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The Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting Being Heard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Path To A Peaceful You

Peace? Right now it seems elusive.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor stroke of….

*this happened in 2014. The similarities between a minor stroke and grief are mind blowing.

October third was a glorious and warm fall day. Jon and I were visiting friends. The drive south was warm and sunny and we were having a great conversation. The visit was great and we were now headed home for a nice long weekend. We were in Utrecht stuck in traffic and I was getting tired. I put my head down. “We need to leave for home earlier.” Once again rush hour.
Pulling into Huizen, we decided to run to the store for butter and I stayed in the car because I was just so tired. It was then that I lost all strength in my neck. I couldn’t keep my neck up! Weird as it was, I ignored it. Jon helped me into the house and I just sat on the sofa. He made dinner and we watched television.
It was after a bit of whatever-it-was-we-were-watching that we took a pause and he noticed me. I felt terrible and my right leg and left arm felt funny. He said that my face looked like it was drooping. We called the after-hours doctors. They sent a doctor out. I knew then that something was really wrong. I knew then that I was headed to, as Jon and I call it, the “big house.” Yet another medical adventure was underway.
After the doctor took a look and got my history, he phoned Utrecht UMC. It was determined that I would go there as my records were there and they knew about my situation.
The best way to describe what happened to me is that I felt detached from my world and my body was not in my control. I felt suspended in space and at the same time, as if I was a heavy, limp, weight that had to be helped to do things. My right leg felt like it was suspended in mid-air. I would later be able to state that I felt as if my leg was drunk.
Ambulances are weird spaces. They can be disorienting and scary. Instinctively I knew I was having a stroke but I didn’t want to verbalize it. That was too terrible a concept to utter. At the time I just wanted Jon to be with me and it seemed like it took him forever to get there. As usual, there had been a car accident so the doctor was off with somebody else.
Finally at 2:00am, I sent Jon home. They’d be coming for me to admit me and he needed rest. As it turned out I won the hospital lotto that night and was wheeled into a private room. Now that was luck! Peace was to be mine in the days that followed as the health crisis unfolded. It had only begun on that Friday evening.
Before admitting me they had done a CT scan, but not an MRI: That would be done Monday. CT scans don’t show everything and this one was no exception.
I had lots of symptoms that didn’t seem to last, or make sense. Mid-Sunday my right leg felt paralyzed. As I lay there wondering what was coming next, I thought, “what if my lungs shut down? What if I can’t breathe?” Oh, what if I die in this room all alone?” Now that got me thinking. Being alone in this situation was scary. I would later beg a nurse not to leave me in the middle of the night. He was great and stayed until I calmed down.
By this time in the process I needed assistance in getting around. It was not fun and certainly somewhat embarrassing, but you do what you have to do to keep what dignity you can. My speech was also being affected in strange ways. It was different from what had happened at the end of June. This time the left side of my face felt like it had puffed up and my tongue felt as if it had puffed up and I was speaking weird. I was now scared. The nurses just watched.
Throughout the entire process they kept asking me to rate the pain. The rating was never higher than an eight. I’ve suffered worse pain with a pancreatitis attack! They kept asking and I kept telling them where things stood.
Monday came and I wound up getting an MRI. Then it was time to wait. And wait I did.
Jon came and it felt safe. Then the three doctors came in. There were no smiles. “This isn’t good news”, I thought. I heard the word “stroke” and then I was swirling in words. The whole thing sounded like the voice of the teacher in “Charlie Brown.” I just faded in and out and thought, “what have I lost?” I was sure that my right leg and left arm were damaged. “Anything else?”, I thought as I lay there taking an inventory.
I wanted to scream “STOP” so I can process this. STOP, you are going way too fast. I’m falling behind. Jon was now upset and asking why they had not done the MRI sooner? Why had they not seen the stroke on Friday? We thought I had not had a stroke because of the CT scan. Yet in my gut I knew I had been involved in having a stroke. I’d just had the weekend to believe otherwise. Why had I deluded myself?
Now, I had to tell my family what the real situation was. I knew this would disturb my mother: It did. She was already thinking that I’d die. Thousands of miles away, she wasn’t taking it well. I only found that out when I spoke to my sister.
The friends we’d visited on Friday had contacted Jon and to see how I was. Upon finding out now that I’d suffered a stroke, they drove up to the UMC to be there and offer support.
The nice thing about private rooms is that nursing staff will let you violate the rules with visitors. They stayed until nearly 10:00 PM. Then they left, and Jon followed shortly after. I was now alone. I had to now make a choice about medication. That seemed to be one thing I remembered in the earlier conversation.
The last thing I wanted to deal with at this point in time was vision loss. I had to decide if I was willing to risk just that. Do I want to risk going blind and still be functional? I knew it could happen. It was a chance I had to take. I had to risk taking a drug that would save my body from another stroke but could wipe out the remaining 12% of my sight. I spent Tuesday agonizing over the choice knowing that I had to accept the pill or whatever-it-was I was in for. I was still symptomatic and Wednesday it was decided for me. I drank the powder that would be a daily routine until forever.
Wednesday also brought with it a friend who knew of a great rehab center that was 15 minutes from home. I am so thankful that Marion knew of where I could go for the needed rehab. Sometimes you get lucky with the right information when you least expect it. I feel very fortunate that way. Well, I might not have had a say in medication usage, but I did get to have a say in where the rehab was to be done. I was learning that I had to take what positives were handed to me and accept them. The anger at the negatives would come in time and all too soon.
I got lucky in that there has been no major damage. You never get well from a stroke. You can recover a certain amount of usage and strength. You can learn to manage energy wisely and move on. But, you don’t get well. That will never happen and believing that you will get well is a myth. So, I’ve entered the recovery and learning phase of post minor stroke in my life.
I have shed tears, felt despair and emptiness, and at times feel like I’m a burden to Jon. He is listening and offering support. I know this isn’t easy on him either. It is a balancing act of allowing him bad days as well.
I appreciate that friends and family want to send kind thoughts and prayers. I think that is more of a comfort to them because somehow they feel as if they are helping. It is nice to be thought of in that way when I am so far from you. What I need is help and at this point that means phone calls and visits as well as a meal so that Jon doesn’t have to shoulder it all by himself.
I just folded some laundry and I’m wiped out. You don’t know how much energy you consume until you don’t have it to put out. In the past few weeks my life has changed. I know it will change more. Some things will be good and others won’t be so easy. I got lucky; it could have been so much worse, and for that I’m thankful. I will recover all I can. I will build strength up in as many ways as I can. I have begun the fight in simple ways. This is something I know how to do: the inner warrior is back. I’m ready to fight for everything I can recover.

Today I’m thankful for Science

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

Today I’m thankful for Science. I am glad that I am breathing, and functional, and that I get to go to physical therapy. I am glad that during this coming week I’ll begin the process of strengthening my arm and my leg. I’m glad that there are people who understand what it is all about.
I’m thankful that there are doctors, and others, that took the time to sit in classrooms and labs, and learn about what is going on in my brain. I’m thankful that they had the curiosity to study and learn. I’m glad that there were people who went before who allowed interns and residents to work and study on them so that they could get an education.
I think back to my days as an intern in grad school and my post grad work. I’m thankful for clients who let me learn via the process of working with them.
Next week on the 27th of November there is a day of gratitude that is celebrated in the U.S. For those who are U.S. citizens; What will you give thanks for? What is your life all about? Who has made your life better this year? Who do you owe a great thank-you to?
Once again I will thank my sister for the trip to the U.S. I will thank her kids for helping it to be a success. I am thankful for the fact that I was able to spend three weeks with my mother. I’m thankful that I got that time because I don’t know if I’ll have that ever again. (Thanks for the bash!!!)
I am thankful for friends. I wish I could see more of you but you are there and I’m here and our hearts are together.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the complex that we forget the very simple. I am writing a simple post because I want to remind you of the many things you have.
You have the ability to move your hands, to walk to the mailbox and see the sun. You can open the box or click with the mouse. Somewhere you know someone who CAN’T. During the next year pledge to extend to them a service they need. Pick up the phone and call them more often.
Gratitude is a two-way street. We need to take the time to be thankful for the stuff we have. We need to create things for others to be thankful for. It is about giving and receiving.
It is raining and cold outside and I’m inside where it is toasty and warm. Penelope just popped by to say hello and stick her tongue out at me. I look up and see my back-lit parasols that Jon put up here in my work space. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for the last five weeks. He has cooked and cleaned and comforted me when I’ve been sad and blue. I cannot repay this but I can give a thankful heart and a very public mention.
On Tuesday I will have my first physical therapy session and I hope I get pushed to the max. I will also have my first Ergo therapy session and that too will be a challenge. I can’t wait!!!!

I think I’m in mourning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When You Nedd Support With Being Bipolar

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

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

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

Some of the things that I’ve seen with people who successfully come to terms with the bipolar diagnosis, are that they:
Create a quality support team
Engage in healthy diet, exercise, and sleep management
Pursue a hobby
Find quality relaxation time
Engage in activities that challenge them
Understand their limits
Understand when things are getting out of control and check this out with their support team
What I offer:
Support for your process of stabilization and healing
Understanding that part of what you’re facing is the task of rebuilding a life of loss and that you may be doing some grieving about where you currently are
Insight into the dynamics of how bipolarism can play out in relationships
Years of understanding that a person isn’t defined by their disorder.

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

If you are in treatment with a psychiatrist and adjusting to a stable situation with your medication, we can talk.
If you are committed to swallowing your medication each and every day as prescribed, we can talk.
If you’re committed to adjusting the medication as needed, we can talk
If you are seeking to build a support team that understands the challenges you face in living daily with bipolarism, we can talk.
If you have the beginnings of a support team and a demonstrable plan of action should something happen to need re-stabilization, we can talk. This last item is vital in our working together.
Lastly: if the online mode of meeting works for you, then we can talk.
For more information visit http://www.beyondgriefandlosstherapy.com You will find the same information in the site headings. Use the contact form to connect with me.

When

Mommy, are we there yet? The woman in the front seat of the car is fighting the urge to turn around and duct-tape her child’s mouth shut,
permanently. This phenomenon has happened on every long journey since time immemorial. Then the mother has this flash in her mind that carries her back to the beginning of time and particles smashing together. Maybe it even happened with the sludge of the universe as the Big Bang occurred. Imagine two atoms: “Are we there yet? Are we done yet? Can we get on with the Paleozoic Era? But, duct-taping them would have caused a disaster. She smiles to herself instead and continues to focus on the road ahead.
Maybe in the Grand Scheme of the Cosmos, delayed gratification is one of the great laws. The Universe took the time it needed to come to its present state. That can teach us something. The Universe was formed with only what it had on hand from the first moment all things slammed together and all things followed in order. No credit here. It waited. The Universe used its resources where it needed them, when it was ready for each new phase.
Let’s face it: Putting pleasurable stuff off is a drag, but a necessary drag. Delayed gratification is about learning to respect the journey. Delaying gratification is about knowing that you can never have it all, instantly. Delaying gratification is about learning to work for what you want. Waiting for the good stuff until you can get it in a healthy fashion.
But, isn’t that a myth? You well remember that last flick that showed someone having it All. The big house, expensive car, fashionable wardrobe, fulfilling job, loving family and friends – and let’s not forget – physical beauty. But, it rarely comes instantly. Real success, like the universe we live in, is painstakingly forged one item at a time. Yet, today, there are those who can’t wait. Saving is a thing of the past. Sorting out needs from wants is becoming blurred.
Remember childhood with its lazy times of fun and exploration? If you are old enough to have been raised during a time when play was really creative and done outdoors, books were a passage into another world, and not instantly made into movies, and TV was something that you watched for very few hours weekly, then you are one of those who have learned a valued lesson: doing fun things takes planning and time.
It is also highly probable that chores and learning to work were a natural part of your life. You had to save for what you purchased. I remember going to the store to purchase some shoes I’d saved for. For weeks I walked by that store window and looked at those sling backs. Getting them made me feel “adult” and responsible. I earned those shoes. I wore them out proudly, had them repaired, and continued to wear them out.
For each of us the lesson is different: Anticipation is a good thing. Anticipation makes the gift we are receiving more intriguing, the new dress more exciting, and the new car that you saved up for, more valuable. Anticipation gives a deeper meaning to most things we have and desire. There is a type of magic to working for something. Keeping it becomes valuable to you because to discard it when it still works, means that you are discarding your hard work. Tossing it out just to get the latest thing, can be an issue.
As I think of all the technology that has evolved since I was a kid, I remember that sunny, July day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon and life as we then knew it was altered. The moment was electric. Now it seems that much of the “electric” has gone out of innovation and progress. Progress is a constant in an advanced society. More and more, having it all instantly, is a must. Trading up for the latest in tech when the old is still of value, is common. To suggest that you keep what you have might be heresy. It is about having the latest and dumping the old. There is a rush on to have it all NOW with no waiting period.
We now have smartphones, smart drugs and smarter cars, and yet we have not become any smarter ourselves. While results are faster, we as humans are still finite. We live through our technology. We live, thinking and feeling as if all answers must come fast, as if deeper thought should somehow be instant. We want that insight NOW rather than being willing to let life teach us. We might even become impatient when our first few searches on Google fail to turn up what we need. Searching shouldn’t take us so much time. Why can’t we get it faster? Well, searching on Google is hard work, that’s why. Finding the correct answer does take some deeper looking and heavier reading. In the process you might conclude that there is not a perfect, or good enough, answer to your search and that maybe it DOESN’T exist out there in Cyberspace.
Remember when science was supposed to save us? Remember when the Peace Movement was the answer to conflict? Remember when autonomy was the answer to authority? I think we need to re-read “The Glory and The Dream” by William Raymond Manchester.
Maybe we as a world need duct tape on our gratification instincts. Okay, that is an eensy, weensy, bit extreme. Or is it?
I have taken up baking. It is wonderful to create something that comes out of the oven and is warm and yummy. The fact is that baking demands that you wait. There is a proper time when eating will bring the desired pleasures of good food. Just think of something you love melting in your mouth and your brain will light up in anticipation. Your mouth might begin to prepare for the pleasure as you read this. BUT, you have to work to make it, so you had better make lots of it to enjoy!!!! Yikes!! I want to eat those scones I plan to bake for Saturday, but I want them right now!!!
The whole idea for this commentary came from a conversation I had with someone about the guide dog I’m working on getting. I’ve been in this process since 2010. At this point, I just want to move on. I’ve had to think about if I’m ready, or even wanting, to move forward, because I can’t wait. Like the universe, I have had to work with raw thoughts. I’ve had to shape and train them. Crossing the street in safer places has become a must. Thinking about HOW I’ll do it and memorizing routes takes time. Learning the train stations and bus stations has been fun, but I’m glad I’m past that.
I’ve had to reevaluate my established walking routes, my future needs, and the needs of our cat, Penelope, who will have to welcome a dog into the house. Getting this dog is life-changing and making the correct choice at the right time is important for our family.
I’ve spent 15 months in Apeldoorn learning what things that I’ve needed, and lacked. As I’ve learned in Apeldoorn, I was also able to observe others with dogs. My process is of more value because of all of this. While I don’t want to rush things, I feel the time has come to move things along. It isn’t about “when” but rather about the process and how secure I feel with it.
Childhood is all about “getting there”. Young adulthood seems to be moving in the direction of attempting to get it as fast as possible and show it off. Eventually there comes a time in life when you reach “wisdom” or the point when you that accept you never will fully have everything you think you need, but that you can have the “needful things”. The journey is what it is all about. Saving up for the good stuff is where the greatest reward lies. Understanding our real needs and allowing ourselves to have wants that might become realities, brings peace through expectation.
“Mommy, are we EVER going to get there?” “Yes honey, count the green and red cars and tell me how many you can find.” I’ll be content to count the red and green cars until the doggie enters my life. I hope it is sooner than later because I feel better about “it” coming into my life now.

****The dog turned out to be a No-go.

Seasons

The air was crisp and the trees were colorful. I was happy because my favorite season of the year was present. Autumn was present in every form including the warm colors of clothing that I loved so much.
For me autumn is what I like best about the year. The northern California Indian-Summer days, the crispy feel that you get when you are out and about is 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, gives 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-slow 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 re-thought. That 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 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. But, 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 a child who jumps in the pile of leaves, (you know the one you are 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 crispy 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 saying 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 that 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 40’s or 50’s who embrace the unknown for what they really want to do. They are happier for it. Autumn is a time to rethink, 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 for the future 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 coming on. Autumn with its crisp days and warmer colors is just around the corner. I can’t wait.

Unending Story


A place for my heart.
Towards the end of my work in Apeldoorn, I became aware of my personal space in the house. We moved into this house in March of 2011 and I was busy with the details of settling in and making sure our things had places. The upstairs rooms are small and it was a challenge to really know which space was best for what.
The downstairs is an open room that is “our space” with the kitchen at one end and the other end for general use. We both like to be in the kitchen and we are learning to share the space, happily. It is nice to have a guy who wants to cook with me.
The space where I work is a tiny room that has many Gail-type things within. Recently this space has seemed a wee bit cramped. Cramped isn’t good for the soul. What can I do?
Slowly, over the past month, I began to notice the lack of a feminine place for me to exist within. I’ve considered creating a dressing table where I could keep all the things that make my head pretty. The problem is that there isn’t the space to place such a table.
So Hubby will make the table, and when he really gets down to the business of design (which I’ve already done in many ways) and creating, the product will be wonderful. It will be nice to have the table when it is completed.
Places of passion.
As a beautiful place for me is a must, so is a place that sparks life is as essential as breathing. For me, my work is such a place. I find that I become a joyous and happy soul when I think in terms of what I love and do well. I find myself exploring questions that, in turn, lead to other questions and cause me to wander over vast areas of space. I dip into one space only to find a jumping-off point for another. The “what if, and what about this, or that”, span into hours of discussion time with another person and cause me to tingle and feel a type of life that exists nowhere else. This type of knowledge energizes me in a way that nothing else does. When I am not able to have this in my life I find life to be dull; as if a vital ingredient is missing.
I knew at a young age what I wanted professionally, and was not able to reach that goal until I was in my 30’s. At 16 I was fortunate to meet, and know, someone who had returned to graduate school to pursue her Master Degree at a later age. As we spoke, and I discovered what it was she was doing, I started asking questions that we could talk about. She would tell me about what she was learning and I discovered that I had valid opinions about what we were discussing. Psychology fit my brain in ways that studying history did not do for me. I was alive. I was also hooked.
I found that one of my early areas of interest was working with people of differing cultures. At first it was those with disabilities. How could the family system be strengthened when disability rears its head within the family walls?
My interests have branched out to those of other nationalities and cultures and exploring the richness within. What was someone’s experience as a Peruvian or Mexican? How do they experience life in a different country?

During my graduate period, I began to explore other areas as well as the above mentioned ones. Art and creativity and music were a special focus. I became aware of using journals and the power of writing it all down. I also began to understand the traumas that people endure and how they cope with them. Ultimately, my love of disability issues has remained firm. There is power in freeing the person who may be told “you can’t because you are…” I believe that many things are possible. It is all about finding a path and making that journey and it will take courage. This journey will change everything.
The Journey Within.
There is something about the journey, and exploration of a person’s journey, that ignites excitement within my heart and soul. An “ah ha” moment when a light switches on, the click when a missing piece of the puzzle is found, the discovery that what one believes can change, or the finding of a new path. I want to know what the next bend in the road brings me and where the journey is headed. Change is exciting and challenging.
Respect is also a vital component. Someone is letting me into their inner space. I am allowed to walk with them through hardships and triumphs. If there is a failure, I need to respect and honor the process of their recovery and rediscovery. Compassion and respect can be a powerful ally in the healing process. It is sorrow I feel when someone decides to not go further on the path that would lead them to a better place in life, BUT at some future time, they may resume the journey. Life is full of uncertainty and how we each face the unknown says so much about us. If we each had a crystal ball would we use it? If we saw the challenges ahead would we still choose to go down that path? Life is about learning and meeting the challenge. “If only I had” kills the spirit. “If only I had”, deprives each of us of what we can learn and gain from the mistake.
Part of my personal journey in life, has been my own process of learning to ponder slowly. Learning that I don’t have to get anywhere fast has been a nice consequence of aging. Now I am prone to conclude things for myself in my own time. I may sit on something for some time before “grokking” it in proper fashion. My brain and soul are on a quiet and slow path to understanding the needful things. I wasn’t always as slow to conclude as I am now. The time of youth was far different. I cherish where I am and what can come of it. Who I am during my 50’s will be a far cry from what I’ve learned by 75 and who I have become. If I haven’t changed and become a better person what is the use of life? Maybe there will be one younger than myself who gains from the wisdom I’ve gathered. Someone who will say to me “you are so wise” and I will have to say “I’ve come by this through imperfection and making both wise, and stupid, choices. Maybe I’ll laugh at the thought that I’m thought to be wise. Only time will tell.
Places of mystery.
Isn’t that what all this is about? Living our best, leaving a legacy for others? Making the world a better place because we’ve touched it and made a change somewhere in our existence? Isn’t life all about doing good and not even knowing where the good leads? You never know what you can say to reach out and inspire someone along the way. Because of what you say or do, someone might be inspired to take the first step towards a new beginning. I heard of such a situation just this afternoon. Something my husband did that has changed someone’s life for the better. He had no way of knowing that his willingness to be so open would help someone else reach out and move down the path of life.
I’m excited because someone is headed to a new place of discovery and mystery that will bring change and fulfillment. I’m alive!!!!

Music Bridging the Gap

“Love in any language, Straight from the heart, Pulls us all together, Never apart.”

And once we learn to speak it, “All the world will hear Love in any language Fluently spoken here”. Sandi Patty sung this song and it was authored by John Mays/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, Mendelsohn, 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 and 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 10 years.

When I was in my 20’s I spent time doing an internship that involved those with mental illness.  I gave several hours per week to those who needed 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” and we renamed the show “cute animals.”  Volunteers are great!!!! Volunteers change lives.

My Pitch.

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

The Gift of Being Heard

I’ve spent many hours “listening to and being listened to.” I’ve communicated, at least on some superficial level, what I meant to say. I pause to listen, to tune in, but in my haste, I fail to hear the real sound that I am in need of hearing. I listen, but fail to hear.
You can learn “listening skills” which will, if you practice them, enable you to not “spring” too soon. You can learn to clarify what is being said and the person on the other end of the conversation may come away feeling as if they communicated successfully.
We listen inquisitively, we listen out of curiosity, we listen in hopes that if we do so it will somehow all be over and we can say that “I listened to you. What more do you want from me?” We listen with resentment and fear. We don’t really want to know. We listen passively. We practice “active listening.” We justify all of this as doing a good bit of what we perceive listening and hearing to be.
At the end of the person’s sharing “they” may be frustrated by the lack of listening we displayed. Maybe they are right. Maybe we blew it all off, tuned ourselves out. Maybe we did a “good enough” job of listening, but it wasn’t good enough. Maybe we got lucky. Maybe they leave feeling a bit better for having spent the time in conversation. They might feel any of the above listed items or they might feel something else and we might not be given the chance to find out just how we did during that conversation. There are times when we only get one shot at listening and turning it into truly hearing what the other person is telling us.
Each conversation is a one shot deal. It is my observation that for most of us, that we spend time listening, but not hearing. Hearing is an art and most of the time we fail to do it very well. Hearing is acknowledging what is left unsaid as well as the spoken portion. Hearing is seeing and feeling the richness of the soul. Hearing can be like unwrapping a gift box.
There are no courses for hearing. There are only times in our lives when we are the person who hears in fullness and the person that is fully heard. These are the times that we remember most. To fully hear and be heard: “to grock it.” (“Stranger in a Strange Land” Robert A. Heinlein) This knowing is what hearing and being heard is all about: to have a fullness of understanding and to view the “gestalt” or the picture in its entirety.
Recalling the conversation that sparked this blog title isn’t essential. The last comment however was the true gift: the gift that told me that for a brief moment in time I mattered to this person. “You needed to be heard.” Those words became significant. That one sentence caused my soul to change. I had been given the gift of being heard and I knew it.
Hearing it physically.
Music is a major part of my life. I listen, I sing, and yet I don’t hear all of its richness due to a hearing loss. I can hear harmonies, but not the richness that is present. I miss what the composer intended me to hear. If I use headphones I can hear more, but not all of the richness that is present. Headphones can be a pain. I have an, I need to use them/wish I didn’t need to use them, relationship with my “Plantronics.” To hear the rich and fuller sounds of the music I must wear them. I must use them when I Skype. I must be tuned into the other person.
Recently I decided that I needed to revisit the hearing instrument market. I had worn one such gadget during the mid 80’s to the late 90’s. The gadget was big and not very effective. When I moved to Germany I stopped wearing it. I would live without hearing because it felt better to not have that gargantuan thing in my right ear. I would also be rid of the background noises that were not wanted. Hearing was not pleasant.
Life changed and I needed to see if I could introduce a better quality of hearing pleasure into my daily experience. I found a center that does thorough screening for hearing loss and took that information to the techie who would do the actual work of finding the proper gadget for my sorry state of being. I didn’t feel very hopeful. My past experience was foremost in my mind.
The next week something wonderful happened: I heard a conversation and didn’t have to ask the person to repeat what was said. This was novel!!!! There were no raised voices. The experience was beautiful. Listening was effortless. I could once again hear the world around me.
I began to explore and found that I could have background music on and still hear!!!! I could listen as our three cats munched down their meals. Cats are noisy when they munch. I could listen to the sound of the water which had always seemed so quiet. Once the initial adjustment to hearing old sounds in new ways passed, I was happy. I was excited about having something else switched on. That switch was triggered a week later.
That next Monday my music listening program went live. I heard music in a new way. I was ecstatic. I could hear notes that had gone missing!!! The guy told me about some technology that would enhance my hearing experience to even greater heights. I had him order the “Mini Tek” NOW I WAS EXCITED. Oh, to hear the world in ways it was meant to be heard!
This gadget, Mini Tek, enables the user to have the sound transmitted directly to the hearing instrument. I would have a clear stream of beautiful noise!!!! I would be tuned in precisely!!!! I would hear my phone conversations while out and about and not have to ask the speaker to repeat themselves. Life was getting to be a bit of heaven on earth…UNTIL I found out that the insurance, which was paying for thousands of Euros of hearing pleasure, would not cover this 300 Euros of enhancement technology and I was faced with having to return the box that I had only hours before opened so excitedly.
Returning that box to the Beter Horen (We’re now in Holland) was one of the most depressing days of my life. I asked my husband, Jon, to do it because I was too depressed, too sick in my heart of hearts, to take it back. So, for now the gift of really hearing music and out of the house phone conversations is not happening. For now it is hard but not AS hard to hear. But, this is just about physical hearing and not about the needful hearing.
The gift box.
Fortunately for the true hearing of the soul I don’t need a hearing instrument. I don’t need a “Mini Tek”; I need an open heart that is tuned to the correct frequency of another’s heart. The transmission will be clear. I will be shown what I am meant to see and hear. That is what the gift of being heard is all about.
The gift of being heard is about feeling the soul. We must not only hear the words of the heart, but we must see the landscape of the soul. Only with both true hearing and clear vision can we understand and grant the gift. Only then can we hope to understand the rich soul-scape that awaits us. Only then will we rejoice and be thankful that we unwrapped and shared the gift of being heard.

The Kitty Story

For the past 21 years there have been cats in my life. The first cat was Phred. Phred came with my current husband, so I got to know both of them before we married. Phred was wise, good, and a mighty hunter. Phred was an amazing boy who could sit in porcelain kitty pose on the window box and just be the most precious welcoming cat in the universe. This doesn’t describe him perfectly, but it is a start. For me, Phred was my son. Yes, a child. The one outstanding thing I must mention is his addiction to fishy flavored flakes. IF we let him have some of those things he would go on a hunger fast and demand MORE. Never feed a cat something they can become addicted to!

Next came the princess and her name was ‘Roo, as in Kangaroo, due to her early kitty behavior. ‘Roo, like Phred, lived on two continents, but had the distinction of living in three countries. The Princess was an international kitty. ‘Roo had the most amazing quality of not only being beautiful on the outside but glowing from within. Quite frankly, I’ve never met another cat that I could say that about. ‘Roo had so many good qualities and like Phred, had a nice furry life.

When Phred departed in April of 1999, we decided to wait to see what happened before we became kitty parents yet again.

Barney came to us as a farm cat. He just wandered into our tiny house on the mountain and made friends with ‘Roo and by the end of the fall of 1999 we asked our landlord if we could take him in permanently. I’m glad we did. 

Barney moved with us from Southern Germany to Eastern Netherlands. We lived in an upstairs flat. There was a landing that had a narrow banister. Barney could hold his ground in that space…even when the fierce wind was present. He scared us when he did it. We could imagine him blowing away. Barney was stronger than any kitty we’ve known. Hubby and I would have to restrain him if medication was needed and we lost more than one battle with him. Barney was also very territorial: squirting up a storm in my new blue kitchen. He almost lost his life several times…cuteness saved him.

Barney loved yogurt and had a “yogurt voice” I think he had a sixth sense for when the stuff was to be served. His little furry life was cut short due to heat stroke during the heat wave of 2003. We were devastated. It was then that I said “I don’t think I can do this again. My heart is being pulled and my feelings for our kitty children are so strong.” I was learning something powerful about what our cats could be in our lives.

‘Roo and Barney had been true friends. They would adventure together; causing us to wake in the middle of the night as they ran from one end of the house to the other. Barney became the defender of the territory and ‘Roo, while older, let him do so. She kept dominance in a laughable manner and when she disciplined The Boy for crossing her, it was more comical relief than anything else. Barney got the message and fell into line as a good Submissive should. I remember the first night ‘Roo had without Barney. A cat entered our yard as if to take up the place, all holy hell broke out. We looked out to see our princess running the little twerp off of HER land. She still had it out there. ‘Roo held the dominant place her entire life but you would have never guessed it at first glance. Her sweet and gentle personality was misleading.

Cats are just like children. When you get to know them you discover a treasure chest of delightful happiness. Taking time to share in their little lives is the real gift. And now back to the narrative..

Hubby and I let ‘Roo do her thing for several months. I wasn’t ready for a new cat. Barney’s death was so unexpected and my heart was being pulled into new forms of growth.

At the end of 2003 I began to talk about getting a Russian Blue. I had always wanted a Blue. We started to research them in more detail. I also knew a couple with a Blue and knew her to be skittish. This would not do in a cat. It was then that we stumbled on to the Britt. This was it!!!! During the holiday season we connected with breeders. The wait was shorter than I had planned for and I wasn’t certain if I was ready to “mommie another kitty”, yet. 

We met Penelope and her sister, Tweety, on a cold January day in 2004 and we both fell in love instantly. What was not to love? Penelope was perfect: designed just for me.

‘Roo had had periods in her little furry life where she had been alone, but had matured and gained a sense of self. She was confident and ready to share her life. This was a healthy choice for ‘Roo.

When we carried Penelope home with us for her first night away from her sister, we were concerned about how she and ‘Roo would accept each other. We isolated Penelope and she cried. By midnight ‘Roo was upset and wanting to help, so we decided that we’d try it another way. We let ‘Roo into Penelopes’ space. They bonded instantly. ‘Roo mothered the child and Penelope grew into a sweet, beautiful, kitty daughter. All was well! My days were filled with loving our two kitty-daughters and life was happy with them. Both were adorable and wonderful to have.

Just as bringing a child into the world should take two agreed upon votes, so should bringing a kitty-child into the home. We had talked about a third kitty and finally being in agreement, it was time for action.

Hubby was smitten by Tweety, Penelopes’ sister, I called the breeder to let her know that when Tweety got pregnant, if there was a blue and white male, we wanted him. “Funny you should call…” was the reply “because she is giving birth tonight.” And in the morning the call came: JRA Bob had arrived. And it was a good thing I had called because several others were also interested in Bob. We felt blessed that he would come to our home.

That year for Christmas I gifted JRA Bob to my husband.

Now, we do know that Bob had already eaten

through some hot computer cable. He tore up some curtains. He was a general trouble-maker as a wee kitty. He was the ring leader who looked as innocent as could be, but there was always something brewing inside. And, this was while he was still with his mother!!!!! To this day, we are certain there was some brain damage: He never quite managed to grow up.

When we carried Bob home, we decided to let the boy out and allow the introductions to come naturally. There would be no isolating Bob. This time all holy hell broke out!!!! We thought Penelope would kill him. This was not good at all. Long story short, we put Penelope on Prozac. ‘Roo, while irritated at times, was for the most part, fine with the newbie.

Bob was the craziest, most curious and all around cat-like kitty to be had. There was never a dull moment with Bob. My kitty mommie hands were full!

When they were passing out kitty personalities we figure Bob kept returning for yet another and another and the conversation had to have sounded something like this:

Bob: I want more personality.

Giver: We already gave you a personality and that is all you get. Now go away!!!

Bob: But this isn’t enough. I can’t be as happy, bouncy, lively, and beaming as I’m meant to be. I need more personality and I just know I’ll burst out if I don’t have enough. I need so much MORE!!!! Please?

Giver: Ok JRA Bob.

Bob was right. Bob was loaded with love and affection beyond belief, and Bob was Gorgeous. “Beautiful”, in my mind, just doesn’t do him justice. Bob was the most beautiful of all of our cats and therefore he must have a different adjective. (I know males aren’t supposed to be gorgeous) But, he was and will always be our most gorgeous of kitties.

We were forced to say our goodbyes to Bob in the last week of April of 2013. It was a sunny day and a day that was meant for Bob to be outside in the world. And we took him out, as we had done as part of our saying goodbye ritual for Phred. Keeping him any longer would have been cruel. We miss him so much. There is a huge emptiness here that will never be replaced by another kitty. Bob was unique in the Cosmos. I like to imagine a grand meadow where he can play and be with our other kitties. It’s a nice thought.

As I write this, Penelope has gone through many phases of progression after Bob. First, Penelope was alone and bored. She too missed the pest. (Her thoughts, not ours) She faced being alone for the first time in her little furry life.

We hoped that she would discover a new self and become a new Cat. Penelope is a Cats’ cat. She is independent and does it all on her terms. She too is beautiful and sweet, and learned to become secure in her new environment.

She has shown us that she really needed to be an only kitty for a while. We have enjoyed her and hope to have many more years with her.

Our kitty tapestry has been filled with the rich warmth of individual cats who we will always cherish and from whom we have learned so many lessons about life. Twenty-one years ago I did not understand the power that an animal could have to shape a human life and color it in beautiful ways. Each loss is real.

So goes the cycle of life and death. It enters snatching souls of all types: human and animal. Those we love pass on and we are faced with the loneliness of not having them on a daily basis. Time and soul-searching can heal many things, but you can never go back.

I move forward and can only resolve to make the best kitty life possible for Penelope. 

In thinking about all of this, I must admit I believe that there is a time and a season for all to end as we know it. I believe that each of us creates a future based on possibility.

Because we knew that Bob was destined to live an un-naturally short life I created a mosaic of him that hangs where we can see him and be reminded of just how beamie he was.

I began this piece in 2013. I thought it had a different focus. I kept it in my draft section not knowing what to do with it. I can now publish it because I know the ending. It has to do with mental health issues.

More and more we as human beings are discovering the power of unconditional love with our pots. We are finding that they are sensitive to many powerful emotions we, as humans, display. I’ve seen this with Penelope. If I’m really feeling sick she will come and be my protector. 

I’ve seen this phenomenon with someone else in my life: Because of her dog, she is more engaged in daily life. While her depression is still present, she has a sweet loving dog to help her calm herself.

Remember George? He has been affected by animals as well. I believe that it really does help his depression.

So, telling you about my kitties and who they are, is a plug to remind you that cats and dogs can reach into souls that might not be reached with words.

Therapy for those who struggle with whatever-it-is-they-struggle-with can be made easier with an animal by your side.

Tonight Penelope will grace us with her presence and I hope that she will desire to snuggle up with me. I love her and the joy she brings to all who know her.

No more “I”m Sorrys”

My first real experience with loss was when my grandfather had to be hospitalized and then died, after having a heart attack.  It was the first funeral I attended. I wasn’t more than 10 or 11. I understood that he was really gone. We had family around and as a child, I took it well.  

Death touched our family several times and in several posts I’ve talked about how I was affected by the different deaths that took place in my young life up until my early 20’s.  Forty years later I realize how sheltered I have been from grief and its realities. You don’t see the real stuff when you are young: I didn’t. 

Several years ago, after observing how many people would respond to someone’s loss with, “I’m so sorry”, I decided to use my Facebook page to conduct some non-scientific research.  I asked people “why do you say I’m so sorry” and the response I got was “I don’t know what else to say.” This response saddened me.  

As I’ve journeyed through the loss of my husband I have noticed some things in ways that I’d let slide before. One hundred and eighty three words into this post I’m going to talk about what I’ve noticed and what it can do to those who suffer from grief and loss. 

Death is out of the home. 

I now live in The Netherlands.  One of the huge differences here vs. the U.S. A. is that it is still common, after death, for the body to be viewed in one’s home.  This isn’t possible in all situations, but it still happens in many situations. Having attended such a viewing, my first thought was…in the home!?  My next thought was being in one’s home and being with the loved ones, one could relax in their own surroundings as friends came by to show their love.  By the end of my time there it felt like a great way to mourn the death of a guy who kept us on our toes. It was peaceful and joyous. There were no, “I’m so sorrys,” said.  We spoke of him and shared quietly. The Dutch are able to do this well.  

My husband’s viewing was not in our home and it wasn’t even suggested that I hold it here.  However, it was a wonderful experience. People who knew him came and by the end of the evening, I was “high on really good chocolate”. Once again the talk was honest and we laughed and I felt supported. 

For some time (until I said, “stop”) people I knew brought me meals and it was wonderful.  Then I told them that I needed to cook for myself and everything stopped. As long as they were cooking for me, they knew what to do and say, but after that….

Death moved out of the home to someplace else.  Because of the trauma surrounding his death I really didn’t pick up on what had happened in the way I might have.  Slowly people who didn’t know what to say, or do, moved or distanced themselves from me. They didn’t want to talk about Jon or hear me talk about Jon.  The first year was hard, and over that year people drifted further away until by the end of the first year, I was more alone than I would have liked to have been.  

Death reorganizes your address book.  

This is a fact, and it is something I’m coming to terms with as I live through year four of life without Jon. I think this is a complex issue.  This is not just about knowing what to say, but also understanding how to kindle a solid relationship. I think we’re failing in this area.  

One of the things I learned from one of my aunts was the value of real friends.  She had one real friend. She and Dot had been friends for….forever and even though they were separated geographically, they were very much in each others lives.  They went through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Dot’s children were a real part of things as well, and when my aunt and uncle celebrated 5o years of marriage, Dot’s kids came!  Like a really good marriage, Dot and my aunt Lois really worked at friendship. “I’m so sorry”was not uttered in that relationship. When Dot was diagnosed with a serious illness, words of comfort were exchanged.  

I’ve often thought that maybe it was just a slower time.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that you became friends with those in your immediate surroundings and when they moved you wrote, or called them.  Was there more social necessity to make relationships work so that they would last?  

Maybe it is none of the above, or all of the above, and I’m not wanting to say that since the world has “shrunk”, and distances are smaller, that we aren’t valuing things in the same way as we once did.  I don’t want to blame social media for the demise of friendship. But, I have to admit that social media has affected the way we, as a world, interact with one another.  

Yes, grief reorganizes your address book and it does so because there are many people who don’t understand how to support such loss as death, divorce, illness, or other life events.  

I’ve posted about what to say and do in the category “What Do I Say”.  Yet this issue still gnaws at me.  Why? My first thoughts are that people react to grief and loss in the way they want to be treated when it happens to them.  It is as if all logic and reality blow out the window and instead of saying anything, people say and do, nothing. I got particularly angry about this in RAW. (The Suicide)   Has our social IQ dropped that much?  Have we, as a society, drifted from understanding empathy that much?  Brenè Brown says it well in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

I think we’ve lost some of our ability to empathize.  Maybe it has to do with the growing need to state our individual pain while forgetting about the pain of others. Therapists are in the business of pain.  What I hear when I listen, is the deep pain of others not being completely heard by those they feel should be hearing them. This thought causes me to recall a conversation with my husband’s psychiatrist and his ending remark to me “you needed to be heard”  and I did need to be heard!  His comment to me reminded me that with all the hearing and care-taking I was doing, I needed listening to as well.  

As I look at hearing, and being heard, from the perspective of having or getting needs met, I can’t blame people for the lack of empathy.  Here’s why: There are so many forms of grief and loss that to show proper empathy for all of them might not be possible.  

I don’t know what it is like to come out as LGBTQ.  I don’t know what it is like to have a miscarriage. I don’t know what it is like to have a child show hate for a parent.  What I do know is that deep pain hurts, and that I can show empathy for others by tapping into places that are not so pleasant within my own life experiences that contain things I can use to empathize with.  I might not understand perfectly but I can understand.  Sometimes that means doing a great deal of listening and then asking questions that will deepen my understanding of someone’s experience.  I’m not expected to know it all: I’m expected to know that I can ask and learn.  

When life was less expansive than it is now, we didn’t have the “experts” to tell people what was, and wasn’t, normal. The truth is that those thought of as “experts” now may, or may not, have known what to say.   My aunt and her friend Dot had to rely heavily on empathy and questioning to really understand each other. They were present in ways that mattered because it meant something to both of them. So, maybe trauma as a whole, rearranges address books because people think they have to know before they open their mouths and friendships are lost. Personally, I’d rather have someone say to me “I don’t know what to say and I’d like to say the right thing.”  While this puts it back on me, it also opens up a pathway for me to say “thank you”, and, “this is what I need”.  

In saying all of the above, I must admit that writing this post has been a thoughtful challenge.  Here is why: In conversing with several people, I’ve discovered that we really have lost the skill of empathy.  The “I’m sorry for your loss” remark really is the best they can do.  People are overwhelmed with all of their own stuff and the balancing act of trying to support another person when you don’t have the skills to do it well, causes you to shut down.  It may also have to do with loneliness in our Western society.  

Don’t hate me for saying the following because it is not something I wanted to say in this piece, but I’m finding that I have to say it:  Social media has moved many people into a state of social detachment. What I mean by this, is that people know how to react to a photo, or meme, but they can’t, and don’t really have the skills to thoughtfully react to substance in long form. Knowing this may mean that right now, as you read this, you may want to engage a wee bit more than the average.  You aren’t looking just to “get in and get out” and want to say you have really connected with a thought or an idea. Think about your own social media pages; what gets the response from you? 

Facebook marketers tell you to use photos and limit words.  Why? They’ve dumbed-down for a faster pace. They’ve dumbed it down because people aren’t reading thoroughly.  

Gaining Empathy skills

In most healthy family situations, it begins at a very young age.  “It’s mine” is followed by a parent saying “you must share”. Slowly the young child learns the social graces that allow for becoming friends.  By four years of age, a child has enough insight to answer the question, “Do you like it when….?” By the time a child enters school, the building blocks are laid for social connection and those kids who have learned rudimentary skills in the first years of their tiny lives, are ready to test their new-found skills on the larger stage.  As the child grows into adolescence, the skills of childhood are put to the test as relationships deepen, friendships broaden, and exploration expands. By the time the 18-year-old enters the adult world, the lesson is done but the learning is just beginning.  

Some of my most valuable learning came about from moving out of my parents’ home  at 18 and going away to school in another city. On my own, I screwed up some relationships, but also had successful ones.  I came to understand things as an adult that being under my parents’ roof could never have taught me. It was hard! When I returned to my hometown in late 1990, I’d had some disastrous and some  good experiences. I’d built up some life experiences that would allow me to understand deeper feelings and understand in a credible fashion; things that I could use to empathize with others.  

I share all of this to tell you: You get the skills by experiencing life.  You gain empathy by blowing it, learning from it and using the learning you acquire to reach out to others.  

You discover empathy by finding a similar feeling or experience within yourself. You don’t share the experience, but rather, you recognize the power of this experience and quietly listen in order to understand.  You might have “been there, done that and have the tee-shirt”, but in this case you only mentally put that tee-shirt on and remember how hard it was to get through the experience so you can empathize. It is then that the questions come and the understanding and connection follow.  Now two people understand, by more than words, the experience that one is having. Empathy is a marvelous thing. No more empty “I’m so sorrys”.

My Five Anns

Note: My goal here is to put a more human face on several psychiatric disorders. I hope you will read and learn. All names have been changed and identities concealed.

As part of my undergraduate experience I wanted to do some volunteer work in the community. The university where I attended had a program running that enabled me to do just that. I was privileged to work in three different settings. One was a care facility that dealt with geriatric patients. The other, larger, facility I worked in, was a halfway house for women who had been discharged from the state psychiatric hospital. I also worked with someone in a private home. I will be talking about the latter two experiences in this post.

When the LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) interviewed me for the job and match me up with patients, I had not given working with schizophrenics much of a thought. I was excited to learn and my fear factor was low. I must have said something that made them think of matching me with Ann.

My first assignment was to work with a woman who had been out of the hospital for four years. (Remember that I’m a young, enthusiastic, university student who still thought of herself as indestructible. I didn’t give a second thought to being in a private home with a schizophrenic. I didn’t even think that something terrible could happen to me. Ann was just someone who needed some help. I was someone who wanted to not only offer what help I could, I wanted to learn. More later.)

Ann had an adolescent onset with her schizophrenia. Her intelligence had been affected and I found that I was working with a woman who had the equivalent intelligence of a fourth grade education. The social worker explained this to me before I had met Ann,

but seeing it in action changes the hearing of the information. My job with Ann was to get her out of the house so that she could eventually learn to take the bus to the day treatment center in a larger town. They had also hoped that I could find a way to teach Ann about taking better care of her diet. This was to be in preparation for a weight loss program they hoped to enroll her in.

It began with tiny things. First, I spent time with Ann. I had to let Ann feel safe with me if I ever hoped to get her away from her home. When she finally made her first attempts to leave the house, they were small. First we walked outside for five minutes. Eventually we went to the nearby park. Then little mini health-lessons sandwiched between talking about being away from her house. If she began to panic we returned to the house. She learned safety and I encouraged her in her confidence.

I learned a great deal in working with Ann. I never asked her about what being schizophrenic was like. I did ask her why she was willing to take medication that caused her to have terrible side effects. I admit to being curious and when we had built up a good relationship I queried her as to why she was willing to swallow pills that others would take for a brief period of time, go off and then wind up back in the hospital because of not taking the drugs. Why would you do that? “I don’t want to go back to the hospital. EVER. I’d rather take these pills because that is a terrible place to be and it is scary in there” Scary? The reality of being in the hospital was worse than what she’d go through to be there? That is a powerful reason to take your medication.

Several years later I found myself waiting for a bus to get to school and I heard Ann yell hello as she passed by in a car. I did a double-take…that is a thinner Ann!!! I found out that the work I had done with her paid off in big ways. She was able to get to the cooking classes and into the weight loss program. She was still taking the medication. Her success impacted me in ways that helped me in my future work as a mental health professional.

I’ve thought about the statement Ann made about taking medication. I’ve thought of it from understanding the terrors of what a person with schizophrenia can endure. My understanding is not complete because I can’t feel or see as they do. I’ve come to respect that statement made so many years ago and I take that with me in my work. Ann impacted me in powerful ways that I continue to discover.

Ann is part of the one percent in the U.S. that suffers from schizophrenia. Most of this one percent desire some form of treatment so that they can live as best they can. Some don’t understand the need to swallow the pills. Some can’t see beyond the side effects of the medication, and others think that having a symptom-free life for a short time means that they don’t need the pills any longer. Because of those thoughts, the cycle of hospitalization and illness continues. This is the talked-about “revolving door” that leads to nowhere.

After working with Ann, I was asked to go to a half-way house and run a fun music group for the residents there. “Get them to sing, talk, and create something.” I could do that because I like to sing and create things.

The group I ran had eight members. Four of the women were named Ann. (I wondered to myself if there was some kind of strange coincidence that so many of the women I was working with were named Ann.) The women were wonderful to get to know.

The group was a short-term project that managed to get the women to interact more on a light-hearted level. During my time running the group, one of the Anns— and my favorite group member—went off of her medication and was re-hospitalized. 

When Ann went back to the hospital, it affected the other seven women deeply. They cared about each other and were working to integrate back into the community. That following group session was a somber one in which we just sat and sang some sad songs. Each woman had her fears and knew that the same thing could happen to her. They had lost a friend to a relapse.

Seeing the impact of what had happened to this Ann sobered me to the realities of the population I was working with. I was told what had happened: A hallucination had caused her to think that she could fly. She tried, failed, and cracked three of her ribs.

While schizophrenia can wreak havoc with the mind, it does not mean that the person with schizophrenia will ever become violent with others. It would be better to state that this population need support and love because they are at greater risk for self-harm and suicide. 

I think of my five Anns every once in a blue moon. I wonder what has happened to them. I wonder how they have been treated,or mistreated; understood, or misunderstood. I hope that they have found a supportive place. The fact is that my hopes for them are just hopes. The truth is that I know dealing with schizophrenia is never easy.

This population may not affect you personally. But they are someone’s mother, father, brother, or sister. Would you come to comfort someone you knew who was in need of help? Those who are Schizophrenic are in need of so much love and help! They might not be able to return that love and caring, but they need it all the same.

These are people who are alone, living under bridges, because there aren’t funds for treatment. These are men, women, and children who deserve our help. Those with mental illness have no voice. We, who are not burdened with schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, are the voice. Where is your voice?

Now, I should also mention the successful and more well-known schizophrenics, John Nash, Peter Green, Syd Barrett, and others. People who are schizophrenic do work, live peaceful lives, and contribute to society in productive ways that have enriched our lives. I chose these members of society because I know of their work. There are others. Will you raise your voice to help these other people? They are part of the group society judges.

If my words have caused you to think; that is good. If my words on this cyber page are causing you to want to know more; I’ve done my humble job. I’ll leave you with a teaser: What did John Nash do that won him a Nobel Prize? What did John and the King of Sweden talk about when he won the prize?

The Meaning of Enough

How many of us think about what we could do with more money? How many of us understand it’s true value? Whether we squander, or spend lavishly, everyone gives thought to having more stuff that makes it possible to live.

The fact is that having a sufficient amount of funds for meeting life’s needs can provide each of us with the feeling of being safe and secure. Having a surplus of funds can provide us with more options. The more wise options each of us has, the more choices we can makeup free us up to pursue better solutions for the challenges we face in life.

I’ve come to re-think how I feel about the paper we call money. I now think in terms of options, rather than wealth. What options do I need to provide a good life? What are the consequences of having any of these particular options? What is the meaning of having enough? It wasn’t always this way. My thoughts and feelings about money has been an on-going journey.

I’ve learned a lot from living and working. The process of returning to work as a self-employed therapist has caused me to ask myself about money, what do I need to provide for my family, and what would I like to do with the money I earn? So, what are my needs, the needs of my family, and the needs of my business?

One of the most important values I have is that of being able to assist others less fortunate than myself. This can only happen when the needs of my family are sufficiently met. It means having enough for not only our family’s needs, but having enough to fulfill a dream, or two. Having enough is about being realistic and feeling good about the things you have. So for me, it means being able to give back.

So in practical terms what is enough? Being able to buy what I want at the grocery store. Providing new clothing for my family when they need new things to wear is also important to me. Saving for retirement and taking a vacation to relax and return to work refreshed. After that, it means being able to save and give assistance by offering to buy groceries or replace someone’s worn shoes. It means doing good things for others. It means giving someone who is starting out in business my support. It means that I want to do nice things for my husband without him knowing about them.

Having enough also means that you don’t waste what you have. There is something about meeting your needs and not over-consuming, that is just good for the world we live in. When you live within your means and use only what you need, you have less trash, less stuff to store, and less cleaning to do. I’m not professing to be a minimalist because I’m not such a person. But, since our family has cut back on consumables, our trash isn’t as full and our house is less burdened with excess.

I will confess to wanting more kitchen space so that I can buy some cool kitchen gadgets. We like cool gadgets and we like to cook. So, it also follows that we like to eat good food. It is all about determining what “enough is” and living that way in a realistic and calm manner.

One of the things I’ve learned from living here in Europe is that Europeans like nice stuff. They have less stuff but what they own, is nice. Most people here don’t go into debt: They pay cash for what they own. Most will have enough to retire on and are satisfied. Being here in The Netherlands has taught me to rethink my thinking. It has been a lesson worth experiencing and learning.

As I think about who I am now, versus who I was when I came to Europe to live, I can see how being here has affected me in a positive manner. It has changed me for the better and it has taught me valuable lessons that I could not have learned by remaining in the U.S.

Insight is a great gift that each of us can provide to ourselves.  Insight comes when you look in the mirror and notice that the face staring back at you has taught you a valuable lesson, and one that you would not trade because you are better off for knowing. Insight can heal the pain that comes from making lousy decisions. Insight is like a plate of your favorite comfort food. When you have it you want to enjoy it and you want more of it.

As I move on with life, having enough for our family’s needs, is good enough. Evaluating what enough is was a challenge that has brought me inner peace. Understanding what enough is, frees me to do what I need to do in my life. Having enough means that you can live your life and not chase a false dream.

No Regrets: Just Lessons Learned

No Regrets: Just Lessons Learned

This is another post from the vault and was writen when my husband was still living.  Enjoy!  

I found this in a mass mail that a friend sent out. It made me giggle. I giggled and thought RIGHT. This kid gets it. Do I?

“A little boy was overheard praying: ‘Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”

My thought… this kid is comfortable in himself. He is having a good time with life. The good and the bad are all a part of it.

I hope that the fictional boy will keep this attitude in life. I hope he will love himself and others and bring joy to everyone he meets. I hope he’ll pull pranks, tease and get teased. I hope he’ll love his pet tortoise. As he learns to be kind and compassionate to others he’ll earn friends. He will grow into a healthy adult who will pass these same traits on to others.

Being able to know that you are fine, just the way you are, is a gift. It is a gift provided by loving parents who care enough about a child to foster a proper self-image from the beginning. This child is not indulged, but rather, encouraged to do his, or her best in everything. They are praised for accomplishing things and supported to get back up and try again when they fail at something. Like our fictional boy, they know that “I am having a real good time like I am”

A healthy child learns to earn the privileges he, or she deserves. They learn to wait for the toy that they want, and earn the prize honestly. And along the way, they come to understand that they are unique, but not “special” within their world. They learn that success is won and failure is a lesson to be learned from.

Recently, a friend sent me one of those captioned pictures. You know, the kind that float around the Internet. This one had an interesting caption and I took the time to respond to it.

The subject matter of the photo was having regrets. Throughout my life I have made mistakes and felt sorrow over decisions that could have carried me down a different path. I am “me” because I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I’ve learned the good, and the bad lessons from those choices. I own my choices. Ownership of the outcome means that I try to live by not asking “WHAT IF?” or “IF ONLY”. Once it’s done you can’t take it back.

My first lesson from life in these matters came when I was 18 and headed off to school in another state. My mother and I were present when my younger sister died of a heart attack. There was a part of me that wanted to cancel my life and stay home. That wasn’t to be and I moved on into the next phase of my life: learning on a larger scale.

Because of the choice I made to move forward, I made friends that I would have never made. I grew up and discovered that my heart could get broken, heal, and, yes, I could even fall in love again. I learned not only to love, but to give, in new ways. Had I stayed home and attended school locally, the lessons would have been different. Leaving home caused me to want different things from life. That is what should happen because growth requires change.

As I write this from the vantage point of age, and hopefully, more wisdom, I am thankful for the roads I have walked. Sometimes I speculate about the roads that weren’t traveled. And I think back to that little fictional boy…you know, the one that is just fine the way he is…and I think that I’m fine having walked down the paths I’ve taken. I’m glad I’ve learned, hurt, healed, and grown. No real regrets; just lots of lessons to learn from.

Radical Compassion

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 become 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 such 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, and 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 theatre 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.

Sneakiness is Happiness

Today has been very hot. I like the heat because it means that the sun is out and the sky is blue. The only bad thing about the heat is that sticky, humid feeling. Today I had to be out in the heat and it was wonderful!!!!

Why? Well, it was because of all the nice things that happened while I was out and about and doing the many things that I had to get done. I was out alone with Myrtle Mae. Myrtle Mae is a good side-kick. “She” keeps me safe from others. I’ve also noticed that people are really nice to me when I’m buzzing around with my stick. (Myrtle Mae is featured in Stick Magic.)

There are so many things that are different about being a person with low vision. Some things are just more complicated and time-consuming than they are for a fully-sighted soul. People being nice to me made me feel OK about walking around in the heat. So to balance my happiness, I find myself listening to one of the most pessimistic guys of rock: Don Henley. I like Don.

There were things to do like the veggie run and the bank. I like getting this stuff done…but there was also laundry to do before I could do the veggie run.

I tell you all of this because the man did something wonderful for me. He can be sneaky in phases because my sight just isn’t good enough to see what is going on in my tiny room that I use as an office. I didn’t see the first phase at all.

My office is filled with very “Gail” type things, two of which are parasols that are mounted into the corners of the ceiling. Once they were up I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to backlight them.” I haven’t thought about it for some time. He has.

While I was out and about he got to work and gave me a very beautiful surprise to come home to. Yup, he backlit my parasols!!! So, even though it is hot out there and in here I’ve got the tiny lights on…I couldn’t resist as it is so pretty to have the soft light around me.

Being nice pays off not because it has to: it just does. There is something about generosity that is contagious. So, when I’m out and about, I smile and others say hello to me. Why?

I think that is because we, as humans, crave positivity in ways that will never be fully understood. I, for one, have no desire to study this as it takes some of the magic out of the process. I will studiously avoid the research on the topic. Some things are better enjoyed and left alone.

I think I’ll go find someplace cool to enjoy the evening. I also must switch to something other than Don Henley. Before I do…remember to smile and see what you get in return.


Faces In The Light

This post is a project to see if I can describe what it is I see (and can’t see) clearly. Would you please let me know with a comment if I was successful?
Thank you. ***** The diagram for the eyeball is at the bottom.
Gail
When you look at a face, you most likely, see the entire face. The details are clear: eye and hair color, nose, and ears all stand out as a part of the person. You can tell who they are by how they appear to you. You magically memorize things about this person’s face so that the next time you see them you may recognize them. That tiny computer in your head does the job it is meant to do. You bring up their name and with it many other things regarding this person. You can say that you know this person. But, what if it doesn’t work in this manner? What if your brain, or more specifically, your eyes, can’t process this information normally?
What if when you see someone you can’t recall or even memorize the face. What if your software is not in working order? What do you do then? You are in the dark with this face even though there is plenty of light around the person.
When we are babies we begin developing facial recognition. Our brains slowly discard the skills we will not need. For instance humans need to see human faces vs. monkey faces. As a baby you are capable of viewing and distinguishing all faces and you learn that because you don’t see monkeys every day the brain can now discard higher levels of monkey software because it won’t be using it much. Knowing what monkeys look like is good enough. The brain has learned that it does need to focus on humans, so that is where the brain will focus development. Now,
the brain needs to understand many things about human faces so the brain develops these skills. By the time the person is a bouncy one-year-old the brain has a Doctorate in facial recognition. BUT, what if in the process of developing the brain there is damage and critical steps are not completed properly? This is what happens when there is a lack of visual development.
What doesn’t work?
From this blog you know that I was born with cataracts (I had no light perception due to the clouded lenses) and that on my first birthday I was operated on and given sight in my right eye. Six weeks later the left eye was also operated on. The surgeon did a beautiful job!!!! So, I was now a happy sighted one year old who is simply a bit behind developmentally.
After the surgery I was given glasses. At age 14, I began to wear contact lenses. At the present, I wear only one lens due to the fact that my right eye is not able to be helped by the lens. (The cornea is no longer the proper shape) While they could do some surgery it is a risk I am not willing to take. Surgery would put me at risk for bleeds in my retina, which could lead to blindness in that eye. So, back to childhood….

Because there was no vision during the first year of my life, several critical phases of development could not complete properly. Muscles in my eyes failed to learn to strengthen themselves and nystagmus (rapid eye movement) came about, I also did not develop full facial recognition during this time. In later years the PXE decided to contribute a bleed in the retina and lessen what vision I have. This is why I have only 12% of my vision left. The percentage is a far better description of what I really see. It isn’t about distance but rather about what I can really see in a comprehensive manner. So if you have 100% of your vision and can see something easily, chances are that most likely I’ll have to blow it up and make it BIG or stand closer to the object in order to see it. .
What works?
How do I see things and how do I function best?
When a visually impaired person enters a room they don’t really survey the room as you do. They look for seating. They do this because this is of great urgency for them. This doesn’t mean that they will get the best seat: they get a seat. After they have a seat they will then proceed to check the room out. There is a problem with this process and that is that the person might not yield the best seat for their needs. The best seat for me is a seat facing away from the window. With my back to the window there is no glare for me to deal with. This means that I can see lit faces instead of dark faces. The best room is also well-lit with both ceiling lighting and lights that shine upwards. The room should have no shadows. The number I use is a combined total of 1500 lux. The equation works out to 1250 from the ceiling and 250 upwards. Warm light is better than cool lighting. Those are the basics.
Seeing your face is important to me. I wish I could recognize you easily, but for me the process is just that: a process. For me to recognize you,I need to spend time with you. I’d say two or three hours will do. I need to have those hours over a period of time. Doing it all at once doesn’t get my brain to learn about you. As I study your face I acquaint myself with who you are, physically. After several hours, I am better able to recognize you.
If you cut your hair, change your hair color, gain or lose weight I may not know you at first. You will need to remind me who you are. Think of it as having to do a software update.
The question of using the voice arises and the answer to this is that I can only depend on the voice as much as I hear. So, I use a combination of things. Because I see better than I can hear (reliably) I use my vision to learn and understand and my hearing becomes the secondary sense involved.
I’ve shared a great deal of information with you. I suspect that many of you out there will be wondering what do I do with this. What am I supposed to do when I’m around you? I’ll answer that with this: A simple kindness goes a long way towards true understanding. You can make sure that I recognize you. That is a great beginning.


Dear Parental Units

Dear Parental Units,

It seems that I’m the recipient of an opening in the space-time continuum and being as I’m a very brainy baby I’m going to take advantage of it. I don’t know how long I’ll have to say all of this so here goes something!

I just popped out and I know you are so glad that the pregnancy is over, you are through labor and delivery, and that I have 10 fingers and 10 toes. My head looks normal and I’m breathing and crying. All is well, for now. Enjoy the next six weeks because after that you all are going to enter a world that you don’t know you are unprepared for. Good luck: we’re all going to need it.

Six weeks from now, Mom, you are going to decide to take me to the pediatrician because my eyes don’t look right. I’m not tracking stuff and you and Daddy are concerned. On that day, you are going to get a bucket of news you are not ready for. I’d have liked for both of you to go instead of just Mom. You see, if you both hear the news together it will be better that way. So many times mommies have to hear difficult news without daddies being present and that isn’t right. I can tell you that getting your kid diagnosed with disabilities is bad enough, but often it is the mother who hears it first, on her own. Even though the woman (yes, in 1959 you won the doctor jackpot and got a woman) is going to spend time with you and she is going to remind you that this is not your doing and that you had a very mild case of rubella and nature happens. She’s going to try to help you deal with it all in one day. I’ll tell you now that her good intentions won’t do the trick. Don’t feel bad. Doctors still don’t get it and in time I’ll come to have friends who are doctors and they’ll validate this fact. Talk about it and help others to go through what you have been through. Sharing will be good for you and others.

So, take me home and get that home nurse and learn and enjoy having me. Let me explore, and let me be the happy soul I am. Let me grow up in the loving secure environment you both want to provide for me.

I can feel that I’m getting older.

Now, growing up is tricky. You are going to want to shelter me from bullies, failure, and all things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, you can’t. You are going to want to hide when I come home from school crying because of the bullies. I need you to put your arms around me and let me know that you love me and when I shed tears you cry with me so that I know it is OK and that you hurt with me. That would be the best!!! But the era you are raising me in will teach you differently and you will hide the pain you feel. I’ll grow up and gain insight into this and it will be alright.

While I’m on the subject of things that hurt: don’t trust care givers. I know that in the 1960’s you won’t think that your daughter can be harmed by any form of abuse. The disabled are hurt by angry people and sometimes well-intentioned do-gooders who should not be allowed to work anywhere near them. I’ll be hurt, but I’ll get through this as well. We are all three victims of having had this happen to me. You didn’t know, so don’t feel guilty over not knowing. When you do find out it will be because the time is right and I will heal from past pains.

I need to tell you that you began to do some good things for me in the late ’60’s and early 70’s. You need to pursue those things even more and give me the jump-start on my career planning and help me to see that I can reach my dreams. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I can’t achieve what I want. I know my limits and I don’t need society putting false limits on me.

I’m feeling even older as I write this.

Dad, you and I are going to turn out to have passions in the same areas. Social injustice is something we will both come to understand. I’m glad that you will work with, and respect, women. I’m glad that you will be open to that.

Mom, you are going to wind up raising two daughters who have health issues. It is going to change our family. I’m glad you will have Joyce because she’ll be things I’m not. She’ll be easier to raise: trust me on this one. We will both cause you and Dad to grow beyond what you ever thought you’d have to do, but in the end it will be worth it.

As I grow up, I’m going to want to do it all by myself. I’m going to want to be just like the other kids. This is going to be hard on you, Mom, especially because you and Dad decided you’d stay at home with the kids while we were growing up. He won’t be home as much as you might like for him to be, but I know that you will tell him everything and he’ll be in the loop. But, back to the being like the other kids. This is something that many disabled kids feel so try to understand and let me do it myself unless I ask for help. Let me struggle some and then gently offer, even if I make a stink. I’ll understand when I’m older and all grown up.

You should put me into Girl Scouts. Give me outlets that will help me to make friends and to achieve goals. This would also help society learn that the disabled CAN participate. This is very important for girls!!!! This is something you won’t think of doing and I wish you would. I can tell you this because it is something you would think of if I had been born at a later time.

Help me discover who I am as a young girl so that I can grow to be a strong woman. Putting me in dance and swimming lessons is going to help me to become more coordinated. It is also going to fill my intense need for being in and near the water. I’ll learn from these and even though the dance will be hard, it will plant some seeds.

I’m going to have insight into what I need. Listen to me because others won’t, and as you support me you can know that I appreciate the fact that you value who I am. I’m going to raise a wee bit of hell along the way and you two won’t understand it, but you will accept it and love me.

When I reach my teen years I’m going to struggle with who I am becoming as a woman. Part of this is normal for all teenagers, but there are special issues that are associated with disability. How I wish someone would author a book about this stuff so you both could read it! Unfortunately, there won’t be a book. Maybe in time I’ll write that book or maybe someone will beat me to it.

Early on in life you are going to turn me on to books and I’ll devour them. I thank you now for this gift. Reading and learning will be one of my great joys. It will allow me to stand equal with anyone.

Oh, something is happening.

Mom and Dad, I’m going to thank you, now, for all the time you will give to me. Driving me when I can’t drive, reading to me when my eyes just can’t see straight, and staying with me when I freak out because the depth of things is hard for me to see. The times when you have held my hand and helped me navigate going down to rivers, and other hard-to-get places, will be appreciated. I’m going to thank you for trying to keep the family in “normal” mode and doing things that my siblings enjoy. They will need that