Featured Widow/er - Jane Allen – Attracted to Community and Culture

Grma and Gillian Hawaii LaisJane Allen Eiffel TowerIt was the alphabet that brought Dick and Jane together. Back in the mid 1950’s, it wasn’t uncommon for freshman at Penn State to have assigned seats in their classroom in alphabetical order. Dick Allen sat next to Jane Bergdoll and to this day, Jane can’t explain the attraction.

“He was skinny as a toothpick and very tall,” says Jane. “He liked playing baseball and I don’t really know what attracted me to him. He was just a nice guy. He seemed very independent and confident, self-assured. He was working and had a car.”

They married right after graduation in 1957 and had two children. Dick worked as an accountant for General Motors in the Detroit, Michigan area. Jane worked with mental health agencies working on early programs for people with special needs. This led her to an appreciation for the work she saw social workers do. She decided to get her Masters in social work from Wayne State University in Detroit, and became a school social worker in the early 1970’s enjoying summers off and the opportunity to work closely with families doing preventative work.

CIMG1214 copyThey moved to Pennsylvania in 1981 and Jane was active in the First Presbyterian Church of Morrisville in Yardley. She was involved in the growth of the Food Center, a food pantry program, which enabled her to make use of her social work background. It began small until the church staff could no longer manage it and Jane took over. She did fundraising and food-raising but it was difficult. “Ninety percent of the people we were feeding were from just across the (Delaware) river in Trenton, New Jersey.” But the food pantry was in Pennsylvania creating a challenge to secure grant funding from either state. Pennsylvania didn’t want to support the program because it was serving people in New Jersey. And New Jersey didn’t offer support because the program was located in Pennsylvania.

Other churches got involved and it became an ecumenical effort. A program called Philabundance, the Philadelphia region’s largest hunger relief organization, donated restaurant and grocery store leftovers, among other things, and the Trenton Food Bank was generous where they could be. The forty plus hours the volunteer position entailed, had grown to 90+ volunteers serving 900 people each month by the time Jane left her position to care for Dick.

Melanoma ran in both sides of their families and he’d had it in 2001 but didn’t get good follow up according to Jane. Dick was diagnosed with Melanoma again in September 2005 and by January 2006 he was gone, just before their 49th anniversary.

Cold in Africa“We had even planned a service. He wanted a service while he was still alive. He wanted to be there. He wanted to say, “thank you.” He died the Thursday before the Saturday service. We had it anyway. They say funeral services are for the people left anyway.”

She stayed in Pennsylvania four more years before moving to Niantic, Connecticut in 2010 to be near her daughter Betsy Farrugia.

“I’m glad I waited,” says Jane. “It gave me time to think about what I needed at that point. I realized I didn’t want to invest as much of myself into one project.

It could take over my life. I wanted to do something different.”

She started working at the Homeless Hospitality Center in New London one day a week. Her inclination to help people as a social worker continues even there.

She does mail distribution and sorting, helps guests on the computer doing job searches and securing forms they need for employment and social services.

“I began as a receptionist answering phones and came in contact with all the guests. I was always amazed at how cheerful and positive they would be in their circumstances,” says Jane. “They have good attitudes and help each other, often sharing their resources. There is camaraderie, a mutual support.”

As an accountant Dick was always very frugal leaving her financially comfortable in his absence. Jane decided to take some trips with her granddaughters and their first was in 2006. She liked the idea of Intergenerational travel adventures through Road Scholar. Emilie was 10 and Gillian was 6 at the time and the three headed to the Adirondacks in upstate New York where they stayed for a week in a log cabin and toured the Vanderbilt Estate. That was the only trip they took together. Since then she realized each granddaughter, Emilie, Gillian and Melanie needed their own experience and time with her. So each summer since, Jane takes three separate educational trips, each destination chosen by the girls.

“When you live with your grandchild for a week or two you learn a lot about their habits and what they value, how they put on make-up and how important the proper outfit is to them - even in the jungle! At bed time you learn how they feel about the other kids on the trip, the issues that come up within the group and how they decide which kids to hang with. You are gratified to see the interest and excitement they show, even though, especially in their teens, they may be trying to hide it from you. And they enjoy helping their grandma during the times when things can get confusing.”

She thinks they have learned a lot about handling unfamiliar situations, making decisions, and when the trip is over, “you and your grandchild have special memories that you share and there is often, 'do you remember when ---'.”

Jane prefers not to take any repeat trips, insisting on new adventures and she enjoys that the trips are educational. Emilie is in college now so Jane just has two travel partners left. The trips are always planned with activities for the kids who are only a few years apart, and other activities for the adults. To date, she has taken 20 trips to various countries and continents. They have been to Australia, Hawaii, Greece, Italy, France, England, Africa, Spain, and several throughout the United States. They all stand out for some reason but riding a donkey down into the Grand Canyon on a two foot wide path, while in her mid 70’s really stands out in her mind. This summer she plans to see Rome, Venice and Florence.

Asked why she enjoys travel, Jane says she’s not sure she does. “I like being with my grandchildren and being around different cultures and seeing what the rest of the world looks like. It gives a better understanding of the world. When we went to Barcelona, we heard lectures on Picasso. Emilie is an art major so she wrote a paper on what she learned, which complimented her studies.”

“I’m grateful that I had the money to do it. After he (Dick) died I felt a certain amount of freedom to do things I hadn’t time to do before. It’s important for widows to develop their own dreams, kind of a self-exploration of what they want life to look like. It’s important to take advantage of support from family and friends and not isolate yourself, even though it can be tempting to do that. For me, getting involved in my community was important.”

Early in 2014, Jane learned about The Giving Garden at The Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center in Mystic, Connecticut. The garden is a combined effort between the Nature Center, United Way of Southeastern Connecticut and the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation, aimed at providing fresh produce for the Gemma E. Moran, United Way Labor Food Center.

“I was discouraged by the lack of nutritious fresh foods distributed through the food pantries,” says Jane. “I was excited about being able to grow produce for the food pantry.”

Jane sponsored a 7,000 square foot plot within the garden that required $3600 and volunteers to farm it. She was just about to join All Souls New London, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation so she donated the plot to the church. They named it the Soul Food Plot, and its volunteers came together to grow what turned out to be one ton of farm fresh produce for the Gemma E. Moran Center.

Jane joined the Cappella Cantorum in Deep River and also has enjoyed playing the keyboard with a small group in the community where she lives. She has made friends in her new community after more than 20 years in Pennsylvania which was a bit difficult. And although Jane misses Dick’s companionship most, at the age of 80, she doesn’t plan to re-marry.

“I like the freedom I have now. I went on a date once. That was enough.”

In His Honor – Creating a Memory Garden

Lovely Adirondack chairs hide beneath a spreading tree, offering a private place to read.Lovely Adirondack chairs hide beneath a spreading tree, offering a private place to read.A rustic bench set back into the lush foliage provides a quiet view of the garden.A rustic bench set back into the lush foliage provides a quiet view of the garden.By Toni Leland

“...One is nearer God's Heart in a garden Than anywhere else on Earth,” wrote Dorothy Frances Gurney in her poem, “God's Garden.” And so can we be nearer a departed loved one through the beauty and spirituality of nature. Creating a memory garden to honor these treasured people is one way of coping with grief.

A Group Project

When the time is right, when you are ready to think about a permanent reminder of your loved one, there are several things to consider. Sometimes, grief isn't borne alone, but shared by other family members. Is there a sibling or favorite relative or grown son or daughter who might want to participate in this loving venture? Share your plan and seek positive involvement. Perhaps one of them has a memento they'd want to contribute, or knowledge of something special about your loved one.

If there are young children, help them see this as an extension of their love and connection to the missing family member. Encourage them to help with the planning, the site preparation, and the choice of plants. Most children adore planting things and watching them grow. What a special project this could be.

Creating the Vision

Before embarking on your project, set down your goals on paper and prepare a plan using the following guidelines.

The most important will be your level of experience and/or interest in gardening. Not everyone loves to toil in the soil, so plan something based on what you are willing to maintain. Best advice: keep it simple. But if you are an avid gardener, then create to your heart’s content.

A pond-side view of nature and the water.A pond-side view of nature and the water.More public, this wooden bench faces a charming garden filled with Coral Bells and featuring an elaborate sculpture.More public, this wooden bench faces a charming garden filled with Coral Bells and featuring an elaborate sculpture.Where

If what you seek is a special place to find your own strength – that inner power that will take you through the long grieving process without destroying your faith in being alive – you may find it in a secluded corner of your yard, beneath the sheltering branches of a lovely tree. A dappled grassy spot with a comfortable place to sit, far away from the public world where you can shed the mantle of bravery. . . A bench near a pond where one can watch the koi or the dragonflies. . . A place to meditate or read. . . A place to simply remember.

Will you open new ground and create something specifically for this purpose? Or perhaps there’s a suitable spot in an existing landscape bed or garden. Did your loved one have a favorite spot in the yard? Or a favorite view from a window or porch? Will you want to add something new on birthdays or anniversaries? Whatever location you choose, be aware that the light and water requirements will dictate what you are able to grow with any measure of success.

A shady corner filled with hosta and rhododendrons provides a quiet spot for prayer.A shady corner filled with hosta and rhododendrons provides a quiet spot for prayer.Choosing the Plants

Annuals are those that only grow for one season. Perennials, shrubs, trees, and most bulbs and vines come back year after year. Think also about the future size of what you plant, and how quickly it will grow. If you choose a variety that spreads rapidly, such as ivy or ajuga, be sure to assess the boundaries past which you do not want it to grow. The spot you choose should accommodate the size of the plant in four to five years, and beyond. This is especially important with trees and shrubs.

The purpose of a memory garden is to honor the departed, to create a space that they would have loved looking at or tending. Of course, your loved one’s favorite plants would be a first choice for your memory garden, but if you've chosen a shady spot in an existing bed, then those beloved daylilies, irises, or roses will not flourish. Likewise, in a newly-prepared flower bed in full sun, you’ll not be able to use things like bleeding hearts, coral bells, or astilbe. Your local garden center can be a big help in making the right choices.

Consider using plants that echo your loved one’s name. Many flowers and shrubs have “human” names, such as peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, or clematis ‘John Paul’. Another idea would be to choose flowers in your loved one’s favorite colors. This provides an almost endless choice.

You will also need to consider the zone and growing season for where you live. Unless you’re a true gardener, don’t plant things that need to be dug and stored for the winter (such as dahlias or gladiolus), or shrubs that require special pruning (such as hybrid tea roses) or short-lived plants that will eventually die out (such as coral bells). Remember, the key is to enjoy and remember – keep it simple. Make it a joy for you to behold and maintain. Some suggestions are listed at the end of this article.

Large or small, a memory garden can be beautifully enhanced by the addition of statuary and mementos that reflect the passions and interests of your loved one. Did he or she have a “thing” for roosters?. . . frogs?. . . golf? These pieces give special meaning to the spot you’ve chosen for the garden – always there to trigger a fond memory.

Garden centers across the country have a wide variety of statuary made expressly for being outside in the elements, and this is important. You might possibly use treasured indoor pieces in a garden setting, but even in good weather, moisture or strong sun could destroy them. Other places to look for statuary and garden art include craft fairs and festivals, dollar variety stores, super discount centers, or freight overstock stores.

Even if you have only a small spot near the back door, consider planting a single beautiful rose bush or dwarf flowering shrub. You will smile with fond memories every time you pass by.

Here are just a few suggestions for plant choices to fit most situations. All are readily available and easy to grow and maintain. (These criteria are based on regions with moderate to cold winters; the same specimens will behave differently in warmer climes.)
Astilbe: Shade, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: low perennial. Wonderful colors and feathery flower stems over lacy dark green leaves.

Azalea: Part shade, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: woody evergreen broadleaf shrub. Dwarf varieties are suitable for small garden space and grow more slowly than larger varieties.

Black-eyed Susan: Full sun, light to moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: tall perennial. Bright yellow flowers with dark brown centers nod over lance-shaped dark green leaves. Beautiful and so easy to grow.

Bleeding Hearts: Full shade, heavy water, moderate growth rate.
Type: low perennial. Pink and white heart-shaped flowers along a graceful stalk, over fern-like light green leaves; a pure white variety is also available.

Butterfly Bush: Full sun, light to moderate water, fast growth rate.
Type: woody deciduous shrub. Blooms best if cut back to ground every spring. Can outgrow space quickly. Sprays of pink, purple, yellow, or white flowers over olive-green leaves.

Clematis: Full sun, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: vine. Needs shaded roots to perform well. Requires some pruning attention to variety to assure bloom. Any color or flower form imaginable.
Coneflower: Full sun, light to moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: tall perennial. Showy purple flowers with brown centers over lance-shaped leaves. Hardy in almost any region.

Coral Bells: Full shade, heavy water, moderate growth rate.
Type: low perennial. Large scalloped leaves of purple or peach or orange or blue-green are the focus, more than the tiny flowers. Easy to grow, but short-lived (about five years).

Coreopsis: Full sun, light to moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: low perennial. Strong butter-yellow flowers over lacy leaves. Clumping habit, beautiful from spring to first frost. Easy to grow.

Daylily: Full sun, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: tuber. Clumps grow larger over several years; will need to be divided. Myriad colors and flower forms.

Hosta: Part to full shade, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: low perennial. Foliage is the attraction with hundreds of different varieties in all the greens, yellows, and whites imaginable. Flowers in late summer, usually purple. Some fragrant varieties are popular. Hostas grow themselves.

Iris: Full sun, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: tuber. Once established, will perform year after year without much special attention. Every color imaginable.

Lily-of-the-Valley: Full shade, moderate water, fast growth rate.
Type: low perennial. Can be invasive and very difficult to eradicate. Consider using in-ground planter to contain growth. Dark glossy leaves, sprays of fragrant white flowers are irresistible.

Peony: Full sun, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: tall perennial. Magnificent large, ruffled flowers in wide range of colors over dark green lobed leaves. Grows larger each year. Should be planted where it will stay; does not like to be moved. Cut stems to ground in the fall. Easy to grow.

Rose: Full sun, moderate water, moderate growth rate.
Type: deciduous shrub. Hybrid varieties tend to need more TLC than climbing or bush roses. Beautiful colors and shapes.

Humor ...Like a Chocolate Chip Cookie

cookiejarpoor widow headerBy Carol Scibelli

My life was sweet like a chocolate chip cookie, yet I admit I didn’t savor it until something very bad happened, and then my days were filled with stale saltine crackers. “Come back chocolate chips!” I’d yell to the cookie jar. “I promise to take small bites and chew slowly.”

Let me lose this cookie analogy and be clearer. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate my husband until he was gone. All right, maybe I didn’t...fully. I just expected life would go on as it had ending with both of us 90 years old and dying as we lived; I’d croak in the chair at my beauty salon and Jimmy would peacefully slip away asleep on the couch as he dreamt of a younger version of me, having sex with a younger version of him.

Our kids would tearfully say, “They loved each other so much one couldn’t live without the other.” Not to poo-poo their movie version, but let’s face it, statistically speaking, at 90, to simply wake up each morning with or without your mate is iffy. Planning ahead at that age is It’s nine o’clock. Should we watch the 10:00 o’clock news?

So, here I am, a widow decades under 90, but just as anyone who has lost a parent or a child or a best friend we are heartbroken but our shelf life continues; our expiration date is written in a cloud somewhere and unknown to us. We’ve got to go on and now we’re wise enough to savor the cookies along the way. Aren’t we?

I don’t need more than a few seconds to answer this. Yes. I’ve learned to appreciate what I have and not dwell on what I’ve lost. I know this because I experience joy often, especially when my granddaughters rush into my arms. The hours with them are magical although, I am acutely aware that in my near future is a goodbye hug, a quiet car ride home and a glass or two or three of Cabernet.

We struggle to find ways to adjust. Some of us slip into our new life with less effort than others. Recently, at a widow conference, a speaker, widowed two years, told the group that as she was having sex with her boyfriend, she thought she heard her late husband’s voice, “NOW, you’re interested?” The crowd laughed, of course, but it was also sad because she still had one foot in her old life; something we all know is a stage on our way to being so called ‘adjusted.’

My husband died nine years ago so it’s been a while since I experienced the official five stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler Ross first proposed in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

The first year or so I went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I actually experienced some of these stages twice by mistake. That could have had something to do with my bad sense of direction. Oh, no! ! I’m feeling angry again? Am I going backwards?

I may have even invented a new stage. If Elizabeth Kubler Ross was alive today I’m convinced she would tack it on as stage number six. I call it. “I know that my husband would want me to have that leather jacket.”

Does adding a stage make me an overachiever? Who knows? But the fantastic journalist and spiffy dresser Diane Sawyer’s quote helped me to understand the secret to living well after loss. Long before her husband passed away she said, “There is no substitute for paying attention.”

Hearing this, I perked up like a hunting dog and paid attention to how I might apply this to my life. Then I compiled the following list. By simply paying attention to other people’s ‘stuff’ I felt smaller and less important. It turned out that being gracious is the secret to making our life and the lives of our loved ones more fulfilling.

7 Ways to Grieve Graciously or How to Avoid Being “Poor Widow Me”

1. At gatherings with family and friends it’s our place to raise a glass and toast to our loved one and acknowledge that empty chair. Other people might be afraid that hearing his/her name would upset us. It’s up to us to let them know we’re comfortable reminiscing.

Make sure there’s alcohol in that glass and we must finish it!

2. Assume that people mean well. Just because they haven’t been in touch doesn’t mean they’re not thinking of us. Haven’t you ever thought about reaching out to someone and you never did? It didn’t mean you didn’t care.

Also, the more understanding we are the more guilt they’ll feel.

3. People who rattle off thoughtless comments have no clue how insensitive and moronic they sound. Just shake it off. Don’t call them on it.

And/or don’t call them at all!

4. On our loved one’s birthday or their death anniversary instead of allowing others to take us out we could round up those who have been the kindest to us throughout the year and make dinner for them in our home.

• If we’re a lousy cook it might be more considerate to take them out to dinner. 

• We could hand had our credit card beforehand to the maître de or waiter to ensure that no one else picks up the check.

To avoid a hefty bill, it’s wise not to let our guests see us do this and it’s even more wise to encourage them to fill up on bread.

5. Be aware that others miss them too. Simply say, “I know you miss him/her, too.”

Try not to blurt out “But not as much as I do.”

6. As soon as we’re able to we ought to take back a holiday or occasion that we routinely hosted.

If we always hated to do it, now we’re off the hook forever!

7. Admit that people grieving are difficult to read. We flip flop. For example, if no one calls us on a significant day we feel slighted but if someone does call, we pretend we’re fine.

They hang up wondering, “She’s okay. Why did I even bother to call?

As soon as I made the decision to go to bed each night and wake up every morning grateful for the blessings in my life, like magic, I seemed to attract more blessings.

About that same time, I bought a bigger cookie jar.


sad man and raincouple1. You’ve waited a sufficient amount of time after your loss to be sure you’re not rushing into something due to loneliness.

Men who are on their own tend to jump into the pool too quickly. When you’ve been used to companionship for many years, it’s tempting to try to fill that void right away. Sometimes men get re-married too soon and later find that it was a mistake, that they should have given it more thought. There is no “right” amount of time for everyone when it comes to dating and/or re-marriage, but you ought to take your time and do it thoughtfully.

Instead of focusing on filling the void created by the absence of your spouse, focus instead on filling the void in yourself by developing your own interests, especially things you like to do with others, such as play cards, dance, travel, volunteer activities, sports, or anything creative that you’ve always wanted to do. Now is the time to think about what activities you really enjoy, and then do them.

Says Richard, who lost his wife of 43 years to cancer, “It’s very sad when a spouse dies, but if the other spouse stops living, then two people die. You need a reason to get up every morning. Make it your business to get out of the house every day.”

2. You’ve addressed any guilt with regard to the loss of your spouse, and are no longer second-guessing how you handled things.

There is no way to prepare for the experience of loss of a spouse. It’s something that people have to eventually face, if they outlive their spouse. There may have been issues between the two of you that were never resolved, but it doesn’t matter anymore because, whatever they were, they are now out of your control to change. Since you can’t change the past, so you must accept how it ended.

It’s likely that you have a list a things you think you should have done, or would have done, had you known when your spouse was going to die, and under what circumstances. But you didn’t know ahead of time, so there’s no way you could possibly have affected the outcome. Should is a dangerous word, because it implies judgment of your actions or those of others. The truth is, people almost always do the best they can with the knowledge that they have at any given time. So if you didn’t do a perfect job, that’s ok, nobody does. You did the best you could have, given what you knew at the time. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself.

3. You feel you’ve processed your feelings about your loss, and you accept the fact that your life has changed.

You are no longer feeling overwhelmed about your life as a widower, you’re not laying awake at night thinking about what happened to your spouse incessantly. You don’t see yourself as a victim, but as someone whose life has changed direction. You are ready to accept life as it is now, and to move forward with positive intentions. You believe that life is good, and can be better. Being a widower no longer defines you. You are your own person, with your own likes and dislikes, your own wants and needs. You feel the energy to pursue your personal interests, and are willing to take a chance on life.

4. You’ve gone through your spouse’s possessions, or packed them up until a later time, when you’re ready to do so.

You’ve kept out some special, sentimental things, in honor of your late spouse and the life you had together, but your walls aren’t entirely covered with pictures that represent your past, and might cause someone you date to back off, thinking you could never move on.

Most people have a very difficult time trying to decide what to do about their spouses’ things. There is no instruction book for how to do it. Sometimes a widower asks an adult child or a friend to help him with the task, as it is daunting. So if you know you need some help, ask for it. Decide what’s most special to display, and keep those things in prominent places. If you know you’re going to have difficulty deciding what to keep and what to give away, it’s fine to box it all up and put it aside until you feel ready to look through it. Put out some of your own special things that represent who you are, to make your home more your own space.

5. You’ve sought out professional help if you have been unable to recover from depression.

You don’t feel that you have to be a hero, that because you’re a man you have to always be strong or in control of your emotions. Sometimes holding onto strong emotion in is harder than letting it out, and it certainly is more stressful on mind and body. If you need to talk about it, look up a professional such as a grief counselor, a pastoral counselor, or a therapist. Sometimes just getting another perspective is all you need to know that your feelings are normal, and having someone to bounce things off of helps you to make good decisions. Talking to someone about it will also decrease your sense of isolation.

emotional couple tango6. You’ve become comfortable with the idea of meeting another woman and starting a new relationship, and don’t expect her to be like your spouse.

Seeing yourself now as an individual who wants partnership again, and not as someone who is afraid to be alone, and desperate to fill the void. You’ve started to see the whole idea of meeting someone new to be exciting and fun.

You are open-minded about whom you might meet, and don’t expect them to be identical to your spouse. They won’t be, and that’s ok, as it will be a new kind of relationship that can enhance your life in ways yet to be discovered. You’ve been taking care of your mind and body. You are feeling pretty good about yourself, and are ready to put yourself out there and let it be known that you’re looking.

7. You’re no longer afraid of the idea of dating at your age, and are ok with the fact that it’s not the same as when you were younger.

You are not worried about being older than you were when you dated before, and aren’t intimidated by the idea of trying again, even though it will be different. There are plenty of people out there who have also lost a spouse, and would love to have companionship again. It’s a question of finding out where they are. You also know that finding a partner at this time of your life will require you to look in different places, such as online or through friends, not by hanging out at parties like when you were younger. More mature love requires a more mature attitude. Your age doesn’t bother you anymore, you like who you are at this time of life.

8. You’ve decided how you want to go about meeting women: for example, in social situations, or online.

Having thought it through and not acted impulsively, talked with friends about where to start, you have come to a decision about the best way for you personally to approach dating again. Would you prefer to be introduced or “fixed up” with someone, search on your own in places you frequent, such as social clubs or activities, or are you willing to try online dating? It may be time to step outside of your comfort zone and try ways that are new to you. Talk to friends about your age who are dating about how they did it, what worked and what didn’t. Once you’ve made your decision, go for it.

9. You’ve decided what you’re looking for in a new relationship, and made plans for how to find it.

Realizing that every relationship is unique in its own ways, you have given some thought to what you’re looking for in a partner. What you’re looking for now may be very different from what you were looking for the first time around. You have learned a lot of lessons from life, and you may want qualities in someone that you haven’t experienced before. It’s ok to decide to have a different kind of relationship this time. Whatever you do, don’t settle for less than you really want. You’ve lost enough already. Why risk disappointment when you can consciously look for what you want?

Be realistic, but positive. Make a list of the qualities you really want in a partner, write it down, and look at it every time you meet a new person. Then stick to your list, and don’t be afraid to move on if something isn’t right.

10. You’ve decided for sure what you DON’T want in a new relationship, and made plans for how to avoid it.

You’re no longer willing to settle for less than what you really want out of a relationship, especially after having experienced loss. You’ve given some thought to what you would like to change, and have made up your mind what you don’t want. Write down a list of the things you truly can’t, or don’t want to live with, such as infidelity, smoking or drinking, selfishness, dishonesty, immaturity, etc. This list will be your “deal-breakers”. If someone you meet has the wrong qualities, don’t be afraid to move on. One never finds happiness by settling for less.

11. You’ve been able to learn to do the things around the house that your spouse used to do, and don’t need a woman to take care of you.

You have adapted to being on your own, and don’t need anyone to cook, clean, organize or manage your life in other ways. You want a life partner, not a maid. You can do things yourself, and feel competent around the house. Needing someone to do things for you is a bad reason to form a relationship. Love should not be based on what someone else can do for you, but on the two of you making each other happy in many different ways. You’re not tied to traditional gender roles, but are open to a different lifestyle. Some men like to cook, some women like yard work. Does it really matter who does what, so long as you’re both happy with the arrangement? Besides, it’s not all about you in a relationship.

12. You’ve told your children that you intend to date, not because you need their permission (because you don’t), but so that they won’t be surprised...

If you have teenaged or adult children, it’s wise to let them know you’re putting yourself out there, and if they have conflicted feelings about it, discuss it with them. Explain to them that you’re not trying to replace your late spouse, but you are ready to move forward with your life, and that you respect their right to continue to grieve if they need to. If you have younger children, have the same conversation, but at their level of understanding. Reassure them that your relationship with them will always be the same.

Having done these things thoughtfully, put yourself out there with a positive attitude. Believe that it can happen, and that love is possible again, because it is. Best of luck to you, may you find the one you’re looking for.

If you have more specific questions about dating, email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Parenting - A.R.T. Helps Children and Adults Process Their Grief

April 15-Parenting 1April 15 Parenting 2A.R.T. is an acronym for Access…Release…and Transform. Coined by Barbara Ganim, author of Art and Healing, it refers to the three stages of the expressive arts and is the cornerstone of this creative work.

Laura Tryon Jennings is a professional artist, arts educator, and expressive arts facilitator. She uses A.R.T. to help children and families process profound losses and move through the grief journey to a place where they can find joy again, while still honoring the memory of their loved ones.

Laura works with grieving kids ages 4 to 17 in her studio in Marshfield, Massachusetts. She also facilitates group programs at Cranberry Hospice in Plymouth, MA and at Hope Floats Healing & Wellness Center in Kingston, MA.

“Art taps into that side of the brain that can be hard to access, and is a way to get to those feelings in a more concrete way,” Laura explains. “It helps to narrow down what that feeling is. Is it anger? Is it frustration? Is it sadness? What is the actual feeling?”

Laura finds that by drawing out a feeling, it releases emotions —and makes the feeling more tactile in order to transform it.

“For me, it’s like a magic pill,” she says. “It can’t change the circumstances of the death—you can only change how you feel about it, which in turn means how you’re going to react to it. And so, what the expressive arts piece does is it bypasses the cognitive side of the brain, right to the place where you really feel, and can figure out a way to be more calm and at peace with the loss.”

Getting Down to Paper and Paint

Laura stresses that there is no right or wrong way to do this work and that you do not need to be an artist to express yourself through art.

She says that sometimes a whole family does a piece together, such as a large mandala.

“We’ll use markers or pastels or paint. Everyone in the family gets their own section and will put in something that is representative of a gift of remembrance they received from the person who died,” she says.

Laura may ask children to paint something that makes them feel safe and happy or is a special memory of doing something with their deceased parent.

A very young child painted a rainbow because she remembered seeing a rainbow together with her parent.

A 10-year-old boy remembered his dad in the yard, mowing the lawn.

April 15 ParentingApril 15 Parenting 4Laura says the little boy loved the smell of his dad coming in with a sweaty T-shirt on after cutting the grass. And so, he drew a picture of his dad pushing the lawn mower.

Laura will give bereaved children a variety of art materials to make “Safe Place” or “Things That Make You Happy” boxes to cheer them up when they’re having a tough day.

A group of teens did paintings in one of Laura’s workshops of a memory that made them feel good about the person who died. She recalls a girl, who was about 14 at the time, doing a painting of when she felt the freest and most at ease. She was an actress and the painting represented her being on stage.

“Both her brother and father had died and she imagined them in the audience, watching her,” Laura says. “She had 13 boxes in the painting that were supposed to be seats. I asked her if 13 meant anything to her and she finally realized her brother and father died when she was 13, but she didn’t consciously think of that while she was painting.”

Laura acknowledges that people may be in different places in their grief and therefore “one size doesn’t fit all.”

Sometimes children are feeling really angry about their loss. In such a situation, she incorporated movement to help a family in which one of the five children, a twin, had died. She gave the kids permission to release their anger, physically, (without hurting anyone) and then invited them to get out their red and black pastels and really let loose and release their anger onto paper.

“They ended up with chalk all over their bodies,” Laura recalls. “But that’s OK, it washes off. During the ending circle when everyone went around and shared, they said they were feeling great. The mother said to me afterwards that this was the first time she saw her kids smiling in about eight months.”

Laura also works with individuals at her studio, often over several sessions, and will sit down and do a drawing together with them. For example, she asked an 11-year-old girl how she felt when her mother died.

“I did a centering visualization and asked her to imagine what it was like when she learned that her mother had died. I drew along with her to share how I felt when my mother died.”

The transforming piece came in when Laura asked the girl to do a drawing based on the question, “How are you feeling about your mom’s death?” and then asked her to do another drawing in response to the question, “How do you want to feel on a daily basis?” in order to help her move forward in her grief journey, without, Laura stresses, trying to take away her feelings of loss.

Art can also just be about having fun, Laura points out.

“I think all art is expressive anyway,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just about taking a grief break. Sometimes when kids come to the studio, it’s about painting something that makes them feel good.”

Parents can do art projects together with their grieving kids, but Laura suggests they stick with positive prompts. They can ask questions like, “What were some things you learned from (mom or dad)? Let’s draw a picture of what that looks like.” Or “Let’s draw happy memories of things we did together.”

Laura says she loves doing A.R.T. with children and families.

“I get to see the process, I get to see how it helps,” she says. “I’m so grateful to be able to do this. I see it working all the time. Some kids are a little bit tougher to reach, but on the whole, even if they don’t recognize it in that moment, later when they get home, they’ll say they had this epiphany—it came to them.

“It’s really fulfilling,” Laura says, to be able to facilitate and help someone move their sadness out of their body and transform their feelings to recognize things they didn’t recognize before.”

Learn more about Laura Tryon Jennings and her work with bereaved children and families at her website: www.ltryonjennings.com. Ask your local Hospice if they offer programs for children that implement the expressive arts.

Health & Wellness - What if I get sick?

Woman sickWe really try to do everything right, so we won’t get sick. We wash our hands frequently, and we hold our breath when the person next to us sneezes. We get flu shots, pneumonia and Shingles vaccines. But despite our best efforts, we know we are only human. One of those quiet voices in the back of our heads worries how we’ll handle it if we get sick. We can allow that anxiety to fester, or we can anticipate the inevitable, and plan ahead so that we can manage almost anything that might come along.

In case of illness, the home should be a refuge, a safe and comforting place that is well stocked with anything we might need.

The Medicine Cabinet

Start by going through the medicine cabinet as it is. Toss things that have expired. Be careful to not flush things into the water supply. Your pharmacist can advise you on how to dispose of old medications safely.

Now that there is some room in the medicine cabinet, let’s start to stock it. Non medicine items include a thermometer, a blood pressure cuff, a good supply of tissues, and an ace bandage. An ice pack or heating pad might come in handy. Maybe having a cane in the closet in case of a sprained ankle would be nice.

The medicine cabinet should be stocked with medicines including:

• anti-diarrhea
• anti-histamines
• cough medicine
• cold medicine, Zicam or Airplane (to shorten length of a cold)
• lozenges
• allergy medicine
• aspirin or other anti-inflammatory
• pain relievers
• anti-bacterial cream and anti-fungal cream
• band-aids, sterile gauze
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Tums or Alka Selzer
• Calamine lotion
• Keep a reasonable supply of your prescription medications on hand, refilling at least a week before you run out.
• Calibrated measuring spoon or cup, conveniently located with the medicines

First aid book – or consider taking a first aid course. The Red Cross offers trusted, affordable classes all over the country, in addition to on-line classes. Check out their website for more information: www.redcross.org/lp/cpr-first-aid. You’ll learn such helpful tips as how to remove a tick using tweezers, cleaned with rubbing alcohol. I’ll give you a little hint - Gently grasp the tick’s head with your tweezers and pull away from your skin. Be slow and gentle to avoid crushing the tick.

Caution: If there are children ever in your home, keep medications out of their reach.

The Pantry

I hear people ask, “Who will get me chicken noodle soup when I’m sick?” Having a well stocked pantry will be very comforting, and will get us through the minor illnesses. The pantry should have at least chicken noodle soup, Gatorade, ginger ale, and jello. Consider what else you might like to have if you’re sick. Maybe some saltine crackers or Italian ice would be helpful.

Stay Connected to People Who Can Help

If you’re ill, let someone know so that they can check on you at least once a day. That person should know your doctor’s name and contact information. I have an agreement with another single friend that we can call on one another if we are sick.

If you can’t decide whether or not to call 911, call it. Let the professionals decide on a diagnosis and plan of care. Be prepared to give your name and address, and a description of your problem. If you can, unlock your front door for the emergency personnel.

In your wallet, there should be a paper with your medical history, medications that you take, your blood type, the name of your primary care doctor, the name of the person who has your medical power of attorney, and contact information of who you’d like called in case of emergency. Your health insurance information should also be readily available.

By preparing when you feel healthy, you can relax if you feel a sneeze coming on, knowing that you have what it takes to handle it. Did you know that lowering stress actually reduces the risk of getting sick? So spend some time while you feel great preparing a kindness for yourself on a day that brings challenges.

Nutrition - Cooking Solo Easy Meal Ideas for One

penneIn the kitchen one can be a difficult number. “What can I make myself for dinner tonight?” can be a familiar theme. The fear of eating leftovers for weeks or doing the math for a single serving can drive anyone to eat out or choose a bowl of cereal rather than cooking.

But a healthy home cooked breakfast; dinner or lunch can help you feel accomplished and energized for the whole day.

People who consume the most home cooked meals show healthier eating habits and lower calorie intake, sugar and fat intake than people who eat in restaurants often, a study in Public Health Nutrition says. So home cooking is beneficial for your waistline also.

PantryPantry List Essentials

The right start to cooking for one is to keep a pantry stocked with the basics from which it is simple to create the easiest and tastiest meals.

Here is a sampler from the basics in my pantry, which include:
• Dried pasta, penne or shells (less than 10 minutes to cook in most cases) easy cook rice, packets of instant potato, couscous.
• Canned chopped tomatoes with herbs, ready to serve pasta sauces with olive oil and garlic, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, sweet corn, lentils, light coconut milk.
• Stock in a box – chicken or vegetable, olive oil, dried herbs.
• From the freezer section, smaller packets of frozen baby peas, spinach, steam style vegetables, which you can microwave in a few minutes or add to a stir-fry dish. Individually wrapped portions of chicken or frozen fillets of fish – all very easy to take out defrost and cook for one.
• Add to the shopping list some fresh eggs (with added omega 3’s) cheddar cheese, small portions of leaner cuts of fresh meats, pork loin and turkey and you are ready to cook!
I have put together some healthy, tasty and easy to prepare meals for one (or just enough for lunch the next day too) to inspire you to get in the kitchen and treat yourself. You might even want to double up and invite a friend!

This makes a nice breakfast, brunch or supper dish.

dsc 00191Spinach Frittata
(serves 1)
1 large egg plus 2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons grated cheese
2 teaspoons whole milk or 2% milk
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ small shallot, minced (or onion)
1½ cups baby spinach
Ground black pepper to taste
Non-stick cooking spray
You can add fresh herbs, chopped cooked vegetables such as peppers or cubed ham to this frittata.

1. Place a 1-cup ovenproof baking dish or muffin pan in oven; preheat to 400°F. While oven is heating, whisk together an egg and egg whites, 1-tablespoon cheese, milk, ground black pepper to taste.
2. In a small skillet, heat a teaspoon of oil over medium heat; add onion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add spinach; cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir spinach into egg mixture.
3. Remove heated dish from oven and coat with cooking spray. Immediately pour in egg mixture and top with 1-tablespoon cheese. Bake until frittata is puffed up and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
4. Serve frittata with wholegrain bread or toast and salad garnish.

This next recipe will come in handy when you want to freeze some food or have enough for 2 days running – stir-fry dishes are always quick and easy. You will need to shop, as there are some fresh herbs and limes in this recipe.

lime1Stir Fry Thai Lime & Coconut Chicken
(serves 2)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Grated zest and juice 1 large lime
5 fl oz tinned coconut milk
1 dessert-spoon olive oil
1 green chili, deseeded and finely chopped
1 dessert-spoon Thai fish sauce
4 heaped tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
2 spring onions cut into 1-inch slices

You will also need a frying pan with a diameter of 10 inches or a wok.

1. First of all chop the chicken into bite size pieces and place them in a bowl with the lime juice and zest.
2. Stir well and leave them to marinade for an hour. When you are ready to cook the chicken, heat the oil in the pan or wok over a high heat, add the chicken pieces and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until they are golden.
3. Then add the chili to taste, stir-fry for 1 more minute and add the coconut milk, fish sauce and half the cilantro and spring onions.
4. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, then serve with Thai fragrant rice (boil in the bag is an easy option) and garnish with the remaining coriander and spring onions.

For an easy solution for dinner 2 nights in a row, why not try making one meal the first day and then transform the “leftovers” into something entirely different the next.

Two Supper Meal Ideas

pennesoupSupper 1
For supper number one take some chopped vegetables, for example red peppers, zucchini and quickly roast them in the oven with a little olive oil and chopped garlic. Mushrooms, winter squash and green beans might work well too. Roasting gives vegetables a different richer taste.

Boil some pasta, toss in some diced tomatoes, add half the vegetables, flavor with some grated tomato basil cheddar and supper is made!

Supper 2
This thick and healthy soup will be on the menu the next evening. Just simmer the roasted vegetables remaining from the first dish with a can of lentils, 1-2 cups of broth and some dried herbs. While the soup warms broil cheddar- topped ovals of French bread to sit on top – for an attractive garnish.

You pick your favorite vegetables and cook only the quantities that you are comfortable with. What could be nicer!

51UJNUmZdALCookery Books for One
It’s always handy to have a cookery book at the ready for new ideas when you are cooking for one, you might like to try this recipe book that has some great ideas including vegetarian: One Bowl: Simple Healthy Recipes for One by Stephanie Bostic.


Poetry - Come Lie With Me

Come-Lie-with-Me-1-001By Sarah Ragsdale

Born in the dying season
of umbers and vermillion
juniper berries and frost

Come, lie with me
in the deer beds

We’ll nestle in their quiet
whorls of parched grasses that grow
close to the edge of the sea

Come, lie with me
in the deer beds

We’ll warm our bodies next to
rising and drifting tendrils
of heat smoke from soft wildness

Come, lie with me
in the deer beds

We’ll awaken to the swoosh
of wings taking long flight from
these sacred earth mandalas

Come, lie with me
in the deer beds

Sarah RagsdaleSarah lives in South County, Rhode island where she studies creative writing with Grace Farrell at the Carolina Fiber & Fiction Center. She is also a founding member of Telling Tales: Writers & Illustrators of Children’s Books. After the loss of a loved one, Sarah spent a season walking the shoreline trails at Haley Farm in Mystic, Connecticut which inspired her to express her emotions poetically. Here she shares her belief in death as a birthing, and grief as a transcendent intertwine of loving, longing and letting go.

Expressive Arts - Zentangle® – Patterns to Peace

Gourds designed by Judith LoganGourds designed by Judith LoganZentangle® is an intuitive spontaneous art form that has attracted people all over the globe since its inception more than a decade ago. It was founded by life partners Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas and grew out of an experience Maria had. She noticed the freeing, focused, peaceful feeling she had while drawing patters on a manuscript. Rick said that sounded like meditation and a new art process was born. Traditional Zentangles® are done on a 3 1/2 inch square paper tile although there are infinite possibilities to Zentangle®. The practice involves an appreciation for the experience; placing dots in each corner to anchor the border; drawing a border connecting the dots; drawing a string to divide the tiles; creating a tangle or deconstructed pattern within the string; shading to create depth; signing your creation and finally admiring and appreciating your creation.

Maria Thomas & Rick RobertsMaria Thomas & Rick RobertsZentangle® is as complicated as it is simple, as whimsical as it is serious, and as intentional as it is spontaneous and intuitive. The real beauty is that anyone can do it and millions have. For Dallas, Texas resident Judith Logan, the discovery of Zentangle®’s patterns to peace have been nothing short of a lifeline. But creating art was not always dear to her heart.

“In 1953 I had the art teacher from Hell,” recalls Judy remembering his personal attacks when her creativity veered away from his assignments. “I didn’t draw again until 2002. I couldn’t draw. And then I found Zentangle® and it helped me reconnect with my love of art. You’re connecting lines and all of a sudden something appears. It’s exciting and fun.”

Judy grew up as an “Army brat” and met her husband Donald Logan in France when her father was stationed there. Donald was also serving in the Army as a physician. She was attending the University of Maryland in Munich, Germany before going on to study languages at the University of Poitiers in France. Don called to invite her to a Bridgette Bordeaux movie and the rest was history as they say. It wasn’t love at first sight, according to Judy, but it was close. She sailed back to the States and later received a telegram from Don asking her to marry him. It was 1960. She returned to France and they were married by the mayor of Poitiers. In France religious wedding ceremonies were not legal, according to Judy, so they were married by the Mayor March 12 and had a church wedding the following day.

Back in the states Don finished up his residency in Chicago and in 1965 they moved to Texas with two young children in tow, including a 10 day old baby. She had planned to go back to school but a growing family interrupted that plan. During a visit to Florida, while sequestered in her in-laws home with her youngest child, Judy discovered needlework, a craft that would become a career for her. “I absolutely fell in love with it,” says Judy. “I took a bunch of lessons and ended up teaching children’s classes in a neighborhood shop.” She was introduced to the Embroiderer’s Guild of America. “Our guild had several traveling teachers a year. I took classes at regional and national seminars. I took advantage of everything I could.”

Judith LoganJudith LoganEventually the practice took its toll on her, and a litany of physical ailments such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome demanded a change. “I started stitching blackwork, which is basically Zentangle® with thread; geometric patterns with black thread on white fabric dating back to Tudor England in the 16th century.”

She pursued her teacher certification in blackwork through the Embroiderer’s Guild and later received a grant to go to England to study further. She taught a correspondence course through the Guild and offered workshops at national and regional seminars. Don supported her passion, buying her one of the early Macintosh computers, where she discovered she could create patterns online.

“Macular degeneration now keeps her from doing much embroidery. But that hasn’t stopped her from working with black and white patterns, which she truly loves.

After 49 years of marriage, Don lost his battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease five years ago. “That last year was hell on earth, dealing with a vibrant, extremely intelligent doctor who was like a baby. It would have been easier on me had he died at the beginning. But the kids needed that time to realize this was no way for their father to live. When he finally died it was almost a relief.”

“In April 2014 I got an email from the Embroiderer’s Guild that they were offering a Zentangle® class. I looked it up online (www.Zentangle.com) and it absolutely blew my mind. I went on a cruise in May from Florida to Montreal and Zentangled® all the way. I began showing my friends and decided to get my certification, which I did in June of last year in Providence, Rhode Island. The class, taught by Rick and Maria themselves, was wonderful. It was how to teach their method and idea of Zentangle®. The Zen part of it is very important. It’s not just doodling and not just drawing the patterns.”

Gourds designed by Judith LoganGourds designed by Judith LoganGourds designed by Judith LoganGourds designed by Judith LoganShe returned home and shared her new discovery with friends and church groups, and has approached the Veteran’s Administration to volunteer to offer classes there. One attraction is that it’s small and can be done by anyone, anywhere, even those who think they are not artistic.

“I think it works for people who have suffered tremendous loss,” says Rick. And the healing benefits of this simple practice are getting attention at academic levels, as universities in Australia and the United States consider studies on the effect Zentangle® practice has on a person. The University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut has a preliminary trial in place, according to Rick and Maria.

But Judy is well aware of the effect it has had on her and on those she has taught. There has been a great response to Zentangle® with people not only fascinated with the process, but with the fact that they can create this little piece of art. She always carries it with her, and as she sits in a doctor’s waiting room, ultimately people will ask what she’s doing and she spreads the word, often sharing pens and tiles to give to others.

She happened to encounter a Zentangle® instructor in the Seattle area who was using the surface of gourds. “It blew my mind,” says Judy. “I looked up gourd farms near me, I bought some gourds, and really enjoy Zentangling them. I give them for Christmas presents.”

One of the ideas surrounding Zentangle® is that, “anything is possible, one stroke at a time.” Judy has found this particularly true. “I’ve been Zentangling since April, and I find I’m less angry – about losing Don and just in general I guess. I was angry that this retirement we had planned together wasn’t to be. Part of grief is anger. And if I’m sitting there and thinking about something and getting angry I go Zentangle®. The concentration it requires is one stroke at a time. One line at a time. A couple more and you have a pattern. It is a hyper-focused activity. As a teacher you want to share. I’m able to share something that has a lot of meaning for me, with somebody else. And they are able to do it. If I can’t sleep or if I wake up in the middle of the night I just Zentangle®.”

“A woman came up to us at a show in California and showed us her tile,” says Rick. “She said she had lost her son and couldn’t sleep. She Zentangled® with a friend and something caught her attention. For the first time since, she was able to sleep without nightmares.”

About the success of Zentangle® Maria says they are, “humbled by it. We knew it was our job to put this out into the world. It was something we had to do, like a mission.”

“We feel like the most fortunate people in the world,” adds Rick. “We are stewards of something that will last for generations.”

“At 75 I have embraced something new in my life,” says Judy. “I’m living a new life now and Zentangle® is something that gives me joy. I can’t do blackwork anymore to my standards, but I can Zentangle®.”

And so can you. Watch Judy’s story at https://www.zentangle.com/story-booth.


Spirituality - Dreams – A Guide to Wholeness

dreamstime xl 6674118Lee IrelandDreams, dreams, dreams. Do we really need to pay attention to them? To watch Reverend Lee Ireland talk about them, you sure would think so. Lee is the Interim Minister at Westbrook Congregational Church in Westbrook, Connecticut, a spiritual director and dream workshop facilitator. And when you tell her you had a dream you’d like to know more about, her eyes sparkle and her face lights up. Why? Because dreams have guided her on her journey in life and she believes they can guide you too.

Her first experience with dreams was years ago when she was going through a difficult divorce. She went to a United Church of Christ counselor who did dream workshops as part of his practice. Then she ended up working with another counselor who also did dream workshops. “I got broken open to the importance of dreams,” says Lee. “I was having significant dreams.” Years later while working at Niantic Community Church as a student, she was given the opportunity to do spiritual formation classes and presented dream workshops herself.”

In the early 2000’s she read Where People Fly and Water Runs UphiIl, a book by dream work authority Jeremy Taylor, which she still uses as a resource today. As fate would have it on a trip to Chartres, France to further her dream work education, she found herself serendipitously sitting next to him and struck up a conversation. She was there to learn and he was there to teach.

Why Dreams Matter

Why should dreams be important to us? Well, for Lee, they have been transformational. “They were bringing me healing and helping me feel more grounded. They opened to me, the sense that, one- I wasn’t crazy and two- the awe of connecting with the divine. It just took me by surprise.”

One particular dream in January of 1989 had a profound effect on her journey. Her husband had applied for a position at the University of Maine where they had met. At the time she had discerned a call to attend seminary. She had a dream where she was standing at the center of Bangor Theological Seminary with paths going in every direction, and they were being chewed up by ANTS. Later that month, Bob received a letter from Maine saying he was no longer a candidate. A local pastor suggested she visit a seminary in Boston. She fell in love with the school and applied immediately. In April she received her acceptance letter. The name was Andover Newtown Theological Seminary, the letterhead read A.N.T.S.

Rick Bouchard 1Lee Ireland“Ever since that moment, I believed in dreams. The day I was ordained came in a dream. It’s been amazing so I truly value my dreams,” says Lee. “I’ve had very significant ones that have given me key information to help me stay grounded, help me understand. Dreams have helped me to appreciate reading, scripture and probably most importantly, understanding the masculine and feminine in each one of us and how that plays out in our relationships. What shows up in our dreams guides us about what we need to be working on within ourselves. I love that aha moment.”

Lee learned about dream work through her own therapy, as well as training to be a spiritual director at Mercy Center in Madison, Connecticut. It was reading, studying and working with people, working with spiritual directors and doing her own dream work that was most important in this part of her education.

Paying Attention and Remembering

“There is a consistency to dreams in the sense that they are like movies… projected so that we can see the issues we are dealing with, within our own personal lives,” says Lee. As we learn how to process the dreams, we can recognize the issues in ourselves so that we can be freed. The Divine spirit is guiding us to healing and wholeness so that we can be present.”

We often don’t realize we are being given these gifts. . . and it’s a matter of learning how to listen and pay attention. Lee suggests keeping a journal by the bedside making it easy to record snippets or entire dreams that seem significant.

“When someone begins to record even simple pieces of the dream, this gives Spirit the message that they want to pay attention and the dreams start coming more regularly. Recurring dreams and nightmares are especially here to give a message, often regarding relationships. If there’s a message that wants to come through, it will come through. It’s all about relationships. We are interconnected.”

“Widows and widowers are often given dreams of the person they lost and they need to have someone help them understand what the call is, now that they are on their own,” says Lee. “The dreams can help them find their balance again. They have to learn to be alone and that empty hole is immense for some. All kinds of emotions are there and often show up in dreams. They are coming to guide you to wholeness.”

Taylor’s book helps develop understanding of how to process dreams. People often think of dreams as judgment, but it’s more a wake- up call to pay attention. There’s work that needs to be done. They are filled with information to guide us in our lives and Lee has had first-hand experience of this. She has a genuine appreciation for the role dreams can play in our lives.

“I’m intrigued by them. I’ve seen how they help people. They have helped me make sense of things. But it’s a journey, a process of transformation and the dreams really do help. They bring about healing and wholeness. Dream work is very real and needs to be honored.”

Rick Bouchard considers himself a committed dreamer. He is committed to exploring the vastness of the inner world, that he believes is as broad as our outer world, and never underestimates the importance of dreams. Rick attended the University of Southern Maine where he received a master’s degree in social work. Since 1999 he has been in private practice in Portland, Maine and because of his particular interest in dream work, he is just about to finish up an 11 year Jungian Analyst Training Program at the C.G. Jung Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.

Analyzing the Dream

The training provided by the Boston institute, “provides a deep understanding of the symbolic language and imagery of the unconscious as well as a thorough knowledge of analytic theory and methods,” according to its website (www.cgjungboston.com). “A rich mixture of courses in dream interpretation, mythology, anthropology, religion, the study of literature and the arts, as well as psychopathology, psychopharmacology, and ethics is woven into the foundation that informs the individual work of Jungian Analysts. It is the analyst’s knowledge in each of these areas, combined with personal experience and imagination that facilitates the analyst’s efforts to find meaning in their symptoms and suffering.”

Rick has been curious about the role dreams play in our lives, since the mid 1990’s when he first joined a small dream group. He would bring a dream to the group and realize that his dreams had much more meaning than he had imagined. This helped him turn his attention to his inner world. “Dreams are very economical, they don’t waste an image. If an image is in your dreams there is a reason,” says Rick. “Dreams can speak to us on many levels at a time so there can be many interpretations. That’s the wonder of our psyche, the wonder of dreams.”

He went on to be interested in Carl Jung and soon after, realized a gradual calling to become a Jungian analyst. He took many workshops on dreams, to better understand them and how they can be helpful, and began offering his own dream group, teaching people what he learned about dreams and how they are a part of our journeys. Dreams became a big part of his spiritual practice. He has kept a dream journal for two decades and finds them useful because he can go back and look at how dreams spoke to him over time. This is especially helpful when dreams are repeating or part of a series.

With the ego at the helm, dreams would be different, but dreams are without ego influence, according to Rick. They take on a life of their own in the psyche and are not controlled by ego resistance. “They come to us clean. For the people left behind, dreams can help people grieve and process death.” Dreams of the dead can be very cathartic allowing those we leave behind to work through their loss. If you believe in the collective unconscious as Jung did, we are all connected he explains. Things may happen that seem bizarre but feel exceptionally real. This is called the field. But ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is real or not.

“If it’s coming from inside, it needs to be paid attention to, and processed to help us get on with our lives,” says Rick. “If it’s coming from us, that’s all that matters.”

Dream interpretation or understanding is valuable. “Only the dreamer can say with any certainty what meanings his or her dream may have,” writes Jeremy Taylor in his Dream Work Toolkit at (www.JeremyTaylor.com). “This certainty usually comes in the form of a wordless “aha!” of recognition. This “aha” is a function of memory, and is the only reliable touchstone of dream work.”

Some people use dream dictionaries to explore their dreams, but Rick believes they are limiting. “They generally tell a person what the dream image means. That closes the door to you developing a deeper understanding of what that image is trying to say to you at that particular time.” Having an intuitive relationship with dreams is most important. Symbol Dictionaries is about the long term meaning of certain symbols over time. We can take those understandings and discern how they might make sense for us. “We are our own authority when it comes to our psyche.”

The benefit of being in a dream group or working with an analyst is the ability to listen objectively about how others might understand a dream. When the aha moment comes, it can make more sense. It is hard but not impossible to work with dreams by yourself, according to Rick, but nothing replaces working with a therapist and having them ask the right questions to help explore an issue.

Dream journals can be very helpful too and having the right journal, one that is very comfortable is very important. Dream journaling has made a big difference in Rick’s life and he thinks that buying a special one for that purpose gives the psyche a message that you are honoring your dreams. He recommends writing dreams down first thing upon waking, title your dreams, date them and return to them later for deeper understanding. Dreams are like gifts or packages we need to open. Recording it means we won’t forget. “Having them captured in your dream journal is important. Writing dreams down about a lost spouse or partner is a way of honoring their relationship and their death.”

“The Aha moments are wonderful when they happen, but Jung said (more or less) that it’s all well and good to have dreams, but it’s what you do with them that matters,” says Rick. “People believe a lot of different things about dreams from, they are our minds processing the day’s events to messages from God and everything in between. You have to develop your own understanding of what dreams mean for you. We all have a relationship with the inner world but like any relationship it needs to be developed.”

Rick has an abundance of resources on his website including 12 Tips to improving your dream recall (www.rickbouchardlcsw.com). He periodically offers dream groups and workshops. For more information email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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