Finding Our Footing - Balancing Between "Rain" Drops
“I was in the same moment confronted by an unbearable loss and also by the realization that there were people and community that were there to help me bear it.
The most traumatic thing is not suffering; it's suffering alone."
~Kate Braestrup from "Presence in the Wild"-
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Please hang in there for my back story spiel behind the re-posting of this December 31, 2010 blog post: The three reasons why I'm re-gifting it today.
It's one of my favorites--because it actually works! It keeps guiding me in the right direction. At least when I'm paying attention.
Reason #1. On Friday, Newtown, Connecticut happened. Is there anyone who can get through their everyday lives without thinking about those children & their parents--and not weep, worry, and think of their own families?
Reason #2. Then on Sunday morning I listened to Kate Braestrup talk about her work as a chaplain to game wardens in the parks and forests of Maine. What's the connection here, you ask?
"These are law enforcement officials in the wild, called in to respond to danger and disaster." Think of missing children, murders, abductions, accidents, brutal rape, or a parent with Alzheimer's who wanders away. Kate's job as a chaplain is to bring comfort to the distraught--when a family member is "suddenly lost--and needs to be found."
"Her work...takes her, as she describes it, to hinges of human experience, moments where some lives are altered or ended and others swung in wholly unpredicted directions. Kate Braestrup calls this her "ministry of presence" to life and death, lost and found.
And her life had its own unpredictable hinge in the sudden death of her state trooper husband, at the age of 39. She learned then, she says, about the finality of loss and the human capacity nevertheless to cope and to care."
Kate has seen it all. She's a woman we can all learn from--and as I listened to her interview on Sunday I couldn't fathom the existential serendipity that she was the scheduled guest on Sunday's NPR broadcast of "On Being". And my good fortune that I was up early enough to hear it. If you want to hear more, catch her interview or read its transcript on On Being.
When What We Fear the Most Materializes
Before Kate became a chaplain, she was a writer & a mom, married to a State Trooper. Imaging the worst was often on her mind.
Ms Braestrup: So, you know, what I would always think about was, "Well, if anything happened to Drew, I would just lose my mind." And what I discovered and what we all discovered is actually, you don't lose your mind.
Ms. Tippett: … and you didn't lose your mind, right?
Ms. Braestrup: No, and not only that, even if you wanted to, you don't get to lose your mind.
You have to stay and you have to do it without him. So the loss is going to be real, and there is no anesthesia. So that was a thing I learned.
What I also learned, however, is that there is something in us that knows how to do that. And I — that lesson gets repeated for me over and over when I do death notifications.
What I find is people know how to do this. They know how to absorb that, the impact of that blow. It knocks them down. And all I do [as a chaplain] is I go down with them and sit on the floor and be there with them and hold them if they want to be held.
And after about 20 minutes — and I was just talking to some wardens about this and we all agreed, it's almost never more than 20 minutes — they will come up.
They will come back to themselves, and they will ask a very sensible question, which is usually, "Where is he? When can I see him?"
I mean, to me there's something miraculous just about that. I mean, like a little tiny resurrection. Like how can you do that? And we're talking about, you know, women who've lost a child, which is one of those ones where I just, you know, think, "Oh, I'd lose my mind."
Ms. Braestrup: They don't, and they somehow manage to do it and to continue to be loving, meaningful beings in the world. And that's amazing. And there's something very encouraging in the sense of giving courage. There's something encouraging about that.
What you lose, you really lose. You don't get to have it back.
And, you know, all of the wonderful things that happened to me and happened to my children and the people who love us and my second husband, who's darling and the kids love him and I love him and all this, all of that is wonderful. And Drew is still dead.
And that's just how it is. And, you know, that doesn't actually need to be redeemed.
It can just be there. And, it doesn't have to be fixed. It can just be there. And at the same time, immediately almost, being held up and, I mean, literally held up, actually, at the time when [you literally fall over from grief].
Now for the Re-Gifting - One Size Fits All
Finding Our Footing Once Again in an Unpredictible Future - With Family, Friends, Food, a Little Fun, and Advice From Daniel Gilbert & Jeanne Marie Laskas' Mother
ZeZe and ZaZa - Always Looking on the Bright Side
On Sunday afternoon I went to a dear colleague's retirement party.
Reason #3. My friend ZeZe was there, and out of the blue he began to tell me what an impression this two-year old post has made on him!
Mostly because of Dan Gilbert's advice: "We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. We get more happiness from experiences than from durable goods. Forget about spending money on jewelry--give your sweetie the best gift of all: Time spent together doing something special. Like a trip!" It worked for ZeZe! A birthday gift trip to Mexico for ZaZa.
This is one of my favorite posts, too. Not so much for Gilbert's advice, but for Jeanne Marie Laskas' mother's advice: When in Doubt, Do the Positive.
Advice You Can Bank On from Dan Gilbert & Jeanne Marie Laskas' Mother
We're nearing the last day of the year. Soon we'll see the shortest & darkest of days, and OMG the sun is finally shining and it's going to reach 50 degrees today! Could this be a sign?
It's been another year of unspeakable devastation, heartache, & sadness--wrought by both humans & by nature. Newtown, Connecticut. Hurricane Sandy. Economic uncertainties, job losses, business closures, home foreclosures. Scaling down. Uncertain futures. Limited job prospects for new college grads who are saddled with unprecedented steep student loans. Serious family illnesses. Unexpected gut-wrenching deaths. It's a wonder how we all just keep-on-keeping-on.
But, it's also been a year of weddings, welcoming new babies to the world, delirious dancing, gorgeous giggling grandchildren, lots of hugs, graduations, family gatherings, hanging out with friends for an evening of cards and games, cooking with the family, and this list could go on and on. I like Phil Stopol's attitude--he's one of the "greatest generation", an 88 year-old who fought in World War II--and who I hope will soon celebrate his 63th wedding anniversary on Christmas day. Another example of Phil's positive attitude-here.
And yet, I've spent a year writing about eating right and exercising in order to stay healthy, perhaps reverse illness, lift your spirits, and just plain feel strong and good. What's up with that?
Here's why: Whether we like it or not, we are all connected to each other. When things fall apart for our family, our friends, our co-workers, our community--we hurt right along with them--as they do with us.
There's so much we have NO control over. But heck, we can always control what goes into our mouths. We can always control how much we move our bodies--yes, that's code word for exercise.
The way I look at it--it's a gift to everyone--and I mean everyone--when we can stay healthy, maintain a positive attitude, and have the energy to be present for those (including ourselves) who are hit by the uncontrollable curveballs that life always throws us--whether we like or not.
Your kids, your spouse, your co-workers, your friends have more than enough on their worry plates these days--they don't need to add you to the pile. Do them a favor and take care of your health--it's at least one thing you (mostly) have control over. And being in control of something, is the best mood lifter out there.
Daniel Gilbert: As Bad as Things Get--It Always Gets Better--It's the Uncertainty That's Making Us Miserable
I'm a research geek--I own up to it. Dan Gilbert, is the well-known Harvard research psychologist who specializes in figuring out what makes us happy and what makes us miserable. He's my go-to guy when I want an attitude adjustment. I hope his words can put into perspective whatever current worries happen to be on your plate this year.
What Gilbert learned when his own life fell apart. Or, how did he got into the happiness research business in the first place.
"Within a short period of time, my mentor passed away, my mother died, my marriage fell apart and my teenage son developed problems in school. What I soon found was that as bad as my situation was, it wasn't devastating. I went on.
One day, I had lunch with a friend who was also going through difficult times. I told him: "If you'd have asked me a year ago how I'd deal with all this, I'd have predicted that I couldn't get out of bed in the morning."
The truth is, bad things don't affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That's true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either." Dan Gilbert
We're Clueless When It Comes to Our Own Worst Nightmares!
Think of your worst nightmare. The loss of your spouse, financial ruin, the unspeakable stuff I refuse to even write, a life-threatening disease. According to Gilbert, we're lousy predictors of our own unhappiness. When the unthinkable happens, we somehow get through it. He cites countless studies that show "a large majority of people who endure major trauma (wars, car accidents, rapes) in their lives will return successfully to their pre-trauma emotional states--and that many of them will report that they ended up happier than they were before the trauma."
How can that be?
For one thing, we change across time; the person you are when your are imaging what would happen if your nightmare came true, isn't the same person who ends up dealing with it first-hand. We learn to adapt--we just get used to things. And thankfully, we have a built-in "psychological immune system" that helps us through the big negative events like job loss, or the death of a spouse. Unfortunately, it doesn't work so well for the day-to-day insults, like car break-downs, and over-flowing toilets. That's where we do lose it.
We're also great at rationalizing. "It was a boring dead-end job, anyway. If I hadn't gotten laid-off I never would have had a chance to go back to school." "She never was right for me anyway." We have exceptional talent in finding ways to soften the blow.
And then there's the "I'm not the only one" trump card. If we've got buddies in the same boat--it's not so bad. When you're the only one in dire straits, that's a different story.
What Really Makes Us Unhappy is the Unknown
"An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait. That's because people feel worse when something bad might occur, than when something bad finally does occur. It's the not knowing that is making us sick." Daniel Gilbert
A University of Michigan study considered the emotional adjustment of colostomy patients. One group underwent permanent colostomies, another group had colostomies that might be reversed one day. Six months after the operations, those who had the permanent colostomies were happier than those who thought they could have a chance for reversal.
"Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug. But we can't come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don't yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait." Daniel Gilbert
So, What Really Does Make Us the Happiest?
Here's what the research says. Pay attention and invest your time accordingly.
Yeah, we do need money, but not as much as we might think we need. If you're poor, a little money will absolutely buy a lot of happiness. And yes, we do all need the basics, like shelter, food, and some security. Those who think otherwise have never needed food stamps, been without health insurance, depended upon the generosity of family or friends, or lived for months on ramen noodles. But, after $75,000/a year, money won't buy you much more in the way of happiness--at least that's what Princeton economists say. Don't argue with me about that one.
"We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.
We know that it's significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That's what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won't make them as happy -- like money." Daniel Gilbert
Shopping for happiness?
Take the vacation, make a great gourmet meal and share it with friends, see a movie, play games with the fam. Forget about the expensive new couch or high-end car. Hands-down, the research says, we get more happiness from experiences than from durable goods. Read about one couple's experience living on way less.
"Another way I follow what I've learned from data is that I don't chase dollars. You couldn't pay me $100,000 to miss a play date with my granddaughters. That's not because I'm rich. That's because I know that a hundred grand won't make me as happy as nurturing my relationship with my granddaughters will." Daniel Gilbert
When in Doubt, Do the Positive! - Advice from Jeanne Marie Laskas
In the February 2011 issue of Prevention Jeanne Marie Laskas shares some wisdom she learned from her mom--another tool to put into our 2011 Toolbox.
"When in doubt, do the positive." This was my mother's favorite saying and a rule I live by. It's a handy one when you're faced with life's big dilemmas. Jeanne Marie Laskas
Laskas goes on to share the story of one of her life's "not-so-big dilemmas". She had a raging head cold. It was snowing to beat the band, and she was comfortably hunkered down--on the couch--in her bathrobe. She had no intentions of going out with her husband on that night to chaperone a Valentine's Day Dance for fifth and sixth graders.
There was no way she wanted to get off that couch--and she knew that no one would blame her for staying home--but then her husband pulled that "Do the Positive" card on her,
"When in doubt, do the positive. Remember? The positive is the active thing. Can't decide whether you're qualified for that new job? Just apply. Can't decide whether to go on that first blind date after a divorce or sit home in your pajamas? Go on the date." Jeanne Marie Laskas
Of course, Laskas goes to the dance. And it looks like it's going to be one big disastrous waste of her time. The kids aren't dancing--the boys are huddled in one group, the girls in another.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," my husband says. He pulls me onto the dance floor, twirls me to the growls of Lady Gaga. The kids are laughing, but then my husband does his Travolta spin, so I do a little hustle move, and soon the girls and some of the boys are out here with us, and the silliness of this night becomes a kind of freedom for us all.
The DJ "brings it down" to "Just the Way Your Are," and for the first time in more years than I care to count, I am dancing with my husband on Valentine's Day, cheek to cheek.
When in doubt, dance!" Jeanne Marie Laskas
That's exactly what I'll be doing tonight--this New Year's Eve 2011--dancing! I asked three couples to join us at our symphony hall for a bargain-priced evening with a Broadway diva performance, followed by some rock-n-roll dancing, noisemakers, and a kitschy balloon drop. This group then asked four more couples to join in the fun. So, we'll be dressed up and dancing tonight. When in doubt--do the positive--dance! What better way to ring in the the New Year?
When In Doubt - Do the Positive! Jeanne Marie Laskas' mother
The best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. Daniel Gilbert
"When you're down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.
You just call out my name,
And you know whereever I am
I'll come running, oh yeah baby
To see you again." James Taylor
Sitting silently beside a friend who is hurting may be the best gift we can give. Unknown
Happy New Year - 2013