Monday, April 6, 2015

What I learned when my mom died: Part 2

People, and I think Mormons in particular, respond to the news of death in two primary ways: service, and food.  Not necessarily in that order.  In the days following my mom's death, it became borderline comical how many people said to me and those in my family something along the lines of, "Let me know if there's anything at all I can do."  I almost kept a tally.  That isn't to say I didn't appreciate the sentiment - I very much did - it's just that everyone said it.

There are several articles making the rounds on the internet about what to say and not to say to someone who has lost a loved one.  "Let me know if I can help," is often on the "what not to say" list.  I didn't mind it so much.  It's people's way of processing sensitive, unexpected, devastating information and expressing solidarity with those closest to the center.  However, I do like the idea of rather than saying, "How can I help?" just finding a way to help.  It's true that someone grieving often doesn't know what they need, or have the energy to ask even if they do.  Also, I'm more willing than most to ask for help or call on those willing to do something, but there were plenty of moments when there wasn't anything to help with.  What I needed was my family and time to heal.

If you're thinking, "I'd like to help, but don't know how," let me let you in on a little secret.  The "how" doesn't matter.  Seriously.  Couldn't matter less.  Just do something.  A very dear friend of mine has some experience dealing with death in her family.  She's got it down to a science.  She happens to be single and between jobs, so she became our family's personal assistant for nearly two weeks.  She babysat, made sure we were drinking enough water, provided rides and distractions, kept us well-stocked on coca-cola, reminded us to nap and get priesthood blessings, prepared snack packs for between the funeral and the cemetery, brought french fries to the cemetery, organized boutonniere pinning, gathered whatever we left behind at the church, etc. etc. etc.  If you are able to be that person for someone else, you will be a god-send. If not, you can still help out.  Our situation was a little different because we had to wait a full two weeks before having a funeral because of the repatriation process.  Regardless, here are some other things that people did for me or my family that we found helpful or comforting:

My best friend brought over my favorite kind of chocolate milk.  Later she also made me my favorite comfort food (mac & cheese) for lunch.

My sister-in-law is training for the Boston Marathon and a friend of hers offered to watch her kids while she did the long runs in her training schedule.

My brother was planning on moving to a new apartment and some friends packed his apartment and moved it while we were dealing with viewings and funerals out of town.  That included an old piano that weighs about 1,000 pounds.

A friend of mine who is a very talented designer and florist made our boutonnieres using some of my mom's jewelry.

So many people brought food of one kind or another.  So.  Many.  People.  I'm not necessarily discouraging food.  If you're going to bring food, however, here's a tip - bring something healthy.  Grieving people are going to get plenty of treats.  Also, you cannot go wrong with homemade bread.  Unless those you're taking food to are weird gluten-intolerant people.  Also, most people bring dinner.  Breakfast is nice once in a while.  Lastly, bring food in disposable containers.  Don't make the mourners return your Tupperware.

My dad's neighbor was out buying fertilizer for his lawn and bought extra to do my dad's lawn.

A friend offered to go to a thrift store and buy a bunch of plates for us to go out into the mountains and break.  (We ended up not taking her up on the offer, but I think it was a fantastic offer.)

My family went to lunch at a favorite lunch spot and the owner paid for our meals.

A friend of mine came over just to sit with me.  That same friend took charge of moving my car on street cleaning days while I was out of town, and had my car cleaned while she was at it.

Another friend watched my sister's baby so we could all go out to dinner and a movie.  While watching the baby, she cleaned my sister's house and started some laundry.

Friends and neighbors of my parents opened their homes to our rather large extended family who had to travel for the funeral.

Various professionals - photographers, designers, massage therapists, hair stylists, nail artists, grief counselors, offered their services free of charge.  If you're in a position to offer some sort of professional service, that's a great way to contribute.

Along with standard flowers and cards, some of our favorite things we got were:  Tylenol PM, tissues (especially the kind with lotion), sleepytime tea, coloring books, babysitting services, massages, freezer meals, disposable plates/cups/utensils (especially forks), one-time-use freezer containers, coolers of assorted beverages.  You might also give garbage bags, diapers, airport rides, parking passes, oil changes, buddy passes, pet food if appropriate, and any number of other daily necessities.

As of the publishing date of this post, my mom passed away almost a month ago.  In the days following the return to "normal life" one of the most helpful things has been small check-ins and message of love or humor from friends.  A text, a picture, a phone call etc.  Don't forget about people.  Months later we're still figuring our our new normal and may need a shoulder or a friend to buy us ice cream.

Again, what you give, or how you help does not matter.  Use your imagination.

And a huge, and deeply hear-felt "Thank You!" to anyone who helped or offered to help in any way.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What I learned when my mom died: Part 1

My mom recently passed away in a fairly horrific car accident while traveling in New Zealand with my dad.  It has been an indescribable experience on so many levels and for so many reasons.  It has also been a learning experience.  The Mormon religion has some beliefs and teachings about life, death, and the afterlife that bring a measure of comfort and perspective during times of mourning, but it's still a difficult thing to deal with.  Everyone grieves in their own way, but here are some things I learned and experienced in the days and weeks following my mom's death.

1 - It's okay to feel sad.
And I don't mean sadness tempered by the Sweet Peace of The Gospel and the knowledge of Eternal Families, or sadness lightened by the Tender Mercies of Heaven.  I mean gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, deep-down, ugly cry sadness.  100% okay.  Do family ties last beyond the grave?  I believe they do.  Can the teachings of the gospel of Christ bring a measure of peace?  I believe they can.  Does God provide moments of mercy and comfort at a time like this?  I believe He does.  That doesn't mean you should feel less sad.  Don't let anyone tell you you should.  Death is an inherently sad thing.  In fact, the Earth trembled and the skies turned black when Christ died in the Bible.  If God can feel such visceral sadness, He wouldn't expect any more from you.  It's also okay to feel hurt, confused, angry, relieved etc. etc. etc.  You can't control what you feel.  Lean into it, and work through it.

2 - Let people help.
In this situation I found myself at the epicenter of a tragedy.  Countless people offered to help in any way they could.  Our natural reaction as humans, I think, and especially as Mormons is to say, "Oh, no, don't worry about me.  I don't want to put you out."  Just know that people offering to help is their way of processing grief and offering solidarity with you.  Let people feed you, tend your kids, do your laundry, take you to a movie, fill your gas tank, weed your garden, vacuum your house, help you move, do your dishes, iron your clothes, etc. etc. etc.  You're not putting them out.  They want to help.  They need to help.  And it's even okay to expect help, just be sure that you're gracious about it.  Expecting help is different than being entitled to help.

2b - Have distractions handy.
This is where you call on those people that are offering help (and as a sort of 2c, don't be afraid to ask for help, remember people need it as much as you do).  If you need a few minutes to get out of your head, send out the call.  People will provide movies, drives, coloring books, shopping excursions, walks, playdough, sudoku, puppies, lunch, theater tickets, sports tickets, books, magazines, toddlers, etc.

3 - You have every right to say no.
If you don't want to talk, or eat, or be around people, or participate in the funeral, or see them shut the casket, or give someone a hug, or go to bed, or ride with your crazy aunt Florence to the cemetery, or send out thank you cards, you don't have to.  Don't let anyone force you to do anything you don't want to.  You're going to process grief in your own way, and only you know how to do that best.

4 - You're going to cry.
A lot.  You already know this, but what you may not know is when or why you'll cry.  You may cry when you find out, and when you're initially letting those close to you know, and when you hug your loved ones.  In fact, you'll probably cry for a good portion of Day 1. As time passes you'll probably cry less.  The initial shock will wear off and acceptance will set in.  But then you'll smell someone else wearing your moms perfume, or you'll catch someone out of the corner of your eye that looks like your mom, or a friend - or even a stranger - will unexpectedly do something very thoughtful.  And. You.  Will.  Lose it.   Let it happen.  It's part of the healing process.

5 - You need to laugh.
Laughter is healing.  It lightens the mood and helps you to cope.  Whether that's joking about being orphans like the family who's parents were traveling with my parents and both also died in the crash, or simply enjoying a funny movie, or sharing amusing memories.  Find plenty of time to experience laughter and joy.

6 - Nature is healing.
Anecdotal and empirical evidence back this up.  Get outside.  Walk in a park, hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean, meditate under a tree, take a nap on the back lawn.  Find ways to connect with Mother Earth.  She'll take care of you.

7 - Day 2 is worse than Day 1.
Just a heads up.

8 - Grief is exhausting.
No one tells you this.  Everyone knows you're hurting and that this situation sucks.  No one tells you that you'll feel totally wiped out because you're crying all of the time, and your brain and heart have been on overdrive processing all of the information that comes with a death, and you're dealing with everyone expressing condolences and love, and you're trying to make sure everyone else in your family isn't completely falling apart.  It's okay to pop a couple of Tylenol PM and pass out.

Your situation is going to be different than mine was, but I think most of these things are fairly universal.  Hopefully they'll help you, or help someone else help you get through the first few days.  You're gonna be okay.  Have a good cry, then have a cookie, then give me a call and we'll cry and have a cookie together.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Primary Design

Dear Mommy-blogger Primary Choristers,

I know it's super hip right now to have your graphic designer husband turn meaningful quotes into works of art by putting each word in a different font and using a choral/mint-inspired color scheme, and involving chevrons at some point.  I get it (kind of).  But teaching kids music is not an appropriate place for that.

Of the kids in the primary that can actually read, only a small percentage - if any - are at a level where they can fluently read words that are each a different font and color.  (Heck, I can barely do that most of the time.)  Most of the children in your primary are just learning how to read.  They're going to have a tough enough time reading words that are in one plain black font.  Especially when they have to read those words in rhythm, and remember the tune to a song, and are looking at the words from the stand when you are 3-4 rows back in the congregation.

"Well, this will just help them become more fluent readers!"  You might say.  And while I may or may not agree with that, here's the thing:  Primary time shouldn't be used to help kids learn how to read.  That's why they go to school - where they are under the supervision of numerous professionals who are trained to teach them how to read.  Their time in primary should be used to learn about Christ and start building that testimony that you want them to rely on for the rest of their lives.  If you're spending time with reading practice, you're missing the boat.

My point is, do the kids a solid and make the text part of your flip-charts, or poster boards, or whatever visual aides you make, an easy-to-read black font.  Accompany it with great pictures that the kids who can't read can use as a cue, and save the "artwork" for your Pinterest board.

Thanks.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Actor's Plea

Dear Industry Professionals - Casting Directors, Directors, Producers etc.,

I realize I may be shooting myself in the foot by saying this, but I feel like it needs to be said.

I find it interesting that actors, in many ways, fall at the bottom of the Hollywood totem pole.  And yet, without actors, this industry wouldn't exist.

Here's what I know:  I know that, as an actor, it's my job to be prepared.  I need to show up on time and with a positive attitude, with strong, interesting choices, with confidence, and memorized sides.  I should look the part, and dress accordingly.  I should probably have a headshot on me.  I should allow for traffic and parking.  But I also know that I'm a human and therefore request the following 3 completely reasonable things:

1 - You expect me to be on time, and that's fine.  I don't think it's unrealistic for me to expect the same thing from you.  I know things happen, and being 10-15 minutes behind is no big deal.  However, when I have to wait more than an hour (and I've waited over 2 hours on occasion), that's unacceptable.  I'm trying to balance a day job - sometimes more than one - with auditions, and a social life, and sleep, and I can't always take 2 hours out of my day because casting may or may not be behind.  Please have more respect for my time than that.  If not, then please don't complain when I'm half an hour late because President Obama is in town.  And if you are ridiculously behind, I might suggest that keeping us posted on what's happening, and having a plate of cookies for auditioners goes along way toward alleviating the understandable frustration we're feeling.

2 - If I forget my headshot, don't freak out.  I don't think I've had anyone ask for a headshot in the last six months, so you'll forgive me if I've gotten out of the habit of carrying one around with me.  I know I should, but sometimes I don't.  It's not the end of the world.  You have me on film.  I promise that I'll do my best to make strong enough choices in the audition that a headshot is basically pointless anyway.

3 - Wardrobe expectations should consist of what I might reasonably have in my closet.  I'm not a wardrobe department, so things like "lab coat", "police uniform", or "chef's coat" are, in my opinion, not my job to provide.  If you want to see that, have it available for use at the audition. I can do things like "casual" or "business" or even "western", but if you want something specific, please ask the wardrobe department to provide it.

As an actor that is nowhere near the A-list, I feel like I am forced to be a Hollywood doormat.  I just have to nod and smile and be nice.  I can't express any legitimate concerns or frustrations for fear of being "that actor".  However, you constantly tell me that we are all on equal footing and so I'm requesting these things as a colleague.  Please consider them.

Sincerely,

Struggling actors everywhere


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chastity's back y'all!

I present the 4th Annual Chastity Party:  Dipping Chips Instead of Hips.

The spread and peeps gettin' crafty






First prize crafty winner - a limerick:

(There once was a young man called Cassidy
Who decided to practice chastity
He lasted 'til noon
When some girl named June
Offered to give him a hand with it.)

Second prize - pipe cleaner warning sign:


First prize chastity belt:


Second Prize Chastity Belt:



White Elephants were sparse this year.  Here was mine:




White Elephants also included such gems as party poppers, and a latch-hook kit.  Thanks to everyone who participated, it was a great evening.  Already looking forward to next year!  Though, of course, everyone hopes to be ineligible by marriage by that time.  ;)
A special shout-out to Sister Tullis from the ward for bringing by her married-person contribution.  Thanks for your support!  And for the delicious dessert bars.  
Stay chaste my friends!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Scads of books.

I'm a pretty avid reader - 46 books last year. At the end of last year I picked 3 books to share that I had enjoyed reading. We're not even 4 months into the year and I already can't narrow it down to fewer than 5.  So I decided to share early.  Here are some recommendations for you:

Willpower:  rediscovering the greatest human strength
by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

A book about willpower - imagine.  Seriously though, this was amazing.  It talks about the science behind willpower - and most notably strategies to increase yours.  What I found most fascinating is that studies show that we have a limited supply of willpower in a given day.  And we use willpower for all kinds of things - not just the traditional resisting of temptations.  We use it for all kinds of decisions.  That knowledge really can help you to make sure you're using your willpower at the right times. Luckily it talks about how to shore up that limited supply gradually.  Definite recommendation on this one.

Born to Run
by Christopher McDougall

A book about running.  It's a loosely narrative non-fiction book that follows the story of a secluded people in Mexico called the Tarahumara.  They're the greatest long-distance runners in history.  What I found most fascinating/helpful were the interwoven chapters involving the science of running.  That we're biologically engineered to run.  That running shoes have basically destroyed our natural running form.  I even started making fresh corn tortillas for nearly every meal because of this book.  I have also started running again.  I stopped because it was killing my knees, but then I read about forefoot-strike running, and barefoot running etc. and decided to just go for it.  Significant, and immediately noticeable improvements.  Check it out.

Wonder
by R.J. Palacio

This is a fictional children's novel that tells the story of August - a boy with severe facial deformities caused by a bizarre twist of genetics.  He starts his first year of public school in the 5th grade and things progress and you'd expect, but end up - predictably, but delightfully - on a much more positive note.  I'm something of a crybaby, but this book had me weeping.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Not-so-dirty 30


I turn 30 this year.  30!  The big 3-0.  In a month, in fact.  I was thinking about what kinds of adventurous, fun, exciting, momentous things I wanted to do for this milestone.  Travel Europe?  Host a killer dance party?  Cruise?  Skydiving?  Unfortunately my current financial situation won't allow for much more than a really tasty dinner and a movie at Rave on $7 Tuesday.  I'm really okay with that, but I still want to make some kind of a positive impact on the world.  Two thoughts:

A little over a year ago I read a blog about a lady who, for her birthday, did one random act of kindness for every year she'd been alive.  I LOVED that idea.  Then I read some research that says random acts of kindness maybe aren't the best because rather than feeling kindess, people feel skeptical.  Also, a lot of the acts of kindness involved things like leaving a big tip for a waitress, or buying dinner for people in line behind you.  As I said, I don't have lots of funds.  So, I will probably still look for opportunities to open people's doors, and offer a friendly smile, but may leave "placing random gift cards around Barnes and Noble" for another day.

Late last year, through a series of clicks on the internet that I could in no way replicate at this point, I happened upon a website for a charity that does something with clean water in Africa.  They had a button on their page labeled "dedicate your birthday".  The purpose was that instead of getting presents, you dedicated your birthday to donations for their project.  I saw that and thought, "What a cool idea!"  And while I understand the great need for clean water in Africa (I was in a PSA for it, after all), I believe that to truly make the world a better place you need to decrease the suck and increase the awesome, and I really live more on the increase the awesome side of that equation.

So here's the plan:  If you were planning on giving me something for my birthday (or even if you weren't), instead I'd like you to pick a charitable organization of some kind and make a donation.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Donorschoose.org  "Teachers ask.  You choose."

We all know that education is not the most well-funded of programs.  Teachers are constantly in need of supplies.  Donors Choose allows you to be part of the solution.  Teachers from around the country request money for things like books, art supplies, field trips, science equipment etc.  The website is set up so that the teachers don't handle the money, and they update their profiles with how their supplies etc. are being used.  All kinds of accountability, and you can feel safe knowing the money is going where it's needed.

Kickstarter.com

Kickstarter is a website where artists of all kinds can go to get funds for their artistic endeavors.  Everything from short films to CDs.  Artwork to books.  Find a project you like and help it get funded!

Storypirates.org

Story Pirates is an organization that I'm involved with, as many of you know.  They take stories that elementary students have written and turn them into musicals, plays, and even short animated films.  They also teach workshops on writing.  This does all kinds of stuff for kid's confidence, creativity, etc. etc. etc.  It's pretty cool stuff.

The great thing about these websites is that you can donate as little as $1, or as much as you want.

If you're more of a "decrease the suck" kind of person, feel free to donate to clean water in Africa, or medical supplies in the Amazon (Indiegogo.com is a great place to find stuff in this arena).  Either way, find an organization you feel passionate about - or even just one that you like - and make a donation.  Small or large.

Lastly, leave a comment with where you made your donation, or what kind of project you funded (i.e. if you went to donorschoose, tell me about the project you picked).  You don't have to say how much you donated, cuz that's kinda tacky, but I would like to know what kinds of things people are donating to.

Let's make the world a better place!