Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Workaholic

I’ve been labeled a workaholic again lately. It’s not the first time in my life. Over the last handful of years, things had slowed down a bit. I spent a year and a half marketing my new services but it took that long to for it to take off.

Now I’m back in full swing. I know where the work stuff comes from. Straight from my upbringing. Dad never missed work and he was clear without saying a word that working hard was a very highly valued ethic to live by.

I was in a session talking with a woman who is facing that struggle so many of us do. How do you honor your instinct and gifts of helping others with taking care of yourself? How do you not over-extend and over-burden yourself?

Fine line to draw if you ask me. A very fine line.

I’m proud of my work ethic, but as I was mulling it over in my head, I thought I’m really more of a “responsibility-aholic” than a workaholic. My days are bounced back and forth between the several careers I am juggling, but also being a homeowner, a parent of a teenager (academics and sports), caring for an aging (and failing!) pet, being in a relationship and having a balanced social life. Yes, even having a balanced social life I consider a responsibility in order to take care of myself. You can’t help others if you are depleted.

I want to officially coin that term. Not sure if there’s a huge difference between work and responsibility, but it feels like there is at least a small distinction.

I’m on Step One: I admit I am powerless over “responsibility-ism”. Not sure if my life has become unmanageable. I can usually manage ok when my support systems are in place. (Although some of them suffer from the same disease so they aren’t always available.)

Just need to stop and smell the roses en route to my next thing. Today it was stopping to pet the cat for a few minutes when I was making the bed. She is a purring machine so I paused my “list” and enjoyed her joyful personality. Gotta do things like that more often.


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Witness of the Sacred

This weekend I had yet another opportunity and privilege to be a witness of the passing of another to the next world.

She was someone who was one of the moms that “adopted me” over the years, which is so special to me after losing my own. It was quite unexpected which brings its own complications to the grief process. She went in for a simple procedure and something went wrong. It happened to Tim’s mom. It reminds me of Tim’s supposed gallbladder removal and coming out with stage four cancer instead.

I walked away with my faith renewed in Buffalo General. The staff was wonderful. They showed genuine compassion and were straight forward and honest with the family. Professional but human, kind, competent.

Every time I go through a situation like this, I learn a few more things. Sometimes it’s about the medical system, procedures and practice. Other times it’s about relationships, loss, and the blend of unique and universal grief all mixed in together.

I cried briefly, but mostly was gathered together, even though the people I care about around me were in agony with the loss of the most important woman in their life. I actually started to worry, but then I remembered how it goes with me. True to form, in the thick of it I was present to everyone around me. Several hours later when I went to bed, it took about 15 minutes for me to blubber. Tim was ready and held me until my tears were done (for now).

It’s always hard to articulate what this experience is like. Words seem awkward, phrases feel inappropriate. But I was so proud of this family. All conflict was put aside and everyone allowed themselves to bond through their loss. In spite of the suddenness and the shock of letting her go so quickly, all were in agreement. No need to prolong her suffering.

As for mom? Well, it’s my personal belief that she is soaring in heaven with a now perfect body. She is free of aches and pains. I rejoice for her. For the rest of us? I pray for healing because the mourning is great. The hole she leaves behind will never be filled. It may scab over with time, but she is one of those that affect you for a lifetime.

And to her family, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be present during this very sacred time. It was an honor to be there, and it will continue to be a privilege to walk this grief journey with you, however little or much you allow my presence. Love and compassion to you all!


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Between Rocks & Hard Places

I’m continuing to read my own books. I’ve given in to marking them up with edits. I can’t help myself. But if I’m hard on myself about writing, you should hear what I do to myself about parenting.

Hindsight might be 20/20, but our memories of past events are also partly skewed, even for those of us that do pretty well with details. I have been surprised as I’ve been reading my journal entries, that my angst about “losing Dave” along the way started long before his teenage years.

I just didn’t realize how long ago it started. The answer startled me. As I read, my first thought was it started right after Tim died. Then I realized it actually started when Tim got sick.

Tim got diagnosed in May. I remembered that sometime in July, Dave came to me and asked if he could stop going places. He was worn out and wanted to stay home. He was only seven at the time.

A kid that young isn’t supposed to be at home on summer vacation and watch his dad deteriorate. We were also overwhelmed with treatment, educating ourselves about disease, and making preparations for our future. Oh yeah, both of us trying to work as well. People really stepped up and took Dave everywhere. Super fun places too. But that created the situation where he came to me and said, “Enough.”

That five months of Tim’s illness was when Timmy and Dave got much closer than they were already. I literally felt sick to my stomach thinking about this little kid who was losing his dad but also lost his mom in the process. My priority was helping Tim journey out of this world. I didn’t ignore my son by any means, but I was definitely focused on doing this “thing” as best we could.

I should have paid more attention to my boy. I shouldn’t have shipped him off all the time. I should have. I shouldn’t have. Damn it! This big community event that we were unfolding, maybe it was all a monumental mistake. Maybe it should have been a small, private affair where I kept my boy in a world closer to the parent that wasn’t leaving him.

But shit. Would it really have been right to not be by Tim’s side whenever possible? He literally only had five months. Was that too much to ask to be the priority? I’m so sick of Catch-22 situations and being caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s so freakin’ unfair.

Dave has always been my biggest worry since the moment he was conceived. And that has only exponentially grown since the death of his father. I thought I was relatively well equipped to handle it, but looking back, I pretty much botched it up. I won’t ever feel good about that.

I’m also aware though, that if I had handled it differently, I would be blogging now about how I pretty much botched up a different aspect of that event in our lives. Because no matter what angle you looked at it, it was an impossible situation to deal with.

And almost nine years later, I can tell you it still is.


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Being Present with Grief

I have been seeing a family that I have written about before (with their permission) who have been dealing with intense grief for almost two years now. It is so hard for them to even focus on healing because the situation around the loss has been a relentless avalanche of tough circumstances. It keeps the anger burning strong and it exhausts their energy.

Recently, one of the adult daughters came to session. Because of all the information we had to cover, there wasn’t time to focus on her like we had all planned on. As they were leaving, the dad mentioned the “mandatory hugs” that are usually exchanged before exiting.

After the parents went through the door, I hugged the daughter. I had one of those sixth sense moments and lingered with her. It started a flow of tears from her. I didn’t say much and my mind was racing to not say something dumb. Mostly I didn’t say anything except, “take your time” and “let it go.”

Eventually, the tears turned to more intense sobbing. Both parents came over and we all held each other in a circle. After several more moments, the hug ended. All told, it was about ten minutes. If that doesn’t sound long to you, let me tell you it’s a great amount of time to be crying.

I reminded them all that grief is horrifically painful. They did not need to say anything to each other or try to stop the tears. People who grieve just need someone to be on the journey. They need folks who aren’t afraid of the intensity of their sadness. They can all just be present with each other as they navigate the terrible path they have been forced to walk down.

After they left, I went to Tim and asked for a hug. It was a difficult ending to session, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was reminded that even though talking is good, that wasn’t what was needed today. It was caring touch and presence. Her tears were much more healing than any amount of verbal processing would have done.

Again, my hat is off to you, my clients. You are so resilient and brave!


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Re-read and Re-write

It’s been six years since Bitter and Sweet was published. I have some speaking engagements coming up so believe or not, I decided to read my own books. I can remember the really big things, but there are lots of details that I don’t recall anymore. It’s been an interesting process, to say the least.

True to my self-critical form, I have to admit I’m disappointed at times. First of all, I can’t believe some things were missed typing or grammatically speaking. They are small things, but geeze! It was edited and checked over and over and over. How did we still miss things?

There are things about the layout I don’t care for. Margins should have been bigger. I use the word “that” too often. Reviews said there were too many redundant guestbook entries. Boy, were they right.

Once in awhile, I do come across a statement or paragraph where I think, “Nicely done” or “Now that was pretty poignant/powerful.” I would really like to edit another edition, but it’s too daunting a task. First of all, my graphic artist no longer has the computer program to do it. Secondly, I think you need to purchase new ISBN numbers whenever you do another edition. That opens another whole can of worms.

Right now, I am in the middle of Bitter and Sweet. I just got to the chapter where we discovered Tim was not getting better and cancer had spread everywhere. I got lost in the story and couldn’t put it down. That sounds goofy, I know, but it was an odd emotional experience. In some ways, I felt detached and like I was reading it like any other person and I couldn’t stop myself from turning the page to find out what was next. On the other hand, I know how intricately I am attached to every word and I can’t believe we went through it.

It will be interesting to keep this going and then tackle the second book. I may not blog again about this, but if I do, I promise no spoiler alerts once I get to the ending!


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3 Reasons Older Adults Are Cranky

My new aging client is keeping me extremely busy. She is also keeping me on my toes. Now I’m a tender heart, so even though I understand what is happening, I am still sensitive when she snaps at me. Thank goodness she has stopped firing me. However, I still got those calls when she is irate about something she thinks I did or didn’t do. I get it though. I can only try to imagine what it must be like to be in her shoes.

  1. Change is hard. Any person of any age should be able to admit that. There is no gain without loss. There is no beginning without an ending. Even the happiest change has an underlying sadness. Most older folks are not happy about the changes they are often forced to make.
  2. Speaking of shoes, I have probably donated over 50 pairs of shoes. I mean, these are expensive, classy shoes. Lots of them have never even been worn. Unfortunately, her feet are now permanently swollen so much that there are very few styles she can even wear. At home, she is just barefoot most of the time. Irreversible changes in your body can be heartbreaking.
  3. It is with great sadness that I throw out some of her things. She is sad as well but I feel like we should have a moment of silence, over and over again. The worst so far? Not one, but TWO novels she wrote. I discovered a ginormous stack of papers. One novel was over a thousand pages. Every one typed. Typed, not printed out of a computer. Two novels never published. Tossed into a recycling bin. I told her this generation doesn’t have to work that hard. We type into a computer that has a spell check. It’s so easy for us in comparison. God only knows how long it took her to write those novels. Took less than five seconds to toss them. How do you watch a lifetime of work get simply tossed?

I could go on and on. Working like this brings back lots and lots of memories of Dad. I remember the frustrations linked with sadness at what was happening with him. I am learning patience and increasing compassion every day. If you are in this situation with someone you care about, take lots and lots of deep breaths, and then try to understand what is underneath all that crankiness.


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GUEST BLOGGER: EMILY GRAHAM

We haven’t had a guest blogger in awhile. Hope you enjoy this!

How to Connect as a Couple When Baby Makes Three

If you’re a new parent, you know that having a baby changes everything. You’re exhausted, up all hours of the night, and probably a little overwhelmed just trying to stay afloat. It’s all worth it for the little bundle of joy you love so much, but what about the other love of your life? Just like everything else, your relationship with your partner changes after having a baby. The most important thing you can do as a couple is to understand these changes and find the time to reconnect while working through them.

You Worry About Intimacy

Intimacy is both physical and emotional, which is why it’s very common for new moms to worry about sex after having a baby. There are the physical concerns: you may worry about sex being painful, you’re exhausted, and probably touched out. Then there are the emotional changes you’re going through at the same time. These concerns are all perfectly normal, but it’s also a struggle you can work through. One thing you can do is check out this guide that has advice and solutions for some of the issues many new parents run into when it comes to romantic intimacy.

You Have Disagreements

There’s no doubt about it: change is hard. Besides the grumpiness that comes along with being tired, you may have more disagreements while you’re figuring out how to adapt to these changes. According to Parents, couples with new babies often disagree over domestic responsibilities, parenting styles, and concerns over money (just to name a few). You have to smooth things over in order to really connect as a couple, which means you have to make time for finding solutions.

The good thing is that solutions can often be time-savers. For example, if you fight over household responsibilities, create a schedule for who does what and when. This may sound incredibly dull, but it eliminates the feeling that one person is carrying a heavier burden and may help you both stay on top of your chore list.

You’ve Changed as a Couple

Parenting is a job where you’re on the clock 24/7. If you’re able to communicate about what you expect from each other in terms of household chores and parenting tasks, you’re more likely to get along. The downside is that the way you interact sometimes changes. Fortune describes this as more of a businesslike interaction, because so much of your communication revolves around parenting and running a household.

To counteract this tendency, try to be very intentional about setting aside time where you each focus on how you’re more than just parents. Some couples benefit from dedicating just five minutes each day to connecting. Set some ground rules, and during that time, don’t talk about the baby or the house! Even though it’s just five minutes, make this time special too. Pour a glass of wine (if you aren’t too tired) or enjoy a yummy treat together.

When you can, it’s also crucial to spend a little more time together by having a date night. Getting out is always nice, but you can also have a home date night while the baby’s asleep. The important thing is to turn off the parent role just for a little while and focus on yourselves as individuals and as a couple. (Of course, if you’re home, you may have to turn the parent role back on if baby wakes, but that’s ok.) Date night is the ideal time for intimacy, but remember that doesn’t always have to be physical. The point is to focus on connecting with each other – even if you’re just cuddling on the couch watching a movie.

Sometimes, the smallest things you do as a couple end up making the biggest difference. Grab the spare moments to reconnect, and set aside time for dealing with the bigger issues too. Just as the late night feedings and countless diaper changes are worth it for the joy your baby brings, the changes to your relationship and the work they require are worth the effort.

Image by Tanya Patxot from Pixabay

Emily Graham is the creator of Mighty Moms. She believes being a mom is one of the hardest jobs around and wanted to create a support system for moms from all walks of life. On her site, mightymoms.net, she offers a wide range of info tailored for busy moms — from how to reduce stress to creative ways to spend time together as a family.

Emily Graham | emily@mightymoms.net