Holding Space

When my mom and my dad were dying, (my mom at 59 and my dad at 89), we were with them. I didn’t know anything about supporting someone in their transition out of this life into the next, but I knew I wanted to be near them and I believed they wanted to be near me.

The anniversary of my father’s death just passed and today would have been my mom’s birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about them, their transitions, and how it affected me (and my crazy future goal of opening a hospice… for another post, I’m sure).

Lately I’ve been thinking of this phrase we often use as people transition – holding space.

I think holding space for someone means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. It’s the space in our hearts, which offers unconditional support and love. We hold space as they transition from life here, and we do it while others are simply experiencing life.

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. For example, my friend’s father recently passed and when she told me he was getting close, I made a point of holding space in my heart for her, while she was holding space for her parents.

I’m not 100% sure, but I am betting that some of my friends hold space for me. Frankly, I think it’s impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, mentors and teachers need to know that there are people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of judgement.

I do my best to hold space for other people in the same way that I know others do for me. But, I have to admit that this isn’t easy. Candidly, I have the very human tendency to want to fix people or give them advice and direction! That’s not in any way, shape or form – holding space! But, I’m learning. And, I’ve figured out that I need to create a container, of sorts, where my loved ones and friends can put their fears, dreams and emotions, without judgment – and in a safe way.

As I move along in this cool thing called life, I’m clearly still learning. But, I can respect everyone’s journey. I can honor their pain, hold their hands and wipe their tears. I can offer hugs. I can back off or lean in. I can listen. I cannot heal pain or grief. But I certainly can hold space and be present for them, as we all make our way through this thing called life (thanks Prince!).

XOXO

Jessica

Out of the horror of the world comes beauty.

I have been glued, like many of you, to the news. Watching with horror a dictator who has freaking gone off his f***ing rocker. I’ve had a million emotions about this situation. How is this happening? And, of course it’s happening.

At this same time, I’ve also watched with tears in my eyes, the beauty and compassion of the world.

Last night I took my eyes off the news to see if I could find something else to watch. I decided to watch the cold open of SNL. Powerful.

But this is the way of the world. Ugly. Painful. Beautiful. All at the same time.

I’ve thought a lot about how easy isolation, mental illness and fear can create so much horror … even in our own country.

Look, there is no excuse for he-who-does-not-deserve-a-name to behave in this horrific way – even if he has a “mental illness” (as the news keeps talking about). And, while a mental health diagnosis is no excuse for bad behavior – most people with mental health issues do not behave badly and I don’t like it when we make one big lump of the phrase “mental illness.”

I don’t know about you, but I have those in my sphere that have mental health diagnoses and I personally have not been really adept in saying the right thing or supporting them in the right way. So, while watching this horror, I started to think about things to say to my family and friends when they call me with a problem. My goal should be to listen, rather than solve (the latter is a tough trait for me)! Here’s my list. Please add as you like:

  1. Do you want to talk about it? Even when I’m not sure I know what someone is going through, I hope this sentence lets them know that I can listen without judgment and that they are not alone. Remember: one can feel alone even when they are not alone.
  2. What can I do to help? Sometimes we just don’t know what we need or what will help. When my mom died and had three very little kids. I knew I needed help but I couldn’t verbalize it. It often helped when people just helped.
  3. How are you coping? There’s nothing like validation and comfort. This sentence is like a big bear hug.
  4. I’m here for you or You are not alone. Don’t add … “if you need me.” They need you. Just say those four words. Or add, “no matter what.” These words can be incredibly relieving to hear and lets them know that they are not battling the situation on their own.

Watching the insanity in Ukraine has made me think even more clear-eyed about what I can do in my own backyard. To help, take in, care for, and love not only others, but myself.

Let’s try to bring compassion and comfort to others (and ourselves) this week.

XOXO

Jessica

“Is anyone in your household over 65?”

Yes. This is the statement I was asked at the food co-op this week. I was standing there. Masked. Sun glasses. A hat. And was loading my groceries on the conveyer. I’m sure I looked bad but I was 95% covered up! Literally, in the 4 minutes it took for him to ring my groceries, I wondered what had happened to me in the last few years … I was stunned.

As I moved over to the machine to run my credit card, I saw a sign “Discount Tuesday for 65 and older.” “Ahhh, so this is a thing today,” I asked, “I thought you were making a comment on my age.” I got a half-smile from him and a nod. Not very reassuring!

I drove home in silence. No music. WTF. I’m not even near 65!.

But, as I pulled into the driveway, I remembered my mom’s motto, “The age you feel means more than your actual birthdate.” She used to tell me that she pretended she didn’t have a birth certificate and she woudl judge herself by how she felt, not what was on the certificate.

Doesn’t that just make you smile?!

There’s no question that when I was raising my kids, working, etc., I was feeling older than I actually was. I was, frankly, exhausted.

Now, it’s the opposite. There’s a lightness in knowing that at this time of my life. I have more energy and passion. I have better focus and relationships. I am not as distracted from ….. life!

I was wrong to be so taken aback when he asked me that question at the co-op. Getting older gives us the opportunity to enjoy ourselves more. To be more at peace. We can stop worrying about s*** all the time (well, maybe not…I’m Italian/Jewish… I think it’s mandated that I worry).

Let’s look forward to our birthdays! Let’s enjoy ourselves more and be at peace with who we are. I believe we have more empathy (more pure empathy) as we get older. We are better able to deal with negative aspects of life and the negativity in our lives. Our relationships are just so that much more powerful.

As we move out of this COVID world, I hope we can celebrate more, and that includes getting older. I’m going to do it tonight with an aged bottle of my favorite wine!

XOXO

The energy of women.

A woman alone has power; collectively they have impact. 

There is just something about the energy of women together, having wine and just plain being there for one another. There is nothing in the world like it.

I was lucky enough to be in the company of a group of the most amazing women, from many different life spaces. Every time I’m with these women I grow and learn something new.

So, here’s what I learned last night:

  1. Women don’t see kindness and compassion as weaknesses, they see them as opportunities to connect with others.
  2. Women show unconditional love and support because it’s a win/win. By lifting up others, we’re more likely to reach our own goals and succeed.
  3. When you give out happy, kind, wise and strong vibes, others feel it. Not only will they look up to you, they’ll want to know how they can feel that way, too. 
  4. Women know that strength has a ripple effect, yet they don’t lecture or beg people to change. Instead, they just use the energy created by being the strongest version of themselves, which then inspires others to follow their lead.
  5. Women are not afraid to share their energy. They know that they have enough energy for themselves and to give to others.

It makes sense, right, that the studies show having a “pack” keeps us young and healthy. There is an uncomplicated acceptance of one another when you are with them. Honestly, I never feel capable myself, but with my friends, I’m capable of anything. We may have a million differences but we are also all the same.

I love being a woman. The sense of security that there are others like me. That care as I care. That cry as I cry. That love as I love.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Whether I was with you last night or not. You know who you are in my pack and I’m forever grateful.

XOXO

Have an awesome day, everyone!

Where I’ve been.

I used to do a meditation where I would close my eyes and have my arms in a big circle. I would envision my kids, my dad and anyone who needed love and support in that circle. Then, about four years ago I could not envision that any longer. I didn’t know what was wrong. I stopped meditating. I just figured I was in a new place. And I was. I was in a place preparing me for this year. The biggest year of my life, so far.

Two months ago, I tried to start meditating again. While I was all over the place in my mind, the dog sat at my feet. But, I just didn’t feel my feet on the ground. I could feel something coming in my world. I was agitated mentally and just wondered what was happening.

So, finally today, I meditated. I saw that my arms were no longer in a big circle. They were in that shape, but there was a wide opening. My hands didn’t touch and I was letting people into the circle and gently blowing them back out to the wind with my energy and also my love, but keeping my own energy and love.

There is a saying, we are born on a date and we die on a date. In between is a dash. That dash represents what happens between those dates. What are you going to do with your dash? How are you going to give light and love and energy and keep some for yourself? What journeys will be a part of your dash and with whom? Who are your teachers? How will you open yourself up to the universe for you, not just for those that you “take care of?” Because really, the key to filling that dash is, as my friend so wisely tells me, to bless and release. That’s our life. Seeing the blessings, giving the blessings to others and then releasing them and their energy out to the universe so they can find their open circle of blessing and releasing.

My lovely friends, we hang on. We can’t help it. It’s our fear. But, we need to let go of our past. Be willing to put it behind us. We don’t lose anything by letting it go. It’s not a denial of the past. The past serves a purpose, for sure. But, once it has served its purpose it is time to let it go. To bless and release it. Send the energy out into the universe.

Yes, this is going to be a year, for sure. I’m looking forward to my journey and watching the journeys of those I love (and maybe even those I don’t know) that come into and out of my open circle.

Have an amazing day.

XOXO

Jessica

Here’s the thing about shame.

Shame is among the most corrosive of human emotions. It has the power to convince us that that little voice in our head is right. That voice which says “I knew you’d fail,” “You’ll never really be good enough,” and “Who would love you as yourself?” We spend a lifetime trying to avoid shame and we yet have a lifetime full of it.

It’s both an excruciating feeling and a universal one. Rich or poor, attractive or not, successful or struggling, we all experience shame, whether we admit it or not (and we usually don’t). Shame can shut us down or cause us to behave in the most destructive way to ourselves and others. From shame comes addiction, anger, depression … you name it.

I’m not a lover of Brené Brown (sorry friends who love her) but I recently read her description of shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

It’s no wonder that the last thing we want to do when we are gripped by shame is to talk about it. If we do, others may discover just how horrible we are. Which is why we say nothing.

But the less we talk about it, the more shame has power over our lives. The more it has power over us, the more we keep doing that which is shameful to us because that’s what we expect of ourselves.

The real truth is that as we name it and speak it, we can start to cut shame off at its knees.

We want people to admire us for what we can do or bring to the table. With shame, we worry about what will happen if they find out that we really have a dark background? We are certain that they will change what they think about who we are. That. Is. So. Wrong. That’s the burden that brings us down.

We must unhitch what we do from who we are.

I’ve been reading that the more we handle shame on our own, the more likely we are to let it eat us and cause us to resort to methods to mask it, like drugs, sex and lashing out at others. In a paper published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, researcher Jessica Van Vliet found that a sense of connection helps boost our compassion for ourselves, meaning we are more likely to handle our shame rather than giving into our shame if we talk about it.

Shame is a destructive emotion because it convinces us that we’re bad, unlovable, and that we don’t deserve anything good in life. It causes us to spiral. To do more to confirm how bad we feel about ourselves. But, shame can’t live in the daylight. The more we acknowledge and share feelings of shame, the less it will control our life. 

XOXO

Jessica

I cried (yet again).

True confessions – I can cry pretty easily in my personal life. Maybe it’s because I’m the opposite in my work life. Maybe it’s because I’m just too soft. It doesn’t matter why. It just is. A commercial. A post on social media. An interaction with someone about something emotional to me … it just is.

Yesterday, during one of my 10,000 walks with Lily, I came upon a woman walking a dog the size of my foot. A tiny dog that had the shortest legs! Lily can’t help herself. She thinks every moving object is an opportunity to play. You should see her with a pile of leaves. She started jumping around so we stopped to say hi!

The woman gave us the dog’s name and the breed (standard initial conversation) at which point I mentioned that I was walking my daughter’s dog while she’s in grad school. The woman got tears in her eyes and grabbed a tissue. At first I thought she was feeling bad for me (I had mentioned my kids were gone and maybe I seemed a little sad — I was).

She told me that the little dog was her daughter’s dog. Her daughter passed away and all she had left of her daughter was this cute little dog. She talked about how grateful she was to have a piece of her daughter every day and she wondered out loud about what she might do when the dog dies too.

Deep sigh.

I told her that my daughter was taking the dog with her (likely out east) next year and that I wondered what my life would be like. The woman started crying. I started crying.

F*** COVID. We hugged each other. I thought she would never let go as her arms were around me. She thanked me for caring and we parted ways.

This interaction (all of about 5 minutes) just weighed on me all day (and even now). How is it something so beautiful, as life and being a parent, is so fragile and painful at the same time? Know what I mean?

This was a good reminder to me that every life interaction is critical to our time here on earth. It’s also a reminder to me that hugs really do make a difference.

XOXO

Jessica

“There is too much to really make a difference.”

This was a statement from someone I met recently. We were talking about making a difference in the world. Helping to be part of the change. I felt bad for her when she said this, but I also realized that we all feel this way to some extent. She felt that she really couldn’t make a difference. I disagreed.I believe we can make a difference. We can be part of the change. We can’t pretend there are no problems in in the world or say that there are just too many to fix. There have been

problems in the world my whole life and they will continue beyond my life. We can be part of the change. We should be part of the change. And, nothing is too big. 🙂

Actually, I think of my world as small. Not in a hindering way. Rather, I think about it as–what can I do with those who come into my orbit? Sure, I can reach outside my “orbit” with donations and the like. But, when we do small good things in our orbit, those in our orbit do good in their orbits and then each “good” affects someone else’s orbits. So simple. So cool.

The day before my mom died, I told her that I felt that I had not done much in the world, in the same way she had. This turned out to be our last conversation. She told me that I was making a difference in her life at that moment. And in her eyes, that was enough for an entire life time. She reminded me that Mother Teresa cared for thousands of people over the years, but she cared for them one individual at a time.

Changing the world starts at home. It starts with you. It starts with one person at a time.

Have an amazing day!

XOXO

Jessica

Remembering

Almost everyone (of a certain age!) has lost someone special in their life. The holidays remind us of those people. When my mom died, I was worried I would forget how it felt to hold her hand, touch her face and hear her voice. I vowed that would never happen. But it has. It’s been 22 years and I don’t remember her like I used to. My father, he died just before COVID. So, the holidays are especially difficult for me right now (we had a Chinese food/movie holiday tradition).

Some of you know that I’m ac/dc as it relates to religion. I can go to church and sing all the songs and I can go to synagogue and sing all the songs. I’ve done both for most of my life. But the Jews have a really great tradition after a parent dies.

Sheloshim is the first 30 days of mourning, starting with the funeral and including the shiva period. Sheloshim is a period of transition between being completely enveloped by sadness and beginning to emerge back into the world. The outward signs of sheloshim—which include not shaving or cutting one’s hair—are reminders to others that the grieving period is not over. During this period family members typically recite the Kaddish once a day at a synagogue. If the deceased is a parent, the morning period lasts 11 months following sheloshim. That’s called Shanah.

Shanah is a way for children to express gratitude for everything their father or mother did for them as they were growing up, and to reflect on the values and beliefs imparted by their parents. One experiences each holiday and season during the full 12 months. When my dad died, I went to services every night. Thought about him and my life. I actually took the time to shut down and reflect every single day.

I was talking with a friend recently about this process and she said that although it had been 7 years, she was still so sad about the death of her father. She asked me how I got over the death of my parents.

I haven’t “gotten over” the death of my parents. Does anyone? But what I did was went to spend time with people who were suffering and dying with no one to love and care for them. When you see someone who is truly suffering and you take care of those people, it causes you to stop looking at yourself and your own suffering seems so much smaller. It’s like that old saying, “I complained with a frown on my face that I had a good pair of shoes, until I met a man with a warm smile on his face who didn’t have a pair of feet.”

Anyway, I use the holidays to remember that there are people who really need us. Our love. Our time. Our resources. Yes, I miss my parents and remember them. But rather than feeling sad, I focus on others who are in need. I guess its my new Chinese/movie tradition.

Have a wonderful weekend with family and friends!

XOXO

Jessica

We’re getting happier!

If I had a dollar (I would say the old term of “nickel” but no one uses coins anymore!) for every time someone said, “getting old is not for the faint of heart …”, I would be rich! Seriously. Screw that philosophy. I’m not going to buy into it.

I recently read a book entitled, The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Ageing Well, which confirmed my alternate thoughts on moving forward in life, and how cool it can be.

Essentially author Daniel Levitin, did a survey of more than 15,000 men and women aged 18-94 in New Zealand over the course of six years. It was published in Body Image, an international, peer-reviewed (that’s a hot word post-COVID) journal that publishes research articles on … well, body image.

The findings were just crazy simple. First, body satisfaction increases as we get older. Well actually, men’s body image remains stable (sorry guys) and women’s increased as they got older. The obvious reason for this is that we all realize that there are way more important things in life than our looks. Duh.

This book also confirmed what I actually notice in my own life, which is we actually get happier as we get older. In fact, his research was that we get increasingly happier into our 80’s, peaking in our early to mid-80’s. Just totally confirmed what I believe!

As I talked with a friend about this book, she said that getting older was really just about forgetting things and getting depressed. Hmm. Negative Nellie, for sure. And, I suppose one might consider that as an alternative reality. But, I think for most of us, the opposite is true, that we become more aware, and more in tune with life and the world as we move forward in life.

When my grandfather was dying, I asked him what was it like being in love with my grandmother … were they still close and intimate as they had been when they were younger? His response was (I remember it as if it was yesterday), “I am more in tune with your grandmother now, than ever before in our lives.” This was as he was dying and less than two months before his death.

As a teacher, I was always struck by how a young child could concentrate on something. They didn’t let their mind get distracted with the s*** of life (something I often do on a daily basis!). It’s how they beat us in chess and cards … they can concentrate and it’s not that their minds are younger … it’s that they are cleaner.

Getting older allows us to clean our minds. To go back to that hyper-focus stage and really pay attention to what matters.

I’m going to embrace all of this. I buy it and agree with it! For me, it’s yet another cool thing about moving forward in life — or in other words, getting old(er). 🙂

XOXO

Jessica