aging without botox

Mac Miller Died

I was heartbroken to hear that Mac Miller died on September 7, 2018. Whether or not you listen to his music or are a connoisseur of rap/hip-hop music (as I am), the news of another young, bright (so ALIVE) young man gone from a deadly overdose (not officially confirmed, but probably very likely) is devastating. Ever since since I heard the news I can’t stop watching videos and interviews of him.

I wonder if he had died a month ago if I’d be so obsessed.  Don’t get me wrong, I would still have been sad, but then as most of us do, I would have moved onto the next round of news. But this feels different.

On August 13, 2018 Will Mitchell died.  Will was not a famous rapper, but he was 28, he was actively building a real estate empire, he was jet-setting with his 5-year-old daughter to Disney, and a week before he died he signed up for the Baltimore Half Marathon. Will, like Mac Miller, was another young, bright (so ALIVE) young man gone from a deadly overdose.  Will was my nephew.

I am not new to grief; I’ve had plenty of it in a relatively short time.  But this death, it’s different. All of them are, but Will was so alive and TWENTY-EIGHT! He definitely struggled with demons, drugs, and discomfort, but he had been clean for nearly 2 years, and had changed dramatically – he seemed unstoppable. At his funeral, his uncle stated that the last 2 years were so good that it was actually easy to forget about the past torturous years of his addiction.

In addition to the unbelievable, soul-crushing grief I felt when we found Will, I also felt embarrassed and ashamed.  My beautiful nephew whom I watched change and grow had OD’d just like the other tens of thousands (over 70,000) of addicts.  (click here for more stats) I remember crying in pain and anger that I didn’t want to tell people he had overdosed, that I wished he had gotten hit by a bus.  I even wrote his eulogy to protect his reputation so people would know he wasn’t using until he was using, until that last high, until that high that killed him.  Like any of that really matters now, because he is still dead.

But then Mac Miller died too.  I assume it was in that same dark way that all human beings get seduced by our feelings without cultivating a pause between the stimulus (this fucking sucks; i don’t want to feel this way) and our response to it ( drink, drug, sex, shop, screen time, rage, work, etc.) Unfortunately, the drug response is deadly these days.

I had convinced myself that if Will was in the middle of a relapse, this wouldn’t have been so painful, because I would be expecting it.  But I doubt folks who loved Mac Miller felt much relief when he was found.  Like Will, he was planning for his future, Will was planning to climb mountains, and Mac was set to tour this fall.  This is insidious.

The night Will died – well the night we found his body – I lay in bed all night sobbing and my whole body hurt from this tragedy.  The intense sobbing has stopped – more or less – but the intense heaviness is with me.  The dark weight of grief complicated by the unanswered questions of a young man planning for his future dead from an overdose. After so many years of watching him struggle, I didn’t continue protecting myself from him when he got clean.  I didn’t brace myself for the next relapse.  What was I thinking?  I just loved him and cherished and celebrated his sobriety. No protection; no safety net.  So now it’s difficult to breathe.

I can’t stop listening to Mac Miller.  There is something in it that makes me feel connected to Will.  Maybe it’s the deep eyes or the tortured lyrics or the youthful arrogance. I wish Will had left me something similar – he was silly when he rapped, but too young and arrogant (in the way most youth are) to know this.  So I just smiled at him, rolled my eyes, and enjoyed him being so very much alive.

Who doesn’t want to be remembered?

IMG_0005March 7, 1957 Theresa Marie Stilling was born.  She was my only sister born 6-1/2 years before me.  The story I grew up hearing was that she danced and sang at my birth, “Ive got a little sister, I’ve got a little sister!”  Terrie died on April 10, 2010. Today would have been her 61st birthday.

Her illness, fight with Leukemia, and untimely death left me deeply changed.  Thank god! If we aren’t deeply changed by profound experiences, what is the point to this life? We all (or many, many of us) get caught in the cycle of work, social media, care for family, social media, news, sleep. The endless addiction to our screens can keep us from feeling much of anything, and strong feelings we do have, can easily be stuffed down or numbed by our addictions – to screens or intoxicants.

I’m now a year older – 54 – then Terrie was when she died.  I often feel I am living on borrowed time. One of our brothers died in 2012 – Chester was only 57. Life is short and difficult, and joy-filled and distracting.  I was distracted by my grief for many years and distracted by comparing my insides to others’ outsides.  I wasted time watching others get over death and sorrow much quicker or differently than I did.  I am finished with that phase of my life.

It is odd losing siblings. Your history is gone in an unnatural way.  You can’t check things out from childhood. I am the youngest of 4; me and my oldest brother are still alive, but we live 2000 miles apart and life gets too complicated most days for me to ask him what he remembers about my childhood.  My sister always had those stories ready. She wasn’t perfect – there were many times in her life where she was downright tortured by her demons, but she was my only sister, and we were good (most times) at allowing each other the space to have our demons. I’ve experienced too much death and grief to put the dead on a pedestal – Terrie was human and flawed – like me – but she was my sister. I would have been willing to take the risk of fighting with her once in awhile to see what it would have been like to grow old (or at least older) together.

She has a granddaughter she never met.  She would have been OVER THE MOON about Ryleigh Marie! Her 20-something children have turned out to be quite awesome. The politics in this country are what she would consider catastrophic – she was a big fan of President Obama, and was never embarrassed to be brazenly liberal in a deep red county in Maryland.

My life has changed too.  I am an empty-nester, enjoying much time with my spouse of 24 years. Today, I am quieter, more introspective, less in need of distraction and attention. I don’t mind being alone. I don’t mind sitting home on a weekend (in fact I’m quite protective of my weekends).  I don’t need to be so busy that life rushes by.  I have a perspective that may come from being 54 or may have been aided in losing siblings in their 50’s.  Being able to sit still in a society that won’t stop competing and running and working and distracting is not something that just happens. It takes a lot of practice. And I have practiced!

I practice and teach Mindfulness meditation, and I am a Buddhist. I’ve let go of my addiction to work and am able to make my own schedule and enjoy lazing around most mornings or hiking with my dog in nature before heading to work. I don’t use intoxicants at all, and as I age I can’t understand why people do.  Life is just too short to be numb – even for a Friday night!  I want to be awake and present.

I left the rat race.  It’s something I never thought I would do – I was addicted! I was addicted to work and attention and saving people and institutions! I was delusional and numb.  And then Terrie got sick, and my life changed profoundly.

In retrospect, I’m glad I was profoundly changed by my sister’s life, illness, and death. But it was so fucking difficult in real time.  Eight years later, I still rarely have a day go by where I don’t think of her; the way I feel when I think of her has changed drastically, but the thought is still there. Terrie’s death compelled me to write, and writing saved me from succumbing to debilitating darkness and depression.  I don’t write much anymore, but today I wanted to give Terrie a birthday present.  I wanted to give her the gift of being remembered. It’s selfish too, because as I live on borrowed time, I hope my relationships are profound enough, that I too am remembered when I am gone.


Photocred: William Stilling – my very alive brother took the picture of Terrie and photoshopped it.


I can never find the right gift for you. . .


The problem with finding the perfect Christmas gift is that if you are over the age of 8, it doesn’t exist. When you are young there is all magic and surprise and the right toy or new pajamas warms your soul.

These days I walk in circles in the stores never being able to find that “good enough” gift. Other than for my children who give lists, all other gifts begin to feel obligatory. Searching for these gifts becomes excruciating. I know why: I can’t give the one thing I really want to give everyone I love. I want them to know in their heart of hearts that they are loveable. “Eh” you may say, “I know I’m loveable!” But do you?

Do you know your lovable despite your zip code, or what brand you wear on your back, or where your child attends school, or what grades that child gets, or whether you are slim or heavy, or how clean and neat your home is, or if your gifts are bought and wrapped by December 1st? If you say, “None of that really matters to me.” Then why on earth do you work so hard to attain it if it isn’t to feel valued and loved?

I don’t really mind Christmas. There are some things about it I really cherish: the lights (oh lights this time of year are delicious), some of the music (my obscure Pandora Christmas Station is heavenly), the time off of work (needs no explanation), the food (when I allow myself to break with very old tradition and simply do what I want and what meets the needs of this particular year’s Christmas), and the Christmas Eve Service I attend (which takes me back to the church of my childhood and always brings me to shoulder shaking tears).

Then there is the gifting! Each year I get closer and closer to doing away with it, but then the Christmas Spirit gets to me and I’m out buying 24 tubes of hand lotion for those very special friends that I just can’t leave off of my list. That is when the window opens just a crack and the hurricane wind comes gushing in. I now find myself dazed and wandering around stores – a tattered, incoherent list in my hand.

The worst of all is when you love someone so much that you think you can actually BUY the perfect gift that will take the blues away and make them happy, and it never does. We are all still the same a few days after Christmas – even with our new sweaters, or running shoes, or cars. Even with this knowledge, I walk in circles in shopping malls – exhausted, full of anxiety, and knowing that what I’m searching for can’t be found.

Even here – I can say this – but I can’t give it to you. You have to give it to yourself. You have to sit with you – all of you – your strengths (which you often hide because you think it’s conceited to admit to them) and your weaknesses (which you often hide because you feel too vulnerable to admit to them).

Does it help that I tell you I am the same? I too have strengths – humor, compassion, empathy, an ability to let love replace all anger when someone is standing in front of me. I have weakness too – the default response that the holidays aren’t that important when in reality they just bring up a longing in me that I can’t name and I can’t satisfy, so I ignore it with my “bah humbugish” sort of comments,. I don’t sit in stillness enough in order to be more aware of what I’m saying out loud to those in front of me – this causes me to harm others on a semi-daily basis. I’m on the internet way too much – so much so – that it’s become very difficult for me to read more than a few paragraph of anything in one sitting. And my worst fault – I actually like the darkness – I’m not sure what draws me to it, but without it I don’t feel whole, and I don’t believe I will experience the light in the same way unless I embrace it.

There you have it – at least a version I think you can stomach – I could go on and on and on. But you get the gist – right? I’m a struggling human being. I struggle to be spiritually fit enough to be in the moment so I don’t miss the joy, and when the moments aren’t joyful, to know the difficulty always passes.

With all of this – I think I’m lovable. You too are lovable!! I swear you are!! Believe it!! Love yourself so you will be ready for others to love you too. Don’t be afraid of your weakness, and for goodness sakes, don’t be afraid of your strengths.


The spiritual practice of letting go. . .yes even with our children

My daughter isn’t dead. . .I simply took her to college. She is a mere 163 miles away from home, but the emptiness in my heart feels like a faint shadow of grief and loss. While in her dorm room, meeting some of her future friends, and looking at the upcoming calendar of events, I was almost jealous. That was a feeling I hadn’t expected. She was truly starting a new adventure, turning the pages of life. She really has it all right now. . . or at least everything she needs to be successful.

Unfortunately life isn’t as easy as all of these clichés. I’m a therapist. I make my living by helping patients let go of things. I have helped hundreds of parents peel their fingers off of their children. I am now willing my own fingers out of their tight grasp.

The spiritual practice of non-attachment can be found in most spiritual practices. In Buddhism it really is the practice – letting go and creating space is Buddhism in a nutshell. The Bible teaches that God cares for us, so we should have faith and not attach ourselves to worry. Reading about non-attachment, having faith, or letting go (whatever you prefer to call it), is easy and causes most of us to go, “Ah-ha – that’s what I need to do to attain peace – that’s it!” Unfortunately reading it isn’t doing it – it isn’t practicing it.

Practicing it is: not calling my daughter every minute to make sure she is doing okay. Practicing it is: feeling my own worry and anxiety escalate and not reacting to it by calling her. Practicing it is: noticing my feelings and realizing they are simply feelings – not at all logical, sound facts. Telling my children how worried I am only transfers my sadness, worry, and faithlessness to them. It teaches them that everything is scary and being in touch with mom all the time is how I feel safe, secure, and protected. What kind of life would that be?

I want to give my children wings – not anchors. Often when parenting according
to my feelings – my actions are only making me feel better, but aren’t’ necessarily
helping my children become self-sufficient, confident adults. In other words, when
my teen begins growing up and having more responsibility like driving, I need to process my feelings without reacting to them. Worry can feel so intense that it feels my heart is going to leap out of my chest unless I completely control the situation and keep my child alive. I tell them to report in each time they arrive alive. The message is: driving is dangerous and scary and something bad could happen at any time. This message increases their own fear and anxiety, and inhibits their own sense of freedom.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have very serious conversations with my child about driving or going to college. The conversations were about letting someone know where you are at all times. The college talk was about making smart decisions, staying in your right mind (i.e. not getting so drunk that someone else is forced to make decisions for you).

Having this talk made me feel better, but I’m not sure it really mattered. So far my children are following these directions. They aren’t making good choices because of one conversation we had; they are making smart choices because I helped them sit through fears and disappointment and scary situations. I have not always done this, but my intentions were there. I can’t protect them and I never could. Or at least I couldn’t protect them without completely controlling them and breaking their individual spirits and integrity. Let’s be honest, even then I really can’t completely protect anything or anyone. I did attempt to keep them safe until they were able to do this on their own.

It’s been a month now that I haven’t seen my daughter. I sat through the brutal feelings of grief when my daughter left. The first few weeks were an incredibly difficult transition for all involved. There were times I felt I needed to visit, times I felt I needed to cry, times I felt I needed to let her come home. Instead I just let the feelings come and go, asked for help from my own mentors, and texted things like, “I know this is difficult, but what you are describing to me simply sounds like homesickness. It won’t last – you are bigger than these feelings!” And then I would turn to my husband and cry. Reacting to my feelings would have been disastrous! My daughter loves school now, and she is not merely surviving, she is thriving. She was in NYC last week marching for climate change with 4 HUNDRED THOUSAND people! My breath continues to catch when I think of that, but then love takes over and I realize all is well. Life comes at us with all its intensity and mystery. If I practice not getting attached to feelings enough that they control my actions, I can often find some peace in most outcomes.



Happy Hallmark Holiday – Uh – I mean Happy Mother’s Day!

The best mother’s are the ones who don’t make their children feel guilty about Mother’s Day!

The old days are gone when I had to feign sleep so my kids could surprise me with breakfast in bed.  The joy on their faces – the pride in their smiles – that was the real gift – the breakfast was simply a symbol.  It was about them – not me! Now my girls are teens, and I awake and enjoy the solitude of a Sunday like many others – dishes in the sink, a ton to be done around the house,  an aging me who has to force myself into the sunshine to exercise, kids and husband who will sleep until 10 or 11, and no expectations for the day.  I don’t expect my girls to understand what it’s like to be a mother, and I don’t expect them to make me into some stupid super hero from which they expect perfection. That would be just too much for me, and a big disappointment for them.

I loved my mom; this is the second May she’s been gone. I don’t remember her ever making me feel guilty about not doing much on this holiday.  Maybe that is because we didn’t need this day to make our relationship feel special or complete.  Some days our relationship simply wasn’t special or complete. If your mom lives long enough, my guess is that there are a lot of days, months or years, when that relationship is less than beautiful.  Moms are human beings; they all make mistakes.

I often wonder about the saying, “Honor thy Mother.”  What if your mom isn’t honorable? What if your mom is selfish or mean or God forbid thinks of herself before her children.  I’ve been mean and selfish and self-centered, AND I’m a mom.  I don’t always put my children first. I don’t live my life for them.  I think that would make me really miserable, and then I’d resent them, and be a terrible mom!  I hope I teach my children that it’s okay to be mean and selfish and self-centered sometimes. Even if it isn’t okay – you will still be mean, and selfish and self-centered sometimes. Just love yourself anyway! I want them to know it is okay to figure out who they are and be true to that even if others (especially mom) doesn’t agree with them. I want them to know we can argue passionately about these very important things and at the end of the day still love each other. Mostly I want them to know it’s okay to take care of their own needs before others.  Women have been told to take care of everyone and everything except themselves – I want to stop that madness! Put the oxygen on yourself first, then help others with their oxygen.

I often see people telling children, “well she is your mother.” Do you really want your children to love someone unconditionally and be bullied into some obligatory relationship? I do not want that. I see it so often when people are taking care of aging parents.  They feel they can’t complain or be angry.  Taking care of the dying SUCKS!! It only doesn’t suck if you are mentally incapable of  feeling authentic feelings. And then it sucks in other ways and for those who have to deal with your misdirected anger.  Usually those folks project their anger onto others: they get angry at siblings who can’t help as much or their own children whose needs can’t possibly be met while caring for the dying.  When in truth – we are angry at our dying mom.  And that is okay.  I was angry. . .and I cared for her anyway.  But I also asked for help, and I got help. I wasn’t only angry and it wasn’t always sucky, it was the full catastrophe. It was love, and hate, and awe, and fear, and compassion.

Love is not perfect – not even the love of a mother. . . or the love of a daughter.  The best thing my mom gave me was the ability to know that I didn’t have to be perfect.  That I could disappoint her and she me, and we still loved.  When I die – I don’t want my girls putting my face up on social medai asking the world to bow down to their perfect, holy mother.  Jeez – that would be so gross!  I want them to say something like, “My mom taught me it was okay to say Fu#k to people we love.  Because if they love us back – they will get over it!”

My daughter posted this on my Facebook wall. Enjoy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/07/thank-you-mom-not-what-you-were-expecting_n_5254550.html

Happy May 11th! Enjoy!


Death and Taxes

I wrote this entry a year ago.  I wanted to write another for today, but I thought instead, I’l just repost.  Writing is a wonderful way to chronicle the feelings of our past; we can relive them. Writing keeps our memories alive.  I continue to change and grow through this loss – through this grief.  I continue to live in the “now,” and try to live fully by not fearing sickness and death.  It’s a journey – one in which I will certainly continue experiencing loss. But for today – I repost the past, and hold in my heart my sister, Terrie. Caring for Terrie changed my life drastically.  Dang I miss her!


Today is April 15th – Tax Day.  It is also the day my only sister died at age 53 after battling Leukemia for a year; a battle she was absolutely positive she was going to win! The entire time I wanted to shake her and tell her to realize she may die, that she should take this seriously, that she should follow instructions. I would call people crying hysterically – I was so afraid she was going to die.  The wise friends would respond,”Of course she is going to die; we are all going to die.”

What good would it have done to have made her talk to me about dying, about her death, about the arrangements.  Sometimes I thought she was amazingly optimistic, and at other times I thought she was purely delusional. I was her caretaker, I got so close to her, so close that I started referring to her as “we” when saying things like, “we really did great today in physical therapy,” or “we need to eat more to gain our strength!” It became a joke between us; an inside joke.

It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done – caring for my sister day in and a day out during her illness  I was there to talk with the docs, to fill in the family, I was there to wipe her nose and her butt, I was there to hold her hand while she was in a coma, and to watch her eyes open when she regained consciousness.  I had a role, a job, a place in life. It was exhausting and difficult, and sorrowful, and yet it could be the most blissful experience as well.  Feeling just for one moment that I had comforted, made the right medical decision, impressed someone with my medical vocabulary (the docs would say, “Do you work in the medical field?” I would respond, “No, but I’m here everyday!”

One day when Terrie was recently out of a coma, she asked me, What time is it?”  I said, ” 3 o’clock.” She exclaimed, “In the morning?” I said, “No silly, in the afternoon.” This was the same day it took me 20 minutes to get her situated in bed after sitting up for a few brief moments.  At one point I was huffing and puffing and bent down very close to her face and she looked into my eyes and said, “Please don’t leave. You being here makes it bearable.” I don’t know if I ever told anyone she said that. . . until now. When friends and family and loved ones would tell me I had to back off and take care of myself and get some rest – I could see Terrie’s beautiful blue eyes staring at me and saying, “You make it bearable.”

It’s been 3 years, and my problem is I still have expectations of how it should or shouldn’t feel. I realized today how tired I am and how today – the anniversary day – brings back that feeling of walking through cotton wool.  I can’t remember words as I am in mid-sentence.  I read a text but forget to ever respond to it. I forget to pay bills. I sometimes forget what year it is. I am stuck in 2010 – I write this year more often than not on checks, etc. I think the phrase should be “grief induced ADD.”

And today there were bombs in Boston. What right do I have to be sad? She was 53. It was Leukemia. There are worse things. And this – this comparing – this ability to put things (pain, death, loss, terror) into compartments as if they are knick knacks in a shadow box – is how I survive. I know that it is okay to be sad today, but I can’t just be sad. I have to get up and go to work and act, and wonder what it would have been like to just stay home, to just be sad, to not have to make it bearable for anyone anymore. To just let go, just fall apart.

I wanted to write something here today, but instead I was falling asleep in the living room when I forced myself to grab the computer and write.  I force myself to write as if writing this is so damned important. As if writing makes my feelings real or valid or . . .heard.  You see I only let myself cry silently tucked away – not in front of the kids or my husband or friends – but just tucked away. As if my grief would be unbearable to you.

Today – I googled my dad’s name because I forgot his death date.  What appeared were the listings of the obituaries from my mom (78), October 17, 2012, my brother (56), January 18, 2012, my sister (53), April 15, 2010, and finally my dad, April 24, 2007.

I still have a brother – he is the oldest – I am the youngest, we are close even though we live 2000 miles apart.  I emailed him today, “Thinking of you today. . .tax day and all.  Peace.”  He knows what I mean. There are so many songs, and jokes, and history that I want to pick up the phone to ask my sister.  And what will I do when the next death comes? We are all going to die, but God I could use a break from the complete exhaustion that grief brings to me.  I’ve tried to act, and go on, and run, and work, but still the grief exhausts me. The grief isolates me. Going to events with lots of happy people just seems like it would zap any energy I may have right from me.  Each decision to go to a social event or visit a friend is weighed in a meticulous way that once upon a time wouldn’t have been a second thought. Grief is heavy.

So I write, and writing brings me acceptance. Writing makes the comparisons and fitting into compartments sound useless.  Writing seems to be a comfort, it seems to make this bearable. I read the obituaries that popped up – it was a lot to read. It is a lot of grief. I cried, and then I wrote, and now I will sleep.  My taxes are paid, and tomorrow I go to work, and maybe even run or cook a meal. I don’t know what is to come – that is good – and terrifying.



Beauty from suffering


There was a time when I actually wondered how my kids would have depth if they didn’t suffer like I did as a child. I never, ever, ever, ever wanted them to have to experience the things I did, but I did want them to have depth. I now know that suffering comes in all shapes and sizes, and no one escapes without it. And it’s beautiful. If we let go. A doctor once told me, “Parents need to stand far enough away so that when the child crashes, the parent isn’t injured from the shrapnel, but close enough to help them manage the wounds after the crash.”

My oldest daughter turned 18 today.  I’m not the mom who cries over these milestones; I delight in them. I have never felt sad about my kids growing out of their newborn clothing, starting to walk, beginning school, getting on the bus, or learning to drive. I watched with amazement as they navigated each phase with all the falls and bruises that come with growing up. I felt like a pretty good mom most of the time. Not perfect, but pretty good.

It wasn’t until this first born began high school that the anxiety began. For both of us.  We hit a wall. For all of the angst that starting high school can bring – add a few significant deaths,  a mom who had a tragic adolescence, and you have a recipe for anxiety. I watched my daughter suffer, and my own suffering got in the way of helping her.  It was gut wrenching.

It was also beautiful.

We hunkered down; we stuck to it, and we struggled through.  That’s the thing – you can’t escape this – you must go through. We learned so much about perseverance, and pain, and letting go. I remember seeing it in her face, feeling it in the energy she threw off right before the anxiety and panic hit. I too would feel the tingling of the skin, the racing heart, and the hot flash of panic.  I would catastrophize: she’ll never graduate, she’ll never drive, she’ll never leave home. The worst though –  it was all somehow connected to: “What will people think of me? Ive failed as a mother!” This then led me into guilt about having it be about ME!

I can still get caught up in the sounds of others’ voices about my parenting.  The most difficult thing for a parent to do is LET GO.  Most parents can’t do it.  I didn’t want to do it. It was so uncomfortable most times. Not letting go sometimes makes parents feel better (by clinging to control we somehow ease our own anxiety),  but it teaches the child very little.

It teaches them fear mostly. Fear of making their own decisions. Fear of not pleasing their parent. Fear of something terrible happening if they make a bad decision.  Letting go allows them to work through these things while we are still close enough to bail them out if they fail.  We are close enough for them to see we love them even when we disagree with their choices.

When my child is suffering, mostly I need to let go.  When my firstborn couldn’t stop agonizing and the anxiety gripped her so tight, I had to let go.  I needed      to     create     space.  It wasn’t until I stopped feeling her feelings for her that she could work through them herself (with the help of professionals).  She got a job, was incredibly successful in school (of course that depends on how you define success), became a writer, and she drives better than I do.

She’s turned 18, and it’s beautiful.

Recently my daughter found a motto for herself: “I love you. Keep Going.” For HERSELF! She is contemplating (not rushing into) getting it tattooed on her foot in her grandmothers mother tongue – Polish. (I don’t like tattoos, but I love my daughter, and it’s not my body). She wants to get dreadlocks before heading to college in the fall, and she hopes to continue writing.  She and I both feel it is the darkness that often propels us to write. Sometimes I feel bad for the other folks reading my writing, but truthfully writing gets it out.  It’s way better than drinking, or drugs, or sex, or consumerism.  Writing grounds us in the present – by the time you read this – it is gone for me. The pain, the joy, the beauty is now here for you, but gone for me.

I’m glad I realized this because my child’s writing was indeed very dark at times.  I realized it was all in a context of her present, and by the time I read it, it was now past for her.  The beauty she found in her darkness was magnificent.  It also allowed us to find more beauty in the joy and light.  Experiencing darkness allows us  to experience the  light a bit brighter.

Below is one of my favorite poems. It was written by my daughter after experiencing one of the 4 significant deaths that happened during her adolescence. Enjoy.


Dancing With a Limp

(Title inspired by a quote from Anne Lammott)

For months, we would

lay awake,

listening for your cry.

We could not keep you warm.


As mortality grew with age,

you mourned.

Your sorrow became malignant

as you watched two of your children die.


So many funerals.


Too tired to wake up,

not exhausted enough to accept

another death.

My uncle choked on my mother’s


screaming in his sleep

as days

dwindled overhead,

threatening to be haunted by

phantom limbs of a

broken family.


My house transformed

from hospital to hospice,

from hospice to graveyard,

from graveyard to funeral home.

And we were unqualified

for all of it.


Your pictures – our new wallpaper;

our gardens – overgrown.

I do not recognize this as my home.


My father woke me

and told me you were dead.

I lulled back to sleep

and I never said goodbye.


You had fallen to your


praying in the night,

a plea to go home.

“I’m afraid,” you said.


I blessed your forehead

with Holy Water and a whisper (“I love you”),

but I have every reason to believe

that Holy Water remained

an old pill bottle of tears.


I sank into your cold, worn couch,

I watched you suffer

for weeks –

your breasts hung lifeless

above your ribs,

your clothes falling off,

two sizes too big

once you stopped eating.

You lapped morphine on your tongue

while we tried to ease your fears

with our sorrows.

We suffocated,

inhaled your dying breath.


We tried to believe in your prayers –

the muffled tongues,

the plastic rosary.

But you let go of my hand.

You forgot me.


And most days,

I forget you, too.

Unless my sister’s cry wakes me in the night,

both of us then

remembering that you finally




We stare at the dark sky,

blaspheming the goddamn God that

stole your life,

then stole the stars.

Overcast, the clouds are wilting –

a stained, leaky roof.


We are waiting for your

wrinkles to ooze through the cracks

and hold back the weather.

But you have shriveled,

now ash,

you pollute the rain that falls.

And I yell to the clouds

a drowned out goodbye.









I want to be perfect!

There – I said it! I really do want to be perfect!  Not in the Barbie Doll kind of way with the pink corvette, swimming pools, and the blonde hair. But perfect in the way I feel.  I want to be perfect in my faith. I want to trust that all will be well, and when it isn’t well, it will pass. I want to sit perfectly with my feelings until they rise to the surface and I can name them, look at them, be comfortable with them, and then let them go. Instead when feelings start rising, I get on Facebook, or pick up the phone to chat, or check the bank account balance, or begin cleaning.

Instead of being perfect, I suffer. Why do I suffer? Because I want to be perfect! I don’t want to worry about my daughter’s headache and dizziness. I don’t want to worry about my other daughter’s spending time alone in her room. I don’t want to worry about how my husband and I will find each other again when these daughters are gone in just a few short years. I want to know that God will handle this.  I want to have faith that the Universe will handle all things, and I can let go and lean in.  I know that leaning in will not cause as much pain as fighting the feelings that arise.

I want to be okay with a nightmarish past. I want to sit in the presence and know all I have is this moment. I’ve recently discovered that sometimes being present keeps me from looking at a past that needs to be looked at in order to heal. The real trick is – to look at it with all that I am now. Integrating ourselves to be fully whole and fully present is the way to peace. But therein lies the suffering. I can work to integrate wholeness in myself – the same way I sit with others so they can move to integrate wholeness. It’s a process, it isn’t at all perfect.

What choice do I have? I sit. I trust. I move forward. I keep going. I quiet my mind by focusing on the breathe, and the moments pass, the anxiety lifts. In the light – all things look different.


Daily Ground – – -Paying attention to Spring – – – February 21st

Presence and attention are the most precious gifts we can give to another.

When I did my first internship as a budding therapist in graduate school, I learned this loud and clear. I worked at a youth service bureau in a depressed area of Southeast Baltimore. Many of the families we saw were already deep into the system (DSS, CPS, Probation, DJS). I was a bit nervous and completely unsure of myself even after completing a rigorous grad program.

I thought I needed to memorize the DSM and know every intervention possible. I was worried about diagnosis, and correctly presenting cases in supervision. What I quickly learned was that so many of the people – children, adults, families, parents – sitting across from me had never been truly listened to. They needed to be heard.

There is a lot more to psychotherapy than just being with another, but it is the most important part. Id’ say it’s even the most difficult part. It’s  true of most people we encounter; we aren’t normally present to each other at all. Give someone a gift today. Make it your intention to be truly present to those you encounter – try it even with one person.


Seduced by the American Dream

I’ve recently been feeling like I’ve been seduced by the American Dream.  It’s not a bad dream really. It’s just not for me.  The other day I finally got around to cleaning my house.  I don’t get to do that very much because I work a lot trying to pay the mortgage on the house, pay the astronomical fuel bills to travel 20 miles to work from the house, and save even a little to get the kids out of the house and into college.

I was putting away the winter dishes and getting out the regular Mikasa Southwest Pattern dishes we got for our wedding.  I was onto something then. I knew I didn’t want crystal – I wanted good, cool dishes. But something happened.  I began wanting the crystal (I still don’t have it), and the winter dishes, and the manicured lawn, and the deck. I got a lot of it, except I realize now it’s not at all what I want.

I was dusting the inside of china cabinet (a second hand one like most of our furniture), and realizing the ridiculousness of having all of these stupid dishes! Talk about excess! And now I have to dust them and display them (in a second hand china cabinet)! That’s when it hit me.  This isn’t my dream. It was my sister’s dream and my mom’s dream. They are the reason I even live 20 miles outside the city.  They loved it out here. I love the city!

Many people love it out here, and that is great. . .for them.  Now my kids go to school in the city, and my husband and I both work in the city.  We all love the amenities, the independently owned chic stores and restaurants, and the diversity of the city.  We spend a lot of time there, and our poor dog spends a lot of time out here.

I’m 50. I think this all has something to do with the freedom of turning 50. Years ago I purchased things so that visitors to my home would like it.  Now I want to downsize.  I really want to simply enjoy the people I love. That is my dream.  I hate cleaning and painting and gardening. I love people. I love conversation. I love connections. I don’t even mind much of the work I do.  I need to create a new dream, and pray I live long enough to make it come true.



Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: