Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Carly

Most of you may not know that I went to a very conservative Bible college for my Bachelor’s Degree. I got an MA in International Ministries. Anyhow, I am still very much in touch with my first roommate, Carly. With cell phones, there are no longer long-distance charges so we talk several times a week. She lives in Indianapolis.

Carly home schools and also works from home when she can. For a while, she was an editor for a publishing company. That fit in great when I decided to write my books and open the publishing company. With the ease of the internet, she was able to edit both books from home, as well as the other three books the company got out. During the time that Tim was sick, she followed our blog faithfully but also sent us private emails. That meant she never actually got in the books because the entries all came from Caring Bridge. She is now a faithful follower of my blog. She joked a couple of weeks ago that maybe someday she will “make the blog.” Well, here you are Carly. A blog about you.

When I think about my relationship with her, I actually have to cringe. Not because of her, but because of me. I was well-intentioned, but nevertheless I was still a nightmare of sorts in college. I was in my genuine yet holier-than-thou phase. I truly tried to be the best Christian I could, but I remember someone on our floor saying that I talked like I had swallowed a Bible.

I played floor hockey and Carly could always tells when she got off the elevator because the whole floor would smell like Ben-Gay. I got injured more than once. One time I sprained my knee and had crutches. Another time my finger got whacked and my nail turned black. We had to drill a hole in the nail to let the blood out. But we were the champs. For those of you that know how NOT athletic I am, you would have been proud.

Moody Bible Institute- 10 N Hockey champs- Ellen, Darcy, Nancy

Moody Bible Institute- 10 N Hockey champs- Ellen, Darcy, Nancy

One of the most memorable times, was when I fell asleep on the top of the roof. We were on the tenth floor (the school was in Chicago) and it was a cloudy day. I ended up dozing off and got one of the worst sun burns I’ve ever had in my life. It was awful. Carly and the other girls on my floor took turns putting tea bags and cool cloths on my skin for hours. We had a dress code and I had to wear dresses to class. I didn’t wear a bra or underwear til I got better, which in a Bible school was of course scandalous.

One day I didn’t come home when Carly was expecting me. I remember walking in the room and her saying, “Where the hell have you been?” Now that may sound normal to you, but in a Bible college, that was even more scandalous. It was downright shocking. I remember being stunned. She said hell! My how time can change things. Here we are a couple of decades later and I’m praying more than usual. My prayer is that I don’t drop my usual F-bombs while she is here. She would love me regardless, but I don’t want to unnecessarily offend her. LOL!

I did a skit one time and was supposed to look like a punk rocker. You can only imagine the looks I got walking around that conservative campus looking like that. This is Carly and I after that lovely event.

Darcy, Janet Pollard-Carr

Darcy, Janet Pollard-Carr

Here is a real cringe moment. Back then, even though I wanted to be a missionary, I also had visions of being a counselor. I have totally forgotten this, but when Carly reminds me (as we giggle) I have to admit that it sounds exactly like something I would have said. I used to tell her on no uncertain terms that she unconsciously hated her father. I just knew she had unresolved issues with him and she needed therapy to deal with her hatred. Yikes. I shiver when I think of my audacity, and frankly my complete wrongness. Her dad is a delightful British guy with an accent that will melt your heart. She recently almost lost him but thankfully he is on the road to recovery.

Life sure has a way of changing things and humbling you. And sometimes, rare people like Carly just love you through all the phases and changes in spite of yourself. She arrived last night and we went to Applebee’s for a late night dinner. We both got the chicken pecan-crusted salads. Aren’t we well-behaved? The first thing I did was spill the entire container of dressing on the table. It was oily and messy and not easy to clean up. We had our waitress come over and clean it. I told her Carly was the one who had just driven all day but I was the one who was the clutz. She had to bring over spray to clean it so I had to hold the salad up so it didn’t get sprayed on. We laughed. And then before she could gather her things to leave, Carly spilled her entire cup of dressing on the table. Thank God our waitress had a sense of humor. We laughed so hard I’m sure we turned some heads. And of course, not a drop of alcohol passed our lips.

I can’t remember if I slipped out an F-bomb but I’m sure some curse word fell out. Carly just laughed. So glad she is here, even if briefly. Old friends, dear friends. Love you Carly!


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Women

Admittedly, I am more of a glass half-empty person that I am a half-full. I think most people err on one side or the other. If you’ve ever been to one of my lectures, you know my philosophy is that the key to healthy living is to balance both truths.

I have a few half-full folks in my life. They enjoy my blogs and Facebook quotes that are more upbeat and positive. The thing is, I’m a professional writer whose specialty is the topic of death/dying and grief/loss. In my practice, my specialty is relationship counseling, but you can’t talk about any of that without a healthy amount of focus on grief/loss. So my half-full friends, you will just have to be patient with my emphasis on being in touch with the pain in people’s’ lives. It happens to be what I am good at.

Sometimes there is so much happening around me, it’s hard to decide what to write about. (As opposed to those weeks when my mind is blank.) Last week I wrote about some great men. This week I”m going to focus on a couple of women that I know that have amazing strength.

My readers are already familiar with Summer. She was a rock for me while Tim was dying. She is a pillar in her church family and the community she lives in. It makes it hard to be her BFF sometimes because often we only get brief moments to chat every so often. That’s the life of someone who so many people depend upon. The year 2016 has been fraught with challenges for Summer that I can’t even begin to enumerate. I mean it’s stuff that tops the stress chart scales. Day after day after day. The last week she has been working with the hospice team to help usher her 93-year-old father-in-law to his final home. It brings memories of Tim flooding back. Listening to her exhaustion from the roller coaster of that daunting task is about all I can offer her. Her “dad-in-law” is one lucky man to end his life with the dignity that Summer and her family are gifting him with.

The second woman who has recently touched me is Ray. She is only 33-years-old, but I think her soul is much older and wiser. She is one of my students. We still chuckle when we talk about how we first met. She was being a bit overly assertive and feisty along with some of her peers. Our first class together started with my own assertion of myself as the graduate college professor- i.e. I was the one who called the shots, not the students. We laugh because we all have grown to deeply respect each other (and very quickly!) that it’s hard to imagine we had a rocky start.

Ray is a cancer survivor. I don’t know what the details are, but I know that she walked into my classroom already having learned so much about life, that some will never accomplish at twice her age. Ray was just told the cancer is back. Yep, cancer is such a beast. An unfair, vicious monster. This time, it is in her spine. It requires surgery, affording her a whopping 50-50 shot at walking again. Oh, by the way, Ray, did we mention we also discovered that you have MS?

We decided that we couldn’t possibly have our last class as scheduled, because it is the same day as Ray’s surgery. It just wouldn’t feel right. And it isn’t exactly appropriate for us to have class in the hospital. We all adore her, but I’m sure her family would like to take up the space around her. We are having our last get together at my house tomorrow night around a campfire. They are all of age so I told them they could bring their beverage of choice. And we are all praying Ray is feeling up to attending.

My first cohort of students I had for one semester. I still keep in touch with one student on occasion, and another student I talk to regularly, even after her move to North Carolina. This group of students I’ve had for an entire year. I feel the weight of grief and loss already. I try to give them my heart and soul and they fill me up with their appreciation. I’m sure we will stay in touch, but let’s face it. Things are never quite the same.

But I’m never away from the thought that the weight I carry from knowing I will miss the amazing women I have grown to admire over the last year, is nothing compared to the weight Ray carries. She is a rock star in every sense of the word. She has acquired strength and experience that a woman her age should never have to have earned the right to own.

My hat is off to you, Ray. And to Summer. And to countless others of the women I know who are towers of strength. When my life feels overwhelming, part of what brings me back is knowing some of you carry much greater burdens than I, and with such grace and love and power and inspiration. Know you are loved!


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Responses

Here are the responses I asked for. Hope you enjoy them!

A college student shares her struggles which are complicated by angst and other anxieties:

“Well, not only did I fail one difficult science class, I got an incomplete on a second science class. I never did the final research paper. And then I ignored my professor’s emails because I was so shamed of myself for not being able to pull myself together for anything. My professor was a nice enough person to be genuinely worried about me and contacted behavioral medicine at the college. They called me over break basically asking whether I was stable and if they could let my professor know I was ok. I said yes of course.

I am so nervous that I’m going to do just as poorly this semester. While I was studying in the library in between classes the first day back, my hands started shaking. I would like to point out I do just fine with any authority figures I don’t like. It’s those that I have respect for that I am terrified of a little bit. I feel very unintelligent compared to you because I’m incapable of communicating my feelings. I don’t do well when pople are gentle or caring with me because I instinctively assume it will be used against me at some point or another. To summarize, my level of sass correlates to the amount of fear I have.”

(My comment: You just communicated your feelings quite beautifully, my dear. Bravo for being brave enough to put it down on paper!)

A 40 something women’s reflections:

“Meeting and dating someone who’s schedule and general lifestyle is so completely different from what you know. Is it worth it?  I still don’t know.

For the first time in my life, I’m really challenging myself to give something/someone very different a shot. The way I see if, even if it doesn’t work out, it will have been worth it to try. In a very weird way, I am already stronger. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to let it go and let it be. For a planner, this is the hardest thing to do and goes against all I know.  Ultimately,  it will end up just the way its supposed to. It’s like a line in the poem Desiderata:

‘And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. Max Ehrmann'”

(My comment: Another example of bravery. You go, girl!)


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Common Denominators

I recently restarted work with my very first spiritual director. She was my minister before that. We parted ways for a while and then I bumped into her and got thinking about her. She pushes me hard. Sometimes too hard. But the most growth and changes in my life happened when I worked with her. And because I’m tired of my own broken record, I sought her out.

We just got started yesterday. We were looking for the common denominators- i.e. overall patterns that tend to repeat themselves in my life. In other words, I started out with the question, “Why does this keep happening in my life?” Somewhere in the later part of the session, an important shift occurred. I realized that wasn’t the right question. I basically know WHY it keeps happening. What I really want to know is what the hell am I supposed to do about it?

In other words, if I try to change the parts of me that bring some of these things on, I will have two problems. One, is that some things are so ingrained in me, I might as well stop breathing than to try to change it. Secondly, some of those things are good. They can be problematic, but they are part of the things that ultimately I am proud of. They set me apart in some ways.

I could write a whole other book on this topic, but I will pick one small example which isn’t so loaded. One of my gifts and curses (at the same time) is that I can almost immediately walk into a situation and see what needs to be changed or improved. I know how to wait for opportune times, be tactful, and balance it all with love. But I don’t give up easily and will take it to the next level if I think it’s important enough. This is where my SD says I get into trouble. People get triangulated and the drama kicks in.

My small example is this. I am starting my second college semester as a professor. One of my students pointed out that the syllabus said one thing, and the handbook said another. I had caught several of these errors the first semester and they were corrected. But this one was missed. I clarified the information with her, but here is where I take it to the next level. I contacted the main office and let them know. I’m sure students think I write my own syllabus, but school has changed a lot since I attended. The syllabus is written by the department, which makes its decisions based on state licensing requirements. I contacted the right person and they said they would work on the correction.

I hear a lot of feedback about how other supervisors don’t catch things or point them out and they appreciate my taking the time to do so, which makes the program stronger in the long run. Now don’t misunderstand me. I do not think there is anything wrong with the other supervisors. Absolutely not. I think they probably clarify with the students and then leave it at that. But without even thinking about it, I go to the next level and try to make it right and improve the future.

Sounds good, right?

But here’s the pattern. Eventually, people don’t want to hear what is missing anymore. At some point, the game becomes shoot the messenger. I become the annoyance rather than the help. And I hate it. Because my heart is in the right place. I’m not trying to be arrogant. I don’t think I know everything. I’m not trying to put anyone down. I just put the extra effort in to make things better for the future.

Anyhow, I’m just starting down this new self-improvement road with my SD. I know it is going to be really, really tough. But I really don’t know how to appreciate my strengths and honor them, without going up in flames later down the road. Until I figure that out, no more new ventures for me. No church for sure. I can’t sustain any more loss right now so I need to figure it out. So pray for me, and really, really beg God to guide my SD cause she has her hands full…lol.