‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY? Getting Through the Holidays after a Loss

tree“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with their heart and soul, there is no separation.” Rumi

Recently, I attended a bereavement group meeting with my sister who is grieving the loss of her husband John. While I will not disclose the private conversations that took place that night, I will say that everyone was struggling with getting through the holiday season without their loved one.

While the holiday season is a time for good cheer, joy and merriment for many, it is also a time when some are anxious to say good riddance as they count the days until it’s all over. For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can understandably be the most painful time of the year.

One of the things I said during the bereavement meeting that night was you can’t come out of it unless you go through it. How then do you get through it? How can you get through the holiday season? How is it possible to walk down city sidewalks amid the holiday crowds when you don’t feel much like doing anything? For one thing, it’s important to remember that the anticipation of the holiday season is worse than the day or event itself. During the days leading up to the holiday event, we often feel the stress brought on by all the unrealistic holiday expectations and gatherings. Here are some tips to help you get through the holiday season:

1. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. Your feelings are your own and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. So be honest with yourself and allow yourself to grieve however you want. Take control of the situation. You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful just because the holidays are here. If you don’t feel like attending a holiday party, don’t go. If you want to attend, then go. Allow yourself the opportunity to feel your pain and sadness but also allow yourself the opportunity to feel happiness and joy. Try to remind yourself that your loved one would want you to be happy.

2. Don’t expect too much of yourself. The holidays are full of unrealistic expectations. Don’t feel like you have to put up a Christmas tree, for example. If you are having a bad day and don’t want to go out, that’s OK. If you are having a good day and feel like you can manage buying a few gifts, that’s OK, too. Don’t try to do too much. If you usually have the holiday dinner at your house and don’t feel much like cooking, delegate it to someone else. Your family and friends will understand.

3. Ask for help. During the holidays what was once festive and light can now feel dreary and heavy. If you’re having a difficult time and need help, ask for it. Many people are more than willing to offer their assistance.One of the things that was discussed during the bereavement group meeting was how family and friends don’t know what to say and do. While some people may not call because they are afraid to say the wrong thing it doesn’t mean that they are not willing to help when asked.

4. Find ways to honor your loved one. One of the ways that I honor my lost loved ones at Christmas and every day of the year is by lighting candles in their memory. I also talk to my loved ones acknowledging their presence. It’s my way of saying that I know that they are still with me.

There are countless ways to remember your loved one so just do what feels right for you. Here are a few more suggestions:

a. Have everyone share a special memory involving your loved one.

b. Plan a day doing something that your loved one liked to do. For instance, go to his or her favorite restaurant.

c. Donate a gift in your loved one’s memory.

5. Take care of YOU! No matter how much your family and friends might want to help you, they don’t truly know what you need or how you are feeling. And your grief does not give you an excuse to ignore your own needs. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you need to take some time off from work, do it. Try not to ignore whatever it is you are feeling. Pay attention to your body. If you’re feeling tired, don’t overdo it. Take a nap or go to bed early. If you’re not feeling well, go see a doctor. Perhaps, a complete physical will do you good.

6. Remember, love never dies. As an author and afterlife researcher, I can tell you without a doubt that your loved ones are still with you in spirit. The love that you shared is still there and will always be there.   Your loved ones are still part of your life and are aware of everything that is going on here on earth.

As an example, my husband’s friend Rich died in the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11. This year we attended a high school play featuring Rich’s son in the lead role as Macheath in The Threepenny Opera. In October I attended a spirit circle featuring two psychic mediums, Dean and Stuart, from England. Dean stood directly in front of me that evening and told me Rich was there. He told me that Rich was saying that I attended a very important event for his son recently and he wanted to thank me for that.

Dean was unknowingly referring to the play that my husband and I attended.   Keep in mind that this was not public knowledge so Dean could not have read about this anywhere. My point in telling you this story is to remind you wholeheartedly that love never dies. Our loved ones are still with us and are very much aware of what is going on in our lives.

Everyone grieves in their own way. Do whatever you feel is best for you. Allow yourself time to deal with the pain but also allow yourself time to be happy. Our loved ones in heaven do want us to experience joy once again.

Whatever you do; wherever you go this holiday season, reach within and feel the love in your heart. When you do, you’ll realize your loved one never truly left you.

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Say Thank You

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”

Zig Ziglar

Last week as my family and I sat down to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner, we first took a moment to say thank you and acknowledge our gratitude. It was a touching, yet emotional time.  Not only did we express gratitude for our blessings that day but we also acknowledged our loved ones who were no longer with us and thanked God for the time we did have with them.

thankyouIt was beautiful and transforming as it really helped to shift the attention in the room. In that moment, we were reminded of the importance of focusing on our blessings rather than our misgivings and hardships.

Two words, “thank you,” have the power to create stronger, lasting bonds. These two words have the power to make people feel appreciated and work harder.  They have the power to increase our joy and happiness.  Yet, these two words are largely underutilized.

I once sent a gift to a friend. Afterwards, as time went by, I never heard from her.  Not a simple text; not an email or a thank you card.  Nothing.  To me, right or wrong, this sent a message that my gift was underappreciated.  This may not have been the case, of course, but I wouldn’t have known. Unfortunately, some people fail to see the benefits of these two simple, yet powerful words.

Gratitude is essential for healthy, long-term relationships—both personal and professional. In fact, studies show that the number one reason people leave their job is because they feel underappreciated.  You would automatically think it would be to earn more money but this isn’t the case.  A little show of gratitude can make a big difference to a company’s bottom line.

The benefits of showing thankfulness are endless. Here are just a few:

  1. Not surprisingly, people who focus on gratitude, live happier, more fulfilling lives. When people feel appreciated, negative emotions like anger, frustration and jealousy diminish. They also have a higher level of self-esteem.
  2. In addition to improving mental health, feelings of gratitude also improve our physical health. People who feel appreciated have stronger immune systems and live healthier, longer lives.
  3. Those who feel appreciated are more willing to be of service to others. They are not as materialistic and see the value of the simple things in life.
  4. Grateful people are naturally more optimistic and have a greater capacity to forgive others.

Simply put, feelings of appreciation lead to positive thinking and positive thinking leads to positive action. Positive thinking hence leads to a more positive, fulfilling life.

However, don’t say thank you if you are not sincere. Say thank you when you truly mean to say thank you.  Your insincerity will only show if you don’t really mean it.

Also, don’t sweeten the deal with a promise you can’t keep. People sometimes offer things that they have no intention of giving.  For example, if you say thank you to someone and also offer to follow up with a dinner, do just that.  Don’t offer things you can’t give or make promises you can’t keep.

So as you go through the holiday season, remember to say thank you often. When we focus on and appreciate what we already have in our lives and not what is lacking, we inevitably draw more abundance into our lives.  When we give thanks, we bring thanks.  And this is key to living a healthy, happy, fulfilling life.

In the Face of Evil, Love and Compassion will Always Prevail

“There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accidents or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart.”

Daisaku Ikeda

thI honestly can’t wrap my head around it. Violence seems to have become the norm in so many ways around the world. From school shootings to terrorist attacks at home and abroad, it has been overwhelming and extremely disheartening.

Yesterday, as my 16-year old, daughter Lia got into my car at the end of the school day, she asked, “Mom, did you hear about what happened in Las Vegas?” I looked at her sadly not wanting to discuss yet another mass killing with my daughter.  Lia proceeded to tell me that she rushed to text a friend who lives in Las Vegas as soon as she heard the news.  “My friend is OK,” she said with a sigh of relief.

“I don’t get it, Mom,” she said. “Why would someone do that?”  Unfortunately, I had no answers for my daughter and I still don’t.  It sickens me to have such grim conversations with my children. As a young girl growing up in the 80’s, I honestly don’t remember ever having such chats with my mother.  Don’t get me wrong.  Bad things happened then, too, of course.  But it just seems like they are happening far more often today.

At least 59 people were killed with over 500 injured, some critically, when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday night.  It is being deemed the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

Both the injured and the dead represent people from all walks of life. From police officers to teachers and adults to teenagers; the bullets did not discriminate.  An arsenal of firearms, including automatic weapons, were found in the killer’s (64-year old, former accountant Stephen Paddock) hotel room.  As of this writing, law enforcement officials can find no clear motive for such a horrendous crime.

As I said, I just can’t wrap my head around it nor do I have an answer for my daughter Lia. But there is one thing I do know and that is love and compassion will always prevail in the face of evil.  If you look at any of the recent terrorist attacks or shootings at home and abroad you will find the heroes.  You will find the compassionate souls who risked their lives to help complete strangers.

Sunday’s shooting was no different. My eyes filled with tears today as I read the many brave accounts.  I read about the mom who used her body to shield her daughter and the many who drove the injured to the hospital in their personal vehicles.  I heard about the young girl who once out of harm’s way decided to turn back into the violence.  When asked why, she explained that she wanted to help the victims.

Then there was also a bartender named Heather who held a stranger in her arms as he died. She then remained with his body not wanting to leave him alone.  If you look at the many pictures posted online, you’ll see numerous shirtless individuals who used their clothing as tourniquets to help the injured.

Many of these heroes were among those who lost their lives. If it weren’t for the selfless acts of so many caring strangers, countless lives would not have been spared.  President Trump summed it up well when he said, “Our unity cannot be shattered by evil. Our bonds cannot be broken by violence. And though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today—and always will, forever.”

Very true. It is love and the countless acts of compassion that define us.  In the face of terror and evil, we are no longer strangers.  We are one; our hearts forever united.  In the midst of tragedy, the goodness of humanity stands unshaken.

 

This blog is dedicated to all the victims of Sunday’s attack. A special heart-felt thank you goes out to all the unsung heroes.  It is this love and compassion that will forever define us. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Stay in the NOW

“Forever is composed of nows.” Emily Dickinson

liveinthenowRecently, my brother in law John was on life support battling lung cancer. As we gathered in the hospital’s family lounge, my sister Virginia panicked as she thought of the future.  How was she going to take care of him?  How would she handle his loss?  How would she make the funeral arrangements?  How would she manage on her own?

Her mind raced as she thought of the future. But then my sister in law Shari said something that seemingly made time stand still.  “Gin,” she told her, “let’s just focus on right now.  Stay in the now.”

Over the years, I’ve spoken and written many times about the need to stay positive and live in the moment. Yet, all the stress and the fatigue was getting the best of me that day.  I, too, jumped ahead to the future.  The upcoming radio interviews, the deadlines, my kids, the dinners that I had no time to prepare and all the laundry that remained undone, etc.

Even though our bodies may be in the moment physically, our minds tend to wander to the past and the future. We tend to spend each moment getting to the next moment without so much as giving it a second thought.

The only thing we are guaranteed is right now. Right now is the only thing we can ever really control.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.  Truthfully, we don’t even know if we’ll have the next minute.  Deep down inside, we all know this.  Yet our thoughts continue to shift between the past and the future.

Think about it. Our thoughts are what make the past and future real. Our thoughts are what create our reality and the only certainty we have is this very moment.  So it seems logical, therefore, that we can only stay in the moment by being aware of our thoughts and feelings.

How, then, can we stay in the moment? A simple technique to use is to remember your ABCs:

  1. Accept: Become aware of your thoughts and accept what you are feeling at that moment. What are you doing? Why are you feeling the way that you are? What is consuming your thoughts: fear, anger, jealousy, worry, etc.? You can’t accept what you don’t acknowledge. Be honest with yourself and accept things for what they are.
  2. Breathe: Take a step back and just focus on your breathing. Turn off your cell phone or anything else that can distract you. Inhale. Exhale. Release each breath slowly.   If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. It is the simplest, most effective mindfulness technique. With each breath, slowly release any negative thoughts or worries which are preventing you from staying present. With each breath, pay attention to the here and now.
  3. Control:  Concentrate on your intentions and let go of whatever it is that is holding you down. Only focus on what you need and want in that moment. Remember, your thoughts are not in control; you are.

My brother in law John sadly passed away on September 5, 2017. His death was a long and difficult ordeal, especially for my sister.  Focusing on and living in the moment allows us to be grateful for what we have in that very moment.  Living in the moment allows us to embrace our life: both the good and the bad.

Looking back, I am grateful for so many things. For one, I am grateful for the life John lived and the happy moments we shared. And second, I am forever grateful for the showering of support and love that we received from friends and family.  Their love continues to bring me comfort and fills every crevice of my heart.

As Maya Angelou wisely said, “Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” No matter what happens in life, we can find something to be grateful for. We need only take the time to look.

The Gift of Heart Failure

I remember the day well.  My friend Dan Weiniger and I were hanging outside of the middle school awaiting the arrival of our daughters at the end of the school day.  As usual, we enjoyed each other’s company chatting about life and everything in general.

But on this day, Dan surprised me by asking, “So, Josie, do you really think there is an afterlife?”  As an author and afterlife researcher, people come up to me all the time asking about the afterlife.  But Dan, though a loyal friend and huge supporter of mine, was agnostic.

I looked back at him leaning against his car, “Yes, Dan.  I don’t think.  I know.”  Dan told me that he wanted to believe but wasn’t sure.  For the next several minutes I answered his questions about heaven and the afterlife ending with, “I’ll tell you what Dan.  If I go first, I’ll bring you a sign and if you go before me, you bring me a sign.  All I can tell you is when you die, you’ll going to be surprised. Because, yes, we die in body but not in spirit.”

He gave me a serious yet cheerful laugh and said, “OK, Josie.  You got a deal.” That day was February 18, 2014.  Below is a picture Dan took of us that day and posted on Facebook. Pictured with us is his dog Popcorn.

Daniel H Weiniger February 18, 2014 · Discussing life & afterlife with my good friend Josie Tropeano Varga — feeling great with Josie Tropeano Varga at Thomas Edison Intermediate School.Daniel H Weiniger

One year later, almost to the day (February 4, 2015), Dan suffered a massive heart attack losing 80 percent of his heart’s functions.  Basically 80 percent of his heart was dead and there was no place to by-pass to; no veins to stent.  Dan opted to have a LVAD (left-ventricular assisted device) implanted in his chest which is a mechanical pump that helps to pump blood. The surgery was a success and he was then placed on a list awaiting a heart transplant.

Sadly, Dan passed away on July 25, 2017.  The heart he so desperately needed never materialized.  The fact that a heart failed such a wonderful, kind, loving person is beyond my comprehension.  Ironically, he was all heart.

In April of this year, Dan released a book, The Gift of Heart Failure.  While he was working on the book, he called to ask if I would write his foreword and also wanted my advice.  We talked at length about his book and his reasons for writing it.  I advised him to include an introduction as well as a final thoughts section.  I explained that it was important to tell people why he was writing the book.

“Heart failure has taught me how precious life really is,” he told me.   “And what do you want people to remember when they finish your book?” I asked.  Dan quickly answered, “Be grateful for the tough times because they mean you are alive.”

In Dan’s memory, I am sharing some of his enlightening words of wisdom from the book.

Kindness:

What I learned from this is that there is more to being kind than simply just being nice, more than being a good neighbor, more than doing the right thing. All of that can be driven by ego and have self-serving adulation and recognition.  True kindness is generated by our true essence and attitude not by our ego.  It taught me, besides my mother’s insistence, I am not the center of the universe.

Kindness is born of compassion for others.  It is a deep sense of understanding and caring that comes when your heart is open and your mind is not solely focused on your universe.  It is again showing us the importance of being able to look at our situation and ourselves from an unemotional, detached angle and see more than one perspective.

Your actions may appear to be kind.  I always try to display kind behavior.  However, what this experience has taught me is your thoughts have to be kind, kindness must initiate from inside, from your heart.  Are your thoughts kind?  If not, you are not expressing true kindness and compassion, because inspired kindness flows from the soul and it treats all things and all people with gentleness and respect.

Enthusiasm:

Your enthusiasm can cause a chain reaction of good in the world.  So live your life with enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  Every great endeavor has been fueled by passion, which is the byproduct of enthusiasm. By passion, I mean zest and zeal, a fiery non-stoppable enthusiasm.  I’m talking about an inner force that relentlessly drives you forward.  Setbacks and frustration just fuel your passion to try again, and climb that mountain.  It is a burning desire that creates a commitment to obliterate one’s obstacles and live the life you imagine.

Mindfulness:

Control your thoughts and your mind.  To live more in the now we must control our thoughts and our mind.  To live in the present moment we need to develop more mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of paying attention, nonjudgmentally, to whatever arises in the present moment.  When we are mindful, we experience what life presents to us, and we are no longer resisting the flow of life. The flow of life energy, when you go with the flow, you are surfing life’s energy force. When we are mindful, we realize that we are not our thoughts; we become an observer of our thoughts without judging them.

Forgiveness:

There is always an opportunity. Mistakes offer a fork in the road. They represent a chance to choose one path or another.  Choose forgiveness, choose kindness and choose love. Use your past and a broad perspective as a light to identify the opportunity so that you can forgive yourself and others. One of the best opportunities and paths to forgiveness is to seek opportunities to help others. When we shift and focus on others a real shift takes place in us and in our lives: you can feel it. When you move pass your worries and look back at your mistakes and you are focused on helping others in this world, that is when some magical things begin to happen.

It takes a lot of strength to forgive someone who is not sorry and to accept the apology you never received. However, unforgiveness is a negative emotional mindset where you, as the offended party maintain feelings of resentment, hostility, and anger toward the person, or persons who offended you. If you do not forgive, all you see is an injustice.  This unforgiveness will take a huge toll on your physical and mental health and will destroy your relationships.

Personal Perspective:

Most of us see only the trees; we cannot or choose to not see the forest. We live our lives in small 24 hour segments, or even smaller.  The answer is personal perspective. It is not easy to step back from a present obstacle, especially a painful or emotional obstacle. However, by stepping back we can see a bigger picture, find the new angle, and look for the always-present opportunity. Yes, personal perspective is the key, and what a wonderful way to achieve wisdom.

Be a Miracle:

By making the choice to live as if everything is a miracle, every moment becomes something to appreciate and be grateful for. One of the biggest miracles I see in my life is my family, friends and the love we all share.  Love is the most amazing thing in our lives.  It is what makes us sing, dance and smile. The miracle of love also leads to what we have already discussed and that is the acts of kindness, forgiveness, thinking of others and seeing life from another person’s point of view.

Difficult times will happen. To find the light, we have to go through the darkness. Please remember while you’re in the midst of it, to try and take a deep breath and remember that the lessons you are learning from the very obstacles you are facing, will shift your view of life. You will learn what matters, who matters, how strong you are and how lucky you are to exist. That is what difficult times teach us, and they are some of the most important lessons we can ever learn.

I loved what Dan had to say about appreciating the little things in life.  “When we are faced with difficult challenges and when death stares us in the face, it is then that we often realize that our smallest joys and accomplishments are what matter most.”  As I wrote in the foreword to his wonderful book, The Gift of Heart Failure, sometimes it takes something bad to teach us something good.  Sometimes it is our greatest challenges that teach us our greatest lessons.

Dan once told me that if you wanted a miracle in your own life you had to first be a miracle in the lives of others.  I truly hope he knows as he now watches from heaven what a miracle he was and what a difference he made.  Thank you, Dan, for the gift of your friendship.

Is Technology Really Making Life Go By Faster?

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” Lily Tomlin

Last week I was chatting with my youngest daughter Lia. We were talking about life and how often people and friendships change. I brought up a friend of mine whom I haven’t heard from in a while despite my efforts to stay in touch.

She looked over at me with her young, 15-years of wisdom, “Mom, people sometimes get so caught up in life that they forget what’s really important. They need to slow down and live in the moment. Life goes by too fast.”   I smiled at her both surprised and somewhat saddened.

Things were so different when I was a kid. For one, things were so much slower—at least

liame

Me and my beautiful daughter Lia.

they appeared to be. I don’t think I ever thought about the importance of living in the moment when I was Lia’s age. I mean aren’t kids supposed to do just that . . . enjoy the moment, lay back and be carefree?

 

Part of the reason things are so different today is technology. Of course, the technological advancements have improved our way of life in many ways. Admittedly, I feel lost these days when I’m without my cell phone. But that’s not always a good thing.

Research has shown that technology is distorting our perception of time. While all the technological advancements of recent years have helped our brains process information faster than ever before, they have also deceived us into thinking that time passes much faster than it actually does.

James Cook University professor Aoife McLoughlin studied the effects of technology on our perception of time. “It’s almost as though we’re trying to emulate the technology and be speedier and more efficient, she said in an interview with ScienceAlert. It seems like there’s something about technology itself that primes us to increase that pacemaker inside of us that measures the passing of time.” (https://www.sciencealert.com/research-suggests-that-technology-is-speeding-up-our-perception-of-time)

McLoughlin found that technology is improving the brain’s ability to process information. But while we can process information faster, we also incorrectly perceive time as moving quicker than it actually is. And because we are more connected via social media, there is an added amount of stress.

With this increased sense of time comes a false sense of urgency and with that comes stress and the constant pressure to keep up and do more. Our extreme dependence on technology has literally taken us out of the present moment in many ways because we are constantly thinking of our next move. We are constantly distracted by the latest social media post or the latest text on our mobile device. We are so connected all the time that we have no time to just disconnect.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, the author of The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life, explains it well, “We’re simply being in that moment to take the next action,” says Zimbardo. “It’s really minimizing the quality of life. It’s minimizing the joy that we ought to be getting from everyday life.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/06/technology-time-perception_n_4378010.html).

One of my pet peeves, for example, is the use of cell phones at the dinner table. If my daughters are not checking their phones in plain view, they are hiding them under the table. This constant need for information and instant gratification has changed everything about life—including family dynamics.

The world is moving at such a swift pace these days that we feel busier than ever before. We speed through dinner so we can get to the next task. In a sense technology is a double-edged sword. In some ways it has improved our quality of life but in other ways it has hindered it.

As a writer, the internet has certainly made my life a lot easier. Gone are the days of going to the library to search for the latest information. Nowadays everything is easily accessible online. Constantly being connected, however, has in many ways blurred the boundaries between work and non-work.

Since we constantly feel the need to stay on top of things we rarely take the time to disconnect. And, yet, this is exactly what we need to do from time to time. We’ve all become so crazed by all the big, amazing technology out there that we’ve forgotten about all those small things that used to amaze us.

Here are some simple tips:

  1. Take the Time to Detach: Whenever possible, leave your smartphone home. Take a break from Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  2. Focus on the Moment: How do we concentrate on the moment when we are constantly worrying about the next thing on the agenda? Practice mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness means bringing your awareness to the present moment. That may sound easy but with all the distractions that we have going on today, it has actually become harder and harder. Take a deep breath and truly acknowledge your thoughts and feelings at that moment. It’s a great way to stay grounded and focused on the things that really matter without jumping ahead to all those things that don’t matter. For example, stop constantly checking your Facebook post to see what people are saying. Ethel Barrett, a writer and speaker, once said, “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.”
  3. Take Note of Your Priorities: We spend so much time jumping from one thing to the next that we forget, as my daughter Lia pointed out earlier, what’s really important. Stop. Take a moment to think about what you are doing and decide what is truly important to you. Then spend more time thinking about the things that matter and less time fretting over the things that don’t.
  4. Make Time for Friends and Family: As I sit here writing this blog, I can honestly think of several people that I regrettably lost touch with. Yes, as a mother, author and speaker, I am busy. But I don’t care how busy you are, you make time for the people you want to make time for.
  5. Be Spontaneous: Everyone has such jam-packed schedules these days that it has become increasingly difficult to just be spontaneous. Do something unplanned once in a while and just enjoy the moment.
  6. Don’t Lose Sight of YOU! I added this one last because if there is one tip that I would like you to take away from this blog, this would be it. We get so caught up in the everyday grind that we forget about the one person who matters most: YOU! Believe me when I tell you that I’ve been there and done that. I’ve often been so busy worrying about everybody else that I’ve forgotten to take care of me. Sound familiar? Don’t lose sight of you. Allow yourself that much needed time out and do something for YOU!

Actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (more commonly known by his stage name Moliere), once said, “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” If you take the time to slow down if only a little, you’ll begin to notice beauty you’ve never seen before. Not that it wasn’t there before, you just never took the time to notice.

To Be, Or Not to Be There

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Suess

“To be, or not to be: that is the question,” is undoubtedly one of the most famous lines of all Shakespearean literature.  In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet questions whether it is better to live or die.  He compares the pain and struggles of life with the uncertainties and fears of death.  Which is better, he ponders?

There are many couples out there staying together for the benefit of the children.  A recent study, however, showed that 82% of young people aged 14 to 22 who have gone through family divorce and breakups prefer their parents’ divorce than stay unhappy.  (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/22/children-divorce-resolution-survey-rather-parents-separate)

pairMany couples are there but not really there.  For example, they are in the same room together but not paying any attention to each other.  One may be watching television while the other is reading or at the computer.  This is, of course, OK sometimes but it’s not OK when it’s the norm.

As I get older, I am both surprised and not surprised by how often I have heard this.  Just recently I ran into an old friend who told me that though she remains married, she and her husband actually live separate lives.

We had a lengthy chat about it and her feeling was that far too often one partner changes and the other doesn’t.  Eventually one or both partners realizes that they are no longer compatible and one even begins to lose respect for the other.

Why do so many people stay together?  The main reason is fear.  Fear of being alone and not being able to make it on our own.  Or maybe you’re afraid there is nothing better out there.  As my mother always says, “The grass is not always greener on the other side.”  That may be true but it doesn’t mean we have to stay in a muddy relationship in the meantime.  But this is not limited to romantic relationships.  This also includes our relationships with other family members and friends.

We may put up with abuse from a family member because they are family.  Or we may put up with an arrogant friend because we ironically don’t “want to hurt their feelings.”

How many times have you stayed in a friendship because of “the history” you both have together?  Maybe you put up with abuse because you don’t want to lose your mutual circle of friends. Or maybe you are afraid of making the wrong decision.  Some people reason it’s better to stay in a bad relationship than no relationship at all.

I get it.  I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t stayed in a bad relationship or two.  Change is not easy.  Sometimes it’s easier to stay within our comfort zone.

But rather than just maintaining the status quo, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Be honest with yourself.  If you’ve tried everything to improve a relationship and it isn’t working, then you have a decision to make.  Do you love your partner or friend enough to stay in the relationship as is?  Or do you love yourself enough to move on?
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. You can’t be honest with yourself if you don’t first recognize how you feel and why you feel the way that you do.  If your partner is refusing to see a therapist, go yourself.
  3. Welcome change. You can’t improve what you don’t change.  Without change, there are no opportunities and no areas for personal growth. You’ll never know what you are missing.

Far too often, we stay in a relationship hoping to change our partner.  Truthfully, the only person you can change is you.  You have no control over the other person.  But you certainly have control over your thoughts and actions.  You certainly have control over how you respond to any given situation.

Being in a relationship whether it is platonic or romantic does not make you happy.  You make yourself happy.  No one else has control over your emotional state at the moment.  So don’t give up control.

Think of it this way.  Relationships can be wonderful and they certainly add to our lives but they don’t complete them.  The people in our lives don’t make us whole.  We are the only ones who can make ourselves and our lives complete.

As Hamlet says, “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”  One that only you can answer.