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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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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Witness of the Sacred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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3 Reasons Older Adults Are Cranky

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

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

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


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Ex’s and Formers

I’ve never really liked the word “ex” so I try to use the word former. Lately, I’ve been challenged about the “formers” in my life so of course I challenged myself and even dedicated a good part of a counseling session to it.

I like the fact – well, I am actually proud of the fact that I have remained cordial, and in some cases even close to my former boyfriends. Part of me feels like when you love someone, there is always part of you that loves them and wishes them health and happiness. That is genuine.

I also know that part of me (as was pointed out to me again recently) has a strong need for everyone to like me. It really eats away at me when someone doesn’t like me and I will literally spend years trying to figure out how I should have improved myself to be more likeable.

My therapist pointed out that some of it goes back to family of origin stuff- specifically my dad. I always searched for evidence that he was proud of me. I’ve known that for years, but it surprised me this weekend because Dad is gone now and I felt deeply resolved with him before he left us. We never had that healing conversation, but I know how he looked at me to help him. Even though that was also painful, I realized how much he needed me and counted on me. When I think of him now I just miss him terribly. The other parts are just healed up.

Anyhow, Tim and I recently went to Seattle/Friday Harbor for vacation. The main draw was my friend Darren who I have blogged about relatively frequently. He was my 7th grade rolling skating boyfriend and he found me online a few years ago when my book came out. He and his wife were two of the most generous hosts we have ever experienced. That could not possibly have been kinder to us.

The big surprise that was unplanned, was also getting to have lunch with my first husband and his wife. I have been surprised by how many people have responded with, “Why would you want to see him?” It catches me off guard because I think, “Why wouldn’t I?” Sometimes we don’t even realize we could use closure and healing. I think John felt it too because he hugged me goodbye and thanked me for making it happen. The next day he texted a photo of the four of us and said it was a memorable lunch. No big discussions, no rehashing, just a chance to feel warm toward someone who was a tremendously important part of my life at one time.

Maybe all my motives aren’t perfect, but I stand by my position. I am proud of the healing that has happened in my life. And even though I have made some very, very big mistakes, I’ve conducted myself well enough that people find a way to feel warmly back.

Thanks to John and Darren for being part of my life. And mostly thanks to Tim for being by my side and trusting our love and commitment enough not to find it all too weird!


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Exclusive Rights

When I was guided through learning my personality type in the Eneagram, I discovered one of the worst things that could happen to me emotionally was to be excluded from something. I could give you several stories from my life where that happened. I get crushed when I find out I’ve been left out. Knowing it’s a personality thing helps soften the blow a little, but overall I still get bummed.

Last week I had to go to a funeral on Tim’s (my husband) side. It was a Catholic service, true to family tradition. I asked about whether it was appropriate to take communion and I was told that the priest will announce whether you need to be Catholic or not. If there is nothing said, it is ok, even if you are Protestant. The announcement came so I didn’t partake.

This week I had to go to a funeral on Tim’s (current partner) side. It was a Catholic service as well. I waited and sure enough the announcement came. There was also a lengthy explanation about Polish Catholic vs. Irish Catholic ritual and how to appropriately walk with your hands for the Eucharist depending on your background. I abstained again. Tim wasn’t really listening (lucky) so he went up anyway. His heart was in the right place.

I remember when I was in college at a fundamental Christian college, studying to be a missionary. When I came home on break and went to church with my family, I wasn’t allowed to take communion there either. They said if I was currently attending a Lutheran church, I couldn’t take it, even though I was baptized and confirmed there. Sigh.

I struggle with the whole thing. I feel like it is a good and polite thing to respect traditions. My heart isn’t interested in offending anyone, especially in a place where love is taught. Men don’t sing in the Buffalo Women’s Gateway Chorus. That’s exclusive to women, right?

I have to admit though, it feels a tinge different. For me, church is a place where God (and often Christ) is preached and the basis is love. Love with a capital “L” and in bright shining lights. Why would anyone want to discourage another human from participating in a ritual that brings our souls closer to God?

I remember in my years with more fundamental churches and being afraid sometimes to take communion. It was between God and the person, but the pressure was even worse. There was emphasis on the Bible verses that talk about how “some have gotten sick and even died because they took communion in a manner than was unworthy”. Holy cow (pun intended)! That’s enough pressure to keep the most saintly person from participating. I could get cancer or even fall over dead if I didn’t participate the RIGHT way.

Yikes.

I guess for now, in my 50’s, I feel like I’m on a good track. God is about inclusion and love to me. Come and share in the bounty. For those that believe differently, I will respect their wishes. But next time I think I will choose Tim’s path. If I don’t hear the restriction, I can take the bread and wine in good faith (pun intended) and enjoy the ritual that has meant so much throughout my lifetime. Alas, ignorance really is bliss sometimes.


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Failing, Failure

The last couple days have been tough. There is nothing monumentally wrong that most families and relationships don’t typically go through. But when I feel like everything around me (or 80%) is failing, I end up feeling like a failure.

My sister was her supportive self today when we talked. She gave me her opinion that I am one of the most capable people she knows and far from a failure. Thanks sissy! Deep down, I guess I know I’m not responsible for everyone else’s choices, but it’s hard when stress can feel unrelenting.

I got talking to a client today and it reminded me of research I read years ago. It said that females in particular tend to be prone to an “internal locus of control” which, like anything else, has its good and bad points.

When a woman is faced with a problem or hurt, she usually asks herself what she did wrong and looks for how she can fix it. An external locus of control would assume someone else screwed up. The good part of the internal focus is that it can lead to empowerment and change. The bad part is that it can lead to over-responsibility and unnecessary self-blame.

Generalizations almost always get you in trouble so please understand these thoughts don’t apply to every single person in every single situation. As an observer of human behavior and relationships, I have to say that it does seem to often be the case though. Women are often the “emotional thermometers” in relationships. It’s almost comical when a couple sits down for session and the man briefly declares things are ok. The woman wants to know who he has been living with because it apparently isn’t their home. As she recounts the week’s activity, the man will eventually nod in agreement. “Oh yea, I forgot about that,” or something similar.

Anyhow, when you intensely love and care for people around you, it can be heartbreaking when you are disappointed, worried, concerned when you see those around you making choices that hurt you, or worse hurt themselves. Probably the most intense pain is around the love and concern a parent has for their child. A child of any age, no matter how old he/she gets.

I’m doing ok tonight. I’m exhausted and feel like a wet dish rag. But talking to people who care and an unscheduled call to Scott (my trusted therapist) reminds me that these things too shall pass. They hurt like hell, but I don’t need to fall into the abyss or anything. Tomorrow will come and I will just do the best I can again. I’m usually the only one that asks more of me than that.

Hope all is well in your world, wherever you are. Take some time for self-care, but stay engaged in life and people. It’s worth it, even when you’d rather punch them all…LOL.