Finding Hope Under the Blanket

The retired man I live with walked into the den recently and said, “Ten years ago you had cancer. Now you have 3 grandchildren. It’s all going to be okay.”

I was in a dark place that day, a place I called depression. A few weeks later, my therapist called it grief.

In the last 2 years, my brother (the last of my family of origin) died, and I had 6 surgeries, most complicated by very slow healing due to immune-suppressant drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. I had reason to be in a dark place. But I didn’t label it grief until my therapist did.

There’s a difference, for me, between depression and grief. Depression feels endless and hopeless. Grief, on the other hand, is a recognition of loss, a process that I can move through. There is hope in that.

My friend, Kim, a former Hospice grief counselor, said that grief and depression can feel the same. For me, both involve emotional and physical fatigue that makes any kind of movement challenging. Inertia settles over me like a blanket and I become comfortable there.

I don’t drink anymore and depression kills my appetite so I don’t stress-eat. I use reading as my numbing-agent, my drug of choice.  I can tune out any feelings or circumstances if I have something to read. Inertia looks okay if I’m reading, right?

My family valued good grades and achievement and emotional control. I need to feel competent. So, in my head, my physical limitations become defects, which makes me defective, not competent. And so I am grieving the loss of my competent self.

My therapist helped me see that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t tell myself the truth.

I’ve been dealt a hand of cards that includes physical limitations, but I can find competence within those limitations. I tell myself I have strengths and talents that are still available to me, no matter how well I walk or balance on one foot. Sometimes I believe that.

I’m not sure just when the window opened on my dark place and started letting some light in. I became willing to change, to move out of the comfortable, dark place under that warm blanket of inertia into a new place of acceptance and hope. I became willing to do the hard work of growth.

Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference.

It’s rained here for a week and a half with a couple more days of showers to come. The temperature has dropped into the 50’s. A week ago, I had to stop one of my arthritis medications because of possible side effects. Between the no-medication and the weather, my whole body feels stiff and achy.

But I’m okay in that. A bit whiny at times, but not rooted in a chair with a book. In a bit, I’ll go to a recovery group at Higher Ground, the drop-in house for people who are HIV positive. This afternoon I’ll go sit with a Hospice patient for a couple of hours to give the caregiver a break. Tomorrow morning I’ll go to an AA meeting and then out to lunch with a woman I sponsor.

I’m grateful today for the energy to push through the remnants of grief and the physical challenges of the day. It helps to focus on the needs of others.

I look for balance between denial and being overwhelmed. Denial sends me back to my chair with a book. Overwhelmed takes all my energy and I care about nothing. Balance says, “Okay, today I hurt, but I can go sit in a chair and listen to others just as easily as I can take root in my lonely chair at home”.

Balance requires mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude and hard work paired with surrender to what is.

Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.

Published in: on October 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm  Comments (15)  
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It’s A New, Gadget-Filled, App-Designed World

The world keeps reminding me that I am not young. It’s not just having grey hair and 3 grandchildren. That’s about chronological age.

No, it’s realizing there are all sorts of things I don’t know about and/or don’t understand.

TIME magazine had a long article about Reddit. I read the article and I’m still not exactly sure what it does. Or is. The article said it’s mostly used by young men, teenagers or 20 somethings. I’ve never fit in those demographics. So now the question is do I care enough to investigate the website? No, not really.

I already spend an embarrassing amount of time on Facebook reading posts from HuffPost50 and HuffPostParents. The ones I agree with I share with my daughters who are actually parents of young children. Makes my advice and opinions more authoritative, I think. I wonder if they read them. I’m not going to ask.

The last time I applied for a job, the application was on paper and there were no personality tests involved. Another TIME article (yes, that’s one of my main sources of what’s new and improved in the world) described the kinds of tests people often take these days during the job application process. (here’s the link)

Examples of questions:

Would you like to be an art collector? (What does a yes OR a no mean?)

Do you find yourself getting angry easily? (How stupid or self-destructive would you have to be to answer yes?)

Do you often fantasize about being famous? (Is once a month “often”?)

Do people say you are eccentric? (At my age, I consider that a compliment.)

I took the little sample test. For spontaneity I scored a 2 (out of 8). On independence I scored 7 (out of 8). For competitiveness I scored 0 (out of 8). So would you hire me?

I think too many computer nerds have reduced too many things to algorithms. Quirks and talents matter.

On a lighter note–

Did you know that the Denver Post has a designated Pot Critic? I read about that on the front page of the NY Times Style section a while back. Back in the day (or so I hear), there was pot or no pot. Now, I guess it’s like wine or craft beer. So many varieties, so little time. Are some people weed snobs like wine snobs?

I enjoy reading about what’s going on this new, gadget-filled and app-designed world. I’m glad I can pick and choose if and when I participate.

But I still like reading books. From the library. Printed on paper and bound by a cover with a title and a picture.

Published in: on September 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm  Comments (8)  
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I forget sometimes that other people read what I write on this blog. Or maybe I underestimate the impact of my words.

My cousin lives in Minneapolis. We’re not particularly close, although we care about each other. We talk a few times a year. I talk to his mother, my aunt, more often and she keeps us up-to-date on each other.

He texted my husband recently to find out if I was okay. He and my aunt saw my last blog post about being depressed and isolated (see it here) and were worried about me.

I called him back the next day and assured him I was okay, though still somewhat depressed. I think I sounded kind of perky. I tried to. Was that dishonest? I don’t think so. I am okay and also depressed.

Or maybe my therapist is right–I’m grieving. My brother died July 12, 2013. Since he died two years ago, I’ve had one medical issue after another, barely healing from one surgery before needing the next. I told my therapist it feels like emotional PTSD. My friend, Kim, a grief counselor, tells me the symptoms of grief are the same as depression symptoms. Oh. How do I know the difference? Does it matter?

My grief is bigger than my brother dying. I miss having a body that I don’t have to think about. I miss being able to chase after my grandchildren. Adaline asked me to jump with her the other day. I told her I couldn’t really jump. “Oh, you can’t do that anymore, Amma?” she said. I wanted to cry. I was angry because I had to add jumping to my list of things I can’t do. I felt old.

I started this blog when I had one grandchild, Adaline. I wanted her to know me as a person with feelings and fears and hopes and problems. Now I have 2 more grandchildren–Maggie and Atticus. And I still write so they will have a way to know me when I’m not around anymore. I’m getting to know me better, too.

I’m sorry that I worried my aunt and my cousin. I write these posts as the spirit moves me and they reflect the moment that I’m in. Two hours after I finish, I might be far beyond those particular concerns and feelings. But my written words stay in that moment.

Each blog post is just a snapshot, a captured moment in my life.

I think I should write more on days I feel good!

Published in: on July 9, 2015 at 3:56 pm  Comments (9)  
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Innie (introvert) or Outie (extrovert)?

I watched my grandchildren playing outside the other day. We were midway through a 2-week stretch of 90-something-degree days, so their mother and I went to Toys R Us and bought 2 little plastic pools (one pink, one blue, of course) because sharing is to be avoided if possible, and a cute turtle sprinkler. We took them to my house and set them up in the backyard, the pools in the shade and the sprinkler in the middle of the yard.

Adaline is 5, an extrovert, and kind of a bossy older sister. Atticus is 3, an introvert, and a sweetie who loves his sister, but is slightly afraid of her, I think. They played together for a while, then Atticus wanted to play in his pool, alone. Adaline wanted him to play with her. This wasn’t going to end well.

She provoked him until he reacted. By that time, the pools were full of twigs and dirt that had stuck to their wet feet when they ran around the yard, so I suggested a bath and we went inside. Afterward, Atticus went in the living room and played with blocks and Adaline settled in on the den couch to talk with her mom and me.

I identify with Atticus. I’ve written before about being an introvert. I refill my spirit in solitude. I like to spend time with friends, one on one. Crowds overwhelm me. One of my daughters is an extrovert, as is her husband. Their spirits are refilled with others. They invite neighbors over for dinner and they have parties for no reason except to be with friends.

My problem, sometimes, is distinguishing between solitude (healthy) and isolation (not-so-healthy).

From a blog post by Carey Niewhof:

Solitude is good.  It recharges the soul.  It offers time for reflection, for prayer.  And even when you’re alone, if you’re experiencing solitude, you are still connected. Solitude connects you to God, to yourself, and prepares you to be connected to others.

Isolation, on the other hand, is never replenishing.  It can feel like solitude in the sense that you are alone, but isolation doesn’t connect you to anyone.  Isolation does what the word suggests – it cuts you off, from God, from others, and sometimes even from yourself.

I’ve been isolating for the last month or so. My depression has flared up due to some ongoing medical issues. I’ve had no energy and no desire to do much of anything. I put away a basket of clean clothes yesterday that sat in my bedroom for days. And that was an accomplishment. I read a lot and I watch episodes of The Good Wife from the beginning on Hulu. I’m up to where Will got shot. Depression zaps my brain of creativity and imagination. I can’t write.

I’m trying this week to push through the inertia. I met with my doctor and talked about my anti-depressant. I have a therapy appointment next week. I did some volunteer work this week. And I’m having dinner with a friend this evening.

And I finally am writing again.  While I write, I don’t feel isolated. I am connected to all of you in some spiritual way that is healing. My hope is that by continuing to share my ups and downs, I can help someone else feel less alone and isolated.

Published in: on June 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm  Comments (12)  
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Of Loneliness and Connection and Hope

A young man, 22, hanged himself from a tree behind our church the other day.

My friend, who lives across the street, woke up to police cars all down her street. When she walked to the end of her driveway, she saw him, still hanging from the tree.  He used a rope and a lawn chair. The tree was surprisingly small, but on a slight hill. One branch with a few big knots was strong enough and high enough.

They had to leave him hanging for quite a while waiting for the crime scene people. That lack of dignity and respect hurts my heart.

Our ministers and some of his friends and people from the neighborhood gathered by the tree later to honor and pray for him. Someone put a cross and some flowers on the tree.

My friend and I spent the next few days working on a fundraiser for the non-profit where she works and I’m on the Board of Directors. People host parties all over town, collect donations, and then gather at one big dessert finale with a band at the local coliseum complex.

Our non-profit provides case-management and prevention services for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Every May for the last 26 years, this Dining for Friends fundraiser has provided a big piece of the agency’s budget. The majority of the donations are $100 or less. That’s a whole lot of people who care. Still.

I watched people from all parts of town come together for this event. The mayor came and so did some of the clients. Young people came (they wear short skirts these days!) and so did some with grey hair. A lesbian couple brought their 5-year-old daughter. There were brown people and white people and people with neon hair. We had desserts donated by many fine restaurants and bakeries, more than anyone could eat, really.

I watched all these people come together to bring money and dance and smile, to celebrate and to help people they will probably never meet. My heart started to heal.

I can’t imagine the loneliness and despair that leads to suicide.

I can’t imagine the loneliness and despair of being told you are HIV positive.

I’ve seen what connection to others, concrete help with disease management, and a safe place to be honest and not hide can do for those who are HIV positive.

I know nothing about the young man who committed suicide–his problems, his life, his circumstances. Not even his name. I know he was one of God’s children who hurt too much to go on. And that is just so sad.

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 11:08 am  Comments (3)  
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In The Merry Month of May!

Does anybody besides me remember May baskets on May 1? We moved 4 times while I was in elementary school (another topic for another day), but I think this must have been when we lived in a new suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. We made “baskets” to leave on people’s front porches. I remember ringing the door bell and running, but not what was in the baskets.

This isn’t about May baskets because we don’t do those here and, really, I haven’t done them since the late 1950’s. Which explains why I don’t remember details of the custom, I guess. I just wondered if anyone else did them. And remembers more than I do.

I celebrate a lot in early May.

The retired man I live with was born on May 6. He was a premie and blames his mother’s trying to fatten him up for the number of fat cells he carries around as an adult. He sings the Beatles song “When I’m 64” (here’s a link, with pictures) a lot these days. I always say “Yes, I will and I do.”

I’ve written before about not being good at gift-buying (see here), but this time I had an idea and bought it and wrapped it and had it ready the morning of his birthday. He was totally surprised and said, “You never get me anything. This is great!” I don’t think it mattered what was in the package.

Oh. Lesson learned.

May 9 is my “AA birthday.” It’s the day I picked up a silver chip in front of a lot of people at an AA meeting. That meant I didn’t want to drink anymore. For the 28 years since then, I’ve gone to meetings and continued to learn how to “live life on life’s terms” using the 12 Steps. Look at them sometime (here’s a link).

I keep going back to meetings for several reasons. One, I have good friends there. Two, I’ve heard too many stories from people with long-term sobriety who quit going to meetings, drank again, and then had to come back and start over. I don’t want to do that. Three, it’s where I learned about how to have a personal relationship with God. Four, it’s where almost all of my wisdom about how to wear my life as a loose garment rather than a wetsuit comes from. (And all my clever expressions like that) Five, I am reminded that alcoholism is a chronic illness with no cure. Meetings are my medicine. Also, I feel an obligation to be there for the new person. On the walls of many meeting rooms is this pledge:

I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there.

And for that, I am responsible.

I thank God for the women who were there when I came. They loved me when I didn’t love myself. My home group is a Saturday morning women-only meeting. Sometimes, I think I’m the oldest woman in the room. And that’s okay. I hear young women talk about their mothers (of course!) and sometimes I wince, but mostly I’m glad I got sober when my girls were young. They like me now and want to spend time with me. They let me be alone with their kids. Sober, I’m kind of fun!

May 11 is the anniversary of the day the retired man I live with and I got married. We were 22 and 23 on that sunny May day and didn’t have much of anything except college degrees. The air conditioning wasn’t working at the reception site so my long hair got all big and frizzy. My dress had long satin sleeves and Mike had long sleeves under his tux jacket and we were really hot so we left pretty quickly. His used car broke down right before the wedding so my parents let us go on our honeymoon in their station wagon with wood on the sides. And got his car fixed for us for our wedding present.

We’ve been through a lot in the last almost-41 years. We came close to splitting up a couple of time, but never did. We’re both convinced God wants us to be together. There’s really no other explanation.

I still love him and still think he’s the best-looking man in any room. He makes me laugh and he takes unselfish care of me when I have surgery. He tells people I’m mean as snake and I call him Old Man when he drives. We’re both introverts (that helps) and we live a pretty quiet life. We’re proud of the family we’ve created and are thankful our daughters still like to spend time with us. And now we have 3 adorable grandchildren!

I celebrated Mother’s Day a week early this year. I took both daughters and their families to the beach for a weekend. We had a perfect Saturday playing on the beach and eating and talking. I told them they could have Mother’s Day with their own families this year. I know they love me.

I know they love me, the retired man I live with, my daughters, their husbands (I’m an awesome mother-in-law!) and Adaline, Maggie, and Atticus, my grandchildren. How grateful I am to be able to say that.



Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Bring It On! Here I Am. Let It Be. I Accept!

While I was procrastinating this morning about writing a blog post, I called one of my grown daughters. I thought I accepted a decision she and her husband made last week. I listened to myself, once again, begin to manipulate her into changing her mind.

I tried to stop.

Eventually I did.

I’m not proud of myself.

And she didn’t change her mind.

After that phone call, I got down to business. I looked back through some quotes/ideas I saved for non-inspired writing mornings. I found one after another about “acceptance.”

Halfway through copying and pasting them into this post, I made the connection between all these quotes and my earlier conversation with my daughter.


Guess I’m the one who needs these. How humbling.

I thought I was doing this for you!

My friend, Lisa, picks a word for the year each January. Her word for last year was “accept”. She wrote this on her blog:

“Accept is one of those words that often gets a bad rap.  Sometimes it’s confused with giving-up.  On the contrary, accepting is about choice and power. It’s about recognizing what you can and can’t control and taking the next.right.step for yourself.

When life isn’t going as you’d prefer, accept that you can handle it.  You really can. Accept that you can simply say,”Bring it on! Here I am.  Let it be. I accept!”

One of Lisa’s heroes is Michael J Fox.  Here’s what he says about acceptance:

“I don’t look at life as a battle or as a fight. I don’t think I’m scrappy. I’m accepting. I say ‘living with’ or ‘working through’ Parkinson’s. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. I look at it like I’m a fluid that’s finding the fissures and cracks and flowing through.”

Acceptance, for me, requires a gut-level faith that something bigger than me is watching over this world and that it all makes sense on some level above my pay-grade.

The Serenity Prayer


Grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.


This next one is a challenge!

The Welcoming Prayer

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.


(For an explanation and some instruction in using The Welcoming Prayer, click here.)

Sometimes I forget that things can get better. I need to remember hope can be part of acceptance.

“Grounded hope is hope with acceptance. Acceptance is a tricky concept. Accepting your circumstances can sometimes be perceived as though you have resigned to your situation. Some see it as giving up. Submission. But on the contrary; acceptance is an active and dynamic process.

Acceptance is about moving forward despite your circumstances. It is moving forward and bringing your circumstances along with you. When your hope is grounded by accepting your reality, then you are able to transcend your past and begin to build your future…Pairing acceptance with hope…frees you to move forward through your situation and to a point where true healing can begin.”  (Danny Burgess, Ph.D.)

“Instead of making the world around us or our own selves into the image of what we think is good, we enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms (my italics).  We embrace what is given to us–people, spouse, children, forests, weather, city–just as they are given to us, and sit and stare, look and listen until we begin to see and hear the God-dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given, with what God is doing.”  (Eugene H. Peterson)

We enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms.”

You mean this process is never going to end?

I’m never going to get it once and for all?


So, to my daughter–I’m sorry I pressured you again. It wasn’t fair and I will now re-read all these quotes on acceptance and hope that they will come to mind the next time I need them.

PS: Just as I finished this, hours after our conversation, my daughter called to say she and her husband changed their minds about doing what I hoped they would do. (But not because of anything I said.)

My God has a sense of humor!

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 4:44 pm  Comments (9)  
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Give Up or Surrender?

I just about ran out of pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

I’ve had 6 surgeries in the last year and a half, some bigger than others, but all required some rest and recovery time.  My muscles atrophied from all the sitting.  It’s harder for me to move around easily. Then I took a trip and came home worn out and sick with bronchitis.

After a long day of consciously feeling the fear of not getting better and staying weak and fragile, I realized I had a choice. I could give up or I could surrender to reality and begin the work to get better. Giving up looked easier.

Giving up means admitting defeat. It’s saying, “I have lost, there’s no sense in trying anymore.” Surrender means stopping the fight against forces you cannot control. Surrender allows you to reserve your energy for later. It’s the process of letting go. It does not mean giving up. (Teresa Bruni)

I surrendered. I asked–well, begged–God to help me find my pluck and gumption and grit again.

The difference between surrender and giving up is the difference between suffering (giving up) and being at peace (surrender). It is the difference between being lost and finding your way.  (Tim Custis)

I remembered what I hear in 12-step meetings:  Do the next right thing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And from Anne Lamott:  Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

Giving up is resistance to what is. Surrender is acceptance of what is. Giving up says “No” to life (you curl up in a ball on the bed). Surrender says “Yes” to life (you hold your arms wide open ready to receive). Giving up moves you away from God. Surrender moves you closer to God.  (Tim Custis)

I exercise in the pool again. I ride the exercise bike in the basement. I lead with my weaker leg when I go up the stairs from the basement. I bought some new shoes (Hey, girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do) that work with my new orthotics so I can walk outside.

I’m not angry at God anymore. I had to feel the anger and tell God I was angry before I could let go of it.

There is no hope in giving up. It’s a dark, miserable place to be.

God and I are buddies again.

I have hope again.

And pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

Thank God.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm  Comments (15)  
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Girls Gone Wild (Not)

I went to Florida on spring break.

I didn’t take a bikini (the universe says thank you) and I didn’t drink any alcohol.

I had a blast.

My daughter invited me to go to with her and my granddaughter to visit her husband’s aunt in Vero Beach. There were a lot of baby boomers everywhere and no college kids anywhere.  I don’t think I’ve ever been around so many people my age and older all at the same time. It was a little weird. There were a few other adult children and grandchildren, but mostly a lot of grey hair, crop pants and loose linen shirts.

I’d never been to Florida, except for Disney World years ago with our kids.  It’s a beautiful place with wide, smooth roads (no potholes) and incredibly lush vegetation. It was lovely to sit on a porch and eat lunch looking over the ocean.

We were in a retirement area for people who could afford second homes for the winter. The houses are built of concrete blocks covered with stucco. We stayed in a comfortable home with a concrete roof and a pool. It’s an easy way to live.

I flew back by myself from Orlando. When I checked my bag curbside I asked for a wheelchair because the Orlando airport is BIG.  There was a double row of chairs right by the door. I’ve never seen that at other airports. When I got to security, the agents kept repeating, “If you have a knee, hip, or other metal part, go in that line (for the whole-body scanner), otherwise come through the metal detector.” They knew we older folks were coming. Again, kinda weird.

The writer David Mason says, “TraveI is an opening to life, a tool for seeing what’s really there, for experiencing the world.” He says it’s “like diving into the sea. You are swimming in it, finding your way in the moment.” Travel helps me see “what’s really there” at home, too.

I missed the diversity and grit of home.  I missed being around lots of different kinds and ages of people. I missed having to dodge the bumpy parts of roads I know well. I missed the unpredictable North Carolina weather. I missed the beginning of the dogwoods and azaleas blooming.

I don’t think I’m a Florida kind of person.

Published in: on April 7, 2015 at 1:28 pm  Comments (5)  
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My friend, Mark Cassity, is a good man who should share his writing more. He wrote this for the Triad Health Project (THP link) newsletter. He is the Director of Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.And, yes, he said I could put this on my blog.

Years ago, we were minding my neighbor’s dog, Homer, when he had what amounted to a stroke during the night. Homer was about 140 years old so no big surprises, and I carried him out to the yard so he could use the facilities before I took him to the vet. He made no complaint. He didn’t show signs of pain or even surprise; he simply stumbled about in ever-tightening circles, diving his head under one leg and then falling over before I would right him and he could try it again. Homer did not cry out that anything had gone terribly wrong with the world but rather simply carried on with what the world gave him that day. His eyes suggested, I suppose this is what today is like. At least every time I fall over I get to see the sky. And the grass smells so sweet. It was one of the noblest things I’ve ever seen.

Homer held up to me the times I’ve caught the flu or my car wouldn’t start or I got a crick in my neck or bleach spilled onto my favorite sweater and I’ve wanted the world to stop. I somehow think this just isn’t right, it’s not correct, something must be done to set the universe back in proper order because this-won’t-do! With Homer’s help, I hear God reminding me that nothing’s gone wrong in the least. Tuck and roll. Why not smell the good grass I made for you? What if you needed help to use the facilities one day? Growing old, getting sick, these are merely parts of life, too; and when you finally fall down, perhaps you will notice the sky like you used to. Perhaps someone will come by and pick you up and carry you home.

Published in: on March 17, 2015 at 12:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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