Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Hockey Moms vs. Hockey Dads

I think I’ve written about this topic before. You know us psychology types. We can’t just participate in life, we have to observe and analyze it. And when it comes to hockey, it usually either aggravates or amuses me.

Frankie was in a hockey tournament this weekend. Games Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, not at my favorite rink. They sell a variety of alcohol there, which even amazed Colin. He pointed out that all those drinkers are then driving kids home after. And my point is, hockey people are – well – kinda revved up already. Let’s give those folks some liquor. Seems like a bad idea to me.

One night before the game, the other team’s coach was standing near the doorway talking to a parent. He was asked who they were playing and the coach told him West Seneca. The father made an ugly face and said, “Filthy. Totally filthy.” The coach didn’t respond. You know from my blogs that I am getting a bit ugly myself lately, but I still can’t think fast on my feet. I was stunned. Later when I had gathered my thoughts I went to find that guy to give him a piece of my mind, but fortunately for both of us I couldn’t find him. Going after a male, probably liquored up, hockey father? Not one of my smarter ideas, but I was pissed.

Our team has been undefeated. We have three tall kids that I call giants. They are usually taller than most of the kids on our team as well as the opposing team. But they are not dirty players. And to my knowledge, we don’t have a reputation for being dirty players either.

Bantams are 13-15 year olds, and it is the first time in the league that players can check. The kids think this is great of course. (Although I must confess that Frankie complained after so many games in a row that his ass hurt as well as several other body parts!) And I am quite sure that most of the dads think checking is great too. But us moms? I doubt we will ever get used to it.

Two kids will collide and hit the wall or the ice with a thud and you can hear a female, collective voice saying, “Oooh” with horror. Right after that, you will hear a male voice saying something like, “Welcome to hockey, boys.”

These tourney games were some of the most tense games of the season. One of the games, the opposing team parents brought two cow bells. They are loud as hell. At first, they started ringing them when their teams scored. That’s ok. Our team’s parents are very loud. We could match them. Then they started ringing those bells every time their goalie saved a shot on them. It was downright obnoxious and annoying. Even I was muttering about taking their bells and sticking them where the sun don’t shine.

Well, our sharks won their division so we had to return Wednesday morning at 8 AM for the championship game. Actually, that means leaving the house at 7 AM to get there early enough. Several of the parents were a bit unhappy about that. The kids have off school, but parents don’t necessarily have off work. But hockey families know that hockey consumes you during the season.

During the tourney, I met one of the moms that I was sitting next to. She is our goalie’s mom. Once I realized that, I told her I thought he was doing an outstanding job. She explained to me that was brought up from a lower league. He is only 11 years old! I couldn’t believe it. He is one great hockey player. During the championship game, I was sitting next to her again. This time, I realized that whenever the opposing team came in our zone, she would close her eyes and turn her head. She just can’t watch. She doesn’t want him to get hurt, she doesn’t want to see if he gets scored against because you know his heart gets broken every time. So she waits for someone to say, “He stopped it” and then she can watch again. I totally cracked up because I get it. I let her know that the coaches said they were taping the game and giving us a DVD. She can watch it after the fact.

With two minutes left in the game, one of our kids got hurt. Really got hurt. Broke his leg in two places and spent the afternoon in surgery. It was so sad and so scary. We watched the parents from the stands. The kid and both parents were cool as cucumbers. You knew that boy was in agony. I said to the other parents that I would be a train wreck if it was Frankie and I was impressed by the family’s composure. They told me I would surprise myself if I was in that situation. I realized they were right. When faced with a crisis, I usually keep my head on straight. I spring into appropriate action and know the questions to ask. When it’s all over, I’m worse than a wet noodle. As I was watching the ice, all I could think was that if it were Frankie, I would be yelling at everyone, “He is all that I have!”

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Anyhow, the boys won the championship. (The picture is the team lining up for their award. Frankie is the second from the left.) Their comrade is recovering. The men will always yell from the sidelines and not be phased by the checking. And us moms will never learn to love it and we will always gasp at the roughness of the sport. We might even turn our heads the other way :).

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2015’s Best Christmas Moment

I know it’s early to cast my vote, but I think I can safely say what the highlight of the Christmas season was for me this year. Before Monday, the runner-up was a Christmas card I received. It was a relatively standard Christmas card, but it contained one of those personal messages that made it special. I was thinking that might be the high point of the season.

Then Monday came.

The boys asked for a new basketball net for Christmas. Now my dad looked at the current one and said it was kind of silly and a waste of money. What is wrong with the one they have? I had to chuckle. When I got the request, I said the exact same thing. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But I told Dad that I’m definitely not an athlete and I don’t play basketball. They had a list of reasons why they wanted a different kind. My sons give me a pain in the butt sometimes, but one thing I can say, is they rarely ask for things. None of my kids are materialistic or stuff grabbers. So I bought them a new net. It was the “big” gift this year.

So what to do with the old one? It was certainly able to be used. I was going to put it on Craig’s list to see if I could sell it. Then I was talking to my friend and it hit me that her step-son would probably love it. I would like to say I said that purely out of the goodness of my heart, but most of it was because I had visions of the hassle that lay ahead. Take a picture. Post it on Craig’s list. Deal with texts and emails. Haggle with prices. Meet the buyer and pray they aren’t a serial killer. Sometimes the 40 bucks just isn’t worth it. I told her I would be happy to just give it to him.

Monday rolled around and I started thinking about all the details I had left out for Christmas. I had to schedule with people we needed to exchange gifts with, etc. and I had wanted to get that net out. My friend Mike has a truck so I asked him if he could help me. He said he would but the only time he had was the same day. I had clients all night, but I did have one break where we could scoot over quickly.

Now Christopher is 16. He also happens to have Down Syndrome. Every time he comes over to our house, he loves to play basketball, so I was pretty sure he would be happy about having the net. We arrived and their sitter was there. She had been forewarned, but the kids had no idea we were coming. I went to the door and told Christopher to put on his shoes because I had a surprise for him. He hurried and put his shoes on and came out to the driveway.

There is absolutely no way to describe what happened next. He stood there with a smile so big, his face could have combusted. He had his hands over his face and he just started shaking. For several minutes he was frozen there other than the little squeals he made. Then he rushed at me and hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. He was shaking from head to toe with excitement. He was frozen again in my arms. Finally, his step-sister said, “Ok, Christopher, you have to let go!”

Then he went over to Mike, whom he had never met before. He grabbed him and hugged him tight as well. And Mike fully embraced him back. Several minutes went by again.

Mike and I got back in the truck. Now Mike is one of those tougher kind of guys. Not real big on showing emotion or affection. I looked at him and said, “Did you almost cry?” And he said, “Yep. What a really great kid.” I knew he was as moved as I was.

I have now been dubbed “Santa’s best Christmas elf” by Christopher’s family. But Mike and I were the ones that were totally blessed. No doubt, that was the moment we all hope for every year. Amidst all the baking, shopping, stressful traffic, and holiday exhaustion, we hope for that thing that makes it all worthwhile. Thanks Christopher, for the best Christmas gift of 2015.


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Clever Forgetting

My friend Summer is NOT a morning person. When I say that, I mean she really is NOT a morning person. She had a rare occasion today where she had to be what she calls awake “ugly early” and wanted to know if I would meet her for breakfast. I agreed, especially because “ugly early” is the norm for me because of Frankie getting up for school.

I texted her because I had a $5 off coupon at a different restaurant than we had planned. She called to get the location and I answered and said, “Good timing.” I had just walked back in the house after driving Frankie to school. Her response? “No, this is not good timing. This is a filthy time of the morning to be up.” Yep, that’s Summer at 8 AM.

I get to the restaurant before her, and I realize in the parking lot that I walked out with my phone and the car keys. No purse. The coupons are kept in the car so I have that. If I went back home to get my purse, Summer would be waiting. I’m talking to my friend on the phone and he laughs at me. How many times have I pulled that one on Summer? He says that because I have often not brought my purse when we run errands together. Oops.

I break the news to Summer when she pulled in. Can you buy? I’m an idiot. She rolls her eyes at me and says I have a clever way of getting people to buy me breakfast. I remind her that it’s like I’m contributing $5 because of the coupon. That makes me feel a little better.

We sit down and I realize that I also down’t have my cheater glasses. They are in my purse. Duh. We are looking at the menu and the waitress takes my coupon. You can’t use this coupon until after 4 PM. Now you have to understand, this is a pancake house. It’s a breakfast restaurant. Who the heck would expect a coupon for there that can’t be used until night time? And of course, this is NOT the age of customer service. She wouldn’t let us use it anyway. So we got up and left. I hope they were proud of sticking to their guns. They made no sale at all.

We went to the original place we were supposed to go. Good ‘ol Denny’s. Much more reasonable prices. Of course, it didn’t really matter to me. I didn’t pay anyway. No coupon contribution either. A couple of cups of coffee and hours later, we stop to see some friends who were also there. I told them my story and asked if I looked sincere when I said I “forgot” my purse. They told me I should blog about poor Summer and how I took advantage of her. So I did.

Thanks for breakfast, Summer. I PROMISE, I will buy next time!


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The Pen is NOT Mightier Than the Sword

I have been avoiding my blog all day.

In spite of being careful with name changes, etc., my writing sometimes gets me in trouble. This time it was pretty massive. While I find writing cathartic and healing, I have to not post some things for fear of retribution.

There are still kind people left in the world. Seems like they are less and less every year, but they are still out there. I still brush shoulders with them once in a while. I consider myself to be a kind person most of the time. But I’m also famous for going the extra mile. I go beyond ordinary kindness. I choose to because I feel like it is the way my heart and soul are wired. I must admit though, the last few years have really made me doubt my philosophy of life.

I’ve always struggled with people not reciprocating. My mom told me that when I was still in elementary school. She said I love with my whole heart and when people don’t love me back the same, I get crushed. That part I’m somewhat used to. It still hurts every time, but I know the deal. I don’t love the way I do in order to get something in return. But recently, there was another new dynamic for me to grapple with. I went the extra mile- way beyond- for the sake of another family. Later, because of my choices, my own family suffered a great deal. Now that haunts me. It probably always will.

One of my friends said that I can still be kind, but just stop going the extra mile. I’ve given that a lot of thought. That is so terribly hard for me. The extra mile is my version of kindness. I’ve lived that way for 48 years. I’m sure there has always been injustice to contend with, but I confess since Tim has died, the injustice feels triple and quadrupled. I’m not just wronged now, but it is also like, a widow and a single mom has been wronged. And a kid who has suffered more loss than he should have to has been wronged. It just feels like more than I can swallow.

Some always say, “Don’t ever change.” But how can I not? My extreme kindness actually ending up hurting my family. There are trustworthy people out there, but how can I tell? The only answer to me that makes any sense, is to stop putting myself out there to begin with. If anyone can turn on you, why invest to begin with? After a while, isn’t it more like stupidity than a quality to be admired?

I wish I could write details because it would be so much easier to explain. But I live in fear now. The ramifications can be too great to risk. So I will be censored. I have been told a thousand times throughout my life that I have amazing resilience. I just get back up every time I get knocked down. I’ve done it for decades. I might stumble a bit, but hell, I also get back up.

Eventually though, don’t you just get used up? Don’t you get too broken to ever be fixed again? That time the $5,000 got stolen really shook me up. It was someone close to me and I never did find out who did it. Now my entire family has been betrayed again. I never thought of myself as naive, but I guess I am because I still get shocked when people do evil things. And I just plain stop sleeping and live with a sick stomach every day when people do bad things to my son who has suffered so much.

I’m really trying to hold on to my heart. To my kindness and generosity. But the anger and the sadness are eating away at me. I have felt like my threshold has been reached several times over the last few years, and then a new blow comes and I realize that I had managed to get back up again only to be knocked down.

I’m not sure if it sounds like it, but this really isn’t meant to be a pity party. It is truly a philosophical, existential crisis of trying to figure out how to approach the world. My head is screaming out at me to wake up and smell the real coffee. But my heart is broken in two. It doesn’t want to live and relate to the world I’ve come to know. I don’t know if I have the strength to admit what I see. I want to close my eyes and pretend that people aren’t as ugly as they really are. I’ve been on stage recently and actually did a decent job. But this may require acting that I’m just not quite capable of.

I finally put a Christmas card together. It says we Thiels and Colvins are tough as nails with all we have been through. Yet, we are still like butter on the inside. That’s why it still hurts us when people wrong us. What is the answer?

What is the answer?

What is the answer?


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Grief at it’s Best

Jill Duffield wrote an article for a Presbyterian magazine in the context of pastors. I thought it applied equally as well to counselors. “An honest seminary professor had warned me about grief, but no warning is sufficient. He had said it is painful to keep burying people you love. He was, and is, right. But death only represents a small part of the large, complicated puzzle of sadness that accompanies pastoral ministry.

“One of the hardest aspects of ministerial grief is this reality: As the pastor you know far more than anyone else the extent of grief in the room, the depth and breadth and variety of suffering present at any given moment. Add to that the fact that you can’t share it, except with Jesus and your therapist, and this mixes loneliness to the pain of hurting with people you care deeply about. It has the capacity to disturb your soul.”

I have the double whammy of being a counselor and being an author/lecture on the topic of death/dying and grief/loss. Those are my choices, although part of me believes that the professions have chosen me. For me, being a counselor is being present in the room fully with my clients, no matter the breadth of their pain. I work hard to be unafraid of it.

Yesterday I had a lecture at a college. It was not for a particular class, but was advertised to the college campus in general. The college had just had a memorial service earlier in the week for the one year marker of a student’s death by completed suicide. Plus it’s the holidays. I knew the audience was ripe for strong emotion. There was only about ten in the group. Sometimes smaller groups are great because they are much more intimate and allows for a more meaningful experience.

The lecture went well. That is, it was well received and clearly touched the people who listened. But it was also hard. I had to focus more than usual to keep on track. There was one gentleman there. He was likely in his 50’s. About half way through, he started weeping quietly. He was in the front so no one else could see him. I could though, and he was clearly suffering.

There was a young college student, and she wept through most of the hour. I was able to meet her after and give her a hug. She told me she has lost three grandparents in the last year. She was also mentally tortured as she was unable to be there for one of them. We talked at length and I was glad to know she was connected with a counselor.

I am used to making audiences laugh and then sniffle. That’s part of the power of the message and the heart of bitter and sweet. But yesterday was a bit more difficult. It was mostly painful for people and I had to keep going through it, knowing they we were hurting so badly.

When I got home, I was exhausted. I laid on the couch for a while instead of doing the big list of things I had to do (like write my blog!). It seems obvious, but I didn’t even put it together until eating dinner at night. I couldn’t figure out why I was so wiped out and then I was like, duh! That was pretty intense. And things like that can definitely “disturb my soul.”

Ms. Duffield’s article ends with this paragraph: “Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light, but the lead apron of grief is heavy and sometimes we need help taking it off, if only for a while. I am grateful for the people of faith who have helped me, quieting my soul so that I could once again wear a garment of praise instead of mourning. May God gift you with those people when you need them most.”

If you read my blog regularly, you know I am fortunate enough to have a nice, healthy number of amazing people in my life who quiet my soul. My hope and prayer is that those people I met yesterday will be surrounded by the same kinds of people as they are processing whatever grief is taking hold of their life. While it was hard, I am grateful they took the time to come and hear a talk that hopefully helped them with their healing. Blessings!