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.

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.

 

Love Saved a Life

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

For quite some time following the death of our son, my husband’s thoughts were punctuated with self-loathing, resulting in occasions of suicide contemplation. While I, too, was struggling with grief and remorse, I knew my husband needed my help to reclaim his sense of worth and his desire to remain among the living. Up to that point in life, I had for the most part, taken for granted the giving and receiving of love between us. This crisis forced me to recognize that the giving of unconditional love could not be taken for granted, but instead required a concentrated effort. Now, years later, in retrospective contemplation, I reflect on the verbal and nonverbal techniques that were the most effective in helping my husband survive those turbulent days and nights; I most especially think about the efforts, which over the years, seem to have contributed significantly to the sustenance and growth of our longtime relationship. Below I note what I believe were the most effective ways I communicated unconditional love. I share with you what I feel is at the top of my list for creating a loving partnership following a relationship crisis.

Love Saved a Life
1) I learned to listen totally and completely

I recognized that to help my husband again see himself as worthy of living a good life, I needed to let him know how much I valued and appreciated him. My first counseling class taught me that one of the best ways to show I value someone is to listen attentively when that person speaks. It was also during this class I realized what a poor listener I actually was, for when I really began to listen to my husband, I discovered that he knew a lot about some very interesting topics and had some delightful stories to tell. As time went by, and even though I had previously heard many of his stories, each time I stopped what I was doing, made direct eye contact with him, and concentrated fully, not only on what he was saying, but also on him. As a result, I felt an increased sense of admiration for the man I married. In turn, he picked up not only my attentiveness but also my renewed admiration. This simple act seemed to slowly, but surely, return the gleam of light to the windows of his soul.

2) I learned the value of setting aside precious time just for the two of us

I gain a lot of pleasure from accomplishing tasks that I set my mind to completing, and because of that I can be quite task-orientated. Not long after I became aware of my need to help my husband emotionally and physically survive our crisis, I recognized that showing someone he or she is valued and appreciated requires allotting time to be totally available. To meet this goal we began a routine of being together, just the two of us, each Friday evening. We would pick a secluded table and take turns listening to each other express our grief and sorrow and share any forward movement we believed we had made along our healing journey. These times of intimate conversation positively and significantly impacted both of us and in many ways strengthened our relationship.

3) I learned the power of using therapeutic touch

During studies for my Master’s degree I explored the benefits of touch as a therapeutic modality. I learned that caring, loving touch is necessary for the survival of infants and for the maintenance of emotional and mental health at all ages. Nurturing, caring touch can increase endorphins; the body’s own pain relief. Similar to the effects of opiates, nurturing touch has the potential to create a euphoric response. Although previously I had not considered the value of touch as a means to convey care and acceptance, I began to put into practice what I learned about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of stroking an arm and rubbing a back. I also learned that when my husband’s grief was raw and he could not hear my words of love, he could still feel my touch and absorb the acceptance it conveyed.

I love the Nairobi proverb, “Hold a true friend with both eyes and with both hands.” February is considered the month to convey love since in many countries the feast day of St. Valentine is celebrated on February 14th. Perhaps this year on February 14th it may be appropriate to begin a practice of increasing the power of your love by applying the Nairobi proverb teachings. Gazing deeply into the eyes of the person you love, hold both this person’s hands in yours as you convey the words; “I value and appreciate all you are and all you do for me. I love you for all you do and for all you are.”

From Inner Peace to World Peace

Jane A. Simington, PhD., 2014

The signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 was a declaration to end all wars. As I ponder the reasons for the lack of peaceful outcomes that many believed would follow the signing of the Armistice, I recall the words of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who throughout Living Buddha, Living Christ, reminded us that Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world. People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result.

We each view the world through a framework carpentered from the religious, cultural, political, and educational systems into which we have been indoctrinated. We all have powerful priests, teachers, elders, parents, and friends who continually reinforce our initial teachings. And yet regardless of our indoctrination, our unique take on the world is a process of filtering our experiences. We examine every word we hear, every action we view, and we attach judgment in the form of a thought. In turn, those thoughts become our reality. We decide whether the event is good or bad, right or wrong. Shakespeare reminded us that our reality is a product of our thinking. Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

flying birdIn Ageless Body, Timeless Mind Deepak Chopra emphasized that our cells are constantly eves dropping on our thoughts. The neurochemicals produced by our thoughts move through the synapses and biochemical exchanges of our nervous systems and thus, because each muscle cell has an axon, the tail of a neuron attached to it, our thoughts affect our bodies. Our lives, are therefore today, a product of the thinking we have done. Because of the processes of electrochemical exchange, when we change our thoughts, we change our lives. By changing thoughts of, “this is bad,” “this is wrong,” to affirmations of “I love…,” “I value…,” we alter the neurochemicals moving throughout our bodies. While overnight, we will not make complete changes in these exchanges, when we practice daily to change any negative thought to more positive ones, in a short time we will notice alterations in our attitudes. Because thoughts create attitudes which result in behaviors, and behaviors become who we are, any changes in behaviors must always begin with changes in thinking.

Thoughts are energy, and because of that they are free-floating and radiate from us affecting others. This process is similar to what takes place when we throw a rock into the water. The impact made by the rock moves from the point of insertion, rippling eventually throughout the pond. Relative to the Critical Mass Theory, if enough of us increase our thoughts of peace, love and goodness, so as to out-weight the energy of the thoughts of war and hatred, the critical mass of peace will be reached and in turn that will be the outcome. When we truly recognize the connections between our thoughts and their outcomes we comprehend more clearly why it is often said that world peace being within.

 

Marcus Aurelius noted that, “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”As November 11th approaches and as we near the end of 2014, there is a great need to hear and respond to that wisdom and to heed the Great Cry to find harmony within, and to live in harmony with others. We must once again acknowledge as Chief Seattle did: All things are connected – like the blood that unites one family. What befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. We did not weave the web of life. We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

 

To transform in the direction of inner peace is to acknowledge that healing ourselves and working toward world peace is the same work. It is to affirm that the “Earth is Christos, is Buddha, is Allah, is Gaia.”

Embracing a Life of Joy and Promise

 

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

 
A number of years ago, a school therapist who worked with grieving and traumatized children told me her goal was to ensure that at the end of the school year each child in her programs would know that God loved them. I questioned whether it might be a better goal for each child to come to know self love, since it is difficult to see outside of ourselves what we do not see within.
 
Any major loss brings with it multiple subsequent losses, and most people, after experiencing a difficult circumstance, are surprised at how the tragedy has ripped away at their self worth. There is often a sense of having been taken apart and put together wrong, which in turn creates a need to redefine one’s identity and then come again to love and cherish this new self.
 
Learning to love and cherish a self that we are just beginning to know does not happen automatically, but with desire and focused effort we can reclaim a life that is rich with satisfying experiences. Here are some tried and true suggestions for ways to relearn how to love your new identity, cherish your new self and embrace a life that is filled with joy and promise.
 
Allow more pleasures.  The Talmud, The Jewish Book of Wisdom, states that “We will be called to account in the hereafter for all the God-given pleasures we have failed to enjoy.” Yet after the death of a loved one, we may need to come to terms with feelings of guilt when we allow ourselves to have fun, dress elegantly, wear jewelry, or buy something we admire. We may feel that to enjoy the pleasures of life is somehow dishonoring our grief and dishonoring the one who has died. It is, however, important to recognize that part of embracing a new life is to learn to celebrate as much as we mourn.
When describing his prison of war experiences, Victor Frankl noted that, for him, what often made the difference between life and death was to find one thing of beauty to focus on each day. Sometimes that would mean something as simple as focusing on the sun shining on a brass button of a soldiers’ uniform. 
 
Allow laughter back into your life. Laughter increases Endorphins, the body’s own pain relieving medicine, and likely also increases Interleukin 2. Interleukin 2 is a neuron-enzyme associated with cancer prevention. High levels of stress decrease Endorphins and Interleukin2 levels, and grief and trauma both place a tremendous amount of stress on every system of the body.
 
Some years after my son’s death, on hearing the laughter of my sisters, I realized that I had not laughed in a long time. Yes, I smiled, although barely, but by then, it had been years since I had enjoyed a good out-loud belly laugh, the kind recommended for health and healing. So beginning the very next morning, out in the prairie field, far away from the eyes and ears of anyone who might surmise that I was on the verge of insanity, I forced myself to laugh. I did it again and again and again, day after day after day, until once again laughter was able to find its way out of my body of its own accord.
 
Downplay the small stuff. Life can be lumpy but a lump in the breast is not the same as a lump in the gravy. Finding joy and inner peace means crossing the threshold from being a bundle of grievances, into being a force of honoring the goodness in life and in all. This little poem attributed to an unknown Tibetan Monk reminds me of the value in re-framing thoughts and shifting perspective.
 
“Once little cares annoyed me, when little cares were few;
And one fly in the ointment would make me fret and stew.
Now my life has taught me each little joy to prize;
And I am happy to find some ointment, in my little jar of flies.”
 
Spend time in nature. Being out in nature each day allows us to be a part of the rhythmic pattern of life and to recognize that the seasonal changes that are occurring around us also occur within us. The metaphoric teachings of nature remind us that even the worst and coldest winter is followed by spring. Spring turns to a time of productivity and eventually to a time of ripening and harvest.
 
Tragic events can knock us off course, making us feel anxious and ungrounded.  Spending time amidst the trees and flowers can help us regain our footing and allow us to again feel like we are walking among the living.
 
Live a life of gratitude. While in the beginning following a tragedy, it may be almost impossible to feel a sense of gratefulness, a large part of embracing a new identity and reclaiming a life of joy and promise, means to acknowledge all the goodness that is present all around us.
 embrace
Some years ago I began a practice described by Abe Arkhoff in The Illuminated Life which is to frequently call to mind at least one thing I was grateful for equal to the number of years I had lived. I found the practice helped shift my consciousness from concentrating on, because of my son’s death, what I no longer had, to focusing on the benefits and good things that were in my life. This practice helped me recognize that what I was grateful for then seemed to come to me in greater abundance.
 
If it is time for you to embrace life more fully and completely, I highly recommend applying the above techniques to your life. As you do so, I trust you will recognize that you have within you the power to reclaim a new identity and to live a life more filled with joy and promise.



A Father’s Love is Eternal

©Dr. Jane A. Simington PhD. June 1,2013

father   When I was a child, I loved to spend time with my father. Being the youngest girl in a large family, I learned early in life that if I wanted his undivided attention, it was up to me to be with him when he was alone. One misty morning as I tagged beside him on his walk to the far pasture, I heard my first echo. As my dad called to the cattle his words returned. Fascinated, I tried. What I sent, I received.

   Numerous times throughout my life I have pondered the Law of the Echo. What we send out returns to us. When we holler hello into a rain barrel, hello comes back.  When we holler “love” into the rain barrel “love,” comes back. The universe is a giant rain barrel from which the echo returns in the form that it is sent forth from us.  Continue reading