Thursday, June 30, 2011

Julie Potter -- Sibley Hospital Angel

I write today about a special woman named Julie Potter who played a pivotal role in putting me and many others on the path to resilience.

Today is Julie's last day at Sibley Hospital and I know that she will be missed quite a lot!!!!!  True to her nature, Julie always downplays her valuable contributions and the vast resources she has set up at Sibley to help others.  Besides her primary responsibilities at Sibley's Senior Services department, Julie also oversees the Widowed Persons Outreach (WPO) bereavement group.  For 21 years, Julie has reached out to help people who find themselves vulnerable during trying times and she has generously given them emotional support and strength so that they may find their way back to more solid footing.  She is calm, gentle and patient but she is also honest and funloving.  Julie has a sixth sense for what people need and if they can't find the right connections then she helps them until they do.

Sibley had no support groups when Julie began working there.  Julie started the hospital's first support group, a cancer support group, and that led to the start of many other groups: arthritis, alzheimer's, bereavement, diabetes, parkinson's and movement disorders.  And if that wasn't enough, she also started the hospital's Walking Club in 1992.

I remember the first time I spoke to her on the phone because I was pretty much a basketcase.  I had received a pamphet in the mail about a bereavement group at Sibley Hospital that met twice a month and Julie was the contact person.  I wasn't ready yet to talk in a group but still I thought it would be a good idea to talk to her for guidance and also to see if I could talk to someone in the bereavement group on a one-to-one basis.  I called and left a voice message for her.

My husband had died about nine months earlier and I had just come back from vacation with my young son.  We weren't vacationing alone; we were with friends. But it had been jarring to spend vacation time without my husband.  Everything about the beach was almost the same as it had been from the year before except my husband had died.  It became a big deal to me as I realized pretty quickly into the vacation that I needed to talk to someone about all the grief feelings that I was experiencing. Every day during vacation I would tamp down all the feelings of contradiction.  No one I knew could really understand what it was all about.  I would walk up to the beach early every morning and sit in the sand and cry and then walk back to the house as though everything was okay.

When Julie called me back, she said she knew of a woman in the bereavement group who was widowed many years ago and had since remarried.  The woman who Julie sent my way helped me tremendously and I will always be grateful for her sensitivity and empathy.  She was truly an incredible gift sent from heaven.  She listened to me and also shared her own stories about being a wife and mother and suddenly becoming a widow.  She told me how she met her current husband and how life would get better.  She gave me hope.  And so did Julie.

Thank you Julie Potter from the bottom of my heart for taking care of me and all the other people seeking understanding and support after losing a loved one!!!!!  Best wishes in your continued volunteer work with WPO and all other endeavors you decide to follow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

OMG.....That Was So Funny.......

When was the last time you had a really good laugh?

I'm talking about the kind of laughter that comes from way down deep; when you can't catch your breath or you accidentally spit out whatever you are eating or drinking because you can't contain the laughter anymore and you have to let it out.  Spontaneous, out loud laughter that is contagious and blows the stress out of your system.  That's what I'm talking about.

Doctors say laughter is great for your health because it reduces stress and strengthens your immune system....and who cares whether you have health insurance or not because you don't need a prescription for laughter!

Having a sense of humor is so important because it brings lightness and wit into your life.  It's as if you are pushing all of the incredibly serious, headache-producing, adult matters happening in your life off a cliff called "HAD ENOUGH" and you are momentarily free.  I know it's hard because I have to constantly remind myself but instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a situation, try to see the lighter side.  You can always share a story with a friend or officemate about something embarrassing you did or imitate yourself to your friends; that's sure to get a laugh!  I do it a lot because there's always an unending number of ridiculous things I do every day.  You gotta laugh!

Don't worry, it's okay to laugh when you are in the midst of grieving.  Humor is healing.  At first, you're going to feel really uncomfortable about smiling or laughing, as though you are doing something awful or sacriligious.  You'll probably be thinking that you shouldn't be having a good time because someone you loved very much just died and people will think their death didn't mean anything to you if they see you smiling or laughing.  Not true.  If your mood is serious and thoughtful then go with it, but if a funny memory pops into your head then enjoy that too.

Remembering the funny things your loved one said or did is one of the many ways we can honor the memory of those we loved and cared about.  It keeps them close and alive in our hearts.  Your laughter may lead to tears but that's okay too.  It's your journey and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

One of the stories that my family likes to share about my husband has to do with his devotion to the NY Giants.  My husband LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the NY Giants.  You would have thought it was his very own football team.  When the Giants earned the right to go to the Super Bowl in 1991, my brothers and brothers-in-law (who are all diehard Redskins fans) bought my husband a lamp that had a Giants football helmit on its base as a celebration gift.  He thought it was beautiful!  However, when the Redskins went to the Super Bowl in 1992, my husband didn't get anything for any of them.  There was absolutely no reciprosity.  "Aren't you going to buy them a Super Bowl present?," I asked him.  Without hesitation, he said, "No way.  I am not spending one cent of my money on anything that is burgandy and gold."

What are your stories?  We're all in this together, so thanks for sharing :)!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

21 Candles

Today, I am sending out a special message to my fantastic son today on his 21st birthday:



TODAY AND ALWAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!





Friday, June 24, 2011

Going To The Source

There's a lot to be said for following an "information is power" philosophy when dealing with a life crisis.

When you are grieving the loss of a loved one or facing a serious tragedy that life has thrown you, it feels as though you are playing 52 pick-up.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this child's game, it's when someone takes a deck of cards and tosses all of them in the air.  The cards come flying down, willy nilly, landing wherever they want.  The player then has to put the cards back in order, similiar to what you are trying to do with your life; picking up the pieces and making it into some new.

It's definitely a crazy and vulnerable time that no one can prepare you for…..really. 

Every day after my husband died, I wondered if I would always feel this awful.  And for many, many months, I did.  You soon find out there's no roadmap that can take you to a better place so you are pretty much left to your own devices to figure it out and draw up your own.  I knew I wasn't the only person who has ever had to handle a husband’s death or raising a child by myself, so I needed to find out what was in store for me and my son.  I went searching for as much information as I could on both subjects; some were written by people with first-hand knowledge and some were written by people trained in those areas.

Articles and books written by those who have "been there, done that" are authentic, insightful and helpful in offering tried and true ways for you to adapt to your new reality.  Discovering that someone else got to the other side of a problem that is worse than yours and how they got there affirms that you can carry on and rebuild your life.  Their problem is so much worse than mine and yet they found a way to deal with it.  Maybe I can too! 

The process of sifting through facts and first-person thoughts from lots of sources continues to help me untangle ongoing dilemmas.  I'm not the only one who feels this way.  This has happened to someone else and look what they did to deal with it.

I try to take the approach that I can’t change the fact that stressful events will occur but I can change how I respond to these events.  When I start to feel overwhelmed I follow some advice one of my aunts used:  only think about the next 10 minutes.  Then when you get through those 10 minutes, think about the next 10 minutes and so on.  I have found this to be useful and calming. 

Part of this problem solving and introspection is sometimes called "grief work" as in "if you don't do your grief work then you will never really get yourself healed."  Simply put, it's a dose of plain ole introspection which can be painful because you are remembering and trying to let go at the same time.  There were plenty of times when I cried in public places – grocery stores, restaurants, church, the car -- and rambled on about things not making much sense.  Sleep was hit or miss.  But no matter how bad I felt, I tried to maintain a hopeful outlook.  Slowly, I learned how to integrate my loss into my life.

The passage of time has helped me gain more confidence and control over my emotions and my new life.  But the underlying emotions of grief still have to be acknowledged and addressed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddies Day

Here's a big shout out to all of the wonderful men out there who love and provide for their beautiful children.  If your Dad is no longer alive, I hope you tell funny and sentimental stories about him today or think about the special things you did together.  I'd also like to give some recognition to the fantastic men who continually reach out to the children who need a Dad in their lives.

Father's Day is a celebration of all Dads and all of the important emotional and material contributions they make for the good of their families but it is a day full of contradictions for me.  My wonderful father is still alive but sadly my son's is not.

I think my son handles this incredibly well and I think his father would be very proud of the young man he is today and is still becoming.  It has been a journey of ups and downs but on the whole he deals with his emotions in this area better than I would if I were in his shoes.  I don't know what it feels like to be a guy so it's hard to know exactly what boys need.  Yes, all children need love but I remember reading in a book about boys that at a certain age their fathers need to help them cross that emotional bridge over into the male world because listening to your Mom just doesn't cut it with the guys.  I guess if your Dad isn't there to do that for you then your male friends do it for you.

Talking about what Father's Day means to my son is a mixed bag.  He says he remembers his Dad but sadly a lot of his memories are filled with hospitals and uncertainty.  My son has a photo album filled with pictures from happier times but he was very young and remembers only bits and pieces.  We know that his Dad could have made smarter health decisions but at a certain point you can only do so much.  It is hard to watch other fathers and sons interact because it makes me wonder what it would be like today if my husband was still alive and healthy.  I often wonder what it would be like if my husband were alive, but Father's Day seems to really drive home the point.

My husband subscribed to the idea of working hard and playing hard and eventually the effects of that lifestyle caught up with him.  He had been in and out of the hospital for two and half years before his death and when he died our son was thirteen, a vulnerable age in the best of times.  My son and I talk honestly about this subject because I believe it is better to talk about your thoughts than to keep them to yourself.  Ignoring the anger, frustration or anxiety only makes it worse.

Today also reminds me how much my husband loved being a father, not only to my son but to his four other children who are all so very special.  I think he tried to make sure that all of his children felt his love for them and that they knew how precious each of them was to him.  He did have a silly side that he was not afraid to share with them, playing word games and making up funny nicknames for them.  But there was also another side of him that he showed only if you didn't do something you were supposed to, such as work hard in school.  It was then that you entered the "no bullshit zone" and he used something they all call "The Voice." You can imagine what that sounded like.  My father's version of the "The Voice" was pursing his lips and giving you "The Look." 

Today I see glimpses of their father in all of them and it's a beautiful gift that always makes me smile.  He was definitely a father from the old school and that meant that work got in the way of spending time at home many more times than the children liked.  But that happens to many fathers, including my own, and I understand why.  Men define themselves through their work; it is what keeps a roof over their families' heads and it is what bonds them to other men.  In the case of my father, he held down three jobs to generously provide for his six children and I still can't figure out how he did it.

To my Dad, I say thanks for showing me the value and rewards of hard work and living life passionately.  Also a big thanks for being the kind of Dad who let me and my siblings drink our cereal from a glass, sleep on top of the bedspreads, spend summers at the beach, pay for our parking tickets and make us feel totally loved and cherished.  You're the best!!!!!

Happy Father's Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Winterthur & Longwood Gardens -- Guided Tour on 06/22/11

Come spend the day at Winterthur!  Nestled in the heart of Delaware's beautiful Brandywine Valley, this extraordinary museum, garden and library offers a variety of things to see.

Founded by Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur (pronouned "winter-tour") is the premier museum of American decorative arts, reflecting both early America and the du Pont family's life there.  Its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among the country's best, and its research library serves scholars from around the world.  Come visit and explore this place of beauty, history and learning.

After lunch, the tour will include a visit to Longwood Gardens which encompasses 1,050 acres of gardens, woodland, and meadows.  Enjoy over 11,000 types of plants and more fountains than any other garden in the United States.

Travel Itinerary -- Wednesday, June 22, 2011

7:00 am          Depart Sibley Hospital
10:00 am        Arrive at Winterthur for Narrated Tram ride, guided tour of house & self guided tour
                      of gardens.
                      Lunch vouchers for Cafe at Winterthur
1:30 pm         Depart for Longwood Gardens
2:00 pm         Self guided tour of Longwood Gardens
4:00 pm         Depart for home
7:00 pm         Arrive back at Sibley

Cost: $99 per person.  Includes:  round-trip transportation in a deluxe motor coach, tours as listed, lunch voucher, tolls, taxes, & all gratuities.  Lunch voucher includes an appetizer, entree, dessert and beverage.

Contact: Please call Kim Grizzle at Eyre Tour and Travel at 1-800-321-3973 extension 3224 for trip availability, make your reservation and select your lunch entree.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pretty In Pink -- Grieve Out Loud

I read this timely story in The Washington Post yesterday about a local fireman, Marshall Moneymaker, who had lost his three older sisters to breast cancer in less than two years.  Moneymaker and his wife did all they could to help the three sisters beat this awful disease but it wasn't enough.  After burying three sisters, the enormity of what had happened left Moneymaker emotionally exhausted.

Where do you go when you have felt pain and loss deeper than you ever thought possible?

You can shut down and put out the "Vacant" sign or you can stay involved in life and fight back.  And that is exactly what Moneymaker did.

A month after he had buried the third sister, some volunteers for the Susan G. Komen 3-day Walk for the Cure were coincidentally setting up a pitt stop near his firehouse in Bethesda, MD.  One thing led to another and he and the other volunteers started talking about breast cancer and how it had dramatically touched their lives.  One of the volunteers Moneymaker met was Mollie Simpkins.  Simpkins said she felt a bond with Moneymaker and she liked his generous spirit.

"After you lose someone to cancer, you're not sure if you're grieving or honoring the dead properly," Simpkins said.  "Everybody has their own way.  There are those that grieve in silence, and then there's us."

Moneymaker's actions in the face of personal tragedy are incredibly heroic and show us that freedom comes from not being afraid to grieve out loud.

Check out the picture of Moneymaker above decked out in pink as a tribute to his sisters.  That's my idea of a real man!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cry, Laugh, Heal Has A New Look!


Check out the new look of Cry, Laugh, Heal and let me know what you think.

I re-designed the blog to give it a fresher feel.  I hope you find it easier to read and more pleasing to the eye.

I truly appreciate everyone's ongoing support and feedback.

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Thank you to my wonderful readers!