Category Archives: General

With Death, There Is No Escaping Grief.

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Dear Friend,

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my husband, Larry, and I waited quite a while to settle down and have a family. He was 43 years old when our first son, Henry, was born and just a month shy of turning 46 when the twins, George and Charlie, were born.

Despite being what some would call an “older” dad, he was a very active and fantastic dad! His purpose in life changed from the moment he held Henry in his arms. And he was just as thrilled when George and Charlie were born, telling everyone he had his own foursome for golf!

Taking care of three kids under 3 years of age was tough. But Larry worked from home and would “pop” in and talk, play, eat lunch and lend a hand with the boys throughout the day.

As the boys got older he enjoyed introducing them to the world of sports. He helped coach little league baseball, he took them to the driving range to teach them how to swing a golf club (and promptly told me to get them lessons!) and he loved to share stories about his favorite Chicago teams: he was a HUGE Cubs, Bears and Hawks fan!

In addition to team sports, Larry loved the outdoors and enjoyed golfing, bike riding, hiking and fishing, which he wanted to pass on to the boys. We spent many lazy weekend afternoons riding the beautiful bike trail by our house that parallels a golf course and a city park.

This same park has a small lake that’s stocked with fish at certain times of the year. On days that Larry wanted to take the boys fishing he would first spend some time organizing the tackle box and fixing the reels on all the fishing poles, then run to the store to get fresh worms for bait.

I was invited along mostly to help keep tabs on the boys!

No matter how many times we went fishing, the scenario was the same.

It started with the initial excitement with regards to how many fish would be caught. Everyone’s high hopes would fade quickly as one by one the boys would get their lines tangled or their fishing reels jammed. I’d have to hide my smirk as Larry’s frustration grew. It seemed just as he finished getting one fishing pole ready to be cast, another’s needed to be fixed.

Needless to say, we never caught very many fish! But I gave him credit: no matter how trying the excursion may have been, he’d start planning another trip shortly thereafter.

These memories are priceless. To this day the boys reminisce about the fishing they did with their dad.

It’s those memories and countless others that keep Larry alive in our hearts and minds. Still, we miss him every day and regardless of how long he’s been gone it’s still difficult facing special days without him. Father’s Day is one of them.

In fact, the first Father’s Day without Larry was absolutely heartbreaking.

That year my own father was thousands of miles away. This was before he moved to Arizona, so spending the day with him was not an option. I look back on that as a mixed blessing. I love my father very much and certainly called to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, but that year I didn’t feel much like celebrating.

It wasn’t my father I was mourning- it was my children’s dad. So I knew I had to ask my children what they wanted to do that first Father’s Day without their dad.

After discussing a few options they voted on seeing a newly released movie, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” which featured the actor Jim Carrey. (Remember: there is no right or wrong way to spend your day.)

I felt a little relieved. Selfishly I thought, “Great, I can go watch a funny movie and forget what day it is.” Then the movie started.

Basically Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) inherits a bunch of penguins after his father dies while on an expedition and ships the penguins to his residence in New York City. There were plenty of funny antics throughout the movie, but intertwined with the story was the lead character trying to reconcile a strained relationship with his dad, especially since he was no longer alive.

“Are you kidding me??!” I wanted to scream in the theater.

I came here to avoid all thoughts of death, particularly grief for fathers who died, and this is what I get.

And that’s when I realized, when it comes to death, there is no escaping grief. You can run, you can hide, you can even pretend for a brief moment the unthinkable didn’t happen… But the reality is: it did.

This Sunday I know there will be many of us wondering how we’re going to spend the day. What do you do on Father’s Day if your own father is no longer alive?

And the unthinkable: how do you cope if you’re a father who has lost a child?

I wrote the following tips in an earlier post for Mother’s Day, but I found they are just as valuable today as they were then.

For children who have lost a father:

* Involve the children, let them help you plan the day.

* They can write a letter or draw a picture for their dad.

* Is there a place of remembrance they would like to visit?

* Are there any other male figures they would like to recognize on this day? A grandfather, uncle or close friend?

For fathers who have lost a child:

* Consider ahead of time how you want to spend the day.

* Communicate your thoughts to others.

* Is there something special you would like to do to on this day to commemorate your child?

* Can you think of a way to recognize your other children, if you have any?

For grandfathers who have lost a grandchild:

You’re enduring the pain of watching your adult son grieve for your grandchild while you yourself are also grieving. Because you love your child (who is no longer a child), you will do what most fathers do and give the biggest gift of all: your love, understanding and patience.

Please be patient and understand that your grieving son may not want to recognize this day, or may choose to do so alone with his own children. Understand that your grieving son may “forget” to say “Happy Father’s Day” or even “I love you, dad.”

The biggest gift you give – your unconditional love – will be returned to you tenfold because of your patience and understanding.

As for me and the boys… I’m very thankful that my father is living close by. I won’t take a Father’s Day for granted ever again. The boys and I will spend some time honoring their dad and our continued love for him and we will also spend time with my dad, their grandfather, and let him know how happy we are he is still with us.

I pray all the dads find peace in their hearts this Father’s Day.

Pam

P.S. To all the dads out there, I wish you a very happy Father’s Day!

 

Phytonutrients and a plant based diet

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Hello,

The weather is warming up across the United States (especially in Arizona, yikes!) and it tends to bring farmers out into the community to offer their fresh local produce for patrons to purchase. The higher temps and (hopefully) sunny days also entice many individuals to start their own home vegetable gardens.

Even the pickiest or most adverse “anti-vegetables” individuals will soften when they get their hands on a home-grown tomato, cucumber or bell pepper. Nothing tastes better than vegetables picked fresh from the garden and brought to the table that same day – or that same hour!

I can’t think of a better time of year to discuss the benefits of eating a diet rich in plants. Now, don’t get nervous… I’ve stated before: I’m not trying to “convert” anyone to only following a plant-based diet! I AM trying to get you to eat more plants, though, and hopefully after reading today’s post you’ll understand that all I want is for you and me to be the healthiest we can be.

We all know that we need to eat a diet that consists of protein, fat and carbohydrates along with essential vitamins and minerals in order for our bodies to survive. But, have you ever heard of phytochemicals?

I find it fascinating that it wasn’t until the 19th century when scientists even discovered the essential components that make up our food. I mean, how did the human race exist without carefully measuring how much protein, fat or carbs they ate each day? Of course, I’m kidding around!

But what’s not funny is today we live in a society that is spending billions (yes, BILLIONS) of dollars a year trying to figure out how to lose weight or be healthy by subscribing to every fad diet and buying products that promise everything under the sun to change your life… if only you buy their product!

Ironically, as a nation, we are getting heavier and our health is declining faster.

Today I’m going to go against the grain and offer some advice; “Don’t waste your money!”

All you have to do is eat more plant-based foods- and lots of them! Can it be that simple? Yes and no. Yes, that in adding more plant-based foods to your diet can only add to the health of your body. No, because it takes time sampling menus and creating healthy recipes (that’s where I can help!)

Plant foods can have a dramatic impact on your health because of the phytochemicals (also known as phytonutrients) that they contain.

These phytonutrients are bioactive compounds found in plants we eat.

They are said to be the plants’ protective mechanism for fighting off pests and predators, free radicals, pollution, toxins and ultraviolet rays (imagine what they can do for your body!) Plants are truly amazing and have existed on this planet for millions of years WITHOUT the need of pesticides to ward off bugs. Mother Nature created plants to be resilient and beneficial to the animal kingdom- and that includes us humans!

The phytonutrients in the plants are also responsible for the color, smell and taste of the fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds we eat.

So why don’t we hear about phytonutrients as much as we do proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals?

There are a couple of reasons.

First, science has just recently begun to understand the benefits phytonutrients can have on our health- discoveries as recent as the 1980’s have unveiled the benefits of phytonutrients. Second, since phytonutrients are not essential nutrients that our bodies need to survive like protein, fat and carbs, in my opinion, they don’t get the respect they deserve.

Yet, scholars from centuries ago already knew what our scientists are discovering now. The main difference is the historians didn’t have names for phytonutrients like we do today. Scientists from around the world are finally discovering and naming individual phytonutrients (more than 25,000 so far) and providing studies that connect specific health benefits to each one.

In fact, phytonutrients and their benefits date back to Chinese medicine which has used plants for medicinal purposes for 5,000 years.

Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, understood the high value plant food had for our bodies. I’m sure most of you know he was the originator of the Hippocratic Oath our medical doctors recite today before they start to practice medicine.

But what you may not know is that Hippocrates was a staunch advocate for eating a mostly plant-based diet. He even went so far as to insinuate food could be the best medicine we have available to us. His quote- “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – has been repeated on almost every website and social media forum that discusses health.

So while phytonutrients may not be essential for our bodies to survive, I think it’s fair to suggest they are essential to the healthy state our bodies should maintain.

What do phytonutrients do?

 

The list of phytonutrients and their benefits is long, but I’m sure there are a few you may already be familiar with.

Have you heard of flavonoids? Flavonoids have been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.

What foods have flavonoids? A few examples would be parsley, blueberries, black tea, citrus, wine (yippee!), cocoa and legumes.

There’s so much information about phytonutrients and their health benefits I could write a book (lightbulb moment!) but in this post I’m just going to highlight a few that have caught my attention.

Examples of phytonutrients:

Being a single mom and facing grief in my life has put quite a bit of stress on my body and I’m convinced I have some free radical damage to my cells (also because I suffer from chronic inflammation, an indicator of free radical damage). So I was particularly happy to see the phytonutrient carotenoids is good at removing free radicals from the cells. I was even happier when I realized I already eat a great deal of the foods listed as containing carotenoids such as carrots, dark leafy greens and tomatoes.

Being a woman isoflavones caught my attention with their ability to modulate estrogen levels, thus reducing the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Isoflavones are abundantly found in soy. I know all you soy skeptics are groaning right about now, mostly because there has been so much negative publicity about soy. This issue warrants a separate post!

With a few members in my family suffering from high cholesterol (how about you?) I’m happy to share the benefits of eating foods high in saponins, such as legumes and alfalfa.

In my house we love and eat lots of tomatoes, raw and cooked, which supplies us with the phytonutrient lycopene, which has been linked to fighting heart disease and prostate cancer.

I’ve been cooking with onions and garlic for years, all the while having no idea I was getting the phytonutrient allicin, which is known for eliminating toxins from the body.

With so many phytonutrients which plants are the best ones to eat?

 

If you recall from earlier in the post, the phytochemicals found in plants are responsible for the color of the plant, each one offering a different health benefit.

This is why it’s recommended to… Eat a RAINBOW of plant foods!

If you eat a variety of plant foods daily you can only increase your health.

As I said earlier, I’m not trying to convert you into following a plant-based diet, I simply want to give you information so you can be as healthy as possible.

True health in body, mind and spirit!

I pray you have access to an abundance of fresh vegetables daily.

Pam

P.S. Be sure to look for some yummy recipes next week that will represent the rainbow! If you’re interested in learning more about phytonutrients and the food they’re in, check out this website, http://www.phytochemicals.info/phytochemicals.php.

 

Counting My Blessings

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 Hi There,

Once again I’m overcome with gratitude.

In last weeks post, “A New Wave of Grief,” I shared with you the struggle I face watching my children grow up and reach milestones without the presence of their dad, Larry.

After the newsletter was released last Wednesday many of you sent a note offering congratulations and support.

It’s your comments and feedback that I receive each week that encourage me to continue to share my journey. I started this blog thinking I would be the one providing support, but, truth be told, I get as much benefit, if not more, than my original intentions of helping others.

Living my life after the death of my husband, Larry, has been one of the most difficult challenges I continue to face. Rivaled only by raising three boys on my own and encountering challenges that continue to arise for Charlie, my son with special needs.

I go to bed some nights thinking, “I don’t think I can be more tired than I am right now.” Only to feel more tired on many subsequent nights.

Over the years I’ve had to be the sole champion for all my children. But when it comes to parenting a child with special needs, advocating for him can be a full-time job unto itself.

Along with the fatigue I face at night I’m also greeted by doubts and fears: “Am I giving my children the guidance they need?” “Are there more therapy programs out there that will help Charlie?” “Am I too hard on my kids… too lenient… too much of ANYTHING?”

There always seems to be more doubts and fears than positives…

So, that’s one reason (among others) that I cherish every response and feedback that I receive.

That’s also why I practice stating affirmations and listing my gratitude’s on a daily basis. If I don’t intentionally focus on positive aspects of my life, the negative thoughts will rule me. And I shudder to think what my life would be like today if I made decisions based on fear instead of love.

I know I’ve listed them before, but, in my opinion, there’s no such thing as too many positive thoughts. Every morning as I walk my dogs I count my blessings:

I am grateful for my children. Many people believe I brought life to my children when in reality, they gave me my life after Larry died.

I am grateful for my dogs. They came to me during a time in my life when I never thought I would be able to feel true love again. I only hope I can give them as much love as they give me.

I am grateful for my parents. They moved to Arizona to be closer to me and the boys after Larry died and to offer their assistance to me as the need arose. When I left my home childhood home after I graduated college, I thought I was leaving behind the need to lean on my parents and accept their help when offered. I’m learning you’re never too old to lean on anyone, especially your parents.

I am grateful to all my extended family and friends who over the years have offered love, support and friendship in so many ways. Too numerous to list.

I am grateful to this community of support that is a true circle of life. We all have a journey; whether it’s grief, raising children or coping with the many challenges life has to offer, regardless of your circumstance, you don’t have to walk alone.

In the spirit of feeling continuous support from this community I know you will all understand that since school has ended for the summer, my children need me.

Not in the way they did when they were babies or toddlers, they can fend for themselves for the most part. No, they need me in a different way now that they are adolescents. They need my time, my undivided attention and my guidance as they maneuver through summer school, sport camps, therapies, etc.

And I need them.

Our school year is so hectic with activities I look forward to summer and a vacation away from daily life. It’s important to me (and the health of our family) that we take some time away, unplug and reconnect.

I’m not sure what that means for the weekly newsletter, just yet, but I’ll keep you in the loop. My posts may be shorter or I may skip a week. Rest assured, I WILL have some more yummy recipes to offer and a giveaway in June!

Aside from that I will need to take a week or two off. But you can always send me a note via the website, Facebook or twitter. I’m not going that far!

I pray you find the time you need for yourself and your family this summer.

Many blessings,

Pam

P.S. The photo was taken during our vacation last summer to a beach in San Diego. I had a blast watching the my boys and the dogs frolic in the water. Those are memories I know my kids will take with them as they turn into adults.

P.P.S. If you missed last weeks post, A New Wave of Grief,” you can read it here.

 

A New Wave of Grief

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Dear Friend,

One of the most eye-opening and disheartening characteristics of grief that I’ve learned to come to terms with over the last four years is that it truly never goes away.

As I’ve healed over the years I’ve learned to experience joy and love all over again, each time naively thinking: “Finally, I’ve gotten over the hump!” Only to be slammed without warning by a new wave of grief at any given time.

This grief can be triggered by special occasions, including birthday’s, holidays, anniversaries… or it can stem from a totally unexpected encounter, such as running into someone who didn’t know my husband, Larry, had passed away.

It’s the unexpected moments that catch me off guard the most, taking my breath away, bringing me to my knees. As much as I like to believe these moments are more rare than not, I know I’ll face them for the rest of my life. There is no foresight or planning that allows for them, which is one reason why I suspect they’re more difficult to cope with.

This isn’t to say I don’t face grief during birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I’ve simply learned over the years to expect these will be difficult days and I take as many steps as I possibly can to brace myself before the new wave of grief washes over me.

It’s precisely what I’m trying to do to prepare for tomorrow night.

Thursday, May 21st, will mark an occasion I’ve been anticipating for months, one that has me wrestling with my emotions on a daily (or hourly) basis. It’s an occasion that many will face this year. But fortunately for them, not many will have to face it with grief overshadowing their every move.

This week my oldest son, Henry, is graduating from eighth grade and moving on to the next level of academics: high school.

My children attend a small Montessori school and there are 17 graduates this year. The benefit of a small class is the ceremony is very personal and very touching. Each graduate will take the stage, accept their diploma and have the opportunity to say a few words. I wish so badly Larry could witness the poised young adult our little boy has grown into.

It’s moments like these that make moms and dads sit a little higher in their chairs and glance knowingly at each other, understanding the joint effort- by student, teacher and parents- that it took for their child to get to this moment.

The atmosphere will be filled with excitement, proud parents and yes, even a little relief! I’m sure there will be the typical exchanges: “Where did the time go?” “It seems like yesterday my son/daughter entered kindergarten!”

It’s a night when parents will relish in their role as parents, thinking: “Yes! We had something to do with this!”

It’s one of those milestone moments that parents talk about when their child is born. I still remember holding Henry and being so giddy that Larry and I were parents. We’d both get way ahead of ourselves and say things like:

“Can you believe one day this little boy will… graduate eighth grade, learn to drive, graduate high school, hopefully go to college, get married and have children of his own?”

We certainly didn’t want to rush his growing up but I think we were so enamored with the life we had created we couldn’t help but dream about all the wonderful moments we hoped to share with him.

That Larry’s not here to see these dreams turn into reality just adds to my grief.

So while I’ll share many of the same feelings that most parents have, I’ll definitely have a few they won’t. This will be a night when I’ll walk a fine line between being happy and proud of my son and being incredibly sad that his dad is not here to see him reach this milestone.

What makes this more difficult for me is knowing how much Larry would’ve wanted to be here. He waited 44 years to have a family and once the boys were born I swear I never saw him happier.

So as my heart breaks knowing Larry won’t be here, feelings that I don’t typically have are surfacing.

I struggle with feeling cheated that I won’t have my husband’s hand to hold or his smiling face to glance at, that I won’t see him smile back with an unspoken message that says: “That’s our boy!”

I’m struggling with feelings of injustice that every special occasion I know I’ll face with my children is marred by bittersweet sadness… that there will always be someone missing.

Even though I’m facing these tough feelings, one thing is certain: I don’t want to miss one second of celebration! So, the real question is…

How do I ride these new waves of grief?

First, I allow myself some time to wallow. I say all the things that 95% of the time I don’t allow myself to say: “It’s unfair!” “I feel cheated!” “My son didn’t deserve this!”

When big moments in my life occur I need to let these feelings come out. To feel the unjustness of it all. I HAVE to. To ignore these feelings is almost as though I’m ignoring the fact that Larry died.

By letting the feelings surface, regardless of how unpopular and unpolitically correct they are, I’m giving them their own momentum and hope the acknowledging them will make them dissipate quickly instead of festering like an open wound.

And only then I can stand up again and see the brightness all around me.

What else will I do to cope with these feelings?

I will write in my personal journal to help process all the feelings that I’m facing.

I will take extra care of myself and make sure I build time in just for me.

I will engage in activities that I know will bring me peace, like walking my dogs in the morning and giving thanks for EVERYTHING I still have: my boys, my dogs, my extended family and friends, to name a few.

I will appreciate my son’s success in reaching this milestone, because I’ve felt his struggles along with my own for over four years.

I will smile wide and hard because I’ve known many days when I didn’t think I would ever smile again.

I will take notice of every detail- none too small- so I can be sure to tell Larry all about it when I see him again.

And… I will be careful not to let my melancholy affect Henry. I know he wishes his dad was here, we’ve already discussed it. But I’ll have a special present– a personal item of Larry’s- which he can have with him that evening.

After Larry died I purposefully saved some of his personal items with the intention of giving them to the boys on special occasions so they can have a little piece of their dad with them.

Is it enough? Most definitely NOT… but it’s all we have. And we’ve learned over the years to treasure what we do have.

I know you, too, will face moments that are sure to be a mixture of joy and sadness. I pray you’ll find what brings you the most peace during these times.

Pam

 

Teens and Stress

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Hi there,

If you’re like me and have children still living under your roof and attending school, then I can imagine you’re also experiencing all the stress that comes with the end of the school year: final projects, final exams, end-of-year recitals, celebrations and, possibly even a graduation or two…

Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

To make matters worse, if your kids are anything like mine, they’ve procrastinated and now have to cram months of work into two weeks. Oh yeah, that’s on top of any extra-curricular activities they’re involved in!

As business manager, activities director, psychologist and leader in all things relating to health and wellness for our household, I’ve had to dry a few tears (not just my own), talk through some anxious feelings (“you’ll get through this”), help my kids make better food choices (fact: more social activities means more soda, candy and junk food) rearrange schedules (and not because of my basically non-existent social life) and stress the importance of getting a good night’s rest.

With so much to do in such a short amount of time it’s no wonder we’re all stressed out!

You may recall the post I wrote about anxiety back in November 2014, titled “Living with Anxiety”. In that post I shared how I cope with the levels of anxiety that surfaced after my husband, Larry, passed away. While the purpose of that post was to help adults cope with anxiety in their lives, I briefly mentioned how it affects children, as well.

It’s a topic that’s gaining more recognition every day, and from what I see in my home and what I hear from other parents with adolescent children there’s no doubt about it: our children are stressed out.

I know… You’re probably thinking we all have to face stress in our lives.

But while that’s true, as a parent I want to know what I can do to help my kids cope with every day stress before it turns into an anxiety disorder.

Having lived with anxiety myself, I know the lingering effects it can have on my overall mental and physical health. As a parent I’m always looking for tools and information to guide me in helping my children cope with daily stressors.

Let’s face it: my children have already faced one of life’s biggest challenges when their father died. I’m fully aware that this life-changing event places them at a higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder.

In addition, some children with special needs are also at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders, so my son, Charlie, has to face an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder not just once, but twice. Poor guy was dealt a double whammy at the tender age of seven.

While I know I can’t protect my children 100% from any health issues, I can do the next best thing and give them tools so they can help themselves.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder (daily stress is not measured, but I can imagine it’s high). More disturbing is that symptoms commonly emerge around age 6 and, sadly, only 18% of the teens living with anxiety seek treatment.

These are some scary statistics. That’s why this post is dedicated to empowering parents to help their children cope with every-day stress in order to help prevent it from turning into an anxiety disorder.

For me, the first step is identifying possible sources of stress.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry list the following as possible sources of stress:

*   School demands and frustrations.

*   Negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. (Very common amongst teenagers.)

*   Changes in their bodies (hello puberty!)

*   Problems with friends and/or peers at school.

*   Unsafe living environment/neighborhood.

*   Separation or divorce of parents.

*   Chronic illness or severe problems in the family.

*   Death of a loved one.

*   Moving or changing schools.

*   Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations.

*   Family financial problems.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I can certainly identify with half of the sources listed as possible stressors not only for my kids, but also for myself! Yikes!

Personally, I don’t recall having a lot of stress in my childhood.

So… Why are our children more stressed than we were at their age?

Some studies suggest increased expectations from school, increased use of electronics and decreased physical activity can play a role in our children having more stress than kids from previous generations.

Once I’m armed with the knowledge of possible stressors I feel more capable in moving on to the next step: helping my boys to identify possible symptoms of stress. Helping your child isolate symptoms can help them understand their origin, that is, whether they’re from an illness or from stress. This is a wonderful tool that can be carried into adulthood.

What are the symptoms of a stressed child?

The American Psychological Association recommends parents be aware of the following symptoms that may indicate your child is stressed:

*   Changes in behavior, such as being more irritable or moody.

*   Withdrawal from activities that used to give them pleasure.

*   Routinely expressing worry.

*   Complaining more than usual about school.

*   Crying more than usual.

*   Sleeping too much or too little.

*   Abandoning friendships and/or isolating completely from parents.

*   Physical ailments not related to an illness, such as chronic headaches or stomach-aches.

*   Unexplained rashes.

After Larry died, my son, George, complained almost every morning of a stomachache or headache. I told him that I believed his stomach or head hurt (mine did, too) but it was because of his grief and not a virus. He still had to attend school. His physical ailments lessened in time and with the benefit of grief therapy.

Now George and I know that when he’s facing stress his common symptoms are headaches and stomach-aches. So when he feels these physical ailments and he isn’t sick, we know stress is probably a factor and this knowledge allows us to explore what may be causing it and practice some stress reducing techniques.

My other children have their own set of recurring symptoms: when we recognize them we can pause and reflect on what the underlying issue may be and again, take action to eliminate the stress or find techniques to cope.

What can a parent do to help their child decrease stress?

*   Feed them a well-balanced nutrient rich diet.

*   Help your teen avoid excess caffeine intake, which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.

*   Talk to your son or daughter about the impact alcohol, drugs and tobacco can have with regards to increasing levels of stress.

*   The CDC states that sleep is essential for reducing stress and recommends teens get a minimum of nine hours.

*   Ensure they exercise on a regular basis.

*   Create chunks of designated “tech-free” time.

*   Practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation.

*   Help your child create some affirmations that he or she may refer to each morning. For example, “I am smart,” “I am a kind person,” etc. (Below is a link to a prior post, “Affirming my Life!” which details how to create an affirmation.)

*   Encourage your children to take a “break” from what may be causing stress. If it’s schoolwork, urge them to close the books or turn off the computer and step away for a little while. If it’s relationship issues, persuade your child to stop texting or engaging in social media for a while.

*   If necessary, encourage your child to talk with a qualified adult, for example, a counselor at school, church, social worker, or professional therapist.

As a parent, I want my child to talk to me, but I understand there may be times he may not want to. Therefore, I feel it’s more important that he knows there are other avenues available as opposed to shutting down and bottling up the stress.

In addition to helping my children cope with stress as the school year wraps up over the next few weeks, I also need to maintain my practice of wellness techniques, which I’ve referred to in prior posts. I hope you do, too.

I pray daily to have the guidance and tools to give to my children so they can be healthy in mind and body. And I pray ALL our kids can truly grasp that peace and happiness comes from within.

Here’s to all of us finding happiness in our lives!

Pam

P.S. You can read the post “Living with Anxiety” here and to get tips on creating affirmations read the post. “Affirming my Life!” here.

 

Once a Mother, Always a Mother

 MB 5_6_15

Dear Friend,

I discovered I was pregnant with my first child the Friday before Mother’s day in 2000. Larry and I were elated but cautious in wanting to share the news too soon. So that year as we gathered to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom and the rest of the family, I secretly relished the fact that I was going to be a mom.

Being a mother changes your life forever. Your life is no longer just your own. You now have another person’s well-being, happiness, growth and love intertwined with yours. Your child laughs, you laugh. If your child cries, you cry. If your child succeeds, a part of you succeeds with them. If there are failures along the way, you want to reach out and help.

The bond I have with each of my children is unique and like no other I have ever felt.

As much as I love being a mom, I’ll admit it’s the toughest job I’ve ever had! There’s no time clock to punch, no time off when you’re sick and there’s no such thing as over-time pay (or any pay for that matter!) It’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job!

Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

And when Mother’s Day rolls around each year, I stand tall and proud: I’m a mom! It’s a day for reflection and celebration.

But what happens to that day if you’ve experienced the tragic loss of a child?

How do you acknowledge the occasion?

While I’ve shared my grief over the loss of my husband, the anguish that ensues when a parent has lost a child is beyond my comprehension.

No matter the age your son or daughter may have been when he or she passed away, he or she will forever be your child.

Over the years I have been humbled to know and meet parents who faced this most tragic event of their life.

As I write this post I won’t even try to imagine the pain that a parent suffers with this loss. To do so would be presumptuous on my part.

But I can address healing from the point of view of someone who has experienced profound grief. And part of healing entails learning how to live each day without your loved one, even on the “special” days.

When I attended New Song Center for Grieving Children, sadly there were many parents present who had lost a child. They were there to support their living children/grandchildren who had lost a sibling/parent and also to get support for themselves. Even in my own grief, I had nothing but the upmost respect for the courage and strength I saw in each mother and father as they shared their grief with the group.

As you know, every day can be a struggle. But some days will be more difficult than others, like the holidays. When such days approached, each of us in our group shared our plans for the day, and what I took most from this exercise is that there is no right or wrong way to get through a difficult day.

So what do you do on Mother’s Day if your child is no longer with you?

Frankly, whatever you darn well feel like!

There are no rules!

Mother’s Day is Sunday. If you are a mother or grandmother who has lost a child or grandchild, or you have children whose mother passed away, you may be having mixed feelings about how you want to spend the day. So while there are no rules, I will share some options I know others have followed.

For children who have lost a mother:

* Involve the children, let them help you plan the day.

* They can write a letter or draw a picture for their mom.

* Is there a place of remembrance they would like to visit?

* Are there any other female figures they would like to recognize on this day? A grandmother, aunt or close friend?

For mothers who have lost a child:

* Consider ahead of time how you want to spend the day.

* Communicate your thoughts to others.

* Is there something special you would like to do to on this day to commemorate your child?

* Can you think of a way to recognize your other children, if you have any?

For grandmothers who have lost a grandchild:

You’re enduring the pain of watching your adult daughter grieve for your grandchild while you yourself are also grieving. Because you love your child (who is no longer a child), you will do what most mothers do and give the biggest gift of all: your love, understanding and patience.

Please be patient and understand that your grieving daughter may not want to recognize this day, or may choose to do so alone with her own children. Understand that your grieving daughter may “forget” to say “Happy Mother’s Day” or even “I love you, mom.”

The biggest gift you give– your unconditional love– will be returned to you tenfold because of your patience and understanding.

Mother’s Day may never be the same, but I truly believe…

Once a mother, always a mother.

However you decide to spend Mother’s Day this year, it’s completely up to you.

I also want to take a moment to recognize that if you’re a mother whose child has passed away, your feelings of grief the days prior to Mother’s Day may very well escalate to levels you may or may not have experienced, regardless of how long it’s been.

While I’ve mentioned New Song in this post and previous posts, I want to offer another means of support.

The Compassionate Friends provides support to families experiencing the death of a son or daughter. They have local chapters and provide online support. Below is their website and I encourage you to have a look to see if there’s something they have that will support you not only on Mother’s Day, but on every day.

http://www.compassionatefriends.org/home.aspx

I pray this Mother’s Day you find some peace in your heart and remember to take some time for yourself.

Many Blessings,

Pam

P.S. To all the moms out there, I wish you a very happy Mother’s Day. I am grateful every day that I have my three boys. I hope they never get too old for big hugs!

 

There’s no making sense of the senseless.

MB 4_29_15

Hi there,

To say my boys and I are movie buffs is an understatement. Some of our family time is spent hanging out on Friday evenings, where you’ll find us making home-made pizzas (gluten-free, of course) and gathering to watch a movie.

Of course, being teenage boys they like action movies, war movies and some psychological thrillers. Occasionally I can get them to watch a movie more geared toward my taste- but I’m used to having to compromise. I did when their dad was alive, because – not surprisingly- he chose the same genre of movies the boys like now!

Going out to the movies is another family favorite and when “Fast & Furious 7” opened we couldn’t wait to go see it. While I had read in the newspaper reviews about the ending, I certainly didn’t think it would have the impact on me that it did.

Who would’ve thought a fast-paced action movie could touch the very essence of my grief and leave me sitting in the theater, watching the credits, with tears streaming down my face?

But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago. If you’re not familiar with the “Fast & Furious” series, it’s about illegal street racing, complicated heists, characters living large and many unbelievable stunts that get more daring with the each movie.

There’s humor, suspense and good old-fashioned rooting for the good guys, even when the good guys are ex-convicts. Not exactly a recipe for a tear jerker!

So why the tears?

Spoiler Alert!

The final scene paid tribute to the late actor, Paul Walker, who was killed last year in a car accident. Filming of this movie was still taking place at the time of his death.

As the final scene opened, the song “See You Again,” by Wiz Khalifa began to play. It starts with a beautiful melody played on the piano that filled the theater, followed by lyrics that sounded as if they were written for me and said exactly what I wish I could say to my husband, Larry, who passed away over four years ago. As soon as I heard the first line, the tears began to flow and spill down my cheeks.

“It’s been a long day without you, my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”

Even more touching was the sadness and pain reflected on the faces of all the actors in the last scene. Walker’s death was well publicized and some of the actors spoke about how much they would miss him. This all happened before the last scene was shot, so I knew the expressions on their faces weren’t faked: the pain I saw etched on their faces was real. And I know… Because it’s a pain you recognize and one you never forget.

Yes, it’s been a loooooong day: over four years of long days, in fact.

I still have my moments when I find it hard to believe it’s been over four years since Larry died. Four years that I’ve spent a majority of each waking day trying to make conscious choices to heal. Four years of taking a step forward, two steps back, and another forward. Four years of doing my best to raise three boys on my own. Four years that led me to the path I’m on, that of- sharing my grief with others.

Yes, it’s been a long day without you, my friend.

Why would a movie and tribute for someone I didn’t even know move me so much?

Grief, you see, is a universal language. No words are needed to understand and feel compassion for those who also face grief.

When grief comes into our lives it’s humbling; when we see grief enter into the lives of others it’s a reminder of our own struggles. Grief connects us all.

So each time I’m confronted with the sudden and tragic death of another person (whether I knew them or not), all the feelings I felt immediately following Larry’s death come rushing back.

It’s my belief there’s a natural order to life: we’re born, we have our childhood, we become adults, we raise families, we enter our golden years and, since none of us can escape death, we eventually pass on. Death- even at an older age- is very sad, but when it happens out of the “normal” order of life, it’s tragic.

That’s how I feel about Larry’s death: it was a tragedy for him, and it’s still a tragedy for me and for our children. And that’s how I feel when I get the very sad news that another person has died unexpectedly: it’s tragic.

While I’ve tried not to ask why, I’ll admit that in moments of despair I’ve wondered if there was a reason for Larry’s death. Some reason- any reason, really- that I would somehow be able to comprehend as long as I’m a mortal woman walking this earth. Will the answer ever be revealed to me, even after I’m dead and gone?

What makes me ask those questions? Because during my deepest despair, all I want to do is scream: “Someone please tell me my husband didn’t die in vain! Please tell me he didn’t leave me and our children to fend for ourselves for no reason!”

After these difficult moments (and as you can see, I still have them), when the heavy cloud lifts and I can stand up and take another step forward, I take a minute and quietly remind myself that- Larry didn’t leave me on purpose, it was completely out of our hands. And, truth is, there’s no reason on this earth that can help take away the pain I feel knowing Larry died before he was able to guide our boys into adulthood.

So no, there isn’t a reason good enough for me. Maybe that’s why the answer will never be revealed until my time has come. And I have to accept that during this lifetime I will never know why.

The difficulty comes in being able to accept there’s no making sense of the senseless. So my advice is this: don’t bother. Don’t waste the energy you will certainly need to heal.

In order for me to have all the energy that is required to move forward I must accept that I’ll never know the reason why my husband died too soon. I must also accept there’s only one life for me now, and sadly that doesn’t include him anymore- at least not on this earthly plane.

And that’s when I turn to my faith. Faith that there is a heaven and Larry’s in it. Faith that one day I will see him again. And I also think about what I’ll tell him when I do finally see him again.

Will I tell him it was too hard? That I couldn’t live my life without him in it because the pain was too great?

Or…

Do I tell him I did the best I could? That every day was a different day… Some good days, some bad days, but I did the best I could.

There’s another verse in the song I really liked, one that so eloquently states you should keep the faith.

“So let the light guide your way, yeah, hold every memory as you go, and every road you take will always lead you home.”

So I will live my life to the best of my abilities. I will certainly do what I can to take care of my body, my mind and my soul, and until my time comes…

I will enjoy life and I will collect as many memories as I can. And, God willing, I will be allowed to live long enough to see my boys grow up and start their own families, if that’s what they choose.

And when the day comes when I do see Larry again, this is what I hope to tell him:

“I raised our boys and they’ve grown into wonderful men.”

“I kept you alive by talking about you and sharing stories about you with our boys.”

“I did find joy and happiness as I healed.”

“I’ve been blessed to hold our grandchildren.”

“Thank you for waiting for me, I’ve missed you.”

So while it has been a long four years without my love, I really do hope, for my children’s sake and my own, I get quite a few more.

No matter what denomination you follow, I pray you will find the faith you need to live your life to the fullest, so when you meet the loved one who has gone before you, you can tell them all about it.

Many Blessings,

Pam

P.S. In the photo above Larry and I are scuba diving in Hawaii. It was my first time and I panicked, went back to the surface and left Larry waiting for me until I could gain composure. After some time I decided to give it another try. Knowing Larry could do it gave me courage to give it another go… That, and I didn’t want to face his teasing if I didn’t go back down! He brought a lot of love and adventure into my life!

Allergies and your Immune System – Part 2

MB 4_22_15

Hello!

Last week I introduced the topic of allergies and your immune system. If you recall, I mentioned I had so much information to share about allergies that I decided to make it a two-part post – so here we are!

To recap: last week I covered: a) why I believe this is such an important topic, b) I described what happens to the body during an allergic reaction, c) I explained the difference between “allergy,” “intolerance” and “sensitivity,” and d) listed common symptoms of allergies and intolerances. (To read last week’s post click on the link at the end this post.)

This week I will discuss: a) how to determine if you have an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity,” b) the most common allergen foods, c) the “elimination diet” in detail, and d) the long-term effects on the body if intolerances are ignored.

Unfortunately, uncovering a food intolerance or sensitivity is not as easy as you might think. Each person has a unique makeup and while there are common symptoms, it’s important to get to know your own body and recognize the emotions and physical appearances that may indicate you are sensitive to certain foods.

So what’s a person to do if she suspects she has a food intolerance/sensitivity?

The first step is to create a food diary. Before you write anything in the diary pertaining to food, though, I recommend you take a complete inventory of your body from head to toe. Now is the time to be honest. Is your scalp itchy or flaking? Do you have excess acne? Do you suffer from constant ear and/or sinus infections? Are there dry patches (eczema) on your body? Do you experience brain fog? Honestly, no detail is too small. Record everything you notice in your new diary.

Now that you’re aware you may have an intolerance to food, the next step is to track what you eat for a couple of weeks and make note of any immediate symptoms you experience. Did you get an upset stomach or heartburn? Did you experience diarrhea after a meal? Did any part of your body swell or break out in hives or a rash after consuming a certain food item? Again, no detail is too small.

All of this information is necessary to help you communicate with your doctor why you feel you may have an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to certain foods. Together you and your doctor can discuss which testing method is best for you.

Below are the various tests available to determine if you have an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to certain foods:

* Elimination diet

* Bloodwork

* Scratch test

Why so many different tests? For starters, other than detecting an allergy that has an immediate response (IgE) no test has been shown to accurately detect food “allergies,” “intolerances” or “sensitivities.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “There’s no standard test used to confirm or rule out a food allergy. Your doctor will consider a number of things before making a diagnosis.”

This is another reason I recommend that during the first and second steps of this process you document as much information as possible.

When my oldest son, Henry, was 4 years old his pediatrician recommended I take him to an allergist since he was experiencing so many ear and sinus infections. They tested him for various allergies with a scratch test.

What’s a scratch test?

During a scratch test the doctor or nurse cleans the area of the body where the test will be performed, typically the forearm or the back. Henry had his scratch test done on his back. Next they mark and label your skin with a pen to indicate the potential allergen. Then they place a drop of the potential allergen on each of these spots and prick the outer layer of your skin to let the allergen in. Even though Henry was a toddler at the time he was a real trooper. They gave him multiple pricks on his back, but he didn’t cry once!

After they’re done pricking your skin, you wait for about 30-45 minutes to see if there’s a reaction. Some of Henry’s scratches reacted immediately, some took a little longer. But the results indicated he was allergic to most of his environment! Dust mites, pollen, ragweed, mold, grass and pet dander… the list continued and I was quickly overwhelmed. How in the world can I protect my son from the environment?

I didn’t know what to do at the time except follow their recommendation that Henry take allergy medicine daily. The only problem was he continued to get ear and sinus infections! Which led me to the next test: bloodwork.

Bloodwork:

Last week I explained how the body develops antibodies to fight offending proteins in food, pollen, etc. A blood test is another method to test if an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to specific foods exists. You can have this test performed by your regular doctor or an allergist.

I had bloodwork drawn for all three of my boys and only Charlie’s results revealed intolerance to certain foods; Henry’s and George’s didn’t. Yet, they all still had many symptoms that indicated an “intolerance” to something, which led me to the elimination diet.

Elimination diet:

There’s a lot of information and many recommendations regarding the elimination diet on the internet. The only problem is trying to apply it to your daily life!

Some recommend eliminating a huge list of foods all at once for a few weeks, then slowly adding back one food item at a time into your diet and recording any symptoms that may occur. This can be difficult because -unless you meet with a certified nutritionist – eliminating too many foods at once can leave a person malnourished.

I recommend starting with a few foods at a time, beginning with the top allergen foods, and moving on from there.

Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Mayo Clinic list eight foods that account for an estimated 90 percent of allergic reactions:

* Milk

* Eggs

* Peanuts

* Tree Nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)

* Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)

* Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)

* Soy

* Wheat

Before I embarked on the elimination diet for myself and my kids I did some careful planning to ensure I would NOT be missing key nutrients. The two foods I eliminated first were dairy and all grains with gluten (i.e. wheat.)

With the elimination diet you must be diligent with reading labels. To truly eliminate milk products (yes, this includes cheese) you need to be aware there are over 40 ingredients that contain milk protein but may not have milk anywhere in their name. Here’s a link that provides a detailed list of these ingredients: http://www.avoidingmilkprotein.com/ReadingIngredients.htm

In addition to dairy and gluten I also limited our intake of all animal products (beef, chicken, eggs, fish, etc.), but unless you’re already vegetarian or vegan I don’t recommend a complete elimination of all animal products. Start with the ones listed above (eggs, fish and shellfish.)

Many people thrive on a vegetarian and/or vegan diet (we do) but I highly recommend consulting with a certified nutritionist before taking this step to ensure vital minerals and nutrients derived from animal products are adequately replaced.

And wouldn’t you know: after removing dairy, wheat and animal products from our diets for a few weeks, the results were astounding!

George’s headaches and stomach aches stopped, the eczema cleared up for all of them, digestive issues were under control, neither George nor Henry needed an inhaler, and the biggest win for Henry: no more daily sinus medications!

The true test came a few weeks later and we went out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. We went to a well-known seafood restaurant and everyone ate the dinner rolls with butter, fish with yummy (milk-based) sauces on top and a to-die-for butter cake with ice cream and home-made whipped cream! We sure enjoyed that meal… Until the next morning.

I was up half the night feeling ill and the next morning all three boys woke up with stuffed sinuses and swollen eyes. For me it was a clear sign that we had been on the right track with the foods we eliminated and needed to jump back on it.

So while Henry (or anyone) can’t control the environment and the impact its allergens have on his immune system, he can control what food he puts into his body. It’ll be two years this summer since we did the elimination diet, almost two years that he’s been free of allergy medicines and infections – a win-win in my book.

What happens if you eat the foods you’re intolerant to?

Obviously with three adolescent boys we’re on the go quite a bit. Unfortunately, the world we live in doesn’t always support our diet choices and the boys end up eating food that’s not in their best interest. They can usually tolerate small amounts without a huge effect on their bodies, but if they eat the offending foods for an extended period of time, more often than not all the symptoms that went away start to reappear.

Can a food intolerance really have a negative effect on your body?

Most people know that if a child has an allergy to peanuts, you DON’T give him peanuts. The fear is the child will experience anaphylaxis and potentially die. It’s a very real possibility.

Yet, I haven’t noticed the same diligence awarded to children with food intolerances. I’ve heard, “a little can’t hurt,” “come on, one-bite won’t kill him,” and… Well, yes, it’s true: today.

But if you recall from my post last week, even with food intolerances the body is creating antibodies (IgG) to fight a perceived threat. So a little here and there may not hurt, but continuously eating foods that one is intolerant to will keep the body in a constant state of war – and that can eventually lead to a host of other illnesses.

So while I’m not overly concerned about today since my children are still under my care, I am concerned about teaching them good eating habits they can take with them when they leave the house and go out on their own.

So when I hear someone say, “a little won’t hurt,” truth is, it may not. But it certainly doesn’t help establish good eating habits and, in my opinion, our kids need all the support they can get.

What can you do for a child that may be intolerant to certain foods?

* Be supportive, don’t offer them foods they’re not supposed to have.

* Ask what they can eat.

* If possible, keep on hand certain foods you know they can eat.

What I’ve learned over the past few years and through my classes, is that food really is the best medicine available for our bodies. Unfortunately, finding the offending foods can be a time-consuming process and this is where most people give up.

But that’s where I’m hoping my education and certification will be a service to others. I know how it feels to live with pain (emotional and physical). Frankly, I’m doing whatever I can to be happy, and for me, total happiness includes my health.

Is it easy?

NO! If it were, we wouldn’t have the increasing incidences of depression, anxiety, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. But with some effort, it’s very realistic to implement changes in your diet.

Are the efforts worth it? For me, absolutely!

However, only you can decide what steps you’re willing to take to feel good emotionally and physically. Just know, you’re not alone. You have a community right here willing to support you, with every step you take.

I pray you’ll find the stamina needed to keep fighting for your whole health -in body and mind.

Pam

P.S. If you missed Part 1 of this post, click here to read it now.

Allergies and your Immune Sytem

MB 4_15_15

Hello,

I had so much information to post about allergies – and didn’t want to leave out anything important – that I decided to make it a two part post!

This first post will cover: a) why I believe this is such an important topic, b) describe what happens to the body during an allergic reaction, c) explain the difference between “allergy,” “intolerance” and “sensitivity,” and d) common symptoms of allergies and intolerances.

In next week’s second part we’ll talk about: a) how to determine if you have an allergy or intolerance, b) the most common allergen foods, c) the “elimination diet” in detail, and d) the long-term effects on the body if intolerances are ignored.

April seems the perfect time to discuss allergies. Spring is here and with it comes the usual onslaught for allergy sufferers. But while many people suffer from environmental allergies (grass, pollen, etc.), more and more individuals are experiencing some form of reaction to the food they eat.

This can be a complicated subject because there are differences between “allergic reactions,” “intolerances” and “sensitivities.” In order to understand these differences we need to explore the various components that make up food – protein, fat and carbohydrates – and we need to understand how a person’s immune system responds in each circumstance.

First, let me explain why I feel this is an important topic to explore, especially if you’ve experienced grief, a traumatic event, anxiety or depression.

When you experience a profound loss or life-changing event your body is put under an enormous amount of stress. (See my post “What Happens to the Body During Stress,” to learn more about the impact stress has on your body.)

Basically, your body ends up working extra hard to compensate for the physical and mental strain that you’re going through, which means vitamins and minerals may not be utilized as efficiently as they did when you weren’t under stress. Your immune system then becomes compromised and you may not even be able to digest food in the same manner you did before you faced grief.

If in addition, you’re suffering from a chronic illness or other immune disorder, again, your immune system will not functioning as it did before you got sick.

The first spring after Larry died (2011) I suffered from multiple sinus infections, which led to many rounds of antibiotics. Eventually I had to take allergy medication daily to prevent more infections – all of which further compromised my immune system.

My immune system took another hit in 2012 when I contracted valley fever. The residual effects of valley fever left me facing chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation affects your body at the cellular level and if ignored can lead to serious illnesses. (Reports of chronic inflammation are on the rise and can be serious, which warrants a separate post at a later date, so stay tuned!)

Whether it’s the after effects of valley fever or the chronic inflammation – in fact, I don’t think anyone can tell me for certain – the thing is I’ve become very sensitive to a variety of foods that never used to bother me before. However, through my diet I’ve been able to keep my inflammation under control. (Just ask any of my kids what happens when I eat wheat, dairy or meat… my hands, feet and stomach swell like balloons!)

Another reason I want to explore allergies is that many children with special needs also have compromised immune systems and they, too, suffer from a variety of food intolerances. Five years ago a blood test revealed that my son, Charlie, was intolerant to wheat and dairy.

So what does the immune system have to do with food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities?

EVERYTHING!

An allergy is a reaction by your immune system to a protein that it perceives as a threat. That protein can be found in food, pollen, dust mites, etc.

Many people associate proteins with animal products such as meat, dairy or eggs, when in fact a majority of all foods (and plants) contain proteins. It’s this protein component that causes a reaction with our immune system. We’ve all heard about gluten intolerance: well, gluten is the “offending” protein found in wheat, oats, rye and some other grains.

As I previously mentioned there’s a difference between “allergies,” “intolerances” and “sensitivities.” Each is measured when the body develops antibodies to fight the offending protein. These antibodies are also known as “immunoglobin” and in medical terms are called “Ig.” In an immediate allergic response, such as anaphylaxis, an “E” will follow the Ig response, reflected as IgE. If it’s a delayed response, as is the case with intolerances and sensitivities, a “G” will follow the Ig response, reflected as IgG.

Remember: Whether you have an allergy or intolerance, your body is still building up antibodies! The former is immediately detrimental to your health, the latter can be just as detrimental, but takes longer to develop.

While an immediate reaction can alert you to an allergy, it’s harder to determine if you have an intolerance or sensitivity because the reaction is delayed or minimal.

Below are some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction:

* Swelling of the airway to the lungs

* Immediate outbreak of hives

* Nausea/vomiting/stomach pain

* Diarrhea

Below are some of symptoms a person may experience if he has an intolerance or sensitivity to foods:

* Headaches

* Fatigue after eating

* Diarrhea/constipation (IBS)

* Skin rashes, eczema

* Joint pain

* Brain fog

* Difficulty breathing

In Charlie’s case he had severe constipation, stomach pains and eczema. When he was a toddler he used to wake up shortly before midnight, run out of his room screaming at the top of his lungs and sit on the floor holding his stomach. Larry was usually still awake and would run over and scoop him up to try to console him. Larry told me that the only thing that seemed to comfort Charlie was rubbing his stomach.

Children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of celiac disease than the general public. Knowing this – and based on his symptoms – I had Charlie tested for celiac, but the test came back negative. His pediatrician at the time explained that even though he didn’t have celiac he still might be experiencing intolerance to wheat.

So I had more tests done. My naturopath doctor ran a complete panel of food intolerances/sensitivities: Charlie’s dairy intolerance was off the chart and his wheat intolerance was very high, but not off the chart, which explained why the celiac test came back negative.

Since Henry and George had several of the aforementioned symptoms – headaches, constipation, eczema and difficulty breathing (asthma) – I had them tested as well. Their report indicated there were no measured intolerances. So at the time I thought, “Great, I only have to worry about changing Charlie’s diet!”

Changing the diet for one person in a household is very difficult. At times I felt really badly for Charlie not being able to eat his favorite goldfish crackers or sourdough bread and I’d give in to that cute little face when he said, “Please mommy!”

And then Larry got sick. Frankly, I had more on my plate with Larry’s illness than to worry about the food we ate. Then when he died I was more concerned about making sure my kids ate something rather than be concerned with the foods they were eating. I was doing the best I could, as I’m sure you are, too.

But when I got sick it felt as though my body betrayed me. My joints and back were in severe pain from the inflammation and the exhaustion would hit periodically throughout the day, forcing me to lie down and rest.

After months went by I started to feel a little better, but nowhere near how I felt before I contracted valley fever. Valley fever is a fungus that attacks your body and, there are no medications that will truly make it go away: antifungals help, but only to reduce the symptoms. As with a virus, you have to rely on your immune system to fight the fungus, and frankly mine was not very strong after all the grief I had experienced.

But I wasn’t about to give up and live my life feeling “mediocre.” I wanted to do whatever was within my power to be as healthy as I could be.

So the “type A” analytical researcher in me spent hours online, researching possible causes and remedies for inflammation.

One report after another stated the same facts as those found in insiderhealth.com:

“When your body is in a chronic state of inflammation, it can have serious effects on your cellular health, and has been linked to degenerative diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many others.”

My heart kept sinking after each article I read. My children had already lost one parent; they didn’t need to lose another. I had to get my inflammation under control – and fast!

That was two years ago. Who knew my quest to improve my health would lead me in such an amazing direction? In fact, it’s made a huge impact not only on me, but also on the health of all three of my boys.

Changing my diet and improving how I feel and live my life has given me better insight into how Charlie must have felt when he would wake up screaming in pain.

Instead of feeling bad that he couldn’t have his goldfish and sourdough bread, I now feel worse that I kept feeding them to him!

I’m a believer that things happen for a reason and I can’t help but feel that getting valley fever has set me on a path to help Charlie and others who face food intolerances. Until you walk in someone else’s shoes, you have no idea what he is experiencing.

Next week I’ll explore testing methods, common allergens and what you can do to help yourself feel as good as possible.

Until then…

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Many blessings,

 Pam

Hope and Love

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Hi There,

Today I want to talk about two things: Hope and Love.

Two small words with enough power behind them to lift my spirits when things go well or dash all my dreams when they don’t.

Unfortunately when Larry died some of my dreams died with him. There were many dark days when I almost lost hope that I’d be able to have love and happiness in my life.

Thankfully God gave me a child who has taught me over and over facing some of life’s biggest struggles, to never lose hope and never give up on love.

I’ve written before that all of my children have provided me a sense of purpose to face each day. Yet, it’s been Charlie who has shown me over the years what perseverance can yield – hope and love.

When I first learned that my son, Charlie, was born with Mosaic Down Syndrome, I experienced the many emotions that most parents do upon learning their child has a special need. I feared for his health, I was concerned about his future education and I was saddened that he would face struggles in life other children would never experience.

When Charlie was an infant most of my concerns subsided as I watched him smile, laugh and sit up on his own like any other healthy baby. The enormous amount of love I had for him offered me hope that no matter what struggles he faced, I would be there to support him and I was determined that he would be given the same opportunity to learn that other children had. Little did I know then my hope for his future would be tested a handful of times since he was a baby. Nor did I realize at the time that Charlie would teach me more about life than I ever expected.

Never, ever, ever give up hope.

When Charlie was nine months old he started to exhibit behavior that made it appear as though he was having a seizure. From a sitting position he would bow at the waist, raise his arms, shake his upper torso and roll his eyes back. Like most modern parents we “Googled” his symptoms and found they matched something called West Syndrome.

West Syndrome is a rare seizure disorder that usually appears in children 4–11 months of age. The prognosis is that 5% of children affected by this syndrome will die and 90% will experience severe physical and cognitive impairments.

My heart dropped. “Please,” I prayed to God, “protect my baby.”

We visited a pediatric neurologist in Arizona to determine if this is what Charlie had. We brought videos of Charlie having a “seizure” and the doctor even witnessed Charlie having a couple of these “seizures” in his office.

Our worst fears were confirmed when the doctor told us that based on the physical examination it appeared that Charlie did have West Syndrome. He went a step further and gave us anti-seizure medication and told us that as soon as he got the results of an electroencephalogram (EEG) he would call and give us the dosage. Once we confirmed the diagnosis through an EEG, it was imperative he take the anti-seizure medication as soon as possible.

“No, no, no,” I thought to myself the whole way home, “this can’t be happening.” He was already diagnosed with Mosaic Down Syndrome – now this – how could so much happen to one little boy?

After the first EEG the doctor called us with shocking news: there was no indication of a seizure in any of the brain activity measured during the test. Perplexed, he ordered another EEG, this time a full day exam that was to be recorded.

This meant Charlie and I spent the whole day in the hospital with wires attached to his head and wrapped so he wouldn’t pull them off. Every time he physically appeared to have a seizure I was supposed to hit a key on the computer so the doctors could pinpoint the precise moment the “seizure” occurred.

A few days later the doctor called. Again he was perplexed. Once more there was no activity in his brain to indicate a seizure. Basically he told us not to give Charlie the anti-seizure medication and all he could recommend at this point was to keep an eye on him.

While I was relieved beyond belief that he didn’t have West Syndrome, I still wanted an explanation for the way his body convulsed continuously every day. I visited another pediatric neurologist, this one in Chicago, who confirmed Charlie was not having seizures and therefore didn’t have West Syndrome.

But even he couldn’t give us an explanation for Charlie’s “seizures” except to say it had to be psychological. Which basically meant he was moving his body like that because it felt good to him!

Hence we nicknamed him “Feel Good Charlie.” It would be a couple more years before we got a true diagnosis: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD has been overlooked on many occasions mainly because it’s considered a secondary diagnosis and the symptoms can vary greatly from child to child. However, continuous education for parents, educators, therapists and doctors has been helpful in bringing much needed attention to SPD.

Because there’s so much information specifically about SPD, I will try to cover as much as I can about it in another post.

What I did learn from this experience was that no matter how certain or dire the situation may seem, never give up hope.

Even in my grief I drew from this experience. There were many days when I thought to myself, “What’s the point?” or “Why bother?” And then I would remember each moment (and there were more like the story above) when I felt defeated facing the challenges I had with Charlie… and I would remind myself not to give up hope.

I couldn’t give up on the hope that one day there would come a time when the intense grief I felt wouldn’t be all consuming. I couldn’t give up hope that one day my children and I would learn to function as a family without Larry. I couldn’t give up hope that one day both my children and I would feel peace and love when we remembered Larry, and not just the pain of his loss.

No: I will never give up hope that the boys and I will continue to heal and live our lives to the best of our ability (because, in all honesty, one never completely heals from a loss this great).

And I will never give up hope that Charlie will continue to surprise me and break through each ceiling and show others there truly are no limits to what he can do.

Love is what brings people together.

One of Charlie’s greatest characteristics is his ability to express pure love. It doesn’t matter if you’re a family member or friend, he’s filled with love and he wants to express it.

In doing so, Charlie has brought many classrooms together. I will always remember the day his first grade teacher thanked me for allowing Charlie to be in her class!

She said, “I never had the beginning of a school year transition so smoothly. All the kids want to see Charlie succeed. He really brought everyone together!”

Just recently the mother of one of Charlie’s friends emailed me to tell me how much her daughter liked Charlie.

She wrote:

“Charlie can teach others how to really love. I remember when my daughter was in 2nd or 3rd grade and she said that her favorite friend was Charlie because he hugged and loved everyone. She would tell you today that she also learned so much from him. She felt privileged to have Charlie as her friend. I think all of us moms also embraced him from day one. Such a special kid.”

I had tears in my eyes when I read this email. Unless you have a child with special needs, it’s hard to understand what it means to have this support and acknowledgment from friends saying they see the same beautiful qualities in your child that you do. It’s one more blessing I have to add to my growing list of gratitude.

With all the lessons Charlie has taught me in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but believe God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave me my son.

Charlie has brought me hope and love in moments when I was ready to give up.

So the next time you see a family who has a child with special needs, respect they may have struggles (don’t we all), but there’s no need to pity them or feel bad for them, because they may be feeling truly blessed with the wonderful child bestowed upon them. I sure am.

I wish you many blessings and much love,

Pam

P.S. The picture of Charlie is from a recent trip to New York with his 6th grade class. He participated in the Montessori Model United Nations(MMUN) conference. He was assigned a country, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and an issue: The rights of a child. He did a fabulous job presenting his speech to the committee he was on, SOCHUM. Who knows, he could be a future delegate fighting for the rights of children with special needs around the world!