Infinite Love and Gratitude for Our Pets

© 2015 Erika M. Schreck

© 2015 Erika M. Schreck

Harley and I “lost” a dear friend a couple of weeks ago–a friend of the furry, four-legged kind. Pepper, a sweet and spicy short-haired dachsund, was a little love. Okay, actually, he was a BIG love in a tiny body.

If you have pets, have had pets or hold others’ furry loves near and dear, I wish to share a couple of quick thoughts. First, my friend and client and trusted expert, Amy Miller, amazingly gifted and skilled animal communicator, just published her first book: Beyond Companionship: Connecting with Kindred Souls of Animal Companions. Learn more and order by clicking here. I also want to promote Amy’s lovely, unique, SPOT-ON Animal Communication cards–I’ve done readings with Harley and friends’ animals, and these cards’ accuracy is stunning. For example, as sweet-pea Pepper was getting more challenged, I pulled cards several times for him and kept getting the “Transitioning” card. Wow. Click here to learn more about and order these excellent cards.

Secondly, one idea and practice I want to encourage you to try and use often with pets still here on the planet and pets on the Other Side is a simple one. In addition to the love, care, kindness and exercise I hope all animals receive, I recommend saying to them, preferably with one hand in the sign-language formation of “I love you” pressed gently on their chest or somewhere else on the animal’s body (on a picture or on your own heart if your animal has died), “Infinite Love and Gratitude” repeated at least three times. Simple. Love-Filled. Necessary expression of love and sweetness.

These days, in addition to expressing “infinite love and gratitude” often to my lovey (dog) Harley, I tell him every day, given his heart condition and uncertain longevity, “Harley, I love you so much. And I am grateful you’re still here. I want you to stay as long as you can and want to stay.”

Let us love and respect all animals–and let our loving, kind example shine brightly to others.

© Erika M. Schreck, 2015. All rights reserved for photos and words.

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The Dead Parent Club and Four Big Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years Since My Father Died

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My dad raced stock cars sometimes

I believe we join an interesting club when we lose a parent through death. Until you join this club, it’s a tough journey to understand–and no one else’s journey will be exactly like yours. Today is the 15-year anniversary of my father’s passing; he died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 48 of a heart-attack… that’s an age that is eight years away for me and tough to imagine.

I’ve learned so many valuable things through my father’s passing and through several other losses, I keep returning to my experiences on this journey, what I usually share with people willing to discuss and listen, and what I’ve been finding important to my grief coaching clients. There are multiple learnings, but I continue returning to the following four.

1. Be at peace with where you’re at with your parents.

This is probably the biggest one. If your parents still on the planet, have you said and done what you need to feel at peace? If they’re on the Other Side, have you said and done what you need to feel at peace? I can’t tell you what this may look like exactly for you. And it may not even involve actually talking to or seeing them. But how can you choose peace?

For me, it took telling my dad that he was a “shitty father sometimes”–on the, unknown to me, last Father’s Day I would share with him. It might sound awful, but in the last several months we had together after that Father’s Day, not knowing those were our last, something shifted. We actually talked more, and I was invited over more. Throughout my childhood and teens, I wrote him letters and expressed in phone calls what I needed to. I definitely wasn’t perfect in all I did, but somehow I feel I had a larger feeling of “no regrets.” Sure, I still have regrets. Overall, I sincerely tried to do and say all I needed with him to feel at peace. And I know how much he loved and supported me—he was my biggest fan with my writing, my calligraphy pens, my drawing, my crafting, star-gazing, camping and appreciating Nature.

2. Talk about your burial and funeral wishes, as well as organ donation and end-of-life wishes (ex. Do-Not-Resuscitate order), with loved ones. And get it on official documentation. Now.

My father’s loss is so significant for me, not only because my father left the planet, but also because at age 24-turning-25, I was suddenly solely responsible for all of his effects. I quickly needed to plan a funeral, approve which body parts could be donated, drain my already-little savings to pay for the initial things, prepare and sell his condo, sell his Harley Davidson, sell his car, save his ponytail from his mother who wanted to cut it off for the wake and funeral viewing, refuse his former girlfriend wanting his prized and bad-ass Harley Davidson leather jacket, and so forth. And I was in grad school with three jobs.

He didn’t have a will, and I hadn’t talked with him about what kind of burial he wanted; dealing with probate was challenging. I found a card in his wallet for a lawyer after he died; when I called her and mentioned this card find, she responded, “Oh, yes, your father was going to contact me about doing a will.”

3. Remember that while people can relate and have great intentions,
no one else knows “exactly” what you’re going through.

One of the most comforting things anyone said to me came from the mouth of the funeral director. After several days of managing things, organizing and planning, I arrived at the funeral home for the evening “wake”—an opportunity to allow friends, family and coworkers to view the body in the casket and pay respects to the deceased and the family. My face and body were showing my fatigue, overwhelm and I-will-cry-any-moment-please-watch-what-you-say.

I was still unloading items from a heavy box I’d just carried into the funeral home. My uncle beckoned me with impatience, “Come on, Erika, you and your brother and sister need to view the body now, before everyone else arrives.” That’s what did it. I had held it together all week and supported everyone else. False start as I proceeded to follow said uncle and enter the room where my father lay, when tears arrived like a slap, and I turned to hide the fountain coming from my face. I took a moment. And a breath.

After seeing my dad in the casket, with his ponytail and his dark jeans and a nice shirt with a vest (I also fought for my-father-will-not-wear-a-suit-because-that’s-not-him), the funeral director pulled me aside. “Erika,” he started, now putting his hand on my shoulder, “a lot of people are going to say they know exactly what you’re going through. They have good intentions. But no one knows exactly what you’re going through. Remember that. Take care of yourself.” He was so right, and I’ve loved those words and have shared those words ever since.

Honor your journey with grief. Remember that grief is cumulative.

4. Our parents indeed live on, even in death.

Even if you don’t believe in an afterlife as I do, our parents live on in us, in memories that helped create and shape us. At times we may even mistake people walking by for our deceased loved one. Reminders—maybe you call them “signs”—show up, almost as if to say, “I’m here” or “You have my support,” from your deceased one.

And, like it or not, we have some of our parents’ traits and mannerisms. We know others who exhibit some of these elements, and we’re triggered in painful ways or joyful ones. Spirit is sometimes a tough concept to grasp, but whether it’s God, the Universe, Allah, Aai, Great Mystery or something else, there is something about the essence left by someone who dies. And I believe we can communicate with our deceased ones. And all of us can do so, if we wish, believe… and ask—and know our deceased may not always communicate in ways we expect. Just have the conversation, perhaps whether you believe or not. Why not? Some of my own experiences are noted in the related blog posts listed below.

Honestly, I don’t know what kind of relationship I’d have now with my dad, had he lived. But I do have a relationship with him in Spirit, and it’s powerful. He shows up all the time, and I hear a lot of things from him. Pretty darn amazing and beautiful. I love my dad very much, and I miss not being able to call him about car things and repairs. His death is one of my biggest wounds and one of my biggest opportunities. I attribute his death and my experience largely to why I moved to Colorado (nearly 13 years ago now) and why I am a certified grief coach.

One of the safest places I have ever known was my father’s chest; leaning on and falling asleep on his chest as a young girl, about ages one to three, and hearing his heartbeat comforted me unbelievably then and still resonates safety for me now.

© Erika M. Schreck, 2015. All rights reserved.


Other Closely Related Blog Posts You May Enjoy,
written in earlier days by Erika M. Schreck

+ “Beautiful and Necessary Grief Healing: Death, Reinvention and Support”

+ “Live for No Regrets… with Loved Ones”

+ “If I Die Young”

+ “Father’s Day is What We Make It”

+ “Sensing Our Dearly Departed Loved Ones”

+ “My Take-Aways from the Movie Hereafter

+ “How Do You Commemorate Your Deceased Loved Ones?”
      one of my most popular posts of all time!

+ “Our Four-Legged Stars”

+ “Taking the ‘Me’ out of Mediumship”

+ “Scary for Some: Connecting to Our Deceased”

+ “Life is a Gift–Not a Given”

Latest Poster Child for Bipolar and Its Pain: Our Beloved Robin Williams

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© Erika M. Schreck, Red Feather Lakes, CO

Like many of you, I’ve felt the reverberation of grief and heightened sensitivity these last few days after losing the lovely and talented Robin Williams, who had bipolar disorder. This loss is not only sad because of the impact Williams had on all of us but also heart-breaking for so many because he succumbed to the numbing, hopeless pain known all too well by those who have bipolar disorder and other forms of mental illness.

While reports continue to say that Robin Williams was depressed, let’s be clear that he was in a depressed state, which was part of having bipolar disorderAs a friend with bipolar said today, “It’s easy to just say he was depressed. We know depression, and we’re familiar with depression. But bipolar—that can be a bit too scary for people to talk about or acknowledge.”

Robin Williams has long been a sufferer of bipolar disorder, a mental illness where the person fluctuates between episodes of extreme energy, focus and productivity (mania) and severe depression. Apparently, he was in one of the episodes of depression when he took his own life.

John Grohol, “Robin Williams, Mental Illness Sufferer,
Dead at 63 Due to Suicide”

Bipolar disorder screams for more attention, along with all forms of mental illness—these conditions are very close to me. I know well and love several people who have bipolar disorder and other mental health challenges, and I have many clients who personally struggle with or who are partners or family members of people diagnosed with a mental disorder. I dream of days when we can destigmatize mental illness and all be more educated with these matters. I get very prickly and defensive when people loosely call people “crazy,” as that’s a trigger word for my dear ones who have mental illness. “Crazy” and all of the other related, stigmatized language choices—just look up “mental illness” in a thesaurus—are typically last in how they wish to be perceived. These tremendously sensitive beings fear being viewed as “crazy,” especially since the fleeting and fluctuating mood states are not really their true essence. We’ve got to be more careful with how we talk about mental illness and how we reference those who have it.

More recent literature offered that it’s more accurate to see mental illness as a condition and frame references as “he has bipolar disorder” or “she has depression,” rather than “he is bipolar” and so forth. While mental illness can be very consuming, especially when untreated, it’s not who the person is at his or her core. With more education, we can begin to see people struggling with mental illness with more compassion, especially because I guarantee that all of you know someone and often several people dealing with a form of mental illness.

What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of mental illness is that it’s not as visible as other illnesses are. I recently had a beloved friend who has bipolar say to me, “I wish I had cancer, Erika. At least then people would have no doubt I was sick and even try to understand the pain I’m in every single day with being bipolar.” While we may see actions that reflect this illness, such as an inability to get to work or even get out of bed, or an “elevated”/manic state of fast speech or even belligerent or anxious or irritable mood, some of these displays can be assumed as character flaws and not part of a much bigger, driving life force that bipolar disorder fuels. Or, we actually sometimes enjoy the elevated states, as we did with Robin Williams and his “comedic genius” as I’ve often heard—but we don’t realize the pain or masked compensation happening in those moments. And, often, how could we know?

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© Erika M. Schreck, Red Feather Lakes, CO

Because I’ve been so close to it, and with several people in my life, even though I’m not a medical professional, I am keen on the evidence. But if you’re not familiar with mental health issues, you may not even know someone is bipolar, as he/she can learn to hide it—finding excuses for avoiding social invitations, explaining any situational behavior as the result of common stressors, or even keeping certain friends for the elevated times and other friends for the need-to-self-medicate (ex. drinking alcohol) times. None of us are perfect, and we often hide our vulnerabilities and sources of shame. The irony of bipolar disorder is that while “hiding” it often feels safer, people who are struggling with it are best served when loved ones—especially those willing to learn more and understand and love—know and are involved. Family and community support are keys to those experiencing bipolar overwhelm.

And it’s tough. It can be tough and exhausting to be a partner, family member, friend or even stranger stuck in an elevated or even depressed episode with someone struggling with bipolar disorder. It’s tough to be supportive, even when in a brief moment there are hurtful words spoken or even physical violence. I know. I’ve been there and am there. If you’re willing, research AND use the resources available, and use love and compassion. But keep yourself safe and know that enabling can happen, even when loving others who are sick—physically, emotionally, mentally. Just as anyone with a physical illness chooses and needs to have professional, informed help to be as healthy as possible, people with mental health challenges need professional, informed help. But if you’re enabling someone with mental illness, or even think you might be, I love the following insights and suggestion.

No one lives an entire life without the wherewithal to make a different choice. Ask anyone with a serious mental illness. They did it. Others can too.

And I share with you this sentiment that interventionists have shared with people dealing with drug addicts:

There is nothing I won’t do to help you get better, but there is nothing I will do to help you remain ill.


Yes, that means you still support that person and love that person but that doesn’t mean that you have to sit around and watch them destroy themselves. Any time they want to stop you’ll be there for them, but until that point, you have to choose your own sanity over their destruction.

Natasha Tracy, bipolarburble blog
“When You Leave Someone with a Mental Illness”

Education is necessary. I’ve so often witnessed—and, yes, can understand—the anger that erupts when a loved one who has bipolar disorder isn’t getting out of bed for work yet another day or again exploded in rage and threw an object across the room. Education and support. Education and support. And then you will feel better and informed as you decide how you respond and how you support or how you not support.

Another friend who has bipolar disorder introduced me to a fantastic, FREE documentary that’s currently on YouTube. Stephen Fry, known as English actor, comedian, writer and activist, also has bipolar disorder and produced an incredible documentary called The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. Click here for Part One, and click here for Part Two. Each segment is about an hour, and people including actors Carrie Fisher and Richard Dreyfuss are interviewed about having bipolar disorder. Stephen Fry has attempted suicide more than once and is very candid about the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, even exploring the times of mania as helpful for creative people like himself.

Fry, who is president of the mental health charity Mind, said: “I am the victim of my own moods, more than most people are perhaps, in as much as I have a condition which requires me to take medication so that I don’t get either too hyper or too depressed to the point of suicide.

“I would go as far as to tell you that I attempted it last year, so I’m not always happy – this is the first time I’ve said this in public, but I might as well. I’m president of Mind, and the whole point in my role, as I see it, is not to be shy and to be forthcoming about the morbidity and genuine nature of the likelihood of death amongst people with certain mood disorders.”

David Batty, The Guardian, 5 June 2013

Celebrities, for as public as they are, can even hide bipolar disorder, but their struggles are so real, especially when self-medicating and not receiving professional support. Jimi Hendrix. Beethoven. Kurt Cobain. Agatha Christie. Mel Gibson. Abraham Lincoln. Catherine Zeta Jones. Sting. Ben Stiller. Axl Rose. The list goes on: Click here.

Bipolar disorder is an illness that is eased with family and friend support, but professional help and a personal, medical-professional-informed treatment plan are essential. I’ve been so moved by Robin Williams’ passing and know that we can do so much more with being educated and less judgmental about mental illness in our own lives. 

With misinforming media and widespread misunderstanding about Robin Williams’ bipolar disorder, I also realized how concerned I am for my own loved ones who are so pained by their mental conditions and experiencing so much life disruption. Many people in our lives don’t even know or cannot grasp the daily struggle.

I do know and appreciate the amazing conversations and increased awareness about mental illness resulting this week, though, which is more of what we need. And I had to speak up.


Resources for Education and Support

Amazing, nationwide resources for people who have mental illness and for loved ones include
NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness]
(http://www.nami.org/) and
NIMH [National Institute of Mental Health]
(http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml).

If you’re in the Boulder, Colorado, area, I highly recommend the Sutherland Center [Robert D. Sutherland Center for the Evaluation and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder] and the Raimy Psychology Clinic (mainly for depression and other mental health issues); these two resources are sliding-scale, very supportive services.

And books, book, books, such as
The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know
David J. Miklowitz, PhD

Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder: A 4-Step Plan for You and Your Loved Ones to
Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability

Julie A. Fast and John Preston, PsyD

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder
Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, PsyD

Why Am I Still Depressed? Recognizing and Managing the Ups and Downs
of Bipolar II and Soft Bipolar Disorder

Jim Phelps

© Erika M. Schreck, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Life is a gift—not a given”

This past week was a beautiful but painful journey. I flew to Wisconsin to be with family and hopefully say good-bye to my dear 91-year-old grandfather and unexpectedly stayed about a week. After a delayed flight and little sleep, my mother and I arrived at my grandparents’, and Grandpa was unresponsive; he died that night, surrounded by several family members.

I was a lucky family member to have my hands on Grandpa as he took his last breaths. In all of my experiences with death and with deceased loved ones of my own and others, I have not witnessed the actual passing. Not long before Grandpa transitioned, when I first arrived that day and stepped into his room, I knew he was close to death, and the amazing, kind in-home hospice workers seemed to know. He lay there, eyes closed, breathing smoothly but with the help of oxygen, on a hospital bed in my grandmother’s room. I also could see that his mother, my great-grandmother whom I’d known for awhile before she passed in her 90s, was holding his hand in a comforting way in spirit.  Later that day, when Grandpa transitioned with several of us with him, I saw his mother and father holding his hands in a blinding-light, open space, along with several of his deceased siblings, friends and other relatives. That’s perhaps when I finally found I could cry—with sadness and joy.

Many of my family members have either not known of “what I do” (ex. seeing the deceased, offering professional intuitive and reiki services) or have been afraid of these things when I’ve shared in the past. But this trip held lovely shifts of all kinds. One of many gifts out of my week with family in Wisconsin is feeling relief with having shared what and whom I saw with Grandpa—and having their listening ears, acceptance and interest.

Another gift was a main message of the chaplain that my grandmother called that night; this amazing woman brought much comfort with her presence and faith, and she coordinated a brief intentional service around my grandfather’s body, once all of his children had arrived. As she began, she shared that she’d lost her own husband many years ago and that he lived by the following words: “Life is a gift—not a given.” Those words rang through me in a necessary way then and continue to add special meaning at this time. I know my grandpa respected this gift, and I’ve learned this lesson so many times, but these words deserve repeating and sharing as often as possible. I had more time this lifetime with my grandfather than my own father.

Our losses, our grief, are not easy elements to digest on this physical plane. We are so fortunate to receive opportunities that challenge and shape us into beings we would not be without them.

Rest in peace, dear “Gruntpa,” beloved “Sugar Ray.” He was 91—a long, wide life lived—and was married to my grandmother, a beautiful saint of a soul, for 64 years. While holidays can bring pangs of sadness for our loved ones no longer with us, actively remember and commemorate them in ways most meaningful. I know that this Christmas will hold many toasts ending with “Here’s lookin’ at ya,” just as Grandpa always said.