This little light

Reflections on life and making it just a bit brighter

Miracles happen

It is Easter Sunday. I’m tucked into my chair in the corner of the dining room where I can watch the birds at the feeder and the deer stroll through the yard on their quest for easy food. The sky is a little grey.

On a normal year, this would be the first big family gathering of the new year. Our ‘snowbirds’ would just be arriving home from a winter away in the south and we would be eager for a get-together. It would be loud and boisterous, big hugs in greeting, the smell of a roasting ham filling the air, a big bundle of pussywillows in a vase on the table…

But this is not a normal year. It’s our first big holiday without Dad and we are all dealing with that in our own ways. There won’t be any big gathering just yet. I think it will be easier if our first spring gathering happens next week or the week after when there isn’t the weight of a holiday to bear as well.

It’s painfully quiet in our house this morning. My Sweet is working the night shift so he’s sleeping, our youngest son is still laying in bed reading – keeping quiet so as not to disturb the slumbering one. And I am sitting and reflecting on Easter Sunday and miracles.

I had one the other day…a miracle…a visitation of sorts.
I’ve been a little melancholy the past week or so and it’s just dawning on me now that it’s likely because Easter was approaching and it’s the first milestone holiday without Dad. I was sitting in this same chair, gazing out the front window watching my front yard and feeling more than a little morose.
It started snowing Wednesday night and by Friday morning there was a foot of fresh, heavy snow covering everything and big, clumpy gobs of it continued to fall. Every living thing should have been looking for shelter from the storm.

But our yard was thick with birds. I’ve never seen so many birds in our yard at one time. The ground and the naked, leafless lilac bushes were covered with juncos. There were tiny red polls scattered among the juncos and blue jays swooped in. Robins started appearing, at least a dozen, their backs charcoal grey, darker than usual with the wet weather and rusty breasts standing out boldly against the white background. Two different kinds of woodpeckers perched on the feeder. Tiny, bright red house finches hopped among the other little birds on the ground. And most surprising of all, a stunning little falcon – a kestrel – perched up high surveying the scene below.
Even from inside the house I could hear them, cheerfully chirping while the snow continued to fall.

I sat and watched while the tears slid down my cheeks because all I could think was that Dad had sent them.

At one point in the day, my neighbour ventured over to drop off something. I watched her walk slowly up the driveway, stopping to look around at all the birds. When she finally got to the back door, she said, “What is going on with all the birds in your yard?!” So I knew it wasn’t just me that recognized something unusual was happening.

The yard was like that all day long, the sun had set and I could still see birds hopping around on the snow.
At times throughout the day, my heart was so full of love and gratitude I could barely stand it. I closed my eyes, overwhelmed, and said, “Thanks for the visit Dad. I’ve missed you. I love you.” And I could feel his hands on my shoulders, pulling me close for a hug and I could hear him say, “Love you too daughter.”

I’m sure lots of people will have lots of opinions and explanations for why our yard had so many birds. That’s fine. I know what I saw and I know what I felt.

Dad loved birds. As impatient and blustery as he was at times, he had the patience to sit outside in the cold with a bit of seed cupped in his hands not moving a muscle, until finally, the chickadees would get comfortable enough with his presence to sit and eat from his hands. It was something special to watch.

Maybe all those birds in my yard wasn’t a miracle. Maybe there really is a perfectly reasonable, rational explanation for it. Maybe I’m just fooling myself and trying to ease my grief. It doesn’t matter because I know what I choose to believe.

When I was 16, my Granny gave me a beautiful cross-stitched picture. It still hangs in my home. It’s a picture of a little blue bird with a red breast, wings spread below the branch of a pine tree. The verse reads, “If I keep a green bough in my heart, a singing bird will come.”

Practicing gratitude keeps that green bough alive in my heart. It brings a little bird who sings of love and hope. It brings joy even when there is sorrow. It is why I can see a miracle in a flock of visiting birds and still feel the comfort of a hug from my father.

I’ll hold my little miracle close for a long time, I’m sure. It will encourage me to keep tending that green bough in my heart and if I do, maybe the birds will keep visiting.

Love and light…

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Emotional apologies

A week or so ago, I was watching the news and a woman was recounting the story of a traumatic event. It was clear she was struggling with the words and when her voice finally broke and tears fell, she choked out two words…”I’m sorry.”

I thought, “What on earth does she have to apologize for? If I was in her shoes I’d be crying too.”

I watched a similar scene play out several times over the next week: someone feeling pain or sorrow, shedding a few tears, and promptly apologizing for crying. It made me realize something.

I am becoming very unapologetic for my tears.

Over the past few months of Dad’s illness and then his death, I have cried more tears than I knew I had in me to cry. I cried when someone tried to be kind to me at work. I cried when I saw Dad’s memorial card on the shelf. I cried when I noticed the Red Polls were back at the bird feeder and I couldn’t call Dad and tell him. I cried after a birthday party for my father-in-law when I realized there would be no more birthday celebrations with my Dad.

Before all this happened, if something made me sad enough to cry in public, I was just like the woman I saw on TV. I would apologize. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to cry.”

Why do we do that? Why do we think we need to bottle up those feelings and keep them hidden?

The short answer is we shouldn’t and we don’t.

Tears are a fundamental part of the grieving and healing process.

Do you know what tears are made of? I thought they were just salt water, but they aren’t.

Tears produced during emotional crying have a chemical composition which differs from other types of tears. They contain significantly greater quantities of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin, and the elements potassium and manganese.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crying

Let me simplify that for you a bit. Your tears are filled with hormones, one of which plays a vital role in the effectiveness of our immune system, one is responsible for our feelings of stress, and the other produces a natural form of morphine to relieve pain.

Think of it this way: if you don’t cry when you feel pain, you can get sick, your stress level stays high, and the pain continues. If you allow yourself to cry, you can avoid illness, relieve stress, and reduce your pain.

Tell me again, why we should hold back our tears? And why should we apologize for doing something that will eventually make us feel better?

There is folk wisdom supported by scientific evidence that putting salt on a wound can help it heal.

One reason why salt water is widely used for wound healing is that it helps kill certain types of bacteria …. When these bacteria are killed, the wound site is cleaned… infection is inhibited, so that it will not spread into the other skin areas or getting worse. Killing the infesting bacteria also helps the new skin cells to grow faster and more properly. Once this proper growth is promoted, the wounded site will eventually heal. Decreasing the inflammation means reducing the caused pain. While putting salt water on the wound site will badly sting at first, it helps future painful sensation around the wound site, which is very helpful for numerous people.
http://woundcaresociety.org/salt-water-make-wounds-heal-faster

I think you can draw your own parallels between tears and salt water, a physical wound and an emotional wound, between bacteria and bitterness.

While my grief has been unwelcome, unwanted, and immensely unpleasant, it is also teaching me valuable lessons about myself and about life. I won’t apologize for shedding tears for a man I loved deeply and miss daily. Apologies are an offering of reconciliation when I have done something hurtful or harmful. My tears are neither and I won’t apologize for them anymore.

Maybe you shouldn’t either.

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Lessons in control from a squirrel

Sunday morning I was sitting in my chair working on a crochet project. The house was quiet, really quiet. My Sweet is working the night shift this week and so he sleeps during the day, or at least he tries to.

I’m keeping an eye on the cat because she’s been a little demanding lately, scratching at closed doors that she thinks need opening. I’m watching her because I don’t want her scratching at the bedroom door where My Sweet sleeps.

She jumps up onto the window sill which is actually at ground level (I’m in the living room downstairs). No sooner does she nudge the curtains over her head so she can see out, but her tail starts to twitch – a sure sign something worth hunting is in her sight.

Moments later a wild and furious chittering noise erupts from outside the window. A squirrel. A very angry squirrel.

I’m worried the noise will wake up My Sweet and he has a hard enough time sleeping during the day without that racket going on. I look out the window and that squirrel is glaring at the cat, like SHE is the interloper on HIS territory.

I go upstairs and open the front door to shoo him away. He must have sensed danger and darted under the front doorstep. The fact that he is safe from me does not deter him from continuing to chirp at me from his place of safety. Apparently I am also intruding on his territory.

That squirrel, thinking that he has every right to occupy the front yard, reminds me of someone.

Me.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I care about was talking about a decision they had made. It was a decision that would affect quite a number of people and not necessarily in a good way. There was so much potential for things to go wrong that I was worried.

But I didn’t just worry. No, I fretted and stewed and kept myself awake half the night worrying myself sick about the ‘what if’s’.

What if they can’t afford it? What if this isn’t what they really want? What if it is too much for their family? What if…what if…what if…

I concocted a dozen scenarios, each one increasing in its level of harm and affect until what I was imagining was wildly improbable. That didn’t stop my mind from running away with me and taking me on a very unpleasant and, quite frankly, terrifying trip. Once I’ve gotten on the mind-train to Nosleepforyouville, I can’t get off. I ride in circles until I am physically sick, emotionally exhausted, and hungover (of sorts) the next day.

I will always be the first person to say I have control issues. And I’m opinionated. I might not always say it aloud, but if there’s something going on I’ll have an opinion about it. Be fair, so do you. We all have opinions on things, we just don’t always voice them.

The trouble isn’t so much in having an opinion, it isn’t even in voicing an opinion. The trouble is in taking ownership of a decision that isn’t mine – just like the squirrel staking claim to the front porch and yard which don’t belong to him no matter how much he chatters about it.

So why do I do it? I wish I knew. Partly, I think, it’s because I learned the fine art of worrying from my Dad. He could overthink, worry, fret, and stew like nobody else and he held a Master of Disaster Studies from the School of Worst Case Scenario. If I carry on this way, it won’t be long before the student surpasses her master. The thing is, I don’t really want to. Struggling with worry and anxiety at 2 in the morning isn’t fun and it sure isn’t productive.

For the past year or so, I’ve been trying some new things to help me give up my quest to rule the world and solve all it’s woes. Breathing techniques and meditation have helped. Intentionally practicing gratitude has also made a significantly positive impact.

Believe it or not, the squirrel helped too.

He was a wonderful little reminder that just because I want to take control of a situation doesn’t really mean that I can, or should. And I should add that a single, simple conversation cleared up a lot of the concerns I had over the situation in question. Another reminder that having an open and honest conversation was far more productive than having an imaginary conversation on a runaway train.

Who knew you could learn so much from a squirrel?

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Love at the end…

I thought I knew about love.

I thought I knew about loss.

I did. And I didn’t.

What I am feeling now, experiencing now, is something I didn’t know about. This kind of love requires more than I knew I had in me to give.

We are having a long goodbye. Dad is so near to the end that every time he wakes, his disappointment is almost palpable. The awake times are lessening but the disappointment grows.

He has said goodbye to everyone, some of us more than once. We have begun to turn away visitors and well-wishers. No one, least of all Dad, has the strength for another goodbye.

Love at the end looks and feels different.

It is holding Dad’s hand in yours and then struggling to commit that picture to memory, to burn it into your consciousness, so you never forget; never forget the feel of his soft, warm skin, his hand curled gently around yours.

It is laying close beside him, stroking his arm and listening to his breathing, holding your own while you wait anxiously between his lengthening pauses. You hope and pray for another breath, conflicted by your hope and prayer that, please God, grant Dad’s prayer and let it be his last.

It is holding a cup near, so Dad can sip from a straw and then turning away so he won’t see the sorrow on your face because the effort of drinking is so taxing for him.

It is also finding a bag of fresh muffins hanging on the door, left by a neighbour who wants to help and doesn’t know what else to do. It is deliveries of lemon loaf, cut vegetables, and meat and cheese.

Love at the end comes in countless phone calls, offers of support…if you need anything at all…

It is sitting and going through old photo albums, sharing your memories, laughing, crying, and laughing some more.

It is watching our mother struggle with her own goodbyes, her own conflicted emotions, and her determination to fulfill Dad’s wish of dying at home.

It is realizing that you really have come full circle to where you are the strength your father needs, but no longer has; that you are the care giver, doing for him what he can no longer do for himself.

It is emotional transparency where there is no desire to hide your feelings. It is honest, heartfelt words about our true feelings; feelings we always knew were there, but didn’t always put into words.

It is finding a way to put yourself aside, not thinking of your own comfort, but only that of the one you love.

It is bone-weariness at times and emotional exhaustion.

It is a heart so full, the only way to stop it from bursting is to relieve the pressure with more tears, a seemingly bottomless well of tears.

I thought I knew about love.

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Practicing gratitude

At the end of December I started thinking about the New Year and what I wanted to accomplish and if I should try to set a resolution for myself. I tossed it around for a while because I don’t really like New Year’s resolutions. I have never been truly successful with them and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

About that same time, likely millions of other people on the planet were considering New Year’s resolutions. The cynicism on Facebook was evidence of this. The mocking memes of ‘New Year New Me” were everywhere. It wasn’t exactly encouraging and the inner cynic in me wasn’t disagreeing with the uselessness of resolutions. Useless for me – lots of people love resolutions and I’m fine with that, truly, they just aren’t for me.

What I have been successful with in the past though, are short term commitments. If you’ve been with me for a while, you may remember my Proust Questionnaire series that led me to write this blog. I began to consider a series of short term resolutions instead of one big resolution for the entire year.

I have been going through a bit (that’s an understatement) of a soul awakening over the past few months. I decided I needed to work on the inner me more intentionally. And while I don’t really like resolutions, I couldn’t get past the push in my mind that I needed to commit to something on January first, but what?

What happened was a lightbulb moment while I was scrolling through Pinterest. See – social media is good for something! I came upon a series of journal prompts for 30 Days of Gratitude. There is no shortage of articles or books about the importance of practicing gratitude and the positive effects it can have.

So I thought, “Why not?” 30 Days of Gratitude it is and because I need to be accountable to someone other than myself, I committed to posting every day on my blog’s Facebook page.

Today is Day 22.

I have done my best to dig deep and come up with thoughtful answers for the daily prompts. It isn’t always easy. I mean, have you ever considered what texture you’re grateful for? That was Day 12. Or what song you’re grateful for? That was Day 21.

I have noticed a difference in myself because of this exercise in intentional gratitude. When faced with something challenging, I find myself looking for something in the situation to be grateful for. I especially notice myself doing it at work when I am dealing with something difficult or challenging.

I don’t know if it has been helping any of the people who see the posts on Facebook, except for one person…my Mom. Until her internet went wonky, she was trying to follow each one and come up with her own responses. Finding things to be grateful for is a bit of a theme in our lives and our family right now.

My Dad is very near to the end of his life. Very near. That became painfully clear to me yesterday while I was with him. It was shocking because I thought my Dad would just live forever. Sometimes, forever is not as long as we thought.

21 days to build a habit, that’s what we are told. Yesterday was Day 21 of my gratitude project. It has maybe been one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Here’s why.

Yesterday, when I sat on the bed beside my Dad and he held my hand, we talked. We talked and we cried and we laughed and then we did all those things again. And in every moment, every heartbreaking moment, I found I could be grateful.

Grateful for our time together. Grateful for the life he and my Mom gave us. Grateful for his presence. Grateful for his love. Just grateful.

While Dad rested, Mom and I sat on the couch and we did the same thing. We held hands and we talked and we cried and we laughed. And I was still grateful. Grateful for her love. Grateful for her dedication. Grateful for her strength . Grateful for her unwavering faith. So grateful.

If I hadn’t been practicing an attitude of gratitude for the past few weeks, I’m not sure how I would have handled yesterday, but I think it would have been different. As hard as it was, I will be forever grateful, too, for that time yesterday.

There have been times when I looked at the prompt for the day and thought to myself, “Well that’s kind of silly.” And maybe some of them have been silly, but there has been something profoundly transformative in searching for gratitude in ordinary things, the things we are surrounded by every day and sometimes barely notice. There are wonderful blessings to be found in the things of daily life, the little things we take for granted.

If you’re looking for something that will make a difference in your life, in your attitude, in your approach to daily living, I would encourage you to try practicing intentional gratitude for 30 days. Put a pad of paper by your bed and before you go to sleep write down just one thing you were truly grateful for that day. Do it for 30 days. I can almost guarantee it will change you. I know it changed me.

Love and light to you all my friends…with gratitude…

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Christmas Wishes

It’s Christmas Eve!

I LOVE Christmas Eve! Growing up, in our house, Christmas Eve was the big event. It was when all the magic and wonder and excitement happened. Christmas Day was about turkey dinner and visiting. But Christmas Eve!

With our children, we tended to do more on Christmas Day, in the tradition of my husband’s family, but I have never lost my love of Christmas Eve. When our oldest son married and had children, as the in-law’s it was easier to take on Christmas Eve as our time to celebrate together. I confess, I was happy to have it back as the centre of our attention.

Sometime this afternoon, our house will fill with the sound of our children and grandchildren. We will share a meal (salmon – because we have lots of it and it is our daughter-in-law’s favourite), we will open gifts, we will play, and we will enjoy each other’s presence. It will be wonderful!

Tomorrow, I will spend the day with my parents. It will probably be a quiet day, but no less wonderful. It has been a difficult year for my parents. Dad has had some serious health issues and there were moments when we weren’t sure he would still be with us. But he is and tomorrow I intend to celebrate that and enjoy a day of sharing memories!

However you choose to celebrate the holidays, or if you choose to celebrate them at all, I hope that the love and peace that are so much a part of my Christmas traditions, find a way into your heart this season and bring a little light.

What follows is a poem I wrote a few years back as a gift for my family. We don’t often get to spend Christmas together anymore and it was one of those special years when most of us were together. It seemed a fitting gift and I hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas my friends!

With love and light,

Cathy

Our Christmas Traditions

T’was the night before Christmas
In Lizzy and Ot’s house,
The only creature not stirring
Was likely the mouse!

For everyone knew
In the house on the creek,
That Santa was coming,
They’d been waiting for weeks!

The kids had stopped fighting
Because Santa might see,
Lizzy’d baked lots of treats
And the star topped the tree.

Christmas happened the same
In the house every year,
The kids knew what was coming
And each one was all ears.

Any moment they knew
Ot’s head would tip high,
And he’d say he heard sleigh bells
And the kiddies would fly!

Down the hall to their rooms
And the doors would all close,
They huddled on beds
But one sound and they froze.

For out in the living room
Footsteps were falling
And a loud HO HO HO
Was merrily calling!

And then there was silence.
Not one sound could they hear.
Then Ot’s voice would call out
“All right kids – coast is clear!”

Right there in the living room
Tucked all ‘round the tree,
Were gifts piled on gifts
And their eyes filled with glee.

But no rush to the tree
Was ever made in this house,
The kids gathered ‘round Ot
Silent as a church mouse.

Ot picked up the black book,
Cleared his throat and would start
To tell an old story
They knew mostly by heart.

There was Joseph and Mary,
And the usual cast,
Some shepherds and angels
And a baby at last!

A baby named Jesus
God’s gift and the reason
For the peace and the joy
And the whole Christmas season.

With the story once more
Settled deep in each heart,
Ot would turn to the tree
And the gift giving would start.

In a flurry of paper
Of ribbons and bows,
The gifts were exchanged,
The night drew to a close.

But Christmas Eve hadn’t finished,
There was one more delight,
For out on the porch
Singing rose in the night.

Lizzy opened the door
And out in the snow
Were some Mennonite carollers
With their eyes all aglow!

Singing in harmony
Songs new and old,
Their gift to their neighbours,
Worth much more than gold.

And then it was over,
The kids hustled to their beds,
Ot and Lizzy collapsed
With their hands on their heads.

For tomorrow was Christmas
The house would be brimming
With family and grandkids
There for turkey and trimmings.

And so it continued
Much the same o’er the years,
Our family Christmases
With much laughter and few tears.

As I sit and reflect
On the gifts that we’d got,
The greatest of these
Came from Lizzy and Ot.

We all can remember
Some toys from the past,
Walking dolls and race tracks,
But not a one that would last.

The gifts that did last
Didn’t come wrapped with bows,
They were gifts of the heart
As each one of us knows.

Of course Lizzy and Ot
Taught their children to share,
So please know each gift here
Has been wrapped with great care.

There’s gifts here beyond
What your eyes can behold,
There’s treasures worth more
Than even silver or gold.

There’s faith, hope, and joy,
These won’t break or rust.
There’s tradition and love,
There’s peace and there’s trust.

The gifts of our childhood
The best that we’ve got,
We offer to our family
With thanks to Lizzy and Ot!
Merry Christmas everyone!

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Turning around a bad day…

Thursday night I fell into bed utterly exhausted. I had struggled to stay awake until 9:30, admitted defeat and trudged off to bed. No sooner did my head hit the pillow than my eyes popped open. I tried, oh how I tried to go to sleep. At 12:30, I got up and went to find an over-the-counter sleeping aid which I grudgingly took. I hate taking pills, but I needed to get some sleep and it just wasn’t happening on its own.

At 5:50, the first alarm went off. I whacked the snooze button twice before remembering I needed to be out of the house half an hour earlier than usual. I had agreed to take my neighbour’s dog to the groomer. No big deal, I’ve taken the him to town before, but holy Toledo, was it cold out! -32C with a frigid breeze!

The little dog refused to walk to the car in the cold; his little feet don’t like that kind of temperature and who could blame him, I don’t like it much either. So I packed him to the car and put him on the towel I had laid out on the back seat. Away we went, but I could hear him snuffling in the back seat while he tried to get his bearings.

KC is an old dog. He’s a sweet, affectionate little shi tzu, white and brown, the kind that look like a Star Wars Ewok. He is mostly blind and mostly deaf with a penchant for licking ankles. He snuffles a lot because he’s kind of fat which makes his breathing labored. And…he farts. So when we turned onto the highway and I got a whiff of eye-watering stench coming from the back seat, I figured poor old KC had just let one go. But the smell didn’t go away and I started to think maybe there was a little more than just passed gas going on.

I pulled off the highway into a rest stop and, praying I was wrong, opened the back door. KC had slid down onto the floor, leaving a trail of poo all over my leather seats. The towel I had so carefully laid down was shoved against the back of the seat. Nasty. Just plain nasty. And worse, as soon as I opened the door the cold arctic air whooshed in and froze that smeary poo solid.

I cleaned it up as best as I could, which wasn’t great because like I said, everything was frozen. Not for long though. I still had a 25 minute drive to town, giving the nasty on the backseat plenty of time to thaw. I dropped KC off, picked up a coffee, and went to work unable to quite get the smell out of my nose.

At lunch, I found my leather wipes in the trunk, frozen, of course. I pulled the roll out of the container and laid them on the dash to thaw. Which they did…one at a time…and I was able to get most of the mess off the back seat. I bought some carpet spray cleaner and saturated the messy spots on the floor. I figured that would freeze too, but at least the chemicals in the cleaner would cover any lingering smell.

After lunch, I was finishing up the company Christmas cards so they could be sent out in time to make it to the recipients before Christmas Day. I took the big paper cutter, set it on the new table in the arrangement office and proceeded to trim each card to size. I had done about half the cards when I heard a strange sound. Kind of like the scritchy sound a snow shovel makes when you push it into a crusty snow bank – that kind of sound. I looked up and my stomach dropped.

There was a HUGE scratch in the finish on the new table. I hadn’t realized the paper cutter had a broken foot and a screw was exposed which gouged right through the beautiful, shiny finish.

I admit my first thought was not good and I won’t repeat it. My second thought was “How can I hide this?” (Don’t judge me, I was seriously sleep deprived.) My third thought was, “Don’t be an idiot, you can’t hide this. Suck it up and take your medicine.”

So I did. I confessed to the ruination of the new table. I felt terrible.

After work I went straight home, not so I could wallow in self-pity, although I admit, I felt like doing a little wallowing. No, I changed clothes, put on a smile, and went to a Christmas party! And you know what? I had fun.

The day up to that point had been so monumentally awful that it was funny. I wasn’t quite ready to laugh about it, but I could certainly understand how everyone else was finding the entire debacle entertaining.

Some days are like that. It seems like they are lousy from the minute you wake up, or in my case, from the minute I couldn’t fall asleep.

It’s all about choices though. Every time something went badly, I chose how I responded. I chose between getting angry and frustrated or I taking a breath of crisp, Canadian winter air, and forging ahead, and finding something good to take forward.

Anger and frustration are awfully heavy traveling companions. The longer you carry them, the heavier they get. Letting go of negativity and embracing honesty and humility lightened my load and my mood. I left the anger and the frustration, along with a well-soiled towel, in a dumpster at the side of the road and carried on with compassion for a little dog who was feeling stressed. I left my pride with the paper-trimmings and experienced mercy and grace.

A lot went wrong and I could have been miserable about it, but my mood would have only spread to those around me. I think that by shrugging at the awfulness of it all and still finding a way to smile, those around me responded in kind.

My boss and my coworker put my car in the garage at work to warm it up, then washed it and helped me clean the interior. Both my bosses were very understanding about the table and didn’t make me feel bad about it. I left work still feeling bad about the table, but feeling great about the people I work for and with.

It seemed like a really bad day, but it didn’t really turn out that badly. More often than we realize, attitude is everything. Perspective helps too. Nothing that happened was earth-shattering, nothing had life-altering consequences.

Next time you seem to be having a bad day, take a moment to catch your breath, and check your attitude and perspective. A little adjustment could make all the difference.

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When good is better than great…

A couple of days ago I heard the story of a volunteer firefighter. He lived in a town where there were regular firefighters, but if the emergency required extra manpower the volunteers were called out. He wanted to serve his community, but he also had dreams of rushing into a massive blaze and saving a life. He dreamed of being heroic in the eyes of his family and his community.

One night, his pager went off and he rushed to the scene of a huge house fire, flames shooting from the windows of the second story. Here, he thought, was his chance to do something great!

The homeowner was already outside, watching the disaster unfold, distraught because her little dog was trapped inside. This was it – he would save the dog! But…no…another volunteer firefighter was sent inside to rescue the dog. He was sent in to retrieve a pair of shoes for the barefoot homeowner who was standing in the cold.

He did go in and bring out shoes, but when he gave them to the woman, she was rejoicing over her saved pet and didn’t seem to react when he offered her the shoes to make her more comfortable in the cold. He went home disappointed, deflated because he felt his contribution was insignificant.

Days later, a letter came to the fire department thanking the firefighters for their hard work and for saving her pet. The letter went on to offer special thanks to the firefighter who had brought her shoes to wear in the cold. It was a gesture that had touched her deeply and she was overwhelmed with gratitude for that act of thoughtfulness.

The volunteer firefighter learned a valuable lesson. Never overlook the opportunity to do something good because you are waiting to do something great. Great things only come along rarely, while there are opportunities to do good things many times every day.

I cannot get his words out of my mind.

Never overlook the opportunity to do something good because you are waiting to do something great.

Those words keep coming back to me. It is because there is a deep and wonderful lesson in those words, but not just for me.

Each one of us has the opportunity every single day to do something good. Most often, I think, they are small things, spare change dropped in the Salvation Army Christmas kettle, paying for someone else’s coffee in the drive-thru, or volunteering to shovel driveways for senior citizens. Maybe it is something as small as a smile and a wish to “have a good day”. Maybe your ‘good thing’ is just having a cup of tea ready for your partner when they get home from work.

Do you remember Aesop’s Fables? There was one story called the Crow and the Pitcher. The crow was very thirsty and there was a pitcher with some water in the bottom. The crow couldn’t reach the water and knew that if he tipped the pitcher over the water would soak into the ground before he could drink it. He dropped stones, one by one, into the pitcher until it raised the level of the water to where he could reach it and sip up a drink. The moral was necessity is the mother of creativity, but I think it can have a different meaning.

Maybe we and our small deeds of goodness are the stones. The crow is our neighbour, our friend, or even a stranger in need. We drop our stones into the pitcher until the one in need is restored, renewed, maybe even rescued. Some days one stone, one act of goodness, is all it might take, other days and for other people (maybe even for an entire community) it may take many stones to create the change that is needed.

But I do know one thing. It has to start with one – one stone, one act, one person willing to listen to their heart and do something.

This week I was able to do a good thing, I added a stone to a pitcher. If I had been acting alone it would have stayed just that, a good thing. But I was part of a group of local women, 180 in total, who each did a good thing which when added together accomplished a great thing!

180 women, each donating $100, and choosing a local charity to receive the donations. Our combined donations (individually good) will make a tremendous difference in our community (combined to be great). Being part of a local chapter of 100 Women Who Care is teaching me about the power of connection. It is an opportunity to offer a good deed and turn it into a great deed.

The truth is that the giver is not necessarily the best one to measure the impact of a good deed. That right belongs to the one on the receiving end. The firefighter thought his offering of shoes was of no importance, but the woman who received them didn’t feel that way.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good deed and don’t overlook the opportunity to do something good because you are waiting to do something great.

You can watch the firefighter’s TED talk here (it’s only 4 ½ minutes long): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sAQfzHBpRsc

You can check out the origins of the 100 Women Who Care movement here: http://www.100whocarealliance.org/about-us/history/

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Light from the dark places

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen died this week. While I may not have cared for his vocal stylings, you cannot deny the man was a gifted poet. The words above are lyrics from his song Anthem and the chorus has been resonating with me this morning.

The past few days have been some of the hardest days of my life. They have been days of uncertainty, days of worry, and days of anxiety. If I felt like my vessel was cracked before, the pressure of the past few days has left me with more stress fractures than I care to count.

I don’t really want to talk about the fear and the worry and the anxiety though. It was awful and I don’t want to relive those moments. What I want to do, what I need to do is focus on the good and sometimes miraculous things that happened, which the dark times only served to accentuate.

In those long and difficult days, I found reserves of strength I didn’t know I had and in the weakest moments when we were overwhelmed with emotion, we drew closer to each other, hugged, placed a hand on a shoulder. There is hardly a way to express what passes between people when they offer comfort and support through touch, but something definitely passes between us. Comfort, strength, courage, energy, and unbelievable love.

I watched my family come together to support the ones who were suffering the most. Not everyone was able to be there in person, but I can tell you I felt their love and prayers. When things were grim, my heart ached for them because I knew they wanted nothing more than to be there with us and as hard as it was to go through those days, it must have been harder to want to be there and not be able to.

We are proud people, my family. We are strong and stubborn and independent. We don’t care much to admit our weaknesses and while laughter comes often and easily, we are more likely to keep our struggles and our tears hidden. Not this week. Oh we still laughed, but we shed plenty of tears.

It may have been the first time in my life that I didn’t care if someone saw me cry. The tears were a reasonable response to the situation and honestly, not once did I think or care about the judgement of another for my tears. People are always apologizing to me at work for crying and I tell them, “Don’t apologize for your tears. It’s okay to cry and if you can’t cry in a funeral home, where can you cry?” Maybe I’ve said it enough times that I believe it for myself too, and now I’m adding hospitals to that list.

My Christian friends say that people are clay pots, imperfect with cracks from the struggles of life. They say that God’s love and light shine through the cracked places to offer light to those around us.

Leonard Cohen says the cracks are how the light gets inside too. We need an opening to let light in.

They’re both right. Love and light flow both ways, in and out.

It flows out of us to those in need when we show kindness, compassion, and caring to others. We share our light and love with those around us in both remarkable and ordinary ways. It is offered in hugs for the hurting, in donations to the food bank for the hungry, and in buying coffee for a stranger. It is shared through intentional deeds of friendship and neighborliness, and in random and spontaneous acts of kindness. It feels ridiculously good to be kind to someone. Think about the last time you did a kindness. I bet you smiled afterward. I bet you thought about that feeling many times throughout your day. I guarantee your kindness filled two cups – yours and the person on the receiving end.

After the struggle of the past week, I can tell you that being on the receiving end of the smallest of kindnesses is restorative and strengthening. Every hug, every rub of my shoulder, every thoughtful cup of coffee kept me from completely running out of whatever it was that kept me from falling to pieces. The nearness of family, the thoughts and prayers of those far away, the compassionate care of doctors and nurses, the hugs, the ‘I love you’s’…every bit of light and love sent in my – in our – direction made a difference.

While the struggles are not completely behind us yet, we are at least in a place where we can catch our breath. We can take time to rest a bit. We can reflect on how important family and friends and love and kindness are, and how grateful we are that we have an abundance of all of those things in our lives. And I will encourage us all to make sure our cups, our clay pots, our hearts, are filled up with light and love because you never know when you will need to share your abundance with another or use some of your stores to keep your own head above water. Fill your cup through baby cuddles, meditation, a walk in the woods, scripture, coffee with a friend…whatever works for you to restore and rejuvenate your soul.

Wishing you a day filled with light and love and kindness…

Cathy

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Thoughts on being kind

I woke up early this morning. My eyes popped open at 4:28am. That’s pretty specific, I know, but the first thing I saw was the glowing face of the clock beside me. I knew in an instant, with absolute certainty, that I wouldn’t be going back to sleep because my mind was already focused and spinning a hundred miles an hour. I could almost hear my brain clapping its hands at me saying, “Chop, chop! Wake up! We’ve got things to think about! Problems to solve! Worries to work on!”

And I was right, I did not go back to sleep. Oh, I tried for about twenty minutes to no avail, so here I sit. 5:40am. My first cup of coffee is down to the last cold sip. I’ve scrolled through my Facebook “newsfeed”. I use that term lightly – most of it was not news, but I like to try to keep up with what’s happening with the people I care about.

I looked at the pictures of our niece’s trip with her husband to the east coast. I wished happy birthday greetings to a former coworker and an old friend from high school. I read an article about nutrition and, yes, I watched a funny cat video. At one point, I scrolled past a post about an upcoming grief support group at the funeral home where I work and my mind turned (not for the first time this morning either) to the people we worked with yesterday: a man who lost his mother, a woman who lost her husband, a daughter who lost her mother, a daughter who lost her father, a young man who lost his mother. There were more, these are just the ones who walked through the door needing help.

While all of this was going on, a woman was working quietly in the background of our office. She is the interior decorator who is putting the final touches on the restoration and renovation work from the flood which ruined the building back in June. She asked how long I have worked at the funeral home. A little more than two years I told her. “I heard you talking to those ladies that just came in,” she said, “ I think it must take a very special kind of person to work here. You must need to be very patient and kind.”

I suppose that may be true, but I know the people we are working with are devastated by loss. Their minds are scattered and it is difficult for them to focus because all they can think of is the gaping hole left by loss. Their emotions are heightened and sharpened by the pain they are feeling which means they sometimes seem impatient and angry. They are sometimes haggard and tired from spending countless days at the bedside of a loved one in palliative care before the end finally came. They are in shock from the inexplicable pain of a sudden loss from a car accident, an overdose, a suicide, a heart attack…

I know all these things about the people who walk into my workplace. I know I need to be kinder, more patient, more understanding because I know they are going through an incredibly difficult time. Every time the phone rings or someone approaches the entry door, I assume they have just experienced a loss. It’s a safe assumption because people avoid funeral homes like the plague until they are forced to do business there.

But those same people take their grief with them when they leave the funeral home. It is their constant companion when they go to the grocery store because they have finally remembered they need to eat something. It is still with them when they go to the bank or the post office or the insurance office. And in all of these places they will likely deal with people who don’t automatically know about the loss they have just experienced. They may not appreciate that even though they have just explained something twice that they will have to explain it once more and maybe even write it down before that person will comprehend. They won’t understand the tears that come so quickly when they bump into someone coming out the door because their head is bowed low with grief. And while my response is patience and kindness and compassion, the reaction from others on the street may be impatience or frustration or even anger.

But if those people had even the slightest clue about what the grieving person is going through, I would be willing to bet that not one of them would respond in a way that would add to that person’s suffering.

We pass people on the street every day, never knowing what is going on in their lives. How can we know? And does it matter if we know? Why does knowing affect the way we respond?

What does it cost us to treat everyone with kindness, patience, and compassion?

Not one single thing.

What could it accomplish? Everything.

Not only do you feel better in yourself when you treat someone else kindly, but you have no idea the effect your smile, your kind words, your little extra measure of patience may mean to the person on the receiving end.

I live and work in a relatively small community (population about 10000). There are two funeral homes in town that combined serve somewhere upwards of 300 families each year. Multiply that number by the potential number of family members and friends a person has. That ought to give you an idea of how many people experience the pain and grief that death brings. This doesn’t even take into consideration all of the people who have loved ones who are sick or struggling with other painful issues. That’s a lot of people in pain, people going through difficult times. But in passing, they look just like you and I. There aren’t always obvious clues that make us pause in our rushing and busyness to offer kindness and understanding.

Keep that in mind today.

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