Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Perspectives

Sometimes, life/universe/God seems to bring a pattern of things to your attention. Other therapists have told me this happens to them too- suddenly your clients seem to mirror the same things you are personally going through. Sometimes it may not match my life personally but I seem to get the same topics thrown at me over and over. Sometimes though, it is just your perspective. It’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see the same make/model every time you drive somewhere. There really isn’t more of them on the road, but your own awareness level has changed.

This December has been one of the toughest months I’ve had in a long time. I decided my strategy was only to survive until a new year can arrive and bring new possibilities. Not every holiday has to be full of new memories and great moments. Sometimes you just need to survive them and that is good enough.

So I don’t know if I’m just projecting that on other people, but I feel like I’ve heard it from so, so many other people. Clients and friends alike. So many just seem to be trying to usher 2013 out the door, hoping that somehow 2014 will bring something better. I hear it over and over. Let’s just get this month over with.

Every once in a while, something or someone comes along to put things into perspective for you. When I am out speaking about my book, I am often that voice for others. They tell me all the time. But sometimes I am the one who needs a kick in the pants.

Enter Michele DeMeo. My brilliant Brigette found her somehow. We are going to meet her in person in January. She lives in Pennsylvania. My first phone conference with her, I asked her to just give me a background of who she was. She is autistic- the brilliant kind- and has ALS, brain cancer, bone cancer, bone marrow cancer, and has two broken legs. At this point, I interrupted her and said, “Other than that though, you’re doing ok?” She laughed and said the docs keep telling her she is going to die but she just keeps living for some reason.

She has written over 50 books. One of them was made into a movie, which is about her life. She is an inspirational speaker and has connections internationally. I am including this link, which is a fund-raiser for her next project: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/615222/emal/2032628 Check it out if you are interested.

She’s my kick in the pants. She’s my perspective. What the heck do I have to complain about? Thanks Michele, and we look forward to meeting you in a few, short weeks. In the mean time, to hell with 2013. We are waiting for 2014 and IT WILL BE FULL OF HOPE!!!
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Holiday Parties

Holiday parties. Mine is a different one. It’s a pity party. So if you want to skip this blog, feel free. If not, grab the kleenex.

I know that life isn’t fair. I know that suffering is not distributed evenly in life. But sometimes, that just plain pisses me off.

Everyone goes through loss. Everyone loses loved ones. Everyone loses pets. There are definitely people whose life is much, much worse than anything we could experience here in the United States. However, I think I could make a case for having a little more than our fair share of unfair.

In 2007, we lost my mom. She was my favorite person. Frankie was four years old. The year she died, I attended another 16 funerals that year. Most of my family went to almost as many. Sixteen! That’s just cra-cra. (Just learned recently that’s another term for especially crazy.)

Three years later, this is how our lives went. Tim was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died five months later. While he was sick, our cat Oreo was diagnosed with cancer as well. We treated him with steroids and lost him a month later. The scene was a tough one. No one escaped the irony. We knew what else was going to happen in our household. One of the last physical tasks Tim was able to accomplish was digging Oreo’s grave. Two months later, Tim was on steroids. During that time, Colin brought home another cat- Louie. He was great and brought us smiles when we needed them. Then Tim passed away.

The next summer, we had Frankie’s teachers over for a swim. While we were all there to watch, my niece’s husky suffered some kind of stroke, fell in the pool and drowned. I was so so so angry. Really? Who has something like that happen to them? Almost no one. And yet the family that just lost their husband and father were the lucky recipients of that experience.

A couple of weeks later, Louie was diagnosed with a kidney disease. That led to a very difficult conversation with Frankie. I had to explain that Louie would not live to be an old age. I was just writing about this in the new book. I had forgotten how gut-wrenching it was to watch Frankie grieve. He asked a boatload of tough questions about his dad dying and how much it hurt to know he would lose his cat too.

The next Christmas, we lost Louie. Colin had gone with me when we put Oreo down, and he accompanied me with Louie as well. We brought him home in a beautiful box. Frankie said his sad goodbyes and the two boys buried him in the backyard near Oreo.

Frankie started bugging me about getting a new cat a few months later. I told him we wouldn’t just go get a cat someplace, but that we would wait for the right one. I knew we would hear a story at some point about a cat that desperately needed us and we would be ready for her. As summer died down, things started to change. I started to blog about how it felt like spring and maybe we were finally turning the corner. The neighbor called and said her daughter is a vet and they had a cat that needed a home. Bingo.

We brought her home and it was clear she had had a rough go living on the streets for a while. Frankie wanted to name her Football, and I just couldn’t bring myself to letting him do that. I compromised on Jill, named in honor of the Buffalo Jills. Frankie adored her.

Things continued to change. I actually met a man that we both thought was the ticket. I guess all of my family and friends thought the same thing. He had kids too. We even took a vacation together with the boys and had a great time. I knew that Frankie and I were experiencing something new, that was really something old. We were a real family again. Even though we have lots of amazing friends and family, it’s not the same as being a family unit. We finally felt whole again.

The relationship ended up abruptly and without warning in the beginning of December, just in time for the Christmas holidays. We went from being truly excited again, to feeling the loss again. This time, the hole felt even bigger than it originally was.

The kicker? Jill started drooling which seemed odd. I looked it up on the Internet and made an appointment with the vet. Most likely reason is a tooth that needs to be extracted. I knew it might be costly, but maybe that was why she wasn’t eating so much. I think my jaw truly hit the floor as I set on the bench and listened to our very loved vet explain to me that Jill had a cancerous tumor that had literally eaten her jaw away. The only compassionate option was to put her down.

ARE YOU F*****G KIDDING ME?

I thought she needed a tooth out. I couldn’t believe it. I dreaded going home. How on earth was I going to tell Frankie?

I took him into my bedroom and gave him the news. He sank down to the floor, buried his head on the bed and just sobbed. He cried. Then I watched my little Colvin man. At age 11, he is already a Colvin pacer. He paced around the room, cried, and then asked questions. But she doesn’t look like she’s in pain! How can this be true? Yes, he wanted to come to the appointment in the morning. I had been right in what I suspected. He said he had one regret in his life and that was not being there for Louie when he died. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again. More pacing, more crying. Then I brought Jill in the room and in his usual grown-up way he told me he wanted a little privacy with her. He locked the door and spent another 30 minutes with her before he reappeared.

This morning at 9:00 AM, we took her to the vet. She came in today, even though it was her day off. She had been there for Oreo and Louie. She has a lovely bedside manner and gives a special blessing to them and sends them on their journey. You don’t find professionals often that care like that anymore. Frankie wanted to hold her while it happened. Jill purred right up until the second she died. Me and the boys cried throughout the process, then they came home and buried cat number three in the backyard.

Then the usual rituals. Carrying that stupid empty cat carrier back in the house. Putting away all the food and the litter box. Washing the bedding because she had a terrible sick smell due to her infections. Putting the empty envelope aside that was budgeted money for animal expenses. I had to put the balance on the credit card. I didn’t budget for two animal deaths in the same year.

Things like this happen to people all the time. But I can’t help but feel overwhelmed for my brave 11-year-old. My friends keeping telling me he will be a strong man, and a compassionate one. But what if he just stops attaching? He has already experienced the death of three pets. He lost his grandmother. He lost his father at age eight, for God’s sake. And then he lost what he would have loved to be his “new” family.

I’m been saying some vulgar holiday sayings that make me chuckle through the tears. Things like “Merry F******G Christmas.” Brigette came up with the best one yet today. Fa la F*****G la… sung merrily along. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

So this year, my holiday party is a pity one. I will bounce back. Frankie will before I do. We are a damn, strong family. But I think we deserve some time to be pissed off at the bad luck we seem to have. Feel free to comment, but comments that acknowledge what we are going through are more appreciated than any that tell me I should just focus on the positive. Even though it’s true, I’ve earned a couple of negative days.


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Strenthening Your Core

With all the emphasis in the last decade on health, nutrition and exercise, there are lots of talks about your “core.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my core the last few days, but if you know me at all, you know it has nothing to do with exercise. I avoid that whenever possible. My core is about my beliefs and emotions. And lately, my core feels utterly shaken.

In Tim Allen’s Santa Clause trilogy, there is a cute elf named Judy who has taken over 900 years to perfect the world’s best hot chocolate recipe. She sweetly says, “Shaken, not stirred.” In this case, shaken is the secret dynamic that makes it all work. For me, shaken feels nothing like a helpful thing.

As I’ve been speaking, especially to college classes, I have talked a lot about how mental health professionals often develop their particular philosophies about life and relationships. It’s a dynamic thing that changes over the years with knowledge, experience and wisdom. God, the world, the universe keeps teaching you things so you keep altering and perfecting the way you approach your life and the things that happen to you. I’ve had some pretty strong alterations since Tim’s terminal illness and all that has happened since while putting our lives back together. And that is on top of the forty plus years of life that was lived before all that started.

The last few days, I find myself so challenged about things that I have felt so so so strongly about. Frankly, I’ve been scared about what it all means. Those close to me are listening and saying things like, “But that’s not you, Darcy. You are the one that taught me such and such. You always have said ______.” (Fill in the blank with whatever philosophy I spout off often.) And all I can say back is that I know. I know I’m contradicting myself. And no one is more unnerved by it than me.

I am well known for my “never-give-up” attitude. My tag line that I sign on every book is “Embrace it all.” All of it, the good and the bad. What’s the alternative? To stop hoping and trying? Unacceptable. A few months ago, I met a man who had just gone through his second divorce a year earlier. He had made a conscious, well thought out decision to not ever date seriously again. The only way to avoid being hurt, or hurting someone else, was to avoid the commitment altogether. It was air tight logic. I had to agree with him. But then I asked him, “What if it’s worth it? Look at the two beautiful children you have that you adore. Even if the end result is hard, what if it’s worth it anyway?” He was challenged and gave it some hard thinking time. He has still decided to just avoid relationships anyway, but I know he thought about it.

One of the toughest things I had to digest, was experiencing five months of a transformed marriage. Tim and I finally got it right and experienced the kind of love people hope for all their lives. But it was laced with the acute knowledge that it was happening because of a terminal illness. It was happening only to have it taken away in a brief time. But I embraced it. Better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all. I have always believed that. Truly believed it. So even knowing there was something cruel about it, I experienced the joy of it all.

I have been blogging lately about a change in the air. I have been working on changing some core identities in myself. I have been tasting the promise of spring, even while living through a Buffalo winter. The people that surround me have seen it. They tell me they haven’t seen me like this before. It wasn’t some manic dream-like thing. It was core. It was contentment and a sense of self that understood life in a different way.

Some circumstances changed unexpectedly and I find myself shaken. I understand sadness. I understand loneliness. I have always known loneliness is one of those really, really core things for me. I know myself. I have experienced hard changes many, many, many times in my life. I feel things extremely intensely. So I know the drill. Feels like I’m going to die. Feels like I will never smile again. But I know it will pass. I know I will recover. I know I will get up and try again.

This time has been different. I haven’t even begun to feel loneliness. It’s more like discovering there is another part of my core that I didn’t even know was there. And it’s been shaken before I even had time to get to know it. I know what I am going through now is not on par with watching your spouse die. Probably nothing will ever rival that. But I think having gone through that and then passing through three years of hard grief has exhausted me, aged me. Recently, I poked my head out of the hole and felt sunshine on my face. I felt healing and hope and something new inside of me. I was feeling whole again. And it wasn’t just healing from the last three years. It was bigger than that. Core stuff from my whole lifetime. Why did I experience that only to have it disappear again? With Tim I was able to see the cruel joke of it but still know it was worth it. This time, maybe because of everything else in the last three years, I find myself thinking it’s just too cruel. I would rather have not felt it if it was going to go away. For the first time I am saying things like, “I give up.” Perhaps this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I mean I’m one damn, tough camel. I am strong. But hell, I’m not invincible.

One of the philosophies I spout off, is that you can’t have a goal that is dependent on someone else. You can desire, want, and wish for something that requires participation from another human being to make it happen. But a goal can only be something that you can achieve on your own. You have to possess the power to make it happen. It’s ok to want other things, but recognize that is some shaky ground.

If the healing and change I was experiencing was real, then I have to be able to find it regardless of any changed circumstances. The easy path back to the wholeness and contentment I felt involves other circumstances changing to make it happen. But I have no control over that. I can wish for it all I want, but that isn’t going to make it happen. So now what? Truly, I have no idea. My amazing support system has no idea. I think we are all kind of shaken. And all of us can hope for a change in circumstances, but again, that isn’t going to make it happen.

So here I am. Again. But with something foreign added in. Not sure what to do. Not sure how to act. Not sure what to say to clients because all my philosophies are challenged. Although I do know that I just need to be there with them on their journey. I don’t need to have any wise philosophies in place. Good thing. Because all I can do is be there on my own journey. I have no idea where the hell it’s taking me now. I don’t know much of anything anymore. But I had to get up this morning and keep going anyhow. I guess that’s all the knowledge I get for today. Maybe that’s enough.


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Holiday Hell

Yep, it’s Christmas. No mistaking it. On top of the already busy life we all have, we are also hanging decorations (inside and out), shopping, baking, etc., etc., etc…

But before I get into that, first let me say thank you to all of my followers. I am not very good at remembering to say thank you when I get notification that someone new has joined because I’m just an airhead sometimes. So please forgive me and know I am thrilled that you are interested!

Now, back to holiday Hell.

By now, I am sure it will come as no surprise that I am slightly psychotic. Ok, on some days more than slightly. My OCD tendencies can be quite silly, but if you look at them right, they are harmless and actually humorous. For example, I am big on holiday traditions. Really big. But then I turn a fun and sentimental activity into a “rule” that must be followed without exception, otherwise it just doesn’t feel right.

The day after Thanksgiving, I put up our Christmas decorations. Well, there are so many between the tree, other decorations, and outside lights, that it usually takes more than one day. I have Christmas books, music cds, and Christmas movies. Every year I buy another movie. And then I discovered that Tim had a bunch of Christmas albums and I had to add those to the mix. Oh yea, and Christmas piano music. A few entire books of them, plus some other sheet music. And every single one of those things must be watched, listened to, read, or played. And it has to be between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas. IT MUST BE THAT WAY. Now, long ago, I gave up on making anyone else in the house share in the absurdity, but it’s my personal goal. I’m a bit of a tyrant too. I figure that I don’t use the TV the rest of the year. So for one month, I get first choice. Everyone else can use one of the other twenty thousand tvs or rooms in the house.

All of that is fine and dandy. But I’m having lunch with Summer and she looks at me (because she has gone through several Christmas seasons with me) and asks me what I am going to do this year?  First of all, I went out of town for Thanksgiving, which didn’t bring me home until the Sunday after. Secondly, Thanksgiving is really late this year. There is no way I could possibly get all that stuff in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And she knows- it will completely stress me out if I don’t watch all those damn movies I watch every single one, plus the new one I get, every single year.

She was right and I panicked. Then, being the brilliant woman she is, she suggested I make an “exception clause” in my mental contract with myself for years like this. Truly brilliant. I gave my OCD brain an acceptable way out. I can make exceptions to my rules when there are circumstances like this year.

Surprisingly, the heavens did not fall out of the sky when I took down my Thanksgiving decorations BEFORE Thanksgiving was over.  With some help from the boys, I was able to get up the decorations inside and out of the house before we left on our trip. Good thing, because when I got back, the holiday Hell started.

In the last three days, besides living all the regular life of working full-time, I have done the following tasks/errands, while also going through some personal problems:

My spiritual direction appointment

A chiropractic appointment

A back massage appointment

Luncheon appointment with another therapist

Bank

Post office

Market in the Square

Dollar Tree (twice)

Game Stop

Oogie Games

Subway

Applebee’s

Walmart

Eileen’s Bakery

Edible Arrangements

Sam’s Club

Pizza Hut

Olive Garden

7 Eleven

Consumer Beverage’s

Lowe’s

McDonald’s

KFC

Aldi’s

I’m very sure there are more that I can’t remember, but the last one has a funny story. We had no groceries in the house at all from being gone. I also had to buy a lot of things for our family Progressive Dinner, baking supplies, etc.. I filled my cart and realized it was overflowing. So I paid, went and loaded the groceries in the car and went back in and filled another cart. I kept letting people ahead of me that only had one or two items. This sweet older lady gets ahead of me and she clearly can’t believe I would doing something nice for her. We stood in line and chatted about Christmas shopping, etc..

I get out to my car with my second load and lo and behold I had left the car door wide open. Wide open. I nervously went over and nothing was missing. The car started too. Can’t believe I did that. (Last week I walked the dog the morning of our trip and came back from the woods and found I had left the car door unlocked, the keys to the car inside on the front seat, sitting next to my wallet with $500 cash in it. Someone is watching out for me!) I turn around and there is that dear, sweet, old lady. She looks at me with her car keys in her hand and tells me she can’t find her car anywhere. I told her about leaving my door open. We just laughed and laughed at ourselves. Of course, she had about twenty years on me (which makes her confusion more acceptable than mine) but we didn’t mention that.

So I’ve been ridiculously exhausted every night when I drop into bed. My whole body aches. I feel like I could cry.

But I love it anyway. I have Christmas music playing in the car while I’m running all those errands. I sneak in a few minutes of Christmas movies whenever I can. People love my lights on the house, especially my big, red stars. I walk around humming “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” spurred on from watching Elf. I’m just a big kid who loves the spirit of Christmas. A big, OCD kid. So good luck with your own holiday Hell, but remember to stop and smell the hot chocolate :).