The Positive Side of Loss

Losing loved ones is extremely difficult. After losing my father, a daughter, and several pregnancies I experienced bouts of deep depression and pure sadness. Other times I was angry at how unfair life can be. Grief can be consuming, and everyone deals with it in different ways. I found that I dealt with my grief in different ways as time passed. People told me that the pain would heal with time. Our daughter passed 8 years ago today. I can tell you that the pain has not healed. I honestly do not believe it will. The thing that has changed is my ability to deal with the pain. This morning as I reflect and honor Elise, I felt the strength of Purple Power and I was struck with several new thoughts about the positive side of loss.

  • I am still alive, so I must live!

The reason we feel loss is because someone is gone while we are still here. But wait! That means we are still here! If we are here we still have the ability to live and to live BIG. Loss is hard but not living is harder. Each of us has a finite amount of time on earth. I plan to honor the ones I lost by living. I know they wouldn’t want less for me.

  • I have known true love and I still have love to give!

We feel loss because someone we love is no longer with us on earth. The bigger our love, the bigger our loss. But wait! That means we were lucky enough to have someone in our life to love! I am so fortunate to know how to feel and show BIG love. Loss does not mean our ability to love and be loved is gone as well. We can grieve the loss but we should be proud of our capacity to love. There are so many people on earth that are worthy of our love and it feels really good to share it. Don’t feel guilty about sharing your love with new people. Tapping back into our loving hearts helps us to cope with the pain of loss. I know the loved ones we’ve lost wouldn’t want us to live without love.

  • I am a survivor and I have more to do!

Losing a loved one is very hard. It seems harder when the person we lost was young. This feels very unfair and it can lead to questions such as Why? Truth is, we will never truly know why, so I stopped asking the why question a long time ago. I finally realized that there are some things in life that I will never understand. I made the decision to accept the things I cannot control and to kick butt at the things I can. I am a survivor! I have more to do while I am fortunate enough to still be here. I want to make my lost loved ones and the loved ones still with me proud. I plan to make the most out of the life I have left!

This morning as I honor our sweet girl, Elise, I am both smiling and crying. She changed me forever and I thank her for the wonderful impact she had on our lives. I miss her and I grieve her loss. Of course, I wish she were still here, but she’s not. I can choose to focus on the negative or I can choose to focus on the positive. I choose the positive. PURPLE POWER!

My Dad was J-Bird (and he was awesome!)

My Dad was J-Bird. He was quite a large personality in the small town in which we lived. J-Bird was the fire chief, an ambulance driver, a county commissioner, and unwavering public servant. As one of 17 children, he learned from necessity how to provide for himself and others. (Yes, 17 children from one mom and dad!) I love my father very much and miss him daily. He lost his battle with diabetes twelve years ago today.

I credit my Dad with helping me to become the woman I am today. As we head into Father’s Day and I honor the anniversary of his passing, I would like to spend some time sharing with you the example he set for me and some of the best advice he gave to me over the years. A lot of you knew him, but for those that did not have the pleasure of meeting him please allow me to tell you about him.

Ray “J-Bird” Westbrooks grew up in a small town in a poor, very large family and as such, never had the opportunity to go to school. His time was spent working to provide for himself and family. He never told me anything first-hand about the difficulties he faced growing up. Complaining about it wasn’t his style. I saw the person he became though. He was a man with ambition and strong work ethic. He seemed to have unlimited energy and a great passion for serving others. Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of stories I’ve heard about ways that my dad helped others. Somehow, he had time for almost everyone and the willingness to help. He loved to have fun too. I have fond memories from my childhood of time spent at the softball park as he played, Sunday afternoons at the lake water skiing, and the numerous fish fries he loved to have for our large extended family or for the city employees and their families. He enjoyed fishing and sharing his catch with pretty much anyone that would eat what he cooked. His food was good, but his company was better. He was a fantastic story teller, funny, and quick-witted.

As my Dad, he was strict and ruled with an iron fist. I tested his patience many times with the strong-willed personality I inherited from him. But, he was also my safe place and my supporter. I always knew I could count on him. If work allowed, he was always there while I cheered or played softball. He would drive us to cheer camp and happily load and offload all our stuff. He had nicknames for all my friends and I think he got a kick out of our antics. My dad was always there when I needed to talk. I valued his advice and level-headed thinking more than he knew. He always shot me straight and helped me to face the world with a pragmatic view. Dad was not an educated person but was one the smartest men I’ve ever known.

J-Bird was infamous for his quotes. Truth be told, he had quite a potty mouth and I won’t share most of his sayings with you as good as they are! There are a few though that are my favorites and I reflect back to on a regular basis. These nuggets of advice have helped me more than I can articulate and continue to help me as I face struggles or obstacles in life. I can’t call my Dad anymore but I can still hear him clearly telling me the following:

“You didn’t think they’d just give it to you, did you?”  My Dad asked me this so many times over the years. It was usually his way of bringing me out of a pity party because things were difficult or weren’t going my way. It was his way of reminding me that I needed to get over myself and get back to work at achieving my goals.

“Time is all you have.”  This was so simple, but so profound. I tend to over commit myself and then get frazzled at what I perceive as my lack of time management skills. I’d call my Dad to give some excuse for missing a family event, not performing to my expectations, etc… and talk about how busy I was. He’d shoot back to me that time is all I have. This would trigger me to stop complaining about my busyness because I chose it. It would also help me to prioritize my commitments. At the heart of this is that we have a limited amount of time each day, each year, and in our lives. We must choose wisely how we use it. We all have time, it is the one thing we all have. What we do with it is up to us.

“It’s like a fart. The more you fan it the worse it smells.” This is seriously my favorite piece of advice from my Dad! The world is full of drama, insecurities, and competitive situations. I’ve had my share of being the target of the mean girls, the mean moms, the work cliques, and politics. I’ve also been on the other side when I’ve been urged to take sides, gossip, leave others out, or tempted to stir the proverbial pot. As I talked to my Dad about whatever was happening at the time, he’d tell me, “It’s like a fart. The more you fan it the worse it smells.” Bahahaha! Instinctively I laughed but it is so true. There are so many situations that we should just walk away from and not engage. If we do, we make the situation worse. The older I get, it is easier to take this advice.

Twelve years ago today, the last thing my Dad communicated with me was a thumbs-up. He wasn’t perfect, but he was extraordinary. He had lived a thumbs-up life. He still inspires me and motivates me. I am grateful for the example he set in persistence, how to overcome, and the importance of serving others while never losing his ability to have fun. He made me the woman I am proud to be. I still hear his voice and feel his strength. Thank you, J-Bird. Love and miss you!

 

 

Finding Balance

Have you ever given yourself a birthday present? Most people don’t think to get themselves something. I know that I never have, but last year in September on my 44th birthday I decided to do just that. As my birthday approached, I could not shake the feeling that something was missing from my life. I have a very good life that looks just like everyone imagines the American dream should look. However, I was very unhappy and unfulfilled. I decided that I would give myself happiness for my birthday. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do this but I was determined. I began a journey of introspection that has been the best thing I could ever do for myself. This past year I feel as though I have given myself the gift I have been seeking – true happiness with a dose of peace and joy.

As I reflect on the path I have taken, it is clear I have grown more personally in the last eight months than the 44 years leading up to it. My life, just like most, has been quite a roller coaster filled with both good and bad experiences. The ups and downs have helped to shape my values and priorities in life. If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I decided to downsize. The material things in life brought me joy but quite a bit of pain as well. I was spending too much of my time maintaining this lifestyle and not enough enjoying my family. I chose to minimize the distractions preventing me from being present in the times I viewed as important. While this was a great decision, I realized that it was not enough to help me achieve the happiness I was seeking. This led to further introspection.

I spent a great deal of time articulating what I really needed in my life in order to be happy. It became obvious that my definition of success did not truly make me happy. As I redefined success, I realized I needed to honor my values. I value being a mother and wife but I was not executing as well as I wanted because I was working too much. This realization caused confusion for me because I also value having a career that is fulfilling. Another of my values is creating fun experiences that provide great memories. I was not enjoying as many of these as I would like because work was demanding. Again, confusion set in because I truly enjoy working. My definition of success included being a great mom, wife and career woman. To be happy, I knew I had to find a way to achieve all three but I was having a tough time developing a plan to make this happen.

I spent some time researching tools and methods for achieving balance in my life. My solution was to find a life coach. A life coach is a person that helps to motivate, support, and push people to set and reach goals. A life coach provides accountability within a confidential and judgement free zone. It is like a personal trainer but for life goals. I had been feeling the need to move forward and make changes, but I felt like I was stuck and did not know how to take the first step. A life coach’s job is to help people sort through their thoughts, goals, and fears to develop a plan and then to hold them accountable in enacting the plan. This was just what I needed!

As I looked for a life coach, I became frustrated because there weren’t any in my immediate geographic region. Of course, at this point my entrepreneurial bells started ringing. I began to research coaching more in depth, not just to find one but to figure out how to be one. As I did this, a familiar feeling started to bubble inside me. It was something I hadn’t felt in a few years and had missed quite a bit. It was the feeling of fulfilling my purpose in life. I have always been an entrepreneur at heart with a need to help others succeed. Although I had labeled it differently, I realized I had coached entrepreneurs for many years as both a professor and as a consultant. How could I have forgotten how much I loved it?! As I continued reading about coaching I felt excitement and the urge to start doing it again. I remembered the joy I feel when I help others achieve success. I love the glow of possibilities in entrepreneur’s eyes and the energy they exude as they chase their dreams. I understand those feelings because I’ve experienced them. For the first time in several years, I was feeling them again. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and coach again. This was perfect in that it provides me a career I love with a flexible schedule allowing me more time with my family. Now eleven months later, I have left my position as a CEO, downsized our home, and taken the leap to becoming a full-time coach… AND I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER!

I am excited to launch Soluna Strategies, an entrepreneur and business coaching firm dedicated to helping others achieve the success they desire. Happy Birthday to me indeed! I have found the perfect solution to help achieve balance in my life while seeking my goals and honoring my values.

Are you feeling stuck? Would you like help sorting through your thoughts, feelings, and life so that you can work towards the life you desire? Email me. I’d love to help you! While I focus primarily on business related goals, I do have a vast network of coaches. We can find the perfect coach for you. I look forward to hearing from you!!

 

-Gina Simpson is a professional business and entrepreneurship coach and founder of Soluna Strategies. If you are interested in working with Gina to reach your full potential, email her at gina@freelunchkid.com. Her passion is your success!

 

Our Christmas Ghosts

The past two weeks have been very life changing for my family. I feel like we have been living in our own Christmas movie. We’ve had several emotional ups and downs that have been framed within the holiday season. It’s as if we have been visited by several Christmas ghosts that have been tasked with reminding us how blessed we are. The first one I’ll tell you about is the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Reality.

The Ghost of Christmas Reality

The holiday season is a time meant to celebrate and to be thankful for friends and family. We start in November with Thanksgiving and finish on January 1st as we begin a new year. The holiday season is fun and full of magical moments with those you love. Depending upon your religious preference, you may celebrate on a different day and with different traditions, but the underlying message is very close to the same. We are thankful for deliverance and freedom. I celebrate Christmas. It is easily my favorite time of the year and I go all out with decorations, gifts, and parties. I spend too much money and eat too much food. It’s all quite grand, if you ask me, but somehow, in the hustle and bustle I tend to lose sight of how fortunate I am. I’ll admit, I’ve done that for many years. I am blessed to be surrounded by family and friends, to have the ability to fulfill my daughter’s wish list, and to splurge on a vacation if I feel like it. In the midst of my privileged life, it is easy to lose sight of those less fortunate. I think the whole “out of sight, out of mind” adage certainly applies. Last week the Ghost of Christmas Reality reminded with a vengeance.

Over the past weekend, I was in a hospital waiting room for several hours. While there, I eavesdropped on a conversation between a group of family members. The group contained both males and females and blacks and whites. Their ages ranged from two years old to some probably in their forties. They all seemed to really like each other and talked easily and comfortably with each other. As I listened, I heard them converse about their friends being murdered and some spending time in jail. I learned that one of them had witnessed the murder of his mother, while another’s mother had gone to jail for trying to kill him when he was a baby. I could tell this is something they discuss on a daily basis and is a part of their everyday life. There was almost a competition in their conversation as to who had experienced the worst life. Then they nonchalantly switched gears and began to talk about food and which restaurants take food stamps. The part that struck me was how normal this conversation was for them. I could tell this is something they discuss often and is a part of their everyday life. As I internalized their reality, I felt so small. The Ghost of Christmas Reality gave me a slap on the wrist or better yet, my heart. I have complained about needing to downsize and lose weight because I have too many possessions and too much food to eat. Meanwhile, a large population of the people in the world are struggling to survive. I have never experienced the struggle they are facing so I cannot understand how they feel. I can say that I am ashamed that I have never taken the time to truly explore the circumstances of those less fortunate than me. The Ghost of Christmas Reality reminded me that I live in a privileged bubble. I have a true passion to help the underprivileged and this gave me a big boost of motivation. Thank you, Christmas Ghost of Reality. If you feel the urge to help others during the holiday season and the whole year through, I’ve listed a few charities that could use your help. They do great work.

The Salvation Army: http://salvationarmyalm.org/tuscaloosa/center-hope/

Tuscaloosa’s One Place: http://www.tuscaloosaoneplace.org/

Big Brother’s Big Sisters of West Alabama: http://bbbswestal.org/

Community Soup Bowl: http://tuscaloosasoupbowl.com/

The Ghost of Christmas Dreams

Our Christmas Ghost visits didn’t appear individually as they did with Scrooge. Ours were present at the same time with overlapping motives that weave together. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams has been lingering with us for some time, probably our whole lives. I hope he stays for the remainder of our lives too. He reminds us to dream and reach for the stars because our dreams give us hope and motivation. My family and I have been dreaming big dreams. My husband and I would love to have multiple children. Our daughter would love a sibling.  Unfortunately, we have had a very hard time achieving this dream. Over the past ten years, we’ve suffered through the loss of our second daughter at 6 months of age, multiple miscarriages, and failed IVF attempts. I no longer have the ability to bear children, but we haven’t given up our dream. A little over a year ago we began the process to try adopt a baby. We’ve been “on the market” for a year waiting and hoping that a birth mother will choose us. Two weeks ago, we received the call we wanted. A birth mother had chosen us and was due in a little over a week. We rushed into action, prepared everything, and drove almost 10 hours to be with her as she gave birth. The poor thing was in labor for over 20 hours. She gave birth to a perfect baby boy. We had the chance to love this boy as if he was ours for almost 24 hours. Unfortunately for us, she changed her mind and decided to keep him. I can’t blame her because he was so adorable. We had to pack up and drive home with an empty car seat. Our daughter was so upset. She is learning lessons about life, love, and loss that I wish would have occurred when she was older. We are very sad and disappointed to say the least. We have gotten so close to having another child and it seems that at the last minute, something happens every time. I can honestly tell you that after this happened last weekend, I was ready to give up on this dream. I began to wonder if fate was trying to let us know that we were meant to have only one child. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams showed up in a big way. He spoke to us thru our daughter. She asked us to please keep trying to adopt. I explained to her that it could mean we have to experience pain again. She immediately said, “So what. It will be worth it eventually.” She’s right. It will be worth it eventually. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams would like for us to tell you that we are back “on the market” and hope to have another opportunity soon. Please keep us in mind if you hear of anything.

The Ghost of Christmas Love

Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the family I was eavesdropping on in the hospital waiting room was the birth family of the child we hoped to adopt. We have experienced so many feelings and emotions about the situation. We have been angry, sad, and heartbroken. I believe deep in my heart that we could have given the baby opportunities that they cannot. The Ghost of Christmas Love stepped up to relieve some of our anguish. As I watched this family in the hospital waiting room, it became clear that we live very different lives. The one thing that was the same though was love. They all loved each other very much. They loved the birth mom and new baby too. I can’t be angry with them for wanting to have the baby to love.

We had prepared to spend several weeks in a hotel waiting for the courts to allow the baby to come home with us. My husband and daughter had decorated the room with lights, garland and a small tree. As I looked at the small hotel room with cheap garland around the door and multicolor lights hanging in the window, I was overcome with love for them. The Ghost of Christmas Love reminded me that I have so much to be thankful for right now. I thought back to the moment we had to tell the baby good-bye and leave the hospital. We hugged and held each other tight as we all felt the disappointment of the missed adoption opportunity. We held hands as we left. We cuddled together back in the hotel and enjoyed the Christmas decorations. The Ghost of Christmas Love helped us to experience a deeper level of togetherness and family love. As we packed up and took down the decorations to come home, I was sad but I also have never been more proud of my family.

The Ghost of Christmas Love wasn’t quite finished.  As our family and friends found out about both our possible adoption and the outcome, the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming.  It is wonderful to be reminded that one is surrounded by a circle of love.

 

This will be a Christmas that my family will never forget.  Our Christmas movie might not have the happy ending that we expected or envisioned, but it still has a happy ending. They say the best movies have twists that result in endings that no one saw coming. We didn’t come home with the baby we were hoping for, but we did return with valuable life lessons and affirmations of love. The Ghost of Christmas Reality taught me to be more thankful and generous. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams taught me to keep dreaming and to not give up when things seem hopeless. The Ghost of Christmas Love showed me how much love surrounds me and is in me. Indeed, this is still a happy ending. Merry Christmas to all!

Monkey See, Monkey Do

I took the day off work on Friday. It’s rare that I get time away from work that I can use for just me. My husband was at work and my daughter was at school, so it was ME time. Of course, I went to the spa. I got a fantastic facial, but the conversation was amazing, thought-provoking, and downright life changing. My aesthetician is one of the most insightful women I’ve ever met. She and I talked about my downsizing journey and what I am trying to accomplish. She nailed a few things that I haven’t had the courage to write about yet. Most importantly, she pointed out some things I haven’t thought of in my search for happiness. I know that true happiness must come from within. I know that I am the only one that can decide if I am going to be happy or not.  What I didn’t realize is how little I am actually doing for myself. I believe that when a person decides to become a parent that the child’s needs should come before your own. I have lived that way since the wonderful day 8 eight years ago that my daughter was born. I spend practically every spare moment I have with her.

Before I became a mom, I was a fit triathlete and business owner. I owned a bicycle shop and was fortunate enough to get to ride my bike as part of my job. In fact, I road my road bike until I was eight months pregnant and my OB-GYN said, “STOP!” As my own my boss, I had the liberty to take plenty of me time. Although most people don’t believe me, I truly am an introvert and I value my alone time. Alone time energizes me. After our daughter was born, things changed. I put my bike away and kept saying, “She will only be little once and my bike will be there forever.” Any time that I am not working, I spend with her. I felt guilty if I did anything for me that required paying a babysitter. I thought I was doing her and me a favor. I have spent the past 8 years with this mentality. It was so evident on Friday. There I was at the spa, but the only reason I was there is because I took a vacation day from work. As I was getting my facial, I was complaining about how terrible my skin looked. My astute aesthetician asked if I have a nightly routine for cleaning my skin. Well, of course I don’t! I crash at bedtime and yes, I sleep in my make up all of the time! She didn’t berate me for this. Instead, she went for the jugular. This is what she said, “Your daughter will take care of her skin because you tell her to, but not because she saw you do it. Your daughter will learn her habits from you.” Ouch. That has resonated non-stop in my head ever since she said it. Holy smokes! What are my habits?? Does it really matter if I sleep in my makeup?! Man, it’s time for a dose of reality. I do not take time for me – ever. I don’t take the time to be healthy, either mentally or physically. I come home every night and have a glass of wine to wind down. I am on my phone constantly. What in the world am I teaching her???? Now, I have a lot of positive habits too so I’m not beating myself up terribly, but I am taking note of something very important. I haven’t been taking the time to take care of myself. I have been too guilt ridden to do so, but now I realize I’m doing her a terrible disservice. In the Monkey See, Monkey Do world of parenthood, I have not taught my daughter to value herself and to spend time on herself.  That’s going to stop. I don’t expect that she will like or appreciate this very much. She complains I’m not with her enough as it is. But thanks to a facial on Friday and some great conversation, I now see that it is necessary. I picked her up from school on Friday and we immediately went to the nail salon. A couple of manicures and pedicures later, I’m hoping to improve what my Monkey sees and does.

As I view parenting from the Monkey See, Monkey Do lense, I have a new appreciation for my mother. A lot of the good habits I have, I attribute to her. She worked sun up to sun down to make sure that our family had everything we needed. My mom used to cook breakfast for our family every morning. Not just any breakfast either. She made buttermilk biscuits from scratch every day! She worked all day, then came home and made us a home cooked meal every night. Now, don’t go assuming I cook biscuits every day because I don’t! I do work sun up to sun down to make sure my family has everything it needs. As I look back, I now realize my mom never took any time for herself. Thank you for that, but I’m sorry too. I’ll correct that for our next generation.

My downsizing journey and blog have become so much more than I expected. I am astonished at how my decision to get rid of “stuff” has turned more internal than material. I love everything I’m learning and plan to get my bike back out!