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

The Compassionate Maker: Because we all need a little ‘kind’ in our lives.  

Today is Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor those military veterans who served our country in the Armed Forces. So in our MakerCare Center, what better way to honor the men and women of the military, than that of a heartfelt ‘Thank You.’

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Our MakerCare Center was all set up this week with supplies needed to create personalized greetings. Colored pencils, markers, glue and scissors all lined up ready to go. Cardstock paper in a variety of colors. Students approached the center not sure how to proceed; what exactly to say? After some thoughtful reflection, the words came flowing out and the artistry and creativity shone. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Our successful MakerCare program facilitates service projects for our teens as described in this  School Library Journal article. A highlight for us was to be recognized by Maker guru himself, Dale Dougherty. The truly special thing about our program is the amount of collaboration that takes place among myself, staff and outside agencies. Our collaborations go deep, and in this case, obtaining the names of service members and veterans so students can truly appreciate the sacrifice made by these men and women. dale-dougherty-tweet-compassionate-making

To personalize the interaction I gathered names of service people from either our community or related to someone in our community. Students got a particular kick out that one of the servicemen lives/serves in Hawaii! I explained to them it was well deserved after a tour in Afghanistan and winters in Fort Drum! Another of our contacts lives on base in Alaska! I also gave students an opportunity to write to a recent Islip grad, my son Jacob, a Marine.

 

I was truly touched by one of the cards. Read it below and I dare you not to say, ‘Wow’ afterwards.

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This week I presented at the Long Island Regional School Library Conference, discussing our school  philosophy of Compassionate Making and how we implemented our MakerCare program. It was well received probably because we all need a little ‘kind’ in our lives.

no-act-of-kindness-no-matter-how-small-wasted-aesopAs always, it’s our dedication to collaboration that provided our students with this special MakerCare experience. At Islip High School, we are dedicated to #makeadifference in the lives of others!

Sincerely,

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The Compassionate Maker: #Make a Difference in the World

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Last year around this time a former student barely 18 years old passed away suddenly. Tragic and senseless, that was the impetus of compassionate making as an outlet for teens in my school. The idea to make for others to alleviate or help in making one feel better whether to heal wounds caused by grief or to assist local community agencies is one of the cornerstones to compassionate making. I wrote about this experience in Teacher Librarian called The Compassionate Makerspace: Grief and Healing in a High School Library Makerspace. The article details the collaboration between Mrs. Volkmann, our Interact Club advisor, and myself and how students came together in the makerspace to create a memorial to a peer.

I work regularly with service based clubs in my school. Advising. Assisting. I used to lead the Interact Club, a rotary based club for teens, with the guiding motto Service Above Self. I’ve always had this sense of helping others. There are so many in my school who share this same philosophy so collaboration is easy.

Making for a cause or to benefit another being is not a new idea. Mankind has shown compassion for centuries. What is new is the way we can foster this emotion. As teachers and maker leaders, we can model and facilitate compassion in children and we can do that with the availability of makerspaces. While STEM is a major focus for many makerspaces (and rightly so) there’s no need to exclude crafting. And while my teens love to craft for themselves, I also have many who come in to make items for Mother’s Day or an Aunt’s birthday.

I welcome this.

I embrace this.

I facilitate this.

Expanding on the work we’ve already done, we have dedicated an area for our MakerCare activities benefitting others. We don’t have a specific service learning  requirement at our school, but many students need service hours or activities for resumes. A sign-in book to log and keep track of their hours resides in this area.

Many character education programs, in my opinion, don’t work. They ‘talk’ about being compassionate, kind, helpful. One of my favorite sayings adequately describes my sentiment, “Acta non verba.” Deeds not words! You’ve got to do something. #Make a difference!

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This September we’re starting with our furry friends in need. We’ve all seen shelter dogs, whether on TV or while on a visit to a facility. Bored and sad in a kennel waiting for a forever family to bring them home. How simple it is for us to make a difference in their lives using a few upcycled fabrics. Old, stained, worn fabric from tees, jeans, and towels can have an extra life. Simply call for these items to be donated to your library. Once collected, cut the fabric into strips and braid. Who needs expensive pet store toys?

My two shi-poos love their homemade toys. (I make theirs from the lone sock bucket in my laundry room. You know how it is, two socks go in and only one comes out….Btw – what’s up with that?)

If you want to get fancy find some old tennis balls. Tennis clubs and high school tennis teams are good place to ask for free ones. Why spend the money? I’m fortunate my school has a tennis team and we also have a local tennis club. Make a slit on both the ends, then push your braid(s) through. Voilà dog toys!

This year some of our projects will go overseas, such as Little Dresses for Africa, and many will stay close to home like our dog toy project. Either way, our teens are making a difference in the world – local and global.

I hope you’ll join me here on this blog as we document and discuss the successes and failures of our MakerCare program. Let’s build a community of caring, compassionate makers.

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Tea Time in the Library

As part of our Big Read we host a program called Chai & Chat on Wednesdays. It’s a way of having a relaxing book talk experience. On Fridays we host a multi-sensory activity called Tastes, Textures, and Thoughts where we can taste Pakistani foods, smell aromatic spices, and feel the unique textures of authentic salwaar kameez. We are reading I Am Malala.

Last Friday I had a group of young men come to the library and join our activity. We served a traditional rice pudding, Kheer, topped with pistachios, as well as other sweets. Savory would be served the following week. A student asked, “Mrs. Seymour do you have anymore chai tea?” Yes, of course; I actually have several varieties of tea stored in my office as I can’t seem to go two hours with out a cup. It’s Friday, not Wednesday so I hadn’t planned on serving tea until a second student chimed in, “Oh, I like chai tea. I tried it last week.” And a third exclaims, “I’ve never had tea.”

This is the point when my eyebrows raise involuntarily and an incredulous look permeates my face. “Seriously?” “No, Mrs. Seymour. I’ve never had a cup of tea.” Okay, we have to rectify this situation – immediately. Get the tea kettle from my office. Fill it with water. You, get the milk from the fridge in my office. Let’s get to work.

As we wait for the water to boil, we talk about Malala, history, and the Marines; one of the boys has enlisted and will be off to Parris Island this summer. He expressed a desire to read about Malala’s situation in Pakistan and the Taliban. I hope any new information and cultural experiences acquired will serve him well.

I leave the students with tea, milk, sugar, and a sense of amazement. For I have in front of me a group of young men, upperclassmen, Seniors, marine-in-waiting, sitting around a library table sipping tea. Shaking my head, I think, ‘you just can’t make this stuff up.’ I also think, if a group of students can graduate high school knowing how to read and in turn choose to read about things that interest them all with the comfort of a cup of tea, well then, life is good and I’ve done my job well.