On Grief and Getting Your Haircut

pinwheels

Why is it that every time you get your haircut, you leave the salon feeling like you’ve lost a part of yourself?  Especially for those of us with long hair, getting a haircut can be a necessary but dreaded appointment.  Though your hair now feels fresh and smooth, you can’t help but feel a void when you run a brush over your head.

I had my haircut on Friday afternoon.  I needed at least three inches off due to my neglect to have a regular trim.  While the hairdresser was at work, I felt a twinge of grief looking at the floor and seeing my own hair discarded there on the cold tile.  Though my fresh cut looked great, I am still “missing” my hair.  Next week I probably won’t notice a difference, and next month I’ll get another haircut.

I am aware when I walk into the salon that some of my hair will be cut off and that it will surely grow back. Yet I still grieve in the week after the haircut. People who have a limb amputated due to trauma or diabetes are warned before surgery that when they wake up they will be missing a body part.  Yet they still grieve over the lost limb even after it has healed.  Each of us knows death is unavoidable, those we love will die and we will die ourselves.  Yet we still grieve when family and friends pass away.

The grief process is important, whether it’s over lost hair or the death of a loved one.  We grieve in order to make meaning out of loss.  Some of us may tend to hasten the process, in order to get it over with.  Yet if we let grief happen, if we surrender to the pain, the anger, and the remorse, we will be led to healing through our relationships with others and through faith.

There is an old theory (called the Kübler-Ross Model) that grief is linear.  The idea is that there are five stages of grief, which are made in progression:

Denial → Anger → Bargaining → Depression → Acceptance

However, there is another theory, created in part by my nursing professor P. Ann Solari-Twadell, that grief is not static, but cyclical and dynamic.  This theory, The Pinwheel Model Of Bereavement, argues that loss is like wind that blows a pinwheel methodically or chaotically (depending on the individual).  The grief process is different for each of us.  If we surrender to grief and let it have its way with us, we will make meaning of our loss and begin to heal.  Yet there will be times when we revisit that loss, and grieve anew.  Such as coming across a photo of someone who has passed, and feeling the stabbing pain of loss all over again.  We sink into despair but are pulled out again and again, rejoining life, through the love of others and our faith.  The pinwheel continues to spin.

As long as we live in this world, there will always be something or someone to lose.  The grief process, though individually different and constantly dynamic, is what leads us to healing.

Each person uniquely lives her or his loss by getting fully in touch with the lived experience of sorrow and by having the presence of another who will witness and be supportive in bereavement. – The Pinwheel Model of Bereavement

Stockinette Stitching

my mind is knitting

needles clicking

fingers whisking

yarn swishing

quickly, quickly

my mind is knitting

loopholes interlocking

a flurry of thoughts

and whirlwind wonderings

of what if’s and wherefore’s and when’s

my mind is knitting

supposing, apprehending

guessing and distressing

plotting each point

of maybe and might

with worn out hands

weaving the worry

right into the wool

my mind is knitting

fussing over threads

finding imperfects

in yesterday’s yarn

I’m knotting the past

fabricating the future

and forgetting the moment

where my feet always stand

my mind is still knitting

and I’ve turned every worry

into stockinette stitching

Have a Little More Hygge

hygge

For many of us hardworking, multi-tasking, over-achieving Americans, relaxation and self-care is not a frequent part of our tight schedules.  As a nurse, I work three twelve-hour shifts a week, and I use my days off to cram in all the tasks and chores I can’t do while I’m working.  Still, on my days off, I find it hard to be truly restful.

Recently, I read Meik Wiking’s new book, The Little Book of Hygge.   Wiking describes hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) as an atmosphere of coziness, well-being and “being with the people we love, a feeling of home.”  Wiking proposes one of the main reasons Denmark is consistently rated one of the happiest countries in the world is because of hygge.  The country strongly values comfort, pleasure and time spent with loved ones, or what they call hygge.  Wiking describes the many simple ways to have a hygge lifestyle, from soft lighting in your living room to wearing sweaters, playing board games with friends and eating cake.

After reading this book my roommate and I took a few “hygge days” for ourselves.  We called up a friend we had not seen in a while and enjoyed a leisurely brunch at an Austrian Cafe.  We sat on the couch under blankets reading, sipping tea, napping and online shopping.  We mixed flour, yeast, water and salt, waited for it to rise, and baked bread.  We drank a bottle of red wine and made Danish Meatballs in Curry (a recipe from The Little Book of Hygge).  After a truly hygge day spent with a close friend, I felt rejuvenated and at peace.

For those of us that schedule our days down to the hour, penciling in relaxation time may be helpful.  I am often distracted from being restful by the need to feel productive.  Instead of enjoying the moment with a cup of tea at the window, just looking out and thinking, I move quickly from one thing to another in order to check off the day’s to-do list.  By planning time for self-care or relaxation in advance, I am less likely to neglect it and more likely to view it as a productive part of my day.

In our busy, fast-paced lifestyles, it is necessary for our health, well-being and happiness to slow down and spend time in rest and comfort, especially with loved ones.  As Meik Wiking says, “Hygge is about making the most of what we have in abundance: the everyday.” 

How to Keep your Houseplants Alive (and other lessons)

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The best plant is the one someone has given you to grow, but it also has the most pressure to grow well. – Monica

  • Keep a watering schedule (water every Monday or every nine days for Aloe Vera)
  • Make the first watering the heaviest, especially when growing a bulb, then taper off
  • Provide adequate sunlight, put plants near the window
  • Do research! Learn about the plant before trying to grow it 
  • Be patient
  • Never over water (learn this one the hard way)
  • Rotate the pots so the plants grow evenly 
  • Provide good drainage for the soil 
  • Secretly talk to your plants in your head – it helps them grow!
  • Not every plant survives
  • Don’t let the leaves touch the window in February
  • Take photos to track progress
  • Don’t compare your plants to your father’s, who has 30+ years of experience 
  • Know who your true friends are (they take you and your plants seriously)
  • Keep your cat away

Advice provided by Monica, an Urban Plant Mother in Buena Park, Chicago

Winter and the Fight Against Inertia

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A Winter Run on the Chicago Lakeshore

The days are short, the air is cold, and the sky has been gray for weeks.  Getting out of bed in the morning is like trying to pull a snail out of it’s shell.  The cars and sidewalks are all colored the same shade of salt and grime.  Commutes to work are miserably cold, windy and dark – both ways.

It’s winter.

While I was in line for espresso this afternoon, I overheard the barista say “all we can do during these long winter months is fight inertia…just keep fighting inertia.”

I remembered that feeling: sluggishness, laziness, hopelessness.  After the holidays, a month into the new year, the daily grind can be depressing and we give up on our resolutions and wait on the couch for summer.  As the spirited barista said, we are fighting inertia.

This is my sixth Chicago winter, and the first winter I have felt a certain peace of mind. I’m not battling sluggishness and lethargy.  I’m not wrestling despair and drudgery.  Instead, I have found a quiet, calming energy in these chilly months.

There is not the pressure of the warmer months: to be outside, to make fabulous plans, to travel to Europe, to move to a new town, to start a new job.  Once the holiday bustle has ended, there is time to recenter oneself, focus on personal goals and strengthen meaningful relationships.

While life on the outside seems to be stuck in place, there is space for internal growth. Though the weather is dreary and below freezing, we can surround ourselves with close friends and create cozy memories.  Winter can be a time to slow down, reflect, dream, hope and be together.

Here’s a few winter activities to stimulate the mind and keep the heart content:

  • Read invigorating literature
  • Keep the house very clean
  • Light candles in the evening
  • Run outdoors (cold but exhilarating!)
  • Make plans with an old friend
  • Take a vitamin D supplement daily
  • Spend a day baking and watching movies with a close friend
  • Go to bed an hour earlier
  • Journal, write poetry, write anything
  • Go on a weekend ski trip
  • Watch the world from a coffee shop
  • Start a project (learn to knit, write your first novel)
  • Find a jazz club
  • Set personal goals for the year

 

Using a Pen in Friendship and Tips on Letter Writing

When was the last time you received a handwritten letter from a friend?  Were you delighted to see your name personally written on an envelope?  Did you save the letter in a box of keepsakes?

Writing letters is certainly not the best way to stay in touch.  It’s slow and time consuming.  It’s terrible for sharing news.  By the time your correspondent receives the letter they already know everything you wrote about from social media.

Yet the simple art of letter writing continues to inspire me (and many other Jane Austin fans!).   My brother is currently living in religious life and our communication is mostly done through this old fashioned correspondence.  Yet our relationship continues to grow despite not seeing each other and rarely talking on the phone.  In letters, we are able to be truthful and vulnerable.  There are none of the distractions one has when talking face to face.  There is not the pressure to speak once one has been spoken too.  There is time to sit and write, one person at a time, about our lives.

A well written letter is a gift to your correspondent.  In your own words and handwriting, with your own style, a letter captures a moment in time.  Whether you are writing news to a distant friend, a note of appreciation to a coworker or a love letter to your beau, your handwritten words will be affecting and long lasting.  The gift of your writing, no matter how informal, is personal and meaningful.

This month, skip the store-bought Valentine’s Day card or birthday card.  Though you may not be an experienced writer or a good speller, your handwritten letter will be a joy to read, a change of pace for your correspondent and a treasured memento.

Tips on Letter Writing:

  • Write the letter in one sitting
  • Before you start, think about the general idea of what you want to say
  • Start off by setting the scene 
    • Where you are writing from
    • Why you decided to write
    • What the day is like
    • Updates on your job, your life, your hobbies
  • Write with confidence and without over thinking, write the truth
    • Share a memory you have with your correspondent
    • Write something you love about them
    • Write why you are grateful for your relationship
    • Quote lines from a poem or song that makes you think of them
  • Proofread, but don’t revise (what came out the first time is good enough!)
  • Write on lined notebook paper so your sentences don’t slant
  • Write in pen so the words don’t fade
  • Drop it in the mailbox the same day!

 

Next in Line for Your Bookshelf

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A Guide to Being Born

 Ramona Ausubel

I picked this one up for $5.99 in the sale section of my local bookstore.  I was amazed by Ausubel’s creativity, originality and the simplicity with which she speaks the truth about what it means to be human: to live, to love, to die.  A Guide to Being Born is a collection of short stories which artistically weave together the human experience.  Though Ausubel’s stories are disguised fantastically (such as a pregnant teen who believes all kinds of animals are developing inside her belly and a man who grows a “chest” of drawers) they speak the truth about life, love, loss, change and growth.  One of my favorite stories is about hundreds of grandmothers on a ship in the middle of the ocean.  During the journey, one grandmother in particular is able to give meaning to the life she lived and look back on those she loved with forgiveness and gratitude.  The point of view then shifts to a hospital room, where a family is holding hands and preparing for the extubation and imminent death of their beloved grandmother.  As they let her go, she is set free on her journey to the next world.  A Guide to Being Born is a wonderful book that invites the reader to ponder and enjoy life’s surprisingly beautiful transitions.

Why Write?

Mark Edmundson

This book immediately caught my attention as both information and inspirational.  Why Write? creatively and humorously explains how being a writer (if you really work at it) can lead to personal growth.  Though most of us may never be famous or published, Edmundson believes writing is important for both the young and the old, in order to learn, grow and connect with others.  With examples from the lives of some of the greatest writers and his own personal experiences, Edmundson teaches us why writing matters and how it can change us.

The Millennial’s Guide to Being Twenty-Something

  • Buy expensive espresso drinks you can’t afford because you’re not old enough to like coffee black yet.
  • Start writing your memoir but leave the back half empty.  Don’t publish anything until you’re thirty.
  • Overuse social media while you still can.
  • Wear high heels as often as possible (you finally have that dream shoe collection and plantar fasciitis isn’t stopping you yet).
  •  Dream about having children but be relieved you don’t have any yet.
  • Consider unfollowing the Today’s Hits Spotify station since you don’t know any of the music anymore.
  •  Build your 401K now or you’ll never retire.
  • Travel, travel, travel.
  • Begin encouraging your parents to clean out their home and consider downsizing (before you have to do it for them).
  • Buy books, one day you’ll have a personal library.
  • Know what your bad habits are and realize you’re getting too old to change.
  • Start over: get a new job, move to a new town, make new friends.
  •  Practice worrying: about contracting Ebola, getting hit by a city bus or the fate of your siblings.
  • Overeat while you still have a metabolism.
  • Keep a journal so you can laugh at all your problems in ten years.
  • Call your Grandma, its now or never.

Why You Should Have Coffee with Your Local Gang Banger

Have you ever been relaxing in a coffee shop and a hooded figure approaches you for money, a sandwich or your phone? If you live in a big city, your coffee shop is under the train station and you are reading without headphones in, you could easily be a victim of solicitation.  Usually when you notice this person you will bury your head in a book or your computer and hope not to make eye contact.  Still, sometimes, this person is audacious enough to approach you.  Then what?

Recently, a young man with an unshaven face and untrimmed nails approached me while I was writing in a coffee shop: “Sorry to interrupt you miss, but I am locked out of my car and I was wondering if I could use your phone to contact the dealer”.  Why me?  The shop was full. I should have worn my headphones.  What if he took my phone and ran?  What if while I was reaching for my phone he took my purse?  But he looked embarrassed and his voice was kind, so I sat up straight and mustered up something authoritative to say: “Okay, you can make a call, but you can’t move from this spot”.  I pulled out the chair next to me.

We sat there for the next two hours, waiting for the tow truck and talking about the Cubs and what it was like for him to grow up poor and Hispanic on the North Side. He told me how his parents were never around, how he dropped out of high school because none of it seemed important.  He was “human hunting” with the guys in his gang.  They had territories and guns and alcohol.  It was life or death, but it all seems stupid to him now.  He was shooting off guns on the streets of Chicago instead of doing homework.  He was just a kid, he didn’t know any other way.   He talked about how hard it was to get out of the gang; he had to move out of the city to distance himself from the pressure and the lifestyle.  Now he works in a mattress factory and his girlfriend gets mad when he doesn’t pay the bills on time.  He’s too disorganized, he never learned to turn in assignments in school, and he barely learned to read. He wishes people had a little more sympathy, because he works hard and has good intentions, but the foundation is missing.  He has a little boy who loves to read and he’s trying to teach him how important it is to do homework.

Violence.  We blame it on the gangs and the guns and the public schools and the summer heat.  Are these people who shoot each other on the streets not like you and me?  Do they not ache for belonging and love?  We have no one to blame but ourselves, for not planting peace in our children’s hearts and for not loving our neighbors.  I realized while having coffee with that former gang banger how uncomplicated it is: love is the foundation of peace.  Even the murderers and the thieves need a warm handshake, a smile, an ear to listen to their story and a cup of coffee in the morning.

The Winter Sky on Sunday Morning

soft blue and gray and purple

woven with wisps of white

like lavender and lace

the morning sky – still in her negligee

yawning – reaching – opening

to make way for the day

the air – cold and crisp and still

no traffic, no children, no dogs

just boots crunching over ice

starlings flit from tree to tree

it’s too early yet for couples

for parents and parents-to-be

they’re still tangled legs, warm sheets

blinds closed, this morning unseen

I walk beneath them – on the street

and watch the sky awake in modesty

she clothes herself in gauzy clouds

freezing rain falls fittingly

I hold warm coffee in my hand

let my nose fill with its steam

I feel an ache – a twinge – a tug

for him, and the distance in-between

yet she holds his heart – my world

close to her chest

there is one sun, one moon

painted on her breast

she hovers over him – the love I chose

one morning sky

keeps us close