I was cutting the grass today, and out of the blue, I thought of my friend who I had lost touch with years ago. I recently found out he had died along with his sister, who was also a friend of mine. As grief seems to do, I was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. Regret being one that I had lost touch in the first place and profound sadness that I would never be able to see him again or to tell him face to face how much I thought of him.
Many people I have loved, cared for or just had the privilege to know as a friend or in the community have died in the past 15 or so years. Varying ages and varying circumstances. Some without warning and others with time to say goodbye being gifted a few extra precious moments.
I sat, remembering them both with love and considered how grief manifests in life. The grieving process weaves its way with loss of relationships, loss of moments in time and situations you wish you could change to name a few. So many times, people forget the impact of loss of all levels. Many relate it only to the death of a person or pet.
To start grief can feel like an alien thing that is happening to you rather than is part of you. Travelling through the tornado of emotions can be exhausting and all-consuming. Relationships can change during this period as many do not know how to be around you while you are in your pain. Other times you may not share with the outside world what you are going through and therefore retreating socially.
Unprocessed grief or trauma can lead to PTSD, which is a condition that I have experienced. It is misunderstood and not discussed openly too often. It can be challenging to explain what this is, and to many, it is vastly different from person to person. From my experience, the differences come mostly from what the triggers within PTSD are. Triggers are a reaction to smell, environment, person or sound, for example. It can come out of the blue when least expecting it. The triggers can lead to body trauma, nightmares and other health conditions.
In an everyday mode, you could smell coffee brewing, for example, and it reminds you of a long lost family member. For me, Dove soap is a classic. Without fail, it reminds me of both my grandmothers and such vivid memories come into my mind with it. With PTSD however it then might lead to several symptoms including shaking, sweating, nausea and flashbacks. This can be all-consuming.
Over the years I have built on my behavioural training as a wellness guide to support others through grief either leading up to an expected loss of a loved one or after loss has occurred and also to support people who are experiencing PTSD. With support and tools it is possible learn to walk with the grief as if it is a friend rather than in fear of the next wave of pain or heartbreak. Flowing with the journey to acceptance rather than fighting it can reduce stored trauma in the body.
Today with the memory of my lovely friend, other losses came forward and settled into my heart. The familiar feeling of grief wove its way through me. I breathed in the warm air and let out a breath of love knowing that I have the tools and strength to ride the wave of loss and welcomed it in. Grief is part of my life as it is with many. It is an honour. It means I am strong, I have loved, I have known love, and I have had opportunities to learn from challenging times. It has given me the tools to support others in their trauma.
I carried on cutting the grass with my friend on my mind and a smile on my face for the happy times we had shared and deep gratitude in my heart.
“Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” – Mohammad Ali
At a family gathering today a conversation caused me to reflect on this quote and how it is relevant to how we can choose to live life. The conversation was with a three-generation span about climate, humanity and change. Frustrations over the outlook for the younger generation came out and how in their lifetime they could indeed see the point of no return for the planet.
It was just the other day that my youngest son brought up bees, and how if the bees were to all die ultimately we would all die. My son and I talked about how different animals contribute to the survival of the planet. We talked of how we all play a part on earth, and some have had a much bigger impact than others. Today the topic came up about a beach clean up on the Seychelles remote atoll of Aldabra where over 50,000 flip flops were among the 25 tonnes of debris washed up from the ocean. It took over 5 weeks to clean this up. Sad to think that while this materialistic waste is being picked up off the beach that there is an ocean full of more debris. Some of the sea life including mussels, clams and microbes are all trying to do their part in filtrating the water while we as humans continue to pollute it.
Not only debris is a culprit to ocean life but gluttony plays its hand. Take the sturgeon as an example of a species that is over 200 million years old and now unfortunately, are in the list of critically endangered species. Humans harvest sturgeon’s eggs at such a high rate that this sadly is the main threat to this amazing deep sea creature. It was also reported that the fishing for fish sea bass and hake was responsible for the deaths over 1000 dolphins in March 2019. It was found that their fins get caught in the nets, and the fisherman cut off the fins, so the nets do not get damaged.
The younger generation asked why wasn’t anything changing and how did it get to this point. I considered this and remembered going to watch a screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I wondered how much had been done since that was first released. I know that at the time in our own community many people were in shock about the contents. I looked up how long ago that was and was shocked that it was 2006. 13 years ago. In 13 years what has changed as far as helping our planet? I then remembered Bee Movie which introduced in a family friendly way the concept of how important the bees are to the survival of earth. This was released in 2007. 12 years ago. The animated movie WALL-E also came to mind where what is left of the human race has to live on a space ship while the planet heals. Earth is full of trash piled high, and only a few robots live on it to take samples and send reports. This was released in 2008. 11 years ago. Currently, at the dump or indeed the stores there is an excessive amount of everything. Anything you can possibly think of or want all at our disposal and most of it we don’t actually need. It is similar to the movie and stuff is, in fact, taking over everything.
With this in mind I thought on the sloth and how it takes in its needs from close by and keeps movement and action to an absolute minimum. It doesn’t seek beyond what is that basic need. The fact that sloths have been on this planet for almost 64 million years shows that their slow and resourceful strategy is a success. We as humans are always looking outside of ourselves and keeping such a face-paced life that our priorities and health are at risk. Becoming more sloth-like and keeping things to a minimum not only benefits our own mental state and health but it also keeps our impact on the earth minimized. Slow and sloth-like leads to a longer richer life. It is a little like the tortoise and the hare. We are currently in hare mode racing to the finish line and tortoise can, in fact, enjoy a lengthier, calmer and more peaceful way of getting there.
I know from social media some feel that global warming and the dying of our planet is thought to be a conspiracy theory or scare tactics. There is so much evidence of the earth failing around us, and humans are failing the earth. Comfort and greed are outweighing morality. Do we really need sea bass and hake that badly that we are willing to kill dolphins for it? Do we really need weed or dandelion-free lawns more than we need bees that are the essence of thriving life on this planet? Do we need caviar enough that we are willing to make species extinct?
Most of us will not react or take action until it directly affects us and sadly when it does it will most likely be too late to make the change. It was asked today if we could do just one thing that could make a difference and commit to it what would it be. Some of the younger generation asked if there was a point as so many others won't change or sacrifice their comfort. If we all did make the one choice could it make a difference?
I did a test run on a possible decision that I could make. I considered the grocery store I go to and how much I spend there per week. I then multiplied it over a year I was shocked that if my one choice were to completely buy local, I would take over $16,000 away from corporations. Multiply that by 10 other families making that same choice, for example, would be $160,000 taken away. How about 50 or 100 families? That is a huge sum of money and all making a change. The point isn't to take jobs away from the grocery store; it is to tip the balance of making local and sustainable food more affordable. To reduce packaging and waste and to allow local growers to thrive and corporations to reduce their pollution output. This was a great financial exercise to see what a difference just one person's decision could make.
2035 or 2050 have both been surmised to be the point of no return for our planet. If you will still be alive at that point or have children what is one thing you can do right now and stick to? Would you play your part in making sure that the point of no return doesn’t happen? What legacy do you want to leave behind for your children or grandchildren?
The dance of the bee is coming to a very slow waltz as we continue to walk in our own cloud of illusion. Floating like a butterfly is essential at this time by taking graceful care of yourself, loved ones and the earth. Allow love and forgiveness to grow while softly creating subtle healing. It is a little like coming out of your own cocoon of rebirth and taking your place alongside all living things and starting to ripple change.
This is an absolutely beautiful planet that provides and gifts us with air, water and nourishment. Because of this planet, we can love, laugh and cry. We can fall in love, dance and sing. We can be in this very moment because of this planet.
So do you want to float like the butterfly and sting like a bee? Do you want your actions count as the bee makes its sting count? Do you want to float like a butterfly? Loving life for its beauty and being part of a thriving ecosystem?
Remember a butterfly is living proof that when faced with a possible dire end a beautiful beginning can take place.
I was cooking when I received a message from a lovely friend. The message was recognition of the length of our friendship, and that true friendship isn’t tainted by time, geography or marital status. True friendships really do mean that there can be years apart and when you meet again it will seem like yesterday. As I continued to cook, I reflected on the saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I believe that people always come into your life for a reason irrespective of the timeline.
I stirred the sauce and added a pinch or two of spices, and as I did, I considered that relationships are like seasoning. Some spices you add frequently and others occasionally. This is true with some friendships. Each spice or herb adds a little something different to the meal and each friend adds something different to your relationship. The spectrum of flavours are just like the spectrum of personalities in people. You ultimately know which ones add heat, sweet or zest!
I considered this friend and the reason we were brought together and some of the values that it has instilled in me. Some of these included being a safe person for another, holding no judgement for another and finding fun in situations where I hadn’t before. Among many things, we had spent some time together in an orphanage overseas as part of a fundraising program. The experience was magical, challenging and full of diversities and tragedies. The people we met laughed and loved in the face of their own difficulties. The children were crammed into small rooms with little food, and yet they always greeted us with huge smiles and hugs. Each day I saw them find happiness in simple things. The experience was emotional, humbling and expansive. My sister came with us on a couple of the trips, and the three of us would follow the lead of the children finding laughter in the sadness. One evening we joined a family for a meal. Their home consisted of three rooms. The family bed was in the main room, and there was a kitchen and an area for the toilet. We sat crossed legged on the floor and shared a delicious meal with simple heartfelt ingredients. The family had taken time to slow cook the food taking sheer pleasure in creating the meal. Conversation and heart grew while we humbly ate. Looking at my own meal that I was preparing I thought how many of us rush everything these days including meals and eating. In this society, it is easy to forget that something so important can be so simple. Gathering ingredients and the pleasure of a few items coming together to create mouth-watering delights can be full of connection for ourselves and loved ones.
Thinking back to the children at the orphanage I see that their relationships were built on a simpler foundation without the materialistic noise of our society. The children were finding pleasure in learning about each other or being creative with items and life around them. They were genuinely connected on all levels with themselves and each other. Many of us irrespective of age are in a disconnected state looking outside of ourselves rather than within. Our society has become a quick fix society.
Ultimately looking within first and being completely at peace with yourself is the only way to be in healthy relationships. The analogy of peeling the layers of an onion in regards to self-help is very relevant. The outer skin is scrappy and protective, and then the other layers have built up through its growth to ultimately protect its sweet centre. To look within at your own sweet centre is key. The real starting point is to begin by almost dating yourself again. Take time to fall in love with who you are and if needs be to divorce yourself and then start over getting to know yourself again! It is critical to love yourself first before you can be in full healthy relationships.
To be the best that I can be for myself and others, I had to learn to be my own reason and my personal lifetime friend. That does mean saying no, removing some relationships from your life and being able to really see yourself for all that you are. Only when you are all things to yourself can you experience all things in others and see them for who they really are.
Whether it is a lifetime or a season remember that there is always a reason. The ingredients of a meal are like your life. Choose wisely what spices or flavours you add as a meal can be delicious or a disaster. There is a lesson in both. Any situation you can learn and grow from, and anyone you meet can add flavour to your life if you allow it. Whether it is the person next to you at the grocery store or a lifetime friend they all have value.
My own meal turned out simmered, spicy and rich, and I made sure that we took the time to sit and enjoy this simple yet beautiful moment.
It was the funeral for my kind and caring Uncle Wayne this weekend. So many people turned up that they were lined up outside of the chapel for the entire service. There was a wide range of ages and genders, and he had touched all of their lives in a positive and lasting way. During the ceremony, people recalled stories of him and how he had brought laughter and light to their lives. He found humour in each day and showed thoughtfulness by his actions.
What became apparent through the service was how when he was handed a lemon in life he indeed did stick to the motto and made lemonade. Items that were trash to others he made into treasures. I talked to a few people after the funeral and shared stories with each other. Many said they felt humbled by knowing my uncle and also by what they had heard during the funeral. They thought that they didn’t offer life and others the same openness and care as Wayne had done. Even in his passing, he made a positive impact on others to try and be a little more like him in life.
On my own journey, I have worked to change challenging situations into something more wonderful. A little like the stone soup story in a way by taking something that seems hopeless and making something expansive. Facing diversity, grief or trauma can make this feel like it is impossible and at times perhaps this is true. In the end, though we do have a choice. The choice to find the good among the sadness. The choice to rejoice in simple things or just see what is wrong. The choice to choose love over hate and the choice to find the lemons of life sour or make it into lemonade.
Remembering that you are a fabulous being for all that you are in darkness and light is a significant first step. Choosing to stand in love and not fear can allow bitterness and sadness to flow through your body rather than stick to your soul. Finding the treasure within the so-called trash of your life is a fantastic gift.
So what are you going to choose? A glass half empty and sour lemons or a glass half full of sweet lemonade? I know what my Uncle Wayne would have chosen.
Amongst the dogs barking and the bearded dragon trying to catch crickets today I began making another batch of chocolate chip banana muffins. A lone ripe banana caught my eye, and for a moment all the noise stopped around me. I became wholly absorbed in the yellow of its skin and the slight mottling of the brown signs of age. There were areas where the skin had started to sag a little and creases here and there. It was laying next to an unripe almost green tinged banana, and this was smooth and seemingly flawless.
I looked at my own hands and saw that there were some similarities between the ripe banana and my hand. Slight sagging and creasing and some brown spots starting. I had noticed at the grocery store yesterday that the overripe bananas had been bundled into bags on the discounted rack. "Still good for baking" the sign had said. I considered how this too felt in parallel to humans and how in time we become less smooth, more wrinkled we are often discounted. We are often placed as less than but still good for some things. As I continued to stir the batter, I placed the spoon down and peeled the ripe banana. The inside was a little mushy and brown in places. A memory came to mind where my son had talked to me about how someone had said that there were two types of older people. Kind and bitter and no real in-between. We had a fantastic conversation discussing why some people may feel this way and what could be done differently. As I considered this I tasted each banana in front of me. The vaguely green one and the saggy overripe one and the tastes, as you know, are very different. The overripe banana so delicious and sweet and the young banana without too much flavour. This also can be said for the richness of the soul. Most humans with time become richer in their journey with stories and life lessons that some never share. All humans, actually all beings, have an exterior shell they present to the world, and the soul and or heart is the true richness. The beauty of the exterior often never mirrors the bounty within.
The bananas had now become delectable moist and tasty muffins for breakfast, and so the circle of life continued. Young and old we all have worth as is true for all things.
The barking delights of the dogs became more present in my mind, and the bearded dragon caught all of his crickets. The days journey now began with muffins warm and ready on the table.
Andrea Lines is a mental health advocate and life coach with a passion for dynamically supporting change.
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