Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Covid Restrictions

This blog is NOT about any controversial views of what restrictions are or are not appropriate. I have chosen to stay out of all that and will continue to. This is simply about my sporadic (and unpredictable) near panic attacks when I am suddenly hit by the state of affairs.

Why things hit me one day and not the next I have no idea. I doubt it’s important anyway.

Before this weekend, the last one I remember was a day in the fall. I made an appointment at the DMV. I pulled in to the plaza to see masked people along the entire side of the building. West Seneca was without electricity. Of course, no one could predict when it would come back on.

I surveyed the folks in line and said to the security guy, “Do you ever feel like you’re in the twilight zone?” He responded with, “Every day.” Just as he said that, two cars made a loud crash. The traffic lights were out so the cars at the lot entrance looked like they were in a maze. I got to my car after calling the police and the labored breathing started. It was too much.

This weekend, David got to play in a hockey game for the first time. Usually, this is the end of the season. This particular rink was very strict. Only one spectator per player. Neither one of us could even enter unless we were together and checked in. The part that I didn’t understand, is why only one? The other rink allows two. This facility is quite large and could have easily fit three spectators per player and still be completely socially distanced compliant. This is hard enough. Why make it harder?

The first rink I went to, every other bench was taped off. This is a usual sight for us now, right? Making sure we sit apart in whatever waiting room you are in. I sat on the back row and some masked parent comes up to the rail and says to me (twice), “You can’t sit there!” She said it louder the second time and another parent told her I was sitting exactly where I was supposed to. She understood but I got no apology. This is when problems happen- when people feel it is their duty to police other people. And they were wrong on top of it.

It has nothing to do with my rights. It’s just that some days I’m barely holding on and then someone increases my anxiety unnecessarily.

But the kicker was in the second rink that was extra strict. I went in and saw the usual blue tape on the benches and sat down. However, after sitting there for a minute, I realized I was in the wrong spot this time.

The blue tape actually showed a small seat that you were allowed to sit in. Those were the only spaces. I don’t know why, but that completely freaked me out. Is this what life is like now? Now we can’t even pick a space on a bench. The space is specified. And of course, they were more than six feet apart. You have to send hand signals to another parent.

I started texting friends the picture and I managed to avoid the panic attack. But I did have a few uncontrolled tears on my cheeks and I had to control my breathing. Later, I found a section without blue tape. I guess whoever was doing it got tired of taping.

And we all socially distanced appropriately without a square spot telling us where to put our butts. I’m grateful that David got to play, especially when he scored a goal in the first 20 seconds of the game. But I have to admit, it was lonely.

Sigh.


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5 Pandemic Life Changes & How to Survive Them

Photo by Unsplash

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Scott

The COVID-19 global pandemic has impacted everyone to a certain degree. Some people have lost much — jobs, friends, health, and loved ones. By now, we all know someone who has faced devastation in the wake of the coronavirus. Recovery is slow and hard, so I’ve put together resources to give you ideas on how to cope during the pandemic.

Virtual Learning

More and more kids are learning from home, which means more and more parents are teaching their kids. This can cause stress for your children, who will need a lot of time to adjust to this new normal — and for parents, who may not feel equipped to take on this new responsibility.

It’s important to reach out to your children’s teachers, principals, counselors, and other school leaders. They can help you manage your students’ workloads, set expectations, and even teach time management. Also, look to online resources. Many schools have Facebook groups for parents so they can support each other and connect at a time when social bonds are more important than ever.

Social Isolation

Many people are isolated from their friends and families during these strange and uncertain times. In order to help keep loved ones healthy and whole, they are sacrificing their own social needs. At times, it can feel an awful lot like grief. It can be very demoralizing and even depressing for some. Spend some quality virtual time with friends, whether FaceTiming during lunch or taking a socially distant stroll around the neighborhood.

This time of isolation can also be quite productive. Take it as an opportunity to work on organizing your house.

Remote Work

Employees are shifting to full-time telecommuting. While companies and individuals have had to adjust their workplace cultures and policies, households have also had to shift the way they live. Work-life balance is more important than ever.

The lines between your personal life and professional life will most certainly be blurred, and stress could boil over into other areas of your life. Try to keep your work isolated to one room of the house — or better yet, one with a door that closes. Make sure everyone has their own desk and computers, and private space where they can focus.

Death and Sickness

More than 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Many have recovered, while many have not. Still more are left with life-long conditions as a result of COVID-19.

Losing a loved one, especially in the circumstances around COVID, can be very traumatic. This process takes a serious toll on survivors before, during, and after a loved one’s death. Just remember you are not alone, even in these days of isolation. An end of life doula can provide the care and guidance that families need to come to terms with loss and grief, even with distance through telehealth sessions.

Health and Exercise

Few people can find the time and emotional bandwidth for health and exercise while facing a global health crisis. If that sounds familiar, pick a few small goals to work toward. Jog a few days a week or take the dog for daily walks. Sign up for an online yoga subscription to focus on strengthening the mind and body while still learning from the experts.

You can also consider ordering from a meal delivery service like Blue Apron or Sun Basket. Since grocery shopping can be a nightmare and eating outside unsafe, quarantine can be an excellent time to brush up on your healthy cooking skills.

This is a time for mourning, there is no doubt. And as we mourn and grieve our losses — from jobs to friends to family members — we need to pay attention to signs of our emotional health and well-being. If you think you may be struggling to deal with the challenges of the coronavirus, reach out to Darcy Thiel from Help for Healing you need. She specializes in grief counseling, organization, and is an End of Life Doula.


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Homecoming

One of my all-time favorite songs to play on the piano is The Homecoming. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve played it at my piano recital, as the background music for the memorial video for my niece, and at my dear friends’ mom’s funeral.

I got to thinking about when I used to teach piano. I started doing that when I lived in Chicago. I always had a recital for my students and when the parents asked me to play once, that was when I pulled out that piece.

After I moved back to Buffalo, I started teaching again. Yep, I made my son Frankie take lessons for a couple of years. He quit after that, but he has a love for music today that is incredible. He will deny piano or any of the choirs I directed had any influence on him, but I know better.

Anyhow, I digress. One of the best memories I have was teaching my only adult student while I was in Chicago, Liz. She became so much more than a student. In fact, she became a teacher to me of more important things than piano. She became a dear friend. Her family became dear friends.

She has a wonderful heart. So wonderful, that she let me move into her home when I was stuck with nowhere to go. I stayed there for several months, never paying a penny for rent. She even let me hold the next recital in her house.

I recently re-connected with her after years of no communication. I found out she has been struggling terribly for over three years since she lost her adoring husband, the love of her life. Then last year, her only son lost his beautiful wife from brain cancer. Such suffering only comes from loving so deeply.

She is hoping to come and visit when this COVID stuff lightens up. (Will it?) I told her how much I still appreciate the selfless kindness she showed me when I was in my twenties. Say some prayers for her as she tries to heal her hurting heart.


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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.