About 10 years ago, I was extremely depressed. I was what I like to call a card carrying member of the sandwich generation or given the times, “The Panini Generation.”

Like many millions of people, I was caring for a parent (my mom, my dad had already died) and raising a kid (my lovely daughter). And working full-time. And being a wife with a husband who was struggling with his business. And taking care of two beloved dogs (thank God for them). I looked like a refugee and felt like (insert your favorite expletive here).

I loved everyone and enjoyed my job — but the constant phone calls, texts, racing to emergency rooms, school meetings, individual and family therapy (I think we single-handedly kept New York’s therapeutic community going) — was just too much. I was on overload. I tried meditation, antidepressants (they ultimately made me feel worse), I ate too much, slept too much, watched too much TV, lived on caffeine, and felt like I was the walking dead.

I tried to live a day at a time and find pleasure wherever I could, but it was just too much. It felt hopeless.

And then the whole thing fell apart. After many years of being a caregiver, everyone died, left, or moved away — leaving me alone with my two dogs. And that felt even worse. That felt like the worst pain I had ever experienced. I fell apart — completely — I cried, I raged, I talked, I wrote, I laughed, I let myself fall apart and for a year and a half, I had the best mini breakdown I could have ever. And here’s the surprise: I recommend it. Highly.

I learned more spiritual lessons in that period of my life than I ever had before. Ever. And one of my favorite lessons, taught to me by Robert Levithan, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, was to embrace the word: “and.”

And. That’s it. Just “and.”

My life is falling apart, everyone left me, eventually even my two beloved dogs died — AND I feel alive in a way I haven’t in years. I don’t feel depressed, I feel feelings that had long been suppressed. Crying feels good!

The world is a mess, random shootings of innocent people and horrific violence seems to be happening all over the world — and the beauty of daily life and human kindness astounds me every day.

Our political system is a travesty, we are owned by huge corporations and both parties are equally bad and ineffective and petty and we can still have hope that life can and will get better.

I miss having a special someone in my life — and I am blessed to have an amazing daughter, loving and supportive friends, work that has so much meaning to me and to everyone I have the opportunity to come in contact with all over the world.

Every year we lose people we love, and this year was no exception. We lost close friends and people we felt close to even if we didn’t really know them — like Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joan Rivers. We still have so many great people who make us laugh: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, and Amy Poehler, just to name a few.

I can feel bad and I can take a dance break or go for a walk and feel complete joy.
Nothing is just one thing. It is all — an “AND.”

Embrace it. Remember it. You may not be surrounded by a what looks like a Hallmark card this holiday season. You may not have a fantastic date for New Year’s Eve. You may feel sick and lonely and worried about the future and how you are going to manage AND know there is still so much to be grateful for. Make a list of those things that you are grateful for. Daily, if necessary. It helps.

Thank you, Robert Levithan. You are one of the kindest, most thoughtful and generous men I have ever known and so handsome and I love you — and you’re gay and unavailable.

Oh well. You remind me of the goodness of men — and that ultimately all I need isOne. Good. Man.

Or a dog. Or two.


“I’ve learned that people won’t remember what you said
And people won’t remember what you did
People will only remember how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou

In 2005, my mother was in a hospital, dying. I remembered that a friend of mine, Pippa, had written about being a volunteer in a hospice and it occurred to me that my mother needed to be there, not in a hospital being tortured with countless meds, beeping machines and pointless procedures. Studies indicate that many people receive aggressive and unnecessary treatment in hospitals and if given the choice, would prefer hospice care.

My mother was suffering. She deserved something better. Read More →

Divorce. Death. Job loss. Moving. Daughter leaving home. Empty nest. Really empty nest. Two dogs, no job. Financial insecurity. Fear.

In 2009 I went through almost the entire list of life’s most stressful events. To say I got hit by what felt like a tsunami of loss would not be an exaggeration. I was in so much pain, I could barely take a deep breath.

I was never a big crier and suddenly I found myself crying. A lot. Read More →

A few weeks ago I went to two memorial services within two days of each other. One was for a remarkable man, my friend Lisa’s dad, Michael Dontzen, who lived to 89 and accomplished more in his lifetime than just about anyone I’ve ever met. He was a New York State Supreme Court judge, an aide to Mayor John Lindsay, a lawyer, a brilliant man with so much passion for justice, that on his deathbed, just a short time before he passed away, he married a gay couple. This was his last “professional” duty and he was determined to accomplish that despite the fact that he could barely speak.

The second memorial was heartbreaking. It was for a woman named Chris Twomey. She was an artist and a mother of three. Her art and motherhood were intertwined and she was passionate about both. She had breast cancer, which spread throughout her body and after a long, heroic struggle, she finally died, at age 58.

There weren’t many people who were as determined to live as Chris. She loved life, she loved making art and she maintained a sense of humor throughout the years of treatments and tremendous pain.

I met Chris at Friends In Deed, a pragmatic, spiritual counseling center in Soho, New York. I have written about it before. FID saved my life when my life was completely falling apart. One of the gifts of Friends was that it put me right smack into a community that understood suffering, so that I was able to feel less alone.

In her eulogy for Chris, the founder of Friends In Deed, Cy O’Neal, spoke about Chris’s courage. I just happened to be near the front desk the day that Chris first arrived at FID, announcing “I have breast cancer” as if she were saying “I just arrived from Paris.” I sat in big groups with Chris for well over a year, and as Cy said, “She always raised her hand, early in the meeting. She shared whatever was going on with her, which generally included the work she was doing and some difficult aspect of her treatment. She always had a strong spirit and a rich sense of humor and after she spoke, it seemed that she gave everyone else permission to tell whatever they were going through.”

Like a lot of people, weathering the storm of Hurricane Sandy meant keeping close to our battery-operated radios. (Actually, I had a crank radio too, the kind you wind up if you don’t have batteries, but it just made me cranky. If I had to only use that, my arm would have fallen off by day two, and my only news would be spastic, like “flood waters reaching… evacuated and you should seek….”) People were calling in all day with the stories of what was happening, good and bad, giving each other comfort and advice. The radio gave us permission to speak and a means to reach out to one another when we would have been going it alone otherwise.
During those five days of sitting in candlelight and mostly silence, I began to think about community. My neighbors in our building in Soho supported each other emotionally — one neighbor, Martin, was staying uptown with his girlfriend, but each day he came back to the building and dropped off bags of food for his neighbors, fresh fruit, bagels, peanut butter, The New York Times. On Halloween, our next door neighbor, Louise, came over and gave us Tarot card readings by candlelight.

My upstairs neighbor, Barbara, was sitting shiva (a week long mourning period) for her dad, who passed away a few days before the Hurricane. The first few days there were dozens of people who came to pay their respects, but once the hurricane hit, it was harder for family and friends to get there, so my loftmate, Abigail, and I tried to come up as much as we could.

And then, on one of my uptown bike trips, when I had Internet access, I saw a posting on Facebook written by someone who had been helping out in Rockaway Beach. They were delivering blankets and supplies, cleaning out basements, doing all the heavy lifting that needed to be done. But I read this: “People need emotional support. They are suffering.”

And I thought about the woman in Staten Island who lost both her young sons, because a neighbor wouldn’t let her into his home, he was too afraid to open his door. I hope that she will give herself permission to speak of her profound loss, when the time is right, and with a caring group of people with her.

We often give lip service to the idea of “it takes a village” but in reality, we so rarely do come together to support each other. One of the reasons 12 Step programs are so effective is because they have learned the power of community. For most of history, family was our community, but now families are spread all over the place. Often people worked in organizations for their entire careers and felt a part of something. That is the exception now, it’s rare that anyone stays longer than a few years with any job — in fact, the “Millennials” don’t even expect to stay past three years.
In the aftermath of so much devastation and what has been a divisive election — and what will surely be many more hurricanes and tornadoes and devastation — maybe we can try to solve both the physical challenges of dealing with floods and the emotional challenges of how to create a real sense of community so that we truly can “get by with a little help from our friends.”

It seems like every day I speak to a friend who is either racing off to the hospital to see a parent who’s ill, or a spouse, a friend, or dealing with their own illness, or divorce, or job loss. It’s not that I don’t know people whose lives are great – but the reality is that millions of us are dealing with difficult challenges. 
As Pema Chodron, the Buddhist writer says in When Things Fall Apart:
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
In 2009, I had my own personal “tsunami.” My 23 year marriage ended, I had no job, my mother died, my daughter moved 3,000 miles away, and I had to move, with two dogs. Life dealt me a hand that left me broken.  I felt like I was under water and couldn’t breathe.
A dear friend pointed me in the direction of Eckhart Tolle’s book, The New Earth and I read this:
“Whenever tragic loss occurs you either resist, or you yield.  Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego.  You are closed.  Whatever action you take in a state of resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create outer resistance and the universe will not be on your side: life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in.  When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary your action will be aligned with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness, which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen.  If no action is possible, you rest in the inner piece that comes with surrender.  You rest in God.”
This became like a mantra to me. (A long one, I know.)  I typed it up and carried it with me.  And honestly, circumstances and people didbecome helpful. 
One night at Friends In Deed in New York City, a “pragmatic, spiritual crisis center,” I attended a workshop on grief. I told myself I was willing to go anywhere for help, but it didn’t hurt that Friends In Deed was just up the block.
Here is what I learned:

Grief is the natural response to loss. Loss is a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity. Grief now becomes a lifelong companion, never leaving you in the beginning, softened over time, but never leaving completely. If the person meant anything to you, the loss of them will visit you, sometimes when you least expect it.
The five stages of grief Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—are helpful, but perhaps the stages are not linear and maybe there are better models.  And what about relief?  What about guilt?  
Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.  
There are three levels to grief – the first level is the loss of the person, the life.  The second level is the practical issues, the loss of income, a home, structure.  The 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.
First comes disintegration, then eventually reintegration…”the new normal.”  The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return.  Grief is natural, like breathing.  Try to let it happen, let it run its own course.  One day you’re on the floor and then surprising yourself, you find you’re going out on a date, something unimaginable just a short time before. 
Here are some myths:  you’ll get over it.  You’ll transcend it.  There is a right way to grieve.
Truth:  Your loss will transform you.  This is the experience, and 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—especially if we find ways to get out of our own way. I gave myself to the process, and it is a process, and now I’ll avoid the word journey, but it was and continues to be.
The tried and true methods of dealing with grief and anger, though they can be effective in the short term:  drugs, drinking, eating too much, are distractions from the process. 
The good news: human beings are resilient.  We are amazingly strong.
What helps with grief?

Talking helps
Not talking helps
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)

Hitting a punching bag
Sad movies
Maybe you were grieved last week when NBC cut into Olympic coverage to give a sneak peak of the new show starring Matthew Perry called “Go On.” In it, they find the humor and pathos inherent in a grief counseling group. I was lucky enough to find Friends In Deed, but there are many kinds of groups out there, one that will suit you. You may even feel most comfortable in an online community. The main thing is to take your grief seriously, as loss is a necessary part of living. It needs to be respected and not ignored (as Perry’s character finds out in the first episode) – and you need to feel that you are not alone.
The tsunami that hit me ultimately has been the greatest gift of my life.  It added depth and understanding to my life and what else would I have to share?  Tips on how to deal with curly hair?  (Not that that isn’t very important information.) 
But I am now a far more empathetic person than I was when frizzy hair was my biggest problem. 
Friends In Deed is located at 594 Broadway, Suite 706, New York City, friendsindeed.org

The anniversary of my mom’s death was Saturday, June 9th and somehow the sadness of that didn’t hit me until this morning.  I woke up feeling very sad.

I opened the book “The Tools” where I’d left off and it talks about sadness…which is like having a black cloud over our head, which then blocks out all the sun.  That’s how I was feeling.   The antidote, they say, to the black cloud is gratitude and also connecting to a source, a higher power, or whatever that means to each of us.

It helped me to read that, but I still felt blue, so I took myself to Friends In Deed at noon.  It turned out that the topic of the Big Group at noon is grief.  So I had a good cry and now I have to deal with Lucy, who’s got so many health issues it’s hard to know where to begin.

Ah, life.  I am so grateful!  I am grateful for summer coming!  I am grateful that I had a good night’s sleep!  I am grateful for humor!  I am grateful for health!  I am grateful for dancing!

I can feel the black cloud opening up.  I really can.  Not fast enough, but it’s opening.

Last night, I went out to ride my bike and I ran into a lovely friend on the bicycle path along the Hudson.  We rode together and then sat and watched the sunset.  We talked and laughed and went back to riding – it turned out to be a lovely night.  It was kind of a date, but not.  It was what a date should be – comfortable, relaxed, easy conversation.  It was fun!  He’s a nice guy, recently separated, dealing with some sadness but clear that the relationship had to end. 

Then this morning, on my way to Unity, walking up Broadway, I ran into my friend Judy who is visiting from Berkeley.  We went to high school together and re-connected on Facebook.  I mentioned I was going to Unity and invited her to come along and she said yes.  We had a lovely time together. 

And then after Judy and I said goodbye…I was walking down Broadway and I ran into another friend, Amy, who works for the Visiting Nurse Service of NY.  When my mother got sick, she was one of the first calls I made and she set up my mother’s care.  Her father died early this month and we talked about that.  I suggested she go to Friends In Deed – not just for her own loss, but also as a good resource for the VNS clients.  

It’s amazing how often I run into people in this small city of over 8 million people!  I love living here – even in the heat, even in the cold, even on days that I really can’t take the noise and the crowds, I still cannot think of a better place to live.  I can think of places I love to visit and vacation in, but for living, it’s NYC that’s my home.

Interesting – when I typed the title for this post, I accidentally typed “Letting god…” instead of “Letting go…”  But honestly, I think it really should be letting god. This week has been a great exercise for me in trusting a higher something – some higher good – to show me what I need.

I started out the week feeling very overwhelmed at work, very frustrated about my life and very stuck.  But I made a decision to just go with all the feelings, the sadness and the anger and just see where it led me.  Monday, I emailed my neighbor, Louise, and asked her to read the Tarot cards for me (she’s in Connecticut for the summer.)  She did a quick reading and reassured me that I need to sit tight.  I have to say, I’m not a huge believer in psychics or cards, but somehow Louise always seems to nail it for me.  

Then Tuesday, I went to a Big Group meeting at Friends In Deed and I saw a woman there who looked so familiar, but I couldn’t place her.  She came over to me and said, “We know each other, don’t we?”  But neither of us knew where we met until she told me her name, which is unusual, and then I realized we met at my first Mama Gena mastery.  I remember her because she was very resistant, and at one point Regena had her dance with Alex, the teacher who comes to dance with many of the women and she looked like someone who hadn’t experienced any pleasure in years – until we saw her dancing.  It was a memorable moment.  

During the big group, someone shared that she was going through a really rough time – partner sick, having to spend the summer in Europe for medical treatment, knowing that she wouldn’t have the support of Friends In Deed except by phone, not having any friends there, and in her frustration she said, “I feel…I feel…like…like….scrambled eggs.”  I was sitting between two friends who had both seen the reading of my play (twice) and we all laughed. Cy, the group leader, said at one point, “Here at FID we believe that there are two really important things in life – one is living in the moment and the other is speaking your truth.” 

Then Wednesday night I went out and ran into two more Mama Gena friends (Sister Goddesses) and that was a lovely surprise.  One of them had been to the reading and the other one said, “I can’t wait to see the play and we want to support you in any way we can.”  

Yesterday, I received an email from Steve Chandler, author of “Fearless” and “Reinventing Yourself” – and many other books – but those are the two I read and re-read continuously.  I had commented on a blog post he wrote about Jane Austen – he and a friend wrote a book about reading all of Austen’s books.  I love Jane Austen too, so I commented – and I received an email from Steve saying he would love to send me the book!  I was thrilled.  His work has been enormously helpful and life-changing.

And then last night, I went to a goodbye/birthday party for my friend Barbara’s brother, David, who is moving to L.A.  He and I share a special “badge” of loss – he went through a divorce, lost his mother, lost his job, had to move — and though his divorce was easier in some ways, divorce is never really easy.  He just got hired to be the president of a company based in Los Angeles, so he’s excited about his future.  I met some lovely people at the party – and came home to walk Lucy and as I was leaving the building, I ran into a neighbor and we chatted about Lola.  More sadness came up and I felt bereft about this amazing creature who lived with me for nine years and who I miss so much it’s hard to even think about her without crying.  And then I walked by Savoy, a wonderful restaurant on my block which is closing (for renovation and reinvention) and saw Beth – the director of Mama Gena’s School and I went inside to say hello.  She introduced me to her neighbor, who had taken this Mastery and she thanked me for all my hard work.  

Everyone hugged each other – including the owner of Savoy – and I went home feeling so grateful for all the people in my life, and all the new people I keep meeting, and for that strange higher power that leads me from despair to pleasure to sadness to hope to enlightenment — and never abandons me. I feel especially grateful this week. 

I just looked back at this blog and saw that on August 5, 2009, my daughter, Zoe, and ex, Steve packed up the car and left our family home (the most recent one – we’d moved about three times in previous five years.)  I remember the feelings I had that day, it was probably one of the lowest points of my life.  I had just lost my mother and now my family was breaking apart.

So here I am one year later.  It’s been an incredible year of magical thinking, I guess you could say.  Many miracles and many life lessons have occurred.  A one year anniversary is significant in that it is a measure of the first Thanksgiving without your family, the first birthday, Christmas and Hanukah, a long series of firsts.  Surviving these events, going through all the feelings that come up, starts to gradually make you feel stronger.  

I am so grateful for the way this year has unfolded and for all the positive changes in my life.  I have a wonderful home in Manhattan with the nicest loftmate in the world.  My dogs are still here with me and although they are both old, and not doing all that well, they have given me so much love, it would have been much harder without them. (And it was also hard with them — walking four times a day most days, in the winter, in the heat – not an easy job.)  They are pretty famous in the neighborhood, particularly Lola.  

I am close to having a job, at least a freelance one.  I don’t want to talk about it yet, but it’s something that I am very excited about – and I hope will work out.  Zoe is doing really well in San Francisco.  I’ve met some very nice men.  I’ve learned so much about life just by sitting in Friends In Deed for the past year.  I’ve kept up my meditation practice, as imperfect as it is.  I’ve started running again and although recently my knee has been bothering me, I’ve kept it up and am working on building up the muscles around my knees.  Exercise has really helped.  We are getting closer to resolving our divorce and hopefully that will happen soon.  I wish Steve well, I am tired of fighting and look forward to someday having all of this in the past.  

My friends have sustained me and I don’t even have the words to say how grateful I am.


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