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Archive for March, 2011

Today was the fifth anniversary of the death of an 18 year old girl.  Aviva was my daughter’s college roommate overseas.  She was memorialized today with a brunch service that included moving and eloquent speeches and acknowledgment of a charity set up in her name to continue her good-natured work of helping those younger students less fortunate than her.  Hundreds of people turned out for this tribute in her memory. 

The youngest child, the only daughter of six children.   Aviva came home for spring vacation and within a week was gone as a result of a staph infection, leaving all her loved ones stricken to the core of their existence with grief; knocked off of their foundation of life.  The soul of a most beautiful and good- natured human being filled with all the radiance and purity of a brilliant diamond, was lifted up and taken where we can only hope is a better place.

Faith is what has kept her incredible parents and siblings alive with courage and strength to carry on, with a hole in their hearts and soul and yet a warm smile and words of encouragement for all. 

Today at this most special and meaningful tribute, Aviva’s family was there to greet all of the now 23 and 24 year old friends who have gone on with their lives; some to marry and have children of their own.  A most sincere and exuberant expression of true happiness from Aviva’s mom to my daughter who is due to give birth very soon.   While I cringed, she embraced.

I thought back… I had visited Aviva in the same hospital, the same ICU unit, with the same doctors, where my daughter had been 8 years ago.  I went to visit and speak to her parents, to convey the hope and prayer of a miracle like my daughter had, while also on every conceivable life-saving machine. 

But  alas….

Two teenagers

One lives; one dies

Both were loving, greatly loved

Lots of prayers surrounded them by all

One lives; one dies

What are the factors, the variables

That one should live

And one should die

Can’t ask why

No ‘real’ answer

G-d decided

“Who shall live and who shall die”

Struggling with the whys

An exercise in futility

Better to deal with the hows

How to go on with what is…..

May we all become better human beings because of Aviva’s short but most meaningful life and the lessons of goodness she taught us all by her being.

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Meaningful Happiness

How do we fill our bucket?

The Happiness word – it’s all around us.  Tons of happiness books, articles, even an Oprah show on it this week. 

We as a society seem to think if we have more, get more, buy more, we’ll get to that point where we can say we’re happy.   But we become bottomless pits.  It’s never enough and happiness becomes fleeting and elusive.   Then we need another ‘fix’ to create that state of happiness.

Perhaps we’re looking in all the wrong places.  Is it really about what we can get out there?

We are all aware of the high number of teenagers who suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies.   And yet we continue to ‘feed’ our kids with things in the hopes of making them happy.  I refer you to a very powerful and provocative documentary on this topic called Lucky Ducks, by Tracey Jackson.

 Is it about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? 

It’s about the rainbow itself with all its colors; the dark ones as well as the bright ones; the tough times in our lives as well as the good times. 

Someone recently sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal titled, “Is Happiness Overrated?”  For me it said it all in one new phrase- “eudaimonic well-being” – engaging in meaningful activity and living with a sense of purpose.   It’s about fulfillment and satisfaction. 

A sense of purpose, a sense of meaning, can keep one going even throughout the rough times.  When we’re connected to our sense of why, we can plow through our ‘whats’ and ‘hows’.  And we can even seek to infuse moments of joy and pleasure throughout.

I can honestly say that being by my daughter’s side during her 9 month recovery, proved to be one of the richest and most meaningful times in my life.  Yet it certainly wasn’t a happy time.

There were tremendous feelings of relief, joy and pride which flowed out in tears.  They took turns with the tears of sadness and grief for what she had to endure.   

The bad is all part of the rich tapestry of our lives.  It’s what we do with it, what we learn from it, how we integrate it into our lives so that we can manage it and create good from it.  That can bring ‘positiveness’ and create lasting feelings of satisfaction.

We weave through it all, allowing ourselves to feel and experience.  Hopefully we can even train ourselves to look behind the clouds and fill ourselves with the [hidden] rays of sun.

What are you engaged in that brings meaning and satisfaction to your life?

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How To Live Well

I am pleased to reprint the beginning of my guest post, published today on Alex Blackwell’s inspiring blog, The BridgeMaker.

“The art of living well and dying well are one.” Epicurus

Living in awareness of our mortality guides us in living life to its fullest.  It serves as a compass- pointing us in the right direction, according to each one of our maps.

We need not wait for that illness to strike before we examine our lives.

Click here to continue reading the article.

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Walking – Heart Work

Walking may have been instrumental in saving my daughter, Nava’s, life.

Being on a ventilator for almost 3 months, the doctors were surprised that her heart remained strong.  Despite the fact that her medical crisis began with a severely suppressed immune system whereby she became the statistic who developed a life-threatening secondary infection, a part of her was strong enough to fight her way through. 

At one point, Nava had eight chest tubes as her lungs kept popping holes.  They were that fragile.

The doctors were worried about her heart giving way at any point while in a coma on the respirator. Upon hearing of Nava’s years of exercise and walking, they felt that her cardiovascular fitness was a big plus in a heart that continued to beat.    

Years ago, I decided Nava needed to do something more than simply the physical therapy she received at school.   So I took her to the local gym and enrolled her with a personal trainer. 

At home, I was very frustrated with her couch potato life-style.   I figured that instead of sitting for hours at a time vegging out in front of the boob-tube, she could at least be walking some of that time while watching TV.  And so the treadmill entered our lives.      

Walking on the treadmill became a part of Nava’s daily routine; and to this day she continues to walk one hour a day.  She holds onto the handrails for balance and walks at a brisk pace of 4.5 miles-per-hour.   She now also incorporates interval training for weight control. 

By the time she got critically ill, Nava had been engaged in this exercise routine of cardio and strength–building, using machines and weights, for about 5 years.

It didn’t prevent her from getting sick, but it may have contributed to her miraculous survival.

When she finally began walking at the rehab hospital, first with a walker and then with a cane, the popular comment of encouragement from the staff was, “you’ll be back on that treadmill soon.”

And so she was, after her one year hospitalization.

Moral of the story:  start exercising; it could save your life.

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Coping, Au Natural

“Let me write out a prescription for something to help you get through the next few months.  If she survives, it’s going to be a long haul.”  This was said by one of the ICU doctor’s when my middle daughter, Nava, had a medical crisis that landed her in a drug-induced coma and on a ventilator. 

“No thank you”, I said, as my husband nudged me to at least take the prescription.   “I will attempt this the natural way.”  I rarely take a tylenol;  I was not going to start taking anti-anxiety pills.

I realized I needed to stay physically healthy and psychologically strong so that I could cope with this larger-than-life ordeal and be there for my daughter.   I quickly decided to resume what I had been doing for the past few years – walking.

And so I began my walking regimen, or I should say, my walking therapy.

Every morning before going to the hospital to begin my day’s vigil by my daughter’s bedside, I went to my neighborhood high school track and briskly walked at least 8 laps (2 miles).  No headphones to distract me; my thoughts and prayers kept me going around and around.

I focused on the large open grassy space, the one big beautiful green tree in my path and the sky, be it crystal clear or beautifully clouded.  I held onto those images.  I listened to my pain and heard it clearly.  I spoke to it.  I desperately needed the strength to go through this horrific pain each and every day.

Summer turned to fall and I walked among the fallen leaves on the path.  My big tree turned even more gorgeous as its leaves became vibrantly orange and golden.  My self-talk continued.  My plea was for the strength to carry on.  

Fall succumbed to winter when Nava was moved to a rehab facility in Westchester.  I continued my walking up there through the streets of the local neighborhood.   Bundled up, I walked for an hour, to the amazement of some of the school bus drivers who sometimes saw me and offered me a ride back.   I declined.

Walking was my charger and I had needed my daily recharging. 

I had set my sights on a nature trail that I came upon one day when driving around the area.  So when the crocuses popped their heads up along the path of the rehab hospital, I decided it was time to venture out and spend my ‘free’ hour walking along this path, watching spring arise.

Walking was clearly my daily dose of medicine.  I can count on two hands how many days I missed in 10 months.  And I only missed one day with Nava because of being slightly under the weather.

This became my pill-free way of dealing with the most difficult time in my life;  when I needed to be in as good a shape as possible to be at Nava’s side, assisting her every step of the way. 

Tips for a natural approach to coping with hardship and feelings of pain:

  • Find a natural stress buster that appeals to you:  walking, exercise, meditation,  breathing exercises,  yoga,  swimming, biking, to name a few.
  • Do it,  and then make it part of your daily routine.   
  • Focus on the activity.  For that short time, really hone in on what you’re doing.  It helps you feel grounded.
  • Listen to your voice of pain and sadness. Talk to yourself.  Let it be O.K.
  • Ask for what you want.  Pray to whom or whatever.

What is your natural way of dealing with hard times/circumstances?

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Having a Purpose

“He who has a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Nietzsche

I had a very difficult decision to make midway during the year my daughter was critically ill.  Do I go back to work now that she’s out of the acute critical stage of life and death, and in rehab, or do I take the second semester off as well?

I went up and down with this, going over all the pros and cons and had a hard time deciding  what was the best or right thing to do.

And then it just came to me like from the clearest of blue waters. It was the most obvious and natural response.  It suddenly felt so easy.    

My “job” was here in the rehab hospital alongside my daughter as she was working at regaining her abilities and functions.  No other job was more important than this.

 (I was fortunate in that we could do without my salary for this time period.  It pays to have emergency savings.)    

What formulated in my mind was Purpose.  It was so clear – my purpose was to coach and encourage her every step of the way along her journey towards recovery. 

This gave me the energy and focus to get up each morning (in the family housing where I lived for 8 months) and start each  new day as rehab mom.  Being cognizant of this purpose was a huge factor in helping me cope on a daily basis.  It provided a framework in which to function. 

“Purpose” comes to mind in another, very different, situation.  My husband and I ‘foster-parented’ a puppy.  Yael was to be returned after about 18 months.  We knew, as everyone said, that it would be very hard to part with him when our time was up. 

The purpose in training Yael was so he could hopefully pass his tests and become a service dog for a person with disabilities.  This wonderful cause propelled me and kept me focused on the task at hand; one which required more time and work than we bargained for.

When the time came to give him back, of course it was very emotional, but the greater purpose allowed me to return him in the high hopes of him doing well enough to go on to fulfill his mission.  And I felt wonderful about the entire experience.    

The daily ‘hows’ can be rough, but having that purpose-  that ‘why’- can help keep us going along a rough path. 

Can you identify your purpose during a tough time, where knowing that ‘why’ kept you in the ‘how’?

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I have 3 grown children.  My middle daughter, Nava, has disabilities. 

Years ago when my kids were young, my schedule was greatly based around Nava’s after-school appointments.  She had the speech therapist for stuttering, the gym for physical therapy, numerous doctor appointments, socialization groups at the Y, swimming at the Y, among others. 

The reality is that when there’s a child, or any member of the family for that matter, with any kind of problem, a lot of time, attention and overall energy goes into that person.  Therefore, there’s less given to the others. 

But it is crucial to make or find the time to give good attention to the other children.  I specify ‘good’ because it is all too easy to dole out the negative attention.  High maintenance and high demands of a child with special needs, can yield high stress and low frustration levels for a parent; thereby causing more frequent yelling and scolding of the others.

 Couple that with being a redhead, and I was certainly guilty of that.  But I tried real hard to be cognizant of the good and build in lots of fun times.

I always felt bad that my younger daughter, Penina, had to be the “shlep” along since she was too young to stay home alone. (My older daughter was in high school then and busy with her after-school activities.)  My mindset became that when Nava was in her session, we would have our fun together.  I wanted to create good times and good memories.  I wanted to minimize the resentment and the feelings that everything revolved around her sister with the problems.

And so…

We went outside and made leaf piles and jumped in.

We went to the park.

We played out in the snow.

We read books together in the waiting room.

We sat on the floor and played with toys.

We went to the library.

We got ice cream.

And we talked, about Her. And what would make it more enjoyable when she came along on these outings.

Fast forward about 9 years when Nava was in the hospital hooked up to every conceivable life-saving machine.  After being by her bedside constantly for weeks, one of the ICU doctors called me in to have an important talk, as he called it.  I assumed it was about Nava’s condition.  But it was about Penina, who had just started her first year of high school.

He told me to start spending time with Penina and not neglect her.  He said that Nava wouldn’t know the difference (since she was in an induced coma) and my being there wouldn’t be a help to her at this point.   But Penina would obviously feel the lack and she’s the one who would benefit from having me now.  And so he recommended I spend less time at the hospital and more quality time with her. 

I have to say, I was blown away by this doctor’s words of advice.  He was truly looking at the whole family’s well-being and at the effect this could have on my youngest child.  (My oldest daughter was married and living abroad.)

Needless to say, it was obviously very difficult to go gallivanting around while Nava lay hooked up to a respirator.  But I heeded this very wise doctor’s words.

And so….   

We went apple picking and brought back gorgeous red delicious apples and gave them out to the nurses.

We went to the movies.

We went shopping in the mall.

We went out to eat.

And we talked, about Her.   And what I could do for her in light of what was going on.

We must carve out good times for all our children. They don’t need to have problems to warrant our attention.  This is a tremendous balancing act, but well worth the emotional energy it entails.

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