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.
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?
It took me nearly nine years to clean one closet. After John died and most of his clothes had made it to the men’s shelter like he’d asked, I attempted to clear it but mostly kept it crammed with everything from seldom worn jackets to supplies for making vision boards.
Unlike me, John delighted in getting rid of things. Because his journey from a terminal diagnosis to the day he left this earth spanned over a decade, I watched him part with everything from business receipts to a beloved acreage in the country. He had room for morning meditation, calling faraway friends, and playing cribbage.
Letting go has never been my strong suit. My son once opened my kitchen drawer and declared I had “a vegetable peeler problem.” Pausing long enough to decide whether 25 tubes of half used lip color are too many doesn’t seem like a priority when there is a party to attend or a pot of bean soup to be made.
Marie Kondo’s first bestselling book on transforming your life by getting rid of stuff came out the year John died. The advice to toss tons of paperwork didn’t resonate for the veteran lawyer in me. Still, I kept the book along with the few hundred others throughout my home. My joy is apparently sparked by a lot of subjects.
But it was time.
I pulled out his tuxedo tucked in the far back. Worn each December at the fundraiser held in memory of my late brother, its size surprised me as I pictured his rail thin body in the end. I let go of the books on blood type but kept the one from his favorite guru. I opened the box enclosing over a hundred cards of condolences, rereading each one.
The pandemic places loss before us each day. Our hearts are repeatedly opened and perpetually aching. What is the source of our solace? Where can we count on comfort? How can we keep breathing? How much capacity does one human have?
I make the stacks. Give away. Throw away. Put away. I do not rush.
I am a forever a student of seeking to see what no longer serves me. Of what is taking up space. Of what is possible if I would only make room.
When there is no going back to what once was, I keep asking the questions. I find solace in remembering. I find comfort in the order. Eventually I breathe a small sigh of relief.
I’ve made a start at making room for what will be.
Is it time for you to let go of something?
Where would you like to have more space in your life?
What might be possible if you had room for the new?
When recent results from the Covid-19 Impact Survey revealed that 6 out of 10 of us had felt anxious, depressed, lonely, or hopeless in the preceding 7 days, I was reminded of that which I have mostly had the luxury of merely observing.
I heard the buzzing open of two sets of locked doors that clang loudly behind you as you enter the hospital unit where your possessions are in a locked metal cabinet and the walls are bare of objects of interest to those skilled in suicide attempts.
I witnessed the weeping father who would not see his little boys on Christmas because his malfunctioning brain led him to beat them.
I stood in the darkened hallway in hushed conversation about how long our loved one should remain on the ventilator after the umpteenth suicide attempt appeared finally to be successful.
Because of a blessing of the genes that formed my brain and a life free of the horrors of trauma, I have only had a spoonful of the feelings of daily living with anxiety, depression, or a host of other states.
As a young lawyer I had a glimpse of obsessive thoughts that kept me up half the night, fearful I would fail a vulnerable child in a custody trial the next morning. As a widow I knew the feeling of wanting to stay in the dark under the bedcovers until eternity.
These were passing seasons of feelings others face for a lifetime.
May is Mental Health Month. 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness each year. We know this year is like no other. 18% live with an anxiety disorder. That was pre-pandemic. The millions that make up these numbers don’t set apart the caretakers, whose challenges have grown exponentially. These numbers do include your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, and your friends.
If your struggle is chronic or temporary, know that you are not alone. If you are spared, be grateful. And in all cases, call forth your compassion. Whether you have a diagnosis or simply a bad day, we could all use more of that right now.
For more information or to download the Covid-19 Resource and Information Guide for answers to frequently asked questions on topics from managing anxiety and social isolation to accessing health care and medications, visit www.nami.org.
Excitement is building with news of states opening back up after the initial wave of COVID in our community. That old familiar feeling of what can only be explained as bubbles swirling in my stomach and heart on the precipice of bursting. I put pen to paper this week planning those first steps back into what we hope will be “back to normal life.” It is my responsibility to prepare the action plan for my team.
Sometimes I think this shouldn’t be my job. Patience has long been a virtue that I have failed time and time again to achieve. Add that to the headstrong and stubborn Taurus traits I have wielded my entire life and the core of me can be a disaster waiting to happen when “phasing-in” and steadiness are required.
I recall another slightly exhilarating but ultimately terrifying re-entry I was to make after my divorce decree was signed and entered. In that time, the prospect of new love, owning a home on my own, and caring for my children no longer with my partner both overwhelmed and excited me. It was trying on my old, but now new again, name.
My heightened nerves hesitated each time I went to dip my proverbial toe in the water. Sometimes the bravest days are those taken after the storm. The rebuilding in vulnerability is nothing short of frightening. Will it be wonderful in new ways, or will it be worse, thus realizing our most dreaded of fears?
I look in my worn and weathered toolbox for the tool to help me surmount my typical ways and to support my will. Perspective. That looks like the tool that is needed now.
I intuitively know that I need patience, perspective, and steadiness. I just wrote it out. I know well my antsy feelings and cravings for relief after chronic stress. I know these knee-jerk reactions have not served me well in the past with failed rebound relationships, failed housing transactions that led to 4 moves in the span of 45 days, and children getting a half-engaged mom due to the distractions of my rush for re-entry.
Perspective. Pacing. Breathing.
I need to allow the wisdom from my past rushing to guide me now for the best outcome. This has only been 60 days. 60 more with a steady and safe plan is doable. I write my intentions: To keep my team safe and healthy; To keep my team’s families safe and healthy; To care for my clients and meet their needs; To be patient, loving and thoughtful.
I can pace myself and plan to re-enter. I see the rush and can avoid it. I allow my prior life lessons guide me now. Slowing down, seeing with perspective, will serve me well in creating a new and safe space. Now that’s something to be excited about.
Sometime between the fading of the hot pink blooms of the redbud trees and the arrival of the purple striped tulips, I began my daily watch. Last week I drove by to see, but it was not yet time. Patience, I reminded myself.
But now it was a Monday morning after a week of biding my time.
I awake at six. I sharpen my clippers. I put on walking shoes and my garden gloves. I find the turquoise bucket that once belonged to my late friend Mary and fill it a third full of water.
I head out, softly singing a verse of Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ , recalling it was less than a year ago we heard it sung on Broadway. I walk down the unpaved alley lined with weeds already a yard tall. I stop behind an industrial building whose business I’ve never discerned and whose people I’ve never seen.
A row of lush green bushes stretches some twenty feet long and ten feet high. I’ve arrived at my secret spot. It is the place I go once each spring to gather my gigantic bouquet of lilacs for the law office. Annually It fills the entire lobby with a fragrance so sweet it captures you the moment you step through the door.
I looked. I didn’t see a single bloom. I looked again. I saw only one. I walked around studying the branches and could see two more rather pathetic looking bits of lavender that were out of reach.
I searched for the sign of buds. Perhaps I’d not been patient enough. Maybe I just needed to come back in a few days? But there were to be no more.
I clip one lone barely flowering stem and place it gently in my bucket. I turn and walk home.
Perhaps the lilacs were on lockdown. Perhaps they thought there was no need to show up with their usual array of admirers working remotely. Or maybe they knew Megan at the front desk would be wearing a mask covering her nose. Whatever their reason, I felt the ruin of my little lilac ritual.
It was not a one time graduation gone away, a wedding waiting for another year, or a memorial service moved to a computer screen. Still, I was sad.
The suffering of others does not result in the escape of our own, no matter how small ours or how great theirs. We each have our losses.
While my tiny tradition was not to unfold as hoped, the world gave me plenty of other May morning gifts. The dawn’s fresh air, the memory of my friend Mary and a marvelous musical, and an appreciation of being alive to experience it all.
Have you acknowledged your little disappointments?
Can you call forth self-compassion for your losses both big and small?
Can you hold both sadness and gratitude?
As our state begins to re-open for business, we all have our own definition of what it means to have “survived” the past 2 months. For some, it meant being both a daycare provider and full-time employee working from home. For others, it meant losing their job and scrambling to make ends meet until their financial stimulus arrived. For most domestic violence victims, “survival” may have meant still being here to read this blog.
I urge the readers to not rely only on our friends, family, and others in our lives to reach out to us for help. Instead, here are some very basic, useful techniques you can employ to ensure that survivors are supported during this period of transition in our communities:
- STAY CONNECTED: Silence from a survivor in your life can be a very dangerous sign. Even though you may not be ready to physically connect again, reach out to them in any way you can. Using technology – Zoom, Skype, phone calls, text, e-mail, etc. – first check to ensure that it is safe and secure from their abuser. Once connected, think about coming up with a game or code word that would signify they or other family members are in danger. For example, maybe talking about the weather, or asking if they tried that new apple pie recipe is code for them telling them you they are in imminent jeopardy. First connect, and then stay connected during this transition period.
- USE EMPOWERING LANGUAGE: As my coach often reminds me, operate out of the “empowerment triangle” as much as possible, in your own life and when talking to others. After connecting to a survivor, empower them by reassuring them they are not alone. Maybe follow that up by asking what you can do to help. After some good active listening, focus the remainder of your conversation on problem-solving their immediate domestic violence problems or issues.
- HELP BRING IN THE REINFORCEMENTS: You likely will not have all the answers for a survivor during your conversation. Fortunately, in our local community we have agencies such as the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA), Catholic Charities, and Heartland Family Services offering various domestic violence services. The WCA’s 24-hour hotline at 402-345-7273 has not stopped taking calls and engages in assistance such as helping survivors develop a safety plan and file for a protection order. Catholic Charities and Heartland Family Services offer other services, including shelters, for survivors and their immediate family.
You do not have to have “the” solution in order to offer “a” solution to a friend, family member or other in your life who needs a much-needed break from domestic violence. It is not too late to reach out to someone you have not heard from lately, especially if you know they live with domestic violence. Once connected, stay connected, and be just one of their solutions in helping them survive during this time.
Please tune in for part 3 of this blog series to see these practical tips in action.
“Was what I just said really true?” I silently asked myself. I’d just claimed I felt sad that I would not be with my children on Mother’s Day. In the moment I did feel a little sad. While not an unusual thought for a mother to have, I questioned it.
My children moved to other cities many years ago. If pressed, I could not remember the last Mother’s Day I spent with them. I have long been at peace that this day is not celebrated around mushroom quiche and mimosa toasts to my mom awesomeness.
I have been greatly spared from the biggest separation sorrows that so many are experiencing. Still, week after week I do not see my remoting work family, my siblings who live in this same city, and countless in my community clan. There is no escaping that I cannot look closely into their eyes, hear their laughter live, or give an unspoken “How much I love you!” hug.
For me, the pandemic has been a paradox when it comes to being a parent. On the one hand, I am reminded of distance. On the other hand, I have never felt closer. Occasional phone calls have become more frequent video calls. And for the first time I am on the receiving end of my children’s deep concern for my well-being as they ask about my masks, my grocery shopping, and whether I’ve fully paused on my social life that often made theirs pale in comparison.
The truth is this Sunday will be a delightful day for me like most Sundays are. I will do a little yoga. I will read the local paper and the New York Times. I’ll listen to my favorite podcast (probably taking notes). I will enjoy leisurely chopping vegetables for a relaxing dinner. My beau will take me for a drive in the country. I’ll fall asleep happy.
I will also think a lot about my children. Benjamin, who—just as the pandemic broke out—took his prayers and his talents to a new job in hot spot Los Angeles. Jack, who elected to spend the months ahead fighting forest fires instead of being safely inside his Sacramento home. Could I be more proud? And then are my stepdaughters—two teachers and one entrepreneur beauty creative—each of whom enrich my life as I witness theirs with admiration.
On Sunday I will hear my children’s voices as I see their faces on my Mac, feel my pride, and feel their love. What more could a mother ask for?
What feelings come up for you on Mother’s Day?
How can you create meaningful days?
How might you connect despite the distance?
Exhaustion, tears, and tense lines across foreheads were daily revealing themselves to me as I checked in with my team. I studied them in Brady Bunch boxes on zoom. I could feel their frustrations, fears, and as we tally-marked our COVID way through March and now through April.
Our culture is built on principle of support and I felt I was failing in fully supporting my co-workers during this pandemic. What could I do for them? Deliver gifts, coffee, what?
I thought back to the last time I felt days comparable to these. Days fluctuating on a spectrum in loneliness, self-isolation, and sometime paralyzing fear. How did I cope during my divorce? What do I wish I had done more of? Less of?
Looking back to my divorce days I wish I had been more mindful that these were not normal days and I wish I had adjusted my expectations of myself accordingly. I just kept pushing and pushing myself harder. Mental health days and self-care were not part of my divorce vernacular. These words should have been.
Mandatory mental health days. This was the answer. I issued the mandate that every three weeks team members would rotate a day out during the week to attend to their mental health. As soon as I said it, happy tears appeared.
The week we started, my social media was filled with their pictures of outdoor hikes, relaxing poses with cute pair of slippers or a book for downtime. Their gratitude for the permission to take a day off overwhelmed me.
They just needed permission.
I wish someone had given me permission to indulge in mental health care during my divorce. I wish someone had forced me. Better yet, I wish I had known how important this was – how important it is during times of chronic stress to put our mental health on the map. I wish I knew then what I know now – which is I have the power to give myself permission.
May Day reminds me of how I’ve never been good the anonymous acts of kindness.
I do love to help. With three younger siblings there was always a child in need of shoe tied or a nose wiped. When I was old enough to babysit for other families, I delighted in sweeping the floors and doing the dishes to please the returning parents. By junior high, volunteering was vital in my life.
First as a lawyer, now as an executive coach, helping is my jam. An enneagram assessment affirms my identity as a Number Two—The Considerate Helper. Being kind is easy. Being anonymous not so much for me.
Unlike countless friends and family I could name (naming them would rob them of their incognito intention), I feel compelled to tell someone else about good things I’ve done. It’s quite unattractive.
I know people who’ve sacrificed vast quantities of time, money, and blood with most people in their life never knowing. For years they give and give without the need to mention it to a soul. The joy in their giving is enough.
When my children were growing up, we celebrated secret giving by making May Day deliveries. We fashioned little handled baskets with colored construction paper, filled them with candy and nuts, and hung them on the doors of neighbors. Ringing the bell and running away before anyone saw gave great delight to the giver.
For someone who is well loved by many, it both surprises and disappoints me to see how I seek assurance from the outside that I am a good person inside. Yet I make a boastful beg for the approval of others under the guise of simply sharing. In contrast to the joy in the giving, a sad dose of shame is delivered the instant I speak of the deed. While there are many out there inspiring good acts, I know myself too well to claim that’s my goal.
In this era of compulsory COVID adaptability, I now add staying silent more often to the list of useful skills to develop when the old ways of doing things no longer work.
Wanting to keep my neighbors safe, there will be no May Day baskets this year. I may do some other kind act, but I promise not to tell you if I do.
Happy May Day.
How does being kind bring you joy?
When is remaining silent the better choice for you?
What skills do you want to develop during this time?
I woke up with a jump-start. I showered, shaved, and slathered on my favorite smelling lotion. Despite day 41 of sheltering in place, I was determined. It was my birthday. I LOVE birthdays! I was going to make this day feel as pre-pandemic as possible – and the next day. My newly minted sixteen-year-old and I share back-to-back birthdays. For her milestone day with no driving to be done – I was on a magic making mission.
The day started with a sweet delivery from my dear friend – literally a box full of treats from the best bakery in town. When I picked up my girls from their dad’s house they were infused with the enthusiasm that birthdays were about to bring. My mom, my sister and my best friend all individually called to serenade me with the birthday song.
My best intentions were soon laid bare. My sister told me my niece wanted to Facetime while I opened my birthday gifts. Oh. There are no gifts I replied. This did not make me sad as I understood that delayed deliveries were common and my feeling loved currency runs more in words than in physical gifts.
But a curious thing happened to me in that moment. I was instantaneously transported to an old wound from 16 years prior. It was one of those small injuries to the heart that occur for people on their path to divorce. It was another birthday I did not receive a gift.
I labored all day with my firstborn daughter on my 29th birthday. She was arriving early and I secretly crossed my fingers that she would wait until after the stroke of midnight so we could each have our separate birthdays. I went to work that day, contractions and all, to ensure order for my clients during my maternity leave.
When I arrived home that evening there was no birthday cake and not a single pretty package waiting to be opened. My spouse dryly said that he gave me the baby and that should be the best gift of all time. True. And I was so hurt. 16 years later that sting was just as sharp.
In our post-divorce lives we never know when these memories will sneak up and tap us on the shoulder. We never know when abruptly we will need to go lay down and take a nap to shake off our sadness. Yes, even 9 years after my divorce, the grief comes and goes.
A little-known fact about many of us divorcees: we tend to beat ourselves up long after the decree is signed for failing at marriage. We worry about any invisible damage done to our kids, about whether our hearts will ever love and be loved again, and even years later if we made the right decision.
In these moments, when a tiny memory of a relationship turning rocky surfaces, it brings both grief and a gift. It brings hurt, but after we rise from our thoughts (or our nap) we are reminded of the hardness we have overcome. We are reminded of the why our journey was formed. And we see yet clearer still the renewed versions of ourselves that have been born.
I rose from my bed with the afternoon sun shining down on me and went to the kitchen. My youngest was baking me a birthday cake and my oldest had laid out a handmade card full of all the words I needed to feel so very loved. I see the gift of my grit, the gifts of my girls, and my birthday spirit is renewed.
“Social Distancing,” “6-feet apart,” “remote learning.” By now, after barely a month since the world we came to know changed, such terms have become so widely used that they need no further explanation. And, in practicing them, we’ve all become a little more familiar with the concept of a “break.” A break for employees having to dress appropriately and go to the office every day. A break for students having to sit through another boring social studies class right after lunch period. A break for all of us having to fight a large crowd just to get into our favorite bar or restaurant on a Saturday night. These breaks are all consequences of the larger social goal that most of us can agree is a very good thing – slowing the scourge of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, many of the people that we no longer see in-person during our daily routines continue to suffer from another scourge – domestic violence. You probably didn’t even know these were domestic violence survivors when you saw them at the office, or when they taught your child at school, or when you shared a drink with them after work. Yet, there they were, well within 6 feet of you, most likely putting on a brave face and smile if, for no other reason, that in that moment they had a BREAK from what awaited them back home.
Now, most businesses are working remote, bars and restaurants are empty, the schools are closed, and the survivor’s breaks are gone. Just as important, the breaks for the children who were once in school, sports, or other activities during the day are gone as well. The social isolation that our local and national leaders tell us is so important to practice in combatting the spread of COVID-19, is the same isolation that an abuser now exploits against his victim in the name of public health and social consciousness.
In the midst of the world changing before our very eyes, society has taken a break from talking about almost anything else but the pandemic. Right now, it is necessary for all of us to prioritize slowing the spread as much as possible because COVID-19 is here, it is widespread, and it is killing our family and friends. We know this because nearly every news channel has a running ticker on the number of new cases and deaths. In fact, it is impossible to take a break from talking about COVID-19 with at least one other person every day.
As our social isolation continues, it will also become impossible to take any more breaks from addressing domestic violence as well. Why? Because the longer we are forced to take all of these breaks necessary in slowing the spread of COVID-19, the more domestic violence will continue to spread amongst our loved ones and friends, in the dark and behind closed doors. COVID-19 will not be the only scourge that needs to be slowed. Eventually, the survivors – our teachers, co-workers, friends, and family – will need their breaks again. To learn how you can give breaks to domestic violence survivors during this time, make sure to tune into part 2 of this series.
The speed with which it lodged in my throat took me by surprise. What had begun with the sharing of a lighthearted meme ended with me feeling like I might cry over two tiny words from Brian. Brothers can do that to you.
I grew up with five brothers, three older, two younger. I was six years old when my sixth brother, Howard, joined the family, marrying my older sister Diane. All save one always lived within a half hour drive of me.
I lost my brother Tim at 35 and my brother-in-law Howard after 46 years of marriage to my sis.
When Kevin and I started dating, I got my first glimpse of another brood of five brothers. They played Sunday golf with churchly dedication, never missed a birthday at Mama’s Pizza, and formed their own five man Chicago Bears fan club.
As one by one they quietly stepped across the living room to hand me their gift, my jaw dropped and my eyes filled. I hadn’t expected them to be my brothers on our very first Christmas.
As Covid-19 brings continued separation from our families, everyone searches for reminders of who and what matters most. My brother Dave drives his wife from their quiet country home into the metropolitan medical center for chemo, leaving her at the door. My brother Tom ends his dream trip to Bali with my sister-in-law, returning with a sore throat and cough at age 71. My brother Mel keeps his monthly commitment to donate blood platelets like those once given to his wife in her final days.
Despite Howard’s death, he returns to me to bring a chuckle when I hear my nephew’s laugh that sounds just like his dad. My younger brother Tim visits regularly, reminding me to love my family well and that days on this earth are limited for all of us.
And with two simple words, “We’re here,” Brian reminds me that neither quarantine nor death can separate us from those we love. We’re here and so is the love.
I’m in no hurry to be reminded of this wisdom by the loss of a loved one. Stay at home advice is plenty.
Be safe, my brothers all.
What helps you to remember what’s most important?
Whose love can you feel despite the distance?
Who might you connect with who is longing to know you’re there?
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.