Pawfect 🐾 Peace

Two days ago, my two grand fur babies departed after 10 intense days of staying with us at my house while my daughter vacationed in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. During this time, I experienced an intense mix of emotions: fear of the indoor cats escaping into the wilds around our house, happiness at seeing them so content and playful, angst when they tried to tear apart furnishings. On the other hand, I felt deep sadness knowing that our time together was coming to an end yet, paradoxically, counting the days until they left.

Both of my daughter’s kitties are rescue cats. The newest addition, June, is deaf. Now, I’ve had my share of cats over the years, but I must say, none of them had come close to her fiendish personality. From her mischievous antics to her friendly demeanor, she is a one-of-a-kind feline. Just imagine Spider-Man’s slow crawl up, as he relies on static electricity to attach to walls and ceilings. This is how she looked when she climbed up the living room window’s brand new screen. She set out on a mission to capture a bug and prove that there is indeed a method to her madness. Unfortunately for her, the bug flew free. Fortunate for us, the screen remained intact.

She may look like a pure white angel with a sweet face, but beware! She is living proof that appearance can be deceiving. Perhaps, it is because she is still young, around 18 months, or because it was her first experience at my house or maybe her deafness played a part in her behavior, but here’s the nicknames I and my daughter’s godmother came up with: House Wrecker; Demolition Crew; Hellish Hellion; Loonie Junie and Loon June.

When June first arrived, she hissed at everyone, particularly Gemini, or shortened form, Gemi, who is a real Gem. My daughter rescued him from a New York City shelter, and he rescued her, and their bond is unbreakable. Over the years, the sleek, black cat, that can be cast as an Egyptian model, has “shed” many of his idiosyncrasies. One particular habit that remains a constant is eating plastic and then throwing up. His favorite type of plastic is the white Amazon mailing bags. His second preference is the loud, stiff, crunchy clear plastic.

A week prior to my fur babies’ arrival, I not only hid the plastic, I spent no less than four hours “June” proofing my house by storing vases, breakables and finding alternative space for my houseplants. Then there was shopping and getting litter pans and food and toys, so many toys, prepared.

Why even bother? Why can’t she hire someone to come to her place? You have other priorities. Sure, I heard plenty of objections from “concerned” parties and some interesting self-talk discussions that I conducted on my own.

Why do it? During trying times when I over-extend, inconvenience myself and, truthfully want to pull my hair out, what helps me is calling to mind: Faith without works is dead. Without getting too esoteric about the idea, it is merely my way of saying, “thank you” to the universe. I use the acronym: FAA. Faith. Attitude. Action.

The cruel blows from my life have been difficult to bear, but they should not blind me from the lucky strokes that have found their way through the pain. It is these lucky strokes that give me hope and courage to keep going, no matter how hard it gets. For example, people who love me. A safe neighborhood to live in. Clean water to drink. Nutritious food to eat. And music, OMG, music. I’ve never had such an appreciation before for it as I do now.

Before my firstborn was born, I was the most self-centered person on earth, and I loved every minute of it. Don’t get me wrong. Even though I had to juggle my own commitments, I never failed to make time for charity work, which is why people called me Sister Stacy in the 80s. The difference was that the charity work was done on my own schedule and at my convenience. When I felt like it. Inconvenience was incomprehensible.

In 1993, after my son was born, I had to be ready at any given moment to tend to his colic and medical issues. Luckily, I had a tight support group. Every week, I would mouth the same thing to the members, “My son is teaching me how to love.”

Twenty-one months later, my daughter was born and by then sleepless nights and putting my life on hold became the norm. This was particularly true since my then husband was not as flexible about not having the ability to enjoy himself.

In the end, I was the winner. This crash course in parenting taught me the importance of having flexibility and the ability to drop everything at any point in time.

Keeping my faith in times of difficulty and having the right Attitude and Action to show unconditional love have been two of the most important lessons I have learned in life. My children have taught me the most important lesson of my life – how to love unconditionally. Without their help, I would never have welcomed these furry creatures into my home and my heart.

There’s another reason I like to have the open door policy at my house (as long as June and Gemi don’t spring outside of it!). I learned it after grief stripped my being to a bare minimum. The lesson is that I must take advantage of every moment that I have with my loved ones and strive to build strong bonds with each other through communication, understanding, compassion, kindness and make it as meaningful as possible in light of the fleeting moments.

Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom reminds us that life should be lived in the present moment and encourages us to make every second count. By understanding and embracing this concept, we can make better use of our time and focus on what really matters in life.

His love of the place is tinged with a sense of impermanence and an acceptance that nothing lasts forever. In the following passage, the author paints the picture of his native northern-Swedish landscape and perfectly illustrates what I refer to:

When I return to the same landscape every summer, part of what makes it so poignant is that I may never see it again. Moreover, I care for the preservation of the landscape because I am aware that even the duration of the natural environment is not guaranteed. Likewise, my devotion to the ones I love is inseparable from the sense that they cannot be taken for granted. . . . Our time together is illuminated by the sense that it will not last forever and we need to take care of one another because our lives are fragile.

In this vein, I survived the ten days albeit exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed, but it was worth it, and my agreement and follow through to cat sit for my daughter’s fur babies reinforced just how much I love her, and I hope one day when I am no longer around, she will be able to draw my feelings for her out of her memory bank. You see, in each funny, silly, harried and dastardly moment, I was in the process of carving a legacy for my daughter that is framed with the words: I loved you then; I love you now. I will love you always and forever, and my love reaches farther than the moon, stars and infinite catwalks through eternity and beyond. It is a reminder that my love for her transcends time, distance and even death itself.

Faith Muscle

Faithfully Fluid

Last week in my blog post, I elaborated on my mom’s wise words of wisdom: “You never know how someone’s end will be.”

Sometimes my mom also reminded me, “We never know how our end will be.”

In other words, it is easy to get carried away by the trappings of success in life. Whether it is a successful career, a good job, or material things like a new car or house, how fast we can grow complacent and think that we have achieved all that we need to. However, staying humble and never getting too comfortable with our current situation is essential for continued success in life. I strive to stay grounded and remember that nothing in this world lasts forever. In this way, I am able to appreciate the good times while also being mindful of the bad times and knowing how quickly things can change.

For me, it all begins with my EGO. At the heart, EGO can often be the source of both our strength for self-improvement and our downfall. Whenever I find myself getting too caught up in my own ego, I take a step back and reflect on how my actions are affecting others and myself. Typically, the first step of the process is reminding myself that EGO is an acronym for Edging God Out or Edging Goodness Out (depending on the preference), and it calls to mind the concept of the importance of being humble and kind.

Despite spending nearly four decades honing my skills and training in the “ego gym,” it’s still easy for me to get caught up in the pursuit of recognition and validation. I’ve discovered that ego-driven behavior does not lead to true success or fulfillment. It’s important to recognize that I, as well as everyone else, have something valuable to offer, regardless of how “beautiful” things appear and how much recognition we get from others.

The ego is an ever-present force, and it can be difficult to resist its pull. It is easy to often fall into society’s trap and be consumed by the need for more — more money, more power, more success. In the process, we lose our focus on what truly matters. The Buddhist principle of non-attachment, “The root of suffering is attachment,” has been valuable to me and helps me break free from the grip of ego and lead a life of contentment.

For nearly four years, I’ve experienced a crash course in detachment from everything that I thought defined me; one big ego deflation that has left me shrunk and depleted. The challenge for me is using this experience to bring something positive into life, even if it just boils down to being more open and listening to others without judgment. You see, for many years I thought my faith and beliefs were the fix for me and everyone else. By not recognizing the importance of understanding others and their beliefs, I was blind to the real solutions and made some wrong decisions that brought me to a series of tragic consequences. It was only after this experience that I realized how important it is for me to look beyond my own ego.

Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances and insecurities, so it is important to respect their autonomy and not question how they choose to live their life.

For many people, mental health issues can be an invisible burden that they have to bear alone. This was certainly the case for my friend Brian. After struggling with depression and self-harm for most of his life, he finally found a way out – the practice of Buddhism. For the last six years, he has been using Buddhist principles to manage his mental health and live a happier life.

It is important for me to remember that everyone has different needs and preferences when it comes to self-care. What works for one person may not work for another. It is mandatory for me to focus on myself. When I do this, it is much more possible for me to find faith even in the midst of uncertainty, because, no, I don’t know what MY end will bring, but as I sail through life, I don’t want my EGO to be the captain of my boat. In order to reach my final destination, I am learning how to have a humble attitude and open heart, and allow the wind to guide me, trusting that one day, without any luggage weighing me down, I will reach paradise.

Faith Muscle

Raquel’s Reflection

Sunset Vectors by Vecteezy

Iconic American actress, Raquel Welch, was the epitome of beauty and grace, and her captivating, sexy personality made her a popular public figure and a common choice for many first crushes!

Even though she lived a long life, I was taken aback last week when I heard about the passing of the 82-year-old Hollywood legend.

We all have our own end, no matter how strong and powerful we may be.

“You never know how someone’s end will be.” I’ve written before about how my mom repeatedly reminded me of this simple, but wise insight. She would nudge me and awaken my consciousness with those words for me to call to mind everyone’s vulnerability, fragility and mortality, especially during the times I felt angry or frustrated with someone.

My mom’s words came at me loud and clear when I found out about the sad reality that Ms. Welch suffered from Alzheimer’s at the end of her life. Immediately I realized how ironic it was that she memorized so many lines for her roles throughout her long career, and yet in the end was unable to remember even the most basic things.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a place of reverence and admiration, but it also serves as a reminder that even the brightest stars can eventually burn out — many times painfully.

The world is an ever-changing stage, with each person playing a unique role in it. We may experience grand finales in life or flops, perhaps, too, our curtains may drop before we reach the end of the script. In any case, we are not the lead writer and showrunner.

No, there are no dress rehearsals. However, with the right attitude we can pull off that movie star look and feel, and empower ourselves to take risks, push boundaries and live our lives with courage and conviction. A little faith also helps us, knowing that although we can’t see them backstage, there is a pair of trench boots in our size that stand ready and tall when we need them.

Faith Muscle

Sadie Said: Her Words Live On❤️

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Chicken salad with grapes and pecans. Classic macaroni salad.  Picnic egg salad with capers. Smoked salmon platter. Tuna, cucumber and tomato tea sandwiches. Three-layer cranberry jello mold with raspberries, mango and pineapple. Grand finale: showstopping cheesecake, strawberry shortcake and homemade brownies.

This was a mere sampling of the Thursday community lunch menu that Sadie meticulously planned out during our volunteer commitment that I described in last week’s blog, ensuring that everyone had something delicious to enjoy. Most memorable, though, was Sadie’s Sensational Sponge Cake. Yep, three simple ingredients – eggs, flour, and sugar  – and it may be hard to believe that someone with a flair for the dramatic and a wardrobe full of rainbow colors and spike heels would select a signature dessert as plain as sponge cake. Even though Sadie had a panoramic colorful background and personality to match, she also enjoyed the simple pleasures of life.

Her attention to detail and passion for bringing people together also made the weekly lunches an experience that was akin to a holy one. Basically, for me this meant I filled the backstage roles that included bringing the paper goods, preparing the coffee, helping set up and clean up afterwards.

Incredibly, by year two of our commitment, Sadie’s friends, whom I also elaborated on in last week’s blog, ended up pitching in! (There was only one man in the group who was the exception. Unless he was noshing or drinking, he was asleep in the corner of the room.) Overall, though, it was an inspiring example of how collective action can make a difference and create lasting change. After a year of working with Sadie, my outlook on life had changed significantly. I looked at the world with newfound appreciation, understanding and faith. Prior to meeting Sadie, I had experienced spells of depression that left me feeling isolated and helpless. However, her influence in my life helped to lift the dark veil that had been looming over me for so long. With her kind words and unwavering support, she gave me the courage to face my struggles and find a way out of the darkness.

Then one fateful Thursday, darkness descended on us in a new way. I arrived at the commitment earlier than Sadie, which was unusual. As I was setting up, Sadie ran past her group of friends that accompanied her in her clown car and charged into the church hall with the energy of a frenzied bat, desperate to avoid the harsh light of day.

“Look! Look! I just saw this this morning.”

As she slowly lifted her pitch-black long hair, a sight of horror was revealed. Running down her neck were large lumps, but smaller than golf balls, that had been hidden beneath her locks. It was a shocking discovery that made it difficult to comprehend what could have caused them to appear. A feeling of dread suddenly came over me.

Somehow I discerned I was the only one she had, at least thus far, confided in about her discovery and before her friends and the lunchtime crowd arrived, I shrieked, “You have to go to the doctor. TODAY!”

Without any resistance, she nodded her head in agreement, and we performed our duties quieter than usual. Little did she know that the doctor would examine her that day and send her to an oncologist just a few hours later. I was devastated when I found out that my close friend had been diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the news we received was heartbreaking — she had cancer in her lymph nodes and it wasn’t good. It was particularly sad because she not only had three adult daughters from her first marriage, but her youngest daughter, from her third marriage, was only eight years old, being too young to comprehend the extent of the illness.

By then, two other volunteers replaced us at the Thursday luncheons. I focused on work as well as preparations for my upcoming May wedding. It was ironic that after sharing all my sad stories about being single with Sadie, I had quickly met a nice man (so I thought at the time) and we were engaged shortly after. While Sadie underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she only wanted to hear about two things: my plans for my wedding a year from that time and all the people who beat the odds against cancer.

Although life had thrown her many injustices, she never once complained. Instead, she was grateful for the second chance to make a new life for herself, despite being pulled back down by another set of very different circumstances that were about to demolish her dreams for a second time.

Sadie and I never talked about her being healthy enough to attend my wedding. Deep inside, we knew it was not in the cards. The last time I saw her in the hospital was in April of the following year, one month before my wedding, and a day before she died.

When I walked into her room, I found her weak and pale, yet sitting up in her bed. Her signature mane of hair now gone; a stark contrast to the woman everyone had come to know and love. She wore a powder blue cap that made her look twenty years older than her forty-something years. She smiled warmly and greeted me with a whisper, “Hey! How ya doing? The beautiful bride to be.”

Holding back the tears, I could only let out a soft, “Hello.”

As I sat by her bedside, I sensed a cloud of warm air enveloping us as we held hands. She expressed her usual eagerness to hear about the wedding plans, and couldn’t wait to find out every detail – from the church to the reception, but most of all, she wanted to know what food would be served in the evening.

“We are having a beautiful array of food. Served to perfection. Nothing, though, compared to your lunches, Sadie. They were a true work of art. They were Holy.

She flinched because it hurt to laugh. “We didn’t meet every Thursday to eat lunch. We came together to share something more important  –  love. Nothing’s more Holier than that.”

I stopped pushing the tears away and as I looked into Sadie’s eyes, I realized that no amount of words could ever express the depth of my gratitude for her presence in my life. “I love you, Sadie.”

After I exited her room and slowly moved down the hallway with my head full of memories and my stomach in knots from the pain, my mind suddenly filled with the craziest thought imaginable. In a split second, I made an abrupt three hundred and sixty degree turn and rushed back to her room.

“Sadie! I’m sorry to bother you.”

“It’s okay,” she barely murmured.

“Can I have your recipe for Sadie’s Sensational Sponge Cake?”

“Yeah. Sure. But come back tomorrow. I’ll give it to you then and you can write it down,” Sadie whispered before she drifted off to sleep.

The next day, as I already mentioned, Sadie died, a month before my wedding. Obviously, she never gave me her recipe for Sadie’s Sensational Sponge Cake. The consolation was that I received something far sweeter and more valuable than temporary bodily sustenance: her recipe for life.

Sadie Said ❤️

Photo by Senad Palic on Unsplash

Sadie, who was the spitting image of iconic Elvira except she donned a white streak running down her charcoal colored hair, and I volunteered to coordinate weekly Thursday community lunches at a church hall back in the late 80s. Dressed in casual work attire, I’d leave my day job, located a few minutes away, during my lunch hour, which typically turned out to be more like an hour and a half. Sadie’s small, “clown car,” that her boyfriend purchased for her, usually pulled up instantaneously when my Subaru did. I’d recognize her six-foot-long stature crunched behind the steering wheel. All four doors would fling open and, along with Sadie, about a half dozen characters of an eclectic combination flew out. Each one, it appeared, she picked up at different spots throughout the region – starting at a drag show and ending at the homeless shelter.

“Hey! How ya doing?” she’d shout. Everyone within earshot heard her thick, Bronx accent. Additionally, when she asked the question, it appeared that she actually cared to know about you.

In fact, over the next two years of our volunteer commitment, I tested her sincerity and, likely, dumped way too many issues, mostly about living the single life, on her. Even though we came from two completely different worlds, she never judged or flinched, only listened and validated my feelings. About twenty years older than I, I not only appreciated Sadie’s listening skills, but also her sharp tongue that she attributed to tending a bar in the South Bronx, New York, for most of her life. In addition, she had an acid wit and an uncanny ability to make people laugh in spite of themselves.

Unlike most everyone else who fit into society’s norm, Sadie despised the norm. She was an outsider from her very beginning and, thus, found it difficult to connect with others, even though she tried to conform to the norm in her younger years by marrying her high school sweetheart at 21 years old. You see, she was raised in a traditional household at a time when women did not work outside the home. The only roles available to them were being wives and mothers. Shortly after Sadie’s marriage, she birthed her first daughter. By the time she had her third daughter, she had sunk into alcohol during her unhappy marriage. She eventually ended up divorced and married two more times afterwards. During her third marriage, when she heard about an opening for a barmaid at the local bar, she applied for it because it seemed like an interesting job that would allow her to use her skill set and allow her to earn her own money. As soon as Sadie found success as a barmaid, she divorced her husband, with whom she shared a daughter, her fourth. He was not supportive of her working outside the home, and she was not about to stop. A few months after her third and final divorce, she hitched up with a new boyfriend. With a burning desire to quit alcohol and turn her life around, what she would soon learn as she sought therapy and dealt with her insecurities and struggles was that she bought society’s “faulty bag of goods” early on and, by doing so, never acquired the faith in herself to believe she was good enough as a woman to survive on her own without a man meeting her needs instead of her.

Long story short and a trail of boyfriends later, Sadie managed to kick off alcohol and live sober and, in the interim, quit her job at the bar. Her current boyfriend supported her, and she was not afraid to admit it. In fact, she was proud of it because she accepted her human fragility and was the first one to laugh at her foibles.

I met her at a wonderful crossroads in her life. She was in the process of meeting two of her personal goals. One, she was saving money in order to enroll in a nursing program at a university. Two, she was trying out for community theater auditions to quench her thirst for theatrical endeavors.

After peeling off all the damage from the wrong influences, she finally became true to herself.  She wasn’t afraid to be different and she refused to conform to societal standards. In other words, she wove all her many painful moments in her life into a one-of-a-kind tapestry.

Sadie believed she was given a second chance and wanted others also to feel connected and loved and not shunned like a misfit. Guided by her new vision of self-acceptance, she befriended the friendless. Through their relationships, she discovered that they had a wealth of knowledge and experience that she could draw upon in her own life.

Anyway, I wasn’t as accepting. For instance, while we prepared the Thursday luncheons, none of her so-called friends lifted a finger to help. One of them, likely in his mid-twenties, who wore brown sandals with thick blood red socks in every season, sporadically stormed in and out of the building. His fury made you think he was a doctor headed to save someone’s life. Most of her other friends literally slept where they were seated. It was easy to figure out they were on some heavy duty meds. The one who really annoyed me was Jenn, but sometimes called Jim. Jenn, as I’ll refer to her now to keep it simple, was not a fan of mine. She shadowed me unbearably close wherever I went except, thankfully, to the restroom. Sometimes, I felt Jenn’s sour breath on my neck directly below my ear and, on occasion, I’d hear murmured grunts.

“Sadie!” I commanded nearly every week, “You just can’t bring these people here! They are not in their right minds. I’m waiting for the Thursday that Jenn just punches me. I mean, I don’t feel safe.”

“Safe?” Sadie asked with a cackle. “Safe? And, who would you say is safe in this world? Do you think my friends are safe? Jenn follows you around because she likes you. Is that so bad? If she were dangerous, do you really think I’d expose her to you or anyone else? I will ask her to step farther away from you, but my friends deserve the same sort of respect you do. Don’t we all have a right to be here? Can’t we all breathe the same air even though we are different? Is this YOUR world alone?”

“Well … “

“Are you saying they are different from you? That they don’t belong here with us?” she roared. During the pregnant pause that followed, all her friends, even the ones asleep, woke up and edged closer to us, forming a circle around us.

“Are they?”

“Well. Umm. No,” I reluctantly admitted.

“Okay then, we’ll see you next Thursday.”

Thursday after Thursdays, I grew to know Sadie and her EXTREMELY interesting friends. In the same manner as Sadie, through their relationships, I was able to learn more about myself and grow in ways I never thought possible. You see, the common theme among Sadie’s group of friends that supplies faith to me to this day is how to overcome a series of unfortunate events and sad circumstances.

The story, though, doesn’t end here. I’ll share the rest in next week’s blog. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will divulge that it is sad, but one that leaves you thinking about faith and hope and how we can still find purpose and a deeper meaning during some of our darkest moments — if we can decipher and are willing to wear the right corrective lenses.

Consequences of ❤️ Love

Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Another one of the things that my mentor, Kelly, whom I wrote about two weeks ago in a blog post, taught me is that tragedy transforms people into one of two personality types:

1.) Bitter and resentful. These are the people who have a need to be right and view the world as a place of injustice, where they are unfairly treated.

OR,

2.) Faithful and grateful. These folks need to feel connected to something bigger than themselves, whether it be God or nature.

Few people, if any, who survive tragedies, Kelly emphasized, end up with a lukewarm or neutral attitude towards life.

I agree that tragedy typically shakes you up in one direction — or another. Bernice is a woman who is a example of this belief. In fact, she exhibits the polar opposite traits of Kelly’s.

Bernice’s then 21-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the 1980s. Eleven months after her diagnosis she died, leaving Bernice and her husband to grieve for their only child.

The loss of a child is one of the most heart-wrenching tragedies that can occur in a person’s life. Whereas few, if any, parents can “move on” from this type of grief they can “move with it” and, typically, learn to find a place for it inside themselves, as if it is a massive piece of permanent furniture. In the process, they can fall into one of the two aforementioned categories.

In Bernice’s case, while grieving her daughter, she ended up fitting category #1. Not to minimize her horrible set of circumstances, but, to this day, it’s easy to spot Bernice anywhere she goes; she’s the one with the sour, lemon-face expression. She’s also quick to lash out and blame others when something, anything, goes askew.

Actually, after her daughter died, she blamed the doctors and medical staff as well as her then husband. Needless to say, her marriage dissolved and she and her husband divorced within a year’s time. Luckily for her, the divorcee met another divorcee, Ernie, a few years later. He was calm, patient and understanding of Bernice’s struggles. Bernice felt he understood her better than anyone else, and she felt calmer around him.

The problem, though, stemmed from her being a bossy, nasty stepmother to his three daughters, who were adolescents at the time. Opposite of their own birth mother, who was understanding and balanced in her parental approach, Bernice was strict and demanded perfection. She forbid them from dating boys or going out with friends, because she felt the only way they would succeed in life was to be focused on school. Ernie did not interfere with his second wife’s method of running the household. In this way, he could focus on his high-profile copywriter position for a large marketing agency.

On the other hand, Bernice’s ability to find a work-personal life balance was easier since she worked full-time in a far-less stressful environment then he did. Plus, Ernie willingly accepted his wife’s “parenting skills” of always telling his daughters what to do and how to do it, because he felt her motive aligned with his: helping his children grow up into good, responsible adults.

The sisters started to rebel against the rules of their stepmother, which led to a chaotic and difficult situation for Ernie. His daughters likely sensed what Ernie did not. Bernice had no control over herself and her tragic past. Unable to find peace in herself, she was an egotistical, unruly stepmother who created her own personal war in her husband’s family. The tactic was a great distraction for what mattered the most — sitting in her pain and taking responsibility for herself.

Basically, Bernice’s approach was the EXACT opposite of Kelly’s step-mother approach. I wrote about the positive building blocks that Kelly achieved in her relationship with her step kids in my previous blog post, but what do you think happened to Bernice’s stepfamily? Yep. It fell apart. It got to the point where Bernice gave Ernie an ultimatum: “It’s either me or your daughters!” Needless to say, although his daughters were heartbroken, Ernie abandoned them and instead, choose to be with Bernice. From there, for decades, the couple fell off the radar of family and friends.

Fast-forward to over thirty years later. The revelation of losing his own daughters caused Ernie to experience feelings of guilt and loss and he wondered if this was his wife’s desired intent. It made sense since, in this way, he could feel sad and grief-stricken in the same way she did. The more he thought about it, the clearer things became. He escaped his resentments and own guilty feelings by having extramarital affairs. Bernice, on the other hand, coped with the turbulent marriage by numbing her feelings with alcohol. Not long after, their marriage ended in a bitter, costly, miserable divorce.

Bernice has always been angry, but now she has reached her limit. She lives in her own small apartment rental and, apart from her kind-hearted brother who checks in on her every so often, she is left to fend for herself. Her only friend, at least as far as she is concerned, is alcohol.

Ernie is still playing the field, but slowly, very slowly trying to mend bridges with his daughters who carry their own load of anger, resentment and hurt toward their father.

Bernice and Ernie remind us that we all want to believe that there are things we can count on to make us happy, but life is not like that and neither is love.

Loss can be devastating and leave people feeling helpless in its wake. It can feel like a tornado has swept away everything familiar and left nothing intact. The question is:

1.) Do we shut ourselves off from all love if we fear the cruel twister of loss? In some cases, yes. (In the manner that Bernice did and, in a different way, how Ernie did.)

OR,

2.) Do we dare travel the open road with courage and an accepting heart while navigating uncertainty? (In the manner Kelly did.)

Do you choose, #1 or #2?

Don’t let anyone kid you, love is always a choice. All it takes is a little faith — or none at all. It’s in your pocket. Dig deep within you to release the strength you will need to walk your unique path and keep your eyes forward to meet the twists, turns and obstacles head on; remembering always, the best lesson in courage is not a lesson. It’s how you take life in stride.

because you take your life in stride

because you take your life in stride
Because you take your life in stride (instead
of scheming how to beat the noblest game
a man can proudly lose, or playing dead
and hoping death himself will do the same)


because you aren’t afraid to kiss the dirt
(and consequently dare to climb the sky)
because a mind no other mind should try
to fool has always failed to fool your heart


but most (without the smallest doubt) because
no best is quite so good you don’t conceive
a better, and because no evil is
so worse than worst you fall in hate with love
-human one mortally immortal i
can turn immense all time’s because to why

– e.e. cummings

Faith Muscle

Life’s❤️ Sweet Recipe

I was in the middle of writing the final paragraph of this week’s blog and then realized it was Valentine’s Day TODAY! Although the last string of my blogs have centered around love themes — figures that the blog I initially worked on for today pertained to a woman who was removed from love. I had to quickly change my plans and attempted to “force fit” a Valentine’s spin on the blog post, but failed miserably and decided to give up the reins of control and post the piece next week.

Interestingly, while trying to edit my original blog post, I conducted a quick Google search and found the following information about today’s holiday below:

“Today, is Valentine’s Day in America. The name Valentine comes from a Latin word meaning “strength.” There are many legends about it, but it’s ultimately unclear how Valentine’s Day became associated with the tradition of exchanging the affectionate gifts and love notes that we call valentines.”

I never associated Valentine’s Day with the theme of strength. When I learned this information, I thought about how love is beautiful, yet it can be difficult and take a lot of strength to get through each day in a relationship with someone you love. Worst still, is finding the strength to live as an unhappy couple under one roof.

Valentine’s Day is meant to be one of the most romantic and sentimental days of the year. It’s a day for lovers and couples to celebrate their love. For single people, it can be an especially hard day — a day that requires extra strength to get through.

And so this reflects my son’s story. From the time he was an adolescent, he became introverted and socially isolated. Every Valentine’s Day seemed harder than the last one and on those holidays every night seemed more difficult than the last one in the previous year.

I shared a similar history when I was his age. In fact, I wrote a string of maudlin-sounding articles dealing with being single and alone in America and, feeding into my sad, painful state, they were all rejected by editors.

At any age, it’s a challenge to find the strength to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. That said, Valentine’s Day has also taken on a few new meanings to me in recent years. It is no longer just about a traditional couple’s love and romance, but also about celebrating the LGBT community, marginalized and voiceless. It is a time for me to get unstuck in MY dark feelings and, instead, find the strength to get proactive and distribute a few “sweet treats” JUST BECAUSE, I care. JUST BECAUSE, I don’t want others to feel hopeless and fall into faithlessness.

And that’s what I’ve done over this last week, sprinkled a little Valentine’s magic in the form of greeting cards, gift cards and homemade candy (NOT homemade by me though!) to a few kids and adults I haven’t seen in a while.

My Heart-Shaped Sweet Potato GIFT

Now, I am going to tell you about a surprise gift that I received yesterday. It was a sweet potato in the shape of a heart, right out of the bag. It was such a simple thing, but lifted my spirits and gave me the strength to get through the rest of my day!

No matter how your spirits are today and regardless of your situation, my wish for you this Valentine’s Day is that you have the hope, faith and strength to celebrate the little things that warm your heart. For example, whipping up a sweet potato pie, a classic American dessert, to share with a neighbor will fill the bill (and your belly AND DEFINITELY WARM YOUR HEART!).

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

Lesson 1 (the only one you need): ❤️ Love

Last week, I planned to write a blog post about love. However, after attending a Wynonna Judd concert, I changed my mind, and wrote another blog post that dealt with a different angle of the power of love.

As I watched the performance, it reminded me of how love transcends all boundaries and brings people together in ways that nothing else can, which, full circle, was what I intended initially to elaborate on. You see, when I was in my mid-twenties, I met a mentor, Kelly, who taught me this vital lesson.

Kelly married later in life for the first time to a divorcee. Her primary focus was on her husband, who was a big-hearted guy, and the couple’s goal was to embrace this new chapter of their lives with confidence and joy. However, as a stepmother, it is not easy to win the hearts of all your stepchildren. In the case of this particular woman, most of her then adolescent and young adult stepchildren immediately accepted her with open arms. Nonetheless, the youngest child, Maggie, was not so welcoming and, conversely, threw verbal pointed darts. Whenever Kelly was in her presence, Maggie constantly talked about her mother’s beauty and intelligence. It was an obvious manipulative tactic to pit Kelly against Maggie’s own mother to make Kelly feel inferior.

Kelly managed to not take anything about how “perfect” Maggie’s mother was to heart. Eventually, Kelly was able to put herself in Maggie’s shoes and realized that her stepdaughter wanted her dad to remain married to her birth mom. Kelly understood her motive, but rather than trying to force Maggie to accept her presence, she chose a different approach. She decided to listen and understand Maggie’s feelings in order to work towards helping her adjust to the new family dynamic. Subsequently, when it came to Maggie’s mother, Kelly made sure to be extra careful with her words. The most important thing to Kelly was that she be keenly aware not to put down Maggie’s mother in any way, shape or form.

(I should note that Kelly WAS NOT a pushover. If Maggie had verbally attacked or hurt her directly, Maggie would have drawn a healthy boundary so as not to subject herself to her stepdaughter’s abuse.)

Ironically, Maggie was an atheist and Kelly was a devout Catholic. Kelly never tried to convert her, (although would have liked to!). Because she allowed Maggie to be who she was without judgment, she found out soon enough, you don’t need a particular belief to have faith. In fact, Kelly found out that Maggie had a lot of love in her heart, which, to Kelly, was all that mattered.

This attitude allowed Maggie to feel heard and understood. By allowing Maggie to be who she was, warts and all, Kelly managed to build an understanding relationship with Maggie and eventually helped her accept the fact that she had another mother in her life.

But the story doesn’t end there. About ten years after Kelly married Maggie’s father, Maggie was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. Her odds of survival were next to nil. Who do you think she wanted by her side as she went through the terrible medical ordeal that followed? You got it! Kelly! Although she loved them both, it was the second mom who happened to be the most instrumental, because Kelly was a physician’s assistant. With her extensive knowledge of medical terminology and her ability to explain complex concepts in a simple way, Kelly was able to help everyone understand the medical lingo.

Despite the fact that her doctors gave Maggie less than a year to live, she ended up living for 10 more years with her illness. Ten! In the process, her parents, all three of them, were with her every step of the way, and, after a brave battle, she died peacefully at 43 years old last year, in the presence of those who loved her, including her two moms and dad.

It is easy to preach, but to teach by example is what counts. Kelly’s story helps me make difficult decisions in my life and gives me the faith that no matter how hard things appear, I can push through with the right attitude and determination. Her influence is not just something that I carry with me in my life, it has become a strong source of guidance and comfort and a force I turn to, like the power of light, which helps guide me through the darkest of times.

Love ❤️ Can Build a Bridge

Despite my reservations, I decided to attend “The Judds: The Final Tour” concert last Saturday. I had a variety of concerns about the event that were causing me to hesitate, none of which I’ll elaborate on, but in the end, I decided to take the plunge and go with my dear friend, Camille, who secured the tickets. As it turned out, my worries were unfounded. 

Wynonna Judd has been a household name since the early 90s when she rose to fame as a country music star. Her success was meteoric, and she quickly became one of the most popular country singers of all time. However, despite her fame and success, although I liked and sang along to her hits on the radio, I was never a huge fan. Since Lucille Ball died in 1989, I did not conform with the masses and follow any other entertainers, singers or celebrities.

Before our family tragedy, I had been an avid fan of country/western music. Now, I no longer feel the same connection to this genre. I was curious, however, to see how Wynonna would bring her style of music to life on the stage. I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, I had never seen her perform before. But when she took the stage and started playing her country music, I was blown away by her talent and energy that had me – and the rest of the audience – captivated from start to finish.

The Judd family has been in the public eye for many years, and during that time, many rumors and conflicts have come to light. It is no secret that the Judds have also faced a great deal of mental health challenges, ranging from depression to addiction. The matriarch, Naomi, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 30, 2022, the day before she and Wynonna were scheduled to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The concert we went to was initially intended to be part of Naomi and Wynonna’s tour, the first one in nearly a decade that the singers announced on April 11, nine days before the tragedy happened.

Strongly influenced by her husband, Cactus, after her mom’s death, Wynonna decided to perform the tour solo. Her decision has led her to be a symbol of hope and faith for many people, myself among them. The singer’s strength lies in her ability to perform while grieving her recent loss, especially when you consider the scope of the monster. Labeling grief as an emotion or feeling is only looking at it in a very limited way. Grief is more like a giant sponge that absorbs and affects us on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. For Wynonna, there is no running away from the pain. Instead, she takes it head-on with her fearless attitude.

Grief is also a universal emotion, yet it is often associated with shame and taboo. On stage, one woman has chosen to counter this stigma by sharing her story of loss and grief in an open and honest way. Through Wynonna’s tears, she communicates to others that it is okay to cry, to feel pain, and freely express emotions and, thereby, encourages others to confront their own uncomfortable feelings. Furthermore, she demonstrates resilience by continuing to live a different version of life after grief’s transformative effect.

As I looked around the room during the concert, I was taken aback by the sight of numerous rows of empty seats. It was a stark contrast to the energy and enthusiasm that Wynonna spread throughout the arena. Instead of ignoring the empty seats, she addressed them directly, revealing her difficulty in coming to terms with empty seats when she was a young performer. She told the audience that she now at 58 years old understands that quality is more important than quantity. She has experienced the highs and lows of life and decided that living meaningfully is what truly matters. On the night of the concert, it was definitely quality and not quantity that counted. The atmosphere was electric. As Wyonna put it, it felt as if there were 10,000 people in the audience cheering and singing along to every song. She confided that, as it turned out, we had been her BEST audience during that particular week.

The performer shared during an interview that the goal of her performances on this tour was to heal. The stage, in fact, was filled with love, a powerful emotion that has the ability to bring people together and heal broken hearts. It was a sight to behold, as people of all ages and backgrounds were united in love. Last week, I wrote about the topic of love and actually planned to write about it this week with a totally different story angle until I attended the concert.

Interestingly, when I watched Wynonna and Cactus, an amazing drummer, singing and gazing into each other’s eyes, I, too, was moved by their deep connection, a positive element of their relationship that she has also publicly discussed. It was a reminder that true love is not always about grand gestures, but more about being present to the moment and appreciating what you have.

Wynonna’s performance became further enhanced by her nostalgic mix of photos and videos that served as a reminder of the many impactful memories Wynonna’s mom created in her lifetime. At the end of the concert, it was particularly heartwarming to hear Wynonna singing along with a synced video image of her mom singing too.

The music of a vulnerable human being is something that goes beyond just sound. It is an expression of deep emotion and experience that can touch the heart and soul of listeners. When such a person sings, it is as if they are presenting themselves in a poignant song, inviting us to feel their pain and joy in every note. I was drawn to Wynonna’s music and able to reflect and introspect in a way in which I connected with the artist on a deeper level than I could ever have imagined. Her music moved me emotionally, helped me process my own grief I was feeling at the time. Even though country/western music is no longer the genre that defines me as it once did, Wynonna helped me understand that it still holds a special place in my heart. I cannot erase the part it played, along with my memories, in my own unique narrative and journey. Who would have dreamed that in about an hour and a half of her performance, though I knew the power of love could heal a broken heart, what I didn’t fully grasp was the importance of understanding how the bridge of love had already been built inside me over a long course of time. I can look at both sides, inward and outward, and find solace despite the pain and hurt, see a broken heart and take comfort in the fact that its quality as a vessel of love remains.

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Love ❤️ is the Answer

The tip of my head to the bottom of my toenails hurt and every part in between. Last Wednesday, January 18th, on what would have been my son’s 30th birthday, I needed a lot of love. More than usual. The stillness of the day exemplified how the world has moved on, and I’m still stuck in the quicksand of November 2019.

The people I thought would at very least “check in” must have “checked out,” because I did not hear a word from any of them, and I found myself focusing on the disappointment rather than on the joy I felt from those who DID show up with kind-hearted words, text messages and emails.

My dear friend, Camille, in fact, surprised me with a lovely sunflower bouquet and beautiful greeting card.

In addition, during the last year, I’ve been honored to assist in writing a widow’s grief memoir. The relatively young widow, Michelle, happens to be a dear friend of mine. The book is partly composed of letters she writes to her deceased husband who passed away tragically three months prior to our family’s tragic loss. Last Wednesday, feeling weighed down with grief, I happened to reread one of her letters in which she elaborates on her mother-in-law’s grief of losing a son.

“I know she is as grief-stricken, but she is stronger than I am and loves more because she doesn’t want any of us to be sad for her. She knows we all have our own grief, and she doesn’t want to add to it.”

Miraculously, through the day I channeled this incredible woman, Rita, whom I know only through writing about her, and found myself feeding on her reservoir of love.

I don’t want anyone to be sad for me.” I repeated, breaking the pronounced silence of the day.

A repeated lesson that I seem to have to relearn constantly is that love is the most powerful emotion in this world. It can change everything ALWAYS. It’s like a ray of sun beaming through the grayest of days. It is a life force; an energy; a mega dose of Vitamin C.

The day ended on a bittersweet note. I hadn’t heard from my 28-year-old daughter all day on Wednesday. I thought she needed the space and privacy, and the solitude to put one foot in front of the other and inch forward.

At around six p.m. that evening, she called, out of breath. I could barely understand her words. “The cemetery is so dark.”

“What?” You got in your car directly after work, jumped into the height of traffic, and you sat on the highway for an hour, just so you could visit your brother in the dark cemetery, even though I do believe it’s supposed to close at sunset? That all sounds kind of risky to me.

I refrained from saying how crazy I felt her actions were, especially since her character is usually driven by pure logic. Though I will say that they were incredibly similar to what I would have done at her age in her situation, working purely from an emotional realm.

Our conversation was filled with love and honesty, and it reaffirmed my faith in the power of love. This is what love looks like when it’s real — when there are tears and laughter and sadness all mixed together in one moment in time. In the end, all that matters is not a perfect public facade that masks our private despair, but the intimate moments of our imperfect hearts. 

I’m learning that grief is my price to pay for love. Paradoxically, living through grief has helped me to push, stretch until it feels unbearable, love in an insurmountable way.

Camille’s sunflower bouquet: nearly a week later, but still beautiful

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