Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Scary

I was talking to my friend, Trish this week. I may have mentioned her before. She found me after she read my book. She is my age and also widowed, but she has SIX kids. I tell her she’s my hero all the time, and she tells me the same. We often vent to each other because there are some things only another young widow with kids can understand. I was telling her about my latest fears and she got all pissed off. She lamented about how unfair it is for us and our children. Whenever we get sick, there is this instant panic about cancer and dying. No kid should have to worry about that, but our kids do.

I certainly could identify with the recent breast cancer scare I had. But any mother will tell you, we would rather give up a limb (or anything else for that matter) than have our kids suffer in any way.

I am known for keeping my head on straight in a crisis. I usually fall apart afterward when the danger has passed. When Tim was alive, that was the way things played out when the kids were younger. He kind of froze and I had to handle everything. Make the calls, make the decisions, and pretend to be calm while it was happening to keep everyone else sane. Tim was there and supportive, but he was on the sidelines.

But in the land of almost four years into grief, I don’t handle much of anything like I used to. My rational head has grown even further away from my emotional heart.

Frankie came to me about a month ago and said he had blood in his urine. Slight panic, but I got him in to our trusty Dr. Grace immediately. She put him on antibiotics for a suspected UTI and off we went. On Monday, Frankie came to me and told me he wasn’t better. It had come back.

Slightly more panic than last time, but I just make the call to trusty Dr. Grace again immediately. The office calls back and says “Grace wants you to see Dr. So and So, a urology specialist within 48 hours. What’s your schedule like?” So while I still have my rational brain, my emotions start freaking out. There is no more “calm until the danger is passed.” I just lose it immediately. The worst part of it? Frankie admits to another person that he is scared too. Of course he is scared. His dad died from something that was supposed to be simple. This is where Trish starts bitching about how unfair life is for our kids. They panic more than other kids because of what they have witnessed firsthand. But truth be told, I panic too.

Why the rush to get in within 48 hours? That’s the scary part. They can’t get him in until Thursday morning but they are doing the best they can. On Tuesday, the office calls and says they want to do a history on Frankie. I know it’s routine. But she asks this question: “Does Frankie have anyone in his family line that has had any sort of cancer in the stomach/bladder region?” I started crying and couldn’t even answer her for a moment. Hell, yes. HIS DAD DIED FROM GALLBLADDER CANCER AT A RIDICULOUSLY YOUNG AGE. And now we are scared to death too.

Frankie does not want to go and have some male doctor look at his body. He is most nervous about that, at this point. I do the best I can to allay his fears. But inside I’m angry. Why isn’t there a man in his life that can talk to him about this stuff? That would have been very helpful to have had a guy with us. Especially if there was a guy who had some experience with urologists or whatever to help Frankie be less anxious. But there is just me. As usual. A woman, who Frankie has decided to be very angry at and distanced from. I’m all he’s got, but I’m not what he needs right now as a 12 year-old boy.

We go in and register him. I realize I’m shaky and nauseous, but I deserve an award for appearing calm to Frankie. Thankfully, the doctor is young and has three young boys. He wants to examine him and so Frankie gives the usual demand that I leave the room. I come back in after and the doc says he wants Frankie to have a renal ultrasound.

We go to check out and the woman reads the notes and scrunches her face. She makes a call and says she doesn’t understand. Why are there two requests? And does he really want the tests done immediately? She is just doing her job, but every expression and comment makes me more and more concerned. I truly am worried that I am going to hurl all over her desk.

We go and get the ultrasounds and they direct us back to the doc’s office. They said the doc would have the results right away. We get back to the doc’s and the woman tells us the doc doesn’t want to see us for a week. I asked if we would be getting the test results and she says not til the appointment next week. I ask if he’s going to do anything to start treatment til then and she says no. I give Frankie the keys to the car and say to her quietly, that we are both very worried. His dad died of cancer, you see, so could someone call us today and let me know that nothing crazy is going on? She agreed to put a request in and then said some people have blood in their urine all their lives and it’s not a big deal. That actually made me feel a little better, but I don’t really know if she was qualified to say that. But it was the first not so scary thing anyone has said to us.

Frankie is visibly less worried now that the appointment is over. I am starting to calm down. But I can’t even begin to express the anxiety I have felt the last couple of days. I just want to scream, cry, hit someone or something, run away, throw up, or check into a hospital for myself. I am less and less in control of my emotions and fears at a time when Frankie needs me to be the rock I used to be in B.C. time (before cancer).

You don’t need to send comments about what a great mom I am. It doesn’t matter right now, because Frankie thinks I suck at it. And right now, that is all I can hear and process. This is only going to get worse as he hits puberty and needs a male in his life more and more. Just pray hard that I get it together soon. I’ve got to stop crying all the time. I may not be a father for him, but I damn well better start being a strong mom. I am doing the best I can, but he needs more than that. So pray hard. We need you!


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Scary

I was talking to my friend, Trish this week. I may have mentioned her before. She found me after she read my book. She is my age and also widowed, but she has SIX kids. I tell her she’s my hero all the time, and she tells me the same. We often vent to each other because there are some things only another young widow with kids can understand. I was telling her about my latest fears and she got all pissed off. She lamented about how unfair it is for us and our children. Whenever we get sick, there is this instant panic about cancer and dying. No kid should have to worry about that, but our kids do.

I certainly could identify with the recent breast cancer scare I had. But any mother will tell you, we would rather give up a limb (or anything else for that matter) than have our kids suffer in any way.

I am known for keeping my head on straight in a crisis. I usually fall apart afterward when the danger has passed. When Tim was alive, that was the way things played out when the kids were younger. He kind of froze and I had to handle everything. Make the calls, make the decisions, and pretend to be calm while it was happening to keep everyone else sane. Tim was there and supportive, but he was on the sidelines.

But in the land of almost four years into grief, I don’t handle much of anything like I used to. My rational head has grown even further away from my emotional heart.

Frankie came to me about a month ago and said he had blood in his urine. Slight panic, but I got him in to our trusty Dr. Grace immediately. She put him on antibiotics for a suspected UTI and off we went. On Monday, Frankie came to me and told me he wasn’t better. It had come back.

Slightly more panic than last time, but I just make the call to trusty Dr. Grace again immediately. The office calls back and says “Grace wants you to see Dr. So and So, a urology specialist within 48 hours. What’s your schedule like?” So while I still have my rational brain, my emotions start freaking out. There is no more “calm until the danger is passed.” I just lose it immediately. The worst part of it? Frankie admits to another person that he is scared too. Of course he is scared. His dad died from something that was supposed to be simple. This is where Trish starts bitching about how unfair life is for our kids. They panic more than other kids because of what they have witnessed firsthand. But truth be told, I panic too.

Why the rush to get in within 48 hours? That’s the scary part. They can’t get him in until Thursday morning but they are doing the best they can. On Tuesday, the office calls and says they want to do a history on Frankie. I know it’s routine. But she asks this question: “Does Frankie have anyone in his family line that has had any sort of cancer in the stomach/bladder region?” I started crying and couldn’t even answer her for a moment. Hell, yes. HIS DAD DIED FROM GALLBLADDER CANCER AT A RIDICULOUSLY YOUNG AGE. And now we are scared to death too.

Frankie does not want to go and have some male doctor look at his body. He is most nervous about that, at this point. I do the best I can to allay his fears. But inside I’m angry. Why isn’t there a man in his life that can talk to him about this stuff? That would have been very helpful to have had a guy with us. Especially if there was a guy who had some experience with urologists or whatever to help Frankie be less anxious. But there is just me. As usual. A woman, who Frankie has decided to be very angry at and distanced from. I’m all he’s got, but I’m not what he needs right now as a 12 year-old boy.

We go in and register him. I realize I’m shaky and nauseous, but I deserve an award for appearing calm to Frankie. Thankfully, the doctor is young and has three young boys. He wants to examine him and so Frankie gives the usual demand that I leave the room. I come back in after and the doc says he wants Frankie to have a renal ultrasound.

We go to check out and the woman reads the notes and scrunches her face. She makes a call and says she doesn’t understand. Why are there two requests? And does he really want the tests done immediately? She is just doing her job, but every expression and comment makes me more and more concerned. I truly am worried that I am going to hurl all over her desk.

We go and get the ultrasounds and they direct us back to the doc’s office. They said the doc would have the results right away. We get back to the doc’s and the woman tells us the doc doesn’t want to see us for a week. I asked if we would be getting the test results and she says not til the appointment next week. I ask if he’s going to do anything to start treatment til then and she says no. I give Frankie the keys to the car and say to her quietly, that we are both very worried. His dad died of cancer, you see, so could someone call us today and let me know that nothing crazy is going on? She agreed to put a request in and then said some people have blood in their urine all their lives and it’s not a big deal. That actually made me feel a little better, but I don’t really know if she was qualified to say that. But it was the first not so scary thing anyone has said to us.

Frankie is visibly less worried now that the appointment is over. I am starting to calm down. But I can’t even begin to express the anxiety I have felt the last couple of days. I just want to scream, cry, hit someone or something, run away, throw up, or check into a hospital for myself. I am less and less in control of my emotions and fears at a time when Frankie needs me to be the rock I used to be in B.C. time (before cancer).

You don’t need to send comments about what a great mom I am. It doesn’t matter right now, because Frankie thinks I suck at it. And right now, that is all I can hear and process. This is only going to get worse as he hits puberty and needs a male in his life more and more. Just pray hard that I get it together soon. I’ve got to stop crying all the time. I may not be a father for him, but I damn well better start being a strong mom. I am doing the best I can, but he needs more than that. So pray hard. We need you!


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Blended

Are you an Adam Sandler fan? We are all fans here in our house. One year for Christmas, Tim got me every Adam Sandler movie he had made so far. I love most of his stuff, but I don’t really ever buy videos because I keep things simple when I can. I appreciated the thoughtful gesture, though.

My favorite duo is Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. I really like “The Wedding Singer” and I absolutely love “50 First Dates.” It is one of my all time favorites and one of the few movies I have watched repeatedly and never get tired of.

I discovered the pair of actors have a new movie out called “Blended” so we went to see it this week. Man, I am such a drama queen. Most people watch movies and relate to parts of it, and get the nuances of what is being conveyed. Me? Well, I lived every second of the movie completely immersed in the characters from the first moment until the last.

Drew’s character (Lauren) is a divorced, single mom with two boys. Dad is creepy and not involved. The boys are a handful and we see several scenes of her struggles to just barely keep up with the pressures every day, much less have the energy or wisdom with how to actually help her kids solve their issues. The funniest parts are every time she tries to carry her son to bed after he falls to sleep. He is too big and she is clearly not strong enough. She constantly bumps into walls with him and you have to wonder if half of the kid’s problems are due to traumatic brain injury… lol.

Adam’s character (Jim) is a single dad with three girls. Guess what? His wife died of cancer. He’s a great dad, but oblivious to the feminine needs of his girls. One of them is having particular grief issues and we get to see scenes of him looking helplessly at his daughters, knowing he has no idea how to really help them.

It is laced with humor, but I was just sick to my stomach watching. I got it. And it’s so so so horrible to be a single parent sometimes and feel so terribly inadequate. Even though they were overall great parents, their kids were still suffering. And when your kids suffer, you suffer.

Lauren and Jim meet and hate each other. Then through a series of odd, quirky events, they consistently keep bumping into each other. And you know how things like this happen in real life- they somehow end up in Africa together at some week-long retreat for helping blended families adjust to their lives together. Completely ridiculous, but the story works. I completely related to the blended family piece too. Our family had super-sized struggles when Tim and I first got together. It took YEARS for things to get better.

One scene I just broke down and sobbed. (Thank goodness Frankie and his friend sat a few seats down. I would have never heard the end of it.) It was a scene about grief and healing where Lauren does something for the girls their mother used to do for them. Jim heard it from behind the door. The look on all of their faces was so moving. I got it.

In the end (of course), they realize they are madly in love. I don’t care if it was unrealistic or not. I cheered them on every inch of the way. Jim’s daughters so desperately needed a mom. Lauren’s sons so desperately needed a father. And suddenly, they fit. They just fit.

It put me in a funk the rest of the day. I loved it and love when I get moved like that. But there was an underlying sadness that I can’t deny. I know that I need that “fit.” I know I can’t settle for less than that. Not perfection, but that understanding that happens when a man not only loves me (which is hard enough), but also gets that my son desperately needs a father (in spite of how much he appears not to). It’s a beautiful concept but it just hasn’t happened yet.

The sad part is the flashback to the scenes where you watch the struggling single parents. Living life while you are waiting for something that may or may not happen, is difficult. I know several of you who read this blog are single parents and seem to handle it much more gracefully than I do. My hat is off to you. I will keep trying to do my best. That’s all I can do. I know I’m a decent mom and doing a decent job. But I have the “carrying my son who is too heavy for me and I keep banging his head on the wall in the meantime” problem that I just keep pushing through. In the movie, Jim suggested Lauren get her son a helmet.

I hope I didn’t ruin the movie for you. You should watch it and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I guess I will keep doing my best and go helmet shopping!


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Anger, Chapter Two

I had a few days like my old self. I recognized it when I was running errands and being pleasant to people in line, to people behind the counter, etc.. It really isn’t hard to be nice and people really appreciate it. Seeing their smiles is worth the small effort you put in.

But then, the new, angry me came back with a vengeance.

My friend was driving in the Home Depot parking lot and accidentally pulled out in front of someone. We made all the usual “I’m sorry” gestures to apologize because my friend realized it was her fault and felt very badly about it. I had to get out of the car at that point and walk by this guy’s car. He had the window open. So I went the extra mile and apologized again to him for almost causing a fender bender. He said it was okay, smiled at me, and I knew it was worth the effort.

Wrong.

He started yelling at me. He went on about how we lacked basic driving skills like “pay attention to the road” and “look where you are going.” He was nasty. Old me would have shook my head and thought about how sad it is that people let things like that ruin their day. Everyone makes mistakes and most people don’t make them on purpose. But the new me snapped and screamed back at him. “We just F*****G apologized to you. What the hell is wrong with you?” He basically told me to shut-up and drove away. I was furious. There was another lady that witnessed all of it and she had a few choice names for the guy, too. But I was so mad I was shaking. And I didn’t stop shaking for about an hour. What is the world coming to when you can’t even offer a sincere apology and have it mean anything?

This week, I had some new grief anger, too. Out of the blue, I had started to cry. I looked at this beautiful 8 x 10 glass frame I have had for years. It holds the picture of our last Father’s Day together in 2010. It is the photo that ended up on the back of the cover of Bitter and Sweet. It is Tim and I and the four kids. I wanted to pick it up over my head and smash it into a million pieces on the floor. I was shocked by this. I have never felt that or ever had urges to be destructive.

And I didn’t even know why.

I didn’t do it, but it got me thinking. I’m mad that Tim left us, that he left me a widow. I look at the four kids and think about how well they have all done. They grieve and are sad sometimes, but they have all done an excellent job in their own ways with their own personalities, in moving on. They seem well-adjusted. I am so grateful for that. Thank God.

But what about me?

I remember when Frankie was a newborn, the first couple of weeks I was in a daze of exhaustion and complete chaos internally. I remember distinctly staring at my computer screen and saying, “What is wrong with you? You have a Master’s Degree. You own a business. You can figure this out.” And I did. And it didn’t take me long to get my bearings.

It’s the same feeling I have now. I know I’m smart. I know I’m strong. So why can’t I figure this out? I don’t feel like I’ve adjusted. And it’s going on four years now.

I’ve been talking to my F-bomb friend a lot lately. I told him he’s the local anger expert so I keep asking him to help me understand what’s going on inside me, and what I’m supposed to do with it. He asked me if I’m angry that I’m a widow? Or just angry that I’m alone? I thought it was an excellent question. I decided it’s both.

If I were divorced, there would be another parent out there that would still be responsible. If I were divorced, I could sit around and blame myself (or him) for failing at the marriage. But this? No one to blame but cancer. I was a good wife, a good mom, and a good step-parent when the kids made life hell for me. So why?

I’m just mad. Mad, mad, mad. I told my girlfriend I might go postal someday. She said, “Please just don’t shoot me, ok?” I told her she better not piss me off then. We both laughed.

BUT…

Just so you don’t completely give up on me or think I’ve lost my marbles entirely, I will give you a classic Darcy story.

The boys got me flip-flops for Mother’s Day. I wear them constantly. I went to get some groceries this week, and as I was walking out of the store, my ankle twisted and I was forced to step out of my flip-flop. What the heck? Somehow- and I have no idea how this is even possible- my flip-flop got wrapped around the wheel of the shopping cart. I mean totally wrapped. It took me several minutes to figure out how to remove the thing. Once I finally figured it out, it was so warped I had to throw it out when I got home. But just picture me squatting in the grocery store, wrestling with my shoe in a wheel, and you should end this blog with a chuckle. 🙂


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A Day in My Life…

On Monday, I noticed an odd spot on my breast. Looked like a bruise, but then not quite. I went to my friend’s house who is a breast cancer survivor and asked if I could show her. (I can’t imagine men being comfortable showing each other a concern- ha ha!) She thought it was strange but was more concerned whether there was a lump. We were both unhappy to discover there was a very distinct lump. She told me a few reasons why it probably wasn’t anything serious, but I definitely should call the doctor in the morning. The rest of the day it was in the back of my mind (of course), but I managed to keep it at bay knowing it was probably not serious.

Tuesday morning, I called the doctor first thing. They fit me in early afternoon. I had my usual full day ahead of me so the first couple of hours I just pushed along. Then I went in the hot tub to try to relax a bit before my clients started coming. I started to get that panicky feeling and my breathing was getting choppy. I talked to dear Summer, knowing she would give me a rational smack in the head and I would be fine. Instead, the flood gates opened. I was scared. Really, really scared. She offered to go to the appointment with me. In between sobs, I told her that wasn’t necessary and I knew she was as busy as I was. But of course she came and of course I needed her.

I had to pull it together to keep working until my appointment, but between clients I was bombarded with thoughts and fears. To be fair, they really weren’t irrational. I know better than most that a simple, small thing can alter your life forever. My first thought was Frankie. This just couldn’t possibly be anything because that 11-year-old kid couldn’t possibly be asked to have no parents at all. Even if I could be treated and beat it, that poor boy does not need to endure watching the process all over again. Treatments, vomiting, schedules being thrown out the window. Watching someone visibly change who is supposed to be your tower of strength. He just can’t be asked to do that again, right?

Then I started thinking about my life in the last couple of weeks. I have been re-evaluating my life very intently because I have been working too hard. I have been burning the candle at both ends. I have been exhausted at the end of every night and know I can’t keep it up. I have been trying to make changes, but have struggled with what changes to even make. And then I really panicked. Holy shit! What if the universe/God has been on my case about it because I need to make room for treatment? Is that what this has really been about? Summer and I were just talking this weekend about how with all the interactions we have with people, if we ever got cancer, we wouldn’t go to Roswell (our local cancer hospital). That would mean regular trips to PA or Ohio. Overwhelming thought. Breathing is getting tough again.

I take a shower before I go to the doctor. While I am in there, another related thought crosses my mind. I absolutely know what it takes to fight cancer. I know the stamina you need. I know that a positive attitude is mandatory for success. I know that I have to muster up the strength that I know I possess and I will have to figure out how to access it. And then I found myself sitting in the shower seat sobbing, just like the day I found Tim in there when his daughter came to surprise him for Father’s Day. Because I knew that I just couldn’t do it. I’m too depleted. I will end up dying because I’m not the woman I was before taking care of my terminal husband. Even though it has been three years, I’ve not recovered.

I know my friends will shore me up. I know it. But Christ, Frankie won’t even have a step-father who loves him after I’m gone. Tim’s kids had me and I don’t love them any less since he has been gone. I know that Tim had peace about that. I failed Frankie in that respect. Utterly failed.

Brigette was home with a sick child, but she kept in touch with texts. She told me she didn’t remember the last time she prayed as hard as she was praying for me.

We arrived at the doc’s. I love Dr. Grace. Tell her everything, trust her implicitly. She looks at my mark and looks puzzled. She hasn’t ever really seen anything like it before. (Why does that always happen to me? I’m always like a freak show for doctors!) BUT… she knows it definitely does NOT look like cancer. I love her because I never have to explain anything to her because she remembers every detail of my life. She thanks me for not waiting and says she is grateful she can trust that I won’t mess around with anything medically. And without being told, she knows it is because I can’t possibly take risks because Frankie needs me. She is glad I get that all on my own and she doesn’t have to pound it into my head. Even though I feel better after seeing her, she promises me by the end of business day I will have answers. She works her magic and I am able to leave her office and go directly to the radiology center.

Off we go. First the mammogram. You know the drill, ladies. First set of pictures and then you sit in the waiting room. As suspected, I get called back for more. Now they see something in the other breast they are also concerned about. Great. She has to smoosh them further for the second set. Then they ask you to hold your breath while they take the image. I try until I finally gasp because the pain is too much. She tells me ever so nicely that she hopes she doesn’t have to retake them because I yelled out.

I go back in the waiting room and tell Summer I can’t believe with all our modern medicine we haven’t figured out anything better than putting our delicate breasts into a vice grip. She laughs and tells me if men had boobs, there would have been an answer years ago. I laugh at that. (Yes, Gary, I admit that is a sexist comment, but cut me some slack!)

Next the sonogram. She tells me she thinks it is a cyst. Doesn’t know why or how it would get there, but possibly it was pinched somehow. Phew.

I tell my step-son Colin about my day. He just looks at me. I told him that I didn’t think our family could go through it again. I told him I didn’t think we would be able to pull off the great job we did with his dad this time. He just nodded his head.

Later, my doc’s office calls and say they agree it’s a cyst. They want me to put the hottest compresses I can stand on it, as many times a day as I can manage it. (Apparently they don’t know I am already burning the candle at both ends and don’t even make time to eat half the time!) If it doesn’t go away in a month, then I have to see a surgeon. Bottom line is, it may not be cancer, but it is still not right and not supposed to be there.

So I spent the night rejoicing. I spent the rest of the night being super grateful that I don’t have cancer.

Wrong.

I spent the night continuing to have a hard time breathing. Being the lucky woman I am, (no, that is NOT sarcasm) male and female friends called to check on me or just to say hello (because they didn’t know what was going on). And every time I said hello, I would burst into tears again. I wanted to be happy, but I felt like a wrung out dish rag.

Everyone got it. No one judged me. They all told me that my fear was perfectly logical, understand, reasonable, not irrational. My daughter Emily called me about 10 PM and we talked til after midnight. She told me that if I ever got diagnosed, she would move up here and help take care of me. She said she didn’t do that for her dad but she would do it this time. I read between the lines and thought she must have regrets about that with her dad. I made a mental note to talk to her in the near future because I don’t want her to be plagued with that.

I watched a movie recently. The girl looked at the guy and said something like, “You weren’t there when I needed you. In the end, that’s all relationships are. It’s being there for the big stuff.” I thought it was an excellent summation. I’m lucky enough to have people who ARE there. Summer left work to go with me because she got it. Anyone who happened to know I was worried about a lump would have done what they could to support me because they get it. If you lived through Tim’s cancer with us, or if you read the book afterward, you get it. If you love me, if you know how to feel compassion, you are there by my side.

Today is a new day. Now I am starting to feel that relief I thought I would feel last night. Today I am breathing easier and emotionally feel the gratefulness I understood intellectually yesterday. Again, thanks to my amazing support system. You know who you are. And for those of you who are reading and wondering why I didn’t tell you, don’t. It all happened fast so don’t be mad at me :).

I wonder what today will bring?


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Just Another Bad Week?

Blah, blah, blah.

I feel like a broken, whiny record.

I had a really tough seven hour day at an author event this weekend that sent me spiraling down into the abyss I go to sometimes. Is it time to give up on the book? Is it time to stop trying to sell myself because the rejection is too painful?

Then another broken relationship, same week. We were supposed to have one of those month anniversary things in a couple of days. Instead I am experiencing the all too familiar abyss I go to sometimes. Is it time to give up on relationships? I never get used to it. Each time there is a little less of me left. Why do I taste connection and love with someone, and then have it disappear again? Is it time to stop trying to sell myself because the rejection is too painful?

May 7. Of course. Perfect timing with the bad career day and the break-up. The marker day I never expected to be a marker day. I remember the first May 7 I went through after Tim died. I tanked badly and couldn’t even figure out why. My mind didn’t clue in but my body was right on target. May 7 was the day Tim went in for a routine surgery and came out with Stage IV cancer. The day we were blind sided and irrevocably changed.

Mother’s Day too. Banner week. I have had a hard time with it since my mom died. I miss her terribly. Now Mother’s Day is even more difficult because my spouse isn’t here to help my kids remember me. Kind of like a double whammy. Will it ever stop feeling like we are a broken family?

That’s enough in one week to make any sane person crazy. Just add in all the demolition going on in my house, caring for clients, trying to be a mom, and managing all the “normal” things life brings every day. Oh yea, and meeting with my financial advisor and finding out I’m totally screwed in a few years. We used to talk about “when I turn 60” and I would brush it off. In my heart, I always knew that I wanted to partner with someone again so that just didn’t worry me. This year, for the first time, I sincerely had to face the fact that I may never partner with anyone again. That may truly be the reality. Not pessimism, truly reality.

So I’ve been saying to various people, that maybe I should give up. Maybe it’s time. In whatever area I was talking about, I found myself saying those words. Maybe I should give up.

I still feel like throwing up a lot. I still start crying without notice on a regular basis. I know there are people who have it much, much worse. I absolutely know it. Then I feel guilt for being so damn sad. I know better, but my emotions just won’t give in to what my brain tells them.

BUT BUT BUT…

Last night Summer showed up unexpectedly at my house. She said she had a Mother’s Day gift for me. I laughed because, well, I’m not her mother. But in it were seven plastic wine glasses. It reminded me that summer is coming (supposedly, anyway) and that lots and lots of people come to my house of all ages and enjoy the pool and hot tub. And we share lots of wine and blender drinks and campfires. And there are usually lots of happy times.

Then there was one other small package. It was a magnet for my fridge. I have a couple of others in the same series that other close friends have given me. I read it and couldn’t believe it.

She Who Never Gives Up by Suzy Toronto

“Lemons to lemonade,
she always hangs in there.
When opportunity knocks,
it sometimes knocks her down,
but she never lets it
get her down for long.

She is a triumphant, shining example
of a woman who truly knows how to
survive life’s ups and downs.
She understands the value of
family, friendship, and,
most importantly,
the gift of time.
Putting aside all judgment,
she generously shares her
unconditional love.”

I cry just reading it. I don’t feel like that woman, but my close peeps see me this way. They tell me all the time. I would do anything to be like the woman described in that poem. That is the woman I want to be. Some would say it describes me to a tee. My goal is to see myself that way, if that is indeed true.

SO NO GIVING UP. I MAY FEEL LIKE SHIT, BUT NO GIVING UP. NOT TODAY ANYWAYS!


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Les Miserables

I had a situation happen this week that surprised me by the controversy it stirred up- internally and with others.

When Tim was sick, a long-lost, young relative came around and reunited with him. He and his family ended up coming around a lot while he was sick. After Tim died, they continued to come around and there appeared to be a mutual give and take relationship between us. Until money got involved. Then things went sour. Suffice it to say, they borrowed money they didn’t pay back. Because of some strange circumstances, the police got involved. They told the police that my husband died and I was having a nervous breakdown. It was really, really bad. I had gone above and beyond (while going through the trial of a lifetime) to be kind and they repaid me by lying and saying awful things about me.

They showed up at my door this week after two years of silence. It eventually came out. They needed money again. No brainer, right? No way. Except that this woman of only 31 years also had a shaved head because she has two forms of cancer. Not sure of her prognosis, but it doesn’t look good. There are also two young daughters involved. Not so simple for me.

I handled it the best way I could. I forgave them, gave them lots of helpful information to follow-up on, said no to loaning them money, but gave them a little bit of cash. I think I turned the other cheek, but kept my eyes open. I’m not a dummy. Without their desperation for money, there would have been no apology at my door. I get it.

But I woke up the next morning feeling sick. I was angry. Really angry. Still think I did the right thing, but it sure didn’t feel good.

What surprised me though, was the variety of responses I got from the story. I am not sure why it bothered me so much, but it did. Lately, I seem to have run into a lot of people (mostly men I must admit) who have treated me like I’m another dumb female. Like I’m weak, or it’s assumed I don’t know what I’m talking about. It infuriates me. This was just another situation. I was not taken in. I was not blinded. I am not a pushover. I chose to respond the way I did with my eyes open.

Then the story of Les Miserables hit me. I went online and reviewed the plot to be sure I was remembering it correctly. It is a very revered and celebrated story/movie. In it, the main character is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. He spends the next 19 years in prison. When he is finally released, he is branded (literally) so all will know he is a criminal. He goes to a priest’s house who takes him in. He is kind to him. He gives him a second chance. The man repays him by stealing his silver and running away. Nice.

The police catch him and return him to the priest. The priest tells the man that he has forgotten to take the candlesticks with him as well. The police believe the priest and the man is released. He deserved to be punished after what he did to the one person who was kind to him and give him a chance. Instead of giving him what he deserved, the priest gave him even more. He was even nicer to him. The rest of the story? That man turns his life around. He spends the rest of his life helping others.

Now what if that guy didn’t turn his life around? Would the priest have been foolish? The concept of grace is showing kindness to people who DON’T DESERVE IT. That’s the whole point.

I don’t know what will happen to that family that came to my house. I doubt they have turned their lives around. But is that the point? I’m not sure it’s the most important point. Enabling bad behavior is NOT good and I preach that all the time in counseling situations. But I’m not so sure I gave them enough to call it enabling. But my kindness was also a gesture. A gesture that puts shame on their head for ever deceiving anyone else in the future. What they did to me was wrong. Coming back for more was beyond gutsy. But looking them in the eye and offering them my candlesticks is the decision I stick by. It hurt me deeply. But I think it is what God calls me to be.

Some people will admire me, some will be disgusted by me. But ultimately I sleep alone every night and I have to be ok with myself. A close friend sent me an email about this and it touched me very deeply. Here is what she wrote:

“I was thinking if you had asked me my opinion about this situation before you and I became friends, I probably would have similar reactions to other people in your life. You should have shut the door on them. But I think since getting to know you, listening to you, and watching you conduct your life I truly do get what you are doing, and why you did what you did. When I watch you now, the thought that comes to my mind is would I, could I, be as open, forgiving, and loving to another human being in spite of how they may have treated me in my past? I hope so.

Before you were in my life I would have to say probably not. But you challenge me as a human being and as a Christian all the time. I hope I am a better person now because of you. I hope others allow themselves to open their hearts too because it makes you feel incredibly open to possibilities and a feeling of knowing you are making better choices and decisions for yourself and others. So, thank you for always making me think outside of the box.”

I’m no Victor Hugo, but I hope I can make a difference in the world. And I hope as time passes I feel less angry and bitter. But hey, I’m a work in progress.


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Guest Blogging

So leave it to Brigette. With her expert researching, she found an excellent contact in California. She is a medical expert, involved heavily in writing, blogging, and connected everywhere regarding issues related to end of life. Frankly, she appears to be quite brilliant :).

Anyhow, I will be on her blog next week and we are looking for many more opportunities to work with her and her numerous programs. She suggested I post the same blog here. I know it is information you already have read several times, but I will include it anyway. I was terribly honored when she had this to say about my entry submission: “This is probably one of the most moving accounts I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. Your husband is proud of you.” Her comments made me cry.

Stay tuned as Brigette will be posting the links to Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy’s sites and connections. (Her blog is called “ok to die” which is a great title!) Here is my entry:

The name of my book is “Bitter and Sweet, A Family’s Journey with Cancer.” Here is a brief summary. In April of 2010, my husband Tim began to have some strange sensations in his side. On May 7, we found ourselves facing stage IV gallbladder cancer rather than a simple gallbladder removal as planned. Five months and one week later, my husband died. Those five months were the most difficult and horrifying time of our lives. It was also an extremely beautiful time for us. We found ourselves using the phrase “bitter and sweet” so often during those five months, that it was an obvious title choice.

Our lives had been full of paradoxes. How do you fight for your life and yet accept mortality at the same time? How do you maintain optimism, which is necessary for health, and prepare for your death and get your affairs in order? How do you understand God’s love and compassion, and yet experience cancer and suffering?

It’s a sad story, but I promise you, our story is also filled with humor, tender moments and hope, alongside the ravages of a cruel disease. When life hands you lemons, you can pucker up and make a sour face, or you can make lemonade. I think we did both.

Tim and I had a tough marriage. We spent the entirety of our ten years together in counseling. We made progress, but happiness was always a struggle. After diagnosis, we actually worried that kind of stress could be the end of us. Tim was a “glass half empty” guy and I thought for sure he would be angry and buckle under his prognosis. Boy, was I wrong. What I witnessed instead, was the total transformation of a man, a woman, a marriage, a family, a community. While things were obviously horrific battling a vicious disease, we also experienced the most amazing bond and love that we had spent our lives hoping for.

For the first time, we read together, appreciated each other fully, and reprioritized what was important. We started walking our dog together. When Tim got too weak, we took the wheelchair. When I got pneumonia, I would push him halfway and then we would switch positions and he would push me back. I will never, ever forget those moments.

Even the most simple things had greater meaning. Tim would talk about enjoying a hot shower and feeling the sensations of the warm water on his body. He would walk around our yard and come in with tears in his eyes and talk about the beauty he was able to take in. For the first time, he went into work late on our son’s first day of school because he just didn’t want to miss it. New priorities, new appreciation.

When you stare mortality in the face, it is amazing how quickly things can change. The things that you spend your life worrying and fighting about are suddenly rendered ridiculously less important. The housework isn’t so important. Money isn’t the biggest stressor. And I had the joy of watching Tim rekindle and reconcile family and friendships that had been forgotten or stuffed away in a corner. Sometimes that meant confronting painful things. Tim was a peacemaker and avoided conflict. But I saw him stand up for me in ways that I had not seen in the decade we had been together. Why? Partly because he saw me grab a hold of fighting for his life, his comfort and well-being in a way that he had not seen either, but that he was clearly worthy of.

Why do I continue to respect and admire my husband three years after his death? Because in spite of his fear, he faced his ending and he did it remarkably well. He chose his cemetery plot and designed his headstone. He wrote birthday cards for his eight year old son until he turns 18. He wrote wedding cards to this three unmarried sons so he could share his love for them on their big days. Amazing.

So many others were changed as well. We learned to be receivers, to let people help us and the results were astounding. People brought 90% of our meals, cleaned our house, ran errands, entertained our son, put up a fence, helped with yardwork, and even did our shopping. The benefit was that we were able to concentrate on Tim’s appointments and sneak in those walks or spend time with our kids. The benefit to everyone else? The church learned how to rally around their people. The community rose to the occasion. Here is what people said: “Please don’t rob us. We WANT to help. We can’t do anything to stop what is happening to you. What we CAN do, is provide a meal.” It was actually truly and genuinely important to other people, to feel like they were contributing to our lives. That is powerful.

I want to share the last paragraph of Bitter and Sweet. It is actually what I wrote for the bulletin at Tim’s funeral.

“While cancer is a cruel and clever disease that wreaks havoc in your life, my husband and I were able to find and experience so many gifts, treasures and healings in our lives. Since his diagnosis, we have truly been transformed, as individuals and as loving, lifelong partners. Our spiritual lives blossomed and grew in ways I would not have thought possible. And so much of that happened because of the loving, compassionate, strong hands, arms, and feet of the people of God. No one would deny that we are truly the luckiest people on earth, even with the loss we suffer. Few others could boast the kind of dedication and support we have felt poured out upon us. ”

I will never tell you that the cancer path isn’t hard, difficult, gut wrenching. But I will always say, there is a gift in every challenge. Your life can be profoundly blessed and changed in spite of your difficulties. Facing mortality can have a positive, profound impact on your life, if you choose to let it.


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Biopsies

It’s been stormy, cold and blustery in the Buffalo area. Frankie had almost three weeks off of school before he returned today. I was going stir crazy, but have to admit, it was nice to not have a schedule for a while.

Confession time. Rather than catching up on things, I have been absorbed on a client’s ipad. She is a teen and wanted me to watch Dr. Who. I can never tell her, but I am kind of hooked. This is exactly why I do not watch TV to begin with. I get hooked. I’ve watched all of season one, which was 13 episodes. I’m halfway through season two. I don’t think I can possibly watch all seven seasons. My businesses will go down the drain!

I wondered what I could blog about today because I have been in a cocoon all week, as has the rest of the area being snowed in. Then I remembered an interesting conversation I had with someone last month at an event I was selling my book at.

He was passing by and looking at the tables. When he got to my book, he started to tell me his story, which is what usually happens. He pointed to a woman standing an aisle over. “See her? That’s my wife. She’s been with me a long time.”

I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember that he said he was a simple man. He repaired cars. He said he used common sense to save his wife’s life. When there is a nail in a tire, you don’t pull the nail out or you will blow the tire. Kinda like when you step on a board with nails, you don’t just pull it out of your heel right away. (Remember that blog?) You can do more damage that way.

He surprised me when he said he has made it his personal mission to tell the world that biopsies are hazardous to your health. It goes against what we are told all the time, but he believed it with his whole heart.

Several years ago, his wife had a tumor in one of her kidneys. The doctor wanted to do a biopsy. Pretty standard procedure. He refused and said they should just take the whole thing out. When the surgeon refused to comply, he kept looking until he found a doctor that would heed his wishes. Later, he said the surgeon told him that decision saved his wife’s life.

When they got the organ out, they went to look at the tumor. At the mere touch of an instrument, the tumor exploded, spreading its toxic cells everywhere. Had they done a biopsy while the organ was in his wife’s body, the cancer would have immediately spread everywhere and the disease would have been terminal.

Now, I’m no doctor or surgeon, and have zero formal training. I can’t possibly agree or disagree with this guy with any sort of intelligent opinion. However, I can say that what he said made a lot of sense to me. And there was his wife standing there, and there he was still loving her years later.

I welcome your informed comments about this. I certainly will stop and think twice- and probably several times- if I ever need a biopsy for something. What do you guys think?


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Holiday Parties

Holiday parties. Mine is a different one. It’s a pity party. So if you want to skip this blog, feel free. If not, grab the kleenex.

I know that life isn’t fair. I know that suffering is not distributed evenly in life. But sometimes, that just plain pisses me off.

Everyone goes through loss. Everyone loses loved ones. Everyone loses pets. There are definitely people whose life is much, much worse than anything we could experience here in the United States. However, I think I could make a case for having a little more than our fair share of unfair.

In 2007, we lost my mom. She was my favorite person. Frankie was four years old. The year she died, I attended another 16 funerals that year. Most of my family went to almost as many. Sixteen! That’s just cra-cra. (Just learned recently that’s another term for especially crazy.)

Three years later, this is how our lives went. Tim was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died five months later. While he was sick, our cat Oreo was diagnosed with cancer as well. We treated him with steroids and lost him a month later. The scene was a tough one. No one escaped the irony. We knew what else was going to happen in our household. One of the last physical tasks Tim was able to accomplish was digging Oreo’s grave. Two months later, Tim was on steroids. During that time, Colin brought home another cat- Louie. He was great and brought us smiles when we needed them. Then Tim passed away.

The next summer, we had Frankie’s teachers over for a swim. While we were all there to watch, my niece’s husky suffered some kind of stroke, fell in the pool and drowned. I was so so so angry. Really? Who has something like that happen to them? Almost no one. And yet the family that just lost their husband and father were the lucky recipients of that experience.

A couple of weeks later, Louie was diagnosed with a kidney disease. That led to a very difficult conversation with Frankie. I had to explain that Louie would not live to be an old age. I was just writing about this in the new book. I had forgotten how gut-wrenching it was to watch Frankie grieve. He asked a boatload of tough questions about his dad dying and how much it hurt to know he would lose his cat too.

The next Christmas, we lost Louie. Colin had gone with me when we put Oreo down, and he accompanied me with Louie as well. We brought him home in a beautiful box. Frankie said his sad goodbyes and the two boys buried him in the backyard near Oreo.

Frankie started bugging me about getting a new cat a few months later. I told him we wouldn’t just go get a cat someplace, but that we would wait for the right one. I knew we would hear a story at some point about a cat that desperately needed us and we would be ready for her. As summer died down, things started to change. I started to blog about how it felt like spring and maybe we were finally turning the corner. The neighbor called and said her daughter is a vet and they had a cat that needed a home. Bingo.

We brought her home and it was clear she had had a rough go living on the streets for a while. Frankie wanted to name her Football, and I just couldn’t bring myself to letting him do that. I compromised on Jill, named in honor of the Buffalo Jills. Frankie adored her.

Things continued to change. I actually met a man that we both thought was the ticket. I guess all of my family and friends thought the same thing. He had kids too. We even took a vacation together with the boys and had a great time. I knew that Frankie and I were experiencing something new, that was really something old. We were a real family again. Even though we have lots of amazing friends and family, it’s not the same as being a family unit. We finally felt whole again.

The relationship ended up abruptly and without warning in the beginning of December, just in time for the Christmas holidays. We went from being truly excited again, to feeling the loss again. This time, the hole felt even bigger than it originally was.

The kicker? Jill started drooling which seemed odd. I looked it up on the Internet and made an appointment with the vet. Most likely reason is a tooth that needs to be extracted. I knew it might be costly, but maybe that was why she wasn’t eating so much. I think my jaw truly hit the floor as I set on the bench and listened to our very loved vet explain to me that Jill had a cancerous tumor that had literally eaten her jaw away. The only compassionate option was to put her down.

ARE YOU F*****G KIDDING ME?

I thought she needed a tooth out. I couldn’t believe it. I dreaded going home. How on earth was I going to tell Frankie?

I took him into my bedroom and gave him the news. He sank down to the floor, buried his head on the bed and just sobbed. He cried. Then I watched my little Colvin man. At age 11, he is already a Colvin pacer. He paced around the room, cried, and then asked questions. But she doesn’t look like she’s in pain! How can this be true? Yes, he wanted to come to the appointment in the morning. I had been right in what I suspected. He said he had one regret in his life and that was not being there for Louie when he died. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again. More pacing, more crying. Then I brought Jill in the room and in his usual grown-up way he told me he wanted a little privacy with her. He locked the door and spent another 30 minutes with her before he reappeared.

This morning at 9:00 AM, we took her to the vet. She came in today, even though it was her day off. She had been there for Oreo and Louie. She has a lovely bedside manner and gives a special blessing to them and sends them on their journey. You don’t find professionals often that care like that anymore. Frankie wanted to hold her while it happened. Jill purred right up until the second she died. Me and the boys cried throughout the process, then they came home and buried cat number three in the backyard.

Then the usual rituals. Carrying that stupid empty cat carrier back in the house. Putting away all the food and the litter box. Washing the bedding because she had a terrible sick smell due to her infections. Putting the empty envelope aside that was budgeted money for animal expenses. I had to put the balance on the credit card. I didn’t budget for two animal deaths in the same year.

Things like this happen to people all the time. But I can’t help but feel overwhelmed for my brave 11-year-old. My friends keeping telling me he will be a strong man, and a compassionate one. But what if he just stops attaching? He has already experienced the death of three pets. He lost his grandmother. He lost his father at age eight, for God’s sake. And then he lost what he would have loved to be his “new” family.

I’m been saying some vulgar holiday sayings that make me chuckle through the tears. Things like “Merry F******G Christmas.” Brigette came up with the best one yet today. Fa la F*****G la… sung merrily along. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

So this year, my holiday party is a pity one. I will bounce back. Frankie will before I do. We are a damn, strong family. But I think we deserve some time to be pissed off at the bad luck we seem to have. Feel free to comment, but comments that acknowledge what we are going through are more appreciated than any that tell me I should just focus on the positive. Even though it’s true, I’ve earned a couple of negative days.