Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief

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Mary and Martha

Last week I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar. I couldn’t believe it took me 51 years to see it given my love for faith and music. Then it occurred to me that I may have needed to wait until now to appreciate the big picture of the message. In my earlier years, I would have been picking it apart with my fundamentalist mind.

I have to say I was riveted from the second it started to the second it ended. My entire being was flushed with goosebumps from the music and from the poignant message that seemed to come from every word, note and facial expression. At the end of it I was shocked. I thought it would be the Resurrection, accompanied by a “Jesus Christ Superstar” reprise. Instead, I was left with the crucifixion and a blood stained cross. It is a Good Friday message, not an Easter message.

Once again, I found myself in a session this week with a client that dove-tailed with my own life lessons I am navigating through. He was talking about a well-done sermon he had heard in church about the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was the busy one in the kitchen while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha eventually gets pissed off and asks Jesus why He doesn’t confront Mary for not helping with the work. He tries to explain that she has chosen the greater gift.

I’m a Martha by nature. I get it. I have tried very hard to consciously balance my Mary moments in life. His story reminded me of one of the scenes in Jesus Christ Superstar. Turns out it is one of his favorite shows as well, though he hasn’t re-visited it in many years. In the show, they depict the biblical story of Mary Magdalene coming to anoint Jesus’ feet with very expensive oil. Judas is furious. Do you know how many poor people you can feed with that kind of money? I get it. I would have had the same thought. Jesus again tries to explain the greater good.

Martha is doing good, responsible things. And worrying about being a good steward of your resources and helping the poor is also good. In fact, I would say they are both very Christian in their motivations. Yet somehow, there is this bigger picture that needs to be brought into balance.

I have to make myself stop when I have an opportunity to be with my grandkids. Every few hours I have to jump up and do some tasks that get the better of me, but I try to remember those relationships are the most important things.

My client totally got the connection I was making. We agreed that the message is the same in both of the biblical stories. We had a great few moments connecting in our own therapeutic relationship. There were even a couple of spots that approached emotional tears at the sacredness of what we were both growing in appreciation of. And once again, I probably got as much or more out of session than my client did.

So my thanks to the A.R.T. theater in Buffalo and all of its actors for using their talents to show an incredibly complex and moving rendition of the greatest love story ever told. Thanks to my client for sharing your life and insights with me. And of course, God is the at the center, the very breath that makes any connection to beauty or other humans possible and meaningful.

Grateful for these things as we approach Easter.



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Totally Buffalo – Children and Grief

My latest contribution to Totally Buffalo. Please clink on the link.



Anger with every Paragraph

As I continue to pursue my next career step, I was advised to read a few books. I just finished “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande which I loved every minute of. I felt validated with a lot of the beliefs I’ve come to in this work, and I learned some new things where I am trying to make adjustments in my thought process as I try to assist others.

Now I am reading “An American Sickness” by Elisabeth Rosenthal. It is also validating, but it comes with extreme frustration. Almost every paragraph I read makes me angry all over again, learning about the things that happen in our medical system across our country.  Things that I have suspected and felt, but now know there is plenty of fact to back it up.

The kicker was reading about Medicare and the observation status problem for patients. It was exactly what happened with my father before Thanksgiving. I blogged about it and the madness of trying to get his care covered by insurance. The last paragraph of that chapter informed me of a law that Obama passed in 2015. Had I known about it, I would have kicked that hospital’s ass. They were definitely not even close to compliant, but were very clear what they would NOT do to help us because of their strict compliance to law. I mean, I do a pretty good job fighting for my dad, but if I keep learning more information, I really feel sorry for these folks in the future. Education is power!

I have mentioned several times in blogs and my books how much I respect my doctor. She is incredibly knowledgeable and very thorough. She truly cares about me and my family. But sometimes I have run ins with the staff, which unfortunately makes the same systematic mistakes that most health systems do.

This last week was very frustrating and maddening. Hell, I was ridiculously pissed off. When you are sick and scared, the last thing you need is to have unnecessary conflict with your medical team. I was told over four days, by three different health professionals on the phone that I definitely had the respiratory flu. I was prescribed antibiotics, told by another to throw them out, then told that the second doctor shouldn’t have had me throw them out.  By day four, I wasn’t any better with any of the medications I was taking, prescribed or otherwise.

In spite of being treated like an over-reactive hypochondriac, I called back yet again. I was finally sent to get a chest x-ray, which was the first time I had any kind of medical person actually see me. Pneumonia. Crap. Now they don’t know if I had the flu and it caused pneumonia, or I just had pneumonia all along. And it is too late to be swabbed now so I will never know. It’s important though because the contagion and treatment are very different for the two conditions.

I am going in tomorrow, a week after I first called to see the doc, just to make sure things are going in the right direction. I was able to talk to my favorite nurse today and she explained a lot to me. She explained that people tend to say that everyone gets pneumonia now but that it is indeed life threatening. I probably won’t fully recover for six months. And I absolutely have to sleep and rest and take it easy. (None of this was told to me before now.)

That’s always hard for me. My life requires a lot of time commitment and energy. If I don’t feel well, it is easier for me to hold back. But when I feel ok, it is difficult for me to remember that I am not fully recovered and I still need to take it easy. The steroid phase is really a factor as well. I remember vividly from Tim that steroids treat symptoms but not the disease. Tim looked great and worked but he was literally a few weeks away from death.

My poor dog doesn’t understand why she doesn’t get her long walks. And I have to just keep telling myself to slow down, rest, expect less of myself, etc.. I will feel better though after having the doc actually see me in person tomorrow as well.

Always try to educate yourself as the consumer. Unfortunately, even at the best of places, you still have to fight and advocate for yourself or your loved one. Your life could literally depend on it.

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De-Polarization- Thoughts on the Florida Tragedy

I was asked by a couple of different sources to write about the latest shooting in Florida. I dreaded the thought. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first, or second, or third time this has happened. What is there to say other than it is horrific? And most conversations end up in one of two places- guns and/or mental illness. I have little desire to discuss either issue, so it caused me to ask myself why.

After a few conversations with people, I realized I could come at this topic in a dozen different ways. Maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult to write about after all, but which one to focus on?  Then I had a talk with my friend Darren and I came up with an overarching theme. He gave me permission to steal his verbiage.

Probably the simplest explanation as to why I find it so difficult to talk about these kinds of incidents, is what seems to be like a resurgence of polarization in our country. Perhaps it has always been like this and I just wasn’t aware. From my limited perspective, it feels like the latest election has caused the problem to skyrocket. Now it has become Trump lovers or Trump haters. Guns or no guns, etc..

I find it almost impossible to talk with people at either extreme. How can anyone be so incredibly positive they are “right” when the issues are so profoundly complex? The language people use to describe their positions makes me cringe. It’s so obvious to each side that their view is without question the most sensible answer. Anyone who disagrees must have a seriously maladjusted brain. Yuck.

It also feels to me like the goal is to find blame. I understand that it is human nature to want to be angry at someone. That is probably why so many people end up angry with God. God is always a good scapegoat if you can’t explain the situation away with something else. Let’s blame the president this time, even though these shootings have been happening for quite a while now under the leadership of Democrats and Republicans. Let’s blame the FBI for making an unforgiveable mistake. Granted, some mistakes are catastrophic, but I wonder just how many “warning signs” get turned into the FBI every day. Is it even possible to sift through them all?

I remember something disturbing from my very first sociology class. Humans tend to pat themselves on their back when something good happens. Those same humans tend to blame others when something bad happens. Most of the “solutions” to shootings that are out there are externalizing the problem. Someone, some entity, some policy, some agency is supposed to fix this.

The truth of the matter is, I think we would make a much bigger impact on the world if we thought of ways to internalize the problem. What can I do? Me! After all, I am the only one I truly have power over anyway.

One of the best suggestions I’ve read out there is to try to befriend the lonely people we encounter. If we all stopped taking the easier path of ignoring people who are easy to ignore and instead reach out, that could be a profound example to our children.

My son is 15 now and in my recent parent-teacher conference, I came away a very proud mama. I heard at least twice that he is able to work with anyone he is put in contact with, even those kids that are on the fringe. While I do try to live my life in a way that reaches out to everyone, I don’t think I can take the lion’s share of the credit on this one. From birth to age 13, one of his best friends was the neighbor down the street who was on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, he had to move away a couple of years ago and I know he misses him. From early on, he was aware that people could be “different” but he overlooked that in a way that kids can be so good at.

I plead with all of us, let’s try really hard to stop polarizing. Stay open to information. Have your views, but speak to others with respect. Actually listen to people who think differently than you do. It is amazing that just a small change in wording can make a gigantic difference in creating a more peaceful conversation. Take personal responsibility. Live your life every day the best way you can in whatever space of the world you are in.

Seem pie in the sky to you? Maybe. But I think it is truly much more effective than any of the other endless arguing that goes on politically.

Humans hate. Humans kill. Humans die.

Humans grieve. Humans hurt.

Humans love. Humans sacrifice. Humans stand in front of their students and take a fatal bullet for them.

Wake up every day and ask yourself what kind of human you want to be. You probably will never have to find out if you would take a bullet for someone. But I bet you might have the chance often to reach out to someone who is less than lovely in your eyes. Do it, and help change the world.

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Computers: Friend or Foe?

When it comes to phones, home repairs, or computers, those who know me well often say things like this to me: “Gee, you seem to have a lot more problems than anyone else I know.” This is validating, but also adds to my madness. I try to do everything the way I’m supposed to but I still end up pulling my hair out.

Since I’ve had so damn many computer issues, I have a really great friend who is my IT guy. Most of the time he accepts pool and hot tub usage in exchange, but I think he gets the short end of the stick. We have everything set up to be fool-proof. I have a program that backs up my data every single night to an external drive. That way if something happens to my computer, the data won’t be compromised. Then I went the extra mile. I bought another external drive to back up the back up. Two copies of everything. Fool-proof, right?


One of the things I hate on my computer and phone is that “they” can update things without your permission. Makes me crazy. I mean, we pay for the stuff. Why should they be able to have control over the devices? Half the time, it seems to me that the updates are “down” dates. They “fix” things that aren’t broken and create new issues. The last two weeks I have been struggling with Windows 10 and the updates that happen whether you want them to or not.

All of a sudden, I can’t use my computer. I’m not exaggerating. One letter on the keyboard and the thing would spin for almost 10 minutes. I can’t work like that! Turns out, that is the problem was with the new update. You can take it off, but it just keeps putting it back on. My computer eventually started restarting itself over and over, rendering itself completely useless. Guess what happened? My hard drive crashed.

Son of a bitch!

All of the work I have done for the last couple of weeks were saved and showing up daily as current. But apparently, the drive was getting ready to crash so when it backed up every night, it wasn’t backing up my work. The documents I have do not show any of the current work I was doing. That is fun when you go to balance your checkbook (and your dad’s) and realize none of the bills you paid were saved. The rest of the stuff I lost was literally hours of reading and research that has to be redone now.

The highlight of the week was yesterday when I thought I was calling Microsoft. After 45 minutes with this guy, I realized he wasn’t helping me at all. He just kept trying to get me to buy stuff. I tell him to disconnect from my computer but he ignores me. I can’t get to the button to disconnect him because he is controlling my mouse. I was literally insane. I was screaming at the very top of my lungs, calling him every profanity I could think of and he just kept deleting crap on my computer. Turns out the number I called was not legitimate. That was great, because losing all my work and being unable to do any current work wasn’t stressful or dramatic enough.


Anyhow, slowly piecing things back together but I’m sure it will take a lot of time to get things operating normally again. Love the technology most of the time, but man, sometimes I want to literally throw it out the window. Am I the only one?

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When Sense Goes to Cents

This has got to be one of my most clever titles ever. It references what I consider to be one of the biggest problems our medical system has, the change from service to business. The almighty buck is the bottom line. Thus, common “sense” in practice has gone to worrying about “cents” instead.

If you follow Grey’s Anatomy, last week’s episode got me in a snit. It centered around a surgeon who knew she was having a heart attack but couldn’t get the doctors to listen to her because they were following their “protocol” and discounting the actual patient. Of course she ended up having the heart attack and almost dying because of it and I just sit there with my whole body tensed up knowing this isn’t just drama, it’s what really happens.

Last week I took Dad to his appointment with the cardiologist. The nurse had to check his pacemaker. She and I started chatting. Poor Dad. He must think to himself, “Oh God, here we go again.” I explained to her that Dad had switched to palliative care and that I found myself having to explain what to means to medical professionals, even those that work primarily with the elderly. Palliative does not necessarily mean a person is in the active stages of dying.

She told me that she was having the opposite problem in her family. I asked her to explain what she meant. She said while I was trying to get unnecessary services for Dad decreased, she finds herself fighting for services for her sister. Her story was appalling. I was so grateful she shared it with me because it gave me an entirely different perspective. It’s the same problem of having to fight a giant, broken system, but she was coming from the other side of the fence. It stretched my mind and further ignited my passion to try to change the ridiculous way things are run these days.

Her sister is relatively young, in her fifties. She has a degenerative, incurable disease and is now in as assisted living place where she gets medical care 24/7. At this point, her symptoms are similar to that of a quadriplegic as she has no use of any of her limbs. Like Dad, she has a swallowing issue. She was evaluated (like Dad has been a million times) and it was determined she requires thickened liquids. What often happens at this point, is that dehydration becomes an issue. It’s hard to keep drinking when you are on thickened liquids. Dad made me taste his thickened water at his last rehab stay. It was gross. Dad has decided he’d rather take the risk of choking than live the rest of his life drinking that stuff. I don’t blame him.

This woman is in a different place though. She is much younger than Dad and her brain is sharp. Her body just isn’t cooperating. Her sister noticed on one of her many visits that a little bit of regular water was helping immensely. She could communicate with others and would feel much better for a brief time. Dad’s nurse said that she even showed the medical team what a difference the water made and they agreed it made quite an impact.

Now is when the madness starts. Because she has been medically tagged “thickened liquids,” the staff is unable to give her even a sip of water. They can’t stop a family member from giving her some, but they can’t officially do so. Once she is labeled, there is no room for any exception, even when it is clearly medically indicated.

Upon inquiring further into this insanity, she was told they could indeed give her water if her status was changed to “comfort” care – i.e. palliative care. However, if they did that, she would no longer receive physical therapy or any other services she was currently given. Is it just me or is that ridiculous? It seems particularly cruel to do to a woman who can’t move her own arms to get herself a damn sip of water.

It’s about billing and regulations. I certainly understand the need for regulations, but why should you have to stop using common sense? Is there absolutely no room for even the tiniest piece of individual need? Not if you want insurance to pay for it.

My blood boils when I hear this stuff.  To Dad’s nurse- I don’t know if you are reading this, but if you are, thank you for sharing your story. I have no idea how it will take shape, but I am working to try to effect change for people like you and your sister. It’s an uphill battle with little success, but I’m not going to stop trying. Let’s try and bring compassion back to patient care.

Isn’t that just common sense?

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Pit Bulls and Hockey Moms

I have a sign in my basement that says, “The only difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom is lipstick.” It reminds me of that NHL commercial that used to be on. Two men get on an elevator wearing rival team jerseys. The next time the door opens they both come out looking beaten up. The line is something like, “hockey fans are a different breed” or some similar sentiment.

I get it, but I have to admit I haven’t fully acclimated and I probably never will. Frankie got into his first real hockey fight last weekend and ended up suspended for three games. People of all ages and genders congratulated him for a defense man’s job well done. Even my counselor said that it was good that he was such a tough player. It’s needed in a sport like that.

I repeat, I get it. But I had a stomach ache driving home from that game. While I can mentally wrap around it, every time he checks hard or looks like he might scrap, I stand on the bench, frozen with my hand over my mouth. I will never get used to watching my son in those situations. I figure everyone else can high-five him, but I just can’t. I wouldn’t scold him, but I just can’t bring myself to cheer him on. I worry to death about him.

At another game this week, I was hanging out with a bunch of parents. Frankie had told me they were playing a team that hadn’t won all season. I felt bad for them before I even got there. I remember the year Frankie was on a team like that. It was torture to go to the games. This night, the opposing team was short players too which meant the kids on the ice were utterly exhausted. I kept watching the goalie and seeing his head hang low every time our team scored against him.

Finally, I couldn’t help myself and just blurted out how sad the goalie looked. The parents started to chuckle and one of them turned and said, “Spoken like a true counselor.” That did it. Everyone cracked up, even me. I really am the social work type without even thinking about it. The jokes just piled on after that. They suggested I go over to the glass and try to talk to the poor kid. Maybe I could offer him my card and a free session. I could say things about his self-worth. You get the gist of it. It was all in good fun and I had to laugh with them and even played along with it.

Yep, I’m not a true hockey mom. I just don’t have enough pit bull instinct.

Actually, I have to admit, I’m more than okay with that. In fact, I hope that part of me never changes. (But let’s not tell Frankie!)