judgments. How we judge ourselves, our families, our friends, strangers, political parties, products, commercials, TV shows, and sports teams. We all need to be given gavels at birth; we are so good at passing sentence on anyone or anything different that crosses our path.

I write this knowing I am guilty of judging on demand. And I may, despite the lessons that life is teaching me, be one of those people in the future. 

As a parent, I’ve told my children not to judge people for their differences, the obvious being race, religion and economic position. And watching them live with open hearts and minds is one of the greatest gifts of motherhood. Both Stephen and Brendan have had long conversations with me about the injustice in the world, and speak passionately about the need for change. We have pondered about why people focus on differences rather than the similarities.

I am reminded of the old man on the corner. About two years ago, there was an old, somewhat rundown house on the corner of an intersection not far from my neighborhood.  Adjacent to my son’s school, the house was sheltered from view by a number of large trees. The look and the feel of the property did not match the newly built dwellings and shopping surrounding it.  The house had been here long before developers surveyed the area with dollar signs dancing in their head.

Brendan and his school friends would talk about the scary house and speculate about the man living there, who was rarely seen.  I have to admit, when I noticed the house peeking through the trees, I wondered too.

And then he died.  And his family cleared out the contents of the house, the property was sold, and the house was demolished.  And on a humid, summer day months later, I found myself at that intersection, looking at the now vacant and overgrown lot. I had judged him, because of the outward appearance of his lodging, but I did not know him. And in the corner of the lot, I saw the most beautiful arrangement of various daylilies, blooming in spite of their owner’s absence. Planted many moons ago, perhaps when he was younger, maybe with his wife by his side.

It was a lesson for me.  Here I am, walking through life with the hopes of being accepted in spite of my imperfections and mistakes, only to realize I’m not offering that same acceptance to my fellow man.  

The beautiful colors peeking out from the overgrown foliage reminded me not to judge a book by its cover. Just as, so many years before, the medical resident judged how I presented on the obstetrics wards as a teenage mother of twins, I had made an assumption without taking the time to know the truth.  

How many times have I made an assumption in a negative light?  How many times have I made a remark or rolled my eyes when encountering someone who marched to their own drummer? Why does someone have to be wrong for us to feel right?

No more.  Today I promise to work daily not to judge others, and to drown out the voices of others who may judge me and keep pushing forward, with the knowledge that I am enough and worthy of peace and happiness.

Today I am thankful for the eyes to see the truth, the ears to listen, and the heart to love one more person.  

 

 

What are you willing to do?

July 20th, 2016 | no comments

 

Progress is impossible without change.  
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
~ George Bernard Shaw ~

If you are part of the JOLT family, you know that our Wednesday thought of the day asks “What Can YOU Do” to help another. Over the past month, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had a reality check about how the world needs our love and kindness. Reflecting on what we can do needs to become part of our daily life.  Further to that, we must be willing to translate our thoughts into action.

Today, I am asking you to reflect on your willingness to listen, to try, to consider and to compromise. Truly, this is the first step in lasting change.

I’ve been exploring my willingness to consider the opinions of others this week, and it’s been an illuminating and humbling experience.  I started with politics, being frustrated with the stalled conversations and ugly rhetoric. Let’s face it, it’s getting a little messy around here with all this mud-slinging.

What I found was this; I do sometimes close my mind, and show a lack of willingness to listen based on my belief system. I also mentally chastise those of opposing beliefs for behaving exactly as I do.  And that is not going to fix anything.

It’s time for change.  It’s time for compromise.  And I’m willing to do what needs to be done to play my part.  And you?

Take some time today to reflect on what you’re willing to do to send love out to your fellow man.

Kelly

We Go This Way But Once…Lessons From A Gallon of Milk

June 30th, 2016 | no comments

I’ve been revisiting some of my writing over the past number of weeks. I find that it is helpful and grounding to return to  your starting place. It can help you renew your motivation and purpose, explore if it still rings true for you, celebrate how much you’ve grown as a person, or just sit with your emotions for a little bit.

It’s been a helpful exercise for me.  The months have flown by in this very busy year, and I can sometimes lose sight of the higher vision as I try to complete the day to day to-do list. Returning to my writing helps me work through my emotions.  This time of year brings forth a plethora of feelings as I remember my son Stephen, and reflect on how I have lived in the years since his passing.

Below is an excerpt from my book, Just One Little Thing.  I think it kind of sums it up.

Time passes in a way we must respect.  The days are long but the years are short.

So we must live.  Live out loud.  Love as much as we can.  Laugh every hour.  And always know we go this way but once.

 

 

June 23rd-Sour Milk

Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.

~James Dean~
This morning, my son and I were chatting in the kitchen. I was packing his lunch for hockey camp, and he was pouring himself a glass of milk to wash down his peanut butter toast. The conversation was animated, and he was laughing between bites. Suddenly, something caught his eye, and his mood changed in an instant.

He was looking at the milk and then quietly said,

“The milk……It expires on the same day  Stephen died.”

His words caught in his throat, and made this mother stop in her tracks on a sunny morning. You see, we knew July 4th was coming. We’ve talked about it, as a family, and with our grief counselor. We’ve made a plan and we know what we will be doing on that day. But there was something about that darn milk announcing it.

Our family is only a jug of milk’s life span away from being without Stephen for a full year. There is something about that reality that hits us both as we stare at the skim milk in the glass, almost like the white liquid is the sand of time itself.

So, we talk about it, over milk and peanut butter. We both think Stephen would not want us to focus on the day we lost him, but rather look at all the days we had him. We know we will always think about July 4th differently, but we also know that it is our choice whether we make it a hard day or one of celebration.

Later in the day, my husband asks me, “Can you believe a year has passed already?”

No, I do not believe it has been a year, because in many ways, I feel that our time has stopped, or has been redefined as life “before” and “after.” I can’t believe that I am a jug of milk’s lifespan away from a full year.

And now, eleven months later, I’m watching the milk in the fridge, as the fat free liquid counts down the last days of the toughest but most awake year of my life.

We are not as fortunate as the milk. The bottom of your foot does not bear an expiration date.

None of us knows when it will be our time to go. Unlike the milk, the future is not as certain for us. It could come after many years of living, or it could come tomorrow as we mow the lawn.

That is why we must live each moment like it was our last.

Today, I am thankful for sour milk.  Making it real for me.

 

It’s Not Enough to Be Shocked and Saddened Anymore…We Must BE the Love and Prayers

June 14th, 2016 | no comments

 

#bethelove

#bethelove

I know I’m not alone.  Sunday’s news from Orlando just gutted me.

I feel numb.  I am feel angry.  I am just pissed off about some of the exhausting social media rhetoric that has been trending for the past 48 hours.

But mostly, I just feel saddened. Looking at the pictures of those lost is just absolutely heartbreaking.  Young people, just starting out, with the promise of a bright future, cut short by a madman. I am saddened for the survivors, who will forever carry the memories of this tragic night, their lives being forever marked as before and after this night.

And then I think about the families, beginning the journey of grief, trying to make sense of the senseless.

Sadly, this has become all too common.  And with the commonality comes this standard and scripted response.  We are shocked and saddened, we are sending love and prayers. Appropriate hashtags are created to ensure our words of comfort are disseminated with the masses.  And then a few days pass…..and something else is trending, and any chance for meaningful change lessens by the minute.

I know we are genuinely shocked and saddened. I know the love and prayers are sincere.

it’s just not enough anymore.

We can no longer stand by and send love and prayers.  We need to make a daily choice to embody that love, personify those prayers.  We need to live the kind of life that leaves a fingerprint on the hearts of others.  We need to respectfully stand up for those who need us, we need to honor those lost by expecting and ensuring that this country lives up to the all inclusive possibility-filled dream of its founders.

Our prayer need to be one of peace, expressed by turning our back on the hate speak of those who would try to separate us, to make “us” feel like we are different from”them.”

We need to express our love not just through our words, but in our actions. One active expression of love for our country is the act of critical thinking, choosing to truly understand opposing ideas and beliefs so you are better equipped to find common ground.

 

I know it’s complicated.  I know that deciding to live your love and prayers is more challenging than just sending them with a hashtag.  I know it doesn’t solve the complicated problems of terrorism or gun control.  I know it doesn’t bridge the gap between communities, religions or political parties.

But it’s something.  And right now, it’s better than feeling helpless.

Person to person. I commit to be the love and prayers.  And you?

Below, I’ve pasted a blog I wrote in 2012 after the horrific day in Newtown.  I just felt I needed to share this again today.

 

It’s Time For Meaningful Change to Honor Those Lost…

December 18th, 2012 | no comments | Edit

One cannot get through life without pain…What we can do is choose how to use the pain life presents to us.

~Bernie S. Siegel~

I’ve tried to focus on the positive.  It is, after all, kind of my thing.  It’s what I do.  I look for the silver linings, I find blessings in the darkest of days.  But this past Friday, I was with the world, as we watched a horrific reality unfold in a quaint town in Connecticut.

It was mind numbing, it was hard to mentally process that something like that could actually be happening.  But sadly, as the day progressed, the dark and grim news was confirmed.  Life for so many families was forever changed.

Since that time, I’ve tried to keep away from some of the coverage, it was simply to difficult to watch. But no matter how hard I tried to keep my distance, I, like so many, find myself drawn back into the dialogue. The faces of the beautiful children etched into my memory, I feel such compassion for the parents and families of the fallen.  I have cried tears for them, knowing they are beginning a journey that no parent ever wants to contemplate.  I remember the physical, “punch you in the gut” kind of pain when you realize your child is gone.  The heaviness that descends on your life, slowing your movements, feeling like a crushing boulder on your shoulders as you try to muddle through.  You put one foot in front of the other, but it is as if you are pulling the weight of the world behind you.

I say this with the greatest of respect, and also with the understanding that I do not completely understand the type of grief that comes from a loss related to this level of violence, an event that puts their grieving hearts on the world’s stage.

So, I pray for them.  I send love and light to them, and hope that the kindness of others allows them brief moments of comfort. I pray that they will  be able to go on. It is truly the only thing I can do.  I am just another Mom, who knows what it is like to bury a child, to try to pick up the crumbled pieces of a life, and try and find a way back to living.

But there’s one more thing.  As citizens, we all have our part to play in what happens next.  We must not let this moment dissipate, and we all have a responsibility to do right by these children and their brave teachers.

We may never figure of the “why” question. People will surmise, they will point fingers in a variety of different directions when trying to determine accountability.  Why did this happen, how did this come to pass, where was God when this happened? Some will blame gun laws, some will blame a failing mental health system, some will blame God. So many questions mulled over in the one hour news shows as they try to come to grips with  something that simply will never make sense.  It will never really ever make sense to a rational mind.

So, I want to ask “What Now?”

It’s time now America.  It’s time now to have a discussion about the American Dream.  It’s time to really open our eyes and start asking ourselves some tough questions about what we really want for this country.  Do we want everyone armed, metal detectors at every school, movie theatre, shopping mall, place of worship or gas station?  Do we want to put measures in place that further separate and alienate ourselves from one another?  Or do we want to take a long hard look at what this country was truly designed to provide and create for its citizens?

If we want to come up with the best decisions, we need not look to the partisan talking points of our politicians.  We need not look to special interest groups for their crafted position statements.  If you want to create a country that lives up to the American Dream, look into the eyes of those children.  Look into the smiling faces of those brave teachers who gave the ultimate selfless sacrifice.  Sit down with the parents, and ask them what should happen now.  Listen to the stories of parents, dreams cut short, visions of graduations and weddings and grandchildren.

It’s time America.  It’s time to take care of our mentally ill, it’s time to look at realistic gun safety, it’s time to stop fighting with each other over political beliefs and preventing this country from growing and evolving.  It’s time to ask where we go from here.  We can’t let the outrage about this event dissipate as it has with others, with no real change being realized.  It’s time to look at each of our children, and honestly ask, “What Do They Deserve?”

As a bereaved parent, I understand how much that “why” question can haunt you.  Making peace with an incomplete answer is the hardest thing I personally have ever had to deal with, and I can only imagine that is compounded for these grieving families.

So, as we try to send love and support to this grieving community, let’s all start having a conversation about “What Now?”  Because something needs to change. We all have an opportunity to have a voice in this discussion, and create a more peaceful country that honors the lives of those lost.

Sending prayers and love to those who are suffering,

Kelly