Friday, July 29, 2011

Sharing Your Stories

Hi Everyone!! Cry, Laugh, Heal is a place where the sad, silly and satisfying aspects of grief and resilience are explored.  Everyone is welcome to join in and share their experiences about loss and trying to get back into the groove of living life.

Through the process of sharing, we know we are not alone.

It may feel as though it is only happening to you, but then when you reach out to others you find that what is happening to you has also happened to others, and they can relate to your situation.  Often, they can share how they handled the unexpected emotions of bereavement and possibly, that might work for you.  Or it might not.  But we never know until we try.  It's still a journey, a process of opening up, sharing and hopefully, healing and becoming more resilient.

We're all in this together so let's see if we can offer each other support!

You can make suggestions or leave comments on the Cry, Laugh, Heal Facebook page, on the blog post itself, or through email at  You can also find us on Twitter @crylaughheal.

Many thanks!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was with us for only 27 years.  But in that short time her artistic flame burned bright even as she continually battled for control over drugs and alcohol.  Artistically she broke new ground, writing and recording songs that addressed her self-destructive lifestyle.  Yet for her family and millions of fans, there was always the hope that she would turn things around and bring her demons under control.

Here are the lyrics to "Tears Dry on Their Own," one of my favorites from her Grammy-award winning album, "Back To Black":

"Tears Dry On Their Own"
Songwriters: Valerie Simpson; Nickolas Ashford; Amy Jade Winehouse

All I can ever be to you,
Is the darkness that we knew,
And this regret I've got accustomed to,
Once it was so right,
When we were at our high,
Waiting for you in the hotel at night,
I knew I hadn't met my match,
But every moment we could snatch,
I don't know why I got so attached,
It's my responsibility,
And you don't owe nothing to me,
But to walk away I have no capacity

He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day but I'm grown,
And there's no way, in this blue shape,
My tears dry on their own,

I don't understand
How do I stress A man,
When there's so many bigger things at hand,
We could a never had it all,
We had hit a wall,
So this is inevitable withdrawl,
Even if I stop wanting you,
A Perspective pushes true,
I'll be some next man's other woman soon,

I shouldn't play myself again,
I should just be my own best friend
Not f*** myself in the head with stupid men,


So we are history,
YOUR  shadow covers me
The sky above,
A blaze only that lovers see


I wish I could say no regrets,
And no emotional debts,
Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets
So we are history,
The shadow covers me,
The sky above a blaze that only lovers see,


He walks away
The sun goes down,
He takes the day but I'm grown,
And in no way,
In my deep shape
My tears dry

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter & His Parents

Hi readers!  Today we have a guest blogger, Ryan O'Toole, a rising senior at Fordham University, and in the interest of full disclosure, my son:

Isn’t it funny that there are words for people whose spouses die?  A woman whose husband dies is called a widow, while a man whose wife dies is called a widower.
Now the sheer existence of these words might not seem odd to you at face value, but doesn’t it strike you as a weird oversight of the English language that we do not have words for children who lose a parent?  I have thought a great deal about this question in the almost eight years since my father died.
My mother can call herself a widow, but I have often felt lost.  What am I then?  Am I simply father-less?  It’s hard enough to have a parent die when you are a child; it already isolates you instantly from others your age, and chances are it will for many more years of your life.  To not have a way to identify yourself leaves you suspended in a place that no one can define.  It was very rare for me to find others my age that I could talk to about losing a parent.  Granted I didn’t always want to talk to others about my grief-I often just wanted to pretend I was normal-but every once in a while I wished I had a support group like widows and widowers do.
Luckily, I found something similar to a support group from a place you wouldn’t expect-a book.  Harry Potter to be more specific. 
Although Harry had lost both of his parents as a baby and I had only lost my father at the age of thirteen, I identified with a great deal of Harry’s feelings.  Throughout the beautiful and landmark series by J.K. Rowling, Harry speaks a great deal about the effect of his dead parents on him.  In the first book he looks into the Mirror of Erised, a magical looking glass that will show its viewer whatever he or she most desires, and sees his parents beaming back at him.  All he wanted was to see them, speak to them, perhaps just be in the same room as them.
There were many times when I just wanted to ask my dad a single question.  I think it can be hard for children to deal with the loss of a parent because it feels so finite.  I knew at the age of thirteen that I would not have a father to go to for advice or questions or simply to share my stories with.  It made sense to me, as it did to Harry, that your greatest desire would be just to see your parent again. 
Of course I think anyone who has lost a loved one feels this way, but I think it is particularly resonant for children and lost parents because you only get two parents.  You cannot change who those people are, so to lose one can be a very painful reality to adjust to.
Harry often speaks throughout the series about wanting to walk in the footsteps of his parents.  He goes to Hogwarts, the same school his parents excelled at, so he wants to do an equally good job.  I know for me losing a parent was often a motivating factor for my success; I think many children want to do well in school, a sport, an extracurricular, or whatever it is they thrive in, because they want to make their parents proud.  That desire is only amplified when a parent dies. 
One of the most comforting scenes of the series for me was in the seventh book when (SPOILER ALERT) Harry is walking into the Forbidden Forest ready to be killed by Voldemort so that Voldemort can die.  He is sacrificing his life so that his friends, and the forces of good in the magical world, can live.
As he walks towards death he conjures the ghosts of his parents and his dead godfather Sirius, the people he loved as parents in life.  He asks them if Voldemort and his evil followers will be able to see them.  Sirius replies (and I paraphrase) “We are invisible to anyone else.  Only you can see us.  We are inside you, in your heart always.”  This sentiment, which is completely true, is an immeasurable gift to a child who has lost a parent.
I knew, for example, that my father would never come back, but I knew that he was always in my heart and in my memories.  In that sense, I knew he was still with me.  For children, and for all people who grieve, that knowledge, however sappy it may sound, means the world. 

As the Harry Potter movies have come to a close this past weekend, and I consider my childhood officially over (as I’m sure many people born in the late eighties and early nineties feel), it is important to remember that like Harry Potter, there are thousands of children who deal with grief just as much as adults do.
Whether they follow the example of Harry or not, children need special attention from the adults around them to help them grieve in the way that works for them.  Until the English language invents a word for children who have lost a parent, I hope that adults everywhere will continue to work to make grieving children feel comfortable with their feelings and their new identities.
I hope too that all children know that just as Harry Potter was left with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead after his parents died, a dead parent’s love and care never leaves.  That love will always be left in your heart.    

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Heart Behind Gilligan's Island

The cast of Gilligan's Island

A good and very funny friend of mine, Annie Howell, loves, loves everything about Gilligan's Island.  She and her husband, Brad, and their two boys even named their dog, Thurston, after the lockjawed, elitist character marooned on the island, Thurston Howell III.  I think everyone who watched the show identified with at least one of the characters -- the Professor, Marianne, Gilligan, the Skipper or The Movie Star -- who every week would comically try to escape from Gilligan's Island.

When the sad news broke this week that television producer Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of the iconic television series, Gilligan's Island, and also The Brady Bunch, died at the age of 94, Annie was heartbroken.  Yesterday she found out that Schwartz wrote a farewell letter titled, "A Conversation At The Gates" and that Schwartz had requested that his family have it published posthumously in The Hollywood Reporter.

Thanks Annie for sharing it with your friends and now I share it with you:

A Conversation at the Gates
By Sherwood Schwartz

One day in the not too distant future, I will find
myself standing in front of the Pearly Gates.
I knock.
A pleasant voice calls out, "Who's there?"
"Sherwood Schwartz," I answer.
"One moment," says the Voice.  "I have lots of Schwartzs on my list.
Did you say Sherwood?"
"Yes, Sherwood Schwartz.  I was born November 14, 1916.
My parents were Rose and Herman Schwartz.
"Yes, yes, I have it right here.  Your parents loved you very much."
"I loved them very much as well.  I lived with them until
I got married."
"To Mildred, according to my records," says the Voice.
"Yes.  I never believed in love at first sight until I met Mildred.
I always thought "love at first sight" was just poetic babble."
"That's what they all say until it happens to them."
"I loved Mildred with all my heart for over sixty-nine years."
I'm sure she loved me as much as I loved her."
"She did," says the Voice.  "And you had four children,
Donald, Lloyd, Ross and Hope."
"Four wonderful children," I couldn't help adding,
"All of them quite different, but all of them talented,
and hard-working.  I'm pleased I was able to watch
each of them reach certain goals."
"You sound very proud of them," says the Voice."
"Mildred and I were always very proud.
We took good care of them when they were young, and they
took good care of us when we got old."
"I see they each have two children; Donald, two girls,
Lloyd two boys, Ross two grils, and Hope two girls."
"All of them talented and industrious, like their parents," I say.
"All well-educated in different professions:
Medicine, Law and Entertainment,"
"I see you also have four great grandchildren,
Two great granddaughters and two great grandsons."
I say, "You keep very good records."
"I have to," says the Voice.  "People keep
coming and going all the time.  You've been pretty
busy yourself.  After college you started writing
and you never stopped."
"That's because writing isn't a profession; it's a disease.
And it's accompanied by a disease that's even worse,
"I know all about that," says the Voice.  "You're not
the first writer to to knock on my gate.  But at least
you were successful.  Many writers are not."
"That's true.  I've been well-rewarded with plenty of money for me,
for my family, and for my charities."
"A good life I would say," says the Voice.,
"With plenty of awards and honors."
"And plenty of hard knocks from critics," I reply.
"That comes with the territory," says the Voice.  "But you've had
lots of compensation.  Not just money; thousands of fan letters
you've received from people all over the world,
thanking you for entertaining them
with words that brought them a smile or a
laugh, sometimes when they needed it most."
Then the Voice continues apologetically, "I
didn't mean to keep you waiting outside the gate.  Go ahead: Ask.
Ask what they all want to know when they knock at my gate:
Am I going to Heaven or not?
"That's what I was going to ask when I got here," I say,
then I suddenly realized something when we talked.
Heaven is where I've been since the day I was born."
A fond farewell.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Porch Painting

I am painting the screened-in porch on our house and it is taking me a lot longer than I thought it would.  This time around there is more sanding and it just seems as though there is more to paint.  I had forgotten the amount of prep work necessary before you can even put the brush in the paint.  Oh well...I'm making progress as the radio blasts America's Top 40, even though I'm occasionally pulled back to thoughts about the last time I painted the porch.

Eight years ago, the porch was new and my husband was alive.  He loved the porch and spent a lot of time there reading and resting.  Often I would find him sitting in one of the chairs with his eyes closed, feeling the soft breeze.  Or he would just sit out there by himself staring off into the distance.  I often wonder if he knew how sick he was at that point.  I think he felt very tired from the diabetes and his heart condition, but I never really knew what he was thinking about because once he saw me he acted as though everything was fine.  He would smile and then ask me what was going on in the world.

When I was painting the ceiling, my husband would sit inside in the family room and read one of the many  newspapers we had delivered to the house.  Sometimes he would read stories out loud to me if he thought he found one that was particularly interesting or weird or involved someone we did or didn't like very much.  Of course, I didn't always agree with the selection of stories he decided to read to me.  If he started to read something that I particularly considered a waste of time, I would yell something back like, "Stop reading.  I don't want to hear anything more about blankety blank."  Did he stop reading?  Nooooo way.  He would go on reading until he reached the end.  It would drive me crazy but it also made me paint faster.

As a family, we ate lunch and dinner on the porch as much as we could and my son and I still spend just about the same amount of time out there.  But DC summers can get really hot and humid and at some point the weather becomes unbearable and we have to retreat inside for a cooler place to eat.  My favorite times on the porch are late dinners on the weekend.  Just as finish our meal, the sun starts to set and we light the candles.  No one is in a hurry and we lazily talk and catch up with one another.  Of course, we thought that routine would never end; that we would always hang out on the porch and have relaxing dinners.  We had no idea what was in store for us and it was just as well.

It's still a very special porch and lately it has been the site for graduation and birthday celebrations.  I know it will continue to be the site of many more happy family events.  One event, planned for later this summer, is a bridal shower for one of my nieces who is getting married in November 2011.  New memories will be made with this bridal party and I look forward to celebrating my niece, her fiance and their exciting future.  And in the midst of all the bridal excitement and the wedding decorations and gifts, I will sweetly remember the man that I was once married to.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nourish Your Soul

The Summer 2011 issue of Flavor magazine features a cover story on Sam Kass, assistant chef at the White House.  The story, written by former New York Times and Washington Post staff reporter Marion Burros, discusses how Kass changed the way the Obama family eats.  By cooking wholesome local and seasonal foods for the Obama family during the presidential campaign and now in the White House kitchen, Kass  made it a priority to demonstrate the powerful connection between good food and healthy bodies.

Think of your body as the BANK OF YOU and fresh fruits and veggies as nutritional deposits towards your balance of continued good health.  Put simply, you really and truly are what you eat.

Just as cancer patients change their diets to build up their immune systems, people who are grieving need to be sensitive to eating regularly and eating well.  If your spouse, partner or child recently died, it's perfectly normal that cooking may be the last thing you want to do.  Cooking for one person poses different problems than cooking for a family.  Children have a tendency to continually tell you how hungry they are until you throw something together and put it on the table for them to eat.  But if you are by yourself and you're hungry, a box of Wheat Thins can be considered a meal.  Not the greatest thing but it's easy and no dishes are involved.  Eating alone can also be just one more thing to remind you of your loss.  A good friend of mine who lost her husband six years ago says the dinner hour is still the hardest time of the day for her.

Your appetite has changed during this sad time, so it's essential for you to take good care of yourself as you try to build back your strength.  Your emotions are all over the place and you need time to adjust.  Grieving is not a disease but it is stressful.  You have suddenly lost someone you care about very much and you're feeling vulnerable.  You have a lot of decisions to make and you're feeling the weight of all of it.

You may be tempted to turn to other substances for help but please don't look to pills or other drugs for relief.  This is definitely not the time to turn to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to dull the effects of stress or pain.  Alcohol and drugs will temporarily numb you, but when their effects wear off you will have a much harder time working through your grief and then you may find yourself in a vicious cycle.  Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs take you backwards and downward and delay the time when you eventually will be forced to confront the pain of your loss.

You deserve better: foods full of nutrition, sleep and exercise.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, summertime favorites like watermelon, red grapes, raspberries and figs are packed with valuable nutrients that will help keep you youthful and energized.  No matter where you live in the United States, there's always something ripe to eat when the weather turns hot. 

A junk food binge is okay every now and then but watch out if junk or fast food is your regular diet.  My feeling is you have to indulge sometimes and eat something sugary or fatty as a treat to yourself.  But a regular diet of fast foods or frozen foods isn't going to give you the punch of nutrients you need now to rebuild your life.  Although I know some people who would argue that Stouffer's lasgna can give you courage as well as comfort.

Courtesy of Stouffer's
I totally sympathize with the convenience factor of food found in the frozen section of the grocery store.  It causes me to fall off the healthy food wagon a lot.  It's an ongoing battle.  I recently had a stressful day and found myself eating a half gallon of lemon sorbet.  Okay, I know it's piggy.  I didn't plan to eat the whole container of sorbet.   I would say somewhere around the halfway mark of the carton I knew I had reached the point of no return.  That little voice inside me said I should stop, yet I couldn't.  It was a really hot day and the sorbet was slushy and tart.  The next thing I knew my spoon hit the bottom of the carton.  No way!  How did that happen?

Since the bust of that bad food party, I will carry on as we all must:  Let's be kind to ourselves and start fresh from where we are right now and move forward.  Guilt about past junk or fast food deposits into the BANK OF YOU are not productive.  Think good, fresh food and healthy bodies.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Owen Danoff

In keeping with the many unknowns that you face on your journey to rebuild your life after losing a loved one, going out by yourself for social events is on that master of list of things that is easier for men than it is for women.  At least it is for me.

It's not like I never did it when my husband was alive, but it's different now.  I miss many things about not being part of a couple at social events, such as not having someone in the car so you can take the evening apart on the way home (Can you believe so and so came to the party?  What were you and so and so talking about?  Blah, Blah, Blah...).  Anyway, sometimes you're in the mood to deal with it and sometimes you're not. 

But this weekend I was looking forward to it.

Saturday night I had the pleasure of watching my good friend's son, Owen Danoff, perform at a local music club call the Birchmere.  As a performer, Owen has it all.  He is magnetic on stage, full of incredible energy and his songs are dynamic and melodic.  To give you a glimpse into his incredible talents, please watch this video of Owen and his friend, Adrien, sing "Have I Ever Fallen" and decide for yourself.  But I think you'll agree after watching, that we will definitely be hearing more great stuff from Owen and I can't wait:

What do you think?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bestselling Author Ann Kaiser Stearns, PhD -- Save The Date

Although Widowed Persons Outreach provides help for those who are widowed, this October 19th, 2011 conference is open to everyone!

You may be a professional or helping a friend or family member through loss and want to deepen your skills and understanding.  Or you yourself may be experiencing a loss. Whatever your situation, this conference will give you comfort and hope.

Bestselling author Dr. Ann Kaiser Stearns brings a powerful message to those dealing with the pain of a loss. When a loved one dies, a marriage or important relationship ends, a financial or health crisis occurs, or even a dream is shattered, you still have a choice in how to live, says Dr. Stearns. With her inspirational insight and helpful healing strategies, you’ll discover how you can move beyond the harsh and painful events that have occurred, grow stronger, and still live a fulfilling life. 

For more information about Dr. Stearns, visit her website,  Her latest book will be for sale at the event.

When:  Wednesday, October 19, 2011   
             9:45 a.m. – Registration and Coffee or Tea
             10:15 a.m. – 12:00 noon – Keynote Address
             12:00 noon – Book signing and Break
             12:30 p.m. – Lunch is served

Who:  Dr. Ann Kaiser Stearns
WhyLiving Through Personal Crisis – Life After Loss
          Sponsored by Widowed Persons Outreach – Helping and Healing

Where: Kenwood Country Club, 5601 River Road, Bethesda, MD  20816

Cost:  $35.  Make check payable to WPO and mail to Pat Ebbecke,
           7600 17th St., NW, Washington, DC 20012-1122  
Contact:  For further information, call Pat Ebbecke 202-726-3418.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer In The City

FRESHFARM Markets Photo
One of my favorite things about summer is the food.  Summer food is the BEST!!!  The tomatoes, the corn on the cob, melons, peaches and berries.  I could go on and on.  Everything is so fresh and so flavorful.

One of the places where I find a great supply of summer food is at a Farmer's Market near my office that is also about two blocks from the White House.  We call it Michelle Obama's Farmer's Market because the first year the Obamas were in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of her nutrition campaign to get Americans to eat healthier foods, walked across the street to pick out some fruits and veggies for her family.  Naturally, the market got a lot of attention and because of it's prime location you can never be sure when she might visit again!

The FRESHFARM Markets is made up of about a dozen vendors and they sell farm fresh fruits and produce along with flowers, home made breads, home made cheeses, and home made popsicles in exotic flavors such as strawberry ginger lemonade and vanilla honey lavender.  Today, the smell of the peaches was incredible.  I bought some tomatoes and my friend bought peaches.

Besides the delicious produce, you also get a chance to chat up the farmers who grow the food.  They are always ready to talk about the best ways to cook the foods they are selling and how they grew it.  It's all part of the community of vendors who come together every week in this part of the city to promote the unique taste of food grown in the Chesapeake Bay region and expose people to fresh food they might not be able to grow for themselves.

Not only do we feel we're supporting the farmers when we walk down the street to buy their fresh products but we're also doing something healthy for ourselves.  And when you've been sitting in front of a computer for most of the day that's always a good thing!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Photo by Eileen Milner
Today is Independence Day, a day we as a nation celebrate to mark our break with the Kingdom of England and our birth as the United States of America.  As Americans living in a dynamic democracy, we share many freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.  We are so lucky to live here and blessed with our way of life.  It continues to be a work in progress but I'll take it over any other system of government.  I send my thanks to our leaders and those in the military who protect and serve us and put their lives on the line for us every day.

Many of you are missing those precious loved ones who lost their lives in the line of duty.  Or maybe you are missing those who were with you this time last year or perhaps many years before.  There seems to be no independence from the journey of grief.  But there is hope and healing.

We pick ourselves up and go on with our lives because we must.  We may remarry, have additional children and meet new friends.  Yet there will always be that special place for that special person and no one can take that away or change it.  It is yours.

We can't stop time but we can reminisce.  Some people create a personal rite to mark the memory of a loss.  My friend, Eileen, who took the beautiful photograph of the bright pink flower posted here, tirelessly fundraises for breast cancer and organizes a large group of people to walk in the Susan G. Komen Walk For The Cure every year in memory of her dear sister, Rose. That is powerful.  It is taking your pain and turning it into a positive experience.

The Fourth of July always reminds me of a dear friend lost many years ago, Bobby Dolan.  Bobby made the best potato salad in the whole world and all of his friends constantly badgered him for the recipe.  He never gave it to any one.  After he died, we asked his wife, Darlene, if she knew it and she said didn't.  "I have no idea.  I wasn't even allowed to be in the kitchen for the last steps of the recipe," she said. 

I kept trying to figure out the recipe and seem to have come pretty close to Bobby's version.  So today my friend, Joan, is having her annual Fourth of July cook-out and it is understood that I will make the potato salad and when we eat it we all talk about Bobby.

We take the memories of our loved ones and freeze frame and hold them dearly in our hearts.  They are like old friends that we visit from time to time.  While those memories can make us cry, laugh, and shake our heads in wonder, those same memories can also help us heal.

Grief is a challenge and it is a slow.  We all work through it at our own pace and know that ups and downs are part of the process.  Take comfort in the fact that you will eventually heal and see life from a different perspective.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People after the death of his young son.  Here are his words of wisdom:  "I think of my son and all that his life taught me, and I realize how much I have lost and how much I have gained.  Yesterday seems less painful, and I am not afraid of tomorrow." 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Holiday Healing

This July 4th holiday weekend may be your first holiday without a loved one or it may be full of poignant memories that make it hard to fully enjoy the fireworks, parades and backyard cook-outs.  I found some helpful suggestions on healing from Capital Hospice's Survivor's Guide and thought I would share some with you:

-- It is okay to feel lousy.  Some days will be worse than others.  There is no logical progression to these feelings and that is okay.

--Cry if you need to.

--In dealing with guilt, ask five important questions:

        How long am I going to choose to feel this way?
        When am I going to say I've suffered enough?
        What would it take to lessen my guilt?
        What would it take to forgive myself?
        Would my loved one want me to feel like this?

--Write a letter to say those things that were left unsaid.

--Be patient with yourself.  The feeling of "what's the use?" will not last forever.

--Fine healthy ways to express anger: running, exercise, walking, hitting a pillow, talking to the deceased's picture.

--If weight gain is a problem, buy "treat" foods in small quantities, not the bulk size.

--Don't make major decisions unless absolutely necessary.

--Know that well-meaning people will say awkward and sometimes dumb things.  Forgive them, for they do care.

--There is great wisdom in the advice "take it a day at a time."