August 5th, 2014
It is hard to believe but August 7th is the one-year anniversary of my life-partner Bill’s departure for his next big adventure. It feels like he was just here yesterday and it feels like he’s been gone forever.
The lessons are not over but here is what I have learned over the past year:
Everyone handles change at a different pace and in different ways.
I thought I knew how I would handle the profound changes that came with Bill’s death. I figured it would be similar to the ways I had handled the death of others whom I loved and who had moved on. I was wrong. Every relationship is profoundly different and therefore the grieving is different.
So it is with any change. Be careful about saying of another, “Oh, he’ll be fine. He’s faced this kind of adversity before,” or, “She’s going to fall apart. She can’t handle this.” The truth is each change is unique and the way one handles it depends on the circumstances that are present now, not the ones that were present the last time something similar happened.
When my best friend died in a car accident, I was 17 and ill equipped to handle the torrent of deeply negative emotions that happen when one comes face-to-face with the concept of mortality. I felt suicidal. It threw me into depression and awakened my latent alcoholism. I struggled for decades to recover.
Today I am resilient. For one, I don’t make my grief worse by drinking and I am no longer depressed. Although I miss Bill like crazy, I am able to laugh and smile at the memories rather than use them as an excuse to wallow. When I do allow myself to feel the feelings, I dive into them deliberately; I don’t hide from them. I “let it rip.”
As life marches on, the grief takes up less time and the celebration of the love we had takes up more.
The impact of change is unpredictable. You don’t know its impact until you do.
One of the biggest changes for me during Bill’s illnesses and in the year following his transition is that I decided to retire my crystal ball. I have no idea what’s going to happen until it does.
It is possible to be both extremely frightened and extremely calm.
Facing life without Bill is frightening and yet, I feel extremely calm because I know I can do this. I don’t want to but I can, and I will. So it is with any profound change—you may not want to get through it but you can, and you will.
People will abandon you in your time of need.
When change hits, it is easy to believe that you’re the one in the most pain. In the case of the death of a spouse, it’s a time when society actually allows you to be self-centered. But others are in pain, too, and sometimes they cannot face yours. They are doing everything they can to hold themselves together; they don’t have anything left to give to you. Their departure is not meant to be deliberately hurtful; it is a survival mechanism. The best thing to do is what my friend Laura recommends: in your mind shower them with roses.
People you never suspected will be extremely supportive.
I have many wonderful friends who have stood by me for decades. I also have new friends whom I have met only recently. I have always been grateful for those on whom I have depended throughout my life. They are the invisible arms that hold me.
And I have been surprised and moved by those who don’t know me as well, or to whom I am not necessarily close, who have reached out to me over the past few years while Bill was sick and after his transition.
When change hits it is often true that you will discover your biggest allies to be people whom you have never counted on before but who “show up” when you need them most.
During this profound time of change, I have felt your presence and your love. You have helped more than you will ever know. The very best thing I can wish for you is that you experience the same level of support in your own life.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
July 23rd, 2014
In July of last year, I dedicated a blog to my friend Laura and her journey with pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer there is. In that blog, What Would You Pay? I asked the question, “What would you pay for more time with your loved ones?”
YOU ROCK!!! Because you gave so generously, for a year Laura has been able to continue the life-saving treatment at the Block Center for Integrative Health in Skokie, IL. Going for treatment there is no small feat. Laura and her husband Ed, both teachers, live in Ferndale, California. Just to get to the airport in Sacramento is a FIVE-HOUR DRIVE! Then it takes TWO FLIGHTS to get to Chicago (earlier this year that included WINTER! Yikes!) It’s an all day journey that is sort of okay on the way to but the way back? Remember, she’s been treated with chemotherapy and then has to take this long journey after. This is someone who really wants to live. And she is often alone-her husband has to work.
Because of your generosity, last month Laura was present to dance with her son at his wedding. As if that weren’t joyful enough, just yesterday she welcomed her first grandchild, Grayson who was so warm and cozy in his mommy’s belly, we thought he’d NEVER come out (40 weeks!!). He is the son of Laura’s daughter Lily and her husband Joe.
Will you help Laura to continue? She has insurance but it costs another $2800/month for the expenses related to travelling for treatment (alas, this treatment isn’t offered any closer to where she lives).
I am asking everyone to donate the price of a Starbucks coffee, a glass of wine or a beer (whatever your thing is). There is no such thing as a small donation. Every single dollar is appreciated and adds up!!! All I ask is that you do it now—while you are inspired—and not put it off. (If you’re like me, you have good intentions but life gets in the way!)
Here are 3 ways to donate:
To donate by check, please make it out to:
Laura Grant Cancer Fund
PO Box 1313 Ferndale CA 95536
To donate through PayPal
OR – I have started a CrowdTilt campaign: https://www.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/laura-grantthriving-because-of-you
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!
July 9th, 2014
This morning I saw this posting on Facebook. I liked it so much I re-posted it. And then (here’s a concept for you) I decided to actually TRY it!
I had gotten a late start to my day so I was already feeling behind which is ironic since I work for myself. But old habits die hard, don’t they? One of my teachers has finally convinced me that you cannot break a habit; you can only replace it with a different one, hopefully one that serves you better.
So I decided to break—er—replace my habit of frantic activity that always includes multi-tasking.
The first thing I tried on the list was “Make cleaning and cooking become meditation.” So, instead of turning on music while I cooked breakfast, I decided to simply cook. That incorporated the second thing I tried: “Do one thing at a time.” It was pretty amazing. As I cut up the spinach for my omelet, I was thinking about how grateful I was for the spinach and the knife. I became absorbed in watching the knife slice through the spinach. Then I decided to add onions and basil to the frying pan and thought to myself, “Look at me! Cooking with herbs and spices.” (I only recently became what anyone would define as a cook.) Then I remembered I had gotten the eggs at the local farmers market and was pleased about that.
While all this Zen mindfulness was going on, my Monkey Mind was certainly trying to distract me. While waiting for the frying pan to heat up, I had to stop myself from checking my emails. Then I had a couple of ideas for a project I was working on and, instead of rushing to write them down, I pulled my mind back to the task at hand.
I applied the same principles to cleaning up the apartment with slightly less successful results but I kept at it. For some reason, being in motion while I was cleaning fed my Monkey Mind. It was almost as if it was saying to me, “You’re moving fast. Yay! Let’s do lots of things at once!” I would have done well to try, “Do it slowly and deliberately.” Next time.
Instead I tried: “Do it completely.” Usually, when I am straightening up a room, there will come a time when something in the first room must be moved to a second room where it belongs. I then end up working on the second room before completing the first. I’ve always told myself it’s more efficient this way and maybe it is. But it is not nearly as satisfying. A few things done partially does not generate energy the way completing one thing does.
And so it goes. Even as I sit here writing to you, my Monkey Mind wants me to stop and check my emails, play a game on my phone or check my bank balance. It’s amazing to observe.
Here is the important part. I feel noticeably calmer than I usually do at this time of the day. There are more things on the list I am going to put into play but there’s no hurry, is there? I am happy with my infant habits and that is enough for today. And so now I will try the next thing: ”Put space between things.”
I’d love to hear from you about ways you practice these principles. If you experiment with them after reading this, let me know how it goes!
June 18th, 2014
It occurs to me that much of the change we deal with isn’t even happening to us but to those around us. Marriages, births, job changes, illness and death all may impact us but are not happening directly to us. This is when I find the Serenity Prayer so calming:
…grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Much of the frustration and emotional pain I’ve experienced is because I lacked the wisdom to know the difference. I remember so clearly the advice my friend Gayna gave me, even as she lay dying of cancer. She said, “All anyone can be for another is a witness. We all need a witness, someone who sees our life and is happy we were born.”
I was very happy Gayna was born and I reflect on her sage advice often, especially when someone I care about is struggling. Usually they are wrestling with something I cannot help with. Sure, I can provide emotional support, prayers or even a hot-cooked meal but beyond that, when any of us is faced with an obstacle in the road, it is a solitary journey. Perhaps that’s why we want so desperately to help—we relate to the struggle our loved one is facing because we’ve had similar struggles. The facts may be different but the experience is the same.
And maybe, just maybe that’s why we feel so darned comfortable commiserating about the bad things in life but decidedly uncomfortable sharing our joys. It’s funny. We are convinced people can relate to the negative but fear that, if we share the positive, it will somehow alienate us from those who may be struggling as we are dancing.
My friend Nancy is a friend with whom I share both my struggles and my triumphs and, when I do I am never self-conscious about where she is in her journey. I know that she is always happy for me when things are going well, just as I exalt in her good news when she shares it. It is a friendship that has withstood the test of time (over three decades now) and I know it’s because she is my witness and I hers. Ours is an intimacy rarely experienced. There is no envy or recrimination or negative judgment. She is a safe “space” for me and I for her.
Do you have a witness like Nancy? Someone who would cheer you on in a race even as she’d been sidelined with a twisted ankle? Are you that for someone else? If so, take some time to appreciate the rare gift you have. Close your eyes and send that person love and, when you open your eyes, reach out to them to let them know. Maybe you can send this blog so s/he will understand how you feel.
And if you don’t have someone like Nancy, pray for the courage to change that. Start singing this song as a prayer: Can I Get a Witness?
Remember, you get more of what you focus on!
June 3rd, 2014
Lots of change going on in my life, how about you?
I’m learning to live alone or, more specifically, without Bill. I am re-launching my business. And, as many of you know, in February I moved back to Phoenix and am slowly reemerging into this community.
It’s a mixed bag but I don’t think my situation is unique. Most of us are going through continual changes, some big, some small. What I have discovered is that the size of the change doesn’t usually matter but our approach to it does.
If we react to change from a victim’s standpoint, then getting a hangnail can make us think our world is falling apart. And because the Law of Attraction dictates that “you get more of what you focus on,” then focusing on how the world is out to get you will bring to you more evidence that you are right; the world actually IS out to get you!
Years ago I heard a psychologist speak at a conference. His job was to mediate employee complaints. He said something that really caught my attention, “When you react to a situation, the adult has vacated your body and has been replaced by a small child.”
Think about that.
When we are in react mode, doesn’t it feel like that? We all have different styles: some pout, some shout, some throw things about (hey, I’m channeling Dr. Seuss!) but it’s all childlike behavior and not constructive.
This psychologist went on to say, “When we respond to a situation, the adult is in control.” When our “adult” is in control, then things can get resolved.
Make no mistake there are days when my child comes out in full force. I have temper tantrums inside the walls of my home. I sob. I complain, “Why me?” But when the adult re-emerges, what she says to me is, “Why not you? Why should you be exempt from pain?”
It seems to me that all painful change has to do with love. The more we love something or someone, the greater the pain when it’s over. Whether it’s a job we love that changes into something we don’t, a home we lose, financial security we grew accustomed to that is gone, or a pet that grows old before our eyes, it all centers around what we love. The greater the loss, the greater the pain. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t have missed those times for the world. As much as it hurts to be without (fill in the blank) wasn’t it wonderful while it lasted? And, as a friend reminded me when I suffered a great loss, “You attracted it once, you can attract it again.”
But not while I am being a victim and not while I am reacting. The only solution for replacing someone or something you love is to find another outlet for your love. It is the pain of not loving that leaves us the most victimized.
Maya Angelou passed away this week and with her, a great talent. Her legacy lives on in her wonderful words. She lived a life of extraordinary success and love, and unspeakable pain. In fact, her pain was so unspeakable that, as a child, she went for several years without uttering a word. She is a living example of someone who knew how to Dance With Change.
May 15th, 2014
Ed looks at me and asks, “How do you do it, Silver?” He is referring, of course, to how I am navigating the grief around the loss of my life partner Bill. This is more than a passing interest on Ed’s part. His wife Laura was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the same time as Bill and he is afraid, as anyone would be, that one day he’ll be facing what I am going through now.
I look him in the eyes and answer, “I honestly don’t know, Ed. I just put one foot in front of the other.”
Since that conversation I’ve had a lot of time to reconsider Ed’s question. How does one survive what he and I have had to go through? How does his wife Laura, who is not only surviving, but also thriving despite the cancer, do it?
It has everything to do with emotional resilience.
During those long hours caring for Bill and the torturous days waiting for test results and wondering, always wondering what the future held, what gave me strength was the emotional resilience I had spent years building. Even on the days I felt like I had lost it, it was there.
So what is emotional resilience and why is it important?
According to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy website, “Emotional resilience simply refers to one’s ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. More resilient people are able to “roll with the punches” and adapt to adversity without lasting difficulties, while less resilient people have a harder time with stress and life changes.”
People with road rage (any rage, really) are sorely lacking in emotional resilience.
I am living proof that emotional resilience can be developed and/or deepened. It has everything to do with where you place your focus. If I could attribute only one factor to my own resilience (and there are many), it would be learning about the Law of Attraction, a principle that says, “You get more of what you focus on.”
My early childhood was unhappy and my teens and twenties even more so. I had the mindset of a victim and I constantly attracted people and circumstances that reinforced my view of the world. Fortunately, my Dad always told us, “You can learn anything from a book.” (Although I personally prefer my surgeons and dental hygienists to have actual experience.) Because I was so miserable, I began to look for answers.
My first mentor was Dale Carnegie who wrote, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book taught me how to get along with others, a major problem at that time of my life. It worked and in the 9th grade I was elected to Student Council! Since that early success, I have been on the path to creating a life that I want instead of a life that just happens to me. The more I learn, the more emotionally resilient I become and the reserves are there when I need them most.
Think back. Who were your mentors? Who helped you to become more emotionally resilient?
I’d love to hear.
May 7th, 2014
In my last blog, I invited everyone to join me, every morning, in putting pen to paper to answer the following questions:
- What will make your life easier today?
- At the end of the day, if you feel it’s been a good day, what will have happened?
I was raised Catholic so, time for the confessional. I did a poor job of this assignment.
Question 1 was the sticking point. Why is it that I can so easily figure out what will make someone else’s life easier but, when it comes to my own, it’s a mystery? As I ponder this, I think the answer may not be as simple as deciding that I don’t know how to take care of myself. That’s an easy answer and most of us who were born to nurture have, at one time or another believed this to be true.
The answer as to why I found Question 1 difficult is twofold:
(1) Truthfully, my life is already easy. I have used the Law of Attraction over many years to attract a life that’s pretty darned good. I have everything I need, much of what I want, and no major life problems at the moment. Yes, I am grieving over the loss of Bill but that is part of the Circle of Life. We lose loved ones. We grieve. And it doesn’t mean that life is terrible.
(2) If I am totally honest, I don’t really want my life to be easier. I want it to be more meaningful, more exciting and richer in all that makes life worth living. “Easy” is overrated. I’ve had easy and all it does is make things well, easy, but it doesn’t make things fun, or interesting or compelling. For me at least, “easy” leaves me unmotivated. Give me something difficult to do and I am more alive than ever. That’s probably why I love caregiving so much. I am not a trained nurse and yet, every day I take care of someone who is ill, I am forced to tap into a well of creativity I wasn’t aware I had.
Here’s an example from many years ago. Two years after my mother-in-law moved in and survived a series of surgeries and related complications, she had a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side. We had a monitor in her room so we could hear if she needed anything. One afternoon, she was sitting in the chair in her room watching TV. I was in the kitchen and heard, over the monitor, a voice, totally without panic, say, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Mama had a great sense of humor.
Sure enough, when I went in to check, she was sitting on the floor. She told me she’d kicked off her slipper by mistake, stretched out her good leg in an attempt to retrieve it and slid right off the chair and onto the carpet.
Here was the dilemma. Mama’s room was very narrow. Where she had landed was a four-foot space between her bed and a giant window overlooking our back yard. I called my husband in to try and figure out how to get her back into bed without hurling her through the window. Because of her stroke, she was dead weight, making it all the more challenging. Just about the time we were contemplating calling the fire department, it hit me! I remembered how patients in hospitals were transferred from one bed to another by putting a doubled up sheet beneath them. We laid down a doubled up sheet, positioned Mama so she was lying on it and hoisted her onto the bed. It was so easy!
Call me crazy but I LOVE that kind of problem solving. Whether it’s caring for another or just tackling a particularly hairy problem at work, it’s exhilarating! I think that’s why we humans make up problems in the first place—so we can solve them. My guess is, if I could wave a magic wand and take away all your problems, some of you wouldn’t be finished reading this blog before you’d be inventing new ones!
So…time for a different Question 1: What will make my life more __________ today? (Fill it in for yourself—exciting, interesting, fun—you get to choose what you want more of.)
I love when you let me know how it’s going. Here are a few wonderful insights from readers about my last blog:
Renee V: My life will be made easier today if I have let go of others’ burdens, no matter the size or scope. It will have been a good day today if at the end of the day I have shared my true self with others while staying true to myself.
From Deb R about grief: “One cannot step twice into the same river, for the water into which you first stepped has flowed on.”
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:
- “What will make your life easier today?”
- “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.
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.