When It Rains It Pours

The saying, “When it rains it pours,” would best describe what I am feeling right now and explains my blogging absence the past week and perhaps in the next few weeks.

I’ve always been committed to being honest and transparent with you in my blogs and this blog will be no different.

I have been journeying with my dad through some very serious health challenges over the past two years. In fact, I’ve written about it in some of my past blogs. Over the last few weeks his health has been declining and after several unexpected trips to the hospital emergency room over the weekend we finally got to the bottom of his issues on Monday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news.

My dad has cancer in his rectum, liver and bones. The cancer is too advanced for treatments and it is predicted that he has “weeks” left to live.

As you can imagine, it was devastating news to hear. As surreal as the moment felt at the time, I also felt like I was always meant to be there in THAT moment.

For years I wondered why I was born into the family that I was. Growing up in a family with six other siblings I always felt different from the rest of them. I didn’t feel better than them – just different. I just never knew exactly how or why. Until Monday…

Sitting in the doctor’s office with my parents and hearing the devastating news with them finally gave me my answer. I was meant to be in this family for THAT particular moment. It was a spiritual experience being with them and sharing tears, worries, apprehensions, and even laughter together. While the moment will always be etched in my mind as a very sad moment, it is also a moment filled with gratitude and purpose. I now know why I belong in my family.

But, it doesn’t end there…

My Mom was diagnosed with a severe heart condition a few weeks ago. The main valve to her heart is leaking blood and pooling around her heart. Surgery is the only option to repair it. I will be doctoring with her later this week to talk more about how we will proceed forward with her care.

So, yeah. I’m not going to lie. It’s alot to deal with right now and all on the heels of my husband’s passing in April. Thankfully I am able to see all the blessings right now and I feel extremely grateful to be able to walk side-by-side with my parents as they face some of the toughest times in their life.

I have stepped away from my full-time work for the time being. My intention is to be with my parents as much as I am able to and enjoy every minute that I get to spend with them.

I felt it was important to let you know why you haven’t heard from me in the past few weeks and might not for a while longer. As always, thank you so much for your understanding.

Until the next time, hug your loved ones, say, “I love you”, often and practice kindness and compassion to others. You never know if it might be the last chance you have to do so.

P.S. In honor of my dad, I am re-sharing the blog I published on December 9 that speaks about the father he was and still is to me…

Giving the Gift Back

My Dad, Leland, with my grandson and his namesake, Hudson Leland, on his 90th brithday in May.

Building an Awesome Championship Team

What makes you so awesome?

Are you kind, gentle, strong, resilient, caring, assertive, hard-working, reliable, honest, practical, responsible, loyal, mature, creative, consistent, appreciative, capable, quick, sensitive, perceptive, patient, thoughtful, fit, trustworthy, motivated or versatile?

What if you asked your students or those you work with what makes them so awesome? What would their answer be?

I am choosing to assume that you and they are all awesome in some way – if not in many ways. What we choose to assume about people matters.

Many times we approach the improvement process with ourselves and others by identifying weaknesses or areas of need and then working on those. While we shouldn’t ignore our weaknesses, solely focusing on them is not the most helpful. What we focus on most can eventually become our reality and what we believe about ourselves or others.

There are numerous theories or approaches that focus on personal strengths, rather than weaknesses. The strategy with most all of them is to identify our areas of strength and then work to capitalize on them. The idea is to celebrate what is already awesome and figure out how to replicate it consistently over time. This approach taps into what motivates us to do good and be good – pride, self-worth, feeling valued and being a positive contributor. When we feel good about who we are and what we do, we are much more likely to work harder and do better.

I assume you serve and work with students and parents who already know what their positive strengths are. But, some of them are reserved and they go below the radar. They certainly don’t walk around tooting their own horn. It’s important for you to create opportunities for them to share their talents and passions and sometimes “toot their horn” for them.

You have other students who don’t have much confidence, aren’t aware of their strengths and they don’t view themselves as awesome. You need to build them up. If you are able to recognize their awesome qualities and validate them consistently, they will more likely view themselves in more positive ways and act differently.

I also believe that when you sincerely ask someone, “What makes you so awesome?”, it sends a strong message to them about you. I’ve learned that when you assume good things about others, it serves to strengthen your relationship with them. It characterizes you as someone who cares about and appreciates them and it can reinforce a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

Try embracing this mindset as you are interacting with your students or  others you interact with on a regular basis. Each of them adds value, has something to offer and makes your classroom, group, workplace, organization or community stronger because of their awesomeness.

Michael Jordan was a great basketball player in the 80’s – even winning an MVP award. But his team didn’t start winning championships until the 90’s. That is when he started making the players around him better.

YOU and all of your “awesomeness” can and will make a difference in the lives of others. But, you will make an even bigger impact if you recognize and validate what makes those around you also awesome. Validate their “awesomeness” at every turn and let them shine. We’re not interested in individual MVP awards. We’re interested in team championships!

Now, let me ask you again, “What makes you so awesome?”

4,500 Planes Crash, Killing 617,547 People and Leaving 5.5 Million Grieving

The newspaper headline on June 22, 2021, reads, “4,500 Planes Crash in the Last 15 Months in the United States, Killing 617,547 People, Leaving 5.5 Million Grieving.”

The headline is a bit misleading, but mostly true.

While there hasn’t actually been 4,500 plane crashes in the past 15 months, it would take that many to kill the number of people who have actually died from the coronavirus in 15 months. As of yesterday (June 22, 2021), there have been 617,547 COVID-related deaths reported in the United States and the number continues to increase each day.

Research shows that for every person who died from COVID, there were at least 9 surviving close family members whose lives were impacted by their death. If you stop and do the math, it means the ripple effect of 617,547 people dying impacted at least 5.5 million people.

Take a moment and think about these numbers.

5.5 million people in the United States have lost a loved one in the last 15 months due to the coronavirus. That’s a lot of people who have experienced death and loss in a short period of time.

Perhaps you are even one of them.

Wrapped up in the 5.5 million are a substantial number of people, including kids, who lost parents that would be considered younger adults and a substantial number of people who lost spouses who were in their 50s or 60s. There are a lot of children growing up in grandparent-led homes who experienced the loss of not just a grandparent, but also their caretaker. And, also wrapped up in the statistics are people who not only dealt with one loss, but multiple losses.

COVID-19 grief has been unlike anything else. There’s never been a time in our history when people have had loved ones die and weren’t able to say goodbye, weren’t able to have a funeral and weren’t able to grieve collectively.

Healthy grief needs community. We are not meant to be islands of grief. In normal times of grief and loss, we have people showing up and taking care of one another. During the pandemic, all of that was absent. Grief is isolating in a normal world, but during the pandemic it was extremely isolating.

Imagine if 4,500 planes had really crashed these past 15 months and 5.5+ million surviving loved ones’ grief went unwitnessed. You can expect that over time we would see a lot of compounded grief, complicated grief and trauma with them.

 
 

As I shared in my last recent blogs, my husband passed away unexpectedly on April 28. What I didn’t share with you is that despite being fully vaccinated and testing negative for COVID numerous times upon being hospitalized, he had COVID-like symptoms and was treated much like a COVID patient. His illness started with a chronic cough, fever, chills and exhaustion. Quickly, it turned into not being able to breathe. By the time he entered the hospital, his lungs were severely infected with pneumonia, he was septic, and eventually, he had to be intubated.

I remember being in the hospital room and feeling very overwhelmed by the sounds of the ventilator helping him breathe. Despite being heavily sedated, the medical team encouraged us to still talk to him as he could very likely hear us and know of our presence. So, we did.

As difficult as it was communicating with him without him having the ability to communicate back with us, I and my children were blessed to be by his side and for him to know we were there with him. There were many times I thought about all the people who were hospitalized with COVID, fighting the same fight as my husband, but doing it alone. They didn’t have their loved ones standing by their bedside encouraging, supporting, praying, comforting and caring for them or worst yet, present in their final moments of life.

I can’t imagine losing my husband the way many lost their husbands, wives or partners to COVID. I can’t imagine my children losing their father the way many kids lost their fathers or mothers or grandparents to COVID.

Trust me. Experiencing grief and loss in normal times is hard. Experiencing grief and loss during the pandemic, however, had to be unimaginably hard – if not almost impossible to process.

The toll COVID-related deaths has had on family members is still being documented, but new research is suggesting the damage is enormous. Bereaved individuals have become the secondary victims of COVID-19, reporting severe symptoms of traumatic stress, including helplessness, horror, anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt and regret – all of which magnify their grief. Not being there in a loved one’s time of need, not being able to communicate with family members in a natural way, not being able to say goodbye, not participating in normal rituals — all this makes bereavement more difficult and prolonged grief disorder and post-traumatic stress more likely.

Yelena Zatulovsky, vice president of patient experience at Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, the nation’s fifth-largest hospice provider, said, “Typically, 5% to 10% of bereaved family members have a “trauma response,” but that has “increased exponentially — approaching the 40% range — during the pandemic.”

As you return to more and more in-person programming and services for children and families, be conscientious of how many of them experienced a loss during the pandemic, who may not have had the opportunity to process their grief in a healthy or normal way and are dealing with a “trauma response.”

As someone who is personally experiencing grief and loss herself, here are some insights and tips I have learned and found beneficial when interacting with someone who has lost a loved one:

    • Respect the grief process. It is a personal and individual experience and can be different from one person to the next.
    • There is no timeline for grief.
    • Practice patience and be understanding with those who act out negatively as a way to cope with their grief.
    • Allow opportunities to talk about the person who died through one-on-one conversations or support groups.
    • Remember that not everyone will process their grief verbally. Music, art and writing are other ways to express what they are feeling.
    • Listen without judgement.
    • Validate feelings and experiences without pretending to understand or empathize if you haven’t experienced grief yourself, especially during the pandemic.
    • If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all. Sometimes actions, such as a hug or a gentle touch, can mean more.
    • If you ask someone how they are doing, be ready to give your time and ear to hear how they are REALLY doing.

While we didn’t actually experience 4,500 planes crashes these past 15 months, we did have 617,547 people die and 5.5 million loved ones left behind to grieve in isolation. Treat yourself with kindness, compassion and grace if you are one of the 5.5 million grieving. And, if you know of someone who is grieving, treat them also with kindness, compassion and grace. Let’s end the isolation and create a community of support. It’s what we all need right now – grieving or not.

P.S. Here are some additional resources for you, especailly if you are working with grieving kids:

Understanding Grief and Loss: An Overview

How to Help a Grieving Child

Helping Grieving Children and Teens

To Process Grief Over COVID-19, Children Need Empathetic Listening

I Don’t Know

After experiencing the birth of my grandson on April 19, followed by the unexpected death of my husband ten days later, it would have been easy for me to hide behind the words of my blog by continuing to write as if nothing had happened. I could have chosen to not let you know the pain, loss and sadness I was experiencing. Rather, I chose not to and decided to be transparent and honest with you in my blog on May 5. I am thankful that I was.

If you didn’t know, then I would have never experienced the comfort and peace felt in the condolences so many of you expressed upon hearing the news. Your messages did not go unnoticed or unread. I saved every one of them and have read and re-read them in the past weeks. Thank you for your words of hope and reassurance.

If you didn’t know, then I would have felt obligated to continue working and writing, while also tending to the details of my husband’s death and managing the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of myself and my family. This would have been impossible and even detrimental to do – even for someone like myself who can manage a lot at one time and who is known to be a ‘strong’ person. Thank you for giving me the time to grieve and to not worry about showing up in your Inbox.

If you didn’t know, then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to share with you some of what I have learned through this traumatic experience. It’s a really hard way to learn valuable life lessons, but in hindsight, I am grateful for it and feel obligated to share some of what I have learned. So, thank you for allowing me to continue sharing my blog with you every two weeks and the valuable insights I have gained through this experience that I hope benefit you, both personally and professionally.

One thing I have been reminded of this past month is how much we really don’t know is going on in the lives of others – whether it be our colleagues, students, clients, friends or even our own family members. It’s not because we don’t care or take the time to ask. It’s because we all choose what we share and don’t share with others. There will always be an element of privacy in our lives and consequently, there will always be people in our lives who will not know what is really going on with us.

And, I will be the first to admit…

I really don’t know what is going on with you. I don’t know what you have also had to go through and endure.

I don’t know about that time you had family stuff going on in your life and you really needed to take time off from work and stay home, but you went to work anyway.
 
I don’t know about that time you had a disastrous day, but you still smiled and did your work with a positive attitude.
 
I don’t know about that time someone had a terrible attitude, but you responded with grace and compassion because you figured they had something else going on.
 
I don’t know about that time you did something special for someone else, not for the recognition or praise, but because you cared about them.
 
I don’t know about all the times you rose above your own fears and anxieties to do what’s best for someone else.
 
I don’t know about the times you have experienced loss and grief and felt you couldn’t move on and yet, you found the strength to do it.
 

You do remarkable things, compassionate things, challenging things, and sometimes mundane things, every day. I don’t always know about them. But, I DO know they matter. They matter to others. They matter to me.

Thank you for inspiring and motivating me with your many unknown acts of strength, kindness and compassion.

From Good News to Sad News

I would have never thought I would have two blogs back-to-back that would announce one of the most joyous occasions in my life to one of the saddest. My last blog to you, Filling Some Big Shoes as a Grandparent, announced the birth of my first grandchild, Hudson. Today, I announce the unexpected death of my husband, Neal. He passed away ten days after the birth of our grandchild and was unable to meet him in person due to being ill. This is more than than my heart can take right now and focusing on work has been almost impossible. I just wanted to send you this quick message to let you know that if your Inbox is missing a blog from me for awhile, you will know why.

Until the next time,

Kathleen

Filling Some Big Shoes as a Grandparent

Some of my fondest memories growing up are those of my grandparents. Coming out of school at the end of the day and seeing my grandpa waiting to drive us home was always a fun and welcome surprise! I can still hear our screams when Grandma would pop the cork on a bottle of her homemade root beer before serving us root beer floats. In the summer they would sit through the heat and humidity and applaud and cheer as they watched us swim and show off our new swimming skills and tricks. I think about how they hosted all of us grandkids for overnight stays and made it look so easy, even though it was chaotic, loud and messy. I could go on and on and on about all the wonderful memories I have of my grandparents.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the important role my grandparents played in my life. There was no place safer and more fun than Grandma and Grandpa’s home. They offered a buffer zone of security, affection and attention. They had tons of patience and oodles of time to play games and go places with me. When I was naughty and being scolded by my parents they would smile and wink – reassuring me they still loved me.

In past blogs, I have written about the importance of positive parent-child relationships in the social and emotional development of children. There are countless research studies and statistics that highlight the many benefits that come from strong parent-child bonds. What isn’t always recognized, however, is the positive impact that a close relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can have on the happiness and wellbeing of the entire family. Simply put, having grandparents around is good for everyone.

Unfortunately, not all children grow up with grandparents who are actively engaged in their lives. And, just as not all parents are positive role models for their kids, the same can be true with grandparents. In these instances, any older positive adult can play the role of grandparent in the life of a child. So, when I use the word, “grandparent”, it can mean a blood relative or someone who isn’t. What is important is that every child has a positive relationship or bond with an older adult who they look to as a grandparent.

Living through the pandemic this past year and being physically separated and isolated has made us realize just how important a healthy connection between a grandchild and his or her grandparent is and how beneficial it is to both sides of the relationship. It will come as no great surprise to learn that most grandparents feel happier spending time with their grandchildren. However, it is more than just a good feeling as it can have huge benefits for their psychological health. The closer the bond, the stronger the anti-depressive benefits. A study at Boston College found that “an emotionally close relationship between grandparent and grandchild is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.”

A positive connection between grandparents and grandchildren can benefit both in many ways.

Grandparents truly impact their grandchildren’s lives.

Studies show that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their beliefs and values. A child’s perspective of what constitutes a healthy, normal relationship is shaped by the relationship he or she holds with a grandparent. Through regular contact, a sense of emotional intimacy and unwavering support, children can experience what a true, positive relationship should look like.

Grandparents offer an affordable childcare option.

Oftentimes grandparents play a vital role in raising their grandchildren. Some are custodial grandparents who have taken over the parenting role entirely. Some provide free or less costly child care for their grandchildren while parents are working. Other grandparents fill in the gaps when parents are incarcerated, serving in the military or struggling with substance use or other mental health issues.

Grandparents have a great amount of experience.

Grandparents are a valuable resource because they have so many stories and experiences from their own lives to share. Children are more likely to listen to grandparents even when they are not listening to their parents or other adults. Research shows that hearing stories about family members overcoming hardship can actually help children become less discouraged when they face hardships. Whether they are informative, humorous or tragic, or told at bedtime, around a campfire or kitchen table, hearing stories about our own grandparents’ lives can teach us important life lessons.

Grandparents are teachers and students.

When grandchildren and grandparents have a close relationship, they can expand each other’s knowledge base. Grandparents have a wealth of life experiences and knowledge to share with their grandchildren. Likewise, grandchildren can also teach their grandparents a lot by keeping them up to date on current news, trends and technology and help them learn new skills and knowledge.

Grandparents connect us to our heritage.

Grandparents help to connect their grandchildren to the past. Children understand more of who they are and where they come from through their connection with their grandparents and the traditions that are passed down to each generation. Traditions help children feel secure, give them a sense of family identity and let them know that they are a part of something larger than the individual.

Grandparents provide a sense of security.

Especially during tough times, having an extra layer of support can make a big difference in a child’s life. Studies have shown that close grandparent-grandchild relationships during the teenage years are associated with less behavioral and emotional problems and fewer social difficulties with peers. Grandparents offer an extra ear when kids need someone to talk to. Sometimes children find it easier to open up and share their difficulties and problems with their grandparents.

Grandparents provide unconditional love.

Many grandparents report that they weren’t prepared for the overwhelming surge of unconditional love they felt with their newborn grandchild. While parents are the most important source of unconditional love, parental love can sometimes be complicated. It tends to be all bound up with hopes and expectations and ambitions for their children. The love of a grandparent is a little simpler. Grandparents have usually lived long enough to know that our lives seldom go in a straight-line trajectory toward success and without making mistakes along the way. We all falter and fall back, and at those times, we need a little extra love and encouragement. A close relationship with grandparents helps grandchildren grow in confidence. It makes them feel worthy. It makes them feel loved – no matter what.

In summary, there are many benefits for a grandparent and a grandchild when a positive relationship forms between the two of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the relationship I had with my grandparents and the positive influence they had on my life. It’s been on my mind a lot because…

I became a grandparent for the first time on Monday!

I’M A GRANDMA! WOO HOO!!!

Amidst all the joy that comes with earning the title of, “Grandma,” I am also overwhelmed with the sense of responsibility it brings. I want to be the kind of grandparent to my grandson as my grandparents were to me, but the shoes feel SO big to fill!

In past blogs I’ve talked about the influence a parent can have on their own kids through their own modeling of behavior and how we tend to parent the way we were parented. The blog, The Gift That Keeps on Giving, speaks directly to this overall message…How you parent is a gift that will keep on giving in the years to come.

Well, the same is true with grandparenting. We tend to grandparent the way our grandparents did with us. The modeling of positive behavior from one generation of grandparents to the next is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids and grandkids.

I have been fortunate to see how the gift of grandparenting keeps on giving from one generation to the next in my own family. My father learned how to be a grandfather from one of the best – his father. I witnessed my dad doing many of the same things as a grandfather to my two children, as my grandpa did with me. I realized this week just how much of a positive influence my dad had on my son when I learned he and his wife named my new grandson after him. Having their son be the namesake of his great grandfather is a powerful gesture of the love and respect they have for him.

Being a grandparent may come with some big shoes to fill. But, having role models who have shown me how to wear the shoes and grow into them will eventually create a perfect fit for me and give me a pair of shoes that someday I can pass on as a gift to my grandkids. In the meantime, let the fun of being a grandma begin!

REFLECT: Think about the positive ways your grandparents have influenced your life. If your grandparents are still living, take the time to tell them how they have impacted your life and what you appreciate the most about them. If you are a grandparent or hope to be someday, what did your grandparents do that you would like to also do with your grandkids? If your job is working with kids, find ways to engage and support their grandparents in your work or programming.

Here’s a blog you may have missed or want to read again that adds more perspective to today’s blog:

Giving the Gift Back

Preparing for the Transition Into Summer

It struck me that moving from March to April last week means we will soon be winding down the school year and gearing up for summer break.

This is usually a time when we begin to feel the excitement and anticipation of summer. Kids begin to dream about and plan for their favorite summer activities – time in the pool or on the beach with friends, going to the ballpark for games, taking vacations, attending county fairs, visiting amusement parks or going to summer camps. It’s a time of year that offers kids a new routine – time away from school and more free and unstructured time. It’s a transition that is usually welcomed by both kids and adults alike.  

For many of us, summer break can’t come soon enough. It’s been a long and exhausting school year for everyone – teachers, parents and kids alike. But, for some, it might feel like summer break started last March and hasn’t yet ended.

Kids who have been able to return to school in-person may be more ready and excited for a summer break than kids who have been learning virtually this school year. For kids who have been learning at home this year, the idea of summer vacation may not bring the same excitement or anticipation it usually does. It may be the continuation of a similar routine they have been in for the past year.

While life begins to move to some normalcy for many, it brings its own challenges – even for kids, and, even during summer break. Re-entry or the transition into normal summer activities may cause anxiety or fear for some kids who have been socially isolated or disconnected this past year. Some families may not have the resources or financial means to provide extracurricular activities for their kids during the summer which could extend the free and unstructured time at home to be even longer.

Preparing students in these final months of school for the transition into summer will be important. There are a lot of great ideas you can find online of projects and activities you can do with students at any age to facilitate this transition. Here are a few of my favorite ideas to help you get started:

Wall of Transition

Designate a wall in your classroom, school or organization and have students fill it with thoughts, words, poetry, song lyrics, photos or images about their celebrations, challenges, strengths and hopes from the past year, as well as their upcoming summer. Add to the wall every week until the end of the school year. You can prime them beforehand by asking questions like:

What did you learn about yourself this past year?

What was your greatest achievement this past year?

What people or experiences did you miss the most?

What is one positive habit you started that you want to continue?

What has made you happy?

What do you hope for this summer?

If you could choose a book, movie, or song that most resembles your life right now, what would it be?

Box of Affirmations

Have students write affirmations to themselves. It can be a letter, short note or just a few words. It needs to be positive, encouraging and affirming. You may need to give them some examples to get them started. Another twist on this idea is to have your students write affirmations to each other. Place the affirmations in a box for each student. On the last day of school, give each student their box of affirmations. If you start this activity now and do it several times a week, they will have 30 to 40 positive thoughts or validations they can read each day during the summer.

Summer Bucket List

When the routines and structures of the school year end some students may find that summer downtime is boring or depressing. Have each student make a bucket list of things they would like to do or accomplish during the summer. You can also help them by brainstorming, as a group, summer activity options or ideas for rainy days. Encourage students to use the summer break to also delve into their interests, passions and strengths.

Emotional First Aid Kit

Creating an emotional first aid kit with students is critical so they end the school year with a plan and some security in case they experience loneliness, sadness or despair over the summer. Here are some points to have them think about in planning their own tool kit:

  • Who are two people you trust that you are able to connect with during the summer break?
  • Are there adults you will see over the summer who support you and share in your well-being?
  • Do you have their contact information?
  • Have you established a safe place where you can go if you are fearful, worried or anxious about anything?

Having a summer that provides opportunities for social activities, connections with friends and family, self-care and good ‘ole summer fun is something we all deserve and need – even our kids. The more we can help them plan and prepare for a positive summer experience, the more they will look forward to it and will more likely achieve it. Better yet, ensuring our students have a positive summer experience also increases the likelihood they will return in the fall with a more refreshed and optimistic outlook for what we all hope is the return of a normal school year.

 

I Wonder

I will confess. My blog is coming to you a day later than usual. It’s the first time in a long time I’m publishing my blog late.

It’s interesting that even though my blog deadline is a self-imposed deadline, not meeting it really bothers me. I guess it’s the side of me that needs to follow through on goals, do what I say I’m going to do and give 110% effort on everything I do. Lately though, I’ve found myself falling short of these things. I’ve been in a funk and it’s one that feels somewhat familiar to me. It’s the same funk I remember being in at this time last year as I was transitioning into a life with COVID-19.  

As an increasing number of citizens are getting vaccinated and more states are seeing a drop in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to coronavirus, we are beginning to see some forms of pre-COVID life return. More states, including mine, are lifting many of the restrictions we have been living under for over a year now. Whether it’s the right thing to do or the best time to do it, is up for debate. Regardless, it’s happening.

For the last 12 months we have yearned for what’s happening in some of our states today. We have yearned to be told we can send our kids back to school safely. We have yearned to visit our loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living centers. We have yearned to attend sporting events. We have yearned to worship in-person. We have yearned to return to the workplace with our colleagues. We have yearned to eat in a restaurant, exercise at the gym or attend a concert. We have yearned to take the family vacation we had to cancel. We have yearned for the day when we can meet in-person and not virtually.  

Many of the things we have yearned for are now happening or are available to some of us. And, yet, we aren’t all reacting to it with the, “WOO HOO!”, we imagined we would.

As much as we all struggled to transition into a life with COVID-19 a year ago, some of us are struggling to transition into a life where COVID-19 isn’t controlling everything we do, and eventually a life without COVID-19. Transitions are hard. Switching up routines can be challenging. Changing habits requires time, motivation and effort.

I am in a time of transition. I am being challenged to re-think the way I have lived my life this past year with COVID-19. I’m reflecting on what I’ve been doing, how I’ve been doing it, who I’ve been doing it with or without, where I’ve been doing it and how it might all change – again.

I wonder…

    • Will having more in-person interaction drain or build my energy level?
    • Will virtual meetings be of necessity or something of convenience?
    • Will I protect my calendar with white space or fill it up to be as full as it once was?
    • Will I dread having to dress up and leave my home or look forward to it?
    • Will I continue to wear a mask, even if not mandated, or banish them?
    • Will my social skills be more like…riding a bike – a skill, that once learned, is never forgotten…or more like…playing an instrument at a high mastery level – a skill that if not practiced regularly over time diminishes or is completely lost?
    • Will some relationships I had continue to be important in my life, be less important or not important at all?
    • Will I live life with more gratitude or resentment?
    • Will I say, “I love you,” more often or let it go unspoken?
    • Will I adapt my new routines back to some of my old routines? Will I go to the gym three times a week? Will I get up early and attend worship in-person?
    • Will resuming family gatherings be something I look forward to or dread?
    • Will I have become more self-minded or community-minded?
    • Will I continue practicing good hygiene habits or slack on them?
    • Will technology play an even bigger role in my daily life or will I set personal limits or boundaries?
    • Will I continue doing most of my shopping online or will I return to in-person retail shopping?
    • Will I continue keeping my closets organized or my yard in pristine condition or say, “To heck with it!”
    • Will COVID-19 become an excuse or still a valid reason?

Yeah. I’ve been wondering a lot about how I will live life in a post-COVID world someday. Maybe you have been, too. While we are by no means fully there and won’t be for a good long while, the shift towards it is beginning. And, as the transition continues, it will shake up the life we have settled into this past year.

All of this reminds me of the blog I wrote on March 18, 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, entitled, “Shake Up.” I started it by writing:

“We’re living through a very difficult time right now. Anxiety, stress, isolation and fear of the unknown seems to have invaded many of our lives in a short period of time. The coronavirus has shaken up our lives. It has shaken up our routines. It has shaken up our jobs. It has shaken up our investments and bank accounts. It has shaken up our social calendar. It has shaken up our families. It has shaken up our relationships and connection with others. I’m going to be honest. I wonder what this “shake up” means in our lives…”

It’s interesting how a year ago I was in the same state of wonder I find myself in today.

I think what I am struggling with now is seeing how the “shake up” we experienced a year ago HAS really changed our lives and will continue to into the future. Just as we experienced anxiety, stress and fear of the unknown at the start of the pandemic, we are experiencing some of the same feelings as we transition into a life of unknowns out of the pandemic. We are experiencing a new “shake up” and while it isn’t as abrupt as the one we experienced a year ago, it is still a shake up, and one that still leaves me to wonder.

As we move through this time of transition, perhaps it’s the words I wrote at the end of my blog on March 18, 2020, that we all, including me, need to be reminded of:

“Your world may be shaken up right now, but you will get through it. Practice patience. Grant yourself grace. Relax. Focus on what and who is important to you. Stay connected with loved ones. Take one day at a time and have faith that time will figure all things out.”

Lessons Learned: Writing the Narrative

Cue this week in March a year ago when our lives were abruptly put on hold and we were restricted from leaving our homes and seeing our loved ones. It feels like yesterday AND a lifetime ago. No matter who you are or where you live we all had to stop and face the unexpected and unknown challenges ahead of us.

Little did we know the challenges would continue into the same week a year later.

This past year forced us to endure a lot – isolation, uncertainty, hopelessness, fear, loss, insecurity, grief, frustration and loneliness.

On the flip side, this last year was also transformative. It forced creativity and flexibility and a new way of thinking, doing and being. We adapted and we learned.

 

Slow down.

I remember removing scheduled activities, meetings and obligations from my calendar and watching it go from being a page of solid black to a blank, white page. I can’t recall seeing my calendar that empty for a long, long time. Going from a 100 mph pace to 5 mph (if even that) was a shock to all of our systems. It seemed almost impossible to do at the time, but we did it. For me, I came to appreciate the “pause” in my life and am now grateful for the time. It serves as a reminder for all of us to protect our time and leave some white space on our calendar.  

Expect change.

The only certainty is uncertainty. We have learned, not only to accept change, but to expect it. We need to always have a plan, but be prepared to change and ditch those plans. And we need to embrace the surprises and detours along the way for not all change is a bad thing.

Go with the flow.

For those of us who are routine people and who thrive with a schedule and daily “check off” lists, we felt  “lost in the desert” when the pandemic struck. Without a roadmap, we were aimlessly roaming in ways that were unknown and uncomfortable to us. I will always be a routine-kind-of-person. The pandemic didn’t change this about me. But, the pandemic did teach me that sometimes if life takes you in a different direction or throws you off course, you just have to go with it and not fight it.

We are resilient.

Learning to homeschool, work from home and connect with others safely – are just a few of the many ways we creatively pivoted and transitioned during the pandemic – all showcasing our true perseverance and resiliency.

Notice and appreciate the little things.

I remember how I felt when…noticing an uptick of couples taking walks and being in conversation with one another, seeing parents and kids playing outdoors and having fun, finding toilet paper and hand sanitizer on a store shelf as if it was like finding a nugget of gold, receiving a “how are you doing” phone call instead of a text message from a friend, realizing I have all the ingredients on hand to make my favorite recipe while being quarantined…It was the little things that we noticed and appreciated in ways we never had before that made us happy.

Count your blessings.

We were all deprived of so much this year and experienced hardships in ways that we couldn’t imagine. But, COVID-19 was even harder on those who have less than us. Counting our blessings – big and small – and trying to help others in any way we can is one of the most important things we can do – pandemic or not.

The internet can be life-sustaining.

Enjoying virtual concerts, happy hours, tours, worship, book readings and tutorials sustained us in ways we may never be able to comprehend. I am much more mindful now of the internet being a blessing than being an evil.

It’s okay not to be okay.

Most everyone has not been okay this past year. Understanding this has helped me accept my own not-okayness and realize I’m not the only one struggling. Knowing we are not walking alone through darkness offers us comfort, peace and strength.

We need community.

If nothing else, I think we can all walk away from the past year with a deeper understanding of one, undeniable basic need we all have – to be in community with others. I doubt we will ever take it for granted or underestimate its importance in our lives from here on.

These are just a few of the many, many lessons we have learned these past twelve months and with the pandemic still in force, there are more lessons to be learned. Generations from now, plenty will have been written about the highs and lows and lessons of the past year, but we will be the ones who actually lived it. We each have the power to shape the future narrative about the past year. We will influence whether the narrative focuses primarily on the challenges we experienced or the lessons we have learned because of them.

So, I ask you:

What would your narrative of the past year most focus on? The good or the ugly?

What are the lessons you have learned from the challenges you faced?

How will you take the lessons you have learned and use them for the greater good in your own life and the lives of others?

What do you want future generations to learn from your experience?

Now, grab a pen or pencil and begin writing your narrative. You have it within you because you have lived it.

Caring for Ourselves and Each Other During the Pandemic

Ashley is an elementary teacher who logs onto Zoom at 7:45 am every morning. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays she teaches 20 seven-year-olds virtually until 11:45 am. Her Thursdays are packed with online meetings and her Fridays are for virtual one-on-one student assessments.

She has never been as tired as she is this school year. Her eyes hurt, her back hurts and her hands and wrists hurt from constantly typing. She gets frequent headaches that can only be minimized by taking a nap, but she doesn’t have time to take a nap.

Ashley is one of many teachers who are facing a new set of challenges brought on by the pandemic. They are being asked to not only teach in new and innovative ways, but also help with technology and computer problems, chase down students who aren’t logging on for class and take care of their own children and families.

As with Ashley, there isn’t a part of a teacher’s job or week that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. Teachers are facing more stress than ever before. There are teachers who are teaching virtually and feel like they are working nonstop. There are teachers who have returned to in-person instruction, where they face a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, which adds to the stress. Many teachers have had to switch back and forth between in-person and online learning often with only a few days’ notice which creates another kind of stress.

 
 

The level of stress teachers are experiencing right now is unprecedented and, honestly, not sustainable. They have been operating in crisis mode for almost a year and are living day-by-day on depleted levels of energy. Many teachers say their psychological well-being is suffering in ways they have never experienced before. For the first time in their life, many teachers are having to see a therapist. Unfortunately, this can create additional stress.

Therapists don’t always have evening or weekend hours to accommodate a teacher’s work schedule and teachers don’t necessarily have the time – or spare money – for weekly appointments. Even more exacerbating is finding a therapist and then having to wait months before there is an open appointment time. The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that 52% of behavioral health organizations have seen an increase in the demand for services and 65% having to cancel, reschedule or turn away patients.

In a recent USA Today article (January 2021), Carly, a high school teacher and mother of three, brings to light the challenges many teachers are facing today. She splits her time between working on campus and remotely from home. Her two youngest children are in elementary school and need adult supervision with their own online schooling.
 
Carly keeps a color-coded daily schedule to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. But, of course, things do, including taking care of herself.
 
Prior to the school year starting, she never missed her weekly appointment with her therapist. She called it her “maintenance” – it kept everything in her life running smoothly. That changed in September when she found herself juggling an impossible burden: educating students in a pandemic while guiding her own family through the crisis. Since then, she has canceled more therapist appointments than she has kept. With everything going on, she said, “it’s much harder to justify giving myself that hour every week.”
 
She isn’t sleeping. Before the pandemic, she suffered migraines every few months and called in sick on those days. Now, she has one a week, an increase she attributes to stress. She makes herself work through the pain as there aren’t enough substitute teachers to go around. She’s exhausted. The idea of taking a day off for mental health is more work and causes more stress than just pushing through it herself.

As in Carly’s school district, there simply aren’t enough substitute teachers to meet the need in many districts. Substitutes are typically retired teachers and for districts using any hybrid or in-person model, the risk of coronavirus exposure poses a heightened threat. For schools that are remote, getting a substitute set up for online learning poses its own set of logistical challenges – getting a Zoom, transferring it over and making sure the substitute is comfortable navigating online learning software. For many, that burden factors in when determining whether to call in sick.

Consequently, all of these challenges have left many teachers, like Carly, responsible for their own self-care. While there’s a wealth of expert self-care advice available, we all know that with any advice, it’s easier said than done. Practicing self-care assumes that we all know what we need to care for ourselves and we have the resources necessary to do it. These are some big assumptions. For some of us, just doing anything for our self, by our self, can be the greatest challenge to overcome. Sometimes what we most need is not self-care, but rather community care.

The concept of community care isn’t to eliminate self-care. If you’re able to practice self-care, that’s great. Just don’t forget about the people around you. Community care asks us to take the initiative to show and give compassion to each other, especially when we are struggling with the same issues. We all still need human connection and need to give and receive love.

So, if you are a teacher who can relate to Ashley and Carly or you have a colleague who is struggling with the demands of being a teacher right now, try shifting your thinking to community care. Be willing to accept the care and compassion of others while also extending it.

No matter if you are a teacher or working in another profession, here are four ways you can practice community care:

    • Check in on each other. Just a genuine, “How are you doing?”, can really help a fellow teacher feel supported and more connected to the people around them. Vulnerability can be hard, so you may need to open up first to show you are sincere. If someone tells you they are struggling, let them know they have your support and if you can’t talk then, that you will reach out soon. When you follow up, make sure to listen to what they need; some people may need help finding resources while others may want some time to vent with someone who gets it.
    • Express gratitude. Practicing gratitude is a great way to give yourself a more positive outlook. Try to name three things you are thankful for each day. Extend gratitude to your coworkers. Thank them when they do something to help you out or make your day a bit easier. It’s a win-win for both of you. It will boost your mood while making others feel appreciated and noticed and help you all feel more connected to your community.
    • Take time to laugh. Humor can be an effective coping tool during stressful times. Don’t be afraid to lighten the mood by sending memes or sharing a funny story – just be mindful of your timing and audience.
    • Pay attention to nonverbal cues. A lot of people have trouble opening up about how they are feeling and others may not even realize that they are struggling if their mind is constantly focused on work. If you are at school in-person, you can probably pick up on which of your colleagues are having a harder time than others. Typical body language varies, but if you notice a change like less eye contact or moving or talking slower, it’s worth bringing up. If your school is virtual, think about who you haven’t heard from lately that you may have expected to. Reach out to those individuals – there’s no need for anyone to suffer alone. If you aren’t comfortable doing so, mention what you have noticed to a colleague that they are closer with or a supervisor.

Even as we become more attuned to the needs of each other and try to respond to them, self-care will continue to be necessary. We still need to clean, feed and clothe ourselves, move our bodies more, drink water, make dental appointments and see therapists. But, doing things together and for each other creates a sense of belonging which is also one our basic needs. It reminds us that we weren’t meant to walk these paths alone, but to learn from and care for one another as we find better ways to live through the pandemic together.