Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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A Day in My Life…

On Monday, I noticed an odd spot on my breast. Looked like a bruise, but then not quite. I went to my friend’s house who is a breast cancer survivor and asked if I could show her. (I can’t imagine men being comfortable showing each other a concern- ha ha!) She thought it was strange but was more concerned whether there was a lump. We were both unhappy to discover there was a very distinct lump. She told me a few reasons why it probably wasn’t anything serious, but I definitely should call the doctor in the morning. The rest of the day it was in the back of my mind (of course), but I managed to keep it at bay knowing it was probably not serious.

Tuesday morning, I called the doctor first thing. They fit me in early afternoon. I had my usual full day ahead of me so the first couple of hours I just pushed along. Then I went in the hot tub to try to relax a bit before my clients started coming. I started to get that panicky feeling and my breathing was getting choppy. I talked to dear Summer, knowing she would give me a rational smack in the head and I would be fine. Instead, the flood gates opened. I was scared. Really, really scared. She offered to go to the appointment with me. In between sobs, I told her that wasn’t necessary and I knew she was as busy as I was. But of course she came and of course I needed her.

I had to pull it together to keep working until my appointment, but between clients I was bombarded with thoughts and fears. To be fair, they really weren’t irrational. I know better than most that a simple, small thing can alter your life forever. My first thought was Frankie. This just couldn’t possibly be anything because that 11-year-old kid couldn’t possibly be asked to have no parents at all. Even if I could be treated and beat it, that poor boy does not need to endure watching the process all over again. Treatments, vomiting, schedules being thrown out the window. Watching someone visibly change who is supposed to be your tower of strength. He just can’t be asked to do that again, right?

Then I started thinking about my life in the last couple of weeks. I have been re-evaluating my life very intently because I have been working too hard. I have been burning the candle at both ends. I have been exhausted at the end of every night and know I can’t keep it up. I have been trying to make changes, but have struggled with what changes to even make. And then I really panicked. Holy shit! What if the universe/God has been on my case about it because I need to make room for treatment? Is that what this has really been about? Summer and I were just talking this weekend about how with all the interactions we have with people, if we ever got cancer, we wouldn’t go to Roswell (our local cancer hospital). That would mean regular trips to PA or Ohio. Overwhelming thought. Breathing is getting tough again.

I take a shower before I go to the doctor. While I am in there, another related thought crosses my mind. I absolutely know what it takes to fight cancer. I know the stamina you need. I know that a positive attitude is mandatory for success. I know that I have to muster up the strength that I know I possess and I will have to figure out how to access it. And then I found myself sitting in the shower seat sobbing, just like the day I found Tim in there when his daughter came to surprise him for Father’s Day. Because I knew that I just couldn’t do it. I’m too depleted. I will end up dying because I’m not the woman I was before taking care of my terminal husband. Even though it has been three years, I’ve not recovered.

I know my friends will shore me up. I know it. But Christ, Frankie won’t even have a step-father who loves him after I’m gone. Tim’s kids had me and I don’t love them any less since he has been gone. I know that Tim had peace about that. I failed Frankie in that respect. Utterly failed.

Brigette was home with a sick child, but she kept in touch with texts. She told me she didn’t remember the last time she prayed as hard as she was praying for me.

We arrived at the doc’s. I love Dr. Grace. Tell her everything, trust her implicitly. She looks at my mark and looks puzzled. She hasn’t ever really seen anything like it before. (Why does that always happen to me? I’m always like a freak show for doctors!) BUT… she knows it definitely does NOT look like cancer. I love her because I never have to explain anything to her because she remembers every detail of my life. She thanks me for not waiting and says she is grateful she can trust that I won’t mess around with anything medically. And without being told, she knows it is because I can’t possibly take risks because Frankie needs me. She is glad I get that all on my own and she doesn’t have to pound it into my head. Even though I feel better after seeing her, she promises me by the end of business day I will have answers. She works her magic and I am able to leave her office and go directly to the radiology center.

Off we go. First the mammogram. You know the drill, ladies. First set of pictures and then you sit in the waiting room. As suspected, I get called back for more. Now they see something in the other breast they are also concerned about. Great. She has to smoosh them further for the second set. Then they ask you to hold your breath while they take the image. I try until I finally gasp because the pain is too much. She tells me ever so nicely that she hopes she doesn’t have to retake them because I yelled out.

I go back in the waiting room and tell Summer I can’t believe with all our modern medicine we haven’t figured out anything better than putting our delicate breasts into a vice grip. She laughs and tells me if men had boobs, there would have been an answer years ago. I laugh at that. (Yes, Gary, I admit that is a sexist comment, but cut me some slack!)

Next the sonogram. She tells me she thinks it is a cyst. Doesn’t know why or how it would get there, but possibly it was pinched somehow. Phew.

I tell my step-son Colin about my day. He just looks at me. I told him that I didn’t think our family could go through it again. I told him I didn’t think we would be able to pull off the great job we did with his dad this time. He just nodded his head.

Later, my doc’s office calls and say they agree it’s a cyst. They want me to put the hottest compresses I can stand on it, as many times a day as I can manage it. (Apparently they don’t know I am already burning the candle at both ends and don’t even make time to eat half the time!) If it doesn’t go away in a month, then I have to see a surgeon. Bottom line is, it may not be cancer, but it is still not right and not supposed to be there.

So I spent the night rejoicing. I spent the rest of the night being super grateful that I don’t have cancer.

Wrong.

I spent the night continuing to have a hard time breathing. Being the lucky woman I am, (no, that is NOT sarcasm) male and female friends called to check on me or just to say hello (because they didn’t know what was going on). And every time I said hello, I would burst into tears again. I wanted to be happy, but I felt like a wrung out dish rag.

Everyone got it. No one judged me. They all told me that my fear was perfectly logical, understand, reasonable, not irrational. My daughter Emily called me about 10 PM and we talked til after midnight. She told me that if I ever got diagnosed, she would move up here and help take care of me. She said she didn’t do that for her dad but she would do it this time. I read between the lines and thought she must have regrets about that with her dad. I made a mental note to talk to her in the near future because I don’t want her to be plagued with that.

I watched a movie recently. The girl looked at the guy and said something like, “You weren’t there when I needed you. In the end, that’s all relationships are. It’s being there for the big stuff.” I thought it was an excellent summation. I’m lucky enough to have people who ARE there. Summer left work to go with me because she got it. Anyone who happened to know I was worried about a lump would have done what they could to support me because they get it. If you lived through Tim’s cancer with us, or if you read the book afterward, you get it. If you love me, if you know how to feel compassion, you are there by my side.

Today is a new day. Now I am starting to feel that relief I thought I would feel last night. Today I am breathing easier and emotionally feel the gratefulness I understood intellectually yesterday. Again, thanks to my amazing support system. You know who you are. And for those of you who are reading and wondering why I didn’t tell you, don’t. It all happened fast so don’t be mad at me :).

I wonder what today will bring?


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Going Out Ain’t What It Used to Be

The other night, I went out to an event at a bar with my friend, Karen. Now Karen is a really pretty girl. Really pretty. She is blonde and has a great figure. So I know when I go out with her, I am going to spend most of the night watching men hit on her. I can’t go if I am having a low self-esteem spurt because it would push me over the edge. We get there, pick a table and within minutes some guy saunters over and asks to sit next to her. And so it begins.

Shortly after that, a guy with a fun, outgoing personality plops himself down in the empty seat at our table and announces he is going to join us. I immediately like him as he livens things up. Within minutes, he assesses the situation. He tells me how one of his closest friends is tall, blonde and great-looking. He says when he goes out with him, he just assumes the role of “side-kick” and that’s how the night goes. I’m surprised at his sizing-up skills and think about how that’s a good description of my role as well.

It’s not that I think I’m ugly or unattractive. But I’m realistic. I am actually okay with my assumed position and settle in for the evening. It turns out to be a fun one, but what ends up being entertaining to you as you get older changes drastically. Here are some of the highlights of the evening.

Because Karen is heavily sought after, she usually doesn’t have to buy drinks all night other than the first one. And because she is heavily sought after, men will sometimes offer to be the side-kick drinks too. And because Karen is awesome, if they don’t, she asks them to buy me one. Bonus. One of the sexist parts of society that I actually take advantage of. Letting a man buy you a drink. Cool. And when they aren’t hitting on you, there are no expectations.

Next highlight is more interesting than entertaining, but it stood out. We are wearing name tags and I walk by this table of people in their sixties or so. (I’m guessing.) There’s this big, tall man with a tag that says, “Mr. Darcy” so I stop and say, “Hey, I should marry you. Then I could be Darcy Darcy. That would be awesome!” The table cracks up and he tells me Darcy is actually his first name, but he calls himself Mr. Darcy because of the character in “Pride and Prejudice”. I come back with, “Ah, damn. Well, wait! That would still be great. We could get married and just be Darcy and Darcy.”

One guy at the table says that he can’t believe it. He was just telling everyone how that at his age, he never met a Darcy in his life until tonight. Now he meets two. What are the chances?

I ask the other Darcy if he knows what our name means. He says, “Yes, ‘Dweller in Darkness’.” I’m like, “Yeah, doesn’t that suck?” He agrees. I tell him I know its weird, but I wrote a book about death and dying and now I lecture about it everywhere. How fitting. He tells me he can top that one. He says I won’t believe it but his last name is “Mourn.” He topped me. Totally weird.

The next highlights fall into the peeing category. Now every girl in the world knows that you try not to “break the seal” until as late as possible, because once you do it never stops. I have no idea if that’s true for men or not, but it is for us girls. I try not to wait too long though, because if you go to the bathroom and there is a line, well that could get ugly. Accidents happen the older you get. I go to the bathroom and this woman mercifully tells me I have toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Big, long piece. Thank you, girlfriend! That would have sucked.

A little while later, I’m in the bathroom, waiting in line again. Again, I’m thinking I waited too long to start this process. I start chatting with this woman who is a little older than me. I tell her the toilet paper story from earlier in the evening and we crack up. (Things getting funnier later in the night due to fatigue and increased alcohol content.) Well, I’ll be damned if while we are talking a woman walks out of the stall and has toilet paper stuck to her shoe. I let her know immediately, of course. We laugh at the coincidence and I thank the heavens out loud for the chance to pay-it-forward so soon in my life and get my karma going in the right direction. Phew.

Now it’s getting later. I go to the bathroom yet again and sure enough, the same woman I chatted with earlier is in there again. Now we feel like old friends. The line is much longer, it’s much later, and there’s more alcohol involved. I look at her and tell her it’s time to check the men’s room. She knew exactly what I meant. Men’s rooms never have lines. So sometimes, a girl just has to use that room and have someone guard the door for a minute. Off we go. Uh oh, the men’s room is packed. We get a few comments about being welcome to come in anyway, but of course, we don’t.

She looks at me and tells me we should just pee outside in the woods. I don’t usually meet women crazier than I am, but it sounds like a good alternative to me. Karen walks up just at that moment and decides to go with us. The three of us exit the building, go over to some trees (it is dark out) and think we successfully and discreetly take care of business. But then we start to walk in the building and I realize I’ve lost my sweater. Uh oh. We go back to the scene of the crime and sure enough, there is my sweater on top of some stranger’s car.

We head back into the building but the bouncer stops us. He says, “Are you one of the women that just peed outside?” I decide he is probably NOT flirting with me (I’m pretty smart) and I just look at him and try to decide what to say. This female bartender is there having a smoke and she jumps in and says, “No, that wasn’t her. She’s okay.” So the bouncer lets me back in the building.

Later in the night, I am at the bar and I say to the bartender, “Hey, did you save my butt back there?” And she explains that some women had peed outside and the bouncer thought it was me so she let him know it wasn’t because I would never do that. I confessed and told her it indeed was me and that I appreciated her saving my butt. Literally. She laughed. We weren’t trying to cause trouble. Just couldn’t hold it and at least there was no toilet paper to get stuck to our shoes.

The rest of the night was spent singing “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Sweet Caroline” with the band, the whole middle-aged crowd knowing every word. We would have held up our lighters if we had any. It was a fun night. It’s amazing though, what ends up entertaining you when you’re older. Bonding with women over bathroom issues, not getting kicked out, hearing music you can still understand the words to. Super great night 🙂


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Greeting Cards

Another absolute hit-the-nail-on-the-head greeting card. This one came from Brigette and it was written by Linda Barnes.

“They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Well, what if you didn’t sign up for extra-strength training?
What if you’d rather catch a few breaks once in a while?
Is that so much to ask?
At some point, you’d think you’d be entitled to a free pass or two:
Skip this challenge.
Avoid that crisis.
Delete those problems.
It’s not that you’re not strong or that you don’t have what it takes to get through this.
You are, you do, and you will.
But you’ve built enough character already, and it’s time for things to lighten up a little!
I know it’s not really my call, but if I were in charge of life’s wheel of fortune, you’d get a free spin.
And I’d be right there, cheering you on!”

Love, love, love it. I don’t think I’m entitled to less pain than anyone else. I read this once in a book and I try to remember it: Instead of asking why me, how about why not me?

I met with my clients this week that lost their dad last month. I blogged about them earlier. I listened as this young man struggled through the “What did I do to deserve this?” phase. At 25, his mom abandoned him at 5, his dad dies at 25. In between he has lost both of his grandparents and two uncles. I didn’t have a lot to say other than I promised him I wouldn’t say a bunch of crap that wasn’t true to try and make him feel better. I promised to walk the journey with him and probably shed a few of my own tears because I miss his dad too.

Yesterday I spent all day at my uncle’s funeral. It was an hour and 20 minute drive for me. It was a mixture of watching familiar family dynamics, reminiscing about my really young childhood days, and just being angry that I am averaging one funeral a month.

During my evening sessions, I found that “Blue for Ben” passed away last night. For those of you who don’t live in western NY, he is a beautiful little boy who just had his 5th birthday last week. The entire community has rallied behind the family in their battle. The city will be in mourning.

This morning, I texted a friend at 7:30 AM and said, “Well, no funerals today. It’s gotta be a better one, right?” By 9:00 AM I texted them back and said “Scratch yet. I just found out my client’s step-son committed suicide.” I talked with her and tried to support her. I felt terribly guilty having to say I couldn’t attend the wake or funeral. I just can’t manage another one in my schedule. Mostly though, I just can’t handle it emotionally. So much death and loss and dying and sadness. I hate it when I let people down because everyone was there for me when Tim died. Everyone. I hate when I can’t pay it forward.

If you believe in the Law of Attraction, I wonder why I keep attracting death.

But you know I’m a big believer in balancing the bitter with the sweet. So honestly, it rings a little hollow at this exact moment, but the truth is I’m still blessed beyond belief. I have lots of loving friends and family. I’m not sick. My kids are great. My daughter released her book and it’s wonderful. The pool is getting opened today and the hot tub is ready. Those are luxuries most people don’t have.

So I promise I will keep trying every day, as many times a day as necessary, to be truthfully present and face whatever heartaches there are as bravely as I can face them. And I promise to remember all the good and beautiful there is in life and with all sincerity know how lucky I am.


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Just Another Bad Week?

Blah, blah, blah.

I feel like a broken, whiny record.

I had a really tough seven hour day at an author event this weekend that sent me spiraling down into the abyss I go to sometimes. Is it time to give up on the book? Is it time to stop trying to sell myself because the rejection is too painful?

Then another broken relationship, same week. We were supposed to have one of those month anniversary things in a couple of days. Instead I am experiencing the all too familiar abyss I go to sometimes. Is it time to give up on relationships? I never get used to it. Each time there is a little less of me left. Why do I taste connection and love with someone, and then have it disappear again? Is it time to stop trying to sell myself because the rejection is too painful?

May 7. Of course. Perfect timing with the bad career day and the break-up. The marker day I never expected to be a marker day. I remember the first May 7 I went through after Tim died. I tanked badly and couldn’t even figure out why. My mind didn’t clue in but my body was right on target. May 7 was the day Tim went in for a routine surgery and came out with Stage IV cancer. The day we were blind sided and irrevocably changed.

Mother’s Day too. Banner week. I have had a hard time with it since my mom died. I miss her terribly. Now Mother’s Day is even more difficult because my spouse isn’t here to help my kids remember me. Kind of like a double whammy. Will it ever stop feeling like we are a broken family?

That’s enough in one week to make any sane person crazy. Just add in all the demolition going on in my house, caring for clients, trying to be a mom, and managing all the “normal” things life brings every day. Oh yea, and meeting with my financial advisor and finding out I’m totally screwed in a few years. We used to talk about “when I turn 60” and I would brush it off. In my heart, I always knew that I wanted to partner with someone again so that just didn’t worry me. This year, for the first time, I sincerely had to face the fact that I may never partner with anyone again. That may truly be the reality. Not pessimism, truly reality.

So I’ve been saying to various people, that maybe I should give up. Maybe it’s time. In whatever area I was talking about, I found myself saying those words. Maybe I should give up.

I still feel like throwing up a lot. I still start crying without notice on a regular basis. I know there are people who have it much, much worse. I absolutely know it. Then I feel guilt for being so damn sad. I know better, but my emotions just won’t give in to what my brain tells them.

BUT BUT BUT…

Last night Summer showed up unexpectedly at my house. She said she had a Mother’s Day gift for me. I laughed because, well, I’m not her mother. But in it were seven plastic wine glasses. It reminded me that summer is coming (supposedly, anyway) and that lots and lots of people come to my house of all ages and enjoy the pool and hot tub. And we share lots of wine and blender drinks and campfires. And there are usually lots of happy times.

Then there was one other small package. It was a magnet for my fridge. I have a couple of others in the same series that other close friends have given me. I read it and couldn’t believe it.

She Who Never Gives Up by Suzy Toronto

“Lemons to lemonade,
she always hangs in there.
When opportunity knocks,
it sometimes knocks her down,
but she never lets it
get her down for long.

She is a triumphant, shining example
of a woman who truly knows how to
survive life’s ups and downs.
She understands the value of
family, friendship, and,
most importantly,
the gift of time.
Putting aside all judgment,
she generously shares her
unconditional love.”

I cry just reading it. I don’t feel like that woman, but my close peeps see me this way. They tell me all the time. I would do anything to be like the woman described in that poem. That is the woman I want to be. Some would say it describes me to a tee. My goal is to see myself that way, if that is indeed true.

SO NO GIVING UP. I MAY FEEL LIKE SHIT, BUT NO GIVING UP. NOT TODAY ANYWAYS!


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Les Miserables

I had a situation happen this week that surprised me by the controversy it stirred up- internally and with others.

When Tim was sick, a long-lost, young relative came around and reunited with him. He and his family ended up coming around a lot while he was sick. After Tim died, they continued to come around and there appeared to be a mutual give and take relationship between us. Until money got involved. Then things went sour. Suffice it to say, they borrowed money they didn’t pay back. Because of some strange circumstances, the police got involved. They told the police that my husband died and I was having a nervous breakdown. It was really, really bad. I had gone above and beyond (while going through the trial of a lifetime) to be kind and they repaid me by lying and saying awful things about me.

They showed up at my door this week after two years of silence. It eventually came out. They needed money again. No brainer, right? No way. Except that this woman of only 31 years also had a shaved head because she has two forms of cancer. Not sure of her prognosis, but it doesn’t look good. There are also two young daughters involved. Not so simple for me.

I handled it the best way I could. I forgave them, gave them lots of helpful information to follow-up on, said no to loaning them money, but gave them a little bit of cash. I think I turned the other cheek, but kept my eyes open. I’m not a dummy. Without their desperation for money, there would have been no apology at my door. I get it.

But I woke up the next morning feeling sick. I was angry. Really angry. Still think I did the right thing, but it sure didn’t feel good.

What surprised me though, was the variety of responses I got from the story. I am not sure why it bothered me so much, but it did. Lately, I seem to have run into a lot of people (mostly men I must admit) who have treated me like I’m another dumb female. Like I’m weak, or it’s assumed I don’t know what I’m talking about. It infuriates me. This was just another situation. I was not taken in. I was not blinded. I am not a pushover. I chose to respond the way I did with my eyes open.

Then the story of Les Miserables hit me. I went online and reviewed the plot to be sure I was remembering it correctly. It is a very revered and celebrated story/movie. In it, the main character is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. He spends the next 19 years in prison. When he is finally released, he is branded (literally) so all will know he is a criminal. He goes to a priest’s house who takes him in. He is kind to him. He gives him a second chance. The man repays him by stealing his silver and running away. Nice.

The police catch him and return him to the priest. The priest tells the man that he has forgotten to take the candlesticks with him as well. The police believe the priest and the man is released. He deserved to be punished after what he did to the one person who was kind to him and give him a chance. Instead of giving him what he deserved, the priest gave him even more. He was even nicer to him. The rest of the story? That man turns his life around. He spends the rest of his life helping others.

Now what if that guy didn’t turn his life around? Would the priest have been foolish? The concept of grace is showing kindness to people who DON’T DESERVE IT. That’s the whole point.

I don’t know what will happen to that family that came to my house. I doubt they have turned their lives around. But is that the point? I’m not sure it’s the most important point. Enabling bad behavior is NOT good and I preach that all the time in counseling situations. But I’m not so sure I gave them enough to call it enabling. But my kindness was also a gesture. A gesture that puts shame on their head for ever deceiving anyone else in the future. What they did to me was wrong. Coming back for more was beyond gutsy. But looking them in the eye and offering them my candlesticks is the decision I stick by. It hurt me deeply. But I think it is what God calls me to be.

Some people will admire me, some will be disgusted by me. But ultimately I sleep alone every night and I have to be ok with myself. A close friend sent me an email about this and it touched me very deeply. Here is what she wrote:

“I was thinking if you had asked me my opinion about this situation before you and I became friends, I probably would have similar reactions to other people in your life. You should have shut the door on them. But I think since getting to know you, listening to you, and watching you conduct your life I truly do get what you are doing, and why you did what you did. When I watch you now, the thought that comes to my mind is would I, could I, be as open, forgiving, and loving to another human being in spite of how they may have treated me in my past? I hope so.

Before you were in my life I would have to say probably not. But you challenge me as a human being and as a Christian all the time. I hope I am a better person now because of you. I hope others allow themselves to open their hearts too because it makes you feel incredibly open to possibilities and a feeling of knowing you are making better choices and decisions for yourself and others. So, thank you for always making me think outside of the box.”

I’m no Victor Hugo, but I hope I can make a difference in the world. And I hope as time passes I feel less angry and bitter. But hey, I’m a work in progress.