Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Taffy 2

Taffy

I am happy to report that today we had to order another script of steroids. She is responding quite well and I have to keep remembering we are on borrowed time. I warned you I would be blogging more about her so I hope you don’t mind. I am thrilled this is NOT a memorial blog.

It is true that dogs become family members. It is true that sometimes we connect more deeply with them because there is never much to forgive. They just love you all the time. Being a Border Collie mix, she is a worker. It took me years to realize that I was NOT her mommy. Taffy is MY mommy. She clearly feels it is her job to keep an eye on me.

I mean look at this typical “mom” look. I spilled ice cubes all over the floor when in a rush. She is totally saying, “Really? Be more careful next time!”

Taffy

She’s no angel though. She is infamous for running away, although those days seem to be over. I will never forget the time the police called me after they found her. Does she not look guilty? She was actually in the back of the police car when I picked her up. Once in our car, she acted like, “What? Nothing to see here, move along.”

Taffy

But she definitely has won all of our hearts and we are continuing to enjoy her and attempt not to take her for granted.

Christmas- Darcy, Taffy, Dave, Louie

(Ok, she isn’t a fan of the hats…)


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GUEST BLOGGER: EMILY GRAHAM

We haven’t had a guest blogger in awhile. Hope you enjoy this!

How to Connect as a Couple When Baby Makes Three

If you’re a new parent, you know that having a baby changes everything. You’re exhausted, up all hours of the night, and probably a little overwhelmed just trying to stay afloat. It’s all worth it for the little bundle of joy you love so much, but what about the other love of your life? Just like everything else, your relationship with your partner changes after having a baby. The most important thing you can do as a couple is to understand these changes and find the time to reconnect while working through them.

You Worry About Intimacy

Intimacy is both physical and emotional, which is why it’s very common for new moms to worry about sex after having a baby. There are the physical concerns: you may worry about sex being painful, you’re exhausted, and probably touched out. Then there are the emotional changes you’re going through at the same time. These concerns are all perfectly normal, but it’s also a struggle you can work through. One thing you can do is check out this guide that has advice and solutions for some of the issues many new parents run into when it comes to romantic intimacy.

You Have Disagreements

There’s no doubt about it: change is hard. Besides the grumpiness that comes along with being tired, you may have more disagreements while you’re figuring out how to adapt to these changes. According to Parents, couples with new babies often disagree over domestic responsibilities, parenting styles, and concerns over money (just to name a few). You have to smooth things over in order to really connect as a couple, which means you have to make time for finding solutions.

The good thing is that solutions can often be time-savers. For example, if you fight over household responsibilities, create a schedule for who does what and when. This may sound incredibly dull, but it eliminates the feeling that one person is carrying a heavier burden and may help you both stay on top of your chore list.

You’ve Changed as a Couple

Parenting is a job where you’re on the clock 24/7. If you’re able to communicate about what you expect from each other in terms of household chores and parenting tasks, you’re more likely to get along. The downside is that the way you interact sometimes changes. Fortune describes this as more of a businesslike interaction, because so much of your communication revolves around parenting and running a household.

To counteract this tendency, try to be very intentional about setting aside time where you each focus on how you’re more than just parents. Some couples benefit from dedicating just five minutes each day to connecting. Set some ground rules, and during that time, don’t talk about the baby or the house! Even though it’s just five minutes, make this time special too. Pour a glass of wine (if you aren’t too tired) or enjoy a yummy treat together.

When you can, it’s also crucial to spend a little more time together by having a date night. Getting out is always nice, but you can also have a home date night while the baby’s asleep. The important thing is to turn off the parent role just for a little while and focus on yourselves as individuals and as a couple. (Of course, if you’re home, you may have to turn the parent role back on if baby wakes, but that’s ok.) Date night is the ideal time for intimacy, but remember that doesn’t always have to be physical. The point is to focus on connecting with each other – even if you’re just cuddling on the couch watching a movie.

Sometimes, the smallest things you do as a couple end up making the biggest difference. Grab the spare moments to reconnect, and set aside time for dealing with the bigger issues too. Just as the late night feedings and countless diaper changes are worth it for the joy your baby brings, the changes to your relationship and the work they require are worth the effort.

Image by Tanya Patxot from Pixabay

Emily Graham is the creator of Mighty Moms. She believes being a mom is one of the hardest jobs around and wanted to create a support system for moms from all walks of life. On her site, mightymoms.net, she offers a wide range of info tailored for busy moms — from how to reduce stress to creative ways to spend time together as a family.

Emily Graham | emily@mightymoms.net


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Janet

My sister Janet is eight years older than me. I have some memories of her as a kid, but mostly there was a big enough age difference that we didn’t steal each other’s clothes or boyfriends so there wasn’t a lot of conflict.

She is the middle child, but for years we also called her the Perfect Child. As adults, I found out that she always hated that so I stopped saying it. I also call her Dad’s favorite daughter and I haven’t stopped saying that. I joke around about it, but it doesn’t seriously bother me because she is truly one of the kindest women I’ve ever known in my life.

I was just talking with a client yesterday who has a family member with cancer news. I remembered when we starting testing Tim and suspected it might be cancer. Janet lived near Rochester so she was an hour-and-twenty-minute drive away. I was on the phone with her when she said, “No matter what happens Darcy, you won’t be alone. We will be there every step of the way.” And she was.

Twice during Tim’s five months of illness, she took an unpaid leave of absence to come and help. I never forgot that because there were other relatives/friends that lived closer and were more close to Tim than she was, but she was the one that didn’t bat an eye. She just took the financial hit and came.

One memory that particularly stands out was when the decision was made for Tim to go to Hospice to try to get his sleep regulated. I called her to tell her and she made all that distance and got here before the transport car came. She and I took Tim around the property in a wheelchair to give him a chance to look at everything, reminisce, and ultimately say goodbye.

She has been here again, this time for Dad. She arrived the day before New Year’s Eve from Tennessee. And she is still here. She leaves Saturday which means she was here a full three weeks. Dad required 24 hour supervision until this week so she literally spent the whole time with him in his assisted living apartment.  I can’t even begin to express what a massive relief that was to me.  I know Dad is going to miss her terribly, as will I.

I enjoy her company immensely, but I was in a catch-22. She was here to take care of Dad, which was my chance to get a break. I wanted to visit with her, but I needed some distance from the situation at the same time. Thank goodness she completely understood that.

Even though she lives in Tennessee now, she still had a job where she had to take an unpaid leave of absence to be here. To take a three-week cut in pay when you live paycheck to paycheck is an incredible sacrifice. She makes it without blinking an eye, without a question. If I asked her to stay even longer she would.

Her husband supports her being here, even though I’m sure he misses her. Her daughter supports her being here, even though Janet misses her little grandson so much I’m sure her heart aches. So thank you to all of her family who let us borrow her capable hands and her ever-giving heart.

And how do I thank Janet? I couldn’t possibly. But deep down, I know she knows. She loves me too, and came to support to me. Mostly though, she did it for the deep love she has for our dad. He’s not an expressive man, but I know he appreciates her as much as I do.

IMG_20180109_101722452_HDRThank you dear Janet. You truly are perfect!


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Release

Phew!

After a very emotional and exhausting week, Dad is coming home tomorrow! I know it could have been a much longer time, but it felt like it was a really long road. It was weird leaving rehab today, knowing that on a Saturday morning none of them would be there when he is discharged. After a while, it feels like they are family. The physical and occupational therapy department were really great with him. They liked working with him too because he is just a nice guy and they appreciate him. It sort of reminded me of when I left Hospice after Tim died. These are people you start to see every single day, and suddenly you know you will probably never see them again.

Plus, there is the connection of feeling grateful to someone who has helped the person you love. When someone takes good care of your family, your child, whoever, there is a warmth toward them that doesn’t go away. There were obvious problems that I’ve blogged about previously, but there were many who did their jobs extremely well.

Dad is counting down the hours. They are letting him out at 9 am to accommodate my schedule because I have a hellish day tomorrow. I need to get him all packed up, transported home, unpacked, and have his meds ready for the week, all before 11 am. I appreciate them getting him out earlier for me.

My sister from Tennessee and I talked about the need for someone to keep an eye on things for the next week. The assisted living home where he resides think it’s a great idea as well. Truth be told, I think Dad does too. No more falls. He needs to be careful. Sometimes he still struggles with buttons or shoes. Someone should be nearby when he showers, just in case he loses his balance. We can hire staff to handle those things, but it’s frankly a ridiculous amount of additional money. I’m hoping we can handle it ourselves.

Monday he meets the doctor at his living complex. I’m hoping we like her. After that, I will have to buckle down and help him with all his Christmas preparations. We’ve done what we can already, but there will be plenty of last minute things. Too bad hardship doesn’t check in with your schedule. It always seem to happen at the most difficult time. But there is no one that can control that. And in a self-centered society that promotes individual happiness, the art of sacrifice is sometimes a lost virtue. I’ve been studying a psychologist who bucks that bologny and pushes for putting others ahead of yourself. It’s refreshing to read him.

Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support and visits and love and the countless hours listening to me vent. And yay to dad, who does his best to push on, even though he has been ready for a long time to be done with this side of heaven. Love you, Dad!


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Shut Out

I am presenting next week as part of a large panel and am going to attempt to integrate Power Point for the first time. I know, I’m behind the times.  They are very simple slides, but I’m long past due for getting a more polished look for my lectures. Same topic as usual. Why is it important to confront the uncomfortable concept of death and dying?This presentation is going to be a little different in that besides talking about my experience with Tim, I am also going to talk about a current situation.

I met a very, very dear friend after Tim died, who has become in some ways like a second father. He’s just a couple of years younger than Dad and bears some physical resemblance to him as well.  He has actually met my dad a few times. He has been in the hospital the last several weeks. I have visited when I can, but recently the family has requested no visitors outside of family. I certainly would not ever want to offend the family, especially in such a stressful situation. The problem is, what is the family wants something different than the patient.

My friend had reached out to me and said he wanted me to visit. I even double checked to make sure I understood correctly. That is quite a dilemma. Why would the family not want me to visit? I don’t know, but I can attempt to make an educated guess.

Things can sound quite sensible in theory when you are talking about them outside of your personal experience, or especially outside of an actual acute situation. When you choose a health proxy, for example, many people think the appropriate person would be the person you are closest to. Actually, much more important than that, the proxy should be the person who is most likely to honor your wishes. Sometimes what we want for our loved ones is not what the actual patient wants. When the time comes, you might find it difficult to do what your loved one wants if it is different from your own desires. If you are emotionally in deep, doing the “right” thing (in this case what the patient wants) can become very cloudy.

My often mentioned friend Darren articulated something that really struck me. We were talking about this situation and in general about how I often am trying to do the right thing and somehow end up “being the bad guy.” He said it is because I bring light to the dark corners of the room that haven’t been swept out yet, because I’m not afraid to go to the difficult places. I loved that. Not sure I deserve that much credit, but it felt really great to hear.

One time when I was visiting my friend, he started to open up to me about what I loved “end of life stuff” such as how his illness was affecting his family. Then there is the big question of why is this even happening? That is the one I always say I don’t think there is an answer to. Why do we die? Because humans don’t live forever. We all have to die at some point. Every one of us. Because there are cancer cells we can’t control. Because there is disease, violence. Because people make bad decisions sometimes. But sometimes it is just because we are mortal.

I did my best to work through the labyrinth with my dear friend. In the background, one of his family members was bustling around saying things like, “Don’t worry. This is just a bump in the road,” or “You will be back to normal in no time.”

I cringed. He has stage IV cancer and there are no treatment options left. No, this is more than a bump in the road. This is nearing the end of the road. No, he will not be back to his old self.

I think he must know deep down. I think that is why he wants to talk to me. I can handle the conversation. I wonder if deep down he understands he can’t really talk to his family member. But now it feels like I’ve been shut out.

I don’t know how it will play out. At this point, he has changed his mind about visitors. Was he told that I am acting crazy? Or is he just not up to company? All I know is that at one point he specifically asked me to come and I couldn’t go. Well, I could have but I would have greatly upset the family. That is certainly not my goal.

It’s all heart breaking. I dream about him and I keep thinking if I don’t get a chance to see him again, I am at least relating to him on that level. I just don’t want him to think I have abandoned him in this very fragile time of his life. He has given me hugs and hand holding many, many times when I’ve been down and out.

Keep him in your prayers, and the family as they grapple with accepting the upcoming loss of such a wonderful human being.


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The Old Man is Snoring…

It’s raining, it’s pouring… Both literally and figuratively.

It’s been quite a week. Last Friday, I was talking to my dad who was experiencing some bleeding. I could tell by his voice and his willingness to go to an urgent care center that it was a significant amount and he was scared. Sister Renee took him. I had tickets to the theater. (Jekyll and Hyde the musical at the Lancaster Opera House. You should go if you can. Absolutely phenomenal show.) I got a call that the doc was concerned about the amount of blood loss and wanted to send him by ambulance to the hospital.

I didn’t get there until after 11 pm. He was still in the ER but was preparing to move to a room. A little after midnight, Renee and I left once he was settled. My brother, Renee, and I all took turns each day staying with him. I am the primary health advocate though so I usually ask all the questions. On Saturday, they did a scope procedure on his esophagus. The doc came out and gave me the beautiful color photographs. Of course, I had no idea what I was even looking at. What I did understand, was there was not even a drop of blood. That meant starting prep for a colonoscopy the next morning. If you have ever had one, you know that is a nightmare.

I had to leave in the evening because Frankie had his first hockey scrimmage of the year. Colin tells me he’s the best player on the team this year so he’s going to shine. It’s at a college downtown so I drive us all there. Frankie started the game, and not even 30 seconds in to the first period, he gets checked. I mean, he gets checked hard. I mean, like the parents all went “ooo” when it happened. I joked with my friend that I might have to find that kid who messed with my son and kick his butt. It wasn’t a dirty hit, but Frankie went down flat. He got off the ice.

A few minutes later I realized he didn’t return to the ice. Frankie is a total toughie. He doesn’t complain about pain and I never even know he is hurt usually until I find the ice pack somewhere in the house. I texted Colin and asked if he thought Frankie was ok. Colin was already walking over to me. He said something was wrong and I needed to go over to the bench. I did, and my toughie said that yes, he thought we should go to the hospital. It is not an easy task to walk across benches and the distance of an ice rink with only one leg so Colin ended up hoisting Frankie over his shoulders. I took a picture but they said they would curse me if I posted it. Anyhow, we spend the next four and a half hours at Children’s hospital. Several x-rays later, they determined no break, but a sprain above the ankle. Crutches for a week then re-evaluation. I probably told 20 medical people about how the first 30 seconds of the first game of the season, blah blah. Poor kid. Thankfully, Renee said she would sleep at the hospital with Dad so I didn’t have to return. Got home about 1 am.

By Monday, Dad had a transfusion and they were hopeful that the bleeding had stopped. Renee came in to take over for me, and a few minutes after getting there did the most bizarre side step I had ever seen. I managed to catch her before she hit the floor. I got her to the chair and she slumped to one side. The hospital staff was most impressive. Within two minutes there were about 8-10 people there to assess what was happening. It sure looked like a stroke. Her BP was 202. They took her down to emergency and tested her brain and heart. Until her family was able to get there, I just ran between the floors of ER and Dad’s room, depending on who seemed to need me more. Renee was released without an explanation of why she had such an episode. What’s up with this? Three of my family members in the hospital within four days.

Tuesday, sister Janet flew in from Tennessee. Phew. Renee was going to meet us at the hospital, but I got a call and then a text from her. She fell again, this time in her house. I encouraged her to go to another hospital by ambulance, but she decided to stay home. I think they should check her ears for crystal formations. I didn’t think of it at the time because it looked like a stroke. I haven’t checked in with her today, but I hope she is feeling ok. She really can’t drive or even walk. I’m afraid next time she will crack her head open!

Yesterday Janet stayed with Dad the whole day. She spent the night before there with him and I got to stay home the whole day. (Well, that’s not true. I had to give a 90 minute lecture, but I didn’t have to go back and forth to the hospital.) I was nervous about not going because Dad was supposed to be released to rehab. I wanted to be there for the transition but I also knew Janet could handle it. I also have a son on crutches who doesn’t think they are nearly as much fun as he thought they were going to be. I also woke up with a massive cold so my head felt like a balloon.

Unfortunately, Dad never made it to rehab. His blood levels dropped again. Has to stay for another procedure, and hopefully this time they will be able to stop the bleeding for good. Poor guy. So, I’m off to the hospital as soon as I post this blog. Any day where I only have one hospital to go to is a good one, lol. I heard “when it rains, it pours” so many times this week, I knew what the blog title was going to be.

To end on a positive note, if you follow my blog you know I am a tough customer when it comes to medical care. There have been some moments where I wanted to hit my head on the wall, but the vast majority of time, I have to say I was terribly impressed by both hospitals this weekend. I kept thinking about how exhausted I was, but if I had to be in fight mood because my peeps weren’t getting good care, well that would have just pushed me right over the edge of the cliff. I am grateful and also hopeful that there are some shifts happening in the medical field that are positive!


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Intensity

There are some things I’ve heard on and off for most of my life- from family, friends, males, females, etc.. I am pretty good for the most part at accepting the reality of who I am- the good and the bad. But even when you have accepted certain things, there are still times when you heave a heavy sigh because you get tired of the same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Here we go again.

What kinds of things am I referring to? Well, let me see. I am intense. I have a very complicated life. I have a very busy life. There is a fair amount of stress in my life. I’ve made very noticeable changes in my life and things are much more manageable than they used to be. But life is dynamic and sometimes you are caught in a whirlwind for a while again because life isn’t always conveniently packaged the way we would like it to be. And even when I am managing and juggling things ok, my life can be overwhelming for OTHER people. I get it. I truly do. But I also want to say, if it sounds overwhelming to you, how do you think it feels for me?

I’m resourceful and capable. I have surrounded myself with amazing family and friends that I can count on. I’m not alone in that sense. Nevertheless, life is full of challenges.

When new people come along, it seems to me like they have a few options with how to incorporate me into their life. After the initial honeymoon period of a new friendship or relationship, you get to know each other on deeper levels. (True of romantic relationships, or any other type of friendship as well.)

Here’s how I see it, written from the other person’s perspective.

Option 1: My life is far less complicated. I like it that way. I like you. I care about you. But I do not want a steady diet of the complicated life that you seem to live. It just isn’t a good fit for me.

Response: I get it. I truly do. Having learned to relax and slow down more, I understand these kinds of people much better than I used to. No matter how much you like someone, sometimes it’s just not a good fit. My lifestyle is not meant for everyone. It just isn’t.

Option 2: My life is less complicated. I like you. But I’m a bit overwhelmed with all you are juggling. I think I need to get to know you at a much slower level. Maybe we can talk just a bit about one or two aspects of your life, but let me slowly digest those and save the rest for later.

Response: I get it. It is harder for me to do, but I can do it when I am aware that I need to. I have tons of support in my life and there is plenty of stories in my life to go around (lol). My tolerance level for my own stuff as well as most people around me (personally and professionally) is extraordinarily high. So I just need to be intentional about holding back because most people aren’t like me. There is some risk involved because that other person may never be able to fully engage with me. But if there appears to be potential, then it’s worth the risk.

Option 3: I’m in. I hear about what you do every day and I am amazed. I see your strength. I can’t help with all you are dealing with, but I can listen and I can admire your tenacity. I get that your intensity is high because your love for people is high. I see you are committed to your family and friends with all your heart. You try to be balanced, but your highest value is other human souls. And sometimes that can be demanding. But overall? I recognize that means you will also value and be committed to me. You will be there in my time of need. You will care deeply and I will be a better human being for it.

Response: Phew. That’s my dream. I’ve never experienced it yet, but I secretly hope that someday I will. My virtues are also my vices. But honestly? I’m proud of my values. I’m pleased that I don’t take the easy way out, even though it might make my life less stressful and complicated. Some days, I get great feedback. Some days, I have to give it to myself. You know what Darcy, you are a good daughter. A good mother. A good step mother. A good grandma. A good sister. A good friend. I sure as hell am not perfect. I sure as hell take on too much sometimes. But I’d rather err on the side of loving too much than turning my back on what I know needs to be done.

Summary? Option one doesn’t work. Option two is workable. Option three is a pipe dream. Probably most of my energy in my life will have to focus on option two. And that’s ok.

That old girl scout song comes to mind. “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” I am an incredibly lucky and blessed woman in that I have some very long time friends and family in my life that get me. My therapist has been in my life for over 15 years and he is one of my biggest cheerleaders. And yes, I am even learning how to support myself. I’m not perfect, but I love hard and I work on myself every day.

That’s a pretty good life!


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Acceptance

I saw Ellen, my spiritual director, yesterday. Sometimes we have conceptual type conversations. They are intriguing and thought-provoking, but I’m also a nuts and bolts girl so I want to know in the end what it all means in practical terms.

We were talking about pursuing. Pursuing _____ (fill in the blank). Pursing whatever it is you want, desire, are trying to accomplish, etc.. Pursuit requires drive and energy. In and of itself, pursuit is not a negative thing. BUT… what happens when pursuing becomes the end vs. the means to an end? Ellen said sometimes we get stuck in the pursuit. If we pursue something for long enough, we don’t even remember how to actually get there.

The end of pursuit is acceptance. In this context, acceptance is more like receiving. How do I receive what I am looking for? If all of my energy is in the pursuit, where is the energy I need to accept what I’m looking for?

This ties in to being aware of accepting what you already have. Being aware and receiving what is in your grasp, even if it’s not the thing you are or have been pursuing.

I think (and have been affirmed by many over the years), that for the most part, I do a pretty good job with awareness. I don’t usually forget how lucky I am with so much of what I already have at my fingertips. But it can’t hurt to make a more conscious effort, right? Another well-known phrase for this is, having an “attitude of gratitude.”

So I’m taking today’s blog to think about accepting some of the gifts I already have. I’m setting pursuit aside and going into “reception mode.”

I am very grateful for my kids. Frankie gives me gray hair on a daily basis as I worry endlessly about not balancing all the things I need to help him be well-rounded. I want him to be carefree but yet responsible. I just got another email from a teacher again today. He talked about how Frankie is truly one of a kind. He stands out. And he does. And I beam with pride every time I hear it.

My other kids are great too. They are all adults now and starting to raise their own kids. They have all changed and grown so much over the years. I can’t imagine my life without them and my beautiful grandkids.

I am blessed with health. Other than struggling with weight (for my entire life), my aches and pains are pretty minor now that I’ve seen what can really happen to a person’s body. I might complain about my aching muscles, but how lucky am I to have the energy to exhaust myself every day?

Having witnessed for many years how other families interact and operate, I am most grateful for mine. With all our idiosyncracies aside, we love each other and try to do the right thing for each other. When one of us is down and out (and it seems like it’s usually me), we are there for each other.

I am told on a frequent basis that I have an exceptional amount of exceptional friends. I know it is absolutely true. Some of my friends have been around for ages. Some are newer. Some have recently been re-kindled again. I just had visitors today from Chicago that I hadn’t seen in a decade. All of them warm my heart, and on a very, very deep level.

My publishing company rocks. We work our butts off. We haven’t figured out how to make a lick of money, but the three of us all bring unique talents to the table. Our company just wouldn’t work if one of us wasn’t there. We need each other, and we are skilled and gifted. Not everyone gets to say that about their work.

My clients bless me. Honestly, most of the time I feel like I benefit more from knowing them than they do from knowing me. I love when people are trying to make their lives better, their relationships closer, etc.. And I get to be a part of it. Amazing.

So… I publicly declare to put more and more effort into acceptance. Pursuit is not evil, but I promise to put less and less effort into my driven nature and relax more into receiving. Try it, you might like it too. 🙂