Regaining Well-Being Through Forgiveness

by Mara Alper

We are all faced with the question of whether or not to forgive many times in our lives.

Each time it is challenging. Yet there are ways of seeing it that simplify the question. Forgiveness is a choice that allows us to heal on our own, without the offender apologizing or even acknowledging their part.  Forgiving in this way is for the benefit of the person who forgives, not for the wrongdoer. It does not mean what the other did was all right.

We can also choose to forgive ourselves; sometimes this can be even harder than forgiving another. In our culture, we often hear the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” But it isn’t about forgetting. It is about regaining the energy tied up in anger and hurt about past stories, and using it for far better purposes.

When we lose a parent, a loved one, faith in someone else or ourselves, we become vulnerable in a way that feels exposed beyond endurance. To protect ourselves, we may harden into anger or explode with blame, as we attempt to restore our sense of safety.  Deep hurt may propel us to say or feel, “I can never forgive you” or “I can never forgive myself.”

We may become fixed in that moment of time. We create a story about our grievance and repeat it to others and ourselves. Our outward lives continue, but our anger and hurt tie us to that point of pain and it lives on, consuming our life energy in ways we barely realize, until one day if we’re lucky, we may wake up and say — enough, this exhausts me.

I came to this place several times in my life. The first time, I faced difficult childhood recollections and over time began to understand the value of forgiveness. Each time after that allowed me to experience how forgiving helped me in ways I did not imagine possible. The turning point each time was the realization that my anger and hurt kept me completely connected to the one I was angry at, that I could not move on while I was caught in these feelings. I inadvertently learned about forgiveness because of my life circumstances and unwillingness to let the past deflate my life energy any longer.

I choose to tell my stories publicly so that others will have the courage to tell theirs. Stories can heal us. My healing process included making documentaries about my journey. These stories were heard by thousands of people around the world and helped them heal.

We tell ourselves repetitive stories about how things were and stay locked in these tales. Yet, shifting the story to consider other possibilities, new ways to see the situation, has positive effects in a short time. Our eyes are opened, our hearts softened. We can move on from a place of depletion toward renewed energy.

When I work with people about forgiveness, I ask them to write down their story the way they tell it to others. We tend to develop a few set sentences or paragraphs that tell our tale. In the workshops, we write our usual story, and then distill it into a few brief sentences and say them aloud to someone else. They listen carefully and repeat it back to us as they heard it and felt it. We hear it in a new way. A shift begins.

Hearing our own story in a neutral way, hearing the compassion someone else feels for our story, softens us toward our self. We feel tenderness for ourselves as if the story were someone else’s. From this tender place, we begin a meditation on forgiving ourselves. In gradual steps, we bring light into our darkened places. By the end of the workshops, a shift toward hope is possible. It happens when we learn to retell our own story with acceptance of our own and each other’s humanity. Forgiveness opens a door.

We can choose to forgive not because we ought to, but because it helps us heal.

Forgiveness is a choice that allows us to heal from past hurts that diminish our lives and effect our health and well-being.

 The focus of the two-part workshop “Finding Forgiveness: Healing After the Loss of a Parent” is to help adult children experience forgiveness as an on-going process, even after death. Learning to forgive our parents and ourselves opens positive possibilities.

During the workshop, you will experience a forgiveness process through a blend of meditation, discussion, journaling, brief exercises and gentle movement to guide you toward a softened heart and healing. This workshop is for anyone who has been hurt, but has not yet healed.

Learning to forgive our parents and ourselves opens positive possibilities. Thursday, May 13 & 20, 7:00-8:30pm. 

MARA ALPER is a teacher, media artist and writer. Her documentaries Stories No One Wants To Hear (1993) and Forgiveness: A Healing Documentary (2006) have reached world-wide audiences about healing past pain. She inadvertently learned about forgiveness because of her life circumstances and her unwillingness to let the past deflate her life energy any longer. Her award-winning documentaries and video art have screened nationally and internationally.  www.MaraAlper.com

Learning to Live Inside of Loss

By Chantelle Daniel

I love books. I not only escape into them, but I learn from them, about life, cultures, love, loss. I don’t always know why I’m reading a book until after I’m done with it and even then, it can be some time before I am able to gain a full understanding of the experience.  A dear friend gave me the book, It’s OK That You’re NOT OK by Megan Devine. I liked the title, it felt like permission to be in the space that I am in, a space that is difficult to articulate, because often I still don’t believe the loss is real and I’m not OK. I didn’t read it right away, I left the book on my bedside table, letting those words seep in, like a mantra or a daily inspirational quote. “It’s OK That You’re NOT OK.” Finally, one day, I picked up the book and started to read it, realizing rather quickly that I wanted to have a pencil on hand so I could underline the passages that struck me.  I found myself underlining passage after passage, so much so, that at times I felt as though I were underlining more of the text than I was leaving blank.

I came to a line Megan wrote, “Grief is part of love. Love for life, love for self, love for others. What you are living, painful as it is, is love. And love is really hard. Excruciating at times.” I stopped. I had never heard the idea that grief could be connected to love, and yet it made complete sense.  I had always been taught that love was happy and beautiful, and yet I know from life that love has many different shades to it.  Megan explains that when someone we love dies, we continue to have the same deep feelings of affection for them.  The yearning and sorrow we experience at their absence, our grief, is a normal and natural extension of our love. I had also never heard love being described as really hard, even excruciating and yet in the context of grief, it certainly is.  That is what Megan does so well in this book, she speaks to the things I feel, but have never known how to put into words, or that I felt wrong or confused for experiencing. I admit it, I don’t know how to do grief. Megan tells me in her book that that’s OK. This book is written in a way that allows you to read at your own pace, you can jump around and find the chapters that speak to you best, read it straight through, or just have it on your bedside table reminding you that it’s OK to be where you are now.

“This book is about how to live inside of your loss. How you carry what cannot be fixed. How you survive.” That is what is so special to me about this book, Megan isn’t telling you to get over grief, she knows that isn’t how grief works.  Instead, she is helping you live with the loss, knowing you will always carry it with you, and guiding you towards finding tools to survive it. I don’t know how to survive grief yet, but I know reading books and talking about books has helped me in most other areas of my life.  Regardless of whether you have read the book cover to cover, jumped around to read certain sections, or just have the book on your nightstand; I invite you to come help us talk about the book, It’s OK That You’re NOT OK by Megan Devine on April 14th from 5:30-7:00 p.m.  Underline a passage or two that speaks to you, or simply come to be in the same space as others who are navigating grief. I look forward to connecting with you.

Wintering and Cold Water Swimming: An Exploration in Radical Self Care During the Pandemic

by Laura Ward, LMFT, CT

“When it’s really cold, the snow makes a lovely noise underfoot, and it’s like the air is full of stars.”

Katherine May

The water is completely still under a brilliant sky, layers of light beneath a canopy of dark clouds. The moon shone brightly above us.  Walking into the lake, I admire the tiny shards of shell glittering on the rocks below, each shard clear and defined in the calm water. As we swim, I can feel the cold reaching all the way to my center, reminding me to just be, to breathe deep. Walking away, I carry the lake within me, calm and shimmering.

I wrote this reflection after completing my second cold water swim in Cayuga lake with my co-worker Sara Worden, Assistant Director of Community Engagement.  Cold water swimming has been shown to have numerous physical and mental health benefits and many people engage in the practice regularly. 

I became interested in this practice after reading the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times by Katherine May, which is the book featured in our upcoming community book discussion. 

In the chapter “Cold Water Swimming”, Katherine talks about the mental health benefits and comradery of cold water swimming. Many people are using cold water swimming to help them cope with the many losses experienced during the pandemic. It’s a safe activity that can help swimmers feel connected to the healing powers of nature and other humans.

Book Discussion: March 4th with Laura Ward via Zoom. Register here.

Then, while talking with Sara, I discovered that she had had just booked American ice, open water and endurance swimmer, Jaimie Monahan, to speak at an upcoming event for the Women Swimmin’ community.  After marveling at the coincidence of our shared interest and the intersection of our upcoming events, we decided to give cold water swimming a try for ourselves and committed to six swims over a two-week period. 

Virtual Presentation: March 18 via Zoom. Register here.

It has been an exhilarating experience and one that has reminded me that I need to continue to stretch out of my comfort zone and look for new ways to stay healthy and care for myself as we approach the year mark of the pandemic and social distancing. To many, this might sound like a rather extreme example of self-care and I agree. 

However, we invite you to join us in reflecting on what you might need to keep going during these challenging times.  We hope that you will be inspired by Katherine May or Jaimie Monahan as you contemplate how to answer this question for yourself.

Winter Solace Community Memorial

Although we could not be together in person, our virtual memorial on December 6th was incredibly moving and we thank everyone who participated, either by attending or by sending in names of loved ones.
 

For the first part of the memorial we took advantage of Zoom technology and broke out into small groups for intimate conversations in breakout room. We were honored that so many people choose to open up and share both their joy and sorrows.  We offered tips on how to cope with the upcoming holidays and participants shared stories of how we are choosing to remember our loved ones this year.

We’ve created a short video for those who weren’t able to join us.  Please enjoy our memorial video which features the wonderful music of Travis Knapp and a slideshow memorializing the community’s loved ones.

Always remember, Hospicare is here for you. The holidays are not going to be the same this year but know that you are in our thoughts. May peace and grace find you in the New Year.  

Support through the Seasons

Tools for Navigating Grief and the Holidays during COVID

At this point it’s clear, the pandemic will change many of the ways in which we celebrate the upcoming holiday season. We usually associate the holidays with being “joyful” or “merry,” gathering with family and friends, giving gifts, and engaging in festivities and traditions. This year we will need to consider how our celebrations will need to change in order to keep ourselves and our friends, family, and community safe.  

We will naturally feel some grief as we reassess what parts of the holiday we can still create and what aspects we will need to modify significantly or discard all together.  Grief can manifest in many ways, and it’s important to acknowledge its impact on our physical and emotional health as the holidays progress.

Hospicare is providing support to the community at this unusual time. Programs are free and all are welcome! To RSVP for programs or for questions call 607-272-0212 or email events@hospicare.org.  Held online via Zoom. Login details will be provided after registration. Register for programs at least 2 days before event.

Winter Solace Community Memorial: Sunday, December 6. Join us at 7pm for fellowship and conversation and stay for a memorial service. Or come at 7:30pm for the program of remembrance. All in our community who are grieving, regardless of whether your loved one died on Hospicare’s services, are welcome to stop by for a time of remembrance during the busy holiday season.

Coping with the Holidays: Wednesday, December 9, 5:30-7pm. Holiday time can be especially difficult after the death of a loved one. Learn about ways to take care of yourself and honor your feelings as we head into the holiday season. Includes a presentation followed by a discussion and support group.

Yoga for Grief: Thursday, January 7, 5-6:15pm. Start the new year with self-care! Enjoy a gentle and peaceful yoga practice with Jody Kessler. No experience necessary.

Grief Camp for Youth – Opening Session with Laura

Grief Camp is presented by Hospicare & Palliative Care Services in collaboration with local practitioners. Camp is free and open to all. Classes and webinars will be on Zoom. Links will be provided upon registration, which is required. For more information or to register call 607-272-0212 or email bereavement@hospicare.org

Pick up location for collage art packs and Lifetimes Book:

FLOOF Collage pARTy! Art-Making Studio, 135 Burleigh Dr., Ithaca, NY 14850

VIDEO: Illuminations 2020

Enjoy the recording of our Virtual Community Memorial. As we navigate these uncertain times, how we define and feel grief is changing. We mourn the significant loss of loved ones in our lives, as well as the 114,000+ Americans who died as a result of the pandemic. We grieve for the turmoil in our country, the loss of “normal,” and the ways in which we have had to modify our ways of life and our interactions with one another.

(Fast forward through first 5 minutes)