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Jude Walsh


My high school class is not one of those who have regular reunions. We had one 10 years after graduation, then nothing. So, I was surprised – and delighted – to get an invitation to celebrate our 51st with the note “better late than never.”

My class was small, about 90 students. There were 47 people scheduled to attend, including some spouses. I was attending solo, having divorced 10 years ago.

I didn’t know what to expect but sincerely wanted to reconnect with these people from a very formative part of my life. I’m so glad I did. I live five hundred miles away and it was worth the journey.

Here are some of the takeaways.

Connect with People Now, Don’t Wait

One of the first things I saw was a table with framed senior class pictures of 13 of my classmates who had died. This was very tastefully done – the photos were artfully arranged and surrounded by electric votive lights.

I was unaware of most of the deaths and had to inquire about how and when those people had lost their lives. Cancer was the major factor, and having had cancer myself, it gave me pause.

I regretted not knowing when my classmates had passed; I could have sent condolences to their families. Several had been dead for many years. I wondered what else they might have done had they lived longer.

Truly then, there is no point delaying reconnecting with people. We only have so much time.

Go to the Reunions!

The reunion committee worked very hard to track people down. After all, it had been 40+ years since they last did this! They shared their disappointment that many had chosen not to come and join us.

I still wonder what could have dictated that decision. Had the non-attendees not enjoyed high school? Or perhaps they felt they were too far past it? Or were they simply disinterested?

What I do know is that they really missed on this gathering. There were tears and laughter and time to think about how we were formed as individuals during those years we spent together in high school.

Perspective matters; it adds depth and context to our life view. I’m very grateful to the reunion planning committee for making this possible.

Check the Eyes

The committee printed out nametags with our then-senior picture and name. This really helped with identification.

Obviously, our high school looks were long gone, but I found that looking into people’s eyes allowed me to picture them just as they had been when we were young.

We all might be heavier, shorter, and more wrinkled, but the eyes? There I could see the spirit of the person I knew way back when.

Some People Never Change – But Others Do!

My classmates are just as smart, kind, and funny as they were back in the day. Some of us became exactly what we thought we would. Others did a complete turnabout and perhaps even surprised themselves. But they were all still really interesting people.

Shared Memories Are Treasures

It was a night of “remember the time when…” and “what about the time….” One memory lead to another and another and for a while we were all back in high school. We didn’t just recall the high points, we noted the sad times as well. High school, like life, had its ups and downs.

Everybody Experiences Tough Times

Down the road some of us divorced, some were widowed, some lost children, some had health issues, or career or financial setbacks. Some stories were hard to share. But the consistent responses were sympathy, compassion, and understanding. There was no judgment.

All the people who had come were genuinely pleased to see everyone else, genuinely interested in the person and their life. Our life paths separated 51 years ago, and now converged again and we found ourselves more similar than different. Perhaps a bit wiser too?

I just know that I laughed. I cried. I reminisced. I mourned. I gained perspective. I experienced gratitude. I was inspired. And I definitely want to see them all again!

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Most women our age can readily tell you which part of their body they are most self-conscious about or feel is their least attractive. For years we were deluged with stories, articles, and advice about how to fix whatever was wrong.

For me, it was my belly. I would read headlines like: “Flatten your belly in 10 days!” “Lose the belly weight,” “How to have a flat stomach,” and “How to dress to hide your belly!” And how many of us read the advice to always “hold-in your stomach”?

Body Positivity

But things are changing. As part of being an entrepreneur in my 60s, I have contact with numerous millennials. Many of them are advocates of something they call Body Positivity. It has been a revelation to talk with them about this, so I thought I’d share what I learned with the Sixty and Me community.

Here are a few tenants of body positivity:

  • Accept and appreciate the body you have.
  • Help others feel comfortable with their bodies.
  • Know that beauty comes in all sizes.
  • Know that our bodies do change in relation to age and circumstance (pregnancy, illness, exercise, dietary changes, menopause, etc.).
  • Believe all bodies are miraculous.
  • Accept responsibility for your body; treat it with love and care. (This does not mean conforming to a certain size culturally deemed appropriate.)
  • Love yourself and your body.
  • Care for your body via appropriate rest, good nutrition, exercise, appreciation.
  • Know you can be fit and healthy without being an exact size.

I thought about this for a long time and wondered how it would manifest for me, a woman in my 60s, having had a partial mastectomy, and still struggling with feeling good in my own skin. So, I created a list of my top 10 body positivity tips.

Five Things to Stop Doing

Many of us have gone down the negative thought spiral for way too long. Here are five things I suggest you stop doing:

#1: Stop Thinking Media Images Are Accurate

In the past, we heard about photos of models being “air brushed” by the magazine. Today, images are changed in a myriad of ways.

We can no longer assume the images are an accurate portrayal of the person behind the camera. In fact, I think it is better to err on the side of assuming they have been enhanced in some way.

#2: Stop Accepting Anyone Else’s Opinion or Judgment About Your Body

People seem to feel free to make comments and suggestions without being asked. Maybe they think it’s for “your own good.” I have decided I will no longer accept any unwanted advice or criticism. I don’t feel a need to push back. I simply ignore them.

#3: Stop Being So Self-Critical

We are often harder on ourselves than anyone else ever might be. I have recently adopted a self-listening practice. When I hear myself say, or even think, a harsh thought, I stop and remind myself to be affirming not harsh.

#4: Stop Waiting for My Body to Change in Some Way to Be Acceptable

I buy clothes that fit and complement my body as it is. Do not wait until those extra 10 pounds are off before buying a new dress. Buy the dress now. If it is one size up, so what? Love that dress and rock wearing it.

Do not think you have to tone your arms before you can even think about wearing something sleeveless. Keep working on toning your arms to increase strength and enjoy the accompanying muscle definition, but go sleeveless now.

#5: Stop Being Critical or Judgmental of Other Women’s Bodies

Again, do some self-monitoring. You might be surprised by how often you are criticizing other women. As you strive to be less self-critical, also strive to be less others-critical. If you are with a group that engages in this kind of critical talk, disengage.

Just don’t participate or change the subject to something more uplifting. If that doesn’t work, either leave the situation or speak up, saying something like, “I try not judge other women’s bodies.”

Five Things to Start Doing

Eliminating the negative is best done by engaging the positive. Try reframing your mind around these five positive actions:

#1: Start Looking for Media Images and Articles That Support Women’s Natural Beauty

We are seeing more models in a broader range of sizes. We are also seeing commercials using real women as opposed to professional models.

Women of all sizes have started posting their photos on Instagram, and though sometimes there may be critical or cruel comments, there’s always pushback in support of the brave woman. Patronize companies that have a wide range of sizes available and promote body positivity. Let your dollars reflect your beliefs.

#2: Start Accepting and Loving Your Body as It Is

I will never be a size 10 or even 12 again. So what? I can still choose clothing that reflects and celebrates who I am as a woman right now. I no longer avoid colors or prints that might make me look “too big.” I love color and I love prints and have found beautiful pieces in each.

#3: Start Monitoring Your Thoughts and Words and Turn the Negatives into Positives

I practice turning statements around. For example, I take, “My belly is too big, nothing looks right on me. No one makes clothes that fit and flatter me.”

Then I turn it around to, “I am curvy in lots of places that can enhance my clothing style and so are many other women. There are plenty of options out there now. I am going to choose outfits that make me look and FEEL good.”

#4: Start Noticing What Is Right About My Body as Opposed to What “Needs Improvement”

Instead of obsessing about my belly, I am going to celebrate my slim ankles and toned calves and buy some amazing shoes.

I have strong shoulders and a nice neck. I am going to show them off by wearing fitted sleeves and open necklines. I have gorgeous green eyes and will choose outfits that bring out that color.

#5: Start Noticing What Is Lovely About Other Women’s Bodies and Appearance, and When Appropriate, TELL Them!

I have adopted a new practice of speaking up when I see something lovely about another woman. It can be as simple as, “That scarf really complements your outfit.” Or, “I love your dress, you look beautiful.” Or “I love seeing a woman wear a hat with such style.” Or, “That necklace is so unique, how lovely!”

Or, if it is someone I know has been working out, I’d say, “Wow I can really see definition in your arms.” It is interesting to note the woman’s response. Some struggle with accepting the compliment and want to brush it off. Some are surprised and pleased. So many return a big smile and just say, “Thank you!”

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I don’t mind getting older. I see it as a privilege and want to appreciate it fully. Yet, I find myself pushing back against things that “old” people do. For example, I just had my second eye surgery – the first one was done last August.

Fighting Terminology

Note that I said “eye surgery” and not “cataract surgery.” I realized that in my mind cataract surgery sounds like an old person kind of thing whereas eye surgery has a younger ring to it. Perhaps like Lasik surgery to avoid wearing glasses.

When I went into my surgeon’s office the afternoon of my operation to have the eye patch removed and for a post-op check, I burst into laughter. There, in a row, were nine people with patches on one eye.

The silver hair, or no hair, of the folks lined up in the waiting room had me thinking: Face it, Jude, cataract surgery IS done on older people.

Great New Vision

I always try to find the sweet spot in any experience. The upside of this one is that now I can, for the first time in my life, drive without glasses.

This is a marvel. I was used to turning my head and neck to get full perspective as I drove because my frames limited my peripheral vision. Now I just turn my head slightly and can see so much more – a definite perk!

I have also committed to not balk before any experience from now on, even when something makes me feel sad or miserable.

Needing Reading Glasses

The downside to my eye surgery is that I can no longer read without glasses. My prescription lenses were bifocals, but when I was in bed with the book on my chest, I could read without them. I am grieving this loss.

So how to turn this around? Well, my prescription glasses were about six hundred dollars a pair. Thus, I only had two, and only replaced them every few years when my insurance would partially pay for new ones. To economize, I always selected a frame that was not too trendy so it would last longer.

Readers, on the other hand, can be found as cheap as a dollar to $25 a pair. I can choose frames to match my outfit and they can be as trendy as I like because they are easily replaceable. This is a clear upside and a balm to my desire to look stylish.

A New Problem Arose

But, as it happens, I wasn’t used to readers. I kept losing the darn things. Unlike my prescription glasses, which I wore all the time, I only need these for close work. I am constantly leaving them somewhere. In the first two weeks I misplaced four pairs!

I tried the neck chains, but can you think of anything less fashionable?

The Right Solution Always Exists

Imagine my surprise when I went shopping in my favorite boutique and saw this very creative magnetic eyeglass holder. It’s held by a pair of magnets and doesn’t damage my clothes, even silk blouses.  

These holders come in a variety of shapes and colors: hearts, fleur de lis, crystal stones, starfish, turtles, an artist’s palette, and more! I think they’re a brilliant and fashionable idea for those of us who manage to lose our readers much too often!

Adjusting to a New Type of Aging

I am gradually adjusting to needing a pair of readers on hand. I have about a dozen now, placed all around the house and in my purses. I am still shopping; I found a gorgeous teal blue pair today.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, who wrote Goddesses Never Age, says we are all growing older, no control over the calendar, but we can make choices as to how we age. I am aiming for gracefully, in excellent health, and with style! How about you?

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I am a writer and I am an extrovert – not the usual trait combination. Most of my writer friends are introverts. When we go to a gathering of any kind, I look out into the crowd, think “new friends,” and plunge in with joy and gusto. They look for a quiet corner and begin to plan their escape.

It is not that I don’t also enjoy being alone; I do. Every writer needs long periods of solitude to get the work done, but I savor the energy of a crowd and come away fueled with ideas to explore during those quiet times.

A Writer’s Confession

So, while we are advised to practice social distancing, my introverted colleagues are in their happy place. I am feeling isolated in a not-so-happy way. I miss being in public places where I can practice a trick every writer uses for inspiration: eavesdropping!

In lines, restaurants, grocery stores, on public transportation, well everywhere really, people talk to one another and say the juiciest things! I always have my phone and a small notebook with me to either dictate a voice memo or jot down what I overheard.

Then I use these as prompts to inspire the muse when stuck or as the basis for the story triggered in my mind. For example, “As soon as I met his mother, I knew why he needed fixing.” Plenty to build on there! I miss that inspiration.

Video chats, Facebook, Netflix, and hugging my dogs helps but after a week of seclusion I am starting to feel not myself and my productivity is plummeting. What to do?

Time for a mindset shift! I realized I need to change the way I perceive this isolation. So, I did a little self-coaching and came up with these three tips to shift my thinking.

See the Love

This isolation is an act of love. All around the world people are staying in their homes with the sole purpose of stopping the spread of the virus. That is beautiful! A literal global circle of people united for one purpose.

I am leaning into the energy of that!

It is helped by the videos of people singing from their balconies in Italy, the thunder of clapping at 8 PM in Spain every night to thank and encourage the health care providers, by the dolphins back in the canals in Venice, by the pollution reduction in large USA cities, and by the thousands of ways people are stepping up to make masks, set up phone calls for people living alone, and switching Tiny Libraries to Tiny Food Banks.

So much love! I am grateful and inspired. With this shift, my mood lifts and my creativity surges.

Savor the Silence

I replace the eavesdropping with attention to silence. I’m turning off the television, the radio, and the computer, even my play lists. Now, I listen. What I used to believe was silence, is not. I hear the birds singing outside my window and I am reminded that spring is here, the time of rebirth and renewal.

I hear sounds in my home that I do not usually process. I am aware of my furnace and the reassuring sound of warm air being gently pumped into every room. I hear one of my dogs whimper softly and look up to see her paws moving. She is dreaming.

Those soft sounds remind me of her devoted companionship and unconditional love. She is always at my feet as I write. I hear a truck in my cul-de-sac and know mail and deliveries are still happening. I am not alone. Living creatures surround me, and I am safe and warm. My home is my atelier.

Change One Word

This is one of the simplest mindset strategies yet one of the most powerful. Change just one word, change have to get. When you make that substitution, the thought that follows shifts. Here are a few of my changes:

“I have to stay home because of forced isolation policies.”


“I get to stay home and help stop the spread of the virus.”

“I have to cancel all my outside appointments.”


“I get to reschedule all my outside appointments and now have huge blocks of time for my writing.”

“I have to stop eating out with my friends.”


“I get to order delivery and support my favorite restaurants.”

We can’t pretend there is not a worldwide pandemic. We can’t change that our lives are altered. We can’t deny that it will take time to recover.

But we can choose how we think about it, how we frame it, what our mindset is. And in choice there is power. I am choosing to see the love, savor the silence, and change one word to open the door to the muse, beckon her in, and write.

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When My Son Died, My Dogs Helped Me Grieve

My son Brendan and I shared a deep love for our three animal companions: our Yorkie Lottie Ann, and our pair of Coton de Tulear, Lucie and Luckie. They are family, and Bren referred to them as his sisters. He was responsible for giving them their breakfast at 6:00 am, and then taking them outside into our yard. The yard is just below my bedroom window, and I could hear him talking to them, laughing, calling their names, and encouraging them to “Go!”

My son died in December. I will never forget that first morning when I had to care for them. As I watched them go outside to “do their business” before I fed them, I cried so hard, missing my boy. As I scooped their kibble, I thought about how his hands had touched this scoop last and would never do so again. The ache in me was crushing. At just that moment, as I turned to pile Lucie’s food into her dish, she did a vertical leap into the air, and I could hear my son’s laugh and him saying, “Mom, look at the cute thing Lucie does when she sees her food!”

I knew then that Bren would be with me always. I knew then that these girls would help me grieve and help me learn to live without him and still experience joy. They stuck closely by my side for weeks following his death. If I was sitting on the couch, they would position themselves so each of them was touching my body. And I know they grieved too. Lucie made a soft sound, something between a sigh and a moan for days. I knew just how she felt.

Assuming the feeding duties for them gave me something I had to get up and do when I was not sure I could even get out of bed. They literally kept me going. They gave me unconditional love and support, not abandoning my side even when I was consumed by gut-wrenching sobs. They did funny things that I know my son found delightful that reminded me to laugh and stay in the moment. They reminded me that I am alive, that I am not alone, and that there is still joy to be experienced. And for that, I am grateful.

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Vanquish Your No’s, Overcome Procrastination, Own Your Process

Many creatives struggle with procrastination, sometimes to the point where we never actually start our work, much less finish it. When we procrastinate, what we are really doing is telling ourselves “no.”  Let’s look at what saying no means with regard to creating with purpose and ease. We’ll deconstruct some no’s and offer a strategy or two to vanquish them.

Have you ever had a great idea and you immediately write down the heart of it, thinking Oh I can’t wait to flesh this out? Then weeks later the idea is still nagging at you but now the nag is layered with guilt about why you haven’t done something with it? This is a fear of beginning.

Or, you have the most smashing idea for a novel and in a burst of energy you outline the plot and over the next few days write three or four kick ass scenes and then … nothing. Suddenly there are a million other things that you think need to be done and take priority when actually you have hit a wall with the writing but don’t want to admit it. This is fear of completion.

Or have you ever read a call for submissions and thought, “That’s perfect for me, it is exactly what I need to advance my practice right now!” The submission closing date is weeks out at the time but now it is three days before submissions close and you have not done one thing? Ouch. This is fear of rejection.

In each of these scenarios you are procrastinating by telling yourself no about moving forward. I propose that by examining no a bit more closely, and ferreting out what the consequences, and possible benefits, of the no are, you can move past them and return to a productive mindset and practice.

In the first, you are saying no before you start; if you never start, nothing can be produced. In the second, you are saying no to completion, denying yourself the satisfaction of a finished project. In the last, you are avoiding rejection.

In all three of these cases, the procrastination is sheltering you from putting your work into the world. Why would we say no to ourselves in this way? Why would we not want our work in the world, making a difference? While all artists create from the heart and soul, our mind can wreak havoc on our ego. What will people think? What if I am not the artist or writer I think I am? What if my submission is rejected? What if my work is just ignored?

What does telling ourselves no do for us? What is the underlying value? If we never write, no one will ever read it and no one will ever find fault with it. It will remain this terrific idea, full of potential to tap at a later time. If we never finish the novel or the painting, it remains in the world of possible, just momentarily shelved. All these no’s protect us from judgment and rejection; the benefit is that we are “safe.”

If we follow the no all the way through, though, safe does not feel so good. We deny ourselves the potential pleasure of having our efforts warmly received. We deny ourselves feedback that may advance us as artists. We deny ourselves the pleasure of bravely putting our work out there and knowing we have done our best and that it is indeed enough.

Use these questions to examine your procrastination and unpack how saying no is helping or hindering.

1. What will happen if I don’t complete this project? What will I lose? What will I gain?

2. What will happen if I do complete this project? What is the best outcome? What is the worst?

3. How can I switch from a no mindset to a yes mindset, thus getting my work into the world?

Let’s use avoiding submission as an example.

1. If I do not get this in on time I will have missed the opportunity to be considered. If I do not submit then I do not have to face the fear of rejection, and the anxiety of waiting for a response.

2. If I do submit the obvious best outcome is acceptance, success. But then there is the shadow side of success, that the work will be seen and judged. Or perhaps the rejection will be so discouraging I might stop work altogether.

3. If I do not submit, then I am guaranteed a no. If I do get a rejection that does not mean my work is not of value, it may just mean this is not the right place for it. If the rejection comes with critique I will have the opportunity to improve the work and submit again. Rejection is part of living a creative life. These thoughts help loosen the ego’s grip on outcome and open the possibility of acceptance.

In addition to looking at how telling yourself no is stopping your productivity and then reframing that, try this, stating the concern and then turning it around to a positive affirmation.

For example: This journal has a ridiculously low acceptance rate. My writing will not make the cut so why bother. Turn it around to: I am a good writer and I believe in my work. I am saying yes to this opportunity and I embrace whatever the outcome is. I will either rejoice and be delighted or I will learn from the experience and get accepted next time. Either way I am moving my work forward.

Taking time to examine how saying no to your own work helps or hinders you and then creating an affirmation to bolster your courage, will loosen the grip of procrastination.

I use this practice in 1-1 coaching sessions with my clients and also when I procrastinate. While writing this article I reminded myself that this practice has been enormously successful and part of my creative citizenship is to share what works. If you’d like some help implementing this, please visit me at my website www.secondbloomcoaching.com and schedule a chat. Turn those no’s into yesses!

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Need Help Manifesting? Seven steps to manifesting your desires using… postcards!

I have always loved postcards. I love buying them. I love writing them. I love sending them. I love the happy response from the person who receives them. We all get very little paper mail these days so a pretty postcard with a heartfelt message is often an unexpected pleasure.

I also love getting postcards, but rarely do. It is not that my friends don’t travel; many of them travel extensively. They just find it easier to post on Facebook, send group email, or blog.

I am a bit of a postcard hoarder. I have stacks of them. Some are location specific, some are from museum shops, and some are collections of quotes. I love them.

One day, while thinking about manifestation and future gratitude, I had an idea. In 2000 I read a book by Henriette Klauser, Write It Down, Make it Happen: Knowing What You Want – and Getting It! As a long time journaler, I fell in love with the power of bringing something to fruition by committing it to paper. Once the movie The Secret came out, many people became committed to manifesting their desires. Gratitude, noticing what you receive and appreciating it, is part of the process. Another aspect of manifesting power is being grateful for the desire before it comes, as if it is already here. I use my postcards for this. I keep a few in my purse or computer case. Once I set a goal, or put forth a desire, I write myself a postcard either congratulating myself on the achievement or expressing what a delight it is to have my desire. For example, I was submitting an essay to an anthology. I long admired this series and knew competition for selection was fierce. I put my heart and soul and considerable time and effort into my submission. After sending it, I immediately wrote myself a postcard saying how good it feels to be chosen, to have my work recognized, what an honor it is. My submission was accepted and published and it felt marvelous.

I use this for everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. I share the joy of fitting into a pair of pants that I was once five pounds too heavy for. I celebrate having my garden planted in time for my summer solstice party. I am thankful for the new friend I met at a conference I will be attending soon. I appreciate reaching a new income milestone. It might be a perfect check up at my annual physical. This is fun and very powerful.

Here are some suggestions to get your started:

1. Buy postcards wherever you go: while traveling, at museum shops, bookstores, gift shops, maybe just buy blank cards and design your own.

2. Have stamps on hand. As I use forever stamps in the USA, I just put them onto the postcards as I buy them.

3. Address the cards immediately.

4. Keep the postcards accessible. I have some in my purse, some in my computer bag, and some on my desk at home.

5. Be playful with this! Don’t overthink it or use them only for serious requests. All desires are worth celebrating.

6. When the postcard arrives, stop and feel the joy of it. Even if what you desire is still not here, relax into the feeling of having it.

7. Save the postcards. I keep mine in a basket in my living room. Every once in a while I read through them. It is astounding how many of them are now realized. Not all of course. But the funny thing is that when I look at the ones not realized; I have two responses. One is noticing I got something even better than that. The other is to ask myself if I still desire it? If I do, guess what? I write another postcard!

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Tomatoes, Insight, and Love - A Father's Day tribute to my dad.

My dad did not suffer fools gladly. At age 13 he went to work in the coalmines after his father was killed in a mining accident. As the oldest son, it was his responsibility. He was a good provider for our family too, first working in the mines and then as a surveyor and safety inspector for an insurance company. He was not the kind of dad who would come see you perform in your class play or at a sporting event or ask you about your day. But there was always food on the table and a safe and comfortable home.

One thing he did love was gardening, in particular growing tomatoes. He had little interest in flowers, preferring side crops of onions and peppers. I have a fond childhood memory of a day when I went with him to buy tomato plants, onion sets, and peppers. I spotted a packet of flower seeds, Bachelor Buttons. I was enchanted by the pink and blue flowers on the picture and begged him to buy them for me. He did and for that year at least there was a scraggly row of flowers running between the tomato plants.

As gruff as he was, my dad had a soft spot for an underdog. When my son was born with numerous health and development challenges, my dad became his greatest champion. He would send him letters and actually chat with him on the phone. Dad was never much for idle chatter but for Bren he had time. My son had severe food allergies and one of the few foods he could eat was… tomatoes. Dad became my tomato consultant as I began growing my own in patio pots. I learned the fine art of pinching off suckers to promote growth and why it was always a good idea to plant some Big Boys. Dad was bewildered by my consideration of heirloom varieties… why when we know what good eating his favorites were?

My dad passed away years ago but I felt close to him every year when I planted my pots. Then my son died in December. I am now thinking of both him and my dad as I pull off the suckers. This year I have a long row of pots on my deck, full of yellow blossoms that will soon be replaced with green and then ripe, red tomatoes. It is only since my son’s death that I understand, as I look at the row of pots in full bloom, it is not about how many tomatoes I can grow. I don’t even like tomatoes. It’s about love. And I love you Dad, glad you were there to greet my son. I’ll keep growing and sharing these red beauties and thinking of you both.

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I Am Still a Mother - My First Mother’s Day Without My Son

Brendan Matthew Whelley, the best son in the whole wide world, died in December just a month shy of his 42nd birthday. Bren was a person with special needs. He had some developmental delays, was visually impaired, had severe food allergies and numerous health challenges. He was also a delight. He savored every day, rarely complained, and brought joy and light to the world. I’m not saying he was never crabby or discouraged but those moments passed quickly. He would feel them and let them go.

Bren was my favorite person and constant companion. Every Mother’s Day on my facebook account or on my blog I would write one line, Why I love being a mother… and post a series of pictures of Bren from that year. Those pictures always included Bren with his dogs, swimming, making book sculptures, doing volunteer work, going to his CHEERS (Communities Helping Each and Everyone Reach Success) group activities or University of Dayton basketball games, and eating French fries. My boy loved his fries!

I was dreading this Mother’s Day. For the first time in 42 years I would not be with my son. I would not be awakened with a cheery “Happy Mother’s Day, thanks for being my mom!” and presented with a gift he had made. In recent years we would celebrate by going to Red Robin. If you are unfamiliar with Red Robin, it is a hamburger restaurant chain where they serve bottomless fries. You can understand why he thought that was the best place to celebrate everything.

I miss him. I am struggling to figure out life without him. But only life without his physical presence as I feel him every day. I focus on the joy he shared and try to be like him as much as possible.  I am blessed with loving friends, who loved Bren too, and are helping me grieve. We remember his amazing hugs, sometimes a quick squeeze, sometimes a thirty second special. He and I had another unique way of hugging. For whatever reason, he liked to ride in the back seat of the car on the passenger side. One of us would yell “Hand Hug” and I would reach back and we would clasp hands. Even now, I holler it out and reach back as though he was still there.

My first thought today was of Bren. Then I was blessed, I believe by him, with a second powerful thought. I am still a mother. I always will be. So today I am celebrating motherhood, mine and all the other mothers’ in the world. I am going to sit with my memories. If you know a mother who has lost her child, think of her and if you feel comfortable doing so, reach out. Sometimes just “I am thinking of you.” is enough. I have told everyone to please speak to me about Bren, to say his name. To not worry that they will make me cry. There will be plenty of tears today; yet I will be smiling so much as I remember him. I am grateful for every day I got to mother Bren and I am grateful for all he taught me. I’m going to pass out hand hugs and spread some joy.

Be like Bren, hug your loved ones and be grateful for those in your life.

And I will revel in the deep knowing that I am still and will always be a mother.

*This post was scheduled for Mother’s Day but was delayed by a technology glitch. The message remains true.

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8 Tips for Your First Post-Divorce Holiday

1. Be intentional. Know that this holiday season IS different. Your life IS different. So take some time to think about how you want this to be and how you can make that happen. Think and plan ahead.

2. Have a mantra in mind that gives you strength and reminds you of possibility. Some examples might be: Change is hard AND change offers infinite possibilities. Or, yes, the life I had (and perhaps treasured) is gone AND the world is wide and full of interesting people. Today I choose to embrace those people. Or simply: I can now choose to create new holiday traditions.

3. Do something new. Plan at least one holiday activity that is something you never did in holidays past but always wanted to. Have you always wanted to ice skate to Christmas carols? Find a place and do it! Was your ex bored by the Hallmark happy endings holiday movies and you loved them? Grant yourself a day of binge watching. While we are talking about movies, movie theaters are not only open on Christmas but are featuring many new releases in preparation for the Oscars. This might be a good choice if you had a Christmas day ritual with your ex and that space feels empty. Get thyself to the theater!

 4. Say no. If you have an invitation to a gathering where you KNOW you will be uncomfortable, politely decline. For example, if your ex is there with a new partner and you are not ready for that or perhaps you know he or she will be there and you are not ready to share space. If it feels “too soon,” then it IS too soon and you do not have to do it. Give yourself permission to say no.

5. Establish boundaries. People are VERY curious about divorce. Whether well-meaning or just nosy, questions may be asked that you do not want to discuss in that moment. So have an answer prepared. For example, “I’m enjoying this time with friends (or family) and want to stay focused on that right now.” Then smile politely and offer a new topic. If the questioner persists, walk away or if you can’t do that (maybe you are seated next to them at the dining room table) simply ignore the questions.

6.  Reflect and Grieve.  Build in some time to reflect upon, and perhaps mourn, past holidays. That was your life and there was good there. If you need it, allow yourself some time to be with this. You are NOT required to be “all better” on any particular time schedule. It can be as simple as stepping into a restroom to collect your thoughts while at a family gathering, or sitting down at home or a café and writing it all out. Maybe have a little ritual where you look over photos from holidays past and relive the good moments and allow time to accept their loss. If you don’t like to write and movement helps, walk or sweat it out. Take a walk, alone or with a friend, outdoors if possible. Or head to the gym for an extra workout. Allow yourself to think all the thoughts and then release them physically. Another possibility is to put on your favorite playlist and dance around your living room until you have danced it out.

7. Reach out. Look around you and find other people who might be alone or experiencing change during this holiday. Perhaps find someone who is also newly divorced. Perhaps find a mom who is having her first Christmas without her children who have grown and moved away. Check with local churches and ask the pastor if he or she knows of anyone who might appreciate a visit. Or maybe someone who would like to attend services but has no transportation. Bake or buy cookies and drop them off at the closest firehouse. If you love animals, call the local shelter and see if there is anything you can do as a volunteer.

8. Feel the feelings. Know that whatever you are feeling is acceptable. The good news about feelings is that they are temporary; they pass. As you grow and change through this experience, you’ll be choosing new feelings. If those still don’t feel right? Choose again. This is a journey, a process. You deserve happiness and joy. Make imperfect choices knowing you are growing as you do. The best is yet to come.

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