I Let Depression Tarnish the Last Months I Had With My Husband

Confessions of a guilty widow

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

If I confess my deepest darkest regret, will you think less of me? Will the colorful image you had of my character fade to gray?

I guess I really can’t be concerned with such matters. The need to be authentic compels me to admit:

During the last months of my husband’s life, I was a wretched wife.

When your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, a halo is promptly bestowed upon your head. People behold the aura of an angel, a selfless guardian.

The moment your beloved dies, you are bequeathed sainthood. No canonization investigation required — you’re decreed a living martyr.

I wasn’t worthy of either title.

For years, I was able to pull it off

From that fateful day in 2001 when his leukemia was detected and throughout the stem cell transplant in 2003, I was my husband’s fierce warrior — his faithful companion.

I eagerly attended every doctor’s appointment. During the transplant, I sat by his hospital bed with my notebook of lab results, daily stats, and Q&As for the attendings. I kept track of how many ounces he drank — and expelled. I’d help him shower if he had the energy to take one and especially when he didn’t.

For eight weeks, I monitored and worried. His steadfast sentry, nothing was going to be missed on my watch.

The 45-minute drive home each night was my time to cry — that is, if I could allow myself the release. Gasping sobs would have to wait. One can only shed so many tears when navigating a freeway.

Our two young sons, ages eight and ten, would greet me at the door, anxious for news about when their Daddy — their hero — might come home. I never had the heart to tell them the odds were he wouldn’t.

Once he was released from the hospital, the location had changed, but the vigil continued. He was in lockdown for 100 days while his immunities were rebuilding. Every morsel of food and drink was strictly controlled to prevent contamination. I flushed his Hickman twice daily so we wouldn’t need to hire a nurse.

My husband’s only excursions were visits to the doctor, where I diligently came prepared with my ever-expanding notebook. I reported on his progress and tattled on him when he “misbehaved.”

Part scolding, part admiration, the three of us would laugh and cry, smile and cringe about the pace of his recovery.

Throughout it all, he would hold my hand and thank me. Silently sing my praises with a sly smile. I would soak it all in — letting his pride in me briefly douse the dread simmering in my soul.

I was a triumphant wife.

Reality settles in

We soon learned the harsh reality of “surviving” a stem cell transplant. Remission does not equal well. It only means cancer-free.

When they bring you to the precipice of death, there are going to be consequences.

My husband was in a ceaseless war. His immune system had been overthrown by the transplant and it wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Every skirmish left a little more devastation in its wake. His body was the battered battleground.

As he bravely soldiered on, I slowly withdrew. I continued the day-to-day activities of being a wife and mother, but I retreated from us — from him.

I was a fraudulent wife.

I was repulsed not by him, but by the disease slowly taking him away from me.

Every ailment withered his physique, but strengthened his resolve. The more he suffered without complaint, the more I wanted to scream about the injustice of his illness. I seethed with selfish anger and writhed in empathetic pain.

The two of us continued on in a stoic hush, not wanting the world — or each other — to realize just how fragile we were.

Not comprehending that isolating our feelings would soon isolate us from each other.

I could handle much of it: the perpetual sores on his feet that he spent 30 minutes each morning dressing, the near loss of his vision requiring contacts only available across the country, and the limp that took stole his weekly game of basketball.

It was the rest that made me go AWOL

First, it was his drastic drop in weight. I used to joke I didn’t marry a man who was thinner than me, playing on his ego to try and get him to eat. But that was only the truth floating on the surface. From the center of my being, I ached for his strong, muscular arms that would make me feel safe and protected.

Each pound he lost tolled how precarious our life had become. He finally stopped telling me his weight. I would never ask again.

Doubly desolating was the siege of his mouth. Dry and full of sores, he couldn’t muster enough saliva to eat normal food nor tolerate any sort of spice. Nearly every meal I could make caused him pain. When he stopped joining us for dinner, I gave up on cooking.

No amount of breath mints could disguise the scent and flavor of sickness inhabiting his mouth. The mouth that gave me my first kiss. The one I used to spend hours savoring was now sour — a distasteful reminder of a life being vanquished. Our affection became relegated to pecks on the cheek.

He developed a form of scleroderma. The condition marched across his skin, laying the foundations for its eventual sarcophagus. Disfiguring and immobilizing everywhere it advanced, we knew it was only a matter of time before it hit below the belt.

I was a neglectful wife

Each night, my husband would retreat to our bedroom soon after dinner. A full day’s work for him was exhausting. After the kids were put to bed, he’d ask me to join him. Sometimes for intimacy, mostly for simple companionship.

To my profound regret, more and more often, I’d come up with a reason to decline his request.

From “I’ve got a headache,” to “There are bills to pay,” to “My favorite TV show is on,” I guiltily spouted them all. Dejected, he eventually stopped asking.

My love for him never wavered, but truth be told, I was resentful, morose, and a sad excuse for a wife. I fumed that every waking moment was dictated by his disease. Embittered that our children didn’t remember life with him well.

I was despondent over being robbed of our happily ever after, even as I was robbing him of the closeness he needed — and deserved.

I was in mourning before he was dead.

It never occurred to me I was suffering from depression.

The other shoe drops

For seven years, the WHEN? shadowed us during the day and loomed in our dreams at night. We tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but it haunted us all the same.

His death brought forth a cavalcade of emotions: Shock, sorrow, and deep-seated anguish that left me hollow. It also brought relief. Relief that he wouldn’t have to endure another minute of suffering. Relief that cancer no longer ruled our lives.

Relief that I didn’t have to take care of him anymore.

Then the guilt would wash over me like Bactine. I would sting mightily with shame and then go numb.

I was a grieving widow.

Clarity comes in the aftermath

It’s been 12 years since he’s been gone. A dozen years living with this secret disgrace.

I’ve chastised myself a thousand times for falling short. Remorse still prowls my cheerful memories, waiting to pounce and condemn.

Only recently have I acknowledged I was depressed. The years of “being strong” had left me weak. There were only so many hours in the day I could keep a smile on my face. I was also suffering from an autoimmune disorder that sucked dry any reserves I may have had.

Desperately working with my meager coping skills and failing miserably, I simply thought this was par for the course when confronted with cancer. Too dumbfounded to recognize that I needed — we both needed — help.

I was doing my best, but I know it must have hurt him deeply. If I could change one thing, I would have swallowed my pride and reached out to someone.

Maybe then, I could have settled into his embrace each and every night of those last months. Let him kiss me like he did our first time under the mistletoe.

Remind him — remind me — that our love could soothe all wounds.


Cancer caregivers experience depression at more than double the rate of patients

The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that up to 59% of cancer patient caregivers experience some sort of depression, compared to up to 25% for patients. Continual, untreated caregiver burden can negatively impact the health of the caregiver as well as the patient.

If you are a cancer patient caregiver and feeling overwhelmed, please don’t keep it to yourself.

Most cancer centers will have an oncology social worker on staff that can direct you to nearby resources. Seek out support groups where you can express your anxiety in a safe space. Check out the National Cancer Institute’s Caring for the Caregiver.

Getting assistance will only help you — and your loved one.


This piece was originally published as an P.S. I Love You Editor’s pick on Medium.com

Sheriffs Swarmed My Street the Day Before My Husband’s Funeral

Image by Maximilian Weber from Pixabay

How I found laughter and love in my darkest of days

My friend was running a bit late, and my mother was agitated. “Where is Katie* (named changed to protect the terrified) with that cold cut platter?”

It was the day before my husband’s funeral. We were expecting another influx of people stopping by to pay their respects and were running low on food. Katie had graciously offered to bring up the traditional wake tray of deli meats and cheese.

She was always on time, so I realized it could only be one thing. “Knowing Katie,” I said, “she is taking the time to make it look perfect.”

An interior decorator by trade and fabulous cook, everything Katie created was impressive. She could make even the most mundane chips and dip look Insta-worthy — even before Instagram existed. “It’s all about the presentation,” she explained.

Suddenly Katie and another friend, Christine, frantically burst through the front door. “There are three sheriff cars and five officers with their guns drawn right in front of your house!” they breathlessly exclaimed.

Christine and I bolted upstairs to my son’s room to get a good view of the action, figuring we could duck behind the bed if bullets started flying. (Our lame safety plan made perfect sense at the time.) Too freaked out to join us, my mother and Katie huddled in the kitchen.

We peeked through the blinds like seasoned nosy neighbors. Sure enough, the three cars were stopped in front of the house directly across the street. The sheriffs were slowing converging on a pickup parked in the driveway, firearms at the ready.

Our hearts beating faster than any gunfire that might have erupted, we were captivated by this C.S.I. moment playing out on my suburban cul de sac.

The officers steadily approached the vehicle in question, but found no one inside. After a thorough check of the perimeter (yes, I watch a lot of crime dramas), they determined that there was no immediate threat. The squad soon dispersed, deflating our adrenaline rush as they drove away.

Turns out the house was in foreclosure. The neighbors, incensed at being evicted, had trashed the interior before they left. The word was out to call the sheriffs should one of them return. Apparently, I didn’t get the notification. Neither did my next-door neighbor’s gardener, who had innocently parked in the perpetrator’s driveway.

Condolences and Casseroles

The gardener had been forced to use said driveway because there was no space available on the street. Every inch of curb was occupied by someone visiting my house — the home of a grieving family.

Since my husband’s sudden death a little over a week before, it had been a steady procession of people stopping by to offer condolences, deliver food or flowers, or both. Casseroles and coffee cakes overran my kitchen. Bouquets of flowers took up every square inch of table space.

I walked around in a frenzied fog trying in vain to comprehend my current circumstances.

One insightful friend brought over copious amounts of paper goods, plastic utensils, and toilet paper. When you have a constant flood of guests, they are the things you need most, but the last things you think about. It’s now my go-to offering when I visit a family in mourning.

It Takes a Village, a Family, and a Community

My husband and are were raised in large and social families. Both of us — especially my husband — were active in our community. He died while he was coaching my younger son’s youth football game, calling plays as he went down. It had made the local paper. To say his funeral was going to be well-attended was an understatement.

It was like planning a wedding for 1,000 guests with only a week’s notice.

My sons — ages 13 and 15 — and I were dumbfounded by grief. We could barely get ourselves dressed, let alone plan such an event.

Fortunately, it was this extended family and community that picked up the slack and then some. Some kindnesses were elaborate, and others were simple, but all made a difference.

No gift of compassion is ever too small for a family that is grieving.

My parents’ main mission was to tend to my boys and me, as we were rolling on empty. One person created the funeral program, another had it printed. Matt’s closest coworker took charge of the video presentation and gave a soul-stirring eulogy. I can’t remember who oversaw the floral arrangements, but the altar was in glorious bloom.

The church bereavement committee handled the after-service reception. While I hazily muddled through the greetings and thank yous, they made sure every guest had enough appetizers to ward off grumbling stomachs.

A pair of Matt’s friends transformed our backyard into a splendid venue complete with lights in the trees for the at-home gathering. Still another generous couple picked up the tab for dinner and bartended the evening. When the sunset and the lights began to twinkle, it was truly heavenly.

My husband had always envisioned hosting just such a magical party. I only hope he was able to see his dream come true.

Absurdity at the Mortuary

A few days before the funeral, Katie had accompanied me to the mortuary to finalize the details of my husband’s cremation. She was a bit squeamish with the situation but determined I not do this alone.

Uneasiness radiated off of Katie as I filled out the forms. She was trying valiantly to hide it, which only made me appreciate her presence even more. Soon, the mortician came in to finalize the details:

Would you like an urn? No, we will be scattering his ashes.

Ok, that will be $50 dollars for the cardboard box. I could hear my cost-conscious husband bellowing from his yet-to-be-determined grave.

Would you like him sifted or unsifted? Wait? What?! We aren’t baking a cake with him! Katie turned ashen.

The mortician explained that if the deceased had false teeth or any pins and rods from surgeries, they wouldn’t turn to ash in the cremation process. Lumpy gobs of metal would be left in the cinders. Matt was a very good — but accident-prone — athlete. His body was practically cyborg.

I didn’t need any Cracker Jack surprises tumbling out when we spread his remains. I paid extra for the sifting.

Finding Laughter and Love Amidst Chaos

In the eight days between my husband’s death and his funeral, I was bewildered and broken. My entire world had been shattered and I had yet to learn how to pick up the pieces.

Without the benevolent support of family and friends, my sons and I wouldn’t have survived those first days and beyond. We were in a grief-laden stupor and many details remain hazy, but our hearts will always remember the outpouring of love we received.

As it is with everything, there were periods of laughter and even joy woven into the hours of sorrow. My spirit was delighted to see far-away loved ones who arrived to console us. Katie and I giggled over the “sifting inquiry” for days and years after.

Even the alarm of a police raid provided a much-needed diversion. In your darkest of days, life will provide moments of relief if you’re willing to recognize them.

Back at the Scene of the Crime

After the commotion from the impending shoot-out had died down, I was finally able to view Katie’s platter. It was a magnificent display. The cold cuts and cheeses were impeccably spiraled around what I knew to be one of her favorite dishes. She spent time considering the color palette when she transitioned from one deli item to another.

My dear friend needed perfection for an imperfect occasion. I knew each item was carefully placed with heartbreak as she worked to ease my burden. It was her sympathy card to me.

“So, this is why you were late,” I said to Katie as I admired the tray. She smiled through her tears and nodded.

“It’s all about the presentation,” we chimed together.


This piece was originally published on Medium.com

Looking for Love? Maybe You Need to Change Your Point of View

What you find is up to you

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Tucked in the upper right corner of my garage rafters lies a box containing an enormous vase. It has earned that spot because it is simply too large for any indoor closet. Scarlet and urn-shaped (an omen, perhaps?) it was a gift from my late husband on a bygone Valentine’s Day. He promised to fill it with roses each year after that. He made it to three.

Guiding like a beacon, it is the first thing I notice when pulling into my home. Sometimes, all I observe is the tattered, dusty edges of the box — how empty that picture of the crimson glass vessel appears. Most of the time, however, I recognize it as it truly is: A loving cup brimming with memories. It all depends on my point of view.


Now here I am, a dozen Valentines since my husband’s passing, without a holiday mandated significant other. Lavish bouquets will not be exhibited on my Facebook feed. No one is sending me sweet love notes this year.

But here’s the kicker — I am teeming with loves just as significant, if not more so, than the adoration of a spouse or partner. And, I bet, my fellow non-plus-oners, you are, too. You just have to recognize them and, most importantly, resolve to take heed of their beauty.

Only in the eyes of love can you find infinity
-Sorin Cerin

The Greeks defined eight types of love. Why eight? I’d like to think it’s because eight is the number of infinity. Universal love can’t be comprehended in a single construct.

My favorite synopsis of this Grecian octet is a blog post on the FTD website. I know, cheesy, but good content is good content. Plus, this is a Valentine’s piece, so what the heck.

Here they are, with a little commentary thrown in:

  • Philia: Brotherly Love. Kindred Spirits. The kind of person who understands that pineapple has no business being anywhere near a pizza, but completely understands why ketchup on tacos is the bomb.
  • Pragma: Enduring, mature love. A cultivated, shared history that has withstood the tests of time.
  • Storge: Natural, instinctual love. The instant love a parent has for their child or the immediate affection felt between childhood friends. BFs forever and all that.
  • Eros: Romantic, physical love. Hot, sultry hormones pulsating. Bounding with lustful energy. Soft caresses leading to wild abandon. Whew! Ok, I digress… Get a grip woman!
  • Ludos: Playful, flirty love. Infatuation. Frisky behavior that makes everyone else in the room gag just a bit.
  • Mania: Obsessive love. Jealous and possessive. Sheer madness.
  • Philautia: Self-compassion. Revering, accepting, and honoring yourself. Choosing love that builds you up.
  • Agape: Selfless love. Putting others above yourself. Recognizing and respecting the humanity in all of us. Sadly, there hasn’t been much of this going around as of late.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
-Audrey Hepburn

The Greeks never intended for these loves to be mutually exclusive. Like features in a luxurious landscape, they are to be planted together; complementing and highlighting what is sown alongside.

Love is never monochromatic. It can be dappled with a few complementary hues or bursting with psychedelic shades. Your preferences, your environment, help to select the flora.

So Cupid be damned! This Valentine’s I am going to shift my focus to the loves that presently adorn my life, instead of longing for those of seasons past. Like any landscape artist, I am working with the abundance of botanicals presented to me. Hopefully, you find it as breathtaking as I do.

But first, the fertilizer

Ever since my husband’s original cancer diagnosis (on the eve of 9/11 — another omen), one could say my life has been a reoccurring shit show. An endless carnival of freak occurrences and rarities that would amaze even Ripley.

Contrary to the old adage, my shit does stink. Big chunks of putrid stank bobbing in a viscous cesspool. That aroma, believe it or not, is peculiarly intoxicating and addictive. The compulsion to anoint oneself with sorrow’s perfume overwhelming.

But, to my surprise, it is within these piles that my loves have sprouted. Instead of prompting repulsion, these predicaments have fertilized my blessings. They laid the groundwork for my bountiful garden.

Mia famiglia: Storge-Agape-Philia

I used to take for granted my strong, extended family. I’m sure it’s partly due to my Italian heritage, but, to me, it was a given that everyone had one. Only recently, have I recognized my privilege.

My family is voracious in their appetite to make it all better and I admit, I lap up every morsel of their compassion. There is my mother, who bursts in with a month’s worth of homemade ragu and biscotti; her arms laden with bags of herbals and vitamins. Whether the ailment is physical or emotional, she has a supplement for it.

Her maternal might set to 11, my mother will nestle in for days or sometimes weeks to tend to her firstborn. Three square meals a day (always organic) her manna from heaven.

My father, in turn, will drive to the ends of the earth — and Costco — to gather provisions. Tucked within his bags of supplies will invariably be a surprise luxury item (jumbo shrimp, baby lamb chops, juicy rib-eyes) that he and I both adore. It’s a wink and a silent, “I’ve got you covered, honey,” that rings loud and clear in my heart.

Each of my siblings is steadfast as a succulent. A variegated array of devotion, their loyalty never waivers.

Then there is my cousin, who has made it his mission to make me feel attractive even though lately I feel about as appealing as a corpse lily. I know he is at the ready to beat down any dude he feels has done me wrong.

Treasured old friends: Philia-Pragma-Storge

Fortune smiled upon me when it granted me a fellowship of life-long friends. Most budded in elementary school with one germinating in our infancy. Beloved companions for 50 years, they are my roots. We have grown, matured, and endured alongside each other like a redwood forest.

We have experienced the trials and joys of all that life has to offer from youthful shenanigans to the frolics of middle age. Boyfriends, careers, marriages, and births have been our summer solstice. The biting frost of illness and death’s devastation our frigid winters. We have a symbiotic history that grounds and nourishes us. They know and cherish me to my core.

The Posse: Philia-Philautia-Agape

My posse, along with their spouses and children, is my trellis — my backbone. Interwoven with strength and radiance, this sisterhood+ rallies like a fire brigade as soon as a distress call pings our group text. Ever ready for the rescue, they’ve arrived within minutes whenever I needed a lift to an appointment, a toilet unclogged, or gallons of libations to drown my sorrows.

These families have cheered on my children, coaching and stepping in as surrogate parents when my capacity was waning. Even more glorious, they have always included me in their social gatherings. I’m not weeded out as the solo attendee or tolerated as the pity invite. Within this lattice, I am welcomed.

The greenery

No landscape is complete without a bit of foliage providing an anchor or a touch of flourish. There is the former coworker who has become a dear companion and priceless dispenser of wisdom, the countless clients who unknowingly offered inspiration when I was desperate for validation, and, of course, my two sons who supply me with abounding purpose, pride, and hope.

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” –Henri Matisse

I’ll admit, I still pine for a season of roses. It’s easier to be content with discontent. When the next storm arrives, I have no doubt I’ll find myself, once again, slathering sadness like a warm blanket.

But when that happens, I am equally assured that one of my loves will sprout anew and tenderly wipe the tears from my eyes. My focus cleared, I’ll soon notice the grandeur blossoming around me.

So what is blooming in your garden? Which of the eight loves decorate your landscape? Are you dazzled by their brilliance? Or are you struggling to see splendor amidst some desolation? Are you basking in a verdant meadow or shriveling in a barren desert?

The view is up to you.


Orginally featured in P.S. I Love You @ Medium.com

After the Storm

A poem of survival

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Thunder heralds
the tempest’s arrival
There is no eluding
the impending turmoil

Lightning shots snap
Glaring x-rays blaze
illuminating the scourges
of storms gone by

Currents caught in a perpetual loop
Static sparks sizzle and singe
The needling cocoon
your only shelter

Bellowing winds howl
Bringing you to your knees
Cat o’ nine tails gusts
flail at your sins

Wildly biting
Frost relentlessly nips
Staccato hail pelts
hammer your heart

With cold, callous blood
the icy assault persists
numbing you to the bone
begetting amnesia

Flashbacks surge
Contentment is forgotten
Comfort hushed
to nebulous whispers


Grifters of tranquility
tempests are transient
Abandoning their onslaught
once depleted

Fragile and fatigued
Will your wounds take root?
Lesions hemorrhage and
nourish stagnation?

Or will your scars stoke resilience?
Cultivate your resolve?
Deem yourself worthy
To endure
To survive


Drained of their tears
Their grey weight dispersed
Clouds adorn the indigo sky

Alabaster luster glistens
the promise of hope


Previously published in Being Known @Medium.com

Damming Love

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

We shared a lifetime
a lifetime ago

Flawed, yet unbroken
Beautifully blemished
Burnished to a luster
reflecting devotion

Eager archaeologists
we examined tenderly
Ardently unearthing
our unique treasures

Intimately excavating
Discovering
Learning
until love was clairvoyant

We knew Us
by heart

Youthful — Innocent
We had commenced
only to be aged
beyond our years

Invaded — Tormented
Cancer corrupted
Our perfect union
prematurely extinct

Nearly a decade required
to cast aside mourning
Shed my shroud
Discard my armor

Unaware of my naiveté
I auctioned my affections
Inept as an ingenue
Headed for slaughter

At first, I sought
lightening in a bottle
but flashy liaisons
promptly implode

Still desperately seeking
I mistook
desire for romance
Fleeting attention
for adoration

I settled for inadequacy
Forged perfection
Alluring courtships
proved to be counterfeit

Am I greedy?
A relationship glutton
trying to echo
our marital harmony?

Or am I an addict?
Craving the fix
of holding someone dear?

Earnestly yearning
to be cherished once more

Now a wary skeptic
disquiet compels retreat
to lick my wounds
Safeguard my heart

But my soul pours out
The floodgates have opened
How does one dam (damn?)
the desire to love?


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Shipwrecked

A sequel to Into the Deep

Photo by Biorock Indonesia on Unsplash

Tears welling in azure eyes
you recited your amorous soliloquy
I bathed in the water of your emotion
permitted myself to rest
to be soothed

At long last
be content

You proclaimed my imperfections endearing
My scars — badges of honor
You aspired to be my person
To travel — to battle — alongside

But when the veil of infatuation lifted
and love’s bounty could truly be discovered
You cowered — deserted
too feeble to exert the effort

Starstruck by serendipity
I had envisioned the beauty in our future
Surmounting struggles
a path to strengthen our union

Did you not trust our relationship to withstand?
Or did you simply become apathetic?
At what point did admiration fall to disregard?

I showered you with tokens of affection
My first
now my last
poetic declaration

You sang my praises
Lulled me with sweet nothings
And I
the enchanted fool
was enthralled by your music

Captivated by your siren’s song
I lowered my shields
Allowed you to see the wounds
residing in my soul’s abyss
immersed for a decade
concealed from view
by warrior’s armor

When did our treasure begin to tarnish?
Why carelessly lay waste my self-respect?
Or are you oblivious to your actions’ aftermath?

Masquerading as my beloved
you celebrated with my family
Camouflaging your discontent
with flattery and lies

Buoyed by false affirmation
I sailed hope’s waters
Swept up on a promise
A doomed flight of fancy

Was I always your dirty little secret?
You couldn’t admit
even to yourself?

Once again battered and broken
submerged by my own tears
The suffocating weight plummets me
shipwrecked
into the deep


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

How Do You Confront an Identity Crisis During a Pandemic?

2020 has prompted me to question everything.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
― H.P. Lovecraft

To my family, friends, and acquaintances: please read the following at face value. It is not a cry for help, a play for sympathy, or a prompt to initiate bringing me back into the fold. It simply is a reflection upon the uncertainties I, along with many others, are feeling at this time.

Truth be told, I have been feeling tenuous for a while now. Many of the ideologies I have woven into my identity have become threadbare. The events of 2020 have prompted me to take stock of my mental wardrobe: Are my convictions valuable or vintage? Can they continue to spark joy or do they provoke dismay? Do they fit me any more?

The modern definition of identity was proposed by Erik Erikson as his fifth stage of psychosocial development. While our primary personality is established during adolescence, he postulated that our sense of self develops throughout our entire lifespan. Our “ego identity,” according to Erikson, is constantly being shaped by our interactions and experiences with others. A challenge to your ego identity can occur at any time, most likely when one experiences a major life stressor such as losing a loved one, loss of employment, confronting health issues, or experiencing a traumatic event such as — I don’t know — a global pandemic.

Developmental psychologist James Marcia further elaborated on Erikson’s theory. He proposed identity is based on the exploration of a variety of life domains including intimate relationships, religion, politics, and occupation. The status of your identity is either in crisis — “a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined” — or committed to a role within these domains.

Fear of commitment

Welcome to my 2020. Or should I say, 5150? Except my current detention is looking more like 72 weeks instead of hours — perhaps even longer.

Full disclosure: This is not my first identity crisis rodeo. That occurred a dozen years ago when I became a widow. I envision identity like a lasso — twisted of multiple strands and used to secure yourself to someone or some ideal. When I lost my role as a wife, I clung to the other fibers of my life for strength. I was able to keep the rope somewhat intact until recent events have caused it to further unravel.

The first thread to break loose was with my church. Don’t misunderstand me, my core faith is as strong as ever, if not stronger. It’s just the man-made constructs that have disappointed me. When I was initially widowed, there were the standard outpourings of support and they were much appreciated. But once the dust settled, things took a turn. Slowly, steadily, (and I’m sure unintentionally) I was isolated. No longer included in couples’ events, I was relegated to coffee meetups and the occasional ladies’ lunch. Dinner party invites became nonexistent. I looked into the widows’ support group, but at 44, I was significantly younger than the rest of the members. There was no place I felt I belonged — or noticed for that matter. I would sit in the pew by myself, missing my husband more than ever. Feeling lonelier each time, I eventually stopped attending.

The next thread tattered by disillusion was my political affiliation. A lifelong Republican and Californian, I will never forget the feeling of being 18, newly registered, and attending a local Ronald Reagan reelection rally. I was thrilled to see a sitting president in person and proud to cast my first presidential vote for a man I felt possessed honor and character.

I wish I could generate anywhere near the same feeling of admiration for our current candidate. When did buddying up with our adversaries become a GOP construct? Putting policies aside, I wish my president to be a person of integrity. I continued to be baffled by how many Christian leaders (and friends) can support him as a man of God. They somehow excuse or refuse to acknowledge his consistent name-calling and slander of opponents, mocking of the disabled and women, and utter lack of humility. This list can go on and on, but suffice it to say, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe where right is wrong and up is down.

So now I’m left, or rather, was left, with my occupation. I had finally settled into my dream career: travel event planning. COVID-19 not only unraveled that thread, it chopped it with an ax and seared the ends. I’m a 56-year-old woman with a convoluted resume looking to reinvent my career yet again. California has more than 2.5 million unemployed workers. How do you like those odds?

Compounding matters, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that has flared and left me at limited capacity these past few months. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to return to work, let alone be physically up for it. As an added bonus, my current medication has caused me to gain 20 pounds and completely altered my appearance. Not only do I not feel like myself, but I don’t even recognize the woman in the mirror.

Temporary Restraining Order or Stay of Execution?

Marcia would most likely conclude I am residing in the moratorium identity status: in the midst of a crisis but seeking alternative identities. Working through the explorations leads to a commitment or “identity achievement.” Major life events — such as the death of a spouse — can create instability which triggers a MAMA cycle: moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement. I went through such cycles when I lost my husband, working through the identities of the widow, single mother, and middle-aged single woman.

Healthy adults will go through many MAMA cycles in their lifetime. It’s the natural progression of aging and growth. Some may term these events as reaching a “new normal” or acceptance of whatever stressor has been thrown in their way. Here’s the thing: most will encounter one upheaval at a time. What’s one to do, as in my case (and I’m sure many others) when you doubt multiple affiliations (religion, politics) and experience more than one loss (occupation, health) simultaneously? When a global crisis has disrupted society so much you’re constantly on guard, wondering what tomorrow’s shit show will be.

Do we hide, locking the world away? Do we appeal to God or fate to give us more time to sort this all out and/or complete our penance? Is there a remedy for this dilemma? Or vaccine to prevent it from happening again?

At the end of my rope, but not alone

I may be feeling unstable, but I’m not the only one. 2020 has taken its toll on everyone. A recent government survey reported 41% of U.S. respondents felt symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to just 11% in 2019. As the year drags on, uncertainty continues to litter our collective psyche. We try to discard it, but our dumpsters are overflowing.

In a Popular Science article discussing mental health and the pandemic, Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, states:

Humans look to have a known universe. That is how we keep ourselves safe,” he says. “It’s frightening to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear — those will wear you down.

I honestly don’t know if these statistics make me feel better or worse.

What I do know is a few strands of my rope have remained intact and will be no matter what my revised identity turns out to be: My two sons, who not only support but motivate me to keep it together. My parents and siblings, who continually encourage and assist in any way they can. And my posse — my closest friends — who are always available to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and a glass(who am I kidding — a bottle) of wine when needed. These are my lifelines.

Eventually, with some introspection, exploration, and a little luck, I’ll channel my inner Wonder Woman and reconstruct the lasso of my truth. Surprisingly, I have found a gentleman who doesn’t view me as frayed and fragile, but as a woman of substance and strength. He wants to join me on the journey to discover a more suitable church to grow our faith. From now on, I’ll let my conscience — not my political party — be my guide when voting. As for health and occupation, I will keep praying and hoping that good news is just around the corner.

It has to be, doesn’t it?

First Light

At long last
Faith warms dawn transforms
A hibernating heart

In My Father’s Eyes, I am the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

How my father went to Google and beyond to prove it to me

I am a grown woman in my fifties, with adult children of my own. Yet, my father continues to remind me that I will always be his little girl.

Our family compass

Once upon a time, my father knew L.A. streets like an astronomer knows the night sky. He could navigate through all areas of the county using only a few landmarks and cardinal directions. Heeding the time of day and traffic patterns, he was a virtuoso at charting the fastest route. His advice was invariably sought whenever a family member was about to venture into unfamiliar surroundings.

When I first received my driver’s license, my father taught me how to decipher the Los Angeles Thomas Guide — a thick, spiral-bound directory containing maps of every street, avenue, and freeway. Like a master cartographer, he demonstrated how the notes in the margins interlinked to other pages of crisscrossed roads and highways. I learned how these elaborate mazes could be chained together to plot a course anywhere in Los Angeles. The rite of passage complete, I was now a fellow keeper of the codes. I knew I could never be lost.

Uncharted territory

Now, over 30 years later, the Thomas Guide has been replaced by GPS systems much like Google has eclipsed the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is a relic of a bygone era when I relied solely upon my father’s direction. Its treasure map guidance unknown to a generation instructed by Siri.

Technology is my father’s strange new world. His was the generation of secretaries and dictation. Crafting a letter or researching a topic were skills done for him, not by him. He claims he is too old to learn new tricks and has been reluctant to communicate electronically. Still, my brother purchased him a refurbished laptop and my father keeps himself busy playing Backgammon and Hearts — not realizing he could easily unlock the secrets of his digital directory.

Or so I thought.

One giant leap

I had recently had surgery on my Achilles tendon and required to see the orthopedic surgeon for a follow up every two weeks. My right leg in a cast, I was not able to drive myself to these appointments. Ever my hero/protector, my father would make the 25-minute drive to pick me up, double back past his house, and drive me to my doctor’s appointment. A lunch date traditionally followed. We would cruise up, down, and around Van Nuys Boulevard looking for a restaurant to catch our eye and lure us in.

On one such outing, my dad handed me a recycled envelope as I settled into his car. Jotted in and around the To and Return addresses was a list of eateries sorted by cuisine. I immediately recognized the script of my father’s shaky hand. Burgers, Pizza, Mexican, and Deli each headed a column of restaurants and their addresses. “Take your pick,” my father said as he settled into the driver’s seat.

“How did you come up with this list?” I asked him.

“I figured it out,” was his cryptic reply.

As I perused the various eateries, I realized my father must have done multiple Google searches to garner such information. Soon, I was swept to the brink of tears by the sweet gesture. Wanting only to make me feel better, he overrode his fear and hesitation to compile the list. The strength of his paternal drive propelling him through the alien electronic nebula.

We were running early, so we decided to scout out the locations on the envelope before heading to the appointment. Like eager sightseers, my father and I scrutinized each locale as we drifted slowly down the boulevard. The two of us were caught up in the adventure and exhilarated by the quest. It wasn’t a journey to be rushed, much to the dismay of our fellow road travelers. We eventually settled on a tiny corner taqueria.

Age of enlightenment

We returned later and enjoyed a meal of spicy shrimp tacos and chicken tostadas. My father charmed the staff with his inquisitive nature and occasional dad jokes.

Just as when I was a young girl and fell off my bike, he doted on me with tenderness and concern — bringing me my lunch and refilling my drink. My age — his age — was irrelevant. I was, and will always be, a precious star in his galaxy.


Originally published in PS I Love You   @Medium.com 

From Happy Hours to Sober Vacations

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

 

How an average social drinker gave up alcohol for a week and found a community.

Whether it be through the disease of alcoholism or some other occurrence, we all are kindred spirits of past brokenness and despair — feeling out of control and forsaken. It is in the rising from ashes that we forge a strengthened renewal and realize our common humanity.


My friends and family were stunned.

“Let me get this straight. You are going to Mexico and not having one drink?”

“Yes,” I feebly explained, “It’s an alcohol-free vacation.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re staying at an all-inclusive. That means the alcohol is FREE, right?”

“True, but all the booze will be stored away while our group is there. We are completely buying out the resort to make that possible.”

“But…
Tequila.”

I just shrugged and told them I would provide a detailed account of my coping skills once I survived the ordeal.

Just your average middle-aged inebriated woman

Eight months earlier, I had taken a position with a company that created week-long travel events for those in the twelve-step community. Each winter, they would do a complete buyout of a tropical resort. Speakers, workshops, shared activities were brought in and the spirits were moved out. The cocktails that usually greeted guests would be replaced by exotic juices and smoothies. Sober alcoholics could relax in their vacations, instead of always having to be wary about what may be lurking in their food and beverages. I was about to embark on my first such event.

Although a regular local Happy Hour patron — mostly for the social aspect — I wouldn’t say I am a heavy drinker. Still, I’ll have an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and once a month, an evening could include a handful of cocktails. Like the average traveler, my alcohol consumption increases exponentially while on vacation. After all, it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? How would I fare where such inebriation was prohibited?

El Grande

I had been helping to prepare for the “Sober Village” since I started at this position. The annual big trip of 400+ clients traditionally was held in February. Not only was it our star vacation, but it also provided the majority of our funding for the entire year. With an over 80% repeat customer rate, some clients had been traveling with us for almost three decades. It was a combination of retreat, family reunion, and tropical vacation. This year we were going to Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico.

Truth be told, I had been fretting over how I was going to perform during this all-important week. Statements such as “You’re going to have so much fun!” were often contradicted by “You’ll never work so hard.” “Our clients are the best!” was in direct contrast to the numerous lessons on how to handle a cantankerous guest. Many of the logistical details of the week were quite vague and I knew I would be flying by the seat of my pants.

Plus, there were personal doubts: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not sober. Would I know how to interact with clients? Would I be accepted or ostracized from the tribe?

Taking great pains

I had arranged to sleep the night before at my sister’s house as I had an 8:00 am flight and she lived fifteen minutes from LAX. My brother-in-law had graciously offered to drop me off at 6:00. I was exhilarated with anticipation and barely slept, checking and rechecking if I had my brand-new passport and other essentials, As we were making our way to the car, I slipped and whacked the back of my ankle against the step leading down to the garage.

F******€K!!!!

There was no doubt what had happened as I had just recovered from the same injury six months prior. I had re-ruptured my Achilles tendon. My right foot dangled like a broken marionette. Seeing the profound horror on my face, my brother-in-law rushed to get me an ice pack, ACE bandage, and Advil. He asked if I wanted to call and cancel my trip. Convinced I would lose my job if I did, I sucked in the excruciating pain and asked if we would still make it to the airport on time.

My head spinning like a tilt-a-whirl, I somehow made it to our meeting place. The cacophony of a major international terminal agitated my interior turmoil. Fueled by pure determination and heady with pain, I was resolute not to disclose my impairment until the last possible minute. When they finally noticed I was a bit unstable, I downplayed it, “Just twisted it again,” I lied. “Clumsy me.”

We always arrived a few days before the Sober Village start date to allow time to get things ready for the buyout of the resort. The good part was this gave me time to adjust before clients appeared; the bad was it prolonged the trip to twelve days instead of seven. My first order of business was to find the Infirmary and see what assistance could be rendered. As it turns out, I would have had better luck at a Civil War field hospital. Crutches? Non-existent. Ankle wraps? No comprendo. Pain meds? Not available nor an option. The last thing I wanted to be was loopy in front of our clients.

Each night, I crafted a makeshift ice pack from the liner of my room’s ice bucket and cubes from the bar. In the morning, I would inch my way back to the Infirmary. Shuffle and drag. Shuffle and drag. I limped along like an upright Quasimodo.

Mexican resorts don’t have ADA standards. The entire place was a labyrinth of concrete steps and patios flanked by sand. Doing his best, the nurse would wrap my ankle in gauze as thin as single-ply toilet paper, give me a handful of travel ibuprofen packs and send me on my way. They ran out of supplies on day eight, so we had to rinse and reuse the flimsy bandages from that point on.

Opening Day

There is nothing like the crush of 400 travel-weary individuals registering for an event in 12 hours. Most are exhausted, hot and hungry — wanting nothing more than their name badge, room assignment, and where to eat. But they are also jubilant — grateful to escape an East Coast winter to the warmth of a tropical location. The onslaught was almost continual save for the brief breaks between shuttle buses. My coworker, Q*, and I manned the registration table along with an independent event contractor from Mexico. Nicknamed Mama, she also served as a translator and an extra liaison with resort staff. M.A.* handled customer concerns. S.A.*, our founder, greeted the arriving guests with a smile as broad as Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island.

Time and time again you’d hear the gleeful cries of old friends reuniting; their joy reverberating throughout the lobby like church bells announcing a celebration. Some of the earlier arrivals would linger in the reception area, eagerly awaiting the appearance of their yearly comrades. Often, Q would burst out from her post to join in the hugs and the festivities. It seemed like everyone knew everyone else — except me. As they graciously introduced the “new gal,” I wondered if I would be able to enjoy the familiarity they shared.

Trudging along

My nonfunctional ankle prevented me from walking on the sand, let alone join in excursions, so my outings were confined to the main area of the resort. Not that there would be any time, anyway. Mornings were spent at the information desk, answering questions and putting out any fires that may arise. Afternoons were spent getting ready for the evening’s events. Guests had their choice of daily 12-step workshops, morning meetings, and the nightly big meeting — the main event of the day — along with all the amenities Club Med had to offer. This was not a 9–5 assignment, as I was representing the company from the moment I left my room until I was in for the night.

I would hobble by the pool on the way to breakfast around 7:00 am and routinely be greeted by the early rising clients. After the initial “What happened to you?” questions, I’d be peppered with queries on how was I feeling or comments about the day’s activities. These chorus of good mornings were a lovely start to a long workday, albeit not quite yet the fellowship I had hoped to find.

We had received feedback over the years that our group could be “cliquey,” causing some newcomers to feel excluded. One of my roles was to engage as many clients as possible and make them feel welcome — especially at mealtimes. Normally, this was a no-brainer for me, but I was in pain, in unfamiliar surroundings and uncertain if they would accept a “normie” (nonalcoholic). Throttling back my fear of failure, I inserted myself into tables with an extra chair. Secretly, I longed for an invitation to join. Or, even better, a saved seat.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but day three was particularly difficult. Whimpering, I crawled into bed, resigned that I was to feel lost and alone for the entire trip. As I entered the dining hall the next morning, I received not one, but two requests to join and an invitation to dinner. The week progressed from there, culminating in an impromptu escapade into town that involved a trio of women, myself included, squeezed in a dilapidated Mexican bus wearing nothing but our bathing suits and cover-ups.

Last Call

The staff always stayed an extra day to ensure most of our guests got on their way back home safely. The last morning, as I shuffled and dragged across the pool area, I had to dodge numerous children and preoccupied adults. My greeting choir had flown home. No one recognized me. Then, it dawned on me — I hadn’t missed the alcohol, but I missed my people.

Discovering common bonds in adversity

I didn’t attend any meetings the first year, as I erroneously thought it wouldn’t be my place to intrude. By the second, I understood how off-base that assumption was and began attending the nightly meetings. I would hear commentaries about the speakers throughout the week and wanted to share in my clients’ — and new friends’ — enthusiasm.

One night, midway through my third trip, we had a spitfire of an Al-Alon speaker. She spoke faster than a machine gun and I took a liking to her immediately. Interwoven with hilarity and sorrows, she told her story of how she desperately tried to manage her husband’s disease of alcoholism. If she could just prevent this situation from arising… If she could swiftly diffuse an oncoming predicament… She could make her spouse well. An absurd premise, the more control she sought, the more powerful the disease became.

Tears flooded my face as I recognized that same mania within myself when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I micromanaged and helicopter spoused nearly every waking minute in my quest to bridle his disease. To feel safe. In the end, the only illnesses we can govern are our obsessions.

With seven sober vacations under my belt, my list of client acquaintances has bloomed into a large circle of dear friends. Q is one of my most cherished confidants. Mama is a fellow normie. We all chat via Facebook and text throughout the year.


It took three years and seven surgeries to regain the function of my ankle. My fellow brokens prayed, cried, and cheered me on throughout the entire process. They admire the battle scar that runs the length of my calf. Proof that I, like them, have persevered.

On a trip, I am now the one frequently checking the shuttle schedule, ready to burst out and delight in their embrace. To share, once again, in the joy.


*Initials used instead of names in keeping with twelve-step protocol.

This post previously appeared on
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium

Dear Twenty-Something Self: Your Dreams Aren’t Going to Come True and I’m Good With That

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Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

I can’t go back to yesterday — because I was a different person then — Lewis Carroll

Look at you my lovely, once-upon-a-time self. 25. Newly married to your high school sweetheart, your story is just beginning. Everything is on schedule to begin your modern fairy tale. The outline has been predetermined — by you. Exhilarated, you await the fleshing out of the finer details, certain they will meet your expectations.

What you don’t realize, is the best-laid dreams of starry-eyed ingenues don’t always come true.

Life’s journey will take you through inconceivable storms. At times, you will feel stripped and shattered, certain you will never be whole again. But, I’m here to tell you — three decades later — you will weather the tempests. Your memoir will be illustrated with the colors of a sweeping saga. You will recover, replenish, and rebuild time and time again. You will forge a heart of restoration and hope.

You will be your own heroine.

Prologue

Our life’s quest was a typical middle-class narration: Vivacious college-educated woman marries a smart handsome man who adores her. They start out in a modest home, eventually settling down in an upscale neighborhood with their four children — two boys, two girls. Money never being a concern, it is her choice whether she spends her days at an office or volunteering, or perhaps, a little of both. Summers would be filled with pool parties and family vacations. All her children would be athletic, smart, and popular. Soon, they would meet their own mates, have successful careers, and provide grandchildren. The blissed-filled grandparents eventually ease into a comfortable retirement and enjoy the fruits of a fairy tale legacy.

If you haven’t guessed already, younger me, that is not how our story turns out. You might think I’m seeking to dampen your naïveté, but that is not the case. To do so would douse the sparks of our history. I’m here to highlight some of the events that will steer you to roads less traveled. Annotate some of your preconceptions. Not to have you switch course, for that would result in a different destination, but to provide you with the faith you’ll need to continue your path.

To become the woman of character you aspire to be.

Being a zebra will be limiting

In our twenties, everything was black and white — politics, faith, parenting. We were crafting our cornerstones and needed a firm foundation to build upon. They served us well — provided strong roots, made us feel secure — until they became confining. They distracted us from soothing shades of grey and the charms of nuance. I shudder when I realize how dogmatic we were, failing to recognize another’s sense of right and wrong could be just as valid.

There will come a time when society feeds like vultures on such assumptions. When those who may think differently from each other are regarded as enemies. It will grieve our soul, but we will be mindful to have practiced perspective — preserved our humanity.

We won’t be the perfect parent

Infertility issues will limit our offspring to two. Blessed with a couple of fine young lads, we will throw ourselves completely into their nurturing. Education, nutrition, sports, discipline, recreation, family time all mapped out to promote optimal growth. We oversaw with a loving, not overbearing, hand — providing just enough oversight to assist direction and encourage independence. It would be practically perfect — or so we thought.

It will take a while to acknowledge some mistakes — an unnecessarily heavy hand, a few minor (and major) misjudgments. But we will eventually comprehend we did the best we had with the resources available. It will bring us a sense of peace and a newfound insight into the caring nature of our own parents.

Our hero will die, but we will survive

The ultimate breach to the fairy tale contract, our hero dies midway through the story. The dissolving of the partnership is a long, drawn-out process. We were a team and when the hero began to falter, we picked up the slack. Our role expanded to include caretaker, nurse, and, finally, widowed head of household.

We will be proud of ourselves for enduring. For maintaining some moment of normalcy each day, even if only in a robotic function. It will take decades to fully process this forced single ownership of our sanity — cultivate our acceptance of personal sovereignty.

We will need to go to the well repeatedly

Fiercely independent, it will crush us to ask for help. After all, we are the primary caregiver, not the recipient. We will be prideful, convinced that no one else is equipped to provide quality assistance. Adding insult, this will not be a single occurrence. We will find ourselves in numerous states of injury, dipping in the well of kindness again and again until we are sure it will run dry.

Like the miracle at Cana, our community wine never depletes and we are inebriated with gratitude. We develop empathy — foster humility. We acquire debts we have no chance to repay and are awestruck by their joy in giving.

Villains will serve a purpose

We will encounter more than our expected share of villainy. After all, every fairy tale needs a counterbalance of dastardly deeds to keep us engaged. Some will be overt and others will be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but all will catch us off guard and cause us to briefly doubt our judgment.

Much to the scoundrels’ dismay, however, each conflict will bestow a gift. These endowments will cause us to develop skills or discover hidden kernels of truth within ourselves. We will garner discernment — be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Our children will write their own stories

Regrettably, we were somewhat judgmental of others’ styles of parenting. If they didn’t align with ours, we surmised these offspring would be spoiled or — gasp! — unproductive members of society. Gradually, we began to appreciate the true nature of a child — of a human — will come to be no matter the influence. They will bloom in their own time and be beautiful.

As much as we tried, we could not prevent our sons from suffering, enduring hardship, or making mistakes and living with the consequences. We could only strive to provide a safe haven and a strong moral compass to chart their own paths. Like us, they have prevailed and grown sturdy, strong. Watching them navigate their courses will be our greatest accomplishment.

Epilogue

Picking up the pieces will be a never-ending process. Initially, our defenses will want to cover our wounds, camouflage our scars. But those shrouds are too difficult to maintain and we will never able to fully rest within our story if we continue to try.

And so, we will come to embrace our imperfections — honor our unique broken history. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, we will highlight our fractures with gold, delighting in our resilience. Our modern fairy tale may have an unforeseen conclusion, but it will end happily ever after all the same.


This post previously published on Illumination | @Medium