When My Neighbor Died.

We bought our dream house four years ago. This is not to brag but rather quite an accomplishment from our previous digs only a few years before. You see, in 2010, when my life imploded, we lived in, well, a house broken into different apartments. At one point, Homeland Security raided the house. At another point, the man in the apartment under ours died and no one discovered the body for a week. My husband got a staph infection. Our friend Shelby was the only friend that would come in and hang out. It was preferred that we meet other people at their place.

Then, as life does, our life came together beautifully and we found a 120+ year historic home with a zen garden (that required a lot of work to become a zen garden). I love this house.

When we moved in we were greeted by a gruff looking kind man. He brought over a case of Miller High Life, which to him, was an act of kindness similar to a pie. He welcomed us to the neighborhood. He was full of life, jokes, and adventure.

Then the dogs and the fence.

Our neighbor had a dog when we moved in. His name was Earl and when people say owners look like their dogs, they really nailed this relationship. I believe Earl was our neighbor’s spirit animal. Then Earl died. This was devastating.

A few months later, they rescued two new dogs. One, Lucy, a terrier type with a hook nose, made our dogs crazy. They would have destructive fights at the fence. I would end up in tears. We tried every different way to stop these fights. It was frustrating and I grew to hate those dogs. I would side eye Lucy when she’d sneak that hook nose through our front fence to say hello. Her bark, it was like razor blades.

Then, a few months ago, I came home for lunch and the police were parked outside our neighbor’s house. They wouldn’t tell me what was happening but I was not leaving until I found out. Eventually, a family member came out crying. I asked what was happening and she tearfully stated that our neighbor had died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was only 50 years old.

I shared this news with my husband. We coped by blaring Bob Seger on our turntable and attended the funeral. We learned at the funeral how close he was to his grandchildren. This answered the always puzzling question about why he wore a baby monitor on his belt.

His wife is moving this weekend. They close today. A new, younger couple, is moving in. They don’t have dogs but they want dogs. The fence will probably still be a problem.

But, now that I have the longview, the fence was never that big of a deal. I would love to look at that hook nosed dog and have fights at the fence if that meant we could still have our handy, kind, funny, neighbor.

During the frustrating fence wars, I forgot the one truth of life, it all goes away. The only truth is change and loss. Damn.

Love

One Year To Live.

“What would it be like if I could accept life–accept this moment–exactly as it is?”
Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

I try to do a daily meditation. Currently, I’m listening to a podcast by Tara Brach where she provides hour long talks and short meditations. If you’re interested in these kinds of things, I would strongly recommend giving her podcast a listen. It’s free and it’s incredible. Click here if you’re interested.

Last week, one of my meditations was titled What Matters Most. She used our mortality to help the listener bring into focus what matters most in our lives. I was a little surprised by what came to mind (which is why I meditate). She asked, if you had one year to live what would you do. She also asked, if you had one month, and then one day.

It was the one year question that brought about an unanticipated answer. Before this meditation, I talked about how I would return to Hawaii and live out my days in paradise. Or, I would travel the world. However, the answer that came up for me, was that I would go home.

For me, home is a relative term. My husband and I have created a wonderfully comfortable and safe home where we are now. I love that it is home to so many people in my life. I haven’t had a structure that represents a home where I grew up for 16 years. But, the answer that came up for me was that I would return to lake town where I grew up. If I had one year to live, I would buy a home on that lake and surround myself with the people I love.

In the end, what matters most to me is quite simple. I want to be near the people and animals I love, I want to be in a place that matters to me, and I want to be near water. It’s funny how that all works out.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot

You Are Survived By Me.

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I woke this morning to a text that my dad’s roommate “Bob” died. (we’ll call him Bob because persons with disabilities have the right to privacy). It’s been said that Bob has never had a bad day. It’s true that Bob was one of my favorite people in all the world.

My dad lived with Bob for about ten years. I looked forward to every moment I spent with his sweet soul. He was one of my most kind and loving men I’ve ever known. To the best of my knowledge, he did not have family in the technical sense. He wasn’t visited much if ever by people outside the home. This makes me sad for all the people that did not get to know the love and kindness that Bob radiated.

Obituaries are often a list of life’s accomplishments, such as so and so graduated from here and did this with his life. I never understood how that captured a person’s life.

Bob’s accomplishments were that he lit up a room. He gave the best hugs. He never stopped smiling. He asked you how you were doing. He remembered what you told him. He made the best of a clearly challenging life. He loved peppermint patties and sour cream. He liked to take seconds at dinner. Bob was kind and loving to every person he ever interacted with. He had a contagious laugh. He was genuine and you could feel it. After all, he never had a bad day. He seemed to know the secret to contentment.

Bob is survived by a home filled with men who loved him. And, men that never understood how he could be “so damn happy” all the time. He is survived by home staff that loved him. He is survived by my husband and my brother. And, my sweet Bob, you are survived by me. My heart breaks knowing that I will not get to share time with you again.

I will never forget your sweet, kind, and loving soul. You were a gift to this world. I am better for having known you. Thank you.

Hey Bob, we’ll be seeing you then.

Love.

“Your skin,
Oh yeah your skin and bones,
Turn into
Something beautiful,
Do you know,
You know I love you so” – Yellow, Coldplay

What Should I Do?

“You aren’t torn. You’re only just afraid” – Cheryl Strayed

As a therapist a lot of people come to me wondering what they should do about their current situation. It may be that they are in an unhappy relationship. Perhaps they are unfulfilled with their current job. Maybe they want to move away. Most of the time the people sitting in front of me know what they want to do, they are just scared to do it.

We’re scared to leave an unhappy relationship because what if we never find another person. We’re scared to leave an unfulfilling job because we need to pay the bills. We’re scared to move away because what if we don’t like the new place. What’s worse to me is: What if you live out the rest of your life unhappy and scared because you live under the illusion that it is safer this way. 

Nothing about living life is safe. That’s the real scary part about this game – you and everyone you know will die. Billionaires will die, celebrities will die, pastors, priests, nuns, good people, bad people, young people, babies, all of us are going to die. We think if we make all the right choices we’ll never die and no one will get hurt (delusional thinking). I’m not sure if we are consciously aware of why we try to make the safest choices but that’s my theory. If I just hide out here (safe and miserable) pain will leave me alone (whatever that means). 

We tend to take the good in our lives for granted. Before you make a big change you should step back and explore your options. I often recommend that people look at what other job opportunities are out there before quitting their current job. In doing that, some people gain a new appreciation for their current position (I do get compensated well, I have a lot of time off, my boss is pretty flexible). Also, before you end a relationship imagine being single. Try and imagine what would happen if your partner left you. Would you desperately beg them back? How would it feel to not have that person in your life anymore. Instead of making a big change, try first, appreciating what you have. Sometimes when you do this you realize how good you have it.

If you’ve done this and you still think (in your gut) you need to make a change. Go on! Of course, one should not impulsively quit their job and spend all their money living in Paris for a month (maybe that’s what my partner and I did and it worked out okay but I’m not recommending it) .

So, what if it doesn’t work out? You try again. If you quit your job for another job and you don’t like your new job, you look for another job. If you don’t find another partner right away, take your time enjoying the company of friends, meeting and dating people, and exploring what you like to do with your alone time. If you move away and you don’t like the new place, move back to the old place or try another place.

A person can not live a life without regrets. There just is not enough time and resources to do all the we want to do. We have to be honest with ourselves and seek out the life that best fits what we want. When I worked with people at the end of their lives, the regrets that hit the hardest were when they did not live a life true to themselves. Whether or not we want to accept the truth, we know in our guts when we are not being true to ourselves.

Bottom line: There is no safe way to do this so go out there and live life. 

“I have not always chosen the safest path. I’ve made my mistakes, plenty of them. I sometimes jump too soon and fail to appreciate the consequences. But I’ve learned something important along the way: I’ve learned to heed the call of my heart. I’ve learned that the safest path is not always the best path and I’ve learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.”
Steve Goodier

Love.

 

Meet Joe Black.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Mark Twain

I tried an intervention this week and I wanted to share it with my lovelies on this beautiful snowy morning. But first, I will provide you with some context for the intervention. My life has been visited by much death. From an early age, I lost grandparents, aunts, and friends. In September of my senior year in high school, three young classmates died in just three weeks. This was followed by more untimely loss in years to come.

In fact, one funeral I attended was so traumatic that I swore off funerals for several years. It was just too much to see my peers lying in coffins. The Grim Reaper is never far from where I sit. I know all too well that each moment is borrowed and The Reaper could cash his check at anytime.

This was never more evident than when I worked in cancer care. For almost two years, I worked with patients living and dying with cancer. This was coupled with two traumatic losses in my personal life. In therapy we talk about once you know something it is really hard (if not impossible) to unknow it. I know that I will die. I know that every one I love will die. Interestingly, knowing this has not been a burden. Without a doubt, knowing this has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. Death keeps it all in perspective. 

There is a Buddhist proverb that asks, “Imagine a bird on your shoulder every morning asking you if today was your day to die, would you be okay with that?” I can’t remember a day in the recent past where that question has not come to me. Most days the response is: I think so.

The Grim Reaper Intervention.

Imagine that right now The Grim Reaper has arrived to take you to the other side. However, the Reaper is feeling generous today and he offers you a deal. If you can persuasively argue why you should get more time he will consider your argument. And, depending on your argument you may get a year or several more years. It better be a good argument.

For those of you with a faith system, I understand that Heaven doesn’t sound like a bad place to land but consider with me all that you have here on Earth that has yet to be said, done, and resolved. If you go now, you’re gone from the people and places you love. 

As you argue, he asks:

“But why haven’t you done that already?”

“Why aren’t those things important to you now?”

“If you love them why don’t they know it now?”

“How do I know that when I leave you won’t go back to the way things were?”

“But you waste so much time worrying about nothing, why should I give you more time to waste?”

Remember you are pleading for your life. 

How would you answer? Do you deserve more time?

So far, it has been an interesting intervention in practice. I strongly believe that a constant awareness of death forces us to live. It is always there whether or not you want to face it. I suppose because I have experienced so much loss I have worked through most of my fear of this. I encourage you to consider your own mortality. It is the most intimate relationship in life. 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

 

Love.

Cover image taken from: https://www.etsy.com/listing/205345446/sleeping-with-the-fishes-funny-lil-grim

Addicted To Fear.

“Then she told herself to stop her nonsense. If you looked for things to make you feel hurt and wretched and unnecessary, you were certain to find them, more easily each time, so easily, soon, that you did not even realize you had gone out searching.”
Dorothy Parker, The Portable Dorothy Parker

Are you watching the news right now? Please, turn it off. Humans are sponges and we’ve been absorbing the gross fear and negativity that the media is shoving down our throats for years. I am not encouraging ignorance. I am merely suggesting some moderation.

The 24 hour news cycle is destructive to our psyches because fear is addictive. Our brains are wired to seek out problems in the environment. When we turn on the news we are stimulated by the bright colors and sounds and we are sucked in by the the fear machine. We talk about it at work. We call our friends and share our fears. We beg them to be fearful with us. We want them to be safe. We are scared. 

Pause. Breathe. You’re safe.

Fear makes us reactive and defensive. Fear causes people to use the primal part of their brain when problem solving as opposed to the logical rational part of our brain . This leads to poor decision-making.

In small doses fear is the emotion that helps keep us alive. When we are healthy, our fear safely guides us through life. However, we are absorbing fear through every pore in our body by watching the news, scrolling through social media, listening to talk radio, and reading online. Then, we get angry. Fear tells us we are under attack. So, we end up in needless arguments or barricading ourselves in our homes.

Why do we buy so many guns after a mass-shooting? We do so to protect ourselves. But, how many guns can you use at a time if you were being attacked? The stockpiling of arms is fear based problem solving. Frankly and kindly, life is not like a Die Hard movie and most of us aren’t trained military or law enforcement. We are vulnerable even when we’re armed, no two ways about it. I would prefer not to spend my time here scared, worried, and angry.

Please, turn off the TV and step away from the computer. Take a vacation from the news this weekend. Hug and kiss the people you love. Play with your dogs and sit in the sun. Even better, watch a Pixar movie. I firmly believe Pixar is the best thing about this country. Soak up some love this weekend. The fear will be waiting for you on Monday if you want it back.

Image found here. 

Bad Memory Days

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
― John MiltonParadise Lost

When you’ve experienced a traumatic event or events (and you get to define what is traumatic for you) your brain and body can react in many different ways.

Memories, thoughts and feelings can become curious and unpredictable things.

Sometimes the bad memories associated with the traumatic event may creep up on you like the shadows that crawl up the side of the wall at the end of the day.

Very slowly, until all of a sudden you are surrounded by darkness.

Sometimes, it isn’t even the event that you remember but just an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that comes out of nowhere.

The feeling that reminds you of the intense and real vulnerabilities of life.

Some days, you can go along like nothing happened. On the other days, the bad memories can kidnap you instantly out of the right now and drag you kicking and screaming into the past.

These feelings and thoughts may not last all day or they may last for several days. You probably don’t have a lot of control as to how long you’ll stay saturated in the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

During those bad memory days it’s hard, if not impossible, to escape from the intrusive thoughts and focus on what needs to get done.

What we know about bad memory days is that the more we try to make the thoughts go away the stronger and more powerful they get. Sometimes that means, despite your wishes, you may have to make friends with these bad memories or thoughts. Or at least, make room for them in your life because they’re not going anywhere. You know the memories are there but fighting them is futile.

It sounds counterintuitive but letting go of the fight and accepting you are having a bad memory day (or bad memory moments) might actually help you feel better.

On these days, it is so important to just try and breathe.

And, sometimes it helps to remind yourself that “you’re safe” by actually saying it out loud (and talking to yourself does not mean you are crazy)

Saying “I’m safe” and taking deep breaths can create spaces between your bad memories.

I believe self-care is paramount every day but if you’re having a bad memory day self care becomes as essential as eating and drinking.

For some people they may want to take a bath, wrap themselves tightly in a blanket, and limit the amount of exposure they have to stimulating sights and sounds.

It helps to have a to-do list of self-care items prepared for these kinds of days. It also helps to have a person (or persons) that you feel safe enough to sit with or call. You may or may not want to share what the specifics but it helps to know someone cares.

If you have bad memory days a lot and they are interfering with your ability to live a life you love please do yourself a favor: Talk to a professional therapist and see a physician. Getting professional help takes a lot of courage. It is an immeasurable act of self-love to ask for help.

Love.

“Ouch, I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
Yeah, I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe”

Sia, Breathe Me

You Are Going To Die.

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, attempted to ascertain the most common regrets her patients had when they looked back on their lives. In her work she discovered that there were five regrets that came up most often for people in their last days. The original article and several interpretations of her work have been floating around for years and I know that I’ve shared them before.

Here is what she discovered are the top five regrets of the dying:

1.) I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me

2.) I wish I did not work so hard

3.) I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

4.) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

5.) I wish I had let myself be happier

Please take a moment and consider the items above.

I’m reminded of several other quotes by people facing their mortality or working with those facing mortality:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

“What is the most appropriate thing to say to a friend who was about to die. He answered: tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Whenever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone.
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

“We run after values that, at death, become zero. At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford. That’s what dying patients teach you.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. – Jim Valvano (thanks Rik)

Let me highlight what is NOT on that list:

1.) I wish I had more stuff

2.) I wish I had newer things

3.) I wish I fewer people to love

4.) I wish I made more money and spent more time at work

5.) I wish I did what everyone told me to do without ever offering up an opinion on what might actually make me happy.

The truth is we are all going to die and we have no idea when that is going to happen. Maybe it’s morbid, maybe it’s because I have experienced a lot of loss in my life, or maybe it’s because I spent some of my own career working with death and dying, but knowing that death is imminent gives me the courage to try my best to live a life that I love with the people that I love.

“Once people’s days truly are numbered, their priorities do seem to shift. According to research done on socioemotional selectivity theory, older people are more present-oriented than younger people, and are more selective in who they spend time with, sticking mostly with family and old, close friends. Other studies have shown them to also be more forgiving, and to care more for others, and less about enhancing themselves.” – The Atlantic, Julie Beck, 2015

I think death forces into perspective a great appreciation for life. Frankly, I don’t think we talk about death or grief enough in this culture.

Okay, now pause and check your pulse and take a breath.

Both of those work out okay?

Good, that means you still have time.

Love.

regrets-of-dying

Image from: http://nhne-pulse.org/regrets-of-the-dying/