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15 Oct

13 Romance Ideas to Warm Up the Fall Season

1. Join In On Football Season

For many men, “Fall” is just another name for “Football season.” Since you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em! Get tickets to a local game, pack a tailgate picnic and head out to the stadium. Be sure to bring a warm blanket for the two of you to snuggle under, and maybe a thermos-full of hot chocolate laced with coffee liqueur for half-time.

2. Take Advantage Of Pumpkin Season

Jack-o-lanterns aren’t just for kids — this Halloween, pick up a couple of extra pumpkins and spend the evening carving them up together! Maybe you want to work together to create an amazing masterpiece, or maybe you want to work solo to design special “his and hers” messages for one another. Some ideas: a big set of lips and some false eyelashes on a girl pumpkin for him — an “I love you” message that lights up when the candle is inside for her!

3. Play High Stakes Board Games

Take a traditional board game and make up your own rules. Yahtzee can become “Strip Yahtzee,” by simply adding that for every three of a kind you roll, your partner loses a piece of clothing. For every four of a kind you roll, you get a “wish”: a kiss, a foot massage, etc. And for every Yahtzee, set the timer for 5 minutes (and only 5 minutes!) of “high scorer dominance.” You can do something similar with Scrabble – earning extra points for sexy words, or Monopoly – paying for properties with “favors” rather than cash.

4. Share Firelight

There’s nothing more inviting than the glow of a fireplace on a crisp Fall evening. Spread a blanket out in front of the fire, toss around a few fluffy pillows, and serve up some warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks. Relax and enjoy each other’s company. Soon you’ll be toasting more than your tootsies!

5. Dance In The Dark

Set up an impromptu dance floor in your bedroom. Light some candles, turn on the Harry Connick Jr. CD and hold each other close. Dance the old-fashioned way, cheek-to-cheek, and whisper sweet nothings in his ear. Let the music move you, and melt into each others arms.

6. Want To Make It interesting?

When the weather’s crummy and he wants to spend the day watching sports on TV, make it interesting for both of you! Place bets on how many car commercials are shown in the next station break, which team’s cheerleaders get on camera next, how long it takes five minutes to really play. Bet kisses, massages, sweet treats, etc.

7. Puzzle Him

This takes a little forethought – get a jigsaw puzzle and put it together on a piece of cardboard. Put another piece of cardboard on top of it and flip it over. Now write a message to your significant other, or make it an invitation! Be creative, even naughty! Then flip it back over and pull the pieces apart. Keep one piece hidden in your bra. That night, ask him to help you with the puzzle. If you have a glass top table, do the puzzle directly on the table. Once the puzzle is all assembled, have him look for the missing piece under the table. When he can’t find it, crawl under the table to help, and show him your message. It won’t take long for him to find that missing puzzle piece now!

8. Create Your Own Starry Nights

Get a pack of glow-in-the-dark stars to stick on the ceiling over your bed. Have them spell out a love note to your honey. When the lights go out, you can lie under the stars and cuddle.

9. Wash Your Cares Away

How about a soothing bath for two? Make bath sachets by wrapping cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel in pieces of fabric and tying with a ribbon. Drop into a hot bath, add a few capfuls of almond oil. Indulge!

10. Tea For Two

Take a little time-out with an afternoon tea party. De-stress over chamomile and banana bread, and take turns with the shoulder rubs.

11. Recipe For Romance

Cool Autumn breezes call for simmering stews. Spend time in the kitchen together chopping up herbs and veggies and create your own cold-weather feast! Serve with corn bread and your favorite wine.

12. Bicycle-Built-For-Two

Enjoy the last few sunny weekends by renting a bicycle built for two and cruising the neighborhood!

13. Story Time Together

Grimm’s Fairy Tales take on a whole new meaning when read aloud by the one you love. Curl up on the couch and revisit some of your favorites, and love happily ever after.
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02 Oct

Health Care Reform And Mental Health Services

Years ago, when my son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), my life changed. I went from being a mother to also taking on the additional roles of advocate and mediator. In order to help my son get the help he needed and the services he was entitled to in school, I had to learn everything I could about the educational system, the healthcare system, and the law. It is a challenge, yet it is essential in order to work with teachers, administrators, doctors, and therapists as part of a team. I learned a lot, thanks in large part to an organization called CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders. This is a national, non-profit organization with local, volunteer-run chapters. Our local chapter held monthly meetings, which allowed parents to keep up with the various issues and changes. Most importantly, the meetings provided a forum for parents to network with each other and share experiences and resources.

We got over all the hurdles, and managed to get through the system despite the complexities. My son is in college now, and he has the tools to advocate for himself. But there are new kids coming up, and new parents who are starting from scratch to figure all of this out. Luckily, CHADD is still on it, providing us with the ongoing information we need to help our kids.

Following is an e-mail I received from CHADD regarding the current Healthcare Reform Legislation. I am happy to share it with you, and hoping that it will encourage all of us to look at the many children and families who will benefit from healthcare reform. To those of us working so diligently to take care of our children, this is most welcome, and long overdue.

“House of Representatives Passes
Comprehensive Healthcare Reform Legislation

Many Provisions Will Benefit
Children and Adults with AD/HD and Related Disorders

On Saturday, November 7, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive healthcare reform bill, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) by a vote of 220-215. It is expected that the full Senate will debate and vote on its version of the bill in the coming weeks, which will then be followed by the House and Senate having its leaders meet in a conference to reconcile differences and produce a final piece of legislation that can be sent to the President.

CHADD, through its membership in the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Campaign for Mental Health Reform, and the Mental Health Liaison Group has sent letters to members of Congress in support of the bill. CHADD’s views on and support for healthcare reform legislation can be viewed on the Healthcare Reform 2009 webpage and CHADD’s Leadership Blog. CHADD has no position on many of the provisions contained in the legislation. The three primary disability coalitions CHADD participates in, believe there are significant key provisions warranting support of the legislation.

A few key provisions in the final House bill that will benefit children and adults with AD/HD and related disorders include:

* Requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, and mandating that most employers provide insurance to their employees, but also providing substantial federal subsidies to make coverage as affordable as possible;
* Providing coverage of critical services for people with disabilities in the new Health Insurance Exchange’s essential benefits package including behavioral health treatment, and mental health and substance abuse services in compliance with the Wellstone-Domenici parity law, rehabilitation and habilitation services, equipment and supplies for children under 21 years of age;
* Inclusion of “disability” as a category for purposes of health disparities;
* Inclusion of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, a new national long term services insurance program to help adults with severe functional impairments to remain independent, employed, and a part of their communities; and
* Not allowing individual or group health insurance policies to establish lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of benefits and the elimination of discrimination based on health status or a pre-existing condition.

CHADD continues to actively monitor developments in healthcare reform. Updated information on the legislation, CHADD’s 13 principles for healthcare reform, children’s mental health coalition’s five principles for healthcare reform and CHADD’s work with other partner coalitions can be viewed on CHADD’s website: http://www.chadd.org

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24 Sep

Watching The World’s Water Quality And Quantity

Water is something that many of us take for granted. It is a necessity, and it is readily available to us. We turn on the faucet and there it is, clean, safe, drinkable. We shower in it, water our gardens with it, and wash our clothes with it. But for many people around the world, clean water is a luxury they can only dream about.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 884 million people are without adequate drinking water, and 2.5 billion people are without adequate water for sanitation. Waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death for children under age five. Every 15 seconds, a child dies because of a lack of clean water and sanitation. Half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from waterborne diseases. The World Bank says that 88 percent of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.

How did we get in this situation? The world’s population tripled in the 20th century, and the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold. The population is expected to increase another 40-50% in the next fifty years, and this will have an inevitable impact on the environment. Water resources are stressed. There is less water available for agriculture as well, which means that our food supply is threatened, which contributes to the hunger crisis. And the water crisis and the climate crisis are closely related, one affects the other.

Fortunately, there are some amazing organizations doing something about this. Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, focuses on water and sanitation. One way they are helping is providing loans to individuals and families so that they can use the money to connect their homes to a water source. When people don’t have to spend their time walking long distances for clean water, they have more time to work and earn money for their families. And the children are more likely to go to school, which means they’ll be able to have a better future. The microfinancing loans are paid back very quickly. Water.org has another program in place where a $25 donation will give one person clean water for life. For a $100 donation you can help an entire family. The money goes towards community organizing, hygiene education, geological surveys, project costs, and maintenance.

Water.org also has several amazing downloadable lesson plans for schools and teachers to coincide with World Water Day, an annual event March 22. The site also lists several ways that kids can get involved in helping to find solutions to the water problem.

Guy Laliberte, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, has created a wonderful video to explain the water crisis, and what we can do to help. It’s definitely worth a visit to his website onedrop.org and it’s free.

I live in Southern California and we’re currently experiencing a drought. Of course this is nothing compared to what is going on in Africa and Asia, but knowing what we do about the importance of water to our own survival, it is difficult to fathom how we could still be building and maintaining so many wasteful private swimming pools, golf courses, and elaborate decorative fountains. Excess is out, people! Downsize, conserve, simplify. We need to stop thinking like consumers and start thinking like citizens. We need to watch out for each other, and future generations. There are lots of things we can do, and most of them we know about already, we just have to be mindful and take action. When my washing machine conked out after years of wear, I purchased a front-loading washer that uses 14 gallons of water per load, compared with my older top-loading washer that used 40 gallons of water per load. That adds up to a big difference in water savings over the life of this one appliance. When we moved into our home four years ago we replaced all the original 1970’s era toilets with new ones that use a lot less water. If you still have an old toilet and can’t replace it just yet, you can install devices that reduce the amount of water that is used. Here are some other things we all can do to help conserve water and protect the quality of the water we do have:

  • Rather than flushing unused or expired medications down the drain and into the public water system, return them to the pharmacy to be disposed of properly.
  • Use both sides of a sheet of paper. Save a tree and you also save water.
  • Use environmentally-friendly hygiene and cleaning products. Think about the chemicals that are going down the drain and into the water system.
  • Carry your own reusable water container rather than buying bottled water.
  • Eat at least one vegetarian meal a week. For the most impact, consider going vegetarian. If everyone in the U.S. are vegetarian just one day, we would save 100 billion gallons of water.
  • Take shorter showers, and install low-flow showerheads. Every minute you shorten your shower by saves about 5 gallons of water.
  • Turn off the water while shaving, brushing teeth, or washing your face.
  • Make sure that your home is leak-free. Read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. It the meter does not read exactly the same, there is a leak somewhere.
  • Operate the dishwasher and washing machine only when they are fully loaded.
  • Compost instead of using the kitchen sink disposal when you can.
  • Insulate water pipes. You’ll get hot water faster and also avoid wasting water while it heats up.
  • Plant smart. Xeriscape landscaping is a great way to design, install and maintain your plants and irrigation system so that you save time, money and water
  • Water your lawn only during the early morning hours when the temperatures and wind speed are the lowest to prevent water loss from evaporation.
  • Sweep, don’t hose down walkways and driveways.
  • Raise the lawn mower blad to at least three inches. A lawn cut higher encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system and holds soil moisture more efficiently.
  • Mulch to retain moisture and also control weeds that compete with plants for water.
  • To wash your car, use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • Spread the word about the world water situation, and set an example for your friends and family.
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24 Sep

Change Your Life, Be A Mentor!

January is National Mentoring Month. Being a mentor can mean different things to different people. When I was growing up, my parents were divorced and my mother worked full time. My dad moved away, and my mom was stressed out and tired when she was home. Luckily we had Diana. Diana was our real estate agent when we had to sell the family home and move. She and my mother became friends, and Diana ended up moving in with us. It was a blessing in many ways. It helped my mother pay the bills, gave her someone to talk to, and it gave my sister and brother and me an additional adult in our lives.

At the time we thought of Diana as our friend. She introduced us to tacos, and hot fudge sundaes. She stayed up with us until midnight on New Year’s Eve. She made sure that our birthdays were celebrated in a grand fashion. Even after Diana moved out into her own place, she was always there for us, just a phone call away. We could talk to Diana about anything, and know that she never judged us. One of my favorite memories is when she took my sister and me to the beach and we made Clam Chowder from scratch and went bike riding. Diana helped us feel normal, and brought light and joy to our lives when we desperately needed it.

Diana has always been a member of our family, kind of like the hip Aunt you always look forward to visit. And now that I’m involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I can see that Diana was also our mentor.

It is evident how much having a mentor can mean to a child, no matter what circumstances that child is in. All it takes is one adult to show support, encouragement, or concern to absolutely affect a positive change in how that child views himself and the world. I knew this going into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. What I didn’t know, and soon learned, was how much the experience would change me.

I’m a parent, so I know what it means to love a child. I know what it means to want the best for this person, to put his needs before your own, and to make this person your priority without hesitation. I have a child with special needs, so I know about the obstacles, and the heartache. I thought I was fully prepared and well equipped to handle all of the emotions and challenges that come with mentoring a child. But every day I learn something new. And every day my heart is opened more, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to expand my awareness because this girl is in my life.

What makes Big Brothers Big Sisters unique is that it is a one-on-one mentoring program. There are local chapters all over the country, so that many different geographical areas are served. When an adult volunteers to be a mentor, there is an interview, and a background screening process. Then the “match” part can begin. The adults, the “Bigs,” and the children, the “Littles,” fill out a questionnaire that reflects their interests, needs, and wants in a mentor relationship. From there a match specialist pairs up two that are compatible, and a match meeting is set. At the match meeting, the two meet for the first time, and get to know each other. The parent, foster parent, or guardian also gets to participate, and if all parties are agreed, the match is made.

The minimum time requirement is four hours a week. This can be accomplished in one visit or several visits, depending on how the match wants to work it. There is a lot of flexibility to the program. Low cost or no cost activities are encouraged. Time together is what is emphasized, as that is what the kids need more than anything. Some adults express that they worry that they don’t have enough to give, that they will have a hard time finding interesting things to do each visit to keep the child interested. But once they spend a few weeks just hanging out, they discover the beauty and simplicity of the relationship itself, and know that time together is the most valuable gift there is.

Adults who enter the program are required to commit one year to it. It takes a few weeks, or even months, for the relationship to really gel. Many times the kids have trouble trusting, and it takes time for them to bond to a new person in their life. The year goes by quickly, and if at the end of the year, for any reason, the adult needs to dissolve the match, they can. But most matches last much longer, even a lifetime. Children ages six through eighteen can be matched with a mentor, and they can stay in the program until they are twenty-one years old.

My Little Sister is sixteen years old now. I’ve known her for almost a year. I can’t imagine my life without her. We have a lot of fun together, going to plays and movies, cooking, and discovering different parts of the city. But the best times are when we just hang out and talk.

People come into our lives for a reason. We learn more from our relationships than we do from anything else. Diana came into my life when I was a child, and she’s still an important part of my life today. She’s family to me, and I love her. And now my Little Sister is an important part of my life, too, and I love her. I hope that I am helping her as much as Diana helped me, and that she will mentor someone when she has the opportunity. Relationships are the heartbeat of this world, and Big Brothers Big Sisters brings people together to make the world a better place.

Introductory video, Big Brothers Big Sisters Ventura County:

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17 Sep

Why I Didn’t Like The Movie “It’s Complicated”

The movie “It’s Complicated” opened Christmas Day. Given the rave reviews plastered all over full-page newspaper ads, and the fun trailer that showed promise of an actual adult comedy, I was very much looking forward to seeing it. Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, and I have loved every movie she has ever done – until this one.

The biggest problem with “It’s Complicated” is the premise. A long-married couple, divorced for ten years, has moved on with their lives. The woman, Jane, played by Meryl Streep, runs a successful business and has good friends. The man, Jake, played by Alec Baldwin, has remarried and is raising a child. Their shared children are now adults, navigating the world rather successfully themselves.

And yet, one night the two get drunk and have sex. Hilarious? I think not. This isn’t complicated, it’s adultery, and it’s not funny.

To make matters worse, rather than chalking up the experience to poor judgment and a bad mistake, the two continue their dalliance. This smart businesswoman confides in her friends, who egg her on. She seeks the advice of her therapist, and in the movie’s one truly honest moment she wonders why she has chosen to have this affair. Jane has a long list of reasons that she has considered, including revenge and loneliness. She begs the therapist to tell her what to do, and he basically gives her permission to continue the affair, saying: “What could it hurt?”

It seems a renewed sex life has turned this once-wise woman into somewhat of an adolescent as she sneaks around, lies to her children, and convinces herself that she needs to be stoned on marijuana to have a good time.

Meanwhile, Jake is facing a kind of second mid-life crisis. He obviously hasn’t learned from his past experiences, because he is once again the cad, the philanderer. The child he is raising with his new wife isn’t biologically his, and he uses this as an excuse to shirk any responsibility. He lies to both his wife and his ex-wife to get what he wants. This man is a narcissist, and toxic to both women, although he has them blinded by his charms.

So what could it hurt? The woman is humiliated and almost loses a chance at real love. The man loses the respect of his children. The children are confused and afraid of additional pain. The future son-in-law is put in a position where he must lie to his fiancé. The current wife realizes she has been lied to and cheated on by the same man she is planning a family with. The woman’s potential boyfriend gets his hopes and dreams dashed just when he’s finally opened his heart to someone. And a little boy, who is finally bonding with his stepfather, may lose the only adult male in his life.

There may be some jokes in this movie, but it is not a comedy – it is a tragedy, a commentary about values.

At the end of the movie, Jane and Jake sit and talk, inches away from each other, but miles apart. There is a reason they were divorced in the first place. She says it wasn’t all his fault. He apologizes.

What the characters in “It’s Complicated” really need, and want, is closure. But do they have to go through all that they go through, and hurt other people and themselves to get it? Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if these characters didn’t mess up. It’s the slipping on the banana peel that gets the laugh. But in real life, the answer is no.

Closure is a process, one that we can move through maturely and deliberately. We can’t get closure from any other person, only from ourselves. And once we have it, we can move forward with our lives in a positive and powerful way – and not look back.

My new book is CLOSURE and the Law of Relationship: Endings as New Beginnings

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10 Sep

To Find the Love of Your Life, Know Your Dosha!

Ask anyone and you’ll get the same answer: What’s the most important thing in life? Love! We want to be in love, and we want that love to last. So how do we go about finding that one person to share our lives with? And how do we live happily ever after with that person once we find him or her?

There are many ways of looking at our compatibility with other people – such as the Mars/Venus theories, and the Love Signs system based on astrology, among others. But long before any of these formulas were even a twinkle in the cosmos, philosophers and scientists in Ancient India devised a system of health care called “Ayurveda” – or “the science of life.” Within this holistic system lies everything we need to know about love.

Ayurveda explains the nature of everything in the universe. It is a compelling way of looking at all of life, the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Ayurveda “types” people according to both their physical features and personality traits. Ayurveda tells us how we “tick,” and how we relate to the rest of the world, including the other people in it!

Once we understand the basics of Ayurveda, we see that we can get along with anyone. There are no “bad” matches! So whether you want to end the squabbling with your mate, you’re having a hard time with your boss, or your boyfriend just can’t commit, with this system of Ancient Indian Love Matches, you’ll find ways to make the relationship work.

It is impossible to go through this life alone. We all have relationships, people in our lives to interact with. The purpose of those relationships is to help us learn and grow. And more than that, the purpose of any relationship is to help us learn more about ourselves and who we really are.

When we understand who we are, and why we are here, everything seems to fall into place. We’re happier, more content, and we feel our connection to the universe. We attract like-minded people into our lives and our relationships become stronger.

As important as our relationships are to us, how much time and effort do we really put into them? So often we go about living our lives and expect that another person either fits into that picture or doesn’t. But we each have needs, and temperaments, and ideas about how we like things to be. When we better understand ourselves, and each other, we can focus on what is important, and what makes a relationship work.

When I first learned about Ayurveda, I was impressed with how simple and clear it made everything to me. The whole system just makes sense, and you can apply it to anything in your life! I’ve read lots of books about Ayurveda, and even more books on relationships, but I’ve never come across one book that applied this age-old system to our very modern-day relationships. So I decided to work it out myself, and that is how my book, “What’s Your Dosha, Baby? Discover the Vedic Way for Compatibility in Life and Love” came about.

Because Ayurveda sees people as three different mind/body types, or “doshas,” there are basically nine different “Love Matches” (3 x 3). Of course in reality there are an infinite number of combinations, because no two people are exactly alike in any particular way, but we’re keeping the numbers manageable here! Once you find out your particular dosha (free online quiz at www.whatsyourdosha.com), and the dosha of the person with whom you are in relationship, then you can look up the chapter that corresponds to the two of you. Here you’ll find clues as to how you interact with each other, your communication styles (physical and emotional as well), instinctual preferences with regards to food, travel, lifestyle and work among others. This system shows us how we can please each other and ourselves at the same time. It shows us how we can live in harmony with those around us by recognizing a person’s natural qualities and bringing more love into the world

If you are looking to understand or strengthen a relationship with someone other than your mate – say, a colleague or friend or child – it will help you with that, too. And because we all have a unique relationship with our environment, there are principles called “Vastu” we can use. Through our use of space and color, we can create an environment where we feel inspired and blissful.

Love is an amazing phenomenon, and the reason that all of us are here. It’s worth our study, our attention. Why are we attracted to the people we are attracted to? Why is that we feel as if we “can’t help” who we fall in love with? What is the chemistry that draws us to certain people?

We may never figure ourselves out. Or maybe we already have. Maybe the ancient texts are right and all the answers we will ever need are available to us now… we just need to keep learning and growing until we finally “get it.”

One thing’s for sure, finding love and connection is one of the most important – and pleasurable – things we come here to do. My hope is that Ayurveda, with its ancient Indian secrets for keeping love burning bright, will not only help you in your process of self-discovery but enable you to find and nourish the love matches of your dreams.

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09 Sep

Surviving Suicide

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. It is heartbreaking to think that suicide is that pervasive of a problem in our society to warrant such a week. And yet it is. Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every year. There are twice as many deaths from suicide as there are from HIV/AIDS. It is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year old Americans. And there are more than 800,000 attempted suicides every year.

Those are the statistics.

And then there are the stories.

Perhaps the worst thing about suicide is the pain that it causes to those left behind. These people are known as the survivors. And telling our stories can help us to heal from the trauma of this experience.

When Gia Allemand, the reality television star, took her own life last month, the topic of suicide became a part of a national discussion. Gia’s distraught mother spoke with Dr. Phil about her feelings, which echo that of many survivors.

Sometimes there are warning signs. And then sometimes the incident seems to come from out of nowhere. That’s how it was when I found out that my friend Ophir had died. I remember getting a phone call from our mutual friend Curt. He was in a state of disbelief as he had just gotten the news. It took a few phone calls to figure out exactly what had happened. Ophir had committed suicide.

I knew Ophir as an extremely talented and creative composer. We worked together on several music projects. We had a close friendship, and a great respect for each other. Ophir helped me bring my songs to life. When Ophir had a hernia operation, I had him stay at my home while he recovered.

I was aware that Ophir used drugs. I spoke with him about it many times, offering him alternatives and suggestions for a more healthy way of life. But he did not want to hear it. He did not want to talk about it. He always functioned perfectly well when we were working, and he assured me that he did not have a problem. When I heard that Ophir had died, I assumed it was an accidental overdose. But there was no accident about Ophir’s death. He planned it. He put a rifle in his mouth and shot himself.

Like most people do in this situation, I started asking myself all kinds of questions. What could I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I see this was coming? What was so terrible that he had to do this? I felt awful, not only for myself, but for his family, everyone who loved him.

Suicide is such a violent act. It is terribly hurtful to everyone left behind with so many unanswerable questions. I don’t know what brought Ophir to his decision. I do know and recognize that although our relationship has changed, he is still very much a part of my life. I have the songs we wrote together on my websites. He taught me so much about music and the creative process. When certain songs come on the radio I am reminded of him, and his amazing energy, sweet smile, and sly sense of humor. His words still influence me. His music still moves me.

I know that the agreement that Ophir and I had was complete even before his death. There was no unfinished business between us. We learned from each other, both creatively and personally. At his funeral I met many others who felt the same way.

This was the second time that I had been affected by suicide. When I was around 11 years old, shortly after my parents’ divorce, my mother’s brother took his own life. He was a Vietnam veteran, and he became hooked on drugs while he was in the war. When he got home, he couldn’t handle normal life after seeing everything he saw in combat. His drug problem got worse, he would have hallucinations and he overdosed to escape the pain.

I saw how this shattered my mother and grandmother. He also left behind a wife and baby daughter. It was tragic. As a child I could sense how awful this was for everyone. And now as an adult I can see how my uncle’s life mattered. Even in the short time he was with us, he brought joy to his mother, and love to his family. He struggled with life, and he chose to die. But while he was here he lived, and he had the opportunities and experiences that allowed him to learn and grow. He may not have made the best choices, but they were his choices. In situations like this you have to get past the blame, and the guilt, and know that there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. For whatever reason, this person took his own life. It is not rational, or logical, or right. But it is irreversible. And we learned by going through all of this together as a family.

Chaim Nissel, Psy.D., is the Director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center in New York City, and an expert with the American Association of Suicidology. He has this to say about coping with the loss of a loved one from suicide:

The death of a loved one by suicide has all the trappings of conventional grief plus a host of other intense, difficult and confusing emotions. These include feelings of guilt and responsibility, anger and blame and often a disconnect with the individual who killed himself. When we lose a loved one to cancer or AIDS, we accept the reality, feel the loss, grieve, yet we don’t blame ourselves. Following a suicide, it is hard to accept the reality that the individual chose death. We feel responsible and wonder, ‘If I had only… he’d be alive today.’ We would rather blame ourselves because it is difficult to place the responsibility where it belongs, on the individual who killed himself.

One who experiences the death of a loved one to suicide is fittingly called a ‘survivor.’ They must now learn to cope and survive their loss. Most survivors experience anger, guilt and emotional turmoil. There is often anger at the deceased for taking their own life, it is seen as selfish, because their pain ends, but the survivor’s pain begins. Guilt over what they could have and should have done to prevent it (although if the loved one wanted to die, they would have despite your interventions). We like to think that we can control events, but when another person is in such emotional pain that they want to die, the choice to kill themselves remains their choice, despite everything that you can and did offer them.

There is still tremendous stigma and shame associated with suicide and when the fact that one died by suicide is hidden or denied, it becomes so much more difficult to come to terms with it. When we try to ‘cover’ or pretend the death was accidental, it takes its toll on the survivors and will impact them the rest of their lives.

To help us find closure, Dr. Nissel has this advice:

— Talk about it! Find supportive people in your life who you can share your feelings with.

— Focus on the person’s life and the good memories you have of the person. Know that you will never truly know why he killed himself.

— Recognize that the person’s pain is over, now it’s time to start healing your own pain.

— Have answers prepared for when people ask questions. This will help reduce your anxiety and emotional reactions. You can say “he took his own life,” or, “died by suicide,” or, even “he suffered a long illness.” It someone is persistent, blaming or insensitive, you can say “it is too difficult to talk about right now,” and end the conversation.

— Know that you are not responsible for your loved one’s death, in any way. Only the individual who killed himself is responsible.

— Know that the likelihood is that the person was in such pain, for so long and now the suffering is over. 90 percent of those that die by suicide suffered from some form of mental illness, most commonly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

— Seek resources such as professional counseling, support groups and books.

— Being exposed to a suicide makes you somewhat more susceptible to suicidal thinking. If you are having thoughts of killing yourself, get help immediately by contacting a local psychologist or psychiatrist. If you feel you may act on these suicidal impulses, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) helps survivors of suicide. Actress Michelle Ray Smith, who played “Ava” on the daytime drama Guiding Light, talked about her father’s suicide in an interview with Soap Opera Digest magazine a few years back. She said that participating in AFSP’s “Out of the Darkness” event, an overnight 20-mile walk, helped her connect with people who had been through the same thing. “For the first time since he died — it’s been three years in September — I feel at peace.” Talking with people, sharing our stories, is one way that we can help each other to heal.

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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03 Sep

Got Closure? How To Move Forward Powerfully And Positively

Each of us experiences some kind of loss in this lifetime. People come and go from our lives, whether by choice or circumstance. How we cope with these events affects how we move forward, how we see the world, and how we feel about our lives.

I’m not the only person to have been through a divorce. When my first marriage ended after 17 years, I thought I handled it well. It was an amicable parting, and we maintained a friendly relationship. But then a few years later my sister’s husband died unexpectedly. My grief brought up new emotions, and I felt sad and angry and hurt as I relived the divorce in my mind. I realized through this experience that although I had moved on, I hadn’t really gotten over it; I didn’t have closure. I saw the parallels between my sister’s loss and my own, and I actively sought to come up with a formula through which we could both alleviate our pain.

Relationships take many forms: marriage, friendships, family, co-workers, classmates, lovers. Whenever two people have some kind of a connection, a relationship is established. Our energy goes into these connections, our emotions, our hopes, our human vulnerabilities. A relationship is an organism itself, and it can have a life cycle. But since relationship is a spiritual organism, it doesn’t die. It merely changes shape. The relationships we build with the people we encounter continue in spirit, in memories, and in lessons learned.

We are invested in our relationships with other people. We spend our time, and emotions, developing a kind of bond with a person. We give of ourselves, through our love, our friendship, our concern, and our efforts.

When we are faced with what seems to be the “end” of a relationship, we may feel loss, grief, anger or pain. We might even feel relief, or freedom. We may question the purpose for this change, whether it is abrupt or expected, and the necessity of it. The change may or may not be our choice, or our desire, but something we must learn to live with. The uneasiness may nag at us for years as we struggle to understand. How do we get that “closure” that our hearts and minds so desperately seek so that we can move forward with our lives?

We need to shift our perspective a little bit when it comes to relationships. In our human form, we see the illusion of death, and the ending of relationships. But what really takes place is a transformation. As we learn and grow through our relationships, our relationships evolve. We can use this evolution as an opportunity for continued growth, and for personal transformation. The pains that we feel are growing pains. However a relationship changes, whether it is a loss from physical death, a divorce, a move away, a growing up, or a falling out, we can not only survive, but thrive, knowing that everything, always, is exactly the way it is meant to be.

A Natural Law works whether we are aware of it or not. It is a principle of nature that is in effect at all times, without favoritism. Gravity is a natural law. It works the same for everyone, at all times. By being aware of gravity, we can move about more freely, with less risk of pain from falling down.

The Law of Relationship is two-fold. It says:
1) We are all connected.
2) We are here to help each other.

We are all connected in one way or another. We feel the same emotions; we share the same experiences. We are brothers and sisters on this planet. This connection bonds us, and gives us a relationship with each other. A mother in any part the world, can relate to another mother she has never seen because she knows what it means, and how it feels, to be a mother. We are all born the same way, and have to learn how to walk and talk and find our way in the world. We face challenges and heartache, no matter where we live, or how we live. Our connection cannot be broken.

With our challenges and experiences we learn and grow. Our relationships bring us many challenges and experiences, and through our relationships we learn and grow. This is how we help each other. We may not even know that we are doing it, but just by being in a person’s life, in some small way, we are contributing to the learning process, as they are contributing to ours. Our actions affect other people in ways we can’t even imagine. Even in times when we feel hurt by someone, that is an opportunity for us to learn and grow. We might not realize it in the moment, but in some strange and miraculous way, we are helping each other by going through this experience together.

Closure is different than grief. Grieving is looking back; closure is about looking ahead. We want to let go and move on. This is what closure gives us. We may have gone through the grieving process and still not have the closure we seek. The law of relationship helps us to maneuver our way through the five set process of closure: Recognition, Acceptance, Understanding, Integration, and Gratitude. When we reach a feeling of gratitude, we know we’ve come full circle to experience closure.

Closure is actually the perfect word for it. It’s more than neatly tying up loose ends. Think about life as a series of events and relationships, all linked together in some sort of artistic way, like a beautiful piece of jewelry. We can’t wear a necklace or a bracelet if the chain is just left dangling. The jewelry maker finishes off the piece by adding a clasp, one loop that kind of ties together the beginning and the end, the start and the finish, so that what we are left with is one strong continuous chain. Our closure is that clasp. Closure helps it all make sense. It turns something seemingly broken into something useful, purposeful, and lovely.

Lissa Coffey is the author of CLOSURE and the Law of Relationship: Endings as New Beginnings.

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28 Aug

Fashion Trends: Distressing Times Well Worn

I have heard that fashion often reflects the mood of the times. When we are optimistic as a society, hemlines tend to go up. When we feel gloomy, we see more dark gray hues. So it really is no surprise that the fashion trend of the moment seems to be the “distressed” look.

I’ve seen this everywhere. Jeans have manufactured holes in them, strategically placed rips and sanded down seams. Shirts are wrinkled on purpose, just enough to give that worn-for-a-long-time feel to them. Gone are the starched collars and in is a more “easy” fit. Our new shoes are to be worn not only without socks, but also with the laces conspicuously missing.

Our clothes are mirroring our distress. We’ve got a monstrous unemployment rate, and a seemingly endless war or two going on at the same time. We are dealing with natural disasters all over the globe, and an oil spill with repercussions that reach far into the future. The economy basically, well, is there any better word than “sucks” right now? And on top of all this, there’s the whole Tiger letdown, Jesse cheating on our beloved Sandra, and the Gores’ divorce! Yes, “distress” is putting it mildly.

The fact that we have chosen to wear the distressed look tells me that as bad as things are, we have hope. We know we can get through this. These are the kinds of clothes we wear when we’re ready to get down to the business at hand. Those paint splattered khakis? They say: “I can handle anything!” That faded denim shirt? It says: “Put me to work!”

Volunteerism is at its highest level since 1992. We may be pinching pennies, but we were able to scrape up $1.3 million dollars in just two hours when Larry King went on the air to raise money to help clean up the Gulf. This is definitely a “can do” society. We are keenly aware that things are bad, and we’re making a concerted effort to do what we can to make things better.

We are banding together more. Those “six-degrees of separation” have all but disappeared with social networking. Alyssa Milano personally tweets the importance of the mosquito net in helping to combat malaria and with just a few clicks we are sending a net to the cause. Jenny McCarthy and Holly Robinson Peete have raised awareness and inspired us to take action on behalf of families struggling with autism. Philanthropy has gone viral!

So, yes, with all the events that are happening seemingly at the same time, we’re distressed. But maybe in this state we finally have our priorities straight. Maybe we are starting to understand what is important to us. Our style is changing, and evolving. I see the current trend as a statement that “fashion” as we know it doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that we take care of the issues at hand, and that we take care of ourselves and each other.

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21 Aug

Stress and Resilience: Sandra Bullock’s Example

All of us have some sort of stress is our lives. Stress can come from positive or negative experiences, in packages large or small, and over a long period of time or all at once. The Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Ratings Scale, developed in the 1960s, is one way for us to measure stress that may have accumulated during the past year. The idea is to look at the list of “life events,” choose the ones that you have experienced in the last 12 months, and add up the corresponding scores to evaluate your possible stress load.

Let’s take a look at Sandra Bullock’s score to get an idea of how this works:

Divorce is second on the list to “Death of a spouse” and comes in at 73 points. She has filed for divorce, so I’m using that score rather than the one for “marital separation.” Gaining a new family member, her son Louis, adds an additional 39. Given the circumstances surrounding the divorce, I’m guessing we could say “change in frequency of arguments” applies, for 35 points. There’s no score for “winning a major award” but there is one for “Outstanding personal achievement, so we’ll use that, at 28 points. Since she won several major awards, we could probably multiply that, but we’ll just double it for a total of 56 to keep it simple. Change in residence is 20 points. I’m guessing she’ll be keeping her home in Austin, but she did move out of the home she shared with Jesse. Having a new baby around means a change in social activities, so that’s another 18 points. There’s definitely a change of sleeping habits, too, for another 16 points. She’s probably had a vacation in the last 12 months, which gives her another 13 points. And Christmas comes in for an additional 12 points. With that, Sandra has a total of 282 points.

There are other factors we don’t know about that would add in more points. A major mortgage is worth 32 points. Change in health of a family member is 44 points. Trouble with in-laws is 29 points. Change in responsibilities at work is 29 points. Any one of these “events” would put Sandra’s total over 300 points, which increases her risk of serious illness over the next two years by 80%. Now that’s stress!

Many people would fall apart under these circumstances, let alone having the circumstances played out for public scrutiny in the tabloids. And yet, this woman who has gone through so much in such a short period of time looks no worse for wear. Here she is smiling at her sweet baby on the cover of People Magazine! What makes a person so resilient to handle all of this stress with such grace? In a word — Closure.

Closure is understanding that there is a purpose to the events in our lives, and it is being able to move forward with a newfound wisdom from the experience. Sandra Bullock has been able to recognize this strength in others. Of the students at Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans, a school that she has supported after Hurricane Katrina, she says: “I fell in love with the kids at Warren Easton — their spirit, their elegance, their soul, their profound ability to see the beauty in an experience that would have left most people hardened and angry.”

Now, after weathering her own storm for the past couple of months, Sandra is modeling this same strength for her fans. Rather than playing the role of the victim, or lashing out at a betrayal, she instead has opted for a kind of “chop wood, carry water” attitude and has gone on with the business of her life. She is learning and growing from the experience, from the changes in her relationships, and she is grateful. In the People Magazine interview she says: “To say that I am changed is an understatement. But that might not be a bad thing. I have learned a lot about what I am and what I am not. But the most important thing to me was to protect and know the truth. And the truth is simple. The things I hold most dear are things that could not have happened without Jesse.”

Life is complicated. Relationships change. But yes, the truth is simple. The truth is that all of it, the good and the bad, the fantastic and the painful, the sunshine and the rain — no matter how we choose to judge it or categorize it — all of it is here to serve the process of our growth. We can take these lessons and learn from them. We can look at examples given to us and follow them. When we are in gratitude, we are in the present moment. We’re not dwelling on the past or worried about the future, we’re simply in the here and now. And now is the only time there is.

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