I’m Very Sorry…

Dear Reader:

It’s been a couple of weeks (longer than ever) since I last wrote to you. I’ve been immersed, deeply, in my own world (more on this in the days to come), but I’ve returned to “real life” where my friends have been living without me (mostly). We’ve been tethered to each other by the quick text here and there and the certainty that we are being remembered and wished the best.

Today I returned to the fold where I learned that a close friends’ father passed last week quite unexpectedly. He was a young man (about my age) and he died from a sudden heart attack. I can only imagine the shock and confusion my friend must feel. Death, it seems to me, is always unexpected and in some way unfathomable. The fact that it is inevitable does not change our ability to find it believable or acceptable.

How can it be that the person I called “father” is no longer here? When my brother was diagnosed with cancer at 35, he was given 3-4 months to live. When he died a year later, there was still part of me that could not comprehend that the world would go on without him. I can still remember the sign on the freeway as I drove into town after his funeral: Expansion made possible by your tax dollars. Completion 2013. Wow…I thought …he won’t be here to enjoy the improvements to the road. In the weeks to come my mind grappled with the realization that he would not be here, ever again, to meet me for a cup of coffee. I’d never hear his voice at the end of the line. He wouldn’t get to see his niece grow up.

In the days, weeks and months after my brother’s death, I remember wishing that there was some sort of sign I could quickly and easily give to others to tell them that, despite appearances, I wasn’t okay. In other times and places, mourners have been identifiable by their manner of dress and afforded special considerations. I knew my friends cared and yet they found it difficult to talk about the death of my brother. Most of them didn’t know where to start and what words to choose and they mistakenly believed it would do more harm to approach the subject rather than to ignore it.

There were a few people, though, who knew just what to say and I learned from their compassion and my loss that the only words one needs to hear are: “I am so sorry about the loss of your (fill in the blank).”  In the days that followed, I received a few letters from family and friends who knew my brother and shared special memories. Some of the stories they told, I’d heard, but others were new to me and they were all a joy to read. Friends who did not know my brother, made donations in his name to the American Cancer Society and local hospice care and I received notes recognizing their gifts. Any and all overtures to recognize my grief and loss were of comfort to me.

One of the things I gained from the loss of my brother is the language of empathy. It’s a simple, quiet language that holds immense power to bind us all. We will, each of us, experience loss. Do not be afraid to acknowledge it or touch it. It will find you in your time. Be ready to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Be ready to look into the eyes of a grieving friend and offer what you can.

Sincerely,

Michele

 

 

 

She’s Flying!

 Dear Reader:

I nearly collided with a jubilant young girl yesterday upon my arrival in the lobby of a large hotel.  She was happily spinning about with her arms outstretched. “I’m flying Mom! I’m flying!” she exclaimed.

“Fabulous,” came her mother’s enthusiastic reply. “But, don’t fly too close to the stairs!”

I remembered my daughter at the same age.  She was energetic, determined and curious. I could imagine her dancing beside me. She is now in Southern California, a 20-year-old college sophomore, earning excellent grades while working part-time. Today she made a deposit on her first off-campus apartment for next year. She is flying!

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Shopping at T.J. Maxx for my daughter’s first apartment. Hmmm…maybe a knight for protection?!

She is also studying abroad this summer. She received the good news that she had been accepted into the international program on March 22, the day the terrorist attack took place in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster in London. I was shopping for fun stuff for the girl’s apartment when I received a message from my husband about the Manchester attack two days ago.

Terrorist attacks are by nature appalling, but those that target children and young adults are the most heartbreaking. It’s hard to hold back tears when listening to a parent describe how they feel about their child’s death. This is not the way life should be. Parents should not have to face the death of their children. I wish there was something I could do to assuage the pain of those who have lost children and yet I imagine that there is nothing anyone can do. The pain will never leave.

Within hours of the attack at the concert, the Facebook page for college parents was filled with one simple question:  Is your daughter/son still planning on traveling to Europe this summer? Though our “children” are young adults, study abroad is made possible by parents. So the decision to go or not to go becomes a conversation that begins with:  “Do you still want to go?”

My daughter was upset by the news but does not want to “waste the opportunity.” My husband and I agree. As a young child we taught her to look both ways and to dial 911, and, most importantly, we tried to model responsible behavior. Thankfully, she was an inherently careful, thoughtful, observant girl and she did not cause us undue worry. Now that she is also an adult, we can discuss the fact that life is unpredictable which makes it that much more precious. One must fly despite the fact that the stairs can not always be seen.

Unless circumstances drastically change, my daughter will soon be on a plane heading toward a wonderful 7- week- long adventure…and my heart will be there, too!

Michele

S’mores Please!

 Dear Reader: 

My lovely daughter and two of her lovely college roommates paid me a visit! Ours is a small home, you may remember, so Dad packed up and spent the weekend with his mom.

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Girl’s weekend! I’m sure, you won’t be surprised to hear that we spent the evenings consuming large amounts of rich desserts and sappy romantic comedies.

I simply must share my favorite recipe with you:

Super Simple S’mores

Ingredients:

8 La Petit `Ecolier cookies

4 regular sized marshmallows

Place four cookies, chocolate side up, on a plate. Top two of the cookies with a marshmallow. Microwave on high for 10 seconds. Combine the cookies to make a sandwich. Mmmmm…enjoy!

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At a mere 150 calories or so, you can afford to enjoy one…or two. Recommended accompaniment: coffee or milk and any movie featuring Chris Pine. We watched Princess Diaries 2.

Michele

No Regrets

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Dear Reader:

The woman at the Clinique counter turned out to be right. The day I visited her, I was 7 months pregnant…feeling a bit fat and looking for a “feel good” purchase. Lipstick is always fun! She rather ceremoniously uncapped a long, thin silver tube and twisted the base so that I might see the color. “Perfect,” she effused. I was not initially impressed, but, at her urging, I applied it and checked myself out in the mirror. Fabulous! Almost Lipstick in Black Honey has been a staple in my cosmetic bag ever since.

“So, are you going back to work after the baby?” she asked. I replied affirmatively to which she responded, “Ah, too bad.”

When I left her counter, I’m sure my lovely, shimmery lips were parted in an “um, what?!” expression.  That was some opinionated salesperson. I was working in high-tech marketing and had received a promotion and stock options the year before. Not to mention the fact that I was, and remain,  a staunch feminist. Of course,  I was going back.

I did return from maternity leave, but lasted only six months… and that was a stretch! Everything had changed. The 30-50 minute drive to and from work was never enjoyable, but now it was a lost hour that could have been shared with my daughter.  The early morning calls with the European sales force that I had once so enthusiastically anticipated created a logistical nightmare. The high level meetings that I had felt proud to attend seemed unimportant; I was no longer impressed with myself or anyone else in attendance. I  did not feel the zeal for advancement or the thrill of competition that was fostered in the company.  I found myself wondering who would be there to see my daughter’s first steps: me or the day care workers.

Home life was difficult, too. It was a mad dash every evening to retrieve my daughter within the approved pick-up time.  My husband’s work in high-tech finance was demanding and he usually arrived a couple of hours later than us between 7 and 8 p.m. When he got home, he needed the same things that our baby and I needed: rest, relaxation, dinner, understanding, attention. We were all simultaneously extremely needy! And, very tired. We had only each other. There was no household help or familial assistance. It was just the three of us.

My husband supported my decision to quit working.  We took a leap of faith together knowing that the budget was going to be extremely tight. And, it worked out just fine! Our daughter is a 20-year-old college student today and the three of us are very close.

In the two decades since I made my decision, technology has changed things so much. I see so many women who successfully combine work and family life. Neither my husband nor I had any flexibility in our jobs. It seems ironic that we were both working in the high-tech industry that has revolutionized life for so many, and yet our employers offered no allowances to accommodate family life.

Today, I have an empty nest and time to pursue my interests,  but I don’t think I could fully enjoy myself if I didn’t feel that I’d completely embraced my role as a mother. I feel grateful that I had a choice; I know many women don’t. I have never regretted my decision to be a stay at home mom.

Sincerely,

Michele

P.S. I wouldn’t recommend seeking life advice at the Clinique counter, but that saleswoman was wise!  I recently read that the lipstick she sold me more than 20 years ago has become a cult-classic.  Clinique now ships one Black Honey lipstick every two  minutes.

http://www.glamour.com/story/most-popular-lipstick-colors-review

 

In Praise of Prozac

Dear Reader:

I knew this was a post I’d write someday, and I wanted it to be sooner rather than later! I truly don’t know how much of a stigma still attaches to those who benefit from counseling and antidepressants, but there was every reason to share my experience with you and no reason to keep it secret. I believe Prozac has allowed me to live a better life, and that’s certainly worth sharing!

Let me start with the day I first felt the impact of my new prescription. Three days after I took that first pill, I had the energy to move the refrigerator so that I could clean every square inch of my kitchen, including the floor under the frig!  My 4-year-old daughter was at pre-school, but  Tom Jones kept me company. He provided the background music. I sang along loudly, energetically. “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual….”

What had become usual were the panic attacks I’d been having whenever I left the house. The first attack came in an unlikely place: a bookstore with my daughter. I was in my happy place with my happy girl and yet I couldn’t wait to get out. My heart was racing and I felt completely out of control. The next day the toaster broke and I found Amazon. You can get anything on Amazon, and yet I knew I’d have to leave the house eventually.

I had the toaster delivered, but by the end of the following week, I’d made it to my first counseling appointment and my doctor’s office. I described the event at the bookstore, my brother’s diagnosis and the general “heaviness” I felt. I was taking care of my daughter’s needs, but not much more than that. I was self-medicating with Starbuck’s mocha Frappuccinos, but I had little energy and had to will myself out of bed and into the shower each morning.   Both my psychologist and general practitioner agreed that I could benefit from counseling and an anti-depressant.

My doctor reasoned it out for me:” People take aspirin when they have an ache and yet they can’t imagine taking a pill to cure another type of ache. Your brother has terminal cancer and you have a young child to take care of. You need help.”

“But what about the end-game?” I asked.  I was afraid to start taking the drug, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop. And yet, I knew I needed help. Children can help clarify many decisions in life.

That was 16 years ago. Since then, my dosage has gone up and down and I’ve tried to wean myself off the drug.  But without it I am surly to my husband, I retreat from my friends, I feel hopeless and listless. I do not still regularly move my refrigerator on cleaning day. It seems that major spurt of energy was just an initial daylong effect of the pill. (I do, however, still accompany Tom Jones in song; it’s not pretty!)

I’ve never had any adverse affects to the medication. It was all good: I even quickly dropped the 10 pounds of Frappuccino weight I’d put on! I remember telling a friend about my treatment plan. She quite innocently asked how it felt to “be happy all the time.” I explained that Prozac was not a “happy pill.” Life was still hard during the year of my brother’s illness and following his death. I was still sad, but the medication and counseling helped. I had both the energy and courage to leave the house; I knew I could manage it.

There is a theory that some people are born with a switch; stressful circumstances or a major life event can trigger that switch and then it’s done. They need the drug and that’s that.  My brother’s cancer diagnosis was the trigger for me. (If you would like to read more about my brother’s death, see my post entitled Happy Birthday, Brother.)

I’ve made peace with myself. I’m a strong woman who must accept that she too needs help. I am grateful that I live at a time when I have the option to help myself. And, I hope that anyone else who needs help will ask for it.

Sincerely,

Michele

See the Nose?!

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Dear Reader:

I have a cold today, so I decided to hang out on the couch in the main house where I have ready access to hot soup, sympathetic family and lap dogs.  You can’t see me in this photo; I’m reclining on the couch while editing my site. But you can see one of my dogs who does not like to yield his space to the computer! My little editor‘s name is Bart (short for Bartholomew). He’s a mama’s boy and he likes a good book almost as much as I do. You can read about his favorite books here.

Thank goodness for Progresso chicken noodle soup!

Michele

Happy Birthday, Brother

Dear Reader:

He would be 53 years old  today, but instead he rests under a marker that reads: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not here—I do not sleep.”

Today,  I can not help but remember my brother. Perhaps, you, too, have a special birthday you remember but no longer celebrate in the conventional fashion. Or, maybe your mind turns to a loved one on the anniversary of his death. Loss will touch us all and I have found that it can be such a comfort to share the experience with others. I hope you will not mind if I share my experience of loss with you today on this day that can not help but move me.

During his 36 years of life,  my brother, Matt Lehman, occupied a large place in my heart and in the imaginations of family and friends. He was handsome, stylish and charming. (Think Matt Dillon, seriously!) He was a salesman and a collector. He’d been born with long eyelashes and affecting eyes. And bat his eyelashes, he did! The gesture was even more disarming when it was combined with his ready smile. He radiated enthusiasm, as if for him the entire world and everything in it was exciting. He was a joy to be around, and so everyone wanted to be his friend.

Matt was the youngest of three siblings. He was like the exclamation point after his two sisters. And, he certainly was not meant to be the first to die. But, as he told me one day after a visit to the cancer treatment center “how can I ask ‘why me’ when there’s a 12 year old child sitting next to me waiting for his chemo treatment?”

There was never any hope given other than the  possibility that treatment could extend his life a bit. It was in July 2000 that I received his phone call telling me it was cancer, “not a good kind,” and the doctors had estimated he had four months left. In the end, he lived a full year after his diagnosis. He made the most of that year generously sharing the time he had left with those who loved him.

I vividly remember an exchange with Matt during one of our last visits. His faith was unshakable; he was going “home.” I did not share his strong beliefs, but I found myself explaining that I couldn’t go with him just then. I needed to stay and raise my 4-year-old daughter. My baby brother was going somewhere and some part of me felt that I should go with him or instead of him. Or maybe, some part of me wondered how I could bear my grief.

For a long time after Matt’s death, I felt sure that every ring of the phone would bring news of illness or death. And, of course, just below the surface was the fear that came with being brutally reminded of my own mortality. But, I have celebrated the milestones of 40 and 50 remembering that my brother never did. I am grateful for the years I’ve been given to test my commitment to my husband (shaken but never destroyed!) and to watch my daughter grow into an adult I admire, respect and love.

And, so  with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, I remember my dear brother today but not beside the headstone that bears his name.  For he is not there. He lives with me in my heart and I know in the hearts of many others.

I welcome you to share your remembrances of those you have loved and lost.

Love,

Shell

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