Honor What You’ve Lost

My husband would have turned 62 this week had he not have died from a stroke. That stroke took a lot from me. It took his life, but took a lot from me, too. It robbed me of my plans and dreams.

I found myself baking a key lime pie (his favorite) and grilling him a birthday meal. Only a few of us still remembered his birthday. His own mother forgot (but she’s 87 with Parkinson’s so she’s earned the right, his death took a lot from her, too!). Our son (of course) remembered as did my husband’s sister, who sent a text. (She’s very frugal, she hates to use more than 30 of her 160 characters at a time, so it was a short remembrance.)

Like the other anniversaries that come and go each year, this one threatened me with darkness. Our son had just completed another life milestone and his Dad wasn’t here to share it, and that’s always painful. There’s an exquisite tenderness to a milestone or success our son has that I know my spouse would have been, in the words of his brother, “Obnoxiously proud of.” I can see his lopsided grin now.

The stroke that took him down gave me enough sorrow to last a lifetime. I don’t need or want to borrow any more from it or spend anymore time tripping around in the darkness of my own heart. So I’ve developed a flashlight system for times such as these.

When dark times or anniversaries (which are often the same thing) arrive, I shine my light around and find a good memory to polish up and display. This time, on his birthday, the happy cocktail was remembering the first key lime birthday pie I ever made him.

Our son was five. Birthday cakes are extremely important in the life passages of a five-year old so he had asked his Dad what kind of cake he wanted and he had said, “I don’t want a cake. I want a key lime pie!” And our son decided it was imperative that we honor this, because, well, he was five and choose what kind of birthday cake you want is a sign of maturity and power when you’re five.

So, I dug around and found a recipe in an old Southern cookbook and we went to the store in search of limes. (Of course, the cookbook neglected to mention that you could purchase key lime juice.) We bought 2 bags of the hardest little limes I’ve ever seen and commenced to rolling them around on a cutting board to soften them up. Then we sliced their hard shells in half them and “juiced” them.

He squirted me in the eyes first. #%@! that juice hurt! Then I squirted him, not meaning to. #%@! We both squirted Mr Kitty, our giant black and white cat-dog who was perched on a stool at the counter helping. When the juice hit his eyes, he knocked the 2nd bag onto the floor in his haste to escape the pain. Those dang limes went all over my kitchen. It took the two of us (well, one of us was only five) all afternoon to juice those #%@! key limes.

The effort was worth it, because you have never seen a prouder smile than the one our son wore when he carried that key-lime birthday pie to the patio, covered in an entire can of whipped cream “squirts!” and blazing candles. He stuck it up as high as he could to reach the table and proudly sang “Happy Birfdays to you, happy birfdays to you, happy birfdays dear Daddies, happy birfdays to you!” And then with a rush of words he added, “Me and Mommy squeezed them all for you and I put the squirts on all by myself!”

I can still see my husband’s six-foot-two frame reaching down and wrapping itself around that happy little boy and the birthday pie. Still see them grinning at each other as he let him help blow out the candles. And in my heart, I honor us in that moment. I honor the love we shared that birthed that five-year old, I honor the crazy woman who squeezed two bags of #%@! key limes to make that first, all-important birthday pie, I honor the son who took such unimaginable joy in putting on a whole can of whipped cream “squirts” and I honor the me that never planned to lose his Dad.

When the darkness comes to you, find a flashlight. Shine it into your heart until the joyful moments reveal themselves. Keep shining your light on that memory until it sparkles brightly enough to block out the dark. Remember the love and refuse to borrow again from the pain. You’ve suffered enough. When you honor the dreams you have lost and still choose to live in joy, you honor yourself and others.

Closets of anxiety

Have you ever noticed that when something bad happens to you the key slides into the lock of your closet of anxieties and all the other bogymen come out to play? They just romp and stomp all over your psyche and then when you’re exhausted and have a headache they like down with you to take a nap and worry you some more… What is up with that?

So, we had another storm this week (We’ve been having about one a day all summer.) but this one pulled down a big oak tree two streets over and it pulled down an entire grid of power lines so I lost power. But I lost power just as I put the final word on my editor’s column in the storytelling magazine I edit and produce. Literally, I lost power the minute I typed the period. And this huge (and very finicky) design program was open when that happened. Oh, and my back-up drive died last month and I haven’t replaced it so I didn’t have ANY of this issue backed up.

In that moment when I lost power (and knew I didn’t have a back-up), the bogymen leapt out of my closet of anxieties and started in on me. “It’s going to be a disaster! You mess everything up! You’re going to have to rebuild all of this issue! You’re such a screw-up!”

I remembered the time in Memphis when I was on deadline for LifeDesign magazine and a “sustained wind event” ripped that city’s power grid out and kept it out for over a month. The time in San Fran when I had just finished some beautiful posters, went to trim the edge of one with an exacto blade, managed to nick a vein in my wrist, and blood shot out onto every poster. Other numerous and sundry quasi-disaster memories also leapt forth and within minutes I was a sniveling mess.

The irony is that I’ve worked really hard to take my anxiety stuff out of my closet, examine it, and then therapeutically get rid of it. Every time I think the closet is empty, something like this happens and BOOM, out they come. All the little monsters of memory that I haven’t gotten to yet have a party going on in there I just don’t realize it until disaster strikes. By the time you’re a mature adult, you’ve got a whole house full of anxiety closets! It takes some time to clean those closets out and, just like real closets, some people never get around to it. They just shut the door as fast as they can before all the crap falls out.

But I have found that the more closets I clean out the better I feel. So when this new opportunity to purge arose, I hit back. I processed those little bogeymen memories and deposited them in the trash, where they belong. After all, I lived them once – why live them again?

Widowhood can bring up a lot of anxiety. If you need someone to stand by you as you sort things out, sign up for a free call and let’s talk about how I can support you through the one-on-one Widow’s Recovery System.

Happy Independence Day!

I tried lots of things after my husband died to feel less lonely. Loneliness was a really big issue for me.

So I developed some strategies that really helped but this particular one wasn’t one of them! (click the pic to watch my comedy short about it!)

If you’re ready to move forward in your life, let me help! My new program, the Widow’s Recovery System, gives you personal phone support, an audio recovery course with transcripts, a recovery workbook and ongoing email support.

To learn more about how it can help you, schedule your free call with me.

Enjoy the 4th!

Donna Marie

The Dumb Things People Say…

The dumb things people say, right? Our words can be healing or hurtful. Usually I find it’s the latter. But I try not to be bitter or judgmental about it because I don’t think most of us mean to be unkind. I really don’t. Having suffered through some pretty stupid and painful remarks (especially as a widow), and reflecting on why in the hell someone would say some of the things they’ve said, I find it hard to believe that the majority of those people meant to hurt me in any way. (AND, I have to acknowledge that I have said my share of hurtful things to others, too!)

Most of us aren’t mean people, we just lack an adequate verbal filtration system. We speak before we think.

My verbal filtration system has gotten a little rickety and rusty, so I’ve been practicing the art of quiet presence. I don’t want to say anything hurtful and stupid. Most people are struggling hard enough to get through the day as it is. Hurtful and stupid tend to coexist, have you noticed that? Hurtful and stupid are the Cinderella sisters of conversation. They’re the girls no one really wants to take to the ball and yet they arrive at the party anyway, wearing some garish get-up, perfume that smells a lot like vodka, and too much lipstick and mascara.

I’ve been practicing this art of quiet presence to steel myself against saying anything I haven’t thought through. I want to develop a strong verbal filtration system because I want to be the kind person in the room.

This new verbal filtration system will sift through my swirling, chaotic thoughts and basically shut me up before I speak. I’m designing it to filter out stupid, hurtful, jealous, and meaningless remarks. For example: Let’s say I’m at a party and I see a friend eating her 3rd helping of baked spaghetti. As she giggles and says, “I know I shouldn’t…,” I start thinking about how heavy she’s gotten and how bad all that trans-fat is for her heart, especially at her age and the sentence that forms is, “Whoa! Now that you are post-menopausal, have you thought about going on a watermelon diet?” But the filter spots STUPID, HURTFUL JEALOUS AND MEANINGLESS words and throws the whole sentence out! It freezes me in my tracks so I can think of something else to say, in a moment of quiet presence. This moment of sacred silence gives me the opportunity to think of something helpful and then say the only thing that will help my dear friend her put her fork down: “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” (ALL of us have beauty, so it’s not a little white lie!)

Which one of us doesn’t want to hear that we are loved, that we are beautiful, that we matter? When we filter our thoughts before we speak, our tendency is to speak from love, which gives us the power to truly help another person.

This personal experiment has worked so well that I’m totally fired up! I’m going to keep working on my new filtration system. I’m going to beef it up and polish it often. There is enough meanness in the world right now and as a person of free will, I choose not to be a part of that.

I don’t want to be a part of the selective truth, sexist, naked meanness “free speech” program currently in vogue. I want no part of it! (Seriously, has hearing nasty stuff about other people helped you in any way?)

With the art of quiet presence, filtering my thoughts before I speak, I choose to say loving words that bring peace and truth into every encounter I have. Join me, and let’s start a revolution!

A boutique trip to remember

Boutique experiences abound in tourist locations. For instance, my little mountain town has an organic beeswax candle shop, a visual artists’ collective and a dog-biscuit bakery. But this week I’ve been at a North Carolina coastal beach town, soaking up the sun and kayaking in the tidal creeks. I bought a cool pair of silky gaucho pants at one of the tourist shops and shrimp from the dockside vendor. I was so enjoying playing the role of “tourist”. And then it happened. I was eating a fat tomato sandwich when my tongue felt something hard (which obviously wasn’t bread or a fat tomato). I fetched it out of my mouth and realized it was a tooth. (Well, technically, only part of a tooth). Shit.

Great– just great. As I pulled my jaw out to examine the back tooth, I watched my short romantic vacation go to hell in a handcart. It was bad. I could see exposed tooth where the filling fell out, ugh! I knew I would need a crown so I called my dentist at home. He gave me the name of someone in the area and the realtor gave my sweetie the name of his dentist. Then the stars aligned: it was the same person. Even better, this dentist was a she.

Another miracle occurred: I got an appointment the next day. When we pulled up it was clear that this was not your ordinary dental office. The beach-side deck with rocking chairs and huge, bleached-wood frame that held a floor-to-ceiling exotic plant display was just the beginning. Inside, the receptionist greeted me by name and took me on a “tour” of the facility. The décor was all slate and silvery tones with strategically placed weathered-wood objects of art. The bathroom had a faux (I hope) tortoiseshell sink and real hand towels. It looked more like a page from House Beautiful than a dental office. Andy asked our tour guide for an appetizer and cocktail while he waited for me, and she smiled sweetly and showed him the fresh pineapple water and Keurig coffee station. As they led me to an exam room he whispered, “I hope you can afford this, honey”. It was clear that this was a boutique dental salon.

As I waited in the chair with my lavender-scented, heated neck pillow, I heard the click of tiny pumps on the granite floor. A four-foot, nine-inch beauty in a white jacket that said, “DDS” waltzed in. She was beautiful: long brunette hair, a perfect heart-shaped face and tiny hands. (I like a dentist with tiny hands. If you can avoid it, why have hands the size of a meatloaf in your mouth?) After the most gentle exam I’ve EVER had, she confirmed my self-diagnosis: I had broken a tooth and would need a crown.

She displayed a dazzling smile and said, “We can do those in one day, but it’s a long appointment. It takes about 3 hours.” Wow. It takes 2-3 weeks at home, and my dentist has hands the size of a meatloaf! She asked how long I was in town and when I told her just a few days she made the cutest frown I’ve ever seen. “Hmmm. I’m not sure we can do that. Let me see what we can work out.” As she spoke to me, the assistant pushed the button on her headset and queried the receptionist. They could do it the next day.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, girlfriend! Her tiny hands were gentle and meticulous. The shots hurt, but thanks to her tiny hands, I could actually open my mouth the next day. My crown was custom-made without an impression. A computerized cartography system created a map of the landscape of my mouth. It was surreal. My perfectly created, baked porcelain crown is the exact color of the surrounding teeth. It was ready in just under five hours instead of three, but it was done in a day. I was almost delirious from pineapple water and Lidocaine.

So now I’m almost back to normal and enjoying the rest of my little vacation. If you find yourself on Topsail and you’ve got an extra $1,500 lying around, you should check it out!

 

 

Oh Lordy! Father’s Day is Coming!

While the rest of the world is hosting bar-b-ques and handing out new pink golf shirts, our Father’s Days are a little different, wouldn’t you agree?

I don’t even go near the card section of the grocery store or drug store from Mother’s Day to June 20th. And forget the mall and department stores. They have those 20 foot-high Dads smiling from everywhere and that overly-made-up cosmetic representative squirts “OdeDuFather” on you when you try to get on the escalator to buy underwear. I wouldn’t go near a mall until the Sunday AFTER Father’s Day just to make sure my son wouldn’t get ambushed by grief, again.

I want to share this “grief container” idea with you. It got me through an early Father’s Day and helped me process some grief at the same time:

I made my husband a Father’s Day card, just like our son did in 1st grade. (I upgraded from crayons to oil pastels but you get my drift…) Then I wrote Perrin a letter on the inside. I told him all the things our son had accomplished since he died and included the stuff I knew he’d be extra proud of.  Then I signed it: I love you and miss you. I read it out loud and then burned it. (This is an ancient practice and very effective!)

Of course I cried all the way through. (Crying is a good thing when it’s a conscious release.)  I gave myself permission to grill and eat bratwurst hotdogs that day with our son, because they both loved those so much.  I gave him space to grieve, too. I asked him what he thought his Dad would be proud of… And then we toasted his Dad with root-beer floats.

Life is never really a perfect picture. So, give your life permission to be what it is. It’s so much easier that way.

The Widow’s Recovery System is here to help you move forward. Let’s talk soon.

PS Don’t keep all the good stuff to yourself! Share this with another widow.

 

Time to Fly

Life continues on for this widowed mom. Time moves at an ever more rapid pace and often I wonder where the heck it goes!

A few years ago, my son’s AIG teacher gave me a lovely hand-painted gourd birdhouse for Christmas. It has hung from an iron shepherd’s hook near my front door for several years, lovely but empty. This year, just as my son arrived home from college, a spunky Carolina wren discovered it. Flittering in and out, she investigated the bird house and tested the entrance angles from every nearby bush. Then she and her spry little mate began lining the gourd with moss and leaves. While the outside of the birdhouse is quite beautiful, the home the tiny birds built on the inside together is a work of art. They built their babies a bed of soft green moss cradled by sticks and leaves.

Tirelessly, they worked dawn ‘til dusk on that nest, feeding on the mealworms in the tray feeder before and after their workday. When the weeks of endless rain fell in May I hardly saw them, and they were never together. I feared the worst. But then one afternoon as my son passed by the gourd he heard the tiniest voices imaginable from within the gourd. Babies! Knowing I would want to see them, too, he fetched me. When I peered in, the momma reared up and pointed her formidable beak at me. The days passed and the babies grew. Occasionally, when they were alone in the nest they would squeak with frantic cries and open their tiny mouths in unison to beg from me when I passed by. Day by day they grew and grew—they went from bald babies the size of marbles to fuzzy golf-ball size fledglings and every night, as darkness fell, they would sing the sweetest high-pitched sleepy songs to their mother as she returned to the nest and laid her soft blanket of feathers round them. This touched my heart deeply because my son used to do the same thing when the day closed in on him and I held him in the rocking chair.

And then they disappeared. I had seen a hawk circling my yard, had it taken the babies? A neighbor reported cowbirds had arrived in town—a known nest predator. But then four wrens arrived at the feeder. Two of them almost crashed into the window and the fifth sat in a tree flapping its wings and squawking. The parents flew them around the bushes in the side yard. Bush to feeder, bush to bush, bush to birdbath, back to the feeder. For the first few days, their flight training was a comedy of errors. But they survived and now, they are confident young birds starting to sport their mating feathers (Not unlike my son actually).

Those parents worked themselves ragged. Haven’t you done the same? (I know I have.) Parenting is hard enough with two, but when one parent dies and the other is forced to go solo, it’s really tough. While most of our houses look good from the outside, the real beauty of home is the world we’ve created INSIDE. It’s our selfless love that has made our houses places of safety. It’s the soft nests we’ve made for them, our dedication to their well-being, and the life we have modeled for them as the years poured out, that is nothing short of true art.

Just like the baby wrens from the gourd, my baby is flying now, too, and with each flap of his wings, I find my tired heart both celebrating and mourning a little. The mother in me marvels at how quickly my baby became a toddler, then student, Eagle scout and now… a man.

I know it’s time for him to fly! The mother in me is happy for him and proud that he has such strong wings. But I admit that as I watched that wren cleaning and relining her nest today I thought, “Thank God I’m too old to breed again!”

 

Time to Let Go?

Letting go is hard to do, just ask anyone who has moved (or even cleaned a closet).  Our stuff holds memories. My memories tend to fall into two categories: the ones I never want to forget and the ones I wish I could forget.

I’m not alone in that regard. One of the women I’ll be working with in the next Widow’s Recovery System program is in the process of selling the home she shared with her husband and children. She said to me the other day, “I know it’s just a house and it’s just stuff but I didn’t think it would be so hard! Why is it so hard?!”

Let’s be real here. A lot of our stuff has meaning. So of course letting go of our stuff when we need to relocate or downsize is hard. Packing is the easy part. Revisiting the memories those objects hold is the hard, joyous, painful, tearful, and even infuriating part. By the time you reach a, uh, certain age, you realize that life is always asking you to let go of something (Or worse yet, as we all have, someone).

Between the ages of 21 and 24, I made two cross-county, coast-to-coast moves and each move required that I let go of anything that wouldn’t fit into a shipping trunk. I still have that trunk (of course). It sits in the attic, filled with memorabilia from my acting career and the improvisational comedy company I founded when I was a pissed-off, disillusioned 27-year-old who weighed 105 pounds. But I digress.

On my last move (which only took 9 hours by moving van, which explains why the trunk is still here), I left behind an exquisite example of the finest in hand-painted British bone china, a large antique water pitcher that I kept carefully turned to one side due to the sizeable hole my very first cat Twinky put in it when he knocked it off the mantle for one of those reasons only cats understand (You probably remember Twinky as the author of a 12-step, self-help book for cats entitled “How to Own a Human.”).

The pitcher went into my “thrift store” pile because it was what organizational specialist Peter Walsh calls a malignant item. When I lifted it from the mantle and saw the hold in its side, memories flooded back. Memories of my first mother-in-law, who gave it to me as a “welcome-to-the-family” gift; the painful divorce that followed 7 years later when I realized I had married a serial-adulterer; and the insidious death Twinky suffered from a brain tumor. He was the only continuity in my life for almost a decade and his loss was as devastating as my divorce.

In his book, “Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” Peter Walsh says that while some things are easy to let go of (that old coffeepot without a cord and the 3 legged couch), others are “Memory Items.” He suggests that as you sort and pack for the next adventure in your life it’s best to divide memory items into these four categories: The Treasures, Trinkets, Forgotten and Malignant.

His sorting system is really helpful because it helps you think your way through the sorting. Walsh says treasures are those truly irreplaceable items that usually represent 5% or less of the objects you own. These are things like your mother’s wedding ring or the childhood teddy bear that still shares your pillow. Trinkets on the other hand are things you collected on family trips or vacations, like that key-chain from Yellowstone or the shot-glass from the casino. Forgotten items are things that have attached themselves to your life but you don’t remember how or why. If you don’t remember why now, you probably won’t remember next year either, so they go in the trash or donate pile. And that brings us to the malignant items. These are things (like my gorgeous bone china pitcher) that remind you of dark or painful moments. If you’re like me, you probably don’t need any more dark and painful moments to complete your life so just GET RID OF THEM no matter how “valuable” they are. In fact, if they’re valuable, sell them so they can help fund your new adventures!

The good news about letting go of your “stuff” is that it is very freeing! Yes, it’s a pain to sort through our things and make piles and then take those piles to the trash or the charity resale shop but in the end, it’s worth it. After you let go of all the stuff you really don’t need or want anymore, your life can move into new spaces much more easily. Plus, the memories you really want to keep are safe and sound, deep inside your heart!

 

 

 

Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

Have you ever had one of those days when you suddenly realize the safety-margins of your life are disappearing into a tangle of conflicting commitments or, worse yet, hiding out under piles of silent dust bunnies?

Well if you have, welcome to my day. As I write this, I am glancing at my hands and hoping I don’t have poison ivy. (Praying, actually, because I’m REALLY allergic to that stuff.) I have been working on the road most of this year and I have fallen way behind in my real life. (By real life, I mean the one that’s always lurking in the dark corners of the laundry room, tool shed or yard.)

The day started innocuously enough. I decided to have coffee on the deck. The birds were singing from every tree, a cool breeze was blowing, and I was having a perfect morning UNTIL I noticed that the fountain in my goldfish pond wasn’t working. So I took my coffee to the pond to investigate. I fed the fish and tried to decide if I wanted to tackle the pump. But while I was watching the goldfish feed with a spring frenzy I couldn’t help but notice the wild clematis, Virginia creeper, knee-high oak seedlings, AND poison ivy spilling from every corner of the day lily beds that surround the pond. Oh, and the pump still wasn’t working. It apparently doesn’t respond to the “Mommy Evil Eye.” Arrgh!

I tried to do meditative breaths and focus on the delightful little fish forms in front of me but I couldn’t! Because you see, just yesterday I had a similar realization while catching up on six weeks worth of journaling! Again, I have been trapped by that weird womanly need to be everything to everybody. You’ve been there, you know how this works: You do all the stuff you think you need to do for everyone else only to watch your personal life and goals disappear under dust bunnies and vines. Enough!

I stomped into the house and put on my armor: long-sleeved bug shirt (check), long pants (check), sunscreen (double-check), straw hat (check), and “Steel Lady” (It’s a long story.) yard gloves and got my rake, shears, and wheelbarrow from the shed, which I now know is also covered in vines. With a fury not seen since I fixed my vacuum cleaner, I pulled every last vine out from those lily beds, cleaned the filthy filter for the pond, restarted the pump, and made a brush pile five feet high at the curb.

Sweaty, dirty, wet and pretty proud of myself, I came back in the house, pulled the screen door behind me, took a deep breath and then… saw dust bunnies piled against the baseboard as far as the eye can see. Yes, it’s going to be one of THOSE days around here. So, how are you?

Happy Mother’s Day SuperMom!

Mother’s Day is right around the corner! You’re ready for your kids to bring you breakfast in bed. You’re pumped up! You are ready to be celebrated for a change, have someone else do the heavy lifting for a day. You’re longing for a rose on the breakfast tray, two blueberry pancakes with extra syrup, a slice of thick bacon, a rich cup of French roast coffee and a homemade card that says “I Love You Mom!” atop a flowered cloth napkin.

 

Haha! Dream on!

Click here to see a SuperMom’s Mother’s Day!