A Holiday Gift For You…Things My Mother Taught Me

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My mother has been gone for over twelve year. I have a lot of special memories of her and I am often flooded by them around the holidays. She loved holidays because it brought family together and she was the glue that held us close. She taught me a lot about life, that it’s good and that it’s difficult. In my mother’s case, a lot of what I learned from her was through example. She carried herself with a quiet dignity, a humility and beauty that evades most people. I think I miss that about her most of all. I have known no greater person than my mother. Her advice and example have served me well through my life and while I know I will never match her grace, it’s something to keep striving for. As my gift to you this holiday season, I will share some of the best advice she ever gave me:

The day doesn’t start until your bed is made 

You can be happy or you can right but most of the time you can’t be both 

Eat a salad 

Aliens exist 

Find something to laugh about every day 

Strength is not boastful

Learn new things all the time 

Vote…in every election no matter how big or small

Looking good is important because it makes you feel good about yourself

Never kick a dead cat (Translation: Don’t go back to something once it’s over) 

Stay current with news…and with the latest styles

Revenge is a dish best tasted cold 

Follow the rules

If you don’t take care of your own health…No one else will do it for you

Be independent and self sufficient (Translation: Don’t ever “need” a man) 

If you marry…don’t just love him…like him too

Don’t dwell, learn from your mistakes and, move on

Arrogance is ugly

Don’t use fear as an excuse to stay stuck

Daily gratitude is the key to a peaceful life

Find ways to express your creativity 

Opinions are cheap…everyone’s got one

If you can read…you can cook

Take a look around and don’t take what you have for granted

You can re-invent your life if you don’t like where it is headed

Try to always be truthful and if you can’t be truthful…don’t talk

Pop music is awful

Explanations are one thing and excuses are quite another

Have hobbies…lots and lots of hobbies

Don’t talk outside of the family (Translation: Don’t gossip about your family with outsiders) 

You don’t have to express every thought in your head

It’s called work for a reason…It’s not supposed to be fun

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other

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The Answer

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Acceptance only comes after awareness.

Acceptance is acknowledging what can’t be changed. 

Acceptance doesn’t mean liking something. 

Acceptance changes perspective.  

Acceptance is not resignation. 

Acceptance brings peace. 

Acceptance and attitude go hand in hand. 

Acceptance creates opportunities for growth. 

Acceptance requires tolerance. 

Acceptance is humbling. 

Acceptance is a process. 

Acceptance only happens with patience. 

Acceptance is an act of self-restraint. 

Acceptance is relinquishing control. 

No Funeral For The “Dead”

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Living with a chronic illness like sarcoidosis changes your life in unimaginable ways. You never think something like this will happen to you…until it does. Life inside an unreliable body forces you to live quite differently than you had once thought you would live. It changes your relationships. It changes your career goals. It makes your thinking foggy, slow and dull. It steals your energy and turns you inward. You are physically unable to do things you once thrived doing. You spend more time alone than you ever thought you would. You no longer recognize yourself. You have to be introduced to this new person and you’re not sure you like her at all.

This is what life with a chronic illness is like, especially in the beginning. Everything changes. It’s as if someone beamed you out of the world you know and put you on a planet you’ve never seen before. You don’t know how to find anything and everyone is speaking a foreign language. It’s confusing and forsaken and sometimes downright terrifying. Everything you once knew about yourself changes. You change….in body and mind. You must say goodbye to your old life, your old body and your old self. It feels as if a funeral is in order. But, you don’t get to have a funeral for your old self. You have to grieve quietly because even though you are now saddled with all the life changes that come with a chronic disease, other people don’t notice, don’t care or just don’t understand. It’s a solitary journey and a long goodbye to the life you thought you would have and the life you had planned for yourself.

Grieving is a very big part of living with a chronic illness and while harder in the beginning, it remains a lifelong endeavor. You go through many emotions and you follow the stages of grief as you step further into your new and unfamiliar world. You experience denial. This can’t be happening to you. You ignore your symptoms and the advice of your doctors. You might even skip or cancel doctor appointments. You tell yourself it won’t be that bad, that your life isn’t going to change. As your life does change, because it will change, you start to experience anger. It will change because you are physically unable to keep up, because the well people in your life start treating you differently, because you can’t think as fast as you once could, because you are simply unable to manage life the same way. Simple every day tasks like climbing a staircase or taking a shower require you to rest. You wonder why this is happening to you. You don’t think it is fair that you should be losing so much while other people thrive. Then you panic and start to bargain. You make promises to “do better”, to keep those doctor appointments, to be a nicer person if this would all just stop, to give up a bad habit if it would make this all go away. None of your efforts to trade work and so depression sinks in and this is a long stage.

The stage of depression is really when the reality of your circumstances sink in. You start to realize that this is a forever situation. You come to understand at your core, that your body isn’t going to work correctly anymore, that your brain betrays you with loss and confusion, that your energy and strength have been striped and you are now raw and weak and sad. You feel pathetic. You even hate yourself a little bit. You are resentful and bitter and cannot see a way out of this new and unforgiving world you have been plopped down into. There is no light and no hope because there is no going back to the way things used to be. It’s time to say a final goodbye.

Saying goodbye to who you used to be is the only way to figure who you are going to become but, it’s not easy. Acceptance, the final stage of your grief process, is not a simple task. It comes slowly at first. You realize that if you don’t let go of the past, it’s darkness will swallow you and you will drown in the deep sorrow you feel for what used to be. If you want to survive, you know you cannot do this. You must undertake the long process of saying farewell to your old world, your old body and your old life. It takes courage to say goodbye but as you do, you realize that this is very much like the loss of a loved one. You cannot control that this person is gone so you say goodbye, in your own way and in your own time but you say goodbye so that you too don’t die.

While there is no funeral for this kind of death, you experience your own way of parting from who you used to be. No one else is invited. It’s an extended goodbye and a very private affair. As you go through this process, it becomes bittersweet. You let go piece by piece and bit by bit but as you do, this new world you’ve been forced to live in starts to take shape and it begins to brighten. You start finding your way around. You’re not as lost as you used to be. You realize with that with acceptance, you might be able to build a new life, not the life you thought you’d have, but a life none the less and eventually hope returns.

Living with a chronic illness like sarcoidosis changes your life in unimaginable ways. It’s hard to live with a physically restricting, nearly invisible to the outsider, life long, pervasive, unyielding disease. There will always be fear. There will always be times of sadness. There will always be uncertainty. There will always be those who don’t understand. There will always be moments of loneliness. There will always be doubt. There is no way around these inevitabilities of this new life. They are part of your new world but once you begin to say goodbye to your old life and your old self, once you begin to accept your new reality, you begin to realize that it’s time to rebuild, to redefine who you are and to learn to love this new person emerging. You start to find value and purpose in new places and you start to live again.

Grief Lessons From A Dog’s Life

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A year ago this month I lost my heart dog, my soul mate with a fur coat, my four legged best friend. It’s been a challenging year of grief for me and with every passing day of her absence, I feel Zoey’s physical presence slipping away from me while memories of her continue to flow through my mind like water rolling down hill. In this past year the thought of Zoey is laced into most of my daily thoughts. There are reminders of her life all over my house. I see her sitting on the hill in the backyard and yet she’s not really there. I still step over her when I get out of the shower but she’s not there. At night when it’s time for sleep, I still listen for her snoring but I can’t hear it anymore. I can’t help but think of her when I spend time with my other dog, Abby. They were best friends. Abby misses her too. I miss them together.

Zoey was a beautiful animal. She had a long flowing fur coat and eyes that would melt the heart of even the iciest soul. She had a way about her that made you fall in love with her even if you’re not a dog person. There was a kindness in her that all humans could learn from. For over fourteen years, Zoey was a constant presence in my life and she was there for some pretty major life events…both good and bad. When I was happy, she shared in my joy and when I was sad, she comforted me. She knew me better than most people know me and I trusted her more than I trust a lot of people.

Throughout her life, Zoey had a way of teaching me things. She taught me patience when she was a puppy. Boy she was a biter…especially when she was teething. She taught me how to love unconditionally because there was never a time I got mad at her even when she did stupid things all dogs do. Zoey taught me about living in the moment. Even as she aged and mobility was more difficult, she still loved her walks and she stopped to sniff every mailbox. She never stopped playing. Even on her last day, I have pictures of her outside playing with Abby. She loved life to the very end and this is her legacy. This is perhaps the single greatest lesson she left for me. Cherish life because one day you won’t be here anymore. Love those around you as deeply and freely as you can and always be happy.

Zoey’s death and this past year without her have also taught me about the process of grieving. Grief allows us to say goodbye but more importantly, it allows us to honor those we have lost simply by remembering them. Grief is personal and while no two people do it exactly the same way, it is something we all must go through, if we are to experience love in our lives. If you don’t grieve, you haven’t loved.

I’ve also learned that grief is sneaky. You can feel it even when you don’t think you are! Something seemingly out of the blue reminds you of the loss and bam, suddenly you are filled with unexpected gut wrenching, soul crushing sorrow. I used to hate it when this would happen but now I have learned to accept it. I don’t like it but I know now that it simply means I was actually lucky. I was lucky to have had love so strong in my life that the absence of it cuts though me sometimes. I have learned that in order to have meaningful relationships, with humans or with dogs, you have to allow yourself be vulnerable enough to accept this kind of pain and if you don’t, it means you are holding a part of yourself back. You are missing out on the entirety of love’s purpose, of its gift and all that it has to offer.

Zoey’s physical absence is hard to cope with but the memory of her, the lessons she left me with, stay with me. When I act on these lessons, when I allow myself to love openly and without hesitation, when I seek the true beauty in every day joys otherwise taken for granted, when I put my faith in love and allow myself to experience all of its tender mercy and its inevitable heartache, then I am honoring Zoey’s memory because I become a living example of these lessons. This allows a part of her to stay alive in me. I can’t think there will ever be a day that I stop missing Zoey but, as time goes by, the pain of her loss slowly turns into gratitude for her life. I was lucky. I was blessed to have had the love of a creature as beautiful as my precious Zoey and for all the lessons her love taught me about how best to live my life. I will continue to honor Zoey’s memory and the life that she lived by trying to love and live well with joy and an open heart. It’s what she would want me to do.