Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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A couple weeks ago I was at a fundraiser and offered to sell 50/50 tickets. In the process, I met a gentleman who Brigette and I ended up having a meeting with. He is the epitome of the Bitter and Sweet message. Turns out, 14 years ago he lost his 17 year old son to cancer. During that time, they had a fundraiser and had extra money left over after paying what they needed to. They decided to create a foundation and have been raising money ever since. They average about $80,000 every year! They help families that have children with cancer. He said they help 40-50 families a year. Can you imagine?

If you go to, you can see a link to his site. It’s called The Matthew Foster Foundation. Inspiring guy. Inspiring family. Talk about taking tragedy and doing something good with it. Thanks for your example Burt!

This week, I spoke with someone who had read my book. I love hearing stories about how it has touched people. Each one has its own nuance, just a little different twist. I asked if I could share her reflections because it was a new thought that I loved hearing.

She is a cancer survivor. A young woman, maybe not even thirty yet. She had breast cancer and it was quite a story. After she had mentioned some of the things in the book she could identify with, she articulated the gift that was in the reading for her. She has an amazing support system around her- family, friends, significant other. They took care of her during her illness but she said in the back of her mind, she always thought it must have sucked for them to have to give up their time and energy for her. Bitter and Sweet seemed to release her from that. She realized when she read from a caretaker’s perspective, that people resent the disease, but never the person who suffers from it.

We were able to talk some more about that. I don’t know why I never thought to put this in my book, but I often say when I am speaking, that I love what I do for a living. Being a counselor is very rewarding. I am proud of the fact that I help people keep their families together, resolve grief and conflict, etc. I feel good about that when I hit the pillow every night.

BUT THERE IS NOTHING MORE SACRED THAN HAVING THE PRIVILEGE OF HELPING SOMEONE DIE WELL. I’ve never done anything more important with my life. I probably never will. Yes, it was hard. But this not a cliche- it was an honor to care for Tim and be on the journey with him.

So thanks for sharing your stories with me. And I hope this particular woman breathes a little easier these days, knowing it was ok to let the people that love her take care of her. Yea for humanity!

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Sunday I had a speaking engagement with a very unique group of individuals, then shared a potluck supper with them. The energy was great and the dialogue was flowing.

Monday we went to a spirituality and health type conference. It was our first experience with a conference and we had no idea if it was a good investment of our money and time. I left the house at 7:15 AM and returned home at 5 PM. Again, it turned out to be great. We sold books but also made a boatload of contacts that I think were perfect for us.

Monday night I had clients. Good sessions. I walked in the house and Frankie was already upstairs for the night. I went up and said goodnight and begged him for a hug, which he reluctantly gave me. Then I walked downstairs and collapsed in bed, but I was in tears. And I had no idea why.

Tuesday morning I went to a session with my spiritual director. Just what I needed. I told her the events of the last couple of weeks since I’d seen her. I felt a little out of sorts, but mostly I thought I was just plain exhausted. The cool thing was, that she had attended my talk Sunday night so she had a first-hand view of what I do these days.

It’s always fascinating when I go see her. She was extremely supportive and complimentary about the skills she saw on Sunday. When we started our “work” together, she said the first image that came to mind was that of a big coal stove. She said I’m shoveling coal in it like crazy. I’m working hard and doing a good job. However, the same work could be done by solar energy. Light. Light itself is full or imagery that is endless. As we continued to talk, she said that I need to be vigilant about remembering that my source is The Light, A.K.A. God. I will still be tired at the end of the day, but I need to remember not to rely on my own strength. My work is utimately about being vulnerable. It is good and I am reaching people, but it truly is exhausting. Stay connected to the Solar Energy. She is so very, very wise.

Later that day I got an email from a dear friend of mine and Tim’s. He wanted to know how things were going, but also wanted to tell me how the book launch had impacted him. He was having his own minor symptoms that he had been ignoring. He decided to go to the doc and is now making some necessary changes in his life to take care of some medical issues he is facing. He wanted me to know that he got off his butt and was inspired to take steps after seeing my presentation. I thanked him for letting me know. This was a new type of story and I love hearing about the endless ways that our story is putting positive energy out there for others.

So… moral of the story? It’s good to be tired from a job well done. Stay connected to God and watch the fruits of your labor. It’s worth it!


You Just Never Know

So when I thought about writing Bitter and Sweet, Brigitte had me start reading books on writing books. There seemed to be an assumption in them that authors will write more than one book. I would explain to Brigitte that I wasn’t an author by profession and I would only be writing one book. She would just plant a seed with something like “Well, you never know.”

Then I started writing Bitter and Sweet, and I kept fighting myself. I did not WANT to write more than one book, but it was becoming very clear to me that my story was really two totally different topics. Bitter and Sweet became a book about facing a terminal illness, being a caretaker, a patient advocate. That really is different from the grief you deal with afterwards. In spite of my best efforts, I had to admit I had two books in me.

In the meantime, Brigitte keeps planting seeds about the next book after that and I keep reminding her there are only two books. She finally said that she already knows what the third book is- a book about all the stories that come to me because of the book I’ve already written. Damn her! That’s actually a good idea. And she was smart enough to say it to me the day after I heard this story.

The gentleman gave me permission to blog about this provided I took the usual care to change names. He was a contact I met through marketing bookstores. Some stores want to read the book before they will agree to try and sell it and he was one of those people. I called back to follow-up with him and ended up having a lengthy conversation with him.

He had only read about 90 pages of Bitter and Sweet but his first comment was that the title was perfect. He was weepy throughout his tale. Turns out he lost a son in an accident, and then his wife the year before Tim died. It happens almost every time I talk to someone about my book- they have a story to share. Who hasn’t been touched by cancer/death in some way?

He said the book was going to take him a while to finish. Generally, people either say they couldn’t put the book down and finished it very quickly, or they say it touches very close to home and it will take them a while to slowly digest it. He said the book was causing him to think about things that he has pushed down for awhile and that he believes God will use the book to help people heal. Wow. That would make my heart soar.

Then here’s the kicker. He was reading the section of the book where I described how Tim and I bought an adjustable bed. It was a big deal at the time because after he was diagnosed, we weren’t really able to sleep in the same room anymore. Tim had to sleep more upright and had great difficulty. So it was a day for celebration when we got the new bed and could lay side by side again.

The night that this man read that section, he had a dream about his wife. It was a very vivid dream and he felt her laying next to him. When he woke in the morning, he was heartbroken to discover that she was indeed still gone. But he had a beautiful night with her. Double wow.

That one story alone makes all the months of writing the book worthwhile. What a gift to him. What a bigger gift to me. Please let me know your story!


Not Again….

So those of you that have read Bitter and Sweet, will remember that while Tim was sick, our cat Oreo was diagnosed with cancer. Afer a great month or so on steroids, we had to put him down. Digging Oreo’s grave was one of the last physical jobs that Tim was able to do.

In September of that year (2010), Colin brought home Louie as a surprise. I was a bit overwhelmed with everything else going on the house, but Louie climbed out of the cat carrier and into my lap and started purring immediately. I knew he was just what we needed to brighten our lives.

Last summer, I thought that Louie had diabetes because of some symptoms he was exhibiting. After running tests, they discovered he had kidney disease. It was one of those things that would shorten his life but we had no idea what that meant. Could be years. So we had to start altering his food and eventually went solely to prescription food.

Mid-December, he had another check up and the doc was thrilled. He looked great and had even gained weight. Yeah!!! Last weekend, I noticed he spent an entire day on the bed- morning, noon and night. Never got up. By Monday morning, Colin came to me and said he thought Louie wasn’t doing well. I looked at him and thought “Geeze! How did this happen overnight? He looks thin and like he can’t even sit right.”

Unfortunately, I knew what this could mean. Immediately change all plans for the morning. Brigette happened to stop over and she immediately changed all of her plans as well. I felt sick driving to the vet’s. Was he dying? What would they say?

Our normal vet wasn’t available but everyone there is pretty excellent. He had lost two pounds, which is a 20% reduction in overall weight in just a couple of months. But the blood test results wouldn’t be in until 3 PM. We decided to give him an IV push and try the medicated canned food. I went home on pins and needles. I asked Colin if he thought he would be able to handle giving him IVs every day if that was needed. He wasn’t sure he could handle that.

So I sat by the phone and waited. I walked our dog Taffy and the vet called. She said Louie’s numbers had changed drastically. From 60 to 250, from .2 to 7 or something like that. Bad news, but she had seen worse. I started to ask questions but my stupid phone died. I had to wait another two hours before I could talk to her again.

She gave me information but I felt lost. Was it time to put Louie down? What did it mean? Our regular vet called about 7 PM and I finally felt some peace. She knows our family well and she said key phrases that I can understand all too well. Louie had weeks left, but we were talking about palliative care. I get that term. The fluids could help him tremendously. The key factor was that Louie scarfed down the canned food. Appetite and nutrition intake indicated he had a little time left. The plan was that I would go in the morning and purchase more of the food and the IV bags. I would have to be instructed regarding needles and such. I dreaded it but I knew I would just have to pull it together because it wasn’t about me. Louie was dying and he needed me to help him home.

That night I got up to go to bed and discovered that Louie had vomited all the food plus then some. He looked awful. So at 7 AM I started the calls again. Finally about 9:30 AM I talked to the vet. Was this new symptom a game changer? She said she thought from my conversation yesterday that I wasn’t ready to let Louie go. I told her that was not the case at all. We could face that. But I did not want to live with the guilt of having put him down too early because I was too traumatized to provide him with IVs. That just wasn’t an option for me. Once that clarification was made, the communication was clear. It was time for Louie, no guilt should be felt, and yes, if it were her cat, that was the decision she would make.

Waited for a call and found out we could go at noon on Tuesday. Colin agreed to go with me as he had with Oreo. I held Louie in my arms and our doc blessed him on his journey home after telling him what a special cat he was and how loved he was by his family. I felt him relax in my arms and I knew he was gone. Colin and I bawled like babies.

We brought him home in a box. Goofy to say, but he looked beautiful. Now we had to face Frankie. Frankie sobbed just like us but let me hold him for awhile while he grieved. Then the boys went to the backyard and dug a grave together. The work seemed to calm them and give them closure.

Sad days for us, but we truly are doing ok. Personally, I handled the death much better than I did the hours of not knowing. I can do full-on sad. I am familiar with that and while I obviously don’t enjoy it, I know what to do with it. Just feel it. But making life and death decisions, weeding through medical information… it felt like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Hated every minute of it.

Colin and I talked about it on the way home. What’s the alternative? Never get a pet again? We both decided without a doubt that it is still worth it. The love and companionship and connection you feel is worth knowing some day you will have to part. Good life lesson for humans too.