Copy that., Grief is Grief

Just Say It.

Pandemics have a nasty habit of making us question things we take for granted. When life seems a whole lot more fragile, words become a lot more important. Don’t let the right ones get away.

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Whether you’re speaker or listener, words matter. They can heal or hurt; inspire or humiliate, encourage, teach or comfort. They can be the tiebreaker in an argument; a deal breaker in a relationship. They can make someone feel important or diminished; deeply hurt or transformed with love. They can criticize, accuse, or malign. The can also soften a heart and change the trajectory of someone’s life. Words can change lives for worse or for better; or through their absence, leave a hole that is often never filled.

The give and take of words is all part of human speak. We ask work questions about marketing and quality control. We ask about freshness of the lettuce or what’s on sale that day. We ask our kids it they remembered to pack their homework and sneakers for gym as they run out the door. More often than not, we don’t give a whole lot of thought to the mundane exchanges we have every day. Yet, the power of our words is immeasurable.

You better know that in the end, it’s better to say too much

Than to never to say what you need to say again.   John Mayer

There are people who never stop talking and who knows,  I may be one of them. But, with all our talk, talk, talk, what is really said? We use hundreds of words every day – but how many cut to the chase of life? How many of us carve out that critical second to say the one thing that could transform a heart? In a world as uncertain, as volatile as we live today,  we are all painfully aware of our human vulnerability. We are reminded each day, as we see numbers across the world tell the story of humans gone too suddenly, that life is not forever. Just as words we say in haste or anger form a destructive legacy that never be taken back, many that need to be said, that could change everything in someone’s world, are not. The time when they could be spoken is no longer and there is no better proof than the now 100,000 people who have gone forever. Words we wish to have said have disappeared into the ether.

There is no time to leave important words unsaid.  Paulo Coelho

In my book, the most magic words in life are often the simplest, yet time slips by and what we meant to say disappears with it. Yet, words, those very words, can mean the world like:

Thank you. It always amazes me how little we acknowledge kindness and thoughtfulness. Sure we dole out automatic thank you’s like M&M’s, with no real thought. Now, I’m totally onboard with politeness, in any setting, but authentic, cognizant gratitude is the real deal. My mother always told me, if you don’t thank someone who sends you a gift, you don’t deserve it. Words on paper count, too. But as treasured as a call or thank-you note is, the heart behind the thank you makes all the difference. Don’t sell these words short. From a grocery checker to a child being thoughtful, these two little words say ‘I see you – and you matter.’

I’m sorry.  Even if you did something you totally regret and would never do again, an ‘I’m sorry’ is the way to go. In fact, these two little words are some of the most important you can ever say. Apologizing never comes easy. In fact, when we are really pissed, (it happens) that ‘I’m sorry’ seems almost impossible. Said from the heart, though, it means we learned the hard way, that we realized we hurt someone and even if what we did won’t go down in history as Titanic sized, we are truly bummed it happened. Taking responsibility for our actions can go a long way to healing our relationships – and ourselves.

Forgive me. When we value a relationship, our greatest hope, when something goes wrong, is to repair it and restore it to its original condition. We should never take a person we cherish or their forgiveness for granted. Extending the proverbial olive branch with hope, not expectation, is a leap of faith. Acceptance is their gift to us, not an automatic expectation.

I love you. Don’t wait for the funeral or the door closing to tell people how you feel about them. Say it when it counts. Say it as often as it needs to be said or as often as you feel it. Say it before it’s too late. And people who grieve the 100,000 authentic, cherished people, claimed without warning by COVID-19, may always wonder, as I did when my own husband died suddenly, if “I love you” could have been said just one more time. No matter how many times “I love you” is said or even written, not one of us will ever say, “No more. I’m good thanks”.

Continue reading “Just Say It.”
Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

Out of Touch . . . Totally.

Welcome to the pandemic version of ‘home alone’, a place where stillness has a roaring sound, and touch is a thing of the past. We are embracing a new normal – without the embrace.

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As SNL’s Roseann Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something”.  Sometimes, that ‘something’, creeps up so sneakily you don’t even notice it until it pokes you on the shoulder. You might have thought it was in the rear view, then, bam — whiplash. Like your very own Pennywise, the shapeshifting clown, it feeds on what gets to you most. It gets under your skin because it’s there that this particular taunting creature, called ‘loss of touch’, lives. 

Yep, loss of touch is a thing. Humans need to be touched. When our arms and cheeks are stroked, nerve cells release boatloads of happy-making endorphins. Simple cuddling can slow the heart rate, and speed up digestion, helping our immune system to be its best self. We instinctively look to hold hands when we’re frightened. We put our arms around each other to comfort; kiss one another to show affection. We need touch to feel safe, anchored — and seen. But, those of us who live alone are on our own – literally. In a time of grief, of quarantine, we go without touch of another human for weeks and months. Stuck in the middle of today’s epidemic ‘touch starvation’, mental health professionals see depression, insomnia and anxiety issues in unprecedented numbers.

Why talk about skin hunger now, when it’s dwarfed by people dying in shocking numbers from a worldwide pandemic, and fear pulses beneath every face mask? Even with an epidemic raging across the globe, we are each quarantined in our own small worlds. Our thoughts, emotions, and feelings still live and grow there. Most have partners, kids that share their quarantine and touch may not be an issue. But domestic violence also finds fertile ground in quarantine and loneliness, anxiety and depression make no distinction between households. Whatever was lacking, lost or thought to be quieted, now has a loud voice and things like absence of touch takes on new life.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch. Leo Buscaglia

When I was first widowed, disjointed emotion and grief were in strong competition. My thoughts centered on coping with the worst trauma of my life. Sudden loss of the person you thought you’d go through time can do that. I assumed nothing, from that point on, that life could throw at me could be worse. In fact, I was pretend badass enough that not even a scary car accident a year later could knock me over. But, when the fog cleared, I realized the elephant in the room was a spouse’s touch I’d no longer feel. Funny how simple neck massages and hand holding can kneecap you. But loss of intimate touch, the kind that says ‘You’re mine. I have your back. I love you” leaves a lasting mark.

To any grieving person, distance is not a new concept. In fact, it’s probably the hardest consequence of loss. The distance of sound, touch and connection gets only wider between us and the person no longer in our world. When we were younger, in the midst of busy lives and busy households raising kids, we barely gave ‘touch’ a thought. We had plenty of it, whether we wanted it or not. Yes, I do remember those times I thought “Puleeese stop poking me” to kids or dogs anxious for attention. Back then, our tapped-out selves yearned for the utopia of sublime peace; maybe even an undisturbed month — alone. I get it. I lived it.

Continue reading “Out of Touch . . . Totally.”
Copy that., Grief is Grief

Everything Happens for a Reason . . . and other fairytales.

by Tori Morrison – UNSPLASH

Believing that nifty mantra wholesale can be hard to swallow sometimes, especially when ‘everything’ ain’t so pretty. We want to believe things happen for a reason simply because order seems a whole lot better than chaos, right? We tell ourselves and others, when we don’t see any other explanation for things that happen in life, that it’s part of a bigger picture in the karma universe. When lives are turned upside down. When our spouse, parent or child is gone in an unthinkable instant. When a sudden loss of job, income, or house leaves us upended and lost. Thinking it was all part of a greater plan might bring momentary comfort, but it can also leave us frustrated and stuck.

We look for reasons everywhere. We try to justify why the world, and the people in it, behaves as it does. We become scarred and scared by experiences that seem to happen for no reason whatsoever. Cancer. Alzheimers. Death. (Anything on that one? I’ll wait . . .) Oh sure, eventually we learn and grow from all the hard stuff. Done right, we even become better people from living through those times, but the ‘why’? That’s the million dollar question.

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. Megan Devine

Things can and do happen for no reason at all except one that’s universal – we are just human beings having a human experience (in other words, shit happens). In our bumbling search for answers, we forget that no one promised us a rose garden. So, we run in circles looking for cause because the effect often sucks. We look back on our choices, decisions, roads taken – and not taken. We might find a breadcrumb, a clue we hope will lead us to believable reasons. But when illness visits, loss completely ravages, we lose our livelihood or worse, someone we loved more than our own life, no facsimile of a reason will ever be good enough.

There’s no earthly way we can sugar coat the why of murder or child abuse, decimating tornadoes or the crushing grief of SIDS. As much as we yearn for any emotional or psychological balm, no matter how well meaning, any phrase du’jour about life events having a reason can’t take away real pain. In fact, it might make people feel even worse. As lousy as it sounds, feeling desolate when bad things happen is part and even necessary to the grieving process. There’s no easy out and attempting to explain it away with platitudes, just get in the way.

“Don’t try to fix me. Acknowledge me. Stand with me. Be with me.” Tim Lawrence

Continue reading “Everything Happens for a Reason . . . and other fairytales.”
View from the Shoe

Running from the Reaper

“We all gotta die sometime” Falsettos

Well, that’s a cheery thought. It might sound rudely uncomfortable, but mortality gets pretty real as we cross middle age. Somewhere along our birthday lines, we begin looking behind us and see the years are gaining. We look at the whole mortality thing as being on the clock, with a need to accomplish as much as we can before we punch out. If you want to carve another Trevi Fountain or invent the newest techno thingie, you better get started.

“Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am the painful truth.'”  Author unknown

America doesn’t handle death well. Sure, we visit graves, offer condolences and spend obscene amounts on funerals but death itself? Not so much. The word itself is a conversation non-starter, yet death is as real as birth, marriage, and life itself. Who really wants to open Pandora’s box? Who wants to get down and dirty about death, terminal illness or loss of someone you love? Yet, we can actually worry ourselves – to death over it. Constant anxiety and fear around death can itself be an inexorable jumpstart toward what we dread most.

Death. The word is anything but MEH. In fact, it’s pretty damn personal. A pub in Ireland decided to make that ‘taboo’ word a conversation starter.  While it may not exactly be ‘Cheers’, Death Cafe in Dublin is a place where no one gets drunk and everyone talks — about death. The conversations are pretty sobering but oddly they aren’t Noir either. Young and old, women and men, all get real about addressing the Grim Reaper, with the help of a cuppa, a pint and even some laughs.

Death is not the opposite of life but part of it. Haruki Murakami

When we think of our own demise, our questions are all pretty much the same. Will our kids and grandchildren be happy? Will our spouses be okay after we pass? Will I be remembered? No matter our thoughts, one thing is clear. Life is a one-way highway. There’s no reverse, no do-overs. That’s part of the the contract we made when we burst, screaming our lungs out, into this world. Unlike Benjamin Button, we don’t live backwards and no amount of anti-aging products or exercise will change that. We are just not designed to be immortal.

I’ve always been afraid of the unknown, and what’s bigger and more unknown than death? Besides, I love being in this world. In fact, I have no plans to leave – at least for awhile. But, as another birthday approaches, it’s clear there’s more road behind than in front. As we age, mortality becomes a verb. Still, I can’t picture my little world without me in it even as I know well, from losing people close to me, that the world does indeed continue to spin without us.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas

My experience with death has run the gamut from my way-too-young-to-die 19 year old brother to my 94 year old father — with my younger-than-I-am-now husband in between. Still, I have no freakin’ answers about the grim reaper’s motives or how to prepare for his arrival. In fact, I wonder if fear of that arrival gives death even more power?

There’s also the little matter of control. I’ve never been drunk in my life. No, I’m not a weirdo or a paragon of virtue, just a neurotic control freak. Funny then, how the sudden losses and sharp detours in my life really made control a laughable idea. Still, humans are programmed to want control. Why else would we strive to be healthy, sleep 8 hours, and drive carefully? Ultimately, however, death just thumbs its nose and does its thing.

I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen

It’s a given that none of us are getting out of this life alive. Duh. We each have an invisible expiration date stamped on our behinds when we are implanted in the womb. Luckily, that date is a mystery even in terminal illness. And seriously, would we really want to know if we could?

In the end (no pun intended) one thing is clear. Mortality gets closer every day. We get stiffer,  forget more and remember less. We live longer today but not always better. We touch up graying hair, Botox till we don’t recognize ourselves yet we can’t escape the inevitable. On the other hand, if we acknowledge the elephant in the room, days seem more important the less there are of them. Our priorities shift and we have more time to look at the world around us and at those we love. We express our hearts more honestly and openly. Life becomes simpler, more generous and thoughtful and if we’re lucky, we become more adaptable and content with our changed lives.

No matter how we look at it, no matter how long it takes — winter is coming.

Are you living your best life — NOW?

Chick stuff, View from the Shoe

Channeling Benjamin Button

“I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” Benjamin Button

No one’s life is an accident. Of course, it is chock full of accidental incidents but then, that IS life, right? All the ‘if only that hadn’t happened’ incidents are out of our control but still intersect our lives. So do the people in them. It’s said that we are all connected; a world full of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. Spoiler alert: That’s even truer on ‘the other side’ — and I don’t mean across the pond. When this world is in the rear view, we’ll find people from every culture, value system and coloring in a mash-up of everyone who’s ever lived here, there and everywhere. It would probably make sense then, to pay more attention to making friends, or at the very least, acknowledge with kindness some of the souls who’ll be our roommates in eternity.

Life has a time limit but as long as we’re here, why not try? Change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it, we just have to be awake during the ride.

Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.

Like Benjamin Button, the aging process is pretty much a metaphor. Whether we live our lives backwards or forward, the beginning and end of life is the same. The point is how we live in the dash in between. Anyone who’s lived a near death experience is pretty adamant about not wasting a minute on things that don’t count. Money is a means to an end; not the goal. Work is merely tool to make ours and others’ lives better. Instant gratification isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Superficial lasts only until it becomes boring. Fear and anxiety are real, as real as the feeling you get going bungee jumping if you’re afraid of heights. Moments shared, kindness multiplied; those are the true fabrics that should weave how we want to live.

If you’ve already been to the dark side, things might be looking up. Heights and closed spaces, trains, planes and autos have no meaning because death is something you’ve been there, done that. Everything is relative.

“Life moves pretty fast sometimes. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”  Ferris Bueller Continue reading “Channeling Benjamin Button”

Grief is Grief

Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

DarknessOldFriend

Ah, the dark. We can’t ignore or outrun it. We can only walk, tentatively, nervously or purposefully through it. Pretty good spiel from someone who turns to TV for sound in a silent house and flips my lights on through an app, assuring me that life is visibly still present. Yet, I still remember, back when there was an abundance of life and noise in my house. I wince now remembering how I would make the occasional nonsensical wish that I’d have “just five minutes without someone arguing, or calling mom, mommy, ma.” I guess that’s not abnormal in a life with three active kids, right? Now I hear those same kids, whose babes today populate their homes, make that same joking wish sometimes. However inadvertent, my unvoiced wishes for the occasional quiet were answered to the max last year — and , boy, does that ever suck.

They say ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” Hey, universe, I never wished for THIS! Yet, all of us humans yearn for the greener grass, never really contemplating that it might be overrun with dandelions. Try telling a kid, who can’t wait for a grownup’s clothes, and privileges, that it ain’t all that, and you’ll get a withering look. How about newlyweds who wish they could take a short cut through all the trips and falls on the trip to real oneness? The one thing none of us wish is darkness, the kind that illness, loss of love, loss of dreams and of course the mother load that scary dark  brings — death. Yet, dark is the flip side of all the good stuff. We can’t avoid it, we have to find our way through it.

No one is comfortable with funerals or wakes. I used to shake each time I entered a funeral home, wishing with all my might, I could just phone it in. Maybe it had something to do with my Italian grandmother’s hysterical wailing as she threw herself, pulling her hair as she went, on my grandfather’s coffin. Yeah, that might do it. Or the earth-swallowing experience of standing in the pouring rain while they lowered my young brother into the ground. I’ve always been plain terrified of even the mere mention of death. It’s never been the topic of chatty conversation and it’s only as years go by that the obits seem like a good place to start your day. (that was a joke).  Yet, death pays the occasional visit to everyone in some way. The night it slithered up the stairs in my own home, gloating over my husband, it forced me to look straight into its eyes and changed me forever. Continue reading “Hello, Darkness, my old friend.”

Politics and other awkward stuff

A rainbow of grief

7b47cba0-12f0-0134-e753-0a315da82319All the colors of humanity, of love, of loss. We saw each in Orlando in terrifying technicolor this weekend. Sons, daughters, brothers, sisters – lost. Each of us, who’ve lost the person closest to us, know well the journey their families now will take. Those families, those parents, siblings, grandparents had their hearts ripped out in a second of senseless violence. San Bernadino, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. Adults, children all cut down in the business of living.

Plumbing the depth of my own loss, the slicing off of an artery in your heart without warning, I can’t help but think about the people grieving this week. Many years ago, my young brother died at 19 of leukemia. His loss was immeasurable and I saw my parents nearly destroyed by it. A life that never got to be lived. Watching the mother weeping uncontrollably for news of the son she couldn’t find in the melee, I recognized the anguish. And knew the bottomless pain she now will swim through.

Her son did not survive.

I usually write of my own trip through loss that I never packed for, but tonight my words are for Orlando, the latest headline from hell. There is way too much talk of hate, of exclusion, of retribution – and no healing, no coming together, no real answers. I’m angry, frustrated that weapons of war (um, you don’t need an assault rifle for hunting deer – or PEOPLE!) are available at ANY level especially for the unstable, violent or disenfranchised.  The time has come to listen for truth within the rhetoric and for more than tears and talk. I can only hope it is now.

We need to remember the trusting children who left for school, those who went to work, or a casual night of celebration — and never returned home. And we need to remember the families whose new normal will be mourning.

I have questions and no answers. Maybe all we can do is think carefully about Mahatma Gandi’s words “The future depends on what we do in the present” because if we do nothing – there will be no future.