One year ago, today I sat by my friend’s bedside at the hospice house as she actively started to transition to the other side.

Months prior she had asked me to be with her at the end and I promised I would be. At that time, I think she was afraid of transitioning, but we had many talks as her cancer progressed and she became more peaceful about it.

I arrived in the morning to meet her daughter who cautioned me that there had been a big change in her over the past 24 hours and that she had not woken up. Not only did I want to be there for my friend but also for her daughter who was witnessing her mother’s rapid decline.

Hospice is an amazing service, and the staff are angels on earth. The peace and comfort they provide to the entire family is indescribable and I would encourage anyone who is nearing death to consider bringing hospice in.

When her daughter left, I settled in and the quiet of the room was deafening. This was it. My vibrant friend’s spirit was leaving her body and I knew that for a little while longer I needed to keep it together to support her. She was sleeping and looked so peaceful. And so, I did what we had always done for so many years, sipped my coffee and started talking to her about life, family, Spirit as well as the little everyday moments. This time it was a one-sided conversation, but I held her hand and I know she heard me.

As the day progressed and the hospice nurse explained the dying process my friend was going through, I started having the conversations I knew would be our last. My son Connor died from SIDS in 1997. He would be the same age her son is now. We had made a pact that she would look after Connor in heaven, and I would look after her kids here. I promised her that I would watch after them and her husband. I told her that I knew she was tired and wanted to go and that it was OK. She had already told me what her sign to me would be to let me know she was around me and I told her I would keep my eyes open as well as my heart for when she was nearby.

For anyone who hasn’t sat with someone in their final hours it’s hard to describe but there’s a spiritual power that comes over the space. As the CEO of a non-profit that supports bereaved parents and as a bereaved mom myself, I’m more accustomed to dealing with death than many people.  My time for breaking down would come but right now I wanted to be present for my friend. I needed to keep it together a little while longer.

When her husband arrived that evening, I ordered dinner and a bottle of wine for us. We ate and talked about his day. We talked about what we should do for Thanksgiving (for years we always had Thanksgiving together at my home.)  He shared with me when my friend and he first met, when they first got married and had kids. And he talked about the plans they had made for the future.

And now it was his time to be with his wife alone.

I kissed her head and told her I would be back tomorrow but deep down I knew these were the last words she would hear me say. I told her I loved her. I thanked her for our friendship and how she had made me a better person. I asked her to watch over Connor and that I would see her again.

Twenty-three years ago, my first-born child, Connor, died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  He was born in April and I’ll always remember how incredibly significant that first Mother’s Day was for me.  Little did I know at the time that the next Mother’s Day I would be hiding in my house with a torrent of emotions overwhelming me.  Connor died August of that same year at 3 mos. and 24 days old.

Needless to say, the most powerful emotion was raw, agonizing grief.  It’s impossible to describe the physical pain you feel when your baby has died.  And on Mother’s Day, when other moms are celebrating, you realize how incredibly alone you really are.  You can’t talk to your other mom friends because both you and they feel so awkward, unsure of what to say.  As a friend how do you celebrate the day while someone else has lost her reason for being?  And as the person who is grieving, how do you rise above your sadness to smile and wish your friend a happy Mother’s Day?  No, for everyone involved, it’s much easier to hide in your home and wait for the day to be over.

And then, to be honest, there’s the anger and resentment.  Why would God allow this to happen to you?! I’ll admit to many times thinking of abusive and negligent parents whose babies were still alive. Yet for me, who did everything right, my baby is dead.  It takes many years for this anger to abate. One day I finally realized that no one is immune to tragedy and that everyone has their own story.  The answer to the question “Why me?” is “Why not me?” Who am I to never experience sorrow or tragedy?

I went on to have three more amazing children who now are 22, 18 ad 15 year’s old.  Each of them in their own way has helped me heal. The pain has softened but there will always be a sense of sadness and longing for what might have been.  I channeled my grief into activism and am now the CEO of First Candle, the non-profit that provides bereavement support to families who have lost a baby to Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Stillbirth.  When I speak with a young mom who has recently lost her baby I’m transported right back to that moment when my own precious baby died.  It’s hard to believe it’s 23 years ago.  In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago.  In truth I am a different person, wiser and at peace.  What I can offer young moms is hope. When they see me, they see that indeed you can survive the heartbreaking grief.

When my second son Spencer was born I started celebrating Mother’s Day again.  I love looking at the picture every year as my family grew and my children have become young adults.  And somewhere in those pictures I always see their little guardian angel, their brother Connor. It could be a butterfly, a sun beam or an orb over one of their shoulders, but I always know he’s there, my first born who made me a mom that first Mother’s Day.

If you want support overcoming obstacles and living your best life join my Facebook Group Midlife Mavericks: Fabulous, Fierce, Females! .

 

 

For those of you who follow my blog you know that my 22-year-old son Spencer is Intellectually Disabled and my husband Greg has Primary Progressive MS and is confined to a power chair. For those of you who aren’t familiar with my story, Greg is my second husband and was only diagnosed 4 weeks after our wedding. He went from walking at our wedding to being immobile within 3 years. I can’t count how many times in my life I’ve heard the words “I could never deal with everything you do.”

Caring for two people with disabilities isn’t always easy but loving them is.

First I’ll share the hard parts. There are so many everyday things that you take for granted when you are able-bodied – dancing at weddings, going on a hike in the woods, visiting friends whose homes aren’t wheelchair accessible, spontaneously planning a weekend getaway. These are all things we can’t do together, and it definitely makes me sad. And yes, sometimes I get cranky when I have to do the majority of the work around the house and work full time.

As a mom it hurt as I watched other kids Spencer’s age get their driver’s license, graduate high school then college and fall in love for the first time.

But the one thing that truly terrifies me is what happens after I die to Spencer and Greg if I were to die before him? The profound weight I feel being completely responsible for two people I love is at times overwhelming.

It’s difficult for people who have able-bodied, neuro-typical loved ones to fully comprehend how hard it can be. I get that. Prior to my life as a caregiver I didn’t either.

Does this sound tough?

I won’t lie – it is. But here’s the amazing side of my life with Greg and Spencer.

Greg is my hero. He has not allowed his disability to define him. Prior to his diagnosis he was a pro-golfer. Today he is on the board of the Stand Up and Play Foundation, an organization that donates specially designed golf carts to courses around the country. The Paramobile allows people with disabilities and spinal cord injuries to play golf and other sporting activities. Greg now teaches the game he loves to stroke victims, military vets and others with intellectual and physical disabilities. He also keeps himself in shape by daily chair yoga sessions and working out on the Myocycle, a device that uses functional electrical stimulation (FES) to help people with muscle weakness or paralysis to exercise by pedaling a stationary bike.

Even more than his commitment to be his best self and desire to help others is his unwavering determination not to be a burden to me. It is a rare day when Greg complains about his disability, even though he has every right to.

I sometimes forget how incredibly hard it is for him to manage seemingly easy tasks such as maneuvering his power chair to get a dish from the cabinet or put something in the microwave. I know it upsets him that I have to do many of the tasks around the house that he would prefer to do – mowing the lawn, snow blowing, leaf blowing, even changing light bulbs in ceiling fixtures. I love that he wants to do these things as I also know there are many able-bodied husbands who don’t help around the house even when they can.

One of the greatest challenges for him is getting into bed and I have to help swing his legs up. Until COVID I used to travel a great deal for business and if one of the kids wasn’t around to help him get into bed he’d sleep in his chair. Last month, after my friend passed away from a long battle with cancer I knew that I needed to go away by myself and regroup. Despite this being difficult for Greg, he encouraged me to go, never once complaining.

I know Greg doesn’t believe me, but I don’t see the disability I simply see the man. The guy who always buys me the perfect gift. The man who I enjoy spending time with no matter what we’re doing. The goofy stepfather who makes my kids laugh and has been known as Steppy since the day we got married.

As for Spencer he is hands down the kindest and happiest guy you’ll ever meet. While he can’t drive he takes several walks a day, sometimes to Subway or Dunkin Donuts and other times just around the neighborhood. Everyone knows him and he knows them. He’ll stop and have conversations and tell them what’s going on in his life. My heart melted the day he told me that when he gets a girlfriend he knows that the most important thing is to “respect her and treat her with kindness.” While he might have trouble reading a book he can read a person’s emotions perfectly and when he senses someone is upset he’s the first person to offer comfort. Yup, that’s my son.

My daughters and step-kids love Greg and Spencer unconditionally. They too see beyond the disabilities to the men they are. And in my heart I know that, should anything happen to me, they will be there caring for both of them.

When Greg proposed to me we had no idea this would be our future. When Spencer was born I had no idea I would be caring for him the rest of my life. None of it matters because I love these two men just as they are.

Yesterday my son Spencer who has Intellectual Disabilities was outside most of the morning helping me shovel.  He always volunteers to help without hesitation and I’m incredibly grateful.  When I thank him he says, “Mom, being helpful is my super-power.”  Spencer’s really into superheroes.  We started talking about super-powers but also what our Kryptonite was. For Spencer his Kryptonite is the heat – he hates when it’s really hot outside.

It got me to thinking about what my Kryptonite is.  I’m honestly not sure what it is right now but I know what it used to be – being afraid to take risks.  This initially played out when I was a kid by not pushing myself athletically.  I skied for years but would never try a black diamond.  I was a good swimmer but only reluctantly would jump off a diving board. When I was applying to colleges I didn’t select any schools that might be a reach. I didn’t want to stretch academically.

The irony of this is that I would do things that most people would consider risks but felt natural to me.  I moved out to Los Angeles after college without a job and only knowing one person.  I left a steady, full time job to start my own public relations company at 24 years-old and then proceeded to sell it to a large multi-national company five years later.

In my adulthood this aversion to risk manifested in not speaking up in my marriage and accepting behavior that I shouldn’t have.  When my ultimate divorce led to major financial problems I was afraid to put myself out there and admit it to friends. I missed out on emotional support I could have desperately used. In the next business I started I would take on clients that I knew I shouldn’t but I was chasing money rather than checking in with my soul. I was afraid that this client would be the last and I would be out of business. And of course, ultimately, the client would end up not paying or taking more time than we had agreed to.

In my 40’s I realized that I needed to break the spell of my Kryptonite if I wanted to succeed and be happy. I did what I now do with my clients – a writing exercise called “If Then, So What?”  Meaning I played out my concerns and what it would lead to.

For example, I wrote down – “If I don’t take that client what would happen?” Once I answered that question I took that answer and applied the same question – “If then, so what?” I then kept unravelling the statement until I got it as far down as I could at which point I realized that the world would not end.  I would not face financial ruin by choosing not to take a client.

I now play it big and take risks.  I’ve focused on expanding my business on my terms with clients I like working with.  I talk to people about my weaknesses and ask for help when I need it.  I put myself out there.

What is your Kryptonite? What’s holding you back from achieving your goals? You can use my prompt “If then, so what?” to get to the basis of your fears.  You can also download my free E-Book – Five Steps to Overcome Fear and Achieve Your Goal.

If you’d like to be among a group of women who are committed to living fearlessly and supporting each other join my group https://www.facebook.com/groups/MyMidlifeTribe

 

Social media has provided all of us a platform to over share. Selfies abound, bad behavior is celebrated, and the world knows the most intimate details of our lives. But while we’re willing to broadcast our lives on Facebook and Instagram when it comes to having a personal interaction we often hide our insecurities for fear of being judged.

For quite some time I was guilty of this myself. Many of my readers know my “back story” – my fist son died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, my second son has severe intellectual disabilities, I went through a painful divorce which destroyed me financially and I cared for my dad who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until he passed away in January. Last, but certainly not least, I met a wonderful man, got re-married and, three weeks after our wedding, he was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. I freely share on my blog the stories of my trials and triumphs. I’m an open book online because I feel that if I can help one person feel less alone I’ve done something worthwhile. As a life coach for midlife women and motivational speaker, I connect with hundreds of women and relate how I’ve overcome these challenges.

But for a long time, I wasn’t really happy. I kept up a good front for the people closest to me and never shared how I was truly feeling – overwhelmed, stressed and scared. Finally, one day a new friend who was getting glimpses into my world reached out to me and asked two simple questions – “Tell me what’s going on” and “How can I help?” For some reason I threw caution to the wind and shared everything with her – and I do mean everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. I figured it would send her running for the hills. I waited for a reply, secretly afraid that I had shared too much. Sure, there are a few close friends who know everything, but they had been in my life for years and lived through it. Sharing all of this with a new friend was unchartered territory. I was afraid that it would alter our new friendship and that she would think differently of me.

Her response came the next morning. “My heart is breaking for you. I can imagine how hard it was to write that e-mail. How can I help?” And with those few sentences I was writing a response and crying my eyes out. I confessed that while I could talk to literally thousands of people about my story, sharing with one person was close to impossible.

After that conversation I began talking to more people one-on-one. I shared my story and they shared their stories. For some, it took me to “break the ice” and admit to the challenges in my life before they felt safe opening up. But, once we started having honest talks, we were able to support each other when one of us was having a bad day. Our friendships grew richer and we’ve all grown personally and professionally

Most women don’t want to share what’s really going on in their lives. They’re afraid to admit to their friends that they’re drowning in debt. They feel trapped in abusive marriages because they’re afraid of the unknown and don’t know how they’ll support themselves. They don’t admit to the struggles they face parenting a child with a disability. We’ve been taught to hide our fears and vulnerabilities because they’re weaknesses that can be used against us.

The reality is everyone is going through rough times of some sort. Once we admit that we’re struggling, keep our ego in check and have honest conversations with friends, we allow supportive relationships to develop that can lead to true happiness. So instead of hitting the “Share” button, share with a friend in real life.

Looking for a place where strong and happy midlife women hang out to high-five each other?  Join my Facebook Group My Midlife Tribe: Fabulous Fierce Females!

How often do you wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night) with that little voice inside your head screaming at you about your fears, failures and shortcomings?

The loop can be endless:

  • “If only you had kept your mouth shut you wouldn’t have lost that friendship.”
  • “Your kids are never going to get into a good college because you haven’t kept your eye on their grades.”
  • “Your mom’s lonely and you should be spending more time with her.”
  • “You might have had a good day today but you know that won’t last, it never does.”

You’ve been listening to these thoughts in your head for so long you take them as fact.

I’m here to tell you they’re not!

The inner dialogue you’ve been replaying in your mind for years is false and is what’s preventing you from being happy and successful.

But first what you need to understand is that the beliefs you’ve collected aren’t always negative. Even positive ones can have the unintended consequence of limiting your success and happiness.

Think about it for a minute.  If you were always told by your parents that you should be grateful for all you have, you’d probably think that’s a good thing.  On the surface it might be, but it could also prevent you from trying for a promotion at work or recognizing that your relationship is dysfunctional.

I get it because it was exactly what happened to me nine years ago. Prior to that I had been making a six-figure income but was miserable in my marriage.  I focused on work as a way not to think about how toxic my relationship had become.  It seemed as if I was surrounded by happily married couples and the message that I was hearing in my head was that I should “stick it out” for my kids.  I also convinced myself that you couldn’t have a successful career and marriage – that one had to give.  That was the message I heard from several successful working moms.  These were two beliefs that I had convinced myself were facts based on my friends’ and colleagues’ experiences.

My marriage got so bad that I finally started questioning the belief in my head that staying was the right thing for my kids and me. I realized that while my mom and dad had a great relationship that didn’t mean I was destined to and, as for my friends, well they weren’t living my reality so why should I try to live my life based on theirs? When I finally stopped playing those messages in my head it’s like a lightbulb turned on and it became abundantly clear what I needed to do.

Freeing myself from that limiting belief allowed me to make the decision to end my marriage which was ultimately the right choice for me and my kids.  It also opened the door to me finding the amazing man I’m married to today. This in turn allowed me to see that I can indeed have a healthy marriage and a successful business.

What are your limiting beliefs?

Come join a group of powerful women My Midlife Tribe: Faboulous, Fierce Females!

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Women are incredible at taking care of everyone’s needs.  Sick kid, needy friend, busy spouse and aging parents – we’re there to heal, listen and support.  But in the midst of caring for everyone, our own needs go unmet.

Sometimes we’re aware of our feelings of sadness and frustration that our desires are unfulfilled but often we’re simply so busy getting everything done that we don’t even tune in to what our spirit is trying to tell us – that something is missing.  I’ve had some women tell me that they choose to stay so busy because they’re afraid to examine their lives and face the emptiness they’re feeling.

At some point we finally come up for air, look around and realize that our lives are nothing like we had imagined them to be.  It’s as if the curtain is pulled back and we think “how the hell did I get here?!”

Do you feel that something is missing but you’re afraid to even consider what it might be?

The good news is that we don’t have to forego our happiness and personal dreams for anyone – not even our kids.  I can’t think of a more important lesson to teach our kids than living life to its fullest and following their passion.

This isn’t living selfishly but living self-fulfilled

In my coaching practice I work with women to get back on track to living the life they intended – confidently, courageously and joyfully.

Here are the first steps in getting there:

Turn on your personal GPS – The Universe always provides us with answers but often we either ignore them out of fear or don’t hear them because of all of the “chatter” in our brain.  Women’s intuition is a very real and powerful force.  It’s our personal GPS and will most certainly get us to where we want to go.  In order to do this we need to tune inwards and the best way to do that is…..

Meditate (Yes, you can!) – It’s almost impossible for us to disconnect and simply sit in silence.  In fact, it probably feels uncomfortable.  We constantly have our “to-do” list running through our heads.

If you regularly practice meditation that’s great but I have many women tell me they’ve tried meditating but can’t.  I tell them it’s because they’re trying rather than simply being.  Try this exercise:

  • Find 10 minutes where you’re alone in your house or, if you can’t do that go park somewhere and sit in your car.
  • Close your eyes and breathe in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four and breathe out for a count of four.
  • Keep repeating this breathing and as you do focus on your breath as the air enters your lungs and leaves your nose.
  • If thoughts enter your mind don’t fight them but acknowledge them and then allow them to drift away like a cloud in the sky.

Start planning – You didn’t get to this place in your life overnight and you’re certainly not going to reinvent yourself overnight either.  This is where I work with my clients on the “3 F’s” – Focus, Filter and Forget.

Focus – Create vision boards with photos and written journal entries of exactly what you want in your life – a new job, a new home, a new partner – with as many specifics as possible.  Write out your perfect day from the moment you get up in the morning.  What do you smell? Where are you – near a beach, a city, the country? What is the temperature outside?  What do you eat?  Where do you work – a large corporation, in a home office, in a small shop? How are you dressed?

Filter – Begin filtering out friends and family members who are not supportive of your dreams or just emanate negative energy.  Don’t engage in conversations about your plans with them as they will surely find ways to discourage you.  Usually these people are unhappy themselves and, as they say, misery loves company.  Instead, surround yourself with people who will encourage you on your journey.

Forget – Let go of bad habits that will keep you from reaching your goals.  This could include unhealthy eating habits, drinking too much or smoking.  It also could be the habit of volunteering for projects that you really don’t want to participate in.  If your partner enjoys going to sporting events and that’s simply not your thing politely decline.  If friends constantly go out to expensive restaurants and you really can’t afford it take a pass and suggest some free activities instead.  The goal is to start living more authentically.

Are you living the life you intended to?  What changes would you like to see for yourself? To learn more about how I can help you, visit my coaching page here.

And if you want to be part of a group of women who are ready to live life on their terms joyfully and successfully, join my Facebook Group My Midlife Tribe – Fabulous, Fierce Females!