Better Because of You … and … my 20 plus 2 years with FCSS!

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

I was scheduled to receive my 20 year long service recognition award at an agency function on Saturday, January 12 … but … because I won’t be at the gathering, I had arranged for my colleagues to accept it on my behalf.  They agreed to record the moment, so that I too, could listen to my “acceptance speech”. The whole idea made my heart smile.  Unbeknownst to me, however, I learned plans had changed, and it was supposed to be presented to me during our monthly staff meeting instead. And so, being one who can typically fly by the seat of my pants, I agreed to accept the award, at the meeting, with about 10 minutes advance notice.

Well … it had been quite an unusual staff meeting – leading to all kinds of unexpected moments.  I was still feeling a bit rattled, and so, when it came time for me to offer a few words, I kept it really short and simple. I remember briefly acknowledging my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to my colleagues – with some slightly gushing but entirely genuine generalities.  In retrospect, I regret that I hurried my words … and … I recognize that I didn’t do justice to the fullest expression that actually fills my heart space when I looks back over my time with Barons-Eureka-Warner Family and Community Support Services [FCSS].

Now that I’ve had more time to gather myself and collect my thoughts, I would like to use this “Better Because of You” space to more deeply honor the folks that have framed my remarkable two decades as an employee of FCSS.  Because, after all, it is not the walls that define one’s experience in a workplace, but the people within them. Each and every one of them. And, believe it or not, our agency has not seen much staff turnover over the past 20 years. I wish I had more photos right now … so I could picture everyone, but unfortunately, I do not.

Staff Retreat January 2017

 

Christmas Party …. 2014

I remember my interview, way back in 1993, for one of the six “Parent Programmer” contract positions that were being filled. We would be allotted 20 hours/month to support families in our communities … with the most noble job on the planet … parenting. I was up against one other applicant … a woman who had some shiny credentials and fancy letters behind her name.  I had neither of those.  And then, during the interview, when they asked something about my own childhood, my ‘got-it-all together‘ demeanor was unbecomingly betrayed by some tender tears trickling down down my cheeks.  Argh. There I was, trying to be my best professional self … trying to put my best face forward … and … my cheeks were wet with tears. Who cries in a job interview?? Double argh!  I am usually really good at managing, hiding my emotions.

No one was more surprised than me when I got the call to say I got the job!  They did suggest … however … that I might also want to get some counseling to help me work through my own family of origin stuff.  Fair enough. And, that framed my beginning with an agency that clearly looked beyond academic credentials.  I must humbly concede, however, that I never hastily heeded their sage suggestion that I seek some support.  Instead, I eagerly and enthusiastically immersed myself in my brand new responsibilities as a ‘parent programmer’!

I loved, loved, loved my work for a couple of years.  But then … as my unhealed wounds from the past caught up with me, I ran into some significant challenges with raising my own three daughters. It got to the point where I no longer felt credible enough to presume I had any business trying to help others with their parenting concerns. And so … I quit my job.  And, I recognized that I best seek out that counseling that my employers had so earnestly recommended when they hired me.  And so, I did.

The irony of it all was that my childhood dream was to become a counselor . But … there I was, calling a counselor instead of being one. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  And so … a couple of years of healing later, when an opening emerged in the Parenting Program  I initially resisted applying for it.  But then, I received an unexpected call from my prior supervisor … asking me if I was going to apply.  I was convinced that my own personal failings  experiences in the parenting trenches would prevent other parents from respecting anything I had to offer in that professional role … but she indicated that management was hoping to see my application in the pile.

Encouraged by their faith in me, I submitted my resume and started back with FCSS in September of 1997. And … guess what?  It turns out that parents find you even MORE credible when you can relate to their stumbles and struggles. It turns out, you are even more approachable and believable when you have endured some humbling parenting moments yourself.  Yes, it turns out that parents who are looking for support don’t feel as comfortable with professionals whose parenting journey sparkles with too much perfection.

And so … was the second beginning of my employment with FCSS … and … the 20 consecutive years that preceded the presentation of my long service award. There have been both blessings to behold and challenges to be championed over my time with FCSS.  In the early years, I was so timid and shy that I blushed every time I spoke up in a meeting … which was rare (the speaking – not the blushing!).  I am such an introvert and really need time to process things before I speak. And so, by the time I had integrated the conversation and knew what I wanted to say … the discussion had already moved on.  So I often said nothing.  These days, I am more likely to interrupt and ask if we can circle back to the prior conversation … so I can add my two cents.  I think my colleagues are getting used to that  … :-).

I can honestly say that I am so much better, both personally and professionally, because of my time with FCSS.  It really grew me as a person.  I found a deeper sense of faith in myself. I have discovered that my heart can be trusted and my instincts are reliable. I have learned to claim my voice and to stand behind my convictions.  I’ve always had a compassionate heart … but as Joan Halifax has so eloquently stated … in order to ultimately serve the greatest good …. we need to approach our experiences with a “soft front” and a “strong back”.  Yes. I’ve learned that well.

I don’t talk about it much, but I experienced some of the most critically challenging times in my life while working with FCSS.  At the worst point, about 15 years ago, I was being shunned in my multi-disciplinary workplace … by the bulk of my colleagues … who believed some misinformation circulating about me.  I opted to take the high road.  I thought it best to not get into the muck with the perpetrator (another colleague) by defending myself against such twisted ‘truths’.  I hoped my actions would outweigh her words.  But … as the gossip increasingly fueled my ostracization, it got to the point where I could barely force myself through the doors to face the hostility I felt in their scathing but silent condemnation.

And , I just kept turning the other cheek … thinking that  response was the most noble thing to do. I told myself that she was wounded … and … reminded myself that “hurt people hurt people”.  And while I still believe that to be true, I was fooling myself to think it was more spiritually enlightened to simply let it continue to happen. I didn’t realize, at the time, that despite one’s understanding of why people might be behaving badly … it is not kind nor altruistic to continue to allow them to do so.

I needed to find my back bone. I was being bullied and no one was coming to save me.  Not even me. No. With my silent stoicism, I was actually enabling someone to hurt me.

When I received a disdainful email from said ‘hurt person’ in another blatant effort to further diminish me … I couldn’t take the seemingly ‘high road’ anymore.  I found my back bone.  And … as I learned to stand strong in my own integrity, things eventually corrected themselves.  And my colleague finally found herself being held accountable for her words, actions and deeds.  And then, one day, she was gone.

I vowed to myself, at that time, that I would never let that happen again … to me or anyone else. I vowed that when I saw injustice or harm being perpetrated upon another … I would not step over it.  I would speak up and stand up … not with any intention to cause harm to them, but with the intention to help the situation.

 

And for the better part of my years with FCSS, we were blessed with an Executive Director who was an exceptional visionary.  He stretched us to places we never would have gone without his leadership. We became a cutting edge agency … partnering with the highly-esteemed leaders of the Neuroscience department of the University of LethbridgeBryan Kolb and Robbin Gibb became part of our FCSS family. Under Greg’s initiative, we were also gleaning new direction by rubbing shoulders with incomparable thinkers like Bruce Perry. Collectively, their bodies of work and expertise informed and underpinned our practices as we sought to support individuals and families in our communities. Greg was also inspired by the renowned Mary Gordon and her foundational work with Roots of Empathy and Parent Link Centres.  Mary came to Alberta and helped FCSS introduce these remarkable supports so that children could to get off to the very best start in their lives. Oh my … I can’t begin to list it all … but Greg’s legacy is long and lives on in the hearts and souls of so many who were lucky enough to be touched by his vision.

And, his staff rose to the occasion.  He told me once, he hired people based upon their attitudes not their credentials.  Some might scoff at that … but … he indicated that you can teach people skills, but you can’t transform their hearts as easily. I agree with him.  And … the people he chose to fill positions within FCSS … aka my colleagues … are people of incredible heart and unparalleled zeal and exceptional passion. Together we braved all the unknown territory our Director invited us to venture towards. And we formed an incredibly tight family that was often the expressed envy of other agencies and organizations.  Staff morale was high and so was staff retention.  We felt valued and acknowledged and appreciated … not simply seen as a means to an end … but rather he regarded his staff as exemplary catalysts creating a better and brighter future for those we sought to serve. And, we didn’t want to let him down. And, we never left a meeting without him sincerely acknowledging our efforts with a “thank you for all that you do”.

Thank you Greg Pratt, for your insight and intention.  Thank you for creating a work space that no one wanted to leave.  May you rest in peace.

Almost 15 years ago, Greg allowed me to reduce my hours so I could resurrect my dreams and go back to school.  He certainly had no obligation to grant my request. I will never forget him compassionately responding, “Karen, I would never want to stand in the way of anyone’s dreams”. People first.

And ultimately, I got the credentials that allowed me to land my dream job.  And … as it happened, I was even able to remain employed at FCSS while doing it. I surrendered my duties and responsibilities within the Parenting Program and claimed a space that opened up within the Counselling Program.  It has been the most rewarding time of my life.  So much so … that … I am in violation of the number of  vacation days I am allowed to accrue.  True story.  I was informed that I need to use up my vacation time in order to be in compliance with policy.

But, even the dreamiest part of my job has not been without challenges … and/or … opportunities to keep a soft heart and exercise a strong back.  Once again, about five years ago, FCSS was the backdrop to another of the most challenging times in my life. And, even when I was threatened with a law suit … a potential end my dream career … I was committed to standing strong.  I had taken heartfelt exception to what I was seeing and simply could not stand idly by and watch vulnerable people get harmed … however unwittingly by their well-intended but oblivious and cavalier perpetrator. I had to take the risk. Strong back, soft front. Fortunately … the individual opted to retire.

And, I know I could not have made it through those challenging times, were it not for the support and encouragement I received from my management team and my cherished counseling colleagues at FCSS. Yes. Management stood behind my decision and that helped fortify my resolve. I owe tremendous thanks to them for having my back … on that occasion and many others.  I also applaud them for gently helping me to shift my gaze, if and when, I needed correction.  The blessings of solid, predictable management over the past 20 years cannot be understated.

And, my counseling colleagues at FCSS have become my safe haven. They are among the few people in the world who I invite into the most tender parts of my heart space. And, they have handled the most fragile parts of my soul with such impeccably compassionate understanding.  I have grown immeasurably because of the support of these folks.

And, because we work in different departments and different communities at FCSS, I don’t see everyone all the time … but I hold the deepest regard for each of the staff at our agency.  And that doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye on things. We don’t. And we’ve had some prickly times as a result. But, as I shared with someone recently, “From where I am looking, its not the bumps that ultimately define us, but rather, it’s how we decide to move through them.”  And, it cannot be argued that despite any differences we may hold, we share an unfailing commitment to serve the constituents of our communities … to the very best of our capacities. People first.

I must also take this moment to pay due respect to our administrative staff.  Your impeccable skills and unfailing expertise provide such a secure foundation upon which the rest of us have come to depend.  Your energy, effort, enthusiasm, encouragement and support are second to none.  Thank you for holding us together with such dignity and grace … despite our messed up time sheets (among other things!)

And, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the Boards of Directors we have seen over the years.  Their dedication to keeping FCSS funded and recognized in our communities has been essential.  We have been led by some incredibly inspiring individuals. Thank you for spearheading our services and gifting us with the best supports you could provide.

And, as I write this, I am leaving for the weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday … which is officially in a few weeks.  And … as I am honored for my 20 years of commitment within FCSS, it strikes me that I have spent a full ONE THIRD of my life working within this agency. And, I am so proud of who we have been and who we have been invited to become.  Strong back … soft front … people first.

At our last staff meeting, we were invited to reflect upon our journeys as employees of FCSS.  I, once again, found unexpected tears trickling down my cheeks. I am not prone to such emotional expressions during meetings … but … in that moment, my heart was flooded with all the amazing moments and memories that I have collected over the last couple of decades. And, it is difficult to put into words … just how transformational it can be when people have believed in you and invited you to soar.  It is rare to work in a space where people have honored your presence and valued your being. My time at FCSS has been such a gift …

And … so … it is from the most humble place in my heart, I thank all of the bright and beautiful spirits that make FCSS a workplace where priority is given to the souls that we serve … not just the statistics we are required to collect. I honor you all for keeping your eyes on our mandate’s most precious commodity … it’s humanity. I applaud each of you for the tireless hours you invest into the care and support of those who might have minimal resources and/or may be struggling in isolation to find their way.  I admire your capacity to keep your own hearts soft … despite many invitations for them to get tough.  I respect your courage to stand in the truth or your own beings. I adore your authenticity and sincerity and genuineness of spirit.  I love being a part of this impeccable group. I am proud of who we represent and what we are capable of creating when we put our hearts and spirits together in the name of FCSS.

Thank you … truly … deeply … immeasurably … for shaping my days with this agency.  I am so much better because of you … and my twenty plus two years with FCSS.

Yes … this is what I wished I would have said at our staff meeting  … Karen

 

 

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Better Because of Our 13 Days …

Geraldine Fay Lindquist Johnson

She’d been in my life for 43 years.  For much longer than my own mom … who died when I was 31.  I remember when she excitedly extended her hand to show me her rings. I had travelled 1195 kilometers to visit with her and my dad. Sick. I felt entirely sick. She never said a word, but her eyes were twinkling as brightly as the diamonds perched prominently on her left ring finger. It took everything within me to bite back the tears in order to feign ample and appropriate enthusiasm. Seriously … how could they get married without even telling me??  I never asked. Some things feel better left unsaid.

And so, I always spoke of her as “my dad’s wife”. However, some 15 or 20 years (!!) later, I actually came upon the truth. She had no idea I believed they were married. It was all a complete misunderstanding. The truth was that she had been working on him relentlessly … begging for matrimony … for years!  But for reasons known only to my very stalwart father … he steadfastly refused to remarry. I could sense the pain of rejection in her heart because as she said … for a woman of her generation … it would be particularly shameful for her to die an “old maid”or “spinster”.  And so, to spare herself any public embarrassment, she adopted his last name and wore her wedding rings very proudly.  I got it. 

All she ever wanted was to be a wife and mother.  But my dad died unexpectedly without ever officially saying “I do” to her.  And, although she had also pressed me to call her “mom” … I’m not sure I much embraced her as a parental figure. I guess the whole decades long belief that they had been ‘wedded without me’ had made her his ‘wife’ in my eyes, but certainly not my ‘stepmom’. Instead, I opted to affectionately call her“Ger” instead of Gerri … and … she fondly called me “Kar” instead of Karen.

In addition to my own little family, I was all Ger had left after my dad died.  And, at 82, she was still living on her own.  We had looked into alternate spaces, but it distressed her terribly to think of leaving the home she had shared with my dad.  I had finally convinced her that she needed to wear a Life Alert because she was getting less stable on her feet and had fallen a couple of times.

Celebrating her 82nd birthday …

Ger’s health had always been tentative … and she had regularly experienced days when she was laid up … feeling “punk”.  Usually it was because she had bitten off more than she could chew … trimming branches on trees, moving furniture, shampooing the carpets etc – by herself.  Yes.  I said by herself.  When she got an idea in her head, she had no patience to wait for help to arrive.  And so, she often overdid it and paid the price.

But, the malaise that preceded her landing in ER on July 31, 2017 had persisted for nearly three weeks.  When I got stern with her – questioning her reticence to call her doctor – she admitted she was scared about what he might have to say. She had a stint put in some years ago, carried nitroglycerin in her purse and took baby aspirin regularly. Perhaps her ticker was acting up again?

It appears that she was very intuitive indeed …  something was, in fact, very wrong. 

When she got out of bed the next morning … she took a few steps and collapsed.  Thank goodness for her Life Alert button!  And so … we found ourselves in the ER … utterly dumbfounded … staring at each other … in wide-eyed disbelief. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon on that fateful Monday and the day had already taken some very unexpected and unfavorable turns. There would be tests and more tests.

And may I say that for as long as Ger has been part of my life, she has always caught me up short by hastily forging head-first into foreboding territory.  She always dives in long before I am emotionally prepared to tackle any such precarious terrain.  I am far more tentative and reflective about everything in my life.  I prefer to tip-a-toe in tentatively and get a sense of things before I move forward with unfettered conviction. But not Ger … she has always preferred to swoop into action … immediately.

It was the same when my dad died very unexpectedly during a summer BBQ on July 12, 2009.  He had just filled his plate … and enthusiastically declared “This is great!”  And then … he was gone.

Ger needed to be ‘doing’ things to help her process her grief.  I, on the other hand, needed time to simply ‘be’ with the loss before I could think about making decisions or taking actions that could not be undone.  It definitely created some emotional tension for both of us as we mourned the loss of the same man. Nothing wrong with either approach … but … this particular Monday was proving to be no different.

She needed to know, right then and there … and … did not hesitate to ask the attending ER physician just how long she could expect to live. I expected him to defer by saying it would be premature to guess until the prognosis had been officially confirmed.  But, much to my chagrin, he responded:

“Maybe two months.” 

Whoa. What??  My mind frantically raced for some way to process this blindside.  Yesterday was just a normal Sunday.  We had a conversation on the phone.  I was looking forward to having this particular Monday off work so I could nibble away at my ‘to-do’ list. And, in all honesty, I was still trying to process the death of my father-in-law (who had died just two months prior) . And his passing was fairly hot on the heels of the death of his wife … my mother-in-law (just 7 months prior to that).  We were already knee deep … maybe chin deep … into the grieving process. I instinctively resisted.

“We can’t be certain Ger.  At this point, it’s all just speculation.” 

But she was already making plans.  I respected the gravity of her situation enough to know that if this was going to be the last leg of her journey … I needed to honor her desires to do it her way.  And so, in order to keep up, I opened a new tab in my Wunderlist  App … and labeled it “Gerri”.  I started making notes as she determined, discussed and directed what she wanted taken care of before she, too, departed this earthly plane.  I left the hospital late in the evening, in utter disbelief … hoping that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better day.

On Tuesday morning, August 1st, I returned bright and early … and … Ger was still making plans. I promised to take her cat, Scamper, home to live with me. She gave me her banking pass code and asked me to update her bank book.  I’m not sure why her finances were important in THAT moment, but she needed to be sure that OAS had given her the increase she was expecting. Can do.  And … she reckoned that one of the family best take and use the expensive silky cover off her built-in vacuum hose. She’d paid a pretty penny for it … no sense leaving that gem for a renter. Okay.  And … she wondered about how she would die … would she suffer? Would she suffocate, would she choke … would her heart take her? Gulp.

I compassionately searched deeply into her eyes and asked if she was scared. She confirmed that if she let herself think about it, she felt frightened. She looked down for a moment and then pensively uttered,“What if … what if I am denied entry at the pearly gates?”

For a split second, I could feel the weight of that worry hanging heavily in her heart. And then, with her next breath she moved quickly past that uncomfortable query and determined that her electric fireplace  would look great on a particular wall in the spacious bedroom of her grand-daughter’s new house. Agreed. She was delighted that another of her grand-daughters could use the stand up freezer. Excellent. And the desks … she wanted me to have her antique desk and tea cart. For sure.  I was squirming internally as she so casually discussed such things.

I told her it felt entirely awkward, inappropriate and insensitive to be discussing the dispersal of her belongings. Some things feel better left unsaid. She assured me that it pleased her so very deeply to know that her legacy would live on in the belongings that would be enjoyed by those she loved. And, she declared that she didn’t want a funeral. Okay. She wanted us to have a nice family dinner and just talk about her instead. Fair enough.  But, I found myself offering an alternate perspective:

“Ger, let’s wait until they do more tests.  They could be mistaken.  The mass they spotted in your lung might not be fatal.”

How does one even begin to integrate such news  when the big “C” was never ever … not for one moment … a prior concern in one’s eight decades of life.  They did more tests. And more scans.  They needed to consult with the oncologist and the lung specialist.  She reminded me to take her ashes, her mother’s ashes and my dad’s ashes to a specified place. We ordered her a TV so she could keep up with The Young and the Restless.  It occurred to me that we’d need a schedule so we could take turns watering her lawn and feeding Scamper while she was in hospital.

Wednesday, August 2nd … they did a biopsy on the tumor and were going to do a brain scan when her heart acted up again.  They ended up losing her at one point. Gone. Her room was empty when I arrived to visit. After a bit of panic … they sympathetically told me that my ‘mom’ had been moved to ICU. I never corrected them. They used the paddles to revive her. It was shortly after that they got the results of the biopsy and they discovered she also had MRSA.  It’s a super bug  … an infection that is highly resistant to treatment. It seemed prudent to get the Power of Attorney signed. It was entirely surreal … and … unraveling far too quickly for me.

Thursday, August 3rd … the doc came in to confirm the diagnosis. Yes. Cancer. Stage 4.  A small cell type that spreads quickly.  They believe it started in her lung about six to 12 months prior and confirmed that it had already spread to her adrenal glands and her liver. It had also metastasized into her lymph system and likely into her bones.

No emotion or tears on her part.  Just more action. She decided to sell us her car so it wouldn’t get caught up in probate. It occurred to me that I should probably take her purse home for safekeeping.  I reckoned I should bring her slippers. She thought maybe an ice cream would taste good. Funny where the mind goes in a moment like that.

When the oncologist arrived for rounds, she asked again: “how long”?  Perhaps two months … unless it was in her brain. She slipped up and later told someone she had two weeks.  I corrected her.  No Ger … the doc said two months. She second guessed me by asking if I was sure about that. Yep. I was sure. The tests had confirmed it was not in her brain.

Hmmm. She was sure she had about two weeks. The oncologist was gentle and kind and recommended palliative care. And she started planning again.

Because of the contagious nature of MRSA, visitation was counter-indicated for many.  We had to mask-up, glove-up and gown-up completely to be in her presence.  A few of the family came to visit, but for the better part of her hospitalization … it was mostly just me and Ger.

Monday, August 7th … Myrna (Ger’s late brother’s wife) made the long trip from Saskatchewan.  I could sense Ger’s delight with her arrival. They had remained very dear friends. And, she seemed tickled with our three-way conversation.  At one point … in true “Granny style” (as my girls would fondly suggest)  Ger looked at both Myrna and I and fervently exclaimed:

” After all of this … if I don’t die … I’m going to be really pissed off!”

We all burst into laughter at the paradoxical nature of her comment.  I suggested that maybe instead of having a dinner after she passed, maybe she could join us in a family feasting when she moved into Palliative Care whereby she could “eavesdrop” on our conversation about her.  Well, she thought that would be okay … but … could we have a dinner in her honor afterwards, too?  Of course. And we’ll be sure to serve Lucy’s famous chocolate cake!  Lucy is my son-in-law’s lovely mother … and … her chocolate cake recipe has become a family favorite!

Tuesday, August 8th … we talked about the things she could do to decorate her new home in palliative and make it feel like home.  The white shag carpet.  Perhaps an armchair … if there was space? Maybe we could sneak Scamper in for a final visit?  Maybe we could smuggle in a ‘go cup’  filled with her favorite Royal Red wine … aka “Granny’s swill” ?  She hastily put the brakes on that idea.  She was entirely averse to getting evicted from palliative care before she got settled in.  We laughed … and yet … there was something sobering about the absurdity of all that we were so casually discussing.

Her decline was rapid. The very next day, she unexpectedly lost some lucidity.  She told Myrna she was quite sure she had died at 2:17pm.  And, by the following day, she was unable to speak with any comprehensive coherence. And, it was becoming more and more difficult for her to breathe.  They cancelled her transfer to palliative.

And so, true to form, even in her dying … Ger wasted no time. Once again … her pace was far too fast for me to process comfortably.   And ultimately … she was right. It wasn’t two months. It wasn’t even two weeks.  It was 13 days …

At some point during our last 13 days together, Ger told me that she came into the world alone … lived most of her life alone … and … expected to die alone.  In that moment, my heart ached for her … because in so many ways … she was right.  Her father had been murdered. Her mother could be quite abusive.  My father – her spouse – was emotionally disconnected. She had limited contact with her brother before he died young of melanoma. She had endured a whole lot of trauma and abandonment in her life. The stories she recanted broke my heart.

And … I could not deny that I, too, had contributed to her sense of loneliness. I was often too busy to make her a priority. It takes 1.5 hours round trip to get to Ger and all our family from where I live … so a quick pop-in every now and again was just not possible.  I had gone back to school as a mature student to complete my BSW as well as my MSW … and …  was also employed  as a counselor in my community along with running a small private practice of my own on the side. I have one husband, three daughters and eight grandchildren …  so … the pulls for my attention are/were persistent and plentiful. In addition to that … within the last three years … the demands on my time had become increasingly intensified as my aging and ailing in-laws health deteriorated and their medical needs and chronic crises eclipsed any predictability in our lives. I am also a landlord with four rental properties. In all honesty … I had been struggling to keep all those balls in the air and had become entirely depleted trying to do so.

That said, I did my best to ‘be there’ for Ger … but … I always knew my best wasn’t nearly as much as she wanted and/or deserved in terms of my time and attention. And, in all honesty, it troubled my heart to know I was falling short of her expectations. And so, with an ache in my heart for my inability to make the days of her life less lonely … I committed myself to being there ‘with’ her and showing up fully ‘for’ her … during her final journey home. I let her know I was “all hers” for the duration.

I spent some long days with her at the hospital. I really didn’t want her to be alone when she passed. The staff knew me as her ‘daughter’ and referred to Ger as my ‘mom’.  I never corrected any of them. Some things feel better left unsaid.  In fact, I could feel Ger’s heart swell with these new terms of reference in the space. And, in all honesty … it felt really good to me too.

As it turned out … she waited until I had gone home for the night on Saturday, August 12th. The nurse called me, just a couple of hours after I left, to say that my mom had taken her last breath while they were making their rounds and tending to her comfort.  I was surprised by how hard it hit me. I thought I was prepared …

It was to be our 40th wedding anniversary the next day. I didn’t feel like celebrating. So we didn’t. And, although it does my heart good to know that she wasn’t actually ‘alone’ when she passed because she had the nursing staff with her … it still struck me that Ger was being a bit of a ‘stinker’ for not letting me be there when she transitioned. My daughter suggested that perhaps she waited until I was gone because she, in fact, didn’t want to leave me alone when she passed. Hmmmm … I still tear up when I think of it that way.

We hired a Life Celebrant  (thank you Shelly Bassett!)  who met with us in advance to gather our recollections … and … she composed a beautiful ‘life story’ honoring Ger/Granny. Shelly orated this meaningful tribute to her as we gathered in a large circle in our back yard on a very warm, sunny day.  Our celebration was complete with all of Ger’s very favorite things … including taco in a bag!  Her grand-daughters and I wore pieces of her favorite jewellery and we toasted her with her ‘swill’ and some Japanese ‘sake’ that she had liked to share with her grandsons.  It turned into far more than just the conversation she wanted us to have about her. I recorded it … and … we have a printed copy of the ‘story’ of Ger/Granny and all she meant to us.

Ger took great pride in her home and took such impeccable care of things.  I have updated my own space with so many beautiful things of hers.  Her energy is now present in each room of my house.  By the way, I discovered a number of ‘spreaders’ in her kitchen drawers.  I took three of them home with me and passed the others on to my daughters. I figured if she had more than one, they must be good.

Well … I am not sure how I lived almost 60 years without one!   Who knew they would make such a culinary difference!   I bought new ones for all my daughters!  I even bought one for my bestie!  If you don’t own one … or … haven’t tried one … I highly implore you to allow Gerri’s legacy to touch your life too, in this small way.

As I was going through her belongings, I came across something in her most precious memorabilia. Many years ago, one of the ways I attempted to combat the commercialization of  Christmas, was to have us make homemade gifts for one another and attach a meaningful affirmation to each other. I discovered she had saved them. And  … I share one year of our affirmations of her with you here because they offer a beautiful snapshot of just who she was to all of us:

And, I absolutely sobbed when I came across one she had kept that my dad  … the man who refused to marry her … had written:

THAT she was.  My dad’s life was irrefutably better because of my step-mom. His prior lived experience had carved some pretty sharp edges into him … but she loved him unconditionally … even during the times when he could be pretty darn difficult to love. And, she cared for him tenderly and compassionately during the most fragile and unbecoming moments of his own journey with cancer.  And, she tended to him with her whole heart … and … she never failed to make him her utmost priority in life.  Ever.

And, I must also add, that Ger’s life was undeniably better because of him.  He offered her more safety and security than she had ever experienced within her family of origin. And that doesn’t mean their relationship was all roses and sunshine. No.  A union of two wounded souls cannot be without its darkness. But, in all honestly … I could see that they were unarguably, the answer to each of their prayers.

Ger and I had eight years together after my dad passed, but … I can honestly say that our last 13 days became a cherished time of deeper connection for us.  We were able to  meet each other in that sacred place beyond the accidental hurts, misunderstandings and unmet expectations that sometimes prickled between us.  And instead … we embraced a felt sense of the unconditional parts of the love that we also held for one another.

With the deepest of reverence, I came to appreciate her idiosyncratic way of being in the world … not as my dad’s wife, but as my step-mom. Yes. It was truly a blessing to be gifted with that space and time … a divinely orchestrated opportunity to ‘be’ with each other in deep, unfettered and meaningful ways.

And so Ger …  I really want to “thank you” for launching promptly into action even before they could confirm your diagnosis. Were it not for that, I would never have been so aware of all your wishes.  And, I remain committed to honoring each and every one of them … except one.

Please accept my sincerest apologies  … but I didn’t bring Scamper home with me the day you died … as I had promised.  Through an amazing turn of events, I became aware of a youngster who really, really wanted to have him.  And I suspect you will forgive me, because as I look at this picture of the two of them together, it appears to be a match made in Heaven.  That said, I am wondering … if perhaps … you somehow had a hand in orchestrating this sublime alternative for your furry feline.

And ultimately … I need you to know Ger … I have been shifted and stretched to a better version of myself as a result of our precious 13 days together.  You taught me that there is something deeply transformational about sitting with the dying. I erroneously assumed that being with you was going to be my gift to you … but … I can see now that … the gift was mine.

I feel so very blessed to have shared that sacred space with you and I remain humbled by the love and energy in our final moments together. Thank you for loving me … like every good mother would do. Always. In your own special way. And thank you for caring so deeply about me … as your only daughter.

My home is filled with reminders of you … and … I will carry so much of your spirit in my heart as I greet all the days yet to come. I hope I can bring some of your feisty energy with me into our family celebrations.  Your generous heart will be missed in more ways than you can imagine.

Thank you again Ger … I am truly so much better because of your presence in my life … and especially … because of our precious last 13 days together,  ❤ Kar ❤

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[GUEST POST]: Township Environment

We are often inspired to support those less fortunate than ourselves. This Better Because of You Tribute is dedicated to Jim and Janet Jamer for their selfless efforts to bring more hope, light and love to the incredible souls trying to thrive despite the unfathomable hardships they must endure whilst living in the townships in South Africa.

We were so sadly sobered when we saw for ourselves the plight of so much of our humanity. It has been one of our deepest pleasures to provide just a wee bit of support.  I hope you will spend a few moments taking in the magnitude of both strength and strife that is reflected in these pictures and words. And, if you are so inspired, please feel free to contact Jim or Janet and see how you might be able to add your heart to this project!

AND … most importantly …

THANK YOU” Jim and Janet for being such amazing light workers. Our humanity is so much better because of you!

With deepest respect and appreciation for your hearts, Karen

Iizidima

IMG_2055 Knysna township

There are few days when we are not reminded that there is plenty to be thankful for in life. Given what we do in South Africa, we would need to be blind, in a physical and emotional sense, to not experience this sentiment. The living conditions and depth of poverty experienced by so many Africans, while in close proximity to areas of affluence and abundance, is jarring. Imagine visiting another planet each day,

DSCN0752 Shacks which will be demolished to allow for construction of government-provided homes

Similar to most of our supporters, we grew up in proper homes, a safe neighbourhood, raised by educated, employed parents, who provided us the material necessities of life. We attended good schools. Our friends and families lived similar lives.

IMG_2039 Temporary government-supplied, single-room wooden homes for former shack-dwellers awaiting construction of government-provided concrete-block houses (subject to a means-test).

We can’t recall a day as a…

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Better Because … You are Such a Beautiful Person Joan!

At a glance, our lives looked quite different.  Joan knew how to play piano.  I envied that about her until I saw how she was required to practice for 30 minutes everyday after school.  She also had to rotate the sheets on her twin bed weekly – i.e. take the top sheet and move it to the bottom of her bed … and then … the bottom sheet went into the laundry.  On Fridays, if memory serves. And, when I slept over, I learned that her mom checked her toothbrush to ensure it was wet.  I don’t remember clean teeth ever being an issue at my house. But then again, I am only presuming  that my sheets got washed … at least occasionally … and a mouthful of silver fillings would suggest that the relative lack of scrutiny and discipline in my home was probably not the best thing either.

She wasn’t even allowed to open her Christmas presents until they had finished a full sit-down breakfast … and … the dishes were all washed, dried and put away.  I couldn’t tell you what dish soap was squirted into the sink at our house, but I distinctly recall that at Joan’s house, they used Ivory Snow  … a powder detergent. It made the dishes REALLY slippery … and therefore … decidedly dangerous for the dish ‘dryer’.  The dish ‘washer’ needed rubber gloves with little white cotton liners to tolerate the scalding hot water that filled both the wash sink and a rinse sink. In contrast to that, their house looked like an ice cube shaped igloo … it had a flat roof and was constructed out of painted white cinder blocks. Although I remember a marble and metal elegance about it on the inside … it felt a bit cold to me … somehow.  Not that Joan and I ever discussed it back then.

Joan’s mom had a different last name and she seemed somewhat stiff and properly proper.  Or, maybe even terse.  Nonetheless, she annually made a really impressive chocolate log cake on June 9th … Joan’s birthday. Unlike most moms back then, she owned a business and worked outside the home. Joan had three siblings that I don’t recall seeing very much. I do remember her step father though. He was around more than her mother. He drank a lot. I knew tipsy when I saw it. I never felt as though they liked me much. Of course, I assumed it was because of my less than Hallmark family life.  I was always praying people wouldn’t notice that …

Yes, there were some visible differences in our orbits. But upon closer inspection, there were striking similarities. We looked a lot alike … we were both fair-skinned, fair-haired, very shy and easily embarrassed. We both did really well in school and were ‘accelerated’ along with five other kids in elementary school. One year, for ‘back-to-school’, we unwittingly arrived at school in the exact same off-white fisherman knit sweater from Sears and a teacher mistook me for Joan. And, I’ll never forget that in grade five,  we two got picked to go with Mr. Moyer to the art gallery on a Saturday morning.  I learned Joan was allergic to Brazil nuts that day. And, as I recall, neither of us were particularly interested in athletics.

It’s been over five decades since our friendship blossomed … perhaps cultivated by an unspoken, intrinsic knowing that we were more alike than we were different. When the family is precarious … uncertain or undesirable … friendship assumes a more central role in our feelings of security. At least it did for me. Our friendship held such deep and abiding space in my heart.  I am not sure Joan ever knew how integral she was to my sense of self-worth and well-being back then. Or … how often I feel grateful now for her encouraging energy and inspiring presence in my circle.

A couple of years ago, while I was working through some of the bumpiest parts of my own path, I disclosed a painful aha’ that was deeply personal and not particularly flattering on my blog. You may want to follow the link and read that posting first  in order to better understand the loving, empathetic and heart-aching response Joan shared in the comments section of that blog:

“I sobbed big crocodile tears as [I] read this blog. I hurt deeply for two girls who grew up together who both came from dysfunction and who both felt that they were unworthy. We have been friends for half a century and in many ways we walked such similar paths and in many ways kept much of it hidden. Although you knew my step father was an alcoholic what you didn’t know was my mother was also diagnosed with mental illness. My mother was not diagnosed until much later in life after I had been diagnosed with a brain injury from her repeated beatings. My mother was diagnosed as a fairly severe sociopath and I was her target. So please let me share this with you my friend. I too took that cape off. I took it off a few years ago, and looking back I ask myself why I carried that heavy thing around for so long??? I am in a place now where I can look at the part of my life and say “thank you”. I believe that the universe brings us all things, including our challenges, for a reason. I know that those experiences in my childhood made me a much better parent and a much better counselor. The experiences of my childhood followed up by 2 abusive marriages have allowed me to relate to and help 100’s of people. I promise you, it will be easier and easier to leave that cape off and let people see the “messy” you, the “real” you. With each day you will feel lighter and lighter because that cape was getting heavier and heavier with each passing year. Welcome to this wonderful new world my friend! You are going to love it! Love Joan xoxo”

I was so deeply touched when I received her compassionate, candid and completely transparent response. My friend has been through so much, but … you wouldn’t sense that when you meet her.  She has done her own healing work and has adamantly refused to be reduced by the unfortunate circumstances in which she landed.  And, she has generously taken all that she has learned and created a career which allows her to counsel and assist others in rising above the pains of their past. She is an amazing example of how we can turn our wounds into wisdom and how we can use our adverse experiences to serve the greater good.

Joan, despite the geographical distance that has existed between us over the last 40 years … our friendship has thrived.  And, although I wish we could sip a little red wine together more often, I feel indebted to Facebook for very effectively bridging the physical space between us. I am so darn grateful to Mark Zuckerberg for that!  I can feel your energetic alignment with the divine every time I ‘see’ you on your Facebook Business Page … Inspired Wellness & HypnotherapyI want you to know how much I look forward to nourishing myself with the wealth of compassion, inspiration and hope conveyed on your page.  I’m not sure there has ever been a post that I didn’t ‘like’ and/or share.  You speak clear through to my heart … in so many ways!

My wise and wonderful friend, I marvel at your unwavering commitment to inspire others and support them in unwrapping the gifts that are tucked into the trials and tribulations in their own lives.  In fact, I immediately thought of you when I recently came across a beautiful affirmation written by my mentor Debbie Ford.  It occurred to me that it so aptly mirrors your beautiful beingness …

The Vow - Debbie Ford

And so, with this tribute, I thank you for the brilliant, bright glow you cast upon this planet!  I want you to know that I am so much better because of your presence in my life … both then and now. You are such a beautiful person … in the most meaningful sense of that word.  I know that you are a gift of grace to so many people … and … I really do hope that you receive as much  light and love as you so generously offer to the rest of us! ❤

With deepest appreciation for all the beautiful ways that you and our life long friendship has inspired me,  Love Karen xoxo

P.S. It strikes me that we still look a lot alike … even without the off-white fisherman knit! 🙂

Better Because of Your Good Heart … Kimmy!

Kimmy - good heart

First time I recall meeting her … we were interviewing her for a job.  She arrived dressed like one of Mattel’s Barbie dolls.  ‘Travel Barbie’ if my memory serves me correctly.  🙂

It  was priceless … watching my boss try to seriously navigate the interview process in order to determine “Barbie’s” professional suitability for the position of a Parenting & Family Coach in our agency.  Between her engaging giggles, this light hearted soul in the long dark wig explained she had just come from her daughter’s Halloween party at school … and … things had gone longer than expected. She didn’t have time to go home and change, so … she came as she was.  It was a daring choice, leaving her wide open for unfavorable first impressions and/or critical judgment …

It didn’t matter … her good heart shone right through the costume.  And she got the job. And she deserved it.  And better yet, we got her!  And we have never been more fortunate, because not only is she phenomenal in her work, but she is one of the most loving, kind-hearted people to ever grace this planet.

You FEEL the sweetness of her good heart in her presence.  She reflects ‘loving-kindness’ as clearly as the sunshine bouncing off the facets of a brilliant diamond.  Her sparkle is undeniable and people are simply drawn to her bright and joyous spirit.  And she is so darn funny.  Oh my gosh, her presence in our workplace sparks sheer delight.  When I worked alongside her, it felt like we laughed as hard as we worked.  Sometimes more.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

Her real name is Kimmy … and yes, I thoroughly enjoy her existence in my world.  In fact, she so effortlessly draws people into her circle that she has “a team.”   I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I felt a little jealous … at first … when she spoke of the group of women in her life who were always there for each other … steadfastly rallying for one another at the drop of a hat.  At one point, I remember feeling like I got gypped because she had a team and I didn’t.

But then … if you wait long enough, the Universe always explains.  You see, our Kimmy was going to need a team.  She was going to need solid, reliable and unwavering support because … some brutal things were going to be laid before her … including the tragic loss of a child.  On June 8, 2011 her precious son, Brett, transitioned to another realm after an unforeseeable accident …

When Kimmy’s son passed over, she invited me to be on her team.  And I was so deeply honored to be included, because when someone is going through the fires of hell, you just want to help.  But you have no clue how.  Kimmy was good enough to guide us.  And she gifted us with responsibilities. And it felt so good to be able to support her in a meaningful way.  She requested that  each member of her team carry out specific tasks that best honored our unique skills, talents and strengths … e.g., the organized ones screened phone calls and scheduled appointments; the ones with culinary gifts made food; the ones who liked writing helped her put words to what was in her heart for the eulogy;  and so on.

Yes … and then … this amazing woman stood before us and inspired a community center filled with people while she delivered her son’s eulogy herself.  And she inspired us with both her tender, touching message and her innate flair for presentation.  Her beautiful humor shone through to our hearts and we smiled and we cried and we felt it all.  We felt the indescribable ache in her tattered and torn heart.   Yes we did.  And we felt the sheer beauty of her sweet soul … reaching clear down into our own … inviting us to join her in celebration of the blessings and miracles her son had gifted not only to her  – but also to so many others.

And she has been honoring her own healing process by openly, honestly and vulnerably sharing her spiritual journey with others.  She lovingly reminds us on a Facebook page entitled “Shift Happens”  that although ‘sh*t happens’ to all of us … we can use it to transform/shift our lives in favorable ways.  I hope you will make a little time to explore the unpretentious wisdom she has gleaned from her own experiences and allow it to lighten any darkness in your days and/or bring solace to any tender parts of your own soul. I, myself, have been deeply moved by her brilliant insights and heartfelt sharing.

Kimmy, I want you to know that my life has been infinitely better because of you … both personally and professionally.  You warm my heart on a regular basis. And because of you, I did some team building! I invited people to be on my team!  It strikes me that everyone should have a team to help them through the bumpiest part of their paths.  Thank you for inspiring that. I could go on and on highlighting the countless ways you have brightened my world just by being you … but at this particular moment … I feel more inclined to use the rest of this space to extend an invitation.

A little while ago, Kimmy’s husband Greg was diagnosed with cancer.  And although he has been well on his way to a return to good health, I can only begin to imagine how vulnerable one feels on the heels of that kind of news.  I invite whoever is reading these words to join me in continuing to hold space for Greg’s optimal well-being.  I invite those of you who have just met Kimmy through this blog to join those of us who already know her, Greg and their lovely daughter Taylor by energetically wrapping them all up in a warm blanket of love and light.  You can just never get enough of that kind of thing … 🙂

Kimmy …. may your whole family feel the tingles of love in these heartfelt intentions and may you intuitively sense our unwavering support in every breath you take … for now and always.

I love you bunches … Karen

 

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Kindness Stopped This Homeless Man From Committing Suicide

THIS is such a touching story. We can never know whose life could be better … simply because of us … because we showed some kindness.

Kindness Blog

Today I went to Dunkin (Donuts) and saw a clearly homeless guy singing on the side of the road and picking up change.

Eventually I saw him stroll into Dunkin, as he was counting his change to buy something I began to get super annoying and talk to him over and over again even when he didn’t really want to talk.

Since he had maybe $1 in change I bought him a coffee and bagel and asked him to sit down with me.

He told me a lot about how people are usually very mean to him because he’s homeless, how drugs turned him into the person he hated, he lost his mom to cancer, he never knew his dad and he just wants to be someone his mom would be proud of (along with another hours worth of conversation.)

This lovely man’s name was Chris and Chris was…

View original post 87 more words

Because of You Dad … I Believe in Miracles!

This inspiring passage was my dad’s mantra for living life!

It’s my dad’s birthday today.  I’m celebrating this man even though he won’t be blowing out any candles today.  He was thoroughly enjoying an outdoor dinner five years ago … and just after he exclaimed“This is great!” … he was gone.  His enthusiasm aptly reflected his new found intention to live such ‘a radiant life’.  And he was really beginning to do so, but it certainly wasn’t always that way. His metamorphosis took the most unexpected path. In fact, it was nothing short of a miracle.

Although it’s a cultural faux pas to speak ill of the dead, my dad was a tough man to love for the first 70 to 75 years. Turbulent might be the best word to describe him.  He was a really deep thinker and felt most comfortable in the cerebral, cognitive, and intellectual domain. He was very well read and absolutely brilliant, but he had some really, really, really sharp edges.  In the blink of an unexpectant eye, his pent-up emotions could erupt viciously and bite right through you … yes, very turbulent.

At times, it was tempting to think him cold and hardhearted … except that he was so incredibly tender, loving and nurturing when it came to his pets. He would do anything for them! So much so that when push came to shove one year and he had to choose between spending time with me or leaving his dog behind … I lost. Truth. But we won’t get into the dismal details of that Thanksgiving occasion right now.

I inherited his propensity for living in my head and spent the first 30+ years of my life stuffing my own emotions too.  It worked pretty well to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but it seems you can only stuff so much before the body says no more. I ended up in the office of an Internal Specialist.  He had barely introduced himself and was still shaking my hand when he nonchalantly asked, “Did you have a happy childhood?”

What??  I was completely blindsided! This was not the line of questioning I was expecting while seated stiffly on the four foot gurney covered with the paper sheet.  I flushed bright crimson with embarrassment when I spontaneously started crying. He compassionately apologized for sparking my upset, but added that he was collecting mounting evidence to suggest that people with gastrointestinal issues have unresolved emotional wounds. His own informal research was confirming his suspicion that “the gut is the barometer of the soul”.  Hmmm …

He ordered all the necessary tests, but in the same breath, asked if I’d be open to seeking some counseling.  Yes. Yes I would.  And, just as the good doctor had suspected, the tests confirmed that physically, I was just fine.  That was the good news. The bad news was that I was booked with a counsellor and was going to have to move out of my head and into my heart.

And so began the best excavation of my life.  The hardest … but the best.  I didn’t have a clue what to do with all of the emotion that was percolating up inside of me, so as part of my own healing process, I put it on paper.  I wrote a long letter to my dad … calling a spade a spade … fastidiously acknowledging all the parts of my pain that were connected to him. I had no plans to send to him that tear stained letter … but in a moment of blind instinct, courage faith … I did.

I never received a direct response from him, but very shortly thereafter, I got a frantic call from my step-mother. An ambulance was en-route the hospital … with my father in it. Apparently, she and my dad had been talking about my ‘letter’ over lunch and right there and then, he had a heart attack.  A heart attack!  Had my letter inspired a heart attack??  I felt entirely sick.

As I sped to the hospital, I was fully intent on apologizing … determined to retract my ‘truth’ in favor of his well being … fully intent on re-burying the pain between us. I was beyond stunned to find my internist standing at the nursing station. What on earth was my internist doing in the ER room??  By some strange coincidence (or perhaps by divine design?), he was the ‘on call’ doctor and had just examined my father. He pointed back to my father and incredulously inquired: “Is that YOUR dad?”  My heart was heaving with regret that spilled more tears down my cheeks as I solemnly nodded and explained what had happened.

He re-aimed his pointed finger straight at me.  I inhaled deeply – emotionally bracing myself – but he blindsided me again!  Instead of blaming me for causing my father’s plight, he looked me square in the eyes and said: “Don’t you let him off the hook.” 

What??  I trembled at the thought. How on earth did he know what I was thinking?  He shook his head and very kindly but firmly repeated himself.  “Don’t you let him off the hook.”  My heart was pounding out of my chest. My mind was reeling … did I dare to heed his directive?

And so, I reached out to my dad, but did not retract my ‘truth’.  Ultimately, he survived … both the heart attack and my heart-aching honesty.  Ironically, by not retreating from that transparent space of truth, my dad gained an opportunity to apologize to me.  And, it turned out that he was finally able to trash a different letter that I had written when I was 14ish (also calling a spade a spade).  I had no plans to mail him that letter either, but I learned that without my knowledge, my mom had sent it to him.  I found out that he had been carrying it around with him for almost four decades –in his wallet – so he could pull it out and beat himself up on a regular basis. I never knew …

We were learning a lot about each other and healing some things when he got prostate cancer.  And the radiation treatments burned his intestinal track. He developed colitis.  It was so downright shitty for him (please excuse the tactless pun). He was relegated to wearing a diaper and made countless trips to the toilet around the clock. Between the endless runs to the toilet during those sleepless nights, he distracted himself with a book I had loaned him called A Course in Miracles.  It’s a deep and challenging text, but my dad was able to stick with it … and … things began to shift in a most miraculous way.

And so, for about the last five years of his life, he became the father I always longed to have. He lived his life ‘radiantly’ … in a profound state of grace that was both inspiring to experience and amazing to witness.  His sharp edges were replaced with a loving energy that infused his words and landed joyfully in the heart of whomever he engaged with.  He met each day with infinite love and gratitude.  He ‘radiated’ this joyful spirit and offered unlimited love and acceptance wherever he went.  It was entirely sublime … and … often seemed totally surreal.  We even took a trip to Phoenix (leaving the dog behind) to a Celebrate Your Life Conference so we could hear some of our favorite writers and spiritual leaders in person!  It was phenomenal to share that time together with him.  All in all, I found myself in a perpetual state of awe and wonder often questioning  “Where the heck did my dad go?” 

When we celebrated his 80th birthday, I decided it would be nice for all of us to pay tribute to him and let him know how much his new found ‘radiance’ had touched all of our lives.  When it was my turn to share, I read from the card I had written to him:

“So, Dad, I’m not sure where our story together began … but it seems that two very left-brained, intellectual souls made a commitment  to stretch one another to a greater level of love … to help each other learn through the joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations of this ambiguous journey we’ve been on.

One of the things you and I have enjoyed the most is our conversations and discussions … deeply reflecting upon the words and thoughts of other people. I want to acknowledge how much our relationship has grown and flourished over the past few years and how grateful I have been for the times you have been there to support me. 

You put no fences around my thinking and made no effort to direct my life for me. I always knew you would listen without judgement and stretch me to a new way of seeing things. You convinced me that whatever I could conceive of, and believe in, that I could achieve. I credit you with the resilient attitude I have developed over the years.  I always knew I could re-gain my own strength by connecting with you. 

And so, here we are … you are 80 and I am 50, and although there has been a lot of space in our togetherness over the years, we’ve made up for a lot of lost time.  Somehow , we have found a semblance of peace in the chaos … some sense of meaning in the meaningless … and a deep sense of love and loyalty has emerged from all our painful stories of the past …

Here’s to many more years … I love you Dad.

I had no way of knowing that I was only going to get a few more months with him, but I’m sure glad we took that opportunity to share our sentiments with him.  It seems that more often than not in life, we don’t make the effort to tell people how we feel about them while they are still alive to hear it. (One of the reasons for this blog.)

Ultimately, my dad fulfilled his intention of living a ‘radiant life’ … and … we were all witness to a real life miracle. I never would have believed the man I called dad for the first 75 years was the one I said good-bye to 5 years later.

A celestial benediction has been defined as ‘an invocation of a blessing’ and Longfellow contended that the trials and tribulations of our lives are really celestial benedictions in dark disguises sent not to try our souls but to enlarge them.  I can see that now.  We had no way of knowing that my ill health was actually the catalyst that would spark our reconnection.  Who could have guessed that my internist was placed in my life to invoke my emotional healing instead of my physical well-being. We could never have predicted that my dad’s heart attack would spark his emotional transformation either! And, we certainly couldn’t see at the time that my Dad’s nocturnal ‘suffering’ was the ultimate celestial benediction!  It turned out that his ‘radiation’  treatments really were the ultimate invocation to live a ‘radiant’ life!  We had no way of knowing that all those trials were actually the blessings in dark disguises that would lead us to the most miraculous moments we had ever shared as father and daughter.   We were truly witness to a miracle!  It seems crystal clear in retrospect …

And so, I am writing this letter and intentionally sending it out to the ether because I want you to know Dad that I am so much better because of your presence in my life!  And not just for those ‘radiant’ years.  I can see so clearly now that our life-long relationship was truly a beautiful miracle in the making!  I’m still unwrapping the blessings …

With a radiant glow in my heart, Karen

One of those miracle moments during last Christmas together ... 2008

One of those miracle moments during last Christmas together … 2008

 

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Better … Because You Were Not the Least Bit NICE!

burning bridge

It might sound entirely crazy … but … I am so much better because of one of the darkest times in my life … with someone who seemed like one of the most mean-spirited people I had ever encountered.   I expect I am not the only one who has encountered someone that squashed their spirit, poked their most vulnerable wounded spots, and found fault with their very best efforts to make peace and be nice.  In this particular case … it seemed to me that they got a charge out of it in some convoluted way.

256In fact, I am seeing now, that in my best efforts to convince them that I was worthy of their respect, I became a victim. Not because of how I was treated by this person, but rather, because of how I victimized myself in terms of what I made their behavior and actions mean about me.  I beat myself up mercilessly. What is so wrong with me that they hate me so much? What hoops can I jump through to win their approval?  And, the harder I tried to get in her good graces the worse it seemed to get!  Eventually, I began to question what would possess someone to be so nasty, unkind and downright unlikeable.  At that point, I became a little bit self-righteous with a generous helping of self-pity.  How could you treat me this way?  I have been nothing but good to you.  Who the hell do you think you are?  Pffft … you are certainly a piece of work!

It’s been said: “Hurt people, hurt people”When we are hurting, there is a part of us that wants to hurt others. I have come to recognize (both from my work as a counselor and from my own lived experience) that victims can be the most vicious people on the planet.  In our most painful moments, we can justify some pretty nasty retributions for the people we believe  have wronged us. Fortunately, most of us never act out the vengeful schemes we are dreaming up in our heads.   The healthiest response for most of us is to deliberately put some space between us. That is, we try to ignore them, walk away, or simply limit our exchanges with them. OK … and the less healthy versions of distancing include: snubbing, gossip intended to ostracize, talk to the hand, and the ultimate … “f*#k you”. There are times, however, when those kinds of distancing are simply not an option.  The ‘victimizer’ might be your boss, a family member, a friend of a good friend  or someone that is loved by someone you love. In any case, your lives are tangled up in such a way that and you just can’t avoid or escape them.

Over the past five decades,  I’ve had a handful of these folks invade my heart-space.  It sucked … and because I’ve always valued connection, it always caught me up-side the head when I ended up in those entanglements. In the height of my people-pleasing days, I made every effort to create something different between us.  I would wage Herculean efforts to win them over and redeem myself in their eyes.  And then, I would experience immeasurable pain and heartache when my attempts failed miserably. Sheesh, in retrospect, I can see I wasted so much precious time, energy and effort with that unfavorable handful of people … time I could have been investing favorably in the healthier relationships in my life. BUT … enough talking about the heartache with that handful!  This particular ‘better  because of you’ tribute is dedicated to one of those people in particular … who shall remain nameless (for obvious reasons).

e950e90670036a63d416db966261a71aIt took me a long while to heal enough to seek out the gifts in my experience with this woman.  But, I can see so clearly now that I have so much to thank her for.  Really, I do. She rendered visible how hopelessly dependent I had been upon other people’s approval for my own sense of self worth.  If people liked me, I must be OK.  If people didn’t like me, there must be something wrong with me.  She has shown me (however painfully!) the absolute fallacy in that.  I can see now, how I triggered her … however unintentionally.  And, I can own my part in co-creating some of the prickly-ness between us, but … because of her, I no longer give other people’s perceptions as much power to define me.

never waste your timeBecause of her, I learned that I can survive it if others don’t like me.  She has taught me that people can and will find fault …even in the best of situations, if that is what they are seeking.  And it may have nothing to do with me.  Unless, of course, I let it.  I have to thank her for teaching me that I may not be safe with all people.  Once again, hurt people hurt people.  I am grateful to her for reminding me that we are all interpreting the world through the lens of our prior lived experiences (some of it very wounding) and that those wounds can (dis)color each of our perspectives. I even remember thinking at one point, “If I was on my knees kissing the ground she walks on, she’d accuse me of tying her shoe laces together while I was down there”.  I am aware that she had been very wounded in her life.  I have come to believe that her past experience unfavorably skewed her perceptions of my intentions.  I may be wrong, but it helps me to make sense of things.

I thank her for helping me learn that I am not responsible for everyone’s happiness. My interactions with her clearly demonstrated that people have their own agendas … something I can’t always know and/or understand … and … certainly cannot be responsible for.  I really needed to learn to let people think what they want to think and feel what they want to feel.  I don’t have to make them happy.  I just don’t.  I want to thank her for showing me that I can still be who I am, even if that is not who others prefer me to be. I can survive their disapproval …

This woman really showed me how much courage I have. I thank her for teaching me that I’m tough enough to take the ride, with all it’s ups and downs.  I can respect her for asserting herself, however misguided I believe she has been.  I have chosen to re-interpret her as an ‘angel in a dark disguise’ sent forth to stretch my soul … to help me grow … to teach me how to hold on tight during tumultuous times and look deep inside myself and honor my own ‘truth’ … regardless of what others are thinking or believing.

f0a29b99680afd959ac2eb3f4bcea0b0I can thank this woman for teaching me that I don’t have to participate in every battle I’m invited to.  I thank her for showing me how hurtful gossip can be, and how negative attracts negative and positive attracts positive. I learned from this woman that I can stand tall without making someone else small.  In fact, in the best of my humanity, I can hold a different point of view without criticizing others. I thank her for teaching me that there is no integrity in doing the right thing if you do it for the wrong reason … nor … in doing the wrong thing for the right reason. There is only integrity in doing the right thing for the right reason.

I thank her for helping me learn that I need not carry the anger, hurt and bitterness of our exchange into the future. I was able to forgive her when I realized that each challenge in our lives is just one small aspect of our total lives.  We don’t have to give it more space than that  … lest it eclipse all the bright and beautiful points of light that also exist in our personal worlds. I thank her for inviting me to keep things in perspective and not give more energy than necessary to the negative forces amongst us.

darkness leaves starsI thank her for inviting me  to learn how to intervene on my own behalf … instead of remaining a victim and waiting for someone else to save me.  Oh my … this  may have been the most critical lesson I needed her to teach me!  I had erroneously assumed that it was somehow noble to suffer in silence … well … until the pain of our exchange made it unbearable for me to do so.  Thank goodness.  I might still be going along to get along, I might still be silencing my own pain … were it not for her.

As crazy as it sounds, I have got to the point where I can truly thank her … not for the pain that existed in our exchange, but for the lessons that were also tucked into it.  I gained so much more through those awful few years with her than it cost me! Honestly, I am so much better because of her … truly.

universe always expalins

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Beneath every challenge is an invitation to transform my life.  May I be wise enough to look for it … Karen

 

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