glowing holiday candles

Grace Notes #15 — November, 2023

Upcoming News:

Our next Grace Street Event is coming up on 11/30 from 6–7:45, at the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA. The reading will be cosponsored with the Cancer Connection, with some of the proceeds going to support their work. Books are available at Broadside Books in Northampton, or by ordering through Andover Bookstore, Belmont Books, or through our website.

I hope to see some of you there! More info can be found here.

Hello from nearly the end of November!

         And WHAT a time we are living. How are you holding up? It seems the whole earth has taken a sharp turn into grieving since the last newsletter. We are dealing with a tsunami of emotions since the horrific attack of 10/7 on Israel and its terrible ongoing aftermath. The current humanitarian pause provides some hope for peace.

In the wake of this I also lost a patient who I’ve been seeing for many years, whose cancer diagnosis came on strong and who ran out of road in just a few months. So, planetary grief and personal grief.  Not sure about you, but it leaves me more anxious, more close to tears, and wondering with more of a sense of urgency: What can one person do to manage the emotion and have some impact on events, or at least, on the general environment of anxiety soup we are all swimming in?

         It is a very serious question. How then am I, one little human unit, to respond when the very world seems to be quaking with grief, loss, and various shades of outrage, with all that attends that furnace of feelings? At a very basic level, how do we take care of our nervous systems in this time? So that, from there—what we think of in mental health world as more “regulated” place—we can figure out what piece we can each do to support the stricken and to act from a place of meaning ourselves? As a therapist, I struggle to find that place to stand in, so that I am better able to help others to navigate these turbulent waters.

Presenting at The Private Practice Colloquium.

Pushing well outside my comfort zone, I recently gave a talk to my professional organization on the North Shore, The Private Practice Colloquium (, “The Therapist as Mourner.” We talked about the myriad and deeply individual ways we find, each in our particular human body, to downshift, or to uplift. And in this particular moment, whether you are sitting with fear for the hostages and grief for those lost in the attack or in the counterattacks, what are the secret, quiet, nearly invisible ways—or outward, concrete actions you find to manage the pain and anxiety of the moment?

In the north shore discussion, I mentioned a few of the ways I coped when my sister was dealing with cancer treatments. I carried a china teacup in my backpack so I could make a decent cup of tea at the hospital. I carried lavender essential oil as well, so that we could have that comforting smell in the not-so-wonderful hospital rooms. I let myself look forward to some chocolate cream pie at 4 o’clock in the cafeteria.

I slipped into the tiny ‘chapel’ at the hospital—really just a room with a handful of chairs and a non-denominational ‘altar’—to sit in the quiet to pray or cry or just sit. I did this frequently. Small ways to acknowledge the pain, so I was better able to be present at Kathy’s side in all she was enduring.

We have the season of many holidays already upon us, calling us to celebrate in the midst of all this. Diwali, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanza, and I’m sure others I am still unaware of. Perhaps we can use the focus of the holidays/holy days to help us to think: How do we make space to honor whatever, to us, is ‘holy’? How are we called to make soft, subtle changes in how we are living day to day? And to do so not only for ourselves, but seriously, for the good of everyone who comes in contact with us, and if you take that further, for the quietening of the climate around us? What is the heart of this season for each of us, and how does that inform how we use our time, as poet Mary Oliver so memorably asked, in this “one wild and precious life”?

As always, my friends, I invite you to sit and breathe with, and write about these wonderings, with whatever your version of these questions may be. My dear friend, psychologist Barclay Braden, penned a book about using non-dominant hand writing to access your own well of inner guidance. It is called Faith at Hand: Finding My Way to Depth Journaling (available here).

Try experimenting with writing your questions or concerns with the dominant hand, and switching to your non-dominant hand to write in reply. Yes, it’s awkward, and even a bit messy, but the point is to slow things down and invite both sides of our brain/nervous system, or your head and your heart, into the conversation. You may be quite surprised with what you “hear” back from yourself.

Some pieces of writing are in themselves, ‘candles,’ bringing a glow to our chest where there was sadness before. For me, this is one of those. I love the work of  Jan Richardson and once again, my thanks for her permission to share.


If we cannot
lay aside the wound,
then let us say
it will not always
bind us.

Let us say
the damage
will not eternally
determine our path.

Let us say
the line of our life
will not always travel
along the places
we are torn.

Let us say
that forgiveness
can take some practice,
can take some patience,
can take a long
and struggling time.

Let us say
that to offer
the hardest blessing,
we will need
the deepest grace;
that to forgive
the sharpest pain,
we will need
the fiercest love;
that to release
the ancient ache,
we will need
new strength
for every day.

Let us say
the wound
will not be
our final home—

that through it
runs a road,
a way we would not
have chosen
but on which
we will finally see
so long practiced,
coming toward us,
shining with the joy
so well deserved.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief. Also in the interest of sharing some favorite things, here are two “Advent” themed resources:

An Illuminated Advent with Jan Richardson.

Advent Dark Journal with Suzi Banks Baum.

(If readers know of others that honor different traditions, please feel free to share those in the comments below.)

Celebrating Tony’s birthday, another very special holiday in our world, with beloved family.

Sending the season’s warmest light and wishing you peace,


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