Do it before it’s too late

It’s been nearly eight years ago since a dear friend of mine died at the age of 41 from aggressive metastatic breast cancer.  I met her early in 2006 on a training walk. She had been diagnosed several months earlier, at the age of 37.

We spent some face-to-face time together from time-to-time, but most of our friendship was spent talking on the telephone. There was an instant connection between us, whether we saw one another at events, had lunch together, or talked for minutes or hours.

I was 13 years older than she was, but Kim was wise beyond her years, and I learned so much from her.

As the time came closer to losing her battle, I remember the weekend that Kim, her husband and young son, sister and brother-in-law, and mother went to the coast together to take Dad’s ashes to scatter them into the ocean.  Kim’s Mom had kept the urn in the bedroom for the 10 years, but as Kim told it to me, “She needs to let him go as she faces losing another family member.”

It broke my heart on so many levels. I was glad that they were able to do this as a family.  It certainly marked a moment of reality in their lives.  It was a remarkably bittersweet moment of love and family.

It serves as a reminder to me (to us all?) that family get-togethers are important to take when they are joyous memory builders.  The same can be said for friendships.

How often are we “too busy” to make time for friends and family? How often do we simply NOT take the time for those we say are important to us? How often can you “not afford” to share in moments that may cost nothing more than time and willingness?

At the point that I met Kim, I had not dealt with the loss of too many people, other than those who were quite old.  Losing young people I knew personally was new for me. I could not imagine having lost a child or a sister.

I was as involved as I could be toward her end-of-life. It was not easy, but I learned the pain of life and of death having gone through it with this woman and her family, all whom I loved dearly.

Since Kim’s death in 2010, I have lost some significant people in my life, ranging in age from their 20s to 80s. Each is loved as a child, parent, friend, friend and more. It escapes no one.  I have also know many other people in my life who has shared their heartaches of losing with me.

There is universal advice that I have heard throughout the years since Kim has passed…

Spend time together, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem to be…not just once a year on an obligatory holiday. Whether by phone, through regular mail, or face-to-face, take time to laugh and cry with one another. Let one another know your secrets.  Make memories. Include, do not exclude. Ensure that they feel loved.

Not everyone has as a family that was as intact as what I experienced with Kim and her family.  I was lucky to experience it and to be included in the family as a friend and extended family member.

We can choose friends to be the family we do not have. We can build on what we do have with family members who are important to us.

The important thing to remember is to get-together.  Laugh. Make memories. Love one another. Take time. Show love. Create. And, please…

Do it before “losing another…”

Kim 2009

 

Photo credit:  (Photo 1) My photo of Kim carrying the strength banner at the 2008 Seattle Breast Cancer 3-Day.  (Photo 2) 2009 photo shared at her memorial.  Kim passed away in May 2010, just three days before her 42nd birthday.

Advertisements

LIVING WITH MORE JOY!

When I was much younger, I did not understand what older people meant when they would tell me, “If you have a handful of people in your life that you can count on one hand, you are lucky!” 

Like so many young people, I believed that the more people you knew and thought were friends, the better off you are.  These would always be there for you through thick and thin.  Of course, as we grow older we realize this is not the case.

To learn earlier in life that it is better to find just a few others with whom you can truly be yourself sets one up for better friendships.  There would be fewer worries about having to impress. No having to put makeup on, getting dressed up, acting a certain way because of your age, or any other arbitrary rules of friendship when you get together for social events.

August 21, 2017 was a Monday morning just like that.

The event was the solar eclipse of 2017. None of us had ever experienced one before, and we had the opportunity to see a 94% solar eclipse.

We were simply three friends, who have known one another for a very long time. With little sleep, no makeup, not giving a rat’s patootie what anyone else thinks of them, they made memories and had fun together.  If the younger crowd would have seen us, they would have thought we were all being dumb, annoying, and intent on embarrassing them.

What a joy it is to be at a point in life when you can take the simplest of moments and simply experience them with people who aren’t afraid to experience life with you… One moment at a time.

Oh! Sheer authenticity and joy!

Vulnerability and Telling More of a Story

 

Coming to understand myself and the “whys” behind my beliefs about the world and the people in it has always been of interest to me.  I am also just as interested in others and their stories. As I tend to be rather curious and analytical, I have often been told that I “would make a good counselor.” I am not sure that it is truth, but I do see that I am willing to look in the mirror and find the connections with others and the correlations of experiences. It requires us all to be more vulnerable.

Recently, I have begun to “look” beyond some of the issues that have presented in my life. They seem to be inter-connected in so many ways.

It has been more than two decades since I have truly done anything to “celebrate” the Christmas holidays in my home. There have been some moments where one may have seen a glimmer; however (for the most part), it has been non-existent. I have cooked or helped to cook the holiday meals elsewhere, but it was never the same. Much of the time, I went to a restaurant for a meal…sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone.

“Hoarding,” or just Scared?

This past summer I began to open up and admit to “shutting others out.” The easiest way for me to do this was to not deal with clutter in my home.  This way, I did not allow others into my space.

I could have let others into my home, but there would have been some who would have been judgmental and then  would have told others how awful it was…I was.  Some would have accused me of being “a hoarder,” likening me to the extreme hoarders featured on the television show.

Truth be told, I bought into those visions of myself. I did not see reality, but saw myself through the judging eyes of others. So, I shut down not only from others, but myself.

One of the things that I would never have been able to tolerate is the filth of rotting foods, the scampering of rodents, and the other horrors that are sensationalized with the show.

Yet, the piled-up, unpacked boxes from previous moves kept me from “LIVING” in my home and accepting others into my home to celebrate life, friends and family, and the holidays we share throughout the year.

Preparing to Die

I moved into my current townhouse in September 2013, preparing to die. It was a year-and-a-half earlier that I was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)/Carcinoid cancer, and told by an Army Lt. Col. and surgeon that I “…(had) six months to a year, two…if lucky.”

So, when I moved, I truly believed that I had less than a year to live. That being the case, why unpack?

Looking back, I understand the ideas or thoughts and how they manifested in the way that they did. But I also recognized that how I choose to look at my life and what I think, believe or do is MINE to choose, despite what others will tell me, think of me, or treat me.

Starting to Live Again

This summer, I have started to “let go” of the accumulation. I am unpacking and donating items that I no longer need to friends, family, and organizations.  I am beginning to see a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.  It has much less to do with the condition of my home, but the condition of me and my view of life and the people in it.

I call this my “Clutter Project.”  I am facing my inner turmoil around letting others see who I am on the inside, which is difficult. It is not easy to be vulnerable. It is not easy to be open, knowing that there will be some who will act in judgement, and then reject and abandon. It is downright painful, and then very tempting to pull back and shut down even more deeply.  It is not easy, and their is so much more to do, but I have started.

This is where the choice to keep moving forward is so important. Trusting when it is scary to do so.

I have allowed two trusted friends to see the chaos on the inside of me and in my home. Each has been invited to dine with me, including Thanksgiving Dinner. Two other friends have come over (separately.)

There was an online friend from Australia who stayed with me for a week this month.  We had only spoken by phone for an hour total (two calls) in the 18 years that we had “met” online.

Last week, I committed to hosting Christmas Day dinner here in my home. It will not be formal, but rather informal. There will be seven of us for certain, and maybe a total of three more.  I must admit that I am a bit anxious about it.

Since I have opened up about my struggles to one of my sisters, and to my best friend (BK), each has shown me so much love and support.  The relationship between my sister and I has strengthened in ways I never imagined, and it is much more authentic than
any other relationship that I have had with a family member.

If not for BK’s help in going through things here in my place these past five months, I would feel paralyzed. She has been here to help me as I push through the process in my own way. She and I (together) are learning our own lessons of telling our stories, and listening with more love. Of course, it requires us to be truthful with one another, but more importantly…truthful with the person in the mirror.

So, Christmas get-together at my place!

I will likely invite others over during the season between now and the New Year holiday. It is getting easier to allow people that I know care and who are not going to walk in judgement of me into my home…into my heart. I am also confident that if I felt there were others who would walk in and look down their noses, I would be gracious enough to offer a coffee, but cut the time short.

Keep telling your story

I know my story. I know the characters in the story, up to this point in my life. I understand how the story has been written, but I also know that there are twists and turns in every story, and that we never know how any story will end.

Is it not wonderful that we get to write more chapters and change the direction of the plot of our stories? We find other characters along the way. When the story is all-told, as we come to the end, it is a far different story than we expected.

I am grateful to all who have become part of my life. I thank each for taking time to read and “listen” to more of my story.  I appreciate all who have shared their stories with me.

And I look forward to continuing the journey.

(Note:  Edited from original post by the author, “There is always MORE to the story, if one is willing to listen to the storyteller” written and published on 13 December 2017 at myLot.com.)

Moving On from Toxic Relationships

There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there is so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on.  ~Zahn Malik

Over the years, people come and go throughout our lives. Friendships that once were close drift apart. We move jobs or locations. We move on.

Some of these friendships continue to be important to us. Though we may not be in contact for awhile, the connections never really cease to exist. When we make the occasional call or see one another decades later, it continues as if time never passed. Then we go back to our lives until our paths cross again, often years later, and for awhile…we move on.

We also have people in our lives from which we grow apart. We each change so much that we can no longer remain friends. What we had in common at one stage of life is no longer important, nor does it continue to bind us together. We wish them well, but then…we all decide to move on.

As we mature, we realize there are many friendships, which we can no longer try to maintain…that we SHOULD not maintain, if only to protect our own sanity. We know we must move on.

These may be with people who are extremely negative and try to drag you into their drama. Or they make you their scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong. Perhaps, they are unable to take ownership for their lives. Even when they reach out to you, there is a sense of blaming, control, or “woe-is-me,” and it has not changed in all the years you have known them. The handwriting on the wall. Yet, we struggle with knowing how to move on.

Because we care about these people, and once were close in our friendships, we give them chance-after-chance, time-after-time.  At some point, you are slapped upside the head and see that they are stuck in the loop of “same-old-shit-different-day/circumstance.”  You know instinctively that you cannot help them. They need the kind of help that you are not equipped to give them. You are not a trained psychotherapist.

When you try to set boundaries, they push back hard and become abusive in their language, blaming you for not understanding. They accuse you of turning your  back on a friend in need. Now you know that you must run as fast as you can to move on.

The only way out of this type of unhealthy relationship is to let them know that you no longer wish to be in relationship to them. They are toxic to you, and you realize that it is time for you to take care of yourself. You do it kindly, but directly. And then you block them from email, social media, and do not answer the phone calls.  You finally move on.

For a time, you may not hear anything anymore.  Life is peaceful. You recognize that your stress level is greatly reduced. You no longer take on their drama. You think they have moved on.

You develop healthy relationships with people who give you life, and affirm the value you hold in relationship to them. Being around these friends energizes you. There is reciprocity in the relational dynamic. You begin to grow and develop well-rounded friendships/relationships with people who who breathe life into you, and do not suck the very breath from you. You are able to move in similar directions, and celebrate life with one another, even through the difficult tests of time.

Then one day, you hear from someone you told years ago to not contact you. He/she reaches out in order to “move on” past what was. The boundaries you set forth a few years earlier are held in complete disregard.

The language becomes confusing, guilt-inducing, and the methods  feel creepy:

  • “I don’t know why you won’t call me me back.” 
  • “You misunderstood what I meant.”  
  • “I don’t think you understand what I was going through.”
  • Sometimes, there will be a suggestion that this is a return call, when (in fact) you have chosen not to call, but to ignore the attempted contacts.
  • Calls will come several times throughout the week,  late at night when you are sleeping, sometimes to your work numbers. The messages are nearly always the same.

All of these seem to be attempts to manipulate the situation in order to get you to respond to  with a return phone conversation or email exchange. You have seen this before, and you know what the end result will be. Nothing good will come of this, because their behavior has not changed over the years. You recognize the patterns.

It is not always easy to know how to deal with situations, such as this.  Each situation is unique. At some point, you need to be direct and say, “This is enough.”  

But when these toxic people start to resurface, what do you do? Do you entertain them? Do you call them back?  Do you email them? I think not. But there might come a time when you must discern what to do, dependent on the gravity of the situation.

It may require you to give one last message:

 “I HAVE moved on. Do NOT contact me again. Any further contact in any format will be considered harassment/stalking.”

You moved on. They need to move on, too. 

Until you let go of ALL the toxic people in your life, you will NEVER be able to grow into your fullest potential. Let them go so you can grow.  (LIVELIFEHAPPY.com)

Christmas Memories

This week, it will be my 61st Christmas Eve and Day on this earth. Certainly some holidays have stood out more than the others. Not all were filled with tidings of comfort and joy. But there have been several that hold some of my fondest memories.

I went to Redeemer Lutheran School and church in my first and second grade years. I was five when I started first grade, never going to Kindergarten.

We put on a Nativity pageant, and that first year in 1960, four months after turning five, I was the angel. With my celestial attire of a white cotton sheet, and wire hanger wings and halo wrapped in tinsel garland, I delivered my first lines on stage: “Unto you a child is born.”

There were a couple of childhood years that were magical, and were my favorites–Childhood Christmas Memories from the Early 1960s. Being a “big sister,” to my first sister, Sonja, was part of the magic for me. She arrived in 1962.

Christmas 1965 was one of the years that I was on the Lawrence Welk Christmas show. Thanks to YouTube, I can watch this clip and see my father, brother, sister and I. There are glimpses of a family still intact. Even though I knew the “truth” about Santa, I still see wonder and joy in my 10-year-old face.

My daughter was born in September 1975. I had very little money. I bought her these two little cloth dolls–boy and girl–that were the closest thing I could afford to a Raggedy Ann and Andy. By 1978 they were so raggedy, and had been washed so many times, they were lifeless. But oh, how she loved them, nearly as much as I loved her.

Sometime in the 1980s, I went back to California to visit around the holidays. Ours had been a tense relationship over the years.  That one year, she asked me if I had been to “Candy Cane Lane.”  I was not quite sure what she meant, but we got into the car–just the two of us–and she drove around for us to look at the Christmas light displays in and around our area. It was one of the most magical moments I remember having with my mother in our adult years.

Christmas 1999/New Years 2000 was the season I went to England and Scotland with a backpack and stayed in youth hostels. It was probably one of my favorite Christmases ever! I was in Glasgow for Christmas Eve, and Perth, for New Years Eve. I spent nearly three weeks with strangers, and it was the most fun I think I ever had during the holidays.

Christmas 2001 was special because of a reconciliation. It was the first Christmas spent with my grandchildren, who were nearly five and two years of age at that time. I will never forget the feeling of my grandson crawling up on my lap that first Christmas. We have all missed out on so much, and I pray that more reconciliation will allow the special bonds of family to be renewed one day. But I will never forget having that magical moment

Christmas and New Years 2006/7 was the holiday I spent with my friend, Julitta, and her husband, Per-Erik, visiting them in Sweden. I arrived early in the month so I could be there to celebrate Julitta’s fiftieth birthday. I lived in Sweden with them for about five weeks, and we made so many memories. It was probably one of the best five weeks of my life. They truly are my Swedish “family.” (Julitta is from Poland; Per-Erik is a Swede.)

This year, amidst life’s challenges that seem to face so many of us, let us all find some joy and memory-making moments in this season.

I look forward to telling you of those special moments soon!!

 

 

 

 

When Thanksgiving Day Changes

thanksgiving-1058682_1280

We all have expectations of what the Thanksgiving holidays are meant to be.

Media has certainly played a big part in creating what the “perfect ” day is supposed to be.  So, when the situations in life are less than Hallmark-perfect, the feelings of loss or being “less than” can eat away at the very core of what we have come to believe is normal.

I have had many share with me over the years that they feel that “the joy of holidays has disappeared.” I am convinced that this is not uncommon. There are simply those who retreat for a few days, allowing others to believe that they are busy and happy.

Things change. Family dynamics change. People struggle to change with them, not knowing how to do things differently. They are thrown into a tailspin and nothing resembles what was or what is “supposed” to be.

I have had many years of Thanksgivings to learn to do things differently. Many of them have been fun, and filled with much love and peace. Yet, I still have not learned how to manage them well.

Life has changed drastically for family members and friends that they are learning to deal with their own expectations of what holidays and life truly mean. I suppose that I had talked myself into believing that some situations would go back to what they once were long ago. But that is my own version of what I was taught to believe today should bring.

Today, I will not host a Thanksgiving dinner. There are no definitive holiday plans or invitations to join any one else in a celebration of the holiday, or to help them in hosting such an event. Today will be like any other day.

There is not a moment where we are not surrounded with the commercial visions of sugarplums and Santa and Norman Rockwell-inspired visions of family gatherings.

Wait!  Sugarplums and Santa?  Aren’t we still talking about Thanksgiving? I am confused. Halloween to New Years becomes such a blur when Christmas decorations are being sold in October.

Anyone of us can fall into a pit melancholy, hurt and pain. We can feel slighted for not getting invitations. We may feel discarded by those who “should” (fill-in-the-blank).

I admit that I have fallen into that pit a time or two over the years.

Yet, I have learned that every day can be a day of thanksgiving, whether or not it is filled with turkey and stuffing, and pumpkin pie while watching football games with people you may see once a year.

But who is to say that you cannot stuff a turkey with bread, or bake a pumpkin pie in July, if you wanted?

Has Thanksgiving been reduced to simply a turkey, cranberries, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows?  Is this what it has become because we have all bought into unrealistic expectations that have been shoved down our throats by society, media, and (dare I say) dysfunctional family?

Each day we wake up, there is an opportunity to give thanks for whatever we have. Is that not what the words represent?  Thanks giving?

I do not know if I will eat turkey or pumpkin pie today. I might just have pancakes and eggs at my local Denny’s.

On Saturday I am meeting a group of people for a traditional dinner and game night, if I need my tryptophan-fix.

Yet, today I will reflect on many things for which I am thankful:

  • LIFE itself
  • People who have remained by my side to care for me since my 2012 diagnosis
  • Living in a place where I am safe
  • The few dear friends and family members who continue to make it a point to let me know they love me by picking up a telephone or sending me something in the mail to surprise me
  • Having enough
  • Opportunities presented to me when I trust in the process, others and myself
  • A new life born on Tuesday–my grand niece, Rosie, at 9 lbs. 6 oz.
  • Being enough

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For those of you who celebrate today, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with much joy and love and peace that you so deserve on this day and always.

And for those of you who are sitting at home alone, maybe you will join me for those pancakes at Denny’s.

 

For what things are you thankful for today?

Sixty years and a Day into my 61st

00BohemianMy 60th birthday was very low-key yesterday. I had not slept the night before, so I took a rain check on a lunch date with my youngest sister, and dinner with a friend of mine. I did not even get to the nail salon for a manicure and pedicure.

I just wanted to relax without feeling I had to do anything or be anywhere. Is that a sign of “getting old”? Or, perhaps, it is a sign of freedom!

I received several phone calls and messages from friends and family. I opened my mailbox to receive a card from my sister in Tulsa, and no bills or advertisements.  This morning, I read messages and articles written in honor of me by several of my online friends from a writers’ group to which I belong.

I did receive “gifts” from some local establishments, so I redeemed these:

  • Birthday drink from Starbucks–Not only a drink, I had a free item coming for the purchases I make.  I chose a grilled cheese sandwich and a trenta-sized (31 oz.) Mango Black Tea Lemonade.
  • $10 Birthday Money from CostPlus World Market–I also had another coupon for $10 off when you spend $30. I purchased $40 of merchandise, mostly on sale. The total value (not on sale) retail was close to $100. I paid less than $23.
  • $10 Rewards Certificate from Eddie Bauer–I found a coral-colored tank top at the Eddie Bauer retail outlet store on the discount rack for $9.50.

I also went to Trader Joe’s to visit my favorite employee, Sally, and chat with her for a few minutes. She was setting out samples of their New York-style cheesecake with a berry sauce made from an organic berry blend.  I had two small samples. It could not have been a better two bites if I had ordered a slice of cheesecake (my favorite) from The Cheesecake Factory.

I bought myself some bright, beautiful sunflowers (5/$3.99), and a half-gallon (not really that size any more, but the big round tub) of rocky road ice cream from another store, and came home.  I watched some television, heated up some leftovers, ate ice cream and took a couple more phone calls before heading to bed about midnight.

I am the type of person that I would have liked to have had a big, milestone surprise birthday party with a lot of people, laughter, food and drink, and presents. Though I have never been surprised by that kind of party, I have enjoyed those celebrations, where I bring my eclectic group of family and friends together, for those who can attend.

But I am the kind of person who can find the joy in other ways to celebrate life. The phone calls I had with the friends and family, the messages received, the interactions with the people I met along the way at the stores, the conversations with customer service people in doing business–all of them–were all instrumental in making my 60th birthday a celebration. I even received a hug or two yesterday from total strangers.

I am grateful for this life, and for the people I meet along the way. It is for this reason that I get up in the morning and look forward to a brand new day.

Thanks to all, who made my 60th a special day.  Here is upward and onward to the 61st!

 

 

When Feeling Unappreciated, What Do You Do?

hands-658065_640Between my work over the years, and being uber-extroverted, I meet and talk with a lot of people. Although I am certainly “quite the talker,” I also listen and observe more than people often think I do.

I have been told that I have a knack of “drawing people out of themselves,” though I think that is what happens when we learn to be more effective communicators. Of course, there are many times that I have just as many communication issues in those relationships closest to me, as others do.  After all, each of us has our history with which to deal.

I often hear in my interactions with students, clients, and others I meet who share along the way, that they feel under- or unappreciated.  I have felt that way myself. It seems to run the gamut of personal and work relationships.  Family, coworkers, friendships…the lament seems to be the same. It seems to be universal.

“I am tired of being taken for granted!”

It is easy to pull away when feeling the most vulnerable. It is one way that feels like protection from feeling more hurt.  The results can lead to lashing out in anger and words being thrown like daggers. It takes awhile to recover from those wounds, especially when weeks, months, or years pass without resolve.

Every once in awhile, when least expected, someone will have an impact in a way that seems unimaginable. An acquaintance will share genuine words of encouragement, love, and support, singing praises of appreciation or adoration.

These are the times that I am left (nearly) speechless. I find it difficult to process in those moments that I may be anything other than the (fill-in-the-blank) that others have declared I am. It challenges, not only the view I think others have of me but, the view I have of myself.

I wonder what might happen if, in our dealings with all people, we were to look at others through new lenses and see what we liked about them.

If we were to appreciate others, would we be more appreciated? What if we were all to share more often what we appreciated about others?

Not obligatory words in order to assuage a sense of guilt or feeling “beholden to.” Not to manipulate or pander to others, looking for acknowledgement of the gift of kind words finally bestowed upon them.  Not just once. But often simply letting others know what they mean to us and why?

Would this make a difference in the relationships we already have?  Would it make a difference in someone’s life? Would we bridge gaps? Would we build new friendships?

Today, I consciously make the decision to make a difference by letting someone know what I appreciate about them.

hands-718562_640

Koningsdag 2015

koningsdag

Today is a national holiday for my Dutch friends.  It marks the birthday of the reigning King Willem-Alexander.

From everything that I have heard from my my Dutch friends over the years, it is a big national festival with many celebrations–concerts, parties, parades, and more. For some, it is a show of patriotism. For others, support of the Royal Family. But for most others, it marks where people get together.

It seems to me that Koningsdag (King’s Day) in the Netherlands may be very similar to our Independence Day on the 4th of July each year. It is a day when we make new friends and celebrate long-time friendships and make new friends.

Most of all, it is one day each year when there there is a strong sense of belonging, evidenced by the wearing of orange, the national color, and the waving of their own red, white, and blue flags.

So, to my Dutch friends…

Een Fijne Koningsdag Allemaal!!

koningsdag02-t

Taking a Break from Facebook

There are times when we all need to take a break from some things that seem to bog us down in life.

I am at one of those moments in time.

I have decided to temporarily deactivate my Facebook page.  The reasons behind the decision are several, but it’s not necessary to list them.

I simply need a break.

The hardest thing is going to be not feeling connected to many people.  However, connection has changed now that Facebook seems to be the only contact nowadays with many who used to call or visit face-to-face.

I wonder if there are others who have also left some of the social media sites, and for what reasons?  Have you gone back? If not, do you miss it?

It is my hope is that some of the friends I have will be available for that phone call or mealtime that we used to share.

Face-to-face conversation over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine  cannot be replaced.