Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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A Boy and His Dog

Taffy

This is the blog I have been thinking about the last six months. And I’ve been dreading it. Our beloved Taffy died on Sunday, March 15, 2020. After all the struggles to make a decision, she died naturally, on her own terms in our living room. We were all around her as she took her last breath.

Everyone agrees. She was a really sweet, special dog. She was my shadow. I was not her mommy. She was mine. It was clear that her purpose was to watch over me and she never let me forget it.

While my heart hurts every day as I deal with the enormous void that has been left, the worst pain comes from the one I am the mommy to. My 17-year-old son. His loss is the hardest for me to accept.

Dave, Taffy

I can’t really say they grew up together. David was seven when we got her. Taffy was between one and three but no one knows for sure. But I look at this picture which was taken right after we got her. He looks so very little. A young boy, thrilled to have a dog. He had lost his grandma, but he had not known the bitterness yet of losing his father. Or of the five cats in a row that he would lose.

David, Taffy

As he got older, the thrill of walking the dog lost its luster as it does for most kids who promise to help with all the extra responsibilities that come with a pet. But he loved her, and Taffy was always very protective of her. Anyone that wrestled with him got an earful from her.

Then came the tragedy that would alter our family forever. Tim designed his headstone. I would bring Taffy here often to walk. The paths were pretty and she liked to roam around. David didn’t accompany us very often. I couldn’t blame him. Frankly, I’m not much of a cemetery person myself.

Christmas- Darcy, Taffy, Dave, Louie

We stuck together though. Taffy was always part of our Christmas photo. The cat would sadly change often, but Taffy was our steady. She was part of our family, no matter what.

Darcy, Taffy, Dave- Christmas card shot

David was absorbed in hockey and was ten-years-old now. His life experiences had aged him far beyond his chronological years. To me, he still looks so young here. Too young to have weathered so much.

Dave, Taffy

Taffy would do things for David that she wouldn’t do for anyone else. The cats were always like that too. He is fun and charismatic with them and they respond to him.

Dave, Taffy

See what I mean?

Dave, Taffy

I never knew what they talked about at times like this, but I imagine you and I would chuckle at their conversations.

Herbie, Dave, Taffy

Clearly, that chair in front of our window holds a lot of memories.

Dave, Taffy

And then those smart aleck times. This was Mother’s Day when I told him the only thing I wanted was for him to take a walk with Taffy and me. He literally took Taffy for a walk. Taffy doesn’t look like she minded one bit. She was in her favorite place. And she was with her favorite peeps.

Christmas photo- Tim, Darcy, Taffy, Herbie, David

And the last Christmas photo we will have together. We will always be a hockey family, but we will no longer have our girl with us. Our steady protector for over ten years.

Watching him grieve over her on our living room was beyond what I could bear as his mother. We knew that it was about our beloved Taffy, but it was also so much more. Whether he knows it or not, I know it is true. Loss after loss. After loss.

I lost my dad when I was 51. He lost his when he was eight. I never saw anyone take their dying breath until I watched my mom pass when I was 40. He watched Taffy die in that manner at age 17. In between, he bravely held his cat while she was euthanized. I just don’t what it is in his head and heart. I don’t imagine he will ever tell me, at least not for a decade or two.

So goodbye my loving, faithful companion. The one who has never left my side, especially during some of the loneliest moments of my life. You will be missed beyond words. But mostly, thank you for loving my boy.

Taffy


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Empaths

Are you hoping for a better 2020 than 2019? I can’t prove it, but I feel like every January I say something similar. Last year was tough, here’s to hoping for a better new year.

I’ve heard it described that sympathy is feeling bad for someone’s pain. Empathy is feeling someone’s pain with them. One isn’t bad and one good, one isn’t healthy and the other unhealthy. They are just two things that are distinct but closely related.

I’m definitely an empath. That is probably the single most important thing that makes me an effective counselor. I call it being fully present. When you are in my office, you have my full attention and I am empathic. But if an empath doesn’t want to sink into the abyss, they have to also know how to detach when they exit the other’s presence.

Even when you can detach in a healthy way, there is still residue. I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t. I am aware of the good things in life. I’m not oblivious to them and I’m grateful for the good things in my own life. But I’m also painfully aware of the crazy stuff too. Not only does it make me incredibly angry, but it also breaks my heart. There is so much suffering, and there is also so much injustice. Virtually every system in our country is broken. Some have minor issues, others are profoundly broken.

It is a privilege to witness suffering, an honor when someone lets you see. It also blows my mind sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even wrap my head around it.

For example, the legal system that claims to protect children, but repeatedly favors giving parents an endless amount of chances to get their kids back. I wonder if they have any idea the havoc it wreaks on the foster or biological families that pick up the broken children month after month, year after year. The case where the parent overdoses on drugs, sometimes in front of their child, sometimes not. They can repeatedly get arrested and have literally dozens of court cases in front of them and it doesn’t matter. The kids can show every sign of regression from seeing their parent and it doesn’t matter. How do you comfort that family?

The 17-year-old son who lost his mother to cancer and then his father takes his own life? I lost my father at age 51 and I was devastated. How do I even wrap around the thought of being completely parentless, facing the rest of my life trying to figure out how to be an adult without them at age 17?

The mom who finds herself riddled with alcoholism and in relationships with men who beat her. She keeps trying to break the pattern but finds herself back in it, even when she kicks the drinking.

A step-parent who spends decades helping his adult children become more responsible humans but all he gets in return is to be berated, ignored, accused, and have his grandchildren kept from him. How do you comfort him?

The family that loses their pregnant daughter in a tragic car accident?

The parent who has a child who tries to hang himself. Another child that douses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire. The parent finds themselves crying repeatedly and can’t figure out why because these events happened years ago.

The stories go on and on. I want so badly to help. I want to make the kind of difference where patterns actually change. Where I can make systems do what they are supposed to do. Where I can make people behave the way they should.

But of course, I can’t. Not even close. So I stay present, try to detach. And every once in awhile I just have to scream out loud because the unfairness is so maddening I literally want to rip my hair out. (I would punch things but I’m a baby and don’t tolerate physical pain so well.)

I’m NOT talking about not holding people accountable for their choices. I’m NOT talking about creating a victim mentality. But please offer sympathy to others when you can. Please offer empathy when you can. And for God’s sake, pray for these people, and pray for those of us that are empaths on the front line. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I need to keep my oxygen mask on.


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Untwisting the Knife

My daughter told me recently that someone in the family called her and hurt her deeply. They said that her father would be very disappointed in her. That alone is hurtful enough. Tim died nine years ago and the grief is still felt by all of us. Telling someone their parent is disappointed in them is painful. Telling someone that when their parent is deceased is more than painful. It is cruel. And it is cowardly.

That was not all. He also reminded her that she was born out-of-wedlock. (Do people really still use that term anymore?) Basically, she was a bastard child. Now she has repeated the same pattern, the same mistake, by having a child while not married. Basically, she had a bastard child as well. He suggested she not consider baptizing her. That beautiful little girl is anything but a bastard. She is gorgeous and joyful. She will hug any human that hugs her back.

I’m considered the Christmas Queen around here. (Or I’m called the Christmas Nazi, depending on your perspective.) I watch every Christmas movie I own every year. I have to start in October to accomplish that. I have thousands of Christmas songs. I am still working on those, maybe by New Year’s? Christmas books, you name it.

I grew up in the church. I know the Christmas story forward and backward. I know every word to every verse of every Christmas carol. (I might be exaggerating, but only a little.) Today, something hit me at 52-years-old that I never thought of.

Jesus was born to an engaged woman. Jesus was technically a bastard child. I texted my daughter and told her she should remind her very staunch Catholic family member of that fact before he berates anyone else.

I sat in my pew and thought about how completely interesting and fascinating that Jesus chose to come into the world that way. The emphasis has always been on Mary being a virgin. While that is true and significant, it is also completely consistent with the fact that Jesus later hung out with the prostitutes and tax collectors. He actually shut down the church leaders of the day. He reamed them out and called out their hypocrisy. And He got baptized.

I’m proud to be THAT kind of Christian.


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Witness of the Sacred

This weekend I had yet another opportunity and privilege to be a witness of the passing of another to the next world.

She was someone who was one of the moms that “adopted me” over the years, which is so special to me after losing my own. It was quite unexpected which brings its own complications to the grief process. She went in for a simple procedure and something went wrong. It happened to Tim’s mom. It reminds me of Tim’s supposed gallbladder removal and coming out with stage four cancer instead.

I walked away with my faith renewed in Buffalo General. The staff was wonderful. They showed genuine compassion and were straight forward and honest with the family. Professional but human, kind, competent.

Every time I go through a situation like this, I learn a few more things. Sometimes it’s about the medical system, procedures and practice. Other times it’s about relationships, loss, and the blend of unique and universal grief all mixed in together.

I cried briefly, but mostly was gathered together, even though the people I care about around me were in agony with the loss of the most important woman in their life. I actually started to worry, but then I remembered how it goes with me. True to form, in the thick of it I was present to everyone around me. Several hours later when I went to bed, it took about 15 minutes for me to blubber. Tim was ready and held me until my tears were done (for now).

It’s always hard to articulate what this experience is like. Words seem awkward, phrases feel inappropriate. But I was so proud of this family. All conflict was put aside and everyone allowed themselves to bond through their loss. In spite of the suddenness and the shock of letting her go so quickly, all were in agreement. No need to prolong her suffering.

As for mom? Well, it’s my personal belief that she is soaring in heaven with a now perfect body. She is free of aches and pains. I rejoice for her. For the rest of us? I pray for healing because the mourning is great. The hole she leaves behind will never be filled. It may scab over with time, but she is one of those that affect you for a lifetime.

And to her family, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be present during this very sacred time. It was an honor to be there, and it will continue to be a privilege to walk this grief journey with you, however little or much you allow my presence. Love and compassion to you all!


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Between Rocks & Hard Places

I’m continuing to read my own books. I’ve given in to marking them up with edits. I can’t help myself. But if I’m hard on myself about writing, you should hear what I do to myself about parenting.

Hindsight might be 20/20, but our memories of past events are also partly skewed, even for those of us that do pretty well with details. I have been surprised as I’ve been reading my journal entries, that my angst about “losing Dave” along the way started long before his teenage years.

I just didn’t realize how long ago it started. The answer startled me. As I read, my first thought was it started right after Tim died. Then I realized it actually started when Tim got sick.

Tim got diagnosed in May. I remembered that sometime in July, Dave came to me and asked if he could stop going places. He was worn out and wanted to stay home. He was only seven at the time.

A kid that young isn’t supposed to be at home on summer vacation and watch his dad deteriorate. We were also overwhelmed with treatment, educating ourselves about disease, and making preparations for our future. Oh yeah, both of us trying to work as well. People really stepped up and took Dave everywhere. Super fun places too. But that created the situation where he came to me and said, “Enough.”

That five months of Tim’s illness was when Timmy and Dave got much closer than they were already. I literally felt sick to my stomach thinking about this little kid who was losing his dad but also lost his mom in the process. My priority was helping Tim journey out of this world. I didn’t ignore my son by any means, but I was definitely focused on doing this “thing” as best we could.

I should have paid more attention to my boy. I shouldn’t have shipped him off all the time. I should have. I shouldn’t have. Damn it! This big community event that we were unfolding, maybe it was all a monumental mistake. Maybe it should have been a small, private affair where I kept my boy in a world closer to the parent that wasn’t leaving him.

But shit. Would it really have been right to not be by Tim’s side whenever possible? He literally only had five months. Was that too much to ask to be the priority? I’m so sick of Catch-22 situations and being caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s so freakin’ unfair.

Dave has always been my biggest worry since the moment he was conceived. And that has only exponentially grown since the death of his father. I thought I was relatively well equipped to handle it, but looking back, I pretty much botched it up. I won’t ever feel good about that.

I’m also aware though, that if I had handled it differently, I would be blogging now about how I pretty much botched up a different aspect of that event in our lives. Because no matter what angle you looked at it, it was an impossible situation to deal with.

And almost nine years later, I can tell you it still is.


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Being Present with Grief

I have been seeing a family that I have written about before (with their permission) who have been dealing with intense grief for almost two years now. It is so hard for them to even focus on healing because the situation around the loss has been a relentless avalanche of tough circumstances. It keeps the anger burning strong and it exhausts their energy.

Recently, one of the adult daughters came to session. Because of all the information we had to cover, there wasn’t time to focus on her like we had all planned on. As they were leaving, the dad mentioned the “mandatory hugs” that are usually exchanged before exiting.

After the parents went through the door, I hugged the daughter. I had one of those sixth sense moments and lingered with her. It started a flow of tears from her. I didn’t say much and my mind was racing to not say something dumb. Mostly I didn’t say anything except, “take your time” and “let it go.”

Eventually, the tears turned to more intense sobbing. Both parents came over and we all held each other in a circle. After several more moments, the hug ended. All told, it was about ten minutes. If that doesn’t sound long to you, let me tell you it’s a great amount of time to be crying.

I reminded them all that grief is horrifically painful. They did not need to say anything to each other or try to stop the tears. People who grieve just need someone to be on the journey. They need folks who aren’t afraid of the intensity of their sadness. They can all just be present with each other as they navigate the terrible path they have been forced to walk down.

After they left, I went to Tim and asked for a hug. It was a difficult ending to session, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was reminded that even though talking is good, that wasn’t what was needed today. It was caring touch and presence. Her tears were much more healing than any amount of verbal processing would have done.

Again, my hat is off to you, my clients. You are so resilient and brave!


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3 Reasons Older Adults Are Cranky

My new aging client is keeping me extremely busy. She is also keeping me on my toes. Now I’m a tender heart, so even though I understand what is happening, I am still sensitive when she snaps at me. Thank goodness she has stopped firing me. However, I still got those calls when she is irate about something she thinks I did or didn’t do. I get it though. I can only try to imagine what it must be like to be in her shoes.

  1. Change is hard. Any person of any age should be able to admit that. There is no gain without loss. There is no beginning without an ending. Even the happiest change has an underlying sadness. Most older folks are not happy about the changes they are often forced to make.
  2. Speaking of shoes, I have probably donated over 50 pairs of shoes. I mean, these are expensive, classy shoes. Lots of them have never even been worn. Unfortunately, her feet are now permanently swollen so much that there are very few styles she can even wear. At home, she is just barefoot most of the time. Irreversible changes in your body can be heartbreaking.
  3. It is with great sadness that I throw out some of her things. She is sad as well but I feel like we should have a moment of silence, over and over again. The worst so far? Not one, but TWO novels she wrote. I discovered a ginormous stack of papers. One novel was over a thousand pages. Every one typed. Typed, not printed out of a computer. Two novels never published. Tossed into a recycling bin. I told her this generation doesn’t have to work that hard. We type into a computer that has a spell check. It’s so easy for us in comparison. God only knows how long it took her to write those novels. Took less than five seconds to toss them. How do you watch a lifetime of work get simply tossed?

I could go on and on. Working like this brings back lots and lots of memories of Dad. I remember the frustrations linked with sadness at what was happening with him. I am learning patience and increasing compassion every day. If you are in this situation with someone you care about, take lots and lots of deep breaths, and then try to understand what is underneath all that crankiness.