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Twice the Grief

I’ve heard the phrase, dead beat dad and understand the urban term’s definition of ‘one who deliberately avoids paying debts’. Recently, for the first time, I read about a dead beat daughter in an article written about the (possible) legal responsibility of adult children to help care for their elderly parents. Although, morally, most adult children do step in when their aging parents are in need (because they know their parents took care of them) some do not.

 
For several months I’ve witnessed my elderly neighbor grieving the loss of her husband of 39 years. The journey began after my boyfriend rushed him to the ER the first time. We took her to see him at the local hospital, then the one he’d been transferred to by helicopter, then eventually to a Hospice facility. She’s had a few neighbors, her doctor, pharmacist and some out-of-town family and friends reach out with condolences and acts of service since his death. Each card, letter, phone call and gift surfaced heartfelt tears as she shared all of them with me.

 
My boyfriend and I have helped her in dozens of ways. While she spent days and nights by his bedside at Hospice, we took care of her cats, brought her food, got the mail, checked the house – just the things neighborly people do. But soon after his death, she needed help with sorting bills, taking care of insurance, social security benefits, the car lease, even meeting with the lady from the crematory. There have been doctor appointments, prescription pick-ups, grocery shopping, and waiting-room endurance tests at the social security office. We’ve made phone calls to utilities, banks, insurance companies, pest controllers, plumbers and credit card companies. Until her washing machine is repaired, her laundry is being washed at our house (and the confetti of tissues found in it is a reminder of her broken heart).

 
She endures her own physical limitations and health issues requiring daily medications. Recently, she battled two bouts of week-long viruses. Without the soup, ginger ale, Gatorade, crackers, cough drops, etc. we gave her, I don’t know if she would’ve recovered.

 

[I do not list these things to gain any thanks, recognition or applause, whatsoever, but only to illustrate the many variety of needs she has had to deal with -without the help of family, namely, a daughter who lives less than 30 minutes away).

 
My dear neighbor has wept — no, she’s sobbed in my arms wondering what her future holds without him. And while she grieves his death, she also grieves the absence of her daughter. I am not here to judge. I only desire to convey the need, the importance and the responsibility of family. A conflict over money, I’m told, is the root cause and the reason for this three year separation. And I wonder, how many more years must my neighbor endure being alone? What will it take for her daughter to put the past aside and enter her mother’s life again in a meaningful, consistent and vulnerable way? One would think his death would have been enough.

 
Since he passed in November, we’ve watched her struggle through the loneliness of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years by herself. The Christmas carols made her cry but with determination we dragged out the decorations together, moved the living room furniture around and put up ‘their’ tree. She reminisced about the ornaments and how/when they acquired each one, explaining their sentiment to me because I am just a neighbor of 14 months. I am not family. I’ve heard a lot about the family but I have no roots or history or memories of those ornaments or their lives. Only family has that privilege. And though I’ve grown to love this woman and am glad to have come alongside her, I can’t help but think of her daughter, son-in-law, and her teenage grandchildren who are missing out on these precious moments and who all could be the best support system she could have – and the one she truly desires.

 
She has her good and bad days. I know this because I check in on her every single day either through text, phone or in person. I hear about her sleepless nights and how she still sometimes calls his name out loud. I know her cats pace the hallway, meowing at times as though they are looking for him. I know which day of the month she receives her social security. I know her banker’s name and how many accounts she has. I know that she enjoys my boyfriend’s pumpkin pie and homemade flan. I know she likes cottage cheese and fruit, eggnog, Pepperidge Farm bread and the pizzelles my mother taught me how to make. I know how many prescriptions she takes, where her doctor’s office is and am now on a first-name basis with the pharmacy techs. I know she still glances across the living room where his old recliner sat in the corner and I remember the day she asked us to get it out of the house and to the curb.

 
She has mustered up enough inner strength to move forward, gradually, each day and on a good day, with surprising humor. But on a bad day, fear, frustration, grief and loneliness pour out from her heart like the tears pouring from her tired eyes. Admittedly, at times I find myself tossing and turning a bit thinking about her life, her love and her loss. And I wonder, does her daughter lose sleep, too?

 
The decorations still need to come down. She’s done what she can but needs (my) help to finish and we will finish this week. She still has much to take care of, though. His clothes are still in the closet. Their office is full of files that only he managed. There is still a pest problem. The house is in need of a deep clean. A plumber needs to come by. And I’ve got to go to work. Thankfully, work is only ten minutes away and coincidentally, just a few business doors down from her daughter’s place of employment.

 
In the meantime, each passing day is gone forever. Family relationships suffer, longing hearts ache and unanswered questions haunt. I write not to condemn, but to communicate and caution the unforgiving about the heartache they impose on others, the pain of regret they willingly place upon their future self and the (poor) example they unashamedly display to their own impressionable children. Life is too short to remain apathetic. It is too difficult to endure alone and it is too unpredictable to wait. The time for reconciliation is now.

grieving dead and alive

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Good News > Bad News

Bad news happens. That’s a fact. But good news happens too. Remember today (and every day) though it will not be headlining mainstream media, positive, happy and heartwarming moments take place, like confetti falling softly, blowing gently, the good stuff in life hasn’t halted. If only our eyes could see, then our minds and spirits would light(en) up like the heart-shaped affirmations dancing across a live Facebook broadcast. Be encouraged.
Close your eyes tonight knowing good deeds, kind acts, sweet words, friendly smiles, neighborly waves, scheming surprises, popping questions, rescued pets, favorite meals, winning teams, passing grades, faithful promises, generous tippers, studious graduates, successful potty trainers, new arrivals, met deadlines, delivered bouquets, fresh starts, needed closure, granted promotions, high fivers, good Samaritans, returning soldiers, sacrificial teachers, first kissers, disciplined finishers, acceptance letters, paid in fullers, traffic yielders and even Yahtzee game winners 😉 happen every day. And if you had a small part in any of the good stuff in life today, lie your head down in peace. You are not alone.
There are millions like you, working hard, while mindful of others and helping those within your reach. Humility (and a lack of good-news reporting) camouflages genuine folks like you making your efforts seem futile and your ‘kind’ extinct. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You and the millions before (and after) you, are the glimmer of hope, the faith in humanity, the encouraging cheer-leaders and the bright example of good newswhat makes this world go ’round. Whisper a prayer. Rise with hope. Shine, smile and carry on.

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Tomorrow is not Promised

You know how it feels when you pet a cat and it leans forward, into your hands, closing it’s eyes, pushing its head into your palm, purring a bit and wanting more? Or how a tired puppy or and old dog will eventually lay back and enjoy your soothing caress? I’ve learned a lot about the power of touch and the patience of silence during these last few weeks as our kind, friendly neighbor nears the end of his life. Perhaps the analogy is lighthearted but the reality for me is heart warming. Our dear neighbor Howard, lies in a Hospice bed tonight, heavily medicated but pain free and so responsive to my touch.

“Ah,” he said the other day, “that feels so good,” as I held his hand, stroked his forehead, caressed his arm. There was a time silence scared me and I felt compelled to break it somehow but Howard has taught me to wait, to be quiet, to listen closely, to touch softly and cherish each word as treasure.
Wincing eyes, deep breaths, raised arms, squeezing hands and intermittent words, between root-bear-float sips and my flood of (what I thought were silent tears), he softly utters, “Don’t cry.” While I wait through more silence, he opens his eyes and says, “Thank you (both) for being my friend,” then more silence, closed eyes, hand squeezing, more sips, deep breaths and finally, I tell him I spoke to his son the other day. “Tell my son he brought all the love in the world to me,”  without any hesitation. A half Kleenex box later and in what seemed to be a realm of ‘time standing still’, I finally whispered his name, leaned in close and made eye contact. I told him I loved him and I’d be back tomorrow. He mustered the strength to say, after more deafening silence, “any time with you is good”.
A few weeks ago he was picking up debris from Hurricane Irma, enjoying coffee brewed from our camp stove (during the 9 day power outage) and a French press he claimed “made the best, real coffee in the world.” But an ER visit, an ambulance ride, a helicopter transport, an emergency surgery and a terminal diagnosis led him to this Hospice bed. Cancer has ravaged its way through the most unsuspecting. It has cut short the relationships we thought would remain for decades. It has summoned tears we try hopelessly to conceal. It has caused hearts to reflect, souls to forgive and spirits dare to live boldly in their honor. But it has also caused regret, if-onlys and it’s-too-late-now realizations.
Those who should be closest to you, should be. Period. Chase after peace. Do everything in your power to remedy the relationships that are coming to your mind as you read this. No one ever gripped the hand of regret skipping happily into the future. Those words you said, apologize. The visit your pride keeps you from, swallow it. The unforgiveness your clinging to, release it, now, while there is time for reconciliation. Standing alongside the death bed of someone you love is difficult enough. Standing there with regret is even harder. Not standing there at all just doesn’t make sense. Read this and with a click of a button, dismiss it, call me a PollyAnna, (or worse) tell me I don’t understand, make accusations all you want or humble your hardened heart, embrace love and chase after reconciliation knowing that tomorrow is not promised, yesterday is gone and your someday is now.

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Make the world go away…make YOUR world a better place.

  1.  Turn off the TV – it’s likely the loudest, most invasive voice of negativity in your home.
  2. Go outdoors. Look up, around, far and wide. Look as far as your eyes can see. Take a mental picture of the beauty around you and know you are a part of it… another beautiful part of it. Remember this picture when feeling stressed or unable to sleep.
  3. Get to know your neighbor on a first name basis. Exchange phone numbers. Check in on them, no matter how awkward that may feel. It could be the beginning of a meaningful relationship.
  4. Help someone – a stranger, a co-worker, your hairdresser, a client, your busy, drive-through bank teller, the grocery bagger  –whoever is an ‘outside’ part of your life. One little gesture of kindness by you may be a life-long heartfelt memory for them.
  5. Sweep off your porch, sit a while, notice the view. Enjoy the silence. Sip a little something. Hang some wind chimes, a bird feeder or a wind sock. Plant a pin-wheel flower in the ground and watch it whirl away. Make your space alive in some way.
  6. Light a scented candle in your living room. Watch it dance. Enjoy the aroma. Let the flame energize your space and enhance your senses.
  7. Listen to relaxing music, even if you’re not relaxing. Let it be the background mood- maker while your taking care of domestic duties. Allow it’s rhythm to guide you with peace and light-heartedness.
  8. Exercise. Put yourself out there, wherever it is and move. In motion there is life, and euphoria from endorphins, and health for the body, mind and spirit.
  9. Call “home” –wherever that might be, and say, “I love you, I thank you and I miss you.” Never withhold your sentiment. You may think they know you love them, but oh, what sweet affirmation it is to hear it just one more time from your lips.
  10. Do something creative. Paint, garden, write, cook, decorate, take photos or re-arrange the furniture. Change is good, beauty inspires and creativity energizes.
  11. Relax in a bubble bath, by candle light or linger longer in the shower singing your favorite tunes. Condition your hair with coconut oil. Massage your scalp. Buy a loofah and exfoliate your skin. Rejuvenate your body. You’ll feel better.
  12. Breathe slowly. Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat. This is especially helpful when you cannot sleep.
  13. Use the good china. No good china? Well, light a candle, dim the lights, choose ‘dinner’ music on Pandora and savor the moment as well as your meal – even if you are the only one at the dinner table. Allow your body to relax as your nourish it. Do not stress it out by watching nightly news while you eat.
  14. Wear the polka dot dress, or the tie dye shirt, or the dangly earrings or the crazy neck tie or those cowboy boots collecting dust in the back of your closet. Let your outfit spark some happiness.
  15. Pull out the yoga mat, lie down, stretch, breathe, relax and release worry, tension and fear in absolute quiet. Acknowledge the Divine with gratefulness and trust the direction you sense.
  16. Remember your happiest moments. Give thanks. Create more. Dare to create more.
  17. Got photos? Reminisce a while. Let the tears flow. Let the smiles surface. Let the heart direct your next move, your plan B, your ‘what if’ and your future memory.
  18. Look up at the stars, the clouds, the moon, even the rain. Feel it, acknowledge yourself in the midst of it, imagine life without it, give thanks for it.
  19. Sprinkle cinnamon, pumpkin-spice or nutmeg on your coffee grounds before brewing and sip with simple pleasure. Enjoy your morning Joe on the back porch, not in front of the day’s talk shows.
  20. Tie shiny ribbons on an oscillating fan and see how they dance for you. Let fans, music, flickering candles, aroma diffusers, houseplants, opened windows, breezy curtains and simmering pots, make your house alive.
  21. Eliminate excess stuff from your home and enjoy simplicity.
  22. Sleep naked. That’s all. Just sleep naked.

 

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Gaining Perspective Through the Eye of a Storm

Everyone enduring the last two weeks here in central FL with Hurricane Irma have stories, situations and scenarios. Though specifics may differ most of us are simply fatigued with decisions, disruptions and distress. We are spent, so to speak. That is, our budgets, our sleeplessness, our patience. Though we understand ‘it could be worse’, there is no denying we our uncomfortable and exhausted. Thousands are still without power (including Michael and I) Some are temporarily relocating and others have found themselves unemployed. Last night after working late, I stopped at the store for our elderly neighbors. The bread and water aisles are bare (still) again. Store clerks look tired. Freezer cases have thawed and ‘slippery when wet’ cones border their aisles.
Young parents are scrambling to find sitters since day-cares and schools are flooded or without power. Some are searching for lost pets. Today, a woman roamed our generator-deafening neighborhood calling for “Mocha”, her half blind, lost kitty. Yesterday, two of our neighbors crashed their cars short-cutting through a nearby development since our street was impassable. Mobile homes are unlivable. Cars have been crushed by fallen trees. Bodies are hot, sore and tired from raking, hauling and clearing debris. Simply sitting here typing, I feel the sweat beading up on my skin and the thought of our cold (only) shower is somewhat appealing.
Inconveniences challenge our ‘normal’. It’s one thing to be uncomfortable and quite another to endure greater suffering. Those facing life-threatening illness, hospital stays, incurable disease wish their only struggle was tree clean-up and power outages. I read daily reports of a friend battling serious post-surgery infections. I watch our neighbor endure pain knowing his cancer has returned. I’ve seen the tears in my co-worker’s eyes grieving the loss of her newborn. Perspective gives us the ability to gracefully endure the uncomfortable. It gives us the motivation to come alongside those hurting – to share supplies, cook a meal, watch their children or simply listen with compassion. I’ve heard some say how guilty they feel for not having suffered loss. Those who have need you. They need relief. They need to know they haven’t been forgotten. They need to know someone cares. Simple acts of kindness especially in troubled times makes a wilting heart bloom again, for both the giver and the receiver. Gain perspective whatever your situation so that your life and the lives of others in your sphere of influence can be blessed.

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I’m Not Emotional. It’s Not Hormonal. It’s …Hurricane-al!

It’s simply out of my control …the hurricane, the empty shelves, the gas shortage. I can’t control frantic drivers, rude shoppers or panicky procrastinators. I can’t prevent fallen trees, power outages or damaged property. And when the storm has finally passed, I am at the mercy of the power company, the roadway crews and clean-up management.

 
I can’t force neighbors to be neighborly, landlords to care or employers to understand. I can’t predict the safest place to park my car, the best room to hunker down or whether my sleeplessness will exaggerate irrational fears. I don’t know which trees will remain rooted, which might topple on the house or which might dive into the above ground pool creating a tidal wave our sliding glass doors could never contain. I can’t predict what might happen to ‘our’ feral cat or the elderly and sickly couple next door or those we dearly love in more dangerous and flood-prone areas.

 
The forecast is obvious, the scenario is typical, the possibilities are predictable but the exact outcome is unknown. The individual damage is still a mystery. The recovery time questionable. So much is out of my control, (and your control) and perhaps that is part of our stress (at least my stress) — the extent of unknown damage and the lack of ability to control it.
When uncertainty lingers; when warnings alarm; when darkness surrounds, I shall try to control the one and only thing I have control over – and that is the atmosphere of my mind.

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

 

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Happy Birthday Michael

I haven’t lived through it all with him but I know enough about him. He is a collection of risky and rebellious, coupled with sincerity and gratitude. He’s had ups and downs, highs and lows, success and uncertainty. He’s enjoyed riches and survived penniless. He’s seen rock-bottom, made some mistakes, took the hard road for a while but climbed out of life’s valley on the steps of mercy and lessons learned. He’s been positive and protective, generous and thoughtful, patient and determined.
He has wandered, returned, loved and lost. There were beginnings, endings, closed chapters and fresh starts. There was sorrow, uncertainty, grief and desperation, yet through it all, the years were punctuated with glorious hope, renewed strength, family blessings and a teachable heart. He is a result of everything that has transpired over the years and without regret gives thanks for it all for it has led him to become the man he is today.
Michael celebrates his 60th birthday August 23rd and many things about him make up the reasons why I love him . . . There is never any hesitation when it comes to his selfless giving. Rarely, do I hear a negative word from his lips about any thing or any one. He finds strength in solitude, beauty in nature and energy on barefooted trails. He has taught me by his own example to take care of myself and challenge my limits in order to survive and thrive each day.
He will endure just about anything for the sake of others except drama and negativity. The intolerance of such things reveals one way he protects, respects and cares for himself, for us, and the healthy, happy atmosphere he is determined to maintain. He welcomes fresh starts and clean slates without accusation, judgement or blame because he is all about celebrating today not wallowing in the past or casting shadows on the future.
He continues to learn new things, make new plans and go new places. His calm, no-worries outlook continues to challenge my fears and tame my wild imaginations. He reads, watches webinars, tries new recipes and seeks better habits, continually, leaving no time for TV in over ten years.
He cooks, bakes, washes dishes and laundry, mows, cleans the pool, gardens, fixes just about everything, shops for groceries and irons (yes, he irons).
He feeds the backyard birds and squirrels, keeps the neighborhood kitty coming back for breakfast and talks to reptiles like most people speak to adorable puppies. He gathers pine cones from his trail running for the pre-schooler’s arts and crafts. He keeps the favorite foods and drinks of others in the pantry just in case they come to visit. He’s territorial about ‘his’ kitchen and wishes there were two ovens for those ultra-eve baking marathons. (Then volunteers for those races, cheering others on for hours).
He wakes much earlier than I and though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, I think he’s doing Yoga on that mat in his office. He drinks green tea and smoothies but brings me coffee, in bed, every single morning. He happens to be a pretty good listener, too, though I don’t talk much (HA HA).
Michael is a kid at heart, which is the reason why little ones love to be around him. He’s found his passion and purpose working with the families and children society calls the poorest of the poor. He serves on a local board to advance early childhood reading and supports another community endeavor helping the homeless get back on their feet. He boasts about nothing, absolutely nothing. He knows a great deal more than he speaks and when he does he articulates well and communicates with sincerity.
He is not a perfect man (and will admit it). Just like everyone of us, he has degrees of tolerance, days of tiredness and occasional forgetfulness. But the man he is today, though imperfect, is genuine. What you see is who he is and who he is is a result of life’s experiences, lessons and choices. The man he is today is welcoming, fun, thoughtful and kind. He loves life and wakes each morning thankful for another sunrise and grateful to be alive.
For those of you who truly know him, you understand why he is so easy to love. Happy “60th” Birthday Michael. The world is a better place (and I am a better person) because of you.

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