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Being With a Friend, 100%

So I’m back writing about my dear friend Viki. You know, the one with the Stage IV cancer. Well, as I write today, she is once again under the knife. This time, though, it’s elective. And I, for the record, was against it.

Viki and I celebrate our friendship at her son's Bar Mitzvah in November 2012.

Viki and I, celebrating her son’s Bar Mitzvah in 2012.

It was a big decision for her. In the end, she did her due diligence – a second opinion from a top doc on this kind of surgery, tons of questions for her own doctors, talks with four other women who’d had the same surgery, a lot of soul-searching. She knows what she’s getting into. Even if all goes as planned, it will be a grueling 15-hour operation with that could take her as much as six months to recover from. And then there will be two or three follow-up operations over the next two to three years.

“Are you with me?”

That’s what she asked me — quite assertively — when we spoke yesterday morning. “Of course,” I responded, with a lump in my throat. She asked again, more insistently but more softly. “Are you with me? Are you really with me?”

This time, the answer was certain: “Yes.”

I couldn’t lie, I told her. I wished her decision had been different. Things are going better for her than anyone ever expected, she’s in a less-demanding treatment phase, and I just wanted her brain, her body and her family to have a break for a while.

What I want is for Viki to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Sure, I’ve understood why she wants the operation, but I’ve just never thought it was worth the physical toll it would take on her, especially given all she’s been through over the past two years. When the topic was still open for discussion, I registered my opinion. I challenged her with thought-provoking questions. I didn’t let her off easy, and she appreciated that. But I’ve always known, it’s not my call. My call, as her friend, is in how I respond once she has made hers.

And now that she’s made this choice — one that she feels will make a huge difference in what she plans to be her long life ahead — I’m with her. All the way.

……….
Coach’s Query
What have you experienced when asked to support a friend whose decision you wish had been different?

Our ‘New Normals’ in the Wake of Big Events Like 9/11

I’m thrilled and honored (and nervous!) to be making my radio debut today on The Mary & Melissa Show with a new feature called “The New Normal,” which focuses on creating a space for parents whose children have needs beyond what they imagined.

For this first show, we decided to start by talking about acknowledging and moving through the grief process that usually accompanies having a child with special needs.

Then I realized this show would be recorded on September 11. How interesting that we chose grief as our topic for this day … a day when the whole nation is in a place of remembrance and reverence for those thousands who died this day 11 years ago in an vicious act of hatred and anger that is still so hard to comprehend.

And it’s evident that we still grieve for our own innocence and sense of security lost on that day. Eleven years later, our country has a “new normal” … one of interminably long security lines, ugly barriers masquerading as ugly planters, and generally increased vigilance. I see signs on Facebook, on Twitter, in the blogosphere and in the news that we have not forgotten what happened that day, we have not forgotten the victims and their powerful stories, and we have not forgotten the way it changed our lives.

As individuals, too, we experience a new normal … yes, one of heightened awareness of the horrible things that can happen in our world and, also, a growing search for mindfulness and meaning in our lives. More of us want to meditate and move our bodies mindfully, we want to create spaces for learning and healing and growing, we want to help repair the world. That is heartening. And it gives us hope.

……….
Coach’s Query
What do you see in your life that has become your “new normal” since September 11, 2001 … or since any other major event in your life?

On My Grandmother’s Birthday, an Opportunity for Connection

Five years ago today, my grandmother’s family and more than 100 friends gathered on her 93rd birthday to celebrate her life. And to mourn her death. Yes, her funeral fell on her birthday.

She would have loved it. All those people, there just for her.

20120615-101542.jpg

I love this picture of my Grandma Sara — with my kids and my mom (Sara’s DIL), celebrating her 92nd birthday. She loved being the center of attention.

Sara Buzgon was, to put it mildly, “a character.” Quite self-absorbed, quite less than self-aware, she commanded attention by speaking loudly, by keeping her teased hair dyed an unnatural shade of red, and by relentlessly calling on her conscripted cadre of drivers to get her out of the house at least once a day.

She knew just about everyone in our hometown, and just about everyone knew her. She drove them crazy, and they drove her … to lunch.

From childhood, my relationship with her was somewhat conflicted. Her manner and style and interests were so different from mine that it could be hard to relate. As I grew older, it became more important to me to find common ground. I created new ways to connect with her, mostly by eliciting fascinating stories of her youth and young adulthood. Still, I often had to work hard to keep my eye-rolling at bay.

So when my dad asked me to deliver a eulogy, I balked. What would I say? How could I be honest and still honor her?

I gave in to my father’s pleas. I sat down with my laptop and started writing, with no idea what would emerge.

It was one of the most healing, cathartic things I have ever done.

I was amazed, as I wrote, that so many of her quirks spilled out onto the screen. But instead of holding them with the embarrassment and disdain that I felt when I was younger, I held these eccentricities with love and compassion.

My words miraculously came out as an honest, humorous portrait of an outsize woman who, for example, never said goodbye at the end of a phone conversation. When she was done saying whatever it was she had to say, she abruptly hung up — whether the person on the other end of the line was done talking or not. And the funeral crowd knew exactly what I meant. When I asked them what sound signaled a conversation with Sara was over, they all said in perfect unison: “Click.” My speech was met with more giggles and knowing nods than I ever would have imagined.

A couple of years ago, I accidentally deleted a bunch of files from my computer. I’m only now realizing that the eulogy must have been among them. I’ve been tearing apart my house looking for a hard copy, still to no avail. I’m a little sad that today I don’t have it. It would have been a nice way to reconnect. But, come to think of it, so is this.


Coach’s Query

Eulogizing my grandmother — quirks and all — created unexpected healing for me. In what unexpected places have you found healing? Where might you look to create an opportunity for healing?

Bringing My Friend’s Cancer Story Out Into the Open

I certainly haven’t been putting in time on this blog lately, but I’ve poured my heart into helping my friend Viki with hers. She’s the one I’ve written about anonymously in this space before … my childhood friend who now has Stage 4 breast cancer. She’s had a rough go of it these past few months, and I’ve been honored to help her conceptualize and carry out her desire to tell her story at Stage4Mom.

Viki’s always been such a private person, so she really surprised me when she said she wanted to write publicly about this painful journey. “I’m ready,” she told me a few months ago. She hopes her story will be a catharsis for her, a keepsake for her children, and an inspiration to other moms who are waging a war with cancer while actively parenting their young children.

She certainly has been an incredible inspiration to me. I am always blown away by her passion, her positive attitude, and the love and energy she brings to everything she does. Even when things suck more than anyone can possibly imagine.

I couldn't find an old picture of just Viki and me, so here she is with my brother, circa 1975. (I'm especially thinking of Steven today, with a heavy heart.)

And though I desperately wish the very reason for Viki’s blog out of existence, I’m grateful to have something meaningful to do for her. I’ve felt so helpless 120 miles away. I’m not there to deliver meals, ferry the kids or simply sit with her. This editing thing, I can do. And, as an extra special bonus, it has brought us closer. Viki’s never been so great at returning phone calls — and throughout this ordeal I’ve wanted to give her her private space — but now we’ve been talking more often and discovering new depths to our 40-year friendship.

She’s slowly been growing bolder about letting people in on her online presence. And she finally agreed to let me share it here on my blog.

The timing’s especially good, if I do say so myself … in advance of her birthday this week, Viki decided to write about her dearest friends. I’m truly touched to be at the top of the list. I’m honored to share her words and her spirit with you, and I encourage you to share them with others.

………

Coach’s Query

What have you been putting your heart into lately?

……….

p.s. A shout out to my Dad on his 75th birthday! He’ll be so happy I’ve written something!!!

Taking time to seek and grant forgiveness

“I’d forgive a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g,” my 6-year-old said this morning as he looked directly into my eyes from across the kitchen counter. I blinked back my tears and told him it was a wonderfully wise way to live.

“But,” he then said, “some things take longer to forgive than others.”

Ahhhh. So true, I thought.

How’d this too-deep-for-the-early-hour conversation come about, you might be wondering? Well, let me back up to about 15 minutes earlier. With the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur approaching tonight, I had engaged my boys in an impromptu, breakfast-time discussion about forgiveness. First, I commented on what loving brothers they usually are (I’m such a lucky mommy!) and then said, “But sometimes people who are really close hurt each other or hurt each other’s feelings. Can you think of ways you’ve been hurt by your brother?”

“Well,” The Diamond chimed in quickly, “I do remember when [The Buddha] threw a shoe at me and it hit me in the cheek.” The Buddha was more reticent, but I could tell he was thinking.

Then I asked them each to think about ways they might have hurt the other. I helped them along as they took turns naming their offense, apologizing and asking for forgiveness. We also brainstormed ways they might have made the situation better at the time. It was a beautiful series of exchanges.

On the last round of apologies, I asked each boy to identify how he felt when his brother hurt his feelings. My goal was awareness on both sides: for the “offender” to understand the impact he had on his brother, and also to create greater awareness of how we feel when someone says or does something to us that’s not nice. We had some revealing moments with this, too.

After the Buddha’s schoolbus came for him, The Diamond wanted to continue the conversation. He thought for a moment about what he might want my forgiveness for. “For not always listening,” he said. He apologized and asked for my forgiveness. “Absolutely,” I said.

Now, my turn. I told him I was sorry for not always listening to him, either. “Will you forgive me?” I asked. He responded:

“I’d forgive a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. But some things take longer to forgive than others.”

He may have been talking about shoes being thrown at his face a couple of months ago, but I couldn’t help but think about long, long-ago slights. How much am I holding onto? And how long have I been holding on?

I know that when I hold on to pain and resentment, it hurts me more than anyone. I once read, ““Resentment is the poison I take, wishing the other person would die.” Between that sentiment and my son’s, I go into this weekend of Yom Kippur with incredible reminders of the importance of letting go. I am listening to you now, Diamond. I will seek forgiveness. And I will grant it.

Wishing you peace,
Michelle

Down a Short Flight of Stairs, Up a Mountain of Confidence

Steps

I stood in the doorway just now as The Buddha, knowing he looked handsome in the picture-day outfit he chose, walked across our front porch toward his waiting school bus. Then tears came to my eyes as I watched him walk down the crazy-tall, uneven stairs … without holding on to anything or anyone.

I didn’t know he could do that.

Every day we see so much anxiety, around homework, around new activities, around just about anything he thinks will be too hard for him. Sure, the miswiring in his brain and body really do make these things more difficult for him than they are for most kids, but we also see that things come so much more easily for him when he believes in his many abilities. For The Buddha, walking down stairs unaided is as much a mental game as a physical one.

This short journey down five steps was a brazen display of confidence that has been a long time coming.

………

Coach’s Query

Where in your life would a small confidence boost make a huge difference?

9/11 Fortified Decision to Create New Career Path

Ten years ago tomorrow, on September 10, 2001, I handed in the resignation letter that would end my 12-year journalism career and launch my new path as a life coach.

The next day — yes, that infamous day — it became crystal clear that I’d made the right decision for me. Life was too short. I was too miserable. I had some evolving to do!

By 8 a.m. on September 11, I was at work in my office, two blocks from the White House. As usual, I had turned on the TV and set about the tedious task of creating the list that would tell online news organizations around the country what “Web packages” we were working on that day.

It was the early days of newspaper Web presence, and most of the sites out there weren’t nimble enough to handle the breaking news Web content we’d been providing, so we’d switched to a more predictable schedule pegged to upcoming events — entertainment on Mondays, health on Tuesdays, sports on Wednesdays, etc.

Around 8:45, I heard urgency from voices on TV and looked up to see smoke pouring from the top of the World Trade Center. A co-worker and I were trying to make sense of it — an accident? an explosion inside the building? — when the second plane hit. This was no accident.

Then the Pentagon was hit. Then the Pennsylvania plane went down.  Meanwhile, rumors were swirling about a fire at the Capitol, a bomb at the State Department and problems elsewhere in Washington. I couldn’t reach my husband.

Our office’s big boss told us to stay put. This is a news organization, she said, and it’s our duty to cover the news. The newsroom mobilized. Palpable tension and fear, tempered by a sense of purpose.

But it was a Tuesday. That meant that we’d promised our subscribers a sports package for the next day. It was my duty as managing editor, my supervisor said, to keep our product on schedule. The country’s tallest buildings were collapsing, our city was under attack, and I’m pretty sure I could not have possibly cared less about Barry Bonds and the single-season home run record he was threatening to break.

I felt the resentment rise. Tension and fear, intensified by a sense of impotence. It was an all-time career low that only confirmed my decision to leave.

At one time, my career as a news editor had felt purposeful. But the events of September 11 — both the personal and the collective — drove home that my position had come to feel pointless.

In the month that I continued at my job post-resignation, I grieved the loss of the thousands who died on September 11. I grieved the loss of our nation’s sense of security and invulnerability. I grieved the loss of my beloved grandfather, for whom I would name my first child a year later.

And after I left, even though it was my choice to leave, I grieved the loss of an identity that had been mine for a dozen years.  For a long time, I remained caught between who I was and who I was becoming. The work world I knew made me so unhappy, but I knew it. The unknown work world awaiting me scared the crap out of me. Sometimes it still does.

Yet, to this day, I thank my uber-challenging boss often for making life so uncomfortable that I finally left a career I had lost passion for long before. My once-new path has opened my life to enlightening experiences, to amazing people, to my beautiful children, to my own heart.

Ten years later, I can say it’s been — and continues to be — a process of evolving and growing, of deepening and broadening, of realigning and reinventing. For all of it, I am profoundly grateful.

Kisses & Punches: Remembering My Brother’s Authenticity

Steven 6

If you’d met my younger brother when he was little, say 5 or 6 or 7, there would have been no mistaking how he felt about you.

As soon as you were introduced, chances are he either would have planted a big, sloppy-wet kiss on your cheek … or stretched his arm out to the side and swung it like a baseball bat, right into your gut. Hard.

No pretense. No question about where you stood with him. I guess you could say he wore his emotions on his sleeve.

Totally authentic.

Steven, who would have been 40 today if he’d lived past 21, always was a kid of extremes. Small but scrappy. A serious risk-taker who also risked a lot for the people and things he cared about.

He loved speed, and his need for it progressed over the years. He lost or broke countless pairs of glasses jumping off the bike ramps he built. His skiing buddies called him “kamikaze” because he loved to ski straight down the hill with nary a single turn. His car no doubt took a beating from all the quick shifting into high gear.

He loved his friends. A poster-size picture of him and his BFFs smiles out into the bedroom that was his. He liked to do stuff to make those guys happy. Sometimes stupid stuff. He did even stupider stuff for girls.

I’m pretty sure he loved me, too. As we grew older, a huge gap in understanding widened between us. We were so different, but we certainly had our touchstone moments over the years. I’ve often said that we were five years, six grades and worlds apart, but we were never closer than the night he and I were home alone when the vet called. I, a teenager at the time, sat him on my lap to break the news. The split second I uttered the words, “Dusty died,” it was like someone had turned on the faucet full blast. He sobbed for a full 15 minutes. I’d had no idea how much he had loved that crazy cat.

I was reminded of all this and more a couple of weeks ago when, at picnic back in my hometown, I went over to say hello to the family who lived two doors down from mine while I was growing up.

Twice that evening, our neighbors brought me to tears with memories of my brother as a little boy. Tales of him playing the neighborhood sentry, stopping cars at random checkpoints. Tales of him tearing up our bucolic streets, first on his bike then in his car. Tales of times he let show the extraordinary sensitivity that lay beneath his angry exterior.

After years of seriously negative behavior, Steven spent the last months before his fatal car accident channeling all that emotional energy into a seriously positive pursuit: training to be an emergency medical technician.

He loved riding with the ambulance crew. I suspect rushing out on urgent calls appealed to his strong desire to help people and gave him the adrenaline rush he so badly craved. The experience changed his whole outlook. After years of barely interacting with our parents, he began excitedly waking them at 1 a.m. to tell them about his shift. A young adult of extremes.

You see, he never really stopped wearing his emotions on his sleeve.

Totally authentic.

………

Coach’s Query

In what ways are you totally authentic? In what ways do you want to be?

Hearing aids: Can they help us listen to ourselves?

hearingaids

The Buddha welcomed hearing aids into his life today.

Ever since we got the news a few weeks ago, he’d been surprisingly excited about them … especially for a kid who used to scream and cry whenever we came within 5 feet of him with earplugs for the pool. We give much of the credit to his aid-wearing best pal, whose family we thank profusely for paving the way for us.

I, on the other hand, wore my lack of enthusiasm on my sleeve when we got the news a few weeks ago. One more thing to remember each morning. (Organization is not my strong suit.) One more thing to keep clean. (Please don’t look inside our humidifier!) One more thing to decide whether or not to explain when children stare. (We first danced this dance with eye patches years ago.)

But after a day or two, I got sick of my own whining. After all, this wasn’t even about me. I thought, “Maybe I’m the one who needs hearing aids so I can clearly hear how annoying I sound?”

So I consciously changed my message from, “We just found out The Buddha has to get hearing aids” to “We just found out The Buddha could really benefit from hearing aids.” The change in just a few words completely shifted the energy of the delivery. The new version felt so much lighter, not weighed down by self-pity. It easily became a natural thing to say.

This morning, moments after the audiologist turned The Buddha’s hearing aids on, we asked him what he thought.

“I like them,” he said with a smile.

We asked whether he could hear better. “Yes!” he said. “I can!”

By late in the afternoon, his enthusiasm hadn’t waned. When he got off the bus from school, he was still liking them so much that he told his brother: “You should get hearing aids, too!”

“I don’t need hearing aids,” his brother responded. “I need listening aids.”

And that’s just a whole ‘nother post ;-)

……….

Coach’s Query

Put your imaginary hearing aids on and really listen to your words. Do you hear a negative message that you’ve been putting out there? How can you change it to make that message feel lighter?

Choosing How to Use My Voice

Last week, I wrote a rant. At the time, I felt like I needed to write it. I was so upset about a world-class hospital’s treatment of my childhood friend in the immediate wake of her double mastectomy that I wanted to “shout” about it.

My grief sought an outlet. My outrage and disbelief and pure confoundedness poured out of my broken heart and onto the keyboard. The hospital became a foil for my frustration over my inability to do much at all as my friend does her damnedest to beat this Stage 4 monster.

And once I gave my anger and sadness and pain a voice, I wondered, did I need to publish it for the world to see? Did I want this rant as part of my permanent record? As part of the energy I was putting out into the world?

The whole time was writing, I kept thinking, “Who or what am I serving with this?” My stomach churned and my neck muscles tightened and I knew all along that this rant really served only my anger and frustration. It kept them alive. Fed them. Helped them grow.

Yes, it momentarily seemed to serve a purpose, but, ultimately, it didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it made me feel worse.

Lesson. Learned.

I can’t undo the the events that led to my friend finding the determination to drag herself out of the hospital just 24 hours after a traumatic surgery. And wishing for the situation to be different than it was … well, I knew that was a sure-fire recipe for sadness and suffering. And for goodness sakes, I sure didn’t want to be someone who contributed to suffering, especially my friend’s. She’s got enough going on.

My friend told me that at some point for her that horrible day in the hospital, “Something suddenly just switched.” In a split second, she went from tears to tenacity.

So, in this moment, I’m making a conscious choice to keep the rant to confines of my computer journal (and soon may choose to delete it altogether). I’m making a conscious choice to focus on the inspiration I find in my friend’s unrelenting resolve to heal. I’m making a conscious choice to put healing, not hurtful, thoughts out into the world.

How do you choose to use your voice?

……….

Coach’s Query

I think the desire to vent or rant once in a while is pretty normal for those of us who haven’t yet achieved enlightenment. A journal is one valuable place to let it all out. Some people choose to put their feelings on an artist’s canvas, others prefer a primal scream into a pillow.

When you feel like ranting, what conscious choices do you make? Or what choices could you make the next time time you feel like ranting? What outlets do you find helpful?

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