Soraya Miré, FMG Survivor, Author and Human Rights Activist: Raising A Baby Activist

Soraya Miré, age 2, with her siblings. Somalia, Africa

Meet Soraya Mire. Life has a beautiful way of bringing people together. Serendipity worked its beautiful magic one day last year, at a local coffee shop where I was writing. As I headed for the largest table in the place, I joined a beautiful woman who smiles with her whole face. Little did I know that asking to take a seat at that table would would lead to a wonderful friendship and a chance to hear, and read, her story. Little did I know that she’d been through the unimaginable, and that she had taken her pain and used it to heal, and to become a leading Human Rights activist, author, lecturer, filmmaker and champion for justice the world over.

Little did I know.. But I know now, and you should know, too. I am so honored that she agreed to be featured as this month’s Raising A Baby Activist post.

Though Soraya was born in Somalia, this story isn’t based in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. All countries, cultures & families have cycles of pain. It is how we choose to look at them, respond to them and act in contradiction to them that matters. This story is based in our own backyard, wherever you are in the world. It is the story of children, of refugees, of moving parts. It is people coming from other cultures that we aren’t aware of. It is in America.

When I started this journey, I was ambivalent about circumcision of little boys. I once interpreted for Deaf parents whose newborn son was being circumcised and I can tell you it was terrible to watch. It was clearly painful to the newborn, and it didn’t make sense. It was bloody and horrible and felt unnecessary, but society taught me the myth that it’s “cleaner”, so witnessing what price a baby has to pay, I made the mental note not to do that if I ever had a son, blocked it out and moved on. I am now keenly aware of my place against circumcising, no matter a person’s gender. With all due respect, cultural norms, be damned.

In her book, The Girl With Three Legs: A Memoir, Soraya writes about the extreme devastation and physical, mental and emotional trauma she faced and overcame as a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation at the tender age of 13. This book takes us on her journey of how she overcame this horrendous trauma, moving forward as a champion for women and girls all over the world. Her story blew the lid off of this largely ignored “rite of passage”. “The misconception,” she explains, “is that this somehow equates to a first drink or experimentation with a drug. Or perhaps even a girl’s first menstrual period. But this has a different meaning. This is something put upon my body before I was even aware of my body.”

How did you become an activist, and what activism have you been involved in?

Looking back, I was born to be an activist. My mom used to say, “You are a reign of terror!” I believe in fairness and justice. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but if I’m right, and something is unjust, I’ll tell you without a filter. I respect religion but we are talking about child abuse under the cloak of culture. Mutilation is the ultimate child abuse. The children subjected to it were born perfect. It’s my choice if I want to enhance my body in any way at the age where I can decide for myself correctly, not influenced by the idea of the perfect body.

When I was faced with the decision to choose my family or my activist path, I was considered to have discarded my family because they disagreed with my choices to speak up and reveal what has been happening young girls in our culture, and many others, for about 2000 years. I had no choice.

I have spoken before the United Nations, U.S. Senate Human Resources & Health Assembly and the World Health Organization. I have worked with medical professionals, government officials and with women and families affected by FGM. My goal is human rights for women & girls, and to end this violent global oppression while empowering women.

I was struck by the way you were able to express the emotions of yourself as a child in your book, going through all of that trauma, but speaking as your adult self. What was that like for you?

I want you to smell that burning rotten flesh. That’s the fire that keeps me going. My voice and experience matters. I know that speaking and making you feel how I felt, you will understand millions of innocent children who are forced into this before their bodies were developed. Women can’t have a normal delivery when they give birth. The fistula -the tissue between the anus and vagina falls off – and childbirth is excruciating.

Let me walk with 3 legs. I would rather my clitoris dangling between my legs. I’d rather be “different”.

People refer to Female Genital Mutiliation as body-enhancing surgery. How could this be viewed as that?? I can’t believe this is actually a real perspective! The belief is that this is the mistake God made; that we need to fix this body so that we can make a woman the wife a husband “should have”. It’s wrong.

These are the hidden secrets in our cultures. This is the shame they live with. I wanted you to know it so that change could happen.

What do you say to the people put off the topic of FGM?

This is a crime against humanity.

There is a difference between Empathy versus Sympathy. Any human being who doesn’t have empathy has no reason to block the feelings of the other human being – especially on the topic of FGM. Sympathy comes in the form of looking horrified, turning a blind eye and downplaying what is actually happening. People say things like “What do you think about yourself? If that happened to me, I would have killed myself. What kind of a woman would I be then?” One American woman told me that she considers any person who has experienced it less of a woman because they are mutilated.

When we think of it in the right context, the response is “You’re a survivor. Beautiful. You were abused; how can we make this right and stop this cycle?”

Somalians and other Africans say ‘you brought the most intimate secret out – we had this.’ The countries and cultures knew. Torturing our kids every hour and we kept silent but I refused. I remember my mother’s eyes looking at me allowing my mother provide the ultimate betrayal.

I love and respect, understand and forgive my mother, but it doesn’t give her the right to do that without fighting for me. I have the right to say ‘you are my mother but you were wrong to do this to me. You thought I was like an animal, to do with me whatever you want.’

This happened to my mother, and her mother, and on and on. My mother was abused and so she continued the cycle with me. I didn’t ask for this so now I ask myself how I can make it better for others.

What is your advice for people who feel exhausted by the current political climate, and who may want to take action but feel that they won’t have an impact on lasting change?

We all have a spark inside. Sometimes dimmed with worries, depression, fear – it takes a lot to get off the couch and make things better. Remember why you wanted to make a change a long time ago. Make the choice to live your truth. Television will numb your brain, and you will find yourself forgetting what your truth was. Beware of the hypocrisy of religion & power.

Stay in touch 100% what your mission and purpose in life is, and you will always have that torch to pass it to the next generation. We were too angry or radical, fighting too many fronts to have a torch. Focus on one issue. CHANGE IS HERE – always remember your mission to have that spark to have that torch.

What is your advice to the youth of today, who may not be able to vote yet?

Educate yourself on the topics at hand. Become an expert and learn the opposition’s facts. A good activist must know what their opponent is thinking before your raise your voice. Be an expert without arrogance. Be authentic. Not only when the cameras shine on you. Others may not see your truth because they see standing in their truth. You have to understand what the other is feeling to bring them over.

Angels make mistakes and become eagles. Too much power goes to our head awhen we allow ego and you really must know what you’re standing for.

  • Know who you are and where you stand.
  • Be humble.
  • The closest people you know will be scared of you standing in your truth
  • Have strong, open dialogue.
  • Never, ever, ever back down when improving someone else’s life and you have done your homework
  • Know your facts.

What about parents who are raising baby activists for the future?

It is the hardest job to raise a child. A parent’s first job is to really understand their own self; making peace with their past, how they felt in society, how they saw their bodies in the eyes of others, how they came to be a parent.

Lead with encouragement and listen with sympathetic ears. Allowing their voices to have a space where they are heard “you’re just a child” Once we have empathy. If I hurt you, I know how it feels because I’ve been there.

Wanting to help their children and making peace, they must accept the child’s decision to have, do and say. The choices of understanding happen at an early age. If you take their choices as an insult, and respond with hostility, you break their heart and you are the one left to look in the mirror. When a child doesn’t understand consequences, too much freedom will lead to issues. Too much screen or phone time is unhealthy living and will damage growth.

Male Circumcision

Soraya & I also spoke about infant male circumcision. This is something inherent to American countries, and something that is not common in other countries. There are so many misconceptions among society, and the medical community who profits from its continuation, about culture, cleanliness/disease prevention,

This is the most thorough resource I have found for understanding how absolutely unnecessary & damaging Circumcision is for boys. My conclusion: Just don’t! Here is what a male experiencing this goes through.

Here is some information about male infant circumcision:

  • Performing a totally unnecessary procedure on an infant who is not at the age of consent is a human rights issue.
  • As the vaginal hood over the clitoris aids in sexual pleasure, so does the foreskin of the penis. This means that circumcised men & women tend to experience less pleasure than uncircumcised people.
  • Amputation of this body part is aesthetic in American society (“it’s what everyone does”, they say. “It’s cleaner”, they say) and it is extremely lucrative to the remainder of medical community which still supports it.
  • The reports of injury, disfigurement, infection and even death have been reported, and many more which have been kept under the radar.
  • It there is no threat to a child’s health, this – again – is medically unnecessary.
  • The idea that the uncircumcised child will be made fun of is a dated excuse for amputation and mutilation. There is a large population of uncircumcised males in the U.S. To think otherwise is a dated way of thinking.
  • As fewer parents request it, the culture is changing from the bottom, up.
  • This is a trauma, chosen and imposed upon a newborn by a parent.
  • Internationally adopted children are being circumcised far beyond the age of infancy in order to “match” their American family members and peers.

Soraya Miré works tirelessly to keep this conversation alive and open, and to continue the progress of the laws against this. Her ability to educate the world about this important issue will continue as she is developing a screenplay of “The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir”. With the brutal honesty of that which exists in real life, and the Truth of her story, this story must be told!

I can’t say this is in the past”, she says. “What about the next one, and the next one? All of us are born into raising our voices to advance humanity, to make the world a better place for all of us. When I’m feeling good, I can bless others and pay it forward. I stand in acceptance.”

To read more about Soraya’s story, visit http://www.sorayamire.org/

To donate fund to further Soraya’s work, and the making of her film, email: sorayamire@hotmail.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sorayamire

Heaven

As I join the world in trying to make heads or tails of the fact that the United States has more school shootings than any other country in the world, I was given the direction to “Define Heaven”. Our children are Heaven. They hold the future in their hands, and must be kept safe.

Heaven

Heaven is where you are.

Your life is Heaven.

Heaven is you, safe.

It is the sound of your laughter, your giggles, your cries; your button nose, and the coils that are like silk to my fingers.

Heaven is in your tiny hands and feet, which wont be so tiny anymore, but which will still be Heaven.

It is being with you, no matter what we are doing.

It is being with you after we have been apart.

It is the sun and the stars and the moon that you love so much, whose distance wont touch how much I love you.

Heaven is in your voice, as you tell me so tenderly that you love your family.

It is in the way you wrap your arms around my neck and bury your face to be as close as you can.

It is in the way that you let music take you and you move me to dance with you.

Heaven is watching you grow & change at a rate that makes my head spin.

It is seeing how compassionate you are, and what a good friend you are.

Even though you are so beautifully small, Heaven also makes you mighty.

Your presence here has already made the world better.

You remind me that Heaven is right here, working through you, my child.

You remind me that I live to make sure it stays that way.

You remind me that, as I hold the gift of being your mother,

I am gifted with the responsibility to join all other Heaven-holders to protect Heaven.

Honoring Heather Heyer: Raising A Baby Activist

Activists begin with a spark that comes from deep inside our hearts.  The desire for kindness, compassion, justice and change is what sets it all into motion.  Sometimes it shows up in our children, standing up for the oppressed or less fortunate.  And sometimes it happens for adults, in moments that turn our heads in unexpected directions.  This post, the second in the RDM “Raising a Baby Activist” series, is about both.  A child who sought to end injustice, and a mother who continues her plight to make the message louder than her loss.

I recently sat down with Susan Bro to talk about her daughter, Heather, the foundation started in her name, and how we can raise our children to be change makers from an early age.

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Photo courtesy of Susan Bro

Heather Heyer was murdered 6 months ago today, on August 12, 2017, which also happens to be my daughter’s second birthday.  While my little family was relaxing in Palm Springs, celebrating our precious daughter and her bright future, a fellow mom, Susan Bro, was faced with the unimaginable loss of her 32-year-old daughter.  The entire course of the rest of Susan’s life was altered with one phone call from Heather’s friend.  Heather was at the hospital, and they were looking for her next of kin.

The Facts About Heather Heyer’s Death

The debate of whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, sparked a protest called “Unite the Right” by a large group of white supremacists. They gathered on that fateful August day from around the nation, at the park where the statue stood in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Heather was with a group of peaceful counter-demonstrators who supported the removal of the statue due to its oppressive and inherently racist symbolism.

They were on a barricaded section of a road that intersects a pedestrian mall.  There was a barricade at both ends, so there should not have been cars there at all.  However, the top end of the street only had one sawhorse for a barricade.  Three other vehicles had already driven past that sawhorse and were parked at the other barricaded end as the crowd flowed around them. Suddenly, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through the crowd, striking and killing Heather.

On that 45-minute drive to find her daughter, Susan spent her time frantically calling hospitals to try and figure out where her daughter was.  Every call she made to hospitals resulted in being informed that they didn’t have a patient by that name.  When she finally located her at University of Virginia Hospital, she had to make the heartbreaking call to her ex-husband, Heather’s father. Their daughter was gone.

She was killed by a blunt force injury to the abdomen.  The last time Susan saw Heather was August 3, when they had dinner together.  She could not have imagined that would be the last time she would spend with her.

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Heather, at her grandparents’ 50th anniversary party (Photo courtesy of Susan Bro)

After an impromptu memorial for Heather, vandals urinated on the objects left behind, and left a note saying, “it’s okay to be white again.”  Her burial site must remain a secret, and extended family members must keep their distance for their own safety.  For the safety and security of her family, Susan Bro said very little about her feelings towards Donald Trump – though she did express them previously, so she referred me to the interviews which sum up her stance.  This interview is one that I remember clearly.

Watching Donald Trump go off script with such inexcusable ambivalence about this tragedy is burned into my memory.  “We condemn this egregious display of hatred, bigotry  and violence…on many sides…on many sides”, he said.  “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that.”

Childhood

Heather’s mom told me about what Heather was like as a child.  She describes her daughter as an artistic, athletic, strong-willed.  Her mom raised her to be an outspoken and independent little girl & teenager, “Though she wasn’t always easy to raise!”, she said.

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Stormy Face. (Photo courtesy of Susan Bro)

She wasn’t much into playing with dolls, but that wasn’t an indication of her lack of a tender heart.  She had a kindness and generosity of spirit that made her mom proud.

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Snuggling with her doll (a rare occurrence!), Patch, and Grandaddy (Photo courtesy of Susan Bro)

Susan didn’t know the extent to which her daughter was involved in activism until after her death, but it certainly did not surprise her.  As a child, Heather and her brother, Nick, were staunch supporters of biracial siblings, defending them against racism by bullies on the school bus. There were even times that Heather received detention for standing up to a teacher at school, in support of another student. As she got older, her multicultural and LGBTQ friends also received Heather’s innate love and support.

Susan was pleased that Heather was so caring of others.  As a teacher, kindness was a fundamental belief that she held dear and worked hard to instill in her children.  She admonished any sign of a lack of it & fostered all signs of it.

Heather & Nana 2
A teenager with her Nana (Photo courtesy of Susan Bro)

Heather Heyer Foundation 

“The Foundation gives me a reason to get up and feel excited about the things that we are doing.”

On her way to retirement with her husband, Kim, all of Susan Bro’s plans – who she was completely, frankly – changed on the day that Heather was killed.  In her grief, she became the voice to carry her daughter’s message far and wide.  It certainly reached me at the core of my being.  With the money collected in a fund to help the family because of Heather’s death, Susan also began Heather Heyer Foundation.  She is a cofounder, and the face of the foundation.  The quiet retirement that she and her husband were gearing up for is now on hold indefinitely.

Though donations have tapered off, the Foundation continues and Susan, along with co-founder Alfred A. Wilson – Heather’s employer and friend – work tirelessly to maintain scholarships and develop new youth-empowerment projects.  A teacher again, Susan speaks all over the world, to schools, scout troops, and anywhere else she’s invited.  Most recently, they teamed up with AIDS Healthcare Foundation for their Stand Against Hate Project and rode in the Rose Bowl Parade.

The Foundation’s newest program called “Heyer Voices”, in development now, gives voice to its youth who develop awareness campaigns and service projects, while the grownups serve as guidance and support.  “So often, youth have told us that their voices are drowned out because they have adults talking at them.  This program will shift the voice to youth, so their ideas can be heard and put into action.”

How to Raise a Baby Activist

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“This is what an activist looks like” Photo by Lola Shahdadi

Susan & I spoke a lot about being mothers and how challenging it can be.  We talked about how to instill a sense of activism from a young age.

  • The key, she said, is to instill empathy. “A sense of security and love begins at home.  We must provide our children with the feelings and experiences at home so that they will carry that out into the world.”
  • Teach children not to succumb to picking on others.  “Find that kid who’s left out.  Try to hang out with people who lack that sense of belonging and love and include them.”
  • “Give them self-worth. Hate groups look for kids with low self-esteem.  They are targeting them at a higher rate than ever.”
  • “Teach empathy by buying or making gifts for people, making cookies and delivering them to your neighbors, or get involved with service projects like volunteering at your local animal shelter.”
  • “Watch for the teachable moments on television and talk about them.”

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Photo courtesy of Susan Bro

Heather and her mom talked about the politics of the world a lot.  They did not always agree, but they did share the same fundamental beliefs.  “Heather was really good at making me look at both sides of an issue, and we usually came out on the same side.”

One important lesson that Susan learned from her child was that it is common to respond to things viscerally, rather than to analyze the facts. The visceral reaction, that often comes from a viral post on social media, is less likely to be true.  It’s important to consult several sources and fact check rather than to immediately jump on the bandwagon of upheaval.

The social justice work that Heather gave her life for was not extinguished by her death.  It continues, louder than ever.  A regular young woman who loved her job and to party with her friends has become an icon for that justice.

On this day, and moving forward, I ask that we all remember Heather’s message, and carry it with us.  Be courageous, be informed, speak from your heart.  Do not give up making peaceful and positive change in the world.  Most importantly, as you ask yourself if you should stand against hate, remember what Heather knew with all her heart: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.”

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Photo courtesy of Susan Bro

A very special thank you to Susan Bro permitting me to interview her for this article.  It is was an honor to speak with a mother who is sharing such a powerful Truth.  To learn more about Heather Heyer Foundation, please visit:  https://www.heatherheyerfoundation.com/

Sister Helen Prejean – Raising a Baby Activist

Every morning, my daughter and I stand in front of her dresser mirror, and we read “She counts 112 blessings every day” from a piece of artwork in her room.  Then, starting with the top her head, we count her crown, forehead, eyes, down her face and end at 15 with her heart.  Every day, I end it with “And your heart is your biggest blessing.”  My hope is that kindness, if nothing else, will be her mark on the world.

As I begin this series of Raising a Baby Activist interviews, I can think of no better way than with the key element of compassion.  If you haven’t heard of Sister Helen Prejean, perhaps you have seen the movie Dead Man Walking, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, based on her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.  For me, her work is the epitome of human compassion and dignity.

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Helen in the doorway of the death row facility at Angola Prison ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

With a third book soon to be released, Sister Helen is on the road spreading her message, encouraging people to educate themselves on the issues around this controversial topic.  I recently had the opportunity to sit down with her communications manager, Griffin Hardy, to learn about her journey, work and mission.

Early Life

Born in 1939 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sister Helen’s father was an attorney, and her upbringing was one of privilege.  They had servants in their home, not unusual for families of certain means during that time.  When she was 18, she became a Catholic nun.  In the 1950s, nuns wore habits, Mass was said in Latin, and the sisters received male names.  Their work was assigned within the church confines.  Sister Helen taught middle school English and was a religious education director.

With the liberalization and modernization of the Catholic church known as Vatican 2, nun habits were abandoned, original names restored and, much to Sister Helen’s dismay at the time, roles changed to working out in the service of the community at large.  Her response to this was “we are nuns, not social workers!”  Indeed, she was resistant to these changes from the traditional, but these changes led her into a whole new world, and her life’s work.

New Life Experiences

In the early 1980s, Sister Helen attended a retreat with her religious community, where the presenter, a sociologist named Sister Mary Augusta Neal, addressed the Gospel of Jesus, Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,”
New International Version (NIV),

presenting that idea that the Good News is that the poor will be poor no longer.  This was a defining moment in her life as she realized the need for human compassion among all people.  She moved to a housing project in New Orleans, where she dedicated her life to working with and helping the poor and underserved.

She was living in low-income community that was 100% African-American.  She realized that those folks who served her home as a child were only familiar to her on a first-name basis.  Her new neighbors were providing her with a new perspective into the “other America”, and woke her up to a new way of seeing all people as she learned about them and their different life experiences.

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Helen in front of Hope House in the St. Thomas housing project ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

Her work in this community involved improving literacy, and working with a prison coalition.  The director of the coalition asked if the sisters would write letters to Death Row inmates.  That is how she came to know, and become spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killers of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison.   Pat Sonnier’s case was the one that involved his brother, Eddie, testifying against him in exchange for a life sentence. Eddie died in 2013 and Sister Helen had continued to visit him on a regular basis in the years since Pat’s execution in 1984.

Looking back on this connection with Sonnier, Sister Helen jokes, “The problem wasn’t writing to him.  It was that he wrote back!”  And so, this pen pal began to reveal himself to her, then asked her to visit him.  She made the 3-hour journey to the Louisiana/Mississippi border to the death row facility where he was being held.  There is not much information to prepare one for this experience as much information about facilities of this nature is deliberately kept secret.  This was a completely foreign experience for Sister Helen, and one that proved to be an enormous light bulb moment.  She spent several years as Sonnier’s spiritual advisor, helped him secure a new lawyer and was present at his execution.

Activist Life Lessons

“People are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done in their life.” 

  • There have always been light bulb moments and the reveal of new perspectives for this humble and amazing woman.  When she met Sonnier, she saw a human being.  Her service means being present with people where they are. It means having empathy and reinforcing human dignity.  There is more to these people, who many view as nothing but monsters.  That is the bottom line.
  • A regret that Sister Helen in the case of her role in Patrick Sonnier’s life was that she didn’t connect with the families of his victims until they happened to meet at a parole hearing.  They are not on the opposite side of this, and she doesn’t have to choose a side to be present with people.
  • Human dignity is not only prisoners, but everybody.  Developing, reinforcing and applying general awareness daily.

 How to be an Activist

“Ignited passion can happen at any age.”  We are so often paralyzed by the injustice of a situation.  Once you’ve made that realization, do something.  If Sister Helen can accomplish coming to this understanding at 40, imagine what young people can do.  The sooner you start, the easier it is to apply human dignity to your work daily and effectively.  There are different levels of commitment, but every person has the ability to do something.

  • Write a letter
  • Contact an elected official
  • Attend a march or rally

The sooner you start, the easier it is to apply human dignity to your work daily and effectively.

The Death Penalty

For a very long time, the political framework of the death penalty put all parties on the wrong side.  As time has gone on, everything from subjective faith-based beliefs to financial concerns.  Democrats added abolition of it to their platform in 2016.

It is a widely held belief that it is more cost-effective to put an inmate to death than to sentence them to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.  That is not the case.    The counterintuitive Truth is that it costs more to house and kill a death row inmate.  Though Republicans may not publicly oppose it, Democrats and Republicans have formed a coalition on this important social issue, for independent reasons.  Even the very Republican Koch Brothers are in support of Social Justice Reform!

Most people don’t know much about the death penalty because a lot of information about the process is kept secret.   That’s the only way that the death penalty continues to be propped up.  It would be very difficult to defend the idea of taking a defenseless person, shackling them, marching them into a room, putting them on a table, and pumping them full of poison. It’s the most premeditated of killings. It’s the most premeditated of killings. Rather than defend the indefensible, our governments do all they can to hide the realities of capital punishment. Laws have been passed to hide just about everything about the process.  We know more about how veterinarians euthanize pets than about how our government kills human beings. -Griffin Hardy

Today

Sister Helen has 35 years in her line of work with Death Row inmates and her work in under-served communities.  She was present for 5 more Death Row executions.  She is the public face of the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, and is currently spiritual advisor to 2 Death Row inmates and also works with the families involved.  She is releasing a new book in the fall, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

As Ella & I count her heart as her biggest blessing each day, my hope is that she is inspired by the work of activists like Sister Helen Prejean, whose heart is surely her biggest blessing.

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Helen visiting with Dobie Gillis Williams. Helen was Dobie’s spiritual advisor. He was executed at Angola in 1999 ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

My deepest gratitude goes to Griffin Hardy for taking the time to talk with me about this crucial issue in our American society.  The work of the Ministry, and all its staff, are instrumental to the education around all of the complexities of the death penalty.  I’m certainly inspired and more informed now.  I hope that you are as well.

To donate, purchase her books and support the continued work of the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, please go to https://www.sisterhelen.org/ .

Parenting Through Grief: What I’ve Learned

Lots of things change when we become parents.  Last year, my uncle died only 8 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, leaving his young wife, 2 small children and extended family and friends devastated.  In April, I had spine surgery, leaving me unable to bend, twist or lift (my daughter or almost anything else) for 6 weeks.  Recovery to the point where I felt normal again was a long 3 months.  Recently, I ended a 27-year friendship that had become toxic.  It has been quite a year.  How I handle these things now versus how I would have before becoming a parent is vastly different.

As the 1-year anniversary of my beloved uncle’s death approached last week, I felt grief in its current form take over me like a wave of sadness that was only relieved by a hike to the place where his ashes were spread.

  • As a parent, I can say that having my girl’s sweet face to greet me each morning has been a game-changer in how I process just about everything, including such deep loss.  On days when I would just cancel my day and go back to bed, I’m up, engaged and engaging.  While I am lifted up out of my own sadness by the busy life of a 2-year-old, I’ve learned that this cannot change the actual processing that needs to take place in my grieving
  • Let Nothing Stop You From Taking Care of Yourself

Having a supportive partner, I’ve been able to talk openly, when I could verbally express myself, about the impact that my feelings of loss have had on me.  Recently, I also decided to pursue grief counseling.  It is here that I learned the lesson to let nothing get in the way of taking care of yourself.  Find things that are just for you – a hobby that brings you calming enjoyment, exercise, meditate, try acupressure, get back to listening to your favorite music.  Having set times to write each day or each week has been part of my healing process.  Whether it is posting a new blog post or free writing, I get into a groove and it is my relief.

  • Don’t Hide Your Grief From Your Kids

My daughter is very verbal, especially when she wants to express her feelings.  This comes from our willingness to share our own feelings, talk about them and get through the feelings.  Being honest with our kids is modeling how to be healthy about their own stuff.  I can feel sad openly, and then when I’m okay, I can feel okay openly.  I want my daughter to know that she can do the same.  I do this in the simplest terms like “Mommy feels sad because she misses (someone).” And then, “Mommy feels better because this photo of him makes me feel happy.”

  • Slow and Steady

Trying to hide grief causes it to show up in less constructive ways.  If I’m in a fog over it and not processing it constructively, I become distracted, irritable or tired.  When I’m in it, it has to be a conscious decision to pull myself out, but I do it because it makes for a better day, every time.  I’ve learned that while it’s important to feel it, maintaining control of how it’s doled out is also crucial.

Someone who experienced the death of their child once told me that grief is a like an ocean that comes in waves, and ebbs and flows as it needs to, forever.  Indeed, it does.

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