Lost cat and waves of grief

I was glad the words of the book Trauma-Proofing Your Kids (https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/trauma_proofing_your_kids) flowed into my mind after my daughter and I witnessed our beloved cat get hit by a car last Monday, then run away. I was able to put my feelings on the side and just be present for my daughter who was naturally extremely emotive and shocked. She likened the experience of seeing your child get hit.

Even though my wise mind knows to stay with her pain and let her process, I had noticed waves of moments of me wanting to distract her. She responded best when she told me that nothing could stop this pain so to stop trying. She continued to go on about all the sensations and feelings she was having. That’s when I remembered the book. I agreed with her then just hugged and comforted her how she needed me to. By the end of that night, she was feeling bad for the individual who hit our cat and wondered how they were coping. I was blown away by how well my daughter was handling her cat being lost and not knowing what condition she was in.

To actively process our grief, we posted signs, went to all the neighbors’ houses, we went on searches at all times of the day, left a trail of food as well as played board games, read stories, had friends over, ate our favorite foods, and did visualizations of our ideal outcome while accepting the reality of the worst-case. Our small island community was extremely responsive and kind. We got encouraging messages and tips. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending and our cat is home safe and sound after 5 long, emotionally draining days. On the day she was found by a neighbor, my daughter mentioned feeling surprised that she had no negative feelings or worries that day. That she just had this feeling all over that our cat would be home today. We learned a lot about grief and the value of family, friends, and community.
Here is a picture of Luna Belle, Queen of the Moon Tribe (as my daughter likes to say is her full name) resting comfortably.

Image from book When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope with Grief by Marge Eaton Heegaard
Words by Dr Jessica Zucker 
Artwork by Anne Robin Calligraphy http://
shop.drjessicazucker.com/
cards/grief-knows-no

“From Neurons to Neighborhoods”

Our mother’s well-being and safety whilst we are developing in utero along with our early life experiences strongly influence our brain development. Stressful events that occurred to our parents will naturally affect us as children. Sadly, our culture is full of violence and negativity yet also doesn’t support processing negative events or emotions. The presence of at least one safe, nurturing, and responsive adult to be there for us to process emotions and negative events, especially during stressful times, is vital for well-being and positive development.

Without a safe supportive person, and instead of processing, our automatic defense mechanisms get triggered. We tend to ignore or dismiss are stress signals and negative emotions, then use distraction or substances to cope. The really hard part is to process the negative events, you have to at least acknowledge them and open yourself up to the negative emotions. Also, very few people know NOT how to react negatively and to truly hold space for someone who is processing negative emotions.

What doesn’t get processed then gets stuck in the body and unconscious levels of the brain. I highly recommend learning about how Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to health issues. The more stress or toxins (emotional, chemical, environmental, or physical) you add, the more you tax your body and the mind/body/spirit become dysregulated. The more you stay in a dysregulated state, the more harmful, pervasive, and lasting the effects. Thus, unprocessed stress kills more than anything. Our minds and bodies will unconsciously express the stress. With no safe places or skills to process the stress, it will manifest in many problematic ways like physical ailments, disease, negative behaviors, habits, and conflict consequently destroying our well-being and relationships.

Here is an excerpt from From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development; Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA, editors.Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000.

“This account of early brain development emphasizes the ways in which the nervous system is designed to recruit and incorporate experience into its developing architecture and neurochemistry. Normal experience (e.g., good nutrition, patterned visual information) supports normal brain development, and abnormal experience (e.g., prenatal alcohol exposure, occluded vision) can cause abnormal neural and behavioral development (Black et al., 1998). Plasticity is a double-edged sword that leads to both adaptation and vulnerability. “…

“In this report, stress refers to the set of changes in the body and the brain that are set into motion when there are overwhelming threats to physical or psychological well-being (Selye, 1973, 1975). Stress can have dramatic effects on health and development (Johnson et al., 1992). This happens because the physiology of stress produces a shift in the body’s priorities. When threats begin to overwhelm one’s immediate resources to manage them, a cascade of neurochemical changes that begin in the brain temporarily puts on hold the processes in the body that can be thought of as future-oriented: finding, digesting, and storing food; fighting off colds and viruses; learning things that don’t matter right now but may be important sometime in the future; reproducing and rearing offspring. Many of these neurochemical changes take place in the very same brain structures (e.g., hypothalamus and brainstem) that function to regulate heart rate, respiration, food intake and digestion, reproduction, growth, and the building up versus breaking down of energy stores (Stratakis and Chrousos, 1995).”    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225562/

Children (& dogs) are mirrors…

“Children are mirrors; they will always show you exactly what is going on inside of you. Each phase of their growth is an opportunity to heal your own pain, to go deeper inside yourself and become more truly human.” ~Vimala McClure

This quote resonance deeply with me as there are countless times this has reflected in my life through my children. I even see this pattern with my dogs, who were my first kids. I am so grateful that I reached out for help, committed myself to healing, can empathize with my children’s feelings and consciously take responsibility for the energy I emit or my own feelings that I project.

One glaring reflection was feeling intense insecurity and fear in social situations. Both my children are blessed with a gregarious hearts and a wonderful group of friends. Every time they would ask me to have friends over, I’d look at my house and feel dread and panic. I was inundated with a daunting list of all the things I should do but don’t want to. I felt terrified thinking about what others would think of me and being judged.  My kids would end up, rightfully, pleading with me. I’d start spurting out a frantic list of things to do for me to feel comfortable to invite a friend over. This would naturally end up stressing them out, they’d give up and feel guilty for even asking.

The whole interchange triggers my feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability like I am failing as a person and parent. To further the insult, I was aware that I was role-modeling to my children that we should feel ashamed and give up. My fears were pushing away the level of connectedness I preach and desperately needed.

An amusing side to this scenario was that I was so overwhelmed with the negativity that consumed me about inviting people to our house that I started to use my dog as an excuse. My dog was so intuned with me that he sensed my fear and would behave more aggressively to protect me. His attentive behaviors than triggered more fears in me which only escalated his protectiveness because he could sense my heightened fear. Negativity begets negativity and it cycles on till it escalates enough that someone gets physically hurt (emotional pain is usually prominent and ongoing).

My dog was fulfilling my self-prophecy that I cannot handle it, that I should feel afraid, and need protection. F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. I knew I needed to face this when my son started introducing strangers to me and arranging play dates himself. I was at a pivotal point where healing my social fears and judgmental thoughts as well as choosing to give my children a new story of how to overcome fears. Thank goodness I have a thousand tools to do this and not afraid to see my reflection. I am grateful for the light my children shine on me. They inspire me to be a better person every day.

LOVE vs fear

Positive Reframe...

When I first saw this slide it was entitled “Love based parenting vs Fear-based parenting.” Fear induces the release of stress hormones which over time has many negative effects. Ocytocin is our loving, bonding hormone which promotes optimal development, positivity, and connection. This visual displays vividly the continuum I feel in my heart, the dichotomy that exists in our society, and the constant conflict I face when I show others love-based responses.

Sadly, much of traditional parenting is fear-based and punitive. I believe punishment is any fear-based reaction by caregiver that deprives child of a vital need, adds toxic levels of stress and the child has no safe place to process, express and have new understanding of the overwhelming emotions, behaviors and/or events. Most times when I witness parents interact with their children, they are operating from a fearful lens. Parents tend to view their children’s behavior as a report card that reflects how they…

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Easter and our opportunities to rise again…

I was reminded of how blessed we are that God* gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are symbols of the gifts God gives us every day. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again to be more kind, helpful and align our beliefs with our actions.

Positive Reframe...

One day, my son was feeling badly about not living up to his potential. He expressed negative beliefs of “not being a good enough, being lazy, stupid, feeling guilty and shame about his choices and behaviors.” It hurts me tremendously to hear him share these deep negative core beliefs as they are the same ones I have battled through trans-generational trauma and sadly often triggers me into a negative reaction. Thus, no matter how much my partner and I told him how much we loved him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted. As a therapist, I know too well that our reactions and attempts to minimize his emotional pain were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being…

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Positive Reframe on Aging… “Alive Inside”

Positive Reframe...

I highly recommend watching the documentary Alive Inside. For like a year, I have seen this documentary on Netflix and it was always calling me. Yet because I felt I already knew how healing music is and about human development, I kept scrolling by. But WOW! Even though it was a lot of what I know including brain development and how vital relationships and touch are for life and death, throughout the documentary, I felt elated and when I finished watching it, I was filled with tears of joy and goosebumps.

“One Good Thing About Music, When it Hits You Feel No Pain”- Bob Marley

The concept of music being healing was first validated for me when I read Deepak Chopra’s book, Timeless Body, Ageless Mind. He explained how your cells in your body will actually go back in time to feel how you actually felt during a specific…

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Listen to what I do instead of punishments…

Positive Reframe...

I know that every parent is doing the best they can with the resources they were given or are aware of. I also believe that everyone truly has good intent yet may lack the know-how to get their needs met in calm, respectful ways. We all can very easily feel overwhelmed and unable to express ourselves. This is extremely true for children. Even if you have told them a hundred times, they were likely overwhelmed by conflicting thoughts or emotions or some other variable and didn’t absorb the message fully. They are also learning. Learning is messy, repetitive, and challenging process at its best. It may sometimes feel that our children are out to make our lives difficult, that something must be wrong if they haven’t got the message yet, or that they are purposely not applying themselves. I assure you, they are learning. Slow down to actively listen, empathize…

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