I've got a case of the sighs. You know the ones originating from somewhere around the solar plexus (if that is really a thing) as a release for the emotional weight sitting elephant-like on your chest. Indulge me while I take you on the journey of this past week and the situations responsible for these weight-releasing sighs. My husband and I were excitedly anticipating a beach retreat at the conclusion of a hectic summer creative arts program I direct. Days before our departure we received news that our 47 year old nephew, who has battled a kind of blood cancer for years, was critically ill and dying. Vacation on hold, we traveled to Atlanta to grieve with David's family. Our roles were to provide strength and support to our bereft brother and sister-in-law who have outlived their child. Only days later am I realizing our personal grief was put at bay so we could support those closer to the nucleus of the tragedy. We returned home following the funeral, our postponed beach retreat feeling more important than ever….but….arriving back in Central Florida we ran into hurricane-like weather conditions. Undaunted...beach bags/chairs/umbrellas in tow, we ventured to our favorite Atlantic beach site. I will say the 23 hours spent at the beach were glorious, so much so I have the sunburn to prove it. Our intended leisurely morning sitting on the balcony enjoying hazelnut coffee and French pastries from an authentic NSB bakery was interrupted by the sound of drilling. Two floors below a jackhammer was busy breaking up tile; we were advised this jarring sound would continue throughout the next couple of days. We packed up and left. The hour’s drive home provided space for contemplation of other fun options for our day. I’m not sure who suggested it… but we both agreed and…we ended up spending six hours in a Subaru dealership after which we were the proud owners of a 2017 Forrester. Ok, so we needed to replace the car we were losing as our lease expired. So we left feeling productive and even a little excited. Entering the garage I realized the helpful salesman, while having explained the Bluetooth functions, audio system, and driver seat positions had failed to tell me how to turn off the car. Amid the excitement and confusion of the car I received a text telling me my step-mother’s significant other and committed life partner had experienced a heart attack and was in critical condition. Gene subsequently died leaving Beth in utter shock and despair. While we may be steps removed from these deaths, we nevertheless are reeling from these losses. It has been a bazaar week as a friend described our last 8 days. Agitated and anxious, I made my way to a yoga class this morning. As is often the case in yoga sessions, the instructor asked what motivated us to attend the class. “What is your intention for being here?” What popped into my head was the phrase “bitter-sweet”. Life as we know it is comprised of the bitter and the sweet. I just did not really expect for my taste buds to be quite so inundated all in one week.
My father-in-law, though never personally impacted, used to say something was wrong in the world when a parent outlived a child. He said he never wanted to be a member of such an exclusive club. Our nephew, his grandson, died this week at the age of 47. David is (I can't bring myself yet to say "was") the son of my husband's brother and sister in law. His passing leaves behind a wife of 25 years and two college-aged daughters. Mary, Kelsey, and Emily comprise his immediate family. They lived through his six-year battle (although at times it felt like a full on war) to hold his cancer at bay. This past spring his sweet girls surprised their parents with a trip to the Dominican Republic for a wedding vow renewal ceremony. The event was a demonstration of hope for the future of this man and his family... now it will go in to their arsenal of precious memories. I've been thinking of the domino effect caused by a death. It's like the proverbial ripple effect from a stone thrown into a body of water or more aptly the seismic waves emanating from the epicenter of an earthquake. The initial impact is at the center, the nucleus- the nuclear family. Then come the ripples- David's parents and sister are left to struggle with this loss, people who have known him all his days. Their brothers, sisters, husband, and children who not only love David, but grieve for the pain of their parents and siblings. Followed by cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles, and an array of friends who comprise outer ripples in this sea of love. My husband and I, my step-son and his wife, are members of the outer band of ripples and waves. We have fretted for years about the impact of the stress and strain of this ugly illness on Joe and Sue, David’s parents. At the funeral service I overheard low whispers of - ”But for the grace of God there go I”. I don’t know and don’t want to anticipate how I would handle the loss of one of my children or grandchildren. It’s an exclusive club to which I don’t want to ever be a member. It defies the natural order of life. I don’t know how David’s family will cope with their loss. All I do know, however, after observing the Standing Room Only crowd at the funeral service, is that there are a lot of ripples emanating from the epicenter of that Kitchens Clan and a lot of love. So much love. I am hoping that love and support from those ripples can carry them through.
I had the privilege last week of guest lecturing in a Marriage and Family Therapy class at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago. My role was to discuss creativity as a tool and an opportunity for working with families in therapy sessions. Working with kids and families sounds easier than it is and requires flexibility and fluidity which creative thinking helps promote. An article entitled, The Importance of Creativity in Family Therapy substantiates this contention. University of Wyoming’s Dr. David Carson asserts:
Family therapy requires a flexibility, a creativity, and an ability to fly by the seat of your pants….This is particularly true because change in marital and family relationships is often a slow and painful process. Creative thinking and maneuvering may be necessary to break therapeutic impasses.” Dr. Carson argues that creative approaches to family therapy allow family members to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening environment.The budding therapists I addressed, while very well intentioned, were pretty tightly wound. My hope was that helping them relax and gain self-awareness into their own strengths, weaknesses and motivations could only help them become more accessible therapists. I have found creativity can be an intimidating concept especially if someone does not tend to view his/her self as creative per se. Adult women have literally bolt from the room when I’ve proposed a creative exercise. “I’m not creative at all,” they wail. “Give me a book to read or something else to do”. That reaction hurts me to the core. I truly believe everyone is creative in some form or capacity. Sometimes you just have to get back in the habit, which is why I encourage “exercising your creativity” much like we exercise our brains and bodies. So that is what I proposed for this class – creativity exercises. The first was a “Blind Pinch Pot” exercise designed to promote mindfulness. I guided the students through a relaxation exercise (the relaxation part was a must for this group) after which they created a pinch pot from a ball of clay while keeping their eyes closed and focusing on their breath. Invariably the exercise produces beautifully created pots. And this class was no exception. The second exercise is one I’ve dubbed Self Awareness in Six Words. Before a therapist can guide their clients on their journey to self-awareness they need to understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Expressive writing can be a vehicle on the route to self-exploration. Six word stories are the perfect little drive-by of emotional expression. Legend has it Ernest Hemingway bet fellow writers he could write a short story in just 6 words. As the tale goes, Hemingway believed the resulting story to be his finest work ever: For Sale, Baby shoes, Never Worn. I never fail to be moved by the results of this exercise in Flash Fiction. Here is a sample from the class. The final activity was a coloring exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic...
Coloring is a stress free activity that relaxes the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, allowing your mind to get the rest it needs. Coloring has the therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety, create focus, and bring about more mindfulness.I really love when the left and right sides of the brain get to shake hands. As a self-avowed creativity evangelist and a statistical data hound, it was fun seeing the marriage of science and art in this Marriage and Family therapy class.
I have a rhetorical question (Def: question that you ask without expecting an answer). How many pairs of black pants does one woman need? Since I’m talking to my computer I’m not really expecting an answer (although it would be pretty cool if you would answer via the survey link below. I’ve changed my mind I really do want to know after all). This question popped into my head when my husband and I were traveling in Europe this summer. Since we stayed in five different places there were many days when my suitcase was my dresser. Invariably however, as I was rummaging through my suitcase (because of course the item I wanted was ALWAYS inaccessible no matter how many times I packed for the next day. I guess it’s just not in my DNA to create a clothing strategy and stick to it. It was during this delving I realized I had multiple pairs of black pants from shorts to capris to ankle length trousers. Inevitably I would say, in a decidedly cranky voice, “Not that pair of black pants. I want the ones that have…the seam running down the center, the cotton light weight ones, the ones with spandex, my yoga pants, the ones with the zipper in the back, etc. etc. So the other rhetorical question I pose is this one- When did this happen to me? It just kind of snuck up on me and boom! I have eight pairs of black pants in my closet. There is probably (actually no probably about it) a correlation between my weight gain and how much better my stomach and butt look in black. For the record, black is not really even a color. It’s kind of selfish just absorbing all the colors in the visible spectrum, hoarding them and never reflecting them back. But it does have its attributes, principal among them its ability to hide body fat. I keep seeing this ad on Facebook for the “Little Black Pant” guaranteed to be the “best fitting pant you will ever buy”. My hand keeps hovering over the “order today” button. Help, please stop me now! Please take a minute to complete my fashion questionnaire my clicking here.
My husband and I just completed a trip to Bavaria followed by stops in cities and villages along the Danube River in Central Europe. This has been a dream come true trip for me. My husband dubbed this my “roots” tour of the area from which my paternal grandparents immigrated. Our route took us first to the town of Rothenburg described by Rick Steves as Germany’s fairy-tale dream town. This picturesque medieval town was perhaps my favorite stop. From Rothenburg, we meandered along the Romantic Road (real name) in route to Fussen, a small town nestled in the foothills of the magnificent still-snow capped Alps. In route we discovered an improbably located pilgrimage church to the "scourged saviour", featuring the art of rococo. We toured Bavarian kings’ castles, including Neuschwanstein, the castle after which Disney's Cinderella Castle was modeled. St. Stephen's, a Baroque church in the little town of Passau, houses the largest pipe organ in the world. I was transported to another place as we listened to the gorgeous organ music during a concert and admired the paintings and sculptures decorating this sacred space. The world’s largest museum of Bohemian glass is also a part of this little town with its collection of 33,000 iridescent pieces. We must have visited at least ten churches and almost as many palaces, each one more glorious than the one before. The art and architecture in Vienna, the synagogue and beautiful bridges in Budapest overwhelmed our senses. Many of these places and their people suffered greatly from invasions, wars, and hostile occupations. Vacations provide time for contemplation. Early in our tour I found myself contemplating and researching the concept of beauty. Beauty literally, not figuratively, nourishes my spirit. I can be transported from an ugly state to a state of wonder and awe in the presence of beauty (As can we all of course). From ancient to current philosophers beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, along with goodness, truth, and justice. Plato called beauty a universal value. In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton weighs the feeling of walking into a McDonalds in the Westminster area of London compared to the feeling of entering Westminster Cathedral across the street. He theorizes...
Because of the harsh lighting, the plastic furniture, and the cacophonous color scheme one tends to feel anxious in the McDonalds. What one feels in the Westminster Cathedral, however, is a calmness brought on by a series of architectural and artistic decisions. The cathedral helps people to relax and reflect, whereas the fast food restaurant causes one to feel hurried or even stressed. Beauty conjures up feelings associated with happiness.Beauty incorporates an aesthetic attitude which is described as the state of contemplating a subject with no other purpose than appreciating it. The 18th century French writer Stendhal said beauty was "the promise of happiness". Vacations by their very nature help us escape the tensions and stress of every day life. But I can’t help feel the relaxation and refreshment I experienced on this trip was also due to the beauty I was privileged to experience. It’s not just our senses that are impacted by beauty but our very soul. Appreciating all the beauty I was privileged to behold not only fulfilled the promise of happiness but the actuality.