... a voice for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Spirit Dance

I started off 2016 with a resolution to say Yes more than No to invitations offering new experiences and challenges. Sometimes you can do things that are totally out of character for you just because someone asked and without a lot of consequential hemming and hawing you said yes. Months ago, I noticed a blurb in our church bulletin mentioning that one of our members was starting a praise dance troupe and inviting people to join.  I love many genres of music, am happy watching any form of creative dance, and especially enjoy praise dance as it is a joyous offering for the Lord and not a competition. I wished her luck but it didn’t mean anything special to me because let’s face it, I’m in a wheelchair.

An exchange of pleasantries with Willi, the dance leader, one Sunday morning led to her spontaneous invitation for me to come and see if I would be interested in participating. For weeks I felt like the kindergartener who was always turning the wrong way and waving to parents in the audience. But it felt good to be part of this group of lovely and vital women. And seeing that I had joined encouraged another woman using a wheelchair to also join our troupe so we had a matched set so to speak. The applause we received at the end of our debut performance was spontaneous and heart-felt, and the positive comments reaffirmed my decision. View here https://youtu.be/vXfkgGbQkmg Hearing that the wheelchairs performers added a new visual dimension made my day and I hope our participation will inspire other mobility challenged dancers.

Don’t decide that something isn’t for you because you’ve never done it before. It's easy to shut down and avoid participation in anything not necessary for day to day survival when you are grieving the loss of your love but know how proud your loved ones are of you from the next side. And how much they want you to succeed by moving forward with your life. Practice saying Yes. Twirl with the best of them and at the end of the day know you gave it a shot. You stepped out of your comfort zone and you took a risk.  Remember, your delivery doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be accomplished.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Gifts Do You Give a Soul Mate Who Is Gone?

This time last year, I was eagerly anticipating my soul sister Anita’s annual arrival for Christmas. Every year, she came before the holidays and stayed at least until New Year’s. Somehow, she always managed to spend some time with all the friends and family she had here in the Valley. Usually, her Christmas visits were the only time in the year when we could hug and talk for hours. The rest of the year, we had to make do with long telephone calls.

But last year was the last time we had for a Christmas together. With no warning, Anita fell ill and transitioned just a week before she was to return home to Oregon. Anita will not be with us this Christmas and I am already feeling her absence. It feels as though there is not quite as much to anticipate this year. The Christmas spirit is silent and I find myself going through the motions of creating the holiday for my family and other friends.

Every now and then when I am shopping, I will see something I know she would have loved. Forgetting for just a moment that she is gone, I will pick it up and start to put it in my shopping basket. And then I remember. I have no one to give that particular gift to.

So, I wonder what gifts I can give to her now. Gifts for her spirit and the generous woman she was, gifts she will see from where she is. Last year, she and our other soul sister Elaine and I shared the gift of time together. I am incredibly grateful that we chose that over material gifts that none of us really needed. The trip we took together in January meant more to all of us than anything money could have bought.

This year, I have decided to give Anita gifts you cannot touch, but gifts anyway.

On the advice of the lovely and sensitive medium Susanne Wilson, I am starting to meditate and open my heart and mind to Anita’s presence. It opens the connection with her spirit. An open heart is a gift that transcends life and death.

I am also talking out loud to her when we are riding in my car. Susanne says her spirit likes my car and is often there with me when I am driving alone. So, I will give her the gift of conversation.

And Elaine and I will include Anita when we are together for our Christmas. It was always an AnitaandElaineandCathy event and this year Elaine and I are determined to keep it that way. I don’t know yet exactly how we will do it, but somehow, we will have her spirit with us this first year without her. Keeping her memory alive and with us is a gift of connection.

Finally, I know there were causes she passionately supported. This Christmas, there will be donations to them in her honor. It is a gift that we can give in her stead.

There will not be a moment of the next month that I do not feel the presence of my dear friend and soul sister.

I know that after losing a soul mate, celebrating a holiday like Christmas is the last thing you want to do. It’s hard to feel festive when the one person you want to be there is gone. Shopping for material gifts is pointless. But perhaps there can be a small measure of comfort in connecting with their spirit, in keeping their memory alive, in honoring them by doing things you would have done together. Celebrating may not feel right, but celebrating what you had together could never be wrong. So, I pose this question to you. How will you celebrate the soul mate you have lost?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Memories are made of this

There was an old Dean Martin song by that name. He sang of the sweet memories of love.
Memories are good. But they can be quirky too. The mind loves to play tricks on us.
Case in point – the other night I was all snuggled in bed, watching TV, furbabies plopped around me.
Suddenly, I heard the distinct sound of footsteps on the roof. And for a fraction of a second, my mind quickly went to “Oh, the people upstairs are….”
Wait a minute!
There are no people upstairs!
I live alone in a private one-story house.
What the…!
I turned on the security cameras and saw nothing. Then, in the distance, I heard the distinct call of an owl followed by a response from another owl. Clearly, one of them had been running after prey across my roof.
Mystery solved.
But I found it interesting how my mind so quickly reverted to all the times I had lived in situations where I had upstairs neighbors and just associated sound with event.

Memories of our loved ones are triggered like that too.

The man across the street works on his cars in his garage almost every day. He drops wrenches, he uses power tools, an air compressor. All those noises instantly remind me of John when he worked on our cars.

I remember the day I had a garage sale several months after John passed. A nice gentleman bought John’s very large car jack. It made a very distinctive noise whenever John rolled it across the cement garage floor. I remembered hearing it so many times. It was a comforting noise. I knew John was nearby, happily tinkering. The day it was sold I heard it one last time as it echoed on its way out of the garage to its new home. That day it was a sad sound.

We have 3 cats and I keep one of their litter boxes in the laundry room off the living room. Rather than keep that door open all the time to allow them access, John cut out a little kitty door in the larger door for them many years ago. There is another door from the laundry room to the garage and whenever that door opens or closes, the air shift makes the laundry room door rattle in its frame. It always made that sound when John came into the house and my heart instantly knew he was home whether it was from work, a trip to the store, or just completion of garage fun. The door also makes that rattley noise when the cats speed through the kitty door as they chase each other. It’s another time that my mind plays one of those micro-second tricks on me.

There was a time when all those sounds would make me very sad. Time has softened that. Now, the sounds bring me back to a familiar and happy time in my life. A time I am grateful to remember. And if my mind wants to play tricks on me – even for a split second – it’s okay. I don’t mind.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Identity Fraud

Identity Fraud. We associate this term most often with credit card theft and data breaches of which there have been many in the news lately. But what about the people we know? How many are walking around using identity fraud? I don’t mean stolen identities for credit gain. I’m talking about the many identities we paste on for our day-to-day going through the motions activities. The fast “I’m in a hurry. No time to talk.” persona we use at the grocery store as we race our carts toward the checkout finish line. The ear buds worn connected to our cell phones to indicate we are in a state of listening to something of immense importance so don’t you dare interrupt us to ask a question, directions etc. as we stand in line to purchase our lattes. We insulate ourselves from public contact. We drive directly into our garages closing the door before exiting our vehicle. We work in our yards surrounded by 7’ high fences. When approached by a stranger in a public place we tend to view them as a possible threat rather than as someone making a friendly overture. At what point did we become so fearful and adopt these behaviors?

Some of us used to have yet another identity when we were half of a whole couple. When we had a couple name like BettsandJerry. I felt braver then because I knew someone always had my back or was there to offer me a hand up. I had a full-time cheerleader, a live-in fashion consultant, and someone who loved me unconditionally. I knew someone was expecting me home and would send out the gendarmes if I didn’t show up. If I were sick, I didn’t need to arrange for a ride to the doctor or the emergency room. I never had to eat a meal alone unless by choice. I had an entertaining travel companion who shared the driving and was always up for a road trip. And then life changed and I became half, desperately missing my other half. I learned to make concessions. I had to step up my game. If I wanted a road trip then I went on a road trip doing the driving myself. I tried on all the above mentioned “avoid and elude the public” identities but these actions just served to isolate me more.

Gradually I began to rebuild myself into a new whole. I put safeguards into place so that notifications would go out if I never arrived home from an outing or field trip to prevent my dogs from being overlooked. I had a security system installed and when I moved, I made friendly overtures to my new neighbors. I've learned the names of the dogs I encounter with their owner on the way to my mailbox. I’ve even started talking to strangers in the produce department at my local grocery store. They often look a little fearful as I approach them but I can usually elicit a smile or two.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Courage to Be Happy

One of America’s favorite mothers died this week. The lovely and talented Florence Henderson, mother to The Brady Bunch, always seemed to be patient, kind and tolerant with a lively, often fractious brood of kids. She was the mom many of us wished could be ours. After all, our own mothers were never that perfect. They had to write their own scripts and frankly, some of them were not very good writers.

But I digress.

The fact is, we admired that perky, perpetually cheerful mother. But Carol Brady was the product of good writers. Florence Henderson, the woman, on the other hand, said something that affected me greatly. In yesterday’s newspaper, they listed ten wise things she had said, some as Carol Brady, others from her own heart. Number 4 started me thinking about the path you must take to find peace after losing your soul mate.

After the death of her second husband, John Kappas, in 2012, she said, “It takes a lot of courage to be happy, but I’ve got courage, so I think I will be happy again.”

“I think I will be happy again.” What a hopeful thing to say in a time of deep grieving.

And what a gift to anyone going through the depths of loss.

It takes courage to simply put one foot in front of the other after you have lost your soul mate. But somehow you do it.

It takes courage to get up in the morning, day after day.

It takes courage to reclaim your life when all you want is to just stop and go to your love, wherever they are now.

And it does take courage to find peace and happiness in the face of devastating loss. But you can do that too.

At first, you cannot believe you will ever be happy again. But you will. It will sneak up on you. One day, you will read something funny or see something silly or flash to a happy memory, one not focused on death. And for just one brief moment, you will find yourself smiling or laughing. It will be the first time, not the last.

That laughter is not a betrayal of the one you love. Rather, it is an affirmation of the depth of the joy you experienced together. And having the courage to find your way to peace and be happy again is an even greater affirmation of the love you had and the life you shared. Cherish that and know that you DO have courage. You would not have survived through your loss without it.

Excerpted from my soon to be released book, Breathing Again...thoughts on life after loss.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Can you hear me now?

A lot has been written about coping with the loss of a loved one during the holiday season. I even posted a link to an article about that earlier this week.
All those generalities and tips are fine in the abstract. What matters more is how we find them useful for ourselves. Kind of like the old advertising adage - WIFM - what's in it for me?
I'll be honest. In the first couple of years after John passed, I didn't care if I ever celebrated another holiday. John and I had always enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinners. In our early life together, we had Thanksgiving dinner at home. Later on, we started a tradition of going out  - at first just the two of us, but, in later years, we made a new tradition of going to various restaurants with some friends.
That first Thanksgiving after he died was awful. I refused every single dinner invitation I got. There was no way I could see myself going to anyone's house - or worse, going out to a restaurant - and be grateful and smile and pretend.
Our veterinarian, who was also a family friend, recognized how I felt. While he offered me an invitation to join him and his wife and some friends, he understood my need to decline. Instead, he asked if it was all right with me if he brought me something to eat that day. I was deeply touched and said yes. So, in the late afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, he arrived with a picnic basket filled with dinner goodies and also a bottle of wine. He stayed for a few minutes and chatted and then left me to experience the day the way I chose. I will never forget his kindness.
Gradually, over the next few years, I have been able to accept Thanksgiving dinner invitations again.
This year was different, a milestone for me, if you will. I initiated the invitation to some friends and organized a Thanksgiving celebration at one of our local hotels. What was even more significant for me was that this was a place that John and I had been to a few times. I wondered if it would be hard for me to go there but I knew it was time.
I asked John to be with me and help me.
And once again, my wonderful husband came through for me.
The place I chose was the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale. As I said, it was a favorite place for us. Not only at Thanksgiving but all year. We loved to sit in the lounge and listen to good music and just be together, sipping drinks, enjoying wonderful desserts.
One of the features of the Hyatt is the beautiful grounds. The Hyatt complex is sprawled out over several acres and has firepits placed all around. In winter they burn mesquite and anyone who has smelled it knows what a distinctive aroma that is. Typical for Arizona but also quite pleasant. In fact, whenever John and I caught a whiff of mesquite burning anywhere else it would remind us of fun times at the Hyatt and was a special memory for us.
So, keeping all that in mind, imagine my smile and feeling of deep comfort and love when I entered my car yesterday as I prepared to drive to the Hyatt for our Thanksgiving meal. Suddenly, a big whiff of mesquite entered the garage.
Was someone burning mesquite in their fireplace? Probably.
Or maybe not. 
It doesn't matter.
What matters is the message. I know John was using that aroma to tell me he was still with me and he was happy I was going to be with friends.
We toasted John at dinner yesterday afternoon.
I heard his message loud and clear.
Love lives on.