Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Knights in Shining Armor

This week’s blog is inspired by a comment that was made on my last blog “Sisterhood.” The comment was “we can’t believe there’s a knight in shining armor that will come swooping into our lives and take all of our stress away. I think if we believe that, no man will ever have a chance or be capable of providing that to a woman.”

I couldn’t agree more and I thought I had kind of indicated that in my blog about my widow friend. She still grieves and aches, even with a special guy in her life.

One of my strengths is that I’m pretty self-aware and honest about where I am. I can be brutally honest and hard on myself, which then becomes more of a detriment than a strength. Anyhow, throughout my life in my quest to experience love, I generally haven’t suffered from looking for Mr. Perfect. I’m relatively realistic about people and relationships. I have no misguided aspirations of someone swooping in and I certainly have no vision of having a stress free life. If there isn’t a man in my life, it isn’t because I have held up impossible standards that no man could possibly live up to.

Having said that, it is possible for a loving man to relieve some stress though, and most particularly the stress of loneliness. When examining many of the failed relationships I’ve had throughout my life, and especially those since Tim’s death, there are always those “hindsight is 20/20” things that stand out. For Frankie, there are two that stand out to him and every once in a blue moon he opens up about them.

The first man who touched his life, was the first guy that I dated after Tim’s death. Here is how some of that conversation goes. “Frankie, he definitely loved you. The two of you had a great relationship and he was really good to you. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good to me. As much as I loved him for you, I couldn’t stay with him for that reason.”

Then there is guy number two. He was only around six short weeks, but they were powerful ones. That conversation goes a little differently. “Frankie, he definitely cared about you. You had a great relationship with him and with his son. He was good to me, too. He fit in with our family almost perfectly. But he left us. We don’t really know or understand why, but he didn’t stay with us.”

Other conversations with Frankie reveal more of the pain he feels. He talks about how he doesn’t want to know anyone, male or female, because people just end up leaving. That’s when I want to punch that guy. No one can blame someone for not wanting to stay in a situation they are unhappy in. No matter how happy Frankie and I were, I would have never wanted someone to stay with us that didn’t want to be with us. However, there are better ways to leave than others.

In reality, he was like that knight in shining armor. Not because we were living in an unrealistic cloud nine state. Things were just smooth and they fit. We felt grounded. I experienced contentment, possibly for the first time ever. The problem I have, is not having a clue as to why he left. And even more bizarre to me is there was no attempt to try to correct whatever it was that was bothering him. He just ran. No real explanation. No real goodbye. But even worse, there was no goodbye to Frankie. There was no goodbye between Frankie and his son. His son was probably fine with it. But then his son has a living father and mother.

That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable standard to have for someone. Is that not something that a man should be capable of providing for a woman? If you are going to enter into our lives, then at least have the decency to leave with some sort of closure. After what Frankie and I have been through, a loss like that was cruel.

In my mind, the knight in shining armor became much more like the cowardly lion. How disappointing.


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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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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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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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Complications

I’ve heard a couple of comments lately about how sometimes I make choices that make my life more complicated and stressful. Perhaps my life is “as chaotic as I let it be.”

It’s true. To some extent, I have to admit it’s true.

On the other hand, I defend my choices. I invest in people. It’s the career I chose. I invest in my friends and family. Do I worry too much about other people’s feelings? Sometimes to my own detriment? It’s true. I’m sure I do. But if I’m going to make an error, I would rather it would be to care too much about others rather than not caring enough. Is that my choice? Yes, I guess it is.

The trick then, is to admit my stress and frustration without being a martyr. Women are generally prone to be martyrs. Sorry ladies, that’s just my opinion. So I think it’s ok to admit I’m hurt, or anger, or whatever, but also not be a victim. I make the choices I make and therefore have to live with the good and bad sides of those choices.

There has been lots of normal life stresses around here, just more than usual. The winter kicked my house’s butt. There has been a very long list of projects to do and things to fix. I have lots of people in my life who try to help me out in practical ways. Lots. I’m very lucky. Honestly though, if I had a lot more financial wiggle room, I truly think I would just hire people to do everything. I really would. Then I don’t have to bother anyone else. Life would be simpler. Easier. Less chaotic.

But I haven’t won the lottery yet so here I am. (Yes, I know I have to start playing the lottery in order to win it but I just haven’t got there.) Lots of people to help. Everyone has wicked schedules and their own jobs to do. When can they come? And everyone has a different idea of the best way to solve the problem. Those different solutions all have their own merits and drawbacks.

So my schedule is completely out of whack. People are here on and off all the time. I hurt people’s feelings without meaning to. They hurt mine. I assume they don’t mean to either. Personality differences. Skill differences. Time differences. All adds up to stress.

I guess I will keep making my choices, and I will keep living with the results that are both good and bad. And all those people in my life will have to make their choices too. Can they live with the way I do things? Or is it too crazy? And the people who I’m really close to, know me. They will listen to me, offer me a hug, and put up with my occasional whining. Because anyone that knows me, knows I would never ever hurt or frustrate anyone on purpose. They know I am DEEPLY grateful for all the things people help me with, even if I get frustrated sometimes. And they know that I will never stop investing in people. Nothing else is more important to me. And from my perspective, nothing else should be. Windows and paint and doors will come and go. People are what is eternal. I get it.

Happy Easter everyone!


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Scouts Honor

I was obviously never a boy scout, but isn’t their motto “be prepared?”

I mentioned last week that a client I’ve known for 12 years passed away suddenly. He was only in his early 50’s. Here I am out in public, preaching about death, dying and being prepared. The loss of this special man has kept me up at night wondering about what I’ve been doing here at home- meaning my home office. Am I preaching enough right here at home?

NO MATTER WHAT YOUR AGE, BE PREPARED.

Part of dying well, is doing what you need to do when you are living.

No one wants to think about their mortality. The younger you are, the more invincible you think you are. I’ve talked to lots of people who think they will jinx themselves if they prepare wills, etc.

Trust me. For your sake and for the sake of anyone you love, be prepared! Here is a small sampling of ideas:

Live within your means. Period. Pay off your debts and don’t get into any more. If you don’t have the cash, don’t get it.

Write down your wishes. Do you want to be buried? Cremated? Do you want your organs donated?

Do you have any special wishes for a funeral? Memorial service? None? But remember, those rituals in our society are there for those you leave behind. Sometimes it’s important for those of us who are grappling with the fact that you are gone, to go through the morbid rituals we have grown accustomed to.

If you don’t have life insurance, get it. If you do have it, make sure it’s paid up. And make sure your beneficiaries are updated.

Do you need guardians for your children? How will they be cared for if you are gone?

Does your partner or next of kin know how to access your bank accounts? Are your passwords somewhere where people can find them if needed?

It’s ok if only one of you does the day-to-day managing of your affairs. But BOTH of you, MALE AND FEMALE need to understand the situation you are in. Neither of you should ever be vulnerable to the point where you couldn’t completely take over should your partner be incapacitated unexpectedly.

Set it all up legally if you can. Wills, health proxy, power of attorney.
If not, write it down yourself.
If not, at least talk to someone about it.

I usually focus on the emotional pieces, which are also of utmost importance. So it would be remiss of me not to toss in to remember to say “I love you” often. Whether you are angry or hurt or whatever. Don’t go to bed unresolved. Don’t let even a day go by without getting re-connected to the people that are important to you.

I can promise you it really happens. It just happened to that special client of mine. One minute you are waxing your car because the weather has finally broken, and within a couple of hours you have entered the next life.

Handle your stuff. Now. While you are able. Please!


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Another Layer

I went to Aldi’s to get groceries this week. I was paying the cashier and noticed an 80 something year-old man behind me with a bouquet of flowers. I said, “Ah, who are those beautiful flowers for?” He smiled at me at said, “For my special lady.” I said, “Well then, she’s a lucky lady.”

He paused a minute and then said, “She’s not with me anymore, but I still bring her flowers all the time.” I paused a minute and then said, “My husband passed away too. I try to go to the cemetery but I’m not very good at it. This winter everything has been buried.” He said, “I don’t really go to the cemetery. I have a little shrine in my house and I bring her flowers there. The kids love it.” I smiled and waved goodbye.

It was amazing timing for me after the week I’ve had. I thought about what a lovely man he was and how tender of him to love her this way. The irony is, I’ve often talked about how there is no shrine of Tim at my house. For some reason, that seems like it would be a bad thing. I guess it’s different for an 80 year-old remembering his beloved than a 47 year-old who is trying to move ahead.

I have been working on the dating chapter in my second book. That, along with several other conversations I’ve had over the last few months, has gotten me thinking about lots of things.

If you have ever read “The Soulmate Secret,” the author talks about how you need to create space and energy for your soulmate to come into your life. For me, I feel like we’ve had a pretty healthy level of balance. Talking about Tim has never been taboo around here. But we talk about the future too.

But what if it’s time to look at the next layer? What if it’s time to move to an even deeper level of healing and growth? You get used to things around you, so I started a very intentional walk around my entire house. I was surprised at how much “Tim memorabilia” is around. How much is a healthy level for going on year four without him? How do I help Frankie remember without holding him back either?

Not easy questions to answer, but I’ve given it my usual over-analyzing, critical eye. I’ve made some small changes around the house and have a few more to make too. The other thing I discovered is that I have a lot of gifts from others- plaques and such that talk about remembering our loved ones. I have lots and lots of hummingbird things now too. I love them all. But it is ungrateful to say that I have enough of them? I don’t ever want to hurt anyone who is kind enough to remember we are still grieving here, but I think having too many permanent things around can be tough.

In true dramatic form (my specialty), all of this introspection and change occurred around March 18th. That is our anniversary. This week was my fourth one since Tim has been gone. Four. That sounds like so long but it still feels so fresh sometimes.

Some of you may remember one of the gifts Tim left me. On my computer, he set up a yearly message on the 18th of March that said, “Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you!!!!!!!!!!!,” only I think there were even more exclamation points. I saw it Tuesday morning and had some silent, aching moments watching the screen. And then I did something I haven’t done the last three years. I deleted it.

I decided there is nothing wrong with remembering every year that once I was loved very much by another human being. That comforts me, especially when I don’t have another man in my life who loves me like that. It is more than ok for me to be reminded that I am deserving of that kind of love and Tim gave it to me at the end of his life.

But I also know I will never forget that message. I may be able to delete it from a computer, but I won’t delete it from my heart. There is room in my heart for more love, for the future, for hope. But my heart is also comforted by knowing that I tasted true love, even if briefly. And that is a good thing to have while I wait (impatiently) to be loved like that again.

So here’s to another layer of healing. Growth hurts. It’s been a tough week, I won’t deny it. But I think it’s been good and right.


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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?