Over a period of several years, my life seemed like an impossible obstacle course. I was a card carrying member of the sandwich generation. For 10 years, I was my mother’s primary caregiver and she was in and out of hospitals, emergency rooms, and even hospices, until her death in 2009. My husband’s photography business failed, thanks to the economy. My daughter went through a challenging adolescence. We had to sell our family home and in the course of seven years, moved four times. I worked at a job I didn’t love, but needed the money, and then lost that, thanks to the economy. Then my husband and I got divorced. Within just the past three years, I lost two of my closest friends, and both my beloved dogs.

I know I’m not alone in having faced difficulties — I see it happening all around me all the time. And truthfully, as challenging as these years have been, they have also been pretty miraculous. Read More →

Five years ago this month, my marriage ended.  We didn’t separate for several more months and the divorce took over two years to be final, but the marriage ended in April of 2009.

I have never experienced anything quite that painful.  It didn’t help that I had also lost my job because of the economy and that on June 9, 2009 my mother died.  And my daughter decided to move to California and then I had to move.  So with two dogs and no job, the end of a 23 year relationship and the death of my mother, I somehow managed to get through the most intense period of fear and grief I had ever known.

I got so much support from friends.  I was so lucky to have resources like therapy and different communities (especially Friends In Deed).  The grief was so intense I don’t think I could take a deep breath for months and I know that I lost probably 20 pounds within the first two months.  That was a perk, to be honest.  For years I’d struggled to lose those pounds and they simply fell off.

Five years later, I feel stronger in many ways and happier most of the time.  I feel grateful that I’ve learned to live an independent life and that the loneliness I feel sometimes is better than the loneliness I felt when I was married.

This too shall pass.  One day at a time.  Surrender.  

All those trite expressions really are true.  Everything I learned from reading Pema Chodron helped me.

I think I will go back to the Big Group at Friends In Deed tonight just to give thanks for all the support I got there and to listen.

Five years later I am not the same person was and I am deeply grateful for the lessons I learned.   They were painful lessons, but I think maybe that’s the only way we really ever learn them.  And I am grateful most of all for my sense of humor — which I sometimes forget about — but somehow I’m always reminded to laugh.

This is my latest Huff Post, which came out of a workshop I did last week on public speaking.  I told the story and everyone liked it so much, I decided to write it up.

Out of the Depths
It was the lowest point of my life.  My 23 year marriage was over. We’d been talking about it for a long time, but finally he was ready. 
I wasn’t.  I had just lost my job.
My daughter, who was 21, decided that she wanted to move to San Francisco.  Three thousand miles away.
I was thankful that my mother was still alive, having survived two hospice stays she seemed indestructible.  And then she died suddenly.
I never felt worse, or more terrified, or more alone.
One afternoon my cell phone rang.  It was an area code I didn’t recognize and normally I would have let it go to voice mail, but I picked it up.
It was a director, Matt Penn, calling to tell me that he wanted to do a staged reading of a play I had written with Gary Richards, at the Berkshire Playwrights Lab in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. And that the reading would be happening in ten days. If I hadn’t been so out of it, I would have panicked, a big, ugly hyperventilating panic.
The play was to be performed on a Wednesday night and I took the train up on the Sunday before. I waited at the station and watched as everyone got picked up or drove away and soon I was all by myself.  I tried to call the intern but got her voice mail instead.  I stood there thinking, what the hell am I doing? It seemed just like my life—I thought I knew where I was going and why, only to find myself stranded and alone.
Finally the intern called, apologetic.  She had picked up the actors, but had forgotten about me.
She came back and we drove to a little meeting house in the woods outside of Great Barrington and I met Matt and the rest of the actors.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and kind. Gary couldn’t come until the night of the reading because he was teaching. I’d seen readings of this play, Scrambled Eggs (the sub-title is, in my mind is: “The Wisdom of Insecurity”).  It’s a comedy about an everywoman – Karen – who is overwhelmed by life and she is loosely based on me and parts of all my friends.  She’s married to Dave, who is not so much based on my ex, but a fictionalized (funnier) version of him.  We see Karen at various stages of her life – struggling to figure out how to do it all – and how to maintain her equilibrium. 
We were all invited to Matt’s beautiful home for dinner that night and I got to know the cast members.  At one point, Matt was barbecuing and he asked me to join him.  He and two of the other directors of the Lab were talking about the play and how much they loved it, but thought that the ending needed some work. 
Didn’t they know that I was essentially out of my mind and couldn’t concentrate enough to write a grocery list, let alone a new ending??
I tried not to look like I was having a nervous breakdown and when we got back to the inn, I took my cell phone out to the parking lot, the only place I could get a signal, and I called Gary.
“Gary, they want a new ending!”
“Ah, don’t worry about it.  Just write something funny…you can do it.”
“GARY, I don’t know what the f*#k to write!”
“What?  I can’t hear you…”
I lost the signal. Amy Van Nostrand, who was playing Karen, saw me as I re-entered the inn and offered to go over the script. 
YES. Yes!  We went up to my room and read almost the entire play aloud and we bonded when we discovered we were both getting divorced.
We talked about the ending and we had some good ideas.  The next day I raced to type it up as the actors went into rehearsal.  I ran over at the lunch break and showed Matt what I had. He laughed and said, “close, but not quite.”
So I kept writing and running over and finally by the end of the day he was satisfied.  Then I had to race back to Manhattan for a tech rehearsal of a solo show I was performing at the Midtown International Theater Festival. Nothing to do that entire summer except that one week I had the reading and three performances of a solo show. In one week.  And I could barely get out of bed and brush my teeth. 
I went back to Great Barrington Wednesday afternoon in time for a run-through and then Gary arrived right before the show.  At every other reading of my work, I’d generally felt the need to be sedated, but this time I felt pretty calm.  I didn’t know a soul in the audience.  Maybe no one would show up?
The Mahaiwe is an incredibly beautiful theater that opened in 1905 and was newly renovated.  Gary and I sat up in the balcony and watched as the theater filled up.  We didn’t know this at the time, but Matt had done a local NPR interview about the play and said, “this play is headed to New York.”  So the theater was packed, there were at least 450 people.  We could watch people laughing hysterically,  slapping their knees and elbowing the person next to them.  I started to laugh and I laughed for ninety minutes and watched the actors bring the play to life and the audience eat it up.
At the end of the reading, I felt something I had forgotten was possible.  I felt happy. I could breathe… for the first time in months.  I could feel the power of laughter, to bring you out of despair and to make you feel alive again.  
I also realized that I if I truly had a purpose, making people laugh is not such a bad purpose to have in life.
Three and a half years later…life is so much better.  Divorce didn’t kill me, it made me stronger.  Amy is stronger too.  And she will be starring in a production of the play next April, at the Beckett Theater in New York City, just as Matt predicted. 

“We sit in meditation so that we’re more awake in our lives.” Pema Chodron

Sometimes I just want to laugh and I need to laugh.  If you haven’t seen “Modern Family” – watch it.  It is truly funny.  

I know Ty Burrell, who is one of the stars of the show.  He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and incredibly talented.  I couldn’t be happier for him – to be so successful in a role that no one else could play as well (at least in my opinion).

Okay, I have to admit after 5 seasons of grudgingly and only occasionally enjoying “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and after reading my friend Mia’s strong support of the show on her blog (“Under the Stinkwood Tree”) – I ordered season 6 on Netflix.  And since I have a cold which is slowly improving, I thought it couldn’t hurt to laugh….but would the show actually make me laugh?  Or would I just find him annoying as I often do? 

The first episode, Larry and his wife invite a family, who have been displaced after a huge hurricane, to move in with them. I laughed my ass off.  (Which actually isn’t hard to do, since I’ve lost about twenty pounds this year.)

But seriously, this is funny.  Thanks, Larry.

One of my greatest pleasures in life is to make people laugh, but lately I haven’t had too much of a sense of humor.  I should watch more funny movies and try to reawaken my inner comedian but it’s tough going when you’re not “in the mood.” This morming I played tennis with my dear tennis buddies and I have to say, I couldn’t concentrate at all or take much pleasure from the game.  (This isn’t the funny part.)  My tennis skirt was too big (a benefit of being depressed is the weight loss, which, I have to say is definitely one of the perks.)  

It does seem that life has been particularly rough in 2009 for many people.  Oh, now I remember what I wanted to write about: Friends In Deed.  I have been going there on and off for the past few years.  Friends In Deed is a non-profit center in Soho which helps people who are dealing with illness, care-giving or grief.  It started twenty years ago as a response to the AIDS/HIV crisis and has expanded over the years to include all illnesses, and to those who are caring for people.  Six times a week they offer “big groups” where people come to talk about whatever is going on for them. They also offer free counseling, massage, Reiki, volunteers who are available to go to doctor’s appointments, nutrition counseling. One of the sayings they have is that “the quality of life is not necessary determined by the circumstances of your life,” (or something like that.)  All I know is that when I go there, I generally have a good cry, listen to others, and empathize.  And I always feel better when I leave.  Sometimes we even have a good laugh, too, which is hard to believe, but true.  Then we are all grateful for the reminder that it’s possible to maintain a sense of humor in the midst of some pretty tragic circumstances.