Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Year of Being Grateful

by Monica Bobbitt

And here we are in the dwindling hours of another year. Hours have turned to days, days to weeks, weeks to months. And seemingly in an instant, we have reached New Year's once again. 

For many, like me, 2017 was at times a difficult year. A year touched by sadness, and loss, but also one of new beginnings and hope.

As last year drew to a close, I challenged myself to make this year my Year of Being Grateful.

My father had just recently been diagnosed with a lung tumour, and I knew intuitively that this would be a very difficult year. Of course, I really had no idea just how difficult it would be.

Because nothing can truly prepare you for the agony of watching someone die.

My daily grateful posts were meant to hold me accountable: to remind me to take time each day to focus on the positive, and to remind me that as terrible as things might sometimes be, I still had so much to be grateful for.

And I do.


I had no idea that my daily posts would resonate so much with so many. But then, we very rarely realize how much we inspire others as we attempt to inspire ourselves.

The truth is we all need more positivity, more hope, more gratitude.

Especially after this year. This year seemed particularly challenging. Natural disasters, mass shootings, terrorism, fires, political upheavalall these events weighed heavy on our collective psyche.

And so many of us were dealing with our own personal issues.

Though surface appearances on social mediaFacebook and Instagrampaint happy pictures of perfection, most of us are leading far from perfect lives. Because there is no such thing.

Death, divorce, deployments, career change, cancer, illness, mental health issues, addiction, parenting issues, financial concerns. Every single day someone we know is dealing with something. And sometimes that someone is us.

And when it is us, it's hard to see anything but the heaviness of what we are facing.

When we look back on a year in which something difficult has happened, that tends to be all we see. Tragedy. Loss. Sadness.

A vast void where someone we love once lived. Broken dreams. Mistakes and failures. Opportunities lost.

It's so easy to get caught up in what we don't have, we fail to see what we do have.

And we don't see that we made it through it all.

We become so focused on the sadness we can't see anything else.

But the good is there. It was there all year. It's always been there.

If only we take the time to stop and see it.

Some days it's as simple as the sun shining on your face on a cold winter's day. Or rain washing away your tears.

A hot cup of coffee shared with a friend.

A much-needed hug.

It's the scent of salt lingering on an ocean breeze or woodsmoke curling towards the autumn sky.

It's roses still blooming on a cold October day.

It's the sweat on your forehead and burn in your lungs as you finish a run.

Sometimes it's something profound and meaningful a mended relationship, your health, your family.

And sometimes it's the words you took the time to say.

I love you.

I miss you.

Goodbye.

Every single day there is something to be grateful for.

Including that day.

Each day is a gift. Yes, even the agonizing ones.



There are so many people who won't get the gift of another day, another year.

The ones who will never again feel sadness or happiness; joy or pain.

They will never get the chance to make it right. To try again. To love again.

But we have that chance. We have this day. And if we are one of the lucky ones, we will have tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. And eventually, those days will become another year.

Tonight as the page turns on another year, may you look back on 2017 forgivingly.

And gratefully.

May you see the person you lost, not the hole in their stead.

May you see hope for the future, not broken dreams.

May you see the lessons you learned, not the mistakes you made.

May you see the wisdom you gained, not the opportunities lost.

And as you look ahead to 2018, may you do so hopefully.

And gratefully.

This year, may you let go of past hurts, and bitterness and resentment.

And may you move forward, inch by inch, with optimism and purpose.

May you be brave enough to take chances and make mistakes.  

Because life is far too short to live with regrets.

May you celebrate your successes and your failures. Because even if you fail, you know you tried. And if you do fail, pick yourself up, and try again. Never stop trying. Because when you stop trying, you stop living.

This year, may you have enough courage to trust love again, one more time. And always one more time. Don't close your life off to love. Because a life without love is like a book without words. Or a year with no summer.

And may you always believe in yourself. Grab a hold of the pen and write the story of you. For you. Don't write the story others want to read; write the story you want to read.

This year, may you make the most out of every single day. Even the boring ordinary ones.

May you never forget there is always, always something to be grateful for.

And may you make the time this year to see it. 


"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce



Cheers to blank pages, new chapters and another year of being grateful. Happy New Year,

Monica 


Click here to learn 7 Tips For Coping With Holiday Grief 

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/agoatrodeo/







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Saturday, December 9, 2017

When It's Not The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. 7 Tips For Coping With Holiday Grief

by Monica Bobbitt

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but for many, it is anything but the happiest season of all. For those grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with difficult life challenges such as divorce or illness, the holidays are not merry and bright.

For all too many, they are bleak, lonely, and sad.

The holidays can be overwhelming and stressful at the best of times, even more so if you're grieving the loss of a loved one (or your marriage or health). The holidays can intensify feelings of loss and loneliness. Family gatherings and holiday celebrations are often painful reminders of all that you have lost.

There is so much pressure to be happy at Christmas. Commercials, music, and movies all push happiness and joy. Stores and restaurants are festively bedazzled with decorations to celebrate the season. Even a simple cup of coffee turns into a reminder that the holidays are near. And everyone everywhere is telling you to be of good cheer. Sometimes it's all so overwhelming; you just want to yell,

"I don't have any freaking cheer left, good or otherwise."

In fact, I actually did mutter those very words to myself the first Christmas after my husband died.

We spent that first Christmas squashed into a 200-year-old rental house. All of our things were in storage, so I bought and borrowed a few ornaments in an attempt to make it seem and feel more festive. Still partially numb with grief, my main priority was making sure my kids had as good of a Christmas as possible, given the circumstances.

I forced myself through the motions of cooking a turkey dinner for the kids, my in-laws, and parents in an antiquated kitchen. It was unseasonably warm, +20 C and raining, hardly festive weather. The rain outside matched the gloom in my heart. I counted each agonizing minute, waiting for the day to be done until finally, it was over. As I lay in bed that night, staring at the uneven boards on the ceiling, I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

I had survived the first Christmas.

We were long settled into our new house by the time the second Christmas rolled around. I was totally unprepared for the tsunami of emotions that washed over me as I unpacked our Christmas decorations and ornaments for the first time since Dan died.

My Christmas spirit still hadn't returned, but I was determined to recapture that cozy feeling I'd always had during the holidays. I threw myself into it with gusto. Too much gusto.

I spent days and days decorating, shopping, and baking. Every time I thought I was finished I would think,

“Maybe, just a little bit more.”

And so I would bake another treat, buy one more round of gifts, string another set of lights.

But of course, a little bit more wasn’t enough. And it never would be. The truth was, no amount of decorations, or gifts, or cookies were ever going to make Christmas feel the same again.

I couldn’t see then that I was over-compensating. I was trying to make up for the previous Christmas, and all that we had lost.  I very much believed that it was up to me to make Christmas perfect for everyone; for my kids, my in-laws, my own parents. I spent so much time worrying about making Christmas wonderful for everyone else, I neglected myself.  I was physically exhausted and emotionally overwrought. Which is how I found myself in my garage one day shortly before Christmas sobbing on my father-in-law’s shoulder, as I had so often done in the months since Dan had died,

“I can’t do this anymore.”

And it was at that moment I realized that I never had to do it in the first place. It was never my job to make Christmas perfect for everyone else. I was not responsible for everyone’s Christmas happiness.

I was only one person, trying to do the best I could. I needed to set priorities and establish boundaries, not just for the holidays.

And so I did.

If you are struggling with grief during the holidays, these seven tips may help you cope a little better:

1. Give yourself permission to feel sadness and happiness.
Happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive.

It's only natural that you will feel sadness during the holidays. How could you not? A big piece of your heart is missing.

There were so many times that second Christmas that I stifled my tears, I was so worried I would ruin the holiday mood for everyone else. I didn’t want to make anyone else sad. I should never have buried my emotions; I should have allowed myself the time and space to grieve.

But it's also equally okay, it’s more than okay, to allow yourself to be happy at Christmas too. You are allowed to enjoy the holidays. Savour those little moments of joy as they come.

Whenever I passed the Christmas tree, I would stop and inhale the sweet scent of fresh balsam fir. I would close my eyes and stand in stillness, and for that moment, I allowed Christmas joy back into my heart.


2. Set limits.
You are only one person; you can only do so much. You don’t have to do everything you used to do before.

 I no longer bake nearly as much as I used to at Christmas, I have scaled the decorating back by over half, and I shop as much as I can online (malls stress me out at the best of times). All of these things have drastically reduced my stress level.

If you are having family visit at Christmas, delegate (which is something I sometimes struggle to do). Ask other people to help out with meals and holiday preparations.

Last Christmas, my children very willingly pitched in and helped wrap, shop, and cook. Many hands make light work, and for the first time since I’d had children, I was actually able to sit back and really enjoy the holidays.

3. Be true to yourself.
You know what is best for you. Don’t feel obligated to do things in order to please other people or because you are worried about what they might think of you if you don’t do them.

One Christmas, the kids and I loaded up in the car and headed off to the cemetery. We weren’t going because we wanted to.  We were going because my in-laws had gone and I felt we had to go as well. And I was worried they wouldn’t understand if we didn’t go. We arrived at the cemetery and immediately felt overwhelmed by sadness. It brought us no comfort to be there that day. Nor did it make us feel any closer to Dan. And as our youngest daughter pointed out, he was already with us anyway. We haven’t gone on Christmas Day since.

Our grief is as unique as we are, and we all have to grieve (and heal) in our own way.  What is comforting for one may not be comforting for another. And you know what? That’s okay.

4. Say no.
You don’t have to participate in events or attend family gatherings if you are not up to it. If you find it overwhelming, don’t feel obligated to attend (or host). Many find comfort in being surrounded by lots of family; others do not. Sometimes you do feel lonelier in a crowd than you do on your own.

I still sometimes find large family gatherings difficult to manage, especially at the holidays. I am much more acutely aware of my “oneness” when I’m with Dan’s entire extended family. Fortunately, I have learned my limits, and if I think it will be too much for me emotionally, I no longer force myself to attend. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it just means it’s too much for me.

5. Take care of you.
You will be no good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself. You have to make time for you. Try not to overindulge in food and alcohol (a tall order on any holiday). Try to get enough rest, and don’t neglect your physical fitness. Make the time to get outside in the fresh air. It will help you cope with stress and grief better.

6. Start new traditions.
Christmas does not have to look exactly the same as it used to be.  Because Christmas won’t be exactly the same as it once was. New holiday traditions are a positive way to start a new chapter in your life.

Dan loved the new coloured LED lights, I do not. I prefer white lights. So I bought white icicle lights for my new house, and I love them.

We’ve incorporated new traditions in with the old. Every year we add new ornaments to our tree. We still hang our stockings on Christmas Eve, but we don’t hang Dan’s. We still make Moose Milk the same way he loved it though. Why mess with a delicious thing?

7. Treasure the memories.
Memories of past holidays may be painful at first. But they can also be a source of great comfort. Our memories are precious treasures.

After the second Christmas, I realized I needed to change my focus. Instead of focusing on how Christmas would never be the same without Dan, I needed to be grateful for all of the wonderful Christmases we did have. And we had so many. In all of our years of marriage, he never missed one, single Christmas. An almost miraculous accomplishment considering he was in the military.

The kids and I have a treasure trove of wonderful Christmas memories with their Dad. And I will always be so grateful for that.

This coming Christmas will be the fourth one since he died. It hasn't been easy, but I have found joy in Christmas again. And so can you. It may not happen the first Christmas or even the second, but if you are kind to yourself and patient, you and Christmas joy will find each other again. 

And someday you may even once again find yourself humming, 

"It's the most wonderful time of the year."

With much love over the holidays,

Monica

Click here to learn What Grieving Friends Wish You Would Say

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agoatrodeo/



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Friday, December 1, 2017

What Grieving Friends Wish You Would Say. 10 Things To Say To A Friend Who Has Lost A Spouse

by Monica Bobbitt

It can be hard to support a friend who has experienced the death of their spouse. You want to help your grieving friend. But you are unsure of what to say. What can you do to help?

When my husband was killed in a military training exercise, our friends and military community rallied around me to provide support. For many, it was their first experience losing a close friend. They had no idea what they were doing, and honestly neither did I.

A few days after my husband’s funeral, an acquaintance called to check on me. My mouth dropped as I heard her say,

“I know what you are going through. My dog died last month. I’m still heartbroken.”

I was stunned. How could she be so insensitive? How could she know what I was feeling? She’d never buried her husband. Losing your dog is not the same as losing your husband.

Another friend informed me that I would be miserable and lonely for the rest of my life.

“You’re going to be so miserable. You’ll never ever be as happy again as you were when Dan was alive.”

I knew my friends didn’t mean to be insensitive (really). They were actually trying to be supportive. They just had no idea what to say.

It’s a problem many of us struggle with when someone we know loses a spouse (or anyone else).

When someone is grieving, words can seem so inadequate. We often struggle to find the right words. And sometimes we end up saying completely the wrong ones.

Some people are so scared they will say or do the wrong thing they purposefully avoid the bereaved person, thinking that’s better than saying the wrong thing. It’s actually not better; it’s one of the worst things you can do. Avoidance is hurtful and confusing to someone who is already dealing with so much.

The truth is there is nothing you can say that will take away your friend’s pain. There are no magic words you can say that will fix it, you can’t fix the unfixable.

But there are some things you can say (or do) to provide much-needed comfort to a bereaved friend during a terribly difficult time.

1. I don't know how you feel.
No one can ever truly understand what another person is feeling. Even if we have suffered a similar loss, our pain and grief are as unique to each of us as our fingerprint is. No two people will grieve and mourn in the same way.

Don’t compare your friend’s loss to a loss you have experienced, especially to the loss of a pet. Losing a pet is definitely not the same as losing your husband.

2. I'm sorry for your loss.
They may not seem like enough, but these simple words convey so much meaning and show you truly care.

3. I'm not sure what to say. 
Be honest with your friend and tell them you are at a loss for words, trust me, they will understand.

Before my husband died, I’m not sure I would have known what to say to a friend who’d lost a spouse either. Though, I’d like to hope I wouldn’t have compared it to losing my dog. 

4. I'm here for you.
Everyone needs to know they are not alone. Knowing there is someone you can reach out to when you need them, whether its 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., is vital and so reassuring.
I had friends I knew I could message in the middle of the night when I had nightmares or couldn’t sleep. And ones I knew would drop everything in an instant to be there for me. 

5. Say nothing.
This is not the same as avoiding your friend.

Sometimes you do say it best when you say nothing at all. There will be times your friend doesn’t need you to say anything.

They just need you to sit with them in silence. Hold their hand, pass them a tissue, or make them a coffee. Let them cry.

Listen. Let them talk about their sorrows, no matter how personal or messy it gets.

Listening, without judgment, is one of the most important things you can do for a grieving friend.

6. I'm thinking of you.
Grief lasts long after everyone has gone home and all the funeral flowers have wilted. Knowing someone has taken the time out of their day to think of you is very comforting, especially if it’s been several months (or even years) since your loss.

A message that only takes a few seconds to send can make all the difference in the world to someone who is feeling lost and alone.

It’s been three and a half years since my husband was killed, and I still have people reach out to me on a regular basis.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you today.”

Those messages truly warm my heart.  It’s so nice to know people still care.

7. Ask them what they'd like to talk about.
They might want to discuss their loss or their circumstances. Or they might just want to talk about something ordinary, like the weather.

For weeks after my husband died, it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk to me about was his death and my grief. It was so heavy to think about all the time.

I had one friend who didn’t talk to me about my loss at all. Instead, he would talk to me about the weather or wind turbines or bats (all conversations we actually had) and for those brief few minutes each day, I didn't have to think about my grief or my broken heart or how awful my life was going to be.

8. I'm coming to take the garbage out.
Even the simplest of tasks can be overwhelming to someone who is grieving. Avoid the tendency to ask the bereaved what they need you to do because, in all honesty, they likely don’t even know what they need you to do.

Take out the garbage, mow the lawn, or shovel the driveway. Make a list of household chores that need to be done and divide them between those who have offered to help.

After my husband died, so many people stepped up to help. One sorted all of his military kit; others took care of my lawn, a group of them pitched in to hire a house-cleaning service.

There was no way I could have managed all of it on my own, especially in those early weeks. They eased some of the load on my already overburdened shoulders.

9. Talk about their loved one.
When someone dies, we often worry if we talk about them it will make the griever more upset. In fact, the opposite is true. When someone loses a loved one, they want to talk about them. And they want to hear their name.

Say their name; share your own stories and memories of them. It’s comforting to know how much you loved them and will miss them too.

After Dan died, I heard so many wonderful (and funny) stories about him from his friends and soldiers. They made me feel closer to him and made me laugh. Not surprisingly, many of them involved Dan spilling coffee on someone or something. He really could be such a klutz sometimes. 

10. Would you like a hug?
Not everyone is touchy-feely, but physical contact can be meaningful and comforting to someone who is grieving. A hug won’t take away their pain, but it will make them feel loved and a little more secure.

I was always a hugger, but I find I’m even more so now. I hug a little tighter, and a little longer. Just in case. Because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.


Supporting someone who is grieving can be challenging and difficult. It is gut-wrenching watching someone you love suffer. You aren’t going to have all of the answers, and you won’t get everything right. And that’s okay.

The most important thing you can do is show up. Be there for them in the days and weeks (and months and years) after their loss.

Show up. Say or do something. Listen when they need you to.

Be there. Be a friend who cares.

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ~Henri Nouwen

Chat soon,
Monica

Click here to learn  What Grieving Friends Wish You Wouldn't Say
To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agoatrodeo/ 


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