If you have been following me for a while, you may already know that both my parents died at the age of 61 (six years apart) from cancer. Being an only child and a single mom with an infant was pretty difficult, to say the least. After my dad died in 2003, my mom kept his ashes in her closet. It was something we would joke about from time to time. “Oh, dad’s in the closet.” Or, “When should we take him out of the closet?” But I was serious…I mean, what was she going to do with him? It had been several years and she had made no plans. So one day I finally asked her and she looked me in the face and said, “Not my problem. When I die, you can put them together and figure it out.” And she was totally serious. She had NO plans on spreading his ashes. Ever. That was now my “problem.” And it was a huge one. How do you determine someone’s final resting place, let alone both of them? And for someone like me that tends to over-analyze situations, this was just almost too much for me to handle by myself.
After my mom died in 2009, I then found myself with two boxes of ashes in MY closet. At first I thought I needed to do something quick. I thought I would throw them out of a boat near Galveston which was near
where I grew up. But that didn’t feel right. The water there isn’t the prettiest. Then I thought I could travel to blue water and do it, but I worried about the ashes getting lost on the plane. If you have ever had
to go to a funeral home to pick up ashes, you know they are actually pretty heavy. So I thought I could carry them on the plane in a rolling suitcase…but they are heavy and I had no idea how I would get them into the overhead bin. I would have to ask for help... "Excuse me, can you help get these ashes up here for me?" Anyways, as you can see, I was struggling to come up with the best resting place for them. And it was driving me absolutely crazy. I finally decided to give myself some time so I wouldn’t end up just throwing them in my back yard out of sheer desperation. Yes, that did cross my mind!
In 2010 I started dating Justin, who is now my awesome husband. When he moved in, I gave him my closet and moved my stuff to the second closet. But I had to warn him…if he was going to live with me and take that closet, he had to be okay with Larry & Phyllis in there with him. He said that would be fine. Whew…they were finally out of MY closet! He even talked to them sometimes which I thought was great given that he never got to meet them. How lucky to find a great guy that didn’t think I was nuts for keeping these ashes all these years. And he's just as nutty as me talking to them. Perfect match!
Right before the holidays in 2011 I decided that it was time to
let my parents go free. My decision was to spread the ashes over Bear Lake in southern Colorado which is where they spent many afternoons fishing. It was going to be perfect, so I told myself in my head. So literally a few days after I made this huge decision, we jumped in the car and drove from Texas to Colorado. We rented a room at the Cuchara Inn and were the only guests in the entire hotel. The owner gave us his home phone number in case we needed anything. It was a little like the movie The Shining…having an entire hotel to yourself in the dead of winter. And that is where the problem came in: it was winter which meant that Bear Lake was frozen and the roads to get to it were closed off. How the heck did I not think of this before we drove 2 states over? Why didn’t I have a plan B? I always have a plan B. I was devastated and my anxiety kicked in full force. We decided to sleep on it (in our empty hotel) and figure things out the next morning.
We woke up early and headed out toward the house my parent’s built that they planned to spend retirement in. Sadly, they barely lived there a year before the cancer hit. As we were
driving up the steep road to their house, I was flooded with memories and sadness that they didn’t ever get to enjoy what they had worked so hard to obtain. We pulled in front of the
house and it was covered in at least 5 feet of snow all the way up to the front door. The new owners apparently don’t spend the winters there or it would have been plowed. We hiked up to the house and peeked in the windows and I could picture them in there, enjoying retirement.
Justin and I eventually found the perfect spot to spread their ashes which I cannot share here because Colorado has some pretty specific laws about this sort of thing. I was hoping that the spot we picked would be okay for them. As soon as we were done, we headed back to town to get something warm to
drink. When I got in the car, I felt this absolute feeling of peace come over me. I cannot explain it fully as it was just like the weight of years had been lifted off me. Something I had dreaded and stressed over for years was finally done.
We found this cute little café/coffee shop in LaVeta and went
inside. We were freezing cold as we live in Texas and didn't quite prepare for December in Colorado. Everyone could tell we were not local so we found ourselves trying to explain what brought us to this part of the state, in this tiny town, in the middle of winter. Justin was talking with the owner behind
the counter when I turned and saw this beautiful flower on a stand against the wall. I have no idea why, but I was SO drawn to this flower. I am not even into flowers or anything of the such so it was weird that I was obsessed with it. Well, I did take Horticulture in college at Texas A&M and grew a few unidentified plants on my apartment stove... Anyways, I interrupted
their conversation and asked the lady what kind of flower was it, where do you get it, why is it blooming in winter, etc. She said it was a White Paper Narcissus. I had never heard of this flower, but for some reason, I pulled out my iPhone and wrote the name down. (I didn't even spell it right!) I didn’t snap a picture of the flower as I knew I would remember the beauty of it, but I did know I would forget the name. This was at 10:08am mountain time which would have been 11:08 in Texas. This detail is important.
Justin and I then thanked the owner for their hospitality and she even sent us on our way with a bag of free baked goodies. We then began the drive back to Texas.
We got to our house late the following night and I walked in through the kitchen and turned on the light. I seriously almost fell over when I saw a White Paper Narcissus sitting beautifully on my kitchen table with a note from my best friend Jennifer. It was almost too much for me to handle. I had to grab onto the kitchen counter to keep from keeling over. I immediately called her and demanded to know what day and time that she purchased this flower. She told me it was around 11am the previous morning. The exact same time I was looking at one in a tiny cafe in Colorado. She was out shopping, saw it, and was drawn to it for some unexplained reason as well. She was drawn to it enough to buy it and leave it on my table for me when I came home. And I might mention, I didn't talk to her while I was gone as there was literally no cell reception for most of our trip. I get tears in my eyes just writing about this. I mean, how can you explain this? It wasn’t like Jenn came to my house all the time and left me flowers. This could only mean one thing to me: it was a sign and a gift from my parents, through Jenn. What else could it mean? At the exact time I was drawn to the flower in Colorado, minutes after spreading my parents’ ashes, Jenn was drawn to the same flower in Texas and had to get it for me. This is what I know to be true. It was a sign that I could finally be at peace and know that they were at peace. It was a sign that they were happy with the place we chose to spread their ashes. It was a sign to tell me all was going to be okay.
My 40th birthday was two weeks ago and my incredible mother-in-law sent my husband home with a White Paper Narcissus for my birthday. When he walked in, I just thought how incredibly sweet and thoughtful of her to remember the significance around this flower for me. When I talked to her on the phone she said she called every florist in town and no one had one. So she had given up the plan to get one for me. But later that day she was at her local grocery store shopping and they had one!
Even though people leave our lives, there are still signs of them all around us. Sometimes it has to hit you over the head to realize it, but they are there and they are with us. Is the sign always going to be something as huge as this was? Probably not, but don’t be surprised if it is. I find comfort in knowing that my parents are watching over me each and every day. I don’t have all the answers to heaven and what really happens, but I do believe they are my angels.
One final note: If you tell your family you want to be cremated, do them a favor and give them some ideas on where you would like your ashes to be spread. You don’t have to give specific coordinates on a map, but at least a general idea of what you would prefer. No one should have to go through what I did to make such a decision with no direction. I can laugh about it now because it is done, but darn my mom for leaving me with such a task and no guidance!
This article as originally appeared on Mind, Body, Green November 1, 2013.
By now we all know that October was National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This means that for a month, everyone wears pink and buys “pink” products to support awareness. But aren’t we already aware of breast cancer? I don’t need pink products thrown in my face all month to make me more “aware.” If anything, it really bothers me. What infuriates me is seeing what companies do to market their products, all in the name of "awareness."
This was blatantly obvious recently as I paid for a salad at my local café. There was a basket full of brown cookies with pink things in them.
“What kind of cookie is that?” I said.
The lady told me that they were chocolate cookies with pink M&M’s to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Really? Are you kidding me? Since when did a cookie serve as awareness for anything besides Type II diabetes?
She asked if I wanted to buy one and I politely declined. Why would I buy a cookie just to add to their bottom line? There was no note saying where the proceeds would go and she had no idea. So in reality, this was just a way
to sell more cookies.
There is actually a term for this kind of marketing: Pinkwashing. Wikipedia describes pinkwashing as “the promotion of consumer goods and services using the pink ribbon that represents support for breast cancer-related charities.”
Sure, this sounds great in theory, but how many of these goods and services are actually sending their money to any charity? That’s really the question and there's no real way to know the answer when it comes to smaller companies.
When researching, I found that the Susan G. Komen foundation receives over $55 million, (YES MILLION), a year from corporate partnerships that sell their products and make a donation. The real issue here is that some of these
products are harmful for anyone who is healthy, much less someone going through any kind of cancer treatment. If you're buying beauty products or perfumes, you can bet that they most likely contain cancer-causing ingredients. If the product contains “fragrance” then it’s a sure bet it is not safe. If it has ingredients that you cannot pronounce, it most likely is harmful to use.
Does anyone remember KFC and their “Buckets for a Cure?” They sold their chicken in pink buckets and the proceeds went to Komen. This marketing strategy actually made $4.2 million for Komen, which is the largest single contribution in the organization's history.
Has anyone looked into what is in that bucket of chicken? It's filled with harmful ingredients known to cause obesity, which plays a role in inflammation, diabetes and cancer, among other diseases. I am sad for all the families who ate that bucket of chicken thinking they were doing something good for “the cure.”
It seems like every product in the store this month has a “pink” version. This is great if the money is actually going somewhere useful. But how do you know? Some reputable stores will give you full details. Some won’t. My advice?
Just be cautious buying something that you don’t need only because it's pink.
Many larger companies claim that they will donate a certain percentage of sales to a specific charity. However, many of these companies put a cap on their donations and don’t mention it. So if the cap is lower, the majority of the sales go right back to that company instead of any reputable charity that is actually helping those battling breast cancer.
Perhaps my dislike of this month is for more personal reasons. My mom died in 2009 at the age of 61 of breast cancer. It was devastating for me. Prior to that, we participated in the Walk for the Cure and I remember her proudly standing with a huge smile on her face in the “Survivor Photo” as well as receiving a pink rose at the finish line of the walk. Those are great memories and I am thankful to the Komen group for organizing. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do any kind of walk like that since she passed away. It's just too emotional for me.
So let’s focus on prevention and helping those who are already diagnosed. Let’s see what can be done to help the families as they go through this horrendous disease. But please don’t ask me to buy junk food to raise awareness. I’m already aware.
Having already watched my parents both die from cancer, my life has been altered drastically. It has been 10 years since my dad died and 4 for my mom. Every now and then my phone will ring and I will find myself thinking its her calling. I think of them every single day and am so thankful to have had them in my life for the time that I did. I learned a lot from these losses and wrote about it to hopefully help others that have been in my shoes. Life is fragile, make the most of it!
When my mom realized her cancer was terminal, she told me she wanted to have her funeral before she died. She didn't want everyone to show up after it was over, she wanted to see them while she still could. This photo to the left was taken that day. What an amazing time she had, even though she was very sick. I threw her the best pre-funeral in less than 10 days that I could and over 100 of our family and friends came to join us. What a blessing!
This article originally appeared on Mind, Body, Green July 31, 2013:
Death. It's a word many people don’t like to discuss. However, death is inevitable for each and every one of us, and it's something that should be discussed openly with loved ones. Unfortunately, I've had to witness quite a few deaths over the past decade, which has taught me many life lessons.
Here are some of them:
1. Life is not long enough to justify staying in situations that make you
After watching my dad die at the age of 61, it put my life into perspective. I was 29 at the time and a new mother. My dad had been the definition of health and somehow ended up with cancer that took his life within six months of diagnosis. Immediately after his death, I evaluated my own life and realized that my marriage wasn’t healthy for me. If he had not died, I probably would have stayed, miserable, for many more years.
2. Put family first.
My mom had breast cancer at age 54 and, after treatment, was considered cancer-free for five years. At the five-year mark, she found out that it had come back in her bones, lungs and other areas. The doctors told me that she was
terminal and had maybe a few months to live. Being an only child and not having my father for help, I had to make huge decisions about what to do. I was fortunate to be able to afford to quit my job and devote myself to my mother fully and help her through the process of dying. She ended up living for 13 months and those are months that I cherish and am so thankful to have had with her.
3. You must give yourself time and space to grieve.
I learned this the hard way. When my dad died, I had a one-year-old and was going through a divorce. In addition, my mom had extreme depression, and I had her move into an apartment with me and my daughter, so I could keep an eye on her. I was still in the caregiving role and wasn’t able to begin to process the magnitude of losing my dad. He had always been the strong one in our family, and without him there to guide me through the toughest time in my life, my solution was to not deal with it.
Fast forward ten years. My body forced me to deal with it and wouldn’t allow me to go another day without resolution. What I've learned is that the best thing is to deal with grief as quickly as possible, but also remember that everyone grieves in a different way and in different time frames. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t just “get over it” in what you feel is the right timeframe. You really don’t ever forget, but it does get easier as time passes. In order to deal with grief, you have to find what works best for you. There are lots of avenues including counseling and support groups.
4. Lean on friends and family for support, even if you think they won't understand.
I am blessed to have a few amazing close friends that I could have turned to after my parent’s death. In hindsight, I should have reached out more to my friends for help through such a difficult time. However, I didn’t want to bother anyone with my sadness, and I really felt as if they wouldn’t understand. I now know that even though they had not experienced such loss, they could have helped me cope during the hard days. Your close friends are there for
a reason: because they love you and care about you. Let them help you through times of grief and loss.
5. Tell your loved ones how you feel about them as much as possible.
I never thought in a million years that my dad would actually die. I knew he was sick with cancer, but I assumed he would beat it since he was so strong. So when the call came from my mom that he was being life-flighted to Houston and
might not live, it was a huge shock to me. By the time I saw them wheel him into the ICU, I realized that he was not going to make it much longer. I held his hand and told him that I loved him. That was all I had to say because I had told
him how much l loved and appreciated him my entire life. I didn’t need to tell him anything more, he already knew.
6. Even if your loved one isn’t responding, he is still there until the last breath.
My mom was at an in-patient hospice facility for 11 days. For eleven full days, I sat by her side and waited for her to die. I counted her breaths, I felt her feet, I watched for all the signs that she was in the final hours. But they never came. It was about Day 9 when the Hospice Chaplain came to me and told me that she was going to pass away on her own time. He said she wasn’t ready yet. He instructed me to go in and tell her that it was okay for her to let go. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. I held her hand, and touched her cheeks as I told her that she could go and that I was going to be
all right. After I said what I needed to say, a tear ran down her cheeks. I know she heard me. Even though she hadn’t been able to speak for almost two weeks, she was still with me and knew that she had my permission to get go. She took
her last breath the following day with me by her side.
7. The cliche is true: live each day like it were your last.
My dad was always saving money for retirement. He had huge plans for the golden years and saved accordingly. I remember he and my mom struggling financially and not taking the best trips because he was so busy saving for the
future. Well, the future never came for them, and neither one of them got to enjoy retirement. I've learned to find a balance between saving for retirement, but still taking that vacation you've been putting off. We have all heard that
saying about live each day like it were your last. You don’t have to go that extreme, but be aware that life is fragile and is a wonderful gift.
Choose to live life to the fullest!
This article below, as seen on MindBodyGreen.com
This is a hard subject to speak about as some might judge or label me, but I want to share my story in hopes that it can help others avoid the nightmare I was in for three months.
I can trace back my first anxiety/panic attack to a week after my mom died in 2009. I decided I needed to get away after dropping everything in my life, including my job, to take care of her for a year while she battled her second round of breast cancer. It was my first trip alone and it was going well until I decided to take a taxi into Playa to do some shopping. Something told me it was too dangerous to do alone. As I waited for the taxi, I started to sweat and immediately felt so queasy like I was going to throw up. I assumed it was something I had eaten or maybe I had accidentally drank the wrong Mexican water.
I didn’t experience this again until I started traveling heavily for work in 2011 and 2012. Almost every time I ended up getting “sick” in my hotel or while navigating the ridiculous turnpikes in New Jersey. I had to fly home early from Florida once and decided I needed to figure out what was going on.
I had every test done through my gastroenterologist and all they could tell me was that I had a leaky gut and some inflammation in my stomach. They promptly gave me acid reflux medication and sent me on my way.
I tried every single holistic method to control my anxiety. I did deep breathing exercises, drank tea and tried meditation. I even went to a place that hooks your brain up to a computer for an hour trying to change your patterns. I took every supplement that I could find that was supposed to help with anxiety. I went to an acupuncturist, a naturopathic doctor, therapy and many other places to seek help. I changed my diet drastically as well.
From there, I was okay through Christmas and in January everything started to unravel. I was getting nervous and sick at my house, which was my safe haven. And it wouldn’t stop. I was in a constant state of panic and couldn’t sleep, eat or even function. I was literally a prisoner in my own home. I went to the ER more times than I care to admit thinking I was having a heart attack or dying. They really couldn’t help me and would give me an IV and some Ativan and send me home. I would feel better for about 4 hours and then right back to where I was before.
Over the next three months my weight got so low that I would have to go in for IV fluids since my anxiety was so high that I couldn’t eat…not a bite. I had to spend the night in the hospital once in order to get my nourishment back to somewhere near normal. From there, it got to the point where I couldn’t even leave the house to take my daughter to school which is actually in our neighborhood. I was terrified and didn’t want to admit that I had a problem that had nothing to do with anything physical. How do you admit to yourself that it’s your brain causing all these horrific physical ailments?
My mother –in–law showed up one Saturday at our house and freaked out when she saw me. My hip bones were sticking out and I just looked incredibly unhealthy and sick. My very supportive husband and I decided that we had to do something to get me well. I had been seeing a psychiatrist who was continually changing my medications which was making me even sicker. It was the worst thing I have ever been through.
That night I made the hardest decision and checked myself into a psychiatric hospital where I spent the next week focusing on myself. I was so against taking medication but finally admitted it was my only option at that point. At the hospital, I got the right medication and medical help to gain back my appetite and finally feel okay.
I was on a floor with patients dealing with anxiety and depression so as you can imagine, it was a very calm atmosphere! I was able to see that I wasn’t “broken” and that I wasn’t alone. I had an instant support group of people that were going through some of the exact same things that I was. We were able to learn from each other and help encourage each other.
After leaving the hospital, I completed five weeks of out-patient DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) where I learned to deal with my brain’s “false signals” of danger. I learned so much about myself and my triggers. I started seeing a new psychiatrist who is much more in line with my needs and beliefs. I also go to my Life Coach who has been amazing in helping me move forward and face my fears.
How did I end up here?
I am an only child and both my parents died at a young age of cancer. Being a single mom during this time, I never took the time to grieve or deal with my emotions around both these huge losses.
I worked full-time at a job that had me on the road several times a month going to strange cities and having to navigate them alone.
I was in school and had weekly lessons and lectures which took up most of my free time.
I was having custody battles with my ex-husband.
I was in the process of creating my own Health Coaching business from scratch.
I had a daughter that had volleyball practice three nights a week and all day tournaments every Saturday.
If I did something, it had to be perfect. There was no room for error in my head. I had such ridiculously high and unobtainable expectations for myself.
Just thinking back, it’s no wonder I hit rock bottom. I just couldn’t handle it all. Since then, I have learned to put myself first because when I don’t, I am no use to anyone around me.
How I put myself first:
I spoke to my boss and cut out the travel aspect of my job. I am now home with my family every night and that is really what is important in life.
I set small goals. I was 10 weeks behind in my school work so I set a goal to do 2 hours daily until I caught up. Sticking to my plan and goals allowed me to catch up with ease.
I get a pedicure or a massage at least once a month. These are treats for me that allow me to disconnect from everything, if only for an hour.
I use essential oils that are calming and relaxing, as well as some that help me focus better during my work day.
I started my Health Coaching business very slowly and am working up from there. I now understand that slowly growing my business is better than a rapid growth that I couldn’t manage.
I walk my dog more and ride bikes with my daughter.
I fall asleep every night listening to a guided meditation that I downloaded on my phone.
This entire experience has been a blessing in many ways. I have learned so much about myself and what is really important in life. I still have to be cautious daily to not go back down the anxiety road, but if it happens, I now have the skills and knowledge to keep myself healthy.
My mission as a Certified Health Coach is to make the world a happier, healthier place, one person, one meal at a time, with love and gratitude. I work to inspire others to live a life of prevention and overall wellness!