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.

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?

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.

When Suicide Becomes An Option

When Suicide Becomes an Option
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Worldwide, suicide ranks among the three leading causes of death for adolescents and young adults.Nearly 90% of all suicides are associated with a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder.2 The unbearable feelings of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness resulting from their mental illness, trauma, significant grief or abandonment can, despite the best efforts of loved ones and professionals, cause nearly one million people globally, to attempt suicide each year.3 The feelings of loss experienced by professionals and loved ones are magnified when the death they grieve is by suicide. Those whose grief results from a suicidal death are at high-risk for developing a major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal behaviours and prolonged and complicated grief.4

photo of someone depressed perhaps suicidal

The above information and my experience of working professionally with clients who are threatening suicide and with those who are attempting to heal from the effects of complicated grief and the associated feelings, including the stigma and shame which keeps them from seeking the help and resources they need, has led me to develop a training program to assist professionals in offering effective help to those who threaten suicide and to support the bereaved when suicide results.

This forty-hour Suicide Intervention Certification training is accredited by The Canadian Counsel of Professional Certification Global (CCPC Global.) Graduates of this training from Taking Flight International may apply to CCPC Global for designation as a Certified Suicide Intervention Specialist (CSIS.) Certified graduates of this training also receive 27 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) toward certification or re-certification as a drug and alcohol counsellor from the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation (CACCF;) as well as from the International Association (ICADC).

1. Young I T., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., et.al. (2012). Suicide, Bereavement and Complicated Grief. Clinical Research, LLS SAS. www.dialogues-cns.org

2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Surviving a Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing Guide. Available at http://www.afsp.org Assessed, 2016-08-01.

3. Ibid Young, et al.

4. Hawton, K., van Heeringen, K. (2009). Suicide. Lancet, 18,373:1372-1381.

PreRequisite: Trauma Recovery Certification

Click Here to see training dates and download application form.

The Not-So-Happy Father’s Day

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

man grieving cropped

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.

 

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.  

SWL front insertJourney to Healing insert card

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.

Gratitude for Grandfathering of Grandsons

©Jane A. Simington, PhD. 

I never knew my grandfathers; they both died before I was born, so I have no personal experiences of being grandfathered. After I married, my husband and I lived far from our families of origin so I saw few examples of my own children being grandfathered. Perhaps it is because of these voids I feel a deep sense of appreciation for the opportunities to learn about grandfathering as I witness my husband embrace this role. Through these observations, my heart floods with joy knowing our grandsons are receiving a love that is special, a bond weaving them into the threads of our intergenerational fabric.

Granddad and grandson sitting by lake

I recognize that as a grandfather he hardly notices the mistakes our grandsons make because he is so enchanted with the amazing and delightful things they do. Their little off-the cuff comments and sense of humor seems to quicken his desire to be even more available to them. In the abundance of the energetic force of their growing they apply a kind of salve to old wounds.

The lessons our grandsons learn from their grandfather are endless – sportsmanship, positive attitude, but perhaps the most important thing being passed down from him, aside from love, is generosity of time. Thank you, grandsons, for the sparkles in your eyes and the way you wave in excitement when your grandfather arrives to take over for your mom or dad. Thank you for the many times you allowed your grandfather to deliver you to, and pick you up from, play school, pre-school, kindergarten, or after-school programs. Thank you, grandsons, for the joy of watching you accept your grandfather’s sports experience, enthusiasm and wisdom as you play baseball, la cross and hockey. The way you lift your helmeted-heads so as to be able to give a look of appreciation for his attendance at your games, and the way you listen attentively to his encouragement and receive his validation of your efforts, lets him know you find his opinion worthy of paying attention to.

Through his story-telling gifts, your grandfather connects you to your heritage. In relating the history of his life and of our families, he helps you learn family lore. Through anecdotes about your grandparents, and your mother, aunt and uncle as children, he helps you to be a link in our ongoing family story. Thank you for listening attentively each time you hear these episodes; know they are reinforcing a part of his life that he wants to ensure also becomes a small piece of yours.

Thank you grandsons for sitting with your granddad as together you watch the Canada Geese come into our lake. Thank you for dragging him from his chair when he is all done-in and forcing him to play checkers, soccer or street hockey by your rules. Thank you for the wrestling matches and the games of claw, and for the many giggles that accompany them. Thank you for emptying the candy disk before your granddad can.

As I watch our grandsons go about their activities with their grandfather, I am in awe of how everyday experiences are not just ordinary experiences, but extraordinary ones, and are often experiences that will be enjoyed by both grandfather and grandsons for the very first time, and are also often experiences that can never be repeated. I am grateful to live close enough to our grandsons to learn about grandfathering, as I witness it first-hand.

As children, and as young men, while you know a lot more than you understand, I suspect you can’t completely comprehend the full meaning of your granddad’s love; how wise he is, how much patience he has, how much guidance he gives you by his example, by his helpful and caring ways and by the depth of his concern and the love in his protectiveness. I suppose you will only know these things when you are grown men and look back and see through older eyes and wiser hearts. I hope that when that time comes you will remember and fully recognize your granddad’s unconditional love, devotion, and family loyalty. I hope as well that you will then know these and many other things about your grandfather that will make you realize how lucky you are to have known what it is to be grandfathered. While being grandfathered is something I, your grandmother, have never known personally, I now have the privilege of being able to witness the extraordinary relationship you enjoy in allowing your granddad to grandfather you.