Friday, December 26, 2008

A New Year's Blessing From Your Southern Author Friend

With an entire year to elevate my thoughts, to contemplate the peace of Christ and His redemption, I can still battle negativity just like anyone else. But over time I’ve realized that by embracing the morning with whatsoever things are lovely, it brings hope for at least that day. I can blow away negativity now much more effortlessly than in the past with simple mental practices like meditation on God’s Word and His goodness. How about you? How do you know you've grown since last year? The changing of years helps us regain perspective and think on our life and what good things have come from our struggles.

We’re in the final hours of a year that is nearly finished. Here in the South, it’s the commencement of our true winter, a season of blooming pansies and light dustings of snow, at least down in the foothills. I brace for winter and a new year and somehow hope surfaces. It’s the season of do-overs and bowl games, winter beginnings and sports endings shaking hands.

I pray your new beginnings are powdered with snow and hope and football and faith. Toast and awaken and come alive to the fact that God’s still pondering you and what he might do with you next. You’re in his hands and that’s a reason to throw a party and kiss the cheeks of your friends. You are dearly loved, appreciated, and prayed over by this southern author. Happy New Year, friends!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Facing Loss Through the Holidays--Part 3

If You Are the One Recovering From Loss:
• Seek out a support system. I never would have made it without my girlfriends who called or emailed to check on me. I remember less about what they said, and more about their quiet vigil of presence. Support groups are available in most every state through ministries like GriefShare. My GriefShare group had mostly widows, though. I recommend groups that share similar loss.
• If you are the grieving person, and your friends offer to come and do specific chores, watch a young child while you nap, etc., then consider letting them. It allows them to express their grief through beneficial works. If you are grieving, chances are they are too. And you will start to feel the weight lifting off your shoulders as you allow friends to help.

• If others do not want to acknowledge your missing loved one, don’t force it. But also don’t allow others to tell you how to grieve. Your grief is yours. Remember that women grieve differently from men, so be easy on your spouse.

•“Closure” is just a latch on the neighbor’s fence. If others tell you that you need to bring closure to your loss, it is only because they haven’t faced your kind of loss. They do mean well. Don’t allow meaningless “happy affirmations” or clich├ęs to ruin your day.

• Augustine’s “Dark Night of the Soul” seeped in every evening at 8:30 for my husband and I, so we learned to go to bed early to “beat the demons” to bed. Rest is a necessary ingredient to recovery from loss.

• Memory loss can be caused by the body’s natural response to shock, a literal washing of the neurons with a numbing chemical generated by your body. Yes, the Creator thought of it all. But memory loss and feelings of numbness can make you feel as if you’re losing your mind. You’re not. You’re normal.

• It’s fine to give yourself permission to distance yourself from social settings that you know typically create stress for you. Picture yourself in that place in advance. You are the best judge of what you can and cannot handle.

• If your loved one has passed unexpectedly during the holidays, you may want to consider asking a friend to remove their gifts and donate them to charity in honor of your loved one. Our favorites are assistance to AIDS victims and a women’s drug treatment center, but there are homeless people who need gifts, elderly folks, shut-ins, and families in your church who can’t afford to buy gifts. Again, let this be your choice and not something you’ve been pressured to do.

• Avoid mind-numbing solutions to grief such as over-medicating or alcohol. Eventually the effects of those things wears off and you still have to face the loss. If you take anti-depressants under your doctor’s advice, then you and your doctor can decide what is healthy for you.

• Make yourself a cup of your favorite hot drink, start a fire in the fireplace, or light a candle and then journal a letter to your loved one and express what you are feeling through the holidays with them gone. Written expression is helpful for triggering natural coping mechanisms.

• Money can be mismanaged and disappear quickly if someone isn’t minding the till. Allow a trusted friend, pastor, or family member to help oversee your finances through the first year of grief. Grieving widows accustomed to a spouse who oversaw the finances can wake up one day to find the lights shut off or the home going into foreclosure just because you were too numb or inexperienced to keep vigil over your pocketbook. Let others help.

• By making the choice to commence facing my journey of grief right away, the unbearable heaviness didn’t linger as long as it does in denial. So embracing was the best choice for me. When I felt the heaviness seeping in, I mentally confronted. I even held conversations with it—“Oh, it’s you, Grief. Come on in. We’ll talk.” I put feelings to words. Today it feels like . . . It’s different than last week when I felt . . .It’s worse. . . It’s better. . . This anniversary date is killing me . . . When will I stop crying? I had a dream about you. . . Today was amazing.

• Here is one suggestion that I’ve not seen anywhere else, but after asking several grieving parents about this, many agree with my husband and me about the problem caused by music; perhaps it’s worse for parents suffering the loss of a child. Song lyrics are written out of an artist’s emotions. When my emotions were raw and I was still suffering shock, songs about heaven, love, loss, even Christ’s suffering and death sent my emotions into a nosedive. Most radio song themes depict love or pain and so does church music. My husband experienced the same anguish. We both love music. He and our two sons are musicians, so our home is full of music. We kept the radio and CD player off for many months. It was another of those temporary changes we made in order to keep our emotions on an even keel. I visited the neighborhood music store and found recordings of beautiful peaceful music that had no recognizable tune and no lyrics. Sound therapy is soothing. We often fell asleep listening to the soothing sounds. Time eventually healed us in that regard and we were able to enjoy our music again.

Sorrow is a sacred time in a family’s life. It is the season that changes all other seasons. Respect and honor include the practices of sensitivity and patience. Gathering to weep is as important as gathering to laugh. During the holidays, make time for both.

♥If you are suffering loss and don’t have someone to call, please call the Hickmans and we’ll be glad to talk you off any ledges or offer you our own experiences through loss. Tel. 704-655-9390.

"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'erfraught heart and bids it break." William Shakespeare

“And the people who recover are the people who admit, and are able to talk about it and to share it.”
H. Norman Wright

“Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lam. 3:22,23

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Facing Loss Through the Holidays--Part 2

The best gift a grieving person can give to himself or herself is permission: permission to change traditions, to create new normals, to kindly say “no” to social settings that place high expectations on you. Another fact you might remember is that people who love you might be afraid of mentioning your loved ones name. Over time, whenever possible I gently dispel this myth to anyone who will listen. My daughter’s name is the sweetest sound to my ears. I carry her with me everywhere I go, so when I noticed everyone around me holding back from mentioning her name, it created an emotional deficit. So my husband and I agreed to mention her whenever we want and sometimes almost every day.

For the holidays, personal memorials aid your sense of loss like a healing balm. Holding a candle lighting service in honor of your loved one can be a comfort and allow you to reflect positively about the one you are missing. I wore one of Jessi’s blouses and my husband played one of her CD’s. I sprayed her favorite cologne into the air, closed my eyes, and danced in the aroma. Our youngest son and I collected miniature ornaments that we felt his sister would love. We found a miniature tree with battery operated lights. We decorated the little tree, took it to the cemetery, and gave it to our Jess for Christmas. We felt as though somehow she knew and was there with us. Just as we were leaving the cemetery, a soft winter rain let go and in the dim grayness, we could see Jess’s tree shining out. It was a reminder of the light of Christ that had always shown forth from her heart. That is the power of memory-on-purpose. Purposeful memories bring comfort.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to be certain that you don’t fall into the denial patterns of trying to act like nothing has changed. Of course everything has changed from this time forth. By acknowledging that change you fill that empty space with new memories and reflections; you grieve freely and positively.
Tonight we are making desserts for the homeless shelter after an announcement was made that they don't have enough desserts for Christmas. We're delivering them Christmas morning. I can't think of a more positive way to celebrate Christmas morning, and it was my son's idea--and he typically loves the "stuff." We grow as a family through loss when we make our grief a proactive exercise in love.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Facing Loss Through the Holidays--Part 1

After the sudden loss of our daughter, we were warned by other grieving parents of the “dreaded holiday season.” Our family had always enjoyed our Christmas fanaticism, the neighborhood lights competitions, and the many annual traditions we practiced. Having had loss thrust on us suddenly, we had to reconstruct Christmas. I attribute this one sane response to our family’s dependence on Christ since there is no other logical explanation for a season when all seems illogical. The old traditions were too painful so it became evident that we were going to have to create a new normalcy for the holidays. Because it had always been our tradition to hang the old handmade tree ornaments made by our children over the years, pulling those precious keepsakes out for me as a mom was devastating. We had several discussions with our sons and agreed that for at least a couple of years, we were going to keep the tree in temporary retirement.

Whether it is a tree or some other family heirloom that reminds you of the loved one you have lost, thinking of putting those types of triggers out of sight in advance of the holiday season could help to alleviate some of the stressors that may negatively affect your raw emotions.

However, that didn’t mean we were going to force our boys to sit around the house glum-faced. A friend passed along a timeshare trip that first Christmas that allowed us to visit an island in South Carolina, a new experience for us. We created a fresh memory. We were surprised at how a change of scenery lifted our hearts out of the doldrums. The condo came with a full kitchen and we all cooked something different and fun, but not laborious.

After several years, my holiday spirit did return, the ornaments were pulled out, and I was glad to return to our old Christmas traditions.

This week, I'll post a series of helps for those of you who are either grieving through the holidays or you're supporting a friend or family member facing loss. Please feel free to send a link to your friends in need of consolation. Take care.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Patsy's Friend:Grief at Christmas

Yesterday my hubby confessed he was having a very sad day. He was missing Jessica so badly he could barely stand it. I confessed that my dark shadow of grief had, thankfully, just passed and I was beginning to feel that awesome joy that follows. We're both thankful that God helps us as a pair with the balance of support for each other. We had no sooner made our confessions to one another than our oldest son Josh called from the hospital where he works and the "sads" were creeping in on him too.

Then I received an email from my precious friend Patsy whose best friend Carol just passed away Dec. 1. Patsy has posted her YouTube video on her website and it's such a blessing I thought it would be a great way to precede my annual postings for those going through loss around the holidays. I post this with great joy that it is going to bless the socks off you whether or not you are longing for sweet reunions this holiday season.

Just go to Patsy's website, and then click on the video.

And tomorrow I'll post little encouragements for those experiencing loss through the holidays.

Great joy to you all!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Calling All Big-Haired Girlfriends--It's the Pulpwood Queens Author Extravaganza

It’s official, readers. I’ve been invited as an author to be presented JAN. 15-17 at the Pulpwood Queen’s Author Extravaganza, a huge annual event for women who are avid fans of southern literature. I'll be promoting my latest novel Painted Dresses.
Whether or not I'll have to wear a tiara remains to be seen.
If you live anywhere in the vicinity of the Ark-LA-Texas corridor, get some spray in that wig and get thyself to this huge weekend book party and event. It’s sponsored by Beauty and the Book—the world’s only beauty shop and book store. I am not kidding! The Pulpwood Queens have been promoted across the country (including Oprah) as the world's wildest book club. The charters have now crossed international
This is a fun, fun event and I can’t wait to meet all the readers from my old childhood stomping grounds as I grew up in this corridor, down on the Arkansas side of Barbecue and Big Hair Boulevard.

Here’s a note from the event’s director and founder, (and now author) Kathy Patrick:
Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza 2009

Dec 1st, the price is $350 for members and remember for non-members the price is always $100 higher. We accept all major credit cards but checks must be payable to Beauty and the Book and sent to address below to Attention: Girlfriend Weekend.
Individual tickets for events during Girlfriend Weekend will be available at the door but may be limited to space of event venues. Some events will be SOLD OUT so contact me at either 903-665-7520 for tickets or email me at
The full schedule for Girlfriend Weekend 2009 is on the website, with list of authors to be featured coming soon.

This is your party and the more we put into it the better the event! I think you will be very pleased with the fantastic line up of authors, speakers, actors, celebrities, and musicians. I work on this event all year and I do my very best to make this event that will be memorable! Now let's get busy reading!
Kathy Patrick, Tiara Wearing Founder of Pulpwood Queens

Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza's mission is to promote literacy, to serve the Ark.La.Tex community through educational, theatrical, literary, and musical programs; to nurture, support, and showcase regional, national and international writers, actors, musicians, and other artists; to help undiscovered authors get discovered in a big way!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gratitude for Your Compassion

Here are some notes of gratitude from some very gracious and grateful moms and kids who want to thank those of you who gave to the Thanksgiving Big Give:

“The Secret Angels has helped me and my family be able to enjoy the holidays. Thank you so much. I have been out of work for almost 6 months and this is truly a blessing and I know God is smiling down on everyone.”

“The Secret Angels has helped me by giving me a meal to feed four young children. These are my grandchildren and niece that I’m raising. Angels like you all help make a difference in giving of your time to help families like ours. God Bless and have a happy holiday season!”

“The Secret Angels have been an awesome blessing in my family’s life. Providing food, presents, and other things have helped and has been wonderful. We didn’t have the funds for meals and Christmas presents. Secret Angels has blessed us and given us hope and fantastic holidays.”

“The SAP helps me and my family a lot because times have gotten to be very hard for us. I lost my job and had to take a lesser paying one that barely pays my bills. If it wasn’t for people like you all, me and my family wouldn’t have Thanksgiving dinner this year. So we are very thankful for you all and God bless all of you!”

“I would like to thank all the families who helped to make this possible. My family and I didn’t know how we were going to do Thanksgiving this year. So we are very thankful for all who helped this year. And the staff was very great!

A Child: “Secret Angels helps my family by giving us food and lots of toys at Christmas. We get things my parents couldn’t buy for us because we have so many medicines to buy and bills to pay. Secret Angels are angels to us because they take care of us.”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gratitude for Your Compassion

If you've been following the Hickmans' Thanksgiving Saga, you may scroll down and read it in a three part blog. The following letter is posted from the Levine Children's Hospital for those of you who gave generously this past week to our families affected by AIDS:

November 28, 2008

Dear Secret Angels and “Co-Angels,”

Each Thanksgiving, families sit down together in honor of a tradition that began long before HIV and AIDS were discovered. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons, whether by blood or spirit, reflect on the blessings they have received. They give thanks for the food that warms their bodies and the love that warms their hearts. This Thanksgiving, many families affected by HIV were nourished by wonderful meals and the knowledge that a group of Angels is dedicated to vanishing the shadow this illness casts on their days. I, too, gathered with family this Thanksgiving, and thought about how grateful I am to the Secret Angels for their never-ending kindness and commitment.

Each Thanksgiving, families sit down together in honor of a tradition that began long before HIV and AIDS were discovered. Some day, families will sit down together again, and HIV and AIDS will be nothing but a lesson, and a memory.

Until there’s a cure,
Amy Fadden, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Social Worker
Levine Children’s Specialty Center
On behalf of the families of the Pediatric HIV clinic
* * * * *
Tomorrow, I'll post the notes of appreciation directly from our families.
Stay tuned!