Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Empaths

Are you hoping for a better 2020 than 2019? I can’t prove it, but I feel like every January I say something similar. Last year was tough, here’s to hoping for a better new year.

I’ve heard it described that sympathy is feeling bad for someone’s pain. Empathy is feeling someone’s pain with them. One isn’t bad and one good, one isn’t healthy and the other unhealthy. They are just two things that are distinct but closely related.

I’m definitely an empath. That is probably the single most important thing that makes me an effective counselor. I call it being fully present. When you are in my office, you have my full attention and I am empathic. But if an empath doesn’t want to sink into the abyss, they have to also know how to detach when they exit the other’s presence.

Even when you can detach in a healthy way, there is still residue. I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t. I am aware of the good things in life. I’m not oblivious to them and I’m grateful for the good things in my own life. But I’m also painfully aware of the crazy stuff too. Not only does it make me incredibly angry, but it also breaks my heart. There is so much suffering, and there is also so much injustice. Virtually every system in our country is broken. Some have minor issues, others are profoundly broken.

It is a privilege to witness suffering, an honor when someone lets you see. It also blows my mind sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even wrap my head around it.

For example, the legal system that claims to protect children, but repeatedly favors giving parents an endless amount of chances to get their kids back. I wonder if they have any idea the havoc it wreaks on the foster or biological families that pick up the broken children month after month, year after year. The case where the parent overdoses on drugs, sometimes in front of their child, sometimes not. They can repeatedly get arrested and have literally dozens of court cases in front of them and it doesn’t matter. The kids can show every sign of regression from seeing their parent and it doesn’t matter. How do you comfort that family?

The 17-year-old son who lost his mother to cancer and then his father takes his own life? I lost my father at age 51 and I was devastated. How do I even wrap around the thought of being completely parentless, facing the rest of my life trying to figure out how to be an adult without them at age 17?

The mom who finds herself riddled with alcoholism and in relationships with men who beat her. She keeps trying to break the pattern but finds herself back in it, even when she kicks the drinking.

A step-parent who spends decades helping his adult children become more responsible humans but all he gets in return is to be berated, ignored, accused, and have his grandchildren kept from him. How do you comfort him?

The family that loses their pregnant daughter in a tragic car accident?

The parent who has a child who tries to hang himself. Another child that douses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire. The parent finds themselves crying repeatedly and can’t figure out why because these events happened years ago.

The stories go on and on. I want so badly to help. I want to make the kind of difference where patterns actually change. Where I can make systems do what they are supposed to do. Where I can make people behave the way they should.

But of course, I can’t. Not even close. So I stay present, try to detach. And every once in awhile I just have to scream out loud because the unfairness is so maddening I literally want to rip my hair out. (I would punch things but I’m a baby and don’t tolerate physical pain so well.)

I’m NOT talking about not holding people accountable for their choices. I’m NOT talking about creating a victim mentality. But please offer sympathy to others when you can. Please offer empathy when you can. And for God’s sake, pray for these people, and pray for those of us that are empaths on the front line. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I need to keep my oxygen mask on.


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Not Fun To Write

This is not a fun blog to write and I’ve been struggling all week with how to word it. Let me start by saying that I do not blog with the intention of airing my dirty laundry, or anyone else’s. I write mostly for two reasons.

  1. Writing helps me to process what is happening in my life. It is for my own mental health.
  2. It appears to help other people process things in their own lives. Being able to identify with someone who is brave enough to voice their inward thoughts and feelings moves them along in their own growth. That is why I say all this work (the books I’ve written, blogs, my career path) are the lemonade I have attempted to make with the lemons I have been handed (mostly the deaths of the people I loved dearly).

Obviously then, the goal is to heal, not to hurt. I am completely aware that when you post anything on the Internet, you are making yourself vulnerable and subject to criticism. I’ve never been a fan of that but I understand it comes with the territory.

What I find disturbing, is when people use my writing to hurt me, or even worse my family. It has come to my attention that “people” (I don’t know who or exactly how many) have been telling my kids that I write awful things about them on my blogs.

The worst part of that is why the hell someone would do that? What motive do they have? It can’t possibly be for the good of my kids. It only hurts them to think the one that cares for them is not actually caring for them. And how could it be good to try to create division in someone’s home? The only motive that makes sense is that that reader doesn’t like me and wants my kids not to like me either. That is selfishness of the worst kind- hurting others for your own “gain” if you could even call it that. Or maybe the reader just wants to hurt me? If so, congrats! Hurting my kids is about the shittiest thing you can do. Any mother knows there is no worse pain than seeing your kids hurt.

What else sucks is that telling my loved ones that I trash them is completely untrue and false. I do write about the struggles of parenthood at times. I do write (rarely) about things my kids do that are hurtful. But the intent is not to bash, it is to learn and grow and heal from. Any parent recognizes the truth in that. When you look at the big picture of my writing, most things are positive when it comes to them.

When I was approached by one of my kids with this idea that I am “negative” about them, I responded with two things.

  1. I reminded them that a couple of years ago I had a SPECT image done of my brain. (Blogged about that, too.) It uncovered that I have “refractory depression” which means lifelong depression and also resistant to treatment. My “negative” slant in life (my ability to identify often with pain) is part of my hard wiring, not part of a plan to hurt the people I love.
  2. I read an excerpt from my PUBLISHED BOOK that spoke to the high heavens about how I feel about them and the deep love I feel for them, proving that I do not go around trashing them. It was obvious to them at that point, that the sources who were feeding them information had completely misrepresented me. Perhaps in the future, they will ask their “sources” to be silent, or maybe they will read for themselves before assuming the gossip is true.

Although I was surprised to even know that many people bother to read my blog, I do have a couple of things to say to those readers who are doing so in order to hurt my family. First, why don’t you contact me personally instead of hurting my kids? Or better yet, why don’t you post comments on my blogs and see what kind of reactions you get? Just because I share my rawest emotions, doesn’t mean it is easy to be that vulnerable for the world to see and criticize. It isn’t. So instead of attacking me behind my back, have the courage to speak up. If you can’t match my bravery, then stand down.

Lastly, shame on you. My family has been through enough heartache. Stop spewing poison. Whatever reasons you think you have, they are not appropriate. Our family may not be perfect, but we are all here together. We have been since Tim died. We have survived and we love each other. LEAVE US ALONE.


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Holiday Hell

Image result for thanksgiving images

I think holidays must be one of the most immense Catch-22 situations in our society. Everywhere I go, most people find them stressful. Lots of people say they hate them. A few truly enjoy them.

We put so much into them and their significance which is why the letdown is so bad. Yet year after year we do it to ourselves. We keep hoping something great will happen. We try to set a new precedence. We think the people in our lives will be inspired to put more effort into us just because it is a holiday.

Some go off pretty well. But’s let’s face it. Most of us actually act worse because of the dynamics I just mentioned. The high hopes are usually dashed. What a vicious cycle. And I’m just as guilty.

People who live with grief know that holidays are generally the toughest times of the year. Since Dad died, my grief around mom and Tim are also ramped up. I realized last night that the worst part isn’t even mine, even though that is significant too. The worst is watching my kids grow up with parents and grandparents missing. That just doesn’t seem to get easier no matter how many years go by.

Last year was especially tough and this year is proving to be the same. It is amazing how quickly you can spiral down the rabbit hole. Having it be a holiday just makes it all seem worse.

Family dynamics break my heart sometimes. Missing my sister hurts even know we celebrated our own Thanksgiving when she was in town. This is the first holiday I won’t be seeing my beautiful granddaughter because of painful circumstances.

Thanksgiving is for giving thanks. I believe it. I want it. I’m aware of the good things. But damn it, the sadness can overshadow what the whole purpose of the holiday is. Those who made it special are sometimes gone. The very people who are here are supposed to color our lives with love, but sometimes end up coloring our holidays with hurt. Boo!

Oops, sorry. I forgot Halloween is over.


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The Way It Should Be

This is the pamphlet from a church we visited recently. The service had the same feeling as its bulletin. Tim and I were both moved to tears by the end of the service. We know we are just at the beginning of a relationship with these folks, but I have no doubt that it was no accident that we found them just in the nick of time.

The church I attended when Tim (deceased) was dying had been my church home for 7 years. It indeed felt like home. I was heavily involved, sometimes volunteering and eventually as paid staff.

About 2 years before Tim’s illness, the church hired someone that turned everything around. Our staff was amazingly close and functioned like a relatively healthy family. Until then.

I’m not sure what personnel was thinking when they hired someone who openly said he was “not religious.” It was obvious this was a paid job for him, not a ministry. There was formal skill, but no heart.

He didn’t like the role I played in the church so he slowly but surely made my life miserable there. The details are not worth getting into, but let me just say there are many, many stories. He really turned the fire up when our minister went away on sabbatical just when Tim was diagnosed. It is quite unbelievable but unfortunately true. He did his best to undermine me while I was desperately trying to help my dying husband and family while still working at the church. I needed that spiritual connection.

Three months after Tim died, I resigned. It should never have happened. Had I not been grief-stricken, I would not have done it. And it should never have been accepted. There had been other resignations over the years that were rejected and mine, without a doubt, should have been. I was deeply involved, faithful even when in crisis, and dedicated to those people I ministered to. I literally had an impeccable work history.

The craziness that came next was lawsuit worthy. That is not my heart though, and I certainly did not have the energy to pursue one. Besides, where would that have left me if I had won? A church of worship and job where I had to sue in order to be treatly justly and compassionately.

Over the last 8 years I have tried every now and then to heal my heart. I reached out when my books were written. I reached out when the church started addressing end of life issues. No matter what I tried, the door was slammed in my face.

Finally this summer, the minister moved and a new personnel committee was formed. This was a long time coming but I finally had my chance to make peace. I reached out and asked when I could come in and meet the committee. I made it clear that I didn’t expect anything to be done. I didn’t ask for justice, although truth be told I certainly could have. What was done to me was inexcusable. I just wanted to be heard. I had been silenced as well as the rest of the staff 8 years ago. And what was worse, the church folks let the congregation believe that I was just a “grieving widow” and left. I couldn’t believe they would desecrate our sacred memories like that.

I just wanted to tell my story and I felt my heart could finally heal. Just hear me. That’s it.

I was more than stunned when I got the call back that the committee “wasn’t interested.” They are only interested in moving forward in the church. They weren’t “equipped” to hear me. Equipped for what? Listening? They are in more trouble than I thought if that is the case. He said they talked to the church lawyer who advised them to “forget it and move on.”

I couldn’t believe after such a long wait, the final door was slammed. I didn’t think the church could hurt me more, but they managed to do just that. I’m not sure what is going on, but that is most certainly NOT how the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to behave.

I’m dumbfounded.

My human side wants to attend there again. Make sure my story gets told to anyone and everyone that would listen. All these years I’ve kept silent in order to “be the bigger person” and remain professional. I want to create havoc for them the way they injured me.

But like my new pastor says, that isn’t my heart. It never will be. And besides, how could I possibly waste a Sunday morning going there when this warm and nurturing door has opened up for us? This is no coincidence.

Thank you, God for providing this new place, for however long we will be there. And thank you to those folks that understand the true mission of Christ and follow that call- the way it should be.


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Taffy 2

Taffy

I am happy to report that today we had to order another script of steroids. She is responding quite well and I have to keep remembering we are on borrowed time. I warned you I would be blogging more about her so I hope you don’t mind. I am thrilled this is NOT a memorial blog.

It is true that dogs become family members. It is true that sometimes we connect more deeply with them because there is never much to forgive. They just love you all the time. Being a Border Collie mix, she is a worker. It took me years to realize that I was NOT her mommy. Taffy is MY mommy. She clearly feels it is her job to keep an eye on me.

I mean look at this typical “mom” look. I spilled ice cubes all over the floor when in a rush. She is totally saying, “Really? Be more careful next time!”

Taffy

She’s no angel though. She is infamous for running away, although those days seem to be over. I will never forget the time the police called me after they found her. Does she not look guilty? She was actually in the back of the police car when I picked her up. Once in our car, she acted like, “What? Nothing to see here, move along.”

Taffy

But she definitely has won all of our hearts and we are continuing to enjoy her and attempt not to take her for granted.

Christmas- Darcy, Taffy, Dave, Louie

(Ok, she isn’t a fan of the hats…)


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Taffy

Our girl

Taffy is our border collie mixed with I-don’t-know-what. We rescued her so we also aren’t sure how old she is. Our best guess is about 12. I know she has been our family member 10 years.

I remember we got her on a Saturday. Tim had a wallpapering job that day. He had been a “no” for 8 years or so. No dogs. Absolutely not. Then that particular Saturday, he said, “I suppose you should have a dog or else you might get a different husband.”

He was barely in his car when I grabbed seven-year-old Frankie and told him we had to strike when the iron was hot. At the animal rescue, there were 3 families that wanted her. We were the lucky ones.

Over the years, she also had to bond with our other furry friends.

Taffy, Herbie

In 2015, we acquired Herbie and Matilda. Herbie clearly has always thought Taffy was her best friend. Taffy just found him particularly annoying. Taffy would lay on the floor and Herbie would want to spoon. She figured out quickly that Taffy wasn’t a fan so she would lay slightly away from her. Then he would stretch over and over until she had crept next to him. In about 30 seconds Taffy would move and the process would start all over again. But one of their favorite things was to hang out at the door and bask in the sun.

Matilda, Herbie, Taffy

Besides not cuddling with Herbie, Taffy was also not a fan of playing games and would do her best to stop it.

Taffy

Anyhow, my next couple blogs will probably be about her as well so I hope you are a dog lover.

Why now? Ms. Taffy is on steroids. We are all too familiar with those in our family. She has a degenerative spine. It also appears that she may have a cancerous tumor on her spleen. (The tumor is not a maybe, the cancer is most likely.) Yesterday I found myself thinking that perhaps we are wrong because she seems like her old self. Then I caught myself. Remember what the vet said about our cat Oreo. Remember what Hospice said about Tim. Steroids only provide comfort. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Your loved one is dying.

We are all doing our best to enjoy her company every day. We spoil her every moment we can. She deserves it!

Taffy


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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!