Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Have You Planned Your Funeral Yet ...?

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Funeral Blues
WH Auden

Hello, Everyone,

This morning, I attended the funeral of a friend's husband. Paul was a highly intelligent, accomplished and kindly man and the service's beautifully planned readings, stories, hymns, prayers and homily all flowed together to reflect the man he was. Being at that service reminded me, once again, of the importance of planning our funerals, committing those plans to paper and talking about them with our loved ones. 

Despite having lost my elder brother, both parents, my husband, my young nephew, my mentor, and my best friend, I have yet to plan my own service. What makes us (me) so reluctant to approach this task, especially when we know how much it can help our families when they are shaken and bereaved?  For some of us, the problem is anxiety about the whole notion of death and dying. For others it is the belief that funerals are for the living so they should plan the service. Others struggle with the unattended grief of earlier losses and can't bear to contemplate thoughts further loss, theirs or others'. Others, still, worry about religious differences within their families that could lead to conflict over their plans and so  shy away from the conversations. And still others, who have no religious background at all, have no idea where to start when it comes to planning a funeral ritual so they avoid it altogether.

But there are real advantages to planning ahead our end-of-life ceremonies and rituals. The first is its positive impact on loved ones. Pre-planning greatly reduces the stress of their decision-making after our deaths (as well as their guilt about not knowing our wishes). It also allows us to personalize the ceremony - to tell our story, comfort loved ones with our favourite readings and music, create space for healthy mourning and find ways to celebrate what we've valued in our lives. (While religious traditions may dictate much of what will happen in a service, there are usually personal choices available regarding music, readings and speakers.)

Here are a few things we can consider as we plan our own ceremonies:

1. What kind of ritual do I want?  A funeral service followed by burial or cremation? A funeral service followed by graveside service? A memorial service after burial or cremation? A service in my own home? A funeral service in the city where I die and second service in another locale? Something other than a service? Do I want my body present? Do I want the coffin open?
 2.  Do I want any additional ceremonies? A viewing, a wake, a visitation, a reception after the service, a one year anniversary commemoration?
3.  How closely do I want to observe my religion's mourning rituals?
4.  Where do I want the ceremony to be held? (Plus a second choice in case it is necessary) Where do I want my remains to be buried/scattered? 
5.  Who would I ask to officiate? (Plus a second choice) 
6.  Who will be my pallbearers (6)?
7.  Who will tell stories or deliver eulogies (3)?
8.  Who will read prayers, poems or other readings (3)?
9.  The readings I want to include are (3)
10. Music I want to include - prelude, postlude, songs, hymns, solos to be played/sung during the ceremony
11. What types of flowers would I like to be used to decorate the room/coffin?
12. Do I want a headstone, memorial bench or other marker? How would I like it inscribed? 
13. Are there favourite charitable organizations where a donation could be made in my name?
14. What are the groups I've belonged to that should be notified of and invited to the ceremony? (with their contact information)
15. Who are the people my family may not know who should be notified and invited? (with contact information)
16.  What wording do I want for my obituary, where do I want it placed, and for how long? 
17. Do I want my body or ashes repatriated - to the country where I was born? To the place where my grandmother or spouse was buried?

As you can see, there are actually many places where our input can make a difference.

That said, we should also remember that, as important as our planning may be, it is equally important to give loved ones explicit permission to make changes in our plans should the need arise. I have worked with more than one person whose guilt over changing funeral arrangements has helped to trigger complicated grief. Gifting your family and friends with your wishes, plus the room to move, will reduce their stress considerably.

And now, having written this post, I can safely say that by the end of the week I will have planned my own funeral service. I hope that you will take this opportunity to reflect on the questions above and give yourself (and your family) the gift of doing the same.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Colour Your Stress Away ...

Life is about using the whole box of crayons.

Colours are the smiles of nature.
Leigh Hunt

Life lesson from the nursery: Broken crayons can still colour.
Author Unknown

Hi everyone!

For the past few months, I've been experimenting with offering workshop participants mandalas, Celtic knots and other intricate designs to colour - and I've been amazed by the positive response. People love them and comment on how the colouring helps them to focus and relax throughout the day. Kinesthetic learners are especially happy to have "something to do" as they listen to mini-lectures and participate in group discussions.

Colouring takes us back to another time, a time when choosing colours and mixing tints and shades could provide respite from childhood stressors. It is a form of self-soothing and relaxation. Thought to de-stress us by activating areas on both sides of our brains, the relaxation of colouring particularly lowers the activity of the amyglala, a part of the brain that senses and deals with threat. When we colour, the gentle repetitive motions soothe us and the colouring experience shifts us from a state of perceived threat back to a state of calm.

Colouring can be seen as a form of active meditation. Our mindful attention to the colouring pushes aside current stressors and future worries. The Aurora University (Illinois and Wisconsin) website offers the following steps for meditative colouring to their stressed students:

1.  Start the session with a smile. Don't skip this step just because it sounds a little silly. In fact, studies have proven that smiling even when you are not happy can raise your level of endorphines (mood-enhancing chemicals) in your brain. So start smiling!
2.  Find a design to colour. Any colouring book will do, or print a mandala to colour. Mandalas are complex, symmetrical geometric designs that originated thousands of years ago in India. They are fun to colour and beautiful to look at once done.
3.  Choose your colouring supplies. You can use crayons, coloured pencils, markers or even chalk. Don't think too much about the colours you are selecting. Let the colours choose themselves. You will be amazed at the colour combinations when you're done. 
4.  Allow yourself to experience the movements, hear the sounds of the crayon on the paper or feel the marker glide across the page. As thoughts, pictures or worries pop into your head simply acknowledge them and return your focus to colouring. Colouring will always bring you back. With a little practice, you will find that you can easily achieve a deeply relaxed state while colouring.
Some people wonder if drawing and colouring their own pictures on a blank page would produce the same relaxing results as colouring in a colouring book but a small study in 2005 in the Art Therapy journal seems to indicate that structured colouring-in, whether of a mandala or a plaid pattern, has a greater impact on anxiety levels than unstructured colouring.

Recognition of the relaxing properties of colouring has led to a recent boom in colouring books for adults. Scottish illustrator, Johanna Bradford's intricate best seller, Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide and Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book came out in February. Other well-loved colouring books include:

1.  Celtic Patterns to Colour by Struan Reid
2.  Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta
3.  Colour Me Calm and Colour Me Happy by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter
4.  The Mindfulness Colouring Book by Emma Farrarons (Sized for pocket or purse)
5.  The Mandala Colouring Book by Jim Gogarty
6.  Dream Catcher: A Soul Bird's Journey and Dream Catcher: The Tree of Life by   Christina Rose
7.  Colour Me Good London Colouring Book by I Love Mel
8.  Natural Wonders: A Patrick Hruby Colouring Book by Patrick Hruby

For those of you who would like to try a little colouring before making the financial investment in a colouring book, here are some free mandalas to copy and colour. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

National Family Caregiver Day 2015 ...

Hi Everyone!

Today is National Family Caregiver Day 2015, a day to celebrate the millions of unpaid family caregivers who give of their time, strength, love and futures in order to provide care for those who are ill, frail or disabled.

These caregivers are not a homogenous group with the same experiences, needs and feelings, rather, people, old and young, with highly complex, complicated and individual stories, people whose lives are changed considerably, often dramatically, by the experience of caregiving.

Family caregiving is one of the most rewarding, satisfying and, at the same time, most stressful and depleting endeavours most of us will ever undertake. Caregivers, the backbone of our healthcare system,  need and deserve all the encouragement, emotional and practical support, and resources we can give them so that they don't have to carry the costs of caregiving on into the rest of their lives.

What are these costs? They can include physical illness or injury; mental illness; posttraumatic stress; chronic sorrow; compassion fatigue; missed educational, job or volunteer opportunities; job loss; loss of retirement funds; loss of experiences and relationship quality with the care recipient or friends and family; depleted parenting; loss of identity and self-actualization; loss of recreational and leisure time; loss of sustaining spiritual or philosophical beliefs and many others.

On the other hand, there are important gifts that can be found within some caregiving experiences - development of new skills and competencies; greater self confidence; an appreciation for the smaller, simpler things of life; psychological and spiritual growth; recognition of the importance of self care and the greater wellness that flows from it;  new friendships and support systems; and greater transparency and intimacy in relationships.

Today, and all month, there will be programs and celebrations for family caregivers offered through support agencies and organizations across the country. Here are just a few:

1.  Canadian Caregiver Coalition:
The CCC are offering a series of podcasts sharing caregiving strategies and tools as well as a tweet chat. They have also created a poster on Care & Work: A Balancing Act.
2.  Canadian Virtual Hospice:
The Cdn Virtual Hospice eNews newsletter for April is entirely devoted to supporting caregivers.
3. Family Caregivers Network Society: 
BC's Family Caregivers Network Society is offering free webinars throughout the spring on topics such as Guilt & Frustration, Care Planning 101, Letting Go, and Respite.

If you have a family caregiver in your life, please take some time, today, to contact him or her with a message of love, support and understanding. It can make all the difference in a caregiver's day.