Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates beautiful hearts as a tribute to enduring love

 

Purple dried flowers around a white handmade heart

My heart explodes with love

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of enduring love.The project began in 2005, when Page Hodel first met Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” Soon afterwards, Page began leaving handmade hearts on Madalene’s doorstep every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.”

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died on June 20th, 2006. To remember her, Page continues to make a heart every Monday in celebration of her life.

To learn more about Page and the Monday Hearts for Madalene Project, please visit her website, Monday Hearts for Madalene.

See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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Is Anything Scarier than Dying?

Preempt the haunting of the ‘should’ve, could’ve’ regrets

Fall leaves symbolize change and dyingA roller coaster ride suddenly drops 500 feet. A frantic car horn helps you steer your bike out of the way of an erratic driver. Your tumor biopsy comes back negative. All of these scenarios can precipitate a fear of dying or the sense that you narrowly survived a brush with death. And is there anything scarier than dying? After spending four decades working with the dying, I can unequivocally say, “yes.”

The one thing scarier than dying is never learning to live.

It is now fall, a time when we admire the dying of leaves as they release their beautiful colors. This striking visual provides us a reminder that the cycle of life and death need not always feel tragic. The real tragedy is when we fail to find the beauty, the opportunities and the treasured moments in our own life cycle, however long or short it may be.

Fall foliage symbolizes death and dyingFor me, there is nothing like working with the dying to teach one about living. Below are the painful ‘should’ve-could’ve’ regrets I have learned from these teachers, which you can preempt now:

  1. Not taking the chance to do what really sparks your passion in life.
  2. Not telling people you love them.
  3. Failing to thank the people who have inspired you, supported you or who provided the difficult situation where you had to rise up and claim your strength.
  4. Waiting for “someday” to take that special trip.
  5. Not buying yourself flowers or a treat because it felt selfish or indulgent.
  6. Being afraid to take risks.
  7. Not recognizing that the little things are really the biggest things when you look back at your life, things like:
    • a quiet moment with your child sleeping on your lap after you finished reading a book.
    • putting your arm around your beloved in silence while you took in the beauty of a sunset over the mountains.
    • remembering the awe of watching a newborn fawn struggle to stand while its proud mother provides encouraging nudges.
    • arriving home to smell the delicious aroma of your farovite meal or dessert that someone prepared just for you.
    • receiving scrawled artwork that your 3-year-old grandchild created.

The list goes on and on.

Don’t wait until the fall of your life to do a life review. Create your “If I had no fear…” or “If I  had more time…” list, and then live it! Embrace this season of change and all its beauty and opportunity.

Happy child playing in the autumn on the nature walk

Block the ‘should’ve, could’ve’ ghosts by living well now. Don’t allow your untouched bucket list to haunt you with regret.

About Tani

Tani Bahti, RN, CT, CHPN, offers practical guidance to demystify the dying process. A RN since 1976, Tani has been working to empower families and healthcare professionals to enable the best end-of-life experience possible through education and the development of helpful tools and resources. The current owner of Pathways, Tani is also the author of “Dying to Know, Straight Talk About Death and Dying,” a book that SevenPonds considers one of the most helpful books on the subject available today. Founder Suzette Sherman says, “This is the book I will have at the bedside of my dying parents some day, hopefully, a very long time from now.”

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“Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”

- Theodor Seuss Geisel
Dr. Seuss surrounded by his characters

Credit: wcvb.com

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How Can Photographs of Dead Infants Help Families Heal?

An interview with documentary photographer Todd Hochberg, Part One

This week SevenPonds speaks with documentary photographer Todd Hochberg, the owner of Touching Souls Bereavement Photography. Among other things, Todd takes photographs of infants who died so that their families will have a way to remember them. When babies are born dead or die a few hours after birth, parents often don’t have any concrete way to remember their child. The pictures Todd takes are instrumental in helping families through their bereavement.

Todd Hochberg takes photographs of dead infants for families

Credit: vmeo.com

Debra Stang: Todd, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve looked at your website, and I’m very impressed and moved by your work. I guess I’d like to start off by asking how you got interested in taking photographs of dead infants.

Todd Hochberg: It was a somewhat circuitous path. I had already been a photographer for some time. One day I came across some Victorian pictures featuring people who had died. Many of them were photographs of dead infants and children. It occurred to me that if people had benefited from those pictures then, they might do so now.

Then I met a hospice chaplain. I shadowed her through several cases and got permission from some of the families to take photographs of their dead infants. I’ve been doing this since 1997, and it is my goal to bring a sense of humanity to every photograph I take.

Debra: How do you approach families about your services?

Todd: Actually I’ve spoken with and given my brochures to local hospices and neonatal intensive care units in hospitals. If the staff believes that the family would be interested in having pictures of their infant, they approach the parents. If the family is agreeable, the provider calls me. When I arrive, I introduce myself to the family, tell them a little about what I do and ask their permission to take pictures. Depending on the situation my work may take place before, during and after death.

Debra: How much do you charge for your services?

Todd: I never bill the family for the work I do, although some families do send me donations. Some of the hospitals are able to pay me a stipend and some are not. In that case, I donate my work.

Dead infant photo

Dawana Parks and Christopher Vaval hold their baby, Christopher Jr., who died in the NICU two months after his premature birth.
©ToddHochberg

Debra: What do you find rewarding about your work?

Todd: Taking these photographs of dead infants impacts every aspect of my being. The camera becomes an extension of myself so that I can connect with families and give them something tangible and meaningful. I always follow up with families. Their feedback is very gratifying. Often, the family member who was the most unsure about using my services gets the greatest benefit from seeing the pictures.

Debra: Do you feel that your work has any negative aspects for you?

Todd: Not really. I am on call 24/7, and I never know when I’ll get a call. I have to drop what I’m doing and run, but I don’t consider that problematic. On the contrary, I find my work very fulfilling.

Tune in next week part two of our talk with Todd about how photographs of dead infants can benefit grieving families.

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Book Review: “This Thing Called Grief: New Understandings of Loss” by Thomas M. Ellis

The short book provides insightful ways to deal with loss and grief

This Thing Called Grief” by Thomas M. Ellis is a treatise on loss and grief. It is a short yet powerful book comprised of tips and helpful ways to understand and deal with the messiness that is grief.

Book cover of "This Thing Called Grief"Mr. Ellis is certainly an expert in the field. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the former executive director of the Center for Grief, Loss and Transition in St. Paul, Minnesota. Throughout the book he includes anecdotes about his former clients to help illustrate specific points.

The first sentence of the introduction puts it bluntly: “Grief is a crazy-making, complicated process.” And, indeed that is one of the major takeaways from the book. There is nothing linear about the grieving process. It is not cut-and-dry, and it does not take a set amount of time to “get over it.” No two grief-stricken people will experience it the same way. It’s a wild, cavernous phenomenon that hits us hard and leaves us asking many questions.

The layout of the book is interesting. Every chapter begins and ends with a poem about loss and/or grief. These poems can be a soothing respite from Dr. Ellis’ psychiatrist-like writing style. He uses the second-person narrative throughout the book, which does provide a kind of intimacy. It is almost as if you’re in his office speaking directly with him.

Within each chapter are real-life stories pertaining to the subject matter. For instance, one chapter deals with the idea of being “stuck” in a state of grief, thinking that something is wrong with them because they can’t just “get over it.”

One anecdote in this chapter is about Jack, a young father whose wife committed suicide. A well-intentioned friend told Jack that he needed to move on and begin dating so he could find another wife and a mother for his children. This led Jack to believe he was “stuck” in his grief because he hadn’t done so yet. But according to Ellis, Jack was actually doing well considering the circumstances. His friend had planted this false idea of being “stuck” into Jack’s mind.

Seagull flying in front of the setting sun along the coast symbolizing griefThis is a major lesson we can learn from “This Thing Called Grief” — allowing the necessary time to deal with grief is not a sign that someone is “stuck.” It is just a part of the process. And this process is drastically different for every person. There is no grief timeline, and there’s certainly not a single, perfect way to deal with grief.

And that is essentially what “This Thing Called Grief” is: a how-to guide for grievers. Ellis teaches us that the grieving process is a complex one. It is isolating, overwhelming, difficult and nasty. The pain caused by the loss of a loved one may never go away, but we can use the experience to transform our lives in a meaningful way.

Ellis touches on many topics related to grief. He discusses grieving as a family; common misconceptions about the grieving process; ways in which men and women deal with grief differently; and how children may grieve. He offers metaphors alongside definitions, and uses his experience as a grief counselor to offer helpful insight into the world of the griever.

“You Can’t Do It Alone”

Perhaps the greatest piece of advice Ellis give us is that a grieving person should never try to get through the process alone. It is futile to tackle this storm by yourself. He writes:

“To begin its healing, grief requires an honest understanding of the responses to and validation of a new reality — many new realities. You need permission to tell your story without being judged or ridiculed. Having access to someone who will listen to your difficult story without putting a time frame on the experience is essential. You cannot journey through this process in isolation.”

Girl looking out onto the ocean as the sun is setting symbolizing griefDuring their darkest hours, a grieving person may have a strong desire to be alone. And at times, this is necessary. But to get through the muck of the grieving process, we all need to be heard. We need a willing ear to listen to our stories and help sift through our emotions.

“This Thing Called Grief” is a handy book to have around for someone who is dealing with loss and grief. Mr. Ellis does a good job of laying the groundwork for ways in which a griever can begin to get through this difficult process. His short treatise lets the reader know that they are not alone in this world and that others have gone through what they are going through. 

I’d recommend this book to anyone dealing with the death of a loved one. It is a short read, so those who are grieving can read it easily. It is also a good primer for those who have not yet experienced full-scale grief. Though not the densest book out there, it is full of useful and important information.

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Song About Loss: “Ue o Muite Arukō (Sukiyaki)” by Kyu Sakamoto

An emotional Japanese tune contains hidden layers of meaning

Kyu Sakamato who sang Sukiyaii, a song about loss“Ue o Muite Arukō,” also known as “Sukiyaki,” by Kyu Sakamoto is a moving song about loss that translates across languages and cultures. It’s at once sorrowful and hopeful. The light melody bubbles at the surface and sparks joy in listeners. Yet the lyrics are more bittersweet and sad. It’s a song about loss, love and alienation. And it perfectly captures the mixed emotions listeners may feel in the wake of a loved one’s death.

Although “Ue o Muite Arukō” is a song that any listener can understand on an emotional level, the tune actually has layers of meaning under the surface. For instance, when you first read the song’s lyrics, they appear to be about a young couple falling out of love. Kyu Sakamoto sings,

“Ue o muite arukou” (I look up when I walk)

“Namida ga kobore naiyouni” (So the tears won’t fall)

“Omoidasu harunohi” (Remembering those happy spring days)

“Hitoribotchi no yoru.” (But tonight I’m all alone.)

But the inspiration for the song’s mournful lyrics wasn’t love or the loss of a loved one at all. Lyricist Rokusuke Ei actually wrote these words in response to political tension and protests in Japan during the late 1950s. At the time, young people in Japan were protesting against the Japanese government’s security treaty with the United States. Although WWII had ended, the United States still had a strong military presence in Japan, and many Japanese youth felt alienated by this continued military occupation. Thousands of people in Japan protested. Yet despite their efforts, the two governments agreed to the treaty.

The lyricist for “Ue o Muite Arukō” felt disheartened about the failure of the protests. He and many other Japanese youth at the time felt as though they were powerless. Yet at the same time, they believed they were on the cusp of immense political change. Nonetheless, rather than writing a song that spoke specifically to the protests, Ei decided to capture his feelings using phrases that are more universal across cultures. The sadness he feels for the present and the spark of hope he has for the future are emotions that everyone can relate to. This is what makes “Ue o Muite Arukō” such a powerful song about loss.

A woman stands outside, staring up at the clouds, similar to the narrator in Kyu Sakamoto's song about loss

Credit: Pixabay

Kyu Sakamoto’s song also contains a great deal of hope, especially when he sings,

“Shiawase wa kumo no ueni” (Happiness lies beyond the clouds)

“Shiawase wa sora no ueni” (Happiness lies above the sky)

The song’s bittersweet message gave Kyu Sakamoto a new audience in the United States. Even though the lyrics were sung entirely in Japanese, Sakamoto’s song was a massive hit in English-speaking countries. And it is still one of the best-selling singles of all time in the United States. The song sold more than 13 million copies worldwide.

Even if you don’t speak Japanese, it’s easy to hear the bittersweet nature of this song in the melody. It begins light and airy, and as the song approaches the bridge, it grows more mournful. It’s a song about loss that will make you smile and cry all at once, before you even translate the lyrics.

You can read the full lyrics to “Ue o Muite Arukō,” alongside the English translation, here.

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