When Death is Too Overwhelming

And in His will is our peace – Dante

Let’s face it – January has been a month of grief. Everytime I turn on the news, I hear of someone’s passing. Add to it the reality of who we live amongst, and we have encountered clients, colleagues, peers, and family who is grieving someone’s death. One person even expressed, “Ok, January – enough with the deaths! It’s too much.”

There are deaths that occur everyday. There are some that have an incredibly profound impact on us. More than 90% of the time I counsel clients dealing with grief, they ask, “When will I get over this?” My response is always the same – “You won’t. No one gets ‘over’ death. They get through it.” This is part of why death becomes overwhelming. When celebrities die, there is somewhat of a disconnect because we were not proactively engaged in their lives. However, when someone we loved dies, it is difficult to process the positives, negatives, lessons to be learned, after life questions, and all the other issues that surround our process of grief. I have attended many funerals. I have even planned my own. Morbid? Maybe. But, I have. It is something personal for me as there are specific things I want for when I leave this earth. What may be more morbid? I have assigned clients and students to write their own obituary. Why? Because death is a time of reflection. Reflection on life. Reflection on that person. AND, reflection of ourselves. This, in and of itself, is overwhelming. Whenever someone passes away, I always take the opportunity to reflect on the admirable traits that person had. I then, internalize it to the point where I make it an opportunity for me to grow in those traits. Everyone leaves something behind. And, I want all that is good in people to be projected and reflected in who I continue to be on this immortal journey we are living.

So, when death becomes overwhelming, stop. Breathe. Reflect. That person was in your life (directly or indirectly) for a reason. What will you take from it? Some may say, that I am simplifying death. Maybe so. But, I am not uncomfortable with death simply because of my own personal faith. It is a concept or a reality of how I can feel at peace, knowing that we are all here temporarily. The overwhelming aspect of death is knowing that our senses will be physically missing someone we care for. But, our senses and our ability to implement the beauty in others that have gone before us, is what continues beautiful legacies.





Is Being Merciful on Your New Year’s Resolution List?

Happy New Year!! Many of you know that I don’t necessarily participate in New Year’s Resolution Lists. I can appreciate them and I recognize that for many people, the beginning of the year brings a sense of motivation. I make a resolution list every day, week, month…but, constantly hearing and reading various different resolutions throughout the last few days has been good in keeping myself motivated, positive, and strong for our journey to self-actualization.

The last couple of months, I have processed and reflected on my life quite differently. I am a therapist. I am a friend. I am a daughter. A sister. A mother. A wife. All multi-faceted aspects of me that direct my everyday life to always provide care and compassion for another person. And, I am proud of this. But, when Pope Francis declared 2016 as the year of Mercy, for some reason, I was processing this differently.  For an entire year, I trained myself to pray unceasingly and the focus was on the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” My brain prays it repeatedly (especially on days when I am particularly tired of motherhood and irritated with wife-hood!!) It is my mantra, if you will. Mercy was my focus that year because it was the year I did missionary work. Despite it being the most emotionally difficult year of my life, I was able to stop and “smell the roses.” It was easy – standing still in the mountains, overlooking the various lakes and meadows, being hosted by some of the most gracious people in their most exquisite homes. I could not help but grow in humility, accountability, and grace when spending a year with other missionaries doing self-less work. And, yet, that is when we notice ourselves in our selfishness. It was easy to ask God for mercy as I traveled the country. But, as a professional adult who is a wife and mother, the only time I have found myself to “stop” is when I am soaking in my children’s laughter or smelling their sweetness when they sleep, or recording their singing and playing in my memory bank. So, when Pope Francis declared 2016 as the year of Mercy, I could not help but wonder why I could not stop any other time throughout my life. This is what I concluded after much reflection in my prayer time…

The latin word of “mercy” is misericordia. It is derived from two words: misereri, meaning “to have pity on” or “compassion for” and cor, meaning “heart.” The essence of mercy is not an emotional one, rather behavioral  – to help another with kindness and share in their misery, so to help or “rescue” them. I feel this is easy for me – to be merciful to others. To extend compassion and kindness. But, it can be difficult as we grow older and we are constantly faced with struggles, conflicts, stressors, and interpersonal relationships that challenge us. Every family has their struggles, mine included. And when reflecting upon mercy and my morning prayers, I felt compelled to redirect my thoughts. I do not lack in feeling grateful. However, I definitely feel a lack of people feeling grateful for me. With family conflicts, I have found myself taking steps back, being merciful if you will, for years – accomodating, navigating my own personality around other people, appropriately disassociating from judgment, accepting negativity because others don’t necessarily know how to exhibit affirmation and affection comfortably, etc. I found myself being merciful towards everyone. I could not “stop to smell the roses” and feel God’s mercy despite my constant prayer. Why? My conclusion was that I did not extend that same grace of mercy towards myself as I did others. I cannot expect people, my family, in-laws, colleagues to be merciful upon my sad heart, if I could not extend that same compassion towards myself.

So, from a spiritual perspective, I have focused on how to become more merciful – to myself. From a psychological perspective, this makes sense because unless we can take care of ourselves and treat ourselves with honor and respect, we cannot be that for others.

Is being merciful on your New Year’s Resolution List?


Dear Charise – My Family is Not Inclusive

It’s the Holiday Season!! This time every year, my practice doubles with clients. Despite the Holidays being a time of joy and togetherness, it often times conjures up negativity. Since Summer vacation, I have received numerous ‘Dear Charise’ emails regarding family or in-laws not including others in family get-togethers. I have received many more as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. As opposed to responding to individual emails, I thought I would write up a blanket response on how to deal with family members that exclude you.

Though I received emails regarding this topic during the summer, I could not respond. Unfortunately, this is a topic that I relate to and have for almost 19 years now. It is an area in my life that keeps me in check in all facets of how I live, how I perceive relationships, and how I treat people. It also keeps me humble and grateful. How do I deal with this? The same manner in how I guide my clients to deal with it.

First, with regards to your nuclear family – it is true that you cannot pick who your family is. I hope that I never experience or endure feelings of exclusion from my nuclear family. Although, I am aware that with issues of divorce, death, finances, lifestyle choices, politics, and simply an array of conflicting personality traits, that “family time” can very much be contradicting. Remember – you don’t always have to like your aunt, uncle, brother, or sister; but, you are called to love them.

Second – in-laws. This “family” is one you chose. So, navigate cautiously if there has and continues to be ongoing conflict or hurt feelings. I am not an advocate for dancing around a big elephant in the room, nor am I gracious around passive aggressive communication or behaviors. However, many families deal with this and it’s important how you engage in these behaviors because it will affect you more so than your in-laws.

Third – what to do when your family excludes you? I cannot speak with regards to my immediate family. But, with in-laws, some of these tools may be easier to implement.

  1. Ask yourself these questions – Why does it bother you? Would you want to attend that function anyway? Is this event or these people something you would choose to do if it was an option? Sometimes, exploring the truth of your answers make it easier for you to dismiss the personalization of not being included.
  2. Ask yourself what it is about you that makes them not want to include you? When I ask this question to my clients, they come to one of two conclusions. They either recognize what it is about their presence that makes people not want to hang around them, or the most common, is that the issue does not lie with them, but rather the dynamics of that particular family.
  3. Redefine the term “family.” When I was dating my husband, I was adamant about how I viewed family and what I desired for our family when we had children. Much of it was similar to how I was raised where my cousins were my friends and both my parents’ families got together regularly with genuine comraderie. (By the way, my children experienced this recently at my niece’s wedding and were completely mesmerized!) Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed to be raised with this dynamic. When my husband and I were engaged, I actually attempted to break off the engagement due to family conflict. This is where our pastor looked at us and had us redefine what family meant as it was now going to be husband and wife. My husband became much more clear that he Biblically was “leaving his family” to make ME his family. Despite continued conflict throughout our marriage, my husband has remained very consistent to put myself and his children as a priority. We have created our family. Which leads to number 4…
  4. Create a family. My children will not have my childhood experience. Although I would love for them to have some of that, my husband and I have had to create something similar as they grow older and become more cognizant of the fact that we may not be included in some family functions. My husband and I are incredibly blessed with some of the most beautiful, caring, and loving friends. They have become our family in many aspects. They love being with us. We have get-togethers often, we are invited to vacations, we take local day excursions with them, and sometimes, just hang out at home together. It puts our “family” in perspective. Just because someone else may not appreciate you and want to include you when they plan time together, doesn’t mean that there aren’t others who do. We just focus on the people who do.

I hope for all the people who are in my practice, or who have emailed me, that through this Holiday season, you may find love. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a blessing in disguise when people or family exclude you so that it may be easier for you to find love elsewhere.



Why Do People Do Bad Things?

I was having a crap day. I was feeling sad, angry, and disappointed. I was feeling frustrated that people couldn’t care enough about others to make them feel safe, protected, and mostly loved. And then……I come home to the news of what occured in Paris. As my emotions began to rise, I could not help but retrack my memories back to 9/11. An unforgettable day and memories and feelings that after years, still feel raw. Here I sit, four children later, and I am feeling these same feelings again. The difference is that I now have children who are cognizant of the evil in the world. As I sit in front of the tv, my son, asks, “Why? Why do people do bad things?” Ironic that I was thinking the same thought all throughout that day, only on much less of a grander scale. As my son gets older, I see his light dim. The light that without a filter, would smile, and engage with everyone he encountered. A light that believed that all people were good and caring. A light that only saw the joy and happiness in life. A light that believed people wouldn’t intentionally hurt another person. I looked at my son, only to be saddened that his eyes now looked like mine. Jaded.

After trying to process the entire weekend, I could not get myself to sit down and write. I avoided social media because I couldn’t handle the negative comments and people trying to argue points that we should be #prayingfortheworld and not just #prayforparis; people outwardly shaming others for their intentions to exhibit peace; people trying to argue politics and religion. I could not look at anything and so, I didn’t. I kept my focus, knowing full well that my children will not be sheltered from a world of selfishness, evil, contempt, and hatred. A world in which they will feel disappointed by others. A world in which there will be moments that they feel uncared for. A world of prejudice. A world of negativity. I kept my focus on trying to remember what I am called to do, despite self-doubt. I kept my focus on family and love. In the midst of chaos and people’s suffering, I took my children to see a Christmas tree lighting. I had to redirect myself and look into my children’s eyes because what I saw was four young children looking into the lights of a Christmas tree with joy and hope filling their hearts. The true feelings of believing in something beyond ourselves and the world we live in is evident when I look at my children. It was important for me as I continue to feel disappointed in people and our world. But, my role is to show my children that love conquers hate. That love means caring for others, being generous, making people smile, hugging others when they feel alone, complimenting those who are in a dark place, protecting the vulnerable, and being the light and beacon in a world where many see darkness.

I will not allow terrorists, extremists, and overall, selfish and uncaring people to take over MY world. I will not let them invade my children’s, either. So, while we hopefully find some humanity and learn to love together, I will not focus on the evil of the world. Rather, I will give power to love and kindness. I will give power to my children’s laughter. I will give power to my faith in God. I will not argue silly points on social media that want to nit-pick on people’s verbiage of politics, religion, or silly hashtags. I will remember this…..

Do Small Things with Great Love – Mother Teresa


Our Obsession with Celebrity Addicts

Amanda Bynes. Amy Winehouse. Lindsay Lohan. Drew Barrymore. John Belushi. River Phoenix. Whitney Houston. Bobby Brown. James Brown. Kurt Cobain. Cory Monteith. Brittney Murphy. Courtney Love. Tatum O’Neal. Ozzy Osbourne. Richard Pryor. Charlie Sheen. The list could continue to occupy my entire blog post. There is a celebrity addict who struggles every day…

This is the depiction of how we would like to remember celebrities. But, there is a double standard when we depict everyday "real" people and their mugshots or their scarred, thinned out, teethless faces. Photo via yahoo.
This is the depiction of how we would like to remember celebrities. But, there is a double standard when we depict everyday “real” people and their mugshots or their scarred, thinned out, teethless faces. Photo via yahoo.

With the latest news of Lamar Odom, I couldn’t help but channel surf to find the various tones of different news outlets. There was an empathy amongst entertainment “journalists” that I personally found a little dramatic for my taste. Especially considering that I rarely hear this tone when speaking about military deaths, refugees, police dying in the line of duty, etc. Yet, with celebrities who are addicts or are fighting internal demons (as the news outlets like to say), there is an obsession where I cannot turn the channel without hearing about Lamar. I do not mean to sound uncompassionate and I know that I am not, considering that I used to work in the field of drug addiction and occasionally speak at various rehabilitation centers. At the risk of sounding cynical, I would like to ask what is society’s obsession with Celebrity addicts?

I ask because I often times work with family members of addicts. In the general society of “real” people, I tend to hear people speak of addicts with disdain, a lack of compassion, a tone that expresses the burden addicts place on society, etc. It is sad. However, if there is a celebrity struggling, we are all hoping that they get through it and make a comeback. Do we exemplify that same hope for that homeless man, aimlessly high on the corner of that gas station? Do we verbalize compassion with verbiage such as “demons” as opposed to “choices” when we speak of someone we know of that is struggling with substances? Do we believe that celebrities need to hit rock bottom to get better, considering that it is stereotypical to hear the reasoning of hitting rock bottom when we speak of a family member, friend, or colleague? Do we wish to only see celebrities get out of rehab centers or do we wish that all addicts had the opportunity to be admitted into rehabilation?

I ask all of this because it confuses me as to why we would focus so much on celebrity addicts in the news, when we are able to advocate for them in our day to day. We exhibit more concern for Lamar or other celebrities, and yet, our neighbors are struggling the same. The fact is, there just isn’t celebrity addicts that struggle everyday. They are the person standing next to you in line at the grocery store, the homeless person at the gas station, the church goer in the next pew, the professional you are seeking services from, the “real” day to day people you encounter.

So, I leave you with the thought of your role in our society regarding drug addicts. Are you simply a bystander with judgmental or compassionate commentary or do you walk amongst these peoples giving them hope and empowerment to fight on?