Honoring the Lost in a Year of Great Loss

Remembering the Lost

Honoring the Lost From Every Walk of Life

The hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by COVID-19 continue to mount as I write this in the last days of 2020. May we all make honoring the lost a part of our year-end reflections. For the families and friends of those people, they are the most important losses of the year. Each of these deaths is a loss to a family, a circle of friends, a community, and often beyond that.

Some of them were health care workers – doctors, nurses, specialty technicians, food service, maintenance staff – who served in specific locations. Also lost were other “essential workers” who continued to do their jobs that allowed life to continue at some level – paramedics, police officers and firefighters; grocery store and other retail employees; providers of transportation and city services and more. They are all heroes and martyrs on another level this year.

We are overwhelmed and numbed by the sheer numbers. It is largely incomprehensible. I found this article with multiple visuals helpful in grasping this reality: Breaking Down the Numbers I hope we can take some time to remember and honor these victims of a horrible pandemic that still grips our country and the world.

Honoring the Lost Whose Names are Well Known

We have also lost people whose names are known by millions of us – some related to COVID-19 but most not. They are known for their various contributions to our national identity or culture. Musicians, actors, artists, other entertainers, leaders in civil rights and government, athletes, journalists, authors, scientists, and more. They are people whose talents and skills enrich us in multiple ways.

The television networks feature lists and photos that stream past us as they recap the year as usual. Magazines and newspapers will provide their selection of notables. Who are the people you wish to particularly remember as they leave this dimension?

For me, the loss of three lifelong Civil Rights leaders are at the top of the list. The recognition and honoring of John Lewis, 80, was most visible to all of us. His lifelong activism, beginning when he was very young, through 30 years in Congress left a huge list of accomplishments and a legacy of leadership.

T. Vivian, 95, one of Lewis’s compatriots in the movement died the very same day and sadly we didn’t hear enough of his life and contributions. He grew up in Illinois and Missouri and was involved in a sit-in to integrate lunch counters in 1947! As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, he became involved in sit-ins, marches and the Freedom Rides. He organized affiliate organizations to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Nashville and other cities. He moved to Atlanta in the 1970s and from that point organized and headed multiple educational, activist and business organizations focused on equality and access.

Joseph Lowry, 98, died at the end of March when the pandemic was gobsmacking all of us. He was involved in the group of ministers around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that was so key to so many of the advances of those years. He served as the president of SCLC from 1977 to 1997, leading campaigns for justice in multiple states at a time when it was difficult to get media attention to this work. He pastored Methodist churches for nearly 50 years.

Another giant lost was Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 87. Her death and legacy were covered extensively, and we learned more about her contributions during those days. From being only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States to being a pop culture icon in her eighties, she was amazing. Her legal activism on behalf of equal rights for women extended over decades.

Why do I highlight these four? Prime among my reasons are their dedication to values and causes that motivated long lives of contribution.

A trailblazer of another kind also died this year – Lucille Bridges, 86. Hers is a unique story of having her 6-year-old daughter, Ruby Bridges, be one of the first children in the south to integrate an elementary school. Lucille was 26 years old when she and her husband made that bold and difficult decision in 1960 New Orleans. Through an entire school year, she walked Ruby to school with white people jeering and federal troops protecting them. No white students would be in a classroom with Ruby, so for the entire school year she and the one teacher willing to teach her were in a classroom alone together. The family paid a steep price for this bold action. Ruby’s father lost his job as a service station attendant when he wouldn’t withdraw her from the school. The local grocery store stopped selling to them. Lucille’s parents in Mississippi were forced from the land they sharecropped. Ultimately the stress and conflict caused Lucille and her husband to separate. The courage and persistence of this family which included eight children is an example that needs to be shared.

I encourage you to reflect on these and other losses of 2020. How do their stories inspire you? The Washington Post’s “Notable Deaths of 2020” provides information on the above and others: Notable deaths of 2020 – The Washington Post

 

The Year the Hugs Went Away

Hug

 

“A hug is a wonderful thing. It’s a marvelous gift to share. It’s a grand way to say; ‘I care.’ A hug communicates support, security, affection, unity, and belonging. A hug shows compassion. A hug brings delight. A hug charms the senses. A hug touches the soul.”

~  Unknown

2020 – the year the hugs went away. What a year it has been!  As a person living alone, I have lacked anyone in my own safe-at-home household to hug for all these months. A few “back hugs” – arms around the shoulders from behind – have been a brief taste of the real thing. Are you in that situation? Who do you know who is?

Individuals have different attitudes about hugging. Some reserve it for intimate relationships within the family – and may even be limited in that expression there. Others – like myself – identify themselves as huggers and apply them generously.

A major venue for hugging for me in the past several years has been within my faith community where we are unapologetic master huggers. Across all the boundaries that often separate us, we hug – genuinely and warmly. The hugs express acceptance, affirmation, inclusion and love. In these months, the hug deprivation is real.

We have stayed with virtual gatherings all these months in commitment to the safety of all of us and of those with whom each of us is connected. We have rejected the modified form of gathering has been adopted by some churches – fewer people, distanced and masked. The risks are not worth it. It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine being in the same space with these dear people and not hugging them. And so the physical separation continues for the well-being of all.

What is so powerful, so profound about hugs? There has been much research done, and the conclusions include the physiological and the psychological impacts. According to “The Power of Hugs: Benefits to your Health” in SteptoHealth.com, hugs release several hormones in our bodies. Hormones are substances produced by one tissue and transported by the bloodstream to another tissue to affect physiological activity. Oxytocin, the attachment or bonding hormone, is released by hugging, as well as serotonin and dopamine, which have a sedative or calming/wellness impact. The impacts of hugs can even be as specific as reducing blood pressure and easing a headache, strengthening the immune system or helping you overcome fear. It is also noted that these effects can persist long after the end of the physical contact.

Psychologically, hugs cause the brain to release endorphins – any of a group of peptide hormones found in the brain that act as neurotransmitters. They promote healing and create feelings of well-being, build self-esteem and bring joy.

We’re missing a lot when we aren’t hugging! Until we can safely hug, what can we do to prevent negative physiological and psychological impacts of hug deprivation? Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW says, ““The paradox of hugs is that though they are quintessentially physical, they can also be enacted mentally. I often invite my patients, if it feels right for them, to imagine someone they feel safe with, including me, holding them. This works because the brain does not know the difference between reality  fantasy in many ways.”

This form of visualization can have a profound impact on us. It flips the script from focusing on the absence of and need for physical hugs to creating at least some of the positive impacts through the power of our minds and imagination. We can remember and recreate nurturing and healing hugs to help tide us over until it’s safe to do in person, in real time.

Will you try it and encourage others who are missing and needing physical hugs to do the same?

Perhaps you’d like to express your virtual hug materially to some special people; check out some options here:

http://carolbrusegar.com/Hugs-Gifts

Have a Hygge Holiday Season and Winter!

Hygge

 Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

“Holiday season” is defined in various ways. Yours may or may not be the same as mine – and any of us may decide to modify our definition in this unique year of the pandemic. Personally, I celebrate Christmas through the 12th day of Christmas, January 5. There are ways in which I extend it even beyond that. I wrote about that last year (pre-pandemic) here: https://carolbrusegar.com/expanding-parameters-december-holiday/

At whatever point you read this, the ideas can be applied to the days and weeks ahead – including through the winter months as we continue to stay at home much more than usual. Let’s all have a Hygge holiday season and winter!

Hygge has become increasingly popular everywhere in recent years. Perhaps you are already a devotee,  perhaps you’ve never heard of it, or perhaps you’d like to explore the idea more. So let’s start with what it is and where it came from.

Hygge, pronounced (Hue-gah) is a Danish word originally derived from an Old Norwegian word meaning well-being and protection from the outside elements. Denmark has notoriously cold, long winters. The concept of hygge has been used by Danish people to help mentally combat the brutally dark, relentless winter season and fill their homes with comfort and love. Hygge is a word that is so important to Danish people; it’s often used to describe what their culture is all about. Hygge is not necessarily something specific that you can buy, because it’s more of a feeling than a possession. Hygge really is the epitome of Danish living; in the last several years the concept of hygge has made its way to the US and many other countries with extreme popularity and trendiness.

Hygge can widely be described as a feeling of coziness, comfort, familiarity, friendship, laughter and seasonal homemade food and drinks. Although it’s possible to achieve hygge any time of the year (an outdoor BBQ with friends or a movie under the stars with family are great examples of summertime hygge), Hygge is generally associated with the colder months. This is because of its ability to uplift spirits during dark, long winter months. It can be especially comforting and enjoyable during these months of the pandemic. As we are staying safe at home to protect ourselves and others, focusing on creating peaceful, cozy surroundings can fill us with the feeling of contentment. Here are a few, simple ways you can bring holiday hygge into your home.

Warm lighting – achieve a great sense of hygge, by lighting some candles, having a real or gas fire or setting up string lights. Warm lightning is key to coziness.

Cozy linens, blankets and textures – get out all of those soft, fluffy blankets and have them available on the couch or chairs and by the windows, so that you can easily cuddle up with your favorite books and movies and relax.

Home cooking and baking – cooking some traditional holiday meals and treats will help bring holiday hygge into your home. Comfort foods like holiday ham, stews/soups/chilis, breads of all kinds, cookies, and apple/pumpkin/sweet potato pies will waft soul-warming scents throughout the air, making your home feel cozy and cared for. Baking together is a perfect hygge activity. It may be items that have become traditions, or a way to try new recipes that may be added to that list for coming years.

Comforting scents – filling your home with festive and cozy scents can be done in a variety of ways.  You can use scented candles, scented wax in a wax warmer, or scented oils. A wide variety of scents are available – warm vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices as well as pine and peppermint are some holiday favorites. Potpourri can be placed in open bowls in various rooms and refreshed with scented oils, or simmered with water on the stove or in a slow cooker. Scented pinecones and fresh evergreen trees or boughs are always a great addition.

Warm beverages – drinking these can warm body and soul. Hot chocolate can be varied in many delightful ways, as can apple cider. I wrote about the latter earlier: Apple Cider – Fall’s Delicious, Variable, Healthy Beverage!  Of course there are many other options for all ages!!

Try some new things, repeat things that you’ve enjoyed before, and have a Hygge holiday season and winter!!

 

If you’d like to learn more, I have two recommendations:

Here’s a great book written by a Dane who is a researcher at the Happiness Research Institute:

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

This coloring book not only has Hygge designs, but includes the concepts along with some journal pages, tips for coloring and some finished products to illustrate them.

Hygge Happy Coloring Book: Coloring Pages for a Cozy Life (Design Originals) Discover the Scandinavian Secret of Happiness & Enjoy the Good Things in Life with Mellow, Relaxing Hygge Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Pandemic is Changing a Holiday Outreach to Prison Inmates

TG in Arkansas

Hours riding in vans, loading and unloading equipment at nine different locations, going through prison security nine times, set-up and waiting, greeting hundreds of inmates, preparing and facilitating communion at each location. That has been my experience of the week after Thanksgiving for the past several years. Being part of Timothy’s Gift Christmas Tour to multiple correctional institutions during that week has become an anticipated and cherished part of the holiday season. It’s a holiday outreach that touches those who visit as well as those visited in profound ways.

The purpose of the tour is to deliver a message of hope and affirmation that each person is loved and not forgotten. Those who experience the program of music, words, personal greetings and affirmation have expressed the power of it. Letters from inmates we receive indicate impacts well beyond the ninety minute program at each location.

Enter the Pandemic

But not this year. The pandemic has, of course, halted such programs into prisons. The absence of this tour has created an emptiness for me and others who regularly participate. Seeing photos and remembering experiences in institutions in different states over the years – Arkansas, Ohio, Florida – accent the vacancy this has left. As I look at the faces in the photos, I think about what life must be like for the inmates now.

It’s difficult to even imagine the impact of the pandemic isolation of the past months in a correctional institution. We have certainly felt the impacts of stay-at-home orders over the months. In prisons, during the worst days, they have been confined to a single location with almost no time outdoors to get exercise. Food was brought to cells and barracks, no educational programs were available, no work assignments that normally  helped pass the time, no church or group meetings for inspiration and comfort, no visiting allowed by loved ones.

The normal activities have opened up as much as has been possible in the past months, depending on the location and the virus statistics there. As on the outside, restrictions may have been lifted and then re-imposed. Precautions are still necessary and very limited visitation of family is generally allowed now. It’s impossible, however, to know how long it will be before outside programs will be allowed and when people will be comfortable going in.

Plan B for Holiday Outreach

Thanks to the genius of Timothy’s Gift founder Ron Miller and people he engaged in the project, a different kind of holiday outreach has been created for this unusual year. Since we can’t go in person, a DVD of a Christmas program including music, spoken word, and humor has been professionally produced. It has been sent to 62 prisons in Florida and Arkansas for them to show to groups and to be available for individual viewing!

We look forward to getting feedback from inmates, administrators and staff of the institutions about this holiday outreach. The DVD will reach many more people than a program in rooms with limited capacity could reach, and in so many more locations than can be visited in any one tour. Although this approach lacks the impact of “when I was in prison you visited me,” it is a way of touching hearts and minds with a message of care. Hearing that they are not forgotten – even in the midst of a pandemic – is important, in whatever way it is possible to get the message.

If you are interested in learning more about Timothy’s Gift, go here:  https://www.facebook.com/timothysgift/community/ for photos, comments from inmates and more.  To support Timothy’s Gift, go to http://timothysgift.com/give

 

The Miracle of the Christmas Ship – a True Story for Your Enjoyment

Many of us love to read Christmas/holiday stories and books during December. Every year there are a lot of fiction books published to feed our reading hunger.

I decided to offer a true story to the mix, The Miracle of the Christmas Ship. It is now available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com and will soon be available in paperback as well. It’s a short book – if it were fiction it would be called a novella. Short and sweet – no long tome. It’s an inspiring story from the past that also provides historical context. I hope you will check it out and enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

https://carolbrusegar.com/the-miracle-of-the-christmas-ship/