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What Do You Do When Your Best Friend Is Dying?

  • Millie Grenough Author of Oasis in the Overwhelm, Coach, Speaker,Trainer. Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine. EMDR-Level II: specialty in Performance Enhancement

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How can this be; she’s 12 years younger than me.
She’s been like my sister since we met forty years ago in Barcelona.

She called me that Monday morning:

“Mil, I have good news and bad news.
The good news? I’m not a hypochondriac.
The bad news — I have pancreatic cancer, stage 4, and it has spread.”

Cry. Light candles. Pray. Worry: who will I talk to when I’m feeling ecstatic – or nutsy? Hope against hope. She’s made it through so many other tough times. Maybe…

I try to haiku —
five — seven — five syllables
make sense of this mess

Cancel appointments. Minimize computer. Be with her when she wants. Savor the crazy times. Remember that afternoon we met and she thought I was stoned “…and then I found out you talk so slow because you’re from Kentucky…” Laugh. Hang out. Remember more stories.

Finally get it that she is in her last days. Sit by her bedside in the sunlight. Gently massage her feet, her pain places. Talk with her son, my godson. Cry some more. Be thankful for so much. Ask her to send me a signal from “the other side.”

On her deathbed, Jane calms me:
Take care of you. i’ll help you.
you’re here. shine your light.

Thanks, Jane. You’re the best.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.

One Way Not to Get Bummed By Valentine’s Day

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“Geez, I’m so tired of it. Everywhere I look — Buy her a dozen roses… Give her that diamond she’s always wanted… This year I can’t even pay our rent.” So complained my client Tony.

“You think you have it bad,” said Sandra, “I don’t even have anybody special in my life to give something to.”

February 14 have you bummed? You’re not alone. Statistics suggest that, for a bucketful of reasons, depression levels in the USA are at a peak this month.

What can you do about it?

Change your emotional channel!

Yep, just take your personal remote control and switch your brain from bummed to better.

When I teach my Oasis in the Overwhelm 60-second Strategies, I remind people:

You are the CEO of your own life. Just because your Dad was a glass-half-full guy or your mother was the Queen of Worry, that doesn’t mean it’s in your DNA. You can choose, every instant, which emotional wiring you want to fire in your own brain. When you feed that wiring, it grows, just as with muscle-building: if you lift weights only with your left arm, those muscles grow. Same deal with anxiety or worry…or with courage.

Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Happier, acknowledges that single-handedly we may not be able to change the economy or the world chaos, but we can do a lot to change our own situation. He affirms, “Recent findings prove the brain is more flexible than we used to think. With practice, we can change our habits and even our natural disposition.”

When Tony realized that he could be his own CEO, he took action. He changed his emotional channel from “I’m down-and-out and broke” to “I’m a good person and I’m resourceful.” He decided to skip the presents and instead cook a special supper for his special lady and give her a personal foot massage.

Sandra switched from “I’m lonely and unlovable” to “I’m a loving person and I can reach out.” She committed to sending a hand-written letter to a lost-lost relative.

Tony and Sandra both got the essence of this day:

Corazon, coeur, cuore, coração: in the romance languages, they all mean heart. And from that vital life-giving organ comes courage.

The hype around Valentine’s weekend have you bummed? Beat the bum rap. Grab your remote. Choose a better emotional channel. Breathe deeply, and let your brain and body go there.

Allow space / time for your unique heart wisdom to flex its muscles. Who knows what your “heart channel” might come up with? …maybe something big, or something tiny…but always courageous… stand up for something or someone you believe in… take action on something you’ve dreamt of doing, but never got around to it.

Make it real. See yourself doing it. Feel it. Breathe again to strengthen that wiring. Feed your love, your courage.

Our world is hungry for more than roses and diamonds.

This Blogger’s Books and Other Items from…

‘I Have a Dream’ — What’s Yours?

by Millie Grenough
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Photo Credit: Plum Village

Martin Luther King + Thich Nhat Hanh. When you look at the faces of these two men, what do you see? – Same? Different?

Baptist minister from southern USA. Buddhist monk from Vietnam. The minister nominated the monk for the Nobel Peace Prize. King’s physical presence: gone now. The monk: slowly recovering from a massive stroke. Both dreamers. Both men of action.

What’s my dream? How do their dreams impact me?

As an 8-year-old, I went from my Kentucky home to visit my Aunt Angie in Tennessee. I remember Angie hollering at me for going into the “colored” part of the city bus. She lived in Memphis, the city where the minister was killed.

A near-death accident brought me face-to-face with the monk. The summer after my accident I spent a week of recuperation at Omega Institute with him. That was 28 years ago. His simple, strong wisdom continues to ground me, energize me, give me an oasis of clarity in the overwhelm of my daily challenges.

When I’m frazzled, discouraged, angry, whatever, I can hear his simple message…

Don’t blame myself. Don’t blame anyone else. Just notice what I’m noticing. Get here. Breathe. Allow space, room to see the big picture, my connectedness with everything. See it as clearly as I can.

Call it mindfulness, meditation, presence, interbeing — whatever. Doesn’t matter. I just need to remember to do it. Minute by minute. Again and again. And trust that it will lead me to the next right action.

What’s your challenge? Your dream? How can you nurture it?

Two days ago I came upon the conversation of Oprah with Thich Nhat Hanh. The two of them talked about big world problems, and “little” family/friend problems. Their faces and their conversation heartened me. It may do something for you, too.

Ex-Catholic Nun + Brooklyn Jewish Husband: How to Celebrate?

Millie Grenough Author of Oasis in the Overwhelm, Coach, Speaker,Trainer. Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine. EMDR-Level II: specialty in Performance Enhancement

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photo: Millie Grenough

Okay, here’s the situation: I’m an ex-Catholic nun married to a Brooklyn Jewish guy. Hanukkah is over. Christmas is coming. Silent Night and Rudolph have been assaulting my husband for the past four weeks. Me? I got teary last Saturday when I heard a teenager singing O Holy Night at Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. And Nat King Cole singing Chestnuts roasting… that still moves me. This much, though, is clear: There’s no more room in my recycle bin for the pitches for Perfect Gift: Buy Me Now!

What’s it all about, anyway?

Cutting to the core — whether it’s manger, menorah, mosque, or a candle celebrating the solstice or Buddha’s birthday — it’s about LIGHT. LIGHT coming into our lives, now, on this planet. Truly, what a miracle!

When I was a kid, I used to be terrified of the bogeyman. Some nights, when I knew he was under my bed, I just couldn’t get to sleep. Funny thing: When a grown-up walked in calmly, with a flashlight, I knew that help was here. My rescuer picked up the overhanging bed covers, shone the light under the bed, and said in a calm voice:

“Come on out of your bed… take a look with me…”

Bingo! Just like that, I was safe: No bogeyman under there!

So many bogeymen dance on our front pages these days. Stokes our fears big time. Don’t want to be scared by those bogeymen…

What can I do to not be deluded/captured/terrified by fear?
Where can I seek light?
How to banish the bogeys in my own heart?

In these days of yet another solstice, may we be grateful for each other, celebrate the light, honor the miracle of living together on this planet, and shine our lights wherever we can.

What Do You Need to Let Go Of?

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photo: Millie Grenough

— an old hurt? — a negative judgment of a friend?

As I sat in my backyard this morning, I realized that the trees follow the rhythms of life with much greater ease than I do. Even if their current leaves are dazzlingly beautiful — when it’s time, they simply let them go.

What do I need to let go of, right now – to make room for whatever may be next?
I’ll have the chance to practice that in a big way soon when I am a GRACE Trail Coach at the 2015 Massachusetts Conference for Women. If you’re fortunate enough to be one of the 10,000 people with tickets, look for me there. Whatever, I invite you to do a virtual GRACE walk right now.

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What am I Grateful for?
What can I Release?
What do I need to Accept?
What is my Challenge?
What can I Embrace as possible?

Thanks, Ecclesiastes, Pete Seeger, Anne Jolles for reminding me:

To everything – turn, turn, turn -There is a season…

What to let go of now – for me?

Time to put away the hammock. And with it, the resolution that I made – but didn’t keep – to spend at least ten minutes in it three times a week.
Time to toss the old hurt.
And yes, time to give away those “beloved” clothes I bought 20 years ago in Greenwich Village but haven’t worn in 10 years. Another woman will love them.

More room in my closet. More softness in my heart.
What will come in their stead? Don’t know. Wait and see.

Not yet time to pull out the snow shovel. No sense stewing about next week’s happenings.
Trees don’t worry. They just are.
Savor this ‘tween season. It’s what’s here now.

For you?

Present Moment, Only Moment: What’s the Rush?

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Credit: Millie Grenough

It’s the day before vacation. I’m hassled. So much stuff to prep and pack. As I sit on my back deck, writing my lists, words from many years ago flash into my mind:

Present moment. Only moment.

They’re from the Summer after a bicycle accident almost killed me. My friend Lynn knew that I needed re-tooling. She recommended a retreat at Omega Institute in rural New York. I knew little of the monk who was leading the retreat, and I didn’t know if I would be able to sit and meditate, but I trusted Lynn. I went.

Now, 26 years later, as I sit in the morning sun in my backyard, I remember those words from the monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as he is called, is himself recovering moment-by-moment from an aneurysm and long coma. Carol, the beloved partner of my good friend Tom, died last week. The young wife of another friend is in her final days at Smilow Cancer Hospital. All this sadness weighs on me. How delicate and fleeting our lives…

I should be packing for my trip now. But my mind is whirling.

Thay’s words remind me. Get with it. This moment really is the only moment. Sip my morning iced tea. Be here now. Notice…

Ah, the sun hits my face.
Last night’s rain shimmers on all the greens.
The basil is showing new leaves.
A bluejay streaks across the yard.
The gentle breeze gives me goosebumps.
I am alive, breathing, healthy.
I am strong enough to go hiking.
How fortunate I am…

What will I do with this one wild and precious life of mine? – with the moments and days left to me?

Thanks, Thay. Thanks, Mary Oliver. Thanks, family, morning sun, universe, and all who give me life.

Now to finish prepping for Katahdin.

Unexpected Cure for 3 A.M. Anxiety

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One of those crazy mornings. Awake at 3 a.m., thunderstorm outside, mind thrashing with things I must do today… and tomorrow… and the next day… I must be nuts if I think I can carry it all off…

Will my superwoman neurosis ever give me a break? Used my Oasis Strategies to get me back to sleep at 4 a.m.

Alarm at 6. Tons to do before the 8 a.m. appointment in my office. Had the wisdom to do the absolute must-dos first: shower, dress, pack what I need for the day. Then to the computer to face the e-notes I must respond to before I leave home at 7:30.

The e-note from Anne Jolles caught my eye: The GRACE Trail. Aha! That’s what I can do before I go completely bonkers. Maybe I can walk virtually with Anne’s five G-R-A-C-E questions. I gave it a shot:

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Anne Jolles – used with permission

What am I Grateful for? — That I am alive, healthy, and interested in so many things.
What can I Release? — The compulsion to do ten things before I go out the door.
What do I need to Accept? — That I’m not superwoman.
What is my Challenge? — To choose one thing I can do now and let the others go.
What can I Embrace as possible? — My No. 1 choice: cut some roses from my front yard to bring to my office.

As I went out with my scissors I was rushing a bit, but the sound of the garbage truck brought me to the “right-now” moment. On impulse, I waved to the guys, and decided to cut some roses for them.

Presto! When I handed over the first rose, the man’s face literally lit up: His eyes sparkled and his wide smile showed two front teeth missing. His words? “This is the first time in my life that I’ve been given a rose by a beautiful woman!” Now I was smiling. To think that I almost missed this moment in my “must-do” rush.

Got to the office a few minutes late, with five roses in a pasta sauce jar.

And guess what? My 8 a.m. client was a no-show. She thought the appointment was for Thursday, not Tuesday.

Long live roses, time, space, garbage men, smiles — and the GRACE Trail, even when it’s virtual.

Anne created the GRACE Trail when her son was on duty in Afghanistan and she was worried out of her mind. She created a real trail in her neighborhood, and walked it every evening after supper. It helped. Now hundreds of people walk the trail, whether for colossal concerns or for little worries like mine. Give it a shot yourself.

What’s a Dad Good For?

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my dad – used with permission 

That’s my Dad, Edgar Robert Grenough. Long gone, but his spirit lives on.What was special about Dad? 
When I asked my six siblings “What’s the best thing you got from Dad?” their answers were as varied as my sibs:

“My good looks and curly hair…” (that from my ever-cocky older brother) “His ability to help us have fun and do all kinds of different things, even when there wasn’t much money…” (my older sister) 

“His readiness to help anybody. If his Chevy had room, he’d stop at the corner bus stop and ask people to hop in… “ (a younger sister)

Before he met my mother, my Dad lived in many homes in many places — Montreal, St. Louis, Louisville. He fought and was wounded three times in the War in France. These experiences helped him realize that he wanted his family to have a life that was stable, but as multi-faceted and rich as possible. When Ed married Bernie, they looked for a brick house in Louisville, Kentucky, and that’s where they raised the seven of us. Dad knew how to make things stretch. When someone asked him, “How you doin’, Ed?” I remember his ready answer: “Never felt better and had less.”

Dad might be surprised to know that his children continue his “gypsy” spirit in various places: his oldest son now in the great beyond with Dad, two in Kentucky, two in Florida, one in Connecticut, and one in Myanmar. But then again, maybe he wouldn’t at all be surprised.

I was curious to know what key message others received from their Dads, so I asked.

Lisa: “I didn’t know him. He disappeared when I was a baby. That helped me realize how important family is. My mom was both mom and dad to us, so we honor her on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.” Maria, whose early childhood was spent in a one-room house with a single light-bulb: “Hope, change, transformation–faces of the same coin. His hope for a better life for me and our family brought him to the United States.” 

Bernie: My Dad’s mother died when he was 11. He always said that was the best thing that happened to him because it made him appreciate life. Me, too. It’s important to care for everybody; animals, too. 

David: “Optimism. I remember him always saying, ‘In that pile of dung there’s a pony somewhere.”

What’s the most important thing you got from your Dad? If he is still alive, tell him! 
If your Dad is not around, share stories about him. Ask others what they remember about him.

This is a great time to ask:
* What is the key legacy I received from my Dad?
* What do I want to leave as my legacy?
* How can I put my legacy into action – today?

My Dad hadn’t heard the phrase “Pay it forward.” But that’s what he did. His simple being reminds me of Marian Wright Edelman’s words: “Be a good ancestor, stand for something bigger than yourself, add value to the earth during your sojourn.”

Treasured or Trampled?

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Credit: Paul Bloom

Today’s front-page headline in my New Haven Register announced: “Fewer suicides, but younger victims.”

The write-up continues:

While the number of youths in Connecticut who die by suicide has declined since 2007, the average age of the children who kill themselves has decreased from 17 to just over 14.

The statistics are alarming: More girls than boys, death by hanging much more common than by gunshot.

At a school meeting after a 14-year-old girl had taken her life, a mother asked, “What are you doing for the mental health of our students?”

Since I work worldwide in the areas of sanity and stress, I know the incredible importance of “mental health.” The big questions loom large:

Who am I, really? What does it mean for me to be healthy?
What am I here on this earth for? What is the meaning of my life?
How can I care for myself? for others?

In our rushed day-to-day living, we so often ignore or brush aside these awarenesses. That lack affects us all, but it impacts our young people especially deeply.

My friend Jane knows that I work with people, young and old, who are facing these life and death challenges. She invited me to a workshop for teachers on “Developing Student Leadership” sponsored by The Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York. She thought that I could learn from them, and that I might be of service to them. She was right.

It heartened me to meet teachers from throughout the U.S. who are intently engaged in finding practical ways to develop clarity and compassion, not only with their students but also with their fellow teachers. They seek to help students become caring community leaders in everyday ways rather than just padding their college resumes with elected positions.

I was especially moved when I heard 17-year-old Sofia relate her “awareness-to-action” story. She knew that her school was wise enough to provide a safe place, a “sanctuary,” for students who are dealing with drug or alcohol problems. When several of her classmates were caught plagiarizing, Sofia realized that these three were not the only ones with that problem, since the need for good grades to get into the right colleges was so intense. She thought, “Why not establish a sanctuary for ‘cheaters’ and give them the help they need?” So she did.

Now that’s clear thinking + compassionate action.

As I walked out my door this morning, those dewy petals caught my eye. And the mother’s question pierced me: What are we doing…?.

Our young people, so like these petals, so fresh, so vulnerable. I remember my school days, how easily I could trample and be trampled. And how readily I grew when someone really saw me and nurtured me.

Sofia didn’t ignore a problem; she noticed. She didn’t trample or condemn the “wrong-doers” — she took action.

What can I do today to be like Sofia: really see, and then treasure, a younger one? It matters.

___________________
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for theNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

‘I’d Dig a Hole and Bury It’

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Credit: Millie Grenough

Last Wednesday my daughter-in-law asked her two boys, 8-year-old Jules and just-turned-5 Theo, what they did in school that day. The voices from both ends of the table piped out, “Earth Day!” Theo added, “Mother Earth takes care of us, so we need to take care of her.”

I thought it was a good time for GranMillie (that’s what the grandkids call me) to enlarge their world a bit, so I said,

“When I lived in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the people there always took some food off their plate and gave it to Pachamama before they began eating.”

Older-brother Jules: “Who’s Pachamama?”

GranMillie: “It’s their name for Mother Earth.”

Jules: “Where did they put the food they gave her?”

GranMillie: “You know, I really don’t remember.”

Theo: “I’d dig a hole and bury it. That way the animals wouldn’t eat it, and it would really give food to Mother Earth. Yep, I’d bury it.”

So much for me enlightening them. The kids made it real.

I know that even today the Quechua people revere Pachamama as the powerful queen of nature. They know that she can cause problems when she is not treated well. When we take too much from her and do not give to her, she can make the earth quake.

The 7.8 earthquake in Nepal brings Pachamama front and center to me. True, Kathmandu is on a fault line, and there have been predictions of impending quakes. But I wonder…

Does the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Texas truly affect the weather in Brazil? Is fracking in Pennsylvania upsetting Pachamama?

I am not a physicist nor a seismologist, nor am I Quechua, so I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll ask Theo for his wisdom.

___

Mindfulness. What is it, anyway — The latest buzz word to get us ahead? In upcoming blogs, I’ll write more about mindfulness and about two ways of being more present to ourselves and to our immediate situation. Look for CSEE’s (Center for Spiritual & Ethical Education) work with teachers and teens and for Anne Jolles’ GRACE Trail.

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