Transforming loss into gratitude this Thanksgiving

This is my first Thanksgiving without my mom but as the holiday approaches I feel such gratitude — not only because she was a wonderful mother but because of how I believe she’s doing right now.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my mom’s last couple of years weren’t her best. She would tell me all the time that she just didn’t feel like herself.

As it turned out, some of that may have been because her cancer had returned, even though none of her tests had shown it. But it was more than that; my mom didn’t feel like the person she’d been all her life.

Anxious days, restless nights

Her resilience, humour, even her faith, seemed to have deserted her. In their wake were anxious days and restless nights full of worry and fear.

That is not to say that my mom didn’t experience moments of joy with family or friends, but something in behind that temporary happiness, was missing.

After I returned home from her memorial service, I thought about how upset she’d been and I prayed that she was feeling better.

Then one night as I was doing that, I had a very strong sense of her calm, secure and confident presence. I knew that she was content and happy. The stress of the last few years had evaporated.

Temagami Trail, c. M. Romig Dawson (my mom) pastel, 1997

It seems incorrect to call this my first Thanksgiving without my mom because in some ways it doesn’t seem like she’s gone. It seems like she moved and lives somewhere else, some place I can’t reach by phone.

But I know she’s fine and that’s why I’m grateful. My mom is herself again.

In fact, that is the idea that drives BrattyKathy — to really live is to be fully yourself, no fear, no apologies, no holding back.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom.

c 2014 Kathy Barthel

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You can’t play it safe, in mid-life love

How many divorced women have fantasized about asking their boyfriend’s ex-wife what he’s really like?

Sure would save time. Maybe years!

You’d avoid the breakup anguish too because you’d have the goods on the guy before you got emotionally involved. And who knows him better than his ex?

That’s the irresistible opportunity presented to Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in “Enough Said” when she accidentally meets and then becomes friends with Marianne (Catherine Keener), the ex-wife of her new boyfriend Albert (the late James Gandolfini).

Middle-aged TV historian

Albert is a TV archivist with an incredible passion for old TV shows going all the way back to Sid Caesar and Jack Benny. “I was kind of raised like a veal,” he says. “I was put in a dark room and fed and told not to move.”

Albert is also overweight and balding but that doesn’t make him any less attractive to Eva (or to women in the audience, including this writer).

Middle-aged love is sexy

Eva says that Albert is kind of flabby but she admits that “our middle-aged-ness is comforting and sexy to me.”

That’s one of the best things about the movie; it’s realistic. Anyone who has ever fallen in love after having been married, raised kids and divorced, knows that it is the sweet imperfections of their new partner that are the most irresistible.

. Enough Said kiss-1

(the late, great James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus)

Albert is very dear, very sexy and he makes Eva laugh. They have a wonderful time together, including in bed, until she gets the lowdown from his ex, Marianne:

Albert is clumsy in bed, terrible in bed. In fact, Marianne was “completely repulsed by him sexually.”  She got the bedside tables in their divorce and he has yet to replace them, which shows that he is not building a new life for himself. He doesn’t even eat guacamole the right way! He is a “loser.”

In spite of her attraction to Albert, Eva starts to become critical of him, turning into a mini-Marianne. Things get even worse when Albert discovers that the two women are friends.

Albert was really hurt by Marianne (she never respected his job and she cheated on him) so this is just too much. “Sounds corny,” he tells Eva, “but you broke my heart and I’m too old for that.”

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it

Turns out when you get the scoop on your guy from his ex, the information can be a tad negative.

Eva was trying to avoid getting hurt again (something any divorced mid-life woman can understand) but she got hurt anyway and wounded a wonderful guy.

There are no shortcuts and no safety nets when you date after divorce. But that’s a good thing. Allowing yourself to feel again is part of it.

The best middle-aged love stories are as sweet and tender, as wild and raw and as unpredictable, as anything you experienced at 20. It can get messy but you’ll never feel more alive.  

If you get as lucky as Eva and Albert, go for it.

c 2014 Kathy Barthel

If you’re really in love, break some furniture ;)

If you’re in love and having the time of your life, go ahead —

  • break the couch
  • bust your zipper
  • kiss till your lips peel
  • practice reaching high C

Blistex on the headboard

(Blistex on the headboard is always a good idea;)

When you get tired, cuddle up and listen to the rain outside your window, and to him, breathing beside you. There’s no better lullaby.

If it’s love, go deep.  

You will never be more blessed than you are right now.

c 2016 Kathy Barthel

Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?

When I got back to my parents’ house the day my mom passed away, I saw several little notes she had posted around the house. There was one on a kitchen cupboard door and another on her bedside table. They all said, “Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?”

My mom was not herself the last couple of years. When we talked on the phone she would often replay, over and over, negative stories from the past — stories of hurt, disappointment or regret.

Nothing was ever resolved; she’d just relive the same negative thoughts and feelings every time.

Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?

When she would start talking like that during our phone calls, I would often ask her if what she was saying was helping. Was it making her feel better?

I wanted my mom to stop and recognize what she was doing to herself. I wanted to help her break the pattern.

I suggested that she write that question out as a note to herself, and put it up around the house wherever she would most easily see it. That way, whenever her thoughts took a dive, she’d be nudged to replace them with something more positive.

Seeing those handwritten notes for the first time, with the words “Kath’s idea” in brackets, was a bittersweet reminder of how hard my mom tried to overcome a habit many of us have.

We play negative thoughts or experiences over and over again in our minds without even realizing it. Thoughts like, ‘I’m not good enough…’ or ‘I can’t do that..’ or ‘They’ll never hire me…’ Or maybe it’s an event that hurt you long ago, but you just can’t stop thinking about it.

Negative thoughts expand 

It really is true that what you think about, expands. If you wake up in the morning with a negative thought or memory — and don’t get rid of it — it will spread out like a glob of toxic sludge. 

It will fill up large parts of your day and suck the energy right out of you. And if you’re telling yourself you can’t do something or things won’t work out, that is exactly what will happen.

Being a brat is about ripping the rug out from under those negative thoughts and ditching them, before they have a chance to spread.

You can break negative thought patterns

You can reprogram your thoughts. It only takes about 21 days to form a new habit. You just have to do the new thing — consistently — for 21 days and you’ll begin to see change.

Mom and me in front of Tom Thomson shack, McMichael Gallery, Kleinburg Ontario

(Me and my mom, the artist and poet, Muriel Stewart Romig Dawson)

So starting today, whenever you realize you’re thinking something toxic, do what my mom did.

Ask yourself, “Is what I am thinking right now, helping me?” If it isn’t, replace that negative thought, immediately, with something positive.

Do that for the next 21 days and let me know how it goes. I’ll be doing the same, so we can check up on each other.

Brats have to stick together.;)

c 2014 Kathy Barthel