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Natalie Lane Eden, LLC

Fully licensed Faith-Based Clinical Counseling

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (Illinois)

Licensed Professional Counselor (Pennsylvania)

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Suffering Unleashes Love

Posted on March 26, 2018 at 12:22 PM Comments comments (32)
The Question.  Often while sitting in the psychological counselor’s chair a very common question emerges:
 
“Why does God allow these bad things to happen?" 
 
There are many similar takes on this question such as:
 
 “Why does this happen to such an innocent child?”
 
“If we have such a good God, then why is there so much suffering in this world?”
 
“If God was on the Cross for so many hours, then why has my relative been afflicted with this or that ailment for so many years?”
 
The Dilemma:  These questions always stop me in my tracks and I even find myself getting tongue tied in trying to come up with a compact soothing succinct answer.  After all, in my work, I want to help bring comfort to people’s lives and to teach them how to face challenges and trials.
 
But ultimately suffering is a sacred mystery of God ---much like the Eucharist and the concept of the Holy Trinity.  No matter how we slice it, we cannot wrap our minds around it.  Much of the challenge stems from the realization that suffering is a fact of our existence.  We all suffer in some form or fashion.  People suffer in a variety of ways: physically, psychologically, spiritually, socially, and culturally.  We all have a Cross or even Crosses to bear whether we want to accept the situation or not.  Truthfully, none of us are left unscathed.  And ultimately, we can benefit from our trials.  But how?
 
I have heard it said that suffering is actually the twin sister of love.  Just like sorrow and joy can be twins.  It is with great joy I discovered St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” which was released to the faithful on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984.  From that great work three words resonant: “Suffering unleashes love.”
 
 “Suffering Unleashes Love.”  The Crosses in our lives are those occasions for love to blossom, by interior acts of love, exterior acts, and cultural acts.  We have a choice. We cannot choose our type of suffering or calamity, but we do have control over how we are going to react to it.  Out of an act of our own free will, we can decide to become bitter, lash out at God, refuse to go to Church, blame others, call everyone hypocrites, and curse the day we were born. Or we can choose to cooperate with the Grace of God. Through prayer and discernment, we can look for the good that can stem from a situation and look for the expressions of kindness and love from others that inevitably abound.  Psalm 27 states: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” Look for the little acts of love such as the get-well card, the kind word, the sharing of resources, the bouquet of flowers in a hospital room, the new and old relationships that are forged. Don’t see anything good happening?  Sure, we can also see the negative fruits. But look hard enough and there are inevitable acts of love abounding. 
 
Jesus Chose His Cross. If still nothing good seems to emerge, one can become that beacon of love oneself, just as Jesus Christ himself did.  “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).”  Unlike us, Jesus suffered voluntarily and innocently to unleash love in a profound sacred mysterious way.  He chose to suffer when he didn’t have to do it.
 
Most of us are not taught the value of suffering.  An old Catholic cliché is to “offer it up” and we can choose to become prayer warriors at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the Passion of Jesus Christ.  We can take every smidgen of difficulty in our life and transform it into something that has redemptive value for ourselves and others.
 
The Way Over it is Through It.  In psychology, a common phrase that I often repeat to my clients is: “The way over it is through it.”  This is extremely true for anxiety, fears, trauma, and grief.  Avoidance only intensifies the suffering. For example, being able to stay with the feelings of a panic attack actually helps one to get over it, as counterintuitive as this may sound.
 
So, stop wasting that good suffering that inevitably emerges in life.  One doesn’t have to look far.  One doesn't even need to create it (none of us likes to be around those that create their own sufferings!).  It is all around us naturally.   
 
Go forth and unleash some love!
 

 

SLEEP ETIQUETTE: FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TROUBLE SLEEPING

Posted on March 16, 2018 at 1:29 PM Comments comments (0)
Make your bedroom a comfortable place.  Blankets, bed covers, and mattress should be cozy and inviting. Get extra pillows. Keep it clean and tidy and introduce pleasant smells such as a drop of lavender oil on the sheets and bring in pleasant sounds from nature or white noise.
           
Do not bring electronics to bed.  Turn off the phone, IPad, computer, and even the TV.  A modern problem that interferes with a good night’s sleep is binge watching videos and programs in bed. The act of just looking at a lighted screen has the effect of making a person more awake. If waking in the middle of the night, do not reach for a screen. Not having a TV in the bedroom is a good idea for a person struggling with insomnia.  If one must watch TV or videos late at night, do so outside of the bedroom on a hard chair or floor with no cozy blankets.  Remember, make the bed the most comfortable place in the world.
 
Watch what you eat or drink before bed.  Do not drink products with caffeine after 4 pm. Avoid alcohol.  That glass of wine or shot of vodka might appear to aid in falling asleep but can actually cause a person to be more awake and agitated after a couple of hours. It also can interfere with the quality of sleep, cause aspiration, and lead to nightmares. Do not eat a big or spicy meal late at night; but on the flip side, avoid going to bed hungry.
 
Get physical exercise during the day.  A regular program of exercise, even a walk later in the day can help make your body more tired for sleeping and can also help process anxieties and stressors. Do not take daytime naps, no matter how tired during the day if nighttime insomnia is a problem. A nap can interfere with the normal sleep cycle. 
 
Have a regular bedtime routine that trains your body to sleep.  Have a soothing drink like herbal tea or milk. Take a warm bath, wash the face, and brush teeth.  Go to bed at the same time each night and plan on waking the same time every morning. This helps regulate the body’s normal sleep wake cycle.  Say bedtime prayers.
 
Sweet dreams!  When in bed think of nice things that happened during the day and/or make a mental note of what there is to be grateful.  Avoid if possible, discussing stressful topics and having arguments with others right before bedtime.  Save difficult discussions for daytime only. Resist the urge to toss, turn, and thrash about the bed if possible unless in physical pain.  Moving only serves to make a person more awake.
 
Win-Win!  A Catholic version of counting sheep for insomnia is to pray the rosary. The result is a win-win situation: Either one gets some good z’s before the first decade or many long prayers for intentions get completed.  Some find listening to a soft recording of the rosary can help as well. A prayer to one’s Guardian Angel can aid in putting one’s mind at ease and help one to feel safe.
 

Patron Saints of Sleep?  St. Joseph is a great saint for those who are plagued with dreams (good and bad).  Also St. Dymphna is the patron of mental health.

Tips for Life’s Journey: Along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

Posted on August 23, 2015 at 3:48 PM Comments comments (0)
Markers along the Way of Santiago de Compostela
My husband, my daughter, and I embarked upon the journey of a lifetime early this summer from June 13 through June 23, 2015. In celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, we set out to walk the last leg of the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The route began in Tui, Spain with its destination ending in Santiago de Compostela, traditionally the location of the crypt and remains of St. James, the Apostle.  This segment of the Camino is approximately 100 kilometers.

The history of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela dates back well over 1000 years with Christians making this pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.  Today pilgrims can walk, bike, or take to the path on horseback with a variety of objectives in mind, particularly spiritual.  A minimum of 100 kilometers by is required to obtain a “compostela” or certificate in Santiago.  Proof is obtained by having a credencial stamped along the way.

My reasons for undertaking this journey were largely spiritual but also for enjoyment and celebration of my marriage.  Some of my own personal insights gained along “The Way” include:

The key to accomplishing anything is perseverance. It is not about being the best, the fastest, the smartest, the nicest looking, or even good enough; the key to success is simply not giving up. The fastest person doesn't always finish the race.  A slow and steady pace is particularly relevant for the long haul.  One can quickly lose steam along the first few kilometers and deplete reserves needed to last the entire 100 kilometers.  Drinking up all of the water and eating all of the granola at the first leg doesn’t get one very far.  I have often heard of individuals in counseling say to me that it took them “a long time” to accomplish something.  I am always quick to add, “But you did it!” 

So if it takes several years to get a bachelor's degree or even a doctorate; so if it takes a long time to get a promotion at the job; so if it takes forever to clean through your living space; so if it seems like it is takes forever to find a soul mate.  Whatever the situation might be-- don't give up--persevere.  I always say, if at first you don’t succeed:  Pray, cry, and try again!

Don’t fret falling down but more importantly learn to get back up and carry on. Don't get discouraged at the prospect of a fall, but be encouraged at being able to get back up again. I didn't actually fall on the Camino but the fear of falling definitely slowed me down.  There were many slick surfaces, rocks to climb, and paths to maneuver.  Life in itself has its series of slippery slopes that need to be conquered.  The classic mark of a procrastinator is the fear of failure. These types often do not even get past the starting line. But the fall isn’t the problem nor the worst part of it.  Remaining face down in the mud is. The challenge with most addictions is being able to stay the course even after a relapse.  A cupcake binge should not get one permanently derailed from a diet.  Get back up, shake the dust off, and then proceed the course.  And if it happens to be an issue of a sinful nature, Catholic Christians have recourse to starting anew through participation in the Sacrament of Confession.  The old saying goes that Christians are definitely not perfect, but they are forgiven.  Isaiah 40:31: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall walk and not be weary. They shall run and not faint.

It’s just as hard going downhill.  The hills on the Camino were definitely challenging.  Some went on for a couple of miles or so.  Climbing a hill can be extremely exhausting especially when the temptation to turn back presents itself.  But just as in life, there is no turning back.  One thing I quickly discovered is that no matter how tough it was going up, going downhill was not any easier.  It is a joy to arrive at the mountaintop. But all roads do not end at the summit.  What goes up must inevitably come down.  I quickly discovered that a different set of leg and knee muscles were required to make the descent.  Life has its peaks and valleys.  We are presented with unique challenges in each scenario.  Perhaps there are many uphill battles.  But it’s never all uphill. And we don’t necessary gain momentum going downhill.  Some of the worse crashes occur at the foot of a mountain.  Lives can sometimes snowball when we don’t know how and when to put on the brakes.  I remember in my days traveling in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee there would be sand banks along the side of the road for runaway tractor trailers.  The descent must be made at a slow and steady pace.

It’s not only all about me.  One principle taught in running a business as well as learned in walking the Camino is that any group is only as fast and efficient as its slowest member.  In our little walking trio-- the holdup would be me. My 52-year-old pace served as a ball and chain for my 17-year-old and even my husband.  However later on in the journey another’s upset stomach or someone else’s toe blisters became concerns and affected our progress in other ways.  One has to learn to be concerned with the disabilities and shortcomings of each other on the same journey.   If one of the members of the group only has the capability to walk 10 kilometers a day, then the maximum for that group is only 10 kilometers a day.  Productivity becomes a team effort.   If one wins, we all win.  If one is incapacitated, we all become incapacitated.  It’s in everyone’s best interest to look out for each other. 

Be open to the kindness and advice of others.  One encounters a lot of strangers along the Camino that become friends along the way.  Fortunately these days it is much safer than back in the Middle Ages where pilgrims were often attacked, robbed, and left for dead (thus necessitating the building of the Reyes Catolicos centuries ago in Santiago which began as a hospice to help those who had been injured).  Over the course of several days we encountered many familiar peregrines.  It’s important to be willing to accept help from others, to be willing to ask for directions, and to be willing to give assistance.  But there is one caveat:  Be careful about asking directions from a cross-eyed person in a foreign country who doesn’t speak your native tongue.  We were trying to locate the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua when in Portugal and almost became lost trying to find the patron saint of lost things!   Something got mixed up and lost in the translation and we found ourselves going in the opposite direction.  So the lesson here is to exercise prudence in discerning good advice.  On the other hand, when we were in need of a taxi on another afternoon and asked a restaurateur to call one for us, he volunteered to take us himself and he even tripped on the pavement on the way to his vehicle.  Upon completion of the journey he refused to accept any form of payment.  We were very grateful for his generosity.

We heard all sorts of advice about preparing and going on the Camino.  My advice:  it is all relevant and helpful.  Just like in life those who have gone before have something to say to us to help along the journey.   It is prudent and wise to take their insights into consideration.

Small things matter.  For instance see how long one can walk with a tiny rock in a shoe.  Paying attention to detail is very important along the journey:  the weight of one’s daypack is can make a significant difference.  Someone I know on the journey decided to bring three books along the daily walk.  After a day of lugging all of that extra weight, that same person decided that only one book would suffice.

Be prepared but also be willing to embrace the unexpected.  Getting lost once in a while is part of the journey.  The best laid plans can run amuck.  Fortunately most of our journey was under sunny skies and the paths were well marked.  But we did have to contend with a heat wave that hit throughout that part of Spain and dealt with temperatures that approached near 100 degrees F.  We carried extra rain ponchos in our packs but never had to use them along the Camino.  Most of our meals and lodging were planned ahead of time but we did have occasions when it was difficult to find a place to have a bite for lunch and dinner was often past 9 pm when we were used to eating at 5 or 6 pm at home.  I have often heard that the most successful people in life are those who are willing to roll and adapt to the curves and changes in life.

Don’t expect to lose in 7 days what accumulated over 7 years.  One hope in walking 100 km was that I would lose a lot of weight.  But the Camino is like in life.  A temporary change in one’s physical activity might cause a temporary weight change but permanent results don’t occur unless there are permanent changes.  This can apply to whatever changes one wants to make in life.  We have to be committed for the long haul.

Have a goal.  Figure out what motivates you.  Having a goal and dividing it up into smaller accomplishable tasks is helpful.  We would walk so far in the morning and then have a pre-determined amount of distance to go in the afternoon.   Often as the morning dragged into the day, I looked forward to stopping along the way to have a cappuccino or charcuterie at a certain milestone.  Taking small breaks along the journey is important.  We often would pop into Churches to cool down, admire the architecture of the buildings along the way, take in a breathtaking view, or engage in a water break under a shady old bridge.

But finally don’t forget that the process of the journey is just as important as the destination.  For some reason the Camino brought back memories of my pregnancies.  I carried two healthy children to term.  Although each pregnancy was not easy and was full of challenges, I enjoyed each moment of the process. Thanks be to God, at the end of those two pregnancies I experienced the full joy of giving birth to my beautiful children.  But at the same time I experienced some nostalgia at the remembrance of the precious time of carrying them in my womb.  I felt the same way about the Camino.  With my Compostela in hand, I was excited to have reached the final destination but simultaneously was a little bummed that the journey had come to a conclusion.  There were so many sites, experiences, and friends that were encountered along the way. I actually wouldn’t mind going on another Camino!

The Good Walk.  There is a manner in which Pilgrims greet each other along the Camino:  “Buen Camino!”  Which in Galacian translates as” have a good walk” or can even take on deeper meaning in signifying, “follow the right path.”  Fortunately it was a very good Camino indeed!  Much can be said about discerning the good path and following God's will in our lives!

Impossible Situations and a Saint to Overcome Them

Posted on May 2, 2014 at 9:33 AM Comments comments (0)
Do you face an impossible situation that appears to be hopeless?  

Do you have feelings of desperation, depression, and even thoughts of giving up?  

Situations crop up in many people's lives that appear to have no relief in sight.  However you are not alone, there is a saint in the Catholic Church that endured multiple lost causes.  Although her experiences occurred hundreds of years ago, her methods of overcoming are still applicable for us today.  And they are quite simple with help from God.

The month of May observes May 22 as the observance of the Feast Day of St. Rita of Cascia, otherwise known as a saint for impossible causes and desperate cases.  She lived from 1381 to 1457. She endured many things that otherwise seem quite impossible to most of us. 

1.  Domestic violence

At twelve years old, St. Rita endured an arranged marriage to a wealthy and violent man named Mancini.  Her young adulthood was characterized with physical and emotional trauma. He had frequent anger outbursts and she was mistreated and abused for nearly 20 years. Mancini was described as a corrupt person and was despised by the community. He made a lot of enemies. For these reasons abused women traditionally sought out the intercession of St. Rita.  
 
2.  Unfaithful spouse 
St. Rita dealt with years of infidelities from her husband. However she counteracted this with patience, love, humility, and kindness. After much prayer, fasting, and frequenting the Sacraments, St. Rita experienced a changed husband. Mancini repented of his ways and asked for her forgiveness. Her home then became a haven for peace, but unfortunately this lasted for only a short time.

3.  Loss of spouse
Due to his violent past, Mancini’s life was cut short when he was stabbed to death by enemies.This occurred right after his conversion. St. Rita became a widow at a young age with two children.

4.  Loss of children
Her two young sons became enraged with the murder of their father and vowed to carry out revenge once they became young men. St. Rita discouraged this for fear that they would lose their souls. She prayed to God for an end to the violence. Both her sons ended up contracting disease and died in a state of grace before they were able to carry out their Vendetta against their father’s slayers.

5. Thwarting of life goals
St. Rita wanted to enter a convent during her youth, but her parents discouraged it and had arranged her marriage at a young age. Once she was widowed, she applied to the convent but was rejected. The nuns at the monastery were afraid to be associated with her due to the scandal caused by the murder of her husband.  She persisted in her application and eventually they let her stay. It is claimed that she was miraculously aided by Saints John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino to enter the locked and bolted convent at night.  She ended up living out her life by the Augustinian Rule in Cascia, Italy.

6. A wound that would not heal
She contracted an open wound on her forehead that festered and produced a stench which made it difficult for others to be near her. She likened this to a thorn that had inflicted the head of Christ. It is reported that after her death the sore emitted a smell comparable to roses. This is why prayer cards and images of St. Rita are often depicted with a wound in the middle of her forehead. She is also shown with a rose which represents her ability to intercede on behalf of lost causes.

7. Infertility
During her early years at the convent, a superior wanted to test St. Rita’s obedience and required that she plant an apparently dead piece of wood. St. Rita was ordered to water and tend to this stick on a regular basis. Eventually the twig grew into a grape vine which bore fruit. The centuries old plant is reported to still be on the grounds of the convent today. Its leaves are crushed into a powder and given to the sick around the world. It is an example of her help to lost causes.

8. Bee stings
St. Rita is also associated with bees.The day after her baptism, white bees swarmed around her face while she was in her baby crib. These insects went into her mouth without causing her any harm. Some believe that these bees foreshadowed her beatification by Pope Urban VIII whose family coat of arms featured the bee.

9. Physical decay
The body of St. Rita is noted to remain incorrupt.This means that her flesh is still intact after centuries even though her body wasn’t  properly entombed nor preserved. When her crypt was first opened for her beatification after 150 years, her skin was still its natural color. A church in Cascia, built in her honor in 1945, became a basilica in 1955.  Her body, which is only slightly discolored, can still be viewed by pilgrims in a glass case at the basilica.  Some say that her eyes have opened and closed on their own and that her body shifts from time to time.

Her bizarre circumstances still make her a saint for modern day
It must be emphasized that it is never advocated that a person stay in a violent and dangerous situation.  However we can look to the example of St. Rita to find clues into how to cope with a difficult situation.  Her life is a testimony to the power of prayer, fasting, and frequenting the Sacraments when seeking help with situations that appear to be unbearable.  Throughout all of her challenges she remained diligent, humble, and faithful. She was deeply trusting in God.  She endured some issues that were cultural specific, such as being forced into marriage at a young age, however her challenges are not quite unlike what some people have to deal with today.

Prayer to St. Rita
Dear Rita, model Wife and Widow, you yourself suffered in a long illness showing patience out of love for God. Teach us to pray as you did. Many invoke you for help, full of confidence in your intercession. Deign to come now to our aid for the relief and cure of [name of sufferer]. To God, all
things are possible; may this healing give glory to the Lord.

In the Dead of Winter

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 11:36 AM Comments comments (0)
A solo train leaves the station in Chicago during winter

In the dead of winter
 
This time of year always makes me think about the season.  How can I ignore it?  In Chicago the air is usually bitter cold.  I’m not talking about it being a little bit chilly.  It’s downright frigid with temperatures preferring to hover in the subzero range.  At times it is difficult to appreciate the present moment, when I find myself counting the number of months left until spring.  Navigating the highways can be quite a challenge.  Every trip out whether on foot or in a vehicle means risk to one’s body and property.  As I get older, I am getting less steady on my feet, walking like an old penguin and having to wear a coat that could double as a down sleeping bag.
 
Winter is a part of everyone’s life journey. We all experience it.  Accept it or not, winter will inevitably come to us.  Each journey has its own peaks and valleys.  Some might say that winter is definitely a valley experience dominated with darkness.  But others view it as being on the mountain top, especially if one takes pleasure in skiing. Some comment on the whiteness of the season and the extra use of light. Others might only see the gray concrete highways and barren trees.
 
Most of us agree that winter does bring storms which can alter our plans. We are usually glued to the weather forecast in this season, soon to discover that a better job of prediction is done by sticking a head out the window as opposed to sapping the knowledge out of a sophisticated modern meteorologist.  In spite of our best efforts, some storms still take us by surprise.
 
Life events that take us by surprise
 
Events in life that can take people by surprise always bring with them some sort of stress. Events such as a sudden job loss or change in employment status; a serious illness; the death of a loved one; an unexpected move or need to relocate; a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, or fire; the ending of a relationship; an assault such in a burglary or rape; and accidents.  In contrast to the bad, good events in life can also lead to stress: a new job; birth of a child; children leaving the home for college; or meeting someone new.
 
Some events happen very slowly
 
In contrast to the sudden storms of life, there are also events that creep up on us.  These are the things that don’t happen overnight.  No one ever wakes up in the morning to find oneself in a new life stage. (Although anyone who has ever had a teenager can swear that they grow inches overnight).  Events that happen very slowly include puberty, reaching adulthood, vocational discernment, midlife crisis, menopause, empty-nesting, retirement, and spiritual growth.  In fact, in the spiritual life, I have heard it often said that one never stands still.  One is either going forward or backward.  And in terms of psychological growth, most of us tend to jump all over the place.  What characterizes slow transitions is that they usually involve moving from something old and very familiar to something new and unfamiliar.
 
We have a limited perspective
 
The problem we all have with changes and seasons in our life is that we never quite know what is coming up next or where we are standing, hence our desire for a good weather channel or forecasting app. We don’t have a bird’s eye view of the map of our life’s journey. We struggle to find a reference point at any one moment.  We never know if we are on the mountain top or indeed in the valley.  The old saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.”  But talk to any older person and they will mention “the good old days.”  But often at closer inspection, those “good old days” had lots of challenges and were often in fact downright awful. 
 
Then what is the best compass?
 
The best compass is God.  And through God, learning to live in the present moment.  Research any philosopher, psychiatrist, or spiritual writing and you will find that they all say the healthiest perspective is that one which focuses on living in the present moment.  So in the midst of our current snow storms there are treasures to be had.  No need to even set out searching for the gifts of the present moment; such gifts are already in our hands.  It is just a matter of having the ability to see them. No one is without exception.
 
I hear someone say, “I am different.  My problems are worse than anyone else.  There are no blessings seen here.”  What such a person fails to realize is that even in our struggles and darkness moments there are the opportunities for growth and sanctity.  Christians can also appreciate the redemptive value in suffering.
 
A psalm about the journey and how God is our compass:
 
Lord, You have probed me, You know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
With all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, You know it all.
Behind and before You encircle me
And rest Your hand upon me.
Probe me, God, know my heart;
Try me, know my concerns.
See if my path is crooked,
Then lead me in the ancient paths. (Psalms 139:1-5;23-24).
 
 
We all go the ancient path.
 

In spite of what believing that we are modern people, we all travel the ancient path that others have gone before us.  We only hope to travel it with the grace of the Saints and not get ourselves off course or do it crooked.  We all will encounter challenges, stressors, and anxieties.  These are inevitable parts of life.  We all will encounter a storm in the dead of winter.  Some of us might even encounter more especially if our journeys take us to the Northern Tundra as opposed to sunny Florida.  But whatever our life maps, we have an Eternal Guide to help us arrive where we need to go.

On the Tragic Loss of a Child: The Feast of the Holy Innocents

Posted on December 28, 2012 at 10:34 AM Comments comments (1)
The Feast of the Holy Innocents
 
A person that loses a partner is called a widow.
A child who loses a parent is called an orphan.
But there is no word to describe a parent that loses a child,
Because the loss is like no other. ..”
(Paraphrased from “An Orphan’s Tale, by J. Neugeboren, 1976)
 
Parental grief
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the loss of innocent children, particularly in light of the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. There are no words to describe the grief that a parent experiences after the loss of any child. We cannot possibly fathom what such a person might be feeling. And often it is not only the parents, but other family members, friends, and sometimes even strangers. We have little defense in coping with the loss of an innocent child. Some say that the pain lives with them the rest of their life while here on earth. It does not matter what age the child is, whether a fetus or a full-grown adult. There is still grief. Many who have suffered a miscarriage can testify that the emotional pain is very real.
 
On loss
When someone experiences a loss, they go through all types of different emotions. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, popularized the five stages of grief. Her model lists them as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And not everyone goes through all of them or even in that order. In fact some might not even go through any of the stages at all. Each person’s experience of this type of suffering is unique. If this is the case, then what good is a theory? It gives us a template from which to work and somewhat of a ballpark idea of what one might be going through.
 
Being able to forgive the unforgivable?
Getting over a loss from a tragedy or murder is wrought with additional trials because it involves a pain that is the result of something that is perceived to have been done unjustly. It is natural to feel angry at such. However what makes the major difference and leads to the greatest healing is how one chooses to deal with that anger. Some might feel that seeking revenge or getting even brings satisfaction. However, God’s way to heal the hurt is through forgiveness. We might ask ourselves, how can one ever forgive someone who has done what seems to be the unforgivable? It might be easier to think of a perpetrator who has committed such a crime to be a horrible, nasty, evil, and even less than human. But the fact of the matter is that such a person is actually a human being. Such a person is actually someone who is wounded, hurt, weak, immature, ill, and/or spiritually blind –for whatever reason. Just like each one of us. While it is true that not every person who has imperfections is a mass murderer, we all can see clearly that someone who kills innocent children might not have their elevator connecting on all floors. They are deeply wounded.
 
Fr. Anthony de Mello, S. J. is quoted as saying “people who hurt are asleep. If they were to wake up they would never behave like that.” (Obtained from “How to Forgive Yourself and Others”, by Fr. Eamon Tobin) Which echoes what Jesus said when He was dying on the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:4)”.
 
I have heard people turn their anger towards God. Some people might conclude that God doesn’t care about them when terrible things happen. There are no easy answers to what happens to any of us while on our journey and in this life on earth. Even non-Christians would agree that this world is full of anxiety and suffering. The worse approach however is breaking our relationship with God and deliberately abandoning prayer. However, if we are Christian, we know that God the Father did not even spare the Cross from His own Son, Jesus. And whether or not we are Catholic we can cling to the redemptive value inherent in suffering. There is a lot of meaning in the saying, “offer it up.” I only wish I had realized this sooner in my own life.
 
The Feast of the Holy Innocents
The Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents this week during the Octave of Christmas. This Feast remembers the little babies and children of Bethlehem who were slaughtered by King Herod. In the history of the early Church, these helpless little infants were the first persons to shed blood for the sake of Jesus and as such are known as martyrs. The Scripture repeats the prophesy from the Old Testament: ”Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15-16).
 
These children of Bethlehem did nothing to deserve their demise. And there are likewise so many innocent unborn and born children who die from various causes known and unknown. It can be said that there is an army of children in heaven. Knowing that these little angels have a soul in eternity can be a great source of consolation and hope.
 
Being able to heal from the pain is a grace from God
Being able to forgive and get over such a loss obviously takes a lot of time, patience, humility and prayer. It is not easy and to think such would be misleading. Taking the step towards forgiveness is actually an act of the will and healing of the hurt most often comes later. This is why often when someone has decided to forgive the feelings of hurt can still emerge even much later down the line. To still feel the pain doesn’t mean that one has not forgiven. One does not have to repress their anger and hurt. It is actually healthy to be able to admit that one is mad and extremely upset. The difference is when one decides to forgive regardless of the hurt. The grace of healing from the pain most of the time comes much later. It is a difficult journey and a tough Cross to carry but can be overcome by the grace of God. This is why prayer is so important throughout the process.
 
Know when to seek counseling
Sometimes the pain is so deep that it cannot be dealt with alone and a person might need professional help from a counselor and/or a spiritual guide. Just as someone needs help to cure a physical illness, it is wise to know when to seek out counseling. Help is warranted when someone has been unable to perform normal daily activities for an extended period of time. What is considered “normal daily activities” and “an extended period of time” can vary from person to person. But in general, a major change from one’s usual activity level can be a warning sign.
 
Isn’t abortion a loss too?
No one ever wants to lose a child. Or do they? According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion in the United States (National Vital Statistics Reports, April 6, 2010). The most common reasons cited for abortion include not feeling emotionally or financially capable of raising a child and fear that a child would drastically change one’s life. But still thousands of women who have actually gone through with an abortion still experience loss and its effects have a negative impact on their life. There are websites such as www.silentnomoreawareness.org and www.afterabortion.org where women and men share their stories. The fetus is a life and any mother can tell you that the maternal bond is formed very early in the womb.

After a Tragedy: Helping Your Family Cope with Anxiety and Stress

Posted on December 18, 2012 at 4:21 PM Comments comments (3)
(The following was obtained from information obtained from PEP, the Parent Encouragement Program, located in Kensington, Maryland in the Washington, DC area.  This organization's focus is helping parents to develop parenting skills.)
 
“After a tragedy like today’s school shooting, parents are frequently faced with the dual challenges of having to manage their own stresses and anxieties while at the same time trying to do their best for their children. As we support our children, we must not forget to get the support that we need, too. We hope that you will find the following information and tips useful to you, not just in the immediate days ahead, but also throughout your parenting life. Don’t expect to eliminate all stress and anxiety from your life, it’s not possible and such an expectation will only increase your anxieties.
 
Your own behavior: Model for your children healthy ways to react to stress. Maintain an optimistic and positive outlook. Consciously focus on taking care of yourself and your family. Don’t isolate yourselves; keep up your social connections. Make sure you include humor in your life; engage in playful activities and listen to favorite comedians or watch comedies. Don’t neglect physical activity. Learn and practice relaxation and calming techniques. Parents play a powerful role with their children in stressful times. There are things that we do that can help children handle stress better, as well as things that may contribute to the child’s distress. It is helpful to children when adults are interested in them, respectful, and appropriately affectionate. Parents should be supportive even when correcting their children. It is NOT helpful to children when they experience their parents as being demanding, controlling, or critical of the child or other adults. Children who feel that their parents are inadequate or out of control have increased anxiety. Likewise, parents who are overprotective or disengaged from their children add to their children’s stress levels.
 
"Move children towards helping others: Shift the focus from children's natural anxiety towards what they can do for others. When they are working to help others, their own worries diminish in importance. It is empowering to children when their parents both see them as being able to contribute and provide them with opportunities for contribution. Altruism can be related to the current situation or involve doing something for the family, school or community.
 
"Limit media exposure: Carefully consider whether children should be watching the news coverage, as it may contain unsettling footage. This can be very frightening to young children. Older children are capable of understanding what is in the news and even following it closely. However, be careful that they don’t become too preoccupied with it. If so, a “news watching allowance” might be in order. Don’t forget that they are still children. If you want to keep up with the news, consider using earphones, or catch the evening wrap-up when the children have gone to bed.
 
"Be available: Your children need you more than usual now, be sure to set aside time for them. Be flexible and allow time to address situations and concerns as they arise. Be sure to be especially loving and affectionate at these times. Remember to touch children in a warm, loving and appropriate ways. Hugs, caresses, back rubs, or brushing hair are deeply calming and reassuring to children who may be feeling unsettled but unsatisfied by all the talking. Plan and carry out family-based activities that will calm the children, such as cooking and eating together, or offering warm baths with bubbles. When anxiety is running high, encourage children to use art (drawing, clay modeling, collage) to express their emotions. Older children may want to draw or journal
their feelings.
 
"Communicate: Remember that children are good observers but poor interpreters. They take in everything they see, but interpret their observations based on their own experiences and knowledge. It’s up to parents to interpret what is happening for their children. Respectfully clarify their misunderstandings and correct their misconceptions. Present information in honest, age appropriate ways. Keep them talking about what they are hearing and seeing and - don’t forget – feeling. Listen closely to fears and concerns, respect what they have to say. Don’t assume that silence means lack of interest, but also don’t force the discussion if the child is not receptive. If children are feeling anxious, ask them what the family could do to help them feel more secure. It is always helpful to do something, it makes one feel more powerful. Talk with them about how children can support each other.
 
"Maintain routine: Keep to the daily routine as much as possible. Don’t let the natural anxiety of this situation run your life. Use family meetings to discuss concerns, support each other and plan how to help others. Schedule things for the family to do together. This could mean family fun or family tasks, such as cooking.
 
"Observe your child: Watch for symptoms of heightened anxiety... This can happen to people of all ages, but children need special care to help them through it. Pay special attention at bedtimes. Bedtimes need to be reassuring, and parents should consider an increase in transition time, storytelling and book reading to get the nighttime off to a good start. Secondary reactions may emerge such as fear of leaving the house or going to school. Use reflective listening to talk them out in advance. Anxiety and stress may trigger acting-out. Discriminate between misbehaviors resulting from anxiety or stress as opposed to those that come from the usual mistaken goals, and tailor your response accordingly. Remember that you are training your children in the life skills of coping with frightening world events—first, last and always: ENCOURAGE!
 
(As a faith-based counseling approach, I would add prayer to the list.  This involves modeling prayer and Church attendance for your children, as well as engaging in times of family prayer together.  Help them to see that God is our source of help through tough times.  Being genuine in your faith is the best way to communicate God's love. )
 

Beyond Lives of Quiet Desperation: Moving from Surviving and Coping to Really Thriving

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 8:39 AM Comments comments (3)
(c) Bernard Eden.  A peaceful setting in Hawaii.  Thriving means being content in whatever situation we might find ourselves.  Thriving is also taking time to be in wonder at nature and in awe of God.
 
 
What is it to really thrive?
 
Do you feel as though life has been passing you by? Are you waiting for your ship to come in? Do you find yourself asking if this is all there is to life?
 
Not long ago I was flipping through channels on the television when I chanced upon a point in a program where someone was saying that his or her objective in life was much more than just survival and coping with circumstances. This person wanted to really thrive. What is it to really thrive? This struck a chord with me and is something that I have been meditating on for quite a while.
 
Surviving.
 
Many go throughout life in what might be termed as the survival mode. Henry David Thoreau famously once wrote that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” They chug along just doing the best that they can with what they can get. Focus is on obtaining basic physiological needs such as food, water, shelter, sex, and safety. These are very real issues for everyone but especially for those who live in or on the brink of poverty, unemployment, and/or underemployment. This also pertains to those who are trying to live in spite of physical challenges and health issues.
 
Fight or flight. When the threat of danger approaches, our bodies are naturally wired for fight or flight.This goes back to day of the cave man where surviving an encounter with a saber-toothed tiger meant either slaying the beast or running away.  In either instance the adrenaline is flowing, the heart is racing, the senses are on alert, and the blood pressure is up.  Although no one today has face-to-face encounters with live prehistoric creatures; many still have modern wild dinosaurs that emerge in the course of everyday life that trigger the old fight or flight response. This is sometimes conscious, but most often it is unconscious. Usually there are no physical monsters at all just things and circumstances that are reminiscent of them. Life in the big city is full of stimuli that bombard that senses.  Anything that seems like the saber-toothed tiger triggers the physiological fight or flight. 
In addition, when an immediate threat is over many have great difficulty returning to their baseline relaxation state.They have trouble turning off the fight or flight switch. A perceived danger can swing a person into overdrive quicker than the brain can mentally process. Over time a person can become more and more broken down physically, psychologically, and even spiritually. Anxiety attacks prevail. An extreme form of this may take on characteristics similar to Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
 
Withdrawal and avoidance. There are other types of fight or flight responses that a person might fall into. A person might become combative, irritable, and/or have difficulty managing anger. Another manifestation is seen in a person who might try to avoid anything perceived as a stressor, or to flee from anxieties. Some might even withdraw altogether in relationships and have difficulty making decisions, commitments, and evade responsibilities.
 
Psychological needs. In addition to the physical needs, there are some very real psychological needs and challenges as well. Psychologists have shown that the needs of love, belongingness, self-esteem, respect, achievement, and meaning are sometimes even more essential than food.
  
Spiritual needs. There are also spiritual needs of which some people literally starve themselves.  A person can have everything in terms of material possessions, fame, and fortune but yet still be very empty inside. They build bigger and bigger warehouses to hold all of their goods to no avail. In the Gospel of Luke (12:15) Jesus gives the warning, Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
 
Developing coping skills.
Many seek out counseling in an effort to develop coping skills superior to the old intrinsic fighting or fleeing behaviors and to stop their biological systems from physically going into overdrive. Coping skills help a person transition from being a victim to taking control over their circumstances.
 
Addictions.  The survival mode can get out of balance and result in less than optimal coping skills. Addictive behaviors can happen when a person tries to self-medicate to deaden or heighten their senses, to be avoidant, to flee from circumstances, to find meaning, to obtain comfort, to relieve boredom, and/or to just satisfy curiosity.  Studies have shown that such attempts at self-soothing behavior can be both conscious and unconscious.  Addictions do not always take the form of drugs, but also can be manifested in terms of behaviors. Sex addictions, shopping, and gambling are common examples of activities that produce artificial highs and a false sense of coping.
 
Chemical imbalances.   Some persons through no fault of their own might experience chemical imbalances. A common example is what happens when a person might have swings in blood sugar with hunger. They might become easily irritated and impatient due to changes in insulin in their body. There are others that are biologically predisposed to overdrinking and over indulging. Some might seek comfort through overeating. However there are also those who engage in not eating at all. Though not in every case, cigarette smoking and marijuana usage has been linked to people challenged with serious psychological conditions and mental illness.  Such persons could indeed be searching for balance and trying to find a more optimal way to get through their lives. Although from a diagnostic standpoint, it is a gray area of whether substance abuse causes mental illness, is a form of escape from psychological distress, both, or neither. One sure thing is that an addiction doesn’t make things any better in the long or even short run. In psychology it is common that those who fight some sort of addiction also have a comorbid condition or conditions. By comorbid  a person has more than one diagnosis complicating  their emotional health picture.
 
Thriving.
 
Life is a journey.  That journey involves peaks and valleys. It also involves running into and away from monsters.  But at the same time it would be nice to realize that we can do more than just survive and cope through life.  We are more than victims in the jungle.  We can thrive. Thriving implies growing and making progress.  Interestingly, one can be on the brink of death and still thrive. One can be physically starving and still thrive.  A person who has been in the valley of addictions can still rebound to thrive. Everyone has encountered at least one person in his or her life that is a blessing to others through their suffering. This is what testimonies are made of.  We don’t have to look too far to find a Savior who was crucified, died, and was resurrected.
 
What is thriving?  Thriving is an attitude and a state of the soul. It is learning how to be content with whatever state we might find ourselves.  Sure, everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants peace. But many confuse happiness with pleasure and crumble in the midst of a storm. It is being able to appreciate and value the joy and love that can be found in relationships with others. It is taking the time to have wonder at the beauty of the natural world around us. It is being in awe of God. It is rising above the flight or fight response.  Sometimes it means calmly standing up to the saber-toothed tiger with complete confidence. It does not mean being the biggest or the greatest. Often it means being the most humble. This sounds next to impossible, doesn’t it?  But we have to remember that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
 
Tools for thriving. Prayer and participation in the Sacraments are essential for thriving. We can obtain grace from these things. Grace is participation in the life of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997). Unfortunately many have imposed spiritual starvation upon themselves. In the medical world, a baby that refuses to eat is labeled as having “failure to thrive.” We are more than animals that are fighting and fleeing creatures in the jungle.  In the spiritual life many of us are still babies and we do indeed need spiritual food to thrive. This life is not all that there is. We have souls that need to be fed and nurtured for life here in preparation for eternity.
 
Similarly tested in every way.  This past Sunday’s New Testament reading (October 21, 2012) spoke of our source of strength:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.  So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
 
Help comes from One who did not spare Himself from the trials and difficulties of this world but rather is a trailblazer through the storm. Jesus has said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  This sounds a lot like thriving to me.