Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Wish List

I end up doing a lot of financial counseling as a therapist. Money is a pretty big topic for people, loaded with issues of power, control, and desires. The amount of debt the average American carries around is pretty staggering. When I suggest to people that they save and wait until they can pay for ______ (fill in the blank) with cash, the look on their faces is priceless. But then I would have to wait! And that is usually unacceptable.

Anyhow, this blog isn’t actually about money. It is about how Tim and I tried to manage our own selves and our finances. We started out with more debt that income. We set up a strict budget and also developed a wish list. We were always wanting to remodel something or other. I truly don’t think there is one part of our house or the property it sits on that hasn’t had some kind of makeover.

We kept our check register in Excel so I didn’t make any math mistakes. Underneath our balance, there was always a long list. We would discuss what we wanted to see happen and then prioritize what was most important to us. The most expensive items generally stayed on the bottom of the list.

In my conscious mind, I never really had some kind of mission to make all our dreams happen. As I reflect back though, it makes me feel tremendous inside that we accomplished so much. When Tim got sick, we discussed his bucket list. He didn’t have anything wild. I was pushing for an African Safari but he had much simpler goals. The summer he was diagnosed, we had already made arrangements to start remodeling the pool. It was a three-year plan we sorted out with the pool company so we could afford to pay for it. Tim wanted to finish it in one swoop. He wasn’t really thinking he only had one summer left, but just in case, he wanted to spend it looking at the finished project we had been waiting a decade to start. With the help of a whole ton of people, this was what happened.

56 Creekward- pool remodel

56 Creekward- pool remodel

Not bad, eh? We had a new concrete patio put in, resurfaced the pool surface, and did some other repairs. Some of the balance was paid by the proceeds of the benefit that was thrown in Tim’s honor. He was so proud of the home he made and wanted to leave us with something to enjoy. We certainly have and everyone knows they are welcome to swim here anytime. (And they do!)

A year after Tim died, I was suddenly hit with the idea of finishing the basement. Tim’s dream was to make it a sports’ bar after he retired. He could work on it slowly and use all the memorabilia he had built up over his lifetime. That became my mission on the year anniversary of him leaving us. It wasn’t very expensive to do, but I tried hard to imagine what he would have wanted it to look like and I think we did a pretty good job with it. It is now dubbed “Frankie’s Man Cave.”

Two years ago I got the house resided. Now that was ridiculously expensive. We found a super good crew and it looks beautiful. The trim got changed to gray and I made sure every spot had the vinyl product so I don’t have to keep hiring people to paint every few years. It is now maintenance free and Tim would have loved it. The irony is, I would have never been able to pay for it without his life insurance money. It is sad, but I try to look at it like he participated in it a different way than if he were still physically with us.

This year, I had a contractor redo the gazebo. The goal was to be maintenance free. Painting it was a horrible job and I am always trying to find ways to be more independent. Like any other job, once they started taking things apart, the job was bigger than anticipated. There was no shortage of rotted wood. IMG_20160621_085804533

Imagine my surprise when I saw that at the end of the first day. Yikes! But alas, here is the finished project:
IMG_20160623_124528057_HDR

And the best part is the maintenance free, beautiful floor. It warrants its own picture:
IMG_20160623_124536098

Isn’t it gorgeous? Who would have thought you could love a floor that much.

It hit me the other day. The gazebo was it. It was the very last thing on our wish list. So Tim, it has taken me almost six years without you here, but we have managed it. Our house is what we worked hard for and dreamed big on. I know there will be maintenance and repairs forever, but this was the last of our visions together now realized.

So come on over and take a dip in the pool and enjoy our hospitality. The goal was always to have a place where people would feel comfortable coming. We never wanted to be private or alone. It’s been hot so far so don’t suffer. Come jump in and celebrate with us. xoxo!


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Company

Last week I went to see a play called “Company” in Amherst. It’s a musical actually. I’ve been hanging out a lot with my theater friends lately and we’ve been to several shows. This one is outstanding and it plays til June 26th so I highly recommend it.

Anyhow, I think a lot of theater appeals to me because it is entertaining, upbeat, funny- and yet underlying is a very, very dark and somber message. Relationships are hell. A couple of weeks ago we watched “Lovers and Other Strangers” which had you rolling in your seat the entire time. But the underlying message was the same. People can be awful and relationships are next to impossible to navigate.

“Company” had great music, which I just loved in and of itself. But I found the message to be riveting. It centered around a character named Bobby who was surrounded by married friends. We follow the different relationships and all their complications as we also watch Bobby date equally complicated and imperfect women. The happiest couple in the show was one that decided to get divorced. They still lived together and were obviously in love. Divorce was what allowed them that luxury.

The director Roger Paolini wrote a note in the program which I think captured it all: “As it deals with marriage and relationships, the show forced some people to acknowledge things they didn’t want to acknowledge, and they missed its ultimate message that, as Sondheim states, “to be committed to someone is difficult, but to be alone is impossible.'”

And that’s it. While it’s terribly uncomfortable to immerse yourself in the truth that relationships cause great pain, the fact of the matter is, there are endless plays and songs and movies about them. We are driven to have them, in spite of their imperfections. We want them, warts and all.

The play ends with a song from Bobby called “Being Alive.” Here is an excerpt from the script and lyrics as he struggles with himself and the decision to be in relationship or not:

“Bobby, there was something we wanted to say.
The line was busy…
Bobby…Bobby bubbi…
Bobby fella…Bobby sweetie–

ROBERT [speaking]: Stop!…What do you get? [Sings]
Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

PAUL: That’s true, but there’s more to it than that.
SARAH: Is that all you think there is to it?
HARRY: You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but
Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.
LARRY: Come on, you’re on to something, Bobby. You’re on to something.

ROBERT:
Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

DAVID: You see what you look for, you know.
JOANNE: You’re not a kid anymore, Robby. I don’t think you’ll ever
be a kid again, kiddo.
PETER: Hey, buddy, don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect. The only thing
to be afraid of really is that it won’t be.
JENNY: Don’t stop now. Keep going.

ROBERT:
Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

SUSAN: And what does all that mean?
LARRY: Robert, how do you know so much about it when you’ve never
been there?
HARRY: It’s much better living it than looking at it, Robert.
PETER: Add ’em up, Bobby. Add ’em up.

ROBERT:
Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who’ll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

AMY: Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish. *Want* something!
Want *something*!

ROBERT:
Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!”

And that about says it all…


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It’s Just Stuff…Right?

One of my businesses is called “Less Mess, Less Stress.” My “nickname” on my business cards is “The Clutter Cleaner.” I’ve been doing organizing for several years, but I don’t really advertise it. Usually I get someone by word of mouth and have one to two clients a year. It’s relatively physical work so that is just fine with me.

When I first started, it would be what I envisioned- helping people cleaning out that junk room, or maybe cleaning out the garage so you can actually park in it. Then for a while, it became more hoarding or condemned houses. Sometimes I would have to hire an entire crew and we would literally have to shovel the house out. The latest psychology diagnostic manual now actually has a diagnosis for hoarding. It has probably always been around, but now there is much more exposure.

I always say that this job overlaps quite a bit with my counseling profession. First of all, people’s relationship to their belongings is very emotional. Especially when there is grief involved, my counseling skills come in handy. Then there are the people who go beyond a bit of clutter. Often times their relationship is connected to something so much deeper. Even for myself, I say only half-kidding that I put my own disease to good use. I don’t actually have OCD, but I do have some traits. Organizing is an excellent outlet for that so I find a way to make it a strength.

I’ve been asked to speak on this topic a few times as well. One of my favorites was with the Buffalo marital attorney’s group. How ironic that a couple’s counselor was asked to talk to divorce lawyers. But not as a counselor, as an organizer. A poetic moment. Anyhow, I say that if you hire me, you will love your space (whatever it is you are working on) when I am finished. You probably will hate me, but you will love your house.

It is my job to help people let go of things. The vast majority of Americans need to downsize. You don’t need more space, you need less stuff. One of my sayings that I think is typically accurate.

Recently, we’ve been helping my dad make the big decision about when it is time to live in a smaller place where there isn’t so much upkeep. It’s not only a decision about housing, but about aging. Which is always about acceptance. And aging is about approaching death as well. Which is also about acceptance. It’s emotional for Dad, but also for all us kids too.

After months of no, no, no, Dad has decided he’s ready to move. And when he is ready, he means now. We have been trying to sell the house, find him a new place, downsize his belongings, and everything in between. Life has been a bit crazy. Some of the most fun times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and reminiscing about whatever. And some of the most tense times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and disagreeing whole heartedly about how to help Dad make the shift.

That’s where I have to remember I’m a daughter before an organizer. No one in my family has hired me to take this on. But I’m used to doing it so sometimes I get a little bit bossy. But I also think that initially Dad (like all of us) needed a little nudging to move forward. Now there is no stopping him and the rest of us can’t keep up. It has been interesting to observe how he has changed over the years. My niece has been gone over 15 years. My mom has been gone nine years. Tim has been gone over five. That doesn’t even seem possible.

Over the years we have gone through various memories and belongings and initially- and even for years- so many things were untouchable. They were sacred. No one could bear to part with anything. Just looking at things would cause us to tear up or have moments of actual crying. Now time has gone by. I ask Dad about certain things and he looks at me like, “Why would I want that?” I know without a doubt that he still deeply misses and loves all those people he has lost. But he is moving on. I want to be that way too. We don’t need boxes of things and pictures galore to remember our loved ones. I see it as growth and it’s healthy. After all, it’s just stuff, right? Well, that all depends on what year you are asking!


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Lost

Nope, not talking about the TV show. I’m talking about a text I sent my friend in Georgia. She asked how I was and I said I was spiritually and emotionally lost.

I am very, very aware that things in my life could be much worse. I am very aware that other people are suffering unimaginable situations which make mine pale in comparison. I know that any of the things in isolation that I face I could handle with relative ease. But the accumulation and what feels like a relentless pace are rendering me confused and unable to recover in between.

In the last three weeks:

-I was not rehired for a position that was important to me, apparently because of the integrity that I stood up for
-I walked in a place to find a guy I had only dated for a little over a week (but had been friends with for years) was a liar and manipulator, right in front of my eyes
-A relatively new friend turned on me because he didn’t check out the facts
-I said goodbye to my sister who moved to Tennessee
-A former friend of mine where the relationship turned sour vandalized my property and I spent a couple of days with town officials and police
-The relatively new friend of mine that I forgave (because everyone deserves a second chance, right?) turned on me again and left me completely stranded with a massive house project and a great deal of stress because he again, didn’t bother to check out the facts
-Had a very beloved client in crisis mode which entailed phone calls to paramedics, supervisors, family members, etc.; He is doing much better thank God, but it was very scary while it was happening.
-Received a phone call asking for my attorney information because of the legal action suit filed against me with the IRS; turned out it was a scam but it scared the crap out of me until I figured that out with my research.
-I’ve made about 40 phone calls to handle my father’s medical, financial, and legal issues. I also worked on his house which he is trying to sell and have become an amateur realtor overnight. Sometimes there is stress with the family about these issues, and sometimes we work together well. The list has been endless.
-Continued to be a mother, homeowner, business owner with all the stresses and time constraints that everyone else has. Nothing unusual about that. I’m just more exhausted when managing things because I’m stretched so thin from everything else.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. The upshot is that when I have some time alone with my thoughts and feelings, they go in crazy places. One weekend I was toying with the idea that the universe was getting revenge on me because of something I did in my twenties. I hurt someone very badly and she forgave me. So I thought maybe the universe was mad that she didn’t punish me.

My kids have been struggling with some of the bad things they are watching around them and wondering why their father died when other people survive cancer who are not doing good things with their lives and just hurting other people. I have no idea how to answer them because it makes me burn up inside when I see it too.

The whole thing that happened with Tim- the massive amount of support we had, and the amazing story that became my books- maybe I am seeing another side to it. While all of that positive stuff is true, maybe there is also a side effect that I am just realizing. It made me think that the world is a lot kinder than it really is. It made me trust more than I should. It is different when you have this big thing that everyone gets excited about being a part of. This great thing happened to us during a terrible thing that happened to us and the community around us was transformed with us. But lately, I just see so much yuck, I wonder what happened to all that good will?

And every time, after all my crazy thoughts, I circle back to my church. I don’t know why in the last couple of months this is coming back so strongly, but I always end up there now. I am lost and hurting, and I hate the fact that I don’t have a pastor to go to anymore. I lost them over five years ago, the church family that was a pillar of strength for us during Tim’s illness. Three months after he died though, some bad things happened because of some bad people, and I lost them. Sure, there are a few close friends that I still have, but I have lost the church as a whole. My son is growing up without a church home. And my heart aches so badly because I don’t feel I will every recover from the loss of my minister and how abandoned I feel.

Today is a good day. I still have people who love me and are there for me. Some came and helped me with that massive house project. One went grocery shopping for me this week. But overall, I feel like I mistrust the world and I have no idea how to make sense of life or my emotions. And I’m angry that I don’t have the man to turn to that I did trust at one time.

Lost. It’s a good description word. I will just keep getting through each day and tackle each obstacle like I always do, but internally I’m lost. It is what it is.

P.S. My apologies to those of you who like it better when I’m funny and positive 🙂