I'm off work today for Confederate Memorial Day. Believe me, we got plenty of flack when they started giving us that day off as a holiday. It was actually part of the compromise for removing the Confederate Flag from the State House dome. As part of the deal, the flag was moved, and Martin Luther King, Jr., day and Confederate Memorial Day were added as official State Holidays (but I think State Employees are the only ones that actually close their offices on this day).
I know it's obscure, but before you start squawking tell me: Would you refuse a day off? I won't. Not even on principle. Plus, honestly, I think they're required to give us so many holidays a year and I think we just ran out of the major ones, so we had to move on to secondary ones to get the extra day in.
Well, a day off's a day off, and I plan to enjoy it. It gives me a chance to get some little things done that usually sit until they pile up to the point where I have to make time for them. That's good. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that efficient time management is a must for a busy lifestyle.
That's a good point to ponder on this extra day off. Somebody asked me recently how on earth I find time to write with a full time job. The short answer is efficient time management. I'm lucky that I was taught that in college, and it's one of the skills I've found most useful in my life. It isn't always easy, but the truth is that we make time for things that are important to us, whether we realize it or not. Writing nights and weekends is the obvious answer, but I have to admit that I make a fair amount of progress by taking my laptop to work and writing on lunch breaks too. It's only an hour, but if I do that two times a week then it's the equivalent to another weeknight of work. And another secret is that I don't watch much TV. I watch 3 shows during the fall season (Arrow, Supernatural, and The Americans - all come on the same night, so I can "block out" Wednesday nights for that), and 1 show during the summer (Breaking Bad). I look up news and weather online so I don't have to watch it on TV. And yes, occasionally I do forego recreation to get writing done. I've passed on watching football games, lunches out, and shopping or "hanging out" on days off like today to write. And I have to humbly admit that I even write on sick days, if possible. One reason I made good progress on my novella this week was because I was sick with a virus Monday, but I drug myself out of bed and wrote a chapter anyway. It isn't always easy, but with some planning you can make time for things.
I tell you, a busy life is a blessing. It's a life of abundance, but you have to manage it wisely to experience and enjoy it to the fullest.
Speaking of the novella, it has a name now - Incursion. It looks like it going to be 10 chapters with a prologue and epilogue. I know the pros recommend against prologues and epilogues, but I like it and that's my style. If people like the piece then they'll read it. Plus, I endeavor to keep them short. To me, they're the bookends of the story and I'm not going to abandon them just because it isn't popular. Platform shoes went out of style after the 70's, but darn if I don't see women wearing those atrocities again all the time. So there. Style is a poor reason to change something that works for you. Or to do something that doesn't work.
Anyway, I've written 5 chapters so far, which is excellent progress. More than I expected at this point, really. But alas, I did push myself to make this progress and my wrists are achey, so once I complete this entry then I do plan to take a break from the keyboard for the rest of today and tomorrow. You have to balance the planning and time management with common sense, and I won't make any progress at all if I push it too far with my wrist. So given my good progress this week, I'm using today to spend time with other people and things that I wish to nurture in my life. Like hanging out with the birds, tending my roses, and having lunch with Mom. A day off is a rare gift, and I want to enjoy it to the fullest.
That's all today. I hope you have a Happy Friday and that the mom's out there have a good Mother's Day.
We hope this digital letter finds you safe, healthy, happy, and enjoying a wonderful holiday season. In the spirit of the annual holiday letter, I thought it would be fun to share some of the highlights of the past year with you.
I know, this is a blog. You've been keeping up. But for the sake of those that don't like to log in twice a week for my ramblings, well, here's a summary:
Rick just wrapped up a 3 year term on church council at Mt. Tabor. He was heading up the IT committee and did a great job updating the website (which was his major project for his first year on council) and with keeping up staff technology needs. It did get to be a bit of a challenge this year, though. We lost both of our pastors this year - the head pastor left for a higher position with the Synod in March, and the associate pastor left to head up a congregation in Charleston, which is where he's from. It was tough losing them - and then major changes at Rick's job drastically altared his work situation, which has required more overtime work and made serving a bit more challenging. But he stuck in there and was determined to see his term through. We're very proud of him for hanging in there despite the challenges of the past few months, and for all he's done for the church. You can check out the church website that he designed at www.mttaborlutheran.org
Unfortunately, I had to quit both of my church committees. I had always planned to step down from the IT committee when Rick's term ended, but major changes in my own work situation and my writing picking up cut significantly into my spare time for volunteer activities. There are some things and events that I do hope to continue participating in, but right now being on a standing committee isn't something that's practical for me. It's a shame, too, because I enjoyed it and hated to give it up. Maybe in another season of life.
My work has picked up with additional duties. I'm now working with 4 licensure programs, and recent staff shortages have put more of a burden on remaining staff. I do finally have a window office, which is good (although I got the workload that came with it), and I'm also required to travel twice a year for the landscape architect program. Last year I attended the spring meeting in late February in Miami, and the national meeting in September in San Francisco. That trip to Miami was the first time I've ever flown! It's not bad, either. And while I'm not a big fan of travel, well, I'm hanging in there to see how it works out. The next meeting up is the regional meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona in March. We'll see. That's all I can say for now. Overall the job is good, although it has been very stressful lately. Our workload usually peaks in December (exam deadlines, plus people in a rush to get licensed to get projects in the new year), and being down a person has been hard. Hopefully, we'll fill that open position soon and things will level out. I'm off work until January 2, so hopefully some time with family, friends, and at home with Rick and the birds will do me some good.
My writing is also making progress. I published my second fiction novel, Anywhere But Here
, through Whiskey Creek Press in April. They offered me a contract for my third fiction novel, a sci-fi apocolyptic novel titled Splinter
, last summer. I'm already working on two writing projects now that I hope to wrap up in the spring. One is another mystery novel titled Move
. It's about a young woman that unknowingly makes a deal with a djinn (genie), but unfortunately his help is rather radical and leads to more problems than solutions. The other is a non-fiction book titled Feathered Frenzy
. It's basically a "quick reference guide" to give people tips on making their home and lifestyle bird-friendly. And believe it or not, I ALREADY have an idea for my next project. That one is still in a very early brainstorming stage. I'm not even considering working on that one more until I get my two current projects finished. I'm building an audience and working on many promotional things for my published novels. It's slow work, but worth it. I enjoy writing and I think going the "independent author" route was the right choice - especially with the traditional route going into decline as e-publishing picks up. I hope I hit the e-book wave at just the right time!
The birds are doing well. They'll be doing their own Christmas letter to you on their blog over at http://conurecorner.weebly.com
soon. Santa has big plans for them and I think we're going to have three very happy birdies in a couple of days!
Our families are doing well. Mom and Dad are staying busy, as usual. Mom had surgery for carpral tunnel last summer and I tell you, that's the fastest surgery recovery I've ever seen! She was back up and running in no time! Dad is still working. Retirement talk comes up from time to time, but no definite plans or timeline yet. I tell you, those design professionals - they love their work and don't like to retire! Stephen and Nicole are doing well too. Stephen's still keeping them straight as a department head at Public Safety, and Nicole is working at home in medical transcription. She graduated from a medical management program in the spring, but unfortunately she had to have surgery for diverticulitis shortly after graduation, so that was an unexpected hiccup in her life. But she's doing fine now and moving forward again.
Rick's parents are also doing ok. You know his father has dementia, so there are good days and bad days - that's just how it goes with that. They joined the Methodist church up the road last month. Our nieces and Rick's sister and brother-in-law are also doing well. We just got back from our Christmas visit with them in Greenville this morning. They stay busy with work, school, and activities - much like all of us.
And yes, in case any of you are wondering, I did complete my New Year's resolution of reading through The Bible again this year. I actually finished it in September!
Well, that's pretty much it. We are truly blessed and thank God every day for all that He has done for us and allowed us to do for others. We hope all of you are doing well and that life is being good to you. You know that everybody is welcome to visit this website and blog. I strive to update it at least twice a week. Some people have themes for their blogs and while the theme of this website is my writing, the blog isn't limited to that. In fact, I believe all of life inspires my writing, and this blog is open to anything and everything happening in life. Feel free to read, share, and pass it along to anybody interested, whether it's family, friends, readers, other writers, or anybody that's interested in how one writer's life inspires her tales!
Merry Christmas everybody! I hope you have a safe and happy holiday season and that your new year is filled with joy, peace and prosperity.
God bless and best wishes,
Rick and Sherri
Is change. Life is always in motion, and if there's one thing we can bet on, it's that nothing stays the same forever.
This is the season where this truth seems to really hit us. It's when the families are gathering around the table and the decorations come out of the attic. All those memory triggers of holidays past reminds us of how things aren't what they used to be - and makes us wonder how much longer they will stay as they are. Memories of times gone by can make this season happier by discovering the richness of what we've developed in life, or sad when we consider what's lost. A lot is a matter of perspective. We all face growth and loss. It can be a tough emotional rollar coaster to deal with the satisfaction of great accomplishments mixed with the grief of those not here to celebrate with you.
All of this makes the holidays a complex time. Some people are better with dealing with change than others. There are those that adapt, adjust, and roll along, just happy to be where they are. And there are others that have a very hard time dealing with change and fight tooth and nail to keep things the same, even though it's apparant that the "old ways" won't work anymore. Invariably, it seems those types will be mixed within the same friend and/or family group. Oh, the cell phone conversations I overhear this time of the year!
I did a blog series last year on surviving the holidays and I believe the one key thing I kept coming back to was that if you're doing your best, then be satisfied with it. Other people have two choices: Take it or leave it. People may gripe (naturally), but in the end they usually settle down and decide the holidays will be merrier if they choose the path of acceptance over the path of resistance. In most cases, anyway (that's not to say there aren't some that thrive on conflict, but that is an issue I addressed in my blog series earlier this year on villians - I believe it was around Easter).
I'll add one more lesson I've discovered of late. You can't let other people or situations bother you. They're going to do what they're going to do, and it's a waste of emotional energy to let it fly all over you and go into a tizzy over. Likewise with situations - there are so many things you can't control, and to worry about it is a merry-go-round of defeat. Deal with situations the best way you can and move on. I recently realized that I wasted a great deal of time and emotional energy complaining and fretting over what other people do, and it's a 100% waste. They're gonna do what they're gonna do, and they aren't changing for anybody. So deal with them and the situations that come up in life the best you can, and move on. Worry, fussing, and fretting get you nowhere - it's action that counts. So spend your time thinking, reflecting and acting on what is, plan wisely, and trust that things will work out, or that you will know how to deal if a wrench flies into your plans.
Sometimes making the best of the holidays requires changing the way we think about things, and that can be hard. In fact, I believe that changing the way you think is the hardest thing you can do.But it can be done. I can tell you that from experience. I can also tell you that while it's hard, it's well worth it. Changing your life starts with changing how you think, and this holiday season might be the perfect time to make an early resolution that you aren't going to be consumed with stress, anxiety, grief, anguish, or fear over making it the perfect holiday. In fact, let's make Change #1 right now: Don't try to make it perfect. We live in an imperfect world, and an expectation like that will fail. Make it the best you can and decide you'll be happy with it.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that those of you on the road home today have safe travels. Here's hoping you have a good week, and welcome to the 2012 Holiday Season!
I think what I really need is to cut my life back to basics and take stock of what I have and how to best nurture the things most important to me.
Fall is naturally the busiest time of year for me, and coiencidentally it's when people want to "get together" the most too. Football season is usually the excuse for this - "let's get together to watch the game!" And I've been a social butterfly these past couple of months and participated in all sorts of gatherings, visits and get togethers.
But folks, this butterfly needs to retreat to her cocoon. No offence, but the Carolina's bye week didn't come soon enough for me this year. I need to sit out a few. The season is going on, but my "to do" list and my schedule don't get it. There are things I need to tend to around the house and with the technology committee at church. I know I said I was going to take a hiatus from my in-progress writing projects, but I really do want to get back to them with as few distractions as possible, and that means I need to put my nose to the grindstone and get things done now. And if you want me at my best during the busy holiday season, well, I need a break.
I mean no offence, of course. I just need some time to myself every now and then to catch up, rest up, take stock, and move on. I need to recharge my batteries and right now I'm running low. I've come to the conclusion that I must be an anomoly, because this seems to be a need that not many other people have. Other than my family, only Rick and one other person has admitted to needing time to themselves. It seems others actually clamor to fill those empty spaces in their lives to the point where there's no quiet, no hiatus, no opportunities to simply "be" and exist in communion with the Lord and the world. Doing, doing, doing. Well, I admire their energy and their tireless dedication to their social schedule, but I'm not afraid I can't operate like that. My life is very full right now and all the "blessings" keep me quite busy. It can be a challenge to find those moments and days with an empty spot on the calender. And they aren't usually give, so it looks like I'm going to have to take them.
I'm burned out. I need to clear off my plate to I can be true to my priorities and focus on what really matters - not on what the world says should matter.
So I'm starting today. I'm sitting out the USC-Florida game. I know, it's a big one and how could I. It's simple, really. The need for quiet in my soul outweighs "the big game." As I said, I need some time to catch up on some stuff around the house and with church so I'll be free to resume work on Move next month when I end my writing hiatus, and what better time than by focusing on that while the rest of the world (around here) is tuned into the big game. Plus, I still have Feathered Frenzy to finish, and I already have an idea for my next writing project which is a novella I hope to start in 2013. And promotion work on my already published works never ends. So there's lots to do there and I really need to get focused and get back to work on my writing soon, and taking care of the other things on my plate will really help with that.
I know life won't always be like this. I'm quitting volunteer activities in 2013, so I won't have to make decisions based on things like this soon. That was another decision I made this week. I need fewer meetings in my life and the truth is that I need to focus my time away from work on home, family and writing and that doesn't leave time for much else. I wanted to be more involved at church, and I will certainly continue to be a greeter and help with activities as I can, but I can't be bound to a committee anymore. It just doesn't work in my busy life.
As for the rest - well, eventually I'll retire from work, so that won't always be eating up most of my weekdays, but that's far away as I'm not even at the halfway point of my career. Frankly, I do have concerns about being bored if I didn't work, but those aren't concerns I need to ponder now or any time soon. Until then, it's the immovable object in my life and I have to work around it. Those aggrivations and annoyances aren't going to stop and I have to march on and do what must be done because it's my responsibilty and financial support, now and in the future. That's a reality for most people and it's something that should be easy to understand and respect.
Yes, life is busy, and sometimes it won't give you what you need so you have to take it. That's what I'm going to to today. Because if I don't take care of myself and my needs, then I'm not much good to anybody else, now am I?
That's all today. I hope you have a great weekend.
So I was off work today for Confederate Memorial Day. I know, I know, nobody's heard of it outside those of us that work for SC State Government. I honestly can't explain it. Several years ago they took away Election Day and our optional holiday and gave us Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Confederate Memorial Day instead. Frankly, I'd rather have election day off but that's the way it rolls round these parts.
Our HVAC unit quit on us day before yesterday. Got home from work on Wednesday and it was a wee bit warm in here. Turns out the unit had a major freon leak and bad coils. They're getting us a new one and will install it tomorrow. Thanks God for His mercies, because the temperature dropped the past few days. Highs in the mid to upper 70's and lows in the 60's. It's gotten a bit above our preference range around mid day, but overall it hasn't been bad. We open the windows when we're home and that helps. The house is getting aired out and the birds seem to enjoy the open windows. They aren't bothered by this at all. In fact, I don't think they're phased a bit. But I thank the Lord over and over for the mild weather and the timing of this (specifically, that it didn't happen when highs are in the 80's and 90's because it has been in the 90's a few times recently). It's been a darned inconvenience, but not too bad. I pray things go as planned and we get the unit installed tomorrow. Rick can't get off work, so I'm the one on home duty for this one. Looks like tomorrow will be a good day to work on Move.
Speaking of Move, the ideas are really coming along. I pretty much have the whole novel mapped out. Of course, there's the issue that I've been sick the past 2 nights with a headache so bad I couldn't possibly look at a computer screen. And I have to work, and of course my poor hands and wrists need a break from typing every now and then. I tell you, I think that if I had a free week I could write the entire rough draft. But alas, I don't, and so I shall peck at it as I can. But that's ok. I don't want to rush this one. I made the mistake of rushing with Splinter to get it done for National Novel Writing Month and I don't want to do that again. I'm glad I entered that because it was one of those things I always eyed NaNo with great interest, but it's really not suitable for a person with a home, family nearby, and full time job - especially in November when Thanksgiving rolls around. But having to pound out 50,000 words in a month was just stressful. I'm not doing that again, at least not while I'm working full time. I really enjoyed writing Anywhere But Here and Blurry, and I believe it was because I took my time and that allowed me to enjoy the process of having the ideas develop and the story come to life. So I'm taking my time and so far I have been enjoyed working on Move.
Believe it or not, I already have an idea for my next book. I don't know if I've mentioned this (I don't think I have), but I've recently pondered a return to non-fiction. Well, today I was in Barnes & Noble and while walking past pet books I had the idea: Why don't I write a book about having birds as pets? I know I don't have a biology degree and I'm not a vet, but goodness, I've had 6 birds in my life. I think, at least from the petowner perspective, I'm certainly experienced. It's a general idea now, but it has me intrigued. I'll ponder this further and if I'm able to brainstorm some ideas then I'll take a shot at drafting this one after I get the rough draft of Move done.
And if that works it really will be interesting and a new experience, because I've always worked on one book at a time, from rough draft to final draft. I've just never had 2 book ideas at once. This is a new thing, and frankly I find it exciting! It's great to have the Spirit inspiring me so much again. I haven't really written much since Anywhere But Here, with personal life changes and then getting published - so it's great to be actually writing again and have the ideas coming. I say keep that inspiration flowing and keep the ideas coming, Lord!
I am feeling better with my sinus infection today. No more headache, sneezing or congestion. I still feel a bit feverish from time to time, and I'm slow and tire easily, but overall I'm much better. The antibiotic has worked quickly and I'm thankful for that too!
That's all for today. Take care all. I hope you have a Happy Friday tomorrow and a great weekend.
Well, here we stand near the end of the holiday season. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hakunnah are over, and New Year's Day is on the horizon. But before we tackle the issue of the all-important "resolutions," I feel there's one more issue we need to discuss: Holiday detox.
Now that the meals are eaten, the gifts are opened, and the family visits are done, there's the usual "letdown" to deal with. It's time to go home, time to pack up the decorations, time to get ready to get back in the swing of day to day life again. But right now, we have a few days to kick back, relax, and "detox" from the holiday festivities.
Personally, this is one of my favorite parts of the season. Yes, it's a letdown when the festivities end, and you take the decorations down. But there's something nice about having the rest of this week to wind down, rest from the activity, and take stock. It's good to slow the pace for no other reason than to catch your breath, take a much needed break, and enjoy life without the stress of a huge "to do" list hanging over your head.
So take the rest of this week for yourself. Spend time with your spouse/significant other. Enjoy those presents. Eat some candy before going on that New Year's diet and exercise program. Waste time online, or watching TV, or playing video games. Stay up too late and sleep even later. Go out for lunch on a weekday afternoon. Hit those post-holiday sales. Dress down on a weekday just because ou can. The festivities are over so now is the perfect time to drop out of the race of day to day life and just be for a few days. Real life will start again before you know it, so detox from the holidays and life itself now while you can!
Who says it's the post-holiday gloom? These can still be some of the best days of the year, if you use them wisely!
As we approach the holidays, I'm reminded of holidays past and the gifts I received. Some, obviously, were winners: Jewelry and electronics are always a hit for me, as I imagine they are for most women. But there were some other things I received that were also hits, and they weren't big or glamerous - just useful and beneficials. For example, Rick gave me a ruby ring two years ago and I loved it, but he also gave me a pair of bedroom booties that I wear every night during the winter. Yes, the ruby ring was the big hit of the holiday, but those booties - well, I'm wearing them now as I type this entry. Obviously a winner too, and they weren't that expensive.
There have been some other surprises under the tree that became staples in my life and my home, and I'd like to reflect on that now. I'm not talking about the big ticket items, but those little things that snuck into your everyday life. Maybe you'll get some ideas for last minute gift shopping, or perhaps remember some winners tucked away in your own home.
1. An electric razor. Oh wow, what a time saver this has turned out to be! Yes, you can spend some money on these, but there are also some inexpensive ones that work very well. I believe the one I have was under $20 at Walmart. It doesn't give as close a shave and you will still have to use a straight razor every few days, but if you're a woman that wears pants a lot (like I do), this is a great item to have.
2. A firesafe box. Actually, we've been given two of these. One is file size for important documents and the other is a smaller one that I store my valuable jewelry, external hard drive, and other small but important items in. A definite must have for everybody!
3. A crock pot. This is a working woman's best friend. There are so many recipes and it's great to have supper ready as soon as you come home from work. Clean up usually isn't hard, either.
4. Slipper socks. I must have given the former colleague that gave me these a look when she handed them to me because she laughed and said "try them out, I know you'll love them." She was right. They were warm and comfortable and I have several pair now. They were especially helpful when I sprained my ankle and it was so swollen that shoes (even my beloved bedroom booties) were a problem.
5. Christmas china. One of the schools Rick works at gave him a 4 piece place setting of china back in the days when the economy was better. At first I thought "what the heck are we gonna do with that?" until we hosted a few holidays and parties at our house. It was a hit, and nice to have too.
6. Picture frames. This is getting more rare as a gift with digital cameras, but they still make great gifts for people you know that do needlearts. That small collection of frames I collected in the early days of our marriage were used to frame many counted cross stitch projects.
7. Fleece blankets. This was another one of those gifts that raised eyebrows until I used them. Very good to have when the winter gets cold.
8. A flash drive. I know it doesn't sound like much of a gift, but it's so important to back up your data. Target has many brands with great storage capacity for reasonable prices. Great stocking stuffer!
9. A laptop case. I didn't understand why Rick made a big deal out of getting a good laptop case until he got me one for my first laptop. It didn't take long for me to realize how vitally important it is to have appropriate storage cases for not only your laptop, but all of your electronics that you plan to carry around. In fact, I used that old case so much that it's wearing out, and a new case that fits the laptop I got for my birthday is on my Christmas list this year. I know it doesn't sound great, but cases for laptops, tablets, e-readers, or cell phones make good and beneficial gifts for anybody.
10. Shower gel and moisturizer gift sets. I especially like rose and lavendar. Scented hand lotions are also a great idea.
There have been more, of course, but these are the top 10 winners for me. I know you can probably think of more, and hopefully you'll be giving some great surprises to friends and family this holiday season.
It's T-minus 10 days until Christmas and counting. Are you ready?
I'm not either. Yes, I feel your pain.
As we enter peak holiday prep time, I'd like to offer some tips on making life easier during these hectic days. These are good tips all the time, and hopefully you can implement them now to find some relief from holiday stress.
1. Follow the instructions. Even if you think they're stupid. Even if you think you know a better way. Even if you think you're better than that. They're there for a reason, and following them will save everybody time and frustration - especially you.
2. Use the calendar function on your devices. Even the most basic cell phone has a calendar feature, so there's no excuse for missing appointments, functions or deadlines if your schedule is on a device that you have with you all the time.
3. Set priorities and organize your life by them. It's literally impossible to do everything, so you have to decide what's the most important. Take stock of your life and to-do list and organize your schedule in these remaining days according to what matters the most.
4. Be sure you get enough sleep. It's easy to skimp on sleep when your schedule is full and a few more minutes - or hours - would help, and that's dangerous. Getting enough sleep is the secret to staying healthy, energetic, and alert so you can accomplish more in the other 16 hours of the day.
5. Take a timeout this weekend. I don't care how long your "to do" list is - you need time for yourself before family descends on you for the blessed season of celebration. Don't go into the next two weeks tired, stressed out, and frazzled. Take at least a few hours to do something for yourself: Read a book, watch a movie, go out to a good dinner, or just sleep in Saturday morning. Trust me, it will give you the energy you need to cross the finish line.
And in closing, I urge you to remember the reason for the season. Christmas isn't about decorations, parties, and presents. It's about Christ and the give of our salvation. Sometimes the celebration overshadows the reason we're doing everything we're doing all of this. I'll have more on this as we get closer to Christmas.
Ok folks, there's not much time yet but we'll make it by the grace of God, like we do every year. Take care, and I hope these tips will help you preserve your sanity now, when you need it the most.
December 6 is always a tough day for me because my maternal grandmother died on that date in 1987. I’ve lost many people, but that date stings every year – no doubt because of the holidays that wrap around this month. Losing people is always tough, but losing them during the holiday seems to cut a bit deeper. It’s something you feel more. I usually don’t talk about it much and do my best to be a “big girl” and move on, as is expected.
Until this year. I know it’s been 24 years, but I’m all grown up (middle age now, in fact), I’ve found my voice, and now there’s this great thing called the Internet where I can post things. And now, you’re going to hear ALL about it.
One of the reasons why dealing with death over the holidays is tough is, naturally, because the entire world is celebrating, and you just don’t feel it. A hole has been ripped in your life and, as I said in my last entry, a date in red on the calendar doesn’t hasten the healing of the heart. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that said death is unnatural because people weren’t created to die, and I believe it. Death is such an aberration to our spirit, and that abnormality is especially evident in a season where we celebrate the birth of our Savior and eternal life. Emotions know no season and if they take a smack then nothing is going to expedite the healing process. Here they parallel the body. Don’t believe me? Burn your hand, break a bone, or sprain something today and see if you’re healed by Christmas.
The reason I sound cynical here is because of the other reasons why death is hard to deal with during the holidays. Yes, the whole world is celebrating, and they don’t want to stop –not for you, or for any pesky little problem like (gasp) death. They want to be happy and have fun and by God, you aren’t going to stop them. I thought perhaps it was my still child-like perspective on the world in 1987, but in the 24 years since then I still hold to the opinion that:
1. People don’t cope with death well, especially during the holidays;
2. The dumbest things are said at visitations and funerals; and
3. People can be incredibly selfish, rude, and insensitive in their desire to create “the perfect holiday” (which we have already acknowledged won’t happen).
I thought it was because people kept telling me to “cheer up” and “be glad the holidays are here to help ease the pain.” I thought it was because people kept telling me to “grow up” and“get over it because it was just a grandparent.” I thought it was because people kept saying “you mother has it worse - don’t you owe it to her to get over it and try to make Christmas good for her?” Yes, people really said these things, without exaggeration. But the problem is that I learned it wasn’t just me when Rick’s grandmother died on December 21, 2000. I warned Rick of the incredible stupidity and insensitivity he was about to experience and lo and behold if he didn’t see I was right within 10 minutes when a lady walked up to us with a huge smile plastered on her face and said “What a wonderful time to go to Heaven! She gets to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with him face to face. But oh, your poor father, this must be awful for him. So, what are you doing to celebrate?”
If looks could kill, the one Rick and I gave that lady would have made her the funeral home’s next customer. I noticed she hurried away and we’ve never seen her again.
I wish I could say I’m embellishing these comments, but I’m not. In fact, I’m fighting a rare urge to name names here so the whole world will know who the igits are. But I’m not going to do it because the point of this entry isn’t to debate right and wrong. It’s to acknowledge that people do die during this joyous time of year and to guide you toward the proper way to help somebody that’s suffering a loss during the holidays. And so, I have offered my experiences to give a few tips on how to best console people that are grieving over the holidays.
I’ve already hit on the first one. Emotional healing knows no season, so please don’t try to push people into celebrating if they don’t feel like it. Not for their sake, or the sake of the kids, or the family, or anybody. My mother and Rick’s father tried to put on that “brave face for the family,” and let me tell you – it didn’t work. Grief was the pink elephant in the room and everybody saw it by Christmas. Not only are you headed for disaster by not allowing them time to grieve, but you risk more damage by your selfish demand that the holidays will go on, come hell or high water. So please, back off. If they don’t want to put up a tree this year, go caroling or attend parties, don’t make them. Back off and give them the space they need. If you feel you absolutely must do something, do it in more practical ways that are not holiday related, like offering to bring them a meal, help them clean the house, or take care of the kids one evening. Believe me, they will appreciate you not force feeding them to a world high on Christmas more than any present under the tree.
Second, please use discernment. Everything that flies through your head doesn’t need to fly out of your mouth, and as the non-grieving party you have a higher obligation to put a lasso on your tongue. This is true always, but it’s absolutely essential at visitations and funerals. This is not the time to be witty, wise, or philosophical. There are people trained for that, so leave it to them: You know, the pastors, priests, rabbi’s, therapists, psychologists, and others trained in the religious or mental health fields. I have no doubt that losing a parent is much worse than losing a grandparent, but that’s an inappropriate thing to say to ANYBODY, especially to a 12 year old that’s confused, hurting, and doesn’t know what to do. Logic doesn’t work in highly emotional situations like this, so don’t go there. In fact, when it comes to funerals then the less you say, the better. Just say “I’m sorry for your loss” and let it go. People in these situations don’t want a dissertation on dealing with grief or a lecture on getting over it. They want people to acknowledge how they feel and have respect for it.
Third, don’t take it personally. People are already stressed out this time of year and that tends to work on nerves. Unfortunately, sorrow and anger are part of the grieving process which can strip nerves raw and increase emotional outbursts. I know it’s awkward if somebody burst into tears when a carol comes on in a store, or shouts insults at the mall Santa, but unfortunately seasonal things that seem benign to most can trigger deep grief responses in those dealing with loss. I know from experience that it can be extremely frustrating to watch the world celebrate when a huge hole has just been ripped in your life, and sometimes the strangest things knock holes in those walls of restraint. Don’t make a scene bigger. Simply try to diffuse the situation as smoothly as possible, remove the person from it, and do your best to control your emotions so you can help them control theirs. They’re weak right now, so give them the gift of being strong until they are healed and able to be strong on their own again.
I have a word for those of you that have recently lost loved ones, or that have lost them this year and are facing your first holiday season without them. Please know that you aren’t alone. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you are going through a natural process. Understand that it will get easier, but it can only get easier if you take the time to go through the grieving process in your own timing. So don’t try to be brave or try to sweep it under the rug because it’s the holidays. Some people don’t get it, but that’s not your problem. They will one day because we all lose loved ones and have to deal with that empty seat at the holiday table eventually. The holidays come around every year so believe me, there will be more chances to “do the holidays” later. It’s ok to take a year off if you just can’t face it this year. It doesn’t make you Scrooge. It makes you a human being – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finally I’d like to say, for the record, that all the people that said those rude, insensitive things to me in 1987 and to Rick in 2000 deserve a smack. So I’m saying it now, on the INTERNET, to the WHOLE WORLD, on MY WEBSITE right now. Consider this your virtual kick.
Wow, I do believe that’s something like Nana would say.
Welcome to my latest "mini blog series" on surviving the holidays! In these weeks leading up to the holidays I'm going to offer my experiences, insights, and observations on getting through the holidays without losing your sanity. I'd like to open this series with a list of do's and don'ts - basically, simple tips that will help you get through this season with less stress and more time and resources to enjoy what the holidays are all about.
DO keep a schedule with you at all times, as this is a season filled with cordial invitations to events of all sorts - and those invitations can come at any place, at any time. It's never safe to be without a calendar this time of year. If you don't have a mobile device, get a small calendar that you can carry in a purse, briefcase, or pocket.
DON'T be afraid to decline an invitation. It simply isn't possible to do everything - there's too much going on. There is a polite way to decline an invitation. Simply say "I appreciate you thinking of me and offering this invitation, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to attend." You don't owe anybody a doctoral dissertation on your calendar. It's perfectly ok to say "no" just because you need time to do other things, or for yourself.
DO go ahead and make travel plans and arrangements now. Waiting until the last minute is stressful to you and rude to the hosts. It takes a lot of "doing" to hosts guests in your home, so be considerate and let them know arrival and departure dates and relative times now so they can plan for your visit accordingly.
DO make shopping lists. In this season of buy, buy, buy, it's easy to lose track of how much you've bought. Do like Santa - make a list and check it twice.
DO check your resources to avoid needless spending or duplicating resources. I was fixing to buy more wrapping paper this past weekend - until I checked my supplies and discovered 10 rolls of paper from last year. People won't remember what wrapping paper, gift tags, bows, boxes or gift bags you used last year and truth be told, you probably didn't remember until you pulled it out of storage.
DON'T be afraid to ask someone on your gift list what they want if you're completely stumped on what to give them. We usually buy gifts for the same people year after year, so after a while it's hard to be original. Don't try. Just ask.
DO ask the people on your gift list if they're ok with receiving gift cards for presents. People seem to have strong opinions on this. I love them, as do most of my family members, but I've had some friends that believe giving gift cards is wildly offensive and insensitive. I actually plan to do an entry just on this topic soon.
DO regift if you got something in the past that hasn't been opened or used, but be careful and DON'T regift it to the person that gave it to you. In fact, if you get something that winds out in the "strorage" drawer or closet, it would be wise to put a note on it indicating who gave it to you to prevent such an embarassing error.
DO observe important traditions, but DON'T feel obligated to hand on to ones that don't mean much to you - or others. Things tend to pass in time. People get married, people have babies, people die. Some things stay and some things go, and that's ok. Keep what means the most and let go of what doesn't.
DO take care of yourself and mind your health - mentally and physically. Be sure to take time out for yourself, excercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. It's easy to skimp on self care during this busy season.
DON'T go off your medications now. I'm not being a smart alec. Money is typically tight this time of year, and often people decide to skip the medication refills to save a few bucks. Don't do it. Your doctor put you on your medication for a reason, and you feel better because of it. If you go off now, you will suffer. This is no area to skimp on ever. It's for your better health. You have enough on you without having to battle your body as well - and you will if you go off your medication. So don't do it. And if, by chance, you do feel it's ok to do so, I urge you to do two things: Do it under doctor's supervision, and strongly consider waiting until January and making this a New Year's Resolution instead.
DO realize that there's no such thing as a perfect holiday. As much as we'd all like our holiday to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, realize that's art, not reality. We live in an imperfect world and it shows that every day, in every way. It's extremely rare for things to go as we planned, and they never go perfectly, People get sick, cars break down, things get sold out, casseroles burn, wrapping paper tears, turkeys don't cook right, gift bags bust, the milk goes sour, people fight, shipments get delayed, bad weather hits, somebody moves and the Christmas card is returned on December 26 leading to misunderstanding and hurt feelings - the list can go on and on.
So there you have it - a few simple, common sense list of suggestions to get through the holidays. I believe that's a good place to end this entry, as well as a perfect lead in for the next entry in this series.
Next Time: Can't We All Just Get Along - It's The Holidays! (or, Reality 101)