Author Archives: chaplaingeri

COPING WITH GRIEF AND LOSS DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Let’s be honest: the Holidays aren’t always happy and cheerful, especially if you have lost a loved one, a job, a relationship, or a pet. The Holidays are full of stress and expectations and most everyone has trouble dealing with this in healthy, healing ways.

Ever since my Mom passed away on Dec. 3, 2013, I have felt especially challenged at this time of year. I know it’s been 4 years, but most people grieve an average of 5-8 years after a significant loss. In reality grieving never ends, it just changes. I am happy to say that I am beginning to embrace a new perspective, and find positive ways to thrive this time of year.

Here are a few suggestions for taking care of YOU during this time, because that is what grieving is really about, taking care of YOU.

  1. Acknowledge your beliefs, thoughts and feelings. I can’t tell you how important this one step is. Becoming mindful of your feelings and the thoughts and beliefs that led to them, and then releasing them, is a powerful way to release the grief. For example, I needed to honor my sadness, guilt and anger (common initial reactions to grief) in order to begin to reframe my perspective: my Mom would not want me to be sad, she’d want me to bake those cookies for the family that she always loved to bake. It is a way to honor and remember her.
  2. Carve out time for YOU, planning for things that nurture  you: a mani and pedi, massage, Reiki healing session, going out in nature, pray, meditate, light a candle, set a place for the person at the holiday table. These things are far better than drowning your feelings in alcohol, food, isolation, or other unhealthy behaviors.
  3. Don’t be pressured to go to a party if you don’t feel you want to go. Don’t feel you have to do the same Holiday routine you did before unless you really want to. Be open to honoring the Holidays differently and be honest with others about it without guilt. Ask for other’s support. Be gentle with yourself. My family has changed our Holiday routine, every year has been a little different, and it’s OK.  We still carry on the love we have for each other, that’s the most important thing. Mom would want that.
  4. Lastly, accept the loss, and the opportunities and blessings it brings. The reality is that life will not be the same. Allow it to teach you, to change you. Grief invites us to reorganize our priorities, to appreciate the life we have and the people we love. We can find ways to support others in their journey, thus helping ourselves at the same time. This is how I have moved through my own grief by doing workshops and writing my book. Everyone can find a way to heal and accept the blessings that are there for us along the journey. And look for signs that your loved one is near: a dream, a whif of perfume, a song, a cardinal, a butterfly. They miss us as much as we miss them.

I hope this blog has helped you to have the courage and strength to take care of yourself through this Holiday Season. Please reach out to me if you would like to, write a post here or go to my Facebook page “Chaplain Geri Cappabianca”, leave a post and I will PM you. You are NOT ALONE! I will be praying for you! Love and blessings always!

 

HARBINGER OF PEACE

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MEET PAX, the latest addition to my backyard family!!

She arrived a few weeks ago, along with her lively and fun-loving gray young siblings, born this Spring. I was so surprised to see her, all in white and glowing in the green grass as she romped and played with her brothers and sisters and fed at my birdfeeder.

I am feeling honored that such an beautiful creature would arrive in my backyard along with many other beautiful birds, fox, deer, coyotes, hummingbirds, hawks and a menagerie of others.

The significance for me, is that she is all white.

In many native traditions, the white animal, whether squirrel, peacock or buffalo, brings a message of peace, a vision of heaven on earth. Kind of like waving the white flag signaling the end of war and violence. We are so desperately hungry for messages such as these, and our beloved animal friends are sent to remind is that we all, in our essence, are loving and beloved children of the Divine.

I can’t help but wonder if Pax arrived this summer just in time to remind us that despite the outward appearance of fear, chaos and destruction, we must choose to keep peace in our hearts if we are to have any chance of bringing lasting peace to the outer world.

CHOOSE peace and love today and always.

PS:  “PAX” means peace, tranquility and serenity in Latin!

 

 

THE STAINED GLASS WINDOW

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The stained glass window. Each one tells a story. They are beautiful to behold! So many colored pieces of glass, letting the light shine through. It splits the sunlight into a million different rainbows of color. It beckons us to look at it, to absorb it’s story, many facets, many shapes, each unique.
All held together with a thin strip of lead solder. It seems impossible that such a beautiful creation can be held together by such a small bead of lead. But it does.
These windows endure winds, storms, rain, snow and ice, and beating sun for centuries in some of the most beautiful churches in Europe and all around the world. Some have survived earthquakes and falling bombs in the world wars. Yet they stay in place, ever bright, ever strong.
Our lives are like a stained glass window. Each unique piece is a different person in our life, someone we love. Each person has their own color, their own special shape. Held together by the solder of LOVE. We are all connected by love.
When a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, friend or pet dies, we grieve the loss of one of the pieces in our stained glass window. That unique piece of beautiful colored glass is now an empty hole. It feels like the cold wind and rain is blowing through us, through the window. It is raw and open. Yet the solder remains, the love we have for them, remains.
For some of us that piece of glass is huge, and it leaves a big hole in our lives. We wonder who or what can fill ever it again?
That is the task of grieving, beginning to fill that hole again, making a new relationship with our loved one. Will we fill it with a dark piece of glass representing anger and regret? Or will we fill it with a piece of bright colored glass of sweet memories, reconnections with our family still here, with remembrances of the love we still have for that person? The solder remains, the love remains, the blessing.
Our lives change after the loss of a loved one. We must create a new life without them, a new window. I have been in this process for over 2 years after the loss of my mother and last parent. A huge piece of my window was gone, and at first it seemed like my whole life, the whole window, was shattered. But as time went on, I could see that I still had many people in my life who still loved me and whom I still loved. They were still there, as was the solder that held us together, the love we have for each other.
The hole in my window that was my mother is beginning fill in with a beautiful new piece of glass. The weather no longer blows through it, and I can look back over our lives together and remember the love and wonderful times we had together. I keep her memory alive, allowing her light to shine through the window for all to see. She is still a part of my life, a part of me, held together by the solder, by love.
There are many ways to know that our loved ones are still with us in spirit, and my mom comes regularly to let me know she is here. They may come to us in a dream, a song, a whiff of perfume, a butterfly or dragonfly, finding pennies on the ground, “pennies from heaven.” Each of you I’m sure knows or feels when your loved one is around. I hear stories from patients every day who tell me that their loved ones are near them. They want us to know they are ok, that they are still shining brightly. The solder that held us together on our living window still holds us together today, stronger than ever, if we will only listen and hear them, in a new way, in a new relationship, a new piece in our window, the blessings built into the loss of a loved one.

BEAUTIFUL SOULS

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Swimming with the dolphins is on my bucket list.

I have always loved these beautiful creatures. Native cultures tell us they are spiritually advanced, science tells us they are very smart, perhaps smarter than humans! To me, they are an inspiration to be joyful and playful.

I had mixed feelings about this dream of mine, however. I had issues with dolphins in captivity, swimming in pools instead of the open ocean. I wondered if they would be as joyful and as playful in the pool as they were swimming alongside boats, jumping and frolicking in the open water. I wanted so much to swim with them in their own environment, but I lacked the skills and the resources to do this.

When I visited Mexico last month, the opportunity arose for me to swim with the dolphins, even though it was in a pool. I was so excited!

The venue, Vallarta Adventures, did a good job educating the “swimmers” about the dolphins before we dove in. The beautiful dolphins we swam with were all rescues from the ocean, caught in fishing nets or injured, and could not be released back to the open waters. They would not survive out there. They are thriving, however, at the Center. They receive daily vet check ups and live to be 50 years old, far longer than in the wild. Two of the dolphins we swam with were pregnant! Meelah, the one pictured with me above, was so gentle and patient as I stroked her belly and blessed her new little one. Her skin was smooth and firm, and she even gave me a peck on the cheek! She followed the commands of her trainer, who clearly loved and respected her. The bond between the dolphin and trainer was strong and deep. The fishy treat as a reward after the session, for the dolphin, I’m sure was the best part!

Then the fun began, and all the dolphins were allowed to jump, play, and race around once we were out of the water. What a joy to see them frolicking together, clicking and laughing! I was filled with such joy just watching them!

I still wish every dolphin could remain in their own habitat as God intended. However, these loving creatures seem to have a mission. I truly felt that they were God’s gift to me, reminding me to smile, to be happy right along with them. As our bond with the dolphins remains strong, they have much to teach us about being joyful and playful in a sometimes dark and frightening world.

I did not take swimming with the dolphins off my bucket list…I want to do it again!

RAINBOWS

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Don’t you love rainbows? They usually arrive after a big storm. I took this picture in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico a few days ago, the morning after a rare late-winter storm. That night the wind blew, the rain was torrential, and many places flooded. This same storm also produced snow in Mexico, in places that have never seen snow! I was scared! But the storm passed, the sun came out, the snow melted, and all was well again. And the rainbow appeared!

In the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, God put the rainbow in the sky to remind Himself not to destroy the world ever again by a flood. The Irish have a legend that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In our times, the rainbow is a symbol of unity and good will, that we may be many but we are all one. And all is well.

All of us pass through storms in our lives: the loss of a loved one, losing a job, developing a chronic illness, I could go on and on. You know the losses you have faced. But most of us have weathered the storm, and after the storm, we have moved on a little bit stronger. If we are truly open to the storm’s teachings, we emerge wiser and more grateful.

I believe that each challenge, each storm, offers us an opportunity to change our perception of the world. Perhaps, after the storm, we are able to help others to weather their storm because we made it through. Perhaps we learn deeper compassion for others, or a deeper appreciation of all the gifts of people and things in our lives. This is what the rainbow can mean for us, this is the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. We always have a choice: to remain scarred and bitter as a victim of the storm, or to breathe in the clean rain-washed air after the storm to embrace the learnings, and move on in love and gratitude.

This week as we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, may the rainbows in your lives be many, and may you embrace the gifts that each one brings. Many blessings always!

SPIRITUAL TEACHERS

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Most of us on a spiritual path look outside of ourselves for spiritual teachers who will show us the way to the enlightened life and give us guidance, encouragement and support. I am no different. I have had the distinct honor to have had many physical spiritual teachers, and have been humbled to sit in their presence and learn from them. All of them said that they were searching for me as I was searching for them, that it is no coincidence that I found myself sitting in front of them. And as you remember from my book, “there are no coincidences, only synchronicity”, which I consider the work of the Holy Spirit. I have been guided, led by the Spirit, to these special teachers by the desire of my heart (most of the time I have not been aware of this!) to learn how to be closer to God through the teaching and example of these amazing enlightened beings.

As I grow older and continue on my spiritual path (the path never ends!) I believe more and more that sure, we need physical teachers outside of ourselves to help us. But for me, right now, my life has become my greatest, inner teacher. As I think back on my life and the life-changing events that have happened, I have learned so much just by living and loving. Every day I am challenged to see each sacred moment as a teacher. Working in a hospital as a chaplain presents many such moments!

Last week I spent quite a bit of time with a mother who was dying and could not speak, but her family was having a very difficult time letting her go. She had a terminal condition for which the doctors had repeatedly told the family that she would not recover and that there was nothing more the doctors could do. Usually at this point, hospice is called and the patient is kept comfortable until they pass away in peace. The challenge was that the family could not agree on her care, and the mother never shared her wishes with them, nor did she have a power of attorney or healthcare proxy who could make decisions for her. When I left for the week, the family was at her side, still arguing about what should be done for their mother. I felt saddened and helpless.

The teaching moment here for me, and for all of us, is that we will all pass away some day. Indeed, it is the only certainty in life. However, as a chaplain, I need to honor each person’s struggle and path. I felt that I had comforted and supported the family to the very best of my ability, yet it was not enough to help this family come to acceptance that their mom was dying. Perhaps it wasn’t the right moment for acceptance, and perhaps their own teaching moment was yet a few days away. I needed to “let go and let God” take the final steps with them. They are in my prayers as I write.

Most of us are never ready for this moment, and we always reluctantly accept the inevitable. However there are steps we can take to make the process a bit easier.
1. Discuss your wishes with your family, and write a living will or advance directive.
2. Appoint a healthcare proxy, ONE PERSON who will make the decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself. It is VITALLY important, and can avoid legal issues at a most difficult time for you and your family.

Our most significant teachers are the events that unfold every day. At the end of the day, after my gratitude prayer, I go within and reflect on what was my life teaching me today: To trust? To love? To accept? To forgive? To be joyful? To be always grateful!

Find your greatest spiritual teachers in the sacred everyday events of your life. We never stop learning, growing, and moving closer to God. Many blessings to everyone this sacred day.

ASHES TO DIVINE

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Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year in the hospital for chaplains. EVERYONE wants ashes! We spend all day smudging a black cross on the recipient’s forehead with the reminder, “Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return.”
Every year at this time I wonder why so many of us actually WANT to be reminded that we are dust. We wear the ashes like a badge showing everyone that we have been blessed with this reminder. But how many of us realize that what returns to ashes, our body, is just the shell that contains the Divine which lives forever?
I spent quite a bit of time with a patient last week who was recovering from a third attempt at suicide. Like so many others, she described the darkness that enveloped her as she made the decision to end her life. She said she just wanted to stop her suffering. She had been let down by many people in her life and had suffered the loss of family members and friends. She could not see the Divine within her, she was so overcome by the darkness. I tired to remind her of the goodness within her, of the need to love and accept herself: the journey from the ashes to the Divine.
We all make this journey from ashes to Divine, but we often forget the Divine part of us. Like my patient, the darkness of the ashes can cause us to lose hope, even to the point of not wanting to live anymore.
Lent provides us the chance to reflect, to travel from ashes to the Divine. The Divine is in all of us. It is the ability to forgive, to be grateful, to love ourselves and others, to connect to God who is our Source. We are a drop of God’s Spirit living in a body, and when it’s time to return to God, the body goes back to it’s source, the dust of the earth. Our Spirit, that drop within us, returns to it’s Source, the Divine. The challenge is to live as the Divine drop within us, and not the ashes from which our outer being is made.
This Ash Wednesday, when you receive ashes, remember that you are Divine as well. During the 40 days of Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or meat, reflect on every piece of Divine grace within you. Let it shine for all to see. The light in you may dispel the darkness in another, reminding him or her of THEIR Divine light, maybe even helping them to chose to live and not die.
If you see someone suffering in the darkness, reach out and give them your loving hand. Listen, embrace, forgive, accept, and let your Divine light shine on them. Be comforted knowing that Jesus walked this journey as well, from ashes to Divine, shining His light on Easter Morning for all to see. He continues to walk with us, encouraging us to hold His hand as we travel on our life’s journey as we reach out and take another’s hand as well.
Perhaps that is the real blessing of Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are ALL Divine.
My prayers will be with each of you for a Lent filled with Divine Light!