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Archive for the ‘Support’ Category


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.

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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.

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NEW BLOG POST

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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I have read much about false memory in cases of abuse or other traumatic events, and of those who might have had ideas “put in their heads” by interrogators.

I haven’t looked deeply into the subject, but this phenomenon began to fascinate me when several people recalled events different from my own recollection of them. Reasons they recall differently may be due to noble intent, even if it didn’t actually happen the way they remembered.

I’m speaking of memories they had about visiting me in the hospital during a six-month confinement. I was astonished to learn they had visited me weekly. While I recall visits, it was not close to that frequency. I know that time flies by when I’m busy, as are these friends, so it may have seemed to be often to them. But on the other side of the bed, those long days stretched more slowly and most of the time I was alone, except for my husband who was there daily, if not twice some days.

I know my friends’ intentions were good. They also looked after my husband, who had a lot on his plate, with me, his job, our dogs and the house.  They fed him often, checked in with him for reports on my health and included him in their activities. So while I, in no way, intimate that my friends didn’t care, I postulate that memories have a strange way of morphing into what one might idealize for themselves.

I was also pleasantly surprised by visits from unlikely acquaintances – those I never would have expected to see. Some had health challenges of their own, making these visits especially meaningful. And I was disappointed by some I considered closer friends, who stayed away the whole time I went through severe health crises. But I wasn’t as surprised this time, as I had witnessed this while losing my previous husband and after his death. Just a different set of people and in a different time. I still wonder about the “whys” of these situations.

As I accept “a new normal,” albeit one with limitations, I enjoy more freedom than in those days in hospitals and I am enjoying the comradery of my friends in many settings. I will ponder the phenomenon however, as the human psyche and behavior is endlessly fascinating.

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I read an article this morning (link below) that triggered thoughts I have pondered in the past. At times, we rush by people who may be rude, inappropriate, reclusive. We usually respond in kind. But what if that person just experienced something awful, was in an abusive relationship, just received a dire diagnosis, had a severe lifelong challenge? What if they were in pain, had an invisible illness? Would you respond differently?

Chances are you’d respond with more compassion. As humans of any mature age, chances are you’ve been in a situation that no one (particularly strangers) would know about, and they didn’t respond nicely to you. I’m not discounting the fact that there are some people who are just plain mean, but there is often a reason.

Next time that happens, as long as it is not unbearable to do so, stop and think before responding. The next time something is causing you not to be so kind, hopefully someone will respond to you with the same consideration.

Thanks to the author who inspired this post.

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I belong to an arts organization I founded in 2007. We recently created 6″x 6″ art canvasses to donate to an organization that raises money for vision-related healthcare abroad and on domestic Indian reservations. The organization takes the canvasses on the road to art fairs and galleries and sells them for $50 each.

I went to a fair yesterday where our group’s work was being displayed. I began chatting with a staff member and told her I was with the guild. She asked if I had any artwork in the show and I said I submitted it, but didn’t see it on the wall. She asked me to describe it. She lit up and said, “Oh, I bought that one. When I saw it, I just had to have it!” Then she asked me to pose with her for a “photo with the artist,” which of course I obliged.

I felt so good on so many levels. I raised enough money for someone to receive eye care, doing something I love to do anyway. I took a $5 canvas and increased its value to $50. I made the buyer happy to have a picture with the artist and finally, just being acknowledged as an artist was in itself rewarding. If you’ve read other posts about my lifelong struggle to earn the street cred to call myself an artist, you’ll get that last part.

I have volunteered and donated a lot of my time and services over the years. I would say without hesitation, that I got more out of it than the recipients of my deeds.

I encourage you to lend your hand, your time, your talents to those who need them. I promise you that you will receive more than you give.

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There are times we think of those who have left our lives. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, holidays and memories of special events. More often than not, it is because we have been separated by death.

My friend, who does have a living mother, and children living nearby, is hosting a bunch of her friends (me included) this Mother’s Day. I thought, “How nice. She is inviting her motherless friends to celebrate Mother’s Day.”

As I was thinking about those reopening the wounds of their departed mothers each Mother’s Day, it struck me that I DO have a living mother, yet I am in their company. I’m sure there are others who, for whatever reason, are estranged from their mothers. It’s been four years since I last spoke to mine. The separation was not my choice, but her conditions were out of the question. If I wanted to have her in my life, I’d also have to suffer the presence and influence of my younger brother, who in my mind, is pure evil. After decades of trying to keep the peace with him, and as determined as I was not to allow him to disturb me, he kept finding ways to undo whatever calm I could muster. I concluded that blood or not, I could no longer allow such negativity in my life without risking my health.

So began an estrangement that I could not understand. As a mother myself, and knowing how deeply I love my two children, I could not fathom choosing one and abandoning the other. My mother sacrificed two daughters (my sister and I) for the sake of her son. It started with me wondering, after the last standoff conversation, if she would send birthday cards to either of us. Nope. I couldn’t imagine my children’s birthdays, a celebration of when they entered my life, passing without me needing to connect with them. The bond is so strong, it is almost physical, even long after they have grown to adulthood and moved away. Yet four birthdays for each of us have come and gone with nary a call or card to acknowledge them.

Although I am not a religious person, at the beginning I invoked the serenity prayer. It gave me a framework to “Accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.” There was no other choice for my sister or me, without agreeing to be continually poisoned by the son my mother chose.

Each year it became less painful, like it does when you lose a loved one. It just catches me by surprise sometimes, that I do have a living mother out there, when I’ve been living as if she died four years ago.

 

 

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