Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Blended

Are you an Adam Sandler fan? We are all fans here in our house. One year for Christmas, Tim got me every Adam Sandler movie he had made so far. I love most of his stuff, but I don’t really ever buy videos because I keep things simple when I can. I appreciated the thoughtful gesture, though.

My favorite duo is Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. I really like “The Wedding Singer” and I absolutely love “50 First Dates.” It is one of my all time favorites and one of the few movies I have watched repeatedly and never get tired of.

I discovered the pair of actors have a new movie out called “Blended” so we went to see it this week. Man, I am such a drama queen. Most people watch movies and relate to parts of it, and get the nuances of what is being conveyed. Me? Well, I lived every second of the movie completely immersed in the characters from the first moment until the last.

Drew’s character (Lauren) is a divorced, single mom with two boys. Dad is creepy and not involved. The boys are a handful and we see several scenes of her struggles to just barely keep up with the pressures every day, much less have the energy or wisdom with how to actually help her kids solve their issues. The funniest parts are every time she tries to carry her son to bed after he falls to sleep. He is too big and she is clearly not strong enough. She constantly bumps into walls with him and you have to wonder if half of the kid’s problems are due to traumatic brain injury… lol.

Adam’s character (Jim) is a single dad with three girls. Guess what? His wife died of cancer. He’s a great dad, but oblivious to the feminine needs of his girls. One of them is having particular grief issues and we get to see scenes of him looking helplessly at his daughters, knowing he has no idea how to really help them.

It is laced with humor, but I was just sick to my stomach watching. I got it. And it’s so so so horrible to be a single parent sometimes and feel so terribly inadequate. Even though they were overall great parents, their kids were still suffering. And when your kids suffer, you suffer.

Lauren and Jim meet and hate each other. Then through a series of odd, quirky events, they consistently keep bumping into each other. And you know how things like this happen in real life- they somehow end up in Africa together at some week-long retreat for helping blended families adjust to their lives together. Completely ridiculous, but the story works. I completely related to the blended family piece too. Our family had super-sized struggles when Tim and I first got together. It took YEARS for things to get better.

One scene I just broke down and sobbed. (Thank goodness Frankie and his friend sat a few seats down. I would have never heard the end of it.) It was a scene about grief and healing where Lauren does something for the girls their mother used to do for them. Jim heard it from behind the door. The look on all of their faces was so moving. I got it.

In the end (of course), they realize they are madly in love. I don’t care if it was unrealistic or not. I cheered them on every inch of the way. Jim’s daughters so desperately needed a mom. Lauren’s sons so desperately needed a father. And suddenly, they fit. They just fit.

It put me in a funk the rest of the day. I loved it and love when I get moved like that. But there was an underlying sadness that I can’t deny. I know that I need that “fit.” I know I can’t settle for less than that. Not perfection, but that understanding that happens when a man not only loves me (which is hard enough), but also gets that my son desperately needs a father (in spite of how much he appears not to). It’s a beautiful concept but it just hasn’t happened yet.

The sad part is the flashback to the scenes where you watch the struggling single parents. Living life while you are waiting for something that may or may not happen, is difficult. I know several of you who read this blog are single parents and seem to handle it much more gracefully than I do. My hat is off to you. I will keep trying to do my best. That’s all I can do. I know I’m a decent mom and doing a decent job. But I have the “carrying my son who is too heavy for me and I keep banging his head on the wall in the meantime” problem that I just keep pushing through. In the movie, Jim suggested Lauren get her son a helmet.

I hope I didn’t ruin the movie for you. You should watch it and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I guess I will keep doing my best and go helmet shopping!


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S.S.D.D.

Same stuff, different day. (Or substitute the word stuff for whatever profanity you like!)

I talked to my friend, Ann today that I haven’t talked to in ages. She lives in Chicago and we have been close for forever, but the distance gets in the way. So how do you catch each other up? It doesn’t really matter how many months or years it has been since we’ve chatted. It’s all the same stuff. It is remarkably different and yet remarkably the same every time. She read last week’s blog and asked me if I was still mad. Hell, yeah.

I suppose it’s not really all that different for anyone else in the world. Maybe it’s just that I bother to write about it and put it out there for people to see. Maybe that is why so many people like the blog- because they relate to it. They say the most successful comedians are the ones that tell jokes about stuff like going to the dentist, because everyone can identify with it. So it’s not that I think I have a particularly difficult life, it’s just that I have been blessed-cursed with the desire to write about it.

July 10, 2014. Had a rough week with the kids. After listening to them tell me what a completely inadequate parent I am, I told them they were partly right. It’s been three and a half years since their dad died and I feel less capable today than I did a year ago. I have no idea how the hell to handle them. I have no idea how to adjust and do it alone. They got me there. In another three years I should be in the nuthouse. However, I also told them that while I am indeed extremely imperfect, I still somehow think I’m a pretty damn good parent and in spite of my flaws, they are freaking lucky to have me.

Another rough week with the business. We are working hard to get things in order and organizing in a way we probably should have done months and months ago. In our defense though, we have been learning as we go. And oh yeah, we have been completely overwhelmed with our schedules. My brain doesn’t wrap around the things I need to do very easily so the learning curve is slow. And did I mention we still haven’t made a dime on the book?

I’ve accomplished a lot on the house this year. Kitchen and computer room are redone. Office waiting room and the office are redone. House has new siding and trim, a four-week project. And yet, the pool leak has managed to stay alive after four or five attempts to repair it. The hot tub has another four jets that need replacing after I already replaced four a month ago. Ah… home ownership is a joy.

Men? That’s always the best one. No men are interested and I die of boredom. Then several men are interested, usually at the same time and it’s almost annoying. But almost always, they are the “wrong” ones anyways. Why are they wrong? Because my heart belongs to one who does not return the sentiments. The one you want more than anything, is the one that just can’t make the leap to love you. So you try to stay open because you know what you deserve, but always long for the one you can’t have. Dating is such a bitch.

July 10, 2014. Not much different from July 3, 2014, one week earlier. Not much different from June 10, 2014, one month earlier. Not much different from July 10, 2013, one year earlier. My mantra from Bitter and Sweet, is just that. Bitter and sweet go hand in hand. Paradoxes that make you crazy and yet make sense at the same time. Today’s blog is no different. It’s discouraging, and yet it’s not. It’s just life.

I’m sure some of us are not as angst-ridden as others are. But there are probably plenty of people who wake up like me and know that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. And I have no idea how to truly change any of it. Could it be at the exact same time that things are exactly the way they are supposed to be?

Perhaps tomorrow I will suddenly have wisdom beyond my years and my kids will be bonded tightly with me. Perhaps tomorrow I will suddenly have knowledge beyond my years and my book will go viral. Perhaps tomorrow I will suddenly come across a ridiculous amount of money and I can pay someone to fix all the stuff on the house without having to stress about it. Perhaps tomorrow, that elusive man will suddenly have wisdom beyond his years and sweep me off my feet after realizing I am the woman of his dreams.

Or maybe not. So I guess I will just wake up tomorrow and face July 11, 2014 just like I have all 47 other July 11ths in my life- one moment at a time.


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Another Layer

I went to Aldi’s to get groceries this week. I was paying the cashier and noticed an 80 something year-old man behind me with a bouquet of flowers. I said, “Ah, who are those beautiful flowers for?” He smiled at me at said, “For my special lady.” I said, “Well then, she’s a lucky lady.”

He paused a minute and then said, “She’s not with me anymore, but I still bring her flowers all the time.” I paused a minute and then said, “My husband passed away too. I try to go to the cemetery but I’m not very good at it. This winter everything has been buried.” He said, “I don’t really go to the cemetery. I have a little shrine in my house and I bring her flowers there. The kids love it.” I smiled and waved goodbye.

It was amazing timing for me after the week I’ve had. I thought about what a lovely man he was and how tender of him to love her this way. The irony is, I’ve often talked about how there is no shrine of Tim at my house. For some reason, that seems like it would be a bad thing. I guess it’s different for an 80 year-old remembering his beloved than a 47 year-old who is trying to move ahead.

I have been working on the dating chapter in my second book. That, along with several other conversations I’ve had over the last few months, has gotten me thinking about lots of things.

If you have ever read “The Soulmate Secret,” the author talks about how you need to create space and energy for your soulmate to come into your life. For me, I feel like we’ve had a pretty healthy level of balance. Talking about Tim has never been taboo around here. But we talk about the future too.

But what if it’s time to look at the next layer? What if it’s time to move to an even deeper level of healing and growth? You get used to things around you, so I started a very intentional walk around my entire house. I was surprised at how much “Tim memorabilia” is around. How much is a healthy level for going on year four without him? How do I help Frankie remember without holding him back either?

Not easy questions to answer, but I’ve given it my usual over-analyzing, critical eye. I’ve made some small changes around the house and have a few more to make too. The other thing I discovered is that I have a lot of gifts from others- plaques and such that talk about remembering our loved ones. I have lots and lots of hummingbird things now too. I love them all. But it is ungrateful to say that I have enough of them? I don’t ever want to hurt anyone who is kind enough to remember we are still grieving here, but I think having too many permanent things around can be tough.

In true dramatic form (my specialty), all of this introspection and change occurred around March 18th. That is our anniversary. This week was my fourth one since Tim has been gone. Four. That sounds like so long but it still feels so fresh sometimes.

Some of you may remember one of the gifts Tim left me. On my computer, he set up a yearly message on the 18th of March that said, “Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you!!!!!!!!!!!,” only I think there were even more exclamation points. I saw it Tuesday morning and had some silent, aching moments watching the screen. And then I did something I haven’t done the last three years. I deleted it.

I decided there is nothing wrong with remembering every year that once I was loved very much by another human being. That comforts me, especially when I don’t have another man in my life who loves me like that. It is more than ok for me to be reminded that I am deserving of that kind of love and Tim gave it to me at the end of his life.

But I also know I will never forget that message. I may be able to delete it from a computer, but I won’t delete it from my heart. There is room in my heart for more love, for the future, for hope. But my heart is also comforted by knowing that I tasted true love, even if briefly. And that is a good thing to have while I wait (impatiently) to be loved like that again.

So here’s to another layer of healing. Growth hurts. It’s been a tough week, I won’t deny it. But I think it’s been good and right.


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Guest Blogging

So leave it to Brigette. With her expert researching, she found an excellent contact in California. She is a medical expert, involved heavily in writing, blogging, and connected everywhere regarding issues related to end of life. Frankly, she appears to be quite brilliant :).

Anyhow, I will be on her blog next week and we are looking for many more opportunities to work with her and her numerous programs. She suggested I post the same blog here. I know it is information you already have read several times, but I will include it anyway. I was terribly honored when she had this to say about my entry submission: “This is probably one of the most moving accounts I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. Your husband is proud of you.” Her comments made me cry.

Stay tuned as Brigette will be posting the links to Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy’s sites and connections. (Her blog is called “ok to die” which is a great title!) Here is my entry:

The name of my book is “Bitter and Sweet, A Family’s Journey with Cancer.” Here is a brief summary. In April of 2010, my husband Tim began to have some strange sensations in his side. On May 7, we found ourselves facing stage IV gallbladder cancer rather than a simple gallbladder removal as planned. Five months and one week later, my husband died. Those five months were the most difficult and horrifying time of our lives. It was also an extremely beautiful time for us. We found ourselves using the phrase “bitter and sweet” so often during those five months, that it was an obvious title choice.

Our lives had been full of paradoxes. How do you fight for your life and yet accept mortality at the same time? How do you maintain optimism, which is necessary for health, and prepare for your death and get your affairs in order? How do you understand God’s love and compassion, and yet experience cancer and suffering?

It’s a sad story, but I promise you, our story is also filled with humor, tender moments and hope, alongside the ravages of a cruel disease. When life hands you lemons, you can pucker up and make a sour face, or you can make lemonade. I think we did both.

Tim and I had a tough marriage. We spent the entirety of our ten years together in counseling. We made progress, but happiness was always a struggle. After diagnosis, we actually worried that kind of stress could be the end of us. Tim was a “glass half empty” guy and I thought for sure he would be angry and buckle under his prognosis. Boy, was I wrong. What I witnessed instead, was the total transformation of a man, a woman, a marriage, a family, a community. While things were obviously horrific battling a vicious disease, we also experienced the most amazing bond and love that we had spent our lives hoping for.

For the first time, we read together, appreciated each other fully, and reprioritized what was important. We started walking our dog together. When Tim got too weak, we took the wheelchair. When I got pneumonia, I would push him halfway and then we would switch positions and he would push me back. I will never, ever forget those moments.

Even the most simple things had greater meaning. Tim would talk about enjoying a hot shower and feeling the sensations of the warm water on his body. He would walk around our yard and come in with tears in his eyes and talk about the beauty he was able to take in. For the first time, he went into work late on our son’s first day of school because he just didn’t want to miss it. New priorities, new appreciation.

When you stare mortality in the face, it is amazing how quickly things can change. The things that you spend your life worrying and fighting about are suddenly rendered ridiculously less important. The housework isn’t so important. Money isn’t the biggest stressor. And I had the joy of watching Tim rekindle and reconcile family and friendships that had been forgotten or stuffed away in a corner. Sometimes that meant confronting painful things. Tim was a peacemaker and avoided conflict. But I saw him stand up for me in ways that I had not seen in the decade we had been together. Why? Partly because he saw me grab a hold of fighting for his life, his comfort and well-being in a way that he had not seen either, but that he was clearly worthy of.

Why do I continue to respect and admire my husband three years after his death? Because in spite of his fear, he faced his ending and he did it remarkably well. He chose his cemetery plot and designed his headstone. He wrote birthday cards for his eight year old son until he turns 18. He wrote wedding cards to this three unmarried sons so he could share his love for them on their big days. Amazing.

So many others were changed as well. We learned to be receivers, to let people help us and the results were astounding. People brought 90% of our meals, cleaned our house, ran errands, entertained our son, put up a fence, helped with yardwork, and even did our shopping. The benefit was that we were able to concentrate on Tim’s appointments and sneak in those walks or spend time with our kids. The benefit to everyone else? The church learned how to rally around their people. The community rose to the occasion. Here is what people said: “Please don’t rob us. We WANT to help. We can’t do anything to stop what is happening to you. What we CAN do, is provide a meal.” It was actually truly and genuinely important to other people, to feel like they were contributing to our lives. That is powerful.

I want to share the last paragraph of Bitter and Sweet. It is actually what I wrote for the bulletin at Tim’s funeral.

“While cancer is a cruel and clever disease that wreaks havoc in your life, my husband and I were able to find and experience so many gifts, treasures and healings in our lives. Since his diagnosis, we have truly been transformed, as individuals and as loving, lifelong partners. Our spiritual lives blossomed and grew in ways I would not have thought possible. And so much of that happened because of the loving, compassionate, strong hands, arms, and feet of the people of God. No one would deny that we are truly the luckiest people on earth, even with the loss we suffer. Few others could boast the kind of dedication and support we have felt poured out upon us. ”

I will never tell you that the cancer path isn’t hard, difficult, gut wrenching. But I will always say, there is a gift in every challenge. Your life can be profoundly blessed and changed in spite of your difficulties. Facing mortality can have a positive, profound impact on your life, if you choose to let it.


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Girlfriends…A.K.A. Ya-Yas

October 14 was the three-year marker of Tim passing. Three years! My sister called me and said Dad was sure it was only two years. The pharmacist said he thought only a year and a half. My doctor was shocked and thought no more than two for sure. So we all agree on that point- it’s hard to believe it has been that long.

My kids did not want to anything special to remember the day. Quite frankly, the boys are more than happy to be left alone most of the time. So I decided to get away for the night. There is a lovely bed and breakfast about a half hour away from here. It is a church that is being remodeled. There is a separate building with a large kitchen, a large living room area, and 5 quaint bedrooms. If you can get enough people together, it’s very reasonably priced. We ended up with nine women and had the whole building to ourselves.

I brought games and movies but there was no need. We just chatted the whole time. From 2:00 PM on Sunday, til we left at noon on Monday. We talked about husbands, boyfriends, fathers, parenting, etc., etc.. It was a great way to get away and not be alone when “The Day” came. One woman is a widow that I met through the book. She is my age and has SIX kids. Can you imagine? She is so so so my hero.

I know Brigette very well and on Friday I was doing yard work and a thought hit me. I called her right away and told that if I knew her (which I do), I was sure she planning something with my friends to remember Tim. She is the one that spear-headed the cherry tree last October. I told her I didn’t want to be “The Widow” this weekend. I just wanted to be one of the girls. She respected my wishes and there were no speeches or presentations.

When we got home on Monday though, I had a beautiful surprise. She had registered a star in Tim’s name. She said in my talks I often talk about how Tim is still providing for us today by his story selling books. So she had it dated on March 16, 2013 when the book officially was launched. We did this in my niece’s honor back in 1990. It is the coolest thing. It comes with the coordinates so now I’ve gotten this great idea that we should try to actually see it. Brigette is researching planetariums to try and see how we could do that. I don’t think we can pull it off by Tim’s birthday but I will keep you posted.

Thanks Brigette. As always, you’ve outdone yourself. And thanks to all my ya-yas. I’m a pretty lucky girl!


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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.