When my kids were small, we used to really enjoy making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Tossing them, however, was another matter.
Often, we would have to scrape them off the frying pan. And occasionally we scraped them off the walls and floor. But most of the time, they made it on to our plates, and then we would cover them in chocolate and fruit … and all sorts of other delicious things.
Yes, Shrove Tuesday was a lot of fun.
I was vaguely aware that the day after that was something called Ash Wednesday. But, honestly, Ash Wednesday meant nothing to me.
And it’s only recently that I’ve heard the phrase: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words associated with Ash Wednesday.
An interesting phrase. One that really made me think.
We tend to live our lives as if we’re never going to die. And the more we enjoy life, the harder it can be to contemplate the fact that one day our life will end.
It’s not the kind of thing we really want to think about.
But knowing we will die can also help us to live well. It can help us each to think about the legacy we’ll leave. And that can be a really good thing.
So maybe take some time today to stop and ask yourself:
There’s a grave in Dozenhem military cemetery where the inscription on the headstone reads:
“G. Blacker. Somerset light Infantry. 9th August 1917. Age 39”.
This man existed, and he mattered.
This man was a member of our family. He died for his country in World War 1. And like the others who are buried there in France, he was a living, breathing person. He had hopes, great plans, and dreams.
He was not some nameless soldier.
He had laboured in his farm.
He had had a wife and family.
He was difficult at times.
All these details are important; they are not irrelevant. They describe a unique person. Things that made him who he was.
All our lives are filled with details. Small things. idiosyncrasies.
And like him, you alsomatter. And you have a history.
Different things that happened to you. Fulfilled hopes, and tender wounds.
You’re a carrier of memories. Good ones. Bad one. Neutral ones.
Some are heartaches. Some are traumas. Things you might want to forget.
Each a stone, or coloured pebble, or a shard in life’s mosaic.
And your impact’s seen and captured in the lives of those you’ve touched. Words, and smiles, and affirmations, thoughtful gestures, kindnesses.
Evidence that your life matters. There are imprints everywhere.
You are not some nameless person.
Your life is significant.
“You might think that you don’t matter in this world, but because of you someone has a favourite mug to drink their tea out of each morning that you bought them. Someone hears a song on the radio and it reminds them of you. Someone has read a book you recommended to them and gotten lost in its pages. Someone’s remembered a joke you told them and smiled to themselves on the bus.
Never think you don’t have an impact. Your fingerprints can’t be wiped away from the little marks of kindness that you’ve left behind.”
“Trauma overwhelms listeners as much as speakers … and talking about painful events doesn’t necessarily establish community – often quite the contrary. Families and organizations may reject members who air their dirty laundry; friends and family can lose patience with people who get stuck in their grief or hurt. This is one reason why trauma victims often withdraw and why their stories become rote narratives, edited in a form least likely to provoke rejection.”
Is this, perhaps, something you relate to as well?
Chelsea had always been a very private person. She was open, warm and friendly in most social situations. But no-one really knew what was happening in her life. To outward appearances, it looked like things were fine.
Then, out of the blue, Chelsea’s world was blown apart – when she learned that her husband had a hidden secret life. Dating apps, pornography, webcams, and so on.
Who do you talk to when you learn something like that?
If truth be told …. It wasn’t easy. But occasionally she tried. She’d introduce the subject in a vague, non-threatening way, and try to share a little of what things had been like.
But on the whole, it was disastrous. It only made things worse. Her close friends shut her down. It made them feel uncomfortable. They didn’t want to hear this. No, they didn’t want to know.
Apart from one young mother she had met at the school gate. Her husband had walked out on her, and left her with two kids. They weren’t really close, but they would always wave and chat. Sometimes they’d grab a coffee. Half an hour. No more than that. And it was comforting to know that someone understood.
She didn’t have to say much. Words can be superfluous. But kindness is a language that communicates so much.
The lies and the betrayal had left Chelsea traumatized. Her life had changed forever. It was ordinary no more. The grief was overwhelming. Way too much to bear alone. She often felt so desperate. How she’d love to be consoled.
Most people cannot handle pain. It feels too threatening. It leaves them feeling vulnerable. They have to look away.
This mother knew what it was like.
That lifeline was enough.
It helped Chelsea to heal. It got her through the toughest times.
The validation she received helped her to face the day.
This woman was a gift. Her presence transformed Chelsea’s life.
“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”
When we have experienced rejection or betrayal it changes the way we see, and feel about, ourselves. We can pick up the message that there’s something wrong with us. That we’re less than other people. That we’re seriously flawed.
But all of these are lies, and we need to love ourselves.
So how do we learn to love ourselves?
1. Our mindset affects the way we see ourselves, how we interact with others, and how we live our lives. It affects our expectations around how others will treat us, and whether that’s appropriate, and what we should accept. This is an area we often need to challenge, and especially if we suffer from low self-esteem.
Some questions to ask yourself here include: Do I expect others to treat the same as/ better than/ or worse than they treat others? Why is that the case? What do I deserve when it comes to being loved? What will I put up with, and why?
2. Pay attention to how you treat yourself.
For example, do you tend to be self-critical and harsh towards yourself? Are you good at noticing and taking care of your physical, mental and emotional needs? How do you do that? How well do you do that? Do you make time to do the things you want and like to do? If not, why not?
3. We need to show self-understanding and develop self-compassion.
It can be helpful to take the time to write down our life story, and trace how our experiences have shaped who we’ve become.
4. We need to give ourselves permission to design our own life, and to say what we want, and then to go after that.
Of course, our plans can be destroyed by the people in our lives, and it’s hard to recover when we’ve been traumatized. But our life still our own. We still have some agency. And we still get a say in what’s going to happen next.
5. Perhaps you’ve heard it said thar each of us is the average of the five people we spend the most time with. With this in mind, think about who you spend your time with. Are these people who like, love and value you? Are they people who can see your potential, and who encourage you to live your best life? If not, it might be time to make some changes here and surround yourself with people who will love and treat you well.
“Trauma destroys the fabric of time. In normal time you move from one moment to the next, sunrise to sunset, birth to death.
After trauma, you may move in circles, find yourself being sucked backwards into an eddy, or bouncing like a rubber ball from now, to then, to back again. …
In the traumatic universe the basic laws of matter are suspended: ceiling fans can be helicopters, car exhausts can be mustard gas.” ― David J. Morris
Flashbacks are our memories of traumatic life events. They can occur in a number of different forms – as sounds, smells, pictures, bodily sensations, numbness, or a lack of normal physical sensations. Often, they’re accompanied by anxiety or panic, where the person feels they’re trapped, and unable to escape.
Flashbacks can occur in dreams, as nightmares and night terrors. They can interrupt our sleep, where we startle suddenly. And often we’ll feel panicky, and wake up in a sweat.
And because all the sensations are so frightening and intense – but also unrelated to what’s happening right now – the person thinks ‘they’ve lost it’ and they fear they’re going crazy.
Coping with these symptoms can be very difficult. But there are different strategies that you can use to help you. They include:
1. When you start to experience the intense and scary symptoms, tell yourself ‘this is familiar’, and ‘you’re having a flashback’.
Tell yourself that ‘this will ease, and it is only temporary. The feelings will subside, and you will feel normal again’.
2. Tell yourself the intense feelings are just re-experienced memories. The trauma’s in the past. You have survived the worst already.
3. Allow yourself to experience all the negative emotions. The anxiety, the terror, the panic, and the rage. Don’t try to fight them off, or to repress and silence them. Doing that will only hamper, and slow down, the healing process.
And it’s right for you to honour all the anguish and the pain. The suffering was intense, and it deserves to be acknowledged.
4. Reorient yourself, so you are grounded in the present.
Breathe in slowly and deeply … then exhale slowly and deeply.
Allow the intense feelings to swell, then dissipate.
Allow a sense of peace and calm to gradually replace the terror, faintness, panic, shakiness and dizziness.
5. Keep your focus on this room, and what you notice all around you. Use each of your five sense. What can you see, hear, feel, touch, smell?
For example, what does it feel like to be sitting in this chair? What can you smell? What different sounds can you hear? Birds chirping? Children playing? Cars passing by? A police siren sounding? A fridge or freezer buzzing?
6. Speak to your inner child – who’s feeling terrified. Reassure them that they’re safe and are going to be OK.
Remind them that they’re strong, that they’re fierce and capable.
Remind them ‘they survived it, and are moving on with life’.