Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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A Boy and His Dog

Taffy

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

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

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

Dave, Taffy

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

David, Taffy

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

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

Christmas- Darcy, Taffy, Dave, Louie

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

Darcy, Taffy, Dave- Christmas card shot

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

Dave, Taffy

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

Dave, Taffy

See what I mean?

Dave, Taffy

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

Herbie, Dave, Taffy

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

Dave, Taffy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taffy


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The Time is Drawing Near

Taffy

Back in September, we thought we were losing our beloved Taffy. She is still here and it is almost February. It has been one of the most emotional and difficult endings I have had to make decisions about.

Obviously, you can’t talk to an animal which is the hardest part for me to deal with. I can’t ask her the questions I ask humans. What gives your life meaning? How long do you want to stay? I’ve never been in a place where Medically Assisted Death is an option for people, but euthanasia has always been an option for animals

Taffy

Our house is divided and it has been since September. I am afraid of waiting too long. The rest of the house is afraid of her death too soon. I took some of my family in December to the vet with me. He was surprised Taffy was still here. After examining her, he understood why our house was in conflict. Her symptoms are confusing and true to the Thiel trait, they are also unusual. He said he has no problem offering his opinion when asked but in our case, he is stumped.

“If you decide today is the day, I totally support you. If you decide this is not the time, I totally support you.”

It actually helped me to know I wasn’t missing something. I’ve never had such a hard time knowing when. People love to say, “You will know when it’s time” but I simply don’t think that applies in this case.

I went to see the vet again last week. He noticed a definite decline from six weeks earlier. She now has something wrong in her colon. We could do dozens of tests, spend a ton of money, but he is 98% sure it would only be information. He is almost certain we wouldn’t discover something that could actually be fixed. I decided not to pursue tests, mostly because why would I put her through all that?

Taffy

He did articulate things that made sense to me. She doesn’t seem to be suffering. However, she doesn’t feel well. And she never does. She struggles with her breathing and basically feels crummy. This is where the inability to talk is tough. Some would say as long as they weren’t suffering, they would want to stay alive. (And by the way, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all.) But others would say if they are going to feel crummy for the rest of their lives and only get worse, they would prefer to be done. I think that describes my dad. It would also describe me.

I still lean towards soon because I can barely stand to look at her when she is having a hard time. I can’t wrap around waiting until she is actually suffering. I’m not even sure what the difference is. My family continues to feel like she would want to be here. Are they in denial? Or are they right?

I hate this.

I had a friend who is a huge dog person and knows quite a bit come and spend some time here when she offered to do so. At first, she said that if she is still willing to take walks (even if slow) that should be the benchmark. After spending more time watching her, she changed her mind. She said if Taffy was hers, it would be time. One of her questions is, would we be stealing something good from her down the road if she wasn’t here? It is doubtful. We would however, spare her from feeling worse.

I think it will be soon, but the decision isn’t quite made yet. Say some prayers for all of us. She’s been my shadow for 11 years so this is hard. My family has bonded with her just as long. And all of us have had more loss in our lives than we thoughts we could endure.

Dave, Taffy


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Holiday Hell

Image result for thanksgiving images

I think holidays must be one of the most immense Catch-22 situations in our society. Everywhere I go, most people find them stressful. Lots of people say they hate them. A few truly enjoy them.

We put so much into them and their significance which is why the letdown is so bad. Yet year after year we do it to ourselves. We keep hoping something great will happen. We try to set a new precedence. We think the people in our lives will be inspired to put more effort into us just because it is a holiday.

Some go off pretty well. But’s let’s face it. Most of us actually act worse because of the dynamics I just mentioned. The high hopes are usually dashed. What a vicious cycle. And I’m just as guilty.

People who live with grief know that holidays are generally the toughest times of the year. Since Dad died, my grief around mom and Tim are also ramped up. I realized last night that the worst part isn’t even mine, even though that is significant too. The worst is watching my kids grow up with parents and grandparents missing. That just doesn’t seem to get easier no matter how many years go by.

Last year was especially tough and this year is proving to be the same. It is amazing how quickly you can spiral down the rabbit hole. Having it be a holiday just makes it all seem worse.

Family dynamics break my heart sometimes. Missing my sister hurts even know we celebrated our own Thanksgiving when she was in town. This is the first holiday I won’t be seeing my beautiful granddaughter because of painful circumstances.

Thanksgiving is for giving thanks. I believe it. I want it. I’m aware of the good things. But damn it, the sadness can overshadow what the whole purpose of the holiday is. Those who made it special are sometimes gone. The very people who are here are supposed to color our lives with love, but sometimes end up coloring our holidays with hurt. Boo!

Oops, sorry. I forgot Halloween is over.


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Re-read and Re-write

It’s been six years since Bitter and Sweet was published. I have some speaking engagements coming up so believe or not, I decided to read my own books. I can remember the really big things, but there are lots of details that I don’t recall anymore. It’s been an interesting process, to say the least.

True to my self-critical form, I have to admit I’m disappointed at times. First of all, I can’t believe some things were missed typing or grammatically speaking. They are small things, but geeze! It was edited and checked over and over and over. How did we still miss things?

There are things about the layout I don’t care for. Margins should have been bigger. I use the word “that” too often. Reviews said there were too many redundant guestbook entries. Boy, were they right.

Once in awhile, I do come across a statement or paragraph where I think, “Nicely done” or “Now that was pretty poignant/powerful.” I would really like to edit another edition, but it’s too daunting a task. First of all, my graphic artist no longer has the computer program to do it. Secondly, I think you need to purchase new ISBN numbers whenever you do another edition. That opens another whole can of worms.

Right now, I am in the middle of Bitter and Sweet. I just got to the chapter where we discovered Tim was not getting better and cancer had spread everywhere. I got lost in the story and couldn’t put it down. That sounds goofy, I know, but it was an odd emotional experience. In some ways, I felt detached and like I was reading it like any other person and I couldn’t stop myself from turning the page to find out what was next. On the other hand, I know how intricately I am attached to every word and I can’t believe we went through it.

It will be interesting to keep this going and then tackle the second book. I may not blog again about this, but if I do, I promise no spoiler alerts once I get to the ending!


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Another Twist on Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2011

I’ve heard that sometimes silence is deafening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Here Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.