Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Trauma of Hurricane Sandy ...

May there be peace in the midst of the storm
and hope in all the days that follow. 

I've just been watching some of the coverage of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, both in the United States and in Canada, and my heart goes out to everyone affected. I think, particularly, of the first responders and of all those whose work will take them out into the elements and into the path of danger in the days and weeks ahead - also, of all the family caregivers who already experience trauma and loss in their everyday existence and who must now cope an additional layer of traumatic stress. And, of course, there are those who have lost loved ones and homes. And those living with terrible uncertainty regarding loved ones' whereabouts and safety.

We all experience some traumatic events in life but there are ways to keep longterm trauma effects from developing. You can help. I'd like to share with you (with permission) the first two stages of the trauma first aid steps developed by trauma expert, Peter Levine:

First Aid for Adults:
Stage 1:  Immediate Action (At the Scene of the Traumatic Event) 
1.  If life-saving medical procedures are required, that must take precedence.
2.  Encourage a sense of safety. Keep the person warm, lying down, and still, unless they face further danger by remaining where they are. Don't let them jump up and move around, which they might be tempted to do. The feeling of having to do something, to act in some way, can override the essential need for stillness in order to discharge unused fight or flight energy. They may want to deny the magnitude of the traumatic event and might act like they are fine.
3.  Stay with the traumatized person. Assure them that you will stay with them or that help is on the way. When help does arrive, continue to stay with the traumatized person if possible.
4.  Encourage the person to fully experience their bodily sensations. These may include adrenaline rush, numbness, shaking and trembling, feeling hot or chilled. 
5.  Stay fully present. What you do and say can help the person discharge the trauma energy. Let them know it is not only okay that they shake, but it is good, and will help them release the shock. They will get a sense of relief after the shaking is completed and may feel warmth in their hands and feet. Their breathing should be fuller and easier. This initial stage could easily take 15 - 20 minutes.
6.  Don't go it alone.  Get someone to help you process the event afterwards.

Stage 2:  Once the Person is Moved Home, to the Hospital or to a Shelter
1.  Allow time for processing.  Continue to keep the traumatized person quiet and resting until they are out of the acute shock reaction. Traumatized people should always take a day or two off work to allow themselves to reintegrate. This is important even if they perceive that the trauma doesn't justify staying home. This resistance can be a common denial mechanism and defense from feelings of helplessness. A day or two of rest is good insurance.
2.  Allow the emotions to be felt without judgement. The trauma survivor is likely to begin experiencing a variety of emotions, such as anger, fear, guilt, enxiety. There might also be bodily sensations, such as shaking, chills, etc. This is still fine.

For information on the third stage of Trauma First Aid and for more information about healing single event trauma, I would recommend Peter Levine's, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Music to Soothe the Savage Breast ...


Musick has Charms to soothe a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

William Congreve 
 The Mourning Bride

Do you want to calm the cacophony of thoughts and feelings filling your head and your "savage breast" after a long day at work -  or an even longer day's caregiving at home? Researchers say that making or listening to music can help calm your nervous system, boost your mood and reduce your anxiety. In fact, according to a review of 22 research articles, music alone and music-assisted relaxation exercises can significantly decrease nervous system arousal due to stress.

It doesn't seem to matter what kind of music you listen to. The important thing is that the music is a good fit for your individual musical preference, previous music experience, and the sort of stress response you're experiencing. (ie Upbeat music will energize you when you're feeling down and soothing music will calm you if you're feeling anxious.) That said, several studies have acknowledged the particularly effective soothing power of classical music.

We're not sure how music works its magic. Perhaps it is its ability to absorb our attention; perhaps, its capacity to distract us; or perhaps, its tendency to connect us with our emotions. However it works, adding music to our days can have a profound effect on our sense of well-being.

Over the years, I have compiled an eclectic list of musical pieces that is my go-to list for relaxation or a little cheering up. It includes, (and I'll really date myself here!):

To Calm and Soothe:
1.  Ladies in Lavender Soundtrack 
2.  Mozart for Mothers-to-Be
3.  Carolyn McDade's As We So Love
5.  The (British) National Trust's  "Time for Tea" Collection
6.  Enya's A Day Without Rain and Watermark
7.  Gloria: The Sacred Music of John Rutter
8.  Daniel Kobialka's  Fragrances of a Dream
9.  John Lennon's Imagine
10. Simon and Garfunkle's Bridge Over Troubled Waters
11.  Truly, Madly, Deeply Soundtrack
12.  The Rankin Family's We Rise Again 
13.  At Christmas:  Marty Haugen's Night of Silence ... 
 To Energize:
1.  Mozart's Clarinet Concerto
2.  Schubert's Trout Quintet
3.  Ketelbey's British Light Music
4.  Abba's Mamma Mia
5.  Simon and Garfunkle's 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
6.  John Denver's The Essential John Denver
7.  The Beatles
8.  The Beach Boys
9.  Carole King's Tapestry
10. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos 

What about you? Do you have favourite music for relaxing and getting recharged? How long is it since you've had a listen?

Friday, October 19, 2012

All Souls Night ...

Have you ever had one of those moments when you've thought, "How could I not have known about that?"? I had one on Wednesday morning when a friend told me she was going to the 8th Annual All Souls Night at Mountain View Cemetery, (Vancouver's only cemetery), on Saturday October 27th.

The 8th Annual All Soul's Night?? I hadn't known there had been a first, and I tend to have a pretty good idea about what's going on in the City. When I got home, I googled the event and found that it is sponsored by the City of Vancouver Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture and is described, thus, in their calendar of events:
Community event. An atmosphere of contemplative beauty with music, warming fires and fragrant teas to comfort the living, and public shrines to remember the dead. 
Candles, flowers, and other materials will be available for the creation of personal memorials.
There will be an opening prayer at sundown. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tradition of All Soul's Day, its origins in European folklore and beliefs are related to the honouring of ancestors, a practice seen throughout the world in events such as China's Ghost Festival, Japan's Bon Festival, and the Mexican Day of the Dead. 

All Souls Day became a formal part of the Western Christian tradition in 998 AD when the Benedictine Abbot of Cluny (a powerful monastery in medieval France) designated it a day of prayer for the souls in purgatory. (As opposed to those already in heaven, for whom prayers were offered on All Saints Day, November 1st.) Over the years, some churches have fused the two days and others, particularly those of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, now celebrate All Souls days at several times during the year.

In Europe, the French decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts and the German, Polish and Hungarians leave gifts of flowers and special grave lights at graveyards once a year. The Czechs visit and tidy the graves of relatives on this day and the people of Malta make pilgrimages to graveyards to remember all the dead, not just their relatives.

In other countries, special foods and church services mark the day. For example, in Tirol, special cakes are left out for the dead and the room is kept warm. In Brittany, people kneel at the graves of loved ones and anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water and in Brazil people attend mass or visit the cemetery with flowers for the grave.

Regardless the form of these rituals, I think it's the fact of the rituals that matters here. We humans need rituals because they provide opportunities - opportunities to remember loved ones who have died, to tell their stories, to grieve once again with the support of family and community, and to celebrate life. As church and other providers of ritual grow less relevant in the lives of many, I think the City of Vancouver is to be congratulated for creating this opportunity to remember and I hope you will  take advantage of it if you can. I certainly shall.

ps  I received an email today with additional information regarding the Mountain View All Souls celebration.  The celebration actually covers six days:

  • October 18  7pm  Orientation and creation of personal shrines
  • October 20  1-3pm  Sugar skulls workshop (Registration required)
  • October 27  6-10pm  Night for All Souls
  • October 28  7pm  Threshold Choir
  • October 30  7pm  Screening of film - Forever - about Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
  • November 1  7-9pm  Orkestar Slivovica Balkan Brass band  performs at Vancouver Crematorium and Celebration Hall, with a procession through the shrines to honour the dead. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Leaky Body ...

Hi everyone! I am halfway through a great new book described as part memoir, part love story, part revolutionary manifesto and I want to recommend it to you.

My Leaky Body, written by Julie Devaney, or GI Julie as she calls herself, tells the raw and honest story of her journey through the diagnosis and treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel disease, a journey made within Canada's healthcare system.

As the back cover of the book says,
Based on her popular one-woman show, My Leaky Body lays bare the deficiencies in health care, creating a road map for patients and for all those who want to transform the system.
In the language of a born storyteller, Julie Devaney moves and enlightens readers as she describes both the compassion and compassion fatigue with which she is treated during multiple interactions with healthcare professionals. She is on a mission to change a system she describes as overworked, underfunded and badly in need of some bedside manners. Unusually, she is able to make her observations, critiques and suggestions without blaming or shaming.

Devaney advocates for a concerted focus on shifting away from our trend toward private healthcare and she pushes for changes in healthcare funding and training in order to reduce the emotional pain experienced by both patients and families and healthcare professionals.

While the details of Julie's story are uniquely her's, I found that they reflected many of my own lived experiences with the chronic illnesses of my husband, mother, nephew, and three dear friends. She understands the need for more trust, compassion and connection among helpers and helpees, calling for a system that is much more egalitarian, collaborative and personal. With the health policy advocacy of people like Julie Devaney, we can all have more hope for better days in healthcare.

Julie was interviewed about her book on CBC's, The Current,  and you can find the full half hour interview here.

Her blog at the Huffington Post - Canada can be found here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In Thanksgiving ...

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts
are conscious of our treasures.

                                              Thornton Wilder

As Thanksgiving weekend approaches, our hearts and minds turn naturally to thoughts of gratitude.

For many, life is overflowing with riches and it is easy to acknowledge the things that make our hearts sing. For others, hearts heavy with compassion fatigue or chronic sorrow, it may be more difficult to find things for which to be grateful. In times like these, it can help to turn to the small things - the ordinary, everyday relationships and experiences we tend to take for granted.

When we begin to remember the small things, our gratitude takes on a life of it's own, changing our perspectives and filling us with hope. This morning, as I drove about doing last minute errands before leaving for Vancouver Island for the holidays, I began my own list of "small things":

1.  A warm pair of gloves for the first cold steering wheel of the season.
2.  A new book by a favourite author to take away on holiday.
3.  The golden sunshine playing on the leaves of the tree at the corner.
4.   A carpet to step on as I got out of bed this morning.
5.  Vegetables from the farmers market for Thanksgiving dinner.
6.  A loving postcard from a dear friend, far away.
7.  Regina at the All Day Cafe who always greets me with a smile.
8.  The cozy fragrance of cinnamon and apples and the ability to smell them.
9.  The joy and laughter of a grandmother greeting her little red-headed grandson at the Quay this morning. ("I've missed you soooooooo much!")
10. A reservation for the ferry even if it means getting up at 4 am tomorrow.
11. A new tip for cooking squash - roast the squash whole for the first 20 minutes, until it begins to soften, then take it out of the oven and slice it to size and roast for another 40 minutes.
12. The scent of the last New Zealand rose of the season.
13. The anticipation of seeing my goddaughters and hearing their stories when I get to Nanaimo.
14. A basketful of tulip bulbs to plant for the spring.
15. The pleasure of hearing old familiar Thanksgiving hymns when I visit my Benedictine friends at the Retreat Centre on Saturday.

And then there's you, dear readers. I am more grateful than I can say to be able to share life with you and to receive your encouraging emails. Your energy keeps me writing and teaching and I'm so grateful. May each of you, whatever your circumstances, create a warm and very happy Thanksgiving,