Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Sisterhood

One of the perks of writing a book, is getting to meet some amazing people. I guess I need a stronger word than “perk.” It’s one of the things that actually makes it worth it. I think at some point I have blogged about my new friend, Trish. She read my book and then sought me out. She is my age, was widowed not long after I was, and has six kids. She also is a multi-business owner.

She always calls me her hero and I just laugh. Other than writing a book, I don’t see much to call me a hero for. At least not for HER to call me a hero. I call her MY hero. In fact, I call her that in the next book that I wrote. I have four kids. But I met three of them when they were 13, 16, and 19. I didn’t raise them from birth. Now I have one adult living here, and one 12-year-old. She has SIX. Like I said, she is MY hero.

Because her husband was self-employed, I get about three times as much social security benefits for my one minor I am raising, than she gets for all six of her kids combined. And I worry about money?

We had lunch this week. We’ve been talking and texting about things that we feel like no one else understands sometimes. She recently had a person close to her lose a loved one. She was worried that she didn’t feel the compassion and sympathy she normally would. Boy, did I get that. I think we are just already tired out from death and dying, even though some time has passed. Living with the fallout from death and dying continues to be exhausting, probably even more than caretaking was.

She met a great guy. She was ready to give up on the dating scene, just like most people who are in the dating scene are. Then she met him on Match and he seems great. I listen to her talk and I’m amazed. He actually seems to really love her and WANTS to help out with the kids. He is ready to take on what it might mean to be involved with all six of them. He hangs out when her family comes to town, even though he doesn’t “have” to. I’m envious, but I am happy for her. She deserves it. She absolutely deserves it.

Even with that support in her life, she still struggles. It’s a reminder to me that meeting someone like that won’t take all the pain and stress away. It helps immensely, but life is still hard. And I’m sure they have lots of adjustments and changes down the road to get through.

When we hugged goodbye after lunch, she said something about how much she enjoys getting to spend time with me. I laughed. I sincerely laughed. I asked her if she was kidding because we had spent the majority of lunch with me down in the dumps, teary eyed (like I am several times a day) feeling hopeless and stuck. I can hardly stand my own company and she actually expects me to believe she ENJOYS me? I wasn’t trying to be dramatic. It was just a genuine reality check moment for me, like “Hey, I know you love me, but let’s be honest. I’m not exactly fun to hang out with.” I didn’t say that, but I think she knew what I meant.

About 15 minutes later, I got a text that said, “I just want you to know I do love being with you! I wish I could make it all better for you. You will be ok. I know it!” I texted back, “Back at ya, sista!”

She really is my hero.


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Wise Words

Today I met with Tim’s doctor from Hospice. She has agreed to read my second book, “Life After Death on This Side of Heaven.” My hope is that she will write a blurb for the back of the book, or even better, write the foreword. She is an amazing doctor, her experience lies with helping to usher people into the next life, and she also has lost her husband.

I remember when we were facing some medical decision and I asked her my standard question when I am out of the realm of my knowledge. “What would you do if this were your husband?” Her response was, “This was my husband, three months ago.” And that is how I found out she was a new widow herself, and yet fully present with us on our journey.

It’s amazing to me that she even remembers me after three and a half years, but she absolutely does. She asked about how we are all doing and I asked her the same. Then she tossed out this little nugget: “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”

I don’t know if she made that up herself or if she read it somewhere, but I thought it was brilliant.

We talked a little bit about my dilemma. In my case, my kids seem to be adjusting much better than I am. Frankie is going to be 12 in a couple of weeks. He had a 95 average in his first year of middle school, played hockey, and had one of the leads in the school musical. He and his brother Colin hang out all the time like two bachelors living the dream.

The only problem is, I feel like I am living a life separate from them. When I try to bring us back to the middle, that is when the conflict starts. We don’t have much in common anymore. Some of that is totally natural, but some of it is because our family got radically changed in October of 2010. As the head of the household, it’s my job to figure out to recalibrate and renegotiate a new structure that works for us. I haven’t done such a great job with that.

I know all four of the kids still grieve and remember their dad in their own way. My oldest, Emily, struggles with depression and angst-type feelings at times like I do. Overall though, the kids are doing really well.

I have to figure out how to be as happy as my happiest child. Kids are resilient and mine are no exception. I’m a tough cookie as far as survival goes. I know that. But I live with this sense of feeling like things are just not right. It creates more of an anxiety thing vs. a depression thing, but it is there. I don’t know what to do with it, so for now I just live with it.

And I will keep trying to connect with my kids. In spite of their protests, I will keep trying to be a family, even though we don’t have a dad anymore. I may not have the answers, but I won’t give up.

My thanks to a very special doctor, who has made a mark on our lives that isn’t forgotten with time. I wish healing and peace for her on the journey she is on.


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Blended

Are you an Adam Sandler fan? We are all fans here in our house. One year for Christmas, Tim got me every Adam Sandler movie he had made so far. I love most of his stuff, but I don’t really ever buy videos because I keep things simple when I can. I appreciated the thoughtful gesture, though.

My favorite duo is Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. I really like “The Wedding Singer” and I absolutely love “50 First Dates.” It is one of my all time favorites and one of the few movies I have watched repeatedly and never get tired of.

I discovered the pair of actors have a new movie out called “Blended” so we went to see it this week. Man, I am such a drama queen. Most people watch movies and relate to parts of it, and get the nuances of what is being conveyed. Me? Well, I lived every second of the movie completely immersed in the characters from the first moment until the last.

Drew’s character (Lauren) is a divorced, single mom with two boys. Dad is creepy and not involved. The boys are a handful and we see several scenes of her struggles to just barely keep up with the pressures every day, much less have the energy or wisdom with how to actually help her kids solve their issues. The funniest parts are every time she tries to carry her son to bed after he falls to sleep. He is too big and she is clearly not strong enough. She constantly bumps into walls with him and you have to wonder if half of the kid’s problems are due to traumatic brain injury… lol.

Adam’s character (Jim) is a single dad with three girls. Guess what? His wife died of cancer. He’s a great dad, but oblivious to the feminine needs of his girls. One of them is having particular grief issues and we get to see scenes of him looking helplessly at his daughters, knowing he has no idea how to really help them.

It is laced with humor, but I was just sick to my stomach watching. I got it. And it’s so so so horrible to be a single parent sometimes and feel so terribly inadequate. Even though they were overall great parents, their kids were still suffering. And when your kids suffer, you suffer.

Lauren and Jim meet and hate each other. Then through a series of odd, quirky events, they consistently keep bumping into each other. And you know how things like this happen in real life- they somehow end up in Africa together at some week-long retreat for helping blended families adjust to their lives together. Completely ridiculous, but the story works. I completely related to the blended family piece too. Our family had super-sized struggles when Tim and I first got together. It took YEARS for things to get better.

One scene I just broke down and sobbed. (Thank goodness Frankie and his friend sat a few seats down. I would have never heard the end of it.) It was a scene about grief and healing where Lauren does something for the girls their mother used to do for them. Jim heard it from behind the door. The look on all of their faces was so moving. I got it.

In the end (of course), they realize they are madly in love. I don’t care if it was unrealistic or not. I cheered them on every inch of the way. Jim’s daughters so desperately needed a mom. Lauren’s sons so desperately needed a father. And suddenly, they fit. They just fit.

It put me in a funk the rest of the day. I loved it and love when I get moved like that. But there was an underlying sadness that I can’t deny. I know that I need that “fit.” I know I can’t settle for less than that. Not perfection, but that understanding that happens when a man not only loves me (which is hard enough), but also gets that my son desperately needs a father (in spite of how much he appears not to). It’s a beautiful concept but it just hasn’t happened yet.

The sad part is the flashback to the scenes where you watch the struggling single parents. Living life while you are waiting for something that may or may not happen, is difficult. I know several of you who read this blog are single parents and seem to handle it much more gracefully than I do. My hat is off to you. I will keep trying to do my best. That’s all I can do. I know I’m a decent mom and doing a decent job. But I have the “carrying my son who is too heavy for me and I keep banging his head on the wall in the meantime” problem that I just keep pushing through. In the movie, Jim suggested Lauren get her son a helmet.

I hope I didn’t ruin the movie for you. You should watch it and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I guess I will keep doing my best and go helmet shopping!


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S.S.D.D.

Same stuff, different day. (Or substitute the word stuff for whatever profanity you like!)

I talked to my friend, Ann today that I haven’t talked to in ages. She lives in Chicago and we have been close for forever, but the distance gets in the way. So how do you catch each other up? It doesn’t really matter how many months or years it has been since we’ve chatted. It’s all the same stuff. It is remarkably different and yet remarkably the same every time. She read last week’s blog and asked me if I was still mad. Hell, yeah.

I suppose it’s not really all that different for anyone else in the world. Maybe it’s just that I bother to write about it and put it out there for people to see. Maybe that is why so many people like the blog- because they relate to it. They say the most successful comedians are the ones that tell jokes about stuff like going to the dentist, because everyone can identify with it. So it’s not that I think I have a particularly difficult life, it’s just that I have been blessed-cursed with the desire to write about it.

July 10, 2014. Had a rough week with the kids. After listening to them tell me what a completely inadequate parent I am, I told them they were partly right. It’s been three and a half years since their dad died and I feel less capable today than I did a year ago. I have no idea how the hell to handle them. I have no idea how to adjust and do it alone. They got me there. In another three years I should be in the nuthouse. However, I also told them that while I am indeed extremely imperfect, I still somehow think I’m a pretty damn good parent and in spite of my flaws, they are freaking lucky to have me.

Another rough week with the business. We are working hard to get things in order and organizing in a way we probably should have done months and months ago. In our defense though, we have been learning as we go. And oh yeah, we have been completely overwhelmed with our schedules. My brain doesn’t wrap around the things I need to do very easily so the learning curve is slow. And did I mention we still haven’t made a dime on the book?

I’ve accomplished a lot on the house this year. Kitchen and computer room are redone. Office waiting room and the office are redone. House has new siding and trim, a four-week project. And yet, the pool leak has managed to stay alive after four or five attempts to repair it. The hot tub has another four jets that need replacing after I already replaced four a month ago. Ah… home ownership is a joy.

Men? That’s always the best one. No men are interested and I die of boredom. Then several men are interested, usually at the same time and it’s almost annoying. But almost always, they are the “wrong” ones anyways. Why are they wrong? Because my heart belongs to one who does not return the sentiments. The one you want more than anything, is the one that just can’t make the leap to love you. So you try to stay open because you know what you deserve, but always long for the one you can’t have. Dating is such a bitch.

July 10, 2014. Not much different from July 3, 2014, one week earlier. Not much different from June 10, 2014, one month earlier. Not much different from July 10, 2013, one year earlier. My mantra from Bitter and Sweet, is just that. Bitter and sweet go hand in hand. Paradoxes that make you crazy and yet make sense at the same time. Today’s blog is no different. It’s discouraging, and yet it’s not. It’s just life.

I’m sure some of us are not as angst-ridden as others are. But there are probably plenty of people who wake up like me and know that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. And I have no idea how to truly change any of it. Could it be at the exact same time that things are exactly the way they are supposed to be?

Perhaps tomorrow I will suddenly have wisdom beyond my years and my kids will be bonded tightly with me. Perhaps tomorrow I will suddenly have knowledge beyond my years and my book will go viral. Perhaps tomorrow I will suddenly come across a ridiculous amount of money and I can pay someone to fix all the stuff on the house without having to stress about it. Perhaps tomorrow, that elusive man will suddenly have wisdom beyond his years and sweep me off my feet after realizing I am the woman of his dreams.

Or maybe not. So I guess I will just wake up tomorrow and face July 11, 2014 just like I have all 47 other July 11ths in my life- one moment at a time.


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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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Guest Blogging

So leave it to Brigette. With her expert researching, she found an excellent contact in California. She is a medical expert, involved heavily in writing, blogging, and connected everywhere regarding issues related to end of life. Frankly, she appears to be quite brilliant :).

Anyhow, I will be on her blog next week and we are looking for many more opportunities to work with her and her numerous programs. She suggested I post the same blog here. I know it is information you already have read several times, but I will include it anyway. I was terribly honored when she had this to say about my entry submission: “This is probably one of the most moving accounts I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. Your husband is proud of you.” Her comments made me cry.

Stay tuned as Brigette will be posting the links to Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy’s sites and connections. (Her blog is called “ok to die” which is a great title!) Here is my entry:

The name of my book is “Bitter and Sweet, A Family’s Journey with Cancer.” Here is a brief summary. In April of 2010, my husband Tim began to have some strange sensations in his side. On May 7, we found ourselves facing stage IV gallbladder cancer rather than a simple gallbladder removal as planned. Five months and one week later, my husband died. Those five months were the most difficult and horrifying time of our lives. It was also an extremely beautiful time for us. We found ourselves using the phrase “bitter and sweet” so often during those five months, that it was an obvious title choice.

Our lives had been full of paradoxes. How do you fight for your life and yet accept mortality at the same time? How do you maintain optimism, which is necessary for health, and prepare for your death and get your affairs in order? How do you understand God’s love and compassion, and yet experience cancer and suffering?

It’s a sad story, but I promise you, our story is also filled with humor, tender moments and hope, alongside the ravages of a cruel disease. When life hands you lemons, you can pucker up and make a sour face, or you can make lemonade. I think we did both.

Tim and I had a tough marriage. We spent the entirety of our ten years together in counseling. We made progress, but happiness was always a struggle. After diagnosis, we actually worried that kind of stress could be the end of us. Tim was a “glass half empty” guy and I thought for sure he would be angry and buckle under his prognosis. Boy, was I wrong. What I witnessed instead, was the total transformation of a man, a woman, a marriage, a family, a community. While things were obviously horrific battling a vicious disease, we also experienced the most amazing bond and love that we had spent our lives hoping for.

For the first time, we read together, appreciated each other fully, and reprioritized what was important. We started walking our dog together. When Tim got too weak, we took the wheelchair. When I got pneumonia, I would push him halfway and then we would switch positions and he would push me back. I will never, ever forget those moments.

Even the most simple things had greater meaning. Tim would talk about enjoying a hot shower and feeling the sensations of the warm water on his body. He would walk around our yard and come in with tears in his eyes and talk about the beauty he was able to take in. For the first time, he went into work late on our son’s first day of school because he just didn’t want to miss it. New priorities, new appreciation.

When you stare mortality in the face, it is amazing how quickly things can change. The things that you spend your life worrying and fighting about are suddenly rendered ridiculously less important. The housework isn’t so important. Money isn’t the biggest stressor. And I had the joy of watching Tim rekindle and reconcile family and friendships that had been forgotten or stuffed away in a corner. Sometimes that meant confronting painful things. Tim was a peacemaker and avoided conflict. But I saw him stand up for me in ways that I had not seen in the decade we had been together. Why? Partly because he saw me grab a hold of fighting for his life, his comfort and well-being in a way that he had not seen either, but that he was clearly worthy of.

Why do I continue to respect and admire my husband three years after his death? Because in spite of his fear, he faced his ending and he did it remarkably well. He chose his cemetery plot and designed his headstone. He wrote birthday cards for his eight year old son until he turns 18. He wrote wedding cards to this three unmarried sons so he could share his love for them on their big days. Amazing.

So many others were changed as well. We learned to be receivers, to let people help us and the results were astounding. People brought 90% of our meals, cleaned our house, ran errands, entertained our son, put up a fence, helped with yardwork, and even did our shopping. The benefit was that we were able to concentrate on Tim’s appointments and sneak in those walks or spend time with our kids. The benefit to everyone else? The church learned how to rally around their people. The community rose to the occasion. Here is what people said: “Please don’t rob us. We WANT to help. We can’t do anything to stop what is happening to you. What we CAN do, is provide a meal.” It was actually truly and genuinely important to other people, to feel like they were contributing to our lives. That is powerful.

I want to share the last paragraph of Bitter and Sweet. It is actually what I wrote for the bulletin at Tim’s funeral.

“While cancer is a cruel and clever disease that wreaks havoc in your life, my husband and I were able to find and experience so many gifts, treasures and healings in our lives. Since his diagnosis, we have truly been transformed, as individuals and as loving, lifelong partners. Our spiritual lives blossomed and grew in ways I would not have thought possible. And so much of that happened because of the loving, compassionate, strong hands, arms, and feet of the people of God. No one would deny that we are truly the luckiest people on earth, even with the loss we suffer. Few others could boast the kind of dedication and support we have felt poured out upon us. ”

I will never tell you that the cancer path isn’t hard, difficult, gut wrenching. But I will always say, there is a gift in every challenge. Your life can be profoundly blessed and changed in spite of your difficulties. Facing mortality can have a positive, profound impact on your life, if you choose to let it.


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Corrections and Stars

Ok, first I have to print an apology/retraction type of thing. Last week I referenced a “prison guard.” I was politely told later that corrections officers don’t care for that term. They prefer the official term correction officer. I had no idea. I asked why and was told that their jobs are often misunderstood. They do much more than guard prisoners. They are trying to get a broader view and respect for their stressful and demanding work. So let me say officially, no offense intended. And thank you for the education :).

Secondly, I know many of you are anxious to hear about last night and how the star search went. This last October, Brigette got a star registered in Tim’s name in honor of the third year marker of his passing. But then she went the extra mile and located a planetarium in the area. She and the director spent the last three months putting together a presentation for us to teach us how to locate the major stars so we could locate Tim’s specific star. It was very, very cool.

It was definitely one of those bitter-sweet things. It was a positive experience and a joyful one. But I still found myself feeling weepy before we left. Frankie seemed unusually quiet, but didn’t open up with any of his thoughts or feelings. Just in the last couple of months, I’ve been experiencing new emotions. I’m not sure exactly how to describe them, but something along the lines of having moments of feeling weary from remembering.

I have now built a career around loss. I have always seen clients, which often times means working with grief and loss. But now I speak about it frequently as well, and every day I work on book two, which is also about grief. On the one hand, 95% of the time I am energized by it and feel more and more confident that I am good at it and have been reaching lots of people and helping them. On the other hand, I wonder how long I will be able to continue to do this. I have a sense that this whole thing has a shelf life in some ways.

Anyhow, thanks to Brigette for creating such a meaningful memorial for us. And thank you to all of you who attended. I am still consistently reminded that I have lots of people who love and support us. It is always, always good to have you by my side while Frankie and I are experiencing these things. Love you all!


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Opinions and Such

The older I get, the more I feel like there is very little I know. I’ve been saying that for a few years now. The paradox is, I’m more and more sure that I’m not sure about much of anything. The more I live life, the more aware I become that there are very few formulas in life about how it should work and how it should be.

I’m a therapist. Relationships are my “specialty”. And yet I am more and more convinced that what makes a relationship successful and happy is unique to each couple. There really are few “rules” to follow. One couple can do things similarly to another couple, and one ends up together and the other ends up divorced. Why? Who knows.

I become more aware every year that my role as a therapist is not to provide answers, but to provide company on the journey. I help people sort out their own way.

When I do a speaking engagement, I often talk about how spiritual growth can occur through learning to hold opposing and conflicting thoughts and feelings at the same time. Relationships are not really any different.

While my entire life is dedicated to understanding relationships and how they tick, there are sometimes spurts in the intensity level of how that happens. The last few months, I have had countless philosophical conversations with people- males, females, singles, married people, clients, dates, family, friends. All kinds of sources.

Dating today is so different than it used to be because of the internet. And yet it is still exactly the same. Personally, I found dating difficult when I was in high school. And college. And as a divorced woman. And as a widowed woman. No matter what age or set of circumstances, dating is a difficult endeavor. I don’t think I’m alone in that. How many people in your lifetime have you heard say “Man, I love this dating thing!” ?? Not many I bet. Heck, my father is in his eighties and it hasn’t been a picnic for him either!

Hindsight is a dangerous thing. I find that people are very confident offering their opinions and advice after something goes sour. If a relationship ends, it’s easy to say that whatever choices were made, obviously something else should have been done. But I think that is dangerous. When you think that, you just create another set of “rules” that you think apply to everyone.

Match.com is a fascinating social phenomenon. I swear there is a book to be written about people’s experiences. Again, I hear and listen and feel so many things that all seem true, but yet they are contradictory. How can that be? Well, because it just is.

For example, let’s take pace. Most people would say that there is a certain time frame that should occur for relationships to be healthy and successful. I admit that in years past, I would have my own internal judgments if I was working with a couple that moved “too fast.” You hear the history and think, “Well, of course you are having problems. You started living together two weeks after meeting.” But you really can’t say that.

Have you ever met someone who experienced love at first sight? I have not personally ever felt that, but I have met people who have. And they are happily married for years and years and years. There are plenty of divorced couples out there that dated for years, got engaged, and followed all the social “norms” for relationships. And yet the relationship failed.

Just in the last couple of weeks, I have talked personally with people who moved in with their partner within two months of meeting. Both couples are very happy, seem very healthy, and have maintained their relationships over an extended period of time. So they end up being “smart.” And lucky. If their relationship went up in flames, then we would be quick to say that they were unwise and impulsive.

One person on Match talked about how they were learning what they liked and didn’t like. They get a sense almost immediately of whether there is a spark or not. They don’t want to waste their time or anyone else’s so they cut things off as soon as they know. I listened to him explain all that and I thought “Right. That makes total sense. Seems wise to me.”

The next week, I talked to a person who said they were frustrated sometimes with the Match process. He said that it seems like people don’t know how to work on relationships anymore. If there is not immediate magic, there is no effort to get to know someone. No chance to spend some time and seeing how things might develop. I listened to him explain all that and I thought “Right. That makes total sense. Seems wise to me.”

So the moral of the story is, I don’t think there is just one right way. Or one right pace. There are all kinds of ways for people to connect. And disconnect. And reconnect. Who is to say? Perhaps we should hold our judgments.

Do your own internal inventory. Do you have opinions about how many days you should wait after meeting someone before you call them? Should women call men or should men always initiate? Who should pay for dates? How long do you wait before a kiss? How long do you wait before having sex with someone? The list goes on and on. And most of us have our opinions about what we think the answers to those questions should be. If someone doesn’t behave the way we might, then there is often judgment.

Kids are another issue where people seem to know what is the ideal way to handle dating. I used to be one of those people too. When should your kids meet a potential partner? Many say not until you are almost certain about your relationship. Some say their kids are a deal breaker because they are part of the whole package. So why not get to know them right away? How do you get “solid” with a person if you don’t know how they interact with your kids? And I can personally say that it is much more difficult to navigate that as a widow because your kids don’t go off every other weekend with your former partner. There is no alone time or off duty time. Ever. Yet the collateral damage can be worse for them. Your mom breaks up with a boyfriend you like, you can always rely on that relationship with your biological dad if your parents are divorced. But what if there is no other dad?

This is another area I’ve had to admit that I just don’t have the answers to. I honestly think that a huge part of the equation is the personality of your kid(s) and how they handle things.

Do you only date one person at a time? Or do you date several people at the same time? Again, I have heard well thought out arguments for both sides of that. I have heard well thought out criticisms of the other side of the fence. And they all have good points. So what to do? Personally, the only “rule” I’ve figured out for myself is that I have to be honest with whatever it is I’m doing. You have no control over whether the other parties in your life are honest back, but you have to hope they are.

So… no answers. Just lots of opposing ideas that all seem to contain truth. I will venture out though and offer some unsolicited advice. 1. Try not to judge other people. 2. If you have a relationship, work hard at it. It’s not all that easy to start over. The grass is definitely not always greener on the other side.

I’m sure I’ve said things you agree with, disagree with, or may have infuriated you. I am just figuring the world out like everyone else.


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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.


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Strenthening Your Core

With all the emphasis in the last decade on health, nutrition and exercise, there are lots of talks about your “core.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my core the last few days, but if you know me at all, you know it has nothing to do with exercise. I avoid that whenever possible. My core is about my beliefs and emotions. And lately, my core feels utterly shaken.

In Tim Allen’s Santa Clause trilogy, there is a cute elf named Judy who has taken over 900 years to perfect the world’s best hot chocolate recipe. She sweetly says, “Shaken, not stirred.” In this case, shaken is the secret dynamic that makes it all work. For me, shaken feels nothing like a helpful thing.

As I’ve been speaking, especially to college classes, I have talked a lot about how mental health professionals often develop their particular philosophies about life and relationships. It’s a dynamic thing that changes over the years with knowledge, experience and wisdom. God, the world, the universe keeps teaching you things so you keep altering and perfecting the way you approach your life and the things that happen to you. I’ve had some pretty strong alterations since Tim’s terminal illness and all that has happened since while putting our lives back together. And that is on top of the forty plus years of life that was lived before all that started.

The last few days, I find myself so challenged about things that I have felt so so so strongly about. Frankly, I’ve been scared about what it all means. Those close to me are listening and saying things like, “But that’s not you, Darcy. You are the one that taught me such and such. You always have said ______.” (Fill in the blank with whatever philosophy I spout off often.) And all I can say back is that I know. I know I’m contradicting myself. And no one is more unnerved by it than me.

I am well known for my “never-give-up” attitude. My tag line that I sign on every book is “Embrace it all.” All of it, the good and the bad. What’s the alternative? To stop hoping and trying? Unacceptable. A few months ago, I met a man who had just gone through his second divorce a year earlier. He had made a conscious, well thought out decision to not ever date seriously again. The only way to avoid being hurt, or hurting someone else, was to avoid the commitment altogether. It was air tight logic. I had to agree with him. But then I asked him, “What if it’s worth it? Look at the two beautiful children you have that you adore. Even if the end result is hard, what if it’s worth it anyway?” He was challenged and gave it some hard thinking time. He has still decided to just avoid relationships anyway, but I know he thought about it.

One of the toughest things I had to digest, was experiencing five months of a transformed marriage. Tim and I finally got it right and experienced the kind of love people hope for all their lives. But it was laced with the acute knowledge that it was happening because of a terminal illness. It was happening only to have it taken away in a brief time. But I embraced it. Better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all. I have always believed that. Truly believed it. So even knowing there was something cruel about it, I experienced the joy of it all.

I have been blogging lately about a change in the air. I have been working on changing some core identities in myself. I have been tasting the promise of spring, even while living through a Buffalo winter. The people that surround me have seen it. They tell me they haven’t seen me like this before. It wasn’t some manic dream-like thing. It was core. It was contentment and a sense of self that understood life in a different way.

Some circumstances changed unexpectedly and I find myself shaken. I understand sadness. I understand loneliness. I have always known loneliness is one of those really, really core things for me. I know myself. I have experienced hard changes many, many, many times in my life. I feel things extremely intensely. So I know the drill. Feels like I’m going to die. Feels like I will never smile again. But I know it will pass. I know I will recover. I know I will get up and try again.

This time has been different. I haven’t even begun to feel loneliness. It’s more like discovering there is another part of my core that I didn’t even know was there. And it’s been shaken before I even had time to get to know it. I know what I am going through now is not on par with watching your spouse die. Probably nothing will ever rival that. But I think having gone through that and then passing through three years of hard grief has exhausted me, aged me. Recently, I poked my head out of the hole and felt sunshine on my face. I felt healing and hope and something new inside of me. I was feeling whole again. And it wasn’t just healing from the last three years. It was bigger than that. Core stuff from my whole lifetime. Why did I experience that only to have it disappear again? With Tim I was able to see the cruel joke of it but still know it was worth it. This time, maybe because of everything else in the last three years, I find myself thinking it’s just too cruel. I would rather have not felt it if it was going to go away. For the first time I am saying things like, “I give up.” Perhaps this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I mean I’m one damn, tough camel. I am strong. But hell, I’m not invincible.

One of the philosophies I spout off, is that you can’t have a goal that is dependent on someone else. You can desire, want, and wish for something that requires participation from another human being to make it happen. But a goal can only be something that you can achieve on your own. You have to possess the power to make it happen. It’s ok to want other things, but recognize that is some shaky ground.

If the healing and change I was experiencing was real, then I have to be able to find it regardless of any changed circumstances. The easy path back to the wholeness and contentment I felt involves other circumstances changing to make it happen. But I have no control over that. I can wish for it all I want, but that isn’t going to make it happen. So now what? Truly, I have no idea. My amazing support system has no idea. I think we are all kind of shaken. And all of us can hope for a change in circumstances, but again, that isn’t going to make it happen.

So here I am. Again. But with something foreign added in. Not sure what to do. Not sure how to act. Not sure what to say to clients because all my philosophies are challenged. Although I do know that I just need to be there with them on their journey. I don’t need to have any wise philosophies in place. Good thing. Because all I can do is be there on my own journey. I have no idea where the hell it’s taking me now. I don’t know much of anything anymore. But I had to get up this morning and keep going anyhow. I guess that’s all the knowledge I get for today. Maybe that’s enough.