Fly me to the moon

April 17th, 2014

I am in Kona, Hawaii. I landed late and was greeted by the blood moon in the night sky. What a thrill!  When I woke this morning at 6am and went out to the lanai, I was greeted by that very same moon setting over the ocean.

This is the first solo trip since Bill passed wherein I am not meeting up with any friends. I know no one on the island. Given that, it is somehow comforting to be staying in the vacation rental condo of dear friends. They’re not here but this home is a reflection of them. The neighbors are their friends and therefore can be counted on if I need them. Somehow all this helps.

I was thinking this morning about how weird it feels not to have someone to wrap my day around. There is me. People say, “This is your time. Be good to yourself,” and I wonder how to do that.  When Bill was ill, I spent a lot of time doing whatever I could to make his days easier. When my girls were growing up, I thought about their needs. Now that it’s my time, I guess the place to look for how to do it is to consider my modus operandi when it came to them.  How can I adapt what I so naturally do for others, to the needs of that person who looks back at me in the mirror every morning?

So my week on Kona (and I am here to write, not just to play) will be experimental. Every morning, when I sit down with my cup of tea, I will have pen and paper nearby and answer these two questions:

  1. “What will make your life easier today?”
  2. “At the end of the day, if you feel it’s been a good day, what will have happened?

I invite you to join me.  Let’s grow together. Let’s find out what it’s like to take care of our own needs as well as we do the needs of others. Some of you are far ahead of me in this process, others are where I am right now and still others are thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”  Wherever you are in the process, I invite you to get up ten minutes early each day to do this exercise.

It will be fun to see what happens.

Moping in Paradise

April 9th, 2014

There are few things sadder in life than someone who is living in the past, whether it’s an ex-football jock who peaked in college or parents who keep their children’s rooms exactly as they were, even though they are now grownups with children of their own.

I am writing this from paradise—the island of Kauai, where Bill and I shared some of our happiest times. Being here is an example of a mixed blessing. I feel closer to Bill here than anywhere else. I see him out on the ocean windsurfing and I look for his red helmet as he surfs the waves in his kayak. I picture him in one of his Aloha shirts (as he called them), smiling and holding court as he tells stories to our friends on the lanai of the house we once shared.

And I cannot help wondering if I am clinging to the past. Yes, I know it’s only been eight months since he died and I am “allowed” this indulgence but if it only takes three weeks to develop a new habit, what might eight months accomplish? I don’t want to live out my life like this; Bill wouldn’t want it either.

I teach and believe that you attract more of what you focus on and this period after Bill’s death is proving to be one of my biggest challenges to date. If this were back pain I am experiencing, what would be required to move forward is not surgery but an adjustment or two, like chiropractors do when they perform their magic. That’s because I know this pain is not chronic—unless, of course, I choose it to be.

If I can find a way to enjoy all my memories, then I know I will attract similarly happy times. But they will be new memories that don’t include Bill and therein lies the years of training for how we are supposed to grieve. I have had many people say to me, “It’s an individual thing. Everyone grieves differently,” and I know they are sincere when they say it. I also know that there exists, within our society, a certain protocol about how one should “be” after a loved one has died and it is attached to a timeline. If one is seen to be “moving on” too quickly, then they are deemed to be in denial, or not facing reality.

After my best friend Adele died in a car accident at age 17, our friends and I were out having pizza, sharing memories and finally laughing after two days of nonstop sobbing.  Another, older kid walked over to us and said, “How can you all sit here laughing when your friend is dead?” I felt shame. I have learned since then that what we were doing was healing and I’m sorry that we stopped because of one person’s lack of understanding.

There is a world of difference between, “I wish he were here,” and “Why did he have to go?” I know the former will come. My father died many years ago and there are times when I see a new, cool technological gadget, for example, that I think, “My Dad would have loved that,” with no twinge of pain attached to the thought.  Even now, I can share stories of Bill with friends and laugh with joy and no pain so I know it’s possible.

My friend Kathy who also lost her mate puts it this way:  the pain comes from “I’m not happy about this” (his death) and the choice is,  “I choose to be happy about this” (his life and what we shared.)

But first you must acknowledge that a choice exists.

I’ve been wrestling with this topic for a few days, as I generally do, trying to formulate what I want to write. A mentor of mine once said, “If you can’t get it down on paper, it’s not clear in your head,” and I have repeatedly found that to be true.

This morning, tea in hand, I went to sit on the beach and enjoy the morning with the ocean in my ears. That’s when the answer came. THIS is all that matters. This moment, this reality, this time…the gentle breeze on my face, the steady waves being pushed and pulled by the moon, the sound of birds…this is what life is.

It is true that mourning is a part of life. But living in the past because you are mourning is unnatural. If it were “meant to be,” then we would feel good when we did it. If I am to remember, let me do so with joy. Let me remember with laughter. Let me remember with love.

I have been moping around in paradise. What a waste. Bill would definitely not approve. After all, he really is in Paradise and having a blast. He would want the same for me.

Aloha.

Bouncing Back.

March 13th, 2014

Rochester, VT -  When Words Count Writers Retreat

I am back in Vermont working on my book.  Yesterday was a beautiful day and this morning I awoke to a blizzard.  I remember years ago saying, “The only way I will ever complete a book is to go to New England in the dead of the winter, rent a house with no television, and have enough food to last me (because I’m definitely not up to braving the cold). Then I’ll have to write just to amuse myself.”  Where I am, in this circa 1850’s inn isn’t quite that, but it’s close. I didn’t bring a car here so there is no going to town because I MUST have a latte. There is a TV but I am deliberately avoiding it.  And meals are provided so I won’t go hungry (quite the opposite, in fact.)

I am missing Bill. He would love it here; there are ski slopes nearby. Ironically, the topic of my book is emotional resilience and there has never been a more difficult time for me to feel that I have such a thing. But I do. And so do you.

As people tell me their stories—in person, by telephone and in emails—I am in awe of what we can endure. What is even more awe inspiring are those who don’t simply endure but come through hardship and, at the end, have a smile on their faces. Those are the ones who will just not stay down, no matter what happens.  Then there are those who never seem to know there is anywhere but down.  I have been both and in my book I explore what happened that made me take a turn toward the light.

Today’s harsh weather has me wondering whether environment has anything to do with it. Not with causing a negative outlook but in keeping us there. I was raised in a suburb of Boston and, as a child faced some difficult situations that drew me into depression. Years later, I attributed my bad disposition to the fact that in the unpredictable New England weather, I was often cold. A friend of mine would joke,  “You mean all you needed was an electric blanket?” Now we are aware of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that has to do with deprivation of sunlight and it’s affect on mood. There are even special electrical lights for treatment.  Perhaps I had SAD and it exacerbated my depression.

What interests me is that (and this is a generality) people who live in the harsher, four season weather seem to be more conservative in their personalities and outlooks and those who live where there are no harsh winters seem to have sunnier outlooks, if you’ll pardon the pun. In New England, we could trace it back to our stern, Puritan ancestors but I wonder if fighting the elements leaves us too tired to smile very often.  I have noticed that, in the harsher weather places, there are more smiles in the summer.  And maybe the happiest of those who live in sunny climes are the transplants who left the cold to come to the sun.

What do you think?  Do you think the weather has an impact on disposition or is it more cultural?  If not weather, what do you think makes the difference between those who come through hardship and find joy again, and those who never seem to recover?

Seven months after Bill’s death, I have good days and bad. What continues to amaze me is how quickly I can bounce back.  Because I was simply unable to do that as a youth, I am grateful for that ability now.  Maybe it’s Nature’s way. As we get older, we face more loss and we need more emotional resilience. If you have it, and I’ll bet you do, put it on your gratitude list. It is a great gift.

 

Resurrection

February 20th, 2014

So here I am in Phoenix, lock stock and barrel.  Moving is one of those really big life changes that brings on all sorts of unexpected emotions.  I’ve moved a lot in my life; it’s part of my adventurous nature. I’m actually pretty good at it, logistics wise, and I’m usually good at it emotionally, as well.  This time is different. This time I am “starting over,” without my best friend/soul mate Bill.  I have moved to a city wherein we have no shared memories and that’s kind of weird.  Also, I moved in one day before the six-month anniversary of his transition and that unleashed a lot of grief.

So what to do? I am someone who believes that you get more of what you focus on and here I am focused on my loss.  There are many schools of thought about this ranging from the oft-quoted “Five Stages of Grief” by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (which, as it turns out she developed as a way to have a conversation about grief, not as a roadmap) to the simpler philosophy, “Life is for the living.”

There is also much theory tossed around about the negative impact of “stuffing your emotions” which often ends in the warning, “Pay now, or pay later.”

My friend Sharon who spent time on the phone with me yesterday in response to my cry for help pointed out that much of the way we grieve is cultural, not necessarily natural. In many societies human death is accepted as part of the circle of life. They would no more grieve over a human death than that of an ant (this is my example, not hers). I’m sure that shocks us Westerners. We seem to spend a lot of time dwelling in the negative around the topic of death. Ironically, we also seem to wallow in the negative around the topic of life.

I am gravitating toward remembering and indulging my own beliefs in this arena: whenever I experience negative emotions, it is because my Inner Guide has separated from me because She doesn’t agree with what I am focused on. It is that separation from Source that feels so awful. And it does—feel awful.

I believe that Source means for us to live joyous lives, no matter the circumstances. Most of us have heard the comparison of the happy peasant and the miserable King.  It all comes down to focus. What do I choose to focus on?

Sharon, who is one of the wisest women I know boiled it down to the words of that brilliant philosopher Dr. Seuss:

Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.

I have decided to smile. And, to celebrate my return to my center, I shall eat green eggs and ham for breakfast!

 

Post-Holiday Blahs

January 15th, 2014

The holidays are over and of that I am glad. These were my first without Bill and the ache in my heart was ever present. Everyone handles grief differently. I couldn’t bear the thought of being around people who were concerned about me. I didn’t want to pretend I was okay and I would have felt the need to do that to avoid ruining the festivities for others.

So I spent the holidays at the When Words Count Retreat Centerin Vermont and it turned out to be an excellent choice.  In my last blog of 2013, I told you I went there to write. I also said it was not a workshop and that is true, to an extent. What I didn’t know is that Steve Eisner and Jon Reisfeld, the two men who run the center and who are writers themselves, dine with the writers every night. We brainstorm the projects we’re working on and after dessert we retire to the Gertrude Stein salon to read pages aloud to each other. As fate would have it, I was the only writer in residence for the first five days so I had these wonderful teachers all to myself. Their input has turned my book about change from a strictly “how to” book into a book that includes the stories of how I learned to be resilient in the face of many difficult changes. Now, instead of feeling like the book is something I just need to get down on paper, I am excited about the project.

The retreat is over and I am facing my first calendar year without Bill. I am slightly frozen in place. There is such a strong part of me that doesn’t want to “move on.” Even the phrase brings tears to my eyes.

So what does one do when frozen? The answer, as it turns out, is to move, even if ever so slightly. Yesterday was a day when all I wanted to do was to sit and play games on my iPhone. Now, if it made me feel good to do that, I would have done it. However, when I use games to avoid doing something productive, I get a feeling in my gut that makes me feel slightly sick. I don’t like that feeling so I wanted to do something else but I just couldn’t face doing anything big.

It was then that I remembered what my friend Allen taught me to do in this situation. Just do something, no matter how small, that makes you feel productive. So I got up off the couch and pulled together a box of items I wanted to mail out. Once I did that, I looked on my “to do” list and made a phone call that was one of the items there. And, wouldn’t you know, I didn’t ever get to my writing (which is my priority) but I did have a productive day. And today, I am writing!

We all have those days when we can’t seem to muster up motivation. Sometimes there’s a “legitimate” reason, like grief, and sometimes we have no idea why we are blue. I have used Allen’s wise advice many times over the years. Just do something, no matter how small, that makes you feel productive. If you are facing the post-holiday blahs, or any blues for that matter, I invite you to use this wonderful trick. It is the emotional version of one of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion:  a body in motion tends to stay in motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Or, as the lemurs sang in the animated film Madagascar, “You’ve got to move it, move it, move it.”

Holiday Greetings & A Gift

December 18th, 2013

I am visiting with friends and family in my hometown of Rockland, Mass. I arrived several days ago just barely ahead of one storm and this morning woke up to another three inches of snow. While I enjoy the idea of a white Christmas, I am also being reminded, in a very dramatic way, why I never liked winter here. IT IS ICY!!! and SLIPPERY! and a BALMY 26 DEGREES!  But very pretty.

In this, my last blog for 2013, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for your support over the last few years when Bill and I were side-by-side, fighting for his health with everything we had.  When he was first diagnosed with cancer, I thought I might have him for maybe six months. He fooled ‘em all and lived for 28!  That’s my guy!

Speaking of fooling them all, you may recall my blog of July 9th, What Would You Pay? about our friend Laura Grant who was Bill’s “cancer buddy.” We met her and her husband Ed at UCSF on the day both she and Bill found out they had pancreatic cancer.

I am happy to tell you that Laura is doing well. Before I traveled here, I accompanied her to the Block Center, the medical group that kept Bill alive eight months longer than anyone anticipated.  The trip served two purposes: I wanted to support Laura and also to thank the wonderful staff who took such good care of Bill.  It was a tear-filled reunion but very important for my healing and I think theirs. What a tough job they have!

Because it’s such a sad holiday for me this year, I am spending Christmas and New Year’s at a Writer’s Retreat in Vermont working on my book about change. My family understands it’s what I need and are supportive. It’s not a workshop. Their claim to fame is that they do everything for you (cook, make your bed, etc.) so all you have to do is write.  This will be a first for me: spending 10 days completely focused on writing. It will be interesting to see if I have the temperament for it.  And let’s not forget, the famous Bing Crosby movie White Christmas took place in Vermont!

My gift to you is a “re-gift” and given to you out of my own gratitude.  You may have seen this video already. If you have, it’s worth revisiting. If you have not seen Gratitude by Louis Schwartzberg, you are in for a rare treat. It starts a little slow but stay with it. You’ll be glad you did!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXDMoiEkyuQ

Here’s to a wonderful Season for all and a very Happy New Year!

Green Acres Revisited

November 5th, 2013

Proving once again, that life is full of funny twists and turns, I texted some girlfriends of mine the other day to say, “A year ago I was sailing with Bill aboard a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. This morning I retrieved eggs from a chicken coop.”

I have been spending weekends at my granddaughter’s house in Watsonville, CA and it is out in farm country. Her mother is a passionate gardener, with a large, enclosed area where she grows tomatoes, squash, lemons, apples, pumpkins and lettuce. And my granddaughter has two hens.

The funny thing is that I don’t prefer one lifestyle over the other. The only reason I might prefer the yacht is that Bill was with me. Now that he’s gone, my life continues to be flavored by what I choose to focus on. And, when I’m in farm country, I focus on the beauty of the rolling hills and the lush crops. (There was one day when they were fertilizing the crops that was a “focus challenge” but I found that breathing through a handkerchief is a big help!)

When your life is in flux, which mine most definitely is, the ability to choose what you focus on is the best tool in your kit. If I allow my mind to get ahead of itself, projecting into an unknown future, I feel despair. If instead, I focus on the good people and wonderful surroundings, then I can relax and breathe again.

Grief is teaching me lessons, important ones. For one, life is short. We all say it but, when you have lost a loved one, you understand that old saying on a much different level.

Being rich doesn’t solve anything except being poor.  Bill and I had many wealthy friends. They have the same personal issues as those of us who are not wealthy and I am here to tell you, it is not the bed of roses that I had imagined. Probably the most difficult thing to face when you are wealthy is that money cannot solve everything. When you don’t have it, you imagine that it can but it’s a fantasy. Bill would have sold everything he had to beat his cancer. It would not have mattered.

Love is all that matters. It’s the only thing you can take with you because love is energy, not material.  Bill was sent onto his next adventure filled with the love of so many whose lives he touched.

So thank you all for the love you have so freely expressed in the emails you have sent. I have bundled it all and keep it in a little knapsack close to my heart.

———————————————–

Update on Laura Grant:  Love is what I felt Tuesday morning when Laura and Ed left my house for UCSF and surgery. You may recall that they were the subjects of a blog I wrote entitled “What Would You Pay?

http://silverspeaks.com/blogs/2013/07/what-would-you-pay-2/

Laura was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the same day as Bill. That’s how we met her and Ed—in the waiting room at UCSF. Many of you who donated to Laura’s cancer fund have asked how she is doing. The answer is that she is still fighting the good fight (31 months and counting!). She has been in treatment at the Block Center in Skokie, Il thanks to donations from wonderful people like you. She spoke at Bill’s Celebration of Life service in August and it was moving.  And every time I am with the two of them, my love for them and their spirit grows.

Tuesday Laura went in for surgery to remove a large mass. In the room with her was a crowd of cheering angels—those here on earth and those who have transitioned. I told her Bill would be in the surgical suite encouraging the doctor to do her very best work.  Well, it worked. She got through the surgery with flying colors. All prayers and white light for her recovery are welc

Hugs and loads of love,

Silver

 

 

When Life Sucks

October 9th, 2013

It’s so intriguing the way Law of Attraction works. Just as I am living with the question of, “Why?” with regard to my soul mate Bill’s cancer and death, I am spending a lot of time with a teenager I love dearly who is asking that same question about life in general.  Depressed (and getting help for it), she wonders aloud, “What is the point of all this? Why do people even want to live when life sucks? “

These are both great questions that have been explored by philosophers for centuries.

One of the startling pieces of data I have uncovered was in the book, Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert. He revealed that we humans are abysmally bad at predicting what will make us happy or unhappy. For example, many people believe that if they were ever to become quadriplegic, they would want to die. And yet, people DO become so and, after about a year of adjustment, few feel that way any longer.

People think that, if they become rich, life will be a constantly fun party.  When it happens, they are sorely disappointed to find out it’s not that way at all, no matter what it looks like from the outside.

Three years ago, before he was diagnosed with cancer, if you had told Bill, that there would come a day when he would weigh 130 pounds and be weak as a kitten and STILL want to live, he would have said, “There is no way; you are crazy.” He would have told you in no uncertain terms that he would find a way to end it all.

And yet, when he arrived at that point, he still wanted to fight and he still wanted to live.  Why?

A clue arrived today via email.  (Law of Attraction strikes again).  Every day I receive a very cool, personalized email from TUT (The Universe Talks). This morning mine said,

Silver, I want to let you in on a little secret… E V E R Y O N E has issues… everyone. Even those who don’t seem like it. Because without issues, NOTHING WOULD BE WORTHWHILE.

That really made me stop and think. If there is no sadness in the world, how can we ever feel joy?

We all share a strong desire to feel positive emotions. The problem is, we become used to things so quickly that, if life were good all the time, we couldn’t experience joy. We need the contrast of the negative to be able to enjoy the positive when it occurs.

Bill wanted to live for two reasons: to spend more time with me and to spend more with his grandchildren.  He had plans for 2014 and beyond.  To him, the pain of the cancer treatment would be worthwhile if those wishes came true. Because of his plans, he outfoxed the cancer for much longer than all of the medical experts predicted.

It seems we are willing to endure pain if we have something to look forward to. Psychologists tell us that someone who is making plans for the future is unlikely to commit suicide.

Without something to look forward to, depression sets in which is where my young friend is right now.

So the trick to a happy life may be to make sure you always have something compelling to look forward to.

What are you enduring now that you feel is worth the trouble because, as a result of it, you’ll be able to have or do something pleasant in the future?

What are you enduring now that could become less painful if you were to develop a plan for something to look forward to?

 

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Your Natural Ability to Adapt

September 26th, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about change, particularly as it relates to caregiving. It occurs to me that this, one of the least honored societal roles and professions, requires the ability to adapt on the run, often moment-by-moment.  I would go so far as to say that, if one is talented in the art of caregiving, then that person is an extremely competent Change Agent.

The ability to adapt is a useful skill to have, no matter what life brings to you.  What I challenge you to think about is where you have developed this ability in the course of your life. So often I hear people say things like, “I hate change,” or “I’m not good at changing.” And I usually think, “That’s probably a belief about yourself that is not necessarily true.” Sure, there are people who cling to the old ways; the Amish come to mind. That way of life works for them. But mostly, if you are part of the mainstream, then you are adapting every day, often in fun ways (think cool new apps on your smart phone or new TV shows you like) and sometimes in not-so-fun ways (like when you update your computer and it ALL LOOKS DIFFERENT!!!)

As I think back on the 28 months of caring for Bill, I see that the nurses and doctors we met along the way all required an ability to adapt to the ever-changing course of his cancer. Some were skilled at adaptation; others were not. The ones who were exceptional (and there were many) all share the same attributes:  curiosity coupled with an open mind. Hmmm. Maybe that’s one attribute. Can one be curious with a closed mind?

I think we are all incredible at adapting to change within our domain of interest.  I know people who are brilliant at figuring out creative solutions to construction problems but get bent out of shape if their favorite TV show changes time slots. I happen to be really good at innovation as it relates to caregiving but am pretty close-minded when it comes to trying new food, let alone cooking it.

Here’s the problem with restricting an open mind to one domain:  you miss out on so much! For my entire adult life, everyone who knew me well understood that I did not care for the outside world. Then Bill came along, introduced me to it and I FOUND OUT I LOVE IT!! Look at all the fun I missed because I had a closed mind and no curiosity.

I’d love to hear from you. Where are you really good at adapting to change and how could you apply that ability to an area of your life you have closed off without even trying it? What new thing are you sure you wouldn’t like but are willing to try?

 
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Limbo is a Real Place

September 11th, 2013

So, here I am. I am back. Am I back? I don’t know. I don’t know much these days. Grief will do that to you.  It’s been a little over a month since Bill left and there are still times when I cannot fathom he is gone. Experts—people who have travelled this path before me—tell me this will continue for quite a while, maybe even until I myself go on to, as Bill named it, the Next Big Adventure.

This week, as I continue to live in limbo, I look to those who lost loved ones on 9/11 for inspiration. Their journeys offer many pointers as to how to survive crippling emotional pain. Perhaps the most important clue is that you put one foot in front of the other and simply keep breathing. Sometimes that’s the best one can do when facing profound loss.

Those 9/11 families I have learned the most from are those who have found forgiveness and given up bitterness. When a loved one dies, the natural inclination is to look for someone to blame. Who’s responsible for this?  Who can I be mad at or hate? Who’s going to pay?

In the cases of the 9/11 families, there really IS someone to blame. Some have moved through that to the other side. That’s a courageous route.  Getting to forgiveness is a freedom that initially feels like pure relief. It takes a lot of energy to hate and it hurts the hater the most. It’s as if you have taken poison and are waiting for your enemy to die.

I can only feel gratitude that I don’t have a similar dilemma. Bill died of pancreatic cancer.  No one knows what causes it and there is no cure. There is no one to blame and no one to hate. There is only a deep well of sadness. And, when all is said and done, that’s what’s underneath all grief: a seemingly bottomless well of sadness.

You have all helped so much. You wrote (some of you multiple times) to let me know you are here, right beside me. You wrapped your virtual arms around me and reminded me I am loved. Thank you for that.  What may seem a small gesture to you was huge to me. I never felt alone through this. Not once.

And so I guess I am back, forever changed and deeply appreciative. I loved a great man who returned that love and who gave me many gifts.

Thank you all for sharing this profound journey with me and for caring about Bill.

“And in the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  

                                                                                                  - The Beatles

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