Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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The Christmas Queen

This time of year, I’m known as the Christmas Queen. I hate the thought of Christmas presents, but I love the media stuff. Thanks to my OCD, I am also known more as the Christmas Nazi. That is because I HAVE to do the following every year:

Read every Christmas book I have
Listen to every Christmas record I have
Watch every Christmas movie I own
Listen to every Christmas CD I have
Play every piece of Christmas piano music I have

My friend Darren knows this about me so last year he sent me an external drive with his Christmas collection. This year I got it open and let me tell you, he makes me look like a Christmas Scrooge. He sent audio books, dozens of movies, and about 4,000 Christmas songs!

You can see why I had to start at the beginning of November. There are several things that I enjoy, but wouldn’t particularly want to visit again every year. And I’m learning lots of things, probably only interesting to me.

1- When it comes to audio books, I prefer actual readings vs. additional voices and sounds to dress it up. Patrick Stewart’s reading of A Christmas Carol is awesome, which is of course followed up by watching the movie with him as Scrooge. The exception is The Grinch. Having those fun songs throughout the reading is a definite bonus.

2- When it comes to movies, I was surprised by a few. Curious George and The Smurfs actually have repetitive worthy specials that I thought for sure were going to be on the one-time only list. Tim was particularly unhappy when he came home last week to my announcement that we needed to talk. I told him I still loved him dearly, but my heart has expanded and I am also in love with another man as well. ANDY WILLIAMS! My, what a heart-throb. He is so dang handsome and has the most beautiful eyes. (Well, so does Tim for that matter!) Tim pointed out that he is old as dirt and I pointed out he is still pretty damn handsome with his salt and pepper hair.

3- As for music, I found I am not quite as eclectic as I thought. Darren has brought my attention to all types of genres that I didn’t even know were out there. I found the B.B. King file and figured I would love him but discovered I didn’t care for his style at all. The big surprise was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, who I had never even heard of and would have thought would have been a big no. Turns out I loved them. Lou Rawls voice is as hot as they come. And my favorite find so far, is Julie London, who I also didn’t recognize. She does a song called, “I’d Like You for Christmas” that is so sexy and sweet, I almost woke Tim up at 2 a.m. to dance with me. He said he appreciated my wisdom on not following through.

While you might think this a monumental waste of my time, I have found a way to make this useful. If Darren can put movies on a disk, then I can too. I can add to the drive and dispense of my DVDs which is consistent with my desire to keep getting rid of “stuff” in any way possible. Plus, any books on audio, I can get rid of those as well. See? It’s such a good use of my time 🙂

This was an indulgent blog about my own quirks, but a non-depressing theme is ok once in a while, isn’t it?


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Girl Crush

I love karaoke. But almost every time you go to karaoke, someone sings the song, “Girl Crush.” Even though it might be well-performed, it is still like, “Again?” But that is not what this blog is about.

I love my girlfriends. My sisters, my adopted sisters, etc.. Girls rock and they are dependable. I recently had the opportunity to participate with the Buffalo Gateway Chorus, and man, what a powerhouse of women. (Isn’t it funny to say man in that sentence?)

There are normally 90 women in that sucker. At Christmas time the number is down to 75 because of all the snowbirds. If I didn’t have to make a weekly commitment, I would so join them in a heartbeat. It is all upbeat energy and positive stuff. (Now, women are women. I’m realistic. Is there some bitchiness here and there? Well, of course!) What they do at Christmastime is allow guests to come in. You only have to go to two rehearsals, and then you can join their holiday show. What a total blast.

One of the rehearsals, a guest came in to thank the group for their generosity. They had caught wind of a female teacher in a more poverty-stricken area. She had a terrible problem with attendance because the girls often didn’t have shampoo or deodorant. The embarrassment only triples when they have their period and don’t have feminine products. So in walks one of the members with several enormous bags of supplies. Girls helping girls. Love that stuff.

I saw them perform in September and my jaw remained on the floor the entire show. They are all a capella music, and compete internationally. I could see why they always place well. They are incredibly talented, with women of all ages in the group. The director totally stood out to me. (I told my friend who is a member that she needs to party poolside with us next summer so the invitation has already been extended!) I have since found out she is 64 years old, is quite attractive and charismatic. I didn’t take my eyes off of her very often. And every once in a while she turns around during the song and sings to the audience as well. She just blends in with the group. Just not an ego in sight.

After working with the group, I realized she is definitely a powerhouse. I wouldn’t want to piss her off because I’m sure she could take me out if necessary. Her directing talent was astounding. I’ve been a musician since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. She was teaching us things I had never heard before and I was amazed by it. And a super great sense of humor too.

As the 12 hour day went on for the performance day, I came to a realization that came out in my out-loud voice. Oh my God! I have a girl crush! It was the only way I could explain it. I find her to have a terribly attractive personality and I just wanted to be around her. There were a couple of times we exchanged conversation and I was so excited that she acknowledged me. Later, she popped up on Facebook and I got brave and friend requested her. To my delight, she accepted. As a musician, she also gave me a compliment that I was deeply grateful for. She said she could tell that I “get it”- meaning the concept of the importance of excellence and the pride that comes with it.

I was telling my friends Nina and Mike about the weekend at separate times and they both laughed at me. They said I sounded like a school girl and I was like, “I know, right?” Anyhow, my humble thanks to Diane and the Buffalo Gateway Chorus for a very special experience.

I am ending this was a photo of several of us. One of the requirements was to wear bright red lipstick. We called it the stripper lips. So we gave our best stripper pucker for this photo. Merry Christmas to everyone!
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Losing

The older you get, the more you lose stuff. Am I right? A couple of weeks ago, my friend Catya lost a 20 dollar bill she needed to pay for her ticket. She found it a few days later. Then last week she lost her debit card. Bad streak. What was worse was the time and frustration it cost to get it replaced.

We were walking in the woods this week and ran into Glo. She had lost her dog. Her dog is also a border collie mix life Taffy. Taffy and she have gone on many romps chasing deer or other critters. They always come back. This time though, she had been gone almost an hour. We divided up and eventually she came prancing down the lane looking like she didn’t have a care in the world. Taffy has that one mastered too.

I started rehearsals this week for this Christmas show I am super, duper excited to be part of. I printed out my music and I faithfully practice every day. That is nothing compared to what it’s like to be with this ginormous group of talented women singing in person. I held my own, but had to mark up my music here and there with proper notes, rests, pronunciation of words, etc.. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and competent until I got home and realized I lost my music. Good one. Sure, I can print out another set but it won’t have all my valuable notes (no pun intended) and reminders.

Things can lose things. Take my car battery for instance. This week it lost its charge. Lost its power. Got “drained” they say. Now the dealership has the car because we don’t know WHY it lost the charge. Not having your car start is always a pleasant, unexpected addition to your day.

Then there are losses that can surprise a nation. One word: Hilary.

I lose my patience a lot lately. I don’t know why, but crisis, or just plain people needing me for something doesn’t usually happen at convenient times when I have nothing else to do but be altruistic. So I lose my patience and say things in my head like, “Really? Can’t I just do such and such without having to do such and such?”

I have lost my mind too many times to count.

I have lost my sanity equally as often. Some would say I haven’t gotten it back yet. Hell, some might say I never had it to begin with.

What I really want to know is, WHY THE HECK CAN’T I LOSE A FEW POUNDS???

More proof that life isn’t fair :).


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2015’s Best Christmas Moment

I know it’s early to cast my vote, but I think I can safely say what the highlight of the Christmas season was for me this year. Before Monday, the runner-up was a Christmas card I received. It was a relatively standard Christmas card, but it contained one of those personal messages that made it special. I was thinking that might be the high point of the season.

Then Monday came.

The boys asked for a new basketball net for Christmas. Now my dad looked at the current one and said it was kind of silly and a waste of money. What is wrong with the one they have? I had to chuckle. When I got the request, I said the exact same thing. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But I told Dad that I’m definitely not an athlete and I don’t play basketball. They had a list of reasons why they wanted a different kind. My sons give me a pain in the butt sometimes, but one thing I can say, is they rarely ask for things. None of my kids are materialistic or stuff grabbers. So I bought them a new net. It was the “big” gift this year.

So what to do with the old one? It was certainly able to be used. I was going to put it on Craig’s list to see if I could sell it. Then I was talking to my friend and it hit me that her step-son would probably love it. I would like to say I said that purely out of the goodness of my heart, but most of it was because I had visions of the hassle that lay ahead. Take a picture. Post it on Craig’s list. Deal with texts and emails. Haggle with prices. Meet the buyer and pray they aren’t a serial killer. Sometimes the 40 bucks just isn’t worth it. I told her I would be happy to just give it to him.

Monday rolled around and I started thinking about all the details I had left out for Christmas. I had to schedule with people we needed to exchange gifts with, etc. and I had wanted to get that net out. My friend Mike has a truck so I asked him if he could help me. He said he would but the only time he had was the same day. I had clients all night, but I did have one break where we could scoot over quickly.

Now Christopher is 16. He also happens to have Down Syndrome. Every time he comes over to our house, he loves to play basketball, so I was pretty sure he would be happy about having the net. We arrived and their sitter was there. She had been forewarned, but the kids had no idea we were coming. I went to the door and told Christopher to put on his shoes because I had a surprise for him. He hurried and put his shoes on and came out to the driveway.

There is absolutely no way to describe what happened next. He stood there with a smile so big, his face could have combusted. He had his hands over his face and he just started shaking. For several minutes he was frozen there other than the little squeals he made. Then he rushed at me and hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. He was shaking from head to toe with excitement. He was frozen again in my arms. Finally, his step-sister said, “Ok, Christopher, you have to let go!”

Then he went over to Mike, whom he had never met before. He grabbed him and hugged him tight as well. And Mike fully embraced him back. Several minutes went by again.

Mike and I got back in the truck. Now Mike is one of those tougher kind of guys. Not real big on showing emotion or affection. I looked at him and said, “Did you almost cry?” And he said, “Yep. What a really great kid.” I knew he was as moved as I was.

I have now been dubbed “Santa’s best Christmas elf” by Christopher’s family. But Mike and I were the ones that were totally blessed. No doubt, that was the moment we all hope for every year. Amidst all the baking, shopping, stressful traffic, and holiday exhaustion, we hope for that thing that makes it all worthwhile. Thanks Christopher, for the best Christmas gift of 2015.


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And Whiskers on Kittens…

For those of you that have followed my blogs for a while, you know that last year right before Christmas, we lost another cat. It was the fourth one, with three of them being just since Tim was diagnosed. We decided as much as we love kitties, our hearts couldn’t afford to be broken anymore.

This year I was having a more difficult time than usual knowing what to get Frankie for Christmas. All he wanted was gift cards. That’s fine, but I didn’t have any gifts for him to open under the tree. I started thinking about how a new kitten might make life a little brighter in our house. We have been a bit “dead” the last few months. Plus, I have been struggling with my distant relationship with Frankie and having a kitten downstairs would probably draw him out more. Maybe getting a kitten rather than a cat might make a difference as far as health and longevity. I would still rescue one from a shelter, but maybe get a young one…

Then I would talk myself out of it. I know Frankie would love it, but who am I kidding? I will be the one to clean the litter, feed her, take her to the vet, etc. I can barely keep up with laundry so why add more work?

But I went to the shelter anyway the day before Christmas Eve. Funny how things work out. There was no one in there with us but the volunteers. Turns out I had met her before when selling my first book. She remembered me. A gray kitten caught my eye. But then the one underneath kept batting at us. We got them both out to play.

I asked her how people ever decide. I wanted to take all of them home with me. Then she made the death statement. “I will give you two for one today.”

Damn.

I could barely talk myself into one. No way I can take two of them. People tell me that cats do better in pairs. They keep each other company and all that jazz. Then I even had the morbid thought that if one of them died, at least the other one would be there. Turns out, Frankie made that exact statement to me later. But the truth of the matter is, it didn’t really have anything to do with that. I just couldn’t bear to leave them in their cages. Besides, who am I to argue with a bargain?

While I was filling out the paperwork, about 15 people literally started filing in to look at cats and kittens. I guess it was meant to be. If they had been in there earlier, it probably would not have even crossed my mind to adopt two. But there wasn’t another family in sight while I was deciding.

Christmas Eve after church, we were driving home and I told Frankie he was getting a gift early and it was going to be a surprise. Not knowing was killing him. He pounded me with questions but I led him down the wrong path and let him guess in the wrong direction. I had Colin videotape his reaction when we walked into the living room with the babies.

Now, for you conservative and reasonable parents, you may think this next part was awful. But I got it and it cracked me up. Frankie was stunned. Then he slowly said, “H..O..L..Y S..H..I..T!” He was delighted. And thrilled.

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Meet Matilda (on left) and Herbie (on right). Not my choice of names, but Frankie is the boss on this one.

We had a big windstorm during the night. Taffy (our dog) freaked out all night. Between him and the kittens, no one but my dad got a wink of sleep so we were exhausted Christmas morning. If I wanted to change the dynamic of the house, I was most certainly successful. But they are precious!

As I’m blogging, I am in the hospital with Matthew and his wife. My daughter-in-law is in labor with their first baby. No action yet, but I will be sure to keep you posted. The winds of change are blowing…


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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.