Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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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.


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Planned aloneness

I mentioned doing a silent retreat in one of my blogs recently. After my friend Summer called and laughed hysterically, I found out that retreat centers are all closed due to COVID. (Honestly, I don’t really get that. You are isolated and silent. How is that dangerous?)

This weekend is my annual Magical Misery Tour. That means it is the “anniversary” of my husband’s death. This year marks a decade. I can’t even believe it has been that long. Normally, my girl peeps and I go away for the weekend. For whatever reason (I blame it on COVID) I only want to go for one night. Anything more than that just seemed overwhelming.

Then it occurred to me that I can go a day earlier by myself and spend the night alone. That is the plan.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I can’t be alone in a room. It’s not that. But I am definitely high-level extrovert. When I hit my low points, it’s when I don’t have a significant other- that kind of lonely. That is not the case this year.

However, I also have lots of intense things swirling in my mind. People to worry about, take care of, big decisions to make, and so on. When I really sit with my thoughts, they can get pretty strong. That’s when I need my peeps. First, because I’m a verbal person who needs to run things by others. Sometimes it’s several times with several people before I’ve worked it through. Secondly, if my thoughts are about myself and they are painful, I also need to touch base.

My goal is to spend time solely with myself and do my own self-soothing if and when I need it.

I plan to:

Enjoy the beautiful foliage and lakes

Paint my nails (without having to rush and ruin a couple because I’m trying to do something while they are drying). Won’t it be nice to just do it leisurely and enjoy it?

Play my favorite solitaire games (without being paranoid that someone will walk by me and think that I am being lazy)

Color (without feeling like I’m doing it to balance the chaos of my day)

Watch home movies. This will be a high-risk activity. My son turned 18 this summer and he’s “been so over” his mom for at least 8 years. We were incredibly close when he was small. I love looking at memories of him. It will be super great to do that. And it will also spark a lot of tears. I know it will. I grieve his childhood being over. I grieve all the mistakes I made after his dad died when he was only 8 years old. I grieve that we can never rewind and squeeze them all over again before they thought it was gross to be hugged.

Journal. I haven’t journaled in years. I’m just taking a notebook and seeing what happens. I’m going to think about a lot of those issues that trouble me. This is also a high-risk activity. I am not afraid of honestly looking at myself. I will take the truth, no matter how difficult it might be. But I can also come undone and need my folks to ground me again.

Wish me luck. I may end up calling someone and that won’t be the end of the world. But I am truly going to try and suck it up and rely on myself. It’s only for 24 hours. I can do it, right?


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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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Control

Photo Courtesy of Author

Yes, I’m a bit OCD, but I feel like I put it to great use. First, there is my organizing business. Second, my house is in pretty good order. After dealing with a leaking roof, we took our already fairly organized storage rooms and made them even better.

There are worse vises to have, right?

I did see an online post that said, “You call it OCD. I call it put it back in its damn place.” Well, there was a harsher word than damn, but I cleaned it up for you. At any rate, it makes me feel better. Seriously, what’s wrong with being organized?

As the months keep going by, there is more and more that seems out of our control. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t think our world is a bit of a mess right now. Most of the time, there is nothing we can do about it. That’s why so many folks struggle with heightened anxiety.

Why not control what little we can?

I went away overnight to a friend’s cottage. I actually invited myself because I was desperate to escape for 24 hours. At one point, she and her friend went shopping and I stayed home.

It took about ten minutes and then the crying started. (This bodes well for the silent retreat I want to take soon.) I couldn’t describe it. The only phrase that came to mind repeatedly was, “I’m just not well.” I’m a depression veteran so I recognize it when it hits. There is some added dynamic I can’t pinpoint so I just credit the pandemic.

I’m not well. I’m not myself. I’m discombobulated. Thanks 2020.

A friend sent me a video that gently reminded me to access the greatest Power of all. It was talking about how “it depends on whose hand it is in.” You put a nail in your hand and it’s a tool. You put a nail in Jesus’ hand and we know that’s a different story entirely.

The ending message was to put your worries in God’s hands.

I’ve been trying to envision that regularly. I see God’s hands as these ginormous things. I hobble right into them like I’m trying to climb out of a pool. I figure to heck with putting my worries in God’s hands. I’m just plopping my whole body in there.

My entire self feels broken down and exhausted right now. God’s hands are big enough to handle it. Right?


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Block Schedules

When you are a little (or a lot) OCD, you might like to live by lists. I have lists for everything. There is nothing more gratifying than deleting something off your list. I would say 95% of the time, I don’t finish the list, but I usually come close.

On spurts where I have too much on my plate, I know completing the list is hopeless. I don’t even set up the expectation in my head. I know a big chunk of the list is getting moved to the next day. The next day is already over-filled but it’s getting another chunk of stuff anyway.

This last spurt has lasted a while. Because I know I have a tendency to be a workaholic, I also build things into the list to balance my life. The problem has been that many of the things that recharge me are not practical during a pandemic. All things added together, it’s a sure-fire recipe for my “Treatment-Resistant Depression” to flare up.

Sigh.

Today I sat for a while just looking at the lists. You know you’re in trouble when you spend more time rearranging lists than doing anything on them. I didn’t do that today though, I just looked for themes. Ok, I did rearrange the lists, but that wasn’t my endgame.

So I’m trying block scheduling like they do in high schools now. I divided all the desired (and not-desired) tasks into categories. Then I’m giving each category a block of time. There are a bunch, but some of them are work (thus this blog finally being written), the house, the yard, and yes! Personal care. I’m figuring out even little things like having a cup of tea to somehow get my gas tank off of “E” where it has been hovering for far too long.

You know that feeling when your gas light goes on and you know you need to stop soon so you don’t end up stranded. If you’re like me, you hope you get to that one gas station you really like so you push the envelope a bit.

That’s the feeling I’ve had inside for over a month now. I’m on “E” and I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the station in time before the car dies. It’s an awful, anxious feeling.

There is a silent retreat weekend coming up for me. I don’t know when/where it will be, but I hope to set it up today. It’s on my “self-care” block. It will kill me to be alone and silent, but I think it’s the surgery I need.

So here’s to block scheduling. At least for the weekend. I’m hoping it has good results for this Type A, OCD, Workaholic, Treatment-Resistant Depression, worn out girl.

Isn’t it ironic that it’s Labor Day weekend?


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Guest Blogger: Sara Bailey

Thanks to Sara for this wonderful article:

How to Plan a Sabbatical as a Couple

Are you and your partner in need of a long-term getaway? When routine starts to feel rote and squabbles turn into shouting, a sabbatical can be just the ticket for refreshing your perspectives. Just as many people take sabbaticals as an opportunity to destress, recharge, and avoid career burnout, a sabbatical can help you avoid relationship burnout. Without the strain of daily life weighing on you both, you and your partner can remember what brought you together, and face your relationship problems as a team.

Avoid financial strain

The first thing anyone asks when sabbaticals come up is, “How could I possibly afford it?” It’s no wonder why. When so many families live paycheck-to-paycheck, time away from work seems like a far-off dream. But other people have done it, and you can too.

The main thing is to develop a baseline budget. This may be lower than your current budget if you plan to live simply during your sabbatical, but some expenses, like food and health insurance, will remain the same. Then aim to keep costs low while on sabbatical. Consider traveling to a country with a low cost of living, moving into a small apartment, or even trading your home for a tiny home or camper van.

Home sweet home

You could stay home during your sabbatical, but when the point is to step outside of everyday life to gain perspective, it’s logical to say goodbye to familiar surroundings and head somewhere new. An option is to sell your home and use the proceeds to fund your sabbatical, but that’s a lot of work and stress you don’t need right now.

Instead, it makes sense to list your home as a rental. If you own a home in a desirable neighborhood, turning your home into a rental could cover your mortgage with money to spare. Before renting your home, you’ll need to create a lease which will include terms such as length of stay, security deposit needed, and landlord and tenant responsibilities.

What about pets?

It’s generally best to take a sabbatical before having kids or after they’ve left the nest, but what about pets? If staying stateside, BootsnAll notes your pets may be able to come with you. However, if you’re traveling overseas or taking your pets simply isn’t feasible, ask around to see if someone you trust is willing to watch them. If no friends or family members are able, leasing to a tenant who is willing to care for your animals in exchange for reduced rent could save you money over the cost of long-term pet sitting.

Add some income

Decide if you’ll work part-time during your sabbatical or stop work completely. You may find it refreshing to log a few hours doing flexible freelance work, giving yourself a financial cushion in the process, or prefer to stay off the grid entirely.

Once you have a sense of your income and expenses, calculate how much you’ll need to save for a sabbatical. Then, add 20-30%. If you’re not guaranteed a job when you return, you may want to save an even larger buffer — TransUnion recommends saving a year’s salary for a six- to nine-month sabbatical so you don’t rely on credit if you can’t find a job right away. It may take a while to save up as much as you need, but you can speed things up by living minimally in preparation for your gap year.

Making it work in the age of COVID-19

With the world in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may wonder how, exactly, you can get away safely. Fortunately, there are ways you can plan a getaway while taking precautions for your health and security. For example, Business Insider recommends booking a stay at a socially distant hotel or planning a vacation at a privately owned home through a website such as Airbnb. If you want to avoid flying, you and your partner can plot out a road trip that takes you through parts of the country you’ve never explored, all while practicing good social distancing etiquette. The most important thing is to plot out these excursions carefully and plan ahead as much as possible to ensure you follow local guidelines.

Taking a sabbatical isn’t a decision you make overnight. It can take months or years of planning to pull off a sabbatical, especially for a couple. However, when you’re in a relationship for the long haul, the planning is a blip on the radar. The result of your time spent together, on the other hand, will last for life.

Image via Unsplash


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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.