Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I have been lecturing on death/dying/end of life planning for four years now. As my dad has been going through medical issues, I find myself on the other end of that conversation. I hear doctors and nurses say things almost verbatim to the things I have said myself many times over. But it has been a good wake-up lesson for me to have it be so personal again. It’s been a while since the information has been so relevant and in my face.

A few weeks ago when Dad was in the hospital, we had to make some decisions. I have been anticipating this moment for at least a year, maybe longer. Yet somehow, I felt shock, blind-sided, unprepared. It was strongly reminiscent of what I felt when Tim passed. I had been at his side for months, thinking I was ready for the moment when he would go. But when they announced his death, I felt my knees literally buckle underneath me. I was shocked. How was that possible? Yet it was the definite reality I lived.

Dad made a decision to go palliative a few weeks ago. It totally makes sense. It’s a rational, reasonable decision. He has Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that only gets worse. There is no getting better. After seven hospitalizations in 14 months, there will be no more tests, procedures, labs, hospitals, etc.. The decision was made through a very teary-eyed conversation between myself, my sister, and the nurse practitioner. She did an excellent job, just like I would have done in that position. She told us that Dad had spared us making tough decisions but clearly making his wishes known in his MOLST form. It was end of life planning working exactly the way it was supposed to.

Then why the hell is it so hard?

Now don’t get me wrong. Dad does not appear to be in the active stages of dying. But he is ready to when the time comes and wants quality of life until then. He could be around for a long time, no one knows.

My sister and I took him to see his dermatologist yesterday. We updated her on what has been happening. When we were ready to leave, she cried. She apologized if she was upsetting us but I told her it always feels good to know other people love Dad too.  He has a great team of doctors that have taken years to gather together.

Again, my point is just this. While I talk about this “stuff” quite frequently, it is still hard to face when it isn’t just concepts we are talking about, but someone I love dearly. It renews my passion again to help people think about these concepts before they are in the middle of crisis. It’s hard enough to do with preparation! I’m starting the process of figuring out my next career move but I know it is going to have something to do with helping people on this journey.


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It’s Just Stuff…Right?

One of my businesses is called “Less Mess, Less Stress.” My “nickname” on my business cards is “The Clutter Cleaner.” I’ve been doing organizing for several years, but I don’t really advertise it. Usually I get someone by word of mouth and have one to two clients a year. It’s relatively physical work so that is just fine with me.

When I first started, it would be what I envisioned- helping people cleaning out that junk room, or maybe cleaning out the garage so you can actually park in it. Then for a while, it became more hoarding or condemned houses. Sometimes I would have to hire an entire crew and we would literally have to shovel the house out. The latest psychology diagnostic manual now actually has a diagnosis for hoarding. It has probably always been around, but now there is much more exposure.

I always say that this job overlaps quite a bit with my counseling profession. First of all, people’s relationship to their belongings is very emotional. Especially when there is grief involved, my counseling skills come in handy. Then there are the people who go beyond a bit of clutter. Often times their relationship is connected to something so much deeper. Even for myself, I say only half-kidding that I put my own disease to good use. I don’t actually have OCD, but I do have some traits. Organizing is an excellent outlet for that so I find a way to make it a strength.

I’ve been asked to speak on this topic a few times as well. One of my favorites was with the Buffalo marital attorney’s group. How ironic that a couple’s counselor was asked to talk to divorce lawyers. But not as a counselor, as an organizer. A poetic moment. Anyhow, I say that if you hire me, you will love your space (whatever it is you are working on) when I am finished. You probably will hate me, but you will love your house.

It is my job to help people let go of things. The vast majority of Americans need to downsize. You don’t need more space, you need less stuff. One of my sayings that I think is typically accurate.

Recently, we’ve been helping my dad make the big decision about when it is time to live in a smaller place where there isn’t so much upkeep. It’s not only a decision about housing, but about aging. Which is always about acceptance. And aging is about approaching death as well. Which is also about acceptance. It’s emotional for Dad, but also for all us kids too.

After months of no, no, no, Dad has decided he’s ready to move. And when he is ready, he means now. We have been trying to sell the house, find him a new place, downsize his belongings, and everything in between. Life has been a bit crazy. Some of the most fun times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and reminiscing about whatever. And some of the most tense times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and disagreeing whole heartedly about how to help Dad make the shift.

That’s where I have to remember I’m a daughter before an organizer. No one in my family has hired me to take this on. But I’m used to doing it so sometimes I get a little bit bossy. But I also think that initially Dad (like all of us) needed a little nudging to move forward. Now there is no stopping him and the rest of us can’t keep up. It has been interesting to observe how he has changed over the years. My niece has been gone over 15 years. My mom has been gone nine years. Tim has been gone over five. That doesn’t even seem possible.

Over the years we have gone through various memories and belongings and initially- and even for years- so many things were untouchable. They were sacred. No one could bear to part with anything. Just looking at things would cause us to tear up or have moments of actual crying. Now time has gone by. I ask Dad about certain things and he looks at me like, “Why would I want that?” I know without a doubt that he still deeply misses and loves all those people he has lost. But he is moving on. I want to be that way too. We don’t need boxes of things and pictures galore to remember our loved ones. I see it as growth and it’s healthy. After all, it’s just stuff, right? Well, that all depends on what year you are asking!