... 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

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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Grandma Book and Messages from Beyond

I think sometimes we don’t realize how much someone means to us until they are gone. Conversely, I think we don’t realize how much we meant to them until they are gone. That part is little more difficult to get.

That was the case with our friend Shirley.

Shirley was a writer friend we knew from our days in Women Writers of the Desert. When the group folded, there were six of us who were determined to stay in touch with one another – Joy, Betts, Virginia, Vivian, Shirley and me. Every month or two, we would meet for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and just catch up on one another’s lives over tea and unhealthy portions of good food followed by decadent cheesecake.

Always, Shirley would bring out her Grandma Book, photos of her children and precious grandchildren. The photos never changed. Neither did the pride with which she showed them to each of us in turn. In time, that tattered book became something of a joke but we went along with it because it meant so much to Shirley to share it. None of us realized how much that friendship and acceptance meant to Shirley.

Shirley transitioned to the next level on September 11 this year. It caught us all by surprise. We had not seen one another is several months. You know how it is. Despite our best intentions, life takes over.

Since Shirley transitioned, she has communicated from the other side with Joy, Betts and me in one way or another. The first time she made her presence known was shortly after she left us. She came forward In a reading Betts had with Susanne Wilson, the lovely Carefree Medium and asked that we be sure to have lunch at the Cheesecake Factory one more time, eating cheesecake and toasting her with tea. And so we did. We just missed the Grandma Book and Shirley.

Two weeks later, Shirley called me on my cell phone. When I saw the Face Time message with her name and photo on it appear in my recent calls list. It seemed strange, but I thought it must be one of her kids calling me. Surely it couldn’t be Shirley! I called back, but got no answer and didn’t leave a message. Now the strange part. The next day, I got another call from the same number which I answered. The man demanded to know who I was and why I was calling. I explained and he insisted he had no idea who Shirley was and that he had not called me. Now, he may have Shirley’s old telephone number but I’m pretty sure my number would no longer be in the contact list. All I can figure is that Shirley called somehow to thank us for the lunch.

I think Shirley is coming to us via readings to let us know how much our friendship meant to her, to say thank you, if you will. And it has taught me that no act of kindness goes unappreciated. Even the ones that mean showing interest in a Grandma Book you have seen many times before. Thanks to Shirley, I think I have become more deeply committed to showing kindness throughout my life. Isn’t it wonderful to know that those small acts can carry over beyond this life?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Looking for the Good

This last week has been a difficult one for almost everyone in this country. Some are rejoicing. Some are mourning. Others, notably the 67 people whose names appeared in the obituaries today, don’t care who won or who lost the election. And I suspect those they have left behind, fresh in their grief, simply do not have the energy to put forward on the results either.

According to Susanne Wilson, the Carefree Medium, the only thing that really matters now to those 67 people is love. When we transition, the petty concerns of this world become just that – petty. They no longer matter.

And so, I think I will do all I can to follow that example. Yes, I have concerns about the future of our country. But there is so I little I can do to change that. That course falls to more powerful people than me. Once I voted, it was out of my hands.

My job now is to let go of the grief and worry that overwhelmed me in those first few days. And I am trying to do that. Instead, I hope I can replace the grief with love. Perhaps, as I move forward in love it can be my one small way of overcoming the seeds of intolerance and hatred that were planted over the course of this most acrimonious election in our history. Hopefully, they have not yet had time to root too deeply.

I propose that rather than devote our energies to all the things that can go wrong, the fires that have been fed by anger, discontent and hatred, we instead look for the good in the world around us. I have to believe that could be as healing as anything.

I will start with acknowledging Alejandro Andrade, the 18-year-old psychology student who, the night after Election Day, stood shivering in the cold on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth for eight hours holding a sign that read, “In light of the hate and/or mistrust… FREE HUGS”. He offered those hugs unconditionally to any and all who came. That to me is a good thing!

So, the question is, what good thing have you seen today? Please post and let us know. And don’t ever stop looking for the good things. They are out there. Maybe this is movement we can all get behind.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Are you feeling a little shell-shocked?

Everyone and their proverbial brother has been waxing eloquent on the results of this week’s election. Some of our citizens are happy with the result but many are not. How this happened is no longer important for now. The reality is that we must deal with it.
And we will.
We know all about girding our loins and living to fight another day and being kind to our fellow man.
It’s what we do. It’s what we will continue to do.
But for now, many of us are sad. Many are mourning. Many are feeling a profound loss and are scared. Just as we experience with the death of a loved one, right now we are thrown off our axis. What is going to happen? How will we cope? There is genuine fear of the unknown as well as mourning the loss of what could have been and now no longer will be.
We are also just now beginning to understand the ramifications of the choice made. Our minds go to all sorts of scenarios - practical, real, and otherwise - and we are scared all over again as we imagine what might happen.
All of those feelings need to be honored and it’s okay to do so.
This election was a little different from most and the feelings resulting are as well.
Just as we profess to dislike the “move on” theory of grief when it comes to losing a soul mate, we also acknowledge that other losses don’t deserve that under-the-rug sweep either.
I encourage you, if you are feeling sad right now, to sit with those feelings for a while.
Feel them.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself for a bit.
Personally, I feel the need to insulate myself and do the things that nourish my soul. Right now, I am sick of politics and frankly more than a little discouraged. I am taking a news fast and will instead do the things that bring me joy and peace - read, meditate, watch good movies, feed the birds and watch them from my office window with my cats, play with my dog, go to plays, donate to causes that warm my heart, get more involved with my Church, have lunch with my girlfriends, etc etc etc. This is what matters to me. The government is going to continue with me or without me. I feel that I did what I could and it wasn't enough. So, I need a break.
I applaud anyone who wants to take to the streets. I fully support anyone who is shouting and writing and protesting.
I also am behind those who are just doing the everyday things that matter – speaking kindly to others, hugging friends, donating to causes they believe in, etc.
And yes, crying and feeling angry.
We must all pull together eventually to keep this country strong and going forward, not backward.
But first, some of us – myself included – just need to stop and breathe for a bit and gather ourselves together before taking up the yoke again.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tear Down This Wall by Betts McCalla

When I woke up this morning, I stretched, realized it was earlier than my alarm was set for and thought for the briefest moment about trying to go to back to sleep. And then it hit me. Hillary Clinton was not going to be our Madam President. Instead, Donald Trump had become our President-elect. I feel profound grief that as a democratic citizenship we could not understand the necessity to protect the rights of all our citizens; the LBGTQ community, the minorities, the differently-abled, the peaceful non-Christians, the elderly, the abused, and all the beautiful skin colors that make up the palette of our country, America. How could we not vote to protect our environment, and uphold our laws which we citizens have fought hard for and put into place by votes of the people. For years, I’ve said words to the effect that perhaps we should try hiring a business person as president. Offer a one year renewal contract, with room and board for their family, to start with and have an annual review to see if the president's performance met our goals. I meant someone with the character and imbuing the caliber of strength and wisdom of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or perhaps Sheryl Sandberg. I did not envision turning over our country to a reality TV star whose moral code is the opposite of everything I believe in.

We were a great nation before November 8th, 2016 and we will continue to be one. But we have work to do. We must not be indifferent to a new government that wants to regress our social consciousness back 43 years to before Roe v. wade, and to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, an organization that has provided health care, choices and protection to needy women for 100 years. Or to reverse our legal right in every state to marry the person our heart chooses to love regardless of gender. Or to build a wall not only between us and our neighboring countries but between us and our immediate neighbors. It is up to us what we will choose to build up and what we will tear down. I am blessed to be called an American and now my political mindset is: I will continue to support my country and serve her to the best of my ability. Let's work together to keep our nation the beacon of freedom and maintain the standard of living most other countries are striving for. Let's remember the sacrifices made by our heroes to create this wondrous country we as citizens of a democracy enjoy. We are all in this big life boat together and I'd rather bail out the water and work to repair it than abandon ship. This is still the best country on earth to live in. God bless America.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Call that Never Comes

The month before she left us forever, my dear soul sister Anita saw a lively variety show, The Rhythm Cats, in far east Mesa with her family and could not praise the show highly enough. I don’t think I had ever seen her so excited about a live performance. She insisted that we three sisters of the heart - she, Elaine and I - simply had to go together but I was in no rush to go as it represented a pretty long drive. Well, as fate would have it, less than a month later she was in the hospital and we lost her before we could share that experience. Somehow the length of the drive felt trivial after that and I regretted not feeling more urgency to see the show with her.

But Elaine had kept the flyer Anita gave us afterward and for my birthday she made reservations for us to see the show together. Anita was not there physically, but I am sure her spirit was there with us and dancing in the aisles to a blend of music that ranged from Willie Nelson and Dion and the Belmonts to big band and Rimsky-Korsakov. In her absence, it was a bittersweet evening but still more of a tribute to her and the experiences we would never again have together than it was a birthday celebration. It was just what we needed.

Always before, I knew that on the day of my birthday, Anita would call. She would send cards and gifts too but always she would call. That meant more than any material gift ever could. Just hearing her voice reaching out across the miles to me in love. This year I had lots of sweet birthday wishes in the form of calls, gifts, cards, Facebook messages and special meals. I deeply appreciated every one. But a part of me kept waiting for that call from Anita that will never come again.

I think what I have been feeling this birthday must be just a small taste of what it feels like when you have lost a soul mate, to always be waiting for the call that never comes, the person you want to have share every new experience, to have them by your side for the rest of your life. We cannot change the loss. That just is. But we each have a choice in how we continue to live without them. We can stop allowing ourselves to experience anything new without them to share it with us. Or, we can venture out to embrace life as a tribute to the one who is gone, to see and do new things and live for the both of you, if you will. And don’t you think that whichever choice we make, existing in stasis or moving forward and living for two. our loved one’s spirit is there beside us? The choice is ours. I like to think Anita would want to see what new surprises I give her.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thank you, Cubs

This week history was made and Cubs fans all over the world celebrated.
I'm not into sports much. John wasn't either. I have to admit - it was one of the many things I loved about him.
But when Arizona got its brand new baseball team back in 1998, John and I both developed an interest. It didn't hurt that they had a nifty new field with a retractable roof and air conditioning. How could we not check it out?

So over the next few years we went to the occasional game and John watched them on TV. I even joined him some evenings. I learned all about the players and educated myself about the game. Sharing it with John became fun. I bought him a Craig Counsell jersey for Christmas one year. John brought me home a Randy Johnson bobblehead from a game he attended with a friend.
Then the Dbacks made it to the World Series. The summer that led up to that was culminated by a horrific event [9/11]. It took a while for everyone to get back in the mood for a game but we needed that and soon all eyes were on the Series.
The NY Yankees and the AZ Diamondbacks. It was epic.
Seven games. Down to the wire and then AZ won!
John was on a retreat that weekend when they won so we didn't get to enjoy the excitement together but we shared it in our souls.
Much like this series this week with the Cubs.
I know if John had been here this week we would have watched the series together and we would have cheered when the Cubs won. It was definitely an exciting game.
I watched it alone but I felt John with me in my heart. I cried when they won and I heard John cheering them in my mind.
It was kind of like that AZ win. We shared it in our souls.
And so I thank you, dear Cubs. You won the Series for yourselves, your team, and your fans, and, of course, for Chicago. But you won it for many others, too. You brought back memories for many of us who shared a game with people who are no longer here. You made hearts happy again in ways you probably can't even imagine.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Today a dream came true. by Betts McCalla

I grew up in Chicago and we had two baseball teams. The north side team where we lived was the Chicago Cubs. The team on the south side which played at Comiskey park was the White Sox. Mom started taking us to Cubs games on ladies’ days when I was about twelve years old. Ernie Banks was my hero and is usually also my answer to every baseball sports trivia question. We always wanted to be at doubleheader days. It seemed like the game magic was just too short with only 9 innings. Team loyalty/love was formed during those teenage years. A relationship was forged and those boys of summer became my sisters and my first schoolgirl crushes. Yes, I bought baseball trading cards-the first thing you always did was throw out the stale bubble gum- and learned the stats of my favorite team players. When a player was traded to another team, we felt like something had been stolen from us. The new incoming team member had to earn our respect. We were tough little critics.

Eventually, I moved to California and only got to see my Cubs play live ball if I ventured home to Chicago for a steamy summer visit or if they happened to come up against the California Angels. I missed riding the elevated train home from work and seeing the white flag with the W for win flying from the flagpole at the stadium. Cheers would erupt from the passengers on the train. But the camaraderie I developed, sitting in the bleachers and later being able to afford better seats, with other Cubs’ fans is inextinguishable. At any Cubs’ game if you are wearing your team shirt or hat you are guaranteed high fives, some rowdy laughter, a few spilled beers and unconditional acceptance. You are a Cubs fan and that makes you worthy. Moving to Arizona years later, I tried to adopt the Diamondbacks but if they played the Cubs, I was leading the parade with my Chicago team shirt and pennant flag for all to see. My husband would laugh and mock shudder at the sloppy inebriated hugs and kisses I would receive from other Cubbie fans. We would break into simultaneous conga lines throughout the stadium. No one could fault our good cheer. And almost every year we would start with the highest expectations only to see our beloved team end up near or in the cellar. But our brotherhood/sisterhood fandom held fast. Maybe failure only made us come back stronger each year. We would comfort each other with the words “maybe next year”. Today the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. This is their first win in 108 years. No one is alive who attended their last series win but a lot of people around the world are going to sleep tonight with smiles on their faces.

When you sustain the loss of the most important person in your life, you need all the little handholds you can grasp onto day by day. Embrace the things that bring you joy like your favorite sports team, philharmonic orchestra, or theater performances. Common ground activities will help you to sustain your memories but also supply crowd energy you can feed on to help you remain upright. And if you don’t have a team, I’ll share my Cubbies with you but you’ll have to buy your own hat.