Coping with Grief and Loss


“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

Winnie the Pooh

State 36: Oklahoma - April 5, 2018

Lori

We woke up in a Walmart in Oklahoma City excited to start another new day on the road. Yesterday, visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to learn about the Oklahoma City Bombing. We were left wondering, “How does a community even begin to cope with the magnitude of such a sudden, senseless and traumatic loss?”. To answer this very question, we drove across town to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA” tour for Oklahoma; Calm Waters: Center for Family and Children! Calm Waters is a nonprofit agency providing free grief support groups to Oklahoma children, their parents, and caregivers. The agency’s mission is to help navigate children and families through the journey of grief caused by death, divorce, incarceration, military deployment, or foster care. In addition, Calm Waters also offers onsite crisis counseling following traumatic community incidents. In the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Calm Waters supported the community through seminars, support groups, and programs where children reached out to other children experiencing loss.

After parking Rosie, we entered Calm Waters, and met with Nicole Wayne; Community Outreach Administrator. After leading us into her office, Nicole shared the history of the organization. Calm Waters was founded in 1992 by 9-year-old Jason Woodruff after the sudden death of his father. Jason’s favorite memories with his dad are of the times they would go sailing together. Whenever the weather became rough, they would sail their boat into the calm waters of a cove to seek shelter from the storm. In the stormy emotional times that followed his father’s death, Jason longed for the safety and peace of those calm waters again. It is for Jason, and all the other children who have endured loss, that Calm Waters was founded, and today, the organization serves more than 2,500 Oklahoma students and families annually!

Nicole explained the two primary services offered by Calm Waters. The first is the school based grief groups currently serving 150 Oklahoma public schools, and touches the lives of more than 1,400 Pre-K through 12th grade students each year. The second offering is the center based grief groups meeting at Calm Waters offices on Monday nights for 16 weeks. In addition, Calm Waters offers seminars such as the 4-hour "Parenting Through Divorce” meeting; fulfilling the court mandated requirement for divorcing parents. The curriculum for each of the support groups was developed and is overseen by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Each group features a volunteer facilitator specifically trained to guide the group through the established curriculum.

Obviously, we were unable to tour the school based groups since they occur in public schools. However, Nicole graciously led us on a guided tour throughout the Calm Waters Center. Since a 5-year-old processes grief differently than a 17-year-old, the center features different rooms, furnishings and decor with an emphasis on the children’s age and developmental level. Please see the pictures below.

As we walked down the hallway from room to room, I noticed the walls were adorned with pictures and messages the children had made for their lost loved one. Their written expressions of grief were both heartbreaking and inspirational. Please see the pictures below.

Our tour ended in a large room where the young adults meet containing chairs, tables, and ample boxes of tissues. Nicole shared a very powerful exercise performed on the last day of the grief group meetings. Each person is given a terracotta planting pot inside of a bag. After the bag is sealed, the pot is hit with a hammer and smashed to pieces. Each person must glue all of the pieces of the broken pot back together. The pot represents the person prior to the loss. The breaking of the pot signifies the traumatic impact loss has on a person’s life. The gluing of pieces of the pot back together represents the slow process of healing and rebuilding. No matter how hard you try, the terracotta pot will never look as it originally did, because loss forever changes us. Once pieced back together, the pot can once again function as intended.

The aforementioned exercise really hit home, because my terracotta pot has been repetitively pulverized throughout my life. When I was 10 years old, my Aunt Carrie died in a car accident in her 20's, and two weeks later, my father Doug died in a car train crash at age 32. At age 13, I lost my grandfather Ken after a massive heart attack. A few years later I lost my Aunt Mimi and Uncle Joe very suddenly. My Aunt Bonnie died suddenly in her sleep on Easter morning at the age of 51. Most recently, my 60-year-old mother Mary was murdered during a home invasion, and shortly thereafter I lost my Uncle Danny to liver disease. Although Nate has not had a lot of death in his family, his parents cumulatively have seven marriages, and five divorces! Albeit in different dynamics, Nate and I have both experienced a lot of loss in our lives. Processing grief has become second nature to me, but it never gets easier!

Nate and I also cope with our grief very differently. I frequently find myself hanging on too tightly to unhealthy relationships! Nate has an extremely dysfunctional family, and makes a point to distance himself from them. We occasionally debate which of us has it worse. Is it better to have had an amazing family that died prematurely and tragically, or is it better to have an awful family that is still living? Nate believes I am more fortunate as my grief is finite, but his family’s strife is ongoing! In the end, I believe I am more blessed, because at least I have infinite happy memories of my family to reflect upon, and sadly, Nate cannot say the same. I guess Winnie the Pooh was correct when he said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

Since Calm Waters founding in 1992, the organization has provided grief services to over 32,000 children and families free of charge! It was a pleasure meeting Nicole, visiting Calm Waters, and learning about the agency's powerful mission to help children navigate the process of loss and grief. I wish such a program existed in my community when I was a child. Grief is an indiscriminate and inevitable universal phenomenon. If you love others, then loss is destined to occur. Eventually, we all must work our way through grief to find our new sense of normal.

Nate

After departing Calm Waters, we drove 39 miles Southeast to Shawnee for the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Food" for Oklahoma: Navajo Fry Bread Taco. Similar to their Mexican counterparts, Native American tacos are made using fry bread instead of tortillas, and contain many of the toppings one would expect to find on a traditional taco. According to oral tradition, Native American fry bread was created in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt and lard provided by the United States during their forced relocation from their ancestral lands. For many Native Americans, consuming fry bread is a way for present generations to connect with the struggles of their ancestors. Although tribal recipes vary from region to region, fry bread is commonly consumed in homes, pow-wows, festivals, and other Native American gatherings throughout North America.

Since fry bread is traditionally made with lard, Lori had quite a challenging time finding a vegetarian version on this classic Native American entrée. After conducting a multi-hour Google search, long at last there was finally a break in the case! Lori found a restaurant in Shawnee, OK called FireLake Fry Bread Taco. We called to confirm the fry bread was cooked in oil verses lard, and were overjoyed to discover it was! Even more exciting, FireLake’s Facebook page announced a lunch special for beans, fry bread and a drink for $2.99!

After parking Rosie, we entered the FireLake Fry Bread Taco, which had the ambiance of a fast food restaurant, and appeared overdue for a good cleaning. We also found it peculiar the place was 100% empty, and we were visiting the restaurant during peak lunch hours. The red flags were going off fast and furious! We approached the counter to confirm the $2.99 lunch special, and the vegetarian preparation of the food. For some unknown reason, the lady behind the counter would not honor the $2.99 lunch special even after I showed her the advertisement on the restaurant's Facebook page. I hate the old bait and switch! I then inquired how much a veggie fry bread taco cost, and she said “The cost is $5.99”. Since the beef fry bread taco also cost $5.99, I asked how can the meat fry bread taco be the same price as its veggie counterpart? The clerk responded by shrugging her shoulders! When I asked to speak with the manager, I was told he was not there, so Lori and I walked out without placing an order.

I was willing to overlook a lot during my visit to FireLake Fry Bread Taco, but being charged $5.99 for a meat fry bread taco without the meat is where I draw the line! There is no feasible way a veggie taco cost the same as a beef, bison, pork, fish, or any other meat based taco! Why should a restaurant pocket additional profit just because I tell them to hold the meat? To make matters worse, they did not offer tofu or quinoa in place of the meat to justify the added cost! Although it has gotten easier, it is still quite challenging to dine out as a vegetarian. I make a point to patronize and promote any restaurant I encounter offering vegan and vegetarian menu options. However, I have absolutely zero tolerance for restaurants who financially exploit vegetarians by charging the same price for vegetarian and meat menu items!

Lori

“Happy Birthday to Me! Happy Birthday to Me! Happy Birthday Dear Lori! Happy Birthday to Me!” Today is my Birthday, and I am 52 years old! Never in a million years would I have thought I would be celebrating my special day in the middle of an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. Since there were no vegan restaurants around, I would have to take a rain check on my birthday dinner. However, there was one aspect of my birthday I refused to compromise. I want a strawberry shortcake!!! My Nana used to make me a strawberry shortcake for my birthday every year from my earliest memories up until my 33rd birthday, which was the year of her passing. She was an amazing woman and I was very blessed to have her in my life!

After departing Shawnee, we drove 21 miles Southeast to Walmart in Seminole to spend the night. Seminole is a tiny town within an Indian Reservation, and strawberry shortcake is not traditionally part of the Native American diet. If I wanted a strawberry shortcake on my birthday, I would have to concoct one with the items available in Walmart. Complicating matters further, Rosie has no stove, and the Walmart bakery was out of strawberry shortcake! It was time to get creative! After living in a 76 sq ft fan for over 10 months, if there is one attribute I have learned, it is resourcefulness!

At its essence, strawberry shortcake consists of three simple ingredients: pound cake, whipped cream and strawberries. We began in the bakery where the only pound cake available was a massive round family sized monstrosity. There was no feasible way Nate and I were going to eat all that cake! On a nearby shelf, Nate noticed boxes of individually wrapped single serving pound cake. It will have to do! I have been in hundreds of Walmart’s and have never single serving pound cake before! Yippee!!! One ingredient down, and two more to go! Next, we visited the dairy department where we easily found a can of whipped cream, which did not have too many additives. Simple enough! One ingredient remaining!

The strawberries proved to be the most challenging to find! The produce department was out of fresh strawberries, and the strawberries in the frozen food department were frozen solid. It appears we arrived at an impasse! A strawberry shortcake would not be a strawberry shortcake without strawberries! Hmmm… What would we do? In a hail mary attempt, we headed over to the canned fruit isle! I have never heard of canned strawberries, but neither Nate nor I had any better ideas! Low and behold, tucked away on the bottom shelf were jars of strawberries! Hip Hip Hooray! We now have all of the ingredients for a strawberry shortcake! Please see the pictures below of the strawberry shortcake birthday cake Nate made for me. What a sweetie!!!

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