Thanksgiving Festivals: A Time for Focused Appreciation

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

October, 2017

This evening, I lingered along the lakeshore path, marveling at the Autumn splendor of colored leaves dancing in the evening breeze, listening to the call of Canada Geese winging their way back to the safety of the water; and also, in awe of the brilliance of the soon-to-be-full moon. This Harvest Full Moon coincides with many harvest festivals in the Northern Hemisphere; and in Canada, it heralds the beginning of our Thanksgiving weekend.

I have great memories of many Thanksgiving feasts of the past; one of my favorites is in relation to focusing with appreciation on what I had wanted, rather than on what I did not want. Some years ago, when my eldest Grandson was about five years of age, I had asked him to help me finish setting the festive table by placing the knives and forks beside each plate. Some moments later, I returned to the dining room to see the results. The knife and fork had been placed beside his Granddad’s and my plates exactly as I had asked. The remainder pieces of silverware were scattered in various positions beside the other ten plates. I called him to me to emphasize how much I had appreciated how nicely he had placed the knives and forks beside his Granddad’s and my plates. I said nothing of the scattered silverware. Over the next half-hour, I caught glimpses of him making several trips back through the dining room; each time to rearrange to the best of his abilities, one or two more placements of knives and forks.

I am unsure if my Grandson recalls that event or even that day. It matters not; for I believe the lesson was mine and from it I learned the power of focusing on what I want, rather than on what I do not want. That Thanksgiving Day, nearly a decade ago, my Grandson taught me to appreciate even the smallest of blessings, and to recognize that when I do so, I am almost certain to get more of the good things in life.

As the Harvest Moon shines on you and your life, may you focus with appreciation on the good you have received, and may your gratefulness bring to you even more of what it is that you are most grateful for!

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

Being Grateful for Post-Traumatic Growth

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

During the month of October, many of us who live in countries of the Northern Hemisphere will gather in celebrations of gratefulness. For those who are newly bereaved, these days can add to their sense of loss and feelings of injustice. I clearly recall the first Thanksgiving celebrations after my son’s death. The closer the holiday came, the louder my inner voice chided, “What do I possibly have to be grateful for?” Now years later and only after much sorrow and having left few stones unturned in search of healing, I am aware that there are two aspects to grief: the destructive aspect, and the transformative aspect. While those who are now still in the early stages of grief, do not want to hear that their suffering will change and transform them; many who remain committed to achieving healing; and while it may take a long time, will at some point be able to acknowledge the personal and soulful transformation that resulted from their tragedy.

jane gratitude centre 1

Empirical research demonstrates that many people experience personal and spiritual growth following extreme trauma and bereavement circumstances.1  My own experiences and those of many I have helped through their grief and trauma, parallel the research findings. For most of us, the struggles to cope with the tragic events changed our priorities. What was once important became unimportant and what was once of no importance had become paramount. This shifting of importance seems especially true related to an increased appreciation of meaningful relationships.

For some of us, the shattering of specific religious beliefs was replaced with the acceptance of a broader and more flexible spirituality. For many, the need to rebuild shattered assumptions created an enhanced sense of the meaning of life and of the need to fulfill our life’s purpose. This ever-growing existential awareness led, in turn, to an enriched relationship with the Divine in self and in others; and after an initial period of being angry at God and feeling a deep sense of injustice, many developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the “God of now.” For many, this resulted only after there was a major reshaping of long-held ideas of God, of the Universe and of the Universal Order. In my particular case, the shifting and reshaping of these views deepened my sense of belonging within the greater plan of life.

After a time most who stay committed to their healing, recognize that the journey has changed them in many positive ways. Many report that they would never again want to go back to being what they were, personally and soulfully, prior to their tragedy; and while most of us wish we could have achieved the same personal and soulful growth in any other way, we are extremely grateful for all the experiences our suffering and healing has brought.

During October celebrations, many altars and table-centers will be decorated with fruits of the season. Prayers will be recited in gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. This Thanksgiving, let us also raise our voices for the greatest gifts we have received. Let there be songs and hymns of gratefulness for the post-traumatic growth and healing that we and each of our loved ones have received.

  1. Shaw A, Joseph S, Linley PA (2005).Religion, Spirituality and Posttraumatic Growth: A Systemic Review of the Literature, Journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture, March, 8(1):1-11.

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.

Threads of Gratefulness Woven within the Fabric of Life

©Jane A. Simington, PHD., October, 2014

“It is not a matter of brain damage; it is a matter of life or death.” Bill signed the consent; I was unconscious. The fall had fractured my skull and thrust my brain forward crashing it against the frontal portion of my cranium.

Post surgery, during moments of semi-consciousness, I became increasingly aware of my inability to see. Each time I slipped back into unconsciousness I begged three large Beings of Light to open my eyes. Weeks later, Bill told me that my failed attempts to force my swollen eyes open had caused me to become more and more agitated, to the point of where I was pulling out life supporting chest tubes.

jane gratitude centre 1

Those events occurred three years ago. While it took months to heal the many symptoms caused by a brain injury and the psychological effects of the trauma, today I am grateful for life and for a body and brain that function well. Every time I run along the lakeside, I recall the days when I had to be aware of the exact placement of each of my feet so as to ensure I would not fall. I am grateful to have regained balance. Each time I answer a student’s question, I breathe a silent “thank you,” knowing that both my long and short term memory are once again intact. I am thankful for my sight and hearing, especially because the location of the damage to my skull and brain makes the retaining of those senses a miraculous gift. I am grateful for my husband Bill who held and stroked me for three days and nights, assuring me he was there, and knowing his touch and reassurance were the only things that would calm my anxiety enough to keep me from pulling out tubes, and keep me from causing permanent damage to my eyes from my attempts to force them open.

As a nurse, when I worked with an unconscious patient I always believed that an unconscious person could hear what was being said to them. While I have little recall of most of my unconscious days, I do have some memory of Bill’s supporting words and because of my experience I will continue to encourage people to speak in loving and caring ways to those who are unconscious and to those who are dying.

I am grateful for what my time in the realm of the unconscious taught me about the Spirit World. For much of my life I had a belief in Spiritual Helpers. That belief has been substantiated and has become a knowing for I witnessed and was cared for by Spiritual Helpers when in a state of unconsciousness and I witnessed them once again after I gained consciousness. I now know, not just believe, that I have help and support from a spiritual realm.

October is the month when we pause to take stock of our abundance, and in turn give thanks for all we have received. I share my experiences and the gifts I garnered from those experiences trusting they will inspire you to reexamine your own difficult life events. When you do so, I encourage you to recognize and share with others all the golden threads of gratefulness that because of those events, are now beautiful parts of the wonderful fabric of your life story.

 

Gratitude

Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Research has shown life improvements that can stem from the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks makes people happier, more resilient.  It strengthens relationships, improves health, and it reduces stress.

Let me start by expressing my gratitude.  Thank you to all who have supported my work, my husband, my daughters, my staff, all who have read my books, taken my training and used my resources. Each has helped to move forward my desire to make this world a more healed place. For that I am thankful.

The Miracle of Gratefulness

When thou dost ask me a blessing, I’ll kneel down and ask thee forgiveness.”
                         ~William Shakespeare- King Lear

“Give us this day our daily bread” had, for me, always been a prayer of both requesting and of gratitude. Among my fondest memories of childhood are my memories of smell. Primary of these are the aromas that wafted from mother’s homemade bread. Enshrined deep within the recesses of my brain are the sights and sounds that encompass those delectable whiffs. Growing up in a large farming family, we had limited material wealth, but of bread we were assured. Bread filled the Roger’s Golden Syrup pails that mother secured into the little red wagon to insure their safe delivery, by my brothers and me, to our father and his harvesting crews. Bread, which filled those same Roger’s Golden Syrup pails, fed our hungry bellies during school days. And warm newly baked bread greeted us as we arrived home on frigid prairie winter afternoons. Bread was central to our survival, and it was central to our celebration. While bread graced every meal, and the numerous snack times between, special breads announced festivity. Sweet buns awaited the Christmas Eve or the Easter Vigil mass. Their appearance indicated the time of fasting and abstinence had ended. Continue reading