Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Thoughts

When I was a little girl I loved playing with the cats at my grandparents farm.  I enjoyed rubbing their bellies and listening to their gentle, rhythmic purring.  I would pick them up and wrap them around my neck and carry them into the house, where grandma didn't want them!  By the end of our play time I would have an itchy, red rash around my neck and my eyes would be bloodshot and watering.  Grandma would say, "Cindy!  Stay away from those damn cats!  You are allergic to them."  I would tell her, "No I'm not, Grandma--I'm allergic to the chickens."  I hated the chickens--always clucking loudly and fluttering violently around in the chicken coop.  And they would chase me all the way to the farm house--I'd be out of breath and crying, terrified to death!  I couldn't understand how I could be allergic to something that brought me so much joy.

At Christmas we were often the first house to have lights on on our block.  I remember when I was in grade three my two sisters and I were up even before the crack of dawn and ready to open our stockings.  We waited patiently for mom and dad to get up.  When their bedroom door finally opened, out strolled a little black kitten with a tiny diamond of white on her chest, looking like she owned the place.  I said, "Is that for me???"  And mom and dad said she was.  I was so excited!  I never dreamed I would ever have a kitten with my allergies!  It was my most memorable Christmas ever!

Thankfully, over time I seemed to develop a tolerance to my kitty.  I didn't rash up and my eyes no longer watered.  "Taina" was the most wonderful pet.  She would sleep with us under the covers and make you so warm you'd have to throw off the blankets--my own personal heating pad.  There is nothing quite like the unconditional love of a pet.  Through my temperamental teenage years she would lick away my tears.  And when I was fifteen and (although unknown at the time) I had a cyst on my ovary, she knew I was sick and would sleep on the side with the pain.  She lived many, many years.  I was married with one child before she passed away.  Taina was such a blessing to our family and my life.

Now that I'm a parent I chuckle to myself and sometimes wonder what on earth my parents were thinking??!  What if it hadn't turned out so well?  What if I developed asthma and became really sick?  Regardless, I am so grateful they took the chance.  Mom often says it was the best $10.00 she ever spent when they picked Taina up from the SPCA.  This act of love for me gave me many, many moments of unbridled happiness and entertainment which I will forever cherish.  Thanks Mom and Dad for making my Christmas dreams come true!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Life is a Circle

Several months ago I was placed part-time on a very busy medicine unit at the hospital, to assist a coworker with her heavy caseload.  As we started to become more familiar with each other, we shared the reasons we were drawn into social work.  I indicated that I chose this profession because when I was a little girl, our family fostered a little boy from the reserve.  This four year old boy came to our home with a soiled diaper, matted hair and cigarette burns.  He was developmentally delayed and not toilet-trained.  Although I was only about six at the time, I vividly remember he was terrified of the vacuum cleaner, and he loved it when my grandpa rolled him back and forth on the floor.  He experienced his very first haircut while he was with us, exposing his big brown eyes.  Even though he wasn't with us for very long, it was hard to say good-bye, and his memory led me to want to go into the helping profession.  In fact, I wrote about him in an essay for my University application.

With my coworker on the unit full time, and myself half-time, we soon developed an easy method of dividing our caseload.  I simply asked her to pass me the files she would like me to assist her with at random, since she knew the unit best.  One day she gave me the case of an adult male.  I went into his room and as I began my assessment and we started chatting, it was clear to me this man was cognitively delayed, even though there was no indication on the chart.  I could sense something strangely familiar--just a "gut feeling."  And it dawned on me that his first name matched the first name of my former foster brother.  

I told my coworker I thought it might be him, and at her urging I phoned my mom that night to ask his last name.  It was this patient!  I informed my manager of the situation.  I wanted the very best for this patient but at the same time didn't want to do anything unethical; he was my client.  My coworker was reassigned the case and I knew she would take good care of his needs.  He desperately did not want to return to the reserve, and he eventually ended up living away in an assisted living facility, away from his extended family and in our region.

As the weeks passed after his discharge, I felt a calling to be involved in my former foster brother's life.  I couldn't believe the coincidence--of all the hospitals he could go to in the province, out of all the hospitals in the city, out of all the units in our hospital, and of the cases my coworker could randomly pass to me--it was truly a miracle.  And I believe things happen for a reason.  

I called the Alberta College of Social Workers to discuss this dilemma and asked if it was okay to disclose my previous relationship to the patient and become part of his life, especially since he was estranged from his biological family.  They agreed and confirmed the hospital staff, myself included, conducted ourselves ethically.  I went to this man and told him who I was.  He asked why I hadn't told him sooner, and I explained to him that I didn't want to influence his decision on where he wanted to live--I wanted him to do what was best for him without my influence.  

Over the last little while, we have shared some laughs and some short memories from when he was with us.  I can't believe he remembers!--but the details he shared were undeniable.  I spoke about this with another coworker who has extensive experience working in child welfare, and he said we can never underestimate the positive impact a healthy home has on a child, even if he was only there for a short while.

My former foster brother has the most infectious giggle and gentle spirit.  I have helped him pick out winter boots, coat and mitts, we've gone for coffee, and he came for supper with my family to watch the Grey Cup.  He calls regularly and we have forged a new friendship.  Things happen for a reason, and I feel my life has gone a full circle--I am helping the person who has helped me become a social worker.  I am truly blessed.

"Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.
The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars.
The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.
Birds make their nest in circles, 
for theirs is the same religion as ours.
The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.
The moon does the same and both are round.
Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing 
and always come back again to where they were.
The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood,
and so is everything where power moves."

~Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux~

Monday, August 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Bret

It's hard to believe you would be 17 today--my sweet middle child.

When I look at your two brothers here with me, I can't help but wonder what you would look like.
Would you have dimples like your big brother or a strong jaw like your father? 
Maybe I would have a son with blue eyes, glowing like your great grandpa's or grammies'. 

Would you have dark hair like gramps' or fiery red hair similar to your little brother's?  

Perhaps I would have an extra driver in the house to help run your little brother around.  

And what would you choose to do for fun--play baseball or hockey like the other boys?  Maybe neither--perhaps you would be a music fanatic--beating the drums or pounding the piano to the measure of your own tune!

Unfortunately, you were not meant to be here on earth with us--but as your mom I can't help but wonder...

What I know for sure is all you have taught me:

Time is precious--spend it wisely.
It's okay to cry.
Love transcends all we see.
Don't let anyone "should" on you--sometimes we need to do what feels right in order to heal and it doesn't always fit with what other people think.
You are always with me in my heart, fluttering to a different measure.
Comfort can be found in the simplest places: ivory apple blossoms, the silver sparkle of sunshine on snow; the melody of the wind playing with the leaves, the dance of a butterfly, or the easy stream of rain on my face.  

Thank you, child of mine, for these wonderful treasures you left behind. I am forever grateful.

Love you forever,

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wish Bones and Back Bones

"We teach people how to treat us."  ~Life Law #8 by Dr. Phil McGraw

At first blush this statement seems way too simplistic.  True, Dr. Phil has a gift for getting to the heart of matters--but surely this life law ignores the complexities of relationships, especially abusive ones. I used to think this statement blamed the victim--and somehow implied one deserved mistreatment.

Over the years I've come to realize this is not at all what Dr. Phil intended.  Instead, this life law empowers people to take responsibility for the boundaries they set in their relationships.

The most common example of how this works is in parenting our children.  Our little ones learn very quickly what behavior will and will not be tolerated.  For instance, I may decide I will not allow my child to yell at me--and so if my son does this, I will work to extinguish this negative behavior by giving him a "time out" or refusing to consider his request until he speaks to me appropriately.  He will learn, by the boundaries I set, that he cannot treat me this way.

The same holds true for the teacher who sets the tone of his/her classroom.  Some teachers are okay with noisy chatter and others prefer peace and quiet.  Any experienced teacher will tell you that it's important to set out these expectations early on in the school year.

Why should our interpersonal relationships be any different?  If we turn a blind eye to lying and infidelity, to controlling behavior and name-calling, can we really expect to be treated better in the future?  One of my friends spoke of this old adage a few weeks ago, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me!"  It is especially true when we try to shape our personal and professional relationships.

Dr. Phil says, "You either teach people to treat you with dignity or respect, or you do not."  I think we sometimes lose sight of the power we have to shape our destinies in our relationships.  He suggests we take ownership of how people treat us and try to recognize what we are doing to reinforce negative behaviors.  It is never too late to renegotiate the boundaries we set in our relationships; and it's important to be clear and firm. As Dr. Phil so eloquently writes:
"The worst thing you could do is make a lot of noise about changing things, only to revert to the old, familiar, destructive patterns. To talk about change and not to do it is to teach that person to treat your statements and declarations lightly. You will teach him or her to be patient, confident that you will soon give in. Where your relationship standards are concerned, commit to yourself that, although it may be difficult to effect change, you must not compromise. To compromise in this area is to sell out your most precious commodity: you." 
If you find yourself putting up with undesirable behaviors, you need to ask yourself why you think you deserve this treatment.  In my work with abuse victims, I have discovered that sometimes we ignore the behavior not only because we don't realize how intrinsically valuable we are, but also because we keep hoping for change that sometimes never comes.  As such, we then make excuses for the was the alcohol talking...he's been under a lot of stress at work...I shouldn't have provoked him...I haven't been meeting her needs so she went elsewhere...

I love this empowering quote by Kansas-born writer Clementine Paddleford (1898-1967), "Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be."  It's not okay to lose ourselves and compromise our worth.  If you discover yourself in a similar situation, you need to find your backbone and draw a line in the sand with it.  If you are having trouble, there are many resources available to help you create your own destiny--look for assistance.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ode to a Sweet Soul

Sometimes freedom only comes
as the eagle soars over your grave.
Left behind are the downcast eyes
of the orphaned,
bearing the legacy of rusted chains
and pain unspoken.

RIP sweet soul free.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Protecting the Heart

A young couple, Quinn and Sarah, were on the Dr. Phil show yesterday.  Their relationship has been plagued with insidious violence for years.  Imagine a world of rabid name-calling, kicks, infidelity, savage punches, sharp slices with broken glass and stitches to patch up gaping wounds.  Many of us cannot fathom living in such insufferable chaos.  The couple has two young girls who witness the abuse, and are victims themselves.  And believe it or not, the perpetrator is Sarah.

Also on the show were Quinn and Sarah's mothers, both equally concerned about the abuse to Quinn and their granddaughters.  As a way to explain her behavior, Sarah talked about how she was physically abused by her father growing up--brutally beaten with a belt many times.  In fact, Dr. Phil indicated Sarah's dad had been brought up on charges for the abuse.  And yet, Sarah's mother vehemently denied there was any abuse to Sarah when she lived at home.  How could this mother continue to refute the abuse to Sarah when there was ample evidence to substantiate it?  Is she just a liar?  And how could Quinn remain in such an violent relationship, putting his beautiful daughters at risk as well?  

When I worked in the area of family violence, I was asked these types of question many times.  Why do victims stay?  Why do they keep going back?  Why do they protect the abusers?  These are easy questions with complex answers--whole books are written on the topic.  The show today was a poignant example of one reason violent relationships are sustained: denial.

Over the years I have discovered that denial is like a blanket that covers the shame of domestic violence for victims and bystanders.  Once safe, I have had women sit in my office and recount horrific incidences of abuse.  One story would lead to another, and sometimes with gentle probing, a kind touch and an empathetic ear, the flood gates would open up.  I vividly remember one woman responding, "Wow!  I had completely forgotten about that until now...isn't that strange?"

It's really not all that strange, under the circumstances.  Victims tend to minimize the abuse as a way to cope, and sometimes the mind blocks it out completely.   It actually makes sense.  How much would you want to remember having a shotgun held to your head by the one person you loved and trusted?  What if that same loved one knocked your teeth out, or gave you an STD stemming from multiple infidelities?  And what if you stood by and did nothing while your husband beat the tar out of your daughter?

Denial and minimization of abuse can sometimes be diagnosed as Disassociation.  In addition, this type of psychological disconnection is a common symptom of PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Dr. Marlene Steinberg, co-author of The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation--the Hidden Epidemic (2001) makes the argument that dissociation is more widespread than was originally thought as a response to trauma, affecting over 30 million worldwide (  She states it is often is misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep disorder or attention-deficit disorder, thus resulting in years of suffering.

Whether you call it denial, disconnection, dissociation, detachment or minimization--we cannot underestimate it as an important reason victims become desperately stuck.  Sometimes the mind takes over and protects what the heart cannot bear...and so the cycle continues.

“Hope is a higher heart frequency,
and as you begin to re-connect with your heart, 
hope is waiting to show you new possibilities 
and arrest the downward spiral of grief and loneliness. 
 Listening to your still, small voice in your heart
will make hope into a reality .” 

~Sarah Paddison, The Hidden Power of the Heart~

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Lesson Learned

Today I went back and forth with myself, deciding whether or not to visit a patient that is no longer on my caseload, and who is now under hospice care.  I try to be very conscious of the boundaries I set with my work, but his extended family is all out of province and he does not have a wife or children to provide support.  We developed a good connection in a short period of time while he was in acute care, both displaying a "tell it like it is" mentality enveloped in mutual respect.  I eventually decided to go--worried he would have few visitors in his final few days on earth.  Besides, I had an appointment in that area of town--maybe it was meant to be...

I am glad I went.  Although the cancer had metasticized and he was in a lot of discomfort, he said he wanted to "back off" from the pain medication because he had "a lot to think about."  I asked him what he would tell himself if he was sixteen again.  He kind of skirted the topic by sharing what life was really like for him at that age, having just lost his Dad and living with an alcoholic mother whom he loved fiercely.  It sounded like chaos.  But with his incredible spirit he managed to obtain his high school diploma and get a trade.

Unfortunately, he inherited his mother's propensity and led a hard and fast life down that same path--escaping his pain and unfounded insecurities.  He was successful in living the fast life he chose--always finding work to finance the fun.  This brought us back to present day and his losing battle against a cancer that sometimes rears its ugly head in response to a reckless lifestyle.  And so I asked the question from a different angle; what would be the soundest advice he could give my two boys, aged 18 and 14.  His clear blue eyes welled up with tears as he said only two words: "slow down."

As our visit came to a close, he gave me some last minute instructions and I did the same, reminding him, "say what you need to say."  He cocked one eyebrow, smiled and said, "You know I'm good at that," to which I responded, "Yes, I should know that by now."  After we hugged good-bye I walked out into an unusually warm February afternoon and stared up at the brilliant blue sky that reminded me of his translucent eyes.  Then I remembered something my junior high science teacher told our class one day.  At the time my classmates and I thought it was very odd.  Out of the blue Mr. Shandro told us..."Remember to slow down and smell the roses."

Slow down.

Water filled my eyes as I realized I didn't come today just for him.  I came for me--to relearn an old lesson and to validate some recent choices.
Thank you kind sir.

Monday, January 23, 2012

“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
~Ernest Hemingway~

Miriam-Webster describes grief as a "deep sadness especially for the loss of someone or something loved."  Indeed, our minds usually wander to the tragic loss of a very special person in our life, and unfortunately, too many of us have had the misfortune of experiencing this tragedy first hand.  

Over the last year I have come to learn more about other forms of loss--loss that occurs amongst the living.  In particular, I have been honored to work with a group of Head and Neck Cancer survivors, and they have taught me about various shades of loss as they journey through their battle against this brutal cancer.  

Head and neck cancer can include cancers of the esophagus, thyroid or salivary glands, voice box, sinus, mouth, tongue or lips.  Some victims of Head and Neck Cancer are former smokers and/or alcohol consumers, however there is an increasing number of people with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) who are non-smokers and develop this disease.  This is the same virus associated with the development of cervical cancer in women.  Firefighters can also fall victim, and acid reflux disease is also cited as a cause for this brutal cancer.  Head and Neck Cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the United States, and men are about 50% more likely to be afflicted than women.

I have discovered that Head and Neck Cancer survivors face a number of losses.  Many must endure radical surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.  In doing so, aspects of daily life that we take for granted can be severely affected, including breathing, eating, speaking and appearance. 

A poignant example is the cancer patient who has much of their tongue removed.  Tissue from the patient’s forearm is transplanted onto the tongue to assist with swallowing.  Can you imagine trying to eat and talk with this newly-formed mouth?  As a result, many patients grieve the loss of the “simple things” like enjoying an ice cream cone, or sipping a refreshing soda on a scorching hot day (which may cause a burning sensation).  Taste buds are altered and are never the same.  Some have to receive a feeding tube temporarily, while others never regain the ability to swallow. 

Our society seems to revolve around celebrations that include eating or drinking.  Think of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner without the turkey…or birthdays without cake.  Even “going for coffee” is an issue. Those survivors that are able to continue swallowing often take a very long time to eat, or require copious amounts of water to avoid choking because their saliva glands are no longer adequate.  They are at risk of aspiration and illness such as pneumonias, not to mention recurrence of the dreaded cancer. 

In addition to these challenges, the radiation therapy can cause tooth decay, resulting in the loss of teeth. and sometimes requiring radical dental reconstructive surgery.  Patients can go for months or even years without any teeth.  And if the cancer gets into the jaw bone, it must be removed and eventually reconstructed with bones grafted from the leg. 

The oral cancer patient also faces a change in voice and ability to speak.  Some people might wrongly assume they are intoxicated on the phone.  For many, their voice and pronunciation is never the same.

Thus, Head and Neck Cancer patients are “faced” with many losses; including eating, drinking, socializing, talking and appearance.  Undoubtedly these concerns can affect one’s self-esteem, sexuality and everyday functioning.  I am honored to be part of a support group that helps these patients cope with these losses and discover the new beautiful person they are becoming. 

Yes I know Movember just happened and many of you are tired of cancer fundraising.  But Manuary is just as important.  Men grow beards to cover the remnants of their oral surgery—women aren’t quite so lucky in being able to cover up their scars.  I am wearing a beard in my picture to raise awareness.  Won’t you help me raise funds to support treatment of this brutal, less-known cancer?  Please visit, go the to "Donate in Edmonton" link and click in my name: "Cindy Haugen."  A receipt will automatically be sent to you for your generous donation.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Welcome to a new year and my new blog!!!  

Impassioned Wings is a patchwork of thoughts on grief and loss; love and hope; disappointment and inspiration.  I hope you will check back soon for my newest post!

Hugs, Cindy :o)

"Sometimes love is for a moment,
Sometimes love is for a lifetime
Sometimes a moment is a lifetime."
~Martin Luther King~