"Have a holly jolly Christmas." "Deck the halls with boughs of holly." "Have yourself a merry little Christmas."
The holidays are a happy time of year, right? They can be, but for many of us, they can also be bittersweet. A missed loved one can bring sadness to an otherwise joyous season.
Christmas was a big deal in the household of Dan and Carol Luczynski, my father-in-law and mother-in-law. My husband and I always had to split Christmas week between LA (my family) and Phoenix (his family), but we always made sure that our time in Phoenix included Christmas eve and Christmas day. I love the traditions we had of lighting the luminarias, sharing a meal together, piling into the van to see the neighborhood lights, opening the big pile of gifts under the tree on Christmas eve, and scratching our lottery tickets on Christmas day that were always in our stockings.
These traditions stopped over a decade ago when my mother-in-law and father-in-law died. Now we no longer make our way to Phoenix for the holidays. This past weekend I traveled to Phoenix with my husband to visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. These days I only get out every few years to visit. Perhaps it was the proximity to the holidays, but this visit made me nostalgic for the past.
My husband and I decided to go for a run while we were there and ran from his sister's house to his parents' old house. Just seeing that house where all of our family gatherings took place hit me at my core. I felt myself tearing up with the overwhelming feeling of loss—loss for the traditions and loss not to have Dan and Carol in our lives anymore. It's been over a decade, but in that moment, the sadness came on suddenly and caught me off-guard.
On our run, we decided to visit some old friends of my in-laws. We haven't seen them in years and keep in touch only through annual holiday cards, but I feel like they are one of the few remaining ties to Dan and Carol. They happened to be home and were (understandably) surprised by our visit. As I explained our impulse for the visit, I felt myself getting choked up and was hardly able to get the words out. It's amazing how the loss can feel so present and strong, even after so many years.
The holidays can be a difficult time for many people, whether the loss is recent or years prior. If you feel this way, be kind to yourself and acknowledge these feelings. Share your thoughts with others. Does it help to talk about your loved one and your fun holiday memories? Does it help to honor them by continuing some of the traditions? If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one, check in with them this holiday season and see how they are doing.
We often feel like we should be jolly and merry during this time of year, but it's okay if, mixed in with the merriment, there is some sadness. Just recognize it and honor it. And then try to be present (and feel the happiness) with the loved ones in your life who you are spending the holidays with.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below. Who are you missing this holiday time? What are your favorite holiday memories of or traditions with them?
I'm sending hugs to everyone who is feeling bittersweet this holiday season.
(above) 1999 Last Luczynski holiday together
(above right) 1991 Dan and Carol
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Do you have a mental or physical illness that has become all consuming to the point where it has taken over your mind, body, relationships, and environment? If so, the good news is that having an illness does not automatically mean you are unhealthy. It can be if you let it be, but it doesn't have to be if you focus on creating health in the areas you can control.
In this blog, I highlight my client, Susan, to illustrate the point, but Susan is not alone. I have seen this happen with many of my clients which is what inspired me to write this blog. Susan, has let her physical illness define her. It completely consumes who she is. She is no longer a mother, wife, friend, cook, or runner. She is her illness. In our last session together, she said, "I am an invalid." This is how she sees herself.
There is no question that Susan's physical situation is very difficult. She has had multiple surgeries in the past year to fix her knee, all to no avail. She uses a walker to get around and cannot stand for long periods of time. She tires easily. She has another surgery slated for April that will hopefully help to repair her knee. Without a doubt, this would get anyone down!
When Susan talks to her family and friends, it's all about her illness. I suggested sitting outside in the warm sun that we had last week and her immediate response was to comment on how hard it would be to get down the two steps to get outside. Yes, it is no longer as easy to sit outside, but she can do it. She chooses not to. I ask her about the theater show and dinner she went to recently with a friend and she tells me about how tiring it was for her to sit for that long of a time. She doesn't tell me whether or not she enjoyed the show. Susan has put her life on hold until her next surgery which is still months away. Until then, it's all about the illness.
Susan has let her illness impact all four quadrants of her life. In the Body quadrant where the illness resides (physical pain and immobility), she has let it impact her diet and movement. She eats a lot of packaged and fast foods. She doesn't get as much movement as she could, even with her physical limitations. In the Mind quadrant, she has lost her light. She sees herself as an invalid. In the Relationships quadrant, she brings illness energy to her relationships. Her husband, Tom, is working on improving his diet for his own health concerns. He is now the cook in the household because Susan is unable to stand long enough to cook. When Tom tries new healthy recipes, Susan typically has a negative response that they don't taste that good. This is discouraging to Tom who is trying to help her and himself. In the Environment quadrant, her world has become very small.
It is important to remember that health is in all four quadrants. Susan may not have control over some of what is happening in the Body quadrant, but she does have control over health in many others areas of her life. Susan is unhealthy right now, but she doesn't have to be. She can have the same physical ailment and be a lot healthier than she is now by taking control and getting her health back in the areas she can. I have complete and total empathy for Susan because she is in pain and has definite physical limitations, but I also see that she is allowing the illness to define her.
For her Body, Susan can eat healthier foods which will bring her energy level up and keep her weight down. She can exercise those parts of her body that are not physically impaired like her upper body. For her Mind, she can do visualizations or repeat mantras to help get her fire back. She can reframe how she looks at things. For example, instead of seeing herself as an invalid with so many limitations, she can see all that she still can do like going to the theater with her friends. It may wipe her out for the day, but she can build up her strength and stamina little by little. She can still enjoy cooking by inviting a friend over while they do the cooking and she guides the way. She may not be able to do some of the things that she used to do like run, but she can find new areas of interest that fit her more (temporary) sedentary lifestyle such as joining a book club, watching documentaries, building puzzles, or knitting.
For her Relationships, Susan can focus on others rather than on herself. I challenged Susan for the week to not talk about her illness when she was with her friends and family. If they asked her how she was doing, she could say that she was feeling better. Even if her immobility and pain level are the same, she could be feeling better because of her improvement in diet, increase in movement, and change in mind. By doing things that she can do, like those ideas mentioned above, she will have other topics to talk about with her loved ones. She will begin to feel better by not focusing on her illness 24/7. For the Environment, Susan could sit outside and enjoy nature. Even if she can't make it outside, sitting by a window and looking out is a great option.
Your illness, mental or physical, does not need to define you. You have it in your control to be healthy, no matter what is happening in your mind or body. Even if you have cancer, you can still be healthy. Even if you just suffered a heart attack, you can still be healthy. Even if you are heavy with grief, you can still be healthy. You don't have to wait until your cancer treatments are over or your next surgery fixes you, you can make changes today. You are not a cancer patient or an invalid, you are YOU. Focus on the quadrants where you do have control and figure out how to increase health there. Don't let your illness invade your whole life when it does not have to.
Do you have an illness that defines you? If so, what changes can you make to get YOU back by not giving your illness more power than it needs?
Be sure to get your free 47 page Getting Started Guide: Taking Your First Step on the 4QL Journey by signing up for our newsletter at the top right of this page. It is filled with a 4 quadrant health assessment as well as health tips for each quadrant including 5 Steps to Mindfulness, 12 Tips for Fad-Free Eating, 6 Ways to Closer Connections, and 9 Ideas to Detox Your Home.
Dina Colman, MA, MBA is an author, healthy living coach, and founder of Four Quadrant Living. Dina has a private practice helping clients live healthier and happier lives. Her book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life, guides readers to make healthy living a part of their daily lives, leading to greater health, vitality, and happiness. Contact Dina at
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Death is an inevitable conclusion to life. We all die. Losing a loved one is heartbreaking. You can make this time easier on your family and friends by giving them one final gift—your wishes for when you die.
I know it's not an easy subject to discuss. You may even feel uncomfortable reading this blog. I thought twice about writing the blog because I know that many people do not feel comfortable discussing death. I feel strongly that it is a topic that needs to be more openly discussed. By having these discussions, we can make it a little easier for our loved ones during a difficult time.
In 2000, my father-in-law died suddenly from drowning. In 2003, my mother-in-law died in a week from pancreatic cancer. The deaths were sudden. With the death of my mother-in-law, my husband along with his brother and sister had to make funeral and memorial decisions. What kind of casket did she want? What did she want her epitaph on the headstone to be? Did she have a preference for how she wanted her memorial service? My mother-in-law already had her plot picked out, but there were still decisions to be made.
I decided that I wanted to ask my family ahead of time about their preferences if they died before me so that I didn't have to worry about making decisions during an emotional time. I am attaching a questionnaire that I created and had my family fill out. Even if you have a will (which is great!), these topics are not typically covered in it. The questionnaire is broken up into three parts: Documents, Burial or Cremation, and Memorial.
In the Document section, it covers questions about whether you have a will and Health Directive. It asks about life insurance policies and bank accounts. Have you made arrangements for your pet? In the Burial section, it asks if you want to be an organ donor and whether you want to be cremated or buried. If buried, do you want an open or closed casket? Do you have a certain outfit you want to be buried in? If cremated, where do you want your ashes scattered? The Memorial section asks about the type of celebration you want to have. Do you have certain songs you want played, is there a charity you want donations to go to, are there certain people you want notified? If there are areas where you don't have a strong preference, you can just put "no preference."
This is just a brief overview of some of the questions included. I am not an expert on these matters. I am just someone who has experienced loss and wants to make it a little easier for myself and my loved ones when death happens. I wanted to write this blog in case it could help you and your families too. Please feel free to edit the document to suit your needs. There are also resources online and software programs to help you with this process. Mortuaries typically have a booklet you can fill out as well with this type of information.
When I gave the questionnaire to my mother and sister, they both readily filled it out. My sister wants Led Zeppelin's Thank You song played during her memorial. She wants roses, orchids, and stargazer lilies. It comforts me to know that she will have the music and flowers she wants, not the ones that I want or the ones I think she wants. I know who my mom wants to conduct the funeral service and I know that she wants it to say "she lived with pizzazz" on her headstone. My dad was a little more reticent to fill out the form. He never actually did, so I asked him the questions and then documented his answers and sent it out to my family. It's about having the conversation in whatever way works for you and your family.
Some people feel that the survivors should make the decisions based on what they want because they are the ones alive and suffering the loss. For example, my husband wants to have a green burial, but the closest option is an hour away from where we live. Although this is his preference, he feels even stronger that he would want me to be happy. If I preferred to have his ashes scattered someplace I visit frequently or saved for us to be scattered together, he wants that for me.
It can get complicated to leave it up to the survivors without discussing it ahead of time in the event that they have differing opinions. Why risk creating more heartache during an already sensitive time when emotions are high and we need to support each other, not work against each other? Help your loved ones stay united by taking the guesswork out of it. By having the conversation, you can understand what aspects are most important to one another and have a joint plan that honors everyone's wishes.
Filling out the questionnaire or having a discussion about this topic is truly a special gift you can give to your loved ones. If you want to take it a step further, you can make arrangements ahead of time. My sister has prepaid for her cremation with Neptune Society. My mom has pre-paid for her plot, headstone, burial, and more with the mortuary of the memorial park she wants to be buried at. It is estimated that costs double every decade for burial services, so if you prepay, you can save money by locking in at the current rate. I am truly grateful that my mom has made all of these arrangements. It's not about the money, it's about making it easier for my sister and me when the time comes if she dies before we do. I can find comfort in knowing that where and how she is buried is just as she would have wanted it.
Some people feel comfortable talking about it and others don't. I called my mom this morning to ask her about her arrangements as I was writing this blog. She didn't miss a beat diving right into what arrangements had been made, where the documents were, what newspaper she wanted her obituary in, etc. My dad, on the other hand, doesn't seem to feel as comfortable with the topic and does not have any arrangements made. He said that making these arrangements is something he wants to do, but he finds it to be an unpleasant topic. He doesn't want to think about dying. My mom's boyfriend feels the same way. He hasn't done a will because he says, "I can't think about not being here."
I don't want to think about not being here either, but I love my family and I want to make it as easy as possible for them when I die. And, selfishly, I want them to make it as easy as possible for me when they die. Maybe it's because I love them so much and I know how devastated I will be when they die. I'm trying to help myself.
Death is a part of life whether we like it or not. Even if discussing it is something you don't entirely feel comfortable with, do it for your loved ones. It doesn't have to be something that you dwell on. You can do it now and then revisit it every five to ten years. By addressing the topic, it doesn't mean that you are saying you will be dying any time soon, it just means you recognize that you will die eventually. Personally, I think having my family tell me their final wishes is the greatest gift they could ever give me.
What are your final wishes and have you shared them with your loved ones?
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