Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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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.


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Anger, Chapter Two

I had a few days like my old self. I recognized it when I was running errands and being pleasant to people in line, to people behind the counter, etc.. It really isn’t hard to be nice and people really appreciate it. Seeing their smiles is worth the small effort you put in.

But then, the new, angry me came back with a vengeance.

My friend was driving in the Home Depot parking lot and accidentally pulled out in front of someone. We made all the usual “I’m sorry” gestures to apologize because my friend realized it was her fault and felt very badly about it. I had to get out of the car at that point and walk by this guy’s car. He had the window open. So I went the extra mile and apologized again to him for almost causing a fender bender. He said it was okay, smiled at me, and I knew it was worth the effort.

Wrong.

He started yelling at me. He went on about how we lacked basic driving skills like “pay attention to the road” and “look where you are going.” He was nasty. Old me would have shook my head and thought about how sad it is that people let things like that ruin their day. Everyone makes mistakes and most people don’t make them on purpose. But the new me snapped and screamed back at him. “We just F*****G apologized to you. What the hell is wrong with you?” He basically told me to shut-up and drove away. I was furious. There was another lady that witnessed all of it and she had a few choice names for the guy, too. But I was so mad I was shaking. And I didn’t stop shaking for about an hour. What is the world coming to when you can’t even offer a sincere apology and have it mean anything?

This week, I had some new grief anger, too. Out of the blue, I had started to cry. I looked at this beautiful 8 x 10 glass frame I have had for years. It holds the picture of our last Father’s Day together in 2010. It is the photo that ended up on the back of the cover of Bitter and Sweet. It is Tim and I and the four kids. I wanted to pick it up over my head and smash it into a million pieces on the floor. I was shocked by this. I have never felt that or ever had urges to be destructive.

And I didn’t even know why.

I didn’t do it, but it got me thinking. I’m mad that Tim left us, that he left me a widow. I look at the four kids and think about how well they have all done. They grieve and are sad sometimes, but they have all done an excellent job in their own ways with their own personalities, in moving on. They seem well-adjusted. I am so grateful for that. Thank God.

But what about me?

I remember when Frankie was a newborn, the first couple of weeks I was in a daze of exhaustion and complete chaos internally. I remember distinctly staring at my computer screen and saying, “What is wrong with you? You have a Master’s Degree. You own a business. You can figure this out.” And I did. And it didn’t take me long to get my bearings.

It’s the same feeling I have now. I know I’m smart. I know I’m strong. So why can’t I figure this out? I don’t feel like I’ve adjusted. And it’s going on four years now.

I’ve been talking to my F-bomb friend a lot lately. I told him he’s the local anger expert so I keep asking him to help me understand what’s going on inside me, and what I’m supposed to do with it. He asked me if I’m angry that I’m a widow? Or just angry that I’m alone? I thought it was an excellent question. I decided it’s both.

If I were divorced, there would be another parent out there that would still be responsible. If I were divorced, I could sit around and blame myself (or him) for failing at the marriage. But this? No one to blame but cancer. I was a good wife, a good mom, and a good step-parent when the kids made life hell for me. So why?

I’m just mad. Mad, mad, mad. I told my girlfriend I might go postal someday. She said, “Please just don’t shoot me, ok?” I told her she better not piss me off then. We both laughed.

BUT…

Just so you don’t completely give up on me or think I’ve lost my marbles entirely, I will give you a classic Darcy story.

The boys got me flip-flops for Mother’s Day. I wear them constantly. I went to get some groceries this week, and as I was walking out of the store, my ankle twisted and I was forced to step out of my flip-flop. What the heck? Somehow- and I have no idea how this is even possible- my flip-flop got wrapped around the wheel of the shopping cart. I mean totally wrapped. It took me several minutes to figure out how to remove the thing. Once I finally figured it out, it was so warped I had to throw it out when I got home. But just picture me squatting in the grocery store, wrestling with my shoe in a wheel, and you should end this blog with a chuckle. 🙂


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Just Another Bad Week?

Blah, blah, blah.

I feel like a broken, whiny record.

I had a really tough seven hour day at an author event this weekend that sent me spiraling down into the abyss I go to sometimes. Is it time to give up on the book? Is it time to stop trying to sell myself because the rejection is too painful?

Then another broken relationship, same week. We were supposed to have one of those month anniversary things in a couple of days. Instead I am experiencing the all too familiar abyss I go to sometimes. Is it time to give up on relationships? I never get used to it. Each time there is a little less of me left. Why do I taste connection and love with someone, and then have it disappear again? Is it time to stop trying to sell myself because the rejection is too painful?

May 7. Of course. Perfect timing with the bad career day and the break-up. The marker day I never expected to be a marker day. I remember the first May 7 I went through after Tim died. I tanked badly and couldn’t even figure out why. My mind didn’t clue in but my body was right on target. May 7 was the day Tim went in for a routine surgery and came out with Stage IV cancer. The day we were blind sided and irrevocably changed.

Mother’s Day too. Banner week. I have had a hard time with it since my mom died. I miss her terribly. Now Mother’s Day is even more difficult because my spouse isn’t here to help my kids remember me. Kind of like a double whammy. Will it ever stop feeling like we are a broken family?

That’s enough in one week to make any sane person crazy. Just add in all the demolition going on in my house, caring for clients, trying to be a mom, and managing all the “normal” things life brings every day. Oh yea, and meeting with my financial advisor and finding out I’m totally screwed in a few years. We used to talk about “when I turn 60” and I would brush it off. In my heart, I always knew that I wanted to partner with someone again so that just didn’t worry me. This year, for the first time, I sincerely had to face the fact that I may never partner with anyone again. That may truly be the reality. Not pessimism, truly reality.

So I’ve been saying to various people, that maybe I should give up. Maybe it’s time. In whatever area I was talking about, I found myself saying those words. Maybe I should give up.

I still feel like throwing up a lot. I still start crying without notice on a regular basis. I know there are people who have it much, much worse. I absolutely know it. Then I feel guilt for being so damn sad. I know better, but my emotions just won’t give in to what my brain tells them.

BUT BUT BUT…

Last night Summer showed up unexpectedly at my house. She said she had a Mother’s Day gift for me. I laughed because, well, I’m not her mother. But in it were seven plastic wine glasses. It reminded me that summer is coming (supposedly, anyway) and that lots and lots of people come to my house of all ages and enjoy the pool and hot tub. And we share lots of wine and blender drinks and campfires. And there are usually lots of happy times.

Then there was one other small package. It was a magnet for my fridge. I have a couple of others in the same series that other close friends have given me. I read it and couldn’t believe it.

She Who Never Gives Up by Suzy Toronto

“Lemons to lemonade,
she always hangs in there.
When opportunity knocks,
it sometimes knocks her down,
but she never lets it
get her down for long.

She is a triumphant, shining example
of a woman who truly knows how to
survive life’s ups and downs.
She understands the value of
family, friendship, and,
most importantly,
the gift of time.
Putting aside all judgment,
she generously shares her
unconditional love.”

I cry just reading it. I don’t feel like that woman, but my close peeps see me this way. They tell me all the time. I would do anything to be like the woman described in that poem. That is the woman I want to be. Some would say it describes me to a tee. My goal is to see myself that way, if that is indeed true.

SO NO GIVING UP. I MAY FEEL LIKE SHIT, BUT NO GIVING UP. NOT TODAY ANYWAYS!


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Another Layer

I went to Aldi’s to get groceries this week. I was paying the cashier and noticed an 80 something year-old man behind me with a bouquet of flowers. I said, “Ah, who are those beautiful flowers for?” He smiled at me at said, “For my special lady.” I said, “Well then, she’s a lucky lady.”

He paused a minute and then said, “She’s not with me anymore, but I still bring her flowers all the time.” I paused a minute and then said, “My husband passed away too. I try to go to the cemetery but I’m not very good at it. This winter everything has been buried.” He said, “I don’t really go to the cemetery. I have a little shrine in my house and I bring her flowers there. The kids love it.” I smiled and waved goodbye.

It was amazing timing for me after the week I’ve had. I thought about what a lovely man he was and how tender of him to love her this way. The irony is, I’ve often talked about how there is no shrine of Tim at my house. For some reason, that seems like it would be a bad thing. I guess it’s different for an 80 year-old remembering his beloved than a 47 year-old who is trying to move ahead.

I have been working on the dating chapter in my second book. That, along with several other conversations I’ve had over the last few months, has gotten me thinking about lots of things.

If you have ever read “The Soulmate Secret,” the author talks about how you need to create space and energy for your soulmate to come into your life. For me, I feel like we’ve had a pretty healthy level of balance. Talking about Tim has never been taboo around here. But we talk about the future too.

But what if it’s time to look at the next layer? What if it’s time to move to an even deeper level of healing and growth? You get used to things around you, so I started a very intentional walk around my entire house. I was surprised at how much “Tim memorabilia” is around. How much is a healthy level for going on year four without him? How do I help Frankie remember without holding him back either?

Not easy questions to answer, but I’ve given it my usual over-analyzing, critical eye. I’ve made some small changes around the house and have a few more to make too. The other thing I discovered is that I have a lot of gifts from others- plaques and such that talk about remembering our loved ones. I have lots and lots of hummingbird things now too. I love them all. But it is ungrateful to say that I have enough of them? I don’t ever want to hurt anyone who is kind enough to remember we are still grieving here, but I think having too many permanent things around can be tough.

In true dramatic form (my specialty), all of this introspection and change occurred around March 18th. That is our anniversary. This week was my fourth one since Tim has been gone. Four. That sounds like so long but it still feels so fresh sometimes.

Some of you may remember one of the gifts Tim left me. On my computer, he set up a yearly message on the 18th of March that said, “Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you!!!!!!!!!!!,” only I think there were even more exclamation points. I saw it Tuesday morning and had some silent, aching moments watching the screen. And then I did something I haven’t done the last three years. I deleted it.

I decided there is nothing wrong with remembering every year that once I was loved very much by another human being. That comforts me, especially when I don’t have another man in my life who loves me like that. It is more than ok for me to be reminded that I am deserving of that kind of love and Tim gave it to me at the end of his life.

But I also know I will never forget that message. I may be able to delete it from a computer, but I won’t delete it from my heart. There is room in my heart for more love, for the future, for hope. But my heart is also comforted by knowing that I tasted true love, even if briefly. And that is a good thing to have while I wait (impatiently) to be loved like that again.

So here’s to another layer of healing. Growth hurts. It’s been a tough week, I won’t deny it. But I think it’s been good and right.


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Catch 22’s and Other Quandries

I was kind of dreading blogging today. It is the new year and I made all kinds of deals with myself about choosing happiness and choosing to leave the past behind. I really do believe some of that is in our power to choose. So I wanted to blog today about my enthusiasm and the bright start to the new year.

The only problem is, it didn’t quite go as I expected. In spite of my best efforts, I found myself weepy on New Year’s Eve. But it was brief and Frankie and I partied as planned and enjoyed ourselves. New Year’s Day? I had some excellent sessions with clients, but I knew before I went in I could feel my insides breaking down. By 8:00 PM, it overcame me. Sadness, pure and simple. In spite of any choices I attempted to make, the sadness was overwhelming.

My amazing friends supported me like they always do. I got a little snarky (which I don’t always do) but I had myself a full-out cry. Then I talked to another friend and she was able to verbalize some thoughts that helped me wake up this morning with a clearer head. Still some sadness, but not as overwhelming.

I can’t say it was anything particularly new in concept, but it was new words. New phrases. And for whatever reason, that really comforts me. I like when I’m finally able to capture the swirling emotions and label them. And I like it when someone else understands it.

Trying to sort out how a relatively short relationship could have such a tremendous impact on me has been baffling and frustrating to say the least. My friend Grace was able to say some things that hit me square between the eyes. Why is the hole bigger than before? Because I tasted something for the first time in my life. Something that made me feel like “Ah, this is what it is supposed to be. This is home.” She said that no one has ever craved chocolate before they tasted it. It’s knowing what it is that makes you crave it. Now I’ve tasted what I’ve been looking for for so long, so I just want it back, plain and simple. That is why the hole is bigger. Before I was just imagining what life could be like.

This next sentence put a lump in my throat. “The gift you got this Christmas, was loneliness that you never even knew you could feel.” Crap. I’ve felt some pretty intense loneliness before, but I think she was right. Crap. Merry Christmas. That’s quite a gift.

Here’s the next tough concept. “You want it in your life. But the very thing that brought you happiness, brought you intense pain. So you will look for it, but then you will want to run from it. Now that is a nasty Catch 22.” Yep. I think that’s why no matter how many times I reach out, it still feels empty. I wonder how long that will last.

I am smart enough to know that nothing magical happens at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I don’t bother with resolutions anymore. I just try every day to be the best person I can. Sometimes I get in more motivated spurts than others. But I also know I am the captain of my own ship so I was simply going to choose to move on.

I will. I know I will. I always do. But it is going to take a lot more time than anticipated. The standard is now higher than ever. I know what I am looking for and what relationships can feel like. Grace also reminded me that the relationship I had was great because of my contribution to it, not just his. I have had a self-image for so long of being sad and lonely, I wondered sometimes that if happiness slapped me in the face if I would sabotage it or not even recognize it. But I didn’t need to worry. I embraced it when it came. And I could have sustained it. I didn’t create the ending. I have to live with the ending, but I didn’t choose it.

There’s so many more blogs left inside of me about all this philosophical stuff. But for this one, I will just say that every day has to be a possible new start. And if it blows up in my face and I find myself in tears, that is ok too. Because the loss I feel is profound and has a new dimension to it that other losses have not. So I am trying not to be too hard myself, but also choosing to get out of bed every day. I’m trying to smile, but sometimes it just isn’t there. But I will try. I promise.


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Perspectives

Sometimes, life/universe/God seems to bring a pattern of things to your attention. Other therapists have told me this happens to them too- suddenly your clients seem to mirror the same things you are personally going through. Sometimes it may not match my life personally but I seem to get the same topics thrown at me over and over. Sometimes though, it is just your perspective. It’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see the same make/model every time you drive somewhere. There really isn’t more of them on the road, but your own awareness level has changed.

This December has been one of the toughest months I’ve had in a long time. I decided my strategy was only to survive until a new year can arrive and bring new possibilities. Not every holiday has to be full of new memories and great moments. Sometimes you just need to survive them and that is good enough.

So I don’t know if I’m just projecting that on other people, but I feel like I’ve heard it from so, so many other people. Clients and friends alike. So many just seem to be trying to usher 2013 out the door, hoping that somehow 2014 will bring something better. I hear it over and over. Let’s just get this month over with.

Every once in a while, something or someone comes along to put things into perspective for you. When I am out speaking about my book, I am often that voice for others. They tell me all the time. But sometimes I am the one who needs a kick in the pants.

Enter Michele DeMeo. My brilliant Brigette found her somehow. We are going to meet her in person in January. She lives in Pennsylvania. My first phone conference with her, I asked her to just give me a background of who she was. She is autistic- the brilliant kind- and has ALS, brain cancer, bone cancer, bone marrow cancer, and has two broken legs. At this point, I interrupted her and said, “Other than that though, you’re doing ok?” She laughed and said the docs keep telling her she is going to die but she just keeps living for some reason.

She has written over 50 books. One of them was made into a movie, which is about her life. She is an inspirational speaker and has connections internationally. I am including this link, which is a fund-raiser for her next project: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/615222/emal/2032628 Check it out if you are interested.

She’s my kick in the pants. She’s my perspective. What the heck do I have to complain about? Thanks Michele, and we look forward to meeting you in a few, short weeks. In the mean time, to hell with 2013. We are waiting for 2014 and IT WILL BE FULL OF HOPE!!!
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Holiday Parties

Holiday parties. Mine is a different one. It’s a pity party. So if you want to skip this blog, feel free. If not, grab the kleenex.

I know that life isn’t fair. I know that suffering is not distributed evenly in life. But sometimes, that just plain pisses me off.

Everyone goes through loss. Everyone loses loved ones. Everyone loses pets. There are definitely people whose life is much, much worse than anything we could experience here in the United States. However, I think I could make a case for having a little more than our fair share of unfair.

In 2007, we lost my mom. She was my favorite person. Frankie was four years old. The year she died, I attended another 16 funerals that year. Most of my family went to almost as many. Sixteen! That’s just cra-cra. (Just learned recently that’s another term for especially crazy.)

Three years later, this is how our lives went. Tim was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died five months later. While he was sick, our cat Oreo was diagnosed with cancer as well. We treated him with steroids and lost him a month later. The scene was a tough one. No one escaped the irony. We knew what else was going to happen in our household. One of the last physical tasks Tim was able to accomplish was digging Oreo’s grave. Two months later, Tim was on steroids. During that time, Colin brought home another cat- Louie. He was great and brought us smiles when we needed them. Then Tim passed away.

The next summer, we had Frankie’s teachers over for a swim. While we were all there to watch, my niece’s husky suffered some kind of stroke, fell in the pool and drowned. I was so so so angry. Really? Who has something like that happen to them? Almost no one. And yet the family that just lost their husband and father were the lucky recipients of that experience.

A couple of weeks later, Louie was diagnosed with a kidney disease. That led to a very difficult conversation with Frankie. I had to explain that Louie would not live to be an old age. I was just writing about this in the new book. I had forgotten how gut-wrenching it was to watch Frankie grieve. He asked a boatload of tough questions about his dad dying and how much it hurt to know he would lose his cat too.

The next Christmas, we lost Louie. Colin had gone with me when we put Oreo down, and he accompanied me with Louie as well. We brought him home in a beautiful box. Frankie said his sad goodbyes and the two boys buried him in the backyard near Oreo.

Frankie started bugging me about getting a new cat a few months later. I told him we wouldn’t just go get a cat someplace, but that we would wait for the right one. I knew we would hear a story at some point about a cat that desperately needed us and we would be ready for her. As summer died down, things started to change. I started to blog about how it felt like spring and maybe we were finally turning the corner. The neighbor called and said her daughter is a vet and they had a cat that needed a home. Bingo.

We brought her home and it was clear she had had a rough go living on the streets for a while. Frankie wanted to name her Football, and I just couldn’t bring myself to letting him do that. I compromised on Jill, named in honor of the Buffalo Jills. Frankie adored her.

Things continued to change. I actually met a man that we both thought was the ticket. I guess all of my family and friends thought the same thing. He had kids too. We even took a vacation together with the boys and had a great time. I knew that Frankie and I were experiencing something new, that was really something old. We were a real family again. Even though we have lots of amazing friends and family, it’s not the same as being a family unit. We finally felt whole again.

The relationship ended up abruptly and without warning in the beginning of December, just in time for the Christmas holidays. We went from being truly excited again, to feeling the loss again. This time, the hole felt even bigger than it originally was.

The kicker? Jill started drooling which seemed odd. I looked it up on the Internet and made an appointment with the vet. Most likely reason is a tooth that needs to be extracted. I knew it might be costly, but maybe that was why she wasn’t eating so much. I think my jaw truly hit the floor as I set on the bench and listened to our very loved vet explain to me that Jill had a cancerous tumor that had literally eaten her jaw away. The only compassionate option was to put her down.

ARE YOU F*****G KIDDING ME?

I thought she needed a tooth out. I couldn’t believe it. I dreaded going home. How on earth was I going to tell Frankie?

I took him into my bedroom and gave him the news. He sank down to the floor, buried his head on the bed and just sobbed. He cried. Then I watched my little Colvin man. At age 11, he is already a Colvin pacer. He paced around the room, cried, and then asked questions. But she doesn’t look like she’s in pain! How can this be true? Yes, he wanted to come to the appointment in the morning. I had been right in what I suspected. He said he had one regret in his life and that was not being there for Louie when he died. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again. More pacing, more crying. Then I brought Jill in the room and in his usual grown-up way he told me he wanted a little privacy with her. He locked the door and spent another 30 minutes with her before he reappeared.

This morning at 9:00 AM, we took her to the vet. She came in today, even though it was her day off. She had been there for Oreo and Louie. She has a lovely bedside manner and gives a special blessing to them and sends them on their journey. You don’t find professionals often that care like that anymore. Frankie wanted to hold her while it happened. Jill purred right up until the second she died. Me and the boys cried throughout the process, then they came home and buried cat number three in the backyard.

Then the usual rituals. Carrying that stupid empty cat carrier back in the house. Putting away all the food and the litter box. Washing the bedding because she had a terrible sick smell due to her infections. Putting the empty envelope aside that was budgeted money for animal expenses. I had to put the balance on the credit card. I didn’t budget for two animal deaths in the same year.

Things like this happen to people all the time. But I can’t help but feel overwhelmed for my brave 11-year-old. My friends keeping telling me he will be a strong man, and a compassionate one. But what if he just stops attaching? He has already experienced the death of three pets. He lost his grandmother. He lost his father at age eight, for God’s sake. And then he lost what he would have loved to be his “new” family.

I’m been saying some vulgar holiday sayings that make me chuckle through the tears. Things like “Merry F******G Christmas.” Brigette came up with the best one yet today. Fa la F*****G la… sung merrily along. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

So this year, my holiday party is a pity one. I will bounce back. Frankie will before I do. We are a damn, strong family. But I think we deserve some time to be pissed off at the bad luck we seem to have. Feel free to comment, but comments that acknowledge what we are going through are more appreciated than any that tell me I should just focus on the positive. Even though it’s true, I’ve earned a couple of negative days.