Wayne Dyer: The Power of Peace, Love, Happiness, and Belief

There are a great many self-help gurus out there. Some are famous and some are people we encounter in our personal lives who compel us in some way. For me, Wayne Dyer has always been at the top of my list. His gentle manner and his calm way of delivering information about how to be happier has always just made me feel better.

I can remember the first day I saw him more than 20 years ago. A friend of mine was featured on the Oprah show, having written a book about happiness. Also on the show was Wayne Dyer. While I loved seeing my friend on the show and found him very engaging, I couldn’t help but be drawn to Wayne Dyer. He appeared to have an inner calm that was genuine and infectious. He spoke about happiness as something we can all achieve if we can quiet ourselves enough to let in that which lifts us up while not focusing on that which drags us down. He encouraged people to see that their happiness depends on the kindness and love they show to others. He said working on being a good soul was the key to enjoying life and finding peace. (My words, he was way more articulate.) While we were doing the work of being happier, he said, we also had to allow for a modicum of faith. For example, I worry a great deal about my children (despite the fact they are adults now). Dyer said something which has stuck with me for years. When my mind runs wild with worry I repeat it to myself. “Everything in the universe has a purpose. Indeed, the invisible intelligence that flows through everything in a purposeful fashion is also flowing through you.”
He said parents must believe the center of the universe runs through their children too. Parents who have faith that each child has that universe within can stop worrying so much about their kids because children who are raised with parental love and faith will make good choices. They will be kind people with good souls and nothing is more important than that. I strive for that and overall, it has proven true with my children. I worry about them but in time they tend to work things out in beautiful ways. And my worry  fixes nothing anyway. Faith. Having faith in the power of love was Dyer’s mantra throughout his life which, sadly, ended yesterday.   He was 75.

I read a story about Dyer that also stuck with me through the years. Richard Carlson was the author of the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” books. (On another day I’ll write a post about him as well as another person who inspired me with his true nature.) Carlson had written a popular book about happiness and at some point one of his books was about to be published in another country/language. His publisher told him to get an endorsement quote from Dyer, as he had on a previous book. But Carlson failed to get the endorsement and told the publisher he was unable to get it and the book would have to be printed without it. The publisher, without anyone’s permission, published the book with the Dyer endorsement from Carlson’s earlier book on the cover. Carlson was furious and embarrassed and reached out to Dyer to apologize and assure him he’d stop further publication of the book. Weeks later Carlson got a letter from Dyer. It said, “Richard, there are two rules for living in harmony. 1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 2. It’s all small stuff. Let the quote stand. Love, Wayne.”

Carlson was blown away by the “small stuff” concept and asked Dyer if he could develop it further. Dyer gave his permission and blessing. Carlson wrote a series of very popular “Small Stuff” books as a result. Millions of people found the series inspiring and helpful. I love that story. Two lovely men, both of whom found ways to live a life of love and fulfillment in helping others. Alas, Carlson died young but oh what a life of accomplishment and love, much like Dyer’s. We should all aspire to being more like these men: kind, caring, giving and talented enough to help others with our gifts.

There is another quote of Dyer’s that speaks to me. “Don’t die with the music within you.” He most certainly didn’t. His family says he didn’t fear death. He taught we should all think of ourselves as souls with bodies, not bodies with souls. And, beautiful thoughts build beautiful souls, he said.

His certainly did. I encourage you to read some Dyer books or at the very least, take five minutes today and research some of his quotes. I promise you five minutes of being uplifted, feeling a little bit more peaceful, and seeing your day brighten.


I leave you with this last Dyer quote: When you dance,
your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor…
it’s to enjoy every step of the way.

Dance today… and tomorrow.. and every day you can…

The Day A Father Dies: A Love Story

I have been encouraging people to share stories about losing their parents because those are among the hardest days to live through and yet they come to almost everyone. I recently shared the story of my mother’s death and now it’s my dad’s turn.

One Friday night my family went to my father’s house for our weekly dinner. As Dad walked up the steps into his kitchen, carrying the plate of barbecued chicken he had just prepared outside in the backyard, I heard a deep wheezing in his chest. “Dad,” I said, “you don’t sound good. Do you feel okay? Do you have a cold?”

“Nah,” he answered,”I mowed the lawn today and must’ve breathed in some grass.”

“Did you stop mowing and sit down when you started feeling bad?” I asked.

“No, I had to finish mowing.”

Seven weeks later, he was dead from the massive cancerous lung tumors.

Since I insisted he see a doctor after I heard that wheezing, he went the next day and they told him he had a collapsed lung from stage 4 lung cancer. (Yes, you read that right, collapsed lung and yes, he finished mowing the lawn and then barbecued dinner!) I was grateful for the gift of knowing in advance that he was going to die so we were able to spend that 7 weeks together, as a family, helping him enjoy his last days on Earth. They were simultaneously the saddest and most loving days of my life in many ways. I wrote an entire chapter about it in my book, how he moved in with us and we all faced death together.

His last 24 hours or so were a poignant story in themselves. Friday night we watched the movie, “Avalon,” which takes place and was filmed in Baltimore, my dad’s childhood home. He enjoyed pointing out real places he recognized. The next day my aunt, his sister, came to visit. They talked about the movie. And when I say “talked,” what I mean is my aunt asked how was the movie and my dad said, “Okay.” That is what is considered a conversation in my father’s family. People of few words. After my aunt’s visit, Dad was tired and got into bed. While he wasn’t exactly sleeping, he wasn’t fully awake. I sat by the side of the bed, keeping him company. My husband and my three daughters (6, 8 and 10 at the time) came into the room from time to time. I held his hand. He said “I’m worried.”

That was shocking as my father had never expressed worry before. Hearing that was almost more upsetting than knowing he was dying.

“What are you worried about, Dad?” I asked.

“I’m worried about moving to Philadelphia.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” I assured him. “Everything works out great for all of us.” I knew this because that move had taken place 40 years ago and everything is still just fine. I found it fascinating, but not surprising, that in the fleeting moments of life the biggest events pass through your mind. It was a big deal when the factory my dad worked in moved to another state and he had to uproot our family to keep his job. While I never heard him voice that worry or any other (remember, he was a man of very few words), I guess it weighed heavily on him.  Taking good care of his family was his reason for living and he did it masterfully. As he was dying his family was still his #1 priority. What a guy.

Next he said, “It’s a big job.” Didn’t say what he meant. I could only guess. Was it dying? Yes, that is a big job.

At one point, he sat up and appearing to be fully awake he called out, “Why can’t they teach others what they know?”

“Who, Dad?”

But I don’t know to whom or about whom he was speaking because those were also his last words. Soon after that I left the room to make coffee. I was out of the room for only five minutes or less when my 8-year-old daughter came into the kitchen and said, “Grandpop is very quiet.” Yes, he was, and also very peaceful, something he had not been during the previous 7 weeks of struggling to breathe. My husband and I knew what this serenity meant. We walked back into the room to kiss him goodbye and bid him farewell.

My dad was not known for being profound. He never asked “Why” about anything.  That question, “Why can’t they teach others what they know?”  was not something my father would ever have asked. He took life as it presented itself to him every day. He didn’t look into the deeper meaning of anything. He could’ve coined the phrase, “It is what it is.” Why this deep, probing question in his last moments? My theory is that he was speaking to someone only he could see with some knowledge that came to him just before death. I like to think he was conversing with friends or loved ones who had died before him who just told him about great things ahead for the dead and he wanted to know why they couldn’t just tell that to everyone.  Am I right, wrong, crazy? Maybe. We’ll never know, will we?

The day your parent dies is one of the hardest days you’ll survive. But it can be beautiful. Sad doesn’t have to mean lacking in beauty. That’s what I learned on the day my father died. I feel differently about death since that day. I believe my father saw something on the mysterious path ahead that appeared beautiful. Like he had done my whole life, he tried as best he could to teach me to ease my way and to leave me a guidepost.


Have you learned anything from experiencing the death of a loved one?

The Day A Parent Dies

About a million years ago when I was taking Lamaze classes in anticipation of giving birth to my first child, the teacher said, “Be prepared to tell your labor story…. over and over and over. You won’t be able to stop yourself.” I wondered aloud why anyone (let alone everyone as she indicated) would feel the need to do that. She explained that giving birth is among the biggest transitions of your life and as such it will have a profound effect on you. As a result, you will be compelled emotionally to process it, even if the compulsion is somewhat subconscious. The way humans process, she said is by word and often by spoken word, almost as if our minds need to hear us speak the thoughts in order to fully understand them. I doubted she was right about all that but weeks later and even years later I found myself telling people about my 33-hour labor and how my OB/Gyn went to the cafeteria and bought dinner for my husband.

So, if big transitions require the telling and retelling of the story, I think the death of a parent certainly fits that bill. Yet, we don’t. While some may revel in revealing the details of the day a child was born, we don’t love talking about the other end of life. But I hope that will change. I think talking about when parents die is one of the best ways to cope with that huge transition. Nothing is ever the same after a parent dies. Your life is irrevocably altered. It’s worth pondering. So I invite you to tell your story, if you have one. If you’ve suffered the loss of a parent, please feel free to share here. My goal is to help others cope with what we’re all told is a natural part of life — seeing a parent die — and yet I can tell you it hurts. It’s a profound loss and it merits processing.

Here’s the story of the day my mother died. I’m following that up with my “takeaways,”– things I learned since which I wish I knew then. If you share a story here, please also share anything you learned from the experience that you think could help others cope.

“Come right now, Mom had a heart attack and she’s been in intensive care since Tuesday,” my father pleaded. My husband and I were on a camping trip in Florida. There were no cell phones then. I called on Thursday because the next day we were supposed to drive to Miami where my parents were vacationing. We got to the hospital quickly; she was still alive. She lingered in a semi-conscious state for several excruciating days. They had told us she would not recover from this, her fifth heart attack, so we weren’t hopeful, just waiting. We stayed at the hospital around the clock. Per the hospital protocol in those days, we could visit her just four times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Her mouth was taped around a breathing tube so she couldn’t speak but she was awake and could look at me and hold my hand. It was heartbreaking. She was 63, I was 24. On the fifth day after her heart attack we were sitting in the waiting  room in between the visiting times. The nurse walked in and said, “She’s gone. You can come in and say goodbye.” My father went in. I didn’t want to see my dead mother so I stayed in the waiting room thinking about how she was all alone when she died. To this day the thought of that breaks my heart.

What I learned/What I wish I had known:

  1. What I thought was appropriate to say to my mom during those days prior to her death was,”You’ll be okay, Mom, you’re going to be okay.” What I should have said was, “I love you, I will love you forever, you’ve been a wonderful mother. Thank you for my life. Goodbye.” Maybe not in those exact words but you get the idea. My mother had the right to know what was happening to her and I should not have been a part of the conspiracy (one which still exists today, alas) to keep a dying person from knowing what’s happening in order to avoid upsetting them.
  2. I thought that because I was 24 I was a grownup and that an adult was supposed to cope with grief by showing strength and resiliency. Now I know that at 24 or 64, when a parent dies, you are still a child. You don’t grow out of being someone’s child. That death will hurt and you need to take the time to grieve it without being concerned about looking weak. It also doesn’t matter much about the quality of your relationship with that parent. Whether it was perfect or deeply flawed, that loss will hurt. My relationship was in the middle somewhere. I loved my mom but we didn’t wholly understand each other or agree about some things but I think we hadn’t yet had the time to develop a more peer-like relationship because I was so young when she died. Part of what I had to grieve was giving up the thought that we’d ever have that chance.
  3. You are your parent’s advocate. If you see something you don’t feel right about, speak up. I should have insisted on spending more time with my mom at the end. I should have insisted they come and get us when they saw she was nearing the moment of death. I should have at least insisted they tell her she was dying and take that damn tube out long enough for her to speak last words or kiss us goodbye. She was going to die anyway, removing that tube wouldn’t have made anything worse.
  4. I thought it inappropriate to laugh or feel joy or enjoy anything for a while after she died. That’s nonsense. My mother would have wanted me to be happy whenever and however I could.

So, that’s my story. I hope you’ll tell yours if, alas, you’ve lost a parent. I expect some stories will be sad, some will be beautiful, some will have sorrow, some will have joy, but all will help others to cope with this loss. One final thought: Everyone’s parents die, but the relationship lives forever. I still feel the presence of both of my parents, despite the fact neither is alive. I was running this morning, deciding whether this post wherein I’d ask people to share stories about their parents’ deaths, was a good idea.  I looked down at the ground and saw these, side by side.


I don’t know what you see when you look at that photo. Maybe you see two rocks. What I saw at that moment was two heart-shaped rocks, one big, like a parent’s, and one small, like a child’s. I came home to write this post, thinking it was what my parents wanted me to do. I still hear from them from time to time. 🙂

I look forward to reading your stories.

This Mother Was Stunningly Brilliant and Died Beautifully As A Result

I just read an article that should go viral. It probably won’t because it’s about death and I’ve noticed a common thread in my posts about death — people don’t love reading them! But that’s because death has such a bad reputation. Read this article and maybe, just maybe it’ll start to change your view. This man’s mother died a “good death,” due in part to her loving choices.

This is going to sound strange but the day my father died was simultaneously one of the saddest and most beautiful days of my life. He died in my home, as he requested. He knew it was coming; he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer only 7 weeks earlier. My husband and I were home, as were my three little girls. We had watched a movie the day before and the next day my dad was conscious but a bit restless. My husband and I took turns sitting with him and listening to his thoughts about his life. It was pretty surreal and within a few hours, he fell asleep but remained restless. We sat by his side because we worried he’d get out of bed and fall. He was sleeping but struggling a bit to breathe. We comforted him and let him know he didn’t have to fight so hard, it was okay to let go. When he did let go and die, essentially in his sleep, he was peaceful and serene, almost smiling.

I was grateful to be able to accompany my father on the journey of his last days. Metaphorically and almost literally, I held his hand until we both had to let go. I believe he knew I was there the whole time at the end and I felt comforted by his presence too. He had helped my throughout my life and it seemed fitting and coming full circle for me to be able to help him when he needed it. I was unspeakably sad but it felt natural, like this was the way death should be — a moment of beauty, a moment of love, a moment of the most poignant communication.

You can help your aging parents have that same kind of good death. But only if you take proactive measures to make that happen. It starts with communication. Click here for a previous post to help you get that ball rolling. The good death awaits.


Talking to Your Dying Parent

In the song, (which I hope you’ll let play while you read this post) one of the most poignant of all Beatles’ songs, the lyric says simply, “I don’t know why nobody told you how to unfold your love.”

George Harrison hit the perfect note with the suggestion that love should unfold. The description is particularly apt when speaking to your parent about his or her end of life. Unfold your love, unfold your compassion, unfold your desire to help your parent live out the rest of life peacefully.

How do you unfold these things? Gently and slowly, just as the word “unfold” implies. If your parent is dying, if he or she has been given a prognosis with an end date, it’s time to talk about that end. It doesn’t have to be a horrible conversation. If done correctly, it can be a thing of beauty.

Open with the reason why you want to talk about the future. Acknowledge the prognosis.  A simple, “I know the doctor says (whatever the doctor said about the future) and I want to talk about it so that we can make sure the rest of your time is peaceful and comfortable. If you’ve had a loving relationship with your parent, if he or she has often been your caretaker or cheerleader during your life, you can say that and say you want to return the favor. You can say you want to do for your parent what he or she did for you when you were growing up. If you didn’t have the most loving and close relationship with your parent, you can still say, “You’re my father/mother and I want to do right by you. I want your life to be the best it can be in the months ahead.”

You can say you want to talk about the medical options and the choices that have to be made. If your parent cannot stay in his or her home, where will he or she live? Does your father believe in being kept alive at all costs? Does your mother want to be put on a breathing machine if she can no longer breathe on her own? Does your dad want to be fed through a tube after he cannot eat? Does your mom want to continue to take all medications or would she prefer taking only those that make her more comfortable? If your parent has the ability to think clearly, these are decisions he or she should make.

Beyond the medical questions, there are financial decisions to be made. Does your parent have a will and if not, arrange for one to be drawn up immediately. Does your parent have a Power of Attorney? That is a person he or she would like to take charge of his or her finances if she is still alive but cannot handle business matters. That should be one of the first pieces of business you discuss as you never know when that time will come.

Does your parent have treasured possessions he’d like distributed and if so, to whom?

Of course these are not and should not be questions you cover all in one session. Talking to a parent about dying happens gently, slowly and over some time. But if your parent has gotten that terminal prognosis, regardless of how much time is predicted to remain, don’t wait too long to begin the talk. Protecting your parent is of paramount importance and you will need his or her help to do that. Don’t assume that because you have a close family problems won’t arise. When parents die, emotions run high and people become sad and sometimes desperate. Don’t let your parent’s death take a toll on your family’s future. Talk to your parent and be sure he or she lets your siblings and their spouses know his or her wishes. Open communication with the whole family goes a long way toward keeping peaceful interactions among the family members when the going gets rough and the days get shorter.

Be gentle but be brave enough to let your love unfold… before it’s too late.

Differences Between An Aging Parent and A Dying Parent: 5 Steps to The Talk

Because the first thing to know is they’re not the same. Your parent may be up in years, that is an aging parent (And really aren’t we all that?). A dying parent is one who has been given that prognosis of limited time. It’s important to differentiate because talking to an aging parent is not the same as talking to a dying parent when it comes to discussing wishes and, later life, and end of life desires. The similarity is that the talks are always done with caring and compassion and usually (but not always), with love.

This post is about talking with an aging parent– one who is perhaps showing signs of slowing down but is not yet ill.

  1. Open a dialogue now. This is the time to do it, while your parent is well and reasonably happy, with some clarity of mind. If you haven’t had a closeness or intimacy with your parent up to this point in your life, don’t give up. While you both have breath, you both have opportunity for personal growth. You can begin by talking about little things that matter to you. Maybe increase the frequency of your phone calls if your relationship to this point is mostly via the phone. If you do visit, perhaps do so a bit more. Putting more time into the relationship is a good way to change the nature of it. All talks come easier with enhanced closeness.
  2. Speaking of time, plan wisely. If you want to have good talks, pick a good time. If you know your dad watches golf on Sunday and his attention is glued to the TV, don’t choose then to open your heart. You may want to go out somewhere where you can truly connect. Coffee shops are perfect venues for intimacy. Bars? Maybe not so much but if it works for you… . It doesn’t matter where you are, anyplace can lend itself to warm connections. Even your own backyard if you like.IMG_0914
  3. Share  your own life. If you want to talk about writing a will, for example, tell your parent how you handled writing yours. This is a time for you to be your parent’s adult child, a partner of sorts, someone speaking to a contemporary. Don’t condescend, don’t take the role of dependent child. Talk to your parent as you’d talk to a friend you respect.
  4. Be sure to tell your parent why you are broaching any sensitive subject. You want to protect his or her future and to make sure he or she is able to live comfortably as long as possible.
  5. Don’t jump in head first to the “big” talks about death and dying. Your aging parent isn’t necessarily dying anytime soon. The goal here is to find out what he or she wants going forward. The fact is that with aging come some very natural changes in the body’s ability to function. What you want is to find out how your parent wants to live as those changes happen. Just express that and most importantly, listen.

Chicken Soup for Your Writer’s Soul? Absolutely!


In a previous post I encouraged writers to seek out the Chicken Soup for the Soul website. There you will find a bevy of topics for which new books will be developed. They are always seeking submissions and believe me you are likely to find something you can wax poetic about.

I did find something when I checked out the site  and they selected my essay on volunteering to be included in their newest book, out next week. Yay, it arrived today! And there on page 89 is my story, “A Little Lipstick.” (It’s about a lovely gentleman I used to deliver weekly meals to who had only one poignant request…)

The Chicken Soup guidelines are fairly straightforward. The stories (they also accept poems) must be in first person, not “as told to” and they must have “heart.” Love that description, “heart.” It leaves much open to interpretation, doesn’t it? Doesn’t everything you write have “heart?” Anyway, this was my first submission (already submitted a second) and maybe it was beginner’s luck but I am so honored to be included. It’s just pretty exciting when someone (anyone!) thinks your work is worth publishing and reading. (Let alone paying you $200!) I’ve had two prior books published by big publishing houses. My most recent “Tales From The Family Crypt,” is self-published. With that varied publishing history, I can report this: It’s a thrill to be published no matter how you get there.

So, my writer friends and wannabe writer friends, get there! Give it a try. I can’t promise you’ll make the cut on your first try but I can guarantee you won’t make the cut if you never try. Also, I can promise you’ll be thrilled if you succeed and the disappointment of not getting in probably won’t kill you.

Do It. Join me in a future Soup! And do let me know if you make it. We’ll revel together.

Do Great Expectations = Great Disappointment in Families?

Recently a friend and I were talking about our lives in terms of what we thought they’d be like when we were younger and what our lives turned out to be. We discussed whether life had for the most part exceeded or failed to meet our expectations. We’re both pretty happy people and we came to an interesting realization. Neither of us had much in the way of expectations when we were younger and really don’t today either. As a result, we’re both pretty happy with the way things are going.

“Low expectations,” my friend exclaimed, “that’s the key to happiness.” We laughed but in considering it later, I realized he may be on to something. Especially when it comes to family. We all have expectations about family relationships, I think. We’re pretty much wired that way from the time we are young. We expect our parents to love us and to take care of us when we are children. We expect our siblings to love us and be our playmates when we’re kids together. Then we take those expectations into adulthood and maybe that’s where we go wrong. If we have high hopes and great expectations and our family members don’t meet our lofty goals, we come crashing down amidst the disappointment. From there the disappointment could lead to anger, to adult sibling rivalry, to fighting for parental approval and any hope for a healthy adult sibling relationship falls apart.

Perhaps the key to happiness here is to lower our expectations of family. Maybe we have to treat family members more like we treat our friends. With our friends we don’t just expect them to treat us fairly and with respect. We understand our friends owe us nothing unless we earn it. We accept the fact that good friendships are the product of work, of give and take, of treating people with respect. We don’t just expect our friends to be good partners, we know we have to work for that, to be good partners in order to have them. We understand inherently that we teach our friends how to treat us by how we treat them.

But maybe with family, we often just believe things will be good because they should be. Unfortunately, what I’m hearing from people who read this blog is that philosophy isn’t working so well. Too many of us are disappointed in our sibling relationships. The family waters are tougher to navigate than those of friendship. I’m seeking to understand why that is. Why do I and so many people I’ve connected with find loving friendships but fail to develop loving sibling relationships? Why are we so lost in the weeds in these waters?


Are our expectations too great or is it something else entirely?

Women’s Health Week, Who Knew?

I just learned on Sally Cronin’s wonderful blog that this past week was Women’s Health Week. While my blog focuses mainly on family issues, what could be more important than the health of the people we love? Given the “Women” aspect of Women’s Health Week I’d like to share excerpts of something I wrote a few years back about a particularly stressful health issue affecting at least 10% of women, many of whom never know they have this condition. I hope this helps someone recognize a condition that may be plaguing someone they care about.

Here’s the story of a mother and daughter: (Spoiler alert, it’s me and my daughter)

Google may have saved my daughter’s life.

In the Joseph Heller novel, “Something Happened,” a chapter was titled, “My Daughter is Fat and Unhappy.” That described my daughter. She was fat, but she desperately didn’t want to be unhappy.When she was young, she was skinny and happy. She loved life, loved to laugh, and saw joy in every moment.

Time passed and tiny things about her body became noticeable. When she was 13, we bought a lovely dress for her Bat Mitzvah. She was giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait the two months to wear it. As I zipped her up on that day, though, I noticed the dress had become quite tight around her middle. Odd.

The next year, she went shopping with a friend and bought a dress for the eighth grade dance. She tried it on to show me. Right there in the middle of the dress was something I had never seen before– a little paunch. It wasn’t that I was horrified about her gaining a little weight; that paunch was just incongruous on her otherwise skinny body, so it raised a red flag in my motherly mind.

At her 16-year-old check-up, I asked the doctor if there was something wrong with her posture. I thought perhaps bad posture was causing her to stick out her stomach. The doctor assured me all was well. I also questioned why she had gained six pounds in two months. Again, the doctor said everything was fine. And, she made me feel just a bit like one of those mothers who cares way too much about her daughter’s weight.

That’s when I started to feel a combination of guilt and worry. Guilty because I worried that I had become one of those mothers who is so tied up with her daughter’s weight she loses sight of what really matters. I didn’t want to be a mom who makes her daughter feel fat just because she isn’t a size 0.

But, something didn’t feel right.

That summer, she was a junior counselor at an overnight camp. We didn’t see her for three weeks. When we did, it broke our hearts. She had gained so much weight and developed severe facial acne. She didn’t look like herself but she wasn’t unhappy and that mattered most to us. Still, unease crept into my heart.

That fall, she played field hockey and ran several miles each week. She ate healthfully and lost weight. But, the following summer at camp, the weight came back with a vengeance.She came home bigger than ever. I worried when she returned to school for her senior year, the kids weren’t going to be kind when greeting her new look. But, no one really said anything about it; they just pretty much ignored her.

She spent the summer before college working and living at home. She slimmed down from eating well and exercising. She went off to college in pretty good shape, with size 7 clothes.

About two months into that first semester, my baby called, hysterical.

“Mom! I can’t get dressed,” she sobbed. “I can’t get any of my pants on. I can’t leave my room.”

She explained that over time she noticed her pants getting tighter. She had already given up buttoning them and had been holding them closed with a safety pin. This day, though, the last pair she had been able to pin was no longer able to close.

“Hold on,” I said, “I’ll bring you some pants. I’ll be there in two hours.”

So, I bought four pairs of pants, size 11. I would have bought size 9, but I figured I’d err on the side of caution just in case she had gone up more than one size.

Two hours later I was knocking on her dorm door. A girl opened the door. I didn’t know who she was. Thank god I didn’t ask her where my daughter was because then it hit me — this girl was my child.

She looked like a sausage. Her clothes were tugging at the seams; her face was an acne-ridden, swollen, red balloon. She was crying. Her pants were pulled up, only a little past her hips and unzipped. She was the picture of abject misery. I didn’t feel much better.

And then it got worse.

The size 11 pants didn’t fit. We went to buy much bigger pants. I comforted her as best I could, assuring her weight gain at college is common and no big deal. I promised she would be okay.

For the next two years, her weight rode a roller coaster, down in the summer, back up in fall and winter. Her moods followed the same pattern of highs and lows. She struggled to meet boys but didn’t feel confident in her interior or exterior beauty. She had always been optimistic, but her life was getting her down.

Undaunted, she decided she had an eating disorder. She was always hungry and couldn’t stop eating. The drive to eat was stronger than her power to control herself. If she opened a bag of cookies, she’d eat the whole bag.  She went to a therapist who prescribed an anti-depressant.

“You don’t understand,” she pleaded, “I’m not depressed, I just can’t stop eating. I’m really hungry.”

She went on Weight Watchers. On their “points” system, she’d run out of points before the day’s end. She was ravenous and tortured. But, she managed to lose about 15 pounds in the fall. By spring, those pounds returned and brought friends.

Just when she couldn’t feel worse about her appearance, something new burst onto the scene — facial hair.

Just before her 22nd birthday, I was thinking about everything she was going through. Weight gain, facial hair, acne, mood swings… they ran through my head like a mantra.

Weight gain, facial hair, acne, mood swings…

The words gathered into a Google search. I had no idea what I was looking for. Four seemingly unrelated issues ruining my baby’s life.

Weight gain, facial hair, acne, mood swings… hit ENTER. Google returned over 200,000 hits, referencing something I had never heard of — PCOS –Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

“PCOS symptoms tend to be mild at first. You may have only a few symptoms or a lot of them. The most common symptoms are:


Weight gain and trouble losing weight

Extra hair on the face and body”

Following the description were stories from women who had PCOS, a complicated hormonal imbalance with a variety of consequences. Every poignant and compelling story told by young women detailed a similar struggle. There was a listing of doctors who understand this syndrome. Most do not, and that results in diagnoses not coming easily.  That’s pretty astounding because PCOS affects at least 10% of women (some estimates say 15%) — the same number affected by breast cancer. Most women who have it don’t know. As it’s the leading cause of infertility, many don’t find out they have it until they can’t get pregnant.

The national PCOS center was in Philadelphia, where we live. I called and spoke to Dr. Sharif. She asked a few pointed questions and said, “I believe your daughter does have PCOS. When can she come in?”

The doctor was totally booked on days we could get there so she offered to come in on a day off !

My daughter cried as she read about PCOS online. She said, “It’s like reading the story of my life.”

During the exam, Dr. Sharif showed us  the markings of insulin resistance on my daughter’s body. She had darker brown areas across her knuckles, several raised skin tags and velvety brown spots. All of those indicate too much insulin pumping through the body.

Her apple-shaped body is another marker. The thinner arms and legs and a larger mid-section, are the PCOS profile. When she was 16 and I thought her posture was funky, it was that her midsection was out of proportion to the rest of her. That doctor blew off my concern but I knew. My motherly intuition told me something was amok. I should have fought harder to be heard.

As PCOS is a syndrome and not a disease, it’s a grouping of seemingly unconnected symptoms (i.e. the weight gain, the facial hair, the acne, etc.). But, an astute physician can see the grouping as indicative of an underlying cause that ties them all together, in this case, PCOS.

Had the doctor at the 16-year-old check up been more knowledgeable about this disorder, she would have been able to connect the dots. A girl whose body suddenly follows this pattern just after puberty — rapid weight gain, especially in the stomach, severe acne, facial hair, and missed or especially painful periods — likely has PCOS. The thing about PCOS is that women may or may not have every aspect of the syndrome. It takes a sharp physician to realize having just three of the five major symptoms means you may have PCOS. If doctors were able to screen young girls for PCOS by age 16, many could avoid years of torment.

Once Dr. Sharif gave us the definitive diagnosis after so many years of unanswered questions about what plagued my child, we burst into tears from sheer relief. We apologized but Dr. Sharif smiled, held our hands and said she totally understood.

PCOS can be treated but it is chronic and can’t be cured. Diet, exercise, and medication to treat the insulin resistance (the condition that leaves a woman hungry and susceptible to weight gain) are the keys to solving this problem.  On a 10 scale of PCOS, my daughter is lucky; she’s about a 4. You know those women you see who are huge and have facial hair and bad skin? They may be 10 on that scale. Even with treatment, they might not be able to get down to a manageable size. Certainly if they’re not diagnosed they don’t have a chance.

Today my baby is healthy.  The sensitivities borne out of years of suffering make her a compassionate first-grade teacher. She found her way back to being the person she was born to be. In some ways she was never really far away, just buried in a sea of too much weight and unanswered questions.

PCOS can lead to serious complications including diabetes, heart disease, and the inability to conceive. But knowledge is power.

My daughter would like to hand out business cards that say, “Please go online and look up PCOS. I have it, and think you might, too. Finding out could save your life.” She’d give them to the women we see every day; those who are big in the middle, have mustaches or chin hair, and bad skin. They are her “cysters” and just as she’d do for her own sisters, she’d like to help them live happier and healthier lives.

There are many lessons in this story. As mothers, we must follow our gut instincts for our children, even when the world beats us back. As women, we must fight to make our voices heard. As patients, we must insist doctors hear and respect what we tell them. And we can never back down when our hearts and souls tell us we’re right.