Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Lessons learned in grief

Lessons learned last a lifetime. But no matter how old we get, grief is often a lesson in futility. We are unable to escape the pain of it despite the fact that we begin the experience from an early age. The death of a pet is usually the first step on a child's journey into the dark side of life. A grandparent's death can fill a child with questions about life everlasting.

My younger brother died unexpectedly from a brain melanoma. It was 3 weeks from diagnosis to death. To say I was unprepared for the loss of my brother is an understatement. My parents, in their 80's, were devastated by the loss of their son. I am the oldest of seven and each of us mourned our brother, knowing that our lives would never be the same without him.

Four months later my Dad was killed in an automobile accident. I spoke with him the night before, so the phone call from my Mom the following morning telling me he was killed pulling out of their driveway, was surreal. Life was spinning out of control and frankly, I had no clue how to make it stop. 

Grief has consumed me for the past year. Not a day goes by that I don't mourn my brother and my father. There is always something to remind me of the loss. My brother, Barry, was a wood craftsman. From the cradle that he made for my daughter, to the backyard swing he crafted for our patio. My Dad and I shared a deep love of gardening. I was digging up strawberry plants that had over taken the raspberries, and remembered that just a year ago, my Dad and I were digging up plants to fill in his strawberry bed. 

A friend and I were talking about life in general. She thought that as we aged, the death of a loved one became more of an expected event, that age prepares us with a thicker skin. But observing my experience over the loss of my family made her question that particular philosophy of life. I smiled through my tears at my young friend. She is 20 years younger than me. The only thing age prepared me for, I told her, was the wisdom that I am still learning.

A few lessons I am still learning...

•  No matter how old you are, you will always miss your family.

•  The loss of loved one is like the loss of a limb. The phantom memory remains. But you must learn to live           without it.

•  Keep talking. I tell my Dad and Barry, good morning and good night every day. 

•  Cry. Tears help clean the wounds of despair. You will sleep better.

•  Find new ways to incorporate them into your life. I have coffee with my Dad every Friday. I share a glass of       wine with Barry, on my patio swing, at the end of a long day.

•  Holidays and birthdays will be hard. Celebrate them anyway. Find one moment, one memory and revel in it.

These lessons are hard learned. Children are really the ones to learn them from. Children have a way of seeing the broader picture. Their lives are way out in front of them and they see no ending just "until we meet again." They are sure their pet goldfish is swimming in heaven. This gives them peace and the confidence to buy another goldfish.

Of course, we can't do that with a loved one. But focusing on the 60 years of being with my Dad makes me understand that he is so imbedded in me, it is impossible for me to live a day without him. I have to learn how to see him with new eyes. Hopefully this old dog can learn that new trick. 

Resources: Books available at and Barnes & Noble 

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston, M.D.

Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright

Image: Flickr by Walknboston


Common Sense Breeds Wisdom

We can rail against our advancing age and the aches and pains that accompany it. But age perks exist. Beyond the obvious advantages of discounts when shopping or dining, age has wisdom to offer in exchange for a few wrinkles and a little snow on the roof.

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston, M.D., discusses thirty true things you need to know now. I found this book in a bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. It is one of the best finds I have ever bought. It will remain on my book shelf as a reference to daily living.

I was hooked with the first chapter - If the map doesn't agree with the ground, the map is wrong. As profound a truth as the definition of insanity, repeating the same actions expecting different results. Livingston, a graduate of West Point and John Hopkins School of Medicine, contributes life lessons in this book filled with small and big insights into our behavior.

A few of my favorites:

• Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.

• The most secure prisons are those we construct for ourselves.

• Happiness is the ultimate risk.

• Forgiveness is a form of letting go, but they are not the same thing.

• Feelings follow behavior.

Insights fill the pages, along with personal anecodotes from Livingston. He speaks candidly about the tragic death of his two sons, as well his experience as therapist. I found the book to be a wonderful example of human nature, hope, despair, failure and success, grief and happiness.


Blackboard to Blackout

After teaching for the past 35 years, I have seen and used many innovative technologies. This week was an opportunity to put old school and new school to the test. 

Admittedly, I come from an age of chalk dust flying, erasers clapping and writing endless lines on blackboards. Detention assignments ranged from cleaning chalkboards and clapping erasers, filling chalk trays and writing 100 times about something you would NOT do again. All lessons were written out in perfect penmanship by the teacher on the blackboard and hopefully didn't vanish in an over enthusiastic swipe of the long eraser bar before you had a chance to write it down in your notebook.

Then came the whiteboard. A variation on a blackboard theme introduced in the 1990's, the white glossy surface similar came in a variety of sizes and colorful markers are used as the writing medium. Dry erasers replaced chalk board erasers with less dust being inhaled by students. The assignments were written in a less than perfect penmanship, since that particular art was left behind for "cursive".

This teaching assignment introduced me to the Smart Board. Used as an interactive whiteboard, the Smart Board uses touch for user input, such as scrolling, clicking or typing on a keyboard. A projector is connected to a computer for a visual display and serves as a large touch screen. 

The Smart Board comes with color pen tools that use digital ink, which means they do not have electronic components or ink. It's all in the pen tray, along with the eraser. Some have control panels that can change the color of the ink or change the pen tools to colored highlighters. Once the pen is taken from the slot in the tray, the user can write with the selected color or a finger. When the eraser is removed from the tray, any erasing action even if with a finger is disappears from the screen. To change colors, the pen must be removed or replaced back to the corresponding slot in the tray.

Cool! Images can be brought up from the internet and displayed as the teacher circles, highlights or writes on the interactive board. Unfortunately, like the enthusiastic swipe of the chalk eraser or dry eraser, sometimes these intelligent technologies have a tendency to either think for you or disregard your efforts all together. On several occasions, the outlines and timelines we had written on the Smart Board disappeared with a hiccup in the projector unit or a bump of the computer. 

All week we were plagued with different technological glitches from the Smart Boards (I was beginning to think Smart was a misnomer). I had the good sense (or years of vast experience) to bring a hard copy of the work as a back-up. Yes, archaic devices called paper and pencil saved the work several times over the course of the instruction hours. 

Then it happened. A region wide blackout. No Smart Board, no computer and more importantly no lights! In an instant we were plunged into the dark ages. It was interesting to witness the chaos that ensued. Parents began calling the school insisting they were coming to pick up their children. The students were beside themselves as to what would happen next. There was no way to signal the end of recess so the teachers began yelling out the classroom doors for the children to come back in. The cafeteria had to shut down and figure out how to prepare lunch for the onslaught of non-brown baggers. Clocks stopped, although this seemed the least of concerns as multiple cell phones came out of back packs. 

And there I sat with my pencil and paper. I told the students that I lived in a time of blackboards and chalk. I had never heard the word remote until I was in college. A calculator was our brain or an abacus. We went to school from 8 to 3 everyday, because there was so much to learn. We had encyclopedias not Wikopedia. We surfed on the ocean not on Google. In the darkness of the classroom, I had 30 students spellbound with the tales of the ancient classrooms of the 50's and 60's

I wonder if they learned more in that day then they had all week with the Smart Board. Technology, whether it be friend or foe, is here to stay. Adapt or die as they say. But here's a tip for survival in the Technology Jungle. Always carry a pencil and paper...and if you want to know what time it is, bring a cell phone.

Image: Flickr images by General Wesc


Family Connections

I admit that I am a Scrabble addict. As a child we used to play the game for hours and as an adult I enjoyed playing with my kids and now I play with my grandkids. My idea of a weekend getaway is to spend time with my friends playing marathon Scrabble.

Unfortunately the game of Scrabble is not like Solitaire. You really need someone sitting across the board from you. After reading an article about a woman who reconnected with her family through online games, I was inspired to start playing Words With Friends.

Words With Friends gained a bit of notoriety with the escorting of Alec Baldwin off the plane when he refused to stop playing with his friends. This intrigued me. Knowing I would in recovery mode from shoulder surgery, it seemed a good time to investigate the online word game. 

Not being the most patient person, I admittedly was a bit frustrated when I started to play with those friends who would not respond immediately. Hardly a game if I have to wait a day to get my turn. But then I discovered I could play more than one game at a time and like Bobby Fisher, the chess champ, playing mutilple games at once, I threw myself into inviting several people to play a game.

Online games stimulate the mind and keep it challenged like crossword puzzles, sudoku and the jumbles. Teaching my granddaughter how to spell and helping a few friends who say they can't spell is a bonus. I have found lots of new two letter words to boost my score and even made 66 points on one word. 

It is wonderful. I play with family and friends that I rarely see. We can send a chatty message about not having any vowels or why did they play that, just as if we were sitting across the table when we were children. Albeit not as vocal, the games are lively and the results are just as satisfying. 

Through the miracle of technology, game night can be reinvented with family members that have moved away. My brother and I are playing Drawsome, a pictionary type game. Though neither of us inherited any artistitic flair, we laugh at our attempts at drawing stick people or animals. His drawing of a centaur added a few endorphins to my aching shoulder recovery. 

In a world that is moving faster everyday, finding ways to connect with family and friends keeps us balanced and focused on the joys of family and friendship. I still have very fond memories of my brother taunting us every time he got a monopoly! Wonder if they have that game online...I loved buying the railroads!

Image: Flickrimages by Travis Isaacs


No One Ever Told Us That

Maria Bartiromo on The Wall Street Journal Report, did a segment this week with John D. Spooner, author of the book, No One Ever Told Us That. The conversation with Spooner was an interesting mix of his financial wisdom and the practical wisdom of finding a mate. 

The book came out of a speech he gave to graduates at Braneis University, a private research college with a liberal arts focus. Spooner spoke to the eager group of mainly foreign students on what to expect in the real world upon graduation. When one of the students remarked that no one had ever told them that, Spooner saw an opportunity to impart practical wisdom.

Starting with his older grandchildren, he began to write a series of weekly letters including advice on investing, job searching and even on the art of finding a mate. The letters, published in the book No One Ever Told Us That, speak frankly to his grandchildren, sometimes dispelling the truths that he grew up with in exchange for acknowleging the ever changing world his grandchildren live in. But the practical wisdom offers a bridge of common sense that binds every generation. 

An excerpt from the book in Huffington Post reads:

Men are no longer from Mars and women just from Venus. These days, we’re all from everywhere. When your Mimi and I were married, the roles for men and women were clearly defined. No matter where in America you lived, the man was the breadwinner and went to a job every day. The woman kept the house and raised the children.

The letter continues to advise on matters of the heart in a warm and conversational manner. 

1. Unless you’re a nuclear physicist, you need human interaction. And remember, in that interaction the most important quality is a sense of humor. Because people are really terrified of one another.

2. We are not practical people; we believe what we see on the screen. I have handled hundreds of divorce cases and I know that marriage is something you have to work at every day, like constantly negotiating a peace treaty. American men won’t believe that you cannot just marry for love.

3. Never overlook the obvious when dealing with people on any level. Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the House, once asked a woman in his district if she voted for him. “No,” the woman said to the long-time congressman.
“Why not?” asked the surprised O’Neill.
“You never asked,” the woman answered.

For decades, John D. Spooner has been one of America's leading financial advisors. Speaking on behalf of every grandparent or parent, Spooner's book offers essential life lessons that young people need to meet today's challenges. 

Through the art of conversation, Spooner relates stories illustrating and guiding the next generation through the relevant issues of job searching, financial planning, the impact of technology and working through adversity, among others. No One Ever Told Us That brings key information into a single volume presented with the 20/20 clarity and experience of wisdom and hind sight.

Reading this book can bring a whole new meaning to "I told you so", an opportunity to share, guide and dialogue without the white noise of a lecture. Good gift for the graduate and resource for parents.

Images: Flickrimages by Chadmiller