Attachment To Things Has Gotten A Bad Rap

In a country where hoarding is an epidemic, while simultaneously Marie Kondo has become a celebrity for downsizing, it’s important to understand the reason behind our attachment to possessions and the therapeutic value ‘things’ have in grieving.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” 🎶 a popular lyric and a popular trend when I was growing up in the midwest. Beautiful, architectural, and historical buildings bulldozed, then replaced with parking lots and structures. The trend remains the same, it’s just a different kind of parking structure today…storage facilities.

When people’s attachment to things is such that they require separate housing for their belongings we have to start asking, “why?” It isn’t enough to just roll our eyes and say, ‘commercialism’, or ‘materialism’, or ‘gluttony’, as so often I’ve heard.

When people live in homes that have become unhealthy and deteriorated because attachment to their possessions has become unmanageable, we have do to more than give it a name and slap it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders.

In a culture that denies death’s inevitability; that has sterilized death and dying care, by allocating it to institutions rather than family members; and has created fantasy worlds on television bombarding people with false notions and images of impossible idyllic life standards, it’s no wonder “things” become important.

Things don’t die and they don’t abandon us.

It’s no secret we don’t do death well in this society, but what is a secret is why we feel so attached to family heirlooms, gifts and mementos, sometimes to the expense of our wellbeing.

It’s more than just ‘sentimentality’. Objects hold energy. Our possessions (things we have owned) hold our energy very strongly because it was constantly bathed in our energy.

However, even store-bought gifts hold the energy of the giver even though it might not have been in their possession for very long. The intent or ‘thought’ behind the gift lives in the material of the gift.

Individuals who have strong attachments to people, and have suffered great loss, will often have stronger attachments to possessions than those who do not have strong attachments to people and/or have not suffered great losses. Holding onto belongings is a coping mechanism designed to exert some control over loss. The theory is ‘I love things because things don’t abandon me. They can’t die and they can’t walk out on me.’ Which is why then those individuals will be devastated if something of value gets broken or stolen (material versions of death and walking out).

When someone dies there are many who rush to get rid of the loved one’s possessions believing the things are painful reminders. They mistakenly believe getting rid of the belongings quickly will facilitate faster grieving. The truth could actually be the exact opposite. Holding onto belongings that hold the energy of the loved one keeps their individual signature vibration within daily life. This enables the relationship to reconfigure. Spoiler alert, we don’t have to stop having relationships with people just because they die.

We don’t stop loving someone when they transition to the next life, whatever you believe that life looks like. Love is energy and energy never dies. Our love just has to have a new focus of attention. Hence why some find visiting gravesites to be important and necessary. A focus. A new physical focus of the relationship.

Others choose to embrace personal belongings of the loved one. A healthy attachment to those things would be someone choosing several items of the person’s belongings to incorporate into daily life. An appropriate amount would be what can easily fold into one’s current living situation and serve a purpose. Serving a purpose is largely defined by the individual. A box of personal belongings that is taken out once every other year and brings comfort does indeed serve a purpose. The rest of the belongings then are easily, even joyfully shared with family, friends and the community by way of donations.

In extreme contrast, an unhealthy attachment to those things, of course, would be the inability to release any of the items to new homes and having the possessions overrun the home. The items cannot be incorporated into daily life, because there is no living actually happening when the possessions…well…take possession of the person. Excessive items stored, whether hoarded in a residence or locked away in a storage facility, are possessions in possession of people. Not a single item can be connected with or appreciated on a daily basis because it is not accessible. So you are paying rent for things to take up space in your life that are not adding quality to your life.

Having the deceased person’s belongings allows us to hold onto a physical representation of that relationship, yes, but it also allows us to continue a relationship with our loved one in a new way. Every time we wear that sweatshirt, we first feel the energy of our loved one that still lives in the material. When we feel that energy we are connecting with it, just as we did when they were alive. Then we might recall some memories. We feel again how we felt when they were alive – even if just for a moment. And whether we know it or not, we are making new memories with that person because we are doing new things while thinking of them.

This is so important. Not just right after a death, but for years going forward. After death, love and grief are forever intertwined. Grief doesn’t end. There is no finish line we magically cross. There is a difference between grieving and grief.

Grieving is the expression of the loss we feel for someone who has recently died. Grief is the cloak that love wears post death. Grieving ends. Grief does not.

Grieving is also called mourning. Its symptoms include but are not limited to sobbing, anger, depression, sadness, lethargy, insomnia, rage, and outbursts. Its cause is the loss of something/someone we love. Grief is loving someone who is no longer on this planet. Grief is the missing of someone. Therefore, we don’t grieve or mourn forever, but we feel grief forever. Many people do not understand this distinction and feel guilt when grieving ebbs, having associated their intense grieving with their intense love. Grieving is connected to the intensity of the loss of the love, not the intensity of the love itself.

When we incorporate loved one’s items into our daily life we are honoring them and ourselves. Instead of the empty place setting at the holiday table, we can focus on feeling their energy present at the table in the dishes they used or passed down to us. Someone’s clothes can be worn to provide us with a hug just when we need one. Clothes can also be made into blankets to promote that safe feeling someone gave us. Personal items can be pinned onto, sewn into or carried for a wedding ceremony as way to connect with them on that special day. Jewelry, as well as dishes, can be passed down for generations ensuring that the energy of the ancestors is prevalent and available for generations to come.

In recognizing the importance of personal items we have to understand our reaction then when these things wear out, get broken or lost. In many ways it is like losing that loved one all over again. We made the transfer from loving this person in body, to loving them in spirit with these items as a tangible tool. It can feel like losing that person all over again when these valued items are lost or broken.

It helps to remember that nothing is ever really lost or broken though. Broken dishes can be made into beautiful mosaic garden stones or even jewelry. Once more we need to make a transition from one physical focus to another. When we lose something of a loved one then it is a little harder to adjust, but it’s still a matter of perspective. You can view it as ‘the loss of one thing, makes room for another.’ Or it can be the impetus for you to take an action you otherwise wouldn’t have. Maybe acquire something of your own that holds as much energy for you. The situations are too numerous to go into in a simple blog post, but I hope you get the idea.

In the crystal gems world we believe that when a stone is lost it is either going on vacation for a much needed rest for a job well done, or it was needed elsewhere by someone else. A broken gem implies that someone you love needs the energy of that stone, thus it broke in order to be in two places at one time (or three or four). Something that shatters into pieces that are rendered unusable is considered to have served its purpose and is returned to the earth where it began. Quite often those pieces find themselves in potted plants where they still continue to be of service by nurturing the plant.

In this society we are too quick to judge…ourselves as well as our neighbors. We are too quick to judge someone’s home as cluttered simply because they have ‘more things’ than we choose to. If the things bring them pleasure and are easily incorporated into their living, then they have just the right amount of things for them. Instead of judging ask them about those things and the stories they hold. When they die you might just find that old cuckoo clock they spent the afternoon telling you about brings you comfort too…

Death Is Imminent

When I try to explain how I can help with the last days or even with the grieving period, I get a little tongue tied. I don’t have a set formula or pat answers to any situation. What I have is intuition that leads me to suggest things to a particular person in a particular situation that remedies a particular suffering. Something I might never again suggest to anyone else.

Dying is the most intimate occasion of our lives.

People die the way they live, so while one may prefer to have every family member around their bed as they cross the threshold, another might prefer to slip quietly across in the middle of the night with no foreshadowing.

My gift is to listen to what is being said, and what isn’t being said, to see what is forthright and what is hidden, in order to offer alternatives that offer physical, emotional and spiritual comfort to each individual involved.

“What can you do for us?”

I can only answer that question one way; in a half hour face to face consultation where I ask a series of questions to ascertain what is most important to you at this time.

From those answers we could have a very good conversation about how I, as an end of life doula, could assist in your current situation.

When I tell people what I do, there are two reactions:

  • 1) “Wow. I wish we’d known about that when my loved one was dying.” Or…
  • 2) “Oh.”

I hate both those responses, the first one is about missed opportunities through lack of knowledge. You can’t know what you don’t know, right? But if you had only known you could’ve made a different choice.

The second one is equally disappointing because in that one word so much is conveyed…”I’m not comfortable with that topic.” It means, when the time comes they likely will not remember to call someone like me to help navigate the emotional waters.

But I’d rather hear those words than. . .

“We should’ve called you.”

I can do no more than offer my service and share a vision with you. You are the one who has to decide to push through the inherited societal discomfort around death to embrace a new way of doing things. I will never ‘sell you’ on my services. I won’t try to convince you that this is the best thing to do in your situation. I won’t do it. Do I think everyone can benefit…yes absolutely. There isn’t one single circumstance I can think of that wouldn’t.

Even if YOU are an end of life doula, you can benefit from an end of life doula!!!

But I won’t sell you on it. It will either resonate or it won’t. But please don’t ever come back to me and say ‘we should’ve…’

My heart can’t take it.

If dying is the most intimate experience of our lives, then grieving is its counterpart for those left behind.

It is truly never too late to call me. The death has occurred, the funeral or memorial service is over, and you find yourself ruminating over what you now think you should’ve done better or differently.

Not only can we explore some rituals to help you over this hump, we can also begin right now to prepare for your own death so that your loved ones will not have your same experience. We can start conversations, create your vision and get everyone on the same page…even if that page doesn’t get turned for many years to come.

Death is imminent for all of us, the only difference is that some of us realize it.

It’s Not My Death

1990 was the year of magical changes in my life. As is usually the case though, I couldn’t know it at the time.

I had been married a little over one year and my beloved grandmother had just died. I was 25 years old and working in a job that had nothing to do with my Life’s Purpose and the death of my Gramma left me depleted, devastated and depressed.

Just ripe for the Universe’s picking, I suppose.

I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon the new job as a Social Worker in a Valparaiso, IN extended care facility. I was to be responsible for the programming on the dementia unit, as well as the psychosocial care of the patients on the new dedicated hospice unit. My supervisor was ‘other worldly’ and introduced me to alternative non-medical modalities as a way to assist our hospice patients with pain control.

It was there that my end of life doula education/experience began, though -as I said- I didn’t know it at the time.

My work experiences served as fuel for some deep meaningful conversations between my husband and I about death and dying. As my career developed so too did our conversations around end of life issues. The topic of death was commonplace in our home and we clearly stated and restated the things we would want and not want regarding treatments and interventions.

As our daughter grew we included her in those discussions, too. She was four when I began to take her with me to visit hospice patients. She had a certain magic with patients who had long retreated behind dementia made walls. She was compelled to hold the hands of those who mere hours later would cross the Threshold.

We all lived our lives with the understanding that death was a bookend to birth, which gave us the wisdom to concentrate on the experiences between them.

The marriage ended in 2012 and like any family we struggled a bit to find a new normal. It was not easy, by any means, but we eventually found a place of harmony.

I would go on to remarry and my new husband and I moved to another state with my daughter, then 20 years old. My ex-husband and I maintained communication regards my daughter and often exchanged updates about our own lives.

On December 20, 2015 while back in town for a friend’s funeral, my daughter and I stopped in to see my ex-husband. It was then that he revealed that he had stage 4 lung cancer.

In the months that followed, a nightmare unfolded slowly all at once. The information he was giving my daughter contradicted the medical treatments he was consenting to. The woman he had been living with, now his fiancée, who at first seemed supportive, kind and compassionate became someone else entirely.

In late April my daughter was called to his bedside because of a decline. My ex-husband’s niece states he was calling for his ‘wife’, meaning me. My daughter called in tears and asked me to come. I did what any mother would do and hopped on the very next train.

Upon my arrival, my ex-husband perked up and began to proclaim his appreciation for me and stated that he did not know what he had when he had me. Over the next few days we would have meaningful conversations and in a private moment he gave me an apology I had long before given up on ever receiving.

That said, it was clear that his state of mind was altered at times. He had been having seizures which turned out to be the result of a rare secondary cancer of the spinal fluid that spread to the brain. While he was alert he was not always lucid nor coherent. This seemed to be ebb and flow with the timing of a medicine that was used to keep the swelling in his brain down.

As I stood in his hospital room it was very hard for me to remember that I was neither his wife, nor his end of life doula. I was simply there as the mother of our daughter and the step-mother to his first daughter. I had no legal rights. I had no rights at all. My place was simply as a guide for his two daughters, as they had all the legal decision making rights.

So I became their end of life doula, creating a space for them to be active in their father’s journey and to feel some sort of empowerment in a situation where they were feeling powerless.

Because the eldest daughter was local she was the one designated by the hospital to sign all consents for him.

As we all listened to the doctors we were clear on the fact that he was dying, so it was quite the shock when this fiancée of his, who had seemed compassionate and kind, suddenly turned into a different beast, and did not want to forego aggressive treatment. She was irrational and verbally aggressive. She began to stay away from the hospital for long periods of time.

In private moments my ex-husband would talk of acceptance and a lack of desire to pursue active treatment, but his thoughts and intentions were overpowered by his fiancée.

His only advance directive was the one we created when we had been married and now his competency was in question so having him sign a current health care representative form was not an option.

His two daughters agreed that seeking further aggressive treatment was not what he would want. Was indeed not what he was expressing he wanted.

My daughter and I needed to return to our home and we left with the promise to support his eldest daughter in decision making.

On April 27, 2016 we were about 2 1/2 hours away on the road when she called us to say that the fiancée gave her a consent form to sign so that she and their father could get married.

My daughter strongly objected and we all found it suspicious that this was not mentioned at all during our visit, but suddenly presented mere hours after we left. This woman’s motives were now suspect.

On April 29, 2016 she had him sign a printed-off-the-internet durable power of attorney, witnessed by a friend of hers. Then she forged his signature on a will, witnessed by a friend and her sister.

It was later discovered that on April 26, 2016 she named herself as beneficiary of his retirement accounts with another forgery.

On May 2, 2016 this woman managed to convince the eldest daughter that this is what her father wanted and she signed the consent for them to marry. A sitting Indiana juvenile judge performed the hospital beside ceremony.

On May 15, 2016 the now wife attended her ‘wedding reception’ without her husband because he was too weak and ill to even get dressed. He sat at home with our daughter at his side and later his other daughter joined them.

On May 21, 2016 she completed a quit claim deed, as his DPOA, transferring his house to herself.

He died on May 25, 2016.

My daughter and I had arrived on May 22, 2016. I was there strictly as support to my daughter. When we arrived for a moment he became alert, recognizing our daughter right away. The wife made sarcastic passive-aggressive remarks about how he had been non-responsive to her but perked up for our daughter. Then he saw me and gave me the same kind of greeting. This clearly angered the wife.

My daughter spent most of the next two days with him. Because of legal matters that were transpiring, the wife became hostile and my daughter and I both felt it best I not return to the home.

While she was there the wife would leave the home to run errands. My daughter would call me and we would Facetime as she laid with her father, being present for him, reminiscing, playing music, comforting him and giving him permission to go. In effect, our 22 year old daughter was doula-ing for him. And I was doula-ing for her.

In the afternoon of May 25, 2016, while his wife stepped out to get ice cream, our daughter by his side, he took his last breath. The details of that moment are her story to tell, not mine, so I won’t share that here. But know it was powerful and beautiful and full of love.

Since that time my daughter, my husband and I have talked often about how we wished it could’ve been different for her father. We talked about how we would’ve welcomed him into our home and attended to him. About what we imagine his vision of his journey would’ve been. We all wanted a ‘good death’ for him and while the last moments were precious, the months leading up to it were not.

I know in the marrow of my bones that this was not a death of his choosing, even though I have to accept it was the result of his choices. I know it would have been very different if we had still been married, or even if he had just not had this someone in his life.

But it wasn’t my death.

And that is the most important thing as an end-of-life doula we must understand. It is not our death. When we are asked to doula for someone we are there to support their decision making, not steer them towards particular decisions. Our biases are to be left at the door. We are not to push our own agendas, no matter how perfect we think they are.

Individuals must have autonomy in their dying, just as in their living. Their rights must be protected. In this case, while in the end he was taken advantage of and swindled, and we don’t believe he was directing the journey of his treatment, he made the earlier decision to have this woman on his journey.

Despite all of this, our daughter and I did everything within our power to allow him space for autonomy over his transition. We felt that was our duty as human beings who loved him. Not to push our agenda, but allow him to create his own. While we feel that he was not in control of his treatment, he certainly was in control of his last moments, choosing to leave when it was just him and his daughter.

It is hard for us to find the peace in it sometimes. We had such a beautiful vision for his journey, based on the decades of conversations we had. Because of our long history together, we believe we knew him better than anyone else. We believe we know what his ‘good death’ would’ve looked like given different circumstances.

But it was not our death and we have to find solace in the fact that we supported him when he needed it most, in the moments we had with him.

When you read end-of-life doula stories you hear some amazing stories that read like a Hallmark movie script; but that just isn’t always how it goes. It’s important to know that.

People are complicated and die the way they live. An end-of-life doula is meant to support the individual and their family (the ‘unit’) in a way that is harmonious with their situation. An EOLD enhances, they never take over, overshadow or override the individual or the family. They are meant to assist the unit in creating their own highest experience.

NOT to script or direct an experience of the doula’s imagination.

Yes, my daughter and I fantasize about a death we feel would’ve been ‘better’, but -again- it was not our death, so we have come to accept peace in knowing that we absolutely served our role in enhancing his death to the level allowed.

I would’ve scripted a different movie for his transition. What I would’ve scripted would’ve made my daughter’s healing of grief a bit less complicated. What I would’ve scripted would’ve been the stuff of Oscar winning movies. What I would’ve scripted…

…is irrelevant.

Being an end-of-life doula means I support the script of the one making the journey. It’s not my death.


Don’t Deny Yourself Because Someone Else Has It Worse

Oh man. I definitely got this message growing up and that is exactly how I taught myself to get through some of the worse times of my life. I discounted my own experience by saying to myself “it isn’t as bad as this other person’s experience so what am I crying about?” And each time any feelings around it came to the surface I would dismiss them all over again with the same thought. 

A subsidiary to that is ‘it could be worse’. While that has been helpful in not letting myself fall down a rabbit hole of despair at times, it has also allowed me to dismiss critical feelings related to traumas and other events. Sure I do not want to get all caught up ‘this happened and so now that is what I am’, but I do not want to skip right over the experience with the magic of a fast forward button. No healing comes from that.

We don’t want thinking to keep us down and make us believe we are an eternal victim, but discounting that we have been victimized is not the remedy. In fact, I believe it complicates trauma recovery. There are three places to be in recovery…

1) The place where you talk about it all the time. 

2) The place where you don’t want to talk about it. 

3) The place where you don’t need to talk about it. 

I have known survivors who make sure everyone knows that they are a survivor. Everyone knows their story and many have heard it more than once. 

Telling your story is VITAL in recovery!!! Let me make that clear. In the first stages of recovery you need to tell your story to whomever will listen. It is imperative that you tell your story. But that is the first stage of recovery, you shouldn’t still be feeling you need to share your story all the time if you are 5, 10, 15, and 20 years past it. That’s a complication.

“I don’t want to talk about it” is never a healthy place to be. Not on day one. Not on day 10,999. Now, on day one, it is understandable and normal…and actually, maybe it is healthy in that the mind and body and spirit all need some time to process and maybe you aren’t a verbal processor usually. However, the longer you go without speaking about it, the more difficult it becomes. 

It is much like receiving a traumatic wound. There it is, fresh, gaping, bleeding and painful. The first thing you do is cover it. And you want to keep it covered. You don’t want the lose more blood. You don’t want anything to aggravate it. You don’t want to see it. But then you have to assess the damage. You have to give it attention before infection sets it. You need to maybe have stitches to bring the edges together so it can heal cleaner. 

Same with an emotional trauma wound. You might need to tell your story to the police. To the medical team. To loved ones. To your employer. They will all need to understand the changes that are now in place. Because that is what traumas do. They change us on a cellular level. 

But when you get stuck in ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ you are not processing through the pain to get to the healing part. Instead of hitting ‘fast forward’ you are actually hitting ‘pause’. 

Lastly, there is ‘I don’t need to talk about it’ anymore. You’ve told the story during the early healing phase. You’ve shared it openly with anyone who needed to hear for their own healing process or with whom you are in an intimate relationship. But you aren’t bringing it up at cocktail parties. You aren’t putting it on job applications. And you aren’t, 15 years later telling all the new people you meet. 

In the later stages of recovery and after recovery, you talk about it when it is relevant, when it is helpful or when you are building new intimate relationships. There is a difference between ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and ‘I don’t need to talk about it’. Initially, those who don’t want to talk about it, might say they don’t need to talk about it, but that is a lie. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but telling your story in the beginning is imperative to getting to the place where you don’t need to tell it anymore.

Those who don’t need to talk about it are in that place because they have already talked about it. They have taken back their power from the experience and now that event has no more power than that day back in high school when they tripped and fell on the stairs.

If you’ve healed, trauma becomes just another event that helped shape you, not define you.

I love you


The Greatest Thing I Ever Did

I know you’ve heard it a lot. People say it around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but this is January and I’m still gonna say it.

The greatest thing I ever did was have a daughter and name her, Emma.

Last night Emma and her two best friends (besides me) came over for dinner. This has become our family tradition, Tuesdays With The ‘Rents. Sometimes it is just Emma and other times we get all three.

Last week two of us almost died. Like seriously. There were unrevealed coconut allergies and inhaled water during a laugh/swallowing debacle.

This week had a deeper theme with the loss of their mutual friend. Yet, there was still laughter. Around the table we had one with both parents living, one whose father died before he was born and mother now gone, one whose father died when she was three and mother now gone, one who was 16 when her father died, mother living and one who was 22 when her dad died, mother living.

Exploring grief is not considered normal dinner conversation. Yet, that is how we roll. It’s how I’ve always rolled. Whatever my daughter brought to the table I allowed, pun intended. No question was ever put off in hopes she would forget, no matter how uncomfortable. No topic was off limits, because you can’t get to comfortable bypassing discomfort.

As her friends reveal more of themselves I realize how much thought I really put into being a mother.

It started when I was a teenager. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but my relationship with my own was…well…strained. Somewhere around 14 I began making notes in my head, of the things my mother did that caused me to feel badly about myself. I promised my future children that I would do things differently. I harbor no ill will against my mother, she absolutely did the best she was able to do. Though I didn’t understand that then, I do now. In that she provided me an experience of what I did not want, I am so grateful. My relationship with my mother fueled me to have a most incredible relationship with my daughter.

In doing that, my relationship with my mother shifted and she grabbed the opportunity to have a different relationship with my daughter than she had with me. And she was really good at it, too. The memories they made together formed a vital part of Emma’s foundation.

Last night it came up, in conversation, that I make a conscious choice to not manipulate Emma as she was growing up. I never said I was disappointed in her, I made sure to state I was disappointed in her choice. It was her choice and I supported her even when I disagreed with her. There was a time she was making choices that I couldn’t support, but I did make sure she knew that I would always supported her, just not her choices.

That may sound like a difference without a distinction or ‘just semantics’ to some, but last night I understood completely that there is indeed a distinction and the power of semantics is mighty. Because I did not set her up to want to please me -the authority figure- that is not in her wheelhouse today. Today she is free of the need to please others over herself or to require validation of her own experience. In short, what others think of her is none of her business. This left her free to question authority figures and not blindly trust them; thus she has never been an easy mark for predators of any sort.

Sometimes sharing this style of communication and thinking is new to Emma’s friends. In the past, it has even made her the odd person out. I know it did me as a parent. I had been criticized, mocked and judged by it. I’m sure she had similar experiences as she felt comfortable speaking about subjects that made others giggle and joke in discomfort. As she grows more in her confidence of who she is, she is attracting people to her that appreciate her. Thus, while these things may be foreign to them, they are not put off by it. Actually, they seem to be drawn in, if I may be so bold.

My husband and I met 6 years ago and aside from Emma he is the best thing to happen to me. He was the first guy to really understand how precious my relationship with Emma is. In fact, I often overheard him tell others that he had never seen a mother/daughter relationship like ours and how impressed he was with it. And that’s saying something because he came along when ‘I support you but not your choices’ was a weekly mantra in the house.

When I had Emma I was a shadow of the woman I am today.

I denied my needs to meet the needs of others. I worried what people thought of me. I cried often and for unknown reasons. I had an unsettled unhappiness within me. I had irrational fears. I worried all the time. I had a constant knot in my stomach. And worst of all I thought all of that was normal.

When I looked at her though something clicked in me. Something that said I needed to up my game. That living in worry, anxiety and fear were no way to actually live; and in fact, that life was not about surviving it, but blossoming in it.

So began my journey creating both the women we are today.

The way I see it now, being a mother is one rock I threw into a still pond. For that one rock (Emma) my energy ripples out through her and changes more lives – my husband, her roommate, her boyfriend. And hopefully they keep that going by sharing with others what we’ve shared with them.

But being a mother was not an altruistic task. I got out of it as much as I put into it. Being a mother changed who I became and made me a better person.

Truly the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

I love you.


Holiday Grief

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With marshmallows roasting and…”

Except when it isn’t.

Grief at the holidays is 1) normal, 2) inevitable the older you get and 3) more intense than any other time of the year. It is an unexpected, yet regular, extra guest at every dinner table.

From the time we are young, regardless of our socioeconomic status we are conditioned that the holidays are made for family. That there is ‘specialness’ in the air. That there is magic in the air. The expectation is that we gather from far and near to join family in a heartfelt exchange of gifts and celebration.

In reality, that may not be our story. It may be that our parents had to choose between the food on the table and buying presents. That our family was fragmented by conflict. Or that some tragedy befell the family.

Thanksgiving morning, 1971, my mother and my aunt went off to visit my grandmother in the hospital. On their way there, a drunk driver crossed the meridian and hit them head on. My beloved aunt was thrown threw the windshield, never regained consciousness and died three days later. My mother was held in the car by the steering wheel but hit her head on the windshield. She suffered a closed head injury and had permanent personality changes as a result.

For years and years Thanksgiving carried that shadow. My mother had survivor’s guilt on top of the brain injury. While we missed Aunt Agnes very much the whole year, that day was different each year.

A few years later their brother, a missionary Redemptorist priest, home from the Amazon, died in his sleep on New Year’s in our home.

My mother died 13 years ago this December 13.

My mother was Christmas for our family. She was that mom that shopped all year to find the perfect gifts, put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving and had decorations in every single room of the house – including the bathrooms.

That first Christmas without her we were still in shock because she died just 11 days before. No one felt like doing anything, much less celebrating. A year, later we all felt like it was the first Christmas without her because the actual first one seemed non-existent.

But it doesn’t matter when in the year someone dies, the holidays always bring your attention to their missing presence. The hole in your life where they used to be is highlighted at the holidays, because we are so focused on being together for the holidays that their absence is magnified. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been gone either; that grief will find you.

It might be while shopping and you come across that perfect gift they would’ve loved. Or a reminder of a special tradition the two of you shared. Or their place at the dinner table.

With each holiday that passes, their absence in your life seems more, not less. It seems to serve as a place card – before they died and after they died. While we may have new and wonderful people in our lives since our loved one transitioned, there is still that empty space where they used to sit.

The holidays highlight our losses because they highlight love – both the presence of it and the absence of it. If your family is not picture perfect, then you experience the grief over the loss of illusion every year. And after a death you have the grief over the loss of the possibilities of reconciliation. If your family is picture perfect (or as close to it as you can get) then you have the loss of the special energy that loved one brought with them.

Yes, we believe that love lives on. That our loved ones are around us everyday. That they never really leave us. But that doesn’t soothe the ache to feel their physical arms holding us once again. It doesn’t satisfy the need to hear their voice one more time. It does not stop us from missing their physical presence.

Be kind to yourself in your holiday grief. Do not put on bold false faces. Allow yourself time to mourn. Don’t judge yourself thinking you should be over it – no matter how many years have passed. Our lives are a collage of memories that do not die when a loved one does.

It is ok to remember and be sad. It is not ok to deny those feelings or hide them away. It is not ok to pretend to be happy when you are grieving. Find a way to tap into their energy, because it is all around you. They have never left, but their form has indeed changed.

  • Create a remembrance tradition to replace some of the traditions you once shared.
  • Light a special candle each year to symbolize the light they brought to this life on Earth.
  • Take a walk under the stars to symbolize your journey with them in life.

Find a way to channel your grief into honoring their memory. It is a gift you will give to both of you.

I love you. And they continue to love you. Blessed holidays to you all.



If there is something I feel overly qualified to speak on it is grief.  I have had more than my fair share of loss due to death, both traumatic and natural.  I lost my father suddenly of a brain aneurysm, my sister committed suicide, my mother died of chemotherapy poisoning and I had to turn off life support, my aunt died at the hands of a drunk driver (which left my mother with a brain injury), my uncle died in our home of an aortic aneurysm, my grandmother transitioned peacefully at the age of 89.  These are not all my losses due to death, just the most significant ones.

Grief is not limited to death of course, and I’ve had many of those experiences as well.  I’ve been fired. I’m divorced.  I’ve had significant friendships end abruptly and badly.  I have estranged family members.

I experienced all but my mother’s death by the time I was 25.  I then lost my mother when I was 40. My early exposure to death led me to become a hospice social worker.  I felt that Life had given me this experience so that I could help others in their journeys of dying, death and grief. I did that for 10 years, which is extremely unheard of because of the high burnout rate.  I walked with more people than I can count in those 10 years. I continued to walk with their grieving loved ones for a year after the death.

candlelight candles
Photo by Irina Anastasiu on

So I know grief intimately.

I don’t tell you this to toot my horn, elicit sympathy or diminish anyone else’s experience.  I tell you this because I don’t take this subject lightly.  There are few who have as much experience as I in this arena and if it’s put in front of me (the topic came up in another blog) then I feel it is the Universe’s way of telling me to speak to it.  At least that’s how I look at it.

It is a common misnomer that time heals all wounds.  Time has nothing to do with it. Attention is the one and only thing that affects grief and sets about the healing process.  That attention will vary not only mourner by mourner, but also loss by loss. You may be surprised by your varying expressions of grief for different losses. You cannot have the expectation that you will grieve each loss similarly. Grief is kept in a box in our hearts and every time we experience a loss we open that box and all the losses we keep in the box come flooding out. The grief gets all mixed up together.  It is very difficult if not impossible to grieve one loss and not all the others that came before it.  This happens in the very best of circumstances, in the healthiest coping.  We never “get over” a loss; we learn to live with it.  Complicated grief is what it’s called when we don’t learn to live with it.

A loss changes you forever, but you decide how it changes you.

That is what grief is about, the more significant the loss the more significant the change. It doesn’t matter what you lost.  Society seems to think that there are certain relationships that are more significant and more worthy of grief and sympathy than other losses.  The reality is that what that relationship meant to you makes the difference in grief.  While you may have one parent with whom you have an ideal relationship and one from whom you are estranged, you may find you grieve both equally hard in different ways.  While you will grieve the loss of the now and future presence of your ideal parent, it is the loss of the potential of a better future you will grieve regarding your estranged parent.  We all have expectations of the future in all relationships and they factor into grief more than anyone considers.  When we lose an estranged parent we lose the hope that one day that relationship will improve.  This is something that often takes people off guard.  In addition you may experience more profound grief over a family friend who was more like a mother to you than your own mother. Don’t let relationship labels dictate “how much grief” you should be experiencing.

Paying attention to your grief will ensure you get through it to the point that you live with the loss but without the active grief.  Ignore the grief and no matter how much time goes by you will not heal it one bit.  Using alcohol, activity or anything else to “keep busy”, “keep your mind off it”, or any other platitude will only stifle your grief at exactly the point you began to ignore it.  I’m NOT saying that it isn’t good to resume activity or engage in things that get you out of the house, re-engage you with your life, or give your mind a reprieve.  I am also NOT saying that you should sit home and wallow in the loss.  I AM saying that these phrases are misleading and as misinterpreted as “time heals all wounds”.

Paying attention to your grief means take care of yourself like you would after a major surgery.  Sleep when you are tired.  Eat healthy meals, even if they are just small ones. Make no major decisions.  Take on no new responsibilities.  Let others help you in whatever way they can.  Your grief will touch their grief and not everyone will be able to walk with you the way you want them too.  Feel free to say no if you are not ready or up for something.  Don’t let others pressure you into something you are not ready for…like getting rid of personal items, selling a home, going back to work and “getting over it”.

General guidelines to determine complicated grief:  3 months after the loss you should feel as though you have moved slightly in a better direction.  6 months you should recognize that you are in a significantly better place than you were the day of the loss.  After the first anniversary you should recognize that your grief is no longer intense.

If you don’t recognize these improvements by these benchmarks then you are in complicated grief and may need someone else’s assistance in moving through.

I’ve reprinted this article from another blog I had in 2015. It seemed a good time to share it here. 

As always…I love you.


Grief Lies In Empty Spaces

The empty space left by someone you love after they transition is the space that grief fills. The bigger the space, the bigger the amount of grief that will fill it.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on


Everyone you love takes up some sort of space in your life. Some more than others. Some may only have a space in your history and so the grief you experience might just be a moment held in silence and then you go on. Others, hold space in your present and (thus by default your future) so the grief will be proportionately larger.

While the moment of death is the last breath, the moment of grief is less precise. Grief begins before death, in cases of illness. Its called anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief lies in the empty space in the future. The future plans, conscious and subconscious, you had with this loved one, just vanish. The space where they were held, an empty void. Grief fills that void before the person has even taken his last breath.

At the moment of death grief expands to include not only the future, but the present. There will be no more ‘last’ moments. No more ‘one more time’. No more ‘ever again’. This grief is loud and overwhelming. Quickly there is preparation for the loved one’s last wishes ceremonies and cultural mourning practices. This person, though no longer sharing physical space, still occupies space in your life as several days are dedicated to the loss.

It is the day after the services end that always hits me the hardest. The first day with nothing to do for my loved one. The first day without a purpose that involves them. In cases of illness your life may have been filled with caregiving tasks and anticipatory grief for months…maybe even years, but at least days. Then the days of the ceremonies are filled with loved ones comforting you and sharing their own grief. There are preparations and decisions to be made. It is loud and overwhelming.

The day after is silent.

Ok, maybe not exactly the day after if there are out of town mourners, or left over duties. But there is one day, some one day, after the services are all done and family has left that the empty space looms large and the silence deafening.

It is here the grief really hits you. Because there is no channel now for your grief energy. No task to focus on that seems purposeful and directed. Now, there is just the empty space that once held your love and your love seems like it has no where to go now. There’s no direction to focus your grief, its just sort of all around you like a wind tunnel. Directionless, unfocused, disorienting, numbing, overwhelming and opaque.

Oh, yes, others will tell you that love never dies, he’s in a better place, she has returned to being pure love, etc…and while that may or may not be true in your eyes, it isn’t what anyone grieving that empty space needs to hear.

The fact is that grief is a book mark.

It marks the place where your loved one lived with you. Not in your home, but in your life. And every time you come across that empty space, grief touches you. Days go by and the grief is everywhere. Its even in the air you breathe. It seems as though it gets worse, not better. It gets worse because you are rediscovering all the corners of your life this person occupied.

Grief, like a lot of processes, is not linear.

Weeks go by and you might have half a day go by that you don’t touch that empty space. While it seems like forever, it also seems like yesterday and a kind of guilt at ‘going on’ tries to creep in. Don’t let it. This is your healing. You aren’t meant to live in the empty space. You are meant to live in spite of it. You are meant to honor your loved one by taking the love they gave you and creating a beautiful life including it. Its true, they do still love you and your love for them never dies. (I always twitch a little when people say “I loved him so much”. I’ve never stopped loving anyone when they died.) But the loss of their physical presence is real and in its place the bookmark of grief holds space for us to remember; to touch that love and that loss in ways that bring a new depth to our lives.

Like it or not, sometimes it takes losing a loved one to remember that life isn’t infinite here on the planet and gets us to up our appreciation for those in our lives. What better way to honor those who have passed on, than for us to love deeper, wider and more out loud!

Before you know it, months have passed and a new normal begins to bud. Every time you embark on something new, or you have something to celebrate there will be that grief that your loved one is not here to share it with you. A day or two will pass without that grief being forefront. You aren’t forgetting them. You are beginning to forget the pain of the loss, that’s all. While you will always miss them, you won’t always remember them with grief. Someday, down the road – maybe years, maybe a decade – you will be able to remember them without the pain. There will just be gratitude for the space they held in your life, when they held it.

The space in your heart they held? Well, that never decreases. Never. Ever. But the beautiful thing about the heart is that while it feels like it is breaking, it never really does. (I know, there is no more descriptive phrase for that feeling though.) Perhaps it is not breaking, but breaking open? Perhaps this pain is our heart opening up and showing us our full capacity to love another? Perhaps this also makes room in our lives for others to show up?

I know this is so very true in my life.

Some of the most amazing and loving people have come into my life because of a loss I suffered. And while at the time I might have said “I’d rather keep my old love with me, rather than gain a new.” Now, I could not make that choice. I received twice the love I otherwise would’ve experienced. Maybe more than that, even, because knowing how fragile life is I had far more appreciation for the new relationships and thus I love better and more out loud.

I think the Winnie The Pooh inspired quote says it best, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

My life is filled with amazing people that I love oh so very much and with each loss I suffer I make sure to love the remaining ones even harder. Yes, there are those who might say that only opens me up for more hurt. What it does is open me up for more experiences of loving and being loved. If grief is the price I pay for a life filled with love then for me its worth it!

I’ve survived worse…like not feeling loved or lovable.

I love you. Really big and really out loud.


The Healing Storm

The Midwest is kinda notorious for intense weather changes. Our Summers can get scorching hot and humid, while our Winters reach below zero.

This week alone was a perfect example. Wednesday it was 58 degrees. Thursday it started to snow. By Friday morning we had more than 9 inches on the ground.

This was no ordinary snowstorm either. It was soft and steady. It came down steady from about 11 am Thurs to sometime early morning on Friday. No blizzard conditions that I’m aware of, but relentless in its copiousness.

I went out several times and I could feel the magick in the storm. 

While others complained about the storm and being ready for Spring, I marveled at its beauty. The snow was four inches thick on the branches of bare trees. The weight of it broke limbs off some trees and felled large portions of others. The world was quiet as the snow fell. The sky and the snow were the same color, the only contrast was the shadow of houses and foliage. Rather like the world had no beginning and no ending.

I stood in awe of the storm, feeling part of something so majestic that words failed me. It was surreal in so many ways and it caused me to ponder the engineering of a Universe that could choreograph such a feat. To change my world in hours.

Even the silence was magickal as there were no sounds at all. No birds chirping. No dogs barking. No car motors running. Not even a snowmobile. Complete silence.

Driving through the area Friday morning, I saw my home in a new light. With everything covered and sparkling after the storm’s cleansing. With the air somehow clearer and more oxygenated. With the sky bluer and somehow bigger. It was a new world…my new world.

Storms’ chaos has a cleansing and thus a healing effect on all in its wake. Notice that? Right after a storm clears there is a charge to the air, a clarity, an energy and a feeling of possibility.

I’ve been going through my own storm lately. 

A storm of epic proportions, only I failed to see the beauty in it. I still really can’t. Unlike the snow storms in which the beauty to me is evident right away, personal storms take a bit longer for me to see. This time I couldn’t even look into the eye find comfort in knowing that when it passed I would have clarity.

There are four stages to a personal storm.

  • Heart break
  • Break down
  • Break through
  • Break open

Heart Break

The First Winds of the Storm

Some will mistakenly think that heart break is is the eye of the storm, but the heart break is the cause of the storm; like a warm front and a cold front crashing into each other…its just the beginning.

This is an event – usually some sort of loss – that turns our world upside down. It upends every plan we made, every dream we had, everything we envisioned going forward.

Break Down

The Eye of the Storm

We see nothing but loss and change as we have to begin reimagining our future…as our present moment becomes something we never imagined yesterday. Everywhere we turn we see reminders of what we had and what can no longer be. We are overcome by the loss and the need to let go of the dreams we created around the thing/person we lost.

It feels as though we cannot go on and so we sink into ourselves like a bear in a cave for Winter. We bleed all over the floor and don’t care about the mess. All we can see is loss.

Break Through

The Aftermath of the Storm

The bleeding stops and healing begins. A stillness comes as some relief from the deafening waling winds of grief. There is the opportunity to see what things of value still remain in the aftermath. Priorities begin to come into focus. You are alive and hold precious possessions still intact. You understand how deeply you love and how alive that makes you feel…even when sometimes being alive feels like you are breaking.

You understand that your life needs to go on and what changes you will need to make. You become excited by some of the possibilities of these changes. You begin to glean wisdom from the experience and understand the lessons you had to learn.

Breaking Open

The Aftereffects of the Storm

You begin to see why things had to happen exactly the way they did and trust that while you may never understand how, it all happened for your Highest Good. The parts of you that felt broken now feel mended and stronger than before. You are better for the healing of it. You are a different person than before; a cause for pride in making it through to the other side and blossoming…not in spite of the storm, but because of it.


Storms have a way of coming just in time to do necessary cleansing. It is never comfortable. It is never fun. It is often necessary and it is always in our Highest Good. But the pain…the pain can be unbearable.

That’s when you KNOW the breaking open is going to be epic, as well.


I’ll love you through the storm.



Jade’s work is different and we think you will find it effective and economic. It combines Jade’s knowledge and skills cultivated over three decades of psychiatry, human services, hospice, geriatrics, crystal healing, QiGong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch with her natural Spirit given gifts of intuition and being an empath.

Check out our Healing Rite of Passage Me-Treat & Workshops for 2018 

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My Friend Heather

Recently, one of my dearest friends made her transition from this Earthly life.


Just the thought of it is non-sensical to me, as she was one of liveliest people I know. No kidding. She was always on the go, moving, smiling and doing. So, the thought of that energy not being on the planet any longer is going to take some getting used to.

Heather. Gone. Its inconceivable.

To some, our friendship may be somewhat like a secret romance uncovered because it was kinda quiet like that. Heather came into my life at a time when I had lost a lot and she recognized those empty places and filled them right up.

That was her gift.

We first met at an In-Pact walkathon. She was there with all three of her babies. The twins were freshly born and Avery was about three I’d guess. Somehow Avery and I started coloring together and that freed Heather up to take care of the babies for a bit. As I watched Heather with Avery, Jorian and Kiernan I recognized myself in her mothering.

As the walkathon began, I made my way in that general direction when I heard “JUICY!! I WANT JUICY!” Then through the crowd Avery made an appearance and confidently took my hand to proceed in the walk. According to Heather, from then on I was known as “Juicy” at the Chopps home.

It wasn’t until I moved “under the stairs” and directly across the hall from her at In-Pact though, that our friendship really took off. Being sequestered in that short hallway created a natural bonding environment. I like (and played in the office) the same music her husband Keith likes, so that made it feel a little like home for Heather. I could smell when she was eating peanut butter right out of the jar, just like my beloved Chris. And of course, once we discovered our mutual love of Swedish Fish and Gummy Life Savers (berry of course) it was ON!!!

After the clubhouse opened we worked even more closely together as several of my foster clients participated there. I enjoyed seeing her interact with clients and family members as well. She so believed in the service she was providing that I knew my clients would be best served by her program.

Because of the close quarters, when I suffered the losses I mentioned above, there was no hiding that from Heather. She never ever-never-ever–ever-never pried. She just showed up. Like I said, she saw the empty places and filled them…by inviting my daughter and I to Christmas Eve, to all the girl’s birthday parties and by sharing her own similar stories of loss. She became a sister from another mister to me, and another mother to my daughter.

One of the things I remember about the very first time we went to their house, was meeting Keith and seeing how much he loved her. It was like watching two teenagers in love! It oozed out of him whenever he looked at her, and when she looked back, her eyes sparkled. I remember talking to Emma on the way home and saying “I want to find someone who loves me like that.” (I did, too!) In all the time I’ve known them, I’ve never heard them argue or speak disrespectfully to or about one another.

Heather had a superpower. She could sense what you needed to most hear about yourself and say it at just the right time. She didn’t blow smoke up your skirt and tell you something she didn’t believe, but she would say the very thing you needed to feel better about yourself. It didn’t matter how busy she was, how many things she had to do or what was on her mind she made time/room for you.

When I decided to resign and move across two states to marry my beloved, Heather was supportive and encouraging. She never thought I was crazy or unwise. She got it. Upon my leaving she treated me like royalty and really made me feel special on my exit. As a going away gift, she gave me a simple small plaque with a quote.

It still sits on my vanity and I look at it almost every day…

Even when I’m here

and you’re there…

you’re always right here

in my heart.

We stayed in touch by text and facebook. And when Avery was diagnosed with Scoliosis, I felt helpless in supporting them from so far away, but the Universe -always conspiring on our behalf- would direct the Chopps family to a Michigan clinic for alternative therapy. That clinic would just so happen to be a mere half hour from my doorstep.

We were all so excited when Heather and Avery made that first trip! OHHHHHH!! I got several uninterrupted days with them! What a joy that trip was!! Over the course of the next year and a half they would make several trips with the whole family. Each one more fun than the last! Our families grew closer than ever because of those visits.

We stayed in touch through texts and facebook as time after time our families both suffered difficult times. My love, and hers, extending over the miles, was never far away, for as she said, even when I’m here and they’re there, they are always right here in my heart.

And now, in two days time, I will attend my beloved friend’s memorial.

While as an advocate and instrument for energy healing I know that energy does not die, it transcends, I can’t help but feel grief over the loss of the physical robe Heather has dropped.

I mean, have you seen her smile? It seriously lit up the room!


I refuse to say good-bye. So instead, I will just say ‘Thank You’.

Thank you, Heather, for the memories of loving friendship turned sisterhood. For the gifts of pool parties, birthday parties, Christmas Eve and photoshoots. I thank you also for your unending support, encouragement, validation, clarity and unconditional acceptance. I thank you for sharing yourself and your entire family with me so limitlessly. I thank you for your counsel and your shoulder to cry on. I thank you for the love we shared. I love you, mostest.

I thank you for the filling of empty spaces.

…and even though I’m here and you’re there…you’re always right here in my heart.

All My Love,