Several years ago, I made the difficult decision to leave my work at hospice as the coordinator of the children’s grief and loss program to go back into private practice and pursue some of my own life-long dreams. It was not a decision I made lightly.
My days were spent counseling and supporting families and their children who were dealing with life’s cruelest and most crushing blow–the death of a loved one. I listened as families shared their stories of crossing things off their bucket lists while time graciously offered them the opportunity.
The work changed my life but after several years of companioning grieving children and their families, I got to thinking: What are my own dreams? What if the end of my own life is approaching faster than I know?
For months and months I pondered, “What would I do?”
What I came up with is that I would go back into private practice and pursue my dream to be a… Read more
While I’m off enjoying some time with family and friends you might want to check out my latest piece at Savvy Auntie.
This time of the year is tough for many. Nostalgia has a way of creeping in at our holidays tables. For those actively grieving, this time of the year can be riddled with pangs of sadness. Even more so, people who long to have children struggle as well. In my latest column at Savvy Auntie, I share some tips on how to survive this time of year when dealing with infertility or longing for children of our own.
This week’s tip you’ll find in detail if you head on over to my author friend, Laura Munson’s blog, These Here Hills.
Laura is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, “This Is Not the Story You Think It Is,” a memoir about adopting an attitude of non-suffering. It’s wise, funny and absent of anything Pollyana. It now sits on my shelf next to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Kelly Corrigan’s, The Middle Place. A coveted spot indeed.
Laura was gracious enough to let me write a guest column for her November newsletter about quieting our inner critic.
To read the entire piece, head on over to visit Laura. She’s a terrific virtual hostess and tell her I send ya but first, how do you quiet your inner critic?
And now, a sneak peak at I am the Ultimate…
When I was in eighth grade, about fourteen years old, I feel in love. Not with some young, strapping, adolescent fresh-faced boy with peach fuzz perched over his top lip.
Not even with a human.
I fell hard and fast for a word, a word when said out loud made me pitch over like a fainting goat. It had an air of pretense and yet consciously I despised pretense because it did precisely to me what it is designed to do-foster inferiority. This word, however, strung together with seven perfect letters, relegated me to the likes of a Marcia Brady type-the Marcia who pined away for Davy Jones from the Monkees.
The word was ultimate and when I prefaced it with the, I decided we should declare our love publicly.
“I am The Ultimate,” became the signature phrase I used to announce my triumphant arrival into a room. Arms open wide, forming a big Y over my head; I made a grand entrance afterschool one afternoon when I greeted my Mom in the kitchen.
My Mom came from hearty Irish stock and as my Dad says was, “a real lady.” My father embraced his self-appointed role as God’s laughter lieutenant and gravitates to the spotlight. My Mom, in contrast, preferred to play the part of a spectator. She raised the five of us to embrace humility and while she found us entertaining she went to great lengths to be sure we knew our place.
She canned applesauce every fall from the apples she and my aunt picked at our local orchard and taught us about the birds and the bees without one euphemism. On winter Sunday afternoons, she curled up in the crushed orange velvet recliner in her bedroom and soaked in the sunny spot by the sliding glass door. After reciting her daily rosary, she wandered off into the worlds that lived inside the stack of books resting on her glass-top table.
That fall afternoon, she must have had enough of my shenanigans and found my love affair with the word ultimate no longer tolerable or appropriate.
Still dressed in my Catholic school uniform, I hiked up my skirt and with my white blouse inching up over my belly I hopped up on the countertop and reached for a glass.
“I am The Ultimate,” I repeated; poking around in the cabinet propped up on the laminate, marble countertop.
Just as I found my favorite glass, my Mom tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Steffi, stop saying that.” She lent me her hand to get down. “It’s not very becoming.”
Click here to read the entire piece.
Who knew the topic of curtains would generate so much discussion?
I loved reading all your comments! Thank you for taking the time to stop on by.
Susan pointed out that curtains are an indication of a true commitment to a home. So I guess my interest in dressing our windows means we are ready to take things to the proverbial “next step” with this house we built. I’ll keep you posted on how the relationship progresses. Tomorrow, I am going to buy fabric for curtains in the dining room. The house, me and The Bird are going to take things slowly. One room at a time. We don’t want to smother each other. :-)
Today I’d like to offer a tip about the grieving process.
This time of the year, people often start to experience some twinges of emotion. If you venture into a Hallmark store or a local mall, all indications are you’re already behind on your Christmas shopping. All we need is the echo of The Salvation Army bells accompanied by their red, metal kettles to set off the mad holiday dash at this point.
Often though, the fall of the leaves and frost on the pumpkins draws the pain of loss up to the surface. Clients will say, “Steph, I’ve been feeling pretty good. I don’t know why I’m regressing not progressing.”
Here’s what I tell them.
The change of seasons is a trigger for feelings of loss. Oh, and any new feelings of grief are NOT a regression it is all progression. Remember, grieving is not a linear process. It is dynamic.
When the weather changes, so too, do our emotions. Memories of traditions with family or friends who have died from years past can wax nostalgia. It’s normal as a result to feel cranky, distracted, even unmotivated.
The good news?
This period of sadness will pass. Journaling, exercising, even a good cry can help. If the sadness persists and interferes with every day routines, consider seeking help. Grief counseling can be very effective. Trust me…I know.
Do you find any shift in your mood this time of the year?
See you Friday for somethin’ funny. Here’s a preview of this week’s post. Bianca is the star.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from a gentleman looking to start therapy. In the last twelve months he buried his wife and father.
“I’m really surprised. I thought by now I’d be feeling much better. Some days I feel like I’m actually getting worse.”
Don’t fall for this!
In my line of work as a grief and loss therapist, I hear this expectation on a pretty regular basis. It is a myth that after the first year, those grieving the loss of a loved one will feel like they’ve turned a magical corner. If I could find the culprit who started this vicious rumor, I’d give it a good smack on what we Italians like to call the culo.
Grieving is not a linear process. It is dynamic-it changes over a lifetime. People often say, “You’ll have good days and bad days.” I like to break it down even further. How you feel will change from moment to moment.
You are normal…it’s all normal
Most of the time, what people who are grieving need is some education about the process. This is what my client needed. He needed to know he wasn’t “losing his mind” because he cried more now than he did a year ago. He needed to know that his recent bout with sleeplessness could be attributed to this anniversary and a continued need to mourn. Once he discovered what he was feeling, thinking, and doing was all normal his anxiety reduced and he began to sleep more easily.
Tuesdays tip: Grief is dynamic.
While it would be wonderful to think after a year life returns to “normal” that’s simply a myth. The second year is often harder than the first because the reality begins to set in. The good news is, however, that over time, we do begin to find a new normal and the pain and sorrow do subside but when that actually begins to happen is very individual.
Know someone who might benefit from this Tuesday’s tip? Please pass it on!
What have been your experiences? Following the death of a loved one, when did you notice you began to have more peaceful moments than sorrowful ones?
See you Friday for something much lighter. :-)
Suggested reading: How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando, Ph.D.
Happy Sunday, Everyone!
This week’s Sacred Sunday I am encoring a piece I wrote last year about my Dad in honor of his birthday. It’s Part I of what I’m calling The Daddy Diaries.
Spit shined, dusted off and anxious to take center stage again, please give a warm, Sacred Sunday welcome to, “Don’t Look With Your Dawba.”
“Don’t Look With Yaw Dawba”
Two weekends ago The Bird and I flew to Florida to see my Dad for his 95th birthday.
During our time in the sunshine state, we did all the sorts of “geezer” things you’d normally do with a 95 year old, including playing a tense game of Bingo at the Country Club.
Let me say this about Bingo-it’s seductive. The swagger with which it carries itself, in tandem with the promise of providing a fun-filled evening, could probably cause even the likes of a Mother Theresa to buckle at the knees. DO NOT fall for this trickery. Bingo is a sporting event that in a hot second can turn ugly. I’ll give Bingo points for brains-shacking up in innocuous locations, preying on the vulnerable in church halls, cruise ships and the occasional country club. (Ok, not exactly the vulnerable, I’ll admit).
Six years ago, on an early March evening, three weeks after my mother passed away, my father asked me if I wanted to go with him to Bingo.
Prior to my mother’s death, on visits down to Florida to see my parents, it was customary for all of us to go to the club to play Bingo on Thursday nights. The thought of going back to a familiar place without my mother made my stomach twist and my eyes swim in tears. Not wanting to alarm my Dad with the intensity of my sorrow though, I smiled and said, “Sure, Daddy.”
That evening, as my Dad pulled open the door to the club and we climbed the stairs to the main dining room, I swallowed hard. The smell of the dinner buffet laid out against the far wall sucker-punched me. The odor waiving off the warming trays was reminiscent of the odor of the rehab center my Mom stayed in after she recovered from brain surgery three months earlier. I nearly threw up.
My blind sighted run-in with this olfactory foe is called a STUG-a term coined by Dr. Therese Rando, psychologist, thanatologist and grief expert as a subsequent, temporary, upsurge of grief. Dr. Rando further defines STUGs as “brief periods of intense grief which occur when a catalyst reminds one of the absence of the loved one or resurrects memories of the death, the loved one, or feelings about the loss.”
Refocusing my attention on my Dad quelled my nausea as we gathered our Bingo packets, daubers and other Bingo accouterments.
The truth is at the time, he was lost and so was I.
“B-5….0-65…I -19…” the Bingo announcer called out. With a New England bravado that would make even a Tom Brady cower in the corner, this woman’s affect was more like a schoolmarm than a rabble-rousing cruise ship director. (Where’s Julie from The Love Boat when you need her?)
About half way into the evening, she took a break from calling numbers, passed the microphone on to her partner and began to walk her beat. Wandering from table to table, she policed the strategies of those stupid enough to come out to play.
When people are grieving the simple task of focusing on nine different Bingo cards simultaneously, can feel like the equivalent of solving the quadratic equation. My head scratches synchronized with the number calling, clued her in I was having trouble.
As she meandered around the room, she spotted me.
“Honey,” she hollered across the room in her thick Boston accent, “Don’t look with yaw dawbuh.”
My face flushed and I coiled my head and neck into my sweater as far as I could without compromising my ability to breathe. I was the youngest person in the room by at least three decades. I felt like a kindergartner who couldn’t even recognize something as elementary as her primary colors.
But when the banquet manager entered the dining room from behind the swinging double doors of the kitchen, what happened next paled in comparison to my unsolicited lesson in how to play Bingo.
My Dad waved down the manager as if he was stranded on the side of the road fatally injured. The quiet hush in the room was pierced by my father. “Gosh damn it-it’s freezing in here. Turn on the heat or something. Good, gosh damn it. It’s always so damn cold in here.”
“SSSSShhhhhh!” The crowd shouted as if to say, “Have you no respect for the game?” To an outside observer, it might appear my father had not been schooled properly on the etiquette of Bingo but the truth is he’s indulgent. Ever heard of the book When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple?
The road of embarrassment
Note: If you haven’t ever been to a serious game of Bingo here’s a head’s up: They generally don’t play straight Bingo. They play things called The Wedding Cake, Five Around and B’s and O’s and quite frankly it takes a trained eye to keep track of 9 cards at a time in goofy patterns.
The combination of being singled out by the cranky Bingo volunteer, my Dad’s outbursts and the odor off of the buffet had me eyeing the exits.
The embers of a grief stricken meltdown burned just above the surface-a meltdown not for public consumption.
Many of those in attendance that evening knew full well my mother’s body was barely cold. In the past I knew the crowd could be unforgiving, but that night, I was either particularly sensitive from deeply mourning the death of my mother or the crowd was particularly insensitive. In retrospect it was probably a little of both.
My husband to the rescue
The game finally ended and when we returned safely home, I found a spot to crawl into and I called The Bird. Wrapped inside primal sobs, I said something I’m sure was incoherent that went something like:
“That…*sniff*…*sniff*…*sniff*…was HORRIBLE *sniff*…*sob*…*hyperventilate*…His wife just died and *sniff*…those …(blow nose)…people were meaaan!”
Bingo that night traumatized me but those early months following my mother’s death just about anything could bring on a nuclear, emotional meltdown.
Even though that March evening, Bingo was brutal, I managed to move through those first weeks of mourning and this past visit to my Dad’s, I didn’t allow my former Bingo encounter to shackle me to the house.
This time there seemed to be a palpable shift in the mood of the room. The crowd’s overall tone was markedly less adversarial to which I attributed the canning of the caustic Boston Bingo volunteer and the therapeutic value of time passing.
While I could take or leave Bingo-being the youngin’ that I am, I went that night in early March almost seven years ago not only for my Dad but also for my Mom who would not have wanted my Dad to go alone.
And in the middle of “B-14….0-75″ a few weeks ago, sacredness surrounded us. Being with The Bird, my brother and my Dad felt holy.
Footprints on our souls
Moments like this leave footprints on our souls if we take the time to recognize them. Ron Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, speaks eloquently about seeing the eternal in the ordinary in his book, The Shattered Lantern.
For me, this was a reminder that with a simple shift in perspective sacredness comes into focus. Rather than ruminate on how my heart shrivels up in pain whenever we enter the club, especially to play Bingo, I revel in the hallowness of this time between me and my Daddy.
Suggested Reading: The Shattered Lantern by Ron Rolheiser
I first stumbled upon this exercise when I visited Debbie Steir’s blog.
I loved this idea.
If you could choose only six words to write your memoir…
which six would you choose?
Trying to figure it all out.
I’m about to tell you something you already know.
Hold on to your panties…
Over fifty percent of all marriages will end in divorce.
Indeed, this is a sobering statistic.
“Well, duh, Steph. We know that, right?”
I know, I know but please DO NOT CLICK AWAY.
I come with glad tidings!
If fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, that means another fifty percent of marriages work!
Now you might be asking, “No $#%&, Sherlock-but what’s the secret?”
Today, I’d like to let you in on a few of my own.
Wednesday, my husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary.
Yes, we are the proud parents of twenty years of marriage-a very, happy marriage.* One with so much PDA (public displays of affection) at times people tell us to “get a room.”
*Disclaimer: DOES NOT equate with absent of cares and woes (The common misconception that happy marriages are devoid of complexity is the genesis of trouble).
As Wednesday drew near, I found myself making a mental list of why I think our marriage has been so successful. Busy formulating my list while tossing laundry into the washer and my hands deep in dirty dishes, I recalled a conversation we had last winter with my nephew. Read more
Ever feel like, “Gee whiz?”
That’s how I feel as I write this post.
My Mom reserved that expression for times when there really wasn’t anything else to say.
Times like the day I called her to tell her I that I had been struggling to get pregnant, and the time when I was visiting my parents in Florida and my husband called to tell me that our dog, Bella was so sick they weren’t sure she was going to make it. While I sat in tears on the powder blue lazy boy, my cell phone in my lap, she kissed me on the forehead, sighed and said, “Oh, Steffi. Gee whiz.”
Today, if I called her to tell her the “bitter” of my week, I’m sure she’d say, “Oh, Steffi, gee whiz.” Read more
This evening while winding down, a commercial for the movie Eat, Pray, Love, based on the wildly popular New York Times bestseller of the same name came on.
The commercial stirred inside me the kind of nostalgia that comes from daydreaming about your first kiss. Read more