Free Webinar: Mindful Parenting – Starting with You

Monday, June 22

8-9pm PDT

Parenting in the best of times can be hard – parenting during a pandemic is intense!

“Putting your oxygen mask on first” is not a cliche, it’s a necessity to create a healthier you which directly results in a healthier child and family.

Join Krista Kotz, PhD, MPH and Roxanna Smith, MA for a free, one-hour webinar where we will share findings from brain science about how you can strengthen the mindful circuits in your brain to allow you to be more of the parent you want to be.

We will also discuss simple concrete ways to reduce your stress levels and create a healthier, more relaxed environment at home.

More than just a meditation class, you’ll get tools to apply “in the moment” when stress levels are high and resources are low.

Zoom Link for Monday, June 22: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89358444714?pwd=KzFaL29xUXpKTTlWZTFXV3I2TnprQT09

After this webinar, we will be offering a 4-week online series that willdelve more deeply into the unique environmental challenges you face collectively as parents in Lamorinda, as well as your own individual childhood experiences that shape who you are as an adult and impact your parenting.

We’ll spend time helping you learn to identify and mitigate your triggers. Every class will feature techniques to apply at home, and opportunities to share with the group.

Both Krista and Roxanna live and work in this community. Krista raised and educated herchildren in Orinda. Roxanna raised and educated her children in Boulder, CO, a community with similar opportunities and challenges.

What’s Working (when everything seems broken)

Greetings from my apartment.  Tomorrow will begin week 5 of sheltering in place.  By myself.  I would never, ever have thought I could be alone for 4 weeks without going insane.  What I “counted on” in life has either completely ended or radically changed.  Between the news of the world, concerns for my family and community, and getting laid off, I’m processing A LOT!  Falling back on my grief counseling experience, I am able to remind myself that it’s normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

Here in no particular order are a list of things that seem to be “working” for me – as in they bring me comfort, help keep me sane, elicit gratitude and even joy.  Some of them are contradictory, and some things that work today may not work tomorrow.  I’m sharing these with you with the hope that they may help, or you might laugh and see yourself in these.  And also, I’ve been home, alone for 4 weeks, and I’m tired of talking to myself.

What’s Working:

  • Getting outside every day, taking a walk
  • Not hating myself if I don’t get outside every day and take a walk
  • Smelling spring flowers (jasmine, hyacinth, daffodils = aroma therapy)
  • Finally hanging up the hummingbird feeder gift I got for Christmas
  • Watching the hummingbirds drink from the feeder, live TV
  • Looking for things to be grateful for right as I wake up, reciting them
  • Going for long bike rides
  • Praying for all the people suffering in the world
  • Ton Glen breathing/meditation technique
  • Getting into bed early (like 8pm)
  • Zoom calls
  • Limiting my Zoom calls
  • FaceTime with my mom, staying in “close contact” with her
  • Texting with my kids
  • Checking in daily with a few friends
  • Not beating myself up about my messy desk or laundry pile
  • Laughing at COVID19 memes
  • Hula hooping to dance music
  • Yoga at home and with my Santa Cruz gang on Zoom
  • Thank God for Zoom!
  • Facebook!  Seriously, so beautiful to be able to connect to humans virtually
  • Instagram (see above)
  • Reaching out to old friends (great college roommate zoom hangout the other day!)
  • Dancing in the living room, shaking it
  • Lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night
  • Crying
  • Virtual Seder (so sweet – next year Jerusalem!)
  • Bollywood films on Amazon Prime and Netflix
  • Amazon Prime and Netflix in general
  • Watching short, light, shows due to zero attention span
  • Not judging my TV choices
  • Getting up in the morning and making my bed, so I don’t get back in it at 9am
  • Establishing “order” by keeping the house clean, doing the dishes
  • Cooking delicious and thoughtful meals for myself
  • Freezing the leftovers
  • Being kind when I am not able to maintain the “order” of the house
  • Eating my greens!
  • Taking Bach flower remedy “Star of Bethlehem” for grief and shock
  • Reading stories on Zoom to preschoolers, seeing their faces every day, laughing
  • Checking in on my neighbors (2 lovely women on either side of me, both in their 80’s)
  • Finding out that PG&E reduced my energy bill to $8 this month

What’s Not Working:

  • No attention span for all the offerings (free or paid) on FB and Zoom
  • Really hard for me to meditate right now
  • Can only read a few pages at a time of books (see short attention span)
  • Long Zoom calls (short attention span again, overload)
  • Pep talks on how this is a perfect time to become awesome
  • Missing physical contact with people and animals (missing having a dog!)
  • Missing human contact in general
  • Wishing I could swim (all pools are closed)
  • Grieving all the fun things I had planned that have been canceled.  (I had A LOT of things I was looking forward to)
  • Keeping fruits and veggies fresh (eating them before they go bad)
  • Wondering where/when I will ever be able to buy T.P. again, WTH America?
  • Not sleeping very well at night (lots of thoughts between 2 – 4am)
  • Looking at the FB Group “View From My Window” and comparing my view to everyone else’s

 

When there are no words…

BeTheLight
The Light Surrounds Us

“The best work is done with either the heart broken or overflowing.”  Mignon McGlaughlin

A favorite quote of mine.  Sometimes the heart can be both broken and overflowing.

This past weekend was beautiful in California.  All the winter rain has brought spring flowers, blossoming trees and the most life-affirming color of green everywhere!  In the grasses, the leaves, the hillsides.

This past weekend was also my daughter’s 20th birthday.  On April 20th.  Which also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shootings.  I remember calling my father in Denver to tell him he had a granddaughter (his first grandchild) and he said “Thank God something good happened today.” He then told me the tragic news that had happened in Colorado.  In the United States.  Right on this phone call, our hearts breaking and overflowing.

15 years later, living in Boulder, the baby now a teenager.  She was cutting her body.  Depressed.  Questioning life.  5 years ago today, I woke my daughter up at 5:30am and told her that we were getting on a plane.  We flew to Durango and 2 wholesome looking strangers walked up to us and took my daughter away.  (Staff from the Wilderness program her father and I had chosen.)  I never exited the airport, just got on the next flight back to Denver.

Yesterday I got a text from a friend:  “Call me when you can.”  My first thoughts were ‘who died?’ and ‘who has cancer?’.  The news:  A friend’s son had taken his life.  A howling black hole of wordlessness.  Tears.

All I could do is cry and play this Mantra.  Chattr Chakkr Vartee by Aykanna.  It is a mantra used to remove fear, anxiety and phobias.  It is a mantra to lift one out of despair.  “Chattr Chakkr Vartee is the mantra for the heart center, it gives direct energy to it. When you are sinking, if you know this mantra and can sing it, you can totally recuperate yourself.” — Yogi Bhajan

Meditation class last night – I’m leading a group for some of the parents of the preschool I work at.  Sweet, young parents of sweet, young children.  It’s all about being in the now, practicing presence.  I wondered how much to share at check-in.  I decided to tell the group what I was sitting with – talking about heart ache.  About child loss and parent grief.  Appreciating the ‘ALL’ of life.  Celebrating that both of my kids have bumped along in adolescence and for right now, just for today, they are both in such sweet places in their lives.  Heart overflowing with love for both of them.  It was a beautiful group, with tears, kindness and connection.  Heart overflowing with love for these sweet, earnest parents, and their worries and their struggles.

I taught them a Buddhist meditation, that my dear friend Sue taught me many years ago.  It’s my ‘go-to’ when there are no words.  When I don’t know what to do, or say.

Tonglen Meditation

“Tonglen is one of the richest and bravest practices that we can do.  This is one of the great meditation jewels that offers a way us to cultivate our natural mercy.”  Joan Halifax

The practice of Tonglen, or Giving and Receiving, is done to develop our compassion and our ability to be present for our own suffering and the suffering of others.  Pema Chodron teaches that Tonglen is a practice of  “sending and taking,” an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion.  With each in-breath, we take in others’ pain.  With each exhale, we send them relief.  I like to think of myself as a being of light, composting the darkness.  Breathing in the sorrow, transforming it and exhaling out love.  

Get still, close your eyes, feel free to place your hands on your heart.  Inhale through the nose and breathe in any painful emotion that may be coming up for you (shame, anger, rage, fear, anxiety, frustration, judgement).  Stay neutral to the emotions, just breathe them in and allow them to be.  On the exhale through the nose, release these emotions and cultivate acceptance and compassion for yourself.  Allow the emotions to release through you and surround yourself with an energy of unconditional love.  

 

Note:  My daughter gave me permission to write and post this.

 

 

On Being a Woman

WomenFly

On Being a Woman

On this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day, I give thanks for being a woman. For navigating this country, this culture, as a woman. I am a strong, independent, tall, intelligent woman and it isn’t always easy or pretty to navigate in a predominantly man’s world. In fact, it can be a DRAG sometimes. But what lifts me UP are the WOMEN in my life. I love you. I see you.

For my Grandmother I bow at your feet.  You are softness and grace.  For my Mother I lay my head on your belly.  You are infinite and deep.  For my Daughter, I hold my arms wide.  You are sensitivity and grit – and so much more. You gave me the gift of experiencing unconditional love.

For my Sisters I give thanks.  You are Shakti and Mountain. I am inspired and awed by you! You keep on keepin’ on 24/7.  You are the ones, We are the ones, the Sisterhood.  You are all so beautiful.  Your reverence for beauty, for ceremony, for love, for children, for passion and sex, for life, for healing, for shining your lights and the commitment to be seen and heard.  Reminding each other of our gifts when we lose the way or forget. Powerful.

For gluten free, dairy free, sugar free and STILL making it delicious and nutritious and nourishing.  You SHINE with the undying light of your spirit.  Your kindness humbles.  Your wicked humor shocks and delights.  Your energy is palpable.

For the artists, the writers, the students, the moms, the divorced and still married – navigating, negotiating the FREE wild horses of you.  The solid rocks of you, the grieving of you.  The busy of you, tending, caring, giving generously – carrying me, loving me.  Claiming me.  Re-membering me, saving my place.  Crying with me, adorning me, laughing with me. Kissing my throat.   I humbly say thank you.

This Little Light of Mine

GetLit
Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light. -Yogi Bhajan

I know many people are feeling overwhelmed with everything they are reading and hearing about in the news.  Whether I am discussing the natural disasters, or the latest events in the United States, every conversation I have with friends revolves around what we can do, how we can help.  I had tea with a friend of mine, a retired attorney and fellow yogi, who said “I didn’t used to believe in evil.” and paused for a moment, calmly picking up croissant crumbs with his fingers, “Now I do.”  Things are feeling pretty dire – more than usual. Is this just me?  I wonder…   I am deeply saddened by recent happenings in the world (both natural and human) and I also believe that we are greater than this and that LOVE conquers all.
I have written before about Yogi Bhajan‘s prophecy that the world’s hectic pace will only continue to increase and many people will be overwhelmed – on all levels – and not know how to keep up with the chaotic energies.  He went on to say that a third of the world’s population would die, a third would go nuts and the last third would be left to hold it all together.  There are times when this prophecy feels like it has come true and it’s my choice to decide which third of the population I want to be a part of.
The day this picture (above) was taken, I had just driven 500+ miles in very challenging driving conditions: high winds, forest fires and driving rain for several hours.  I was driving a 22 feet van that I was not wholly comfortable with and even hydroplaned a few times.  When I finally pulled into the RV park, my legs were shaking.  I then proceeded to get into a huge argument with my daughter who left to stay with a friend for the evening.  I called a friend and sobbed.  After the cry, I felt…so much better.  Lighter.  Less alone.  Normally, I like to cry in private and talk to friends after I’ve had my breakdown.  I made a conscious decision to let myself be seen in my tenderness and it was a personal stretch.   I am grateful I made the decision to be vulnerable and reach out vs. keep it all to myself.  Thank god for loving friends that are lifelines!
When the darkness befalls me (whether because of what’s happening out in the world, or because of whatever is going inside of my own psyche) it’s time for me to reach into my Self Care tool box and use whatever is appropriate for the situation at hand.   I don’t intend to be Pollyanna or to sound naive, but don’t underestimate the power of Self Care!  When the world feels overwhelming, I turn inwards and listen closely.  “What do I need right now?” I ask myself.  Usually an answer pops right in.  Othertimes, I have to just use trial and error to see what helps.  Getting out in nature is always a great place to start for me.
Spending the last month on the road, in a van, living with a 15 year old boy, has challenged my self care routines. There is very little alone time (something that I normally rely on heavily for self-sourcing), there is limited wifi (connecting with friends/lifelines is almost nil), the weather was initially very challenging (exercise was not happening for days.)  I wasn’t meditating, I wasn’t practicing yoga, I was feeling isolated from adults and totally catering to another human 24/7.  Thankfully, I am remembering my own teachings on Self Care and Self Love from LOVELUTION! and putting my oxygen mask on first again.  Phew!
What does that look like?  Have you heard that expression “If Mama Aint Happy, Aint Nobody Happy”?  I’ve started making sure that I am doing something for myself each day that fills up my tank.  Whether that’s a solo run, a tea date with a friend, making time to write at a wifi cafe or bringing back my meditation practice (why oh why do I ever let this go?)  The expression “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” is my simple prayer and intention.  I want to shine as brightly as I can so I can add my light to all the other brilliant lights in the world and we can shine light in all corners, dispelling the darkness and love it up so that it doesn’t need to spread.
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.  All things break.  And all things can be mended.  Not with time, as they say, but with intention.  So go.  Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.  The broken world waits in darkness for the LIGHT that is you.    -L.R. Knost

Road School 2017

This Spring, my son announced that he had two life goals: quitting school and living in a van.  His love of learning has been with him from infancy, but ever since 6th grade, he’s slowly and progressively been losing interest in school. Over the past four years, I’ve watched the light go out of his eyes while in the traditional educational system.

By April, things had spiraled rapidly downward; my son was depressed, uninspired and feeling powerless to change his life.  Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t getting up in the morning, he was isolating from friends and was refusing to go to school.  I had no idea what to do or how to help him.  Finally, at a crisis point, Harlan opened up to me.  What I heard more than anything was that he really and truly doesn’t want to go back to school and wants to “drop out”.

As I listened to him, I had an “Aha!” moment.  What if we “Dropped In” and hit the road?  What if we took this Fall Semester of 2017 and he got to live and learn in real time, in the real world, seeing life through the eyes of a traveler?  As a mother, I knew I needed to act quickly to come up with a creative solution that might serve to inspire my son into not giving up.  Since nothing traditional has worked (and we’ve tried it all), I wanted to come up with an out-of-the-box learning opportunity that would spark his innate curiosity.

Without knowing exactly how I could pull it off, I proposed the idea of living on the road this Fall to Harlan.   Almost instantly, like pumping a bicycle tire with air, I watched him come back to life.  He became motivated and finished 9th grade.  He joined a gym and is working out daily.  He’s working with an inspiring mentor who is teaching him about meditation and healthy living.  We’re training for our first Sprint Triathlon in October.  He has a summer job and is saving money for the trip.  We’re working with an educational consultant to design a personalized curriculum for Harlan.

We’re plotting our itinerary on the map:

Vancouver to Baja from September through December.

Along this route, we will be researching people and places that inspire us, in order to learn from these interactions. Together with an educational consultant, we will design a curriculum that Harlan resonates with; creating projects that involve writing, music, photography, and natural science – all with the rich backdrop of the Pacific West to support his education.

Since I have announced our decision to hit the road this August, miracles are happening.  People are reaching out with places to stay, well wishers are offering words of support, and we are packing up and moving out of our home on July 31!  Finances are an issue.  I’m a single mom navigating work, life, and parenting two teenagers, the oldest of which is heading off to college in September.

I’m a grief counselor. I work with people who have lost a loved one and are navigating life without the person they love. I have teenagers. I know angst. I have lost family members to suicide. I have close relatives that struggle with clinical depression. I know life is short. And mysterious and powerful and awe-inspiring. I know that I love my son with all my heart and will do anything within my power – anything – to help him get the light back in his beautiful brown eyes.  And yes, that means even asking for money, something I’ve been raised never to do.  I’ve started a Go Fund Me Campaign, called Road School 2017, to help with our costs.

Donations will go toward:

  • Online Educational Consultant
  • Used laptop
  • School Supplies
  • Educational Experiences (e.g. Museums, State Parks)
  • Gas
  • Campgrounds

NOTE:  5% of what we receive in donations will go to Pacific Sands Academy, a program that offers an accredited, interest-led, passion-driven independent studies program for teens.  This money will help families afford an alternative choice for children who may be struggling with the traditional educational system.

There is no training manual for what Harlan and I will are about to embark on, but there is a road map – the one he and I will follow along the highway.  As a parent, my job is not to mold him into a smaller, younger version of myself, but to hold a safe container large enough for him to expand his wings.  To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I want to introduce my son to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” him.   Stay tuned, Road School starts late August 2017!  #roadschool2017

 

Passover 2017

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Just coming off a whirlwind weekend visiting a college with my oldest, soon to be 18, my daughter.

We landed in Denver and I stopped to fill my water bottle at Root Down, my favorite stop at DIA.  After filling it, I screwed the cap on tight and turned, just in time to see a man being wheeled past, only a few feet from me, a swarm of paramedics administering CPR.  I could see his chest going down and up, an alarming amount of distance really, it was not natural, not at all.  They were pumping his chest with their hands.  He was wheeled down some hallway I’ve never noticed before – the whole thing happened in seconds.  “This is an emergency” I thought.  I sucked in my breath.  It did not look good.

Right there in terminal C a man was possibly dying.  Probably dying by the look of the whole scene.  I shut my eyes and felt the tears.  Heading down the escalator to the train, I wanted to stop and tell the people swarming from the doors, “There’s a man possibly dying up there!”   Life and death so close.

Of all the things I kept thinking about this weekend, “Life is Short” was one of the most prevalent thoughts.  Memories of my girl as a toddler, scenes of her as a youngster, bed time, reading her stories, singing to her.  Watching her struggle and falter and careen into some hard years.

Now a young woman, going to college.  Beautiful big eyed girl.  At ease (mostly) with herself and with life.  She’s ready.  I watch her from a distance.

Leaving the airport, we drive straight to her dad’s house.  It’s Passover and we are going to his “Bob Marley” Seder.   Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery and people will play instruments and sing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.

On the way, we stop and pick up my daughter’s boyfriend.  I hear her in the back of the car whispering to him, “You are part of this family”.  We arrive and the table is crowded with friends and relatives and exes and children.  We open the door for Elijah.  As usual, everyone is starving as we slog our way through the Haggadah – the book we read that tells us what Passover means and why we celebrate as we do.

On this night I sit between my son and my friend Starling.  There is laughter, and the usual chaos.  There are people complaining that they’re hungry, and children who would like to drink more wine, there’s raucous singing, and music breaks for more Bob Marley songs, there’s dancing, and food.  And more food!  Tsimmis (my favorite), and brisket, and smoked turkey with gravy, and matzah and charoset and soup and gefilte fish.  Everyone is stuffed.

I look around the table.  There is love.  There is forgiveness.  There is laughter and subtext.  History.  There have been heart-aches and illness and crises and hard times.  Tonight we celebrate Redemption – being saved from sin and error and gathering together to celebrate another year with love and grace.

I raise a glass and thank the cooks.  And I remember the people that can’t be with us; the people that can’t be here and the people that have passed before, and yet they feel so close tonight.  And I say a prayer for the man at the airport and his family.  We all drink.  L’Chaim.  To Life.  Life is short.  We are all part of this family.

I do the dishes.  The kids stay at their dad’s.  My heart is full with just a tinge of sadness.  The full April moon follows me on my ride, lighting up the mountains that wait silently for me to arrive, home.

 

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds

Have no fear for atomic energy

‘Cause none of them can stop the time

How long shall they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look? Ooh

Some say it’s just a part of it

We’ve got to fulfill the Book

Won’t you help to sing

These songs of freedom?

‘Cause all I ever have

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

-Bob Marley

Ode to a Dog

Ohhh this one hurts.

Meditation dog.  Never sat down to meditate without my sidekick showing up.  Had her own sheepskin but she would usually crawl in to my lap midway through the set.

rubySadhana

A little too full-figured for a lap dog.  She didn’t care.

Silly dog – people would smile at the sight of her.  Some would ask to take her picture.  She made me laugh.  Every day.

Drove to Texas with Lili to get her at 8 weeks old.  She was the size of a baked potato.  A baked potato with huge ears.

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When she was happy she would roll on her back and make strange choking sounds.

Everyone thought she was a boy.  “Don’t they see the pink harness?” I would ask myself out loud.

rubyA

She loved me.  My god the devotion.  She would whine outside the bathroom door for me.  When I traveled she would go on hunger strikes and suffer bouts of depression.

RubyWindow

Had to stand on my lap in the driver’s side looking out the window on car rides.

Flew on the airplane like a champ.  My “emotional support” dog.  She would fall asleep as soon as the plane took off.  Lying across my lap, occasionally farting.  Nobody seemed to care.

Her breath was terrible.  All her life.

She was unafraid.  She would challenge the largest deer.  Shrilly barking at the nonplused herd.  I thought she would get brained one day by a sharp cloven hoof.

She was Mr. Magoo blind.  Unaware one time that a large red fox was stalking her in our backyard.  I had to run out in my socks and scare it away.  Then she barked like a mother fucker.

Dare I say it, she could strike quite the elegant pose in her old(er) age.

ElegantRu

I burn with shame to say that I don’t remember the last walk I took her on.  I’ve been pretty busy the past several days.  And it’s been snowing.  Not her favorite weather condition.

RubyCold

The last two nights of her life she slept uncharacteristically close to me, up by my pillow.  It was cold outside, I didn’t mind.  Sweet comforting presence of her, snuffling and snorting.

Her last day, she ate a good breakfast – rotisserie chicken and kibble.  She took a nap with me on the couch.  I’m wracking my brain to think of what else she did.  Barked at a puppy – as was her way.  Not very friendly to other dogs, sorry to say.  She skipped dinner – that should have been a huge red flag.  She enjoyed her meals.

Last night, I came downstairs to turn off the lights.  In hindsight, I do think it was strange that she hadn’t already made her way up to my bedroom.  I saw her sleeping on the rug in the TV room.  I called her name and she didn’t wake up.  Not strange though as she’s become hard of hearing lately.  I stretched my hand out.  She was cold.

Linda called her “soulful” and that felt too deep to me at first.  I found her subtlety dismaying.  Never a licker or a tail wagger (she didn’t really have one) her face was a mystery.  Poker face extraordinaire.

She was my heart companion.  For ten years Ruby has been by my side.  When I cried, she would charge her way to my side.  Concerned.  Present.  A reassuring weight.  Her favorite place was on me or right beside me.  Always.  So “soulful” it is.  I can see that now.

I am chagrined to note that in all my “death” experiences of being and sitting with people and animals that are dying, I was a basket case when it came to this.  I was afraid to touch Ruby and I felt totally freaked out, like I wanted to run or throw up or both, simultaneously.

Grateful to my kids for their compassion and kindness last night, to my sweet friend who stayed up until 1am with me on the phone and to my sister Linda who came over this morning and did what I couldn’t.  She helped me get Ruby out of the cardboard box in the garage, set up an altar with sweet flowers, candles, oils and incense.  And chanted Akals to my soulful heart companion, Ruby.  Then she helped me wrap her in the same sheet we had wrapped her beloved mastiff, Juno, in just a few weeks ago and bundled me in her car, while I held Ruby in my arms, kissing her sweet nose, and drove me to the vet, where I left her to be cremated.

No way to fill a hole like this one.

RIP Ruby.  You are missed.  You are loved.

August 9, 2006 – April 28, 2016

12 Do’s (and Don’ts!) Supporting a Friend Through Surgery

or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error

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I spent a chunk of last week caring for my dear friend Barbara after she had surgery.  I have never had surgery and really had no idea what to expect.  I just knew that this is one of my best friends and I wanted to be there for her and so I volunteered to be her main person for the first few days.  What I know in hindsight is that this is no small task nor should it be taken lightly.  And…it’s not for everyone.  So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned in the hope that it will help others – both caregivers and people about to have surgery – so that they can make the best decisions about who is in their space at this tender time.

DO’s

1-Play to Your Strengths

For example if you don’t have the best bedside manner but you make a really mean chicken soup, volunteer to make meals, but don’t sign up to be the hand holder for your friend or family member when she’s getting prepped for surgery.  If you decide to take on the “job” of caregiver, go for it wholeheartedly and no holds barred. Be on board. If rubbing somebody’s feet makes you squeamish, find someone who is great at giving massage to come sit with the patient while you have a little break.

2 – Take Your Job Seriously

Remember that you are the gatekeeper and that your job, to the best of your ability, is to filter all the personalities, energies and information that the patient is being bombarded with. You are an advocate for the patient.  You’re another set of eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to take notes or even record the doctor when they are speaking.  In my experience, nobody minded when I asked for clarification on certain things or had questions about the aftercare instructions. In general, I felt that the hospital preferred that I was there as a go-between for Barbara.

3 – Be Gentle with the Patient!

Even if you’ve never had surgery before, it’s important to note that the days leading up to surgery, immediately after the operation, and the days shortly after the procedure can be a very tender and vulnerable time for the patient and her family. My friend Barbara kept saying that the veils were thin.  I think she was referring to the fact that all of her defenses were stripped away and this can be a time where fear and powerlessness are magnified.  Be especially gentle and kind with your loved one.  This is definitely where a nurturing and gentle caregiver will be preferred over somebody with very little bedside manner.  Let that person run errands for you or help in other ways.

4 – Have Food in the House

Do have lots of yummy and nourishing snacks available in the house for the patient after surgery. Don’t assume that the patient only wants to eat soup or bland foods. In fact, I knew Barbara was feeling better on day two when she started fantasizing about lasagna!

5 – Rest

Encourage the patient to have many breaks and to rest quietly. It can get a little overwhelming with friends and family calling, texting, and stopping by. No matter how wonderful it is to be reminded how loved she is, my little Energizer Bunny needed quiet time so that she could recharge. One of my best memories was playing my Dragon Drum for Barbara while she napped.  Also in this category, do encourage the patient to take her 3 AM pain pill and go right back to sleep.  You do not want her to get chatty, nip that right in the bud.  You need your sleep too!

6 – Show Some Emotion

Let yourself have feelings. Your friend will appreciate someone else expressing themselves; it’s not just the patient who is feeling an overwhelming amount of emotion. Once all the forms were signed and Barbara came out of the bathroom in her cloth gown and paper cap, s*** got real and I couldn’t help myself, the tears just flowed.  Barbara held my hand and it was a very loving moment.   Also, don’t be afraid to share a laugh – always good medicine (where appropriate, see below.)

DON’Ts

A lot of these will seem like a giant “Duh!” to most of you but I assure you these were either learned the hard way or witnessed.

1 – Don’t Forget to Eat

Don’t eat the patient’s yummy nourishing snacks!  And don’t underestimate how hungry you as the caregiver might get.  It’s important to think ahead if you can and if you have that luxury, stock the refrigerator for you as well.  When well-meaning friends text and ask what they can bring you can also say that the patient is very hungry and wants chocolate and almonds (even if they’re really for you!)

2 – Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive to Surgery

Do not, repeat do not, let the patient drive herself to the hospital on surgery day with you in the passenger seat. The patient has a lot on her mind and will be distracted. When she tries to back up into a very tiny space it will not go well.  Avoid this scenario by insisting upon driving.

3.  Laughter is Good Medicine Except When Patient is Nervous/Crabby

Don’t make too many jokes right before surgery. Usually the patient will not appreciate you making references to your giant pimple on your face and asking the surgeon if they have any medical recommendations for you.   Once again, the patient will not think this is funny.  Neither will the doctor.

4.  Let It Roll

Don’t take anything the patient says prior, during, or after surgery personally.  A lot of emotions can come up.  It’s best to encourage the patient not to make any long-lasting, life-changing decisions in this general window of time.  The patient’s mood could be perceived as erratic – something seemingly harmless like a little elderly man pushing a motorcycle up a hill could drive the patient into a murderous rant.  Best to just soothingly reassure the patient that you hate that motorcyclist too…there, there.  The patient will have almost zero recollection of what they said or asked for. For example when your friend/patient asks you to mince garlic in her lemon water she might actually mean ginger and will look at you like you have sprouted a second head when you ask her if she really wants you to put garlic in her tea.  (Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that this section could be written for perimenopause too…aaack.)

5.  Don’t Be A Jerk

In her tender time post-surgery, do not give the patient any books regarding her medical condition or tell her stories about people who have died from the same medical condition.  Right?  Also in this category, do not judge any type of procedure or follow-up care the patient decides upon afterwards.  This may take an attitude of trust on your part, but I assure you most people think long and hard and confer with their doctors and their loved ones before they decide on any follow-up treatments and it is OUR job as a supportive community to love our friends and family members through all of their decisions without judgment or opinion unless asked.  And even then, people, use your heads.  Remember…this is a tender time.  Tread lightly!  No bombarding the patient with statistics and medical data.

6.  Don’t Forget What a Sacred Window of Time you are Sharing Together

Take as much opportunity as you possibly can in the surprisingly busy days post surgery to reassure your loved one what an absolute gift it is, and continues to be, to spend time with them.  To hold their hand, to do their laundry, to steam there garlic tea, to warm up their soup, to stroke their hair, to give them a kiss, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to drive them around, and to just be in their presence.  It is a rare gift to share so intimately with another and I am grateful to have had this bonding time with my sweet friend of 26 years.

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Isn’t she cute?

Huge thank you to my family and friends for supporting me in making this trip happen, kids got shuffled, pet/house sitter bent backwards, drum carrier got fedexed so I could bring it with me on the plane, friends held space for me and said healing prayers for Barbara.  I know it’s cliche but it truly takes a village.

Magical Mystery Tour

This story is about love, all the good ones are.  And forgiveness.  Before there was that, an incredible amount of wrong-doing happened, because it seems we always hurt the ones we love most, don’t we?  As I type on this wintry night in Colorado, the coyotes howl right outside my back door, the sky darkest ink on this new moon.  The last few months have been a blur – a kaleidoscope of beautiful experiences colliding into one another and creating a smear of bright colors.  I haven’t had the time to stop and fully reflect on each moment and give them the time they deserve.  Each experience is worthy of its own chapter, so perhaps this post is just an outline for future writings, each experience building upon the next and setting the stage.  Here goes the continuous stream of miracles:

December 11th, my 50th birthday.  Friends gathered and a book was presented to me, with photos and writings from loved ones.  My god-daughter fanning me in the native american tradition with a hawk’s wing, her beautiful mother holding the smoldering cedar.  That night, on that birthday, for whatever reason, I was able to receive all the love directed my way and feel full.

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Early January,  Varanasi, India – under a full moon, on a sandbar in the Ganges, sitting with friends and strangers around a fire, I chant prayers for others, for my family, for myself, and make offerings with sweets, flowers and incense.  Of all my experiences in India, this remains one of the most generous and beautiful ones and I come back to it in my mind again and again.  I am not always given the gift of knowing how special something is in the moment, and this was one of those moments, one to remember and re-tell.

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Mid January, Rishikesh, India I dipped in the frigid waters of Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges) with my 80 year old mother.  The night before I had led our group through a Kundalini yoga kriya called the Hour of Your Death and the next morning I led us in a rebirthing.  Smiles were wide, hearts were light and my mother and I embraced in the yoga room as everyone danced to Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison.  My birth had not been an easy one 50 years prior and this day felt like a do-over for both of us.  We all took our newly born selves down to the water for a dip.  There was a chilly fog that made things look even more mystical than they already felt.  I felt like daughter and mother all in one, watching over my mother gripping the chain in the rushing water.  We submerged, coming up baptized.

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Early February, Boulder, Colorado.  My daughter came home for the first time in 10 months.  The breath I had been holding all this time, slowly exhaled as I felt her presence once again in my house, heard her voice, followed her trail of clothes.  She was home for a family occasion, the Bar Mitzvah of my son, her brother.  Family and friends came to witness this rite of passage.  My children’s father and I, divorced now for 11 years, put aside old quarrels and came together, united in our love for our children.  My husband (of almost 10 years) and I shyly presented ourselves at a family dinner where I would see friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the divorce.  Both grandfathers have died in the past 11 years and they were honored and spoken of.  Both grandmothers are alive and well and graced us with their presence.  In front of the congregation and our community, I released my baby and blessed him into manhood.  Symbolic of course, but powerfully potent like all ritual can be.  I felt it.  He did too.

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Last weekend, family therapy at my daughter’s school.  My ex-husband, my husband, my daughter and son and me.  We all showed up with vulnerability and an unflinching commitment to do our work.  There were moments of despair, pain, tears and also such compassion and tenderness.  The weekend was deep and hard.  The weekend was light and  full of love.  Forgiveness was the oil that kept us all on track, even if sometimes we looked like the most sorry-assed jalopy on the lot.  On the last night, before I had to leave, I held my daughter for over an hour, stroking her hair and singing to her.  Rearranging my DNA.  Deeply comforting.  Another rebirth.  Our own ceremony.

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