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Managing and Accepting Change

Changes in life and health are all expected—in theory—but are not always well-accepted.

In the last 18 months, I experienced the cancer diagnosis and death of a very dear friend, the cancer diagnosis of another friend, the suicide of the son of my very first friend—-who remains a close and valued part of my life—-and the diagnosis of one of my dearest friends with early onset dementia. It is no surprise that I have also experienced a period of deep grief.

At the same time, I’ve experienced remarkably positive changes, most significantly with the birth of our beautiful granddaughter, Ellie, in April 2017. As a result of Ellie’s entry into the world, Stu and I are blessed with the opportunity to create a second home in Fresno where we frequently interact with our mesmerizing granddaughter—-now 13 months old—-and our son and daughter-in-law. We are a small family and the ability to share rich and loving family time brings me an abundance of joy.

I just celebrated my 66th birthday in Fresno with my beautiful family. As I’m careening down the hill
towards my 70th birthday, I am mindful of a few new aches and wrinkles. At the same time, I am joyful that last year’s knee surgery resulted in the total absence of knee pain and in my ability to walk unimpeded. And, I am thankful for a wonderful husband of almost 45 years who makes me laugh each day and for whom I am truly grateful. I am blessed with the love of a loyal life companion—-our furry little patchwork Cocker Spaniel, Wimsey Joy, who shares her happiness ceaselessly.

One of the unexpected and happy changes that occurred in the last 14 months is the creation of new friendships. Out of a shared grief for the loss of our beloved friend, Christine, came unexpected friendships with Annette and Barbara. I have also grown closer with Christine and Sam’s daughter, Jenny, as she adjusts to life without her mother along with the travails of caring for her father as he battles dementia and various health issues.

I have enjoyed a very close and meaningful friendship with our neighbor, Lori. And, we are enjoying a developing friendship with fellow Chicago-area transplants, Karen and Michael.

At age 66, I am thankful for each new day of relatively good health, a wonderful family and great friends.

Change is continuous and oftimes anxiety-provoking and scary. One never knows what the future will hold. But, living fully in the moment and being truly grateful for the good things in my life helps me stay grounded.

Reflections of an Aging Debbie (2/28/18)

Working on my personal development requires serious reflection, remembrance, repentance and renewal. There are things I’ve said and done that, in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. I certainly wish I had an easier time tolerating people that I find insufferable and being more subtle in my interactions with them.

I’ve written–and posted–a fair amount about narcissistic personality disorders and persons (like Trump) who exhibit malignant narcissistic traits. As a practicing therapist, I had a strong professional interest in personality disorders. (I still do.) Persons with these traits can appear extremely nice, charming, competent, and, at times, seductive. They often believe rules don’t apply to them and that they are “special” and better than everyone else. They can be extremely manipulative and always play to win. These folks often are extremely predatory, arrogant, grandiose, self-aggrandizing social climbers. Sometimes, they have overlapping personality disorders and may exhibit anti-social traits, once called “sociopathy.” They generally don’t care about hurting other people because they generally don’t care about others.

In my personal and professional life, I have dealt with persons with narcissistic and malignant narcissistic traits. (Narcissism is considered a “spectrum disorder” and some professionals believe that most people are somewhere on that spectrum.)

In my professional life, I have personally been attacked by a couple of people with these traits. It hurts because the attacks feel personal and often feel undeserved. The memories can last for years. I have also treated persons with these traits–and others–and it is very challenging because many of these people lack self-awareness.

But, even worse is experiencing these traits in one’s own family members, “friends” and those we respect. It is difficult to reconcile aggressive, hostile, demeaning or dismissive behaviors with those who appear to be popular, decent and kind. Most people who experience these folks will say, “He’s such a nice guy. I really like being with him.” “My priest is so holy. He is a saint!” Or, “My friend is so kind and caring.”

That is, until the sting.

The attacks of narcissists can be overt and brutal, or veiled and stealth. But, the assaults will come; they can be full-on frontal attacks or covert operations done behind one’s back. The net result is that the recipient of the sting is often surprised and unprepared. Those who have been stung may try to rationalize the other’s behavior (e.g. He must be under stress, having a bad day, just one of those things) and try to forgive and forget.

Until, the next sting. And, the next one. And…wow, I see a pattern emerging.

Are most people prideful? I don’t know–probably, to some degree.

Are most people malignant narcissists? No.

Remember: sometimes they are hard to spot, and come enshrouded in geegosh decency, dripping with charm. Religious narcissists are the worst, because they hide behind their altars and Bibles and use holy language to manipulate their image. And, for narcissists, image is everything!

So, trust your gut when you come into contact with people who make you feel small, unimportant, unworthy and unnecessary. They will try to take you down because they feel superior to you, truly do not care about you, or they have gotten what they need and are finished with you. You have been replaced. Ouch!

We each carry our own baggage in this life. We can choose to ignore it, blame others for it, or own it. If we own it, we can choose to make amends and try to be better.

As I age, I am trying to own what is mine, change what needs changing and attempt to become a better person.

I find I cannot forgive those who have personally attacked me. I can only choose to avoid them and hope for their sakes that they are capable of making positive changes.

I am aging. We all are. And for whatever time I have left, I want to spend my time enjoying, helping and honoring genuinely good people, calling bullshit when I see it, avoiding toxic people and living an honest life.

I wish my shoulders didn’t ache but that’s part of the aging journey, too.

Another Day in Paradise, Updated, 2/28/18

As our washing machine began its second cycle on Saturday, suddenly loud, agonizing sounds emerged from our laundry room: thumping, shuddering, tortured noises reminiscent of a large, dying mammal. The horror! After minutes of anguished noises, it uttered a final click and then, absolute silence. It was dead. Our very wet load of darks was removed from the bowels of the moribund machine, and whisked to a nearby laundromat for completion. Later that day, we visited the local appliance store to purchase a new matching washer and dryer: $2,400 with a warranty. Ka-Ching.

This morning I awoke to a very cold house—actually, half a house. One half is warmed by one HVAC unit; the other half, by another. I called our HVAC experts and learned in the last half hour that we must replace the bad unit for the low,low price (Ha!)of $10,600. Ka-Ching.

And, of course, the bad unit isn’t working on the side of the house where our out-of-town guests will be spending the next five nights starting tonight.

Our brilliant HVAC technician tinkered with the bad unit so it will sorta-kinda pump out some warm air for the next week until he performs his magic.

Three years ago, we hired a general contractor to update our three bathrooms. The project manager, we soon learned, was a complete idiot, generally drunk and/or drug addled. He was a compulsive liar, a total screw-up on every aspect of our straight-forward remodeling project. We tried to have him replaced but ran into a proverbial brick wall. Fast forward 18 months and we found cracking grout on the OUTSIDE tiles of the shower wall. Fortunately, the project was still under a two year warranty. The contractor came over with his tile subcontractor to inspect the problem and agreed to fix it. As the tiles were removed, a leak was detected (wet wood is a dead giveaway) along with a major infestation of termites. The fix took about three weeks, requiring that we move into our guestroom and use the en suite bathroom. An inconvenience but…that’s the price of home ownership.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…about two months ago we noticed that the grout was cracking in the same place. We called the general contractor, who once again brought his trusty tile subcontractor. They agreed–yes, there must be another leak. While the project was no longer under warranty, the general contractor weighed the odds of our filing a complaint against him with the Arizona Board of Contractors, and agreed to fix it AGAIN! Again, we moved into the guest room for three weeks. This time, his tiling subcontractor–who is presently facing bankruptcy–hired a father and son to do the tile work. Unfortunately for me, neither spoke English. Also, one of the gentlemen decided that smearing his blood on the new tiles was acceptable. As the two were exiting our house upon completion of their work, I called out, “No! Sangre aqui!”

He looked at his hands and said, “No se,” I looked at him and asked “Su hijo?” (Your son?) The man shrugged and prepared to leave our home with somebody’s blood on my newly tiled shower wall. I quickly pulled out a canister of anti-bacterial wipes and motioned for this fine man to clean up the blood. Reluctantly, he did so and left quickly. Not reluctantly, I called the general contractor and gave him a piece of my mind. Again.

Hey—It’s only money! And, time! And, inconvenience! And, incompetency! And, a poor work ethic!

God knows we are very fortunate to have the resources to deal with the realities of home ownership. And, we are retired so we have time to commit to working with these idiots. But, how about the folks who can’t? What would they do? Sure, the laundromat is an alternative. But, no heat? It’s a sh#%load of money to replace an HVAC unit. And, three bathrooms. While we’re not living in the Arctic Circle, a cold house is still a cold house. And, blood on the shower tiles is just plain disgusting.

Just another day in Paradise!

On Losing Beautiful Lives and Gaining Joy

I was just perusing a blog written by a friend, a retired ELCA Lutheran pastor, who reflected on his personal challenges in the two years since his beloved wife chose to end her life, much to his surprise. They shared a beautiful marriage and a deep faith. I learned that his late wife experienced unremitting pain from an unknown (to me) illness and simply could not go on this way. My friend, Christine, and I had lunch with this lovely woman, about two weeks before she killed herself. We knew our friend had pain. We didn’t know that our friend had acquired a gun, ammunition, and instruction on how to use that weapon to end her life. Neither did her husband until he found her body that day.

Since her death, sadly, there have
been more heart-wrenching losses. When I posted my last blog in December 2016, my dear friend, Christine, had recently been diagnosed with non-smokers small cell lung cancer. The tumor was in her mediasteinem, and appeared to have already infiltrated an adjacent lymph node. I was in the exam room when the pulmonologist delivered this shocking news. He quickly referred Christine to a nearby medical oncologist, who began a regimen of chemotherapy shortly after sending Christine for lab work, a full-body MRI and other diagnostic imaging. We were shocked that her cough–which we all assumed was from bronchitis or pneumonia–was from an aggressive lung cancer. Christine’s husband, a retired urologist, was unable to comprehend the gravity of his wife’s disease: he had been diagnosed with Frontal Temporal dementia and clearly didn’t understand that his wife was critically ill and suffering.

Christine’s tumor was unaffected by the chemo and other adjunctive treatments and spread quickly into her other lung. She often felt crushing pain in her chest and the sensation of suffocating. Their amazing daughter, Jenny, an only child, moved in with her parents to care for them during their respective life journeys. We were all with Christine on March 14, 2017, in a hospice room when she took her last breath. Her husband of 50 years was also there and was unable to understand what he saw. He now resides in a memory care facility in California near their daughter’s home in Burbank.

In April 2017, our granddaughter, Ellie, entered the world and has brought us unimaginable and immeasurable joy every day of her life. Of course we think she’s beautiful and precious–she really, truly is! Stu and I made a commitment to become her caregivers while her parents are at work. We rented a 2-bedroom apartment in Fresno, complete with a new car there. Each of us flies out–every other week–to babysit our fabulous granddaughter. She effervesces joy, discovery and LIFE in its fullest. She is fun, funny and simply amazing. We are happy–and exhausted–by Ellie’s very presence.

In August 2017, while having lunch in Fresno, I received a shocking call from a friend in Chicago inquiring about whether I had spoken to our mutual friend earlier that day. I said I hadn’t and she informed me that our friend’s 32-year-old son suddenly died.

Her son struggled with a long-term opioid addiction; he was in and out of rehab programs. I knew that he and his girlfriend were expecting the birth of a daughter in the fall, and that he was joyful about this. What I learned later was that his emotionally unstable girlfriend persuaded this beautiful, sensitive young man to kill himself because she convinced him that he was a worthless drug addict and that he would be unable to support them. After a short time–and a series of abusive text messages from his girlfriend–he hanged himself with his belt in his mother’s house, where he had been living. His mother, my very first friend in life, found his body hanging from a railing and cut him down. Her baby. Her precious son.

I spoke to my friend this morning. She said she is doing as well as possible. She is grieving her son’s tragic, unnecessary death and will surely never fully comprehend that he is gone. She has met her granddaughter and worries that this precious baby will be subjected to her mother’s mental illness and emotional instability. And, somehow, my friend will continue to live under the weight of her son’s horrific death.

It is amazing how beautiful and tragic life is, and sometimes the beauty and tragedy occur simultaneously. Christine brought beauty, laughter and goodness to so many of us, and her daughter embodies a loving joy and giving spirit that is unbounded. Jenny’s smile lights up a room.

My friend’s adult son was a loving and supportive son, brother, nephew, cousin and friend to many. He was a devoted boyfriend and would have been a doting, loving father. And, sadly, he was a severely addicted man.

And, the pastor’s wife was beautiful inside and outside. She personfied goodness and her loving spirit shined through her gruesome pain.

Life is a mystery, filled with many profoundly sad and sublime moments. I am truly grateful to be a part of each of their lives.

On the Failings of Some Clergy and the Fooling of Unquestioning Souls

A good friend of mine is married to a man who was a McDonald’s executive for most of his career, until a corporate reorganization robbed him of his career under the golden arches. She recently told me about a local pastor who strongly admonished his flock to avoid settling for inferior choices “like McDonald’s” and to opt instead for quality “like Five Guys.” She said she and her husband were astonished by the pastor’s reference to fast food to confer spiritual wisdom and found him to be shallow and insulting.

Suffer the fools who blindly swallow the lazy metaphors and exclusionary “We alone will be saved” and “We are the chosen” gibberish that some pastors, priests, rabbis, gurus and other clergy preach.

I just don’t buy the notion that one religion’s communion is more valid than another’s. Or, the belief in one true faith…”as long as it’s mine!”

Breaking News! Hot off the Guttenberg Press! A lot of it is just plain nonsense, delusional beliefs, hocus pocus illusions, and feel good make believe stories created by some very effective spin doctors. The scary thing is that anyone can hang up a shingle and start a church, temple, or place of worship.

While some clergy seek and receive rigorous training from highly respected theological institutions, others are the recipients of divinity degrees from online short-cut “instant soup” pastoral programs, fly in-fly out theological training centers, and self-annointed spiritual wizards.

Think of it this way: a Ph.D. from Harvard University is a more credible degree than a Ph. D. from the University of Phoenix. Or, certainly from Trump University! But, does it even matter, when one can add those three magical letters behind one’s name? Or, refer to oneself as Reverend or Rabbi?

Hell yes!

Quoting the Bible, reciting prayers, singing niggun and psalms, and regurgitating passages from the Talmud, the Desert Fathers and/or the Koran does not a clergyperson make. A clergy person who lacks a credible theology, integrity, honesty, compassion, concern and caring is equivalent to bread without yeast: deficient, flat and insubstantial. I refer to these pastors as “the Rev. Billy Bobs.” But, believers beware: some of these clergy are women, too! And, not all Billy Bobs fit the stereotyped fat, greasy, big haired, head slapping, halleluyah-hooting yahoos. Some are smooth and articulate.

Several years ago, I ran a therapy group for employees of religious institutions who were bullied by their clergy and other church leaders. Not surprisingly, all of the participants were women. The pervasive theme was that their faith communities were dominated by narcissistic control freaks who micromanaged every detail and who demanded unquestioning loyalty and subservience. In short, they appeared to suffer from God complexes!

One group therapy participant, a lifelong Lutheran and church administrator, was so traumatized by her controlling pastor and church governance board that she was unable to return to church. Any church. She lost faith in clergy persons. But, not in God.

Consider this: serving a pulpit can be like an opioid for personality-disordered clergy who are addicted to the rush they get from interpreting the Word of God for the masses, from having the power to transubstantiate bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and from talking the God talk with an air of having an inside track to the Almighty. The pulpit is a very powerful place for narcissists: a lethal weapon in the hands of pathological pastors.

Do I lack faith?

No!

Not in God, the highest power, the holy giver of life and love, the infuser of the most glorious aspects of human nature that elevate us to become the best we can possibly be, the great healer, the sustainer, the redeemer.

I lack faith in pathological pastoral professionals who prey on vulnerable people. I loathe liars who use God to deceive, manipulate, and fool people. I will never allow emotionally stunted persons to question my faith and beliefs. The truth has set me free.

My faith in God is strong. And, I especially love one prayer: that one should love the Lord, our God, with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, and with all one’s might.

On Love, Hope and My Diminished Tolerance for Absolute Bullsh*t

One of my dearest, most cherished friends recently was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. The disease currently affects her with a wracking cough, diminished airflow, decreased energy, sleeplessness and fatigue. She is one of three “older sisters” that I have chosen in lieu of being blessed with familial “blood line” siblings. Her husband has a rapidly degenerative form of dementia that has robbed him of the ability to reason, to remember and to live the life that he and his wife richly deserve.

They are blessed with the greatest daughter in the world, a spunky, smart, and high spirited woman whose light fills every room she enters. She is moving back to her family home to care for her parents after living her adult life in another state.

I love these people with abandon and I would do almost anything to lift them from these burdens. I have great hope that my friendo’s suffering will be diminished soon with new targeted medical treatments. For now, we wait and hope together.

My first friend in the world, also a cherished “older sister,” has struggled through three cancer surgeries, a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, a spiteful divorce and a son currently in a court-ordered rehab program for heroin addiction. Her son is a sweet man with a horrible addiction. And, it’s so, so sad. My friend deserves some relief from her suffering, a chance to catch her breath, enjoy her life, quiet her fears and experience serenity.

I learned yesterday that the step sister of one of my best friends ended her life on Wednesday by drowning herself in a river. She was a tortured soul, a lost, depressed and hopeless woman. And, she was a wife, mother, sister, friend. Those left behind are struggling with her decision to choose death.

As a retired therapist, I stepped away from my former profession as a healer. But, I choose to remain active in the roles of friend, “adopted sister,” advocate, informed question asker, note taker, adviser and helper.

Love never retires. Never. And, caring for others who are hurting and afraid
is the best way that I know to love.

And, what I find–in light of my friends’ collective sufferings– is that I am lacking patience and tolerance for narcissistic, small-minded bullies; hubris; dishonesty; manipulative game-playing; selfishness; greed; disrespectful nimrods; unthinking, uncaring and/or unfeeling humans; spoiled, self-indulged and immature adults; pathological liars and cheats; bigots; misogynists, racists, ageists, non-Christian phobes, fascists/neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and other basic no-Goodniks.

I do not seem to have the capacity to tolerate pettiness, trivialities, tantrum-throwers, meanness, selfishness, self-importance, or bullsh*t.

I have not one iota of tolerance for Donald Trump. I simply cannot abide him, his handlers or what he represents. Ditto for Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and those who continually dogged Obama and failed to act as responsible legislators. And, I shudder to contemplate those political appointees of Trump that wait in the shadows ready to strip our most vulnerable citizens of health care, Medicare and Social Security benefits.

I simply ask that you bear with me if and when I am short-fused. Please join me in praying for my friends and for our country. Together, let us focus on healing thoughts, loving meditations and acts of lovingkindness.

Enough bullsh*t already!