From 2001-2009 I was a caregiver for my mother, who was in and out of emergency rooms, hospitals, nursing homes and rehabs. I was also raising a teenage daughter, living with a husband whose business had gone under, working hard at my own job, and walking two dogs. I was feeling overwhelmed, but that was nothing compared to 2009. Read More →

Cry baby… It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to… Big girls don’t cry… Tears of a clown… Don’t cry for me Argentina…. Crying over you…

There are so many songs about crying and tears. Country western music has broken hearts by the pickup truck-full. From the laid-flat classic, “I’ve got tears in my ears from lying on my back in my bed while I cry over you,” to the GPS-specific, “Billy broke my heart at Walgreens and I cried all the way to Sears,” nothing beats country music for getting it all out there.

But I’m no country western gal. I’m a fairly tough New Yorker — tears were never high on my profile. Not since my father would send me to my room — “I can’t talk to you when you’re crying. Come back when you’ve stopped” — and I learned to put a plug in it. My friend Karen told me her mother admonished with the ever popular: “Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” The message was loud and clear: no whimpering.

Even PMS couldn’t bring me to tears. I was suicidal, homicidal, many -cidals, but I never cried. On rare occasions, like watching a sad movie or listening to a sad song, they might leak down my cheeks, but not for long. I’d convinced myself I’d never be a weepy person.

If there was a crisis, it was Robin to the rescue, Robin in charge. No tears — no time, too much to do — just the facts, decisions, action.

We all know people who fall apart if they lose their favorite pen — those are the drama queens and kings, who seem to always be in tears about something. Then there are others who are barely affected by the death of a parent. Let’s put these groups aside and focus on the rest of us — the majority of us who, while not emotionally dead, prefer to keep emotions in check, particularly when it comes to sadness.

I lost a lot a few years ago: my marriage, my job, my mother, my daughter moved 3,000 miles away, I had to move, and then I lost my beloved dog, Lola. I’ve written about it. I was sitting alone in my apartment, minus everyone — and I started to cry.

Then I couldn’t stop. The floodgates opened. And I didn’t care.

For many years, on those rare occasions when I cried, I’d get a headache. But when the grief is so intense, the tears wash over and seem to take out all the toxins and pain; at least that’s my non-scientific analysis. I felt lighter. No one loves the sound of a baby crying, but once they’re done crying, they look so peaceful, so relieved — or maybe that’s the parents that are relieved, but it does seem to be a part of the natural order of things.

So often in caregiving/grief groups I’ve attended (where my crying looked more like bawling), I’ve heard many people share, “I don’t want to cry” or “I’m afraid to cry.” I’ve also heard, “I don’t feel like crying,” which is perfectly appropriate, but my experience with crying has led me to love it. When I was younger, if someone cried in my presence I felt awkward. Now I sit with them and just try to be there in the privilege of that moment.

I spent years in therapy NOT crying, talking about antidepressants and wanting whatever new one I’d heard of. “Don’t you think I should try Wellbutrin? What about Celexa? That sounds good.” My therapist would say, “Okay, if you want to. But I don’t think you really need to.” Eventually I tried an antidepressant for a year or so, and it helped, but I gained weight, and I couldn’t feel much of anything, and I had no sex drive, so I went off the medication and continued to search for a newer, better drug.

I don’t think I ever used more than a few tissues in many, many years in my therapist’s office.

And then, my life fell apart and I used all the tissues. I sobbed through entire deluges, while my lovely therapist, Mike, nodded and smiled. “This is great, Robin, this is really good.”
 
What?

“This is probably going to turn out to be one of the best periods of your life.”

Are you crazy? I’m drowning! I can’t stop!

Eventually the river flowed to a stream. Slowly the tears trickled to a stop.

And in their place came:

Relief.
Gratitude.
Aliveness.
Joy.

And most of all: empathy… compassion… for everyone in the world who is suffering. Everyone. I want to go to the Congo and stop the fighting and the rape. I want to go to the Middle East and get people to talk about their anger and their sorrow. I want people to wail their pain and share it and not worry about how they look. I want people to listen to each other instead of screaming and fighting.
In other cultures people weep together — they believe in the power of a good cry. Why aren’t more of us angry about the state of this country and the world? I don’t know. I think maybe we’re all trying not to feel.

Tears on my pillow… tears in heaven.
Cry me a river. Let it wash me clean.

I was talking to a friend earlier, who was feeling down. I was glad I called, it’s good to be able to listen when someone is feeling blue. I suggested that she might want to go for a walk to feel better, as I was doing and then I remembered that the truth is, this is life and we aren’t supposed to always feel great. I’m sitting in the muck right now, feeling worried about the election, the economy, my own future, my daughter, my poor old dog, Lucy, who isn’t doing all that well. I am sitting in some sadness and worry and it’s perfectly okay.

I saw a story on Rock Center about the Daily Show and how there are several dogs who come to work with their owners. They said it really helps everyone to cheer up when they can pet the dogs.

So here’s my dog, Lucy, from several years ago, wearing a $6,000 sapphire, emerald and 24 carat gold necklace. She looks very royal, doesn’t she?  (The necklace does not belong to me!)

Please let President Obama do a good job at tonight’s debate…please.

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
Crying
Screaming
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)

Hitting a punching bag
Reading
Walking
Prayer
Meditation
Animals
Music
Laughter
Nature
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

Some days I wake up and I feel less than great.  Even though I went to a lovely surprise birthday party last night and enjoyed myself.  Even though the weather is so perfect it’s just delightful. Even though several people last night reminded me of something that I needed to hear: my job is just what I do during the day – and I need to either take a class or do something during my week that gives me pleasure.  I’ve realized that I’m slightly addicted to performing, so I think I need to find something that allows me to have that rush, scary as it is.


I’m also waiting to hear back from a couple of people who I sent some writing to and that’s always stressful.  But I understand they have busy lives and it will take them awhile to get back to me.  


So I sit with the feelings, the anxiety, the sadness and I know that the feelings will pass.  And I took an action this morning about finding a class and I will write to a good friend, Sally Fisher, about getting together for dinner soon.  She is an inspiration to me. 

And I will trust that today will be a good day, just as they always are in the end.  

I just did some readings, and one of the lines that jumped out at me from Steve Chandler’s book “Reinventing Yourself” was:  

“The human system does not really want comfort, it wants challenge.  It wants adventure.”

I love that!

Today, again, a feeling of sadness has come over me.  I went to Friends In Deed at noon and that was, as always, incredibly helpful. 

Mother’s Day is next weekend and my mother is gone, and the anniversary of the horrific month we spent basically watching her die is coming, and all of the feelings that go along with a divorce – all of it is difficult and understandably sad.  

I went back to Melody Beattie’s book, “The Language of Letting Go” since I find so much comfort in it, as I do Pema Chodron’s writings, and I looked up “Sadness” in the index.

Under May 20th was a posting about “Sadness:”

“Ultimately, to grieve our losses means to surrender to our feelings.

So many of us have lost so much, have said so many good-byes, have been through so many changes.  We may want to hold back the tides of change, not because the change isn’t good, but because we have had so much change, so much loss.

Sometimes when we are in the midst of pain and grief, we become shortsighted, like members of a tribe described in the movie Out of Africa. 

“If you put them in prison,” one character said, describing this tribe, “they die.”

“Why?” asked another character.

“Because they can’t grasp the idea that they’ll be let out one day.  They think it’s permanent, so they die.”

Many of us have so much grief to get through.  Sometimes we believe grief, or pain, is a permanent condition.  

The pain will stop.  Once felt and released, our feelings will bring us to a better place then where we started.  Feeling our feelings, instead of denying or minimizing them, is how we heal from our past and move forward into a better future.  Feelings our feelings is how we let go.

It may hurt for a moment, but peace and acceptance are on the other side. So is a new beginning.

God, help me to fully embrace and finish my endings, so I may be ready for my new beginnings.”

I love that reading.  It is so in line with what I have learned at Friends In Deed.  We learn that the only way through the grief is by feeling it.  When I was dealing with my mother’s illnesses and hospitalizations and other difficult challenges over a period of many years, I didn’t have time to worry about my feelings, I just got on with making decisions, feeling angry about having to do so much of it alone, and being emotionally drained.  But afterward, there is usually a flood of feelings that you can’t escape.  I have learned one really important life lesson through all of this: empathy. Until you’ve been there, you really can’t understand what it feels like to cope with so much loss at once.  My hope for my future is that I can use everything I’ve learned and come to understand in a way that will be of service to others.  

I don’t know how that will happen, but I don’t have to know today.  I just have to feel these feelings and hopefully release them, so that someday they will be a faint memory, like giving birth.  Who remembers labor pains?  Yes, it hurt, but so what?  

I’m nearing the one year anniversary of the decision to separate, that big moment that came in our marriage counseling session.  Is it better?  Yes.  It is still difficult?  Sometimes.  Am I through the worst of it?  Hopefully, but maybe not.  I’m still mourning my mother and that also takes time. 


Yesterday I sat with a woman whose husband left her just a few months ago and she found out that he’d been involved with another woman for several years.  A few days ago I heard about a book called “Perfection” – about a woman who discovers, after her beloved husband’s death, that he had been having affairs with nearly every woman in their small town.  


I guess I’m lucky that I’m not dealing with that kind of betrayal and that is often the reason many marriages end, people fall in love with someone else, or discover that their spouse has been cheating.  


I’m not sure it really matters in the end what the causes are; the results are the same, sadness, loss, a sense of failure, mourning and fear.  All of those feelings are less intense for me now, but they are still there and they come and go.  The woman I sat with yesterday was in so much pain, I wished there was something I could do or say that would help her, but time really is the healer. One year from now I will be in a completely different place emotionally – I am certain of that. 


And the saying really is “one day at a time” – and that’s about all any of us need to deal with. 

Maybe because it’s February, one of the most depressing months of the year (for me and probably everyone in the northern hemisphere) – and I’m still “piecing together a new life for myself” – I’m feeling a bit blue tonight.

It’s okay, just as I wrote those words, the thought came into my mind: “Fine, great!  Feel it.  Don’t fight it.”  And maybe just writing a little will also help, just to get out what the thoughts are.  I made a few calls to talk to friends and no one – not one person – was around to talk.  Of course, I didn’t try too many, so here I am writing to whoever reads this.  It’s interesting that I find out people I didn’t expect are reading this blog and it’s gratifying to know this isn’t just mental masturbation.  

This is about a journey. It was for a very long time, a journey that involved a husband, a wife, a daughter and two dogs.  And now it’s just me and the two dogs and my daughter, whenever I can grab a quick conversation or a few texts.  It’s lonely sometimes, and sad, and a bit scary.  I don’t know what’s coming in the future, but then no one knows.  It’s just that some people know who they are doing what they don’t know what will be with.  And even then, it’s iffy.  We can all get hit by a bus unexpectedly and die.  Cheerful, aren’t I?

There is that great feeling of “we can handle whatever comes because we’re in this together.”  I miss that feeling.  And – I’m also relieved that I’m not living in a relationship that was on life support, that wasn’t growing or deepening, but just stagnating.  My friend J said this quote about Jung: 

Yet unless any one of us negotiates our own sense of inflation and alienation (according to Jung, the first basic steps)…we cannot move to the places the Eckhardt Tolle talks of….we remain in ego inflation or ego alienation. Only the next step is the one toward individuation…and it doesn’t happen without suffering. Jung’s quote is “any step for the Self (the inner wisdom) is a defeat for the ego”…

Suffering as growth.  Suffering as inner wisdom.  I think it’s pretty annoying.  Metaphysical growing pains.  I think that’s what it means. This has been a painful week – both physically (I fell down the other night, tripped over a sneaker, broke a glass of water, cut my finger and landed on my knee) and emotionally painful, issues with my sister; I love her but cannot seem to find a peaceful way to co-exist or communicate. 


I’m grateful for so much in my life, even that it’s February, because in four weeks spring will be here and the days will be longer, and the flowers will bloom and the leaves will come out on the trees, and life will at least look, on the outside, so much more beautiful. 

Yesterday was a productive day as I continued packing and occasionally checking in on Facebook.  There was a good debate going on among people I don’t know, regarding the Senate finance committee’s rejection of the public option.  I enjoyed reading their comments as I sorted through old boxes of tax records.  (Later on, I watched the Daily Show and continued to be amazed at how ineffectual the Democrats are in governing with a majority of votes in Congress.  You’d think it was 1994 when the Republicans took over both houses and Newt Gingrinch was in charge.  It’s so depressing really – what is wrong with them??)  

Anyway, in the late afternoon I went to a meeting of freelance people and we talked about work.  After the  meeting, a friend of mine said to me, “Wow, you look fantastic!  Radiant.”  A couple of months ago, my friend Mia told me,”Tragedy becomes you.”  


Maybe it’s the release of so many emotions and the stress that taking care of my mother has been on me for so many years. I appreciated the compliment and I was in a good mood.  A friend of mine gave me her ticket to see “God of Carnage” last night, because she has a bad cold.  The cast is James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels.  I was excited about seeing the play and just before I went to the theater I stopped at one of those ubiquitous cafes that are all over the city, I think it was Cafe Metro, or maybe it was Cafe Europa, on 7th Avenue between 31st and 32n Streets.  I ordered a small vegetable and rice soup and sat alone at a table.  It was close to seven p.m. and it was dark out already, and as I sat in the cafe eating my soup, I suddenly started to cry.  

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten alone at one of those cafes.  But suddenly the combination of knowing that winter is coming and it’s so dark and cold (last night was particularly cold), and feeling unrooted, missing my family, worrying about the dogs, knowing that soon Steve and I have to sit down with the lawyers, all of that hit me and I couldn’t stop crying.  I didn’t make a scene, I just quietly sat there trying to eat the vegetable and rice soup.  I called my dear friend Lisa and couldn’t reach her, so I left a message.  Within two minutes she called me back from the checkout line at Whole Foods.  


Lisa went through a divorce about ten years ago and her advice always is: you have to go through the pain to get past it.  And it will get better, much better – eventually – but not until time has passed and you’ve processed the feelings. 



I felt much better talking to Lisa, finished the soup and walked uptown through Times Square to the theater.  I met a woman I’d never met before, my friend Barbara’s friend, Robin. She was very easy to talk to and loves to go swing dancing, so we agreed to go out together to dance.  


The play was about two married couples who meet to discuss their young sons – one of them hit the other with a stick, knocking out two front teeth.  Within half an hour they’re all arguing and it’s clear that both marriages have serious problems.  James Gandolfini delivers a speech about marriage, about the difficulties inherent in sharing a life with someone, raising kids, coping with losses, and aging parents, and all the crises that come up over the years. I have written similar speeches over the years myself.  I didn’t love the play, the characters were all basically unsympathetic, but I definitely related to the subject and it was a true pleasure watching excellent performances.  


I thought about Pema Chodron quite a bit last night, as I was feeling all the emotions and I knew that just having them, and allowing them to move through me, is exactly where I need to be right now.  Things are falling apart… and they are also slowly coming together.  

Sometimes I read what I wrote early in the morning and I think how pathetic is that? I really am doing okay, I just have periods of feeling blue. It’s totally natural and thanks especially to reading Pema Chodron, I know that it’s fine to feel the sadness. Usually, as the day progresses I start to feel better, or sometimes I have a good talk with someone and occasionally I get a bit emotional, but then I feel okay. This afternoon I went through boxes of old papers and threw piles of scripts away that I don’t need anymore and that felt good. Sometimes I just have to do something productive, even when I feel like wallowing in self-pity.

I do have to say that I looked at this blog from last year to see if my life was so much better – and actually it was worse. It was just when the stock market dropped over 770 points and everything seemed to be in freefall. We were in a huge world financial crisis, with the government taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and banks and investment companies were failing. Sometimes it pays to look back and remember on top of all that, last year Sarah Palin was running for President. (Opps, I meant Vice President.) YUCK.

Although for me personally 2009 has been a difficult year, every year has its challenges.

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