Category Archives: Events

How Can We Help Protect Ourselves from Covid-19?

 As the bereaved, we are automatically much more prone to bodily inflammation.

A relatively new study in Psychoneuroendocrinology (Vol. 93, July 2018, pp. 65-71), and reported by Forbes (Oct. 30, 2018), found that “the blood samples of those who were experiencing ‘elevated grief,’ including feeling like life had lost its meaning, had inflammation levels 17% higher than those who didn’t feel that way (measured by levels of inflammatory cytokine proteins). And the top one-third of the grieving group had levels nearly 54% higher than the bottom one-third.” [1]

These inflammatory cytokine proteins can multiply quickly and cause a “cytokine storm” in Covid-19 patients. According to Randy Cron, M.D., Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham, “Cytokines are inflammatory immunologic proteins that are there to fight off infections and ward off cancers… But when they are out of control, they can make you very ill.” (Forbes Apr 16, 2020, article on cytokine storms and covid-19 patients) [2]

Also of concern is that inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older adulthood, according to Chris Fagundes, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice University. [3]

Therefore, perhaps the best defense against Covid-19—and other illnesses—is a good offense: reduce the elevated inflammation levels in our bodies. This can help us stay healthier overall anyway—so we don’t end up with more grief about our own bodies.

Following my 26 tips for improving your immunity, which you can find on my Thriver Soup blog, I will next be offering ideas for reducing inflammation in our bodies to help us better cope with the terrible hand we have been dealt.

Here is a foundation for better understanding inflammation from my book, Thriver Soup:

“When threatened by wounds, irritation, or infections, cells inflame to assist with the transition back to health. A molecule called nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kB), which normally resides in cell cytoplasm, moves into the cell’s nucleus (hence the name ‘nuclear factor’) and generates redness, heat, swelling, and pain. When the body heals, the NF-kB molecules return to the cell cytoplasm.

“NF-kB, however, also provokes the genes involved in creating chronic inflammation, which generally does not help the body heal. Instead, long-term heat and swelling becomes an open invitation to cancer. One-sixth of all cancers are directly linked to chronic inflammation. Most, if not all, cancers have unusually high levels of active NF-kB. This protein is considered their missing link. Researchers, for example, found that NF-kB regulates the inflammatory cascade necessary for breast cancer cells to proliferate and metastasize.

“Fortunately, inflammation can be smothered through diet and supplements. NF-kB can be suppressed by phytochemical-rich spices, vegetables, and fruit. Antioxidants can block the proteins so they don’t move into cell nuclei. Vitamins C, D, and E, curcumin (found in the spice turmeric), the herb ashwagandha, pomegranate extract, garlic extract, ginger root, green tea, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, and isoflavones found primarily in beans can be effective cellular firefighters. I found such a diet helped reduce my discomfort during treatment, decreasing my need for pain medications.

“When brought back under control, NF-kB provides the body with important healing mechanisms…. Keep the chronic flames doused with an anti-inflammatory diet to help preserve your internal landscape.

“Thriver Soup Ingredient:

         “Ask your doctor to measure inflammation markers in your blood (C-reactive protein and albumin). [Cancer] ‘patients with the lowest level of inflammation were twice as likely as the others to live through the next several years,’ according to long-term studies by oncologists at the Glasgow Hospital in Scotland.”

Thriver Soup, Pg. 174

Sources:

[1] [https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2018/10/30/new-research-on-inflammation-shows-how-extreme-emotions-can-undermine-health/#4bc491af56f5]

[2] [https://www.forbes.com/sites/claryestes/2020/04/16/what-is-the-cytokine-storm-and-why-is-it-so-deadly-for-covid-19-patients/#6b77ed6460fc]

[3] [https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2018/10/30/new-research-on-inflammation-shows-how-extreme-emotions-can-undermine-health/#4bc491af56f5]

How to Cope with Anger During Lockdown

There are so, so many legitimate things to feel angry about right now. The loss of your loved ones. The opioid epidemic. Now the coronavirus pandemic. The basic, reliable structures of your life have collapsed, compounding your grief. It feels so overwhelming.

Your rage is multiplied, complicated, and justified. And on top of that, you are locked up, either alone or with loved ones, as if a prisoner in your own home. It’s like you’re sitting in your personal pressure cooker, where grief, resentments, and blame build to the explosive point.

It’s something none of us have really dealt with before. It’s a hard time for all of us.

We want relief from that constant niggling agitation we might feel. Our minds acknowledge that life is way out of whack, but that doesn’t always translate into compassion for ourselves and each other. To cope, it seems easiest to disconnect our awareness from our bodies. We sometimes end up self-destructing with food and alcohol and maybe even lashing out at those whom we love. I find myself eating a lot more chocolate and popcorn these days, and I have been less patient with my son.

Even though our ways of dealing with stress can be quick fixes to ease our discomfort, they are ineffective ways of coping. While we might feel some sense of relief, these knee-jerk reactions usually make us feel worse in the end.

Processing

We can’t control these difficult external events, but we can control our internal attitudes, behaviors, and choices. We get to choose if we are going to be victims of our circumstances, or if we’re going to rise up and take responsibility for ourselves and our own lives.

If we look underneath our anger, grief, and sorrow, we will probably find an incredible sense of powerlessness, as if the floor is giving way underneath us. It may not feel like it at the time, but this sensation is just an emotion—energy in motion within our bodies. While it’s scary to feel these feelings for what they are, our emotions alone do no harm. They are the result of a chemical dump from our brains into our bloodstreams. For the emotions to lift—which is where we can find relief—these sensations need to be deeply felt without our minds running interference.

So have a seat, or lie down on your bed. Tune in to your body. Where is that irritating feeling of powerlessness sitting? Can you feel the rage putting pressure someplace inside you? If so, take a moment to feel it. Allow it to be what it is without any thoughts or words. Give it your whole, undivided attention without judgment. That’s all it wants, anyway.

Your emotions, if felt fully and deeply, will lift after ninety seconds. If it lasts longer than ninety seconds, you’re probably engaging your mind and thinking about what’s bothering you. That’s not helping you right now. Let the thoughts go, and if you can’t, write them down and shred them. Then try the process again.

Another strategy you can use is to breathe deeply while mindfully observing your anger, grief, and powerlessness. Just look at it. Don’t judge it or act on it. Instead, have compassion for whatever it is you’re feeling. It’s a human response to an inhumane situation; there is no logical reason to feel ashamed or guilty about your feelings.

By loving yourself enough to experience the energy moving inside your body, without thinking about what makes you upset, you can allow it to harmlessly shift around until it evaporates.

Integrating

Once the emotions lift, you can begin reorganizing your reality, away from the victim mentality and toward opportunities, learning, and desires. There are so many free educational and entertaining options available online. Perhaps focus on gratitude that these choices—vastly more wonderful than at any other time in history—are accessible to you right here, right now. I find these gifts extraordinary.

For example, I finally got my son to watch the movie The Cold Blue so he could see what his grandfather lived through during World War II. I watched a documentary about children’s show host Fred Rogers, of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” fame, and was amazed. Fred had the uncanny ability to explain difficult concepts, like “assassination,” to help children cope with national crises. Most recently, I participated in free online meditations.

These would never have happened without the lockdown and the generosity of others. With gratitude, I find my attention shifts and so does my internal awareness. It’s a lovely, empowering gift to myself and relieves the stress of living in lockdown.

How Safe are Your Medications from Thieves?

A man and his two accomplices allegedly murdered his cousin, a woman with stage 4 lung cancer, for her opioid medication. She was found dead in a wooded area in Kentucky.

The suspect knew where she kept her opioids, and she had just received another shipment of 120 pain pills on June 8. She disappeared from her home June 9, and her body was found six days later.

Storing opioids

If you have pain killers, where do you store them? I tried locking things in a footlocker with a padlock. My teenager could crack into it within minutes.

I have talked with others who have had medical treatment. Do they lock up their prescriptions? Usually not. Like me, some don’t realize many painkillers are basically heroin pills and can be addictive.

Here is a list of opioid medications:

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any of these? If so, are they effectively locked up?

“My child wouldn’t take these.”

That’s what I thought. My child did take them. And became an addict. And overdosed on heroin. If he hadn’t taken them, a friend of his might have.

I found a digital lock box is the best solution for controlled substances in my home. It costs more, but I know only I can access the contents.

Other addictive prescription drugs to lock up:
— Tranquilizers and depressants, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.
— Stimulants, including Ritalin and amphetamines such as Adderall.

Easing your Grief:

According to 2015 government estimates, more than two million people are addicted to opioids. Encourage people to protect themselves and their loved ones. Please put your medications in a digital lock box.

Sources:

https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article213429614.html

http://local12.com/news/local/new-allegations-about-cancers-patients-robbery-murder-revealed

https://patch.com/kentucky/across-ky/terminal-cancer-patient-murdered-her-painkillers-report

https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/opioids-and-morphine-derivatives.html

https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA17-5053-12/SMA17-5053-12.pdf

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/03/22/most-addictive-prescription-drugs-on-market.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-opioid-prescriptions-dropped-20170707-story.html

A Mother, a Brother, and a Hard Holiday

I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory. 

–Mitch Albom

In 1972, my mother was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer. She surprised everyone by going into radical remission for seven years.

When the cancer came back, we didn’t know for awhile, but I felt a sickness in my belly on the morning I watched my mom and dad drive off for a trip south. About three hours later I got a call… she had stumbled and fallen—the result of a growing numbness in her spine, which turned out to be the return of the cancer. At the time, I was a teenaged college student. None of us had much of an idea what to do, think, or expect—especially my younger brother, who had just become a teenager.

Cancer death sentence

This time the doctors predicted she would live six months. She got Prevention magazine (the only health magazine she probably could get back then), ate better food, and saw a hypnotherapist. Her goal was to live long enough for my younger brother to remember her.

Remarkably, she lived another three years.

Perhaps she helped save my life

She unknowingly taught me to explore options. Perhaps she helped save my life with her example.

All of us came to see her days before she passed. After a short visit I had to get back to Kansas if I wanted to keep my job. There was no hospice. After all us out-of-towners left, she crossed over, alone, in a hospital bed.

Getting The Call

I remember the terrible phone call, the endless drive back to Iowa, and the torturous days that followed, like it was yesterday. This was my first real exposure to death.

Of course, I have lost many more people during the intervening 34 years, including my firstborn son, whom I lost to heroin three years ago.

This spring I listened to some old copies of cassette recordings from my childhood Christmases. With a heavy heart, I realized I had forgotten the sound of my own mother’s voice. I knew by the spoken words it was her, yet the timbre of her voice had faded from my memories. Fortunately, with today’s technology, I have my son’s voice so I can listen to it when I want to.

The taste of memories

Also fortunately, memories of the taste of my mother’s cooking had not faded. My younger brother was able to visit me this Mother’s Day. His memories of her were far more hazy, yet he remembered certain dishes that gave a feeling of comfort and belonging.

Together we made corn fritters, hamburger pie, Barb-b-cups, cheesecake, springerle cookies, and peanut brittle—unfit food we normally never eat. It brought a feast of memories and even some laughter. My younger son enjoyed the eats.

And I was able to glide busily and deliciously past my third mother’s day without my firstborn son. I appreciate this gift.

Source:
https://soyummy.co/mothers-day-quotes-food-moms-best-cooks/

Remember the Rachels on Mother’s Day–grieving mothers

Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.

Matthew 2:16-18, New Living Translation

Rachel was an early biblical character who died giving birth to her second son. She was buried by the road to Bethlehem. Bethlehem would later become the birth location for a king, according to Matthew’s gospel.

And Herod, the jealous and frightened ruler at the time, sent his soldiers to kill all the male infants and toddlers near Bethlehem to remove this new threat.

One cannot imagine the kind of imperishable grief such an act would produce on a vulnerable population.

Mothers who grieve

This story is part of the birth narrative of Jesus. When was the last time you heard a preacher talk about this trauma in connection with the nativity story?

It seems to me that mothers who grieve their children appear easily overlooked.

The world is full of Rachels who weep disconsolately for their deceased children. My friend Joan just lost her daughter to diabetes.

Opioid epidemic

With the current opioid epidemic, mothers who are cancer patients need to be wary. I was told in 2011 to “stay ahead of the pain,” and was sent home with a month’s supply of what I now realize were heroin pills.

Recently I talked with a cancer survivor who also had leftover opioids and a teenaged son at home. I urged her to get a digital lockbox or return the pills to a pharmacy.

Even if her son doesn’t find or use them, a friend of his might. Then the treacherous slide into heroin overdose begins.

If I ever doubt myself as a mother…

If I ever doubt myself as a mother fighting for her children, all I have to do is look at this Mother’s Day card my deceased son made for me about ten years ago. I’m seen as firm with my words and my sword… with a kind smile on my face, all centered in a heart glowing with love.

I’m hardly alone. Even my son’s memorial garden was just visited again by Rachel’s weeping.

A mother bird in the sweet gum tree had fought valiantly for her eggs, evidenced by the circle of feathers; but her efforts simply weren’t enough.

The nest fell to the grass and her babies were hungrily consumed.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is approaching. Ugh. For me, and for perhaps hundreds of thousands of mothers, this time on the calendar is a terrible reminder of broken hearts and empty arms.

Despite all we do, sometimes we still lose our children. Some mothers lose their only children—I know two such women who lost theirs to heroin. I have heard of one woman who lost all three of her children to heroin overdoses.

Stigma of death to drugs

Losing your children is bad enough. Add on the stigma of death to drugs and you have an unfathomable nightmare.

I am most fortunate that one of my brothers will be here and we will spend the day making and eating delicious meals our mother made when we were growing up—a time of innocence. My younger son will get to indulge with us. (He loves to tell me there’s no food in my house.) Foods I typically now avoid, yet that give comfort and solace to an empty heart. Corn fritters, hamburger pie, cheesecake, springerle.

I’ll still be weeping for my child, as I do nearly every day, yet with social support I also will have some consolation.

Easing your Grieving:

Mothers fight for their offspring, though not always successfully. Many of these mothers are single. It can be such a lonely time, especially with the isolation that can come from losing a child to drugs.

On Mother’s Day, please pray for or send positive intentions to the Rachels everywhere. Those who have suffered heavy losses need comfort and love—a kind word, a simple text, a card—something to let them know they are not entirely alone.

3 Birthday Feathers for Making Wishes

…he said: ‘Now you have seen me, you shall see me no more, unless you are willing to serve seven years and a day for me, so that I may become a man once more.’ Then he told her to take three feathers from under his side, and whatever she wished through them would come to pass. Then he left her at a great house to be laundry-maid for seven years and a day.

“Three Feathers,” More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, 1894

In this tale, a woman is not allowed to see what her own husband looks like.

With untamed curiosity, one night she lights a candle so she can see him. Jacobs writes, “He was handsome enough to make all the women of the world fall in love with him. But scarcely had she seen him when he began to change into a bird.”

The bird-man exiles his wife to seven years and a day as a laundress so he can regain his human form; yet he also gives her three feathers for making wishes.

Through the feathers she really doesn’t do seven years of labor. The feathers do the work for her.

Like the wife and her husband, I finally looked upon the truth about my son Brennan; soon thereafter he flew away into the unseen realm, a victim of a heroin overdose.

Signs of his presence

My friend Kay taught me to watch for signs of his continuing presence in my life.

A week ago would have been his 22nd birthday. Like the bird-man, he sent me three feathers to let me know he’s nearby, working his magic. And like the wife, I have labor to perform, writing a book about grieving. It is a labor of love.

The first feather presented itself a few days before his third birthday after passing. It appeared at Lake Isabella in Loveland, Ohio, while I walked and talked about him with my friend Laura. The large turkey vulture feather stuck straight up in the grass next to the road. Turkey vultures are symbols of devoted motherhood. Their plumage would probably make good quills for writing. Perhaps Brennan has sent me a Quick-quotes Quill from Harry Potter.

Right in front of me

The second feather floated down out of the clear blue sky, landing right in front of me on the day before his birthday.

I knew then that feathers would be the sign of his presence for this birthday.

A third feather

On his birthday, I discovered the third feather–caught somehow on a gossamer thread hanging from the shelf above my laundry sink.

I believe my son, invisible to me now, left me three birthday feathers for making wishes as I labor on his book.

And there will be three parts to his book–-perhaps a feather for making wishes and receiving inspiration from my son as I write on each section.

It was a beautiful gift to me on his birthday.

Relieving Grieving:

Signs from our deceased loved ones can be subtle. Keep an open mind and heart and watch for them. My friend Kathy, whose sister Karen passed a year ago, writes, “It’s also interesting to me how often animals appear in some significant way when people move on… when Mother died, we heard a Mourning Dove…at 1:30am, a rather unusual time for bird song.

“As we walked to the door to enter the house to say Goodbye to Karen (after all the police/medical investigations were done – standard procedure for an “unattended death”), someone happened to glance to the left and there in the field was a doe, looking right at us. She stood for the longest time, unafraid, then bounded away into the cedars looking so graceful and free. ”

What signs have you received from your deceased loved one?

Source:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/meft/meft08.htm

Memorial Gathering for my Son Brennan

(Posted June 11, 2015)
My beloved son, Brennan, passed away on Saturday, June 6. He was only 19.

Tristen on Mother's Day 2015
Brennan on Mother’s Day 2015

Brennan was 14 when I was diagnosed with end-stage cancer. I got too sick for too long to be a decent mother. Without my knowing, he turned to drugs. I do not know how much of this was from the pain of hearing I probably was going to die, or from curiosity and a desire to explore his mind, or from growing depression, anxiety, and difficulty with focus, or from dealing with divorce. It most likely was a combination of factors.

After a few years of trying a variety of drugs, Brennan tried heroin.

I did not know this for a full year. Then he spent the next year deciding to get better and going in and out of treatment programs.

I tried so hard to help him, and to find help for him. Many prayed for him and were involved in his care, but we couldn’t find the right key to turn the lock.

Heroin addiction begins the first time someone shoots up. This addiction is one of the hardest things in the world to stop. Heroin is readily available and, from what I have been told, is cheaper than marijuana. When the police came to my home to notify me that my son’s body had been found, they mentioned that this type if scene is no longer uncommon.

During the coming years I will be considering what steps I will take to help stop this epidemic among our vulnerable youth. The price families pay can be devastating.

In the meantime, I will continue to practice what I have been learning in psychotherapy, Nar Anon, and Codependents Anonymous. My sponsor has encouraged me during this time to keep my side of the street clean. I worked hard to identify and stop my enabling, codependent behaviors. These are insidious and can be difficult to see without outside assistance.

My inner work did not save my son’s life, yet I am not living with the terrible guilt others might experience in a similar situation.

The grief, however, is great.

I would love to have a written copy of any happy or funny recollections you have of Brennan.

Instead of flowers, if you feel so inclined, I would prefer, for myself, plants to grow in the garden of the home on which I have a pending contract. The closing is June 29, so I am not yet ready to receive plants. A contribution of a plant in memory of Brennan, after I move in, would be a cherished gift and would help with healing. One of the songs Brennan shared with me that we both enjoyed was “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. At the time, Brennan was deeply in love with his high school sweetheart. Anytime I hear the song I think if him and how happy he was with her. I am so grateful he got to experience this. The song includes the phrase, “Show me a garden that’s bursting into life.” My new home already has a garden, and it’s bursting with life. He never saw it. I want this garden to be my healing memorial to him, bursting with life, including plants from those who remember and care about him.

I have lost a great love, with a great soul, yet I am grateful for the time I had with him, and for all I learned and will continue to learn from being his mother. I think Rumi wrote something like the anguish of the heart opens the gateway to God.

Brennan now has the ultimate healing. Eventually I will find peace and the gifts such a nightmare can bring.