Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Tired Out

I had surgery on my feet last week so I’ve been on crutches. Mostly, there isn’t much pain. The thing that has surprised me is how much I am sleeping. I can sleep for hours. As I slowly increase my activity, I find after an hour or two I need another nap. Someone pointed out that once I stopped, the last few months may have just caught up with me. I’ve been crashing hard.

My first time driving again, I went to a building complex for folks 62 and over. I have two jobs there I will be starting where I am helping the resident clean the built-up clutter in their homes. Both apartments are going to be quite a challenge. The conversations with the two women in their mid to late 70’s were amazingly similar.

“I’m tired.” Both ladies repeated that again and again. Tired with a capital T. Tired of taking care of themselves. Tired of taking care of other people, which is definitely what most women do for most of their lives. Tired of all of it.

One woman made it clear that she was not referring to “giving up” because there’s a big difference. It brought back floods of feelings and memories of Dad. I spent the last year or so trying to explain to others that exact sentiment. Dad was tired. He was done. But I saw that as completely courageous. There was no giving up, it was an acceptance. Done here. Ready for the next.

I don’t think the women I saw today were necessarily referencing the end of their lives. They are just ready for a change. Needing to simplify. Needing to stop and slow down. Wanting to be taken care of a bit which is the biggest change of all. “I’m tired.”

Later I spoke with one of the managers who asked if I had an initial assessment. I said it was too early to know for sure, but my gut feeling is that neither of them had a mental health issue of concern. They are both just tired. Tired with a capital T.

I’m aware that this week held one of those realizations that once again, God, the universe has brought my life experiences to dovetail beautifully with my work. I was able to understand and relate to them in a much deeper way more quickly than I would have a few months ago. Thanks Dad. It felt really soul-satisfying to hug one of them at the end and hear her say, “You are the only one that is listening. I could kiss you right now.”

My approach to these organizing jobs will have a slightly different slant. I will be emphasizing that peace is coming their way. They can sit in their chairs and direct me and I will do my best to give them rest. The soul kind of rest they desperately need.

My sleep has been more physical, just recovering from surgery and lots of stress. That kind of fatigue is important to respond to, but these women are tired in a much deeper, wide-reaching way. Send prayers for us as we begin our work together that the outcome will be much more significant than a clean apartment. This feels more like a ministry. I’m so glad for the opportunity!


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It’s Just Stuff…Right?

One of my businesses is called “Less Mess, Less Stress.” My “nickname” on my business cards is “The Clutter Cleaner.” I’ve been doing organizing for several years, but I don’t really advertise it. Usually I get someone by word of mouth and have one to two clients a year. It’s relatively physical work so that is just fine with me.

When I first started, it would be what I envisioned- helping people cleaning out that junk room, or maybe cleaning out the garage so you can actually park in it. Then for a while, it became more hoarding or condemned houses. Sometimes I would have to hire an entire crew and we would literally have to shovel the house out. The latest psychology diagnostic manual now actually has a diagnosis for hoarding. It has probably always been around, but now there is much more exposure.

I always say that this job overlaps quite a bit with my counseling profession. First of all, people’s relationship to their belongings is very emotional. Especially when there is grief involved, my counseling skills come in handy. Then there are the people who go beyond a bit of clutter. Often times their relationship is connected to something so much deeper. Even for myself, I say only half-kidding that I put my own disease to good use. I don’t actually have OCD, but I do have some traits. Organizing is an excellent outlet for that so I find a way to make it a strength.

I’ve been asked to speak on this topic a few times as well. One of my favorites was with the Buffalo marital attorney’s group. How ironic that a couple’s counselor was asked to talk to divorce lawyers. But not as a counselor, as an organizer. A poetic moment. Anyhow, I say that if you hire me, you will love your space (whatever it is you are working on) when I am finished. You probably will hate me, but you will love your house.

It is my job to help people let go of things. The vast majority of Americans need to downsize. You don’t need more space, you need less stuff. One of my sayings that I think is typically accurate.

Recently, we’ve been helping my dad make the big decision about when it is time to live in a smaller place where there isn’t so much upkeep. It’s not only a decision about housing, but about aging. Which is always about acceptance. And aging is about approaching death as well. Which is also about acceptance. It’s emotional for Dad, but also for all us kids too.

After months of no, no, no, Dad has decided he’s ready to move. And when he is ready, he means now. We have been trying to sell the house, find him a new place, downsize his belongings, and everything in between. Life has been a bit crazy. Some of the most fun times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and reminiscing about whatever. And some of the most tense times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and disagreeing whole heartedly about how to help Dad make the shift.

That’s where I have to remember I’m a daughter before an organizer. No one in my family has hired me to take this on. But I’m used to doing it so sometimes I get a little bit bossy. But I also think that initially Dad (like all of us) needed a little nudging to move forward. Now there is no stopping him and the rest of us can’t keep up. It has been interesting to observe how he has changed over the years. My niece has been gone over 15 years. My mom has been gone nine years. Tim has been gone over five. That doesn’t even seem possible.

Over the years we have gone through various memories and belongings and initially- and even for years- so many things were untouchable. They were sacred. No one could bear to part with anything. Just looking at things would cause us to tear up or have moments of actual crying. Now time has gone by. I ask Dad about certain things and he looks at me like, “Why would I want that?” I know without a doubt that he still deeply misses and loves all those people he has lost. But he is moving on. I want to be that way too. We don’t need boxes of things and pictures galore to remember our loved ones. I see it as growth and it’s healthy. After all, it’s just stuff, right? Well, that all depends on what year you are asking!


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Just When You Think You Know Someone…

Last week I went to Chicago for a couple of days. My friend, Ann asked me to come and help her organize her papers/files. I got hit hard with a sinus headache and was in bed for a couple of days. I reluctantly went to the doc because I was pretty certain she was going to tell me I had to cancel the trip. Part of me wouldn’t have minded because I felt so awful.

Instead, she said that knowing me, my soul probably needed my friends and so she decided to shoot me up with steroids. I was skeptical because I couldn’t imagine feeling good enough to fly in less than 12 hours, but I should have known better than to doubt Grace. Holy crap! I love steroids!!

I really do appreciate that the airlines keep us safe, but honestly, what a pain in the rear. It is hard enough to get up early and arrive at the airport before 7 AM. But then, you have to basically start all over. Put your luggage down and pull out your boarding pass and driver’s license. Take your laptop out of your bag. Take your shoes off. (When you are wearing the hiking sneakers the doc insists you wear, that is no small task.) Take off your coat. By the time you are done, you have about 12 of those gray baskets with all your stuff in it. Then what? Reverse it all. Pack your laptop again. Put your shoes back on. (When you are wearing the hiking sneaks the doc insists you wear, that is no small task.) Put your coat back on. Arrange your purse, computer bag, and luggage so you can carry it all by yourself.

Last time I flew, I didn’t take my computer and I regretted it. I learned my lesson. I had a much shorter flight this time, but I wasn’t going to be bored. Besides, I got an email that said my flight had free Wi Fi so I was going to get a lot of work done. I boarded and asked the flight attendant and she looked confused. She didn’t know anything about that. Of course not. Why would they want to promote the free internet service? Now I have to find that damn email.

So I sit in my little seat and the plane is full. No elbow room. No spreading out. I swear, if anyone had videotaped me, I could have won on America’s Funniest Videos. I am already a clutz by nature without even trying. I set up my computer and look for that email. I was going to enjoy proving the staff wrong. Oops. Upon more careful reading, my bad. Free TV. Ha ha. Joke is on me. I decided to take the leap and pay the 8 bucks for the internet service anyway. I had counted on getting a lot of work done.

A notebook computer takes up the entire space of a small tray table. Where am I going to put the mouse? Very, very carefully on the edge. My computer bag takes up the space under the seat in front of me so I put my purse under my seat. Well, the guy behind me didn’t like that so he asked me to move it. I was cursing him under my breath. I finally get settled and the flight attendant says I have to put everything away until take off. Crap. Just let getting dressed and undressed at the airport. Put everything away.

Once I get re-settled again, I realize that I need my glasses. I’m blind as a bat now without my cheaters. No problem. I carry them in my purse. So I awkardly move the laptop to grab my purse. Ha ha. I forgot I had to move it so I grabbed that guy’s feet instead. I found out he wasn’t so bad because he and his wife and I had a pretty good laugh about the thrill I gave him.

Get re-settled. I figure out I need paper and pen. Also in my purse. What a fiasco. So now I have my glasses, laptop, mouse and pad, pen and paper, all in a two-inch space in front of me. Ridiculous. I’m a trooper though, and I manage it all. That is, until I drop the mouse under the seat in front on me. Soooooooooo stupid. Set all that stuff on my seat so I can crawl around on my hands and knees to find it, and created another round of laughter from everyone around me. Glad I could entertain them.

All in all, I did get a pretty good amount of work done, but holy cow. What a comedy of errors. It culminated in my trying to get off the plane without remembering to unbuckle my seatbelt. Amusement for all.

Ann and I got a lot of work done. We’ve been friends for years and years. But I tell you what, you learn a lot about a person when you go through their files. More than you want to know, sometimes. The best part was uncovering over $200 in cash she didn’t know she had. She promptly insisted on playing for my plane fare, which was awesome. But then, there was the color photographs of her colonoscopy that fit in the TMI category. Her husband’s esophagus wasn’t much better… lol!

I did get to go to an Ethiopian restaurant with my former boss and friend. I am not very adventurous with my food, but I had to admit it was extremely tasty. 20141023_193146

I was telling Ann’s husband about it and he says in the most straight-faced, serious manner, “I didn’t think they had food in Ethiopia. Why the hell are we sending them all that food?” Talking to my friend on the phone later, he also had a quick-witted response of, “Were you still hungry when you left?” All joking aside, it was great.

All too soon it was time to go back home. Ann dropped me off, and I couldn’t believe my luck. I got picked to go in the pre-check line. I mean, that never happens to me. I thought I was in heaven. And just to emphasize how lucky you are, they remind you the whole time you are in that short line. “Leave your laptops in your bag.” “Keep your shoes and jackets on.” “Keep your cell phones in your purse.” Life was sweet… until I realized that I forgot my cell phone in Ann’s car. Oh ****!

This really nice, young girl offers to give me her cell. I was momentarily stumped when I realize I have no idea what Ann’s number is because of course, it is listed in my cell. Then, thank God, I remembered to just call my own phone. She answered and said, “I’m turning around now!” All the way out of the airport and back to the curb.

Do you think I got lucky enough the second time to go in the pre-check line? Nope. I just had to laugh as I took off my damn shoes, unpacked my laptop, and blah blah blah. By the way, I decided to sleep on the ride home. No juggling this time :).

I’m ready for the next trip. Anyone wanna travel with me?