Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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The “Wow” Experience

Last weekend I started my first client managing/advocacy job. My initial meeting was in a hospital. It’s a large place with 16 floors, 71 rooms to a floor. As I found my way to her room, I had goosebumps. Out of the 1,136 rooms available, my client was in the exact same room my dad was back in December of 2017, 8 months before he died.

I’m not gonna lie. It was hard at first. I still miss him terribly. I’m anticipating Father’s Day soon and I know it will be hard. But I also had to admit this was more than coincidence. I was meant to be there. This is what I’m meant to do.

I was relieved because in my experience, this was one of the best hospitals I have interacted with. Now I have to take that back. It was an awul weekend and the worst was Monday (so you can’t blame it on the “weekend” staff).

The social worker, PA, secretary… virtually everyone we talked to with the exception of one male doc and one male guy at the desk, was nothing short of combative, argumentative, and downright wrong in what they were saying to us.

No matter how confident I am, when that many people beat you down, you start to question yourself. Thank God that night, my former spiritual director who was there with me, called to debrief. She said, “Wow! What WAS that??” I told her sadly, that was the typical medical experience. I was grateful to know she saw it as horrifying too.

That night I was in tears as Tim and I talked. Was this a mistake? Did I spend 18 months to get this job only to discover I didn’t have the guts to do it?

Thankfully, my client was transferred to rehab. I was nervous because it was the same company where my dad was at, but an entirely different location. When I arrived, it was clear that several mistakes had been made. Some insignificant, some more serious.

However, to my surprise, every person I asked to speak with showed up within 10 to 20 minutes. Every one of them- unit manager, physical therapist, aides, and especially the social worker- were respectful, listened, and appeared to want to follow through with what was discussed. (We will have to wait and see if things actually get done.)

I was so relieved. I’m not crazy. I can do this. I do know what I’m talking about. I’m not an agitating person. When you are dealing with folks who aren’t defensive and actually listen to what you are saying, it’s a peaceful environment. And that is certainly better for the patient.

Thanks to the staff. I can’t name you, but I pray your kindness will come back to you this week!


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Another Twist on Grief

My clients gave me persmission to write about our work together. I have been seeing them about a year and a half. They were referred to me because I am a “grief expert” and I have been on their journey with them as they grieve the loss of their daughter.

She was killed in a tragic car accident. As if that wasn’t enough pain to bear, she was also in her last weeks of pregnancy. If the accident hadn’t happened, she would have given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

I have to laugh at the “expert” piece when I miss really obvious things that later hit me smack between the eyes. The mom has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), the latest name for Multiple Personality Disorder. It wasn’t until last week that I even thought to wonder about how that might be effecting her grieving process. And not just hers, but her husband’s as well.

I have only encountered DID twice in my practice, and once in my social life. While we were talking about other traumas they have faced together as a couple, many stories about the DID came up, which has happened in several other sessions.

People who are grieving are often afraid of letting their emotions really go. People who are working through past traumas are often afraid of letting their emotions really go. They are usually afraid the intensity will be too much and they will get swallowed whole. It is my job to assure them of the safe place in my office and reassure them that they will not emote forever.

I’m not so sure that is true with DID. Personalties or “alters” are often formed to cope with specific traumas in a person’s life. The alter bears the brunt of the experience, or develops a coping mechanism. The alter actually IS the coping mechanism.

As my client and I were talking, the mom was saying that she keeps her grief at a distance. The more we discussed it, I realized that there is a possibility that if she embraces it fully (which I am always encouraging in grief work), she literally may not ever come back from it. It truly might not be safe for her to take on the loss of her daughter and granddaughter with all its force.

I couldn’t believe that I didn’t take all that into account before then. Some expert, right? Then it also hit me. I asked the dad if perhaps he might be holding most of the grief for both of them? He is wondering now too. Not that any dad’s grief wouldn’t be intense from the loss, but his may be even greater as he unconsciously tries to “hold” it for both of them.

Wow, my lesson (which I relearn from time to time) is to never, ever stop learning. Is there ever really an “expert” on anything in the dynamic, changing world we live in? As is often the case, I grow more from my clients than they do from me. Oh, and please pray for this couple as they navigate this incredibly difficult journey they are on. They are two of the bravest, most resilient people I know.


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2011

I’ve heard that sometimes silence is deafening.

I have been working for several weeks now on a project that I proudly finished today. My 14,778 photographs are in a photo program that keeps them organized in a way most people would envy. However, my OCD has not let me rest for years because the way those photos are stored was not consistent.

Now who would even care about something like that? It finally got the best of me and I started the maze of trying to swap this for that. Eventually, I contacted my peep in CA from Adobe who told me a much, much, much easier way to accomplish what I wanted. Unfortunately, I had already completed about a third of the collections but at least the rest of the project went more quickly.

It was interesting to walk down nostalgia road. Back in the days of film, photos were much more difficult to date and record. You know how it was. You had a roll of film for a decade or so and then you finally got it developed. If you were lucky, you could remember what you photographed.

I couldn’t help but do that grief thing with dates. Before and after kinds of things. Oh, before Mom died. Oh, after Tim died. They become non-erasable markers in our heads that leave a scar.

Without even meaning to, I looked at those photos and wondered things like, “Wow. That was Mom’s last Christmas but we didn’t know it then.” And all the years that we were careful with Dad around holidays because we learned from Mom that you never knew when it could be your last.

The part that I wasn’t expecting, was when I would get to a collection and realize that suddenly, the photos would drop off. After about the third or fourth time it happened, I realized the pattern. It was 2011. There just were hardly any photographs at all that year. For anyone, it seemed.

In 2010, Tim got his diagnosis. There was our last Father’s Day together. There was his benefit. But in so many sections, 2011 was just gone.

It was a reminder that my entire family and support system grieved right along with Tim’s wife and children. Where did that year go? What happened to us? We must have been swallowed up in grief. Perhaps nothing felt important enough to want to remember. Yes, there were some pictures, but the difference in amounts of photographs between years was startling.

It makes sense. But it was yet another reminder that grief and loss change us in ways that we aren’t even aware of. The aware parts are tough enough, but sometimes the other insights can take years to see. I’m sure decades too, I just haven’t gotten that far yet.

I guess the take-away is this. If you are in acute grief right now and feel like there will never, ever be a smile in your life again, please know that it won’t stay like that forever. It hurts like hell, but the intensity does not stay the same. Thank God.


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Blue Thanksgiving?

This week I was cleaning out my closet to continue my efforts to purge and minimize where possible. It brought me to my two memory boxes of Tim. Every once in a while as I go through them, time passes and I notice that some things that seemed important to keep at first, don’t seem that important later. I think that is a natural part of the passing of time.

This time, I found myself looking with the perspective of having tried to become as paper-free as possible over the last year. This led to a boatload of scanning. I had over 80 scans by the time I was done, the largest one being 25 pages. (Thanks Stef for showing me how to top-load documents!)

Overall, as the days passed, I knew I was melancholy and sober. It wasn’t just reliving my husband’s death, it was reliving the loss of my church family as well. But the deepest wound by far, was finding one of Tim’s treasures he had saved. He had a couple of Christmas tags in Mom’s handwriting that said, “To Tim, From Mom and Dad.” A wave came over me as I said in a whisper, “My God, all three of them are gone, completely gone.”

Today I had to go to the Hospice campus for something. They have done lots of remodeling. Their already nice facility is even more beautiful and more convenience-friendly. But I didn’t even make it back to my car without calling Michelle back and dumping a whole bunch of tears on her.

She asked how I am overall. Lost. I feel lost and orphaned. Both parents gone, a spouse gone. Geeze, I know lots of people are in the same boat, but I’m super in touch with my own grief right now. It’s mine, and it’s intense. Why does this stuff always happen around the holidays? That familiar stomach ache. That familiar hollow feeling I know so well. Only it is carved even deeper now. That feeling like this death aged me another ten years ahead of my time. 

I laugh when I job hunt and I hear dumb things like I don’t have experience with some of this stuff. The hell I don’t. I have gobs of it. Not as much as some, but more than a lot of people. I’m not feeling a pity-party at the moment. Just letting folks out there know that if you are in grief, don’t let anyone tell you there is a time limit to it. You’re allowed the rest of your life. It’s okay if the holidays are bittersweet at best. That about sums up life in general anyhow. Let yourself show the courage to taste both ends of the spectrum.

It can still be a Happy Thanksgiving, even when you’re shedding some tears.


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Grief Brain…Again

Once again, I find myself blaming grief brain. I know I’m a bit klutzy and spacey regardless, but when it gets ramped up, I finally remember that grief brain is a real thing. Some things will make you chuckle. If you don’t learn to laugh at yourself, you’re in real trouble. Other things make me cry, though. Perhaps people in grief should just be locked up for six months or so. For everyone’s safety…

The dreaded yearly mammogram came and went without incident this year. Well, almost. The happy part was that I didn’t have to go back several times and try not to freak out while I was waiting. I got that carnation on the first go. I took the flower, my purse, my coloring book, my pencils, and my half-drank tea and said goodbye for another year. When I came back the woman smiled and said, “I wondered where you were going.” Now I like those cute pink robes they give you, but thank God I realized I hadn’t put my clothes back on before I fully went out into the waiting room.

Disaster averted, I go to the locker room and get proper. I am again out of hands so I put the half cup of tea in my mouth. I’ve got this. Except the damn curtain wouldn’t open up. I look up to see where it is caught and that does it. Tea right down my nose. And all over my shirt. And my coloring book. I swear, it’s amazing I stay alive sometimes.

I am particularly proud of balancing two months of Dad’s checkbook. I always do it to the penny, but this time I couldn’t believe I pulled it off. I was so distraught about all the memories as I was doing it, that I kept transposing numbers and putting things in the wrong column. A few sniffles later (or a lot) I balanced it. Phew.

Yesterday I walked Taffy as usual. She’s getting old and more anxious. Right before we got back to the car she took off. She doesn’t have the energy to do it much anymore so she surprised me. When she bothered to come back, she was covered in burrs. Her tail had two massive balls the sizes of grapefruits. No, I’m not exaggerating. She just looked at me with guilty but pathetic eyes. She knew she was in pain…and in trouble.

I brushed her the best I good and a great number came off while I was in the park. Then I got home with her and sat in the driveway with the scissors. All was going painfully slowly but well until I saw the blood on the concrete. I yelled for Colin. (Sometimes I wonder what that man thinks of me. Then I realize I REALLY don’t want to know.) Best we could tell, I nicked the tip of her tail.

Now there wasn’t a LOT of blood, but it was everywhere. On the walls, the kitchen floor, the bathroom shower, wherever her tail flung around. She wasn’t crying but we were freaking out. Any mom will tell you that she would rather cut off her own hand than one of her kids. Luckily, one of my walking friends is a nurse. Thank God she answered her phone and came right over. She thought it was hilarious but she had the benefit of knowing Taffy wouldn’t bleed to death. Colin and I were not so sure.

I finally ran to the neighbors and got some cornstarch. We dipped her tail in it and the bleeding stopped. Then we just had to clean up the blood, which had dried by then. Today I finished getting the last of the burrs out with the clippers. Tomorrow she goes to the grimmer who will fix her up. I thanked Colin for not telling our Florence Nightingale about the time I cut his hair and snipped his ear. That was the last time he ever let me touch him.

Nothing terrible came of it, but I was still sick all night. My head just isn’t in the game. It hurts to miss Dad so much. It might sound weird, but I am taken aback by how much I miss him. I felt closer to Mom over the years, but Dad has become part of my tapestry in a way that I can’t describe. I’m closing with one of my favorite pictures of us. What you have to see is the smirk in his face. That nails the dynamics between us right there.

2017 Nov 24 (3).jpg

Now I’m going to try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the day. Wish me luck.

Got any stories to share?


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Here Again

For a supposed grief expert, I sure forget the basics sometimes. I find myself crying at odd times over odd things and get surprised by it. Then it finally occurred to me that it has only been two and a half weeks since Dad died. I preach to everyone that grief takes a long, long time. I’m not even close to being finished!

Continuing to cooperate with investigations about the fiasco that surrounded his death certainly keeps everything fresh. And it ignites the anger all over again too. I don’t mind spending the literal hours upon hours to do this. But am I going to feel that way if at the end of it all nothing happens?  What if nothing changes?

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I keep learning new things and witnessing situations where I realize that the level of dysfunction in our medical system goes deeper and deeper. Will it ever get better? Is it even moving in the right direction? And will someone like me even able to make the tiniest difference?

I love the picture I posted last week. Dad looks genuinely happy to have his daughters with him. It is freaky weird to think that was only two months prior to losing him. He looks healthy and full of life.

The first thing that set me off was a form letter I received. I talk about this event ad nauseam every day. Seeing “we have been informed of the death of David Thiel” is pretty straight forward but it knocked me off my feet. I just started crying. Colin made me feel better. He saw it and said that it is indeed difficult to see it in print.

Thanks to the countless  number of you that have sent cards, donations, food, flowers, and just plain old check in calls. So many people knew him and think he was a stand-up guy, just like we do. There is a big empty hole in my gut that is going to be there for some time. Not sure what will start to heal it, but I know time is a factor.

An eerie number of my friends have lost a parent this year. If you are one of them, give yourself a moment to be gentle with your memories. If you know someone who is going through this, take a moment to reach out or say a prayer. It means more than you know.

Yep, that’s me and my daddy.  Darcy, Dad- camping


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Eulogy

I’ve been asked to remember to post the eulogy so here it is. I hope that it does my father justice.  Just a couple of pictures to show the bookends of his life.

Dad

David August Thiel was born on April 7, 1932. But that is how these eulogy things always start. Yet for me and my family, it feels like he deserves something special. Something that captures the essence of who he was to us.

I find myself struggling because in truth, it was dad’s ordinariness that actually made him extraordinary. He was a gentleman. A gentle man. Soft spoken. Predictable and dependable. In other words, you could count on him. He was a man who took responsibility seriously.

Dad was a man of honor. He didn’t talk about his time in the military much, but he served during the Korean War. He has a devastatingly handsome picture from that time. His eyes were like a movie star’s. In a confusing time in our country, we are so proud of his service.

He and Mom met at a dance. They got married December 4, 1954. On their 50th anniversary, Mom wrote this: “They say a good man is hard to find—I found one! You are a good husband, great provider, the best dad and we are fortunate to have four wonderful kids and eight delightful grandkids. It makes for a wonderful family. I’ll follow you down that ‘forever path’ …like it or not.  Three years later, Dad lost the love of his life. He lived on the best he could, but some losses in our lives have such a profound impact on us, we are never quite the same again. One of the greatest comforts for us is knowing he is reunited with her.

Working at the water treatment plant at Harrison’s for well over thirty years also earned our respect. He went to work every day and I don’t remember him ever complaining. Very rarely did he take a day off work. Until he retired of course. Then they traveled all over the place, seeing the things they always talked about seeing.  They had camped lots of times in their lives, but it started with new fervor when they purchased a motor home. They deserved that time together.

After working all day, Dad came home to the farm. He and mom sold asparagus for years and raised our own beef. The first cow we had I named Billy. After Billy ended up on our kitchen table, I never named a cow again. My old siblings, I mean my older siblings tell me they remember Dad hunting. I don’t ever remember that, but after the Billy fiasco, I’m not surprised. What I do remember, is snowmobiling. We belonged to a club and of course, Dad was president.

You can’t know Dad without knowing how committed he was to the passion in his life- volunteering at Terry’s Corners firehall. He was honored last year for sixty years of service. Sixty years! His nickname there was “Moses.” There are lots of opinions as to why he was called that, but I assume it is because he was a formidable leader.  He was a firefighter, fire police, fire chief at least three times that we know of. Bingo, drills, installation dinners, gun raffles, chicken barbecues. I haven’t even been alive that long and he has been working hard all that time. Wow.

We’ve learned so many things about him, right up until the fat lady sang. I had no idea my dad was such a charmer. I mean, who would have thought that someone whose high school nickname was “Squeal” was going to be a lady killer. Every doc, every nurse… heck, they would come see him even if he wasn’t their patient. He would get this big smile and be teased about being such a flirt. Nurse Amy didn’t even call him by his name. “Handsome Pants” would get called right across the room whenever he walked into the office. That trend didn’t stop in the end. The last few weeks he was surrounded by his family 24/7.  Sometimes he wouldn’t be able to respond to us and then the cute young thing called an aide would walk in and he would suddenly be responsive. I considered renting a uniform and pretending to be a nurse.  And then there was the scandalous relationship he had with the married woman next door to his apartment. He claims she had dementia and wandered in accidentally but I’m no fool.

Truth be told, Dad was a hot commodity at Elderwood where he spent the last year of his life. Men were outnumbered about 4 to 1. And most of the men there were cranky. Dad’s good nature and good looks caught everyone’s eye. Some would show no embarrassment when they would tell us how the “other” women there were chasing my dad. Every once in a while I would toss out something like, “You know, he IS a stubborn German,” hoping to comfort them but they didn’t buy it.

Also like a good German, Dad could be pretty stoic. He was NOT a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. We never doubted that he loved us. Not because he showered us with hugs and kisses and repeated I love you’s, but by his provision and unwavering presence. His humor would make it impossible to be frustrated for long. We’ve had a running joke with him most of our lives. 99% of the time, saying I love you Dad would be answered by “yeah.” If we challenged him with a louder I SAID I LOVE YOU DAD, we would be answered by a louder YEAH.

The last week of his life, Dad couldn’t leave his bed. He could barely communicate and could only sporadically do so. One of those days, Lisa and I had him trapped. It wasn’t very difficult in his condition of course, but we found ourselves sitting on either side of him in the bed. We both told him we loved him. I held my breath, as I realized that I would have done anything to hear one of those “yeahs” that really meant I love you too, but he seemed too weak to answer. I said, “Dad, aren’t you going to say it at least once to us before you go?” He surprised us when he was able to say, clear as a bell, I MIGHT.

My father was ready. We think it is incredibly brave and courageous to be able to evaluate your life and recognize that you feel finished. That takes humility, which seemed to come naturally with his personality. To grow older gracefully and look forward to what is next to come takes a human of great character. And Dad was certainly a character. Oops, Freudian slip.

The things he stood for in his quiet way are simple. Honest. Hardworking. Faithful. There, year after year after year. The truth is, they just don’t make em like that anymore. In a world where most of us shake our heads in sadness or confusion several times a day, my dad represents a better time, a better person. Our love and connection to him runs deep. He never faltered so the steady confidence we felt with him in our lives was a true treasure and gift. The cavern that is left behind for us is indeed a ginormous one. Please, lets us make a pact to honor his memory by filling that cavern by following his example. Be someone that others can draw strength from. Be someone that others know they can count on.

From Sue, Randy, Lisa, and myself, thank you for being here. Be like Dad and you will do well.

Lisa, Dad, Darcy