Life – The Place to Be


lifeI just reposted this…from April 2013…for my Facebook group. I hope you get something out of it.

As most of you know, this blog started in 2006 and at the end of the year will be 7 years old. It’s been an amazing journey with all of you (don’t worry, I’m not about to prepare you for ending the blog), I just woke up this morning April 27, 2013 and thought that I felt pretty good and for the longest time never thought I would wake up feeling like this.

The past few years have been challenging to say the least. I’ve had a whole bunch of tragedy and medical issues and financial collapse all happen at the same time. Last weekend I did a short talk at a wellness fair –  it’s in a series of videos on YouTube.  If you look over to the right hand column you will see GPYB Channel on You Tube Click here for GPYP You Tube Channel.

This talk wasn’t prepared and I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth when I started talking.  But the take away should be that no matter how bad things get, you can right your ship if you have the tools.

If you’ve come off a breakup and you are not clear on where you are going and what is going to happen, I can tell you that if you follow the process as designed in the book, you can heal not only from the wounds of this relationship, but from wounds of long ago.  You can heal, you can move forward and you can build a life that is wonderful.  You can become a happy, healthy person.

Over the past few years I’ve had to believe in this because I’ve done it before and I know it works.  Yet, even in my strong belief in this process, I’ve had times when I have stumbled and fallen.  I’ve had very dark days and days of depression and almost debilitating sadness.   The enormity of the loss combined with facing my own physical fragility (after fracturing my back falling down the stairs0 has been very difficult for me.

Yet, things have–as I knew they would–started to finally turn around.   My life is different and things have been terrible for a lot of the past few years.  But I knew that someday (wasn’t sure when), I would wake up and feel better about being alive than not.

I had a horrible week this past week–my insomnia was off the charts.  I was barely sleeping and in a lot of physical pain due to the injuries that are still healing almost 2 years after falling down a flight of stairs.  I worked through the intense pain of sitting alone in a big house in a year I was supposed to be traveling across the country on Harleys with the love of my life.

When my last child went off to college, we were supposed to renew our wedding vows, travel to Europe, buy new Harleys, spend the Northeast winter months chroming and customizing and the when the weather was good enough, drive from New York to California and back.  It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for two people who had worked hard to raise kids and keep their lives in order.

Instead I sat, day after day, in that large, empty house, void of all human contact, in a back brace that kept me from doing very much.  I was depressed.  I cried a lot. I screamed a lot and I seriously contemplated suicide.   The idea that “Maybe there is a point where a human being just can’t take the pain any longer…” did cross my mind.  More than once.  Many times more than once.

But I’ve grieved before.  Perhaps not to the extent I was grieving at that time but I had done it.  I know the process.  I know it works.

I lost

a lot.

I lost my love, my career, my house, my financial stability, my (insert everything here)….yet somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I knew the grieving process worked.

And what would happen to all the people who believed me…who believed in me…who took a chance that my book and my experiences would help them heal the hurt and go on to live happy lives?  What could I…what would they think if I just pitched myself off the George Washington bridge (my suicidal fantasies decided that the GW would be the way to go).  What would happen to everyone who was hurting and trying to heal and believing in what I was telling them?

What would my children and grandchildren think?  What kind of legacy is that to leave behind for a family who saw me as the glue that held everything together?  Would they just shut me out?  All the family memories?  All the hard work I did as a single mom and now a single grandparent (it was easier to grandparent the kids when Michael was here).

More and more stuff happened.  None of it good.  Doom seemed to have one destination and that was my life.  I can’t describe the darkness of that year any better than this.  I just sat and cried.  For a long time..  Every day.   Over everything that had ever happened to me and over nothing at all.

My cats are 13.  I had 3 at one time and am down to 2.  They were both abandoned and one was horrifically abused and doesn’t trust anyone but me.  My big cat (a huge lovable and adorable cat named Goobies) died a month after I learned that Michael was terminally ill.   I held him in my arms as he was dying. Less than a year later I would do the same for Michael.

The pain was more than pain…it felt like torture…it felt as if I was just being tortured by the Universe.   When my mother died of breast cancer, my dog died right after.  Like Goobies, my dog was too young and full of life and incredibly attached to me.  And both would have brought solace when I lost my human person.

My cats were rescues.  I remembered a line from Jeff Lewis (of Flipping Out…yes, Jeff is a little crazy but his love of animals is heartening esp with his OCD) “I rescued these animals and I have a responsibility to care for them.” And I thought, yes I do.  Even the thought of leaving my cats was irresponsible.  I’ve given lectures on here about being responsible to the world community and to get outside yourself once in a while to ease your pain.

My daughter and I, the closest two to Michael, were at almost constant odds.  I kept a tight control over her in high school trying to get her into a good school even though she, as Daddy’s little girl, was watching her father die and taking AP and Honors courses while most of her friends had happy home lives (as we had before Michael got sick) and weren’t taking such stringent courses. I was trying to build her belief in herself and she was trying to run from the pain.  I had a responsibility toward her as well, although she wanted to reject any help I offered.

Her friends’ parents were throwing underage drinking parties and I was the horrible mother who didn’t allow her to go to them. Her friends launched a “Hate Gina’s Mother” campaign that is still incredibly painful for me. They tried to sneak her out and in at every turn, they said horrible things about me. I was trying to get this kid out of high school successfully and they just saw me as this witch who was ruining the good time of a sweet and innocent girl who needed her friends more than her mother. The thought that Michael would flip out if he ever knew any of this was going on, pained me even more. If I wanted to be the “best buddy” mom I couldn’t have been. Not my style. Irresponsible.

But there were people who read my book and who read the blog who believed me when I told them “the only way out is through.”  You have to go through the pain and believe you can heal and have a happy life.  I did it before and though this loss was greater by about a factor of a gazillion, I had to keep believing in myself, for myself that I could and would do it again.  And if I chucked myself off the GW, no one would believe in anything I had said.

The last thing I wanted to be accused of was being a hypocrite.  Which would have been the last thing I would have been accused of.  The very last thing.

So I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when, but I figured things would turn around if I followed my own prescription.

It was hard but I moved and have been trying, for almost 2 years now to make this place my home.  I am not there yet, but it’s a lovely place and I hope to do that.

Then in October we had the good fortune of Hurricane Sandy and I fell off a ladder at 2 a.m. trying to silence the carbon monoxide detector that was going crazy due to the loss of power.

I lay on the floor that night afraid to move. Afraid that my injuries would be worse.  I did not want to know.  The wind was howling outside and the rain was beating down on the house. Before the alarm had gone off I had gone to bed with my iPod to try to not hear the wind which was just so damn eerie and strange.  I could hear things flying around outside.  Trees falling, branches breaking, pieces of houses being ripped off.  And I thought, “I can’t move.”   And then I yelled into the dark, howling night, “Michael, WHERE ARE YOU?  I need you.”  and I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

The next day the ambulance was taking me to the hospital but the local one was full so they brought me to THE hospital where Michael had been treated.  It is now about 15 minutes from my house and I go to great measures to avoid it.  As soon as it pulled up I had to get out of there.  I had about 10 minutes worth of juice in my phone.  My son in New York could not get to me, my son in New Jersey definitely could not get to me. I called my son in Boston and asked him to please get me a cab and get me out of there.  It was hard to find any taxi willing to come out.

Roads were closed….there were power lines down including live wires.

Trees were still falling, it was still very gusty.

But just as I was ready to flee the hospital and try walking home, he found someone to come and get me.   Everything that happened in that hospital, from the first night in the ER to the last radiation treatment was in my face.  I practically lived there for 3 months and it was the very last place I wanted to be.

Even waiting for him was difficult.  All of the memories of Michael’s hospitalization from the NICU where he was intubated and in a medically-induced coma for weeks were flooding in and I couldn’t make it stop.  My own physical pain which was now taking up space in my brain was making the decision to walk or stay very hard.

The man pulled up in his taxi and said it might be a while before we could find a route back home.  He said he wasn’t planning on going out but my son called.   He told my son that there was no way he was going out.  My son didn’t tell him the whole story of why I wanted to get out of there but he said, “Please help my mom get home. Please.”  He said it in a way that most 28 year old men don’t talk.  The taxi driver told me that the love and concern in my son’s voice made his decision, “Well if mom wants to go home, we’ll get mom home.”   And he came to get me in those treacherous conditions.

He was a lovely man…kind and I told him about why I had this aversion to being there.  He said, “I’m so sorry for your loss, but you obviously did something right with your children.”  I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but that meant so much to hear that.  He said he was sorry but he couldn’t take my son’s credit card who had offered it to him and I said we might need to stop at a bank.   He said not to worry about it.

He was offering me a free ride in this crazy weather.  But I checked my pocket.  I rarely have cash on me and never ever large bills but there was a $50 in my pocket. I dd not remember ever putting a $50 bill in my pants pocket.  I didn’t remember receiving a $50 bill but I gave it to him.  He opened his wallet to give me change and I said, “No, you keep it. If I had more, you would have that.”  He turned and gave me a prayer card.  I said, “You sir, were the answers to my prayers this morning and he said, “Then pass it along when someone needs it.”  We both smiled and said goodbye.

And then my daughter-in-law, when she was able to get there, took me to the local hospital and then to a hotel room and brought me groceries and made sure I was safe and sound until power came back on in my house a week later. During this time the blog and the bootcamps that were running were having technical issues I couldn’t get to. I had a broken hand and was in some cheap motel room (there were no hotels to be had) with lousy wireless service. Plus I was worried about my cats and my home. And there were blog readers and bootcampers sending me nasty messages. That was fun. They seemed to not notice that New York and New Jersey were sailing out to sea. No, my response to whatever was more important. I love my readers, I truly do but occasionally there are the self-centered ones who don’t care about anything but their pain. Thankfully they are outweighed by about 25 who do care about things outside themselves.

So we finally leave the hotel and on the way home my daughter in law reminded me to stop and get some medications.  I take Forteo which needs to be refrigerated and I was sure that what was there was no longer good.   She stopped to get the medications (I hadn’t even thought of it) and groceries.  And then I was home. As wonderful as she is (all the ladies in my son’s lives are wonderful), the one I wanted was Michael. She helped me clean the spoiled food and clean up from some of the disaster of the hurricane night, but then I was alone. And I never felt so alone. Every time I think this is the most alone you can feel, another episode proves me wrong.

I had fractured my hand which affects the  publication of the next book but in some ways I needed to regain perspective.

The rest of the winter passed, not uneventfully.  I spent the entire day of my wedding anniversary in bed crying. And then I had to go to the closing of my house which is another story unto itself.   I vowed that 2013 would be different.  It had to be.

It started with a night out alone in early January that turned into magic. The magic was undeniable. The light turned on and started to shine on me.  It was a turning point.   The name of the venue where it happened is called “Life-the Place to Be.”   Yes, that is actually the name of the club in Ardsley New York where the concert happened that changed the direction of my life.   LIFE-THE PLACE TO BE.    

There has always been a special place in my heart for Mr. John Lyon (and several stories that involve him including one that was a “last straw” moment that helped end my first marriage) and the place in my heart just grew that night and continues to grow.  But that deserves a post of its own.   I am writing a piece about a Lyon/Kazee original on the Poor Fools release called Winter in Yellowknife. I saw the Fools do it the first time I saw them and I cried and have not been able to get through it without crying. But this night was not a Poor Fools night, it was a Jukes night and there is a very long story behind this and how I got up there, but these things happen. And for me, this is the moment, life re-started. In earnest.

The video from that night is here: SSJ/SJE

Friends who saw the video said they had not seen me smile like that since before Michael got sick…and it’s true…

As I say in the comments to that video, that 5 minute performance, going out that night, being pulled up there (and believe me, it took A LOT to get me up there) changed my life. The grief, the solitude, the pain (emotional and physical), left that night. And in 1986 SSJ gave me a harmonica that set off a wild episode of jealous rage from my then husband and he tried to step on it and break it and I was like “THAT IS IT!” Abuse, check. Cheating, check. Trying to break a harmonica that SSJ gave me because I was standing in the crowd just singing along? NO F’ING WAY. That was the beginning of the end. And going to see SSJ in 2013 was the beginning of the beginning. There is a thread that runs through my life and he is it and I am delighted… For all the legions of all his fans and many with very special stories, this is part of mine (there’s more but that’s for another time).

I did what I tell everyone to do.   Go with the grief.  Take care of yourself.  And go to where you have not been before.  I had been busy not taking my own advice.  And then as soon as I dd go with it, things moved.  Quickly.

Things are still somewhat difficult, but I am on my way up again.  There has been more good than bad over the past 5 months and I’m back in the world again.  Not as I want it to be, not as I’d like it to be, but I’m back out there.   I can see life continuing and getting better all the time.  Not that there will not be dips, but there will not be gigantic pits of doom and despair.

This week I was suffering from so much insomnia and pain from my injuries (yes, they’re still not healed) that I felt the claw of doom grab me by my shoulder.  And I told it to fuck off .    (I know I discourage profanity on the blog but that’s the only way to describe it.

The 4th anniversary of Michael’s death and the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis are coming up soon.

I always tell people that if someone had told me that it would be 9 years from the end of my first marriage to meeting Michael, I would have said, “I can’t do that. I won’t last that long. I can’t.”  But I did.

Even though I knew, at the beginning, that no matter what, I would be okay…if someone told me it would be almost 5 years I would have said “That’s IT…I’m not going through that.” NO F’ING WAY.

But I’ve done it and I’ve received many gifts along the road to waking upon April 27, 2013 and saying, for the first time since September 16, 2008, “Jeez, it’s a beautiful morning in New York and I am happy to be alive.”

I find myself turning back to my old self with new wisdom, that I wasn’t lying.  You can do this.  You can get through this. You can find your way through the darkness.

People come and rescue you even if you are used to being the rescuer.  Life gets better when you know, really know, that you will be okay no matter what.

And life is the place to be.  Think it, feel it, own it and cherish it.  Find your center and be there.  Alone sometimes, with friends sometimes, with loved ones and family sometimes.  But find it and be there.

Life is the place to be and if it’s giving you problems at the moment, do the work and come out on the other side and one day you will wake up and say, “Damn it’s good to be alive.”

Peace to all my readers who have helped me keep the blog going and who have been there for each other during the times I couldn’t be.

Pay it forward and keep on keeping on….Thank You All For Being Here.

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About Susan J. Elliott

Author, Attorney, Grief Counselor, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, Relationship Expert, Breakup Coach BA English Mount Holyoke College, magna cum laude, High Honors, Phi Beta Kappa M.Ed., Counseling Psychology, Cambridge College J.D. University of California, Berkeley Licensed to practice law in federal and state courts in NY. Licensed but Inactive in Texas and District of Columbia Creator of the Getting Past Your Past and Getting Past Your Breakup programs, seminars, workshops, bootcamps, videos, blogs and podcasts Author of Getting Past Your Breakup, Getting Back Out There and the GPYP Workbook
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