19 Apr 2018, 6:07pm
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Grief III


     I woke up knowing that my new puppy’s name would be Gabriel. My husband was well into the process of finding me an animal that he could train as a Service dog to help me with walking, stability, and balance. We chose an Airedale terrier from a line of Performance Airedales. These were dogs that wanted, above all else, to have a job to do. The 10 week old puppy came home to us during one of New England’s very cold winters. I was literally bowled over by the enthusiasm of his first sight of me. 

 Gabriel’s first Christmas was a joyous one for us all. He was easily housebroken although the bitter cold meant we kept boots, hats, scarves, and gloves at every door where we might scoop him up and take him outside. We were in an ideal setting otherwise, with plenty of room for him to run and space in which to be trained. It was an exciting new chapter in our lives. 

     We all drove South for a couple of months of respite from Winter. We fell in love with a Florida neighborhood where we rented and made a plan to re-locate when we found the right space for the three of us. In the interim, we had a home to sell in Oregon and Gabe was a gem on his first plane ride, sleeping peacefully for the seven hour flight. Ten months of his upbringing, and much of his training, took place in Oregon. He proved to be an outstanding learner, a proud and happy prince! 

     When a home was found in our chosen neighborhood, Gabriel made his first long road trip. From running on the Bonneville Salt Flats, to playing ball alongside the Mississippi River, to long stretches in the car – Gabe was patient and a fun travel companion. 

     Splitting our time between Florida and our lakeside home in New England, life with Gabriel was an unfolding adventure. When our son died in 2016, we could not have made it through those agonizing first months without Gabe’s unconditional love and affection. At age four, he was at the “top of his game” as a Service dog and was a constant helping presence in our lives. Gabe’s vocabulary of commands went way beyond Sit, Stay, and Come. He knew how to Wait at a street corner, Heel steadily at my side no matter what, and Leave It, whether that was food, another dog, or a friendly human. He navigated gracefully around my strange handicapped devices – canes, walkers, scooters, elevators, and chairlifts. When we put his vest on him, he recognized the clear signal that he was working and always brought his A game in restaurants, theaters, ballparks, and many other venues. 

     Gabe made canine and human friends in both our neighborhoods and was a genuine ambassador of goodwill. His best friend in Florida was Dexter and through their playdates we forged a strong bond with Dexter’s “two-leggers,” Ann and Scott. 

  It was a joyous Friday when we took the two dogs for their first weekend at “camp” together. We stopped for lunch on the way to the kennel and the dogs greatly enjoyed  “pup cups’ of custard. We took lots of pictures as they embarked on this adventure together. 

      Early Sunday morning, as we were reporting to a Conference two hours away, I received a text that Gabriel had gone missing from our trusted kennel. He had not been found by the time we were on the home stretch of the Interstate. It was us who found him by the side of the road. We had a few moments to weep and say our good-byes before Animal Control took away his body. Suddenly, as we had had to do with our son’s death, we were using words like Cremation and Memorial. You must do this while in shock and terrible grief. We had some comfort from a miracle as we sat in the car at that roadside. I looked through my windshield and saw a cloud in the distinct shape of an Airedale terrier. 



 Pet loss is a disenfranchised grief in the sense that society as a whole does not recognize the depth of the bond between pet and owner. Most condolences are perfunctory and unsatisfying. Sudden and traumatic pet loss is worse for the “pet parent” and no better in terms of the help available to deal with the grief. As a Service dog, there was no place that Gabriel could not go with us. Our relationship with him was closer than with any other pet we ever had partly because of the job he performed for me and the training  bond with my husband. Once again, there was before and now there is after and we often feel lost and disoriented.

     I believe Gabe didn’t suffer as his spirit left his body behind but, as with all death, those of us who loved him dearly must somehow find a way to go forward  without that wonderful, loving, presence. Rest in Peace Gabriel.





1 Mar 2018, 3:05pm
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Sorrow II


      I have felt compelled to write about politically charged events a few times on this Trauma website. Under the headings of Sorrow, Loss, and Tragedy, I have written about the Sandy Hook massacre, the Gabby Giffords shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombings respectively. As we navigate the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in America, I’m using the heading Sorrow II. This groups together two of the events involving the death of children at their school. It sets the stage for what I hope will be encouraging developments in the ongoing debate about how to prevent these horrifying scenarios in our country. When did we become a country where Guns and Ammo are grouped with Music, DVD’s and Games?

     The first press conference after the shooting, by the sheriff of Broward County, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school is located, stressed the importance of ‘See Something, Say Something.” We found out quickly that, in this case, this alleged method of prevention utterly failed. Multiple people saw alarming behavior on the part of the shooter in the years leading up to the massacre and passed on the information. Nothing was done about him and he was able to purchase numerous firearms, including the ubiquitous AR-15 used against his former teachers and classmates. 

     The CNN anchor, Don Lemon, quite aptly said there is a sickness in America, unfettered gun violence. That this is who we are. He then posed the question- “Are you really willing to keep playing the odds that you or your loved ones will not be the next ones to die?”

     Why do I have any hope at all that this time something will change? The outrage, articulateness, and commitment to change of the young survivors of this shooting, and the solidarity with their peers across the country, is inspiring. At the same time it ought to shame us adults who have failed to take effective gun control measures in America. Florida school shooting survivor Cameron Kasky challenged Senator Marco Rubio at the CNN sponsored Town Hall meeting on 2/21/2018 with this question – “Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?” In the midst of a standing ovation for Cameron, Rubio sidestepped the question.

      I attended an Everytown for Gun Safety event for the first time, five years after Sandy Hook. I am determined not to let our children down, including my two daughters, who are afraid when they take their kids to day care, pre-school, and elementary school. I have set a sincere vow to to become active in the Moms Demand Action arm of Everytown for Gun Safety. I lost a son, suddenly and tragically, not to gun violence. However, I do know what it is to outlive one of your children, to get the phone call that every parent dreads, to have your life as you know it shattered. After the massacre on 2/14/2018, again I couldn’t sleep, I felt incalculably sad, and I identified with the family members in their profound shock and grief. 

     My husband comes from generations of hunters. His family has collections of guns but none shoot more than six bullets. It is illegal to hunt with weapons equipped with high capacity magazines. They own shotguns, bolt-acton rifles, and revolvers. Some of the shotguns are semi-automatic but they only have a five bullet capacity. These types of firearms allow the owner to hunt, defend their home, and compete in sport shooting. They are an example of responsible gun ownership. 


     My own family, by contrast, never had a gun in the house. None of my five brothers, nor my sister and I,  learned how to shoot. My forty-three years of marriage demonstrate that gun people and non- gun people can peacefully co-exist. I had to stretch myself to accommodate their point of view and they had to be willing to listen to me and discuss their lifestyle and reasoning around gun ownership and use. If there’s going to be a debate in America on this issue, and there must be one, then let it be like that. For too long the majority of Americans have been hostages to the NRA and extremists groups like survivalists, who drive public policy and impede gun-control legislation. The association between American and Guns is endemic.


     In the past week I have been reading whatever comes to my attention related to reducing gun violence. I am not focused on mental health because every country has mental health issues but only the US has gun violence at astronomical levels. The sensible solutions I have seen proposed include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Outlaw all semi-automatic weapons, including semi-automatic pistols (which were used to kill 32 at Virginia Tech.}
  • Outlaw bump stocks (which convert semi-automatic to fully automatic – used in the Las Vegas concert massacre.)
  • Outlaw high capacity magazines
  • Combine this with a Government buy back program of such weapons.
  • After a grace period, possession of illegal items would be a felony (except perhaps for a special license for collectors.)
  • Guns would be licensed for approved firearms. It makes no sense for background checks to be in the hands of those in the business of selling guns. Background checks should be the purview of law enforcement. 
  • Licenses would require a comprehensive background check, safety training, marksmanship training, and strict storage requirements. 


      A few gun owners and some businesses have stepped up this week and shown willingness to be part of the solution. Most people in the military, the police, the FBI, and the CIA do not believe military style weapons should be in the hands of civilians. We need people who understand responsible gun use to be part of the conversation on effective, long term, change in our culture of violence.  NO ONE’S hobby is more important than the safety of our citizens at school, church, concerts, movie theaters, or anywhere else people gather. 

     #Guncontrol                         #Enough                          #NeverAgain


5 Aug 2017, 7:21am
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Grief II


Last year my life changed forever. I’ve joined that club no one wants to be in – one of my children died. My 36 year old son, Joseph, died of a brain aneurysm.

In the first blog on Grief, I noted some skillful ways to help someone who is grieving. The depth of the pain when grieving the loss of a child, including an adult child, requires a degree of compassion and sensitivity that challenges even the most caring among us. Our communication tools can suddenly seem woefully inadequate. 

I can try to help by relating what people have done that was meaningful to me in the most difficult  year of my life. In the early weeks, when people provided food, it was a necessity or we would not have nourished ourselves. The dozens of handwritten notes we received from friends and neighbors, which we displayed for several months, were welcome.

Yes, some were better than other’s in finding the right words but anyone who made the effort was appreciated. One person wrote multiple times in the ensuing months. This was both unusual, and unusually comforting. As is often a surprise to the bereaved, those who are most attentive are not necessarily your closest friends. That was the case with this caring woman. She was the ex-girlfriend of a neighbor! 

A new friend, whom we met through a playdate for our dog, took the time to read up on how to relate to parents who have lost a child. She was forthcoming in bringing up our son by name, even though she’d never met him. A common refrain among bereaved parents is that friends and even family don’t talk about the deceased child. We want to talk about him, what he loved, and what we loved most about him. 

To borrow what another parent said about her son, there is a “Joseph shaped” hole in my heart that nothing can fill. 

Yet I’m still a wife, a mother to our two daughters, and a grandmother of four fabulous young ones. I’m a sister to five wonderful siblings, an aunt many times over, and a sister-in-law. I have much for which to be thankful. I often bring my attention back to gratitude for those blessings in my life. I also have a health condition that makes conscious living a necessity, not an option. 

Summoning the energy to show up for my life and for my loved ones is the greatest challenge of this profound grief.  The discipline of a lifetime is sometimes elusive but it serves me well when I can form an intention to do the next right thing, for myself or others. I will set small, manageable, goals for my day and, by bedtime, have a sense of accomplishment. 

The continuing kindness of family, friends, and neighbors is a tonic. Those who can simply be with us in our sorrow are heroes to me.  I have the comfort of a strong belief in an afterlife- in some other realm, the beautiful soul I knew as my son, lives free of earthly burdens. Others, of course, believe differently, perhaps similarly comforted, perhaps not. Losing a child precipitates a faith crisis, regardless of background or tradition.

 Nearly every day comes the thought ” No. This cannot be.” But it is so. I sit next to the box with the ashes of my son. This grief will not go away. I will carry it, we will carry it as a family, always. We became a smaller family by one but six weeks after Joseph died a new grandbaby was born. Joy and sorrow co-exist in the mystery that is life.


21 Oct 2016, 5:06pm
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Disability can be visited upon you suddenly and shockingly, as in the case of victims who survive a shooting or bombing, or accident victims of all types. Those who serve in the military continually put themselves at risk for disability and, sadly, with modern weaponry, it is all too common for them to have to face enormous physical changes and challenges.

Disability can also creep up on you, in expected and unexpected ways. In my own case, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 32, I could perhaps have expected eventual disability. With nutrition, exercise, attitude, and family support, I managed to function much as a healthy person until my 25th year with MS. Now in my 33nd year post diagnosis, I have learned to live well as a significantly disabled person.

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” – Stephen Hawking


There are many factors that figure into whether or not an individual is able to “live well” with the significant challenges of disability.  I consider attitude the principal quality that’s essential to crafting a life that is as close to what one would want as a non-disabled person. Focusing on what you are able to do, as the above quote advises, is crucial to not getting discouraged and feeling helpless A support system is the next key factor, and this must be carefully built-up by the disabled person as the folks you need will not automatically be present and available. You need to actively seek help (see Healing Links). If you do have a support system in place, you still must ask for what you need. A common misconception is thinking that people don’t care when what’s really going on is that they don’t know what it’s like to be you. They don’t know what you need, unless you tell them.

There is a fine line between being articulate about your disability and being a victim of it. Remember that “you have it, it doesn’t have you”. One way to walk this line well is to make use of adaptive devices. This allows people to see your efforts to maintain your independence and functionality, as well as helping you to feel included in activities enjoyed  by your neighbors, friends, and family. While your challenges will always be an issue for you, you might be surprised how often your disability is a non-issue for others when they see you acting with courage and perserverance on a daily basis.


santa monica


Disability is often a private struggle. It may be difficult to get in and out of bed, put on your clothing and footwear, prepare your meals, even chew and swallow. You may be at risk for falling, due to issues of sight, balance, coordination, or a host of other factors. Accepting this, you do your best to protect yourself. If you do take a tumble.you seek the best help in healing.

Simplifying your life, without sacrificing quality, is a crucial element in living with disability. An example of this in my life is travel, which my spouse and I love and do often. Because I travel with a mobility scooter, I have learned, whether it’s a weekend or a month-long trip, to share one 22″ duffle with my husband. I can live from 1/2 a suitcase in order to make all transitions (planes, trains, cabs, rental cars) easier for both of us. I can manage a small backpack with personal items on the scooter. The point is you have to decide what your priority is, in my case not giving up travel, and do what it takes to make that possible.

Another priority for me is movement. I have had to let some beloved sports go (tennis, skiing) but others I have made a part of my regular routine (swimming, yoga, Pilates, bicycling). In the case of cycling, which I never want to give up, I now use a motorized trike, and self power it for exercise when I feel strong enough.


Whether you are disabled yourself, or live with someone who struggles with limitations, I encourage you to imagine the best you and the best life you can despite those limitations. Carry On!



23 Mar 2015, 6:54pm
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From the moment the decision was made to sell our home and move across the country, to this moment as I sit in my new home to write, there was a span of nearly a year. What was accomplished in that year, essentially creating a whole new life, required considerable effort but no struggle. Struggle is a heavy thing, quite distinct from meeting goals and accomplishing tasks that tire us out. That’s effort. I already knew the difference between the two but to have experienced it “in living color” has been quite miraculous, almost magical.

It took two months to prepare our Western home to sell and another three months to get it sold. In that time I looked online for our new home, and was in touch with our Eastern realtor, almost constantly. Yet the space in which we are now happily ensconced did not show up on the market until two weeks before our home sold. The day we made an offer on it we received an offer on the home we needed to sell. That’s sometimes referred to as “God’s timing”. It may not be agreeable to us but it gets us where we want and need to be not a moment sooner than necessary.

For those of you less than comfortable with the “G-word”, this process is also called Synchrony. It’s not that my months of online research yielded nothing. When we saw the neighborhood and home where we wanted to spend (at least) the next decade, we recognized it and were able to take timely, and successful, actions to make it our own.

The past year represented a huge transition and involved lots of goodbyes and letting go of people and places. We took care to make the good-byes mindful and meaningful. The months of waiting for our house to sell were spent with cherished friends in memorable places.


The surprise to me is that at no point was I scared to enter an uncertain future. That I have two loving companions, my husband and my dog,  is not to be discounted as I speak to this point. I respect the fact that when we journey alone fear is more likely to shadow us, even as we move forward. Most times we move forward anyway because our old life has become unsuitable, like a beloved, but no longer serviceable, pair of shoes.

The more transitions we have made in our lives, the easier it is to relax and trust when we find ourselves in yet another one. I’ve been telling people that our move involved a “ridiculous” amount of work. The rewards we’re now enjoying – proximity to family, new friends, a right-sized home, and a lovely neighborhood – make the travail to get here disappear in the rear view mirror.

The shift that triggered this major life change occurred at a deep level and rose to the surface with certainty only when it was time to act. I’m very grateful that we were paying attention to these inner promptings and had the courage and fortitude to follow through on them. Trust that “wherever you go, there you are”.  (Jon Kabat-Zinn)





There is an ongoing international conversation about Suicide and Depression sparked by the death this week of beloved comedian Robin Willams. Mental Health professionals and those who have suffered from severe depression or been touched by the suicide of a friend or family member welcome this openness about a topic that is often considered taboo. Certainly the phenomenon of airing feelings of grief and bewilderment on social media, which instantly can reach a worldwide audience, is changing the scope of our awareness in the aftermath of this high profile suicide. The fact that Robin William’s legacy is forever marked by laughter and fun, as evidenced by the clips of his remarkable comedic genius, makes his manner of death especially poignant.

Robin Williams as Mork


Self-harm in the form of suicide is on the rise in William’s age group, the Baby Boomer generation (which is mine as well- Williams and I were born just weeks apart in the same year). My reflections and attempts to understand his choice to end his own life are informed by my own struggles with aging, melancholy, and disability from Multiple Sclerosis. Then there is the professional in me who is focused on helping to prevent self-harm which begins with identifying who is at risk. I served on a Suicide Prevention Task Force (State of Connecticut), am trained in intervention with at risk persons, and have worked closely (in my role as a Chaplain) with depressed and suicidal individuals.  We each view this subject through our own unique lens, informed by life experience, temperament, genetic predisposition, spiritual background, and many other factors.

I don’t claim to understand clinical depression, being blessed not to have suffered from it myself. What I do understand is that it is an illness and that suicide is a serious public health problem.There are scores of people working tirelessly to research suicide with the aim of helping at risk people with timely intervention. Under Healing Links above (sub-category Suicide) I have provided a link to an article about one of the most innovative researchers in the field, Dr. Matthew Nock of Harvard. This NY Times article, with interviews with survivors of suicide attempts, sheds light on the topic in a way that I’m not equipped to do. I’ve also added a reference under Resources to a film (Off The Map) that depicts clinical depression, and a father who finds his way beyond it, in a startling  and moving portrait.

Off The Map


This is a topic so complex and multi-layered that I will need to write about it again. At that time I will  explore an area in which I can speak from experience and that relates to the legacy of complicated grief that the death of a loved one by their own hand leaves to survivors. This is in no way a judgement of the suicidal individual. When someone has well and truly lost the reverence for their own life none of us can judge that state of mind. Dr. Nock eloquently refers to it as a “dark alley of the soul”.

Many of us are inspired to live somehow differently in response to the death by suicide of someone as beloved as Robin Williams, or the death of a friend or family member. It is an opportunity for self-reflection and for reaching out to others in a focused way. In other words, paying attention. If nothing else, we can always, always, be kinder both to ourselves and to all we encounter in our daily lives.




The Holidays are a good time to take up the topic of Expectations. We set ourselves up for disappointment time after time when it comes to family, friends, colleagues, and lovers, perhaps never more than during this season.  How does this work?   I’ll share my experience of ongoing liberation from Expectations, using the Holidays to highlight the process. Your celebrations can be as lovely, or more so, if you keep it simple.


It’s okay to have a vision of how we want to celebrate the Holidays. Where I tripped myself up in the past is by having a script for how others should behave – husband, parent, children, siblings etc. And, when inevitably they did not play their part as I expected, I did one of several things. Sometimes I would over function and play their expected role as well as my own. I’m sure you can imagine how that ended – in exhaustion and resentment.  Other times I would cajole, argue, and entreat to try to get things to play out a particular way.  (Now, I feel tired just writing about this!)


I expected active alcoholics to be sober for me, people who had awful experiences of Christmas to love it, myself to find the perfect gift for everyone  – and on and on. Now that I’m freeing myself from the burden of Expectations, I look forward to the holidays with optimism and delight. I’m safe in the knowledge that I won’t overdo it and that whomever I’m with, I will appreciate their presence and not focus on who isn’t there.

Can we plan a holiday season without Expectations? Not entirely, but we can set realistic goals for ourselves and grant others the right to opt in or out as their comfort level dictates. It starts with knowing what you are willing and able to do, where you want to be, and with whom you are comfortable interacting. The next step is to share this information, well ahead of time, with anyone who needs to know it. Realistic goals often means downsizing the scale of your decorating and gift-giving. You may find that you experience relief, not disappointment.


Do you have the fortitude to say a firm and kindly no to others Expectations of you? If someone doesn’t want to participate in a holiday activity dear to your heart, can you accept their decision with grace?  Flexibility and the willingness to yield control are necessary to navigate the season with ease. I ask myself “How can I simplify this while honoring the traditions I cherish?”  One way is to yield the favorite family recipe to the next generation. In other words, allow others to help when they offer. Ask them if they haven’t offered.

Favorite family recipe

One of the unexpected benefits for me in letting go of Expectations has been time for spontaneous gatherings and room in my life for the unexpected joy.  I’m a lot more fun to be around because I’m not stressed and overwhelmed. Kindness and compassion need space to thrive. When we over-schedule, stress out, and hold everyone to an impossible standard where is the celebration in that?  If you feel yourself falling out of balance, chances are Expectations have crept in.  Joy is the theme of the season, shelve your Expectations, treasure your loved ones, radiate Joy.

Radiade Joy


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