Crafting our Grief

‘Tis the season to be jolly…
True but not for everyone. Students and staff members who are grieving are most likely struggling to come to terms with their loss and the holidays with its fond memories can be exceptionally difficult. My husband, Alan, passed away this summer, only a few weeks after the anniversary of his initial brain bleed. These past three months have been a whirlwind of emotions.  Grief and bereavement can be overwhelming – a journey with many ups and downs. This struggle challenges the mourner to his or her very core on an average day. So how do we address the needs of our students and staff during the holidays? I’ve been thinking about this – a lot.

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When old traditions become too difficult to bear, perhaps it may be time for new traditions. Last month was the first time in 29 years that I did not spend Thanksgiving at my father-in-law’s house, instead we drove to Pennsylvania for a change of scenery. During our meal we gave thanks and remembered those no longer with us by lighting Four Candles. This new tradition is one that we’ll keep through many holidays and family celebrations. As our family celebrates Hanukkah this week, adding a few more candles to light won’t pose a problem. But I’ve been feeling that we should be doing more in remembrance during the long holiday season. And since misery loves company, I’ve organized a holiday grief program at our high school open to students and staff: Crafting Your Grief through the Holidays.


Many of the crafts involve remembrance – a memory ornament, a memory box, a memory jar and the like. I love the memory ornaments but as we have never had a Christmas tree or ‘Hanukkah bush’ it has taken an effort to explain to my children that just because I buy a tree doesn’t mean we’re converting! Our memory tree will hold the newly made ornaments, made from my husband’s shirts, and when we are all together during the holiday, we will plant the tree in the back yard. This is our first year without my husband, so we’ll see how it goes. As for the craft program scheduled next week, I’ll let you know how it turned out.


*Caveat: I consulted with our mental health professionals within our building and have attended an 8-week grief support group. Please use caution when implementing a grief program. A keepsake ornament does not replace my dead husband or make me feel better or happy. I’d prefer to hold my husband, not an ornament. Our students, too, feel a range of emotions about the loss of their parent, grandparent or other loved one. Also, there needs to be a familial discussion as to what items can be upcycled (i.e. cut up and permanently damaged). I will be writing an online article on “how-to” implement a grief program in your school at anytime of the year. When it’s complete and uploaded, I’ll add a link here.

 

In loving memory of Dr. Alan Jay Seymour (11/10/60 – 8/28/18)

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Critical Rhode Island

 

It’s been a long day and perhaps more accurately, a long year. August 11, 2017 my life changed. I had been having a great summer of travel for professional learning first attending ALA Annual in Chicago followed by the NYLA-SSL Leadership Institute at Cornell (NY), then on to Long Beach (CA) for IASL and visit with our son. I was in California when I received the life altering phone call. “Is this Mrs. Seymour?”  Dread upon hearing the words ‘brain bleed’ and ‘lifesaving measures’ while giving consent for intubation for mechanical ventilation in order for my husband to be transported to a higher-level care facility by helicopter. The flight back to NY is long under good circumstances; this trip was the longest of my life. I felt like I aged ten years upon disembarking and the night wasn’t over. In reality, my – no our – new life was just beginning. 
A life of ICUs, hospitals, rehabs, angiograms, EVDs, craniotomies (one to remove his occipital bone, the other to remove his AVM), tracheotomy, PEGs, EKGs, EEGs, CSF leak, VP Shunt, a blood transfusion, aspiration pneumonia, acute pancreatitis and the list goes on. Did you know patients are no longer called ‘John Doe’ but a series of other monikers, as in my husband’s case – ‘Critical Rhode Island’. We drove through that state once in the ‘90s. 

Today was an emotional day for me and at times I found it hard to pull myself together. There has been much stress and anguish over the past year. And while my life changed, it changed in many good ways. You may find this hard to believe but let me explain.

We went from a two-income household to just my salary. That’s not a positive! Especially with all the medical bills. But I learned to look at every expenditure in a new light and realized there were many unnecessary household services and expenses. I’ve learned to no longer embrace wastefulness and have become more fiscally disciplined. I’ve even learned all about the federal income tax schedules and various deductions. I have become an advocate and mentor amongst my friends and colleagues to get legal paperwork in order – Usernames, passwords, wills and the often-overlooked Power of Attorney. As a spouse I can assure you, you can’t talk to anyone or get anything done without a POA. I also learned to budget my limited time and to say ‘no’.  I should have taken Diana Rendina’s advice earlier and embraced the power of slowing down sooner. I am now more selective and productive with my time and energy. 

I’ve become physical therapist, occupational therapist as well as speech therapist. I can manage a feeding tube, Yankauer, catheter, and know a whole lot about pulmonary toileting (love that term.) None of these skills I learned in library school. But I have learned I can empathize more with my students and families who arrive with assorted medical issues. I have used my extensive training and background in medical libraries to understand exams, diagnoses and other interventions. I am grateful for this knowledge and that I had to opportunity to meet and fall in love with my husband over thirty years ago at Cabrini Medical Center Medical Library – he a medical student, me a library assistant.

The power of friendship is a healing salve. I’m very grateful for anyone who feeds me as it is evident I can not live on tea, wine and chocolate. Well, maybe tea. I am very grateful to the Lit Wits (a drinking club with a reading problem). This group of librarians allowed me to feel ‘normal’ again, if only for a few hours at a time. I am surrounding myself with family and friends – it doesn’t get any better. I have embraced Gratitude as my OneWord2108 and reflect on this word daily.

Last week I flew to Houston to work with Fort Bend ISD librarians. I rented a car and handled Texas highways (with a few U-turns and ‘re-routing routes’). This was out of my comfort zone but I did it. Some days I don’t recognize the new me. While my confidence is enhanced, I still go through bouts of sadness and loneliness. It’s okay to be sad. As teachers we arrive at school with emotional baggage, too – divorce, new house, illness and other stressors. But we need to help ourselves so we can see to the social emotional health and wellbeing of our students. We need put on our oxygen mask on first. I know I need to continue working on this, but I have embraced a new mindset for healing – positive affirmations, relaxation and healing music and a routine mani/pedi. We all have moments when healing breaths where we breathe in gently through the nose and out through the mouth (aka smell the flowers, blow out the candles) are beneficial, if not essential.

During this past year I’ve amped up our stress related library programs and plan to implement new ones for students and staff. For instance, Habro’s companion pets that I wrote about previously. I spotted a companion cat at Clements High School Library (FBISD) and got great feedback.

I have a new point of view when it comes to disabilities. It is frustrating trying to get my husband’s wheelchair into tiny elevators and narrow hallways in medical buildings. It might be handicap accessible on paper, but walk a mile in my shoes! I look at my school, library and really all facilities and programs with a new lens. I hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. As for assistive devices:

  • I love any writing or drawing implement in triangular shape. It’s just easier to hold. I’ll be adding this to my makerspace.
  • I’m thinking there maybe a place for Alexa in the library as it has proved helpful in a nursing facility setting.
  • Don’t ban plastic straws. Just don’t take them if you don’t need them. Many people, my husband included, have swallowing issues. Once an item is labelled an assistive device, the price goes up. Having a disability is expensive enough.

It has been a year now and my husband is still not home yet. It’s going to take a while longer, but I know

I am strong
I am brave
I’ve got this 

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A New Arrival

My eyes misted over with tears of joy for you finally arrived. I held you in my arms, first in a warm maternal embrace, then up high for the world to get a glimpse at you…

While writing Maker with a Cause, I often likened the process to pregnancy.

Months 1-2: Waiting to confirm, “Am I really pregnant?” “Are they going to offer me a contract?”

Month 3: Yippee! I’m so excited. “What shall we name her?” There’s so many things to pick out.

Months 4-5:  Wow, I’m gaining quite a bit of weight… (Sitting at a computer day after day, noshing on pretzels and other goodies will do that to you.)

Month 6-7: Trying to convince myself this WILL be worth it.

Month 8: Ugh, I’ve got to go out and buy more clothes, nothing fits.

Month 9: When is this going to be over!!!!

Labor: Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Smell the flowers, blow out the candles. “Seriously, more copy edits???” “Get it OUT!”

Delivery: “Awww, isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve laid your eyes on?” “I’m so proud!” “Look what I created.”

Well, in honesty, I didn’t create this book on my own. There were so many encouraging family, friends and colleagues along the way. First, and most of all, my husband, Alan for whom the book is dedicated. He is the most supportive, awesome-est husband ever. He schlepped with me to Anaheim, CA to attend a service learning conference. Made me countless cups of tea – the only thing to calm me and keep me focused. And, even while a patient in the neurosurgical ICU with a cerebellar brain bleed/AVM, his first words to me were to encourage me to finish the book when my only thought was – I hope he makes it through the weekend.

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As a mom, I am habitually proud of my children. This past year the roles were reversed as our children, Joseph, Joshua, Jacob and Hannah, were my cheer squad. My sisters managed my husband’s office while I focused on him and finishing edits. (Hint: never trust hospital Wi-Fi.) My niece, Kelly, was my go-to proofreader. Even though she has a full-time job with a commute and a 3-year-old, she managed to find time to help me.

Early on when I had no clue how to read a book contract, Heather Moorefield-Lang and Diana Rendina both came to my rescue patiently answering the most generic questions. Thank you! I am grateful for public libraries for that is where I wrote most of the book. Grateful for the peace and quiet and no eating rules. (Gained too much weight snacking at home!) And grateful for countless librarians and educators across the country who shared stories with me, kept me focused and most of all encouraged me.

At work I am grateful to Heidi Stevens, our FACS teacher, who helped me with many of the sewing projects. Rita Dockswell, who reminded me I know how to crochet. Most of all, it was my principal, Mike Mosca, who let me ‘do my thing’ day in and day out. This level of support allowed me to collaborate with so many to empower our teens to make a world of difference through our MakerCare program.

I hope you’ll love my new arrival as much as I do.

Gina

Squeeze & Relax

MakerCare Lit Connection Series

Today therapy dogs visited our school bringing smiles and respite from a busy week filled with final exams and Regents test prep. I’ve written of my gratitude for therapy animals (yes, dogs and therapy bunny!). Animals can decrease stress in humans. However some students, like me, are allergic to animal fur. The alternatives are hypo-allergenic breeds, social robotic pets or other stress reducers.

Project (Title): Stress Balls

Lit Connection (Test Anxiety):

Check out this list of books

Lit Connection (Service/Therapy Dogs):

Ben: The Very Best Furry Friend, I Know My Name is Love, Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship

Alternative Titles:
PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FAVORITE TITLE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

How To:

You’ll need empty water bottles with caps, Magic Beadz, a teaspoon, funnel and balloons. Pour 1 tsp of Magic Beadz into a water bottle and fill with 2 cups of water. Allow 2-3 hours for beadz to absorb water. Pour out any remaining water. Put balloon over neck of bottle and pour (squeeze, really) the beadz into the balloon. Knot off the balloon. Squeeze and Relax!

Worry Not!

Now that my book, Makers With a Cause, is complete and soon to be released, I finally find myself with time to write about literature connections to some of my favorite maker projects. I started last month with Memorial Day themed books, but now I’d like to focus more on compassionate making (aka #MakerCare) lit connections.

Each month I’ll describe a maker project that espouses compassion, empathy or social action and match it with a book to read aloud or as part of a reading group.

So, here goes…

Project: Worry Dolls

Why: Our kids are stressed out!

“According to the Mayan legend, when worrying keeps a person awake, he or she tells a worry to as many dolls as necessary. Then the worrier places the dolls under his or her pillow. The dolls take over the worrying for the person who then sleeps peacefully through the night. When morning breaks, the person awakens without the worries that the dolls took away during the night.”

When: Anytime, pre mid-term and final testing period, Mental Health Awareness Month (May)

Literature Connection: Silly Billy by Anthony Browne

  

 

Alternative Titles:

Trouble Dolls – Jimmy Buffett & Savanah Buffet

Secrets of Worry Dolls – Amy Impellizzeri (312p novel)

PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FAVORITE TITLE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

How To:

Cut one pipe cleaner into 1/3 & 2/3 lengths.

Wrap yarn around your hand several times and slide it through the 2/3 length pipe cleaner. Slide a wooden bead up the bent pipe cleaner holding the ‘hair’ in place. Trim ‘hair’ as desired. Draw face on bead, as desired. Wrap the 1/3 pipe cleaner around the ‘body’ forming ‘arms’. Using yarn, cover the exposed areas of the pipe cleaner

 

Remember

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance; a day when we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

Poppies are a symbol of the sacrifice and courage of our service members. It was during World War I that Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote a poem, “In Flanders Fields“, reflecting and commemorating the sacrifice and loss of life.

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It was Moina Belle Michael, a Georgia schoolteacher, whose perseverance convinced a nation to accept the poppy as symbol of remembrance.

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So as we approach Memorial Day, how will you remember the fallen? Here are a few ideas:

  1. I love the beauty in symbolism displayed in the Missing Man Table tradition. Need a read along companion book? Try this book by Margot Theis Raven, my favorite!

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2. Make some poppies with your students (or family). One example is of a poppy field after reading A Poppy is to Remember.

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3. Dedicate a #POPPYINMEMORY through USAA. Or, experience a poppy field in VR while learning about the causalities of war while on the USAA site.

poppy USAA memorial day

More ideas can be found on The Compassionate Maker: Patriotism/Appreciation LibGuide.

Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month and as a high school librarian, I have seen my fair share of stressed out teens. How can we help our students alleviate anxiety and stress? While we cannot take the place of trained and certified therapists, we can offer a listening ear or a word of support and encouragement. We can also provide some tools and comfort for promoting good mental health.

Here are five simple ideas for promoting and augmenting mental health. Each is implementable through library programming or makerspace activities.

Stress Balls – Sometimes you just need to squeeze and squish something. Follow directions for hydrating Magic Beadz. Instead of a bowl, use a water bottle, this will make the straining and pouring beads into a balloon easier. Place beads in a balloon and tie a knot at the top. Start squishing! Alternatives to Beadz: use rice, beans or play dough. Some instructions call for flour. If (ahem, when) the balloon breaks, the mess is of astronomical proportions.


Positive Pencils (link) – Everyone needs a reminder. You are strong! You are brave! You’ve got this! Positive affirmations can increase feelings of self-worth. Research shows us that thoughts have a direct impact on emotions and feelings. So, make them positive!

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Social Robots (link) – Hasbro’s Joy for All companion pets can provide comfort to students in school without having to deal with allergies or vet bills. This is great alternative to live animal pet therapy programs.
companion-pet.pngJournaling – Write down thoughts, dreams, and questions in a daily journal you create for yourself. Using Modge-Podge craft glue and images cut from upcycled magazines, cover a marble or spiral notebook for a creative personalized journal. Journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression, among other benefits.
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Jump Ropes (link) – Daily exercise is good for overall health, both physical and mental. Even just a little activity is beneficial. Make these upcycled plastic (plarn) jump ropes as a fun way to exercise.

Also, check out this resource – 12 Resources to Help You Address Mental Health in Schools.

Stay healthy! Stay strong!

Social Robots

Robots & Us: Can Robots make us feel better?

My husband has been hospitalized for the past 8 months. In the course of that time we’ve had our fair share of mechanical interventions. From ventilators to feeding delivery systems, programmed machines have improved our quality of life.

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Nate’s Get Well Bot is a ‘robot’ designed (albeit, by a 3 year old) to make Uncle Alan feel better. Worked like a charm!

This got me thinking. Can robots make us ‘feel better’?

I’ve been on the look out for other ways robots can make us feel better – not medically but more along the lines of social-emotional well-being.

Companion Robots

We’ve experienced multiple therapy dogs over our stay and recently a therapy bunny. Many of these service animals only visit on certain days and depending on the unit (for example, the respiratory care unit) they may be banned. What to do when you need or want a companion, but don’t have access to a live, furry critter? Companion robots.

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Hasbro Joy for All (https://joyforall.hasbro.com/en-us) –  is “designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones. With realistic fur and pet-like sounds – and sensors that respond to petting and hugs with familiar pet-like actions – Companion Pets deliver a soothing, joyful experience that inspire smiles, laughter and fond memories for people of all ages.” We own the silver cat and he (Bingo) spends his days with my husband. Not only does Bingo provide comfort and companionship to my wheelchair bound husband, he also brings joy and comfort to me. Best of all no vet appointments, clean ups or allergy attacks!

I think this product would make a great addition to our other stress reducing activities and plan to purchase one for our school library.

BUDDY (http://www.bluefrogrobotics.com/en/buddy/) – “is the revolutionary companion robot that improves your everyday life. Open source and easy to use, BUDDY connects, protects, and interacts with each member of your family. Not content with being just a companion, BUDDY is also democratizing robotics. BUDDY is built on an open-source technology platform making it easy for global developers to build applications.”

There are other “social robots” such as Jibo (https://www.jibo.com/) and Pepper (https://www.ald.softbankrobotics.com/en/robots/pepper). I’m more partial to the furry robots than the humanoid robots.

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I was fortunate to meet Dr. Julienne Greer, a senior lecturer at UT Arlington, while attending the Texas Library Association Conference (2018) in Dallas. She had several robots with her and she explained her work with the theatre arts department in relation to the computer science department. Fascinating work being performed across the country. If you want to read more about Dr. Greer and her work in the emerging field of social robotics and human-robotic interaction (HRI), check out this article: Why we want our robots to like us. In the future, I think we’re going to being hearing a lot more on the topic of human interactions with emotional robots. I can’t wait!

OneWord

OneWord2017: Compassionate

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Last year, like many others, I participated in the #OneWord challenge. One Word is a unique way to reflect and focus on something meaningful to you in the upcoming year that can be expressed in one word. My 2017 ‘word’ was compassionate.

I thought I knew and understood compassion. But it wasn’t until I found myself in the neurosurgical ICU holding my husband’s hand praying he would survive the weekend that a whole new experience opened up to me. It is in this experience that the depth of compassion fully struck me.

Much of my writing and work with youth revolves around compassionate making. Where we actively use our makerspace to create items for others with the hope of alleviating suffering around the world. While I thought I knew compassion and how to inspire and share compassionate acts, it has been the past four months that have given me a new perspective and deeper understanding.

My husband is a well-respected physician in our community. Over and over again I’ve been told by patients and colleagues how much they admire his kindness and compassion.   Since this past August, it has been his turn to be the patient and the recipient of kindness and compassion.

Healthcare Providers

Day in and day out, millions of healthcare providers demonstrate compassion on a daily basis. My husband, myself and our family have seen and experienced the beauty of compassion in a healthcare environment. Even when my husband  transferred to a different unit on another floor, nurses and aides from the previous unit would visit on him and check up on me. Such beauty in dedication and caring.

Therapy Dogs

There is a new place in my heart for those who train and work with therapy dogs. Thanks to these caring, dedicated people, patients stuck in healthcare facilities can feel a loving connection even though they are away from their own furry family members.

Nate’s Get Well Bot

Even our three year old nephew tried to help. It’s not typical to bring a three-year old to an ICU unit, but Nate wanted to visit Uncle Alan and my niece wanted to ensure my well-being. Leery at first because he didn’t understand all the beeping machines, his mother explained the machines were robots to make people better. Later that evening Nate decided he needed to design a robot to make Uncle Alan better. Never underestimate the depth of compassion our youth have.

Blood Donors

During the course of my husband’s extended stay, probably due to multiple blood draws during this time, he required a blood transfusion. We host an annual blood drive at my high school every year and I can honestly say I never really thought about the act of donating blood and specifically how it affects the patient and his/her family. I want to take this time to thank each and every blood donor for their precious gift – giving of themselves in such a selfless act.

Friends

Over the months, there have been so many kind and compassionate friends, co-workers, colleagues and acquaintances who gave gifts, provided kind words of encouragement,  food and copious amounts of wine and chocolate. I truly experienced compassion on a daily basis.

Youth Makers

As you can tell from my previous blog posts, I embrace a maker mindset and specifically sharing that enthusiasm with youth mostly in the form of making for others. We were delighted to be the recipients of some creative youth maker activities, especially our Hanukkah gift from students at Bais Yaakov. It’s not fun celebrating traditionally home based holidays in a hospital setting.

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#OneWord2018?

What will 2018 hold in store for us? No one ever truly knows. Perhaps, my one word for 2018 should be gratitude – gratitude to be alive, gratitude for compassionate people in our lives. I am grateful for so many things I previously took for granted. Though, I must admit, I was leaning towards patience for this year’s word as I know this journey is not over. Perhaps should fill my 2018 #oneword plate with  gratitude (and a side of patience).

 

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Happy New Year

 

An ELL Holiday Gathering

The week before holiday break an teacher of ELLs and I hosted a bilingual story-time in our high school library. We chose a holiday classic, The Grinch who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. We found many of our students are unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss and common words and phrases such as ‘don’t be a Grinch!’

In addition to this literature based activity, we included cultural and tech activities. And to round out the festivities, a little gastronomic experience as well. Students sipped hot chocolate with whipped cream and nibbled on snacks consisting of Santa cookies and homemade brownies. Students were treated to a VR Santa experience which they enjoyed immensely as a field trip to the North Pole was not in our budget!

None of our students had heard of Chanukah dreidels so we taught them how to play. Using a simple instruction sheet the students, even with limited proficiency, were able to follow along and were delighted to learn how to gamble albeit with Hershey kisses.

All in all we celebrated together and through food, conversation, and friendship we embraced similar traditions while learning new ones.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!