What Better Gift than the Gift of Self

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“Broken” 11×14 mixed media on canvas (SOLD); prints available.

Heartache and Sorrow are as much a part of life as joy. In down times, we sometimes think that hardships and trials consume most of our lives, but they probably don’t. If we cleaned the lens of memory, we would also find moments of laughter and sunshine amidst the clouds.

Getting through Christmas is difficult for many. When my children were young, we made a gingerbread house together and decorated it with frosting and festive candies. I baked quantities of good things to eat that were shared with friends and family. Now that the kids are gone, I can barely make myself put up a tree or decorate at all.

I rarely use my oven, knowing that most of the sweets will end up on my husband’s stomach and my hips. I can hardly wait for Christmas to end. I enjoy the spiritual worship and the sense of joy, but the aloneness I feel with my children scattered to the far corners of the US, leaves a hole in my heart.

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“Emma” 11×14 drawing; in celebration of her 92nd birthday

Getting involved in my church and community somewhat fills the void. There are many ways to “get out of self” through helping others. If you find yourself weighed down by personal grief, move yourself to action.

When I’m working in our food pantry, I’m able to give sincere hugs of love to the people in need. Their hunger not just for food, but for companionship and the touch of another human being warms my heart, too.

Self-pity can consume you. When you turn your sorrow outward, in a show of love for others, the grief and sadness becomes bearable. Outlets of love provide a way to healing not only for the giver, but for the one who receives.

There may be times when we are on the receiving end. I was given a life-line many years ago by a neighbor and friend who seemed to know just what I needed.

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“Mother and Child” brush drawing on panel

Suffering from after-baby blues and depression combined with a traumatic experience had made me morose and frozen in inactivity. One day the doorbell rang, and there she was with a shovel in hand and some plants from her backyard.

“You’re coming outside with me,” she said without giving me a chance to refuse. I followed her outside like a sheep needing a shepherd.

We spent the next hour in the sunshine, planting my favorites from her garden. While we worked, we talked. After she left, I felt hope for the first time in weeks. The sunlight not only warmed my body, but my soul. My friend had pulled me from my dark sadness to a place of friendship and love. I would survive.

I’ve been forever grateful to her for taking the time to reach out to me. First she was aware that something was not normal, then she thought of a way that she could reach out to lend me a helping hand. Her example has helped me watch for the clues and signs in other people that indicate they may need my help.

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“Moody Blues” mixed media on 16×20 canvas

“Paying it forward” is a popular action that people are doing to help someone else. Instead of waiting for problems to develop, they reach out when they can and do something nice for someone else like paying for a meal, giving them your parking space, letting them go before you in line, allowing someone to merge ahead on the highway.

There are countless ways that you can serve. And in the helping, your own inverted downcast self is pulled from its dark shell and into the light.

When Life is Cut Short, we’re never Prepared

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Sand Crane Dreams

Sand Crane Dreams

I attended a funeral this week. From the moment I walked through the doors, I knew I would not be able to walk by the casket or hug the widow. The funeral of my sister who died last year from M.S. flooded my mind and I could hardly breathe.

Solemn is the only way I can describe it. The air was heavy with grief. The throng that attended testified to the love that was felt for the soul at rest. White flowers were everywhere signifying that a holy ritual was taking place.

Rites of passage and momentous ceremonies are important to our lives. The repetition engraves them on our hearts and makes them sweeter through the passing years. Rituals secure familial ties and bring us full circle from birth to death.

My Sister Jean

My Sister Jean

Not all was somber and sad. There was time for celebration as family members shared funny stories and a musical slide presentation of happy events. People wiped tears of laughter and pain from their eyes.

Some things are constant like love, loyalty and devotion. Death does not diminish what was cherished in life. We rejoice that suffering is ended, but we long to hold on to what was. Letting go is difficult. Grief is like peeling layers of self from an open wound. The soul bleeds internal tears that leave us fragile, exposed and spent.

A fatal ongoing illness does not prepare us for the final ending anymore than an abrupt and sudden death prevents us from wrestling with denial. We are never ready for a treasured life to end. The shock rattles us to the core. Our faith is tested. Without faith there is no hope for reconciliation. The void is there in either case like a black empty hole.

We all have different coping skills. At such a time as this, we find out how strong ours are. Do we turn to our friends and family for strength? Are we sustained by faith in God? Do we crumble in despair and turn to temporary substitutes that do not sustain and may harm us?

Quinn's first child

Quinn’s first child

Who we are in the end is all we have. Has our life of living turned us into an empty shell, dependent on the goodness of others or the high of a new fix, or has our daily choices instilled us with courage, determination and hope?

Death comes to all of us. We are not immune to its grisly affects. Peace eventually rescues us from our abysmal fall and reminds us that death is not the end, but the beginning of our soul’s eternal journey.