Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feeling blue, then not

Well, I have to say, thanks to the wonders of the telephone, what started out to be a pretty depressing night, turned out to be quite fun.  I'm alone tonight - my apartment mate Abigail went to see "Wicked" with the company who's staying here.  So I've been home alone with my two dogs and I spent the night on the phone with several friends, who were also home and we laughed and I was able to remember just how grateful I am for friends and for my new home and for all the blessings in my life.

I've been listening to music and really enjoying how beautiful our living room looks - I promise to add a photo soon.  My camera died and I have to get a new one, so I'm looking around for an inexpensive point and shoot camera.  

I'm looking forward to our little Thanksgiving gathering tomorrow - no family, just friends - and plenty of good food.  I am so grateful just to be alive and to have survived a pretty rough year.  

As Cy O'Neal said to me in Friends In Deed, and my friend Joe said the same thing tonight: I have a blank canvas and I am now starting to fill it with everything that I desire: caring friends, a lovely home, my dogs, an always loving relationship with my daughter (even when she's WORKING and BUSY), writing, my community, an interesting future.  

I'm grateful to have this blog to write and for living in a great city, a city I love, filled with so many fascinating people.  In February, I'll be whining about the cold, but for tonight - it's quite perfect. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A new thanksgiving

For the first time in many many years I will not be having Thanksgiving with any member of my family.  We used to go to my mother's ... and I have to admit after a few hours, I couldn't wait to get back on the Long Island Railroad and go home.  But I also looked forward to the gathering every year and the conversations and even the arguing.  

This is the first Thanksgiving that my mother is gone and I miss her and I really miss my daughter, Zoe, but I am so proud that she found a job in San Francisco.  
I am so grateful that I can cry now, after so many years of keeping a lid on all my feelings,  because there was too much to deal with.

Right now though, there is so much to be grateful for, so I'm going to list my top ten:

1. My daughter
2. My health
3. Our newly re-decorated home (which looks amazing)
4. Abigail (my wonderful loft mate)
5. All my wonderful friends and family
6. Michael Eigen
7. Friends in Deed
8. Pema Chodron and meditation

9. My spiritual practice

10. My writing

Here's a quote from "The Wisdom of No Escape" by Pema Chodron:

"The first noble truth says that if you are alive, if you have a heart, if you can love, if you can be compassionate, if you can realize the life energy that makes everything change, and move and grow and die, then you won't have any resentment or resistance.  The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort."

Thanksgiving can be a very discomforting day.  It's rarely the perfect family photo op we all imagine it will be.  But I think if we focus on the gratitude for what we have, it usually works out pretty well.  At Friends in Deed I love the idea they talk about that the glass is neither half full or half empty, it is both.  And that the quality of our lives is not determined by the circumstances. 

So I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, wherever you go or whatever you do.  And I do suggest pants that stretch.

Friday, November 20, 2009


George Bernard Shaw:

"Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to future generations."  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm so tired of being earnest

I think it's time for me to be completely silly.  My sense of humor seems to have deserted me these past few months.  It's been seven months now since I've been on my own really - and five months since my mother died - and it's starting to feel a little better.  I know that the grieving isn't over, but it's slowly starting to lift.  I don't want to quote Pema Chodron, or my book about grief, or anything serious. I just want to say that life is pretty good right now and though I can't think of anything funny and I'm desperately trying to, I am grateful to be feeling optimistic.  

Tomorrow, Abigail, my loft mate and I will be moving across the hall to our friend Sandy's photography studio, as we have the loft re-decorated in time for company to arrive for Thanksgiving.  I'm excited to see what Michael, our "re-decorator" does.  He takes what you have and completely re-arranges it and every apartment I've seen him do is great.

The holidays are definitely a challenging time and probably they will bring up some sadness for me this year - since I won't be with my family - but I'm excited that my daughter Zoe has a job and I'm hoping to visit her sometime this winter.  And I'm grateful for my dear friends and for being a size 6. 

I'm reading an excellent book: "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor - "A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey." And I better read a little before I fall asleep.  

I did read that David Lloyd died a few days ago.  He wrote for pretty much every great sitcom of the 70's and 80's and his most famous show was an episode of Mary Tyler Moore called "Chuckles Bites the Dust."  

"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."

Sometimes there's just nothing better than a really good laugh.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Welcome to Miami

Our trip to Miami with 320 women coming together from all over the world to attend workshops with Regena Thomashauer (aka "Mama Gena") was fantatic.  The time spent with the women I met last year in my pod was also very healing.  The message that we get at these gatherings is about women following their pleasure in all areas of their lives, their work, their relationships, their connections with other women, taking time to play, taking care of ourselves, supporting and helping each other to achieve our desires. I took a Nia dance/exercise class with Debbie Rosas, who created Nia and that was fantastic.  We went back to the Greek restaurant Opa again and brought more friends and everyone danced on the tables (including my friend's seventy-something mom) and we all had a really fun night.  We swam in the ocean and the pool every day.  The weather was perfect.  Anthony Bourdain, my favorite foodie was at the hotel.  I haven't felt so healthy in a long time.  My headaches disappeared and I stayed up late and my appetite came back.  It was a fantastic four days. 

And then last night, back in New York, my friend Emily and I went to see Robert Kennedy Jr. speak at Town Hall about the environment and about energy sources.  He calls himself a free venture capitalist and talks about the urgency to end our dependency on oil, to update the power grid, to increase our wind and solar sources and to stop allowing big business to control our lives.  He was articulate and funny and clearly knows what he's talking about. And thank God that Obama is in the White House and beginning to make the changes we need to make to save our planet and that people like RFK Jr. and others are on the case. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Message for today

From "Healing After Loss" by Martha Whitmore Hickman:

"Bit by bit we need to loosen our hold on a past we cannot keep and get on with the life we have."

I'm off to Miami today for a long weekend, to be with my Mama Gena women (250+ women from all over the world.)  I will miss my dogs and I'm sure they will be even more confused, wondering where everyone in their family has gone and why they are living in Soho again, away from their park.  But they seem to be adjusting, as we all are.  

I'm hoping to have some fun this weekend.  Enough grief - time to dance. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The advanced class of life

I've heard it said that people who have gone through particularly grueling life challenges are probably those who are in the "advanced class of life."  They are people who can deal with some heavy duty problems.  My mother was one of those people. This morning, I read this paragraph in a book called "Healing After Loss."

"We have but to look around us and see the many others who have suffered losses.  They are legion.  They walk the streets with us, get on and off the bus, shop with us in the stores.  They have survived.  And some of them have been made stronger and are now pillars of support for others."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My mom

This morning, as I was doing my quiet meditation, I sensed my mother's presence, as well as the loss I feel in my life without her.  My mother was a complex person.  And she loved me.  I felt anger sometimes towards her.  And I respected her.  She drove us all crazy sometimes.  And we miss her.  She hated the way she looked after she got sick.  And she still had an inner beauty.  She was funny and tolerated no bullshit.  She disliked the nursing home she had to live in at the end of her life and she had more "boyfriends" there than any other resident.  The average age of these "boyfriends" was forty. She would be sitting in the solarium and a few of the aides would come by and say, "Hey, Helen!  How are you doing today?  You look beautiful."  And she would light up.  She complained that her aide, Janis, and Janis' best friend, Wendy, laughed too much and were too happy.  And she loved listening to their gossip.  I miss her and wish we could have one more afternoon sitting together in the backyard.  

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Mastery at Friends in Deed, Part II

After spending an entire weekend at the Mastery and eating the best food I've had in a long time (eggs baked with sausage and asparagus, delicious chicken, rice, roasted carrots, carrot cake) - after being nurtured with love and food for an entire weekend, I have a better idea what the Mastery was about.  I'm not going to write much about it, because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might take it, or something like it. 

I will write a few things that I learned or - that I've been learning and were reinforced over the weekend.  

"The quality of life is not determined by our circumstances, but by what we do with them."   I lost my mother this year, my marriage ended, my daughter moved away, my job ended, I had to move, it's a lot of shit.  I am sad.  I am grieving.  But I can still enjoy life and allow myself the space to feel a range of feelings, rather than suppress them.  Those feelings are not facts - they are just feelings.  

Use "and" - as in "I loved my mother AND she was a difficult person."  Rather than "I loved my mother, but she was a difficult person."  

Resentments are like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. 

Blame: "if we knew then what we know now, everything would have been different...and we didn't know then, so what's the point in blaming ourselves or others?"

Our feelings are an inarguable truth:  "I feel sad."  That is true.  But worry is drama.  And I know I love drama, but it drives me crazy.  

"What other people think of me is none of my business."  That's freeing.

We talked about patterns in our histories that we would like to break.  A few of them were "living in negative predictions."  "How can I ask someone for help?"  "I need to rescue people."  

Put a period in a sentence after the facts.  "The subways in NYC are all screwed up on weekends.  It is annoying."  Rather than, "the subways are all screwed up on the weekends and it makes me late for everything, and I get so angry that it ruins my entire day and then I'll get into a fight with my friends."

I loved this line from the movie "Sordid Lives" which I have never seen, but someone mentioned:  "Get off the cross, we need the wood."

It is through difficult times that we have the most growth.  (I find that very annoying.)  I have had great epiphanies while shopping.  (I'm kidding.) 

Is the glass half empty or half full?  It is both.  

This weekend, I walked into a room that had about five or six people I knew fairly well, and about fifty others I didn't know at all.  And I fell in love with all of them.  The participants of the Mastery and the people who helped out by cooking and just being there in the "back row."  They came from all over the world and everyone's stories were different, yet the universality was so evident when people shared from their heart.  What a gift.  My dream is to find a foundation that funds organizations like Friends In Deed and help them with a very large grant.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Mastery at Friends in Deed

I'm not sure what I think of this Mastery experience yet, except that the meals have been excellent.  Nothing like being fed every meal when you're in a crisis.  The volunteers cook amazing meals - last night Shepard's Pie, a big salad, fresh cole slaw.  This morning's breakfast was excellent oatmeal, bacon, fruit salad, yogurt, lunch was flank steak, roasted potatoes, roasted broccoli (best broccoli I've ever tasted), another big salad, fresh bread, and gingerbread cake with butter cream icing.  Tomorrow they say the breakfast is going to be fantastic, some kind of egg dish that's baked with cheese and sausage, and another egg dish for vegetarians.

The Mastery started in the 80's when the participants all were AIDS patients or HIV Positive, now it's for anyone who wants to attend.  Like Friends in Deed big groups, most people are either dealing with illness, caregiving or grief. Each mastery seems to have its own theme, loss is always one theme - this group seems to have a lot of caregivers.  It's a very intimate experience and I have to say it's left me a bit raw emotionally tonight.  I'm feeling sad and lonely, but I know that it will pass.  And I am looking forward to going back tomorrow. 

I wish that sitting with the feelings wasn't as uncomfortable as it is, but I know that for years when I was so involved in caregiving, I never really had the luxury of feeling all the emotions, because I felt I might not be able to cope with caregiving and falling apart.  Now all I have to do is take care of myself and let myself feel the feelings.  And if I feel like falling apart, I can.  And then I guess I can put myself back together again too.

I hope that in a year from now, I can look back at this time with sympathy and compassion for myself.  I miss Zoe so much and I know this isn't easy for her either.  Her life has changed quite radically too.  I wish I could hug her now.  I guess I'll go hug Lucy and Lola and let myself have a good cry.  

Friday, November 6, 2009

A primer on grief

If anyone is reading this blog for the first time, I will quickly get you up to speed.  This past year, 2009, has been challenging for many people - and I'm no exception. 

At the beginning of the year, I stopped working because the business I was in tanked (real estate.) I can't say I ever really loved it, but I enjoyed the people I worked with, being of service, and having an income.  
In April, my husband and I decided to separate after 24 years of marriage.  Then in May, my mother (who'd already survived two hospice stays) got very sick and on June 9th, she died.  A few weeks later, my 21 year-old daughter (whom I adore) moved to San Francisco (she couldn't have picked Boston?)  For all of August and September, I was left alone to sort through everything in our loft in Brooklyn, selling much of it, tossing a lot out, having a stoop sale, etc., and pack up what I could to move into my dear friend's loft in Soho. Did I leave anything out?  Death, divorce, moving, empty nest, loss of income, no, I think that's it.  Could it be worse?  Yes.  Is it a lot to deal with?  Yes.
With all of that on my "plate" - I have to say that in one way I got very lucky.  My move back to Soho, where I lived with my husband and daughter for seventeen years, has brought me a block away from a place that has saved thousands of lives over the past twenty years,  Friends In Deed.  I have discussed it before, but briefly it began in the late 80's to help people cope with the AIDS crisis and it has grown into dealing with illness, caregiving and grief.  It's an amazing place that offers counseling, groups, body work, nutrition counseling, you name it, they do it. I've written about it before.
Last night I went to a seminar on grief led by Dr. Eric Schneider, who is the spiritual advisor to FID.  On Tuesday night, after hearing me share in a big group, a woman came up to me and said quite emphatically: "Thursday night. 7 pm.  Dr. Eric.  Grief and loss. Come. Trust me, he's amazing."
I've done plenty of reading on grief, but I have to say that I got what I needed to hear last night and it rang true for me.  Take what you like and leave the rest, as they say:

Loss:  a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity
Grief: the natural response to loss
Grief is endless.  

The five stages of grief as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about are not linear and perhaps there are better models.  Those five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  What about relief?  What about guilt?  

Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.  

Another one:  awareness -- alarm -- emptiness (three levels - first level is the loss of the person, the life.  Second level, practical issues, the loss of income, a home, etc.  Third level, the constant reminders: you pick up the phone to call the person, you cook for two instead of one, you look at the chair he or she sat in.)
Disintegration- then reintegration..."the new normal."  The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return.  Grief is natural, like breathing.  You try to let it happen, let it run its own course.  
Myths:  You'll get over it.  You'll transcend it.  There is a right way to grieve.
Truth:  Your loss will transform you.  We need to get out of our way.  This is the experience, it is what it is.  Tell your friends what you need.  Let them know you can use their help.  If they ask, and you don't know what you need, thank them for asking and ask them to maybe ask again.  Soon.
The transformation is often for the better.  Not always, but usually.  I know that I have become a much more empathetic person these past few years.

What is not ultimately helpful: drugs, drinking, eating too much, these are all distractions from the process.  The one thing many people talked about was taking something to sleep - and Eric said that dreams help keep the grieving process moving forward, so maybe it's not such a great idea to take Ambien or Lunesta very often.   

Human beings are resilient.  We are amazingly strong.
What helps with grief?

Talking helps
Not talking helps
Screaming, yelling
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)
Your animals

These are all the tools I have been using, so it felt good to know that I am on the right track. There are other tools I find helpful - music, laughter, nature, and I would put  Friends in Deed at the top of my list.  This weekend I'm doing what is called "The Mastery" at FID.  I honestly have no idea what it is, but I'll let you know. 


Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Every morning (which has turned into my favorite time of the day) I wake up, make myself a cup of coffee and then meditate for thirty minutes.  It seems to give me a good outlook on the day.  I also have a few readings I like to do before going out into the world and the one this morning, from Melody Beattie's "The Language of Letting Go" was particularly meaningful:
Feeling angry - and, sometimes, the act of blaming - is a natural and necessary part of accepting loss and change - of grieving.  We can allow ourselves and others to become angry as we move from denial toward acceptance.
As we come to terms with loss and change, we may blame ourselves, our Higher Power, or others.  The person may be connected to the loss, or he or she may be an innocent bystander.  We may hear ourselves say: 'If only he would have done that....If I wouldn't have done that....Why didn't God do it differently?....'  We know that blame doesn't help.  In recovery, the watchwords are self-responsibility and personal accountability, not blame.  Ultimately, surrender and self-responsibility are the only concepts that can move us forward, but to get there we may need to allow ourselves to feel angry and to occasionally indulge in some blaming.
It is helpful in dealing with others, to remember that they, too, may need to go through their angry stage to achieve acceptance.  To not allow others, or ourselves, to go through anger and blame may slow down the grief process.  
Trust ourselves and the grief processs.  We won't stay angry forever.  But we may need to get mad for a while as we search over what could have been, to finally accept what is.
God, help me learn to accept my own and others' anger as a normal part of achieving acceptance and peace.  Within that framework, help me strive for personal accountability."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Guest House

After doing yoga yesterday (and definitely feeling the muscle aches today), and continuing this painful journey of divorce, not knowing when or where I will find a job, feeling a bit rootless, missing my daughter, and also being filled with gratitude for this journey I've been on all year, I thought of a Rumi poem that I have always loved.  Here it is:

The human being is a guest house
Every morning there is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house
and empty it from its furniture
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yoga, finally

I've been threatening to take a yoga class for a long time and today I finally did.  I came in two minutes late and walked into a dark closet to find a mat.  The handsome teacher had to show me where the light was.  I had to squeeze into a spot, which then turned out to be too near the speaker, so I moved the mat.  The teacher played music in a yoga class which is very weird to me, but it turned out to be okay.  I probably could have been almost every person's mother in the class, they were all so young and beautiful.  I could follow the class, after all I studied with Bikram, for God's sake...and many other teachers over the years.  

I was in the class thinking, "Oy vey, this is way too hard for me.  I can't do this.  I can't hold my leg up over my head and hold a downward facing dog for what felt like ten minutes and breathe.  I need an easier class."  But somehow about half way through the class, I felt good.  I felt connected to my body.  I loved the stretching.  I felt proud that I could at least try most of the postures and the ones I couldn't even begin to do, many other people in the class couldn't do either.  

So tomorrow, I will probably not be able to walk or move and I will probably be in pain.  I remember the pain of yoga class when you haven't done it in awhile.  But I look foward to trying other classes and hopefully continuing.  

And then I went to Friends In Deed and had yet another good cry and a big salad and some very good macaroni and cheese.   

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Way of Myth (and marriage)

 Sometimes when I leave the loft, I grab a book that I own, but perhaps have never read, or read years ago, or read only a few chapters of.  Today I picked up Joseph Campbell's book "The Way of Myth" to read on the subway on my way uptown.  The first chapter of the book talks about how many people come to the later years of their lives and wonder what it was all about?  Was it worth the effort to acquire things, or power, or whatever, what was the point of all those years of being driven?  His description:  "You've got to the top of the ladder and found it's against the wrong wall." 

And then he goes on to talk about marriage and that really hit home for me:

"We see it in marriage, for instance.  There are two stages.  First is what I call the biological stage, which has to do with producing and raising children, and the other is what I would call the alchemical marriage - realizing the spiritual identity that the two are somehow one person.  There comes a moment in marriage, if you live long enough and stay with the game long enough, when you realize that a spiritual marriage has happened, that the two individuals are two aspects of one identity.  It is the image of the androdyne, the male/female being.  That is the image of what is realized through a marriage.  In that mythological reference the two are one. But how many people do you know who, after the children have left the nest, get divorced because they haven't engaged in the second, spiritual marriage.  We're not given those lessons now in our educational systems, and we don't know how to handle these situations when they arise.  It's a shame."  

This seemed like the perfect message for me to read today.  Not that so many couples don't get divorced long before the kids leave home (we all know many who have), but that I see couples who have a really deep connection and their love and support for each other is so evident, but not in the public display of affection way - just that they are - a couple.  They've grown together, and It's not about sex, or attaining any kind of lifestyle, or any of those things. I find it inspiring when I am with those couples. 

But I love that in these very dark days of this past year, despite the sadness, and the losses. and the tears, I have managed to make my way through without antidepressants, without drinking, without spending unnecessary money, without abusing myself in any way.  And that is very simply because of my incredible support system of the greatest friends and old boyfriends who ever lived, my (imperfect) meditation, and the spiritual practice I work on daily. 

And the good news is that now Steve and I are both off the ladder and moving on to other buildings.