Saturday, June 3, 2017

Death – The Shock Stage

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My dad died March 15, 2017 at 3:51 p.m.  By a chance of fate, I was with him when he died.  It seemed that the minute or two leading to his final breath were in slow motion and went on forever, suspended in time, as we approach the finality of his time here. Frozen in that moment, my husband and I stood there by his bedside, holding him. Again, what might have been only seconds gave into a feeling of a long, long pause. The world stopped at 3:51pm. The world we knew. The quiet of the moment quickly left as we “came to” enough to realize we had to communicate with the others who had been holding vigil. Trying to come back into the reality was tough, as we were both numb, shocked. Now what? My husband called my brother to let him know and asked him to go pick up our mother who had not left our dad’s bedside, except only minutes before after being encouraged to go get some rest while we sat with dad.

Image result for grief imagesIn a quiet, surreal place, we sat with dad until mom arrived – time stood still. I wasn’t tracking time or anything, as my mind was “offline”. Even with all the expectation of dad’s impending death, at this moment there was no thinking, or planning or organizing. It was just walking through the motions as we did one task at a time. At one point, as people gathered by my dads bedside, my sister-in-law took my mom’s phone and began calling people as they had planned she would.  I didn’t do anything. I just was there watching the scene, feeling sensory overload, not really in the scene, frozen.

And as we gathered together in dad’s room, others started arriving – dad’s priest, the hospice social worker and nurse and then, finally, the mortuary staff. The vigil continued until dad left and then with nothing more to do, feeling the stark void, we headed to our home place where people were gathering.  It is all a blur.

In my sensory overload state, I couldn’t help but notice as family gathered, the room began to fill. Watching from afar, as I sat there in the midst, I noted the phones going off throughout the room, loud and intrusive. The noise level continued to build with a crescendo as the conversation picked up speed and volume. The calls for each family member, from their own circle of people, were rolling in. As if managing the calls on one phone weren’t enough, people were calling my mom and she would hand me the phone. Holding two phones, I would talk to her caller, but then she would decide she could talk too. The connections in that moment, went way beyond managing it. We just did our best to respond, going through the movements.  At moments, I would retreat. Needing quiet I would take a moment and disappear to the next room, in my mom’s bedroom. Staying there only for a minute or two, or five or ten, I am not sure, before going back out into the family room.

Everyone does grief differently. Everyone experiences death differently.  Of course, this death was my dad.  And even if it was the right order, (He was 84 years old and the first one to die in our family, including extended family on both sides.), and he was, “Now out of pain,” and “Now in a better place.” And “It was for the best.” And “He was out of his suffering.”  And, “He lived a good life.” And all those things people say to you . . . all those things that make some sense, didn’t make sense at this moment. 

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All of this was part of the sensory overload, my shock symptoms.  Too many people, too much noise, too many connections via phone conversations and texts.  No time to sit and be still.  Let’s talk about dad.  Let’s share some memories.  Can we just sit still and talk about dad, our dad, the dad that raised us, taught us so much, shared his values with us, disappointed us at times, made us proud, always supported us?  Whatever the feelings – can we just talk? Everyone does their grief differently.  Some want to talk.  Some want to distract from the raw pain by doing things that don’t matter or doing the things that do matter. Some want to avoid it altogether and leave. Some, like me, want to talk about it with those I am closest to, with those that have the same memories. Some, like me, find they have no energy to take care of anyone else at the moment. They just can’t do it.  They can’t worry about making others feel better. Some experience all of the above at different points. Some have other ways to deal with their pain.  Some aren’t feeling anything right now and going through the motions is the easiest way to get through it.  Most do experience feelings of numbness.  How can we let this in all at once?  It is our protection.

Related imageThere is no right or wrong to the grief process. I do think it is important to be mindful of what you, yourself, are experiencing, and honor it. I was surprised at how I didn’t have the energy to give to anyone. I wasn’t able to answer emails and text messages. I finally sat down to answer text messages a week or two later. I didn’t have it in me to talk to anyone unless talking to that person would give me energy. I had one friend who had a similar story as my dad’s story, text me and I wanted to connect with her.  I wanted to talk to my cousin who had some stories to tell me about my dad. But mostly, I didn’t want to talk to people. I didn’t want to “chat”.  I didn’t have it in me to make people feel more comfortable with the raw pain of death.  So I honored that and took my time.

I thought I had accepted the inevitable and was ready for dad to move on. He had no quality of life with his disease. It wasn’t until his death, that I could really allow myself to grieve; grieve all that was slowly taken away these past two years, grieve the loss of my dad and all he brought to my world during his lifetime; grieve the person that is no longer here.  Of course, in my shock state I have only begun this process.  I hope to be accepting of where I am in the moment, not judging of it, but aware in a mindful way of what stage I might be in, what my needs are in the moment, and give myself permission to be wherever I am at this moment.  After all, in death that is all we really can do. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Boost your Brain in 2017 – Be Silent

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As I write this, our Mindful Approach to Living course is going on and we are getting ready for the day-long retreat – a Day of Silence.  I love the idea of dedicating a “Day of Silence” on a regular basis. The course is designed to develop a habit of committing to a moment of silence, daily, through the formal practice of mindfulness – sitting in silence, focusing on our breath, and being in the here and now.  It is a time that we shut off our phones, don’t let anything interrupt us, and sit, silently, intentionally focused on the here and now –perhaps by focusing on the breath, the body, or just dwelling in choiceless awareness – being aware of all that is going on in our moment.  The day-long retreat is an opportunity to extend the practice of being silent for the day.  It is hoped that after completing the eight-week course, participants have developed a pattern of sitting for a committed period of time, daily.  It is through this process of developing the habit of sitting that we may find ourselves yearning for that “sitting” time, this time of silence as we experience coming home to ourselves over and over again.

If that isn’t enough to entice us to consider the practice of having some silence, silence apparently has more for us than the possibility of peace of mind.  Studies show that silence has positive effects on our brains.  Silence produces new brains cells, activates brain memory and encourages self-reflection. (Mikel, 2016)  This might not be all that surprising if you consider that research has correlated noise levels to increased rates of sleep lost, heart disease and tinnitus.  (Gross, 2016) Other studies have linked noise pollution with hearing loss as well.

Image result for noise pollution imagesThese results of the benefits of silence surprised scientists as they were initially focusing on the effects of noise on the brain. They used various types of noises: short bursts of sound, music or white noise. The control group of mice who had two hours of silence per day showed the brain changes. (Rosca, 2016) Another study found changes in the brain during the pauses between the noise – when the environment was quiet.  (Mikel, 2016)  In the first study, two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus.  This is the area of the brain that is related to the formation of memory involving the senses.  The control group of mice that had silence showed the changes in the brain that were long-lasting.  Scientists are hopeful that these findings may lead to potential treatments for dementia or depression.  But regardless, it can impact us right now in our daily lives.

Other research findings found that people with short periods of “noiselessness” between sounds were in a more relaxed state.  (Rosca, 2016)  The other side of this is that noise is auditory stimulation and it impacts us. Noise forces our brain to listen to the sounds and process it whether we are aware or not.  Sounds waves vibrate the ear bone, transmitting this movement to the cochlea.  The cochlea transmits this to the brain through electrical signals. The body reacts to these signals deeply even in the midst of sleep.  Research shows that sound first activates the amygdalae, clusters of neurons in the temporal lobes which are associated with memory formation and emotion.  This activation prompts immediate release of stress hormones such as cortisol.  People who experience a consistently loud environment, home or at work, often experience high levels of stress hormones in their system.  (Gross, 2016) 

Nonetheless, we all have a lot of noise going on in our world in many different mediums.  It is time to pay attention to this situation.  True silence is becoming a difficult commodity to happen upon.  We have to decide to make it a priority and instill quiet time into our lives. With that opportunity of silence, we are allowed the opportunity to listen to what is going on inside us and have time for self-reflection and just being with ourselves.  What better gift could we give ourselves in 2017 than connecting with ourselves?   


Gross, D. A. (2016, July 7). Retrieved from
Mikel, B. (2016, July 11). Retrieved from
Rosca, J. (2016, July 13). Retrieved from

Monday, November 21, 2016

Really Be “Home” for the Holidays- Be Mindful.

It’s that time of the year again.  The holidays are upon us and many of us will undoubtedly be saying, “Where did the year go?” or, “I can’t believe it is time for the holidays again.” And as we recount the holidays of the last few years, what do we actually recall? What mattered?

For this holiday season, I am invoking the commitment to spend my time being as present as possible.  That means that I am going to be working on being aware of the moment at hand, observing, and being present, here and now.  It is so easy to get checked in with my thoughts that ultimately lead, one thought to another, and soon I am on the train of thoughts leading down the tracks of a future fear or worry.  These thoughts often lead to an adrenaline dumping response such as, “I have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done” or “I wish I didn’t have to do this.” Or, “How will I get it all done?”  Those thoughts, thoughts of worry and anxiety of the future, take my moments from the here and now and carry me off on a train that leads me down the track of nowhere that will bring peace of mind or peace in the moment. 

Or we might get on the train of the past, thoughts with family gatherings bringing up our old tapes and family dynamics, past family wounds, thought of missing a certain loved one as we remember when they were here. Or it may be the thoughts about how we wish our family unit looked more like others.  We may find ourselves on the train of thoughts playing out the narratives that we imagine will play out and how we plan to respond if Aunt Jo dare say just one more thing about my weight again. But without a doubt, getting on that train, past or future, takes me from my moment here and now.  It takes me away from the present now.   And the present is all I have and it is where peace of mind can be found. So how does one keep themselves present in the here and how?

1st.  Be aware, observing thoughts and feelings and noticing the thoughts and feelings. Start to notice when I get on the train of the past or the future rather than being present right here and right now.  Realize we are not our thoughts.  We are not our feelings.  Nor are our thoughts or our feelings the fact.   They are just thoughts and feelings.

2nd. Go into moments of here and now with no expectations.  Expectations often come from judgments.  If I assume I know what is good or bad, (which is a label and a judgment) then I also want something to be a certain way. If I just notice what is here and now and observe it, but don’t label it as good or bad, I can be in the moment and participate in that moment fully.  Through fully participating we can actually remember what we did during that moment because we weren’t on a train of thoughts around the past or the future.  Nor were we busy rejecting our moment or attaching to a “high” moment because we wanted something to go a certain way.  Just be in the moment, observe it, and neutrally participate in it.  Just as the highs come, so do the lows, but if we cannot be partial to them, we can just let ourselves be in the moment.

3rdTake time during this season to have your own quiet time, your own meditation time, as well as your own self-care.  Keep yourself revive and nourished so you stay energized and able to manage the stress of the holiday season. Self-care is more necessary when time and activities are escalated.  Monitor your sleep, your food intake, your exercise and keep yourself from being vulnerable.  If we are less vulnerable we have the energy and the skills to manage our stress in a much more effective way.
4th.  Each day find something to dwell in gratitude about.  Appreciating what we have, dwelling on our positive things can shift our mood and our perspectives.  Find those little moments that you can enjoy and sit in them, relishing them.

And finally, just be “home” for the holidays in the here and now.  No matter where you are at, be present, observe, notice.  Use your senses to keep you present in your moment - smell the scents, hear the sounds, taste the foods, feel the textures, watch the scenery playing out in front of you.  Make a choice to “really be home” for the holidays and you may find the holidays to be more laid back, easy going, and enjoyable than ever before.  And you might actually remember the season as you walked solidly through each moment. Here’s to your moments this season.  And by the way, when Aunt Jo make the comment about your weight, notice the thoughts you have, notice the feelings you have.  And then let them go, they are just thoughts, they are just feelings.  We don’t have to do anything with them when they arise. Go back to being present in the moment.