Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Timeless

My favorite picture of Nichole; age 5

On June 26, 1990, my beautiful ten-year-old niece died tragically in a car accident. It goes without saying, even all these years later, that every person in our family was changed forever that day.

I was married to my first husband at the time and he was a computer graphics graduate. We talked about making a memorial video of her, but we separated before it was even started. We decided it was a project we should do in spite of ourselves and during the time we worked on it, we reconciled. (We divorced four years later, but at that time, Nichole’s video brought us together.)

Speaking of that, our wedding was two years before her accident. I watched our wedding video recently and in spite of the reminder of divorces and deaths of loved ones, the only tears I shed were with seeing my eight-year-old niece as my flower girl.

The footage that got me the most was a scene with my sister. She is sitting in the front pew of the church and both of my nieces were standing in front of her getting primped up for the pictures. Every gesture was my sister to a tee. She, in a perfect motherly fashion, straightened the girls’ dresses and smoothed out their hair. Thirty years later, I know her heart still aches every day of her life.

Back to the memorial video.

Part of the video’s backdrop was me playing the song The Homecoming on the piano. It’s such a beautiful song. Thirty years later, I played that song at Mark’s mom’s funeral. He is one of my best friends. I never grow tired of it, in spite of the song being linked to my spirit with grief and passing.

Among those things that never change is the miracle of a new life. The video has audio of Nichole gurgling as a baby. I giggled as I listened. Ten years later, I recorded my own son’s cooing. I giggle whenever I listen to him too.

Another part of the audio was her singing, “I’m in the Lord’s Army.” I am pretty sure I am the one that originally taught that to both of my nieces. (And a whole host of nonsense songs as well.) Now my niece sends videos of her son singing that same song.

Both girls took dance lessons for years. There was video footage of several of her recitals. My own David danced some when he was little. He was the only boy in his ballet and tap classes when he was three. It’s priceless video.

I guess the point is, that some things are timeless. The first cooing of a baby and other precious memories of our children growing up will never get old, even though they will grow older. And watching a memorial video, well, some grief and loss is timeless as well. Some grief is meant to go with us hand in hand until our own passing.

For sure, that is our angel, Nichole.


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Core Life Issues

A professor once said that our core issues are always our core issues. They cycle around as our life cycles around. Mine has always been not having a partner that loves me.

When I was looking at the video of my first marriage back in 1988, I remembered the years before the divorce. He told me he had not ever really loved me. I would pull out this box of letters from the summer we were engaged but not able to be together.

He wrote to me every single day. Sometimes, he wrote two letters. Seriously, would a guy really do all that if he wasn’t in love?

During the wedding reception, there was footage of our first dance together. You can see us talking but of course, you can’t hear the conversation. But I saw the non-verbals. He gave me a look and then squeezed me a certain way.

HA!! It had “I love you” all over it. You can deny it mister, but you did love me.

But the bigger AHA moment came after that. It was a present AHA as I sat on the couch. My issue isn’t that I’ve never had the love of a man. I absolutely have. More than once, actually. The problem is that love hasn’t endured. It has always changed in some way.

It got me thinking about all the messages I believed as I was growing up.

If love is true, it endures.

True love is perfect love.

Real love doesn’t leave.

I think those are dangerous myths to walk around with. If for no other reason, love can die because your partner dies. I’ve learned that too. Yes, love continues on in some ways, but let’s be honest. It’s not the same.

For another thing, only God is capable of perfect love. And even God turned away when Jesus bore the sins of the world on the cross.

My professor was right. Our core issues revisit it throughout life. But that doesn’t mean they don’t shift as our knowledge and experience grow. I’m working on watering mine and seeing how it develops.


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Home Videos

On a weekend away, I spent several hours looking at home videos. It started with my first wedding in 1988. I was pleasantly surprised that it was mostly a warm experience rather than the mournful one I was expecting.

Mom, Randy

I got a laugh out of my brother. He had very little hair back then. He has had new hair for so long now, I forgot why he got the implants to begin with.

Just a couple of months ago, my former mother-in-law found me on Facebook. We started messenging and she sent several that brought tears to my eyes. She wanted to read my books (which I was honored by) so I mailed her copies (this is why I never make money) and included a photo of us from the wedding.

me, John’s mom; photo courtesy of author

Seeing the actual wedding footage now, I was reminded of how serendipitous life can be. I just reconnected with her. Mom has been gone for 13 years now. I find any mother figure in my life to be so comforting. Glad she is back in my life, even though geographically distant. (Although, isn’t everyone distant, compliments of the pandemic?)

A sad moment was remembering that Mom and I were a bit icy during the event. I can’t even remember why. Was it because at the time I was adopting “another” mom? Was I busy getting to know her and ignoring the one who had birthed and raised me?

I didn’t let it bog me down with guilt, though. I know some mother-daughter conflict is “normal”. Mostly I think, it was because, at the end of her life, we were very close. She was my best friend. Whenever I expressed it, she would lovingly say, “Stop saying that. I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.”

LOL.

I’ve always felt like I’ve got an exceptional support system. It didn’t escape me as I looked at the bridal party and guests that so many people traveled across the country to attend. Even parents of friends. To me, that’s an honor.

As I watched on, the unexpected (and cruel) deaths hit me. First and foremost my beautiful niece, who was still darling despite missing a front tooth. She died in an automobile accident at age 10.

One of our groomsmen died just in the last couple of years. He had a motorcycle accident and then his wife went through several grueling weeks in the hospital, only to lose him.

The life cycle. Who would have thought looking back 32 years would have such a powerful message now.


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Statistics and Numbers

Statistics was one of the hardest college classes I ever took. I passed it the first time. I passed mostly because I met one-on-one with the professor before every class. She had the patience of a saint.

Are statistics even helpful? It’s always been true, but especially now we have to ask if the statistics are even accurate or truthful.

One of the mantras I’ve adopted is, “It’s possible, but not probable.” In other words, just about anything – especially your worst fears – are possible. However, that doesn’t mean it is probable.

When folks struggle with anxiety, we talk about this over and over again as needed. The example I usually give is the possibility of a home invasion occurring while I am in my office (which is off my garage) seeing my clients. Yes, it is actually possible it is happening. It is also not probable. If I focus on the possible, I will go insane and have to quit work.

Believe it or not, this seems to help a lot of people. Statistics can help relieve our fears.

When you face a medical illness or diagnosis, the statistics can give us the hope we need to keep our spirits up. Such and such percentage of people recover with this treatment. Such and such percentage of people never progress to this level. If the numbers are good, we have more energy to cooperate and comply.

And statistics can be meaningless if your experiences go the opposite way. Statistics can destroy you.

Let’s say someone you love is given a terminal diagnosis. That’s bad news. But then the next round of tests come around and you find out they have the most common form of the disease. In fact, 99% of people that get treatment will respond and survive. Ninety-nine percent! Odds don’t get much better than that. Phew!

And then the next round of tests come back.

Their body is in the 1% of people who don’t respond. Their body isn’t getting better.

My God. No one gets in the 1%. Except that 1%. You can’t even believe it. You can’t even wrap around it.

And then you find out the patient is a beautiful, eight-year-old child.

Try and wrap around that.


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Masks

I’ve been feeling some of the weight of the pandemic quite heavily. I know some folks (especially introverts) aren’t finding it so problematic. Some even find it soothing. I actually have moments of that myself. A lot of the “noise” is lessened or gone.

I’ve been called a “tender heart” quite a few times in my life and I’m very aware why. When I go to a store and forget the 6 feet rule and get too close to the man in front of me, he refreshes my memory quickly. I get it. How long does this have to go on before I remember? But when I immediately step back and genuinely apologize, and I get back an unforgiving glare, that is when my heart sinks.

Of course, I do that thing where I tell myself that perhaps he is dealing with something extremely stressful which might make his demeanor understandable. While I know that might be true, I also know far too many people these days who are on hyper-alert and think anyone who is not is an irresponsible asshole.

We had an outdoor service at my church last night. I was so looking forward to it. They do on-line services every Sunday and from what I understand they have quite a substantial following. I don’t watch and I can’t even explain why. It just disturbs me rather than feed me.

I’ve had some intense weeks lately so I knew I needed the service. It was good to be there and felt nourishing to take communion and hear the message from my very gifted minister.

But there was also that underlying sadness. I hate when I don’t recognize someone because of the mask. I hate when someone doesn’t recognize me. I really, really hate that I can’t hug people I care about. I really, really, really hate that they can’t hug me.

Clearly, I am not the only one going through this. The universe is NOT picking on me. But I also know that just because we are all in this together, that doesn’t mean that each one of us doesn’t feel it intensely and personally.

And then there are the usual “joys” that come with life whether there is a pandemic or not.

The garage roof is leaking

The small kitchen fridge is making puddles of water inside and out of the fridge

The internet hasn’t been working for over two months. It has gotten so bad, it has hampered my ability to work, have Zoom meetings, etc.

I had to get a new used bike because the gears on TWO of ours were broken

Had a small fender bender with my car but big enough to require a trip or two to a body shop and/or mechanic

The tire on the riding lawn mower fell off

Algae stains in the pool; three weeks of treatment hasn’t quite fixed it yet

Heat rashes, earaches, a fall down the basement stairs (only the last 5), blah, blah, blah

And my clients are going through some of the most difficult, painful things a person can go through. They make anything I go through small potatoes. Seriously, their strength and resilience are impossible to describe. These are not situations you can close your work door behind you and separate yourself from.

After saying all that, I didn’t intend for this to be a downer blog. What I am trying to say, is that life can be incredibly challenging. And sometimes there is no end in sight.

But we get up every day and do it again. Sometimes there are moments of joy. Sometimes there just aren’t any. But we do it. We live. We do the best we can.

And that is not a downer!


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Are You a Lead Foot?

gray rock formation
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I hate to admit it, but I have fallen over the COVID cliff. I’m quite familiar with bouts of depression. I am quite familiar with severe bouts of depression. This is similar, but somehow there is another element to it that I can’t put my finger on.

Earlier this week, the only way I could describe it, was to say I felt like I had lead feet. That is ironic because I’ve had so many issues with my feet and surgeries. Then I realized that my whole body pretty much feels like that. I’m certain someone put a brick into my head when I wasn’t looking. My chest often feels the same.

Every step I made that day felt like I was dragging heavy metal with me. No matter what the task.

Paralleling that, it seems like my clients have similar diseases. Many come in and melt on the couch. They cry, look like they’ve aged, and say gut-wrenching things like, “Then I realized, why am I even here anymore?”

One inspiring ray of sunshine came in this week. A family that spans four generations and is spread across the USA have scheduled Zoom meetings every three weeks. It’s a book club. They are reading “White Supremacy” a few chapters at a time and then discussing it together.

Wow!

You can get your family to agree to that? And they actually read it? And get on the Zoom? And discuss things without yelling at each other?

This topic comes up quite often in my home and in my office. There are usually bitter disagreements, cutoffs, and plenty of anger. No matter what your position is, what could it hurt to read a book together? Even if you disagree with the opinions in it, to put the effort into reading and the dialogue afterward is still a unifying gesture.

I have to admit, a good share of my misery has to be sleep deprivation. I can’t seem to get to sleep at night. I find myself awake at 1 am… A few days later it is now 2 am. Last night, it was 4:45 am until I fell asleep. Getting three and a half hours of rest a night is just not enough. No wonder I have headaches and no motivation.

But I do eventually get up when I can garner the strength to move my heavy body (literally and figuratively). I see my clients and am present with them. I make phone calls, do computer work, deal with electricity going out, the internet going out, and being placed on hold for 1 hour and 52 minutes only to find out I have to start all over again the next day. (That is a literal, non-exaggerated number!)

And the usual gratitude reminders spurr me on. Literally every person in the world is going through this. Many folks have it much, much worse. Many deal with grief and loss, and mourn loved ones who died alone.

I guess we all keep hanging in there and figure out how to get through each day, even though none of us knows what the heck we are doing.

I will be there for you. I’m hoping you will reciprocate!


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Dancing with the Stars

We had a girls’ night at the drive-in this weekend. I’ve been watching the website all summer and have had no interest in seeing any of the old flicks again. Then I hit the jackpot. Grease and Dirty Dancing.

Coincidentally, I have been thinking a lot about Kelly Preston, who is John Travolta’s wife. Seeing that young John and the way he could wiggle his buns and skinny body made me wonder what it would be like to be Kelly. For sure, I could see myself often in the living room or bedroom saying, “Come on honey! Do that thing you do!” I would withhold sex until he re-enacted a few of those scenes.

He was adorable and sexy in that musical. And he is also quite acquainted with grief in his life. A few years back they lost their 16-year-old son. Many couples end up divorcing after the loss of a child, but Kelly and John made it. And now Kelly died this month from breast cancer in her 50’s. Poor John.

I don’t mean that in a pity, pendantic kind of way. Seriously, poor John.

Next was Dirty Dancing. What a classic. I couldn’t wait until the end of the movie when we all could say out loud, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

Baby is adorable and sexy as well. But Johnny? Wa wa wa. That man could also move his thin, incredibly fit and muscular body in a very sexy manner. Jeepers. He got my motor running too. That movie didn’t need a rated R bed scene to make it steamy.

And Patrick Swayze has died of cancer also. It was a few years back but he died much too young.

Bittersweet. No matter how famous, how vibrant, how healthy… Well, we all meet death and grief. I know it’s probably because of what I do for a living, but even as I got totally swept up in the chick flicks, I never stopped thinking about the real people underneath the characters they play. Real people living real lives, experiencing real death.

Fantasy intertwined with fact.


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Don’t Do This to Your Family

I have been teaching/lecturing/educating for a while now about having your affairs in order, no matter what your age. People that have had to deal with the aftermath of a death that wasn’t prepared for will be the first ones to make sure they don’t do the same thing to their loved ones. Most of the rest of the population will say they don’t want to be a burden after they are gone.

I did have one client though that told me he has a cantakorus relationship with his son and he can’t wait to stick it to him after he’s gone.

Luckily, most people aren’t like that.

I have been working on the case of a woman who died recently. No, it wasn’t COVID19. I had worked with her previously while she transitioned to a smaller home and then I wanted to start getting her organized. She was very stubborn and frankly, also a bit nasty. She didn’t have any intentions of cooperating.

I just spoke to her attorney. She told me she had several times recommended many of the same things but she had refused to change any of her plans to make it simpler or easier.

Now, I grew fond of her and am truly sad she is gone. But I also have cursed her several times in the last week. There is no reason that taking care of her affairs had to be this difficult. It is exhausting and maddening.

It makes me more passionate than ever about my job. I keep trying to help PREVENT this from happening. I speak loud and long about taking steps before you are old, and before you have a medical emergency. You will get better care every step of the way. You will be able to focus on the crisis when it comes, without having to add panic to the mix.

I try not to be too judgmental, but I just have to say this before it burns out of my skull. I think it is selfish to not be responsible with these things. I haven’t come across a good reason yet to not be prepared. It can be very detrimental to your well-being, and it is definitely overwhelming for the people you eventually leave behind.

DO NOT DO THIS TO YOUR FAMILY!

Get prepared. Get informed. Don’t be lazy. Don’t think you will do this “later.”

One of the advantages of doing things early in the game is that you can slow down the process so it doesn’t drown you. About two years before my dad died, we started working on his notebook. (This notebook is the now the model I use when teaching and doing workshops.)

Every couple of weeks we would tackle one task. We started closing bank accounts until he eventually only had one checking and one savings account. We spoke to a financial advisor and slowly cashed in his investments. There weren’t many and they weren’t large, but such things can be a nightmare for an executor later on, especially if they go into probate.

I could list many more things. But I can’t stress enough, DO IT NOW. Do it for yourself and for God’s sake if you have aging parents, DO IT YESTERDAY.

It’s not very painful unless you wait. If it isn’t done, you have a headache every day and fantasize about jumping off a cliff.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox. Please, give it some serious thought. And reach out to me if you need guidance.


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A Boy and His Dog

Taffy

This is the blog I have been thinking about the last six months. And I’ve been dreading it. Our beloved Taffy died on Sunday, March 15, 2020. After all the struggles to make a decision, she died naturally, on her own terms in our living room. We were all around her as she took her last breath.

Everyone agrees. She was a really sweet, special dog. She was my shadow. I was not her mommy. She was mine. It was clear that her purpose was to watch over me and she never let me forget it.

While my heart hurts every day as I deal with the enormous void that has been left, the worst pain comes from the one I am the mommy to. My 17-year-old son. His loss is the hardest for me to accept.

Dave, Taffy

I can’t really say they grew up together. David was seven when we got her. Taffy was between one and three but no one knows for sure. But I look at this picture which was taken right after we got her. He looks so very little. A young boy, thrilled to have a dog. He had lost his grandma, but he had not known the bitterness yet of losing his father. Or of the five cats in a row that he would lose.

David, Taffy

As he got older, the thrill of walking the dog lost its luster as it does for most kids who promise to help with all the extra responsibilities that come with a pet. But he loved her, and Taffy was always very protective of her. Anyone that wrestled with him got an earful from her.

Then came the tragedy that would alter our family forever. Tim designed his headstone. I would bring Taffy here often to walk. The paths were pretty and she liked to roam around. David didn’t accompany us very often. I couldn’t blame him. Frankly, I’m not much of a cemetery person myself.

Christmas- Darcy, Taffy, Dave, Louie

We stuck together though. Taffy was always part of our Christmas photo. The cat would sadly change often, but Taffy was our steady. She was part of our family, no matter what.

Darcy, Taffy, Dave- Christmas card shot

David was absorbed in hockey and was ten-years-old now. His life experiences had aged him far beyond his chronological years. To me, he still looks so young here. Too young to have weathered so much.

Dave, Taffy

Taffy would do things for David that she wouldn’t do for anyone else. The cats were always like that too. He is fun and charismatic with them and they respond to him.

Dave, Taffy

See what I mean?

Dave, Taffy

I never knew what they talked about at times like this, but I imagine you and I would chuckle at their conversations.

Herbie, Dave, Taffy

Clearly, that chair in front of our window holds a lot of memories.

Dave, Taffy

And then those smart aleck times. This was Mother’s Day when I told him the only thing I wanted was for him to take a walk with Taffy and me. He literally took Taffy for a walk. Taffy doesn’t look like she minded one bit. She was in her favorite place. And she was with her favorite peeps.

Christmas photo- Tim, Darcy, Taffy, Herbie, David

And the last Christmas photo we will have together. We will always be a hockey family, but we will no longer have our girl with us. Our steady protector for over ten years.

Watching him grieve over her on our living room was beyond what I could bear as his mother. We knew that it was about our beloved Taffy, but it was also so much more. Whether he knows it or not, I know it is true. Loss after loss. After loss.

I lost my dad when I was 51. He lost his when he was eight. I never saw anyone take their dying breath until I watched my mom pass when I was 40. He watched Taffy die in that manner at age 17. In between, he bravely held his cat while she was euthanized. I just don’t what it is in his head and heart. I don’t imagine he will ever tell me, at least not for a decade or two.

So goodbye my loving, faithful companion. The one who has never left my side, especially during some of the loneliest moments of my life. You will be missed beyond words. But mostly, thank you for loving my boy.

Taffy


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The Time is Drawing Near

Taffy

Back in September, we thought we were losing our beloved Taffy. She is still here and it is almost February. It has been one of the most emotional and difficult endings I have had to make decisions about.

Obviously, you can’t talk to an animal which is the hardest part for me to deal with. I can’t ask her the questions I ask humans. What gives your life meaning? How long do you want to stay? I’ve never been in a place where Medically Assisted Death is an option for people, but euthanasia has always been an option for animals

Taffy

Our house is divided and it has been since September. I am afraid of waiting too long. The rest of the house is afraid of her death too soon. I took some of my family in December to the vet with me. He was surprised Taffy was still here. After examining her, he understood why our house was in conflict. Her symptoms are confusing and true to the Thiel trait, they are also unusual. He said he has no problem offering his opinion when asked but in our case, he is stumped.

“If you decide today is the day, I totally support you. If you decide this is not the time, I totally support you.”

It actually helped me to know I wasn’t missing something. I’ve never had such a hard time knowing when. People love to say, “You will know when it’s time” but I simply don’t think that applies in this case.

I went to see the vet again last week. He noticed a definite decline from six weeks earlier. She now has something wrong in her colon. We could do dozens of tests, spend a ton of money, but he is 98% sure it would only be information. He is almost certain we wouldn’t discover something that could actually be fixed. I decided not to pursue tests, mostly because why would I put her through all that?

Taffy

He did articulate things that made sense to me. She doesn’t seem to be suffering. However, she doesn’t feel well. And she never does. She struggles with her breathing and basically feels crummy. This is where the inability to talk is tough. Some would say as long as they weren’t suffering, they would want to stay alive. (And by the way, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all.) But others would say if they are going to feel crummy for the rest of their lives and only get worse, they would prefer to be done. I think that describes my dad. It would also describe me.

I still lean towards soon because I can barely stand to look at her when she is having a hard time. I can’t wrap around waiting until she is actually suffering. I’m not even sure what the difference is. My family continues to feel like she would want to be here. Are they in denial? Or are they right?

I hate this.

I had a friend who is a huge dog person and knows quite a bit come and spend some time here when she offered to do so. At first, she said that if she is still willing to take walks (even if slow) that should be the benchmark. After spending more time watching her, she changed her mind. She said if Taffy was hers, it would be time. One of her questions is, would we be stealing something good from her down the road if she wasn’t here? It is doubtful. We would however, spare her from feeling worse.

I think it will be soon, but the decision isn’t quite made yet. Say some prayers for all of us. She’s been my shadow for 11 years so this is hard. My family has bonded with her just as long. And all of us have had more loss in our lives than we thoughts we could endure.

Dave, Taffy