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.

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.

As Life Ended He Knew He Had Done the Best He Could

Jane A. Simington

Developmental theorist Eric Erickson1 described our final developmental task as being the need to review our lifeto determine if the gods are pleased. In doing a life review, we sort through the various aspects of our life and conclude either with believing we have done the best we could, or determining there are things we need to make right within our self or in our relationships.

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Some time ago, my husband called me for help with the frightening visions that were being experienced by his dying father. As my father-in-law’s life was drawing to a close he began having visions of uniformed soldiers walking around his bed. Each time he described the experiences, he concluded these were the soldiers killed during WWII battles because of the orders he, as their commander, had given.
My father-in-law described that over the years he had often thought about these men, wondered how their families managed their grief and how they had survived without the son, husband or father who had been killed. He mentioned that he had often pondered what the dying soldiers thoughts were of him. Had they blamed him? Had they cursed him? As he reviewed this time of his life and these circumstances, he indicated that over the years, and especially now as he was examining the various aspects of his life, he thought a lot about some of the choices he felt were required of him during the war years.

As my husband and I listened to his testimony, I became aware it was likely that my father-in-law’s feelings about his fears and regrets had become embodied. Embodiment of emotion is not uncommon both during dying and during grief. Known as personification, it is a process in which inanimate abstractions or feelings become endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.
Acknowledging that part of bringing a satisfactory closure to his life required allowing him to share these deep emotions, and to describe in more detail some of the life events he was now reviewing, his son and I listened attentively.
Over the next days we became aware that in relating some of his experiences, most of which he had rarely spoken of, the visions of the soldiers moving around his bed seemed to lessen and become less terrifying for him. Following one such vision, when he described the uniformed figures and how threaten he felt by them, I asked if it was possible these were soldiers from the unit he had commanded, and that they were coming to welcome him to the other side where he would again be in comradeship with them? My father-in-law was able to accept this reframing of his visions, and through it, alter his own interpretation.

My father-in-law’s remaining days appeared to be peaceful, and since he never again spoke of the soldiers, my husband concluded his father had completed reviewing that aspect of his life and was now able to rest peacefully believing he had done the best he could.

Reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, is activated by many things including visits, photographs and song. These things naturally stir memories that when stirred can be explored. Happy memories can be re-lived and re-enjoyed, and ways can be found to release the emotional load attached to the difficult ones. In many cases, it is the sharing of a difficult memory with a trusted person that allows for the release of the emotion attached to that memory.

Robin Butler2 described life review as a human need to balance the good in life against the negative. The goal, when assisting another during life review, is to have the person recognize that while their life was made up of both positive and less than positive events, the good outweighed the negative. Circular questions, such as “Tell me what happened after that,” followed by “And then what happened?” and again followed by “And then what happened?” are valuable when helping the person acknowledge the positive outcomes that flowed from what was initially viewed as a negative experience.
It is also important to help a person who is examining past choices recognize we often judge past events based on today’s standards. There is great value in helping the person view events within the context of the circumstances when their choices were made, and then to assist in helping to reframe perceptions of those past circumstances so the person is able to acknowledge that the best possible choices were made.

References

1).Erickson, E. H. Childhood and Society. New York: WW Norton.
2).Butler, R. N. Aging and Mental Health: Positive Psychosocial and Biomedical Approaches. . St. Louis: Mosby.

Solstice Nights Offer Winter Dream

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

Those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere will soon be experiencing the longest nights of the year. While interpretation of the ever-increasing darkness surrounding the Winter Solstice varied among ancient cultures, archeological findings indicate our ancestors believed that during the Winter Solstice the Earth is more closely aligned with cosmic forces and thus prayers made during these times are more likely to be responded to than are those made at other times of the year.In many cultures, during the winter festivals, symbols of the Great Bear were used to depict the Earth’s closeness to the cosmos and the appeal for the rebirth of the sun. Like the bear going into its earthen cave to hibernate and to digest during the long, dark nights what was previously ingested so it can burst forth hungry for newness when the sun again shines brightly, we, too, with the lengthening darkness spend longer hours in deeper sleep. For many of us, the longer hours of deeper sleep result in an increase in dreaming.

 winter sunrise

Dreams have been a topic of fascination and intense study throughout history. Carl Jung, the first psychotherapist to view dreams as soulful messages noted that a dream that is not interpreted is a letter from the Gods we have not bothered to read. Today, dream therapists recognize that the dreams which capture our awareness during the long winter nights are frequently those that hold symbols of change. The need for change is often symbolized by dreams of death. To dream that you or someone you know is dying rarely announces a physical death, but usually symbolizes that something is dying (or must die) so something new can be born.

Our Winter Dreams often come in three parts. In the first portion the dreamer is generally provided an overview of what has been. The second part symbolizes what needs to change so that, with the return of the sun, we, like the Great Bear, can charge forth from the darkness of our inner cave into the dawn of a new beginning. The third portion of a dream gives us a glimpse of what will happen if we take action on what is being symbolized by the middle portion of the dream.

The fading light causes us to acknowledge that this dormant time 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 it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.

Join me on Friday evening December 19 as I lead a Winter Solstice ceremony to open the workshop, Exploring Our Winter Dreams taking place December 20 and 21.