Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Acceptance

I saw Ellen, my spiritual director, yesterday. Sometimes we have conceptual type conversations. They are intriguing and thought-provoking, but I’m also a nuts and bolts girl so I want to know in the end what it all means in practical terms.

We were talking about pursuing. Pursuing _____ (fill in the blank). Pursing whatever it is you want, desire, are trying to accomplish, etc.. Pursuit requires drive and energy. In and of itself, pursuit is not a negative thing. BUT… what happens when pursuing becomes the end vs. the means to an end? Ellen said sometimes we get stuck in the pursuit. If we pursue something for long enough, we don’t even remember how to actually get there.

The end of pursuit is acceptance. In this context, acceptance is more like receiving. How do I receive what I am looking for? If all of my energy is in the pursuit, where is the energy I need to accept what I’m looking for?

This ties in to being aware of accepting what you already have. Being aware and receiving what is in your grasp, even if it’s not the thing you are or have been pursuing.

I think (and have been affirmed by many over the years), that for the most part, I do a pretty good job with awareness. I don’t usually forget how lucky I am with so much of what I already have at my fingertips. But it can’t hurt to make a more conscious effort, right? Another well-known phrase for this is, having an “attitude of gratitude.”

So I’m taking today’s blog to think about accepting some of the gifts I already have. I’m setting pursuit aside and going into “reception mode.”

I am very grateful for my kids. Frankie gives me gray hair on a daily basis as I worry endlessly about not balancing all the things I need to help him be well-rounded. I want him to be carefree but yet responsible. I just got another email from a teacher again today. He talked about how Frankie is truly one of a kind. He stands out. And he does. And I beam with pride every time I hear it.

My other kids are great too. They are all adults now and starting to raise their own kids. They have all changed and grown so much over the years. I can’t imagine my life without them and my beautiful grandkids.

I am blessed with health. Other than struggling with weight (for my entire life), my aches and pains are pretty minor now that I’ve seen what can really happen to a person’s body. I might complain about my aching muscles, but how lucky am I to have the energy to exhaust myself every day?

Having witnessed for many years how other families interact and operate, I am most grateful for mine. With all our idiosyncracies aside, we love each other and try to do the right thing for each other. When one of us is down and out (and it seems like it’s usually me), we are there for each other.

I am told on a frequent basis that I have an exceptional amount of exceptional friends. I know it is absolutely true. Some of my friends have been around for ages. Some are newer. Some have recently been re-kindled again. I just had visitors today from Chicago that I hadn’t seen in a decade. All of them warm my heart, and on a very, very deep level.

My publishing company rocks. We work our butts off. We haven’t figured out how to make a lick of money, but the three of us all bring unique talents to the table. Our company just wouldn’t work if one of us wasn’t there. We need each other, and we are skilled and gifted. Not everyone gets to say that about their work.

My clients bless me. Honestly, most of the time I feel like I benefit more from knowing them than they do from knowing me. I love when people are trying to make their lives better, their relationships closer, etc.. And I get to be a part of it. Amazing.

So… I publicly declare to put more and more effort into acceptance. Pursuit is not evil, but I promise to put less and less effort into my driven nature and relax more into receiving. Try it, you might like it too. ūüôā


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Good Will

One of the great things about writing Bitter and Sweet has been the people I have met and the stories I have heard. There are many, many people in the world that are trying to do good things with thier lives and resources. Today Brigitte and I had the opportunity to meet some neat people… again.

There is a group called Rural Outreach Center. Their tag line reads: “Assist- Elevate- Empower.” They¬†have some property but no building yet. There has already been five years invested in doing hard-core research and for the last four months they have been helping people on borrowed space.

The thought process is to give people in country settings a one-stop place to help them in a holistic manner. The man said “How would it be if the first thing you heard when you walked in a door someplace was that someone cared about you?” They have spent months interviewing people and just listening to their stories. They have come up with a comprehensive list of services they are hoping to develop. Finding jobs, raising¬†the level of income, financial budgeting and saving, marriage¬†and individual counseling and support, medical help, literacy programs, etc..

They talked about how many people they have met that just don’t meet the stereotypes that I hear people describe all the time. People DO want to work. They DO want to do the right thing. They are NOT sucking off the system. I hear so much prejudice and assumptions sometimes, that it makes my heart sad.

It’s easy to say “Get a job.”¬†It’s not so easy to tell them how to actually get downtown without taking several buses. And what¬†do¬†they do with their children while they are gone?¬†The scenarios go on and on. Answers are not so simple.

I’m not sure how we are going to be able to help, but¬†both¬†Brigitte and I want to help in whatever we can. It doesn’t fit in exactly with our “mission” with grief group and patient advocacy¬†education. But it does fit in with where our hearts are at- treating people with dignity and respect. Helping people outside of yourself when¬†you are able to.

So thanks to those people who¬†are working tirelessly to make this happen. Thanks for the inspiration. The needs are many and the possibilities are endless for ways people can help. If you are interested, please let me know and I will get you in touch with them. To quote from Bitter and Sweet, “THERE IS MUCH GOOD IN THE WORLD, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH.”


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Inspiration

Last night, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of 300+ breast cancer survivors. I was shaking in my boots because the largest group I have ever done is 150. Most of the time there is only a handful of people. This was crazy!

Of course, like so many other things, I ended up being the one inspired. I had a vendor table with my book and people would stop to see what it was about. Normally, this is when people tell me their own stories- their illness, someone they love, etc.. In this setting, the chances were high that anyone you talked to probably had cancer at some point in their lives. That was a given. I met so many women with such amazing, joyful attitudes.

One woman in particular sticks out in my mind. She was probably in her seventies. She rattled off what kind of cancer she had, which I don’t even remember because it wasn’t what had impacted me. She told me the story of her doctor calling her to tell her she had cancer. She was kind of using a tone that was dismissive, like “Yeah, yeah, ok” kind of a thing. So her doc says to her “Do you understand what I am telling you? Do you understand that you have cancer?” She said she responded with “Yes, I heard you. I’m not the type to sit in the corner and cry. Now are you done? Because I’m about to go play golf.” She was one tough bird. And a huge smile on her face. SHE should have been the one to do the speaking!

After dinner, I looked at the program and noticed the speaker after me had the same first name as the woman sitting next to me. I asked her if she was the other speaker and indeed she was. Right before we were about to go up, she looks at me and says, “Did you say that evaluation form? Talk about pressure!” I looked and sure enough there was a full-page evaluation form for the event. Not something like “Did you like it?” on a scale of one to five. It was a scale, but it was very specific. “Did you like Darcy Thiel’s presentation Making Lemonade?” Yikes! We both vowed to tell the coordinator that neither one of us was interested in hearing the ratings.

I finished my twenty-minute speech and then the lady sitting next to me got up for her turn. She very graciously started by saying something like, “That’s a tough act to follow. Let’s give another hand to Darcy.” That was lovely of her. She then proceeded to tell her story with a shaky voice and clearly was struggling to hold back tears. This beautiful young lady told about hearing the dreaded words “You have cancer.” I listened to her story, thinking how brave and amazing she was. Then she shocked me by talking about the SECOND time she had cancer. Good grief. I was very moved by her story as was everyone else in the room I am sure. She was the hero, the true inspiration for the evening.

After it was all over, I was standing near the exit at my book table. I saw her talking with her husband. I decided to give her a book. She acted like I gave her a million dollars. That made me feel like a million dollars! We talked about how we felt bonded somehow by sharing our stories on the same evening. I told her she bears the heavier burden and she said she thought the caretaker bears the heavier burden. So we decided we would just mutually admire each other.

What an absolutely great career I have. How lucky am I?


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Meant to Be

My foot has healed remarkably fast. In one week I was able to walk normally. I couldn’t believe it because the wound was so deep and it hurt so much! I’m very grateful. It’s amazing what you take for granted when all your body parts are functioning as they should.

What about my focus? I will admit it’s been a struggle. The blues have gotten me down more than once or twice. But I have been truly trying to wake up and remind myself every day that I have a bigger purpose. I have work to do. I have a mission.

For the first time in a long time, I sold a book at a book signing downtown. She was a cancer survivor. More importantly, I met a woman who lost her partner in December. She said she couldn’t possibly read the book yet but we ended up chatting. She was frustrated by the lack of grief groups in our area. She didn’t call me like she thought she would, but the conversation was meant to be. After we talked, I asked her if I could give her a hug. I really wasn’t sure she was going to say yes, but I was pleasantly surprised when she did. It was a teary and meaningful encounter. I glanced back at my ever-faithful Brigette who said “Do you still think it’s not worth it anymore?” Smart aleck. She knew I was back in the game.

I was at the fair and sold four more books that weekend. Again, more than I’ve done in a long time. But more importantly, I gave some away. Wegman’s generously donated money to me so that I could distribute books to people I felt needed it. I also have used it to pay for grief counseling for people who can’t afford it. Anyhow, I met a brave woman who was currently battling her third bout with cancer. I gladly gave her a book and told her she was my hero.

Then another elderly woman stopped by and said her husband is dying. She had asked him if it was ok if she escaped to the fair for a little while. She started to cry and told me that they had just sold their camper and it had broken her heart. I couldn’t believe it. I told her I had just sold my camper and that I had cried my eyes out. We had a very long hug and shared some tears.

I’ve got my mojo back. Foundations are being repaired. My mission is sad in some ways, but I love those encounters. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that they started happening again after my session with Ellen telling me to get back to the basics and remember my mission. Thanks Ellen and Brigette. And thanks God for breathing life into all of us.


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Progress

One of the things that happens with writing a personal book about terminal illness, is that people tell me their stories. Part of why I work so hard to “heal,” is so that I can be present for other people as they grieve.

There are so many stories to share and they effect me in so many different ways. One family in particular has been giving me quite an education about things I haven’t experienced or heard about before. And they challenge me to figure out how to help them grieve because their situation is so unique.

Their loved one died from a MRSA infection. I have heard of that, but have never known anyone who has personally dealt with it. You can’t imagine all the added horror that is heaped on top of the already tough job of losing a human being. Spending those last precious last days, hours, and finally minutes while you are scrubbed up and covered in all kinds of barriers to prevent infection, sure changes the atmosphere of that time together. I can’t even imagine. I crawled right into bed with Tim the whole time he was sick, in treatment, or in the last stages of the dying process. This family was robbed of that.

They were told after he died that all of his belongings, including medical equipment would need to be destroyed. Incinerated in fact. As an organizer who goes into people’s homes and tries to help them de-clutter, I know how hard of a time people have letting go of “things.” But try to get rid of things that belonged to a person who is deceased, and it is almost impossible. It is a very, very difficult thing to do. One of the things that helps immensely, is when you can adopt a “pay it forward” mindset. Knowing someone else (maybe even someone you know) can use things helps to let them go. I remember being excited when I found out about how the Lyon’s Club can use old eye glasses. I had found so many pairs of Tim’s around the house that I didn’t even know he had. Donating them made me feel great inside and I knew Tim was smiling about it too.

This family? Robbed again. They thought they had to burn everything. How the hell do you find the strength and energy to do that?

We decided to do some research. It appears that the information they were told may have been incorrect. One of the worst things about accepting our mortality is how powerless we are. It is rough on us Westerners to not have control over things. When I decided to jump into research today, I didn’t know how much time it would take. But boy, was I aware at how pumped I was when I actually made progress. I bounced around a whole bunch of places and websites til I finally hit the jackpot with someone in the Erie County Health Department. He was a wealth of information, was friendly and compassionate. I couldn’t send an email fast enough to that family.

Hopefully this information will help them get back some of those things about the grief process that can help us get through it. No, it won’t bring their loved one back. Nothing will do that. Their hearts will still be broken. But maybe now they can start to create some “sweets” from thier “bitter” situation. I call that progress ūüôā


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More Stories

A couple weeks ago I was at a fundraiser and offered to sell 50/50 tickets. In the process, I met a gentleman who Brigette and I ended up having a meeting with. He is the epitome of the Bitter and Sweet message. Turns out, 14 years ago he lost his 17 year old son to cancer. During that time, they had a fundraiser and had extra money left over after paying what they needed to. They decided to create a foundation and have been raising money ever since. They average about $80,000 every year! They help families that have children with cancer. He said they help 40-50 families a year. Can you imagine?

If you go to babycooppublishing.com, you can see a link to his site. It’s called The Matthew Foster Foundation. Inspiring guy. Inspiring family. Talk about taking tragedy and doing something good with it. Thanks for your example Burt!

This week, I spoke with someone who had read my book. I love hearing stories about how it has touched people. Each one has its own nuance, just a little different twist. I asked if I could share her reflections because it was a new thought that I loved hearing.

She is a cancer survivor. A young woman, maybe not even thirty yet. She had breast cancer and it was quite a story. After she had mentioned some of the things in the book she could identify with, she articulated the gift that was in the reading for her. She has an amazing support system around her- family, friends, significant other. They took care of her during her illness but she said in the back of her mind, she always thought it must have sucked for them to have to give up their time and energy for her. Bitter and Sweet seemed to release her from that. She realized when she read from a caretaker’s perspective, that people resent the disease, but never the person who suffers from it.

We were able to talk some more about that. I don’t know why I never thought to put this in my book, but I often say when I am speaking, that I love what I do for a living. Being a counselor is very rewarding. I am proud of the fact that I help people keep their families together, resolve grief and conflict, etc. I feel good about that when I hit the pillow every night.

BUT THERE IS NOTHING MORE SACRED THAN HAVING THE PRIVILEGE OF HELPING SOMEONE DIE WELL. I’ve never done anything more important with my life. I probably never will. Yes, it was hard. But this not a cliche- it was an honor to care for Tim and be on the journey with him.

So thanks for sharing your stories with me. And I hope this particular woman breathes a little easier these days, knowing it was ok to let the people that love her take care of her. Yea for humanity!


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Processing…

Sunday I had a speaking engagement with a very unique group of individuals, then shared a potluck supper with them. The energy was great and the dialogue was flowing.

Monday we went to a spirituality and health type conference. It was our first experience with a conference and we had no idea if it was a good investment of our money and time. I left the house at 7:15 AM and returned home at 5 PM. Again, it turned out to be great. We sold books but also made a boatload of contacts that I think were perfect for us.

Monday night I had clients. Good sessions. I walked in the house and Frankie was already upstairs for the night. I went up and said goodnight and begged him for a hug, which he reluctantly gave me. Then I walked downstairs and collapsed in bed, but I was in tears. And I had no idea why.

Tuesday morning I went to a session with my spiritual director. Just what I needed. I told her the events of the last couple of weeks since I’d seen her. I felt a little out of sorts, but mostly I thought I was just plain exhausted. The cool thing was, that she had attended my talk Sunday night so she had a first-hand view of what I do these days.

It’s always fascinating when I go see her. She was extremely supportive and complimentary about the skills she saw on Sunday. When we started our “work” together, she said the first image that came to mind was that of a big coal stove. She said I’m shoveling coal in it like crazy. I’m working hard and doing a good job. However, the same work could be done by solar energy. Light. Light itself is full or imagery that is endless. As we continued to talk, she said that I need to be vigilant about remembering that my source is The Light, A.K.A. God. I will still be tired at the end of the day, but I need to remember not to rely on my own strength. My work is utimately about being vulnerable. It is good and I am reaching people, but it truly is exhausting. Stay connected to the Solar Energy. She is so very, very wise.

Later that day I got an email from a dear friend of mine and Tim’s. He wanted to know how things were going, but also wanted to tell me how the book launch had impacted him. He was having his own minor symptoms that he had been ignoring. He decided to go to the doc and is now making some necessary changes in his life to take care of some medical issues he is facing. He wanted me to know that he got off his butt and was inspired to take steps after seeing my presentation. I thanked him for letting me know. This was a new type of story and I love hearing about the endless ways that our story is putting positive energy out there for others.

So… moral of the story? It’s good to be tired from a job well done. Stay connected to God and watch the fruits of your labor. It’s worth it!