5 Aspirations, 5 Gratitudes: A Creative Reflection Exercise

Since starting Trauma to Art, we’ve found that some ideas stick and some don’t. BUT maybe timing has something to do with it. Way back when Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t on twitter and Ashton Kutcher was like totally the only celeb tweeting, we tried to grow a Globalization of Love movement where people would share five things they aspired to do and five things they were grateful for.

It was in response to patterns we observed. We saw many people who came to us were battling more than loss–they were struggling with the people in their lives. And one of the steps to mending relationships is working on yourself. Annoying, I know. It’s all this non-sense about how we can’t control other people. (WHY, GOD?!) I totally agree with you. It’s them, not us. But for posterity’s sake…

Here’s the deal. You write out five things you are grateful for to put into perspective what is going right. Your health. Your friendship. Your brother. Your nephew. Your job. Vanderpump Rules adding more episodes to their season. Thank you, Andy Cohen. We worship you whether we’re brave enough to admit it or not.

Second and final step, you write out five things you aspire to do. From there you can prioritize and say, where do I want to go? Do I want great relationships? Do I want to focus more on my health? Do I want to spend time on that career thingie I said I was going to do when I was five but then gave up on because I think I’m not good enough or I’m not this or I’m not like that? Oh wait, I am good enough.

(Reminder! We fund creative ideas inspired by loss. If you’re thinking about an idea inspired by your trials and tribulations recovering from a devastating loss, we may give you some straight cash, homie. TM Apply here.)

Anyway just the other day we received an email from a t2a-er who read our old post and wanted us to post her aspirations and gratitudes. Check them out below. We’d love to get a collection of several just for fun. Email them to me and we’ll see if can create something cool.  – Lauren, lauren@traumatoart.com


Let’s all thank Uma for giving us some insight into her heart and soul.

I aspire…

1. to have my books and blog touch and impact millions of lives (her website)
2. to be published by Hay House
3. to use my coaching and teaching skills to empower women
4. to moving everyday toward the place of my deep centeredness
5. to make a difference in the lives of people everyday

I am grateful for…

1. my family
2. my talent for expression
3. my health
4. the spiritual awakening I’ve had through my mother’s death
5. teachers, authors, masters, souls that I encounter on my daily journey


Cake: A Film about Loss and Chronic Pain

I love to be above stereotypes… to be an outlier. I aspire to be a person who doesn’t sleep next to her phone or check her instagram feed at dinner. And most times I don’t but occasionally, I do.

My passport and citizenship may be revoked for this but I must have checked my email 10 times during American Sniper. Don’t worry, I was in my living room. Look, there was no character development. I want to care about the characters, don’t make me do all the work. Bradley Cooper did do a fantastic job though.

So when I sat down to watch Cake, a movie about a woman struggling with chronic pain and a significant loss, I did have my iPhone within arm’s reach. But I didn’t pick it up once. I drank a gallon of water right before I sat down but mid-movie I thought, “I’d rather have my bladder explode than miss a line of this movie.” In fact, I’m contemplating watching it again as I write this because I’m afraid I missed something.

Cake has this blend of laugh out loud moments followed by moments where tears stream down your face. It takes the viewer through a complicated story challenging what you think you know about tragedy, heartache and pain.

When we finished watching the movie our only criticism was that we wanted to know more. What happens to Claire (played by Jennifer Aniston)? The other questions would give too much away. I love a movie that gives you something to talk about and this leaves you with a list of fodder to explore. When it’s over, you may stare at the screen for a moment while you regroup.

In an interview Jennifer Aniston mentioned the community of people who cope with chronic pain walk up to her and thank her for her portrayal… and that a movie like this was even made. I can’t imagine many studios were throwing money at a movie where Jennifer Aniston has greasy hair and no make-up.

So what about those of us who don’t know what it’s like to live with chronic pain? We can’t imagine it. We can try but it’s just not possible. I don’t think the point is to ask ourselves, “What if?”  That’s a downward spiral where you imagine you and your loved ones in tragic positions. Your mind can’t help but go there but I took away something else.

It’s a universal lesson that can be helpful for grievers, friends of grievers, anyone really… and that is to go out into the world trying to understand instead of rushing to judge… to be sympathetic and empathetic before we are cynical and offended. That’s a lesson I think we learn over and over in life.

I could describe it scene for scene but I don’t want to ruin any of it. I encourage you to see this film. It’s good for your soul. I’m making my way through the Oscar selections right now and this movie was definitely overlooked for Best Picture and Best Actress in a Lead Role.

Hospice Volunteer Life

To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice. – Khalil Gibran

Last year I spent a great deal of time with a 86-year-old named C. She was my very first case as a hospice volunteer.

You visit and help. Sometimes you help the family because the patient dying can’t communicate. You’re supposed to provide some sense of relief to the person dying, or their family. I think it’s best summed up by something my volunteer coordinator said during orientation, “The best thing about the volunteer is that you don’t know who the patient used to be. You don’t see a person transformed. You see a person.”

Starting in December 2013 I would drive from my apartment in Cambridge over to West Roxbury and visit with her once a week for an hour, or two, or three. We talked about religion, politics and family just like we weren’t family.

Her favorite was complaining about Logan Airport being built on top of where her former beach spot. Aside: The airport opened in 1923 but in the 40s, they expanded it.

After six months she was taken off of hospice because, well, she was still alive.

A month or so later she was put back on but there was an issue. They couldn’t find my TB test so I needed a new one. While the paperwork went round and round, I got busier. Usually cases don’t last months. I wanted to see her but I couldn’t find the time. The other cases they assigned me ended before they started… meaning the patient died before we met.

Then today I received the news that C died two days ago on December 16, 2014. It may sound strange but I was happy for her. C lived with a lot of pain. Her family never visited her and she was bound to her room because of her oxygen tank dependency. She was engaged in a fight with her brother and his wife. Every time we spoke she relived all of her regrets.

She never had children. She never married. But those weren’t the regrets that plagued her. It was the dreams she didn’t follow that haunted her. While to me she lived a fascinating life through the Great Depression and accomplished a lot, she didn’t see it that way.

I write all of this to serve as a preamble for a favor. Pursue your dreams.

How to Be Black: Unconventional Books About Grief

Laughing out loud at things you’re not sure are supposed to be funny but damnit you’re in privacy of your home free to read and laugh at whatever you well please. That’s the experience when reading “How to Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston.

Initially I was drawn to this book because of its underlining message of identity and the universal (ahem my) hatred of being told who you are and what you’re like before you have a chance to spread those peacock feathers and say, “Don’t tell me. I’ll tell you.” Maybe I’m alone but I find it annoying to be told what I’m going through and then given a list of steps on how to “deal” with it.

This theme is common in the few conventional grief books, which is why I wrote a series about unconventional grief books.

The first three in the series can be found on Open to Hope: (1) Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety (2) Imagine: How Creativity Works (3) Change Your Brain, Change Your Mind

When I first lost my mother, library devotee and nerd that she raised me to be, I wanted to read something to inform me about this thing called grief. I had no idea the grief section in the Friendship Height’s Border’s Bookstore would be dwarfed by the dating self-help section.

Relegated to the floor opening books like “When Parents Die.” I was more confused than anything. Story after story, book after book of self-flagellations and over generalizations about my feelings and what I am going through only annoyed me. Adding outrage to depression and sadness is not my idea of helpful, which prompted me to start this mission to find unconventional books to learn about grief.

All of that brought me to Baratunde’s book, “How to Be Black.”

He’s developed a new genre of satire and sarcasm (very hard to pull off in writing, I’ve tried and failed miserably) with a sincere dose of self-reflection. As an aside his father died and he wrote beautifully about the topic.

He has a depth to his writing I envy and admire. Pick up his book because it’s brilliant and because it’s comforting to hear someone far more articulate than any of us talk about what it’s like to be told who you are instead of having the opportunity to tell others who you are. His lessons on finding ways to be empathetic and helpful rather than condemn those whose only fault is ignorance will inspire you, or at least it inspired me. You tell me what you think.

Buy How to Be Black here!


What Being a Hospice Volunteer Has Taught Me

You might think I’m about to tell you a terrific story about an experience with one patient that changed my perspective on life and now I know why the caged bird sings. Well, I haven’t a clue.

So far the EXACT. OPPOSITE. is true.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve experienced special moments but honestly I don’t know what to route for. We’re supposed to want people to stay alive, right? And I do. I will miss her, correction I would miss her if I didn’t have my regular Thursday morning meet-ups anymore. At the same time, she’s sick. She’s unhappy. She’s lonely. She wants to be with her family but she is confined to her room. So what’s worse? Spending your days in agony just waiting for death or death itself?

My patient was put on hospice almost a year ago. This is rare. Usually you only go on for six months and if there is no decline they take you off. Crazy enough — when they take you off, you get worse, then you’re back on. They made an exception in this case though and she hasn’t been taken off.

Some people see clients for one week. I’ve been seeing this client since December.

I’m baffled by how entrenched she still is with the day to day. I would be pontificating on the meaning of life endlessly. Knowing me I’d be rehashing every last one of my love affairs from first grade onward. I’d think why didn’t I just relax more (advice I could use every day.)

She and I have moments where she talks about regrets and different choices she made along the way.

Honestly I can’t say I’ve come up with any grand realizations. That’s not why I decided to become a volunteer but I feel some pressure to have brilliant things to say about the experience. When people ask me about it I kind of look up to the ceiling as if to say I think about it and I haven’t come up with any thoughts worth expressing just yet. But give me time, I promise. That’s what I say as they’re running from me in utter disgust.

However two things have become abundantly clear to me since I started:

(1) You will continue to be in conflict with your family until the day you die. Even if you feel you’ve done everything right, they still will let you down because they’re all human like us. If we want other people to remember all the good in us, we have to look at them through that same lens.

(2) No matter how old you are, when you wake up in the morning you don’t know what the day holds. Your day could be completely ordinary until that moment when you’re totally blown away thinking, “Life is so weird and fun. I think I’ll do this again tomorrow.” That was my day today.

I was listening to my hospice patient. She has three or four stories she likes to loop through. Then all of a sudden she said our conversation reminded her of this poem Tress, and she proceeded to recite it to me!

She learned the poem when she was 13 at a school in the South End in 1940. I ended up leaving late and getting stuck in traffic, which was a bummer because I’m behind on work assignments. Freelance assignments. Trauma to Art assignments but the delay was so worth it.

And now I give you Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.