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Unsticking Our Stories

The stories have been stuck in my head.

The story about my dear, dear friend with an aggressive, Stage 4 breast cancer. The one about my friend’s father with a quick-moving form of leukemia. The one about my mother-in-law’s otherwise healthy friend who died after slipping on a short set of tiled stairs and hitting her head. The one about my friend’s brilliant college-age nephew who is in a coma after being struck by a car that turned into his designated bike lane.

Also …. the one about spending an amazing day in a community of mental health professionals and volunteers who work 24/7 to guide survivors through loss and toward healing. The one about what I’m learning about “contentment” in a wonderful meditation class. The one about the exciting new coaching-based program a friend and I are co-creating with unbelievable ease.

In truth, the stories haven’t been completely stuck. They just haven’t been coming out easily through my fingers. Instead, my voice has been my medium of choice.

I’m a talker. I process my world out loud. I make sense of situations by listening carefully as the words tumble out of my mouth. As thoughts fly out, my brain catches them, edits them, brings coherence to them. What has been muddy starts to become clear. What has been painful finds release. And what has been educational and uplifting becomes more deeply rooted.

Though talking is my go-to processing method, I value the clarity that writing has to offer. This space is meaningful to me, and I apologize for my recent absence. Please be on the lookout for more soon!

……….

Coach’s Query

What do you do with your stories? Do you speak them out loud? Do you write them down? Do you draw them with a paintbrush, sketch them in pencil or mold them from clay? Or do they stay stuck in your head?

Get Thee to a CPR Class

cpr

Prompted by The Buddha’s choking incidents and the oh-so-smart idea of a friend, my husband and I went to a Pediatric CPR class this past weekend. It had been a bit over eight years since I was instructed in infant CPR and far, far longer since my last adult CPR training.

I hope we never ever ever ever need to use what we learned last weekend, but in the wake of our (thankfully successful) experience of muddling through the Heimlich a few weeks ago, I’m happy to now know how to do it for real.

Our instructor at Georgetown University Hospital was fantastic: a former Emergency Medical Technician now in med school. She told it like it is, and shared some of her experiences in the field. And even though we were learning peds CPR, she so often told us the comparisons to adult CPR that I feel just as prepared for those situations. (That is, as prepared as anyone could be after a 2-hour course in which the only “person” you attempted to revive was a child-sized mannequin.)
I highly recommend it for anyone with kids, and, the rest of you, please get to a adult CPR class one soon.

Meanwhile, check out these CPR and Choking instructions from the Mayo Clinic.

CPR

Choking

For the Most Part, We’re OK

I soooooo appreciate everyone who reached out to us in the wake of The Buddha’s two scary choking incidents. We’re definitely feeling the love and the concern.

He’s OK. I’m OK. Mostly. There’s certainly a new vigilance at mealtimes around here.

One thing that came out of this was a reminder of one of the main reasons I’m writing this blog … to give all of us permission and space to share the strange, scary, sad, crazy things that have happened to us. Over the past week, quite a few people have shared their stories with me, either in person or in comments here or on Facebook.

Stories of their children choking and the anxiety that still arises every time they recall the scene. Stories of they, themselves, choking as children and the fear and food aversions that followed. Stories of rescuing others who were choking, and stories of being rescued.

Any my story also allowed people to share the stories of a host of other terrifying parenting moments when their children’s lives were in their hands, when split-second action made all the difference.

(I’m painfully aware, too, of the many, many stories that remained untold. Stories in which the outcomes, despite all due diligence, were tragic. That is a subject for another day.)

It’s when we share the events that have frightened us that we find out we’re not alone. There is some comfort in knowing you are not the only person you know who has experienced such a trauma. There is comfort in knowing that others have had the same reactions, the same thoughts, the same feelings. In the wake of such events, it’s normal to grieve, it’s normal to run the “what ifs” through your head, it’s normal to worry this could happen again.

Keep sharing. Keep talking. Air your fears to dissipate their power.

As you do, you’ll find out that, for the most part, we’re all OK.

……….

Coach’s Query

Some people blog. Some people talk to close friends. Some find it easier to talk to virtual strangers (both online and off). Some write privately in their journals. What has been your experience when you have shared a difficult episode in these ways or any others?

I invite you to share your responses in the comments section.

My Son’s Life in My Hands … and the Hands of Others

Last evening, I had my child’s life in my hands. And today, still, my hands are shaking.

Last evening, for the second time in less than a week, The Buddha was choking. A few moments later, after an inexpert but effective-enough use of the Heimlich maneuver, The Buddha was back in his seat, excited to get back to finishing his fajitas. I, in contrast, was a wreck. Sick to my stomach and flush with the aftermath of an adrenaline rush.

Last evening, after the boys went to bed, I lay my head on my husband’s shoulder and cried. A lot.

“What if?” I sobbed to my husband, who seemed shell-shocked. What if? What if? I could barely say it. What if my Heimlich hadn’t worked? What if I hadn’t been able to force that piece of chicken or yellow pepper or whatever it was out of his airway? Holy shit, honey … he might be dead!

Grief, Interrupted, indeed.

All day today, almost every time I have talked about it or let myself roll the tape in my head, I tear up. I am scared. I am scared it will happen again. And I’m scared shitless that, if it does, I won’t be able to save him again.

One choking incident seemed, well, like something that could possibly happen to a boy known to have weak mouth muscles and some swallowing dysfunction (though never, ever before a choking incident). Two incidents so close together, though, made us wonder, had something recently changed in his anatomical structure? Or had we all just gotten a little too complacent because, according to his feeding specialist, he had met his goals for the moment and actually began a break from therapy in December.

We’re actually not 100% sure that his airway was fully obstructed. It’s tricky for amateurs to assess in a kid like him. In each case, at first he was coughing/gagging, which made us think he might clear the obstruction himself. But then he got quieter and quieter. Last night, when we asked him if he could talk, he clearly and calmly shook his head. He became eerily silent. That’s when I began doing the Heimlich maneuver. Did I need to do it? I honestly don’t know. Do I regret doing it? Definitely not.

Thursday, the evening of the first incident, I did it all wrong. I had a clear image from years before of a friend angling her choking 3-year-old downward and hitting her on the back. So, yep, that’s what I did. Even though I know better. I panicked. Luckily, a friend was there to do it right.

Last night, I was a bit panicky, but remained calm enough to do what I had to do. I learned I could count on me in this particular crisis, but I hated every millisecond of it. It felt like an incredible amount pressure. Even though I brought this sweet, precious boy into the world, in that moment, I didn’t want to be responsible for his well-being. I just wanted him to be OK.

Now I have to count on me — somewhat forgetful me — to watch over The Buddha when he eats. To remember to cut up all his food and to remind him to take small bites ONE. AT. A. TIME. then swallow before taking another bite. Man, I thought we were past all this.

I want The Buddha to be independent. He’s growing up and becoming his own little man in so many ways. I don’t want to watch over every bite — and he’s been letting me know he’s not so thrilled about it, either. But, for at least a while, I must. And so must his amazing father, his wonderful teachers, his attentive babysitters. After all, my child’s life is in our hands.

……….

Coach’s Query

When have you risen to the occasion, even when you were scared?

Also, I invite you to share your story of being similarly scared.

Thinking (and Feeling) About Our Own Deaths

Yesterday morning, my 8-year-old son was lying in bed with me, snuggled safe against my shoulder, when he blurted out of the blue, “Mommy, when will you die?”

“I don’t know, honey,” came my reply. “I hope not for a long, long time.”

He pondered that for a moment and then said, “Maybe one year?”

I had to laugh. Funny how a year is so long to a child.

Sadly, the Buddha’s question didn’t really catch me off guard. I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. It — or the threat of it — seems to be all over my radar the past few weeks. A dear friend, friends of friends and parents of friends with cancer, small children in fires, teens shot, innocent bystanders outside grocery stores and inside airports.

What all those have in common is that they’ve happened/are happening to someone else. I, while experiencing feelings of sadness, sympathy and loss, am essentially OK. My body, at least for now, is safe and healthy. I have no heartbreaking news to share with my children.

I am simply standing by. Waiting. A witness.

But simply standing by sometimes doesn’t feel like enough. So I decided to offer my energy to D.C.’s highly regarded Wendt Center for Loss & Healing, a place where grieving people of all ages come for support.

The center, which helps anyone from those mourning the loss of an elderly parent to those stunned by homicide, clearly — and understandably — wants to make sure it knows who it’s putting in front of its vulnerable clients. The Ivy-League-college-length application challenged me with several introspective questions. For example:

How do you feel when you think about your own death?

Great cocktail party banter, eh?

Seriously, though, this is such an intriguing question. For lots of us, I suspect, our own deaths cross our minds from time to time But how many of us ever think to put our thoughts and feelings on paper? I certainly never did before this.

There are so many ways to think about our own death. How? Where? When? What do we feel when we think of it? My response came surprisingly easily. I wrote:

It depends at what stage of life we’re talking about. In later years, it’s part of the cycle of life, and I am at peace with that. That said, I do hope to die without much pain or suffering, knowing that I had loved, had been loved and had led a meaningful life.

The idea of it happening sooner causes far greater distress, not so much for the dying itself (though that is scary, too), but for the emotional pain that dying relatively young would cause. Most especially for my children, who would have to finish growing up without their loving mom. For my husband, who would have lost the love of his life and his partner in raising our children. For my parents, who have already lost their only other child far too young.

And for me, who cannot begin to imagine the possibility of not seeing my children grow up. That thought, nearly unbearable, brings tears to my eyes.

No doubt, this question helped prepare me for my son’s Sunday-morning query. I told my dear Buddha yesterday morning that I had every intention of sticking around much longer than a year … to watch him become an adult and do wise and brave things in his life. I told him I hope to live waaaaay longer than one year.

“A hundred years?” he then said. “MAYBE A THOUSAND!”

Not sure I want live quite that long, but it sure beats his alternative.

………

Coach’s Query

How would you respond to the question: How do you feel when you think about your own death? Please share your responses in the comments.

………

LEST YOU THINK IT’S ALL DOOM AND GLOOM AROUND HERE … Every one of my clients has had a powerful experience meeting his or her Future Self through a guided visualization. Would you like to meet yours? Today’s the last day to take advantage of my special offer to facilitate the introduction at no charge.

Bad News Comes in 3s? Let’s Hope Healing Does, Too

As I write, I am wrapping myself in the warm cloak of Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach … her melodic rendition of the Jewish prayer for healing. I have found myself listening to it and singing it over and over again the past few days. It is the beautiful, pleading tie that binds the three traumatic events that have shaken me over the past few days.

In the first, the grief is national in scope. In the second, the grief lies in the spiritual realm. In the third, the grief is about as personal as it gets for me (without the patient actually being me).

Here are my pleas and prayers for healing.

……….
May God who blessed our ancestors bring blessing and healing to all those who are ill. May the Holy One mercifully restore them to health and vigor, granting them physical and spiritual well-being.
– A translation of the Mi Shebeirach prayer

NATIONAL HEALING
In the Wake of The Tragedy in Tuscon

My heart breaks for the victims and their families. My heart breaks for the devastating toll mental illness can take on a person, a family, a community, a country. I hope we can heal damage done by rancor and rhetoric on all sides. I hope for healing, both physical and mental, for those who have survived the damage done by a disturbed young man. I hope for eventual healing and peace for the families of those who did not survive this horrifying rampage.

This is a national tragedy. It has taken our collective breath away. Let us now take a collective deep breath and see what healing each of us can bring to the world.

……….
Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M’kor habracha l’imoteinu

May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing
And let us say: Amen.
– The first verse of the Mi Shebeirach song by Debbie Friedman

SPIRITUAL HEALING
In the Wake of the Premature Death of Debbie Friedman

Debbie Friedman, who died this past Sunday at age 59 from complications of pneumonia and long-term neurological illnesses, was a gifted singer-songwriter who made liturgy and prayer more accessible to a wide swath of American Jewry through her singable tunes and mix of ancient text with modern English.

She did, indeed, make her life a blessing. Her Mi Shebeirach song gave rise to healing services that made others feel blessed. There are many stories of her being there for those in need. Especially given that she and Rep. Giffords shared their religious affiliation, I imagine Debbie Friedman would have been among the leading voices comforting the mourners in Arizona and praying for the healing of those who survived.

Her music touched me long before I knew her name. One summer in my teens, I learned many beautiful songs in the choir at my Jewish youth group’s leadership camp. I thought I had been let into some privileged inner sanctum of Jewish choral music. But when I went to college a couple of years later and hung out with students who had been in a rival youth group,  I discovered that half those songs I loved were Debbie Friedman tunes … staples of their Reform camp and youth group playlist. How lucky those kids were, to have been singing those songs together all the time!

Let us carry forward this songweaver’s music, promoting togetherness, enthusiasm and spirituality. Debbie Friedman, sadly, can no longer be healed, but, through her music, we can heal our own spirits.

………
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habracha l’avoteinu

Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh’leimah
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say: Amen.
– The second verse of the Mi Shebeirach song by Debbie Friedman

PERSONAL HEALING
In the Wake of My Dear Friend’s Devastating Diagnosis

My oldest friend in the whole wide world needs prayers for the renewal of a diseased body. This third wave of horrible news, by far the most personal for me, came Sunday evening on the heels of the weekend’s other tragedies.

At the moment, I can’t write much about the situation or even about what my forever-friend means to me for fear that a reader might recognize my friend, who has always highly valued privacy. This desire to hole up and talk to no one is a completely foreign concept to me — as someone who processes everything out loud — but it is, of course, a wish I must respect.

But when my dear friend is ready for me, I will be there as much as I can. Offering my support and all the healing energy I can muster.

Let us all send out healing energy to our friends and loved ones who are in need of refuah sh’leimah, a complete healing of body and spirit.

……….

Life is, as they say, short. Each of these three events is a devastating reminder. In times like these, it is helpful to ask ourselves the important questions. Are with the people we want to be with? Are we doing the things we want to be doing? Are we being the person we want to be?

I will be asking myself these questions in the coming days. And, meanwhile, I will continue singing this Mi Shebeirach prayer, in hope for the healing of this country, in memory of a woman who brought so much healing into the world and in entreaty for the healing of my dear friend.

Peace,
Michelle

A New Year’s Checkup

How long’s it been since you had a checkup?

When we are grieving, when we are caregiving, when we are hyper-focused on the well-being others — when we’re simply caught up in the busy-ness of life — it’s so easy for us to neglect our own health. There’s always an excuse available. I know I’ve made my share of them.

Yeah, I’ll fess up … I’m way overdue for a mammogram and a couple of months behind on the dentist.

What potentially life-saving appointments have you been putting off?

  • Your annual physical?
  • Your gynecological exam?
  • Your mammogram?
  • Your 6-month dental checkup?

Start this new year off with a commitment to your physical well-being. Make today the day you call to get all your neglected appointments on your schedule. Focus on the basics. Get those medical appointments on the books.

I’m going to make my overdue appointments today. How about you?

……….

This is especially on my mind today because …

With all the force of a punch to the gut, I was reminded today of the importance of regular checkups when I found out that my friend’s beloved, active, fit, life-loving father has leukemia.

He had no noticeable symptoms.

The day after a joyous celebration of his wife’s 70th birthday, he went to his doctor for a regular physical exam. As a matter of course, bloodwork was done. The doctor’s office called him to come in again because they thought their machine was broken. But it was no mistake. He and his family have a long, difficult journey ahead. We can only hope beyond hope that catching this terrible disease on the early side will help in the fight to save his life.

Peaceful Achievement

#reverb10

Today’s Prompt:
Achieve
What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

The Thing I Most Want to Achieve Next Year

Acceptance of what is

How I Imagine I’ll Feel

Peaceful

10 Things I Can Do or New Thoughts I Can Think to Experience That Feeling Today

Listen to my children laugh

Spend 10 minutes mindfully observing my boys, setting aside judgment

Spend 10 minutes mindfully observing myself, setting aside judgment

Curl up with a good book

Eat healthily

Exercise

Recruit a friend to join the new gym with me

Offer to help a friend in need

Support someone in pain

Breathe deeply. Very deeply.

……….

Coach’s Query

What can you do to feel peaceful today?

TWO MORE DAYS ON THIS SPECIAL OFFER: Every one of my clients has had a powerful experience meeting his or her Future Self through a guided visualization. Would you like to meet yours? E-mail me by Dec. 31, and I’ll be happy to facilitate the introduction at no charge.

Hello, My Name Is …

#reverb10

Today’s Prompt:
New Name
Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why? (Author: Becca Wilcott)

Today’s prompt prompted a head shake and a little laugh. And not a little bit of angst. You see, I’ve had a long, love-hate history with my many names. First, middle and last. English and Hebrew. Nicknames I asked for, and nicknames I didn’t.

And that made me wonder … What would it be like to walk around for a day introducing myself as Contented Light?

Remember her? The other day, I introduced Contented Light as my Future Self. More precisely, she is the essence of my Future Self. She carries herself with elegant confidence. She radiates peace and calm. She is completely at ease with herself and with her name.

She’s who I want to be when I grow up. And the real beauty is, Contented Light is within me now.

……….

Coach’s Query

What is the essence of your Future Self?

SPECIAL OFFER: Every one of my clients has had a powerful experience meeting his or her Future Self through a guided visualization. Would you like to meet yours? E-mail me by Dec. 31, and I’ll be happy to facilitate the introduction at no charge.

My Future Self’s Kind Advice

#reverb10

Today’s Prompt:
Future Self.
Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?
(Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?) (Author: Jenny Blake)

I’ve always resisted five-year plans. But I do love my Future Self, and it’s been far too long since we’ve had a visit. I first met my Future Self back in the fall of 2001, through a visualization in my coach-training program. The vision I had of her that day and her name, Contented Light, have gained even more meaning and resonance over the years. More than I ever could have imagined back then.

So, yes, I’ll happily take this opportunity to hang out with her and hear what she has to say.

Taking a deep breath. Knocking on the metaphorical door. Getting hugged and being welcomed into the warmly lit sunroom, where we sink into the deep, comfy couch together.

Contented Light begins offering her bullet points of wisdom for the next year:

Be bold.

Be creative.

Be yourself.

Be love.

Stay with it.

Trust yourself.

Start small. Dream big.

Enjoy the boys. All three of them.

Enjoy your parents.

Take care of yourself … body, mind and soul.

Pray.

Be grateful.

Act on gratitude.

Pay it forward.

Pay attention.

Be kind.

Be kind to yourself.

Be kind to yourself. It is your foundation for growth.

Be kind to yourself. This is your most important work this year.

After that, it will all be easy.

My note to myself of 10 years ago?

Do all of the above. Only much, much sooner.

……….

Coach’s Query

What does your Future Self have to say?

Every one of my clients has had a powerful experience meeting his or her Future Self through a guided visualization. Would you like to meet yours? E-mail me by Dec. 31, and I’ll be happy to facilitate the introduction at no charge.

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