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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Mid-life love is a blessing — even without the happy ending

When you throw your whole heart into something, it’s hard to pull your whole heart out. It takes time, sometimes a long time.

Sometimes you can’t muster a big, bratty smile; you can’t rip the rug out from under heartbreak. And that’s OK. Sometimes a brat just needs a little time.

A few years ago, a friend of mine made a video to celebrate his milestone birthday. He decided to interview his former girlfriends and those of his closest buddies because he and his friends were turning the same age. He wanted to get the women’s perspective on who the guys had been, back in the day.

Deepening your heart

I was a former girlfriend of one of his friends so he interviewed me. When he asked if there was value in reflecting on your past and how relationships change you, I said yes and that, “You’re the same person you were but hopefully with everything that happens you become a lot more comfortable in your own skin, a lot less self-conscious and your heart gets deeper…too.”

Those last few words are especially poignant for me now because I recently broke up with that friend, after dating him for several years.

What happened to cause it, is not something I can fix. That is what makes it so hard. This is one of the biggest losses of my life. It is not the outcome I want but maybe it’s what he wants. Regardless, it seems I have to let it go.

Soulful connection

It is also hard because I was extraordinarily blessed by that relationship and so was he. We had a connection that many people search their whole lives to find.

If you are smiled on by the gods, you may connect with someone you love in a way you didn’t even know was possible. Somehow, the deepest part of you, the soul of you really, connects with the soul of the other person.

It’s not an emotional, mental or physical connection and you don’t instigate it. You have nothing to do with it; you are just a witness. When it first happened I phoned to tell him but before I could speak he said very softly, “I know Kath, I felt it too.”

The lesson

Before this happened, I never knew that some people are blessed to have that kind of connection. After it happened, I thought that a relationship with that at its core, could never fail. But there are no guarantees, no fairy tale endings. 

The blessing

The blessing is that it did happen. I have the memory of that tender, sweet, extraordinary closeness and that is a lasting gift.

Being a brat is about going deep, not just skimming along the surface of life. It’s about having the courage to be vulnerable, to offer your whole self with faith that you will be loved, flaws and all. Maybe that’s why the gods give you a blessing like this once in a while.

The little girl in me still hopes for a fairy tale ending, but the brat in me will wrestle that out of her.

What he and I had was real and that will have to be enough.

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

Taking a birds-eye view of your challenges gives you fresh perspective

Did you ever wish you could fly? Ever wish you could just soar above everything? Get a fresh perspective?

I have. I even used to dream about flying when I was a kid. It was the one recurring dream I had and it was awesome!

Free as a Bird

My dad designed and built our house; he and my mom bricked the whole thing.

The house had a big picture window in the centre. Directly below that was the garage with a long driveway leading up to it.

There was a high bank of lawn on the left side of the garage driveway and a high bank of lawn on the right.

In my dream I would fly high above the left lawn, arms stretched out wide, swoop down over the low driveway, then up and over the right side of the lawn. After a few passes, I’d swing up even higher where I could see everything.

It was such a rush!

They say dreaming about flying is related to feelings of empowerment and freedom which makes sense. 

How have you been ‘seeing’ your challenges?

But I’m writing about birds-eye views because I’ve been reading a great new book called, “Stop Playing Safe,” by Margie Warrell.

The book is all about how to take more risks, overcome fear and become more courageous in your career — and your life.

Stop Playing Safe and Luna

(people, not cats)

Warrell suggests that taking a birds-eye view of your challenges can really help you see them more objectively. 

Imagine you are looking down at your life right now. How do you see it?

“So try to observe how you’ve been observing things. Observe the critical judgments that you make. Step back and notice the type of lens through which you view your life. Is it tinted with optimism or pessimism, excitement or anxiety, anticipation or dread, confidence or self-doubt? Notice how that lens shades your interpretation — of people, situations and yourself — and consider how those interpretations may be serving you and how they may be failing to serve you.”

You may discover that how you’ve been seeing things has caused some of your stress and unhappiness.

This non-judgmental way of looking at your own thoughts says Warrell, can help you tame the ones that are no longer serving you.

What would Steve Jobs do?

She also suggests you think about how someone else, looking down at your life as you are now, might see your challenges.

If they were to see what you’re dealing with (and how you’re dealing with it) what might they suggest you do differently?

Thinking from the perspective of someone else, can give you lots of fresh ideas. Those ideas can spawn solutions to get you unstuck and moving forward.

Warrell suggests you think about your situation from the perspective of inspiring people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, George Washington, Warren Buffet, your favourite writer… 

“Free as a Bird”

I’m going to go do that right now —  just as soon as I watch this flying video.;)

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

How to reframe the hurt and move on

Some days you don’t feel like being a brat, especially if you have recently ended a relationship. It may be hard to move on because you keep remembering the good times. You long for them.

But you wouldn’t be out of that relationship if it had been truly good for you.

On days when you wonder if ending it was for the best, remember one thing:

You are no longer in a relationship that is hurting you.

Recurring hurt

This is especially important if what hurt you was the result of a recurring issue that was never addressed.

If something was hurting you on a regular basis but never dealt with, then it was only a matter of time before things reached this point.

Yes, there were many great times and it’s going to take a while to stop being pulled back, by their memory.  

But the happy times will never make up for the fact that you were repeatedly hurt because of something that was never addressed.

Reframe your sadness. Reframe your longing with these words.

I am no longer in a relationship that is hurting me.

That relationship is in your past. Not your present. Your past.

What was hurting you is back there too.

If you find yourself longing for your former partner, yet feeling the relationship could never move forward, repeat those words several times.

Some days you don’t feel like being a brat

Some days you don’t feel like being a brat; you don’t feel much like stirring things up and pushing out there to make yourself heard, to make positive change.

Sometimes the change comes slowly, quietly, even painfully. Sometimes you are living in the shadow of the sun and regrouping some of that energy.

This is one of those times. But reframing the hurt can help you get out past it.

You’re no longer in a relationship that is hurting you; you’ve left it behind.

That is huge.

(P.S. Don’t throw something away if there is a chance it can be healed. If you think your old relationship has that chance, investigate it by all means.)

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

Denying your fear, makes it stronger

Everyone has to beat back fear. You have to charge ahead in spite of it to get the tough stuff done.

Right?

Suck it up, princess!

Somewhere along the way I absorbed the idea that ignoring my fear, pushing on in spite of it, was being ‘brave.’ I became a warrior and sucked it up.

Hanging out with fear

But as Seth Godin notes, denying your fear actually makes it stronger. Fear will keep poking at you from the inside while you’re busy being `brave` on the outside.

Reminds me of a comment by awesome entrepreneur and marketing coach Payson Cooper . She says that you really need to sit with those feelings, not turn away from them.

Listening to your fears, allowing yourself to feel them, helps you find a way forward because there is usually a lesson there. There is some information in that feeling of fear, that will help you make your next move.

As Godin says, “…fear becomes a compass…a way to know what to do next.`

A different kind of warrior

I thought warriors ignored that gnawing feeling in their stomachs and charged into the void. Turns out I may have been a warrior without a compass!

I’m learning to take the time to feel what may not feel good, because it will help guide me forward.  It’s about being a different kind of warrior.

Brats work with fear

Fear is part of life. Learning to work with it rather than against it, helps you get out of your own way so you can live the life you want. 

Nothin’ brattier than that.;)

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

How Katharine Hepburn changed my life

When I was a kid I lived in the country, far away from the big city.

I knew that if I wanted to go to university — and get away from my current circumstances — I would have to make it happen myself. I would have to organize it and finance it on my own.

But sometimes when you feel you’re on your own, you’re not. Often there is someone whose example gives you the courage to make a major change.

For me that person was outspoken actress and icon, Katharine Hepburn (below, in a 1940 still by Clarence Sinclair Bull, for The Philadelphia Story). She played feisty, independent-minded women in films and was much the same off-camera.

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940 by Clarence Sinclair Bull

“That’s all there is to life, being part of it.”

I read those words of Hepburn’s and I never forgot them.

As a teen I desperately wanted to be part of life — a richer, bigger life — which to me meant going off to university and living in a big city. There was energy there, intellectual stimulation and fresh, new ideas and ways of looking at the world!

I had outgrown my circumstances. I needed to stretch and grow and learn, to be challenged. I was hungry for it.

Hepburn’s independent spirit reinforced my resolve. I watched her films and read everything I could about her. Her passion for life and her view that you must take responsibility for your own destiny inspired and empowered me. It made me feel bold and strong.

Where would I be without Hepburn’s inspiration?

How I could have changed the course of my life without her inspiration is something I won’t allow myself to consider. Altering my circumstances was so critical to my well-being and to my future, that I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not done it. I won’t let myself imagine it.

Feeling inspired gives you courage and reinforces the courage you already have. It helps push you to make the changes that will move you forward and into a healthier place.

Katharine Hepburn’s advice for living:

  • “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around.”
  • “Without discipline, there’s no life at all.”
  • “The thing about life is that you must survive. Life is going to be difficult, and dreadful things will happen. What you do is move along, get on with it, and be tough. Not in the sense of being mean to others, but being tough with yourself and making a deadly effort not to be defeated.”
  • “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

But don’t forget your sense of humour. This quote inspires Bratty Kathy every single day:

“If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.”

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

Send me a sign, Mom

Several years ago I decided to plant my first flower garden and my mom wanted to give me some gladiolus bulbs.  My late grandmother in her typically droll way said, “You’d better tell her which end is up.” My mom was stunned and said that of course, I would know that.

But my grandmother was right; I had no idea that I was supposed to plant them with the pointy end up. My gladiolus would have been blooming “all the way down to China”, or more accurately, into the Indian Ocean.

My mom passed away a couple of weeks ago so she and my grandmother are together again. I can imagine the conversation shortly after she arrived. “I want to send Kathy a sign that I’m OK,” she’d say to my grandmother.

Is it a fly?

A few days after my mom died I was sitting with my dad in his favourite coffee shop when a green (my mom’s favourite colour) fly appeared on my left hand. Its tiny torso shone like a water droplet on a green leaf. I noticed how beautiful it was but a moment later, I smucked it. Gone. Not a trace of fly to be seen. Then I thought, “Oh! Was that a sign?”

Up in heaven my grandmother was saying, “Don’t send Kathy another bug”.

Is it a bird?

My parents’ house is on the bank of a river. I stayed there with my dad for several days after my mom’s passing. One day my brother mentioned the Canada birds he’d heard. I had no idea which ones they were but once he pointed out the sound, I realized I’d been hearing them constantly, especially outside the bathroom window in the early morning. They were one of my mom’s favourite birds, but if they were a sign I almost missed them.

Green hangers 598 px W x 298 px H Greener

It’s a hanger!

On our first visit to the funeral home to make the arrangements, my dad and I took a look around. As we walked through the main entryway, I saw long closets on either side of us. Hanging from each one were rows and rows of big, green, plastic hangers. In most public places, especially a funeral home, you would expect to see stately wooden hangers or sleek, brushed steel, but here were all these green ones. “It’s a sign!” I said to my dad. “Mom would love these!”

It was a sign that this was the right place, that our plans to honour my mom here would work out just fine, with lots of love and lots of green.

c 2013 Kathy Barthel