Being the survivor that I am, and seeing others struggle so much with life, I have long been curious about the qualities that make some more resilient. I’ve been unable to find a lot about it in the literature. If I was just starting on my master’s degree now, I might pick up on this area of study.

Today, a TED talk came to my inbox. It was given by someone who specializes in the subject, and consults on resilience, teaching strategies in a variety of settings. She also experienced one of the most difficult challenges herself – the loss of a child. She had been offered tremendous support by the community as well as from professionals. But she didn’t find it helpful.

As a researcher, she decided to test her principles on herself, as the ultimate test of how helpful they are in the face of such pain and grief. The strategies helped her and she shares them in this talk. They are simple concepts, even though not easy to employ, but are accessible to anyone. They are:

1. Accept that suffering is part of life, and that there are things we are powerless to change.

2. Find the good. Look for what you HAVE, not what you lost. Acknowledge what you are grateful for.

3. Ask if your behaviors help or hurt you and decide accordingly, what to do and how to act.

These principles are simplified for the sake of this post. Listening to her embellish the principles with the context is much richer. Consider giving her talk a listen.

An Empath’s Struggle

As I caught up on my reading of last Sunday’s NY Times, I found it excrutiatingly hard to read two articles about some of the Covid-related struggles: one here in the US and one in Columbia. They were so difficult, I cried through them both. I was tempted to stop reading, realizing it was impinging on my already fragile mood, then thought, “How dare I even compare their suffering to mine?” as I sit in my air conditioned, comfortable home, with three meals per day and safety from covid dependent only on my own decisions.

Intellectually, I know I am not the cause of, nor can I necessarily help in these cases, but it doesn’t help me detach myself.

In one article, a NY Times reporter visited Columbia to see the conditions there. Columbia has, over the past 2 decades, managed to secure some security for the poorest of the poor. Families were lifted out of dire poverty to run small businesses, they were able to educate their children and live in decent homes. Then covid struck and decades of progress was literally and figuratively reduced to rubble. When families were forced to move to encampments; the government shut them down as they were illegal. They were forced to be out in the open, with covid raging. Many who had escaped from Venezuela to Columbia fled back, most certainly to no better circumstances – and maybe worse. As a parent, it would be bad enough for me to suffer these conditions, but watching my children suffer as well would be excruciaing. I had to force myself to keep reading – that’s how painful it was.

The other story was one about helplessness, which is what I felt while reading the first story. It involved the suicide of an emergency doctor who literally had a mental breakdown due to her inability to save so many in the NYC outbreak that left everyone ill-prepared in the weeks leading up to the devastation. She had suffered through Covid herself, then came back to work in spite of her still fragile condition. The article speculates that because we know so little about lasting neurological effects, her coping mechanisms could have been impacted by the virus.

If there is anything to be gleaned from these articles, it is to raise our awareness of relative blessings, however hard life is for us now, but to strive not to feel guilty about what we CAN’T do. It is to put things in perspective.

If you feel inconvenienced that you are asked to wear a mask, refrain from risky social activities, halt travel and refrain from seeing family and friends, remember it is for the collective safety of everyone – especially those most at risk.

For an empath, not feeling the pain is easier said than done.

Get Out and VOTE!

Where to begin . . . . . (WARNING: you may not want to read this if you support trump)

As if things couldn’t get worse . . . . . they did . . . . and it’s not over yet . . . .

We entered 2020 with hope that a new year would wipe clean the ills of the past year. With the country already suffering the reversals of so many protections for citizens, climate change effects lurking around every corner, water and air pollution rules abandoned, healthcare being taken from many who finally got it, poverty increasing, our leadership on the world stage in tatters, yet some were extolling the performance of the stock market as a barometer of our country’s health.

I have never used my blog to speak of political matters, though heaven knows my FB page is full of it and it is not pretty. And while I don’t intend to make this post about politics, it is impossible to divorce it from the backdrop of what follows. 

Most of us knew the trump era would signal change. How much and how harmful, no one could ever have envisioned. Not only were all consumer protections reversed (as a matter of intentional devastation) but much of it took place in the shadows of even more sensational news. Quietly, deliberately and in many cases, illegally. 

The swamp was filled with even more vile characters; it was not cleaned as he promised. The rich fellows of the administration have prospered, some illegally, using insider information obtained in the course of performing their government duties. And it increased the gap between the have and the have nots.

The three branches of government, envisioned by the creators of the constitution to prevent government overreach, have come under a dictator-like, dare I say cult-like, influence. When they act in lockstep, not checking each other, we are doomed to become a fascist nation. Those with influential pocketbooks are running the country with the outsized weight of their money and lobbies. 

Nationalism has devastated our reputation as a world leader. Our president is mocked abroad by world leaders and citizens who express pity for what is happening to our great country. Withdrawing from alliances around the world puts us at tremendous risk should there be war. We would be left to our own defenses.

The attack on science and truth, all of which are not subject to opinion, run rampant. Trump supporters ignore at their peril, advice from scientists, favoring that of an unhinged real estate investor with dubious claims that he knows more than anyone about everything. How does anyone buy these claims? How could ANYONE, never mind this bloated egotist crazy person, know more than everyone in their fields of expertise? Any sensible person would question the reality of such a claim. Trump’s lies spew forth hourly, without hesitation. When confronted with facts that counter those lies, including video of him saying these things, or photographic evidence proving he has met or knows dubious characters, he claims it fake! I believe my eyes and ears over talk of conspiratorial spin.

We have out of control hypocrisy in talk and action. Trump must end chain migration, unless it is for his wife’s family members. He abhors undocumented workers, who largely keep the country humming, unless he needs cheap labor at his clubs. He wants products to be made only in America unless it is his campaign paraphernalia or his daughter’s merchandise. The list could go on for pages.

The man is incapable of any humanity in the many crises that have befallen the United States under his watch. Children separated, many permanently, from their families. Inhumane conditions, rape and deaths in the border detention centers. People in states he “doesn’t like” living with polluted waters, or without electricity after hurricane devastation – for years. Incapable of consoling the many who have lost loved ones from the “fake” corona virus, the families of children from gun violence in their schools and citizens of color gunned down by overzealous police and military. Not a word. Only congratulations to himself for imagined “great” numbers and his popularity. He argues any negative news and sinking polls, to the point of surrounding himself only with yes men and women who agree with anything he says, and he boots those who disagree with him, even in the face of evidence.

He has been enabled by his party to lie, cheat, steal, make illegal executive orders and make a mockery of our constitution. He makes pronouncements that belie his values. He is no more religious or pious than the street criminal he is – only with money and power. It is reported his advisors privately think he has lost it and call him names behind the scenes yet grovel at his feet in public. I wonder how they sleep at night.

He is inarticulate and rambles off script any messaging prepared for him by his staff. His vocabulary doesn’t exceed the average 6th grader (I may be generous in this statement). His oratories are filled with “the best,” “the highest,” “the most ever in history,” “I know more than anyone in the history of man. . .” He can’t focus on the issues at hand, he slurs his speech, he has awkward, stiff mannerisms, and he never smiles unless it is a clearly forced smile for the camera. He looks as miserable as he appears to us. His skin is so thin he hurls insults to individuals and world leaders alike. No one is immune. What world leader has EVER done this? Not even heads of fascist states act like he does! And his minions applaud him. I don’t know who is more frightening – trump, his administration, the republican party or his followers, though all are culpable.

He lacks any modicum of leadership by example. His best experts say, “Wear a mask – to protect yourself and to protect others.” But he exempts himself. To see him at a mask factory, surrounded by workers with masks would be funny if it weren’t alarming. To tell the country he is taking hydroxychloroquine when the scientific community has stated it is unproven and even dangerous is unconscionable. (The FDA just removed temporary approval of the use of the drug to treat Covid.) To speak of light and bleach, and have people actually try to ingest these poisons, is lunacy. When he said Floyd would be happy with the economy, I lost my shit altogether! I was moving around the house mumbling like a crazy woman! And now, starting up his campaign rallies in tight quarters, not requiring masks, enforcing no social distancing AND requiring people to sign waivers not to sue the campaign if they get Covid?  The saddest thing is that innocents – not even at the rallies – will get sick and some will die when these people spread the virus in their communities with impunity. Further, asking healthcare workers, already so burnt out (if they haven’t themselves been victims already of Covid) to pick up the pieces is beyond any sense of moral decency.


But there is hope. My hope is YOU. You must vote this dangerous psychopath out of office. November can’t come soon enough.

Faith has always been elusive to me. I need to see, hear, feel, touch or taste something, to know it exists. I question why a good God would burden good people and allow the wicked and evil to live freely and happily. During some of my trials, the faithful have said to me, “God only gives us what we can handle.” It was not comforting. It made me angry. After the many, many tragedies and challenges I have faced in my life, I have wondered, “Why isn’t it someone else’s turn?” (Not that I would wish my experiences on anyone else, but just saying . . . .) And why is it fair that any one person should be created so strong as to endure more suffering than ten others?

A friend’s daughter was happily and healthily pregnant; the grandparents-to-be, ecstatic to be welcoming their first grandchild. Until, at eight months, at the expectant mother’s exam, something appeared to be wrong with the baby and she was delivered early by C-section. Having been deprived of oxygen, the doctors were not sure the baby would be OK. She was hooked into life support systems until she could have a full neurological evaluation.

It was bad news. The baby’s brain was damaged and her basic autonomic body actions, like breathing, digestion, heartbeat, could not function without artificial support. There was nothing to be done. The doctors allowed the family to gather and meet and hold the 6-day old child for the first and last time.

When I heard the news, I felt like I was just punched in the stomach. This family, so strong in their faith being dealt this hand? How? Why? The parents made a FB post with smiling photos of themselves with their baby, looking like any new parents, the baby dressed like any adorable newborn – a few pictures with equipment still supporting her life, and a final one of the beautiful baby girl, swaddled in a lovely bunting with matching head scarf, sleeping peacefully.

Once again, I call my lack of faith into question. What God would allow this to happen to the most faithful of families? But the mother’s post ended with these words, “But as hard as it may be, we will hold on to our Faith that God is in control, He is with us, He has a plan, and everything happens for a reason.” Now that, is faith. 

How dare I fall apart? I am blessed beyond deserving it. My family is OK. My friends are OK. I knew only one family who had the virus and fortunately have recovered. Until this week. . . .

First, we lost our goldendoodle, Simba. After watching him decline with cancer, we made the difficult choice to put him down, foregoing the worst of the inevitable ending. Then we heard a friend’s mother died, and she is grieving alone. No funeral, no family to gather, no shiva, no closure. Then I broke when I learned my beloved surgeon got the coronavirus. The man who was invincible, who did surgeries no other surgeon would take on, working for shifts up to 28 hours, mending those who no one else could mend, including me.

He was being feted at a weekly hospital concert, recovering after weeks of being on a ventilator and emerging too weak to walk; wheeled into the lobby to join his colleagues in singing “A Whole New World,” and telling the story breathlessly. Humble as always.

I’ve been crying since I heard of his battle. Tears of gratitude that he survived, gratitude for his care, and frightened for his future. We don’t yet know what the virus leaves in its wake. If he is unable to continue his work, so many will be deprived of his rare talents and courage to tackle the cases that only he will take – and largely succeed at, putting back together us broken souls. I guess when it comes down to it, even this giant of a man, a world renowned and dedicated surgeon is after all, human. And this virus spares no one, especially those in the line of fire. 

My plea to my friends is not to be foolish. We are all anxious to return to life “as it was.” But that may not be possible for a long while, if we are to contain this scourge. I am missing my friends and family immensely, yet continuing to distance myself from physical contact. No distance is safe enough when it comes to this virus, so I’m only doing necessary outings. Partially to honor my doctor, who worked so hard to give me my life back. I will I not risk throwing it away after that battle. And for my family. Any one of us engaging in unsafe behavior puts all three of us at risk. 

I implore you – all who I love. Do not take this threat lightly. I am out of tears and am afraid I may not have any left to cry for you. 

Nothing but Time

Everyone has been fixated on the news, the latest being the coronavirus. This is bringing out the best and worst in people, as many crises do. So many are donating food and money to relieve the financial burden of those out of work, unable to secure food (the elders), doing errands for shut-ins and the vulnerable. And some are exploiting it by price gouging and hoarding supplies rather than sharing with others.

I like to think that the balance is more toward altruism, but still, too many people are concerned only for themselves. How do you explain a man getting on a plane full of people knowing he was carrying the virus? How do you explain people clearing the shelves of all basic necessities and hoarding them for themselves? How do you explain those going about their normal lives without consideration of those they might infect? How do you explain people cramming into the Disney parks the day before they were to close, exposing thousands to each other and the spread of the virus everywhere they live?I only wish for karma to take care of them.

Focussing on the positive that comes in any time of crisis, we see people cooking and sharing meals (dropping them off), buying food for local food banks, looking in on neighbors who aren’t able to get out without fear they will catch the virus. That’s the world I want to hear more about.

On a personal level, I am keeping busy with art projects, writing cards to get out the vote, writing long overdue notes to special people in my life and catching up on reading and crochet projects. I am also trying to support the small businesses that serve us to the extent we can so they can survive this crisis.

The inability to socialize is what I find so hard. I am a very social person and love spending time with friends. The phone is a small consolation, but will never replace a hug and conversation over a meal.

Hang in there everyone. We have survived many crises that at the time they were happening, we thought we couldn’t. The human spirit is strong. Help each other. Check in on one another. Write those thank you notes you’ve been meaning to write.

and B – R – E – A – T – H – E

Sometimes life gives you the opportunity to receive more than what you think you’re paying for. 

I take weekly sculpture lessons with a wonderful and giving octogenarian. She provides sculpture lessons for sure, but she frequently weighs in on life matters. The sculpture studio is an intimate place. When a new person (male) was introduced into the group of female students, it was with the understanding that he “fit” into the group without disrupting it. (He met with her approval.)

Life, challenges of health, family and the world at large are discussed in the hours we spend there together. And our teacher, a wise, strong and loving person, continues to evolve and share what she has discovered.

I have always favored older friends. They have the wisdom of the older generation, like parents, but none of the baggage or judgement that accompanies blood relationships.

The latest lesson was how to slow down. She had recently decided to permit herself to do it and say “no” to even the most tempting activities. She listens to and respects her body, age-related limitations and trusts that it is OK to NOT do something.

I have been experimenting with this myself. I learned that the town I will be moving to has roller skating weekly at one of the schools. My eyes lit up as I remembered the fun I had on roller skates when it was back in style in the mid 70’s, when I was in my twenties. I pictured myself twirling around, skating backwards, dancing with a partner. I was pretty hot on wheels. 

Then reality sunk in. Having had a number of falls and breaking a wrist in the past few years, I realized the lunacy of even considering this. If I couldn’t figure out why I fell while standing in a supermarket line, how could I trust that I could move on wheels? “No,” I said to myself. Just “no.”

My teacher’s words came to me. “You can slow down. It’s OK.” And you know what? I am OK with it. Who needs another broken bone?

We have all seen a play or two (or a hundred) in our lifetimes. Some are funny, some simply entertaining, some poignant, some shocking. In the past week, I saw two different plays, one a combination of several genres, the other profundly moving me to want to do something.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a play based on a book of essays by Cheryl Strayed, the person behind an advice column called “Dear Sugar,” her pseudonym. She wasn’t a trained psychologist but a good writer, and she acidentally fell into the non-paying job when her predecessor had to give it up.

She explores some very intimate subjects and gives her advice by sharing her personal stories and experiences. She is transparent about her lack of credentials, and gives her advice from the heart – and with heart.

People have joked to me that I have been a therapist since the age of sixteen. People share things with me in supermarket lines, while shopping for clothes, on trains. People I DON’T KNOW! So, its a gift, I guess. The reality is that helping others parse their challenges takes me away from my own problems. And I daresay, I am usually helpful as I help someone see their options or inspire them by sharing my own challenges and victories.

This blog is often filled with such nuggets of advice or inspirations, always from my experiences. My other blog, about nutrition, is also there for the taking: advice on nutrition-related subjects, culled from the science I learned in school, by credentials and experiences. And a third blog which is now dormant, awaits my time and attention, and deals with matters relating to death, dying and grief. There, my experiences surrounding the topic lend some good advice and comfort too.

So I have thought about starting an advice column. I worry it would consume me if it caught on, so I need to think more about it. But it really draws me in. What do you think? I’d like to know.

The Forbidden Conversation

Few people are comfortable talking about death. But those who are dying often long to talk about it. Most don’t because they know it is uncomfortable for their loved ones or because they sense it is a taboo subject.

I have been on both sides of the debate; in a position of being near death and longing for its release, and being with those who are dying, supporting their need to talk about it and be given permission to let go when they were ready.

My father suffered immeasurably as he died slowly and painfully with bone cancer. My brother made all the decisions: if he should take the morphine, if it was better to have him alert but in pain, if they should have a nurse help or if he would do it all himself, believing only he could take care of him, if they should disconnect his defibrillator/pacemaker before the day came his body gave in and it would keep shocking him. My sister and I were 1,300 away, so we had no choice but to defer to him, even when we didn’t agree with his decisions. My father privately called to talk to me about hospice, then after he unloaded his needs, made me promise not to tell my mother and brother that he called. They were insistent that he didn’t need it, because they were not accepting the reality of the situation as easily as my father did.

It was a year filled with anxiety. Traveling to where he lived when it looked like the end was near, then having him rally at seeing his girls and or grandchildren who accompanied us on some of the trips. Then a few months of the same and starting the cycle over again. It was a full year before he succumbed, and we were fortunate to be with him when he finally let go. But even at that moment, my mother was still in denial, trying to will my father into living as he drew his last breaths. And me, now the mother to the child, telling her to stop so his last moment on earth would be peaceful; not filled with worry about her. He had already sacrificed enough, holding on for their sake, in spite of excruciating pain. It was time to let him go.

I know how much he suffered because I was in his shoes. Not for as long, not suffering with cancer, but I was in a place of terrible physical suffering. I was not as stalworth as he was, rather begging to be let free of my life so the pain would stop. But my family would not hear of it. And because I was in and out of consciousness, I was sometimes in charge of my destiny, and other times it was ceded to my husband, who would never make the decision to let me go.

Hindsight is 20-20 of course, and now I am glad we all fought for my life, but the memory of that time is still fresh, even 4+ years later. I see every opportunity as a gift, every day as a bonus. My perspective is different. I am unwilling to put up with nonsense because most of it is unimportant. I am able to ask for what I need (most of the time) and say no when it compromises something else more important to me.

But back to the point of this post. Death comes to us all. sometimes willingly; sometimes not. Sometimes too soon, sometimes when we have lived enough and are ready. But it will come, one way or another. So we should consider that discussing death, our wishes for it if we do have a choice, and planning for the matters that need to be addressed, is actually the more practical and kind thing to do. Especially if it is known that the end of someone’s life is approaching. The gift of listening to the person who wishes to talk about it is comforting to both that person and to those who listen. It is a gift to those who must deal with the formalities of death, to grant the dying person’s wishes.

Let’s take the discussion of death out of the closet. It will reduce the fear it instills. It puts death into the category of one of life’s stages to be experienced, in all its complexities, vulnerabilities and honor.


The start of a new year always brings an opportunity to look back on the past year and possibly beyond. A new year is filled with expectations that things will be better than the year before, particularly when the previous one was difficult. The reality of life is that it has its ups and downs, it’s joys and sorrows, and there is no timetable for any of it.

So what can we do to take a more realistic look at life?

I really believe the most important thing we can do to help fortify us against challenges, is to stop and count our blessings. Even in the worst of times, there is good to be found. Take for example, the many tragedies that have been suffered in this world. Haven’t they always brought out the best in people? From one man stepping up to feed thousands of people in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center, to the outpouring of funds from individuals for any of the natural disasters that have struck our shores and beyond. Then of course, are those personal challenges where many of us have experienced the pure outpouring of support from others.

I speak from personal experience.

While suffering unspeakable pain, isolation and fear, I was visited by people I would never have expected to see. A work colleague with whom I had differences at times, came to offer me a facial and manicure. Another visitor, someone I knew somewhat peripherally in HS, came to see me while i was in a NYC hospital. A cousin, with whom we had limited contact as children, came several times. Another, traveled in from NJ.

And then those who I counted on, traveled from far away places to see me – my sister, cousin and son. And my dear husband, who was with me every day while in the hospital in CT, came every other day from CT to NY, spending 4 hours a day traveling, while maintaining our home, our pets and a job.

If that’s not something to be grateful for, I don’t know what would be.

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