When Life is Difficult or Unkind, I Turn Toward the Sun Like a Sunflower.

15 Jun

"I want to be like a sunflower so that even on the darkest days, I will stand tall and find the sunlight."  - Unknown

As I was deleting old photos on my phone the other day, I came across the photo of a senior living resident I used to work with.  Her name was Susan.  Susan lived a tortured life in her last chapter.  

By the time I met her, she was in her seventies and suffering from bipolar disorder.  Her disposition would vacillate between that of a sunny sky and a storm in an instant.  One minute she would be quiet, soft, and kind. She would pick a wildflower from the side of the road on her walk back from Starbuck’s and place it on my desk.  She would buy someone lunch or a gift out of appreciation.  And, she would give a compliment on your outfit, or thank you for your hard work.  She would even crack a joke or two until the table of residents at pokeno would erupt in laughter.

The next minute she would be an angry tornado.  She would whip through the halls, crashing her walker into anyone who dared to cross her path.  She would scream at the top of her lungs so loudly that you could hear her from your office with the door closed. She would threaten to kill herself or threaten to get you fired. She’d even make people cry.  She would yell at staff and residents, calling them names or calling them “stupid.”  Residents and staff alike would hold their breath when she entered the room, not knowing when she’d bring the thunder.

The focal point of her anger was grief and regret.  Her behaviors over the years strained her relationship with her youngest daughter.  When Susan had a bad fall, her daughter placed her in senior living so that she could get assistance.  Susan never forgave her for that decision.  As a result, she has called screaming at her multiple times.  In turn, the daughter wanted nothing to do with her.  She refused to visit, and she even kept her three-year-old daughter from seeing her as well.  Susan was constantly upset about not being able to see her only granddaughter.

Her strained relationship also triggered her grief.  Her youngest daughter was the only family Susan had left.  She had already lost her two older children when they were both in their thirties.  They both died as a result of a rare heart defect that no one knew about until it was too late.  

Her first child was a son, an avid runner.  In fact, I  remember after working with her closely my first few months on the job, she walked up to her room and came back with a framed photo of her son in the last marathon he ran before he died.  I remember it was a big deal for her to share that photo and story with us. She had never opened up about him before.  

The second child she lost was her daughter, Meredith.  She was especially close to this daughter. Meredith worked on movie sets as a production assistant.  The biggest compliment I received from Susan was when she told me that going to the movies with me reminded her of watching movies with her daughter.  I almost cried.

The other thing she told me about Meredith was that the sunflower was her favorite flower.  Anytime we saw a sunflower in the store or if I bought them as decorations for an event, Susan would bring up Meredith.  In fact, I’d catch her wheeling up to the flower bouquets the residents, pluck a sunflower from its vase, and it in  trunk of her walker every chance she had. For her birthday, I’d buy a cake decorated with a sunflower design, knowing it would lift her spirits.  One year, we drove out to the cemetery where Meredith was buried so that we could put sunflowers on her grave.

Known for being “happy” flowers, sunflowers are believed to bring good luck, especially when given for special events like graduations, moving into a new house, or starting a business.  A big reason for this is their unique trait called heliotropism.  In its bud phase, sunflowers seek the sunshine.  These cheerful yellow flowers will even turn to face the sun.  In fact, the French word for sunflower is “tournesol,” which means “turns with the sun.” Therefore, they are also believed to bring joy and a sunny disposition to whomever you give them to.  In Susan’s case, that couldn’t be any more accurate. Because it would remind her of her Meredith, she would light up at the mere sight of a sunflower.

When Susan died from lung cancer nine months ago, I missed the opportunity to say goodbye.  To be honest, I couldn't muster the courage to see her in her fragile state.  Despite the difficulties I had managing her behavior during activities at the senior living community and its impact on other residents, I still had compassion for her condition and the loss of her family in my heart.  They say the people who challenge you the most are your greatest teachers.   I chose to be a family to her as much as I could, knowing she felt so alone, especially from pushing people away.  Now, I choose to be grateful for Susan teaching me patience, persistence, and purpose.  Because of her, I learned that love, kindness, and compassion were the greatest commodities to carry through this life, especially in the most uncomfortable chapters.

Now, every time I see a sunflower, I think of Susan.  I choose to believe she is finally reunited with her children.  I choose to believe they walk through a never-ending field of sunflowers.  And, most of all, I choose to believe she is happy and at peace.

When life is difficult or unkind, turn toward the sun like a sunflower. As your face bathes in its golden glow,  your spirit will be energized with hope and positivity.  Let the light nurture your growth and ignite your strength from within. Tall and regal, stand proudly in its brilliance, but bow in humility and compassion. And, with your petals outstretched, accept love in its warm embrace.  

Live, Love, and Lead with Aloha.

To Say Your Daily Aloha:

Take a deep, cleansing breath. Inhale for three counts and exhale for four, then repeat for at least two more cycles. (You can also try 3-4-5 breathing: Inhale for three counts, hold for four counts, then exhale for five counts.). Then, say Your Daily Aloha Affirmation out loud at least three times. For a more powerful session, look at yourself in the mirror as you say this affirmation. You can even add smiling to help retrain your brain and boost happiness.*

You can also say this affirmation as you face a problem or situation head-on or repeat it throughout the day.

Do whatever makes you feel empowered, my Pineapple!

What is a Daily Affirmation:

A daily affirmation is an easy tool you can incorporate into your life to empower you to greatness. When used regularly, affirmations will help you build courage and confidence, pursue your goals and dreams, and live, love, and lead with aloha! Saying positive statements out loud daily can also improve your well-being by boosting your mood, lifting your spirits, and helping you to cultivate a more positive attitude. Your Daily Aloha Affirmation is the game-changer you need to create more positive thoughts, actions, and outcomes in your life! Use today's affirmation or find another that resonates with you in the "Your Daily Aloha Blog" section of this website.

* Scientists say smiling creates a happiness feedback loop in our brains. When we smile, our facial muscles fire a signal back to the brain, which increases levels of happy hormones, or endorphins.

The loop: When our brain feels happy, we smile; when we smile, our brain feels happier.  Thanks to this feedback loop, we can alter our brain's emotional processing pathway to feel happier with a simple smile. Smiling also helps reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and heart rate.

Did you know?:  The happiness level that a smile can bring to our brains is estimated as equivalent to that of having 2,000 bars of chocolate.

Source: "What's the Science Behind a Smile?" (BritishCouncil.org)

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