Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Calls That Change Your Life

Sometimes in life, a phone call will alter the course of your future in a profound way. “Your husband has stage four cancer” is one example. Last weekend, I had a series of phone calls that changed my life. That is why this week’s blog is so late. I have a feeling I will be writing several blogs about the last seven days of events.

On Saturday, I got a phone call from my daughter Emily’s friend in Georgia. It seemed that Emily had drunk a bottle of cough syrup and was acting very strangely. I assumed she had attempted to commit suicide, but I couldn’t get Emily to really answer what her intentions were. Along the suicide train of thought, she was also talking about her will and reminding me that I was supposed to take care of her children if anything happened to her.

There was little sleep for me, and none for Emily or her friend Melinda. By 5 AM, I realized that Emily no longer was making much rational sense at all. The scales had been tipping more and more away from reality and now I was convinced she wasn’t okay.

What to do? I started with what I knew here in New York. I called Crisis Services and asked them for their equivalent in Georgia. Of course I had to call a couple of disconnected phone numbers before I found the right place. But once I reached them, they were amazing. I gave them the scenario, and they assured me they would send a mobile unit as quickly as possible to evaluate Emily. Being in the Georgia mountains, it was at least an hour drive. I was impressed with them from the first call, and they didn’t disappoint me. I got follow-up phone calls when they were en route, calls while evaluating her, and calls afterward.

By this time, Emily was going in and out of coherence. Sometimes she knew her father was dead, other times she didn’t. And the scary part was that when she acknowledged he was dead, she was also saying she was going to be with him. And scarier yet, she started saying that she was bringing her eight year old son with her. He needed to be with his grandpa. Mike was my contact at the mobile unit and he let me know that Emily definitely needed to be hospitalized. The only question was whether she would voluntarily go, or if they would 10-13 her, meaning involuntarily admit her. Voluntarily is always preferable, except that if you voluntarily check in, you can also check out whenever you want to. That was a big drawback. He made another call to me and asked me if I could get to Georgia as quickly as possible. Emily made it clear that she could trust me. He knew I was a licensed mental health counselor, and he felt strongly that she needed a family member other than her husband to advocate for her.

Of course, Sunday was my annual block party. Held at my house, of course. We started it the year Tim got sick and have had it ever since. It’s one of my favorite days and everyone else seems to look forward to it, too. I announced to the party that I had a family emergency but I would feel terrible if they didn’t stay and enjoy themselves. One of my favorite smart alecks assured me they planned to party without me, and would probably trash the place with their wild, inappropriate behavior. I felt much better!

Now I had to book a flight. I found one on Southwest for Monday morning. I forget how much it was, but I was surprised and grateful it wasn’t like a thousand dollars with the late notice. By then, Summer and Karen had come over and were in full swing being the great friends they have always been. I looked at Summer and asked if I should break some professional boundaries. I had a client who is a pilot who might be able to get me to Atlanta sooner. Without hesitating, she said “Get to your daughter as quickly as you can, by whatever means you have.”

I contacted the family and sure enough, within a few brief moments, they told me about a 7:00 pm flight that was highly likely I could get on. You have to fly stand-by so there are no guarantees, but it looked promising. The girls sprung into action. They helped me pack by bags, and make the 14 or 15 calls of cancellations I needed to make for the next week at all my various jobs. The next thing I knew, I was arriving in Atlanta.

Spencer (Emily’s husband) picked me up and we went straight to the hospital. By then it was 1:00 am. This was not a psychiatric hospital, nor did it have a psychiatric unit. The plan was to take her to a hospital that was a mental health treatment facility. We went back to see Emily, and her door was guarded by a police officer. I had to be wanded before I could enter the room. I asked Emily if she knew who I was and she did. She knew my name. But that was pretty much the only thing that was in tact. She knew everyone’s name from her entire life time. The details about their lives though were completely off base.

More in the next blog. Emily has given me permission to tell her story. I have learned an immense amount about mental illness and learned even more about advocating in a very, very poor health system. We both think it could be helpful to educate everyone else in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. But you will have to wait for the story to unfold. I am exhausted beyond belief, and also behind in trying to resume my responsibilities here at home. For now, let me just say that Emily had what is called a psychotic episode. That means she was no longer in touch with reality. There were delusions and hallucinations. Stay tuned for the next several blogs and I will continue to explain how things unfolded…


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Day Late, Dollar Short

I know, I’m a day late blogging. Sorry. I was trying to get camping for a night, but really the reason was that my mind was blank. I promised those of you that called me out that I would blog today. Only problem is, my mind is still blank. When I have things to write about, I am usually writing about them in my head for a while. When I sit down, it is just a matter of how fast I can type. When I don’t have something on my heart, I stare at the screen.

It’s all about broken records. Every time someone asks me (sincerely) how I am doing, I never know what to say. I’m the same. It’s always the same. I guess I’m fine. I mean, I am healthy. I get up every day and function. My family is healthy. There is rarely anything new. The same topics are there with a slight update, but overall, nothing is new. I’m fine.

Except if you know me, you know I’m anything but fine.

I guess the only slightly new paragraph to add to a very old chapter, is that I’m taking a break from dating. I had session with Scott last week and talked about it. He said it’s a big paradox for me. I have everything to offer a relationship, and I am clearly wired to interact and be with others. But he had to agree, that dating- or attempting to- has brought far more misery than it has brought happiness. So why even bother?

The latest disaster never even got to a first date. It was a match guy I spoke with in February. We never met but couldn’t remember why. He reached out to me again and asked if I would like to meet. He was kind of gruff on the phone, but my friend always tells me you have to have at least one face to face encounter. Some people are just different in person than they come across by text or phone. To be fair, you have to meet at least once.

Far be it from me to not give someone a chance. What I had was a week of aggravating phone calls and text messages that went something like this.

“Yeah, I’m off match. It was a waste. All the women on there want is attention. They don’t want relationships. And the women with kids don’t have time to date. If you don’t have time to date, then you should just get off match.” I give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he met some real winners and is trying not to be too jaded. He immediately though, demands to know my schedule. I have plenty of time to date, but I need a little notice. When you juggle five jobs and are a full-time single parent, you have to schedule things in advance. I will be more than happy to make time for someone special, but in my mind you have to earn that kind of importance. I thought it incredulous that he expected to call me on Tuesday and be able to meet me within three days.

I offer to meet for breakfast on Sunday. “Well, what about Friday and Saturday?” I swallow the lump in my throat and explain sadly that one of my dear friends lost her son last week. The funeral arrangements were for Friday and Saturday. I committed my time to the family. I wasn’t sure if they would need me, but if they did, I would be there. If they didn’t need me, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be in the mood to go out and socialize after such a heart breaking service.

His response? “Oh, ok.” Hmmm. I know not all guys are sensitive and know what to say, but not even an I’m sorry to hear that? Or that’s too bad? Or anything at all that indicates you aren’t a total dick?

It only got better. As the day approached, it became clear that he didn’t have a vehicle. I refrained from saying what I was thinking: “Well, if a guy doesn’t even have a car to meet a woman on a date, then maybe he just shouldn’t be on match.” So he expected me to drive near his house to accommodate him. So the single guy with grown kids that live out-of-state, is being catered to by the busy single mom. Lovely.

It only got better.

He expected me to just come to his house. I politely and extremely firmly explained that as a woman, there was no way in hell I would ever ever ever meet a man for the first time anywhere but in a public place.

“That’s ok. We will sit in my backyard.”

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Then he insisted I at least pick him up at his house and drive him to the public restaurant.

Forget it. Sorry my friend. I don’t care what your advice is. I’m not meeting this guy face to face. I text him and tell him I don’t want to meet. I got back a nasty text saying it was obvious I didn’t have time to date anyway.

Sigh. Confirmation. It’s time for a break.

I had a special someone for quite a while. We both knew we didn’t want a serious or permanent relationship. We were both very clear about that. And it worked for quite a while. Even though it was less than ideal, I have to admit that it made the dating scene much more tolerable. While I was regularly meeting guys like the winner I just described, at least he and I would enjoy some companionship once in a while. Now that has stopped too. It was inevitable. But it is still sad. It stopped working because he just couldn’t believe that I didn’t want more. He knew he didn’t, but he just couldn’t wrap around that I didn’t either. I love him to death, but he has a tremendously huge ego that cost us our friendship. It’s a shame because I miss him.

At any rate, like I said, it’s a broken record. This song has been playing for over four years now. I’m fine. I really am. And I’m anything but fine.


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Laughter

One last commentary on my high school reunion.

About an hour before I was leaving to go, I was getting ready and I suddenly felt my eyes fill up with tears. I remembered that Tim and I went briefly to the reunion five years earlier, but he had been diagnosed and wasn’t feeling well. It was great to see everyone, and many of my friends came to his benefits and stayed in touch with us throughout the rest of our journey. It started to hit me that an awful lot of life had been lived in the last decade. Not just for me, but for many others as well. I wondered if I would see them and just burst into tears.

What I found, was that indeed, many of us had changed. We had been through the fires of life. But the beauty of it was that instead of being beaten down, there was an appreciation for life and laughter and new priorities. It was unspoken, but I felt it.

One of my classmates had lost her mom. I remember when it happened. She had reached out to me and sent one of those apologies that basically said she had wished she had been more supportive when Tim was sick. Until you go through it, you just don’t realize the impact that cancer has on your life. I assured her she was plenty supportive and we had an entire community around us. But I felt for her and the tremendous loss she was suffering.

While we were hanging around at the reunion, she got telling a story about the funeral. She was able to laugh about it and had all of us cracking up. The gist was something like this: “So how the hell does a person know what the protocol is for a funeral home? I give this guy my mom’s dress and her wig. How weird is that?  Here’s my mom’s clothes and hair. But then he asked me where her bra and underwear was. I had no idea I was supposed to bring that stuff too.” Only she was much funnier than I am re-telling it. Being the anti-bra woman who I am, I advocated for letting the poor woman be free without the damn thing. But the point is, being able to embrace the story and even smile when doing so.

Later, two of my friends that have survived breast cancer ended up sitting at the picnic table together. One of them was the definite life of the party I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs. She started this thing where she would point to our friend and say “cancer”, point to herself and say “cancer”, and then point to me and say “grieving widow.” Then she’d look at the poor sap sitting next to us and say, “So what have you got?” Invariably, they would say something like, “I got nothing.” and she would quip with, “Aw, maybe by the next reunion you will have something.” Again, it doesn’t translate well in writing, but while we were there, we were all drowning in laughter. She found a way to talk about the elephant in the room. She fully embraced it, found the sweet with the bitter, and we were all better for it.

The girls got telling stories about how they torture their sons with it too. One has three boys, the other has two. (Remember the hand sanitizer blog?) Boys, can you help with the laundry? Grumble, no. But I have cancer!  MOM!!! They said it worked wonders with them.

When we were leaving, my dear friend reminded me that I really needed to call her and stay in touch. I lovingly reminded her that I have called her several times over the years and she rarely calls back so I stopped trying. She looked at me, cocked her head, and said ever so sweetly, “Oh… but I have cancer.” I called her a witch and we hugged goodbye.

Perhaps you think this is all morbid, but if you think so, it may be because you haven’t experienced it up close yet. I find it completely refreshing and I couldn’t have been more proud of all those strong, beautiful women I have a history with. You go sistas!

Roy-Hart 30th reunion- Cyndi Barker, Todd & Dawn Arnold

Roy-Hart 30th reunion- Chrissy Ball and hubby

Roy-Hart 30th reunion- Melinda Keirsblick, Darcy


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Scars

I mentioned the fun of my high school reunion last blog. It was a blast and I laughed til my stomach hurt. But you know me, no sweet without the bitter. I wouldn’t actually say bitter this time, but being the psychology person I am, I can’t help but watch social events and catch all the nuances going on.

It actually makes me feel a little better. I remember things from elementary school on and scold myself often with, “Let it go, it was ___ years ago!” And I have let things go, but I still remember. And I still know they had an impact on my life. But I heard several stories and comments those evenings at the reunion that made me realize I’m not the only one.

I brought up our fifth grade teacher who sticks out to me as someone who should not have been teaching. He was known for picking his nose which about 98% of us remembered. But what I didn’t mention is how he embarrassed me. We had to write a personal essay and I chose to write about two of my friends that had ganged up on me and made fun of my sneakers. It hurt my feelings. So lovely Mr. Hyde read my paper, then called up the two friends I wrote about and at his desk he whispered to them. They were pointing to shoes and clearly making fun of me again. He was an asshole in my opinion.

One lovely friend brought up our fourth grade teacher. He actually spanked students on their birthday. Can you imagine anyone attempting to do that nowadays? But that wasn’t even the bad memory. The bad memory was the nicknames he gave students. He called me “Duckie” because my last name is Thiel and a teal is a duck. But he called my friend “Slim” because, well she wasn’t exactly slim back then. I’m sure that hurt. By the way, she is in her 40’s now and beautiful as hell. She is much thinner than I am too!

One friend talked about sixth grade and being absent from school one day. When she returned everyone had stopped talking to her. The funny thing was (which I did NOT bring up) that I have the same memory, also in sixth grade. And she was one of the girls that stopped talking to me. It is very traumatizing to some to be excluded. Apparently six grade girls are brutal when it comes to that stuff.

And then there was our sixth grade teacher that we all talked about with regret. We tortured her. She was not able to control the class and we took advantage of her. Plus we all ate jello mix all day so we were charged up with sugar to boot. The funniest time was when one kid took his desk and chair and moved it out to the middle of the road. It was an extremely busy road for those parts, and she didn’t notice right away. If she was still alive, most of us would probably call and apologize to her.

Another dear friend, and an instrumental person in organizing our reunions, had the biggest story of all. Remember all those things you would vote on? I was voted most likely to become president of the US. Ha, we all missed the boat on that one. I was also voted most generous. I had forgotten that one. I went over to the male most generous and reminded him. He said he had already been reminded several times during the night. Once the word got out, everyone asked him to buy them a drink! LOL!!

But one of those categories was most conceited. My dear friend, while we were all sitting at the picnic table together, reminded us of our vote. She loudly said she had two words for us. She enunciated both words quite clearly and had two hands with finger gestures to make sure the message was loud and clear. We all laughed our asses off. I reminded her that I was most generous so I probably didn’t vote on that one. 🙂

Let it go? Sure. We all had a sense of humor. But really. Why is there even such a thing as most conceited? Why do people even want to go for things like that? Label people. As it turns out, she is one of the least conceited persons I know. She’s a lovely human being. I’m sure she knows that, but it must still be an ouch in her memory.

I guess it’s all part of growing pains. We all do things as kids we regret. But let’s face it, we’re kind of dummies as adults too. We all say things we shouldn’t. Some don’t say anything but can shoot a piercing dirty look that is just as deadly. Or maybe we just disengage from life altogether and shut people out or not let them get too close.

So let’s give ourselves a pass on our childhood scar-making. But let’s straighten up today and be a positive force in the world.

Love all you guys, but a special kiss and hug out to the 1985 Royalton-Hartland class 🙂 Not a bad-looking group for our late forties!

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