Tag Archives: sadness


1 Dec

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that my DNA includes the Pollyanna gene. Over the years, I’ve been known to utter: “Don’t worry, it will all work out in the end,” or worse, “There’s a reason for everything!”  As always, I’ll blame my mother for my behavior, as she pushed her be kind, and think good thoughts agenda on me since I was young enough to complain about someone’s bad behavior. If I wanted to vent, she’d immediately put up her hand. “Now, Honey—maybe so-in-so is acting that way because they’re feeling bad about themselves. They probably just need a hug!”

Mom and Pollyanna, circa 1972

Inevitably, we turn into our mothers, and I’m no exception. I’ve always been the “nice” girl, and for most of my life, I’ve put up with horrendous—even abusive—behavior from others because I felt it was my responsibility to be kind and forgiving. I even learned to push my own positive agenda—always touting how important it was to look for the good in everything.

My daughter recently called me out on my Pollyannaishness. As a transgender woman, she’s faced immense personal change in the past year and a half, and dealt with great emotional pain—pain that I’ll never have to even imagine facing. When she tears up about something someone has said or done, my first reaction is to try to make it better.

“Mom,” she tells me, “You don’t always have to try to fix things. Just acknowledge my pain. Sometimes people are just assholes. And sometimes life just sucks.”

Yes, they are. And yes, it does. 2020 has taught me that.

Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to be positive—quite the contrary. I know for a fact that looking for the good helped me get through some very tough times in my life—especially my youngest daughter’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. And I know one thing for certain: when something terrible happens to you, the really good people show up and offer their help.

But it’s also important to recognize and acknowledge the bad stuff. This is difficult for me, because I come from a life of privilege, where I’ve always had what I need and more. And because of this, I’ve spent a great deal of time talking myself out of feeling sad, depressed or lost. And now that the pain and suffering of so many is all around me all the time, I’m having a difficult time pulling myself together. Not only do I feel guilty when I’m sad, I feel guilty when I’m happy.

Pollyanna has grudgingly admitted to me that 2020 has been a total shit storm, but as she perches on my shoulder she’s also whispering how lucky I am to be surrounded by the most amazing family and friends. Those who are thoughtful, generous, and kind, and who make me laugh even during these dark times.

Pollyanna is also insisting that things are finally turning around. She admits that we have a long way to go, but she believes that good people are waiting in the wings, ready to do what they can to help. And she also believes that good always wins in the end.

I’m gonna take her word for it.

Hey, Girl, Hey!

11 Dec

beach viewIn most areas of my life I don’t take good very care of myself. I don’t exercise enough; I eat too many sweets and not enough green vegetables; I don’t spend money on new clothes for myself because deep down I believe I don’t deserve nice things (that, coupled with the fact that I hate the way my body looks in a dressing room mirror.) I spend a lot of time primarily taking care of the people I love while neglecting my own needs or wants.

Then I go and do something HUGE for myself: I agree to spend a couple of days in a rented beach house with ten of my best girlfriends whom I’ve known since our days together in junior high school.  Somehow, against all odds, we’ve managed to remain close friends for almost forty years. Every so often we plan a getaway together without husbands or partners, without children or pets. Just us.

The beach house at Mussel Shoals was stunning—right on the water between Santa Barbara and Ventura with the most spectacular views of the ocean imaginable. Everyone brought a ton of food and we all pitched in together, cooking up gourmet meals and then cleaning up afterward. As the wine flowed and the coconut cake was passed around, we talked for hours and hours about our lives; our families, our joys and sorrows.

We laughed—actually, we hooted, we guffawed—we pretty much shrieked like uninhibited second graders running around on the playground during recess. We were vulgar and crass and stayed up until two a.m. talking trash, (Hey, Girl, Hey!) laughing so hard our stomachs hurt the next morning—or maybe it was just the red wine and chocolate.Hey girl hey

After a brunch which included juevos rancheros and mimosas, we took a long walk on the beach and with the cold December wind whipping at our faces we shared our stories with each other. Some of our tales were joyful, filled with newly found love or excitement over a new creative project in the works. Other stories were filled with sorrow and devastation. And then we cried. We cried because we were in a place where we felt safe to open up and reveal our pain to each other without judgment or criticism—a place where love, concern and support for each other decanted faster than the bottles of red wine on the kitchen counter.beach walk

After spending only two days with these women, I became funnier, prettier, and more talented than I was when I first arrived. These women, who’ve only become more beautiful as they age, allowed my capacity for love to expand like a hot air balloon—and not just the love I feel for them, but more importantly, the love I feel for myself. They brought out my best—that special part inside of me that sometimes gets lost in the messiness of life.

As I drove toward home, I felt lighter and more emotionally buoyant than I have in a very long time. I was full up again, satiated with the unconditional love and acceptance that these women offered up so freely to me. As I headed back to my ordinary life, I realized that what I had just experienced over the past two days was indeed extraordinary and I felt blessed.

Off to my left, as the Pacific Ocean unfurled like a sparkling blue comforter laid down just for me, my spirit soared with gratitude.sunset at mussel shoals

Because of Daisy

17 Feb


A bald-headed, freckled-faced girl named Daisy died in her sleep after being sick for a very long time. She was at home, surrounded by her loving family, and she felt no pain. But she died, and I must say that I’m so very weary of hearing of yet another family’s tragedy and loss. I’m sick and tired of children dying from cancer.

Not again, is all I can think. How can it be that another sweet, funny and adorable child has died? Why was there no miracle this time?

I’ve always believed that a positive attitude is beneficial to one’s well-being and that our life experiences are never random or fortuitous. I truly believe that what we experience here on this earth is revealed in order to teach us something essential that we’re meant to learn. I’ve discovered these fundamental lessons are usually about love.

When my own daughter, Isa was diagnosed with leukemia, an incalculable transformation took place in my life.  I saw first-hand the astounding and unquestionable shifts in consciousness that came to pass in our family, friends, and even our community during our struggle with Isa’s cancer. Love was always the main component.

I see these miraculous changes have also occurred in Daisy’s family and in the huge number of people who knew and loved her—even strangers who’ve only heard of her fierce battle through her blog http://prayfordaisy.tumblr.com  or on Facebook.

I know Daisy’s family carries the strong faith that she’s all right now and I believe this, too. But from what I’ve seen over the past five years since I first became a part of the pediatric cancer world, the pain and hurt is only just beginning for them. Every time I think about her mama and daddy not being able to hold their precious Daisy in their arms, my heart breaks a little more.

When I think about what Daisy’s family has faced and what they’ll continue to face in the coming days, months and years, an infinitesimal part of their burden becomes mine and it hurts deeply.

Yet, I am grateful.

I’m grateful because each time a child dies from cancer, I’m reminded that by some small shred of grace that was bestowed upon me and my family, my daughter is still here, and I’m blessed with the chance to watch her grow up.  I will never have enough words to express my extreme gratitude for this miracle. I only wish that Daisy’s parents had been able to experience this miracle, too.

Yes, Daisy suffered and ultimately died, and we all know that this is the worst thing that could ever happen to a family. Yet, because of Daisy, we are changed forever. Because of Daisy, we can appreciate the blessings we have in our lives. Because of Daisy, our love and compassion for others keeps growing and expanding and filling up the universe.  I believe that this understanding of love is one of the greatest lessons we could ever learn. This kind of love is the real miracle.

Bless her little heart,  Daisy taught us well.

The Heavy Wet Coat

3 Feb

I’m beginning to realize that I write about cancer a lot—probably way too much. This is something that I can’t really help though. Since my daughter Isa was diagnosed over four years ago, I’ve become increasingly surrounded by cancer. I read about cancer; I blog about cancer; I post on Facebook about cancer. I talk endlessly about cancer. Before Isa got leukemia I never knew that there was so much cancer around me! It’s like when you buy a new car, you keep seeing the very same make and model all over the place—everywhere you go, there’s that same car! That car must have always been there, driving around in front of me—why did I never see it before?

I now have a whole new set of friends from this “cancer” realm whom I’ve come to love dearly. Many of them are parents of children who have cancer right now or have had cancer, or they work with kids who have cancer. These are people who I admire most in the world because they are the strongest and most courageous people on this earth, even though they don’t realize this about themselves. And most of them are really funny, too—because when you face something so hideous, you have to learn to laugh a lot because it helps take away the pain for a little while.

Now, you may like to read what I write about this crappy disease, because 1) reading about other people’s pain and suffering is always interesting in itself, and 2) it may make you very much appreciate that you or your child does not have this crappy disease and therefore you may try to live your life in a manner that is conducive to allowing the joy in and letting the fear out. I hope your reason for reading is the latter, but both reasons are legitimate and acceptable.

My mother asked me the other day why I write about so many sad topics in my blogs. Sadness has always made her uncomfortable. I told her that I felt it was important to feel sad sometimes—it’s healing for the soul. Crying often and noisily is something I highly recommend to everyone. I do it almost every day. I did the opposite for most of my life and after stuffing my pain down deep inside for so long, I’ve finally realized that it doesn’t work too well. The pain will eventually find a way to work itself out, often in unhealthy ways.

My mother did not jump on board with this idea of embracing pain as she’s not a big believer in unhappiness—she spent much of my childhood trying to convince me that everything was wonderful all the time. And sometimes it was wonderful, but often it was not. But God bless her, she has a hard time dealing with painful feelings, and she has a good reason.

When she was only ten years old, she had a fight with her little brother Johnnie. It was nothing out of the ordinary, just a silly fight between two siblings. But immediately after the fight, Johnnie ran out into the street and was hit by a truck. He was killed instantly. To this day, I don’t think she’s dealt with that pain. And who can blame her? How does a little ten year-old girl get over the fact that her younger brother died so suddenly?  In her child’s mind, she probably thought it was her fault. Weeks after his funeral, which my grandparents made the mistake of not letting her attend for fear it would be too upsetting, my mother asked them for a Dalmatian dog. Her argument was that she no longer had a little brother, so she should have a dog. It worked—she got her Dalmatian. And now guess what she does over sixty years later? She breeds Dalmatians. We do what we have to do to work through our pain, even if it takes a lifetime.

Pain is something that we all wear like sodden wool coats after a rainstorm. We hunker down under that heavy material and think that we’re protecting ourselves, but in reality, the coat just gets wetter and heavier and eventually starts to smell bad like a dank, wet dog (sorry dog lovers—I don’t mean to offend—I just hate the smell of wet dog.)

Every single one of us carries painful baggage around from our life experiences. Because we’re afraid to show others that we’re scared and vulnerable and that we need help, we walk around pretending that we’re not immobilized by that heavy, stinky coat. This is where childhood cancer can sometimes work its magic.

Please understand that I would never try to climb into the heads of every parent whose child has cancer and presume that I know what they’re thinking and feeling. But I know what has gone on in my head, as well as talked to many parents who’ve been through it, and I’ve come up with the conclusion that you just can’t wear a heavy, stinky coat when your child gets cancer.

You have to take it off because your primary focus now becomes the life of your child. And in order to take care of a very sick child who might possibly die, you have to allow others to help you. So you have to show your true self—that real person that’s been inside of you all along but was just burdened by that heavy, wet coat of fear. Even if you’ve never asked anyone for help in your entire life, you have to do it now. Because nothing else matters except that your child is okay.

The most astonishing thing is that people want to help you. They will do just about anything to make you feel better—they will cook food for you, they will give you money, they will give wonderful presents to your child. They will hold fundraisers so that you can stay with your child and still be able to pay your bills. They will love you unconditionally. And I’m not just talking about people you know! Even perfect strangers will reach out to you. Through their actions, they will demonstrate that deep connectivity that we all share with each other as we travel together through this crazy journey of life.  They will rise up and prove to you just how good human beings can be. This is the magic of cancer.

The remarkable thing is that it doesn’t take a child getting sick for you to remove your stinky wet coat. You can take it off anytime you wish. When cancer (or any tragedy, for that matter) affects someone you know and love, it dawns on you that every single moment of our lives is a treasure. There will be times when see the dark clouds on the horizon and you will want to put your coat back on. Don’t do it! That wet, heavy coat was only stopping you from moving around freely.  By taking it off and leaving it off, the love and forgiveness and gratitude that you experience will allow you to stand unencumbered in the sunshine and be warm for the first time in your life.