Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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The Way It Should Be

This is the pamphlet from a church we visited recently. The service had the same feeling as its bulletin. Tim and I were both moved to tears by the end of the service. We know we are just at the beginning of a relationship with these folks, but I have no doubt that it was no accident that we found them just in the nick of time.

The church I attended when Tim (deceased) was dying had been my church home for 7 years. It indeed felt like home. I was heavily involved, sometimes volunteering and eventually as paid staff.

About 2 years before Tim’s illness, the church hired someone that turned everything around. Our staff was amazingly close and functioned like a relatively healthy family. Until then.

I’m not sure what personnel was thinking when they hired someone who openly said he was “not religious.” It was obvious this was a paid job for him, not a ministry. There was formal skill, but no heart.

He didn’t like the role I played in the church so he slowly but surely made my life miserable there. The details are not worth getting into, but let me just say there are many, many stories. He really turned the fire up when our minister went away on sabbatical just when Tim was diagnosed. It is quite unbelievable but unfortunately true. He did his best to undermine me while I was desperately trying to help my dying husband and family while still working at the church. I needed that spiritual connection.

Three months after Tim died, I resigned. It should never have happened. Had I not been grief-stricken, I would not have done it. And it should never have been accepted. There had been other resignations over the years that were rejected and mine, without a doubt, should have been. I was deeply involved, faithful even when in crisis, and dedicated to those people I ministered to. I literally had an impeccable work history.

The craziness that came next was lawsuit worthy. That is not my heart though, and I certainly did not have the energy to pursue one. Besides, where would that have left me if I had won? A church of worship and job where I had to sue in order to be treatly justly and compassionately.

Over the last 8 years I have tried every now and then to heal my heart. I reached out when my books were written. I reached out when the church started addressing end of life issues. No matter what I tried, the door was slammed in my face.

Finally this summer, the minister moved and a new personnel committee was formed. This was a long time coming but I finally had my chance to make peace. I reached out and asked when I could come in and meet the committee. I made it clear that I didn’t expect anything to be done. I didn’t ask for justice, although truth be told I certainly could have. What was done to me was inexcusable. I just wanted to be heard. I had been silenced as well as the rest of the staff 8 years ago. And what was worse, the church folks let the congregation believe that I was just a “grieving widow” and left. I couldn’t believe they would desecrate our sacred memories like that.

I just wanted to tell my story and I felt my heart could finally heal. Just hear me. That’s it.

I was more than stunned when I got the call back that the committee “wasn’t interested.” They are only interested in moving forward in the church. They weren’t “equipped” to hear me. Equipped for what? Listening? They are in more trouble than I thought if that is the case. He said they talked to the church lawyer who advised them to “forget it and move on.”

I couldn’t believe after such a long wait, the final door was slammed. I didn’t think the church could hurt me more, but they managed to do just that. I’m not sure what is going on, but that is most certainly NOT how the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to behave.

I’m dumbfounded.

My human side wants to attend there again. Make sure my story gets told to anyone and everyone that would listen. All these years I’ve kept silent in order to “be the bigger person” and remain professional. I want to create havoc for them the way they injured me.

But like my new pastor says, that isn’t my heart. It never will be. And besides, how could I possibly waste a Sunday morning going there when this warm and nurturing door has opened up for us? This is no coincidence.

Thank you, God for providing this new place, for however long we will be there. And thank you to those folks that understand the true mission of Christ and follow that call- the way it should be.


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Reflections

As January settles in, I have started my annual task of going through my filing cabinet. This not only accomplishes purging, but I also prepare for my taxes as I go along. It usually takes most of the month. This year, there is an added element to it. I am trying to go paperless as much as possible. That means do a lot of scanning, which can be time-consuming.

Today, I came across a folder that I basically forget about until January every year, the divorce papers from my first marriage. I have no contact with my first husband, but there are no ill feelings between us. I was thinking about him this year more than usual because I am dating someone whose middle name is the same as my first husband’s last name. Back in my twenties, I changed my name to his so I bore that name for six years as well.

It was a 16 page document, which is crazy because we had the simplest divorce ever. No property, no money, no kids, yet it still required 16 pages of legal jargon. I scanned all of it and shredded it. New years are always a time for reflection so this morning was no different. Never in a million years did I think I would ever be divorced, but then probably no one ever gets married thinking that it won’t last forever. It made me terribly sad. Not bitter, just solemn.

Of course that led my thoughts to my second marriage. Never in a million years did I think I would ever be a widow. That is irrational, because if we had lived together until old age, there was a 50% chance that I would be a widow at some point, unless I died first or we both died at the same time for some crazy reason. Yet it never occurred to me. I suspect most people don’t think about that much when they get married. But I certainly didn’t think I would be a widow in my forties.

I mentioned in a previous blog about being at Emily’s last month with her now eight kids and thinking about how when I married the first time, we planned on six kids. We had zero. But in my marriage to Tim, I had one biological child but gained three step-kids. Four is a lot closer to what I thought my life would look like. If I marry again to someone who has two kids, that would make the six I originally thought I would have.

Life is like that lots of times. Maybe even most times. I think if we polled a bunch of people in their fifties, the majority would say their life doesn’t look the way they thought it would. What’s that famous saying? Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. I keep thinking about Jennifer Aniston in the movie Marley and Me. Her husband is lamenting this very thing and she comes back with a confident statement about how much better their lives are than anything they ever could have imagined.

Makes me wonder what the future holds for me. What will life bring in the next chapter? What will 2018 hold for me? And will I lament or celebrate how differently it all came out? I vote for the latter!


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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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Sisterhood

One of the perks of writing a book, is getting to meet some amazing people. I guess I need a stronger word than “perk.” It’s one of the things that actually makes it worth it. I think at some point I have blogged about my new friend, Trish. She read my book and then sought me out. She is my age, was widowed not long after I was, and has six kids. She also is a multi-business owner.

She always calls me her hero and I just laugh. Other than writing a book, I don’t see much to call me a hero for. At least not for HER to call me a hero. I call her MY hero. In fact, I call her that in the next book that I wrote. I have four kids. But I met three of them when they were 13, 16, and 19. I didn’t raise them from birth. Now I have one adult living here, and one 12-year-old. She has SIX. Like I said, she is MY hero.

Because her husband was self-employed, I get about three times as much social security benefits for my one minor I am raising, than she gets for all six of her kids combined. And I worry about money?

We had lunch this week. We’ve been talking and texting about things that we feel like no one else understands sometimes. She recently had a person close to her lose a loved one. She was worried that she didn’t feel the compassion and sympathy she normally would. Boy, did I get that. I think we are just already tired out from death and dying, even though some time has passed. Living with the fallout from death and dying continues to be exhausting, probably even more than caretaking was.

She met a great guy. She was ready to give up on the dating scene, just like most people who are in the dating scene are. Then she met him on Match and he seems great. I listen to her talk and I’m amazed. He actually seems to really love her and WANTS to help out with the kids. He is ready to take on what it might mean to be involved with all six of them. He hangs out when her family comes to town, even though he doesn’t “have” to. I’m envious, but I am happy for her. She deserves it. She absolutely deserves it.

Even with that support in her life, she still struggles. It’s a reminder to me that meeting someone like that won’t take all the pain and stress away. It helps immensely, but life is still hard. And I’m sure they have lots of adjustments and changes down the road to get through.

When we hugged goodbye after lunch, she said something about how much she enjoys getting to spend time with me. I laughed. I sincerely laughed. I asked her if she was kidding because we had spent the majority of lunch with me down in the dumps, teary eyed (like I am several times a day) feeling hopeless and stuck. I can hardly stand my own company and she actually expects me to believe she ENJOYS me? I wasn’t trying to be dramatic. It was just a genuine reality check moment for me, like “Hey, I know you love me, but let’s be honest. I’m not exactly fun to hang out with.” I didn’t say that, but I think she knew what I meant.

About 15 minutes later, I got a text that said, “I just want you to know I do love being with you! I wish I could make it all better for you. You will be ok. I know it!” I texted back, “Back at ya, sista!”

She really is my hero.


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Scary

I was talking to my friend, Trish this week. I may have mentioned her before. She found me after she read my book. She is my age and also widowed, but she has SIX kids. I tell her she’s my hero all the time, and she tells me the same. We often vent to each other because there are some things only another young widow with kids can understand. I was telling her about my latest fears and she got all pissed off. She lamented about how unfair it is for us and our children. Whenever we get sick, there is this instant panic about cancer and dying. No kid should have to worry about that, but our kids do.

I certainly could identify with the recent breast cancer scare I had. But any mother will tell you, we would rather give up a limb (or anything else for that matter) than have our kids suffer in any way.

I am known for keeping my head on straight in a crisis. I usually fall apart afterward when the danger has passed. When Tim was alive, that was the way things played out when the kids were younger. He kind of froze and I had to handle everything. Make the calls, make the decisions, and pretend to be calm while it was happening to keep everyone else sane. Tim was there and supportive, but he was on the sidelines.

But in the land of almost four years into grief, I don’t handle much of anything like I used to. My rational head has grown even further away from my emotional heart.

Frankie came to me about a month ago and said he had blood in his urine. Slight panic, but I got him in to our trusty Dr. Grace immediately. She put him on antibiotics for a suspected UTI and off we went. On Monday, Frankie came to me and told me he wasn’t better. It had come back.

Slightly more panic than last time, but I just make the call to trusty Dr. Grace again immediately. The office calls back and says “Grace wants you to see Dr. So and So, a urology specialist within 48 hours. What’s your schedule like?” So while I still have my rational brain, my emotions start freaking out. There is no more “calm until the danger is passed.” I just lose it immediately. The worst part of it? Frankie admits to another person that he is scared too. Of course he is scared. His dad died from something that was supposed to be simple. This is where Trish starts bitching about how unfair life is for our kids. They panic more than other kids because of what they have witnessed firsthand. But truth be told, I panic too.

Why the rush to get in within 48 hours? That’s the scary part. They can’t get him in until Thursday morning but they are doing the best they can. On Tuesday, the office calls and says they want to do a history on Frankie. I know it’s routine. But she asks this question: “Does Frankie have anyone in his family line that has had any sort of cancer in the stomach/bladder region?” I started crying and couldn’t even answer her for a moment. Hell, yes. HIS DAD DIED FROM GALLBLADDER CANCER AT A RIDICULOUSLY YOUNG AGE. And now we are scared to death too.

Frankie does not want to go and have some male doctor look at his body. He is most nervous about that, at this point. I do the best I can to allay his fears. But inside I’m angry. Why isn’t there a man in his life that can talk to him about this stuff? That would have been very helpful to have had a guy with us. Especially if there was a guy who had some experience with urologists or whatever to help Frankie be less anxious. But there is just me. As usual. A woman, who Frankie has decided to be very angry at and distanced from. I’m all he’s got, but I’m not what he needs right now as a 12 year-old boy.

We go in and register him. I realize I’m shaky and nauseous, but I deserve an award for appearing calm to Frankie. Thankfully, the doctor is young and has three young boys. He wants to examine him and so Frankie gives the usual demand that I leave the room. I come back in after and the doc says he wants Frankie to have a renal ultrasound.

We go to check out and the woman reads the notes and scrunches her face. She makes a call and says she doesn’t understand. Why are there two requests? And does he really want the tests done immediately? She is just doing her job, but every expression and comment makes me more and more concerned. I truly am worried that I am going to hurl all over her desk.

We go and get the ultrasounds and they direct us back to the doc’s office. They said the doc would have the results right away. We get back to the doc’s and the woman tells us the doc doesn’t want to see us for a week. I asked if we would be getting the test results and she says not til the appointment next week. I ask if he’s going to do anything to start treatment til then and she says no. I give Frankie the keys to the car and say to her quietly, that we are both very worried. His dad died of cancer, you see, so could someone call us today and let me know that nothing crazy is going on? She agreed to put a request in and then said some people have blood in their urine all their lives and it’s not a big deal. That actually made me feel a little better, but I don’t really know if she was qualified to say that. But it was the first not so scary thing anyone has said to us.

Frankie is visibly less worried now that the appointment is over. I am starting to calm down. But I can’t even begin to express the anxiety I have felt the last couple of days. I just want to scream, cry, hit someone or something, run away, throw up, or check into a hospital for myself. I am less and less in control of my emotions and fears at a time when Frankie needs me to be the rock I used to be in B.C. time (before cancer).

You don’t need to send comments about what a great mom I am. It doesn’t matter right now, because Frankie thinks I suck at it. And right now, that is all I can hear and process. This is only going to get worse as he hits puberty and needs a male in his life more and more. Just pray hard that I get it together soon. I’ve got to stop crying all the time. I may not be a father for him, but I damn well better start being a strong mom. I am doing the best I can, but he needs more than that. So pray hard. We need you!


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Scary

I was talking to my friend, Trish this week. I may have mentioned her before. She found me after she read my book. She is my age and also widowed, but she has SIX kids. I tell her she’s my hero all the time, and she tells me the same. We often vent to each other because there are some things only another young widow with kids can understand. I was telling her about my latest fears and she got all pissed off. She lamented about how unfair it is for us and our children. Whenever we get sick, there is this instant panic about cancer and dying. No kid should have to worry about that, but our kids do.

I certainly could identify with the recent breast cancer scare I had. But any mother will tell you, we would rather give up a limb (or anything else for that matter) than have our kids suffer in any way.

I am known for keeping my head on straight in a crisis. I usually fall apart afterward when the danger has passed. When Tim was alive, that was the way things played out when the kids were younger. He kind of froze and I had to handle everything. Make the calls, make the decisions, and pretend to be calm while it was happening to keep everyone else sane. Tim was there and supportive, but he was on the sidelines.

But in the land of almost four years into grief, I don’t handle much of anything like I used to. My rational head has grown even further away from my emotional heart.

Frankie came to me about a month ago and said he had blood in his urine. Slight panic, but I got him in to our trusty Dr. Grace immediately. She put him on antibiotics for a suspected UTI and off we went. On Monday, Frankie came to me and told me he wasn’t better. It had come back.

Slightly more panic than last time, but I just make the call to trusty Dr. Grace again immediately. The office calls back and says “Grace wants you to see Dr. So and So, a urology specialist within 48 hours. What’s your schedule like?” So while I still have my rational brain, my emotions start freaking out. There is no more “calm until the danger is passed.” I just lose it immediately. The worst part of it? Frankie admits to another person that he is scared too. Of course he is scared. His dad died from something that was supposed to be simple. This is where Trish starts bitching about how unfair life is for our kids. They panic more than other kids because of what they have witnessed firsthand. But truth be told, I panic too.

Why the rush to get in within 48 hours? That’s the scary part. They can’t get him in until Thursday morning but they are doing the best they can. On Tuesday, the office calls and says they want to do a history on Frankie. I know it’s routine. But she asks this question: “Does Frankie have anyone in his family line that has had any sort of cancer in the stomach/bladder region?” I started crying and couldn’t even answer her for a moment. Hell, yes. HIS DAD DIED FROM GALLBLADDER CANCER AT A RIDICULOUSLY YOUNG AGE. And now we are scared to death too.

Frankie does not want to go and have some male doctor look at his body. He is most nervous about that, at this point. I do the best I can to allay his fears. But inside I’m angry. Why isn’t there a man in his life that can talk to him about this stuff? That would have been very helpful to have had a guy with us. Especially if there was a guy who had some experience with urologists or whatever to help Frankie be less anxious. But there is just me. As usual. A woman, who Frankie has decided to be very angry at and distanced from. I’m all he’s got, but I’m not what he needs right now as a 12 year-old boy.

We go in and register him. I realize I’m shaky and nauseous, but I deserve an award for appearing calm to Frankie. Thankfully, the doctor is young and has three young boys. He wants to examine him and so Frankie gives the usual demand that I leave the room. I come back in after and the doc says he wants Frankie to have a renal ultrasound.

We go to check out and the woman reads the notes and scrunches her face. She makes a call and says she doesn’t understand. Why are there two requests? And does he really want the tests done immediately? She is just doing her job, but every expression and comment makes me more and more concerned. I truly am worried that I am going to hurl all over her desk.

We go and get the ultrasounds and they direct us back to the doc’s office. They said the doc would have the results right away. We get back to the doc’s and the woman tells us the doc doesn’t want to see us for a week. I asked if we would be getting the test results and she says not til the appointment next week. I ask if he’s going to do anything to start treatment til then and she says no. I give Frankie the keys to the car and say to her quietly, that we are both very worried. His dad died of cancer, you see, so could someone call us today and let me know that nothing crazy is going on? She agreed to put a request in and then said some people have blood in their urine all their lives and it’s not a big deal. That actually made me feel a little better, but I don’t really know if she was qualified to say that. But it was the first not so scary thing anyone has said to us.

Frankie is visibly less worried now that the appointment is over. I am starting to calm down. But I can’t even begin to express the anxiety I have felt the last couple of days. I just want to scream, cry, hit someone or something, run away, throw up, or check into a hospital for myself. I am less and less in control of my emotions and fears at a time when Frankie needs me to be the rock I used to be in B.C. time (before cancer).

You don’t need to send comments about what a great mom I am. It doesn’t matter right now, because Frankie thinks I suck at it. And right now, that is all I can hear and process. This is only going to get worse as he hits puberty and needs a male in his life more and more. Just pray hard that I get it together soon. I’ve got to stop crying all the time. I may not be a father for him, but I damn well better start being a strong mom. I am doing the best I can, but he needs more than that. So pray hard. We need you!


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Wise Words

Today I met with Tim’s doctor from Hospice. She has agreed to read my second book, “Life After Death on This Side of Heaven.” My hope is that she will write a blurb for the back of the book, or even better, write the foreword. She is an amazing doctor, her experience lies with helping to usher people into the next life, and she also has lost her husband.

I remember when we were facing some medical decision and I asked her my standard question when I am out of the realm of my knowledge. “What would you do if this were your husband?” Her response was, “This was my husband, three months ago.” And that is how I found out she was a new widow herself, and yet fully present with us on our journey.

It’s amazing to me that she even remembers me after three and a half years, but she absolutely does. She asked about how we are all doing and I asked her the same. Then she tossed out this little nugget: “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”

I don’t know if she made that up herself or if she read it somewhere, but I thought it was brilliant.

We talked a little bit about my dilemma. In my case, my kids seem to be adjusting much better than I am. Frankie is going to be 12 in a couple of weeks. He had a 95 average in his first year of middle school, played hockey, and had one of the leads in the school musical. He and his brother Colin hang out all the time like two bachelors living the dream.

The only problem is, I feel like I am living a life separate from them. When I try to bring us back to the middle, that is when the conflict starts. We don’t have much in common anymore. Some of that is totally natural, but some of it is because our family got radically changed in October of 2010. As the head of the household, it’s my job to figure out to recalibrate and renegotiate a new structure that works for us. I haven’t done such a great job with that.

I know all four of the kids still grieve and remember their dad in their own way. My oldest, Emily, struggles with depression and angst-type feelings at times like I do. Overall though, the kids are doing really well.

I have to figure out how to be as happy as my happiest child. Kids are resilient and mine are no exception. I’m a tough cookie as far as survival goes. I know that. But I live with this sense of feeling like things are just not right. It creates more of an anxiety thing vs. a depression thing, but it is there. I don’t know what to do with it, so for now I just live with it.

And I will keep trying to connect with my kids. In spite of their protests, I will keep trying to be a family, even though we don’t have a dad anymore. I may not have the answers, but I won’t give up.

My thanks to a very special doctor, who has made a mark on our lives that isn’t forgotten with time. I wish healing and peace for her on the journey she is on.