Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


4 Comments

2015’s Best Christmas Moment

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

Then Monday came.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1 Comment

A Charlie Brown Mother’s Day

During the Charlie Brown Christmas special, Charlie Brown says how he knows no one likes him, but wonders why there has to be a holiday to emphasize that fact. He laments his empty mailbox and sarcastically thanks his “friends” for the Christmas cards they don’t send him.

I can’t say that Mother’s Day is like that entirely for me. I had several friends who went out of their way over the weekend to let me know I am loved. I got a hanging plant, a dozen pink roses, chocolate strawberries, and perfume from various friends that stopped by. My daughter Emily called from Georgia Saturday night to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day and said a gift would be arriving on Tuesday. She always remembers and does very thoughtful things for me.

I start with those positive things because I truly am grateful for them. Sometimes though, people say things about how lucky I am to have good friends and that I should always focus on that. But what people fail to realize, is that even when a person is deeply grateful for gifts in their lives, that doesn’t take away from the fact that other people hurt them. Having great friends doesn’t make it hurt less when another friends hurts you deeply. Having a daughter that loves you, doesn’t take away the sting of your other three boys that pretty much ignore your existence.

About a week ago, Colin (age 31, by the way) approached me and asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I basically told I didn’t need a material present. What I wanted was their (Colin and Frankie, age 12) time. I said I wanted to go out to eat with them. Colin then said he was letting me know in advance, because my friends tend to take over holidays. Huh. We will never, ever, ever agree on that one. Colin and Frankie insist that my support system is around too much and makes them uncomfortable. I insist that my support system is around because the kids ignore and hurt me repeatedly. I will believe that’s the truth til my grave.

I approached the boys a couple of days ago and asked them what their plans were for me. I told them I would stay home all day if they actually wanted to do something with me. We could ride bikes, play games. Do anything at all. But if they were going to act like they hated spending time with me, or if they were going to ignore me, then I would be happy to make plans with other people who like to hang out with me. Frankie said if we went to HIS favorite restaurant to eat rather than the one I had chosen, then he would be able to have a good attitude while we were out.

Mother’s Day went exactly as I thought it would. I don’t know how you can be disappointed when you know in advance how people are going to treat you, but I manage it all the time. It still cuts me to the core.

Anyone who knows me (and this most definitely includes my children) knows that I hate being alone. I have to do it most of the time and I’ve learned to live with it. Is it too much to ask that ONE day of the year I’m not reminded that I’m a widow?

Frankie overslept so he wasn’t awake to go to church with me. So off I went to church by myself on Mother’s Day. Why should today be any different?

I came home and sat for awhile listening to Frankie and Colin in the living room. They were hanging out together as always, talking, laughing having a blast together. I finally went to bed to at least be a room apart from the loneliness that I felt.

I got up and asked Frankie to walk in the woods with me and the dog. His response? No, I’m good. So off I go alone, just like every day. Why should today be any different?

At 5 PM we went to Frankie’s favorite restaurant. As expected, not one word was said to me the entire meal. Not much was said at all, but when Frankie talked it was, “Colin, look at this. Colin, listen to that. Colin, what does your fortune cookie say?” And I just sat there, completely and utterly invisible. Totally fucking ridiculous.

We got in the car and I thanked them for buying dinner. Frankie then said Happy Mother’s Day for the first time all day. In fact, it was the first thing he had even said to me all day.

I came home and went to bed at 5:45. Why would I stay up? At 6:15 Colin came in the room and said he forgot to give me the card. It was signed by the two of them and there was a gift card. I thanked him. I’m glad they at least did something, but I had made it clear before today that what I needed was to feel some sort of love. Some sort of relationship with them. I didn’t hear from them the rest of the night. They hung out together in the other room, enjoying each other’s company.

Now what about Matthew? He is 28 years old and lives locally. I watch his daughter for nine hours every week. I’ve spent a lifetime of him only talking to me or acknowledging me when he needs me for something. I love my granddaughter, which is what I keep telling myself. That’s why I watch her. The kids have no idea whatsoever what it means for a single mother with literally five jobs to sacrifice nine hours a week on a business day for them. I know because they have never picked her up once and said thank you. Never once. I do, however, hear about how disappointed Matthew is in the poor care I give his daughter when they find out she had scratched her own face when she was at my house. Of course, in all fairness to me, I didn’t realize that trimming the baby’s nails now falls as a grandparent duty rather than a parental one.

So Mother’s Day came and went without a card. Without a gift. Without a phone call. Without a text. Nothing from Matthew and his wife. I’m not even sad. I’m pissed. So beyond angry it isn’t even funny.

Yes, thank you to Emily and to all my friends who love me. Nevertheless, it was a Charlie Brown Mother’s Day. A day that is supposed to be a day to honor the woman in your life who dedicates her time, energy, and countless moments of agony and worry over the intense love she pours out on her kids. For me? It was a day to be reminded that no matter how good of a mom I tried to be, I missed the boat. Most of my kids are selfish and thoughtless. They embarrass me. It’s getting harder and harder to keep taking the high road and being a rocking parent and grandparent with no reciprocity in return.

I know my kids don’t appreciate me. Do we really need a holiday to emphasize it?


2 Comments

Plodding Along

They say that the most-read blogs have catchy how-to titles. I have to laugh because the older I get, the less and less I feel like I know “how-to” do much of anything. Maybe I could write one entitled, “How to have no brilliant earth-changing ideas” or something like that.

My schedule is usually over the top. I’ve probably blogged about it a few times. Last week I spent some quality time talking with my peers, friends, and counselor about it. A couple of themes emerged so I’m pretty good at figuring out it’s time to listen to the message when it gets repeated in my life. Over the weekend I spent a pretty large chunk of time conceiving and implementing a new scheduling system. I knew it wouldn’t make me more efficient necessarily. I’m already the efficiency queen. But I was hoping that it would help me be less exhausted at the end of the day.

It wasn’t terribly hard to implement. It was just a re-shifting of ideas and priorities, not a massive lifestyle change. Almost a week in, I’m sorry to say it was a dismal failure. It hasn’t made my life harder. It hasn’t made me less efficient. It just plain didn’t make a difference.

I’ve been so excited (and frankly, shocked) that I’ve been off anti-depressants. Acupuncture has really made an impact. I think that is why I’ve been telling myself so adamantly that I’m just having a bad day. I didn’t want the wave to crash. The end of last week, my acupuncture doc and I decided that perhaps I needed two sessions this week, even though we had made the encouraging decision to go down to one treatment a week.

Yesterday I went in for my second appointment this week. I was laying on the table waiting for her and it started to happen. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide it. I couldn’t hide it from myself, and I couldn’t hide it from her. She walked in the room and asked me how I was doing. Then it happened. I just started crying. Not sobbing or anything worthy of a good drama film. The tears just fell down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed. In spite of my best efforts, my life was getting the better of me again.

She poked me up good and then told me she left me on the table an extra long time. Kind of made me laugh. Ya think? I laid there and was unable to sleep, but the stress did start to lessen. I started thinking a bunch of different things. In her cute and simplistic way, the doc said I just have too much to do. She also said I need a vacation. I reminded her that I was ready for the cruise that she and I have been talking about anytime she was ready. She said I need more days to myself. Yep.

I started thinking about a simple but wise statement a friend made to me recently after I had described my grand plan to reschedule my life over the weekend. I wanted to pop him in the nose, but I knew he was right. He said ever-so-gently that no matter how you slice up a hundred things to do, you are still left with a hundred things to do.

I also started thinking about some of the gifts that had come my way over the week. I hadn’t ignored them. I was deeply grateful for them when they happened, but I need to post them in my eyelids.

1- a client brought me in a beautiful framed Wizard of Oz picture for my office wall. The occasion? She said there was none, but she was thinking about how special I am and she thought she should do something special for me. AWESOME.

2- a student emailed me after our three hour class and said it was the best supervision she had ever had and that I had a gift. MELTED ME.

3- after a conversation about my struggles with diet and weight (which have been lifelong, by the way), a friend texted me and said I was beautiful, inside and out. HIT A RAW NERVE.

When the timer went off and the needles were removed, I still had the same 100 things to do. But I had stopped crying. I was breathing easier. I still am overwhelmed. But I’m trying to remember the gifts I have. And I’m trying to remember that when I can’t possibly waste a second with all I have to do, that it might be time to invest a minute or two to close my eyes and relax. I just don’t have to poke a bunch of needles in my head. (The doc didn’t have to say, “Don’t try this at home.” I actually know better without being told!)

Keep hanging in there. I will if you will. There will always be circumstances and people who will want more from you than you can give. There will always be those who look at you and not realize that one small thing they want from you is the straw that might break your strong camel back. But it’s okay. There are also people who love and encourage you. And it helps to focus on those moments.

Here’s to plodding along. Forward, backward, and hopefully forward a few more. Blessings!


2 Comments

The Winter Season

I saw Bob, my spiritual director, today. He helped me sort through another rough week and added yet another layer to my ever-growing understanding of grief.

This week was the fourth anniversary of Tim’s death. Many times, the anticipation of difficult days ends up being far worse than the actual event. Not this time. The day was tough from the moment I woke up until well after midnight.

If you know me, or if you have followed my blogs for any amount of time, you know I have been blessed with an exceptional quality and quantity of support people. Sometimes I have conversations and experiences with them that challenge my thoughts and beliefs, and sometimes I just plain end up disagreeing with them. And that is okay.

I went into Bob’s office today with a specific question in mind, based on some of the conversations I have had this week. If a person is truly grateful- i.e. really, honestly understands on a deep level- for the blessings in their life, is it possible to remain sad or depressed?

I knew my answer was yes, because that is what I am experiencing. I know enough, however, about human nature, that sometimes we are blinded to truths that are painful for us to accept. I wanted Bob’s unbiased opinion. He was quiet for a moment or two, so I knew I had asked a difficult question, one that was more complicated than it appeared on the surface. When he gathered his thoughts, he very confidently answered that yes, most definitely you can experience both at the same time.

He is a man who has experienced plenty of grief in his life. He sometimes shares some of his stories with me. Today we talked about the frustrations of complicated grief. He said that we do the “work” of grief, whether or not we are even conscious of the fact that we are doing it. He mentioned how there are times when he feels sad or angry (or both) and doesn’t know why. Then he puts two and two together and remembers it’s an anniversary date or a particular time of year that is historically related to his grief.

I kind of jumped at that. I have had that happen, too. But I pointed out how when you ARE conscious of why you are sad or angry (or both), then sometimes the criticisms come out. (At least it feels like criticism.) If you KNOW you are at a difficult time of the year (or whatever), then suddenly you are dubbed as having a negative self-image. You are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are not “letting it go.” You are holding on to your pain. I swear, you just can’t win.

I go out and preach all the time about being willing to hold opposing truths in your heart and soul, even though it’s difficult. It didn’t click with me though, until this session that this is another one of those deep paradoxes of life. Yes, I can absolutely be grateful for my home, my healthy children, my amazing friends and family. I can be completely aware of how lucky I am in regards to those things compared to other people. But that doesn’t mean for one second, that the test of that gratitude is how happy or depression free I am. I can be grateful, and yet still be knee-deep in grief and depression.

I have no idea where grief ends and depression starts or vice-versa. I don’t even know if there is a difference. And I don’t even think it really matters.

I received some gifts on the 14th, which were intended to help lift my spirits. Was I grateful? Yes. But truthfully, I had a long talk with the gift-giver about how I was a little uncomfortable with it. It was a day to grieve. Opening gifts was in opposition to that. And me being me, it created a sense of guilt. I felt pressure to be happy and grateful, when I was anything but that. After my session, I felt more secure in the fact that it might actually be just fine to feel that way.

Bob says I am in a very, very long season of winter. It is what it is. It does not seem to be going away any time soon. But he also stressed that I AM NOT STUCK. I am alive and moving. He also said not everyone will be able to wade through the journey with me.

I was hurt by a guy who wasn’t able to be there for me on the 14th. I know there was an element there of him not wanting to be bothered, which is just plain disappointing. But Bob pointed out that for most men (sorry, guys!) there is also an element of fear. Men don’t connect with their emotions as readily as women do. To sit on a couch with me while I was so in touch with my sadness, would be a place that some people (men or women) just couldn’t go to. I had to admit that is most likely true. And while genuine caring is still there, sometimes people try so hard to help, because they can’t stand their own pain of watching someone else suffer.

It’s two days after the 14th. I’m feeling a little better than I was on that day. I’m glad for that, but I am very aware that I am still deep in winter. Just know, that when people like me are there, we are not “choosing” to be. There isn’t a formula to follow that will change it. No amount of saying “positive” phrases or focusing on blessings is going to erase it. That doesn’t mean I still won’t try, because I will. But I have made a promise to myself to try not to add guilt and judgment to my sorrow, and perhaps it’s a good reminder for you support people out there, too when you are watching me (or whoever).

It is what it is. And it is winter.