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.

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

Christmas and Helpful Communication In Times of Loss

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

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December is upon us and during this month, many will spend time with loved ones for whom Christmas does not bring joy but instead exaggerates their grief responses. While we tend to associate grief with the death of a loved one, there are actually four major types of losses that those in our workplaces and personal lives may be grieving. These are: the loss of meaningful relationships and include losses resulting from death, separation, divorce, abortion, or of children taken into foster care. Losses of meaningful objects are the second major category and include the losses of a home or treasured objects; and can result from a house fire or relocation such as what happens when someone enters a long-term care facility and can take only one box and one suitcase of possessions. A loss of context is the third major type of losses and includes losses of routine and the familiar; these losses can also include losses of goals and dreams and a loss of a sense of one’s past, such as happens when a parent dies, or a loss of a sense of one’s future, as what happens when a child dies. The fourth major category is losses of parts of the self. These losses include sensory losses, loss of a body part, a loss of identity, or a loss of a sense of self, self-worth, or dignity. These major categories of losses are not mutually exclusive, for many who experience a significant loss in one category will subsequently experience losses in another or even in all the other categories.

Many who desire to be helpful, struggle with the best ways to communicate with a griever, especially with those who are in the early stages of grief, or with those who are experiencing a renewed rawness of their grief and of all the memories of what they no longer have and will never again have. A renewed rawness of grief is often triggered by an anniversary reaction, such as what happens at Christmas time. The following points on helpful ways to communicate and not-communicate with a griever can allow a caring person to become one who is capable of knowledgeable caring:

  • Create opportunities that allow the griever to speak about the losses or about the person who has died, since a great fear for grievers is that their loved one will too soon be forgotten. Relating any positive life events and memories of your experiences with the griever or of their loved one who has died can boost the griever’s self-worth and help them to know that their loved one or their contributions are not forgotten.
  • Be comfortable with tears for they are a normal part of grief and can help grieving persons release deeply felt emotional and soul pain. It is also okay to shed a tear as you listen to the griever’s tear-filled stories. Remember however, that crying and weeping are not the same things. When we have a tear in our eye, grievers can sense our empathy. When we weep however, we have altered the relationship for we are no longer able to support the griever for something about what they have said or done has triggered unresolved feelings within us and the griever may end up comforting the one who should be providing the comfort, but is no longer capable of doing so.
  • Remain focused on the griever and on the griever’s experiences. Many people have a difficult time remaining “other-focused.” The moment a griever attempts to describe a portion of their grief experience, a listener that is unable to be other-focused for more than a few moments, will piggy-back on the griever’s story and interject into the conversation, a life narrative of their own grief. To do so may make the griever feel that the listener does not hear the significance of, nor really care about, the griever or about what the griever is attempting to communicate.
  • Allow the griever to describe their beliefs about their life circumstances rather than offering “false reassurance.” False reassurance is delivered in expressions such as: “It was for the best.” “It was God’s will.” “Something good will come from this.” While these phrases may seem comforting, they are considered by grievers as the least helpful words spoken to them. Expressions such as these come from the speaker’s belief system and may not match the beliefs of the griever. False reassurance has been shown to increase anger at God as well as at the conveyor of such expressions, and thus interferes with the therapeutic relationship.
  • Offer the griever undivided attention. A griever’s life and sense of self have been destroyed. Grievers deserve the full attention of their listeners. To give full attention that conveys care, support and empathy, turn your entire body toward the person, make direct eye contact and drop everything else you are doing as the grieving person is speaking. My youngest daughter taught me the power of facing the speaker and making eye contact while listening. One afternoon, while I was busy at the stove and she was excitedly relating her kindergarten day’s events, she stopped mid-sentence to retort. ”Mom you are not listening!“  “Oh yes I am,” I replied, and repeated some of the things she had said. “But,” she cried! “You’re not listening with your eyes.” My child’s honest expression made me remember that the eyes truly are the windows of the soul and to make eye contact when someone is attempting to share deeply with me communicates that I am emotionally and soulfully present to them.
  • Keeping our eyes connected also keeps our eyes and hands off technology devices, such as phones or iPads. Focusing on devices when another is relating their feelings indicates in numerous nonverbal ways that we are more interested in what we are doing on the devices than we are with the person who at this moment needs our undivided attention.
  • Encourage the griever to create a nonverbal signal that communicates when they are becoming overwhelmed in a situation where they may not be able to tell you this in words. The nonverbal message can be anything from pulling on their left ear lobe to rubbing their right knee. Once the nonverbal communication strategy is established, it will then be an indication for you to find a way to excuse the griever from a situation in which they are becoming physically and/or emotionally exhausted.

Christmas is for many, a time of family gatherings. Contained within such gatherings are often reflections of the joys and family gatherings of past Christmases. These reflections, the season itself and all it contains, including the expectations of what it should contain, can add to the emotional emptiness felt by grievers. Many of us will, over the holidays, spend time with one or more persons who are experiencing grief. While we may not be able to make their lives joyful, we each can communicate in ways that convey care and support, knowing that feeling cared about is a first step in regaining a sense of hope that may one day lead to inner peace, the true gift of a joyous Christmas.

Being Grateful for Post-Traumatic Growth

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

During the month of October, many of us who live in countries of the Northern Hemisphere will gather in celebrations of gratefulness. For those who are newly bereaved, these days can add to their sense of loss and feelings of injustice. I clearly recall the first Thanksgiving celebrations after my son’s death. The closer the holiday came, the louder my inner voice chided, “What do I possibly have to be grateful for?” Now years later and only after much sorrow and having left few stones unturned in search of healing, I am aware that there are two aspects to grief: the destructive aspect, and the transformative aspect. While those who are now still in the early stages of grief, do not want to hear that their suffering will change and transform them; many who remain committed to achieving healing; and while it may take a long time, will at some point be able to acknowledge the personal and soulful transformation that resulted from their tragedy.

jane gratitude centre 1

Empirical research demonstrates that many people experience personal and spiritual growth following extreme trauma and bereavement circumstances.1  My own experiences and those of many I have helped through their grief and trauma, parallel the research findings. For most of us, the struggles to cope with the tragic events changed our priorities. What was once important became unimportant and what was once of no importance had become paramount. This shifting of importance seems especially true related to an increased appreciation of meaningful relationships.

For some of us, the shattering of specific religious beliefs was replaced with the acceptance of a broader and more flexible spirituality. For many, the need to rebuild shattered assumptions created an enhanced sense of the meaning of life and of the need to fulfill our life’s purpose. This ever-growing existential awareness led, in turn, to an enriched relationship with the Divine in self and in others; and after an initial period of being angry at God and feeling a deep sense of injustice, many developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the “God of now.” For many, this resulted only after there was a major reshaping of long-held ideas of God, of the Universe and of the Universal Order. In my particular case, the shifting and reshaping of these views deepened my sense of belonging within the greater plan of life.

After a time most who stay committed to their healing, recognize that the journey has changed them in many positive ways. Many report that they would never again want to go back to being what they were, personally and soulfully, prior to their tragedy; and while most of us wish we could have achieved the same personal and soulful growth in any other way, we are extremely grateful for all the experiences our suffering and healing has brought.

During October celebrations, many altars and table-centers will be decorated with fruits of the season. Prayers will be recited in gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. This Thanksgiving, let us also raise our voices for the greatest gifts we have received. Let there be songs and hymns of gratefulness for the post-traumatic growth and healing that we and each of our loved ones have received.

  1. Shaw A, Joseph S, Linley PA (2005).Religion, Spirituality and Posttraumatic Growth: A Systemic Review of the Literature, Journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture, March, 8(1):1-11.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Summer has ended and during this week we are in the energy of the Autumnal Equinox. Since ancient times, the Earth’s Peoples have re-enacted rituals to draw in the energies of these days believing that during the equinoxes, the universes are more directly in line; and thus celebrations of gratitude as well as rituals for supplication were more likely to be received and responded to by the heavens. According to NASA, there is indeed a change in geometric activity that takes place during the September Equinox. These changes actually increase the chances, for those of us who live in the higher regions of the Northern Hemisphere, to view the Northern Lights.


No matter how far removed we are from the soil and the smells and colors of this beautiful season, each of us is affected by the movements of the planets; and thus each of us can purposefully harness the energies of these days for our own life shifts. Here are some ways to draw into your own as well as into your groups, the power available to each of us during the Autumnal Equinox. Remember that rituals and ceremony do not have to be observed following any particular tradition or religious ceremony. In my experience, the best outcomes of any ceremony are achieved when they result from actions based on pure intentions that flow from my own Spirit to serve my personal needs and those of my groups.

 

  1. Examine the Balance in Life

This year the official day of the Autumnal Equinox is September 22. On that day the hours of daytime and nighttime are relatively the same. This has long been interpreted to mean that during this short period of time the world is in balance. Metaphorically, we can use this time to determine and re-establish the balance in our own lives.
 

  • Purchase two candles for each person who attends your equinox ceremony. Select one candle for each in a bright autumn color and the other in a dark color. During the celebration each person in turn, lights first the brightly colored candle and speaks of how and in what ways, since the Spring Equinox, they have been able to balance their soulful and personal needs and desires with their commitments to the outside world. The colored candle is then placed on the centre altar and the dark candle is lit. As the dark candle burns the person speaks about what actions are needed during the upcoming dark days and nights, so that the balance that is already achieved can be maintained; and so that there can be, by the Spring Equinox, a celebration of having achieved an even greater balance, between soulful and personal needs and desires, and their commitments to the outside world. The dark candle is then placed on the central altar. When all members have spoken and all the brightly glowing candles are on the centre altar, lead a group prayer in which you honor the balance in the universe; express gratitude for the balance each member has found, and request that each receive whatever they require to achieve the further balance they seek.

 

  1. Make a Wreath
     Invite each person to pick a piece from the bowl that you have previously filled with items representative of nature in autumn. After each person has picked their item, ask each in turn to speak of the significance of that particular piece to them and what drew them to select it; and to then place the item on the empty wreath (which you have earlier either purchased or created from willow, grape vines or birch bows). You will want to have a good quality glue gun available for the purpose of gluing the items to the wreath. Once all of the items are secured to the wreath, place it on the centre altar. Invite members to join hands and form a circle around the altar and then lead a closing prayer of gratefulness for the gifts of the Earth; acknowledging that as we celebrate the gifts of the Earth, we also accept that Her growing time is dying. Pray that each member of your group is able to embrace the dark times ahead as opportunities to be more inner-focused and from that, to place their newly gained strength and renewed purpose in readiness to meet the light of the Spring Equinox.

The Earth grows cold.
The soil lays barren. Six months of dark
Without dark we do not know light.
 Without barrenness we do not know growth.
Without death we do not embrace life
Without sorrow we do not appreciate joy
Great Mother, in your dark time, support me in mine.

Autumn Harvest Stimulates Life Review

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. September, 2016

In many cultures of the northern hemisphere, the September equinox is the official announcement of autumn. In Greek mythology, autumn is associated with when the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to be with her husband Hades. It was supposedly a good time to enact rituals to invoke protection and security as well as to reflect on successes or failures from the previous months.

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As I gather the last produce from my summer garden I reflect on how each September, when I ponder the successes and failures of what I have planted in the spring, I am drawn inward, there to consider the fruitfulness of my personal and professional efforts in moving me toward the fulfillment of my life’s purpose. As I mull over how the seasonal changes in my garden metaphorically prompt my own seasonal life review, I recall that Erickson1 described the two parts of a life review: as a soulful attempt to examine and bless those aspects of life that we feel satisfied with, and as a soulful urging to alter any circumstances that need changing so that soul growth can continue into our next season.

While my annual life review is stimulated by the final harvest from my garden, reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, can be activated by many things including music, photographs or visits. These things naturally stir memories and because of that, each can be used in a therapeutic way.

For a time I was a nursing director in a long term care facility. I like to sing, and I often sang for the residents. Their selection of songs would almost always bring a number of them to tears. Because I was intentionally using song as a therapeutic way to stimulate memories, I would later spend time with each teary-eyed resident, exploring the memories that had surfaced for them as I sang. Together we re-enjoyed happy memories and in most cases, all that was needed to release the emotional load attached to a difficult memory, was for the resident to know they were being compassionately cared about and supported in their attempts to come to terms with their feelings.2

This experience guided my response to my husband’s questions about how to best help his dying mother. As he left to be with her, I encouraged him to help his mother recall the good times that he and she had shared throughout his lifetime. He later reported that even though she was only semi-conscious, as he spoke and caressed her, a tear would roll down her cheek, or she would frequently smile and nod as he related each, “Remember When Mom” detail. He described that as he spoke to his mother he could hear soft sobbing in the background. When he turned to investigate, he recognized that the three other women in his mother’s ward were also listening to what he was relating. Were they perhaps vicariously receiving and delighting in the love he was conveying? Or, were they perhaps wishing that their own sons would be by their bedsides helping them with their own “Remember When Mom” narratives?

As we enter the autumn season, is it time for you to also turn inward, there to examine how the seeds you have planted have ripened? Is it time for you to ponder how the harvest you reap will support you on your next great movement forward? Or is it time to offer “Remember When” details to a loved one, and thus assist them to bring a peaceful closure to their life in anticipation of their next great movement forward? Whatever this autumn equinox stirs within you, may it aid you in harvesting bushels of ripe fruit from the good seeds you have planted in the spring of this year and in the springs and early summers of your entire lifetime.

Erickson, E. H. 1963. Childhood and Society, 2nd edition. New York: WW Norton & Co.
Simington, J. A. 2013. Through Soul’s Eyes: Reinventing a Life of Joy and Promise. Taking Flight Books, Edmonton, AB.

Summer Winds Bring Change and Abundance

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

 

Strong summer winds bathed me this morning in aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, sage and wild prairie grasses. These sensations caused me to be aware of the direction from which the winds were blowing. While most of the Great Medicine Wheels place the element air in the East, the winds blow from each of the four directions. Years ago I learned a guided visualization that taught me to pay attention to the directions from which the winds blew; for each of the directions has its own gifts; and when the winds blow from any one of the directions, they blow to us the gifts from that particular direction. In that way, the winds can validate our own inner knowing and call for us to be open to receive in gratefulness the gifts being blown our way.

Here is a version of that meditation. I trust it will increase your awareness of the gifts to be found in each of the directions and, thus add to your abilities to receive the blessings of the winds that blow those gifts towards you.

 

green grass blowing

Begin by paying close attention to your breathing…in and out…in and out…in and out.

Exhale deeply and allow your eyes to gently fall closed. Now inhale deeply and as you do so, find yourself standing on the top of a very high hill. Take a moment to be aware of your surroundings. As you do so, become aware of being completely wrapped in a warm gentle wind. Know that this wind is blowing from the East for it brings with it the fragrances of spring. Breathe deeply of the spring winds and welcome the newness being ushered into your life by the Winds of the East.

You sense that the winds have now shifted and they are becoming warmer. The smells have also changed from the smells of spring to those of the ripening fruits of summer. Hints of melons, cherries and crabapples drift your way, carried on by these winds, the winds of summer, the winds from the South. Acknowledge that these winds are validating your fruitfulness, your productivity. They have come to remind you that with fruitfulness comes abundance. Breathe deeply and welcome into your entire being the abundances the South Winds are blowing your way.

Pay attention to a further shift in the winds and to the dimming light. Dusk is now upon you. Cooler winds wrap you in the brilliance of autumn colors. You capture whiffs of harvested grains, fresh wines and pumpkin pies being carried on by the winds from the West. On the Great Medicine Wheels, the West is honored as the place of healing and the place of the healer. What healing are the West Winds blowing your way? Are the West Winds asking you to accept your healing gifts and to accept your role as healer? The West is also the place of abundant harvest. Are the West Winds reminding you that this is your time to successfully harvest the good seeds you have planted?

One more time you feel a shift in the direction from which the winds blow. As you face these cold winds you wrap yourself in a blanket of white. The Great Medicine Wheels teach that the North holds gifts of ancient wisdom and makes the teachings of the ancestors available to spiritual teachers and leaders. As the North winds blow these gifts your way, are you being reminded that it is time to pay attention to these teachings and to acknowledge and accept your roles as a spiritual teacher, leader?

As you become aware of having completed the full circle, gently and easily open your eyes. Spend a few moments pondering from which direction the winds blew strongest on you. Then acknowledge the gifts you already have or that are now being blown to you from that direction and give thanks that it is so.

Each time I stand in the wind, I recalled this meditation and am also reminded of how in the Old Testament Yahweh was referred to as the wind. I love that symbol and because of it, I am filled with reverence of the wind from whatever direction it blows. I hope this meditation has helped in similar ways to increase your appreciation of the wind and may we each be more aware and grateful for the breath of Spirit blowing within and around us.

The Not-So-Happy Father’s Day

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

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On June 19,th many will extend a “Happy Fathers’ Day” greeting that is received with feelings of joy; yet the day and its associated traditions will be for others, a further reminder of what was once paramount and is now of little significance. This holiday, because it vibrates with expectations of personal and family happiness, and satisfaction with traditional roles and responsibilities, can conjure up feelings of deep grief over what once was, and is no longer. These same expectations can also trigger painful reminders of the disenfranchised grief resulting from goals and dreams that have never been and, because of circumstances, will never be achieved. For those Fathers whose life experiences do not match the social and traditional expectations, the Father’s Day holiday and all the expectations regarding what and how a Father should be, can be a source of increased emotional pain and mental anguish. It is my hope that the following suggestions will assist family members whose circumstances require them to find supportive ways to honor a Father who is mired in grief that can result from any one of the major types of losses.

The first major type of loss is a loss of meaningful personal relationships such as what happens following a death, relocation, retirement, or job loss. The second major type of loss is a loss of valued objects and includes the losses resulting from a theft or a house fire. The third major category is a loss of parts of the self. Such losses include the loss of a body part, a sensory loss, or the loss of mobility or strength. Also included in this categorization are psychological losses, such as the loss of identity, self-respect, and self-worth. Included also in this category can be a loss of Spirit resulting from soul brokenness. The fourth major category is a loss of context. Context describes one’s way of being and one’s set of circumstances. These losses can result from an inability to achieve aspirations or fulfill a role, and can include the loss of a sense of a bright and fruitful future. This categorization helps identify that, while losses result from many sources, each loss is grieved, even when the losses are disenfranchised. Disenfranchised losses are those that are not acknowledged for what they are; thus leaving the griever unsupported in the pain.

While the categorization advances understanding of losses, it is important to recognize that a loss in one area tends to be accompanied by losses in one or more of the other categories. This overlapping of losses also tends to be disenfranchised and therefore unsupported. Following the death of our son, my husband had a subsequent need to leave his long-time and much-loved career; this second major loss then also overlapped with his loss of identity and self- worth.  

Some experts believe that males grieve differently than do females, with women tending to have a greater need to be supported while they express feelings; while men tend to work through their feelings in more industrious ways. Others believe that this is not so much a process of nature but rather one of nurture, meaning this behaviour results from how men are socialized regarding their need for touch and the expression of their feelings. While it is important to recognize that human beings, regardless of gender, do grieve in their own unique ways, because we tend to socialize our boys to believe that the needs to be held, cry, and verbalize feelings are signs of weakness, during times of grief both men and women may need help in overcoming these beliefs. As I walked beside my grieving husband, I was aware of the need to reframe my own beliefs and help him reframe his ideas of what was “okay” behaviour for a grieving man. While I too, was struggling with grief, our crisis forced me to acknowledge and permit his need to grieve, even though witnessing grieving behaviors in the man whom I had always thought of as strong and capable of supporting and protecting me, threatened my sense of safety and security.

During that time I was taking a counseling course. The required practice exercises made me recognize that certain ways of communicating convey acceptance and enhanced self-worth. The exercise that I believe made the biggest immediate and long-term difference in helping heal my husband’s grief and in perhaps helping our relationship thrive is the one I will share with you to hopefully encourage you to also use to support the grieving man you wish to honor on this Father’s Day and on future days.

In this exercise, I was guided to give my husband my full attention each time he spoke. This meant stopping anything else I was doing, look him directly in his eyes, and listen earnestly, conveying in nonverbal ways an interest in what he was saying. I recall being truly amazed at how this seemed to almost immediately change how he began to share with me how vulnerable he felt and how he ached with pain. This in turn increased the depth and intimacy of our conversations and of our interactions, thus our relationship, and I believe in time helped him and I to make the steady progress required to heal from our own grief.

During my time of healing and in helping my husband heal from grief, I learned the power of the Nairobi proverb, “Hold the one you love with both eyes and with both hands.” My wish is that on this Father’s Day, every father be honored in this way. I wish this to be especially so for all the not-so-happy fathers.

 

Honoring Darkness Prepares Us to Welcome the Returning Light

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. 2015

As the winter solstice approaches we are once again reminded of how the seasonal changes in nature mirror the cyclic rhythms within our own lives. When we pause to examine our interconnections in the web of all existence we acknowledge that times of darkness fall upon every life. As the light fades and cold settles in we recognize that each of us experiences times of darkness and isolation.16426_882031781829415_5278592370910128062_n

As the world around us lies mostly dormant, if we allow ourselves to seize the opportunity, we settle in and re-centre. As we do so we become aware that this time of stillness allows us to amass energy for our next great movement forward. Being thus connected with the seasonal changes in our own lives, as mirrored by the cyclic changes in nature, we bless the darkness knowing that the balancing messages of the Winter Solstice promise that it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.

Winter Solstice celebrations are a meaningful way to gather with like-minded friends to honor the spirit of darkness and the spirit of returning light. The following ideas for a Winter Solstice ceremony acknowledge what has been gained from our times of inner darkness so as to find the new seeds to plant during the times when the sun returns to our outer and inner worlds.

Honoring the Darkness
Allow some time at the beginning of the celebration for participants to sit in almost total darkness as a way to allow them to ponder the dark times they have experienced during the past year. After this time of stillness invite them to reflect on and perhaps journal what they have gained from their darkest time/s. The following questions can help in their reflections and in the acknowledgement of the gifts and abilities resulting from that darkness.

1) How has your darkest experience of this year changed your life?
2) What strengths do you now have that you did not have before that experience?
3) How has that experience influenced what you view as important?

Honoring the Light
After each participant has responded to one or more of the reflective questions, pass a jar of seeds. Have each pick two seeds and reflect on the following question:

1) What new seeds are you now able to plant when the sun returns, as a result of having that dark experience?

As each responds, invite that person to light a candle representing the return of light into their inner and outer worlds. As each candle is lit, ponder the increasing brightness each light brings into the darkness.

As a parting gift, you might offer some of the evergreens and pinecones used to decorate your ceremonial centre. A small Rosemary plant can also be a meaningful parting gift since they were known to our ancestors as the “herb of the sun,” and were included in early solstice celebrations. To close your solstice celebration, a prayer of thanksgiving for the cyclic teachings of nature will allow each one present to ponder how year after year, nature generously repeats her cycle.

As a gentle mother, Nature annually reminds us of our interconnections and of our constant potential for renewal and regeneration. As we begin our winter celebrations, many of which are rooted in early solstice ceremonies, may each of us receive the blessings of both the Darkness and the Returning Light.