Monday, December 17, 2012

You cannot make sense of the senseless

How can anyone make sense of the tragedy that occurred at the elementary school in Connecticut. I finally had to shut off my TV as I could no longer listen to reporters and their dumb questions and the purported 'experts' comments any longer.

This is a senseless tragedy.  There are no real answers.  We will never really know what led to this massacre. 

We do know the facts and they are enough.  Twenty kids were slaughtered as they huddled together in a place where they should have been safe.  And several adults also died needlessly as they tried to protect them.  They were all gunned down by a young man with many issues who had access to firearms that he shouldn't have had access to. His mother also lost her life. I am sure she never thought that her son could do such a thing. Was there really any way he could have been stopped?  Probably not. And that is the ugly truth. No matter how many ways we slice it.

We all feel the same way.  Angry, shocked, sad.  Relief that it was not one of our own.   And fearful.  Fearful that this could happen to our loved ones. I also feel guilt.  Every time I hear a Christmas song and start to think about the holiday, I remember the parents who lost their children and I feel bad that luckily I don't have to face such a loss today.

I have seen many children die in my hospice and nursing career.  Even expected deaths from a terminal illness are hard to wrap your head around. So I cannot imagine seeing twenty little bodies with horrible trauma inflicted upon them.  I feel horribly for the parents, but also for the first responders who had to deal with the aftermath.  They will never be the same. 

The parents will go through what all the parents go through that I have known who have seen a child die.  The loss is tremendous.  No words, no cards, no gifts can really provide much comfort. They will never be the same; their lives have been altered in a way that is irrevocable.  They will be numb for a very long time.  Life will go on around them, but they will hardly notice. Life stopped for them. At least the life that they have known. They will move forward, but will only go through the motions of life.  They will finally be able to fall asleep at night, but will awake in the morning and realize that their nightmare is real. They will have that awful pit in their stomach every single day for a very long time.

No one can understand their grief.  No one. It is a personal assault.  And it will be hard for the siblings as well. They will have survivor guilt.  They will always feel measured by the lost sibling.  Sad, but true.  Life will be altered for them as well. It is a wound that never really heals. Time makes it better, but time slows down for the bereaved.  And every milestone will be a reminder of what they have missed.  A birthday, a graduation, a wedding, a confirmation, a dance recital.  Holidays are strained. Life stopped, so how can you go on?  But they do. And they are my heroes.

I have an only child.  I cannot imagine losing her.  The thought of it just simply brings me to my knees. So, did I hug her more after this?  No.  I have always hugged her.  I have always known that she is a precious gift.  I go easy on her.  I forgive her often.  I know how fleeting life is.  I know that really the only thing we can give our children is love.  Every single day. It doesn't mean we will never be angry at them or punish them or set limits.  It means though that we hold them in special regard and love them unconditionally. 

I can only imagine that the mother of the shooter did the same thing. As did all the parents of those dead innocent children.

We will never make any real sense of this.  Time will pass and other news will take the place of this news and life will go on.  Life goes on regardless.  It will go on for the bereaved as well. They will live through the first horrible year and slowly they will return to life.  They have no real choice.  They must be brave. And they are.

The rest of us who are fortunate enough, thus far, to not have to live with such pain, can help by being kinder to people.  By letting go of petty nonsense.  By smiling at random strangers more.  By looking at our children and seeing them for what they are; innocent youngsters who crave and deserve our love. We need to put aside nonsense and find that love.  Then give it freely.

Making ourselves better and putting more love into the world is the best healing we can offer.

Do it often.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” 
~~Anne Lamott

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” 
~~~Edna St. Vincent Millay

 I thought of you with love today,
but that is nothing new...
I thought about you yesterday,
and days before that too.
I think of you in silence,
I often speak your name.
Now all I have are memories,
and your picture in a frame.
Your memory is my keepsake,
with which I'll never part.
God has you in Heaven,
 I have you in my heart.

~~~ Unknown

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How food nourishes our soul.

When we are born, the first thing that most of us do is cry.  Perhaps we are crying out because our world has changed so quickly; from floating in amniotic joy to suddenly being thrust into a cold, brightly lit room with little warmth or comfort. So, most of us, after quickly being cleaned off but still screaming, are offered to our mother's welcoming arms.  And then, to calm our frazzled nerves, we are fed.

And that is the beginning of our love affair with food.

Food nourishes much more than our body.  It nourishes our soul.  It defines who we are.

Think back to family celebrations. To happy times and also to sad. And think about what brought us all together and soothed our souls.  The table, laden with food. 

Special meals served down through the generations. Birthday cakes. The sad buffet after the funeral.  The Friday drinks with co-workers and friends. All more than simply food, they are part of who we are.

Think about your favorite recipes and cookbooks. The changing of seasons and how you long for your mother's stew on the first cold day of fall. The camp-outs with s'mores made over the open fire.  Kool-aid in the summer.  Cider in the fall.  Steaming hot chocolate after the first snowfall of winter.

All bring memories that comfort. All things we long for and enjoy.  Just thinking about it gives me a wonderful feeling.

Then comes the comfort 'food patrol' and, just like that, good feeling gone.  They are the ones that simply see food as nutrition. They are the ones glowering at you as you savor that first ice cream cone of summer.  The ones who never, ever have had a Coke and a smile. The ones that make you feel guilty and shameful when you even consider having fried dough at the State Fair. They take all the joy out of food and leave us feeling somewhat deflated.

So, many of us hide our real food needs in shame.  We worry what someone will think if we serve our kids a soda or a candy bar or, God forbid, fast food.  So we eat in the car or on the run or in the darkness of our family room after midnight.

Our nation has become neurotic about food. The joy has been taken out of it.  And so we have an epidemic of obesity. And I see a distinct link between the two.

Now that we are forbidden to enjoy what serves our soul, we eat like soulless junkies.  We fill up on  things that are laden with chemicals; with a list of ingredients that only a chemist would understand. We eat a lot of those things because someone said they are "healthy."  We eat to fill ourselves up, but find that we feel empty instead.  So we keep eating.  And that is not good, not good at all.

What we need are are more meals that feel like a hug and less that feel like a slap in the face. We don't have to gorge. We can savor. We can enjoy.  And it will fill us up like nothing else can, because small portions of something that we desire and need are much more fulfilling than any large portion of "should."

So today, feed your soul.  Find that old recipe that your mom cooked for a special Sunday meal. Forget about calories and fat content just for a day.  Eat like generations past have eaten.  Savor food that has real ingredients that your grandmother would recognize. You will be better for it.  You will.

We have not become healthier with better food knowledge.  We have become sicker. Generations past did not have obesity, as much heart disease or as much cancer.  They didn't.  But somehow we think we have become wiser about our food.  I don't think so.  Not by a long shot.

So, enjoy the fall season.  Go apple picking and bake a pie. Have cider and a donut. Just a little, not a a lot. A little bit of something wonderful is so much better than a big helping of low calorie anything.  Mary Poppins once famously said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" and also, "Enough is as good as feast."

She was so right.  She should have been a nutritionist.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
~Charles M. Schulz

The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.
~Julia Child

He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “Celebration.” 
~Michael Pollen

Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth-brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one's belt buckled.
~Frederic Raphael

Monday, September 10, 2012

How many more sunrises?

As I sat at my kitchen table this almost autumn morning, a thought came to me as I looked out my back window. How many more sunrises will I get to see?

I don't always have thoughts like this. Even when I was practicing hospice nursing, and saw so much death each and every week did I have a thought like this.

But recently, death has hit closer to home. Not my family, but people I know who are my age who have been diagnosed with cancer. And it has affected me more than I realize.

This morning was a quiet, peaceful slow morning.  After weeks of unrelenting "busy-ness," with travel, a family wedding to attend to out of state, a new puppy to adjust to and getting my daughter ready for junior high school (I was more stressed than she), I finally had a morning all to myself.  And my thoughts slowed down to the moment. And that moment felt so powerful.

I suppose that is why we keep busy. Quiet moments to reflect on things are not always peaceful.  Sometimes they make us think about things we would much rather avoid.  They can be powerful and sometimes overwhelming.

And not thoughts of our own demise or anything like that. But maybe we think about how much we miss someone.  Or will miss someone who is ill. Or maybe we think about a past painful emotional injury that we have kept buried. Or we think about how fast time flies and about things that we want to do but never seem to make time for. And it makes us sad, or empty or longing. 

And then we soon find something that needs done to distract us and make us too busy to think about them again.  At least for a while.

I don't know. I guess my thoughts were with my friends who are going to face their toughest battle.  Not with the cancer itself; but with the treatments, the horrible side effects, the disruption of their everyday lives, the impact on their husbands and kids. It is all so overwhelming. And I know it is. I have seen it. And I pray I never have to experience it because it is awful. It really is. But I also know it is coming. Maybe not cancer per se, but something. Eventually. And I felt like I really need to slow down now, right now while I am in my early 50's and while I am fortunate enough to sit at my table with my cup of tea looking out my window and enjoying a peaceful morning feeling good.

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn't stop for anybody.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering....I know you by heart

This weekend, I am reminded of so many of my patients. Now that I have stepped back from my life in Boston, in our new home over two thousand miles away, I seem to be able to better reflect upon the years I spent as a hospice nurse. Many of the patients I cared for suddenly have been coming back to me in my memory. I cannot list their names due to confidentiality issues, but I remember them all. So many beautiful, lovely people. Many way too young. Many older as well, but who still had so much to give.

One woman in particular, I will call her E, died on my birthday. I will never, ever forget her And not just because she died on my birthday. She was simply remarkable. She was remarkable for her strength and her unrelenting courage.  I remember going to her home the day she died. She asked me what day it was. "March 20th," I answered. She said to me, "Is it spring?  I want to make it to spring." Yes, I told her. It was indeed the first day of spring.  She died peacefully several hours later. I remember leaving and going to my car and being just so angry. So damn angry that all of these people had to go way before their time. Not just E, but so many others as well.  It just seemed so unfair to me.  This loss.  This tremendous loss.

I had one patient, a firefighter, whom I just adored. He had renal cancer, but at one point, he rallied.  He seemed to be getting better. It was like a miracle. I visited that home twice a week, for almost a year. Then he declined.  I remember calling his MD, frantic. The MD was quite amazed he had lived this long and was not surprised.  He asked me what I had been doing, as clearly he saw no other explanation for this patient outliving his grim two month prognosis.  I think the MD thought I was nuts.  The guy was on hospice, for goodness sakes. I just didn't want him to die. He was living his life with his wife and grown sons and grandchildren and he was just a great guy. And just that past week they had  had a huge birthday party for him. But he died one night after waking up feeling like he couldn't breath.  The night nurse was there with him. I wish I could have been there. I miss him. I do.  And I hoped against hope that he would somehow pull through and have more time. But he was robbed, just like so many others.

I miss so many of the  people that I took care of. When you enter someone's life at the end of their life, all the nonsense strips away and you are left with just a real person. You know them quickly. They know and learn to trust you as well.  They let you see them in what is a very intimate, raw time. There is a connection no matter how briefly you attend to them.

Some nurses do not get the connection.  Everyone is different. But I felt a connection almost, I would say, 100% of the time. It is true. I cannot explain it. But I felt it.

One patient I fondly remember was a chef. She had a cooking show on cable TV.  I met her on only one weekend, but I will never, ever forget her. She was the matriarch of the family. Her husband and two adult sons were clueless on how to care for her.  You could tell that she always did everything for them.

 I went to her home to admit her to hospice on a Saturday morning and she asked me to not leave her alone with them. "They don't know what to do.  I am scared."  So I spent most of the day with her, going to see other patients, but then returning. She was a lovely woman.  She had been battling cancer for some time, but now it was everywhere. Her last MRI showed it around her heart, and so her MD told her to prepare and to sign onto hospice.

I remember sitting in her elegant bedroom. She had made it a haven. I sat in a beautiful chair next to her bed and we talked. Mostly about cooking and she told me a story about how she once met Julia Child. Her son came upstairs and laid on the bed next to her and fell asleep as we chatted. It was a cool autumn day, the perfect day to hang out and nap. It would have seemed like an ordinary day.  Except of course it wasn't.

I went back the next morning early.  She was declining quickly.  I stayed most of the day.  She knew she was dying and asked me to hold her hand. I gave her medication to ease the anxiety and she was able to sleep.  I stayed.  She died that afternoon. The sons and husband did not have a clue what to do. So I told them to sit on the bed with her and tell stories, which they did.  They told many stories about fun times.  She seemed so peaceful lying there, listening. Then her breathing changed, and she passed away quietly. Elegantly. Just like she lived.

I could go on and on with so many stories. I may tell more on another day. The memories seem to want to come out now. They are all truly etched in my heart.

I will never forget them. And I miss them all.

The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

~~~ Lois Lowry, The Giver

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues

“I did not know how to reach him, how to catch up with him... The land of tears is so mysterious.”

~~~~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

We are not allowed to be sad anymore. Sadness is now equated to depression which is equated to a medical condition that somehow must be treated.  Usually with medication.

It used to be okay to be sad. To feel bad about losing something or someone. It was once okay to sit and cry and be alone.  Most of us got over it by doing this. Sometimes it lasted for days, this overwhelming sadness.  But we leaned into our grief and found that it was not so empty, it lifted us back up and we went on.

Not so much anymore. You are not allowed to cry anymore. No one wants to see it, hear it or be around it.  It is like we are somehow supposed to be happy 24/7, and if we are not happy, then at least we should be content.

The problem with that is no one is always happy. And it is a strain to have to pretend. And that strain leads to more sadness, and it goes on and on.

Some people are really truly, clinically depressed.  They may have a chemical imbalance that leads them to medical treatment and psychotherapy.  They get much needed help and many get better.  Some continue to be depressed, but it becomes more manageable.

But the majority of people are not depressed.  They are situationally sad, have the blues, feel "out of sorts."  Medicine may not help these people. They may be sad because a relationship broke up, or someone they loved has died. They may be sad because they are not finding anything that makes them happy, be it a job, a hobby or a friend. Or, they may just be sad for no particular reason that they can place their finger on.

But these people are not depressed.  I am tired of hearing people, who are clearly not depressed, telling me how depressed they are.

"I am so depressed. They just took my favorite show off the air." Really?  Depressed?  How about disappointed or maybe even sad. But not depressed.

We bandy the word depressed around too much.  I think we need to change that.  Too many people are starting to believe they are truly depressed when they are not.  Many, in fact, are taking medication for a problem that does not exist for them. Antidepressants are the number one prescribed medication in this country. And we are not talking about adults only here.  Many children have been misdiagnosed and now have a label of depression attached to them.  That in itself is sad.

Why is it no one is allowed to be sad anymore? When we see someone sad, why do we automatically try to cheer them up?  Why can't we just be present with the sadness? What is it that makes us so uncomfortable around it.

After my mom died and I was standing at her grave after the funeral service and crying, a friend walked up to me and said, "Are you okay?"  I turned to look at her, tears streaming down my face and she looked bewildered.  She said to me, "I guess you are not okay."  Then she didn't know quite what to do, so she said, "Lets find something to cheer you up."  Cheer me up? My mother just died. Why was it not okay for me to be sad?

I think this is what is making people more stressed out, and, interestingly, more sad; this incessant need for us to always show a happy face. It is virtually impossible to be happy all of the time.  It is not natural. It is a curse and and a strain.  We need our sad time.  Our blues. Our melancholy. They are part of who we are. It is okay to stay home and cry once in awhile. Life is hard. We must allow ourselves the ability to own that and weep. Embracing our sadness can be empowering and beneficial to our health. There should be no stigma attached to occasionally having the blues.

Don't wish it away

Don't look at it like it's forever
Between you and me
I could honestly say
That things can only get better

And while I'm away
Dust out the demons inside
And it won't be long
Before you and me run
To the place in our hearts
Where we hide

And I guess that's why
They call it the blues........

“We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness.
By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sadness.”
~~~David Weatherford

“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”
~~~Jim Morrison

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
~~~Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What death has taught me about change

Change.  Sometimes change is for the good.  Sometimes not. Some say that everything changes. Some say, things always seem the same. I guess it is all the way you view it, or at least, want to view it.

Lately, I have experienced a lot of change. Moving from the Boston area to Utah. Letting go of my hospice job that I loved for seven years. Leaving my daughter's school, her friends and the comfort of knowing everyone at her small school for the past 7 years. Leaving friends, certain favorite places that were once part of who I am.  Leaving my brother and his family who lived only 30 minutes away.  Letting go of my backyard flock of chickens (harder than I thought).

Change always brings loss. Even good changes. But loss is inevitable in life. Many try hard to avoid loss; they become rigid and try to control everything because loss is too overwhelming. But loss finds them anyway. No one can escape it.

Death brings the ultimate loss.  I have witnessed it over and over again. The loss of a lifetime of memories to come.  The loss of companionship. The loss of the familiar sounds and smells that we all know. It brings the loss of tradition, hard as we try to maintain it.  It means the loss of ourselves in so many ways.

So, smaller losses, to me, are not all that meaningful.  Sure, leaving a home and a place you love is not a small loss, and indeed it can be quite overwhelming. But you take your life with you and create new memories and maybe even grow a bit. Smaller losses should be seen and felt and comforted for sure.  But they are not the end. Not like death. And that is what I have learned.

Death is it. It is the game changer, the end game. We can pretend it won't affect us, but it will.  It does not discriminate, so you may lead a healthy, good and clean life and death will get you anyway.  It is unfair.  It is cruel. But accepting that you are going to one day die frees you in a way that allows you to really, finally live.  When you accept that this is it, this is really all there is, and that what you see is what you get, then life's little or big changes can be tolerated with less of an impact.

I wanted to curl up in a ball in my bed when I realized we had to move. It was so overwhelming. Selling two houses, moving away from family and friends, yanking my daughter out of her best year in 7th grade when she was an honor student and happy, letting go of my dream of living in New Hampshire or Vermont one day. And especially giving up my job.

But once death said to me, 'this is nothing,' I knew that I was being silly.   Death will tell you things if you only listen.  It tells you to go on, live while you can. Experience it all; the good and the bad.  Learn to comfort yourself and do not look to others, for you will die alone, be prepared. I know this sounds like doom and gloom, but actually, if you think about it, it is life affirming. So, comfort yourself, cry a bit, but carry on. That is what death says to us. It is just that we don't listen.

So, knowing death has made my move easier. It has buffered me against the overwhelming urge to feel sorry for myself.   It allows me to move on and meet new people and move forward, even if the steps feel small at first. It says to me, it is okay to be unhappy, but you are certainly wasting time with all of that.  And that is true.

And so I stopped.  And I have decided to be happy. And it worked. And I am.

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.  ~Alice Walker

Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. ~Susan Ertz, Anger in the Sky

Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.
~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Monday, April 23, 2012

The wonder of you.

I'll guess I'll never know the reason why,
You love me like you do.
That's the wonder,
The wonder of you.

I heard this song the other day and it has been stuck in my head ever since.  I thought about the lyrics, how someone could love someone through it all, never questioning or criticizing, just loving.

I know it is meant as a love song. But that is not what I thought about as I listened. I instead thought about my daughter and wished that she could simply love herself that much.  That she could see the wonder of herself.

We all try to be good parents. We do. Some fall well short of the mark perhaps because of their own upbringing or a case of personality disorder, bordering on mental illness.  They may mean no harm, but do plenty. And some are just downright mean and nasty and abusive.  I feel awful for those kids.

But most of us do our best and love our kids. We may make mistakes. We may push too hard.  Perhaps we don't push hard enough. But our kids seem to thrive and smile and have some fun, so we think all is well.

Until they grow up.  Then we see things that bother us. Perhaps they are depressed or anxious.  Or have gone against everything we taught them and turned away from values that we cherish.  They may have strayed too far into drugs or alcohol. They may have fallen in love with someone who we just simply don't get. They may turn away completely. They may even harm themselves.

All of these things happen. I hear it from parents who have adult children more than I wish  I did. And I must tell you, it frightens me.

We recently relocated to Utah from Massachusetts. Our only child, a seventh grader, is not thrilled with the move. Like, being a girl in middle school wasn't torture enough. We had to go and plunk her into a new middle school and a new home and far, far away from everything she has known all her life.  I know, many people have moved as kids. And they survived.  Some may even think  it was something that made them a much stronger individual.  And I am sure that that is true in many cases. But I still worry.

We all know what we want for our kids. We want them to be happy.  But what does happy really mean? For me, it means this song. Understanding the wonder of yourself and really loving yourself, warts and all. And I think that most of us have a really hard time doing that and instilling that in our kids. But that is the best gift we can give them. To try to make them see that.  The wonder of themselves.

How to do that is the question. And can we even do that? We can certainly love and show our love. Studies have shown that having just one strong connection in a young life makes a person feel good about themselves. But I have seen many parents who have seemingly given it all and still, issues exist and it is terrifying for the parent to realize that something is wrong.  That their child just simply does not love who they are, who they have become.

Learning to love ourselves is really the best thing that we can do. How many times do you look into the mirror and see only the flaws?  How many times can a simple ridiculous comment from a person who doesn't even know us, throw us off kilter and make us question our worth? And why do we do this?  Why do we let this happen? And how can we stop it and appreciate the wonder of our own selves?

If only I knew.

I do know this; that we need to be more aware of what we say and do around our kids. Especially tweens and teens who are now teetering on the edge of adulthood.  They need to understand certainly that we love them.  But more importantly, we need to help them understand that they must love themselves.  And we should never, ever undermine that. That is the protection they really need.  Self love. It is just as important as placing them in a car seat or having them wear a helmet while riding a bike.

I think we worry too much about what our kids eat, what their grades are,what they look like and making sure they obey the rules we set.  We need to seek beyond that and build up their self worth, their self love.

They truly are a wonder. They just need to know.

We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.
~Roderick Thorp, Rainbow Drive

If I am not for myself, who will be?
 ~Pirke Avoth

Always act like you're wearing an invisible crown.
~Author Unknown

Monday, February 27, 2012

The memory of you.

Now, when I remember spring,
And all the joy that love can bring.
I will be remembering
The shadow of your smile......

Memories. Some say that it is the glue that makes up our whole entire lives. I know that we all have good ones and bad ones, happy and sad ones.  Memories that make us blush, make us smile and laugh out loud, make us fearful and some that even make us weep at night.  And we cannot avoid them or always keep them at bay.  They seem to have a life of their own.

I was caught up in my own memories recently.  We are moving. A big move; all the way across the country. And one would seem to think that my memories are fond ones that I have had of my life here in New England and the heartbreak of leaving it all behind.

But the move isn't inspiring those types of memories.  Those will come later, long after the ties have been severed.  The memories that my move are evoking live much, much closer to my heart.

Sorting through the stuff that makes up your life can really stop you cold in your tracks. Many do not want to move for that very reason.  Dredging up the past like that is daunting. I understand all of that now.

Going through all those memories reminded me of how much I miss so many people. I do. I just wish I could  have coffee with my mom again. To sit in that comfortable spot right next to the window and chat just like we used to. I miss her so much. There is so much to tell her. And my dad, too. We used to have lunch every week. I miss that. Time does not heal that or make me want it less. It just doesn't.

Funny, too, how we try to hold onto certain memories in odd ways without really knowing that we do it. For example, I had a lovely uncle named Joe.  He was my mother's youngest brother. He was always in our lives growing up.  A second father. A great man. He died way too young from a horrible cancer at age 62. He left us all bereft.

In his living room, he always had this big exercise bike. I would go to his house and sit on it and pedal it slowly all the while telling him about my latest youthful misadventure.  And he always sat there listening gently and offering his support.  God, how I loved him. 

So, after he died, I took the bike. I never really used it.  It mostly sat in the basement. I never used it as any type of shrine and quite honesty, I never paid much attention to it at all. Until now. Now, I had to decide what to purge for the move. And this was hard for me. To get rid of that bike. Somehow, it connected me to a past that I never wanted to see end. I struggled.  But I knew it had to go.

I finally put an ad on Craigslist and said it would be free to a good home. Instantly, my email filled up with dozens of messages. I was stunned. I finally gave it to a nice man in another town who came to pick it up the other day. He just walked in and took my memory. I even called out, "Goodbye bike." It was rather pitiful, if I do say so myself. Then I went to bed and cried.

I didn't cry for the bike. Good grief, my uncle would be laughing at me for even keeping it this long.  I cried because I miss him.  I really just miss him. His death left a hole in my heart that no one can ever fill.  And sometimes having things that we can touch, no matter how silly it may seem, allows us to still be with someone long gone. Foolish I know. But real none the less.

I think that is what is wrong with many of us, especially as we start to lose people to death or to moves or to changes in schools or workplaces. A piece of us stays back there. We miss who we were back then. But we don't grieve. We just merely soldier on and pretend it all doesn't matter.

And then one day we let go of something small, or hear a song or see a face that reminds us.  And we are filled with a melancholy, a feeling of sorrow, a sadness that envelopes us that we may not be able to understand. And we don't know what to do. So we fill up the hole with distractions, or medications or exercise or even prayer.  And we get through it somehow. We have no other choice.

So, the memories stay with me.  Many I have packed up for the long journey to our new home.  They are part of who I am and without them I would certainly be a different me, I know that. 

Some say that memories of those no longer here comfort you.  That you can "let go" and have closure and feel better just for having known them and blah, blah, blah.  I don't know.  I think that is just crap. I think that it is okay to miss people we love.  I think you never, ever really get over losing a piece of your life. And I think that it is okay to visit it once in awhile and allow yourself to grieve for the loss. And I further believe if we did more of that then anti-depressants wouldn't be the most prescribed drug in the market today. But, I digress.

So, let yourself grieve. Even over something as stupid as an exercise bike.

That bike. That damn, stupid wonderful old bike. Gone now. Off to a new life.

Just like me.

And just like you, Uncle Joe. And mom and dad and all the others.

God, I miss you.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night.  I miss you like hell. 
~Edna St Vincent Millay

Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us.
~Oscar Wilde, "The Importance of Being Earnest"

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
~Khalil Gibran

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wise words from Maya Angelou....

Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.

Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.

Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.

From her book, Letter to My Daughter.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The quick, the dead and the judged.

I don't know about you, but I have Whitney fatigue.  Not her music, I will always love that.  Just the fact that she was not even cold yet and they, the self appointed judge and jury, started with the speculations on what killed her. Of course, it was all her fault.  She was to blame. Fingers were firmly pointed.  After all, she was an admitted drug user. Let the slaughter of her character begin.

The same has held true for many young celebrities that have died.  Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Amy Winehouse.  All killed by their own stupidity, or so it would seem.  Good gossip fodder.  Quite entertaining.

And some would say that they deserve to be talked about. After all, they lived in the public eye, so we have every right to talk. And I guess that is true,

But how about the folks we judge that are not in the public eye. Our neighbors, friends and family members. How quick are we to judge them when they die?

Here is the answer.  Very.

I have been around a lot of deaths. And I have heard so many conversations surrounding those deaths.  From family members, to friends and even medical professionals that tried their hardest to save the person's life. And they all are quick to do the same thing, judge.  And blame. 

"I told her to have that lump checked out sooner. If only she would have listened to me,"
"She never followed the treatment protocol. She was non-compliant."
"Did you see how much junk food he would eat?  I told him he would kill himself eating all that junk.  And he did."
"She didn't have a helmet on.  How stupid was that."
"She always drove way too fast."
"I told him to stop smoking years ago."

And on and on it goes. The dead person is always to blame. Except for young kids, the one exception.  Then the blame shifts to the parents. But I digress.

We always try to find some way that the dead person is to be blamed for, well, being dead. Come on, you know we all do it. Even when we read about total strangers who died in a car accident, we wonder if they were driving erratically, didn't have a seatbelt on, etc.  Then we say, 'tsk, tsk' it was their own damn fault.  

Why we do this is easy to understand.  We use blame like a talisman. If we can blame them for their own death, then we somehow protect ourselves from death because we would never be quite that stupid.

It is not that we are trying to be disrespectful to the dead. We are not. But everyone fears death and the more we can distance ourselves from it, the safer we feel.  And wouldn't that be nice if it were only true.

But we all do stupid things every single day. We do. We have just been lucky so far. Unfortunately, for folks like Whitney, their luck finally ran out. And they suffered the ultimate price.

So, next time you are quick to judge, stop yourself for a moment. And instead of casting blame, think about how lucky you are instead. And be sorry that they are gone and be happy that you are still here, for whatever reason, and let it go at that.

Most of us can read the writing on the wall; we just assume it's addressed to someone else.
~Ivern Ball

A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own.
~Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

The death of someone we know always reminds us that we are still alive - perhaps for some purpose which we ought to re-examine.
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why we just don't like Mitt.

I know.  I am a hospice nurse.  I probably don't have the qualifications to be writing about politics on my blog.  But I am a 'people' observer.  And people vote. As do I.  So, in that regard, I am never-the-less going to tell you my spin on why we don't like Mitt Romney.

First off, how do we decide if we like people anyway. First impressions, right?  Sometimes we are wrong and judge people superficially, but many times our first gut reaction is accurate.  We can usually tell instantly whether or not we click with someone. Sometimes, further down the road, we realize our mistake; but many times we are 100% on.

So, what do people think when they see Mitt.  They see this well coiffed, expensively dressed, fit man with a beautiful wife by his side. They know he has been a Governor. They know he is really, really rich. They know he has a son named Tagg. (really, Tagg?)  There are 4  other sons with normal names, but Tagg is the one we know. And they know he put his dog on the roof of his car for a family vacation in Canada.

Okay, let's see. What do we know about his political policies. Well, there's a problem there. We don't.  When he was Governor, he was a moderate.  Now he is trying to be a conservative. So what will he be next?  Stay tuned.

And then there are the stupid gaffes. The one about a ten thousand dollar bet. The one where he says he doesn't care about the poor. The stupid pic of him putting Tide into a washer. Not good.

So, what is it we like about other guys who became president? Like George Bush for example.  Well, he was a C student, we knew his mom, he wasn't that great looking and he talked kind of dumb. And we bought it.  He was elected. He wasn't the best president, but hindsight is 20/20, plus people felt they could have a beer with him.

And therein lies the problem.

No one is going to have a beer with Mitt. No one would even want to.  What would you talk about?  Sports? Stanford? Prep schools? His six houses? Why, we don't even know if he plays a sport, an instrument or has a hobby. He just seems like a stiff guy who has no buddies to hang out with on a Saturday night.

Obama is cool. He sings. He is articulate. He is not perfect and perhaps many do not agree with his policies, but overall, he seems like a really nice guy.

And Mitt does not. So, what can Mitt do to turn the tide, to make us like him.  Hmmm, not sure. But I think it could start by him just being himself. Admitting that, yes, he is rich.  That he grew up rather privileged. That he did indeed put his beloved dog on the roof and that he is sorry for that.  Maybe he should create a special fund for homeless dogs dedicated to Seamus.  Maybe he should share some stories about when his life faltered. When he felt alone or sad or disappointed.

 He should put his wife out there more, she is much more likable.  Perhaps share stories about how Tagg was teased because of his peculiar name. You know he was. And perhaps Mitt should stay true to his beliefs and not let the polls determine how he feels and what he should say.

Then there is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Mitt is a Mormon.  We don't like to talk about it, but we all know it. Now, I have met many Mormons and they are all really nice. But in America, we really are most comfortable with three religions; Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. Any other religion or belief just seems odd to us and makes us uncomfortable. And that is just the truth. I am not saying it is right. It just is.

So, perhaps Mitt should just rip the lid on that as well.  Talk about what it is like to belong to a minority religion, one that people seem to think is cult-like.  Maybe talk about what it was like as a missionary when he was young and idealistic.

 Perhaps he should also share the things that really make him happiest. People like to be around happy people. And Mitt just doesn't seem genuinely happy to me. Not at all.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.

Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it's dark.
~Zen Proverb

But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?
~Albert Camus

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Think Pink? The great Komen debate.

We see them all of the time, almost everywhere we go. They have become part of the normal landscape.  They are emblazoned on hats, tee shirts, mugs, water bottles, even my golf bag has one.  Every time we see one we are humbled; it reminds us of cancer and those fighting cancer.  We wear them with pride to show our support against breast cancer.  We walk.  And we donate money.  Lots of it.

But where is our money really going?  As this week has pointed out, none of us really know. The Komen Foundation, started in the early 80's by the sister of a young cancer patient, has grown into one huge corporation.  That sister that wanted to stop breast cancer now oversees a company that has made billions of dollars.  And she treats herself to an annual salary of 500K per year, plus perks.

I won't go into details nor get into a discussion of whether the Komen Foundation made a bad decision to stop funding for Planned Parenthood to conduct breast exams for low-income women or not.  The media has all that information and you can read the back and forth fighting about this on your own.

The good news about this is that it has people thinking.  It has them thinking about where the money goes when they make contributions to organizations that claim to be fighting for a cure of a horrible disease.

True, this organization funds breast cancer research. But you have to apply for these grants and not everyone gets one. It becomes political. And then the Komen Foundation decided that it would brand the word cure and no other organization that raised money to help cancer patients could use that in their name.  Small organizations that wanted to help people directly were sued by Komen. Power does that.  It makes you big enough to crush the little guy.  And they did.

I am not against pink ribbons. I think however that it has become a marketing brand instead of an altruistic nod to helping. And that is why so many of us in the medical field would never wear pink.

If you really want to help those women with breast cancer or help prevent it, make your donations to small organizations in your own community. The ones that offer support directly to the patient. Or help people in your own neighborhood by offering help directly.  Most patients feel isolated and alone and would never ask for help. You can find a list of people who need help from your local parishes, schools, senior centers.  But many know simply by word of mouth.

One of the best stories I heard was of a women diagnosed with late stage breast cancer who was an avid gardener. But she became quite ill during her treatment and was unable to maintain her garden. So word got out and one mom got a girl scout troop and a bunch of moms together and they went over and weeded her garden and planted annuals.  They just did it on Saturday morning.  The moms took turns watering the garden every week. Over time, people added even more plants. One donated a bench so that the patient could sit outside. This once isolated, lonely, sick patient now had a stream of people caring for the one thing she loved the most and that brought her joy. The garden bloomed and so did so many hearts.

It doesn't take billions of dollars to help cancer patients. It just takes a bit of time and effort. It is nice to write a check or walk for a cause, it does feel good to think you are helping. But doing is so much better.

I highly recommend it.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
~Anne Frank

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
~William James

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.
~Dr. Seuss

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
 ~Mother Teresa

Sunday, January 15, 2012

OMG.... Shut Up Already: Part 2

A few years back I was sitting in a hair salon waiting to have my hair blown dry. As I was sitting there waiting, I overheard two women having a very loud conversation about their moms.  One was complaining bitterly how she had to call her mom every other day because otherwise her mom would hound her about why she had not called.  The other woman rolled her eyes and said, "I know. Isn't it annoying that they continue to treat us like we were still kids.  I am having lunch with my mother tomorrow and I am so dreading it.  Next thing you know she will be asking me to go shopping with her as well." 

They continued on and on but I did not hear them anymore. My thoughts had turned inward and I found myself in tears. You see, my mom had just passed away about a month prior to that conversation and I would have done anything to have her hound me or invite me to lunch. Those women just didn't know how lucky they were to have someone who loved them and wanted to be with them. And they also did not realize the impact their loud complaints could have on others.

People complain too much. They complain about things that are plain silly.  I think that some of them would  not have a single thing to say if it were not for constant complaining. And they complain loudly and for all to hear. They impose their morose sense of the world onto others who cannot avoid the onslaught.

The weather's too cold; it is too hot.  I wish summer were here; I cannot stand these kids home anymore.  I cannot wait for fall; God I hate raking leaves.  I wish it would snow; Boy, I hate shoveling. Let's go to a movie; can you believe how much popcorn costs?  I wish I could go to a party; My God it is so noisy here and I have a headache and the food stinks. I love going to weddings; did you see what she registered for?  I cannot wait to get away to the beach; can you believe all the traffic and crowds? The sun is too bright....WHAT! 
We go on and on and on. We take a pleasure and turn it into a joyless event by our or someone else's endless complaining.  We all do it. And we all need to learn to simply just shut up. 

And I am not saying that many do not have good reasons to complain.  But come on. No one wants to hear your endless banter. My hospice patients have complained less. And they have real problems. Seriously.

What ever happened to being polite? Or to being gracious? Why must we always have to tell everyone our feelings every single moment we are feeling them? Is it the "me generation" that started all of this? You know, the generation that never knew a world where duty came before self? The ones that believe that the needs of the individual come first?

We seem to  live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when people have more freedom and independence than ever before, but are also far more depressed, anxious, cynical, and lonely.  And who do they blame for this sad state of affairs? Well, they blame a lot of people, but not themselves.  Goodness no.  So they complain loudly and bitterly and for all of us to hear.

And I just don't want to hear it anymore.

So please. Just. Stop.

And where does all of this complaining take us anyway? Does it really make us feel better to unload it onto others? Does it help us to see things more clearly and to better ourselves?  I think we all know the answer to that. It doesn't.  And as a matter of fact, I think it makes us all the more miserable and isolated at best.

We have become a nation of complainers. We complain about the bad foods available, but still purchase and eat them. We complain about too much sex and violence on TV, but watch the shows anyway. We complain we are too lonely, but complain about the people we might be close to. We complain about our politicians, but vote them in anyway. We complain that we are too fat, too bored, too busy or too stressed, but we stop there, like somehow simply complaining about it will make it all either go away or be alright. And neither turns out to be the case.

We need to start doing more and complaining less. We need to learn once again the fine art of conversation that includes talking about things that are of relevance instead of simply airing our dirty laundry. We need to learn to steer a conversation away from the negative and onto the positive. And we need to set better examples of good behavior for our kids.

So next time you are talking with a group of friends, co-workers or family, pay attention to how much complaining goes on. And try to stop yourself from doing it. See if you can be the one to rise above the fray.

It will make everyone's day just a little bit brighter.

There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. 
~~Edith Wharton

When you consistently maintain a positive frame of mind, you’ll become known as a problem-solver rather than a complainer. People avoid complainers. They seek out problem-solvers.
~~ Joseph Sommerville

The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks.
~~Randall Jarrell

In the past few years, I have come to believe that you truly manifest your own reality. Positive energy breeds positive energy and if we continue to recruit positive we can outnumber and overtake the negative. Everyday I continue to strive to grow and learn as a person and struggle to keep my ego in check. Along the way it's important to remember to deeply love and forgive yourself, stay humble and take responsibility for your own life and live it, love it... passionately and furiously."

~~ Aimee Moss

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Welcome 2012

                                  New Beginnings
                                                   by Gertrude B. McClain

It's only the beginning now
...a pathway yet unknown
At times the sound of other steps
...sometimes we walk alone

The best beginnings of our lives
May sometimes end in sorrow
But even on our darkest days
The sun will shine tomorrow.

So we must do our very best
Whatever life may bring
And look beyond the winter chill
To smell the breath of spring.

Into each life will always come
A time to start anew
A new beginning for each heart
As fresh as morning dew.

Although the cares of life are great
And hands are bowed so low
The storms of life will leave behind
The wonder of a rainbow.

The years will never take away
Our chance to start anew
It's only the beginning now
So dreams can still come true.