creativity

From Grief to Grace: A Mother’s Devoted Dedication to Keeping Her Creative Late Daughter’s Spirit Alive

While I’ve often talked about transition here on my blog, the transition one goes through when losing a loved one is undoubtedly the most difficult one we will ever endure.

I’m so honored to share with you, and also reminded, that even when the heart endures one of the greatest losses – that of a child – that somehow, someway, one can find their way back to finding joy again.

And so it is with my friend Monica, whose dear daughter, Lena, died unexpectedly from meningitis at the age of twenty-two in 2003.

It was the creative and magical imagination of Lena, that would carry Monica to where she is today to begin to experience joy once again in sharing the story Lena penned at the young age of ten, Hoofen Floofen Island.

The blessing of Lena, her creativity, and the many gifts she left behind for her mom, who misses her everyday, is what helped Monica to know that even when life is really hard and feels so unfair, that the magic of life can be experienced once again with courage and grace.

It was truly an honor to recently sit down with Monica in my writing cottage and talk about the book she co-authored with Lena, and the journey this has been for her which helps her to continue to heal.

Here is the interview. I hope you will enjoy!

Monica and Lena’s book is available on Amazon today with all the proceeds benefiting the Lena Kay Rufus Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

The fund was established in 2003 at InFaith Community Foundation (formerly the Lutheran Community Foundation). 

InFaith Community Foundation is a national charity with a mission to serve donors, spread joy and change lives. Together with donors, InFaith now grants $16 million annually to charities serving local, national and global communities. 

About Monica:

Monica Sword is Lena’s mother. As a writer and artist,  she shows others how they can mindfully find their way to a happier and more fulfilling existence. 

Her life was not always this way.

Three family members’ deaths at an early age caused her great sadness, especially the death of her only child, Lena. She struggled to balance home life with a challenging career. Several physical manifestations and discontent from this imbalance contributed to losing her way. She yearned to create a deeper connection with nature, the universe, and people. 

She tried everything from happy pills to talk therapy. Important life relationships started and ended. Her library was full of self-help books. She tried going “back to school”. She set up a basement studio thinking she would surely make time to be creative. While these activities kept her busy and much was learned, nothing really stuck. 

Then she discovered the problem wasn’t with her work ethic or what she thought people expected of her. The problem was how she was applying her conscientious, high-achieving style. 

Once she saw that honoring her passions, being mindful of her emotional reactions to life events and focusing on total self-care are applicable to a conscientious and high-achieving lifestyle, she developed a creative mindset that helps her do her best work.  

Although her grief experience is on-going, her life now has a wonderful flow of writing, painting, drawing, and connecting with people.  

About Lena:

My name is Lena Kay Rufus. Since March 28, 2003, I no longer live on Earth. On that day, quickly and unexpectedly, I passed away from meningitis.  

During my childhood, I enjoyed being around farm animals as well as living on the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Northern Wisconsin. I played Suzuki violin during first grade. I loved going to school and excelled in most subjects. 

Although my life was short, my accomplishments were many. I was active at Washburn High School where I studied diligently. I was able to spend most of my senior year enrolled in courses at Northland College. I played the clarinet and after learning French, traveled to Paris. I served as an officer in several high school clubs and associations. I was a Stanford University student at the time of my passing. As you can see, education was crucial to me.

On April 1, 2000, my life celebration ceremony took place on my home reservation. I said goodbye to hundreds of people I loved dearly. There are too many loves to mention except for Mom and Dad, who supported me in all aspects of my life. On this date also, the tribal elders honored me with the Ojibwe name of Ogitchidakwe, warrior woman. 

Look for the “Lena Speaks” area on Life is a Pretty Word for selected pieces written throughout my life. Mom thinks I was a good writer although I never thought so. 

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A Welcome Surprise Creating My Own Mala Beads

What a treat I gave myself yesterday by taking a Mala Intensive class at JSM BeadCoop with teacher Mary Jo Zagozen. My mom also joined me which was such a special way to spend time together.

What I really appreciated about this class, besides making our own personal mala’s, was all the information given to us during the class and in the handouts that I devoured with eagerness last night.

I’m really beginning to grasp that there are so many ways in which one can practice being mindful. I’ve certainly discovered that in my yoga practice, forms of meditation I do, creating SoulCollage cards, and working with oracle cards, which are part of my rituals.

What I didn’t expect yesterday was how meditative it would be in actually creating my mala beads. From choosing our beads, of which I chose honeycomb agate as I was drawn to the softness of the color which I paired with sandalwood beads which are about compassion and courage, and are traditionally used in making mala’s.

In the traditional mala, 108 beads are used, of which there are many fascinating reasons why. Just to share a few here that I learned and found interesting:

  • There are said to be 108 earthly desires in humans.
  • Some say humans have 108 feelings; 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
  • The chakra centers are where energy lines intersect, and there are said to be 108 energy lines which meet to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, which is the path to self-realization and enlightenment.
  • The number 1 represents God or higher Truth, 0 represents emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 represents infinity or eternity.

There are oodles of other reasons that I could share here as I was in awe of all the connections with 108! But back to my discovery of it being meditative in actually making my mala.

Placing a knot after each bead, at first, I thought would “take too long.” My desire to get my mala made so I could get using it, was first and foremost on my mind. But as I began to make the knots and place bead by bead on the string, I was moved to a peaceful place within. It was so relaxing! I truly didn’t expect this to happen because oftentimes when creating I’m too busy looking ahead to the finished result.

What a welcome respite of knotting and connecting with each bead as I put together my mala. Just writing about this I feel myself transported to the calmness of the experience again.

And another leap for me when I used my mala beads in meditation this morning. I’ve never been able to mediate in silence. I either have earbuds in listening to something on the Insight Timer app or I pick a soothing station on Pandora to listen to while I sit.

But today I took my mala beads in hand with no music. With my mantra I gave thought to this morning which is something I am working on for myself, then closing my eyes, and bead by bead I ran my middle finger and thumb across each bead pulling my mala beads toward me, repeating silently to myself my intention.

When I was at the end where the “guru” bead sits, a wave of gratitude washed over me as that bead is not to be gone over, but rather used to take a moment to thank our teachers and/or higher spirit.

Now I’m looking forward to making more mala beads for myself – not only for the beauty of them, but really for the fact that I was pleasantly surprised by the double meditative process of it – once in creating and then in using them.

And one last thing, besides getting yourself to a Mala bead class if this calls to you, which I have a feeling JSM BeadCoop will offer again as it was a big hit, is a great book about how mala beads helped change one authors life, check out The Magic Mala by Bob Olson.

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Allow Nature to Seep Deep into Your Bones and Fill You with Peace

Allow Nature to Seep Deep into Your Bones and Fill You with Peace
The peaceful pond at LaValley Nature & Equine Sanctuary

Living in Wisconsin where winters can be sooooo long, I come alive in a new way once warmer weather is here. And I do my best to soak in as much as a I can while it lasts.

And why I’m looking forward to facilitating a workshop in nature with my friend and co-facilitator, Rachel Nick next week Saturday. I’m especially excited about this one as it will be happening at the wonderful non-profit Rachel is founder of, LaValley Nature and Equine Sanctuary.

I really appreciate the sanctuary’s mission: to preserve land for plant, wildlife, equine and permaculture use while inspiring others to do the same. We offer a permanent, safe and natural environment for aged horses to retire and live out the rest of their days peacefully.

In May after doing a private yoga session with Rachel at her sanctuary (yes, she also teaches Yoga!) she invited me to walk the 20 plus acres of her property. Rachel and her partner, Jeremy keep paths mowed along the property which take you to a quaint pond, past many beautiful trees, butterflies, birds and whatever else nature just may surprise you with as you walk the peaceful and serene land. Eventually you wind around the fences with the perfect view of the horses that eventually wind back to the front of the picturesque sanctuary.

During this relaxing workshop, you will be invited to play with creativity and make your own unique walking stick with sticks chosen especially for you from Rachel’s property. We will then take you on a guided visualization to begin the process of connecting you with your heart and then gently guide you into your walking meditation in nature.  Our intention is to help you connect heart-to-hand-to walking stick, to mindfully placing your feet upon the earth and connecting with all of natures healing energies to renew your spirit.

Your guides:  Barbara & Rachel with Dancer and Hank in the background

In our world that has us believing that rushing and getting ahead is what matters, Rachel and I are passionate about helping you to slow down, open to the beauty around you and really see and feel the exquisite influence of nature, allowing it to seep deep into your bones, and fill you with a peace that will have your spirit rejoicing.

We hope you can join us!  Click here for more details and to register today. We look forward to seeing you!

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