Thursday Re-View — “Let’s Hear It for First Responders”

Let’s hear it for first responders in the United States of America.

Whether you’re being airlifted from rising flood waters, getting rescued from a burning building, being rushed to the hospital with excruciating chest pain, slowly being extricated from your mangled car with the Jaws of Life, being rushed to safety from a hostage situation, shielded from a shooter – you are relieved and grateful to hear the welcome police sirens, fire truck horns, helicopter blades or racing footsteps.

Thank goodness – they’re here – everything will be all right – I’m safe.

These are the selfless individuals who go toward danger rather than away from it, who save lives while risking their own.

We’ve come to expect them to arrive in force, like the Calvary – in the nick of time, never afraid or tired or sick or hung over; never preoccupied or moving slow or sleeping in or ignoring the call.

Indeed, some disasters can be identified simply by an iconic photo of first responders:

We expect them to be there and to work tirelessly until the job is done, whether one hour, one day, one month or one year. In wildfires, firefighters might work to save our homes while theirs might be burning down. After a tornado, they might be searching for survivors through the debris while their own home has been demolished. We get back to our own broken lives while they work until their duty is finished.

When they finally have time to breathe, and to return to their families for hugs, food and sleep, that’s when the crushingly difficult part begins. Their sympathetic nervous system, having been hypervigilent for so long, is overly stressed, unable to relax.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is not only suffered by victims of traumatic events. Feelings of guilt or failure, insomnia, intrusive images, recurrent nightmares, irritability, hyperarousal, stomach-aches, headaches, difficulty concentrating, emotional withdrawal, flashbacks – all these, and more, could plague the first responders for months or even years.

What was it like for the police, EMTs and fire department personnel to view the carnage upon entering the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT? Or for the physicians and related health care personnel at the hospital to wait for the injured children who never came? Or for the coroner to perform autopsies on 20 innocent first graders?

You can replace Newtown with Oklahoma City, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Sandy, 9/11 (WTC, the Pentagon, Shanksville), any war, the Boston Marathon…

Their souls must be bruised.

Perhaps haunted by these experiences, these images, they will run into the chaos and destruction anyway. For you, for me, for anyone in need.

They give tirelessly of themselves, day in, day out, with little recognition, because “they’re only doing their jobs.” Those jobs are demanding, draining, debilitating. But they do them, regardless.

So who cares for the caregivers?

In honoring them here, by recognizing their tremendous worth, I hope to do my part in helping each soul to heal. Perhaps you might find your own way to do the same.

Light in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of despair. Love in the midst of hate.

My blessings. My respect. My gratitude.

Once again – Holiness – Sacred Ground – Circles of Compassionate Grace.


Today’s Quote


This being human is a guest house,
every morning a new arrival…
a joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all.
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep the house empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whomever comes
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~


The “Greatest Therapist Award”


The handwriting is looping, the capitalization non-existent, the ragged piece of paper torn on one edge, but with a faint flower at the top. It looks like the effort put into the note is considerable, the pressure of the words seen through the paper from the other side.

It is childlike. It is simple. It is a priceless treasure given to me upon my departure from Community Mental Health that I keep under glass on my desk.

No, it wasn’t written by a child. It was written by a 31-year old woman – a patient for 2 years. A woman-child. A woman whose emotional maturity was paralyzed in early adolescence, when she had several children as a result of sexual abuse by her father…abuse that her mother never stopped. A woman who never finished junior high and who ran away to get away from the monster at home, only to meet more of them on the streets and under the bridge where she slept. Where she did what she could to eat and to take care of her children until Child Protective Services removed them and placed them in Foster Care.

No protection for her, but at least there was for her children. And for the children with different fathers from severed relationships who came after that.

Rape. Childbirth. Physical abuse. Homelessness. Death of one of her children and institutionalization of another. Arrests and incarceration. Drugs and alcohol. Prostitution. Multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations. Emotional abuse.

Self-esteem: zero. Worthlessness: 100%. In her mind, that is. And in the mind of the bruiser of a man whose son she raised as her own, who beat her up regularly, even though she took any and all that he threw at her.

But she never left. Why?

Where could she go?

She had no job – who would hire her? She had no high school diploma, with her jail time checked honestly on every application. Applications where the handwriting would look like it looked in the note above.

But she loved the squirrels outside her window, and had names for each one of them, and when her boyfriend killed one with a BB gun when he was drunk, she carefully dug a hole and buried it while he slept off the rage and the drink.

Until the next time.

Non-compliance with therapy appointments and medications until she realized that I saw past her bravado and resistance to the little girl underneath.

She was hard to like, but her survival instinct was easy to admire.

For several months, she never missed an appointment. I looked over her shoulder while she filled out applications with an agency that was willing to hire people with an arrest record. We picked out an outfit together for her interview, her boyfriend there to have the final approval on what she wore.

She didn’t get the job.

But she finally got a driver’s license so if another opportunity presented itself, she would be ready. She started to study for her GRE but didn’t have the money to sit for the exams. A fairy godmother took care of the fee at the local office that registered people for the review classes that she got thrown out of for being disruptive.

She always had difficulty with anger management, but she was also sleep deprived, since everyone around her did whatever they could to prevent her from studying. She passed all but one part of the exam for her GRE anyway, and got a tutor for the higher math.

Her father got a cancer diagnosis, and she struggled mightily with whether to go see him to tell him that she still loved him as a daughter, or to go see him to kill him for the despicable horrors that he visited upon her as a little girl. Normal feelings for what she had been through, and I daresay far above anything her father would have felt.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, for me, a chance at another job, this one in higher education. One with a secretary to answer the phone and a computer to make appointments, with time off and supplemental help. Nothing like the limited resources of Community Mental Health that wore people out.

For someone who was exhausted with compassion fatigue, it was a relatively easy choice.

But it was so terribly hard to leave the patients in my case load. And she was one of them. Right when she seemed to be making some headway, another person who she had slowly, hesitantly learned to trust was abandoning her.

Who to save? It had to be me. Because I cannot “save” anyone but myself, and I needed to give some of the compassion that I so easily poured into others, to myself.

So everyone was transitioned to new psychotherapists whom I thought would be a ‘good fit,’ and I had enough advance notice to properly ‘terminate’ my clients.

I wish I could tell you that she passed the final portion of her GRE, left what would hopefully be her last abusive relationship and found a full-time job.

But I can’t.

I don’t know what happened to her…not even if she kept her appointments with the new therapist. Not every story has a happy ending, or at least an ending that we are a part of or even privy to.

But I do have the tiny stuffed green frog she gave me on the last day, one she got from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. And I have the “Greatest Therapist Award” next to me on my desk.

Not to remind me of my award, but to remind me of the special woman-child I was so privileged to work with for 2 years.

To remind me of what a survivor looked like…a woman so tough that she was still standing, a woman so gentle that she named each of the squirrels in her back yard.

Thank you for gifting me with a glimpse into your life and sharing things that no one else knew. For keeping a small shred of hope alive even when the voices all around you ridiculed and berated.

I wish you happiness and warmth and smiles; sunshine and rainbows and sweetness.

But most of all, I wish you love.

Pure love. Of yourself and from someone good and decent and kind.

You deserve nothing less.

The privilege was mine, lovely lady. Be well.

You are in my thoughts and in my heart…go out and shine!



When Will the Heaven Begin? – Ben Breedlove

ben breedlove II

Ben Breedlove died on the evening of December 25, 2011.

He was 18 years old.

Ben grew up in Austin, Texas with his parents, older sister Ally and younger brother Jake. When he was young, Ben was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which thickened heart muscles cause the heart to work harder. At 4 years old, Ben had a life-threatening seizure; the first time, in Ben’s words, that he ‘cheated death.’

Ben talks about his first brush with death:

“There was this big bright light above me…I couldn’t make out what it was because it was so bright. I told my Mom, ‘Look at the bright light,’ and pointed up. She said she didn’t see anything. There were no lights on in this hall. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And I couldn’t help but smile. I had no worries at all, like nothing else in the world mattered… I cannot even begin to describe the peace, how peaceful it was. I will never forget that feeling or that day.”

In May of 2009, he had a pacemaker inserted.

In November 2010, Ben created the OurAdvice4You channel on YouTube (38 videos, 61,000 subscribers) to give out teen-aged relationship advice, and in May, 2011, he launched BreedloveTV as a companion channel (17 videos, 31,500 subscribers) to answer questions messaged to him from teenagers around the world.

In the summer of 2011, during a routine tonsillectomy, Ben suffered cardiac arrest, the second time he cheated death.

On December 6, 2011, Ben cheated death for the third and final time, when he passed out in school and awoke surrounded by paramedics preparing to use a defibrillator to revive him.

Ben recalls his dream or vision after this third brush with death, where he woke up in a silent, while room without walls where he “felt that same peaceful feeling I had when I was 4 – and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was wearing a really nice suit, and so was my fav rapper, Kid Cudi… I then looked at myself in the mirror. I was proud of myself, off my entire life, of everything I have done. It was the BEST feeling.”

Ben said in the dream, he thought of lyrics from a Kid Cudi song that said, ‘When will the fantasy end, when will the heaven begin?’ Kid Cudi sat him down at a glass desk and told him, ‘Go now.’

“I didn’t want to leave that place. I wish I NEVER woke up.”

A third YouTube channel was created by Ben on December 18, 2011, a week before he died, titled TotalRandomness512. This channel hosted the two-part video, “This is My Story,” which can be seen below (over 13 million views).

In them, Ben sits silently in a room, using note cards to tell his story. At the end of the videos, Ben asks: “Do you believe in angels or God?” then answers with a smile, “I do.”



On the evening of Christmas Day, 2011, according to one of Ben’s friends, Ben received a new video camera for Christmas and went outside, anxious to try it. He experienced light-headedness and shortness of breath and passed out in the yard. His parents called 911 and administered CPR until the EMS arrived. All resuscitation attempts failed and Ben was pronounced dead at the hospital.

He was 18 years old.

His parents agreed to donate his organs and tissue in order to help others.  “Ben would have wanted to continue helping and inspiring others,”
commented his mother.

News of his death was covered by media outlets around the world, including Fox, CBS and ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, MTV and People Magazine. His funeral on December 29th was streamed live on the KXAN website.

Breedlove Family

Breedlove Family

Kid Cudi wrote that he “broke down” when he saw Bens’ videos. “This has really touched my heart in a way I can’t describe; this is why I do what I do. Why I write my life, and why I love you all so much. We love you, Ben. Forever. Thank you for loving me. …To Ben’s family, you raised a real hero, he’s definitely mine. You have my love.”

“It’s exciting to know that Ben planted a seed in people’s minds
to begin thinking about things that really do matter in life,”

Ben’s mother told ABC News at Ben’s Memorial Service.
“You know, we all have hope. Everyone has challenges,
but we have a real hope and he saw that.
He felt the peace of God when he had those glimpses
into heaven and heavenly presence.”

On January 1, 2013, Ben, along with 4 others, was honored on a Donate Life float in the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade.

Today, October 28, 2013, the book “When Will the Heaven Begin: This is Ben Breedlove’s Story” by Ben’s sister Ally Breedlove and Ken Abraham will be released as a celebration of his life.

Eternal rest, Ben Breedlove, and may perpetual light shine upon you.

You will be remembered by so many of us with love.

You are an inspiration to millions.

Your have gifted life to others.

Be well, Ben. Be well.

And yes, I believe in God and in angels.

And I know now that Heaven begins with you.

ben breedlove


Related posts: My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech
Remembering Talia Joy Castellano
The Last Lecture


Thursday Re-View — “Walk On”

In my work with loss and bereavement, music is a powerful tool.  It not only comforts the dying, but the living as well.

“Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying,” produced by Michael Stillwater and Gary Malkin, blends messages and music about life, death, forgiveness and acceptance, narrated by spiritual thinkers from a variety of faith traditions.

One of my favorites, which I use for myself from time to time to affirm my life journey, follows. Here, Jeanine Prevatt holds sacred her Cherokee lineage and her deep connection to the Earth. You can also find the accompanying music on iTunes if the words speak to your heart, as they do to mine.


mocassans II

Walk On
~ Jyoti ~

Good morning, Grandfather.
I entered this life a ways back
and put skin on to walk two-legged on this Creation –
and what a glorious time it was.

It taught me about breath
and about sensing and feeling and caring through my heart.
And I walked on around that Red Road,
looking and trying to understand more
about the mystery and the secrets She holds.

And You spoke to me through the wind,
and You sang to me through the birds.
And You brought challenges forth so that
I might listen to the message You bring me more sincerely.
And I kept walking down this road.

And I came ’round the bend
at the middle of that curve in the road
and I began to find a secret in the Spirit of my Self…

And still I walked on, sometimes blind and deaf,
and sometimes with pain.
But I fought with my fears and I embraced my unknowingness –
and still I walked on.
And my children and my family stood with me
and we came to know each other in those later years more than we
had before – for some of our falseness had fallen away –
and still I walked on.

And I kept walking on this road towards You,
towards that other world that grew closer to me with each step.
And as the door of the Great Spirit world came closer
my fear loomed up inside sometimes…

But something called me forth –
the Morning Star rose with each day –
and my prayer became a centering – and still I walked on,
until I began to hear the Song of the Mother,
and Her arms embraced me so,
that instead of walking She carried me right to the door.
And as the door opened, I heard Her Song,
and Her Song lifted me up, so I could soar.


Tuesday Travels — Cefalu, Sicily

In an instant, what started as a simple walking tour of Cefalu, Sicily on my recent vacation turned into a profoundly moving experience.

Let me explain.

Cefalu is a city in the province of Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily. Its narrow streets house numerous churches, a fisherman’s quarter, small shops and a long beach covered with fine sand. The town’s medieval appearance is especially noticeable in its Norman cathedral, built by Roger II in the 12th century.

When I entered the huge wooden doors of the Cathedral, I was met with dim gray flooring and dark, misshapen wooden pews. As my eyes adjusted to the interior, I noticed white flower arrangements on the end of each pew and thin white ribbon tied across the end of the aisle, preventing anyone from walking directly up the center.

It looked like there would be a wedding sometime today.

But for now, there were perhaps a hundred tourists milling around inside, snapping pictures. When I looked toward the far end of the cathedral, suddenly each section was lit up one by one, until I could see nothing but beautiful golds and blues and greens and reds along the walls and upon the ceiling. Tens of thousands of tesserae illuminated the church like priceless jewels with a breathtaking result.

It was magical.

Mosaics dripped from the walls: saints and prophets reposed on the choir walls, Seraphim and Cherubs decorated the vault, while the majestic figure of Christ Pantocrator loomed high in the apse, along with the Virgin Mary, Archangels and apostles.

Suddenly I heard voices start to sing a few stanzas, which then stopped. Near the altar stood 4 members of what must be the choir, readying themselves for the wedding that would soon take place. With some rustling of sheet music and cleared throats, they began to sing again.

I stopped walking, the opening chords of one of my favorite hymns – Ave Maria – resonated in my heart. Their voices echoed off the cathedral walls, then soared to the ceiling and back around, enveloping me. Their voices lifted me until I felt goosebumps (“God-bumps”).

The sound – the feeling – the place – were all so profoundly sacred that the tears flowed as I leaned against the marble wall.

At that moment, in a small town of winding cobblestone streets and a Norman cathedral built with love and care by craftsmen long since departed, there was nothing else but angels singing Ave Maria.

Just then, something caught my attention and I looked toward the massive door that was open to the square outside. The sky darkened and the trees stirred in what had been still, humid air. Tourists scurried inside to escape the abrupt change in weather, their scarves whipped around their faces from the sudden gusts. As the wind pressed through the church, I knew the Holy Spirit had just sanctified all those present.

Mysterious, unseen, refreshing. Gale force outside, a gentle whisper upon my cheek inside.

A blessing received upon on all those who gathered here on this day.

The tourists in their shorts and baseball caps, seated in the far rear of the church. The choir members in their black robes, arranged to one side of the altar. The wedding guests in all of their finery, anxiously awaiting the start of the ceremony. The priest at the altar, the groom at the head of the aisle, and the bride standing quietly next to her father, waiting for her new life to begin.

All were blessed.

The bride’s veil stirred in the now-gentle breeze as she worked to tear the ribbon blocking the aisle, a tradition unknown to some of us, but obviously important to her. I stood in the shadows, on holy ground, watching as the bride, with a triumphant smile, tore apart the ribbon to a crescendo of clapping and shouts of joy from the self-appointed tourist guests.

At last, she made her way up the aisle. Toward the Christ Pantocrator, her friends and family, and her love. Toward her future.

May the bride and groom who were joined together on that day know only a life together filled with happiness. And love.

For the greatest of these is love.

My thanks for allowing me the privilege of baring witness to Your Spirit.

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 ~



butterfly III

by Mary Ann Radmacher

Because I call it challenge rather than crisis;

because I look at hardship as opportunity instead of obstacle;

because, at the end of a matter, I ask,
“What will I learn from this to make me better?”;

because I take a deep breath and do the difficult thing first;

because my courage does not depend on the weather,
the economic forecast or the winds of whim;

because I know the most significant elements in my day
are laughter, learning and applying my efforts
to each endeavor;

because of these things each morning is a pleasure
and every day passed is a success.


In the Twilight of Memory

waterfall gibran

The Farewell
from The Prophet
by Kahlil Gibran

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness,
and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over,
and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half-waking has turned to fuller day,
and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more,
we shall speak again together and
you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream
we shall build another tower in the sky.


For all those who have lost a beloved,
may you meet and speak and love once again
while singing a deeper song.
~ Theresa