Category: family

How to cope with grief and loss

As we go through life, we lose many things. We lose friends, relatives, parents, looks, youth, wealth, health, jobs, reputation, possibilities, opportunities, love and at the end of it all, life itself. There is just a translucent veil that separates the peaceful, unaffected life from the one that goes suddenly wrong. In any given second the veil tears down with the sudden gush of crisis and pull us inside the murkiness of sudden grief.

Of course most of us never think about this, because if we did, we would never plan or dream; in fact we would never get out of bed.

However, when grief strikes we get sucked into its hollow pit, but we must remember that grief is an emotion that requires the application of deep and insightful imagination to resolve that period of mourning, which is essential to come to terms with these losses. Because by being trapped in “negative grieving,” we are subconsciously “choosing” to keep our heart broken. It is often advised that if we find ourselves stuck in the grieving process and not moving forward through it, we must look for how we can find happiness in everyday things. Keep our focus on doing things that make us feel calmer.

Many people confess that grief feels like fear. The fear of everything coming to a cessation. The fear of you standing on the precipice, looking down at a dark dungeon of nothingness. It feels as if life itself has come to a stop and nothing will ever be the same again.

A friend of mine, Simon Webb, is the social media manager for the UK based company simplepayday.co.uk. He runs and oversees their social media presence and sees people from all walks of life due to the nature of the business he’s in.

Having dealt with grief himself, we chatted the other day about it and he gave me this insight – he is both European and Asian through descent.

“Different cultures have different rituals for expressing grief and going through periods of mourning. Europeans are more reserved and prefer to keep their grief private. On the flipside – In most Asian countries, grief is expressed through loud weeping.”

Having Simon give me this insight, I then went on to discover that in Mediterranean cultures, wailing in public is an important part of grief and in ancient China people were expected to mourn the death of their parents for 39 months. They were compelled to retire from public life and were expected to go and live quietly in some countryside during this period.

Also in India, group wailing is often observed, when all the relatives and friends gather together to cry, and express the pain loudly when struck by tragedy such as death of a close relative or family. In the villages of Rajasthan (India) when an important person dies they call a troupe of wailing women to express grief at the time of funeral. These wailing women are professional mourners called Rudali. These Rudalis are paid to weep, shed tears, beat their chest, bang their heads and keep crying until a certain period. It is basically done when a rich man dies, to express the loss in a huge way and to showcase how important and wealthy he is.

Imagination training

Imagination training is another method of coping with grief. Imagination training during grief helps us to know that we may be physically or perhaps financially diminished, but the loss and grieving is going to make us emotionally powerful and maybe spiritually enriched.

It also helps to imagine grief as a dark tunnel through which we have to pass, in order to see the sun drenched path again.

However, we are faced with three choices at the entrance of that tunnel:

  • Denying that the loss has occurred.
  • Acknowledging the loss but denying its impact. Not giving in to grief, not inclined to move on.
  • Accepting the loss and working through the period of mourning to reach a healing solution.

If we opt for the third choice, we enter the tunnel. Just remember that the tunnel will be very dark, very black. But there is bound to be a glimmer of light somewhere. While passing that tunnel, the bleakness, the misery and the acute fearfulness will dissipate eventually, leaving you with essential relief.

Like fear, other feelings associated with grief are shock, anger, loneliness, numbness, disbelief and guilt. When any kind of loss occurs, the initial reaction is often a sense of unreality. Phrases like, “I just don’t believe this has happened.” “This feels like a nightmare.” “It must be a mistake.” All these sentences denote confusion and disbelief. There are chances of vacillating or having ambivalent emotions during the period of grieving. One moment a person would stay calm and next they would be crying their heart out. But healing comes after going through various stages of grief.

These stages are denial, anger, depression, resignation and finally acceptance.

Different kinds of losses take different time period depending upon the gravity of loss but in every case, working through grief is like going on a journey.

The journey that might be full of troubled stopovers, but most definitely takes you to calmer roads.

You are what you think, you are what you believe

Many of us have handed over our health and well being to an outsider called the ‘good doctor’. In effect, we have given up an innate capability of healing ourselves when something goes out of balance in our body. This capability comes through our own belief system. As with anything, if we believe we can, it may come true and if we believe otherwise, that will come true too. This is true for our health too.

Now there is research to prove this.

Bruce Lipton in his book Biology of Belief wrote;

“I was exhilarated by new realization that I could change the character of my life by changing my beliefs.”

We live in a delicate dynamic balance, not only with other life forms, but with the physical environment as well. It was life’s harmony – not life’s struggle – that Lipton was inspired by.

Biology’s central premise is that genes control life. “Not so”, says Lipton. “It is our environment and beliefs and not our gene driven hormones and neurotransmitters that control our bodies and minds”.

This opposes contemporary biology that lingers in the physical age of Newtonian linear thinking as opposed to the new quantum age where there are no absolutes. The quantum world is invisible. It is about fields of energy and cannot be physically grasped. Our beliefs are not absolute. They are personal and how and what we believe cannot be measured in any way.

Biology also pays little attention to the important role of co-operation, because it’s Darwinian roots emphasize life’s competitive nature. So, the world has shaped itself around the ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy. So, we generally leave things up to the genes.

Biology is also in alignment with the Cartesian system of development where the mind and body split is its cornerstone. Body is physical and mind is not. Quantum philosophy, on the other hand, accepts the mind-body linkage and accepts mind as a field of energy.

So, what is standing in the way of people moving in the quantum direction ?

It is the fear of the unknown compounded by the medical establishment’s propagation of the old system for its own survival and economic gains.

So, the medical establishment has the whole world sewn up in their philosophy of “The good doctor is always right”. So, we hand over our illness to the ‘good doctor’ who writes us a prescription for some chemicals, which we happily take and get better. So, the cycle is perpetuated and reinforced. We are afraid to move outside this paradigm. After all this is our life we are dealing with. What we do not realize is that the most ‘good doctors’ have a huge pharmaceutical industry behind them. That is why news such as the western medical industry kills as many as 300,000 people annually in the USA (Death by Medicine; Null et al – 2003) gets stifled by the establishment.

We are also happy to ignore this as we have become comfortable with our dependence on the ‘good doctor’ – who may not be so good for our health after all.

So, this requires a mind shift in our thinking. We need to value ourselves more and trust in our own belief system. This is linked to our self esteem.

Self Esteem

If we define self esteem as the confidence in our right to be happy, feeling of being worthy and the ability to think and cope with the basic challenges of life, our beliefs are central to keeping our esteem up.

If our self esteem is low we may not have confidence in our own belief system.

So, how do we build our self esteem when it comes to our health? It is not easy.

I am not espousing that we abandon the medical system entirely. It has its merits in overcoming many health hazards that could destroy us. It just needs to be put in perspective. We have to understand that it has limitations too. On the other hand, as thinking, believing humans, we have a major say in managing our own health. Drugs may cure a particular illness, but often it has other side effects, that may make us ill later and even kill.

Also when we go to the doctor and take the prescribed drugs, we hand over the entire process of curing to them. We do not take ownership of the problem and the solution. So, we become passive observers in the process. We lose our self esteem in the process, as we feel helpless.

When we understand that our mind and beliefs can help in the cure, in balancing the system, our self esteem will rise.

What proof is there that our mind has so much power ?

The Proof in the Placebo

A placebo is an inert drug (usually a sugar pill) given in place of a drug for a certain illness. Scientists have done many experiments using placebos as alternatives to actual drugs in controlled experiments and found people get cured in the same way. How can that be ?

The only explanation is that our minds were fooled into believing that the drug, whether it was a sugar pill or a chemical, was going to cure us. Only that we believed it was a drug. This belief sent a signal to our mind to commence the curing process. Once we realize that it was just a sugar pill that cured us, it will enable us to think differently about the power of our beliefs. That will lead to our increased self esteem, when it comes to health.

Self esteem is also linked to our emotional well being. Our ability to respect self and others and live positively amongst others is a part of this. These are based on our values and behaviors which in turn anchor our emotional well being. Go deeper and all this is based on our spirituality.

We need to put spirituality back into life when we want to improve our physical and mental health. So, we have to become more aware of our mind and body. Becoming aware will help us to realize that we do have control over it all. A fully conscious mind wins over both nurture and nature.

So, Lipton, through his research and the book has given credence to age old traditional health systems like Ayurveda that are usually ridiculed by the establishment. It has also given us an opportunity to take better control of our lives, which will result in improving self esteem, thereby becoming more aware citizens of this world.

Lipton says, “You can live a life of fear or live a life of love. If you live a life of love your body will respond with good health”.

Prevention is the best cure

Prevention includes all the measures health providers use to keep their patients healthy, such as vaccinations, cancer screening tests, and counseling. As a primary care doctor, my practice has a major focus on preventive medicine. But this new report reveals doctors are falling far short of providing optimum preventive care for their patients. The five simple steps are all standard, established procedures that, sadly, are underutilized in our healthcare system.

Given the challenges in our healthcare system with various obstacles for preventive care, such as high deductibles for preventive services or lack of insurance coverage, empowering individuals (along with their doctors), will have the greatest impact in saving lives. The choices we make about the way we live shape the quality of the life we lead. Choosing to make these steps a priority can help bring remarkable quality to our lives.

So what are these five easy steps?

  1. Take daily aspirin to help prevent heart disease. An impressive 45,000 lives would be saved annually if we increased to 90 percent the number of people who use aspirin daily to help prevent heart disease. Currently, fewer than half of American adults who would benefit from taking daily aspirin preventively actually do so.
  1. Stop smoking. An estimated 42,000 lives would be saved annually if we increased to 90 percent the number of smokers who receive smoking cessation support through tools, such as counseling or medication, from their health provider. Currently, only 28 percent of smokers receive advice from their physician on how to quitting smoking.
  1. Colon cancer screening. Fewer than half of Americans age 50 and older receives regular screening tests for colon cancer. Increasing the amount of people screened to 90 percent would translate to 14,000 additional lives saved.
  2. Get your flu shot. Too few adults over age 50 receive their annual influenza vaccination. Study results showed only 37 percent of people in this age group get this crucial immunization. Increasing this number to 90 percent would save 12,000 lives each year.
  3. Stay up-to-date with your breast cancer screening. Barely 67 percent of women over age 40 received recommended breast cancer screening tests during the past two years. By raising the number of screened women to 90 percent, 4,000 lives would be saved each year.

Ben Franklin was right in his remark “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So why have we been neglecting to make these simple, healthy choices? Why aren’t more people getting flu vaccines, quitting smoking, or getting cancer screening tests? In part, it may be that we only consider seeing our doctor when we are sick, rather than before we get sick. Prevention may be a new concept for some, but it should be the cornerstone of how we think about healthy living. Each of us has the power to make a profound difference in the direction of our own health. Doctors have heard the appeal to amend their practices and renew their commitment to prevention. They understand their responsibility for the shortfalls in use of preventive services and the resulting negative impact on lives. While policymakers work to remove the financial restraints and access dilemmas inherent in our healthcare system, each of us can help close the gaps in the use of these five preventive services by choosing to put prevention into practice for ourselves.

The Key to True Happiness: Does it Even Exist?

Do you feel like happiness is more elusive than ever? Like God must have skipped you when he was handing out the “happy” gene?

I have to admit I used to feel that way. And it never made sense to me because I had a great childhood. But then suddenly depression hit me like a brick wall. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why I should feel depressed when I had so much to be thankful for.

At that point in my life I chased happiness like it was a runaway freight train full of gold. I seemed to have read every resource out there on how to be happy. But somehow true happiness seemed to always be out of my reach.

It wasn’t until this passed Fall that I had a grand realization about happiness.

But let me be clear that when I speak of happiness, I don’t mean the constant state of feeling elated each and every waking hour of my life. What I’m referring to is a general state of mind. Of course I expect highs and lows in life – anything otherwise would be unnatural and unhealthy.

So what happened in the Fall? Well, first of all I started back to work full time. The previous year I had been part time as a way to “ease back in” to work after my long illness.

Everything was going quite well until I started feeling those signs of depression again. I know them now, and I wasn’t going to wait for a major setback before taking action.

I immediately (quite literally the next day) dropped down to part time and that’s where I’m at today – and I’m thriving.

Now, you might be wondering how I manage to keep up a blog if I was struggling to keep my full-time day job. Well, this is where the big epiphany came for me – because I asked myself the same question.

You see, when I was teaching full time I truly enjoyed it. But the problem was, I had no time to myself when working those kinds of hours. I desperately wanted to write, but just couldn’t make it happen.

Not having time to foster my passion for writing made me feel trapped. I had to go to work every day for a certain time, and when I came home I was exhausted. But I didn’t have any choice – or so I thought.

When I switched to part time it meant I now had my mornings to myself. After getting the kids ready and off to school, I can now do what I want (to the degree that we can all do what we want ;) ).

I can write all morning; I can clean up the house; I can do errands; I can do whatever I think will make me feel productive that day.

So, the key to true happiness? Choices. It’s when we feel that we have no control over what’s going on in our lives that our happiness starts to dwindle.

And although I enjoy teaching, it wasn’t enough to fulfill me. I needed an outlet for my love of writing and now I have it.

You may not be able to currently do something as drastic as going from working full time at your day job to part time, but there are many other ways to give yourself choices in your life:

1. Choose to give yourself the gift of time. Allot a certain hour or half hour of the day to do whatever it is you want. Even if it’s only 15 min, this will feel very liberating.

2. Choose to follow your passion. Give up unnecessary activities such as T.V. and Facebook. This will give you more time to pursue want you really want in life. Think about it…Do you know anyone whose passion in life is to watch more T.V.?

3. Choose to say no. Say no to the myriad of after-school activities you have your children enrolled in (they may even thank you!). Say no to a co-worker when they ask you if you have time to take on yet another project.

4. Choose to be honest with yourself. Lying will get you nowhere – especially when it’s to yourself. Are you living your best life? What realistic changes can you make that will make life more fulfilling?

5. Choose to give yourself choices. Seem redundant? Think about it. Often we keep telling our selves we “don’t have a choice”, when actually, we always do. You just have to be willing to open your eyes and your mind to all the possibilities in front of you.

6. Choose to be happy. Stop chasing. Just be.

And lastly, take your focus off of your state of mind and start counting your blessings. Put your focus on helping someone else. You’ll hopefully realize that not only are you not as bad off as you thought, but nothing breeds happiness like doing something for others.

Why I take Omega-3, and you should too!

A diet high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA helps protect the brain against the memory loss and cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
Neuroscientists from the University of California have shown for the first time that a diet rich in DHA may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and may help slow progression of the disorder in its later stages.

Senior author and Professor of Neurology, Greg Cole PhD, at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA explains

“This is the first proof that our diets affect how our brain cells communicate with each other under the duress of Alzheimer’s disease. We saw that a diet rich in DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer’s gene.”

He added that the average person can easily add more omega 3 to the diet, in the form of fish oil capsules, high-fat fish, or eggs which have been supplemented with DHA.

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The researchers focused on Alzheimer’s damage to synapses – the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

They used mice which had been bred with genetic mutations that cause the brain lesions linked to advanced Alzheimer’s disease. When they found that the mice developed the lesions, but showed minimal memory loss or synaptic brain damage, which might normally have been expected, the scientists took a closer look at the animals’ diet.

They discovered that the mice lived on a nutritious diet of soy and fish – two ingredients rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Because earlier studies had suggested that omega-3 fatty acids might prevent Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers realised that the mice’s diet could be helping to fight the progression of brain damage.

To check whether this was indeed happening, the scientists swapped safflower oil for the soy and fish to create an unhealthy diet depleted of omega-3 fatty acids. The mice were divided into two sets of older mice, which already showed brain lesions but showed no major loss of brain-cell activity. Both sets of mice were given safflower oil, which is not high in DHA, instead of the fish and soy diet. The second group were also given DHA supplements from algae.

After five months, the researchers compared each set of mice to a control group that consumed the same diet but did not carry the Alzheimer’s genes. The results surprised them.

They found that the mice who were given diets low in DHA had high levels of synaptic damage in their brains, and they observed that these changes closely resembled those in the brains of humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the mice on the DHA-supplemented diet also carried the Alzheimer’s genes, they still performed much better in memory testing than the mice in the first group.

Even after adjusting for all possible variables, DHA was the only factor remaining that protected the mice against the synaptic damage and memory loss that should have resulted from their Alzheimer’s genes, according to Professor Cole.

He said “We concluded that the DHA-enriched diet was holding their genetic disease at bay.”

The UCLA scientists hope to use their findings in a new study which will track DHA-related biomarkers in the urine and cerebral spinal fluid of Alzheimer’s patients. Finding these biomarkers earlier would enable treatment to begin earlier.

DHA is absorbed very quickly by the human brain, and is critical for proper cognitive function, eye development and mental tasks. DHA helps keep the brain membrane fluid, moves proteins and helps to convert signals from other parts of the body into action.

Inexpensive sources of DHA include coldwater fish, such as salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines and herring. These fish consume algae, which is high in DHA.

However, these fish also absorb more mercury, dioxin, PCP and other metals and therefore a less risky strategy is to consume either fish oil or purified DHA supplements made from algae. Alternatively DHA-rich eggs laid by chickens that eat DHA-supplemented feed can be included in the diet.

This study was funded by The National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Home Alone

For many elderly people being home alone has become their everyday life.

As the nights draw in and the weather turns colder, it can be easy, between the school runs, to shut ourselves away in our houses and hibernate for the winter, forgetting about those living only meters away that will be spending another day alone.

Families are living further apart, with grandparents often moving to warmer climates.  Many children grow up, without experiencing what it means to care for older members of a family. Forming relationships with other adults is an important part of a child’s social development. Not only will they experience a wider variety of viewpoints, skills and interests, but also interacting with different people can bring out different facets of a child’s personality. Often, a normally timid child will delight in showing off their talents to an older adult, who in turn is happy to provide endless rounds of applause.

Everyone wants to bring their children up in a caring community and taking a moment to check on an elderly member of the community shows children the joy that simple, small everyday things can bring. Even a smile and a wave to the neighbour who can no longer venture outside can brighten their day and let them know that someone cares.

There are many organizations across the country that provide essential services, help and care for Britain’s elderly. One organization that is solely dedicated to tackling the loneliness and isolation that seniors suffer is Contact the Elderly.

We organize monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people (aged 75+) who live alone, and volunteers within their local community, offering a regular and vital friendship link every month.

Each older person is collected from their home by a volunteer driver and taken to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon.  The group is warmly welcomed by a different host each month, but the drivers remain the same which means that over the months and years, acquaintances turn into friends and loneliness is replaced by companionship.
Our tea parties are a real lifeline of friendship for our older members who have little or no contact with any family or friends.  They bring people of all ages together, develop fulfilling friendships and support networks, and give everyone involved something to look forward to each month.

I’m on my own 24 hours a day, except for the milkman. You see no-one, hear no-one, except for the milkman. Man wasn’t meant to be alone. It’s no exaggeration – the Contact gatherings are the one bright light in my life – it’s fantastic. The volunteers are lovely personalities and you are welcomed into people’s homes and we sometimes sit in a nice garden. You meet other elderly people, have a chat and a laugh with them. It’s heaven.

So, consider opening your family’s home and sharing some warmth and friendship this winter. Your family could gain a “grandparent” in the process.

There are many other ways to care for our seniors in the community:

  • Pay attention to their routines. If your elderly neighbour’s milk or newspapers are still outside one day, knock on the door to check that they are okay.
  • If there are icy or snowy conditions, encourage your children to clear the pathway.
  • Check that they have adequate heating and food.
  • Consider putting up a small bird feeder near a window so that they can enjoy watching the local wildlife.