“I Always Feel Like”…

TrumanShow

Come on, you know it…”Somebody’s Watching Me”

I’ll have you singing that song in your head the rest of the day, no doubt!

Tell me I’m not the only one who, since your loss, or even a diagnosis, feels as though your every move is being watched, analyzed, scrutinized and sometimes even judged?

And please tell me that if you had a dime for every time someone asked you, “How do you/did you do it?”, you would be reading this post somewhere on a sandy beach with not a care in the world, right?

RIGHT.

Well then, congratulations on being a member of what I like to call, “The Bubble Club”!

That’s right, folks. Your struggles and your losses have earned you a spot on the newest reality show in your community where friends, family, strangers, and plain old busybodies watch your every move in an effort to figure out just how you handle your grief, your life, your loss, your kids, your world.

It’s hard to blame them, though. I mean, most are really watching you because they’re trying to imagine your life as their life. What if this happened to them, their family, their child, their spouse? The unthinkable has become their reality and you’re now center stage

Remember the movie, The Truman Show? Please tell me you do, and if you don’t, do me a favor and go watch it. It’s the one where Jim Carrey’s character, Truman Burbank lived in a world where his every move was being televised, watched, analyzed, scrutinized and yes, even judged. I relate to this film so much because, at first Truman didn’t know his life was on display, much like when we turn inward when tragedy first hits to focus on our immediate family. It’s only after time goes by a bit, that we start to realize that others are looking at us differently. Maybe it’s a simple question like, “How do you do it?”, or something a little more direct like, “You know, I’m not sure if those pictures you posted while out to dinner with your friends was such a good idea.” I guess because if you don’t look sad, you’re not grieving, right? Eventually, just like Truman, we start to realize that our private little world before loss has now become open to the public.

Fair? No. Reality? Yes.

Some of you were thrust onto the scene with no warning. For others, you’ve been watched for some time as the story of your life unravels until the end – then, lucky for you, your show gets renewed for another season because the end is just a new beginning!

I was (am) the latter. In fact, now that I think about it, I may be the Susan Lucci of the bubble club! My show started way back in 1995 and 21 years later, still no Emmy Award! Thankfully back then, cell phones were a luxury and social media was still just a little glimmer in someone’s eye! I had a few good years of anonymity to focus on my family without feeling like I needed to justify my every move, but once Silicone Valley erupted, so did my world.

Admittedly, I spent a few years giving a shit about what people said and I let it get to me. Did I look too happy to have a husband with brain cancer? Was I out with my friends too much? Geez, I was even criticized for dressing too nice while taking him to his chemo sessions! I was just trying to live life in the middle of chaos, so if a night out with my friends, or dressing as if driving to chemo was my job got me through the day, I was good. Never in a million years did I think I had an audience tuning in and offering their comments and suggestions as to how I should “act”.

Time has healed a lot of those wounds and thankfully, I no longer feel as though I have to deliver to my audience. I’m ok with never winning that Emmy because breaking free from the bubble is very liberating, just ask Truman Burbank who said,

“Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”

  • Sheila

Little Moments Matter…

012You know I’d like to think I am a pretty positive person. I can genuinely say that I appreciate each and every day because I know first hand, that life can change in an instant. Been there, done that, and am a different person because of what this life has handed me. Yes, I appreciate each and every day, with maybe just one exception – January 31st.

It’s the one day I really don’t like. The day he died. The day I was by his side as he took his last breath. The day I watched my babies say goodbye. The day I wish I could erase. The day I drove home from hospice with a bag full of his things that he would never use again. The day that I had to walk through my door a single parent, the evening I had to sit down for dinner with my kids as a party of 3, the night I went to bed alone…

It’s the day and the night I truly want to forget, but it’s the day and the night that everyone else always remembers – year after year after year… January 31st – the day I want to shut it all down – no texts, no posts, no emails, no calls, no NOTHING…, but it’s the day I am flooded with sentiments via every imaginable outlet – email, phone, texts and social media.

As that day draws closer, my anxiety builds. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 1 year or 7 years – the uneasiness is the same. Forced to relive those days leading up to it, those moments through it, and the days following it, are torture. It’s hard enough reliving it on my own watch, but to have everyone else reach out to me during that time, brings back the pain more than two-fold. It forces me back to those days that I’d rather soon forget.

For some time I thought I that I may be the exception here. Maybe there are some who like to hear from everyone on the day their loved one died? Maybe it brings them comfort or relief? But the more I researched and dug around, the more I heard that, although the big day messages are appreciated, the memories shared during the “little days” mean so much more.

You’re not ruining our “little” days…

I’d so much rather hear from you on a random day in August about how you heard a song on the radio that reminded you of him. Or you thought of him one day in July as you passed the Harley Davidson store. Or maybe, as my friend Meredith does, reminds me during every snow storm, how much he loved the snow and how he loved to sing a Jeff Turner original song called, “Snow, Snow, Snow”! The little moments matter. They’re the moments that carry us through, the moments that make us smile, laugh, cry, and remember how precious life is. The moments that keep us going in times of darkness.

Believe me, you’re not ruining our little days. No matter where our lives have taken us, or how much they have changed, the ones we have lost are with us through the good days, the bad days and all the days in-between. The random phone call, text, email or visit to tell us a story won’t ruin our day – it just very well may make it better! So please don’t think twice about sending us a little reminder of our loved one – it means more than you know!

Life is lived in the little moments, as I am sure you have heard or seen on so many inspirational quotes. My kids and I talk about the little moments with their dad all the time. The times when he coached little league, the times when he taught them how to swim, the times when he would read them story after story before bedtime. Those were the moments that counted and the moments I want them to cherish. The little moments that matter mean so much more! They are the moments that we all want our loved ones to cherish…

So don’t wait for the big moments… Share your little moments with those who mean the most!

Sheila

Truer Words…

I recently met with a friend who lost her husband suddenly in a tragic accident. I was there to listen, comfort and help, yet all I could say at the end when she asked me how I did it is, “Yes, things are really gonna suck, but you have to accept that and find a way to get out of bed every single day until it starts to get better. Eventually it will get better, but not before it sucks.”

Great advice, huh? Yeah, I was surprised at how raw that sounded, but it was the truth. So when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s speech to the University of California’s graduating class, I felt such a sense of validation! Sheryl spoke the truth about life and death, and life after death and resilience through the tough times. But most importantly, she spoke about the blessings that come from life’s losses. She says:

“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude — gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude — not just on the good days, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”

Becoming the best version of yourself often comes after a life-altering event when you’re forced to change direction, start a new life, become a new YOU. The secret is in never forgetting why or how you got there, and appreciating that you’re on this path for a reason.MovingOnQuote

Click Here for Sheryl’s Speech

 

 

 

 

Who Are You NOW?

clearwater 113A few weeks ago, as I was wrapping up a workshop on women’s empowerment about getting Your”Shelf” together, one of the participants raised her hand. “Sheila, do you think you are the way you are because of all you have been through?”

Hmmmmm, well that’s a loaded question! You know, I tell my story to so many people and I’ve thought about that so many times in my own mind, but have never had anyone ask me directly. Honestly, it’s so hard for me to remember who I was before marriage, cancer, kids, life, death and life again, that I have to think that I would probably be a very different person had I not experienced so much at such a young age and over the course of 14 years.

I asked her what it was exactly she meant by saying I am the way I am. She answered me with the typical, standard answers I suppose I put out there for the public to see. “You know, like more compassionate and understanding – able to put things in perspective.” she replied.

Whew!!! Thankfully, those were observations that I quickly affirmed. “Yes, I suppose I am and I’m very grateful for that.”

Truth be told though, that’s not the whole story. I didn’t just gain a sense of perspective and understanding from my loss, I gained a whole new set of issues, hang ups and quirky behavior from it. It’s a side that I don’t like people to know about, but it’s a side that tugs at me every single day. I suppose I’m talking about it now, 1) because her question really made me think about just how different I really am, and 2) because I know there are a lot of you out there who are just like me – trying to live life as someone quite different than who you were before.

Who am I now? Let’s just say, I think about life too much and I think about death too much. I think about what could happen too much and what might not happen too much. It’s not something that prevents me from living a happy life, it’s more like a nagging sense of perpetual reality. If I see you today, I don’t assume I’ll see you tomorrow. Heck, if I see you in the morning, I don’t assume I’ll even see you in the afternoon!

I make sure that I spend time with my kids every morning before school, even though they’re old enough to get themselves out the door. I insist that my husband, who travels a lot, checks in more than the average spouse. Yeah, I’d say I am the way I am because of what I have been through.

I have a really hard time relaxing my internal self, yet can be the most calm and collected in the middle of an emergency. I know I am this way because, for years I lived in crisis-mode. I suppose that is where I am most comfortable and in control.

My friends tell me to go get a massage to relax, but the thought of “giving in” stresses me out even more! I’d rather dye my own hair at home than sit captive in a chair for any amount of time. And getting my nails done?? “I’ll have the express, just make my nails look decent in under 20 minutes manicure, please!” If we go out to eat, I’m the one sitting closest to the door with one leg poised and ready to go. I seriously just noticed that as I am writing this, I have one foot resting on the chair rail, and the other on the floor facing the door. Why? I’m waiting for the shoe to drop – all day, every day, and it’s a really tough way to live. At one point I thought that, as time went by, it would get better and I’d feel more comfortable “letting go”, but that hasn’t happened. All that has changed is that I become more and more aware of just how much death has shaped me.

It is what it is, right? I’m past the point of trying to fix it, so instead I focus on the blessings and opportunities that life and death has handed me. There is no point in trying to force myself back to my former-self. I honestly don’t think I would want to go back there anyway because the perspective is a gift that allows me to fully value this life. I don’t take things for granted, I take the time to listen, and I appreciate every single day because I am so painfully aware of just how unpredictable life really is.

So the bottom line is that you’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with you. Death has changed us in so many ways and we will never be the same, but at least we’re in it together, right? If it is what it is, I wouldn’t want it any other way…

  • Sheila

 

 

A Parent’s Perspective

FathersDay

As we kick off this new year of spreading comfort, hope and healing to grieving children and families across the country, I would like to share my thoughts about Camp Erin and all it has done for me and my family.

My children and I had the opportunity to speak at The Moyer Foundation’s Champions for Children event in Philadelphia this past September. And while Kyle and Eve shared their personal experiences about Camp Erin, I decided that I wanted to share how it felt from an “adult perspective”. I wanted all those who attended to know and understand that, even if they never experienced loss of this magnitude, giving our children this gift of comfort, hope and healing is so incredibly similar to when we give ourselves time to “disconnect” and “recharge”.

Here’s my speech:

“I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to share with you our experiences with The Moyer Foundation and Camp Erin.

You have heard Eve and Kyle tell you about how they felt when their dad died and how much Camp Erin has meant to them. I am here today to give you a parent’s perspective. It’s a perspective that took me a while to fully understand, but one in which I think you’ll believe makes a whole lot of sense.

I’ll never forget the first time I dropped the kids off for Camp Erin. It had been just months since their dad passed away and it was the first time since his death that they would be away from me for an entire weekend. No phones, no email, no texts, no contact. I had no idea what to expect, and neither did Kyle and Eve. Needless to say, the 45-minute ride to camp was a silent one.

After a long 48 hours that felt like 48 days to me, I arrived at Camp Erin to bring my babies home. I was so excited to see them and envisioned them jumping into my arms telling me how much they missed me and how they couldn’t wait to go home…

Well…..it didn’t quite go down that way. As I made my way to the closing ceremony circle, I spotted my kids. They were too busy telling stories and exchanging numbers to run into my arms. I even got that, Oh man I don’t want to leave yet” look from the both of them! And although it didn’t quite go as I had planned, it really couldn’t have been any more perfect.

You see, Camp Erin is different and I’m going to tell you why.

I’m willing to bet that if any one of you logged into your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…accounts right now, you would find at least one post from someone about their latest girls weekend, or their guys golf outing excursion, right? In fact, I have one on my Facebook news feed right now! Yep, my friend, Maureen is in Charlestown, SC right now with her girlfriends, and her pictures are amazing! My next trip is definitely going to be there!

So what is it about these weekends away? We’ve all had them and it seems as though we all can’t wait for the next one, right? Why is that? Well let’s think about it. You have the opportunity to leave your “reality” whether good or bad, to spend some time with people who are like you (your friends), for a few days that are simply about YOU! The time you spend with them is invaluable because these are the people who truly “get you”. You are free to be yourself – you can laugh with them, cry with them, talk through problems with them and even come up with solutions with them.

You come back to your reality refreshed, recharged, revitalized, and yes, a little bit bummed that it’s over, but in the end, you’re so glad you went!

I know this may seem like a light-hearted comparison, but do you see where I’m going with this? The loss of a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, a friend, is absolutely devastating to a child. Their world is turned completely upside down and they look to us adults to help take their fear and sadness away. And since our worlds are turned upside down just as much, it becomes difficult for us to give them everything they need when we don’t really know what we need ourselves. They’re living in a state of stress and unknown and no way to escape. They see people coming in and out to help, schedules changing, reality changing and no one who “ really gets them” to turn to.

So imagine for a minute, giving a child who is experiencing major changes in his/her life, the opportunity to disconnect. The opportunity to spend a weekend with kids who are like them for a few days that are simply about THEM. An opportunity in a safe, caring and comforting environment to laugh, cry, heal, have fun, and solve problems with? How do YOU think they’ll feel when you pick them up? …refreshed, revitalized, and yes a little bit bummed that it’s over, but oh so glad they went!

My kids and I wouldn’t be standing up here today if we didn’t truly believe that every grieving child should have the opportunity to go to Camp Erin. It is only through the generosity of folks like you who take the time to give of yourselves that can make that happen.

THANK YOU for giving me, and my children, the gift of comfort, hope and healing. Your generosity goes so far in giving grieving kids and their families a fresh perspective full of hope for the future.”

  • Sheila

Any Given Day…

First downSuit up and Settle in – This is Grief and this is Life.

Want the good news or the bad news? That seriously has to be the worst question ever! “Oh yes, please give me the bad news, because I just LOVE bad news”.

Ok, well here goes. You’re getting the bad news first.

You’re on my team and you’re stuck with me. By the way, I didn’t want you on my team. I didn’t choose you. There was no combine, no stats analysis, no draft, no signing bonus, no big contract.

Oh, and once you’re on this team, you can’t be traded or fired either. You’re a “life-er” so settle in.

So here’s the good news…

You’re on my team and you’re stuck with me. There are no rules, no expectations and no playbook. On any given day you can choose your position – from Quarterback to Linebacker, to Head Coach and even GM! You can play offense, you can play defense – the choice is yours.

Training Camp…

Some of you arrive to the locker room quietly, knowing that someday you’d be here. Others make your debut kicking and screaming while the door slams  shut behind you. You didn’t see it coming and you want out NOW! This wasn’t in your playbook.

Don’t worry, it wasn’t in ours, either. We didn’t want to be here as much as you. In fact, we spent much of our rookie season trying to figure out how to just suit up every day, never mind how to play the game. We totally get if you want to sit on the sidelines for a bit, because when you’re on our team, your presence matters, not your stats.

The Opponent…

GRIEF, or as I think it sometimes feels, LIFE. One is not separate from the other. When you lose someone you love, your grief becomes your new life. Your responsibility as a member on this team though, is to not necessarily defeat your opponent, rather to embrace it. Think about it – without loss there is no gain. Week after week we see our favorite teams stuggle, triumph, fight, win, lose and keep going. Week after week, year after year, the game always remains the same.

The Players…

A little advice for the rookies, here. There will be days when you show up to play and days you will sit out. Days when you return that punt for a Touch Down and days when you will be sacked for a huge loss. The thing about your opponent is that it doesn’t take a day off – EVER. It’s a relentless force that can set you back 10 yards leaving you defeated and ready to give up. But the beauty in Grief and Life and your new team, is that you’ll stumble upon those veteran players out there who pull you back up to your feet and give you the strength to keep fighting. Yes, you’ll make huge gains only to lose big yards, and you’ll feel like you’ve won the Super Bowl one season, to not even making the playoffs the next. This is Life and this is Grief, so settle in.

The Fans…

Oh don’t get me started!!!! You know the fans – the die-hard season ticket holders, the fair-weather (bandwagon) fans, the “know-it-alls” and the, “I’m just here to watch the show” spectators. They’re at every event and they’ve taken their seats at your game too. The ones who are tried and true (and few), the ones who think they know how you should play the game without ever stepping on the field themselves, and the ones who like to watch for your next slip-up so they can report back to whomever will listen. The bottom line is this – the “fans” can say what they want, but until they suit up themselves, they will never truly understand what it’s like to play the game – PERIOD.

So you’re on my team – and although I never wanted you in the first place, I’m glad you’re here. It may not be the path we’ve chosen, but it’s a team that you and I simply can’t live without.

  • Sheila

For you…

HolidayBulbsFor you…

For all of you who had to say goodbye

And for those who never got the chance…

For all of you who sat at their bedside

And for those who never saw it coming…

For all of you who sent them off to protect us

And for those who didn’t get to welcome them home…

For all of you who mended fences

And for those who wish you had…

For all of you who sitting next to the empty chair

And for those who found a way to fill it with love…

For all of you who want to crawl into the nearest corner

And for those who have picked yourselves up…

For all of you who couldn’t get out of bed today

And for those who finally did…

For all of you who took a deep breath, put on a smile, and faced the day

And for those who aren’t there yet…

For all of you who are just doing the best you can

And for those who think you’ll never get it together…

Please know – You are not alone.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Allow yourself to smile.

Live life the best you can, and know that there are so many of us who are just trying to do the same.

Wishing you and your family peace, love, strength, courage and hope in 2016!

  • Sheila

The empty chair…

012…where you used to sit. What a painful reminder of what once was. Your place in our family, your place in our hearts.

As we gather tomorrow to be with our family, friends and loved ones, let us take some time to think of all who are sitting down for the first time this Thanksgiving with an empty chair. May they find comfort and understanding in those surrounding them now and in the days and years to come. For this chair will always remain empty even though it may look filled.

Happy Thanksgiving.

-Sheila

 

When Life Hands you Loss…

Hailey_AssistantLife handed me loss again this week. One of my dance students passed away on Tuesday after a 7-month fight with brain cancer. She was just 11 years old and so full of life. She was one of the sweetest, kindest, funniest girls to dance through my doors, and now she’s gone.

I got the call Tuesday morning, and even though I knew that the day was coming, I still wasn’t prepared. Oh, I thought I was. I had lived through the loss of my husband from brain cancer 6 years before, and in the years since, have loved and lost more than I wish to count – I should be able to do this, right? Hailey’s parents had kept me up to date pretty regularly since her diagnosis so I knew what was happening. Then things got quiet and I knew what that meant.

Truth is, I wasn’t prepared 6 years ago, just like I wasn’t prepared 6 days ago. No one is ever prepared for the end. As long as our loved one is still with us, there is hope – even until the very last second. It’s the second after the very last second when hope is gone, that you realize that life will never be the same.

My world this week has been spinning around me and I just want it to stop. My heart hurts. I’m really not in the mood to return work calls or hear someone complain because it took me a day or two to get back to them, I don’t want to smile at the cashier at the grocery store, I don’t want to say that my day has been great when it hasn’t. I don’t want to do ANYTHING! I want to sit still and be sad. I want people to understand this without me having to say a word. I just want it all to stop.

But the world doesn’t work that way. The world doesn’t have time for loss. The world is impatient, unforgiving and anxious to keep spinning around. It’s not the world’s fault. The mother on the other end of the line who is telling me that she is disappointed I didn’t call her back sooner doesn’t know. Neither does the cashier, nor the aggravated man waiting for me to pull out of my parking spot because I just needed a minute to compose myself.

We hear the saying time and time again, “Be kind. Everyone is facing a battle you know nothing about” and it’s so true. Our battles are often fought quietly from within, and quite honestly, who knows? The impatient man waiting for me to “compose myself” might be facing one of his own.

All that I do know is that when we go through battles and come out on the other side, we have an opportunity to help others by making our struggles and battles known. And when we do, we give those who are struggling hope, help, support, and love from someone who knows what it’s like. All things I wish I had when I was going through my own battle with my husband’s brain cancer.

I was surrounded by people, but so incredibly alone. I remember spending countless hours in bookstores and online looking for ways to manage life when you have a spouse with a terminal illness. But all I ever found were books about the end of life for the elderly. There was nothing out there for young couples facing this diagnosis. I didn’t know anyone who had been through what I was experiencing, or anything even somewhat close to it. I felt completely paralyzed in a world that kept sprinting forward. I longed for someone, anyone out there who could help me at least to get off the starting block.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve been sharing my story for years now in an effort to help others – mostly from a distance. Things got personal though, 7 months ago when I learned that Hailey was diagnosed with brain cancer – stage 4 glioblastoma.

I struggled with sharing my story with her parents because, 1) my husband died from the disease, and 2) I didn’t want them to not have hope. He died a few years before Hailey started coming to the studio so I could have easily not said a word and let things be, but my heart kept telling me otherwise. I just kept thinking that I owed it to them to at least let them know that I am there for support, advice, and help. Although every struggle is different, as is every loss, we shared a common thread – something I searched and searched for years ago.

Opening yourself up, sharing your stories and your pain isn’t easy. Often times, it opens you up to more pain and sadness, but I have found that amid the pain and sadness, the bonds and friendships that are formed are absolutely priceless. Knowing that there are others out there who know what it’s like to feel life racing around while you can’t move is comforting. And knowing there are others out there who know what it’s like to take those first strides after loss is encouraging.

Yes, my heart is broken and I have had a really hard time this week, but I truly believe that had I not shared my story, my broken heart would have also been filled with regret.

Life handed me loss this week, but also handed me new love, friendship and support – I will cherish that forever.

  • Sheila