Meaning and purpose can come from deep in the heart of what hurts us the most. Dr. Edith Eva Eger, Auschwitz survivor and author of The Choice
Dr. Eger’s book, The Choice, is one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year. It is her Auschwitz story and much, much more. It’s how she learned to move forward and find meaning and purpose in her life by choosing to heal as she embraced her feelings, then acknowledged and forgave her past.
Her message of CHOICE is addressed to all of us who have experienced loss—loss of freedom, loss of a loved one, and even, the loss of our humanity. As a psychotherapist and author, Eger’s passion is to help people who have experienced loss move forward with their lives in a positive way as they find meaning and purpose in their pain. Eger writes, “How easily the life we didn’t live becomes the only life we prize.”
Affirmation: I choose to embrace the life I have.
Coaching questions: What helped you find meaning and purpose “in the heart of what hurt you”? If you’re stuck in thinking that the life you were denied is the only one you prize, what will help you move forward?
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Mister Rogers
Mister Rogers’s mother knew that if her son acknowledged the helpers he would feel calmer about the tragedy, knowing that someone was there to take control and put order to the chaos. It’s no wonder it is comforting for people to acknowledge health care workers and other helpers in this time of crisis.
As I talk with daughters who lost their mother to death, abandonment or Alzheimer’s, the trajectory of their grief is often changed by the helpers who show up. The support and love of an older brother or sister, a grandmother, neighbor, friends in support groups, hospice worker, or a loving dad, can calm the chaos of the moment and become helpers in their lives.
Affirmation: I’m thankful for the helpers in my life.
Coaching questions: Who are the helpers in your life? How do they a difference? How do you show up as a helper for others? What difference do you make?
Getting physical and improving is how we can continue to thrive among the living. Twyla Tharp, choreographer
In her new book, Keep It Moving, renowned choreographer, Twyla Tharp, 79, gives readers a piece of her mind writing, “Shut up and dance!” She goes on to write, “With the time you’ve got choose to make your life bigger. Opt for expression over observation, action instead of passivity, risk over safety, and unknown over familiar.” In other words, make the most of your life.
One of the ten steps to help daughters move forward after mother loss in my upcoming book, Mom’s Gone, Now What?, is “Stir Up Your Creativity.” Another step is “Take Care of Yourself.” As we take these steps, we embrace what Tharp is suggesting—express yourself, be active, take a risk, and “shut up and dance!”
Affirmation: I am creative and take care of my body.
Coaching question: What risk, action, expression will you take to expand your life and make it bigger?
It’s really pleasant to be with, familiar, faithful, complaining a little, continually going about its business, loving to lie down. Lillian Morrison, poet, excerpt from her poem, Body
This excerpt from the lovely poem, Body, reminds me how fortunate I am to have this old, familiar body that complains only a little and generally goes about its business. I’m missing going to the gym during this time of COVID-19 but I’m committed to staying active with walking and swim aerobics.
As a motherless daughter of a motherless daughter…both dying in their 30s…I’ve always felt that, for me, all the years past 35 have been gravy. So as I approach a healthy, happy 75, my life is better than gravy. My life is a second helping of mashed potatoes with the gravy.
Affirmation: My body is “pleasant to be with.”
Coaching questions: What’s your motivation to keep your body healthy? How’s that working out for you? How do you view the years following the “anniversary” year of being the same age as your mother when she died?
P.S. It’s sad that I couldn’t find any photos on the Internet of older ladies working out
Secrecy is a vacuum and nothing fills a vacuum like paranoid speculation. Max Brooks, author
One of the tragedies of mother loss is when family members are discouraged from speaking about the details of the person’s death or sharing memories about the loved one. After talking with motherless daughters who grew up in environments ruled by secrecy, I learned that the secrecy itself was as much of a problem as the actual death of their mother.
Healthy families have open discussions about the death of a loved one and frequently share their memories.
Affirmation: I am open and honest about the death of a loved one.
Coaching questions: How have family secrets kept you from becoming your best self? What will you do about it? What difference will it make? Be specific.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. New Living Translation of Matthew 6:35
When I read Matthew 6:35 in light of today’s world, I want to shout, “No kidding!” It seems like every day brings new “troubles” and “today’s trouble is (certainly) enough for today.”
I’m a planner. In doing research for my book about mother loss, I discovered that it’s not unusual for people who have experienced early loss like to feel in control since they lost control of their life’s narrative so early. Planning is an artificial way to feel “in control.” For the first time in my life I’m in a circumstance of not planning beyond a few days. Plane travel—who knows when? House guests—who knows when? Meetings in person—who knows when? I’m going to reframe my frustration into an opportunity to learn to live more fully in the present and let the future just “be” for now.
Affirmation: I can be content without a plan.
Coaching question: In what way does Matthew 6:35 speak to you?
Symbols are the imaginative signposts of life. Margot Asquith, author
Pink carnations have always been special to me because they were the flowers on my mother’s casket and one of the few memories I have of the months following her death. I think they were randomly chosen but, perhaps, my dad chose them for their meaning. I’ll never know.
In the Dictionary of Flowers at the end of the book, The Language ofFlowers, pink carnations (Dianthus Caryophyllus) mean I will never forget you. According to Mr. Google, it’s believed that pink carnations first appeared on earth from the Virgin Mary’s tears, making them the symbol of a mother’s undying love. It’s no wonder they have always held a special place in my heart.
Affirmation: I honor the symbols in my life.
Coaching questions: What symbols do you hold dear? What do they mean to you and why? How do they help you keep your memories alive?
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of On Death And Dying
Helping a daughter move forward after the death or abandonment of her mother feels like part of my mission in this world. My mother lost her mother when she was three, I lost mine when I was eight.
Using what I’ve learned about our losses to make a difference in the life of another by writing about it feels like important, heart-felt work. And, believe me, it is work. Although I published a small book about 17 years ago, I’m glad I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started down this path. Sometimes ignorance is bliss but, ignorant or not, doing what your heart tells you to do always works out in the end.
Affirmation: I listen to my heart.
Coaching questions: What is your heart telling you to do? What legacy do you want to leave behind? What’s a step you’re willing to take toward realizing your dream….no matter the cost?
We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—‘Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel.’You’re not as alone as you thought. John Steinbeck, author
Sunday was the first anniversary of the death of the lovely lady in this photo who died of Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Her story, her daughter’s story, and her mother’s story are in my soon-to-be-released book, Mom’s Gone, Now What? What a difficult two days for these precious ladies. A first Mother’s Day followed by the first anniversary of death. But I know them to be strong women, I heard their strength in their voices and I see it in their actions. They were brave enough to tell their stories even at the height of their despair.
One thing I know for sure is that telling stories to a trusted person helps us feel less lonesome, as Steinbeck says, as it helps us move forward after challenging life events. As a friend listens, nods, understands, and perhaps, relates to our story, we feel validated. We begin to understand how our experience was not only meaningful to us but also to another person.
Affirmation: I will be a listener.
Coaching questions: To whom can you tell your story? What difference will it make?
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie, author
Did you know that positive thoughts create pathways in the brain? The more you feel gratitude, the easier it becomes. In addition, you’ll attract more for which to be grateful.
The motherless daughters I spoke with who found the path back to gratitude seemed to have also found a way to move forward in their lives. Expressing gratitude may sound like a cliche but being grateful for even the smallest thing will make a difference in your life.
Affirmation: I am grateful.
Coaching questions/request: How do you show gratitude? When you were at a low point in your life, how did gratitude lift you up? Say thank you to God for His creation, to a person in your life for their love, or to yourself for noticing that you’re grateful.