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Putting the Pieces Together: Who Am I Today?

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

—Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Last week you reflected on all you have learned on this journey through loss. Now, you will use that information and take that next step in putting together the pieces of your life that were disrupted into a new picture of who you can become.

Early in my writing career, I did an interview with a Christian radio station host. Before the interview, I was given a set of questions to preview that would be used in our discussion. They included my years growing up, my family, my teaching and counseling career, and my new career goals as a writer and speaker.

The interview preparation made me pause and think about who I was before and after the loss of my husband, what I valued, and how the things I learned helped me achieve. Taking some thoughtful time to reflect gave me a deeper appreciation of myself, the attributes I had, what I had learned about myself, and the life experiences that helped shape and mold me.

Each of us can uncover similar things when we take time for reflection. We are a composite of DNA, personality traits, childhood experiences and core beliefs established along the way. We are a combination of strengths and weaknesses. When we’ve suffered a major loss, our thoughts revolve around why we can’t or won’t succeed that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Throughout life there will be turning points, defining moments where we can stop and reflect; opportunities to eliminate what isn’t working and put in place new resources. Beginning with a more measured assessment of who we are, and what helped us succeed in the past, we will be better equipped to make plans for our future.

Who Am I?

As you consider and anticipate the needs and wants for your future, think about what makes you “you.”

How would you describe your personality and attributes?

If we just met and I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say? Typical responses are often the roles we have in life such as teacher, mom, CEO, factory worker, mechanic, librarian, physician, etc.

But that is only a small part of our life story. That is merely the outside wrappings. How would you describe yourself outside of those roles?

Use the following questions to help you in this process:

  • What do you value and believe?
  • What do you think about on a daily basis?
  • What do you like to do and why?
  • What do you hate and why?
  • How would you describe life in general?
  • What creates problems for you? Do you consider them faults and failings that have more power over your life than the unrecognized assets and strong points that are waiting to be applied?
  • What achievements have you made? It is important not to minimize.
  • What do you consider your special talents and abilities?

Say Hello to Yourself

Putting the Pieces Together: Who Am I Today? | FocusWithMarlene.com

Take a sheet of paper and draw a circle in the center. Add a smiley face and put your name in the middle. Draw spokes leading outward like a sun. Each of these spokes radiating outward is a part of how you describe or define who you are.

As you consider the following questions, write on each of the spokes a descriptive word about yourself.

Be sure you put a balance of strengths and weaknesses. We are an amalgam of positive traits and those we might see as not so positive. We are not either/or. We are a wonderful combination of all of them and can benefit from all of them.

  1. What traits or strengths would you assign to yourself? For example: Do you see yourself as strong, determined, or hesitating and thoughtful, etc.?
  2. Describe some of your social skills. For example: do you consider yourself friendly, shy and aloof or engaging, talkative, social, etc.?
  3. What are your predominant attitudes or ways of thinking – dependable, trusting, independent, reliable, loyal, positive, etc.?
  4. How would you describe your typical emotional state? Are you happy, anxious, angry, contented, cheerful, compassionate, etc.?
  5. What talents and abilities do you have – artistic, computer savvy, athletic, good planner, etc.?

Be as honest as you can with this exercise. Add as many spokes as you need. You are a wonderful human being. Take this image with you as you move forward.

Next week we will continue our preparation for new goals.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Where Do We Begin?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

—Henri Frederic Amiel

Since January, my articles have focused on strategies to heal and recover after your loss so you can focus on rebuilding – creating a new beginning.

You have grieved, accepted, let go and are now ready to put your energy into making plans for the future.

Before making any major long-term goals, some preliminary questions can help you avoid a lot of wasted time and energy. Some of those questions include identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Have you given thoughtful consideration to what you would like to do in the future and what obstacles or barriers you may encounter?

Starting over is never easy.

When we started out in life, it seemed there was a more defined path to follow: going to college, establishing a career, getting married, starting a family, etc. Somehow it was easier to coordinate all the pieces and move in the direction we wanted to go.

But now, everything seems more difficult and complicated. Hanging on to what we had, we may find it difficult to define what we want, and we may struggle with where to start. If it becomes overwhelming, we may put it off.

A new approach is required – a new mindset.

One of the mantras I put in place early in my life when faced with difficult decisions was, Yes, I can. That mindset was especially helpful after my husband died. The problems I faced seemed overwhelming at times. Repeating those three little words, Yes, I can, gave me the encouragement and belief I needed to keep going and look for solutions. It was an affirmation I encourage you to apply.

Considering future options

As you consider options for your future, reflect first on everything you have accomplished or overcome in the past.

  • What have you learned that can help you moving forward?
  • What do you need to leave behind that wasn’t helpful, such as negative self-talk and a negative attitude?

Change is always difficult, but it is also exciting. You are taking the best of you and using it to create a new life that holds purpose and meaning.

Where Do We Begin? | FocusWithMarlene.com

To accomplish anything of value requires thought and planning.

Goals require a defined intention, a willingness to work, and ongoing motivation. It is setting a deliberate course of action and following through.

You will be required to set priorities and make some tough choices. What are you willing to do and not willing to do?

In my upcoming articles, you will learn time management and self-regulation skills that will keep you on track. There will be some tough choices such as postponing pleasure in the moment in order to maintain a course that has rewarding long-term benefits.

It isn’t just strengths and achievements from your past that you bring forward, but what you also have been learning through this grief journey. We often do not see the progress we are making.

The questions below offer a quick review of where you might find yourself today. I’ve included links to blog posts and podcast episodes you can revisit that address this.

Are you struggling with emotional conflict?

Review the posts on conflict, difficult emotions and solutions.

Are you accepting and letting go?

Are you reframing your circumstances and loss to see a larger picture of what was and what can be?

Are you putting in place a new mindset that will energize your plans?

Are you able to equate your loss with others who have gone through life altering changes?

What can their true-life stories teach you about making a successful new beginning?

Are you able to identify some of the major obstacles you face going forward?

Sometimes the greatest obstacle you may ever have to face is “you.”.What do you continue to say to yourself that stops you? How do you define your focus of future possibility?

Are you able to see blessings and be grateful?

Balancing your circumstances to include both what was lost and what was gained, helps you heal and normalize life.

As you review the articles, you will notice I have repeated important concepts, defining them in different ways and in different contexts. I did this purposefully, to help you gain a broader picture of what you are capable of doing and overcoming.

You can have a meaningful life again. It doesn’t mean there won’t be some tough spots and difficult decisions. But you are gaining the knowledge and learning the life skills that will help you meet those challenges. I want you to succeed.

Next week’s post will begin the process of picking up the pieces of a life shattered by loss and putting them together in a new vision for yourself.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Gratitude: A Brain Changer

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”

—Amy Collette

You may be wondering why I am spending so much time on humor, laughter, blessings and gratitude in this series. I am because they are such powerful mindsets that can overcome depression, sorrow, and hopelessness.

They are some of life’s most powerful tools that can be used every day in many circumstances to lift our spirits and motivate us to look for ways to accomplish goals and be happy. This is especially beneficial when healing from a loss.

Gratitude

Did you know that just by searching for positive things to be grateful for, you are activating your brain to produce more feel-good hormones? Just by the process, you are changing how your brain is working. Wow – I think that’s pretty significant!

Then why don’t we focus more on all the blessings and things we can be grateful for rather than the things that make us upset and unhappy?

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

—Melody Beattie

We have all suffered unspeakable tragedies, and people wonder how they will survive, go on, rebuild, find joy again. Yet we can and do.

Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean we don’t need to spend time identifying and resolving problems. Instead, it helps us recognize and specifically interpret the problems we need to resolve instead of just focusing on the symptoms that make us feel miserable.

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As a former teacher, facilitator and therapist, I encourage people to challenge negative thinking and replace it with a more positive and objective point of view. I do the same with myself.

How we react and interpret problems will help us find solutions.

While events and people can make us angry or discouraged, we do not need to stay in that position. We can alter our response.

This is not a Pollyanna approach where everything is okay. A positive attitude recognizes that if there is bad stuff happening, there is also good stuff. The good stuff, however, tends to be overshadowed or colored by the bad stuff that holds us captive.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

—Anonymous

In last week’s post, I asked you to look for blessings. We find gratitude the same way and they overlap in many ways. Gratitude can be as simple as I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful I can decide how I will use my time and energy.

Gratitude is being thankful for all the things we have. It is a recognition and appreciation for the unexpected blessings that pop into our lives and expressing that thankfulness in some way.

“Life is a gift. Never forget to enjoy and bask in every moment you are in.”

—Unknown

Consider the choices you are making

We are making choices all the time. We choose how we want to look at life. We choose the actions we will take. We can focus on constructive planning and managing our time, or we can focus on doing whatever feels good in the moment.

We can choose to worry, or we can choose to put our energy into problem solving. We can choose to be mindless, or we can choose to think of ways to develop a purpose for our life.

Some things to consider:

We choose our attitudes and responses to life situations

  • Bitterness or gratitude
  • Resentment or extending grace
  • Negative comparisons or personal self-worth
  • Anger or reconciliation
  • Anxiety and fear or faith and promise
  • Belief in God or being my own god
  • Integrity, honesty, generosity or self-centeredness, greed, what’s in it for me

 We choose our mindsets and patterns of behavior

  • What I can do vs what I can’t do
  • Finding solutions rather than remaining in a state of helplessness
  • Acceptance of events and moving forward or resisting and remaining stuck
  • Personal responsibility vs the blame game
  • Forgiveness vs revenge
  • Assessing options, taking a risk vs panic, fear and worry
  • Focus on similarities and agreement vs division and differences

We choose our lifestyle

  • Letting go of critical self-talk or affirming our strengths and abilities
  • Self-discipline and regulation instead of whatever feels good in the moment
  • Principles and values vs whatever the current culture dictates
  • Long-term goals vs immediate gratification
  • Developing good friendships and safe environments vs being one of the crowd

Take a moment and reflect on the choices you are making every day.

  • Which ones help you solve problems and energize your efforts?
  • Which ones focus only on what isn’t working and creates even more conflict?
  • What choices can you make that will activate more gratitude and maximize your happiness?

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Blessings in the Midst of Tragedies

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”

—Rabbi Harold Kushner

Most of us would agree that a blessing is something fortunate that has happened to us for which we are thankful. We think of them in the moment as a relief from pressure, something unexpected that reduces stress or makes us feel good.

I have discovered, however, that many times blessings come disguised and are only realized later. We are required to make tough choices within the challenges we face. Making those tough choices has taught me to think beyond the moment. This was especially true when I was creating a new life for myself after the death of my husband. I knew I not only could survive, but I could use my skills to rebuild a meaningful life.

There are blessings within our losses, but often we need to deliberately search for them. Is it worth the effort? I think so, because we gain a new depth of gratefulness, strength and confidence in the process.

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

—Willie Nelson

Blessings are gifts that enable us to see beyond the pain and see hope in the worst of circumstances. Blessings ignite our energy; they awaken our passions and resolve. They give us a renewed desire to go beyond working through the tangles of life. They give us a time-out, a breathing space and relief from the immediate troubles of the day.

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
—Charles Dickens

Counting your blessings

To “count your blessings” is not some frivolous philosophy, ideology or precept.

Blessings in the Midst of Tragedies | focuswithmarlene.com

  • It can transform the ordinary and commonplace, putting a different “spin” on what you are experiencing.
  • It can give you a different perspective to an otherwise dark outcome, offering a way out or through, giving you more understanding, depth and meaning.
  • It becomes the paintbrush that paints rays from the sun shining through the dark clouds.
  • It captures that moment of hope and faith and transforms the world around you.

We are surrounded by blessings every day. Recognizing them, however, often requires thoughtful reflection.

Blessings let us know we are not alone – there is a God who has not only created this incredible world but continues to maintain it. We are not alone in our tragedies, challenges or adversities – He is with us all the way.

I am thankful for being alive. Yet, being alive is something we take for granted until we are faced with death. For someone who has dealt with cancer, watched a child struggle to live, or have missed a tragedy by seconds, being alive has a depth of meaning that most of us seldom think about. Modern medicine has enabled me to walk, replacing two hips and fusing a back. Blessings are there in all of it.

“When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.”
—C.S. Lewis

Becoming a widow was painful. But the unexpected blessing has been that I have been able to devote my time and energy to sharing my training and life experiences through my writing and speaking. I have met some wonderful people who have become good friends. I have seen firsthand what motivation and inspiration can do against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Do I miss the life I had? Of course. But I also have created a new one that holds joy, happiness and contentment.

How would you describe your life? What are you thankful for?

Is life just one set of problems after another without any pleasure mixed in-between? Or is there more meaning to your life because of the troubles and hardships you have been given?

Perhaps your thankfulness is deeper than most of us because you just avoided a tragedy, learned how to live with a life-defying illness or survived a loss impossible to define. For those of you who have overcome so much, and remain thankful, we can learn from you.

It is easy to focus on all the things that go wrong and continue to focus on our misfortunes. We are rewarded at first by not having to do the work to overcome. But it is at a deep cost – a cost of creating and building a new meaningful life. We look at problems as intrusions instead of challenges to live more productively and become happy. In comparing ourselves to others, we only see what we don’t have and fail to see all the things we do have. But when we change our focus, our lives will take on a whole new dimension.

During this week, begin writing down the things you are thankful for – those blessings you hadn’t acknowledged. You will be blessed in doing the exercise.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Finding Humor in Our Grief

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“And finding something funny – anything – under those painful conditions is good.

If you can laugh even while you feel pain, there’s hope.”

—Linda Richman

In her book, I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even when Life Has Other Plans for You, Linda Richman tells her story of pain from the losses in her life, first while growing up and then culminating in the loss of her son and working through that tragedy with humor.

 “I learned that we can withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive it but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And I learned that you and I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. . . no matter what horrible thing has happened; life still offers you humor if you want it.”

It isn’t what happens to us – it’s what we do with it.

Survival. Linda Richman had a crazy mother and a father who died when she was 8. She hated her mom, who had major problems. Linda married early and her marriage was a disaster. She became agoraphobic, fearful of being in crowded places or leaving her home.

Just when Linda was pulling her life together, her son was killed at the age of 29. She went into a tailspin. Her daughter was in pain and she was in pain until one day Linda cracked a joke that broke the pain cycle, released them from it, and changed both their lives.

We may not think we can be as fearless or strong as Linda, but each of us has the capacity to activate humor in some way to help us heal.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
—Proverbs 17:22

On the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I invited friends and family over for a dinner party. All of us had been grieving in our own way. The intensity of pain had receded, and it was time to come together and just laugh. I wanted to put a happy, positive layer to our memories. So, we toasted to his life and laughed as we shared humorous stories of our times together.

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
—Mark Twain

Laughter heals.

Are there really health benefits to laughter, other than feeling good in the moment?

Yes, there are, and it is confirmed not only through scripture and sages of the past, but also from medical research. Unchecked, long-held stresses over time contribute to illness.

Laughter releases hormones that help heal our physical body and strengthens our heart and immune system.

Hearty laughter exercises the heart – lowers blood pressure, gives our lungs a workout, and releases tension in all parts of our body.

Humor is not just fun.

Finding Humor in Our Grief

It is an extremely powerful medicine that heals the soul and mends the body. Humor is a revival, a mini-vacation, a breath of fresh air, a way to cope. Humor can allow the pain to subside for a moment, make life more bearable, put perspective on situations, and allow us to laugh at ourselves and our situations. It gives us power over what might seem like an impossible or powerless situation.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”
—Leo Buscaglia

It may seem difficult to laugh and find joy in our losses when our hearts are heavy with sorrow. But when we give ourselves permission to feel joy, happiness and laughter, our losses take on a more complete and healing integration. We can tap into those layers of humor as well as the layers of pain and sorrow.

We might think it irreligious or in some way devaluing of our loss to find things that are humorous. Instead, it balances our sorrow with joy. It takes the sting out of loss and brings normalcy back into life. It takes an intolerable situation, one packed with intense emotions, flips it over and “tickles its tummy.” Humor takes the edge off pain.

We can choose to look at the world in a positive way or a negative way. A loss by its very nature demands grieving. But even when grieving, we have the ability to laugh.

What we gain through humor and laughter:

  • Ability to see a more all-inclusive view of life – sorrow and happiness.
  • We can stop pretending, be real and laugh at ourselves and our imperfections.
  • Possibilities are expanded and we feel encouraged to move forward.
  • Humor helps us cope and survive in even the most horrible conditions. It gives us a way out – it balances life. Laughter disconnects us from the dreadfulness of the moment.
  • Humor helps us overcome fear, anxiety and uncertainty. It removes the rough edges of loss and fills in the deep chasms of distress.
  • Anger, hostility and fear are diminished. It is difficult to be remain angry when we can laugh.
  • Humor and laughter diminish emotional pain.
  • Humor breaks a deadly self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
  • Laughter brings people together.

With all the positive results of humor and laughter, why don’t we laugh more?

I think we don’t want to be judged or criticized. We might feel embarrassed if we are showing a happy side when we are “supposed” to be grieving.

Sometimes we do not want to give up the immediate benefits of being angry. There might be a hesitancy because we heard messages as a child that said we were to be serious, especially when grieving a significant loss.

But I would rather find those moments when I can laugh in the midst of my sorrow. When I find those kernels of the absurd and ridiculous, I can create that moment of freedom from pain to laugh at myself and my world. It is both freeing and regenerating.

Each of us has the ability to create humor and laughter. And it is not just fun. It is extremely serious and a powerful “medicine” that heals the soul and mends the body and helps us cope in the worst of times.

What makes you laugh?

When do you laugh the most? Find time each day to find something to laugh about or find humor in. Make it a priority. It will help make your grief recovery easier and satisfactory.


Richman, Linda. I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even when Life Has Other Plans for You, Warner Books, 2001


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Accentuate the Positive

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“Ac-cent– tchu–ate the positive, eliminate the negative…” was a popular song in the 1940s.

We can look at any situation and see both the positive and the negative. If we choose to look at things from a positive point of view, we will see a glass half-full of water instead of a glass half-empty. Our perceptions affect our moods and emotional states.

Do we choose happiness or is it a result of external events?

And if we have so much control over our happiness, then why are we so unhappy?

“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.”

—Leo Buscaglia

Happiness is a ChoiceIn his book, Happiness is a Choice, Barry Neil Kaufman lists six key shortcuts to happiness. The first key is to make happiness a priority. While recovering from a loss, our grief and associated problems remain in the forefront of daily living. We don’t stop to shift our focus to what is going well. And yet, until we do make that shift, we will remain stuck in a negative pattern of emotional thinking and feeling.

We often associate happiness with the accumulation of wealth or stuff. But stuff won’t make us happy. In fact, the more we accumulate the more we will become unsatisfied and wanting more.

Being happy is a choice.

When we make that choice, we begin to see life differently. How we choose to live life is up to us. If we choose to look for the good and act accordingly, we will see positive things happening in our life. We can bring something good out of adversity when we actively seek it.

Are you happy?

If not, what keeps you from actively seeking happiness? Were you happy before your loss, and if so, what needs to happen for you to experience happiness again?

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.
—Lifehack

The body-brain connection

A lot of scientific research into the body-brain connection indicates that our thoughts create a chain reaction throughout our mind and body. What we think and believe has profound physical consequences.

Consider what happens when you experience an unexpected kindness. One minute you may be feeling depressed and discouraged. Then someone tells you how much you are appreciated and suddenly you feel a lift of spirit and energy. It happens in a flash.

Predictably Irrational - The Hidden Forces that Shape our DecisionsDan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, author of Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions, cites the research included in this study that show how the expectations we hold about life will influence how we experience what is happening.

Two people involved in the same event may experience something totally different based on their expectations rather than what is actually happening.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
—Albert Einstein

If our expectations can influence and “shape” our responses predicting the outcome, then holding the expectation that we can be happy regardless of what happens, will have a huge influence on how we go about living. When we make a deliberate decision to be happy, it becomes a mindset, an expectation, a belief that we live out in any situation.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God.”
—Leo Buscaglia

Every day is an opportunity to begin again – to start over – to write a new chapter in our life story. We can purposefully look for things to be grateful for and make a decision to laugh in the midst of our struggles, or we can choose to hang onto our sorrow.

We can choose to find solutions or focus on the futility of trying.

We can actively look for all our blessings or we can focus only on losses and what we don’t  have.

We can focus on love instead of hate – laughter instead of crying.

We choose our focus in all things.

We can choose to accentuate the positive or become a victim of our losses. We can choose our expectations and our attitudes and try one more time.

Changing our mindsets will influence everything we do. We can choose to be happy.


Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” was published in 1944. The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 18th Academy Awards in 1945.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Hope Helps Us Move from One Season to Another

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” 

—Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

A time to laugh and a time to cry.

Every year we prepare for the traditional changes that occur with the different seasons – fall to winter, winter to spring, etc. We can also identify with the writer of Ecclesiastes when he talks about the seasons of life we go through. But we are not always ready to accept them, especially when that season exchange is out of sync with our expectations.

We want the pleasant things – we don’t want the unpleasant.

We don’t want to give up one to gain the other. We want life – not death. We want laughter and joy, not weeping and mourning. Yet both are necessary components to life.

I believe it is only within our difficulties, troubles and losses where we discover more about life and ourselves. When mentally, emotionally and spiritually wounded, we retreat from the world to find solace and direction. This isn’t just a time for introspection, however, but an opportunity to discover anew God’s great love and purpose for us.

When grieving the loss of my husband, there were times when I felt like a little child, my soul crying in depths devoid of sound to all except God. In those moments, I found myself held and comforted.

Grieving is a journey to heal the wounds of the heart and spirit

In our retreat and solitude, we arrive at a place where we need to lay our burden down, give up the struggle and rest. When we stop struggling, we gain peace.

Hope is an active journey

Hope actively and purposefully takes part in the healing process as we explore future options and possibilities. Each chapter in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, begins with a vignette from my own healing and growth journey, followed by information to apply to help the healing process. Here is an excerpt from one of those chapters.

Learning new skills requires determination, struggle and hard work. It seems at times that we push and push that proverbial stone and it doesn’t move. And then, one morning, we wake up and find ourselves sitting on top of it! We haven’t moved it; we haven’t gone around it; we have climbed on top and are on our way over and beyond!

In talking with a friend who was going through some tough times, I shared a page from my book, A Love So Great, A Grief So Deep, words I had written when my husband was dying. I wanted to continue to hope even when I knew the end was near.

“Hope is the effort to fly with wings not yet grown. If I don’t hope – don’t try – don’t struggle, there will never be the possibility of flying.”

Hope! It is a gift I cannot refuse. Belief. It is the assumption that God will catch me when reality doesn’t match my hopes and I begin to fall.

In order to fly, you will be required to exercise your wings. In order to fly, you need a willingness to “let go” of your fear of heights, and free fall, spreading your arms to catch the updrafts and float. In order to fly, you must believe and have hope that you can. That hope sustained me after his death and carried over into a new season for me.

There would be no life without hope – just an existence devoid of happiness and joy.

Hope Helps Us Move from One Season to Another

In the struggle we might get bruised and bloodied. But to live without hope is worse than struggling – flapping wings that take you nowhere.

Just like pushing that proverbial stone, whether it moves or not, we become strong in the effort. Flapping our wings make them stronger, capable of carrying us. I want to soar like the eagles. I always have. But in order to do that, I need to do the work required to get strong.

Hope energizes. It seeks new solutions as we learn from crashes what to do and what not to do.

Hope is action. It is moving forward even when the world is at its darkest.

Hope is believing there will be an end to the pain and struggle. There are good days ahead. While this may be a time of weeping, retreating and mourning, we know that we will not be there forever.

Grieving a loss takes time and effort. In the journey out of any ending, we can discover renewed purpose and meaning.

Here is what I wrote in my journal when I was ready to take charge of my life again:

“This morning as I sit from my new vantage point, I am captivated by the view extending before me, the options available to me. As I remember the dark, deep and narrow canyons, I am reminded that even there, patches of blue sky could be seen. When I had looked up, those canyon walls expanded, and I felt the power and love of my Heavenly Father as I received a new surge of energy and hope. And when the way out of those dark canyons of grief and sorrow seemed to disappear, God gave me toeholds, branches to grab hold of and hang on to until the path became clear once more.”

Fear grounds us – makes us miserable, resentful, and blaming. Fear can eat us up and spit us out like so much garbage!

Hope reaches upward. Fear drives us down into the ground. Hope is the wings that enable me to fly, every day.

As you continue to move towards a new beginning, hang onto hope when the going seems rough. You will make it through this. You will enjoy happiness again. You will live life with purpose and meaning once more.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Forgiveness: A Gift We Give Ourselves

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

As we approach Easter in a few days, we are reminded that Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by dying on the cross, offering forgiveness and grace.

Forgiveness was a gift given to us.

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun.

To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll

Over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor

To the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are

Giving back – in more ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.

The skeleton at the feast is you.”                                                                       

—Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC
(New York: Harper & Row, 1973)

Jesus said forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative. But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is; science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on ourselves, as the theologian, Frederick Buechner, so aptly describes.

Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, and then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip-ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize and then move on.

When we personalize indiscretions or offenses of others, we are setting ourselves up for the creation of a “grievance story” as detailed by Dr. Fred Luskin, in his book, Forgive for Good.

When we hang on to resentment, it becomes more toxic over time. The suggestions offered by Dr. Luskin can help us better understand how and why we are so quickly offended and what we can do to change such a trajectory.

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

  1. Don’t make “unenforceable” rules. Unenforceable rules are expectations and assumptions that everyone must follow, or we will be personally insulted and offended. Associated with such rules are the words should, must, have to and ought. When you hear yourself saying these words, ask what you are demanding from either yourself or another. How are you eliminating personal choice?
  2. Own your feelings. We blame others for how we feel. People can’t make us feel a certain way unless we allow it. We can choose other ways to respond that doesn’t involve escalating anger, ill will or hatred.
  3. An injury does not create a “grievance story” – we do. We can reframe our situations, become less critical and balance troubled times with humor.
  4. Forgiveness and reconciliation is not the same thing. Forgiving prepares the way for reconciliation – it doesn’t automatically say it will happen. Forgiveness is letting go of trying to get retribution. Forgiveness of self says I can admit when I am wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness and stop beating myself up.
  5. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unkindness, inconsiderate or selfish behavior or excusing bad behavior. It does not deny or minimize the hurt, pain or injury done to us. It just refuses to make it into an ongoing resentment story that becomes toxic over time. We are the ones hurt by not forgiving.
  6. Coming to terms with unpleasantness in life helps us understand we are not perfect or flawless. We will make mistakes and need grace and forgiveness. Although people will hurt us, they are often unaware that they have offended us.
  7. Forgiveness is a choice. We make the conscious decision to let go of the hurts and wrongs. Forgiveness requires we first define our grievance. When we can articulate the details of the hurtful event, we will know exactly what we are forgiving. Acknowledge, accept your feelings and then make that conscious choice to forgive. Forgiving helps us from getting hurt in the future.

What unforgiveable sin is hard for you to let go of?

What is the cost of hanging on and what would be the long-term benefit for you if you chose to forgive?

Forgiveness allows me to let go of the pain and experience peace.

I choose to forgive. How about you?


Forgive for Good, by Dr. Fred Luskin, New York, New York, Harper Collins, 2002


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Those Troubling and Lingering Emotions: Anger, Guilt, and Shame

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

—Abraham Lincoln

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison

and expecting the other person to die.”

—supposedly a Buddha quote

Anger, guilt or shame can become lingering emotions felt when losses were troubled by difficult circumstances. We want a quick fix – one we don’t have to work with. Understanding our emotions can help us find a different response.

In my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, there are two appendixes. In Appendix A, “Complex Grief Emotions,” I offer additional information on how to work through anger, guilt, shame and fear. Here is a quick overview of the first three.

Anger

Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It helps us survive and motivates us to take appropriate action and make important changes. Left unchecked, however, anger can become corrosive and problematic. Reacting without restraint will inflict additional pain and suffering on ourselves and others.

While venting or acting out might release some of anger’s energy in the short term, it does not take away the source of your anger. If anger is your typical first response to unpleasant situations, you may have an anger problem.

Here are three things to remember about anger:

  1. It is okay to be angry.
  2. It is not okay to hurt yourself, someone else or anyone’s property.
  3. We are responsible for what we do with our anger.

Anger activates our fight-or-flight response to danger. Losses can trigger a similar response; we want to protect ourselves against the injustice of what happened, and we lash out or attack in some way.

If left unaddressed, anger will build deeply held resentments that become toxic to our emotional and physical health.

Guilt

Those Troubling and Lingering Emotions: Anger, Guilt, and Shame | focuswithmarlene.com

Guilt is what we experience when we believe we have acted against our beliefs and values resulting in some kind of harm.

Guilt is important because it helps us know when corrections need to be made. Looking backward, we reprimand ourselves, “If only I had done this or that” or “if only I had been more available.” We can become brutal in the self-blame game. At some point, reconciliation and forgiveness is required.

While reflecting is important, it serves no purpose when we maintain an ongoing dialogue built on guilt, shame or remorse.

Remaining in a state of blame only adds another intense layer of pain to our grief that does not accomplish anything.

Working through guilt is working through the multitude of questions associated with the many “why’s, what if’s” and if only’s” and putting them permanently to rest. These unanswerable questions continue to leave us feeling angry, guilty, frustrated and helpless.

Expanding and reframing what happened gives us a different perspective.

  • Could I really have done anything different?
  • What information do I have today that I didn’t have back then?

Shame

Shame is feeling guilty. It is a painful emotion caused by an awareness of doing something wrong. It diminishes our sense of worth and esteem. Guilt and shame work hand-in-hand with anger.

Guilt helps correct behaviors. Feeling guilty indicates we may have done something wrong that requires making amends. Guilt, along with shame, helps us say we are sorry, and that we regret our actions.

But when faced with an unfortunate or untimely loss, we may be plagued with a guilt and subsequent shame that is misplaced, prolonged or not even appropriate to the situation.

When we feel guilt disproportionate to any actions we may have taken, or may not have taken, our guilt becomes poisonous. Inappropriate shame for perceived transgressions will affect our self-esteem, creating a diminished sense of self because we find no way to correct what was done.

We doubt our ability to be caring individuals.

We might have an unrealistic high sense of responsibility for others.

Guilt and shame that have been blown out of proportion and remain unresolved will erode our ability to live productive and fruitful lives.

Coming to terms with our loss means we come to terms with ourselves as human beings.

If the guilt is appropriate to the event, such as driving drunk and hurting somebody, then we need to use that guilt to turn our lives around. If possible, say you’re sorry. Then take actions to make amends as well as change the direction in your life.

Hanging onto feelings of guilt and shame, nursing them in order to do penance, doesn’t change anything; instead it keeps us from moving forward. Forgiveness enables us to take positive action instead of remaining in a past we cannot change.

If feeling anger, guilt and shame towards yourself, challenge the depth and degree of what you are experiencing. Remind yourself that we make the best decisions we can in any moment in time. Anyone can look backward and see things we didn’t see in the moment.

Next week we will look at forgiveness.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Unresolved Conflict in Our Losses

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast,

it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.”

—I Cor. 13:4-7 NIV

When any longstanding conflicts are dumped onto our grief and loss, they add another layer of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Unresolved issues between you and the deceased can initiate feelings of shame or guilt. You may not have had a chance for reconciliation or resolution before death.

If losses were the result of random acts of violence, accidents, suicide or any unforeseen death, we may be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions and feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety, fear and remorse.

If you had been a victim of past abuse, abandonment, rejection or injustice; or lived with years of misunderstandings or conflict with this person who has now died, you will be left with a multitude of incongruous emotions. It might seem as if death has cheated you from finding resolution.

  • What happens to all that anger and resentment?
  • How do you process it all?
  • Does it get buried with the person or will you continue to carry that bitterness with you?

Death doesn’t automatically release us from any anger or resentment we may have.

We will suffer tragedies that are associated with someone’s lack of responsibility or carelessness.

Coming to terms with injustice, tragedies and losses of any kind, whether in our past or present, first requires acceptance. Hanging on to our losses and injustices is like carrying around a huge suitcase full of rocks and stones. It keeps getting heavier and heavier and robs us of our ability to move forward.

Discover a new way

Unresolved Conflict in Our Losses | focuswithmarlene.comNo matter what has happened, to get beyond grief, we need to come to terms with what has happened. Coming to terms means we stop denying, fighting or struggling with what can’t be changed.

We correct what is correctable and then make a deliberate choice to let go of the conflict and bring forward what is good. As with any grievances we might have, however legitimate they may be, if we hang onto them, we are the ones who continue to pay the price.

Acceptance doesn’t mean everything will suddenly be back to normal or okay. It simply means we stop fighting and arguing about how cruel the world is or how badly we have been treated. Life is not fair. We can grumble and moan and rant and rave, but we can’t change history; we can’t change what others have done or what we have done.

By making a conscious and deliberate choice to let go of resentment, we can experience a different outcome.

As we let go of bitterness, we will be able to see things for which we can be grateful. There is some good that can come out of the worst atrocity. We are changed when we rise above the injustice of the world. Instead of attacking and seeking revenge, we can develop a compassion and understanding for others who may also be struggling. Seeing the pain of a neighbor, we can reach out with a word of understanding and comfort.

In any moment in time, we choose how we respond to life.

Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, Jew and survivor of the concentration camps of WWII wrote:

“To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

Man's Search for MeaningIn his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he shares that even in the horrendous conditions of Auschwitz, “What alone is the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

We will be challenged to live our faith and values in the face of death and losses.

We will be challenged to let go of unresolved conflicts that keep us stuck in an endless cycle of discontent. We choose how we will respond to life – both in our past and in the future.

We will be challenged to make decisions that go against our desire for payback.

But it is in those challenges where we grow and become more of who we are – a child of God and someone who desires to live a life of hope and faith. No matter the struggle, we can grab hold of that love extended to us by God and work through the knots and tangles of living.

It may be difficult to work through unresolved conflicts by ourselves. If you are struggling, seek the assistance of a trained therapist. While we might not find all the answers to our questions, it is important to ask them. It is in in the asking where we can address the resentments that stick to us like glue and find a way to put them to rest. When we become stuck, our grief is extended.

Next week’s post will explore a little further these troubling emotions. You will also find more detailed information in Appendix A of my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson