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Hearing it, Seeing it

Last night I learned a valuable lesson about hearing someone, doing the listening that needed to happen, and being awakened to what I was seeing with my ears. Confused? I understand that this would sound quite confusing. I also know that how we hear, see, and understand complex situations is not simple. Life isn’t simple.

Most of the time in conversations, people listen while planning what they’ll say next. That is not listening or hearing: it is pretending to listen and to hear. The idea that a great conversation should click along, be fast paced, or flow smoothly is only accurate if you want a bad conversation where you are not heard. So, nix on that sort of conversation.

Learning to listen is an art, unless you are Guinan, the listener, on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then it is supposed to be genetic. Listening is an art, and sitting with someone, and their story, is a gift. The gift is being fully heard, and the art is in shutting up and offering the gift. Those conversations take longer and have a great many bumps in them.

What happened last night? I had gone into a conversation with a friend, who was doing something that I didn’t agree with. I was fully prepared to say that, and more. I began to do just that and then, hearing with my eyes, looking with my ears, I noticed my friend’s pain emerge. I’d never seen it that way before. It emerged in the words, the anger, the deep hurt, and the loss of what should have been in the past—but wasn’t—and what was being created in the present. I understood my friend’s actions in a new way. I had to chastise myself for my previous thoughts. I went to bed last night understanding that I was the one with the issue. Wow, how could I have been so dense?

The answer to the above question is that most of us operate on dense! We only switch to healthy operational listening when we really blow it or get called out on our failure to hear what is being said.

How many times have you gone to visit a friend who is grieving, only to see the dirty house, judged that, and not heard or seen the pain that isn’t being uttered? What is being spoken when we see the house, the hair that needs a cut, the meals that aren’t eaten? Are we hearing with our eyes? Are we seeing with our ears?

What if it is other family members in pain, or friends who are suffering from the same loss? Are we hearing and seeing right past each other? Are we thinking that because it is the same loss we’ll handle it in the same manner and at the same pace? During tense situations we tend to shut off, close down, and generally tune out the excess noise levels that we cannot tolerate. It is difficult to process everything when we’re hurting.  What can we do to bring sanity to ourselves and to those we engage with?

Here are some suggestions that, at different times and with different people, have been effective in providing solutions to tricky communication situations. This isn’t a complete list, but it should help you to think of original ideas that will work for you.

  1. Hold conversations in neutral spaces where you’re both on equal ground. 
  2. Own your feeling words. Feelings are never wrong: how you feel is how you feel.
  3. We’re going to have different feelings about the same situation because we’re different.
  4. Meet each other with respect. This means seeing the conversation through to its completion.
  5. If you need to pause the conversation, when will it resume?
  6. In a larger group, use a talking stick to indicate who the speaker is. It can be passed around the group. While the talking stick is in use, all members listen, and there is no crosstalk.
  7. Parroting what someone said is not conveying what they said. Respond to the visual and auditory cues as well. The response you give might have a question attached to it. For instance: You really like the new room, and I’m sensing there is still not something right with the space. Can you tell me more?
  8. If you know that the conversation is going to be difficult, bring that up first and give the person two or three options around when and how it can be done. Keep it realistic. In other words, hell freezing over, or the equivalent, is not a realistic option.
  9. Feeling volatile around a subject? Work off some of the energy around it before you engage. Being clearheaded in conversations will improve their outcome.
  10. Breathe deeply three times before you respond. In those three breaths, question the response you are preparing for respectfulness and consider the long-term damage a remark could make. Explore how you’d feel to be on the receiving end of the statement.

The Relationship File

In the last decade, I’ve lost my husband, mother, brother, and sister. I’ve jokingly told my younger brother that he’s under orders not to die on me. I’ve also said goodbye to an old faith home and welcomed a new place of faith into my life. All of this comes with grief, loss, mourning what was, and needing to reexamine relationships.

Of those who have exited life, only one was old enough to do so; the other three were all far too young to go. The reality is that they are all gone. The relationships now stand for review in the memory file, and what is done is done. The past faith home also stands in a memory file. Everything is up for discussion and it’s all fair game; nothing is sacred, not even my mother, whom I love deeply.

In looking at all of this, I must turn back the clock to the year 2006, when my husband’s questioning of his faith began. At the time, I wasn’t questioning, but I did want to hear about what he was thinking, feeling, learning, and what was making him angry about it all. The process altered the way we communicated, and it led me to my own path of discovery. It was a good thing, and ultimately, I took from it that relationships can change and that the change can be for the better. We didn’t need to go to antagonism. The concept that we could be different and have a healthy relationship was new to him. We could talk and nothing was off limits. That was where we were when he made his exit. Because examination of things was possible while he was alive, it made it possible to return to the relationship after his death and turn over some of the things that I needed to look at.

Relationships don’t end at death. We carry them forward; they are woven into the tapestry of our ongoing existence. As much as we may wish to erase someone or something from our lives, we can’t. We learn through turning over the rocks to look at it all.

This is also true of my relationship with my mother. I was fortunate that for approximately eighteen years, my mother and I spent every Monday in conversation. We’d giggle, laugh, cry, learn from each other, and talk about things that were deep and serious. Obviously, we spent hours before that time in conversation. When she made her exit, the “I love yous” had been said, and the one question I never asked—the one that I’d like to go back and ask now—I think I know the answer to. Her death came less than six months after Jon’s traumatic death, and I did not go to the memorial. My not attending was a bad choice, and I learned from it. Being there is needful in so many ways.

As I examine my relationship with my mother, I can make peace with what negatives there were. I think the fact that we had that conversation base to draw on has really helped. Pushback was allowed.

Then I look at my sibling relationships. My two older siblings and I didn’t always understand each other. I’m sad about this, and I also know that it wasn’t of my making. I tried. Could I have done more?

In looking at the hard question of putting things right in life, and after they’ve made their exits, I’m challenged by the meaning of our relationship. What is “right?” I love them both. I know that they, each in their own way, loved me. As I take relationships apart, I arrive at the same nasty conclusion that I did in life: They never understood disability the way they needed to understand disability. They were never able to completely understand me. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can be at peace with my end of the relationship and that is the best I can do. This brings up another question for me, and it is one I’ve been musing on for some time.

Why is it that in death, loss, and grief, many people choose to move forward without the work of examining the loss they’ve had in life? The urge to replace someone or something can be strong, and it can also damage us. The more I sit with this question, the more I wonder if it has to do with the fact that our society has radically changed relationships, trauma, and life in general. I’ll explain using WWI and WWII.

Both of my grandfathers were veterans of WWI. They came home on ships. They came home together with war buddies, and in large numbers. On the ships they had time to process the violence and the trauma, and they supported one another. WWII came around, and their sons enlisted and went off to two different fronts: Europe and Japan. They also witnessed violence and trauma, and they came home on ships. They also came home to a hero’s welcome. Their fathers had processed the war and now could mentor their sons. War breeds atrocities, and WWII left the world with several that can never be undone. Old times weren’t any simpler, but they were slower. What’s changed? My grandfather knew the wisdom of allowing his son to prune the rosebushes and tend the garden. He worked through some of the trauma that way.

Leaving the site of battle is a matter of days or hours now. People now come home by boarding a flight that will carry them home. Veterans now come home to a fast-changing society, fast tech, and a culture that is in constant motion. They return traumatized and, in many situations, misunderstood by loved ones and society in general. It alters relationships. This is not to say that my parents’ and grandparents’ generation didn’t suffer from PTSD and other war-related issues. I’m pointing out that their return was slower and allowed for a different type of processing time.

I’m suggesting that maybe we’ve become immune to the damage we’re causing to each other by not slowing things down. In the past seventy-plus years, we’ve moved forward in both healthy and unhealthy ways. This applies to how we treat our relationships.

Are we willing to slow down and take the time to process our lives a wee bit more gently? Parting is hard. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, the past does catch us, and sooner or later what we failed to look at in the near or distant past resurfaces to bite us when we’re not looking!

I reflect back to a night around the dinner table when my father lost it over food. I realize now it was a war memory that he should have sought therapy for, but in those days doing therapy wasn’t common. At the time, it had been about thirty years post war—pruning the roses had not resolved it all. I wonder what would have happened had he looked, talked, and resolved? I wonder how our family would have been changed had he looked. I know how I’m being changed by working slowly and deeply on the past, whether it is peaceful or difficult. I’m moving forward in a healthier manner than had I rushed into my future life. I’m walking into something new, and I hope I’m doing it with grace.

The Re-sync

The last six years have been filled with all sorts of happenings, and while I’ve moved forward in so many ways, I can’t really explain it. I realize that not having the words for what has happened has caused me not to write about it. The time has come to find the words.

Why haven’t I put this on paper? One of the reasons is that part of me thinks I might alienate the reader, not be read by someone who is in the early stages of their loss. Logically I know they can return when ready.

When I think back to where I was when I wrote “Navigation,” I marveled then at the time of the writing. I return to the piece, I’ve had clients read it, I and realize that it speaks to the wonder and process of where we’ve been and where we’re trying to get to. How have things changed since that time?

I’m running the river! I’m moving through deep, uncharted waters, places that call and beckon me to come have a closer look.

Running this stretch of the river has become about being able to reframe the past, look to the future, view my life in new ways, and ask some hard questions of myself. It has also meant that I admit my ignorance in some areas of my life. I’m able to observe what got shut down and is switching back on. More on that in a paragraph or so.

Sitting with a friend in my garden last Friday, I looked at him and said, “Brace yourself, I’m going to say something you thought you’d never hear from me.” He laughed when he heard me say that I needed help with something. It was a respectful laugh. Sometimes, growing up because of loss and maturing in new ways means that we must ask for help! It is also a sign that something has switched on in the brain: something that may have shut down due to the trauma of grief, loss, and life restructuring.

As we run the rapids of life, we’re required to become fully present to ourselves, to others, to our surroundings, and to our knowing. At first, we think we’re doing a wonderful job of it, until something or someone shows up to slap us silly, and we see, feel, or realize that no, we didn’t have this as we thought we did. And so, sitting in my garden, I had to voice the fact that I didn’t know something. That was an intelligent thing to do. I also realized that something in my mind had turned itself back on. This switch had been subtly nudging me to awaken to the present. OK Gail, get on this, move with it, and know that with this new line of thinking, you really have come to new ground.

I began to concentrate on thinking about how the switches turned back on and why the change and resolution slowly creep back into our lives. I can tell you what shut itself down instantly, and in some cases I am aware of the switch moving to the on position again. Libido, cognitive processes, diet, and physical awareness, to name just a few things that mess us up, went down instantly. This is why our friends and loved ones look at us like we’ve vacated Earth and moved to Saturn. We’re not speaking our normal tongue: we’re speaking in grief. This is why, for some, they find new friends and wind up having to pull away from old relationships. It is not that the person wasn’t a friend: they’re not able to speak grief. We don’t have the energy to teach them grief right now. It is why doctors and therapists might tell someone that six months is the proper amount of time to work through grief! The body might not be able to grieve for a year or two because we’re in survival mode. A huge part of the process is allowing the body to shut itself down and do a reset. When you’re in the midst of sorting out estate issues, cleaning up a nasty marriage, or recovering from another life event, your body isn’t going to do the reset: it needs to survey and find out where the damage is—then it can reset. Six months for grief? No, not even close. Docs and others don’t speak grief. If they did, they wouldn’t be saying that six months is enough!

The shutdown is the biggest reason why we shouldn’t change things for a year or two. We’re not in a place to process things. So, cut us some slack for coming out of a long-term relationship and needing to do the healing! It’s going to take time to gently allow the body that has been in fight-or-flight mode to catch up and switch back on. It takes time to learn about our lives again.

About three months after his death, the first switch came on for a day and promptly shut itself back off. It would take some six to eight months to have it flicker on again, and several years to have it come on completely. I didn’t realize until it came back on in full-power mode that things had shut down. It caught my attention. Some things have taken several years to stabilize.

From a distance, my brother had noticed that my sleep was all messed up, and he pointed it out to me. While I heard the words, I couldn’t fix the sleep issue. Some things are only going to work only when time passes, and inner work has been done, and it is safe for the body to return to a new way of being. Eventually sleep became normal. The sleep and everything else had to readjust to the new normal.

The stress I was under was intense. While I felt it, I couldn’t see it in my face. But others could.

If the grief process, and the losses we suffer because of it, cause our bodies and minds to desynchronize, then syncing up again sends us signals that we’ve moved, and that it is once again safe for us to go to new places. On many levels it is kind of magical, and in reality, it is quite logical. Family, friends, cut us some slack here! We’ll be back when our bodies, brains, hearts, and souls realign. Until it happens, please, take the garbage out, walk the dog, understand that you can help with the shopping, reminding us to cut our hair, get us out in the sun and get us out for walks. Yes, we’re really that checked out in the beginning stages, and sometimes it takes however long it takes to slowly speak Earthling again. Telling us to check in isn’t going to work, because our brains aren’t ready to do it yet.

So, how does the process from grief to something new really happen? The process, whatever it may be, happens slowly, and the observer may or may not notice the inner changes. We may or may not sense the inner movement that is going on. What happens? In the beginning, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode because they need to protect us from the dangers that we know must be present. This happens without our authorization. Yup, our bodies automatically take command of things. The trauma of the event sets in, and our bodies go into shock and shut down. Essential services remain queued for functioning, and the non-essential services take a holiday. Depression is a typical response to loss and pain.

Think of being depressed in this situation as essential services attempting to shut the entire process down. All of a sudden, the neurons aren’t firing correctly because we can’t make heads or tails of something that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened unexpectedly, or might have been so far out of the realm of our imagination or normal that we’re being challenged to resolve it when we can’t do it easily in the present state of existence. The body, amazing thing that it is, throws the stop switch. We wonder when it will all end, and board the grief boat, trying to locate a seat. Sometimes finding a seat is difficult because things are that disconnected in our minds. The boat pulls away from the dock without concern for us. At times, we get off the boat to explore something new. We get back on a new boat and notice that things are a wee bit nicer in the interior. One day we awake to find ourselves in a spacious yacht. We wonder how that happened. We realize that we’ve been a part of our own personal miracle: the ignition of the new self. We look in the mirror to see that we’ve switched back on. Double-checking, we discover, for the first time in years, that we’re present to our own lives in a synced manner.

I Miss

Last night while reading, my mind was blown by what was on the pages. It seemed as if I had been sent sailing into the outer limits of my mind, and that I was needing to process all the fantastic thoughts that were coming to me. I realized that my out-of-this-dimension-process-person was gone. OUCH!

In realizing this, I also noticed that I wasn’t shedding tears, I wasn’t angry, or even sad: I just missed him and the easy access to processing wild thoughts. Now who do I do this with? The one person who might go there with me no longer speaks to me due to where my life has gone. (That’s an entirely different post.) What do I do now?

The prospect of finding a new conversation partner for exploring the out-of-the-box things that need to be spoken, pondered, turned over in the mind, and configured into working theory and thought is difficult. He is gone.

I began to reflect on those long conversations that took us into first one and then another subject, until the wee hours of the morning when my intellect was stimulated and all we could do was collapse into bed, not remembering exactly where we began—only knowing where we wound up.

While walking on the treadmill this morning, I realized that somehow, without my knowing it, something inside of me had shifted. What piece of the grief puzzle, the loss, the resolution, had gently moved into place?

Is it that in our journeying and self-discovery and the multiple examinations of the past relationship, we resolve the ugly, the painful, the hidden along with the happy and joyous parts of the relationship?

In contemplating this, my thoughts turned to the fact that death is for the most part traumatic. It is traumatic for the dying and for those left behind. We don’t expect it will happen when it does, or how it happens. We don’t get to have closure. Yes, if there is a terminal illness involved, we might be able to have some of those conversations—but not all of them. We move forward, and in time, shifts happen and things change.

There are no certain answers with the grief process. There is no ready formula that creates resolution and stops the tears. There is no end point. Time doesn’t resolve the pain and loss. There are people who are in the same struggle ten years after they’ve lost someone—the pain is just as intense. I think there are things that can stimulate forward movement. I’ll talk about a few of them in no particular order of importance.

Be open to the tears, because tears tend to cleanse our souls and open new paths of healing. If we fail to care for ourselves by honoring times when we need to let the tears flow by pretending that shedding the tears is weakness, we shut ourselves down to legitimate growth. It is natural to cry in pain, to feel the hurt fully, and to allow our bodies to respond naturally when we’ve been assaulted by physical, mental, or emotional pain. Tears are a cue to the self that all is not right within us.

Shrines are damaging, so don’t build them. Shrines to anyone tend to block progress. They stifle our development by keeping us in a memory loop that can lead to not being able to move forward. We become trapped in the past life we had with this person.

Reclaiming a space that may have been the domain of another person is difficult and emotional work. It is a good idea to go into a bedroom or workspace with a supportive friend or family member to enable the beginning of the process of restructuring the new space.

Photographing things we want to remember enables us to move forward and hold onto memories. It also allows us to create new spaces for the living. I think people create shrines in fear of forgetting. This doesn’t mean that we go in and take everything away. What all of this means is that we give careful thought to finding some of their possessions new and loving homes. We become selective about what will really mean something to us. We might store some things in order to determine at a later time what we want to hold onto. There is an element of realism to this. In sorting through things, we can remember and face some of the work around remembrance that must be done in all relationships. I had sufficient space to store some things until I could realistically come to terms with what I wanted to do with them. Intentionally packing things away, asking others about some of the items, and coming to terms with how I felt about things enabled me to not erect any type of shrine that would be unhealthy.

In stating the above, it does not mean that I’ve wiped my husband out of the home. There are photos and other special memories tucked away that I can enjoy when I want to do so. No shrine.

Stare it all down. If we’re not willing to look at something, we need to as ourselves why we’re avoiding doing so. If we’re in a rush to explore everything, why is it a rush? Would allowing time and a gentle approach serve us better? There are some realities that we’re forced into dealing with, and meeting them with courage rather than denial does wonders for us and others. Denial, in its own way, is a shrine to the unknown.

Recognize that if you listen to your heart, your head, and your gut, you will gain insights into the when and the how of looking at issues. You will also have a better sense of when you are stuck and need to seek help in moving forward to the place where you become unstuck. For most people, the process of looking at it all and facing the reality of whatever loss it is seems to be the most difficult. We’re not animals who are designed to move on. We’re humans, and we function differently than out pets, who may remember and miss their pet housemates or human companions, but who will move on as the scent fades with time. We’re wired to remember, and we should!

Speak the person’s name! Speaking of memories and uttering their name is a good, healthy thing. Burying the person is one thing and keeping them alive in a healthy way is another area of work. Out of sight is not out of mind. Talking helps us all process the loss.

There will come a time when you will be able to remember and reframe the relationship that was lost in a better and clearer manner. Allowing for gentle time, courage, and uncertainty as to when it will all come together is key in moving on. Yes, I miss him in a different way now, and it is both sad and good at the same time.

Sanctuary

There is a musical trio known as The Kingston Trio, and during their recording career they recorded a little ditty called “The Merry Little Minuet.” While it might have been humorous, it was also a serious commentary on the times. That little minuet has been playing in my head lately.  The world seems to be falling apart. Wars, discord, unhappiness, and a pandemic all seem to be conspiring to bring us individually to a point of asking: How do I create a safe place of sanctuary for myself?

Those of us who have walked in the grief zone may be one up on this—but not necessarily. It depends on where we are in the process and how we’ve managed our self-care.

Sanctuary can be defined in many ways. The religious may see it as a place of worship. The spiritual person might see it as a state of being or a place in the heart. Still others may choose to view sanctuary as a specific location: their happy place. For this post, I’m going to use a bench found along a walking trail sheltered by trees that let the sun in so we feel its warmth.

How do we find this safe place? My experience is that it only comes to us as we shed the tears of pain, longing, desire, and uncertainty. It comes with the casting off of old certainties and beliefs and diving headfirst into the blackness of the unknown. It comes to us as we search for what we need and hope will spring forth from the ravages of trauma and personal havoc. In our recovery and rebuilding process, the hard work of deconstructing what was tires us out.

During our deconstruction process, we wonder about the ending. At first we stumble into momentary places of relief, but they are fleeting. Our work propels us forward to other new places of discovery. Slowly we encounter a place that offers us more than a brief rest and begins to take shape as a place of reflection and pause for our weary souls. Soon this place of the heart begins to heal us and to hold us in a place that we come to think of as sanctuary. It might hold us in a sacred place where only we’re allowed. It shelters and welcomes us. We can go there as needed.

With time, our reconstruction requires that we view our journey with both its pain and new hopes. We re-examine the old and discover the gift of the new. While what we’ve been through may have been hell, the place where we’ve arrived is a gift we’ve given ourselves.

Whether your personal grief was the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, mental illness that has left you debilitated, loss of faith or a faith transition, a failed relationship, or whatever hard thing life served you on your platter, you know this journey and place.

What does the above have to do with all of the crazy that is occurring in our world today? Those of us who have been to these dark places hold wisdom that will be useful to us in making peace with the world as it is.

We can and often do serve as witnesses that there is hope and support for you. We understand that pain can go away. We’ve asked the “When will this ever end?” question and discovered that we must hold space for searching our hearts. We’ve faced our personal realities and given them permission to blossom into something new and powerful.

We’ve come to learn that meditation, yoga, or a new spiritual self leads us to a park bench that we had no clue existed. We now sit on that bench and offer the questioner a place beside us. We can serve as life witnesses and companions for the weary because we did our own work.

As I reflect on the good, bad, and unpleasant of the past decades of life, I’ve come to realize that a topsy-turvy world can calm itself best if we center ourselves and take the time to quiet our souls. I look back and see how I didn’t have the skills to make it to a park bench. While I could manage a life-crisis situation and come out on top, I did not understand how to walk to the bench. The loss of my husband taught me to find the park bench and to be able to sit quietly on it. There is no drama here—only peace for my soul.

I think back on “The Merry Little Minuet” and reflect on my concerns for our present world state. Yes, I’m concerned that the U.S. is falling apart. I’m concerned that there is a war going on about a two-hour plane ride from here. I’m concerned that we’ll never feel as safe as we once did about viruses getting loose and infecting the world. I search my head and heart and in them I find peace because I’ve created a sanctuary for the soul. It is mine, and no one can take it from me.

Come, sit by me.

Seasons of Loss

If you search this blog, you will stumble onto “Seasons,” in which I talk about my favorite time of the year: autumn. With its rich colors, deep scents, and vivid changes, I love it. The fire and warmth move me to cozy places of the mind. The autumn of the heart takes me someplace else. 

Grief in its beginning stages, before the work of sadness is done, is cold and brittle. It drives wedges into our hearts and minds, and as if we’re stuck outside in the freezing cold, it immobilizes us in our pain and threatens in its beginning months to shut us down. The winter of grief stands mocking us and challenging us to bury ourselves and succumb to the cold. And then, as only the freezing cold can do when a person is close to death, it tells us that we’re really warm and tired, and that sleep is to be desired. What we need to do here is feel the shivers and stand up and move. As we breathe out and notice our breath, we see the cold in ways we can’t feel it. We must move forward and survive this desolate place.

In the work of the tears, we feel. For the first time, we understand our own pain at the loss of what was. Loss brings with it the death of innocence. Whether it is our first loss, or several losses out, each time a piece of innocence leaves us. It seems as if the winter of grief will never leave us alone.

In our longing, the winter does pass and merges into a spring of the soul. The texture of our tears changes, and new little shoots of hope and life spring up, as if by magic. We had no clue they were present! Where the hope of spring comes from is the tears that watered our winters, the fires that ignited our rage and anger, and the soft gentle moments that called us as we trembled in pain. All of it planted seedlings that are now poised to offer up growth.

In many ways, it seems as if we’re privileged to have our own miracle. We may shake our heads in wonderment and then accept that, somehow, the thing we thought would never end is changing us inside; and if we’re wise, we let it do its work within our hearts. We allow the spring rains to nurture new thoughts and questions. The spring rains are softer and gentler, and as we cry them, we continue to water and grow. At this point, we don’t fully understand our pathway forward, but by now the gentle sunlight of the spring calls us into new life. And, like the seedlings that have now showed themselves, we move upwards, forcing the earth to give way to new bloom. Spring, with its gentle power, is pushing us into the summer of exploration and strength.

The summer of strength, with the trees that give us needed shade, allow us to rest from the difficult work of the winter and spring, feeding us new and wonderful meals. We explore new places, gain new confidence, and realize that we’re doing the things we thought we couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do because of the losses in our life. We can reconcile old and create new relationships. In the heat of the season, we discover new ways of being. Maybe we even climb a tree or two. We swim, play, and discover that life can be good. We notice the days are cooling, the urgency of summer’s end sets in, and we wonder in our new strength what we’ve learned.

The days and seasons have carried us into the autumn of loss, and we allow ourselves to turn around and to look at the landscape. We see the fire of wisdom begging us to sit under the trees that are now turning to their rich colors. Soon they will drop their leaves of glory and will return them to Mother Earth. Now we sit in the place provided. We pause and begin to view the lessons of the seasons: the wisdom waiting happily to be examined. It is time to discover the treasures we didn’t know would come from our pain.

Loss, in all of its diversity, teaches us so many lessons: the life choices that we made that led us into dark places; our inability to say yes to something that was good because we were afraid to risk something new; the “I should have not done that,” as we realize the pain it brought into a loved one’s life; our first ventures from home and how we had to learn that maybe we weren’t so grown up after all; the failed relationship and realizing only too late that there are two sides to everything; the realization that, while the marriage was good, we might have done things to make it better.

The sitting in our autumns asks us to look, and as we look, we see the stuff we held strong in. We notice our weaknesses that became new strengths because we were willing to get through the winter and walk into our spring. We see our stumbles, our risings, and our victories over things we thought during our winters and early springs we’d never be able to conquer. We see ourselves in “Navigation” during our springs and summers, and we must pause to say “wow” once again.

As we sit in our autumn, we find ourselves shedding tears for ourselves—weird tears of amazement and understanding at the brutality of what we endured and the inner strength it took to get to the place we’re now seated on. In wisdom, we come to understand that the brutal winter had to happen so that the spring and summer could come. We come to an understanding within ourselves that, while we would not do it again, we’re glad we walked through the seasons of our loss.

As the leaves begin to fall, we bend down, retrieve a bright red one, and hold it in our hand. Giving thanks for the autumn, we return it to where it was so that Mother Earth can reclaim what is rightfully hers. We shed one last tear, realizing that once again, the process has worked within us. And we know we’ll shed other tears that will come from places of wisdom, courage, and gratitude. Inasmuch as things can be, all is well.

Truths in Death

My sister’s death and graveside service and the memorial that followed have given me time to think about perception. It is often thought that you shouldn’t speak “ill” of the dead. This is not healthy from a psychological perspective.

If there is truth to be told, there are reasons to consider telling it. Truths left untold can wound the soul. Truths that are silenced in a burial can be quite damaging. Speaking an honest reality promotes long-term healing.

The image we have in life of a person may not be the image we think we need to idealize in death. Before we tuck that squeaky-polished image into the mind, we need to ask questions: How will this hinder me going forward? In burying a truth, who is hurt? While we might want to polish the entire thing up, remember that the elements tarnish what we bury. Bodies decompose, stuff falls apart, time fades things in a negative way, and sooner or later the pieces fall apart.

With the decomposition of that which has been buried, we must also ask ourselves what it is we’re burying. We aren’t burying objects; we’re burying history. When we step back for a moment, it conjures up the thought of burying a family health history. And why would we bury vital facts that could save lives? How would that benefit us or those that follow after us? It’s the same with other history that has transpired.

If we can avoid creating generational trauma and the wounding of the soul, doing so will serve us well in the long run.

We all have a soul, though at times, some might doubt that they have a soul. You have it, and your spirituality, in whatever form it takes, stems from your soul. Your focus might be nature, walking, traveling to undiscovered places, making connections with others, or sitting in silence. The possibilities are endless!

Serving up an offering of love and generosity enables us to not wound ourselves.

I’m not good at burying things that need to be spoken. I’ve found that speaking the truth is far easier and less wounding, and that it serves us better in the healing process. Secrets can kill us. This is very true of family secrets.

I recently finished Healing the Soul Wound by Eduardo Duran. Eduardo is writing from the Native American perspective, is a psychologist, and offers up some wonderful insights on why we each need to address out individual pain.

A ceremony of my making for my personal memories that I want to work with is fine for addressing my perceptions and reality. I choose to do it privately.

I posted the question of what is taken from a memorial or funeral address and how it affects us, in hopes I’d get some great insights. I think I posted in the wrong place. The responses that came in were about the celebrations that were had: a party for the soul of the dead and the lives of the living.

As I sit here thinking about it, having a true celebration of life with no speeches doesn’t seem so bad. We still reflect on their lives. We still remember the good, bad, and ugly stuff. The truth of life is that none of us are saints, and the saints get elevated after death when they can’t protest the atrocity. This is a good thing for me, as I’m a huge Mother Teresa fan. 

Maybe the best thing for me to do with all of what was said is to let it stand. Allow for all perceptions to linger and move on. 

Love you, sis. We set you free and take our memories with us, allowing them to be what they are in our minds and hearts. I’ll create my own ceremony for you. That’s the way I’ll honor you.

Piece of Cake

A guy loses his wife after a thirty-year marriage and two weeks later he’s dating a new woman. Six months later he’s remarried.

Does this sound like a scene out of a crime show where the dude killed off the wife to pursue a love interest? Brace yourself: it happened!

Wifey poo died of cancer and this guy has barely buried the body and he’s finding a new woman. By the way, his kids are angry at him.

This story isn’t the first of its type that I’ve heard. But it is the first that was so quick where the partner didn’t commit a crime to start dating the new, soon-to-be partner.  I’ll admit that Jon and I watched a great many whodunnit shows. This guy took the cake!  

For some reason, this time, hearing this made me think about grief and finding a new partner. My view on this has changed over time. I think I’m still sorting this one out.

This is my six-year mark as a widow. My first two years were all about survival and learning how to get through the mess. The next two years were about the beginnings of peacemaking with myself and the good and bad of our relationship. Year five made me realize that maybe, with the right soul, I could do a new relationship. I’m still sitting with this one. The pandemic didn’t help, and it doesn’t help that I’m kind of shy and don’t put myself out there easily. I’ll admit that having a partner would be nice. I’ll also admit that I like calling the shots.

This brings up the question: When does one know how to move forward? My husband showed up at my back door! That isn’t happening a second time around. So how does one figure it out?

The question of figuring it out is one of the top questions asked during the grief and recovery process, right after “Am I doing this right?” This latter question is easily answered. If you’re staring grief in the face, and it is harder than hell, and you keep turning over the rocks to answer the new questions that come up for you, you’re doing it right. If, on the other hand, you jump off the grief bus because you’re feeling empty without a partner—whoa. Get yourself back on the grief bus, find a therapist who speaks good grief language, and start digging into the question of why you need to find someone.

When a marriage is successful and you want to create a new one just like what you had before, scrap the idea. It will blow up in the face of both of you. Your chemistry won’t be the same, you won’t be the same, what you want won’t be the same. 

This also goes for divorce situations. This is especially true when you divorce without doing all the grief and loss work around a failed marriage. When you do the work around the failed marriage—and do all the work you can—and then find someone new, your chances of not having a repeat divorce situation are statistically higher. This is data from a page that comes from the legal profession. I’d have to say that the stat for a second marriage holds for my widowed female-identifying friends: 60% fail rate. So why?

Relationship attitudes have changed. I’m not one to say that my grandparents’ generation did marriage really well. They didn’t. Many of them did understand the give-and-take of marriage and learned to make it work. Some of them stayed in an abusive marriage because, at the time, women didn’t have the options that are out there now. A minority were able to walk away and, with support, build strong lives as single parents, or did the work to find a second partner that did work out. It wasn’t such a disposable world then, and people worked hard at making it work.

The calm 1950s turned out to be an unseen pressure cooker for the explosion of the 1960s. Take your pick of the “I don’t need to stay in a bad situation anymore” scenarios! The Civil Rights Movement, women’s rights, and being a member of the “Tang” generation. Our classmates’ parents were breaking up, moving on, and generally not willing to settle for a sub-par situation when the perceived options and advantages for one’s mental health were available.

The bailout of the 1960s through the 1980s taught the kids that maybe relationships weren’t forever. In 1994 the term “starter relationship” was coined. I’ll admit to not having read the books cited in the article. So why am I sidetracking you? Because I believe we’ve lost touch with just how difficult the first five years of marriage can be. We’ve lost touch with the fact that there are options to scope things out before you move in together or pay an obscene amount of cash for an affair that may blow up before the debt is paid off. Because, if there are two things I’m certain of, they are that premarital counseling is a must, and that engagements are not about planning a marriage celebration—they are for breaking things off. 

If there is anything we need to remember when we believe we want to find partner number two, it is that relationship number two could fail. Here are some good questions to ask yourself as you entertain the possibility of finding someone new:

  • Why am I looking for a new partner?
  • What do I think the new relationship will be like?
  • Is this person going to have a specific job/role in the new relationship?
  • What do I want in a new relationship?
  • Have I done the hard sorting of the old relationship issues—both the good and the bad?
  • If I can’t see any negative in the past relationship, why is this?
  • Am I willing to invest in some therapy to make sure I’m looking at this correctly?
  • What would it be like to not pursue a new relationship?
  • What would my life look like in both situations?
  • (If children are involved): Am I willing to put a relationship on hold until the kids are feeling secure with me and the new situation?

I often tell people to give it one month per every year you were in the relationship. But I’ve come to the conclusion that one month per year isn’t long enough. Sometimes the healing takes years, is painful, and doing single is the best way to have your relationship cake and eat it too.

Doing It Better

Take the “dys” out of the function. 

When I began doing the work I now do within the realm of the grief community, I began to notice how many families used the funeral/memorial service as a weapon against those they did not like or wanted to exclude.

While families can hide dysfunction during life, it seems to jump out at you after the death. The dysfunction takes on many forms ranging from dictating who can attend the service, attending and disrupting the service and showing disrespect for others, stealing items from a home, denying items to someone who requests them for sentimental reasons, requesting something for vengeful reasons, challenging what the dead person would have wanted, and even denying the live-in partner the right to access the body!

I understand that death is difficult and that emotions can run high. I understand that sometimes the most mature people present are the ones that are excluded in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes they choose to be the adult in the situation and withdraw a request, not attend a service that they want to be at, or construct a means to mourning the death that will bring them closure even though they’ve been barred from a funeral or memorial service.

Sometimes it is the deceased one’s wishes that are being honored despite the fact that there is dysfunction present.

I find myself facing the question and asking: How do I honor everyone? How can families do the real right thing? I’d like for there to be one simple solution for this question and there isn’t one. Here are some suggestions that I hope will help smoothen the way and remove some of the “dys” from the functions that lay ahead.

Recognize that emotions run high. When you want to fight and be right, step away and remember that the person you’re fighting with is someone who has feelings as well.

This is a time for sharing and taking turns.  

Think about the real reason from barring someone from seeing a body, from an end-of-life service, and from having something they treasure. Ask yourself why claiming a beloved object is so vital.

The memorial or funeral is not the end of grief: it is a way point in the process. The real hard work is left for after. The Jewish tradition does grief really well.

When You Must Exclude Someone

It is true that there are times in life when a relationship must be severed. Examples are:

·    A person who has abused children and is barred from being around them

·    A family member who is disruptive and cannot be reasoned with

·    Someone who will not show up sober to a service

·    Someone who has done irreparable damage to the deceased or the living 

When to Record the Service and Send it to Someone

Technology is great! We can now record high-quality video on a good phone and send it off to those who can’t attend the service for reasons beyond their control. There are other reasons to send a video and these may include sending it to those on the exclude list. While there are legitimate reasons for barring someone entrance to a service, there may also be legitimate reasons to send a video of the service to the excluded soul so that they can attend from a distance. Remember that funerals and memorials are for the living.

When the living make poor decisions and do awful, inhumane things, it is difficult to make things right. My rule: if it’s in a legal document, you need to honor it. If it isn’t written down and it can be negotiated, come to a compromise. Sometimes we’re placed in a position of doing the right thing for both the living and the dead.

This is about making responsible choices and sometimes the best, most responsible choice for all can be difficult for some. Lead with love, compassion, and reason.

If there are religious reasons that a person must be buried rapidly, honor that. Can those who may not be present at the burial be present for other aspects of the grief process?

Some countries have laws. While I had to have my husband’s cremation on a deadline, countries may have laws that dictate a period for a service. These laws must be honored.

The last three services I’ve been involved in have all been by distance. They’ve also all been delayed. The delays have been from three to six weeks. Sometimes honoring others means being very flexible.

The biggies to remember are why, what, how, and who:

Why am I doing this?

Why am I behaving in this manner?

Why do I have to do it this way? 

Why can’t it be done in a new way? 

Why must I exclude…?

What would happen if we were to take a new approach? 

What are the consequences of…?

How is this going to affect the future?  

How can I/we make this situation best for everyone?

Who is best suited to handle…?

Who can bring balance to this situation?

Who needs to be honored in this process?

I understand that this is a difficult process no matter when it happens. I also understand that life isn’t easy and we all get rolled over at times. I’m hoping that this piece might offer the reader a chance to rethink the future. We all need to do it better so that we’re not in a squabble when we need to plan a functional grief process from the beginning and move it forward.

Watching Beth, Part 3: Endings

After the last post I made, I got this great idea on how to best communicate with Beth. It is a “chronicle” of sorts. I got the first one sent off and began to outline several more.

I woke up Wednesday morning to the message that I needed to call the States when I woke up. It was urgent. I knew before the end of the message what I’d hear. She had a horrible last twenty minutes of life with the liquid morphine not even touching the pain. I would not have wished her death on anyone. Sweet sister of the music, you are gone.

I sit here in the stillness of my office and understand that we’d said our goodbyes, “I love you” to each other, and that there was nothing left to say.

I sit with the finality of what has happened and know that I’ll never call over to her again. I’ll never hear her strong voice again. The words of parting were said and I’m fine with it. Dear Beth of the sewing machine, goodbye.

A prayer for those of us left behind:

When I see a begonia, I’ll think of you.

When I eat pumpkin pie, I’ll taste it for you. 

When I run into the outrageous, I’ll react for you.

I’ll laugh, smile, and wonder at the fun you had. 

I’ll never be able to pull a better April Fool’s than the last one I pulled over on you. It was sweet. It was inspired pranking! You deserved it! 

We’ll never talk about ways to dress our feet.

We will never stand over our respective sinks eating pears that drip with the juice running down our arms. I’ll do this in memory of you each pear season.

I will always savor the two birthday cards you sent me here in The Netherlands. They were both gems. Each is special to me, and I will treasure them both.

You leave talented musicians behind. Your children have passed on the gift of music and now the family can really engage in the magic of playing music.

You’ve fought your last battle, and won. You didn’t lose to death—you won at life. You got out before you would have wound up in that bed you didn’t want to go into. You surrendered your body and soul and said goodbye. Good for you, sis!

I will miss you when I can’t call to sing you Happy Birthday. You won’t be calling here to see how I am.

As the sun sets and leaves the rose color in its closing act of the day, I’m thinking of the sunsets we witnessed on the beach. The days of our childhood when life was laid out before us, and now it has ended for you, Beth.

I can’t bring you back and I won’t, because that would be regression of the worst sort. I love you.

The lemons are now gone. It sucked while you were alive and in pain. I’ll replace the lemons with pears and apricots, just for you.

One last thank you that you’ll understand: Thanks for throwing the bash. It was unforgettable.

Love you, 

Gail

Watching Beth, Part Two: This Sucks Lemons

The WhatsApp came in while I slept. It was from my sister-in-law, telling me about her Easter visit with Beth.

I read the text and cringed, fighting back the tears that came up because I had a meeting in five minutes. Then I thought: I’ll process this after.

Truth be told, this sucks lemons. I know saying “sucks” isn’t professional. Cut me some slack—my sis is being eaten alive by this thing called cancer, and I’m going to say “suck” because this word describes it best.

I’m witnessing the decline of a woman who attacked her life with energy, maybe took on too much at times, and loves her family deeply. This leads me to the “it isn’t fair” thing.

Who says life is fair? Where is that written? OK, maybe in the land of the narcissist? I wish life were fair, with quiet lives lived out and peaceful, convenient deaths that we’re all prepared for. It makes me think of that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Deanna’s mother, Lwaxana Troi, meets this guy who is scheduled to return to his planet to die because his society doesn’t what want to impose or inconvenience itself with the brutality of old age. Really? Wow!!

So yes, watching Beth, or hearing about it, does suck, and my job is to figure out how to handle the news in a reasonable manner. So, I’m stuffing until I can let it out, blogging, and crying because that is what I need to do to process this ugly, upcoming death.

In the first post, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be flying over to see her. She’s weak, can’t walk, and uses a wheelchair to get around. She’s in pain constantly. She’s on drugs and sleeps in two-hour intervals. One of these days, she’ll slip into a gentle coma and then die. Her reality is that she’ll slip away, and my reality is that flying there would be useless because I’d be sucking energy from her. Visits suck energy when you’re sick. If my nieces, who are now there more often, find a window of good phone time, I’ll call. I can’t help but think that even a phone call at this point will suck energy. Time to use only e-mail and have someone read it to her, as she is also blind.

As I sit here with the feelings gushing out, I can’t help but cry. My Beth, my older sister who played the piano while I sang when we were young, my sister who could sew up a storm, is dying, and I’m here and not there, and this is hard. No, it isn’t fair. No, why must she suffer? Why doesn’t her body shut down and let her leave? Once again, I see lemons. I can’t hold the tears back, and I won’t stop them now. Sweet Beth, I’m sending buckets of love, a gentle hug, and a song.

Lemons.

Watching Beth

I’ve debated making this post, but after sitting with it for over a month, I’ve decided that I want to give voice to what I’m witnessing from an ocean and continent away: my sister’s death process, or rather my process of the end of her life.

Last year at this time I received a phone call from my sister, and she informed me that she had liver cancer. From the moment I saw her request to return her call, I knew, and I knew that this was bad. I knew that I’d be hearing that she was dying, and I knew that I’d be witnessing this from a distance.

I returned her call and yes, it was bad. She said she’d do a round of two of chemo and that should take the tumor out. By late summer the call came again: surgery was scheduled for as soon as she could build up the body strength to withstand said ordeal.

The tumor was gigantic; it was the size of a small watermelon! That thing now out of her body, she settled in for recovery and did some traveling to see kids. She ended the year feeling OK.

January rolled around and she wasn’t feeling OK. The liver had been invaded with nasty cancer cells, and once again she began an aggressive treatment. This time it was worse, and by the end of February, with the protocol not working, she elected to check into hospice care.

This is where things are now. I talk to my younger brother these days and let him tell me where things are. Why do I do this?

I talk to him because she is now so drugged up that she can’t talk. My last conversation with her was no more than three minutes. This isn’t about me meeting my needs: this is about me allowing her the space and freedom to die and to not cause suffering.

Saying Goodbye

I’ve now had two conversations with her. The first one was a conversation in which I wanted to tell her that I loved her. As she shared her story of making the decision to die, I understood two things: this really wasn’t about me and I needed to respect whatever she wanted me to do. All she asked was that I not call too often. I could do that. 

There are times when we revisit the “if only” space; I didn’t want this process to involve a revisit. Closure means saying what is important and realizing that if we do that, we’ll be OK. Closure also means that we allow for others to be in their own space with their own needs. For Beth it means granting her space to sleep, to decline phone calls, and to die in a dignified manner.

My part is to make peace with what she wants on my time. I hung up from the first phone call at peace. The next day I was depressed. This process is difficult and raises challenges for everyone. I realized that this would be my process: engagement and needing to be sad while managing feelings around knowing she is suffering. I went through this in 1991. The difference is that I was caretaking for my father and had moved back into my family home to be there for him and my mother. Seeing it in person is easier than witnessing a loved one’s death an ocean and continent away.

To Travel or Not to Travel?

Should I board a flight to see someone who is dying? As I thought about this, I have weighed cost, what my goal would be, my needs, her needs, and pandemic safety issues. I could not justify doing a flight to the U.S. on any level.

Will I regret this choice? I don’t think so.  Which leads me to the next point of thought.

Certainty vs. Uncertainty

As I have grown as a person, I’ve faced the fact that nothing in this life is certain. It has also caused me to rethink death and what lies beyond. While I want to believe that life goes on in some form, I also understand that this type of knowing is not knowable.

Do we go off to a heaven? I don’t know. Do we become a part of the cosmos and continue on in energy form? I don’t know.  Do we shut down and cease to exist? I hope not, and yet I don’t know. My life experience tells me that anything is possible. My seeing death up close and personal allows me to hold space for all options.

For a person of faith, the above might sound a wee bit odd, yet I hold the belief that we won’t know until we know, and so I sit with a wee bit of healthy existential uncertainty and curiosity. As my mother used to say to me, “Life is not certain, eat dessert first.” While I don’t really do that, but see the humor in the saying, the fact is that sitting with Beth’s approaching death serves as a reminder that as much as I want to have that certainty, it can’t be had.

I engage the possibility of life and death on multiple levels. I’ve found that in doing this, I’m driven to live the best life I can and to do the best I can do while I’m here on this planet. Watching Beth challenges me to hope and to hold all options open.

As I type these words, I understand that I’m fine with her leaving because I’ve said the one thing I needed to convey to her: my love.

A Window Inside

two white rod pocket curtains

Six years out and I’m still amazed at this process of walking out of grief. I’ll confess that on the 28th of August, 2016, when I went downstairs to get a late lunch and found the note, my concept of grief was in for a radical change.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know about people who grieved the loss of other things; it was the reality that the loss meant something different to me now. This was my husband—my marriage—and it was different. I’d mourned the loss of a parent, grandparents, a sister, our four cats that we’d had to put down, another graduate degree, a home, not having biological children, and friendship. I thought I understood what grief was about. I wasn’t wrong, and I wasn’t right either. I needed to learn some new things.

My father’s death was the one time I was prepared for to death enter my life. I was privileged to serve as one of his caretakers until he entered the hospice unit to stabilize and to allow his body to shut down gracefully. Even that final week was amazing. He’d lived a good life and was ready to die. It was, for me, both difficult and celebratory. The feelings of loss came about five years later when my husband entered my life. I learned for the first time that grief and mourning may enter our lives years or even decades later. I worked through the sadness that my father would not know Jon. This time—and this death—was radically different. This wasn’t easy at all: this felt like grief on steroids.

Five months later my mother died of a heart attack, and I’m thankful that our relationship was one of friendship, giggles, honesty, understanding, and mutual respect. The family had to laugh that she died on Friday the thirteenth. Her death was overshadowed by Jon’s death.

My understanding of my own process now is that it took two years of dealing with the trauma to be able to adjust to a new life alone. Stuff sets you off after a suicide, and stuff set me off! I was in no shape to work. I wasn’t ready to socialize because things got triggered and I’d start crying. It took year three to begin to stabilize. There was so much to do, to understand, and to discover. While time is an ingredient in grief journeys—mourning and doing the work that needs to be done—time itself is not the healing ingredient. Our inner strength and reserves are the healing factors.

Somewhere along the path we walk, the existential crisis rears its ugly head. You may or may not be a person of faith, and that doesn’t matter. Sooner or later we all question our known reality and wonder if our certainty or uncertainty will stand up in our grief process.

One of the huge lessons most of us learn about ourselves is that questioning is normal and healthy. Questioning can make for a robust inner dialogue! Asking ourselves both simple and deep questions propels us towards resolution in our process. This didn’t occur for me until I was in year five of this process. I wasn’t able to think clearly enough about some of the questions I needed to ask myself about our marriage, relationship, and where we were headed in the future. I realized that the questions I was able to ask myself five years out were only possible because I was stable, had done some basic work, and had returned to the work I loved. It wasn’t time that had carried me here: it was my personal stability and the work I had done up until that point that opened up this new avenue of questioning myself.

Looking In, Calling it Out

The universal cry of most who find themselves in the grief process during the early days is “When will this ever end?” The pain is unbearable, raw, unsettling, and triggering. In the beginning we might be triggered hourly or daily. It is true that with time things change, and with time we eventually arrive at a place where the grief is still present, but the texture of the grief softens and allows us to relax with it.

What I’ve noticed over time is that most friends and family forget the “Please Do” items that most of us may still need a year—or four years—out. It is as if the funeral/memorial and dinner afterwards are over, and so is the requirement to show up and offer comfort. Is it any wonder that down the road there is a collective cry of rage from the grief camp? What, do people think this is a simple process where, once our beloveds are buried, cremated, and the ashes sprinkled, it all goes magically away?! That type of closure is overrated.

There is no grief formula. Grief is as unique as we are. How we feel, think, and behave are all part of our personality constructs. What we each do with loss—whether it be loss of vision, a faith transition, or loss of a life partner—will be different from each other.

When we peer into the window of another’s existence, we gaze on them with our life’s prejudices and experiences. As we do this, we’re often tempted to offer up what we want or need rather than what the person who is in a state of grief and loss is needing. Please, no more “I’m sorry for your loss.” Every time I hear that, even on a TV show or somewhere else, I cringe with the thought of “Can’t you think of something more authentic to say?” Have you ever thought that the person, while grieving, may not be sorry? Sometimes death, divorce, loss of a job, or something else might turn out to be the gift we needed in our lives, and it may have been a gift for them as well.

The Window Inside

What people need to know about looking in is that you are offered a glimpse—and only a glimpse—into our passing along the path we walk. At any moment it may change, because at any moment we might discover some piece of life-altering thought that sends us sailing into new territory. It will never fully be over. How do you move on without holding the memory of the one you dearly love? We mourn the loss of what was and could have been. We anguish over the fact that we might have made a really lousy life decision and it brought more pain than happiness into our lives. We hold the memory of our beloved pets in our hearts. We speculate about what our child’s life would have been had they lived into adulthood.

You look in and ask, “Aren’t you over it yet?” We must reply that “No, I’ll never be over it because it all involves love, and love is something precious.”

We’ll draw the curtains closed and continue forward. Ultimately, grief is a thing of the heart and soul. We’ll let you in when it is safe and we’re strong enough to hold you in our presence once again.

On My Way to Somewhere Else

Losses in our lives happen in many ways, and my greatest loss happened while I was trying to get to somewhere else that wasn’t on my agenda, or at least not in print. It happened in a way I won’t forget: a walk downstairs to find an altered life. A note on the dinner table telling me where his body was. That was the part of the promise he did keep.

We write scripts for our lives, and when they are interrupted the jolt can be confusing and difficult to understand. While we’re making our way along the road, the demons interrupt our peaceful walk and give us the boot off our carefully manicured path into something more like sludge, mess, and unexpected confusion.

At first, we panic, and then we try to extricate ourselves from this place, only to find ourselves pulled further into the mess of the sludge. When we realize that we can best exit the sludge by remaining calm, relaxing, and working with it, we’re free to embrace it. We can then deal with the mess in this new place. We figure out that the best method for getting free from where we are now trapped is exploring it for alternative exit options. That is how most grief and loss journeys begin: a surrender to the unknown.

I got out of the immediate sludge state and realized that there was a mountain in front of me, and that I needed to go through it to reach the place I needed to get to. That was both a relief and rather terrorizing.

With the unwanted interruption to our lives, we forget where we were headed, focusing on the path before us that has become cluttered with boulders, fallen trees, and strange critters that inhabit the once pristine path we thought we were on, and realizing that we’ve been transported to a much different place altogether. Where are we? What is this about, and will it be a help or hindrance?

No, we’re not in Oz or anyplace like it, though a part of us may wish for ruby slippers that we can click to take us magically back to before we wound up wherever this is now. We don’t get the slippers. Instead, we receive a walking stick that will come in handy in turning over the rocks, giving us leverage to lift the heavy trees that block our route, and in testing the strange new critters to see if they are friend or foe.

It’s taken several minutes to construct this, and yet the descent into this place happens instantly. We’re just not aware that within seconds of hearing they’re dead, “I’m leaving you,” “I’m moving out to pursue…,” or whatever the loss is, we’re sent by our mind into this place. As we grapple with it in those first few moments, we realize that our control is gone. Will we ever be the same? Will our world ever feel the same?

The Answer Everyone Wants

In this place we ask: When will it end? And when will things return to normal? The honest answer that we eventually discover is that we’ll develop a new normal, discover a new life path, and renegotiate what our personal universe looks like and what it is filled with. We forget about the old somewhere that had held us captive and begin searching for a new somewhere else. The catch to this search is that things no longer work the way they once did. The topsy-turvy has flung us into the unknown. All we can do is thrash around until we find something to grab onto that feels stable. 

We start to learn that the tears, the missing, and the uncertainty will fade over time, and in their place the texture and quality of what is present in our lives changes. Slowly, we stop asking when and start focusing on the how to of this new place. This leads us to finding a support system, a new village of people that is populated with those who will become our new friends. They understand where we are! They’ve been in the sludge, gotten out, and faced their own mountain. They’ve dismissed some old village residents due to the fact that they left the village or are not able to attend to the needs in the village at this time. We find a therapist who speaks our language and we seek out spiritual direction, or stumble into another path altogether. As we gain strength and our concentration returns, we begin reading books and are able to question and act on those questions. 

This new place of discovery is exciting, scary, and wide open. Oh, the options that we can explore!  Slowly, the places we were headed fade away, and we’re left only with new things to discover. 

You know how people say that we’ve changed? We have! If we do the work of grief, loss, and pain well enough, we reinvent ourselves. There are old things, new things, and a bunch of creation waiting to spring forth. It can all be good. In the meantime, the question we wanted answered disappears as we become involved in the process of creating new life within ourselves. New life and meaning are unique to each of us.

The tears and the missing are still present. They’ve taken on a new form and texture. For me, it was somewhere in my year three that I noticed the real change. How did this happen? It wasn’t about time; it was processing and a world view change. It is something we experience and understand due to the work we do around our grief, loss, and pain, effecting change deep within. 

Noticing the Gift

For some people, the loss and the grief that are encountered become a gift. What? How can this be? I’ll admit that on August 29, 2016, if you had told me I’d be typing these words in 2021, I’d have had said something to the effect of “You’re nuts!” I’m typing this and I know I’m not nuts. Telling someone at the beginning of the process that change will happen is counterproductive to the process. There are some “please do’s” and “please don’ts” that are essential to observe.

Relationships can trap us, cause us to shortchange ourselves, or make us second-guess what we want in our lives—to name just a few of the things that can happen. The fact that she cheated on you and didn’t want to work it out is sad. After the heartache passes, a new discovery of freedom comes.

He or she is now gone; the love you once had will always remain, and now you are asking new questions. You want something different from before, and finding it is a good thing. You haven’t changed; you’ve grown! You are beginning to trust your own knowing, and this is an essential component of finding the new place of existence.

The gift of the tragedy is not pleasant. We are called to understanding through the unveiling of new options that we truly have choices if look and access them in the present. It is what we find buried in the rubble that was once sitting out in the open, waiting for us to discover it for the first time. 

We couldn’t see it where we were because our understanding of our lives was focused on the life we had then. We weren’t stumbling along the path, attempting to find the new points of entrance into the new place that we need to get to.

I know some who have needed to step into employment for the first time in their lives and now report feeling fulfillment in a way they never have before. I know others who took the chance of a new career. Somehow, the lack of security allowed them to risk big! For others, it is doing the same thing with fresh new insight into the things they value most. For me, it resulted in several things. My favorite is that I returned to school for a certificate in spiritual direction. I love the program! Would I have discovered this had I not been widowed? NO! It took me moving to a new place and finding a new path to walk to do what I’m doing now.

Along the way, we employ new navigation strategies, discover our “rose rooms,” and come to an understanding that the interruption that occurred on the way to somewhere else, while tragic, has become a touchstone in our lives.

The Photo

Each year since my husband’s death in 2016, when August rolls around I dread it. It is creepy, and while it is getting better, it is still something I am dealing with. Earlier this month I posted on my Instagram account. When I saw this shot it gave me the creeps. I have been in this creepy, stormy place in my mind. Having to go in once again didn’t thrill me. Then something happened.

When I showed this photo to a friend, he exclaimed: “I’ve stood in this very place!” He proceeded to tell me about this spot, which was in Maine, where the villagers watch the storms that come in. As he talked about his childhood, and what that place meant to him, I began to see life and love in the photo.

Maybe it was time for me to attempt a rethink of August. In having these thoughts, I wondered how that could happen. When I think about August now, the rush of memories of where we were and what was happening during those weeks leading up to his death assaults me every time I open the calendar on my desktop. Was it even possible to consider a rethink as an option?

In my personal work around his death, I’ve reached the place where the good days far outweigh the bad days. My appointment book and calendar are filled with things that make me happy and inspire me.

So, I got thinking that this round of August was going to be so much better. It was—until my individual appointment with the person I work with on a spiritual level. She took me into this familiar place. As the tears came, I realized what I’d been fighting and I talked through it. Several hours later as I sat at my computer, the depression crept up strongly, and the urge to shut it all down was great. But I didn’t.

As I sat on my bed dripping soothing eye drops into both eyes, it hit me: This is not where I want to be now! My calendar and appointment schedule are doing what I hoped they’d do when I returned to work. I’m happy about where I am and the work I’m doing. Four years later I can accept the awful that I’m feeling in the here and now, but it doesn’t have to stay around. While I know what that dark, stormy place looks and feels like, I’m not in that place anymore. I’m seeing things in new ways!

I can’t tell you when the shift happened. I can’t tell you how it happened. What I can tell you is that it was slow and gentle, and it involved my willingness to stay on this path that I’m walking on. It involved confronting the old self, being willing to engage with questions, and visiting change. Some things weren’t new to me, and others were.

Grief and loss call us to an encounter with ourselves that can be rather revolting at times. As we look in the mirror, we are asked to converse with the person staring back at us. Sometimes we must admit that what we are seeing is not something we like. At other times the image we see is one that we accept with surprise and amazement. Is this really the real me? In the moments of amazement, we are greeted with the realization that yes, I’m really doing this! Yes, what I thought would never change is changing. Then we’re taken to that place where we ask the “how” question: How did this come into being?

I believe it is a combination of both actions and events that propels us into these new spaces. Small successes that build self-esteem and allow us to reconstruct what might have been damaged by death or loss, or in other ways. The courage to dare to stick the toe into the water and test it to see if the water will tolerate the tiny toe. When we discover that first level of safety, we can progress. The testing of the waters is a small event. It is one that signals safety and that it might be OK to consider a tiny action. For some people the tiny action might be making a meal, going out to lunch, or picking up a book to read. It really depends on our personalities. My first foray back into the land of the living was a three-week trip to visit the U.S. and it was huge in so many ways. I returned knowing I could navigate places that were foreign to me: new public transit systems and other new places. Just shy of the month of August 2017, I realized that Jon would say I’m “rockin’ this!” To tell you the truth, I was terrified! It was a huge first, and it would take another year before I’d do it again. But this time, much closer to home. The second trip was a journey to Glasgow and Wales. It was all new and, once again, with the support of new friends, I made it—and I did well.

The landscape I called life changed with that trip. I wouldn’t trade it for anything! It opened up my mind and heart to new experiences, and as the next year unfolded and 2019 rolled around, the tears lessened, the new friendships began to take root, and now my legs were immersed in that water. It would really take all of 2019 for me to fully begin to swim in life’s waters again.

Now, as I write this with August in full swing, and 11 days left in the month, I stop, take a breath, and rethink the photo I posted earlier in the month. Yes, my life has really changed. Yes, Jon would love that I’m “rockin’ it.” Yes, the tiny events turned into larger actions. Yes, it has been hard. Yes, I’ve found ways to move on. Yes, I’ve met the old me and have kept much of her. She is new in many ways. I choose to stand tall and strong in this new place I call life.

Revisiting Being Heard

This blog has a title that dates back to an incident with my husband’s psychiatrist. At the end of our conversation, when I thanked him for listening to me, he replied, “You needed to be heard.” His acknowledgement that this issue had to be addressed was huge for me. I left his office with my husband and realized that I had a title for the blog I was working on publishing. That exchange created a bridge of trust with me. I would need that trust as the years went on.  

That one incident opened me up to a new understanding of how validation through truly hearing with the heart and mind can alter someone’s life path. A good decade or so later our exchange still stands out in my mind. That doc really took the time to hear, respond, and accept my truth.  

Having said all of this, I’d like to share more on this subject as it relates to another healing moment in my life.  

Something happened to me after Jon’s death that was so hurtful I had to put it on the back burner for two years. I won’t share what happened because to do so would expose several people who, to this day, think they did a really great thing. It wasn’t a great thing. In 2019 I began to address that hurtful act. It took one year to completely resolve the issue. It wasn’t fun, and I’m glad it’s over.  

The catch—and there always is a catch—is that I had a well of pain that was connected to people’s behavior towards me. That wasn’t so easy to wipe out of my mind, or to repair. The reason why is that several misguided people thought that they were helping me in my loss when they were, in fact, doing great damage. The key to the resolution was, and is, gaining enough perspective over time to be able to step back and decide how to best handle the matter.  

This is complex in that telling someone what they’ve done isn’t always the best resolution for them. They most likely won’t view the event in the same way that you do, or have the insight to think it through. You might come up against strong resistance when explaining how hurtful such actions are. I tested things out with one of the parties involved. This person couldn’t understand why I was so angry. I realized that it was not productive to force the issue.  

The rage and pain were very much present. What can you do in a situation like this? 

Death rearranges the address book. In my case, Jon’s death did a grand Viennese Waltz through the pages of my book. People who I believed to be friends disappeared. Family who couldn’t cope with my new reality disappeared. It left me staring at once-full pages wondering how—and if—I could rebuild with new people in my life. It served as a witness that grief, and the lack of comfort others have with it, brings great pains to those who must walk through the lonely terrain.  

Fortunately, I’ve begun to build a community of new friends who view life as I do. I’ve paid a steep price for these new beginnings. It was towards this new group of people, who are becoming friends, that I turned, seeking a listening ear. But I needed more than just a listening ear; I needed to be fully heard. I found that person. I was heard in a genuine and caring manner. It allowed me to let go.  

Not being heard can cause someone to become stuck in the quagmire of pain, loss, anger, trauma, disappointment, and so many other things that I won’t list here. Not being fully heard can cause us, as humans, to shut things down, to cling so tightly to the pain in our souls that we can’t find the ladder out of the quagmire.  

Being heard—and truly hearing another person—may require that we face some painful places in our own souls while accompanying them through a darkness they want out of.  

Being heard means opening ears and stopping the responding and questioning, in order to allow for understanding. Hearing and being heard involve authentic empathy from the person doing the hearing. It is a skill.  

I am by no means perfect at doing this. Sometimes I blow it. When I realize I’ve blown the “hearing,” I go back, apologize, and work even harder at doing a better job during the next hearing.  

If you’ve been fully heard, you understand that one of the feelings that opens up for a person in this process is liberation! We are liberated from our burden, the trauma, the pain, the struggle of the choice we’re making—we’re set free to explore new and colorful options. Maybe we are enabled to take that first step on a road to someplace new. This hearing might allow us to stop the repeating “sound bite blasting” in our heads about what we could—or should—have done.  

Being heard entirely is a gift. It is one that we unwrap with joy, understanding that it is not as common as it should be. It frees our spirits, calling us forward to new ground. It opens us to new relationships of understanding and trust. When we engage in the power of complete hearing, it changes us because our views and hearts are altered. We can no longer choose to unhear or not see what we’ve become a witness to. Each time a person is truly heard, it changes the world.   

The Path to a Peaceful You

Peace? Right now it seems elusive.  

I’ve been thinking about the ways we all look to find peace in our lives. Some isolate and hide in their own inner worlds. Some turn the news off so they don’t have to hear the crazy. I’m noticing that lack of thought is also giving people the illusion of peace. People hide in their vacations, shopping, as well as their food. Some people hide in moods, achievement, knowing, religion, and belonging. Starting to see a picture here? How do you hide?

One of the things that has been affected by my husband’s death has been the need to travel alone to places I’d rather not go. The process of going began with me sitting at the dining room table with a group of people and being totally freaked out (“freaked out“ in this case being a technical term). I was panicked, I was uncertain. I was getting drunk on chocolate because people around the table kept feeding it to me and I kept eating it. I couldn’t even envision the path that I’d be facing during that first 24 hours. I believed that I couldn’t do it alone. Who would walk with me? The walker came later.  

The second full day brought with it a discovery that I wasn’t alone. I was able to reach down into a place that I didn’t understand and sit in the moment, finding peace within. For a brief period, I understood that I’d pull this off. But, I didn’t understand how at the time.  

I think that inner peace comes from being still and listening to our bodies and our hearts and trusting our guts. We should also allow for some “out-of-the-box” thinking.  

When we understand our inner compass it can guide us to places that we would normally not go. I had to learn to trust in what I had and to build it up as I journeyed on a new road. Getting through grief, loss, or transitioning to a new place is all about being able to walk a new road. It is about understanding that when the roadblocks appear, you can find ways of getting through them. When I would begin to doubt, a friend would remind me to “look for your options.” As I did this one thing, I could bring myself back to a place of knowing, understanding, and calm.  

I had to learn to sit with the uneasiness of things I didn’t like. That is just one of the lessons I’ve learned because of the life transition I walked through in dealing with Jon’s death.  

Sitting with stuff you don’t like is hard. The urge to get up and move back to the safety of the old ways can be strong. Seeing the new path and discovering the new ways will change your view permanently. Once you see the new, you cannot retreat to the old.  

I don’t have a magic answer for how to pull this off. I can tell you that the longer you sit in the new space, the better it gets. It’s the equivalent of breaking in a new pair of shoes. The first few wearings can be difficult and then the shoe begins to mold to you and soften itself to your foot. Suddenly, like the shoe, sitting with the new way of being feels comfortable. It isn’t a foreign thing-a-ma-jig hanging around begging for recognition. You feel it, see it, and understand that it is now a part of who you are.  

The catch to doing the above is that it is hard! This is where a good therapist, or coach, can come in handy. It can be helpful at times to have an objective third party who can come in and become a part of your team to cheer you on towards the inner peace you desire. 

Discovering that peace comes in the silences of the journey has been valuable to me. Spending my first hour in the morning slowly waking, thinking, and reading has also calmed my soul. I get that I have the luxury of doing this because of my age and not having children at home. Now you may be thinking, That is all well and good, but that won’t work for me. Yeah, I know. So here are some ideas for you to snatch at as a beginning.  

If you have kids, you can: 

  • Create a family time to sit and share 
  • Eat together and talk about the day and one good thing each person learned 
  • Claim one day per child when the two of you know that you will be together and do something you both enjoy 
  • Create an end-of-the-day ritual that closes out the day and sends kids off to bed. Make it enjoyable 
  • Read together 
  • Turn off the TV 
  • Go for walks, bike rides, hikes, or another free activity that you all enjoy 

Those are just some ideas for kids and families having to walk new paths. 

What about you?

  • Start by claiming five minutes to just sit  
  • Light a candle and just… sit 
  • Swap time with a friend to get out once per week—even for only 30 minutes 
  • Discover reading, art, or music  
  • Find a podcast you enjoy and tune in  
  • If you enjoy a bath, have one  
  • At some point in time you might want to welcome a cat or a dog into your life  

I’m hesitant to make this list too long, or too specific. It’s just meant to get you thinking.  

My parting words to you are that inner peace comes after the tears, the hurt, the anguish, and the doubts begin to be purged. There is no magic formula for any of this. What is there? There is the knowledge that those who have courageously walked and sat where you are now, have found their path to inner peace and a new way of being that will look different than where you started from. This is a good thing!  

To work with Gail, use the Contact form to request a session.

Minor Stroke of…

*Note: This happened in 2014. The similarities between a minor stroke and grief are mind-blowing.

October 3rd was a glorious and warm fall day. Jon and I were visiting friends. The drive south was warm and sunny, and we were having a great conversation. The visit was great and we were now headed home for a nice long weekend. We were in Utrecht, stuck in traffic, and I was getting tired. I put my head down. “We need to leave for home earlier,” I said. Once again, rush hour.

Pulling into Huizen, we decided to run to the store for butter, and I stayed in the car because I was just so tired. It was then that I lost all strength in my neck. I couldn’t keep my neck up! Weird as it was, I ignored it. Jon helped me into the house and I just sat on the sofa. He made dinner and we watched television.

It was after a bit of whatever-it-was-we-were-watching that we took a pause and he noticed me. I felt terrible and my right leg and left arm felt funny. He said that my face looked like it was drooping. We called the after-hours doctors. They sent a doctor out. I knew then that something was really wrong, and that I was headed to, as Jon and I call it, the “big house.” Yet another medical adventure was underway.

After the doctor took a look and got my history, he phoned Utrecht UMC. It was determined that I would go there, as my records were there and they knew about my situation.

The best way to describe what happened to me is that I felt detached from my world, and my body was not in my control. I felt suspended in space and at the same time, as if I were a heavy, limp weight that had to be helped to do things. My right leg felt like it was suspended in mid-air. I would later be able to state that I felt as if my leg were “drunk.”

Ambulances are weird spaces. They can be disorienting and scary. Instinctively I knew I was having a stroke but I didn’t want to verbalize it. That was too terrible a concept to utter. At the time I just wanted Jon to be with me, and it seemed like it took him forever to get there. As usual, there had been a car accident, so the doctor was off with somebody else.

Finally at 2:00 am, I sent Jon home. They’d be coming for me to admit me, and he needed rest. As it turned out, I won the hospital lotto that night and was wheeled into a private room. Now that was luck! Peace was to be mine in the days that followed as my health crisis unfolded. It had only begun on that Friday evening.

Before admitting me they had done a CT scan, but not an MRI: That would be done Monday. CT scans don’t show everything and this one was no exception. I had lots of symptoms that didn’t seem to last, or make sense. By mid-Sunday my right leg felt paralyzed. As I lay there wondering what was coming next, I thought, What if my lungs shut down? What if I can’t breathe? Or, what if I die in this room all alone? Now, that got me thinking. Being alone in this situation was scary. I would later beg a nurse not to leave me in the middle of the night. He was great and stayed until I calmed down.

By this time in the process, I needed assistance in getting around. It was not fun and certainly somewhat embarrassing, but you do what you have to do to keep what dignity you can. My speech was also being affected in strange ways; it was different from anything I had experienced before. The left side of my face felt like it had puffed up, as well as my tongue, and I was speaking weirdly. I was now scared. The nurses just watched.

Throughout the entire process they kept asking me to rate the pain. The rating was never higher than an eight. I had suffered worse pain with a pancreatitis attack! They kept asking and I kept telling them where things stood.

Monday came and I wound up getting an MRI. Then it was time to wait. And wait I did.

Jon came and it felt safe. Then the three doctors came in. There were no smiles. This isn’t good news, I thought. I heard the word “stroke” and then I was swirling in words. The whole thing sounded like the voice of the teacher in Charlie Brown. I just faded in and out and thought, What have I lost? I was sure that my right leg and left arm were damaged. Anything else? I thought as I lay there taking an inventory.

I wanted to scream “STOP!” so I could process this. “STOP! You are going way too fast! I’m falling behind!” Jon was now upset and asking why they had not done the MRI sooner. Why had they not seen the stroke on Friday? We thought I had not had a stroke because of the CT scan. Yet in my gut I had known I was having a stroke. I’d just had the weekend to believe otherwise. Why had I deluded myself?

Now I had to tell my family what the real situation was. I knew this would disturb my mother—it did. She was already thinking that I’d die. Thousands of miles away, she wasn’t taking it well. I only found that out when I spoke to my sister. The friends we’d visited on Friday had contacted Jon to see how I was doing. Upon finding out now that I’d suffered a stroke, they drove up to the UMC to be there and offer support.

The nice thing about private rooms is that nursing staff will let you violate the rules with visitors. They stayed until nearly 10:00 pm. Then they left, and Jon followed shortly after. I was now alone. I had to now make a choice about medication. That seemed to be one thing I remembered in the earlier conversation.

The last thing I wanted to deal with at this point in time was vision loss. I had to decide if I was willing to risk just that. Did I want to risk going blind but still be functional? I knew it could happen. It was a chance I had to take. I had to risk taking a drug that would save my body from another stroke but could wipe out the remaining 12% of my sight. I spent Tuesday agonizing over the choice, knowing that I had to accept the pill or whatever it was I was in for. I was still symptomatic and Wednesday it was decided for me. I drank the powder that would be a daily routine until forever.

Wednesday also brought with it a friend who knew of a great rehab center that was 15 minutes from home. I am so thankful that Marion knew where I could go for the needed rehab. Sometimes you get lucky with the right information when you least expect it. I feel very fortunate that way. So, I might not have had a say in medication usage, but I did get to have a say in where the rehab was to be done. I was learning that I had to take what positives were handed to me and accept them. The anger at the negatives would come in time and all too soon.

I got lucky in that there has been no major damage. You never get well from a stroke. You can recover a certain amount of usage and strength. You can learn to manage energy wisely and move on. But, you don’t get well. That will never happen, and believing that you will get well is a myth. So, I’ve entered the recovery and learning phase of post minor stroke in my life.

I have shed tears, felt despair and emptiness, and at times feel like I’m a burden to Jon. He is listening and offering support. I know this isn’t easy on him either. It is a balancing act of allowing him bad days as well.

I appreciate that friends and family want to send kind thoughts and prayers. I think that is more of a comfort to them because somehow they feel as if they are helping. It is nice to be thought of in that way when I am so far from you. What I need is help and at this point that means phone calls and visits, as well as a meal so that Jon doesn’t have to shoulder it all by himself.

I just folded some laundry and I’m wiped out. You don’t know how much energy you consume until you don’t have any to put out. In the past few weeks my life has changed. I know it will change more. Some things will be good and others won’t be so easy. I got lucky; it could have been so much worse, and I’m thankful that it wasn’t. I will recover all I can. I will build strength up in as many ways as I can. I have begun the fight in simple ways. This is something I know how to do: the inner warrior is back. I’m ready to fight for everything I can recover.

Today I’m Thankful for Science

*Note: This was written in 2015. Putting it up now seemed right.

Today I’m thankful for science. I am glad that I am breathing, and functional, and that I get to go to physical therapy. I am glad that during this coming week I’ll begin the process of strengthening my arm and my leg. I’m glad that there are people who understand what it is all about.

I’m thankful that there are doctors, and others, that took the time to sit in classrooms and labs, and learn about what is going on in my brain. I’m thankful that they had the curiosity to study and learn. I’m glad that there were people who went before, who allowed interns and residents to work on them and study them so that they could get an education.

I think back to my days as an intern in grad school and my postgrad work. I’m thankful for clients who let me learn via the process of working with them. Next week on the 27th of November, there is a day of gratitude that is celebrated in the U.S. For those who are U.S. citizens: What will you give thanks for? What is your life all about? Who has made your life better this year? Whom do you owe a great thank-you to?

Once again I will thank my sister for the trip to the U.S. I will thank her kids for helping it to be a success. I am thankful for the fact that I was able to spend three weeks with my mother. I’m thankful that I got that time because I don’t know if I’ll ever have that again. (Thanks for the bash!!!)

I am thankful for friends. I wish I could see more of you, but you are there and I’m here, and our hearts are together.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the complex that we forget the very simple. I am writing a simple post because I want to remind you of the many things you have. You have the ability to move your hands, to walk to the mailbox, and to see the sun. You can open the box or click with the mouse. Somewhere you know someone who CAN’T. During the next year, pledge to extend to them a service they need. Pick up the phone and call them more often.

Gratitude is a two-way street. We need to take the time to be thankful for the stuff we have. We need to create things for others to be thankful for. It is about giving and receiving.

It is raining and cold outside, and I’m inside where it is toasty and warm. Penelope just popped by to say hello and stick her tongue out at me. I look up and see my back-lit parasols that Jon put up here in my workspace. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for the last five weeks. He has cooked and cleaned and comforted me when I’ve been sad and blue. I cannot repay this but I can give a thankful heart and a very public mention.

On Tuesday I will have my first physical therapy session and I hope I get pushed to the max. I will also have my first ergotherapy session and that, too, will be a challenge. I can’t wait!!!!

I Think I’m in Mourning

Grieving or mourning? That is the question some are asking now.

With the onset of quarantines, being in isolation, missing seeing those we love, and social distancing, what’s not to be sad about?

I can’t sit in my favorite restaurant and eat my favorite sandwich. I can’t get my hair done. I can’t do a great many things that I was able do in January. Because I’m at a higher risk for this than some adults, I chose to quarantine as soon as I knew there was a danger of getting the Coronavirus.

Two full months into this process, I’m missing the human contact. I’m missing planning a lunch outing. I’m sad, but not really grieving. I’m mourning what I can’t have right now. I believe I’ll get it back. I haven’t lost it forever.

So, those who have love—and have food to cook—are eating their way through this thing. We’re wearing more elastic waistbands and not buttoning our shirts. If we’re home, our dress code is a wee bit more laid-back. We aren’t missing the dress clothes.

I’m sad and I mourn what once was and what I didn’t understand could vanish, because to have it could kill the innocent and those at high risk. So many are at risk! So I stay home and connect with Zoom and Facebook. It isn’t the same, but it is something. I’ll take it!

As my count continues to rise in the area of “people I know who’ve had the Covid-19 virus,” and has gone from needing more than one hand to count on, I am sobered. No one I know has died from this—yet. I mourn the change it has brought to our world.

There are those who now grieve the loss of those they love. For them there will be faces missing around a gathering. Taken too early by a thing we don’t fully understand.

In my home, while I mourn what was lost, I also am seeing the positive. We are being shown that the earth can heal if we, as humans, step back and allow it to do so. This process has also shown me that there is a time to reach out and a time to have the quiet of my peaceful space. Don’t get me wrong, I love my princess of a cat, but when you start to want her to talk so that you can hear another voice in the room, it is time to reconsider the situation.

I think what I’m attempting to convey here is that yes, this situation sucks royally. Yes, there are some good learning points that can, and will, come out of this. Maybe tonight I’ll have food delivered just for the human contact and hearing another voice. Or maybe wait until Friday. Whatever I do, I know that I’ll get some of this back. Things might change for everyone, but change doesn’t mean lost. Change means growth, and that is a good thing for everyone. Yes, I’m sad and mourning, but I’ll get to have my sandwich and great fries again.

What will you get to have?

When You Need Support With Being Bipolar

If you have been diagnosed as bipolar you are well aware of the pain, struggle, trauma, frustration, fear, uncertainty, and so many other things that come with this diagnosis.

Once you have a cocktail of medications that work, your visits to the psychiatrist might be paid by health insurance. But, supportive therapy may not be covered.

If you are looking to add a professional who understands the issues surrounding bipolarism in a practical manner, working with me could be the right choice for you.

Some of the things that I’ve seen with people who successfully come to terms with the bipolar diagnosis are that they do the following:

  • Create a quality support team
  • Engage in healthy diet, exercise, and sleep management
  • Pursue a hobby
  • Find quality relaxation time
  • Engage in activities that challenge them
  • Understand their limits
  • Understand when things are getting out of control and check this out with their support team

What I Offer:

  • Support for your process of stabilization and healing
  • Understanding that part of what you’re facing is the task of rebuilding a life of loss, and that you may be doing some grieving about where you currently are
  • Insight into the dynamics of how bipolarism can play out in relationships
  • Years of understanding that a person isn’t defined by their disorder

Who Can Work With Me?

To work with me you must meet several requirements. If you can answer 4–6 of the following statements positively, we can talk. I will want to know if there is a statement you need to work towards in order to give it a “yes” answer. The statements are as follows:

  1. You are in treatment with a psychiatrist and are adjusting to a stable situation with your medication.
  2. You are committed to swallowing your medication each and every day as prescribed.
  3. You are committed to adjusting the medication as needed.
  4. You are seeking to build a support team that understands the challenges you face in living daily with bipolarism.
  5. You have the beginnings of a support team and a demonstrable plan of action should something happen to necessitate restabilization. This is vital in our working together.
  6. The online mode of meeting works for you.

For more information visit http://www.beyondgriefandlosstherapy.com. You will find the same information in the site headings. Use the contact form to connect with me.

When

“Mommy, are we there yet?”

The woman in the front seat of the car is fighting the urge to turn around and duct-tape her child’s mouth shut—permanently. This phenomenon has happened on every long journey since time immemorial. Then the mother has this flash in her mind that carries her back to the beginning of time and particles smashing together. Maybe it even happened with the sludge of the universe as the Big Bang occurred. Imagine two atoms: “Are we there yet? Are we done yet? Can we get on with the Paleozoic Era?” But, duct-taping them would have caused a disaster. She smiles to herself instead and continues to focus on the road ahead.

Maybe in the grand scheme of the cosmos, delayed gratification is one of the great laws. The universe took the time it needed to come to its present state. That can teach us something. The universe was formed with only what it had on hand from the first moment all things slammed together and all things followed in order. No credit here. It waited. The universe used its resources where it needed them, when it was ready for each new phase.

Let’s face it: Putting pleasurable stuff off is a drag, but a necessary drag. Delayed gratification is about learning to respect the journey. Delaying gratification is about knowing that you can never have it all, instantly. Delaying gratification is about learning to work for what you want—waiting for the good stuff until you can get it in a healthy fashion.

But isn’t that a myth? You well remember that last flick that showed someone having it all: the big house, expensive car, fashionable wardrobe, fulfilling job, loving family and friends, and, let’s not forget—physical beauty. But, it rarely comes instantly. Real success, like the universe we live in, is painstakingly forged one item at a time. Yet, today, there are those who can’t wait. Saving is a thing of the past. Sorting out needs from wants is becoming blurred.

Remember childhood with its lazy times of fun and exploration? If you are old enough to have been raised during a time when play was really creative and done outdoors, you perhaps remember when books were a passage into another world (and not instantly made into movies), and TV was something that you watched for very few hours weekly. If your childhood was like this, then you are one of those who learned a valued lesson: doing fun things takes planning and time.

It is also highly probable that chores and learning to work were a natural part of your life. You had to save for what you purchased. I remember going to the store to purchase some shoes I’d saved for. For weeks I walked by that store window and looked at those slingbacks. Getting them made me feel “adult” and responsible. I earned those shoes. I wore them out proudly, had them repaired, and continued to wear them out.

For each of us the lesson is different: Anticipation is a good thing. Anticipation makes the gift we are receiving more intriguing, the new dress more exciting, and the new car that we saved up for more valuable. Anticipation gives a deeper meaning to most things we have and desire. There is a type of magic to working for something. Keeping it becomes valuable to you because to discard it when it still works means that you are discarding your hard work. Tossing it out just to get the latest thing can be an issue.

As I think of all the technology that has evolved since I was a kid, I remember that sunny, July day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon and life as we then knew it was altered. The moment was electric. Now it seems that much of the “electric” has gone out of innovation and progress. Progress is a constant in an advanced society. More and more, having it all instantly is a must. Trading up for the latest in tech, when the old is still of value, is common. To suggest that you keep what you have might be heresy. It is about having the latest and dumping the old. There is a rush on to have it all NOW with no waiting period.

We now have smartphones, smart drugs, and smarter cars, and yet we have not become any smarter ourselves. While results are faster, we as humans are still finite. We live through our technology. We live, thinking and feeling as if all answers must come fast, as if deeper thought should somehow be instant. We want that insight NOW, rather than being willing to let life teach us. We might even become impatient when our first few searches on Google fail to turn up what we need. Searching shouldn’t take us so much time. Why can’t we get it faster? Well, searching on Google is hard work, that’s why. Finding the correct answer does take some deeper looking and heavier reading. In the process you might conclude that there is not a perfect, or good enough, answer to your search, and that maybe it DOESN’T exist out there in cyberspace.

Remember when science was supposed to save us? Remember when the Peace Movement was the answer to conflict? Remember when autonomy was the answer to authority? I think we need to reread The Glory and The Dream by William Raymond Manchester.

Maybe we as a world need duct tape on our gratification instincts. Okay, that is an eensy, weensy, bit extreme. Or is it?

I have taken up baking. It is wonderful to create something that comes out of the oven and is warm and yummy. The fact is that baking demands that you wait. There is a proper time when eating will bring the desired pleasures of good food. Just think of something you love melting in your mouth and your brain will light up in anticipation. Your mouth might begin to prepare for the pleasure as you read this. BUT, you have to work to make it, so you had better make lots of it to enjoy!!!! Yikes!! I want to eat those scones I plan to bake for Saturday, but I want them right now!!!

The whole idea for this commentary came from a conversation I had with someone about the guide dog I’m working on getting. I’ve been in this process since 2010. At this point, I just want to move on. I’ve had to think about whether I’m ready, or even wanting, to move forward, because I can’t wait. Like the universe, I have had to work with raw thoughts. I’ve had to shape and train them. Crossing the street in safer places has become a must. Thinking about HOW I’ll do it and memorizing routes takes time. Learning the train stations and bus stations has been fun, but I’m glad I’m past that.

I’ve had to reevaluate my established walking routes, my future needs, and the needs of our cat, Penelope, who will have to welcome a dog into the house. Getting this dog is life changing, and making the correct choice at the right time is important for our family.

I’ve spent 15 months in Apeldoorn learning what things that I’ve needed, and lacked. While I was in Apeldoorn, I was also able to observe others with dogs. My process is of more value because of all of this. While I don’t want to rush things, I feel the time has come to move things along. It isn’t about “when” but rather about the process and how secure I feel with it.

Childhood is all about “getting there.” Young adulthood seems to be moving in the direction of attempting to get it as fast as possible and show it off. Eventually there comes a time in life when you reach “wisdom,” or the point when you accept that you never will fully have everything you think you need, but that you can have the “needful things.” The journey is what it is all about. Saving up for the good stuff is where the greatest reward lies. Understanding our real needs and allowing ourselves to have wants that might become realities brings peace through expectation.

“Mommy, are we EVER going to get there?”

“Yes honey, count the green and red cars, and tell me how many you can find.” I’ll be content to count the red and green cars until the doggy enters my life. I hope it is sooner than later because I feel better about “it” coming into my life now.

*Note: The dog turned out to be a no go.

Seasons

The air was crisp and the trees were colorful. I was happy because my favorite season of the year was present. Autumn was present in every form including the warm colors of clothing that I loved so much.

For me autumn is what I like best about the year. The northern California Indian-summer days, and the crisp feel that you get when you are out and about, are wonderful. As a child, going back to school—which I didn’t like because I had to stop reading what I wanted—was only tolerable because it meant AUTUMN was in the air. For me the world was then, and is now, perfect in the autumn.

As you age, the seasons melt into the cycles of time. The playfulness of life and a budding spring and its excitement give way to the learning of summer. Oh, and summer is filled with exploration and the joys and perils of adventure: the challenges and joys of learning on your own, as you discover that the lessons of young childhood and early adulthood must become a basis for your fast-but-seemingly-slowly-approaching full onset of adulthood. There might be some true “yikes” moments during summer. Those “yikes” moments, when you catch yourself about to make a life decision that is better rethought, can be a good thing. “Yikes” means that you are aware of what is going on!!!!

Summer brings discovery of your real “self” emerging into view. Summer also brings a desire to have it all. You don’t want to see it end. You want to play hard and never see the sun go down. Summer brings a growth that you learn from trial and error. The lessons of spring and the early summer remain with you as you feel the time now fast approaching when autumn is on the way.

If you’ve had those yikes-type moments, and have taken the time to repair what needed fixing, you are in good shape now.

Autumn is the season of wisdom. Autumn is the time when the lessons of a young spring and summer are played out. Autumn is a time of realization, regrets, new focuses in life, and a time of hopes, as well as sorrows. Before autumn ends, and the onslaught of winter comes with its powerful resolution to destroy all that you hold dear, you must navigate through the autumn.

Autumn is, in a sense, “karma collection,” or payback. Realizing that I could have made better choices has only come because I made the not-so-good choices. I took risks in life. The thing about autumn is that you can’t turn back. And, you can’t avoid it, because everything we do in life has a price attached. You must adapt, accept, let the leaves of autumn fall, and move on.

Autumn still offers me time to change, to learn, and to grow. I love autumn! Raking up autumn’s leaves is important, and like it is for a child who jumps in the pile of leaves (you know, the one he or she is told NOT to jump in), it can be exhilarating. I like to inventory the leaves and really see what is there. I learn from this inventory and that is always good. I love the process of change, even though, at times, change is an unwanted aspect of life. Getting through the trials of change still brings me hope. I am better for it.

As I now reflect on my spring, and the innocence in which I lived it, I’m amazed I did as well as I did. I look at my life and realize that it has had its challenges. Challenge is what it’s about. I’m not always thankful for that which has kicked me from behind or punched me in the front. But, I can honestly say that I’ve knocked down the walls that have sprung up in my path. Tearful days and nights have made me stronger and wiser when it comes to life. It is the mistakes that make you think about the new stuff in a self-confrontational manner.

If my spring was innocent, my summer was an adventure in learning. By being able to make both good and bad choices, and dealing with the consequences of those choices, I grew. Summer is a time when the life bank account is in “deposit mode,” and what you put in will, in the future, be withdrawn. You will have to pay for your summer. Some payments will work well, and others will hurt like having a tooth pulled without the Novocain. Life is like that, and you can’t turn from it. Sooner or later, the crisp days of autumn roll around and you enter that time when all accounts begin to go into “withdrawal mode.”

I am amazed when I hear someone say that they really haven’t had any challenging stuff happen in life. I wonder to myself what they haven’t been doing. The fact is, life is a series of challenges. Making mistakes is a good thing because it can mean that you are engaged in the life process. Learning from your mistakes means that you are progressing and committed to doing better as you move through life. Autumn is that time of the year when one can reflect.

I’ve come to the serious conclusion that few are blessed with all the wisdom they need to make life decisions at 20 or even 25 years old, and yet that is what is demanded of the young. I hear of more and more adults in their 40s or 50s who embrace the unknown of what they really want to do. They are happier for it. Autumn is a time to rethink, to take a risk, and to change the course of life. “If only I knew” becomes “Why not?”

Autumn is when you realize that it isn’t “too late” or “hopeless.” Grab the brass ring and do it!!!

Healing from the springs and summers of life makes everything more valuable. Reflection during our autumns causes us to sober up, to appreciate our youth for what it was, and to anticipate the future for what we can create as vibrant adults. Whether we’ve done it well enough in the past, or are choosing to do it well at this point in life, autumn is that time of life.

I’ve learned via observation that those who seem more at peace during their winters are those who have challenged themselves during their autumns. They are actively enjoying the lives they’ve built, and face with dignity the storms that life will still produce. I will always cherish what each autumn brings to me.

As I look out my window and notice the sun’s changing position, and feel the lowering temperature, I know that once again my favorite season is approaching. Autumn, with its crisp days and warmer colors, is just around the corner. I can’t wait.

Unending Story

A Place for My Heart

Towards the end of my work in Apeldoorn, I became aware of my personal space in the house. We moved into this house in March of 2011, and I was busy with the details of settling in and making sure our things had places. The upstairs rooms are small and it was a challenge to really know which space was best for what.

The downstairs is an open room that is “our space,” with the kitchen at one end and the other end for general use. We both like to be in the kitchen and we are learning to share the space—happily. It is nice to have a guy who wants to cook with me. The space where I work is a tiny room that has many Gail-type things within. Recently this space has seemed a wee bit cramped. Cramped isn’t good for the soul. What can I do?

Slowly, over the past month, I began to notice the lack of a feminine place for me to exist within. I’ve considered creating a dressing table where I could keep all the things that make my head pretty. The problem is that there isn’t the space to place such a table.

So Hubby will make the table, and when he really gets down to the business of design (which I’ve already done in many ways) and creating, the finished product will be wonderful. It will be nice to have the table when it is completed.

Places of Passion

As a beautiful place for me is a must, so is a place that sparks life as essential as breathing. For me, my work is such a place. I find that I become a joyous and happy soul when I think in terms of what I love and do well. I find myself exploring questions that, in turn, lead to other questions and cause me to wander over vast areas of space. I dip into one space, only to find a jumping-off point for another. The “what if” and “what about this, or that” span into hours of discussion time with another person and cause me to tingle and feel a type of life that exists nowhere else. This type of knowledge energizes me in a way that nothing else does. When I am not able to have this in my life, I find life to be dull, as if a vital ingredient is missing. I knew at a young age what I wanted professionally, and was not able to reach that goal until I was in my 30s. At 16 I was fortunate to meet, and know, someone who had returned to graduate school to pursue her master’s degree at a later age. As we spoke, and I discovered what it was she was doing, I started asking questions that we could talk about. She would tell me about what she was learning, and I discovered that I had valid opinions about what we were discussing. Psychology fit my brain in ways that studying history did not do for me. I was alive. I was also hooked.

I found that one of my early areas of interest was working with people of differing cultures; at first it was those with disabilities. How could the family system be strengthened when disability rears its head within the family walls? My interests have branched out to those of other nationalities and cultures and exploring the richness within. What was someone’s experience as a Peruvian or Mexican? How do they experience life in a different country?

During my graduate period, I began to explore other areas as well as the above-mentioned ones. Art and creativity and music were a special focus. I became aware of using journals and the power of writing it all down. I also began to understand the traumas that people endure and how they cope with them. Ultimately, my love of disability issues has remained firm. There is power in freeing the person who may be told “You can’t because you are […].” I believe that many things are possible. It is all about finding a path and making that journey—and it will take courage. This journey will change everything.

The Journey Within

There is something about the journey, and exploration of a person’s journey, that ignites excitement within my heart and soul. An “aha” moment when a light switches on, the click when a missing piece of the puzzle is found, the discovery that what one believes can change, or the finding of a new path. I want to know what the next bend in the road brings me and where the journey is headed. Change is exciting and challenging.

Respect is also a vital component. Someone is letting me into their inner space. I am allowed to walk with them through hardships and triumphs. If there is a failure, I need to respect and honor the process of their recovery and rediscovery. Compassion and respect can be a powerful ally in the healing process. It is sorrow I feel when someone decides to not go further on the path that would lead them to a better place in life, BUT at some future time, they may resume the journey. Life is full of uncertainty and how we each face the unknown says so much about us. If we each had a crystal ball, would we use it? If we saw the challenges ahead, would we still choose to go down that path? Life is about learning and meeting the challenge. “If only I had” kills the spirit. “If only I had” deprives each of us of what we can learn and gain from the mistake.

Part of my personal journey in life has been my own process of learning to ponder slowly. Learning that I don’t have to get anywhere fast has been a nice consequence of aging. Now I am prone to concluding things for myself in my own time. I may sit on something for some time before grokking it in proper fashion. My brain and soul are on a quiet and slow path to understanding the needful things. I wasn’t always as slow to conclude as I am now. The time of youth was far different. I cherish where I am and what can come of it. Who I am during my 50s will be a far cry from what I will have learned by 75 and who I will have become. If I haven’t changed and become a better person, what is the use of life? Maybe there will be one younger than myself who gains from the wisdom I’ve gathered. Someone who will say to me “You are so wise,” and I will have to say “I’ve come by this through imperfection and making both wise and stupid choices.” Maybe I’ll laugh at the thought that I’m thought to be wise. Only time will tell.

Places of Mystery

Isn’t that what all this is about? Living our best, leaving a legacy for others? Making the world a better place because we’ve touched it and made a change somewhere during our existence? Isn’t life all about doing good and not even knowing where the good leads to? You never know what you can say to reach out and inspire someone along the way. Because of what you say or do, someone might be inspired to take the first step towards a new beginning. I heard of such a situation just this afternoon: something my husband did has changed someone’s life for the better. He had no way of knowing that his willingness to be so open would help someone else reach out and move down the path of life.

I’m excited because someone is headed to a new place of discovery and mystery that will bring change and fulfillment. I’m alive!!!!

Music Bridging the Gap

“Love in any language,

Straight from the heart,

Pulls us all together,

Never apart.”

And once we learn to speak it,

“All the world will hear

Love in any language

Fluently spoken here.”

Sandi Patty sang this song and it was authored by John Mays and Jon Mohr.

Throughout my life, it has been music that has saved me from the insanity of life’s happenings. Music has been a vital part of my day. It has calmed me, allowed me to express emotions that I could otherwise not readily connect with, and it has allowed me to create wonderful things. There is one other wonderful thing about music: it is an equalizer.

My earliest memory of music is of my father playing the piano. I grew up hearing Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn, and countless others. Music was sometimes what I would drift off to sleep with. Music was also a chance for me to sing. I couldn’t do many things as a toddler, but I could carry a tune. I was singing before I could talk or walk. Because of my father’s music background, I was tested for absolute pitch, or perfect pitch, as it is more popularly known. I don’t quite have that, but I’m not far off from it. Considering the fact that I also have hearing loss, this isn’t too shabby. I’m proud of what I can do with music, and that I’m good enough to sing with a string quartet. It would be great to sing with an orchestra. What a blast that would be!!!!

I’ve sung in Italian, German, Spanish, and Latin. Music is a way of universal communication. Music, when done well, can shine as an example in any language with the beauty that it contains. I am discovering that there are beautiful recordings in the Dutch language. When I listen to them, the guttural Dutch sound becomes a thing of wonder. When the singer sculpts the words, well, there is an understanding that bridges the gap. Just like the “I love you” that is spoken in any language, the meaning cannot be misconstrued. So, “love in any language” becomes “music in any language.”

Music is the one thing that anyone can do!!! Think about it for a minute: You can teach someone to carry a tune and match the note. But, you don’t have to teach a child to open their mouth and sing. Singing comes naturally. Intelligence and physical ability are not factors here. Music is everyone’s gift of being heard.

Bridges to the Heart

Throughout my life there have been many bridges. One of the most powerful of those bridges has been volunteerism. During my life, I have been both a volunteer and the person on the receiving end. Both sides of the process are filled with positive feelings.

There are many ways of giving. Some commit to careers of service to others. Many people choose to give to an organization that represents something meaningful to them.

As I stop to think about the process that my future guide dog will have gone through, the first phase of that is the volunteer family who will take “my Eyelette” into their home and love and play with him, or her. What a gift!!!! Taking the time and the love to raise up a playful puppy in a healthy manner so that it can become a healthy guide dog for someone else!!!!

There is someone here at the Loo Erf who came in as a volunteer and he has affected me greatly. He loves what he does and it shows. The tricks and tips and encouragement that he has given me are gifts. It is a treat to have a braille lesson or a Dutch session with him. Personally, I think he has given this place a piece of his heart over the last ten years.

When I was in my 20s, I spent time doing an internship that involved those with mental illness. I gave several hours per week to those who were in need and in return I received a new view of life. They taught me to laugh in a new way. They taught me understanding. I learned so much from each of them. I still think of them and wonder where they are now.

We used to watch one of the animal rescue shows. Many of the animals were depressed and beaten down, but with the love and help of volunteers, they became “cute animals.” So we renamed the show “cute animals.” Volunteers are great!!!! Volunteers change lives.

My Pitch

Think about giving some of your time. The rewards are phenomenal. The sacrifice is well worth what the recipient will return to you in love and appreciation. Get out there on the web and Google up your loves, because somewhere out there, someone needs you to give to them.