“11 small ways to feel less helpless this week,” continued.

Earlier this week, I, along with hosts of other Americans, experienced heartache and a host of other emotions at the announcement of another black man killed by police. Alton Sterling, though a person whose life is swirling with controversy and whose police record and history is currently being scrutinized from every feasible corner and cranny of America, did not need to die that day. Then, a day later, came reports of Philando Castile’s death in Minnesota, who was shot four times by police in his car with his fiancé and child watching. Philando Castile did not need to die. Trayvon Martin did not need to die walking down the street that day. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and so, so many others did not need to die those days. I am not posting these statements to start any sort of debate; in fact, internet debates are fairly loathsome to me due to the anonymity that can often invite tactless, hurtful comments. Sympathy and empathy are often lacking without the ability to see each others’ faces and tears, discern voice inflections and intentions, hear cries, hold hands… My aim is not a debate. My point is just this: as humans made in the image of God, it is a tragedy that these boys and men lost their lives through violence. It is wrong. This is not the way the world is supposed to be. And even if some of them committed crimes, even if some of them resisted arrest, even if [fill in the blank], it is still a tragedy when life is lost. Families and communities still grieve. Someone lost their son, their husband, their father, their brother. Can we at least agree on that?

And in times when huge portions of our country are grieving, anger and accusation are not the first reactions I crave (and there are plenty of people online who are venting those feelings and ideas, in healthy and unhealthy ways). Instead, I would like to reproduce and add onto some wise advice I read after another American tragedy of a different kind which occurred not even a month ago. So whether you are still reeling from Orlando, from Alton, or from any other intense struggle you are facing, here goes.

I’ve added a few thoughts in italics with asterisks, but the rest is credit to Annie Wright, a trained therapist.

“To help you hold the weight of this world, I want to offer some actionable suggestions for things you can do this week, both psychologically and socially. Hopefully, these small things will help you process, feel less helpless, and even help those around you this week:

1. Acknowledge and feel your feelings. All of them.

There’s no such thing as a bad feeling (though some may feel more comfortable than others). Allow yourself to feel today, tomorrow, and this week, and to be with whatever comes up for you around this. Process your feelings safely and constructively.

2. Don’t isolate. Connect.

Connect with your loved ones, your local community, your larger communities (even if by phone or over social media). Share how you’re feeling. Talk it out, let others hold space for you while you hold space for them.

3. Limit your media consumption if needed.

This is so important with news being blasted at us from every angle. Monitor how much news and content about the tragedy you can tolerate before it starts to feel like too much.”

*** Additionally: I found that submerging myself in social media and news after Eric Garner’s death, especially watching the video of him taking his last breaths, threw me into a mental and emotional tailspin. I, too, could not breathe, and I could not seem to pull myself out of the vortex of reading hateful comments and processing news and updates. Despite that “lost day,” I’m thankful for that experience in some ways – seeing that video made me experience his tragedy in a much more much more personal, human way rather than just conceptualizing his death intellectually. However, I learned much about my limits that day, and because of that I encourage myself (and whoever read this) to take care in educating ourselves but not to an unhealthy extent.

“4. Refocus on your self-care and healthy coping resources.

Garden, cook, knit, craft, go for a long walk, journal, sit outside in the sun. Do whatever you know helps you feel grounded, safe, and healthy.

5. Stick to your routines.

Routines and schedules can be incredibly grounding in times of stress. Keep up your daily and weekly rituals.

6. Exercise.

Moving your body can help process and metabolize the stress and anxiety you may be feeling. Add in an extra walk or two and really make grounding and focusing on your body a priority.

7. Dance, draw, paint, or photograph your feelings about this.

Create art and process your experience through creation.

8. Turn toward supports and ask for help.

If you need additional resources, book a session with a therapist, speak to your local clergy, or call up a trusted mentor. Let those who care about you help you.

9. Get involved in any way that you can.”

*** Participate in activism, have face-to-face conversations with those in your family, your community, or your church which would further compassion and understanding. Educate yourself (in healthy ways). Read books and articles by educated authors! (And let me know if you’d like a recommendation or two.)

“10. Host or join a community process group.

Check out your local YMCA or church or university offerings to see if they’re hosting a support group for those impacted by the tragedy. If none are offered, consider hosting one with a friend or local helping resource.

11. Pray.

Yes, pray. […] Close your eyes and ask something greater than you for guidance in troubled times. Receive the support that can come from being in prayer.

Being a human is often scary, overwhelming, and vulnerable.

Tragedies […] illuminate the fragility and unpredictability of life. I think that, for most of us, this can be a very hard thing to face. […]

 

But these same tragedies can call upon us to open ourselves up too.

They call on us to be more vulnerable, to be more fully alive and in touch with our feelings, to be more compassionate and caring toward others, and to be more active and peaceful in our politics and social engagements.”

Original article by Annie Wright published here.

 

At the end of this day, this week, I hope you’ve cared for yourself and for others, as well as you’re able.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.[…] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  […] But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12

I know that I have friends as well as fellow Christians who are suffering. I suffer with you.

 

 

A Saucy Italian

When Brian and I first began dating, I remember us warning each other about certain respective family members. He was kept from meeting one precocious grandfather for quite some time, and he gave me a heads-up about his dearly loved grandmother who happened to also be fiercely Italian. “You should just know that she’s been trying to get me to marry a nice Italian girl from the Hill for quite some time,” he said (as we drove to his little sister’s birthday party, and I was preparing to meet a whole slew of family members in one evening). He was right to warn me, I thought at first.

“You’re Italian, right?” his grandma Alex asked shortly after she shook my hand.

“No…” I hesitantly replied.

“Are you sure? Not even just a little?” Her brows furrowed as she stared at me intently. Perhaps I’d just forgotten.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

She leaned back in her chair and sat quietly for what felt like a few minutes. The seconds ticked away. I studied the wrinkles on her face, ones of joy and sadness, of raising active boys, of focusing on hand-forming hundreds of homemade raviolis and slaving over steaming stovetops, mixing tomato sauces. She focused on my face. I held my breath.

Finally, she exhaled and said, “Well, you look Italian.”

I was “in,” if only by appearances.

 

A few years later I learned that grandma had dated Yogi Berra, the famous New York Yankees player from The Hill, some time in the late 30s or early 40s. When our jaws dropped and we asked what went wrong, she said matter of factly, “Oh, he was a very nice man. He was very sweet on me, but I just couldn’t marry him.” She looked at the grandchildren in the room. “I mean, you all would have been ugly!” No holds bar, grandma said it like it was.

Grandma Alex (affectionately named by my husband because of their German Shepherd, Alex) was a loving Italian woman through and through. She talked fondly often of her days on the Hill and the journey of being stolen from the only streets she had ever known and deposited miles away in Kirkwood (a by-product of being whisked off of her feet by that darn German she married). She loved animals, doting on dogs and cats alike. She raised five rambunctious boys with a strong Catholic faith, and she loved on her daughter-in-laws and grandchildren. In fact, she told me that after watching Brian as a toddler while his mom worked, she often threatened to keep him. She was a woman of family and of faith… and of ravioli.

After we said goodbye to grandma Alex this past February, Brian said that ravioli came to mind. After years of grandma making her own handmade ravioli and slaving in the kitchen for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, Brian thought it just made sense to pick up her favorite Mama Toscano’s ravioli from the Hill and share a family meal. So, we did. And though hearts were very heavy and the loss was very raw, we had a little taste of Italy to remind of us of grandma and of the way she brought family together and the joy that it brought to her face when all of her boys were together.

Her funeral was on a drizzling, cold day after a recent snow, oddly feeling much like her husband’s had only six months earlier. We said goodbye to her after an honoring eulogy and gathered again for a family meal on The Hill. And though it was a day full of grief, we took comfort that day, and the days after, in the fact that she was without pain and with her Lord. Not only is her body restored, but her mind is also. She never has to feel confusion or despair again. Her sadness has been replaced with joy, and she shares a place in heaven with one of her five sons who she has missed so dearly for far too long. It’s amazing how that knowledge gives hope and life in the midst of pain, how it begins to mend the hearts of family to know that she’s more than well and that she truly does rest in peace… if you can call heaven a place of rest. It is most likely, more aptly, a place of praise, to my understanding, which seems a very active state instead. And that’s great, because until her latest years, grandma Alex was always moving, always serving, always cooking. Perhaps she’s perfected her Italian recipes now, or probably, she’s doing even more important and glorified serving. I can only imagine.

Like a good sauce, I’ve let this post simmer for a few months, looking for the right spice and flavor. I hope grandma would be proud, that she would feel it captures her in part and honors her – her humor and devotion to family and big, big heart. Or perhaps, I hope that I’ve come to appreciate and embody more of her Italian heritage and heart in the ten years that I knew her. But even if not…

Hey, at least I look Italian. 🙂