26 April, 2023, is the day I spoke my truth for the first time. I wrote about in “When Sanctuary is Offered.” I meant every word then. Really, I did. I was also willing to give up the social life that was so destructive to my mental health.
27 November, 2023: the day my hearing deficiency was dealt with.
I don’t do 9:00 a.m. appointments. If I have to walk, take the bus, and be out of the house that early, it doesn’t work. I’ve set that limit with people. Today I had no choice and arrived ten minutes late. As it turned out, 9:30 would have been soon enough. The Monday chaos of gathering, prepping for the day, and being ready for the first clientele was interesting, and frustrating, to watch. Oh well, with my morning caffeine in me, I walked into the room. I had an agenda: better hearing aids that would be covered by the insurance. I had a list of requirements. Was I nuts? I’d soon find out.
An intense trio of hearing tests confirmed my suspicions: I’d lost a wee bit more hearing. I wasn’t shocked by the news, as I was prepared to hear the number. What I wasn’t expecting was what happened next.
I love the “gadgets” that I’ve worn for seven years. I’ve put off getting new ones because they were the best! Well, they were the best until they weren’t, and I finally broke down and made the appointment at the ungodly hour of 9:00 in the morning. UGH!
If one has to do the unthinkable, then I advise a list of the absolute requirements. If those can’t be met, don’t do it. This is how the second half of the appointment began.
The new ear molds had been made. My ears are even petite. First item: Are these things covered? Yes. OK, let’s move on. I want the chargeable, and not the battery, type. Now, here’s the crazy part. If you go with batteries, the insurance will cover some of the cost. At 90 euros per box, and a three-week battery life per set, you will go through some boxes. I’ll buy the charger, thank you. Personally, I think the insurance didn’t think that all the way through.
Moving forward: What can you do for my hearing in a social situation? How about a microphone that does a couple of things? It will link with your desktop, and it will serve as a microphone when you need to talk with someone in a densely populated social setting. I WANT!!!! The insurance covers it. Oh yes, I’ll do it. This is the answer to multiple issues.
By now, I’m feeling like I just had Christmas, and Santa answered my every need and want. It is true that I just inherited more chargers that will replace the ones that will be given away, but it’s a good trade-off.
My bag had three boxes in it when I left some two and a half hours later. As I walked home, I noticed the feeling of gratitude that I was feeling and took the time to honor it properly. As the gentle rain hit my umbrella, I had to focus on the path I was on. My heart was full, and as I entered my home, I was excited to try out the new gadgets. I cried when the mic put the sound into a better hearing place for me. I was calm, relaxed as the stress of listening changed from difficult to much better.
Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. It is a day when people in the US give to charities. While I do have a co-pay on this new hearing aid, it is not what I would have needed to spend had the insurance not covered things.
I have no more words for what happened today. They aren’t needed. The gratitude that I feel for what I have sitting in my ears is goon enough.
The sun set around 4:30, and I’m thankful to be in a warm house. It is time for some dinner and a relaxing evening. I need to start thinking social again. Yes, I just said I’d socialize again.
Nothing ever happens on track one. It is lovely to look at. I call it the saltine track because the wall is made up of blue tile and looks like the old Saltine Cracker boxes of my childhood.
Today, we all went to track two and waited patiently for the Utrecht Centraal train to pull in… until… that little blue notice popped up. I saw mass movement, and then read the thing… go to track one! Like I said, nothing happens on track one… until it happens. I went to track one where everyone, and a dog, waited for the train. That is how the trip began.
It didn’t get any better on the tram!!! The train for “Science Park” was on the wrong track. Fortunately, they had staff down there for confused travelers like me. Where are you going? UMC. Over there. Another switch-a-roo! At least this one was a quickie. Have I mentioned before that these trams fly? I’m constantly amazed at the tech that runs things, and I’m always thankful that it pulls into the station, letting me off with a short walk to the sky bridge. Once I board the train in Hilversum, it is all covered. On a day like today, when the cold has arrived, it is a gift.
Traveling is something I’ve written about previously, and on the eve of what will be celebrated tomorrow as Thanksgiving in the US, I pause to give thoughtful thanks for the things that work smoothly, even when they might sprout a glitch or two.
Gratitude has been a challenging lesson for me. I’ve had to learn to come to terms with a disability that has caused me pain, and taught me much. I’ve had to grapple with shyness, isolation, and compassion fatigue. The disability has challenged me to do things I thought I couldn’t do. I spent twenty-two years caring for my husband as we both witnessed the disintegration of his functionality. Yet, on this early evening, tears of gratitude come to me.
Today, a pause to give thanks to those who have loved me, given me support, taught me to go beyond where I am. Today I’m giving thanks for parents who cared, and did a good enough job parenting me.
Tomorrow my family will gather for the traditional picnic that we do at Lovers Point in Monterey, California. I will think of them eating whatever it is they decide to eat, especially the pumpkin pies that will be served up. I wish I could be there for that.
I pause to give thankfulness for the life I have. It isn’t perfect by any means, but it is mine, and I claim it.
As I sit in my warm home, and think about the fact that I have it, I’m content. I’m content to slow down some, work smart, and enjoy some of the simple pleasures to be had.
I’m keeping this post short because short works, and I need to switch off for the day. Hug those you love, send gratitude out to the four corners of the world. Most of all, practice self-love, care for yourself, and send a smile to those you greet. Smiles make the switch-a-roo go well.
How does it feel to not be believed? Think about it for a minute. It’s infuriating and humiliating, and it can raise self-doubt. When another human being or institution denies someone’s reality, there is something wrong.
I had to go into the hospital yet again, and yet again deal with people who did not believe me about having bad veins. Once again, medical staff proceeded to make multiple attempts to start an IV. They left me bruised and looking like I was the victim of domestic abuse. I kept telling them to go in with an echo, find a vein, and all would go smoothly. Finally, they did just that. I should have been believed. As I write this, my right hand is still injured and there is pain when I touch it. It has been over a week.
The multiple attempts at IV placement caused me to feel so many emotions. The question I ask is this: Why don’t medical personnel learn to believe a patient’s reality? I wasn’t spinning a tale. I was telling them outright that there is a right and a wrong way to do this with my sorry veins.
Believing the Person
My clients are important to me, and believing their reality is also important. As a therapist, I honor the realities clients present. Sometimes the reality is skewed in some manner, and my job is to help the person see it clearly. I need to call it out. Sometimes I’m gentle, and at other times I’m blunt. What people fail to think about is that they are paying me to enable them to make life changes, and sometimes the change process requires me to point out some uncomfortable realities and have people sit with them. It isn’t easy sitting in the shadows.
Shadow work is the hardest work of all. It requires of us the ability to sit in uncertainty. We don’t know where we’re headed. Much like crossing Styx, we must journey to the new shore to discover what our soul’s treasure is deep within. This journey is voluntary, and it is one we make multiple times in our lives because shadows are a constant.
My hospital stay has put me in a place of looking at what I know about myself, and the truth of my physical state. Due to PXE, my veins have taken a powder. I might build them back up with walking, and it will take time. My treadmill is waiting for me. How do I deal with not being believed from the beginning? I now have a shot of what my hand looks like. You’ve seen it. I plan on showing it as evidence, and not consenting to an IV unless it is done without trauma and pain. There is a time when a person must say “ENOUGH!!!” I’ve reached that point in time.
What do you do when your reality isn’t validated? The gift of being heard is the greatest gift we can give to each other. To stand as a witness of another’s truth, and to validate another human, is a powerful happening in any life. It is the title of this blog, and I will forever be thankful to Jon’s psychiatrist for the validation he offered me.
I wish validation were the norm. I wish that children who disclosed abuse were always heard, believed, and protected. I wish women who suffer the daily insult of abuse in all of its forms were always heard, believed, and helped to find their way out of such relationships. I want for people who see the moon purple to not have to argue their reality—even if it is impossible. Somewhere in their words there is a truth that much be heard. I think of my five Anns, and how important it is to hold every person in high regard.
I believe that more often than we think, we fail to validate each other. People are left to sift through the experience on their own. It is hard work, and it is made more difficult when the lack of validation causes one to fantasize about ways of getting back at someone. I’ve found in sitting with my hospital experience that finding an evidence-based response is helpful.
Here are some tips for how to get deeper into the self:
Play detective with yourself by asking questions.
Become a kid and keep asking why. “Why?” is a curious question. Sometimes the why question takes us “I don’t know.” This leads us to the BECAUSE place. “Because” leads us to realization due to the fact that it can be a place where we think we’ve hit a brick wall, and in facing that wall we push just a wee bit and dislodge one of the bricks. Once that happens, other things fall, and suddenly we have more information than we ever thought we’d have.
Sometimes sitting with the non-validating aspects of our lives moves us to new places. It isn’t that we didn’t need the validation. It is that the lack thereof requires us to rise in defense of ourselves and take constructive action. Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights actions are a great example of this. An entire race, blacks in the US, shouted in unison, “No more!” While this is a highly simplified explanation for one event during the Civil Rights Movement, deep reading and exploration of its planning will show its genesis to have been well thought out. Sitting with the question, and realizing its solution within ourselves, can cause an upheaval. Movement is good.
Sitting with it all is about being on the way to someplace else. We discover in our process of thought, and deeper reflection, that going deep inside is rewarding, and getting to the “because” of it all is a process of liberation.
It is true that some statements are easy, and others require time to sort out. Find a therapist if you need to.
The bruising from the multiple IV attempts hasn’t turned to the lighter colors yet, and there is still tenderness around each of them. I have the shot, and in a weird kind of way it is a multi-level touchstone. The thought process that spans out like a web began because of lack of validation, and it has carried me to new points on the horizon because I got a brick to leave the wall.
When this fails to plug into what you need, and you need to inquire about what is going on: Apple Inc., you are certainly not having the best interest of your customers in mind, and governments must now legislate what you must sell to us so that we’re not stuck paying double the cost for what we should be able to get at a lower rate. Oh, and while I’m on the subject, I don’t want unwanted business calls at any time. Yes!!!! If I need you, I’ll find you. And while it’s on my mind, would the world governments get it together and agree on one time for the entire world? Forward or back, just make up your mind.
Yes, I’m really on one of my rants today, as it’s been an awful, bad last week, and I’m not a happy camper.
So, do tell me why corporations can’t be honest with consumers, and why they think it is OK to rip us off when all we really want is a good bang for our buck, or euro, or whatever else we trade in. I just want one cable that connects to all my “i-Gadgets.” Is it so much to ask? I don’t like profiteering.
Dear Apple: Have you thought that maybe you’d be better off serving you clientele with fewer cables and easier connections for charging our devices? I own an iPhone, an iPad, and a desktop version. The desktop plugs into the wall; the other two need separate charging devices. Why? So you can make more money. I lost my gadgets while in the ER on Thursday; the staff tell me they can’t find them, and of course, now I must shell out for new plugs and cables. On top of this, my vision requires that I get assistance to do this. Good golly, Miss Molly!!!! I don’t like this at all.
So, I’ll most likely go to Apple and pay more than I need to pay for what I shouldn’t need to pay for. Oh, and did I mention that the www.bol.nl website didn’t deliver, and that they told me I’d get it on Saturday? Nope, so there is also that. Yup, I’m on one rant, alright. I’m aggravated. Since mail doesn’t come here on Mondays, I can’t properly scream until late Tuesday. Nope, I’m not happy. If you want a snarky therapist, I’m your gal.
Then there are the unwanted business callers who interrupt me, telling me they aren’t salespeople. Salespeople: if I want you, I’ll look you up. I know that it’s worse in the US. If politicians wanted to do something useful, they’d do two things: outlaw robo calls and send anyone who makes such calls to a deep and dark dungeon with no connection to the outside world. This should include MLM types as well. If it isn’t on the shelves of a store or online where I can browse at my leisure, I don’t want it. Don’t call me, I’ll google you.
While I’m at it, some of us prefer to chat to a live human being who speaks to us in our native tongue. I cringe when I get transferred to a call center in a place that is running a script, and they are clueless about what I need. All so the corporate office can make a buck and pay a lower wage. Has anyone mentioned the evils of capitalism lately? I may be a US citizen, but I’d like to have things quiet down.
Does anyone else out there think I’m on to something here?
Oh, and before I forget, there are the sites that think that if they bombard you with ads, you’ll pay for their useless service. www.doodle.com, get over yourself. I don’t want your service, and others who do can have it. Leave me be! Get over yourself, and that goes for the rest of you as well.
Is anybody out there? Does anybody get this? Am I the only one?
My friend just called; their dog is humping their mother. I needed a good laugh. Wrong species, pooch.
I’m stating this up front: I’m going to write on the state of relationships. Really, I have to bring this up because I’ve started laughing about two statements that have changed with time.
Statement 1:“This relationship is no longer serving me well.”
In the past this would have been put into words such as this: “I don’t think we’re right for each other.”
Here are some other things the statement could be about: We all grow, and hopefully grow together. In saying that, I must also state that a couple’s growth is most likely at varying speeds, and in differing areas. When we merge, it is unifying, and then the growth and exploration cycle begins anew. There is no end to growth, as it is the stuff life is made of.
Growth in a relationship stops when both partners fail to hold space for the other to explore. When we fail to consider the needs of our partner and understand that they are on their own schedule, and so are we, we prevent progress and halt the growth process. When we stop wanting to expand our knowledge base, we might fall out of sync with the one we’re with.
Jon and I shared a value of self-improvement. For us it was important to be in motion in this area. The relationship might not work if you are mismatched in this area.
Can people change? Yes. Can relationships end? Yes. My experience in seeing relationships end is that they got together for the wrong reasons in the first place. This also falls into the “We may not be right for each other” category.
While going through my own faith deconstruction, I witnessed couples who had married for the wrong reason: a church. As beliefs and values were explored, these couples awoke to the sad reality that, while they might be friends, the marriage they were in was all wrong because the reason for its existence was wrong. It wasn’t that they grew apart: they had never been together. They were a mismatched couple, and getting out changed it all.
I think there is a difference between a relationship not serving you well and a relationship that you’ve come to understand is based on differing values. Meeting each other’s needs, and communicating that to each other, is a major part of the relationship process. It is a dance of weaving in and out. It is a dance of joy and celebration, and it is difficult to make it happen correctly. Each dancer must do their part.
We enter relationships as individuals and slowly come to understand the needs of each other because we talk, learn, and ask questions. We come to understand how to meet each other’s needs. Assume nothing until you inquire of the person.
I believe that one of the things that has happened in the past two decades is that people have become complacent. We’ve forgotten that good things take time and there are no shortcuts. We’ve settled for fast or instant everything instead of savoring a slow-cooked soup that has simmered for hours. This fast pace has caused relationships to end rapidly. The “getting to know you process” is like the slow cooker that spreads its scent throughout the entire house. It creates anticipation and desire, as well as curiosity. Slow cooking a relationship is a wonderful thing!
Relationships, no matter what type they may be, should create healthy spaces for all, and when those spaces are not there, the reasons for the lack thereof need to be explored by everyone involved. This is why a healthy understanding of red-flag issues for ourselves, and for others, is an essential part of the relationship formation process.
The notion that opposites attract comes to mind here. Personally, I’ve never seen that to be the case in a deep and long-lasting relationship. Healthy relationships are built on common values and hold space for differing views. We can come to respect a person for challenging us in constructive ways. One of the things that I appreciated about Jon was that he would challenge my thinking, and it was the type of challenge that enabled me to clarify my own thoughts and values. I was confronted with my own need to do some deep exploration into my own thoughts and beliefs about my past faith tradition. We both did this, and it enriched our relationship.
I take all of my relationships seriously. I value them, and have chosen a small group of people that I take delight in rather than many who I can’t know well. I’ll admit that finding that things aren’t a match is usually a sad place to have to go to for me.
Statement 2: “We need to take our relationship to the next level.”
This one really makes me laugh and cry at the same time. What? What does this mean anyway? Are you playing a game? Does it mean that you are going exclusive, or that you want to move in together or marry? Twenty years ago you might have sat down and asked each other about how you felt about the other person.
I have a cousin who was dating five guys at the same time. She liked them all. The guys, on the other hand, wanted to spend more time with her. Back in the late ’70s, that meant “dropping” someone. And so, she got honest with herself, cut it to three guys, then two, and then one. Her ability to face the issue honestly created a lifelong relationship. Her ability to sort out what she wanted and needed in a vetting process enabled her to make a choice she was happy with.
It isn’t a game. Deepening our relationships is, as I’ve stated above, a process. It is two sided.
US relationship culture is different from European relationship culture. For some reason, maybe it was my father’s relative proximity to a German community that held those values for our family, even though we were in the US. My older siblings and I were fairly exclusive in our relationships from the beginning of each. Jon and I were exclusive from the beginning. We set some ground rules. We were also in our mid thirties when we met, and then married four years later.
Like my cousin, US culture tends to promote fun and loose connections at first. Putting yourself out on the “market” is a thing. Is it any wonder that people struggle with finding a match?
This brings me to my confession: I’m doing my work so that I can find someone new. I expect that I’ll go exclusive as I did before. For me, it’s about values. It’s about saying it straight. I do exclusive, one at a time. I’m not playing a game here because relationships are not a game.
With Autumn here at last, my thoughts turn to this post, originally published in 2020. Enjoy!!!!
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.
Memories flooded my mind this past weekend. My mother, my brother, and my sister all came up for me, and then the towels, and Jon.
Oh, those towels! I think back to when we purchased them. We needed to replace towels, and I wanted fluffy, warm towels that would feel good after leaving the heat of the shower. We disagreed. After his runaway spending, he couldn’t justify fluffy towels in his mind. I relented, and we got towels that I didn’t like. There would be no argument that way, and keeping the peace was important for my sanity.
I sit here now crying over towels and the wreckage of bipolar in my life, and in our marriage. Crazy what brings one to tears, and even crazier that of all the things that could bring tears to my eyes, it is towels, and the memories, that surface.
It’s the non-logic of bipolar that traps the partner into the crazy. You don’t see it coming, and when you’re in it, you can’t figure out how it is that you got to this place. Seven years without Jon has enabled me to autopsy the “how” it happened.
We were in his car driving home from my work. Driving south on 680 headed homeward, and to this day I can’t remember what I said that triggered the rage. Whatever it was, he went off, and to me, having never witnessed that type of anger, I didn’t get that it was the bipolar talking. What had I said? I was somehow guilty of something, and I had to respond with an answer that would pacify him. He had me right where the dysfunctional mind wanted me. I’d been sucked into something I didn’t understand. His demand for an answer didn’t make sense. In that state of mind, when he was in that place, nothing made sense. Somehow, to him, things made sense, and so he’d demand answers.
I was raised with love, and gentleness, and had not experienced this type of anger or seen it in a relationship. Here it was. I was faced with something I didn’t want, and didn’t understand. This brilliant guy was showing me a side of himself that didn’t make sense. It was borderline narcissism, and it was manipulative rage.
I was years away from understanding what I needed to do in this situation. My response was to attempt to comfort him. What I should have done was leave the rage and let him work it out for himself. I was trapped in a car, and I couldn’t leave easily. It would take his psychiatrist telling me to walk away, and that was over a decade away.
That session was the most helpful session we had with the psychiatrist. This was a man who really cared not only about Jon—he cared about me. He turned to Jon and asked him if my leaving during a rage would be helpful, and Jon, much to my surprise, said that it would be very helpful. For me, those words lifted a burden, and a layer of care. I was already suffering from compassion fatigue, and here was someone telling me to let go!
This wasn’t the first time this man would tell me to let go. In November of 2011, he took the time to talk with me in length about fully letting go and trusting that Jon would do what Jon would do, and that I needed to let the process unfold. Whether he chose life or death, it wasn’t my call, and I couldn’t do one thing to make it right.
In December of 2011, we walked outside to a waiting taxi, and I was off on a fifteen-month adventure at a rehab center where I learned some skills that enabled me to do more for myself as a visually impaired person. This was also a time of contemplation around the issue of being able to let go, and to let Jon live or not live his life.
I didn’t go to the Loo Erf without a plan for him. I had people that were willing to help and, with that, I could leave Jon at home.
I understand why people leave their partners when there are mental health issues. For those of us who stay, it is both a choice and a hope that things can get better. For Jon, that hope came with a two-year Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) program. It required him to change his psychiatrist and take on a psychologist. DBT teaches skills, and for Jon, it moved him closer to an understanding of how to escape the crazy of his behavior. This switch did not occur until I was done with my vision rehab in Apeldoorn. Slowly, the burden of caretaking was lifted. It was helpful.
What was most helpful was Jon realizing how the rages had hurt me. His promise that he would not rage again was something that he kept until the 28th of August, 2016. With a psychotic episode looming near, there was one last burst of rage before he ended it. This was not the rage that I’d experienced that first night; it was the rage of escape, and ending. It is a rage that hurt, and it will stay with me forever. His three-minute outburst would justify his doing what he did in the final moments of our living relationship. It took me to a level of anger I had not allowed myself to feel for him in the twenty-two years I’d known him. I needed to cool down.
I sit here wondering how to conclude this. I think about the three other deaths that have affected me post Jon doing what he did. My mother died after a long life of love and giving to us as young children and adults. My brother died, leaving his wife and adult children. His death caused me to ask why he wouldn’t care for himself better. Why? My sister’s life came to an end after a courageous battle with liver cancer.
Looking back on all of this, I shake my head in wonder, but not in disbelief. I’ve lived through it all: all seven years of it.
Yesterday I sat at the computer and realized that putting it off wouldn’t fix the towel issue. What did I want? Fluffy towels! I needed three sets.
Looking at the choices I had, and the price I’d need to pay to replace the old, worn towels, I thought about what I wanted. I’ll take a yellow set, a blue set, and a light pink set. In the cart, to the checkout, confirm the order with the bank, and the confirmation mail hit my mailbox.
I remember a moment in my office when I realized that the journey of grief was about the past and the future. A new life could spring forth. It was the thought that I could plan how my life beyond would look. I got that idea from a book I’d read on grief. The trouble with that type of thinking is that it feels certain, and life is not anywhere near certain. The illusion of control is what would vanish during the next years of my life. While I can plan for some things, where I was led was, in ways, completely unexpected.
I sat looking out the window at the other houses, and I thought I knew where I was headed. I could have drawn up a plan of sorts. Wrong. While we can think about what we want, it is an illusion. Once again, certainty called me out.
There is something about this process that, if we allow it to do so, leads to wonderful and mystical surprises. Around each bend, things that we can’t imagine for ourselves appear, and disappear. Life has a way of doing that to us. Call it what you want: listening to your inner voice, your own knowing; or just letting go, and letting it happen. If we’re able to engage beyond our control, delightful things happen.
In my case I listen, and I have been doing the listening since early childhood. Whatever it is for you, it affects our footsteps as we walk on our path exiting out of the loss we’ve had to face. That day in my office a few years ago has come and gone, and it has proven me wrong. I had no way of making the connection that leads to a transition, because when you’re in it you can’t see it. When you’re in whatever you’re in, you don’t know what you’ve been sucked into.
The real work of grief and loss is found in the liminal spaces, and the times when we can enter back into that “funeral bubble” where life stops for us and we pause to collect the new understandings. We see old relationships in new ways and call them out for what they were. We allow their existence to come to new places within us. It took me somewhere between three and four years to get to this point in the process. Some of it is good, and some of it can be heart crushing. Like a river surging forward, it affects how we understand ourselves, as we leave a sheltered space to travel to a new destination within our personal knowing. Once again, we board a new boat. We’ve been on this boat since the loss happened. We don’t know we’re there because, their nature, death and other losses are traumatic.
During the past few weeks, I’ve begun researching for a book. The research involves reading memoirs involving grief journeys, and I’ve been taken to sadness, visiting old haunts, and a new understanding of where I was, what I could have done better, and ultimately seeing that I’m at yet another place on the river. While my eyes are wide open, I’m scared, and I have questions for myself. Can I navigate this? What is my new soul work? I think this is that space beyond grief where you know you’re someplace else, and once again you find yourself looking back, and this time knowing how you got to this new shore. For me this new place is an intersection that has involved the spiritual, my sexuality, and coming to terms with where I was in my young adult life. It is scary.
I’ve arrived in this liminal place with new skills, and yet, it’s so fresh to me that I wonder if I’m ready for it all. Arriving at a new point in time is more of a recognition than anything else. It is humbling. Once again, I faced a new set of demons down, and moved myself to the new beyond.
In realizing I’m on a new shore, I pause to shed fresh tears. This new set of questions is so different from that August 2016 day when I cried and wondered how I’d do any of this.
I think that in the beginning of the grief process, our knowing and certainty get ripped from us. While we’re busy having ourselves torn apart in the first days, months, and two years, we can’t fully understand the stirrings within. We get grabbed and taken to an underground we didn’t know was present. The underground is a dicey place for several reasons: 1) you don’t know you’re there; 2) you’re still moving along to someplace; and 3) the more inner work you do, the more you discover. The catch to all of this is that we’re underground, and we don’t realize it.
If I could go back and advise the woman of the past—the one that was scared and questioning the “how” of it all—I’d tell her to trust her footsteps. I’d tell her to honor the trauma that the suicide brought into her life, and to understand that this new journey of learning will bring a new calm, along with new acceptance of the essential things. I’d also let her know that grief is like the River Styx.
In a weird way, the living are the ones crossing the River Styx. We cross an underground river to make a grounded connection. Each living journey is unique to itself, and what we begin our crossing with is not what we’ll emerge with. We enter an underground that will propel us to a new, above-ground life. The living work of grief is to cross the River Styx to find ourselves alive in new ways, and on a new shore. At some point in time, we noticed that whatever needed to happen spit us out on this new shore. We’ve lived through our hard work to discover life post whatever tossed us into the boat and sent us shooting onto the waters of darkness. In places the current was strong, and we survived the journey.
There is no way of knowing that the living also traverse the waters of Styx. Maybe this is why grief, and the journey out from it, is so elusive for so many. We fail to understand that where we are is not anything that anyone can warn us about. We are underground, yet seeing light. Our support systems are what provide the lanterns that shine in this underground of Styx. In this place the light dances, dims, and shines brighter until suddenly we’re out!
The work of grief is dark. Grief challenges us to look deep within ourselves, admitting all things and standing as a witness to our own life, and the life of the deceased. We must honor the truth of each life. Like in Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card, we must recognize the truth of our life, and the lives of those gone from us. We find our truth while traveling in the darkness of the River Styx. The work of grief requires this.
I pause with this realization of the journey well-traveled: WOWZA!!!! I dig my feet into the warm sand on the new shore. This is the afterlife! Post Styx. Goodbye, Styx, and thank you for the boat that served me so well.
During the summer of 2016, I sat in my office and realized that I needed to make a hard decision: do I leave Jon, or do I stay? Leaving him would mean that I would be able to pursue my own path, and I’d exit the caregiver role that had taken up so much of my emotional energy for the past twenty-two years. I was worn out. Staying in the marriage would mean that I’d continue to do what I’d been doing for most of our relationship.
Leaving him when he was not able to stand on his own yet could mean suicide. He was doing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. DBT was created from Marsha Linehan’s work. I’m thankful that she had the insight to bring this forward for the mental health community. For Jon, it was a slow process, and one that would take many more years. The therapist needed to help him resolve family-of-origin issues, as well as provide him some life skills that would help during times of crisis. In the long run, I’d benefit from what he was doing.
What no one knew in July of 2016 was that in six weeks the horror of suicide would confront me. He was entering into another psychotic episode, and this was the one thing that would cause him to end his life. He wore a mask of fear around facing another psychotic episode and recovering from the damage it would cause. He had disclosed to me that if he felt himself moving in this direction, he would end his life. Not one of us who might have seen it coming saw things for what they were.
As I think back, compassion fatigue had burrowed deep into my mind. I was physically and mentally exhausted.
Where was I? If he told me to gather up the objects that would enable him to end his life, I would go through the house and do so. I would store them away until he felt safe from himself. When he stressed and had a crisis, I talked him down from it. Sometimes it took hours to get him to a point where he would swallow an extra dose of medication. Then I’d need to make sure he slept. When he overspent, I could no longer fight it. I had no energy to go up against the crazy. Everything combined took its toll on me. I felt like I was abused, and there were no bruises to show for the abuse I was enduring. If he felt something, I felt is as well. I was becoming nuts in my own way. How could I not feel for him? He was suffering in ways that cut deep into his soul. I couldn’t sense this in its fullness as it happened. Our humanity leads us to compassion for suffering of this magnitude. Compassion calls us to act when we can’t empathize with something that we haven’t experienced. I will never know what it is like to feel the level of darkness, dysfunction, and despair that he felt on a daily basis.
I asked questions to understand. It is one of the reasons I’ve placed his writing on this site in the form he constructed his blog Jon’s Hideaway. Jon struggled with sharing the little he did share. I’m glad he was courageous.
There were the comments, and the assumptions. I was told that I wasn’t putting enough into the marriage! Holy hell, I was dying inside!
Being raised in a patriarchy and a high-demand religion wasn’t helping me in any way whatsoever. I raged inside as there was no place for me to turn. Had I gone full disclosure to my family, I would have been told to divorce him. I loved him, and I couldn’t see a path that would have served us both well. What I needed was mental and emotional relief from the situation. When you are dealing with compassion fatigue, you can’t understand the pulling apart of your own soul that is taking place at the time. The fatigue blocks it out.
The Needs of Caregivers
What do caretakers who deal with the bipolar population need? First, and above everything else, we need safe places that allow us to disclose our needs. We need a supportive friend who can listen and keep us objective, and also show empathy. We need someone to spell us off so that we can get out and get away from the stress when the stressful times increase. We need others to come in and help with housework or meals when our energy is low.
One of the huge issues I had with Jon was around keeping his dignity intact. Jon was a brilliant man. Mental illness robs people of dignity. As his caregiver, I fought to shelter him from people who didn’t understand. He was well aware of how mental illness is viewed. We talked about it often.
How do you explain to people that bipolar isn’t the person going creatively mad? Most of what bipolar brings into a person’s life is darkness, dysfunction, days and nights of sleeping, and not being able to care for yourself. Showering can be put off for days. Brushing teeth might not happen, and if a person is alone, they might not eat, or they might overeat.
During the time I was out of the home for a vision rehab program, I had people set up to deal with the crisis end of things. I didn’t have people set up to check in on him. At the end of one of my four days away from him, I walked in on a scene that scared me. He hadn’t fed himself, showered, taken out the trash for pick up, and had I not come home it would have become worse. I called the psychiatrist and got him in. Then, I took a week off from the program in order to stabilize things at home. I wasn’t worried about him attempting suicide: he didn’t have that kind of energy. I needed more help than I had.
There is also the obsessive-compulsive factor that surrounds bipolar. Not all bipolars are also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); however, there are components of the disorder that show up for many people. For Jon it was being able to make his guitar. He needed to have the perfect neck for him to play. So, he never really played his guitar: he researched, purchased tools to “fix” it, and then never got to fixing it. There was also the thought that he would record his own music. So, he began to build his own recording studio. Trying to reason with him became a war zone. I stopped fighting with him. I didn’t want the war to resurface in our relationship.
Then the issue of me cleaning our house came up, and I wasn’t allowed to clean the house because I couldn’t see it all well enough to do the task right. He would put it off, and every once in a few months would take several hours and clean. I sunk further into despair. When we moved out of our home due to bankruptcy, and people came to help us move, I was the one blamed for the messy house. Once again, no one asked the why question, and it wasn’t safe to explain it all. As my mother used to say, “Assuming make an ass out of you and me.”
One thing led to another, and by the time he took his own life, I was beyond worn out: I was numb.
While I was able to understand on some level what the marriage had done to me, I wasn’t able to understand it in its completeness. It would take years for that to happen. It has taken over eighty-four months to write this post. It isn’t that I was unaware of compassion fatigue; it is about the fact that grief work involves sifting through so many aspects of life. For me to fully process this has taken almost eighty-five months. For some of you it will happen much sooner in the process.
When I look into the mirror, I see a face that isn’t stressed, a woman who can smile, and a life that is taking me along paths that I never imagined I’d walk. It is enough.
In July I attended a webinar on diversity. The presenter knew two things: people of color and compassion for the LGBTQIA2S community. And the presentation, or lack thereof, bombed. Just my opinion, but I know something about the subject.
What really bugged me is that he really didn’t have any presentation; he wanted people to ask him questions, and the hour was Americentric. It was an hour I’ll never get back.
Many people, when they attempt to speak about diversity, completely ignore the community that intersects all communities: the disabled. It is as if they have blinders to the reality that someday, they could become a card-carrying member of the disabled population.
When these conversations occur, if we’re mentioned at all, it is as an afterthought. This really bugs me! We have conversations about everything else that is diversity, and we even talk about use of white privilege and economic privilege, and the disabled are left blowing in the wind.
The voices that should stand for us don’t really show. Parents show for their children. Who stands for the vulnerable adults? Special interest groups? Many of those groups focus on children.
I’ve stood for myself, and I sure wish someone would use their privilege to stand for me. I’m worn out from being the justice warrior in this area. I may be an enneagram type eight, but who will speak for me when I need assistance? For the most part, I’m left to find it on my own.
Finding it on your own can be messy. And the mess in my life came to a crashing halt days after that webinar.
Lessons From Room A341
It began on July 20th, after a day in Utrecht. I woke up tired and attributed it to the running around I’d done the previous day. By Saturday morning, I had to fight to get out of bed, and Sunday I felt awful. Monday, I let the sick state of being take over, thinking that resting, plenty of fluids, and eating would fix the situation. It got worse. The next Sunday, I knew I’d better call the doctor’s office. I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life, and my gut was telling me that I needed to get to the hospital. I also needed the doctor to make a house call. My head was working well enough to know that I couldn’t care for myself. In the past week, I’d become disoriented during the night and couldn’t find my way out of my bed or my room. I couldn’t even think straight enough to turn my lamp on. This was bad. I also knew I was a physical mess. So, Monday morning I rang up the doctor’s office, and around 5:00 PM the doctor came. She called the ambulance, and I settled into more of the disorientation that was present. I was finally able to just lay in a bed.
After eight hours in an ER, and the staff finally able to get the proper IV and other things inserted into my body, I was moved to a room on the same floor for observation. That Tuesday, they finally sent me upstairs to a room. I think it was evening by then. Wednesday, after cultures were grown, I found out my diagnosis. I’ll say that it wasn’t the E. coli that was doing bad things to me—they could cure that with antibiotics—it was the kidneys and my diabetes that went completely out of control. My personal education was about to expand, and I was also about to expand other people’s education as I lay in a bed in room A341.
If there is one thing I don’t like, it is having to explain the why of, after over twenty years of living in this wonderful country, my Dutch is so bad, and why I can’t speak more of it. Being hearing impaired and learning Dutch do not pair well. As languages go, this one is like a spoiled child who keeps wanting to change the rules because no one has told them NO. I lay in the bed, minus my hearing aids, having to tell people to speak only English. The fact that my vision was bugging out on me was less of a worry. I also had to deal with that.
I’m having to explain this to people when I’m really sick, not fully understanding what is going on, and my head is being hit with not knowing what I need to do to process it all. And, to top it off, I’m weak.
I’ve come to the conclusion that teaching hospitals at universities work better for me. I don’t have to explain things.
I’m angry, and all I want is to be shown some consideration, because nothing is working correctly. Why do I need to explain this to everyone? I fantasized about what I’d say when I could write. I don’t remember what I thought. I do remember that it hurt to think about it. I was really too sick to think straight.
The Upside and the Downside
Having my meals brought to me, and discovering that someone in the kitchen was able to do fish that tasted amazing, was wonderful. I had to admit that if one is sick, this is the way to do it. Yet, not having physical visitors took its toll. Messenger and Zoom phone helped with that.
Most of what I’ve learned I’ve discovered since discharge. It’s been eye opening.
When I use the word “sick” in the bullet points below, I am speaking of the “sick” that puts one in the hospital, and that requires longer recovery periods:
Being sick can cause trauma to build.
Being sick can cause someone to become self-centered.
Being sick can close our eyes to the lessons we need to learn around our own situations, and how we treat others.
Being sick means we need to listen to others when they tell us to slow down and nap during the day.
I feel awful about the self-centeredness and realize now that it stemmed from trying to recover too fast.
I’m convinced that there are times when nursing staff don’t understand the behavior they are seeing. Trauma can build due to uncertainty, and in the early days of my hospitalization, I didn’t understand that what was going on could have killed me. I was in a daze, and nobody picked up on it. I had told a friend during my time at home that “I don’t have good sick skills.” This is because as a child, what I learned post all of the normal stuff children get was not much. I was a healthy person. It has caught up with me. It is also my personality. I don’t like to stay in bed. I share this because of the fourth bullet point listed above. My doctor told me to take the time to nap if I felt I was tired. She also told me to begin to build up walking strength slowly using my treadmill. I tried to ignore self-care the first few days I was home. Then I made an effort to follow her suggestions, and I found that my strength was returning!
If we listen to our bodies, we can learn wonderful things! It’s been over a month since this began, and today I’m enjoying a pleasant afternoon at my computer. I’m gaining strength, enjoying insights, learning about myself and others, and understanding that my challenge is to keep healthy in new ways. I’ll keep this short so that I can exercise a wee bit of self-care. I’m doing well with this new routine of mine. I just wish I wouldn’t need to do so much explaining… and yet that is what we in the disabled community must do.
Two years ago, I began to attend courses on the enneagram. I’m a type eight. Yes, the one that so many look at as “the worst.” But I don’t agree. I claim who I am proudly! Others have differing personality types with their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll own mine.
When I first read the description of an eight, I was repelled. It didn’t feel flattering. I did not want to see it, let alone identify as an eight. It took me some time to accept that I am all of it, the ugly along with the great things, and there are so many wonderful things about who I am!
The enneagram is a spiritual growth tool. One of the benefits of using the enneagram is that a person can learn to work on the not-so-healthy parts of themselves and move forward into health. This is the journey we are all on: self-discovery and improvement. I embrace this journey fully.
This last week I was asked by another course attendee what I liked about being an eight. To answer the question, I decided to write this post.
When I first read about who eights are personality-wise, all I could see in the words were the negatives. To tell you all the truth, I readily identified with the harshness that we as type eights can hold ourselves to. I possess an inner critic that pushes me to do my best. I’m not a perfectionist: I require that I do my best, and that I be satisfied with being good enough. I’ve really had to work on this part of myself. Accepting ourselves as good enough is a battle because society tries to force a belief that perfection must be achieved at all costs. I disagree, and see the damage that perfectionism can cause. Let there be “good enough” and let it begin with me.
I am thankful that my “knowing” can also cause me to question. I believe that this quality enables me to sit with the uncertainties, and to learn more about what I once thought were absolute truths. I like that in a crisis situation, I can respond with the ability to provide a workable solution.
We’re leaders, and sometimes we fall into the trap of protecting those whom we see as vulnerable in negative ways. We can also speak to the need to protect the vulnerable and hold deep compassion for their struggles. I’m becoming aware of when this is healthy, and when it isn’t such a good thing.
I like the way in which I’m challenged to confront myself in the mirror of life. I believe one of the strengths we as eights have is to come out of our denial, and to look at our weaknesses. We might spend time fighting the truth about ourselves, and when we embrace what we must embrace, we dig in deep and work to understand ourselves better. I really like this about myself.
I don’t like that there is a part of me that goes to vengeance. I do this when I feel the need to protect myself or others. It is ugly. I’m coming to understand that in challenging my need to protect, and to mount the campaign to go to war over what I perceive as unjust, I first need to look inside and explore myself before I aim and fire.
Which leads me to the fact that we as eights have a tendency to fire first before we even aim or are ready to aim. We can be dense and asleep to how our harsh reactions can affect the fragile souls of others. When we come to understand what our actions may be doing to someone, we can challenge ourselves to that part of ourselves that desires to protect in healthy, compassionate ways. Understanding the enneagram is enabling me to be kind and gentle to myself. I can use my two arrow to give to myself in softer and gentler ways. I can drop into my five arrow, which I do often. I use this arrow to observe myself and others. My five arrow is one of the things I credit to bringing balance to the eight within.
I like the part of me that will explore and is curious. I like the fact that people know that I’m dependable. I also understand that if I set a boundary or a limit to what I can take on in life, it is understood that I’m at my limit.
I am learning to trust in new ways. I like the fact that my vulnerability teaches me that I can do this hard thing.
I have done the activism that I’ve needed to do in my life, and I listen to the call to change my life direction and to try a new path. I’m excited for this new thing. I sense that this is the best thing about eights: when we’ve done the work around our knowing and can sense our new direction, we can and do act boldly.
Before me is a blank document. What do I put on the page? This time of year used to be gentle; it has become hard. What were once simple lazy days with blue skies have become days of reflection and wondering. I tend to review, explore and wonder where I am now compared to the last year. I suppose that surviving a suicide of a husband will do that to you. I realize that his suicide freed him from a very painful life, and it presented me with a rare gift.
I am not shocked or upset by this thought. He gave me the ability to move forward myself. I was given the time and freedom to explore our relationship in ways I couldn’t do when he was alive. I was an innocent when we got together.
Before I met Jon, I didn’t understand that you could doubt or question someone’s love. Yes, I got that there was love that is dysfunctional: manipulation masking as love, and love that I had not seen. In my life, and in my mind, love was gentle. My relationship with Jon educated me in new ways.
Relationships teach us the good, bad, and questionable things about ourselves. Living under the same roof brings with it challenges and a need for commitment to the process of growth. If there is one thing that enabled our relationship to last, it was a commitment to growth and exploring the hard things together.
Sometimes we couldn’t resolve an issue in a day, and that was OK. Being in hard places is good for growth and exploration. I learned to become more adept at remaining open to the long-term solution. There are things that only time and deep insight can resolve, and the commitment to do the work “until” is essential to making it work.
The best counsel I got from his psychiatrist was to give him space. OK, I needed to give myself space too. Walking away enabled us to resolve issues faster. I’m thankful for this knowledge, and the gift that it is.
There were times when I wondered if he could love me. The bipolar cut into him in ways that he couldn’t even express. His upbringing cut into his soul in other ways. My heart ached for the both of us at times. After his death, the love question surfaced, and I knew I’d have to face it.
There is a time in the grief process when it all gets put on the chopping block. It all has to go on the block. It is the deep work of grief and the exploration of the shadows that we hide from. If we’re willing to do the hard work of grief, we must extract the ugly, unpleasant stuff and dive in. This is where many stop their work. It is ugly and messy, and do “I” really want to face this truth? My innocence committed me to explore this place of shadows. Sometimes innocence is a great motivator.
Some couples do this hard exploration while they are together in life, and some widows or widowers are forced to do this difficult exploration after the death, and before moving into a new relationship. I had to cross into this place after, and I’m glad I did. My willingness to do the work didn’t make it any easier. I’ve always invested in self-improvement and growth.
What bipolar takes from relationships is debatable and unique to each person. It took my innocence. In saying that, I’ve had to admit that while I love Jon, he opened my eyes to a very dark side of the world. I would not have chosen to go into the dark abyss of a hell few can explain, and fewer still can understand, and yet I went, and I find that I don’t regret the journey to this place. It is a gift I wasn’t looking for, and I’m richer for having taken the time to open this gift.
The gift of knowing you are loved comes in many forms. In the first few years after his death, my reflections led me to explore the “he didn’t love me” side of things. Sitting with the doubt, the hurt of things done, and understanding who he was deep within, moved me to the place of love. I came to a realization that through all of it he tried his best, and so did I. There was love in the tiny things he tried to do. There was love in the sneaky things he pulled off; there was love in the gifts he thoughtfully gave, and in a mixed-up way, even in the way he ended his life. In that velvet way, I didn’t even notice the change I’d made in my thinking. Wow!
When I think about what it means to show love in deep ways, he did his best to do that. I accept what he wasn’t capable of doing. I can also view my side of things with more realism. I can take responsibility for the failures and the successes of my part of the relationship, and some of it hurts.
I suppose this journey is about being able to find the deep peace that I’ve needed to put things to rest. Coming to this knowing also brings up the fact that nothing is ever at an end point. Only the final eye closure can and will bring things to an end.
I find that I’m standing taller; I’m wiser, and at the same time I question more.
As I pass into this new place where the gifts are for opening and exploring, I turn, look back, and realize that the lazy summers of exploration have gifted me some cloud-filled summer days. I suppose that’s just fine.
This past week has been a roller coaster of sadness, fear, contemplation, and soul-searching. I’ve had to step back and look at the last seven years of my life and reconnect with feelings that I thought were buried.
On August 29, 2016, I sat at my dining room table and wondered how I would get through life as a disabled person in a country where I didn’t have family or many friends. The fact is that I was traumatized, in shock, and trying to make sense of everything with no way to make sense of anything. And so, a journey began.
I began to read and learn and discard the useless junk books. People spout Elizabeth Kübler Ross’s stages, workbooks on working through it. They said that if you do this, that, or the other thing, you’ll work through your grief, and all will be well.
I call BS. Grief can’t be fixed or cured. I stumbled on one book that I will recommend. The author went through traumatic loss and did what she needed to do to come through things. It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine is an excellent book that portrays the awful, the trauma, and the struggle to stand up again when grief and loss enter our lives. Death, unlike other life events, presents unique challenges for each of us. Someone’s death by suicide adds to our saying goodbye in unique ways.
Devine’s experience was different from mine, and yet she touched on similarities: the inability to feed myself, to sleep, to drag myself into a new day or to know what to do. I’d had to shut work off and allow for healing time. I was compromised.
The only thing I fully understood on August 29, 2016, was that for the next year I would not be making any major life decisions that could be put off. My father had taught me this, and it served me well during a time of tears, fear, trauma, and uncertainty.
I was able to visit the US in the summer of 2017. It felt like I was in a foreign country. It wasn’t home. Europe was home. Going to the States was a chance to explore and connect with family, and to realize that I needed to find my own path. It was time to begin to do the deeper work of change.
I needed to let go, and to trust that the process of healing would occur as it needed to happen in my life. I let go and engaged in trusting the universe and myself. I had to trust that I would walk a path that needed to be walked. At the end of two years, the type of tears I was crying had begun to change. My life was changing, and I had begun to trust my process. I was headed into new territories. It was a velvet road that I walked. Yes, the road was bumpy, and there was much to learn. The transition was done on velvet and I only realized after the fact that I’d been moving to a new place.
Newbies to this process often ask when the tears will stop, when the pain will stop, when the missing will stop. Things change; things don’t stop. You don’t get over people you love; you work through it all. Learning to walk through things is the real work of grief, loss, and an acceptance of the life we move into. And so, I began my education in standing stronger and finding how to heal from the awful, and unthinkable, of surviving my husband’s suicide.
This last spring, I completed continuing education units (CEU’s) for my license renewal. The presenter on surviving a death by suicide had me until he played a snippet of a video on forgiveness. I thought about it and I asked why you would need to forgive someone for doing what they felt they needed to do in life. I realized at the end of those hours with him that he didn’t get it in the same way I got it. My husband’s death has never required my forgiveness. It never will. I digress.
In 2023 I’ve begun a new soul journey that calls me to an acceptance that my vision is changing. Once again, I must face the fact that it is harder to read, to see what I once saw, and to figure out what the new path forward will be. Once again, I’m grieving the loss of what was, and sitting with the fear of how bad it will get. Once again, I’m wondering if I can do this hard thing.
How does anyone get on doing the hard things? I got thinking about this yesterday when I realized that I had a friend who hasn’t quite walked the life path I’ve walked and doesn’t understand the messiness of facing the hard in the same way I do. I hold out space for this person because they’ve had different challenges.
I think some of us who have faced a constant stream of hard things tend to shortchange those whom we view as not having hard and challenging lives. I’ve had to call myself out on this. What looks like an easy, privileged life is seen from the outside. One of the things the past seven years has pounded into my head is that judging this type of thing is a trap. It’s a trap because we might look at ourselves as knowing more when it comes to doing life. I don’t think we know any more than others. We only know a different thing.
I get that my clients and directees come to me for various reasons. I expect them to need to deal with hard things. I’ve had to learn that I need to cut a great many people a great deal of slack. We each face our hard things differently.
I tell you all of this because I’m learning to graciously accept others’ sincere comments about my doing hard things. While it’s second nature to me, it isn’t to them. I realize that I want to respect their desire to support me just as I would support them. My journey is calling me out on being a judgmental person. Oh, this is a hard thing! This is deep soul work.
I think back to when I was in my twenties and I wondered how people older than I was got to where they understood all of this. It’s about not being afraid to call the old self out to the new self. That is what grief and loss is all about.
Good therapy isn’t a “fixing” of the person. It is about thinking in new ways, learning to ask better questions of ourselves, and requiring better answers of ourselves. It is movement towards something better. Finding what we really need is important. Finding a good starting point can pave the way to new places. How do we go about all of this?
This makes me think about drug advertising. What? How is that relevant here? There are two countries in the world where pharmaceutical companies can plug their drugs: the US and New Zealand. In these two countries you can turn on the TV and be told that company X has a drug that will fix your anxiety, depression, obesity, and high blood pressure. And they make it sound so easy! Go talk to your doctor and tell them you want _____. The drug rep from company X may or may not have been successful in placing freebies of the drug in the office. It can be a crap shoot.
I get that pharmaceutical companies spend billions on drug development. I also know that some of this drug research is done for a population of very few who have rare orphan diseases and need something that will enable them to live better lives. I also know that this is one big reason companies negotiate with countries for some tax breaks. Drug trials take years! The cash spent behind the lines is large, and the unseen person power is layers deep.
I mention the above to say that psychotherapy referral sites “pitch” different methods of therapy to the consumer. The prospective client/patient might not know what tools the therapist might have that would be most useful in the situation. What you think you need and how you can get that need met becomes a real question.
A helpful way of beginning this process is to figure out the “what” you are trying to change or get deeper insight into. If you want to stop biting your nails, short-term, behavior-focused therapies would fit your needs well. If, on the other hand, you realize that the nail biting stems from deeper issues within yourself, you might want to explore insight therapy or a combination of both forms of therapy.
People get pitched to all the time. You hear something on a talk show, read a book that touts CBT or EMDR or process therapies, or a narrative model, and soon you’re swimming in the soup! Referral sites are great for sorting things out. READ the person’s profile!
I’ll now talk about how I work, and begin, with a new person.
When you call or mail a therapist, and you know they are accepting clients, please read what they have to say about their work. A therapist might set up boundaries around when they can or can’t take on certain types of clients or patients. My work is done on Zoom, and that means that for my clientele that I take precautions to keep those I work with safe. Respect a therapist’s boundaries.
To find a therapist who is a good fit, consider some of the following:
If a therapist offers a free consultation, a no-charge first session or something like it, this is your chance to test the waters.
Ask questions and see if it feels like the therapist is a person you could grow a relationship with.
Is the therapist having you fill out forms before the first session? Are these forms having you consent to treatment before you’ve met the therapist?
If you meet the therapist and decide to establish a working relationship, it would be normal to then consent to treatment that you have talked about. What most therapy consumers don’t understand is that until you’ve signed consent forms and have an agreement, you don’t have a therapist.
When you meet with your new prospective therapist, talk about their working style, ask questions, and let them ask you questions. This is important if you feel like the therapist is someone you will be working with long term.
In all therapy, there must be trust on both sides. For instance, the person getting the help needs to trust that the therapist will be open and honest and answer questions. On the therapist side, the therapist needs to have the insight to understand when answering a question might rob someone of valuable insight that would be better gained by asking the person to explore the possible questions for themself.
For example, if you were seeing me and had come to me because of three failed relationships, I might begin to form my own picture of why things went bust three times. If I gave you my answer, I could be off or spot on. In answering, I would rob you of searching deeper. My strategy would be to question with you. We might explore all types of options. In this situation you learn about yourself, you might learn something about me, and we both learn about each other. We dig down into the soup of why stuff is the way it is.
A reason I’d answer a question is that by doing so it would serve as a confirmation on work you’ve done. You’ve been in the soup; you’ve slurped, tasted, and gotten a sense for how things are.
When I walked into my first therapist office, there were no forms to be signed. What was said there stayed there. A therapist may or may not have kept notes, and a client/patient portal didn’t exist. The predominant treatment was psychodynamic and process oriented. Now there has been expansion!
What is the same? We have an understanding that talking, insight, doing, and discovering new pathways into ourselves can calm storms of the soul.
Long, long ago, in a time decades in the past, there was a younger Gail in her early twenties. At the end of my first two years of schooling, and with an Associate of Arts Degree in hand, I discovered my life to be a mess. One of my professors suggested psychotherapy. Scared of what was ahead of me, I trusted the insight of a woman who saw what I couldn’t see in myself.
When I stumbled into psychotherapy, I’d just escaped from the clutches of two years in a conservative college town that was not the normal California that I had been raised in. Having returned to the sanity of California, and desiring to get free of where I’d been, I found a therapist.
At first there was deconstruction. Deconstruction is the dismantling of who we think we are, only to discover that our beliefs about ourselves need to be challenged and examined thoroughly. Deconstruction for me took years, and several therapists. I was peeling the layers of the onion of myself; this takes time. The “it took years” can be explained by the fact that I also took breaks in the process to synthesize the movement that was occurring in my life. I needed different therapists for different portions of the road. Some were better fits than others. During my grad school years, the work took on the focus of resolving unresolved issues that would enable me to become clear headed about myself, and with my clients. Ultimately, what it all taught me was that I’d be monitoring my stuff for the rest of my life. I needed to be doing my own work with an objective party who was willing to call me on my stuff.
On the practical side, what I’ve learned from my time spent in therapy is that I’m a person who might need to step back for a few hours or a few days to sense what is really going on deep down in the soup of my head. When we listen to ourselves, we need to, and must, employ the same reflective listening that we do when in conversation with others. Do we allow ourselves to do this listening, or are we quick with a response to ourselves?
One “rubber-meets-the-road” skill that we need to use on ourselves is the pause, and then count to 100. When we’re ready to rip someone’s face off, this serves as a means to get calm, think it through, and most likely come back with a kinder response than the angry thing we were going to allow out of our mouths. How many times has pausing saved you? What if we practice this pause with ourselves?
What if the next time you were tempted to spew a list of all the reasons “I’m an idiot” for doing or saying whatever you just did or said, you counted to 100, took time to think about what you were about to do, and asked yourself the WHY question? What happens when you call yourself on your own self-talk and the scripts you run in a way that challenges all of it, the scripts and the motives for running the scripts?
There’s a huge difference between running self-destructive scripts and deeply questioning our motives for running the scripts. The former allows us to remain in the same place and feeds the illusion that by running the script we’re doing something constructive about our behavior. The latter moves us into a place of personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions and requires us to ask the “What can I do about this?” question. It requires movement, research, and further exploration that could lead us towards the therapy we need to work on situations we find ourselves in.
Next week in part two we’ll explore the subject of selecting a therapist. See you then.
I’ve been wondering why there is a rise in stress and anxiety among younger adults. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t learn to play and create as my generation had done. That is one part of the problem. Then I noticed the influence of marketing on these kids. Maybe, and maybe not. As I dug deeper, there was a realization that in competition everyone had to get a trophy, and be special. The topper was the safety issue. When we can’t hear opposing views, something is terribly wrong. Yes, this is going to be a wild post.
The last few weeks, parents have been posting on Facebook about their kid graduating from kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN!!!!! Get real, people. When, and how, did this become a thing? Personally, I think it’s a retail scam, kind of like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Let’s promote buying something, and don’t forget “Black Friday,” which has now left the U.S. and is doing a migration to Europe. But I digress. Back to what is going on here: adults with anxiety, teens, tweens, and kids with anxiety and depression. Oh, I won’t go down that rabbit hole.
My thoughts wandered to a question that couldn’t stay buried in the rubble of the mind: Have people become so set on getting ahead and providing all good things that all good things are becoming lost on the way to the getting of them? (I need Bill Bryson to do the research on this and put it in a book so that I can synthesize it and digest how we got to this topsy-turvy place on this hot rock of ours.)
Then my editor told me about Jonathan Haidt. His research is brilliant. I spent the weekend devouring two of his books. They provided some grounded answers along with some thought-provoking questions.
I think of parents over-scheduling children and not allowing time for relaxation, creativity, and free play. Sorry, people, “play dates” are not free play. There you have it!!!! Play dates!!!! OK, so I’m from a different generation when kids did really crazy things, like when we went to our friends’ homes on the spur of the moment because we could walk or ride our bikes there. When my mother called my friend’s mother, telling her that my friend’s brother had fallen out of the tree at my home, her mother yelled at us to “stay in the house, don’t go outside until I get back!!!!” Yes, George had a broken arm; Jenny and I remained at her place, and our mothers remained calm but concerned. We understood that play had its risks, and falling out of a tree or falling off a bike were some of the risks we took. About a year later, I was the injured person. While at a friend’s home, I broke my collar bone. Life happens. We didn’t stop doing creative things. We explored and discovered things about life. When riding down a steep slope, you must slow the bike and not fly over the handlebars. I rode the bike to my friend’s home, where her mother took a look at things. Yup, I needed a doctor for this one. It hurt. I was OK, and I’d be out of play for a bit.
This brings me to the thought that we’re sending the wrong message to children now. Life isn’t safe. There should be healthy conflict and exploration in our upbringing. We should be teaching children to explore new things and new places. They need to discuss all sides of an argument and search out opposing points of view. Are we learning to think? Are our children and grandchildren learning to think?
In 1999 my husband and I accepted a job assignment in Germany. We risked and stayed here in Europe. I didn’t know what I’d be facing as a disabled person here in Europe. What I found was a freedom I’d never had before. In 2016 I made the choice to remain here as a widow. It’s been a challenge, and I’m glad I’ve done it. It was a risk that has been stressful at times but worth the life balance I have because I chose to remain here. My childhood of roaming free, playing freely, and learning from it all provided some useful building blocks.
During the last thirty years, some of those freedoms have come and gone for many children. In 2018, Utah, followed by Oklahoma and Texas, passed “free range” laws that restore the rights of parents and children to be on their own, just as I was when I was younger. It will be interesting to follow children in these states as they mature. Will these kids display lower levels of anxiety and depression? Will they be capable of riding a bus on their own? Will they know more of their neighborhoods? Will these laws get kids outdoors? Will they exercise more, and will obesity in children decline?
Will children begin to have less homework and more free time to create?
When I think about why I began to write this over a week ago, I realize that I want children to experience the fun and delight to be had in life. Remember the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go? If children can go to wonderful places, will things become better for them? Will depression and anxiety levels lower both in schools and homes? This would be great for children, and yes—bad for all the pill pushers hoping to get parents thinking that their kids need drugs when they may not need them. Before you scream, I’m pro wise use of medication if it’s needed. To quote one of my favorite books from childhood, and a book that takes the reader on an adventure with a boy and a fly:
“I sat at the lake.
I looked at the sky,
And as I looked,
A fly went by.”
(From Mike McClintock’s A Fly Went By.)
My hope and wish is that children will once again have life adventures where they will learn, explore, question, and connect with life in real ways. Let them sit by the lake and chase a fly.
When I wrote this post in 2018, I was emerging from two years of intense pain and grief over Jon’s death. The faith transition I had been on was winding down, and a new portion of the river was opening up to me. Since the posting of “Navigation,” it has become a post that I’ve referred my clients and directees to. This post holds a special place in my heart. I’m well into new places on this river; I wish all who journey well.
5 June, 2023
River pilots have been a mainstay of the great rivers of the world, and in the U.S. they taught many how to navigate dangerous places and waters. I’ve used this analogy in closed groups, and am now choosing to use it here in this space. I hope the message is one of hope. This is an imaginary conversation.
The master river pilot and I sit in the boat eating bread and cheese, drinking the cold water of the river we’ve been on. The pilot is silent and waiting for me, the student, to comment.
“Devastation and damage is there. That is what I see.”
“Is that all?”
I slice off more cheese and bread and drink the water.
“No, I see triumph and wisdom.” We turn back to view what was navigated, and we both sit in silence, thinking over the trip that has placed the boat in its current location.
WHOA! We both survey the damage, crazy as it is, and we embrace. I’m sobbing in joy and gratitude. I stammer an “I could not have done this alone,” and take the pilot’s hand. “You didn’t tell me how beautiful it would be, and I didn’t think I could see it this way. This river is magnificent! And so is the damage!” Yes, in my fresh realization I discover that the damage I have navigated has its own beauty.
We can see it all! The mountain and the sacred space. We can see the dark, creepy forests and the valleys that held spaces of peace. I wonder if the people that were there are still present, or if they have also left for new destinations. I notice a city and inhabitants exploring its environs; they are being told to get on the newer, more elaborate boat that has been brought to this point in time. I knew it was time for a new boat, and a new journey. I understood the pilot would not be as active this trip, but that if I asked for help and assistance, I would have it. I had grown much, and it was time to test my new strength against the currents on my own.
I remember the terror of boarding a tiny, dilapidated boat, feeling as if it would get me nowhere, and preparing to sink as I went out on the water. But I remember thinking that if I had to be on the water in this craft, I’d better do my best to save or repair it. And that is how the journey began. I remember beaching the craft and walking inland to a forest that looked dark and threatening. I sat on a rock and cried because I knew I had to go into that place and I was alone and fearful of journeying into the darkness. I wasn’t afraid of what I would find, but I was uncertain of navigating in the darkness. As I sat there, I heard the tinkle of bracelets and earrings. It was a gypsy lady! She was saucy and vibrant and said that she’d been in that particular forest in the past and would be glad to serve as a guide. Together we reached a meadow of great beauty where the gypsy helped me locate a magnificent chrysalis that was just about to hatch, and as we watched it, the most beautiful butterfly emerged. It was the soul of the woman who had gone into the forest!
“This is yours and it will be with you forever.” The memories come back and the memory of the bond between the two of us floods my mind. The butterfly has remained nearby as the journey has unfolded. It holds magnificent strength! I know now that I have been molded by this soaring creature of such beauty, and I still wonder why I have not captured its deeper essence.
In wondering about this, the butterfly responds to my heart:“You have! You have been so busy on the journey that you’ve failed to look in the mirror! All you see is the damage! You know the beauty is there, but have you really claimed it for yourself? You are aware of triumph and wisdom, but are you aware of them residing in you? Don’t you remember when I broke free? Don’t you remember how I soared? Do you think that was only the beauty of my wings? You doubted what I gave you, but I’ve been near you all of this time. I am you, in pureness! Take a fresh look at me!”
I return to the boat and realize I’m crying. I gasp for breath and try to calm myself.
The master looks at me, the student of the river, and echoes the butterfly: “Your butterfly joined you so long ago that I think you have forgotten her full power. You have held her close and soared, and at other times sunk into deep despair. She never left you, and when times required her to, she reached down and pulled you up to travel on the river another day. I sent the gypsy lady to you when you needed a primer that would serve you well and prove to you that you could do this work of Life.”
I sit speechless. What words can I use to respond to this? I don’t have words—only a realization that truth has been spoken.
“When I asked you what you saw, you spoke of the worst first. You have done this type of thinking for so long that it has become primary to your functioning, and yet when you stand tall and survey the surroundings, you also speak to the triumph, and finally, the wisdom that you have gained.”
The master teacher and navigator has me focus on the rapids that I so recently transited.
“Look! What is there?”
“Only triumph. I don’t see anything else. But you were there with me, guiding me through the rocks, and when the boat began to take on water you stood and watched as I bailed myself out.”
“I only did that to teach you to trust me as you never have trusted me before. I knew that in your heart you wanted to learn it for yourself. You have learned this part of the river well. Well enough to guide others. Look again and learn from the journey you have been on. You are not that scared, younger woman of so long ago. Look at your hands. Feel your strengths.”
Once again the truth is spoken to my heart.
In the past two years, the journey has taken me to many places on the river. It has been a transit and journey of a new type. Leaving the old and finding the new, only to discover that the old has served in ways I never felt it could.
The boat I am in now is simpler, yet sleek and modern. The guides who have served to enable me to navigate the rough stretches have come and gone. Each has taught me new things. Each guide has specialized in a very particular portion of the river. But the pilot who began the journey with me has remained.
As I think back over the journey, I’ve come to understand the lessons the river has taught me. Pain and growth, whether in childhood or adulthood, teach strong lessons. I’ve gathered them in and managed to weave something out of it all, yet I’m not quite certain what it is all about. I just know that it is there, and that someday I’ll look over it and maybe have some insight that isn’t present now.
What I have learned from all of this is that there are times when the insights we gather serve us well, and other times when our view can trap us into paths we’d rather not wander on.
So, as I pause on this river, look and observe, I can’t get too snarky or certain. I am, like each of you, a traveler on this river. I navigate it with respect. I turn to the master pilot and navigator and announce that it is time to run this new river area. I smile, get a slice of bread and cheese, and more fresh water. I wonder who the new guides will be. I wonder if I’ve learned enough to guide myself or others. I realize that it’s not my call. But the master of navigation seems to feel that I’m ready. I turn my back on the damage holding the triumph and wisdom in my heart and raise my voice to the skies in a way I have not done in two years.
“Okay, cast off!” I drop the ropes that have anchored the boat to shore and sing as I do so. The boat feels good and sturdy, and I know that on this new stretch I’ll learn, grow, and move in ways I have not done before. I wave to the navigator, who is once again on the shore but never out of contact range.
“Show me what you can do now! I’ve been waiting so long for you to run this portion of the river, and run it you will!”
The past few weeks have given me opportunities to reach back and reflect on my own process of grief and arriving at a new waypoint. What happened? The more I live, read, and experience, the more I understand the journey I’m on with building a new life.
I’ve reflected on the many people who post early on in support groups. Their partner is newly deceased and they are asking after one or two weeks, “When will the tears end?” I understand why they’re asking this. This type of pain hurts physically. The people who respond, who have had more time in the grief cycle, usually tell the newbies that things will change, and to give it time, which is not what anyone wants to hear when the physical and emotional pain are so intense.
Here’s my question for people who jump into these groups so soon: Why are you here so soon? That is the first question I ask as I read. I answer it with a list of reasons they might have: times have changed, and society is no longer connected like it used to be. People have lost communities of support.
I’ll say this until I don’t need to say it any more: the Western world has become a place of instant everything. In the West, we’re losing the skill of self-soothing. The need to sit in silence has never been so needed, and yet the volume levels are turned up so that we fail to hear what our bodies, hearts, and heads are telling us to do: sit in quietness and be still. We’ve also lost community. Community enables us to soothe ourselves, and in time turn to others for what we aren’t able to do for ourselves. This is a huge reason people show up to a Facebook group. Instant community that isn’t community. Some of what is there is helpful, and at times some things on these pages are not helpful.
This last weekend a friend said goodbye to her mum. It has been some time in coming, and when the end came it was a peaceful ending. I’ve been aware that she and her family are in a “thin place.” I sometimes call it the funeral bubble. It is a place of reflection, where time stops while the rest of the world continues on. For those in the thin place, things are altered. We cry; we touch the spiritual; we reflect; we can think new thoughts, and in some ways, it can be rather mystical. It can be a place of solace. Eventually, we’ll leave the thin place and get back on the conveyor belt. It is when we enter the fast-paced arena of life that we demand the instant stopping of tears. We want the pain gone. We fail to realize that just like physical pain telling us and our bodies to take notice of what is going on, emotional pain is telling us the exact same thing: take notice, sit down, you are hurt.
Sitting here, I reflect on the day of August 29th, when I sat at my dining room table wondering the unthinkable: How will I survive? I wasn’t thinking of tears or the path I’d need to follow. The crazy crying jags appeared on the scene right on schedule: as soon as the emotional numbing thawed out. Looking back on it now, I think I was more scared of the crying than questioning when the tears would stop. This type of crying is physically violent. You feel it well up inside, and like an earthquake you hear the rumble of the approaching event. Ready? Shake. Hold your breath and wait for the thing to go away. And then the aftershock hits just when you think it’s over, and it starts up again. These crazy crying jags happen anywhere, nowhere, and some are triggered by memories while others have no rhyme or reason. They happen, and we who survive become embarrassed by the crazy state that doesn’t make sense to us. We leave a grocery cart in a store as we exit stage at right and bolt for the car in hopes of a safe place to let the tears out. We want them gone. Our minds are sending us a clear signal that we’re in pain.
At this point we might be well into the grief, and well-meaning friends and family want to help by fixing it, and so they offer up help that might not be helpful. The catch here is that they may not understand, and you may not be able to explain any of what you’re going through. The words may arrive on the scene when the pain has lessened. You don’t fully understand any of this until you are years down the road. Don’t rush it—you’ll miss the essential nuggets and treasures that will be so valuable to you in your new future.
In that new future the pain dims, and the quality of the tears changes to something else. We cry until we cry rarely. We remember with joy and fondness the good and wonderful things. We can objectively look at the relationship with its strengths and weaknesses. We gain understanding. We question; we contemplate; and we ask questions about the paths we didn’t travel down. In our questioning we become open to new pathways. We act by beginning to move towards something new.
This movement is healthy and essential to living our lives in a new way. Along this new path we might begin to smell the trees and flowers. We meet those on this path and either engage with them or move on. Maybe we find a lovely place to sit and notice what is going on in our lives.
We leave that space and move forward. We might make some changes, or we may choose to wait and see what changes come to us. I allowed life to be gentle with me. I realized somewhere along the path that I needed to practice better self-care. I needed to honor myself.
One of the deepest realizations I’ve had to sit with is that grief and its aftermath have allowed me to consider options for my life that I had not thought of ten years ago. How I see myself now isn’t the view I once held. This time, while sitting in a lovely spot on the path, something came along and challenged it all. I returned to the crying. I was able to call up the feelings I experienced as a new widow. I remembered. Now I write this. The difference is that this time I’m not in severe pain, and I realize that what I’m feeling and thinking is “get up off the bench, move—this is not your place now.” The tears are gone, and I stand up and step onto a new path—one I had not seen for myself.
The last few days have been filled with tears, meditation, looking inward at the past, and realizing where I am in the present. Growth can hurt deep down. Growth is progress that we achieve because of the price we’re willing to pay for it.
I’ve spent fifty years pointing out how those of us in the disabled community need to raise our voices more and speak loudly—and boldly. Last week I authored a post about my experience in a crowded room. My friend Karen read it and told me that she felt as if I were plagiarizing her. How often has this happened to each of us? We come together and discover that our life experiences aren’t so different. The commonality of what we experience as persons with disability can be powerful. It creates bonding in ways nothing else does. It is a gift that I share with Karen, and with others.
“You too!!!?” While this happens all the time, the feeling that “I’m unique” is dispelled by finding out that no, once again, I’m not alone in the world. This realization is juxtaposed with the example of a child who thinks everyone sees as they do, but who knows deep down that they are “not like the other kids,” whether it be due to disability, being LGBTQ2S, or being a victim of abuse: the secret is out of the bag. Adulthood requires that we grapple with these issues.
There are times when our inner selves push each of us to stand up and fight for justice for ourselves or others. We fight to be heard, and to have our realities accepted. If we can’t fight, we’ll likely be trampled because we’re not always seen or heard. Sometimes in that fight we forget who we are; we fade to our unique gifts, talents, and insights. We become swept up in the fight for recognition. I’ve been in this place for forty of the fifty years that I’ve been advocating for justice and change and for listening to the marginalized voices.
This week it all came to a head when I was forced to look inward at where my journey had taken me. The work I desire to do now is more spiritual in nature. It is the work that honors where each of us are. Each of us are equal within this realm. It is not a place of the marginalized: it is a place of learning to love ourselves, and to accept our own authenticity.
This place is one that offers sanctuary to each of us. Here we stand on equal footing because it is our hearts and souls that are heard. In the realm of the soul and the heart, all are welcome, and all are equal at this table.
I spent two years becoming certified as a spiritual director. I spent time discovering the power of meditation. I’ve uncovered places in my heart and soul that have moved me in directions I would have not considered five years ago.
Some of this uncovering is due to my husband’s suicide. Suicide changes survivors. One of the changes is the questioning we must do around making assumptions of others and ourselves. Another change is that we come to understand that people can remove themselves from humanity in a matter of seconds. Some feel strongly that if we all feel a sense of belonging, we’ll choose to live. All of this becomes evident to us as survivors. It causes us to question old things in new ways. We see an old rainbow in a new way. It causes us to do a grand reframe of it all.
The paths we have walked no longer suit our needs. There is a restless feeling when we remain on that path. It is as if we’re binge-watching our life because we’re at a loss about where to go next. We want the old to work, but we know it won’t, and we must come to terms with the fact that we’ve outgrown the friendship, the relationship, the career, or our lives as we understand them. It is why some people shock family, friends, partners, and church members when they announce that they’re packing up and moving to that new place. “Where did that come from?” or “Wow, her death really did a number on him.” The reality is that for whatever reason, that life change was brewing beneath the surface, and the life-changing event was only the catalyst to promote action.
I’ve heard the “if you hadn’t gone to a therapist…” If I had not seen my first therapist, I would have never begun the self-exploration that I needed to do in my early twenties; it was the beginning of my soul work. I would have continued to believe that everything would be alright and settled for coasting through life.
Life isn’t a straight path. Life is bumpy, strewn with twists, bends, and curve balls. We’re challenged to sit with the unknown, and to ask new and unthinkable questions that we would not have dreamt of asking even the week before. Life is messy.
It was in this state that I engaged in a conversation with a friend yesterday. She listened, didn’t need to fix anything, and I know she’ll support me in my new direction. She can sit in the messy, the unknown. To her and to others I say thank you.
While it is the mystical that draws me into soul exploration, it is the practical that grounds me in the here and now. It is a desire to always improve who I am, and to not settle for less than who I can be in my fulness. It is my understanding and my life experience that keep me grounded in the fact that there are people on the margins of life, and that they struggle to have their voices heard, accepted, and acknowledged. I will not forget you. I cannot forget you because my waking reality—struggling to see, to hear, and to negotiate a crowded room—calls me to that remembrance. It is the struggle that I will always share with those who are disabled.
I’ll admit that walking a new life path is daunting. Can I do it? Will I fall and mess up? Will I be able to learn to discover new ways of being along this new path? In a way, I’m putting away the sledgehammer that I’ve used to break down walls that have limited me, and others. It is time to put the sledgehammer to rest. This path calls for a peaceful tool.
I know there will be restful places to sit and reflect because I’ve always found them. What I don’t know is where all of this is going, and that is perfectly OK. I’m able to smell the new air, take it in, explore its excitement. And so, I turn my back on the old, and face something new. I wonder where this will take me? Where do you need to go?
I recently had an experience that I need to talk about. I was deeply impacted by what happened to me, and how it is affecting my life.
While I was in the USA during April, my hearing, or lack thereof, crept in and hit me on the head in a way that hasn’t happened before. I’ve always stuffed it, compromised, and passed off the fact that in a crowded room I can’t hear well at all. I’ve tolerated conversations that drive me to the point of severe sensory overload. I’ve behaved as if I don’t really have a choice but to be socially polite and endure the pain that is causing my head to melt down from sensory overload.
On Wednesday, April 26, I snapped. Maybe it was because I was with friends; it could have been because the noise levels built up slowly over time. Or maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, it all came together in an instant, and I could no longer endure what I’d put up with for years.
I’ve heard it all when I tell people that for me, social situations are beyond difficult. “We can isolate you in a corner.” This is the most common thing said to me. What has never been asked is this: “Gail, what do you experience in a room?” I’ll tell you: What it sounds like when I’m in a room with conversations buzzing around me is like noise coming at me all once—so much noise that nothing can be filtered out. Hundreds of conversations flooding into my brain that I hear simultaneously, and I have no means of screening out the voices that I need to hear in order to have an intelligent conversation.
I’m not kidding around when I tell people that attending social events is like fingers on the chalkboard! Ultimately, I feel as if I’m not believed. A person with normal hearing can focus in on the conversation, discriminate, and carry on in a crowded room. Even with the hearing tech I have, there is not a solution to tune out the disruption of a crowd. I’d love a hearing aid that tunes out a crowded room. They aren’t to be had.
What this all boils down to is the choice to engage socially or to withdraw from group participation. That evening in April changed the way I’ll do things in the future. While sitting at a table in a church social hall, my friend urged me to leave the room and seek out a quiet place. I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to look like I was being rude by withdrawing. I had come to be with people, not separate from them. She kept urging me to leave, and then her husband walked me out of the room and into the chapel where the noise came through but was tolerable. I was still fully aware of the noise, and it was tolerable. There we sat. He listened, and I let it out.
I suspect what I let out in spoken words were words so many others with a hearing loss might have uttered. “This is so hard.” Crying, and being disgusted by my vulnerability, yet not being able to stop the tears, I slowly realized that for the first time in forever I was strong enough to speak my truth and the truth of others: It is beyond hard—it is more like impossible to do what we do. I came to know, and understand, that socializing is something I’m better off not doing.
Socializing is something that is not enjoyable for me. It taxes my head and my hearing. I can’t understand conversations and at times might not give a correct response and be looked at as if I’m a Martian. I can’t read lips due to my visual impairment, and that makes it harder. I’m in strike-out mode from the very beginning of the situation. So, count me out.
I’m done compromising when a compromise won’t ever work. I’m done with people not understanding the reality of my hearing situation. I’m done being nice because being nice won’t get me what I need in social situations. Done.
Now, you’re thinking, certainly, that there is help. Try a google search, try several searches, try to find a simulation of what we go through. You won’t find that information. What you will be told is to get your hearing checked. If you’ve got friends that you want to help with a fix, there isn’t a fix.
The downside to this is the social cut-off, and the isolation it brings. Saying no to social events cuts one off from so much. I’m taken back to the time when, as a teen, I quit doing dances because I was not asked to dance, and I was too scared to ask anyone to dance—even the “girls’ choice”—so I stopped going. This has its parallels. The difference is that I’m older and making the decision to meet the needs of being disabled. As I sit here typing, there is the uncomfortable feeling that I’m doing this for myself, knowing that it will cut me off in so many ways. I’ll now have to deal with holding a line, dealing with well-meaning people who want to make themselves feel better about things than listening to what I’m telling them. What I feel, and have to do, makes people uncomfortable. Staying home, staying in, and keeping my head in a good place is something I need to do for so many reasons. Please honor me by honoring my needs. Listen to someone when they say NO. There are good and healthy reasons for the boundaries disabled people set.
Realize that I can do a small group in a quiet space. If you really want to see me, call, drop by to say hello, and leave the mention of group contact out of it. I’ll most likely know what is happening. I’m not going to become antisocial.
This experience has taken me to the thought of legislating accessibility. While the US government has put the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) into place, and government web sites and buildings must comply with the ADA, it does follow that a business or other organizations must do so. Smart business owners have made things accessible. Ramps and ATM/PIN machines are two examples of accessibility. The catch here is that one cannot create quiet social places. I get it. There are things that cannot be mandated or legislated. I must care for myself, and sometimes that means speaking up, being an obnoxious person, and fighting for a peaceful environment. One night this last April, I found some peace in a sanctuary where I was heard. Being heard has led me to caring for myself, and a journey to speak out for others.
The path forward is to educate. It begins by listening to understand another person’s reality and their point of view. It progresses when we each become sensitive enough to consistently honor another’s truth, not by fixing it but by honoring their reality and what is needed to meet their needs. Maybe it is sanctuary.
As Gail’s editor, I’ve had the pleasure of reading and editing all the posts here on The Gift of Being Heard. This week, to conclude a series of “author’s picks” of posts from the last several years, I am pleased to have my own pick. While there are many pieces that stand out for a variety of reasons, I decided to revisit this one, as it poignantly touches on several issues that resonate with me, such as how we can avoid antagonism in the midst of sweeping changes in one’s life, and how relationships really do continue after death, regardless of whether one believes in an afterlife. Most memorable for me, however, is the insight Gail shares about veterans returning from the First and Second World Wars, and what this meant for their processing of trauma and grief. For better or for worse, we live in a different world now. We have gained so much. But what have we lost? I hope you enjoy this post, especially if you missed it the first time around.
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.
This is the last in a series of “author’s picks” of posts from the last few years. This one was originally posted on August 10, 2022.
In 2006 my husband fell down the rabbit hole of a faith deconstruction process that would last until his death in 2016. In 2006 I listened and supported, but didn’t follow down into the rabbit hole of Mormonism. I didn’t feel I needed to know what was and wasn’t down there. It wasn’t my time. It has to be the right time to fall down that hole.
At the beginning of this tale, I should state that I was raised in a home where reason and logic were present. This would come in rather useful in the years to come.
It took me six years to go there. I’m sure that seemed like a long time of waiting for Jon, waiting for me to dive rapidly into that same hole. When I did, it was scary, sad, depressing, and full of questions, culminating in a process of mourning what could no longer be. In 2012 I entered what I now look back on as my “velvet deconstruction.”
I’ve never written about this because, to be honest, I haven’t seen—or felt—the need to do so. That has changed. What changed?
This year I’ve read a series of books that began with delight and quickly turned to needing to rethink, reframe, and reconstruct the Western Jesus. I realized my journey had challenged me in ways I hadn’t seen coming and left me feeling as if I was splayed on a spiritual floor. This time around it wasn’t velvet: it was brutal. As of the time of this writing, I’m healing, looking back, and wondering why I missed this until I was so deep within the process that the mess was ginormous.
Having a crisis of faith should be normal for everyone who is on a healthy self-development path. James W. Fowler researched and wrote about personality and faith development in Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Stages is a classic and outlines our cognitive development throughout life. This is an academic work of research. What I really love about Fowler is that he illustrates that we never fully arrive. We cycle through all the stages over time, arriving at a higher level, only to begin the process over again. As with all things in life, learning never ends, and we’ll be doing it until our last breath.
So, I should have seen a second deconstruction coming, and I didn’t. I’d settled into a sweet spot, and when it ripped me apart it really tore at my soul!
How did this all happen? The simple answer is that I moved from one stage to another. The more complex answer is that I began to explore my values, my beliefs, and my life in new and deeper ways.
While I began to explore faith, I was enrolled in a rehab program for people with vision issues. It began as a five-day residential process, and during this time of my life I was confronted in a bold manner, asked to face my visual realities, and supported on multiple levels. And, in the end, I was able to confront myself. Looking at my religious life became an extension of that. For fifteen months I reconstructed my visual self; I wrote about it in Living With Disability. It was a life-changing experience.
Because of the work I was doing in this part of my life, it followed that I would look at the rest of my life. I began to allow myself to feel the sadness and pain of understanding that things are seldom what they seem. And so, it happened on a Sunday morning as we drove to church that I uttered the words that altered everything: “Can I make this church a place to stay and do good things?” That was in 2013, and I was trying to figure it out while realizing my husband’s need to stay away from it all. By 2014 I was still in place to try and a find a path to change. That all ended in November of 2015 when Salt Lake City announced what became known as “The Policy.”
This policy was set to discriminate against children who had an LGBTQIA+ parent in a relationship that was not heterosexual. That evening at dinner I lost it. How could a church deny baptism or anything else to a child?!!! Up until that moment I had thought I could make it work. Now I realized that I could not support such thinking. (The policy was reversed in April 2019 and the damage that was done couldn’t be undone or unseen.)
Suicide alters everything in the way you think, and in 2016, when Jon decided that the pain and suffering, he’d been enduring for the majority of his life needed to end, I was changed. I began to realize that I couldn’t go back to that church, and slowly during 2017 I drifted into nowhere land. I wasn’t making any major life decisions. I was moving to something, and someplace, new. I didn’t understand what it was—I just knew I was changing.
I was traumatized from a suicide, trying to re-establish a life. In the fall of 2017, I was discovering that another faith home was calling to me. I had to check it out. Certainly, I could look and still stay LDS. October of 2017 rolled around, and I found myself in a Starbucks at the Utrecht train station, having a conversation with someone whom I would come to love and respect. He wanted to know what I thought, not what I felt! It was in that realization that I knew I had a problem. Everything in me had been raised to be LDS. I was dealing with multiple generations of Mormons in my family. How could I even think of leaving? It wasn’t doctrine so much as other things that were tugging at me, calling me out to something that felt so different, so new, and where I needed to be. I told myself that I could attend this church service on Sunday evenings and it didn’t mean I was going to do more than that. Why would I ever leave? I didn’t need to do that.
I began to read, to learn, and to discover new ways of thinking. Growth is about freeing the soul and giving it permission to walk into new paths. By the spring of 2018 I was no longer feeling I could stay LDS and realized my value structure had shifted or rewired itself. I let go and relaxed into the process.
Looking back on all of it, I can see that this entire process was velvet. While there were tears, trauma, and fear involved, the process was gentle. Considering everything I went through from 2006 through 2018, it really was velvet. How could this be? As I look back, I think I view it as gentle because I wasn’t trying to force tings. I allowed the questions to surface, didn’t panic, and the few difficult situations didn’t last that long. The most difficult week was a conversation with my mother, and it ended with her apologizing to me. My mother and I could talk about most anything and giggle over life. We had a mutual respect, and she was open to many things that many LDS would have flipped out over.
I’ve come to the conclusion that faith transitions or journeys are more about a rethinking of a value system. Many people who choose to develop and leave the safety of certainty can remain in the same faith and approach things differently. For others, the choice to stay in one’s faith of origin is not an option. There are times when what we need changes because our ladders are sitting against a new wall. Sometimes the search can take years. The search for a new faith home can lead us out and to something completely different.
As I complete the last few months of my spiritual direction certification, I’m amazed by the paths that people are finding that bring them peace. I look back with my new understanding, and the new tools that got put in my toolbox, and offer up gratitude for both the velvet, and the not-so-velvet of the past few years. My new home is just what I needed.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some “author’s picks” of posts from the last few years. This first one was originally posted on December 31, 2019.
In 1958 there was a pandemic, and my mother happened to be pregnant with me. It was only a slight case; she didn’t even know she’d had rubella until after the fact. It was during an era when medical abortions were done if the parents and the doctors were willing to do so. My mother told me that they didn’t ask, so the docs didn’t offer. Nature took over and produced a child who had been conceived to be healthy, but who became injured while still in the womb. That is what nature does.
In talking with my mother about this issue, she once told me that she could understand both sides of the argument and why a woman would choose one or the other. From her I learned that the issue around the health of an unborn child, or the termination of that pregnancy, is not an easy, cut-and-dried process. The choice to raise a disabled child came with a great deal of pain and learning, as well as tears and sorrows on all sides. Society blames and doesn’t help. My mother learned radical acceptance and radical compassion. I watched, I listened, and I learned from her.
In the past month, I have sat and watched as so many have blamed gun owners, children, the shooter, the NRA lobby, and Congress for the travesty of yet more dead kids. I hurt for the families and friends who have lost children. I am angry that people are using an act of violence to force a political solution, as well as a mental health solution, to this situation. There is enough greed and corruption to go around! There is more than enough blame that is being spread to the innocent. I want to scream “NO! STOP IT!”
I do support change. I’d like to see assault rifles, code red drills, bullying, blaming, and greed to be taken off the streets. I’d like to see respect and support become common. I’d like to see corporations become responsible for what they are putting on the streets. I‘d like to see violence in video games and films done away with. I’d like to see everyone have access to good mental health care and not just a set number of visits per year. I’d like to see education and understanding for all.
I’d like to see scientists search for effective medication that could reach into the abyss of a shooter’s mind and allow that person to be healed with both medication and talk therapy. It is dark in that mind. It is lonely in that mind. To be able to befriend such a person would be rare. Why? Because what such a person thinks is so black, so far from the norm, so chaotic that most professionals can’t—or won’t—even go there. I’ll venture to speculate that the person owning the thoughts is just as terrified of going there. What I’m talking about is a radical compassion for others.
Few have been able to show such compassion because few are the Buddha, Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ, or others. To be part of that universalizing place takes a lifetime of journeying. However, each of us is capable of listening with love and compassion. You do it as a child when you show sorrow for your friend’s pet that passed on. You do it when you spend time listening to a friend sharing grief. You do it in a darkened theater when you let out the buried pain that you can’t show for yourself or someone else, but can show for the character in a film. You do it when your best friend tells you that they are coming out, and your love for them takes you to new places of joy and acceptance for who they are. You do it when you ask “Why?” and come away with only more questions, but a determination to find one solution and you join a cause. In joining, you move to radical compassion, when you sit down in a room and listen to the others who believe differently than you do. You do it when you realize that “they” care just as much as you do. You do it when you take a hand and find a way to work together for peaceful solutions.
I saw it in my mother as she was faced with how society treated her two disabled daughters. I saw it in her heart when she wept and yet didn’t lash out at others for the treatment that came to her children because other parents didn’t teach the same values of love and acceptance.
I want to see more kids step up and take responsibility for the things they can do. I want to see those of us who are older applaud the courage that we are witnessing and show love and compassion for the process they are initiating. I’d like to see each of us stop and think about the words we speak and the actions we take in our daily lives, and how they might affect others. I want to be on the path of radical compassion with my fellow human beings. Right now it feels sparsely traveled. I think back to my mother, and if I can do what she was able to do, I’ll be doing well. Join me on the journey. It isn’t an easy journey, but my mom thought it was worth doing, and so do I.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some “author’s picks” of posts from the last few years. This first one was originally posted on May 23, 2022.
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.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some “author’s picks” of posts from the last few years. This first one was originally posted on March 2, 2020.
“Love in any language,
Straight from the heart,
Pulls us all together,
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 twenties, 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.
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.