Grief: From the Inside Out

This post is about my personal experience with grief since the death of my mom. I, like everyone else who has suffered loss, am trying to find the best way to navigate through it. This post isn’t a post for sympathy or pity. What I hope comes out of this post is awareness and understanding. My hope is that sharing my experience will help others mourning a loss feel less alone and to help those who haven’t been through it try to see it through the eyes of someone who is. I hope to do for others what many have done for me through their willingness to share details of their personal journeys.

Grief
The word, “grief” is easy to define. Grief, as a process, is not. Grief was summed up best in one of my textbooks,

Each person’s grief is like all other people’s grief; each person’s grief is like some other person’s grief; and each person’s grief is like no other person’s grief.”

My mom died seven months ago, but I just recently started experiencing incredible bouts of sorrow. One night last week I started sobbing uncontrollably. I looked at my husband through a flood of tears and said, “I don’t know what’s happening?” I’ve taken it upon myself to give myself my own made up diagnosis. I call it “chronic heartache” because I truly believe this is what I’m experiencing.

I was surprised at how well I was doing the first six months after my mom’s death. I chalked it up to experiencing anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief often occurs when you are aware of a looming death and accepting it’s inevitable. This grief is not only about accepting the future death, but accepting losses already occurring as an illness progresses. It often stirs up intense emotions as you witness someone experience the loss of their independence, loss of cognition, loss of hope, loss of future dreams, loss of stability and security, loss of their identity and your own, and countless other losses. Up until last week, I thought I had already experienced the most intense part of my grief journey.

Grieving is not a one-size-fits-all process. There are so many factors to take into consideration (e.g., how we learn to cope, the type of loss, how the loss occurred, etc.) I remember when I shared my mom’s diagnosis with a group of colleagues in December 2015, a gentleman who had just lost his father to a sudden heart attack came up to me and said, “At least you’re going to get to spend time with your mom.” He only knew what he knew. He knew sudden losses are traumatic. Unfortunately, a little over a year later, I learned slow losses can be as well.

I was with my mom and dad when her oncologist told her she had less than nine months to live. She died three and a half months later. I can’t begin to describe the depth of despair in learning that one of the people you love the most in the world is going to die soon. Worse than that, I can’t begin to articulate the excruciating pain and helplessness one feels when you witness someone being informed that they are going to die soon. And she was trying to comfort me and my dad?

I couldn’t focus on questions that I should have been asking the doctor because I was trying to process what I had just been told. How could I ask questions when I could barely breathe? How could I focus on asking questions when I was forcing myself not to scream? I was trying so hard to keep it together. I honestly believe hearing that my mom was going to die soon is worse than hearing the prediction of my own death.

Last week I told my husband that I didn’t know what was happening to me. I do know what is happening. I’m mourning the loss of the person I have loved the longest in my life. I’m mourning the loss of one of the few people who loved me unconditionally. No matter how many books or how much we may know about grief and trauma, it doesn’t make us immune to either and there isn’t a timeline for grief.

Since last week, I’ve had a moment of clarity. One of my unhealthy coping strategies is minimizing my personal painful experiences. I know there are many of you reading this who do this as well. I tell myself and others things like,

“At least I had 36 great years with my mom.”
“At least I had closure with my mom.”
“I was blessed to have a great relationship with my mom.”

A positive outlook is healthy, but not when we use it to mask our grief. Minimizing the pain associated with grief is only doing us harm. Yes, maybe our situation/experience isn’t “as bad as it could be,” but our pain – our heartache – is real. It’s important to allow ourselves to feel it…to hurt, to cry, to scream…to talk about it. Watching someone who is severely ill can be traumatic. Watching someone die can be traumatic. A former hospice nurse (who was one of my favorite instructors) told a student who confessed that death freaks her out that death is beautiful. I believe it can be. I know it isn’t always. The fact that she didn’t take this opportunity to educate this group of people (where many would be working in end-of-life care) really bothered me. It’s misleading to those who will be the professionals guiding families through the death of a loved one.

There have been incredible advances for pain and discomfort at the end of life, but the reality is there are still situations where discomfort and pain are difficult to control. I wish my mom’s hospice team would have acknowledged that we weren’t going to be able to keep her comfortable with what they had available. I would call the on-call nurse or talk to the nurse who came by and they would say, “are you rubbing the anti-nausea cream on her?” “Did you give her morphine? You can increase it until she’s comfortable.” We had a bottle of morphine, with a dropper to squeeze drops under her tongue. The thought of the taste made her vomit. Everything did. She hadn’t eaten in weeks, nothing substantial in months. She was receiving small amounts of fluid orally and intravenous fluids had to be stopped at this point (because there comes a time at end of life that administering fluids causes more harm than good), she was incredibly weak and immobile but was somehow still vomiting. To top it off, she had developed a horrible bed sore. My mom should have been on a morphine pump. Some hospice services can’t offer a morphine pump in the patient’s home. They kept reassuring us we could keep her comfortable. We moved her out of hospice and back into the hospital for her final days.

My mom’s cancer spread to her abdominal lining (peritoneal metastasis). The peritoneum is a membrane made up of two layers. One layer lines the cavity and the other layer lines the organs. The peritoneum helps support the organs in the abdominal cavity and also allows nerves, blood vessels, and lymph vessels to pass through to the organs. Tumors started forming and wrapping around all of her organs in her abdomen and at the time of her last CT, there was a reoccurrence of tumors on her pancreas. When cancer spreads to the liver or portal vein (the vein that carries blood to the liver), malignant ascites develops and fluid builds up in the abdomen.

On the days we weren’t taking my mom in for fluids, we had to take my mom in weekly for a procedure called paracentesis to remove the fluid from her abdomen to help relieve the pressure which was causing shortness of breath, intense pain from her skin stretching, pain from the pressure the fluid was putting on her organs and on tumors. Paracentesis is a double-edged sword. It relieves the pressure but when they remove the fluid (they never pulled less than 5 liters from my mom’s abdomen – an equivalent to almost 1.5 gallons) there is a depletion in electrolytes, protein, etc.

To complicate things even more, she had the Whipple surgery the year before (which was necessary at the time to remove the original tumor and extend her life), but her digestive system was reconstructed and now functioned differently than most people. They offered chemo to try to decrease the severity of symptoms and to try to prevent a bowel obstruction. So…no, rubbing anti-nausea cream on her wrists wasn’t going to do the trick. I found my own medical journal articles and was able to figure that out. During my research, I found an article that recommended inserting an NG tube to pull the contents from my mom’s stomach so she could stop vomiting and experience temporary relief. We had to admit her to the hospital to do it, and it did work, but it was just a temporary solution so my mom could have some final quality days with family and friends.

I believe there is a little bit of post-traumatic stress accompanying my grief. I witnessed my mom experience great discomfort as well as some intense pain and heartache. When we’re living it, there’s no time to think about what is happening. My mom was my priority and I would deal with me later. I refused to break down in front of my mom. She was actively dying and feeling extreme guilt because she believed she was a burden on everyone. I compare the experience to someone torturing your loved one while forcing you to watch. It is the most helpless feeling in the world.

When my mom witnessed severe discomfort and pain, it wasn’t like you would imagine. She wasn’t moaning, wailing, or even grimacing much. She would get very quiet. She would get this look and I could tell she was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t apparent just how uncomfortable she was. I remember one of the many times in the last 8 weeks that we were in the ER and the nurse asked what my mom’s pain level was and she said it was a 10. 10?!!! She hadn’t made a peep. I believed her pain was that bad, I just felt awful that it got that bad. I told the nurse that I could never gauge when it was a 10 because my mom didn’t show signs that I would expect a person at max pain would show. The nurse said, “It’s her generation.” I kind of smiled and she said, “It really is a part of it.”

Finding My Way
I shared with a friend that losing my mom has been like losing an eye. It is similar in the way that when you lose something/someone that has been part of your “normal” your entire life, learning how to maneuver without it/them, is a process. I also see the world differently now.

I’m trying to figure out who I am now. I’m different in so many ways. I was able to make it to many of my mom’s appointments throughout her illness and I lived with my parents for four months to help care for my mom at the end of her life. Even though it was hard to watch my mom’s health deteriorate, I am incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to care for her and to have that time with her. I learned more about myself, others, and life than I’ve learned in school or any job I’ve ever had.

I do find it strange that it’s possible to feel extreme heartache and joy simultaneously. Maybe some of you can relate to to this. Deep down there’s sadness present but I still get giddy when my husband walks through the door after work. I feel pure joy when my nephew and I talk to each other in “dinosaur,” but my heart aches terribly that I can’t laugh about it with his gammy. I believe this is what our family friend, Neal, meant when he said the loss starts off as a scream in your head that is always there as your doing routine, everyday things. He said after years have gone by, the noise is still present all the time, but it eventually becomes a whisper. I think that is an analogy that I can and will continue to relate to.

Some days go smoother than others. I find myself completely depleted at the end of most days. I believe it’s because everything takes more effort and energy and much of the time it’s not conscious. I find myself avoiding social situations for fear that grief will sneak up on me. Sometimes it just hits me like a freight train. The first social gathering at friends that my husband and I were invited to since my mom’s passing stirred up intense anxiety in me. There was going to be friends of friends attending. I was so anxious about the possibility of losing control of my emotions and crying and making everyone uncomfortable. I was afraid I would embarrass my husband and myself. This still happens and unless you’ve been through it it’s really hard to understand. I don’t want to lie to people if I feel anxiety coming on, but I also feel like if I speak the truth about my heartache that I’ll be judged because I’ve convinced myself that most people probably believe I should “be over it by now.”

We recently had to do some creative writing about our upbringing and how we became the person we are today in one of my classes. It was a very emotional assignment. We had to present it to the class. That day happened to be the 6-month mark of losing my mom. My voice started shaking and the tears came. It was the “ugly cry.” I think it’s the only cry I have! I couldn’t finish it and waited until after the last person presented to give it another go. I was embarrassed at first but then had an epiphany. From now on, I have decided to look at this differently. I’m not responsible for how others feel about my grieving process. How people feel about my grief, how people feel about your grief is their business or their problem (however you want to look at it), not yours, not mine.

After all that, I’m not sure how to end this so I guess I will end it like I have often done in the past…

Every single human being has one thing in common. There’s not a single one of us who is promised tomorrow. Be GRATEFUL for each day. Be HOPEFUL for many more. BELIEVE there’s a reason and have FAITH that God will help you through it. – LC

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In Honor, In Memory, In Love

My mom passed away less than three months ago. There’s been one Mother’s Day and one wedding anniversary without my mom. Today is her birthday and I don’t miss her any more today than I do any other day. I miss her terribly EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It feels as if it has been years since I heard one of her perky telephone greetings, since we laughed together about my silly nephew (her “Angel Faces”), or text a picture of a cute outfit we saw. It often feels like it really was all just a dream…the call about the mass they found on the CT when she thought she had an ulcer, the Whipple surgery, her last breath.

A little over four months ago my mom was receiving an infusion that we hoped would control the horrendous symptoms and possibly extend her life. She was holding my hand and said so calmly and reassuring, “It’ll be okay, sweetheart. It’s just going to be different.” As hard as it was (and still is) to believe, she was right. Just as she had been so many times before.

It is okay. I’m okay. And, yes, it’s very different. It hurts, I cry, but I am okay because she is with me. I know it. I feel it and so do many others who have shared their experiences with me, but that’s a different post for a different day.

Today, on what would have been my mom’s 63rd birthday, the best way I can honor her is through:

  • Gratitude for the love, protection, and support she provided our family.
  • Gratitude for all of the sacrifices she made that didn’t go unnoticed.
  • Appreciation for the countless invaluable lessons she taught us.
  • Appreciation for the strong, very special relationships she cultivated with so many people throughout her life that have contributed (and continue to contribute) to our family’s healing and well-being.
  • Gratitude for her example of strong faith and spirituality.
  • Laughter…because she loved it and it was something we shared almost every single day😊.

    Happy Birthday, Mom. LUMU!

Not All Moms Are Created Equal: My Mother’s Eulogy

I remember asking my mom as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up. She always answered without hesitation, “The one thing I always knew I wanted to be was a mom.”

My mom LOVED Mommin’! She was great at it and she was always there to help out other moms when they needed it whether it be picking their children up from school, sharing advice or giving a new mom a much needed break to cry, re-group or just have time for themselves.

I had the honor of writing and delivering my mom’s eulogy on Monday. I could have written an entire book of memories and lessons. I keep thinking of memories (like the one above) that I wished I would have included but I will continue to document them for my brother, sister and I, but mostly for her grandson, because I want him to know what an amazing woman his Gammy was!

Good morning. My family would like to thank all of you for coming here today to share our grief, help each other heal, but most importantly, to celebrate the life of one incredible human being…my mom. For those who don’t know me, I’m Lindsay, Mary Ann’s middle child…although my mom had me thinking for many years that my name was “Sweetheart.”

I would have thought that writing my mom’s eulogy would be the hardest thing I’d ever do, but it wasn’t. To be honest, it was actually a therapeutic escape from the nightmare my family has been living the past fourteen months. A few weeks ago I really disappointed myself. I was talking with my cousin, Val, and I told her I felt like I was forgetting what life was like before my mom’s diagnosis. As soon as I said it, I was overcome with sadness and fear. That would be the last thing my mom would want after all the incredible years and memories we shared. So, after my mom fell asleep in the hospital that night, I decided then to start to writing about the greatest memories I had with my mom and that’s how this eulogy began.

My mom put her entire being into raising my brother, sister and I. You didn’t even have to know her very well to know she LOVED being a mom. As I typed, my childhood memories brought me back to how much I loved my mom tucking us into bed every night, how she loved reading to us, memories of hearing her cheer us on from the bleachers, how she loved our friends and always had a place at the dinner table for them, how much she loved surprising us with little gifts “just because.”

A lot of the memories I wrote about consisted of lessons I learned from my mom. My mom’s advice was always to take the “high” road…which as we all know, is rarely ever the “easy” road. But on top of taking the high road, she always took it a step further and challenged us even more… she would make us pray for those people in our lives who were difficult or unkind.  Do you ever do this? It’s not easy. Do you pray for your best friend and then follow it up with a prayer for the kid who made fun of you at school or a co-worker who threw you under the bus? Do you pray for a family member and then follow it up with the person who intentionally damaged your property, stole from you or stabbed you in the back? I do this. I do this to this day because of my mom and some days it is still SO HARD!!! But it helps. It often helps me forgive. It helps me feel better because it allows me to let things roll off my back and move on!

I know that many of you here today remember my mom’s animated story-telling. I have heard that so much from so many of you. She loved to tell stories. One of my favorite memories is when I was the co-host of a radio morning show on a classic rock station. My morning show partner was a goof ball (so naturally my mom loved him) and he always wanted to call my mom on put her on the air and ask her questions about me hoping to get some good dirt and embarrass me. Being live on the radio didn’t make her nervous at all. She LOVED it! She was so entertaining with her story-telling, she earned her own segment that aired each week. She shared all sorts of stories…funny stories about her and my dad’s marriage, priceless stories about some of her parenting fails, and comical stories about small town living. She truly became the star of the show. Listeners of the show still comment about that segment and that was over four years ago.

My mom had the best sense of humor. My mom never took life too seriously and I adored her ability to be able to laugh at herself. In my 36 years, I’ve learned there are a lot of people who can’t do that. That is something I got from her and appreciate these qualities because it creates a lot more opportunity for laughter. My mom loved to laugh and she had a great laugh. She also liked to make others laugh. My cousins commented last night that she was still making them laugh just a couple weeks ago even when she was too weak to laugh herself.

She had my brother and I rolling with laughter a couple weeks ago and I love sharing this story. My mom never complained but she would get frustrated and overwhelmed because there was always a new challenge…diabetes, low white blood cell counts, shingles, bed sores, new pains… which often meant new medications which meant new side effects which sometimes meant another medication or an additional tip to try to decrease the adverse effects. She liked to talk about medications and doctor appointments as little as possible. One morning, after meeting with the hospice nurse to go over the new plan of attack to try to keep my mom comfortable, I sat down in a chair at the foot of the bed facing my mom and started explaining the new plan. I explained we were going to increase the dose of two different medications, we were going to keep the dosage the same on another medication but increase the frequency and apply the cream form instead of her taking a pill, then we were going to try a medicated bandage to help with the bed sore and so on. I finally finished rambling and asked, “you have any questions, Momma? She said, ”Lindsay…do you know where the remote control is?”

There was only one thing my mom loved more than being a mom…and that was being a Gammy! THE memory I have about my mom that takes my breath away and will forever melt my heart to think about was the moment she witnessed the birth of her grandchild. She and I were blessed to be part of my sister and her husband’s support team to help bring “Gammy’s Little Angel Faces” into the world. I will never forget the gasp of amazement, the sparkle in her eyes, the radiant smile on her face, the high-pitched tone in her voice as she exclaimed, “Sweetheart! He’s sooooo cute!!!” as she tried to fight back tears. She was beaming with pride!

My mom often beamed with pride and she often did so because of this parish. So many have shared memories with me about my mom and so many will always remember my mom as a faithful servant to God. She was and loved every minute of it. She loved serving St. Raphael Catholic Church. It was something she was very passionate about. She loved teaching so many of you here, your children, your grandchildren in CCD, RCIA and marriage preparation, but she also did so much teaching outside of these walls as a spiritual mentor.

My cousin, Stephanie, shared a great story with me. She said, ”For Aunt Liria’s funeral, I was so, so sick. Britt and I were getting ready to sing for it and every time I opened my mouth, I squawked. It was bad. Your mom wasn’t on the list to sing with us but when I asked her to help, she didn’t hesitate and jumped right in. We practiced before and I just sounded terrible but she assured me it would be ok. A little bit before the funeral I could hardly talk my throat hurt so bad. She reached into her purse and pulled out a little vial of holy water and told me to take a sip. Other people might have flasks of liquor but not Aunt Mary… she had Holy Water! Do you know, we got up there and we sang (and she helped us) and it was as if I was never sick! I could hit the high notes, I didn’t hurt, it was gone…. I was even able to sing at the cemetery with no problems. Shortly after, we were at the dinner and I lost my voice. She was God’s Earthly angel.” I love that story. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the Catholic faith and I do have to tell you I am incredibly comforted by the fact that many of my mom’s closest friends in life were priests.

I hate that my mom is gone and I miss her terribly and will continue to miss her so much, but my heart is so full and I’m incredibly grateful because God gave her to my brother, sister and I. At 36-years-old I know that not all moms were created equal. Growing up I thought all moms were the same. I just assumed that all moms put their children first. I thought all moms prepared meals for their children, read to them and kissed them as they tucked them in at night. I thought all moms played Barbies, dress-up, school and house with them. I thought all moms were compassionate and held their children when they were hurt, sick and sad.

I often feel sad because there are people who never experience the unconditional love my siblings and I did from our mom. Some mothers have it backwards and have children with the expectation that their children should love them unconditionally. Our mom chose to guide us, not program us. She believed self-determination is built on the value of autonomy and it is one of the things I appreciate most about my mom because letting your children spread their wings and fly has to be one of the hardest aspects of being a mom. Granted, my brother, sister and I may have all ended up quite quirky, but I’m so proud of the people my brother, sister and I have become and it’s because our mom inspired us to be proud of and embrace our authentic selves.

The last fourteen months were hard and the past few months were incredibly hard. There were many moments many of you were apologizing to my mom, dad, brother, sister and I because we were consoling you about the fact that our mom would be leaving us soon. Don’t apologize for shedding tears for my mom when you’re around us. I truly believe the depth of our grief is equal to the depth of our love and we have shed so many of our own tears. We are happy so many loved her so much and that you were blessed to be loved by her. Besides, the gift of comforting others is a gift we received from our mom. My mom always told us there’s a universal language and that language is compassion. Teaching us that language is one of the ways she will live on in so many of us. I am so blessed because I am rich. I am rich in all the ways that truly matter in this life because of my mother. She passed on the greatest lessons.

My mom told us that she imagined Heaven was paradise. I know my mom is in Heaven right now with some of her most favorite people. I know she’s in paradise barefoot, swinging in a hammock, singing along with the Angel choir.

“Love you, Miss You” like crazy, Momma.

Tonight, I Surrender

Tonight…I surrender.

I surrender to the tears I’ve been holding back and hoped would never start to fall for fear they will never stop.

Tonight I succumb to the exhaustion, fear, shock, sadness, relief, confusion, anger and PAIN.

An excruciating pain so deep in my heart, I have to remind myself over and over again to take

One.

More.

Breath.

Tonight…I grieve the loss of my first love.

Rest in peace, Mom. I will always “Love you, Miss you.”

Supporters Vs. Spectators

I remember when my sister was weeks away from giving birth and she asked her OBGYN who could be in the delivery room. Her doctor told her she could have two people in the delivery room, but not just any two people. He told her there was a difference between “supporters” and “spectators” and was adamant that she choose “supporters.” I loved that. Those words have stuck with me ever since and I continue to reflect on them.

Who are the “supporters” and who are the “spectators” in my life?
Am I a true supporter for those nearest and dearest to me?

I believe it’s during our most challenging times when we are able to identify “supporters” vs. “spectators” and truly understand the value of “quality” vs. “quantity.”

“Supporters”…

  • Should genuinely share joy and excitement in our happiest of moments and achievements as well as be there to support us during our failures, mistakes and moments of grief.
  • Accept us for who we are and what we believe.
  • Are people who we love being around because they inspire us to be better human beings.
  • Make us feel better about ourselves and lift us up.
  • Leave us feeling emotionally energized; not emotionally drained.
  • Are trustworthy and make us feel safe, comfortable and important.

I believe that all we need is one true supporter to contribute to our personal growth, health and overall well-being. I am incredibly blessed to have a strong group of supporters and to have crossed paths with a handful of souls who I consider kindred spirits.  My hope is that my “supporters” know how much I value them. I want more than anything for them to understand the strength and courage I have gained through their support. What they probably consider “small” acts of support/kindness/thoughtfulness have touched my heart and lifted me in ways that will never be fogotten. I do not take them for granted. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

What AM I? I’m Just…ME!

“What ARE you?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question throughout my life, I’d be retired by now. It’s the question I’m asked the most followed by “when do you plan on having kids?” which is then followed by, “You don’t WANT kids?”

The “what ARE you?” question would stir up a lot of anxiety in me as a child. My olive-colored skin, dark hair, dark eyes and high cheek bones attracted attention and curiosity because they weren’t the norm in the small southwest Kansas town I grew up in. As a teenager when someone would ask, “What ARE you?” I would quickly respond, “What are YOU?” That always resulted in priceless expressions and some good internal chuckles for me.

I remember as a teen when people would use the derogatory term for someone of Mexican descent and then realize I was standing there. They would get embarrassed and say, “oh! Lindsay, YOU don’t count.” First off, I’m part Spanish. The derogatory term for someone of Spanish descent is different than the derogatory term for someone of Mexican descent. I would gladly (mostly sarcastically) take these moments to inform them of the correct offensive word because it really was a great opportunity to educate bigots on geography and culture:) Secondly…”you don’t count?” Uhhhh…still not sure how that was supposed to make them seem less pathetic?

What ARE you? It was difficult for me to answer because I knew my “ethnic ingredients” consisted of many different nationalities and I just figured that’s how it was for everyone else. That’s why I didn’t understand why most people didn’t answer “other” when marking what their ethnicity was on forms that requested that information. I haven’t done the Ancestry DNA test but my sister has. My results would be similar so I’ll post it below in case you’re curious. I think I will have stickers made after I do my test so I can stick it to all the appropriate forms that require that information 🙂

29% Irish
17% Spanish
17% Native American
10% Scandinavian
9% Asian
5% Western European
4% African

As you can see by the information above, telling people “what” I am isn’t easy because I’m a lot of things. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life, and at times, has caused confusion and internal conflict. I’m currently attending graduate school to become a licensed clinical social worker. In one of my classes the teacher told one of the students that if she wasn’t there to become a “radical” social worker (radical social workers have radical liberal views), she should consider a different career path. The NASW (National Association of Social Workers) even endorsed a political candidate. These situations prompted me to ask if there was a list of political, anti-religious, personal opinions that we needed to believe in order to be “worthy” of becoming a social worker. I expressed in this class that if there was a list of specific personal criteria in order to become a social worker then the admissions office needs to make sure they are more selective by asking what people believe before accepting people into the program, but that would be discrimination. I’m working toward an MSW degree to become a therapist. To be an effective therapist I believe it is incredibly important to put your personal, political and religious views aside.

Take a look at the following definition: a social institution, in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established.

Is the definition above a definition for social work or organized religion?

Here’s some questions which consumed me the last few months…

  • If I didn’t vote for the candidate that correlates with the social work belief system, am I worthy of an MSW degree?
  • If I attend the Catholic church, am I worthy of being a social worker?
  • If I am mostly pro-life, am I still worthy of being a social worker or a feminist?

I believe in same sex marriage and in the right to love whomever you wish and I still feel worthy of attending the Catholic church. In all of my years attending the Catholic church, I have NEVER heard anyone say, “If you support the LGBTQ community, you should consider a different religion.” The truth is, though…I’ve never felt like I have belonged to any one particular group. As a kid it wasn’t unusual to see me playing football with the boys one minute and playing Barbies with the girls the next or sporting my Jordans complete with a Jordan jersey and mesh shorts one day and decked out girly-girl as can be the following day. I remember in grade school I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a football player or cheerleader for Halloween so I wore a jersey with a cheerleading skirt? In high school, I wasn’t part of any clique. I played sports, I was a cheerleader, I was in the band, I sang in the choir, and I participated in plays and scholarship pageants.

There’s so much emphasis put on the importance of community but I don’t believe that identifying with a group is for all of us. Being part of a group is preferred by many people and that’s great if that’s what is meaningful to you. I’ve discovered that intimate relationships are the type of relationships I feel the most comfortable in. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “If she attends the Catholic church then she prefers groups.”Attending Catholic services is just one of the ways I feel close to God. It is a very intimate experience for me.

People rarely believe me when I tell them I have a fear of public speaking because I used to have a radio show that was broadcast to thousands. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that it was because of the intimate aspect in radio. As I would broadcast, I would imagine I was talking one-on-one with someone because that is what felt natural to me. I can’t do that in front of a group because I can’t stay focused due to the fact that I can see that I am speaking to a group. And just because some of us don’t prefer groups, doesn’t mean we don’t experience unity. I have the best supporters/cheerleaders a girl could ask for!

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to continue my education in social work. There are a lot of aspects I love about social work that I believe will fuel my soul. I will remain authentic and true to myself. My mom taught me early on that there’s a universal language. That universal language is compassion. I’m just going to keep on speaking that language! I’m also going to keep attending the Catholic church because there are a lot of aspects I love about Catholicism. My upbringing in the Catholic church, along with the guidance of my parents, is where my spiritual foundation was built. My faith is a huge part of who I am and what has helped me through my darkest times. I am very proud of the woman I have become and my religion is a huge part of who I am and what keeps me positive, hopeful and brings me peace each and every day.

Labels often lead to assumptions; assumptions can be right but can also be false.  I would like to ask a favor. Please don’t assume…

– That because someone is pursuing social work that they believe all wealthy people are evil and greedy.
– That someone who is homeless hasn’t tried to find employment.
– That because someone attends Catholic church that they don’t support the LGBTQ community.
– That just because someone attends church every week that they live by the word of God.
-That just because someone isn’t religious or spiritual that they don’t possess strong morals and values.

I’ll stop there. You get the point.

So “what” am I? I’m just me. Following my heart.

Lessons To Share

This last year I have learned, learned and learned some more. I have learned an overwhelming amount of medical terms, become an (at best) amateur caregiver, was forced to face a challenging, shitty life change and made a big life change by choice as well. Last year I was faced with my most challenging crisis to date. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on December 14, 2015. She’s been through a complex surgery and grueling recovery, six months of chemo and six weeks of radiation. People told us that it was going to be a roller coaster. If this figurative roller coaster had a name, I would call it “To Hell and Back.”

There have been so many lessons learned in the last year it would take a few posts so I’ll highlight the ones that have stuck with me the most.

1. Don’t Assume Someone Isn’t Hurting, Sick, Sad…Just Because They Don’t “Look” It
Many people have this image of what someone with cancer looks like, but I can tell you that just because someone doesn’t look sick, doesn’t mean they aren’t. I have a lot of hopes. One of those hopes is that we remain mindful that everyone is fighting a battle of some sort. If you can’t find it in you to be kind, civility would be greatly appreciated. Here’s a picture of my mom in her last month of chemotherapy. Isn’t she beautiful?

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2. Your Mom Earned That “Protection” Badge, Damn It!
Even when you’re a grown adult, Moms will always want to protect you especially when they aren’t feeling well. Moms don’t even care about how crappy they feel, all they can seem to do is worry about their kids and feel like they are inconveniencing everyone around them. You will want to remind her that you’re an adult and she can talk to you about her concerns, her fears and very private things like whether or not she has eaten enough, what she had to eat and when, has she had a bowel movement, how much she weighs but when she doesn’t want to, don’t push it!

“Protector” is a title our moms earned and we shouldn’t take that away from them during rough times. Moms devoted oodles of time and energy making sure we looked both ways before crossing the street, protecting us from germs, feeding us, clothing us. Moms want to be the ones that are always there for us…they want to be our pillars, not the other way around. And just because we (children) don’t always agree with that way of thinking, we should respect it. When our mothers aren’t feeling their best for whatever reason, it’s important for them to feel strong and I believe they feel strong when they are protecting us from hurting emotionally. I bet my mom is laughing so hard reading this wondering when I’m going to start taking my own advice! Ha!

3. There Will Be Days You Won’t Be Your Best You No Matter How Hard You Try
And that’s okay, but don’t be a jerk because you’re not the only one dealing with crap! There are quite a few people who will give you the benefit of the doubt a time or two but not much beyond that. During my review with my sales manager this last year, she took that opportunity to address the struggle I was having with compartmentalizing. I was so grateful she brought that to my attention. I now know that is something I need to improve on so I try to be cognizant of this daily. On the days you’re not your best you, own up to it.

There will be days you don’t know who the hell you are anymore. You’ll wonder if “not knowing who you are anymore” is another one of these “new normals” you have to start adjusting to. The original me did resurface, but not without a few scratches, dents and flat tires along the way. This is resilience. I learned about this last semester. Sometimes it takes people longer than others to bounce back, and sadly, some never do.

4. Dealing With Crises Is Not “One Size Fits All.”
An expert shared with me that when most people are faced with a tragedy, they often become an exaggerated version of themselves. A negative person typically becomes more negative. Sometimes optimistic people will be so optimistic they end up in denial to the point where they won’t entertain important options. Everyone handles crises differently and that’s why a lot of times there is conflict during crises. I recently came across some incredible advice for everyday life but is also very useful when having a different perspective from someone else…

“Try to see where the other person is coming from, not where YOU WISH they were coming from.”

5. People Will Surprise You
People you expected would always be there for you don’t always show up when the going gets tough. People will distance themselves or completely vanish from your life. This goes along with the previous lesson that people handle crises differently. Just remember that is about them and how they have learned to cope. It’s not about you. But guess what?

6. AGAIN, People Will Surprise You!
In a good way! There will be people who make up for the ones who vanish and sometimes it’s people you never would have expected offering sincere, much-needed support. Often times you won’t want to accept it because you don’t want to feel like a burden. Well, let me tell you something! There really are a lot of terrific people in this world with lots of love in their hearts who want to do good and feel their purpose is to lend a hand, an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Let them. It’s truly a win-win.

7. Eliminate and/or Learn To Deal With Toxic People STAT!
There are toxic people you can rid of by cutting ties. Unfortunately some toxic people are people in our family or people we work with. If there are toxic people in your life that you haven’t set boundaries with, start working toward setting those boundaries now. Don’t wait. Toxic people are the last people you need to worry about during a crisis because even (and sadly sometimes especially) during a crisis it will be about them. Setting boundaries is an acquired skill. It can be uncomfortable at first but setting healthy boundaries is something I started working on a few years ago and I’m so glad I did. I can’t imagine what this last year would have been like for me mentally if I hadn’t learned to develop this skill.

8. Self-Care Is A MUST
If you don’t take care of yourself first it will make it very difficult to help care for another human being. This could be its own separate post so I’ll mention a couple ways I practice self-care.

– Take time for yourself even if there is only a small window of opportunity.
– I joined a cancer support group for a short time and it was very beneficial for me to spend time with people who could empathize with what I was going through.
– Don’t ignore your emotions.
– Ask for help.

Most importantly remember…

9. Cancer Patients Are Silent Soldiers.
People fighting cancer are fighting a battle that so many of us can’t possibly understand unless we’ve walked in their shoes. We can’t fight this battle for our loved ones (it took me a long time to finally accept that), but we can fight it WITH them. I received the best piece of advice from one of my mentors when I told her how helpless I felt. She shared the most valuable advice I have ever received…”Just be with your mom. Laugh with her. Call her. Text her. Hug her. Make sure she never feels alone because there’s nothing worse than feeling alone.”

I’ll leave you with the words I try to live by every day…
Be GRATEFUL for each day.
Be HOPEFUL for many more.
BELIEVE there’s a reason and
Have FAITH that God will help you through it.