Looking for Joy, When Grief Bowls Us Over—Again

By SHAUNA WEIL
Contributing Columnist

Grief provides passages in life that can as easily steal your breath as give you breath.

Either way it exposes your soul in the midst of the tumultuous ways of this world. It brings vulnerability to the surface and that is something we so don’t want to allow ourselves to feel.

Barbara Crumm (then Yunker) with one of her favorite horses in San Antonio, Texas, during World War II.

I am coming close to the first year anniversary of the death of my mother, Barbara Crumm, and grief has bowled me over again. In my experience, I have discovered that most people do not want to talk about grief and all the many things beyond death that cause us to cycle through grief again and again.

We shutter it away; some even lock the shutters.

I say blow them wide open!

Let yourself experience it; let yourself talk about it; let yourself listen with ultimate compassion to those who are going through it. We’re often afraid to share. Perhaps you didn’t share when you grieved. If so, I am sorry you didn’t or couldn’t share. I am sorry if you didn’t find a compassionate listener to hear, really hear, your grief.

I had a very thought-provoking conversation yesterday with someone I really respect. So this morning, with my eyes brimming as I drove to Grand Blanc for something as mundane as a grocery pickup, I thought about my mom who spent her final years living in Grand Blanc. I thought about her breath span on earth. She had some very traumatic things happen in her life. I spent a little bit of time being sad over those hardships she endured that affected who she was her whole life. Then I spent a bit of time trying to be glad that she was free of some of those weights now, even though I keenly feel her absence.

But as surely as I hurt, I also just as surely want to know joy. Oddly, they are not an impossible juxtaposition.

I wanted to think about the joy my mom knows now. As I drove, two memories of mom’s life which she had shared with me came to my mind. Her eyes were an unusual shade of blue, striking, for they held both depth and an intensity. As she aged almost to her 96th year, her smile became even more gentle, lovingly conveying messages without even the need for her to speak. (That’s kind of a joke because we always teased mom about how much she loved to speak.)

Memory One: Mom especially loved her grandfather on her dad’s side of the family. He had a wonderful big car and her grandpa liked to go driving. Even more, Grandpa liked to pick up little Barbara and take her along. She loved to ride along through the Indiana countryside, standing on the wide floorboards so she could look out the windshield. Coming from a family of six children loving  as it was, this was a treat for little Barbara to be the pick of Grandpa for these excursions. Mom could still remember the feel of the car and the freedom she felt in being with Grandpa zooming along; she could also remember the delicious taste of ice cream that always seemed to be part of the journey. (I come by my penchant for ice cream honestly! Genetic, who knew?)

Memory Two: Mom moved to San Antonio during WWII to live with her big sister Helen, who owned and operated Breckinridge Stables right in town near a large park where they often rode. Helen’s husband was at some points gone as he served overseas during the war. Mom learned to ride there and her voice would become different when she spoke about riding horses. Mom joined in some of the Moonlight Rides the stables offered to the many servicemen who came through nearby Fort Sam. She enjoyed riding with friends or her sister. Anytime she rode, her world felt different to her. Even in her 90’s, no longer able to walk, if someone talked about riding or a fear of horses, mom would always say something joyous about riding like, “Oh, don’t be afraid, you can never feel as free as when you are riding a horse!”

I heard these two memories in particular come up many times. I recognize now, that, for my mom, these were two earthly experiences she had that maybe reached what she could possibly conceive divine joy might be like.  Her voice always changed on these two memories. They were important to her and expressed a freedom and joy she might not have been able to always feel in her daily life.

Even if she couldn’t always feel it, she was one to always seek out joy and one to choose it. Well, I am still here on earth with, God willing, miles to go on my spiritual journey before I sleep. But with eyes still brimming, I couldn’t help but whisper a prayer of praise to God for the glimpses of joy God showed my mom here on earth, which she held in her heart for a very long time and praise for the joy she now knows.

I pray today that our grief journeys and our joy journeys intermix as they are likely to do and we are able to realize God in all of it.

God is our most mindful of gifters. He knows the grief journey can’t be done without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and raw nor without the gift of joy peeping through now and again. I could even see it with eyes full of tears today. I know you can, too, whichever you are: a griever or a gift to a griever.

Walk on whether you are breathing or breathless. God knows your pain and provides your joy. No wonder they are intermixed.

It’s a Goddity.

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Care to see more?

This column originally was shared through the Devotion Ministry of Goodrich United Methodist Church. At the close of the column, Shauna shared the following video with the comment: Need some company in your walk? Listen to the popular musical number from the movie Carousel, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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ABOUT THE WRITER: Shauna Weil, at is, at heart, a giver of care, a musician, an author and a seeker of joy. She and her family own and operate a multi-generational dairy farm and run a summer sweet corn stand in southeast Michigan.

Do you have an animal friend in your life? They can help you make even more friends!

By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

Do you have an animal friend in your life?

If you don’t, I’ll tell you one of the most rewarding experiences pet lovers discover when they bring a cat or dog into their lives: They start to make new friends in their neighborhood. Of course, dog walking instantly makes us more visible, but even cats have a way of making new connections across a community.

Here’s how my cat PJ wound up making those connections.

This happened two months after my home in Binghamton, New York, was devastated by a flood, sending both of us—me and PJ—fleeing from our house on that dreadful evening. My friend Anita had insisted we come to live in her building where she knew there was an empty apartment below hers.

Anita had a real phobia about cats, so I was extremely grateful that she welcomed PJ. PJ seemed to be adjusting just fine—until that Thursday afternoon when I came home from work.  He was not at the door to greet me as he always was.  I became a bit anxious so quickly entered the apartment hoping to find him asleep on the sofa, his favorite place when he was home alone.

He was not on the sofa so I checked closets.

He was not there so I checked behind all of my furniture.

After fifteen minutes of searching, I called Diane, a deacon from Northminster Presbyterian Church where I worked as Pastor of Visitation. I had thirty seniors I visited monthly and Diane had accompanied me in visits that were complicated.  Such was the case with several seniors with Alzheimers.  Diane was a cat lover and had a sign in her yard, “Cats Welcome Here.”  She had visited me and PJ and PJ took an immediate liking to her.

When I called with the news that PJ was missing, she was there in ten minutes to help me search.  After scouring my apartment she said, “We have to make signs and post them in the neighborhood.  We sat together and designed a sign that said:  “Lost Cat:  PJ.  A small beige cat.  Call Lucille (and my phone number).  Reward.”

We rushed to the neighborhood printer to make 30 signs.  Then we set out in the neighborhood to post the signs wherever we could find an appropriate spot.  We also gave signs to people we met on the street.

After two hours on the street, Diane left and I started calling people.  I called my pastor at the Methodist Church and he immediately put PJ on the prayer list.  Diane put him on the Presbyterian prayer list.  I called my relatives in Canada and my son and his wife, Soren and Amanda, who lived in Washington, DC.  They had given me PJ as a house warming gift one year ago.

PJ’s real name was Panama Jack, the Third.  Both his father and grandfather were named Panama Jack.  The breed was Tomkinese which is both Siamese and Burmese.  While he looked Siamese, his personality was gentle and loving like Burmese.

The next day Soren told me that he and Amanda cried the night before, crying for me and PJ.  Soren also bought a service that put a message about PJ on 250 telephones in my neighborhood.  That night my cousin, Twila, from Pennsylvania called me and said, “If PJ does not come back, I will give you Lucky, a wonderful cat that just appeared in their yard about six months ago.”  While I did not want to think about PJ not coming back, her call and her offer were soothing.

The next evening Twila came to help me search for the cat.  We went all around the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen PJ.  We looked in garages—which was not really wise in retrospect, but no one seemed to object.

On Thursday morning, however, Anita received a call from the neighbors next door and they said that a small beige cat was at their door and they took him to the basement.  Anita and I hurried over with the cat carrier and there he was.  He immediately came to me and we carried him home.  He was not interested in food and water; he just wanted to be held.  I lay on my sofa and he crawled on top of me and put his paw on my cheek.  He had never done this before.  I knew he was telling me he was happy to see me.

After a while I started calling friends and family telling them that he was home.  Some of them cried for joy with me.  I called the churches who had him on their prayer list and they rejoiced with me.  On Sunday I went to church and at announcement time I reported that PJ was found.  They clapped and clapped.

As I was driving home from church, tears of joy fell on my face.  Joy because I would see PJ.  And  joy for all the love given to me from all of these friends, family and churches.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

National Family Caregivers Month: Two Helpful Online Resources

Click on this snapshot of a larger free chart you can get from the Caregiver Action Network. On that CAN webpage, you can right-click and save a higher-res version of this chart to share—or you can simply use social media links on that page to share it with friends. In addition to this chart, you’ll also find many other links to resources provided by CAN.

Celebrate November as National Family Caregivers Month

Raise Awareness of More than 50 Million Americans

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EACH NOVEMBER, a White House proclamation calls for all Americans to help raise awareness of the more than 50 million men and women who tirelessly provide caregiving services to their families.

Our publishing house asks readers to consider ordering one—or more—of the many caregiving-themed books displayed in this special section of our online magazine. You can see their covers, linked to Amazon, along the left margin of this page.

In addition, we recommend that you check out the resources you can find on these two online clearinghouses that share resources for caregivers.

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Administration for Community Living

FIRST, FREE SOCIAL-MEDIA GRAPHICS YOU CAN SHARE are provided by the Administration for Community Living, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This website also explains some of the popular hashtags you can use to boost your sharing across social media.

Click on this sample graphic to visit the website of the Administration for Community Living, where you will find more resources.

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Caregiver Action Network

FIND MUCH MORE AT THE CAREGIVER ACTION NETWORK! You don’t have to take our word for it. The Administration for Community Living—and many more online nonprofits—recommend links to the resource-packed Caregiver Action Network. Visit that website and you’ll discover a treasure trove of materials.

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Care to Learn More?

Please look at the books showcased along the left margin of this webpage. Find one that interests you and order a copy today. Find another book that might interest a friend or loved one—and “gift” them a copy as your way of encouraging them.

Finding Resilience in the Midst of The Winter Blues

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

When I turned 33 years old, my life felt perfect. My husband and I were a great team as we cared for our three-year old son and as we each were working on doctorates. Our son already had a best friend as well as several other children on our block on the north side of Chicago.

But seemingly out of nowhere, in early November, 1979, an inner darkness gradually crept into the core of my being. I lost a sense of purpose. I felt exhausted. I just wanted to stay in bed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

Thankfully, I knew of a female therapist who worked especially with women. Immediately, she identified my aliment as “The Winter Blues.” Loss of purpose, exhaustion, and inner darkness hit the nail exactly on the head. Some simple statistics then helped to relieve some self-incrimination. The first was that approximately 10 million Americans suffer from “The Winter Blues” and that women are four more times than men to be afflicted. This helped me to not feel so alone.

The reality was that I had many friends but when The Winter Blues struck, they seemed so far away. Without realizing it until later, I had been withdrawing from them.

My therapist then reminded me that the technical name for “The Winter Blues” is “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” which is shortened to SAD.

Since “sad” was exactly the way I was feeling, this information again helped me to not feel so isolated.

Throughout that first winter, my therapist guided me every step of the way. She helped me stop blaming myself for how I felt. She gently nudged me to have coffee with my female friends. She nudged me to find a walking partner along our beautiful Lake Michigan. She encouraged me to go to church even if my husband could not go.

While that winter was the first time I truly understood the depression I felt, it has taken several years to really manage it.

Perhaps most important, I’ve learned that unless one masters how to manage SAD, it will creep into the psyche when the days grow short in November and it will sit there until March, when the days grow long. My motto became: “You take charge of The Winter Blues, or they will take charge of you.”

As the years have gone by, my own winter blues have weakened. I have found many ways to defend myself. The most powerful is to turn on the lights.

Light Therapy is quite a simple response and is widely recognized as effective.

I now live alone except for my cat, PJ. When I wake each morning, after a long snug with PJ, I walk directly to the living room/dining room and switch on the ceiling light. The light from two 100 watt bulbs greets me warmly. Since the light emanates from the ceiling, it feels like bringing in sunshine directly from the sky. Then, I switch on the ceiling fan. The movement of air in the room brings some sense of aliveness—like a gentle wind.

After that, three more lamps greet me. Two of these are standing lamps, with glass bowl-shaped shades turned upside down to direct light onto the ceiling. Again, this feels like sunshine from the sky. And finally, I turn on my table lamp with a stained glass shade. The shade of green and red accentuates all the plants that adorn the room.

With all the lights on in my main room, I make a pot of coffee in the kitchen. With a cup in hand, I move to my study, a small room with two big windows. I sit on my cushy glider and peer at Lake Michigan through one of those windows. While I live four blocks from the lake, I can see it from my windows, all five of them.

The question always is: How will the lake look today? Will it be a light blue, turquoise, dark blue, blue green or even gray? Will it be smooth or choppy? And what about the sky? Will it be clear with no clouds? Will it be full of those fluffy white clouds?

After sitting on my chair and absorbing the beauty of the lake I write down how I am feeling. As a person who struggles with depression, this is very important. I actually rate my level of depression with a numeric scale that goes from about 1 to 3. 1 is very little depression and 3 is a great deal of depression. If I am at 3 for several days in a row, I am in danger of having a depressive episode. I call my psychiatrist to make an appointment and we decide how to manage it. Usually an adjustment in medication is part of what I need. An extra session with my therapist may be needed also.

Then I return to the living room with a second cup of coffee in hand. I sit among the plants. I have two small trees in the corners of the living room, gracing the large windows straight ahead. The rest of the plants are coleuses, famous for their variegated leaves that come in many colors. Some are a deep red, while others are a light pink and green. Some are striped green, red and white. They vary in size, with the biggest ones standing over two feet tall. They are arranged on plant stands of various heights, displaying each one in all its glory. The 20 coleus plants make me feel like I’m in my own personal garden—I call it “plant therapy.” With the morning sun pouring through the windows, the darkness fades significantly.

Finally I plug in my water fountain, strategically placed among the plants. With its three tiers, flowing water ebbs gently in the room as a white, lighted ball turns gracefully on the top tier. This is the perfect setting for my second cup of coffee.

Halfway through that second cup of coffee, (about 9 am) my dear friend Frank knocks on my door, ready for our morning meditation. We live in the same building in Chicago, and have been meditating together for six years. While the practice has changed over the years, it always includes The Lord’s Prayer, spiritual readings, intercessions and 15 minutes of silence.

We begin with The Lord’s Prayer. This is not the traditional English text but one that Frank himself translated from his study of the Aramaic language, the language Jesus would have spoken.

In our time together Frank and I read scripture and other spiritual writings. We sing a short song. Then we pray. Our prayer list has at least 50 people on it. It is so enriching to remember each one. We let them know we are praying for them, which brings a certain intimacy into the relationship.

Finally, we have 15 minutes of silence. The silence brings together all of the previous words and actions. Furthermore, it settles any restlessness we might have, thus preparing us for the day.

After Frank leaves, I sometimes use my “light box “to combat any remaining darkness. This rectangular lamp is designed to emit rays just like the rays of the sun. I sit to the side of it so the rays land at an angle to my face, which feels soothing. If the Chicago sun doesn’t show itself, I also shine my light box on my plants. Giving them an hour of light therapy picks them up and helps them get through the Chicago winter. And on occasion, even my cat sits in front of the light box. I chuckle as I realize that even he needs some help to get through Chicago winters.

In addition to this routine, I have three other practices that are foundational for warding off the winter blues.

Music is the most important of these. I usually awaken each morning with a hymn running through my mind. I write it down and make a practice of singing it throughout the day. To remind myself to sing I have placed several small pink paper squares around my apartment. I feel very blessed that I wake each morning with a hymn. I discuss each one with my therapist just as we discuss dreams. The hymns are always affirming, reminding me of God’s love. A recent one was this: “Oh, the deep, deep, love of Jesus, Love so amazing so divine. For he loves us, ever loving, binding all of mankind.”

As noted above, I receive weekly counseling. My counselor and I discuss not only practical matters, but also my dreams and hymns. Dream interpretation keeps me attuned to my unconscious mind, which guides me in everyday situations and in understanding deeper psychological tumult. I love interpreting dreams.

Finally, I often pamper myself during the winter blues. I give myself permission to splurge by eating out and carrying in. I buy bouquets of flowers for myself and my friends. I shop online. Even the notification of a package arriving perks my spirits. Of course this splurging can easily get out of hand—especially during the pandemic. So managing it so it does not manage you—that’s the key!!

Finally, let me share with you Frank’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer, which you may want to include someday in your own spiritual reflections. It is:

Beloved Mother/Father of the Cosmos, awaken our hearts, minds and bodies to your loving and radiating presence.
Give us your empowering vision that all is one, earth and heaven together.
Remind us that we are your children, being fed by an eternal wisdom now.
Loosen the knots that form within and between us, freeing us to forgive.
Keep us aware of the flow of your goodness through us that we may bear fruitful lives.
For you are the vision and power of the unfolding new creation on which we stake our lives.

Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:

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Connecting Lives and Stories through an ‘Emotional Value Auction’

Duncan Newcomer receives the calendar-book he bid on and won at the Emotional Value Auction in Belfast, Maine. Yan Xuan, who put the book up for auction, delivered it to him in person. The auction was orchestrated by Adriane Herman at the Colby College Museum of Art. (This photo is used courtesy of Adriane Herman, Emotional Value Auctioneer, and Residential Fellow, Lunder Institute For American Art.)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Lincoln scholar, author and ReadTheSpirit columnist Duncan Newcomer appeared last week in our online magazine with a tribute to his beloved Abyssinian cat Sonnets to mark St. Francis Day. Recently, Duncan has been writing a lot about emotional and spiritual resilience. This particular story—in a much-shortened form—originally was part of a Christian Science Monitor report. Here is the original version, illustrated with photographs taken by Adriane Herman, the artist behind this innovative idea. To learn more about her work, please visit her website. Among the dozens of fascinating photographs you will find at Adriane’s website is the “100 Year Old Six Quart Wagner Ware Cast Aluminum Tea Kettle” mentioned in Duncan’s column.

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By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
ReadTheSpirit contributing columnist

Have you ever wondered about that pearl of great price? Where was it from? Who had owned it?

That kind of mystery was awaiting my wife and I as we decided to break out of our COVID isolation and drive across Maine to the Colby College Museum of Art. We had no idea what was waiting for us—an auction, but not just any auction. This one was billed as “An Emotional Value Auction.”

What in the world was that? We were about to find out.

When we entered the auction space, it looked like an indoor yard sale. On the tables we saw spread out the usual yard sale items: an antique tea kettle, an old clock, a creamer in the shape of a chicken, an out-of-date Chinese calendar and more.

We strolled and looked. But when we tried to find the price tags, there were none. Instead, on each old item there was a brief story about its meaning to the owner.

On a “100 Year Old Six Quart Wagner Ware Cast Aluminum Tea Kettle” was this confession: “I stole this kettle from a hunting camp when I was a very stoned and drunk teenager. I never have forgiven myself for that transgression, and I kept the kettle all these years to remind me lest I forget.”

On the “Vintage Cincinnati Time Clock,” we found a story of how the owner’s employees refused to punch in and out of work with it—and what that had meant to him.

The chicken creamer came from a couple whose marriage had been good but ended in a bitter divorce. Years later, the wife still could smile, remembering the hilarious gagging sounds her ex would make as she poured cream out of the chicken’s mouth. Maybe someone else now could have bitterness turned back into sweetness and laughter.

What was going on here?

The auction was an interactive art exhibit. The artist, Adriane Herman, calls herself an “Experience Broker.” This exhibit, she explained, was an Emotional Value Auction.

So how do these items change hands?

First, the owner pens a short essay describing the meaning behind an object they are offering. If you see something you’d like to have, your wallet stays in your pocket. Instead, you reply with an essay or even a single sentence of your own. You write on paper attached to a clipboard, telling the giver-owner why you want this particular item and what it would mean for you to possess it.

Your “bid,” along with all the others, is delivered in the next few days by the Broker Artist to the owner donor. The owner reads every essay attached and decides who gets it, based on the feeling and the values expressed.

That’s why it’s called an “Emotional Value Auction.”

For Adriane Herman, this is a way to expand the traditional boundaries of art. If authentic art invites a personal connection and expresses a vivid experience, then the desire awakened in someone—that person’s “attention” and “presence”—has emotional value. Our world is already full enough of “consumerist capitalism,” but we have a weak and undeveloped spiritual economy. Giving value to the emotional links between objects and people and their stories creates new bonds of connection across our communities.

As I wandered around, I was transfixed by a red-and-gold Chinese calendar for the year 2019 in the form of an exquisitely bound book. The pages displayed a year’s worth of pictures including vases, embroidered fans, porcelain fruits and, since 2019 was the Year of the Pig, one entire month of photos of tiny pig sculptures.

Attached was an essay by a young Chinese college student describing how she prepared to move halfway around the world by purchasing two of these Palace Museum Calendar books. One copy she left back in China as a link to her family at home, and the other one she brought with her to Maine to ease her loneliness. None of the calendar pages were used or removed, she wrote, on account of their sheer beauty.

There was nothing random about my interest in this object, which connected with my own recent fascination in all things Chinese: philosophy, poetry, art, novels, biographies, histories. For me, this has been a refreshing break from years of reading, pondering and writing about all things American. That emotional, spiritual and creative shift I had been making for many months seemed to be crystalized in this red book.

Even though it was useless as a calendar, I had the strong desire—the “attention” and “presence”—to take it home. So, I responded on the “bid form” with a note about how this book was awakening in me my own love of Chinese culture.

In the days that followed, my desire to have the calendar deepened. Would my story speak to the owner?

Finally, I learned that my own life story, as expressed in my brief note, had connected with the owner’s life story through that object. The original owner was willing to “release” her beloved touchstone to me.

Beyond expanding the definition of art, I was impressed with this new kind of global art economy Adriane is charting for us! I was not prepared for the potency of the freedom that comes with an exchange in which no money changes hands.

I was not even thinking about how I would also find new friends when this object was hand-delivered to me by the student—and her artist mentor who documented our meeting that day.

But that is indeed another story—the rest of an unfolding story, answering the isolation of COVID with new connections.

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Photo courtesy of Adriane Herman.

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Care to learn more?

To learn more about Adriane Herman’s work, please visit her website. She tells us that she welcomes contacts from people nationwide. She is Resident Fellow at the Lunder Institute for American Art, which is a collaborative initiative with the Colby College Museum of Art. The Lunder Institute for American Art supports innovative research and creative production that expands the boundaries of American art. Here is a story from the Bangor Daily News about another recent auction coordinated by Adriane.

To read more of Duncan’s columns, click on this index of his contributions to ReadTheSpirit. That index begins with his recent column about his beloved Sonnets, the cat.

Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency: Knitting lives together

This knitting image is shared courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:

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Knitting Lives Together

By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

When I moved back to Chicago in 2015 to be near Frank, a friend of 40 years, the first people he introduced me to were David and Elly. David, like Frank, was a retired Lutheran pastor. Elly was a retired cancer specialist—both brilliant people. But the most endearing and intriguing thing about Elly was that she always—and I mean always—was knitting.

While the four of us would easily lose ourselves discussing the fine points of theology or psychology after dinner, Elly would busy her hands knitting sweaters, hats or gloves. And those were just the tip of the iceberg.

One day, I noticed that the beautiful blue and white socks she was wearing were of her own creation—and I became enchanted with the idea that I, too, could learn to knit socks. Socks, unlike scarves or sweaters, required skill beyond what I thought was my capacity for this craft.

I shyly asked her to teach me.

She smiled in return. “I’d love to teach you.”

The next day, I was invited her to my apartment for the first lesson. I was excited because I knew I would love it, and already I was imagining making socks for my son. I had done some simple knitting as a teenager—mainly scarves—so I knew a bit about the two main stitches, knit and purl. For each of them, you simply loop the yarn through the adjacent stitch below. In a knit stitch, you thread the tip of the needle through the right of the stitch below—and for a purl, you bring it back to the left.

But before I could knit and purl, I had to learn the first step in knitting, which was “casting on” stitches. This process requires two needles, which you twist around each other, sneaking in the yarn so it becomes lodged on just one of the needles. For a woman’s pair of socks, it takes about 48 stitches. For a man’s, about 64. These stitches then become the circumference and cuff of the sock. It takes at least 3,000 stitches for the cuff and leg and another 4,000 for the rest of the sock.

YES, 7,000 stitches for one sock!

For knitting socks, it takes five needles, which can be a little tricky. The needles are pointed at each end and are about 7 inches long. To watch someone manipulate these five needles looks quite complicated. But when you get into the swing of it—the movements are smooth and sweet.

As I labored through this process, Elly and I sat side by side on the sofa, which comforted me. When I made a mistake, she helped me correct the problem in a way that never made me feel stupid or wrong. As someone who is prone to feeling stupid, this was significant.

After about 100 stitches of knit two, purl two, a lovely multicolor pattern started to form. This pattern naturally pulls the stitches close together so the sock fits snugly around the leg. After 30 to 40 hours of labor, I finally removed the needles holding the stitches apart and beheld my first pair of completed socks. Slipping on that freshly knit pair of socks was heavenly. They were so soft, so warm and so pretty!

I left them on all day.

But I soon learned that it wasn’t just the process of making the sock that was such fun. The fun began with a trip to the yarn store to select from among hundreds of kinds of yarn! At least 50 of these were sock yarn, which is thinner than yarn made for sweaters and scarves. At first, I felt overwhelmed about all those choices. But then, I noticed that half of those choices were some variation of my favorite colors: pink, blue and purple.

In the beginning, I bought yarn for five pairs in these colors. After I gained some confidence and experience, I stretched my horizons and bought yarn that featured shades of grey, silver and brown. The yarn is only $8 to $10, so I can come home with six or eight balls of yarn without breaking my bank—even though I wanted to buy 10 or more.

Sometimes I bought yarn for a specific person. And as I made the socks, I imagined the feeling of giving them as a gift at the end of the process. I would tuck my love for that person into every stitch—it felt like a way of praying for that person. Knitting is meditation—and every pair is thousands of stitches of meditation!

Once I started gifting socks to friends and family, I found that absolutely everyone loves a pair of home-knit socks. I grew to love the ecstatic response of “You made these?” Sometimes, I almost felt like I had to defend myself and convince them that I am indeed capable of this. Of course, I would give credit to Elly and tell them about the way she came to my apartment, sat by me on the sofa and patiently helped me out of every mess that I had gotten myself into.

I also found that the more socks I made, the more questions people had.
How long does it take to make a pair of socks?
How much does the yarn cost?
Isn’t it hard to make socks?

Modeling Elly’s patience with me, I would always take the time to respond and show them the needles. While I had never precisely clocked the hours, I told them that I guessed it took between 25 and 35 hours. But I reassured them that while I made them, I was often watching TV or chatting with a friend. They were always impressed.

I always loved to watch the reactions of those who received my socks. One special reaction came on Christmas day in 2020, when I presented socks to my elderly friends Vinnie and Bob, who are 93 and 99 respectively. They held them lovingly, and later told me that they wore them all the time. Because Bob is in a wheelchair, and cannot wear shoes because of foot sores, he loves wearing his blue and green socks.

One time in church, I noticed he wasn’t wearing his own socks, but had Vinnie’s socks on. Her socks were pink, white and baby blue, colors that I picked out to reflect a more “girlish” scheme. But Bob didn’t mind—he said he couldn’t find his socks, so he just wore hers. I chuckled, and at that moment I decided to make more socks for him. At his 100th birthday party in April, I gave him a brand-new pair that featured black, silver and shiny white yarn. He just loves them.

Currently, I am knitting a pair of socks for Maria, a 13-year-old girl who is traveling with her 16-year-old brother from Central America to the US. After eight years of living without their mother and brother, who made the treacherous trip eight years ago, they decided to make the trip to reunite with family in Chicago.
But this trip is even more treacherous than the one Maria’s mother made. The adult who was hired to accompany Maria and her brother turned out to be a criminal, so they were forced to travel on their own alongside countless other teens.

After leaving in late winter, we learned that they successfully crossed the border in early spring and are now being held in a government facility for teens in Texas. As soon as the extensive paperwork is completed, they will be joining their mother and brother here in Chicago.

I’ve seen a picture of Maria and her brother. Maria is petite, and it takes my breath away when I think of her on this journey. I find myself waking up early in the morning afraid for her—so I turn my fear into prayer. I ask God to protect her, to comfort her, and give her the strength she needs to make the final trek of this journey and safely be reunited with her mother and brother after eight years of being apart.

And as I pray, I tenderly tuck my love into every stitch. The yarn I have chosen for her is a soft and multi-colored—pink, purple, green and blue. Plus it has sparkles.

I can’t wait to give them to her.

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Care to take part in Lucille’s Zoom series?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it. She began this series on September 14, but you could join her group in its October session.

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Experts, caregivers point to potential solutions at inaugural forum

First event in Southeast Michigan from local journalism collaborative

A program at Detroit’s Hannan Center that provides day care for adults with dementia, offering a needed break for their caregivers, was one of the projects discussed by panelists at a public forum held Thursday on issues facing caregivers and possible solutions for them. Courtesy of Detroit Public Television

By Lindsay M. McCoy

Paula Duren, a Detroit-based psychologist, is one of an increasing number of caregivers of elderly adults who felt overwhelmed by the task of caring for aging parents, both of whom suffered from dementia.

“There were moments that felt like you didn’t even know what to do,” Duren said. “It brings about a helplessness.”

Duren was a panelist at a recent virtual forum hosted by the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, a group of news, community and academic organizations that cover chronic problems with a solutions-focused lens, and Strides for Seniors, an annual month-long event series focused on Detroit’s senior centers.

The event, presented by collaborative members Detroit Public Television and Urban Aging News, featured journalists, caregiving experts, and community members who have served as caregivers for their loved ones.

The number of unpaid family caregivers has been rising in the United States, up from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020, according to a recent study by the AARP Public Policy Institute. The causes are numerous—from the aging of the Baby Boomer generation to a shortage of paid family caregivers. But despite formidable challenges, panelists discussed potential solutions being attempted across the United States.

After her experience, Duren founded Universal Dementia Caregivers. The non-profit organization offers support and education to those affected by dementia-related issues through services such as family mediation, legal guidance and workshops on caretaking skills and self-management.

“One of the things we do is invite attorneys in so people can ask their questions,” Duren said. Family caregivers “never think about the fact that (they) might need a power of attorney or a will might need to be established.”

Paid caregiver, funding shortage

The strain of caregiving isn’t unique to family caregivers; professional caregivers are also struggling.

“It’s a job that many spoke … about feeling very underappreciated,” said Sarah Rahal, a reporter for The Detroit News, during the event.

Paid caregivers’ turn over at a rate of 82 percent, and the workforce is currently in need of 34,000 more professional care workers, she said. This is a situation that is “expected to get much worse. There are thousands in Michigan who are in desperate need,” Rahal said.

One solution is dedicating more money toward paying caregivers—raises for paid caregivers as well as funding for the millions of unpaid caregivers.

The recent Biden administration infrastructure proposal originally included funding for increased caregiver pay, but that provision was left out of the deal struck this summer between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators.

Billions of dollars were proposed to go to expanding access to long-term care services in the home rather than receiving care at institutions, and the second priority would be to make caregiving jobs worth having, said Michael Kilian, editor of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Professional caregiving jobs “don’t pay well and… are very difficult,” Kilian said.

But Biden’s proposal did not include similar funding for unpaid family caregivers. The AARP has found that unpaid caregivers pay on average more than $7,000 a year out of pocket caring for loved ones.

According to Madeleine O’Neill, a reporter with the USA Today Network, there is currently a proposal in Washington that would provide unpaid family caregivers a tax credit up to $5,000 and allow Medicaid to cover more home-based services.

This proposal, if passed, “would be transformational for family caregivers in a sense that family caregivers might actually be able to access professional care for their loved ones and return to the workforce,” O’Neill said.

Needing a break

In addition to financial stress, caregivers also cope with physical and emotional strain.

For instance, Rahal pointed to the difficulty of the work itself, stating that caregivers are injured at a higher rate than even truck drivers in the United States.

Duren, the Detroit psychologist, says caregivers will neglect self-care when they put their loved ones first.

The Hannan Center, a senior center in Detroit, offers respite care in the community through a program called Daybreak. This respite care service allows caregivers a break at affordable rates, sometimes as low as $5 per hour.

“Sometimes it’s just a few hours, sometimes it could be five days a week,” said Vincent Tilford, the center’s executive director. “It helps to improve that relationship between the care partner and the person that they are caring for.”

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Care to Learn More?

The full public forum can be viewed on DPTV’s website. The interstate collaborative plans to continue engaging the community on solutions for caregivers through events and reporting.

Follow the collaborative’s reporting at nymisojo.com and email story ideas to Project Director Karen Magnuson at [email protected].

Members of the news collaborative in New York include the Democrat and Chronicle, Minority Reporter, La Voz, WXXI and News10NBC in Rochester, and WGRZ, The Buffalo News, the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal and WBFO in the Buffalo area. Community partners include Rochester Institute of Technology’s MAGIC Center.

Members of the news collaborative in Michigan include Bridge Michigan, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Public Television, Detour Detroit, Hometown Life, Michigan Radio, The Detroit News, Livingston Daily, Macomb Daily, The Oakland Press, Tostada Magazine and Urban Aging News. Four news organizations represented by New Michigan Media are also involved: The Arab American News, Latino Press, Michigan Korean Weekly and The Detroit Jewish News. Community partners include Front Edge Publishing, Michigan State University, Just Ask Talk Show, and Wayne State University.

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And a special thanks to Lindsay McCoy, an MSU journalism graduate student who covered the forum for the collaborative.