A letter to H-man – One Year Later

I am indulging in a brief digression from 365 ways to be happy to pay respect to a man that complimented my life in the best way.

Hey Harley Man,

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of your death… September 11th – you and  and whomever else checked into the Afterlife on that date; an infamous date. You did it like you would… coming in on that Christmas birthday and going out on a day where it would never be just about you. You know, I’m not very big on Anniversaries. I won’t miss you tomorrow any more than I missed you today or last week. I suspect I won’t miss you less on Wednesday or next week.

I’ve had thoughts beginning with something along the lines of “I can’t believe it’s been a year since…” pretty much from the time you left. I couldn’t believe a year before you died we were riding bikes in Cape Cod. I couldn’t believe it had been a year since your last birthday as we sang to you on Christmas evening. As I sat by the fire – alone – on a cold January morning I was recalling the year before when we talked about how to spend our snow day. When Spring came I remember thinking “this time last year you were in so much pain” and as summer grew hot I remembered how long you had been in the hospital and then last month I was recalling your steady decline and this week… your time at the Hospice unit.

Harley, I won’t be thinking of you any more or less tomorrow or the next day as I’ve thought of you each day that you’ve been absent from our home.  You are still a part of our stories – the ones we tell with joy and laughter when I’m with the girls or with friends. You’re part of the story I tell clients when I am talking about how to learn from your partner and when I’m teaching about acceptance. You’re part of the story I tell people who say they’ll never recover from grief as I share how I’ve incorporated your departure into my daily existence.

At the risk of sounding crazy… I can feel you holding my hand at times. I hear your voice in my head at the most necessary moments. I can sense your warmth against my back when I am most lonely at night. And, I can see you in my dreams, reminding me how present you still are no matter where I go. Tomorrow may be designated as the day marking a year since your last breath, but I know you are still here – or there – on another plane, in a different reality.

I am doing what you asked… I am living a life full of the dreams we shared. I am not stopping to let grief hold me but instead, allowing it to move with me and I know that it is waning. It is less painful these days when I come home to a dark house; as I get acclimated to your transformed spirit. I know you don’t need lamplight or doorknobs now. My tears today are more often a result of the gratitude I feel for the comfort, wisdom, and guidance that you provided over those ten years than they are for the absence of your physicality. Those elements have been woven into the energy that I feel every time I walk into the house or bring you to mind.

I have to assume you are able to be a part of the ‘knowing’ now – exactly in the way you wished and consequently can see how very loved you have been… they – all those that love you – have honored you with kindness in the world, in so many different ways. I want to believe that you see it… and that your soul can absorb the love exerted from this vibration. You are as alive in our hearts now as you were when you were walking and talking with us and yet… we miss the walking and talking.

Tomorrow may be the day that marks a year but today… and each day… rolls around without your breath against my neck or your kiss on my temple yet they are days where the memory of you lights my path. It moves me; guides me; inspires me; and motivates me to be better.

You… are missed and remembered EVERY day – regardless of clocks or calendars yet you are with me; with us. Stay if you can… go if you must – it won’t matter because a part of you is always available here… the vibration of your existence lives here and I feel you.

Loving you still.

With love, gratitude, and honor…

Les

#204 Stop Internalizing

Learn to validate your thoughts and feelings. Look for concrete evidence – preferably direct from the source – that confirms your suspicions.

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#204

Stop Internalizing

When was the last time you thought “what did I do”? Perhaps someone close to you snapped a sassy response and your thoughts went immediately to “why are they mad at me?”  Maybe you didn’t get a dinner invitation to a neighbors get-together and your internal voice is wondering why they don’t like you. Or, You see a friend across the parking lot but they keep walking without waving hello.

Internalizing

These are the kinds of scenarios that promote ‘internalizing’ – making the assumption that another person’s behavior has something to do with YOU. My mother often said “what makes you think you’re so important that everything is about you?” It’s a common misperception and one that is dysfunctional to the extent that it interferes with our ability to see things clearly. All too often, the behavior of another has absolutely nothing to do with us!

Check assumptions

Learn to validate your thoughts and feelings. Look for concrete evidence – preferably direct from the source – that confirms your suspicions. If you get the sense that someone is mad at you… ask them. If you imagine that you’ve being shunned from a party because someone is upset with you… ask them “have I offended you?”

Your responsibility

Our responsibility is to work with the information we have but only the information that is accurate. In order to determine accuracy, we have to validate. We can only ‘know for sure’ what we see and hear since we are not mind readers. Even when we ‘think’ we know what someone is thinking – if you find yourself internalizing – validate!! There’s a pretty good chance that you are NOT the center of another’s discontent. Once you realize this you can …

Stop Internalizing.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below

#321 of 365 Ways to live Easier, Happier, & More Productive

A poem is YOUR heart… YOUR voice… and may promote freedom of expression and emotions where they might otherwise not work. You can use metaphors or describe literally… grab a notebook

Sharing a daily life lesson, tip, or hack; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#321

Write a poem

Poems stand alone in a variety of forms and sometimes, they are set to music and become song. They rhyme or not… they are rhythmic or not… they are short or not.  They cite heartache, fear, joy, and hope. They are stories and parables.

How would a poem about you begin? What about a poem of your life? Would it be silly and childish like those of Shel Silverstein? Would it be inspiring like Maya Angelou? Would it be tragic or hilarious?

Poetry can be as simple as a collection of your visions and/or inner thoughts, strung together with or without subjects and verbs or punctuation and grammar.

Photograph

I see it there, moving

Me

Reflecting time, gone now-

You

Captured e-lec-tricity,

Us

Colored memory.

Ghost

 

Or they can be more vividly representative…

 

The ONE

The day you left me long ago

The angels came to say

They would take you home to rest

You wouldn’t be far away.

 

I listened to their wisdom

I tried to let it be

And I was looking for the day

When they returned for me.

 

The days and nights are lonely

Now that we’re apart

But I have always saved for you

A piece of my heart.

 

The rest has gone to one so small

You hardly knew

He’s the apple of my eye

He has the best of you.

 

We will live without you now

And try to go on

But rest assured my dear sweet love

You’ll always be my ONE.

A poem is YOUR heart… YOUR voice… and may promote freedom of expression and emotions where they might otherwise not work. You can use metaphors or describe literally… grab a notebook or open a document and give it a try…

Write a poem.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

** both of the poems written above were written by me – the first recently as I observed a photograph of my partner and I kissing the day of his cancer telling PET scan and the second is a poem I wrote more than 30 years ago after the death of my son’s father.

Does ‘Everything Happen For A Reason’??

Some people believe there is no reason at all – that shit happens – plain and simple…

I heard someone this week say that they had a love/hate relationship with the thought that ‘everything happens for a reason’. How does one consider that the death of a newborn baby or the young father of four children or the massacre of a village has a ‘reason’? How hard is it to try and believe that the most devastating thing we’ve ever experienced may have some kind of ‘purpose’ attached to it?

It’s completely nonsensical and yet our humanness insists on trying to answer the question… “Why?”

We just can’t help but wonder…

When I was fifteen years old, I accompanied a friend to Youth For Christ student conference. For me, it was about going to the beach because it was in Ocean City, Maryland and I had only seen the ocean one other time so I was really excited. On that first day as I woke with thoughts about donning my bikini and lathering myself with baby oil, we were instead herded into this big auditorium with hundreds of other teenagers to listen to people talk for a couple of hours. Someone promised me that I would eventually get to the beach.

The first speaker began by telling us a story that I have never forgotten. He talked about how he was late for a speech one day and he was flying down the interstate, driving way too fast, being way too aggressive and focused only on getting to where he needed to go so that he wouldn’t be late.

He talked about how annoyed he was that a little red car was driving in the left lane, the lane that was supposed to be for passing people only. He described how he got right up on the bumper of that little red car and flashed his lights so that the car would pull over and let him by. But the car just kept going, preventing this guy from going any faster.

And then he said, he got a flat tire. He recounted hearing the pop, noticing the wobble in the steering wheel and feeling the car pull. He had no choice but to pull over to the side of the road and he said that he cursed the entire way; so frustrated that he was going to be even more late than he already was.

This guy was angry. He explained that the entire time he was changing the tire he thought dark, ugly thoughts and then he got back on the road and went even faster.

After a few miles he hit a traffic jam and could see a lot of emergency lights up ahead. Again, he described extreme frustration because everything that could be going wrong this particular morning, was going wrong and it was making him later and later.

As he came upon the problem there was a car upside down in the middle of the roadway with bloodstains across the windshield. Alongside that car was the little red one that he had been tailgating just a while earlier and it looked like an accordion, having been smashed from both the front and the back.

In that split moment, he said realized that if it hadn’t been for the flat tire, the upside-down car may very well, have been his car. He could have been the one IN this accident. He could be on his way to the hospital or worse, he could be dead.

If it weren’t for that flat tire.

This man, and I am sorry that I don’t know his name, spoke about how he got off the interstate, cancelled his speaking engagement, and went to church. He went to church to say thank you for the flat tire. He went to church to express gratitude and from that day forward, every time something bad happened, he would go to church and say thanks. No questions asked.

I’ve never forgotten that story and in fact… it has directed much of my life; so much of the perspective that I’ve attempted to solidify when something unexpected and indeed, tragic has happened. It’s amazing how many different ‘reasons’ I’ve considered for some of the things I’ve experienced.

Is it true? Does everything happen for a reason? When it’s a minor thing like a flat tire or a cancelled flight, thinking that there may be a Universal rational is easy to consider. But when it is a true tragedy, a horrific accident or unnecessary death, the theory seems to implode; to be nonsensical and we can’t seem to rectify the logic.

We don’t know. We’ll never truly know – not until we die.

There are books written from people who have died, temporarily at least – and they tell us that there was light… God… Angels… and Sprit Masters… that’s a great thought.

I’m a bit of a skeptic at heart though and I consider that perhaps they just wanted to sell books, to make money and have a moment of fame but maybe not… maybe it’s real. And don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that I don’t believe in God… I am simply vacillating over the idea a ‘divine plan’.

I generally end up at the point where I believe that it is as possible as anything else. Some people believe there is no reason at all – that shit happens – plain and simple and I guess that is possible too.

However, that doesn’t help me. That doesn’t make my day to day life better here and now and so I prefer to believe that there is some kind of reason – some value. I find it comforting to think that my soul is on a journey and that it chose to come here and learn the lessons presented to me in this lifetime. If I look for the value in my experiences and consider possibilities, I feel empowered and willing to push on; to keep learning.

I don’t know why shit happens and frankly, I am human so when it hurts – I hurt. When it sucks, I am challenged. When it is heavy and hard, I struggle. But… I am always seeking the lesson. I am always attempting to find something of value in the midst of the misery because I *hope* that my soul is in the midst of learning something important. Perhaps something that will guide me in whatever happens in my next life or… next in my life.

And so when I hear someone say (or when I use the words) that “everything happens for a reason” – I am really believing and/or saying that ‘it’s OK, my soul is learning’.

And I can accept that.

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When Things Get Tough…

We never committed to one another in a public forum; we don’t have a ‘legal’ union.

So… things have been tough lately. H made it through surgery ok but it was a rough start to recovery. The last ten days have been a heavy-duty wakeup call in understanding the impact that his illness has on our lives.

I vacillate between being deeply heartbroken for him, for us, and for myself. This isn’t how either one of us ever pictured our time together. I am aching to go on a bike ride with him and I know he aches to feel the wind on his face.

I think I have gained every pound he has lost. I wonder if at night, they secretly move from him to me in an effort to avoid contamination by the cancer cells. We eat the same amount of food I think… and yet I am the only one gaining weight. It may be that I still love to eat and he is sometimes only eating because I force it in front of him, sometimes with little compassion and too much energy. I feel afraid when I notice how thin he is becoming.

I try not to notice every time he shudders with the agony of the bone lesions because it stirs in me an urge to scream for him but it never comes out that way. Instead, it emerges as impatience and frustration which is equally infuriating because that is never my intent. I want it to go away so that he can smile again, drink a Mojito, and mow the lawn because those are the things that give him pleasure.

We never committed to one another in a public forum; we don’t have a ‘legal’ union. However, on that beach in Vieques without a stitch of clothing on, in broad daylight, as the waves gently crested across our knees, we promised to trust one another and to tell the truth – no matter what. We didn’t promise to stay together “in sickness and in health, til death do us part” but I am not ready to let go of him. I don’t care that he is sick – I still want to hear the sound of his breath above the roaring fan at night as he snores loud enough to attract the zombie apocalypse. I still want to hold his hand while he man crushes over Pete Nelson or Chip Gaines.

The doctors say that the cancer is managed; the treatment is working but we stay confused about that because in nine months, a lot has changed. Right now, it’s better than it was thirty days ago so we stay hopeful that these last attempts at pain management will continue to mitigate his discomfort. And we dream. We’re making plans as if it was last summer when we hopped on our bicycles to enjoy the sounds and temperatures of early summer evenings. We continue to think about things we’ll do ‘when he feels stronger’ which feels much better than thinking about all the things we may never do again.

And I attempt to do what I tell people to do every day. I deliberately work at self-care. I write. Sometimes it’s for just me and then there are times I have something to say that I know is relatable or helpful and I share. I go on walks. I talk with friends. I read. And apparently, I eat.  Work is a blessing because it allows me to shift my focus; to problem solve, which is of course, my passion.

And I seek inspiration… Here are some thoughts that keep me moving. I hope they do the same for you.

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When Darkness Knocks

He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

“If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.” ― Steve Maraboli

In the beginning of the year I started a gratitude challenge on my Counseling Facebook page. Each day since then – except for two – I have listed three things I am grateful for that day. I’ve tried not to replicate anything, which has been hard because every morning when I am writing them I am always grateful for my coffee! Certainly, at first it was easy as there are many obvious pieces of my life that I am always thankful for … a roof over my head, a warm room, comfy pillows, enough food, etc.

I’ve noticed as the time goes by however that unless I begin duplicating items, I must stretch my awareness a bit and it has been interesting to extend my awareness beyond my immediate surroundings to include the sound of my wind chimes and birds chirping. I am so grateful for those things. Not only do they represent the fact that I can hear but they are pleasant sounds and by noticing them, I also notice how they resonate in my body – my spirit. They create a nice sensation; pleasure.

It promotes more consciousness of people smiling, friendly service, and kind hearts. It stimulates my recognition of generosity, helpfulness, and benevolence, which are all contributors to the experience of happiness. Indeed, I believe I’ve felt a little bit happier than usual despite the negativity that tries to inject itself into my life.

It’s one thing to be a mental health counselor and experience the sadness, frustration, and negative emotions of clients – that’s my job and I am sufficiently capable of keeping it away from my personal psyche. Along the way, I learned the art of allowing clients to dump their stuff in my office without feeling as though I needed to pick it up. I rarely experience a derogatory impact of my clients affect. Don’t get me wrong… if there is something deeply sad – a client who lost a child or someone so deep in their own pain that they are suicidal – I feel sad but I don’t hold it. I can walk out of my office and leave it there.

It’s a whole other thing to live in an environment that is frequently heavy. Our political climate is currently stressed – no matter one’s affiliation – every day there is some element of drama pumped into our consciousness and we are exposed to exhausting bickering, draining our enthusiasm and confidence.

I am still adjusting to the whole ‘empty nest’ experience. While I quite enjoy the clean and constantly straightened atmosphere of my home, there is an eerie silence here that highlights the absence of my family. I miss the anticipation of hearing the creaking steps as one of the girls would come home from work at midnight or the sound of the shower and blasting music in the morning as she prepared for her day. I am blessed that they stay in contact with me via Face time or regular phone calls but it’s entirely different from the smell of their perfume lingering in the air.

And then there is the reality of Harlan’s illness. Coping with fatigue is one thing but coping with pain is another entirely. Every day is filled with the blessing that he can still work and concurrently filled with the reality that he does it battling the effects of chemo and the relentless pain of bone lesions. I see him getting tired. He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

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I don’t like those feelings yet I know they are real and appropriate. They exist like fleas that jump on me when I walk in the door and every time I think I have fumigated their existence with my coping skills, they find another entrance or they are simply re-birthed into our experience. The early spring weather allowed me the opportunity to open the windows and replace the dark sad air with fresh spring hope and then it got cold again. I can feel the air thicken and so I walk outside where the sun is starting to stay longer and a bit brighter.

I live by the motto that there is something good in every single experience; not only on a global level but day by day. What is good about today? The gratitude challenge that I am conducting forces me to pay attention, to look beyond the obvious, to deny those damn fleas too much of my blood. It helps to push the pendulum back, to balance the scale, to make life tolerable.

When I am sad that he is hurting, I am grateful for his doctors. When I feel helpless to fix it, I am grateful to hold his hand. When I am disappointed that we aren’t bike riding, I am grateful to sit next to him on the couch. When I am frustrated that he goes to bed so early, I am grateful that his body heat warms the sheets on my side.

Please know that this is a ‘work in progress’ and I am – in no way – perfect in my efforts to find the silver lining every. single. time. But I keep trying. My daily expression of gratitude is one of the ways that I am working to create balance and a stronger sense of happiness in a time when darkness is constantly knocking on our door.

Won’t you join me? Hop on my HCC Facebook page and add your own three things. The more positive energy we can put forth in the world – the better.

 

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Fading Into Fear

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

I’ve had a hard time getting motivated to write lately… I have several ‘irons in the fire’ so to speak and making the time to sit down and put my thoughts on paper has been more difficult than it has been for months. I wonder… have I said everything I have to say? Probably not. It’s just… life is getting  in my way.

I wrote about Plan B recently… it was on my mind because I have control ‘issues’ and having a plan B helps me to feel safe but it also challenged me to think about what our backup plan was. It promoted good conversation here and maybe offered some fuel to fire up our efforts in laying track so that alternatives could become possibilities. That can take time and organization.

How does one unemotionally plan for a time when your loved one isn’t here? I realize how pragmatic it is and I know the logical benefits of planning but there is a part of my heart that fails to detach from these conversations. Each time one of us says “in case you’re not here” or “In case I die… there is a shudder deep within my spirit. My lungs suddenly inflate and I find myself slowly exhaling in an effort to breathe normally.

We are mortal beings and yet when our mortality sits deliberately and stubbornly in our path; when it spits in our face – coping can be quite overwhelming. We want to make life normal and yet there is a ‘new normal’ – a way of being that we are not used to – to which we have yet to acclimate.

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come. I believe this to be true regardless of the health hurdles we individually face because we, as human entities, prescribe to the need to forward think, to forward plan, to forward seek.

Right now, our lives are filled with details… taxes, budgets, business planning, etc. We will be buying a new car soon. Harlan has one of the TDI Jetta’s that is being bought back by Volkswagen and there have been a dozen hoops to jump through – more paperwork! Trying to fit car shopping into our lives and planning for whatever our future may hold is also tough. Harlan can only walk for a short bit before he gets uncomfortable and he still tires easily.

Getting one’s “affairs in order” – not because it’s ‘that time’ necessarily, but because it’s the prudent thing to do – is more detail oriented than you think when all you do it talk about it. In the face of your mortality there are more particulars and minutiae than is comfortable and the information can only be coped with in parcels. And time passes.

Yesterday, we learned the Oncologist we’ve been working with since the initial diagnosis is leaving the practice because of his own health issues and while we are of course, compassionate toward his personal needs and grateful for the help and kindness he extended to us, we are devastated to be changing doctors midstream. It’s interesting to look at how much trust you develop in a person who is guiding your medical care and the feelings that arise when it must be reestablished with someone new.

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I realized throughout my life that the best part about going on vacation was the fact that we didn’t have to deal with real life for a while. We could just hang out and enjoy the company of people we love, relax and be in the moment – truly. That is when being ‘present’ is easily manifested, consistently. In real life – being present is more difficult. It takes constant concentration and focus. I realize that I am good at it – in spurts – I can take a deep breath and center myself where I can zero in on the experience of ‘now’. I often find myself smiling then; enjoying the sensation.

And then it is lost. I fade into details and fear and uncertainty. I feel anxious about the future. And then the process repeats.

Drift…

Come back…

Pay attention…

Drift again…

It doesn’t matter if I am working, cooking, cleaning (which, doesn’t happen all that often), walking, or just sitting and watching television. I am aware of how frequently this process repeats and I find the intensity is triggered by specific nuances. If Harlan is having a good day, I feel stable and secure. If he’s not, the fear creeps in between the ‘now’ moments I try to embrace. If there is a big decision to make I feel an urgency to make it happen now – without hesitation and any patience I have practiced – disappears. If we argue, I immediately berate myself for needing to be right, or needing to be validated – both entirely human experiences that I honor, but I certainly wish my ego would just back down and let my heart do the directing ALL the time!

Each day we wake up to the reality of life, of cancer, of responsibilities, and of relationships and remember that in all of it – we are doing the best that we know how to do on that day. We are both acutely aware of how blessed we are and we have the ability to forge our broken and fearful spirits together like trees that have fallen into one another yet they still stand; at least until one of them is too debilitated to hold the other. For now, we make it through each day – through each week; maybe a little bit in spite – but hey, whatever it takes.

I must acknowledge that we do not stand alone. Indeed, a thick and healthy forest of support surrounds us. It is the oxygen of their existence that I breathe deeply when the spirit of hopelessness tugs on my soul. And I am reminded of hope. And I do the best that I can.

Drift…

Come back…