No One Said it Was Easy

I read a post this morning that reminded me of a particular experience in my life.

For just over a year in my mid teens, I volunteered on the oncology floor of a children’s hospital.

Upon arrival each Sunday, my job was to open the playroom to the kids on the floor that were able to make the walk down the hall. Usually three or four of them would make it, pulling IV stands behind them and adjusting the masks strapped across their pudgy faces, swollen from steroids. All of the toys in the room were made of hard plastic to withstand the constant washing in bleach solutions in order to prevent the spread of infection. I had to watch carefully to make sure that after any toy was handled, it was carefully sanitized and dried before being returned to the bins or into another child’s waiting hands. You realize how much toddlers change their mind when each decision requires a two-stage sanitization process!

After the playroom was closed for the afternoon, I would pack up a cart with toys, games and puzzles and make my way down the hall to visit with the kids who were too ill to make the trek to the playroom. I would sit beside them on the beds and assist with puzzles or challenge them to a Nintendo game on their TV. With the kids undergoing bone marrow transplants, our visits had to occur through glass panes, the toys left outside for the nurses to carry in.

Although some faces were familiar from week to week, the oncology floor was a revolving door. Some kids were only there periodically for treatment. Others traveled to San Antonio for special care and then went back to their home hospitals. On the good days, the kids would be released with the hope of remission.

And, of course, many never made it out at all.

Those kids, with their scarf-wrapped heads, bloated or emaciated bodies and blistered lips, were powerful. Their bodies may have been broken and frail, but their spirits were stronger than any I’ve ever seen. I would watch them walk down the hall with only the slightest sharp intake of breath to indicate their pain before breaking out in a huge grin at the sign of the playroom.

Many of these kids had never known life without cancer. All they knew was days of pain, some more and some less. They grew skilled at navigating the endless cycle of hope and bad news.

And through it all, they accepted.

The first one shocked me.

“Miss Lisa. I’m not gonna see you next week.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

“I’m gonna get to fly with the angels!” exclaimed the three-year-old girl, her face lighting up and her hands clasped beneath her chin.

I was taken aback. My initial reaction was to deny. Or to become sad. Or to distract her with something else.

But then I looked at her. And decided that I would let her tell me what to do.

“Flying with the angels sounds lovely. What do you think it will be like?”

We chatted for a few more minutes, the girl telling me all about her angels, until her mom came back towards the room. The girl leaned in and whispered, “I can’t talk about the angels when my mom is here. It makes her sad.”

I gave her a hug and left the room. I wasn’t surprised to see her picture on the memory wall the following week.

She was the first, but by no means the last.

“I need to give you an extra-big goodbye today cause this one’s for real.”

“Do you want me to tell the angels ‘hi’ for you?”

“Take care of the other kids for me.”

They were always right.

Each one came from a child between the ages of 2 and about 8. After that, and they reacted more like adults.

I watched those adults too. Often when I entered a room, the parents used that time to take a little break. I would see their posture fall as soon as they passed the threshold of the room’s door as though the strings on their puppet had been suddenly cut. They would sob, letting it out after holding it in for their kid. They would talk with each other and with the doctors, desperately looking for a way to make their kid okay.

But the kid usually was okay. Not physically, but in spirit. They knew when to fight and when it was time to let go. Much like my first experience, many of them would volunteer that they felt they needed to protect their parents and siblings.

“Tell my mommy I’m going to be okay.”

“I’ll have the angels. My mommy won’t have them.”

“Will you give my brother my teddy bear when I’m gone?”

What the kids sensed but had no words for was that they had acceptance. They were not fighting against what could be. What should be. All they knew was what was.

What the kids sensed but had no words for was that their parents were trying to find acceptance. To try to understand why their baby was being taken away so soon. They were fighting against the unfairness of it all. They were mourning the loss of their child and of the person he or she would become.

It was tragic to witness the adults.

So I focused on the kids.

And, in so many ways, their lives were terrible. All too brief and filled with so much hurt.

But they didn’t dwell on that. Didn’t waste energy on saying that it was unfair. They didn’t hold back their giggles or their grins.

Instead, they shared their spirit with each and every person they met. They became the angels here on earth.

During periods of loss and struggle in my own life, I have thought back to those little angels and tried to remember their lessons of peace and acceptance.

To all the families who have lost children due to cancer, my heart goes out to you. I saw your pain but I cannot imagine its depths. I hope you have received the gift of an angel from your child, watching over you to make sure that you’re okay too.


The Unbelievers

Search for “divorce” on Twitter, and you find countless posts like the following:

don’t believe in divorce….when me and my partner have problems we will sit down, talk and work it out! Commitment for life

As though one can make divorce not real simply by pretending it doesn’t exist. I hate to break it to them, but divorce is kinda like gravity’s impact on an aging body; it exists whether you want to admit it or not.

I didn’t believe in divorce either. I believed in commitment. In working things out. In staying together. However, my husband did not feel the same way.

The problem with the Twitter quote above is that it completely neglects to acknowledge your partner’s view and actions, neither of which are under your jurisdiction.

You may not believe in divorce but if your partner stops believing in the marriage, you’ll change your mind real fast.

I try to remember that these statements are coming from ignorance and a lack of exposure. These are people who have not been touched by divorce. These are people that believe that promises made can never be broken. These are people who think that their wishes are strong enough to ward off any unwanted situations.

I both envy and pity them.

I was them.

I had that certainty, that confidence in my marriage. I believed that divorce couldn’t happen to me because I didn’t want it to. I didn’t realize that my husband had developed a different view. My certainty that it couldn’t happen to me meant that I was blindsided. I was betrayed, not only by my husband, but also by my beliefs.

I worry about those who believe that it can never happen to them. I hope they are right and they never face the pain of lives torn apart. However, I worry that many of them will realize that belief is not enough to hold a marriage together.

The most difficult aspect of any relationship is the acceptance that your partner is an individual with his or her own thoughts and actions. You cannot control them. You cannot change them. All you can do is love them and embrace them while being the best you can be.

Maybe instead of saying, “I don’t believe in divorce,” it should be, “I believe in doing everything possible on my side to ensure that we do not divorce and I hope that you can do the same.”

Now that’s something I can believe in.

The Four Agreements in Marriage

As a homework assignment for my recent girl’s weekend, I was asked to read The Four Agreements. I was fully willing, but somewhat skeptical, since as the only child of a counselor, I was raised on a steady diet of self-help. I think I overdosed.

After the first few pages, my skepticism was replaced with excitement and understanding. This was one book that made sense to me.

The premise is simple: four agreements that, if followed, will change your life. The book is short and the agreements are extremely simple but nowhere near easy. They are applicable to every area of life and manage to be general and still useful all at once. They are interconnected; one always leads to another.

As part of my own work with The Four Agreements, I am drilling down and applying them to various areas of life. Here is my take on The Four Agreements in marriage:

Be Impeccable With Your Word

In essence, this agreement is your promise to say what you mean and to avoid speaking against yourself or others in fear, pain or blame. In a marriage, this means to refrain from using words such as “always” or “never” when referring to your partner’s actions. The agreement suggests that speaking in blame is not being impeccable since the underlying motivation does not match the message. When speaking to others about your spouse, avoid endless complaining, as this only serves to reinforce those beliefs. Also, avoid speaking against yourself, saying words that diminish your value and worth.

I am working on this agreement in my current relationship. When I get frustrated, I find myself running an internal (sometimes it slips out!) dialog cataloging his wrongs and missteps. Or, I berate myself endlessly for my role in some screw up. To be impeccable, however, is to speak in love and kindness, forgiving both he and I in the interest of a better relationship. To help with this, whenever I am frustrated with him, I intentionally catalog his gifts and blessings or my own, if I am speaking against myself. In this way, the words and the intent match.

Don’t Take it Personally

No spouse enters into a marriage as a blank slate. They have a lifetime of hurts and fears that they carry with them. Any reaction they have is filtered through their unique experiences and views. It is so easy to react to every word or action as being directed to you, but the reality is that they are operating from their own place. You are not the center of their world; they are. It’s strange, it’s easy for us to identify the multitude of factors that influence our own thoughts yet we seem to think that our partners somehow don’t posses that complexity. When you feel attacked by your partner, don’t take it personally. Try not to be defensive by realizing that they are projecting their own fears and wounds. If you can remain open, it is possible to work down to the root cause of the verbal strike.

I’ve shared my struggle with this issue with Brock. I am learning not to take it personally when he needs distance; it is not about me. Likewise, he does not take it personally when I need time alone to decompress and recharge.

Taking things personally has been my biggest challenge of all of these. As life so often does, it is making sure that I get repeated lessons here. By choosing to share my writing (and my life) publicly, I have been the target of many attacks. I have come to learn that when someone (especially a stranger) is so threatened or incensed by my words, that they are really a trigger of some other event in their life. It’s not about me.

Don’t Make Assumptions

My 8th grade social studies teacher had the following bumper sticker posted on his board: “Never assume because all you do is make an ass out of u and me.” I’ve never forgotten that message, although, like all of the agreements, it is easier said than done:)

In a marriage, assumptions allow us to feel judged and can keep us in a victim role (not exactly an attractive trait in a partner). It’s easy to assume you know your partner’s motivations and to assume that they understand yours. Before you respond, ask. Find out their perspective. And then listen. The worst part of assumptions is that they prevent us from really listening to our partners. It’s amazing how much your attitude can be transformed once you release assumptions and become open to possibilities.

I find at times that I will predict Brock’s response to something before I even bring it up. Then, I respond to these assumptions, at times getting upset before I’ve ever given him a chance. Crazy, right? But does it sound familiar?

Do Your Best

One of my favorite aspects of yoga training is that you are encouraged to do your best on that day; it recognizes that “best” is subjective and movable. In a marriage, be gentle yet firm with yourself. Expect your best and accept where you are in that moment. Recognize that your spouse is doing his or her best, even when it may not feel that way. Part of doing your best is to do things for your spouse without any expectations. You do your best for you, not for recognition.

This is an area where Brock has really helped me. I used to be too hard on myself and not forgiving of periods of anger or sadness. He helped me accept that I was doing what I could at that moment and that the moment would eventually pass.

So, don’t take it personally, but do your best to check out the book (don’t assume you know what it says) and see if I’ve been impeccable with my word:)

Next up, the four agreements in divorce (that’s gonna be fun!) and in health/wellness. Okay, maybe I’m a little obsessed at the moment:)

The 8 Types of Friends You Need During Divorce

It is normal for your marriage to be at the center of your social life. You have a built-in activity partner. You share friends. The “plus one” is expected when you receive an invitation.

And then the marriage dies.

Your go-to is gone. The mutual friends may be divvied up like a bag of Skittles, or they may simply scatter as though the bag of candy was dropped to the floor.

It is tempting to hide. To hibernate. You may want to pull the covers over your head and not come out until the debris field has been cleared. It’s tempting, but it won’t help you heal. Think of the skin under a bandage that has been left on too long. Is that what you want your heart to look like?

Hopefully you have some stalwart friends who stick by your side. These are the ones who don’t run from your tears or hide from your rants. Treasure these friends. They are true.

Eventually, you will tire of being seen as the “divorcing one.” You will want to try on new guises and play with new personas. This is a wonderful opportunity to try new things and meet new people. Surround yourself with others who have a zest for life, even if they only flit in and out of your life for a moment. Let them teach you. It is a time to win friends and be influenced by people. Practice saying “yes” to experiences you would have avoided before. Celebrate. Laugh. Live. Then go home and cry if you need to.

No one friend can meet all of your needs during divorce. The following types of friends are priceless as you navigate your divorce:


The Rational Friend

Divorce has a way of making you go a little crazy. You do and say things that you normally would not and your common sense seems to disappear. Your rational friend is the one who talks you out of your impulse to plaster your ex’s face on a billboard or desire to date out of revenge. This is the friend that gives you sage and mature advice and doesn’t partake in your ex-bashing sessions.


The Let it All Hang Out Friend

Of course, sometimes you want someone to help you in you ex-bashing. That’s when you turn to this friend. This is the confidant that will hold nothing back and tell it like is. Loudly. Usually over drinks. This friend will help you purge the negative emotions as you cuss and scream and cry and laugh, often all at the same time.


The Friend Who Knew You Before

During divorce, you often feel like you’re losing part of yourself. Especially if you were in the marriage for a long time, it’s difficult to remember who you were prior to the relationship. This friend can help you reacquaint with the earlier and more innocent you. These are the friends that often fade into the background when we are married. Take this time to reconnect with the friends of your youth and let them remind you of your spirit.


The Friend You Only Met After

When you are in the process of divorce, your marital status is often front and center in your interactions. Eventually, this gets old and you just want to be you. Or maybe you even want to be someone a little different that who you were during your marriage, but your existing friends already have you typecast. Take this opportunity to make new friends. You can tell them about the divorce. Or not.


The Fun Friend

This is the friend that will get you off the couch and have you doing something you never thought you would try. They may call with a party invitation one week and an offer to drive cross-country the next. They will drag you out of your comfort zone kicking and screaming. But then you’ll be laughing so hard that you don’t care.


The Hot Friend

Well, you are single now, aren’t you? This easy-on-the-eyes companion is great when you’re starting to awaken to the opposite sex again but you are nowhere near ready to venture into the dating world. This friend gives you a chance to flirt and feel attractive and sexual again. In some cases this may go further; however, I personally recommend keeping sex and your friends separate, especially when you are vulnerable.


The Non-Human Friend

Animals can make the best companions when we’re having a rough time. They truly practice unconditional love and will never judge you. On those days when talking with a human friend is simply too overwhelming, try connecting with a fur buddy. Kisses are optional but always nice:)


The True Friend

This is the friend that lets you be the real you, whether that be sobbing in the fetal position on the floor or putting on a way too short skirt for your first post-divorce date. This is the companion who will pick you up, give you a place to live and a purpose for living.


You may not have all of these types of friends in your life at the time of the divorce. I know I did not. I had to make the choice and the consistent effort to find and build friendships. I joined, I talked to people I met at the gym or coffee shop and I accepted invitations even when I wanted to hide. I met new friends and strengthened existing bonds. Many of those people are still in my life today while others made their influence and moved on.


Your world will stabilize again. Friendships will build. You will learn to navigate without the “plus one.” Until that time, reach out and make some new friends even if only for a day. And, you never know, you may just find a new “plus one.”