Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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More Ally McBeal

I’m starting my last season of Ally McThiel. Oops, I mean McBeal. The second to last season is the one with Robert Downey, Jr.. It’s so sad because the childhood love of her life (Billy) dies, and then she meets Robert Downey, Jr. (Larry) and they seem so perfect for each other. I’ve seen the series before so I knew what was coming.

Larry is planning on proposing to Ally, so he starts acting weird. Ally notices his odd behaviors and thinks it is because Larry is planning his exit. She knows that Larry is scared to death of being close to someone, so she erroneously misreads his intentions. Larry gives the engagement ring to a waiter, who stupidly puts it in the wrong dessert and delivers it to the wrong table. (Just added fun fact: that table is a couple where the guy IS trying to break up with the girl. Big oops on both counts.) Larry decides it’s an omen and then does, indeed, leave Ally.

Now, some may watch the show and criticize Ally for assuming the wrong thing. I don’t criticize her at all. She is astute to know that his behavior is noticeably off. If Larry had the ability to communicate with her, she would not have misread it. And in the end? She was correct. He did leave her. He was unable to sustain intimacy.

In an earlier episode, Ally talks on her birthday about how she has dealt with loneliness as one of her most gut-wrenching struggles throughout her life. She made a statement that struck me as I’ve heard other of my married friends say it before. She said being WITH someone and still being lonely, is much, much worse. It’s a whole other level of lonely.

In discussing the show with someone, I made the comment about Larry’s intolerance of intimacy. That really took my friend by surprise because he had never heard that expression before. Unfortunately, both professionally and personally it is a concept I am quite familiar with. Sometimes, no matter what the heart wants, a person (man or woman) finds they cannot sustain intimacy for long periods of time. You can protect yourself from intimacy in a number of ways.

Probably the easiest is to select partners (usually unconsciously) that also can’t tolerate intimacy. There might be lots of built-in ways to keep enough distance. Maybe it’s a job where you travel a lot. Maybe the person emotionally withdraws. But if you stumble upon a partner that IS capable of intimacy, in spite of thinking you have wanted that your whole life, you may sabotage the relationship because you just can’t sustain the closeness. It triggers too much fear.

Anyhow, I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this (seems to be a theme in my blogs lately) but suffice it to say that even on the second run, I still get Ally McBeal. I get what it means to be in a relationship and still be lonely. I get what it means to taste love and then watch it disappear. I understand her. She’s certainly not perfect, but I understand her sad (yet happy), quirky, clumsy self. I get it in my forties as much as I did in my thirties (or was it my twenties?).

Larry made a big mistake walking away. Just saying.


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Patience

Patience is a virtue. Not sure who came up with that. Google has a variety of explanations offered as to where the phrase originated. I’ve certainly heard it all my life. And most of my adult life I have possessed the self-awareness to know that patience is definitely not one of my better virtues. My passion is often at odds with my patience. True to my nature though, I try to remember that and keep my patience in check when life calls on me to do so.

If you follow my blog, you have probably read a thousand times that I believe everything in life has a plus and a minus, a loss and a gain. Everything. It may not be equal 50/50, but there is an element of both sides. Yes, patience is an admirable quality, but I have also sometimes seen the essence of what it is supposed to be misused. Not everything requires patience. Sometimes asking people to have patience is a fancy excuse for bad behavior.

I took the plunge a couple of months ago (after a two-year break) and attempted to be in a relationship again. The ironic thing, was that we both stated several million times how we both hoped at our ages to not have another failed relationship under our belts. Sometimes hoping just isn’t enough.

We had several conversations about time. I guess when you think about it, time is related to patience. When is the right time for this or that? When is something too early? Or premature? As a relationship counselor, I get asked some of those questions frequently. I’ve watched many friends navigate questions like this while dating. And as a divorced woman, then as a widow, I’ve certainly had my own share of personal experiences to draw from. Like most things in my life, the older I get, I find there are less and less formulas and “right” answers to draw from. People live their lives in various ways. I’ve blogged about that before. The raw truth is, most relationships end. Most people don’t marry the first person they date. Lots of daters stop before they make a permanent commitment. Eventually, some find the person they want to “spend the rest of their life with.” So it’s impossible to decide what is the “right formula” to make a relationship work. Countless numbers of people approach time and pace differently. The statistics are the same for however people approach time in their relationship. Most of them end, some eventually find their lifetime significant other.

Wow, I can really go off on a tangent sometimes. I think that is relevant, but not the point I was making.

It’s my opinion (professionally and personally) that while there are some things we need to make allowances for (absolutely NO ONE is perfect!) and while there are some things that have to be developed over time between two people, there are also things that should be in place before a person really should be in the relationship at all. Asking a person to “be patient” for things most would consider to be just common respect or basic manners, does not seem appropriate to me. That’s not about patience at all.

Expectations becomes a dirty word in psychology sometimes, but I really have rejected that in my own life and in my practice. To me, expectations are part of the human condition. No one is truly capable of being void of expectations. The more healthy question is, are my expectations reasonable? Fair? And again, sometimes the answer to that question can change based on how long the relationship has been existent. And again, sometimes the length of time is irrelevant. Some expectations are reasonable with a total stranger, so how much more reasonable for someone you actually care for?

Anyhow, I don’t really have an end point to this, or a funny story to make you chuckle like I like to do. It’s just some thoughts I’ve been giving a lot of time to lately. In my eyes. From the world according to Darcy. Fortunately though, I’m actually kinda smart about this stuff. Really 🙂


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Madame Secretary

I only watch two TV shows- The Big Bang Theory and Madame Secretary. Pretty opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t usually get to watch either one of them when they air, but “on demand” works fine other than having to sit through the commercials. (Yes, I am the only woman in America that does not have a DVR.)

This morning while Frankie was getting ready for school, I was finishing watching this week’s episode of Madame Secretary. They are all usually pretty riveting, but this one was an especially dangerous story line. There was an explosion I wasn’t expecting so I jumped and let out a small scream. Then I was teary-eyed. Frankie thought it was hilarious. He’s such a guy. “Mom, it’s just a TV character. It’s not real you know.” Simple for him.

He got on the bus and the next ten minutes I full-out cried for the rest of the episode. Didn’t even bother trying not to, I was just so moved by the story and the characters.

I love that show. Mostly, it’s because I love Elizabeth. She is the Secretary of the State. Now I know less than nothing about politics, but I find it fascinating anyhow. The politics are interesting, but the real snag for me is her persona. She is a brilliant- I mean brilliant- kick ass woman. She takes no shit, thinks outside the box, and comes up with solutions that are no less than genious. Yet, she is still somehow completely feminine and warm.

I love her marriage. Her husband is total eye candy. (That never hurts.) But they have the coolest marriage. They are total partners. They can completely disagree sometimes, but most of the time they are on the same page and they back each other.

I love their kids. They have three and one of them is usually in some sort of crisis. But I love watching the five of them mill around the kitchen. In this episode, she was saying goodbye to them. No one but the husband knew that she was going on a dangerous, life-threatening mission. He stood in the corner, watching his wife kiss her kids goodbye, knowing full well that she knew full well that it might be her last interaction with them. It was ridiculously intense.

It was nothing crazy. But the way they walk by their kids and just touch them, the way they can give them a hug… I’m so incredibly jealous. I wonder if Frankie even has a thought in his mind when he watches a scene like that. I wonder if Colin ever thinks twice about it. Because I do. Our home is NOTHING like that. There is hardly any interaction, no family time, and most certainly no touching or affection. If I even brush up against Frankie, you would honestly think I burned his skin.

Now in a way, this show is so totally unrealistic to 99% of the population. We don’t work in the White House. We don’t work in the CIA. And yet, I feel like I’m totally at home watching them. They all seem so completely normal. Not perfect, because that would just make me mad that another media message is going out to sell the impossible dream. They all fight, have conflict, etc.. But at the end of the day, you totally respect the adults, and their kids respect them too.

This particular episode, our heroine survives (of course!) but what was moving was watching all of the different characters see her come safely home. There were no words, just music. But words weren’t needed. Her beloved staff sank into relief. Her husband gets the phone call that she is safe and he breaks down sobbing with his kids. Shit. I’m crying again, writing about it.

There are lots of good people in the show. She isn’t the only one. But seeing the impact she has on everyone around her, knowing how highly respected she is, knowing how deeply loved she is- she is a worthy heroine to me.

I think that is why I love it. In one way, it touches a deep sadness inside of me. But in another, it makes me want to keep fighting. Damn it, that is possible. And I want it. A truly loving partner, kids that love me, the respect of my co-workers and peers. Knowing I make an impact on the world. I may not ever get it, or maybe just not all of it, but I’m going to go down trying! That’s the kind of woman I aspire to be, the kind of life I seek to have.

Great show… you should watch it.


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Knights in Shining Armor

This week’s blog is inspired by a comment that was made on my last blog “Sisterhood.” The comment was “we can’t believe there’s a knight in shining armor that will come swooping into our lives and take all of our stress away. I think if we believe that, no man will ever have a chance or be capable of providing that to a woman.”

I couldn’t agree more and I thought I had kind of indicated that in my blog about my widow friend. She still grieves and aches, even with a special guy in her life.

One of my strengths is that I’m pretty self-aware and honest about where I am. I can be brutally honest and hard on myself, which then becomes more of a detriment than a strength. Anyhow, throughout my life in my quest to experience love, I generally haven’t suffered from looking for Mr. Perfect. I’m relatively realistic about people and relationships. I have no misguided aspirations of someone swooping in and I certainly have no vision of having a stress free life. If there isn’t a man in my life, it isn’t because I have held up impossible standards that no man could possibly live up to.

Having said that, it is possible for a loving man to relieve some stress though, and most particularly the stress of loneliness. When examining many of the failed relationships I’ve had throughout my life, and especially those since Tim’s death, there are always those “hindsight is 20/20” things that stand out. For Frankie, there are two that stand out to him and every once in a blue moon he opens up about them.

The first man who touched his life, was the first guy that I dated after Tim’s death. Here is how some of that conversation goes. “Frankie, he definitely loved you. The two of you had a great relationship and he was really good to you. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good to me. As much as I loved him for you, I couldn’t stay with him for that reason.”

Then there is guy number two. He was only around six short weeks, but they were powerful ones. That conversation goes a little differently. “Frankie, he definitely cared about you. You had a great relationship with him and with his son. He was good to me, too. He fit in with our family almost perfectly. But he left us. We don’t really know or understand why, but he didn’t stay with us.”

Other conversations with Frankie reveal more of the pain he feels. He talks about how he doesn’t want to know anyone, male or female, because people just end up leaving. That’s when I want to punch that guy. No one can blame someone for not wanting to stay in a situation they are unhappy in. No matter how happy Frankie and I were, I would have never wanted someone to stay with us that didn’t want to be with us. However, there are better ways to leave than others.

In reality, he was like that knight in shining armor. Not because we were living in an unrealistic cloud nine state. Things were just smooth and they fit. We felt grounded. I experienced contentment, possibly for the first time ever. The problem I have, is not having a clue as to why he left. And even more bizarre to me is there was no attempt to try to correct whatever it was that was bothering him. He just ran. No real explanation. No real goodbye. But even worse, there was no goodbye to Frankie. There was no goodbye between Frankie and his son. His son was probably fine with it. But then his son has a living father and mother.

That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable standard to have for someone. Is that not something that a man should be capable of providing for a woman? If you are going to enter into our lives, then at least have the decency to leave with some sort of closure. After what Frankie and I have been through, a loss like that was cruel.

In my mind, the knight in shining armor became much more like the cowardly lion. How disappointing.


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A Day in My Life…

On Monday, I noticed an odd spot on my breast. Looked like a bruise, but then not quite. I went to my friend’s house who is a breast cancer survivor and asked if I could show her. (I can’t imagine men being comfortable showing each other a concern- ha ha!) She thought it was strange but was more concerned whether there was a lump. We were both unhappy to discover there was a very distinct lump. She told me a few reasons why it probably wasn’t anything serious, but I definitely should call the doctor in the morning. The rest of the day it was in the back of my mind (of course), but I managed to keep it at bay knowing it was probably not serious.

Tuesday morning, I called the doctor first thing. They fit me in early afternoon. I had my usual full day ahead of me so the first couple of hours I just pushed along. Then I went in the hot tub to try to relax a bit before my clients started coming. I started to get that panicky feeling and my breathing was getting choppy. I talked to dear Summer, knowing she would give me a rational smack in the head and I would be fine. Instead, the flood gates opened. I was scared. Really, really scared. She offered to go to the appointment with me. In between sobs, I told her that wasn’t necessary and I knew she was as busy as I was. But of course she came and of course I needed her.

I had to pull it together to keep working until my appointment, but between clients I was bombarded with thoughts and fears. To be fair, they really weren’t irrational. I know better than most that a simple, small thing can alter your life forever. My first thought was Frankie. This just couldn’t possibly be anything because that 11-year-old kid couldn’t possibly be asked to have no parents at all. Even if I could be treated and beat it, that poor boy does not need to endure watching the process all over again. Treatments, vomiting, schedules being thrown out the window. Watching someone visibly change who is supposed to be your tower of strength. He just can’t be asked to do that again, right?

Then I started thinking about my life in the last couple of weeks. I have been re-evaluating my life very intently because I have been working too hard. I have been burning the candle at both ends. I have been exhausted at the end of every night and know I can’t keep it up. I have been trying to make changes, but have struggled with what changes to even make. And then I really panicked. Holy shit! What if the universe/God has been on my case about it because I need to make room for treatment? Is that what this has really been about? Summer and I were just talking this weekend about how with all the interactions we have with people, if we ever got cancer, we wouldn’t go to Roswell (our local cancer hospital). That would mean regular trips to PA or Ohio. Overwhelming thought. Breathing is getting tough again.

I take a shower before I go to the doctor. While I am in there, another related thought crosses my mind. I absolutely know what it takes to fight cancer. I know the stamina you need. I know that a positive attitude is mandatory for success. I know that I have to muster up the strength that I know I possess and I will have to figure out how to access it. And then I found myself sitting in the shower seat sobbing, just like the day I found Tim in there when his daughter came to surprise him for Father’s Day. Because I knew that I just couldn’t do it. I’m too depleted. I will end up dying because I’m not the woman I was before taking care of my terminal husband. Even though it has been three years, I’ve not recovered.

I know my friends will shore me up. I know it. But Christ, Frankie won’t even have a step-father who loves him after I’m gone. Tim’s kids had me and I don’t love them any less since he has been gone. I know that Tim had peace about that. I failed Frankie in that respect. Utterly failed.

Brigette was home with a sick child, but she kept in touch with texts. She told me she didn’t remember the last time she prayed as hard as she was praying for me.

We arrived at the doc’s. I love Dr. Grace. Tell her everything, trust her implicitly. She looks at my mark and looks puzzled. She hasn’t ever really seen anything like it before. (Why does that always happen to me? I’m always like a freak show for doctors!) BUT… she knows it definitely does NOT look like cancer. I love her because I never have to explain anything to her because she remembers every detail of my life. She thanks me for not waiting and says she is grateful she can trust that I won’t mess around with anything medically. And without being told, she knows it is because I can’t possibly take risks because Frankie needs me. She is glad I get that all on my own and she doesn’t have to pound it into my head. Even though I feel better after seeing her, she promises me by the end of business day I will have answers. She works her magic and I am able to leave her office and go directly to the radiology center.

Off we go. First the mammogram. You know the drill, ladies. First set of pictures and then you sit in the waiting room. As suspected, I get called back for more. Now they see something in the other breast they are also concerned about. Great. She has to smoosh them further for the second set. Then they ask you to hold your breath while they take the image. I try until I finally gasp because the pain is too much. She tells me ever so nicely that she hopes she doesn’t have to retake them because I yelled out.

I go back in the waiting room and tell Summer I can’t believe with all our modern medicine we haven’t figured out anything better than putting our delicate breasts into a vice grip. She laughs and tells me if men had boobs, there would have been an answer years ago. I laugh at that. (Yes, Gary, I admit that is a sexist comment, but cut me some slack!)

Next the sonogram. She tells me she thinks it is a cyst. Doesn’t know why or how it would get there, but possibly it was pinched somehow. Phew.

I tell my step-son Colin about my day. He just looks at me. I told him that I didn’t think our family could go through it again. I told him I didn’t think we would be able to pull off the great job we did with his dad this time. He just nodded his head.

Later, my doc’s office calls and say they agree it’s a cyst. They want me to put the hottest compresses I can stand on it, as many times a day as I can manage it. (Apparently they don’t know I am already burning the candle at both ends and don’t even make time to eat half the time!) If it doesn’t go away in a month, then I have to see a surgeon. Bottom line is, it may not be cancer, but it is still not right and not supposed to be there.

So I spent the night rejoicing. I spent the rest of the night being super grateful that I don’t have cancer.

Wrong.

I spent the night continuing to have a hard time breathing. Being the lucky woman I am, (no, that is NOT sarcasm) male and female friends called to check on me or just to say hello (because they didn’t know what was going on). And every time I said hello, I would burst into tears again. I wanted to be happy, but I felt like a wrung out dish rag.

Everyone got it. No one judged me. They all told me that my fear was perfectly logical, understand, reasonable, not irrational. My daughter Emily called me about 10 PM and we talked til after midnight. She told me that if I ever got diagnosed, she would move up here and help take care of me. She said she didn’t do that for her dad but she would do it this time. I read between the lines and thought she must have regrets about that with her dad. I made a mental note to talk to her in the near future because I don’t want her to be plagued with that.

I watched a movie recently. The girl looked at the guy and said something like, “You weren’t there when I needed you. In the end, that’s all relationships are. It’s being there for the big stuff.” I thought it was an excellent summation. I’m lucky enough to have people who ARE there. Summer left work to go with me because she got it. Anyone who happened to know I was worried about a lump would have done what they could to support me because they get it. If you lived through Tim’s cancer with us, or if you read the book afterward, you get it. If you love me, if you know how to feel compassion, you are there by my side.

Today is a new day. Now I am starting to feel that relief I thought I would feel last night. Today I am breathing easier and emotionally feel the gratefulness I understood intellectually yesterday. Again, thanks to my amazing support system. You know who you are. And for those of you who are reading and wondering why I didn’t tell you, don’t. It all happened fast so don’t be mad at me :).

I wonder what today will bring?


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Can People Really Change?

You know that old joke. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change. Yep. It’s true.

People talk about this a lot. I hear conversations and debates every so often on this topic and found myself in one just this week. Most people say that people don’t really change. Not really. At least not the core parts of themselves. Part of me agrees with that. But a bigger part of me has to disagree with that. I couldn’t be a therapist if I didn’t believe people could change. My biggest argument is always Tim. He changed significantly at the end of his life. It was facing a terminal illness that rocked our worlds, but he (we) definitely changed.

When it comes to being a significant other, I always thought it would be a really great honor to be the catalyst for someone else’s changes for the better. Have you ever heard people testify about how their partner’s patient love eventually broke through? I think I can think of some examples of couples I’ve helped changed for the better as a professional. That’s pretty humbling and amazing to witness. But as for the personal relationships? I’ve not experienced that one yet in my life.

I met a guy who knew himself pretty well and was very honest about what he was looking for. You do your thing, I will do mine. We can hang out. But no close relationship. Not interested, don’t expect it. I knew if I chose to date him, I would have no one to blame but myself if I got my heart broken. I did fall for him. I did get my heart broken, but it was a very short encounter. We stayed friends and we would have a drink and chat every once in a while. We would have the same kind of conversation about his philosophy of life and relationships. Two weeks after one such talk, I received a text that he was “officially with another.” We talked and he told me he fell hard for someone. Got swept off his feet. I had to admit, ouch! Someone broke through. It wasn’t me, but he changed. 

I met another guy who was also reserved and doubtful of ever being able to trust again. I was skeptical that his marriage was all he claimed it to be, but eventually when I met his family, they confirmed what a loving husband he had been for many years. His abrupt divorce was traumatic for him and he just never recovered. He changed. So could love open him up again? Change him back? I don’t know. I know that I wasn’t that person in his life. We also have remained friends and he has been dating someone new. His heart doesn’t seem to have melted though. Not such a big ouch, but still sad.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my friend’s boyfriend. Really nice guy. He told me that after his last significant loss, he developed a mindset of not wanting to be close to anyone again. He was going to be selfish, just do the things he wanted to do, not answer to anyone, blah, blah, blah. Then he met my friend. He told me without any embarrassment that she stripped that all away without even trying to. He loves her and she has changed his life. He changed. My friend is a great woman so he is absolutely right about her. I wonder how it makes her feel to be that kind of positive catalyst in someone’s life. I can only imagine how deeply satisfying that probably feels.

Now most men would say that is about power and control. Most men resist being influenced by women because their sense of independence is crucial to them. It’s brought up over and over again in the therapy room. In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest misunderstandings between genders of all time. Most women are not motivated by power or control. We just want connection. Intimacy. We love to see the men we love happy. There is nothing better than being the one that can put a smile on your lover’s face. Nothing. It is NOT about controlling their time, energy or finances. It is about being loved. Wanted. Chosen. CHOSEN. Desired.

I will continue to be proud of the work I do helping other couples. I don’t know if I will ever experience that kind of thing in my personal life. It may just not be what is meant to be for me. Maybe it’s just not my path. But I will keep looking for light bulbs that want to change and put my energy there (no pun intended). When I do that, I end up being the one that is changed for the better!Image


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Cold Water in the Face

Life has been busy. My clients have required a little extra T.L.C. (meaning more phone calls between sessions, collaboration with parents, psychologists, addiction specialists, schedule changes, etc.), all of which I absolutely don’t mind. But it’s funny how it seems to come in waves.

Then add in repairing/painting the kitchen. You know how house projects are. Way more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming than you originally imagined. Dry wall dust everywhere. People in your house morning, afternoon, evening. All your regular up-keep is shot to hell. Feeling a bit guilty that everyone else has also turned their lives upside down to help you.

A dear friend who is depressed and struggling with so much. I’m not doing much to help.

And just normal life working, parenting, church…

You might have read last week that I had a chance to be on the radio. Slightly under five minutes of air time, but a wait of over 80 minutes to get that. There are times when my house is a circus and last week was one of them. My dad was here because it was Wednesday. Colin and Frankie were here because, well, they live here. My boyfriend’s roommate was here because he was working on the kitchen walls. My graphic artist was here because we were working on my daughter’s book. Then my client and his son arrive because, well, they had an appointment.

Are you keeping track of how many men that is? A whole house full of them. I was still on hold, thinking I would be on any second and it was an excellent chance to talk about death/dying. And let’s face it. It was a great chance to promote the book.

So my clients came into the kitchen and waited with us on hold. Any second turned into minutes. The entire hour of their session they sat and waited. I asked them if they could come back same time next week and they said, “Sure.” I told them I’d give them a freebie for all their trouble. Now I wouldn’t get away with that with just any clients. These guys? I’ve seen them (there is another son as well) since 2002. Twelve years. We’ve known each other a very long time.

Yesterday comes and again my house is a circus. Then I get a call and everything stops and spins.

My client’s son calls me, I assume to confirm their appointment. He calmly tells me that his father, barely over 50 years old, died the night before. Just out doing yard work with his boys, feels sick, starts vomiting, and falls. They call 911. They run tests. They say he has blood on his brain. He dies a few hours later.

WHAT??? I am in shock. I start sobbing. I tell him I know I’m the therapist but he is doing fantastic handling things and I am falling apart. He says quietly, “I know, it’s ok.” Thankfully, someone who loves me is here in my kitchen when I hang up. He asks, “What can I do?” I tell him exactly what he is doing. Just keep hugging me and let me cry.

I know this song and drill far too well. Yet I still get shocked. And I start second guessing myself.

I missed my last session with this guy to advance my career. I know that it’s not necessary to guilt myself but I feel terrible anyway. But then I remember my career is about helping others and I feel a little less bad. Then I talk to my artist and he reminds me that we had a great time together on hold for that hour. We laughed together and enjoyed ourselves. He said that was probably a much better way to spend an hour together than talking about problems. I feel a lot less bad now.

I’m still up most of the night. With all my lecturing and speaking and writing, did I ever think to discuss end of life issues with this particular family? I can’t remember. This is a family that has dealt with extreme loss. Did he have a will? Life insurance? What are his two sons going to do on their own? Do they know what his wishes are?

Regrets. Worry. Caring. Wondering. Caring deeply. Love. That’s what’s important. Talk about it all the time. I mean, all the time. But it still is a splash of cold water in the face. Life is fleeting. We are mortal. Try to make the most of every moment. Really!