Featured Widow/er - Ed Bradley – Accomplished Musician Finds Healing on Skates, in Music, and in Love

Ed BradleyEd BradleyEd and Linda on top of Mt. Greylock on their 6th anniversary.Ed and Linda on top of Mt. Greylock on their 6th anniversary.Ed Bradley became a musician when he was just six years old, learning to play the piano and then going on to master guitar, bass and mandolin among others. His first band was the Quiet Ones, a group of 16 year old kids whose popularity at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, Rhode Island was considerable in the summer months according to Ed. That was in the mid to late 1960’s. He played bass and in 1970 switched to guitar and that has been his instrument of choice ever since. 

He met his wife Patricia Leach the first time when she was 16 and dating a friend of his, then again 22 years later when they worked together. The two started going out. “She was quiet and I kind of liked the way she was,” says Ed. He continued to play in various bands but together they shared an interest in auto races at Riverside Park in Massachusetts. After dating about a year, they married in 1973 making a life in Manchester, where Ed had grown up and they celebrated the birth of a son and daughter shortly after.

By 1997 he was playing in bands full time, five to seven days a week and in August of that year, he was on tour in the Cape Cod area, a place he had always enjoyed visiting. A performance on Nantucket was scheduled immediately following his run on the Cape. When Ed received a call to contact the Chatham Police Department he could hardly believe what he was hearing, learning that Patricia had been killed in a car accident back home. She was 45 years old.

“It was a life changing experience,” says Ed who remembers his drive home from the Cape. “It was gloomy and rainy. It fit the mood I was in. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” Ed was 47 and couldn’t stop waking up with nightmares.

After the wake and funeral, he found that sitting around at home just wasn’t an option, so he jumped right back into his band’s tour schedule on the Cape. “We did what we had to do. But everything was different, the sky, the leaves, everything had changed. I drove myself to do it. My therapy was to get back to playing again.” The band, appropriately named, was Mass-Conn-Fusion.

Ed was contacted by grief support groups but he had no interest. “I fought my way through it on my own terms,” says Ed who advises others in similar situations to “follow their heart” and do what they feel called to do. For him, that meant writing and music. He wrote a song, and then wrote a record of his relationship with Patricia. “It was something I felt compelled to do. I didn’t know what to do so I did what came naturally. I wrote long hand, and I’m not sure why. I was driven though. I wanted to do it before I forgot.” He says it was “automatic writing,” uncensored and freeing, and later gave it to his daughter.

Ed and Linda BradleyEd and Linda BradleyEd Bradley playing the guitar.Ed Bradley playing the guitar.“There were times I didn’t really care to go on. I said I can’t do this, times when I was incredibly depressed.” He took St. John’s Wort, a natural product which may relieve some symptoms of depression.

In 1998, he taught himself to roller blade, which has had a huge impact on him. “That was my big therapy, my major therapy. I was really driven to do it. Roller blading stopped me from drinking. You have to fight your way through grief. I didn’t need to create depression on top of depression,” says Ed who skated in parking lots, paved trails and even went to Stowe, Vermont. He had seen people skating on paved trails on the Cape. I wanted to do the trails and it got me in really good shape. I was 49 or 50 and in the best physical shape of my life. My emotions were back on track.”

In May, 1999 he met Linda Till, first through a mutual friend, Eric Fletcher at Beller’s Music, and later at the Great Harvest Bread Company. They just kept running into each other and started dating. Linda was an art therapist at Natchaug Hospital at the time, and owner of Blue Heart Expressive Arts Studio in Manchester. As it turned out, Linda had cut Ed’s personal ad of the local newspaper, considered responding to it but never did, and then misplaced the ad. It was the only time Ed had placed an ad, which ran only for a few weeks. It just wasn’t the right time. But then they did meet. Ed had been looking for a roller blading partner and as it turned out, the two knew a lot of the same people. Linda was an artist and so was Ed so they connected on a creative level and understood and supported each other.

Ed can’t clearly define what the connection was, only that he loved to see her smile and for him, that was enough. They married in July of 2000 on Mount Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts.

“We really like it up there,” says Ed. “Nice views, and it was a small wedding. We took a limo from the house up the mountain.” They were married at Bascom Lodge by a justice of the peace and then went on to Newport, Rhode Island for their honeymoon which included a day trip to Cape Cod.

Nearly fifteen years later Ed says that life has been “interesting.” He doesn’t play as much as he used to, but is part of the band, Collins & Bradley, playing acoustic guitar.

“I really had to have all those distractions,” says Ed about his time after Patricia died. “I didn’t steep in misery. Everything became so different. I became more outgoing. I realized when you’re grieving it’s like waves in the ocean. At first the waves are close together. As time goes on, the waves get further apart. Grief still comes up if it wants to. You have to follow your heart. Don’t let people tell you how long your period of grief can be. Do what you have to do to deal with it.”

Poetry - Mourning Night

Patricia PierannunziOn the eve of the funeral, she sat alone on the bed that the two of them had shared for the last sixty-two years. Her knotted hand slid over to the side where he had lain just days ago. It felt warm. She didn’t know why but she was certain of it. She had read of people who had lost limbs and gone on for months feeling the missing arm or leg. Maybe it was something like that. They had been very connected to each other. So much so that during their last years together, it had been hard to know who was who sometimes. At night in the creaky maple bed they had twisted up together, leg over leg, arm over arm, so that they had become a body of one.

Even when making dinner, she might be putting together a salad for each of them and think, one of us doesn’t care for tomato. She always made one with and one without but it was getting harder to remember that it was his dislike. The lines that defined them had become hazy. These were the same lines they had clung to with defiance in the early days, needing the high definition to ensure each of them. But through the decades, the edges had softened and blurred. They had blended into each other’s space, like cream when poured into coffee.

Her gentle stroking on the worn woven bedspread over the empty place brought up an ache, an ache that gripped her with a force that stole her very breath. It began in the deepest part of her body, down below in the sacred place where their babies had begun, where such intense feelings of heat and pleasure had taken her completely by surprise. The hurting swelled within, moving through her stomach that felt hollow, even shrunken, and wound its way into her lungs. And then it escaped, up and out, in a wretched and primeval wail that filled the flowered walls where the two of them had spent their tangled nights together. There were no tears. Not even a sob. Just the anguished call of grief that left her curled up in a ball in the middle of their marriage bed.

She didn’t know who she was anymore. She couldn’t settle into a shape of her own. Nor did she care to. She didn’t want her. She wanted them. She wanted that body of one that the two of them had created, the one she had lived in just days ago, and for all those many years.

The darkness wore on. She let the time pass not knowing anything about it, just lying there in a place that once was and no more would be, lying there, not remembering, not waiting for anything, just lying there, trying to find him somewhere within the warm spot on the bed.

Patricia Pierannunzi lives in Narragansett with her husband Anthony, who is always the first person to read her writing. She is retired after thirty-three years in education, five of which were spent as a writing coach for students and teachers. She has been published in Educational Leadership magazine; the old, but wonderful, Rhode Island Sunday magazine; and the Writers’ Circle Anthologies of 2008 and 2010. She has been a member of various writing groups and currently attends the Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center where she and fellow writers weave stories each Tuesday at Ten.

In His Honor – Ruth Crocker Digs Deep To Tell Her Story

book imageruth-and-david-crockerRuth Crocker was only 18 years old when she went on the blind date that would change her life forever. The lucky guy was West Point cadet David Crocker. 

It was 1965. The day after he graduated in 1966 they were married and soon after, left for Germany where they celebrated life together for two years. They returned to the states and on Veteran’s Day, in 1968, Dave left for Vietnam. Over the next six months their only communication was through old fashioned hand written letters. On Friday, May 17, Captain David R. Crocker Jr. was killed in action and a young widow was devastated. She was 23.

“The last time I heard his voice was the day he left for Vietnam,” recalls Ruth. He was a company commander and they had plans to meet in Hawaii while he was on leave, scheduled just a week and a half after he died. “I had been living with the suspense of worrying about him getting hurt and the anticipation of seeing him again. It (his death) was shocking on every level.”

scan0005-669x272Climbing Eiger Mountain

She thought about what she wanted to do that would make some sense of the horror of what was happening in her life. She used a coffin to bury her treasured mementos at Elm Grove Cemetery in Mystic, Connecticut. This included all of their letters, her wedding dress, his uniforms, scrapbook, and photo albums, all the things that reminded her of their short time together. She had his body cremated, and chose to scatter his ashes at Eiger Mountain’s north face in Switzerland. Ruth and Dave had gone there only the year before and she wanted to honor him by repeating their trip together. Accompanied by Dave’s sister Dottie, she made the 10,000 foot climb, the first section by cog rail train then hiking the north face to the summit.

 “It’s an important thing for anyone, to let your mind be free to think of what might be a tribute to the person you love, and lets you feel like you’ve done something. The worst part of going through something like that is the feeling of helplessness, where you’re totally powerless to have prevented it or to change it, so let your mind be free to cook up whatever feels right. Come up with something you can share to celebrate their life. That’s what the healing process is – it’s four steps forward two steps back.

“When you go through something like this you have all these things to deal with about death and then there is the future. When people suffer like this, you become a person who has lost someone. People don’t really know what to do or say and it’s kind of a twilight zone,” says Ruth.

The trip to the Eiger gave her something to look forward to. Before her climb, she decided to take that trip to Hawaii anyway. The tickets and plans were already in place so why not? It was a long trip on a near empty plane and Ruth had never felt so alone. Still in a state of shock, she checked into a Hotel on Waikiki Beach. She connected with the family of a West Point classmate of Dave’s, aching for any connection she could have with Dave. The family sort of adopted her for the week. She toured the island, and she remembers hearing the account of Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon on the radio as she looked out over a volcano.

The Career Years

Ruth had a successful career in the field of community nutrition and health care administration and has a Masters of education from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in nutrition and human development from University of Connecticut. She is a registered dietician and worked with T. Berry Brazelton, the noted pediatrician. Ruth has a Master of Fine Arts in creative non-fiction from Bennington College. She was called upon to manage the family nursing home when her brother Sam passed away in 1989. She wrote an essay about their brother/sister relationship that was published in the Gettysburg Review in 2012 and later listed in the Best American Essays in 2013. “Writing our story was a way to bring him back into the world,” says Ruth.

Her son Noah Bean, from her second marriage to Rick Bean in 1976, is her, “main muse” and encourages her creative endeavors. Ruth started a memoir, but unprepared just yet to put her own story out there, she created a fictional version that was performed at the Local Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in 1998. Her marriage to Rick Bean lasted 20 years, ending in divorce.

DSC02325Reconnecting with the Past

In 2006 fate brought her together with many of Dave’s comrades who also served in Vietnam who had been writing tributes to him on a virtual wall. She had reunions with them and they shared stories of the time they knew him. The idea of exhuming the coffin that held all signs of their short life together became something she had to do.

“I began to get really curious about the letters. Dave was a prolific letter writer and he sometimes wrote in code to me, about what was going on.” After he died his effects came in “dribbles,” one box and then another, and once his diaries arrived she was better able to understand what he was trying to say. But years later as she contemplated the idea of digging up the letters, the task of exhuming a traditionally buried coffin seemed overwhelming.

“I just became curious and really wanted to be surrounded by his words again,” says Ruth. “Suddenly I wanted to have a conversation with him, to re-connect with his words. At the same time, I knew I didn’t need those to enhance my memory of who he was.”

But on Halloween, 2011, 43 years after she’d buried it, the coffin was exhumed with Noah filming it all. When opened, she recounts that the letters on the bottom looked like “a pile of gray mud.”

“It was devastating. But I was ready for anything.” She believes it was a flood at the cemetery in 2010 that did the damage and that prior to that, the items may have been intact. Ruth reached out to touch her wedding dress and it disintegrated in her had. The only thing she was able to retrieve were photo albums that she took home, cleaned off and then photographed the images. When the old photos dried, they too turned to dust. She finished writing her memoir, Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War, her first book, and published it in May, 2014 with Elm Grove Press. The photos had turned to dust but her life since losing Dave has been full of life.

New Romance

In 2007 Ruth married artist, Frederic Walperswyler. “When we met there was this connection because he was Swiss and he knew Grindelwald. It was very serendipitous. That’s the other thing, you think you’ve lost the love of your life, which you have, but you never know who’s out there. I was never hunting for a mate, but people found me. There are people out there.”

She advises friends, “Stop waiting. As soon as you stop waiting they will turn up. You should be aware and be open and see what happens.”

ruth-presidentNational Recognition

Crocker serves on the board of Gold Star Wives of America, an organization serving widows and widowers who have lost a spouse in combat or due to service related injury/illness. Through them, she was invited to the White House at Christmas in 2013 and again on Memorial Day 2014, when she presented a copy of her book to President Barack Obama.

“It’s very comfortable there,” says Ruth about her visit to the White House. “It’s like being in your own house…a very, very nice house.”

Visit www.elmgrovepress.org to order a signed copy of Those Who Remain, or www.ruthcrocker.com for more information. Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdzJyeXi5ss to see a book trailer by Noah Bean, Director.

Humor - Guilt Can Kill You – Then You’re BOTH Dead

 

hamburger

Widows and widowers are prone to guilt. We wallow in it like a bubble bath except it’s not as relaxing.

“Why am I still here?” “Why didn’t God take me too?” “Why did I call him an idiot right before his heart attack?” Sure, I meant it, but still...

Is it my fault that my heart continues to beat and I can still enjoy a tasty hamburger deluxe? I pause to dip my well-done fries in the ketchup. How can I be devouring this with so much gusto knowing my husband will never again fork fight me for that last little crispy fry? What is wrong with me?

I wash down my self-disgust with a bowl of rice pudding. The coffee is pretty good, too.

Jimmy would want me to keep my strength up I tell myself. Wait a minute. Could he be orchestrating my food intake? He knows when I’m bloated I don’t leave the house. He’s keeping me prisoner. If this is “looking over me” I’d rather he spread his angel wings and look over someone else.

I tell my one-on-one bereavement counselor how controlling she is to me lately. One blink is the only movement on her stone face. Mean Jean is tough. I describe her to friends; “She must have studied at the ‘snap out of it’ school for shrinks.”

Her lips crack open. “Did you kill your husband?”

She hides behind her oversized coffee mug. I suspect her coffee is black, no sugar. Above the rim, she squints as she peers at me. I register accusation.

My first thought is, “I’m not answering without an attorney present.” Okay, perhaps I’ve been influenced by binge watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

I tell her I know where she’s going with this and not to lead the witness. Mean Jean tilts her head and waits for my shell to crack. She’s a professional. She knows I can hold in grief and guilt for just so long.

My grief and guilt (or Gigi as I like to call them) burst into the room like a tidal wave. “I should have insisted he go to the doctor!” I cry out. And, then, more to myself than to Mean Jean, I mumble, “Why didn’t I?”

I wipe my eyes and tuck the tissue inside my sleeve like old ladies do. Am I turning into my mother-in-law? I worry.

Mean Jean explains that guilt is a useless emotion. This is exactly what I need to hear although I detect a tinge of “Get over yourself” tone in her voice. I sit up straighter.

“Listen, Carol, if you want to keep beating yourself up, be my guest. It’s good for business.” She added a “Ching-Ching” register sound.

At this point I was seeing her twice a week for three months. I noticed the couch I was sitting on was new.

For those reading this and wondering why oh why am I seeing her? “Mean Jean” certainly seems to be a fitting nickname. Here’s why – she doesn’t let me wallow. I know myself. With a softer shrink I might be curled up on the couch sucking my thumb. I keep coming back because every so often she gives me a gem and my breathing is calmer when I leave her.

This day, as I wrestled with feelings of guilt, she blurted out wisdom, a little ditty, that seemed to come out of nowhere, but it made sense to me and it helped me.

She told me that when widows want to get remarried they often go to the cemetery to ask permission. I nodded my head. “I can understand that,” I said.

Mean Jean lifted one eyebrow sarcastically. “Really?” she replied. “It makes sense to you to ask permission from a dead man?’

“Well, I figured that,” I stammered.

“Just for the record, none of the husbands ever say no.”

“So, you’re saying...”

“I’m saying our time is up!” She snorted and slapped the arm of her chair. “I’m kidding, Carol. You should have seen your face!”

Eventually, she stopped chuckling and leaned forward to gently touch my arm.

“Honey, emotionally healthy widows and widowers do what they want to do. If they want to remarry, they remarry. If they want to buy a foreign car when their spouse only bought American they say, ‘Hey, I’m the one driving it!’

“It’s a process to get to that, of course, but they know that it’s their turn now and they know that life can be fleeting. They know that better than anyone.

“They look back, they regret, they give themselves and their marriage a report card and in some subjects they acknowledge that they failed. So what? Dwelling and its first cousin, guilt, don’t change a thing. It only keeps us stuck.”

When our session was officially over I went home and got violently ill. It was food poisoning, no doubt from that delicious hamburger deluxe.

In the midst of my misery I thought I heard a familiar snicker. I imagined it was my husband saying, “You have the pleasure, but, look, you pay the price.”

That wiped away my guilt.

Parenting - Renee & Bruce McIntyre: Role Models for Grieving Families

Renee & Bruce 3Renee and Bruce McIntyre have been married 35 years and have five grown children and four grandchildren. Life is good for the McIntyre’s, but it was a rocky road that got the family to where it is today.

Renee & Bruce 1Renee is a family therapist practicing in Madison, CT. She is cofounder of The Cove Center for Grieving Children and trains their facilitators. Bruce is the director of Race for the Cove, the organization’s major annual fundraiser.

The McIntyre’s have a plethora of valuable experiences and lessons they learned along the way that they are happy to share.

Bruce’s Story

“My first wife Judy died in February, 1974. We had four kids ages 3, 6, 8 and 11,” Bruce says. “People asked me how did I get through it? Somehow in my mind came out the fact that I was the lucky one—I get to raise the kids. And that carried me through so much. It gave me not only a sense of purpose, but a vision of whatever I could do to raise the kids, knowing that Judy was there in spirit, and that I was going to make it through and the kids would make it through.”

Bruce remembers making breakfast every day for the children and sandwiches for them to take to school.

“Although I was working, I’m self-employed in sales,” he notes. “I’d read bedtime stories, then go down to my office and work until midnight pretty much every night. I always made sure if I couldn’t be home, there would be someone right there when they got off the bus. We ate dinner together every night. Those were non-negotiables.”

It was particularly difficult to be widowed with children in the ‘70s, Bruce says, because there were no books, virtually nothing, about how kids grieve.

“The mantra everybody shared was ‘keep the kids busy and time will cure all,’ he says. “Not necessarily so. What happened was we never dealt with Judy dying. Each kid was different in how they absorbed and understood the severity of mommy dying. But we didn’t communicate a lot about it. And that was very detrimental to starting the grieving process and getting everything out in the open.”

As time went on, Bruce did a little dating, but says there were no fits. Bruce had known Renee because he had worked with her ex-husband at a previous company. Renee had a 5-year-old son and was a teacher in Madison.

Bruce asked another teacher he knew if Renee was dating. One thing led to another and they had their first date in June of 1978.

Renee’s Story

Renee says at that point she wasn’t interested in getting married again.

“I spent 10 years of Catholic guilt in a marriage that should have lasted six months,” she says.

When she and Bruce started dating, Renee found that Bruce’s four kids were more daunting to her friends, who said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” than they were to her.

“Bruce dated before and the fact that he had four kids had been a deal breaker on several occasions. The thought of it was too overwhelming,” Renee says.

Renee didn’t take it personally when the kids rejected her because she understood that grieving kids are hurting kids and they engage in a lot of hurtful behaviors.

“The most difficult thing for kids—especially adolescents—is loyalty,” she explains. “And Bruce’s first wife became Saint Judy. I think the difficulty is when people think about families, they use an intact family as the model, and families recovering from the death of a parent are in very different places. There are such loyalty issues. Memories get really complicated with the guilt.”

Renee points out that she never called Bruce’s kids her stepchildren or expected them to call her “mom.”

“I always called them my heart children,” says Renee, who has heart-shape objects she finds in nature displayed throughout the house.

Bruce and Renee were engaged for a year and Renee moved into Bruce’s house. They were married two years later and remodeled the house as a wedding present for the kids.

“There was such resentment from the two older girls and by default for the two younger ones, who were ready for a ‘mom,’ because if they were even nice to me, the older girls made it difficult for them,” Renee recalls.

Renee became a full-time mother when she and Bruce married. When the kids were older, she became a social worker, which she says is absolutely the best profession.

“I think the reason we made it—particularly the first five years—was it never occurred to me that we wouldn’t make it,” Renee stresses. “There was a lot of family conflict initially. [The children] engaged in eating disorders, substance abuse, attempted suicide—some really ugly realities of hurting kids.

“That’s why I’m a therapist today and that’s why there’s The Cove for Grieving Children—and why all the kids eventually went to some sort of therapy,” she says.

“Today I work a lot with adolescents and families, because I’ve lived that journey,” she adds. “I’ve been a resource for grieving families.”

Tips for Entering a New Relationship

Renee & Bruce's kidsBruce says one of the things he was “clueless” about when he and Renee started dating was “Daddy I Want.” He was trying to please each of them and they were very needy. Renee suggested that he pick a day of the week and take each kid out individually for dinner and let them pick the restaurant.

“I could really start to develop a relationship with each of them that continued when we got married,” Bruce says.

Another thing Bruce and Renee did that they found helpful was institute family meetings on Sundays.

“We did the hard work of traditional family meetings, rotating the chairs and letting them put anything they wanted on the agenda and we addressed it,” said Renee. “In retrospect, we were doing a lot of therapeutic things and didn’t even realize it.”

And they instituted the rule that for every negative thing they said to each other, they had to say two positive things.

Bruce points out that Renee’s son was hurting, also. He’d had his mom all to himself and now he had to share her with four others and figure out how he fit into the family.

Renee says the greatest gift you can give your children when you’re creating a blended family is a healthy relationship between the adults. And don’t get defensive, and don’t personalize anything.

Three of the kids decided to live together in Tahoe in between college and jobs, which pleased Renee and Bruce.

“The kids today are all really close. It was my ‘mission’ because it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t work, that we would work out a way to be a family,” Renee says.

Bruce and Renee agree that what finally made things turn around was “unconditional acceptance and hope and love, and belief in the larger landscape.”

Bruce emphasizes that anybody who is recently widowed with children needs to understand that grief is a process.

“It’s a myth that time heals. Time takes away the raw pain,” Renee adds. “But especially with older kids, they have to have the opportunity to process it—a process that they’re going to go through at every developmental level.”

Today all the kids except the oldest call Renee mom, but she has a great relationship with all of them.

“In the end, love prevails,” Renee says. “If I did nothing else in my life, I’m grateful to Judy, and thank her for the privilege of raising her kids.”

 

 

Ask Jane - Guilt: Two Widows’ Stories

phil-and-marie-sheehandreamstime m 31247621The details of managing the life of an ill person can take every ounce of your energy, and every moment of your time. During that flurry of activity, you’re unable to think about your own emotional state.

But after your spouse dies, there is time to ponder feelings. For the first time in quite a while, you are finally able to stop and think about yourself. You begin to question yourself. Did I care for my spouse well enough? Was I attentive, or was I selfish? If only I had done things differently, would they still be alive? You may second-guess everything you did. Here are the stories of two widows, and the personal guilt they felt.

Cathy’s Story

I was married to Matthew for three years, although we had been together for a long time. I was 29 years younger than he, and when we married he was in remission for prostate cancer. Ours was a challenging marriage, with a good deal of conflict. It was difficult to handle when his prostate cancer returned. He was a strong man, but he couldn’t do the things he used to do anymore.

At times, I pushed him to do things that he may not have felt up to doing. For example, when he needed new sweats, I insisted he pick them out of a catalog himself. I wanted to keep him involved in things, but I think he interpreted it differently. I felt guilty about that later.

I was selfish sometimes. I did things for myself while he was ill. For example, I went out and bought myself clothes which I had no intention of wearing anytime soon. But at the same time, I didn’t try hard enough to fulfill his simple request when he was craving red snapper. Another time, I threw a hissy fit when his step-daughter ran up $500 worth of charges on our phone bill one month, instead of trying to come up with a solution together.

I didn’t always fight fair, and my comments really hurt him. I got angry at him once and said, “If you had balls you’d…” knowing that he had prostate cancer! I’ll never forget how his eyes teared up when I said this. I regret saying it, even to this day. I wish I had known more about fighting fair and blended family issues.

I worked full-time and then part-time, while attending undergraduate classes. He wanted me to get my undergraduate degree so I could pursue my dream, which required a master’s degree. I have such mixed feelings now….for living while he was dying.

Sometimes I felt like a young kitten with an older cat that didn’t want to chase strings or shadows anymore. Sometimes, I’ll admit that frustrated me. I appreciated the wisdom he had because of his age and experiences, but there was a flip side that made me angry sometimes. After he passed, I felt guilty for not knowing what I know now. If I did, my expectations and responses would have been different. It’s been fourteen years since he died, and I see things differently now.

Marie’s Story

My husband Phil and I were introduced by a mutual friend at a time when things were very difficult for both of us. I was a grieving widow and he was struggling with a divorce. We were married when he was 60 and I was 48. He brought eight children into the marriage to my two. The reality of it was that it turned out to be much easier than any of us anticipated. We successfully blended our families and it was amazing.

When his health deteriorated, I became his caregiver and continued in that role until his death in 2010.

We had many end of life discussions and were both on the same page with how it would be handled. His amazing will to live set me up to believe that he would beat the odds. His last hospitalization was triggered by a problem with his aortic valve. In one day he went from the ER to Critical Care and finally to Hospice. I immediately let the children know and they arrived as soon as they could get there. He was unresponsive when I came onto the hospice floor. Throughout the evening our children were arriving and by midnight, some of the grandchildren had joined us. Everyone bedded down on the floor and I slept in a cardiac chair in his room.

That night, when we were alone, he apologized to me for a business decision he made despite my opposition 17 years before. He had said this before, and I had put the matter to rest. So I responded sternly, “I put that to bed a long time ago, and you know I get angry when you bring it up!” He dropped the discussion and said that he was ready to go. I still thought that he was going to make it home, so I overlooked it. I didn’t realize that he was telling me that he was prepared for his death. He passed away the next day.

Before he actually passed, I was able to tell him that it was okay to let go, and that I knew I would see him again. However, after he passed, I started to find ways to punish myself for scolding him, and I regretted the fact that I didn’t give him permission to “let go” when he first spoke those words. Our children were very kind to me, and assured me that most people think they should have done something differently after the fact.

I know that he would not want me feeling guilty over anything. Throughout his illness he thanked me for the care I had given to him, and expressed his feelings for me. I carry that in my heart every day. I am one of the lucky ones. However, it doesn’t stop me from missing him.

Like Cathy and Marie, the loss of your spouse was a life-changing experience. It caused to you reevaluate many things that occurred in regard to that loss, and what you could have done differently. If your spouse had a long-term illness, it’s likely that caregiving became your whole life for a long time. In addition to coordinating their care, you may have monitored medication, acquired necessary medical equipment, handled their mail and bills, and done untold numbers of errands. It’s likely that you sat in the operating room waiting area, wringing your hands and reliving in your mind if you should have called 911 sooner, or whether you should have known this was going to happen.

The truth of the matter is, however, that you couldn’t have known when and how this would happen. It may have happened no matter what you did, and whether or not you were there at the right time. When someone is seriously ill, you do what you need to do and use your best judgment at any given moment, but no one ever said that your judgment must be perfect. Serious medical conditions are often beyond our control. You did the best you could with the knowledge that you had at the time. That’s what most of us do; the best we can. The only one suffering now is you. Try to gently forgive yourself and live your life.

If you have more specific questions about guilt, email them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Travel - Imagine Yourself in a Cape Cod Cottage! Cottage Rentals – An Affordable Vacation Choice

Elizabeth WeedonSunset on Cape Cod BayDon’t be one of the Americans who fail to use 429 million vacation days each year, according to a U.S. Travel Association, Time Off case study. Don’t view time off as frivolous, but as essential to the whole person. Even if this year, you don’t have a travel partner, you can still find a way to enjoy a retreat. It’s hard to imagine, but in our success driven, don’t stop ‘til you drop, acquire the best, and better than the rest culture, relaxing in a charming seaside cottage may be the last thing on your mind. 

Once we reconcile the value of vacation time, consider the possibility of a cottage rental in one of New England’s favorite summer destinations: Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Cape, as it is affectionately known by many travelers, has been a vacation destination since the beginning of the 19th century when Bostonians came down to get out of the city. It now sports 18 lighthouses, 106 miles of meandering bike paths, 83 museums, 475 galleries, 42 golf courses, art and seafood festivals, flea markets and frivolity of every kind, and of course shopping galore.

Yet with so much to do, it still summons even the most vivacious vacationer to slow down, plunk a backyard chair next to some scrub pines, relax and breathe in that salt air while listening to those ocean waves. Think: gray weathered shingles, window boxes brimming with blossoms, cottage roses climbing fences, and every single one, only a short walk or drive to the water. Warm sugar sandy beaches and plenty of them line 559 miles of unspoiled coastline and opportunities for fun in the sun are ever present.

Accommodations like hotels, motels and resorts on the cape are plentiful, but it’s cottage rentals that many vacationers choose to create the most authentic Cape Cod experience. Many folks return to the same cottage year after year as traditions run deep. But with just a little bit of inquiry and planning, you can have a week or more in a classic Cape Cod cottage that offers everything you need and nothing that you don’t.

Easy browsing to find the right cottageCottage 2

Jessica GalvinOne of the major benefits of renting a vacation cottage is price, according to Martha Murray Vacation Rentals (www.MarthaMurrayVacationRentals.com) agent Jessica Galvin. “Prices at hotels are outrageous for a typical basic hotel room and maybe you get a dorm size fridge if you’re lucky. With a cottage rental you get an entire house.”

Weekly rental listings in her Dennisport office run from $500 for a small house with fully equipped kitchen, television and cable that’s not far from the beach, to $10,000 for a spectacular oceanfront home. “The first thing people want to do when they arrive is go to the beach,” says Jessica. So concierge services are available to arrange for grocery delivery, beach passes, whale watch and ferry tickets and even the use of office space and equipment for those who just can’t take a day off. And while bookings for more than 350 rental listings begin as early as September for the next year’s season, with 95 percent renting year after year, it’s the last minute planners that will get the best deal. If you have the flexibility to book your vacation just a couple weeks in advance you might find owners a bit more flexible on the price.

Another benefit to booking your rental through a local company is that if there is a problem, they are right there to fix it. When the toilet overflows at 2 a.m., you aren’t calling an absentee owner in Saskatchewan, you are calling Jessica who can get a plumber out within the hour.

Alternatively, some folks prefer to just book their vacation on line and many do just that. The locally owned and operated, appropriately named online site, www.WeNeedAVacation.com has 175,000 visitors to its site each year, viewing more than 4,000 rental listings on the Cape, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Many Realtors use the site to post rental listings, as well as posts direct from owners. Press and PR coordinator Elizabeth Weedon agrees there isn’t a whole lot of negotiating going on except for last minute bookings, but the benefits to using the site are many. “Our power search feature is very targeted, saving vacationers time and effort. It’s sophisticated, allowing them to add search criteria like, walk to the beach, gas grill, air conditioning, etc., so they find exactly what they are looking for and the (search) results are pretty darn close.”

Although it leans toward being an owners market, the cottage rental market on the Cape is strong. Despite owners not being too flexible on the price, the benefits to renting a cottage are many. The larger homes book earlier, according to Elizabeth, because families and friends often combine their resources and share a home and that advance planning means early booking. In addition to the fun factor, it’s more economical and the work of daily living can be shared.

Cottage 1Cape Cod - Landsat 7Leasing considerations

This doesn’t exclude travelers who just want some peace and quiet, going alone or with a friend. There are itty bitty efficiency and one bedroom cottages that are also an attractive alternative to sterile, impersonal hotels and resorts. And going off season in May or June, before the rates spike in July and August, or even going in the fall, are beautiful times to go to the Cape when it’s not quite so busy and rates are fantastic. These smaller dwellings exude charm factor and can be had for less than $500 a week depending on when you go, although proximity to the water is a big factor in price for all rentals. With thousands of vacation rentals available on the cape, it’s never too late to find the perfect vacation home.

Some properties require security deposits, cleaning fees, damage deposits, leases, pet restrictions, etc. so know what you are willing to do and what you find non-negotiable. As a seasoned Cape Cod cottage dweller, I’ve never paid a security deposit or cleaning fee. Some owners require it, others don’t.

“Renting a house is by far the most affordable vacation anyone can take,” says Elizabeth. “Having the ability to cook your meals is huge. Having to schlep everyone out for breakfast when you want to sleep in is no fun. With a cottage you can eat in whenever you want. There really is greater flexibility. Considering pond or lake area options can save money as well compared to cottages near the ocean. On Cape Cod you are never far from a Beach.”

travel logoAnother feature of the site is the ability for vacationers to read prior guest reviews which has become increasingly important to renters, according to Elizabeth, who rents out a property of her own on Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s not about just filling vacancies. We want vacationers to have a great experience. We want to see glowing reviews.” And who doesn’t want to be able to give one? We don’t get a lot of vacations and need to make every one count.

Consider a rental cottage for your next vacation on the Cape to make life easy breezy, affordable for your budget and most of all have time for doing what you love, and in some cases that means doing nothing. The best vacations are simple ones where the expectations are at a minimum and fun in the sun is at a maximum. A little spontaneity goes long way when on vacation, so relax and enjoy one of the most delightful places in New England.

It’s Easy Breezy – Let the vacation begin!

(If Cape Cod travel doesn’t entice you, consider exploring vacation rentals at www.HomeAway.com, where they have more than one million vacation rental homes in 190 countries.)

Nutrition - Fresh From the Farmers Market

farmersmarket2farmIf you are looking for healthy, fresh food grown locally there are now more options than ever before. You can find many types of farm markets, a simple farm stand, a weekly town farmers market, fresh produce sold direct at the farm or weekly delivered vegetables from a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.

You can find farm markets that grow local, grow organically, offer sustainable agriculture or the type of fruit, vegetables or produce that you might want to pick yourself. Nothing is nicer in June than to go and pick some summer strawberries for a delicious dessert!

Shopping at a genuine farmer’s market means you will be closer to the source of your food, get to know the farms and the farmers who produce the food that you eat.

What are the advantages of shopping at a local farmer’s market?

Fruits and veggies are “unbeetably” fresh (excuse the pun!) and healthy, often grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals. Some farms support their local community and donate to local food banks. Others grow veggies and fruits to supply local schools.

The food travels direct from the farm to you and helps reduce the “environmental footprint” with reduced traffic pollution.

What kind of produce can I buy?

The simple answer is everything “in season” and that is what you will receive if you order a “veggie” box direct from the farm.

farmersmarket4From the fields or greenhouse in spring if the farm grows year round, produce might include:
• Kale, turnip greens
• Spring salad mix
• Carrots
• Beets
• Butternut Squash
• Acorn squash
• Kaboucha Squash
• Potatoes
• Sweet Potato
• Shallots

farmersmarket3From the Farm Kitchen:
• Pasture raised free-range chicken and eggs
• Grass fed beef, raised on pasture and fed non-GMO feed.
• Specialty cheeses including goat’s cheese
• Soups and baked goods
• Jams and Preserves

To help the farms “environmental footprint” food containers such as egg boxes can be returned, recycled or reused.

What is Community Supported Agriculture?
Here you buy local seasonal food directly from the farm, by buying a “share” for the season. In return you get a box, bag or basket of seasonal produce weekly and visit the farm to collect.

Family fun here too, as kids get to know favorite foods from their farm and try new veggies they would never usually eat!

You can find out more about CSA’S and look for a farm in your location at www.localharvest.org/csa/.

How to find a good, real local farmer’s market
Check in your local town listings to see what markets might be coming up in the spring usually after the Memorial Day Holiday.

Alternatively check out www.localfarmmarkets.org, or the USDA Farmers Markets Directory – search .ams.usda.gov/farmers market.

beets saladRoasted Beet Salad
(adapted from www.thebarefootcontessa.com)
INGREDIENTS
8 medium size beets, tops removed and scrubbed
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, sea salt.
4 ounces salad greens (arugula, mustard, lettuce, baby spinach or whatever is in your veggie box)
1/3 cup almonds or walnuts
4 ounces soft goat cheese crumbled

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and place them on a sheet pan. Roast them for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size until a small sharp knife inserted in the middle indicates they are tender. Unwrap each beet and set aside for 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Peel the beets, with a small, sharp knife over a piece of parchment paper to prevent staining your cutting board.
3. Meanwhile whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and set aside. While the beets are still warm, cut each one in half and then each half into 4 to 6 wedges and place them in a large mixing bowl. As you cut the beets toss them with half of the vinaigrette (warm beets absorb more vinaigrette). Taste for seasonings.
4. Place the greens in a separate bowl and toss with enough vinaigrette to moisten. Put the greens on a serving platter and then arrange the beets, almonds and goat cheese on top. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette if desired and serve warm or at room temperature.

tomato bruschettaFresh Bruschetta
INGREDIENTS
2-4 sliced large tomatoes and/or cherry tomatoes diced
1/2 diced purple onion
2-diced cucumbers
1 avocado diced
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2-3 tabs extra virgin olive oil
Handful of fresh chopped basil

DIRECTIONS
Combine all ingredients and adjust seasonings if necessary. Enjoy with fresh crusty bread

Watermelon Salad with Olives and Feta
watermelonINGREDIENTS
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped mint
2 lbs. cubed watermelon
20 kalamata olives, smashed with pits removed
1/2 thin sliced onion, red or white
About 1/4 cup crumbled feta
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 limes halved
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Toss herbs together in one bowl.
2. Combine watermelon with olives and onions.
3. Mix together and serve with the lime juice squeezed over the top to taste.

Makes a great dish to take to a summer barbeque.

(Photos by Max Taylor produced with kind permission from Provider Farm, [CSA] Woodbridge Road in Salem Connecticut.)

Expressive Arts - Ecotherapy – The Nature of Healing

Beth Lapin photo credit M. Gaynorto-say-goodbye-web-7Working with people who have experienced loss seemed like a natural evolution for Beth Lapin. “I’ve always felt a strong connection to the natural world and to help people heal. Grief is a process, and our paths are different. I have a degree in biology and a degree in social work so the connection with nature to help people heal makes sense to me. Nature puts things in perspective for us. Simultaneously you feel like part of something much bigger, but also realize you are just this tiny little piece in the scheme of things as part of a cycle.” 

Beth is referring to her work as an Ecotherapist where she helps people grow and heal through their connection with nature. The term Ecotherapy was first coined by United Methodist minister Howard Clinebell (1922-2005), who wrote Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth (1996). Clinebell pioneered a counseling approach that combined religion and psychotherapy. His work bridges gaps and the imbalance of the human condition by inviting us to experience healthy interactions with the Earth.

“Nature shows us that dawn will come after the dark and spring will come after this winter, so there are these natural cycles that happen in nature,” says Beth. “Nature is beautiful and provides regularity and consistency that helps ground us. It makes us feel like the world is not totally falling apart. And I think when people experience grief they get busy and try to not to think about things. But when they have an opportunity to sit outside and be quiet and listen to their inner voice, and can listen to what’s going on within, it creates a spiritual connection.”

Beth does not see Ecotherapy as a replacement for people who are truly suffering from prolonged grief, but rather a complementary modality to bring about healing.

She works one on one with individuals who have been affected by loss. She also presents workshops for social workers and therapists on that topic. She encourages social workers to use Ecotherapy as an option in their practice. She also presents a certification program called A Cloud Never Dies for therapists working with people who are grieving.

Her roots and connection with nature run deep. She grew up in New London, Connecticut and spent every day at the beach in the summer including three days a week of swimming lessons, and ended up working at the beach through high school and college. “I’ve been outdoors a lot,” laughs Beth. She studied biology at Simmons College in Boston and received her Master’s degree from California State University followed by work with the Nature Conservancy and National Audubon Society. Then, her interest in nature took a turn and it was people she wanted to know more about. She says some nature oriented programs exclude people as part of nature but she doesn’t agree.

tree meadow nature“We’re part of this world and responsible for things.” She started working at the Community Health Center in Middletown, working with the women’s shelter and family resource center. They had a therapeutic writing group there and Beth was invited to assist. When the facilitator left, Beth took over the group. “Some pretty amazing things were happening through the writing,” she says. At some point despite the group’s members thriving, she was told she couldn’t facilitate a “therapeutic writing group” because she didn’t have a degree in social work. “Then I’ll go get one,” she said. They changed the name from “therapeutic writing group” to just “writing group” so that she would be allowed to continue facilitating while she pursued a Master’s degree in social work at the University of Connecticut.

For the past 20 years, she has facilitated a monthly writing program with an HIV group that is part of the Community Health Center. “When I began, I knew that writing could help these people who at the time were looking at terminal illness. Some people still attend who were there from the very beginning. It’s a safe environment for people to express how they are feeling.”

When funding ran out for her earlier position in 2009, she saw an ad in the paper for a local writing group with the unofficial title, The Novel Group, and she joined hoping to do some writing herself. With the pressure of expectations and deadlines, she had to produce something and a novel came out of that experience. “Deadlines, they’re a good thing, you know?”

Her first novel was To Say Goodbye, a book she describes as a coming of age story for 50 year olds. “A love story but not a romance because there’s no sex,” says Beth. “It supports my belief that individuals can use relationships (and loss) for personal growth and transformation.” Her second book was the sequel to it called The Light Gets In. Her third book, a historical novel about gypsies in Connecticut, Caravan of Dreams was released in February this year. All three titles are now self published and available through www.Amazon.com.

“It’s interesting what happens when you write.” Life’s imperfections provide the best blessings, is how she signs her books. “We learn best from life’s glitches more than anything else.”

wadsworth-falls-cropped-and-colored2With a passion for both writing and Ecotherapy, Beth continues to work individually with folks, focusing on a mixture of elements, earth, air, fire and water including rituals for releasing and connecting with the inner self.

“When in the midst of grief we lose all that connection, and we think we have lost the ability to ever find it again,” says Beth who uses visualization and meditation in her practice. “A focus on sensory awareness brings us back a sense of aliveness and connection. Nature is the safe place to go for healing and for the opportunity to connect. We keep so busy and fill life with so much noise so we don’t have to think about it. Eventually we get to a place where we are ready to address it and nature is that safe place.”

She has a Healing Nature program coming up in May through the Middletown Recreation and Community Services Department. The four session course is being offered 6:30-8:00 p.m. beginning May 7 and registration can be done online at www.MiddletownCT.gov or by calling (860) 638-4500. Participants will discover the calming, peaceful benefit of nature as they use their senses to connect with the natural world to relax and let go of stress. Creative outlets of self-expression are a part of the program and will include writing, drawing, music and movement. The cost is $65 and the program is open to ages 18 years and up.

The word Ecotherapist has just recently in the past couple years been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a profession according to Beth. “I myself have always been an Ecotherapist. I’ve always used nature as a place of nurture to heal and pull myself together.”

To learn more about Beth and Ecotherapy visit www.Bethlapin.com, or www.healingnaturect.com, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFiWfgpqn8g.

Entertainment - Inspiring Calendar Girls Takes to the Stage

calendar girsCalendar Girls, the 2003 British blockbuster comedy film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters was written in response to a real life charitable fundraising phenomenon. 

When Angela Baker’s husband, John Richard Baker – an assistant national park officer in Yorkshire, England – succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1998 at the age of 54, Angela and her friends decided to do something in John’s memory. They raised money to purchase a sofa for the visitors’ lounge in the hospital where John was treated.

The idea grew into something much bigger and unexpected when the group of middle-aged women, who belonged to the Women’s Institute, came up with the idea of producing a nude calendar to raise funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Research, the leading blood cancer charity in the UK.

Never did they imagine that they would sell over 200,000 calendars in the first year of the grassroots fundraiser. The women continued producing calendars – with their favorite Yorkshire recipes on the back of each month – from 1999 until 2010, raising over $3 million to date to help find a cure for the deadly disease.

From Screen to Stage

Usually a play is made into a movie, not the other way around, but in the case of Calendar Girls, screenwriter Tim Firth adapted the movie to the stage, which opened in 2008 at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and went on to London’s West End. The play will make its U.S. debut in June at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut.

“The nice thing about Calendar Girls is it’s funny, it’s compassionate, and it’s about something we can all relate to—losing someone and wanting to do something,” says Jacqueline (Jacqui) Hubbard, Ivoryton Playhouse artistic director, who grew up an hour from Skipton, England where Calendar Girls takes place.

“I have two sisters and a brother working in National Health Service in England in small hospitals,” she says. “My mother is always very involved in raising money for these charities.”

Jacqui explains that the Women’s Institute is like a church ladies’ fundraising group—a traditional women’s activity in England. Doing a calendar was a time-honored fundraising strategy. This group had made a calendar every year featuring pictures of Yorkshire churches, bridges, and other local scenes, but sold very few. When some of the women saw a calendar with a pin-up girl on it in an auto repair shop, they realized that those were the kind of calendars that sold.

“Theirs was very much a tongue-and-cheek calendar,” Jacqui notes.

“Angela Baker just wanted to raise enough money for families to have a place to sit and be comfortable in the hospice or cancer unit,” Jacqui says. “Everyone feels absolutely defenseless when someone is going through this and wants to do at least one small thing. It’s that core underlying theme of the play that resonates with people.”

It certainly resonated with Jacqui, who was determined to bring the stage adaptation of Calendar Girls to the Ivoryton Playhouse, which proved to be no easy feat.

Jacqui says her mother saw the play when it was in London, starring local TV celebrities, and enjoyed it, which gave her the idea of producing it in Connecticut.

“I called the agent for the play in London and asked if they were considering bringing it to the U.S. He said, ‘yes, but we want to do a Broadway (NY) run,’” Jacqui says. “I hadn’t heard anything the following year, so I called him again and he said the play had gone to Toronto. I called him a third time and he said, ‘We have one more avenue we’re going to follow, but to be honest, Ivoryton is just too small.’ On my last attempt last year, he said, ‘You can have it.’ You had to pick me up off the floor.”

Jacqui assumes the agent gave up on premiering the play in New York because everything that comes to Broadway has to have lots of bells and whistles and financial backing. Small plays that make it tend to have a major backer.

“A small company in Maine is doing a reading, but we are the first U.S. theater to do a professional production,” Jacqui says. “I’m sure it will be successful and go on to other theaters. Some shows, you just know, will have a certain appeal.”

Stage Notes

“A lot of people have said (of Calendar Girls) ‘It’s just so English.’ But it’s really not—it’s a very universal theme,” asserts Jacqui.

“I think it translates quite well to the stage. In England there were two big stars in the movie—their relationship became central and everyone else was peripheral. The play has made it more of an ensemble piece, so all the characters are more fully formed.

“I hope you get the intimacy in the theater that you don’t get in a movie — that human connection,” Jacqui adds. “Although we can’t do all those great scenes on the Yorkshire hills!”

Regarding nudity in the play, she says, “You’re not going to see any nudity. The women will be taking off their clothes, but will be hidden behind their knitting or baking or gardening, etc. It’s choreographed to make sure when those robes drop, the pieces are in place, so you don’t see more than you’re supposed to.”

Jacqui makes the point that women over 40 and up to 70 in all shapes and sizes were featured in the calendar and will be portraying the characters on stage.

“Women bought the calendars because it was a vindication of their bodies,” she says. “We’re so inundated by images in the media of what we’re told our bodies should look like. A woman might think ‘I’m 56 and this woman my age is posing for a nude calendar and still looks and feels beautiful.’”

Jacqui remarks that the theater’s lighting designer, Doug Harry, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma two years ago.

“Because of stem cell research, we have a handle on this disease, and Doug is doing OK. He wouldn’t have survived 20 years ago. It’s one of those things that really brings this home.”

Calendar Girls is at The Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, CT, June 3-21. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Finance - Real Estate Mistakes

Deb FountainDeb FountainThe loss of a loved one is without a doubt, one of the most tumultuous, life altering experiences we ever have. Our equilibrium is shattered and our very foundation can shift. Perhaps one of the greatest questions that comes up is what to do about our homes. While some folks feel called to make changes in their living situation right away, others need more time and years later still cannot manage changes for fear of losing memories of people and times gone by. Without careful discernment, mistakes can happen and fixing those mistakes is no easy task. 

There is no question that making changes to your living situation is a big move regardless of the timing, and getting the professional help of the right Realtor can be priceless. It is important to find someone who is sensitive to your situation.

Deb Fountain: The right realtor helps you emotionally and financially

Deb Fountain is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. Her experience in the field since 2001 has given her the opportunity to fine tune that sensitivity that is essential to a harmonious transition. “It’s important to stay true to who you are in response to time frame,” says Deb. “There are always people around widow/ers who have advice, but it has to be when you are ready.”

She recommends seeking out a professional rather than relying on the well intentioned, albeit misguided advice of friends and family. They don’t always have the whole picture and the distance that a professional brings to the situation can go a long way in making the best decisions during a stressful time.

“The right Realtor can help you emotionally as well a financially,” she says, “as a partner to help coordinate the next step on the journey.”

To help discern if the time is right for a move, Deb suggests going out to look at properties of interest before committing to put your house on the market. See how you feel about it and while her clients are discerning, so is Deb, listening to comments to help her role as a guide during what can be an overwhelming process. Once the decision is made to put a home on the market, she suggests neutralizing it so that potential buyers can envision themselves there. Freshening up paint and storing or relocating personal items can help buyers accomplish this.

“It is emotional for both buyer and seller, a very personal experience. A house has to be neutral but homey, ready for the next set of buyers so they can write their own story.”

Luann Perkins: Take time to consider all options

Luann PerkinsLuann PerkinsLuann Perkins is a Realtor with Heritage Properties in Connecticut who recommends getting three different opinions of value when it’s time to sell your house. Think about how comfortable you are with each Realtor and choose someone you feel a connection with. Choose someone who you think will be willing to help facilitate some things that might ease the transition, like coordinating contractors if they are needed. You want someone who will go the extra mile for their client.

“If you care about people and understand their situation, you handle them with respect, understanding and empathy,” says Luann who has been in business 28 years. “You try to be helpful, understanding that they may be overwhelmed.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make is overpricing their home, according to Luann. They perceive added value of the property because of the emotional attachment that has developed over the years and in some cases, over a lifetime. If it’s priced well above market value, it could sit there a long time.

Another mistake sellers make is trying to sell the property, “as is.” “They don’t want to do any work. They don’t want to make any changes, but that’s part of letting go,” says Luann. “I’ll often suggest painting or re-sanding hardwood floors. But I think once they make that change they feel like it’s not theirs anymore. It will enable them to get more for their home. Without doing the work they end up getting less than they could have. ”

The first thing Luann does when she gets a call to list a property is to check to see whose name it’s in. If town records still reflect ownership in both names and one party has passed on, she knows the property has not cleared probate. Surprisingly, many people don’t know the property needs to go through probate and dealing with it later on in the transaction can delay closing. She refers them to their attorney or probate court for further direction.

Considerations for Buyers

But not all mistakes happen with sellers. Buyers also have their share of challenges and uncertainties in the real estate market. In one case an older client had a large home, nearly 2,000 square feet. Several years after his wife died, he decided to buy a much smaller house in a community with high maintenance fees. He had been thinking about downsizing for a long time and just as he was about to sign the contract he began to question how his kids might be effected by his decision. He thought that the smaller house would be more difficult for them to sell after he dies. LuAnn suggested that the bigger house was likely to take longer to sell and all the while, it would need to be maintained and cared for, taxes and the utility costs would be much higher. “Additionally, I like to think that most kids would have greater concern for their parent’s happiness and comfort while still on this earth than to worry about the headache after they’re gone. In that situation the question arose if the husband was just not quite ready to move on yet.”

“But how do you determine if they are ready?” asks Luann. “You can’t know until they go out and start looking. If road blocks keep preventing them from finding a place, it may be a good sign that it is not yet time. ”

In another situation, two high school sweethearts had built a family homestead. They raised two kids and were married 40 years when he died from cancer. While many people struggle to part with possessions in their home, this woman couldn’t get rid of things fast enough. About six months after her husband passed, she started going through the house cleaning out in a big way, giving things away to the first taker. What wasn’t taken got donated or thrown out. Fortunately a friend saw what was happening and salvaged many treasured items and kept them in her basement and years later was able to disperse things to the woman’s grown children. Eventually the woman bought a condo, hated it, and is now renting.

In another case, a daughter and son in law persuaded her widowed mother to use money from the sale of her house to buy some land and build a house on it, with the promise of an in-law apartment for the mother to live. The mother provided the down payment and together the three took out a construction loan mortgage. A second daughter had no knowledge of the transaction until after it was too late. Four or five years later Luann noticed the property was under foreclosure and sold. “The mother was probably very vulnerable at the time and the comfort of living in an apartment next her daughter may have sounded appealing. She also may have wanted to help her daughter, but it didn’t work out overall,” says Luann.

Moving into senior living communities in their various forms can also be a quandary for many. One of Luann’s clients was a widow and sold a larger home to move into a single ranch house within an over 55 community. The maintenance fees were astronomical and she realized she could be in her own traditional home and hire someone to do work and maintenance around the property for less than the cost of the senior community fees. She sold the house and bought a small ranch where she could be on her own and now hires someone to do the work that is needed.

“I think it takes a year to let emotions settle,” says Luann about folks who have lost a spouse or partner. “Even if you do sell your house, consider going into a rental. Think any move through very carefully.”

Home - Feng Shui – An Ancient Practice for Today

lurrae-luponedesigningThe ancient Chinese art of placement, more commonly known as feng shui (pronounced fung-shway) has been around for thousands of years and has seen wider acceptance in the west in recent years. With more than 40,000 results in an Amazon.com search for feng shui, there is much to learn and much to gain from exploring the optimization of energy within our homes and within our lives. Simple changes can make a positive difference. Using feng shui principles and applying enhancements or “cures,” our lives can be enhanced, bringing about peace and harmony.

Feng shui consultant Lurrae Lupone of Madison, Connecticut became enchanted with feng shui back in 1995 when she attended the Institute of Bau-Biologie & Ecology – Feng Shui Studies in Clearwater, Florida. She has devoted her life to helping people use feng shui to improve their lives, going so far as to consider feng shui a form of therapy.

She describes it as “an ancient practice based on great wisdom and common sense principles, an interpretation of how powerful one’s personal environment is in shaping their health and happiness.”

“The happier you are,” says Lurrae, “the healthier you are, the better you can move on in life and let go of what no longer works for you. Within your home space you can place furniture and personal belongings in a certain way that makes a difference, helping to make change or see things in a new way.”

The Bagua: Nine Life Aspirations

The bagua in feng shui is one of the primary tools for evaluating the energy of a space and feng shui, is all about improving the energy or chi. “The bagua is a template which represents the nine life aspirations, also known as energies one can work with in feng shui,” says Lurrae who honors all schools of thought. Within 20 minutes of sitting in that first class back in 1995, she saw the image of the bagua and said, “There isn’t anything about anyone’s life, regardless of their situation that doesn’t fit somewhere into that bagua.

“It could be relationships, career, money, health, etc. If I could find a quick way to focus on the individual’s primary goal, preferably the top three in order of priority, I could be a helpful agent to help move them toward their goal. And it can be transformative.”

If you have your own home you can control the property within your boundaries, and then individual rooms, and the space within those rooms. You have control over that. And in life we don’t have control over some things at times, but through applying some feng shui principles, Lurrae believes people can take control of their life.

Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Research

“There is a science and research based on happiness. One of the key things is changing your habits and doing what makes you personally happy. These all fit into the areas of the bagua. So I’m blending ancient wisdom with modern research.”

In feng shui most schools of thought can be categorized into one of three different categories: traditional or classical feng shui, the intuitive/modern school and lastly the Black Sect Tantric Buddhism School (BTB). This school of thought is a combination of Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism and Classical Feng Shui and was developed by Chinese grandmaster Thomas Lin Yun. There is a heavy focus on the chi of the environment as well as on the individual. That connection with the individual is why Lurrae sees feng shui as a therapy in some way.

feng-shui-baguaFeng Shui as Therapy

“Feng shui as therapy comes from my background as a teacher and guidance counselor. I come from a therapeutic coaching background. When I was introduced to feng shui, I saw it as a therapeutic tool, being an extremely powerful way to help people make changes in their life. People change when they take some kind of action and the home is the most personal of spaces. It’s an extremely powerful way to take action and see results immediately in what they want to do.”

It begins with a consultation that can last as long as a full day but can also be broken up into shorter sessions if that is the client’s preference. She gives clients the option of beginning each consultation with an angel reading for themselves or a departed loved one. She understands her gifts as a psychic medium and incorporates these gifts into what can be a very intuitive practice.

She begins each consultation with the “feng shui conversation” which focuses on the client to learn more about them and what their needs are. She identifies areas that are most in need of change and focuses on the client asking what they want to do next, or what they are willing to change. The consultation itself involves a look at the property while keeping in mind the three prioritized areas of change and how to make those changes. Ideal colors, lucky direction and astrology come into play to get a clearer picture of the client and what feng shui cures might affect the greatest change. Traditional feng shui cures might include fountains, mirrors, crystals, living plants, especially bamboo for success and abundance, and sometimes nudging a table a few inches, clearing a closet or moving the sofa.

She shares an account of one client who was engaged, when her fiancé was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. His family intervened and took him to be with them up north but his possessions were still all over her house. Through the consultation the client was able to decide that it was time to let go and she returned the engagement ring to the family, passed the clothes and other items on, and as soon as she did this, a new man came into her life. That couldn’t have happened as long as she was still living in the past. She still has wonderful memories but the physical reminders are gone which cleared energetic space for a new relationship.

Feng shui cures are plentiful and often very simple, and different schools of thought within this ancient practice may suggest different things. Lurrae’s practice is just one way and there are many, many resources available to learn more. But exploring feng shui and its potential for transformation is worth the effort.

“A few small changes can be profound and effect how you feel,” says Lurrae. “My approach is to work very closely with the client. We have the freedom to choose and to make ourselves happy. It is empowering to clients to take steps, and once they do, things change.”

With a certain degree of serendipity, she self-published a book that is now in its’ 4th printing called Designing a Happier Life – Feng Shui with Lurrae. It is a guidebook to Lurrae’s unique and particular approach to feng shui that combines modern with classical ancient practices, and understands feng shui as a potentially transformative experience. The book was a finalist for the 2014 Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose and Independent Books. It can be purchased through Amazon.com. For more information about Lurrae Lupone visit her at http://fengshuiwithlurrae.com.

Mistakes - Dealing With Fatigue

dreamstime l 19191786coffeeBecoming a widow/er is one of the most stressful times most of us will ever face. Besides the pervasive sadness of losing a spouse and the adjustments it requires, there is a funeral home to deal with, an attorney involved with the Will, Power of Attorney, and Advanced Directive, being the executor of the estate, receiving and notifying your spouse’s creditors that (s)he is deceased, thank you notes to the many people who sent cards and flowers, the late spouse’ possessions and what to do with them, and so on. With so much to be done at once, no wonder many widow/ers feel overwhelmed by the enormity of all these tasks.

It’s easy at a time like this to neglect your own health. You’re running from place to place on the fly, eating whatever you can when you can, or barely eating at all. You’re lying awake at night missing your spouse, crying, ruminating about all the things you have to do, and losing sleep. Having so many responsibilities to attend to at a time when you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable can wear you down, physically and emotionally. You find yourself so fatigued that everything seems like an effort.

There’s Something Wrong

If you find yourself dragging through the day without the energy to address all the work at hand, or barely able to get out of bed in the morning, there is something wrong. If you’re so worried all the time that you can’t eat or sleep, and find yourself unable to attend to the most basic daily household tasks or personal hygiene, there is something wrong. If you’re unmotivated to do anything, or you find yourself not even caring, the problem needs to be addressed. The most common causes of fatigue have to do with lifestyle, and are correctable. They include:

Nutrition: If you’ve been living on caffeine to keep going, or you’ve been overindulging in sugary treats, you’re going to experience “crashes” of exhaustion. Too much sugar causes an imbalance in your metabolism. When the pancreas works overtime to process all that sugar, insulin spikes are followed by more craving for sugar. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, but you can get out of it. You’ll feel more energetic if you forego the desserts and snack foods, and concentrate on getting more green leafy vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy nuts and grains. Stick with fresh foods as much as possible, avoiding processed foods. When you eat better, you feel better and have more energy.

Sleep: Avoid caffeine later in the day, so as not to interfere with your sleep. Practice “Sleep Hygiene”, that includes a regular routine of getting to bed at a consistent time and waking up at the same time each day, shutting off the TV and the computer an hour or so prior to going to bed, winding down your activities and eating lightly in the evening. Chamomile tea or melatonin sometimes help.

Exercise: Even moderate exercise helps tire you out, and you’ll sleep better. You’re don’t need to be the athletic type - walking is great exercise. Ride a bike, run, dance or do whatever type of exercise you enjoy. All exercise helps to decrease tension and improve mood by increasing endorphins, our body’s natural anti-depressants. If you enjoy it, you’ll do it. If you’re not active, you might get too much rest during the day and upset your normal sleep cycle at night, which becomes an ongoing cycle and can cause fatigue.

How a doctor can help

If you’ve done these things for at least a month and you still have no improvement in your fatigue, it’s time to see your doctor to find out if there is a medical cause. Are you taking medications that may cause you to feel lethargic, such as antihistamines, cough and cold medication, or pain medications? Tell your doctor about your pattern of drug or alcohol use, and what prescriptions and over the counter medications you’re taking. Medical conditions must be ruled out before psychiatric conditions are considered. Common medical causes of fatigue include anemia, sleep disorders, thyroid problems, obesity, and diabetes. But don’t diagnose yourself. Leave that to your doctor. If you continue to have fatigue that doesn’t improve, despite no obvious medical cause, or that doesn’t respond to medical treatment, you could have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or a sleep disorder. If your doctor suspects a sleep disorder, s/he may send you for a sleep test. Some examples of sleep disorders include primary insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy. If your doctor determines that the cause is not medical, s/he may refer you to a therapist.

How a therapist can help

sea ocean waterAs a therapist, I always address symptoms by doing a full evaluation, which gives me an initial impression of what the problem might be. I evaluate whether the symptoms are normal reactions to common problems, or whether they may indicate something more serious. Grief, in and of itself, is a normal experience, since most of us go through it at some time in our lives. But if it has gone on too long (usually 2 years or more) and is not getting better, it may have developed into Major Depression, which is a treatable condition. Some of the symptoms of Major Depression include low energy and motivation, lack of sleep or excessive sleep, repeated awakening, or awakening too early with inability to fall back to sleep, poor appetite or overeating, lack of attention to hygiene, feelings of guilt, not caring about anything, thoughts about death, or even, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. So obviously if you have Major Depression, it is likely to be the cause of your fatigue, and should be treated. Talk therapy can be helpful, and sometimes, but not always, medication is indicated.

Anxiety can also be a cause of fatigue, since worrying can keep you up at night, and disturb your normal sleep cycle. Sometimes you just can’t shut your brain off, thinking of all the things you have to do, or worrying about all the things that have, or could go wrong. Again, as with major depression, anxiety can be a normal response to stressful circumstances, or it can be a psychiatric problem. If your whole life, day and night, is consumed with worry and “worst that can happen” scenarios, nightmares, uncontrollable panic, or fear of even leaving your home, your anxiety should be treated. Continued, unrelenting stress, state of worry, or frequent panic over a period of time can certainly cause fatigue. Again, talk therapy can help, and medication might be indicated if the anxiety is severe and unabated. Talking about your stress, rather than bottling it up inside, can give you great relief, and consequently, help you relax and sleep better, relieving your fatigue.

Work with a team of professionals

Since some medical problems sometimes present symptoms that mimic emotional problems, it’s important to know what’s really going on and causing the fatigue before you can come up with a plan to address it, hopefully with your doctor or counselor. I believe in first identifying the problem(s) and then developing a plan for treatment. You can’t effectively deal with a problem if you don’t know what it is. So if you are very fatigued, first see your doctor to make sure there isn’t a medical problem. If you are in good health, and the problem persists, don’t hesitate to contact a grief counselor, pastoral counselor, or a therapist. There is no need to suffer in silence. Help is available, so don’t hesitate to ask for it.

Notes:
• www.webmd.com/women/guide/why-so-tired-10-causes-fatigue
• www.womentowomen.com/fatigue-insomnia/why-am-i-so-tired-all-the-time/

For more information contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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