A Comedy and a Tragedy

comedy__tragedy-1vxlf68In times of tragedy we all become reflective of our own humanity. Yesterday’s news that Comedian, Robin Williams completed suicide shocked and saddened many of us. We all had to process it in our own ways. Some thought it was a selfish, cowardly act. Some were reminded of their own similar pain. Some felt empathy for the survivors. Some became angry at how others responded. But we are each entitled to view things our own way, from our own experience.

The thing that happened was that a lot of us began to TALK about it. A conversation started. It became a national group therapy session. In group therapy, everyone doesn’t have to agree. They just listen to other points of view, and everyone who wants to say something does, and the rest of the group thanks them for sharing. A healthy group is respectful and empathetic.

So I’d like to share my point of view; at least how I see it from here, today, from my own life experiences as a person on my own journey, and as a healer.

I believe that we come into the world, each of us, with a mission. We know deep down what that mission is, but it’s not always conscious. We follow where the path leads us. Robin was led, by his own life experience, to make others laugh. Buddhist tradition will advise that when you are in need of something, give it to others, and it will come to you. Robin desperately needed laughter, so he gave it to others. And in giving, he received what he needed in many cases.

Robin also participated in movies with moving story lines about the experience of being human. One of my favorites of his career is the movie “Awakenings”, based on a true story in which several catatonic patients slowly began to emerge, or “awaken” from deep within themselves due to the neurologists’ persistence with a new treatment.

This seems symbolic to me because I believe that’s what Robin Williams’ life was all about: awakenings. I believe that his mission was to be here for about 63 years, making people laugh and think about things in a new way, and perhaps for people to awaken. He gave it his all, and he accomplished this mission in grand style.

Suicide and death are difficult for the people left behind to wrap our heads around. Christian gospel tells us that God has given us “free will” to make our own choices in this life. Yesterday, Robin Williams chose to end the road here; be done with this world. He had accomplished all that he was going to in this place, in this time. Many of us don’t believe this is an acceptable route. My professional training is to assist people in avoiding this route. But there’s that “free will”.

We all have experienced moments of grief and sadness to some extent. We all know what that feels like, if even momentarily. We don’t always talk about it because it feels weird, and “risky”. Maybe we don’t even know that any other way to feel exists. Maybe it’s all we’ve ever known. Sometimes, the pain can be so intense that it blinds us. You may recall the raw physical pain of child birth, or breaking a bone…and how that pain in the moment seems to overshadow anything else that may be going on. It is similar with the disease of depression. That being said, it can be reversed. Life does not have to be like that. The pain can be dissipated.

In Robin’s final act, his disorder (which simply means things are out of order, unbalanced) ended his life. To every ending there is a beginning. Robin spent his life spreading messages of hope and laughter in the face of fear and sadness. Even in his last act, he left us all with an “awakening”. “Hey, this is SERIOUS stuff, folks!”, I can almost hear him saying. “Wake up people!” (in his Good Morning, Vietnam voice)!

Even if the conversation lasts only a week…people have begun to awaken to this serious subject. It will stay in the back of our minds now. Maybe we will pay closer attention to our own emotional balance, and that of those around us. Maybe we will be more compassionate, more understanding of the human condition. When we see someone struggling, maybe we will assist them in getting help sooner, including ourselves. Maybe we will be kinder, gentler, more human.

In death, as in life, Robin Williams has inspired us to laugh and push ourselves and be compassionate and be human while we are able, and to AWAKEN. As we process the end of his great run, may we come full circle and begin to facilitate our own awakenings while we are here.

Thank you for letting me share.

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“We’re going to drill four holes into your skull and screw a crown to your head so you can’t move it while we’re doing the procedure…you will have to be awake for this”.  These words…along with the words I heard ten minutes later, made me start thinking how mere words can really change your life.  In an instant.  I was fascinated by the ride the words took me on today.

Suddenly, as if in an “end of life flash”, all the words that have strongly impacted my life over the past nearly 50 years came flooding into my consciousness.  Words of sweetness, words of accomplishment, words of heartache, words of pain, words of blessing, words of joy, words of anger, fear and relief.  Words of beginnings and of endings.  Words that made my heart stop.  Words that stick with me. 

Pam, your daughter looks so much like you ~ i love you ~ Missy Tansey is the Spelling Bee Champ ~ you don’t want to be a social worker…you should be a writer…or a stewardess…just get over your fear of flying ~ don’t come home for Thanksgiving if you’re dating HIM ~ in fact, don’t come home at all ~ welcome to florida ~ we have to accept minorities first and your last name is Hispanic, are you a minority? ~ you’ve been accepted to Graduate school ~ congratulations on your degree ~ welcome back to iowa ~ i would be honored if you would have dinner with me ~ will you wear this ring? ~ I do… ~ at your age you’ll be lucky to get pregnant at all and the most you will be pregnant with is TWO ~ we have some good news, you’re pregnancy test is positive ~ there are THREE fetuses but two of them are not likely to make it and one is perfect ~ Don’t you think you should wait to have kids until you have money? ~ IT’S A GIRL!!! ~ I’m not going to stop drinking and if you don’t like it get the fuck out ~ CUNT ~ I will never drink again ~ You’re pregnant AGAIN???…you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me??? ~ I’m sorry, I think you’re having a miscarriage ~ You are the top candidate for both positions, take your pick ~ it’s another miscarriage ~ you are definitely in the right job ~ don’t you ever plan another birthday party at our house again, you fucking Bitch, I don’t give a shit if there’s no power anywhere else in town!! ~ well I finally got the call I knew would come one day…your grandmother died this morning ~ you knew i was like this when you met me and i’m not changing…why don’t you just get the fuck out ~ You are beautiful… ~I never thought you’d leave me for someone else ~ yes, you can leave your family heirlooms here until you have a place to put them ~ I lied, i changed the locks and you are getting NOTHING back ~ I’m going to sell them ~ i’m taking our daughter and i’m not bringing her back ~ we don’t even know what to say to you ~ He’s gone…grandpa is gone ~ I applied for a gun permit…there better be no public record of that restraining order or there will be trouble ~ you’re a great friend ~ you’re such a good mom ~ we would like you to adopt our baby ~ we’re going to have to lay you off ~ IT’S A BOY!!! ~ You can take him home today ~ can we have more time before we sign the papers? ~ the waiting period has passed ~ your adoption is final, congratulations, you have a SON! ~ you have been approved for food stamps ~ you are over qualified ~ you are over qualified ~ are you adopting a crack baby? ~ you are over qualified ~ Your son was your brother in a past life and he has found you again ~ hey Melissa, would you like to go into private practice with our office? ~ your mother is dying ~ you have a little head bleed ~ we will be admitting you so you can see the neuro-surgeon ~ there is a lesion on your brain, we need to find out what it is ~ i have good news, it’s NOT cancer ~ Exam Score: PASS ~ We’re going to drill four holes in your skull and screw a crown into your head so you can’t move it during the procedure…you will have to be awake for this…~

I began to process all the information in my head.  I have accomplished much…survived much…been damn lucky on many counts, but as tears filled my eyes my words to Bard were “I don’t think I can do this”.    I also knew that if I have another brain bleed which brings on a stroke or worse, I will curse myself for not going through with it.  I tried to envision myself finding the courage to go through with it. Dr. Buatti entered the room, introduced himself and said “How are you?”.  I replied through tears, “I was better before “screws in my skull”.  He held a hand in the air, shook his head and said these words:




I am not going to recommend that.

And just like that, my life changed again.

And the next part of the story went something like: With the type of hemangioma you have, there is a 1% chance per year that it will bleed. We will do another MRI in two months and continue to monitor it from there.

And I breathed again from those words. Just words. There is an old saying about sticks and stones hurting but words can’t. I disagree. Words change everything. I now know that the story is never over, at least that’s what I tell my therapy clients. The story can change at any time. Just wait for the next words; the next chapter. All of the significant words above changed me somehow. They are still with me. They moved me in a certain direction. When you hear words that may mean your life could be altered from this moment on, you look at the world through different lenses. You take things more seriously. You take people more seriously. Everything becomes much more real. No more shyness. No more waiting. You move. Game on. Just do it.

This is what I’ve learned in my first (almost) 50 years. In the next 50 I will use my own words more carefully, lovingly, compassionately. I will cherish the first words my children say. They are golden symbols of their own lives. I will consciously model and teach my children to choose kind words, wise words, and to use their intuition about the words of others. I will be conscious of my words and the energy I place upon them.

If there are any words that must NOT go unsaid it would be that I love my children with every cell of my body and with every breath I take. But they know that.


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Your Mother is Dying

“Your mother is dying…” read the email in black and white. Plain and simple. I am writing this on “April Fools” day, yet it is no joke. There they are. Words.I.don’t.want.to.hear. Or say. Or believe. Words I know are true, words I have been preparing for gently, and here they were in my email yesterday. Hard to avoid them.

While it’s a fact that the woman who I came into this world through has been given a terminal diagnosis, I have hoped she would prove it wrong. Fight against it. Be the exception. Exemplify the answer. Beat the odds. Show them.

PSP. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Blah! Who’s ever heard of that?! No treatment. No cure. People tend to live about 7 years from being diagnosed. Mom was ultimately diagnosed a couple of years ago after receiving several other potential diagnosis’. This is the one they eventually landed on. It has been going on longer than we know.

My step-father is requesting we gather to discuss potential outcomes and scenarios. Make memorial plans. Time is limited, but it could be weeks, or months or years still. My mother tells me it will be soon. She wants me to take her clothes. I tell her that she will need something to wear. She disagrees. She is very cognizant. She is very uncomfortable. She is worn out.

This is a woman of only 70 years. Brilliant. Member of MENSA. Ph.D. Educator. Linguist. Teacher. Counselor. Consultant. Gifted and Talented Coordinator. Curriculum Creator. Singer. Travelor. Wife. Friend. Neighbor. Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Grandma. Mommy. Mom. Mother.

My first best friend. My first teacher. The woman I loved to smell as a small child. (I still stop and smell that perfume in the deparment store when I pass it, and I remember her looking radiant, getting ready to go out with my dad. I did not want her to go). My first hugs. The first person to love me. My First grade Room Mother. Who made me finish my milk, but not clean my plate. A woman who didn’t have a nice mother, and kept her abusive mother away from us. The person who dropped me off for a week at Girl Scout camp despite my tears and protests, and who picked me up after a week–again in tears not wanting to leave the camp. My summer Vacation Bible School teacher. The beloved teacher I helped grade papers for and erased her classroom chalkboards. (The same teacher who brought her entire 6th grade class home one afternoon to clean up the eggs and toilet paper they had bestowed upon our house the Halloween night before). My cheerleader when I won my 8th grade Spelling Bee. My sunbathing companion at the lake. My photographer before the Prom. My personal Martha Stewart; decorator and gift giver extrordinaire. My confidant. My nemesis. My hardest driving teacher. My biggest critic. The woman who needed to find her self while I was trying to find mine as a teen. I watched her read as much as she could, and when she was done I read her books. I don’t think she knew that. The woman who always hated my curly, frizzy hair, and ordered me to remove my nose ring if she saw someone she knew. The woman who told me never to show my belly button ring. She often misunderstood me, took the sides of others when I complained about them, and there were many times I felt she just didn’t like me. And this made me not like her. The woman who turned around and drove 8 hours back from her vacation when I went into labor, and kept vigil with me at the hospital for the 5 days afterward because my baby was jaundiced, rocking my newborn when I slept. The woman who ordered pizza’s for the nurses on the maternity ward to say thank you. The woman who disapproved of my parenting choices, scolded me through my divorce, blamed me and was embarrassed by me. The woman who showed up at my divorce court with my ex husband. The woman I most wanted to have approval from. The woman who just didn’t get me.

My mother, in my eyes, began to show some unusual signs several years ago. I remember wondering if she was depressed? Angry? Apathetic? Just didn’t like me? I would call her to share something I was excited about and then wonder why I did. As the years passed, she would lose things, become very nervous, panic, make demands about finishing the hors d’oeuvre’s she had made or to not be too early to her house but not be late either. I would not allow my young daughter to ride in the car with her and my mother was deeply wounded by this; and others around me made me feel guilty for being so “over protective”. But I knew something wasn’t right. I have known this woman all my life. She just wasn’t like she used to be. Something was going on. Things weren’t always clicking. She would forget her purse and then think she left it at my house. She ran over a neighbors mailbox. I wasn’t comfortable leaving my small child alone with her. This made me the “bad guy” for several years.

Now I know what I was seeing. PSP. It’s progressive. Being the person who has known her the longest, I saw it but couldn’t identify it. No one else did until she fell backward down her basement stairs 3 years ago, followed by at least one stroke, and then many doctor consultations to figure out what’s going on. She seemed to be improving after the fall. Then, she wasn’t. Speech began to slur. Walking and balance became increasingly difficult. Eating without choking is tricky. She cannot smell. She is easily tired. Reading is difficult for her. Her attention span is short. She is in pain a lot.

I attempted to get her excited about chiropractic, acupuncture, energy healing, Pranic healing, essential oils, coconut oil, meditation, forgiveness to aid healing. “Have you used the $95 bottle of Frankincense oil I gave you for Christmas? It passes through the blood/brain barrier to heal at the cellular level”. “Really”?, she says. But she isn’t interested. She doesn’t want to be here anymore. Her beloved father died 3 years ago, her treasured sister died last year. It fascinates me that they all seem to be leaving the planet at a similar time.

I visit her with my kids. We bring her something yummy. We laugh. We play. She sits in a chair with a blanket over her, or in bed. Not the way I anticipated her at this age. The gift of her fall has been that it slowed her down enough to listen and it expedited me in clarifying things I needed to clarify with her. I think she understands me now. I think I understand her. I love her for all she has been. I know she loves me.

I am now back at the days where I can smell her perfume, see her radiance, and I do not want her to go. And yet she will go. And I will cry like I did as a little girl, wondering if I will see her again. I always did see her again. And I know I will this time, in a different space. In a different time. We are all made of energy and energy never goes away, it simply shifts it’s form. So in the meantime, we will gather together, with my mother, and we will make plans for her exit. She was there to bring me into this world. I will be there as she travels back into the next. I have asked her to come back and talk to me if she is able. She said she will if she can. It will be hard, but as my brother says, “Reality is a bitch”. He is right. Our mother is dying.

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Happy Earth day, Earth!

Happy Earth day, Earth!

May we care for the earth the way it cares for us: the land that cradles us, nourishes us and shelters us, the sun that warms us, the moon that guides us, the waters that quench us and bathe us, the air that sustains us.

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