Tag Archives: grieving

Reflections – August 21, 2019

Carol A. Hand

Dear Billie,
You are in my thoughts today
Perhaps it’s because the cup
you brought as a gift
on your visit to Montana
more than a decade ago
is holding the coffee I’m drinking
on this sunny August afternoon

*

*

I miss you
and I know your daughter,
my beloved granddaughter, does too
I’m not sure if you can see
how kind and beautiful she is now
I promise to remind her
what a thoughtful loving father you were

*

*

I send you thoughts of love and joy
May your spirit soar peacefully
like the eagle on the gift cup
that always reminds me of you
a kind and generous young man
who was deeply loved by all
who had the honor of knowing you
in the short time you were here

*

After the Storm

Carol A. Hand

My little dog lay in pain
suffering
slowing dying
a victim of unintended incompetence
and lack of compassion in a capitalistic culture
I could only bear witness
offering soft hands and soothing words
without the skills and knowledge
to heal him

*

After the Storm – July 14, 2019

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I learned survival and healing are possible
even in situations that sometimes appear hopeless
if you are willing and able to pay enough
for competence and caring

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After the Storm (2) – July 14, 2019

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Nature doesn’t charge a fee
for the beauty she shares for all to see
She merely waits patiently for us
to awaken to our responsibilities
to care

*

After the Storm (3) – July 14, 2019

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Revisiting “The Burden of the Sentinels”

Carol A. Hand

Reflecting about some of the places I have been where people were harmed reminded me of another one of my first posts. It seems fitting to share it again when I feel the need to remember how important it is for us all to listen to the voices of sentinels among us.

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Throughout my career in academia, I was unable to move from the space between cultures. Like some of my students, I, too, carried the burden of the sentinels. Most of my fellow faculty defined their role as that of gatekeepers for the profession of social work. Many faculty felt the purpose of education was to inculcate and enforce student compliance with professional competencies and standards.

Of course, few questioned the origins of these standards and who really benefited from the resulting assimilation. Fewer still contemplated what was lost through the process of homogenization. In my work, I tried to create a space for students to find their own voice and develop the skills to overcome or buffer the forces of conformity. Yet I sometimes had to witness the painful and tragic costs of my colleagues’ oppressive approach to education. Sometimes, all I could do was write about my observations and insights, as in the following essay drawn from those years.

It is tragic and deeply troubling that three students have committed suicide in the past two years. The faculty who worked with the students were grieving and confused. In an effort to heal, the head of student counseling services came to discuss suicide during the faculty meeting yesterday. I did not know the students who died, so as a person on the margins, my reaction to the discussion was very different than that of my colleagues. In fact, the discussion left me deeply troubled. The focus was on a new university policy. In order to reduce liability for the university, faculty would be required to force suffering students to meet with the dean for possible expulsion. The head of counseling services explained that suicide was a form of violence perpetrated by imbalanced individuals on those around them. They needed to be stopped.

When the discussion of suicide ended, no one asked what we might do differently in the future. When we seamlessly moved on to mundane issues, I was angry and distressed. I have seen the way our actions as faculty create problems for the most gifted and sensitive of our students. So I asked what we might do differently. There was no response. The conversation shifted to how to use the corporate credit cards. My response was to get up and leave the meeting at that point, slamming the door as I exited the room.

I know my colleagues interpreted my behavior as strange and annoying rather than as the only way I could express the depth of my distress. So be it. This reflection is my attempt to make sense of the strength of my reactions. And typically, my reflections are based on stories and metaphors that may seem unrelated.

A while ago, my partner at the time shared a story he heard on public radio about the experiences of researchers who were conducting a study of a community of chimpanzees (Thom Hartmann, November 22, 2006, Transcript: Drugs, Depression & Chimpanzees). Early in the study, the researchers noted that about 5 percent of the community appeared to exhibit all of the characteristics of depression. They stayed on the periphery of the community, they rarely engaged in social activities, and they appeared lethargic. With the best of intentions, the researchers decided to treat this isolated group for depression, so they removed the “depressed” chimpanzees from the community and worked with them. The treatment seemed to work. But each time the researchers returned to the troop, they noted that new chimps had taken up posts on the periphery, and they too were removed. At the end of the year, when the researchers returned to the troop’s home again to reintroduce the “healthy” chimps, they discovered that the rest of the troop had perished from an undetermined cause.

The researchers hypothesized that the sentinel chimps played a crucial role on the boundaries, scanning the environment and warning the troop of danger. Without sentinels, the troop fell prey to external predators. This raises questions about the importance of the “boundary spanners,” those who remain on the periphery to scan for external threats while still relating to the community, albeit in a distant manner. I have pondered this story’s links with my own observations of the burdens carried by people who are on the margins of society because of their difference.

It has been said that those Native people who are the most sensitive and gifted are the ones who do not survive. It is only those who are the strongest physically and psychologically who survive. For me, it is no wonder that Native people who carry the gifts of vision appear most susceptible to addiction. They are the boundary spanners who can see what can be, perhaps what should be, and how far we have strayed from that possibility. To be surrounded by a global society that is focused on exploitation of resources rather than preservation for future generations, on gratifying the self-interested pleasures of the moment rather than the preservation of meaningful relationships, why would not the burden sometimes be too great to bear?

To listen to a discussion of suicide, then, to hear it described as a form of violence perpetrated by deficient individuals on others, is profoundly disturbing. Is it sane or reasonable for sensitive boundary spanners to settle for the insanity of war, the destructive exploitation of nature, the disparities that mean some individuals can buy gold-laced shower curtains while many people throughout the world die of starvation? Where does the violence originate that leads to despair for those who are most sensitive? Does it help give heart to boundary spanners when we label them as deviant? When we medicate them to see the world through a drug-induced haze of mediocrity? When we fail to understand the profound suffering of those on the boundaries who try to warn those in the center about the dangers that surround the community?

When people choose to end their suffering, is it their violence or ours as a society that is the cause? To take one’s own life is the most profound sacrifice. It may be the only way left to alert others of the dangers we face because we have created a world where the brightest and most sensitive among us find no hope, no comfort, no sense of a deeper meaning in life. And when they die, who will be left as sentinels to alert us to the dangers that surround us? Who will protect us from our self-destructive consumerism and exploitation of the environment and others’ labor? Who will alert us to the slow death this imbalance promises for those generations to follow?

The well-meaning among us who would remove the sentinels for their own good may only be hastening the death of that which makes us most human. We can try to convince those who see what we cannot that their visions are hallucinations. We can anaesthetize them and preserve them in a state of half-life because it makes us feel “moral” and it makes our life more comfortable. Yet, by doing so, we do not even serve our own self-interests. The lesson of the chimpanzees is that we need to understand what the sentinels are telling us.

We need to create a space to truly listen to what they are trying to tell us about a world that has become toxic to the most sensitive among us. It may be the world of our classrooms. It may be the world outside. How can we, as social work faculty, learn from the sentinels about our own practice as teachers and advisors? Are there things we need to change about how and what we teach to create a place where sentinels can preserve a sense of hope and possibility? I do not have the answers to these questions. I grieve the deaths of these students even though I did not know them as individuals. And I grieve the lost opportunity to explore this issue in a thoughtful way with my colleagues.

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By sharing this essay penned years ago, it is my intention to honor the sentinels who remind us what it means to be truly human. It is my hope that we can learn to value them while they live so they no longer feel the need to sacrifice themselves.

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2018 Goodbyes

Carol A. Hand

There are times when I just cannot write from the heart. I need to take a break and focus on physical or analytical tasks that help me find emotional detachment and balance. It’s one of the major reasons I have not posted or visited blogs during the holidays.

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I took this photo in the morning
before I learned that a dear friend died

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November 28, 2018

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It portrays what days of loss
sometimes feel like to me
My grandson’s other grandmother died
just before Christmas, and this morning,
my granddaughter’s father passed away
2018 was a year of so many losses and changes
It’s the third year I have faced my own mortality
Despite a heavy heart, though,
I still awake each morning
knowing that what I do for others now
in the time I have left matters even more

 

I have snowy sidewalks to shovel
in the north country I love

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December 31, 2018

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There are courses to plan for students
I will learn to care about this year,
and dear family to care for while I’m here

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My daughter’s birthday dinner, October 18, 2018

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Despite losses I will continue to rise and greet each day
to do what I can to stay healthy and balanced,
to contribute to the light in simple humble ways
and to remain grateful for the wonder and blessings of life

***

Please know that I am grateful to all of you for being part of my life, too. I send my best wishes to all. May you have a peaceful and wonder-filled new year.

Remembering Too Many Tragedies

Carol A. Hand

Listening deeply to inner silence
Here, but also present in another reality
Aware of fear,  dis-ease,  loss,  and violence
while feeling the   poignant ache   of possibility
Seeking courage moment to moment to make a choice
to allow wisdom,  compassion,  and joy  to guide my voice

***

Ava swimming in Lake Superior, Photographer – Jnana Hand

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A Drizzly Dawn

Carol A. Hand

The day dawns drizzly
as     the     weeping     willow     waits
welcoming        the        end        of        struggle
living         too         long         alone      –      her         fate
the    tree    surgeons    soon    arriving
finally  she’ll  join  her  mate

***

Greeting a Drizzly Morning – May 8, 2018

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Her passing will
leave a void
in the
neighborhood
she graced
standing strong
but supple
despite the many
storms she faced
Birds sing as her
budding branches sway
kissed by warm
gentle breezes
on her final day

***

May 8, 2018 – A Different View

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Chi miigwetch for your presence, beloved willow

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Seasons of Life

Carol A. Hand

The long-lived weeping willow
greets her final spring
Alone, she weathered many storms
but the violent winds of winter past
twisted her and split her to the core
leaving her fatally wounded

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Leafless Willow – November 15, 2017

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I grieve her passing
as I do the gentle faithful dog
who once sought her shade
in the heat of summer
and whose ashes have rested
beneath her sheltering canopy
for many years

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Cookie – My beloved friend who passed on October 4, 2013

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Yet the beloved dog’s passing
opened up a safe home for another
that was abandoned and abused
as the weeping willow’s passing
will open up a sunny space
for the mountain ash
that has struggled to survive
with little light in her shadow

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Pinto – January 3, 2018

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Wish though we may to turn back time
the cycle of life continues
opening up new possibilities to love

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Reflections on a Grey Morning – March 4, 2018

Carol A. Hand

On this grey morning thoughts of the Standing Rock Water Protectors again touch my heart with deep sorrow. It’s far more than the legacy of historical trauma that brings tears to my eyes. It’s the continuing structural oppression that I have witnessed for so many First Nations reservations, Appalachian hill communities, urban neighborhoods or rural farming communities. It’s the overwhelming sense of threat and loss in the ongoing clash of worldviews that makes everything I have done and am doing and wish I could do feel so pitifully ineffective.

My granddaughter will turn 11 tomorrow. My grandson turned 19 last month. There are so many reasons to be concerned about the future they face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I feel the physical limitations and pain of my aging body, the scars of so many past efforts to build healthier more inclusive communities weigh on my heart. I wish I could be hopeful but I can no longer believe that change is possible unless a critical mass of people awaken. It feels as though all of my efforts to help that process along during my career have been so insignificant.

Perhaps the tears that are flowing will clear my vision so I can see possibilities. But as I greet this morning, it’s all I can do as I type these simple words. All I hold dear is threatened by insane forces that wreak death and destruction.

Still, it’s time to dry my tears. Somehow, my ancestors found the strength to survive genocide, displacement and Indian boarding schools. I owe it to them, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, my daughter, my grandchildren, and all life to do what I can any way.

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November Reflections and Connections

Carol A. Hand

Reflections – November 1, 2017

Do you ever have mornings when a question plays in your thoughts and you don’t know the answer? This morning, as I gazed at the trees on this first day of November, I wondered if they process carbon dioxide in the winter. The answers I found are fascinating. Maybe everyone else learned this and remembers. But just in case, I thought others might find the answers interesting, too.

The first question that came to mind – Do trees process carbon dioxide (CO2) in winter?

Birch Tree in November, 2016

The answer –

“Most of the land mass of the earth is in the northern hemisphere, and most of the vegetation is Northern hemisphere. During autumn and winter, the leaves fall and exhale carbon dioxide (through decomposition). Throughout the spring and summer days, leaves grow and inhale carbon dioxide. So, when it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, global CO2 levels rise quite sharply and fall again during the warmer months.” (Michael Bloch, 2006, November 30. “Deciduous trees and carbon dioxide,” available at greenlivingtips.com).

Another site offered a more global, connected perspective.

“In general, it is inevitable (whether or not trees lose their leaves) that photosynthesis should reduce during the winter months, simply because there is less sunlight through the winter months. The question is as to where greater photosynthesis is happening, in the southern hemisphere (with large oceans, and more marine algae), or in the northern hemisphere (much great land masses), so which winter is the more significant (that of the north or that of the south)? Then you have the additional issue that as oceans get colder in winter, they will dissolve more CO2, and as they get warmer in the summer they will release some of this CO2 back into the atmosphere (this is also made more difficult to judge because of the complexities of the ocean currents).” (The Naked Scientists, 2007, July 10. “Carbon Dioxide in Winter,” available at thenakedscientists.com).

February 3, 2017

Winter, or rather, below freezing temperatures, affect photosynthesis for coniferous trees as well. (Ayumi Tanaka (2007), “Photosynthetic activity in winter needles of the evergreen tree Taxus cuspidata at low temperatures (2007), Tree Physiology 27, 641–648 © 2007 Heron Publishing—Victoria, Canada).

There is so much to learn about the complex interconnections on earth and how much we all depend on each and every being that shares the same tiny home. The most critical processes are often invisible. It makes me wonder about an educational system that fails in many cases to recognize our interdependence and responsibility for inclusive stewardship. In school, I learned how to dissect things, name all their parts with Latin words, and a little about how other living beings interact with their immediate environments. But we often don’t learn about the interconnections within a larger context, and the importance of helping to maintain the delicate balance necessary for all life to harmonize as each unique being performs its functions as part of a grand symphony throughout the millennia.

I’m grateful for the winter that brings rest for trees and the scent of new fallen snow, even if the air is laden with more CO2.

Reflections – November 6, 2017

The first Monday after
artificial “time” seasonal adjustment
allows me to wake “early”
greeted by the morning sun
streaming through the window
illuminating things that carry memories
with light and a golden glow

Morning Glow – November 6, 2017

I breathe in the light
so rare these days
highlighting poignant memories
of other times and places

The sewing table, now folded,
a legacy from my mother
like the skill I learned as a child
There was a time when I sewed often
with an old secondhand “portable” Necchi machine
if one can honestly call a 50 pound machine portable
but it traveled the country with me
from Los Angeles to Illinois,
to Massachusetts then Connecticut
to Wisconsin, Montana, and back
It’s how I clothed myself at times
and my daughter when she was a child
After decades, I had to retire the Necchi
when it could no longer be repaired

There are days when I can relate
to the feeling that one may no longer
be able to serve a useful purpose
The prayer flags hanging on the open door
symbolize family connections and repaired vision
but I honestly don’t know how
to repair a heart that keeps breaking
from senseless wars and destruction
or from cruelty and tragedy everyday

But today, I awoke to sunshine
with the awareness that I can still breathe
and do small things – trying to be mindful
and compassionate regardless of context
while I am here

Remembering…

Carol A. Hand

Seven years ago, my mother passed away in the early morning. She was 89. During the last 13 years of her life, she gradually lost her memories and her abilities to care for herself and communicate. I was thinking of her yesterday at sunset and decided to repost the poem I wrote for her two years ago.

Sunset – October 9, 2017

Mother, I Remember

Dear Mother, I remember as a child
The trips to New York City and to the Jersey shore
Camping in Cape Cod, and the Adirondack Mountains
Trips on boats, splashing in the ocean
Picking berries in the woods and laughing
Only realizing later that we were spared by
the copperheads that called the woods home
I remember the many times you cried
because you couldn’t bear the loneliness and pain
from an abusive husband who knew the way to hurt you most deeply
was to hurt the daughter you loved
But we were both survivors, you and I

I remember watching you when I was a teen as you cared for elders
and dealt with cranky staff with such kindness and diplomacy
A gifted healer and peacemaker despite the abuse you couldn’t stop
I remember that I understood from a very early age
that you didn’t see your beauty or your worth

I didn’t know how to help you or myself for awhile

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My Mother Sending me off to College after Spring Break – 1966

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I remember there were many years when we didn’t meet often
You had your work to keep you busy and I had mine
Yet you always found time to send letters and cards
from Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wisconsin
when you returned to the place where you were born
to use your skills to get federal funding for a health center
on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation
I remember how frightened you were to testify before Congress
How proud you were of this accomplishment
and how disappointed when the center was named after the tribal leader
whose bitterness almost sabotaged the project

I remember when I was a little older
Driving this road to your northwoods home
so many times, from so many directions
in too many different cars to recall
Only this time, the drive is different
I’m crying so hard it’s hard to see the road ahead
I’m not coming with my family to celebrate a holiday,
or taking time away from work to answer your plea for help
because you’ve grown fearful and weary of Father’s abuse
I’m not coming to help you move to the elder apartment complex
or the assisted care facility because you can no longer remember
how to care for yourself, or even who I am
This time I’m coming to bid you farewell one last time

I will always remember the love and the laughter,
the tears and the pain as I hold your hand and
gently caress your cheek and smooth your silvered hair
as you lay in your hospital bed, struggling to breathe, dying.
I kiss your cheek and whisper.
I love you, Mother. I always have. I know I will miss you
But it’s okay to let go now Mother and go home.
You’ll finally be free from suffering.”

It’s been seven years since your death
But I still remember

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