church lady.

I am sitting in the middle of the cold hard pew minding my own business when the soloist begins singing the offertory song.

She sounds like an angel, and this particular song brings back so many memories of my childhood in this church, in this very same pew.

I look around me, a few of my friends’ parents and former choir member friends are here. It is all so familiar, yet different too. I look up to the front of the church, notice “AMDG” over the altar, and suddenly I cannot prevent the tears from springing into my eyes.

I don’t want to start crying in church.

I don’t want people to think there’s something wrong with me.

This feeling…it is difficult to put into words. There is sadness, but there is also joy…I guess some would call it a feeling of nostalgia.

I look up to prevent the tears from spilling onto my cheeks and I see this…

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Although there isn’t a caption underneath the image, I think it is the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. I just had a “moment” with this profound story of forgiveness last month: a different kind of sunday school.

How can it be that I’ve been coming to this church for over forty-five years (45 years!) and I somehow never made the connection to this stained glass window? I smile because I feel my friend, Carrie’s presence behind the thin veil.

It’s interesting that this week’s lesson for my Positive Psychology class is also focused on religion, spirituality and its impact on well-being. The researchers have hypothesized that religion impacts mental and physical health because of the following:

  1. Religion provides social support.
  2. Religion supports healthy lifestyles.
  3. Religion promotes personality integration.
  4. Religion promotes generativity and altruism.
  5. Religion provides unique coping strategies.
  6. Religion provides a sense of meaning and purpose.                                                                              ~Compton & Hoffman, Positive Psychology, pg. 233

In addition they note, “Religion can provide hope, offer reasons for unexpected and unwanted stressors, help people place their lives in a larger framework, and create renewed purpose and meaning.” (pg. 233)

I guess I never thought of my religion or spirituality in terms of my well-being, but this morning I understand it. I feel hopeful and grateful.

I am also smiling…my mom and grandma would LOVE that I have become a church lady. :o)


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#187. Bought a Streetwise from a gentleman in the neighborhood.

#186. Cleaned up bathroom (picked up paper towels, wiped down counter) at movie theater bathroom.

#185. My friend, Kim, and I helped turned over a pot that had flipped over on Central Street.
#184. Dropped off goodie bags at the 24th police district
#183. Helped a lady get a straw wrapper off her shoe.
#182.Kite mission (left a kite and kindness note in a bike basket).
#181. Kite mission (left a kite and kindness note at a newspaper stand).
#180. Spread bubble joy at park (left a bubble wand with a kindness note at the park).
#179. Spread bubble joy at park (left a bubble wand with a kindness note at the park).

 

*AMDG means “For the Greater Glory of God” and was one of my mom’s favorite expressions.

exposing my kids to purple

purpleOther than a wide variety of purple crayons, markers, paints and colored pencils, the only purple that our young children have been exposed to over the years fall under the categories of children’s literature and college athletics.

For literature, I read and re-read sweet and adorable stories that illustrate the power of the color purple and one’s imagination in the books, “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and “Purplelicious”, which are timeless and still stacked on our bookshelves throughout the house.

For college athletics, they were exposed to Northwestern football early on when we lived just steps away from the stadium. During the fall, our neighborhood was transformed into a sea of purple, as fans walked to the game and tailgated just outside our windows. At the pre-game festivities, they would high-five Willie the Wildcat, who was also decked out in purple, shout “Go Cats!” and wear Northwestern’s purple logo tattoos on their cheeks.

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photo credit: sportslogo.net

They certainly didn’t associate the color purple with music.

That is, until last Thursday, when they were fixated on all of the news reports about Prince. They were very curious about all of the monuments, stadiums and bridges being lit up in purple and each wondered aloud, “Who is Prince?” and “What’s Purple Rain?”

I looked at them in disbelief…What do you mean, “Who is Prince?”

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google images

I went to play something for them on my iPhone and was surprised that I didn’t have a single one of his songs on my playlist. How could this be possible?! Very discreetly, so as not to blow my (cool) cover, I went to the iTunes store and plugged in P-R-…but, before I could tap another key, Prince’s name populated, as millions of people were downloading his music at the same time. I thought I’d start with just a few of my favorites and his most popular songs, including; Little Red Corvette, Let’s Go Crazy, Purple Rain, I Would Die 4 U and Kiss.

Although I hadn’t heard these songs in a while, I knew every single word…even my kids were impressed because, according to them, “You don’t remember anything, Mom!”

When his music started playing, it was sort of like a weird time travel…I was immediately transported back into the 8th grade with my friends, their boomboxes, the blue eyeliner and all that teenage angst. I could almost smell Dep hair gel, which, if I used enough, I could get my kinky, frizzy hair to look almost like Prince’s hair style. Almost. (I mean, I had a MUCH better chance of getting that look than Apollonia’s beautiful long locks!) I watched the movie, Purple Rain, at my friends’ apartment over and over and over again, feeling both intrigued and terrified of what I was watching. My immature brain was trying to process…What do these words in his songs mean? What’s with all that heavy breathing and rolling around on stage? Don’t I sound exactly like him when I sing into my hairbrush? (My sister’s response: a definitive “no”.)

During the beginning of junior year of high school, my interest in Prince waned as I started to gravitating towards Bruce Springsteen, the Police and U2. They were considered mainstream and safe, which was just what I needed during those uneasy and awkward high school days – fitting in with the mainstream crowd equaled safety for me. I started to think of Prince as unconventional, weird and a little self-absorbed and, unfortunately, that belief continued over the years.

What I have learned about Prince over the last several days is that he genuinely liked being his own person. He chose to be different. And, he was anything but self-absorbed, choosing to support so many different individuals and charities over the years, but always doing it under the radar.

So, in addition to exposing my kids to his music, I’m sharing what I’m learning about his philanthropy and his quirky and unique personality. It’s okay to be different is a mantra I’ve used over and over again in this household. I’m also telling them that I should have had an open mind over the years and not have been so quick to judge, perhaps I would have learned a lesson or two from him. It’s not too late to learn some lessons…

And…while there are many different accounts of what Purple Rain means, the most common interpretation I have found is that it means a new beginning…the color of the sky at dawn is purple, at times, and rain is symbolic of cleansing. I will share that with my children if they ask about it again, but I suspect they’ve already forgotten the question (and they say I forget everything!).

This morning I woke up WAY before dawn, purple or otherwise, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I remembered that we had taped Purple Rain, so I went downstairs and quietly turned on the tv. It was the first time I’ve watched it as an adult.

Over thirty years and many life experiences behind me, I watched it through a very different lens…we are all broken at one point or another, but there is always hope for a new beginning.

 

I am grateful to my dear friend, April, who loyally (and literally) followed Prince throughout the years and exposed me to purple, Prince and Purple Rain so many years ago. My kids and I thank you, April, for showing us that it’s okay to be different and that kindness always matters. xoxo


IMG_4699#115. Gave a Starbucks gift card to another favorite employee at Stop and Shop. He wasn’t there on Noochie’s birthday (the original plan). When I told him the card was for him in honor of my nephew and the kids’ cousin, he said, “I normally wouldn’t accept this, but I will because it’s in honor of your nephew.” I thanked him for accepting it and said that there were many days when his kindness turned my day around. He couldn’t believe it and said he was close to tears. He was going to give me a hug, except he had Poison Ivy all over his arms, so we “air” hugged. :o)

#114. Exposed kids to culture: Prince’s music and Purple Rain. (RAK of the Week)

#113. Earth Day activities: clean-up at duck pond with kids and their friends.

#112. Earth Day activities: helped kids and their friends plant pots with sweet pea and forget-me-not seeds. I told them the Cliff’s notes version of The Money Tree and A Sweet (Pea) Memory on this Earth Day…. We also said an Earth Day prayer, thanks to Sr. Terri!

#111. Made Earth Day pots for front office staff at kids’ school.

#110. Sent a note of encouragement to someone.

#109. Donated our old dining room table and chairs to someone who just moved into an apartment.

#108. Donated kids’ clothes to Good Will.

#107. Re-shelved food items at store.

The Bright Side

Intensity.

It is usually considered a good thing.

When we describe a person as intense in their careers, education, athletics, etc., it’s looked upon as a strong personality trait.  It often describes a person who is focused and motivated. These individuals work hard to achieve their goals.

But what about emotional intensity?

I’m not so sure that everyone would describe it as a positive attribute. It can be exhausting to be with one of “those people”. :o)

I am what most people would consider to be a very INTENSE person.

As my close friends know, I LOVE making connections with others, but I have an incredibly difficult time making small talk. I prefer to dive in and go under the surface than discuss more top-of-the-surface issues.

For example, don’t you learn more about people when you discuss how they feel in the weather rather than what the actual temperature is on a certain day? Wouldn’t you want to share stories about our best friends, rather than our favorite pair of shoes or handbags or places to shop? And while I love to chat about the Real Housewives of NYC or Atlanta or Beverly Hills or Orange County, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to talk about how your dad is getting along since your mom died?

You see my problem.

I should clarify. I’m not saying that small talk doesn’t serve a purpose. It does. And I’m not saying I don’t do it either. I do. It just so happens that I really like to watch and recap the Real Housewives. It’s a great escape from reality. It keeps things light. However, I am just unable to keep up my end of the conversation, so a “light” conversation with me usually turns into something like this:

Friend: “Did you see that episode this week? Her sister is nuts!”

Me: “Well, I don’t know that she’s ‘nuts’, I think she has some really serious addiction issues and I feel really sorry for her and her kids…”

You see my problem.

Being a “Debbie Downer” is truly a downer sometimes. And that’s not to say that I can’t be a lot of fun. It’s true…I used to be HILARIOUS! I can do the best impersonations, make a complete fool out of myself for a laugh and tell hysterical stories. However, over the last five years, I’ve definitely mellowed and now most people only get to visit the “deep end” of this pool. While I used to host huge house parties, I will tell you this, nothing clears a party faster than when someone asks me what I’m up to these days…

Party Guest: “Wow, you sure go back to Chicago a lot, what are you going for this time?”

Me: “I’m organizing a team for a suicide prevention walk.’

Party Guest: “Oh”

Me: “Yea”

Again, you see my problem.

So…this happens – A LOT. And, because I’m totally awkward and not very quick-witted, it takes a long time for me to recover. Like, it might not be until I’m driving home in the car 45 minutes later or when I’m about to fall asleep later that night that I realize how I should have responded without getting too deep. It isn’t unusual for a friend to receive an email or text apology after I’ve over-thought the situation for HOURS on end.

And, it’s important to note here that it’s not like I’m walking down the streets of Fairfield or Chicago telling everyone and anyone my business. As any (tortured) Public Speaking 101 student remembers, you need to “know your audience”. I am careful who I reveal my intensity to (well, most times).

Because of my emotional intensity, and trying to “read” my audience, I now save the heavy stuff for certain people. And because my family and I have experienced a lot of tough stuff over the last several years, I’ve had to allocate the stories around to a lot of different individuals, although my husband, Dave, bears the brunt of it. And it is a heavy burden.

I refer to these folks as my “safety nets”. And I am so incredibly fortunate to have them. As someone who identifies strongly as more of an introvert (I get my energy from being alone), I do have a lot of close connections. It’s just that when you’re an emotionally intense person, I have found that it’s better to “share the wealth” with many, in order to keep those friendships. Basically, these people save me from myself. They know (at least I hope they know this) that I am ALWAYS there to listen to them and their stories as well. As long as it’s not about shoes or handbags (just kidding…sorta).

I also choose to spend a significant amount of time alone. And it’s not because I’m sad. I just really, really, REALLY enjoy being alone, which doesn’t happen all that often. And, I need to stress here, it’s not because I don’t like people. It’s actually the reverse. I love people with an INTENSITY that’s exhausting and very difficult to understand unless you’re hardwired or socialized this way too.

Over the last few years, I have found the best of both worlds in social media, more specifically, on Facebook. Yes, I know all the statistics about how bad it is for you and your relationships, but for me, it has helped. Like, really helped. I love connecting with people, I get to edit my comments (impulse control issues here), “like” to show support for my friends and see their adorable families and what they’re up to – all from the comfort of my little corner on our oversized forest green outdated sectional. Life is good.

And if you’re a Facebook fan like me, you know it isn’t rare to come across one of those “fun” little personality quizzes that show up on our newsfeeds once in a while. I usually don’t take the quizzes, but when the “Bright Side”, a great site for spreading happiness had one, I decided to take it.

Although I was not expecting this answer from the sweet little “happiness” site, I was not completely surprised. It read:

 

The results: “Your subconscious is obsessed with the fear of losing someone close. The pictures you have selected suggest that from a very early age you have been a very emotional person. You have matured fast, and realized that people sometimes get hurt. This realization has made you worry for the people close to you, and that has only grown as you’ve matured. Your subconscious is constantly running. It also tells you that you should do something in order to save the people who are closest to you. There is no real way to let this feeling go, but instead of worrying, you should try to channel those feelings into something positive.”

While I think many factors play a role in my intensity, there is a lot of truth in those words. The fear of losing someone close is with me every single day. I’m not sure if it’s the result of losing so many people, or losing so many people to suicide. It is just so complicated.

As the results indicate, the fear may never go away, but I can learn to channel it in positive ways. Forging ahead with the kindness initiatives, continuing my volunteer work with the AFSP and always looking forward for new learning opportunities are just a few ways that I am trying to do this.

To my friends and family…I hope you now have a better understanding that there’s a real reason for my intensity. I love you more than you can ever imagine and I am terrified of losing you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to be there for me.

Intensity, as it turns out, may be my bright side.

The First Fifteen!

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Sometimes it’s hard to see the bright side of things.

That’s one of the many reasons I am so grateful for this project. Despite the post-holiday blues, a virus that’s been plaguing our household for weeks and just really missing some important people, kindness has become a bright spot in each day.

Here are the first 15 Acts of Kindness that I’ve completed (only 350 more to go!):

15. Supported local and not-so-local Girl Scout Troops.

#14. Sent an email to a former boss who inspired me.

#13. Donated gently-used books to the Wonderland Book Savers

#12. Wrote a positive review for Target in Trumbull, CT.

#11. Shared that same hilarious book with friends.

#10. Bought a hilarious book for myself (sometimes it’s good to be kind to yourself).

#9. Secretly hid “love” notes in our kids’ lunchboxes.

#8. Sent an email complimenting a friend first thing in the morning. (This was inspired by a LunchBox Love Family Kindness daily email #LBLKindnessChallenge http://www.sayplease.com)

#7. Stepped out of my comfort zone.

#6. Thanked a first-time Uber driver with a Starbucks gift card for getting me to the airport safely and on time.

#5. Picked up trash in a parking lot.

#4. Left a Starbucks gift card with a NoochieRAKs card and YAB (You Are Beautiful) sticker in the safety brochure on the airplane.

#3. Donated gift cards to Bridgeport residents displaced by fire.

#2. Gave a compliment to a stranger.

#1. Donated to the Vanessa Rich Leadership Fund at the National Head Start Association.

#365ActsofKindness #NoochieRAKs

one year later…

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gail s. hanson, beloved mother, daughter, wife, friend, cousin, niece, nurse, teacher…

june 16th, 2014.

i woke up early that monday morning. it felt like any other day. after hitting “brew” on the coffeemaker, letting out and feeding the dogs, and then emptying the dishwasher, i picked up my phone. four missed calls, one voicemail.

my heart started pounding.

the voicemail was from my father who had received a call from my sister. she was at the hospital with our mom. it didn’t look good.

my heart started pounding even louder in my ears.

i immediately called my sister who was in the hospital room with our mom. she was telling me that mom wasn’t going to make it through the night. she then had to quickly go because they started administering cpr again. i bolted up the stairs to wake up dave to help me get a flight back home. she won’t make it through the night? it’s around 5:45am, i have time to get there, i thought. less than a minute later my phone rang…”mom is gone”.

hearts stopped.

hers and mine.

actually, that was her cause of death – congenital heart failure. her heart failed due to interstitial lung disease, due to scleroderma, which is a very rare, terrible disease.

it was difficult to comprehend. ever since her husband, john, died in january 2012 and i learned first-hand how fast her disease was progressing, we had had conversations about what the end would look like. it was not an easy conversation for either of us. she was very detailed in her descriptions…she would eventually require hospice…a hospital bed would go in the room off the kitchen if it was the summer, the living room if it was the winter. she wanted foot rubs, the tv on at all times (“but only the today show, no good morning america! i mean it!”) and she wanted lots of visitors. and morphine…she didn’t want to feel any more pain.

the real ending was different.

she was still living independently, calling on neighbors, friends and family only when she needed help and my sister visited regularly to run errands. we all worried and spoke in hushed tones about how she needed more help, but she fought all of our efforts. sometimes she even used humor…

one of the last texts i received from my mom when i stated concern about her moving around her house alone.

our biggest fear was that she would be alone in the house when it happened.

by the grace of God, one of her best friends was staying at her house the week she died. they had a wonderful week visiting and even went out for a lunch or two.

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late sunday night, she said she wasn’t feeling well, and it escalated quickly with mom asking her friend to call 911 around 11:30pm. she was taken immediately to st. francis hospital and at 4:52am central time, she was gone.

my heart still processes this.

it’s the natural progression of life, your parents will most likely die before you. knowing this certainly doesn’t make it any easier. this year has proven to be one of the MOST difficult of my life. although i thought i was prepared, i wasn’t. it’s been a year of incomplete thoughts and projects, partially written thank you notes, sleepless nights and then days when all i want to do is sleep. i know i haven’t been present in many ways for my own children and for my small caseload of students. i feel so much guilt. i am still trying to understand my grief and my relationship with my mom. i continue to find clues in her books, notebooks, random post-it notes and old letters about how she viewed herself in the world. it is helping.

my mom and i didn’t have the type of relationship that you see displayed all over hallmark cards. it was very, very complicated. there was a lot of resentment that grew over the years. even she admitted that she was a much better parent to adolescents and adults and if we were all born at 18 years of age, it would have been a completely different story. despite our disagreements and differences, she was there for me when i really needed her. she was there to pick me up from school when i was sick. she always took my call even if she was in the middle of an important meeting. she let me move back in when i was going through a difficult time. i never, ever doubted her love.

there are many lessons she shared throughout her life and since she died too.

the most important lesson she shared is that we are all connected. these connections help pull you out of the darkness and into the light. in many ways, she felt the same connection with her family and lifelong friends as she did with the psychotic patients she treated, the elderly, the lonely. we are all worthy of love and kindness. while she focused on those connections, she also had a very strong sense of self and encouraged that in others too. the night before her funeral when i was writing part of her eulogy, i was staring at the sofa where she basically spent the last two years of her life. i started sobbing. i didn’t know what to say, what to do. i never, ever felt so alone in my life. when i composed myself, i turned the page and found the following in the notepad i was using…

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as a mother, she did the best she could.

and that’s enough for me.

my heart rebuilds.

it is growing even stronger now because of what i learned from her and her unending love.


from a coffee shop the day after she died...love is everywhere, if you look for it.
my coffee the day after she died…love is everywhere, if you look for it. so grateful to my sweet, thoughtful friends, family, neighbors, coffee shop, etc. for helping me see this…especially this year. love and kindness matter…always. 

The Story of Choosing Grace

 

Team Choosing Grace
Choosing Grace honors all of these individuals…

It all started back in January 2012 with a tragedy and an impending nervous breakdown…

Choosing Grace.

Fueled by loss, a ton of emotion, lifelong and newly-formed friendships, mourning family members and many shared experiences, Team Choosing Grace was formed in an effort understand and raise awareness about mental illness and suicide, as well as honor three people we lost to suicide.

As word of our first Walk spread, three people became four people and then five people and then six people and then seven and then…well…you get the point. This last year, our third Walk, we walked in honor of 26 people.

26 human beings.

26 individuals who left behind sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, colleagues…

26 people who lived incredible lives, and while not defined by the way they left this world, it is definitely an important part of their stories.

26 lives.

Before this year’s Walk, I was hoping to gather and share their stories. Because this is the first time I am doing this, I am open to any and all suggestions. Perhaps it would be a story from when they were a child, what they were like in school, at their job, or even what their favorite color, food or movie was? Maybe it won’t be a story about them per se, perhaps it would be the story about how their loved ones lived on…live differently…since they left. These stories may be serious or funny or thought-provoking or just plain sad. It may not be a story at all, it could even be a poem, or a quote, or a picture?

As I receive these stories, I will post them on the Team Choosing Grace blog leading up to the Walk on September 26th. If I don’t receive a story, I will ask permission to post the person’s first name so that our team can pause to remember him or her. I am very aware of the sensitive nature of this type of loss, so I promise to be very careful with this information. I will start posting these writings in the next couple of weeks.

Here’s to Choosing Grace and to remembering those with whom we walk daily…

 

 

 

the transitional object

heart-shaped kibble crumb
heart-shaped kibble crumb from bailey

a few days ago, we had to put our dog of 13 1/2 years to sleep. i had never done it before and was surprised by how peaceful it was…but it also felt so final. there was no doubt about it, bailey was really gone.

before they gave him a sedative, the vet tech gave him a bunch of treats. we had tried earlier in the morning to give him some “chicken meatballs”, but he had refused. in this moment, however, bailey ate up every single treat. he wagged his tail once, then twice, and looked up at her for more.

the vet then gave him the sedative to help him sleep before the final injection would be administered. we were up by his head and he fell into a deep, calm sleep. before the vet gave him the last shot, i looked down at the blanket and right next to him were a couple of heart-shaped kibble crumbs. i pointed them out to everyone in the room and we all marveled at the beauty of the moment.

bailey was full of love.

he was sound asleep as we assured him over and over again that he was such a good boy and that we loved him so much. bailey’s face was propped up gently on his paw and he started snoring loudly…three times…and then there was just silence. we kneeled down by him for a while and then kissed our sweet pal goodbye. before we left, we covered him with the blanket, but not before i grabbed one of the hearts and stuck it in my bag. my transitional object.

the transitional object. i had never heard of this term before my mom mentioned it to me a few years ago…

she had left roscoe’s dog run (basically a cord and a leash that ran from the deck to the back yard) up several years after he had died. we didn’t give it much thought until her deck was converted into a wheelchair accessible ramp and the dog run became more of a hazard as people were clotheslined walking up to her back door. when asked if we could just take it down for a little while when we were having guests over, she said, “it’s my ‘transitional object’, please leave it alone!” when i thought about the amount of loss she had faced recently, it made sense and i didn’t gripe about it anymore.

when she was ready, she eventually let someone take it down.

a few weeks ago, when we were moving things out of her house, my husband texted to see if he should transfer the one can of tab from her fridge to our cooler. anyone who knew my mom, knew her by her tab.

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although she hadn’t had a tab in a few years, keeping it in her fridge was another transitional object…something that made her feel more connected to the person she was before she became so sick with scleroderma. the tab is now my transitional object for her. (oh, and the forty storage bins that are stashed away in a friend’s garage and our closet, but we’ll get to that later).

it’s made me think about some of the transitional objects i have had over the years…

our friend, carrie…her words are my transitional object. the words she wrote to her children at her own funeral service about being kind and also her words that she left in a voicemail that i just haven’t brought myself to delete…

my brother, brian…i wore his sports watch until the battery died and his red sox baseball cap through a bunch of 5k’s…it made me feel like he was always with me…

my step-father, john…there are many because his death blindsided me and probably changed me the most. i have kept emails from him when he was helping us choose paint colors and work through house projects, the clothes he was wearing when his body was recovered and his suicide note. for me, these transitional objects help me stay connected to him, as well as try to work through my brother’s suicide.

our friend, ann…i kept the postcard she had sent from her summer vacation just before she died the summer of 1983. it stayed folded up in my pocket and then placed in a book and then eventually i lost track of it…

the same thing happened with the tree-top fairy from my babysitter, sheila. it was always close to me and then it was just gone…

i guess over time you really are able to let go, but for now, i will hold onto many objects, including a heart-shaped kibble crumb and a can of tab…which i know people will think is absolutely crazy, but for some reason it helps. maybe i am more like my mom than i thought…