Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blessed Easter

Have A Blessed Easter

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, and many Christians will spend the day praying, fasting and reflecting on the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

I am working today so I will try to reflect and pray but I will be squeezing it in between my office projects and the usual running around I do in order to keep all the balls in the air.

Good Friday signals that Easter is almost here and that means that the end of Lent is also almost here.
That's good news for me because this year for Lent, I gave up chocolate which I totally love, especially when it's been sitting in the refrigerator.
I have not eaten chocolate for 45 days.
I can't believe it myself.  I didn't think I would make it this long.  I thought I would break my Lenten promise not to eat chocolate and that somewhere in those days before Easter I would eat a bag of M and M's. 

But I didn't.  And I feel a lot better for it. 

A few days before the beginning of Lent, I was beginning to feel powerless over chocolate.  I would eat it and then tell myself that that was it, chocolate wasn't good for me and I wasn't going to eat anymore.

But it didn't work.  The chocolate was talking to me.

Whether it was a chocolate chip cookie or chocolate candies in the kitchen at work, I realized I couldn't keep it up.  I had to put the brakes on the chocolate.  Luckily, Lent came along at just the right time.
I have to admit that chocolate did come close to my mouth one or two times.  I was at a party and there was a bowl of wrapped chocolates just sitting there.  Automatically, I put my hand out to take one (or two) and then that little voice inside me said, "You gave it up, remember?  Don't even think about it."
Another time I was at my parents and my father loves to nibble on trail mix.  When I was pouring it into a small bowl for him, I did the same thing.  I automatically went for some and then realized there were bits of chocolate mixed in to the nuts and raisins.
The idea of giving something up for Lent is symbolic.  Jesus gave up his life for us and the least I can do is try to change a small habit during Lent, right?  You can be creative about Lent.  You don't have to give something up.  Instead, you can try to do something positive such as being more patient or thinking twice before making an unnecessary comment.
Whether it's chocolate or kindness, I am glad to have stepped back, reset my actions and taken a break from a bad habit.
Who knows. . . Maybe I even earned a little grace along the way, which is always a good thing!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seeking Support

Having spent almost two years going to group grief counseling sessions, I am a big believer in talking about the issues you need help with.

Whether it's grief, drug or alcohol addiction, weight issues or marriage problems, talking can help because you are taking your issues out of the dark and shining light on them for everyone to see.  You're not hiding your issues and acting as though everything is okay and being handled well. 

The idea of being part of a support group can seem very intimidating. It was not an easy decision for me: in talking about my pain, it was almost as though I was reliving it. But I was sick of the pain and it wasn't going away. I don't think I thought about what would happen when I began to talk about my emotional, painful and raw emotions to a group of strangers. You are opening up your heart, making yourself vulnerable and saying "I am so messed up right now. Please listen and support me."

I was really nervous when I went by myself to my first counseling session, totally unsure of what was going to happen.  But I think I am speaking for myself and definitely others when I say that it usually takes you a long time to decide that you need to go and receive counseling in the first place, so by the time you finally find a person or place that you trust and feel comfortable with, you are ready to participate.  I would have stayed in the group longer but one of the rules of the group was that you could only belong for two years.
In a surprising way, I found it freeing to be with other people who have experienced loss and listen to their stories and talk about feelings, thoughts, actions or regrets that were on the top of our minds.  There was a lot I didn't have to explain when I was talking about my loss.  I looked into the eyes of others in the group and could see that most people understood exactly what I was talking about and might have also felt it for themselves at some point.   We were there to get better and we were there because we know we needed help and guidance to get back to a place in our lives where it didn't hurt so much.

My first session was about two hours and there were about 12 people.  Two people who are trained therapists led the group's discussions and offered topics for us to think about from week to week. 

We started by introducing ourselves and giving a little bit of information as to why we were there in the counseling session.  When it was my turn, I started to introduce myself and my story and then I started to cry.  It was unexpected for I really thought I would be okay and could at least get through an introduction.  But no luck.  The group gave me the best response:  silence, a box of tissues and as much time as I need to get myself under control and let me speak about myself.
This may sound obvious but you can't go to individual or group counseling if you don't think you have a problem or if you think that counseling is shameful or humiliating.

Support groups can work well because each person is experiencing the same difficulty in their life even though each person may be handling it differently.  For me, it took away some of the feelings of aloneness and isolation. 

But the real work of group counseling happens between sessions when you are out in the real world and trying to use your new information to bring about change.  The group can guide you and give you support but ultimately it's up to you to figure out how to make it work.  Just like many things in life, you get out of it what you put into it.

Whether it's group counseling or one-on-one couseling, either way I hope you find an outlet for your pain.  Congratulations for being willing to take the important step of reaching out to others for support.

Best of luck to all!!


Wednesday, March 27, 2013


"Breathing in,
I calm my body,
Breathing out,
I smile.
Dwelling in the
present moment
I know this is a
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

6 American Optimists

Readers: start your engines!

If you are anything like me, you probably have days when it's just plain hard to get into gear and get going.


To help you move it along today,  here are six Americans (I am inspired by Gabby Giffords!) who told Reader's Digest that life is better when you think positive and here's what they have to say about looking on the bright side of life:

Spirtual Adviser
Billy Graham, 94, Christian minister, says, "If I didn't have spiritual faith, I would be a pessimist.  But I'm an optimist.  I've read the last page in the Bible.  It's going to turn out all right."

School principal Kenyetta Wilbourn, 36, carried an aluminum bat through the hallways of Detroit'd Denby High when she started there in 2009.  Now, while the neighborhood is still troubled, Wilbourn has transformed Denby into a clean, calm center of learning  "This city is not the 'diamond in the rough'; it is the actual diamond," she says.

Katie Couric, 55, broadcaster and author, says, "Find the joy.  When you feel it, le t it wash over you.  And take a moment to appreciate it.  Be grateful for the people in your life, for waking up feeling good and pain free, and for the stretch of road ahead that's so full of possibilities.  When you encouter bumps, keep going and don't look back."

Gabrielle Giffords, 42, the former congreswoman from Arizona, wrote the final chapter of 2011 book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, in her own words: "Hope and fatih.  You have to have hope and faith. . . Long ways to go.  Grateful to survive.  It's frustrating.  Mentally hard.  Hard work.  I'm trying.  Trying so hard to get better.  Regain what I've lost. . .I will get stronger.  I will return.
Sports Enthusiast
Grant DePorter, 48, a Chicago restaureur and leading Chicago Cubs fan, is sticking by the team, which last won the World Series in 1908.  "No one knows more about optimism than a Cubs fan.  After waiting 104 years, it's our optimism, and not the winning, that binds us together.  We really do believe the next year will be the year," he says.
Business Leader
Former Google executive Marissa Mayer, 37, was named CEO of the struggling internet giant Yahoo! last August.  She's the sixth person to hold the post in the past five years.  "My view is that the core of Yahoo! is incredibly valuable and a great platform to build on," she says.

Who inspires you?

Monday, March 25, 2013

An Emotional Box

As I continue to slowly reorganize my freshly painted bedroom, it is amazing the things you find stored under your bed.
Last week I wrote about my long put-off decision to finally paint and reorganize my bedroom following my husband's death.  Now, as I pick and choose what I am bringing back into that room, I am dealing with some of the things that I pushed aside and choose not to think about.
In this instance, it is an old Estee Lauder box that once held cosmetics and perfume.  I loved the different colored berries pictured on the outside of the box and so I kept it and filled it with special things that I wanted to keep together in one place.
When my son was born, I put all the cards that people mailed to us in that box and then I continued to fill the box with birthday and holiday cards that he received as a child and various art projects that he did when he was in pre-school.
OMG, it is so precious!  When I opened the box, I just sat there and stared at it for a long time.
It's quite the emotional box; full of hopes, dreams, expectations, love and all the sweetness that I felt with the birth of my son and his early years as a toddler.  I went on a trip when I opened that box, a trip where I met myself and my husband some twenty-odd years ago.  We weren't young parents but we were a lot younger then and we had a new little baby boy and we were full of love, love, love and oblivious to the idea that it could ever, ever change.
I brought the box to my son, my "baby" who is now in his twenties, and showed him what I had found.  I took the cards out, one by one, opening them up and reading the kind messages and telling him about the friends and family that had sent these amazing cards when he was born and the other cards that came to him on Halloween, Valentine's Day and other birthdays.  He was fascinated that I had saved all these things and I was too.
In a way, I wished I hadn't saved all these sentimental momentos.  They were from another time, a time when there was three of us.  It's only been my son and I after my husband's death and sometimes it feels as though it's always been that way.  Or at least my mind tricks me into thinking that sometimes. 
But the cards are proof of a different family and different people.
I don't mean that in a bad way or even a sad way.  It was just different.
Finding the box led me and my son to talking and reminiscing about the people who sent the cherished cards and telling stories about them.  As we laughed and I answered his questions, I remembered things that I hadn't thought about in years and at the same time I felt the responsibility of being the only parent.  Since his father is no longer alive, I really wanted to remember everything I could to let him know what that time was like when he was an infant and toddler.
There are a lot of times as a single parent that you have to be both mother and father.  Discipline and financial decisions immediately come to mind as examples.  That isn't always a great role to fill and those are the times when you wish you had someone else to share the responsibility with.

But this time I was happy to talk to him for hours about the immense happiness that his birth brought to us, his mother and his father, and continues to bring to me. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

St. Francis & His BFF Clare

With the recent election of Pope Francis I to head the Catholic Church, people are talking about faith and religion with a renewed enthusiasm.
I think people are filled with hope and that's always a good thing.

Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and the mainstream news outlets have been full of stories and comments about what changes, if any, this new pope may bring about.  I was at friend's house for dinner the other day and the subject of the Pope spontaneously came up.  Even my dentist started talking about it yesterday morning and I don't think we've ever discussed the subject of God.
You would have thought we all had some inside sources at the Vatican the way people are talking about the Catholic Church and the symbolism of Pope Francis' public comments.  It's ironic that everyone seems to be an instant expert on religion, a subject people usually go out of their way to avoid discussing.

I love the this dynamic dialogue about God and faith and the Church.  I have my own problems with the hierarchy and bureaucratic parts of the Church but the core teachings and values are the tenants of my faith.  To me, faith is a belief in a God that is merciful and good and one who provides comfort and healing. 

At the same time, women and their role in the Catholic Church is an issue that always gets me going and that's why this following story that was published in The Washington Post caught my eye.  We all know about St. Francis of Assisi and his pursuit of a simple and humble life but did we know about his BFF, Clare?  Maybe you did, but I had no clue.

This story surprised me for I didn't know about the friendship of Francis and Clare and the ministry they advanced together.  As Maureen O'Connell writes, "Her (Clare's) status as his equal made it possible for the two of them, together, to mount a spiritual reform of the church."

For every Francis, a Clare. . . Indeed!

St. Clare of Assisi & St. Francis of Assisi

For Every Francis, a Clare

By Maureen O’Connell, Published The Washington Post: March 15

Although historically shut out of the frescoed halls of power in Vatican City and more mundane but just as exclusive rectories and chancelleries around the world, Catholic women might find a place for leadership under the new papacy after all. As the talking heads have been saying since Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared from behind that red curtain, it’s all in the name: Clare.
If Pope Francis seeks to embrace his namesake’s legacy of reforming the church by embodying the loving ministry of Christ, then he would do well also to embrace dimensions of the loving partnership between the 15th century Francis of Assisi and fellow Umbrian, Clare, founder of the Poor Clares, a semi-cloistered group of sisters who today number more than 20,000 in 70 countries. Like most heroic dynamic duos, these two were revolutionary. They confounded social expectations, rejected excessive wealth and power, and inspired upright living. In some ways, their partnership should be nothing new for followers of Christ, since women were pivotal both to Jesus’ ministry and the early Jesus movement. But since such partnerships remain a rarity, Francis and Clare might remind the new pope: if you want reform, work with tenacious women.
It seems Francis of Assisi knew that when Clare first encountered him during a Lenten reflection he gave at the church of San Giorgio exactly 800 years ago. Like him, Clare viewed her family’s social privilege as an obstacle to her spiritual yearnings and by Palm Sunday the devout 18-year-old had jettisoned the trappings of her noble life and sought out Francis for a humble one of seclusion and prayer. Francis made her escape from her former life possible and further advanced her countercultural lifestyle choice by writing the original rule or founding documents for the Poor Clares.
But Pope Francis would profit from the memory that Clare’s was the flame; his namesake simply fanned it. Against the wishes of the Italian hierarchy, Clare insisted that her nuns mirror Francis’ friars in everything including their refusal to own property. There would be no two-tiered holiness codes for her—if the men were capable of such a pious commitment, so too were the women. The backing of Francis no doubt bolstered her in her resolve to insist on this equality when face to face with Pope Gregory IX, who formally acknowledged her rule in 1219.

Moreover, Francis and Clare enjoyed an iconic friendship, one rooted in shared passions and pieties, struggles and hopes. These two needed each other in order to answer the ceaseless challenges of their respective vocational calls and to lead their communities wisely. Theirs was an intimacy of equals, liberated from narrow Catholic constructs of gender and religious vocation and open to the gifts the Holy Spirit offers leaders who seek mutuality and reciprocity: the freedom to tell and hear hard truths, the freedom to ask and offer forgiveness, the freedom to fail and start again.
Finally, Francis and Clare are radical; they return us to our roots by reminding us of the hallmarks of Jesus’ own ministry—simple living, a care for the poor, and a pivotal place for women at the heart of it all. Whether as financiers of Jesus and his disciples, as witnesses to both his death and Resurrection, or as deacons in the early Christian community, women were among Jesus’ most trusted companions and visible leaders. Like Clare, they did not wait quietly on the periphery and like Francis, Christ welcomed them to the center.

To be sure, patriarchy remains a cultural inheritance from which even Francis of Assisi had difficulty divesting. Paternalism often confined the Poor Clares to quiet contemplative work in the shadows of their historical male superior, a reality all too familiar to many religious and lay women toiling behind the scenes of Catholic ministry today. And centuries of theological developments and women’s movements later, patriarchy still seems as germane to the hierarchical church as white smoke to the announcement of a new pope. Men in cassocks: can’t rule with them, have to live ruled by them.
But still these names, Francis and Clare, suggest real possibilities for Catholic women. Like Christ whom he strove to emulate, Francis of Assisi used his power to empower a woman to become an unprecedented minister to the people of God. Her status as his equal made it possible for the two of them, together, to mount a spiritual reform of the church. That reform was significant enough to warrant the public acknowledgment of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his transition to leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. May Pope Francis not overlook the prophetic dimension of Clare in his imitation of his namesake’s legacy.

Maureen O’Connell is Associate Professor of Theology at Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York, and the author of Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in an Age of Globalization (Orbis Books, 2009) and If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice (The Liturgical Press, 2012)

© The Washington Post Company

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Public Tears

I've done it in the grocery store in the applesauce aisle.  I've also done it while walking down 17th Street, NW and on the Metro platform at Farragut North.
What have I done?
Crying in public.  And you know what?
When I was doing it, I could have cared less about who I ran into or what I looked like.  I was in the throes of grief and I had either heard a song that reminded me of my husband or was coming from a situation where no one acknowledged my loss or what was happening to me.
When I was doing it, I felt as if I was in a bubble; a bubble of trouble, and I had no expectations that anyone would come up to me and put their arms around me or try to comfort me.
I did it because I wanted to; plain and simple and it made me feel better.  I was not trying to draw attention to myself.  I was just trying to put myself back together and crying was liberating.

After reading the story below, I know that I'm not alone.  And if you find yourself crying in public, don't feel ashamed. 

Look at Me, I’m Crying

I’ve done it on the subway and at the Museum of Modern Art, in Prospect Park, Tompkins Square Park and leaning against the locked gate of Gramercy Park.
If you live in New York, you’re bound to end up crying in public eventually; there just aren’t enough private places. Just the other day I saw someone doing it on West 12th Street. A tall woman in a beret, with a curtain of reddish hair, she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She wasn’t on the phone, wasn’t accompanied by a man, or a mom or even a dog. She wasn’t beautiful, the way a lot of people in New York are, but I couldn’t look away.
My stride didn’t change as we passed each other, but something did. A fizzy kind of sweetness bubbled up — as if the openness of her face had opened something in me. For a few minutes I forgot whatever I’d been worrying about and breathed a little deeper.
The redhead was a particular type of public weeper: silent, dignified, angelic. I hope that when it happens to me, it looks like that, though I suspect there is more whimper, more grimace.
But even the unpretty ones, snuffling, their faces like balled napkins, are mesmerizing. There is something beautiful about a disarmed stranger. We usually only get to witness that kind of vulnerability with friends or family, when something — sympathy or apology — is expected of us. Public criers ask nothing; they don’t need anyone to take care of them.
In some ways, that kind of transparency is as good a defense against interference as the famous blank New York stare.
Public criers ask nothing; they don’t need anyone to take care of them.

One afternoon, I was riding a Brooklyn-bound Q train with my mother, who was visiting from Cape Cod, when our conversation lulled. We each glanced around the subway car at the other passengers, their heads bobbing in unison, the eyes of the man across from us doing a creepy back-and-forth twitch as he watched a train whizzing by in the opposite direction behind us. Some people read, or pushed buttons on their smart phones, but most just stared without expression at the floor or the garish overhead posters for Dr. Zizmor’s cosmetic dermatology. My mother (who is, notably, a psychotherapist) leaned into my shoulder and whispered, “Everyone on this train looks depressed.”
I snorted, whispering back: “No, Mom, they just have their train-faces on.”
 In a place where we are so rarely alone, we find privacy in public. We all have our masks, behind which we are free to be, yes, depressed, or any other emotional state we may not want to share with 30 fellow passengers.
The problem is, we often don’t want to show our emotions to our true intimates either. The apartment I share with my girlfriend is so small, it can be easier to find privacy outside. During a recent fight, we reached an impasse; we were clearly not going to reach a resolution. We rarely fight, but when we do, it feels like there isn’t enough room in our apartment for both of our feelings. And there’s nowhere to have a phone conversation that the other won’t overhear. So I went outside to walk the dog.
Through a number of domestic partnerships, walking the dog has been a form of privacy for me. I’ve made many of my most personal phone calls during those walks, cooled off and of course, had a good cry. It’s even easier to let loose in public when you’ve got a 70-pound pit-bull in tow, and when you’re on the move.
On that same visit, my mother commented on how fast people walk here. I had, at the moment she spoke, been furious at the tourists in front of us for strolling so lackadaisically, despite our not being in a hurry to get anywhere. I began with the usual explanation, about how busy everyone here is. But mid-sentence, I realized that that wasn’t the whole story; movement was part of the mask.
Although I see plenty of stony-faced striders on the sidewalks of New York, the faster people are moving, the more they tend to reveal. When riding my bike through the city, I frequently sing aloud — mostly old soul tunes, but everything from country to rap music — and I hear other bikers doing it as well. Because who cares? If anyone stares, they’re staring at your back and you’re not around long enough to notice. I don’t do it for attention; it just feels good to belt out “Tenderness” with impunity.
Perhaps this law of motion is part of why it’s so startling to see people trip. It’s bound to happen millions of times a day here, but still, seeing someone stumble instantly provokes a deep cringe. Like crying, it’s a glimpse of pure, involuntary vulnerability, and yet there’s something different about it; it’s more disturbing than sweet. We feel a greater demand to lend a hand or show concern because we know, more clearly, that it could happen to us — we like to think we have less control over our bodies than we do over our emotions. We all can feel the stumbler’s flush of embarrassment. So we grimace, surge with silent sympathy, and reach out.
Even though as any stumbler knows, the worst part, after detaching a heel from the subway grating, is someone asking “Are you O.K.?”
Of course some people feel differently. They want to be asked. They even want to be asked why they’re crying. Maybe people can be divided into those who want to be asked what’s wrong by kind strangers, and those who don’t.
For me, it’s not that I want apathy, just privacy. To be noticed, but not interrupted. It’s comforting to be seen in our grief, there is a confirmation in it — however awkward it makes us feel. Is that part of why we live here? New Yorkers do tend to be the kind of people with both a need to be seen, and a deep fear of it. Somehow, this place satisfies both.
When I first moved here, I loved to ride the elevated trains, especially at night, when I could glimpse the thousands of glowing windows, each an indication of a life or a cluster of lives, as rich and difficult and sweet as my own. Glimpsing inside, seeing the moment when the lights go on — or off — is a confirmation of our likenesses, our common depths.
I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, and hope I’m not the only one who sees something more uplifting than snot in the face of a public crier. Because just Monday morning, coming up from the subway at Eighth Street, it happened again.
My phone rang. “Hi, Mom,” I said. For many reasons, it had been a hard few weeks. The right voice at the right time, and the seal between my public face and the feelings underneath it broke.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, and behind my lenses, the city went soft. Soon, tears collected under my chin, and I lifted my glasses to wipe my eyes. The sun was bright, the sidewalk crowded, but I was still moving, and the city’s edges had all blurred to water, the passing faces turning to patches of color. Even if, at that moment, I had cared whether they were staring, I wouldn’t have been able to tell.

Melissa Febos, the author of the memoir “Whip Smart,” teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence, the New School and New York University.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Diane Von Furstenberg

You probably know of Diane Von Furstenberg from her infamous dress designs for women, especially her iconic wrap dress.  Her dresses have been worn by First Lady Michelle Obama, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow.  Today, Diane Von Furstenberg masterfully runs a global company, tastefully designing women's fashions, along with fragrances, cosmetics and home collections.

Diane Von Furstenberg

But Diane Von Furstenberg is more than a fashionista.  She is also a passionate and generous person who spends a lot of time mentoring women and distributing her grant and philanthropic money to community building, education and environmental causes, among others.
And if that isn't enough, she also offers support by reaching out and communicating through a column that she writes for The Cut, the high-end fashion section in New York Magazine ( 
Today, Diane takes a question about negative energy.  The very thing that I try extra hard to keep out of myself and my life.  Negative energy can waste time, money, talent and hurt your outlook on life.  I know it when I am with it, no matter how attractively packaged it is.  What's a person to do?  Walk away?  Feign indifference?

Here is Diane's sage advice:

Dear Diane: As someone who places a lot of focus on inner peace and happiness, how do you deal with the negative energy of others? -- Athena

The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.  You have to build from within and you will have control.  Be honest with yourself, accept who you are.  Once you do that, you can improve yourself and like yourself.  YOU are the solution!  Look for the light and build around it.  You have the keys to your happiness.  Let others be negative, your light will shine on them!  It also helps to surround yourself with amazing women.  I am so thrilled to be in the fourth year of the DVF Awards, where we award five extraordinary women who have had the courage to fight, the power to survive, and the leadership to inspire.  I have met so many incredible women that make it easy to focus on the positive because they have so often turned hardship into opportunity.  That is the definition of grace.

And that my friends, is also positive energy!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wild By Cheryl Strayed

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
                     ~ Mary Oliver
                     "The Summer Day"

From the moment I started reading the first words of the New York Times bestseller, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, I couldn't put it down.
It has truly been a long time since I have read a book so honest and at the same time so poignant in its telling of a compelling personal story.
In hiking the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself from the Mojave Desert in California to the Bridge of the Gods that crosses the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border, Cheryl Strayed tests herself physically, mentally and emotionally in ways that many people never do in their whole lives.  And don't ever want do.  Ever.  Talk about pain!  You will never think about hiking boots the same way after reading Wild.
But Cheryl Strayed is a beautiful writer and through her unfiltered descriptions of what she is feeling and thinking, she is able to grab you and take you along on her powerful journey as though you are right there with her, step by step, the whole time. 
As she treks along the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed slowly finds her inner resources and becomes stronger as she sleeps outdoors, purifies her water (I could feel her thirst), dreams about Snapple lemonade, adjusts to carrying a heavy backpack for miles and miles every day through intense heat and then snowfalls, deals with rattlesnakes and black bears and sometimes just being the only girl on the trail.  As she occasionally meets fellow hikers along the way, I was amazed by the immediate trust and support that most of them felt for each other; as if there was an inner radar that told each of them who was friend and who was foe in the great outdoors.

Grief is what puts Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail and she describes every raw emotion of it: the falling apart, the sadness, the regrets, the anger, the exhaustion, the inability to wrap your brain around reality.

Just to give you a taste of how Strayed writes, here is a short except:

"There were so many other amazing things in this world.

They opened up inside of me like a river.  Like I didn't know I could take a breath and then I breathed.  I laughed with the joy of it, and the next moment I was crying my first tears on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).  I cried and I cried and I cried.  I wasn't crying because I was happy.  I wasn't crying because I was sad.  I wasn't crying because of my mother or my father or Paul.  I was crying because I was full.  Of those fifty-some hard days on the trail and of the 9,760 days that had come before them too.

I was entering.  I was leaving.  California streamed behind me like a long silk veil.  I didn't feel like a big fat idiot anymore.  And I didn't feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen.  I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too."

I don't want to give away what happens to Cheryl Strayed in her amazing book so I will not reveal the particulars of her long distance adventure in the wilderness. You must read it for yourself!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Making A New Bedroom

On the weekends, I like to try and organize myself.

Sometimes I succeed in my de-clutter efforts and sometimes I don't.  During the work week, I have a very bad habit of throwing clothes and papers into piles.  By the time the weekend rolls around, I know I have to deal with the piles and hang stuff up and throw things away.
This past weekend marked a milestone for me because I just had my bedroom painted and most of the stuff that was under my bed,  hanging on wall and door hooks and on top of my furniture was in another room.

Just typing that sentence is a big deal.  It's my bedroom; not our bedroom.  I am taking a big leap by changing the room and making it look different than it did when my husband was alive.  Not that the room looked all that great when my husband was alive but it was ours and it was comfortable.
This was my opportunity to practice what I am always writing about: to embrace your life and move forward.

I was going to paint the room myself last summer but something always seemed to happen and I never got around to it.  Other rooms in the house have changed since my husband's death but this one has remained essentially the same.  I enter the room but I never really look at it or spend any time in it.  I usually go to my bedroom when it's time to sleep or change my clothes but I don't go there to hang out and say, read a book, or talk on the phone because there are too many memories there.
Now, nine years later, after all this time, I finally realized I had to make it a different room.  Otherwise, it would always be "our" room and that would be rather silly since my husband died.  I didn't even put any of my clothes in the drawers on the other side of the bureau because those once belonged to him.  It didn't feel right putting my things in his drawers.  But last year, I slowly started taking over all the drawers (it felt weird at first) and I must admit I am thankful for the extra space.

It was a gradual decision to change the room.  Over the past year, I found it was getting be a real downer to be in the room because here I was trying hard to rebuild my life and move forward yet when I came into my bedroom it was stuck in time.  I had flashbacks to our time together and I loved the memories, yet I knew that I would still have the memories even if I painted the room, bought a new bedspread and pillows and moved the furniture around.

Of course, this didn't come to me all at once.  It took awhile for me to push myself to do this.

Even though it was hard to do, I am now glad, and actually sort of relieved, that I am changing my bedroom because now it feels fresh and renewed.  It's okay to give yourself as much time as you need to feel comfortable with whatever changes you make in your life after you lose a loved one.  You know how it feels and you know when you are ready to think about your life in a different way.

It's not sad to change.   It just means that I am taking what has happened to me and learning how to blend it into my present life in a positive way.  I'm not leaving my husband behind because that's not possible. 

But I've come to the point where I realize it's okay to make new memories for myself.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Irish Memory

In the spare words of poetry, I find simple elegance and peace.
Poetry helps to bring me back to my center.  To take a deep breath.  To slow down and find my direction.

If you are not familiar with William Butler Yeats, he was a distinguished Irish poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, the first Irishman so honored, and later, with others, went on to found the world famous Abbey Theatre located in Dublin.
Yeats' The Lake of Innisfree is musical in its words and when I close my eyes, I imagine I am in Killarney, Ireland about 24 years ago when my husband was alive.  A local man who owned a boat offered to take us out on the lake near the Muckross House and he is slowly rowing us and as we gently glide through the water of the lake, it's quiet and beautiful and the wind is blowing.
The Emerald Isle
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
By William Butler Yeats 1865–1939

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Art of Resilience

Being Proactive Can Strengthen Your Resilience

The subject of resilience totally fascinates me.

Resilience is being able to bounce back after being tossed around by life.  Trying to figure out why one person bounces back from a life trauma and another person breaks from the pain tells us something about the human condition don't you think?
It's a roll of the dice. It's the $64 million question.

The ability to stay on track and keep your focus, the ability to develop an inner strength in the face of adversity is inspiring to me and in turn I draw strength from other people's stories of getting through a serious illness, a financial setback or the loss of a loved one.
When I read or hear about other people's experiences with life's hardships, I am always curious about what they were thinking as they went through it and what kept them going.  Sometimes it strengthens my resolve and I think to myself, "If they can do it, then so can I."

After my husband died, I searched everywhere for stories about widows raising children and read all the stories about it that I could find so that I might figure out what I was going to do.  The best advice I read was this:  don't ignore your problems or try to wish them away.  Take each day as it comes and if you can't bear to look past 24 hours or even an hour, then don't.
Try to break the moments down into manageable blocks of time.  Sometimes that's only 10 minutes but that's okay.  Often I would go from 10 minutes to the next 10 minutes and then the next 10 minutes until I found I had gotten through an hour and then I continued to slowly work my way through the time of pain.

I think it's good to know that the bouncing back part doesn't always happen immediately.  It takes awhile to figure out what's going on, put yourself somewhat back together and start following your usual daily routines.  During this time, reaching out to family and friends for support is key.

There is no way to predict which adult or child is going to find the determination and inner resolve to dig down within himself or herself and overcome the bad/stressful/unfair situation that life has thrown their way.  You might think that it's the person who has been given much in terms of material wealth and privilege but it's not always that way.

Sometimes the person who shows incredible amounts of inner strength is the person who has nothing.  No material goods and no parent.  Or the person has a parent but it's one that's an alcoholic or drug addict.  Or no job and no insurance.  Or no spouse and no idea what the future will bring.
If you have nothing or the one thing in life that you loved was taken away then you can as if you have nothing to lose and that in itself is a kind of resolve. 
Resilience isn't all about being tough and toughing it out, but more about opening yourself up to life and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and reaching out for support. 
You can't change what has happened but with courage, support, and a hopeful attitude, you and I can look toward the future and wahtever it may bring us.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

FullSet -- A Hot Irish Band

I just discovered the infectious and energetic sounds of an Irish band called FullSet, recently named "New Group of the Year" for 2012 by the Live Ireland Music Awards.

Just listening to their music makes me feel better!
Music definitely has healing powers and therapists have found that music's curative powers can alleviate pain and help not only those of us recovering from a loss but also people recovering from strokes and other medical traumas. 
Music unlocks differents parts of the brain depending on the music's pitch, harmony or rhythm and provides a medium for creative expression whether your are creating it, making it, singing along to it or just listening and dancing to it. 

And seein' as we're starting to roll into a weekend that will be marked by days of celebrations for St. Patrick's Day, listening to FullSet will definitely get you into the right mood. 

It doesn't matter whether you have a drop of Irish blood in you or not, I guarantee that FullSet's music will make your foot start tapping, your hands start clapping and your heart feelin' a whole lot lighter!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Top 10 Reasons To Be & (Not To Be) Pope

Cardinals Gather In Sistine Chapel to Vote On A New Pope

Black Smoke.  White Smoke. Cardinals.  Conclave.

It's all part of the Vatican lingo surrounding the pagentry and tradition of electing a new pope to shepherd the millions of Catholics around the globe.

Behind the closed doors of the infamous Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy, 115  Roman Catholic cardinals on Tuesday started the mysterious business of coming together as a conclave to vote for a man to become pope and succeed Benedict XVI who last month became the first pope to resign in six centuries.

You don't have to be Catholic to be curious about who will be elected by a two-thirds majority of the cardinals.  As we wait each day to see the color of the smoke from the Sistine Chapel's chimney (black smoke = no pope, white smoke = new pope), I think we're allowed to have a little fun (laughter is powerful medicine) with the whole process. 

Enter James Martin, SJ, contributing editor at America magazine and author of "Between Heaven and Mirth" and "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything."  Martin is charismatic, witty, insightful and of course eloquent (because he's a Jesuit).

Here is Martin's tongue-in-cheek video called the "Top Ten Reasons To Be (And Not To Be) Pope:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Here Comes The Sun

Sunrise By the Washington Monument

Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

~The Beatles

How are you doing now that we are on Daylight Savings Time?
Yeah!!! I'm so glad it's here!!  Winter seemed to have so many fits and starts this year -- chilly, snow then warmth, then cold again -- I think we really deserve to have Spring and a longer day finally arrive.
It was hard to roll out of bed Monday morning, having lost an hour and still recovering from my fall at the gas station, but I think the trade off is worth it.  A longer day means more daylight and that's a good thing because light affects my mood and maybe yours too.
When I leave my office building in the winter and it's already dark, that is a real downer for me.  It just doesn't feel right for it to get dark at 4:30 pm or 5 pm.  It means that it's dark when I go to work and dark when I leave work.  I do leave my office and go outside during the day either to go to run an errand or get lunch, but that's not enough. 
I love the longer days of spring and summer.  I just feel lighter and brighter and full of possibility.  Most people feel a surge of energy from sunlight.  The warmth and brightness of the light lifts your mood and makes you feel good and ready to take on some new projects: gardening, painting or just putting away the winter coats, boots and blankets.

So, as the Beatles would say, bask in the bright light little darling.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Be Careful Out There

On Saturday, I went to visit my parents who are in their eighties and my brother who has Down's Syndrome. 
It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and hints of the coming of Spring.  We had a delicious lunch at a local Irish pub and some good solid conversation and then it was time for me to "toddle on home," as my great friend Ellen would say. 
I stopped at the gas station near my parent's house because I like to take advantage of the cheaper gas prices in Rockville, Maryland.  There were no other cars in the gas station so I had the pick of any pump.  After I stopped and got out of the car, I walked up to the concrete island where the gas pumps are located, thinking I would cut through to the cashier.
As I stepped up to the concrete island, I looked down to check my coat pocket where I had earlier put a twenty dollar bill.  One foot was on the island and I guess I thought my other foot had cleared the island but it hadn't.  I know you know what happened next.
In an instant -- it's so cliche, but so true -- I lost control and went flying across the concrete.  The next thing I knew I could feel my face scraping the rough surface of the pavement. BAM!  I laid there for a few minutes and hoped I hadn't broken anything.  At the same time, I had this vision of what I looked like from another person's perspective as in "What in the hell is that woman doing laying on the concrete by the gas pump?"
For all of you adults out there -- men and women -- I hope you remain upright every day of your life.  Falling is humiliating and scary.  When it is happening you really don't know how or where you are going to land.  At first, I was afraid to move, but then I slowly got up.  As I did I felt my face was bleeding but I couldn't tell where and I also realized I had ripped a hole in the right knee of my pants and my knee was scraped too.
As I slowly walked into the gas station, I felt the full impact of what had happened and started to cry.  You should have seen the look on the two guys inside the gas station store.  One was sitting down on a chair and immediately jumped up and came to help me and the other one went to get a first aid kit.  There was no mirror so I had to look into the stainless steel that surrounds the edge of the refrigerator doors where drinks are sold.  It was then that I realized I had cut my nose and my chin and also scraped my glasses on the lense and on the bridge.
The younger guy kept asking me if I was okay because I couldn't stop crying.  I think I was crying more out of frustration than actual pain although my face was throbbing.  I couldn't believe I had done this to myself.  What a klutz!  You would think that at this point in my life that I would be able to put one foot in front of the other.
Eventually I got cleaned up and the younger guy offered to pump my gas.  One of my sisters said he should have offered to give me free gas but I don't think that ever happens.
As I drove home, I went over the events again in my mind and realized what a wake-up call it was.  At least my fall had happened in a public place.  Even though no one had been with me, strangers had reached out to help me.  But suppose others hadn't been around. 
I felt that fear that comes when there is the possibility that you might not be able to take care of yourself.  I do need to be more aware of myself and my surroundings and concentrate on whatever the moment at hand is.

When you are in a hurry and you are thinking about too many things at the same time, this is when life reminds you that you need to stop and be more careful about what you are doing.
I was lucky!!! I didn't break anything and I was able to get up on my own and go about my business.
And I learned the hard way that when I am by myself, I can't be so casual about moving around.
Okay, universe I heard your message and I have taken it to heart: Be careful out there!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

28 Cats

Okay.  I admit it.  I have a totally silly side and ridiculous pictures of cats and dogs crack me up.
This post may seem random to you but it's not.  It's humor therapy!  Smiles and laughter can help us heal.  Scientists report that laughter changes our brain chemistry and boosts our immune system. 
We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and at humorous situations.  If we can't find the funny side of life, then we're in trouble.
My wonderful son found this on and thought it was hysterical; which it is!!

In fact, I would really love it if you would comment below and tell me which is your favorite among the crazy, wacky cat pictures!

Here's my favorite:

Courtesy of

So Happy Friday and as we ease into the weekend, enjoy the following link which will take you to "28 Cats Who Have No Idea How They Ended Up Here":


Reflections of Nora Ephron's Son

Nora Ephron
Crying is unsettling.  Especially if you are watching one of your parents do it.
My son hates it when I cry and has said that when I would cry all the time immediately after his father/my husband's death, he would feel this mix of emotions that he didn't want to feel and so he would walk away.  I understand it and think his reaction was perfectly normal.  He was thirteen years old and dealing with something that adults find hard to handle.  He was just trying to survive.
Now, at twenty two years old, my son explains his reaction this way: "When children see their parents cry, it's like a wall being broken.  It messes everything up.  I wanted you to be my Mom but when I saw you cry, it's like you weren't my Mom anymore.  You were a person and I didn't want that. I wanted my Mom."
It makes sense to me and I love him all the more for his insight; as painful as it was, and sometimes still is, for both of us.
That is why Jacob Bernstein's long and loving story about his mother, Nora Ephron, is so powerful and compassionate.
It's a universal story of how children feel about their parents as children, and as adults, and especially sons and their feelings about their mothers.
But having an accomplished, high-profile, multi-talented mother such as Nora Ephron is a unique story. And Jacob Bernstein writes it beautifully.  I knew it was a long story so I only intended to read the first page and then come back to it later, but then I couldn't stop reading it until I reached the end.

His mother is proud.  He took good notes.

Please click on this link to read Jacob Bernstein's story as it appeared in the New York Times magazine this past weekend:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It's All In Your Attitude

Hi Dear Friends!

Yesterday I went for my annual eye exam and of course the doctor dilated my eyes.  I now have to use eye drops three to four times a day.  One is a prescription drop and the other is an over-the-counter brand.  I am just getting used to this new routine and I am finding that it's a lot of drops to have rolling down my face.  Better get some water-proof mascara right?
Needless to say, computer time has been temporarily shortened but today I still wanted to post some thoughts about healing and managing life's wacky stresses.

I am sharing a short but wise essay a friend sent me (author unknown) on keeping it together and remembering to jump off the hamster wheel, take break and RELAX.
As I write this, it is snowing in the Washington, DC area and schools and the federal government are closed.  Perhaps you are taking an unexpected break today and if you are snow bound, I hope you keep your power and have time to enjoy some down time!

A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience,
raised a glass of water and asked,
"How heavy is this glass of water?"
Answers called out ranged from 20 g to 500g.
The lecturer replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter.
It depends on how long you try to hold it.
If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem.
If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm.
If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance.
In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."
He continued,
"And that's the way it is with stress management.
If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later,
as the burden becomes increasingly heavy,
we won't be able to carry on."
"As with the glass of water,
you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again.
When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden."
"So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down.
Don't carry it home.
You can pick it up tomorrow.
Whatever burdens you are carrying now,
let them down for a moment if you can."
So, my friend, why not take a while to just simply RELAX.
Put down anything that may be a burden to you right now.
Don't pick it up again until after you've rested a while.
Life is short.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Loss of A Child

When I have been in support group sessions and listened as people have talked about losing a spouse there is usually a sense of bonding, a feeling of "having been there" in the expressed feeling or thought.  A supportive dialogue usually ensues and sometimes people even feel a sense of progress.
Being around other widows and widowers can be a blessing after you have lost a spouse.  I remember thinking, "Finally! Here are people who are dealing with what I am dealing with!"  Because of our shared experience, we could tell jokes or cry or get angry about the loss of our loved ones.  I think we even began to think that maybe losing a spouse is something most adults eventually have to experience.
I remember though when a woman whose husband had recently died began talking one day about how she also had lost her child.  I felt a stillness and reverence come over the room.  The death of anyone you love permanently changes your life.  A spouse, a parent, a friend.  There is always a yearning for more time and a need to connect even after they are physically gone.

But the death of a child is in a category all by itself.  Such a profound loss is unbelievably cruel and goes against the natural order of life.  

Anyone who can talk, let alone sit down and write a complete and rational thought about their deceased child is a person who is truly resilient.  Jeremy Shatan is one of those people.
Please read about his beloved Jacob in the following New York Times story and some of the jarring events that have marked Jeremy's journey since Jacob's death.

March 3, 2013

A High-Functioning Bereaved Parent

So where am I now, 13 years after my 2½-year-old son, Jacob, died because of a brain tumor? One thing I can say is that my junk mail has no idea where I am. The other day I threw out yet another letter offering to give us advice on Jacob’s college career, as well as a solicitation to re-subscribe to Highlights magazine. Obviously, Jacob is not going to college. And my surviving children are 11 and 13, a bit out of the Highlights demographic.
One construct I use to help myself understand where I am now is a term my wife and I came up with: High-Functioning Bereaved Parent. As is often remarked, someone who has lost a spouse is handily defined by the word “widow” or “widower.” But there is no shorthand to describe a parent who has lost a child. Language is a reflection of culture. The great majority of people will never experience the loss of a child and would prefer not to think about it all that much. Raising children is fraught enough without having to dwell on their mortality. So for now, H.F.B.P. will have to do. I’ll certainly take it over “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
So how exactly does being a High-Functioning Bereaved Parent manifest itself? I get out of bed, I help raise our kids and run our household, I laugh, tell jokes, watch violent movies, listen to music and go to concerts. So it all looks pretty good from the outside, and it usually feels … not bad, which is how I prefer to answer when someone asks me how I’m doing. I have no doubt that much of this equilibrium comes from the fact that my wife and I have been together through all of this and still find a lot of joy in our marriage and our surviving children. I also have the privilege of being the executive director of Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund and working every day to improve the lives of children with cancer alongside the staff of the Herbert Irving Child & Adolescent Oncology Center. Among bereaved parents, I consider myself very lucky that I get to work for Jacob every day.
But I knew from the moment Jacob died that we would never get over his loss; we would only learn to live with it. At the risk of torturing grammar, perhaps I should revise that mantra to be “we would only be learning to live with it,” because it’s a process that never stops.

One way I know that is from the physically jarring sensation I feel when the huge chasm in my life abuts the solid ground I usually walk on. It could be at a high school information seminar for my daughter, for example. There’s just this moment of wrongness. Somewhere in my soul there’s a trajectory for Jacob’s life that is still going on, a part of me that wonders why we haven’t already hit these milestones with him first. The natural order of things has been disturbed, but that hasn’t entirely stopped me from attempting to hew to that order. Or it could happen with a change in the weather, which can trigger a sense memory sending me back to the time when Jacob was being treated.
That aspect of things is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, I suppose, which feels like unprocessed experiences that my brain is constantly working on behind the scenes. A hint of fall in the air, and the curtain is momentarily yanked open, exposing the churning attempt at understanding what happened.
For reasons like those, some days are more effort than others. Also, occasionally my status as an H.F.B.P. can lead to a balancing act in relation to my work. Naturally, I can empathize with the parents I meet at the clinic — I have walked in their shoes. But since Jacob did not survive, I don’t want to shake their carefully constructed hope that their child will. One thing I always make sure to convey is that each diagnosis is unique and that treatments have continued to improve. My perspective still allows me to have hope for others, and if things do take a turn for the worse, I can offer the powerful example of my own survival after the loss of my son.
But it hasn’t always been that way. In the emotional chaos shortly after Jacob died, my wife and I took our infant daughter to a retreat for bereaved families provided by Chai Lifeline. We were already wrung out, but this was a new form of wringer: story after story of gut-wrenching, unimaginable loss. My wife got a migraine so intense that the rattle of a newspaper caused her pain; we considered leaving after the first night.
We stuck it out, and through the haze it dawned on us: you can live on after the loss of a child, it’s not impossible. After the retreat, when the sadness would threaten to become overwhelming, I would think of these other bereaved parents and take strength from their behavior. Regular conference calls with a group of dads also helped a great deal.
So my path has not been through completely uncharted territory. I have had mentors to follow, whether or not they would have called themselves High-Functioning Bereaved Parents. In the end, I’m not sure if being an H.F.B.P. is a choice, exactly, but I believe that putting a name to our “condition” has helped us not just survive, but to thrive and engage with life more fully.

Jeremy Shatan lives in Inwood, Manhattan, with his wife and two surviving children, is proud to serve as Executive Director of Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund, and writes about music at LINK 3 AnEarful and @AnEarful.