Archive for the ‘Giving back’ Category

Why I Love Thanksgiving

November 23, 2012
Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal (Photo credit: limevelyn)

Let me count the ways. In reverse order of importance, they are:

5. The Food. OMG. My friend Karen Hester makes the most amazing pies, including a crumbly topped apple pie and yummy pumpkin with whipped cream. This year, I made a yam,  pineapple, and apple casserole. Simple, but utterly delicious. Karen hosted us for potluck dinner at her house – omniivores and vegetarians happily comingled to eat stuffed squash with rice and tofu or turkey and all the trimmings, depending on your preference. Delish!

4. The Beauty. The day was gorgeous: sunny, in the high sixties with a crystalline blue sky. We hiked in Redwood Regional Park for two hours and saw gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay to the west and Mt. Diablo to the east. Along the trail we encountered a happy melange of dogs, kids (including babies in front packs and in strollers), and even bumped into a few friends of friends along the way. We walked beneath towering redwoods and giant eucalyptus trees, redolent with fragrance. Food for the soul.

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail

Redwood trees on the Golden Spike Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The Company. This year, I was with my “chosen family,” Karen’s tribe of women friends, some of whom I only see at the annual Thanksgiving feast. It’s good to hear people’s stories of the past year, their successes, their losses, their plans and dreams. It’s a kind of shapeshifting oral history we share that enlivens the day. We played Charades after dinner, acting out books, movies, and songs and one of the kids in attendance entertained us with a performance on her flute. At dinner we all went around and shared what we’re thankful for – always an inspiring and moving exercise in gratitude.

2. The Family. Some years, I spend the day with extended family. The Jones clan is big and boisterous with three generations coming together, including the ex-spouses, kids, and grandkids. This year, my granddaughter Lucia’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving. At three, Lucia is a bubbly, funny, and often challenging girl with a mind of her own. I hosted a birthday party for her last weekend, and now it was her grandpa Ron’s turn to celebrate the holiday and Lu’s birthday with family and friends. Even when we’re not together, family is in my heart. The Vincent family is spread all other the country and the globe now – Germany, New Jersey, Massachusetts, suburban Washington, DC, and Ohio. Each one was in my thoughts. And, of course, our beloved Maya, her stepbrother Mark, and her cousin Eric, all of whom left the planet way too soon. I give thanks for their lives and send them love each day, but on Thanksgiving I can share with others how grateful I am to have had Maya for almost 20 years.

Family permeates our lives. I thought of my two grandmothers. Eleanor, who taught me how to make gravy which I did yesterday at Karen’s gathering. And Pearl, my father’s mother, who made the best lemon chiffon pie ever and taught me how to sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Zippety-do-dah,” which I now sing to Lucia. We pass along these family traditions and on Thanksgiving I become so aware of these influences and so grateful for them.

1. The Gratitude. I practice gratitude each day, often writing in a gratitude journal. On Thanksgiving, being thankful becomes a public ritual, shared by family and friends. Gratitude puts everything in perspective. It doesn’t mean ignoring the sad or difficult parts of life. It’s a means of balancing the scales. Death and life. Pain and joy. Loneliness and togetherness. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the experience of being human. There are no presents, and little pressure, only the sharing of food and conversation. Gratitude makes me happy and so thankful for all of life.

What are you grateful for this holiday season? Do you keep a gratitude journal? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gratitude: A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples

November 19, 2012

I first met Madeline Sharples at a writing workshop at Esalen. I was immediately drawn to her calm, empathetic manner, her beauty, and her poems. We quickly learned that we shared some important life experiences – we were both grieving mothers and both of us were writing about our children.

Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, first appeared in hardback in 2010. It was recently reissued as an e-book and paperback by Dream of Things, a small press based near Chicago. Madeline is a tireless online journalist and blogger, and focuses her energies on raising awareness of mental illness and speaking out to prevent suicide. She is currently on a blog tour to promote her book and I am so pleased to host her reflections on gratitude.

Gratitude

by Madeline Sharples

The holiday season has begun and once again I view it as bittersweet. The holidays bring up too many reminders of my son Paul who died just three months shy of his 28th birthday in 1999. Since Paul was born on New Year’s Eve in 1971, the holidays are difficult for our family.

I also view the holiday season with gratitude. Besides my continued good health, the love and support of so many family members and friends, and my ability to live a productive life, that I can even think in terms of being grateful is a miracle. However, as bad as life was after Paul died, and as much as I continue to miss him, I have found out that with such a tragedy come unexpected gifts.

Paul’s death has made me a stronger person, physically and emotionally. It was as if I accomplished getting stronger through brute force. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I took writing classes and workshops; I went back to work outside my home with my usual verve to compete on the job and to excel in my work; I embarked on a daily exercise program. I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.

I have reinvented myself as a poet and a creative writer. Four months after Paul died I found that poems just came spontaneously out of my pen. Though I write prose more than poetry, poetry is my love. My poetry writing has become my companion and my savior – something I can turn to at any time, or in any place.

I also wrote my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, and I’m busy writing a novel. I have been able to fulfill my life-long dream to work as a writer.

My husband and I have a stronger marriage probably because of a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and Bob’s willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient, we gave each other a lot of space, and we respected each other. We supported each other so that we could grieve in our own ways. Plus, we’ve worked hard to stay healthy so that we can still travel and enjoy many diversions such as movies, theater, and opera and long walks at the beach near our home.

I have a terrific bond with my surviving son Ben and his new wife. Yes, I’m proud to say I’m a new mother-in-law. My son and his wife live close by and we spend quite a bit of time with them. That he and Marissa wanted to have their wedding in our family home meant so much to me. That created a very special bond between us and provided a very happy memory to replace the bad memories of the past years.

I’ve also embarked on a new mission in life – to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide, in hopes of saving lives through my writing and volunteer work. My next project is to offer the wonderful jazz music our son composed and performed as a CD to raise money for charities that share my mission. In this way, I’ll be able to perpetuate his memory and hopefully save the lives of people who suffer as Paul did.

With patience and hard work, I discovered I could go beyond surviving and actually thrive – and so these bittersweet holidays also fill my heart with gratitude that I have gone on to be a writer, a mother and wife, and a survivor.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0984631720/ref=sc_pgp__m_A1M6YBJMM98MZH_1?ie=UTF8&m=A1M6YBJMM98MZH&n=&s=&v=glance

Take a walk, save a life

May 3, 2010

Everyone seems to tap friends for money to cure AIDS, leukemia, or breast cancer – or in my case, cystic fibrosis.  Lately, I’ve been raising funds to support a walk-a-thon sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Why CF? Because my 22-month-old neighbor Lily has it.

When I come  home from work, if Lily is playing outside with her mom, Lara, she blows me kisses with her chubby little fingers. She runs at me as if on the verge of falling she’s so eager to see and do everything. Like a magpie, she loves any shiny object I happen to be wearing. She has blonde flyaway hair and a plastic tea set she points to excitedly any time I come to visit.

I love Lily!

When Lara told me that Lily had CF, I bit back tears. “I’m so sorry,” I said. Words would never be enough. I was determined to do something.

CF is a cruel killer. Typically, its victims are young. Over time, mucus builds up in the lungs causing infections that are ultimately fatal. The defective gene that is responsible for CF can also affect digestion and cause the pancreas to malfunction.

I knew one family that lost two daughters to this disease, one in her teens, the other in her early twenties. They are buried side by side not far from my daughter Maya at Oakmont Cemetary. Maya died of an accidental fall from a horse, not CF, but once you have lost a child you realize – deep in your bones – it doesn’t matter how your child dies. What matters is finding a way to survive  and be there for your other kids if you’re lucky enough to have any. Eventually, I rebuilt my life. But I hate the idea of  other parents having to join the fraternity – or of children dying before they have a chance at a full life.

That’s how I found myself with a white T-shirt displaying an iron-on decal saying “Team Lily” emblazoned on the middle of my chest walking along the San Francisco Bay with a ragtag group of friends and neighbors last Saturday morning. Our team wasn’t the biggest – we couldn’t match Team Genentech – but we weren’t the smallest either. In the group photo, about 40 of us crowd together behind a row of strollers and dogs at East Beach in Crissy Field. We set off on our three-mile walk in high spirits, quickly separated by the hundreds of other walkers, and dozens of strollers, wagons, and canines that promenaded up to Fort Point in a colorful and unruly mass.

Lots of teams were named after kids that parents are desperately hoping will be saved. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, funded by the generousity of walkers and their supporters, has already helped to find treatments that can extend life into young adulthood – age 37, on average. I’m sorry. That’s just not good enough. I want Lily to live to be an old lady – one that dusts off her plastic tea set and brings it out to play with her grandchildren. I want her laugh to last longer than three decades. I want to see her run into her future as confidently as she runs up the sidewalk toward me with mischief written all over her face.

Last I checked, “Team Lily” had raised more than $7,000. Multiply that by the dozens of other teams at the “Great Strides” event and you’ve got a serious investment in hope, in healthy kids, and in parents who can breathe a little easier knowing that they are not alone in this fight.


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