Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Successful Failure

Recently, I went to two different professionals for assistance in dealing with the after math of my daughter’s situation. Specifically, I want to know how to handle it when you have given something your all. I mean, you have really gone beyond the call of duty, done more than most people could have possibly done. But… you were still ineffective. In spite of all your knowledge, your fierce heart, and your relentless pursuit, you still weren’t able to make things happen the way they should have happened. Even though I know I was up against a system larger than life and broken to the core, I still felt like a failure. How do you accept defeat?

The first person I talked to was my first spiritual director. Her “stance” was to assume (without knowing many details) that because of my intensity, I probably offended people and overwhelmed them. She said my kids may have asked for my help, but they were probably not prepared for the tsunami that they received. Yes, she actually compared me to a tsunami. Now when I hear that word, I don’t think of anything good. I think of brutal destruction, devastation and death. Holy shit. Could that be my problem? I left with an even heavier heart than I came in with.

Thank goodness I had my session the next day with good ‘ol Scott, my therapist of 15 years. Some may same it’s time to make a change. I vehemently disagree. He not only knows me, but he knows my husband and my children. And he has seen me interact with them dozens of times, even under great distress. I trust his opinion, which is very informed and well-rounded.

Scott said that in no uncertain terms, has he ever experienced me like a tsunami. Even when the other party deserved that kind of response. I show remarkable restraint and patience and seek solutions whenever possible. I’m intense all right, but it’s internal mostly. I am incredibly hard on myself and feel deeply and passionately, which makes me try that 120% when others give up long before that.

Then he gave me something to wrap my head around. He said when he thinks of all that has happened in Georgia with my daughter and her “treatment team” (I use that term loosely), he is reminded of the movie Apollo 13. He said that mission was a failure. No one landed on the moon. Objectives not met. But the fact that everyone came back home alive, was nothing short of a miracle. It was the tenacity and intelligence and passion of a group that never gave up that brought them all home. THAT IS A SUCCESSFUL FAILURE. While the ultimate goal was not reached, those men should be proud as hell of their success.

I’ve thought about that a thousand times since my session and it has helped tremendously. While my daughter is now (in my opinion) mis-diagnosed, on the wrong medicine, cycling through mood swings and symptoms, and yet another medical professional has informed her that her mother is a pain in the butt… and every professional “helping” her has refused to talk with me in spite of her signed release, I can’t consider myself an utter failure. Yes, I was hoping to change the course of her treatment and thus change the quality of her life and my grandchildren’s. That objective was an utter failure.

But damn it, I gave it my best shot. And my best shot is pretty remarkable by most people’s standards. And maybe someone else will be helped by my blogs. And most importantly, my grandson is seeing a counselor at his school. She emails me every week and lets me know how he is. She delivers messages between us and he is now in a self-esteem group which he desperately needs.

SO THERE. I am a successful failure. And I’m slowly becoming ok with that, maybe even proud.

P.S. I politely resigned from spiritual direction. I think I will stick with my beloved Scott.


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Snow and Sports, Part 2

“Just have to ask the question. You own a business and I’m sure you weren’t sitting back hoping someone would find people to come and dig you out correct? The Bills are a business, and if you think they, the corner bar, or Walmart are going to wait for the snow to disappear so they can resume business that’s crazy. This was a business decision by a very successful business man. We all know that when Buffalo has a storm like this, they pick themselves up, brush it off, and move on. This is a big sports town so I’m sure the majority of people were happy to see this progress”

This comment was made on my post from last week. While I welcome divergent opinions, this one inspired some more thoughts. So thanks for the inspiration, Steve.

First, it made me question my ability as a writer because I had to wonder how my point got missed. I will try again.

When you talk about any concept, there are complexities and it is impossible to cover all of them. But I think it is ok to talk in generalities to get the overarching point across.

I think there is something wrong when “successful business” practice involves ignoring much larger values. When “resuming business” (which is mostly about making money) puts human lives at stake, I have a problem with that. THERE WAS A DRIVING BAN. And the driving ban was in place because it was dangerous to be out on the road. People were actually buried alive out there. Literally.

Secondly, it is my personal opinion, that when it comes to priorities, there were much more serious and valuable reasons to enlist people’s help than a football game. It was in poor taste. Based on the official statements made by some of our executives, I think they agreed.

Yes, I own a business. Let me remind you what that means. No sick days, no personal days, no vacation days. Just a week of lost income. An entire week. That comes during a year when I had $5,000 stolen from my home. And I am always a single mom trying to manage it all.

At one time you knew me very well, Steve. You would also know that I would have NEVER asked anyone to help me “resume business” at any risk to themselves. Ever. And once we were able to clean up here, it was a community effort. I was just as worried about my neighbors and we all worked together. My step-son and I reached out to help others who were sick and everyone else as well. And they helped us.

One of my friends shoveled for five days at his place of employment, then came to my house and helped me shovel my roof. After we were done, his hands were literally shaking from fatigue. He struggles to make ends meet every day of his life. If anyone needs money, he does. But when he was finished with his work shifts, I guarantee you his choice would not have been to pick up more hours shoveling out the stadium. His choice was to help a friend in need.

Your comments were exactly my point. Thank God a lot of people disagree with you. There are a lot more important things in life than taking care of your self. Especially when you are billion dollar industry and could actually afford to think of other people. Big f*****g deal that he’s a successful business man. By your definition, I would happily be a failure.


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Good Stuff Happening

It’s been a good week. In spite of the cold!!

Last week I received flowers and chocolates from the group in Indiana that stayed at my house during the blizzard. What a lovely surprise. I have been receiving emails and posts from grateful parents. The warm buzz has continued.

Last Saturday, I was invited to the Nardin Academy’s Relay for Life. It was held at the Burt Fleckinger Center downtown. What a lovely event it was. The majority of the people were older teen girls. I was terribly impressed with the depth and warmth with which they displayed themselves.

There was karaoke and dancing. That was fun. But then the evening ends with the Luminaria service. There were at least a dozen young ladies lined up on the gym floor, along with myself and the other speaker. Each one of them has had a close encounter with terminal illness and/or death. Each one of them. At age 18 or younger. And each one of them wants to do something positive to fight back.

The biggest hero of the night was the last speaker. She is a junior at Hobart College and was a graduate of Nardin Academy. She is also a cancer survivor. At barely 20. She had a delightful, calm and gentle spirit. She told me that this was the first time she had ever spoken in public about her illness. She was a champ. She was the hero among many other heroes that night. It was truly a privilege to be a part of it.

Yesterday I was able to be on the air for just under five minutes on Tom Bauerle’s show. I was clued in by a former client who contacted me. It was a quick chat, but he has promised to visit my site and consider putting links on his. I am looking forward to working with him in the future.

The sun is shining today. It’s still cold as heck, but it seems promising out. I was put on the spot yesterday on the radio about where I am at three years later. There was much to say but little time to say it. I would have to say, life is still bitter and sweet. Life has it’s tough times. There are still times when my heart aches. But there is much, much sweet.

I still have amazing people in my life. While I already have more than one person deserves, I have new people in my life too. People that love and support me and care and make me smile. Honestly, who could ask for more?


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Blizzard Bliss

I’ve been pretty cranky lately, just want to sleep and complain. I think it’s common these days with all the cold, snow and lack of sunshine. Then we get news of a coming blizzard. Great. Good things come in strange packages sometimes and this time God used a blizzard to knock some sense into me.

For those of you that read “Bitter and Sweet,” you may remember Ann, who wrote some journal entries for us when Tim was in the hospital. I also talked about going to Chicago to see her after Tim got diagnosed. Anyhow, Ann and her son were taking a trip from Indiana to Troy, NY (near Albany) for a robotics competition. We don’t get to see each other very often so we were trying to figure out a way to work in a Buffalo stop. The problem was, there were sixteen other teenagers and eleven other adults on this trip as well. I am just crazy enough to offer to fit 29 people in my house for an overnight if needed. However, the group decided to rent a full-sized bus instead which would enable them to drive straight through so the suggestion was dropped.

Fast forward to yesterday. Ann and I promised to talk a lot on the phone if we couldn’t see each other so we stayed in touch throughout the day. They were encountering terrible weather and had to stop a few times to keep the windshield wipers going. They witnessed thirteen semi’s and thirteen other vehicles off the side of the Thruway. It was getting scarier. (And what is with the number 13?)

Then my other friend told me that the Thruway was closed off just past Rochester. The blizzard conditions were supposed to continue for several more hours. Suddenly, the idea of them stopping in Buffalo was back on the table. Frankie heard me on the phone and was a bit panicked. Was I kidding? How would he have any peace in the house with that many people in here with us? I told him it probably wouldn’t happen, impolitely called him a “prince” and apologized for disturbing his world.

By 5:00 PM, the decision was made. They were coming! By this time, my mind had changed the number to seventeen people. Probably some sort of unconscious self-protection. Seventeen was crazy enough, so who would have agreed to 29? Well, only 27 of them were total strangers :). Those of you that know me, would know that of course I was crazy enough. In fact, I actually was excited.

I had 90 minutes to spring into action. First, I hit up Colin and Frankie. I asked Frankie if he preferred I find him a sleepover somewhere but he said he could handle it. Good boy! With no notice, they both pitched in. They shoveled the driveway (which they had already done earlier to no avail with the snowfall continuing). They also had to vacuum the entire house- all three floors. There was no way I would want anyone to sleep on those floors. Kudos to the boys for being good sports.

Next, I walk over to the neighbor’s house. I keep thinking that eventually they are just going to lock their doors when they see me coming. I feel like I am always wanting something. I explain the situation and they offer me several blankets, sleeping bags, pads, and a large blow up bed. Of course, I couldn’t figure out the blow up bed so he had to come over and do it for me. Thankfully, he needed to borrow my snow blower so at least we could exchange favors. Just neighbors being good neighbors.

Next, food. For 29 people. Ann loves Metzger’s Pub at the end of my street. She loves their beef on weck. They don’t have that in the mid-west. Half of the stuff in the neighborhood is closed due to the storm. So I drive there and go inside. I speak to the owner. I tell him a bus with 29 people is coming in an hour. Will they stay open and be able to feed them? Sure they will and sure they can! Great!

Next, breakfast food. The closest grocery store is closed. I drive to Aldi’s. It’s not very far away, but it is blizzard conditions on the road and I’m not even sure they will be open. I pull into the parking lot, and I see one of two Aldi’s employees outside. I find out later his name is Eric and he is shoveling some person out who has gotten themselves stuck in the parking lot. I offer to help and he says he will yell if he needs me to push.

I go in the store and try to figure out mentally what I need. Pop, chips and dip. That’s enough snacks. For breakfast, several boxes of cereal and milk. A box of pop tarts for good measure. Cinnamon rolls and a danish. Sausage and ingredients to make French toast. A case of water. We don’t drink coffee at my house, but I assume most adults do so I grab some of that. Orange juice is a good idea.

When I walked in, I had told the only other employee there what I was doing. We were chuckling about what a crazy thing it was to have happen. So I’m in her line and I ask her to think through the menu with me. I’ve done pretty good. Plenty of food, but not over the top.

Then it hits me. Aldi’s only takes cash. Shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Only I probably didn’t say shoot. I am fourteen dollars short. They don’t take credit cards. They do take debit cards. I don’t have one. Oh, but the company does. I quickly run it through my head and think I can use it, but I just won’t mark off the expenses on the business. I scan the card and enter my PIN. It doesn’t work. There is no way I can run home and get back with more money with the roads being the way they were and the time crunch I was under. This young cashier says “That’s ok, I’ve got it covered.” She tells me she thinks it’s very cool that I am helping out a bus full of people and she wants in on the deal. I was shocked. And grateful. I told her I would bring her back the money but she wouldn’t tell me her name. I look at the shoveling machine and he tells me her name is Jackie. I told Jackie she made my heart warm and thanked her for reminding me that people are good.

I paid for my groceries and went to load the car. The next thing I know, Jackie and Eric have both come outside in the continuing blizzard weather to help me load my car. I could have cried. I told them it may be a weird gift, but the only thing I could offer was to give them both a copy of “Bitter and Sweet.” I explained quickly what it was about and that the message was about community and paying it forward and I thought they both embodied that sentiment. They actually seemed excited and impressed that I had written a book.

I drove away embarrassed by all the complaining I’ve done the last few weeks. I called Ann and told her what happened. I knew this was all meant to be. Her group promptly posted it. They had over 860 hits on their site yesterday with people following their trip. It started a lovely flurry of people thanking us for keeping their kids safe and warm and fed.

Up the bus came and they all unloaded into the house. The first woman off the bus asked me if I was an angel. I’ve never met such a great group of people. I kept asking the adults where the real teenagers were. These kids were not like teenagers are supposed to be. There was no attitude, no cockiness. Just super polite and very grateful young men and women who made me feel like gold.

We walked down to dinner where most of the staff had called in due to the weather. (Surprise!) One bartender, one waitress, one cook, and one assistant. Thirty people plus a handful of other customers. It took forever, but all those hungry and weary adults and teens had the best attitude. And do you know what that poor waitress said? She said she wanted me to know that she lived in her mother’s house and it wasn’t hers. But if she was the owner, she would be offering to take half the bus to help out. Another warm moment.

I still can’t figure out how the heck everyone slept here. But everyone did. We were up at 5:30 AM cooking breakfast and the bus pulled out at 7:15. I felt like I had a boatload of new friends. I was the one who got paid back a hundred fold. I sold five books too, which I haven’t done in ages. And they all promised to read the blog and post my book info all over their sites!

We got talking last night and one woman told me about her husband’s physical ailments and his inability to continue working. Their lives have been turned upside down. But she has a mission in life to promote positive community. People in their town try to share responsiblity across the board and help each other out.

One of the teen girls shared with me that her little brother has a tumor. He has had surgery already and is doing chemo. At her young age, she already gets it.

Please, please check out the group’s site. They say they have lots of pictures posted from their adventures here in Buffalo and the rest of their trip. Their site is: http://mcrobotics3936.com/ and their Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/mcrobotics3936. The facebook page has photos of them at our house and posts about their saga getting here. Check them out!

By the way, I went back to Aldi’s today. Eric was working but Jackie was not. I asked to speak to the manager and told her the whole story. Guess what? She wasn’t going to let me pay back the fourteen dollars! I insisted, but I gushed about her employees. She told me how to contact the corporate office, which I did. They were thrilled to hear some positive news!

Remember, there is much, much good in the world.

P.S. Everyone knows now not to ever mess with Ann or I. Obviously we are strongly connected to Mother Nature and She made sure we got together :)!


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Catch 22’s and Other Quandries

I was kind of dreading blogging today. It is the new year and I made all kinds of deals with myself about choosing happiness and choosing to leave the past behind. I really do believe some of that is in our power to choose. So I wanted to blog today about my enthusiasm and the bright start to the new year.

The only problem is, it didn’t quite go as I expected. In spite of my best efforts, I found myself weepy on New Year’s Eve. But it was brief and Frankie and I partied as planned and enjoyed ourselves. New Year’s Day? I had some excellent sessions with clients, but I knew before I went in I could feel my insides breaking down. By 8:00 PM, it overcame me. Sadness, pure and simple. In spite of any choices I attempted to make, the sadness was overwhelming.

My amazing friends supported me like they always do. I got a little snarky (which I don’t always do) but I had myself a full-out cry. Then I talked to another friend and she was able to verbalize some thoughts that helped me wake up this morning with a clearer head. Still some sadness, but not as overwhelming.

I can’t say it was anything particularly new in concept, but it was new words. New phrases. And for whatever reason, that really comforts me. I like when I’m finally able to capture the swirling emotions and label them. And I like it when someone else understands it.

Trying to sort out how a relatively short relationship could have such a tremendous impact on me has been baffling and frustrating to say the least. My friend Grace was able to say some things that hit me square between the eyes. Why is the hole bigger than before? Because I tasted something for the first time in my life. Something that made me feel like “Ah, this is what it is supposed to be. This is home.” She said that no one has ever craved chocolate before they tasted it. It’s knowing what it is that makes you crave it. Now I’ve tasted what I’ve been looking for for so long, so I just want it back, plain and simple. That is why the hole is bigger. Before I was just imagining what life could be like.

This next sentence put a lump in my throat. “The gift you got this Christmas, was loneliness that you never even knew you could feel.” Crap. I’ve felt some pretty intense loneliness before, but I think she was right. Crap. Merry Christmas. That’s quite a gift.

Here’s the next tough concept. “You want it in your life. But the very thing that brought you happiness, brought you intense pain. So you will look for it, but then you will want to run from it. Now that is a nasty Catch 22.” Yep. I think that’s why no matter how many times I reach out, it still feels empty. I wonder how long that will last.

I am smart enough to know that nothing magical happens at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I don’t bother with resolutions anymore. I just try every day to be the best person I can. Sometimes I get in more motivated spurts than others. But I also know I am the captain of my own ship so I was simply going to choose to move on.

I will. I know I will. I always do. But it is going to take a lot more time than anticipated. The standard is now higher than ever. I know what I am looking for and what relationships can feel like. Grace also reminded me that the relationship I had was great because of my contribution to it, not just his. I have had a self-image for so long of being sad and lonely, I wondered sometimes that if happiness slapped me in the face if I would sabotage it or not even recognize it. But I didn’t need to worry. I embraced it when it came. And I could have sustained it. I didn’t create the ending. I have to live with the ending, but I didn’t choose it.

There’s so many more blogs left inside of me about all this philosophical stuff. But for this one, I will just say that every day has to be a possible new start. And if it blows up in my face and I find myself in tears, that is ok too. Because the loss I feel is profound and has a new dimension to it that other losses have not. So I am trying not to be too hard myself, but also choosing to get out of bed every day. I’m trying to smile, but sometimes it just isn’t there. But I will try. I promise.


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Interview Questions Part 2

I’m up at 4 AM and I’m cleaning out my blog page and found this post I never published. It was back from October so here it is:

For those of you that follow the RidingBitch blog, I apologize for the repetition. These are questions I answered on her blog about the process of writing a book. Hope you enjoy!

What has been the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
It feels sometimes like “grief brain” is permanent. So accomplishing anything can be hard on some days, much less a huge project like writing a book. Two things were hard. One thing, were the days when a wave of grief hit. I could talk/write/process for days and even weeks like I was just telling someone else’s story. Then for no reason that I could identify, it would be a crying, grieving day and the subject matter was larger than life. The second part was learning new things. I would have given up at least a trillion times if my dear friend Brigitte wasn’t working with me full time. She does all the research and information finding. She has the patience of a saint coupled with a brilliant mind!

How did you secure publishing?
We have actually “self-published”. First, we had to form a publishing company, which meant forming an LLC. It is called Baby Coop Publishing, LLC. Once you do the research, it’s tedious but not difficult. You fill out forms and then do legal notices in the paper. Total cost is about $350. After that, we did our research (ok, Brigitte did) and came up with what we thought were the best options. Lightning Source is the company that distributes our softcover book. All of the files were downloaded to them. They have certain companies they distribute to, but it’s most of the biggest in the industry. When they get orders, they print and ship. It’s called “print on demand.”
For the ebook versions, we went with a company called Book Baby. We are still in the process of downloading and revising with them. I thought this would be easier, but it has different challenges. Every reader (Nook, Kindle, Kobo, etc.) looks different. So it’s very hard to design something that looks good in every version. We are hoping to have that released within another two weeks.

What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?
My dream was that my book will be useful and helpful to people in the same way that other books helped us. You have listed a bunch of books and what you have gotten out of them- I’d like to be on that list some day  For a person struggling with cancer, they can find inspiration in the way Tim dealt with his illness. For a person handling the tasks of being a caretaker, it is full of helpful ideas of how to be a patient advocate. For loved ones and family, it is full of practical ways of how you can truly be a support to the people you care about.

What do you hope to achieve with your book?
The previous question answers the more spiritual goals of the book. On a practical level, I would love to pay off the mortgage of the house before my social security runs out! But the reality of how much money you make on a book is very small indeed. When you realize how many books you have to sell to really make a living, it’s almost impossible.
A much for practical goal for me, is that I am hoping that the book will help generate more referrals to my counseling practice. That is my main profession and passion and I will be doing that for many more years than I will be writing books.


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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.