Friday, December 30, 2011

A Time of Healing

As 2011 draws to a close and a New Year is almost here, you might be trying to figure out how you are supposed to face the future without someone you lost.

Longtime grief counselor and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt of Fort Collins, Colo., advises story-writing and storytelling to help the healing process.  "Tell the story of death and you begin to acknowledge it," Wolfelt writes.  "Tell it 10 times and you begin to let it enter your heart.  Tell it over and over and you find it becoming part of who you are."

And from that storytelling you will gain strength; the strength to face the next hour or the next 24 hours without your loved one.  Some of my first New Year's Eves after my husband died were sort of a blur of numbness, confusion and feeling outside of myself.  I marked the holiday in a low key manner because I didn't feel there was much to celebrate and I was just trying to survive.  Eight years later, things are better and I will be spending New Year's Eve with good friends and feeling as though I can face life's challenges.

The healing process might be different for you because the length of the grief process is different for everyone. There is no predictable schedule for grief. Although it can be quite painful at times, the grief process should not be rushed. It is important to be patient with yourself as you experience your unique reactions to the loss.

With time and support, things generally do get better. However, grieving can run in cycles and it is normal for significant dates, holidays, or other reminders to trigger feelings related to the loss.

Taking care of yourself, seeking support, and acknowledging your feelings during these times are ways that can help you cope.  Numbing yourself with drugs and alcohol will not help you cope and only prolongs the grief process. 

Give yourself time and eventually, hope will rise from the stinging pain you are now experiencing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mommy Doesn't Shave Her Face

I was shopping at the local drugstore for Christmas stocking stuffers for my son and was looking at all the different shower gels being sold for men.  I was trying to figure out which one my son would use when my eyes traveled over to the section displaying men's razors.'s razors.  I was reminded of a period of time right after my husband died.  My son was 13 years old and in the eighth grade.  A tricky time under the best of circumstances.  He had grown some stubble on his face but I didn't think it was enough for a razor.

I was new to being Mommy and Daddy and I was unfamiliar with how this was supposed to work.  I had bought shaving gel for my husband hundreds of times when I was at the grocery store but my husband had always bought his own razors and blades because he was particular about what kind he used.  I think the only thing I knew for sure about men's razors was that I shouldn't borrow them to shave my legs because guys hate that.

Shaving is a Father's territory.  Fathers are the ones who usually teach their sons how to shave so they don't cut their faces and walk around with pieces of tissue stuck on it.  But this was the first of many situations where I would need to talk to a guy to figure out what would be best for my son. 

I now see that the facial stubble was his body's way of telling me that he was leaving Mommy World and crossing the proverbial bridge over to Male World.  Shaving is a male milestone.  Little boys are always looking in the mirror, putting shaving cream all over their face and pretending they are shaving just like their Dads.  I don't know what I was waiting for but I'm so glad that the father of one my son's good friends brought it to my attention.

We were sitting on the bleachers during a school basketball game, cheering and yelling and talking all at the same time.  Between scores and penalty buzzes, we were watching our children run back and forth on the basketball court.  As we talked, he casually said something along the lines of, "I just got my son his first razor and I don't know if you've noticed but your son is ready for one too."

He had my full attention at that point.  If I had a daughter, I would know exactly what physical signs to look for as her hormones kicked into gear and what do to when I saw them.  But I was now in unfamiliar territory as a parent and I needed other parents in a way I hadn't before.

Since the day I learned I was pregnant, I have always enjoyed commiserating with other parents.  As parents, we're always comparing stories and experiences, mentally filing away what we think is good solid advice to be used at a later time, and deleting the stuff we don't think pertains to our children.

I will always be grateful to this father, and our bleacher conversation opened the door to lots of talks with male friends and relatives about guy issues.  I don't know what it feels like to be a little boy, a teenage guy or a young man.  I did follow up on his advice and went to a close male relative who jumped at the opportunity to take my son shopping for his first razor.

It was bittersweet when they came home from their shopping trip and showed me what they bought, but I was also comforted by the knowledge that I know some special men who are enthusiastic about helping me and my son.  Being a parent is already  unpredictable enough all on its own.  When you find yourself in the position of being Mom and Dad by yourself, it's all about reaching out to other parents and putting your child's needs first.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quiet & Solitude

Give your mind a rest.  Just as your body needs sleep for renewal and optimal health, your mind needs periods of quiet and solitude.

A quiet mind reveals important things about your life, changes you may need to make to create a healthier and richer lifestyle. 

Inner information such as this cannot break through constant mental chatter.  A period of solitude "recharges" the brain and the body.

                                             --     By Elliot Dacher, MD, & author of Whole Healing: A Step-by-Step
                                                  Program to Reclaim Your Power To Heal

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Sighting

In the hustle and bustle of eating, talking and being with my wonderful family yesterday on Christmas Day, I received a unexpected present that I think others who have lost loved ones will be able to identify with.  Maybe this has happened to you but you didn't tell anyone else about it because you figured they would give you that look that says, "Okayyyyy. Rigghhhttttt."

My son and I were at my parents house and all of my siblings, nieces, nephews were gathered to celebrate Christmas.  There was lots of activity -- electronic and human --.and everyone was enjoying catching up with each other and just hanging out and basking in Christmas.

I was standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and talking to my niece.  While in the kitchen, I could also see into the family room where some football game was on the wide screen television and most of the food was in that room.  Thus, most of the men were camped out there.  As I was talking to her, out of the corner of my eye, I swear that I saw my late husband sitting in the chair that was only a few feet from me.  I saw his profile and he was dressed in khakis and a maroon sweater.  It was a split second thing and I quickly turned my head fully to see it again and then it was gone.  I loved that it happened because it was comforting, sort of a sign that he was with us.  Not scary at all!

You might say that I imagined it because I was thinking about him and I guess that could be the case.  But then again it could be the magic of Christmas.  Believe.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

Happy Birthday Cry, Laugh Heal!  Yup.  It has actually been one whole year since Cry, Laugh Heal was launched as a blog and I really can't believe it.

How would I measure my first year of blogging?

In friendship,

in kindness,

and in support.

That's what blogging has meant to me.  It has opened up a new world and that is exhilarating.  Along with my son's help, I pushed myself to learn something new and I am so glad that I did.   I made plenty of mistakes along the way and I'm sure I will make more next year.  But the important thing is to keep moving forward!!

Since the day I wrote my first post, I have been pleasantly surprised by the numbers of readers from all parts of the world who log on to read Cry, Laugh, Heal.  From Saudi Arabia to Lithuania and from Ireland to Nigeria, the power and reach of the internet is truly incredible and never ceases to surprise me.

I wasn't quite sure what blogging was all about but I did my research and googled around and found I liked the creativity and the immediacy.  Most of the blogs I visited were about cooking, lifestyles, decorating, health or politics but not many blogs were set up to discuss what I wanted to write about: grief, resilience and rebuilding your life.  These things I know from first hand experience.  When my husband died eight years ago, our son was thirteen years old.  I felt very alone in facing the future.  By writing a blog, I hoped I could give back and help others by writing that it's okay to acknowledge your feelings whatever they may be.  Ignoring or repressing your feelings only assures that they will last longer.

My life today is not the same life that I had when my husband was alive but I think I have carved out a solid life for myself and my son that is full of different kinds of love and adventure.  It takes time but it is possible to make another life for yourself.  It may not seem that way some days when you feel as though you have fallen off a cliff but then something can happen the next day and it can make you feel as though you have reached a place of healing.

Photo By Katie Quinn Davies

I was nervous about putting my thoughts and feelings out there in Cry, Laugh, Heal for the whole world wide web to read...or not.  But I took a deep breath and decided it was time to put myself out there.  I was a reporter many, many years ago and then later worked in communications.  Currently, I edit a newsletter about grief and thought that blogging could take this subject to the next level.

It means so much to me that you take time out of your day to read Cry, Laugh Heal.  Your support  -- and the constant support of my wonderful son, Ryan, --  is energizing and has helped me write over 100 posts, more than I ever expected.  I look forward to 2012 and cross my fingers that the number of my wonderful, fantastic, beautiful readers will continue to grow.  All I can say is:


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Mental Health

New York Daily News Photo

The holidays are all around us and sometimes it feels as though the songs, the decorations and even the food are reminders of the beloved people we lost.  This time of year can be hard for those of us in search of a place of peace.  We quietly ache for the presence of a particular person while we also try to live in this season of celebration.

If you feel as though you are at that point of bearing too much, it's okay to take a break from your emotions.  You may feel lost but you also deserve to feel some comfort and joy.  Your loved one would not want you to be miserable.

Pushing your thoughts to another place, even temporarily, can have the effect of rebooting your outlook on life.  This in no way dishonors the seriousness of the emotions you are trying to process or the memories of our loved ones.  Grieving can be stressful and tiring and those who are dealing with the paradox of the holiday season need to make sure they take care of themselves mentally and physically.

Photo by Aaron Knights

Here are a few holiday stress busters you might want to try:

-- Take a walk.  It doesn't matter where you go or how long you walk, but spending some time with nature can be calming.

--Turn off the television.  It can be good to hear another voice in the house but too much television just becomes draining.

--Do something you are good at.

--Try not to set your expectations too high.  Those perfect holiday gatherings that you see in the movies aren't representative of most families.

--Make a memory box, collage or journal to store your thoughts and memories.

--Keep things simple.  You don't have to decorate if you don't want to and you don't have to follow your holiday traditions.

What's your favorite holiday stress buster? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Songs can be powerful time machines.  Sometimes all it takes is hearing the first few notes or strands of a melody and YOU ARE THERE.  It is amazing to me how a song has the uncanny ability to mentally fast track you to a place you haven't thought about in years.

Recently, I was driving my car home in the oh so unpleasant nightly commute of bumper to bumper traffic on Connecticut Avenue. I found myself pushing the radio buttons over and over because there were so many commercials playing and I was getting annoyed.  Yada, yada, yada.  I was trying to find something to listen to and didn't want to fool around with the CD's because I was trying to be a good driver.  I wasn't up for anything frantic or metallic or anything that would make me wish I was on the open road going faster.

On one station I suddenly heard the silky smooth voice of Johnny Mathis singing "Winter Wonderland"  and it was magical.  When I hear Johnny Mathis sing, I am instantly a child again and I am living in a house on Silver Rock Road in Rockville, Md.  I am 6 years old and it is evening.  It's right after dinner.  My two younger sisters and one younger brother and I have all had our baths and we are happy in our pajamas.  This Christmas there were only four of us.  Two more siblings would arrive later.

The house smells like a party and everything is glittery and snowy and full of anticipation.  We are bumping into each other and talking and running around and wondering when Santa will be at our house.  We want to put the cookies and milk out so we can get him to come to our house first.  As much as our parents try, they cannot get us to calm down to get ready to go to sleep.

Sleigh bells ring, Are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight
Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

The whole scene is hardwired in my brain and when I hear Johnny Mathis singing, "Winter Wonderland" it triggers the memory every time.

Could anything be more innocent?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Handling Negatives

Like the weather, feelings are unpredictable. 

Sadness and anger come and go.  So do joy and excitement.

The most sensible approach to handling such feelings is to accept them...and continue doing what you need to do.

~ David K. Reynolds, A Handbook For Constructive Living

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Families & Holidays

This story was published in The Washington Post this week and is soooo timely:

Michael Hershon/For The Washington Post

Holiday advice for families

By Janice D’Arcy/The Washington Post

Published: December 7, 2011

Celebrating the holidays with children can be magical, sometimes. Other times, it can be a season of migraine-inducing family problems. We asked a few experts to sort out some of the most vexing, such as navigating expectations, handling family drama, teaching children gratitude and figuring out how to explain Santa. Here’s hoping this advice gets you more joy and less jaw-clenching during the next few weeks.

How many gifts is too many?
Meredith Gelman, a Fairfax-based clinical social worker who works with parents and families, said when parents have different ideas about gift-giving, the approach should be broken into three phases: creating a recipient list and budget, discussing each other’s expectations and reasons for giving, and negotiating.
“Identify ways that you and your partner might combine each other’s gift ideas: Can you still buy at the toy store while also purchasing toys and clothing for a local needy family?” she said. She suggested involving children in the conversation, too, so they begin to understand the underlying reasons for giving gifts.

Be sensitive about Santa.
If your family has children of mixed ages, keep the Santa Claus myth alive for the youngest, said Meghan Leahy, a D.C.-based parent coach. “You take the 4-year-old to pictures [with Santa], you write the list with her, you listen for the hoofs. As the parent, you use your imagination.
“As much as a preteen would maybe love to get negative attention [for spoiling it], you simply hug him and say, ‘I believe in everything good about the holidays, and Santa is part of that in our house. Especially for your little sister,’ ” Leahy said.
For families who celebrate Christmas without Santa, Leahy warned against asking a preschooler to keep the secret that there really isn’t a Santa. “It is a truism for all kids that if you look them in the eye and say, “Please, please don’t tell the kids in pre-K that there is no Santa,” that child will march right into school with an important announcement: “There is no Santa!”
Instead, she said, “concentrate on what you do believe in as a family and say things like: ‘Some families believe in Santa, some don’t. We really believe in giving back in this house. Can you help me make a list of people we can help this holiday?’ You will notice that there was no refutation in that sentence. You simply want to highlight what the family values are.”

Christmas and Hanukkah: A peaceful coexistence
Hanukkah (starting sundown Dec. 20) and Christmas overlap this year. That makes it a good time to focus on the similarities between the two celebrations, said Jennifer Kogan, a D.C. clinical social worker.
“Parents can talk with their kids about common religious principles or themes. For example, both Christmas and Hanukkah tell the story of a miracle,” she said.
In terms of deciding which traditions to continue, she said it can be helpful for each parent to think about what they loved most about their childhood celebrations. “Is it the different kinds of cookies your mom baked in advance of Christmas? Playing the dreidel game? The scent of a Christmas tree? Latkes frying on the stove? Reading stories or singing songs with family?” The answers can provide a template for the idea of interfaith celebration for your family.

Keep family drama at bay with planning, flexibility.
Parents have to understand the traditions of extended family while protecting the needs of their own children, said Stacy Notaras Murphy, a D.C. psychotherapist and advice columnist. Talk about logistics “as early as possible,” she said, “and with as many of the key players as you can, starting with your partner or spouse.”
“Spend some time thinking about your own expectations of what, if anything, needs to change now that you are bringing small kids into the holiday scenario. . . . Don’t abdicate the decision-making to your mother-in-law. The result might be a meal schedule that simply does not work for your child,” she said.
At the same time, make an effort to be flexible on less important issues. “Kids learn how to negotiate the world based on the behavior modeled by their parents,” Murphy said. “If the holidays mean arguments, conflict with in-laws or passive-aggression for the adults, guess what kids end up believing about holidays?”

When sharing custody, stick to a schedule.
Child custody negotiations can be smoother when former spouses consider the holidays from the child’s point of view, said James J. Gross, an author and divorce lawyer in Chevy Chase. “Think about how you would feel if you sat down to Christmas dinner with one family, then had to be whisked away for Christmas dinner with another family,” he said.
Gross offered two possible schedules. In the first, parents alternate each year, from 6 p.m. on the last day of the school year until 4 p.m. on Christmas Day and from 4 p.m. on Christmas Day until 6 p.m. on Jan. 1. In the second option, one parent has the children for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and the other parent has the children for all other holidays and school vacations.
“Children also frequently feel like the separation of their parents is their fault,” Gross said. “It is important during the holidays to take time to talk to them about their feelings and reassure them.”

The key to well-mannered kids: Practice, practice.
Sara Hacala, author of the recently published “Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude and Attitude for a Polite Planet” (Skylight Paths), pointed out what a parent may not want to hear: “Your children’s manners are more likely to shine during the holidays if they have been incorporated as part of their daily rituals, not as a last-minute attempt on a car ride on the way to an event.”
Still, Hacala said, if the kids haven’t been training for months, you can try a few last-minute strategies. “If your dining style at home is informal, but you’re concerned about a party where more formal behavior and attire is expected, have a practice dinner at home beforehand.”
Talk to children about what they can expect and what will be expected of them, whether it’s sitting quietly through a long meal or helping to serve and clean up or avoiding a food fight. She suggests role-playing at home, too, to practice introductions with eye contact and simple, polite conversation.

Get kids to say thanks and really mean it.
If Thanksgiving didn’t teach your children about gratitude, you have more opportunities this month. “During gift-giving occasions, it is important to talk about this with your kids at home before a gift is received and opened, particularly if the giver is present,” said Hacala.
“Teach your child to say, ‘Thank you, Aunt Susan’ with a sincere and appreciative tone of voice, even if he wished that Elmo were in the gift box rather than a sweater. With older kids and teens, remind them that facial expressions often speak louder than words. Regardless of age, teach your child to hand-write thank-you notes to show appreciation and gratitude; it is an admirable life-long habit.”
Hacala said children may be more likely to put pen to paper if parents explain the meaning of saying “thanks.” “It should be taught to kids that gratitude expresses appreciation for and acknowledgment of other people in our lives, which is why saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are so important, whether a person has opened a door for you or given you a gift. Doing so shows someone that you are not taking his or her gift, gesture or presence for granted.”

D’Arcy is The Washington Post’s On Parenting blogger. Read her posts at and follow @onparenting on Twitter.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Books @ Union Station

I was downtown at Union Station the other day and was surprised to see that Barnes & Noble is still open.  Now that Borders has closed and the Barnes & Noble store in Georgetown has been bought by Nike, I am always happy to see a book store open and bustling with customers. 

It's such a luxury to browse in a book store.  To go from table to table and shelf to shelf, to look at the covers of the books, pick them up, read through them and just feel the weight of the book in your hands is to get lost in your imagination.  I find books to be comforting when they reveal new information to me, when I can escape in them and when they help me understand something that I have been trying to wrap my brain around.

Amazon is very convenient but it's just not the same.  When you're hanging out in a book store you see books you've already read and enjoyed and you also think about how much work went into writing them; at least I do.  Others may  think that books are work and not pleasure but I think that means they just aren't reading the right books.  Let's be honest, then there are some books that in a million years I can't figure out how they got published.  But that's a different story.

I'm afraid the book store as a store will no longer exist in a few years and that will be very sad.  As a place to sell books, Union Station is the perfect location for a bookstore because people are hopping onto trains everywhere and it is also a Metro stop.  Even though the chains don't seem to be staying afloat in this economy, there are two independent bookstores in my area, Politics & Prose and Kramer Books, and they seem to be doing very well.  I'm crossing my fingers that it stays that way.

I used to think that if you saw a store with people inside buying merchandise that it was a good sign.  I no longer think that because it doesn't really mean anything other than there are people in the store while you are looking at it.  The corporate offices of the stores you are in could be literally selling the store out, merging with another store or simply making really bad financial decisions.

When in doubt of what to buy someone, always buy a book!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Circle of Life

It's the holiday season and wreaths are everywhere.  Doors, windows, large buildings and small, I see them indoors and outdoors, even on trucks and cars.  Evergreens, berries, pinecones, and magnolia leaves, the materials that wreaths are made of today seem endless.  If they're not chock full of tacky plastic stuff, wreaths are welcoming signs, hopeful signs and even peaceful signs.

Wreaths are also a sign of faith in humanity and its circular shape represents eternity, for a wreath has no beginning and no end.   Wreaths have been with us since the ancient Greeks and Romans when wreaths were awarded to victors in sporting events.  Today, Christians continue the tradition of using wreaths for special occasions by displaying Advent wreaths in their homes at Christmas time.  Advent wreaths have four candles: three purple and one pink and one candle is lit each week of Advent with a prayer to help prepare for Christ's birth on Christmas.  In Scandanavia, wreaths feature candles as a sign of hope for the future light of spring.


I always hang a wreath on my front door every Christmas and my sister, who is excellent at making bows, makes a new bow for me every couple of years.  Besides my home, I also always buy a wreath to decorate my husband's gravesite marker.  Lots of people do this.  It's not a strange or weird thing to do at all.  A few years ago, I remember the New York Times ran a story on this subject.  The story wrote about a cemetary in Los Angeles and said that decorating a loved one's grave site is now a "populist yuletide ritual" practiced by thousands of Americans.  

I know that it's definitely true in my little area of the world because the cemetary where my husband is buried looks like some kind of extreme Christmas decorating set out of HGTV.  Driving through the gates, I see all sorts of wreaths decorated in every single color you can imagine and these wreaths lay side-by-side with small Christmas trees and other decorations that signify the season of Christmas and bring comfort to people during this time of year.  My wreath is rather plain compared to the others but I don't care.  It's just a traditional wreath made from greens with a big red bow but it looks great to me

I have a small metal stand that the wreath lays on and then I wire the wreath to the stand to withstand exposure to the animals and the winter elements.  I like to do this because it's my way of wishing my husband a Merry Christmas and while I am setting it all up I like to talk to him about what's been going on.  I'm sure he probably already knows about the things I tell him, but I do it anyway because I like to talk to him when I am there.

If no one is around, I just talk out loud about what's happening to me, what's happening with his children, and generally the things we would normally talk about.  This past Sunday, the sun was shining and the ground was soft as I set up my husband's wreath for another Christmas celebration.  As usual I talked on and on about everything.  I'm sure he was covering his ears at a certain point and probably was thankful when I stopped talking.

To those of you who have never done this or even thought about doing it, it may seem strange to decorate a grave site and sustain a one-sided conversation with someone who is not physically present.  Rest assured, it is not unusual.  You may eventually find yourself doing it someday.  It will make you feel better as it makes me feel better.  You'll be connecting with someone you love and care about and that's what the season of Christmas is about.

In case you are interested, here is the link to the New York Times story:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Owen Danoff -- OURS/Taylor Swift Cover Song

Sunday Morning...Time to Relax.

Hot Cup of Tea -- Check

New York Times & Washington Post -- Check

Owen Danoff singing Taylor Swift Cover Song Titled "Ours" -- Double Check:

Let music fill your soul!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Miss Representation Screening/Motion Picture Association of America

Last night I attended a screening of Miss Representation, a new documentary film written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, filmmaker, actress and wife of California's Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.  The title of this groundbreaking film is a play on the words used in beauty pageants and also a revealing interpretation of the messages mainstream media uses to market women.

According to Miss Representation, which premiered at the October 2011 Sundance Film Festival, aired on OWN and will soon be released on DVD, American teenagers -- in one week -- spend 31 hours watching TV, 17 hours listening to music, 3 hours watching movies, 4 hours reading magazines and 10 hours online.  That's 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption every day.

Since the media plays a dominant role in shaping and defining the issues of political discussion, Miss Representation argues that we've handed over quite a lot of influence to outlets that are primarily driven by ratings, circulation and profits.  Those aren't dirty words except when you get the most out of all three by constantly going for the lowest common denominator.

It's the American way to make a profit but does it mean that it has to happen at the cost of exploiting and demeaning women?  Miss Representation calls mainstream media and the advertising industry to task for not doing its homework and for its constant narrowing of the potential of girls by putting them into designed slots of people who are smart but unattractive or attractive but ditzy. 

What's so powerful about Miss Representation is that it reveals that what drives those ratings, circulation and profits is the packaging of gender stereotypes in a way that's different and more pervasive than Americans have previously experienced.  Regulatory restrictions or filters on language, visuals and hours of programming are now gone.  Cable, radio and the internet are now 24/7 insatiable machines which must constantly be fed with content.  As long as people tune-in or buy sexist, vacuous, superficial, violent programming then that's what will hit the airwaves or sit on store shelves.

Miss Representation takes "the medium is the message" dialogue to another level.  The 90-minute film interviews teenage girls, politicians, journalists, entertainers, activitists and academics, such as Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Rosario Dawson and Margaret Cho, and shows scores of examples of how mainstream media belittles women who have achieved or are trying to achieve leadership positions.

Newsom's Miss Representation takes the stand that what hurts girls also hurts boys.  If boys get used to viewing plastic, photo shopped and airbrushed images of women how are they going to relate to the real deal?  If women's value comes only from youth, beauty and sexuality, then what type of culture are we becoming?

Please watch the Miss Representation trailer and decide for yourself:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mom 2 Mom

After experiencing a personal loss, everyone has to find their own way of getting back into the game.  Sometimes it's not pretty.

The piece below is from  You may not agree with how this woman felt but she is courageous in stepping out from the pack to tell how it really felt.  Please give it a read.

The One Where I Lie To My Friends

Posted On November 8, 2011 @ 8:51 am;  Featured in Parents, Hello Grief


[1]The truth about grief and loss is that they do not always come with pretty, neatly packaged feelings.  Many of us have had thoughts that we may be afraid to share with others, for fear of what they may think of us, for fear that they may see how broken our loss has truly left us.

One brave and honest guest author living in Europe shares her feelings with us, and helps us to see the many faces of grief.  She helps us to understand that any person’s grief can be ugly and raw at times, and that we must learn how to accept and live through those feelings as we move toward healing.

I have a confession to make: a friend is moving back to the US and even though I pretend to be sad about it, I am actually happy she’s going.

I feel terrible for feeling this way, but I can’t help myself. It’s amazingly selfish and if any of my friends in real life knew they would be very upset with me. They would be horrified that I could think such a horrible thing about someone I call my friend. It would probably change their view of me completely. So I hide it. I keep it to myself and pray that no one discovers my dark secret.

So what is this friend’s crime? What has she done to make me so happy that she’s moving so far away?

Three words


Yes, it’s a simple as that. We were pregnant at the same time. Our due dates were a month apart. We had all these plans about our babies being friends. She was having a girl and I was having a boy and we joked about them being boyfriend and girlfriend. We were going to join the same playgroup. We were on the same path.

Until that horrible day.

“There’s no heartbeat.”

Those words uttered at my 36 week growth scan changed everything for the hubby and me.

But not for her. Her baby girl lived, and is here.  On this earth.  In her arms. While my son looks down on me from heaven.  I can only hold him in my heart.

This friend and her daughter are walking reminders of what I have lost. In fact, in the 9 months since my son died (yes, it’s been 9 months now) I have yet to meet her daughter. I can’t meet her daughter. In fact, we had a near miss a few weeks ago and it nearly sent me into a crying frenzy.

So I pretend…

That I will miss her.

That I’m sad to see her go.

That our group of friends will never be the same without her.

When really, I can’t wait for her to be gone. So that I don’t have to see the awkward looks on people’s faces when they are in the same room with the two of us. Knowing the struggle they are going through:
  • Dying to ask her about her baby, but not wanting to hurt my feelings.
  • Wanting to invite people over but knowing she may not have a babysitter and knowing that I can’t be in the same room as her daughter.
  • Feeling like they somehow have to make a choice whether to see me or her based on her childcare situation.
  • Feeling like they are stuck in the middle of this horribly awkward situation. Where her baby lived and mine died.
  • Trying to be good friends to each of us while not hurting the feelings of the other.
I don’t envy their situation. I try to put myself in their shoes, but I’m too close. I am unable to think objectively. So as much as I like this friend (and believe it or not, I really do) her move is a huge relief. Because I get to keep the other friends.

And I really need them right now.

As horrible as it is to say this, I need them more than she does. So I’m lying to everyone. Saying how much I will miss her and how sad I am to see her go. When really I’m just counting down the days.

So I’m a liar, and it makes me feel like a horrible person. Even though all I’m really trying to do is survive.

The author of Finding My New Normal [2] blogs about her life, and her husband’s life, after the death of their son in the 36th week of pregnancy.  Having recently moved from the US to London, she shares her journey openly, including her plans to have another child.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Friends With Benefits

I hope the day will be a lighter highway
For friends are found on every road
Can you ever think of any better way
For the lost and weary travellers to go
Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there then everything's all right
It seems to me a crime that we should age
These fragile times should never slip us by
A time you never can or shall erase
As friends together watch their childhood fly

Music By: Elton John     Lyrics By: Bernie Taupin

Having a network of good and true friends is invaluable when you are trying to develop resilience to life's traumas.  Your friends may not have experienced the loss of a spouse, a child, or a near and dear loved one and it might be hard for them to understand the depth of your grief.  But, more importantly, your friends are probably sticking to your side whether they get it or not.  That says a lot about them and it says a lot about you.  To be fair, sometimes it's hard even for you to know the depth of your grief and how you are going to feel from one minute to the next.  Don't toss your friends under the bus because they can't read your mind.

Life will slowly get better because close connections with other people relieves stress and boosts your immunity.  There is a direct health benefit to having friends, says Blair Justice, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Houston.  You are a happier person when you have friends.  People who live isolated lives -- without hugs, handshakes or other physical contact -- are just as likely to develop heart disease as those people who smoke, eat high-fat diets and don't exercise, according to Justice.

Just being with people who love us and care about us sends a message that we are still connected to a community of  friendships, a community of humanity.  I am sure your friends are trying their best to be sympathetic and support you even if it doesn't seem they know what to do or say.  For sure they know that their friend is hurting and they want to make it better for you.  Hang in there. 

To manage your grief, it's important to regularly discuss what's going on in your life with your friends or family members.  It's not always going to make sense to them but it's important to acknowledge that it's not logical; it's just how you feel right now.  The give and take of trying to problem solve with others will help you feel stronger and may allow you to give your mind a rest from constantly thinking about the future.

So pick up the phone today and call or text a friend.  Your heart will thank you!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hanging Out in the 'Hood

I saved a lot of money today.  I didn't do any shopping.  Even though today was Black Friday, I didn't walk into one store or visit any websites to shop or buy anything.  I just wasn't up for being sucking into the great vortex of shopping madness that now occurs on the day after Thanksgiving.  To me it's just a marketing ploy.  There may be 42-inch flat screen televisions that cost $199 but there's probably only four of them in the store and standing in line or camping out in a tent to take advantage of that price just isn't worth it.  I will do my bit for the economy.  It just didn't happen today.

Instead, I raked leaves with my son.  Besides working off the extra Thanksgiving calories I consumed yesterday, I got to spend time with my son and as he gets older those moments are to be grabbed and cherished.  It was a beautiful day and raking and cleaning the yard turned into a simple moment of talking about nothing at first but then more about life and how things are going for him in his senior year at Fordham.  He also had met up earlier in the day with a friend's son who is a junior in high school who wanted to chat with him about what college is like and how he should navigate the process of applying.  I told him that it was very nice of him to talk to this friend's son and he said he wanted to do it and enjoyed it.  But he was also surprised by how the conversation made him feel.

"It was weird in a way," he said.  "I've known this guy since he was in elementary school and now he's talking to me about applying to college and at the same time my friends and I are now looking for jobs for after graduation.  I don't know... I feel kindof, I don't know...old."  I was laughing hysterically.  "Oh yeah," I said.  "At the ripe old age of 21, you are really pushing it.  You have no idea what old feels like."

And then my son got to the crux of why today was so special.  "I don't want it to go so fast,"  he said.  "I think I need life to slow down a little bit."

Amen to that.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mucho Thanks!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

The classy and world famous Rockettes

Are you watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade yet?  To me, it's not truly Thanksgiving until I watch The Rockettes perform their incredibly precise dance numbers and their infamous kickline.  Then, of course, there are the numerous marching bands, celebrities lip synching popular tunes and the huge balloon animals.  Maybe you're peeling potatoes or putting the turkey in the oven.  Whatever you are doing and wherever you are, I hope your day is full of great food, family and friends!

Today I want to send a big thank you to all of my wonderful readers who have supported me and given me invaluable feedback.  I feel very lucky -- and amazed -- that others have connected with my blog and read my posts on a regular basis.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Macy's Parade in New York City

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jamie Lee Curtis

Hello faithful readers!  Remember in 2002 when Jaime Lee Curtis revealed in a national magazine what she really looked like without help from make-up and hair assistants and more importantly, air brushing?  Maybe you don't, but I do and I thought it was one huge courageous move for women.  Besides her acting and writing talents, I applaud Jaime Lee Curtis for her honesty and independence. 

Jaime Lee Curtis' other bold move:  quitting alcohol and pain pills in 1999.  Since we're all in this together, one person's experience may help another person who is trying to rebuild their life.  Here's Jaime Lee Curtis' recent down-to-earth interview with

Jamie Lee Curtis - Actress, Author, Activist & Mother

1. What are your three words to live by? Why do these words guide your life?

Sobriety - Without it, I have nothing.
Love - My favorite quote from No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod is: "All of us are better when we're loved."

Humor - In Joni Mitchell's song, People's Parties, she wrote: "Laughing and crying you know it's the same release."

2. What does being an Architect of Change mean to you?

I think it means being brave and not being calcified in our family patterns.

3. Who do you consider to be an Architect of Change in your life?

Every sober woman I know.

4. What's the most important lesson you've learned in life?

That I am not in control.

5.  What is one thing you are working on right now that you feel especially passionate about?

My family.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Owen Danoff -- New Cover Song/Lonely Boy by the Black Keys

Please check out the latest recording from the very talented Owen Danoff who is on his way to being recognized as a major singer/songwriter.  The below YouTube video Lonely Boy by the Black Keys is covered by Owen Danoff.

Love his energy and his voice!!!!  Click below and enjoy:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Month of Thanks

A Bowl of Hot Smashed Spuds...YUMMMM

As we get ready for that time of year when we traditionally pause and give thanks, this year may be hard for some to find a reason to be thankful.

If you have recently lost a loved one, a holiday celebration can exacerbate all the jumbled up feelings you are experiencing and trying to understand.

Thanksgiving was the first holiday that happened to me and my son after my husband's death.  Our son was thirteen at the time and he and I decided to stick to our usual Thanksgiving routine of having dinner at my parent's house with some of my siblings and their children. Basically, we thought it would be best if we stayed with what was familiar.  I know some people go the opposite route and mark the holiday in a completely new way after a loved one has died.  I understand that thinking and I would have loved to have traveled to a place where I didn't know anyone but I didn't think that would be good for my son.

I think I knew that Thanksgiving day would feel very different without my husband but I didn't really understand how different it would be until the day was set in motion.

On one level, you pretend that it's a day like any other day and your loved one just isn't around.  I didn't really consciously think about why he wasn't there with me; he just wasn't there.  I think I thought that if I kept moving forward through the day, the concept of his death wouldn't catch up to me.  I was fine until I actually arrived at my parents house and I saw the table set and everyone busy preparing food as though it were any other Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving.

NOT!  It sounds so silly but the full impact of that day didn't actually hit me until then.  I quickly looked around the room and realized I was there without my husband and that my husband wasn't there because he just died.  My son was with me but as soon as he saw his cousins he went off and played with them which was perfectly normal.  I was glad for him and I wished that I had some friends to go and play with so I wouldn't have to deal with reality.

The only way I can describe how I felt that day is that as I looked around the room and I felt very lost and I thought to myself, "How can everyone act like nothing has happened?  I feel awful!"  I ended up crying and going for a ride in the car with my Dad.  We talked for a long time and I gathered myself together and we went back for dinner.  It's wasn't great but I got through it.  That year I was just thankful to get through the day.

Thanksgiving was the first of many times that I GOT THROUGH IT.  After about a million times of getting through things, I slowly began to notice a shift in my emotions: I didn't always feel so close to tears and I didn't always feel outside of myself.

This year before I dig into my mashed potatoes (notice I put those first), stuffing, cranberries and turkey, I'm going to pause and give thanks for the gift of perseverance and the major blessings in my life: my son, my family, my friends and my health.  If you know someone who just lost a spouse, a child, a relative or a friend, please ask them if they have plans for Thanksgiving.  They might turn down the invitation and then again they might accept the invitation.  Including someone who is having a rough time of it might change the atmosphere of your holiday celebration, but I would hope that it could be different in a good way.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Changing Up Thanksgiving?

A Thanksgiving Cookout?

Most people don't want to try something new for Thanksgiving dinner.  They usually want the same food that has been served to them at every Thanksgiving dinner since they were a child because it's comforting and to them, it defines Thanksgiving dinner.  It's all about tradition.

And there's nothing wrong with tradition.  But life can also be about surprises and choices.  Maybe you have some Thanksgiving or other holiday ritual you'd like to eliminate or introduce.  That's why I like the following column....

Make Your Own Thanksgiving
Is it time to make your own Thanksgiving traditions?

by Michele Woodward
Published on November 24, 2010
This week I've been thinking about money.
And how so many people get all weird and wobbly when it comes to talking about it. Asking for it. Having it at all.
And it's interesting that they way our parents and grandparents handled money probably affects the way we handle money. I think about the woman whose immigrant parents struggled and sacrificed and lived in poverty. And now, even though she makes a million dollars a year, she hoards paper towels and soup... just in case.
Or the guy whose dad was a dreamer and a schemer. When they had money, they spent it - lavish dinners, fancy trips, stylish clothes. And when they had no money, they fantasized about how they'd spend it once it came back. Today, this guy has no savings and wonders what happens to his cash.
Last year I wrote When Gifts Become Junk - just because someone gives you a gift, like a legacy around money, you don't have to take it.
It's kind of like Thanksgiving.
I remember the first time I had to cook Thanksgiving on my own. I planned to carefully replicate the traditional family menu, but then ran into a little blip. Where my family had bread-and-oyster dressing, heavy on the sage, his family had cornbread dressing with plenty of celery and onion. My family was mashed potatoes, his was rice. Ours was brown gravy. His had hard-boiled eggs floating in a yellow gravy.

We each had our own idea of What Thanksgiving Is and What One Must Consume So It Is Truly Thanksgiving. Compromise felt like loss.
Oh, I come by the feeling of What It Should Be quite naturally - another family legacy. I remember my mother preparing Thanksgiving when I was a child. She looked at our loaded table and would always say, "You know, my grandmother would have chicken and dumplings, ham, turkey, fried chicken, and four different kinds of pie...this just doesn't seem like Thanksgiving to me." The fact that we had ham and turkey and three pies - never lived up to what Thanksgiving Should Be.
What a struggle. It's the tension between fantasy and reality, really. It's the tightrope of being present right here and now, and living in a storied and maybe flawed recollection of a "better time." It's an oppressive and unrealistic burden because the past you're trying to match was probably not as wonderful as you recall. It probably wasn't any more happy than you can make today.
So to be firmly here in the present, and living a happy life, there comes a point when you simply choose to make your own Thanksgiving.
Take a look at the heritage of your forebears and decide what you want to consciously take forward with you in your own life. It is absolutely OK - hey, it's more than OK, it's imperative - to decide whether you want to continue with the tiny marshmallows on the top of the super sweet potatoes, or go a bit healthier and replace that traditional dish with, oh, steamed broccoli.
You create your own traditions, not because what your parents and grandparents did was wrong. It may have been really right. For them. At that time. But now, it's your life. You can create your own way of being in the world, darling, because you are you - not them.
Look at the legacies gifted to you by your parents and grandparents - around money, around relationships, around body image, around holidays - and decide: "Is this what I want for myself? Does this make me happy, or give me stress?"
If a tradition works for you, and makes you very, very happy - then keep it. If a tradition feels like a heavy obligation, and makes you very, very stressed - then it's time to lovingly let that relic go.
Feel free to make your own menu, and it will be your own Thanksgiving. Every single celebratory day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bridge of Love

Photograph by Philippe Garavel

In Paris, lovers fasten padlocks to the railings of the Pont des Arts bridge.  The couple then tosses
 the keys into the Seine river below, symbolizing their eternal love.

Happy Friday everyone! 

The following quote is from the last paragraph of the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder.  I'm sharing it because I think it captures the essence of what we all strive to do while rebuilding our lives after the loss of a person near and dear to us:

"We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. 

But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them.  Even memory is not necessary for love.

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Day To Remember

My niece is getting married this Saturday and everyone in my large boisterous family is looking forward to getting together and celebrating this wonderful occasion.  Months and months of preparation have gone into planning this special day and I think my sister will absolutely have a fit if it doesn't all go off perfectly!

No matter what happens, I know it will be a beautiful day, a day filled with great memories.  For me, it will be another reason why Nov. 12 stands out on the calendar.  My niece's wedding will also be sharing the date of the day my husband died.  This year will mark the eighth anniversary of his death.  My husband loved my niece very much and when she was about 3 years old we took care of her for a weekend in our 2-bedroom apartment while her parents were away.  She was the kind of child you could take anywhere and she ate anything you gave her.  He would be so happy for her and her big day and I know he would like the guy she is marrying.

Both my sister and my niece talked to me when it became apparent that the wedding date would probably end up being Nov. 12.  They had fallen in love with a particular place for the reception and it was available on Nov. 12.  They were both so excited and I was genuinely happy for them.  Never in a million years would I have told my niece that she couldn't get married on that day.

It's a hard fact to embrace, but life does go on.  In the beginning, you can't imagine that it will, but it does.  It's sort of stunning when it hits you and you arrive at the realization that you can't fence the day off and say nothing else can ever happen on this date.  From the first anniversary until this year's anniversary, I have always made sure I am out and about on that date.  I'm not saying that I don't get teary or that it doesn't hurt.  It did and it does.  A lot.

But throughout all of those anniversaries I reminded myself that I needed to raise my fantastic son, rebuild my life and stay involved.  In fact, about four years ago another one of my nieces needed me to participate in her Confirmation ceremony and it was scheduled for the day after the anniversary date.  I am her godmother too and she needed me.  Life continues to happen for those that we love and I was happy to be there to support her and sponsor her as she received this important sacrament.  Yes, the date reminds me of the sadness of losing him but I can't control that life happens.  I can only control my reaction to it.

I will be thinking of my husband during the wedding ceremony itself and how it felt to say those words to him and to hear him say them to me.  I will also be reminding myself that I was very lucky to have fallen in love with someone who also fell in love with me.  Not everyone finds love in their lifetime and I know that I did.

My husband would want me to have a good time at the reception and I know I will.  Of course, I wish he could be there but I can't spend the day replaying the slide show of our life together in my head.  We always spent a lot of time out on the dance floor and I intend to boogie with the best of them.