Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a spiritual cheerleader, facilitator and writer who lives in Mt. Shasta, CA and travels around quite a bit.
Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, Jen offers life-affirming perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. She seeks to bridge the seen and unseen worlds and to give voice to that which often goes unspoken.
Since 2014, Jen has been organizing community screenings of the award-winning film "Death Makes Life Possible" and has facilitated conversations on death, dying and the afterlife with over 1,000 people in the US, the UK and Ireland. She is a founding member of the Living/Dying Alliance of Southern Oregon and actively involved with the Ashland Death Cafe.
I tend to be a chatty person. And I’ve been known to ramble on now and again (and again and again). When my life-parter Kate had cancer and I was her primary caregiver, I became extra aware of these tendencies. I didn’t want to deplete her energy by talking too much or being too animated.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/g-stockstudio
So I started talking much less when Kate and I spent time alone together. I also talked in a more relaxed tone, even when I was overwhelmed or in a hurry. She never asked me to be more aware in these ways. But I knew it was supportive. And I could tell she was grateful.
At the same time, I watched Kate be as engaged as ever with friends. She was someone who made you feel like you were the only one who mattered, that she was genuinely interested in you and your life. And she was! Even as her body’s symptoms worsened with her cancer, she would inquire about others’ lives and encourage them to share.
But after her visits, she would often say it had been a bit too much for her. She wanted the deep connection, but her energy would also feel drained. Kate preferred, of course, to interact in the same ways she did when her body was totally healthy. I imagine it helped her feel “normal” and not focused on her physical decline.
Ironically, Kate was the one encouraging friends to talk. Yet she didn’t enjoy feeling wiped out later. What are some ways to shift this predicament?
Looking for a creative way to honor a loved one at a memorial service? Making “prayer flags” is a simple and powerful way to engage family and friends when you gather together. It’s an opportunity to send your love on the wind and celebrate the cycle of life.
When I visited the east coast last fall, the prayer flags created to celebrate my life-partner Kate were still blowing in the breeze on her family’s land. They blended beautifully with the colors of the natural world – with the white birch bark, the orange and yellow autumn foliage, and the slow-turning green leaves of summer. (See the fall photo at the end of the article).
One of the highlights for me of the memorial celebrations in both California and Vermont was these homemade “prayer flags” with personal messages from those who had been touched by Kate’s life. Because I’ve enjoyed these flags so much, I wanted to share with you what’s needed to create your own prayer flags in memory of someone you love.
I hope the following suggestions and photos offer you or your friends and family an easy step-by-step guide to create prayer flags of your own.
Which comes first? A smile or feeling happy? A hop in your step or feeling lighthearted? Unlike the long-debated “chicken and egg” question, the answer is not based on speculation. It’s based on research.
It seems only natural to think that you smile because you are happy.
But since the late 1980s, studies began suggesting that you can change your emotional state by choosing to allow the corners of your mouth to curve upward into a smile. That the emotions can also follow the action.
Even though I knew about this research on smiling, I hadn’t applied it to other activities in my daily life. Like walking. Yes, walking.
I walk every day, even if that’s just around my house. It seems logical that you walk with more bounce when you feel good. But have you considered taking a more buoyant stride in order to feel good?
I’m here to report that a research group in Canada actually has!
When Alysha St. Germain asked to interview me about self-care and loss, I paused before I said yes. Self-care? Do I even practice self-care? Am I a good candidate for this topic? My answers surprised me.
After reflecting, I realized that I actually practice self-care every single day. For me the foundation of self-care comes down to one thing: Choice. What am I choosing in any moment? How am I feeling based on this choice? Do I want to choose something else or not? How does this affect my experience of loss? My experience of life?
A few years ago on New Year’s Eve, I looked around the house for a blank journal to write in. As I flipped through an almost empty notebook, I unexpectedly came across a note my life-partner Kate had written a couple weeks before she died. “Dear friends, family, loved ones,” she began . . .
Photo credit: Jennifer Mathews, 2013
As Kate’s cancer progressed, she and I had used the CaringBridge website to keep people updated about her life and process. I recall her mentioning that she drafted something to post online, but she never brought it up again. And then almost a month after her graceful exit, I found her handwritten words.
I’m compelled to share them with you as we enter a new calendar year. May they be a reminder that it’s possible to experience freedom and joy amidst challenges and suffering. No matter what you experienced this past year, or what is on the horizon in the coming year, my prayer is that you, too, remember to taste and savor the sweetness of life.