Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Preaching to the Choir

My dad moved into assisted living this week. I burned the candle at both ends for a couple of weeks, but he applied, got accepted and moved in rather quickly. On move in day, we had finished all the paperwork but the moving truck hadn’t arrived so we decided to go shopping for some items he needed for his new apartment.

I do not generally enjoy shopping, but this was actually kind of fun. I felt like a mom with a kid going off to college that needed to furnish his dorm room. We went in with a list. The windows are all new and sometimes people don’t even use curtains anymore but Dad is old school. He had the curtains already, but he needed new curtain rods.

We went to the appropriate aisle and I was prepared with the measurements from the maintenance man. There are so many options for curtain rods now. Dad? Well, he wanted those plain white metal ones that bend in an “L” at the end. I did my best to try to change his mind. “Dad, there are so many cute ones. How about this one?  Or this kind? Or this? They aren’t that much more expensive.” Nope. The curtains cover these rods anyway so what does it matter? “Jeeze, Dad. You’re no fun. I can’t believe you are picking the boring ones.” There was an older lady, probably close to Dad’s age in the same aisle. I heard her snicker a bit at our conversation.

We moved on to the next item on the list. We happened to bump into that same woman. Or perhaps not. Perhaps she followed us. She walks up to me, puts her hand on my arm and says ever so firmly, “Now young lady, you know that your opinion doesn’t matter one bit. After all, it is HIS house and he should pick out what he wants.”

I was a bit taken aback, but I thought she was really going to be embarrassed when I pulled those old, ugly white curtain rods out of my cart and showed her that he indeed makes his own decisions. I said that he always calls the shot but I like to rib him a little. It’s what we do.

She was having none of it. She went on to say that, “Someday, YOU will be a senior citizen too and THEN you will understand things.” Her disgust of me was crystal clear. My mind was racing. Me? The one who tends to my dad’s every need? Surely she should know that my sister and I both worked in nursing homes. There was no McDonald’s jobs. We took care of the elderly. Surely she should know that when I lived in Chicago I set up an “Adopt a Grandparent” program for those elderly folks that had no family. I have a lifetime of being respectful to senior citizens.

Her final parting shot (as if the first two weren’t enough) was, “My goodness. Your father and I were certainly raised very differently than your generation was.”

Huh.

She couldn’t have been more wrong about me. It got me thinking though. Jay pointed out to me that people like us go to all the trouble in our heads (or out loud) to defend ourselves when really we don’t owe anyone an explanation. But we even if there is no one to hear, we have to justify ourselves to ourselves. Crazy.

I also wondered how many times I have heard a snippet of our conversation and thought that I had accurately surmised the dynamics with all of my expertise and experience. What the hell do I actually know anyway? I can be pretty accurate with my intuition, but it’s nowhere near 100%. I will try to keep that in mind the next time I have an urge to confront a total stranger (or a beloved person for that matter).

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Love

“I can’t make you love me if you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
But you won’t, no you won’t
‘Cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t”

That is a song by Bonnie Raitt and I realized it was my life song several years ago. It is one of the first songs I ever learned at Karaoke. It is written in the context of a lover, but I identify with it on many levels of relationships. I have spent much too much of my lifetime trying to get people to care about me that don’t, then more time mourning because I’m not loved the way I had hoped to be.

My dad is a stoic German. He isn’t comfortable saying I love you. My sister was always able to be satisfied knowing that he loves us. He is kind, generous, predictable, stable and a provider and so on. But I always wanted (and still do) him to say it as well.

Then I got married in my early twenties. After my husband became an atheist, he also no longer believed in marriage or romance. He told me repeatedly that he had never loved me. He tricked himself into believing in love because he wanted to have sex. We were Christians and believed in waiting for marriage. Therefore, he tried to tell himself he loved me in order to relieve his sexual urges. When I would show him the box of letters he wrote me during our engagement, (one a day, sometimes two a day) he dismissed them as lies.

I dated a guy after Tim died that I thought was a real possibility of being someone I could stay with. He went to karaoke with me and heard me sing my Bonnie Raitt song. When I came back to my seat, he whispered in my ear, “You will never have to sing that song again. You need a new life song now.” My heart soared at the thought. About three weeks later, he left Frankie and I without any explanation or closure.

Later, I dated a guy on/off for about three years. Every couple of months he felt the need to remind me that I loved him more than he loved me, that he didn’t want anything permanent in our future. I didn’t either, but for some reason it had to come up over and over.

Now I have a teenager who I tell I love every few days and I get no response or an “ok” for an answer. Where did that come from? He grew up in a home that has love expressed consistently. Yeah, I know. Normal teenage stuff.

I have a guy friend who doesn’t say I love you to a girlfriend until he is ready to ask her to marry him. Two and a half years of dating but they don’t exchange that phrase.

I have a girl friend who doesn’t think much of saying it at all. Her response is, “Don’t say it, show it.”

Everyone has different perspectives I guess.

The New Testament was written in the Greek language. There are at least three different words for “love” depending on the nuance of the word. That is part of the problem. We only have one word that I know of. It is an incredibly complex subject (love) with millions of meanings, but it is a wonderful thing.

When I say, “I love you,” to someone I met recently but “fell head over heals” for, it means something different from when I feel love for them six months later. It means something different twenty years later. And if I whisper it on someone’s death-bed, it means something different. But it is all love. All of it.

Then there is love as an action or choice. Sometimes we love someone even if we don’t like them very much at the moment. We choose to behave in a loving way because that is just what is needed.

Here is another theme song for me.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.”

Written by Hal David. Yep, that is also the damn story of my life. I tell all my friends and family, 90% of the time, that I love them. At the end of every phone call. I guess when you have lost lots of people (and some very suddenly) you are very aware how important it is. Sure, I understand that it can become meaningless if it is overused. But can you overuse love?

This is my heartbeat, the core of who I am. But my experience has been the first song. Just the way it is. I am going to keep trying to love, in whatever form it is, no matter the response I get back from the world. It gets really, really hard sometimes, but I am going to try.


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Louis C.K.

I’ve been introduced to a comedian recently, Louis C.K.. He really made an impression because he talked about things that you can actually relate to. He references a thing he calls “white people problems” which I had previously heard referred to as “first world problems.” The idea is the same. The things we complain about in our privileged society are really quite spoiled and ridiculous when you stop and think about them.

I know he made an impression because as I am facing things in day to day life, I often catch myself and say “white/first world people problems” which makes me laugh under the anger and diffuse it a bit. Patience has never been one of my strong suits anyway, so anything I can do to increase my tolerance is a good thing.

Tim Horton’s has been trying my patience lately, although I also have laughed so hard at the stupidity of it, that it has also brought me great joy. When I laugh that hard, I always, always remember my mom because she could make me laugh like no one else can.

There is a billboard off the 190 – yes, a literal billboard – that advertises their $1 frozen drink specials. There are four pictures on it with two lemonade flavors and two iced tea flavors. I confess that once I drove through Dunkin’ Donuts and asked for their dollar special and they politely informed me they have $2 Coolatas instead. Took me a minute, but I eventually drove my embarrassed self off and chuckled at my senior moment.

The other night I went to Tim Horton’s. I was sure it was Tim Horton’s because I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. In fact, it was late and I drove up next to the mighty large sign and read it again under the massive street light. Unfortunately, the lone man that works that at night had no idea what I was talking about. After a prolonged silence over the speaker, I noticed in my mirror that he had walked out, headset on and all, into the middle of the parking lot to read the massive sign up close. I was almost wetting my pants laughing so hard.

After a few more minutes of silence, I finally spoke out. I told him I had witnessed him walking out to the parking lot so he had to admit I was not out of my mind. He still had no idea how to help me. The computer was ringing up $1.51 and that was all there was to it. He just kept repeating the price. Finally, I said I would pay it or else face the consequences of dying of thirst right there at 11:30 pm in the drive-through lane of a cafe.

The next day, I thought it was worth a trip back to speak to a manager. After I explained everything, she finally went to the register and said, “Oh, I see what happened. Iced tea is no longer on sale. It is only lemonade.” I politely walked over to the very, very large sign on the window in front of her and pointed to the two large cups of iced tea on sale. I thought maybe the visual would help her to comprehend the situation. She then said it must be a corporate problem. I politely told her that if they advertise something (especially so prominently, right?) they are really obligated (perhaps legally) to provide that something for the price advertised.

She agreed and thanked me for not yelling at her like most people do when they have a complaint. She also thanked me for bringing this problem to her attention. I paused for a few seconds, thinking she might want to actually show her appreciation by offering me a free iced tea. Maybe she would at least offer me the fifty cents I overpaid the night before. Nothing. Blank look.

Sigh.

There were a few more details that made it funnier than the writing I just did. But seriously, really? It is kind of ridiculous that this required the level of explanation it did to more than one level of employee. Then I remember Louis C.K. and I have to laugh again. This is a tiny blip on the screen of life when it comes to importance. Maybe even smaller than a blip.

Thanks Louis!


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Self-Reflection

Recently, someone told me that I don’t seem to do as much reflecting on myself as I do criticizing others.  For those of you that have known me for several years, I’m guessing you are as surprised to hear that as I am.  I suppose I know a few individuals who interrogate themselves as much as I do, but I honestly don’t think I have ever met anyone who is harder on themselves than I am.

So how would an intelligent person make that observation?

You will find this shocking, but of course this has sent me on a deep dive into the inner recesses of myself in all of its glory and ugliness. It has caused a wide divide in my heart. Part of me wants to lash out angrily and say, “Stop it! You have spent years learning how to be confident in your intuitions. Your therapist (Scott) has literally spent over 16 years getting you to believe your judgements. And he has met many of my peeps personally. Dear Darren has spent the last couple of years convincing you that you are full of love and light, more than you had allowed yourself to believe. You are not perfect, but you do some things extremely well.”

The other side of the divide, is frankly the side that I have spent most of my life on. It’s much more familiar to me, and therefore much more comfortable. It is the part of me that I understand and yet is completely an unknown to me at the same time. It is the part that I mostly loathe. It is the part that makes me second guess every thought that comes into my head. It is a torturous part. And it is fully awakened now.

Even if it is true that I can be accurate often in my assessment of my self and others, what right does that give me to say any of it out loud? Just because I am capable of judging fairly, should I not be trying to curb the human urge to judge at all?

More troubling still, are the times that I find (always in hindsight) that I have overwhelmed someone or scared them with my intensity. I have no idea how I do it, which makes it almost impossible to control. I remember back in graduate school when a classmate sought me out to get me know me better and then I had to listen to her in group therapy talking about how I swallowed her up. All I had done was respond back to her letters she sent me. I don’t really understand it anymore now 20+ years later than I did back then. Seemed unfair to me, but nevertheless, that is how she felt.

There really isn’t any particular point to this blog. Just blabbing about what is going on in my cluttered, troubled head and heart. It’s not so pretty right now. I’m trying to fairly self-reflect without falling down the bitter rabbit hole of depression. It’s good for me to examine myself because I’m far from perfect. But cross your fingers and say some prayers that something positive and productive comes from it, rather than just useless self-loathing.


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God’s Plan

I’ve had quite a spiritual journey over the years. My faith, religion and spirituality has been around the globe a few times. Recently, I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking about this again and am reading a book recommended to me called “The Naked Gospel.”

Of course, where I am now is only my opinion, the “truth” as I understand it. And that has changed dramatically over the last 50 years of my life. I had a session with a young adult client that was one of the most moving I’ve had in quite a while.

She came in having to make a decision about her life, and had narrowed it down to three options. She has a very devout, active faith and as she was talking tossed out a phrase that was something like, “So I’m trying to figure out if I just really want this for myself or if it is God’s plan for me.”

It struck a nerve in me and I found myself racing in my head about how to respond next. Therapeutically, I knew she was asking for guidance about how to make tough decisions. There are lots of therapeutic interventions to choose from to help people sort out their various emotions and thoughts. She hadn’t come to me about her faith. I knew I was taking a risk if I went there and I quickly had to make my own decision. My gut told me to go for it.

I first clarified, “If I understand you correctly, you believe that God has a specific plan for your life and it is your job to figure out what that is.” She nodded. Then I asked her why she believed that. I was her when I was 18. I knew she had been taught that and had it reinforced over and over again, but I was challenging her to really ask herself why she had come to believe it.

First, we went the logical/philosophical route. How do you decide which things in life are part of God’s will and which aren’t? Does God decide what the best clothes for you to wear today are? Is there a best pair of socks? How do you determine that isn’t important but who you marry or which school you go to is?

What happens if you get it wrong? Especially at such a young age, what if she makes the wrong choice? Does that mean for the rest of her life her only hope is to achieve a consolation prize or plan B? Life couldn’t get any better than that if she missed the first perfect plan, right?

Then we switched gears again. I asked her something like, “Do you really believe that is how God loves you? Really?” The God who sent Jesus to earth to love and redeem us, is now sitting with specific plans and hoping that we are smart or spiritual enough to figure out with it is so that we can be pleasing to Him? Does that really feel loving?

I wonder if it was more of a session for me than for her. I am very passionately invested in my clients, but this session I actually began to get more and more passionate in what I was saying, and that passion resulted in tears that began to run gently down my cheeks. They were running down hers as well. I couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t know if I was upsetting her or touching something important.

I reminded her this was all my opinion, but I just think God loves us differently than that. Options and choices are wonderful things. Back in the Garden of Eden, we were given free will. How could God give us free will, then have a target in His head of what He wants us to choose? That goes against the very essence of free well. I told her in my opinion that she could make any choice and that God would love and adore her exactly the same unconditional, immeasurable amount.

When I finally shut up, I asked about her tears. She used her gentle, quiet voice and said she felt in her heart she needed to hear it. In her heart, she struggles so much with believing that she is truly loveable like that. I was stunned. Stunned. I cried a few more tears as I told her that I wished with all my heart that she could just for a moment see herself the way I did. And wow, what if she could see herself the way God did?

She’s such a lovely, lovely young woman. She has the voice of an angel. She has a beautiful spirit. And I remember what life was like at that time in my life, so full of guilt and anxiety, trying to please God at every moment and never knowing if I was. I would do anything to free her of that, to help her understand the depth with which Grace and Love have gifted and touched her and enveloped her.

It was a powerful session. Probably way more for me than for her. I knew I was talking to myself as much as I was talking to her. I have been growing my understanding of Grace and Love for several years now, but I still need to be reminded myself.

Thank you my beautiful friend for giving me permission to blog your journey. You may not end up with any beliefs like mine, but I believe we will both grow because of our bravery to be open with each other on the journey.  You will make the best decision, my dear. I know that because you have a Spirit that lives inside of you that loves you immensely and guides you. Thank you for today’s tender but powerful blessing.


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The Frustrating & Wonderful Energies of Spring

First, I must give credit where credit is due. Darren came up with the title.

I know the first day of spring was actually March 20th.  Heck, we are closer to the first day of summer than spring at this point. Typically though, the “wonderful” energies of spring are what we celebrate. When we start to see flower buds poke through, we breathe a happy sigh of relief. The end of winter.

Disney had it right. The movie Bambi introduced the concept of “twitterpation” which is about flirting and making babies. Guinevere had it right in Camelot with, “It’s May, It’s May, the lusty month of May.” Well, except for what happened with Lancelot. That didn’t end up so well.

I have to say, something in the air has changed because I have been a dating machine. Suddenly, men are coming out of the woodwork and asking for dates. Heck, they might even ask for a second date. And we’re talking actual nice, intelligent, handsome men. What is going on?

The end of winter.

But who talks about the frustrating parts of spring? Not many. Which is why I think this year I got caught off guard. Yes, the end of winter. But there is an element of winter mess that gets left behind. There are the remnants of death and cold that need to be removed.

As I was struggling with the overwhelming amount of things I needed to handle last week, one of my friends said, “Well, you were stressed out like this last year.” I wondered what his point was. Yes, obviously. I am well aware. You could take that to mean that I am the common denominator, that maybe there is something about me that causes the stress.

I chose to interpret it differently. Spring, with all of its promise, brings a ton of work as well. Anyone with a house and yard will tell you that. The yard work is never as demanding as it is the first two weeks you start. The weeds haven’t been pulled yet. The mulch hasn’t been put down yet. The rain comes. And comes. And stays. Which produces mud. Mud, mud and more mud.

This is the time of year that you approach all the bigger projects too. Now you can move things out of the garage. Or the shed. You open the pool and deal with all of the items that need to be replaced after the damage of the ice and snow. Let’s face it. Seeds have to die for those flowers to bloom. Spring is also exhausting and frustrating. Stressful.

Hmmm… Sounds like another example of bitter and sweet. Another example of the glass half empty and half full. Yep. The balance of life. No gain without loss and vice versa. It’s all there. Celebrate the flowers and the flirting, but it is also ok to drop with fatigue at all of the work. BOTH.


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Waiting

I’m not exactly a patient person. I hate waiting. Lately, my days have gotten cluttered and even chaotic at times. I feel the tension in my neck and shoulders. Lots of things aren’t in my control and I have to wait for others. I can literally feel the nervous energy waiting creates in me.

The weather has been all over the place and that doesn’t help either. A lot of the things that I am waiting for relate to assistance with my house. And those depend on the weather. I can’t plan anything because I never know who is coming when. For example, at the moment, I am waiting for my college student that does weeding/mulching and she is waiting for it not to rain. I am waiting for the concrete guy to come and stain my patio and seal it. He is waiting for a break in his work schedule and then it needs to not be raining at the same time.

I am waiting for the plumbing supplier to bring me some parts, and he is waiting for the parts to get shipped. I am waiting for a pool guy because the vacuum isn’t working so we can’t get the pool clean, and he is waiting for a second in his schedule and for the rain to stop at the same time. I am waiting for two able-bodied men who are cutting up an entire tree that was taken down, but they need time and no rain. On and on and on. I’m tired of listing all of it so I will spare you the rest.

But my friend has another kind of waiting. So much harder, so un-imaginable. Her 21-year-old son had a stroke during a brain procedure. There is nothing to do but wait. Wait to see how bad the damage is. Wait and see how much recovery there will be. And the nature of strokes? Well, from what I understand there is no rhyme or reason. Could take days, months, years. Things can shift anytime. Or maybe they won’t. I can’t even fathom what that kind of waiting must be like.

My clients have another kind of waiting. After years of dealing with infertility, they are waiting to see if they are getting a baby they want to adopt. The birth mom has five to seven sets of parents to choose from. Wish I could talk to her. I would tell her how amazing this couple is and what a lucky baby she would be to have them for parents. They can’t do anything but wait for the phone to ring. Fulfill a lifelong dream? Another heartbreak?

All waiting is not created equal, that’s for sure. I do know that myself, and the people I have mentioned have loads of people who love and support us. I know you all send positive energy and heartfelt prayers for whatever is going on.  Tom Petty comes to mind, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Well, I’m not sure if it is actually the hardest part, but it sure as hell is hard.