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“Well, nobody’s perfect.”  That’s what you usually say when you break a dish, run out of gas, or forget to pack your swimsuit on a beach vacation.  These mistakes we quickly forget.  Bigger decisions, particularly bad ones, can cause pain and grief in our lives that can last a long time, even a lifetime.  Indeed there are some lasting consequences.  Some can be erased and forgiven over time, others cannot.  It might have been a car accident, an angry tirade, or a moral failure, the list is endless.  The reason it is endless is because we all make bad decisions–everyone.  It doesn’t matter if you are a parent, a pastor, a police officer, or a podcaster you are going to screw up–royally at times.  Like grief from any other source in your life you may not ever completely recover from it but you can learn from the mistake and turn it into an asset over time.  There are some things you must do to make that transformation.

Change what you can.  There are some consequences of our decisions which are irreversible, but undoubtably there are more things that you can change than not.  When you grieve you feel out of control and gaining control of the things you can will begin to lift you up.  This is vital to your recovery because the antithesis of grief is hope.  Maybe this means making amends, asking forgiveness, paying a debt, changing a habit, or changing your environment.  Avoidance is your enemy.  Face your unpleasant feelings and situation head on and take control of your life.  Make a list of the things you can change, improve or at least have a shot of changing and then begin to list ways you can accomplish them.  Begin with a one of the easier ones and carve out your first victory.  Build on that success and chip away at them all.  Some things may not change, some may take time, but you will begin to win.  Others may not matter to you anymore as you realize they aren’t the obstacle to happiness you though they were.

Let go of what you can.  Often recovering from our bad decisions can be a cleansing experience. Usually bad decisions come from flawed thinking that has had power over our lives.  When the result of that fallacious thinking manifests itself in a harmful decision, it brings that flaw to light. This is a great time to recognize and eliminate that fallacy in your life that causes you and others harm. The predisposition to do wrong is in all of us and you are not the first or last to do it, so allow yourself to be imperfect.  Above I said to make a list of things you can change.  This time make a list of things you cannot change, and let go of them.  Don’t only let go of your guilt, but also let go of its power over you.  It is done, forgive yourself, don’t do it again.  Beside the list of things you can’t change, write down what you can do to keep that from every happening again.  You won’t ever forget the things you did, so use them to grow and make you stronger.  One more thing–Sometimes that long held belief that has driven you for years will be something you were taught by family, by friends, at home, at school, or at church.  It is cleansing to challenge your beliefs and determine whether you need to stand on them or let them go.

Let go of who you can.  Your mistakes always involve and affect others around you.  Although your bad decision almost always ultimately falls on you, influences from other people around you usually play a part.  In most cases you need to disassociate yourself from those people either immediately or for a time.  These people will either excuse your part in the decision or lead you to other unwise decisions.  Get away and clear your head.   It is often said that when things go wrong in your life, you find out who your real friends are.  Some people that you would have sworn would stick with you will abandon you.  Other people that you hardly knew cared will stand by your side strongly.  In many cases you need to let go of the people who abandoned you, at least for a time.  If they leave you that easily the rift will be hard to repair in the short term and will just cause you more grief. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does lessen the sting.  In time some of these people will be friends again.  Others are best let go.  Of course many people you thought you could count on will come through immediately, or at least that has been my experience.  These anchors in your life are a great gift.  Don’t neglect to show gratitude.

Start something new.  Bad decisions that come from years of faulty thinking are like addictions in a way—If we do not replace them with something new, they plague us again.  Just as an alcoholic must fill potential drinking time with AA meetings, volunteering, or a hobby to avoid drinking, so must you put your new way of thinking into action to change.  If you physically put it into action you will believe it more strongly.  It is very powerful if the action is the opposite of your mistake.  An example would be a person who has anger issues starting a peer group to study and discuss an anger management program or book.  The more you face your flaw head on, the more you become free of it.

You don’t have to spend the rest of your life weighed down by your mistakes.  We are all going to mess up, blow it, and make bad decisions.  It is what we do afterwards that defines us.

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Seasons do effect people and summer is no exception.  Many people feel better in the summer because the pace is more laid back, they can take vacations, and the days are longer.  For some, however, the summer months are a struggle.  If this is a hard season for you it may be due to lack of structure and routine, friends and family being away on vacation, or lack of stimulation on long days that cause you to feel down.  Perhaps you have summer memories of someone who is gone and you wish they were still here.  To overcome the things you can’t change, you have to take advantage of the things you can.

Go outside.  Some people avoid the heat at all costs and that is certainly understandable, but you cannot let the long hot days keep you in the house.  When grieving you have a tendency to withdraw and maybe even sleep a lot because sleep is an escape.  Neither of these will help you heal.  The longer days of summer give you more opportunities to get out even if it is in an air-conditioned car, restaurant, store or mall.  Garden in the early morning or late afternoon.  Sit own the porch and drink coffee.  Don’t stay shut in with the curtains closed.  You need the clarity of daylight and the benefit of a little vitamin D from the sun.  You need a feeling of accomplishment. Get out and face the day head on.

Invite someone.  A person that is grieving will often sit at home alone feeling left behind by everyone else who is moving on with there regular routines.  Meanwhile your regular routine has been interrupted permanently.  Do not wait to be invited, invite someone.  Don’t just watch the activities friends, family, kids, grandkids and wish you were a part of it.  Invite them to do something.  It doesn’t have to be a full-blown vacation.  Invite them to dinner, take the kids to a waterpark or pool, or go out with a friend for a of cup of coffee and a little catching up.  When you are grieving you don’t realize that you often send signals to others that you want to be left alone. Take the initiative and show people you want to spend time with them.

Get exercise.  If you are not a warm weather person you tend to avoid activities that will make you hot.  The benefits of exercise on improving emotional health are tremendous.  You cannot afford to waste this precious resource.  It helps fulfill your need for routine and empowerment.  It gives accomplishment and you see positive physical results.  It releases the gift of natural endorphins which will elevate your mood.  Find ways to take advantage of these benefits.  If the heat is an issue, there are ways to get exercise and avoid excessive heat.  Swimming is an excellent choice. The water keeps you cool and most communities have indoor pool options.  For aerobic or weight training, more and more gyms are opening up in which you can get exercise in an air-conditioned environment for as little as $10 a month.  Even if you choose to play golf or walk in your neighborhood, the longer daylight hours can help.  Just get up early or go out after dinner when the sun is not out but there is still daylight.  Take an indoor dancing class.  Just move.

August ushers in the dog days of summer and it is a great time to leverage your opportunities for positive change.  Grief takes your power away and to overcome it you must regain some power where you can.  Summer offers opportunities to heal.

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Me and Kerri Kasem in the halls of the Arkansas State Capitol after testifying before a subcommittee on aging.  A special thank you to my good friend Shannon Lynn for introducing me to Kerri and her cause.

Imagine you have a physically and/or mentally incapacitated family member and you were not able to see or even talk to them.  This can only compound the grief on both sides.  Through the Kasem Cares Foundation Kerri Kasem, daughter of radio legend Casey Kasem, is on a mission to reduce grief for incapacitated people and their families.   An incapacitated person is vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous people who become their legal guardian and then isolate them from the rest of the family.  This was the much publicized situation in which Kerri and her siblings found themselves in 2014 as Jean Kasem, his second wife, moved Casey from one facility to another so they couldn’t see their father.  When he passed away Jean kept his body from the family and took him to Norway for burial without them, none of which was Casey’s wish.  This sounds like a bizarre Hollywood story but it happens everywhere, everyday.  In fact, something very similar happened to my family.

About the same time as the Kasem’s struggle was happening in LA, here in Arkansas the mother of my late wife became physically and mentally weakened because of a series of strokes.  A woman who was a repeat drug offender worked her way into way into my mother-in-law’s life as her caretaker, against our will.  She was then able to get power of attorney (POA) over her affairs and became the executor of her estate.  Both the POA and the executorship were later proven to be fraudulent.  Before legal action could be completed, however, the caretaker spent a very large amount of my mother-in-law’s money on drugs, and entered her into a hospital without telling us.  My mother-in-law passed away and we did not know until we read about her funeral arrangements in the newspaper.  The caretaker falsely presented herself as the granddaughter and got away with it for the most part.

I became acquainted with Kerri Kasem through a good friend as she came to our state to lobby for a visitation bill before a subcommittee of the Arkansas State Legislature.  She asked me to testify for the bill that was introduced by Representative Rick Beck.  When I posted the experience on social media, many people began to tell me their experiences. This is all too common.  Kerri was able to get a visitation rights bill passed in California, then chose to campion the cause for all us.  Through Kasem Cares, Kerri is going from state to state addressing the legislature.  You can help Kerri, the people of your state, and even yourself by going to kasemcares.org and supporting the bills locally.  This may very likely protect you some day as you grow older.  Ten years ago I would never have predicted that my wife would die at the age of 40 and I would be fighting for my children’s grandmother without her.  If I ever become incapacitated, I want my children to see me.  Kerri has a simple proactive suggestion that will help if that time comes:  Make a video of yourself now, stating that if you should become incapacitated, you will want your specific family members to have access to you under any circumstances.  The path of grief is difficult enough, don’t let your loved ones suffer even more because they were not able to see you in your last days.  Also protect yourself by insuring those you trust and love have access to you.

Below is a video link to local station KATV on Kerri’s efforts in Arkansas.

http://katv.com/news/local/late-radio-host-casey-kasems-daughter-on-a-mission-to-change-arkansas-laws

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We call this season the most wonderful time of the year but for many it can be the most difficult.  If you are in the latter group, you undoubtably are caught in a mixture of hope and hurting.  Even over the last two days, I have friends who have lost family and other loved ones.  No matter what time of year loss is one of the deepest pains, but even more so at a time in which most people are enjoying family and friends.  You want to smile, you know you are expected to be happy, but your spirit is just not having it.  If you are blessed to have others around you who also feel the loss it helps.  At least you can hurt together, talk about it, and hopefully even find some reasons to laugh as you remember.

The above picture is from Christmas Eve 2006, one week after my children lost their mom and I lost my wife.  The smiles are genuine but not indicative of the emptiness inside.  In fact it has been a 10 year journey in which we gradually have enjoyed Christmas more every year.  Some years we took bigger strides and some smaller, often depending upon other life factors besides the loss, but now we are at a very happy place in our family.  I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Time heals all wounds.” Instead, I think in time we adapt, grow, and begin anew if we are healthy.  The grief doesn’t go away, we just start again, and that is our most powerful ability.

If it is Christmas Eve and you have lost someone today or ten years ago, you must strike the balance of remembering but also living in the present.  If you can find some reasons to smile and laugh, do not hold it back or feel guilty.  You are going to hurt so when you don’t, embrace it.  This is one of your greatest healing gifts.  Give yourself permission to be happy.  If you know someone else who is hurting or lonely this Christmas, reach out to them.  Helping someone else in pain is a good way to ease your own, at least for a while.  You can’t force happiness but you can seek it.  Your chances are much better of finding it if you make genuine efforts.   Allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to laugh and begin anew.

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This article in not an endorsement of any political party or opinion.  Like you I have my opinions, some strong, but this is not the place for them.  This article is born from conversations with a dear friend, with whom I don’t always agree but I respect and love, who is grieving.  It is also from being a father trying to help two new voters, and one future voter, in my family make sense of the volatile political climate.  

By 11:00 PM on election night it began to be evident who was most likely to win the presidential election.  It was not the widely predicted outcome and this is now being dubbed the biggest presidential upset in history by some.  In fact our nation is so widely split on political opinions that regardless of who won, roughly 48% of the people were going to be upset or angry.  This year it is just the opposite half of the nation from those who were upset in 2008.  Not all people are grieving, but some were so heavily invested in the outcome of this election that they are devastated.  There is a difference between grief and dissatisfaction.  Most people are just angry or shocked, but in some ways the 2016 election many lead to more grieving than normal.

Many women were highly invested in this election.  They were hoping for the breaking of the glass-ceiling so this election was particularly important to them.  Added to that, the widely broadcast and posted “locker room talk” video touched a nerve, sometimes even a fear, that women face every day.  I know this is true because I have daughters and they have informed me of how common it is for them to be faced with degrading and misogynistic talk.  Many women, possibly even some who voted for the winner, are concerned that this will be seen as an endorsement to some men that it is okay to behave in this manner.  This makes it even more personal for women and men who are more sensitive to women’s struggles.  Regardless of gender there are some things that can relieve your grief.

Consider taking a break from social media and TV.  In the aftermath there will continue to be arguments and opinions everywhere.  The Fall weather has arrived in much of our nation.  Get outside, feel the sun on your face, breath the crisp air and see that the world is still spinning.

Take an historical perspective.  If you are grieving I assume it is because you love our nation and have hopes for us.  Just remember that this nation you love has been through worse divides, even civil war, and you still love it.  Our freedom to choose sometimes ends in results we like and sometimes it does not.  People who thought the nation would fall apart after the 2008 election were wrong.  We can continue to be a great nation after this one as well.

Look for signs of the good aspects of our system.  Even as I write this, the current president is meeting with the president elect preparing for a smooth transition after a free election, just as happened in 2008.  Will things get ugly again?  Most assuredly, but try to maintain a wider perspective.  Roughly half of the nation agrees with you.  You will live to fight another day.  We should all hope that both sides will find a way to come together and make our nation a better place.

Take a deep breath and prepare to be a part of the solution.  After you have raked some leaves, walked your dog, or had a run through the park, start to think about how you can positively make a difference.  You cannot do that by posting on social media, so scratch that off the list right now.  Find a cause and join in.  Sitting at home watching TV and being frustrated will nor make you feel better.  Being among people who encourage you and give you hope will.  You can do this in a church, relief organization, non-profit, or political party but get involved.  Don’t count on the efforts of other people to make you feel better.  Be an agent of hope.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, listen to the other side.  Our nation will only truly improve when we hear each other.  I make it a point to have friends on both sides of the issues, especially the issues for which I have strong feelings.  It is very freeing to love someone with whom you disagree, to find there are many things on which you do agree, and to be rid of hate.  As a man I  listen to women and hear why they feel the way they do.  As a white man I listen to my black friends who have fears I cannot understand in my own experience.  Whether we agree on the reasons or not, we find that hearing each other brings us together and closer to a solution.  This will take your grief away and replace it with hope.

 

 

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How you grieve will sometimes make others uncomfortable.  From the day of your loss and for many years later, people will be watching how you remember the one you lost.  It’s just human nature.  If you laugh on the day of the funeral, some will wonder how you can be happy.  If you cry ten years later, some will say you have not healed properly.  Social media–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Shapchat–have provided a whole new dimension of opportunities, decisions, and scrutiny.  Should you post something on the first anniversary of your loss?  Is it too maudlin?  What about the fifth or tenth anniversary?  If you were to ask your friends and family you would likely get a mix of responses that would not help much.  Certainly to live an emotionally healthy life there must be healing and you must find a new beginning, but ultimately your appropriate expression of grief is personal and not for others to judge.  To use a current phrase–you be you.  At the same time, your grief is mostly a private matter.

Today is the 28th anniversary of my marriage to Tina Sanges, and December 16 will mark the tenth anniversary of her passing.  She hasn’t been my wife for a decade but I can’t erase this date from my mind, nor should I.  Over time like the picture above those memories fade, yet I can’t help remembering and feeling the loss.  It does not mean that I have not healed, it means I have a heart.  For me, posting anything on social media seems inappropriate.  I know this blog is exactly that, but this post is for the benefit of those I seek to help, not me (mostly).  To make a memorial post on my personal social media pages is too much and would be more for show than remembrance, for me.  Among my family, and friends who were close to her it is suitable to remember privately.  For my children it is essential to talk about it.  Obviously if I were remarried I would want to be respectful to my wife in my expression.  That is a post to come later.  Ultimately the way you handle anniversaries and meaningful dates is your choice alone.

Although you cannot adjust your true feelings for others, their reactions can help you discern what is appropriate publicly.  There is no right or wrong, but you do have to admit that it can be difficult for people around you to know what to say or do.  As much as they can’t tell you how to feel, neither can you tell them how to feel.  People exposed to your grief truly don’t know what to do with it.  It is uncomfortable, for you and them.  Of course their are also those who will grieve along with you.  Grieve in a way that you feel is appropriate and be okay with that, regardless of how those on the fringe react.

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If you are like me, you feel the pain at this time every year.  Of course nobody grieves more on this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack than the families and friends of the nearly 3,000 people who died on that day.  In addition even more names have been added to the casualty list as civilians and emergency responders have died as a result of exposure to the toxic dust they inhaled in the aftermath.  Those who knew and loved these men and women grieve the deepest, but it is very normal for those of us who didn’t personally know them to feel grief at this time as well.  Everyone remembers what they were doing and where they were the day everything came to a halt and all eyes were on New York.  Even now, on this day, every name is read in a public memorial service.

The greatest loss of life in our nation combined with personal painful losses and can have quite an effect.  For me, Fall and the upcoming holiday season cause me to be a bit  melancholy anyway.  I am not conscious of it but it begins to creep up on me and I recognize it when it appears.  To be sure there are many things I love about this time of year and happiness is not a stranger, but I cannot shake a nagging sadness for several reasons–I was married in October of 1988, my late wife’s favorite time of the year was fall, and she passed away at age 40 right before Christmas.  I do not intentionally think about these things or dwell on them but they show up anyway.  Her absence among my children and family members cannot be ignored at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So for me the September 11 anniversary begins to usher in the feelings.  It cannot be stopped and shouldn’t be ignored, but there is a healthy response.

Dealing with grief requires you to fight at times.  There is a difference between burying your pain and battling your pain.  To bury is to ignore it and will cause only deeper pain for you and those around you.  To fight your pain you must acknowledge it, feel it, and make a decision it will not rule or ruin your life and happiness.  You cannot will the pain away but you can make a conscious decision the you will not give in to it.  The pain can be a fuel you use for change, a reason to fight.  You have two choices:  1)  dwell in the pain the rest of your life, or 2) embrace the change in your life as a chance for new opportunities.  The latter is where new joy can be found.  Grief will sneak up on you at times even from events that may not be directly attached to you, like 9/11.  It is up to you whether you are going to let the fog of grief move back in or embrace the light that comes from new possibilities.