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This post was written on September 30, 2017.

Ever since I read Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning, and then later took the Foundations 1 Course through The MEHRIT Centre, I’ve started to see my personal and professional world through a Self-Reg lens. As Doug Peterson even commented in one of hisThis Week In Ontario Edublogs posts, self-regulation is a topic that has made its way into almost all of my blog posts recently. That said, no matter how many times I may have discussed this topic, I don’t think that I’ve ever thought about Self-Reg more than I have over this past week. It was this week that I lost my dad

This weekend, I’m getting ready to fly out to Ottawa for the funeral on Monday. Over the past week, I’ve engaged in many conversations about this upcoming service, and as the day gets closer, I find myself seeing this experience through The Five Domains, and contemplating the stressors across these domains. 

First there’s the Biological Domain. The funeral is taking place in Ottawa, and so, I decided to fly there so that I don’t have to drive alone. The small size of the airplane, the closeness to other passengers, the heat inside the plane, and the combinations of smells are all stressors for me. Couple this with the fact that I’m also fighting a bad cold and an infected spider bite. I know that I’m going to need to do a lot of standing at the funeral, but the bite on my leg swells more with more pressure on it, so thinking about ways to elevate it while still meeting funeral requirements is causing some additional stress. 

Next there’s the Emotion Domain. As you can imagine, it’s already been a very emotional week, and I know that it’s going to be even more emotional with the funeral and family gathering on Monday. My sister and I are working together to write a eulogy for Monday, and just the thought of delivering it is bringing me to tears. Knowing that I’m going to need to stand up in front of so many family members and friends of my dad while also being so emotional, is definitely a stressor. I just hope that I can do this for my dad.

Then there’s the Social Domain. I find unstructured social situations to be very stressful anyway, but with the additional emotional demands of the funeral, I’m even more anxious about this. I haven’t seen my dad’s side of the family in many years, and have only spoken to a few people in between this time. While funerals can bring people together — and I’m definitely glad that we can be brought back together for my dad — the small talk and deeper conversations that are sure to come in the next few days are certainly causing stress. 

After that, there’s the Cognitive Domain. My dad is Jewish, and he will be having a Jewish funeral. While I have memorized a few Hebrew prayers over the years, I can’t read Hebrew, so have yet to learn any new ones. I think that I was a young child the last time that I attended a Jewish funeral, so I’m lacking the schema for what’s to come. As part of the ceremony, my sister and I have to say Kaddish. I searched online for this prayer the other day, so that I would know what to expect.

Even though I’m a very proficient reader, love grammar, and can decode many words phonetically, I think that my lack of schema around the Hebrew language coupled with my lack of understanding of the prayer, makes learning Kaddish particularly challenging and incredibly stressful. 

Finally, there’s the Pro-Social Domain. As someone that’s grieving for my dad, I can definitely empathize with others that are devastated. That said, the people that I’ll be connecting with the most in the coming days are ones that I have not spoken to, emailed, or seen in many years, which often leads to awkward connections. I want to be able to connect, but I wonder if the “distance” from the past will make this more challenging to do so. Uncertainty about what to expect leaves me feeling stressed. 

The interesting thing about this entire experience is that regardless of how many stressors have been at play, my understanding of Self-Reg has actually made this week better. I knew that I couldn’t go through this alone. While I have many things that make me feel calm — from quiet coffees to blogging to reading — this was a time where co-regulation made a difference. School made this past week better. 

  • I needed the smiles, the laughs, the learning, the hugs, and the love that come from 27 Kindergarteners, their amazing parents, and my incredible colleagues. 
  • I needed to be surrounded by normal so that I could deal with many different and difficult times. 
  • I needed to listen to those many people that offered to help, and accept this help. (For example, thanks to the wonderful mom that happens to speak Hebrew, and wrote out the Kaddish for me, so that I can hopefully read it with success.)

This was not a case of neglecting to deal with this unexpected death. I’ve grieved — a lot — and I will grieve even more in the coming days, months, and years, but just like many of us grieve differently, we also self-regulate differently. This past week, I needed the calmness that comes from interactions with and support from others. Susan Hopkins often speaks about “soft eyes.” This week, I’ve needed to be kind to myself, know that I couldn’t make it through this mourning alone, and find some “calm” even in the midst of so much stress. On Monday, it will likely be my sister’s support that makes the difference. 

We’re all human, and sometimes life is challenging, devastating, and/or unfair. But seeing these life experiences through a Self-Reg lens makes us more aware of our feelings, and often, makes things that much better. How has Self-Reg helped you? Shanker’s Self-Reg is not just for kids, and I wonder if the more we realize this, the better we understand the needs of our children AND ourselves.

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