Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Can People Really Change?

You know that old joke. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change. Yep. It’s true.

People talk about this a lot. I hear conversations and debates every so often on this topic and found myself in one just this week. Most people say that people don’t really change. Not really. At least not the core parts of themselves. Part of me agrees with that. But a bigger part of me has to disagree with that. I couldn’t be a therapist if I didn’t believe people could change. My biggest argument is always Tim. He changed significantly at the end of his life. It was facing a terminal illness that rocked our worlds, but he (we) definitely changed.

When it comes to being a significant other, I always thought it would be a really great honor to be the catalyst for someone else’s changes for the better. Have you ever heard people testify about how their partner’s patient love eventually broke through? I think I can think of some examples of couples I’ve helped changed for the better as a professional. That’s pretty humbling and amazing to witness. But as for the personal relationships? I’ve not experienced that one yet in my life.

I met a guy who knew himself pretty well and was very honest about what he was looking for. You do your thing, I will do mine. We can hang out. But no close relationship. Not interested, don’t expect it. I knew if I chose to date him, I would have no one to blame but myself if I got my heart broken. I did fall for him. I did get my heart broken, but it was a very short encounter. We stayed friends and we would have a drink and chat every once in a while. We would have the same kind of conversation about his philosophy of life and relationships. Two weeks after one such talk, I received a text that he was “officially with another.” We talked and he told me he fell hard for someone. Got swept off his feet. I had to admit, ouch! Someone broke through. It wasn’t me, but he changed. 

I met another guy who was also reserved and doubtful of ever being able to trust again. I was skeptical that his marriage was all he claimed it to be, but eventually when I met his family, they confirmed what a loving husband he had been for many years. His abrupt divorce was traumatic for him and he just never recovered. He changed. So could love open him up again? Change him back? I don’t know. I know that I wasn’t that person in his life. We also have remained friends and he has been dating someone new. His heart doesn’t seem to have melted though. Not such a big ouch, but still sad.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my friend’s boyfriend. Really nice guy. He told me that after his last significant loss, he developed a mindset of not wanting to be close to anyone again. He was going to be selfish, just do the things he wanted to do, not answer to anyone, blah, blah, blah. Then he met my friend. He told me without any embarrassment that she stripped that all away without even trying to. He loves her and she has changed his life. He changed. My friend is a great woman so he is absolutely right about her. I wonder how it makes her feel to be that kind of positive catalyst in someone’s life. I can only imagine how deeply satisfying that probably feels.

Now most men would say that is about power and control. Most men resist being influenced by women because their sense of independence is crucial to them. It’s brought up over and over again in the therapy room. In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest misunderstandings between genders of all time. Most women are not motivated by power or control. We just want connection. Intimacy. We love to see the men we love happy. There is nothing better than being the one that can put a smile on your lover’s face. Nothing. It is NOT about controlling their time, energy or finances. It is about being loved. Wanted. Chosen. CHOSEN. Desired.

I will continue to be proud of the work I do helping other couples. I don’t know if I will ever experience that kind of thing in my personal life. It may just not be what is meant to be for me. Maybe it’s just not my path. But I will keep looking for light bulbs that want to change and put my energy there (no pun intended). When I do that, I end up being the one that is changed for the better!Image

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Complications

I’ve heard a couple of comments lately about how sometimes I make choices that make my life more complicated and stressful. Perhaps my life is “as chaotic as I let it be.”

It’s true. To some extent, I have to admit it’s true.

On the other hand, I defend my choices. I invest in people. It’s the career I chose. I invest in my friends and family. Do I worry too much about other people’s feelings? Sometimes to my own detriment? It’s true. I’m sure I do. But if I’m going to make an error, I would rather it would be to care too much about others rather than not caring enough. Is that my choice? Yes, I guess it is.

The trick then, is to admit my stress and frustration without being a martyr. Women are generally prone to be martyrs. Sorry ladies, that’s just my opinion. So I think it’s ok to admit I’m hurt, or anger, or whatever, but also not be a victim. I make the choices I make and therefore have to live with the good and bad sides of those choices.

There has been lots of normal life stresses around here, just more than usual. The winter kicked my house’s butt. There has been a very long list of projects to do and things to fix. I have lots of people in my life who try to help me out in practical ways. Lots. I’m very lucky. Honestly though, if I had a lot more financial wiggle room, I truly think I would just hire people to do everything. I really would. Then I don’t have to bother anyone else. Life would be simpler. Easier. Less chaotic.

But I haven’t won the lottery yet so here I am. (Yes, I know I have to start playing the lottery in order to win it but I just haven’t got there.) Lots of people to help. Everyone has wicked schedules and their own jobs to do. When can they come? And everyone has a different idea of the best way to solve the problem. Those different solutions all have their own merits and drawbacks.

So my schedule is completely out of whack. People are here on and off all the time. I hurt people’s feelings without meaning to. They hurt mine. I assume they don’t mean to either. Personality differences. Skill differences. Time differences. All adds up to stress.

I guess I will keep making my choices, and I will keep living with the results that are both good and bad. And all those people in my life will have to make their choices too. Can they live with the way I do things? Or is it too crazy? And the people who I’m really close to, know me. They will listen to me, offer me a hug, and put up with my occasional whining. Because anyone that knows me, knows I would never ever hurt or frustrate anyone on purpose. They know I am DEEPLY grateful for all the things people help me with, even if I get frustrated sometimes. And they know that I will never stop investing in people. Nothing else is more important to me. And from my perspective, nothing else should be. Windows and paint and doors will come and go. People are what is eternal. I get it.

Happy Easter everyone!


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Scouts Honor

I was obviously never a boy scout, but isn’t their motto “be prepared?”

I mentioned last week that a client I’ve known for 12 years passed away suddenly. He was only in his early 50’s. Here I am out in public, preaching about death, dying and being prepared. The loss of this special man has kept me up at night wondering about what I’ve been doing here at home- meaning my home office. Am I preaching enough right here at home?

NO MATTER WHAT YOUR AGE, BE PREPARED.

Part of dying well, is doing what you need to do when you are living.

No one wants to think about their mortality. The younger you are, the more invincible you think you are. I’ve talked to lots of people who think they will jinx themselves if they prepare wills, etc.

Trust me. For your sake and for the sake of anyone you love, be prepared! Here is a small sampling of ideas:

Live within your means. Period. Pay off your debts and don’t get into any more. If you don’t have the cash, don’t get it.

Write down your wishes. Do you want to be buried? Cremated? Do you want your organs donated?

Do you have any special wishes for a funeral? Memorial service? None? But remember, those rituals in our society are there for those you leave behind. Sometimes it’s important for those of us who are grappling with the fact that you are gone, to go through the morbid rituals we have grown accustomed to.

If you don’t have life insurance, get it. If you do have it, make sure it’s paid up. And make sure your beneficiaries are updated.

Do you need guardians for your children? How will they be cared for if you are gone?

Does your partner or next of kin know how to access your bank accounts? Are your passwords somewhere where people can find them if needed?

It’s ok if only one of you does the day-to-day managing of your affairs. But BOTH of you, MALE AND FEMALE need to understand the situation you are in. Neither of you should ever be vulnerable to the point where you couldn’t completely take over should your partner be incapacitated unexpectedly.

Set it all up legally if you can. Wills, health proxy, power of attorney.
If not, write it down yourself.
If not, at least talk to someone about it.

I usually focus on the emotional pieces, which are also of utmost importance. So it would be remiss of me not to toss in to remember to say “I love you” often. Whether you are angry or hurt or whatever. Don’t go to bed unresolved. Don’t let even a day go by without getting re-connected to the people that are important to you.

I can promise you it really happens. It just happened to that special client of mine. One minute you are waxing your car because the weather has finally broken, and within a couple of hours you have entered the next life.

Handle your stuff. Now. While you are able. Please!


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Cold Water in the Face

Life has been busy. My clients have required a little extra T.L.C. (meaning more phone calls between sessions, collaboration with parents, psychologists, addiction specialists, schedule changes, etc.), all of which I absolutely don’t mind. But it’s funny how it seems to come in waves.

Then add in repairing/painting the kitchen. You know how house projects are. Way more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming than you originally imagined. Dry wall dust everywhere. People in your house morning, afternoon, evening. All your regular up-keep is shot to hell. Feeling a bit guilty that everyone else has also turned their lives upside down to help you.

A dear friend who is depressed and struggling with so much. I’m not doing much to help.

And just normal life working, parenting, church…

You might have read last week that I had a chance to be on the radio. Slightly under five minutes of air time, but a wait of over 80 minutes to get that. There are times when my house is a circus and last week was one of them. My dad was here because it was Wednesday. Colin and Frankie were here because, well, they live here. My boyfriend’s roommate was here because he was working on the kitchen walls. My graphic artist was here because we were working on my daughter’s book. Then my client and his son arrive because, well, they had an appointment.

Are you keeping track of how many men that is? A whole house full of them. I was still on hold, thinking I would be on any second and it was an excellent chance to talk about death/dying. And let’s face it. It was a great chance to promote the book.

So my clients came into the kitchen and waited with us on hold. Any second turned into minutes. The entire hour of their session they sat and waited. I asked them if they could come back same time next week and they said, “Sure.” I told them I’d give them a freebie for all their trouble. Now I wouldn’t get away with that with just any clients. These guys? I’ve seen them (there is another son as well) since 2002. Twelve years. We’ve known each other a very long time.

Yesterday comes and again my house is a circus. Then I get a call and everything stops and spins.

My client’s son calls me, I assume to confirm their appointment. He calmly tells me that his father, barely over 50 years old, died the night before. Just out doing yard work with his boys, feels sick, starts vomiting, and falls. They call 911. They run tests. They say he has blood on his brain. He dies a few hours later.

WHAT??? I am in shock. I start sobbing. I tell him I know I’m the therapist but he is doing fantastic handling things and I am falling apart. He says quietly, “I know, it’s ok.” Thankfully, someone who loves me is here in my kitchen when I hang up. He asks, “What can I do?” I tell him exactly what he is doing. Just keep hugging me and let me cry.

I know this song and drill far too well. Yet I still get shocked. And I start second guessing myself.

I missed my last session with this guy to advance my career. I know that it’s not necessary to guilt myself but I feel terrible anyway. But then I remember my career is about helping others and I feel a little less bad. Then I talk to my artist and he reminds me that we had a great time together on hold for that hour. We laughed together and enjoyed ourselves. He said that was probably a much better way to spend an hour together than talking about problems. I feel a lot less bad now.

I’m still up most of the night. With all my lecturing and speaking and writing, did I ever think to discuss end of life issues with this particular family? I can’t remember. This is a family that has dealt with extreme loss. Did he have a will? Life insurance? What are his two sons going to do on their own? Do they know what his wishes are?

Regrets. Worry. Caring. Wondering. Caring deeply. Love. That’s what’s important. Talk about it all the time. I mean, all the time. But it still is a splash of cold water in the face. Life is fleeting. We are mortal. Try to make the most of every moment. Really!