The Vileness of War Tempers the Glory of Triumph

Jane A. Simington, PhD. 2017

Cenotaphs and anniversaries stir our individual and collective memories of life-changing events. November 11, like other anniversaries that mark military victories, are bittersweet for they temper the glory of triumph with the sadness of the sacrifices made and the vileness of war.

In preparation for our involvement in the November 11 ceremonies, my husband Bill and I processed some memories of our relationships with his Veteran Father. Bill’s initial thoughts were of how the war had interfered with his ability to develop a son-father connection; since for the first several years of his childhood, he knew his Father only as the “man” in the photo on the dresser. As Bill described how this lack of early bonding had impacted, even into his adulthood, his relationship with his Father, I wondered how many other men of my husband’s age had been affected similarly and, how many of today’s little boys are also denied the benefits of father-son bonding due to the separations caused by wars. I pondered too, how many other Veteran Fathers, even after their homecomings, remained distant and seemingly detached, due to their constant inward-pull, there to relive over and over, their war terrors.

Prolonged traumatic experiences, such as those resulting from combat trauma, are characterized by neurobiological and clinical features of detachment and subjective distancing from emotional experiences. The cost of emotional distancing can significantly interfere with the establishment, re-establishment, and maintenance of intimate relationships; as well as the avoidance of the necessary mental and emotional processing necessary for trauma healing to take place.

Clinicians are reporting that in ever increasing numbers, combat veterans are seeking non-conventional and complementary techniques for the treatment of their post-traumatic stress. Researchers have identified that combat veterans are doing so because they desire wholistic care that addresses their spiritual needs. James Hillman (1996) noted that people come into psychotherapy not only to relieve the pain of their traumatic symptoms, but to also find a personal story that honors their soul. Combat veterans and each of their family members need, not only their psychotherapists, but each of us to recognize and acknowledge the intensity of the inner anguish experienced as a result of war terrors and family abstinences. As we pause on November 11, to honor and thank our combat veterans and their families for their suffering, their sacrifices, and their sadnesses; may we deeply reflect on how, despite the glories of triumph, there is a vileness in war that allows for no winners.

Thanksgiving Festivals: A Time for Focused Appreciation

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

October, 2017

This evening, I lingered along the lakeshore path, marveling at the Autumn splendor of colored leaves dancing in the evening breeze, listening to the call of Canada Geese winging their way back to the safety of the water; and also, in awe of the brilliance of the soon-to-be-full moon. This Harvest Full Moon coincides with many harvest festivals in the Northern Hemisphere; and in Canada, it heralds the beginning of our Thanksgiving weekend.

I have great memories of many Thanksgiving feasts of the past; one of my favorites is in relation to focusing with appreciation on what I had wanted, rather than on what I did not want. Some years ago, when my eldest Grandson was about five years of age, I had asked him to help me finish setting the festive table by placing the knives and forks beside each plate. Some moments later, I returned to the dining room to see the results. The knife and fork had been placed beside his Granddad’s and my plates exactly as I had asked. The remainder pieces of silverware were scattered in various positions beside the other ten plates. I called him to me to emphasize how much I had appreciated how nicely he had placed the knives and forks beside his Granddad’s and my plates. I said nothing of the scattered silverware. Over the next half-hour, I caught glimpses of him making several trips back through the dining room; each time to rearrange to the best of his abilities, one or two more placements of knives and forks.

I am unsure if my Grandson recalls that event or even that day. It matters not; for I believe the lesson was mine and from it I learned the power of focusing on what I want, rather than on what I do not want. That Thanksgiving Day, nearly a decade ago, my Grandson taught me to appreciate even the smallest of blessings, and to recognize that when I do so, I am almost certain to get more of the good things in life.

As the Harvest Moon shines on you and your life, may you focus with appreciation on the good you have received, and may your gratefulness bring to you even more of what it is that you are most grateful for!

To Know Is To Value: Cultural Awareness Increases World Peace

Jane A. Simington PhD.

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” I returned recently from travel in Russia and other Baltic countries. For me, travel is the ultimate personal and spiritual development tool. Journeying through other countries and cultures offers an expanded awareness of the soulful ways in which people suffer, survive and celebrate.

During my time in Russia and Finland, I witnessed glorious theater, song and dance re-enactments of mythical stories, ways of demonstrating love, and of how they coped with their most powerful and terrifying emotions. Each performer provided a theatrical expression of his or her own soul story; yet collectively the group portrayed the larger context of their lives, their culture and their country, providing a meaning extending beyond their individual fate.

Since time immemorial, people have used music, theatre and dance as ritual to instil hope and courage in those who might have individually been terrified but who collectively were able to become powerful advocates for themselves and others. Witnessing the Cossack Folk dancers and Russian opera singers depicting their individual and collective stories summoned memories of being in a concert hall in Ireland, surrounded by people overflowing with intense pain-filled emotion and then incredible pride as the performers portrayed the suffering and survival of the Irish during and following the potato famine. During my reverie over the parallels in the cultural presentations and the emotions being stirred, I also recalled being at the Healing Our Spirits Worldwide International Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There I witnessed the soul-chilling pageantry of the Grand Entry of hundreds of Indigenous peoples from many parts of the world, all dressed in their traditional regalia. To the beat of hundreds of drums and traditional songs, their dance-like movements were a ceremonial display of immense personal and collective pride, creating in me a sense of their ever-increasing hope for personal and collective empowerment. During my travels in Estonia, I learned of the “singing revolution.” On a June 1987 evening, more than ten thousand concert-goers linked arms and began singing patriotic songs that had been forbidden during half a century of Soviet occupation. The songfests and protests continued until by August of 1991, the Congress of Estonia had proclaimed the restoration of the Estonian state.

Grieving and traumatized people are often too afraid to feel deeply, because feeling and expressing emotion leads to a loss of control. In contrast, singing, dancing and ceremonial displays permit the embodiment of emotion and the giving of voice to those emotions, be they emotions of suffering, hope, survival, or the pride that surfaces as freedom and independence are won.

Research into the impact of song, dance and theatrical performances demonstrates that the force of communal rhythm in action causes a shift within the participants, who, by becoming rhythmically engaged, have opportunities for trying on different roles and becoming, even for a short time, the person in the role they are embodying. This is why movement, music and dance therapies, and theatrical and ceremonial practices are now incorporated into both individual and collective grief and trauma therapies. Witnessing folk dances and listening to the songs and the music involved in cultural performances also creates a shift at both the conscious and subconscious levels of those privileged to be gifted in these ways. The theatrical re-enactment of a people’s history deepens appreciation for the peoples whose culture we explore and whose land we walk upon. Increasing awareness of their history and their culture decreases our fear of them and our feelings of threat from them. This in turn, can then become a major step toward creating world peace, one visitor at a time.

© September, 2017.

Transformation Produces Abundance

©Jane A. Simington, PhD. 2017

Today, while gathering the abundance of an August harvest, a multicolored butterfly landed on my overflowing vegetable basket. The butterfly’s colors and how its wings became one with a carrot top reminded me of a clay Kachina I had once molded during an art class, and of the symbolism related to it. A Kachina is a supernatural being who controls nature and has the Spirits of living things such as animals and plants within it. The Butterfly Maiden is a Hopi Native American Kachina responsible for a fertile beginning leading to a transformation that produces a bountiful harvest. She is often pictured as a young Native American woman dressed in, and surrounded by butterflies. One teaching associated with her is that similarly to how each morning, the harvester searches for the ripe corn cobs that have burst forth from their husks, each new day offers abundant possibilities for stepping from our cocoons, spreading our wings and discovering the beautiful butterflies within; and that the best way to make progress in this direction is to reconnect with the symbolic messages reflected to us from nature’s perennial rhythm of fertility, growth, harvest and decay.

During times when our inner wisdom is quieted by the pain we feel, a daily venture out-of-doors can help us regain our foothold upon the Earth. Mother Nature’s cyclic rhythm of promise can help us regain hope for the future, and thereby rekindle our desire to continue to tread among the living. As we move through our daily lives, which are sometimes filled with hurt and fear, chaos and challenge, may Mother Nature daily provide one item to symbolically brighten the darkness of our personal cocoons, laid down to protect us from the harshness of the world, and from within that Light, may our beautiful butterflies emerge.

 

A Legacy of Love Enriches Our Family Story

©Jane A. Simington PhD. 2017

 

Summer is a time when many gather for special events that add memories to the family story, that will last a life time. Such gatherings also connect the present with the past; for they can evoke strong memories resulting from conversations about the legacy left by family members who have helped to establish intergenerational links.

A legacy is a tangible (such as an item) or intangible (such as love and respect) substance that is left by someone who has died and helps keep the deceased person alive in the memories of those whose lives have been significantly touched by the death. For me and my family members, our Mother’s flowers are both tangible and intangible portions of her legacy.

Roots from perennials which our Mother shared with each of her children, now flourish and bloom; not only in our gardens but in the gardens of our children and grandchildren. Throughout spring and summer we share photos of their blossoms. During family gatherings, we relive our various visits to Mother’s garden and the conversations we had as she insisted she be the one to dig the roots of each plant (explaining she knew best how to) so that the roots would grow into a plant that would thrive in our particular home gardens.

Today I picked a bouquet of roses, the roots of which originated from Mother’s plant. Mother loved roses and had one large rose bush that was abundant with fragrant blooms from early spring to late autumn. As I enjoyed my roses this morning, I spent some moments in reverie about my connections to my Mother and her roses. My Mother’s name was Rose, and in my pondering, I reflected on the symbolism associated with the rose and how that symbolism was a reflection of her name and of my Mother’s legacy to her family. Symbolically the rose represents love, as the guiding principle for life, a symbol carried from mythological and ancient times into all the major modern religions.

My association with my Mother and roses also caused me to recall that roses have long been associated with spiritual messengers and messages from those who have gone before us, and my own experiences regarding this knowledge. Two nights before my Mother died, I smelled roses, even though there were none (visible to me) in her room. When I related this, Mother responded that the roses were from my son who had died and that I would know Billy was around when I again smelled roses. Days later, on my drive homeward, for a few moments only, my entire car was flooded with the unmistakable, fragrance of blooming roses.

Returning from my reverie, I gazed again at the rose bouquet I had picked this morning, and appreciated anew a grander image of the wholeness of life and of the continuation of family connections, intergenerational bonds, and ancestral roots.

As your family gathers this summer, if someone of significance will no longer be present, I invite you to relive that person’s legacy. As you do, honor how this person contributed to your family ties and recognize how those connections have impacted your life and then determine how you will strengthen the intergenerational bond that will link your legacy to future generations.

Grandfathering Strengthens Intergenerational Bonds

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

 

Parents who have had a child die often feel that they have lost a huge part of their future. All the goals, dreams and aspirations they had for that child and for their relationship with that child are gone, and in their place is a deep sadness and a longing for what will never be.

As a bereaved mother I know that while my son Billy can never be replaced and that the dreams we had for him will never be achieved, I have come to recognize that within that knowing is tied a deeper recognition of the cycle of life and of the value of meaningful relationships.

Each day, I marvel at my husband’s parenting and grandparenting. Now that Bill is mostly retired from the world of paid work, he rarely misses a morning phone call to our youngest daughter asking if she needs any help that day with the “boys”. His strong bond with our three grandsons, created from being so frequently present to them and involved in their activities, has helped him fulfill in so many ways some of the unfulfilled dreams he had for Billy and for his relationship with him. The positive effects of Bill’s grandparenting has increased my understanding of how when a family tragedy happens, each member of that family must assist in healing the family wounds and also of how when that healing takes place, the strengthening of relationships becomes like a glue to cement intergenerational bonds.

The family surname creates a substantial link from one generation to the next. Since Billy was the only male heir, upon his death that link was lost. Recognizing the grief her father experienced around that loss, our youngest daughter hyphenated the surnames of each of her three sons. Now, on occasion, to fit the backs of their hockey sweaters, their hyphenated names are shortened to reveal only Bill’s surname. While this may seem insignificant to others, to Bill and me it not only provides momentary joy-filled reminders of how proudly Billy would often turn his back to reveal for his dad his surname and number; it is also for us a knowing that by hyphenating her sons’ names, our daughter contributed to healing our family wound and helped to increase our grandsons’ understanding of their belonging to an extended family, where each family member contributes in both great and small ways to the establishment of bonds of healing, love and family support, that will extend these same strengths into their generation.

Both Bill and I are conscious of how involvement with our grandsons has helped to fill the empty spaces created by our inability to see Billy live to his adulthood; yet we are also keenly aware of how enriched our grandsons’ lives are because of Bill’s frequent involvement with them. It is difficult to say who gains the most from experiences such as when, under his Grandfather’s watchful guidance, our oldest grandson drove for the first time, his Grandfather’s red Camaro convertible; or when his Grandfather did not win any of the car races at Speeders, between him and his middle grandson; or when the youngest grandson urgently ran back home from school, to get the Coonskin hat his Grandfather has previously bought him, so that he could be appropriately dressed for his school field trip to Fort Edmonton.

While it impossible to say who acquires the most from such experiences, Bill and I both acknowledge that the giving and the receiving across these generations has increased our awareness of the fullness of the cycle of life and of how each of us contribute on a daily basis to the turning of that wheel.

Roses to Honor Bereaved Mothers on Mother’s Day

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

Mother’s Day is celebrated annually as a tribute to mothers, motherhood and the influences of Mothers in society. Although the origins of the holiday date back to ancient Greek and Roman times, the modern forms of this celebration take place in many countries during the month of May.

Holiday celebrations such as Mother’s Day tend to include family gatherings and the sharing of traditions and “Remember When” stories. Such events can be emotionally difficult for the bereaved. Mother’s Day can be particularly difficult for Mother whose child is no longer living.

Throughout my years as a bereaved mother, I learned that the best way to navigate the waters of grief that become more turbulent during holiday times, especially during the celebration of Mother Day, is to allow myself to acknowledge both the Down and Under and the Up and Out aspects of my grief. 1 The following celebration strategy which implements both these aspects of grief and grief counseling has worked effectively for me and for many of the bereaved mothers I have supported as they moved through the emotionally charged days prior to, and during, the celebrations of their Motherhood. If you are a bereaved mother, I believe you will find this activity to be empowering, emotionally releasing and therapeutic.

Purchase, or ask your family and friends to contribute, one rose for each year of your deceased child’s life. For the number of flowers, write on a beautiful small piece of paper, the things you miss about being a mother for the child who has died. This acknowledges the Down and Under aspects of your grief. On a second piece of the same lovely paper, write one of your most beautiful memories of being a mother for that child. This action will acknowledge the Up and Out aspects of your grief and your grief process. When both aspects of your grief have been acknowledged, attach one of the Down and Under messages and one of the Up and Out messages to each of the roses. During the process of tying, I encourage you to write your feelings about the process and/or to verbalize with a trusted friend or counselor your written expressions and the feelings attached to those expressions. This will help you to release the emotional load of the Down and Under messages and allow you to relive and re-enjoy the Up and Out messages. After Mother’s Day, when the roses have wilted, I would suggest that you have a small burning ceremony with the wilted roses and the Down and Under messages. Place in a special container your Up and Out messages. Also after Mother’s Day, for each of the remaining days in the month of May, I encourage you to each day, read one of the Up and Out messages and to create an affirmation around that message that will acknowledge your goodness as a Mother.

 

 

1). Carkhuff, R.R. (1987). The Art of helping 96th Ed.). Amherst, MA: Human Resources Development.

 

Easter: A Time to Weave an Intergenerational Fabric Made of both Sacred and Secular Threads

© Jane A. Simington PhD, 2017

Easter is a time for resurrecting from the old; it is a time to honor the good that has been a part of our past and to consider how we can use that good as fertilizer for the new seeds we will plant during this particular springtime of our lives. Reflecting on the good that has been a part of past Easter celebrations can help decrease the emotional responses we may experience related to any anniversary reactions that might surface as we plan for and participate in Easter celebrations.

Anniversary reactions triggered by this season are reminders of what we once had. The memories that surface surrounding the events of family gatherings and Easter traditions and celebrations can stir emotional responses of loss, ranging from feeling mildly distressed to more extreme reactions including significant mental health and/or medical symptoms.

My life experiences related to anniversary reactions surrounding my own grief have taught me that the best way to manage these symptoms is to spend time in reverie; focusing on the many experiences of joy and happiness I have experienced during the Easter Seasons, both prior to and following my losses. In doing so, I now recognize how my positive memories of childhood Easter celebrations were interwoven into the ways in which I celebrated Easter with my own children and how I now do similarly with my three grandsons in the hope of solidly braiding them to intergenerational ties of goodness.

Celebrations of Easter during my childhood were strongly connected to church feast days, yet my Mother sprinkled her own flavors of mystery and magic on each of our family activities. One of my favorite recalls happened in early life. Mother directed my older sister to bring to her a large kettle for boiling the eggs that we children would all later take part in decorating. My sister was then asked to remove the lid and fill it with water. As she did so, to all of our amazement, out jumped a young rabbit. After capturing the rabbit and freeing it to the outdoors, we children in our excitement were easily convinced that this was the Easter Bunny and that he was hiding in that kettle listening to our Easter celebration plans and deciding how he could be a part of them. Now as an adult I am sure my Father had found the young rabbit when he was doing early spring field work, but the logic of that remains lost within the magical memory I can easily recall.

As a mother I modeled my Mother’s abilities and infused my Easter celebrations with my own touches of beauty and playfulness. One favored memory is how my children splashed onto the remaining snow, the dyes left over from the coloring of their Easter eggs, and how we would then examine the snow, for any Easter shapes the dyes had made on it. Sprinkling our Easter Celebrations with magic has and continues to be a rich part of my Grandparenting. In preparation for each Easter, their Grandfather Bill and I examine our photograph albums of the Easter joys we have witnessed of our grandsons’ experience. One photo that always brings us delight is of our oldest grandson at about three years of age, standing in the box of his Grandfather’s truck, proudly displaying a blue Easter egg he had just discovered there during our outdoor Easter egg hunt.

I believe that by keeping alive and bringing into our present practices those from our past that have brought joy and happiness help us and those who follow behind us to acknowledge the special gifts and traditions of our families. In doing so, we strengthen the awareness of how our family’s particular blend of spirituality is woven together in a fine fabric made of both sacred and secular threads.

Nurturing Seeds of Optimism and Hope

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

As the days became longer and the cold of winter was giving way to the warmth of spring, as a child I could sense the optimism and hope being shared by my parents as they discussed their plans for the seeding of spring crops and gardens. Signs of new life abounded around my farm home and the potential for the gains my family could acquire if that new life was nurtured and properly cared for, while covert, were palpable.

Those childhood days have imprinted correlations in my mind between spring, new beginnings and hope. Our spring celebrations and family meals offered a sacred space for giving thanks and for inward visioning of the promises held for the coming season.

My sacred and treasured childhood memories of the holiness of spring are in many ways comparable to the teachings which since ancient times have surrounded the Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox, because of its association with light and new growth, was in ancient times, also known as Ostara, This title derived from the name of the Celtic Goddess of fertility and springtime. She was celebrated during the Spring Equinox as the balance between darkness and light and as the bringer of increased light. Many other cultures and traditions including Christian, Orthodox and Pagan have also marked this powerful turn of the seasonal wheel with symbolism of resurrection and rebirth.

The sun’s journey throughout the course of the year holds strong symbolism to our own journey. The Spring Equinox is positioned upon a point of balance, with one side of the equinox representing the dark half of the year and our struggles with the dark and death aspects of ourselves. The other side of the equinox represents the light half of the year and our possibilities for rebirth and new beginnings.

Spring is for me a time to celebrate the resurrection of what went beneath the earth at the Winter Solstice, both real and metaphorically; and to joyfully anticipate the new life that is appearing in field and womb. It is a time of new beginnings, of action, of saying goodbye to the old, and of creating sacred spaces to hold the new seeds we plant and, when nurtured and properly cared for, will produce abundant fruit.

Earth teach me, to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me, regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.
~ William Alexander

I Held You for Three Days

©Jane A. Simington PhD.


“It is not a matter of brain damage; it is a matter of life or death.” I was unconscious. My husband, Bill signed the consent form. The backward fall that fractured my skull had thrust my brain forward, crashing it against the frontal portion of my cranium, causing swelling and bleeding which required life-saving neurosurgery. While I have few memories of those days, I have long since ceased to be troubled by my lack of recall. The five-year anniversary a few days ago, did however, trigger a need for more details.

One of the events for which I sought clarity was around my post-surgical inability to see. I recall having a fleeting awareness of this; and of begging the three Beings of Light, who were always present and seemingly supporting me from another level of consciousness, to open my eyes. As we revisited those days, Bill told me that my failed attempts to force my swollen eyes open had caused me to become increasingly agitated, even to the point of pulling out my life supporting chest tubes. Convincing the nurses that tying my hands down would only increase the agitation; he promised to keep me from touching the tubes. His response to my questioning of how he managed to control my anxiety, is I believe the most loving phrase I have ever, or will ever hear, “I held you for three days.”

While it took months to regain balance and heal the many post-trauma symptoms, today I am grateful for a body and brain that function well. I am thankful for my sight and hearing; especially since because of the location of the injuries, the retaining of these senses is an incredible gift. Most especially, I am grateful for a husband who for three days and nights calmed my restlessness with his caring and loving touch.

Following Bill’s and my discussion, I pondered the power of touch. I know from a previous literature review that during emotionally difficult times, when someone cannot or will not hear words of love, they can still feel love that is conveyed through touch. I also recall that in the early nineteen hundred’s, almost one hundred percent of children who were placed in orphanages died before the age of one year. Later research concluded that these children, while well cared for physically, died from a lack of caring and loving touches. Reflecting on these studies I pondered: Did my living and complete recovery, described as miraculous by the neurosurgeons, result from the love that was conveyed to me as I was being held for three days?