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.

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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.

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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.

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.

How To Write A Parent’s Eulogy

Some of the best advice I was given when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer was to write his eulogy while he was alive. Horrified at first, I took a breath and thought about it. Why was I so upset by this advice? My initial reaction was superstitious — I thought writing about his death while he was alive was in some way wishing him dead or hastening his death. Then I came to my senses and realized I could no more hasten his death than slow it down. In fact I was powerless over his demise. The one thing I could do, though, was to send him off with honor and dignity and love.

The person who suggested eulogy writing in advance made a great point. Immediately after my father’s death I was likely going to be much too upset to do justice to writing his story. That was absolutely true. I would not have been able to write what I wanted to say if I waited until he died.

So I wrote the eulogy my father deserved to have delivered. What makes a good eulogy? Here’s my advice in list form:

1. Consider the small things that made your parent’s life compelling. Tell a story or two about your parent that most of the attendees to the funeral don’t know. Don’t just talk about what he or she did for a living; describe what made his or her life matter.

2. Share a personal memory. Did your mom teach you how to hit a baseball or how to cook or how to change the washer in a faucet? Did your dad teach you how to drive, thereby risking his own life? Did he go to every store in town to buy you the Barbie doll  you most wanted for your 7th birthday only to come home with three because he didn’t know there would be more than one to pick from?

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Share something only you shared with your parent. That will give people an insight into the person they came to honor in a way only you can provide.

3. Describe some family history. People come to a funeral to show respect. It’s always interesting and respectful to give a nod to those who came before in your family. Where did his or her parents hail from? What was your parent’s childhood like? Family tree information is fascinating background.

4. Don’t dwell on the saddest parts. Your parent’s death may have come too soon or been really awful for the family or for you but your parent’s life is so much more than his or her death. This passing hurts you now but with time you will be able to remember your parent and feel good in that memory. Imagine one of the memories you know will make you smile in the future and focus on describing that time.

5. Speak from the heart but read the eulogy, don’t wing it. Write exactly what you want to say. Don’t worry about being articulate or using just the right words. Say what you feel and write it down. Then read it aloud several times before the service. You will likely be nervous and perhaps overcome with emotion but practicing what you will say will help. If you cry, so be it. Everyone will understand. Take your time. Read slowly and don’t look up if you think that might throw you off.

6. Don’t worry about what the audience will think. Speak about your parent in a way he or she would appreciate. At a funeral I attended recently, the family members spoke about the loved one’s sense of humor. They said things that would have made him laugh. Some attendees laughed along with the family. Some were aghast at “joking” at a funeral. But the family knew the most important attendee would have loved it. That’s what matters.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting… DEATH. Five Things You Should Know.

You’re probably heard of the “What To Expect” series of books that are pretty much the bibles on expecting a baby. The first in the series is a book considered to be one of the most influential books of the last 25 years and deservedly so as pregnancy was formerly a much not-talked-about topic. It was time to bring pregnancy out of the closet. (It was also time to do away with the godawful maternity clothes that came in one size — TENT — and in one style –BIG BOW BABY. Thankfully, that happened too in the last 25 years.) The books offered information on a topic very few people had ever been willing to discuss.

Well, I’m about to launch a similar and yet opposite end of the spectrum series. I’m considering calling it, as above, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting…DEATH.” (Can they sue me for that?)

My point is it’s time to bring death out of the darkness into the light. Those closets in which we shun the topics we don’t want discussed in polite society are way too dark. Death is not something you can avoid by simply not discussing it.

I know you can’t bear thinking about losing the ones you love. The deaths I’m suggesting we talk about are the ones we start fearing when we are very young — the deaths of our parents. If things progress naturally in our lives we will live to see our parents die. It’s sad and I’m not suggesting otherwise. I’m suggesting we can make the transitional time less sad and maybe even a bit beautiful if we know what’s ahead. Here are five things you should know about what happens once a parent’s prognosis is determined to be terminal.

1. It doesn’t have to be all bad. We knew my dad was dying of lung cancer for only a short time before he died. But since we did have a heads up we were able to make his last weeks include some fun times. We did things he could still do and enjoy. Little things meant a lot. We played cards and pored over his coin collection. We watched movies. We cooked. We enjoyed simple day to day life in the days leading up to death. What could be better?

2. It doesn’t have to be painful. I worried about how much  physical pain my loved ones would suffer. Turns out one of the best advances in medical science is that many dying patients don’t have to be in pain. Depending on their condition, they can be medicated so the pain isn’t so intense. Pain management isn’t perfect, as it does in some cases render the patient pretty out of things but it can be very helpful at the end.

3. It doesn’t have to be a forbidden topic for the person who is dying. You may think not telling your aging parent he or she is dying is a good idea. It’s not. They are adults, they have a right to know what’s ahead. They have a right to speak up and voice their own choice about their death or dying process. In fact, you don’t have the right to keep this most important piece of news from them. If you’re worried they might be upset, you’re right. But isn’t being upset about your impending death a natural reaction they have a right to have?

4. It doesn’t  have to be your responsibility to make every decision. There will be choices to be made. Choices about where to die, choices about how to die and even in some cases when to die. (Life support machines or not?) You can get help. You can speak to people who are experts in this field like doctors, lawyers or hospice personnel. Then you can talk to family members and to the dying person. Yes, you will need a point person, a Power of Attorney person who makes the ultimate decisions. But if it is you, you don’t have to decide alone. Get help. Ask for help, ask for advice. And know this too — you are stronger than you think. You can handle losing your parent, you have to survive it, your life will go on and it can be good again. You can be happy again, the sadness will pass.

5. It doesn’t matter if you are there at the moment of death. I’ve spoken to many people who regret missing the last breath their parents took. It’s a wasted regret. Be there for as many breaths as you can while your parent is still breathing. He or she will cherish those memories. They will know the legacy of love they leave behind. What matters is  how you treat your parents while they are alive. If you somehow don’t get there at the very end, but you were there for other times throughout their lives, that’s what counts. In fact some parents manage to control their moment of death specifically so that you won’t be there. I was with my father for every minute of his last 24 hours except for about the five minutes it took me to walk from his room to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. While I was waiting for the pot to drip through, he died. Was that a coincidence? I think not. I believe he wanted to spare me the pain of watching him take that last breath. We come into this world solo, maybe it’s okay we leave solo. It’s what happens in between that first breath and last that matters.

Consider reading the book “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gawande. It will help clarify for you issues about end of life care. It could spur a good discussion in your family. It’s a start.

Finally, if we’re lucky our parents are going to live long lives and walk toward that light knowing they lived good lives and will be remembered with love. It’s our job to help make that happen. Let’s start by shining a light on the road ahead so we are all prepared for what’s coming.

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30 Reasons To Be Grateful You’re Alive

If you haven’t yet read Sheryl Sandberg’s ode to mourning, you’re in for a life-affirming treat. That sounds perverse, I know, but here’s the thing — if you’re truly grateful for your life and the lives of those you love, maybe you don’t fear death quite so much.

Here’s a piece of what she wrote about grieving  the abrupt loss of her husband if you don’t have time to read her whole post. (I strongly suggest you find the five minutes it will take you to improve your outlook on life.)

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. 

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

Choose life and meaning…if you have trouble with that, in tribute to the 30 days Sandberg thought about this, here are 30 things (in the most random order imaginable)  you can ponder to choose life and meaning. You may not have all 30 in your life but I’m giving you enough to get started with at least 10! If you have 10 things to be grateful for, life is pretty much worth enjoying.

1. You’re reading this. Consider the joy, the news, the advice, the sheer pleasure you get from  absorbing information through the written word.

2. This.

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It’s just a flower I came across one day but seriously, if this doesn’t give you gratitude for the little things, there is something wrong with you.

3. Moments are just that — moments. They pass so the bad ones will not last forever. That should make anyone having a bad day a bit happier. Time passes but it takes time.

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4. You may have people in your life who can move your shoes. Yesterday my daughter moved to a new home. Today she gave a shout out to her friends, family and loved ones who helped her with the enormous task of moving her shoes. If you saw her shoe collection, you’d understand the depth of her gratitude. If you have people who can move your shoes, that’s a reason to give thanks.

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5. You can always make someone smile. Smile at the next five strangers you pass. At least one will smile back and in that moment, you’ll both feel pretty good about life.

6. You can ask for help. If you are one of the lucky people who feels comfortable asking for help that will make your life a great deal easier.

7. Stories to read. Literature to love.

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8. You are vulnerable. You get hurt. Why should this make you grateful? Because if you feel pain, you understand what it means to feel better and you appreciate it when it happens.

9. You have a birthday. You get a day to celebrate yourself. Do it! Let others do it! I know people who say birthdays are no big deal and they want no fuss made about them. Are you kidding me? You were born and you’re still here, throw a freaking party!

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10. You’re a communicator. If you’re reading this chances are you also write, or at least speak. Communicating is the beginning of understanding and with that comes clarity of what the world is all about.

11. You have virtual people. Maybe your people can’t move your shoes but they can stir your soul with the words they send out into the blogosphere and those words reach you. If you have ever read a blog post that resonated with you, be grateful. It’s a connection you made.

12. You can do some good in some way. From opening the door for a person who’s carrying a heavy load (literally and/or figuratively) to volunteering your time delivering meals to shut-ins, you can help others. That’s a gift to you and to the world. Do some good. I know a woman who doesn’t leave her house much but she counsels people online as a volunteer. She doesn’t let being mostly house bound keep her from doing good in the world.

13. People are social animals. It’s a good thing.

14. Beauty exists. You get to be the judge. Seek it out. Seriously, stop right now and look around you until you find one beautiful thing. It’ll likely take you just seconds and you can do this anytime you need a lift. Beauty is limitless and so is your ability to find it.

15. You can cry. It’s a release that enables you to feel better. Being capable of crying is no small matter,

16. You never really lose people you loved. Your relationship may change or even end but you have them with you always.

17. That.

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18. Love is in the air somewhere.

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19. Romantic love isn’t the only game in town. Just because you may not currently be in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t have love in your life. Your parents, your kids, your friends, your pets, even your coworkers may be lovable. Love is what matters, not what kind of love or with whom it happens.

20. Good, multigrain, fresh crusty bread dipped in olive oil…..

Food, from the most simple to the most complex is something you can enjoy. If you have a healthy relationship with food, it’s okay to derive joy from it.

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21. You can dream. Humans dream in sleep and while waking. Sleep dreams may bring you messages worth paying attention to. Waking dreams are those you choose to have because they lift you up and give you hope. Cherish both kinds of dreams and listen to what they tell you because you can.

22. Life doesn’t have to make sense. That’s okay. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to figure it out. You can choose to move on instead.

23. Poetry lives. Few words can be so healing, so embracing, so motivating…

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
Enjoy every moment.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

24. When the rug is pulled out from under you, the floor beneath will support you. When you feel ready, you will stand up. That’s how life works. Believe in your ability to stand when ready…

25. Music… just… music… well and lyrics… watch this (enjoying the time warp trip to 1969) and you’ll know…

26. The Buddhists are right. (I paraphrase here, I haven’t actually met the Buddha.) Live inside each moment to the fullest extent you can. The key there is “you can.” Some moments make it easy to live fully. Some moments make it hard but you can choose, you have the power to live each moment the way you want, even in circumstances beyond your control. You can’t change everything but you can control the way you react to anything.

27. Sometimes things in your life are seriously not okay. That doesn’t mean they won’t be again. Knowing that helps get you to that better time.

28. This:

Random encounter I had while taking a walk. Random encounters make life worth having.

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29. That:

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Art of all kinds waiting unexpectedly around the corner.

30. Look in a mirror. Be grateful for whatever you see.

Feel free to share. Spread the reasons to be grateful with anyone who needs a lift.

Free Is Just Another Word For…

Yesterday and today I’ve been offering a free download of Tales From the Family Crypt on Amazon.   I’ve been watching the download numbers go up with… well… actual glee. Mind you, no one makes any money on a free download so why is this making me so happy? What is it about imagining the readers who are about to crack open (cyber-wise that is) my work that gives me joy?

I think it’s something like this– Writers write. We often write in isolation but while we’re doing so, we’re envisioning the reader who is going to absorb our words. However, we can only imagine that person, we’re not there when they’re reading what we’ve written. (Unless you have a significant other you’ve been regularly forcing sweetly asking to read what you’ve written.) Seeing my download numbers go up on that lovely graph Amazon provides and on the rankings (#63 in nonfiction, #1 in Parenting, #1 in Aging Parents!)  just fills me with the hope that maybe, just maybe, in the next couple of days lots of people will read what I artfully crafted and poured heart and soul into in the tiny space that is my office. The work from that small space will spider out, yes, like the crack in your windshield that pops and then grows quickly into a web eventually taking over the front of your car, but in a good way. It will grow and expand into the universe of readers who will see what I wrote and perhaps act on it in some good way. Maybe they’ll call a long lost relative. Maybe they’ll find a way to speak to a family member or friend with whom they’ve had a falling out. Maybe they’ll hug someone who means a great deal to them. Maybe they’ll phone me with an offer for a movie script in which I will be played by Jennifer Lawrence. Anything is possible, right?

So for today, the download graph forecasts more joy. I hope you have a wonderful day too. And, remember, the best things in life are free. Some very good things cost money, don’t get me wrong, I like those too, but being able to enjoy the free is also terrific.

Want A Great Free Read For Anyone With A Family?

Tales From The Family Crypt is FREE Thursday, May 28, 2015 and Friday May 29, 2015! I could wax poetic about the many reasons you should download the book and tell everyone you know to do the same but instead, I’ll just share excerpts of a few of my recent 5-star Amazon reviews. You can decide for yourself if this book calls you. (It will! And, it’s a quick read too! Perfect for summer reading, fast and entertaining and possibly helpful.) And, remember if you do read the book, reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads is good Karma! Please share this post and pass along the heads up about my free giveaway. Thanks!

Click here to the link to download Tales From The Family Crypt.

THE REVIEWS ARE IN!
May 24, 2015

Unbelievable! Yes, I have a crazy sister! Thank you, Deborah, for telling the truth about dysfunctional families with grace and humor. What a great story, what a great story teller. I am recommending this book to everyone I know.
The author’s story resonated with me in a huge way. I’d give the book ten stars if I could.

Stranger Than Fiction April 26, 2015
Format:Paperback

I have always ascribed to a quirky theory that nuttiness skips a generation. By and large, both sets of my grandparents were pretty normal for the era in which they lived; whenever I tell stories about my parents, however, I always feel inclined to add, “Seriously, I am not making these people up.” Over the years, so many friends from elementary and high school have expressed envy about our picture-perfect existence and my supposedly idyllic life as the only child in a wealthy family. What no one ever saw, however, were the deep layers of emotional abuse that – if I had ever shared with a teacher or a counselor – would have been dismissed as the product of an overactive imagination.

I was, thus, able to relate on so many dimensions to Deborah Carroll’s nonfiction narrative memoir, “Tales From the Family Crypt,” in which she illustrates – often with bittersweet humor – how the interactions she and her husband had with their respective families shaped how they would eventually raise their own children. The opening chapters about family photographs are especially well drawn; when everyone is dressed up for photo ops and on their very best behavior, how are viewers ever expected to discern the pain that lays beneath? Sadly, we all want to love our families because we’re supposed to, that to not love them or to see what flawed and hateful individuals so many of them are will somehow label us as “bad” or ungrateful individuals. Yes, they put a roof over our heads and gave us daily sustenance but what about nurturing our souls?

Carroll could certainly have taken the easy route of turning this into a work of fiction with combative characters. The fact that all of it is real, however, delivers a much more potent message. Specifically, you can’t choose your relatives, nor can you rent any of them out for parts. You can either be crushed as a victim to their own insecurities or you can shrug and say, “Yes, well I’m my own person and I will always care what happens to you but I really can’t be around you when you’re being so annoyingly toxic.”

A highly recommended read and kudos to the author for the courage of sharing her own story in such a constructive – and entertaining – way.

A Great Read! March 19, 2015
By Judy
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Whether or not you have dysfunction in your family, Tales from the Family Crypt is a great read! The author shows her strong desire for a close, loving family, but how wanting it and working hard for it doesn’t necessarily make it happen. Her story is both poignant and hysterical. I laughed and cried and nodded my head a lot! As a slow reader with a short attention span, I have to say that I breezed through this book and had trouble putting it down!
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think of the book and please feel free to share the download with everyone you’ve ever met in your life…. especially your family members.  – Debby. 🙂

10 Ways to Leave This World More Peacefully

In my previous post I suggested (gently and with music) people take time out of their lives to talk about death. Why? Because it’s the one thing we all have in common and yet, we’re doing it pretty poorly. We don’t talk about death because we’re afraid it might happen. Newsflash: It’s going to happen. We are all going to go sometime. If you talk about it you’re going to die, and if you don’t talk about it, you’re going to die. But if you discuss it your death could be easier for you and for everyone you love who cares about you.

Think this isn’t going to be a problem in your family? Think again. It’s a problem in way more families than you think. Even in the ones who least expect it. Death brings out the worst in people. While the battles are often motivated by money, greed isn’t the only motivator. We love our parents and we want to hold onto them so some folks go to battle over sentimental items or power. We battle trying to prove “Mom always loved me best.” Or, “I really was the best child Dad raised.” We battle over who gets the pin Grandma wore to her wedding or who gets to keep the watch Dad got when he retired. (Yeah, that used to happen!) If you doubt my suggestion about how big a problem these battles are, Google Family Inheritance Battles and How to Avoid Them. Heads up, though. You’ll get 13,100,000 hits. More than 13 million suggestions for staving off what might be ahead.

I don’t have 13 million suggestions, just 10, but if you follow any of them, you’re likely to avoid having to read through the 13 million suggestions later.

1. Talk about your death with your adult children and talk the death of your parents with your parents. Discuss what you believe about the end of life and how it should be handled. Ask them what they believe. Air this topic out, don’t shroud it in darkness. Letting light in by simply bringing up the topic over  family dinner will make it way more palatable.

2. If someone “Pooh Poohs” you and says, “Let’s change the subject, this is too depressing or too morbid,” simply respond gently. “I don’t think it’s morbid at all. It’s just a reality we all have to face and won’t it be a lot easier if we face it together?” Because the truth is, it will be easier to handle end of life together.

3. Have a will. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to a more peaceful transition. If you are reading this blog, you’re probably an adult. If you don’t have a will, you have no way of knowing what will happen to the things you care about after you die. In some states if you die without a will the things you own and the money you have may go to your state. No one wants that! (Except maybe your governor) Writing a will may be done best with an attorney but if that doesn’t work for you don’t worry. There are will templates on the Internet. There are free options and a few you have to pay to download. Look at a few, choose one you like and fill it in as needed. State who gets what after you die and don’t leave anything to chance. Then make a few copies and sign each in front of two witnesses. Keep a copy for your records, maybe even two copies, and give the others to a few key people you trust.

4. Talk about love. Ultimately most of the family battles over money are really over love. If you air your feelings openly while you’re alive, if you resolve conflicts while you’re alive, you won’t have your heirs battling over your grave.

5. Be open about the reality of your plans. If you do have a will, let your family know what you’ve included in it. It’s best if you don’t use your will to deliver any sort of message you should have delivered while you were still breathing.

6. There’s a saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” It’s so true in terms of family battles. You might think you have the perfect family and so you don’t have to worry about anyone fighting over anything. I’m happy for you if you feel that way and I hope for your sake you’re right. But, you know what? You’re probably wrong. Even in families where everyone feels close it’s hard to predict who will start fighting when a loved one is sick and/or dying and everyone is stressed out. So, if you do have a loving family, protect it by doing what needs to be done in advance to avoid battles later… even if you’re sure your family is immune to such rifts. They’re not. No family is.

7. Pick a point person, give someone what’s known as “Power of Attorney.” What that means is that you are allowing someone to act with your full range of power over your money and your life, acting as your agent as if they were you. You choose this person to make decisions for you if and when you can’t make them anymore. Choose someone you trust with your life, because they literally will be running your life. Don’t choose two people because they would then have to agree on every point and that will be very difficult for any two people to do. You can choose one person and a back up person but not two to serve together. Power of Attorney is only put into place while you are alive and can’t function. Once you are dead the executor of your will takes over in decision-making capacity. And, yes, the same person can serve in both ways if you want that. You can also break up Power of Attorney and choose one person to make financial decisions and one person to make health decisions if you prefer.

8. Consider how you want to die. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs? Do you want to be hooked up to machines which may breathe for you and/or feed you? Do you want to be kept alive beyond the time you can fully function? Do you want heroic measures done to save you despite how infirm you may be? Okay, these are ghastly things to think about. I get that. But you know what’s more ghastly? It’s forcing your loved ones to make these choices for you without knowing for sure what you would have preferred because you never said so.

9. Let superstitions go. Cannot stress strongly enough what a waste of time these distractions are. You can’t “luck” your way out of dying.

10. Seek help. If you can at all afford to do so, check with an attorney in drawing up these legal papers. It may cost a bit but that money might be very well spent if it helps your family avoid problems later.

I hope you take this matter seriously and yet not think of it as too sad. Death is just a part of life and it doesn’t have to be disastrous. If you have any suggestions to add you think might help folks going through some difficulties with this, please comment here and share. And feel free to send this post along to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, especially if you’re related to them!

Be the beacon of light that helps your family find its way to peace. They’ll thank you for it . (Okay, they probably won’t but you’ll know you did the right thing!)IMG_2860

Let’s Talk About Death, Baby.

In the immortal words of Salt-N-Pepa:

“(Punch it, Hurb
Yo, I don’t think we should talk about this
Come on, why not?
People might misunderstand what we’re tryin’ to say, you know?
No, but that’s a part of life)

Come on”

The song, “Let’s Talk About Sex” continues thusly but as you read, feel free to substitute sex with death. (only in the lyrics, not in real life)

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it
Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be
Those who think it’s dirty have a choice
Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off
Will that stop us, Pep? I doubt it
All right then, come on, Spin

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex

If you think about it, the reasons we don’t talk about sex and the reasons we don’t talk about death have a great deal in common. We don’t talk about sex because the mention of it is taboo, considered gauche or low class. Ditto, death. We don’t talk about sex because it involves aspects of our lives too sensitive to be discussed in detail. We don’t talk about sex because we believe we can stop it from happening among the people for whom we don’t want it to happen. (i.e. young teens, etc.  ) Ditto death, because not talking about it won’t make it go away. But, there is one big difference, sex is a choice. Death’s generally not. Why talk about death, then? Because  it’s the one thing we all have in common and very few of us deal with that reality effectively. The results of us being in group denial is that death causes so many problems for the living and for the dying. From inheritance battles to battles over end of life care to sibling rivalry to battles over who “Mom loved best.” Many of these could be avoided by exposing the reality of death to the light of day.

Talking about death may not be able to stave death off but it can make the whole experience easier for all, the dying as well as the living.  Making your wishes clear to your loved ones enables them to help you when the time comes to have the death you want. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs?   Do you want to be hooked up to machines that may breathe for you and feed you? Or would you rather go naturally and perhaps faster? Voice your choice.  What do you want to happen to the possessions you own? Do you care who gets your family photos or archives? What about the dresser you inherited from your Aunt Tilly? Or your father’s pinky ring? Who should get that? What should happen to your beloved pets? What about your money? Who gets what and how much? And why? If you need to leave more money to a loved one because he or she has greater need, tell your other loved ones your reasons while you still can. Dying with wishes unsaid helps no one. And, if you have a message you want your loved ones to hear, don’t wait until after you’re dead to deliver it. Don’t send a message via your will. (But do have a will!) Tell your loved ones the things you want them to know while you can. In fact, do it today, because no one is assured of a tomorrow. You can choose to have or not to have sex tomorrow. But you can’t choose whether you’ll be hit by a bus tomorrow. So, don’t wait. Voice you choice today.

Maybe death needs a snappy slogan to encourage people to talk about it more. How about one of these? “Death Talk: Just Do It!” “Death Discussion: Because You’re Worth It!” “Can You Hear Me Now?” Fed Ex had a good slogan, “Because there is no tomorrow.” That would work. Or how about Burger King’s “Have It Your Way?” Or, why not, “A Life is A Terrible Thing to Waste?” Choose one and use it to motivate yourself to talk with the people you love about the life you live and how you hope to see it end. It literally will not kill you to talk about it. You’ll be glad you did.

Perhaps death  needs a theme song to make the whole concept more palatable. I have an idea. Why not use this one? Check the video for the tune and sing along changing the lyrics as follows:

Let’s talk about death, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about death
Let’s talk about death
Let’s talk about death
Let’s talk about death

Let’s talk about death for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it
Now we talk about death on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be

Once you’re motivated, you may need a guide or an agenda to follow for your big talk On my next blog post, I’ll share 10 aspects of death everyone should discuss. Read it, share it, print it out as an agenda for your next family dinner! Meanwhile, enjoy the music and singing along, changing the lyrics as needed.

Finally, I ask you to consider carefully… Can you do it? Can you talk about death openly? Can you encourage others to do so too? We’ll all be a lot happier….literally in the end… if we can. Please spread the word. I’m thinking we can start a movement called, “Happy Endings.” Will you join?