The Power of Connection

connection

Warning: This may be difficult for some of you to read, since in this post I recall a traumatic experience. I discuss loss, grief and witnessing a horrific accident in which someone lost his life.

 

I really didn’t want to talk or think about what happened and the low point where I found myself. I wanted to move on. The last thing I wanted to do was write about it. So I felt conflicted when someone I trusted asked,

“What if your experience can help someone else?”

I felt the push and pull of this question. On the one hand, I just wanted to run away rather than recount my experience, but on the other hand, I wanted to reach out and share in the hopes that it might be useful to someone else. Perhaps it would make someone else feel less alone.

Connection? When I’m at my lowest, I don’t want to connect. I want to retreat.

I’ve been in a really good place lately, focused, energetic, positive, grateful and consistent with my self care routine. But I recently had a series of emotional sucker punches that brought me down.

A coworker and then a friend passed away, both suddenly, within a short period of time.

I was riding the wave of grief and the uncertainty of life in the best way I could and felt connected to myself, my coworkers, my family and friends. Although I knew the next few days would be sad and difficult, I knew I needed to connect with others in this “collective pain.”

In an excerpt from “Braving The Wilderness,” Brené Brown writes,

“Funerals, in fact, are one of the most powerful examples of collective pain. They feature in a surprising finding from my research on trust. When I asked participants to identify three to five specific behaviors that their friends, family, and colleagues do that raise their level of trust with them, funerals always emerged in the top three responses. Funerals matter. Showing up to them matters. And funerals matter not just to the people grieving, but to everyone who is there. The collective pain (and sometimes joy) we experience when gathering in any way to celebrate the end of a life is perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of inextricable connection. Death, loss, and grief are the great equalizers.”

 

Connection. At times, so difficult yet incredibly healing. Showing up matters.

I felt grateful that I followed Brene’s advice.

I had no idea what would happen in just a few days.

What seemed like an ordinary Tuesday morning drive to work turned out to be an even bigger test of my humanity and willingness to connect regardless of what I was feeling.

I witnessed an extremely violent, one vehicle accident just two cars ahead of me on a steep, hilly road. My husband stopped our car and we both got out to assess the scene while I called for help. It was difficult to take in what we were seeing.

It was as if a bomb went off. There were parts of the vehicle and its contents, a dump truck with a full load of soil, strewn across front yards and down the hill. The sound of the accident must have been incredibly loud, but we didn’t hear a thing. I guess our brains can only take in so much trauma at once.

When I was able to process the scene once again, I heard the sound of rushing liquid. My eyes quickly focused on the diesel fuel pouring of the truck. A fire extinguisher quickly emerged with a homeowner from his house and the 911 operator instructed us to keep it nearby. Help was on the way.

When I focused on the driver, I noticed he was pinned in his truck surrounded by the crushed cab and another bystander was kneeling beside him applying pressure to his injuries.

My emotions changed from sheer panic and fear to compassion the instant I heard the driver’s voice.

He was alive and talking. The humanity of the situation overwhelmed me and I found myself  struggling with how I was going to help, not whether or not I would. It felt like it was taking forever for help to arrive.

I stepped into the mud that surrounded the truck and to where the driver could hear me. I told him that help was on the way, that he was doing a great job of continuing to breathe, and that we were with him.

Connection. It’s what makes us human, gives us hope and makes us feel alive.

The emergency personnel finally arrived. They took our names and asked us to leave.

Although the driver didn’t make it, I hope he felt a sense of hope and connection in that moment. I hope it brought a sense of peace to his sister when I shared with her that her brother did not die alone.

The details of the accident were like a movie replaying in my mind over and over again, even one week later, when my husband and I were going away for a prearranged overnight stay at a local state park. I really didn’t want to go.  I wasn’t in the mood, I just wanted to disconnect, from everyone and everything.

But I chose to connect.

I connected to my husband and shared how I was feeling with him (and warned him that he was in for a “treat” because I wasn’t in a very good mood). It took me by surprise when he later told me that he thought that that was actually considerate of me.

Connection is love.

I connected to the love that my son and his fiancé shared in giving us the overnight accommodations for a very thoughtful Christmas gift. They know we value experiences over things. Of course we weren’t going to stay home!

The weather was dreary and cold, but my husband and I made the best of our overnight visit to the park. We walked around the zoo when we arrived, ate dinner in bed while watching TV and hiked the next morning, since it was the better of the two days, weather wise.

I felt better. The fresh air and exercise were just what I needed! Connecting to nature really reestablishes our place in this world. The trip reminded me that we are all interconnected to something larger than ourselves.

We are all part of a common humanity.

I wonder if my son and his fiancé know just what a special gift that was!

 

Up until posting, I had reservations about sharing. My negative self talk voice was particularly dominant:

“There are many, many people who have gone through way worse losses than me, so why would what I have to say be meaningful?”

“Who do I think I am?”

“People may think I’m being overly dramatic, attention seeking, etc.”

“Reading my post might actually trigger someone into having a negative reaction (the opposite of my intention).”

“My loved ones may worry about me and feel burdened by my sharing.”

 

I decided to share because the louder voice in me, the one that drowns out fear, is one of love, connection and courage!

“There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise.”

~Brené Brown

 

Thanks for reading. I know it can be difficult to connect when we want to retreat. Take a break when you need one and connect when you can. There are many opportunities to connect in many different situations.

I think that leaning on each other can make us stronger!

Please feel free to share and comment.

Jeanne

Xox

 

Here are some links to things that I’ve found helpful in the last few weeks, a video, a podcast and all things Brené:

Meditation for Mental Balance and Grounding, Yoga with Adriene

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0nZ1ZLephQ&list=WL

 

Fighting Depression with Social Connection, Johann Hari

Johann talks about the importance of having a tribe and the positive mental health effects of the social connection.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/10-happier-with-dan-harris/id1087147821

 

All things Brené!

She has been my biggest cheerleader. Her research and personal anecdotes are encouraging and will give you the strength and the tools to be courageous. Check out her website below and her new Netflix special!

https://brenebrown.com/

 

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Dear Mom

Pink Rose in the sun

Now I know why you didn’t like to get your picture taken. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself in pictures. I take them anyway, since looking at them brings me joy and reminds me that I have a great life!

I know why you spent all of your time with your family at the expense of outside friendships. I want to focus on the people who are most important to me. Some of my friends are like family to me.

Now I know why you always preferred to work in an office where you were the only woman. Relationships, particularly with other women,  can be difficult. They can be complicated and painful, and at the same time they can be joyful and loving. I have learned a lot about myself through the lens of my relationships with others.

I understand how it annoyed you when dad made a mess of your kitchen when he cooked. I’m glad that familial roles have blurred and aren’t as clearly defined anymore. I think that this has made us relate in a different, more intimate way as a family.

I know that you loved me equally as much as my older brother and sisters, even if you didn’t exactly plan to have a fourth child. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly love another child as much as my first-born son. My heart found a way when my daughter was born.

I know how happy it made you when all of your children got along with each other (we still do)! I love that mine do and take comfort that they will always have each other.

Now I realize how much your happiness was tied to ours, when my kids are happy, I’m happy.

Now I understand why you were so upset when I moved to another state, even though it was only an hour away. It meant that we wouldn’t see each other as often. I feel the most full when I’m with my kids and miss them whenever we’re apart.

I know how difficult it must have been when your mom passed away and how much you missed her every single day. I know how many times you must have wanted to pick up the phone to talk about your day, hear words of encouragement, share some happy or sad news or just to hear her voice. I know how important that unconditional love was to you and how, with your mom, no matter how old you were, she would always make you feel loved and protected.

I miss you terribly and it’s not the same without you.

But now I realize that I was always capable of loving myself just like you always had.

From My Heart

butterfly

Sometimes I wish there was an emotional heart valve. One that I could control and let in only the good things. It doesn’t work that way. My heart is always open and so I feel everything. And when there are many emotionally charged things going on at once, it can feel overwhelming.

Vulnerability.

That’s what it is. I can weep at the drop of a hat lately. Selling my house, packing and moving into a smaller house in a new area, my work routine changing again soon and the anniversary of my dad’s passing.

I feel so exposed emotionally that sometimes I feel as if my heart is beating outside of my chest. It’s been three years since my dad died suddenly. Although he lived a full life for 88 years, his death was a big shock and the grief that followed was incapacitating.

Vulnerability.

My dad was one of ten children and a World War II Veteran. He was fearless, outspoken and even a little rough around the edges. He was able to impact more people in his life on a daily basis than anyone I know, always working for Veterans’ rights. He was “larger than life” and never took no for an answer.  He had a big heart and an even greater willingness to forgive. I always admired that about him.

Even though we butted heads at times because I challenged him often and wished he was a little more sensitive, I always knew that he loved me.

My dad was tough and strong and I think my soft and sensitive self made him a little uncomfortable. I don’t think I totally accepted who I was until I no longer judged myself through the lens of my father’s eyes.

I began to embrace who I was and the vulnerability that I was feeling and, rather than look away, I looked inward, perhaps for the first time. I began to dwell less on the past and worry less about the future. That’s where I’d been most comfortable and it was always a welcome distraction from what I was feeling in the present. I knew I had to open myself up and learn how to process what I was thinking and feeling in a healthy way, in a way that would make me stronger.

I asked for help when I needed it and began a journey of self discovery to find out what makes me feel happy, healthy and grounded.

Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness.  It requires strength and perseverance to be in that space.

Embracing vulnerability can be terrifying yet life-giving at the same time.

I’m grateful that I’ve had the courage to open myself up to change and the swirl of emotions that come with it.

Thanks dad!

Grateful Longing

grateful-longing

The Holidays are fast approaching and I know many of my friends and family members will be missing their loved ones. Me too.

I always feel closer to my parents when I see special signs or symbols that remind me of them. I feel sad at first and then happy in the memories that they provide.

Butterflies remind me of my mom and most birds, but especially doves and pigeons remind me of my dad.

What reminds you of your loved ones?

Be All There

Can we feel gratitude and longing at the same time?

I had a mix of emotions this morning. As I walked through my home I was feeling extremely grateful. I’ve paired down what I have so that my most favorite things are clearly on display. Pictures of people I cherish, cards from loved ones, items that represent past family vacations and several things that belonged to past generations. These things bring me such joy!

I’m so grateful for the deep love that I share with family and friends and the meaningful life that I have.

I carried this feeling outside with me as I walked my dog (SO grateful that he’s healthy at 17 1/2) into the crisp autumn air. Thinking about my intention this winter to get outside more despite really disliking the cold, even the cold didn’t deter my grateful feelings.

Funny how a simple sound could bring on a…

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We Are Who We Are, Aren’t We?

we are who we are

For as long as I can remember I have experienced a range of feelings that made me feel  like I was missing out on life. Social anxiety, self-doubt and criticism, anger, fatigue, fear of failure and, at times, self-imposed social withdrawal. I had so much to be grateful for, but I never seemed content for very long.  I felt that this was my lot in life.

After all, we are who we are, right?

I think that so many of us feel that it’s impossible to make big changes and we just hunker down and “armor up,” as Brene´ Brown would say. Rather than focus inward, which is too painful and overwhelming, and wade through the heavy fog of emotions that never really seem to lift, we distract ourselves with drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, social media, work, over scheduling, and by accumulating, organizing and maintaining more and more stuff!

There are some bright spots along the way, but the years pass and we never seem to be able to lift ourselves completely out of the fog.

After all, we are who we are.

Well, I disagree!

Change is possible! But in most cases, things just don’t get better. We have to make an effort to work through what we’re not satisfied with in our lives.  We have to get to the point of being so sick and tired of hearing ourselves complain about the same things over and over again in order to take action.  Or, as was the case with me, we get a major wake up call. A big life change (or many smaller ones) or trauma can cause a shift in our thinking, feeling, what we choose to let into our lives and what we choose to eliminate.

we are who we are.1

I’ve been on this journey for two years now and I have discovered so many things that have helped me be who I WANT to be. There are books, blogs, and e-courses that have inspired me whose authors range from everyday people, like Courtney Carver and Joshua Becker, to research psychologists like Brene´ Brown and Kristin Neff  (ALL superheroes in my opinion!). I’ve shared some of my favorite reads below.

Other things that have helped me greatly and which have become part of who I am are yoga, meditation, writing, nature and outdoor activities (especially hiking), minimalism and nutrition. These things help me focus on being present and positive and make me feel so alive! I am extremely lucky to have a supportive group of family and friends who love me unconditionally and who I can rely on for encouragement. I am so grateful for them!

It’s been a slow, DELIBERATE process of trial and error. It literally started with going outside on a daily basis and gardening- planting, repotting or even just weeding. I’ve tried many different activities and if I enjoyed them, they felt good and they fit into my lifestyle, they became part of my routine. If not, I moved onto something else. I’ve read things that have been extremely helpful and even life changing, and other things that have not really worked for me.

I realized that things weren’t going to change unless I put down the armor and started to move forward and pull MYSELF up out of the fog.

I want to encourage you not to give up! If you are not happy or satisfied and you feel it in your bones that there has to be a better way, then take action! Big changes can come from small steps you take on a consistent basis.

Try something different today. Take a walk, read a helpful book or blog, meditate for a few minutes, stretch, do yoga, go for a hike or run, paint, write or draw, eat better, or just sit in the garden and put your hands in the dirt. Start small. Baby steps. Slow and steady. If it doesn’t feel helpful, try something different. If it resonates with you and makes you feel good, keep doing it, until it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. Once it becomes habit, experiment with something else.

we are who we are.2

You might even try something called, “habit stacking.” Courtney Carver explains this as the pairing of two new habits each for brief periods of time, like a few minutes. Over time, you can extend the amount of time spent on each of these. I started with a short meditation (3-6 minutes) followed by a journal entry where I wrote 2 brief statements: a gratitude statement and an intention for the day.

Before you know it, you’ll have several things in your self-care arsenal! You can pick and choose which will be helpful to you on any given day rather than fall back on old habits that were more numbing than healing.

Reach out to positive, encouraging people who will support you. Embrace change!

I used to think that there was some secret to peace and happiness, but what I’ve discovered is that these things are well within our reach. We just have to make an effort to move in a different direction. Just like the lotus, we may have to go through some mud before we can rise above it.

My journey, with its twists and turns, achievements and setbacks is what life is all about and I’m glad to finally be in the game!

Here are some inspiring reads that have helped me along the way:

The Gifts of Imperfection-Brene´  Brown

Daring Greatly –Brene´  Brown

Rising Strong-Brene´  Brown

The Four Agreements-Don Miguel Ruiz

The More of Less-Joshua Becker

Buddhist Boot Camp-Timber Hawkeye

Faithfully Religionless-Timber Hawkeye

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself– Kristin Neff

http://bemorewithless.com/

http://www.rowdykittens.com/

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

http://www.timberhawkeye.com/

One-Hundred Kisses

I miss him already.

He was a part of my every day. His big, brown, soulful eyes watched my every move. The smell and feel of his fuzzy hair comforted me like the stuffed toy I never had.

He had hypo-allergenic hair so he was the perfect dog for our family. My son had severe allergies as a child. I think having a dog made my son feel more “normal” amidst all of the doctor appointments, medications, breathing treatments, allergy shots and avoidance of many things that he might react to which could potentially lead to another hospital stay.

I loved the fact that I could pet Louie in any direction and his hair still felt soft and smooth. I would breathe him in as I held him in my arms and kissed him-every day.

I must have picked him up at least 10 times a day and smothered him with just as many kisses each time.

Having shifted my focus to being as present as possible has enabled me to spend good, quality time with loved ones and to feel pretty happy. Being present in my grief has been much more challenging.

I would have never been able to publicly express my grief for my dog if it hadn’t been for something a dear friend said to me several months ago. She had lost a loved one way too young after a long illness and could sense that I was slightly uncomfortable about having such a difficult time after losing my dad. After all, he lived a happy, healthy 88 years!

Grief is grief.

What a wonderfully gracious gift she had given me when she said these three words. And so I talk about my grief, write about it, and yes, even though it really hurts, I feel it. To my surprise, I haven’t felt comparison, resentment or judgment from others. I’ve felt tremendous support and love!

Louie had a great life. We got him when he was just 8 weeks old and showered him with constant love and attention. He just had his 18th birthday! I am so grateful for his unconditional love, support and companionship through some difficult times.

Louie in Wyoming

Louie in Wyoming on our cross county trip

 

I love you Louie Boy! I got it from here.

 

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

                                                                                        -Mumford & Sons

Grateful Longing

Can we feel gratitude and longing at the same time?

I had a mix of emotions this morning. As I walked through my home I was feeling extremely grateful. I’ve paired down what I have so that my most favorite things are clearly on display. Pictures of people I cherish, cards from loved ones, items that represent past family vacations and several things that belonged to past generations. These things bring me such joy!

I’m so grateful for the deep love that I share with family and friends and the meaningful life that I have.

I carried this feeling outside with me as I walked my dog (SO grateful that he’s healthy at 17 1/2) into the crisp autumn air. Thinking about my intention this winter to get outside more despite really disliking the cold, even the cold didn’t deter my grateful feelings.

Funny how a simple sound could bring on a wave of sadness. As a dove fluttered from branch to branch I instantly thought of my dad and my mom. I really miss them.

My dad raised homing pigeons and I was around the sights, sounds (and smells) of them my entire life. Doves are white pigeons and so hearing them squeak as they flew from branch to branch brought back a wave of memories and emotions.

I looked up into the trees so grateful for all the years I had with my parents, yet longed to spend time with them this Thanksgiving. As the tears rolled down my cheeks and I glanced down at my dog, I noticed a tiny feather floating down from above. As I caught it in my hand, I smiled, grateful once again. Thanks dad!

Grateful Longing

May you all feel grateful even as you long for your loved ones this Thanksgiving.

Peace, Love and Presence,

Jeanne