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Matt and I were together for 10 wonderful years - met in 1998, married in 2002, until his untimely death on November 15, 2008. We have two beautiful, healthy children - Jacob (born 5/04) and Sydney (born 5/07)... the most precious gifts he could have ever given me. Andrea Remembers Copyright (c) 2020 Andrea Renee Row- All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

College Bound!

That last post is the Personal Statement that was attached to my application for college - gulp!! I decided once and for all to go back for my Master's in Social Work to become a grief counselor. I applied for the part time online program at a local university, but there's a slim chance I'll get into that because I live closer than 50 miles to the campus (it's a very competitive program and very limited space, and they only take applicants to live too far to commute). I don't make it into that, I have to choose between part time in person and full time in person. Part time would mean I have to go in the evenings, which means my children will be in school during the day and I'll barely see them before I have to leave for evening classes- I just can't do that. That means I'll likely be going back in person during the day and full time. This won't be so bad since it cuts the time down from three years for the part time option to two years, it's a little less expensive, and I'll be with my kids. They're still too young to be left that much. I'll be doing school with all the youngins! In fact, there's a chance my son and I will be attending college together! =P

The first time I thought about becoming a grief counselor was a fleeting thought twelve years ago, little bits here and there over the past ten years, then a few years ago I started thinking about it more seriously. That's also a time when I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, experiencing horrible pain and fatigue. When I thought about going back to school at that time, it just seemed too daunting of a prospect to consider seriously with the way I was feeling. It was at that time that I realized if I had any hope of improving my health, I needed to radically change my diet and lifestyle. After a few years of this, I'm SO happy to be able to say that aside from the arthritic damage that's already been done, I feel pretty damn good. Good enough to feel like I'm up to this next monumental life-changing step!

Being able to be home with my children has been a bittersweet blessing. I would have rather kept my full time job and coparent with Matt, but that wasn't an option. With him gone and no available grandparents or family to help, I would have been fired 1000x the last dozen years I've been widowed. I'm grateful to have been the one to raise my children, grateful for being so available to them, grateful for the opportunities to volunteer to causes near and dear to my heart, and to have been able to learn so much that has only seemed to fueled my passion for this field.  

Just hoping those nightmares about going back to college don't start up again!! The ones where I'm lost on campus, can't find my classes, or forgot about a semester and am stuck with the tuition bill and failing grades and I beg the registrar's office to give me another chance... 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Personal Statement

Application for Masters in Social Work


For six years, I was the College Coordinator for a boarding school which allowed me work in a position very similar to what a guidance counselor does at a public school. I was fortunate that boarding schools don’t require a Master’s degree for that job. I truly loved my career and planned to stay there until I retired, but life had other plans. My 39 year old husband Matt was killed in a tragic accident, leaving behind our four year old son Jacob, 18 month old daughter Sydney, and me. The funeral home informed me about free grief counseling through our local Hospice. I had gone a few times, but couldn’t help but feel that because the counselor didn’t experience widowhood firsthand, she was unable to understand me which is what I needed at that time. That evidenced to me how much personal experience can help in this kind of situation.

My husband and I built our home together with our bare hands. We planned to live in it much longer than eight years. For more reasons than I should list in this essay, it basically came down to the fact that since our lives had to change with his death, then everything needed to change. I packed the three of us up and moved across the country to southern California. My brother and his family live there, and Matt’s immediate family are all on the west coast within driving distance. It helped me to be in a whole new environment, close to family, where the sun shines every day and the air is warm.

Early on, I learned of an organization called Soaring Spirits International, established just five months before he died. It’s run by widowed people for widowed people and based in Simi Valley, CA. They connect people together of similar circumstances for a community of comfort and offer many resources of support. Almost immediately, I connected with the founder, Michele Neff Hernandez. If her father wasn’t actively dying, I would have undoubtedly asked her to write a letter of recommendation to accompany this application. Her and her family are in vigil right now. I volunteered as her personal assistant for one year while I was living in California, but I’m not sure I did a very good job since I was so fresh with grief that my brain still wasn’t functioning properly. As it turns out, I’ve since learned that deep grief can be as traumatic to the brain as a physical injury. One of the many reasons I’m so excited about this particular program through UB is how it incorporates the added component of the trauma-informed and human rights perspective to the curriculum. It’s surprising that this isn’t included in other schools of social work since trauma is an extremely common and significant element to those needing help by the field of social work. As I’m learning how to best help others through this program, I’m sure I’ll be learning more about myself as well.

I soon figured out that living in California meant that my husband’s life insurance wouldn’t sustain us for long, and neither would the death benefits I was receiving for the kids. Working meant that I would have to put my kids in daycare which was another huge expense that I couldn’t afford. It was more important for me to be completely available to my children who were missing their daddy. I didn’t have back up support on either coast, and I wasn’t willing to put them in strangers’ hands. Staying home with them meant moving back to a reasonable cost of living. My mother who lived in Buffalo also needed me, as her health was deteriorating. I will always be grateful to have had the experience of living in southern California, even if it was only for two years. I feel I made the most of our time on the west coast, and it was especially fun getting to make some use of all the years of Spanish I took back in school. I’m still amazed at what I remembered!

As soon as I hit Buffalo soil in 2011, my mother’s needs suddenly ramped up. She was diagnosed with COPD and heart disease, among other things. She had always battled an anxiety disorder that made her life extremely difficult. I took on many responsibilities with her while raising my children as an only parent. I couldn’t rely on her for help with the kids- in fact, we had a role reversal in which she required as much attention and energy from me as my young children did. My brother and sister both live out of town, so they were unable to help. It wasn’t until she ended up in the hospital in 2016 with a heart attack that I was made aware of resources she had available to her all along that I had been handling on my own. Had it occurred to me to contact a social worker, they would have informed me of all that was available. The hospital assigned one to her while she was there and then like magic, much of the expense and burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I was so burned out by that point that I almost landed in the hospital, too. What a blessing that social worker was to both of us. My mother recovered enough to then be placed in a nursing facility that gave her all the care she required. I was able to just be her daughter instead of caretaker, and was now more available to my own children. It made her last year on this earth much easier on both of us until she passed in 2017.

The people that worked with my husband at his new company had grown to love and respect him dearly in the short time they knew him, and their hearts were shattered for the young family he left behind. Immediately after his death, they organized an annual event called the Run For Row 5K that would fund a trust they set up for our children’s education. A couple of years after I moved back to town, I became more involved with volunteering at the 5K, but I began feeling like it wasn’t right that they were raising money for my kids when there are so many others much less fortunate than mine. I know plenty of widowed people whose spouses didn’t have life insurance. Some weren’t legally married which made them ineligible to receive death benefits for the children. I asked Matt’s coworkers if they would be willing to change their focus from my children to others who lost a parent that have more need. As it turned out, they were planning to create a 501(c)(3) anyway because they wanted to separate the operations of the 5K from the company they worked for. A nonprofit organization needs to serve a community and not just individuals in order to be operational, so it worked out perfectly. The Matthew R. Row Scholarship Foundation, Inc. was born, and they voted me in as president.

Soaring Spirits International had implemented a program several years ago that gave widowed people the tools and guidance to lead groups in their own areas. After my mom passed in 2017 and my kids grew a little older, I was offered a bit more freedom. I became a Soaring Spirits Regional Group Leader for the Buffalo area, facilitating two in-person meetings per month for local widowed people and admin for a public and private group through Facebook. Both meetings started out in the Lancaster area which is a central location between the Northtowns and Southtowns. In 2019, I mentored a couple of ladies from the Southtowns who wanted to start their own group closer to where they live. Once their group was established, I decided to accommodate those who live in the Northtowns, so I changed the meetings so that one was in the Northtowns and the other was in the Lancaster/Depew area.

We had a great four year run with The Matthew R. Row Scholarship Foundation, Inc., but my late husband’s company began to lay off most of their employees which changed the whole dynamic of the volunteers and board that were so active with the foundation. It was difficult to get the same participation from others who weren’t as emotionally invested, and handling the majority of the responsibilities was becoming overwhelming. The thought was also looming that my children’s death benefits will end once they turn 18, and that time is continually getting closer. I couldn’t run a successful foundation, earn money, and keep up with with my other responsibilities without something suffering- including my health. I decided it was time to let go of the foundation in 2019. My time with the foundation was very eye-opening. It evidenced how few resources there are for kids who’ve lost a parent, and for widowed people in our area. Right now, I know a local widow who has a young son with special needs who is looking for resources specific to her situation. Someone with a degree in social work could help her find those resources. They could help find resources for all of these people, advocate for implementation of programs if they aren’t available, or create more if there aren’t enough. COVID is creating a greater need for this as well.

I also found the opportunity to pursue something else I had been wanting to learn- Reiki. I had always been fascinated by the practice, and felt it could be particularly beneficial to someone dealing with anxiety and grief. I became certified in Reiki in March of 2019, and benefited so much from doing it for myself, that I felt it was something I would enjoy doing for others and could be a good way to bring in some income with a flexible schedule. I started Bridge To Balance, LLC in May of 2019, knowing it was something I could build upon. I thought of how ideal this could be for the grieving person, googled “Reiki for grief” and found a woman named Sharon Ehlers who created an entire online course called Grief Reiki®. After successfully completing her online course, I became certified in Grief Reiki® by November of 2019. I then completed my training to become a Reiki Master in February of 2020, just before COVID shut everything down. This past summer, I also took an Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training course by Urban Yogis that was all through Zoom. The Urban Yogis was created in partnership by Eddie Stern, Deepak Chopra and Erica Ford in response to the increasing gun violence in South-Side Jamaica, Queens in New York City to create profound personal and social transformation. COVID was an opportunity to open up the training virtually to everyone around the world- not just in NYC, and I was excited to participate. There were people from NYC, California, Germany, Italy (and Buffalo), to name a few. It was a beautiful, diverse, eclectic mix of people all coming together and forming a common bond. Buffalo could truly benefit from a program like this.

I get excited when I think about all that I could accomplish as a licensed social worker. I could earn the credentials to work as a guidance counselor (a job I truly loved) for a public school; but at this stage in my life, I feel I would much better serve my community as a grief counselor; in particular, for an organization like Hospice. Hospice has been present on and off during various stages of my entire life. When I was in college, my grandmother was living with us while she was dying. Hospice taught us how to help her when they weren’t there. The care they gave my grandmother was unparalleled, and they made the experience for us as pleasant as it could be under the circumstances. I was a primary source of support for my ex boyfriend’s family while his father was ill from cancer until Hospice became involved. I was then able to support them on a more emotional level. When he passed away in 2018, I helped his 87 year old widow who didn’t drive with grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, and took her to lunch once a week. I shared Soaring Spirits International with our local Hospice to let them know there is a place for their clients after they graduated from their 13 month counseling program. After my husband’s death in 2008, I received grief counseling through Hospice. That was a service I never would have thought was available to me because my husband didn’t die utilizing Hospice care. They are a truly amazing organization full of heart and purpose.

For the past several years, I have thought on and off about going back to school to continue my education. In fact, you will notice that my college transcripts were printed in 2015 when I first got the bug. The time wasn’t right then. It hasn’t been right until now. COVID afforded me the opportunity to consider it in greater detail because our lives have been somewhat halted. It has given me time to consider many different things. In particular, it is evidencing how much of a current and growing need there is for grief counseling. Not just for death, but the pandemic is creating grief and trauma of all different kinds for so many. I almost feel guilty when I admit that this period in time has benefitted me and my children because it forced us to slow down. It has given me the opportunity to do more learning, growing, and healing, which has in turn benefitted my children as well. I have more focus, and I know that NOW is the time for me to take action on this new chapter and I cannot hesitate another day. My son will be 18 years old next year at which time his death benefits will end. My daughter has four more years to go before she graduates from high school. By the time she graduates, I will have my Master’s Degree in Social Work, and hopefully be close to licensed for clinical work. I cannot let all that I’ve been through go to waste by not following through with this education. I’m ready in every possible way.

For the five years following graduation, I will be working on becoming licensed and building my credentials to become a Grief Counselor for Hospice. I also would like to lead grief groups within the organization that will focus on separate types of loss. Right now, I believe they put people with different losses (widowed, child loss, parent loss, etc.) into the same group, and I know from speaking with the local widowed people I’ve been helping that it’s hard for them to hear about losses that differ so greatly from their own while in an environment that is trying to help them heal. If I can’t find more resources for widowed people and their children, I would like to create some- possibly through schools. I believe schools would be open to it because of the many conversations I have had with high school guidance offices who are at a loss as how to help their students who lost one or both parents. They were so grateful to be able to offer the Matthew R. Row Scholarship and Soaring Spirits to their hurting families. Drawing from the experiences of my previous employment, of my life, volunteer work, and in my education, this is the perfect mix of ingredients to create something really beautiful for the community.

My experience as a graduate student will be nothing like what I experienced as an undergraduate student. When I was going to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I worked three or four part time jobs to help my mother pay the bills while putting myself through college, and avoided going home by staying out too late too often with friends. I didn’t know it then, but I was living in trauma of a different kind. My grades suffered greatly as a result. You may notice toward the end of my college career that my grades improved. This was a result of quitting two out of four jobs, limited time with friends, and some of the chaos at home had been eased. It helped that I was also taking courses that peaked my interest. This time around, I know exactly what I want. I have a specific goal, and I know what I need to do to get myself there. I’ve built a peaceful life with my two amazing children, our dog, cat, and two leopard geckos. I have learned healthy coping mechanisms to help me through stressful times. I now know how to ask for help when I need it. I have let go of responsibilities that don’t belong to me. I know what I want to be when I grow up.

The part-time program I am applying for would be ideal for my particular situation. I am an only parent to two children with no outside support. Although they are now older and a little more independent, they still require my presence. I plan to keep my small business which is hardly demanding of time since it is established in format and structure, and actually keeps me in check with mindfulness and meditation practices. It allows me to bring in a little bit of income at a pace I can regulate. It will continue to benefit me as I pursue my Master’s and begin working in this emotionally demanding field. It’s possible that through Bridge To Balance, I can help my coworkers overcome compassion fatigue which is so prevalent in a work environment such as Hospice. Volunteering as a Soaring Spirits Regional Leader is not demanding of time, either. In fact, it’s an opportunity to be social with others I can relate to. The University At Buffalo is a highly regarded institution (my brother is an alumni from 1985) and its School of Social Work has the amazing added component of the trauma-informed and human rights perspective, and has more local connections for field placement than any other institution I could get this degree from. Being in the part-time program will set me up for success, knowing I will be able to handle the pace of the classes and field placement along with my other commitments much better than if I attempted the full-time program.

Since the loss of my husband, I have been a willing resource for anyone else who has lost the person they expected to spend the rest of their life with. I have guided others through helping their grieving loved ones. I have been unofficially counseling other widowed people and my own children for years. Not many people are comfortable talking about death and grief. More people who’ve been profoundly affected personally by grief are needed in the counseling field to be able to really reach the grieving community. I’ve learned the art of turning off my own pain to be able to focus on theirs. I’m able to put myself in their place just enough to empathize and understand, but not to take it on as my own. I am the person people feel comfortable sharing their last wishes to because they know I won’t cringe or shut them down. I understand how grief can make someone feel crazy, when in fact, they are having a perfectly normal response. I’m happy to be able to provide comfort to others during the most painful time of their lives. I was born naturally empathetic and compassionate, and life has moulded me even more through my experiences. I was made for this field.

This program is integral to realizing my full potential for a fulfilling career that will benefit a community, support my little family, and utilize my strengths doing what I love most. I can’t think of a better way to spend the second half of my life.

I am grateful for your consideration of my admission for this competitive program, and am happy to answer any questions or concerns that you may have.

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Plenum Room, 12 Years Later.

Jacob has decided to build his own desktop computer which is a really exciting project that's going to reap big rewards with gaming fun and help him through the rest of high school and college (it had better last that long!). He asked if we had any flash drives that he could use and we did have a couple in the drawer. I'm not sure exactly why he needed them (he's speaking another whole language that I can't understand these days - something about technology), but I told him he could see what was on them and use what he could. 

He had to use my computer for it since his isn't finished yet. He crashed my hard drive years ago, so I get a little protective of my computer when he's near it, so I hovered for a bit while he started trying out the flash drives. I went into the kitchen to grab a glass of water and when I came back into the office, I found him staring into the computer with a very strange look on his face. When I looked at the screen, it was a photo of the plenum room where his father was killed. We looked at each other and our eyes filled up. 

It was like he got sucker punched in the gut, and it knocked the wind right out of him. Neither of us were expecting to see that. Of course it was after the fact that I remembered what was on that flash drive. I had forgotten about it for years, thanks to the built-in protective selective memory mode that our brains switch on to protect ourselves. 

There was a time when it seemed like my kids would ask me at least once a day about how daddy died, and because they were both so young when it happened (Jacob was 4 and Sydney was 18 months), my answer had to be age and maturity-level appropriate. Each time I was asked, my answer would be slightly different. It had been several years now since the kids and I talked about what happened that took their dad's life, so I don't know if I ever really got into detail with them about the injuries he sustained from that accident other than to say that it "broke" his heart. I guess it was time for Jacob to hear... at 16, he should probably know now. For him as an almost adult to see the actual room where his father died had a palpable effect on him. We both cried. It was healthy for both of us. We had a good talk. 

Jacob is a junior in high school and is now looking into colleges with engineering programs. It's where his heart is (and his brain). He's always been so much like his dad - including the way his brain can process information. He has an engineering mind, and a desire to build and create. 

It's vital to me that he understands that no matter how much he wants a job in his field, or for a company he might long to work for, no matter how many years of schooling and debt he might put himself in to get the education needed for this job, no matter how much he wants to impress his bosses... I have instilled in my son to always use his OWN judgment - if he sees conditions that could potentially be dangerous, he is to OPEN HIS MOUTH and say so, no matter who it pisses off. To bring it to their attention. To potentially save a life. He doesn't have to put himself in any situations that he feels could cause him harm, and neither should anyone else. Even if it costs him his job because he made the decision to be the one to speak up. 

He understands that it's a very real decision to choose life over a job he could do somewhere else safer. There's a chance after is said and done, that he might be inclined to be the person to go to these work sites to make sure they're safe for everyone else. OSHA had never been in that room or in that entire facility in all the years it was in operation until Matt was killed. There are a lot of changes that need to be made in this industry. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Loved People Love People.

Loving people are empathetic, compassionate, kind, and care about other people - including people who don't look like them and that have opinions and views different than their own. They are willing to open their minds to new concepts (even if it makes them uncomfortable), and are willing to admit when they're wrong. They don't judge those who are going through situations that they may never have experienced themselves. If they notice someone going through a difficult time whether they can relate to it or not, they are willing to offer support either through lending a hand in some way or at least by showing compassion. They do things to help people - not hurt them. 

Hateful people resort to things like intimidation, bullying, mocking, personal/property damage, trespassing, and theft to scare and inflict pain on someone. They think that their rights are more important than that of others. They believe that people in need aren't deserving of help. They are unwilling and unable to put themselves in someone else's shoes in an attempt to see from another's perspective. It doesn't bother them when someone else is hurting if it doesn't affect them directly. Instead of lending a helping hand or moral support, they readily offer judgments and criticism.

It's very hard right now for even the most loving of people to not let anger get the best of them in the face of all this hate. It takes an immense amount of self control to maintain integrity and kindness when faced with hate coming from so many directions; especially when it comes from people whose "love" turned out to be conditional and unreliable. It hurts. But as much as it hurts, remember that those who are the strongest are able to maintain a strength that is more reflective of their character than resorting to the same actions that hurt them. 

It is absolutely possible to not like what someone did or said and still love them, and having healthy boundaries means you can still have love for someone (even if you don't like them) yet create distance and not put yourself around them anymore. I'm learning these healthy boundaries, and that it doesn't mean I have to stop loving, caring, or being kind. I especially like knowing that just because I may disagree with someone, I don't have to be mean to them or belittle them and make them feel like crap in order to make myself feel better. Sometimes the kindest (and strongest) thing I can do is simply remove myself, which can be necessary more for my own peace than theirs; especially when I know a resolution cannot be achieved because the person I'm dealing with is unwilling to listen or unable to reason. There are other times when using my voice to speak up is completely necessary, and that getting my point across can still be accomplished in a loving way. Advocating for what you believe in, standing up for what you feel is right, for defending someone or yourself can all be done with love.

There's an expression: "Hurt people hurt people." Change the narrative. "Loved people love people." Love heals. Love is the secret weapon. Incorporate LOVE into everything you say and do. It takes practice, consistency, and a whole lot of strength- especially when it's not reciprocated- but it can be done. Be the example. What would our world look like if most of us made this conscious attempt?  

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Layers.

When Jacob was in middle school, his teacher had a couple of classroom pets - two leopard geckos. The teacher allowed students to take turns bringing them home for the weekend to be cared for. Jacob volunteered one of the weekends, much to his and Sydney's delight! Sydney, who is three years younger than Jacob, also loved every minute of having the geckos with us. It was a sad day when they had to go back to school because Sydney wouldn't get to see them at school like her other could for that year. She has often talked about the geckos since, and especially recently with the lack of in-person instruction and lots of other things she's been missing since the pandemic began. She has mentioned getting another pet of some sort just for herself.

"You're Mazie's (our dog) favorite human, Jacob is Penelope's (our cat) favorite human, but I want a pet that I can be its favorite."

Having had experience over the years with dogs, cats, mice, snakes, fish, iguanas, bunnies, and birds, I was able to decide based on those experiences what I would be willing to take on at this point, even though Sydney will be their primary caretaker (ideally, none of the above). We already have a dog, a cat, and three human mouths to feed. What if we get another wave of Covid and everything shuts down again? It was scary enough trying to get what we need as infrequently as we could get away with. When the pandemic is over, what other pets are we willing to continue caring for and that will be easy enough for my cousin (who helps us with our pets on the rare occasions we go on a trip) to be willing to take on?

Leopard geckos!! It just made sense. She adored the ones from Jacob's classroom, they're relatively easy to care for, and she can keep the tanks in her bedroom away from Mazie and Penelope.

Sydney is in love with her two little babies who she named Athena and Aphrodite. She wanted to get two to make sure that one wouldn't be lonely. We're just hoping that either they're both female, or a female and male since two males might fight. They're too young to be able to tell the difference yet, but so far so good. Sydney's maternal instincts have kicked in (those urges were what pushed her to get them in the first place) and she's such a good little mama to her baby geckos. We're even attempting to breed crickets to ensure a steady supply of food in case accessing crickets from a store becomes a challenge at some point.

Today, Athena shed her skin for the second time since we've had them. Sydney read that it can take up to 24 hours for a gecko to completely shed. It just took Athena only 15 minutes from start to finish. It made us think a little about why it would take such a short time to shed when we read that it can take up to 24 hours.

First, she's a baby who is growing pretty fast. I think that would definitely be a factor because her growing body pushed the skin off easier. Which lead us to the thought that adult geckos probably take much longer (which is where the "up to 24 hours" came from). Since adult geckos are not growing anymore, it makes it harder to get the skin off. Plus, if they're like most others in the animal kingdom, you produce less moisture and elasticity as you age. Geckos, in preparing to shed, release moisture in the layer between their old skin and new skin to make it easier to shed. I'm sure as the gecko ages, it produces less of this moisture. Which made my thoughts to go how it's easier for the young to shed layers than it is for the old.

Recently, I have come to understand 'layers' a little differently.

Last year, I did Reiki for a child for the first time, and something struck me as very significant about that experience. I felt like I hardly had any layers to go through to balance and clear her chakras. It felt cleaner, simpler, easier. Before that, I didn't necessarily think of it as going through layers for adults, but now that I had that experience with few layers in a child, it makes sense to me.

In so many ways, we are like trees. Every year that we're alive, growing, learning, experiencing, another layer gets added. With negative experiences, traumas, heartbreaks, I picture it as adding a thicker layer that's a little different than the others.

For a tree trunk, a layer is added for every year of its life, which is why you can count the rings a trunk to determine the tree's age. Some of the rings look different and can tell a story of fire, drought, plague and plenty:

"Count the dark rings, and you know the tree's age. If you study the rings, you can learn much more about the life of that tree. Many things affect the way the tree grows, and thus alter the shape, thickness, color and uniformity of the rings." arborday.org

People are much the same. We are the sum of all of our genetic, experiences, environment, nutrition and community. There are years that add tougher layers on us than others. Naturally, you can't cut a person's trunk and read their rings, but there are other ways to "read the rings." That's where people in the holistic community come in, because they see a person as a whole, and some even have the ability to read those rings.

With animals and plants (basically any other living thing other than humans), they use their instincts and genetically-written instructions to help them adapt and evolve. Things like free will (including jealousy and greed) don't interrupt that process like they do in humans. The very thing that sets the human race apart from the animal/plant kingdom is the very thing that has the potential to cause the most harm. This is one of the reasons I have such a hard time with us interfering with nature and creating "genetically modified" versions of anything. They were created the way they were for a reason, just as we were.

The trick is staying in touch with the innocent, young layers we started out with. Unbias, untainted. Learning to use those additional layers for growth and learning, and not letting them become calloused or diseased by anger and resentment which poisons the whole system (mind, body and spirit). This is why compassion and love (and good nutrition) have such an important role in our lives.

LOVE.

God made each one of us. We all came from him. You can say him/her/it God, Buddha, Allah, the Universe - whatever you choose or nothing at all, but for the sake of simplicity, I usually call him God. We are all a little piece of him. Which means, we are all a piece of each other. (Keep reading - this is all relevant, but it gets better and believe it or not this isn't a religious post - especially since I'm not religious.) Imagine what the world would look like if we deferred to unconditional love and compassion when dealing with each other the way God does for us.

Practice having just a little bit of love for people as if they are an actual part of you, and if you don't love yourself enough to love the people around you like that, then Reiki and meditation can help you find the love inside that's been there all along. There are many other ways, but this is what worked for me. It sounds SO corny, and I almost can't believe these words are coming out of my fingertips, but I finally feel free enough to be able to speak openly.

You might assume that I'm a church-going, God-fearing woman from all this, but I'm not. I don't go to church, and I don't fear God. I'm not religious, but I am spiritual. I believe that doing your best and being a good human, helping instead of hurting, loving instead of hating, is what it's all about.

Reiki is God energy. God's energy flows through every living thing. In essence, it is love. And it is healing. Putting Reiki and meditation into practice on a regular basis has helped me to find the love for myself that I didn't even realize I was not in touch with. I kept looking for it in every person around me my whole life, and in everything I put into my body, and was disappointed over and over and over again. It wasn't until I figured out that the love I was looking for was inside of myself all along. When you find that, you find joy. It totally sounds cliché, but I feel the most happiness and peace than I ever have in my life. The only thing that could make it better is if my husband was still here with me physically, but at least I know he is still with me and our children in spirit because our souls don't die, and neither does love. Those are the truths that I hold very close to my heart, and that give others so much hope, too.

We are all a work in progress - myself included. I have all these amazing ideals about how I'm going to help those who want to be helped and are willing to do the work to find balance in mind, body and spirit, and to find that piece of themselves that's been buried under layers upon layers of life. The issue I'm working on for myself is getting over fear. There's still this injured part of myself that I'm in the process of healing that wants me to believe that I won't be good enough, or that no one will want to learn from me, or that I'm not worthy of this work. Repeatedly, I'm reassuring myself that although I'm not perfect and may never reach Deepak Chopra level, I AM worthy, I AM qualified, and that at least most of the people I will be helping won't hurt me like I think they might. That I don't need to have a guard up that tells me I shouldn't speak and I shouldn't trust. That my story is irrelevant because everyone has had trauma and what makes me so special. I remind myself that it is my story (and I have many kinds) that brought me here and to this work, and that it is relevant to the people I'm helping. That I might not be able to help everyone that comes to me, but that I will do my very best, and understand that the majority of the work is what they do for themselves because I'm just giving them the tools. That after they have had a session with me or took a class, they feel like they have been heard, understood, and loved.

Covid is giving me the isolation I needed to continue healing myself from a lifetime of pain and resentment, and realizing that I created that for myself all along because of unreasonable expectations I had for the people around me. I expected love and kindness from people that aren't even willing to do that for themselves, and the more I see how common this is, the more it gives me compassion for those who hurt me and gives me the drive to help even more. It has showed me where the help is needed the most.

As much as it is my mission to help people find balance in mind, body and spirit, I kept denying that 'spiritual' part thinking it might offend people. I'm not going to be afraid of that anymore, either, because really - if someone is going to get offended, they will be offended whether you try or not, so I might as well just be open. "Spirit" is a big part of the package. When you take care of your body so that you're healthy physically, it helps your mind. When your body is healthy, your mind is more clear and healthy, and that in turn helps your spirit. Your spirit is the divine part of you that allows you to feel joy and love. It's extremely relevant, and I'm not going to downplay it anymore. They all work together for the WHOLE person.

So when you hear me advocate for love of self and showing each other unconditional compassion, that did NOT come easily. I don't think life is all 'rainbows and unicorns.' To the contrary - it's because life has been so challenging that I've learned more than ever the importance of love and compassion. It has taken a lot of inner work and a great deal of strength, and still does. Every day. I'm learning that one of the things that helps heal that injured part of me that still thinks I should shrink back down and stay small is to push through it, speak my truth and trust myself. What also helped is the seed was divinely planted early on in my life about unconditional love- specifically in my late teens. I'll share the details of that someday, but I've shared enough vulnerability for now.

A true healer must be heal themselves before they can do this for others. It's good that I have to wait a little longer to do this work for people in person, because I'm almost there. I'm almost ready to not be afraid anymore.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter.

I'm learning more and more every day. I understand more now from all that has transpired than I did before. I learned that black lives need to matter before all lives can matter. I learned that we shouldn't be "color blind" and that we need to see everyone's color and honor them. I learned that although my life hasn't been easy, I've had white privilege to make things not as difficult as they could be for us.

I've learned that when the dust settles, these are things we need to continue discussing and improving. All the time. Because we've been failing all these other decades beef and this is the part that has to change. We should be so much further ahead than we are in 2020.

It's okay to change the way you think about certain things. It's ok to be wrong. It means we're human, and learning, and growing, and that's exactly what we're supposed to be doing. Growing, learning, getting better and doing better and HELPING EACH OTHER every step of the way. That is HUMANITY.

This isn't something that should be seen as causing further division among us - it's unifying us more than ever. We are all on this mission together because it takes every single one of us. I don't like the word "fight" because it means conflict. If we are coming from a place of love, then it's a unification of efforts for a common goal. A mission.

Don't assume that just because someone is advocating that "black lives matter" that they also mean "all police are bad." Understand that they can very likely mean that black lives matter AND still respect those many police officers who are doing their duty to protect and serve their community in an honorable way and not beginning harm to anyone. I have black friends and family, and cop friends and family, and I love them all.

There are "good" and "bad" in every race, profession, religion, political party, etc., so STOP putting people into categories of good or bad based on one factor. See the WHOLE person through compassionate eyes.

HOPE.

As scary as our newsfeed is right now with everything going on, I choose to see HOPE. My mother used to always say, 

"It has to get worse before it gets better."

I'd like to think we've reached the point where we now begin to see necessary changes. I'm seeing conversations taking place that have been brushed under the rug for way too long. I'm seeing people taking real steps to support each other in learning how to e better for our brothers and sisters. I'm seeing how the poor leadership we've been under is making it possible to appreciate what true leadership was when we had it, and that we have now hopefully raised our standards even higher for a future that holds a promise of hope. 

Most importantly, I see the pain in my social media newsfeed as a reflection of the LOVE that we have for each other - whether it's in the form of outrage or sadness. They say there's a thin line between love and hate. 

Cross the line. 

Let's make a conscious shift now from anger, fear, sadness and redirect our words, actions and deeds to come from a place of LOVE. Love is at the root of it all. Love for our community, love for our children and our futures. Love for all people, love for our world. We know better, now let's DO better. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

These Four Walls.

I'm in the process of putting all my posts from Blogger into a Word doc to save them just in case something were to happen to my blog, and as I'm entering them into the doc, I'm reading them. I don't know if I've ever read through every post I've written since I started this blog.

All I can say is, I know it's not just my allergies acting up today... I'm so thankful I wrote in such detail - especially about the adorable things my kids did and said. For so many recent years I regretfully haven't been writing. I had been so caught up in everyone else's drama and made it my own for so long that it sucked any energy out of me for writing. I feel like I've missed so much of my kids during this time - things they've said and done that I should remember. I'm so grateful to be able to say now that I'm done with everyone's unnecessary drama. Life brings enough on its own, and boy aren't we getting a big taste of that in 2020.

Something I've learned from Covid that I'm so grateful for is that what matters most in our lives is what happens within our own four walls. This is where it begins for everyone. If you don't like what's happening in the world, start with what's happening within your own four walls.

I'm really happy with what's happening here.