Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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When Travel Was Allowed

A trip down memory lane. Yes, that was a pun. I can’t go to some sunny destination so I thought maybe I would remember a really amazing trip I made in 1991 with my former husband John, my parents, and my aunt. The latter three are now deceased.

It was one of those opportunities that only come once in a lifetime for most of us. Six weeks in an RV traveling around the west. The scenery and experiences were incredible.

It started in Colorado when we went to the Garden of the Gods. We visited a great-aunt there who I had only vaguely heard of. It was beautiful. One day we drove around in the car and experienced sun, rain, and hail, all in one afternoon.

Next stop was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It’s hard to describe but one time we were sitting on the edge and we saw a rescue helicopter. It looked like a tiny toy. Until we say that, we didn’t even have the perspective of just how massive it was.

One of my lifetime memories occurred there. As I get older, I sometimes wonder if I really remember things factually, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

John and I were sitting and watching the sunset. Several other families were doing the same thing. There were a few people who spoke different languages. It was eerily silent as the sun slowly went down. It was breathtaking. Someone started to sing How Great Thou Art. Everyone joined in, some in their native language. Even my atheist husband sang. It still gives me chills to remember it.

Badlands, South Dakota
Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

The Badlands and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota did not disappoint. Although I admit Mt. Rushmore took about five minutes to see.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming- buffalo

Yellowstone National Park, WY was incredible in its own way. Bubbling puddles of water and mud were everywhere. It was fascinating. We saw the most animal life there. There were deer, elk, coyotes, and buffalo. One buffalo slowly walked down the middle of the road oblivious to anything other than enjoying his leisurely stroll. The cars were backed up for miles in both directions.

By far though, the most memorable moment on the trip had nothing to do with scenery and everything to do with relationships. We were at a camp site and there was a small pond. Mom and I decided to venture out in a canoe. Of course, neither of us had ever been in one before.

I wish I was capable enough to post a video of it. It was classic. Dad was trying to help us with his typical impatience and disgust. You would have thought we were battling Niagara Falls and all he could do was keep yelling at us two numbskulls.

When we finally managed to move the damn thing, Mom starting screaming out of fear. It was hilarious.

Me? Well, I’m recorded asking, “So how do you oar?” And then in true Darcy Thiel form, I hit my head with an oar.

John was a smart ass but I have to say his narration behind the camera was award winning. He tried to answer my question by telling me to slap the water with the oar. Of course I did it and of course that drenched Mom. He then told Mom to hit me in the head with the oar. Now that wasn’t necessary because I had already done that.

Dad finally went from annoyance to laughing when we ran into another canoe so he had to walk all the way around the pond to get to us. Did I mention that the other canoe was just sitting at the water’s edge? It wouldn’t get out of our way.

I know things are not the same in writing, but I hope I’ve shared a smile with you.


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Gift Giving

I don’t know if you have ever heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, but it basically says that the millions of ways we show love boil down to five basic groups. One of them is “gifts”, which I scored a big, fat zero on it when I took the test.

I feel bad for the people whose love language is gifting if they have to interact with me. Some people are truly great at it. They give thoughtful, loving gifts that are personal and meaningful. It hurts them when they are unable to express love in their language.

I keep trying slowly take gifts out of Christmas. Besides my small efforts to be a pseudo-minimalist, I am also an organizer. As I get older, clutter has gone from something I don’t like to something I get completely anxious around.

Stuff, more stuff.

Americans are consumers, big time. Buying for people becomes so hard because frankly, almost everyone of any age has more than they can possibly use or need. But a couple of things happened this year that made me happy.

It started with my friend Nina. I arrived at an appointment with her and she handed me a wrapped gift. Oh no! We don’t normally exchange. I know you aren’t supposed to feel this way, but I thought I had better run out and get her something. Let’s face it. We all feel a sense of “obligation” to reciprocate.

When I opened it, we smiled and laughed and I thought about how I wish every gift was this way. A few years ago, I gave her a dress I was “done with” and she loved it. I had recently commented on a shirt she wore and there it was wrapped up and given to me. I absolutely loved it. No money. Just thoughtfulness. It felt great!

Then my friend mailed me a package with her mom’s coloring books. She died this year so the holidays were going to be tough for my friend and her family. I love to color. Not only did her memory pay forward to me, but I also shared them with a few clients who are trying new ways of coping while they are required to be alone. The passing on to me was passed on to several others as well.

My friend told me about her adult son listening to a family member who needed a certain kind of water bottle and put it on her Christmas list. He knew his family had a couple so he picked the best one and wrapped it up for her. She loved it.

Instead of “more,” what a lovely idea it is to “pass it on” instead. No extra money. No extra consumption. Just outright sharing. I think Christmas would be better across the country if this idea caught on.

LESS IS MORE!


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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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Reason, Season, or Lifetime

Have you heard that saying before? People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Sometimes we are surprised by which category then end up in. Mostly I think it’s when we expect people will be our forever friends. We can’t imagine our life without them. Lo and behold, they end up leaving our lives.

When I was looking at old home videos, I realized that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Endings aren’t always painful. Remembering them can be warm.

When I was in elementary school, we had the option of going Wednesdays on the bus to go to the local fire hall. Religion classes were held. Aunt Alice and Aunt Eunice were the teachers. Aunt Alice was this plump woman who exuded excitement. I remember raising my hand to say that yes, I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

My favorite time was the “Bible drills.” Everyone who wanted to play would hold their hand up with their Bible in their hands as Aunt Alice bellowed, “Draw swords!” Then she would ask a question about a Bible verse and the first one to stand and have the answer would win.

I’m proud to say I won often.

Even though my parents took us to church every week, it was Aunt Alice that got me excited about God. I would have never remembered it, but when I saw my 1988 wedding video, Aunt Alice and Aunt Eunice attended. What an honor that they came. I’m sure they have long since died, but they had such a great influence on my life.

Jim Gardner was another fond memory. He was my neighbor. He had diabetes, an artificial limb, and was blind. He was an inspirational speaker and taught about disabilities in several venues. I would clean his house once a week because his wife was super busy and exhausted all the time.

Well, I sort of cleaned. We talked most of the time. We talked about everything. Even though he was an adult, he wasn’t my parent so I could talk with him about life issues that I was afraid to talk to my parents about.

He wrote and recited a poem he wrote about me as the “toast to the bride” at my first wedding. In it, he talked about some of the memorable things my mom did for me. That warmed my heart too. I sang at his funeral a few years after that, but I loved seeing him again and remembering what a big role he played in my life.

Kent and Marci were my youth leaders throughout high school. I went to their house as often as I could. Marci played the organ and Kent read a Bible passage at my wedding. Every once in a great while, I will run into Marci. It feels like the 30 years melt away when I see her. I always wish we would re-connect more regularly, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.

I forgot that my high school friend Melinda sang at my wedding. We were “music heads” together in high school. Every few years we connect briefly. I saw another high school friend Diana recently. We both thought she didn’t attend my wedding but sure enough, we found video footage of her being there.

So the saying may be true. Some people come around for a reason (like a plumber), some for a season (like high school), and some for a lifetime (like your sisters when you realize they are also your friends.) But regardless, their influence can last a lifetime, no matter how much time they spend in person with you.

I’m grateful for all those people who helped shape my life for the better!


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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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Enduring truths

Kathy, Oscar; photo courtesy of author

There are studies that show that sometimes even our strongest memories are inaccurate. We could swear such and such but if we had an actual recording, we would be surprised that things aren’t as we recall.

For years, whenever I was asked how I decided to become a therapist, I would tell them the way my story went in my head. I was going to be a missionary. Then I got married and my marriage went south. We started counseling. I was fascinated by the process I went through and what I learned about myself.

Plus, the missionary boards I had researched and chosen no longer wanted me because I was “divorced.” The big D. Also stands for “damaged goods.” Psychology made sense.

Then one day when I was scanning photo albums, I came across a newspaper article that was written about me when I was chosen to be “student of the month” in high school. In that article, I said that I intended to become a counselor.

Huh.

I could swear that went differently.

Now, remembering my story inaccurately is part of my story.

When I was recently watching home movies, I started with 1988 and my first marriage. Most of us girls dream about our wedding day from birth on. And choosing a lifelong mate is certainly an event of paramount importance. We all expect it to be our one and only wedding.

That’s why it cracked me up when I was shocked to find the video. I thought it had gotten lost, through no fault of my own. The minister who performed the ceremony asked to see our only copy of it and he finally came forward, embarrassed, to say he lost it.

Guess I remembered that story wrong because here I was watching it.

After the reception video was done, the wedding video started over again from another view. Oh yeah! We had two videos of the wedding, not one!

Then I had the “correct” memory.

It was my SECOND marriage video that got lost, not my first one.

Had to laugh at my own aging brain. It’s hard to keep all those marriages straight!

Some truths do last a lifetime.

For instance, truth be told, John (husband #1) was handsome back in the day. I had the chance to see him last year and he is still handsome 30 years later. He aged well.

John’s best friend Oscar gave the toast at our reception, just like tradition goes. Oscar was a close friend of mine as well and was the husband of my best friend Kathy.

I couldn’t believe how his toast nailed it. The enduring truths.

“John, you have a love for truth.” This was in the context mostly of faith and Christianity, which he later abandoned because it no longer seemed truthful to him. But Oscar was right. He searched for understanding. And he rubbed off on me. I take some of that passion with me to this day.

The other half of that toast was about me.

“Darcy, you have a love for people.”

Yep, still 100% true 30 years later. I would add that the next logical step is you love being able to help people and make a difference in their lives. It’s just natural when you love them.

Excellent job on the toast, Oscar.

And by the way, another enduring truth. Kathy and Oscar are still two of my favorite people in the world. They still get me in ways most people don’t. I treasure your continued presence in my life, you two!

(Not that they ever read my blogs…LMAO!)


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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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Looking Back

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is daves-birthday-8.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Author

Today is the ten year marker of my husband Tim’s death. I feel warmly in many ways, but when I see the picture of the last time we were all together, that is when I break up. Our kids didn’t need to grow up with a father. Especially David. He was only eight. He looks so very, very young.

Last weekend I went away with my friends for a night as has become the custom on this anniversary. This year, I added a day and night alone. I expected it to be a struggle, but it went down a completely unexpected path.

The weather was beautiful but I ended up never leaving the cottage. I hooked up our home videos and sat there for hours and hours. My depressed brain managed to process this without tears and allowed a very warm and grateful experience.

I decided to go as far back as I had videos for which brought me to 1988, my first wedding to John.

We planned every second of it. (Ok, it was me. No surprise there.) So many of the details were unique at the time. I loved watching it and thinking about how clever I was – LOL. We had our groomsman walk halfway down the aisle and escort the bridesmaids.

The kicker? We sang to each other. I still can’t beleive we did that.

The focus was definitely God. Every song, every reading carefully chosen. John even said the prayer at the end to bless our marriage. I chuckled because he went on and on. I remember his buddies giving him a hard time after.

We then brought our moms a bouquet of roses after the ceremony was over and escorted each guest out. That way we got to say hello to everyone. I was so surprised at the people who were there. And deeply grateful. So many of them had such an effect on my life and the direction it took. Family, people from high school, college and church.

And of course there was the obvious loss. It felt strangely like Mom and Dad were in the room watching with me. That didn’t bring sadness. So many of my relatives are now gone because it was over 30 years ago! There were other losses besides death. Lost friendships and relationships. Some faces I recognized but could not remember their lives for the life of me. Yet at the time, they were important in my life.

Those couples that got divorced. There were three in particular that were outright shocking when they happened. (Oh yeah, the fourth was my own!)

Speaking of that, I was surprised – and glad that I wasn’t sarcastic as I listened to the ceremony. There was no, “Oh yeah, right. Like you meant any of that.” The words and atmosphere reflected where we truly were at that point of our lives.

A little over a year ago, I was able to have lunch with John and his wife. There was no bitterness on either party, just the warmth of seeing someone we hadn’t seen in decades. Perhaps that contributed to the vibe I had as I watched the video.

More thoughts to come on this. I’m not sure if it is simply my own catharsis, but I do hope maybe someone reading this will find hope that our past pains don’t have to haunt us forever. There is meaning in loss when we look for it.