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.

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?

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.

From Inner Peace to World Peace

© Jane A. Simington PhD.

 

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The month of November calls us to gratefully reflect on the freedoms we are privileged to experience as a result of sacrifices made by the family members who, as veterans, served our countries in the maintenance of peace and liberty. Yet despite their sacrifices, the search for peace continues among nations, within families, between individuals, and within the emotions and spirits of the individuals who fought for our freedoms.

My recent involvement with a colleague’s family member, who had completed his course of duties in a war zone and received honors for his services, amplified my knowing that there are really no winners in war! As we dialogued, I heard the intense pain this man was experiencing. He spoke of the guilt he felt about being a part of what he had been personally involved in, as well as from what he had witnessed and heard about from his colleagues. He described feeling judged and shunned, especially by those who had seen him as a hero, for not being able to “just get over it,” and how their inattentiveness to his need to voice his remorse added to his sense of shame.

His dialogue revealed an incremental soul searching examination of every event, every word he had spoken, every command he had received or given, and every action he had taken or not taken. He wept when I asked if this intense search was a search for answers, or was it a search for the parts of him that had remained at the scenes of the traumatic events he had experienced and witnessed.

 

Indigenous peoples from around the world hold a common belief that the soul pain experienced at the time of a traumatic event can cause soul parts to fracture off and remain within the energy of that time and place. As I listened to his soul pain and heard his soul-longing for wholeness, I felt extreme gratefulness to have the knowledge and skills to help him. And while it was not without intense emotion that he reclaimed those parts of himself that had remained as if frozen at those numerous soul fracturing events, it was with incredible joy that I witnessed his look of anguish dissolve into one of deep peace and stillness as he reintegrated his fractured soul parts.

 

As we move into November and ponder ways to thank and honor our veterans let us be mindful of the value in acknowledging their personhood. Let us recognize that perhaps the best way to honor, especially those veterans who are family members, is to listen to them with open minds and hearts, and remaining ever aware of how the horrors of war can damage a human psyche. Even though listening to their narratives may be difficult for it can stir our own unresolved pain, their need to reexamine, in order to heal the horrors they experienced, may be great. When we are able to listen and respond at the depth they require, we do our part in helping them find inner peace and thus one person at a time, we add to a collective movement toward world peace.

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.

Grief and Trauma Care during Pregnancy

© Jane A. Simington, PHD

It is well recognized that a mother’s varying stress levels affect her unborn child. Grief and trauma are major stressors, causing physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social responses. Therapists who work with grieving and traumatized clients will at some points in their careers struggle with the decision of whether to leave a grieving and traumatized pregnant woman to manage these stressors as best she can, knowing their impact on the unborn child or, to offer her therapeutic services. The decision is not an easy one since the therapist will also recognize that, as the pregnant woman examines the issues surrounding the difficult events and moves through the healing processes, she will re-experience some of the same reactions she felt at the time of the initial tragedy. This will cause her body to release many of the same neurochemicals it did originally. These resultant reactions and neurochemicals will in turn, be transmitted to her unborn child.pregnancy

Here are some guidelines I have found helpful and I encourage you to consider them when you are working in situations that involve a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

If the mother is in the first trimester of her pregnancy, the brain and nervous system of the fetus are still being formed. During these three months, it is best to teach the mother self-care strategies to decrease the impact of the stressors. Affirmations, deep breathing exercises, grounding and shielding strategies are all appropriate. When the mother has learned to keep herself grounded, she will feel a decrease in the fear and anxiety she experiences and thus less of those highly charged sensations will be transmitted to the fetus. Teaching the mother to communicate with the unborn child, continually telling the child it is “safe, loved and protected” is also highly recommended. After the mother has learned to shield herself, she can be encouraged to visualize shielding her child in a similar way.

To assist the mother in feeling safe and protected, you will also find it valuable to help her connect with the unborn child’s and her own Spirit Guides, including their power animals. You as the therapist will also feel more secure, as you work with her, knowing she has established these connections.

When the mother is in her second and third trimester, you will want to continue to use all of these same safety measures before you move more deeply into any therapeutic work and healing processes. It can be helpful to audio-record grounding and shielding meditations to send home with the mother; or alternatively, give her my CD audio recordings, Journey to Hope and Healing, and Shielded with Light. Both of these recordings are also available in MP3 format that she could download from www.takingflightbooks.com.

When you assist a pregnant woman to heal the wounds and scars of unhealed grief and trauma, you help her to create a significant and positive difference in her life and future and in the life and future of her child. Ponder the impact on the lives of the many others these two healed people will then be able to make, and hold in your heart that through your knowledge, skill, genuine love and care, you will have been the catalyst for the healing of many.  

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Canada Geese: Symbolic Messages of Watchfulness and Love

 

©Jane A. Simington, PHD.

June, 2015

 

My early morning spring adventures beside the lake have given me numerous wonderful opportunities to witness Canada Geese nesting and introducing their goslings to the world. Each morning my observations cause me to ponder how their behaviors mirror for us, their teachings of great loyalty and devotion to their mates, children and extended families.

 

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Through research into their life-patterns, I learned that Canada Goose family groups remain together until mating season. Mating begins at age 3-4 years of age. Once mated, the pair stays together for life, demonstrating strong emotional bonds for one other and their off-spring. Mated pairs or family members who have been separated for even a short time greet each other with elaborate displays that include loud honking, head rolling and neck stretching. If one of a mated pair or family member is injured, a goose will stay beside the injured goose until it recovers or dies. If a mate is lost, the surviving goose will mourn for a long period of time, even up to three years, before a new mate is selected.

In early April I witnessed a goose standing over a lifeless mate.

She lay beside him, nudging softly, waiting… but nothing came.

For many mornings she stood her ground, honking…honking a mourning sound.

She and I found it hard to comprehend how this pair joined by nature to be as one

Would no longer travel together through storm and sun.

 

The emotional ties between mates, strengthened during mating and nesting, extend to the goslings early in the hatching cycle, and appear similar to the process of emotional bonding that takes place for human beings. Goose parents communicate with their not-yet hatched goslings and the goslings communicate back. The calls from the not-yet hatched goslings are limited to greeting “peeps,” distress calls, and soft trills signaling contentment. Once hatched, their parents are highly nurturing of them. The female will often lift her wing slightly and let them gather underneath it for warmth, protection and security during their rest times, both day and night. A gentle sound from their mother indicates the goslings are being called to safety and they quickly scurry beneath her wings while the gander stands guard protecting his little ones and his mate. While both parents, especially the male, vigorously defend their young, I often observed the drake standing proudly over the brood, his strong neck raised high as he looks about in all directions, demonstrating his strength and ability to guard and protect them all. The protective behaviors of both parents diminish once the young geese are able to fly.

Flying practice begins even before the goslings have flight feathers. Lined up along the shore the goose parents use a variety of honking sounds and body movements to encourage wing-strengthening exercises. The first flight of any gosling is a family affair. When each gosling in the brood is ready for their first flight from the lake, the female makes the first honk, her mate and their young pick up the sound and in unison honk as if to encourage each other into the new behavior of being airborne.

Once airborne, Canada Geese fly in V-formation. The V-formation flying pattern allows them to fly farther and sustain flight longer than does flying alone, for the V-formation allows them to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. Flight in the V-formation also allows for a rotation of positions. When the lead goose tires, that bird moves back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

My morning encounters with Canada Geese families offers numerous hours of enjoyment as I witness the beauty and rapid growth of the goslings. Each morning I am also gifted with observations of behaviors causing me to marvel at the poetic and symbolic images of family life and values being revealed. In 10, 000 Dreams Interpreted Pamela Wall notes that symbolically, “The goose represents watchfulness and love.”

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