Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Ya Never Know

Frankie and I used to be super close. He has my emotional makeup so I really understood him when others didn’t at times. Slowly we have separated over the years to the point that I hardly recognized who he even was sometimes. Now we are slowly, ever so slowly, finding ways to re-connect.

I think he is so unbelievably resilient. Even though I get frustrated, I can’t believe that he is the way he is with all the losses he has suffered from age four on. He is funny, popular and smart. Then the social worker part of me worries. He must be suffering underneath it all, right? Is he just holding it off until he is 30 when he is in some therapist’s office spilling how much he hated his life?

I remember when he was about 10. He had been in the peer support group at school for two years that focused on kids with loss. Out of the blue he got in the car one day and said matter-of-factly with maturity that shouldn’t be possible, “Mom, I’ve been in grief group for two years. I think it’s time to move on.” And that was that, he was done.

When I look at pictures of him when he was only eight, the age when his father died, I can hardly bear it. The grief comes back like it was yesterday. He looks so tiny. Just so damn little. I don’t remember at the time thinking he was so small. How the hell did a little boy deal with all that?

Tim has never been a taboo topic in our house, nor with our friends and family. But I can’t say it comes up all that often either.

This week, out of the blue, I’m in the car with Frankie and I stumbled upon the right question by fluke and I find out he has a friend whose mom died three years ago. He says they talk about it sometimes. I’m surprised, but very glad that he talks about it. Then he says, “Remember that song ‘Save a Place for Me’ that was in Dad’s funeral?”

I’m stunned again. Of course I do. I had no idea HE even had an inkling. Turns out his friend had the same song played at her mom’s funeral. What a coincidence. And how the heck did that even come up in conversation between two teens?

Final shocker. “Yeah. I’m surprised you’ve never said anything to me when I play it on the piano now.” Frankie has been teaching himself how to play the piano for a couple of years. He’s so talented. He mostly plays pop songs from the radio. He took (well, I say stole) the piano upstairs a couple of months ago so I can only hear through the walls. Usually it’s late at night and if I listen closely I can hear him play and sing before I fall asleep.

Holy crap. He knew the song, looked it up and learned it. I never knew.

I get tingles when I think about it. I shouldn’t worry so much. He remembers and he’s processing. He’s talking. He’s working it out. Knock me over with a feather.

The only thing more mind-boggling is that in a month he will be 16 and driving a car. How did THAT happen?

(Here’s the song by Matthew West  https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=zbsBUf9VKyc  if you want to cut and paste the link)


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The Usual

I’ve been staring at my screen for a while now. I’m trying to think of something creative or clever. Funny is my favorite. I know this blog was started around grief and loss, but I try to mix it up.

But alas, it has been more of the same. The universe hasn’t shifted much this week. People are still being born. People are still dying. No one has learned to live forever. It’s the usual cycle of life and death.

Yet, I know for those folks that have been touched personally, their lives are anything but usual. Their worlds have been turned upside down. They are either slowed in a fog or frantically keeping busy every moment of the day handling “stuff” which also serves to shield them from the full impact of loss.

My neighbor from where I grew up died recently, much too young. There was a benefit for her just days before her passing. A terminal illness battle.

A dear friend lost her father. He was the same age as my dad, also a Korean vet. His story reminded me of my mom. Three fast, confusing weeks of illness with little or no answers and suddenly you have lost a parent. Devastating.

My current neighbor lost her mom. I read her texts as things developed and my heart ached for her as she waited, unable to do anything but accept the inevitable outcome.

This weekend my family will attend a memorial service for Mom’s twin, a woman who was at one time so very close to our hearts she was like a second mom.

So the statistically normal thing will just keep happening. But I know that for many, many families, “normal” will be changed forever. My heart hurts for all of you and I offer my love and friendship if wanted or needed as you go through the painful days ahead. If you know someone enduring a loss, take the time to make a call, send a card, or offer a hug. It will mean more than you know.


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You Never Know

Do you ever get discouraged?

I’m quite sure it’s a normal part of the human experience. Now that I’m in my 50’s, I think things that I probably thought in my 40’s, maybe even younger. Why am I still dealing with this? Do you ever just stop worrying about certain things?

Recently with adding job re-design and hunting to my life, I find myself in the place where I was a couple of years ago – exhausted. Most days I leave a lengthy list of things that I don’t get done that get cut and paste into tomorrow. I know I’ve been productive all day, there just is more to do. Lots more.

Lately I haven’t been sleeping well either. Last night I was still awake at 3:45 am, knowing I had to wake Frankie at 5. I ended up skipping an important seminar in the morning and slept until 11. Then the most productive part of my day (usually) has been lost and the rest of the day is spent playing a hopeless game of catch-up. The only reason I’m blogging now is because I forgot to confirm an appointment so by the time I remembered we had to reschedule.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not looking for a pat on the back. I am just trying to be realistic here. Does anyone really care about blogs? Does anyone even have time for them? Most weeks I love writing because it helps me process life, but sometimes I stare at a blank screen and wonder if I should bother.

Then I get something unexpected. This time, it was an email from an old friend several states away. I met her through my first husband, so you know that was quite a while ago. I don’t even remember the last time we spoke.

Anyhow, she reached out to tell me she was hurting terribly. She has read both of my books and been following my blogs for years now. That has enabled her to keep up with the basic gist of my life. She has now lost both of her parents and gone through a divorce after 35+ years of marriage. Many of those losses were piggy backed cruelly on top of each other. My heart broke for her.

I had no idea she even remembered who I was. I certainly didn’t know she had invested so much time into following my story. I was humbled and honored all at once. Again, it is not about the pat on the back. It is about the reminder that as we conduct our lives, we really have no idea whatsoever who is watching. We don’t know who we are impacting – for good or bad. Reminds me of the verses in the Bible where it talks about how we might entertain angels, not knowing we are doing so.

Thank you my friend for being the life jacket I needed this week. You gave me purpose when I was feeling discouraged. If you are reading this, please know I look forward to talking soon. It will be my honor to walk through any part of your journey with you as you navigate the difficult waters of re-inventing yourself after tremendous loss. I love you!


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Good Grief!

My clients teach me more about life and human relationships than I ever teach them. It’s been a week with some very moving sessions. The first one was a woman who is confused and upset about loving and hating her former husband at the same time. And why miss someone who hurts you terribly? I saw myself in her. I was only with Jay four months and I am still regularly tortured by the same thoughts she has. I can’t believe how difficult it is to move forward and how deep the pain still is. This woman had ten years invested and had children with him. Trying to reassure her, I realized I am usually much too hard on myself. Loss is complicated and difficult, but it is what it is. No way around it, only through it.

Yesterday, I had a session with Natalie. Natalie is only in her early twenties, but she has one of the oldest souls I’ve ever met. She lives her life outside the box, yet has a simplicity about her that is soothing and refreshing. A couple of months ago, she found herself with an unexpected pregnancy. Talk about mixed emotions. She and her significant other did a tremendous job of managing the complexity of the excitement with the difficulties of an experience they weren’t quite prepared for.

They got through the first trimester only to have a frustrating week of sickness and illness that had no apparent explanation. And unfortunately, a team of doctors that you could make a case for being nothing short of negligent. This turned into one of the most difficult and traumatic miscarriages I have heard about.

Natalie and her partner took this new experience on with the same grace and maturity that people twice their age find hard to accomplish. She talked about trying to cope with this loss that seemed to be hanging in the air. Having had a miscarriage myself, I could understand. It is incredible that these tiny not-fully-formed lives completely capture our hearts and devastate us with their loss when we haven’t even laid eyes on them.

Yesterday she came in for session, and had just had access to the pathology report. Turns out she had an infection that is relatively rare which caused preterm labor. The baby was a perfectly formed boy.

Suddenly, her grief had a shape, a face, a gender. There was great comfort in knowing that he was healthy and perfect.

And yet… doesn’t that make it even more tragic? And maddening that earlier intervention from the medical system might have prevented this. She understands that maybe not, but maybe it would have.

Again, the bitter and sweet complexity of human emotion and connection. Such happiness and relief from knowing, mingling with gut wrenching grief.

At the end of session, I stood up and said, “Good grief, Natalie!” which I realized was a bit of a pun. Natalie said it was ironic that I said that because of being a grief counselor. Then it hit me. My God, Nat. There it is. The perfect description of it all. Good…Grief. I watched her face as she caught it too. It was one of those sacred therapeutic moments that don’t come all that often in a career.

I hugged her goodbye, but I couldn’t hold her tightly enough to let her know how incredibly grateful I am that she trusts me to share in her journey. What a privilege to share in someone’s pain and joy.

Thank you my dear Natalie. You are my teacher.


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Endings

If you want to read the precursor to this story, check out “Shut Out.” The end of the story is not a good one and I wish I could say it isn’t so.

One of the days that Ed had texted and asked me to visit him and his daughters asked me not to come, I reached out to someone at Roswell that I had met who worked with “family engagement.” While I wasn’t sure what that is exactly, I wondered if my situation would fit in. I forgot that I called him, but a few days later he got back to me.

I told him that I had decided not to go to the hospital, but I said I would be interested in knowing what his opinion on the situation would have been. He went around a few times, but actually called me back later and said that the bottom line is really about the patient’s wishes being respected. While we both understood that accepting death is difficult and some families just refuse to go there, it wasn’t about that. It was about Ed. He suggested that he talk directly to him and find out what his wishes were. If he indeed wanted me to visit, then perhaps the social work department could get involved to help the family shift their thinking about how best to support their father.

I cautioned him by reminding him that the family believes they are doing the right thing for him so this would be an extremely delicate situation. It would have to be handled ever so carefully. He agreed and said he would get back to me.

He didn’t. Instead, I got a scathing text from one of the daughters that was addressed to me, and copied to the other siblings. It spoke of how disappointed she was when a social worker approached her because her dad’s counselor and called to complain that his family was keeping her from seeing him. She told the worker that I was not his counselor, etc.. She also went on to talk about my creating nonsense at a time when they are focusing on his well-being.

I was stunned. And angry. I texted them all and said that it was not true and that I had their father’s well-being in mind at all times. I told them I would like to sit down and talk with them and straighten things out because it’s much too important to text about.

I never heard from any of them again. I texted. I called. I left messages. I texted and called Ed but never got responses. I didn’t know if his phone was being monitored or if his family had told them I lied to the hospital and they all hated me.

I thought and thought about how to let him know I cared. I have several cards he’s sent me over the last few years where he called me his best friend. I would dare say I might have been his only friend. This was horrible. I decided to send a card to the hospital.

Only he wasn’t there anymore. I started looking for him in various rehabs that we had talked about as possibilities for him to go to. I peppered the search in between the calls to him and his daughters.

This weekend I found out the truth. I found his obituary. He was gone. And his wake and funeral were over as well. I reached out again to the family to ask where he was buried. No response.

To say I was devastated doesn’t really describe it. It was such a complex ball of emotions. Of course there is the loss of a very, very dear friend. There was shock that this family despised me this much that they wouldn’t even let me know about the wake. I know in my heart I absolutely did not one tiny thing wrong to deserve their hatred. Not one. And now I’m also experiencing a great deal of anger. I’ve had boatloads of loss in my life and I absolutely did not need to have a loss that was the result of a bad ending.

And then there is the anger at myself. Because I have been so depressed lately, I chose not to go to the hospital because I just didn’t have the strength it would have taken to stand up to the family and honor his wishes. If I wasn’t so depressed, I would have taken my strong patient-advocate self. But instead, a wonderful man asked me to come and he died thinking I ignored him.

I have always said beginnings and endings are crucial in life. You can’t have one without the other either. I was thinking about how sometimes people behave badly and then at the end of their life, they make peace or say they are sorry. The ending changes everything. Maybe it shouldn’t, but there has been lots of forgiveness that happens at the end. And I say hurray for that.

I realized that I assumed the reverse is true. If the ending is bad, it negates any good that happens before that. Darren reminded me that is not the case. He said the months and years before this ending, I was a good friend to Ed, and he was a good friend to me. Good enough for him to call me his best friend. The ending was only a small space in comparison. When he was lonely and sad when his wife was in the nursing home and then eventually died, that is when I was there for him. I mattered to him.

Thank you, Darren. You are so right. The reverse is absolutely not true. While the ending was sad and unfair, his daughters can’t take away the years of our friendship. All of the walks, talks, hugs, fires, and pool parties meant something. I love you, my dear friend. I am just sorry I wasn’t able to tell you one more time.


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At 50?

I can’t believe at age 50 I feel like I’m back to square one. I know I’m not alone in this. Who would have ever believed that the big questions like career and partners would still be up in the air and a struggle when your life is more than half over?

I did a presentation this week about two hours away. A whole group of us participated in a death/dying conference like the ones we had done in Buffalo. It went great. Almost every speaker was dynamite and the audience seemed receptive and even enthusiastic.

I was the last speaker of the day which was tough because I knew everyone was tired. It went over extremely well though and I knew I had reached people by the feedback. The problem was, I didn’t make a penny.

So frustrating. I know I possess a good skill set. I can speak and I can write. I can do them both very well. The other panelists all came from companies or hospitals they represent. They are getting “paid” because it is part of their salary. I’m the only lone ranger in that sense so if there isn’t a speaking stipend (which 90% of the time there is not) then I can only hope I sell books.

I didn’t sell one book. I watched the woman next to me sell about 10 books. Same topic, different angle. Both of us good speakers. WTF?

This is not new. This is the scenario 99% of the time. I am well past the point of being able to write/speak simply because it is helpful to others. My heart is there, but my pocketbook is not. I am the sole breadwinner in my house. I have a family to provide for. And my social security is being cut in half in less than a year. Holy crap that is scary.

I’m going to have to reinvent my career and I have no idea what to do. Well, actually I have tons of ideas, but knowing which path to follow is confusing at best. Add coping with severe depression on almost a daily basis now, and it is beyond overwhelming.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I thought that was settled years ago. I even had a brave moment this week and attempted to go on a date. I got stood up. I know it isn’t personal because we hadn’t even met yet, but cripes. Stick your toe back in and find out the water is frigid.

That’s was scary about being so depressed. You have to take risks in life and be proactive if you want to meet your goals. But if you are already down and out, you can’t afford to fail. At anything. What a freaking catch-22.

For the moment then, I will just stay stuck. Not sure what the heck to do with myself. I know I can’t stay this way, but I’m terrified to do anything else, with any of these areas of my life.

Maybe 80 is the new 50. Maybe I just have to wait another 30 years and things will fall into place. One can only hope :).