Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Being Mortal

One of the big books on death/dying is “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. Recently, Hospice sponsored a viewing of a PBS show Frontline that interviewed this doctor and several other “specialists.” It was produced only a few years ago. (It is available online for viewing at pbs.com if you are interested. I will have a link at the end of the blog.)

I don’t usually get emotional much at these events because I am so consistently immersed in the topic, but this one got to me. There was a video of a man who they were discussing Bilirubin levels with. He was strikingly yellow from jaundice. It all came back to me with a rush. All the same lingo, walking in and seeing Tim’s face and body in strikingly yellow color. That was it, I was done for.

This is not meant to be criticism, just observation and it was fascinating to me. Here was this documentary with doctors, some actually oncology doctors. One was considered a “palliative care expert.” Their ability to handle medical information and dying patients was a bit abysmal. Most of them deal with it day after day, and yet that had no grasp on how to handle the dying with dignity. In fact, usually the patients were much more comfortable than the medical teams working with them.

The author and narrator said it himself. Three doctors in his own family. When terminal illness struck, not one of them knew what to do. Wow.

One of the things I walked away with though, is what I’ve heard over and over again. Doctors feel like anything less than cure is a failure. Of course everyone knows we eventually die, yet somehow they expect themselves to do the impossible. What’s worse yet, is that living forever (in any condition) isn’t even desirable for most. What a mountain of a problem.

Yet I felt hopeful. Here is a doctor that has put his failures on TV for the world to see. That is extremely rare in our culture. In fact, the scene opens with a family who has lost someone relatively young. He tells the widower that he outright lied to his wife. He gave her hope to live when there was none. He couldn’t tell her the truth. Being willing to admit all of that in hindsight though, is incredibly brave in my opinion. And it leaves the door wide open for change and improvement.

The biggest lesson from the documentary, was that the conversations all were happening much, much too late in the game. By the time the doctors faced the truth, it left little or no time for people to attack their bucket lists, say goodbye, get their affairs in order.

The other thing I took away, was how incredibly blessed and lucky Tim and I were. Somehow, we knew to always ask about prognosis. We were able to make the most possible out of the five months we had. We had lots of docs and medical peeps who were honest and open with us. At the very end, our Hospice nurse Patty was beyond outstanding when Tim was grappling with the truth of the end of his mortal life. She didn’t stumble, not even a tiny bit. She was strong and steadfast and honest.

One of the closing comments was short but profound. We need to treat persons, not patients. Period.

My last observation was this: Someone needs to design those damn hospital beds for the end of life that are double in size. It is beyond heartbreaking to admit the reality and not be able to climb in next to your loved one at such a sacred time. Footage after footage showed people in their dying hours with their loving support next to them, but not near enough. If someone wants to market that little nugget, please feel free but mention me when you make your millions.

Thanks Dr. Gawande for making such a courageous documentary.

Link: http://www.pbs.org/video/2365422384/


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God’s Plan

I’ve had quite a spiritual journey over the years. My faith, religion and spirituality has been around the globe a few times. Recently, I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking about this again and am reading a book recommended to me called “The Naked Gospel.”

Of course, where I am now is only my opinion, the “truth” as I understand it. And that has changed dramatically over the last 50 years of my life. I had a session with a young adult client that was one of the most moving I’ve had in quite a while.

She came in having to make a decision about her life, and had narrowed it down to three options. She has a very devout, active faith and as she was talking tossed out a phrase that was something like, “So I’m trying to figure out if I just really want this for myself or if it is God’s plan for me.”

It struck a nerve in me and I found myself racing in my head about how to respond next. Therapeutically, I knew she was asking for guidance about how to make tough decisions. There are lots of therapeutic interventions to choose from to help people sort out their various emotions and thoughts. She hadn’t come to me about her faith. I knew I was taking a risk if I went there and I quickly had to make my own decision. My gut told me to go for it.

I first clarified, “If I understand you correctly, you believe that God has a specific plan for your life and it is your job to figure out what that is.” She nodded. Then I asked her why she believed that. I was her when I was 18. I knew she had been taught that and had it reinforced over and over again, but I was challenging her to really ask herself why she had come to believe it.

First, we went the logical/philosophical route. How do you decide which things in life are part of God’s will and which aren’t? Does God decide what the best clothes for you to wear today are? Is there a best pair of socks? How do you determine that isn’t important but who you marry or which school you go to is?

What happens if you get it wrong? Especially at such a young age, what if she makes the wrong choice? Does that mean for the rest of her life her only hope is to achieve a consolation prize or plan B? Life couldn’t get any better than that if she missed the first perfect plan, right?

Then we switched gears again. I asked her something like, “Do you really believe that is how God loves you? Really?” The God who sent Jesus to earth to love and redeem us, is now sitting with specific plans and hoping that we are smart or spiritual enough to figure out with it is so that we can be pleasing to Him? Does that really feel loving?

I wonder if it was more of a session for me than for her. I am very passionately invested in my clients, but this session I actually began to get more and more passionate in what I was saying, and that passion resulted in tears that began to run gently down my cheeks. They were running down hers as well. I couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t know if I was upsetting her or touching something important.

I reminded her this was all my opinion, but I just think God loves us differently than that. Options and choices are wonderful things. Back in the Garden of Eden, we were given free will. How could God give us free will, then have a target in His head of what He wants us to choose? That goes against the very essence of free well. I told her in my opinion that she could make any choice and that God would love and adore her exactly the same unconditional, immeasurable amount.

When I finally shut up, I asked about her tears. She used her gentle, quiet voice and said she felt in her heart she needed to hear it. In her heart, she struggles so much with believing that she is truly loveable like that. I was stunned. Stunned. I cried a few more tears as I told her that I wished with all my heart that she could just for a moment see herself the way I did. And wow, what if she could see herself the way God did?

She’s such a lovely, lovely young woman. She has the voice of an angel. She has a beautiful spirit. And I remember what life was like at that time in my life, so full of guilt and anxiety, trying to please God at every moment and never knowing if I was. I would do anything to free her of that, to help her understand the depth with which Grace and Love have gifted and touched her and enveloped her.

It was a powerful session. Probably way more for me than for her. I knew I was talking to myself as much as I was talking to her. I have been growing my understanding of Grace and Love for several years now, but I still need to be reminded myself.

Thank you my beautiful friend for giving me permission to blog your journey. You may not end up with any beliefs like mine, but I believe we will both grow because of our bravery to be open with each other on the journey.  You will make the best decision, my dear. I know that because you have a Spirit that lives inside of you that loves you immensely and guides you. Thank you for today’s tender but powerful blessing.


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The Frustrating & Wonderful Energies of Spring

First, I must give credit where credit is due. Darren came up with the title.

I know the first day of spring was actually March 20th.  Heck, we are closer to the first day of summer than spring at this point. Typically though, the “wonderful” energies of spring are what we celebrate. When we start to see flower buds poke through, we breathe a happy sigh of relief. The end of winter.

Disney had it right. The movie Bambi introduced the concept of “twitterpation” which is about flirting and making babies. Guinevere had it right in Camelot with, “It’s May, It’s May, the lusty month of May.” Well, except for what happened with Lancelot. That didn’t end up so well.

I have to say, something in the air has changed because I have been a dating machine. Suddenly, men are coming out of the woodwork and asking for dates. Heck, they might even ask for a second date. And we’re talking actual nice, intelligent, handsome men. What is going on?

The end of winter.

But who talks about the frustrating parts of spring? Not many. Which is why I think this year I got caught off guard. Yes, the end of winter. But there is an element of winter mess that gets left behind. There are the remnants of death and cold that need to be removed.

As I was struggling with the overwhelming amount of things I needed to handle last week, one of my friends said, “Well, you were stressed out like this last year.” I wondered what his point was. Yes, obviously. I am well aware. You could take that to mean that I am the common denominator, that maybe there is something about me that causes the stress.

I chose to interpret it differently. Spring, with all of its promise, brings a ton of work as well. Anyone with a house and yard will tell you that. The yard work is never as demanding as it is the first two weeks you start. The weeds haven’t been pulled yet. The mulch hasn’t been put down yet. The rain comes. And comes. And stays. Which produces mud. Mud, mud and more mud.

This is the time of year that you approach all the bigger projects too. Now you can move things out of the garage. Or the shed. You open the pool and deal with all of the items that need to be replaced after the damage of the ice and snow. Let’s face it. Seeds have to die for those flowers to bloom. Spring is also exhausting and frustrating. Stressful.

Hmmm… Sounds like another example of bitter and sweet. Another example of the glass half empty and half full. Yep. The balance of life. No gain without loss and vice versa. It’s all there. Celebrate the flowers and the flirting, but it is also ok to drop with fatigue at all of the work. BOTH.


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Waiting

I’m not exactly a patient person. I hate waiting. Lately, my days have gotten cluttered and even chaotic at times. I feel the tension in my neck and shoulders. Lots of things aren’t in my control and I have to wait for others. I can literally feel the nervous energy waiting creates in me.

The weather has been all over the place and that doesn’t help either. A lot of the things that I am waiting for relate to assistance with my house. And those depend on the weather. I can’t plan anything because I never know who is coming when. For example, at the moment, I am waiting for my college student that does weeding/mulching and she is waiting for it not to rain. I am waiting for the concrete guy to come and stain my patio and seal it. He is waiting for a break in his work schedule and then it needs to not be raining at the same time.

I am waiting for the plumbing supplier to bring me some parts, and he is waiting for the parts to get shipped. I am waiting for a pool guy because the vacuum isn’t working so we can’t get the pool clean, and he is waiting for a second in his schedule and for the rain to stop at the same time. I am waiting for two able-bodied men who are cutting up an entire tree that was taken down, but they need time and no rain. On and on and on. I’m tired of listing all of it so I will spare you the rest.

But my friend has another kind of waiting. So much harder, so un-imaginable. Her 21-year-old son had a stroke during a brain procedure. There is nothing to do but wait. Wait to see how bad the damage is. Wait and see how much recovery there will be. And the nature of strokes? Well, from what I understand there is no rhyme or reason. Could take days, months, years. Things can shift anytime. Or maybe they won’t. I can’t even fathom what that kind of waiting must be like.

My clients have another kind of waiting. After years of dealing with infertility, they are waiting to see if they are getting a baby they want to adopt. The birth mom has five to seven sets of parents to choose from. Wish I could talk to her. I would tell her how amazing this couple is and what a lucky baby she would be to have them for parents. They can’t do anything but wait for the phone to ring. Fulfill a lifelong dream? Another heartbreak?

All waiting is not created equal, that’s for sure. I do know that myself, and the people I have mentioned have loads of people who love and support us. I know you all send positive energy and heartfelt prayers for whatever is going on.  Tom Petty comes to mind, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Well, I’m not sure if it is actually the hardest part, but it sure as hell is hard.


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Frustrations

After twenty plus years with the same email address, Verizon is not supporting their email anymore. The process to switch over is relatively simple, but I thought this was a good time to try to wean away from Verizon anyway. Sending everyone an email and saying “use this address instead” is simple enough. But you can’t possibly imagine how many websites I’ve signed in on over a couple of decades. And the book? Well, I have an entire spreadsheet of websites and passwords from anything to production to marketing.

Every day, instead of deleting most of the emails I get, I’ve been reading them carefully. I click on the website and then search for a place to click where I can change my email address. Sounds simple enough, right? Holy crap…wrong!

One of the most difficult sites to change was Facebook. I had to google several times how to do it, and believe me it wasn’t easy. The worst one? You’ll never guess. Verizon! I spent God knows how long pouring over the website and couldn’t find anyplace to change the address. I then spent over 30 minutes on the phone with them. I got transferred four times. Finally, “Brian” completely understood what I was trying to say and it took him 45 seconds to fix it. I explained it the same way every time, but somehow, only Brian had the ability to understand. Over 30 minutes for a less than a minute fix. So frustrating!

Then came Apple. I’m not an Apple person, but when my first book came out, we had to develop the ibook format and set up an account. I spent hours on-line but couldn’t change anything because I couldn’t get past the security questions. On the phone forever. Got sent to a Senior Analyst. Spent two days with her until she broke the news there was nothing they could do for me. So I set up a schedule for myself. I could try every eight hours to get in and then it would get locked. I made a list of every possible answer to the security questions and kept a typed list of what I had tried.

Question was, what is the first thing you learned to cook?

If you know me, you will chuckle at that. I CAN cook, but I DON’T cook. At least not very often. Faithfully, every day, I tried to break through the damn security.

mac and cheese

macandcheese

macaroni and cheese

macaroniandcheese

mac & cheese

mac&cheese

macaroni & cheese

macaroni&cheese

Do you see the frustration? Hitting my head on the wall, day after day after day. The only response I would get is, “That answer does not match our records.”

Then today, I almost passed out. I actually answered the question and was able to get into the program. Guess what the right answer was. Come on, guess!

eggs

I’m going to invest in a helmet to cut down on injuries from banging my head on the wall.


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White Magic

I’ve been reading a book that has been challenging me.  The challenge has been that it is a book that I thought I would totally identify with, but I find myself being quite uncomfortable with the ideas presented. My question is whether I am uncomfortable because the words are hitting a nerve and I need to make some changes, or if I just fundamentally disagree with some of the concepts.

Reading this book led to one of my heart-to-heart conversations with Darren (see past blogs if you want to know more about him).  We were talking about various philosophies we have both tried throughout our lives in order to achieve a higher level of whatever. For example, we both have “tried” positive affirmations. I remember coming up with a whole page of them after my divorce (in my twenties) and faithfully reading them day after day, month after month. Didn’t really make a noticeable impact.

After Tim died, I read a book about the Law of Attraction philosophy. I had a big ritual with a dozen or so of my girlfriends. We burned all of my negative thoughts into the air, and then lit up the sky with Chinese Wishing Lanterns, releasing my positive intentions into the universe. Didn’t really make a noticeable impact.

I told Darren I didn’t really believe that wishing for a parking spot when you need one could really produce one. He made some elusive but provocative statements that indicated that he did believe such things could happen. There is White Magic and Dark Magic and stuff in between. But after getting the desired outcome, he had to sit and wonder what he had actually accomplished. Then he said the nicest thing. He said that I am so purely Light in who I am, so about Love, that he would find it surprising if I did attract anything that was self-serving. He knows my deepest transgressions and the skeletons in my closet. I can’t imagine how he could think that of me so positively, but the comment touched me very deeply never-the-less.

I have to say one of the biggest “discoveries” I made, was when I was doing Spiritual Direction and was introduced to the Enneagram. It is a paradigm to understand personality and I learned that I am a “four” and read descriptions of my personality that floored me with accuracy. It was then that I switched my therapy goals from trying to change myself to understanding myself. Once I did that, I could manage my personality type more effectively. A deeper understanding of that helped me to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses with better results.

At the conclusion of our conversation, he said that he has a tiny pile of “stuff” that has helped him in his life, that has passed through the fires and stayed on the short list of things that actually are useful in life. It made me think about whether I had a pile.

I decided I really don’t. I don’t mean this in a cynical way. I really don’t. It is just an honest and genuine statement. The only thing that I have found that has lasted, is simply to just “get up every day and keep trying.” That’s it. Nothing sexy. Nothing catchy. Nothing that promises happiness or a perfect universe. Nothing magical. Just keep doing it, even when your head and heart ache so much you think it isn’t possible. Even when life is sometimes horribly hard and unrelenting. Get up anyway.

 

 


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Care Calendar

There ought to be a name for people who are elderly, but not in need of a nursing home. My dad fits right in that in-between category. He is able to live on his own, but not without some assistance. He needs more than nothing, but doesn’t need to be in full-time care.

He and I recently had a talk again about where he lives. He is in a one-bedroom apartment. He isn’t quite ready to move in with me and my family, and he doesn’t want to live in an assisted living home. Frankly, they can be a bit pricey. The next thing you know, your life savings is gone. (I mean your LIFE savings… a person’s entire work life savings.)

I asked him if it would help if his family/friends set-up a calendar so he had some things to look forward to. He thought that was  a good idea so I was glad. I was also overwhelmed though. I knew that I would have to be a lot of phone calls and also figure out a way to keep everyone informed. I felt the stress radiate through  my shoulders. Then it hit me.

Care Calendar! When Tim was sick, our friend from church was kind enough to be the administrator for our Care Calendar site. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, take note because it is an amazing site. You can find it on carecalendar.org and it is free. They encourage you to make a donation if you want, but it is free to utilize.

I spent the afternoon setting up a page for Dad. It was well worth the time investment. It is literally just what it says, a calendar. On that calendar, you can put as many “needs” as you would like. I set up meals, grocery shopping, transportation, apartment cleaning. and visiting. People (“helpers”) can then visit the site if given a code, and sign-up to take care of any of the needs listed. There is even a separate code for more sensitive/personal items that you wouldn’t want the general public to see.

When a person signs up, they give their name and email address. When it is time, they will receive a reminder email that says, “Don’t forget, you are bringing Joe Schmo dinner today.” As the coordinator, I also get an email that says, “So and so is bring Joe Schmo dinner today.” It’s an excellent system.

With the meal example, it will also show relevant information. For example, I set it up to tell people what Dad’s diet restrictions are. Currently, he is on a “mechanical soft” diet, which I define for them and also give examples of things that would be good for him to eat. The calendar can show what the person plans to bring him too so others will know and he won’t get the same type of food every day.

It really is an amazing tool and I can personally attest to the remarkable difference it made for Tim and I when he was sick. We were able to concentrate on him because our basic needs were totally cared for. I have such fond (and humbling!) memories of that part of our journey. People’s kindness was overwhelming. I am hoping that this works well for Dad too, although his needs are minimal compared to someone with a terminal illness.

Thank you to the family that started this brilliant site. And we will definitely be making a donation in the future 🙂 !