Saturday, March 31, 2012

getting out my soapbox

A little bit of relationship advice for anyone who needs it:
Does your partner:
  • insult you in public or private?
  • check up on where you've been and whom you've talked to?
  • criticize your family and friends?
  • pressure or force you to have sex when you don't want to?
  • limit where you can go and what you can do?
  • tell you jealousy is a sign of love?
  • prevent you from leaving the house, getting a job or continuing your education?
  • destroy your belongings?
  • make accusations that you are having an affair?
  • touch you in a way that hurts or frightens you?
  • harm, scare, or threaten you or your children?
IF you answered YES to any of these questions you could be a victim of domestic abuse and you need to GET HELP NOW!

When I saw this earlier this week on a friend's Facebook wall, I was instantly transported back to a time when I felt completely powerless to help a close friend who was struggling with some of these issues in her relationship with someone who appeared to most people to be a kind, generous, thoughtful man. Thankfully I've never experienced abuse in my own relationships, but I am empathetic toward those who have. And being on the outside, watching someone you care about suffer for falling in love with someone who isn't capable of a trusting, loving relationship is hard to do. But I've found it's always better to speak up or ask questions than to stand by and say nothing.

None of the things above are love. Remember that. Pass the word.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

what's on your list

The last summer of Rochelle's life is hard to recall in detail. There was an awkward rhythm in my life, of attempting to maintaining a sense of normalcy in my home life while juggling trips to the hospital at lunch or after work nearly every day. At the end of the day, there wasn't a lot of time for me. My house and pets suffered, my work suffered, and my soul was taking a beating. Looking back, I know I was just in survival mode, but the specifics of that time in my life are muddled and blurry.

Since I was a little girl, I've always loved to read. I started when I was about four, and never stopped. When my mom came to pick me up from day care when I was five, I was reading stories to the other kids. There's a comfort and solace that reading brings me, letting my brain settle into a story, and lessening my worries of the day for a few minutes. Even if I just get a few minutes of reading in, it helps the day feel complete.

I read several books over the course of those weeks between early July and October. It's only now, looking back that I see the common themes and threads of cancer, friendships, and the process of dying that they shared, and realize how much they helped me process all the fears and emotions that came along with Rochelle's cancer and death.

In one of the books I read that summer, a character was battling cancer. She had retreated to her childhood summer home on the beach with her sister and her best friend, and the things that each of them were facing in their lives and relationships followed them there. One passage in the book keeps coming back to me, even now, years later. The main character, as she found out that she had cancer, was a master list maker. But the day of her diagnosis all her lists disappeared. From that day forward, there were really only two lists in her world. The list of things that no longer matter, and the list of things that matter.

The list of things that no longer matter.

The moment your priorities change and your world becomes so simple and so difficult in the same breath. When you hear the word, "cancer." And weeks later, when you are laying next to your best friend, whispering to her that it's okay to let go and leave the pain of this world behind, just hours before she does.

In the years since Rochelle passed away, when life's troubles start to weigh me down again, when my job gets a little stressful, when people I don't care about say mean things to me, I ask myself, "Does this matter?" The answer is almost always no. The typo, the mucked up address file, the name-calling psycho don't matter. They all go on the list of things that no longer matter. Every time. In the totality of my life, these things do not matter. They do not get to suck up my energy and steal my happiness.

The list of things that matter to me is a short and sweet list, and it doesn't have actual "things" on it. It's simply a list of my people. It's love and laughter, peace and contentment, memories made and memories still to come. That's all I need. What's on your list?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday motivation - Leap!

Years ago, I wandered into an art gallery down on the waterfront in Portland. There were a number of pieces by a local artist/poet/calligrapher, Mary Anne Radmacher. I spent the better part of my lunch hour reading and recognizing myself and other loved ones in her work. I've purchased several prints over the years - one holds a place of honor in my entryway, and one was my wedding gift to Rochelle and Dave.

Last year, Mary Anne treated some of her fans to a special Valentine image - using words we had chosen. Bet you can't guess what mine was!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

breaking my silence

Today, I’m changing gears. I have to get something off my chest. I’m bothered by something that is happening in my life and I’ve stayed silent about it for as long as I can. No more. Ready?

Dating sucks.

There! It's out. Whew! Geez, what did you think I was going to say?

I recently had a few dates with a man I’d met and dated a few years ago. I remembered that I really liked his sense of humor and things had been moving in a promising direction back then (even if they weren’t moving at the speed I wanted them to). In short, when we reconnected, I found myself wondering if I’d passed up something good when things fizzled out before.

So I decided to give him another shot. I wanted to see if there was a connection there. Did he still make me laugh? Did we still have the same things in common? Would there be any sparks?

We went on a couple of dates – dinner and a movie, and then a dinner at one of the most romantic spots in Portland. There weren’t any sparks. The chemistry isn’t there. He’s still a good guy, but we aren’t riding the same wave. We can sit and talk and laugh, but I feel like I’m going through the motions. I can tell he likes me. It’s sad. I really wish I liked him more. This is the part of dating that sucks! He's a great guy, for someone else.

I feel like I’ve lost so much in the last few years, and I have grown and learned and become a much healthier, stronger soul for it. I’m ready for a good man in my life. One who understands that I need space to breathe, that I need to laugh, dance, sing and play, and who wants to do some of that with me. One who sees that my life is full, it has pain and it has joy and they balance in a beautiful way that makes me appreciate each day more. I need someone whose own need for freedom and independence balances mine. Someone who speaks the truth, who doesn’t make promises he won’t keep, and who wants me more than he needs me in his life. I’m ready to open my heart to the right man. There's room for him now.

When will he come along? Is he already in my life, and we just haven’t figured it out? Is it the guy who makes my stomach flutter when his hand grazes mine? The guy whose phone calls and texts always make me happy, no matter what kind of day I'm having? Or the guy whose gaze across a room full of people can make my knees weak? The guy who laughs and teases me relentlessly because he knows I love his sarcasm? Have I known him for years, or is he still a stranger to me? Time will tell.

I know I have to just keep on hoping and trying. And putting on my hopeful face and shaving my legs before heading out on hopeful dates. But some days, and some dates, just suck.

Monday, March 19, 2012

monday motivation - you choose

For today's Monday motivation - a little reminder of the power of personal choice. You can't control what others do, what happens to you, or the things people say to you, but once it is part of your life, you get to choose the direction it sends you in.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

re-kindred spirits

You know when you meet someone and you instantly know that you're destined to be friends? That spark of connection between kindred spirits? What a great feeling! To know that someone else in this world "gets" you, and your quirky sense of humor. When you're sitting on the tailgate, eating ice cream cones and telling life stories a few days after meeting, you can't deny the bond that is already formed.

I've been lucky to have a number of friendships that started this way. But even better, I've had old friendships renewed this way. I've always taken friendship (and fun) seriously. But some of those friendships fade over time. We grow up, move away, get married (or not), have kids (or not), careers, houses, illnesses, divorces, heart break. Sometimes, someone or something else is responsible for the interruption in your friendship. Life just happens. A week without talking turns into a month, then a few months... and pretty soon it's been years.

I know I was better prepared than most for losing my best friend, Rochelle. I had 20 years to get used to the idea that I would outlive her. That didn't make it easier, but it did mean that I never, ever, not even once took our friendship for granted. Sure, it helped that we were kindred spirits, so we got along like peanut butter and chocolate. And whenever musketeer #3, Shauna was around, it was more like peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas. I'm not saying Shauna is bananas... oh who am I kidding? That girl is hilarious and funny as only slipping on banana peels can be. (Love you girl!)

I've come to realize that Rochelle left behind some really interesting gifts for me. One of the most remarkable to me is one that keeps appearing when I least expect it. That is the gift of rekindling friendships with those who I have considered kindred spirits. Or, as I might call them, re-kindred spirits! The chance to reconnect after a 2, 5, 15, or 20 year lapse in regular communication. I'm not just talking about catching up on the facts and statistics of our lives, but really reconnecting. Confirming once again, that the spirit is stronger than time and distance. That love, friendship and trust can survive and blossom again. Within minutes of seeing my twin best friends, Kendra and Roxann from 8th grade (after more than 20 years had passed), we were once again sharing stories that are reserved for those closest to our hearts - the ones that are bittersweet or painful. That's the beautiful thing about re-kindred spirits - you already know you can trust them to protect your heart!

In the 3+ years that have passed since Rochelle died, I have lost count of the friends who I've reconnected with. I'm sure she's sending them my way, and I'm grateful for that. She's that sort of friend, even in heaven. It's nice to know she still watches out for me, and sends me old friends to remind me that friendships do last lifetimes.

And I'm also finding that there really is more room in my once-broken heart. Room for new friends, old friends and especially re-kindred spirit friends.

Monday, March 12, 2012

monday motivation - I am

A little motivation for Monday morning. A sweet answer to the childhood chant, "I know I am, but what are you?"

Thursday, March 8, 2012

first class relationship

Recently, I had a rare conversation with my best friend who has three small children. It was rare because she is never alone and can’t always talk freely without someone overhearing. I can’t imagine that she gets much privacy on a regular basis. It was also rare because we were both so honest about what was happening in our lives. There are few people in the world I trust with those conversations, and she is at the top of the list.

Part of the conversation included catching up on a recent trip they’d taken. Her husband had made the travel arrangements. He travels frequently and gets upgraded to first class automatically. When they got to the airport, instead of asking for both of them to be upgraded, he took his first class seat and let his wife sit in coach with an empty seat beside her. By the way, the difference between their seats was about five rows. She could see him the entire flight. While this isn’t terribly surprising to those of us who know him (he can be a bit self-centered), this did hit a new threshold of rudeness. At one point she said, “maybe I’m just a visual learner, but it was a clear picture of how he treats our entire relationship. He’ll never see me on the same level as him.”

The honesty of that statement took us both by surprise. The bell of truth certainly rings a pure clean sound. And, as we both laughed at the craziness of the scenario like you’d laugh at a sitcom (I can see Valerie Bertinelli playing her perfectly!), the fact is, she was right. That made me a little sad, because of all she’s been through in their marriage. And so, I offered her these words of encouragement:

I wish for you to know, once and for all, that you are worthy. Worthy of love and honor. Worthy of trust and devotion. I wish for you to know that taking care of yourself is the first priority and when you do that, your children will grow up to be as self-sufficient, loving, giving and understanding as you are. I wish for you to know the difference between being a nice person and being a doormat. To feel the joy of a pure and accepting love, without conditions, control, judgment or violations of your privacy. To know the freedom that complete trust in your partner can bring. To know that simply being yourself is all that you need to do. I wish for you to know that as your friend, I will be your champion and I will remind you of these things from now to the end of time.

Finally, I wish for you to find someone who adores and accepts you for who you are. How do you know when you’ve found that? He won’t sit in first class while you’re sitting in coach. I wish this for you. And I wish it for all my friends.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

voices carry

The Voice, by Shel Silverstein

Learning how to listen to, and trust, your own voice is hard. It's hard to filter through what our friends, loved ones, family, coworkers and strangers project onto us. Especially when the voice inside your heart is saying something different than they want it to. I do believe that true friendship lies in the harmony and echo of each of our inner voices. That is where love lives. Hmm... I may have to come back to that thought later.

One thing that my experience with the path through grief gave me was a change in perspective. I realized somewhere in the weeks and months after Rochelle died that I was never going to be the same person I was when my best friend was alive. The one thing I knew for sure is that this grief was going to define me one way or another, and I got to choose how. My voice was different now, because it didn't have her echo anymore. I got to decide how my new voice would sound and what songs it would sing.

So, I started listening. I started with myself. Who do I want to be? What kind of person will people say I "was" when I no longer "am"? What matters to me? What no longer matters? And then I listened to what others said to me, and about me. Thankfully, I have some amazing, loving, intelligent, and incredibly honest people in my life. And then, I started using my new voice, trusting that my heart knew the way back to happiness.

Sure, there are setbacks, there are expectations that must be met, there are loved ones whose own problems and hidden agendas cause stress, pain and strain in my relationships. But I try to respond to those situations with kindness, with honesty, from a place of peace. I know I can't change someone else's perspective, and I also know I don't have to echo their voice if it doesn't harmonize with mine.

In the last few months, trusting my voice has been challenged. Relationships have been strained. It was tempting to lash out in anger, to point fingers and toss accusations and old resentment and unhealed hurts back at those who are causing pain in my life. But I held on to my new voice. I trusted myself to speak honestly, to speak from the heart, to temper my words with kindness, while not backing down and taking blame or responsibility that doesn't belong to me.

To be honest, I'm not sure if it worked. At least from the other person's perspective. I don't know if they have heard the kindness and truth in my words. The relationships are still strained. Issues haven't been resolved yet, and may not be for some time. But it's going to be okay. My heart tells me so.