Caregiving Christmas Coping with Loss Friendship Parenting Relationships Uncategorized

Celebrating Families

On every Boxing Day as far back as I can remember, my maternal aunts, uncles and cousins have gathered not just to celebrate Christmas but also family. This year was the first time my dear Auntie Marj wasn’t there.

She passed away on January 5th after living a full life as a wife, mother, sister, aunt and grandmother. Like my mother, she leaves behind a legacy of love that began in childhood and continues in future generations.

When my mom was 9, her widowed mother died, leaving all nine children orphaned. The older siblings, including Aunt Marj, Mamie and Hazel decided not to abandon the younger ones who would likely have been moved to orphanages.

In everyday acts of courage and love, all the brothers and sisters were clothed, fed and educated. They had committed their lives to looking after one another. I believe my aunts were my mom’s best friends.

That’s why my mom always told us of the importance of family. She would remind me as a teen more interested in going out with friends. “Your friends may come and go,” she said, “but this family will always be here for you.”

She was right of course.

As we celebrate our province’s first Family Day on February 11th, we have to recognize that families come in many forms. We have single parents, same sex parents, adoptive parents and blended families. We have couples married or not married some with pets but without children.

I consider them all families when two or more people come together in love and create a home. It is in our family relationships that we learn to love, accept one another, give and receive graciously.

Families are as imperfect as we all are, and I know of many who have grown up with conflict, neglect or abuse. Difficult childhood experiences shape our sense of self-worth and influence our future relationships. With courage and assistance, some have overcome their difficult beginnings and created more meaningful relationships and homes in adulthood.

Instead of treating this first Family Day as just a new statutory holiday, reflect on your own family of origin and your family today. Think about those you know who do not have families, and if you think you are without a family, remember the friends who love you.

Wherever you are loved and feel at home, there is your family.

Forgiveness Friendship Grace Happiness Healthy Living Letting Go Positive Change Relationships

What Are You Packing On Your Journey Through Life?

In her bestseller, Wild, Cheryl Strayed describes her journey of self-discovery hiking solo along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. She initially overpacked the giant backpack she would nickname, Monster. She also arranged for packages to arrive at various points along the trail to resupply her with essentials for the journey, including fresh clothes, boots and cash.

Davidicus Wong's Black BagWhen preparing for family vacations, I must restrain myself from overpacking our first aid kit. I stuff in a lot more than Polysporin, Bandaids and slings. I pack sutures, surgical tools, scalpel blades, needles, syringes, sterile gloves and dressings, epinephrine, Benadryl, Gravol, oral and topical antibiotics, a stethoscope, an otoscope, oral airways and a resuscitation mask.

When preparing for a trip, you can’t bring everything you may possibly need. You don’t want to bring every comfort from home . . . or you might as well stay there. You can’t foresee everything that may happen.

Space is limited, and you don’t want to be weighed down by a load on your shoulders.

We all carry baggage as we journey through life. Our load can be physical or emotional.

It can be our habits – our stereotypical patterns of thought, feeling and action. It can be maladaptive ways of thinking about our selves, our family and our friends. It can be sadness, anger, anxiety or grief. It can be an addiction.

To critically unpack and sort through everything in our lives is much harder than emptying our bags. Much of what loads us down and keeps us from moving forward is invisible to us.

But life offers hints. Do you make the same mistakes with different people? Do you get into the same arguments with the same people? Does a person, place, date or experience trigger panic, sadness, anger or self-criticism? Have voices from the past become your negative self-talk?

Choose your travelling companions with care. Real friends love and support you in a reciprocal relationship of give and take. They are fun to be with and they stay by your side when things are not so fun. They keep you moving forward, and they help you to grow.

The absolute essentials that we need cannot be carried or shipped to us. They are the personal qualities that we honour and nurture in ourselves: curiosity and humility to continually learn and laugh at ourselves, the courage to take the risks necessary for growth, the flexibility to meet the unexpected, the creativity to discover solutions, and the grace to accept the worst of life and to give back the best we have.

As we move forward into a new year, what are you carrying on your back? What will you bring along from the old year? What will you leave behind?

Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Friendship Happiness Love Purpose Relationships Wisdom

Celebrate Your Best Friends!

Great friends are rare and precious gifts.

Dr. Pooh & Tigger

They enrich your life in subtle, significant and irreversible ways. They listen with interest . . .  and understand. They give honest feedback when you need it (even if you don’t ask). They can brighten your day with a not so random act of thoughtfulness.

You are never alone.

They are with you at every point of the journey. They encourage you in the struggle uphill. They shine a light when you are lost. They pick you up when you fall, and they celebrate your victories great and small.

They see right through you, and they know who you really are. They know everything about you . . . but they love you anyway.

We all need emotional first aid kits – or care packages – for the times in our lives when we feel discouraged, overwhelmed, alone or just blue. We can pack them with (1) our favourite songs – the tunes that always give us a lift and the words we can’t keep from singing out loud, (2) inspiring words – from the great women and men of history that help us transcend our circumstances, (3) spiritual wisdom – that gives us a grander perspective and an appreciation of this present moment, (4) your favourite movies – that engage your imagination, inspire you or just make you laugh, and (5) an encouraging letter – from you, a friend or someone else who believes in you . . . and what you believe in.

But the most essential parts of every virtual care package are your life lines – great friends.

One such person is my friend, Vanessa, who shared with me a little book from her own care package, The Blue Day Book – A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up by Bradley Trevor Greive.

If you’re having a blue day, read this book today. If you’re not, why not celebrate your best friends? Let them know they make a difference!


Coping with Loss Emotions Grace

Turning Negative Emotions into Positive Goals, Part 2

Black Tusk 2Have you ever met someone who was chronically happy? I don’t mean euphoric, manic or unrealistically optimistic, but rather content and at peace, positive and engaged in life. They’re not on drugs and they haven’t necessarily had easier lives than the rest of us. The difference is the lens with which they see their lives.

The chronically happy see their reality with more subtlety and perhaps more creativity. Knowing that our thoughts shape our feelings, they choose to see the positive in their circumstances – what they can control.

What each of us can control, regardless of our circumstances is how we think and what we do. Knowing this returns the locus of control to us. The world is a little less hostile, unpredictable and dark than it first appears.

We can examine the way we are thinking – about our work, school, relationships and our selves, and ask, “Is this way of thinking making me feel better? Is it helping to improve my circumstances? Is it moving me to positive action?”

That last question is key because the flip side of a negative emotional state . . . is a goal. That realization can be a transformative insight.

If you’re not happy with your life and you feel stuck, what can you do to make things better? What is your goal?

If you feel lonely or anxious in different social situations, your goal might be to meet more people, make more friends and feel more at ease and confident. If you feel anxious or worried about many things, your goal might be to feel relaxed and at peace. If you feel down, your goal may be to be happy or content. The next steps would be to engage in more activities that you enjoy and hang out with people who make you feel good about yourself.

Today, what small steps can you take towards your goal?

If you remain stuck in the shadows and can’t find your way out alone, talk to your family physician or another mental health professional.

Coping with Loss Emotions Happiness Healthy Living Letting Go Positive Change Positive Potential Uncategorized Your Goals

Turning Negative Emotions into Positive Goals, Part 1


Are you happy with your life?

If you are, congratulations! A cynic would say, “Enjoy it while you can. It won’t last.”

Life can be a rollercoaster ride of high and low points, successes and failures, good fortune and bad luck. It’s natural to react emotionally to those ups and downs in school, family circumstances, work, finances, health and relationships. We all feel grief with the loss of friends and loved ones. We feel down when we lose a job or feel lonely. We can feel anxious when the future seems uncertain and our lives feel out of our control.

Sometimes we can get stuck in a negative emotional state, such as depression and anxiety. Our emotions may then limit our range of thinking, and it is our thoughts that shape the lens with which we see the world.

Have you ever met someone who was chronically happy? I don’t mean euphoric, manic or unrealistically optimistic, but rather content and at peace, positive and engaged in life. They’re not on drugs and they haven’t necessarily had easier lives than the rest of us. The difference is the lens with which they see their lives.

We can get stuck in the negative aspects of our situation – the shadows of reality. Lost in this darkness, we see no light. It shapes our mood and our sense of control. It limits our behaviour; we continue to walk only in the shadows not realizing that venturing out of them – a few steps at a time – can profoundly change our perspective.

The chronically happy see their reality with more subtlety and perhaps more creativity. Knowing that our thoughts shape our feelings, they choose to see the positive in their circumstances – what they can control.

Next: What is under your control

Christmas Compassion Friendship Love Relationships

What Will Be Your Holiday Legacy?

New Years Day in Whistler 2


As children return to school and grown-ups get back to work, many are feeling the post-holiday blues. Suddenly, green and red seem out of season. The magic has faded and warm, fuzzy moments yield to the plain, cold winter.

What is left of the yuletide season?

When you think of holiday leftovers, what comes to mind?

Turkey sandwiches, fruitcake, hangovers, extra pounds and inches, credit card debt or overfilled garbage cans?

There are presents that will bring value into the New Year: mittens and sweaters to keep you warm, a new bike for a child, and books that will capture your imagination.

What else can we bring forward from the holidays?

Is there any leftover magic that can enrich post-holiday life?

1. Renewed Relationships For many families, the holidays are like a salmon run. Kids away for school and grownups who have moved from their hometowns migrate back to their families of origin. It’s a time to catch up and spend time together, and wonder why we don’t do this more often.

We’re back together with those who matter most.

It’s a time to reconnect with old friends, but often there isn’t enough time to physically get together. We have to settle for cards and e-mail updates.

Note for the New Year’s calendar: make time for your friends. Don’t settle for facebook. Have real face time with friends.

2. Expressing Love and Appreciation We all take for granted the people in our lives. The holidays give us an opportunity to express some of our deepest feelings. It never hurts to tell our best friends and family how much they mean to us and how we love them even if they may have heard it before.

We all need that positive reinforcement. We all like to feel appreciated.

Each year, I am moved by my special patients who take the time to write a card or wrap a present. They are exceptional in their graciousness.

That graciousness can be a positive contagion. Kind and thoughtful acts throughout the year can warm cold days and bring happiness to others. They can inspire others to be gracious as well, inciting a cascade of kindness.

Let us resolve to be more appreciative of the people in our lives and never miss an opportunity to express love.

3. Good Will Towards Others Forgetting for the moment holiday traffic jams, rude customers and overwhelmed retail workers, remember the general good will of the season. We greet others – even total strangers in the elevator – with smiles and wishes for a wonderful time with loved ones.

We remember that we all have families and friends whom we love and love to be with, and we wish for others what we want ourselves.

Good will is another positive contagion. Let’s pass it on more indiscriminately each day of the year, with good mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends.

4. Generosity The holiday season inspires us to think of others. We donate more freely to charity and we think of those in need, but of course, the food bank and those reliant on the generosity of others have needs every day of the year.

Let us remember those needs in every season.

As we put away the holiday decorations for another year, consider bringing into the New Year, the best of the season all year round: renewing our relationships, expressing love and appreciation, spreading good will and giving what is most needed.