Friday, June 19, 2009

Room for Change:Consider Color

As we tread our way through grief with newly emerging thought patterns, we frequently return to past memories and our heads are focused downward. Our hearts can feel heavy, not light, and our trodden path rather gray and dull. Little seems to spark our interest.

Consider color

Last week I moved to a new town. Everything I viewed was new, nothing appeared in focus. One new corner looked like the next. Everything seemed gray, nothing sparked my interest, except I knew this was the place I had landed and it was up to me to find my way. Similar disorientation accompanied me with the death of my husband but on an even larger scale, but in that transition I was in the same city I have lived in for years. Little came to life or made sense even in its familiarity.

Color sparked my interest yesterday in this new town as I researched a new exercise routine to get me out of my new home on a daily basis. Color also moved me forward. It was a colored cloth attached with coins that sat on a table in a store window in a nondescript strip shopping mall. The owner sold bellydance items and taught dance lessons in Latin and Middle Eastern dance. I called the owner and was encouraged by her to come try a lesson that evening. That color sparked my interest and moved me forward, making a positive change happen to me in a nondescript colorless day. It happened to be the first day the owner had placed the glitzy laden accessories in the window.

Often without thinking, we gravitate towards certain colors, whether is be in the clothing we wear, the wall colors we choose to surround us or the bedding and towels we use on a daily basis.. What colors do you gravitate towards these days? What colors soothe you? What colors make you happy? What colors surround you? You may have found that your favorite colors have changed.

Color therapy, used in complementary and alternative medicine,uses colors for their proposed healing abilities in treating emotional and physical condtions. It's premise is that certain colors cause a set response in an individual. There is however a lack of scientific evidence supporting color therapy. It's effectiveness and safety have not been studied completely.

Color may not help us heal,but it could help bring of spark of light in a day that feels dreary.
In grief one can feel lifeless, gray and dormant. Pick your favorite color and splash it somewhere. You can change it and yourself each day.

Blessings of the rainbow.

Room for Change:The Nose Knows

Just as visual memories in grief continue to reflect onto our present daily lives, the sense of smell permeates our home and memories too. We can become so familiar with the aroma of our soap in the shower stall or the fragrance of our loved one's cologne that we no longer smell it. How often have you remembered a smell from your grandmother's house when you were little that wafted past you unexpectedly years later, only to be taken back there within seconds?

Aromas are powerful triggers for memories as well as helpful "friends". Aromatherapy in the home may be a welcome addition to your home during this transition through grief. Aromatherapy may be as simple as burning a scented candle or plugging in a diffuser into your electrical wall socket or even adding cinnamon to the top of coffee in the morning. It may be opening the windows to the scent of the afternoon breeze and the smell of freshly cut grass or even your sheets out drying on a sunny day.
Aromatherapy could be placing cedar chips in your closet of winter clothes or placing a pine needle sachet in your sweater drawer. All of these may evoke subtle cognitive changes , mostly pleasurable, yet unique to each of us. There is no exact formula in what is pleasurable from one person to another.

Some people believe that certain aromas trigger specific physical responses or mental responses. There are few studies to support such claims. One,however,in the International Journal of Neuroscience, compared use of aromatherapy in assessing EEG activity, alertness and mood. Two groups were given three minutes of aromatherapy. The lavender group showed increased beta power, suggesting increased drowsiness and less depressed mode, while reporting feeling more relaxed.The rosemary group, showed decreased alpha and beta power, suggesting more alertness. They were also faster, but not more accurate at completing math computations after the aromatherapy session.

What does that mean for you? Probably not much unless you want to reap the benefits of better calculation time! It may however help you to reflect upon what aromas make you feel more enlivened. What aromas seems to stimulate your desire to eat? What aromas remind you of a peaceful place where your mind may want to wander? What aromas just smell good to you?

Adding new fragrances to our favorite ones will not help us to forget our well forged memories but they can help us to form new pleasant ones to add to our collection. Memories of our loved ones are packaged with care. Adding additional pleasant aromas is the perfect topping in helping us move forward through grief. What scents bring you pleasure?

International Journal of Neuroscience,Volume 96, Issue 3&4 December 1998,pages 217-224
Authors affiliations: University of Miami School of Medicine, Duke University Medical School and Aroma Therapy Associates

Friday, June 12, 2009

Room for Change:Help with Hangers, The Closet

One of the most difficult spaces in the home to address after the death of our loved one is the closet.

The clothes, being the closest physically to our loved plus the memories associated with certain clothes with certain times can create an overload on our senses and keep this spot a place most difficult to address.  I have found that this space often requires the help of family, including the children and outside assistance, whether it be professionals or volunteer organizations.

If you are "stuck" or lost on what to do some suggestions follow.  Again, as in all grief work, there is no timetable. Change will come, but often change can come sooner if there is physical room to grow. The closet is often one of the first big steps in this change. This is one place where removing an item may feel like we are dishonoring the memory of the person. It need not be true. Their memory will survive and flourish. 

Consider the following:

If you are not going to be using it , make it purposeful and donate it to someone who can use it or to an organization that will.  Consider this recycling for the planet and a gift to others.  Many churches or social organizations will gladly pick up clothes.  After the death of my husband a local missionary and his wife came and collected my late husband clothes and they were sent to Africa.  My daughters and I discussed a few items to keep and put them into a large clear storage bin that we would review later in time. When asked if family members wanted items some were afraid to say no. Remember their desire to have items owned by the deceased does not necessarily mean they do not care to carry on the memory. Some of us are more visual or tactile than others and some of us carry our memories without many objects near to us.

Several suggestions for using the clothing that may be in the closet or dresser drawers is to make a quilt out of different pieces of clothing to give to needy children or donate to an organization.  One person I knew opened up the old ties and sewed them together to create a table runner. My church has a quilting circle that will gladly accept materials and fabric to repurpose into a quilt or blanket for those in need. Another person took her mother's old costume jewelry from dresser drawer and glued the random pieces onto Styrofoam balls tethered with ribbon. These created Christmas ornaments for the family members.  Would you consider gluing such items onto a box or even glass vase to hold flowers and catch the dancing light? This may be the time to enlist the services of a friend that sews to create something for you. 

This is also a time when the services of a professional organizer or interior redesigner may be of benefit. Professional organizers can work with you side by side to evaluate what you have and what you need and what can be donated or sold.  It is a way to incorporate a more neutral decision maker into the path of change.  Many redesigners also do "clutter control" and have an eye for repurposing items and how to transform any existing space into either a more efficient,practical or beautiful setting for you without purchasing items. An example of this may be using a closet, that is not holding clothes now, to be used as a study or office area. Closet doors may be removed and the cubicle now created can house a desk or shelves to provide that niche to work, write or for computer use.  A mirror placed inside the "closet " can open up the room thereby bringing in more light and creating a more spacious feeling.  I used a small walk in closet and by placing a free floating desk top, made it into my office cubicle. When my "work day" is finished I simply close the door. It is painted a bright tropical turquoise, while everything else in the house remains a cool neutral. It provides me a fun working space unique to me.

Closets that are cleaned out can also house a dresser, thereby freeing floor space in the room. The newly discovered space could perhaps to accommodate a chair to create a reading nook, or another place to call your own.  Closets are a great place to experiment with fragrances you might enjoy within their confined space. Diffusers or air fresheners are economical. Find one that is pleasant to you. Using extra closet shelves to house a collection or even a few photos is also a possibility.  I always find a place to prop a childhood doll of mine.  The whimsy of spotting her from time to time helps to keep me lightened up!

Remember there are people and organizations willing to help you move forward when you are ready. Enlist whatever support you need. Others can benefit in what you can offer to donate or sell.

Resources for closet revamping include:

Salvation Army                                         
Association of Design Education                 
National Association of Professional Organizers
Interior Redesign Industry Specialist           

Listing your items on can help you sell items locally with no advertising cost. Most individuals will pick them up from you directly.

Lighten your space and enlighten your heart!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Room for Change: In Me

 At the prodding of my meditation teacher that became my mentor and friend, I wrote a small piece about a photo of a horse in skeletal form.  I came upon it today and as writer's block whisked upon me ( think it should be called thinker's block instead) I decided to rewrite the horse's story in this blog hoping to conjure up other insights that may be dormant awaiting to   explode or at least seep forth!   This is for Marcie.

     Austin's Story

It was a surprise to happen upon Austin.  I could not tell if he was ready to be released from where he came or if his emergence from the soil still stunned him.  He pranced and danced  in the sunshine with no knowledge that I looked on. His transparency was like a dream, yet he was solid and firm- as if nothing could push him over or wear him down.  I was afraid to whisper, afraid to let him know of his presence. There remained an innocence in his stance and being. 

Gathering the nerve to let his dream stance and solitude be disturbed I reached into my pocket for the red apple left over from lunch.  The wispy threads of the lining of the pocket whirled off of it on the wind. Stepping towards his left flank I lightly tossed the apple and it rolled in a squiggly line , lodging in a worn patch of grass. My silent prayers went out for Austin to discover what and who he was and if he chose to be amongst us, know that we acknowledge him and will care for him.

What did I learn? Perhaps we are not as transparent as we seem to be. Perhaps others try to create our reality, but only we can come to life and participate in it, when we are ready. 

So he then donned his finest saddle and nodded his head and asked. "Are you ready to ride?"
I nodded back silently and said it would be my honor.  I hadn't thought about it before, but being a Sagittarius, I am portrayed as half horse, half person and in that instant,  upon the weathered saddle and his sun drenched legs I became one with him.  What a moment!

Thank you Marcie, my friend, my teacher.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Room for Change:No More Casseroles, Please?

As we grief in our loss,many friends,relatives and neighbors want to help but do not know how. Too often the help is within the first month when you may not be ready to receive or even know what to suggest to them that may truly help you.

Below are some suggestions, other than casseroles, for you to suggest to them. If you are that friend, consider asking the griever if your outreach would feel "right" to them. If you are that friend, honor the griever and do ask permission. Asking them, empowers them and rewards you in knowing that a need is truly met. Casseroles are still great, but....
  • Leave a new magazine or short note on the doorstep for 8 consecutive weeks without speaking. Just ring the doorbell.
  • Deliver food in one serving containers that can be frozen. Light meals,like soup,chili,pot pies, where multiple ingredients are mingled. This means good taste,good nutrition and ease of preparation.
  • Give your friend a grocery list and have them deliver the items to you.
  • If you are not a cook and have kitchen items, swap the items with the friend in exchange for one meal a week for 6 months. Maybe make it a Tuesday tradition for each of you.
  • If you have tools or equipment in the garage you are not using, donate the tools to the friend and ask to exchange for "X" numbers of handyman service hours in the next year!  

As a friend consider 
  • Placing an affirmation into an inexpensive frame or send a new one each week. We all love to get surprise packages.
  • Offering to have your lawn service cut their grass or shovel the snow for 3 months.
  • Give a flower a week for 52 weeks. Place the flower in recycled jar and leave on the doorstep. Kindness abounds.
  • Give your friend a comfort box to open when they are ready. Place inside: new slippers,Twizzler's,candle,book of short stories, an Etchasketch,glass ornament for window, a fuzzy blanket,a stuffed animal with name tag to fill out for it. Allow fun!
These ideas are steppingstones for your creativity. The only rule is " No Rules Allowed".

May those in grief find comfort in the small changes you make in your life. You are a champion and deserve the honor bestowed upon you. Abundant blessings await you!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Room for Change: Living in the Nest

As we find ourselves walking through grief we may also find ourselves sitting still in grief. The living room that might have held the family activities of time past may seem like an underused and over sized cavern of memories.  Many newer homes have replaced the conventional living room with the "great room" making the delegated space for a smaller family feel daunting.

Your living room or your nesting spot, may be ready for some transition. Some suggestions follow.
  • Capture the view.  Reposition the sofa to catch a better view of the outside or move a rocking chair next to a window with a small reading table beside it.  Nothing but nature provides unsolicited entertainment.  
  • Take a leap. Move the sofa away from the wall. It will not necessarily make the room look smaller and may provide a coziness that is most welcome. Covering the sofa with a slipcover in a soft chenille or ultrasuede fabric may be comforting in your reclining times of repose.
  • Punch it up.  This is the time when some vibrant or new color pillows can dazzle you with little expense. You may want to add a burst of color with a small area rug to anchor your sitting area and thereby making it feel more intimate.
  • Light it up.  Remember besides opening the drapes for natural light, up lights behind plants, floor or table lamps and full spectrum lighting for the "blues" are all comforting.  
  • Swap meet.  Swap out a sofa for two over sized chairs.  The chairs need not match, only have a similar proportion to each other.  You can be cradled more in such a chair and when company visits the conversation may be more comfortable than on a big solo piece of furniture. If the loved one you lost has a favorite chair sitting vacant sliding it into another room may be helpful in your transition through grief.  If it fits you and its presence harbors no terrible memories let it be. Give yourself permission to change things and change them back again.  Nothing is static. 
  • Nesting notes.  If during times of this transition through grief you truly "nest" and have a difficult time moving around the house, set up your nesting spot, wherever it might be with some of the following: phone, notepad and pencil, tissues, pleasant scented candle or diffuser with essential oils.  If in the past you always burned a vanilla scented candle perhaps a peppermint or citrus would be suggested to assist with concentration or a lavender for re"nester", but rather a "roamer", having difficulty in sitting down for a few minutes. All of the above may still assist you, along with some freshly brewed chamomile tea  or a decaffeinated warm drink or soup.  Taking time to rest is a gift you give yourself.

My daughter reminded me during my time in grief of RINAWOT.  What is that, I asked. RINAWOT she told me stands for Resting Is Not a Waste of Time!  Be kind to yourself. Naps are refueling.

Changing position of items in your nest can help you to relax and to refuel in a time of changes.
Changing your routine can help as well.  Consider using a different door to enter the house or walking the opposite way in your neighborhood on your daily walk.  Maybe getting the mail at a different time of day or even adding a simple task like taking your morning coffee in a different chair may open your eyes to new possibilities or simply change perspective a bit.
Wherever you may land these days, look for a way to maximize your comfort and bring some new insight to all that surrounds you.  Make it your way and make it comforting.  You deserve it!