Welcome to the Koenig|Dunne blog. We have three different blog series for you to find inspiration and encouragement as you go on this journey:
- Doing Divorce, A thoughtful discussion about divorce: Angela Dunne provides practical advice based on real examples of what she and her clients have faced through the transition of divorce.
- Divorce Made Simple: Our attorneys breakdown the divorce process in a way that is easy to understand.
- NEXT: An Empowerment Series: Attorney and life coach Susan Koenig guides, supports, and inspires you on the journey of creating a life you love.
“What did you wear?” she asked enthusiastically. It was a sweet acknowledgment that the talk I’d given that day was of some import.
“Wait. Let me guess. You wore black.”
I chuckled at the teasing of my friend knowing my closet is full of black dresses, black shirts, and black skirts. In my immediate defense I describe the delicate ivory blouse that peaked out from under my black jacket and the vintage necklace hung alongside it.
Most mornings after meditation, tea, and vitamin D – I make my way my dresser where strands of white, gold, black, silver, and red hang on a stand that spins for the right selection. A glass plate holds a handful of sparkling gems. More than one box keeps the earing collection. A lacquered bowl holds bracelets.
Marie Kondo would love to get her pretty little hands on this display.
Like my former cupboard of Tupperware, this assortment evolved without great intention. The most precious arrived as gifts. Therese, Kaitlyn, and Bev all knew that antiques from their mothers or grandmothers would never be worn by them but would warm my heart through and through. Gretchen claimed I once saved her life driving her red Volvo stick shift through red lights to a hospital emergency room. Her gratitude was shown in long string of tiny garnets kept safe in a green felt bag.
Remote working in 2020 has freed countless people from the need to do daily hair, makeup, and wardrobe like they did for days in the office. Time, money, and energy saved. But for me, this moment in front of the mirror matters.
I don’t “have to” do it. I “get to” do it.
Adornment by humans is ancient. From the treasures worn by Egyptian pharaohs to the crowns of kings, it tells the world who we are or lets them know the power we hold. Just as our clothing communicates, our accessories are a language. What am I trying to say?
Nearly every day, I follow the news. Of the world, of my community, of my many friends. Much of it isn’t pretty. I could that extra minute or two of my day in prayer or pranayama or child’s pose. I choose instead a moment of embellishment to remind me to bring a bit of beauty into my day and into the world.
And I like the way it looks with all that black.
Do you have daily rituals that lift your spirit?
When your mood is lifted, how does it impact others?
What place does beauty have in your life?
Patrick and Shirley Dunne are my parents. Pat and Shirley celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on September 19, 2020. They married with little fanfare but great love in a tiny church in Portland, Oregon. After the ceremony, they did not go to a wedding reception. There wasn’t one. Instead, they went to the hospital to share the day with my mom’s father who was healing from a heart attack.
Little did they know that in these first decisions they made as a couple they were setting the priority for their fifty-year path.
They met at the University of Oregon – senior year and not a minute too late. My dad came to my mom having lost both of his parents in separate tragedies in childhood and nothing to his name to speak of but perseverance, determination, and a strong intellect. My mom met my dad having grown up in an upper middle-class family filled with sisters and spirit – until they lost the youngest sister to the ocean at age 5. At age 17, my mom became the strength for her family and she would bring this gift forward to my dad along with her matter-of-fact way, her sharp sense of humor, and her wit-filled wisdom.
My parents traveled, toting three kids, wherever my dad’s military career took us – including Texas, Germany, California and Nebraska – until they retired to Oregon and half-time in Nebraska to ensure quality time spent with their four grandchildren. Their marriage included long periods of time living apart due to military life and– like every marriage – was not free of very difficult times.
Today I wonder how after fifty years, a couple can end up in bed at night in matching pajamas, holding hands for their nightly talk when a husband can say to his wife “I wish we could die just like this so neither of us has to be without the other.”
I have watched my parents for 45 of their 50 years together – for the last 20 years as someone professionally engaged in observing marriages as they come apart. I watched first-hand all the ways they navigated the different challenges and seasons a marriage brings. I see the differences.
The success of my parents’ marriage had some to do with luck, some to do with being married in the 70’s, and some to do with sheer determination. But it has mostly to do with the magic that unfolds when people come together with the singular goal of wanting someone to love them. This is it. This is all that mattered. It sounds simple – but it is far from.
If all you want from your marriage is to be loved, you then show up to be loveable. You show up vulnerable, authentic, and real to your spouse. My parents had no notion of who or what the other was supposed to be. They never tried to form and mold their spouse into their own ideas of who their spouse should be. They both honored the other’s true authenticity. They were independent enough in their own selves to just let the other be who they were and to offer up love to them every day for 18,250 days in a row.
I offer this reflection of a love well-lived on my divorce blog in honor of this marriage that made it. This marriage has been a gift to me and so many others who have felt the warm glow of my parent’s contentment with each other over these years. Let’s raise our proverbial glass to Pat and Shirley this week in cheers to the fifty-year marriage.
Your daughter, Angela
Undoubtedly, a big life change, such as a divorce can cause emotional distress. Unfortunately, a stigma regarding mental health support still exists. Many parents worry that seeking professional help may make them appear unstable or be used against them in a custody proceeding.
However, if you are seeing a therapist, acknowledge yourself for getting the professional help and support you need. Your well-being is important to your ability to be the best parent you can be. But make sure you do disclose to your attorney if you are seeing a therapist; your mental health records can be subpoenaed by the other parent’s lawyer. For this reason, it is important to discuss with your attorney an action plan for responding to this possible request. It is also important to let your therapist or counselor know how to respond to a request for your mental health records.
Also, if your mental health professional has prescribed medication to treat depression or anxiety, make sure to disclose that to your attorney as well. Taking prescribed medications and following through with recommendations from a mental health professional is important.
Feelings of depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping are common during big life changes, so seeking help from professionals is in your best interest and the interest of your children.
The September the sky was still dark as we arrived at the airport. The few parked cars scattered across the giant lots looked lonely. We entered the terminal and an eerie silence surrounded the attentive airline agents waiting at their stations.
Travelers were noticeably on edge.
This was not September in a global pandemic. Rather, it was the September when, just two weeks prior, four terrorist attacks on the morning of 9/11 killed thousands. Like the autumn day in 1963 when Sister Leodegar stood somberly at the front of the classroom to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot, the indelible memory of place of hearing the news is etched in my memory.
This September wildfires are raging in 10 states across the western U.S., displacing countless people including close friends. This week over 10,000 vulnerable souls living in the squalor of a Greek refugee camp streamed into the streets and into hopelessness when a fire swept through the camp.
This September our quiet airport reflects a response not to fear following deaths in a single day. Instead, it reflects a response to a growing daily death toll from a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans so far.
Emptiness. Terror. Death. Devastation. The scenes repeat, both near and far. Even when our personal lives are protected by some miraculous mixture of privilege and fate, we are not immune to feeling the loss. We grieve for those we love and for those we’ve never known.
What do we do when the world seems an endless sea of suffering? How much of it can I bear to bear witness to? As we cope with our own worries about the balance in our bank account, fears of attending a funeral, and loneliness from lack of seeing loved ones, how do we keep hope?
Within 72 hours of that September flight nineteen years ago, I heard the phrase “life coaching” for the first time. Intuitively though not intellectually I knew it would become my life’s work. It did. Nearly two decades later, remembering this moment gives me hope.
If I’m able to stay present to today’s hope, I can hope that in the next 72 hours more hope will arrive to carry me through any news near or far.
I wish the same for you.
How does a memory of a past loss affect your feelings today?
How do you cope with the overwhelm of suffering you see?
How can you hold on to hope today?
9/8 Dad’s birthday. He would have turned 101 but he died at 64, the age I am now
9/11 A shared memory of tragedy for our entire county
9/14 Death of my husband John
9/20 Birth of my first child
September is always big for me, from being sworn in as a member of the bar to becoming a certified life coach.
September also brings my favorite season. It’s a reminder of back to school, the place of positive childhood attention. The fields of the Midwestern countryside and the turning leaves on the oaks wear the warm tones of golds and browns I look best in. Even the little things feel bigger, as each rose picked becomes more precious knowing the end of their days looms.
With this month comes FWOF–the First Weekend of Fall—a treasured tradition of women toting vegan salads, choices of chili, red wine and red Twizzlers. We gather at my friend Gretchen’s lovely lake home. We start with hours of catching up on each other’s lives as we sit under umbrellas watching the sun sparkling on the water.
When the stars come out, we head for the circle of chairs on the beach. We stare intently at the fire as we reveal our heartbreaks and hopes, our most painful betrayals, our most deeply held beliefs. Generous pauses of thoughtful listening enfold us.
The following morning we wrap ourselves in blankets and head to the porch, our cups of coffee steaming. A quiet knowing of our shared humanness fills the air.
Births, deaths, weddings, divorces, children, grandchildren, promotions, demotions, creations, depressions. This September just started, and already one friend welcomed a new grandchild while another buried her mother.
This year there will be no FWOF with an overnight at the lake. But I will remember that we all have our Septembers. Some bitter. Some sweet.
I intend to savor each day of this one.
Are there seasons that particularly touch your heart?
Is there something for you to grieve or celebrate right now?
What will you savor in the month ahead?
“Like mother, like daughter” she said in response to my daughter reporting I took her to a doctor to inspect a dime-sized black spot on her thigh that after a week was not resolving. When my distressed daughter relayed this to me, I asked for the context. “I don’t know mom! Why does she ever talk about you?” Without context to guide my reaction, I was left flailing to understand.
“Like mother, like daughter” are the words I want to hear about my daughters in relation to me. I still beam with pride when someone says it in reference to my mom and me.
Instead it felt like it was wielded against my youngest like a weapon.
Truthfully, I don’t know what the comment meant. I tried to guess. Does she think I take my daughter to the doctor a lot? Does she think I go to the doctor a lot? Wait. This wasn’t about me. The damage to my daughter had been done. That invisible line between households had once again been highlighted and underscored.
I was not the first mom to face the ridicule of a stepmom. I would be lying if I said she was never the subject of mine. The relationships between the OGs (short for originals in teen slang) and stepparents is usually one defined by the tight rope each parent walks on. Both the mother and the stepmother (or father and stepfather) are trying to co-parent without any real knowledge of the other. We do not know how each other were raised, what our parenting preferences are, or even what is happening in each other’s lives. How do we allow grace and the benefit of the doubt in the absence of any relationship?
I sent a text to their dad stating that he should remind his wife that she should keep her opinions of and about me private. My daughter received an apology from her stepmom and my phone remained silent.
I wish I were big enough to have been satisfied by that. But I am imperfectly human. What I wanted was an acknowledgment by their dad and his wife that they understand how damaging it is when our children feel like they have to pick sides between our houses, and when they feel that their step-mom doesn’t like their mother who they love. I have had to hold my tongue many a time and force the reminder on myself. I know it is tempting. I know it is hard.
When I have faced disappointments in the past about my co-parenting relationship I have reached for perspective. I remind myself that everyone (me included) has bad moments and has words escape from their mouths before they can catch them. I remind myself in the big picture of parenting – this is nothing. This is nothing compared to COVID, remote learning, not seeing their grandparents. There are so many bigger things I need to parent my daughters through right now and I know the beauty of children and teenagers is that this might even be a blip in their world of fast-paced social media snaps. It would be forgotten as fast as the words were uttered.
Having perspective and grace takes a lot of practice and really good best friends who share your shock of the statement and then help you move on. Having perspective and grace is what I want my daughters to learn – to learn from me – so that people can then say about them “like mother, like daughter.”
We know there is stress and confusion regarding the start of school this year for families in Nebraska. What may be adding stress to some divorced parents is the decision to send their children to public school or whether to enroll them in private school depending upon each schools’ coronavirus precaution and procedures.
The Nebraska Supreme Court Child Support Guidelines have no specific provisions regarding the expense of private education. However, both parents can agree in a divorce decree that they want their children to attend private school and agree upon how the education expense will be paid. Previously, the obligation to pay private school expenses was generally only enforceable if the parents agreed to this provision in their Decree.
However, with many parents exploring the option of enrolling their children in private school, it’s important to talk with your attorney to determine your rights and options regarding payment for this expense.
The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines provide that parents must share all reasonable and necessary expenses for their children’s education. Given the facts of your case, what may be considered reasonable and necessary may have shifted during this health pandemic. If you have questions about private school education expenses during or after your divorce, talk with an experienced family law attorney at Koenig|Dunne to determine what options you have regarding your children’s education.
“Don’t look back,” he said as we parted.
For a decade after a divorce I’d been goodbye-ing my children. But this time, instead a farewell at his father’s front door, I left my youngest on a lawn thousand miles away from home.
He was 15.
Introverted and incredibly intelligent, he was too smart for high schools and I wasn’t smart enough for home school. Instead of starting his sophomore year with his classmates, he entered his freshman year at college. He stood alone under a sunny sky amidst a campus of strangers as I walked to my rental car weeping without shame.
It wasn’t a pandemic, but it wasn’t the back to school we planned. There would be no parent teacher conference to meet his teachers. No open house to see his classrooms. And, there would be no cell phones.
Will he be safe? Will he be understandably homesick or get seriously depressed? Had I made my biggest motherly mistake so far?
Despite the fear-filled start to this unanticipated path, Jack did well. Still, there was no graduation from that college. Instead, he transferred schools. A year later he enrolled in community college to become a mechanic. Thereafter an enlistment in the Army–boot camp followed by training as an airborne medic during wartime. Ultimately? A degree in economics followed by a graduation with honors from Harvard Law School.
Twenty years ago my child was my teacher for changed plans, uncertainty, and risk. Ever courageous, Jack kept saying yes, trusting that each choice was the best he could make. He’s lived that wisdom ever since.
He did it again this year. He stepped away from a prestigious job in the legal world into something that could make any mother afraid anew. Jack’s spending this season fighting wildfires in remote areas of the western United States.
It’s back to school for me, retaking the class on trusting my child and having faith in the future.
What fears do you have about your uncertain path?
What have you learned about worrying in the face of unanticipated changes?
What can you trust about yourself when the future is unsure?
“Fifteen minutes is a long time,” she said, the 4th of July sun beating down on her.
I was shocked. According to this straight A, double major college student, many in her generation found mere minutes of waiting a barrier to registering to vote.
It was hot on the rooftop. I felt my rising blood pressure make me hotter and my urge to pontificate escalate. Did she not know how suffragists were arrested, beaten, and jailed? How they were mocked for decades for their dedication making this right real? How Susan B. Anthony sacrificed all that she had for the cause and died without seeing the 19th Amendment ratified?
I took a long sip of my watermelon iced tea.
“It’s so confusing,” Grace continued. “Where to register if you go away to college. How to vote if you do. And what happens when our college closes from COVID and your living some place new?”
There is a multitude of obstacles to each of us recognizing our privilege and exercising our power. In lieu of a lesson on women’s history taken from my Women and the Law teaching days, we played 21 Questions. I chose feminist author Betty Friedan to satisfy my longing to give a lecture.
My privileges are immense on many levels. My parents were never subject to a poll tax or a literacy test. and my own privilege is immense. The furthest I’ve walked to a polling place was three blocks. Being white, I’ve never been heckled at a polling place nor told I didn’t have the proper ID like countless people of color are each election day.
Here we are now, just weeks after that Independence Day conversation, and Kamala Harris is the first Black woman to be a vice presidential candidate for a major political party. We are less than 90 days from election day. And we are on the brink of marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
How do we remember the hard-won victories of those who came before us? How do we remember the privileges we take for granted? How do we act on what others have given us?
Grace is away at college. I’ll text her to encourage her to go online to register to vote and send her the link. I’ll let her know that her uncle Kevin and I already put our applications in the drop box to get our vote-by-mail ballots. I’ll remind her to vote in October in case there are any kerfuffles. Maybe I’ll even tell her how I celebrated when my youngest child was born on Susan B. Anthony’s birthday.
There is a time for education. There is a time for listening. And there’s still time to vote. Grace won’t be the only one hearing from me in the weeks ahead.
What obstacles get in the way of you exercise your rights?
How do you show appreciation for sacrifices others made that benefit you?
Is this a time to use your voice, to listen, or to act?
“Too dark of eyebrows. Too dark accentuates under eye and wrinkles. Use a wand for pink highlight in inner tear duct.”
My friend of 40 years gives me helpful advice. For as long as I can remember she’s shared on everything from which type of Miracle-Gro to use in my window boxes to why Gevalia coffee was an essential morning brew. She is a great researcher with as much life experience than me and her expertise is based on both.
My pal loves and only wants what’s best for me. So why did I pause upon receipt of this helpful tip in a tiny text? What was it that made me want to explain?
I put it on carelessly at the last minute.
It looks much lighter in the tube.
I hate to waste, so I’m using it up.
Was I really about to use some of my precious daily energy to explain my eyebrows?
The night before we’d seen one another’s faces on our phones for the first time in months. In my time zone it was end of a long day. I’d just taken the trash to the curb. In the morning, I sent a quick selfie as evidence of my (albeit questionably better) current appearance.
There it was. My appearance. Always just a little worried about how I look to others. Do I look okay? Do I know enough? Did I do the right thing? In the quest to be seen as capable and to be loved I defend. My brain goes there before I even know it.
How many times in a day do I do this? Too many. It’s subtle. I can be gracious. And it will always take a micro bit of my energy.
Whenever I’m silently saying “I’m right/You’re wrong” by my defensiveness, I have another choice: “You’re right!” Two words. Two syllables. Said with enthusiasm.
What would it be like if I chose this response instead? Not simply when I get a helpful hint from a trusted friend, but anytime truth is spoken? When I’m in the middle of a rigorous debate with a coworker? When I see a post about the pandemic that raises my heart rate and makes a valid point?
Before I reply to the text, another one arrives.
I should have said this FIRST. You are a splendor.
My need to defend, as usual, was in my mind. It’s time to say Thank you!… another couple of words that can always be said with enthusiasm.
How open are you to personal advice?
Do you ever needlessly defend?
What feedback fears do you have?
I just turned it off one day. It was too much. I could no longer consume, react, and mourn the rancorous dissension filling up my social media feeds and nightly newscasts. To mask or not to mask, to reopen restaurants and bars or not, to social distance or stay quarantined – it was all taking its toll. And then I read an article that by turning it all off I was exercising again my white privilege – leading to more helplessness.
Now it is back-to-school time. I read posts like “Kids. Need. School,” and I want to engage. Who is saying kids don’t need school??? I crave going point and counterpoint to flush out my frustrations and ignore the hard, real life decisions I am faced with.
How will I keep my high schoolers healthy when even half of the alphabet in-school still means more kids than my entire high school held at full capacity? How will I continue to combat the “but so and so’s parents are letting them?” How will I stay corona free so I can continue managing my small business with a new potential risk every time my kids come home?
I know from Facebook that I am not alone in this fatigue. But I have an added layer causing me stress. I do not share a household with my children’s father where they transition to half of their time. Not only do I not share a household, but I do not share a relationship with him either – thereby creating a whole host of additional unknowns about what my children are being exposed to on a regular basis.
My co-parent and I have minimal communication on COVID issues at best. I am faced with their father who doesn’t find it necessary to engage in conversations about consistency within our households and he will do it his way and I can do it my way. And that ends with a period.
Co-parents across the country are dealing with identical struggles:
- One parent requiring masks, while the other parent disparages the practice;
- One parent gung-ho about baseball opening up and the other distressed every time the team huddles close together with their faces inches apart;
- One parent wanting a test with every sniffle and the other waiting for other signs of symptoms.
These are but a few examples of what divorced or separated parents are experiencing with no real end in sight. Courts are refusing to weigh in and are leaving the parenting to the parents.
The only remedy truly available to all parents is to focus on that which is within their control and surrender to the rest. Focus on what you can control and surrender to the rest. This has become a morning mantra for me. These words are used to soothe my ruffled spirits and angry hot spots when they flare up. COVID is teaching us all a lesson about what we cannot control. But we have a choice to focus on what we can control. I hope in this multiple-choice test of life I am making the right one.
These are historic times. We all know it. Previously unseen events unfold . Many we hope to never see again.
Postings of rock concert crowds and soccer fans in the stadium are replaced by those of our prettiest petunias and our most impressive pizza. For some, perhaps the lonely face of a white haired loved one through a window.
So awake are we to the significance of this season of our lives that institutions across the country are keeping a close record. I am one of many who chronicle my COVID-19 experience as a part of a project to contribute to our local university’s archives.
What gives such significance that it is worth preserving? Expert preservationists say that it is important enough to keep if it is associated with important events and people. Little Bohemia was once the cultural center of Czech life as immigrants arrived at the Prague Hotel and came to the Cermak Pharmacy which is now our home for legal services. They began creating a new life here.
As I capture my daily life in a diary for the future, I look back. 20 years ago this summer our law firm moved into our beautiful century old building on South 13th Street, located in the heart of the Little Bohemia district. Like many, it had a mosaic tile floor and an intricately detailed decorative ceiling. This month Little Bohemia was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Our law firm moved here to start a new life. We have since grown to be in more than one building with our team grown many times over. I arrived with a young attorney whose name is now on the door and who now manages the firm. That same summer a cancer diagnosis arrived that a little more than a decade later left me widowed. Now I’m loved and loving in a way that will last until history is made again. Unprecedented times indeed.
What history do we honor? How do we remember what’s important? Some events are the “once in a lifetime”. Others are the every day. As I record my daily hours, I see what is important to me. The daisies needing water. Just the right amount of minced garlic in the marinara for Monday’s dinner. The cousin who called today with her cancer diagnosis.
What is important is what is before me. While the record of our days may not make it into an archive or our buildings be considered worthy by others, but I can know what matters to me.
Each day brings an historic time, pandemic or not. My challenge is to remember.
How do you remember what is important to you right now?
What do you appreciate from your past?
What can you celebrate as you remember?
“There are good days and bad days.”
The words come out of my mouth. I sense an odd discomfort. The phrase once belonged to my brother Tim and later my late husband John. Each lived with pain awaiting their death. It was a way of saying “Some days it hurts a little less than others.”
I live in a pain-free body in apparently perfect health. I hope to become a centenarian. Yet these words were now a part of my pandemic vocabulary.
What was I calling a “bad” day? A “good” day?
I hit the gene lottery good days. I got the happiness genes. (Yes, they’re a thing.) I also got circumstances— being born white and healthy into a Midwestern two parent family.
Despite my baseline of positivity, some of my days are definitely better than others.
I have a longstanding habit of taking in news from my neighborhood to New Zealand. This now gives me an exponentially increased opportunity for giving myself a “bad day”. Fears of being irresponsible or ignorant in a time when my acceptance of a party invitation or failure to don my mask could lead to someone’s death keeps me taking in some dose devastating data most days.
When I was a stressed-out young mother and struggling solo lawyer, my friend Melinda gave me advice for my overwhelm. Ask yourself, “Who is important? What is essential?”
As I create my overly optimistic daily To Do list, I reserve the upper right hand corner for a current short list of my “Who.” My friend Tony, who lost his father to the virus. Marisa, my stepdaughter schoolteacher re-entering the classroom under COVID. Christine, who lives alone.
My “best” days are the ones where I choose to connect. I’d be wise to put “Me” on the list sometimes, too, since solitude gives me connection with myself. I can then shift my thoughts from the massive suffering and its exacerbation by those who might ease it. I am comforted by the voice of a loved one and the monarch munching on my pink zinnia.
Even the smallest connection is good, and it always guarantees a better day.
May this day of yours be good, with many better days to follow. That will be just the best.
What makes your days “better”?
Does connecting with others increase the meaning or happiness of your day?
Who might you reach out to make this day better for them?
I found myself careening down a mountain, my hands gripping the steering wheel, and rarely uttered prayers slipping out of my mouth up toward the heavens. The gas gauge read 0 miles. Zero. None. No more. I had already gone 7 miles on 0 miles of gas left in my tank and panic was setting in.
This had never happened to me. By sheer will alone I am sure, I coasted into a tiny gas station in middle-of-nowhere Oregon to refill my tank. I started to cry once I plugged the gas pump into my tank. Pure relief and something more surprising washed over me – shame.
My daughters and each of their friends on our road trip were confused by my reaction. “Mom, it was going to be fine. We would have gotten gas one way or the other.” For me it was more than that.
I am the daughter of an Air Force pilot who meticulously plotted our road trips. He was been preaching preparedness to me my entire 45 years of life. As a result I pride myself in being prepared. I enter every courtroom well prepared. With my family and friends I am known to map out “Itineraries of Fun” for any vacation complete with weather data, key phone numbers, and hourly time slots filled in.
As I found myself running out of gas I had not accounted for the many miles I would go without services in a rural area on the interstate. I had not accounted for my less than normal gas mileage due to the cargo carrier I had strapped to the top of my car. Lastly, I had not accounted for the residual shame that was coming at me from my divorce.
I had not planned on my marriage ending in divorce. No one does. I had not planned on being a single parent. I had not planned on living half-time completely alone. When divorce became my reality I was ill-prepared to say the least.
The end of my marriage tops the list of my lifetime failures. I am not sure that it should – but nonetheless it does. For the planner in me – divorce created the most chaos I have ever lived through. The feeling of being out of control, helpless, and scared where never more prominent in my life than the year I divorced.
The small sensations of all of those feelings hit me anew as my car glided into the gas station. While this brought back residual feelings and a disproportionate reaction to the situation – it also served as the perfect metaphor for the bigger picture of my divorce.
You see – I filled up my tank. I continued on my journey. And I was better prepared for the next time I would find myself unprepared.
I instantly recognized the evidence. They were back. My heartrate sped up. “This time will be different,” I told myself. This time I know what I’m dealing with.
Three years ago I noticed a few. I was curious. I admired their beauty. The next day there were more, and along with them large swaths of once lush green leaves turned to delicate skeletons of crumbling brown. A week later, the geraniums, petunias, and hibiscus were gone.
It was the worst infestation in years. Iridescent emerald green with bronze wings, Japanese beetles are pretty and little. They practically glow when they are in a favorite spot—summer sunlight—eating a favorite food: roses. My rooftop garden provides both.
The recommended way to be rid of these pesky pests is pick them off by hand and place them in a bucket of water. I was determined to do everything in my power not to let these tiny shiny creatures destroy what I had been working for months to create.
There was about to be a lot of sacred beetle burial baths.
With only about 40 days from birth to death, they waste no time in eating, reproducing and eating and reproducing as quickly as they can. Like us, they’re just fighting for survival.
This year, they’d begun their battle on my defenseless miniature tangerine roses. Overnight leaves were riddled with holes and petite blooms gobbled. This year I vowed to beat the beetles in the battle.
Showing off their shine in the early morning sun (best to get them before they’re really awake), they are easy to spot. I pick one with my bare had. It jumps. I jump. I pick another. In the single second that my hand travels to the bucket, the beetle begins to flap its wings in panic. I panic. I open my hand and it flies to freedom.
The flutter of this defenseless insect who was about to die had me reacting as though it were a tiger jumping out from the bushes about to devour me. Such are the neuropathways of the brain. Wired for survival, they remember that some bugs and some sudden movements can kill us.
During the pandemic I’ve been trying to breathe more deeply I notice I’m holding my breath. Was I really frightened of a harmless insect that was smaller than the nail on my littlest finger? Yep.
I remind myself that I am safe. After a mere moment of discomfort it will be over. I hoped it was the same for the bright little bug.
After days of diligence, the beetles departed. My fears of losing my bed of bachelor buttons and yarrow never came to pass.
I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering that the past is not the present, my worst fears rarely come true, and some things are worth fighting for.
Are you scared when there’s no need to be?
Have you taken on a battle you’re determined to win?
Are you willing to endure discomfort for something you value?
“It’ll keep for a few days, won’t it?” he asked.
My eyes got big. I smiled nervously.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’m not sure I can be trusted with it,” I said.
The last quarter of the dense, moist two-layer spice birthday cake with thick buttercream frosting sat on the china dinner plate. If it stayed in my kitchen, I knew that in a matter of a few days —or possibly a few hours—-I could polish it off with ease. With a cup of chai spice tea or a glass of almond milk, it would be perfect for breakfast, snack, or no reason.
Unless I’m entertaining, I avoid bringing cakes or cookies or chips and dips into my home. (Nuts, a part of the diet of global centenarians, are a notable exception.) Potato chips remain a top ten favorite food and I rarely turn down a good tiramisu.
It’s just that I know myself.
I’ve set the intention of eating only three Girls Scout Thin Mints at a time. Yet hiding the box from myself in the back of my freezer might not stop me from emptying its contents in record time. Domino foods for me include bites of black licorice or a bag of just about anything with sodium.
I understand the power of choice. Eat the cake or don’t eat the cake. Lift kettlebells this morning or don’t. Check social media before bed or not.
Each decision we make takes a bit of energy. As the day progresses and decision-making energy wanes, the quality of my choices declines accordingly. The next thing you know, I’m moistening my fingertips to get the last crumbs from the bottom of the bag of Cheetos.
When I make one big decision—Don’t buy tasty temptations pretending they won’t taunt me—I don’t have to keep making decisions over and over. Better to decide once and for all there will be no ice cream in my freezer at bedtime rather than making seven decisions a week whether or not to eat it.
The leftover birthday cake stayed. I put an extra layer of plastic wrap around it and moved it to the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. That single choice left me with many days of saying to myself “just a sliver.”
While big decisions simplify my life, occasionally being trusted with small ones can be pretty delicious, too.
Which decisions do you get tired of making?
Is there one big decision that would eliminate many other decisions?
What intentions will guide your choice?
50% capacity. Phase 4 of re-opening. Such phrases have become all too common to us over the past 5 months as our country continues to open, and re-close due to COVID-19. The past 5 months have also provided their share of hardship and new beginnings for domestic violence survivors who had no other option but to break free of their abusive relationships. In doing so, they have provided hope to other survivors an and inspiration to all.
Meet Jeara, whose story first appeared in the online Fort Collins Coloradoan on May 1st. Jeara is the mother of four young children, ranging in age from 11 to 4. For 12 and ½ years, Jeara was the victim of domestic violence. She and her children ended up at a domestic violence shelter in Northern Colorado on March 12th after her husband ripped off a necklace and her glasses, shoved her, and blocked her from leaving the home.
Grabbing whatever she could before leaving, Jeara and her children were able to get into a domestic violence shelter around the same time that COVID-19 really started to make its presence felt in Colorado. At first, according to the Coloradoan article, the virus really was not much of an issue at Jeara’s shelter. However, after Jeara was there for about 1 week, the school system her children went to closed for the year. By late April, the shelter began instituting a strict curfew requiring all residents and their families to be inside by 9 p.m.
As the shelter continued to institute more safety measures, including reduced staff and mandatory masks, Jeara turned to home-schooling her children. At first, this was quite the challenge since the only internet access she had was the hotspot on her phone. That has since changed, the shelter eventually installed wi-fi access, and the school district has provided extra workbooks and laptops.
After getting settled into the shelter, Jeara applied for and received a permanent protection order against her husband when he left her a threatening voicemail that he would “come get her” if she and the kids did not return to him. This Colorado order remains in place until it is lifted by the court and applies only to Jeara. Yet, it is one more step she has taken towards her new beginning.
Jeara’s perception of herself and her kids has changed dramatically since this new beginning. While she initially considered herself a victim, she now says “I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor and so are my kids.” By the end of May, Jeara was scheduled to start online classes at a western Nebraska community college to become a probation officer. Next on her list of to-dos is filing for divorce and obtaining custody of her children.
Jeara’s story of survival is one of many in the era of COVID-19, and a great example that practical steps and personal strength can help one transition from becoming a domestic violence victim to a survivor during a pandemic.
When Nancy said she wanted me to be a part of her wedding to Linetta, I knew it would be in another state. It was years before the glorious ruling from the Supreme Court on marriage equality. Today we celebrate the 5 year anniversary of the day we read the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Many years before she got married and long before the Obergefell ruling, Nancy made the choice to use her single voice to work for change. In the 1980s I was a dues paying member of the Nebraska National Organization for Women. But married with two young children and a busy solo law practice, I’d never attended a meeting.
Nancy kept calling. From her landline to mine she gently begged, “Just come once.” I finally relented. She was the only other person in attendance. By 1991 I was the president of the state chapter and a vocal ally for the gay and lesbian community. All because Nancy kept calling.
Twenty-five years later, it was my turn to pick up the phone. I called my friend Amy at the ACLU. “There’s no one suing for marriage equality in our state. It’s time. And our firm wants to help.”
Courageous couples willing to tell their stories came forth. Susan and Sally. Nick and Jason. Crystal and Carla. Greg and Bill. Jessica and Kathleen. Randy and Tom. Marj and Tracy. Each choosing to use their voice.
For me, speaking up took no great courage. The privileges of being cisgender, white, able bodied, and self-employed have given me a lifetime of protection. Contrast that in this Pride month– on the anniversary of the Orlando massacre in a gay nightclub, in the middle of a pandemic—LGBTQ people were informed that they can again be discriminated against in health care.
Author Carolyn Myss says that choice is our greatest power. I believe her. If we do not want to experience helplessness and hopelessness in the face of all that is unfolding around us, we can make a choice. We can use our voice.
Just like Nancy.
Today we celebrate the historic ruling on marriage equality and all of the brave plaintiffs who raised their voices together. May we honor them by never ceasing to make the choice to be a voice.
What one voice impacted your life in a big way?
What choices to use your voice are you making in your life?
Where are you being called to use your voice to make a difference?
“Just the state of the world,” she said, tears falling one by one. She brushed her long brown hair—that had grown considerably longer this year—off of her downcast face. She hardly knew where to begin.
This day, like all since the start of the pandemic, she gave every ounce of dwindling energy to her job. Her couch joined her little dog in becoming a constant companion. Even with a shortened workday, she was exhausted.
The number of Covid-19 deaths everywhere continued to climb by the day.
Peaceful protesters in the nation’ s capital were met with rubber bullets, tear gas, and military police. Inside the White House was a president whose administration was in chaos, who had just announced an intention to remove us from a third world treaty designed to keep us safe, and who had no words of comfort for the nation.
The rage from endless injustices erupted into violence across cities including hers.
That week a white business owner fired a gun into a crowd of protesters. When 22-year-old black James Scurlock then jumped on top of him, James was shot and killed. No charges were filed.
And tonight was to be her big night in the theater. BIG. Since last year she’d been anticipating a dream fulfilled. This was to be the opening night of her on center stage playing a role that had been a lifelong dream. The cancellation had crushed her.
“Just the state of the world.”
The shame of knowing her privilege of winning the birth lottery of healthy, intelligent, white, parented, Midwestern, American female was no help. The feelings of loss and desolation deepened. If she wasn’t at her tipping point, she was on the verge.
What is the comfort for such pain? What is the consolation when your gratitude falls flat? What is the hope when its glimmer has vanished?
She talked. She cried. She told the truth. Pushing others aside and holding on to the belief that “I can do this alone” was not working.
Deep sighs soon followed the tears. She reflected. She got quiet. She listened to her wisdom.
Kindness. Curiosity. Courage.
Kindness. While she was not ready to join the protesters of the front lines of political action, being kind was within her reach. This included kindness to herself as she realized she was in grief and mourning for countless losses.
Curiosity. Do I really believe I should prevent others from seeing my depressed state? Do I truly think there is shame in seeking support? What is a small step to feeling better so I can do better?
Courage. Can I remember how brave I’ve been in the past? Am I willing to call forth my courage to be vulnerable? Am I willing to make that choice?
Being wise, she did. And the state of her world shifted ever so slightly.
Are you being kind to yourself in your thoughts and words?
What can you be curious about when questioning your own life in these times?
Are you willing to be brave in some small way today?
With June half gone and virtually all weddings postponed, the tears are different. Gentle weeping from the emotions of the music and the moment become full-fledged sobbing of frustration and disappointment. Grand plans long awaited to be lived are not.
I’ve officiated many weddings. (Yes, she with a long history of doing divorces.) The words of love, the witnessing of commitment, the cutting of the cake and the hugging of cousins fill our hearts. A good number of the would-be wedding couples will not be denied these glorious moments. Instead, they are placed on pause. Along with the sadness could also come a continued anticipation and a deepening of the meaning of the day.
Today marks the anniversary of a landmark ruling on one wedding many Americans know nothing about. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court ended the ban on interracial marriage in the case of Loving vs. Virgina. NPR summarized the couple’s experience:
Five weeks after the Lovings’ wedding on July 14, cops led by the sheriff stormed into their house at 2 in the morning. The young couple was arrested and jailed for violating the state’s “Racial Integrity Act.” The Lovings were sentenced to a year in prison, but a judge set them free under the condition they leave Virginia.
The attorney for the Lovings argued:
“(It) is the right of Richard and Mildred Loving to wake up in the morning or to go to sleep at night knowing that the sheriff will not be knocking on their door or shining a light in their face in the privacy of their bedroom for illicit co-habitation.”
As I sit in impatience for the parties of my own privileged life partially postponed, the starkness of the contrast of what it means to wait is piercing. Just two months ago, shortly after midnight, police used a battering ram to crash into the apartment of an African American emergency room technician just after midnight. They fired shots repeatedly. Breonna Taylor was left dead at 26.
We all have our waiting. Some call for action. Others for calm and courts. All call for compassion.
May yours end soon. May your wait be safe.
What’s hardest about your wait right now?
Can you hold compassion, commitment, and perspective?
How will you keep yourself safe in all ways as you wait?
This blog is made available to the reader by Koenig|Dunne for educational purposes only, to provide general information and understanding of the law, and not to provide specific legal advice. By reading this blog, no attorney-client relationship is developed between the law firm and the reader. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. The content of this blog is not an advertisement for legal services.