Tackling Grief Chronicles: Recipe for Hope

With Thanksgiving tomorrow I thought it was apropos to share some of my grief thoughts of the holiday and how wonderful memories can give us feelings of hope rather than hopelessness.

The last big holiday I spent with my son Paul before he died was Christmas 2013. Since he was an assistant chef for a catering company in Los Angeles who provided gourmet meals for TV and movie sets, he decided to be our chef for Christmas dinner.

Through his job, he had the privilege and honor to cook for many celebrities you may have heard of, like JLo, Queen Latifah, Blake Shelton, Ashton Kutcher, and so on. He truly had found what he loved and it was exciting to see him so passionate about it.

I often shared with my children that finding what you loved to do most, doing it for a living and being paid well, is one of life’s biggest challenges, and greatest rewards.

Paul had that at 24.

For many of us, even myself, it takes years, even a lifetime, if ever to find that thing that you can’t fall asleep quickly because you can’t wait to wake up to do it.

Cooking and bringing joy through food gave Paul this most wonderful gift. If you check out his Facebook, you’ll see he didn’t post too often. When he did, it was mostly about food or his job. He was so proud of his work and his passion burned bright like the stars in the sky on a summer night camping in the woods far from the city lights.

When I gave his eulogy at his Life Celebration and shared this love of his, my heart was full of joy knowing he left here with that gift.

When I think about tomorrow and that my son won’t be at the table, in fact he won’t be at any table, it’s hard not to wish it wasn’t true.

But when I opened my social media this morning, I am reminded of a text between us about cooking for the holidays and a smile came across my face and filled my heart.

I remembered that he hated to see me sad and that while tomorrow won’t look like the holidays before he died, I can smile knowing he lived and lived life to the fullest until the very end.

So while we may still grieve their absence, I hope you will also cherish the memories and joy. I hope you’ll pull from the moments you shared and reflect on them with laughter and thoughts of happiness.

That in the midst of your loss you’ll find a recipe for hope for the future.

By: Kimberly Archie

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Tackling the Holidays Past, Present and Future

Well here it is again, the holiday season. Deck the Halls and lets be JOLLY.

How do we go about being jolly when we can hardly hold our heads up?

There isn’t a magic formula, surprise play, one size fits all for those of us who are grieving the loss of someone we love. The holidays serve as a modifier to the memories and sense of loss we feel every day. But there are some helpful tips.

1. Everyone grieves differently… Some of us become outwardly more emotional, others quiet and withdrawn. There is no right or wrong way, just your way.

2. Acknowledge that the holidays are coming. Often times as the holidays get closer we feel anxious and we can’t seem to understand why we are feeling so unsettled. This can change from year to year. The days leading up to the actual day can be more overwhelming than when the day arrives.

3. Traditions… This is a biggie for me. Do we keep the traditions the same, or do we change them to give them a new look, but saving the most cherished? Or do we do away with some or all of them, in search of finding new traditions?

4. Acknowledging our loved ones that have died in a way that continues their legacy like preparing a favorite dish, placing their stocking in same place or perhaps a differently location. Speaking of those stocking, something that you can do to continue their place in our hearts and families, is have members write a special memory or a specific feeling they are having this season, place it in the stocking. They can be read and shared or put into a special memory box that can become a keepsake and shared season after season. There is also the “empty chair “ …… what do we do with the chair or that special space where “they “ always sat. Talk about and acknowledge that feeling of emptiness. Honor that sacred space sharing the importance of the person who now will fill that cherished place. Or leave the chair empty. Place a picture of the person on the table to serve as visual memory. Again, communication is key, discuss these ideas with the entire family so no one person is caught off guide or feels left out.

5. Have realistic expectations. We all aspire to create the perfect holiday. Even before the loss of our loved ones we expect too much of ourselves. No one person can do it all. There is no shame in reaching out for support in preparing for the holidays. There is no weakness in accepting others kindness. If emotionally it is just too hard, contact a professional for guidance and support. Truly isn’t that the meaning of the season of giving?

6. Take care of yourself. Get as much sleep as you can, but not spending all your time there, find a healthy balance, keep your diet in balance as well. Eating healthy will help your body as well as your mind. Accept an invitation to share a meal with someone. The best part of any meal is having someone to share it with. Try to get some exercise. If the mall is too overwhelming try a quiet winter walk. A perfect time for reflection and some tears, which brings me to tears, there will be tears. They are our friends, not a sign of weakness.

7. Be choosy … surround yourself with people who understand you. Don’t feel you must graciously accept everyone’s option where you should be in your grief journey. Stand up for yourself. My response to… you need to move on, get over it, put it behind you, he is much better off… was “do you want to trade me places” usually that ended the discussion. Our grief is not theirs to manage.

8. If the holidays do become overwhelming to the place where you can no longer do your daily work, care for yourself and/or your family. You may be having a condition called “complicated grief”. If you are having any of the challenges mention above, contact your doctor or a professional counselor.

9. In the season of being grateful, the purity of light and hope, we need to give ourselves permission to live again, to laugh and seek joy. We must remember when we allow ourselves those precious emotions it doesn’t mean we love or miss them less. There is no balance between the amount of pain we feel and how much we miss them.

10. If you just can’t do it, it’s okay. It doesn’t have to stay the same, it can change from year to year. A person I once knew always said “there is always next year” in this case he was right.
Remember, that love doesn’t end when someone we love dies… They are always with us. Maybe in the lyrics of a song, in the form of touch stone (mine is a cardinal), a cool breeze, or a Christmas stocking. Their memory and legacy grows.
In the spirit of the season…..PeacePictured: Mike Jenkins (March 3, 1966 – May 5, 2011) & Marcia Jenkins, Faces of CTE, Brain Donation Family Relations Director

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Tackling Grief Chronicles: When Grief Tries to Tackle Me I Just Remember Why We Started

The holidays are always tough for those of us who have lost loved ones too soon. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, I find myself tearing up without notice, or a specific incidence. In the back of my mind constantly is how will I spend another year without my son Paul? Sleep doesn’t come easy, it’s hard to go to sleep or even stay asleep. The pressure of what to do for the holidays, who to spend it with and how will I get through all of those days; Thanksgiving, shopping for gifts, sending out holiday cards (okay, I was never very good at this task 😆), Christmas work parties, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Years?

I really just want to work, help people, just skip it all and pretend  tomorrow is January 2, 2018.

Life doesn’t work that way.

I also know I am not alone. While not everyone has lost their only son, or share all of the variables that sew into my quilt of grief, people who have lived a few years or more, have difficulties and situations that make up their own grief quilt. And if I have learned anything in the 3 plus years since Paul died, you can’t compare your grief to anyone else’s. It’s not a game. There is no score. There is no winner. No one gets the “my grief is bigger than yours” award. If a situation has occurred in one’s life that weighs on them and it’s categorized by them as grief, than it is what it is.

For my brain injury survivor friends who grieve who they once were, their grief counts too. It matters. It matters as much as my grief for my son’s death does. It all counts.

As a traumatic brain injury survivor, and once a caregiver to my daughter, Janaye, when she had Stage IV cancer, I learned a few life lessons during the peaks and valleys of those experiences that I carry over to face Paul’s untimely death.

Live life to the fullest. Just do it, do it and do it and do it, until the job is done.

Some days, like today I need a little help living my life to the fullest. A shot in the arm, a pick me up as they say.

So I pulled out one of my old tools in my live life to the fullest toolbox, that I call the, “why did you start in the first place?”

I spent an hour or so thinking about how ten years ago come January 2, 2018 my daughter Tiffani and I sat at our kitchen table and made a conscious choice to take on the Goliath of all Goliath’s; the sport industry. I let it just soak in how we got started, why we chose to do it, what our first goals were and what motivated us to take such a huge leap of faith.

I vividly remembered the words Tiffani said as a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, sitting across our kitchen table in a small apartment in a Southern California city just outside of Los Angeles at the wise, old age of 19. She said, “mom, we were lucky. My injuries weren’t catastrophic like other kids we have met. Janaye lived unlike other families we have met. Those families who have lost their kids on the playing field or have to care for them around the clock, they’re exhausted. We can do it for them. We have energy to do it and we should.”

So we did.

Tiffani and worked around the clock building a website, designing marketing materials, reaching out to people, logging injuries and talking to the media. In a few short weeks, we launched the National Cheer Safety Foundation, and the rest is history as they say.

Looking back I can not believe what we did, and what we continue to do. The goals and landmark achievements are too many to list but in honor of remembering why we started, as well as our ten year anniversary being around the corner. Here is a list of the “Top Ten Things” we have accomplished since we started at the kitchen table in 2008, that helped me remember why we started.

  1. The recent federal court ruling in Archie et al v. Pop Warner.
  2. The settlement in 2011 of a lawsuit for a young, brain injured, cheerleader named Lizzie Nicks with one the of the best trial lawyers in California, Gary Dordick. This breakthrough legal research has been used over and over again in dozens of lawsuits for injured athletes all across the country.
  3. Helping State lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez to make cheerleading a Title IX sport in California.
  4. Writing the first catastrophic emergency plan for youth sports in 2008 and making available for free on the internet.
  5. Participating in the inaugural year of Acrobatics & Tumbling including being an official for meets, as well as seeing USA Gymnastics become their governing body.
  6. Finding the 1969 research by the National Academies of Science on football injuries while working on the NFL brain injury case on behalf of former NFL players for the well known law firm Girardi | Keese, made famous in the Erin Brockovich movie. The most important single piece of evidence in landmark case.
  7. Being named an official research partner of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injuries Research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2008, along with our cheerleading injuries being added to their database setting off a media blitz from People magazine to the Washington Post.
  8. Developed the legal strategies used to mediate the landmark US Soccer case settlement to remove headers for athletes 10 and under, as well as count headers for athletes 11-13.
  9. Orchestrating more than 20,000 hours of hundreds of volunteers and experts over ten years to do pro-bono work for athletes from kids to the pros.
  10. Launching the awareness campaign “Faces of CTE” with dozens of sport families who lost loved ones too soon to the mind robbing disease of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

.

So even staring at another difficult holiday season, when I look at this list and remember why we started. I can conquer another year without Paul because we have a lot of work to do still to make a difference in the world, and leave a family legacy in law and sports, that our beloved Paul will forever be the face of.

–Kimberly Archie

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Paul Bright Jr.: 3 Years Later We Still Celebrate His Life

Three years ago today I gave the eulogy for my only son Paul Wayne Bright Jr., at his “Celebration of Life” in front of more than 300 people who gathered with his family to share who he was, and what he meant to them. At that time we didn’t know he had CTE from youth football. We wouldn’t receive this news until April the following year.

When I went to the podium to speak, I looked up at the crowd. I saw my daughters who looked confident in my ability to pull it off, and his brothers, and his dad and other mom Christy. The rest of the room had a look of horror and surprise on so many of the faces I went off outline of what I had rehearsed to address the room’s fear of his mom giving his eulogy.

I looked as many of them in the eye as I could and I proudly proclaimed, “I know what many of you are thinking. How can his mom get up and speak today? How will she do it without falling apart?”

I continued to explain to them that from early after his death I knew I wanted to give the eulogy. I felt it was my greatest honor to plan his service and share who he was. I wanted when people left that day to know him better than before, to leave feeling uplifted and not as sad as when they arrived.

With my words we were giving permission to laugh and feel joy even though he was gone in the physical. We could truly celebrate him because after that day I explained we would have many days to cry and mourn his loss, but today we needed to heal. To feel his presence, feel his love and to feel us loving him.

With the help of a PowerPoint titled, “Giving” I shared his two families, him as a baby, moments that stood out in my mind and what a caring and kind man he had become. I didn’t write a speech, I spoke from my heart on the spot. I didn’t really think you could write these moments anyway. For me, I wanted it to be real and authentic and in the moment. It was all of that and more.


His sister Tiffani was the MC, his dad did the home slide show of photos. We had to have two. One for generic memories and a second just for sports. Yes, his childhood was a life full of sports, especially football.

One of the owners the company he worked for named Liz, told stories of Paul on the job. His service wouldn’t have been complete without this part. His work had become his life. Being a good employee and assistant chef was his main focus. He had found his calling in life. At 24 that is an amazing gift and many leave this Earth never knowing this. We were so grateful he had.

His roommate spoke too and even one of his cousins got up last minute to share, mentioning he was inspired after the eulogy to feel more happiness that day remembering who Paul was.

It was a true day of celebration, giving, loss and healing. It was the first big step in a lifetime we will spend missing him and honoring his memory. I realized as the day was winding down there will need to be many more opportunities to heal to survive his loss. My mind begin to think of ways how.

Three years later one of those magical ideas to help people grieving heal has come to fruition with our “Tackling Grief” Monthly call in work shop with grief expert Marcia Jenkins.

Grief doesn’t end after the services or burial is over. It’s a life time process. Some days are better than others, but the loss is felt every day. This workshop helps me connect with others like me in an easy format of just calling in and entering a pass code. It’s been life changing.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, or have suffered an injury and grieving who you once were, please join us the first Monday of each month at 5:00 pm PST for an hour of love and healing in a safe space.

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Living with CTE

Living with an addict isn’t easy.  The facts are in on that!  All you have to do is search the internet to find that most couples don’t survive addiction.  It destroys families, and rips and tears all logic away.

The hardest part of all of this for me is that Grant lived his most of his life and our entire marriage without any idea what the root problem was with his health.  He went in and out of rehab facilities over the years, and could never get sober.

Sadly, it wasn’t until after his death, and the autopsy report by Dr. Ann McKee at the Boston University, before it all started making sense to me.

Grant had Stage III CTE.

As I researched CTE symptoms, I realized Grant had every single one of them. I kept thinking about all the years of our marriage, and all the questions I’d had without answers.  I had continued to believe he would come back to me.  Now I understood why he couldn’t ever return. So much sadness, misunderstandings and grief…..

On July 15, 2012 Grant Feasel died and my world changed forever. I never planned on being married to anyone but him.

Grant Feasel; football;

Grant had sacrificed himself.  He died a shell of a man.  He had been a huge offensive center in NFL for so many years.  He slowly changed, like the sands of the seashore, until he wasn’t anything like the Renaissance man I had married in 1983.  A man who loved poetry and played the guitar and who had options.

He was a 4.0 GPA Biology PreMed major.  He was accepted into every Dental and Medical School in the state of Texas. He wanted a family, and he told me I was the love of his life.  I loved Grant Feasel.

All our plans and dreams were taken away by a lifetime of addiction.  Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy took the man I loved away from me, and my life will never by the same.

I’m begging parents to look at the evidence of all high impact sports to the brain.  Nothing is worth the pain and heartache that we went through.  Grant lived a life of pain.  He became an addict trying to stop the pain.  The longer an athlete plays a head banging sport the more likely it is for them to have a lifetime of health issues.  There is no scholarship or any amount of money that can replace a human life.

America’s favorite game actually kills people.

By: Cyndy Feasel

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Where are you in your grief journey ?

By: Marcia Meyer Jenkins RN, GS, CPLC
Mother of Mike Jenkins (3/3/66 – 5/5/11)

How often do we hear, how are you doing? What are people really asking us?  Where are we in our grief journey. So what exctly is grief . . .

The Dictionary definition is: deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death. Grief is the inward feeling of sadness, anguish, and despair. Mourning on the other hand is the outward expression of these feelings…crying, screaming, throwing things, or maybe like me beating in the side wall of the garage with a baseball bat. Crazy behavior, whatever it was, I felt better afterwards.

When we lost our loved one to CTE, chances were we didn’t know it yet. So, the reality of their death was too difficult to takes in. It’s called Shock and Numbness and it is our friend. It allows us to take what has happened in, on our own terms, not anyone else’s. We don’t remember what people have said. Our sleep patterns are distorted; we have very little interest in anything. Sometimes, these same feeling resurface around the anniversary, leaving us confused.

Once the clouds begin to part and we begin to see what has happened and the results. We begin the journey of Searching and Yearning it comes to allow ask the hard questions… why did they end their lives, should or could I have done more…did I really know them at all…if they loved me how  could they have killed themselves? ? ?

The months go past and we begin to see reality set in. Those that had been so interested and provided support have moved on, this period is called Disorientation. During this time we may begin to feel “sick ourselves”. Things that were second nature, now are a struggle to figure out. Actives are exhausting. We don’t know how to enter into what has become our confused new life.

As we approach the year anniversary we begin the time know as Reorganization: during this time energy slowly begins to increase. There are times when we feel the much lost sense of joy again. Sleeping and eating have found a new routine. We start imagine what life may look like without the one we love.

When we look at grief from the stand point of losing someone we love to expected cause. Grief models suggest 1 to 2 years. However, when we lose someone to traumatic death the finding show that grief peaks at 3 years.

Tools we need for the journey…

  • Take good care of yourself. Keep hydrated (drink plenty of water)
  • Talk with your doctor for recourses. Counseling and medications
  • Don’t judge yourself… much of this time you won’t remember
  • Find at least one person who will listen and has your health and safety in mind
  • Keep open communication… especially if there are children involved
  • At journeys end there are sunrises of Hope and sunsets of Peace.
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