Digging Up My Buried Shame

Our group of six women sat around the conference room table of Waverly Hematololgy and Oncology, the place where I’d received my chemo years before and now participated in the first Expressive Writing Group. Mary Barnard, Office Manager and poet, was our group leader and was certified in teaching the Write to Heal program created by James Pennebaker. Based on thirty-three years of research, the program had proven to transform the emotional lives of trauma survivors. We were provided the opportunity to participate in the group through the Waverly Survivors’ Community.

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Writing to Heal

We had an inital go-round of introducing ourselves and sharing some of our hopes for being in the group. Then Mary gave us an overview, discussed confidentiality, assigned a brief warm-up writing exercise, then led us to the first writing session.

“I want you to write about one of your most traumatic experiences,” she instructed us. Mary had set up the group, with the safety of boundaries and optional sharing that are essential for a trusting environment.

We had fifteen minutes and I had no problem writing continuously for the entire time. The traumatic event for me was my experience of working in that toxic research job at the same time as going through cancer treatment. While the breast cancer experience was difficult, the impact of the job that ended with being fired, had been much more damaging to my self-esteem and my professional confidence.

I wrote rapidly, with penmanship only legible to me, as I tapped into a deep reservoir of shame that had remained inside for fifteen years. Blaming the three people who made that work environment so pernicious, I recounted ways they’d misled me about the job, as well as their unprofessional behaviors at that ‘Mom and Pop’ clinical trials company. I’d written about that experience in the past, so it surprised me how much anger I still carred after so many years.

When our writing time was up, Mary asked, “How did it feel to write about the traumatic event?” Some of the participants shared about their emotions, their physical sensations, and pulling up forgotten memories. For most of the women, they had not written about their cancer experience but another trauma in their lives.

We completed a questionaire ranking to what degree we expressed our deepest thoughts and feelings, currently felt sad or upset, felt happy, found the writing exercise meaningful or valuable. Then we wrote reflections for five minutes about the experience of writing YOUR words in YOUR uninhibited language.

I’d signed up for the Expressive Writing Group, partly to support Mary’s efforts, since we were on the planning committee for the Survivors’ Clinic.  I thought because I’m a writer and have journaled most of my life, that I already knew the benefits of putting my feelings on the page.

Mary moved on to the second session.

“Now I want you to write about the same traumatic experience for fifteen minutes,” she told us.

I continued to put down my angry feelings about the company, but gradually I exhausted that well of resentment and transitioned to writing with more control, less intensity. Tired of my harsh judgements, I moved on with how that traumatic experience, simultaneous with my cancer, had forged a new courage inside me. I’d been more honest in that final confrontation with that company than I’d ever been in my life. That dysfunctional work family had fueled my writing and had allowed for that serendipitous trip to Sedona that was the seed that gave birth to my solo journeys.

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We completed the fifteen minute session as we had the first with answering the self-reflective questionniare and writing for five minutes.

While previous writings about that trauma had been solitary journal entries, the third session in this writing community, was about to move me forward from where I’d been stuck.

“Now I want you to write about the same traumatic event, but from a different person’s point of view,” Mary told us. “It can be anyone– for example your friend’s, God’s, or even an imaginary person.”

I wrote from what I imagined as God’s POV. In my scribble I said, “He loves me and knows my heart. I trust his omnipotent point of view in being fair.” Gradually, I brought up ways that I had contributed to the problems– something I couldn’t concede to before. Feeling the love of God who knows my weaknesses, allowed me to let go and acknowledge my part, to gain a more objective, less-victimized perspective.

I ended with, “God’s point of view is merciful. While he didn’t cause the trauma of being fired after I’d just been through cancer treatment, he is omnipotent and allowed what transpired. All of that became a ‘Refiner’s Fire’ that ultimately helped to make me who I am.”

That first group meeting ended with all of us feeling a sense of shared relief, walking out to our cars a bit lighter than when we arrived.

I didn’t realize then that those writing sessions would help prepare me for that year’s solo journey that was four days later. I traveled to Kentucky for a two-week stay at a writer’s residency. My goal was to rewrite my memoir.

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My kitchen table that became my writer’s desk.

During those days of reworking my memoir while sitting at that farmhouse table, I realized that my first time writing it I’d focused on my cancer. Now I had to go back and tell the whole truth– the simultaneous struggle with the research company that ended with me being fired. Now, I could admit to that buried shame, and be honest with my readers about all of my life.

How About You?

What buried shame do you have that needs to be dug up?

How can you examine it from a new perspective, a different point of view, so that you may heal and move forward in your life?

Resources

If you’d like to read about the Write to Heal program by James Pennebaker see this article in Survivors’ Review at http://www.survivorsreview.org/writenow.php?v=2

Mary Barnard may be reached for questions at mbarnard@waverlyhemeonc.com

 

 

 

Share Your Cancer Story

“Come on in and join the party!” my friend Mary, the birthday ‘girl’ and host, welcomed me. She was in the midst of checking the beverage coolers, taking care of her guests.

It was Saturday night and I was ready for a break from my growing lists of tasks: next steps in publishing my memoir, household chores crying out from neglect, charts to review for my part-time research nurse job. Going to my friend’s party was a welcomed relief.

Once I had my plate of food and was looking for a place to sit, Mary said, “Connie, I want you to meet someone who just finished our Expressive Writing Group.”

Mary had developed that group for the Waverly Survivor Clinic. We first met while participating on the planning committee to establish supports for our survivors’ community. I’d received chemo for breast cancer in their treatment area.

“This is Kay. She just completed the program,” Mary told me, then turned toward Kay. “Connie was in my first group two years ago.”

We sat across from each other on the couch. She was younger than me, mid-forties, and was stylishly dressed and wore a fedora atop her curly, dark hair. I’ve always liked fedoras, and admired women with the confidence to wear them, especially since I’ve never been a hat person. She asked me about my experience with the group, but then she was interested in my cancer story.

“It’s been eighteen years, now,” I told her. “I was shocked when they told me I had breast cancer, since I don’t have a family history of the disease.”

She’d heard the same statistic as me, that 70% of those diagnosed do not have a family history. I told her mine was discovered on a routine mammogram, the word routine always giving me pause since that day when I ran out for that mammogram during my lunch break.

“Yeah, mine was triple-negative and I wanted Dr. Graham to do everything possible to get rid of the cancer,” I told her. “I was forty-five and my sons were in 9thand 10thgrade. As a mother, after my first concern of, “Am I going to live?” my next priority was being there for my boys.”

She told me hers was triple-negative, too, and that she’d finished treatment just a little over a year ago. I knew that her memories and her fears were fresh.

She asked me about my course of treatment. We’d had a similar path but the steps were in a different order.

“Those appointments get easier over time,” I told her, remembering how anxious I was post-treatment, out from under the frequent visits and protective watch of my oncologist.

“It’s so good to talk to you, to hear that you’re an eighteen-year survivor,” she said.

Her comment reminded me of an experience at my surgeon’s office the week I found out I had breast cancer. Sitting and waiting for my appointment for him to explain the pathology report and answer my panicky questions, I overheard a woman talking about her breast cancer to the receptionist.

“I can’t believe it’s been eight years,” the receptionist said to the woman. “You really look good.”

She’s lived for eight years, I marveled. While I was a nurse, I’d never worked in oncology and never read about breast cancer. My recent experience of losing a high school classmate from that disease was my point of reference. Overhearing that conversation settled me down, and often played in my head over the months of treatment.

Now, Kay was telling me the same thing—that my story of being an eighteen-year survivor had given her hope. It reminded me that I needed to be available to share my story, when the other person was wanting to hear it. I remembered times when I didn’t want to talk about cancer, I wanted to forget about it—at least for a while. As a survivor, I needed to let the other person lead with what they wanted at that moment.

We finished our dinner and Mary led us out to the garage where The String Beings band was playing. Guests sat in lawn chairs listening to the relaxing Saturday night music, talking with the band members between songs. I spotted Dr. Graham, the first time I’d seen him outside the office, looking all ‘regular’ in a casual shirt, pants, and athletic shoes, without that long white lab coat.

Kay and I found seats near the band and continued our conversation. She showed me some of her family pictures, and pointed out her pre-chemo, straight hair. Her Mama Pride radiated when she shared the picture of her son. What a beautiful family that had been there for her during her treatment.

We talked and talked until the band played their last song.

Leaving Mary’s party, I felt full and happy. I’d encouraged a fellow survivor and in the process, made a new friend. I’d been reminded how important it is to share our cancer story, that though I want to move on and leave that behind me, there are people in my path who need Hope.

How About You?

What is your story that could provide someone with hope?

How does it impact them when you share your story? How does it impact you?

(Sorry, Friends. My photos are not loading today–after many tries! So frustrating. Will try to post them in the future)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Enough

That Saturday morning a year ago, I stood waiting for the ferry that would take me across the sound to the island of Iona for my week’s stay at the Abbey. I’d dreamed of going to Scotland to that historic pilgrimage site and it was becoming a reality. When the ferry workers were preparing for our group of passengers, a wave of anxiety hit me, and the critical voice of doubt said, “Who are you to be going to Iona?”

Won’t the other participants be more worldly, more theologically trained, veterans of international pilgrimages? Won’t you sound less educated, less cultured, less sophisticated with yout Southern, small-town roots?

The ferry workers motioned for us to cross over the ramp and I took a deep breath and stepped forward. As I did, the still small voice of God came to me and said, “You are my child. That is enough.” I felt a bit of relief and assured that I was following where God had led me.

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Iona Abbey Cloisters

That afternoon, we gathered in the Refectory– the group dining hall and met for the first time over tea and oat cakes. We learned about our housekeeping responsibilities, meal duties, and our dorm assignment. I shared a room with women from England, Canada, and Minnesota. We ranged in age from late twenties to late sixties and enjoyed conversations about what we were seeking that week.

When we met for our first session in the large group, there were a number who were pastors and seminary trained. But more of the group were folks like me; seekers wanting to be in fellowship with an international community of faith, all of us focusing on the Pilgrimage of Life, our theme for the week.

It was interesting to hear the forty-one participants share with cultural perspecitives and accents from Latvia, Germay, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, and the U.S. I’d wondered what it would be like to be part of that community. It felt like going on a church retreat with people whom you didn’t know before gathering, but yet you knew because you all shared a spiritual connection.

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The Sanctuary of the Abbey where we had worship on Sunday and each evening

I never felt the need for an escape route that week. We were allowed time on our own in the afternoons to explore the island. I chose to be by myself because the demands of the group interaction, while stimulating, were also draining. Some of the more extroverted folks would go out in groups, but there was no pressure to do anything other than what felt right for you.

One of my concerns had been how I would fit in. I had set an intention, like I’ve done on other pilgrimages, to be present, to absorb all that was going on around me. I knew Iona was a rich place and I wanted every benefit. One of the things we did as a group was to take a day walking the island and visiting the historic spots. At each place we stopped, our leader did a reading and then there was time for meditation. The most meaningful one for me was stopping at the shoreline of the bay and throwing in a rock that represented something we wanted to leave behind.

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St. Columba’s Bay

I tossed in a big rock that represented my pride, my fear of trying new things because I could make errors and look foolish. Flinging that rock out into the water, I vowed to just follow God’s lead and let go of my self-consciousness. Releasing that burden allowed me to relax and be myself during the week at Iona.

I did fit in, because I, like the other participants, was enough, and felt at home in that body of believers.

Toward the end of that walk across the island, we hiked to the highest point where we could see the sound and the Atlantic sides. In the sweeping view of that remote island, I felt my breath catch as I realized God had opened up my life, the wider space that had been provided through my pilgrimage to Iona.

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That Friday morning when our week together ended, a group of us walked to the ferry dock in the dark, with rain blowing sideways. We held our arms out to the sides to keep our balance while we made our way across the slippery landing. I remembered my fear when I’d boarded the ferry the previous Saturday, the doubt that attacked me.

Yes, I am enough, I thought, and made my way onto the ferry. And I am grateful for all the  richness of this past week with my new friends of faith from around the world.

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How about you?

Do you have times when you feel that you’re not enough?

How do you handle those feelings?

How do you move beyond that voice of doubt?

 

 

Gather Yourself: Lessons in Scotland

After all the dreaming, planning, and praying, I’m now at the threshold of Iona,” I wrote in my journal a year ago as I looked across the white-capped-waters of the sound toward the stone buildings of the Abbey. I’d made it to the village of Fionnphort in the Inner Hebrides, where I’d booked a room for two nights at the Seaview Bed and Breakfast, to rest and prepare for my week living at Iona Abbey. It was my solo journey, my yearly spiritual pilgrimage, but this time, it was to a historic pilgrimage site, my first trip to Scotland.

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Seaview Bed and Breakfast, Mull, Scotland

I was glad that after my arrival on Thursday afternoon, I would have until Saturday at 3:00 before I would join the forty others from around the world for our week together. We would live in that faith-seeking community and explore The Pilgrimage of Life– our theme for the week with our leader, Alistair McIntosh, a native of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Any doubt about whether I’d selected the best lodging was immediately dismissed when I met John and Jane Noddings, the owners and hosts at the B & B. John, who referred to himself as the ‘chatty’ one, showed me around and introduced me to Jane, who was in the kitchen cooking dinner.

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John, the ‘chatty’ one

That first night, I was so tired and her meal of lamb and potatoes nourished me and warmed the chill that had stayed with me since the ferry. John, who’d formerly been a fisherman, gave me helpful information to make my stay easier– like how the strong currents could shut down the ferry to Iona that was just a ten-minute trip across the sound.

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It was as delicious as it looks!

That first meal, I had the dining room to myself as the other guests had not arrived. How I savored those bites, looking out across the water, watching the vanishing light over Iona. I wasn’t able to post my pictures last year because I had so many problems getting wifi in that remote area. But I’ll make up for it now and share them with you.

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It was nice to sit in the quiet. I’d just come from Edinburgh where my husband and I had finished our trip together that had included Paris, London, and a day trip into the Scottish Highlands. Seaview B & B provided me a place to restore my energy before becoming part of a group for a week. It would give me time to gather myself, to pull in before I spread out– experiencing the dynamic growth of living and learning from a new community.

Looking back, that was a perfect plan.

How many other times in my life should I have recognized the need to fuel up, to allow for an intentional transition in order to be ready for what was ahead?

My usual practice was to keep going and not slow down. But having that time to see the threshold, that place of crossing from what is known to the unknown–like what has been experienced by pilgrims over the ages, helped me to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for that week that was life-changing.

After dinner those evenings at Fionnphort, I walked around the village.  How peaceful it was in the quiet of that small community on the western shores of Scotland.

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On the banks of Fionnphort

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View of ferry dock at Fionnphort

On my ferry ride from Oban to Craignure, where I then boarded a bus like the red one in the photo, I decided to make my first video while on a solo journey. But when the time came to post it, I chickened out, always a bit self-conscious about being filmed, about the sound of my own voice. Well, it’s time to let go of that.

While the day was sunny, I was not use to the dampness and wind, that I would learn was ever-present on the coast of Scotland. By the end of my ferry ride, I was chilly in spite of my layers of clothing. Seeing this video, lets me relive that Thursday afternoon last September.

 

As I anticipated joining the group on that Saturday, several questions pressed in on me. I wrote them in my journal:  “What will it be like to live in a community for a week? How will I fit in? How will I manage without an ‘escape route’ like I have with my trips in the States?”

I waited and prayed on the banks of Fionnphort and asked God to bless me and the people in my path in the week ahead.

Next time, I’ll tell you how God answered my prayer, how He Heard My Voice.

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How about You?

What times in your life have you been at the threshold of a life-changing event?

Were you able to take the time to Gather Yourself, to pull in and fuel up, allowing for an intentional transition so you would be ready to receive the benefits of what was ahead?

Posts from the trip before I arrived at Iona

Scotland Calling

Paris Can’t Wait

Tea at Two

 

 

New Beginnings: Moving Beyond the Gap

In last week’s post, I left you sitting in The Gap, encouraging you to allow yourself to feel that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings (see Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap)

New Beginnings is that last stage of Bill Bridges Map for Change where new relationships or the new job begins. But like the Endings and The Gap stages, it has emotional aspects including excitement, fear of failure, anxiety, a sense of accomplishment and/or celebration. But before I can move on to New Beginnings, I’m reminded of another type of Forced Ending that I didn’t include last week.

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Emerald Isle July ’18 Now Impacted by Florence

As I write this post from my home in central North Carolina, Hurricane Florence is spinning down on our coast, producing massive flooding and a predicted record-setting storm surge. It’s a slow-moving storm that takes its time delivering its blowMany people ‘Down East’ have moved to shelters, not knowing how their lives will be changed and what they will find when it’s safe to return home—whatever is left of home. We wait here in the Piedmont, knowing we’re in the hurricane’s path but unsure of how our lives will be impacted.

Natural disasters are another example of Forced Endings that we don’t choose. While they have nothing to do with problems in relationships, workplace politics, or other issues that may produce Forced Endings, they do leave people with the same types of emotions: shock, anger, disbelief, anxiety.

I have a friend from China, and some years ago she tragically lost her parents in a typhoon. What a huge impact that Forced Ending—the death of her parents, had on her life. She has spent years dealing with her grief and trying to figure out how to move from that Forced Ending, through The Gap, and to a New Beginning. While she will always miss her parents, and wish things had been different, she has found the strength to move forward. Her New Beginning is not what she expected as she studies in the States and prepares for her professional future. But it is life, and like those who will be changed by Hurricane Florence, eventually there will be a better day and a glimpse of a New Beginning.

When I was dealing with The Gap following my Chosen Ending of retirement from school nursing  (see Afraid of the Next Chapter)

I’d written in my journal the first day of the following academic year that it felt “empty” to not be going back. The following sentence read,

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

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Emerald Isle July ’18 New Beginning of a Wedding

That is the glimpse of the New Beginning. Knowing that you have moved into that next phase, still uncertain but strengthened by hope, that wonder of how God is working in your life. Totally surprised by the place you’ve landed, you trust in the bigger picture, that you’ll succeed where your feet are now planted.

Whether we arrive at the New Beginning after a Chosen or Forced Ending, we can accept that change as a new start, a place that will challenge us and produce growth.

After I was fired and I muddled in The Gap for a season, I returned to a position in school nursing. At first, I thought it was like I was going backwards since I wasn’t moving to a higher position in clinical trials—as I’d assumed would be my career path. But after a while, I saw that I was a different person since my experience with that toxic job while going through breast cancer treatment. I was stronger and I valued being in a supportive work group. I was more bold and spontaneous with my students and staff. There was a greater freedom to just be myself.

My hope for you, is that whatever Ending you’ve experienced, whatever your Gap has been like, that you’ll arrive at your New Beginning and feel the strength you’ve developed in the process. Knowing that within you is what you need to navigate the new start and that all around you there is support for the challenges.

Now, sitting at my computer and looking out my windows, the wind is blowing harder and the rain has started to fall. I fear that we could lose power before my usual Saturday post. So, I’ll send this to you early and ask for your good thoughts and prayers for North Carolina and all the areas impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Peace and Blessings to Everyone.

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How About You? 

What New Beginning have you experienced?

What strengths emerged that surprised you?

How do you look back on the Ending and the Gap now that you’ve experienced a New Beginning?

 

Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap

When I was a child, I loved finding hiding places. Among them would be a ditch-like den between two hills where I could sink down into that spot, not able to see ahead or behind. The earthen floor and walls were protection from cold and wind, providing a cozy place to play. In last week’s post, “Afraid of the Next Chapter,” I talked about my retirement from school nursing in light of Bridges’ three phases of change: Endings, The Gap, New Beginnings. I left you in The Gap, to sit with the process, that now reminds me of that childhood hiding place where, by choice, I could sit for a while.

My retirement from School Nursing was an Ending that I’d anticipated for many years. It was a change that I’d chosen. But sometimes Endings are not our choice; they are forced upon us, unexpected and unwanted, like death, divorce, or relocation because another family member has a new job. The forced ending that impacted my life right after I’d completed cancer treatment, was being fired from a job.

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Back then, I was trying to navigate working in a clinical trials research company with treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. Within two weeks of starting with that small company, I realized there were problems: negative relationships among the staff, working for a private business trying to survive in a competitive market, operating without the safety net of publicly funded hospitals and schools with their procedures and protocols that protect the client and employee.

I decided to continue my work with the research company and hope that things improved as I became more skilled in my new area of nursing. I’d give it a year, and if things weren’t better, I’d pursue a new job. But right when I was approaching that one year mark, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn’t leave. I had to keep working there to maintain my health insurance.

It was a real struggle through those eight months of treatment and working in the research company. Those experiences are at the center of my upcoming memoir, He Heard My Voice: A Midlife Mom’s Journey through Cancer and Stress and Her Unexpected Arrival at Healing and Wholeness. Things improved for a while after that eight months, but then there was a downward turn. One day I was called into the conference room for an unexpected meeting. The business manager and Tara, another nurse and my nemesis, sat down with me.

“Connie, things just aren’t working out for you here. We’ve all decided that today is your last day,” Tara told me.

What, just like that? You’re firing me?

 I was in shock, angry, stunned, indignant, shamed, and totally lost (I won’t go on now to tell you about the rest of that scene around the conference room table. You can read all the details in the book!).

While I had disliked a lot of things about working with that company, I wanted to leave when I chose to, not by their force.

The days after my firing, were filled with strong emotions, jags of crying, moments of relief, panicky uncertainty, and struggling with God. I walked the half-mile road of our rural neighborhood, what became my ‘track of travail’ and called out to God, “How could you allow this to happen to me?” “Haven’t I already been through enough with the cancer?”

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My sudden Ending at that company transitioned into The Gap, where I muddled through and often relived that scene around the table, feeling that anger, that rage, at Tara and the administrators that were behind the decision. Like the pit described in Psalm 40:2 (NIV), which I’d first experienced while working there and going through cancer, I felt like I’d fallen back in that dark hole after I was fired.

A pit. Kind of like a trench, a gap, a place deep in the earth.

With being fired from the job, it took a while in the pit of “mud and mire” to work through that loss and the attendant emotions. Gradually, God lifted me out and set my feet on a firm rock, a solid place to stand. It was then that I could see beyond the pit, from my secure position on the rock. I caught glimpses of what was ahead, of the promise of new beginnings.

While my forced ending was being fired from a job, you may have experienced another type of forced ending and landed in your unique pit of mud and mire. For all of us, it takes working through that muddy place, gradually being able to climb out, through the strength within us, through the support of others, through the mighty lifting by the hands of God.

 

 

And once we’re out of that pit, moving up from The Gap, we catch a glimpse of our New Beginnings.  We’ll wash off the caked mud and mire and step forward toward that place which we didn’t anticipate, we didn’t choose, but awaits us with fresh possibilities.

 

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Posts related to Research Job and Breast Cancer Treatment:

July 19, 2017 Into a Life

July 23, 2017 Navigating a Rough Road

July 30, 2017 Toxic Takeaway

 

How About You?

What Forced Endings have you experienced in your life?

How did you deal with that time in The Gap?

What did you learn during that time that has served you ever since?

 

 

Afraid of the Next Chapter

The week I retired from school nursing reminded me of the week I got married; unbelievable that it was my turn to enter a new chapter of life. I’d watched many of my friends retiring like I’d watched those who married before me, observing them for how to approach that new venture, going to them for advice. But ultimately, it felt a bit surreal and like I’d set the whole process in motion and couldn’t stop it now. It was awkward, like I wasn’t sure where I was stepping and while people told me about their experiences of retirement, I knew it was different for each person. I had to go it alone. While most of me was tired and ready for my new life, part of me was scared, afraid of the next chapter.

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With my friend, Debra who staged a first aid scene for me to walk into– thus the bandaids!

I was used to my routine as a school nurse, working the ten months of the academic year with two months off in summer; the daily rhythm of a middle school and the way time is measured there; the certainty of knowing where I would be for eight hours each weekday with little free time to fret about. I think that as much as I fight routine, there is a feeling of safety when things stay the same. It gives me a sense of control, of knowing where to place my feet instead of feeling like I’m off kilter.

Today, I’m reminded of this because the students headed back to school this weekLast August, my first year of not being at my school after fifteen years of that beginning-of-the-school-year-windup at McDougle, I’d written in my morning devotional book, “First day of school and I’m not there. Feels empty.”

I was in a waiting period, writing a lot, planning a trip, and hoping to hear back from a part-time job as a research nurse. I wrestled with how to spend my day without the familiar tasks of school nursing, feeling a bit uneasy for no apparent reason.

I remembered that we’d learned about helping clients with transitions in my Life Coaching program. Pulling out our textbook, I reviewed one model we’d studied that used a Map for Change by Bill Bridges. According to Linda Bark, the author of our text and creator of our program, Bridges model for change breaks the process into three phases: endings, the gap, and new beginnings.

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Textbook for the Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy

My school job had ended March 31, 2017. It was a wonderful and exhausting process with emotional goodbyes with coworkers who’d become family, cleaning out accumlated files from my twenty years in school nursing, meetings and paperwork with our HR department. I experienced the range of emotions described in my text: grief, sadness, relief, anxiety, and excitement.

But because I was so busy getting ready for retirement, with the fanfare of farewells and paperwork, the Endings phase had not hit me that hard. All the scheduled deadlines with the state retirement system, goodbye parties, meetings to pass on my responsibilities kept me preoccupied and there was little time for all those emotions to really sink in.

Until I was in the Gap.

That’s when Bridges says that “the old is gone but the new beginning is not yet formed.”

I’d thought I would establish a coaching business and a writing business during that intial period after leaving the school. I was so tired and at a loss for what to do next. Looking at those two goals, it came to me, “It’s not realistic to start two businesses simultaneously.” My coaching class had emphasized Underpromising when it came to weekly goals (described in post “Underpromising: Is that Settling” June 30, ’18). I’d never started a business and didn’t know all the steps involved.

The Gap phase can be muddy, trying to make your way in foreign waters without that old familiar course you followed on autopilot. It’s a time when you “sit with things” instead of rushing on to fix the uncertainty about the new chapter you’re entering.

I return to what I’d written in my devotional book, “First day of school and I’m not there. Feels empty.” and see the rest of my entry;

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

I will leave you with this until my next post. We’ll let ourselves Sit in the Gap, allowing that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings.

Like my wedding day, now forty years ago, we will trust the process as we approach a new chapter, that is both scary and exciting, with plot twists that we couldn’t anticipate.

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How about You?

Are you in a time of transition in your life?

How are you experiencing the Endings of that chapter? Have you moved into the Gap? If so, how is it for you?

Come Ride with Me

I’ve always been fascinated by trains. When I was a girl, there was a freight train that crossed through our farm. Sometimes it transported logs, and most of the time, we didn’t know what was carried in those boxcars. When I was in first grade, Mama and we three daughters boarded the train in our hometown of Sanford and rode an hour to Raleigh where Daddy met us. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the capitol city must have been festive with Christmas decorations. Our family ate at the S & W Cafeteria, taking the escalator up to the balcony, to look out over the place where Mama had once worked with her girlfriends.

Our parents wanted us to have the experience of riding on a train like they had. During WWII, Daddy would have ridden while in the army– in the U.S. and in Europe. Mama and her cousin, Yvonne joined other nineteen-year-old women, boarding their sleeper car in Fayetteville, North Carolina and traveling through the night to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That was where they learned skills to work as civil service employees at Pope Air Force Base.

After our trip to Raleigh, I was curious about the passengers when we waited at the crossing for a train. Where were they going ? Who awaited them at their destination? What adventures would they have there?  Seeing those travelers, forward-facing through the afternoon sun’s slant on the locomotive’s windows, I wanted to pack my suitcase and head out on a train.

Several years ago, I did that when I took my solo journey to Vermont by way of Amtrak. It would take about seventeen hours by train to travel the almost 750 miles from my home in North Carolina to my destination in Vermont. It was time to ride the rails.

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I was glad to let someone else do the driving after my long road trip the previous summer to Michigan. I didn’t have to pay attention to the route and I couldn’t get lost. On that Friday, I sat in the packed cabin with a little league team heading to D.C. for a Washington Nationals’ baseball game and families going there for a reunion–some of them wearing their t-shirts with their family name. It was a long ride and while I’d been north on I-95 to New York City and caught glimpses of communities and farmland, I hadn’t been by rail. From the train’s vantage point, I saw back alleyways with graffiti and the industries and lower income houses that were built along the tracks.

When the  Carolinian stopped at Penn Station in NYC, I got off to spend the weekend with my son, Ross. On Monday morning, I continued on by Amtrak to White River Junction, Vermont. Hostelling International had rooms in the historic Hotel Coolidge, built in 1879 as lodging for train travelers in the town that was a rail hub.

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While the trip on Amtrak gave me more of an appreciation for train travel, with the gentle rocking and muffled sound of the whistle giving warning as we approached, it was a bit of a let-down. I’d expected it to feel more like an adventure but most of the time the scenes outside my window were familiar and those forward-facing seats felt too tight and blocked my view of the cabin. I had some brief conversations with those sitting nearby, but most were sleeping or otherwise engaged on their phones or laptops. I knew I hadn’t booked a luxury train ride, but I thought it would have more of the allure that I’d felt when I was a girl.

Last September I had my first chance to ride trains in Europe. My husband and I took the Eurail from Paris to London. It was an enjoyable high speed ride at our table seat with interesting conversation with the travelers across the aisles. Because we were seeing the French and then the English countryside for the first time, it felt like that adventure I’d been yearning for when I took the Amtrak.

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After our days in London, we continued on to Edinburgh, Scotland– again by train but not with the luxury of a table and this time with a fussy child and inattentive parents sitting behind us.

After a days of touring, my husband and I parted in Edinburgh for him to return to the States and for me to go on my solo journey to Iona in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I felt like I had as a girl; I was on a trip of discovery. How I’d looked forward to visiting Scotland, homeland of my ancestors, and how I felt the anticipation build for my week with the Iona Community at The Abbey. What would it be like in our international group exploring the theme, “The Pilgrimage of Life”?

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I sat at a table seat and was joined by a Scottish couple across from me. They were so friendly and the man was eager to help, telling me about towns as we passed, suggesting places I should visit. A passenger across the aisle joined in our conversation, and when he learned I was going on a spiritual pilgrimage to Iona, he told me he was an Elder in his Presbyterian church in Glasgow. He wished me well when he got off near his hiking site.

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I took a video through the train window, not knowing how it would turn out since I’m not that experienced at video. But now, when I look at it, I’m transported to the inside of that Scotrail car, watching with fascination as I try to take in all I can of beautiful Scotland.

Come ride with me. Feel the steady rocking of the train as we speed along the hillside through the fresh morning air. Catch glimpses of the amazing countryside from inside that lively cabin with friendly passengers.

May this ride on a train transport you back to something you longed for in childhood and have realized as an adult.

 

How About You?

Did you have a fascination for trains or some other mode of travel as a child?

What was your experience of that when you were young and over the years?

If you’ve never gotten to explore that fascination, how could you do that now?

 

Let It Go

I rushed through the Hemmingway salad at lunch in order to get to the reason I’d come to the restaurant. A friend from Michigan suggested I stop in at Jesperson’s for a slice of cherry berry pie while I was visiting Petoskey on my solo journey that year. I’d ridden my bike along the Little Traverse Wheelway by the edge of Lake Michigan for most of the morning. Surely, I had worked off some of the calories in the piece of pie a la mode.

Before I bit into my dessert, I took a picture. I’m not a Foodie and rarely get photos of what I’m about to eat. But that pie sitting next to that cup of dark roast coffee looked like a perfect still life that would remind me of a sweet moment in downtown Petoskey. Biting into the pastry, it had that tartness of small cherries mixed with raspberries that I’d hoped for, countered by the sweetness of the filling and ice cream.

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Slowly eating the warm, freshly baked confection, it was a contrast to the bitter taste left by an interaction with a staff member in the art gallery down the street. Before coming in for lunch, I was browsing, checking out the works of Michigan artisans including pottery dishes, watercolors of the lake, knitted items and the one that caught my eye– a fiber art piece. The woman behind the counter asked if she could help.

“I really like this,” I said, and pointed to the fiber art. “Is the artist from Petoskey?” I asked, hoping to find out more, trying to strike up a conversation since traveling alone made me eager to talk with people along the way.

She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she responded, “You’re a visitor. I hear a little twang.”

I felt irritated, like I’d been put down by her word ‘twang’ which wasn’t how I’d describe my Southern accent.

“Yes, that’s right,” I said and smiled, trying to ignore what felt like a slight, and keep the conversation going.

She answered my question, saying the artist lived in Grand Rapids, then wrapped the fiber art and rang up my purchase. Simply Business.

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Fiber Art by Karen Godfrey

I felt irritated, prickled by her comment that made me feel like she’d poked fun at me. Why did I have to let such a little thing bother me?

I had an idea about that. Several years before I was talking with an acquaintance and we discovered that we both had a hard time just ‘going with the flow’ because we were too affected by all that surrounded us. She said to me,”I think you’re like me. You’re a HSP.” Seeing my confusion, she clarified, “It’s a Highly Sensitive Person. We’re that group that take things too seriously and can’t ignore stuff.”

She loaned me her book, The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron. Reading through it, taking the self-assessment test, I saw characteristics that were true of me: have a rich, complex inner life, easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input, other people’s moods affect me, as a child your parents or teachers saw you as sensitive or shy.

On my roadtrip to Michigan, I visited my cousin in Toledo for a couple of days. We had wonderful conversations, sitting on her screened porch in the early mornings, talking about Rosser family memories. She was ten years older than me and grew up in New Jersey. We laughed that both of us had been compared to our Aunt Polly who was ‘sensitive’ and like us, enjoyed art and were more fanciful than pragmatic.

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Shopping with my cousin Shirley

Now I took another forkful of pie, savoring the treat as long as possible. Maybe Shirley and Aunt Polly were HSPs, too, I thought. Since having my own two sons and seeing their unique traits, I believed that some things are nurtured and some things are provided by nature– how we’re uniquely made and family traits are handed down through our DNA.

Finishing with the final sip of coffee, I pulled the fiber art from the sack and examined my souvenir that I would hang above my writing desk. The serious girl, her photo transferred onto the fabric, reminded me of myself when I was young. Perhaps I was so accustomed to the regional ways of my Southern home that the comment by the Midwesterner in the gallery had made me bristle.

If part of my ‘true nature’ was being sensitive, then I needed to accept that and be grateful for the advantages and learn to live with the disadvantages– like we all do with our true natures.

Accepting all aspects of myself, I would appreciate the tart and the sweet, just like the piece of pie that I had polished off. When comments sounded abrasive to my sensitive ears, I could just tell myself, “Let It Go, Connie” and move on rather than allowing that slight to accumulate in my memory bank.

Now, the still life of the pie and coffee and the fiber art girl above my desk looking out at me, are reminders to “Let It Go,” a sweet memory from Michigan that I can carry along the way.

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Little Traverse Wheelway, Petoskey, Michigan

 

To Read More about HSPs:

Check out Elaine Aron’s work at Highly Sensitive Person.

How About You?

What are challenges you have with your temperment?

How can you accept all of yourself, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses that make up your true nature?

 

 

Hope and a Future

A new chapter in our lives began six years ago when Mama went to live at Parkview Retirement Village in Sanford, our hometown. That day when we three sisters took Mama and faced the reality that we could no longer keep her safely in her home, was one of the most difficult days of my life. But God gave me the hope I needed when I spotted a verse of Scripture tacked to the bulletin board, Jeremiah 29:11(NIV):

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

At the time, I was surprised by the verse being posted in a residence for elderly people with health problems, a place where they’d spend their last days. How could there be hope or a future in that place of decline?

Over those first months, Mama adapted to her new community. Always enjoying the company of others, she reached her hand out to touch fellow residents in greeting when she passed in her wheelchair. She offered some of her food to the women sitting next to her at meals. Staff loved Mama’s sweet smile and how she often laughed after saying something that wasn’t understandable to others, but seemed to be humorous—a tale she would have told back when her words were more intelligible.

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Mama at Parkview watching Bobby Flay

 I came to realize that six fellow classmates from my high school, were all experiencing this same phase of life with their mothers. We’d see each other, sometimes bringing in fresh laundry, or in the dining room coaxing them to eat, or pushing them in their wheelchairs. We jokingly said we could have a high school reunion at Parkview.

Mama and I got to know most of their mothers. We’d stop our stroll down the hall  and visit in their rooms. I learned that Beth’s mother had been a math teacher and Darrell’s had been in a canasta group in her neighborhood. Visits with Sue’s mom, Joanne were always entertaining as she told us about raising and training dogs. She had a special love for Golden Retrievers, and while Joanne couldn’t remember many things, she could list the names of the five Goldens’ she’d had over the years. When my Madison was living, it was a special joy to take her to visit Joanne who asked me once to let her keep Madison, saying, “You know I’d take good care of her.”

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Madison visiting at Parkview

My classmate, Randall, visited his mother on the locked Memory Unit of Parkview then went by to visit his best friend, and our classmate, Bragg’s mother, Pauline.

Back when we were growing up, I would have called her Mrs. Cox. But since meeting her as an adult, befriending her at this point in life, Mama and I know her as Pauline. What I didn’t realize until our visits, was that Pauline and my father were in the same first grade class, in the same school as Bragg and me. I remember the first time she told me about knowing Daddy.

“In our first-grade class he sat in a row to the side of mine. He was nice looking and quiet,” she said. I could imagine our classroom in that school building with the high ceilings and creaky wooden floors, the clanking of the radiators in the winter.

Pauline and Daddy were born in 1920, and now as she approaches her 98thbirthday, I’m amazed at how well she’s doing, at her memory of past and recent events. Pauline’s very kind towards Mama and listens when she tries to add to the conversation.

On one occasion, we happened to visit Pauline when Bragg was there. How good it was to see him, the first time since our thirty-fifth high school reunion. He hadn’t changed much since we were teens, appearing healthy and doing well.

Back in May when Mama and I went to see Pauline, she was disappointed that Bragg couldn’t visit her for Mother’s Day because he wasn’t feeling well.

Then on a Saturday in mid-June, she told us she had bad news.

“Bragg has thyroid cancer. They took him immediately to surgery and have started chemo,” she said. “It makes him really sick.”

We sat there in her room, quiet, Mama watching Pauline as she sat in her chair in shock and disbelief.

“I wanted to go see him but he says he’s too sick. He wants me to wait until he’s feeling and looking better.”

I could only imagine how hard it was for her to not be able to see her son, her mother urge to comfort her boy being thwarted. She said Randall had researched thyroid cancer and it seemed to be very treatable.

“Bragg has always taken such good care of himself. He thinks he’ll be better in a few weeks,” she said, “And he probably will. I just have to wait.”

She talked about him as a child, how they’d always been close, planting the garden together, playing games when he was home from school on sick days.  She remembered he’d worn a fashionable-for-the-seventies, plaid tuxedo jacket to our prom. I was amazed that Pauline could still recall the name of the girl who was his date.

The next time we visited her, we joined Randall, and Pauline’s daughter and son-in-law.

“Come on in,” Pauline greeted us, seeing my hesitance to interrupt. “I always love seeing y’all.”

After we settled in, positioning Mama in the wheelchair so she was part of the circle, I sat on the side of Pauline’s bed next to Randall, and he told us that they’d just been getting an update on Bragg.

“He says he wants to go to hospice now, Connie. They’ve done all they can do,” Pauline said, then shook her head and continued. “Sometimes we just have to hope and pray.”

We sat together and tried to rally our hope, commenting that his physicians at Duke did  amazing work, that Bragg was getting the best care possible. It was a difficult conversation, but we were all together in that place, providing a community of tenderness at a tough time.

The next week I made a point of inviting another classmate, Donna, to join us for our visit with Pauline. Donna had been Bragg’s girlfriend from first until fifth grade. Pauline had often mentioned she’d like to see Donna. For a short while, Pauline was distracted from her worry by talking about Bragg and Donna’s elementary courtship. Randall joined us that night for our visit and for a little while we got to escape the sadness of Bragg’s illness and tell funny stories of childhood.

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Friends since First Grade– Connie, Randall, Donna

The next day, Randall called me to tell me Bragg had gone into a coma. Soon after that, Bragg died. It was hard to believe our classmate was gone.

I felt badly for Pauline’s pain. While it was wonderful that at ninety-seven she had an amazing mental ability, the down side of that was she was fully aware of losing her son. When Mama’s brother had died a year ago, she was spared the suffering of that, the only bright spot of dementia.

The next time we visited Pauline, after we hugged she said, “I just can’t believe it. The doctor said there are three types of thyroid cancer and he had the bad kind.”

She talked about the one visit they had while he was at the hospice facility, when he appeared to be improving. But soon, she returned to her better memories.

“I just have to remember all the good times. He was a wonderful son.”

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Visiting with Pauline

I think back to the Jeremiah verse and the memories of the past six years since bringing Mama to Parkview. Her future and our future since that time has been filled with lots of interactions in her new community. It has helped me to know my classmates through getting to know their mothers, as we’ve shared this phase of life while we’ve become seniors ourselves.

We have had a ‘high school reunion’ while we’ve provided each other support and dealt with the realities of aging, of losses, expected and unexpected.

 

How about You?

How have you helped to provide hope for someone in your community?

How has that experience impacted your life?