A Legacy of Love Enriches Our Family Story

©Jane A. Simington PhD. 2017

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandfathering Strengthens Intergenerational Bonds

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mothering and Grand-Mothering: Weaving Spiritual Intergenerational Bonds

©Jane A. Simington, May, 2013

   As we approach the month of May, and Mother’s Day, I am drawn to reflect on the beliefs and feelings that surface as I ponder my experiences of being mothered and on how those experiences directly and indirectly affected my own mothering and continue to influence my grand-mothering. Each night during my childhood, mother snuggled me into bed asking that the Guardian Angels be at my side to enlighten, to guard, to rule, and to guide. Last evening as I tucked my youngest grandchild into his bed I was aware of how this nightly prayer to the angels, prayed by my mother with me, and prayed byimages me with my children, and now prayed by my daughter with her children, was being prayed by my grandson with me, his grandmother. During that precious time with my grandson I was aware that even though he had never known my mother during her lifetime, her prayerful influence had woven a spiritual inter-generational thread.  Continue reading