Maribeth Doerr

Shades of Healing ~ Creating a Wholehearted Life

WriteGrief for the Holidays

WriteGrief for the Holidays is over until November 2014.

In the meantime, try WriteGrief weekly prompts. Details here.

Announcing a new offering – Write Grief for the Holidays: Weekly prompts encouraging a self-exploration of healing and grief.

Grief can often leave us numb, and it can be hard to articulate the simplest things. You may feel that there are no words to express your feelings, that it’s all just a big knot in your throat or your heart and everything is stuck there. Writing can be an outlet for these knotted up feelings, a way of unraveling the stuck. I have often found writing to be a new way of seeing my thoughts in black and white which brings more clarity to the muddy chaos of grief.

Once a week, you’ll receive a writing prompt which you are free to use – or not. Write a lot, or write a little. Share it – or not. It’s all up to you. We will have a private Facebook group where you can share your writing if you wish. Here’s a sample prompt:

“If I could sit across the porch from God, I’d thank Him for lending me you.” ~Flavia
Prompt: If you could sit across the porch from your loved one, what would you thank him/her for? For 5 minutes, write a list of what you’d like to thank your loved one for. After 5 minutes, circle a few items on the list that really grab your attention. Then spend however long you like writing a letter to your loved one focusing on one or two of those items you circled.

Our first session will run from November 4 through December 29 – 8 prompts with a focus on the holidays. The cost for these 8 weeks is $25. You can join anytime before the end of 2013; previous prompts will be sent to you so that you receive the full 8 weeks of prompts.


If you would like to schedule a one-on-one coaching call to discuss anything that comes up during your writing, the discounted price for WriteGrief participants is $50 for a 45 minute session.


In January, WriteGrief will continue with weekly prompts available as a month-to-month-subscription. Details here!


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Choosing And . . .

I made this video for a class I’m currently taking.  The assignment was simply to tell a story.   The quality of the video was not a factor in the assignment, and as you’ll see, quality it is not 🙂 – but I do tell my story of birth, death, sorrow, joy, the holidays . . . and choosing AND.  It’s really called Wholehearted Living!

Please overlook the bad hair day and the pasty-still-sickly skin, not to mention the poor video quality.  Just listen with your heart. ♥


Mother’s Day Isn’t Always Roses and Cheesy Cards . . .

I originally wrote this article for Inner Child Magazine. I would LOVE for you to pop over there and read through the May issue. Lots of good stuff! Here on my blog, I’ve added a few personal comments to this version. . .

My Mom, Marie Wilder
May 14, 1928 – July 30, 2011

Over 46 countries honor mothers with a special day with the US as well as several other countries celebrating Mother’s Day in May. Anna Jarvis is credited with creating Mother’s Day as a national holiday in the United States. She lobbied tirelessly for years, and finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national holiday to be held each year on the second Sunday of May. Since then, it’s become a Hallmark delight, and why not? Mothers sacrifice a lot to raise their children. They deserve this honor, and it can be a fun way for a family to reconnect and enjoy each other.

There are times, however, when Mother’s Day is simply painful, and it’s important for the celebratory world to understand that it’s not always roses and cheesy cards for everyone.  For example . . .

  • Perhaps your mother has died
  • Perhaps your baby or child has died
  • Perhaps you have been trying to have a baby and haven’t been able to conceive
  • Perhaps your wife has died and you’re helping your children grieve for their mom
  • Perhaps someone you loved as a mother/grandmother has died
  • Perhaps you’ve never known your mom or you’re estranged from her
  • Perhaps you know someone experiencing some of these issues

From the time I lost my first baby until I had a healthy child in my arms, I went through nine Mother’s Days without any acknowledgement that I was a mom – and I most certainly was even though those babies were not here with me. Those were painful days. Now I’ve come what feels like full circle as I’m about to experience my first Mother’s Day without my mom. It’s different and yet it’s the same – everywhere I go there are huge displays of Mother’s Day cards and suggested gifts in the stores . . .

It’s a challenge when the rest of the world is celebrating something as universal as motherhood and your heart is so tender. The days leading up to Mother’s Day with all the in-your-face advertising can feel overwhelming and is such a reminder of what you’ve lost and can’t have. You may be wondering how you’re going to get through this day.

First, take a deep breath and realize that however you feel, it’s okay and you’re okay. There’s nothing wrong with you if you want to pretend this day doesn’t exist . . . or if you want to celebrate it with everything you have. There is no right or wrong way to feel; feelings just are and they don’t define you. As Bridget Pilloud reminds us, “Don’t try to make FACTS out of your feelings.”

Secondly, be aware that you do have a choice in what you do on Mother’s Day and even in how you feel. You can’t have your loved one(s) back but you do have choices for the day.

It helps to be prepared. Waking up on Mother’s Day morning wondering what to do or blindly following someone else’s plans for you will breed a lot of discomfort (and not just for you!). Spend some time, even if it’s just a few minutes, getting still and thinking about what you really want for this day. What do you hope will happen? You can’t have your mom, child, grandma, wife, other significant woman back but you can plan a day that both soothes your soul and acknowledges your feelings. You do that by getting clear on what you want for this day.

If you’re like me, you may be worried that doing what YOU want is selfish and everyone will be upset with you. Forget about pleasing the masses, and let go of that inner voice that says you HAVE TO (fill in the blank with whatever you think that is). Taking care of yourself is taking steps towards healing and this is what your family and friends ultimately want anyway.

Ask yourself if spending time with your family and friends on Mother’s Day would feel wonderful and comforting or does the thought set your teeth on edge? Perhaps your heart wants some solitude with a latte and a place to journal your thoughts. Maybe it would feel lovely to do something to celebrate your mother (or child or wife, etc) by watching her favorite movie or planting flowers either alone or with a select group of friends and family. Take a deep breath and ask your heart what would feel most nourishing.

Once you feel clear on what you want, communicate these wishes with your family and friends. This may feel daunting but remember that people aren’t mind readers, and they truly do want what’s best for you. Oftentimes they don’t quite know what to do and are waiting to take a cue from you. Make it easier for them by simply telling them what you need and want. Remember, you are the best person to decide what’s best for you.

It helps not to be defensive but loving, gentle and direct. If you feel it would be more comfortable to write a note to your family and friends conveying your wishes, then do so. There’s nothing wrong with that approach.

If you’re still unclear about what would feel right to do on Mother’s Day, here are some wonderful resources full of suggestions:

Whatever you decide to do, remember that you can change it up however you need when the day comes – or for next year and the year after. The first year tends to be the most difficult but you may find yourself in this situation of asking what you want and need in subsequent years. Be flexible and open. Whatever you decide, it’s okay.

If you know someone who is grieving on Mother’s Day, the kindest gift you can give is your heart and the ability to sit with their pain without judging or trying to take it away. Providing a compassionate community by simply listening is courageous and the perfect gift. Don’t make decisions for them or try to “fix” them; just listen with an open heart and quiet mouth. If they wish to be alone, respect that they know what’s best. A phone call acknowledging their feelings is always appropriate as well. A voice message saying, “I’m thinking about you and (the loved one’s name) today. I’m here if you need anything.” can be incredibly validating for a grieving heart.

Mother’s Day is a celebration and as much as you may not feel like celebrating, open your heart to celebrating your loved one’s life and how it’s touched yours . . . Mother’s Day will never look quite the same as it does for those who haven’t lost a mother or child, but it can still be a peaceful day when you’re willing to live it wholeheartedly which means leaning into the pain AND the joy.

Thinking of you Mom! I hope you get to cuddle with Andy, Mark, MJ, Summer Rose, and David today ♥

If this is a difficult day for you because of some of the issues I’ve mentioned, I’d love to hear how to plan to spend/spent the day. Let’s share our stories and help each other. Much love to all of our tender hearts . . .

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Giving Google a Sabbatical

I’m sure you all know how googling health situations can scare the hell out of you with an overload of information. You always find the worst case scenario rather than the good news or the best case scenarios. I’ve come across this when I’ve tried to find information on dementia and elder care. I do like having the facts and being prepared but yowzaa! Everything I found made me feel helpless; seriously, I found absolutely nothing hopeful or positive. Okay, so it’s hard to find the good in dementia, and I didn’t want sugarcoated information but surely I won’t become as demented as my dad because I chose to bring him into my home when my mother died instead of pushing him into a nursing home. He’s not close to needed a nursing home anyway – perhaps assisted living, but not the drooling, urine smelling hospital wards of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My husband and I won’t get divorced over this and I will retain some autonomy. I haven’t figured out quite how yet but we’ve only been doing this for a few weeks. According to Google, we’re all doomed!

I imagine a few who have traveled this road before me are thinking I’m just another Pollyanna but make no mistake – I have no delusions that my life with Dad is going to be a piece of cake. I’ve already learned otherwise. He’s 87 and been catered to his entire life by his parents and then his wife of almost 65 years. My mom waited on him their entire marriage and I can honestly say that she grew to resent it in her last five years. She rarely said no to him and when she did, it was with extreme anger followed by the silent treatment for days. Now with early dementia, his logic escapes him in the late afternoon so it’s pointless to try to reason with him (something Mom couldn’t stop doing). Yes, it gets irritating answering the same questions over and over . . . of having to flip through the three local news channels between 5-7pm so he can record the high and low temperatures from each channel twice even though the numbers tend to be the same, . . . etc, but I also feel it’s important not to sweat the small stuff and those things are really small potatoes.

It seems unfair at Dad’s age to drastically change his routine so we’ve tried to be accommodating with a schedule. But I own my own business and as the current family breadwinner, I have to work. I can’t sit with him all day and entertain him. I CAN’T BE MOM. Most days I feel like a horrible daughter for being resentful of this enormous change in my daily routine, of having another person to care for who is so needy. My boys are young adults now and it was finally my time to create a schedule around ME. Boo hoo Mari!

The truth is, I never really knew my dad very well since he worked seven days a week when I was a kid and left the parenting to my mom. Now, with his memory issues, I’ll never really get to know the real him. This person who has moved in with us is practically a stranger. I hate to admit it but I’m not totally comfortable yet in his presence and when he makes his snide comments (something he has always done), I’m back to feeling like that little girl that couldn’t do anything right. My stomach flip flops and I feel sick. Something inside me wants to sit and hug that poor little girl and tell her she’s okay. Then my reverie is interrupted by Dad asking me if he can take a nap, and I’m instantly tossed into parent mode, leaving that little girl behind. It’s enough to give me whiplash!

So no delusions here but no worse case scenario playing either. We will get through this and we ARE okay. For now, I’m going to stay away from Google and focus on settling in. Lots of changes are traumatizing to elderly people, especially those with dementia. We all just need time to get acquainted with our new lives, a life without Mom and life as a family of five. Things do seem to get a little better every day and that’s enough for now. ♥

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Please Don’t Run Away

Way back a gazillion years ago, my son was born with severe asphyxia due to birth trauma and died at 5 ½ days. He was my second baby, my first was stillborn at nearly 20 weeks due to a variety of pregnancy related issues. I was fortunate when Mark died to have access to a wonderful support group in San Diego called Empty Cradle. I went to the monthly meetings for about a year until I realized all the parents who had started when I did were pregnant again and some had already had a new healthy baby. I was still losing babies and my marriage with it so I started to feel like the group freak. No one else at that time had experienced multiple losses, and I could see eyebrows raising and eyes looking away when we started the meetings by introducing ourselves. People didn’t want to hear my story; in a nutshell, I was scaring people. No one wants to think it could happen again and I was proof that it could . . .

At that time in my life (I was 23), that was cause for a pity party. Whooooo baby, what a pity party! I’ll spare you all of those sordid details today (I’m sure they’ll come forth at another time) but eventually, when I remarried and conceived again, I knew I needed support and I wasn’t going to be pushed away from it because people were frightened of my story. So, I created my own support group that was nationwide and international where I matched parents together by the types of loss they’d had so they could write to each other for mutual support. This was before the internet and people actually wrote snail mail letters. Lo and behold, there were hundreds (probably thousands) of people out there who had had multiple losses, some never able to have healthy babies of their own. They were all feeling like freaks too, and like me, looking for something better than the pity party routine. Just knowing there were other people out there like ourselves was wonderful; we really weren’t freaks and all alone.

I didn’t mention that to toot my own horn. Pen-Parents worked because so many people contributed to making it work; it was a team effort from the beginning. I mention it because it’ an important reminder to me that when my story gets overwhelming for other people, there will always be folks out there with a worse one. And there will always be someone out there looking for support or with support to give that will connect with me. I just have to get out my own way and reach out for it.

In 2006, we had another one of those overwhelming years. My brother Michael (last remaining sibling having lost my brother Mark in 1999) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He fought it HARD and in the middle of his struggle, my youngest son went through some scares. In February, he was hit in the face with a baseball during practice which broke his sinus cavity and crushed a lot of cartilage in his nose. Two weeks later after making the varsity team, his teammates shaved his head and found a lump on his head by the ear. After a few more doctor visits, we were referred to an ENT mostly for his nose because the pediatrician thought the lump was just a cyst. Long story short, the lump was a tumor and the ENT thought Chad had lymphoma and scheduled him for surgery the next day. It was terrifying especially given my brother’s diagnosis. The surgery went well although the tumor had grown quickly into the shape of a thumb and was invading the neck muscle and ear canal. The diagnosis was a dermoid tumor (benign), most likely remnants of Chad’s twin who died in utero.

It was the second time a doctor thought this child had cancer and it was traumatizing for all of us. I’ve lost five babies; I don’t want to lose any more children! (I know – who does want to lose a child?!) I was trying to move past that while helping my parents prepare to lose their last son and so I was off my game when it came to work (and most things honestly). I was distracted, slower than molasses and my decision making skills were not their best. I was dubbed Martyrbeth during this time – and that’s a story best left unsaid – but there was a lot of pain and sadness attached to that. Why couldn’t people empathize with what I was going through? Had they not lost someone they loved or been traumatized in some way that paralyzed them for a time (and how blessed they were if that was the case)? What kind of society is this that can’t relate to someone grieving or someone going through a difficult time? If you whine about getting ripped off at the grocery store, people jump up in righteous indignation with you. Complain about gas prices or the horror in Somalia and they’re right there with you. Cry about losing a brother and they wonder why in the hell you aren’t over it (in 15 days or less).

Fast forward to 2011 – my mom has died, my dad with early dementia has moved into my house, my husband hasn’t had a paycheck in a year, I need to finish sorting out my dad’s house to put it up for sale and in combining their house with mine, my house looks like a candidate for an episode of Hoarders. I need to find time in there to work to keep my business going. It’s a lot and there are times when it’s overwhelming like Friday night when Dad asked me where my mother was. And now . . . I’m beginning to scare people away again. Some people are avoiding me, and some only respond to the positive tweets and Facebook statuses. A lot of people are staying away from this blog now after loving the first few grief entries. Sorry folks; I can’t always be positive, and it’s not my job to make you feel better right now.

I’m not taking it personally this time and if someone wants to dub me something stupid like Martyrbeth, that’s their prerogative. That kind of thing reflects more on their state of mind than mine. Instead, I’m embracing those who aren’t scared of my story, those who have gone through much worse than I could ever dream of surviving, and those who will take my hand no matter what. I’m not the only one with a lot on her plate, and I’m not sitting here having a pity party. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and doing the best I can. And that’s certainly good enough for now.

So please don’t be afraid of me or my situation . . . and please don’t run away either. Let’s sit together for awhile and just be.

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Sometimes It’s Overwhelming and then Magic Happens . . .

It’ll be three weeks tomorrow since Mom died, and it’s starting to hit me how much I miss her. I want her to tell me we’re okay . . .

My husband is self-employed and hasn’t had a contract or commission since September 1, 2010. He has been working hard on a large project, and we thought it would be closed with a nice commission in early August. Nope. Then we were hoping mid-August. Nope. Now it’s MAYBE mid-September. Meanwhile, he hasn’t earned a penny in a year, we’re living off my self-employment income which is getting less and less, and we’re down to the nubs. Through it all, I’ve been confident that all was, and would be, okay. My faith and that flicker of hope keeps me going.

We took out the last bit in our line of credit from our second mortgage to pay our health insurance, mortgage and few other bills. Three days later, we’re told the money from the line of credit was removed from our account because we were three days late with the payment last month. We’ve paid on time every month for the last umpteen years but it’s not good to be late with a payment in this economy so . . . and, stupid us, the bills using that money had already been sent out. GULP!

There are definitely lessons to learn from this – painful lessons. My mother just died, my dad with early dementia has just moved in with me changing my life in so many ways that I can’t see straight, I’m cleaning out my parents’ belongings and getting their house ready to sell while filling up my house so that it looks like an episode from Hoarders, I’m trying to maintain my business through this so I can afford to feed my family and oh yeah, we’re broke. I just wanted to curl up in my mom’s lap with her arms around me telling me all would be okay, because honestly, my friends are getting a little scared to be around me these days. It’s not that I’m just not fun these days but that I’m overwhelming them. I’m sure when they see me they’re thinking what’s next with this woman.

This morning, it really did feel overwhelming and then something magical happened. I talked with a beautiful friend from my Pen-Parents days whose husband is in the late stages of ALS. Talk about an overwhelming situation! She’s full of love and light – and so much empathy for me that I didn’t feel I even deserved. This woman is truly an earth angel. My overwhelm melted into such love and joy because I connected with another human being who “knows” and gets it.

Instead of going to my Dad’s house to pack up more stuff, I stayed home and tuned into the Halos711 show on Blog Talk Radio. One of the hosts shared her story about her daughter who is about to lose her home but her faith is keeping her strong because she never gives up. Another listener gave her testimonial about never giving up and yet another talked about the miracle that cured a life threatening virus in his heart.

Folks, it’s all about that flicker of hope I talked about before. That’s all you need in the darkest of times. Reach out to people and ask for support. Yes, some people (and often a lot of people) will turn away because they can’t handle your pain or struggle, but there will be those that will walk through it with you and you won’t find them if you sit still and stuck in your pity party.

Remember this – you are loved. All you have to do is open your heart to receive it – not take it, but receive it – and then you can conquer most anything. My mom loved me, and I miss her fiercely. But my family is going to get through this because we’re going to continue moving forward with the love in our hearts that Mom planted in each of us. We can’t do any less if we just take those painful first baby steps and let go of the struggle . . . so who’s going with me?

When you need an extra dose of love (or have extra to share), check out:
The Healing Room on Blog Talk Radio with Halos711
Inner Child Radio


Oh You Guys!

My husband and I are big fans of M*A*S*H, especially when we’re sick or stressed out. One of our favorite episodes is when Frank gets mad at his tent mates yet again and yells “OH YOU GUYS!” at them. It sounds so silly. Anyone else would blast them with a few swear words at least, but Frank just yells a silly retort, twists his lips and stomps off.

I’ve never really thought my anger manifested like Frank’s but today, it did. I had a list of phone calls to make (something I really detest) including canceling my parents’ phone and cable tv service. The phone company was wonderful so one task ticked off the list. Feeling optimistic that the cable tv company would be a similar experience, I dialed in and waited. It seems that because the account is in my dad’s name only, he’s the only one who can disconnect the service (the phone was in Dad’s name only but it was no problem to disconnect at all – thank you AT&T!). I explained that he has dementia and wouldn’t really understand what they were asking. Too bad – I have to take him to their office. Do they think he’ll understand better in person? No – I have to take him in so they can see that he has dementia. Isn’t that nice? I will have to drive him to their office and put him on display. He’ll be confused and frustrated at not understanding their questions which means that entire day will be a disaster for us as these feelings just don’t go away in a few minutes.

The lady taking my call was, to be clear, very nice, and she was only doing her job. But seriously, this was just one more bit of frustration that I didn’t need. I admit I got angry and as it bubbled over and out of me, I said much louder than I normally speak (okay, it was probably yelling) . . .

The phone company was great about this and you guys . . . well you guys are just THE WORST!

I slammed down the phone and boy did that feel great. That’s the thing with cellphones—you really can’t slam them down when you’re mad. I was on my parents’ landline (the one I’d just ordered a disconnection for from AT&T without a bit of hassle) and I slammed that baby down with everything I had. I’m surprised it didn’t come off the wall. I was instantly filled with guilt. I’m just not a screamer and that poor lady who was trying to be nice was just doing her job, yada yada. Man, I’m just evil.

And then the Frank Burns scenario popped into my head and I giggled . . . and then I laughed. Oh, it’s a terrible thing to yell ‘you guys are just the worst’ into a phone before slamming it in someone’s ear. Why couldn’t this lady have just ticked off on her computer that my dad said “yes” to her lousy question? Would anyone have really known or cared?

When I told my youngest son (Chad who is 22), he said, “Oh Mom, that’s just awful” and then rolled his eyes at me. My husband immediately called me Frank Burns! LOL! Great minds think alike! He’s been teasing me all day by saying, “Oh you GUYS” in his best Frank Burns voice. We decided that if my mom had been talking to that woman, she would have unloaded both barrels on her besides slamming down the phone. Ms. Charter Cable’s ears would have been smokin’ compared to what I said. I really chuckle thinking about that. I’m willing to bet Mom was watching from Heaven and getting a kick out of me, probably saying GOOD FOR YOU MARI!

And that’s the thing – find the giggles wherever and whenever you can. Laugh at yourself as you walk this road. It really does lighten things up. I think we’ll watch some more M*A*S*H tonight. Here’s to you Frank!


Mind-blowing Contrast

According to Wikipedia, “The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.” In the last year, my husband and I have racked up quite a score. It’s almost frightening to think about – ALMOST. It’s true that the last year has been a wild ride, but it’s also been a most precious year in some ways. Through this turbulence, my husband and I have become much closer and our little family of four is closer as a result. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. In fact, I would have said on July 29 that I was as happy as I’d ever been despite the serious financial stress we’re under. I was absolutely confident that that situation would be resolved and resolved soon; I was content in a way I hadn’t ever been before.

On July 30 I was sitting on the couch working through a lesson in Andrea Schroeder’s Creative Journal Magic course (BTW, I HIGHLY recommend this course!). I had broken through a big block and was really rocking the class. I was getting to know myself and loving the possibilities before me. All that was shattered with the news that my mom had died. Within minutes, I had to call people, make snap decisions, plan a funeral, make decisions for my dad who has early dementia and unable to do any of the things people do when there’s a death . . . including moving him into my home while emptying out his and disposing of my mother’s things. I now have the responsibility for an 87 year old man with early dementia; it’s like having a spoiled preschooler with ADHD and my life has changed so drastically, I almost don’t recognize it. I’m trying to figure out a work schedule and coming up short. I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” girl and my dad has had the same rigid schedule for years that my mom catered to. At 87, changing that schedule causes tantrums. It’s a lot harder to cope with your elderly parent’s tantrums than it is your toddler’s! This role reversal has thrown me for a loop and yet I often feel like that little girl with knots in her stomach because Daddy isn’t happy.

Is this the worst thing that’s ever happened to me? No . . . but it’s certainly thrown a monkey wrench into that delicious peace and contentment I was feeling on the morning of July 30. The contrast is seriously mind blowing.

My emotions have been all over the place today and that really is typical of the grief experience (as well as a woman in perimenopause!). I’m experienced enough with this process to know that the best thing to do is roll with it, acknowledge the feelings at the time and let them go. I’m so much better at “letting go and letting God” now than I was as a younger adult, and this is such a blessing. There can be joy in these challenges if we open up to the possibilities. This is when my gratitude journal keeps me grounded and reminds me that this new tsunami is temporary and doesn’t define me or my life (even though it feels like it quite often!).

Today’s gratitude journal entry will be about Eric (my 24 year old son) trying to recreate a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich that he purchased from some kind of food truck over the weekend. As the smoke was billowing through my kitchen, we laughed ourselves silly and I thanked God for the gift of this child in my life. There is ALWAYS a blessing if you just look for it. ♥