Crafting Your Grief: Holiday Resources

Last week I facilitated a Crafting your Grief session for the Islip Public Library. I, like most widows, find the holidays a bit of a challenge. During this session I provided the craft supplies and some resources. Today I’d like to share some of those resources to you, my readers.

Journaling

You can never go wrong with journaling. This resource is a 14-Day Holiday Gratitude Journal with prompts for reflections. “Research shows that is does not matter whether or not you talk about the things you are grateful for, but what matters is that you take time to slow down, reflect, and be grateful.

The Rights of a Griever

A favorite poem/prayer:

Books

Crafting Your Grief: Four Candles, a New Tradition

Tonight begins Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. There’s beauty and a sense of peace one feels while gazing into the warm glow of firelight. As I write this I reflect on a new family tradition borne out of necessity.

4 votive candles on a festive plate

Two years ago on Thanksgiving, our family started a new holiday tradition – lighting four candles in memory of my husband. It was our first holiday without him and the first time in thirty years we celebrated elsewhere. We were already experiencing changes in our lives and celebrations but I wanted to take back some small sense of control by initiating a new family tradition of our choice.

That’s when the Four Candles tradition began. It’s not easy finding a candle holder with four branches. One, two, and three stems seem most common. I didn’t like any of the commercial candleholders I found. So I decided if you can’t find one you like, make your own!

You will need

  • 4 votive candles
  • Label maker (or decorative markers)
  • 1 5 x 7 piece of stiff cardboard
  • Wrapping paper (could also use aluminum foil)
  • Ribbon or decorative bling, optional
  • Glue gun
  • tape
  • Scissors

Instructions

  • Wrap the cardboard with paper or foil and tape
  • Glue the votive candles to the wrapped board
  • Glue the ribbon and any decorations to the board
  • Using a label maker (or sharpie markers) write out thes four words: grief, love, And attach to the votive holder
  • print out a copy of the Four Candles poem
  • *Do not leave flame unattended

Here’s a few more inspirational poems involving candles. https://www.compassionatefriends.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/WCL-Poem-Ideas.pdf

Alternatives: Use LED battery operated votive candles if you don’t wish an open flame. Upcycled Oui yogurt jars can be used as a candle holder, for a more permanent candle display. Pick and choose colors you like and that have meaning for you and your loved one.

When former family traditions no longer fit, it’s okay to create new ones.

Crafting Your Grief: Red Cardinal Memory Ornament

When November’s cool temperatures and colorful leaves arrive melancholy sets in. You see November celebrations – my birthday, my late husband’s birthday, our anniversary AND Thanksgiving are all crammed into this month…with Hanukkah and Christmas just around the corner. It can be a lot to handle. In the past two years I have discovered ways to ‘make’ my grief tolerable.

This post will be the first in a series called, Crafting Your Grief, where I will share with you hands on ways to express your grief, create new traditions, or memorialize a loved one.

Red Cardinal Memory Ornament

Supplies Needed:

  • Small plastic terrarium ornament
  • White modeling clay
  • Red cardinal
  • Bottlebrush pine tree
  • Ribbon or twine/Red bow with bell
  • Feather, white or red (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Using your fingers, spread the modeling clay into the bottom of the ornament. Insert tree and cardinal. Push each into the modeling clay and mold the clay around each item. Adding a feather is optional.
  2. Attach the holiday bow and bell onto the the ornament using a glue gun or glue dot. Just a dot of glue on the outside top of the ornament should hold bow/bell in place. Let the bells hang over the ornament for decorative effect and to allow them to chime.
  3. Let the glue and modeling clay dry. Your ornament is ready to hang.
  4. Optional: If you have a Cricut machine, create a name/date sticker to attach to the back of the ornament. Or use a black sharpie, to write name/dates. I left mine blank.

Symbolism

Red Cardinal

Feathers

White feathers are a sign that the angels are with you right now. It signifies comfort, peace, purity, and protection.  What Does a Feather Symbolize?

“Feathers appear when angels are near.”

Bell

Watching It’s a Wonderful Life was an annual family tradition. I had to add a bell to my ornament!

Virtual Parenting

Virtual Parenting in the Time of COVID-19 

So, I began my Monday not in my school library but at home in front of my computer. Gathering sources, fielding questions, managing our social media presence. It’s going to ‘interesting’ to say the very least. Over the weekend our County Executive ordered Long Island (NY) schools closed beginning Monday, March 16, 2020. Soon NYC schools would shutter, too. New York is currently a hot spot for the novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19.  

Parents of school age children have been posting all week – memes, anecdotes, suggestions, and more. Unlike other parents, my children are grown and all four have completed their university degrees. I do not have to balance home schooled education and my job. I’m grateful for this and thought, ‘Okay, this should be easy…or smooth…or not too bad. I can handle this.’ Well, I realized very quickly that whether your children are all sheltering with you or without, it’s going to be a challenge. Did my surety tempt the Fates?

Virtual parenting. I’m a virtual parent. I have four children in three different states; one of these states is another hot spot (CA) and at the time on the verge of shutting down. So, on Monday, March 16 I watched my son get married on a Facebook. Speaking with him over the weekend, it was clear the wedding as originally planned for April was no longer an option. There was time for me to fly out to LA and make it to the wedding. I struggled with this decision. I wanted to be there, but what if I brought the virus with me?  So instead, I logged into the Facebook watch group and grabbed some tissues. 

Fortunately, the joy of welcoming a new member to our family outweighed my melancholy of watching remotely. I thought, “I got through today, I can handle anything.” Here’s a recommendation: Don’t tempt the Fates. Tuesday morning my immunocompromised daughter calls to tell me she has been tested for COVID19; she had symptoms, tested negative for flu and is in the high-risk category. Again, I had to parent remotely weighing whether I should bring her home and potentially infect others living in my house. Should I drive into Brooklyn and bring her food even though she had food and I Amazoned other supplies. Each day we spoke, multiple times a day just to be sure she was doing okay. By Saturday we got the confirmation she tested positive. 

One week down… 

Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Seymour!

Death and Taxes

It’s often said the two certainties in life are death and taxes. So, as we approach April 15, Tax Day, I wanted to reflect on death, finances and organization. That’s right, not my usual topic for this blog. As many of you know, my husband passed away this summer. He had suffered a brain bleed and multiple complications starting the summer prior. During this experience I learned (the hard way) how unprepared we were for life’s complications and the inevitable – death and taxes. In the subsequent months, I’ve also learned I’m not alone in this experience. Many of my colleagues were intrigued to hear my responses to their queries and quips. Upon speaking with one colleague, she said she was fine if she needed to speak with the insurance company because she had a health care proxy designating her. Another said it would be fine because she’s a spouse. No, sorry that’s not correct. Sometimes you can get someone to talk to you if you sob and beg, but most of the time not. I needed to fill out a specific health care form (yearly) to have conversations about my husband’s bills (even though I hold the insurance).

I’ve been asked by numerous colleagues and friends to write or present about this topic. I’m flatter, but I am not an expert, nor qualified to impart estate planning advice, so please don’t use this information below as such. This post is not intended as a guide of what to do, but rather a guide to start asking questions. It’s not intended to ‘scare’ you, its goal is to make you think (and potentially act when necessary). I figure if I can make a difference in your life, then that’s all the difference in the world. Because my colleagues and readers, you are the world to me. 

The Will 

“I was planning on doing that this summer…” 

Be that as it may, life may have other plans for you. Get thee to an attorney as soon as possible. In New York, a spouse inherits without a will but there could be glitches so better safe than sorry. Other states may have other rules – so again, consult an attorney. The Will is what most of us focus on as ‘the’ necessary legal document. However, you’ll discover there are several other considerations as we continue with this list. 

Power of Attorney (POA) 

The often overlooked POA is critical when trying to get anything done on behalf of your spouse or loved one. No, the phone company, credit card nor bank does not have to talk to you if you’re not on the account. I didn’t realize how many bills and services were in my husband’s name. I had one person at Verzion help me suspend my husband’s phone line as he wasn’t able to use it and it was one more bill to pay. Other than that, I couldn’t get anything done. Over the course of the year I had to handle my husband’s medical practice, banking, transfer car titles and more. POA gives the receiver as much or as limited ‘power’ as you decide. This should be discussed with an attorney (and possibly a marriage counselor!). POA helps out in times when a person cannot handle their own affairs, as in the case of disability or unconsciousness. 

Who’s your Beneficiary? 

You know those life insurance forms you filled out over a decade ago when you were first hired? Who did you name as beneficiary? Don’t know? Think you know? Well, you should double check. It might be your ex! Start with your employer and/or union provided life insurance plans, then your own purchased plans and update your forms at your financial institution accounts (I.e. Morgan Stanley, e-Trade, etc.). These funds go directly to the named beneficiary, no will necessary. 

He/She died. Now what? 

Aside from curling up in a fetal position and crying, you’ll have plenty of things to do. 

Get a list of what to do when a spouse dies. There are many checklists online – I used a combination of two different ones. You will need all your legal documents, accounts and documents organized. Ask family members or friends to help. It’s too overwhelming to accomplish solo. Prioritize the list and tackle a little bit at a time. 

Practice self-care. You want to focus on your family and tackle items on the never-ending checklist but remember take care of yourself the best you can even though it is probably the hardest task you’ll face. Btw – it’s okay to flip out. Really. A week after my husband death I boarded a plane for Hawaii. I couldn’t stand being in our house, so I decided to visit my newest (one month old) niece on Oahu 12 hours away. Babies have a way of breathing new life in us. 

Oh, and by the way, you know all that stuff I mentioned above? The Will, the POA, your beneficiaries. Rinse and repeat. You’ll have to re-do all of them. 

PS – making a list of every account username and password cannot be stressed enough. Do it now! 

Poetry & Social Justice

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry” –W.B. Yeats 

Along with numerous schools throughout the country, next month students at Islip High School will celebrate National Poetry Month. On Friday, April 12 we will use the library all day to highlight and celebrate poems, poets, and poetry. Hands-on activities such as magnetic poetry, Post-A-Poem, Spine Poetry and Blackout Poetry, in addition to poetry recital will round out the gathering. We’ll also have a passive display of novels in verse. 

*Remember these activities listed above can be done in any language.
Give it a try – Pull out your Spanish language books for spine poetry!

One way to make your Poetry celebration unique, is to include poems highlighting social justice.  

Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (edited by Gail Bush) is an excellent choice. This anthology includes “over 50 works of poetry by 20th century writers on issues related to social justice in American society.” Use with middle school and high school classes. 

Here are some helpful resources related to this title:

Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice Book Group Discussion Guide 

Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice Teacher’s Guide 

Interested in additional books? Take a look at Sylvia Vardell’ “Classroom Connections: Poetry and Social Justice” from Book Links
 

Or, try using The Poetry Foundation’s Collection – “Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment” where students can explore “why poetry is necessary and sought after in moments of political crisis.” 

Make connections through poetry by creating found poems. “In this activity, students analyze and interpret historical, primary source content, then synthesize the information, making personal connections with history as they retell it from their own perspective. The activity provides an opportunity for students to creatively share their historical understanding with an authentic audience. 

While writing original poetry can be daunting to students, this activity uses a “found poetry” strategy. Using rich primary source texts, students select words that allow them to retell the historical content in poetic form.”  

“To create a found poem, students select words, phrases, lines, and sentences from one or more written documents and combine them into a poem. Raw material for found poems can be selected from newspaper articles, speeches, diaries, advertisements, letters, food menus, brochures, short stories, manuscripts of plays, shopping lists, and even other poems.” Additional information can be found in this pdf. This activity is similar to blackout poetry. 

So as you plan your National Poetry Month celebrations and activities, consider including social justice as a theme. 

Upstander

Collaboration

It started off a few months ago with an English teacher looking for research project ideas for 10th grade students having read Elie Wiesel’s Night and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Not sure which title to choose, we sat down to discuss many options during our collaborative sessions. After brainstorming multiple topics, we realized we wanted to focus on the positive, on hope, instead of the negative elements and characters within each title. So, we combined aspects of the two books and decided on the topic of being an upstander in the face of prejudice, even when facing bodily harm or death. This fit the character of Atticus Finch and elements of the holocaust. Both books espouse themes of Good vs Evil, particularly the coexistence of good and evil within a community. Both novels look at racism and prejudice and while it would have been equally relevant to focus on those themes, we decided to use Atticus as an example of upstander while finding about more about upstanders during the holocaust. To examine, perhaps, the inherent goodness or evil in people and standing up even in the face of harm or death. With this theme we could discuss and analyze both books. 

This LibGuide helped guide students to reliable resources.

Student Reaction 

Students had a pre-conceived notion of upstanders during the holocaust. Many were subsequently shocked to hear Oskar Schindler described thusly, “A hedonist and gambler by nature, Schindler soon adopted a profligate lifestyle, carousing into the small hours of the night, hobnobbing with high ranking SS-officers, and philandering with beautiful Polish women” while researching on the Yad Vashem website. We had great conversations. Most of us agreed he was an upstander, but we probably wouldn’t want to be married to him! There’s often a dichotomy to people’s behavior. You don’t have to be perfect or a model citizen. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to be an upstander. It isn’t all or nothing. You don’t have to help hundreds, for “He who saves a single life, saves the world entire.” Many of our researched upstanders helped one family or one child and that was enough of a difference. I shared a story to our students regarding my father-in-law’s service during the WWII. He was a fighter pilot shot down over occupied France. It was through the efforts of the French Underground who helped him survive and reach allied forces. Their efforts increased his ability to return home to the states where subsequently my husband was born. From their our marriage and four children. This is My world entire and upstanders who risked their lives made it happen. 


“Scholars have attempted to trace the characteristics that these Righteous share and to identify who was more likely to extend help to the Jews or to a persecuted person.” “By comparing and contrasting rescuers and bystanders during the Holocaust, they pointed out that those who intervened were distinguished by characteristics such as empathy and a sense of connection to others.” 


https://www.yadvashem.org/righteous/about-the-righteous.html  

I feel strongly that our students’ coursework and daily school-life need infusions of both empathy and connectedness.

I have been moved by this project, learning alongside students as we discover the hundreds of men and women who risked all to stand up to injustice. I encourage you to examine and explore these websites https://www.yadvashem.org/righteous/stories.html or https://jfr.org/rescuer-stories/  and learn more about righteous upstanders.

Library Visits: Ooh Rah!

Many of us school librarians have off for Presidents’ Week.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC. As with so many other vacations, I found a library to visit. Shocking right? This is my second military library. My first was the library at Quantico (VA).

Whether I’m traveling nationally or internationally, exploring local libraries will always be a favorite activity. I usually sign up for preconference library tours. My favorites have been organized by SLJ Summit and IASL (a tour of public and school libraries in Long Beach, CA).

Four years ago this week, my husband and I traveled to Ireland. I chose our hotel in Dublin based on the fact it was across the street from the National Library. Of course we visited the Long Room and Book of Kells at Trinity College. We even talked our way into day passes into the college library. And in my opinion, no trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Beatty Library.

We learn so much from visiting each other’s libraries – programming, displays, furniture set up and more. During my visit to Lejeune, I spotted signage advertising sewing in their makerspace; it was positioned in the 600s near the DDC for sewing. Brilliant idea! Meet the patrons where they are.

Meet the patrons where they are.

I hope you have a restful and productive week off; a week filled with new ideas and new experiences to share.

Tidying Up

Our staff book club is reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It has sparked numerous conversations! 

Beginning a new year always seems to inspire a fresh start. You try something new, lose weight, tidy up your abode. This year Netflix’s new series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, has encouraged even more people to tackle their accumulation of ‘stuff’.  

As my readers know, most of my posts focus on helping others, alleviating suffering or upcycling. So, this post is no different. I wish to share with you how I am riding myself of years of collecting and providing others with options as well. Let’s face it, we can’t all just throw our stuff out; our garbage dumps are full enough! There’s quite a few programming ideas here too. Your library makerspace/programming may be able to capitalize on the KonMari craze and score some wonderful assets. Here are a few ways you can help others and yourself: 

Clothing 

  1. Donate to thrift shops or consider selling your items to local consignment shops. I’ve used an online consignment shop, ThredUp, to sell my good quality, still usable items. They take clothing, shoes, handbags, scarves and costume jewelry. 
  2. Cotton t-shirts can become dog toys for an animal shelter or rescue group. 
  3. Bras. Let’s face it we’ve all purchased a bra or two (or more) that looked and felt fine in the store for the five minutes we had it on in the dressing room. Now what to do with it after we discovered the painful truth. Donate to Free the Girls, or another upcycler/recycler organization
  4. I found some socks leftover that I’ll make into catnip toys

Books

  1. Donate to Friends of the Library at your public library or a local group collecting books. We have the Book Fairies nearby. 
  2. We host an annual Read to Feed book sale. We gather used books and sell them students and staff for a nominal fee in our school library. All proceeds go to Heifer International, an organization striving to end world hunger. 
  3. Upcycle for crafts. Blackout poetry. Using die cuts (I.e. Ellison) cut out letters for library displays. Decoupage. I written about sustainability and also have a LibGuide on upcycling various household objects.

Papers 

  1. Over the course of tidying up, I’ve shredded quite a bit of paper. We use the shreds to supplement our pet rabbit, Gin’s, habitat.  
  1. Non-sensitive paper items can be put in the recycle bin. Help the world! 

Komono (Miscellaneous) 

  1. While going through my make-up draw I found several eyelash/eybrow items. Wash these up and send them to Wands for Wildlife
  2. Fun programming idea: Turn that draw full of takeout chopsticks into Harry Potter wands!
  3. Towels can go to your local animal shelter.
  4. Turn pillowcases into Little Dresses for Africa. Our animal shelter will take pillowcases – they use them to capture and collect snakes!

Sentimental 

  1. My husband passed away this summer, so this is a difficult category for me. I’ve offered my children various items. One son has my husband’s stethoscope, and another has his art easel. I believe these sentimental items will ‘spark joy’ in their homes. 
  2. I can’t seem to part with my husband’s favorite shirts, so I believe I’ll have teddy bears made from the fabric. I’ll give these bears to future grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews. Since I can’t sew well, I’ll turn to Etsy for this.
  3. If you’re looking for memorial ideas, take a look at my Grief and Bereavement LibGuide
  4. Every year I go to ALA Annual and some years, MidWinter. While there, I always buy a conference t-shirt. I don’t actually wear t-shirts (ever), but they take up an entire drawer of space. So, I’ve decided to make them into a quilt using Project Repat, one of many online quilting services. Now I’ll have a needed blanket for my guest room and it will ‘spark joy’ remembering all the conferences, people and places. 

When handling your items there are three categories: throw away, keep, relocate. Try to upcycle as much as you can when throwing away. And don’t forget to thank each item!